It was dark; they stumbled and branches reached out for them with screams, but Tristan couldn’t hear it over his rasping breath. The sky was red with fire behind them.
“Keep going,” Erryn rasped. No one argued; there was more than fire behind them.
“There’s the river!” It gurgled, soft whispers under the flame’s roars. Would it be enough?
“Please, Bregge,” Erryn whispered, falling to her knees on the bank–not from reverence, but from exhaustion. The moon was out, and Brin could see that her silver hair was dark with sweat, her side still black-red with blood. The water shivered out from her whisper like a skittish horse. Tristan tried to help Erryn to her feet, but she groaned, “Get away from me, boy,” barely above a whisper. If they couldn’t cross the river–
“Look!” Brin said, pointing–the river water splashed into a face, perhaps just a trick of the wavering light, and then water swirled and eddied and there was a path for them across the river between rocks and whirlpools. Erryn rose to her feet as if she were a hundred, but without Tristan’s help, and they crossed the river together.
“No, we still can’t stop,” Erryn said when they had crossed, when she had said her thanks to Bregge. “The king must know of what’s happened tonight.”
Neither man nor boy argued with the hero.
Brin thought it impossible the king wouldn’t know already–not because of his royal magic, but because it seemed impossible that everyone didn’t know, didn’t see how the world had shifted and darkened. Hadn’t everyone else also felt that moment when Ferra fell, the magic dripping from her fingers with her blood, its joyful dance stilled at last? Hadn’t everyone else seen the world waver to its very foundations with grief at such joy and love and beauty gone? destroyed? sacrificed in a vain ploy to stop the evil that chased them still? Hadn’t the tragedy of it stopped time for everyone, and not just for him?
He’d longed for magic his whole life, for his own connection to the light and fire and motion that everyone else around him seemed to take for granted, but never so much as then, that moment when she had stayed to fight and he had fled. It should have been him. What was a boy without his mother? What was a husband without his wife, his love?
It should have been him, but the choices had been her or their son, and that was no choice at all.
“Remember,” she’d said to Tristan, her hands on his cheeks, her eyes glinting, and he said it over and over as he took a step, a step, a step, because nothing else felt real, and he was tired, and he didn’t know what it meant–”Remember.” As if he could ever forget his mother, with her laughter, her long hair, the games they’d played, and the lessons about magic. He’d felt the magic growing in her, waiting, preparing, ready to crash down when she released it, and he’d been surprised it had looked beautiful rather than strong, like a dance rather than a tidal wave. How could she think he would forget her? His mother? He missed her already, missed eating breakfast together and the way she hummed in quiet moments and the steady clack-clack-clack of her loom at night. He could never forget her.
It was dawn when Erryn finally permitted them to stop. The pink and orange of the sunrise was too beautiful for such a morning, with the ugly blue-black smoke still rising up from behind them, with grief choking them all. Father and son slept, curled together, each holding on to the last thing they had left in the world. Erryn didn’t sleep, only paced. She couldn’t sleep–wasn’t sure she’d wake up, wasn’t sure the hard, bitter pit in her chest would let her.
What had she done? She’d sworn to stop Jyrren at all costs, but this was too high a cost, far too high–her sister, her only sister, sacrificed. And in vain, too, for smoke rose behind them still. Every tree that burned was more power for Jyrren, and Ferra’s efforts had failed.
They all had.
Jyrren had, to try something so foolish; she had, to not see his plans truly. Ferra had, she supposed, although she knew her sister, knew that she had thrown everything she had into the counter spell. The fault lay with her, not Ferra: a lack of instruction, a failure of sight, some detail she’d forgotten to impart to her sister. But what?
And what now? Their last resort had failed; Jyrren grew stronger behind them, and they had fled like cowards. It felt cowardly, although she knew there was nothing they could have done. Nothing; she had been running through it all in her head since it happened, and there was nothing else they could have done, nothing they had left untried.
It just hadn’t been enough, and she may as well have killed her own sister.
It was time to walk again. The king needed to know what had happened, but mostly Erryn needed to silence her grief. She roused the others and they set off again, walking away from the smoke still and pretending they fled from nothing else.
Welcome! Once again I’m taking part in Rosalie Valentine‘s Flash Fiction Dash. This year my genre was Sword and Sorcery, and my prompt was:
So yeah, never gonna be a happy one.
I hope you enjoyed it, and check in in a few days for the wrap-up post from Rosalie; it’s always wonderful to read what others have written.