The queen of Landen's hand trembled violently as she brushed her near shoulder-length hair. Lena gazed into the mirror, watching her mouth quiver and the tears roll down her eyes, trying to maintain her composure, but knowing that in a few seconds, she'd inevitably break down.
Sari! Why do you always have to argue with me? I'm trying to help you, you know.
Leave me alone, mom!
I can't. I'm your mother. We're all that each other has; you have to understand.
Then curse me for only having a mother who is as much a failure as a friend as she is a queen.
Sari had become more rebellious in the last couple of months, but she had never uttered such venom-filled words as she did that night. Running the conversation from earlier that evening through her head proved to be too much for the proud Orakian queen and she broke down and began weeping. She had never asked to be a single mother. Why couldn't her daughter, who was now entering adolescence, recognize just how hard it was to play the role of mother, father, and friend at the same time?
Oh Matthias, she sobbed.
I wish you were here. It's so hard for me to do all of this by myself. I try to discipline our daughter and be her friend, and I can't seem to do either thing right.
A few minutes passed and Lena stopped crying. Maybe a good night's rest would do good for the both of them. Yes, maybe Sari had simply been upset about something else and had unjustly taken it out on her. Perhaps she had not meant anything she had said earlier. That must be it. Lena wiped the tears from her red, puffy eyes, got up and walked over to her large bed. Pulling the silk sheets away she lay down and covered herself good; those Landen winters could really smart if she wasn't careful. Blowing out the candle on her bedstand, she was greeted by the tranquil darkness of the night and soon set about trying to go to sleep.
Suddenly, a searing pain shot through Lena's body, causing her to gasp aloud and sit up in her bed. She felt as if some invisible hand had wrapped its long, bony fingers around her heart and began squeezing.
Before she could call for the guards outside, the pain spread all throughout her chest and she soon found herself struggling for air, as if all of it had been forced out of her lungs. Trying to speak, Lena was horrified to hear her voice coming out as nothing more than a low whisper.
Forcing herself out of bed, Lena collapsed onto the ground, the muscles in her legs ceasing to function. Why is this happening to me? Lena thought as she began dragging herself across her large bedroom toward the door. If she could only make it to the door, the guards would be able to get some medical attention for her. Each exertion made her entire diminutive frame ache, but she couldn't give up now; only a few more yards to the door.
Lena began coughing a little and she felt a warm sensation and a peculiar taste in her mouth: blood. The queen had no idea what illness had just befallen her, but she knew it was of the essence that she get tended to immediately. She pulled herself across the carpet with even more vigor, despite being practically unable to breathe. Her arms grew sorer and sorer with each inch of movement.
When she was within a yard of the door, she began to feel a little light-headed. The pain began to go away. Lena felt her muscles relax and loosen up a little. However, before she could get up, a powerful desire to sleep came upon the weakened queen.
It's okay, she thought,
I'll just rest here a little bit and when my strength comes back, I'll have the guards get help for me.
And with that thought in mind, the young queen of Landen and Satera closed her eyes and smiled, knowing that all would be well.
Sari left her bedroom and walked over to her mother's bedroom, almost skipping through the hall as she did so. The young princess had slept quite well that night and was feeling quite better since her argument with her mother the queen the night before. She knew that if she came into her mom's room with a better attitude, it'd help her set things straight easier.
Rounding the hall to where Lena's room was, Sari ceased her skipping when she saw the guards standing outside of her room, not wanting them to see more of her body than she would've liked; despite wearing a thick white robe, her undergarments were quite short and her legs were more than visible whenever she skipped. Carrying herself a little more solemnly, she approached the two men in armor.
Has my mother gotten up yet? she inquired of the two.
One of the guards shook his head.
No, my princess. She hasn't left her chamber yet. I think she's still sleeping.
Sari scratched her chin and then nodded.
Okay. I'm going to go in and surprise her. The two of you can go get some breakfast if you want. Sari wasn't the queen, but she still had the authority to order the guards around, at least in some things.
After the two men had left the hallway, Sari happily pushed the double doors of her mother's room earlier. The young woman's rosy cheeks immediately grew pale at what she was greeted with: the motionless body of her mother lying on the ground immediately before. Sari tried to scream, but nothing came out. The young girl dropped to her knees and began shaking her mother's body.
Mom! Mom! Get up! Mom! Are you okay? Answer me! Answer me! Her cries grew more and more hysterical.
Mom! It's okay! I'm sorry! I'm sorry for what I said! Get up, mom! Her cheeks were already wet from so many tears and the volume of her voice went up several levels.
Mom! Please! For the love of Orakio, answer me!
Sari soon felt some hands grab her, but she didn't bother to see who it was.
No! Let me go! Let me go! Mother! Don't leave me! Please, don't abandon me, mother! I'm sorry! I'll be a good girl!
Don't leave me! Let me go! Let me go! Please don't—
Sari! yelled a familiar voice.
The sound of her name brought her back to reality. The Queen of Landen turned to see her husband, Ayn, sitting next to her, holding her arms gently. Sari grew silent as she tried to compose herself, breathing deeply and telling herself that it had only been a nightmare.
Are you okay? asked Ayn gently.
Sari nodded. She hated having these nightmares around Ayn; she thought that they made him think she was crazy.
Her husband smiled and caressed her face a little.
It was about your mother again, wasn't it?
The queen wiped the tresses of brown hair, soaking wet from her sweat, out of her eyes.
Yes, she muttered.
Anything you'd like to share with me?
Sari shook her head. She had never told Ayn that her final words to her mother had been ones spoken in anger; she was far too ashamed to tell him.
No, my dear. It's okay. I think it'll be better if I just sleep it off.
Ayn kissed Sari on the forehead.
Suit yourself. Remember, if you ever need to—
I know, my love, interrupted Sari.
Both husband and wife lay down. Ayn wrapped his arm around his wife and rubbed her belly a little, and soon found his hand interlocked with his wife's. Sari felt Ayn's other hand combing through her long, brown hair and started to feel a little more relaxed again. So relaxed, in fact, that she soon could no longer hear the screams of her 13-year-old self echoing through her head.
Sari, the queen of Landen, lay on her bedside, her husband hovering over her. She had been stripped of almost all over clothing save some of her undergarments. Her eyes were halfway open and Ayn did his best to maintain conversation with her as he rubbed her body with alcohol in order to keep her temperature from rising any more.
In the past week, the Alisa III had come within a dangerous distance to the nearest star in whatever galaxy it had been travelling through. The temperature of the artificial atmosphere had risen dramatically on the ship, despite the efforts of the descendants of the engineers from Techna to keep the climate systems in Aridia maintained. As the temperature rose to well past a hundred degrees Fahrenheit, people all over the more temperate domes had become ill. Queen Sari was the latest person to come down with heat stroke.
It's okay sweetheart, said Ayn, his lips trembling, as he poured some cool water mixed with salt and sugar into her mouth.
Crys and the others will save us. Just hang in there. Ayn tried to keep his calm, despite his wanting to break down at that very moment.
Sari forced a smile.
I know, my love. I have faith that Orakio and Laya will watch over them. Her voice grew weaker.
Ayn quickly grabbed a paper fan and beat waves of warm air over her rapidly-drying skin.
Please, my dear. Try to stay awake. You remember what the doctor said. He held one of her hands in his and held it up to his face, his own tears beginning to stream down onto it.
And before she finished her sentence, her eyelids began to grow heavy and Sari allowed herself to drift into unconsciousness.
Sari opened her eyes to find herself by herself in the halls of the Landen castle. There was something different about it, although she couldn't quite figure out what it was. As she wandered up and down the halls, calling out her husband's name, she came across the corridor that led to her bedroom, the same one her mother Lena had once slept in years before. To Sari's surprise, there were two guards standing in front of it, whom she immediately recognized as the two that had stood outside her mother's room when —
Suddenly, she saw a young girl of about thirteen years of age skip down the hall from the other end. She couldn't believe it: it was Sari herself. It quickly dawned on the Landen queen what she was about to witness.
Sari's skin went pale and she started biting her nails in anxiety. She watched in nervous horror as the two guards turned to leave the hall while her younger self ran merrily into her mother's bedroom. The queen walked wearily, almost stumbling with each step, down the red carpet and entered the room.
Once again, she was surprised to see nobody, not herself nor her mother's body, inside the room. Except for herself, the bedchamber was totally empty. Confused, Sari examined the room, calling out her mother's and husband's name, hoping that somebody would show up and tell her what was going on. She sat down on the bed, grabbed a pillow, and held it against her chest, trying to get her thoughts in order.
Suddenly, a gentle feminine voice echoed in the room.
The queen of Landen spun around and saw Lena standing in the doorway. The former queen was garbed in long, flowing white robes. Her hair had grown and now fell a little past her shoulders before curling upwards a little. She looked about as young as she did when Sari had been just a little girl, but now her countenance was like lightning.
Tears quickly gathered at Sari's eyes and threatened to overflow any moment.
Lena nodded with a serene smile.
Yes, sweetie. It's me.
Sari quickly got up and ran quickly across the room, lunging into her mother's warm embrace.
I missed you so much, mother. I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry that things ended the way they did.
Sari's mother kissed her on the forehead.
My dearest daughter, it's okay now. What happened is now past. It's time for you to let it go.
But mother, I said some horrible things back then. I can't forgive myself for letting my final words to you be what they were.
As Sari rested her face in her mother's hands, Lena spoke.
I've long since put it past me. You should do the same. Lena took a deep breath.
It makes me sadder to see you suffer because of your past mistakes than the mistakes themselves ever did. Sari, honey, you just have to let it go.
A subtle motion with Lena's hand silenced Sari's protest.
Nothing you do can change what happened. It will simply make things worse.
I...I... Sari struggled to collect her thoughts.
Daughter, Lena began, starting to pace throughout the room.
I'm happy where I am now. Things are now peaceful for me. And you, I've watched you grow up and do marvelous things for the kingdom and for your family. I'm so proud to see you take care of your husband the way you do, and I see that he's just as devoted to you as you are to him.
Sari looked at her mother perplexedly.
So you mean—you haven't—
No, sweetie. I've never left you completely. And the sooner you forgive yourself, the easier it'll be for you to feel me close to you later on.
So, that would mean that I'm not—
Oh no, my dear. You have a long life ahead of you and many great adventures awaiting. Things will get better for the Alisa III very soon and I guarantee you that a welcome home banquet for my grandson will be in order before you know it. Lena started walking towards the door.
It's time for me to leave now. I'm sorry I couldn't stay longer, but remember, I'm always with you, even until the end of the world.
Sari wiped the tears from her face.
I love you, mother. Despite what I said, you were the best mother a young girl could have.
I love you, too, Sari.
The beautiful brown-haired queen slowly opened her eyes. She saw her husband Ayn kneeling beside her, his head buried in her belly. Although still weak, she reached out and ran her fingers through his cyan hair. Ayn looked up at her; he had obviously been crying.
May Orakio be praised! You've come back to me.
I never left you my dear.
Inching his head closer to hers, he replied softly.
I thought I had lost you.
Her voice still weak, Sari whispered,
You don't think the toughest woman Landen has ever known would give up that easily now, do you?
Ayn kissed her lightly on the lips.
I suppose not, my dear. How are you feeling now?
Sari took a deep breath.
I'm quite better now. I don't think I've felt as good as I feel now in years.
Ayn stared at her in amazement, but then grinned and nodded.
Sari winked at him.
Now, what does a girl have to do to get some water around here?