Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Samantha Lee Week 110: Survival

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Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: Both

Title: Survival

It is a miserable, wet, gray day, the sort of day meant for the great indoors, possibly with hot chocolate and snuggling tossed in for good measure, and maybe with a surprise visit from the Cat in the Hat for kiddies left in the care of talking goldfish. Naturally, however, I am nowhere near the great indoors. Nope, while others (and by "others" I mean pretty much every other sane person) are snug, cozy, and dry behind walls and under roofs, I am out in the cold, wet, windy open traipsing about ruins so old they were ancient in ancient times. I'm not entirely sure what the ruins are supposed to have been, time has worn the original structure down to a series of scattered stone steps and walls swallowed up by grass and weeds and moss. A single curved wall rises up maybe fifty feet, rectangular holes near its top had no doubt once served as windows with two rows of arched entry ways below. It isn't exactly my idea of a fun day outing.

Which pretty much tells you right there that this little excursion is neither my whim nor my will. Nope, this is completely, entirely, absolutely Fi's fault.

"There's something I need to do," she'd said that morning, giving me one of those looks I really need to build some resistance against, the kind that was all big eyes and hidden depths. Curse those hidden depths - they always got the better of my curiosity. Which, by the way, I also curse. Regularly.

"What's that?" I'd asked her, mentally bracing myself. Fi was an important lady, a Queen if we want to be specific, and that led to a lot of errands and missions and little jobs. The ones she chose to do herself were a mixed bag, sometimes as simple as picking up mascara (she claimed no one else ever got the right kind - who even knew there were different kinds?! It's MASCARA, for crying out loud) at other times as complex as negotiating treaties with dragons (which she did mostly because no one else would do it, not even Keeley or Khardeen who would have walked through fire on her command, or Dumitru, Wolf, or Fiachra who had all literally died for her - it was that unpleasant of a job). She always brought someone with her, sometimes multiple someones (Khardeen, Keeley, Wolf, London, and Sparrow all went on the dragon missions and more probably would have tagged along if given the choice; they may not have been willing to carry out the endeavour themselves but, like the old saying goes, you must protect your Queen). Who she chose to go with her tended to reflect the sort of task it would be; Khardeen and Keeley tend to go on the Indiana Jones adventures, Dumitru, as her mate, got the ones with a potential for romance, London and Wolf were usually for protection details, Fiachra and Fang got the political messes. Me? I got the random ones, the ones that took Tolkien, dashed in some James Bond, added a pinch of Alice in Wonderland, and shook them all up until suitably wacky.

Twas the cross I bore. Lucky me.

"It's a small errand," she'd told me, with a small smile that was almost apologetic and scared me right to the marrow. "A friend left something for me in an old hiding spot; I just need to go pick it up."

Note to self: next time, get definition of "old hiding spot" before agreeing to tag along.

Hindsight. What a bitch.

Now, Fi walks along the stone wall and runs the fingers of her left hand over the stones. She's humming something; I recognize it as one of the melodies she favours when playing her violin but I cannot think of its name nor its composer and I doubt either one is common knowledge anymore. She hasn't said much since leaving home, but then she'd been getting more and more introspective of late, withdrawing more and more into her thoughts and own counsel. She makes the effort to seem like she's present, like she's aware of the world and what's happening around her, but more and more I've noticed her leaving Dumitru, Khardeen, Keeley, and Fiachra to do her talking for her. I think she's been worrying about something, carrying some burden she refuses to share, stubbornly sacrificing her own peace of mind rather than bother anyone else. I blame her father; he'd been big on whole heavy-is-head-that-wears-the-crown philosophy.

"You were wrong," she says suddenly, her voice clear in spite of the pattering rain and roar of wind.

I've been standing with my back against one of the taller stone piles, taking what shelter I could from the rain while remaining close enough to Fi that I could hear and defend her as needed. Now, I walk across the short distance separating us and join her where she's paused in her walking. "Want to narrow that down a bit?" I ask.

"About ruins. Do you remember? Not these, not now, but before, long ago, when we went to the old Coliseum."

I did remember that. We'd been in Rome for Siobhan because apparently even when Fi curses you to endure a less than happy eternity, she still cares enough to slay your monsters for you. As she'd said at the time, she was the only one alone to punish those who were hers, thanks very much. Once the matter had been handled, she and I had gone to the Coliseum since neither of us had ever been, hard as that was to believe.

"I don't like ruins," I'd told her. "Mortals go out of their way to build these monuments with the intention that they stand for eternity, silently reminding all the future generations of the cultures and kingdoms that come before. Long after mortal memory forgets, these buildings remain in testimony of the past. Except they don't; time makes a mockery of them, reducing them to skeletal remains and mere shadows of their former glory."

Fi had look around at the crumbling stone and shrugged. "We remember though, don't we? Mortal memory might fail, but not ours; we remember when the shouts of dying men and the roars of spectating crowds filled this air. We remember when blood and sand covered this ground, warmed by a younger sun. We remember when emperors ruled here with laurel wreaths and togas while senates seethed and the populace cheered. Maybe that's enough?"

"Death still comes to their would-be immortality," I'd pointed out and Fi hadn't said anything more.

Until now, centuries later, when she'd suddenly thought of a reply.

"Scatterbrained much?" I tease, tugging gently on a loose tendril of her hair and earning myself a glare.

"Just because you don't understand the destination doesn't mean the journey was a maze," she tells me.

I quirk an eyebrow, my expression turning skeptical. "That doesn't make any...You know what? Never mind. How was I wrong about ruins?"

She's looking at her hand, at where her fingers touch the cold, wet stone. Her expression is thoughtful but there is something else mixed in, something I can't quite identify. "You said they die, that time wears them down to dust, but that's not right. It's not dying, not really, only changing, becoming something else, something that shows its age and stands out in a world that's moved on while it remains in spite of time's efforts. That's not death, is it? That's survival."

"I suppose," I concede, "but I'm not sure what are you saying. Fi, why are we here?"

Sighing, she shakes her head, clearing it, and looks around. "I only meant that change isn't necessarily a sort of death; even the Fae change and transform as the centuries pass so we're hardly immune. We do what we have to in order to survive and that's okay...isn't it?"

I'm not sure where these thoughts are coming from or where they're heading. Usually, Fi worries about her loved ones, her people, and her rule and tends to avoid the deeper abstracts. Or maybe she talks about them with her other Wraiths, or with her mate, or with her brother, and I'm spared. Still, I'm not sure how to respond, what the right words are or even where to find them.

Fi smiles and pats my cheek. "It's okay, honey; you don't need to answer. It's not really one of those questions. What I'm looking's not here after all but I found something else instead. Are you ready to go?"

I pretend to pout. "And miss out on enjoying this glorious weather?!"

Rolling her eyes, Fi loops her arm through mine and leans her head against my shoulder. "Let's go home," she says and I nod.

I had the disturbing feeling something significant had just happened, as though if I could understand what Fi had been trying to say, I'd be able to foresee some impending disaster and divert it, save the day. It's a ludicrous idea and yet...

And yet I can't help but wish I understood what had just happened.


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