Hele. Surrounded by joyful faces, laughing, mouth hanging barely open in a constant involuntary smile, chin hovering slightly above its normal place every time her eyes darted to meet her Soldier's. Hele, perfectly happy.
Her dress is pale rose, embroidered with gold thread in the image of intertwined birds and fish that shimmer as her skirt sweeps along the floor. Despite the fact that she is the princess, her dress is not the finest at the ball. Some are layered in ways seemimgly impossible. Some are made of exotic fabrics, the purest of their kind. Some colors stare the world in the face, daring to stand out among the pale pinks and greys and blues. Some are simply green, which I can't help appreciating more than the others. I've always been partial to the color--especially the particularly dark shades. But even the finest dress is not as fine as the glow of Hele's cheeks. Nor the curls of her hair, which fall past the middle of her back, unrestrained and shining.
And I am not the only one to notice her beauty. It is no coincidence that her soldier meets her gaze as often as she glances his way. They are commonly seen together, though everyone is still speculating concerning the nature of their relationship. I know better than that though, as is the case with those who watch instead of plunging head first into the celebrations.
I only wish I could taste the wine.
Music starts, and I can't hear it, but that's normal. Feet tap, men in fitted suits sweep their partners in circles, delecate arms link and perfect faces smile. I revel in the memories the sight brings.
How many of these balls have I been to now? Well, more than I can possibly remember.
The room is full, as are the hearts of those present.
Hele's soldier drags her into the dance, steps memorized since childhood. They talk, but I don't listen. After a few more exchanges, he leads her to the edge of the dance before sweeping her into a vacant side room separated from the main one only by a velvet curtain. His posture relaxes once they are out of sight , and he pulls her closer, hand relaxing on Hele's waist. She looks into his eyes in earnest before he brings her into a kiss. It's gentle, loving. Her eyes close.
More memories. I've had my own "soldier", so to speak. She's gone now. Nothing truly tying her to this place, I suppose. It is a worse place for her absence. I would give anything to dance with her one more time. I would make it last forever.
Time is a cruel blessing.
Time. Time sweeps away the party, the wine, the king and queen, Hele and her pale pink dress. Time will not forget, though. I'll make sure of it.
A marriage comes, along with another pale pink dress. Hele's glow is brighter than ever. She looks more and more like...
It's in their eyes. Her soldier loves her, and she him.
But time has never loved. And with time comes anger, and with anger comes war.
Time steals her soldier. He is marched away, into chaos guided only by death. Smoke and screams. Hate and loss.
Hele ties her hair up, twisting and pinning the glow out of it. The red in her cheeks looks something more like anger than life. Her soldier was her life.
Factions of a dysfunctional kingdom turn their back on their leader, their queen, and their princess. They try to usher in a new era, and succeed at destroying the kingdom.
I watch it fall into ruin and blood. I watch men and women flee once peaceful streets, leaving only the most desperate to raid the barely gleaming palace halls, taking away the dresses of pale pink and deep green. The silks and wines of my memories are ravaged.
I will never leave.
Years pass, and I stay in the kingdom. I let green invade the palace halls, climbing the ballroom walls and wetting the walls of the side rooms with moss and mold. Part of the ceiling collapses under a heavy snowfall. I watch the vines sleep, and wake, I see flowers wilt like the dreams of so many citizens. So many people.
I can do nothing to stop time's advance, and if nothing else, there is life in the palace again. But it is not enough for me. I want the celebrations again, I want the memories. The good ones.
Then I see her. Older now, her light has faded into a steady burn that matches neither sadness or joy. It's not angry.
It's life. It is time, changing her. Time changes things.
Her hand trembles as she pulls her hat down, letting it fall to the floor. If I could hear it, it would probably be the only sound in the room.
Pin after pin, her hair loosens. Raking one hand through it, it falls in all its beauty. Of course it's longer now.
Her eyes sing of pain. Her lips cover a mouth that used to speak hope to anyone's soul.
Her dress is brown, common, heavy for the chill autumn weather.
Tears, on her cheeks. Chin fallen and trembling. Her eyes.... Her eyes search the decaying room, finding the walls beneath the vines, the marble hidden beneath dirt and ashes. I know what she sees. I see it every day, every time I wish I could just move on. I see the grandeur of the past, of elegant suits and extravagant feasts--but more importantly of joy, and prosperity.
It's all lost to the decades.
Hele reaches one arm up, placing it on his shoulder, reaching with the other for a hand that is not there.
She looks up, somehow. And I see her smile.
She steps forward hesitantly. Then, trembling, she starts a dance.
I remember the song.
I know the dance.
My hand fits in hers as I fall into step with her. Both of us, dancing alone, with each other. Neither truly touching, but wishing we were feeling something other than empty.
Time, in the end, understands. It has seen more than the most lonely ghost, the oldest man, the widest valley. It saw the first tear, heard the first heart break.
It knows my pain. Our pain. Hele's pain. It knows more.
Maybe.... Maybe I'll be truly gone before I see pain like this again.
No one can say why I haven't moved on. No one knows why I'm still here, or what my work is to be.
No one but time.