It had been days since the news was gifted to her. Days since Merlot sat themself in front of her and Showstopper and let those ill-fortuned words slip out from his lips. She couldn't tell when her heart broke, she couldn't pin point it down to the moment or the gesture. Was it the downturn of their eyes? The soft words of Show in his feeble attempts to grasp the situation? Was it the subtle kick of her own child at the word dead? The concept was unreachable, trying to tug on the line and bend reality to find where the unfortunate and hurtful news brewed the sadness in her gut and the snap in her chest.
She didn’t know why she returned to the old camp. There were still inches of water that rested at the bottom, deeming the old home of them all uninhabitable. But she came back. Tears were sitting in her eyes as the water graced her stomach, chilling her but not allowing her to stop her movements. She moved past the old hut that the Healing Guild had rested in, stood in front of the atrium, the ruined garden (Thea would have her behind for that one.) It hurt to watch all that she knew be so easily torn from her - but she wondered if it hurt more having not been there for it. Having not been there for her mother’s death, either. Did the lack of a presence lessen the pain or make it hurt worse?
Her home was last on her short, sad walk. She shivered as the moonlight danced on the edges of the cavern, the water shimmering relentlessly as she managed to tug the door open. Books still floated, pages torn and soaked. Some rested neatly on their shelves still, somehow. She made a mental note to see if they were in any good shape. Her flowers were scattered and wilted - she could see the rune Junebug made her but it was sat on a too high ledge, and she once again couldn’t pull herself to use her wings properly.
The pain in her chest grew as she moved slowly to her old bed, the sheets and pillows ruined and musky. She rested her head on a pillow nonetheless, ears folded back on her head and eyes shut for a moment and no longer. She could get sick if she lingered in these still waters, much more if she risked resting her head on damp pillows. But she didn’t want to move. Her head felt numbing, heavy, the effort it took to pull herself up once again greater than she anticipated. A paw came to press against her temple, a soft sob leaving her as she massaged her head, only to find a slip of paper plastered to her fur. It must’ve been on the pillow and, in the darkness, she missed it.
Her paw took it from her face and held it out, figuring it was one of the many notes that Junebug had once given her. Ones from before they began dating, before they agreed to start the family that was now harbored in her womb. She figured, for a moment, that the dose of innocence would save her from her unending grief. She held the paper out in the filtered light, teary eyes narrowed to slits to try to make sense of the smudged handwriting. It was sculpted, almost, the letters curved and created with a delicate hand. A hand that she knew Junebug did not have - this handwriting did not belong to him.
You are the grandest Queen of all - no other could compare.
It must've been one of the notes the stranger left around before their old camp flooded. It was simple. It was harmless. She repeated the words like a mantra, the idea that the creature who wrote the note was none the wiser over her situation - her thoughts spilled out of her own lips and the dam finally broke, tears escaping her eyes in rapid succession, a sob breaking through and cracking through the empty cavern like a lightning strike. Sangria didn’t think of crying as a weakness like some of her siblings did. It was relieving, it helped her pour her sadness out. But her pain didn’t empty. Her chest hurt more and more and her headache grew with each earth shaking sob and it didn’t let up.
Reading the note felt as if she was being compared to a god, like she was going to be stricken down for the mere allegation that she was better than the late-Queen of the other desert. She thought she knew her mother better than that - after all, all Nadine wanted was for her own to be in her image, for those she birthed to grow and be grander than herself. But the note felt like a jab to her gut (or were those her children pummeling her for her bout of sadness?) It was misplaced, badly timed, and worst of all - true.
With Nadine dead, Sangria stood as the last ranked Queen in Agrelos. And she hated it. There was no longer a comparison, and though with the wound so fresh Sangria wished to try and hope. She wanted to hear that she was just as great as her mother, that she brought warmth to hearts and smiles to faces just as Nadine struck fear and lust into her subjects. But now she would never get that - neither herself or her mother would get the experience of being compared. Even in the light of being proper neutrals or enemies, Sangria waited for the day that she and her mother would be laughing on the battlefield, teasing and playing about who had to be the better Queen.
But it was ripped from her. She ripped the experience away by ruining the Accord, and now her mother’s murderer ripped away the last semblance of positivity she could milk from the situation.
Her remaining claws shredded the note. It was untrue and littered with forbidden words. The soggy strips of paper drifted in the water, slowly sinking and laying on her cold floor. Her sobs still wracked her body as her paws clutched her shoulders, holding herself closer. She didn’t know how long she held herself like that, like a pitiful child, alone in the moonlight and still waters. But she eventually was able to sit straight again, her paw lightly pressing against her eyes and swiping away the tears. She was silent, swallowing the pain in her throat and staring into space, before she stood again.
Her paws led her to her bookcase, to which she scaled via the ladder she had on hand. She searched and looked, glancing at warped spines and soggy pages, searching for a specific storybook. Her eyes finally found it, and quickly the book was gathered into her paws and she descended to the ground once again. She rested the book upon her bed and pried it open, careful with its delicate pages. Rapunzel, a story of a girl locked in a tower and a man climbing her hair.
Would you sell me for a head of lettuce?
‘Course not, sweetie; I’d want at least two for you.
The memory of her voice so small, so unaware and innocent. Even Nadine's voice was warped in her mind, far more caring, though she knew her mother's love never wavered. Nadine grew indifferent to situations, built on her ego and the love of her subjects, but never once did the love of her children slip from her grasp. Tears still fell down her cheeks as she held her nose in the old book, and though she was saddened she held in her sobs. She read the story and turned the pages, careful to not tear them. The pictures were so worn, by her paws, by her mother’s. The corners bent and folded in other stories that she and Nadine never got to finish. She remembered when the others would sit around, too, or when Ver would pretend that she knew what was going on but only could remember the pictures.
Pages were turned and eventually she made it back to the start, the title page where a reddened paw print was left, dainty nails scoring the page above each toe. And beside it, a smaller paw, its own claws adorning the page still. Nadine’s handwriting was hard for Sangria to read when she was so young, but she had Nadine read it to her thousands of times over. Even now with the letters smudged by the water, she could recite it by heart. And though her heart hurt, she gave it a shot.
"To my little princess," she wondered faintly if Nadine intended for her to grow as big as she did, to gain the rank that she has today. She knew her mother was proud, but how far did her pride extend? "Until you can create stories of your own, I hope these ones are a damn good inspiration," a huff of laughter left her lips - she always censored herself when she tried to read it when she was younger. It was a wonder she had yet to properly cuss in front of the masses, like her mother did frequently, "You’re gonna do great. Love, Momma." It was always punctuated by a kiss, by a hug, by a snuggle and a goodnight. It was an odd moment where she wondered the last time she lain curled up with her parents and siblings - if she knew it was the last time.
A shaky sob left her chest, nothing healed or mended and, in truth, rereading the smeared handwriting did little to ease her broken heart - but a smile fit onto her face. Sangria cried some more, forever unable to hold in her emotion when alone. She had no way of knowing Nadine’s thoughts before death, her ideas of no one truly loving her or caring for her - and perhaps this was a blissful ignorance to have. To know the falsehoods would heighten the pain, and to know that she could never correct them or make the ideas right... It'd shatter her every being.
"I love you too, Momma," she murmured, softly, lip quivering.
The book was closed carefully, a gentle kiss pressed to the leather cover. She lingered for a moment before tucking it beneath her sword and harness, tight against her body. She swallowed the sob that was held in her throat and made her way out of her waterlogged home, shaking out her fur and pushing herself to use her heavy wings. They lifted and pushed, pulling her out of the pond that became of their old home and sending her on her way, sadness still in tow. It would never leave - it rested on her shoulders, unrelenting, and she would have to live with the unyielding guilt and sadness. But at least she had her memories. At least she could cry. Not everyone could say that.
[ 1854 words :cursed stare: ]