A Single Rose

Maya had been told that most of the year the massive rail lines designated to serve the Citadel Military Cemetery were mostly empty. A vast testament to how many had died, and how few survived to visit them. Today, however, the trains were packed. It was the one-year anniversary of the Battle of Kar’Dathra’s gate, the beginning of the end, and it seemed that, for today at least, no one was able to suppress their need to mourn.

Maya’s uniform had won her a seat. The civilians pressing out of the way of the severely cut beige greatcoat. The rank tabs at her collar had won her elbow room, as even the others who had managed a seat in the cramped space backed away from her in a mixture of respect, awe, and fear. Sorceress-officers were rare, and those with a campaign ribbon for Al’Istaan rarer still. The sorcery corps had suffered casualties horrifying enough to be noteworthy in a battle that had killed millions.

A small part of Maya resented the space. She was just another woman who had lost everything to the war, she deserved no special treatment. Most of her, however, was grateful, for the space afforded by her uniform and rank meant she could write a letter. A letter that no one else would ever read.

Beloved Marcus,

Today marks one year since Kar’Dathra’s Gate. One year of waking in the middle of the night and reaching out to find myself in our bed alone. One year of turning to share an amusing observation with you only to be brutally reminded that you are gone. One year since your squad joined the list of those “missing, presumed dead”. I wish I had the eloquence to say what must be said. There are words bottled up inside me that I can’t express. It is said that time heals all wounds, and while the past year has proved that to be a lie, perhaps the inexorable march of time will eventually permit me to pour out what wells in my soul.

They told us that Al’Istaan would change the course of our nation, that it would set us once more on the inexorable path to greatness. In this they were half-right. The course of the United Republics of the Red Star changed, turning from mere stagnation to rapid collapse. I am surprised that we are not yet at war with ourselves, though I am grateful to whatever giver of miracles keeps us from tearing ourselves apart. There are those that fear that our nation could not survive a civil war, but that is not what haunts my troubled sleep. For our nation is doomed already, even if those in power are slow to realize it. No, what I fear is that our humanity would not survive a civil war. We are ruled by fear now more than ever, and the rhetoric from the Navy and the Party are that of strength and solidarity. A civil war would mean Al’Istaan all over again, except that we would be doing it to ourselves. Our people would be fed into the inexorable machine of war, and I’m not sure anything would be left to come out the other side.

And, yet, as much as I fear that the loss of our humanity is inevitable, I would gladly see it happen if it meant I could see you again. Just once, to catch your eye, to see you smile, to breathe in your scent. I know it is petty of me, but I would see our nation burn, and our people with it, if it meant you came back from Al’Istaan with me. Our nation is lost and unsure of itself, but I almost envy them. For I am lost and terrifyingly sure of myself. The wounds your loss has left on my soul will never close. I will never wake up not expecting your warm arms around me, or turn to glance over my shoulder without expecting to find your smile.

I find myself filling my days with duty. It is empty of joy, but it holds something that is like purpose, and while it terrifies me to admit it: I am no longer sure I have one of my own anymore. The memories of you hurt more than I can say. Each joy we shared now rubs my soul raw with loss. I hope and pray that you can forgive me, for when I wake tomorrow I shall immerse myself in my empty duty, drown my memories in a sea of mundane tasks, and I shall do my utter best to forget you.

I am sorry. I love you.

For eternity,

A few tears fell onto the page as Maya lifted her pencil, causing her to blink in surprise. She had not thought that there were any left within her. Not after the past year in which she had wept until she couldn’t anymore. Apparently the well of grief never fully ran dry. She lifted the letter and blotted it gently against the shoulder of her coat before folding it with careful precision and writing “Marcus” across it.

She stared at the name, blinking slowly, and lifted the crisp paper to her lips. It hurt to know that this was as close to kissing him again as she would ever come. Her eyes slid closed and her lips brushed across the paper in a signature more personal than anything she could have written. And she stayed that way even after the chime announcing the train’s arrival sounded. She could hear the people shuffling off, but could not bring herself to join them.

Eventually, after the sound of footsteps had faded into nothing but memory, she opened her eyes to find a single rose in her lap. Maya looked around the empty space as if that would reveal the flower’s source, but she was alone. Perhaps some stranger in that crowd of people had seen something of themselves in her grief, or perhaps it had simply fallen from one of the many bouquets and wreathes being carried today, it didn’t really matter which. Maya lifted the flower, letting it twist slowly between her fingers, and nodded to herself. Then she stood up, forced her shoulders square, and walked out into the snow.

It was time to see her husband.


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