“She hasn’t moved, eaten or spoken in days,” the woman said, a tinge of worry laced into her voice. The man standing beside her fought back the urge to utter a somber noise as he looked upon the figure that laid upon the bed, hair matted and tangled, spread widely over a lumpy pillow, “I mean no disrespect, sir, but I don’t think even you could get her to speak.”
The man took in the face of the girl on the bed, her face as white as the sheet she was laying under, her eyes dull and glazed over, staring at nothing. She made no notion of hearing the opening of the tent, just continued to stare blankly. It hurt the man to see those once brilliantly shining blue eyes so pale the girl almost looked blind. He wasn’t so sure that she wasn’t. Her cheeks were hollow and sunken in, confirming what the nurse had said about her not eating in days.
The man, a high-ranking general in the army, removed his helmet and placed it under his arm, his eyes not leaving the girl. She had better accommodations than most, according to his orders. For a moment, he stood, stoic, not quite trusting his voice. When he felt like he’d regained his voice, he uttered a single word. A name, “Eris,”
The girl didn’t move, didn’t speak, didn’t even flick her eyes up towards the man. The man felt his chest deflate. He was hoping that maybe he could get her to speak, to tell what had happened to her and her platoon out on the field. He hoped that he could apologize for the pain he had put her through, the pain so painfully evident on her face. Despite his better judgement, he stayed firm in his standing, but let his face crack, just a bit, the tears pooling at the corners of his eyes,
“Eris, please.” His voice didn’t crack. He refused to let it.
She blinked, still refusing to look at him, her eyes still trained onto the skin that acted as the tent walls. Gods, those eyes, so dull. He hated it. He had put that damned hollowed look on her face and all he could do now was hope that after the third time, she would find it in her heart to look up at him. Just one subtle look from this broken girl could change his whole world, “Eris, I’m begging you,” This time his voice did crack, his stoicness fading, blowing away in the light breeze.
She blinked again, longer this time, pulling in a shuttering breath. When she opened her eyes again, they trained on him, the fires of anger he expected to burn there nonexistent. Instead, the stare was blank, dead, much like that of a fish set out at the market. Gods, what had he done? This was his punishment, this cruel silence, this cruel stare. And he deserved it. He knew that. It had become the only truth in the passing days.
The girl, miraculously, sat up, swinging her legs over the side of the bed, her bare feet planted into the grassy floor under their feet. She had removed her eyes from him, instead to peer beside his arms through the crack in the tent flap, her eyes subtly following the bustling going on in the camp. Her matted hair stood up in all directions, some pieces falling limply over her back and shoulders. Her face was a statue, unmoving, showing no signs of emotions, no ghost of that bright smile lingered.
It was as the sheet fell away in slow motion that the man fully grasped the magnitude of what had happened to the shell of a girl that sat before him. She was dressed in black leather pants and a sleeveless white tunic, but the bandages wrapped around her arms and neck, completely soaked through with blood were burned into his memory, glued to the back of his eyelids every time he blinked. More scars to adorn her. More scars that he placed on her, willingly.
Her face, he now noticed, was not only hollow but absolutely covered in dark bruises, black patches covering the tan skin that once existed there. He was glad that throughout his staring at the girl, the nurse had moved on to tend to some of the other patients in the camp, for he dropped to his knees in front of the girl, holding onto her for dear life. She flinched when his arm was draped over her thigh, hissing in pain, scrabbling for purchase on the slick grass. The leg was broken, useless. The man let the tears fall.
“Eris, Gods, what have I done to you?” he gasped, his voice ragged, “If I had known, I wouldn’t have sent you out there. I never would have done this to you. I swear to you, Eris, I never would have done this if I had known it would turn out this way.” He waited, waited for the sign she had forgiven him, like all the other times before when he had sent her, knowingly, yet unknowingly, into danger, waited desperately and in vain for her fingers to tangle in his hair, for her voice to cascade to his ears in that soft whisper, soothing, able to end any pain. But the relief of this never came.
Eris kept her hands plastered to the bed, fingers not even twitching. Her blank stare remained steadfast and trained ahead. Her voice was hoarse and scratchy from disuse when she spoke, “I watched them all die.” No tears sprang to her eyes. She had wasted all her tears on that battlefield, all her screams falling upon deaf ears. All of her brothers, so ready and willing to jump in front of her, not willing to let her die.
The man at her feet, the man who had once vowed to protect her, let out a choked sob. It did not pull on her heart strings. It did not bring tears to her eyes. It did not make her fingers itch to comfort him. All of those things had blown away in the breeze that took his stoicness. No. It had blown away with the last breaths of her fallen brothers. He started to beg, imploring the broken girl for her forgiveness, but she stayed firm, her eyes staring through the crack, waiting for one of her brothers to throw back the flap and waltz in, making some sarcastic joke about how their fearless leader, their sovereign queen of battle, couldn’t possibly be incapacitated. But the jokes and laughter would never come. Her brothers were dead, their bodies reduced to ash on the burning field.
“Eris, I did not know that this would be the outcome. I was only following orders, you must know that. I had my orders, and I couldn’t fight them, no matter how hard I tried,” He knew he was lying to her. There were no higher orders. This was his mistake. His mistake to own. So why was he lying to her. He felt the girl stiffen, and for a moment he thought she would spring for the bed, unwilling to let the pain of a broken leg stop her, but she stayed planted, and the general knew in his mind that she did not believe him. He knew because he did not look at her while he spoke.
“My brothers in arms, general, I saw each and every one of them fall.” She spat the word general, her voice full of contempt, all the pain in her heart falling into that one word. She refused to utter that name that had once had all her love poured into it. She doubted she could ever speak it again, in any form. She heard another strangled sound escape the man’s mouth as she spoke the word, the word that had once been replaced with a name, spoken in reverence, uttered like a sacred prayer.
“Eris…” And there it was, the thing she had so been dreading, the reverence absent from her own speech poured graciously into his. She stiffened even further, her muscles tightening, gripping her aching, broken bones. She shook her head, closing her eyes.
“No.” She said, her voice firm, “No, you do not get to speak to me that way. Not anymore. There is no higher order. That order came from you. It came from you and my brothers are dead and you have the nerve to come in here, beg for forgiveness on your knees in front of me, and speak my name like nothing has changed. Forgive me, general, for being unforgiving. Forgive me for denying you for once in your life. Forgive me for saying that you certainly do not, and will never, deserve my forgiveness. Not in this life or the ones that follow.”
Her words were the poison he was forced to swallow, the sovereign word of the judge that pounded the gavel, his execution date set. Her words were the sword shoved through his heart, the arrow slung from a bow. All he could do was stand blindfolded, tied to the stake, waiting for the piercing pain.
“I watched the world burn, general. Everything was on fire. Every inch of ground engulfed in dancing orange flames that licked the sky. All I could do was sit on the burning ground, useless, my upper leg snapped like a mere twig. My brothers formed a line in front of me, swords at the ready, bows drawn, feet planted firmly, unwilling to watch me die. Unwilling to see the end of my life. Little did they know, but with every one that got cut down, a fragment of my heart and my soul went with them. I am left hollow because you were a fool.” The arrow sheathed itself in his soul and he recoiled, collapsing further onto the cold ground, his hand slipping to settle on the girl’s knees.
The general, seen as statuesque and immovable by all who knew him, folded in on himself in the presence of the girl he had ruined. The girl whose soul no longer existed. The girl who lost her band of brothers because he, as she put it, was indeed a fool. The man, built strong, able to withstand the most furious of battles, the most outrageous of tortures, dropped his hands from the knees of the hollow girl and moved them to clutch his chest, the feeling of his heart being torn to pieces immobilizing him. He again waited patiently for those dexterous fingers that could string a bow and a violin with equal skill to tangle in his hair. He waited to be held close, wounds forgotten, the pain of clutching someone against a screaming body ignored. And he again waited in vain, for the girl cast her eyes onto him as he imploded.
She didn’t speak further, just let the man feel the pain that had been tearing her apart for the last three days. Or had it been longer? She had lost count of the sunrises. or rather had chosen to ignore them. The pain in her body, the split skin, the snapped and useless leg, went unfelt. She waited for the flap to fly back once more. She could gripe about her pains with her brothers. Until then she chose to ignore it. But she couldn’t sit around the fire with them, wooden bowls of stew or broth clutched tightly to warm her palms, laughter spreading through and warming her chest as one of her brothers tore apart another at how appalling their fighting had been. She could never look at fire the same way again.
She couldn’t remember a time without those men at her side, fighting so endlessly for her. She couldn’t remember a time when they didn’t laugh. She couldn’t remember a time where they didn’t care what she said, no matter how terrible, sarcastic, or downright girlish. She couldn’t remember a time without their complete and utter trust. Because there had never been a time when those things didn’t exist. Not even when she was brought into the army by the breaking general before her. There had never been a single moment of contempt from the men that died for her.
“Eris, I never meant for them to die. I never meant for it to end like this. I never meant- I never knew that were so totally and completely willing to do whatever it took to keep you alive. I never knew that bringing you here would fix you just to then break you again. Eris, I never knew how much they meant to you. I was a fool, because I thought I meant more to you than they did.” He looked up at her when he spoke the last line, the only telltale sign that would let her know that he was telling her the truth.
The dull ache of loss grew to a white hot pain, an intense agony that felt like it would burn her from the inside. The general was even more foolish than she had thought previously. She felt the tears now, sliding down her face, one after another, a never ending waterfall. She pulled her legs back onto the bed, the broken one screaming out, but no physical pain could compare to the emotional pain she now felt rushing through her, “You thought you meant more to me than they did? My brothers? The ones I entrusted with my life the first day I stepped foot on this camp? The ones who were willing to do anything for me? You truly thought that you meant more to me than they did? You utter moron.”
“You told me I was your world, Eris, how could I not think that I meant more?” The general pushed himself up slightly, trying to regain what little composer he had left, which he could see, was slim to none. The broken girl shook her head, her clumped hair brushing against her shoulders, her face covered in tears, lips quivering.
“You were my world, but you read everything wrong. Those men were my heart, my soul, hell, they were my music which you know means more to me than the earth I walk on. When I set foot on this camp, I had vowed to never touch another violin, not for as long as I lived, but those men gave me such joy, such happiness, I couldn’t help but pick one up and start writing again. Each piece of music had the intertwined sound of their laughter. They were everything, and I am lost, soulless, and musicless without them. And I have no one to blame but you. So tell me, general, do you honestly think, now, that you mean more to me than them?”
The man folded in on himself again as the words floated through the air and into his ears. She was right, and he knew it. Those men kept her alive when he couldn’t. Those men were the driving force in her life and he was selfish enough to think that he was the one keeping her alive. No. He was the one killing her. He shook his head, “No. I mean less than nothing to you. I sent them to their deaths. I knowingly did that, Eris, and I do not deserve your forgiveness. But I will apologize for their deaths, their sacrifice, for you, because you still live, and while that’s true, I am willing to repent everyday. I will repent until I see that free smile cross your face once more.”
“Get out.” The girl spat, her voice firm, laced with every ounce of hurt, every dying breath of her brothers, every single scratch and broken bone, “Get out and don’t come back. I will no longer fight for you. I will no longer be your pawn. I will no longer raise your flag of war. I will no longer look upon your face as I once did. I will no longer speak your name. And above all, I will no longer love you. So get out, general. Just get out.”
The stoic, statuesque general stood from his hunched position, eyes briefly glancing over the girl he loved, hoping to find some crack in the structure, some space that proved she was lying, that there was a part of her that could love him again. Her eyes met his, and the rage he had been waiting to see filled them, burning from inside her, sadness following suit. A storm swan in those eyes, and there was no crack in the structure. The girl before him would never love him again. He turned and exited the tent, pulling his helmet back on his head, the shadows hiding the tears. His sword in its sheath swung as he walked, it’s weight heavy and daunting.
He entered the woods that surrounded the camp, making sure that he was far enough away from prying eyes and ears. This was the end of an era, an era started by his hand. What unique and twisted kind of justice it was that it should be ended by his, too. He pulled the sword its sheath and glanced over the silver blade. He saw his face reflected on the surface, tear tracks staining his cheeks, eyes red and puffy, bloodshot. How fitting. Without hesitation, he turned the sword in his hands and plunged it towards his chest. The pain as it entered his heart was nothing compared to the words of the broken girl that sat, utterly alone, at the camp.
She sat quietly, her eyes still watching the flaps of the tent, hoping to hear the laughter of at least one of her brothers. She could copy it through the flowing sound of her violin, but it wouldn’t be the same. It wouldn’t hold the shake of their shoulders or the glint of mischief in their eyes. No music could ever capture that. She sat for hours before curling back up under the thin sheet. When the news of the general’s suicide reached her ears, she sat motionless, just as she had in the days prior. She gave no reaction, only refused the food and medical attention. It was four days before she succumbed to death herself. Hell rejoiced and heaven mourned. She was everything, and as she entered the depths, she shook hands with the devil, the free smile once again returning to her face.