A Different Future
They say you always want what you can't have. But standing with him in the low light of the tower, his face turning to shadows in the half-light of dawn, the problem is that I can have him. He is close, close enough to reach out and touch; if I asked him to ride with me somewhere far, far away, he would say yes in a heartbeat. But I know my duty. And so does he. A soldier and a princess could never have a future together. In a few hours, he will be off to fight, and I will be off to stand by my mother's side while she maneuvers armies and concocts plans to bring this war to an end. The Queen has been criticized for many things, many of them having to do with her being the first female ruler in a century, but no once can deny her skill as a strategist. As her only heir, I have a duty to be a leader and act in the best interest of what will one day be my people - a duty not well-served by running off with a soldier. I need to distance myself from those feelings, but when I hear him calling outside my bedroom window, when I see his good-natured smile and his wholehearted understanding of me, how can I not meet him in the dead of night?
Hearing the larks beginning to take up their morning song, I snap my mind away from the chasing of insubstantial dreams and turn to look at him. It's time to part; the short hours we stole together under the cover of night are ticking away as the sun continues to rise. I open my mouth to wish him good luck, a safe return, but he speaks first, jamming my words in my throat.
"I might not come back," he says. I want to tell him not to speak of such things, that there's no need to be so worried, that there's no way he could not come back. But he forges on, imploring me to agree to his plan. "We could still run away. Just leave together. No war, no - "
"Stop," I tell him. "It'll be fine. You'll come home. We'll figure something out."
Almost absently, he shakes his head. "No," he says. "I have a...a feeling. Like maybe, this is our last chance. We don't know what could happen."
Unease fills me at his words - we really don't know, do we? I see the life we could have together - one free from the heavy weights that burden both of our shoulders. I am tempted, so tempted - but what we want is second to our duties. In the instant when I shake my head and tell him no, I am giving up a whole life that could have been mine. I'll never know what could have happened if I'd said yes, but I do know that when he nods, he is unsurprised at my decision. "Goodbye," he tells me, and smiles the smile that almost makes me change my mind. "Goodbye," I whisper. I take a last look at him, then turn to leave up the stairs. Before I can do so, he catches my arm and presses it to his face, breathing in deeply. He sighs once, then leaves, and I am left alone with the ghost of a different future.