I staggered through the broken gates into the great hall, the armoured weight of Elania almost dragging me to the ground. I was weary beyond belief, my arms aching from a battle that had lasted all through the night.
That weariness was nothing next to my terror at the sound of Elania’s broken, rasping breaths. She stumbled, her arm slipping from around my shoulders. I got her as far as the guards’ empty bench before she collapsed.
“We won.” She opened her eyes, streaks of purple and silver swirling as she smiled. “The city is safe. You’re safe.”
Trembling fingers brushed my cheek, the tips of her gauntlet cold on my skin.
“But you’re dying,” I said, looking around for any sign of help. The whole palace was deserted, every last servant gone to the walls. Those who still lived would be looking to their own wounds, or sleeping where they fell. “What can I do?”
I knew little of human healing, none of that of the elves. Why had she ever chosen such a dull creature as me?
Blood dripped from between the plates of her armour, each droplet glowing like sunlight. It fell upon the tiny black and blue tiles of the floor, gleaming against their darkness.
“Nothing, my love.” She cast off her gauntlet with a clang and took hold of my hand. Our intertwining fingers, which had always brought summer to my heart, now moved me to tears.
“I’ve stained the floor.” She looked down at the blood-spattered tiles. “Such a shame. It was a beautiful pattern, and-” She coughed, doubling over as more blood speckled her lips. “And elf blood will never come out.”
“You can’t do this,” I said. “You were meant to live for millennia. I’m the one who’s supposed to…”
“To desert me for death?” There was a mischievous twinkle in her eye. How could she be like this, even now? It made me love her more, a love that made the world more beautiful, and that made my pain even worse.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I’m being selfish. I just… I never thought that I would have to go on without you. I don’t think that I can.”
I glanced at the sword by my side. I would wait until she was gone to fall upon it. I could manage the courage to last that long.
Her gaze followed mine and she shook her head.
“What we did today will never die,” she said. “Not as long as anyone remembers it. The same is true of our love. As long as one of us is here to treasure those feelings, it will never be gone.”
I looked away guiltily, but she took hold of my chin, turning me to look at her.
“See.” She flicked her hand, her face crumpling in pain at the effort. Bright droplets sped across the room, spattering tiles all the way to the foot of the throne. Each tile the blood touched shone brightly against the darkness, like a mosaic of stars. “Now I will always be here with you. In every ceremony, every council, every tedious meeting, my beauty will be here to lift you up.”
From somewhere beneath the weight of my grief and exhaustion, a glimmer of our old light returned.
“Who said you were beautiful?” I asked, raising her hand to my lips.
“Your eyes,” she replied with her final breath.
Years have passed since then. I have lived a lifetime, with all the pain and the joy it brings. But every time I see those tiles shining on the floor of the hall, I hear her voice once more, a whispered wonder amid a mosaic of stars.
* * *
If you enjoyed this story then you might also like my collection of fantasy short stories, By Sword, Stave or Stylus, available now on Amazon Kindle.