AnnaLydia, tired of tossing and turning and failing to sleep, pushed back her covers and got out of bed. She wistfully looked at her husband’s side of the bed, but she only confirmed what she already knew: it was empty. Her husband was working late tonight, preparing for the arrival of ambassadors from the neighboring kingdom and their upcoming peace talks. She knew he was still trying to undo his uncle’s damage, from many years before, but she found his warm presence comforting. Especially when sleep eluded her.
Knowing from experience that he wasn’t likely to return any time soon, Anna walked over to the balcony. This particular balcony overlooked the capital city and the forest beyond. It was a spectacular sight, especially in the pale moonlight, but she turned her gaze skyward. After five years, her own people, the Starlings, had begun to rebuild their own kingdom. She had yet to visit and see it with her own eyes, but she was intently watching from down below. Five years ago, there had been no stars in the night’s sky. Now, there were almost a hundred. And the capital city, Jay’naldra, shone the brightest. The sight of her home always caught her breath. As did the wave of homesickness that accompanied it.
She missed it. Home. But most of all, she missed her mother. Five years wasn’t long enough to dull the pain of losing her. Anna doubted that ache would ever fully go away. Though she would never admit it, there were days when the pain of losing her mother took her breath away, causing her to double over, and cry until she couldn’t possibly cry any longer. Looking up at the stars now, she wondered what her mom would be doing, had she lived.
That answer was easy. Her mother would be conveniently missing from all of her duties, having disappeared without a trace. When asked where his wife was, her father would laugh and smile and deny all knowledge of her whereabouts. And if Anna was around, he would wink conspiratorially at her. For they both knew where she had gone.
Anna closed her eyes, letting a thousand memories coalesce into one, imagining the winding passageways of her old home. The passageways that invariably led her out of the castle and toward the orchard. That was where her mother would be, Anna knew with certainty. She smiled a little, remembering the countless times her mom would sneak out and away from “stuffy court life” to be with her beloved flowers. She had claimed a part of the orchard, a part far away from prying eyes, and there she had made herself a little sanctuary. There were no politics here in her little sanctuary. Just the earth and the flowers.
As Anna walked closer, her mother stopped her work and looked up. A gentle smile covered her dirt smeared face. She beckoned her daughter, holding out one of her precious flowers. In her mind, Anna bounded forward, reliving a memory of her childhood self. Happily, she helped her mom tend to the flowers, chattering away as young children often did. Her mom laughed and smiled and kept asking questions, all of which Anna was only too happy to answer, launching into childishly simplistic stories, tirades, and commentaries of her daily life.
And when the sky started to grow dark, her mother stood up and pulled her into a gentle hug. Anna inhaled the scent, relying on her memory to get it right. The earthy scent that always smelled faintly of starlillies, her mother’s favorite flower. There was no other scent that could compare. Not when it distinctly screamed mother.
A gentle breeze stole across her then, and startled Anna out of her memory. Opening her eyes, she looked up at the stars, her hand reaching up to touch the necklace she always wore. The necklace her mother had given her, a necklace elegantly wrought in the shape of a starlily. She sighed. The memory had only brought that eternal ache back to the surface. But for that one moment, it had been nice to forget the past five years, to pretend her mother was still alive and well and full of love.
She heard stirring from within her room, and turned around, waiting to hear if the stirring would cease. But when it turned into an insistent cry, Anna smiled and turned around fully. Her own children needed her, it would seem. Right now, they needed her more than she needed her own mother. She was fully-grown, with two daughters of her own. So as much as she missed her mother, she would stop living in the past and raise those two precious little girls in the same way her mother had raised her. Lovingly. With that thought in mind, she entered her room, and walked over to the cradle, humming an old lullaby of her mother’s under her breath.