As Arienne stepped out of the audience hall, trepidation filled her. War had been announced, and as a soldier of the Realm, it was her duty to go to the front and fight for her country. The Realm had been peaceful for a hundred years, and so she didn’t know what it would be like to die in the field of battle, couldn’t ask anybody for their stories of how it felt to fight in a war.
The Realm hadn’t asked for this, no more than she had as an army conscript. They cherished peace more than anything. The invaders from the Barak Empire were the ones to blame. They had scorched villages and cities in their path, and now they had the Realm’s lands in their sights. They had already attacked the village of Rolande at the periphery of the Realm, and so war had began. Tomorrow she would begin the long march south to reinforce the troops at the front. She didn’t know when she would see her homeland again, or even if she would.
Looking out across the palace gardens, she took in the sight of roses in bloom. Flowers were ephemeral, just like their lives, here one day, gone the next. Would that be all she was, a person full of hopes and dreams never to be fulfilled?
As she took in the sight, she heard a song sang by the most beautiful voice she had ever heard. Compelled by the sound, she walked into the gardens, looking for the source. Standing at one of the fountains was a magnificent woman, dressed in a fine garb. Long, brown hair flowed down to her feet, and flowers adorned her head. She looked like a goddess, and her song filled Arienne with intense emotion. It was beautiful, yet sad, a song that voiced all the feelings that Arienne herself felt. She felt tears sting her eyes and then fall, unable to stay constrained in the presence of such raw emotion.
Suddenly, the song stopped, and the woman turned. A million chimes rattled as she turned, all a part of her costume, all playing their own tune, yet it was discordant and chaotic now the song had stopped. Arienne felt as though she had intruded, as though she had interrupted something important.
“I’m so sorry,” Arienne said, her voice sounding awkward and ugly to her ears.
The woman simply smiled, a reserved smile that was full of beauty and grace. No anger or offense was conveyed in that smile, and it put Arienne at ease.
“It’s fine,” the woman said softly, her voice like silk, “I wasn’t aware anybody was listening. I’m the Songstress. It’s my duty to find a song to sing to the Queen on any occasion, but I cannot find the right song to convey what I’m feeling now that war has been declared. It seems wrong to be singing when people are going to fight and die...”
“Your song was perfect,” Arienne said, “Everything I’ve been feeling since the Queen announced that we would be going to the front was in your voice.”
“Thank you,” the Songstress said, “You are most kind...”
“Arienne,” Arienne introduced herself, feeling awkward. She had been to the palace only a few times, and had no idea that there was such a person as a Songstress, or how to address her.
“Arienne,” the Songstress smiled, “A beautiful name. I’m Leina.”
Arienne felt possessed with pure joy and ecstasy like she had never felt before. Her heart beat in her chest, and her eyes could not drink in enough of Leina’s beauty. She had to fight the urge to get down on one knee and kiss this gentle maiden’s hand, but she reminded herself of her place. She was just a conscripted soldier, a peasant with basic training. She had been an ordinary person before being summoned to fight for her country, and would go back to being an ordinary person if she survived this war. Who was she, to someone as beautiful and obviously high-born as the Songstress?
“Leina is also a beautiful name,” Arienne said, “As are you.” It slipped out before she could control herself, and she chastised herself. Fool! You have embarrassed yourself in front of the loveliest person you’ll ever meet!
Leina only smiled and blushed a little, “Fear makes you bold,” she said, “I like to hear the true thoughts of people. No holding back, no hesitation or restraint. That’s why I like song. It is the honest voice of the heart and soul.”
“I could never sing,” Arienne said, “I never had a good voice.”
“Song comes in many forms,” Leina said, “There is the song created with your voice, but there is also the song of new life, the song when someone dies, the song of two lovers coming together as one... Life is filled with song.”
“I fear that the only song I will be singing is a dirge,” Arienne said. “War is coming. I will cause untold sorrow to the families of warriors I kill, even if they are invaders. I may well die, and my family will grieve for me...”
“You are scared.” Leina said, “There is no shame in that, nor in understanding that you will cause suffering by fighting for your country. It is a brave person who acknowledges that, rather than runs from the truth.”
Arienne sighed, “Thank you, Leina,” she said, “Sadly, I must depart. I must report to my barracks. Tomorrow, we march for Rolande...” She turned, reluctant to leave Leina, but wanting to go before her resolve to go to war faded, softened by the warmth she felt for a woman she could never have.
“Wait,” Leina said, “My song is not yet finished. Will you meet me, here, tonight? I will have the guards grant you access, if you would come.”
“I would love to,” Arienne said. She knew she shouldn’t, but she couldn’t help the desire she felt to be with this woman, to bask in the radiant glow of her presence.
The moon was high in the clear night sky as Arienne walked from the barracks to the palace. The guards let her in, and she walked to the gardens. The palace was deserted, and the moonlight was the sole illuminator of the gardens. Leina stood there, bathed in moonlight, looking radiant.
“You came,” Leina’s voice was a sad song, almost as though she had expected Arienne to let her down.
“Of course,” Arienne said, “Tomorrow, there will only be marching and war. I want to enjoy my last night here... and what better place to do so than in your company.” Desperation had made her bold, the realization that she may never come home encouraging her to leave nothing unsaid.
“You are kind,” Leina said, “I hear your song, Arienne. I can hear the voice of your heart singing to me. My heart sings in tune with yours. I don’t know how this happened, but I think we are destined to be here tonight, like this. Together, in tune.”
Arienne felt her heart pounding in her chest. Was that a confession of love?
Leina saw Arienne’s confusion and hesitation and made the first move, letting her hands rest on either side of Arienne’s face and drawing her into a kiss. Arienne let go of all her fears, allowing herself to enjoy the moment. How it had come to this, she did not know, but she knew this could be her last chance to experience the joy of life before the brutality of death was forced upon her.
Leina kissed down her body as she swiftly, deftly undressed Arienne. Arienne felt the cool breeze on her skin and felt alive for the first time since she learned she was going to war. She unclasped Leina’s robes and they fell in a puddle around her feet, exposing her naked body. Arienne was filled with desire and let her mouth explore Leina’s nipples, sucking on them gently as she let a hand slip between her legs. It all felt so natural, so right, so joyous, that Arienne wanted to cry. It was truly a song, a whispered tune between two lovers.
When it was over, they lay in the grass together, holding one another. Arienne became aware that they had exposed themselves in a place where they could easily be found, but somehow, it didn’t seem to matter to her. All caution had been thrown to the wind, and she felt free and unfettered.
“I think I have my song,” Leina said, “The joy of love, mingled with the sorrow of parting from somebody you may never see again... The fear of losing somebody you love, of not knowing their fate. I see it all now. Everything is clear...” A tear trickled down her face. Arienne held her close, soothed her.
“I have learned too,” Arienne said, “That this is not just a battle or a war, but a fight to protect everything we love. Our home, our culture, the people we cherish... I want to fight for this country, and come home to the land and the woman I love... I want to know so much more about you. I want this to be so much more than one night of bliss... but until this war ends, we have no time to spend in each other’s company.”
“There will be time,” Leina said, “Once the war is over. I will wait for you, Arienne. I will sing songs about you. When you come home, you will be a hero, I know it. I can feel it. Then it won’t matter that I am a Songstress and you a conscript from the city. Class and money won’t matter... All those walls will be torn down...”
“I hope so,” Arienne said. She dressed quietly, not wanting to leave, but knowing she needed to rest before the long march south. She kissed Leina softly.
“Before I go... Sing to me one more time, my love,” Arienne said.
Leina sang, and her voice once again brought tears to Arienne’s eyes. She let them fall, knowing that it was right to be sad, that she had nothing to be ashamed of. She kissed Leina one more time before saying goodbye.
Looking towards the palace gates, she set her resolve to the task ahead. The songs of life, death and love would be with her through the darkness ahead. Leina would be her song, carrying her through the fear and pain of war, singing for the day when they would meet again.