Who I Once Was
I am Ari, and I have lost everything. My homeland — destroyed. My family — destroyed. My spirit — destroyed.
As I gazed at my reflection in the calm, rush-framed pond, I realized that I was only a shell of the brave girl I once was. A ghost. A whisper of a forgotten person.
A tear traced its way down my dirty cheek and plopped into the pond. Ripples upset the surface of the water. And with my reflection distorted, I could almost pretend that I was still the leader of a nation. That I had won wars. That I had kept pace with the swiftest stallions.
The ripples dissipated; the pond returned to its serene self.
Or does it? I wondered. Is a pond meant to be trapped in itself? Is it not supposed to rush and rage and gurgle as a stream? I looked at my hands — the hands that used to rule a world. Am I not supposed to free myself from my guilt and live wild and free?
My large, piercing eyes — pale blue on the edges, fading to green — returned to the pond. My reflection seeming to shimmer, the girl in the water — the defeated girl clothed in rags, with stringy black hair hanging around her face — began to change, to morph into something great. A strong young woman, with a thick black mane of hair ruffling in the wind. Her chin was thrust into the air, and she was proud. Not proud of herself, perhaps, but of what lay before her.
I knew what the girl was staring at, because we were the same person. We were both Ari. The girl in the pond was simply a memory, a memory of what my life was before. Before I became too prideful, too confident in myself, and ruined my world single-handedly.
Ari, the one in the pond, was staring at her city. The radiant sun, which was setting behind distant mountains, cast beautiful golden hues across the growing fields and the bubbling rivers and the stone castles. It was her land, which she so painstakingly built from nothing.
More tears dripped from my cheeks into the water, and the illusion was ruined. I was back to being the girl who had lost everything.
I fell onto my back beside the pond. My hand grazed the cool water, and I was grateful for the chill: the day was unbelievably hot. I pushed my greasy black hair off my forehead and stared up at the cloudless sky. I spotted an eagle riding the warm air currents. His enormous black eyes, like inky wells, watched at me. And I was once again transported into the past.
It was the day that my world was obliterated. I sat on a throne fashioned of twisted tree branches, the armrests studded with yellow topazes. My best friend, Maelle, was telling me about the flood that had hit the east side of my realm. Her hands flew about animatedly as she explained. When Maelle asked me what I was going to do about it — “Their crops and homes have been destroyed, Ari, and they’ll starve!” — I rose from my throne and announced that I would go to the eastern side alone. I would start the villagers on an quest toward the castle, located in the center of my realm. Maelle was to find lodging and blankets for the civilians to use when they arrived.
She tried to convince me to bring a party, but, as I have said, I was prideful and confident. I had recently won a war, and was beginning to think I was invincible. Besides, what dangers could lurk in the flooded village? I grabbed my trusty sword and my bow and leather quiver. I hurried to the stables and jumped aboard my horse’s wide black back. Onyx, my stallion, thundered down the city’s main road, headed for the east. His powerful hooves pounded against the cobblestone road. The wind blew my hair out behind me.
When the flooded village came into view, I gasped. The damage was worse than I had initially thought. Houses were slanted sideways, because their foundations had been softened by the tidal wave of sea water. The murky water came up to my hips, at least. People with sopping clothes were huddled on the tops of their unstable houses. When they spotted me, they started hollering at me, begging me to help them down.
“One moment!” I shouted. I was planning to coax the sea into retreating. My people had always been able to reason with the creatures of the sea — mermaids and sirens, and their less beautiful cousins. If I could get the sea people to draw the water back into the ocean, it would be easier to help the villagers. Confident in this plan, I steered Onyx toward the coastline, which was just beyond the walls of the town. I dismounted and peered down into the water. A mermaid gazed back at me, her golden hair floating around her, swaying in the current. I extracted a large aquamarine from the pouch strung on my belt. It was well known that mermaids were suckers for sparkly gems, and if you wanted to negotiate with one, you should bring crystals.
Bubbles rose from the mermaid’s small, heart-shaped lips. She understood that I wanted the flood waters drawn back into the ocean. Trusting her, I tossed the aquamarine into the water. She snatched it up and held it tenderly against her cheek. Then, giving me a sly look, she started singing. Even though the mermaid was beneath the surface, her song was so loud that I could hear it. And it wasn’t the gentle, lulling melody that was used by the mers to coax water back into the sea. This one was fast-paced, punctured by shrieks that were similar to battle cries. The water around the mermaid started boiling. A huge title wave reared up behind her and crashed over me.
I managed to scream, “Traitor!” before the wave swallowed me up.
That wave destroyed my homeland. Onyx was lost in the waters. He probably drowned. Maelle was never the best swimmer. She must have lost her life to the treacherous mermaid, too. I was fortunate enough to survive, though how I did it was unknown even to me. I’d lost consciousness at some point and had woken up in a foreign land, beside the pond.
Now, my eyes met the circling eagle’s once more. I shouted three words at it: “I can change.” Then I glanced back at my reflection in the pond and whispered, “I am sorry, Maelle.”