Nobody lived south of the river because that was not really an inhabitable place. A dumping ground for anything that had seemed useless at some time, the bank and the flatlands immediately behind were shrouded in an impermeable stench of chemicals and decomposing waste. The ruins of what used to be luxurious dwellings for the economical and political elite now looked like rows of sore teeth from the other side, the blackened and jagged silhouettes reminders of the fierce air attacks in the early days of the war when it still seemed possible to identify two separate sides in the conflict.
Now, three years on, the fighting, when it took place, was more akin to gangs of armed robbers plundering randomly, or simply terrorising the inhabitants out of boredom, young men – yes, always men – drunk with power, using words stolen from ancient books to justify their apparently insatiable lust for rape, dismembering, and murder. Actual battles were rare, and consisted mostly of skirmishes to determine the borders of influence of differing armed fractions.
He had this on his mind as he entered the area with the carrousels of incoming luggage to pick up his orange, wheeled trunk, and that was why he didn’t notice her until she was beside him and addressed him by his name.
Who cares where this leads to? Who cares if girls come sneaking upon you from the darkness behind, from the only tentatively forgotten dreams of possible, but doubtful reality? Who would even notice these barely visible ghosts from some off-court and unrecognised locations of the mind as they flitter past, leaving only the sour taste of dry fairyashes in your mouth? Who wants to be the unloved messenger pointing out the kink in the purportedly impeccable armour, punishable by death, or worse, condemnation to the eternal throes of pain from lovers just out of reach?
Not me, he said, brushing a final imaginary fleck from his sleeve before walking away, the ashes of his dreams slowly fluttering to the ground behind him.
God and her sister on Judgment day. Yes, the rules have suddenly changed. A lot of men are in for a nasty surprise. You could have changed your ways, you had your chance, you really did. But you blew it, so don’t cry for mercy. It isn’t coming.
I stopped, surprised, and she looked up and saw me and stopped moving. She probably hadn’t expected anyone up here by the old ruins at this time in the morning and thought that she could have her bath undisturbed when I suddenly materialised out of the mist. Her strange bodyguard eyed me suspiciously.
And I heard a voice inside my head, I don’t know which of them it was: -You don’t have to ask!
And I did not. I knew who she was, she was the princess, just like I knew of her bodyguard’s strange powers that could charge anything with enormous amounts of electrical power so that she could throw those tiny metal rods that she kept in her garters, and they would come at me faster than bullets. Not supernatural powers, just like the vigilant heads on the castle were not, nothing in this world is, by definition it is of nature, it is nature itself. And if it does not fit into our paradigms, it only proves what we already know, that knowledge is temporary and constantly evolving and that no final truths exist.
I did not intend to disturb them. I raised my hand in a sort of mixed ‘sorry’ and ‘goodbye’ gesture, and after a brief hesitation the princess gave me a very tiny wave in return. Somehow, strangely, this filled me with an inexplicable feeling of happiness as I turned away and left them, as if something very important, and very good had happened, here by the old ruins.
I never saw them again.