This comes from the 64 Damn Prompts on LiveJournal (by rashaka). I will, most likely, be working through all 64, because I can't bear to leave such a lovely thing unfinished. I will also include the song that helped me write it/find inspiration/that I thought fit the mood.
P.S.~ Here there be giant, mutated drabbles. Enjoy!
Prompt 13: We All Float On
Music: Only Time, by Enya
It was still dark when he reached the graveyard, the sun just barely cresting the trees. Mist rose in trickling patches, illuminated by the creeping dawn. The flowers in the bucket he carried rustled softly in the wind that whirled down from the mountain. Even the headstones were peaceful, standing solid and stately in neat rows as he approached the plot he was headed for. Usually, at this hour of the morning, it was just he and the songbirds, working to greet the dawn.
This time, however, there was a woman standing over Teacher's grave.
She was middle-aged, he saw as he halted on the path, not wanting to intrude. Average height, but lithely muscular. Lean and obviously fit. She wore a simple sky-blue robe with a pattern of darker blue maple leaves, and had one hand resting on Teacher's marker, her head bowed. In the half-light, he could just make out her deep brown hair, the color of freshly turned earth.
"Was it long ago?" she asked suddenly, and he started, having thought her unaware of his presence. Quickly, he approached and placed his bucket on the ground next to the grave.
"No," he answered softly, kneeling down and beginning to pull at the weeds that were already starting to grow. "Three months or so. For all that the disease was harsh, it was an easy death."
The stranger knelt down, too, and joined him in weeding. Her hands were slim but strong, calloused with the marks of weapons and warcraft. He darted a look up at her face, and saw the weary grief there. She caught his glance and gave him a wan smile, pausing in her task to brush gentle fingers over the marker.
"I'm glad," she said after a moment. "The disease was hard on her for a long time. I just…wish that she could have told me." The hand retreated, and she brushed fingers that were nearly shaking over her heart. "I felt it, when she wasn't here anymore. But it…took me time to find this place."
He didn't know what to say, so he simply nodded and asked, "You're from the place where Teacher used to live? It's not common to find people who move between districts."
The woman nodded, too. "Yes, she was…everything to me when I was starting my life here. Without her, I don't think I would have survived. Finding out that she had left, without saying anything to me, was…hard."
Sympathetically, he touched her shoulder, wishing for a brief second that they weren't strangers, that he could comfort her that way he would anyone else from the village. "Teacher was very special to us, too. When she told us she was dying, I think half the village went into shock. She was…a special woman."
"That she was." The stranger's smile was bittersweet as she piled the pulled weeds off to one side with absent movements, as though used to the task of cleaning graves. "A very special woman."
Seeing that the grave was clear, he sat back and tugged his bucket closer, lifting out several of the plants he had brought. When he noticed her eyes on them, he offered her a smile and said, "She always loved my flowers in the springtime. These are a bit past that, but if you come back next year—"
She cut him off with a quick shake of her head. "No, I won't be coming back. She wouldn't have wanted me to spend all my time languishing over her grave. This will be…my last visit." She raised her head, eyes tellingly bright, and drew in a shaky breath. "You call her Teacher. Were you one of her students?"
He shook his head slowly. "No, that's just what we called her. She was always teaching us things, or helping us, even when her cough was very bad. I'm Kye, the one who took care of her, in the…in the end."
The woman smiled at him, softly, sadly, and touched his fingers gently in return. "Thank you, Kye. I'm glad there was someone with her. And I'm sure she would have love the flowers." She stood up, carefully, as though she would break if she did anything too fast, and ghosted her fingers over the marker one last time before she turned to leave.
"Wait!" Kye called as she left. "Who are you?"
She paused, hesitating, then turned a fond, heartbreaking smile on the grave. "Just a stupid girl, who loved a dying woman." And with that she was gone, as silent as the mist and as swift as the wind, vanished into the breaking dawn.
Kye planted his flowers and paid his respects quickly, some recurring thought that he needed to leave the grave in peace speeding his motions. With one last bow to Teacher, he hurried back down the path to the village, clutching his bucket in one hand.
When he returned the next day, the flowers were undisturbed, but someone had added neat lines of script to the formerly blank stone, the words painted with a sure, graceful hand.
Duchess of the Dawn Gate
Lady of the Moon Palace
Below those six lines, in a less ornate hand, the person had added another word.
Kye pressed his fingertips against the last word, his throat feeling tight and his eyes hot.
"A stupid girl indeed," he whispered, remembering Teacher's dying words, whispered to someone she had left behind. "Goodbye, Lady Eryn."
Beneath the flowers, nestled safely against the base of the grave, a simple bonding ring lay on a bed of green silk.