By Isha Shah
Laure wondered if the Kliosh were color-blind. Not in the way that they couldn’t differentiate one color from the other, no, she wondered if they saw color at all.
Everyday, the soldiers marched back-and-forth-and-back-and-forth through rows and rows of gray prison cells in gray uniforms with gray hair and gray skin and gray eyes. Dull, aged, dying, color leeched out of their lives. But never once did they stop by Vyrim’s cell.
Not that the prisoners were much better off. The scraps of clothing that had managed to cling to their backs were muddy and decrepit, bright reds and greens turned stale after months in moldy rock jails, but Vyrim’s cell—surely they couldn’t miss Vyrim’s cell.
Vyrim was young. She faced captivity with anger. It was no surprise that she had been isolated, she was far too dangerous to be near other prisoners—she could actually bring anger into the gentle (weak, as the Kliosh said) Tiprins.
Don’t eat, she had whispered, save your cups as weapons, break your plates in half and use the shards. Don’t fear them, don’t listen to them. Look them in the eyes. She had whispered it enough to warrant a muzzle and chains.
Now, she sat huddled in the far, far corner of the cell, where no hands, neither kind nor cruel, could reach her.
Laure didn’t know how to feel about Vyrim. She had pitied her at first, grieved for the young heart that refused to accept reality, but now…oh who could pity her?
Her, whose prison cell had a missing brick in the upper corner, too high for her to reach in her chains and therefore not important enough to fix, making a hole that, instead of letting cold mountain air in, provided her with sunlight. Her, whose cell had color. Her, with a garden of her own, two blades of grass sprouting into five into thirty into dandelions into daffodils into dusty roses and jasmine vines winding through the cracks in the walls.
She, who was kept warm by the vivid green and red and yellow, whose cloak was clearly blue, not gray, how could anyone pity her?
It was easy to hate her, now. Hate her as she sulked in the corner, refusing to even glance at the blessing. Hate her as others pressed themselves into the bars of their cell, stretched arms til shoulders were dislocated; hate her as Laure stayed up all night to catch even a glimpse in the pitch black.
Hate her as her cell turned into a jungle, hate her as the soldiers continued to ignore her, hate her as she starved away, flesh falling off of bone and cheeks sinking into teeth.
Hate her as she watched the Tiprins with angry eyes, with blaming eyes, with eyes that condemned them for her lack of life.
Hate her as she continued to hold out hope for release, hope that the war would end. Hope enough to refuse food, hope enough to speak through her muzzle, hope enough to be angry.
Didn’t she understand? No, no, she did not. Youth did not deserve pity, not when they refused to accept that nothing would change, not when they refused to see the good in front of them, not when they cruelly continued to have hope.
How dare she try to inspire them? How dare she, when Laure had watched mother and father and sister and brother and lover and grandmother die gargling blood; how dare she, when Laure had scratched and clawed and killed for freedom, how dare she assume that she could be enough when Laure’s entire world did not even crack the surface of the Kliosh’s tyranny?
When Vyrim finally dies, she dies holding Laure’s gaze, burning Laure’s hollow eyes. The light in her eyes doesn’t fade, it fights, flickering for days until it explodes. Laure can’t look away from her, even as her skin wrinkles, even as her hair falls out, even as her skin melds onto her cheekbones.
She doesn’t move from her spot by the bars, doesn’t give up her fight against Vyrim and her insufferable eyes, doesn’t register the cacophony behind her, until she’s rapped away by the Kliosh guards and thrown into the panic. The entire prison is in upheaval. Tiprins everywhere are screaming for Kliosh blood.
Shoved around, hair pulled, back hitting the walls, Laure only watches one thing.
The garden died overnight.