It was a tired city, an old city. Some thought it was as old as the river that flowed through it, and sometimes over it. It hung there at the base of the mountains as though it had grown out of the ground along with them. There were no city walls, no city limits, at least not now. The city just seemed to fade away at the edge and merge back into the ground.
There was a time, but it was long ago, when new growths, new spurts of the city appeared around its edges. Now it seemed as though the city was too tired to grow. Judging by the ruins left un-repaired throughout the city, like broken teeth in a crone’s mouth, it looked as though the city could even be dying.
The people of the city scuttled about, bent over disfigured, scampering like rats over the ruined and the not quite so ruined. All scrabbling for what they could find. It was a life of scavenging of making do and mending. It was true there was some farmland around the city where small collections of hovels too desultory to be villages that kept the city fed. But their crops were meagre, often failing, or rotting after the river flooded the farmland. The animals, the cows in the lowland and the sheep and goats up on the hillside were small scraggly creatures, much like the herders and shepherds who watched over them. Although, why anyone watched over such poor herds and flocks no-one really knew. Even the wolves from the mountains thought such poor specimens were not worth the effort of killing. Often the shepherds found the corpses of their sheep and goats up on the mountains. Almost as if the animals themselves had given up on such a thin life, and decided they could no longer be bothered.
Back in the city, there were few children. The population was falling; it seemed there too that no-one could be bothered. As if the people lived more out of habit than out of hope, fear, or desire.
The queen was old and tired too. Her ancestors had been empresses and even goddesses, ruling lands both here and across the seas. Now, she just ruled over a city that seemed no longer to care, and neither could she. She wandered her dusty, dirty throne room waiting for it to collapse. There were holes in the ceiling and broken tiles on the floor.
Only in one place was the city kept in good repair. The princess stayed in her neat, tidy and well-maintained tower, planning and waiting her turn. She’d read all the histories and knew that one day, her day, the city would be great again.
But, first, her mother had to die.