At first, she doesn’t notice. She isn’t some vain little girl, pampering and preening in looking glasses; she spends most of her days blood and dirt-streaked. She was a slave, and now she’s a wanderer; there’s no time for vanity.
However, there are days when, just for a moment, she stops and looks – simply looks, taking in the details and waiting. This is one of those days.
She sheaths her sword at her hip, crouching down to stare into the small expanse of water – on boggy lands like this, they gather. She presses a finger tentatively into the water, ripples spreading outwards, and breathes out heavily, waiting for the water to ease, to calm itself and be still once more, as she watches her reflection warp and distort. Just for a moment she thinks she sees a wrinkle, something creasing her brow, but when she reaches down to soothe her reflection, she realises that it’s just one last ripple – the last remnant of the unsettled water.
Her teacher said that the magic would stop her ageing, but she didn’t expect it to be so soon. Her face is smooth, unwrinkled, and she realises that it must have happened a few years ago – she has the face of a woman, but a young one. It has been ten years of pain and stress, but her face only reflects three, four at the most. Perhaps she should have noticed, but then again, perhaps she should have had more days like this, where she simply stopped to look. She doesn’t know when the process took effect – time has passed without her, slipped out of her grasp without her even realising.
In the end, as the decades and eventually the centuries pass, it’s just the small details – the wrinkles that should have arrived; the lines that laughter should have engraved; the strands of grey that she never finds in her hair as she watches other women frown, pull at them, worry. They are envious, most of them, asking her how she looks so young after all these years – she smiles, shrugs, and knows that it’s time to move on. They do not see her again.
It’s the hands that never change, dirty and rough with hard work but ever-constantly those of a young woman; it’s the skin that stays tight and youthful, always, under the grime; it’s the trail of friends and lovers she leaves behind, the children never conceived, the way that, when she stops, stays, looks, her reflection is always the same. No matter the surface details, underneath it all, she looks the same. Always the same.
Her face is one of a life unlived, a lie in itself.
She stops looking, eventually – there seems no point to it any more, when she always knows exactly what she will find.