The Painting | Teen Ink

The Painting

February 14, 2019
By bowtoherroyalfrankyness, State College, Pennsylvania
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bowtoherroyalfrankyness, State College, Pennsylvania
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Author's note:

In this piece, I work hard to challenge what we know about morality and love.  I hope to make the reader question what they think they believe about spirituality and the afterlife.  I also focus on reward, how some deeds will never be rewarded, and some punishment is inevitable.  Like how the girl in the story works hard to find the boy in the portrait, but is separated from him as soon as they meet.  

Long ago and far away, there was a small kingdom on the edge of the sea.  No one knows exactly how old it is, or if it’s still standing, but we know that it’s a lovely place.  If you walked through the large golden gates, you’d be greeted by thousands of content villagers surrounding the castle.  The villagers were peaceful people, despite the occasional bickering , and always tried to best serve their king.

They adored the royals. A noble king, his beautiful queen, and their angelic daughter, who was merely a child.  They lived in harmony and love in their beautiful castle. But their lives were not perfect. There was once a prince, handsome and wise, but he disappeared many moons ago and was hardly ever mentioned.  The queen cried, the father grew distant. But with the birth of their daughter, they knew that they needed to move on, renaming the princess as heir.

She was beautiful, with big brown eyes and amber hair.  She had no idea that she would grow to be queen. Her childhood was overflowing with happy memories.  Of racing down the fine carpeted halls, of grand ballrooms and infinitely many toys. She would hide from her tutors and trick her nannies, but how could anyone stay mad at her?  She was so sweet, and always smiling. Everyone in the kingdom adored her. From the rich nobles to the mice in the street corners. They would stand at the castle gates and cheer her name, dancing with joy.  She had no idea of her brother. She had no idea of the suffering that her parents had faced. She only knew love. Love and contentment and adoration. Until that one fatal night.

She was much older now, almost ten years of age.  She had just left another extravagant party and was very tired.  She was skipping down the halls in her silken robes when she heard muffled sobbing from the other side of a heavy door. She was both curious and scared at the same time.  She had never heard crying before in her perfect castle life, and was frightened by this unfamiliar sound. She pushed open the heavy door and saw something most awful. On the floor in the small, dusty room was her mother, the queen.  She was wearing a simple shift with her long hair in tangles. But that wasn’t the worst of it. She was crying, holding a small piece of paper in her hand.

“Mother?” said the princess.  She was terrified, of course, but in some way felt bad for her mother. “Mother, are you alright?”

Her mother turned and faced the princes, her tired face sorrowful.  “Yes, dearest. I’m alright.”

“Why are you so upset?”

“Don’t worry about me.  I’m fine. Let’s get you to bed.”  When she rose, The princess caught a glimpse of the painting in her mother’s hand, a young boy with a handsome face.

“Who is that?” She asked.

“Nevermind that.”

At that moment, the king entered.  He was angry, and looked ready to scream.    

“What do you think you’re doing?  Child, go back to your room. I need to talk to your mother.”  The princess was terrified. All she remembered was walking back to her room, her father screaming behind her.  And a small portrait of a small boy in her shaking hands. She didn’t know who it was, or how her mother knew him, but she had to find him.  The next morning when she rose, she put her search into order. She started by searching her room, with the hope that he could be hiding in her closet or under the carpet.  She then looked in the empty halls. There were five hundred rooms that she knew of in the castle, fifty gigantic kitchens, eight thousand rooms for the servants, and twenty barns for the horses.  It took her well over a month to search the entire castle, with no success. It took her another five months to recheck every room, every corner, to make sure that she didn’t miss anything. Still no luck.  She was about to give up hope when she realized how foolish she’d been. There was no chance that this boy was still in the castle, he’d be somewhere far away. She took a deep breath as she decided that, for the first time in her life, she’d need to leave the castle.   

The first order of business was to pack a bag.  She packed three fine dresses, five pairs of stockings, Two linen aprons, a heavy quilt, ten apples, six loaves of bread, four candles, one pair of shoes, and a cake that she snuck from the kitchen.  Her pack was quite heavy, so she began to eliminate unnecessary items. In the end, she had one simple wool dress, three pairs of stockings, a linen apron, a heavy quilt, five apples, four loaves of bread, three candles, one pair of shoes, and a cake from the kitchen.  The pack was now much lighter, just light enough for her to lift onto her back and carry out the window with her.

Out her window,  there was a giant tree stretching almost as tall as the castle itself.  It wasn’t hard for her to jump onto it, but much harder to climb down on to the soft earth below.  By the time she reached the ground, her hair was in tangles and her soft skin was covered in scratches.  She was hardly recognisable as a princess, so it wasn’t hard for her to slip through the gates unnoticed into the dark streets.  

It was hard to see.  The large clouds of smoke lingered over the abandoned streets, creating a blurry mess of black emptiness.  She tried to cover her face, but her small cloak was greatly uncomfortable against her bare face. Ragged coughing echoed through the empty streets, hitting her like ten thousand bricks.  She broke out into a run. Not in any particular direction. Not to get anywhere, not to get away from anything. She was scared, so she ran. Her feet were sore, her lungs ached, and her head hurt but she kept running.  Her legs were bruised, her ears were frozen, and her ankles bled but still, she ran. She ran and ran and ran through the night, and didn’t stop running until she ran into something, someONE.

The shadowy figure before her was terrifying.  He was dressed almost entirely in grey, except for a long strip of red running down one of their arms.  The princess couldn’t move. For the second time of her life, she was petrified. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t scream, she couldn’t run.  But even if she could move, it wouldn’t matter. Because seconds after she saw the figure, she felt a large hand hit her head from behind, and her world went dark.  

She awoke to the sound of drunken laughter.    There were five figures before her: all of them dressed  in shadows. The first was short with long, dark hair. He wore a grey cloak on his bony shoulders.  

“Fools!  Don’t speak so loudly.  Such noise is a death wish at this hour.  If we are to ride to the sea tomorrow, we will have but a week to kill her and make our way back to the castle.  That leaves little time for getting caught, so keep your voices hushed!” He screamed at the rest, who were instantly silenced by his terrifying tone.  

“Sorry sire,”  responded a deep voice.  “I’ll try to be quieter. All I want is for you to be proud of me.”  He was a giant, almost nine feet tall. But he was timid and polite, almost lovable.  

“He’s right, you’re all being far too loud.  All of us are essential to the plan, we can’t afford any casualties.”  His gruff voice made her shiver. He was tall, though not as tall as the giant, with a heavy coat and a longsword.   “When the time comes, do we have any plan to kill her? We can’t leave any evidence, and have very little time. “

“Oh, can’t any of you stop talking of death for more than a minute?”  Commented a short man with a woolen coat on his back. “I’ve set a filling dinner before you and all you want to talk about is murder!”  

All of these men frightened her greatly.  But no man was more terrifying than the fifth.  He sat furthest from the rest and silently sharpened his great arrows.  There were ten in total, and the princess spent the night praying that one of the sharp arrows wouldn’t end up in her chest.  

Hot tears streamed down her cold face.  She shivered in the chilling night air. The men had taken her pack (and her quilt) so she’d have nothing but her thin dress for warmth.  Nevertheless, her eyelids became heavier and heavier. And before she knew it, she’d drifted into a deep sleep. She dreamed of the castle, tall gates protecting her from all harm.  Silken blankets to chase away the cold. And the boy from the photo. Where was he? When would she find him?

The morning after her departure, life in the castle went on as usual.  The horns would sound, the maids would clean the main hall, the king and queen were brought their breakfast:  A slice of dandelion bread covered in a thick lemon glaze served with a glass of bat milk, a national delacy. The princess wouldn’t be woken for another hour, and it took that long for the first maid to enter her chambers see an empty bed, and an open window stretching over the castle gate.  

“Your highness!  Come quickly!” Screamed the maid.  She had raced across the entire castle to deliver her fatal news.  “The princess, the princess is gone! Her bed is empty with the window thrown open!”

“What?  My dear child kidnapped?  Where is she?”

“Your highness, if I knew where she was, I wouldn’t have come here screaming.”

“Quite true.”

“But how are we to find her?  I saw no footprints in the room.”

“I shall make a royal proclamation in an hour’s time and the entire country will be searching for the princess.”

So in an hour’s time, the King put on his fine shoes, his royal stockings, his fine breeches, his silken blouse, his royal vest, his embroidered jacket, and his fine bear skin cape.  His wig took quite a while to brush and powder, but he was out in front of the people of his nation in an hour, no longer. He walked out onto the large balcony, his wide steps echoing through the streets.  

“Citizens, I’m afraid that we are in great danger.  Late last night, our dear princess has been kidnapped.”  This was almost true, but not quite. “As you might imagine, I wish to find this dear child immediately.  Search the village, search the woods, search Spain if you must! Just find the princess.”

There was great cheering before the crowd dispersed in search of the princess.  People checked in wells, in closets, in houses and in trees to find the king’s only daughter.  But only one man dared to check the forest. The dark, twisted, fateful forest. He didn’t want to, and he was greatly afraid.  But he had to enter the forest. Because that’s where the princess was.

She awoke to the sound of running and screaming, and a giant pair of hands carrying her over tall cliffs. “Come along, now!”  Screamed the leader of the group, trying to balance on the ledge while barking orders. “If we hurry, we can reach the great mountains by sundown.”  The group began running faster beside the shear cliff, and the princess just hoped that the giant wouldn’t drop her. It took almost ten hours to reach the base of a huge mountain.    A rope ladder ran up the steep climb, but it would be a dangerous journey.

The  woodsman went first.  His large hands gripped the slippery rope and hoisted him up the sheer mountain face.  Next was the man in the grey cloak, forcing the princess to walk infront of her with a knife to her throat.  Next was the archer, hoping from boulder to boulder without the help of the ladder. Then the short man in the woolen coat.  He stumbled on the ladder, but began to climb slowly. When the giant placed his humongous foot onto the first rung, and the entire ladder groaned.  He quickly removed his foot, but not soon enough.

The Man in the grey cloak turned. “You fat old man!  Are you trying to give us away? Stay at the bottom, you useless peasant.  I’ll find another giant, much better at climbing.” And so the party continued to climb, leaving the giant at the base of the great mountain.  

They were climbing for at least an hour before they heard the first fanfare in the distance.  “Move faster, you old pigs. Before the king’s soldiers are upon us.” The group began to climb much faster, pulling hand over hand up the mountain.  After awhile, the princess grew weary. Her hands were sore with blisters. She reached up for the next rung, but slipped. She felt the sharp blade graze past her ear, and but when she’d regained her balance, the short man behind her lost his footing.  His scream would forever echo in her ears.

It wasn’t until sunset when they reached a landing.  The woodsman, the archer, the man in the grey cloak, and the princess, tired and bleeding.  They reached a small campsite late at night, about three miles away from the ladder. The woodsman began building a fire while the archer scanned the campsite for game.  The man in the grey cloak tied the princess’s wrists to a nearby tree, and then sat by the fire. It took them only a few hours to become drunk, sing briefly, and fall into a deep sleep. So the princess began tugging on the ropes holding her captive.  She struggled with them for a few minutes before they gave way, and she ran into the night. She dared not stop, but soon realized that she had nowhere to go. Still, she ran and ran until her lungs burned. She stopped to catch her breath, and a wisp of smoke caught her eye in the distance.  She followed it to a small cottage in the middle of a hollowed out tree. She knocked twice, and it creaked open.

“Hello?”  Whispered a tired voice from within. “Who’s there?”

“Only me, I seek shelter and followed the smoke from your fire to this cottage.  Please, may I stay the night?” The door opened to reveal an old woman, older than life itself.  Her eyes were shut, almost covered by long white hair. “Please, I’m cold. I’ll do whatever is necessary to earn my keep.  Just let me come hide from the chilling night.”

“Well then, come in.  Warm your hands by the fire.”  The door swung wide open, and the princess entered.  A large stove filled up most of the room, surrounded by copper pots and wooden spoons.  Fresh herbs hung from the ceiling, a simple palate filled the far corner. A wash basin filled the opposite corner, filled with suds and a few linen sheets.  “I have a few extra blankets in the cabinet, you can sleep by the fire for tonight.” The princess sat down by the fire, and the old woman brought her two thick quilts and a steaming cup of tea.

“Thank you.”  She murmured between grateful sips. The woman knelt beside her.  “If you don’t mind me asking, what happened to your eyes?”

The woman sighed, and began her story. “I’m a witch.  About 200 years ago, there were thousands of us filling the earth, performing miracles and casting spells. We had built amazing lives for ourselves.  But then came the new age. Man began to hate us, to kill us by the dozen. I escaped with my life, but not my eyes. It took me years to find these woods.  I built a new life for myself, where I could be myself. I’ve lived here for well over 100 years, and no one’s ever visited, until now.” Here she paused to wipe tears from her empty eyes.  “ Dear child, know that you’re welcome to stay here for as long as you need.” And with that, she pulled one of the thick quilts over her shivering body, kissed her forehead, and went to sleep.  

It was early the next morning when loud thuds echoed through the door.  The princess rose to answer it, but the witch reached out a bony hand. “Stay where you are, we don’t know who’s out there.”  She cautiously approached the door, turned the knob, and the door creaked open. Before her stood the woodsman, the archer, and the man in the grey cloak.  They were angry, angrier than the day before. The witch opened her mouth to speak, but was silenced by the dagger in her side. The woodsman drew back his weapon and the kind old woman fell noiselessly to the dirt floor.   And in the three men went in search of the princess. It took them under a minute to search the room and cease the princess by her thin arm.

They dragged her outside quite violently. The man in the grey cloak began cursing violently while the princess stood there defenseless.  She wanted to escape, but couldn’t. Not this time. She was trapped. And that’s when the ground began to shake.

The first time was hardly noticeable, just a slight disturbance below them.  But the next quake arrived mere seconds later. It shook the ground so violently that no man on Earth kept their footing.  All over the country, huts collapsed, caves crumbled, and oceans churned. The three men were able to keep hold of the ground (and the princess) for a while,  but the third and final quake sent them tumbling down the mountain face. The woodsman tumbled down at least halfway, only to hit his head on a low hanging tree branch.  The archer was able to grab hold of a tree, but it eventually snapped and sent him down into the foggy cliffs below. The man in the grey cloak tried desperately to hold onto the princess and the ground at the same time, but couldn’t hold on, and sent both of them over the ledge towards the shaking ground.  She squeezed her eyes shut, covered her head, tried to protect herself from the ground getting closer and closer. She was too young. She wanted to see her parents. She wanted to find the boy in the painting. But all she saw was the cold dark ground, getting closer and closer until everything disappeared.

Death wasn’t anything like she expected.  There were no angels, no trumpets, no beautiful heaven.  Just a dark room. More of a cavern, actually. She saw a single candle flickering in the other side of the room, and wandered towards it.  The flame became smaller and smaller, hardly even noticeable in the darkness. And the cavern kept getting warmer, as if she was walking towards fire.  But as she approached the candle, it flickered one last time and went out. And then the door opened, and through it walked a tall man in a red suit.

“Who are you?”  She asked, quite afraid of the figure before her.

“You know who I am.”  Said the man, stroking his sharp horns while smiling through his rotten teeth.  

“Where am I?”  

“Where else would you be?  You’re dead, all the dead people come here.”

“What about heaven?”  She asked, trying to avoid eye contact.

“Who told you that there’s a heaven? Why on Earth would something as evil and twisted as man end up in paradise?  No. All of mankind comes here. You may be struck with pain or sadness, but nothing worse than you showed your brothers on Earth.  There is no way to escape pain, it follows you wherever you go.”

“How will I be tortured?”

“We have our ways” He whispered, with a sickening smile.  And with that, he took her by the hand and led her into Hell.  

It started with her childhood.  Long afternoons of loneliness and tutors.  No other children lived in the castle, so she spent her childhood alone.  There were thousands of nobles telling her to sit up straighter, to walk slower, stifling any sense of individuality that she had left.  The pain, but multiplied by ten thousand. You see, that’s how Hell tortures. They take your life, your hardships and suffering, and make you relive it over and over.  They amplify the pain until it feels like it’s tearing you apart. And slowly, it ruins you. You lose all emotion, you lose your personality. You lose everything that makes you human.  And then they just continue to torture you.

After the first day of torture, she cried.  She tried to escape, but couldn’t she wanted to hide from the pain, but it was inside of her.  She couldn’t escape her own life. The woman found her like that, crying and miserable, trying hard to fight the pain.  She smiled gently. She had kind eyes, a small frame, and dark hair covering her red horns. She reached out a rosy hand.

“Come child.”  And she was lifted into the woman’s arms, and fell into a deep sleep.    

She  awoke much later on a large couch.  She wasn’t sure why, but it somehow reminded her of the castle, of her home.  But that wasn’t where the resemblance stopped. In the other room, two people were arguing, a man and a woman.  It hit her with a pang of sadness as she recalled her last memory of her parents. She recognised the voices, but didn’t know where from.  So she tiptoed through the narrow hallway to investigate.

When put in the same room, the devil and his wife just looked like two apples waiting to be picked, which was much less terrifying than standing before the people who would torture her for all of eternity.  They didn’t notice her, and just went on arguing.

“She’s only a child, she has so much left to live!   It isn’t right to take away her life.”

“No!” Protested the devil. “ Never before have I let any human leave and I’m not about to make an exception for yet another spoiled child.”

“I swear on this realm itself, I will not stand for torturing innocent people!”

“Humans aren’t innocent!  They fight and they kill and they are extremely rude to each other!”

“But this one is young and kind and loving.  We can’t just assume that all of humanity is evil.”

“Oh, here we go again!  I’m not bias against humans!  They’re great people! I just think that they should be tortured for their sins!”

“But she’s a child!  I know that somewhere in your twisted, dark soul you have a soft spot for children.  I don’t want to see her in pain, and neither do you!”

“I  have no problem with torturing youth!”

“Think of her as your daughter, someone to love, someone to protect.  I looked into her eyes and saw love, I saw determination. I saw a reason to live!  Please, let her go!”

“Never.  But-” And here he was cut off.  Because he turned and saw the little girl standing by the door.

“Have I done something wrong?”  Asked the girl, timidly.

“No, child.  We were just chatting.”

“We most certainly not chatting!  I said it before and I’ll say it again: she will not go back to Earth!” But he looked at the child once again, into her eyes.  Her pure, loving, determined eyes. And then he changed his tone. “Child, what reason do you have to return to Earth?”

She took the small portrait from her apron pocket, now tattered and worn.  She held it out to the man, and he inspected it.

“Well, I’ve never seen this man before.  He is still alive. You must find him, you love him deeply.”

“Oh, thank you, dear!” Exclaimed his wife.  She kissed his cheek and he snapped his fingers, and the world began to spin.

The walls turned in on themselves, forming a great typhoon of dust and fire around her.  The process made her dizzy, so she squeezed her eyes shut. When the typhoon stopped, she was lying in a pile of debris at the base of the mountain.  

She tried to stand, but couldn’t her legs ached and her head felt heavy.  So she fell back to the ground where her eyes snapped shut. She woke up to a cloudy night sky.  She stood up and began walking north, towards the stars. She thought about many things, she thought about the castle, she thought about the giant, she thought about the kind old witch, and she thought about the devil’s wife.  But as she buried herself in her many thoughts, never for a minute did she think about the grey cloak following her, until his sword met her throat.

He was not well.  His hands shook, hardly able to hold the sword straight.  The stars reflected off of his empty eyes. His pale face was covered in deep cuts.  But still, he held forth the sword. And still, he forced her to walk forwards in the dark night.  

“Just wait until I’m done with you! The nation will live in chaos, the royal family will have drowned in their own tear.  And just when all hope is lost, I’ll show up to take the crown and the riches, and finally have conquered the country.”

And so they stumbled past the rocky terrain, neither of them in good condition,having just fallen down a mountain.  They tripped and slid and stumbled, but with his sword at her throat and her hands tied, there was an air of urgency to keep walking.  

They stopped much later in the night, with the moon far overhead.  His raspy panting filled the air while she tried to take off her makeshift handcuffs.  He looked around just in time to catch her.

“No, not this time!  You got away before and it cost me two of my best fighters.  Run again and there will be a dagger in your chest before sunrise.” He took her by the arm and tied her wrists, ankles, and waist around the trunk of a tall tree.  “There’s no escape, you might as well give up.”

Nevertheless, She tried to escape.   She tugged and tugged on the strong rope, but it wouldn’t give way.  The man in the grey cloak started a fire, and warmed his bony hands while mumbling to himself about how miserable he was.  It was a restless night for both of them, fearful of what would happen the next day. In the distance, an eerie wind whistled.  A mile or so further, a man dressed in all black built a small fire to keep warm. And further yet in the distance, hundreds of the king’s soldiers set up their camp for the night, hoping the princess would be found the following day.  

You see, everyone in these woods wanted to find the princess.  For one reason or another, they all needed her for something important.  But only one group would leave the woods alive.

The sun was hidden behind a mass of clouds.  Rain was coming, but no one could determine when.  The girl squinted, weary with sleep. Her wrists aches and her ankles were covered in blisters.  The man in the grey cloak approached, and cut the rope with his sword.

“Hurry it up now, you lazy girl! They’re coming for me!”  He ceased her arm and ran, trying to ignore the thump of footsteps and horses behind him.  He led them down a narrow path into the thickest part of the wood, great for hiding but awful for being found.  It’s not hard to see who this benefits. He shoved her behind a tall tree, tying her hands to the thick branches.  He was worried, he saw what was coming. But when he turned around to prepare for the fight, he didn’t expect to see a long sword pointing at his chest.

The figure before him was terrifying.  He was tall, nearly blocking the sunrise behind him.  His sword was long and sharp, it could bring death of a hundred men with one swing.  His black clothing had not a speck of dirt on it, making him look clean and important.  His deep eyes were filled with hatred, but he was relaxed. His long arms hardly showed any effort at all.  One hung loosely by his side while the other pointed straight at the man’s chest. He hardly looked ready to fight, between his shining boots and his swinging arms.  

“Hilarious!”  Exclaimed the man in the grey cloak.”A simple man like YOU is holding a sword to someone as talented as ME when it’s inevitable that you will lose!”

“Are you certain?” Spoke the figure, smiling to himself  under the hood surrounding his face. “And what makes you so sure?”  

“I have withstood the earthquake!  I have survived a climb up the great mountains!  I survived then the fall back down the mountain, I laugh in the face of death and see no reason to be frightened by someone as unprepared and clumsy with the sword as yourself!”

“If that is what you wish to believe, by all means believe it.  But I find it funny that you speak of clumsiness and fright when it is I pointing a sword at you.”  

“How are you to be certain that I am unarmed?”  And with that, the man in the grey cloak drew his mighty weapon.  It was a fine sword, a silver blade with a bronze handle, shaped like a great beast.  His weapon slashed through the empty air, a blur against the thick fog.

He was a gifted swordsman, trained by only the best. He swung and swung, closing in on the figure.  His arms were strong, his feet were swift, and his mind was alert. He inched closer and closer towards his enemy, and so the fight began.

Metal meets metal, swords fly, one moment one man is advancing, the next he’s retreating.  The man in the grey cloak ran at him, sword aimed for the figure’s middle. He missed, and the figure countered with a single swing of his foot. The two swords clashed and swung, neither man either winning or losing.  At one point it seemed almost certain that the figure would win, until the man in the grey cloak spun around and advanced.

I seemed to go on for hours, although the battle couldn’t have lasted longer than ten minutes.  The girl here saw her opportunity to escape, and pulled much harder on the ropes. Fortunately for her, the man had tied the knots loosely in his haste and she was easily able to break free.  By the time she had wiggled out of the ropes and was rubbing her sore wrists, the dark figure was winning again. He advanced, and struck the man thrice on the shoulder. The cut was not deep enough to cause any permanent damage, but was just painful enough to send his opponent screaming to the ground.  He struck again on the opposite shoulder, much harder. The wound created a pool of blood surrounding his arm, the man in the grey cloak was screaming in undescribable pain.

“Please, please don’t kill me.  I plead for mercy, please! Just let me live!”  He cried as he knelt defenseless on the forest floor.  

“Please, don’t kill him!”  Cried the girl. “It’s wrong to kill our brothers.  Please, let him live!”

The dark figure turned to look at her. Her small face framed by long hair and glittering eyes reminded him of a memory, a shadow of remembrance from many years before. He turned and smiled at her.  A gentle, meaningful smile like nothing she had seen before. She looked at him for a moment, trying to remember where she saw his beautiful brown eyes before. But there was no time for such thoughts.  For the man in the grey cloak had reached or his sword, and right when the dark figure turned, the sword was thrust into his chest.

His vision turned hazy.  The girl screamed,and it echoed in his ears.  He fell to his knees, and then to his back. The hood slipped from his face, but he no longer cared.  The girl raced towards him, taking his hands in her own. Tears ran down her face. He wanted to cheer her up, to see her smile one last time, but had no energy left.

“You, you’re the boy from the painting.  The one that mother was crying over. You are the person that I came all this way to find.  You are,”

“Your brother, he whispered.  I love you.”

“How did you find me?  How did you know how I was?”

“That’s a story for another time.”

“When?”

“Soon.”

So his eyes closed gently, and he fell back onto the ground.  

She cried.  She wept over his body for hours and hours.  She found a bunch of flowers in a nearby patch of grass.  She buried him next to a tall oak, and set the bouquet on top of the small grave.  

The man in the grey cloak was gone, but she didn’t really care.  She had no intention of returning to the castle, but had nowhere else to go.  She set out into the world, in no particular direction. Ready to face whatever would be awaiting her.  

As soon as his eyes closed, he felt himself grow lighter.  He stood up, but his cold body remained on the ground. The girl was only a few feet away, but she didn’t see him there.  It was time for him to leave. The soles of his shoes gently lifted off of the ground. He needed to squint as the brilliant light surrounding him grew brighter.  All of his pain, all of his suffering left him. A cool breeze whistled through the trees, now far below him. The view was amazing. As he settled on a small cloud, a small woman approached him.  

She was beautiful.  Her long hair framed a smiling face.  And her small horns were hardly noticeable under a golden halo.  She held out her hand, and he took it.

“Where am I?”

“Heaven.”

And as she led him through the fields of cloud, he noticed a few odd people.  A tall man, almost nine feet, next to a short man in a grey coat. They were laughing, smiling noble souls like himself.  And far in the distance was an old woman. She was blind. If only she could see the wonderful paradise before her. And she thought about the girl from a long time ago, and waited for the day when she too would come here, to the city in the clouds.  



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