There is a small village set in the woods near a lake. It is comfortable, quaint, with straw-thatched roofs and dirt paths beat down by dozens of tramping feet. It’s a place where people chat together, fights are nonexistent, and even livestock bray happily to each other in the morning. And the castle towers above it, massive silver stone and colorful windows glittering cheerfully onto the people below.
In the moonlight the village slumbers, casting mysterious shadows over the ground. The castle gleams like a massive diamond. It is here, before the castle’s oaken gates, that a young woman lifts her hood.
She is beautiful, very beautiful, with high cheekbones and full red lips, but so sad. Her eyes regard the castle mournfully, and she steps inside with a sigh.
Her feet glide over the ground without touching it.
Several floors above her come the sound of sobbing, terrible sobbing, like a heart being wrenched. The girl glances up pityingly, but she continues to move forward. The glow of her skin reflects off the walls and mingles with the torches, blue and white and red. The eyes of the guards pass over her. She moves carefully, delicately, until she reaches the staircase.
As she walked, her fingers trail over tapestries, worn colors stitched into lions, eagles, and turtles. Her mournful expression never changes, her eyes still focused straight ahead. The sobbing grows louder.
Finally, she steps into a room on the next floor, where her attention goes to the woman in the middle of it, bent over like she’s about to break while several others sent from the village stroke her back and murmur sympathies.
“Your Majesty, he’ll get better.”
“He’s strong, Your Majesty.”
“Be brave for him, my Queen.”
“He’s too little!” the woman wailed. “First I lost his sister, now him, no, I can’t, he can’t!” She buried her face in her hands and sobbed.
The girl watches her sadly, and a few of the women choke back tears.
There was a roar from the hallway, and a huge man in a bearskin cloak burst into the room, practically storming through the invisible girl by the door.
“Where’s that doctor?” he shouted. “Why isn’t he doing anything? My son lays there dying, and all he keeps asking me about is payment! Payment! First, it was, oh no, I’ll do anything for the royal family, it’d be my honor, no money necessary, just glad to help!”
He glares at his wife a moment, breathing hard, his eyes shining with tears. Then: “GRAYHEART, WE NEED MORE DOCTORS!!” and spins out of the room in a grief-stricken fury.
The girl shakes her head.
“Mommy?” A little boy steps into the room, wide-eyed and clutching a plush toy. “What’s daddy yelling about?”
“Nothing, sweetheart.” She wipes her face several times, sniffing, and buries him in a tight hug. “Go back to bed.”
The girl felt a rush of affection for this gentle family, overcoming the sadness she felt that they couldn’t see her.
She touches the head of the young boy softly as she slips out the door and he rubs his hair in some alarm, looking around for the light breeze that may have caused a sensation.
The girl drifts down the hall, listening to the bellows of the father, the wails of the mother, and the pitying murmurs of the palace staff.
“How old was the sister when she died? Sixteen, right?”
“Seventeen. I knew her, such a sweet, quiet girl, the whole family's delight.”
“The boy is too. Clever, caring, reliable. He’s so kind to his siblings. And now they’ll be lost without him.”
“How old is he? I want to say eleven…”
“Yes, eleven. Always the young ones. The death of a child is among some of the cruelest evil the world is capable of.”
She slipped through the servants as easily as water and stopped in front of a handsome oaken door. She hesitated to step inside, seeming completely unaware of the people bustling in and out sometimes through her, but after a moment quietly walked in.
There were about five men and women in the room, including the man in the bearskin cloak, who was currently shouting at a skinny, sour-faced doctor and hustling a new team of them through the door. The women bustled about with bedpans and ice chips, calling out instructions to each other as they went.
In the middle of it all sat the boy’s bed, a silken monstrosity with a blue and gold comforter and massive pillows. The limp boy curled up in it looked very small among all the fabric.
This was what the girl had come for. She slipped across the room towards him, ignoring the murmurs of the king and his doctors behind her, and softly touched him on the shoulder.
His hair was curly and chestnut brown like his father’s, his sweat-soaked skin acorn gold. He looked like any other human, but her hand did not pass through him.
He awoke. Bright green eyes started open, and he shifted a little, staring at her with great surprise. “Reila?” he rasped. “Wh-what are you doing here?”
She gave him a thin-lipped smile, and he let out a sort of whimper. “You’re dead. You died. I watched you. So then-” He raised his hands to stare at them. “So then am I dead, too?”
He slowly sat up. His body still rested behind him on the pillow, but he didn’t seem to notice. “My head hurts,” he said. “My side hurts, too. A lot.”
“Don’t worry.” She spoke softly, soothingly. “I’m taking you where your head will never hurt and you’ll never be hungry or tired ever again.”
He swallowed. “I don’t want to leave.” He spoke plaintively, desperately like a hungry toddler, his huge eyes staring up at her.
Her heart ached. “I know. I don’t want you to leave either.”
Elliot looked back at his own body. “I want to stay. I don’t want to leave everyone as you did.”
“You’ll see them someday. But for now, come with me. We’re going someplace beautiful.”
Her little brother swallowed, but he took her hand and she took him, and she pulled him away, with one last look at the swarming room before they stepped out and beyond into a swirling world of stars and the smiling, silver moon.