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Her raven-black hair streaming behind her like a flag in the wind, Ophelia ran. Her bare feet slapped against the cold stone floor of the lonely palace corridor. Distantly, she could hear voices calling for her, hurried footsteps over her ragged breathing. The fear of being caught, of being forced back behind walls, without light, without happiness, swelled inside her, egging her forward.
She pumped her arms willfully, leaping like a deer, willing herself to go faster and faster. The sounds of her pursuers slowly died away. Whether she left them behind or they gave up pursuit, she did not know. Nor did she care; the air coming from the double doors ahead was so cool, so clean. She wished it would blow through her, into every orifice, cleansing and refreshing that which had been defiled . . .
A sob caught in her throat as she neared the open double doors leading outside. Her mind revisited the painful memories she had tried so hard to bury, suppress, forget. Dead! she thought for the thousandth time. Dead, gone; her brother lost, her lover fled.
Her father dead.
She cried out, pressing the backs of her hands to her eyes even as she ran. She hated herself. Not only had she not appreciated her father the way she should have, but because it was not solely for him that she ached.
My lord. The memory of the prince filled her mind, leaving her temporarily unaware of her surroundings. White-blond hair on a fair face with dark, serious eyes and a tender smile. Only he could know truly of her suffering.
She thought of his actions, the news that had reached her unwilling ears, that her father's body had been found with the prince's knife in his back . . .
Her naked foot caught a rift in the ice-cold stone and she fell forward, her chin smacking the marble tiles before the stairs and she felt her knee crack. For a moment she lay there, still and pathetic, glad that she could still feel, but also wishing the pain - inside and out - would just go away. Finally, she lifted her head, gazing about like a lost child.
A blast of chilly air caught her in the face, and in an instance, she had forgotten the pain in her knee. She had forgotten everything. She grinned. How lovely, how delightful! Denmark was always beautiful in the spring; and as the last of the winter winds swept across her prostrate body, creeping under and around her thin white night dress, she felt her sorrow dissolve.
What a lovely day! The banks of snow were retreating, and little spring shoots were growing from the damp soil, peaking up from under the oppressing black of the earth. The sun was hidden behind a thick, silvery blanket of clouds, but the lack of a clear blue sky only intensified the spring colors around her. The rushing sound of the nearby spring caught her attention and held it.
It was a fairly large stream, ten or so feet wide, and a deep, enchanting blue, the color of the melted snow of the mountains. And all around the bank grew flowers. Oh, lovely flowers! Nettles, crow flowers, and daisies, in full bloom. They brushed against her hips; their stems were so tall. She raced to examine them, limping slightly from the pain in her knee. But she was elated, and the pain was nothing. Now, how did that happen again?
Upon the damp, cool ground she sat, and pulled the flowers from the earth with her soft hands. She sang a sad, wilting melody as she wove them into a crown for herself, a crown of nature's diamonds and emeralds. When she was satisfied with her work, she placed the wreath gently on her own black curls.
"I am queen," she whispered, "queen of this place. I am free. I am your queen, my dear, if you will have me." But no one heard, and he did not answer. She stuffed the thought away and let it be carried away by the wind. Perhaps one day he would find it . . .
Ophelia gazed around her, still singing absentmindedly her sad tune. She stood, letting her feet take her where they would, sinking into the muddy ground, and trudged through the weeds, barely noticing the sting of the nettles, till she came to the base of a tall, regal willow.
It was then that she began to cry, as she looked at the tree, its sad branches drooping morosely down to kiss the brook. She cried as she watched the willow cry, and without thinking, she began to climb it. She leaned out on a branch that hung over the glassy stream, peering curiously at a wonderful sight.
A beautiful girl gazed back at her, her black hair tucked behind her ears with the help of a lovely circlet of blossoms. The fair skin of her face, clear and pristine, glistened with tears. The girl reached out, her fingers spread imploringly, to reach something out of Ophelia's sight.
A cracking sound rent the peaceful air, and down Ophelia fell. She hit the water and her breath left her body temporarily. She did not understand what had happened, but she did not mind being wet. She wanted to find that pretty girl, to talk to her and to ask her why she wept.
Ophelia giggled to herself as the glacial water of the brook tickled her body as she floated downstream. Incapable of her own distress, she continued singing, unaware of how water-logged her dress and her hair were becoming. So wet, so heavy.
A numb, indifferent sensation gradually came over her, and she was grateful to not feel anything. She felt nothing, nothing at all, nothing but the gentle pull of the water. She closed her eyes, suddenly sleepy.
"Oh, my dear," she whispered to someone too far away to hear her last words. "My dear, I never did stop. I forgive you. And I will love you till the stars fail to shine. I will . . ."
Her words fell away, unheard, unrequited, and her dress dragged her down. Quietly, the fair Ophelia sank into a dark, cold place of thoughtlessness without fear at all.