I think of her at all times. Each day when the sunlight teases me awake in yet another inn, in yet another land, her image comes back to me, just as I first saw her in my garden by moonlight. Her hair. The softness of her skin. The deep pools of her eyes, like tranquil gardens. So pure it breaks my heart. So perfect. Forgive me, my friend. The emotion overwhelms me.
I loved to watch her paint. The light movements of the brush between her toes; the delicate blush of cherry blossoms; the quick, black strokes of herons’ legs wading through water-faint pools. The paint box was my first gift to her. During those silent early months, I had it set beside her every afternoon. I knew she would learn to use it, although at first she did not like to be seen. In her country, she told me later, ladies did not sit upon the floor thus, their skirts spread behind them. It was considered indecorous.
“Be grateful, then, that you are here,” I smiled. But it was I who was grateful.
She cherished the long sleeves that hid her pain; the low tables with everything conveniently close by; the screens that could be drawn shut, hiding her. She kept her eyes down, letting the gold of her hair fall across her face. For months I longed to sweep it back with my fingers, to kiss the pale cream of her cheeks and the peonies of her lips.
When I brought her the silver hands, she wept. She was unworthy of such honour, she said. She had only sought to cover her shame; such a rich gift was beyond her station. But she needed no gift to honour her in my eyes. The first time we made love, I kissed the place where her arms ended and imagination began. For me, she was alive with possibility. She brought me alive. She made me worthy.
I should have known better than to leave her for a day, even for an hour. I still feel her tears on my hair, her trembling body in my arms at dark of the moon. The demon would come again, she said. This time he would take all of her.
“No, my love, that cannot be,” I would say, my heart against her heart. “I will protect you with my life. No one can harm you.”
Each morning those words return to me, words as false and hollow as silver hands.
It has been months now since I have seen my home. When last I turned my back on it, it was cold and silent, every last painting put away, every screen closed for the final time. I will not return there without her. Forgive me once more, my friend, if I seem too hasty to drink up and leave, but I have far to travel. There is no place on earth where I will not seek. Without her, I am incomplete.
Elizabeth Hopkinson’s fantasy fiction has appeared in several publications, including Strange Horizons, Interzone, DKA and Byzarium, and her story, “A Short History of the Dream Library” won the 2005 James White Award. She has been a fairy tale enthusiast ever since taking a module on “Romance, Ballad and Fairy Tale” as an undergraduate, and only hopes she can do justice to the amazing wealth of knowlege imparted to her. Visit her website at the Hidden Grove.
Image: How the Girl Lost her Hands, H.J. Ford