Technically a 327-word story. Oh well.


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Gloom settles into the king's chambers. "It seems she fled in the night" speaks his advisor unemotionally.

"She must have been helped" says the king. She is only the niece of the king's second wife, yet the king cherished her closely. Uncomfortably close, according to rumor.

"The steward is missing as well."
A heavy sigh. "Arrange a private inquiry. And bring a full report of the nightwatch."
"Yes, your eminence."
"We cannot abandon hope."
"Forgive me, but for that I pity you."
"For what? ...for hope?"
"Hope is the hardest path. Even if one's hopes are eventually fulfilled. Hope can turn hours into years, stray thoughts into nightmares. It makes one obsessive, prevents one from being able to cope."

"Of course," he adds, "if you cannot let go, then you must hold out for hope."
The king closes his eyes, licking his lips. "No...of course I can't let go."


A boat reaches a frozen shore. The woman scrambles out towards the cabin. The old man and the steward are left to unload.

"So intense" speaks the old man softly.
"Yeah, well," the steward avoids eye contact. "There's a lot behind her now."
"You think so?"
"Of course. Why do you think she left?"
"She might think she's escaping something. She's not. There's no escaping what torments her. Rather, she's come here to find something."
"Oh yeah? What's that?"
"Her way back home."
The steward blinks. "That doesn't make sense."
"She's looking for a way to call it home again. To feel at home in the ruin of her reality. She needs time, distance, but it's all for the sake of going back. But it's nobody's place to tell her that. She has to find it for herself."

"And what about you, old man?" says the steward, glancing over. "What have you come here for?" The old man smiles, looking down. He keeps silent, gathering sticks on his way up to the cabin, to light the fire.