Diamond White

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Red RoseWe were inseparable once, my sister and I.  We shared everything.  My mother said we were so close, that we even shared a heart.

And we saw how true that was after we broke the bear’s curse.

Our mother was a gardener.  She had never worked in the palace or even in a lord’s manor.  She often spoke of the Royal Grand Gardeners who could grow anything at any time.  But she had enough skill and enough love for her trade to grow the occasional tomatoes in winter or pumpkins in summer.  The prizes of her garden were two rose bushes.  One red, which she planted and grew when my sister was born, for my sister had cheeks that were rosy red.  And one white, which she planted and grew when I was born, for I had skin that was pale as snow.  Our father passed shortly thereafter of a fever that swept our land, and our mother was left to raise us by herself.  And she raised us well.

We were happy, we three.  Rose and I played in the woods about our cottage,  befriending many a woodland creature.  Mother taught us our lessons.  She gave us hard and necessary work to do.  In the summer, she read us stories sitting against a tree as Rose and I lay on the grass and stared up at the clouds.  During winter, she read us stories by the fire at night as the snow softly fell outside.

It was on such a winter night while she read that we heard a knock at the door.  In truth, it was more a rough banging that startled us all.  Rose and I went to the door and without a thought opened it and there filling the frame of the door stood a great black bear.  I gasped and shut the door against the bear.  Rose slid the locks in place.  And we shifted a bit of curtain from the nearest window to see what the bear would do, hoping it would just leave.

“What’s the commotion?” Mother said.

She joined us at the window, having set down her book and her cup of tea.  She shooed us out of the way and peered at the bear.

“Let him in,” Mother said.  “He’s not a bear at all, children.  Not a bear at all.”

“What is he, then, Mother?” Rose asked, cautiously.  For while she was ever-curious, she was also sensible, while Mother could be a bit reckless.  “Bear or not, he’s still a stranger, isn’t he?”

“A stranger indeed, but I’m certain he means no harm.  He is merely seeking shelter and warmth from the cold.”

Rose and I looked at each other, but we trusted our Mother’s judgment.  She was older and could see things that we could not see.  And while Mother was sometimes mistaken about things, we did not think she would make a mistake that would risk our being eaten by a bear, or whatever this creature was.

We opened the door and let him in, and he headed straight toward our fire and lay down before it.  He must have been traveling outside for a while.  His fur was caked with snow and fearing he would shake himself as a dog does and spread the snow all about the cottage, Mother told us to brush the snow out of his fur.

Again Rose and I looked at each other.  For some reason, Mother believed the bear to be harmless enough to enter our home and mild enough to let us brush snow out of his fur, and so we did.  The bear did not fidget, but he shifted around to make it easier for us to brush.  And when we were done, he made a sound like a contented rumbling, and he stretched out before the fire and fell asleep.

Mother sent us to bed as well.  In the morning, when the bear woke, Mother, Rose, and I were already rolling out dough for the biscuits that we would have for our breakfast.  He bowed to us each in turn and headed toward the door.  Mother sent me to open it for him and he went on his way.

“What a story we shall have to tell when next we walk into town,” Rose whispered to me.

***

But that was not the end of the story, for the following night, when Mother continued her reading and Rose and I sat rapt, there came a rough banging at the door.  We peeked out of the window first this time and saw a great black bear standing before our door.  Mother looked out and said it was the same bear we had met the night before.  And we opened our door to him again.  And Rose and I brushed snow from his hair again.  And this night, we felt more comfortable with our guest, and it seemed he was more comfortable with us in turn.  Rose even dared to kiss him on the head.  But I dared myself to do something I thought was bolder, to look him in the eyes.  And there I saw sorrow and sweetness.

“There seems to be some sort of enchantment on the poor fellow,” Mother said, for she was wise and could recognize such things.

Rose shook her head.  “If only beasts could speak, then he could tell us what it was.”

I looked in the bear’s eyes.  “And then we could help him break it.”  And it seemed to me that the bear understood what I had said for he nodded his head slightly.

Rose and Mother went to consult some of our books, for Rose wanted to be a healer some day and she had started gathering books on all different kinds of healing.  I brushed the snow from the bear’s fur myself.  And when I was done, he stretched out by the fire again and slept till morning.

The Great Black Bear

So we passed the winter.  Every night the bear would come for a warm night’s sleep in our cottage, and every morning he would leave.  He never ate our food, though we offered.  And he always left with an air of purpose.  We thought perhaps that he was searching for a way to break the enchantment upon him even as Rose was searching.

I tried to help Rose, but her books were impenetrable to me.  I preferred the adventure books that Mother continued to read to us in the evenings.

Rose tried remedies on the bear.  She concocted odd drinks and made him swallow them.  She dangled stones about his head while chanting.  She rubbed herbs on his fur.  The bear bore it all with patience and hope.  But her efforts were to no avail.

And then one morning, the bear left and he did not return in the evening.

Rose, Mother, and I waited.  We took turns peeking through the curtains.  The spring thaw had come, and Mother said that the bear may have returned to his home.

All he had left us was the tufts of his fur that had gotten caught in my brush.  One day, when I was missing him most, I pulled out the brush and tugged fondly at the hair.  I noticed something I had not noticed before.  The hair glittered and glinted with gold.  I showed Rose and Mother, and Mother said that if we had ever doubted he was some enchanted creature, here was proof.  I did not know if ever I would see my friend again, so I placed that tuft of black and gold hair in a locket that I wore about my neck as a remembrance.

We worried over him for a while, and we sent him our love on kisses through the air and wished him well.

***

Not long thereafter, Rose and I were gathering firewood when we came upon an odd sight.  A lizard flitting back and forth before a hollow in a fallen tree trunk.  We walked closer out of curiosity and saw a pile of smooth flat stones in the tree trunk.

“Look Rose! A dragon protecting his hoard.”

Rose and I laughed.

But the lizard did appear to be standing guard over the stones, for he grew more and more agitated as we drew closer.  So we kept our distance.  But then, we noticed that his tail was caught in a cleft in the log.  We could not leave him that way, even though he tried to snap and bite when we approached him.  Rose held fast to the lizard as I free his tail from the log.  A piece of the tail broke off as it came free.  Then we both jumped out of the way, ready to defend ourselves against the angry beast.

But to our surprise, the lizard scrambled atop the pile of flat stones until it shrunk and became a single stone, that turned into a gold coin, which the lizard picked up in his mouth.  And then he dashed away.

When we returned home, we told Mother, who said it was well that we helped the lizard, for he was surely not a lizard but some magical creature, who had gotten himself caught in that tree and would have cursed them if they had passed him by without assisting him.

And we all wondered if such had happened to our old friend, the bear.

***

Not long thereafter, Rose and I went fishing to catch our supper and we came upon an odd sight.  A lizard was running around and around in a circle near the shore.  When we came closer, we saw that it was caught in some fishing twine, most of it wrapped around its tail.

“It’s our old friend, the dragon,” said Rose.  “And look, he’s got another treasure to guard.”

And I saw that there was a pile of pebbles beside the lizard.

“We’d best help him, then,” I said.  “Else he will curse us.”

So Rose again held down the lizard so that I could free him from the twine.  But as I was removing the last bit of twine, the lizard bucked Rose, and leapt away from us, cutting off a piece of his tail.  He skittered onto the pile of pebbles.  And as we watched, the pile shrunk and turned into one rather large white pearl.  The lizard caught up the pearl in his mouth and dashed away.

***

Not long thereafter, Rose and I went to town to buy supplies for our mother’s sewing and gardening, and along the road we came upon a familiar sight.  Our old friend, the lizard.  His tail was half gone from the two times we had helped him get free of the traps he’d gotten caught in.  This time, he sat upon a  boulder as tall as me and hissed at us as we passed.

“Good day, good lizard,” Rose said, and this must have insulted him somehow, for he climbed down from the boulder and stood in our way and hissed.

Rose and I decided to go around him, but either way we went, he moved to block our way.  Finally, we split apart, one going to the left of him and one to the right.  But the lizard would not be foiled, for he was not a lizard.  Not a lizard at all.

He changed and grew and suddenly before us, there was a little man in gray and brown garb.  And he pulled out a little axe.  Rose and I had no weapons, but she had wit enough to reach down for a handful of earth.  She threw it in the little man’s eyes as he raised his axe toward her.

The little man lowered his axe and yelled out, “Stupid girls!  Curses to—“

A great and thundering growl interrupted his curse.  And from the other side of the road came bounding toward us our old friend, the bear.  The bear thundered past me and knocked the little man to the ground.  Rose was startled and fell back against the boulder, and I saw that it had cracked a bit and something glittered through the cracks.

I ran to Rose and showed her what I saw.  She stepped aside.  I picked up the little man’s axe, raised it, and struck the boulder.   It cracked and broke and inside were precious stones—sapphires, rubies, garnets, diamonds.  I dropped the axe.  Rose and I turned to the bear.

With a great roar, the bear braced himself against the ground, and he began to transform.  His black fur lightened and brightened and smoothened until it became a golden cloak, and under the cloak was a young man with golden hair.  He raised his head and looked at the little man.

“Cover his mouth!  Before he can utter a curse against us!” the young man said.

Rose quickly pulled a kerchief from her pocket and tied it around the little man’s mouth.  But I wondered if we need worry.  The bear had knocked the little man quite out of his senses.

***

“He is a gnome,” the young man said, rising from the ground.  He was dressed in fine clothes dyed the green of the forest.

Rose bound the gnome’s hands and feet with fishing twine.

“And you are my saviors,” the young man said, and he bowed deeply to us each in turn.  “My name is Zan, fair friends.  My father is lord of the neighboring township.  That gnome came to our manor to steal my father’s riches.  When I tried to stop him, he lay that curse upon me, stole my father’s wealth, and hid it away.”

I looked at the gnome, lying on the ground.  He was smaller than me, smaller even than Rose.  True, he seemed fearsome when he held that axe against us, but so would a child have seemed.  I wondered how such a silly creature could do so much harm.  But the nobleman’s son—Zan—told us that gnomes were as cunning as they were greedy and treacherous.  They could create illusions so convincing as to fool every sense.  And when angered, they would lay curses.  Sometimes the curses were mild, bad luck for a year.  Sometimes they were merely embarrassing and uncomfortable, boils on one’s bottom.  It was no wonder that the tales of gnomes cast them as somewhat ridiculous creatures.  But Zan had learned otherwise when he defied this gnome, for the gnome cast upon him a curse of transformation.

“As greed had created the curse, only generosity could break,” Zan said.  “But who would be generous to a bear?”

Zan had a younger brother, who swore to search the lands for a way to break the curse.  And their father kept Zan hidden in their manor.  But as time passed, Zan forgot he was a person, and became more like a bear.  One day he frightened a housekeeper so much that she ran away, leaving the doors open.  And Zan wandered out.

One winter night, as he wandered, he was drawn to a cottage by the warm light peeking from the door.  And he found what the gnome told him he would never find as a bear, generosity, kindness, hospitality.  He remembered that he was not a bear but a man.  The curse did not break and it puzzled Zan as he returned to the cottage night after night.  He knew none of Rose’s well-intentioned cures would work.  But the mere generosity of the dwellers in the cottage should have been enough.

The bear knew that the gnome would sleep during the winter and emerge during the spring.  And he aimed to find the gnome and confront him.

The bear—Zan—did indeed found the gnome and followed him and watched in surprise as his friends from the cottage stumbled upon the disguised gnome and helped him escape.  Zan waited to confront the gnome until all the stolen treasure was revealed.  But when the gnome grew angry at the girls for foiling him, Zan could wait no longer.

***

“I’ll wager the curse cracked,” Rose said, “even as this boulder cracked.  But it did not break.  Our generosity toward you and even toward him weakened the gnome.  The broken pieces of his tail were a sign of his failing power.  He could not keep the treasure hidden for long and so he sought to move it.  That’s when we came upon him.”

“But how is it that he was caught fast when we found him the first two times?” I asked.

“Riches and curses are treacherous,” Zan said.  “Perhaps he was caught fast by his greed, and it was only your kindness that freed him.”

“Then we should have passed him by,” I said.

“Had you done that, he would have cursed you too,” Zan said.  “Perhaps not as powerful a curse, but a curse nonetheless.”

“Our paths were drawn to his as the curse began to break,” Rose said.  “Perhaps for the curse to truly break, you, my lord, had to find all of your treasure.  When we first saw him, the lizard was guarding a pile of flat stones that turned into gold coins.”

I clapped my hands.  “And then, he was guarding a pile of round pebbles that became pearls.”

“We saw your treasure through the cracks in the curse,” Rose said.  “But the gnome had enough power to fool us into believing that the pile of coins and pearls had vanished, melted into one coin and one pearl, which he carried away.  As he was forced to abandon more and more of the treasure, he grew weaker and weaker.  I’ll wager your treasure still lies where the gnome left it.”

“That is well reasoned,” Zan said.

Rose beamed.

“We must bury these jewels to hide them until I can return with carriages and guards,” Zan said.  We helped him bury the jewels, all but two.  Zan gave to my sister a ruby that he said was almost as red as her cheeks.  Rose did not fancy jewels, but as a gift from a new friend, she said that it was precious to her.  To me, he gave a diamond.  The clearest and brightest diamond I had ever seen, though come to think of it, I had never seen a diamond before that day.  It was so dazzling that I was afraid of losing it, so I clutched it in my hand.  I would have placed it in my locket but the diamond would not fit.

Zan hoisted the gnome upon his shoulders and asked us to lead him to the places we saw the lizard.  We found the treasures of gold coins and pearls where we expected and buried them as well until Zan could come back to reclaim them.  We went into town, still carrying the gnome.  Zan hired a carriage to take us back to his manor, and the whole time, the gnome did not wake.  Rose and I sent a messenger back to Mother so she would not worry.  And Zan insisted that a carriage be sent for her too.

So we arrived at his manor, Zan greeted with happy tears, Rose and I with stunned congratulations.  It was to be some days before the story of how we broke the curse spread through the manor and the township.  Zan’s father and brother came to greet us.

And the gnome woke in time to be marched away to the town’s prison, still gagged so he could not utter curses.

“Do no worry, my fair friends,” Zan said, for he saw the worry on our faces as we watched the gnome, “we will keep him well-guarded.  Without treasures to draw power from, he cannot cast any curses.”

“Nevertheless, my lord, keep him gagged!” said Rose.  “And count every jewel and coin and pearl lest he held any back.”

And so they did, and found that one gold coin and one pearl were missing.  Zan’s father bid his men to keep searching and to keep a constant vigil on the gnome.

***

Rose, Mother, and I stayed in the manor during the feasting that followed Zan’s return.  Even the king attended, and we were presented to him in beautiful gowns that Zan had his tailor make for us.  When the celebrations were finished, we bid our new friends farewell and returned home.

Zan and his brother, Wendell, visited often.  We all became dear to one another.  Before too long, Zan and I were betrothed and wed.  He set upon my finger a ring made from the diamond he gave me when we defeated the curse upon him.  I went to live in the manor.  Rose and Mother remained at the cottage, though Rose visited often, for Wendell had shown her the manor’s impressive library.  Mother and I wagered that it would not be long before Rose and Wendell too were wed.  And I dreamt of the adventures we four would have thereafter.

And so we lived, happily for a year, until the gnome escaped his cage.

*****

Mother had brought cuttings from the white rose bush and the red rose bush to the manor’s gardens as a gift to the lord and his sons.  The roses flourished under the care of the gardener’s and under my own care.  I had learned to tend them well and the other flowers and herbs in our garden and the trees in our orchard.  I was about my rounds in the apple orchards that day when I heard a familiar voice that chilled me to my bones.

“Snow-pale skin and night-black hair?  Ephemeral charms are not true beauty.”

I turned and saw him emerge from behind a tree.  The gnome.

I said not a word.  I had to be careful.  I was one who had captured and jailed him.  I could not avoid making him angry.  If he had enough power to escape, he may have enough power to curse me.  I noticed something in his hand then, something he flipped about his fingers.  A gold coin.  We had never found that one missing gold coin and the one pearl…

I saw about the gnome’s neck a fine gold chain on which was hung the pearl he had stolen.

“True beauty is lasting and I see it before me,” he said, and he pointed to me.  I raised my hands to appease him and saw that his gaze followed my hands.  My left hand in particular.  And I knew why.

My diamond ring.  The gnome desired it.  His eyes were aflame with envy and longing.  I slipped off my ring.  I did not want to give this creature more power by giving him more treasure, nor did I want to part with the ring that was precious to me beyond the common measure of its worth.  But if I could appease him long enough to escape him, it was worth the attempt.

“Is this all that you have come here for?” I asked, knowing it was not.  I held up the ring.  The diamond dazzled in the morning sunlight.

The gnome laughed.  “And for vengeance of course, my fairest lady.”

“We mean you no harm if you mean us no harm,” I said.  “You know we only imprisoned you because we thought you would indeed harm us.”

The gnome bowed.  “And so you were right.  Keep that rock, my lady, it is nothing to the treasures you will give me in due time.”

I shivered and it was not from the winter cold.  “Take it please,” I said, offering up the ring, “only promise that you will not curse me or anyone I hold dear.”

“The curse is already upon you, my lady.  It was upon you the moment you accepted that jewel from the buffoon you now call husband.”

The gnome saw my look of confusion and he laughed again.  “You did not break the curse that day, stupid girl, you inherited it.  You lifted it from your lover and took it upon yourself.  But even fools can stumble upon good luck, and you and your kin managed to capture me and strip me of my power.  So my curse has slumbered until today.  Now, with your snow-pale skin, what you love will become what I love.”

And with that the gnome bowed to me and jumped back behind the apple tree.  My fear vanished with him.  And a great rage arose in its place.  I ran to the tree and around it, but found the gnome nowhere.

***

I sounded the alarm.  And I calmed myself so I could remember the gnome’s words.  If I had inherited the curse, I should have transformed into bear.  But I was still me.  And a more frightening thought crossed my mind.  If I had inherited the curse by accepting the diamond that Zan gave me, then so too had Rose inherited it by accepting that ruby.

I called for a carriage and without cloak or care, I dashed inside and yelled for the driver to ride fast to the home of my mother and sister.

When we arrived, the driver helped me out.  It still seemed a strange thing to be gently helped out a carriage on the road upon which I had skinned my knees so often.  I bowed to the driver and rushed to the door of the cottage.  All seemed quiet, but that was no comfort.  At the door, I was greeted by a small gray mouse, and I could not help but smile, for the sight of her calmed me.  I knelt down and she was not afraid.  I was glad that I had not changed so much from the girl who was friend to mouse and sparrow.  I reached down and touched her little head, and where I touched, a clear crystal formed, and it spread over and through her head.  I fell back in horror, and I watched as the mouse turned to diamond.  I turned to look at the carriage-driver.  He had seen that I had fallen and was coming to help me up.

Now, with your snow-pale skin, what you love will become what I love.

My hands and arms were bare.  I had not the time to don cape and gloves.  The carriage-driver was a man I did not know and had no feeling toward.  The mouse I did not know, but she dwelt in my childhood home, and so I loved her.  And what I loved became what the gnome loved, a precious stone.

I raised myself up, halted the driver, and ordered him to return to the carriage.  I opened the cottage’s front door and called for Mother and for Rose.  No one answered.  Rose might be out, gathering firewood or studying in town.  But Mother never ventured far from the cottage these days.

I wandered through the rooms calling and then went to the back where I found Mother weeping.  Wendell too was there, and he had his hands wrapped about her hands.  But his face was stricken.  For standing before them was Rose.  It was surely my sisster.  But she was made entirely of diamond.  Diamond tinged with a hint of red.

***

“There was nothing I could do,” Wendell said when he saw me.  “I watched her change.  What has happened here, sister?”

Mother stood up and she reached out to me.  I recoiled.  I saw the confusion in their faces, but I found I could not speak.  I looked about and saw a pile of books sitting on the porch.  These would all be Rose’s books.  I lifted one and winced.  But nothing happened.

“What’s wrong, sister?”  Wendell said, approaching.

I loved my sister, but not her books.  I flipped through the pile and found one book that Mother used to read us when we were children.  As I lifted it up, it began to transform.  I held the book out to Wendell and Mother as it turned to diamond.

“The gnome has escaped,” I said.  “And his curse is upon us.”

***

Zan arrived then.  We heard him calling.  And I summoned him to the back of the cottage.  He saw us all and he saw Rose and at once he came toward me.

As one Mother, Wendell, and I shouted out to stop him and I drew back.  I told them all of my encounter with the gnome in the apple orchard.

“How did he escape?” Zan wondered.

“What does it matter, brother?  What can we do for Rose?”

“I never touched her,” I said.  “Why did she turn to diamond?”

“She inherited the curse too,” Wendell said.  He scowled at his brother.  “Your curse.”

“You share a heart between you,” Mother said.  “I always said so.”  Wendell placed his arm about her and I nodded to him in thanks.

“It is a curse of transformation,” Zan said.  “When it was upon me, I was a bear, but I was still alive.  But Rose, we do not know if she still lives.”

“She lives!” Mother said, weeping, and I could not comfort her for I could not touch her.  “But her life is fading.  I do not know how much longer she will endure.”

I thought it was her wise eyes that showed her Rose lived, but we all looked at the diamond Rose and saw a beating heart of flesh within the crystal cage of diamond.

“If a curse can be inherited once,” Zan said, “then why not again?”

Wendell reached out and touched Rose’s arm.  “Let me take her curse upon me, then.”  Nothing seemed to happen.

Zan placed a hand on his brother’s shoulder.  “If I take this curse upon me, I know I will be a bear and you can all keep me as kindly as you did before, even as you hunt down the gnome to truly break the curse once and for all.”

“But even if that could be so,” I said, “we know nothing of curses.  How would we do such a thing?”

“I take upon me your curse,” Zan said and he touched Rose.  And it was that simple, for she began to transform from hard diamond into flesh and blood.  And Zan began to grow fur over his face, his hands, his clothes, and his golden cloak.  And he grew larger.  And she grew softer and fairer.  Wendell caught Rose as she fell.  She slept, but she breathed, and Wendell said she felt warm.  Zan was a great black bear again, and he rumbled happily when he saw that his sister was flesh and blood again.

“We must take them both to the manor,” I said.

The carriage-driver saw us emerge with a still-sleeping Rose and a great black bear.  He said not a word but, “To where?”

***

We returned to the manor and though all were dismayed at our arrival with the bear, none were surprised, for word of the gnome’s escape had spread.  And the lord of the manor came to meet us and I did not embrace him or anyone.  We told him our story.

We waited till nightfall for Rose to wake, but she did not wake.

And the next morning, she slept still.  Wendell called for a healer, but I knew a healer could not help.  Zan had cracked the curse, as we had once cracked a boulder full of jewels, but he had not taken it all upon himself again.  For part of the curse was carried by me and none I loved could touch me.  I knew then, what I must do, for it was my task now, to hunt down our enemy.  I made preparations and before noon, I went to visit my sister.  Mother had never left her side throughout the night.  And neither had Wendell.

“It is my doing,” Mother said as I approached to say my farewells.  “You must forgive me.”  And she looked so miserable that I could feel only pity.

“What have you done, Mother?” I asked.

“I have done what I thought best, but I knew better than to venture anywhere near a curse.”  Tears dripped from her eyes and I reached out to comfort her, but drew my hand back.  “When the bear first came to our door, I did not tell you the truth of what I saw.  I saw the young man, still coming out of boyhood then, just as you were coming out of girlhood.  Your sister had chosen a path for herself.  So it were no matter if she wed or not.  But you, I did not know what would become of you.  And I saw he wore that golden cloak.  So I deigned to let him in, only to show him kindness in the hopes that when his fortunes turned and he broke his curse, he would remember us.  Perhaps remember you and your beauty and kindness.  When your sister resolved to help him break that curse, I was all the more eager.  We failed, but when the bear left, I hoped he would return as a man.  I have been foolish.”

I was at once struck with pain and pity.  Pain because my mother had thought so little of me.  Pity because she meant well and now bore the guilt of a crime she did not commit.

“We have all been fools one time or another,” I said.  “This is not your doing.”

“She is right, good mother,” Wendell said.  “We must remember who our true enemy is.”

“I’ll go at once,” I said.  “Too seek him out.  I fear the only way to lift the curse on our family is to destroy the one who lay that curse.”

“Such is not the work of a gentle woman like you, sister.  Let me come with you.  We will both seek him.  And when we find him, I will end him.”

“No, I will go alone.  For our enemy is wily, and forgive me little brother, but he has already eluded you.  I have his curse upon me.  And he is greedy for the diamonds I will make.  I will use that to help me to find him.  And I will need no defense but the curse itself.  For whatever I touch, I can transform.”

“But you can only transform what you love,” Mother said, and she looked truly miserable.

“Then I shall learn to love what is most vile and dangerous in this world.”  I smiled at my little brother and before I knew what he was doing, he took my hand in his.  I gasped.  I was wearing gloves, but I did not know if that was any protection from my curse.

“Either you do not care for me, or you have found a way to touch your dear ones.  It should do for now.”

I scowled at him for his carelessness and squeezed his hand for the small gift he had just given me.  For I had tried touching beloved objects with my gloves, but had not dared to try touching any living thing.  But I was too afraid to embrace him.  “You must stay here and look after your brother and my sister,” I said.  “Look after Mother as well.”

Wendell gave me a strong mare, two men from the manor’s guard, a sack of gold coins, and a small cart of provisions.  Before I left, I visited the garden and paid my homage to the red rose bush that was planted for my sister.

I picked a rose from the bush, the most beautiful rose, the one that stood most defiantly red among the cold white snow.  I removed my gloves and touched the rose, and it began to change, to harden, to shrink, and to glitter.  What remained looked like a brooch, made of garnet and emerald.  But I knew it was red diamond and green diamond.  I used the jewel to fasten my cloak and covered it with a piece of cord.  Around my neck I still wore the locket with my husband’s black and golden hair.  Cold trinkets.  Remembrances of the reward that awaited the end of my quest.  The reward of reunion.  I would not fail them.  We would be happy again.  For there were many I shared my heart with now, even as it was, a cold crystal.

A diamond white.

Copyright © 2014 by Nila L. Patel

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