• Karissa Chmil

Sleep

“Sleep,” it murmured. “Go on, sleep.”

The fire rippled on the hearth before him, its reflection a soft glow in the king’s eyes. His hands clutched a golden cup before him, the few drops of remaining wine swirling around. Memories wandered through the air with every note of the harp.

“Sleep,” the music and memories whispered, brushing past his cheek. “She would want you to sleep.”

Warmth wafted towards him from the fire, yet he wrapped the blanket tighter around his shoulders. The harp reminded him of her voice. “I can’t sleep,” he said, voice hoarse, eyes fixed on the fire. “They’re gone.”

The music continued, the unspoken whispers silent for a moment. The king’s eyes flitted shut, and, against his will, a long, shuddering sigh escaped. His stomach clenched and he closed his eyes.

“My lord,” a soft voice said.

He didn’t turn around.

The midwife crept towards him and offered the bundle.

He didn’t even open his eyes.

“The little one still lives,” the music whispered. “Your little one.”

Slowly, the king opened his eyes, blinking in the firelight. Then he turned, eyes skimming past the midwife to the tightly wrapped child. Fingers unsteady, he set down the cup and reached for it. The little one murmured something and turned, tiny fist curling around his thumb. The music continued, soft and achingly soothing.

“Girl or boy?” he whispered.

“Girl,” the midwife said with a tired smile, stray wisps of hair framing her face.

The music drifted over and examined the tiny princess. She smiled slightly, dark lashes kissing her cheeks.

“My lord,” the midwife said. “I must go attend to Queen Talia’s laying out.”

The king’s chest tightened. “Of course.”

A soft curtsy and she was gone.

The music finished looking over the princess and smiled in the king’s ear. “What shall you name her?”

The king studied his daughter. “I shall name you Talia,” he said quietly, “for it is a name worthy of a queen.”

Then the tears could no longer be held back and they rushed forwards, spilling out onto his cheeks and catching the fire’s glow. He bent over, clutching his daughter, shoulders shaking.

The music continued but said no more words until the tears had ended.

“Sleep,” it said once more, wrapping its melody around the king and his daughter. “For your daughter, you must sleep.”

And there, in the chair before the fire, music weaving its way through the room, his daughter in his arms, the king slept.

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