Chapter 6:

Once upon a time, there was a king.


Amoria found the boy deep in the snow, the peony in full bloom between his fingers. Then and there, she wanted so desperately to break. To thrash on the ground, shattering the earth and sky with her fury. Every instinct screamed for her to do so.

But she held on.

She tucked the flower into his hair and lifted his body. When the god appeared, Amoria refused to look her in the eye.

“Would you like to hear his last words?” she offered.

“I already know them,” said Amoria. “Will you carry a message for me?”

“They already know.” The god vanished into the sunrise. “They heard you.”

Amoria breathed in the chilly air. She heard no wind, no snowfall, and not a single curious question, brimming with child-like wonder. That was the loudest silence of all.

“I’m taking you home,” she whispered. Together, they had left the mountain. Together, they shall return to it.

Amoria held on as they reached the end of the snow.

Amoria held on as they passed through the bed of yellow roses and underneath the weeping willow.

Amoria held on as they passed through the village, quieter than ever.

Amoria held on as they passed through the open steppes.

Amoria held on as they arrived in the hall of the mountain king.

Finally, at the very end, after she had returned his body and after she had gotten far away from the mountain, she let herself break.

She crashed to the dirt, screaming and thrashing. She smashed the earth, cracking the land below, and broke the trunk of every tree around her with one swipe, setting their leaves ablaze with the flick of her finger. When the world around her burned, she started sobbing. Her dark eyes spilled and spilled and never stopped. For days after, surrounded by ash and soot, she cradled her bundled-up cape and waited. The world felt muted, colourless, and most of all, quiet.

And so she sat, unmoving, staring into the abyss. She was immortal, with no need for hunger or thirst, and she had all the time in the world to grieve.

“Excuse me, ma’am?”

Amoria awoke to the bright voice of a young girl. She had sharp features and golden-blonde hair, tightly braided. A wicker basket was curled around her arm.

“Are you okay?” the girl asked. “You’ve picked an awful place to take a nap.”

“I’m fine. I’m just a weary traveller.” Amoria stood and checked if anyone had picked her pockets in her slumber. She was in a new city, one bustling with life and rich in both gold and joy. It was no wonder she caught the curiosity of a passerby, for she was nestled between two busy street vendors, one selling spices and the other, various livestock.

It had been a long time since her journey to the mountain, and in her grief, she had neglected to count the passing years. How long has it been? A century? Two?

What did it matter, she thought. What is one more grain of sand to a desert?

“Why must you sleep in such a place?” asked the girl. “Could you not get a room at the inn?”

“I had my purse stolen,” Amoria lied. In truth, she just didn’t care for the comfort of a feather bed anymore.

“Oh dear, that’s terrible! Have you spoken to the guards?”

“That is a wonderful idea.” She wrapped the cape around herself and turned to leave. “I’ll go speak to the guards right away.”

“Wait, excuse me, ma’am.”

Amoria sighed. She shifted back to face the girl. “What is it?”

The girl reached into her basket and pulled out a bit of bread. She offered it in an outstretched hand. “For your journeys.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Oh, that’s okay. When you do get hungry, feel free to drop by any baker or tavern, or just knock on any door.”


“No one goes hungry in this city. Ask anyone for food, and they will feed you.”

“A strange law,” Amoria mused.

“It’s no law, ma’am. It’s just our way.”

“Your way? A doctrine by your church, perhaps?”

“No, ma’am, just a tradition.” The girl tweaked her nose. “It comes from a folk tale. Long ago, before the city was even a city, it was only a tiny hamlet in the middle of nowhere. One year, the hamlet suffered a terrible drought, and many starved to their deaths. But salvation came just as the hamlet was on the brink of erasure. Once upon a time, there was a king from a far away nation who came here, and with his ancient magic, fed a hundred men with just one loaf of bread. It saved us, and we grew a tradition to ensure anyone who asks for food will receive it. No one shall starve again.”

Amoria covered her mouth with the back of her hand. It muffled her first sob but not her second. When the girl tried to comfort her, Amoria saw her golden hair, a yellow rose sat behind her ear, and shattered as the memories came flooding back.

For a heartbeat, he could see his sweet smile again, and hear him in the spring breeze.

“Thank you,” said Amoria, her voice breaking with relief. She spoke to no one in particular. “Thank you for remembering him.”

The fairy tales spoke of how Amoria never dies, but they also spoke of how the boy king lives. 

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