The woods were in mourning.
Birds sang a sorrowful trill from their perches. The cheerful chatter of squirrels had ceased. Even the trees seemed to sway sadly as they rippled in the wind.
Prince Henry walked through the forest, leading his horse. He had started off riding, but the solemn tone hanging in the air had led him to his feet. He had never seen the forest like this before. What had caused such grief?
Then he saw it. His favorite clearing in the forest. It ran right next to a stream and housed a tree he had climbed all over when he was younger. He had spent many nights in that clearing under the stars. Indeed, that’s why he was here today — to get away from the kingdom and the responsibilities he held as it’s prince, for at least one night.
The clearing was filled with people. Seven dwarves, knobbly and short. Red noses and red caps. They worked in the mines nearby. Henry had known of them, but somehow in all of his trampings through the woods, they had never crossed paths. The dwarves were singing in a low voice. Henry vaguely recognized the song as the dwarven song of mourning.
A slab of stone sat in the center of the clearing. Flowers piled so high that it took Henry a couple of moments to make out the figure beneath them.
A girl. What was a girl doing here?
The dwarves didn’t acknowledge the prince as he approached the stone slab. He recognized that girl. He had met her a few months ago, at the Northern Kingdom’s castle. She had been singing. He had thought she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, and though he returned to the castle a few times since then in hope of speaking with her, he never saw her again.
And now she was dead.
Grief pierced his chest, slow and throbbing. He hadn’t known her, but he had wanted to. It was strange how much it hurt for this stranger to be dead.
Henry stood before the girl. Her raven hair framed her face in gentle curls. Lips red as blood parted slightly. His hand brushed her face, and almost without thought he bent down and —
“ — Hey! What are you doing?” A dwarf yanked Henry back.
Henry blinked. “I, uh — ”
“He was going to kiss her!” Another dwarf said.
“Who goes around kissing corpses?”
A dwarf peered over his spectacles to look at Henry. “I don’t know who you are, lad, but I think you’d best be going.”
Henry nodded and walked away. That would probably be best. Kissing a dead body — what was he thinking?
As the prince left the clearing, the first dwarf hefted a shovel. “Alright lads. It looks like we are going to have to cut this short. Clearly, an open casket is not a good idea. Let’s get to dig’n the grave.”