A soft wind whispered through the willow tree concealing a form slumped against its trunk. The figure, embowered behind whisps of green hanging from the willow's branches, heaved a heavy sigh. Her dark lashed were lowered to caress high, rosy cheekbones, her unruly auburn curls dancing slightly in the breeze. The night sky was a delicate shade of blue, the stars twinkling joyously overhead, nearly drowned out by the radiance of the pale white moon, full this night as it lit up both heaven and earth.
The sleeping child beneath the tree shifted slightly, and the crickets serenading her stopped their song. All was still. Even the wind had stopped rustling through the leaves. Her eyes fluttered open and she stretched, a sleepy smile curving full red lips. She didn't move, didn't utter a single word to the night. She only listened and watched, her senses still slightly dulled by sleep.
The wall of willow branches was momentarily separated as a tall, dark figure stepped forward. The little girl looked up at the kind face gazing down at her, bold features unreadable in the dark.
"Are we going on our trip now, Uncle?" she asked.
The man bent to stroke her cheek. "Yes, child," he murmured, picking her up and cradling her in his arms.
"Wait!" she cried, her voice ringing like a beacon in the still of the night.
He winced. "Yes?"
She clambered down from his arms and wrapped her arms around the great willow tree, running her fingers over its bark, and the names etched into it. Papa and Ivy forever. She smiled and kissed her fingertips, pressing them to the carving. Then she ran back to her uncle's open arms, allowing him cradle her again.
Head against his chest, she questionned, "Why isn't Papa coming with us?"
"I've told you," her uncle said. "Papa has some business to see to, and he doesn't want you getting in his way."
"Oh." There was a slight pause as she mulled over her next question. "Does he still love me? Will I see him again?"
The man merely shrugged, pushing the willow branches aside as he stepped out into the cool night air.
Another question had begun forming in the curious child's mind and was spilling from her lips when her uncle touched her forehead. Warmth flared between them at the touch. "Sleep now," he murmured, throwing his will into it.
It wasn't easy. At four years of age, the girl was already as strong if not stronger than him. But he pressed harder, using all his will to gently drop her into sleep. After a moment of silent struggle, the girl was limp in his arms, her head lolling onto her chest.
Her uncle smiled to himself, and hastened away, hurrying down the hill and towards the carriage waiting there for them. Behind him, someone screamed. He frowned in disgust. They could have at least done it quickly and quietly, he thought with disgust as he laid his niece on the carriage seat. Still, if you wanted a job done right, you had to do it yourself - and he'd rather see a few infractions in his commands than see the murder of his family carried out by his own hands.
"I wash my hands of your blood," he murmured, then climbed in beside his niece. The door to the carriage was closed, and they lurched forward into the night, the hoofbeats loud and echoing on the cobblestones as the palace gates swung open with a complaining creek. As the carriage moved further and further away, the world fell back into its calm - dead - silence.
A/N: This was me doing a writing exercise to further my abilities, and get me out of the rut I've found myself in, involving several stories. *sigh!* Such is life, I suppose. Anyways, this exercise has turned into the beginnings of a story. Tell me, should I continue it or not? Five billion reviews ought to suffice! :)