Continued from the last issue
"You have cheated Death; no one has dared to do that before. Now you must be punished as you deserve."
"No, Godmother, I beg of you," cried the young man. "What I did was wrong, I know. But I did it to save the country and the princess. She is so beautiful, gentle and kind, and her cousin, whom she must wed, should her father die, is a loathsome creature. I disobeyed you to bring happiness to others. Please forgive me."
"Mortal feelings mean nothing to me," Death said. "What must be must be; you cannot alter that. However, I understand that what you did was not for yourself, so I shall forgive you a second time. But mark my words well: there will be no third pardon. Should you come cross me a third time, you shall suffer the fate of the one you try to save."
Two years passed by. In the meantime, the doctor was appointed Court Physician and personal advisor to the King of Spain. There was no one in the entire kingdom more highly esteemed than he. Yet what pleased the young man most was not the honours he received, nor the fame he had acquired. What pleased him the most was the love he knew the princess had for him and he for her. The king grew to trust him well and, given time, they hoped he would permit his daughter to wed the poor peasant's son.
However, one day the princess fell ill and had to take to her bed. During the night she became much worse and the doctor was called to see her early the following morning. He entered the bedroom in great dread, for he knew that if his godmother were at the left side of the bed head he could do nothing.
The lace curtains that had draped the royal four-poster bed were now drawn right back to give more light and there--- Oh horror! ---was Death standing on the left. Her sightless eye sockets stared defiantly at her godson.
Upon seeing her beloved, the princess smiled weakly. "I knew you would come," she said with a sigh. “I feel much better now because I know I am safe in your hands."
His eyes moist with tears, he avoided her gaze and ordered a potion to be prepared with the magic herb. He dared not look in the direction of his godmother who stood there pointing a condemning finger at him.
Bending over his beloved princess, he whispered, "You have nothing to fear, my true love."
When he returned to his house towards dusk, a damp, bone-chilling wind lashed his face as soon as he crossed the threshold. His godmother, standing gaunt and tall and white before him, stared at him mournfully without uttering a sound. Was it fancy, or were there tears glistening in her empty eye-sockets?
"I cannot be angry with you, my godson, for there is nothing I can do to save you now. Come with me; I have something to show you."
The young man followed Death across valleys and meadows as in a dream, and he presently found himself in a mysterious valley filled with white boulders and bare stones. Not a single blade of grass, not a flower, not a shrub or tree grew there.
"Come," said Death beckoning him on, "I shall show you something that no one else has ever seen."
Death's godson followed her numbly into an enormous cavern. The floor was covered with thousands upon thousands of lighted candles of all sizes.
"What are these candles, Godmother?" he enquired. "Each candle represents a human life, my godson," she said. "The very tall ones are the lives of the newborn; the medium- sized ones are those of the old and ailing."
Death stopped suddenly before a candle whose feeble flame was flickering weakly.
"Godmother," said the doctor, “whose flame of life is that?"
"It is the flame of your beloved princess, and it must soon go out. I cannot prevent her death."
Death's godson looked in sadness at his godmother as she went on, "I can but offer you, my only godson, and the fate which must befall all men at some time or another. I am the sole possessor of the dreadful power which enables me to unite you with your loved one. Death will not keep you apart. I shall extinguish your flame as well. That will be my final gift to you."
Her icy breath filled the cave.
At once Death's godson fell down at her feet as the two candles flickered and died together.
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