The cliff soared high above the churning lake below, its face rugged. The jutting rocks were perfect for giving fallen explorers a false sense of hope in their dire situation.
Without help, they had all lost their hold.
The young woman clung with her fingers and feet to the most prominent holds she could reach, sweat trickling down her spine in the cool of the evening. She clenched her jaw and adjusted her grip.
Of course, it was her fault that she’d fallen. He’d told her not to go anywhere near the edge of this cliff. But he loved her; she knew that. He loved her like no one else would ever love her.
He would come.
She knew he would.
Fingers aching, she glanced down. The moonlight shattered and glinted on the face of the roiling water, mocking. Boasting. Beckoning.
Don’t look down.
Her father’s voice echoed in her ears, and she tilted her face to the sky. Studded with stars, it brought memories rushing back.
“Can you count the stars, sweetie?”
“No, Daddy. I keep trying, but there are too many. They keep going on forever and ever!”
“They do, don’t they? Just like the way I love you.”
She had giggled and snuggled close to him. His beard had been rough and comforting against her cheek, his arms strong and safe around her. “I love you, too, Daddy.”
“I know, sweetheart.”
Tears glistened with the sweat on her face now. Did he still know she loved him? Even as she clung here, fallen from the precipice he’d marked off-limits? What would he think if they found her body in the lake far below? Did he have the same confidence in her love as she had in his?
“Daddy…” she whimpered, burying her face in her shoulder. Her muscles screamed. Her fingers ached. “I can’t hold on much longer…Daddy, please…”
The lapping of the waves on the shore far below was a taunt, loud in the silent night. The waves had closed over many wayward souls. She had shaken her head with her father as the rebels had neared the cliff’s edge, dancing closer and closer to destruction. She had cried and prayed with him for wisdom for the prodigals…
And now she, too, had fallen.
She tried to close her mind to what had led her to this place, but her memory dragged each image before her eyes, refusing to let her drown the past in obscurity.
There had been dancers on the cliffs. Beautiful, skilled, other-worldly. They had caught her up in their dance and drawn her nearer and nearer until she’d forgotten where she was. Finally, she’d gotten close enough to grasp one of them…
Her fingers passed through him like he was a mist.
Ghosts. She’d been chasing phantoms.
By then, it was too late. Her toes were already clinging to the cliff’s edge, and the horror of her discovery sent her reeling. She fell, screaming, over the edge, and mercifully found a hold on its face.
Or perhaps it wasn’t mercy. Perhaps it was judgement, giving her ample time to reflect upon her misdeeds before falling to her death – like so many other fools – into the lake below.
“Forgive me.” Her words were a gasp. “Daddy…”
The world blackened, and the stars burned like beacons. Streams of sweat ran into her eyes…or perhaps they were tears? She couldn’t tell anymore. She couldn’t hold on anymore.
He would come. She knew he would come. She just had to hold on…hold on just a little longer…
Minutes felt like hours. Hours felt like decades. Her muscles felt like fire.
The night crawled on, agony in its essence. She clung to the rock face, her lips moving in silence.
He loves me. He will save me. He loves me. He will come.
As dawn broke in the east, his voice boomed from the top of the cliff. “I’m coming, love.”
What happened next, she could never remember. All she knew was that she awoke in her father’s arms, in the safety of their castle, with love smiling at her from his eyes.
“It’s all right my daughter.
“It’s all right.”