"Then let us play as Beauty and Death," said she, "And so play at the beauty of death!"
"But also let the death be only a play," added Cow Boy, "Such that your beauty is made for more than the worms of the earth; Such that my eyes be able to open upon it?"
"Only you would think first to otherwise," she laughed, and ultimately agreed, dancing away, hair alight with colored lamps in the crisp hazelnut air.
Though her word was kept, it was first the townsfolk who found her, face powdered blue and asleep by a draught, skin chilled from an open window. Her father screamed words heavy with vowels that tore through his throat, up, and stung the sharp ears of Cow Boy, just emerging from the forest. He dropped his firewood and took one step toward the town, but froze as the raised voices of others came above the father's cry. "This was the doing of Cow Boy!" they shreiked. "He knew she could never fully befriend such as he, much less love!"
Cow Boy's mind swirled as fast as his limbs held in the snow. An ache pounded in his throat as he picked the truth from their words; in his temples as he surmised the fallacies that followed: "He carries disease!" one shout emerged, the ironsmith's son, "In his breath, in his presence, in the wood he delivers us!" Added the baker and his daughter, "It was his sickness killed her! And so shall it take more of us!" The counselor agreed, and a harried cleansing began. They sundered the just-sleeping girl from her sullen father's arms and set her upon a collection of all the firewood in town, and lit the whole ablaze.
And from this pyre was brought to flame torches, in the hands of a strong plurality of townsfolk, the girl's father among them. "Find the Cow Boy before the month is through! Rid this beset world of his cruel stench, and begin the year clean of all his traces!" From his vantage, Cow Boy reckoned then the beauty of death, as the sparkling flames held aloft in the angry hands of the town below him converged and split-- flickering and fading Christmas lights, they, becoming even more a heaven of stars as his tears began to freeze across the long, black lashes of his eyes.
Crushing the stars tight, he turned and ran.