Once upon a time lived a girl whose name was Illey, which means Never, and she had nobody in this world, beside a wild turtledove, which understood her better than any human and was with her in joy and misery. Illey lived with a deaf and dumb old woman in an old house near the edge of a forest, many miles away from other houses, and she was like a wild bird. She lived in a tiny room, which was never entered – never entered – and never seen by anyone. And, when Illey wandered about the surrounding places, or walked along a town street with the turtledove on her shoulder, Illey also was not seen by anyone. Perhaps you will not believe it, but it was true, otherwise, would people pass by her as if she were not present in this world? Illey embroidered marvelous patterns by her fantasies, but these patterns were also not seen by anyone – not seen by anyone, otherwise, why nobody ever told a single good word about them, though they were beautiful, like the flowers in her favorite garden? And Illey embroidered customary patterns by other people’s conventional patterns, and people bought these embroideries – Illey lived so.
But once upon a time, passing through a crowded street, with the turtledove on her shoulder, Illey saw a stranger in a black cloak ride on a horse, and heard admired whispers in the crowd: “This is General Vandernord, our glorified General!” Since then, the stars in the sky began to shine so miraculously and so tenderly, as if another world opened itself to Illey, and a gleam of another universe fell on her. That universe was magnificent and still painfully dear – this was only because Vandernord’s eyes looked at her from the heavens, their azure harbored starlight and the wind of the earth. She wanted to reach for these stars with the flowers of her garden, because they had the same tenderness – it seemed to her that the stars were so lonely, alone in the endless and infinite sky. The stars seem to be cold because they are far away, but they are hotter than the sun, thought Illey, they could turn the land into ashes with a single touch, and in autumn, my poor flowers die from cold – so little they need, only one invisible ray of warmth - and they are saved! She thought so, and the turtledove cooed to console her, though Illey did not tell it about it – friends understand each other without words. And in the evening, Illey would sit down at a tarnished mirror, hoping to see herself, but she saw nothing – You will not believe me, but I know, she didn’t see anything; would she otherwise look at her reflection as at emptiness? “Even if I approach him and look at his face, - she told to her feathery sister, - he will not see me, because I see nothing myself, apart from fatigue and pain, in these strange and weird lines”. Having said that, Illey began to cry. But she brushed away her tears and smiled like a child, because she had an idea – and she believed that the stars could not but love the flowers, if only they get to know about them; and she even did not wonder that it might be otherwise. During a storm, she was walking up on the highest rock to ask for a few words from the wind, and all night long she was listening to the noise of coastal waves – to ask for a few words from them, holding out her hands to the rain, she asked it to give her only three words, but when the sun appeared after the rain and sent its last farewell sunset ray to the earth, this ray gave her a whole sentence. But, when Illey took a paper and a pen and sat down at a small table, and when she began to write all these words, the ink filled the whole light, the paper whitened the depth, and Illey saw empty symbols absolutely not resembling the stars and flowers written on the paper. Having seen this, Illey began to cry. But she brushed away her tears and smiled like a child, because she did not believe that paper and ink could hinder the stars from loving the flowers. And Illey folded her letter and tied it to her turtledove’s paw. “Fly to him, wherever he is – she told, - and don’t be afraid, you’re flying to the hands stronger and more careful than mine!” And, having kissed the turtledove, Illey began to cry, and the whole sky where her sister’s wings disappeared, dissolved in the tears she could not stop, because she had parted with her single friend who was dearer than life to her. It was so, but Illey lived in a most remote place never entered, only very seldom did she come out to the town to sell her work. She knew only the forest and the sea, her garden and the stars, and she did not know that somewhere, far away from here, a war was being prepared, and Vandernord’s windy eyes were staring into the distance, where the enemy’s bayonets would shine in the sunlight. No, Illey knew nothing. Once, she was waiting for him. Silly Illey! Indeed, the destiny of her homeland depended on this battle, and it could become the last one for Vandernord, the last one for his friends, and it was to deprive many women and children of their nearest and dearest and defenders – but she knew nothing. She looked at the stars. She waited for him to come into her tiny room never entered before, he would see what nobody had ever seen, and she wanted him to see and take the dearest things that she had. Silly Illey! The sun played in her curls when she was taking the most wonderful embroideries whispered by the rain, woven from the stories of sunrise, from the trunk. So much dust rose up, and so cheerfully it gleamed in the sunlight! And Illey started to laugh, having put a blue ribbon on the table, the ribbon given to her by the wind when she was a mite, which she carried with her all her childhood. But one day passed, then one more day passed, and nobody came, and nobody returned. It seemed to Illey that every hour was an endless desert, all flowers in her garden seemed to be ugly, stupid, empty, unworthy of the stars and useless for them, and, finally, the stars themselves seemed to her to be strange creatures living for a purpose unknown to her. Morning came again, and again the sun shed its windy light on the blue ribbon, and Illey looked at it and began to cry. And, far from here, Vandernord was giving his final orders before the battle, and the turtledove was flying to him as fast as it could, because it knew the price of every moment. It was so tired that did not feel its wings, it saw and heard almost nothing. But it heard Vandernord’s strong and tender voice, so much alike with her sister’s voice, and she flew to it like to the light. Vandernord’s adjutant, young Jacques, impatiently waiting for the battle, saw the wild bird which suddenly appear before their crew – having flown closer, it suddenly began to bend to the ground, as if having lost its strength to fly. But Jacques noticed it only at a glimpse, because in this very moment, Vandernord’s voice sounded: “Fire!” – and everything around sank in the grapeshot hail and smoke. And yet – Vandernord noticed a bird trembling in flight. In this moment, Illey, being asleep after a sleepless night, was awakened by severe pain in her chest. The sun shone, piercing through the heads of trees in her garden, fancifully and gently, and forest birds sang their songs, but Illey did not know what to do, and she did not understand what had happened. She came to the mirror and saw a girl, pale like snow, not resembling a breathing creature. Hardly having any idea of what she was doing, Illey put on her cloak and left the house. She went to the town, to the place where once she saw Vandernord. It seemed to her that she was walking for a very long time, that she saw lots of people on the streets, but she had passed by that very street long ago and did not notice it. At last, Illey stopped near a house; she tried to understand where she was, but her glimpse was rising to the sky, as if the thing she lost were there, and the pink clouds were sailing and sailing above her head. Somebody pushed her, and she heard someone’s voice: “Don’t hinder on the way!” Illey wanted to move aside, made a step and fell down on the stones. When the last shots died away, the young Jacques was running around trying to find Vandernord, but nobody could tell him where he was.
- How the devil do I know where your General is, - one of the officers answered to Jacques rudely.
- He will hear these words! – said Jacques, flaring up.
- Let him hear, if he can, - the officer replied.
The mood was somber among the soldiers. Everyone judged that this battle was untimely, and attributed the casualty, which was indeed horrible, to the rough error made by Vandernord. At last, Jacques accidentally saw the General sitting on a stone, it was quiet around him, because no wounded soldiers were here – only the dead. Jacques shuddered looking at his face – for some reason, he was scared by that strange pensiveness carved in the commander’s face, it was so strong, as if he was not aware of where he was, and some shadow of pain. Vandernord was sitting, embracing himself, like a man unconsciously trying to warm up. No hat was on him, the wind freely touched his hair strands falling on his forehead.
- What’s with you, my General? – asked Jacques, attached to Vandernord for his exploits and fame. – You’re all shivering! Are you wounded?
It was difficult to judge about wounds by the General’s bloodstained coatee. Vandernord’s weakness allowed Jacques to forget about reverence, and, unconsciously taking his hand, he felt that it was cold like ice, while sweat slightly appeared on Vandernord’s forehead. Vandernord, shuddering, swiftly looked up at him, but no understanding could be read in his eyes.
- And you are here, my boy? – he asked with tenderness, quiet and pensive, quite out of place, but, looking around, almost regained consciousness and quickly continued, rising: - Many dead people?
While Jacques was answering his question, he again looked around, but this time in another way, as if looking with a glance for something old and remaining here, he looked up at the sky, where the clouds, pink in the sunset, were sailing, but it did not ease his strange anxiety, and his glance again dropped under his feet. As if continuing to look for something, he stressfully listened to the names of dead soldiers and looked into the faces of the dead by which he was passing. This made his face reflect an acute pain, and finally he turned away, unable to bear such scene, and recognizing that his search was senseless, because what he was looking for was not here,
it was not close, nor was it too far from here. He already could not see it, nor could he touch it; he had only to forget it. “Let my shadow not embarrass you, let it not become your punishment, let it be lost in the light of joy, as a sun ray, and overhang your bedhead in pain, and let it take your hand then – only when you take the road”.