Sigrid Sanders
The starcatcher
Page 7 of 8

Meanwhile, the Starcatcher had come back to the Cloud Kingdom for Emma. He found things in a terrible state. The Cloud Prince rumbled back and forth across the skies, pacing his kingdom like a leopard in a cage. All the other clouds were lying dim and low, trying to stay out of his way.

The Starcatcher finally found the little puff clouds tip-toeing around the awesome towers of the Storm Cloud Castle.

"She's in there! She's in there!" they all squealed when they saw him.

"Emma's in there?" he said. "Why? What's going on?"

The little puff clouds were so excited that they all talked at once.

"The Silver Lining . . ." began one.

"And the Cloud Prince roared . . ." trembled another.

"But it was all full of holes . . ." whimpered a third.

"Wait a minute! Wait a minute!" said the Starcatcher. "One at a time."

Little by little, he began to understand what had happened. He knew that he would have to do something to help Emma, or she might never get out. But he couldn't fly into the Storm Cloud Castle without getting caught by the cloud guards. He'd have to think of something else.

Poor Emma. She was floating around in the hole in the Storm Cloud Castle wondering what she could do. She didn't know how to repair the Silver Lining. She didn't know how to escape. She didn't even know if she was upside down or right side up. She thought she might have to stay here forever. She thought she might never again see her red brick house in the country, or her mother and father and little brother. She might never again sit down on her own special hill and watch the stars. Her home seemed a million miles and a million years away. She felt tears welling up in her eyes again.

Through her tears, Emma thought she saw a new light. She dried her eyes, looked around, and at first couldn't see where it was coming from, but the air around her was undoubtedly becoming brighter. And then she saw it - there, floating toward her, was a star. It twinkled and sparkled and shined with light like a crystal chandelier. It flooded the dark hole in the Storm Cloud Castle with brilliance. And as it descended, coming closer to Emma, it glowed and pulsed with a cool, radiant, pearl-like light of many colors.

Now Emma knew what to do. She found the Starcatcher's tiny, hair-thin needle in her pocket. Cautiously, warily, but bravely, she reached out her hand toward the star, and touched it. Her fingers tingled and buzzed, and the starlight shivered. She pulled her fingers away, very, very gently, and with them came a wispy, iridescent strand of light, just like the one she had seen when the Starcatcher mended his sack. She threaded the tiny needle and began sewing up the holes in the Cloud Prince's Silver Lining. It took a long time to repair them all, but the star lit her work and gave her all the starlight she needed for thread.

When she made the last stitch that pulled together the last small piece of the final hole, the Silver Lining came to life. All this time, it had drooped passive and limp beside her, but now, it rose and rippled and stretched out as if it were awaking from a long, deep sleep. It purred like a cat, and rumpled itself pleasurably in all directions. Its surface looked as smooth and soft as satin and as shiny as a mirror. Not a single scar or trace of a scar remained. Even the stitches of starlight had completely disappeared.

Emma called out as loudly as she could, "Somebody come let me out! Let me out! The Silver Lining is repaired!"

Just before the howling winds of the cloud-guards swept her up, she quickly put the needle and the star into her pocket.

Back through the dark and frightening storm she was blown, green lightning flashing, cold winds howling, and down at the foot of the Cloud Prince's throne she was dropped like a stone. The soaringly tall and majestic Cloud Throne stood empty and dark. Its pewter turrets and ebony spires disappeared in a thick gloomy fog. Emma waited. A long black feather drifted down from the fog, and Emma looked up to see the Cloud Prince, in the shape of a haughty amber-eyed raven, circling. His shadow slid over the throne and over Emma's face. Slowly, he descended. He spread his wings and settled like an ash on the arm of the throne. His amber eyes glared down at Emma.

Without saying a word, Emma held out the Silver Lining, now perfect and seamless and vibrant with light. The Cloud Prince swelled and he grew and he brightened and he changed into a resplendent white eagle. He draped the Silver Lining over his back and spread his wings and lifted into the shrouded sky, and as he glided up on a current of strong, fresh wind, the dark clouds parted and a brilliant double rainbow arched from one side of the Cloud Kingdom to the other. The sky turned blue, and sheer clouds like bridal veils began to drift across it, trailing a pastel confetti of colorful light.

"Not bad," said a voice at Emma's ear.

It was the Starcatcher.

"He didn't even say thank you," Emma said.

"He's not known for his manners."

"I guess he's got important things to do," said Emma.

"Well, speaking of important things, I'm going to have to take you home now," the Starcatcher said. "It will be morning soon."

Emma was ready to go. She took hold of the Starcatcher's cape, and they flew. She took one last look at the beautiful Cloud Kingdom as it disappeared behind her, and she waved to the little puff clouds, but they were playing happily again in the sun-dappled sky, and they didn't see her leave.

"I should have told them good-bye," said Emma through the clean, swift wind of their flight. "They tried to take good care of me - it wasn't their fault, you know."

"They've already forgotten all about it," the Starcatcher said, over his shoulder. "Little puff clouds don't have long memories."

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