Once upon a time, a man died.
The man was a writer of stories, filled with princes and princesses, adventure and romance. However, every single one of his stories seemed to end in tragedy, and although many people loved them, many wondered why there was not a happy ending to be found among them.
The man died as he was writing the story of a brave prince and a cruel raven, leaving their tale unfinished. Both the prince and the raven were outraged. The prince believed that he could have a happy ending; the raven, however, believed that victory was his to own.
With the force of their anger, the prince and the raven both left the story out of their own free will, to decide their fates without the influence of the storyteller.
However, this was not without consequence.
For, even without its prince, the story of his kingdom remained.
Der Glückliche Prinz
Mytho peered fondly over the side of the swan-drawn chariot as fields and forests raced below, holding onto his crown as wind threatened to blow it off his head. It had been far too long since he had seen such familiar environs, much less from such a different perspective! The sight thrilled him beyond imagining, and his newly-restored heart beat wildly within his chest.
The only thing that could possibly make him more excited would be the sight of his home, his castle. He was sure that he would see it immediately, with the blue flag that bore his family's crest flying proudly from the highest tower—as soon as they drew nearer, that is.
Still, he thought, he and Rue would arrive soon. By sunset, at least; for he knew that the furthest forests from his castle took only a half a day at the most to reach on horseback, and the swans that drew them forward were certainly faster than any horse he could think of. On top of that, the day was still young; the harsh noon sun had yet to grace the sky.
With a warm smile, he leaned over and placed his head near Rue's, sighing contentedly. "It won't be long now," he told her, holding her hand. "We'll be home soon."
"Home..." Rue replied, her eyes distant. "That'll be nice, won't it?"
"Absolutely," Mytho replied. "There'll be feasts waiting for us when we get back, I'm sure, and smiling faces." His brown eyes grew warm at the memories. "I miss those smiling faces."
"Well, they'll be happy to see you, certainly," Rue said, a sting of coldness in her voice. Her eyes dropped. "Me, well... I suppose that's another matter."
Mytho looked at her concernedly, picking himself off her shoulder. "What do you mean?"
"Well.. it's how I am, isn't it?" she replied, not looking at him. "Unloved by all but my prince. That's how it was written, wasn't it? Just like you are the prince who loves all, and-"
"That's not true," Mytho interrupted, touching her cheek. Her eyes met his. "Ahiru and Fakir both care for you, too; don't forget about them. Without their love for us, we wouldn't be here now."
Rue didn't say anything, though her eyes didn't leave his. He continued. "That story is over. It's time for us to create our own story, now," he said. He smiled. "And in this story, you are my love, and I promise you, nobody will hate you."
She was silent for a good long while, before finally, a smile touched her face. "You're right," she said. "I'm sorry for that."
"Sorry for what?"
"Making you worry, I guess... Oh, nevermind," she said, and laughed. "This isn't any way to start off a story, is it? What with me worrying..."
Mytho laughed back, a light laugh; however, her smile suddenly faded again.
"Do you suppose... they'll like me?" she asked.
"Who'll like you?"
"All the people of your kingdom. I've never met them before," she said.
Mytho smiled and brushed some of her hair behind her ear. "Of course they'll like you," he said. "You don't need to worry about that at all."
She took a rather deep breath in, before looking to the horizon and where, she supposed, her new home lay. "I'll try my best not to," she said, before lapsing into a small bought of giggles. "My goodness, I'm being so irrational..."
It didn't take long for news of the prince's return to reach the castle. After all, townsfolk and peasants all across the countryside could see as his chariot sailed across the sky and towards the castle, with even the occasional greeting from the prince himself!
Naturally, his mother was highly interested in this turn of events, and was there to greet him when his chariot descended from the air and into the outer courtyard of the palace.
She was quite beside herself.
"Siegfried...?" she said, her hand near her mouth as she watched her son disembark and notice her. "Siegfried, is that you?"
With a rustle of wide skirts, she quickly had her arms around him. "Siegfried, my darling! You've returned!" she cried. "Oh, how I've missed you!"
Mytho, needless to say, was rather astonished. Still, he managed to bring some words to the tip of his tongue. "Mother... my name is Mytho, isn't it?"
Immediately, she stopped crying. "What are you talking about? No, your name is Siegfried, darling, my darling boy..." she said, stroking his hair. "Oh, has something happened to your memory?"
"N-no, mother, I'm sorry," he said quickly—that's right, his name really was Siegfried. He had grown so accustomed to the one Fakir had given him that he almost didn't recognize it as the true name. "Oh, I've missed you too!" Happily, he hugged her back.
Meanwhile, a small troupe of footmen had descended upon the chariot to help Rue down—a pleasant surprise for her.
"Mother, I've got so much to tell you!" he said, once she had let go of him. "The places I've been..."
"Oh, you must tell me at once," she replied. She suddenly leaned in, an almost conspiratorial look on her face. "Did you ever find that girl you ran off to find?"
"Girl?" Mytho blinked, as several footmen complimented Rue on her beautiful hair. She blushed.
"Oh, surely you remember," his mother replied, waving her hands around. "You hosted such a lovely ball, and I was certain that you'd found yourself a girl from the way you played around with her..." She folded her arms. "And then, all of a sudden, you just rushed out of the castle with Benno, yelling about your true love being taken away from you. So," she concluded, leaning forward again, "did you find her?"
"Ah..." Mytho said, as the memories came flooding back.
There had been a girl, but he couldn't remember her face—but he knew that she was not the one he loved, and that the raven was responsible. So he ran out, determined to kill the raven, and...
Oh, yes. That's when his knight—Benno was his name, wasn't it?—had been killed, and his heart broken into pieces.
It wasn't a very pleasant memory. He gulped. "I'm... not quite sure, mother," he replied, "if she's the girl from the ball... But I found my true love all the same, that I can be sure."
His mother's eyebrows delightedly rose. "Oh, what news! Where is she? Is that her?" She pointed to Rue, who was currently laughing with the footmen. A swan had bitten one of them on the nose.
Mytho beamed. "That's her," he said. "Her name is Rue."
His mother smiled. "My goodness, so my son has chosen well," she said, folding her arms with a pleased expression on her face. "She's indeed worthy of your love, with such a beautiful face. She has the same, kind eyes as you."
Rue would have been as red as a radish, Mytho thought, from what his mother was saying about her. "She's a kind person, indeed," he replied.
"Are you... betrothed?" she asked. Mytho thought for a moment, and then nodded, smiling. "Wonderful! I'll have preparations made for your wedding at once!"
His mother pushed him aside, rushing forward to approach Rue with a smile. "Lady Rue, it is an honor to meet the girl who has stolen my son's heart," she said. "I am Queen Clothilde."
Rue's smile became very nervous all of a sudden—did she know about what she had done as Kraehe?! "I, er... I..." she stammered, when she saw Mytho waving his arms from behind, as if to say, "It's all right, she likes you!"
Rue regained her composure, and gave a gracious smile. "It's an honor to meet you as well. You are Mytho's mother, I presume?"
"Siegfried," she said, with a small chuckle. "Where is this Mytho nonsense coming from?"
"It's... the name I traveled under, while I was away, mother," Mytho explained, stepping forward.. "I've grown rather accustomed to it."
"Is that so? Well, it's quite a pretty name," Clothilde replied, though her voice was devoid of interest. "Do tell me, Siegfried. Where did you and the lady Rue meet?"
The two of them glanced at each other, nervously, not quite sure who would be best to speak first. Rue cleared her throat as she nodded in his direction, so Mytho decided to go for it. "She was captured by the monster raven, mother. I rescued her," he said.
Clothilde's eyebrows rose once more. "The raven? Did you... kill it?"
Mytho nodded, eagerly. "He'll trouble us no longer," he said.
"I thought you did," Clothilde said, smiling. She put her hand on his shoulder. "Come, let's get inside. You'll have so much to tell me, I'm sure..."
While the mother and son continued onward, Rue was hesitant. "Is there something the matter?" Mytho asked her. She shook her head, and took his hand, as Clothilde began to speak again.
"I had a feeling you might have done such a thing while you were out... wherever you were," she said, taking prim, exact steps that clicked on the courtyard stones. "You were making such a fuss about that old raven at the ball, first off. Ah, but you see," She smiled. "The ravens have all but disappeared from the castle, since you left."
"Oh! That's very interesting, mother," Mytho said, haltingly, sensing that Rue was feeling less than comfortable with this subject of conversation.
"Oh yes, it's so funny that way," Clothilde continued, with an almost absent air that usually came with small talk. "Just as soon as the ravens left, the mice moved in."
Mytho and Rue both stopped. "Mice?"
"Oh, yes," Clothilde said, matter-of-factly, as she turned to face them. "They're everywhere."
Far, far away, where there were no mice at all to worry about, Fakir had begun to write another story.
He sat at the end of the dock, a fishing pole hopefully propped up into the boards, though he didn't expect any fish to bite.
He had written a sizable amount, though he was unsure of how good it was.
"Ahiru," he called.
The little duck, who had been napping in the water, raised her head. "Qua-?"
"Tell me how this sounds, okay?" he asked.
She smiled (as best a duck could smile, anyways) with a reassuring "Quack."
Fakir cleared his throat. "Here goes, then."
"Once upon a time, in a fair and glorious city, there was a statue.
"The statue was of a Prince, whose name had long been forgotten, so they simply called him "The Happy Prince," for the warm and beautiful smile on his face.
"He was covered in fine gold leaf, with two blue sapphires for eyes, and a ruby the size of a strawberry on the handle of his staff.
"Every day, the people of the city saw his smiling face, and approved of his presence, for he seemed to make the very air around him more cheerful.""How is it?" he asked her, after a good long silence.
"Quack!" she replied, flapping her wings a little for emphasis.
"You like it, huh?" he said, with a smile. She nodded. "All right, I'll go on." He stroked his chin with the feather from his pen. "I was thinking about what sort of bird to add next."
"Quack?" said Ahiru.
"Yeah, a bird. And not a duck, before you ask," he added, with a smile. Ahiru gave him a mock pout. "Something light. A sparrow, maybe?" Ahiru continued to sullenly paddle beneath him, disappearing under the dock. "Come on, Ahiru, ducks can't land on statues."
"Quack!" she replied, indignantly.
"Oh, so you think they can? Have you ever tried?" he said, craning his neck and attempting to catch a swatch of yellow feathers between the boards.
"Then who are you to say? I think a sparrow is a good choice," Fakir said, and began putting his pen to paper.
It was then that there came a sound of bells, and a tremendous explosion. Fakir's pen went zooming across the page as he startled, spoiling the rest of the paper. Ahiru fluttered beneath the dock, with a series of frantic quacks.
"Wh-what was that?!" he said, managing, just barely, to not fall over. "Ahiru, are you okay?"
"Qua-ack..." she replied, as voices from their cottage were faintly heard.
"Is this the right place?"
"I don't know, do you think this is the right place?"
"Plum told us that the bell would take us there, exactly. So this must be the place."
"But I don't see him!"
Fakir got out of his chair, placing the ruined story beside him, and carefully exited the dock. The voices, which seemed to be coming from the front of the cottage, continued.
"Maybe he's inside."
"Yeah, it's likely. Let's go!"
"Shouldn't we knock, first?"
Fakir had folded his arms, discontentedly, as he approached what appeared to be three young intruders in strange and colorful costumes, who didn't seem to be much younger than him.
There were two girls and a boy, one of the girls holding a tremendous, leather-bound book. All of them looked scared out of their wits.
"What are you doing near my house?" Fakir asked them. "Are you looking for someone?"
One of the girls, who was wearing a veil over her mouth and wasn't holding a book, nodded. "Does Herr Drosselmeyer live here?" she asked.
Fakir's stomach froze. Drosselmeyer? What did they want with Drosselmeyer? "Drosselmeyer is dead," he replied, coldly. "He's been for many years."
"But we know that!" the other girl, who held the book, piped. "We're looking for his descendant! I forget his name... what was it, Pep?"
"Fakir," the sole boy said. "Do you know him?"
Ahiru toddled near his feet, as she had gotten out of the water, wanting to see what the matter was. Fakir was frozen. People looking for him? He figured he'd go with the easiest solution. "Why are you looking for him?"
"We have to give him something," the book-carrying girl said, her eyes growing wide. "Oh, what a cute little duck!"
"T, hold your focus!" the boy said, and the book-girl (T?) shrunk back. He then addressed Fakir. "Yes, the book. It's his."
"...huh," said Fakir. He glanced at Ahiru, who blinked back, and he figured it was safe. "It's for me?"
"So you are Fakir?" the book-girl said, her eyes widening even more. "How come you didn't trust us?"
Fakir rolled his eyes. "Three strangers show up at your door, in an explosion no less, and you expect me to trust them?" he said, sighing.
"He's got a point, T," the boy said. T scowled.
"So what's this book?" Fakir continued.
"Well... it's not just the book," the veiled girl said, meekly. "We have come to ask for your assistance, Herr Drosselmeyer."
Fakir was deeply disturbed by the title; he grimaced. "Assistance?" he managed to say.
"A mouse has taken over our kingdom," the boy said, solemnly. "We need your help in getting rid of him."
Some cultural notes and things for this story.
- Clothilde is the name that Mercedes Lackey gave to the queen in her novel, "The Black Swan." Seeing as I could find no other suitable names for Mytho's mother, I decided to use it.
- Benno is a character from the original ballet, Swan Lake. He was a friend of Prince Siegfried.
- The story Fakir is writing is "The Happy Prince," by Oscar Wilde. It is also the title of this chapter, as well as this fic.
Please review, if you enjoyed it!