Once upon a time, there lived a little girl who longed to see other lands.
She lived in a world without color, where there was nothing but grass for miles and miles. Her little heart grew lonelier and lonelier, until one day, a great wind took her from her home and into a land where color was everywhere.
The girl was delighted by what she saw, and yet, she began to cry almost immediately after she realized where she had turned up. For she was still a child, and missed her home terribly.
So, she was sent to a great and terrible wizard, but even he could not help her get home.
It was then that the little girl suddenly discovered the means to return home, with a pair of enchanted silver shoes.
She clicked her heels three times, and before she knew it, a great wind stirred up and dropped her back in her place.
But even after she had gone home, she couldn't help but wonder if she still had the power to visit the land of color on her own.
After all, the silver shoes were still in her possession.
Fakir slammed the book shut. "You want me to what?!"
The tea kettle began to whistle angrily, and he rushed to tend to it as Coffee and Peppermint attempted to talk to him.
"Well, if Drosselmeyer spoke to you, then obviously, you have to help us-"
"He did tell you to use your gifts wisely, and I certainly think this is wise..."
"-and really, from what he's written, I'd think that he's half-responsible for the whole mess, if not entirely-"
"You're the only person we could go to, Fakir-"
"-and besides, Plum gave us the bell and it brought us to you so-"
"Would you two please be quiet?!" Fakir yelled, slamming the teapot down on a cool burner. Instantly, Coffee and Peppermint were so. "I don't know where you get the idea that I can... somehow help by writing more of the story-"
"But you're a Drosselmeyer," Tea began.
"Yes! Yes, I am fully aware of that!" Fakir snapped. Tea whimpered slightly. "But, seriously! That has nothing to do with anything!"
"But the Drosselmeyers have power over stories," Coffee said quietly. "So, you should too."
"Yeah? And what do you expect me to do with it next?" Fakir said. "You think that, somehow, I can just write the mouse out of the story and have it be all okay?"
"Well, we sorta did want that..." said Tea.
"It's not that simple! Those things... they don't work like that!" he replied, taking the lid off the teapot and angrily tossing in the leaves.
He didn't want to admit that he had tried, desperately, to write a story for Ahiru to become human again.
Each and every time, he could never think of what to write, and ended up tossing the pen away. He always attempted this at night, so Ahiru wouldn't have to see, blissfully unaware as she slept in his dresser drawer, surrounded by socks.
He could tell that, even without the steam, his face was hot—he was blushing. He kept his back determinedly towards his guests.
"Well, of course it won't work exactly like that," Peppermint said, his voice decidedly condescending. "It has to build up. Be realistic. Right?"
"And how would you know that?" said Fakir, lowly.
"S'what Plum told us," he replied, as if that held all the answers.
"Plum... said that there might be problems," Coffee added gently, "with us asking you. It's a lot to ask, we know, but you're the only one who can help us."
Fakir, sincerely wishing that his face still wasn't red, whipped around in anger. "You keep going on about this Plum person. How come she's not with you, huh, if she holds all the answers?" he yelled.
He was about to say more, when he noticed Ahiru looking very scared indeed, hiding near Tea's ankles. He glared, feeling absolutely horrible. "Excuse me," he said, and stormed outside.
"Fakir!" Peppermint called, but he had already gotten to the dock, angrily sitting at the edge with his legs crossed.
In a word, he was overwhelmed. The day, which had been otherwise pleasant and calm, was throwing far too much at him at once to handle. First the strange visitors, then the message from Drosselmeyer, and now this?
He clenched his right fist. The scar he had given himself from stabbing the hand with the knife still hadn't fully healed, much less completely gone away.
He didn't want to go back to doing that! Much less to help three people, no, an entirekingdom that he knew nothing about!
A gentle breeze blew in towards the lake, and the story of the Happy Prince brushed against him. He stared at it, the words swaying, indecipherable, as the paper shivered and struggled to fly away.
Not quite knowing the reason why, Fakir tore it into pieces with angry shouts.
He flung the ruined paper into the water, and bitterly watched the pieces get soggy and eventually sink.
A soft nudge of feather and beak against his hand revealed that Ahiru had arrived, giving him worried glances.
"Oh... You saw that, huh?" he said. She nodded. He sighed deeply. "Well... you can understand, can't you? I don't... I don't want to have to go through all that again!"
She looked at him with an either pitiful or pitying expression, and he fell silent once more. "Ahiru, don't look at me like that," he finally said, but she didn't let up, nuzzling her beak under his hand again. "Stop that!"
She looked at him again, but this time, she glared. The strange intensity behind her eyes almost startled him. "What, you think I should... help them?" he said.
"Quack," she said, resolutely.
"Ahiru, we..." he said, after telling it to himself several times, "we don't even know these people." His eyes dropped, and he sighed. "Don't you just... want to live peacefully here, without things like this to bother us? Isn't that enough?"
"Quack!" Ahiru said, and bit him.
She bit hard. "Ow! Ahiru, what'd you-?" he began, to find her glaring at him again. This time, she really did startle him.
He rubbed his sore hand, as her feathers puffed up around her in anger. He was reminded, fleetingly, of how she would puff up her cheeks as a human, whenever she was angry.
What sort of thing would she be telling him in this instance, anyways? Probably something like, "Stop being so selfish, Fakir! These people need you; you're the only one who can help, and you're just gonna ignore them?"
"...I'm not being selfish," he mumbled.
"Quack...?" Ahiru said, having no idea what Fakir was thinking. However, he said no more.
He stared into the water, barely able to make out his reflection. A few pieces of The Happy Prince still remained, floating on the surface and dangerously close to disintegrating or sinking.
He was suddenly reminded of Drosselmeyer's letter.
"Use your family's gifts wisely," it had told him. He thought about it, repeating the words aloud. "Use my family's gifts wisely...?"
Suddenly, he realized it. What better way to clear the name of the Drosselmeyer family than to give another one of his unfortunate stories (if that was indeed the case) a happy ending, before it got any worse?
Thinking about it that way, it didn't seem so bad at all. In fact, it was something he almost wanted to do.
It was something that would make him almost proud, something that would make the fact that he shared a gift with a madman all the easier to swallow and cope with.
He looked up, and smiled very slightly. "I'll do it," he said.
"Quack?!" Ahiru said, delightedly. In a single motion, he scooped her up into the crook of his arm.
"I've got nothing else to do," he continued, returning to the cottage and managing to sound passably dry and disinterested. "Plus, they really need my help, and mine alone, don't they? It's not like they can go to anyone else."
"Quack!" Ahiru agreed, smiling as best a duck could smile at his tone. Typical Fakir.
Needless to say, the strange trio of guests waiting for them were quite wary, and looked positively frightened as Fakir opened the door.
Nevertheless, he smiled at them. "I decided to help you," he said.
Tea sprang out of her chair like a firecracker, and soon had him wrapped in a very, very tight hug.
"Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!" she squealed. "Thank you, Herr Drosselmeyer!"
"Don't... call me... that...!" Fakir grunted, barely managing to breathe. Ahiru, thankfully, had flown out of his arms before Tea could constrict her as well.
"Ah, I'm sorry!" Tea said, letting go. "You don't like that, I forgot!"
Fakir shook his head as he caught his breath. "Just... call me... Fakir..."
"Okay, okay!" she said. "Guys, he's gonna help us!" she trilled, bouncing around a little.
"Hold up," Fakir said, forcing himself into a scowl to mask his embarrassment. Instantly, Tea stopped bouncing. "I'll help you, but... I don't really know where to start. So you guys better have some ideas."
Surprisingly (and thankfully) nobody laughed. Coffee, however, gently smiled, and picked up the book from the table. "Well, we've all read what's been written inside this book," she said, running her fingers over the fine leather cover, "and we all think that the most important thing would be to find a way for us to find that nutcracker."
"Or, more easily, find a way to bring that nutcracker to us," Peppermint added, nodding.
"I see," Fakir said, nodding. It did seem like the best course of action... "So... do you want me to keep writing in the story and try to... do that, somehow?"
"That seems like the best thing to do," Coffee said, with a warm smile.
"Well, I can try," Fakir said, crossing his arms.
"Oh yeah, and, uh, one more thing," Tea added, fidgeting greatly.
Instantly, Fakir smelled trouble. "What is it...?" he said, wrinkling his eyebrows.
"We, uh, kinda want you to come back to the Land of Sweets with us."
"Well, it's the only thing we can do, really, if you think about it," Peppermint explained, attempting to sound as cool as possible. "I mean, we can't leave the book with you, otherwise we'd never know if you're helping us or not, or how you're doing it."
"Plus, we can't really stay here with you," Tea added uncomfortably before Fakir could speak, her eyes focused on the floor. "There's people back home that we have to take care of..."
"Any way you look at it," Coffee concluded, "you'll have to come with us."
Ahiru nudged Fakir's ankle with her beak, and Fakir didn't even have to look at her face to know that she'd never let him say no. So, instead, he said, "How do you plan on getting me there, then?"
Coffee smiled. "With this."
She produced out of her enormous, nut-brown sleeves a small, shining silver bell. "Plum gave us this. It brought us to you, and it'll bring us back as well."
Fakir peered at it, his desire to find out just who, exactly, this Plum person was rising intensely. "How does it do that...?" he asked.
"It's a charmed bell!" Tea piped. "'One ring to bring you there, one ring to bring you back,' she told us."
"I see..." said Fakir. "So... it'll bring us all back?"
"It should," said Peppermint.
"...like I said, itshould..." Peppermint said uneasily, his eyes very deliberately avoiding Fakir's. Fakir crossed his arms again, not in the mood for uncertainty in such important matters.
"You'll just need to hold onto her, I think," Coffee said comfortingly. "We all had to hold hands when getting here."
Ahiru looked up at Fakir, giving him her best duck-smile. At least her eyes were reassuring.
Fakir took a deep breath in, and then exhaled. "All right," he said. "But first, let me pack some things, okay?"
Of course, the trio was more than happy to oblige him this.
They now had a Drosselmeyer on their side.
- The title of this chapter is a reference to The Wizard of Oz. Unlike the movie's ruby slippers, the book had Dorothy acquire a pair of shining silver shoes. Hence the reference.