A year and a day after the Prince and Princess depart Goldkrone, they return for a visit and to research a problem they've discovered. Post- series. Rated T for adult themes (no explicit sex or violence.) Notes, program notes and disclaimer at end.
Chapter of the Duck
AKT 1: Exposition
Once upon a time...
...a man had died...
...and a story had ended.
A city had been freed from the story's spell. A few, those who had brought about the victory, remembered it all: the Raven's wings over the accursed place, people and animals confused, the Prince without his heart. But now a new story had begun, full of hope.
The old story was all in a shadowy past. The gates were once again open. The beasts were restored to their true selves, as were the people, none clearly recalling what had been.
Save for one. The duck remembered....
She remembered thinking that it was her favorite dream, although that was still a part of the dream. She could forget how listless and itchy and ragged she had become. She was talking to her friends, laughing, and dancing too, dancing en pointe as easily as Princess Tutu could. And they were happy for her when, suspended in a grand jete, she was suddenly flying. She flew to music she had never heard before, and she cried because it was so beautiful, when she realized that she was flying alone through darkness. There was a golden light ahead, and a voice boomed....
The worried man on the dock looked from bank to reed- bed to muddy, pebbly beach and back again, a letter in his scarred hand. Finally he called out again.
"Duck? Could you come and look at this?"
Then he caught it, a quiet Wakwak. Somewhere in the reeds, he thought, impossible to tell just where. She really was clever in some ways. Two quacks, for example, had always meant No.And he wasn't in a position to press her, not if she wouldn't show herself. He had vowed to himself not to try his power on her, not until he could control it, and these past few weeks had been the first real test of his vow. The curious communion of thought that had enabled them to rescue the folk of Goldkrone had not recurred– yet; Fakir was wary of it, and Duck had not asked for it; it would now be an invasion of her privacy, and without such great need he would resist the temptation to use it casually. There were other means.
But this reticence on her part was odd, to say the least. Duck had been a constant companion throughout the long winter, to the point of sleeping in his room and figuring out stretches and poses of her own to practice while he warmed up and worked out in a practice room each morning at the school. But then the day had come when she had vanished, leaving behind a handful of yellow feathers.
"They're coming back, Duck. Mytho and Rue. They'll be here in a week or so. Charon's just delivered some ironwork to the house, the workmen are almost finished and they say it's all nearly as good as it was before it was abandoned."
"I just got a letter. They want to see us both. Mytho says he asked for the fishpond to be cleaned out for you."
Fakir sighed in frustration. "Duck, what's wrong? I can't help if I can't see you! Please! Come out!"
She didn't reply again that day, nor the next.
The mansion was quite a modest affair; royalty of similar means throughout the land might call it no more than a townhouse, and a small one at that. It had lain unoccupied for some years, in the midst of a tiny private garden that faced the park across the street. Prince Siegfried had left instructions to see it repaired and restored if possible, and Charon had carried out the commission gladly over the past year.
The Prince's return with his Princess, a year and a day after their departure, was all but a holiday. They rode through Goldkrone in an open carriage- and- pair. They stopped at the Church and the Town Hall and the Academy, and rumor was that they might go shopping on the next market day, although money was flowing freely already due to the work on the house. All sorts of notables, guildsmen and burghers, elders and students, and certain ordinary citizens were giving and receiving invitations to dinners and receptions over the next week and more. Prince Siegfried, his fictional origins practically forgotten for so long that he was new, was quite popular; and the Princess Rue was beautiful and gracious, if a bit quiet and reserved, and was fast becoming beloved by all, even those who remembered Rue from the ballet division.
Fakir got the royal tour, naturally. The house and gardens still needed a great deal of work– the Academy grounds that Fakir saw every day were in much better shape– but the dining room and ballroom had been the Prince's first care along with the private apartment and domestic arrangements. And the fishpond.
Most importantly, Fakir found them changed only in that they were now a Prince and Princess rather than students at the Academy. Mytho with his heart restored was the Prince that Fakir had thought he might be, only hinted at during the years of Fakir's childhood. Rue had neither faded into his shadow nor grown proud; she was instead happier and brighter than Fakir remembered, without the Raven haunting her.
As he had known he would, Fakir had first to explain about Duck. It was a relief to be able to tell someone at long last.
".... and then she just wouldn't come out. She answers me sometimes but I haven't seen her in weeks."
"She answers you? You can still talk to each other?"
"Of course. I made her a big sheet with letters on it; she points to them and I can write down anything long or complicated. For yes and no she quacks once or twice. Things like that."
"She can still read and write?"
"Well, sort of. Her spelling is awful. It always was."
It took Fakir a moment to realize that they were staring at him, and then they turned to each other. Then Rue spoke.
"Fakir, I want to be absolutely clear on this point. Duck has been a duck, but she can still read, and write, and answer questions and– her memory, her ability to do all this, hasn't gone away?"
"No– Wait a moment. You were expecting her to go back to being just an animal? Since when? All this time?" His voice rose a little.
"No! Fakir, Mytho and I figured it out after we left. We thought she might start to forget as time passed, and we were afraid she'd have forgotten us when we saw her again. She ought to be growing up, you know. As a duck. And so help me," she drew a deep breath, "after a year away, we find you worried about her spelling!"
"I'm more worried about why she's hiding! If she's sick, or hurt–"
"I'd hate to force the issue," said Mytho. "Really try to trap her or anything like that. I will not see her hurt, or humiliated–"
"Neither will I! But I don't want her to wind up as somebody's dinner, either!"
"ENOUGH." Rue's voice cut through the excitement. "I'm going out to the lake. Leave Duck to me for the afternoon. If I can't find her or talk to her, we'll go from there."
"Um, not to discourage you, but–"
"Fakir, I think I know what's wrong, and if I'm mistaken there's no harm done. I'll be back well before supper either way."
"Rue– what is it?" asked her husband.
"Trust me," evaded the Raven's daughter. "It's a bird thing."
Rue walked down the path through the park to the reed beds that stretched over halfway around the lakeshore. There were a lot of places for a duck to hide.
"Duck? Duck, it's me, Rue. If you can hear me, I'd just like to talk to you. Are you here? I've missed you."
There it was, a faint Wak.
"Duck, Fakir says he found a pile of feathers and then you started hiding."
"Duck, you're molting, aren't you? Your new coat should be nearly grown in by now. Is it?"
"Didn't you realize what was happening? Oh, poor Duck..." Rue was horrified. "Could you come out? I might be able to tell whether it's coming along well or not, but for that I'll have to see you."
She waited a moment. Then, near the ancient weeping willow, the reeds rustled. There was a flurry of splashing water and angry quacking. Rue ran toward the commotion, looking for a rock or–
"Duck, I'm throwing a stick!" It whipped through the tops of the reeds. A lone bird charged out and fluttered onto the grass.
Duck stood there, looking up at Rue, who laughed.
"Duck, you're beautiful!"
"Well, you are." And she was, or would be soon. Pure white she was now, only a few uneven patches left where down needed to grow in yet, but it was unmistakably Duck: blue eyes looked up at her friend, and sprouting from her head was her crest, now a tall snow- white plume. She let Rue hug her. They began to walk toward the far end of the lake.
"How are your wings? Have you tried flying yet?"
"Wakwak." Duck extended first her right wing, then her left, examining them minutely; then she shook herself, gave a few flaps and looked back up at Rue.
"Go on and try. I'll watch."
They were far enough away from the reeds and the other ducks. Duck hopped in again, swam out to clear water and took off. The result was neither graceful nor prolonged, but Duck squawked a happy monologue as she went airborne and circled for a few minutes, then descended and splashed across the lake's surface. The other ducks swam out, converging silently behind her as she paddled back to Rue, who found their persistence disturbing. They saw Rue's glare and fell back.
In the end Duck went with her to the mansion and the clean fishpond, quacking the whole way. Mytho and Fakir met them at the gate, mouths agape. The Prince recovered first and bowed low, and Duck allowed Rue to explain as Fakir swept her up into a hug.
She declined an invitation to the banquet. Instead she elected to explore the grounds until Fakir managed to get away and join her. Finally the last of the burghers and guildsmen and Academy worthies had gone home, and Mytho brought Fakir and Duck into the sitting- room of the master suite. Both Prince and Princess looked serious. Fakir was afraid they'd insist upon talking about Duck, but the Prince instead was taking a wonderfully- wrought casket out of a trunk. It was half a yard long and a handspan across, flattish, made of tooled brass panels, and decorated with human and avian figures in a style Fakir didn't recognize; it looked as if they were acting out a story. The central panel on the top had only a heraldic device, a red enameled eagle displayed, beautifully shaded in oranges. He set it carefully upon the small table.
"The box shows the story, we know that much," said the Prince, fiddling with a key. He unlocked it but moved to lower the lights before opening it. "We'd been sightseeing a few months ago in the mountains and had been hearing vague rumors of some sort of trouble, but no one could say just what it was or when it had started; years ago, people thought. There were stories mostly of girls missing, princesses naturally, and a beast or sorcerer who devours or enchants them; and stories about a moving fire on a mountain. All this time the same tale has kept cropping up every few years in different places when someone goes missing. I thought little of it, but the closer we came to one particular place the clearer the story became. Finally we met a man who had been found some time ago in a mountain pass, frostbitten and concussed but still trying to reach help. He had been carrying what's in this–" he nodded at the casket– "wrapped in a coat he should have been using for himself. He claims to be a servant of a prince who had come to search for the missing princesses, and he says also that this Prince Ivan vanished when they were caught out one night. Black monsters came, he said, and were driven away by a shining being who took Prince Ivan, but left this behind."
Golden light flooded the darkened room as the Prince opened the casket. Inside the box lay a single feather– a short wing feather, Fakir thought, barred gold deepening to red and purple at the tip. It was huge, filling the length of the casket. It shone with its own light, illuminating the whole chamber. Glancing at the Prince, Fakir took it out of the box.
It felt somehow still alive. It rocked and twitched in his open hand, it was warm, it vibrated. Mytho continued the tale.
"At the time the villagers traced the trail back into the pass. They found where the fight had been. It's a good place to camp, several miles beyond the top the pass. This man had spent all of a freezing night searching for the Prince, after being knocked down by a panicked horse and hitting his head.
"The man stayed on in the village. He's lost some fingers and toes and has nearly gone mad at not being able to do anything about his missing Prince. The mayor of the village says no one has been able to prove for certain where this Ivan was taken, but tells the same story of the high peak with the sorcerer in a castle and a moving fire; it overlooks the pass from across a valley and a lake. I saw it myself, but there were no signs of life in the castle. The villagers now believe the moving fire is something they call a firebird, at least since this man, Stefan, appeared."
"We would have given it up as a madman's tale," continued Rue. "While Mytho went to investigate, I spoke with Stefan. He...isn't well, and he doesn't speak much of our language yet. He does odd jobs for the local craftsmen now; he helped the smith make this box– the smith confirmed that, and said that Stefan designed all the decoration except the bird. He couldn't stand to do that."
Duck had flapped up to the tabletop as Rue spoke; Fakir lowered the feather so she could see. She waddled up, cocking her head first to one side and then the other to see it clearly. Even as Mytho held out a hand in warning she stretched out her neck and barely touched it with her bill.
Duck went rigid.
Her screech startled them all. Wings extended, she flapped back until she fell off the table. The Prince caught her before she could flee, holding her firmly until he could capture her flailing wings. Finally she settled, breathing hard, and he handed her to Fakir, who had replaced the feather in its case.
Rue turned up the lamps again with an unsteady hand.
"I'm so sorry, Duck. We should have said– but I thought it was just Mytho and myself, since Fakir didn't seem to be affected. It disturbs us, it's trying to tell us something, but we've never had any pain. Stefan was obsessed with it, he wanted that box made to hide it and then wanted rid of the whole thing, but even he can touch it. Are you all right now?"
"Quack," said Duck, softly. She was still shaking. After a moment she squirmed, and Fakir set her on the table. She looked at him, then quacked at his hand.
"Huh? Oh. Here," he said, taking a folded sheet from his pocket. He spread the alphabet out; the others found pen and ink and weighted down the corners. When all was ready, Duck waddled front and center, extended a wing, and pointed.
WANTS RESCUDE. FETHER CAN FIND IT. TRAPT LONG TIME AGO. THATS ALL I HERD.
There was a long pause.
"Who wants rescued?"
THE BIRD. THIS ITS FETHER.
"That makes some sense," Rue said. "What we felt was that we ought to go up into the pass. I saw a mountain peak and a castle below, a tiny one; and people in the castle, from above, but not moving– like flying over a painting."
"And I felt the need for help, and heard the most marvelous music," said the Prince. "Did you feel anything?"
"Not a thing," said Fakir. "Well, nothing above that it's still alive and moves."
"And Duck was affected most of all–"
"Of course," said Rue. "She's a duck. We were both infected by the Raven's blood. Fakir wasn't, and Stefan certainly wasn't, so they can't feel as much."
"That would explain a great deal, and it fits the facts. In any case," said Prince Siegfried, "aside from seeing you two and Goldkrone again, what we came back here for was information. The Academy has one of the best libraries in the whole region. I intend to speak to Autor and the Bookmen this week, if I can. I already have maps but I need to know more about these firebirds before I can plan anything. I remember reading about them only once, and that was in a child's story book."
"I must have missed that one," said Fakir. "But– Why should you go? If you have a place, it's here in Goldkrone, or in– wherever it was you went."
"Firstly, no one who lays claim to that village or the pass has done anything for years. It's on a border, and apparently no king or emperor or government at any level has paid any attention to the area for centuries, beyond collecting taxes. It's too poor to fight over, pretty as it is, and it's very remote– like Goldkrone, there's no railway within miles, and the roads aren't good. The people usually don't mind; they're used to dealing with the few problems they have. Their baron died some months ago, after both his daughters had been taken. The pass doesn't lead anywhere important these days. So when we showed up and took an interest, the mayor thought we might help. Secondly, by all accounts people have been disappearing for the last few years, from all the lands surrounding that mountain. And the longer it goes on, the wider the territory affected."
"But that's not the real reason," pressed Fakir.
Rue looked at her husband. "You'll have to tell them sometime. He and Duck have more experience than anyone except us."
"I know," sighed Mytho. "It's what Stefan said, when Rue finally worked it out of him. His Prince Ivan wasn't just another adventurous knight- errant sort. He knows more than anyone about who and what he was after, and it wasn't just kidnapped princesses.
"He was tracking a magician who calls himself Kastchei, and whom they regarded as very dangerous. While employed at the court of Ivan's father, Kastchei encouraged his obsession with immortality, but in the end his experiments cost several lives.
"The bodies were discovered and Ivan imprisoned Kastchei; before he could be tried, however, he apparently committed suicide with a knife to the heart. Stefan found and examined the body, then went out for help without locking the cell. When he returned, Kastchei had escaped. Stefan said the knife was real, as was the wound he saw, but there wasn't enough blood. He joined the Prince on his search; they'd been on his trail for years when Ivan was captured."
There was a pause as Fakir digested all this. "I still don't see... Oh."
"No blood," said the Prince. "No heart, and so no ageing. He's hiding his heart somewhere else, maybe several pieces in different places. We never told Stefan why we were so interested. I wasn't sure if you knew why such magic is forbidden, but if someone tries it without his own inborn ability, he needs other hearts to make it work. It was what the Raven wanted of us, a fresh heart and immortality."
"Prince Ivan and Stefan knew all this, and still they failed," Fakir pointed out.
"They didn't know all of it," replied the prince. "They only knew that he had committed three particularly abominable murders and survived an apparent suicide, probably by sorcery. When they started out, also, there was no bird; now there is. All the stories say that a firebird has great magic, and that a phoenix is immortal. That may well mean that Kastchei has set himself up in this abandoned castle and started his research again.
"There's another point or two, as well. They don't know how he did it, but Kastchei did a bit of looting as he left, or more likely a lot of embezzling over a long time. He needn't worry about money or comfort, yet the mayor doesn't know where most of his food comes from or how he gets it. Also, I spent a few days in the company of the mayor, up in the pass, and never saw how one can cross the deep valley and the lake. It didn't take me long to realize that I was being shepherded. Rue actually found out more than I did from Stefan and the smith, and the smith's very extended family. They're putting strangers in the way of this sorcerer and his familiar, in hopes of saving their own people, we're sure of that. When we go back the local politics may have caught up with some people. At the time, though, we left before they could try to stop us."
"And you plan to go back– why, again, exactly?"
This story relies heavily upon two stories combined by Igor Stravinsky into his ballet The Firebird. The first is the story of Prince Ivan and the Firebird; the second is that of Kastchei. A version of the Firebird appears in the Brothers Grimm as "The Golden Bird." Upon reading The Golden Bough I was pleased to find the tale of Koschei (sic; there are several spellings) under the section dealing with external hearts and lives. There is a duck involved there too.
I find Princess Tutu impossible to date, although if time has gone in a straightforward manner it's set in the present day. Still, I placed the action in a vaguely pre- WWI setting, where travel by coach and horseback is not out of place.
Since this is not animated, a complete soundtrack is not only impossible, but best left to the reader. However:
(from The Firebird, 1919 suite)
Background music for Goldkrone and various peaceful or domestic scenes can be provided by "the Round Dance of the Princesses." Duck's escape from the lake might be scored by "The Firebird and Her Dance", as might her first flight and her reaction to the feather.
Otherwise, Duck's theme might remain the "Overture" from the Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky. Fakir should have a theme of his own; I think perhaps the theme from the Moldau (by Smetana) might fit. The Prince and Princess might be represented by their own piece, very likely the pas de deux from Swan Lake.
Disclaimer: Princess Tutu and all related characters and elements are the property, copyright and trademark of HAL– GANSIS/TUTU and Ikukoh Itoh and no ownership or claim on said property, copyright or trademark is made or implied by their use in the work(s) of fan fiction presented here. This fan fiction constitutes a personal comment on the aforesaid properties pursuant to doctrines of fair use and fair comment. This fan fiction is non-commercial, not for sale or profit, and may not be sold or reproduced for commercial purposes.