Belle Nuit, O Nuit D'amour.
-- and so Prince Siegfried and his Princess bid their farewells to the Writer and the Duck before they flew away unto the sunset, where they would live happily ever after.
... or was it?
The enchanted chariot flies for three days and three nights before it stops. It breaks away once it lands, into a thousand rays of sunlight and moonlight, each one fairer than the other, as if I was a song.
Siegfried's kingdom stands in ruins in front of them. Wild ivy hugs the dark ruins to the ground, and there are swords and shields left were guards no longer stand. Siegfried falls to his knees, and his hands dig unto the kingdom he once knew but that now is lost. His shoulders shake, but he makes no noise.
Rue allows him a moment to grieve before she gets close. She kneels, ignoring how the silk and lace of her gown soils, and she wraps her arms around Siegfried's shoulders, hoping that her embrace is warm. Siegfried's hands touch her arm, her wrist.
"We have to go," Rue says, and Siegfried nods.
They trade their clothes for money and more reasonable clothes at the first town they arrive.
"Are you... nobles?" the seamstress asks, a curious quirk to her eyebrows as she takes Rue's silk gown, tutting in despair at the stains over the hem.
"Artists," Rue says, looking at Siegfried when the woman's back is to them. "We're ballet dancers."
Siegfried keeps his eyes on her, but he doesn't say her story is a lie, instead just handing the woman his velvet cape and vest, though he keeps his sword.
"Oh! That's lovely," the seamstress sighs. "We don't get many companies here, which is a shame. If you're thinking on staying for a while, we'll have a our Moon Festival in two weeks, I would love to introduce you to some of our artists here..."
But Siegfried shakes his head no, a gentle smile that makes the woman sigh a little, a hand to her bosom.
"I'm afraid we're just staying the night. If you would know of an inn, we would be most grateful."
And so the seamstress walks them all the way towards her daughter's inn, saying it's small but warm, and promising a good night's rest. They walk behind her, Rue holding Siegfried's arm the way she used to hold Mytho's arm back in Kinkan, but every now and then he reaches to touch her hand. He seems upset, though, and Rue worries about what he might say, once they're alone.
The seamstress daughter gives them 'her best room', a room that would fit in her old room back at the Academy. But they believe them married, so with a sigh of 'young love' and a look of almost envy they close the door behind them, and Rue walks towards a chair to take off her new shoes, rubbing at her feet. Siegfried leaves his sword at the table, the bag with their few possessions on top of the drawers.
"Why did you lie?" He sounds confused, and almost sad, as if he could be wondering about just how much of the Raven's blood is inside her. Rue bites her lip, feels panic close her throat. Lie, the blood inside her body whispers to her. Lie and coddle and pretend, and he won't leave. He won't feel repulsed by you if you lie.
"... we're not in a fairytale anymore," Rue murmurs instead, not quite looking at her prince. "In the real world, princes get hurt. If you lost your heart, you would die, not just... stay frozen in time."
There is silence at first, and then Siegfried's quiet steps. He kneels in front of her, and his hand covers hers where she's still rubbing at her toes. Rue dares to look at him and she finds him smiling, and the sheer beauty of that smile being offered to her is enough to make her catch her breath.
"Thank you," he says. "Thank you, Rue. As you protect me, I will protect you."
They never really say out loud that they are married. As they travel, searching for a place they might belong, people assume and they never say no. They do sleep in the same room, in the same bed, Rue's head resting upon Siegfried's chest, hearing the calming sound of his heart beating, or Siegfried's arm around her waist, his face against the curve of her neck, but they're not married, and he remains a prince and he calls her his princess, and Rue thinks that she might be happy, at last.
She's still afraid. Months go by and they become years. The Raven's blood still beats inside her, whispering that one day she'll wake up and he'll be gone. One day the Prince will find another adventure, someone who needs him more than she needs him, and she will be alone once again.
Siegfried's arm tightens around her waist and Rue makes herself sleep.
Most animals fear her still. They do not fear Siegfried, their champion, and though he is no longer a fairytale prince he still charms them, so even wild bears allow him to touch their heads. People believe him a magician, but Rue watches from behind.
Most animals don't get close to her, and when she holds them they cower and tremble, wanting to be set free.
"It's because you're afraid of them as well," Siegfried tells her, before he pulls her close. "Remember Tutu? She wasn't afraid of you, was she?"
No, but she doubts many animals would have loved a broken-hearted prince as much as Duck did, to even befriend a crow for his sake.
They are famous, almost. The Sun Prince and the Night Princess, people call them. People hear about the way they dance, and so when they arrive at a new town, most of the times they are expected. People gather at town squares and they wait until she has tied her toe shoes, until she and Siegfried have changed unto their costumes and then they watch, enthralled, as they become Romeo and Juliet, Odette and her Prince, Aurora and her Phillip. People watch and when they're done they applaud, and they ask for an encore.
Mayors and nobles request for them to dance upon their parties, and like this she and Siegfried make enough money for the winter, when they stay at whatever town they might be, and then they teach ballet to children, Siegfried infinitely more patient than she ever will, his smiles ever so soft and gentle towards the children who pull at his sleeves and who make clumsy mistakes over and over again.
This is not what a prince should be doing, the Raven's blood tells her. They should bow to him, not him to them. You have turned him into a a servant.
But late at night, Siegfried smiles at her, sweet and happy like she never thought Mytho could be.
"One day," Siegfried says, holding her hand. "I hope we will have a child just like that, and we will teach him or her how to dance."
Because Siegfried is still a prince, and he still knows when she needs to be rescued even from herself, so Rue nods, blinking tears away, whispering that she hopes that when they do have a child, the baby looks just like him.
She's probably nineteen when they finally stop traveling. It's a small town, not very different to Kinkan, with soft gray and white buildings, houses with chimneys and red roofs, and they have made enough money during their travelings that they manage to buy a small cottage that is near the lake where, they are told, wild ducks and swans arrive each spring. The town has a small theater and an even smaller company, but the director hires them both immediately, once he sees them dance.
And it's then that Siegfried writes letters to Fakir, one every month. Rue doesn't ask what he writes in them, and when he offers the letters for her to add something, she never reads what he puts, so she just writes a a few words, sending her love to Duck.
"Did you love him?" Rue asks one day, feeling the Raven's blood churning inside her. You're mine it seems to be saying. You should love me and only me it whispers inside her. Her skin prickles with feathers that are not there.
Siegfried hums, thoughtful, before he nods. "I did, as much as I could love back then, when my heart was missing. Fakir was my friend and protector, not very different from you. He was broken and hurt and even though I didn't know it back then, I wanted to save him."
Rue looks down, but Siegfried stands up, walks close to her, and rests his hands on her shoulders.
"But Fakir wasn't someone I could have or should have saved. I wasn't the one who would give him strength to save himself, as he should have done. I love him dearly, and I always will, the same way I know he will always love me as well. But he is not my beloved, and I don't think I was ever his."
And his smile calms down the bitter Raven blood inside of her, his embrace calming her even more.
When Siegfried offers her his almost finished letter the next month, Rue sends Duck her love... and Fakir, her thoughts.
Perhaps, she thinks, if she stops being afraid, then the dark blood won't be able to speak to her anymore.
Five years after the Prince and the Raven was finished for good, when spring makes the flowers upon Kinkan bloom, Fakir starts a new story that makes him laugh out loud, startling ducklings upon the pond:
-- and they had a little daughter, with hair as dark as ebony and skin as white as snow, and the Prince and Princess called her Schnee.
Duck laughs as well once she reads this, eyes merry as she looks at him. "Fakir, we should visit them! Right, right?"
Fakir thinks of all the words that are still twisting inside him and he nods, smiling at her. "Yes. It's time."