The Duck and The Raven
The dying light of the sun shone through the branches as leaves drifted down to the surface of the pond, marking the end of another day. Fakir roused as the warmth died around him.
With a start, he jerked upright, searching for that small yellow body that was as dear as his own. He sighed in relief as he spotted her, nestled among the reeds, still dozing peacefully. Though he was loathed to waken her, he did not relish the thought of leaving without her, not even for one night.
"Come on." He called, as he stood.
Duck startled, and scrambled up the bank to follow him as he walked away. Unable to match his long strides with her smaller legs, she waddled comically after him, scurrying along as fast as she was able.
He looked down, a slight smile gracing his usually stern features, as she came level with him. He slowed down so she could keep up and they made their way through the streets to his home.
He lay in bed that night, unable to sleep. He could see Ahiru, nestled in her basket beneath the window. The moonlight shone through the panes, illuminating her downy feathers with a silver sheen.
He turned his head away, the sight inspiring memories of Princess Tutu; a person no one remembered existing.
Life continued in the village, but he was stuck, left with the knowledge of those dramatic events and the girl he cared for reduced to a small, clumsy bird. He knew she remained conscious in that form, he could see it in her eyes. But she'd always known she was just a duck.
"Ahiru." He whispered, turning back to look upon her once more. She shifted, and for a moment he feared he had woken her. She would worry that he wasn't sleeping. He couldn't stand to see her fret. It caused deep feelings of guilt to build up inside.
He had promised he would stay by her side forever and she seemed content with it, being a duck. But he could not watch her, always innocent, and not recall the person she had been.
He could never tell but he missed that girl, with all his heart.
He would stay with her, keep her safe, for as long he was able, but the pain of her presence and her absence struck him deep inside, growing with each passing day.
He had never felt so helpless.
He rolled onto his back, staring at the ceiling, recalling her determination to achieve her goals, despite being only a duck. He felt worse, that he, who was far more capable, could not find a way to achieve their happy ending.
Then he shot upright, an epiphany striking.
He'd despaired of writing for Mytho, the stories never came true, but Ahiru… He could write for her.
He stumbled from the bed, to his desk, grabbing his quill and paper, he hunched over the desk as he began the ending for her story.
There once was a duck, who dreamed of being a girl. Again.
Though she enjoyed her life, swimming around the pond in the sunshine every day and nestled safe and warm at night, she longed to return to human form.
Alas, she had thought of no way to accomplish her dream, and was left to remember her days as a graceful dancer.
Every night, under the light of the stars, she would dance in remembrance of her past. With the moon as her spotlight, she spun and twirled in glorious homage to her memories, unknowing she had an audience.
"You dance well, little duck." A voice called from the tree.
Suddenly frightened, the duck searched for her guest, discovering a raven perched in the lower branches, watching her leeringly.
"Thank you." She replied quietly, backing away from his leering gaze.
"What inspires you to dance?"
"I… I long to be human, to dance as they do." She whispered.
"I could make you human." The raven croaked.
"Really?" She asked, fear forgotten as she naively trusted the dark bird.
"Of course, it is well within my power. I am a powerful raven, and I would be honoured to see you dance." The raven's eyes shone in the dim light, his form shrouded in growing shadows, "You will be human again, if you marry me."
The duck recoiled, the idea abhorrent. Her distaste was obvious and the raven was offended.
"You scorn me, duck?" His eyes glinted red and he grew larger, a wind whipping around the tree and disturbing the water.
"Oh, please, I didn't mean to be rude." The duck cried, cowering in terror as the wind picked up.
"Ungrateful wretch." The raven glowered, "I curse you here and now. Every night you shall become human for one hour, to dance in remembrance and regret. But it will never last longer."
"Please! I'm sorry." The duck cried again, tears streaming down her face as the raven huffed.
"Only by humiliation will this curse be lifted. Only a man willing to marry a duck will be able to release you from it." With a malicious laugh, the raven flew away, leaving the sad little duck alone in the pond as the dawn broke over the world.
Fakir? Ahiru spun round, searching for him. Waking up in the pond at daybreak was disorientating. How had she come to be here, when she remembered following him home?
A cool wind blew across the water and she shivered, remnants of her dream striking fear into her heart. She cried out, leaving the water to look for his chair. She found it but he was not there.
He did not come at all that day.
The sunset spilled like fire across the sky and Ahiru swam slowly in circles around the pond. Fakir had not fetched her for the night. She paddled sadly across to the rushes, trying in vain to build a nest. As clumsy as she had been a girl, she was with feathers. Not for the first time she wished she could have been always as graceful as Princess Tutu.
But she was a duck, not a swan.
The night grew colder and she shivered, unused to the outside at dark. She startled as something moved in the shadows, but nothing approached. Feeling silly but still on edge, she left her makeshift roost by Fakir's seat and approached the pond. As she slipped into the water, a familiar feeling rippled through her body.
She broke the surface, gasping, to feel the chill wind on her bare skin. She shivered, wrapping her arms around herself to warm her body and fell over in shock.
She had arms, and hands. Her feet were no longer webbed but smooth and dainty at the end of long legs. She touched her face and gasped, her beak was gone. She cried out with joy, rediscovering her human form and dancing with exuberance at her return.
She spun round to face the intruder on her happiness as Fakir splashed out into the pond. He raised her up and spun her round, a wide smile gracing his face while she stared down at him in shock.
"It worked, Ahiru! I did it!" He cried, staring up at her with adoration.
Mortification overcame their joy, as they realised her transformation remained as always, without clothes. Hurriedly shrugging out of his jacket and draping it around her, Fakir helped her onto land.
"How did you…" She started to ask, but his hand against her cheek stopped her words.
"I wrote for you." He answered quietly.
"The raven? It was real?" Her eyes filled with tears, remembering her awful dream, one she'd hoped was not real. "Why did you do that? He scared me!"
Fakir hugged her to him, whispers of apologies not leaving his lips. He couldn't be sorry, not when it had given them this chance.
Instead, he asked her for something she would not be able to refuse, "Dance with me?"
She stared up at him, the starlight shining on unshed tears, a smile fighting through her sadness. He raised her hand in his, and they danced.
Words that could not be spoken were shouted out in movement as they danced; remembering their past, their joy and regrets and joining their spirits in an act of love.
The hour ended far too soon.
As he walked slowly back to his house, cradling her in his arms, Fakir made a new promise. He would finish their story and give them both their happy ending.