Chapter 1 – Another Story Must Begin
At once, he was shaken bolt upright from a dreamless sleep, his dark hair loose and wavy flung into his eyes, his bare chest dewed with a cold sweat. The twenty-one year old man groped for the dim candle lamp on the dresser and turned the flame up, the bedroom washed in a golden light as he brought the lamp closer to the girl lying beside him. Fakir’s gaze met the clear deep blue eyes of his seventeen-year-old bride staring up at him—seemingly unconcerned, despite the way she had cried out for him.
“What is it?!” Fakir panted. “Are you hurt? Is it the—?”
“No no, it’s fine,” Duck responded quietly, her hand moving gently across the round belly she had been forced to grow accustomed to for the past several months. “Everything’s fine.”
Fakir’s frantic concern quickly became sheer annoyance as he slammed the lamp back down on the dresser, “Damn it, Duck, do you have any idea what time it is?!”
“But I’m hungry,” Duck said in a tone that most definitely suggested a whine, which only irritated Fakir even more.
“We just ate dinner,” he said promptly. It had become his automatic response whenever Duck got one of these strange midnight cravings—which only seemed to become more frequent as her pregnancy grew.
“But I’m really in the mood for…breadcrumbs,” Duck said, a smile crossing her face, as if by eating a handful of breadcrumbs she could at last die happily.
“You always want breadcrumbs!” Fakir spluttered, throwing up his hands in exasperation. “Anyone would think you were a bird or something—” He stopped and eyed Duck once he’d realized the sheer irony what he’d just said, and she returned his gaze with an icy glare. “Sorry…I suppose I just figured once I’d transformed you into a human permanently…old habits would die hard.”
“Well, they don’t in my case,” Duck hissed, her eyes narrowing into slits. “Now go get the bread crumbs before I get really upset and pass out.”
One more month…one more month of this insanity… It was the only thing that propelled Fakir to fling the covers off him and trek down the stairs to the kitchen. Searching through the cupboard, he prayed that there was still some bread left, otherwise—he shuddered—he’d be up all night making more bread from scratch, he was sure of it.
“Here it is, zura!” cried out a happy voice, and Fakir nearly jumped out of his skin as he looked down at Uzura. The little puppet held a quarter loaf of bread in her tiny hands, smiling up at him.
“Thanks, but don’t scare me like that,” Fakir said quietly. Grabbing the loaf, he rushed back up the stairs and into the bedroom, Uzura at his heels. He thrust the bread into his wife’s waiting hands as he flopped back down on his side of the bed, prepared to fall back asleep…
“What is this?” came Duck’s voice from the semi-darkness.
“Bread, darling,” Fakir responded, his eyes still closed and sarcasm dripping on the normally loving expression.
“I’m pretty sure I said bread crumbs,” Duck said after a slight pause. “Right?”
It had been months and months, nearly four years, since Fakir had ever gotten the urge to strike the girl next to him, so he was shocked when he was seized with that impulse. Taking a deep breath, however, he pushed the thought from his mind and calmly rolled over onto his side to face her. Forcing a smile through tight lips, Fakir said simply, “Cut it yourself.”
“Are you crazy?” Duck said, her eyes widening as if he had asked her to slay a Monster Raven single-handedly. “I can barely walk like this, let alone get down the stairs!”
“Well then, I guess you’ll have to eat the bread like that,” Fakir sighed. “’Cause I am not getting up again.”
“Yes you will, because you love me,” Duck said sweetly, and Fakir groaned—that was the best card she could play?
“I don’t love you when you’re like this,” Fakir said, and Duck gasped.
“You don’t love me?” she whimpered, tears gathering in the corners of her eyes. The mood swings…
“Not like this!” Fakir reiterated loudly, rolling back over and pulling the covers up to his chin. “This pregnancy is going to be the death of me…”
“The death of you?!” Duck screeched, her eyes blazing. Grabbing her pillow, she proceeded to beat Fakir repeatedly over the head with it, “I’m the one who goes through all of the food cravings and emotional swings! I’m the one who’s positively humongous and ugly! I’m the one who’s terrified of the day I’m eventually going to have to get this baby out of me somehow! And it’s going to be the death of you?!”
“I’ll cut it for you, zura,” came Uzura’s voice from the foot of the bed. Duck froze, the pillow raised over Fakir’s head once more. With a deep sigh, she set it back onto the bed and handed the small loaf of bread to the little puppet.
“Thank you, Uzura,” Duck said quietly, “At least someone cares.”
“You’re not ugly,” came Fakir’s equally soft voice from the other side of the bed. Duck looked down at him as he rolled back over to face her. “You’ve never been ugly, not ever,” he repeated firmly, sitting up closer to her. Reaching over, he gently caressed Duck’s stomach, and she placed her hand on top of his.
“I’m sorry,” Duck whispered.
“Don’t be,” Fakir said, kissing her cheek. “You’ve been through a lot these past eight months or so, and I…I lose sight of that sometimes. But you’ve handled it so well.” He stopped as he felt a small infant kick against his palm, and he let out a soft laugh. “You’re strong, Duck…the strongest person I know, so don’t be scared about how the child will be born or even afterwards, because I’ll be right there beside you the entire time. And even though it seems like a burden now, it’s all going to pay off in the end. We’re going to have a son or daughter to call our own—and they’re going to have a wonderful mother.”
“They’re going to have a pretty great father, too,” Duck said, looking over at Fakir and pecking his lips briefly before snuggling down against him under the covers, “Mmm…I can’t wait…”
“Me neither,” Fakir said, wrapping his arm around her and closing his eyes.
“Your bread, zura!” Uzura cried out, returning with a bowl of bread crumbs. Duck swiftly grabbed for the bowl and began shoving the hunks of bread into her mouth as if her life depended on it.
“Oh yes,” Duck said happily once she’d polished off the last of it. “See Fakir, would that have been so much to ask?”
Fakir couldn’t help but groan again, One more month…
One more month indeed…Before the waters of time flow once again…Another dust-worn book is opened…Another set of pages comes to life on the stage I have created…A stage I have been saving for the likes of you…
Yes…another story will begin…
“It’s a girl!”
Fakir’s head snapped up from where it had been buried in his hands for what seemed like hours. He and Charon jumped to their feet as Raetsal flung open the door to the bedroom, a bright smile lighting up her beaming features as she called out the news to the two men. “A beautiful baby girl!”
“And Duck? How is she?” Fakir asked as evenly as possible. His young wife had been petrified when the baby’s intense and unceasing kicking had forced her into an early labor. He still couldn’t get her screams of pain out of his head when Raetsal told him to wait outside while she and Uzura took care of the childbirth, foreseeing severe complications due to her premature delivery. No, Fakir was not even permitted to sit at his wife’s side as she gave birth to their child, holding tightly to her hand, supporting her, encouraging her. For hours…he, Charon, and Raetsal were not even sure if Duck would survive the childbirth, and Fakir had had to come to grips with the possibility of losing Duck—this time, forever. Even now, Fakir eyed the bloodstained blankets Raetsal was holding warily.
“She’s fine,” Raetsal said, hugging Fakir tightly with her free arm. “It’s a miracle, but she’s just fine.”
“Thank you,” Fakir said in a strangled voice before pushing his way into the bedroom. Duck was lying tucked in the bed, and beside her Uzura was leaning over a small bassinet curiously. She looked up quickly when Fakir entered and tottered over to him.
“Shh, she’s asleep, zura,” Uzura indicated the bassinet, pressing a finger to her lips scoldingly as Fakir smiled down at her and patted her head in thanks.
“Fakir?” came a small, weak voice from the bed. It was all it took for Fakir to fly across the room in two strides to the edge of the bed, gazing down at Duck’s pale face coated in a sheen of sweat.
“I’m here Duck, I’m right here,” Fakir assured, leaning over her and patting her perspired face with a cool cloth.
“Oh…I’m so glad…” Duck reached up and brought her hand to his face, forcing him to look directly into her eyes. “It was so scary…and now…I’m just so tired.”
“I should have been here, beside you like I promised,” Fakir bit out through gritted teeth. “And the waiting and the uncertainty—do you have any idea how close I came to losing you?”
“Is this your way of saying you love me or something?” Duck asked with a smile, a weak smile that still managed to cast any other worries and regrets from Fakir’s mind as he closed his eyes, leaning into the gentle touch of her small hand. Gathering her frail form into his arms, he held her as closely and as tightly as he dared to as tears began to overtake him, refusing to let Duck see this weakness in him.
“I love you…I love you so much, you idiot,” Fakir murmured into her free-flowing long red hair as she stroked his own dark locks. Pulling back just enough, Fakir brought his lips to hers in a loving kiss that expressed nothing less than his eternal devotion to her and how grateful he was that her unwavering strength had gotten them through this.
“So…” Duck said with a grin as they broke apart. “Ready to meet your daughter?”
“Of course,” Fakir said. Duck sat up carefully and reached over into the bassinet, lifting a small bundle of pink blankets. “Mind her head,” she whispered as she handed the bundle to Fakir.
“Oh Duck…” Fakir breathed, for in his arms peaking through the pink blanket was the tiniest face he had ever seen, eyes scrunched tight, stirring slightly at the sudden movement but still in a silent slumber. “Duck, she’s beautiful.” He didn’t care now that the tears ran without restraint down his cheeks, and Duck felt such joy that he was as moved by this moment as she was.
“A beautiful child deserves a pretty name, don’t you think?” she asked, leaning against his shoulder as they both gazed at the sleeping infant. “Have you thought of any—?”
“Luisa,” Fakir replied without a moment’s hesitation. Duck blinked, completely taken aback.
“Luisa…really?” Duck asked, furrowing her brow. “You sure you don’t want something more simple, like Mary or Clara? Luisa just seems so—”
“It was my mother’s name,” Fakir cut her off as if he hadn’t heard her. That didn’t stop a bright, luminescent blush as red as her hair to spread across Duck’s face—why did she always have to open her big mouth? “I mean, if you don’t mind…” Fakir brushed back the jet black and forest green wisps of hair on the baby girl’s head. The baby’s eyelids slowly opened to reveal azure eyes identical to the ones that had stolen Fakir’s heart long ago, and she cooed up at her father, no longer squirming in the unfamiliar arms.
“Oh…I understand,” Duck nodded solemnly as Fakir handed her the baby, who immediately responded favorably to her mother’s touch.
“It’s okay if you don’t want to, I just—”
“No Fakir, it’s fine,” Duck reassured him, “You just…never mentioned it before.” She cradled the newborn and kissed her little forehead as Fakir wrapped the two most important women in his life into his strong, protective embrace. With a contented sigh, Duck rested her head against Fakir’s chest, “Luisa is a lovely name.”
Luisa…an exquisite yet fierce name…perfect for a heroine, no doubt about that…Oh yes, she will do nicely, very nicely indeed…and this time, I will avoid the mistake I made before…bringing a character into my story that could already think for herself…no, I won’t let that happen again…“get them while they’re young” as the saying goes…and my tragedy will finally commence…
Not again…how the hell am I supposed to get any writing done at this rate?! Fakir sighed to himself as Luisa wailed loudly on the other side of his study door. The initial joy at bringing his baby daughter into the world was waning as he soon discovered the demands of fatherhood were putting him severely behind in his writing. Of course he loved his daughter dearly, but six weeks of this was definitely taking its toll. He tried feeding her, changing her, rocking her; good God he’d even sang to her and still Luisa was unsettled. That’s it, Fakir threw down his quill and stomped over to the door, wrenching it open as Luisa’s crying reached a pinnacle, and did the only thing he could possibly think of:
“Hey, shut up!” Fakir roared from the doorway. At once, Luisa fell silent at her father’s command, and Fakir closed the study door with a satisfied snap. Silence…it really is golden, Fakir thought as he took up his quill once again.
“Fakir!” He threw the quill down and flung up his hands in defeat as Duck banged the door open, staring angrily at him. “What is your problem?! That’s no way to treat our baby and you know it!”
“It worked, didn’t it?” Fakir said conclusively, leaning back in his chair. “I couldn’t get any writing done with that incessant noise!”
“She’s hungry, Fakir,” Duck said, moving away from the door to the crib set up in the living area.
“She just ate two hours ago!” Fakir cried out incredulously.
“Exactly, and now she needs to be fed again,” Duck said as patiently as she could, fetching a bottle from the kitchen. “Did you even look at the book Autor gave us?”
“My apologies, I’ve been a bit busy trying to support this family,” Fakir said through gritted teeth as Duck lifted the whimpering Luisa from the crib.
“I can’t take care of her all of the time!” Duck exclaimed exasperatedly, sitting in the rocking chair with Luisa in one arm and holding the bottle in her other hand.
“I’ll take care of her—when she’s older,” Fakir said and Duck rolled her eyes, her attention moving to the baby in her lap.
“Ooh, Luisa just wants a nice bottle, doesn’t she?” Duck cooed in a singsong voice as Luisa sucked the nipple of the bottle vigorously. “Yes, I’m sure Father didn’t mean to be so mean to you, did he?” She glowered in Fakir’s direction, and he stared at the ground uncomfortably.
“Alright look, if you just let me write until dinner, I’ll take her for the rest of the evening so you can rest,” Fakir gave in, kneeling beside the chair and giving his wife a small smile, “Fair?”
“Sounds good to me,” Duck said, removing the bottle and wiping Luisa’s mouth with the blanket. Leaning back in the chair, Duck held the baby closer to her breast and stroked the top of her head, her forehead crinkling quizzically, “Have you ever noticed Luisa’s hair?”
“It looks like mine?” Fakir suggested.
“No I mean, it’s long,” Duck replied, running the tips of her fingers through the locks atop Luisa’s head. “Longer than babies’ hair usually is, don’t you think?”
“Looks like she’ll be taking after Mother,” Fakir snorted to himself and Duck whacked him on the arm playfully before looking back at Luisa.
“It’s just…strange…” Duck whispered.
“That it is, isn’t it?” came a deep, most unwelcome ghostly voice. Duck and Fakir both jumped up and spun around to face the grandfather clock against the wall. “You haven’t shut me out already, have you little Duck?”
“Drosselmeyer!” Fakir shouted out, pushing his wife behind him as Duck held Luisa closer to her protectively. “Come on out, you coward.”
“Now is that any way to talk to your elders, boy?” the withered old man chuckled, materializing before them from within the clock and stepping closer to them. Their surroundings at once were washed in a blinding white light as time seemed to freeze once again, as it did whenever the dead man felt like making an appearance.
“What do you want?” Duck asked in a sharp, fearless voice, though she gripped Fakir’s hand tightly. Out the corner of his eye, Fakir caught sight of the Lohengrin sword atop the mantle…
“Well, you really pulled out all the stops in order to live happily, didn’t you my boy?” Drosselmeyer commented, striding the length of the room with his blood red cape billowing behind him. “The duck became a human girl and married the useless knight. What a blissful period of calm waters you both have sailed…but now, so unfortunate that you have treaded into some uncharted seas.”
“You have no business here,” Fakir hissed in a tone so malicious that Duck was frightened, until she remembered she had the assuring warmth of his strong hand in hers. “So why show up now, speaking in vague riddles?”
“Contrary to your assumption, I do have some business here,” the deceased man. “Very important business, in fact: Fate’s cruel die has been cast…another story shall leap from the pages and take shape in your reality.”
“Another tale…is coming to life?” Duck whispered.
“No,” Fakir said defiantly, letting go of Duck’s hand and stepping closer to his demented ancestor. “Four years ago, after The Prince and the Raven was completed, I devoted my life to writing this town’s story—to making sure no other tragedy would befall it again. And I do not intend to break that promise for as long as I live.”
“Oh you are correct, Gold Crown Town is safe as long as you are here,” Drosselmeyer nodded, the manic smile never leaving his face. “But beyond these walls, there are so many possibilities, so many stories to complete, and I have grown restless waiting for one to spring into being.” He brought his white gloves hands together, pressed his finger tips to his mouth in thought, “So now…it falls to me to set another story into motion.” He swept away from Fakir and glided closer to where Duck stood holding Luisa closely, “My, my…how you’ve blossomed, little Duck—”
“Don’t you dare touch her!” Fakir shot at Drosselmeyer loudly, causing Luisa to awaken in Duck’s arms and begin to cry.
“I’ve no need to, her destiny is no longer in my power,” Drosselmeyer stated calmly.
“Then take your leave,” Fakir growled, pulling his wife against him as Duck tried to soothe the infant, “Don’t cry, Luisa…hush, sweetheart…”
“But the child…” Drosselmeyer breathed hungrily, and Duck gasped up at him, holding the crying baby closer.
“What of Luisa?” Fakir asked, his eyes narrowed at the dead man.
“Your daughter will serve as the heroine in my latest tragedy,” Drosselmeyer replied, his eyes never leaving the bundle in Duck’s arms.
“You can’t have her,” Duck said angrily, a hatred she had never known before welling up like a ball of fire in her heart.
“It wasn’t a request,” Drosselmeyer said, his grin fading at her insolence.
“I won’t let you!” Duck cried out in a broken voice, turning herself and the baby away from him and into Fakir’s protective embrace.
“There’s no choice now, the tale has already begun, moving forward as we speak,” Drosselmeyer continued. “A young beauty locked away from the outside world…a girl distinctive only in her tresses that grew to an unbelievable length. You have of course already noticed this, haven’t you?”
Duck and Fakir both looked down in horror at Luisa, whose hair already seemed to have grown a few inches longer in the recent minutes past. “You monster…” Duck said, a tremble evident in her voice, tears forming at the corners of her eyes, “You planned this from the beginning!”
“Marked from the moment she was born, destined to live in a world of tragedy under my watchful eye,” Drosselmeyer said, clearly pleased by his plan. He looked back up at Fakir, “By taking your daughter, raising her as my own, I get my marvelous tragedy…and you two are punished for your sins of long ago. Dappling in story-spinning is dangerous, boy—”
“Stay away from my daughter!” Fakir shouted.
“A price must be paid, now give me the child!” Drosselmeyer roared, and without a moment’s wait, reached out a large spindly hand and snatched the baby from Duck’s arms.
“No!” Duck screamed, bursting into tears upon the loss of contact with her daughter, as Drosselmeyer made for the clock exit back to his world. No sooner had the fossil reached his destination that a sharp clang of metal on wood blocked his pathway—and Drosselmeyer turned with a clenched laugh to see Fakir, breathing heavily, glaring with utmost hatred, and wielding the Lohengrin sword he had seized from the mantle.
“Let her go,” Fakir demanded in a low, husky voice.
“Or else what?” Drosselmeyer laughed. “You’ll kill me?”
“I’ll cut you to pieces, you sadistic filth!” Fakir yelled in fury, slicing the blade through the dead man’s cheek. Drosselmeyer merely grinned as the bloodless wound mended itself, and Fakir continued to slice at him in an uncontrolled rage, “I won’t let you take her!” Raising the sword high above his head, he made to plunge the sword through Drosselmeyer’s chest—just as the old man cackled and thrust the baby into the path of the sword, already descending in swift motion.
“FAKIR!” Duck screamed out desperately at the top of her voice, and the blade ceased its plunge. There was silence, broken only by Luisa’s crying that has not died down since being separated from her mother. Fakir panted heavily, his eyes widened in horror as he realized the sword had come mere inches from taking the life of his helpless little girl.
“You can’t harm me,” Drosselmeyer grinned evilly, “You would harm your own daughter in your vain attempt to rid me from this world?” Fakir stared from Drosselmeyer down to his baby and over at Duck, her hands clasped over her mouth. Clenching his eyes shut tight and trembling with suppressed anger and helplessness, Fakir dropped the sword to the floor with a loud clatter. “There, now we’ve reached an understanding…”
“Give her back, please!” Duck wept, rushing forward towards the clock world entrance where Drosselmeyer stood. “Take me instead!”
“Idiot! What are you thinking?!” Fakir cried out, grabbing Duck around the waist as she made to throw herself into the portal within the grandfather clock.
“Your story is finished, my dear little Duck,” Drosselmeyer laughed at the absurdity of this bargain. “Don’t worry, I will care for your child…for her story has only just begun…”
“Luisa!” Duck screamed, the portal sealing shut, the grandfather clock disappearing—parting the helpless parents from their only child forever. “Luisa! LUISA!” She dashed forward to where the clock had once stood and collapsed to her knees hugging herself tightly, sobbing as if her heart would break. “She’s gone…s-she’s gone, and I d-did nothing to stop it! I was useless!”
“It’s not your fault—it’s not your fault, Duck!” Fakir exclaimed desperately, rushing to her side and dropping to his knees, gathering her trembling form into his arms.
“I’ll never see her again!” Duck sobbed, clutching at the front of Fakir’s shirt, “Our baby—we’ll never get to hold her again!” Burying her face in his chest, every ounce of anguish within her overflowed and poured out of her as Fakir clutched her to him as tightly as he could—the sound of Duck’s tormented tears breaking his heart. “He’ll kill her, I know he will!”
“…I’m so sorry, Duck,” Fakir finally said, Duck hearing his voice break and feeling his body shake with sobs against hers. “I tried to, I just—I didn’t know what to do—I just let that bastard run off with his prize!” Duck shuddered in his arms as another torrent of anguished sobs overtook her, Fakir never releasing his firm hold on her, his tear-soaked face buried in her hair.
It’s true…I’m the one to blame, Fakir thought, stricken with grief. My own daughter…my vulnerable infant child has to pay for my mistakes. And I couldn’t do a thing…
I couldn’t do a damn thing…
Now tell me a story, my dear Luisa…Tell it to me with no regard for your life…