Would you believe me if I told you there was a duck with a human soul?
It’s true, I assure you, but perhaps it is not my story to tell, but hers…
It was an accident, the princess had died and as her soul escaped through the window, it took a rather strange detour. One last look at the lake she once visited every day, her soul landed on a hatching duck’s egg, and rather than going to heaven, she stayed with that duck.
From that moment, the Duck knew that she was different than the other ducks.
She had dreams where her sisters had none, hope where her mother only thought of the day ahead, and was, well, rather human compared to the others in the flock.
Growing up on the banks of that lake, looking over the grounds of the castle, the people who walked to the lake every day, the Duck knew who her favorite people were.
First, was the woman who always gave her bread, throwing in a few crumbs for her, she had pale skin and spoke in riddles, and while Duck wished she could answer her - for she knew the answers! She did! Although, when she was younger she had her troubles - Duck found that her bill wasn’t preferable for speaking their language.
The next was her daughter, a young girl with a loud drum, she would come up to the water’s edge, looking for Duck, reaching out to pet her head and offer her treats.
There was a young man, with dark hair and green eyes, and he was ever so kind to her, smiling at her and talking to her.
And, then, there was the Prince, and she knew he must be the prince for who else could he be? With his good manners, and ever present smile, the way he walked, the way he talked, he never came to the water’s edge, always so busy being a Prince that he didn’t have time to visit with her like the others did. But, she forgave him, he was a Prince after all, he had duties to attend to.
Every winter she left with her family to a forgien lake, but she missed her friends, she didn’t care for the drivel of the ducks, she wanted grander things.
To dance with the prince, for example…
To answer the riddles…
To beat on her own drum…
To tell the boy her feelings.
That was another thing she looked forward to, more than anything.
Coming back in the spring, she would find the Boy sitting at the water's edge. He had learned how to pick her out from the other ducks, and took refuge in her, mostly because she stayed to listen.
He smiled, “Hello, welcome back, how was your winter?”
She could only quack, but in her mind she thought of how boring it was without him.
“It’s been freezing here, but Charon says it’ll only get worse if I keep whining. But, I don’t know what my whining has to do with the weather.”
Duck knew that he wanted to become a Knight. He had been living on the castle grounds for as long as she could remember, and he had been coming to the lake for longer, she was sure, he came one day because he had broken something and had been beaten for it.
He ran to the lake, in tears, kicking the dirt and throwing rocks at the ducks who came up to him with thoughts that he carried food for them, but they fled when they found he only had tricks for them, not treats. He collapsed to the ground, his knees pulled to his chest, and Duck, feeling as much empathy a duck with a human soul could, came up to him.
She didn’t tremble when he shouted at her, but came up to sit behind him, and when he saw his, he scooped her up and held her to his chest.
“I didn’t mean to.” He sniveled. “Mytho was chasing me and I just knocked into it.”
She couldn’t respond, but knew what it felt like, having been nipped earlier for tripping and taking out half of the nest with her.
But, for some reason, as he just held her, it calmed him down, he pulled back and smiled, wiping at his ruddy face and placed her back down.
“Thank you.” He said.
Someone called for him, although she didn’t catch his name and ran back, but not before turning to wave to her a goodbye.
He came back the next day, a small bag in his hand, looking for her and when she swam to the shore, he asked: “Is it you?” to which she nodded and he plopped down.
He opened his small bag, just a scrap of cloth, knotted at the corners, a small, poorly cut up apple and a fistful of bread.
“You can have some, if you like.”
With her beak, she pulled a piece of the apple towards her.
“Charon says I have to behave if I want to be a knight, but I was just playing with Mytho, and besides, it was an accident.”
From that moment on, the Boy came to her lake, with fruit and bread, some days smiling, others grumbling, he talked a lot about Charon and the other boy Mytho, and Duck left that she would love to meet them both one day.
Her favorite day, was the day he grinned from ear to ear, he called out to her, and as she flew to the edge of the lake, he fell to his knees and pulled out a fresh sword from it’s sheath, she flinched slightly.
“Oh, sorry, but look! I’m officially a knight, pledged to protect the Crown and the Prince from all harm.”
She quacked to show her approval and he showed her what he called a feast.
“I stole some extras from the kitchen, Edel won’t notice they’re gone.” He unfolded his handkerchief and instead of his normal apple and a chunk of bread, was an unlimited amount of food, he went over each name, but she became distracted by one that looked like a pile of dirt, she poked at it with her peak.
“What is this?” She meant to say.
“It’s chocolate cake, try it.”
She did, she had to say, it was much better than dirt, much better than anything she had ever eaten, and suddenly the bread he brought seemed stale and the apples plain and tasteless.
She went in for another bite but stopped herself, not wanting to eat it all and steal his reward from him.
“No, eat it all.” He smiled, laying back on the ground, his fingers linking behind his head.
It was soon after he became a knight that the woman and her daughter started coming.
She would stand at the water's edge, rubbing her stomach, large and unseemly, and later the bump was gone and she held a rather large bundle.
Duck didn’t quite understand why the woman smiled, going to smooth the crying thing when Duck would have preferred if she just threw the thing out. What would make such terrible noises? Why was she so determined to make it happy?
Soon, she did throw the noisy thing out and came back with a small child, about a third of the size of the woman, she would point at Duck excitedly and clap her hands.
The Boy would come, although he was starting to come less and less, and he would place the child’s chubby hand on Duck’s head, showing her how to be gentle.
The child grew, learning how to talk, and soon coming with a drum, it would startle the other ducks, making them fly away, but Duck never minded, enjoying the loud sounds, almost pleasing to the ear, rhythmic and strong.
And then, the Prince.
The Prince never came to the water's edge, but he always walked so close, and she knew it was the Prince because the Boy stood next to him, sworn to guard and protect him, some days he worn a shining golden crown, and others he didn’t, he hardly ever seemed to take walks, only able to if a large crowd flocked around him, writing his words down, and always gone in the blink of an eye.
But, nonetheless she fell in love with him.
His composure, how he never got mad at the geese that wanted his attention, he was kind to the daughter and the woman, and there was never a cloudy day with the crown on his head, and if any, he would simply smile at the sky and the clouds would clear, and the sun would shine.
She was in love with him, and he would never know who she was.
So you see, she was a duck like no other duck, who couldn’t call her an animal simply because that would offend her nature. She was a girl trapped in feathers, with a beak muzzling her lips.
Above all, she wanted to be a girl, to have hands, a voice, to have feet to dance on.
The Prince’s love.
She wanted it all, with no way to achieve it.
Just like all stories, the start of the story blossomed from the wishes of one girl’s heart.
She remembered the night that pushed her to action, that made her change her life forever.
It was dusk, the sun long set, the stubborn rays still hovering in the sky. She was falling asleep, her own nest, horribly made, under her, uncomfortable as it had ever been, but hers, until she heard him.
His footsteps stumbled, he moaned and groaned, falling to the ground, his hands pressing into the muddy banks.
His hair so pale she was sure it was white, his skin looked soft.
Duck swam up to him and saw tears flowing down his cheeks.
“Oh, hello little duck. I’m sorry, did I disturb you?”
She tilted her head. Why was he crying? She so desperately wanted to ask him, to wipe his tears and make him forget his pain.
He pulled himself up, sitting heavily on his knees, he moved to wipe his eyes, but open seeing the mud, he stopped.
“I suppose it is unnatural for a young man to cry, especially the Prince. I am the face of my people, if I am crying, what does it say of the rest of my kingdom? No, I will stop now.”
He scrunched up his face and took deep even breathes, but after a moment, his features softened, his lips pouted and he started crying again.
He sighed. “No good. Fakir told me you were the duck to talk to in times of trouble. So? Are you the duck I’m looking for?”
Duck swam out of the water, she sat down beside him, pressing her body into his thigh.
“I am to be married. In four days time, to a woman I have never met. And, perhaps I should have expected it, but I always imagined that I would marry for love.”
Her heart broke, not only for him, but for herself, she loved him with her whole heart, cursed to never be able to tell him, and worse of all, it wouldn’t matter if she was given the chance, her words wouldn’t matter.
He would be married.
He stayed for half an hour longer, before standing and leaving her. “This is no way for a prince to act. Thank you for listening.”
He walked away and she floated back into the water, she swam to the center of the lake and she heaved, tears hot and heavy streamed down her feathers, and she remembered that she had no words to shout, no way to scream, she had no way to throw rocks or kick at the ground.
The emotions of a young woman, trapped inside the quickly beating heart of an animal.
I wish I could tell the Prince I loved him…
I wish I was human, that I could talk to him, words of my own making…
The clock tower chimed, and a fog rolled over the lake, the wind paused and not even the water rippled under her as she moved about and looked at her surroundings.
There was laughing at the water’s edge and when she turned around to see she saw a strange man wearing a hat made out of feathers, a large cape, fluttering in the nonexistent wind.
“So, little Duck? You wish to turn into a human? To profess your love to the Prince before the Ball?”
“Why did you- Quack! I’m talking! How am I talking!”
“I’ll grant you a deal, hmm? I will give you three days, and on the midnight of the ball, you profess your love to the Prince, how does that sound?”
“Three days to do what?”
“To be human! Isn’t that what you want, little duck.”
She blinked. “Yes.”
“And you can’t tell him you love him if you’re not a human, can you?”
“I guess not, but, what will happen after midnight?”
“After midnight, you will return to this existence, happy and fulfilled.”
How could I be happy after living my dream and then going back to being a duck? But she didn’t say this aloud, worried she would insult him.
“Only three days?”
“Yes! What more could you ask for?”
Three weeks, three months, three years? Longer than three days! Three days was nothing! But…
But, if this was her only chance, how could she give it up?
“Ah! But wait! I do have some conditions, magic isn’t perfect, you know.”
“Yes! Of course. Let’s see. Firstly, if you act like a duck and talk like a duck, you will turn back into a duck.”
“Yes! Really! The next is you cannot tell anyone who you once were, for who would believe you?”
“Alright.” She nodded. “That seems fair.”
“Ah, ah, ah! I have one last condition.”
“What is it?”
“If you fall in love with someone else who isn’t the Prince, you will have to forfeit your heart.”
That seemed… arbitrary, who else would she fall in love with? Who could possibly compare to her prince?
“Then, I bestow to you, this gift.” In his hands, he held a gleaming jewel, bright and shining black. “This is what will turn you into a girl, wear it all times, lose it and your will be sorry!”
The pendant floated across the lake, it’s silver chain slipped over her head, and when it landed on her throat, the jewel resting on her heart, it glittered and she could feel herself changing.
Horrible and torture, every bone crackled as it grew and thickened, changing from the delicate bone structure of a bird’s to the strudy skeleton of a human.
Her skin stretched, feathers plucked one by one from her body in horribly mutilation.
She gave out a loud quack that turned into a blood curdling scream. She fell into the water, and in the morning she was found.
“Duck? Duck!” It was her Boy, screaming for his pet, he charged out into the water at the sight of the bloody feathers floating on the surface.
She moaned, shivering as she sat up in the reeds, he had not seen her.
“Fakir? What is it?” The Prince.
Duck turned to watch him, her heart beating wildly as she looked his way.
“It’s Duck, I think it’s dead. Someone killed it, I know it.”
It? Why did he keep calling her it?
“Fakir, it was an old duck, she lived much too long, she died a natural death.”
“Then where is it’s body?”
“Perhaps eaten, carried away by a scavenger. Please, the Princess will be here any minute, we can’t be late.”
“We can’t know that for sure.”
“We can check later, but now-” The Prince made a broad sweep with his arm, and the Boy sloshed out of the water.
They were walking away!
“Wa-!” She tried to stand, but as she did, she collapsed, falling into the reeds, scratching her skin and falling into the water.
Both came to action, the Prince running into the water to pull her out, the Boy reaching for his sword.
“Madme, where are your clothes?” He asked, he unlatched the cape from his shoulders and wrapped it around her. “How did you get here?”
“I- I don’t know, I-” She couldn’t tell him who she was, that she was the duck he cried to last night. “I don’t remember.”
“My poor girl, you must have hit your head. Fakir, bring her to Miss. Edel, she will help.”
The Boy nodded, he put away his sword and stepping into the lake, he took hold of her as the Prince let her go, leaving them both.
The Boy didn’t look at her, and any time she would try to get him to look at her, he would only blush and turn away. He lead her to the castle, but she didn’t miss the fanfare that marked the arrival of the princess.
“Can you speak?” He asked, suddenly.
“Q-!” She covered her mouth, only so fortunate that she had stopped herself before she turned herself into a duck. “Yes. I can.”
“Good. Do you have a name?”
“No. What’s yours.”
“That’s what the Prince called you.”
“Yes, I should hope he calls me by my name.”
“I don’t have a name.”
“No, you just don’t remember it.”
She shook her head, she knew that her mother didn’t give her a name, not one like a young girl would get, but she wanted one. “How about you create a name to call me until I remember.”
“Yes. You were found in the duck pond, and it suits you.”
She smiled, “Duck.” Yes, she rather like that, and it gave her a way out of the second condition, if she told anyone she was Duck, it would be true, for she was a duck, but now it was her name.
He lead her through the maze of hallways, covered in tapestries and doors, it was all so much, almost too much, but before she completely fell apart in a panic, he paused in front of a door and knocked.
The Woman opened the door, her daughter behind her.
“Edel, would you help this girl? She was found in the duck pond, we think she may have hit her head, she can’t recall anything.”
Edel smiled and held out her hand. “Yes, why don’t I clean you up? And, you, Fakir, don’t you have a prince to attend to?”
Fakir bowed slightly and was off.
Duck almost wanted to go after him, the Boy who sat by her side for so many years, telling her all of his hopes and fears.
But, Miss Edel pulled her in.
“Oh, look at you, poor thing, you’re shaking. Come. I will draw you a bath and get some food in you.”
Edel paced around the room, starting a fire, pulling things up and down, opening cupboards and slamming them shut.
“What’s your name -zura?”
“Huh? My name is Duck, what’s yours?”
“Duck -zura? That’s a funny name, -zura!”
“Uzura!” Edel scolded. “Be kind.”
“Sorry, mama.” Uzura smiled. “That’s my mama -zura. Isn’t she pretty?”
Duck smiled and nodded. “Uzura’s your name?”
“Why do you keep saying zura after everything?”
“I like to -zura!”
“She says it’s like she’s signing her words.” Edel chuckled, coming back over to her. “I’ve drawn you a bath, come and I’ll wash you.”
Duck nodded, following her to a shallow, wooden tub, filled with steaming water and small islands of foamy soap. She pulled the cape away, and as she did Edel gasped.
“My dear, you are but skin and bones. Ebine and I will have to fix that.” Edel cupped Duck’s cheek before taking her hand as she stepped over.
Duck had never been in any other water besides her pond and the lake she visited every winter, both could be defined as cold, and dirty, mostly stagnant, but above all they were both opaque.
She sat in the tub, looking into the clear water, she felt comfortable, warm like never before as Edel ran a rag up and down her arms, over her back and stomach, and for the first time she was able to look at herself.
Edel was right. She was skinny.
She had seen the great ladies covered in satins and silks, but underneath she could see the curves underneath, in the maids and young girls it was more obvious, dressed in simple cottons, their forms pushed at the fabric. But she, looking through the water, saw no shape, just straight lines.
She wondered what the Princess looked like, perhaps plump, like a Princess ought to be.
“Alright, all done.” Edel smiled, pulling Duck up and out, and wrapping her in a large towel. “I only have a few dresses that may fit you, but I’m sure Raetsel will have some to share.”
Once dry, a cotton dress was pulled over her head, fastened with a corset, and Edel pulled her pendant out onto the front.
“It’s a pretty thing. Perhaps the key to finding out who you are.”
“Too beautiful and rich to belong to a peasant girl. But you do not belong to a wealthy family, did you steal it?”
“No! No, I would never-”
Edel smiled, “Don’t worry, I don’t think a girl like you would be capable of committing such a crime. Come, eat.”
Duck ate, but soon there was a knock at the door and Fakir was there again.
“The Prince would like to keep you here for a short period of time, he wishes to help you regain your memory and that staying here will help. He would like me to show you to your room.”
Duck looked to Edel, and she nodded.
“How long will I be here for?”
Fakir shook his head. “The Prince didn’t specify.”
“Oh, Fakir, when did you get so formal?” Edel smirked. “Wasn’t it you who used to call the old King names behind his back?”
“Yes, and doing so now would get me hanged. Duck?”
Duck stood, not wanting to make him mad and followed after him, waving to Edel and Uzura as she left.
“You look better.”
They walked together, although Fakir didn’t feel the need to hold onto her like he did when he lead her to Edel’s. She supposed this time, the fear of her falling was less.
“This will be your room.” Fakir opened the door, and inside was unlike anything she had ever seen, and to her, it rather looked like a nest. “You may leave whenever you like, you may go to bed whenever you like, but a maid will be sent to you in the morning to wake you and get you ready for the day. If you get lost, don’t be afraid to ask for directions, tell then your room is in the southernmost tower.”
She had long stopped listening, running her hand over the bumpy wall, she peered out the window, she had the perfect view of her little pond, and then she came to the bed.
“What is this?” She asked pointing to it. For most things, she was able to guess their purpose, and others she could look and it was like she knew what it was instinctually, but this, she couldn’t figure out it’s purpose.
“It’s a bed.” He gave her a cocked look. “Do you not know what it is?”
“I don’t. What do you do with it?”
“Sleep on it.”
It wasn’t like her nest, their were no twigs, it was square and flat, not walls to hold her in.
“You lay down on it and go to sleep.”
“Yes, like this.” He went over to the bed and laid down on one side. “That’s entirely unfair.” He muttered.
“What is?” Duck laid down on the bed herself and found it was much more comfortable than her nest. Much more.
“You have a better bed than the entire guard.”
She turned her head to look at him, and he did the same. “I do?”
“I’ll trade you. I’ll stay here and you can sleep in a small room crammed with thirty other men.”
There was a knock at the door. “Fakir?”
Fakir made to get off the bed, but was too late as a fine Lady strolled into the room.
“My, my Fakir, what would people say if they saw this?”
Fakir rolled his eyes and pushed himself off the bed, Duck following suit.
“Raetsel, please, I wasn’t doing anything.”
“He was showing me how to use the bed.”
Fakir turned to Duck, his cheeks flaming, but the Lady behind her giggled.
“And, who are you?”
“My name is Duck.” She smiled.
Fakir blushed harder, embarrassed that she was using the name he gave her?
“Duck. What an interesting name. I believe you are the girl Mytho found this morning?”
Ahiru tilted her head. “No, the Prince and Fakir found me.”
Raetsel smiled again. “Mytho is his name.”
“His name is Prince Siegfried-”
“His friends refer to him as Mytho.”
Mytho. Mytho was the name of the other boy Fakir always played with. Mytho was the Prince?
“Yes. He found me.”
Raetsel nodded and three maids came in all carrying trunks. “Edel asked that I donate to you all of the clothes I wore as a young girl. I gave you some of the clothes that I wore last season.”
The trunks were opened and clothes were strewn about the room and Fakir was asked to leave.
“You have such a slight frame, I’m worried my clothes may not fit.” Raetsel tsked.
“It’s fine. Thank you, for this. You didn’t have to.”
“No, my husband was begging me to throw out some of my forgotten pieces, this is much better than tossing them out.”
The cotton dress and corset she wore was tossed aside and she stepped into a gown that felt soft to the touch, it shined in the sun, and it was a crystal blue.
“Fitting, isn’t it?” Raetsel touched the fine fabric. “It was like it was meant to be yours.”
The maids brought in a mirror and set it before her, and for the first time she saw her face.
She touched her lips, soft and pinker than she thought they would be, eyes like the blue sky, and freckles across her cheeks, and her hair-
“I have so much hair.”
Raetsel came to stand behind her, plucking at the strands. “It’s quite long. I’ll have Brielle fix it for you.”
One of the maids stepped forward and ran a comb through it, and soon her hair was done.
Raetsel gave her a curtsy. “You are most welcome, however, do you have a dress for the Ball? I assume you’re going, being here under the Prince’s orders and all.”
“No, I don’t have a dress.”
“I am having a fitting later today, why don’t you come to my home and I can make it a double fitting?”
“You would do that for me?”
Her eyes twinkled. “Why would I not?”
She and her maids left, but the trunks of cloth were left for her.
She looked through them, over and over, holding them up to her chest and admiring them in the mirror, but soon even that got boring and she wanted to leave her tower.
Three days, all she had were three days. Until the Ball, at Midnight, she would go back to being a duck. Just a duck.
Not Duck, but…
She retraced her steps, going the only way she could remember until she was out on the castle grounds heading for the duck pond. But, another sat there.
One she didn’t recognize. A simple young girl in a simple gown, in a simple color, reading a book.
Duck came to her and plopped down. “Hello, what’s your name?”
The girl started, dropping her book and clutching her chest. “My, goodness! You sure know how to sneak up on people!”
Duck picked up her book and gave it to her. “I’m sorry, what’s your name?”
“My name? My name is Rue.”
“Interesting. Is it a pet name?”
“No? What’s that?”
“A pet- It’s a term of endearment.”
“Oh.” Duck pressed a finger to her lip. “No, it’s just my name.”
“Well then, Duck, what are you doing here?”
“Oh, well Mytho and Fakir-”
“You’re very bold to call the Prince by such a name. I was told to refer to him as Prince Seigfried and nothing else.”
Duck shrugged. “Mytho is his name, right?”
“Then I will call him Mytho. But, anyway, he nad Fakir found me in the duck pond this morning, I don’t have any memories.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I am here as head maid to the Princess Kreahe. She is to marry Prince Seigfried the day after the Ball.”
“Oh really? Are you going?”
“To the Ball? No, my lady would never let me, and besides I don’t have a gown.”
“Oh! I’m getting fitted today, you should come with me and get one too!”
Rue smiled but shook her head, “I’m afraid it would be very rude of me to intrude.”
“Miss Raetsel is really nice, I don’t think she’d mind.”
“Lady Raetsel-? My! Are you aloof, calling people by their names, misusing their titles.”
“Should I be using titles?”
Rue looked away. “I don’t have a title, I am just a maid.”
“Oh. How do I know which titles to call people?”
“Well, when people introduce themselves to you, they tell you, or they have a servant tell you. It’s rather simple.”
“What if I never get introduced to someone? How will I know?”
“You’re making this much more difficult than it needs to be! But, if you don’t know ask me, and I’ll tell you.”
Duck smiled, she stayed with Rue for a long while, she asked Rue what she was reading, and Rue tried in vain to teach Duck how to read. She could have stayed there all afternoon, if they hadn’t been interrupted.
Very suddenly, it had gotten could, a sharp wind came by, and behind them stood a terrible lady wearing darkly dyed cloth.
Rue was on her feet in an instant, Duck didn’t even see her stand.
“Princess.” Rue curtsied, her nose nearly touching the grass.
The princess sneered at her, then turned her gaze to Duck, still sitting, in clothes that were not made to be touching the earth. “And who, pray tell are you that you think you are so important as to not even rise in my presence?”
“Duck.” Rue scolded between clenched teeth.
Duck stood, not too sure why she had to stand for this lady, or Princess, as Rue called her.
“My Lady,” Rue bowed once more, not even letting her eyes reach the Princess’s. “I apologize for her insolence, she does not know any better.”
“Girl. Where have you lived all your life?”
Duck looked her in the eye, and the Princess didn’t seem to appreciate that, “I’ve lived here all my life-”
“Then you should know your place.”
“Oh, there you are!”
Duck looked over and saw Miss Raetsel, she held onto Mytho’s arm as he lead her about the garden, “I was looking for you!”
The Princess stood aside, she plastered a smile on her face. “My Prince, you look lovely this afternoon.”
He didn’t respond, but switched Miss. Raetsel hand, in favor to take her’s on his arm. “Princess, I see you have meet Duck.”
Her lip twitched. “She has no manner, I find.”
“She is my guest, she was found this morning with no memory, I hope I can help her regain her senses.”
“How noble of you.”
“She will be my guest at the Ball.” Raetsel smiled. Coming beside Duck and taking her arm and placing it inside of her elbow.
“Oh, Miss Raetsel, could Rue come as well?”
Raetsel looked to the girl, still bent sharply at the waist. “Oh, I don’t see why not, it will be a challenge for Femio to draw up three dresses, but-”
“I beg your pardon.” The Princess sneered. “I am afraid that I will not allow her to attend.”
“All maidens are allowed to come to the ball so long as they are able to wear a proper gown.” Mytho said, he let go of the Princess’ arm and came beside Rue, he touched her chin and lift her head up until she was standing straight.
“Look me in the eye.”
She looked up at him and Duck had never seen two people look at each other the way Mytho an
Like they had fallen in love.
“I, Prince Siegfried, personally invite you to the Royal Ball.” He whispered, voice low, only for her to hear. But, the wind carried his words.
The Princess came between them, pushing Rue away with her body. “My Prince, I believe you are being called.”
Their party turned to look at a poor servant running towards them, calling out for the Prince.
“Lady Raetsel, Duck, my Princess.” He gave them each a low bow at his waist, but when he turned to Rue, who had reverted to looking at her feet, he took her hand and kissed her knuckles. “Rue.”
He went away, and as soon as he was gone, the Princess had turned on Rue, slapping her harshly across the face.
“Princess!” Raetsel shouted. “I don’t know who you think you are, but here, we do not beat our servants.”
The Princess scoffed and turned back to the castle, the train of her fine dress dragging in the mud.
“Oh my dear.” Raetsel bent down to pull Rue up, pulling her chin this way and that to see how her cheeks took the abuse. “Come with me, we will help you heal.”
The three went up the field, and Raetsel lead the two to her carriage, where they went back to her home for their fitting.
“I shouldn’t go.” Rue shook her head. “The Princess will have me killed if I do, I know it.”
“Don’t talk like that, Rue! She can’t do that!”
“Mytho won’t let you be executed for such a small crime.” Raetsel assured her. “Be happy, you were just personally invited to the Ball, not even I got a personal invitation.”
The two tried to ease Rue’s tripdations, but Duck could see how scared she still was.
Raetsel’s home was much less a house, as Duck was expecting, but a castle, not as large as the Prince’s, but it certainly was only off by a few inches.
“This is amazing!” Duck cried, smiling widely.
“Thank you, and look, it looks like Femio beat us to it.” Raetsel pointed to what looked like a line of ants, all carrying in different boxes and parcels. “Let me introduce you to him.”
The door was opened by a servant and the three women were helped out of the carriage.
“Madame!” A large voice cried, “I have been awaiting your arrival! I have brought with me only the finest of fabrics.”
The man bowed low, he reached out blindly, but was able to took hold of Raetsel’s hand and kissed her knuckles.
“Femio, I have a challenge for you. See these two ladies? I would also like you to fashion dresses for them as well.”
“In three days, my Lady? I hardly call that a challenge!”
Raetsel smiled, “I knew you could do it.”
Femio introduced himself to the young ladies before pulling them inside.
They were seated in a large room where the worker ants had set everything up already, trunks open, and a few dresses already on display.
“Since your last fitting I have fashioned for you, my Lady, this gown.” Femio flourished his arms and presented a gown of deep plum.
“I must say, this is the most fashionable gown I have ever seen. May I try it on?”
“My Lady, it is yours, you may do with it as you please.”
Raetsel smiled and stepped up on a pedestal set out by the ants, and they surrounded her, removing the lacing of her day dress to fit her into the plum gown.
Femio turned on Duck and Rue. “Unfortunately, I will not be able to fashion for you both a completely new dress, but I have plenty you can choose from and I will personally make the alterations.”
“Of course.” Rue said, “It is an honor to have any dress made by you.”
He beamed at her complement and lead her to one dress that would “Bring out the fire in your eyes.”
Duck smiled, she walked around the room herself, touching the other dresses lightly, they were very fashionable, to be sure, but none jumped out at her, until something stuffed in one of the trunks caught her eye.
It was a pale pink, fluffy, like bird feathers, and rather short, it wouldn’t even touch her ankles.
“Oh, that.” Femio said with distance. “That is just a discarded dress from a ballet, you don’t want it.”
“I do.” She pulled it out and held it against her. “I love it.”
“But- but it’s pink! It would clash with your hair! And you can’t show off your ankles at such an event as this.”
“Femio,” Raetsel said, “Whatever she wants, she gets. Make it longer if you have to.”
Femio gapped at her, but nodded. “Try it on, I’ll mark where I need to make adjustments.”
Ahiru was pulled onto the last pedestal, besides Rue, who had been fitted into a red gown that, he was right, did bring out the fire in her eyes.
Duck stood there for a long while, undresses and dresses again.
“You are so scrawny, half of the fabric will be taken out!” Femio remarked. “You are so short, it’s almost long enough.”
There was a knock on the door.
“Enter.” Raetsel commanded.
The door opened and Fakir stepped in.
“Fakir!” Duck called, waving to him.
His lips twitched, trying to keep a straight face. “Raetsel, the Prince requests these two ladies be present for dinner. I will escort them back.”
He turned and walked out of the room.
The ants quickly changed them back into their normal clothes, with promises made by Femio that he would have the gowns finished in time.
“Well, that was fun.” Raetsel lead them back to Fakir. “We should do this again.”
The two nodded.
“This way.” Fakir said. “You know how to ride a horse?”
“Of course.” Rue said, but Duck was slower to answer.
“No.” She almost asked what is a horse, but based on Fakir’s reaction to her question about the bed, she would say no more. She was already a suspicious character as it was.
“You can ride with me.” He said.
“Okay!” She smiled.
There were three horses stationed outside, with one skittish servant holding the reigns of all three.
They were taller than Duck thought they would be, and Rue practically threw herself onto it’s back.
“How are you supposed to get up there?” She asked.
Fakir placed his hand on her shoulder, showing her where to put her feet and her hands, and when she became scared to jump up onto the horse, he held onto her waist and lifted her up.
“Are you alright?”
She nodded, and he jumped up, sitting behind her.
She tensed, it was a strange feeling, she had been held to his chest before, they first time they met, he held onto her so tightly, and that morning as he lead her through the castle, he held her close to him, but for some reason, this was different.
His arms came around her, holding the reigns, and she let herself fall back and rest against this chest, he tugged at the reigns and they were off.
“You’ve never been on a horse before?”
“No, I haven’t, is that strange?”
“It can be, for most people, this is how you get around, I can only think of two people who wouldn’t need to know how to ride a horse. A person so rich, they just ride around in carriages, or a person so poor they can’t afford a horse.”
“I don’t think I’m either.”
“I don’t think so, either.”
For the rest of the ride, they sat in a comfortable silence, for her, it was normal, so many afternoons they had spent together in near silence, but for him…
For a man who had never meet this woman, who so easily smiled at him when others found his countenance frightening, who leaned against him as if she was meant to, who was so comfortable in his presence, she didn’t tense at his voice or his touch.
Duck did her best to look up at him, but it was hard when he was right behind her.
Back at the castle grounds, he slipped off the horse with ease before holding out his hands to help her down. She relied heavily on him, holding onto his arms before jumping, smiling up at him when she didn’t fall, and not letting go.
They were lead back inside for dinner, they all sat at a long table, although there was only five of them. Mytho sat at the head of the table, the Princess and Fakir to his right, with Rue and Duck to his left. For most of the night, his attention was kept on the left side of the table.
After dinner, Fakir lead Duck back to her room, but he was silent, different from before, his brow furrowed and Duck couldn’t read his expression.
The first day was over, she stood in her room by herself, Fakir had said good night and a maid had come in to change her into a nightgown, and she couldn’t believe it.
She had only two days left to tell Mytho her feelings, but it seemed like she shouldn’t, they way he looked at Rue and the way Rue looked at him.
She laid down in the bed, trying her best to sleep, but distracted by the sky. There wasn’t a star in the sky, and she had half a mind to think it would start raining.
When she woke up the next morning, she could hear the pitter patter of rain against the castle walls.
Seh sat up and rubbed her eyes and there was a knock at the door, a maid scurried in to change her and get her ready for the day. A green dress was picked out.
There was a second knock at the door and the maid answered.
“Myt- the Prince would like me to escort you to breakfast.” Fakir said, holding out his arm for her to take.
She smiled, letting him lead her away. “Good morning.”
“Good morning. Did you sleep well?”
“I think I did it wrong.” She pouted. “I woke up cold.”
“Did you sleep under the covers?”
His chest rumbled. “The blankets, you pull them over yourself and they keep you warm.”
“Oh, like my-”
“No, did you remember something?”
“It reminds me of my feathers, but that’s crazy.”
“Perhaps you have a down quilt at home?”
She tensed. “Oh.”
The table was situated like the night before, except now Edel sat between the Princess and Fakir, Uzura begged to sit next to Duck, and all of breakfast they played together, she almost missed the conversation the prince shared with his table guests.
“How did you sleep?”
“Well, thank you.” Rue smiled gently.
“Horribly!” The Princess shouted. “There was something hard under the mattress, I wasn’t able to get a wink.”
“Perhaps I should have the maids look for a pea, Princess?” Edel asked, her tone was kind, but Duck didn’t think the words matched her tone.
“Look, Duck! I made a boat -zura!”
“I only hope our wedding bed is more comfortable.”
“Our wedding bed has been made of the most comfortable materials in my kingdom.” He tried to appease her.
Duck looked out over the table, watching the drama unfold before her, her eyes landed on the Princess, who, rather than looking at the Prince, glared at Rue.
“Best to make it out of the most sturdy materials, my prince.”
Edel slammed her cup down. “Mytho, I believe today is filled with the last minute details of the Ball and Wedding, we should attend to them.”
Mytho stood slowly. He nodded to each member of the party seated at the table, his eyes lingering too long on Rue, before leaving with Edel, Uzura scrambling down from her chair to chase after her mother.
The Princess stood slowly, “The next time my Prince speaks to you, you will know it is best to hold your tongue.” She twisted, coming to stand next to Mytho.
Then, it was just Duck, Rue, and Fakir, not entirely sure what to do with themselves.
It was later in the day, when Duck had taken to strolling around the castle, trying in vain to memorize the corridors and where they lead. It was much different than that of the outside world, that she found Fakir cornering Rue.
“Fakir, stop it!” She ran towards him and pushed him off of Rue. “Are you okay?”
Fakir grabbed her shoulder and spun her around, his countenance, which around her had always been gentle and sweet, was cold and calculating; a murderous expression.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“What do you think you’re doing! Why are you hurting Rue!”
His scowl faded a bit, almost taking on an expression of surprise. “Rue is being charged with attempted conspiring against the Crown by the orders of Princess Kraehe.”
“Yes. This matter doesn’t involve you, just-” he let his face softened completely, “Go, don’t let this get you in trouble.”
Duck looked back at Rue. “I can’t. She didn’t do anything, you can’t take her without real reason!”
“The Princess has her reasons.”
“Well, the Princess is just mean! And, jealous.”
“Duck, please.” Rue stepped forward, placing her hand on Duck’s arm. “Don’t. If you stop this, my punishment will be worse.”
“But, it’s not fair!” Duck turned to Fakir, “Let her go, please? She didn’t do anything wrong. Please, Fakir.”
“Fine.” He shook his head. “Go to the Lady Raetsel, she’ll take care of you.”
Rue looked between them, but picked up her skirts and ran away.
“Thank you.” Duck said, she placed her hand on his arm, trying to get him to look at her.
“You’re not scared of me.” He said.
“Why would I be?” She tilted her head, she had never been scared of him, how could she be?
“Everyone is scared of me. The way I look, how I stand. The knights won’t duel with me, terrified of the way my eyes harden when I draw my sword. No woman has ever looked me in the eye, but you… You’re not frightened of me.”
“I don’t think you look scary.” Duck shrugged, and grinned. “I think you look nice.”
He blushed, turning away. “Wait.”
Duck heard it too, the clicking of heels.
“Hide.” He opened the door next to them and pushed her inside.
She fell back into a small room with a small window, but turned her attention quickly back to the door, pressing her ear to it in an effort to hear.
“Princess.” Fakir said.
“Where is she?”
“I haven’t been able to find her.”
“The little rat. I never should have brought her.” The Princess groaned. “If she thinks she can steal the Prince from me, I’ll have her hung.”
“Your Highness, the Prince would never allow you to-”
“The Prince will never know, will he.”
Fakir paused, and she could hear his resolve failing. “No, he won’t.”
The Princess didn’t speak another word, and Duck could hear her walking away.
The door opened.
Duck stepped out into the hallway, “Are you okay?”
He didn’t say a word. His gaze locked to the floor.
“Fakir?” She said is name, and it felt so wonderful to say his name, to speak to him after knowing him all her life, but now she only felt concern, what was he thinking? Normally he would tell her. He would speak his mind plainly, but that was when he was talking to a duck, and not…
“Come with me.” He said, walking down the wall, she chased after him.
He lead her to the duck pond. “There used to be a duck here-” He walked around the pond, running a hand through the reeds, looking for her. “It was old, it lived almost ten years longer than a duck should have.”
Duck swallowed, I’m right here, she wanted to say, but she couldn’t.
“When Mytho had to learn how to be a prince, and I a knight, we were separated, spending less time together, so for a long time, I took comfort in this brave little duck, who was never afraid of me.” He sat down heavily at the water's edge, and she came beside him. “Kraehe wants me to kill Rue, and I know Mytho would give anything to marry her. So then, what do I do? Let the Prince, who I’ve sword to protect, be happy and disobey, or do I obey my future Queen and let my sword get tainted with the blood of an innocent woman?”
“Mytho…” Duck scrunched her eyebrows together, watching the ripples in the water. “Is your friend, right?”
She drew her knees to her chest, the ripples caused by a duck, she knew who it was, one of her sister’s daughters, but the duck didn’t recognize her. “So, don’t you want Mytho to be happy above all else?”
“Than, let him marry who he chooses.”
Fakir sighed and shook his head, “It’s more complicated than that. If he doesn’t marry Kraehe, her father will threaten war.”
Duck laid back, her eyes gazing up at the clouds, large and lying by; he laid down with her. “Is it all that simple? Is life so unfair? Mytho will never be happy, but there’s peace, Mytho is happy but there’s war. Perhaps a better treaty should be written.”
“Life is unfair, Duck.”
“It is.” She touched her throat, the pendant had slipped down to the floor, she groped at the chain until she brought it back up, and the black stone glittered in the sun. She only had a day and a half left, but it didn’t matter, she would never tell the Prince she loved him, not when he loved another. She would go back to being a duck, and then what?
She had gotten a taste of what it was to be human, to speak and laugh, to run and walk, to look at Fakir and know that he saw a person and not just an it. How could she go back? Life was unfair.
“Can you promise me something?”
“If- If I leave, don’t forget me.”
Fakir sat up on his elbows. “Duck? Are you leaving?”
“I have to.”
“No, no, wait, stay.” Fakir sat up fully and Duck pulled herself up. “Stay here.”
She shook her head. “I have to go back-”
“Go back? Where? To your family? Do you remember them?”
Duck shook her head.”No, but- I can’t stay here, I don’t remember here.”
“I can’t convince you to stay? You’re the only person-”
He turned away, but she was desperate to look into his eyes, looking for any sort of emotion they might have held, did he know her? He couldn’t, could he?
“You’re the only person who treats me like a person.”
“What about Mytho?”
“Mytho’s different, he’s been my friend since I was a child. Charon, Edel, Raetsel, they still treat me like a boy, everyone else treats me like a monster, but you-” He stopped himself. “Please.” He said softly. “Stay.”
She didn’t open her mouth to protest, to deny or confirm, but she stayed with him for the rest of the afternoon, and when the sun sank low, they stood.
He lead her back to her door and opened her door, and for the first time all afternoon, she was able to read his expression, his eyes, and for a long time, they stood there, trying to read the other, to find what they were looking for.
A maid came by, and they broke apart, Duck was pulled into her room by the maid, and he lingered until the door closed.
“You spend so much time with that awful man.” The maid said, shaking her head.
“No, he’s not awful.” She stared out at the door, wishing he’d come back. She only had one day left, and she wished she spent more time with him, she’d never get to talk with him ever again.
The next morning came without so much as a dream to entertain her and she was pulled from her bed and escorted to Miss. Raetsel’s house before she even had breakfast.
At the table, Raetsel sat with Rue and they spoke softly together, but upon seeing duck, they both stood to greet her.
And, no sooner had she finished her breakfast, had Femio entered, pulling them all out of the breakfast room and into their gowns for their final fitting, fixing the small snags and whatever minor mistakes he had made.
A mirror was held in front of her and she looked at the gown, pink and frothy, it was more than she could have hoped for. She smiled, what a wonderful thing to wear until midnight.
Miss. Raetsel came towards her, smiling, “It suits you, did you ever deo ballet?”
“No, I didn’t.” Duck held her dress in her hands. “I wish I had.”
“I want to show you something.” Ratsel lead her out of the room, leaving Rue alone with Femio and his ants.
They walked down the long corridors until they reached a small wooden door, lacking in character or grandiose, Raetsel pulled a key from her pocket.
“I found this the other day, or rather, I stole it!” She opened the door and it scraped along the floor.
“What is it?”
The room was empty and cold, nothing stood in it save for what was in the corner covered in a black shroud.
“Mytho never hung this portrait after the death of his little sister, too heartbroken to. But, I recognized something that I don’t think anyone else saw.” Raetsel pulled the black shroud away and revealed a painting, there sat a king and a queen, both sitting proudly on their thrones, a young boy stood next to his father, and it was unmistakably Mytho, his pale hair and golden eyes, unlike any Duck had ever seen, and on the queen’s lap, sat a baby.
“Look at her.” Raetsel said. “Did you know that after the baby died, no one knew where her body went? Many have theorized that she never died but had been kidnapped.”
Duck squinted at the, with a tuft of red hair, her eyes a pale but bright blue, and clasping her blanket closed was a black broach.
“Did you know that the obsidian brooch was always worn by the Princess, and after her apparent death, it disappeared. It looks remarkably like yours.” Raetsel smiled at her. “Where have you been?”
“I don’t remember.”
Raetsel pet Duck’s cheek. “I sent word to Mytho about who I think you are. And, I dare say, he will agree.”
“I’m not a princess.”
There was a knock at the door. “Lady, the Prince is here to speak with you.”
Raetsel smiled. “Go and stay with Rue, this will be short.”
Duck made her way down the hall.
No, she was just a Duck, perhaps the man that stood at the water’s edge had stolen the pedant and modeled her human appearance after the lost Princess.
She stood on her pedestal and the ants worked on her hair, giving her a crystal tiara and wrapping her feet in strange shoes, ribbon wrapping up her leg.
Rue came to stand next to her, and duck smiled.
“You look like a Princess!”
“As do you.” Rue’s smile faded. “Tell me, does the Princess still want my head?”
Duck let her shoulder’s fall. “Yes, she does.”
Rue took a deep breath and held her head high, “Then she can come and take it.”
The Ball started an hour before the sun fell, a banquet first before the dancing would start.
Rue and Duck lingered in the shadows, but they both saw him and his Princess at the head of all the tables.
Duck couldn’t avoid looking for Fakir, he stood behind Mytho, and she smiled, unsure if he had seen her yet.
Once the sun had set, the tables were taken away and the band grew loud.
Beside her, someone cleared their throat.
Duck jumped, but smiled when she saw it was Fakir, he held out his hand to her and was bent in a slight bow.
“May I steal your first dance?”
She smiled. “You may.” She placed her hand in his, so rough, covered in calluses from wielding the sword, but warm and comforting to her.
All she wanted was a dance, and now she was going to have one.
Fakir lead her to the center of the room, lit by candles, casting a warm light on his features, most where already dancing, their dresses spinning and flying. He held her hand in the air, and placed his hand on her waist, pulling her closer.
She giggled as he spun her around, and held on tightly when she felt like she’d float away.
When the song ended, they applauded, but she noticed the whispers that surrounded them.
“Sorry.” Fakir whispered. “It’s my fault. I’ve never danced at a ball before.”
“Have you never been to one?”
“No.” The music swelled and Fakir slipped his hands back into place. “I’ve attended all of them since I was ten, but I’ve never danced at one before.”
“But you dance so well!”
Fakir chuckled, “When Mytho was learning, he used me as a practice dummy.”
She beamed and grinned, never stopping herself from giggling, and the longer they danced, the wider Fakir’s own smile got, and it was enchanting. Duck found herself doing as much as she could to make sure that smile never faded.
The sky grew darker, and the music slowed, he pulled her closer to him, and she felt her heart pounding.
“Duck,” He said, “I-”
“Fakir.” Mytho stepped beside him. “May I cut in?”
Fakir stepped away, giving the Prince a slight bow, he retreated to the side of the room, shrinking into the shadows, but never did he stop looking at Duck.
“Duck, my honored guest, I must apologize, I haven’t been the most attentive host.”
Duck shook her head, offering a sweet smile. “You’ve been preparing for this Ball and the Wedding.”
“Yes. I must ask you, where did you get this pendant?”
“My pendant?” Her hand touched the cold stone that rested just above her breast. “I’ve always had it.”
“And you don’t remember anything before I found you?”
“The Lady Raetsel believes that you are my sister, and although I was still a baby when she died, I still remember that day. The day her death was proclaimed throughout the castle.”
Duck looked down at the pendant, she remembered the portrait, the painting of the baby and her broach.
“Are you her?”
“I don’t know.”
“I want-” He came to a halt. “I want to believe that I am not alone in the world, that I have a little sister, someone to keep me company. But, I know the truth.”
“You look so much like my mother.” He furrowed his eyebrows. “She had red hair, and eyes just as blue. It would explain why you have this pendant, no one else would have one like it.”
She took heavy breaths, perhaps she was scared, perhaps she was breathless from dancing.
“You are my sister, aren’t you? Stolen away from us when you were only a few months old, you tried to make your way back to us but you hit your head, you remember nothing, but still came here.”
Duck blinked her eyes, memories that were not her own came into her head, being held in sturdy arms, it was impossible, she was only a duck.
“What was her name?”
“Odette, but I called her Ahiru.”
That name rang throughout her head, Ahiru, Ahiru, Ahiru, and she knew it. She knew that name. Was it hers? Was she the Princess Odette Ahiru.
“You are her, aren’t you?”
He smiled, he shook with tears and held her in his arms. “Ahiru, you’re home.”
“Mytho, I love you.”
“Oh, Ahiru I love you, too.”
She understood now, why she loved him so much when she had never seen him.
He was her brother and she loved him.
She loved him, her brother.
He held her to his table, told the band to pause, and announced her.
“Lords and Ladies, I interrupt these festivities for a moment to make an announcement.” He held up her hand. “May I present, the Lost Princess, stolen and not dead, returned to us, Princess Odette.”
There was the silence of unbelief, but soon they broke out into joyous applause and laughter.
She smiled, but her eyes searched the room, trying to find Fakir, what would he think? Would he believe it? Would he still be her friend? Or would he become stiff, like he had become with Mytho? Bowing and only calling her “Princess”?
She didn’t find him, but she found someone else.
The man that stood on the banks of the duck pond.
She shivered, moving towards him, following him outside, it felt like chasing a shadow, he was so quick, around one corner and then the next.
“Wait!” She called.
She was outside, the silhouette of the man stood over the duck pond.
She ran until she stood just feet from him, close enough to reach out and touch the salamander embroidered on his back.
“Did you know?”
He was silent.
“Did you know I was the Princess? I’m not a duck! I can’t go back!”
He turned, his eyes bulging out of their sockets, he leaned over her, his teeth gritting together, his lips pulled back in a mockery of the smile.
“You think that because you look like the princess that you are the princess? No, no, no!”
“But, I am-”
“No!” He shook his head. “No, the princess did die. You are nothing but a pitiful duck.”
“But, I remember-”
“Remember what? You are but a duck, you always have been, and-” He pointed to the clock. “In fifteen mintues, you will die a duck.”
“Die? But, I-”
The man disappeared, and she heard her name being called.
She turned and saw Fakir, she smiled in relief and ran to him, Her face pressed to his chest, her arms wrapping around him.
“Does this mean you’ll stay?”
She pulled away, she looked to the clock tower, it was nearly midnight. “Fakir, I-”
“You’re the Princess, you can’t leave, and if you do, I’ll go with you.”
She turned away from him.
“Duck- Ahiru. You can’t go off on your own, not as a princess, you’ll need protection, I’ll stay by your side.”
But, she wasn’t a princess, no, no she was just a duck, and if she didn’t tell him, if she just let him believe it, it would be a lie.
She would have lied to everyone.
Lied about being a Princess.
Lied about being a girl.
“Ahiru, please, I-”
“Fakir, I’m sorry.” She turned back to him, she felt tears rolling down her cheeks, and he was quick to wipe them away. “But, I’ve been lying to you. I’m not who you think I am.”
There was a pause, and she thought he had left her.
But, he didn’t.
“No matter who you are, I’ve seen who you are, your kindness, your bravery, your strength. Du- Ahiru. I promise, wherever you go, I will follow, I will protect you, I will stay by your side for forever.”
“O-oh.” Her lips trembled and she felt her heart pop.
She loved him, didn’t she?
When did she fall in love with him?
Before, as a duck?
Or now, as a girl?
When they danced, and he held her so gently, so close?
Perhaps it wasn’t until that moment, when he made his heart clear to hers.
She felt tears well over, and he stood before her, holding her face in his rough hands.
“Don’t cry, please don’t cry.” He knelt down, “I don’t ever want to make you cry again, I make a promise to you, that I’ll never make you shed a tear, and the moment you do, and I have failed, I will be the first to dry them.”
Duck wrapped her arms around his head, allowing him to lean into her stomach, she knit her fingers into his hair.
He picked her up, holding her close, his arms wrapping around under her legs.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry you fell in love with me, and I with you, I’m not a princess, not even a girl really. I’m just a duck. I just wanted to dance with you all so badly. I wanted to dance beautifully like the Prince and you and everyone else. Now I’ve fallen in love with you and I don’t want to go back to being just a duck, but I was never meant to be a girl for more than these nights.”
“What do you-”
She let out a low groan, her heart was ripped from her chest.
She fell against him, and he held onto her tightly. “Duck. Duck, wake up.”
The man appeared beside him.
“My, my, it appears she broke one of her conditions.”
“Who are you?”
“No one, and everyone.”
“Did you do this to her? Bring her back!” Fakir adjusted his grip on her, sliding her down until she was cradled against him.
“Now, now there’s nothing I can do, I only gave her three days, and she couldn’t even last that long.” The man chuckled.
Behind Fakir, the clock tower tolled midnight, there was a light surrounding her, pale and weak, and she was gone, her shoes clunked on the floor and he held naught but a dress.
He put the dress down and drew his sword, but the man was gone.
He put his sword back, but when he turned around, he saw he wasn’t alone.
“Stop!” He commanded.
Edel and Uzura paused, they had been dragging the dress away from him.
“Where is she?”
Edel didn’t mutter a word, but stooped down and reached into the skirts of the dress, pulling out a white duck.
The one Fakir knew so well.
“A duck. Yes.”
“-wasn’t lying.” Fakir knelt down and held her in his hands.
“Would you like her back?”
“Real? Yes. The Princess? Of sorts.”
“Of sorts? What does that mean?”
“The Princess is dead, yes, but her soul,” Edel pointed to the duck. “Is in there.”
“You can bring her back?”
“I can try. Drosselmeyer took her heart, but you-”
“What can I do?”
“Listen -zura! Stop interrupting mama -zura!” Uzura pouted.
Fakir nodded. “I’m sorry.”
“Do you love her?”
“She’s the duck I talked to my whole life? The one who was never afraid of me?”
“Or any of us. Yes, it is her. Perhaps that is why it was so easy for you to fall in love, in your heart you knew who it was.”
“Yes, I love her.”
“Then you can share a small piece of your heart, to wake her up.”
“How do I do that.”
Edel smiled. “Of no use to one, Yet absolute bliss to two. The lover's privilege. What am I?”
“What? Edel, please, I don’t have time for your riddles.”
She smiled, she took a step back, taking Uzura’s hand.
“...no use to one… bliss to two… lover’s- Edel, no.”
“It is the only way.”
Fakir looked down at the white duck in his arms, if it was truly her, and this would bring her back, then what choice did he have?
He put her down.
Duck was cold, it had been a long time since she felt cold like this.
A few years ago, she denied her instincts to fly south, wanting to stay with the Boy and the Prince, the Mother and daughter. But, one day she woke up and found her nest surrounded by ice, she shivered but flew out of her nest, and it took several hours of flying under the sun to feel warm again.
It felt like that, and she wondered when it became winter. How long had she been a duck? Wasn’t she just a girl-
A girl, she had been a girl, hadn’t she?
But, she gave her heart to Fakir, instead of Mytho, breaking one of the conditions the man gave her. That was rather stupid of her, wasn’t it?
Did he take her heart? Is that why she was so cold?
What would she do without a heart? How could she live?
She felt like she was being cradled and there was a voice above her, who did it belong to?
She turned her head, she could feel his heartbeat.
“Duck, you’re going to be okay, I promise.”
She tried to open her eyes, but it hurt to. His arms wrapped tightly around her and she felt warm, it felt like the sun was shining brightly, and there was a pleasant feeling on her lips.
Duck raised her hand to touch Fakir’s cheek.
She opened her eyes and smiled at him.
“Fakir, why are you outside?”
He grinned and held her to him, his hand wrapping into her hair, she sat on his lap and pulled her arms around him.
Their hearts beat together.
Edel and Uzura left, leaving the dress behind, and they were quick to put it back over her.
They looked a mess, their complexion ruddy, both covered in mud and dirt. They went back to the ballroom, seeing Rue and Mytho dance together, Duck didn’t think the Princess would bother them again.
In fact she had already ran back to her own kingdom to whine to her father who would do naught but shake his head and rub his temple, he would need something strong to drown out the caws of his daughter.
The next day, Rue was married to Mytho, and together they were crowned King and Queen of the kingdom.
Ahiru gave Rue the obsidian pendant, to be worn by the next Princess.
Everyday, Fakir and Ahiru retired to their tower, they would lay down beside each other, their hands touching the other’s heart, feeling the rhythm of their hearts, perfectly in sync with one another.
You see? She was a duck with a princess’ soul.
But in the end, she was not a princess, nor a duck, but a woman who had fallen in love with a man, and together, they would stand by the other’s side, forever.