Fandom: Princess Tutu
Rating: PG-13 (but not until later parts)
Chapter: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4
Summary: Some stories cannot ever be finished; some changes take patience, care, and time. Rue begins to heal.
Notes: Second part! That's...all I have to say, haha.
(the rights and wrongs invade us / an innocent song)
Summer turns to fall, and even as the leaves wrinkle with dark color, as the birds draw their wings close and look southward, Rue is still trying. She feels ridiculous, like a child playing games when it is time to be serious, but still, she goes alone to the forest’s edge often, beckoning to the bluebirds in the trees, her rigid hands filled with crumbs. She knows not why she still struggles with this, only that there is something to prove in winning one’s favor, something small and simple but decidedly crucial to her wanting heart.
It is on a day like this that she sees it: a shimmer of white within the forest, so brief that at first, Rue believes it to be only her imagination. Still, a rustling of leaves echoes near her, and there it is again, fleetingly, as quick and careful as an animal. It’s a swan, perhaps, or even an odd-colored duck. The idea warms something cold in her, and she steps into the trees after it. If any creature were to see something good in her, she thinks, it would surely be a duck.
With a few paces, she finds herself at the bank of a pond, the water clear and still, torn petals spiraling in patterns on its surface like a hundred plucked he-loves-me-not’s. Rue steadies a hand against her chest; she pulls her shawl tight even though it is not cold. An elegant figure is across the way, all curls and feathers, the color of fresh snow. It dances across the water’s surface, oblivious to her. It is like a swan, but no, she can see human limbs, dark amidst the white. A face, seeming made of porcelain and painted color. Hair as bright as stars. It is not possible, it cannot be, but –
Tutu, she thinks, and no longer remembers how to breathe.
The wind strengthens, shriveled leaves plucked from their branches, rustling in the air all around her. The woman turns and meets her eyes, and it is like a memory long since passed, once buried but now grown whole again before her very eyes. Rue can feel her blood burning, hissing. Despite it, she moves closer. Unthinking, she starts to speak. “You are…”
With soft steps, the woman in white meets her at the bank, and it is then that Rue sees her as she truly is. The garments she wears are dull, cobbled together with little more than crooked stitches and thread. Her face is young yet her hair is thin and white, very unkempt. She is a mere girl, and Rue doesn’t understand why, for just a moment, she saw a creature of Magic and Wonder in her place.
“I know what you are thinking of me. I see it in your eyes,” the woman says, and smiles, still lovely even in such awful disarray. “I apologize, for I am not, nor was I ever the princess of yore.”
And so she tells Rue her tale, there in the shadows beneath darkened, dying trees. Once upon a time, she was not a princess but a lady, beloved and true, devoted to Tutu – not the Tutu Rue knew, but the one whose illustration in a storybook she once touched with careful fingertips. Tutu was not a true royal, but one of mere myth, the subject of countless folklore and fantasies among the townspeople. Yet she lived all the same, a young, graceful woman who made her home in the woods just beyond the kingdom with the ducks and swans. She often cared for children abandoned or lost in such treacherous depths. Five girls, the woman in white included, loved her and vowed to stay always; thus, they became her ladies and led happy lives for a spell, accompanying her to balls and festivals, comforting her as she admired the prince from afar. Oh, how she loved him. Oh, how she wanted to be near him always. But soon, the land grew dark and cold. Ravens poured from the sky like rain. Their King descended, starving, and – well, what happened soon after is known well enough, the woman says with sad eyes, and Rue must look away.
She continues. After Tutu vanished, three of her ladies took up the swords of fallen men and followed her, aiming in their grief to carve out their own hearts and serve them as meals. One remained amidst the chaos, vowing to stay and see what survived of the kingdom – but the woman in white could not find the strength to be so brave, and so she fled with several others to another land.
She takes Rue‘s hand then. “You must tell me the truth,” she says, “for I have heard rumors that the prince has returned, alive and well. I have come all this way simply so I may see for myself, but I have been afraid to approach the castle. Oh, please!”
Rue flinches at such a bold touch, but it goes unnoticed by this girl, this woman who has grown and suffered but whose eyes have remained those of a child’s, desperate and eager. Her lips purse, then thin. Lie, the Raven’s blood tells her. She cannot.
“It’s true,” she answers. “He is here, and I with him.”
If the woman is surprised by her curtness, by the words in which she stakes her strength, she does not show it. Her smile is dazzling, and it is not long before she is following at Rue’s heels, sighing as they move within the castle’s shadow. Just before the doors, Siegfried is waiting for her, his palms cupped close to a brimming teacup. He notices the woman at once, but still, he comes to her first, talking worriedly of coming winter chill as he passes the tea to her, and oh, despite it all, Rue can’t help but smile.
He turns to Tutu’s lady then. She says nothing of the past; she asks not a question about the Raven or his fate. She does not make a mention of Tutu, though in the lines of her face, the rise and fall of her chest, Rue sees that she wishes to. She only curtsies, wobbling on crooked ankles. “I am glad,” she says, and it is enough. Siegfried’s smile is warm – as it would be at the sight of any person from his long-abandoned land, of course, of course. Still, the woman is blushing, and Rue’s careful hands falter, drops of tea left burning on the grass.
He invites her to stay in the castle, the weather colder and colder with each day that passes, but she gently refuses. She wishes to remain in the forest, a long-ago home she has sorely missed, and so she returns there, disappearing past its dark edge as the sun sinks behind it.
That night, Rue prepares dinner. Her hands curl and bend, kissed with flour. Unthinking, she bites her lip and flinches at the taste of blood, speckled along her tongue.
Coward, the Raven’s blood says of her. It presses just beneath the skin, as though meaning to claw its way out.
Her elbows fold against the wood, scrapes burning just above the bone. A bowl spins on its side, but she cannot move to steady it. Please, she thinks. Please stop. Please.
Pure and true, like you will never be. They will say he should marry her. He will marry her. The story will go on and leave you behind. It is ruined. You have ruined it.
Rue feels as she is made of thread and stitches, twisted so tight she is ripping at the seams. For days, she sleeps little, and when she does, she dreams. She dreams of being small and thirsty, bowing under black wings, the muscles in her throat clutching at the taste of blood, foul and thick, so much like dying. She dreams of Kraehe, her lips and nails sticky as she devours a warm heart. Rue wakes and still tastes it, so sweet in her mouth. Feathers prick at her skin, even though none are there.
My beloved, ugly daughter, the Raven whispers at the edge of every darkness. Did you think you could be rid of me so easily? For years and years, you ate of my rage. You bathed in my hate. You drank of my soul so greedily. How long will you pretend to have forgotten? Look at your monstrous heart and tell me I am not still within it.
Leave me, she begs. She begs it of the night, of the coming cold, of the churning deep within her. Leave me, or swallow me whole. There can no longer be an in-between.
Then, there is a raven.
Rue stops at the top of the stairwell, carrying several garments wrinkled with wind and sun; she’d carried them out into the field for an afternoon, airing out a dour smell they’d gathered from the dressers. At first, its color seems like a strand of hair, straying in the crease of her gaze. She lifts a hand to bat it away, only to find nothing there. She turns and hears its harsh cry a moment too late, for she has already glimpsed it at the windowsill. The clothes tumble from her arms, settling in a ring at her feet.
It is aged, she sees. It is suffering, its wings thin, its breaths labored. It does not look away from her, eyes bright and burning, as she takes one step then another. She knows not what she does. There is nothing in her mind; her heart beats blank and still. With one hand, she reaches out to touch it.
The raven shrieks and claws at her palm.
Her mouth is open, but she cannot speak. Lines of blood form quick, stinging, and she brings the hand tight to her chest. The raven cries out again and then crumples into pieces. All that is left is a stain, black against the stone, smelling of ink and iron.
Much later – she cannot remember what happened in the time between – she is in the kitchen. “Try to stay still,” Siegfried says as he dabs the wounds clean, holding tight when she flinches. Her lips pull thin with pain. He smiles when she looks up at him, but still, she wonders what he is thinking, sitting so near, the foul odor of blood and feathers thick in the air.
“It is me,” she says. She does not mean to, but the words tear their way out, so heavy that she is rendered hoarse with the weight of them. “They’ve followed. If it were not for me, then—”
“Shh,” he whispers. His fingertips press softly to the edge of one cut, still throbbing. “It did not follow you. It means nothing.”
She is trembling. The words come quicker now, thick in the low of her throat. “What if more return?”
He sets aside the washcloth. With both hands, he takes her curled fingers and lifts them, so suddenly that she falls silent. His soft mouth grazes across her knuckles; his breath burns just below her wrist. Eyes closed, he kisses one fingertip, than the next, than the next. “You said,” he says in snippets as he moves across her splayed hand, “that it was aged and hurt. You said that it died soon after. Surely it was the last, left over from before.”
Yes, but don’t you see, is what she wants to say. Those are only words. I don’t know how to let them in. I don’t know how to not be afraid. Her lips part; she can only breathe, in then out, in then out. She cannot speak again. She cannot speak. She has forgotten how.
Siegfried holds her uninjured hand tight in his now, his eyes soft. “We are free of them, Rue,” he tells her. “It is an end, not a beginning.”
The next kiss is against her mouth, and Rue holds him close, pretending with all her heart to believe it.
That night, they go to the garden. Autumn has fallen heavy on the land, but here there is still life, petals curled towards the sun, leaves thick and clinging to dark-colored branches. Without a human touch, the plants have become wild. There is green, endless and fragile. There is color amidst it, bright in spots like stars. The scent of flowers, all around them.
Rue sighs. Her bandaged hand is stiff and held close to her heart. Siegfried moves a few steps ahead of her, his shadow strong in the setting sun. He turns, looks to her once then again, and she knows he has noticed the dark beneath the eyes; she knows that by doing this, he is only wishing to lighten her spirits. She smiles, bending to touch one nail to a petal. “My prince,” she calls after him, teasing. “Isn’t it too dark?”
“Not at all,” he answers, his steps light upon the grass and dirt. “There is just enough light.”
The sun is a thin line above the forests’ edge. She follows him, a branch nearly tripping her at the bend. “I’m sorry it’s become like this,” she says. Leaves crowd close, rustling low like a wreath above her head. At her ankles, flowers shiver and sigh in the wind. “When spring comes, we can tend to it.”
“I am not worried,” he says, and has circled, once again beside her, near her, warm against the shape of her back. He takes up the curl of her fingers, his other hand soft on her waist. With bright eyes, he leads her forward so that her steps spiral in a circle: one, two, three, four. They are dressed too formally for this – no light to lead their movement, no structure to steady against if someone should waver. She is not wearing toe-shoes, but Rue still feels every bone in her feet as they arch and steady, slaves to routine.
“It is true that this place has fallen into disarray,” he says, and the words fit just so in the curve of her neck. “It has seen hardship, yes, and has suffered so much without care or love. Perhaps the plants have given up hope themselves that it will ever get better, even.”
A breath hitches in her throat. The wind curls like ribbons, whispering through the space between their bodies. The air is thick and smells of grass, of dew, of sun and stars.
“To me, there is so much beauty here,” he says, and they are words meant not for trees or vines. He looks at her; she looks down, to the weeds tickling at her ankles, to the flowers that brim and thrive despite them. “There has always been beauty here,” he says, quiet, at the crook of her ear. She closes her eyes. I do not deserve this, she thinks. I do not deserve you, she means to say but does not. When she opens them again, he has moved in front of her, his smile warm, his hands held out.
For a moment, they stand still, there in a garden once lovely.
“Dance with me,” he says.
She thinks to leave once.
Autumn has been long and cold and has given her much time to think, think of the story and its every careful piece, think of all that is wrong and can never be right. From this, Rue has realized several things.
The first: the priest was right. In this land, she may not be the one who caused the darkness, but it is she who sustains it, keeps its heart full and beating. Her blood has made sure of it.
The second: stories follow paths. Such paths are pliable, easily manipulated by well-placed words, but there are paths, nonetheless, and without them, tales would tear at the seams. Rue is not sure what this particular story’s path was meant to lead to, but she knows it was not her waiting at the end, for no one – not her, not Tutu, not even its own author anticipated that the prince, beautiful and bright, would choose to love the Raven’s false daughter most of all. With this thought, Rue hides her selfish smile firm against her wrist, for therein lies the problem. An abandoned tale suffers, but can always find its way once more. It is when a story leaps from its framework – diverts, bereft of reason or rhyme – that it collapses. She cannot be sure of this, but in her bones, she is certain it is true. She was never meant for a happy ending. The story knows this, and is smothered by her weight.
The third: If she were only a princess in her own right, all would be well. If she were pure-hearted, good and true, like all the maidens in tales she once read about with hungry eyes, the strings of this dying story would tug tight and adapt. After all, is that not how most tales of princes and problems come to a close? It is a tried-and-true ending, as easy to slip into as a piece of old clothing. Such a change would be unexpected to this particular story, yes, but familiar and foolproof, leaving few loose ends in its inclusion. The story would be saved. A path could be forged from it, she is sure. But Rue will not and will never fit into such a mold. Those maidens never bled hatred or wanting. They never dressed in black or wore frowns upon their lips or bore darkness in their eyes. The story cannot adapt to such a drastic character as she. Not once has a fairytale ended with the words and the prince married a dark and selfish girl.
And so the end is coming, quickly, horribly. The forest and sky waver more with each passing day, ripped and discolored like paper in water. Even the castle has begun to moan. And her prince. Oh, her prince. He smiles for her always, still. To him, it seems her every feeling is the world and his own stand small beside them – but when he thinks she isn’t not looking, his eyes are on each window and away. He has realized it by now, she knows. There will never be another fall festival, grand ball, crowded marketplace. No one is coming back.
That night, she comes to bed late, having lingered in the library, paper cuts pressed deep into her fingertips. Siegfried is already asleep. He rests on his back, his arms held straight, his breaths low and whistling. His chest rises then falls, as gentle as a sigh.
Rue sits beside him. Unthinking, she reaches out to brush away a loose strand of hair from his face. Her hand lingers, her fingers drawing a path from his brow to his nose to his chin. Her palm fits snug against the swell of his cheek. He feels almost feverish.
What if he cannot bear the weight of this? The loss of his home, his very story. It is too much. It is worth far more than her love. This, she knows.
She removes her hand and sets it on the sheets. If he were to marry another, than – and remembers Tutu’s lady with her bright eyes, soiled and scarred but still oh-so-lovely. A violent feeling churns deep in her stomach, but if it is hate burning there, she pretends otherwise. Rue dressed and danced and made her bed in such a feeling for far too long; there is no more comfort to be found there. She is tired of hating. Oh, how she is tired.
She looks away, to the far window, dark and stars like a painting within its frame. The chariot that carried them here still rests on a far hill, just outside the forests. It would be easy to lure the swans back to their reins with scraps. By dawn, she could be little more than a dream, long-melted into the horizon.
Siegfried reaches to the other side of the bed; dreaming, he says her name. For a long moment, Rue is still. Then, with twin brusque movements, she kicks off her shoes and lies beside him. Her head settles just so under his chin. At once, his arms curl around her, crossed like wings at the low of her back. She brushes her lips across his chest – across the spot where his heart rests just below, whole and beating.
Winter is coming, and with it, the stomp and clack of horses’ hooves, a swelling thunder in the distance. A day after the first frost, twenty red-faced men arrive at the gates upon dark stallions, their coats speckled with ice. The priest leads them. Rue watches from the bedroom window. Siegfried stands at the door, his smile warm but careful, so careful as she turns and sees him there.
“Are you ready?” He asks.
There is nowhere to hide in this land, no place to go where they cannot follow. She sees these words in his eyes, grave in the space between them, and she knows he‘s surely realized by now that she heard what the priest said of her, so harsh that it bled through closed kitchen doors.
“Of course,” she answers, and moves to walk beside him.
And so they go to meet them, the castle soon alive with footsteps, with boisterous greetings and shouts. Her prince easily calls each man by name, shaking their hands, refusing to let them bow before him. She is surprised at first to see that they don’t shy away from her, each of them removing their wide-brimmed hat and kissing her hand, their lips dry and cold. Their gazes are quick to dart, though, from her to Siegfried to the priest, standing grave-faced in the corner, and Rue is not fooled. They are hunters, who know better than to capture their monster outright.
They’ve not even finished half-full cups of steaming tea before the priest asks for everyone to move into another room. “One apt for private discussion,” he says, and all of the men set their saucers down at once. Siegfried insists that Rue be allowed to join, his hand gripped tight to hers, but she stills at the bend of the hall, her thoughts tangling with what the priest has surely told them, with what they’ll call her, brand her, accuse her of doing or not doing all with no semblance of discretion. Her imagination proves cruel.
“No,” she tells him, her hand soft as she removes his. “I will be fine.”
They are not worth my time, she almost continues with, full of quick, false bravado, strength come and gone. It will not help anything, she knows. She bites her lip instead. In turn, Siegfried nods and says nothing more, the weight in her voice not lost on him. Still, she feels his eyes on her back, following her until she turns at a corner and is gone.
Rue escapes. She does not wish to hear echoes, ghosts of words and shouts that will surely brim all through the castle, and so she ventures outside, her footsteps stark on the frozen ground, her every breath colored and hanging in the sky like white ornaments. She wears a thick shawl around her shoulders, but her face has already spotted with red. She will bear it.
She goes to the garden. A foolish idea, she realizes, for there is nothing to see there any longer. Trees huddle close, bare and blackened. Where flowers once curled towards the sun, there is now only sleet and dirt and crumpled, ice-kissed stems. She walks through it all, walks further and further and further still and soon, Rue has gone so far that she comes across something impossible. There, at the edge of the field: a ring of bright-colored daisies, their faces turned upward to a half-covered sun, wholly untouched by the chill. She catches her breath, bending to touch one. Perhaps there is magic here yet, she thinks.
Struck, she settles on her knees and moves to gather a few. Her hands move of their own accord; her fingertips are nimble as they dance across the stems, soft enough not to crumple a single piece as she bends and folds the flowers around one another.
It does not take long for her to complete a wreath. She sets it down within the ocean of her skirt gently, as if it were something truly precious. For a moment, she thinks not of foolish men, angry words, stories dead and dying. She looks at her hands and remembers when they were once small. Yes – little hands, calloused palms, fingers chubby and clumsy and nothing at all like the claws of a raven. A little heart, too. One that always felt much too big, beating through every trembling finger and toe as they sat together beneath that golden tree.
Do you like it, my prince?
I don’t know.
Short of breath, she turns – but there is no one there. The tree behind her is dark, bare.
“What is that?”
She turns back. In the dip of the field just before the forest’s edge, Tutu’s lady stands. Her hair is tangled with wind and sleet, ice speckled on her reddened cheeks like burning stars. Rue’s heart seizes. She pulls her skirt over the wreath.
“Nothing,” she says, and it sounds much sharper than she means it to. “It’s none of your concern.”
The woman, as usual, is unaffected. She steps closer, stumbling onto her scratched knees like an eager child would. She isn’t even trembling.
Rue holds her head high, her lips firm and thin. “Are you not cold?” She asks.
Tutu’s lady smiles. “I have lived many winters in this forest,” she says. “One becomes accustomed soon enough.” She looks over Rue’s head then, towards the castle, a dark shape against a white sky. “Why are you not with the prince? Is he well?”
Rue flinches; she hides her dark eyes in the turn of her shoulder. Do not speak as though you fit into our life, she wants to say. You know nothing of him or me or the ways we have suffered, she wants to say. The words settle harsh in her throat, but she bites them back. “He is within,” she says, her shoulders held straight, every bit the prima donna to this amateur, “talking to foolish men and discussing my…future, as it were.”
She expects a tell-tale look to flash across the woman’s face, one of pity and fear, one that gives away what she surely has known about Rue all along. It does not come. The woman blinks, her eyes wandering. Her little mouth crinkles. “Why?”
Rue stares at her. After a long moment, she laughs bitterly. “Do not pity me,” she snaps. “It is painfully obvious what I am. Or are you really that naïve? Do you not remember the ravens when they came and killed the people here? Do you not see them in my eyes? Look!”
Tutu’s lady is silent for a moment. Both shoulders sink, her neck a flash of pale color amidst her crumpled dress. Her body is wavering, Rue realizes. It has become like the priest’s, her colors whole and slow, her limbs thin as parchment.
“You smell like them,” she finally admits, only to smile once more. “I do not think you are one of them, though. I do not think you are really like them.”
Rue is still. Then with harsh hands, she takes the wreath from under her skirt and throws it a fair distance away, into a mess of dirt and shriveled plants. The woman watches it pass through the air with careful eyes, but does not move. “It was lovely,” she begins to say. Her voice is soft, so soft. It makes something in Rue hurt. “Honestly, I –”
“Are you in love with him?”
She cannot hold it back any longer. She strains one hand across her chest, close to the ardent thrumming of her heart. In the words, she hears all of Kraehe’s cruelty. It frightens her in a way few other things do.
As always, the woman does not notice such harshness. Her face merely colors, a flush of red brimming at the tips of both ears. Her mouth is a gaping, silent shape. It reminds Rue of Ahiru, so obvious in her every feeling, but the memory hurts more than helps, and she has to look away.
After what feels like an eternity, she takes a breath and smiles. “Nearly my entire life, I spent at her side,” she says, the words so gentle they seem like raindrops, pitter-pattering in the breath of earth between them. “In time, her voice seemed to come from my mouth. Her thoughts, always in the air around me. Does it not seem natural that her every feeling would become my own?”
Both women look at one another, there in a black garden. Rue clutches her wrist so tight that the skin there begins to sting. The Raven’s blood hisses against every one of her bones. It is strange, though – for the first time, she does not find it unbearable. There are other words, a soft warmth above it all, like sunlight after a storm. There is still her own voice.
Her grip relaxes. Her lips flutter, briefly held in a tired smile. She sighs, and the sound of it rings hollow in her mouth, more sad than bitter.
“Well then,” she hears herself say, hoarse. “Maybe he really should marry you instead.”
At once, the woman’s eyes light up. “Ah,” she says. Her hands rise, as though to bring Rue to her. “There. There! That is why you are not like them.”
But the moment has passed, and Rue feels herself crumble, tears pricking at the corners of her eyes. You foolish child, she thinks, and shakes her head. “I did not mean it,” she says. “Can’t you tell? It was a lie.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Tutu’s lady insists, and suddenly she is there, her bare knees grazing the fringe of Rue’s skirt, her eyes close enough for their color to be clear: blue, soft. “It doesn’t matter,” she says again, gentler, and touches Rue’s cheek, her palm fitting snug against near-frozen skin. “To say it means such a kind feeling lives inside of you. Don’t you see?”
Rue does not flinch, nor think to pull away. The woman‘s hand is warm. Her smile, so bright.
“I am sure of it,” she says. “You are simply a very brave girl.”
The sun reappears as a greedy cloud passes at last; the wind picks up, startling in its harshness. In a rush, Rue comes back into herself. She pulls away from the woman suddenly, as if having been burnt, and stands. Her heart heaves and tumbles, clattering like fallen glass in her chest; her throat is sore with all the words she cannot say. She wants to say – but she turns and runs instead, kicking up vines and stems, her limbs numb and burning beneath her stiff skirt. She does not look back until she has reached the castle doors, until their shadows have encompassed her. When she does, Tutu’s lady is gone.
She eats dinner alone; she waits in their room through the night, the silence smothering her, too heavy to bear. Siegfried does not come to bed until there is already color glistening on the horizon, his every movement heavy. Rue pretends to sleep. Through half-lidded eyes, she watches as he removes his shoes and shirt, each turn of his arm deliberate, thickened by the shadows.
“Rue,” he says. With a harsh breath, she turns on her side, but Siegfried only laughs, crossing to the bed. With one hand, he takes up the mess of the tangled sheets, spreading it evenly over the rise and fall of her body. With the other, he touches her face. His thumb brushes across her bowed eyelashes. “Why are you not asleep?”
She should have known he would not be easily fooled, and with a smile that is tired, sad, but wholly warm, she looks up at him. “What did they say?”
He smiles as well. His hand moves, from her face to the wild ocean of her hair. “Nothing I did not already expect them to say.”
She is quiet. Her curls spread at his touch, seeping across the white of their sheets like an approaching storm. The line of her neck flashes beneath them, trembling.
“It is too cold to travel now,” he says, and his palm, warm, stills her. “They will have to stay.”
He slumps down beside her and brushes a clumsy kiss across her cheek. “The worst is over,” he says, and then is gone, drowned in his exhaustion. Rue is still. She waits until he begins to snore, then covers him with the sheets. Outside, the sun rises, swollen like a flame as it burns through dark and clouds.
Below, she can hear footsteps, heavy on the stone.