The Heaviest of Burdens
"Dear Prince, your wish voices nothing."
The old man simply smiled as he spoke.
"Princess Tutu? Who is she though?" The name rolled off Siegfried's lips like a sacred prayer. "What is she? Is she a creature of old magic? She is a fairy? Or is she… just a girl?"
Prince asked the old man once more a question that he could not answer. The Mage would not even tell him if she was a being of the past, or of the future.
"People say about her," the Mage mused, making himself comfortable in his chair, "that she dons a beautiful ballerina tutu and toe shoes, and that she wears a crown upon her head." Siegfried could almost see her now, as the Mage described her. "She has shining wings where there would be arms. The wings of a swan. And, it is so, with her dancing, and with her beautiful wings, that she envelops those in need, and warms their hearts with her own beautiful soul. She is the spirit of Hope." 
Yes, he remembered the tale of Princess Tutu. But that she would face so horrible a fate if she ever confessed her love… the Mage had never told him that. The mutters and laughers of the stragglers in the in tavern continued to churn around him. Lohengrin was saying something to the bartender. Siegfried looked into his mug of ale, thinking. Perhaps it was for the best that the Mage never told me the ending, considering how fondly I liked that story.
Still, he wondered at what fate had befallen Princess Tutu.
Lohengrin muttered under his breath crossly as he staggered down the hall, trying to pull on his boots, just as the morning light was coming up. He had roused from his bed having hardly put his head to his pillow the night before, when a servant had appeared in his chambers to declare that the Prince needed his presence. With the strict instructions not to bring his sword, and to wear a comfortable tunic in place of his cloak and garb, Lohengrin was roused from his bed.
What on earth does he need me for now? I only just left him a few hours ago! Still slightly drunk, Lohengrin made his way through the castle with grim, weaving, determination. I feel naked without my sword. It was true. Dressed in only one of his older blue tunics, with his black hair tied in a mess at the back of his head, he hardly looked the intimidating dark figure that he usually cut by day at the side of the Prince.
Finally, Lohengrin found himself blinking at the two handles on the doors leading to the Ballroom. Light was coming out from underneath the door. It was the right place, at the very least. He had never actually been in this room. The balls, the spectacle and the costumes had never truly been his delight. Trying to rub out the little bit of sleep that had had time to press upon his eyes, Lohengrin pulled one of the doors open, and stepped into the room with its many mirrors, columns, and its high ornate ceiling.
There, standing in the middle of the room, was the Prince, wearing a plain white tunic. His arms were crossed, and if Lohengrin did not know better, he would have said that the young man looked…smug. However, a noise drew the knight's attention and he looked to the balcony overlooking the Ballroom to see all of the troubadours in their places, with their instruments poised.
"Siegfried… what is going on?" Lohengrin's eyes traveled back down to his prince, now to find that the young man was extending to him a pair of slippers. With ribbons.
He was smiling a refreshed and happy smile. One would never have been able to guess that he had spent the better part of the evening in a tavern. That or, considering what was happening right now, the boy was past all help. "I was feeling inspired," he said. The knight now saw that, on his own feet, he wore a matching pair of shoes to those that he held.
"…Oh no." Lohengrin shook his head emphatically. "No. Absolutely not. There is nothing in this world that could compel me." He turned to leave. To flee. He was going back to his bed. Now.
"Sir Lohengrin, as your Prince, I command you to stay." His words echoed through the large empty room.
The knight froze, and slowly turned once again to face his liege lord. It might have been his imagination, but he could have sworn that the troubadours were holding back smiles. Swallowing every bit of pride, Lohengrin marched across the room, his every footstep echoing, and swiped the shoes from the Prince's hands.
Siegfried's smile only became greater, and he clapped his hands twice. From one of the other doors leading into the Ballroom entered a man with notable poise. "Your highness. Sir," he addressed both boys. "It is truly an honor to be your instructor in the beautiful art of ballet."
"Someday," Lohengrin muttered, as he pulled first one boot off, and then the other. "Someday I will let it be known to the entire kingdom what a vicious, cruel tyrant you really are." He jammed a shoe on.
Siegfried simply grinned and made an acknowledging nod to their instructor. And it seemed as though the tranquil, dream-like life would go on forever. 
One day an alarm was raised in the castle. One day a cygnet, a baby swan, was found dead in the pond and, sitting above it, a black blotch against the dogwood's white flowers, sat a raven.
The panic in the kingdom was absolute. And, with the panic, came fear, disquiet, and mistrust. Meanwhile, on so many rooftops, and on so many steeples, ravens began to settle, like a growing dark cloud.
To Lohengrin the dreamlike state of his life suddenly plumaged into a nightmare. No less surreal, and no less fantastical. But now, for each pleasant turn that he had once been granted it seemed that his world was now demanding payment tenfold. Each day involved news of another village swallowed by rioting. Each day more injured poured into the infirmaries. And each day it became clearer and clearer that the healers no longer knew how to heal, and the warriors no longer remembered how to fight.
King Mime burst into the council room, his robes billowing behind him as he strode. "What in this world is going on outside?!"
Siegfried, who had been pouring over some maps with Lohengrin to mark down which parts of the kingdom had been affected, froze. Lohengrin slowly looked up from son to father, and back again. Expressions flitted across both faces so quickly, and yet each was as clear as the last. As Siegfried's blood ran cold, so did a shadow of shame flit across King Mime's face.
He had never heard his father yell before.
And the king, looking back into his son's face, knew it.
Mime swallowed, and tried to calm his erratic breathing. He closed his eyes and took a steadying moment. And yet still, he could not erase the look on his son's face from his mind. It visibly upset him. Lohengrin shifted uneasily. He felt that he should not be here. This was not for him to witness. This was private.
The King opened his eyes and, not wishing to look upon his son, he fixed his gaze on the fidgeting Lohengrin – though the knight very much doubted that the King knew him by name. Rather, to him, he was probably just that young man who was always in the Prince's company. Hesitantly, Lohengrin met the King's gaze. …He could see emotions, which no one had been made to keep in check for so many years, flicker across the old king's face undisguised. Had not his son almost died for this young man already? Something about a horse. Did they not frequent taverns together? Siegfried had never gone to the tavern before this acquaintance. It hardly seemed like a healthy friendship. All of it. Lohengrin could see all of it. And it made his own stomach curl. Not with indignation, but with his own brand of shame.
"Well," the king snapped. "What do you have for me, boy?"
Lohengrin swallowed and, on instinct, stood a little taller. And oh, how the old king misread that. King Mime's lip twitched. It was to be indignation was it? He was no man's boy, was he? Well, they would just have to see about that–
"These are the villages that seem to be most affected." His son cut through the thoughts of both monarch and knight, and dragged his father's attention away from his friend. The Prince pointed at several different areas on the map. "Crime has risen catastrophically, and uprisings are breaking out in the streets."
"Do we know what the source of the discontent is?" Mime asked, carefully steadying his voice.
"Not yet. Only that it is beyond containment."
Mime just barely suppressed the urge to swear – an urge he had not had in many years. "What about the royal guard! What about the knights! Are they good for nothing anymore?"
"The guard and the knights have lived in peace for the last many years, Your Majesty," Lohengrin spoke as respectfully as he could. But speak he did. He would defend the loyalty and diligence of the knights. Even if it was to the king himself. "They have no knowledge or experience with which to deal with such a flood." He swallowed hard. "And no, sir. We are not good for nothing. We are protectors of the realm. And we shall protect it at any cost."
"No." Mime responded. He looked at his son. Not at any cost, was written on his face. His precious boy. Suddenly, quite suddenly, a realization spread across Mime's features, of how frightened he was. How frightened, and how much more frightened because it had been so long since he had been frightened. It was infectious. Lohengrin had to look away, his hands already shaking.
The knight had to wonder if the last time King Mime had felt fear was at the thought of losing Queen Sieglinde during the birthing of Prince Siegfried.
There was a moment of silence. "What of magic?" Lohengrin offered, looking from the father to the son, and back again. "It was magic that banished the ravens the first time. Perhaps another incantation–"
"Alas, the one who performed that first spell is no longer with us." Mime appeared lost in thought. "…He tried to give me a warning upon Siegfried's birth," he whispered. Then, more to himself than to either of the boys, Mime muttered, "Was this the outcome you foresaw, old friend?"
"…Then we are going out there to try and quench the riots ourselves," Siegfried said softly after a moment.
Mime snapped. "No! That is what the knights are for." Lohengrin knew that the king did not doubt his son had grown into a worthy fighter. Rather, he doubted his judgment. Where other warriors would know when a cause was lost or when a risk was too great, Siegfried would not. He would try to protect the whole world and break himself in the attempt. He would act like a foolish prince, who tried to protect the weak, but whose fate would only be to hut himself in the end. 
"Father, where Lohengrin goes, I go too."
"He is your knight. You do not defend him!"
"We are both protectors of the realm, father. We defend one another." His son stepped in beside Lohengrin. They were inseparable. Lohengrin felt moved and he did not know how to respond. He merely stood his ground by his Prince, as he was sworn to do.
Mime looked at the knight into whose hands had been placed the safely and good health of his one and only treasure. His only son. "If you were any friend to him," he spat, frustrated in his helplessness, "you would not let him go with you." With that the King swept from the room, slamming the doors behind him.
He was right. Lohengrin knew he was right. King Mime was a noble and just man. And he feared for his son's life. Lohengrin turned, and made to tell Siegfried that he agreed with his father. Siegfried, however, clasped his gloved hand across his mouth, stopping his words. "As you are my truest friend, you know that there is no stopping me," he said quietly.
Perhaps he is right as well, Lohengrin thought as Siegfried lowered his hand and returned his attentions to the map. After all, what harm would the villagers do to their prince? Their prince whom they have always loved so much, and who has loved them? Perhaps, if anyone, he can be the one to restore them to reason.
As they rode out of the castle gates, escorted by six other knights, the sky seemed to darken, and the storm clouds to shift, as though in profound anticipation. The taste in the air was that before an oncoming storm. The whole world seemed to be quivering with static and expectation of something to come. Something powerful.
As the party of eight rode through the surrounding streets at a slow pace they heard shouting and fighting from the city square. "That shouldn't be," Siegfried whispered. "Our contacts told us that the outbreaks were still miles from the castle.
"…Unless they lied," Lohengrin answered quietly. The horses snorted. The knights pulled in their reigns, and exchanged uneasy looks. It had been years since anyone had told a lie.
They nudged their horses to a trot, and rode into the square. Thereupon they came onto a sight the like of which none of them have ever seen within their lifetimes. Villagers were attacking fellow villagers. Fists and picks and clubs flew freely through the air. It was madness and mayhem and it was impossible to tell where one body began and the next ended.
The knights were entirely lost. Lohengrin looked about him, his lips parted, his eyes filled with the horror of a scene that he could never have imagined. And, above the din of yelping, swearing and shouting, there was the crying of crows. Lohengrin looked up… at the hundreds upon hundreds of crows perched atop the roofs surrounding the town square. It was almost as though they were spectators, egging their entertainment on. And the people… the people were the sport.
The Prince wrapped his hands around his reigns one more time. "Stay here," he said, addressing his knights. He turned to look back upon his people. "Heyah!" Suddenly, with a burst, he urged his horse into the fray.
"Siegfried!" Lohengrin's cry was lost in the crowd.
As though some force protected the Prince, his white steed waded through the angry crowd, parting them, until he reached the center of the square, and reared his horse beneath the statue of his father. "My people!" he cried out in a clear, earnest tone. Some of the noise abated. "My people!" He cried out the louder, drawing his sword, so that it caught in the last of the dying light.
There, dressed in purple, white and gold finery, with the symbol of a shining, soaring swan emblazoned upon his chest, the same symbol as that which he had worn the day of his knighting, and Nothung in his hand, he truly looked like a divine being. Lohengrin's eyes were dazzled. The crowd grew still. 
Siegfried look about at them for a long moment. "Why?" he finally asked, not as a speechmaker, but as a friend. "Why do you fight? What is the cause?" He sheathed his sword. "If you are in any way malcontent, allow me to take your grievance to my father, so that it should be rectified." He chanced a glance at the crows, which too had fallen quiet. They were leaning in, as though to hear exactly what the prince was saying. He smiled reassuringly upon his people. "Please," he said, "know that you are loved, and know that whatever ills befall you, I will do my all to protect you, for I love you dearly."
As abruptly as the fighting had begun, crying and weeping began to echo through the square. Emotions ran awry. There were outbursts of "God save the Prince!" and "Long live Prince Siegfried!"
Lohengrin looked about in wonder. He had done it. The Prince had saved the day.
Suddenly, a little girl in a light green dress who had stood nearest to the Prince's horse, reached out and touched its flank. With wide and red rimmed eyes she looked up at him and whispered, "Truly, your highness? You love me?"
The Prince smiled, and laid a hand upon her head. "Indeed little one, I do."
"But not more than me, right!?" An outcry came from across the yard. A crow let out a cry in echo. "No!" another voice rung out, "Me, Prince Siegfried! Love me, and me alone!" "He cannot love you more than he loves me!" Another crow. "Prince Siegfried, you are so grand, love me more than all the rest!" Suddenly the outcries swelled to a greater pitch than they had before. The crows atop the roofs bat their wings in triumphant frenzy.
And they pecked upon the peoples' hearts. 
Lohengrin watched in horror as tens of hands grabbed at the Prince's horse, his boots, and even his cloak. The knight drew his sword. "He needs us! Follow me!"
"But the Prince said to stay here!" whimpered out one of the knights, his voice laced with emotions Lohengrin had never heard before in this kingdom. Fear and selfishness.
"Then stay, coward!" he snarled. However, as he charged into the crowd, across the square, he met Siegfried's eyes. He too showed fear, but not for himself. No. For his people. And Lohengrin knew what he was asking. Cursing to himself even as he gave the order to the knights that followed him, he cried out, "Do not draw blood! They are still the Prince's people! Do not draw blood!"
With many hits from the hilt of his sword and the flat of the blade, Lohengrin carved a path which had before parted so easily for his prince. He made it just in time. Siegfried was doing all he could to stay on his horse. Lohengrin burst in upon the offending villagers like a fiend out of hell. He and the other knights surrounded the Prince and, fighting every inch of the way, they half rode, half dragged him from the people who clawed and pawed and cried for his return.
"Shut the gates behind us!" Lohengrin bellowed as they galloped back into the castle with the speed of fury. "Shut the gates behind us!" The townspeople ran after them, almost at their heels. As the knights hurtled into the castle grounds as one unit, a protective shell about their Prince, the long unused hinges of the castle gates began to moan.
Lohengrin dismounted, staggering, and ran to Siegfried's side. He was slumped in his saddle, his clothing torn. "Come on, Siegfried. I've got you," he said, wrapping his arms around the Prince's torso as one knight held his horse steady while another took his sword. "Come on." The Prince slid into Lohengrin's arms, barely conscious, and the two settled onto the cobbled stone of the outer court. Lohengrin breathed so heavily, and his heart pumped so quickly, that he was sure it would burst from his chest. He gripped into Siegfried's shoulders and held him, just as, not so very long ago, Siegfried had held Lohengrin when Lamiere had run rampant.
Suddenly, the wailing in the air became deafening. Lohengrin looked up just in time to see the castle gates, which had remained open all these years for any passerby to enter, now shut with a deafening noise. The last thing which he saw of the world outside the castle was that same little girl who had first reached out to Siegfried, her face covered in scratches, screaming like a banshee.
There was something almost crow-like about her.
Chaos was everywhere. Lohengrin merely rocked Siegfried in his arms, looking about them, half dazed with the sight. "Well Prince," he whispered, not knowing if Siegfried could hear him or not, "Before... I said it was a gift that you had, to make everyone feel unique and beautiful. I do not know if it is such a gift any longer."
The crack of thunder filled the sky and lightning flashed all about the kingdom. Noblemen and ladies pointed to the heavens in horror and, as Lohengrin looked up, he saw two deep, red eyes look back upon him, as great black wings enveloped the entire sky. "It… it can't be," he whispered. What manner of magic could have made a Raven of such size and darkness?
The storm had broken.
The dark monster chuckled, causing the earth itself to shake. As it opened its great beak Lohengrin could see a deep hellfire glowing at the back of its throat. "Prince,"the Raven growled, almost lovingly. "Prince!"
In his arms Lohengrin felt Siegfried shifting back into wakefulness. "Careful," he whispered, "don't get up too fast."
Siegfried opened his eyes, looked past Lohengrin, and stared into the eyes of darkness itself. Lohengrin watched as his jawline set, and a fire of his own kindled in his eyes. It was one of determination, of courage, and of valor, and it warmed Lohengrin to the core. The knight helped the prince to his feet.
"I am here, if you wish it. What do you want with this realm?" Siegfried called up, addressing the Monster Raven. He smiled down upon him, and Lohengrin drew his sword, even as he supported Siegfried on his feet. Though what good a sword like his against a colossus of that size?
"Prince," the Raven almost cooed. "We meet at last." He seemed to smack his beak. "I have pecked at many of the loving hearts of your people. It has truly been a delight. For…" his smile widened, and created a gash of red across the endless sky. "…with every act you make to save them, and with every declaration of love that you have ever given them, their own love has only fed and will only feed me more fully." 
The Prince turned pale at this news. Still, he stood tall, leaning as little of his weight as he was able upon Lohengrin's shoulder.
"In the end," the Raven continued, shifting his great and powerful wings across the sky. "I thought to myself, I'd like to try eating the Prince's heart: the most delicious one of all." 
Lohengrin could not tell if the noise that issued from the Monster Raven's beak next was that of a crow's cry, or of a dark, sinister cackle. The earth shook once again.
He gripped onto Siegfried all the more tightly.
"Too long have your people lived stripped of the dark emotions that make life what it is! They had lived with no ambition, no envy, no covetousness. You have kept them in a comatose state, naked without their truest feelings! Their most sinister desires! I return now to restore balance to this cursed land! Now, let the people of this kingdom be rebaptized!" With this the Raven flapped its mighty wings. Thunder boomed, and lightning cracked.
For a moment, that was all. For a moment, as Lohengrin and Siegfried looked around, nothing more seemed to have happened.
Then came the screams from the other side of the wall that enclosed the castle. The young men looked up to see that a rain was falling upon the kingdom. That is, upon all the kingdom but the castle.
"That doesn't make any sense," Lohengrin whispered. "Why wouldn't the rain reach the ground?"
"That's not rain," Siegfried answered, his eyes fixed on the sky. "It's something else. Something evil. And one of the Mage's old spells must be keeping it out of the royal grounds."
On the other side of the wall, the screams got louder. "My god!" The guards standing on the parapets backed away, putting as much distance as they could between themselves and the rain falling mere feet beyond their post. "The people!" one cried. "Look what it's doing to the people!"
With a lurch Siegfried tore himself from Lohengrin's side, and coursed across the courtyard. He flew up the staircase leading to the top of the wall.
"Prince!" Lohengrin gave chase. His lungs were on fire by the time he got to the top of the steps, where Siegfried had frozen, his eyes fixed upon his kingdom, now drenched in…
"Blood," Siegfried whispered. "Raven's blood."
As though they watched through a window, and just beyond the final stone that marked the barrier between castle and kingdom, Siegfried and Lohengrin looked upon the people they had sworn to protect.
Dancing in the streets, crying out, and flapping their wings in a frenzy, was a city of crows. In horror Lohengrin realized that he could just make out one little crow in a light green dress. They watched as, feathered and beaked, the townspeople fell upon one another. Lootings, beatings, they all ran rampant. Through every street, at every corner. It was like a grotesque play. And the prince and the knight had the finest seats in the theater.
It was like some mad carnival of debauchery. "A Festival of Crows…" Siegfried whispered. 
"Your Highness!" A guard ran up to them along the wall. "All of the knights who were still outside coping with the riots have also turned into crows. We cannot let them back in! We are hopelessly outnumbered! And the Owl Clan has pledged its loyalty to the Raven!"
Siegfried looked at him, his eyes so full of pain that they actually appeared dulled. "Why?" he simply asked.
"Sir," the guard swallowed. "They are spreading a rumor about you. They are going so far as to say that your heart has the power to grant any wish, and must therefore be fed to the Raven." 
Lohengrin snorted. It seemed that, though this kingdom, which had gone so long without conflict, was well adapted to the behavior that went along with it. Today the knight learned that when war came, rumor and superstition were never far behind. He once more placed a hand upon the Prince's shoulder. "Come," he said. "Let's go in. There is no need for you to see more of this. We must prepare for war."
War. A word that had not been spoken in the kingdom for many, many years.
With some effort he turned the prince back in the direction of the stone steps leading down from the wall. "Those poor, poor creatures," Siegfried said, finally allowing himself to be torn away from the sight. As he did so Lohengrin could not help but wonder if the prince was referring to the townspeople, or to the mangled birds that they had become. As a prince who loved all, with which side did he feel empathy? With one final glance Lohengrin saw the fledgling crow tearing apart its own green dress; he shuddered, and directed the prince down the steps. 
Still, the knight could not help but cast a sidelong look at his liege, wondering at the struggle he went through. It seemed that a heart too pure was an awfully heavy burden. 
 Fragments of the exchange between the young Prince and the Mage are shown, in the original German, within the pages of The Prince and the Raven, in Princess Tutu (anime), Ep.3. The translation into English is by Aorphiusrex, from the Princess Tutu Community on LiveJournal.
 As ballet was already in The Prince and the Raven by virtue of Princess Tutu's presence, I felt that it needed at least one other acknowledgment within the story's universe for it to be integrated properly. Perhaps it was because of such a scene as this that Fakir chose to enlist Mytho in the ballet department of Gold Crown Academy, as opposed to any other of its departments in Fine Arts.
 This notion of the foolish prince is drawn from Princess Tutu (anime), Ep.9
 Siegfried is here dressed in the same outfit that he wore in Princess Tutu (anime), Ep.26
 The notion of the people wanting the Prince's love all to themselves, and that the Ravens pecked upon their hearts, is drawn from Princess Tutu (anime), Ep.24
 The notion of the Prince's hopeless efforts, and that the people's love only fed the Raven, is drawn from Princess Tutu (anime), Ep.24
 Quote drawn from Princess Tutu (anime), Ep.24
 It is remarked that the events in Princess Tutu (anime), Ep.25, "look exactly like the Crow Festival scene that took place in the Prince and the Raven."
 This notion, which in this story is no more than an Owl Clan rumor, is drawn from Princess Tutu (manga), Vol.2 Ch7. P.13
 The idea that the Prince must love even fledgling ravens is expressed in This Pendent Heart, Ch11. p.82
 The last line is a direct quote by Drosselmeyer from Princess Tutu (anime), Ep.3