Act III: Pygmalion
"Besides, do any of us understand what we are doing? If we did, would we ever do it?"
George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion
Act III, scene I
They climbed strange carved ridges in the building, at jagged and clear-cut angles that the wind and the sea would never carve into stone naturally, and with hardly a word and only the laughter of his companions behind them he pulled her into a smaller darker room. Without a word he closed them off from the outside world with a soft push against the wooden barrier that stood between them and the laughter and noise of the bottom layer of the building, and then it was quiet.
Quiet and dark until, with a swift jerking motion and a small wooden stick in hand, he cultivated life into that small flickering blossom known as fire, sprouting it from an invisible seed into something fully in bloom in only a moment then replanting it onto a tall, white, dripping stem like those she had seen in the first building with the man wearing strange human black furs.
After this was done, he finally turned to look at her again, the flower painting strange golden shadows on his face as he held it up by its golden pot, peering closely at her features as if he could hardly believe he found her inside of them.
"So, you have gotten yourself a pair of human legs," he noted, and it was a small thing, yet there was something almost like the merfolk in his voice, something that compelled and drew in without the slightest bit of effort. Even a small musing like that, and his words sang.
She opened her mouth, the words ready to fall out at any moment, about the years and the sea and the journey, and then the emptiness of her own throat caught up to her. The price, she thought almost with desperation, it had been such a good price.
She closed her mouth then, swallowed her bitterness and frustration, and settled for vigorous nodding as well as the wiggling of her strange, new, bottom fingers that stuck out from the hands of her legs.
He stared at them along with her, and at his gaze she rolled up the robes to reveal the legs more fully, the matching paleness of them with the rest of her and their glorious symmetry.
"And you still haven't learned any human shame," he muttered, his eyes trailing down her leg and back again, an odd glint inside them that she couldn't quite place, but then he looked back up at her face, a crooked smile growing on his lips, "They're very nice, Nøkkerosen. They suit you."
She smiled back, a far more sunny and cheerful thing, because he really had gotten to the heart of it as she'd hoped he would. The legs were more than just legs, after all, they were opportunity and…
"You're very quiet," he noted, and his voice cut through her thoughts the way the cold of the northern sea had cut through to her bones.
Her smile fell, her voice remained missing, and all she could do was motion to her throat, to her lips, motion the words falling out, and then simply shake her head.
And if she'd had the words she would have said, "I would that I could," or perhaps "I have always had too many words and too little time to say them in" or else, "Miracles and magic have prices, prince".
However, as it was, she had no words at all.
With that thought she looked past him and out of the clear stone, the glass, of the window and towards the bright moon overhead and the glittering stars. She slowly sank onto the strange wooden carved rock, covered in human pelts and oddly soft, almost as if inside it were made of water or something close to it. Her feet, as soon as she brought them of the earth, ached viciously.
No wonder, she thought, he had aged so quickly in comparison to her. To burn so brightly, to endure the wonders and hardships of the earth, it must steal ages and ages of your life away…
"You… can't speak," his voice jarred her thoughts, she looked back over, caught him leaning over her, his eyes lit by the red and golden flower and for a moment just as wide and pale as she remembered.
She nodded slowly, a wry and bitter smile on her lips.
Then, looking down, she pointed towards the human legs then back towards her throat. The price, the legs were not free. Nothing, she thought, in this world or any other was truly free. The father, she thought, for however kind and weathered he seemed would not have understood this.
However, the prince's eyes were clearer, and he looked longer, looked past her strange new human furs as he knelt down in front of her, lifting one of the legs gently to inspect it. More, perhaps it was as he'd claimed, being half in the human world and half out of it, he could see more of her world than he had any right to.
So, it was only after a moment that he said, with dawning realization, "You traded it for your legs, didn't you?"
Except, hearing it like that, spoken so plainly by someone who was not herself…
His hands moved to one of hers, taking it from her and squeezing it gently, "It's not so bad trade, many humans waste the spoken words they do have and seem to do just fine. Not to mention that there's always reading and writing…"
He must have caught sight of her confusion, her wide-eyed incomprehension, and suddenly she wondered just how vast the distance was between them. He looked around the room, as if searching for something, before looking back at her, "Words, spoken words can be transcribed onto paper… carved onto stones as a sort of code. Symbols can represent sounds or ideas, so that you don't have to speak it, hear it, to know it. I can show you, teach you, later."
It wasn't quite as if a weight had come off her shoulders, slid down to the floor and brought back the buoyancy and lightness of the sea, but like something bubbled up inside her like brief bursts of air floating towards the surface. Without thought she was moving towards him, embracing him too tightly his hands at first fluttering like small nervous fish around her head and then settling onto her waist and circling around her back.
Small drops of the ocean, whatever was left of the sea inside of her soul, began to roll out from her eyes in great drops, her body shuddering with the effort and her absent voice crying out somewhere beneath the waves.
He said nothing, just drew small circles on her back with his hands, waiting until the shudders died down. Then, slowly, he moved so that he was sitting with her on her small, soft, human ledge and gave a rather soft smile towards her.
However, too soon, in the silence it disappeared and faded, something colder taking its place. Except, she didn't think this was aimed at her, no, this was the expression she thought that he now resorted to.
This was what time and the wind had carved him into.
Finally, he asked, so simply as if it was a question she could possibly answer, "What are you doing here, Nøkkerosen?"
How, she thought, was she to possibly explain? How could she explain if he could not understand already? How did he not look at her and know that she had come all this way solely for that promise… For that divine human spark that he himself possessed and thought so little of.
All she could do, she thought, was just motion to him, a wide sweeping thing as if to say, "For you and all that you are, all that you have the potential to be, for the great second sun that is called mankind."
"For me?" he asked, a bit of a laugh at the end of that, "You came all this way for me?"
Then, taking in her unamused expression, the insistence in her gaze his laugh became louder as he said, "No, for mankind itself? I'm afraid, Nøkkerosen, that you'll find us woefully disappointing."
At her expression, the sharpness of her eyes and the stony cast to her face, he assured her softly, "It's true, and if either of us would know I would think it would be me. I'm sure you don't believe me now, but you'll see soon enough. I suppose it's too late to go back now but… If you come to regret this, don't say I didn't warn you."
And by the look on his face, the light dancing in his eyes, he was more than certain she would come to regret her bargain with the sea witch.
Deciding to move the topic of conversation forward, or as forward as she could, she motioned towards him, a sharper sweeping motion, as if to ask what had happened to the prince of Denmark she had met so long ago. What brought him to this strange place and time where their currents in the sea met one another?
"What about me?" he asked, waiting for her nod before stating, "Well, life has been… difficult, of late. You are lucky I am here at all, I only arrived in Copenhagen a fortnight ago from the Faroe Islands."
At seeing, at remembering, her lack of knowledge of these strange named things, these places he and humankind had gone and labeled for themselves, he said, "It is far, very far, almost as far as one can get in Denmark from here or anywhere of import. And I was… I was governor of that small those small islands for so very long."
There was something darker in that statement, a shadow passing over his soul and his eyes as he said it, but like a distant storm it passed over leaving a dull flatness in its place, "My father, the king, is dying, and thus even unacknowledged godless bastard sons are to be recalled from the edges of the kingdom. On his death, my younger half-brother, James, with an heir of his own and myself written out of succession, will be crowned king of Denmark."
He laughed, bitterly, seeming to see far past her and into the shadows of his own life, words she could hardly follow but said in a bitter angry tone that she could more than understand, "And as for myself, I'm not sure, either I'll be perfectly superfluous or else an unwilling advisor to my idiot brother. Time alone will tell, I suppose, and how fond James likes to believe he is of me. Or, what he chooses to know of me."
Finally, he looked over at her, an odd almost soft expression on his face, "And yet, of all the times and all the places, you choose to reappear now dressed both as a whore, a warrior, a maiden, and a nun… And I am still glad to see you."
His hand lifted for a moment, brushed her cheek, twirled in her red curls, and then removed itself as he asked, "And what of you, where will you go now, what will you do with these legs of yours?"
She paused, hesitated, not sure how to say what she wanted or that there had been no plan but to find him and only now did that stark fear come to realization that he had not thought the same. That she could not simply swim into his life as if she had never left it, as if she hadn't been some strange moment and…
"I can take you to the palace," he said, and his hand returned to her hair, not seeming to notice how her eyes looked towards his, wide and green and full of hope, "For the scandal and shock alone of inviting a girl-whore whose features are more fey than even mine, I think I would invite you to the palace… I can teach you how to read and write, how to paint, how to… How to impersonate a human woman. I can show you the world, more than just a few tales told in a grotto by a child. If you want to, Nøkkerosen, you can come with me."
She moved in then, wordless and voiceless as always, but her body pressed against his as the moonlight did and the light of his flickering flower, sinking lower and lower on its wilting short-lived stalk. Her lips touched his and as they did his hands moved towards her back, wandering upwards and pressing her closer, sliding her more fully against him.
One hand moved beneath the furs given to her by the man who called himself father, up pale, smooth, new legs inch by inch. Then, he moved backwards, looking down at her for a moment with eyes that were both like hers and not like hers at all. A pale reflection, she thought, of her own eyes.
And she thought of the witch then, without truly knowing why, the witch and her second price, her second condition for a human immortal soul. That she must wed the prince, that he must turn to no other and…
Slowly, he lifted the furs from her skin, leaving it pale and yet bright in the darkness, as if there was a light within her that neither of them could truly see. She wondered, as his lips wandered her skin, his hands searching her body with a growing fervency, as he took off his own darker, finer, pelts and pressed his matching skin closer to hers, his odd third leg rising against the inside of her legs, if he was looking for the source of that light.
Warming his hands and skin against it, as he might with the dying golden flower which was now almost drowning inside of its golden pot, or as she might have, in days gone by, stretched herself out on a rock in the south beneath the great eye of the sun…
She didn't know, even as he whispered things unintelligible against her ear with pale eyes only half open, if he found what he was looking for.
Author's Note: Yes, yes they did. Mmmmmmmm, yes. Next up, we live up to the act title and also get to meet characters who, mostly until this point, have been mentioned in passing. It'll be great.
Thanks to readers and reviewers, reviews are much appreciated.
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter