Song of Silence: Part Three
"DEZZIE!" Blossom screamed as she watched her sister disappear under the ice.
"What do we do?!" Sirius cried.
"Go back up to the cave and get Father," Blossom commanded. "He'll know what to do!"
Sirius nodded and took off, flapping up the hill as fast as he could.
Blossom started hunting around for something on the shore her father could use to pull Desdamona out with, keeping a terrified eye on the thrashing form in the middle of the lake that she just couldn't reach.
Norren looked petrified. "What do you want me to do?" he asked anxiously, hovering around Blossom as she searched through the sandy weeds for a long tree branch.
Blossom whirled around and shoved him so hard he fell over and hit the sand with a thud. "I'll tell you what you can do!" she raged. "You can get your slimy, cowardly tail out of here and leave my family alone before I toss you into the lake as well!"
At that moment, a black form shot over the hilltop and into the air, zipping out to the middle of the lake.
"Father!" Blossom cried, watching, horrified, as he dropped out of the sky and plunged headfirst through the ice and disappeared.
Moments later, he reappeared through the hole he had created, dripping with freezing water and holding a small limp figure in his arms. He soared off over the hilltop and disappeared from sight.
Blossom ran back up the hill and dashed into the cave, where she found Damien breathing a small jet of flame over a pile of kindling that Sirius had dragged in. She ran outside to help her brother find more, praying her sister would be alright.
Soon they had a fire blazing in the back of the small cave, and everyone huddled around Desdamona, waiting for her to wake up.
Finally, when her scales had sufficiently warmed, Desdamona's tail twitched, and presently, she opened her eyes slowly, blinking blearily, as if in pain. She sat up gradually, and looked around for her chalk-board. When she couldn't find it, she looked at her father helplessly.
Damien went to the back of the cave where he had left it and handed it to her, sighing. "I'm afraid the chalk snapped when it hit the ice," he said, "But we can go into town tomorrow and get it replaced if you like."
Desdamona looked at her broken writing implement and nodded a little sadly. She put her board aside and gazed up at the rest of her family, who had remained silent until now.
Looking at her sister sitting there – voiceless, helpless, exhausted from having to work so hard just to earn the right that everyone else had been born with – the right to be heard – Blossom suddenly realised how strong Desdamona was, and it made her dreadfully sad. Tears welled in her eyes as she thought of all the things her sister was never going to be able to do without her voice. She would never be able to sing, or shout, or laugh, or express any other emotion in a meaningful way. She would never be able to say "I love you" to the Draik who became her mate, or to her children, and she would never be normal, able to walk through the valley without everyone whispering behind her back. It wasn't fair.
Desdamona saw her sister's tears and scowled worriedly. She walked up and hugged her, resting her snout on her shoulder.
Finally, their mother put a hand on Blossom's head and posed the question that Desdamona had wanted to. "What's wrong?" she asked, gazing at her middle child.
Blossom sniffled as she returned Desdamona's embrace. "It's not fair," she murmured. "How come Dezzie had to be born without a voice? She didn't do anything to deserve that, she didn't do anything to deserve getting bullied by that stupid Norren, or whispered about by all our friends, she's the kindest person I've ever known, how come this had to happen to her?" Blossom pulled away and buried her snout in her hands, tucking her tail around her feet as she wept.
Desdamona went back over to her chalk-board and picked it up. Using the stub of chalk that remained, she scrawled on it, then tapped on her sister's shoulder. Don't cry for me, Blossom, it said. I know you think it's terribly hard for me to live like this... Desdamona waited until Blossom was done reading, then erased it and continued, ...But it's really not. Getting bullied is hard, yes, but it's nothing compared to the experience, patience, and understanding of others I've gained by living like this. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I don't feel sorry for myself, you shouldn't either.
Blossom wiped away her tears and sighed, "Oh, Dezzie," she murmured, "I always knew you were stronger than the rest of us." She hung her head and shook it tiredly, but said, "I'm glad I got you for a sister. I wouldn't trade you for anything either, not even for all the blabbermouths in Neopia," she glanced up and smiled, and Desdamona smiled back, her eyes shining in that way that only hers could, saying everything while saying nothing.
The one thing her eyes did not betray, however, was that she had lied. She did feel sorry for herself, she did feel bitterness and resentment when she went with her siblings to play with their friends, and she couldn't join in the way they could because she couldn't talk. She tried to make herself be grateful for what had happened, by recognising the good things that had come from it, but if she were honest with herself, if a faerie came by the cave that night and gave her a potion that could make her talk, she would drink it without a second thought.
Thinking about all that her sister had said that evening, Desdamona went to bed that night imagining what it would be to have a voice, to be able to sing her heart out just like every other eventide Draik in Neopia. Sadly, she let a little air trickle through her lips and tried to make a sound. Nothing, just as she knew it would be. Nothing ever. How could such silence ever exist in a world full of such beautiful noise? It couldn't. She couldn't. Desdamona knew this, and she cried herself to sleep that night, though lucky for her, nobody heard her.
Damien roused Desdamona early the next morning, determined to get the day under way.
Desdamona blinked and yawned, sitting up sleepily. She fumbled around for her chalk-board and scrawled, Why are we up so early? The sun's not even over the hilltop yet.
Damien, who was already bustling about the cave getting breakfast ready, replied, "No reason to get caught in the crowds if we don't have to."
Desdamona swallowed nervously. "We"? She scribbled quickly, What do you mean? Can't you go into town to get chalk by yourself? She would never admit it, but she didn't like the idea of running into all those strangers and having to interact with them. All the Draiks in the hillside where she lived thought she was a freak; why announce it to the rest of the world as well?
Damien's eyes flitted across the words on her board, and he gazed at her, locking his red eyes with her ocean blue ones.
Desdamona dipped her head and looked away; she could tell he was reading the reluctance in her face, and she didn't want him to. She didn't want her father to know she was afraid. That was another problem with having no voice; anyone who knew you well enough could tell what you were thinking just by looking at you, and it irritated Desdamona to no end; her voice didn't work, so her eyes overcompensated by betraying everything.
Damien walked slowly up to his daughter and scooped her into his hands, something that was getting harder and harder to do as the months passed and she grew. "Desdamona," he murmured, "I know you're afraid, I know how hard it is for you, having everyone staring at you all the time, but I also know that what they think doesn't matter in the slightest, they're not worth the effort to worry about. Don't let them bother you, you're too special for that, you understand?"
Desdamona nodded, but Damien shook his head. "Tell me," he said.
Sighing, and suddenly feeling very self-conscious, Desdamona picked up her stub of chalk and scrawled, I understand, Father. Then she paused, and after a moment added, Thank you.
Damien nodded, and Desdamona could read the pride that played about his lips and flashed in his eyes as he looked at her. She lowered her head and her frilled ears drooped a little. What did he have to be proud of her for? She was nothing, the voiceless Draik who would never fulfil her destiny, never amount to anything. She was a waste of time and space, and she wondered why anyone would put up with her.
Suddenly, a stirring in the nest below her pulled her from her dark thoughts. Desdamona peered over her father's cupped fingers and saw her siblings starting to awaken.
Damien put his daughter down and smiled when he saw his other two children blinking and sitting up. "Splendid," he said, "Hurry up, children, and get your breakfast, then we can go."
Sirius yawned and groaned, "How come we have to come? It's way too early."
Damien grinned as he tossed his son a slippery rockfish from the salted pile in the corner of the cave where their food was kept, "Because it's an adventure!" he said simply, turning away again.
"What about Mother?" Blossom asked as she crawled out of the nest.
Damien looked up from the sack of neopoints he was counting into a clawed hand and gazed at his mate's sleeping form, "She's going down the the lake to look for food later," he said simply, not wanting to admit the truth, which was that Rosemarie was getting too tired to cope with her muddled family, that she worried over her youngest daughter until it drove her to distraction, and the only way to get the haunting thoughts out of her head was to sleep.
After breakfast, the four of them stood at the mouth of the cave, looking out over the hilltop.
"Now," Damien addressed his brood, "it's only a short flight, so you should all manage, but I want you to stay close to me, no drifting off. We're going to go around the hill to avoid passing over the lake, we don't need any more accidents." He glanced at Desdamona, who dipped her head guiltily. "Are we all ready?"
Sirius, Blossom, and Desdamona all nodded, and Damien flapped his wings. "Right," he said, "Keep up, and don't get lost. We'll be landing in Meridell's town square, just try not to crash into anything." He took off into the air and soared into the clouds.
One by one, the hatchlings launched themselves from the mouth of the cave and flapped awkwardly, trying to keep up with their father.
They soared over the green hills, whose dew-covered grass winked in the early morning sunlight like icy jewels, and Desdamona gazed at them, mesmerised. They were beautiful, but they also made her sad. Why were the most beautiful things also the ones that served no greater purpose? Beauty was there for beauty's sake, and helped no one, made no one's life any better. Just like her. Her scales might have shone like a sunset, but without a voice, that was all she consisted of, shiny, pretty, superficial scales that didn't do anything for anyone.
Desdamona sighed sadly as she and her family banked to circle the marketplace; what would they think if they knew what went on inside her head?
Damien glided lower and lower over the pavement until he dropped from the air and landed easily on the cobblestones, watching with an amused expression as his hatchlings tried to imitate him, landing in a tangled heap on top of one another at his feet.
"Not bad for a first try," Damien conceded, "But we'll have to practise when we get home." He turned toward the bustling stalls that lined the street, "Come on then, we haven't got all day."
Like a line of baby Mallards, Sirius, Blossom, and Desdamona fell into place behind their father, and followed him down the road.
Before they'd gone twenty feet, a rubber ball sailed through the air and bounced of Desdamona's head. She caught it and looked around, anxious and bewildered.
A voice from behind one of the stalls called, "Hey, over here!"
Desdamona looked in the direction of the voice and saw a yellow Kyrii, followed by a pair of scruffy-looking red Lupes approaching her.
"Hey, toss it," the Kyrii called, stopping a few feet from Desdamona. She did so, and he smiled. "Thanks," he said. "I'm Willis, and these are my friends Don and Mac, what's your name kid?"
Startled, Desdamona picked up her chalk and board with trembling hands and tried to write, acutely aware of the three pairs of curious, skeptical eyes on her. She showed the boys her board, and Willis looked at it with a raised eyebrow.
"Desdamona, huh? Okay, but what's with the board? You take some weird ritualistic vow of silence or somethin'?"
Blushing, Desdamona shook her head, and wrote with a wobbly hand, No, I can't talk. I can write, though.
Willis read this, his face becoming increasingly uneasy. He glanced at his friends, who shared his look of discomfort. "Right," he said, bouncing his ball as he edged away. "Well, um, I gotta go... maybe I'll see you around."
With that, he, Don and Mac turned tail and jogged back up the hill, not giving Desdamona a chance to say goodbye.
Desdamona sighed and her ears drooped. She knew it had been a mistake coming here.
Damien, who had been watching the scene unfold from a distance along with his other children, ushered Sirius and Blossom down the path and returned to walk beside Desdamona. He rested a hand on her head, which was just within his reach, and murmured, "I'm sorry, I know you just want to fit in, but it's not going to be easy, finding people who understand your... uniqueness."
Desdamona whipped her head up and glared at her father, her eyes flashing anger like an ocean storm. This is all your fault, she wrote quickly and heavily, her frustration coming out in her chalk lines, You were the one who made me come down here, I told you I didn't want to but you made me come anyway. I'm a freak, I don't belong here, I don't belong anywhere. You try so hard to make me seem normal, but I'm not normal, I'll never be normal. I'm broken, but you don't see it! She gave him just enough time to read it before pulling away from her father's hand and running off down the path, ignoring him and her siblings as they called her name.
Desdamona kept running until she reached a patch of berry bushes on the outskirts of the market. Collapsing in the thicket, she started to sob. Raging silently, she yanked her board off and hurled it into the bushes, wrenching up grass and dirt clods and hurling them as hard as she could in the direction of the chalk-board's flight trajectory, hoping to bury the wretched thing forever.
A shadow dropped down over Desdamona, and her father landed beside her, pulling her toward him and wrapping her firmly in his arms until she calmed down.
Too tired to fight anymore, Desdamona wilted, collapsing against her father as she sobbed silently.
Damien sighed and shook his head, "Desdamona," he murmured. "My sweet sunset. You're not a freak, and you're not abnormal, you're as important and special and worthy of love as everyone else, even more so than most, and do you know why?"
Slowly Desdamona looked up and sniffled, her tears running into her ears as she held her head vertically to look at her father's imposing form.
Damien smiled and whispered, "Because you're my little girl."
The corner of Desdamona's mouth twitched up ever so slightly into the beginnings of a smile, and her father let her go, lumbering into the bushes and returning with her chalk-board, whose frame was slightly cracked.
Damien ran a thumb over the split wood and said, "Don't worry, we can find some glue for this at the shop." Gently he hung it around his daughter's neck and gazed at her sadly. He crouched down and rested his weight on his hands as he got down to eye-level with her. "Desdamona," he said intently, "what I'm going to say next is very important, and you must listen carefully, understand?"
Desdamona nodded gravely and Damien continued. "The only person whose opinion of you matters, is yours. You cannot let anyone else determine how you feel about yourself. You are extremely special, Dezzie, because you possess something that only a very few people in this world can stake a claim to; you have a good heart. Your voice may be silent, but your heart sings. It sings with a selfless love that cannot be taught, it sings with the pride of your siblings' accomplishments, even while bitterly ignoring your own, it sings with a love of life, and laughter, and all that is good in the world. That is why the eventide Draiks sing every autumn, to remind us all that the song on the inside is just as important as the one on the outside. You are special, my daughter, and you must never let anyone tell you otherwise."
For a long time, Desdamona just stared at her father. She wouldn't have known what to say even if she could talk. Could it be true? Could Damien really mean what he'd said about her heart? It sounded too good to be true.
Before she could dwell on it any longer, Damien took her by the hand and led her out of the bushes. "Come on," he said softly. "Let's go and find your siblings. I left them in the arts and crafts shop. We should find what we're looking for there."
The bell on the door jangled as they entered the shop, and a yellow JubJub sitting on a stool peered at them from behind the counter. He smiled and hopped down from his perch, and approached them cordially. "Can I help you find something?" he asked, waving an orange foot in the direction of the shelves.
"Yes," Damien replied. "We're looking for chalk and glue."
"Chalk and glue hmm?" the JubJub said, giving Desdamona a once over glance. "Working on an art project for school are we, little miss?" He smiled up at her.
Desdamona glanced uneasily at her father, who nodded. Nervously picking up her chalk, she scrawled, No, I need to fix my chalk-board; the wood split when I dropped it. I'm almost out of chalk too. She held up the stub as she showed him her board, bracing herself for whatever well-intended, clumsy remark he would make next.
The JubJub read the board and looked at her again. "What's the matter? Meowclops got your tongue?" He chuckled. "Don't worry, I'm only teasing. There have been a lot of cases of Neo flu going around lately. Maybe you should visit the healing springs faerie. I'm sure she'll have you talking again in no time." He walked off down the aisle, leaving Desdamona and Damien staring at each other.
I never thought of that, Desdamona wrote quickly, Do you really think she could help? She held her breath, fearful of what her father might say: that it would be impossible, that the faeries couldn't do that kind of magic, that she'd be wasting her time.
Instead, Damien regarded her closely. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I suppose..." he began slowly, "I suppose it would be worth a try."
Desdamona beamed and flew up to hug her father round the neck. Her eyes shone with a hope that Damien had never seen there before. Suddenly he felt very afraid. If the faeries didn't succeed, it would break his daughter's heart. Could he do that to her? Was the risk of trying and failing greater than the risk of not trying at all? He would have to talk it over with Rosemarie, though by the look on Desdamona's face, they would be going to Faerieland regardless of his or her mother's thoughts on the matter.
To be continued...