The Master and the Robe




 

Author's Notes:  This is an attempt to answer the challenge. It is an original story, but it was inspired by various folktales and fairytales, and a figure skating routine that can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIvc46riE9s

Note: this is the second story inspired by the skating routine, the first can be read here:
Bonds of Gold: http://astraplain.livejournal.com/102367.html

Thanks to Arwen for the encouragement!



*****

 

"My robe?"

It was almost dawn, and Olor's plea was at its most heartbreaking. The master leaned down, crushing out the words with his kiss.

"Please." It was barely a whisper, but the first ray of sunlight stole any chance of a stronger appeal. Daytime brought silence, and the master liked it that way.

This was the master's favorite time to mark his prize, to leave handprints and the impression of teeth on alabaster skin. Occasionally he used the lash, wielding it like an artist with a pristine canvas while Olor screamed and cried without uttering a sound.

The servant girls collected Olor's tears in a golden cup and Master drank them every morning with breakfast.
 

*****
 


By day Olor slept or moved restlessly around the courtyard garden that served as his prison and his home. There were bars high overhead but he had no way to reach them. A clear blue pond sat invitingly in the center of the courtyard, but he rarely accepted the invitation.

Sometimes the girls would bring him food and sing to him while he ate. Their songs were bittersweet, and not always in tune, but they were better than silence.

At dusk Olor's voice returned and he was allowed inside, into the room where the master took his pleasure. Olor tried to please him with sweet songs and sweeter kisses. Some nights the master's touch was almost gentle.

It had been like this for three months, since the night Olor played in the moonlit pond, unaware that a man he'd never met was about to claim his future. It was only when the sky lightened that Olor realized his feather robe had been stolen and with it, his ability to transform back into a swan.

Trapped in human form he hid in the thick rushes, shivering and terrified. He'd never before missed a transformation, but he'd heard tales of those who had. It was a terrible, half-existence that awaited those unlucky enough to lose their robes. And if the precious garment was found by someone who understood the significance... Some of his unlucky kin had been forced to mate with or even marry a human, and had never again felt the freedom of their true form.

It wasn't that all humans were cruel, he reminded himself as he curled even tighter against the cool air. But there was no happy ending for such a union. How could there be when the one who proclaimed their love did so by denying your freedom and your identity?

Footsteps drew his attention, and Olor looked up at his robe and the man who held it. The eyes were cold, the hands grasping where they held the delicate robe. No, there would be no happy ending.

Olor climbed slowly to his feet, his eyes straying to the lake one last time, sending it a silent farewell. One step forward and everything would change.

He stood proudly, unashamed of his nakedness even as the human's eyes touched every part of him, claiming him. Freedom in the form of a robe was folded carefully and put away, just out of Olor's reach. He stood in front of this new master and slowly bowed his head.
 

*****
 


The magpies tried to make him feel welcome. Poor, broken girls with robes too damaged to fully transform. It left them with weak wings and weaker spirits. In human form they served the master with gratitude and Olor offered them what encouragement he could spare. When they were allowed their robes, they preened and strutted for him, singing the few snatches of songs they could remember.

They came to him after that first night and soothed his wounded body and spirit, not knowing their pitiful presence only drove Olor closer to despair. Only the splinter of anger in his heart gave Olor the will to fight. The master had taken his robe, his freedom and his body, but Olor would never surrender his mind.

By the sixth night, Olor had a plan. In the wild, his kind lived long lives. He had time. He would have to learn patience.
 

*****
 


"I brought you a gift," the master told him as Olor knelt at his feet. Olor looked, uncertain, and his eyes met those of his master. He tried not to look too closely there, tried to pretend not to see the desperation behind the cruelty. His body understood how little difference there was between desire and covetousness but his mind refused to learn.

Olor didn't dare feel pity for the man who possessed him. It didn't matter that he was not the first of his kind to feel the master's touch. He'd never replace the wife who got away, clutching to the remnants of her life in the form of a battered feather robe.

Olor could never take her place, even if he wanted to, so he accepted the gift warily, wondering which of the girl's robes would be short another feather. Humans prized them for their beauty, but no amount of gold would be adequate compensation.

The gift was a bracelet of braided gold with no adornment - simple yet beautiful - and Olor hated that he didnít hate it. He held out his wrist without being asked and willingly kissed the master afterwards. In the morning there were no new marks to be tended by the magpies.
 

*****
 


At six months the master gave him a necklace to match the bracelet. It fit loosely, but Olor still felt like he was choking, and he couldn't look at either of the girls. That night when the master was finally sated, Olor didn't turn away before falling asleep.
 

*****
 


The magpies were happier since Olor taught them easier ways to complete their daily chores. The house was spotless, the meals were more flavorful and nutritious, and the master rarely used the whip or his fists.

Olor wondered if it was like this when the other of his kind lived here - and how she managed not to go insane as she played house while secretly searching for the hidden robe. So far no one seemed to suspect what Olor was doing, but he didn't allow himself to be careless. He was still paying the price for the last time he did that.
 

*****


On the one year anniversary of their meeting, the master gave Olor a ring. He knelt when he presented it, and Olor wondered if it was a trick of the light or if there were actually tears in the master's eyes.

They were up half the night, and when the master finally collapsed, he pulled Olor into a gentle embrace before falling asleep.
 

*****
 


On their second anniversary, the master presented Olor with an ornate wooden box. He set it on the table just after sunset, when Olor was once again able to speak, and used a heavy gold key to unlock it. The robe inside was as beautiful as it was the day the master first laid eyes on it.

Olor reached out slowly, as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing. He hesitated, his eyes searching the master's for a long time before he finally picked up the robe. It was as light as he remembered, and every shimmering feather was perfectly intact.

He barely stopped himself from crushing the delicate garment in his own grasp, as he fought back a wave of emotion. He staggered back and dropped gracelessly into a chair.

"I'm giving it back. I'm not going to apologize," the master told him. "But I hope you will find a way to forgive me eventually."

Olor didnít answer. He simply reached out and touched the master's hand.
 

*****


He waited until spring, for a clear night with a full moon.

It had taken awhile to regain his equilibrium after being trapped as a human for so long. His kind avoided him at first, but eventually allowed him to approach, even if they regarded him warily. They could smell the master on him.

But it wasn't their acceptance he was waiting for.

Patience had been a hard lesson, but he used it well, putting all the pieces in place. Finally, on that spring evening he was ready.

He tired the master out, then cuddled close until he was deeply asleep. Only then did Olor leave the bed for the last time, taking up his precious robe and leaving behind all of his human clothing. Wearing only the necklace and bracelet, he entered the servant girls' room and kissed each on the forehead. He left the ring behind, poor compensation for the feathers that had paid for it.

Carrying his robe, he walked down to the lake, took a seat among the reeds where he'd hidden that first night more than two years earlier, and waited.

It was a half-hour before dawn when the master arrived, breathless and terrified. He dropped to his knees before Olor and pleaded for him to come home. Olor leaned down and licked the master's tears away but didn't say a word.

When dawn arrived, Olor gently withdrew and stood. He stepped back a few paces, stopping beside a tall stand of reeds and slipping on the robe. The transformation was swift and soon the human form had been traded for that of a swan.

He stretched out his wings and his neck, making himself as large as possible. He was a magnificent sight and the master moved towards him, fascinated and desperate. Olor waited until they could almost touch before taking flight. On the ground where he'd been standing was the golden necklace, and a single, battered gray feather resting on the master's coiled whip.

The master picked up the items one at a time: the necklace was his gift to Olor, the gray feather was a remnant of his wife's robe, and the whip... The master closed his hands over the items and wondered which one of these things inflicted the most pain.

Overhead, the swan circled once, letting out a triumphant call. The gold bracelet shone in the moonlight as Olor flew away.

::end::

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