charamei: (DW1: Doctor Susan)
[personal profile] charamei
Title: The Tale of One-Heart
Rating: PG to PG-13: fairy-tale violence on the level of Grimm's.
Genre: Fairy-tale
Characters/Pairings: One, Susan, a young man, a beautiful priestess, a mischievous sprite
Wordcount: 3088
Disclaimer: I don't own Doctor Who; I'm just playing in the BBC's sandbox for fun and practice.
Summary: The Doctor tells Susan a bedtime story.

/\/\/\


"A long time away and not so very far from here, there lived a young priestess. She was as clever as Rassilon, as wise as any of the old wise ones, and beautiful, too, with long dark curls flowing down her back and eyes like sparkling gemstones."

"She sounds boring."

"She was, which is why this story's not about her."

"Well, then why did you start with -"

"Shush, child. Every day, this priestess walked to the springs to collect water for the temple – and every day, unbeknownst to her, she was watched by a young man from the nearby village.

"Now, this young man was Shobogan, but he was also very much enamoured of the priestess, and he desperately wished to find a way to tell her of his feelings. Being bound not to speak to her lest he pollute her holiness, his mind turned towards love-tokens, and he spent many hours wandering the hills around his home, discoursing with himself upon the best form a love-token could take.

"It was on one of these meanderings that he came across an Irphaet trapped in a hollow under a rock by a pool. Now, the young man did not know that the wise old ones had trapped an Irphaet under this rock, and so, when it came time for his dinner, he heaved the rock into the pool to collect the fish that would die and float to the surface. Imagine his surprise when he turned about to find himself face-to-face with an Irphaet!"

"I thought they used to carve 'IRPHAET' onto those stones."

"Well, he couldn't read."

"Really? There were people who couldn't read back then?"

"Shush, I said. Now, the Irphaet was grateful to have been freed, but he was still an Irphaet, and so it was that when he offered advice with one problem to the young man, he did so with the intention of offering the worst advice possible, that which would lead to the greatest chaos if followed. The young man, for his part, knew of the reputation of the Irphaets; but he saw no reason not to listen, for it could only advise, and he knew the value of bad advice as much as good."

"He was an idiot. Why does everyone always listen to the Irphaet?"

"Morbid curiosity, I should expect. Shush. The young man, recalling the problem which had vexed him for the past two years, put it to the Irphaet thus: 'What is the best love-token that a Shobogan may give a priestess, that she might understand his feelings even though they may never speak?'

"The Irphaet thought for a moment, then replied, 'I should say that the best love-token is one of the Shobogan's hearts, for those are where love is kept; and a woman could not fail to be won over by a man who offered her his heart.' Then, his duty done, he rose to the stars, to find another gullible idiot on another planet to torment."

"It doesn't say 'gullible idiot', Grandfather, it says 'poor fool'."

"Who's telling this story?"

"You are, Grandfather."

"Well, shush then. The young man returned to his village, deep in thought; for although he knew the reputation of the Irphaet, its particular power had taken hold, and he believed he could see good sense in its suggestion, and his own ideas paled beside this one. He debated with himself for several days, but the more he did so, the more convinced he became that the Irphaet must be right; and so the young man turned his attention to the question of which of his hearts he should cut out.

"He could not decide; and so he began to ask the others in his village for assistance with this problem. Now, you might think that this would have alerted them to his intentions, but he put the question in such a way as to make it sound purely theoretical; and so, not suspecting that he might actually be planning to mutilate himself in this manner, each and every one of them returned that as a token of love the best heart should rightly be presented; for the affection of the second heart is fleeting and casual, whereas the affection of the best heart endures forever.

"The young man thanked them for their advice, and spent some days in preparation; then, one night, he took up a bag of supplies that he had made ready and stole out of the house, then out of the village, until he came to a deserted fork in the road. There, he opened his bag, and drew out a knife, which he plunged into his chest, and, though he thought he might faint from the pain, cut out his best heart. It took several minutes, for the knife was at an awkward angle and pain made him clumsy, but at last he threw it down in front of him, and, as his mind began to cloud, drank quickly of the small bottle of the elixir of life which he had stolen from the wise woman, when she last received a shipment from Karn. His wounds healed and his mind cleared; and, as this was still the age of magic, he turned to the next stage of his plan, the enchantment of his heart to ensure that it kept beating -"

"Ew!"

"I told you he was an idiot. Having accomplished this feat of magic, the young man took up his heart and his bag, which also contained a packed meal, and went to the place where he was accustomed to watch the priestess of a morning; and he placed his heart reverently on the path where he knew she would see it, and settled into his usual hiding place to await her arrival, his mind filled with the anticipation of her face filling with rapture when she saw what her secret admirer had done for her.

"In time, the priestess came, and when she saw what laid on the path in front of her she let out a shriek of horror, and stood transfixed; for although she could not comprehend what she saw, she knew without doubt that it was a Gallifreyan heart, still beating on the ground where it lay. Revulsion coursed through her, and she stamped on it, and stamped on it, and stamped on it, until all that remained of the young man's best heart was a few pulped scraps of tissue, and a stain on the ground where the last ounce of blood had squirted out. This done, the priestess, overcome with emotion, abandoned her water vessel and ran back to the temple to tell her sisters what she had seen.

"Now, as she had destroyed his heart, the young man had felt great pain; but as the heart became less of a heart, the pain lessened, and when it stopped beating and became still, the pain left completely; and with it, he perceived, went all of his cares and woes, all that clouded his judgement. The priestess, he saw now, was not worthy of his attentions, and he ceased to care for her. After all, she had stomped upon his heart.

"He returned home, his remaining heart light and carefree, and resumed his duties, but it took less than three days for his friends and family to perceive that there was something wrong with him; for the young man had become flighty and fickle. Nothing entertained him for more than a few hours before he became bored and cast it aside; the same was true even of people, even of his mother and father and sisters. He quickly determined them to be dull, and sought out new company, only to cast that off within a few hours, too.

"'He has lost his best heart,' the people joked, and did not know how right they were until the day came that he went to the bath-house, for when he entered that place unclothed, everyone could see the hideous scar on his chest, and deduce what he must have done.

"Then the wise woman rose up out of the water where she had been washing her hair, and, pointing at the door, called out, 'One-Heart, One-Heart, what have you done? Your folly will bring bad luck upon us all! Leave this place at once, and never return!'

"The young man tried in vain to explain himself, but each explanation that he gave served only to horrify the villagers further, until, when they heard how he had placed his heart in the path of the young priestess, they carried him from the bath-house, not even giving him the time to gather up his clothes, and cast him over the borders of the village, all the while chanting, 'One-Heart, One-Heart, what have you done? You are not welcome here!'"

"Oh, that's not very nice."

"You're quite right, it's not. Fortunately, we're more enlightened nowadays."

"So how did you get thrown out of that sector of the Citadel the other day?"

"...And so the young man was left in the wilderness, cold, naked and alone, with nowhere to go. He tried at first to get back into the village, but the people were watching out for him, and since he only had his second heart he quickly grew tired of the attempts; and so he set off, on foot, to find somewhere to sleep that night.

"For seventy years, the young man wandered Gallifrey, looking for a place to live; but at every settlement he came to, the people saw his scar and would not allow him to enter, saying, 'One-Heart, One-Heart, what have you done? You are not welcome here!'

"One-Heart grew wild. His hair hung long and uncombed, his skin hardened. He slept in caves and in winter wore the skins of animals for warmth, and in summer he wore nothing at all. He followed the whims of his heart, and these, in time, became wild as well, untempered by a best heart. He forgot how to reason, how to count, how to read -"

"You said he couldn't read anyway, Grandfather."

"So he learned, and then forgot. He forgot how to mark time, and the days melded together for him, until he knew only the seasons, and those only for their effects on his belly. On some occasions he forgot even how to walk upright, but swung from the trees like an ape, or else crawled along the ground like an animal. And he did not care if he was seen in this state, for he had lost all shame.

"Now, it happened that after seventy years, he came to a small house on an outcrop of mountain, wherein lived an old wizard and his daughter, who was as beautiful as the day was long, as ingenious as Rassilon, as inventive as Omega -"

"Why are there never any normal women in these stories?"

"And her name was Susan."

"Oh. All right, carry on."

"Thank you. The first time One-Heart saw Susan, his fickle heart fixed itself upon her, and he decided that he would win her affection. But he dared not approach her, for her father was irascible, and One-Heart lived in fear of being chased away yet again."

"Are you sure it wasn't her grandfather?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Well, you said he was irascible."

"Do you want me to finish this story or not?"

"Sorry, Grandfather. Can't imagine what made me call you cantankerous, Grandfather."

"Hmph. That's better. So One-Heart kept his distance, and once again watched from afar, but his heart was used to having its every whim provided for, and the more it was denied, the stronger it beat for her, until, with what little brain he had left, One-Heart thought he might go mad.

"Now, one day he went down to the pool where he was accustomed to bathe, and, after cleaning himself as best he could, climbed out and laid on the ground to dry off. It was summer, and the sun was high and warm; and One-Heart, having tired himself out, fell asleep there, stretched out on the cesas grass.

"And he was still there some three hours later, when Susan came to bathe and to collect water and herbs. When she saw the wild man stretched out in the sun, she was surprised, but not so horrified as you might expect, and in her curiosity she crept closer, and bent over him, and saw his scar. But where others were filled with revulsion, Susan was filled with pity, and she stayed with One-Heart until he awoke, and spoke to him in soothing voice, and gave him water and food from her bundle, and took him home with her, put him in a fresh robe and put shoes on his feet, and cut his hair, and when her father returned she told him how she had found One-Heart, and One-Heart told them his story, what he could remember of it.

"The old wizard listened with pity, and said that he must certainly stay with them, and made One-Heart a special tea and a provided him with a bed. One-Heart thanked him with genuine gratitude, but he had not been long at rest before his thoughts turned once more to Susan; and now that he was under the same roof as her, he found his urges impossible to resist. He crept up the stairs to her room, and crept inside, and watched her as he slept, and contemplated what he was about to do, and was suddenly revolted to see himself and what he had become.

"One-Heart turned and fled, not only Susan's room but the house and even the county, not stopping until he was well away from her and from temptation. He took off the clothes that the old wizard had given him and hid them under a tree-stump, and returned to his old life, thinking it better.

"And yet, he still could not stop thinking of Susan. His heart, usually so fickle, had become steady in this one aspect, and he longed to return, to see her again, to hear her voice which had been the first to speak so kindly to him in so long, to touch her mind... yet every time he thought of her, he also remembered how he was and what he had done the last time, and he determined to stay away for Susan's sake.

"But despite this self-revulsion, One-Heart found himself less and less satisfied with his life in the wild, and his thoughts turned to the clothing hidden under the tree stump, and how with it he could return to living among his own kind, if he were careful never to enter the baths. And so, one day, One-Heart gathered up the clothes that had lain under the tree stump, put them on, and entered the nearest town. He was filled with trepidation as he did so, but he was clean, and clothes, and his scar was hidden, and the guards let him in without a second thought.

"He went to see the wise-woman, and told her that he was looking to join the community, and explained that he had troubles schooling his hearts but was willing to learn. The wise woman nodded wisely, don't giggle, Susan, and provided him with a house, and some land. And she told him that to school his hearts, he must only be patient, and kind, and not give in to the whims of his second heart but listen instead to his best one.

"One-Heart could not tell her the truth, but he thanked her and set to cultivating his land, and as he did so, tried to think of the best way to listen to a heart that was not there. Finally he determined that he could perhaps hear his best heart in his fancy, and that he should do what he thought it would once have said. This he did, and he passed ten years in that place, bathing outside the walls where nobody could see -"

"Didn't people think that was a bit antisocial?"

"Oh, I expect so, but in every other respect he was patient and kind, and a model citizen, and as time wore on One-Heart found it easier and easier to imagine that he had two hearts.

"The wise woman was a frequent visitor to his plot of land, and they soon became friends. One-Heart, schooling his heart, did not allow himself to grow tired of her, or to cast her off for new company.

"After the ten years had passed, the wise woman came once more to his house, and said to him, 'One-Heart, you have schooled yourself well.' And One-Heart was afraid, for nobody could know that he had only the One-Heart: until the wise woman pulled at her silver hair, and it came away, dark curls tumbling down from it; and she rubbed at her wrinkles, and they were greasepaint; and her gnarled hands were moulded to slim young fingers; and Susan stood in front of him, and smiled.

"Then One-Heart was filled with wonder, but schooled his heart, and said, 'You must leave, for I cannot control my heart when you are near.' But Susan laughed, and tugged away his work-shirt, and showed him that where there had once been a scar, now there was untouched flesh; and she put his hand to his best heart, and showed him its beat.

"One-Heart was filled with joy, and Susan took him and introduced him to the real wise woman, her mother; and the next time One-Heart gave away his best heart, it was in the proper manner, in a pair-bonding. From that day on he was known as Two-Hearts, and there was never a more patient, kind or well-schooled man in the whole of Gallifrey."

"Oh, that's sweet," Susan said. "But -"

"Hmm?"

"Well, how could he possibly not recognise her for ten years? He was still telepathic."

"Ah, but Susan was clever, you see. She masked her telepathic signature, too."

"That's not possible, Grandfather."

"Perhaps it used to be, then. Go to sleep, Susan."

"But -"

"Sleep."

"'Kay." Susan snuggled down, and he had almost made it to the door when she said, "Grandfather?"

"Yes?"

"That's not why you've only got one heart, is it?"

"Of course not, of course not. Don't be silly." He tapped the light panel, turning them out, and turned to smile at the alert little bundle in the bed. "Your grandmother's got my other one nice and safe. Goodnight, Susan."

"Goodnight, Grandfather."

/\/\/\

Date: 2009-02-07 04:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] charamei [journalfen.net]
[DWFic link, for my own review-whoring purposes (http://community.livejournal.com/dwfiction/)]

Date: 2009-02-07 08:27 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)

which also contained a packed meal

The best part.

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