Fandom: Shakespeare's The Tempest
Word count: 1297
Notes: Written as a yuletide stocking-stuffer for anotherusedpage, in a quick hour on Christmas Eve. I adore this play, and I have a lot of ideas and images and words for it - only fatigue and time constraints kept it from being a hell of a lot longer.
Thread hangs from branch to branch like scarlet cobwebs. The girl Miranda has twigs tangled in her hair and her nails are rimmed with dirt, but she clings to the tree-fork in which she is seated with a tenacity that her father has never seen.
“What are you doing?” you ask her.
“Roads,” she says, her blue eyes vague, as they always are when you take this form. “For the insects.”
A shake of the head and your hair is a little longer, your features more feminine. “Did it ever occur to you that the insects don’t need your help? That they have their own roads?”
She relaxes and her eyes focus on you, narrowing into patient disbelief. There is that about Miranda (and about her father, which is unsurprising; her inheritance is far more than the colour of her hair): she cannot fathom the idea that even when something can be done, there may nevertheless be reasons not to do it. Intelligence and opportunity are their own prerogatives in her eyes. Which are her father’s eyes.
Words are less important in some forms, but language is a habit not easily shed. You had this conversation with Caliban, once – only once – a conversation that drove you to frustration because, ironically, the words stood as a barrier to communication. There was a time when you suspected that he was so slow to learn to speak because he saw it as a mark of Prospero’s dominion and so resisted out of principle. You floated on a bed of mist and tried to coax this out of him, tried to find high ideals in his base stupidity. That was a mistake. Since then you have seen other, uglier reasons: a natural, earthy dullness of mind that keeps the words from sticking. The way Miranda’s eyes flash like a sea-storm when she is impatient with her student, and the obstinacy that keeps her coming back again and again to imprint the vocabulary onto his semi-willing clay. His overwhelming resentment of all things outside himself.
He rolls in mud and howls under a lash that you fashioned out of reeds and salt, and you ignore the voice that once told you that resisting language and its subtle enslavement was the braver thing to do. This voice shows you Caliban, whimpering, snarling, and tells you that he is the freer.
And what, you snap back, being afraid of pain, is that so ignoble? Serving and being rewarded for it, when the alternative is this constant, futile hatred?
You have your own reasons.
(Caliban curses you in the language of the air and the trees, which Prospero has never even realised that it could be worth his while to learn.)
Your lash flicks out.
The sand warms you from below and the sun from above, and Prospero sits with his fingers tangled in your hair.
“How is she, my Ariel?”
“She is still resting, my lord.”
Technically speaking, this is true, but the thing about words is that they can be twisted and you have always been good at twisting things. Miranda’s red thread has become a cats-cradle; twists and more twists; and she is murmuring into the patterns, but she is still supine and so you do not feel that you are lying to her father.
He nods and strokes your hair some more and you close your eyes, bored of discussing her. Prospero raises his daughter as every parent does: using every resource available to him in the way that he truly thinks is best for her. There can not be many children who have had so many spells cast upon them. Miranda has been healed, sent to sleep, awoken, had her memory purged of unpleasant events, had her learning accelerated and her every aspect enhanced. And all with the very best of intentions. She is the best and most perfect thing that a man like Prospero could create, and if there was ever much of her mother in her then it has been gently erased by this moist cloth of power.
No wonder her eyes drift, sometimes; no wonder the dreamy airs she assumes and the sudden fits of insight she possesses. She leaks magic from every pore, and one day either she will master it or it will dissolve her entirely.
There is a tree that Miranda sits under, sometimes, and hums the same three bars to herself again and again. The trunk has a gash in it, halfway up, as though something had forced its way out. Or been pulled.
It has been years, and yet you still shiver when you pass that tree.
Oh, yes, you have your own reasons.
And yet: “My lord, will you not set me free?”
Prospero talks in a beautiful, sinuous way that you could never hope to imitate, his words winding around you and reassuring you with their implacable logic. Despite this, it is still no, and it still hurts.
But if you close your ears and ignore the words – if you look at him – then there is a spark of panic dancing behind his expression: a fear of being left, again. Of being betrayed, again.
That’s something. That’s enough.
You know that there is more to Miranda than the placid innocence she carries around with her, and sometimes you try to draw it out. She is difficult to bait, but it can be done. You pull a male form around yourself and press; press your fingers against her skin, press carefully on those mental buttons that will trip her anger. She keeps her lips in a thin line and stares at her red threads, hooking them neatly with her thumbs, but you can tell that she is starting to simmer.
The two of you sit side by side watching the sun submerge itself in the ocean, and you whisper to her about the things that her father keeps from her and the tricks he plays on her and the way he warps her mind and the funny thing about it is that you aren’t lying, not even in a twisting way.
And eventually – “Stop it,” Miranda yells, and all of a sudden her hand is a brand against your wrist and you are reeling with pain, tumbling away across the sand. When you gather yourself enough to look back at her, the cats-cradle is writhing and glowing between her fingers, though even as you watch it collapses into limp tangles and its filthy scarlet light dims to nothing, the sunset tossed back out to sea where it belongs.
Miranda meets your eyes. She is very pale, and in a sudden spasm of motion she throws her threads onto the sand where they lie like tendrils of splattered blood.
“Ariel,” she says. You cannot recall her ever having addressed you by name before. That little voice speaks up one more time and tells you that she is growing into her power and its entitlements, and that her threads could ensnare you with even more surety than Prospero’s binding words, and that you should run. “Please…” she says, and abruptly you remember that she is still very young.
“I won’t tell him,” you say, and flicker into a bird’s shape.
That could have been a lie.
You’ll decide later.
You open your mouth to ask for your freedom, but –
“My Ariel,” Prospero says, “how would you care to help me raise a tempest?” and his eyes are blue, so blue, and you have become as adept at naming things as he would wish but you still cannot find a word for what it is you feel for him.
"All right," you say.
On the other side of the island, Miranda is catching the sun in her hands.