A pervert once told me that pride was like a knife, with it you can cut down your enemies, and your allies. There are time when you do not throw it away but leave it on the ground right beside you so you can pick it up once again. -- Anon Guest
Pride is a knife, the teacher said. Use it to cut others and it will cut you. It shines, it gleams, it hurts, and it makes it all the easier to hurt yourself. Pride is a gleaming prize that can be reached for, but never achieved. No matter what, pride will turn on you and cut you down. Pride can be a tool. Pride can be earned. Pride can be a poison.
It's a complicated thing to have. Harder than diamond, stronger than stone, ephemeral as mist... all of them at once. Rarest of all prizes for the downtrodden and unworthy like Pia. The Mistress called her ugly at every turn, even her own parents didn't want her and nobody else had until the Mistress had chosen her for training. Then... another found her and trained her for other things.
That was the teacher, and they took Pia away from the Mistress at any time they liked to bring her... here... and teach her things. Pia wasn't certain how it worked, the teacher kept things foggy, but it never seemed far and it never seemed to take very long, despite the fact that Pia was always working at it for hours. This lesson on Pride had taken but a minute, yet the arguing of it took far, far longer. "Y'ain't gonna make me poison the Mistress, is you? I ain't gonna poison th' Mistress."
"I have no intention of harming the Mistress. It is in her house that I exist, as you exist in her house, so I owe her some measure of protection. Even from such as myself."
Which lead, naturally, to the next question. "Are you dangerous?"
The mouth of the teacher, the only thing truly visible about them in the shifting darkness that made them up, smiled. "Everything is dangerous, in the right circumstances. I am dangerous to those who would harm this house. Just as you can be dangerous, once you learn how. I merely ask you to consider... why you would already attempt to protect the Mistress who despises you?"
"If it weren't for her, I'd be dead in a ditch or sold t' Bawdy House," Pia answered simply. "Mistress always says it's a good thing I listen good an' learn fast or I'd be dirt or lower."
"Just as it's a good thing I can always find that which is lost, or I would be the same," said the teacher. "We are useful, therefore we are as valued as any other tool. Yet she does not know everything we do for her. My kind have helped and been secret for too long. We are dying out. I must teach you the arts I know before we are gone."
Frightening though the teacher was, now Pia was frightened for them. "You're... dying?"
"All living things must," said the teacher. "We are creatures of Belief, and the Belief is fading. We were strong in the older times. We became stories for children... now even those stories are dying. You know me as real and that Belief is enough to sustain me, but... you can call it dying if you must. I must teach someone, and that someone is you. We are both invisible to her and others like her... until we do something wrong."
Pia bent herself harder to learning the teacher's lessons, after that revelation. She loved the teacher in her own peculiar way, and would do anything to please them. If that meant having faith in them in order to feed them, then so be it. She learned the name of their kind, Nisse... and the name they all shared. Tontu. If ever she lost or misplaced something important, a Nisse might have taken it. All she needed to do was chant thrice, "Tontu, please return unto me," and name the thing she had mislaid.
In the old days, when they were strong, the Nisse would be quick in doing it, but the teacher was old. Their strength was waning. Their speed was waning. As soon as the teacher taught her to step aside into the hidden and unused spaces, Pia would often spare poor old Tontu the bother and go looking herself. The Nisse couldn't help but gather un-used things. Forgotten and empty spaces. Things left somewhere a little too long. Forgotten things. Coin lost between cushions and hidden treats were Pia's favourites. She would always snatch up the latter when they were on the verge of spoiling, just in case their owner came looking or remembered where they were.
The more Pia learned, the more... Nisse-ish she became. There was always a little extra shadow around her, and she felt safest when she wasn't noticed. Sometimes, she had to move or make a sound just to be seen even when she was right in front of the Mistress. And in odd moments, when Pia felt the safest, especially in the Betweens, there was a hint of a tufted tail at her rear.
The teacher told her that this was why Pride was a poison. To be Prideful was to want of notice, to want of praise. A Nisse thrived on Belief, that was true, but they also existed outside of notice. As long as they weren't seen but also Believed in... that was where Nisse existed the best. Soon, she would learn how to be Invisible at will, and to protect the home and those who owned it.
She had already been halfway there when the Mistress finished her training. Ignored and overlooked by almost everyone. Quiet as a mouse, the other servants had said. Quieter. The oldest of the housekeepers had mumbled, "Quiet as a Nisse..." and not said anything that made sense thereafter.
Perhaps those words had summoned Tontu the teacher. Made them want more like them, who made use of the Betweens, to keep the spaces and the traditions and the Belief alive. Perhaps it was the fact that, for a space of time, the house had forgotten that they had left Pia in the penitence closet all night. Nisse, after all, gathered up forgotten things. They lived in forgotten spaces. They used forgotten time. It was how and why the time Pia spent training in the Betweens was far longer than any time that anyone missed her.
It started to become how she was able to do far more than any other servant in the house. She could enter the Betweens and do her work, then return to everyday space to leave the finished item where it would be found. The trick was never letting anyone know it was her. Being noticed was not the Nisse way. Wanting notice made it harder to get Between and harder to use it. Harder to use anything there. Pia was not willing to wade through Between like wading through thigh-deep water or trudging through mire. So she took it upon herself to do forgotten tasks and let others take the credit.
Soon, like Tontu, her teacher, she would be forgotten as well. She was, after all, halfway there. The people who made her forgot her. The people who took her in forgot her. The people who needed her forgot her. The people she traded with forgot she was ever there. Even the men she dallied with forgot about her after they were done.
When she had a child, she would birth it Between, where she had ready access to everything she could need, so long as it was forgotten. She would teach them everything they needed to know. Starting with how to be invisible, and how to live with being forgettable. She would, of course, teach them about the poison known as Pride.
[Image (c) Can Stock Photo / mehmetcan]
If you like my stories, please Check out my blog and Follow me. Or share them with your friends!
Send me a prompt [75 remaining prompts!]