I've been working on a post regarding raid cooldowns, but as it's still in development, I decided in the meantime to share a short story I wrote. I hate to write ill of a wolf, but as personified, some people are good, and some are cruel.
The nest near which she perched was rimmed in black down and moss, but that was barely visible around the seven pudgy chicks crowded within the branches. "Gran! Gran!" they chirped. "Story, Gran! Story?"
The old raven chuckled at the hatchlings' eagerness, and addressed the father who knelt at the nest's edge. "A thirst for knowledge and wisdom, I am hearing? This brood may do you proud."
The male raven, far younger than she, inclined his long, curved beak in respect. "Your lore teaches what could otherwise lead to death, if one waited but on experience," he intoned.
The old raven chuckled again, preening her sleek feathers before settling back into a story. "You know of wolves, hatchlings?"
"Yes, Gran, yes!" they chirped, all but climbing over one another. The largest fluttered wildly and pecked another on the head, fighting for the right to be the one to recite. The others leaned away, allowing the boisterous one to speak for them. "Wolves are ground-runners, large and fast/They bring down prey, rip them open for repast/A raven must remember: the wolves eat first; birds last."
The old raven clapped her wings, the long feathers striking together in a swift motion without even leaving her perch on the branch. "An excellent verse to remember, Youngling. A wolf and its pack can be a sure ticket to a meal, but always beware that those teeth that open your lunch could just as easily be turned to your own skin."
Here she paused, letting her gaze slide over the landscape of the valley, and then she began. "There was once a wolf who sought a raven's help. 'Here, Raven, look what I have found,' he called out. And sure enough, he had found a bracelet of beads, human-made, and even washed them of the blood in the stream so that they sparkled in the sun."
"He killed a human for the beads," one of the chicks half-whispered, and another bat a wing at the first and rolled his eyes at what was, to him, a dumb remark stating the obvious. The old raven merely nodded slightly in confirmation and continued with her story.
"The raven swept down to a lower branch to inspect the wolf's find, and did indeed covet the prize. Knowing that rare was the wolf who would keep such things, the raven did ask, 'What a fine thing! And what could this humble Raven do if, perchance, the Mighty Wolf wish to trade?'
"The wolf let the bracelet dangle from his teeth as he spoke, 'Your aid, Lady Raven, for I seek to find a Trespasser! Your sharp eyes and strong wings could surely find the Mongrel Filth who have stolen into my pack's lands.' The raven cocked her head in curiosity, and did say, 'Specifics may aid in your Quest, Lord Wolf, for my avian eyes may not see Royalty from Whelps, among the canid kind.'
"The wolf trotted slowly closer to the branch, bringing the bauble closer to the raven's perch; it shone in the sun like a string of stars. 'Strange wolves to this land, Winged One, who entered from Far South. Last my pack tracked them to the Rolling Hills, and there lost them, after the troublemakers did injure my Dear Son.' The raven did flutter her wings at this news, for she had not heard of it yet; 'Your pup, injured?' she asked, and the wolf nodded gravely. But the raven was wise, and knew the year to be growing late, and so said 'Surely your pup could stand its own ground, being full grown by now?'
"The wolf was caught in its attempt to sway judgment, and its triangle ears did flatten back briefly, but after a pause, the wolf stepped again closer with the bracelet, 'A fight most unfair, given the Trespass upon our land and the Poaching of our prey,' he now said. 'They must be driven away, and quickly; surely you know of where they have gone, with your eyes so keen in the Sky?'
"The raven looked again at the bauble, weighing options, for it had indeed seen these strange wolves in the valley before. Who could not have noticed? Loud calls bringing together a band of strangers, fights amongst the resident pack and these new arrivals, and all the prey creatures growing skittish with the territorial howls ringing in the woods? But the wolf was growing impatient as the raven mulled this over, and he said 'I do not offer just any trinket for your aid, Wise Raven; come and look more closely. For within these jewels lies the fire tamed by humans, itself! I had to douse them in the river just to cool them. Come closer, you must see!'
"The raven was startled by so strange a thing, that the raven fluttered down from the branch and did go closer to the wolf, who held the human beads within his teeth. 'Ah ha!' cried the wolf, and he leapt with great speed upon the raven!"
The old raven paused here dramatically, flaring her wings out in emphasis, the expansive tips brushing through the leaves of a nearby branch. The chicks squawked and chittered, and their father chuckled.
"The raven was pinned beneath the wolf's heavy feet, the very bauble she sought now pressing into the feathers of her breast, along with the wolf's sharp teeth. Teeth that were used to rip through hide and crush through bone! And from around his deadly grip, the wolf now snarled..." and the story teller lowered her voice into the ominous, gutteral tones of a wolf, " 'Tell me where the mangy filth is, bird, or I'll be feeding your heart to my alpha!' "
It looked like one of the chicks fainted. It was an act, of course; after bit of rustling, her head popped back up amongst nervous giggles.
"Now the raven knew the wolf would track down the strangers with her help or not, and whether the bracelet was ever traded became a moot point next to preserving her own life. So the raven squawked angrily, 'I would of course tell you, Cruel Wolf, who talks so Sweetly when I am in the tree! I can divulge the location of one now, in fact, last as I had seen the Creature wander; if you but let me up now, I can share it, and then seek out others in trade for your Prize.' The wolf's hot breath stunk over the raven's feathers as he considered, and at last he growled, 'Tell me the location of the One, first, and then I shall let you go to find the others.'
"The raven knew a wolf could track by scent, and so told him the honest truth, 'One did go to the shallow den by the Ancient Hickory, the one gnarled and dieing at its crown, where the Great Horned Owl does sleep. You may find your Stranger there. The others are more dispersed, but I can find them quickly, should my Wing be uninjured,' the raven said darkly. The wolf relented and relinquished his grasp, letting the raven beat rapidly back up into the tree; the bracelet remained in his jaws, locked around his sharp back teeth. 'Seek out the others, then,' the wolf now ordered, 'Return here regularly to report. When they have all been found and killed, you can have your human trash,' and the wolf now bounded away.
"The raven preened, smoothing out feathers in the fading sunlight, noting quite happily that the wolf had not taken the whole pack to take down what he thought to be one weak and alone Stranger-Wolf cornered in a shallow cave. As the sun began to spin towards the horizon, the raven took wing and flew to that cave, alighting on the safe branches of the Ancient Hickory to see what had come of the Cruel Wolf.
"In the fading light of dusk, the wolf's carcass lay, split open by claws longer than flight feathers. Just within his gaping jaw still sat the bracelet, dull now with the wolf's blood. The raven checked to be sure no one else was in sight. She then flitted down quickly, snatching up both bracelet and meat, savoring greatly her meal for all the trouble this wolf had given."
The old raven swept back in a grand bow, her story winding towards its end. "Had that Wolf not so threatened the Raven, it may have lived its full life; but also, had the Raven not thought so quickly, it may have been dead, itself, that day." The old raven paused here, watching the faces of the chicks as they mulled over the story thus far.
After a moment, one chick asked the question the old storyteller was waiting for, "Did the Stranger-Wolf kill the Cruel One, Gran?"
The storyteller gave a sharp, gleeful laugh. "Oh no," she said, "That is the best part: for the Cruel Wolf had threatened her life and harmed her pride, the Raven chose to tell a half-truth. Indeed, the Stranger had denned there one night recently, but just that morning, the Raven had seen a great Grizzly napping at that cave, three Bumbling Cubs rolling about her. A lone wolf is no match for a bear, let alone one so fierce as a mother protecting her cubs."
The chicks sighed appreciatively at the Raven's honest trick. The old raven preened her feathers again, the iridescence still shining bright blues and purples in spite of her age.
"The bracelet," another asked, "Did it really contain Human Fire and Stars?"
The old storyteller chuckled and winked, "Perhaps it did, perhaps not. If it were truly of fire, though, how could a raven keep it without her nest burning to cinders?"
The chicks pondered. "A secret stream nest!" one finally suggested. "With a waterfall!"
The chick's father chuckled at his daughter's creativity. "That would be a sight to see."
"Remember my story well, Younglings," the old Raven now said, returning her gaze to the valley, "and I bid you good day."
"Gran, Gran! Another story?"
The old raven chuckled, "Perhaps another time," she said, and she spread her great wings and swept out from the tree, catching a warm air current to lift up under her wings, letting her soar over the valley.
The Charnel House Trilogy (Review)
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