From The Valravn by Megan Fennell
“I mean you no harm,” called a voice from the other side of the door. It was a man’s voice, rich but presently a bit uncertain. “It’s only this dreadful storm, you see… I seem to be a bit turned around in the woods, and I suspect there might be wolves stalking me as well. So I’m afraid you simply must open the door for me or else I’ll be left no alternative but to be killed horribly and bleed all over your quaint little doorstep.”
I didn’t realize my mouth was hanging agape until my mother shot me a stern look and tapped the bottom of her chin. She moved past me to the door, slipping the hatchet under the folds of her apron. When she opened the door, the howling wind threw a lashing of rain into the room, soaking the floor and pulling tendrils of my mother’s hair free from her neat kerchief.
I wasn’t certain if it was the force of the storm or the sight of the stranger on the other side of the door that set her back upon her heels. My eyes were first drawn to his cloak. Even sodden, it was a spectacular thing, bright robin’s egg blue mottled with large silver diamonds. It shimmered as it moved with the wind. His wide-brimmed hat was a more modest black, but trimmed with a broad band of the same blue and silver, and plumed with a flurry of long feathers that wilted in the rain. He swept the hat off to make a bow to my mother, pouring a brimful of water with unfortunate precision onto her feet. Her posture stiffened with disapproval and, despite my nerves I had to cough to cover my giggle.
When the stranger straightened, he was smiling hopefully but I could see him shivering even from where I sat near the fire.
“Rikard the Bard at your service, frau,” he announced.
“A bard,” my mother echoed. Her tone reminded me of the time she’d discovered a drowned squirrel floating in the rain barrel. Rikard seemed to not hear it quite the same way.
“A bard among bards!” he said, sweeping his arms wide. “I’ve performed with my voice echoing through the gilded halls of the Heidelberg and have shouted above the crowds on the meanest streets of Cologne until I brought them to awed silence around me. My ballads of love unrequited have left duchesses in tears and I am veritably pursued for my moving elegies.”
He’d puffed himself up so that even the feathers in his hat seemed to have gained new life, though his teeth were chattering fiercely and his lips were a shade of blue that nearly matched his cloak.
“I thought,” my mother said, “you were pursued by wolves.”
The prideful flair fled from him, leaving him drooping and dripping like an overwatered sapling. When he wasn’t speaking or gesturing wildly, I thought he couldn’t have been more than five years older than me at most.
“The wolves don’t seem to think much of my songs,” he admitted morosely. “I came to the great forest seeking inspiration. As it stands, frau, I would settle for something to eat and an hour to rest out of the rain.”
My mother’s shoulders moved in a sigh I couldn’t hear for the storm, and she stepped back, opening the door for Rikard to come inside. Her hand, the one holding the hatchet, was still hidden under her apron.
“No ballads,” she warned.
Clutching his hat in his hands and ducking slightly to enter the cabin, Rikard nodded earnestly. “Not so much as a limerick without your request, gracious lady. When I write of this place, it will be as a haven of utmost mercy.”
“Or perhaps not at all,” my mother said, and shut the door behind him.
“Perhaps not at all!” Rikard agreed cheerfully. “Is that fresh bread I smell? I’m entirely famished. Oh… hello there.”
This last was addressed to me.
A flock of shiny stories! Associated with life and death, disease and luck, corvids have long captured mankind’s attention, showing up in mythology as the companions or manifestations of deities, and starring in stories from Aesop to Poe and beyond.
In Corvidae birds are born of blood and pain, trickster ravens live up to their names, magpies take human form, blue jays battle evil forces, and choughs become prisoners of war. These stories will take you to the Great War, research facilities, frozen mountaintops, steam-powered worlds, remote forest homes, and deep into fairy tales. One thing is for certain, after reading this anthology, you’ll never look the same way at the corvid outside your window.
Featuring works by Jane Yolen, Mike Allen, C.S.E. Cooney, M.L.D. Curelas, Tim Deal, Megan Engelhardt, Megan Fennell, Adria Laycraft, Kat Otis, Michael S. Pack, Sara Puls, Michael M. Rader, Mark Rapacz, Angela Slatter, Laura VanArendonk Baugh, and Leslie Van Zwol.
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