Short story written in less than 24 hours. Prompt: a raven, a spider, a rat and a snake.
|The crone was spinning silk. Weaving. Building a future.
“Go fetch me the raven, would you dear?” The words were kind but I knew an order when I heard one. I got to my feet and limped to the cage, dragging my useless left foot behind me. The door stuck and then gave way with a creak. Raven hopped politely onto my hand but shifted from foot to foot, tilting his head.
I set him down on the floor in front of her, in the center of an ancient stone circle.
I stepped back as quickly as I could and as far as the room would allow. She lifted her cane and lightly tapped him. Where once there had stood a raven, now there was a man. He looked as you’d expect a man who was recently a raven to look. Hooked nose and black hair. Always in a cloak of dark feathers, glistening like spilled ink.
She slipped silver bands around his wrists to keep him captive. She’d never put them on me. I was too slow and there was nowhere I could go that she couldn’t follow. I never even tried.
We were, all of us, caught in her web.
“I need you to go to court and keep a sharp eye for any ill omens.” She told Raven.
He inclined his head and said, “Yes, madame.” He risked one glance at me before he swept out of the door.
As soon as he was gone I was forgotten. A shadow.
The crone studied her web and shook herself out, letting her full form emerge. Eight spindly legs sprouted from her back and her ancient body folded in to become the bulbous head and abdomen of an enormous spider. I always hated her but I especially hated to see her like this. She heaved herself up into her web and went back to work.
It was weeks before the raven and I had any time alone. He’d been nearly shaking with excitement ever since he’d returned.
Once out of his cage he croaked with his raven voice to say that he’d met someone at court and they had given him something. He grew before me, from raven into man. I tried to step back instinctively and put my weight onto my bad leg. Before I could fall he reached out and caught me, laughing.
“I should have given you a better warning. It’s just easier to talk this way.”
I nodded and asked, “How?” I touched his chest. “How could you change yourself?”
He let go of me and reached to pull a charm out from under his tunic. “A magician gave me this. He said that he would be here on the night of the full moon. We can escape then. He’ll distract her.”
My mind was recovering. “Why would he do that? Who are we to him?”
“We are no one. It’s the king. Her web is meant to weave his fate, to kill him.”
He studied my face intently. “There is something else.” He said. “I’ve found out what you were. I know you don’t remember being anything else and you’ve never asked but . . . I sent Rat in to read her books.”
I felt my heart go still inside of my chest. I could just see Rat, scurrying around and risking himself for something so foolish. I didn’t dare speak and Raven was so excited to give me this that I didn’t tell him that I wasn’t sure I wanted it.
He reached for my hands and held them. He looked down at me, his eyes as dark as his feathers ever were. “You were a snake.” He paused. “I think that’s why you’ve never quite got the hang of your legs.”
His hands were warm in mine. “We’ve a way to change you back. If you want. For the escape.”
I had thought that I couldn’t be more stunned. It was a struggle to speak. “I don’t remember being a snake. I wouldn’t know what to do.” I looked up at him. “Would it help?”
He nodded and pulled me close. We made our plans and he was safely tucked back in his cage and me in my bed when the crone returned.
Two days later, on the full moon, the magician kept his word.
He burst through the crone’s door and pinned her to her web and I felt a dark satisfaction fill me as she squirmed. I opened Raven’s cage and he flew out only to land on the floor as a man. He threw another charm around my neck and I decided to change myself. It happened, easy as thought. I shrank and felt the dust of the floor beneath my belly. Raven reached down and I slithered up his arm.
He ran out the door and into the dark. He ran for as long as he could, until he fell against a tree in a moonlit grove, panting. I slithered down his arm and changed back. After a while he caught his breath and we simply looked at each other, a world of possibility unfurling between us.
A light flashed, intruding, and the magician was there with us holding a shaking rat in his hand.
“Is she dead?” I asked.
The magician tilted his head and appraised me. “Yes.” He said slowly. “She is. And yes, to answer the question you are really asking, you are free.”
Raven came forward to stand next to me. “What now?” he asked.
The magician shrugged. “Keep the talismans and change at will or toss them in the river. That’s up to you. What form you want, what lives you lead. You’ve been captives for so long . . . Now you can choose.”
Rat surged up into the form of a small thin boy, “But” he said, “Who are you?”
He laughed and with another flash of light was gone but his name whispered back to us on the breeze. “I am Merlin.”