The Tale of Crone and Crow

Submitted into Contest #63 in response to: Write a story from the perspective of a bird migrating for the winter.... view prompt



Pakshi was cursed with boldness long before the crone placed on actual curse on her. She had never been afraid to speak her mind, never hesitating to say whatever thought popped into her head. Lucky for her, she was clever, and the things she said always came off as humorous to someone. Pakshi had long felt that her quick wit and sharp tongue were the only reasons the other girls liked her.

Pakshi was one of princess Chitho's attendants. All the princess’ attendants were the youngest daughters of lesser lords and minor nobles. By serving the princess, Pakshi and the others got to experience life at court, which provided them the opportunity to learn how to conduct themselves in high society. Not to mention, the chance to hopefully find a worthy husband. Princess Chitho's attendants spent nearly all their time together, but the other girls rarely talked to Pakshi or included her in their gossips, unless Pakshi said something biting. Then the other attendants would laugh, and Pakshi would light up inside. At those moments, she felt like she was truly a part of the group.

One day, Pakshi and the other attendants were sunning themselves in the palace garden. Princess Chitho had dismissed them until dinner and the girls had taken the opportunity to enjoy what promised to be one of the last nice days of the year. While they were in the garden, a crone came to the garden's gate and begged for food. The crone's back was hunched, and her clothes were dirty rags, stitched together and hanging loosely from her bony frame. A large goiter on her forehead kept her left eye from fully opening.

When they saw the crone's ugliness, the girls began to giggle. They whispered to each other about her appearance and each comment made them laugh all the harder. Finally, they all turned to Pakshi and she knew they wanted her to say something to the crone. Wanting to feel like she was a part of the group, Pakshi called out, "Hey ugly! If you're so hungry, why don't you eat that thing on your forehead! It's so big, it could probably fill your belly for a week!"

As the other girls laughed, the crone stared down Pakshi. As they looked upon one another, the goiter receded and the crone's bad eye opened. Pakshi saw the eye flash with bright light and suddenly she was surrounded by complete darkness. Pakshi couldn't see anything, not even her own body. The blackness surrounding her seemed infinite. She tried to move but her body was frozen with fear. All of a sudden, the crone stood in front of Pakshi.

"You dare make fun of my appearance?" the crone asked. "In the name of my Matron Rarit Demigoddess of Night, I place a curse upon you. You shall become a creature of the night. Free to chatter during the day, but doomed to spend your nights alone. Now you will know what it feels like to be an outsider."

The crone vanished and the darkness began to fade. Pakshi's body began to tingle and as the darkness completely dissipated, she heard the other attendants scream. Pakshi looked around at the other girls and they seemed to have become giants. Then she realized that it was actually her own size that had changed. The crone had used magic to transform Pakshi into a crow.

The girls ran off and Pakshi tried to follow, but she was not used to moving in a crow’s body. She found it difficult to run and the other girls fled inside the palace. Soon two guards came out and shooed Pakshi away. She flapped her wings clumsily, trying to fly, and instead flopped to the ground. The guards moved to catch her, and through sheer fear alone, Pakshi was able to take off. Though once she was airborne, she realized she had no idea how to stop. She flew in a straight line, over the garden wall and across the village. Finally, she crashed into the branches of a tree on the outskirts of the village and managed to grab hold of a branch.

Pakshi stayed in the tree until night fell. As soon as the rays of Ottbof the Sun God disappeared from the horizon, Pakshi felt her body begin to tingle. Her body returned to normal and she nearly fell out of the tree. After carefully climbing down, she made her way to the palace, but was turned away by the guards at the gate. She learned that everyone in the palace now knew she was cursed. None wanted to risk evoking the wrath of the Gods by taking her in. Forlorn and full of despair, Pakshi returned to the woods and fell asleep under the tree.

Pakshi was awakened by a tingling throughout her body as the first rays of the Sun God peeked over the horizon. As the rays hit her body, she was transformed back into a crow. Pakshi now realized what the crone had meant when she’d cursed her to become a creature of the night. Pakshi spent the day getting used to her new crow body. As she practiced flying around the village, she overheard the villagers talking. Word of her curse had spread, and it soon became apparent that none of them would help her, again fearful of drawing the wrath of the Gods. Pakshi returned to the tree and waited. Once night fell, she changed back to her normal self.

Quickly falling into a routine, Pakshi passed her days and nights as best she could. As a crow she had no trouble finding plenty of food and she enjoyed soaring through the sky. Her small size allowed her access to different places throughout the village. Her favorite place was the library. She'd fly in through an open window and hide in the rafters, then once night fell and she changed into a human, she could peruse the shelves and read at her leisure.

As the nights began to get colder, Pakshi would build a fire to keep her warm through the night. As a crow she'd scout out wood and then gather it once she changed into a human, ensuring that she had plenty to burn the next night. The woods were relatively safe for both bird and girl alike, but the fire made her feel more secure.

Above all, no matter which form she was in, Pakshi kept an eye out for the crone. She wanted to beg the crone's forgiveness in hopes that she would take pity and remove the curse. Alas, the crone seemed to have moved on and Pakshi could not find her anywhere. Pakshi thought about searching for her elsewhere, but was hesitant to travel too far from her home. Soon however, that decision would be made for her, as winter was coming on fast.

While flying around the village in search of the crone, Pakshi heard the villagers talking about the change of the seasons. This winter was sure to be the coldest any could remember. According to the stories, this was a direct result of Pijarr the Glacier God. It was said that a warrior named Sain had brought down Ottboff the Sun God's wrath upon Pijarr's lands, resulting in the death of nearly all of the Glacier God's followers. Pijarr had been in mourning ever since and his grief and despair were personified into extreme cold. Wind spirits carried the cold northward and temperatures were dropping all across the southern hemisphere. Winters were already long, the season lasting nearly half a year. The frigid air being carried up from the south would ensure an incredibly cold winter. 

Autumn stretched closer to winter and food began to become scarce. Pakshi had no choice but to fly North toward the center of the continent in search of a warmer place to live. After two and a half days of traveling, she stopped to rest in the country of Galviette. Perched in a large tree on the edge of an estate, she looked down and saw a young man working at an outdoor kiln. The young man belonged to the Fyrne clan and was named Fynneus. The Fyrne clan were renowned across the world for their exquisite pottery.

The Fyrne clan had started out as simple artisans, but their pottery was so fine that they'd soon attracted the notice of the nobility. Soon, owning a piece of Fyrne pottery became a status symbol and the clan became very wealthy. Pakshi didn't know any of this, though she would learn of it later. When she first saw Fynneus, all she knew for sure was that she loved him.

That night, after she returned to human form, Pakshi shimmied down the tree and admired all the pots and vases that were cooling or drying around the small workshop. The night was chilly, the kiln still warm, and Pakshi was tired after her long journey. So, she laid down beside the kiln and promptly fell asleep. Fynneus awoke early the next morning and brought wood to relight the kiln. There he found Pakshi still asleep. He thought she was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.

Fynneus gently shook Pakshi awake and their eyes met. Before she could say anything, Pakshi realized that Ottbof's first rays were beginning to lighten the sky. She made a quick excuse and hurried away. She ran down the road and disappeared into a grove of trees. There she changed back into a crow. Fynneus tried to follow her, but by the time he reached the grove she had already changed, and was hidden in the branches above.

For the next few nights, Pakshi returned to the estate where she found Fynneus waiting for her. The two quickly fell in love. They would spend their nights together and then Pakshi would sneak off before morning. She loved Fynneus with all her heart and didn't want to risk him shunning her if he learned of her curse. When he asked where she went every morning, Pakshi lied and told him she worked for a strict mistress. She made the excuse that she needed to return home each morning before her mistress awoke, but Pakshi promised to sneak out each night to see Fynneus.

Autumn was almost at an end when Fynneus asked for Pakshi's hand in marriage. Ecstatically, she said yes, but told him they would have to wait a few weeks. During that time, she would leave her mistress' service and then return to him and become his wife. The next morning, just before the Sun God rose into the sky, Pakshi set out to find a way to break her curse. The crone had evoked the name of Rarit, Demigoddess of Night. Rarit was considered the Deity of witchcraft, and all practitioners of magic took her as their Matron. Pakshi had heard that Rarit had a shrine on the neighboring continent of Bordabost.

Pakshi made her way to the coast and as a crow, snuck aboard a merchant ship. She hid in the ship's hold and the ship transported her across the sea to Bordabost. Once the ship had docked and its crew gone ashore, Pakshi snuck onto the docks and waited until morning. Once she transformed into a crow, she set out to find Rarit's shrine. Pakshi had been worried that she'd have trouble finding the shrine, but as soon as she reached Bordabost, a strange feeling rose inside her. The magic that sustained her curse had come from Rarit, and Pakshi realized she could use it to locate the shrine.

As night fell on her third day in Bordabost, Pakshi reached the Rarit's shrine. In her human form she entered the shrine and begged the priests and priestesses for help, but they all ignored her. Receiving no help from her worshippers, Pakshi turned to Rarit herself. She knelt before the altar where tributes were given to the Demigoddess and prayed. Pakshi was so focused on trying to make contact with Rarit that she lost track of time. The Sun God rose and Pakshi felt her body begin to change. She tried to hurry out of the shrine, but she was not fast enough. Just as Pakshi changed into a crow, she heard a voice rise out of the altar.

"Bird-woman, what has brought you to my place of worship? Speak, the magic within you will allow me to understand."

Pakshi whirled around and saw the silhouette of a woman standing in front of the altar. In her crow body, Pakshi did her best to bow to the Demigoddess. Pakshi explained how she had come to be cursed and told Rarit about Fynneus. Then she begged Rarit to lift the curse so that she could marry the man she loved. She offered the Fyrne clan’s pottery in exchange for the Demigoddess’ mercy.

Rarit considered for a minute and then said, "I have no need for pottery, but there is something you can do for me. The Cloud Demigod Canimbo has a ring that once belonged to me. Retrieve the ring and return it here and I will lift the curse."

Pakshi readily agreed and Rarit passed her hand through the air above Pakshi's head. Pakshi was instantly granted knowledge of what the ring looked like and where Canimbo's house was located. Rarit also cast a spell over Pakshi that would make it easier for her to move about the domain of a Demigod.

Pakshi left the shrine and flew up high into the sky, finally reaching Canimbo's house. She perched on the windowsill and looked inside. Canimbo was not home and his servants were elsewhere. Pakshi looked around but could not find the ring. Soon after, Canimbo returned. He had a rotund body and his head was covered by a beard and mane made of clouds.

As Canimbo settled on a couch, Pakshi saw the ring on his finger. The ring was a deep purple that seemed to darken when the light hit it. Canimbo had won the ring from Rarit in a game of chance many years before and it was his most prized possession. He was in love with Rarit, but she had always shunned his advances. So Canimbo kept the ring, hoping that one day Rarit would agree to become his wife in return for the ring.

It was Pakshi's boldness that had led to her being cursed, but she realized that her boldness might also be the key to her getting the ring from Canimbo. Once night fell and she changed back into a human, Pakshi entered the house and spoke to Canimbo.

"It is time you took a wife. Ottboff the Provider has sent me to become your bride."

Canimbo could sense that Pakshi was different, but the spell Rarit had cast over her kept the Cloud Demigod from seeing that she was only a mortal. He tried to protest but Pakshi interrupted him.

"Are you so brash that you would deny the greatest of the Gods? I would think one such as you would take Ottbof at his word. If you doubt me, we'll wait until morning and then ask Ottbof directly as he passes by."

"Oh no! That won't be necessary," Canimbo said, fear of incurring Ottbof's wrath clear in his voice. "I would be honored to have you as my wife."

"Prove you are serious," Pakshi said. "Give me a token so I know your word is true and your affections genuine."

"Of course, my lady. Just name any of my possessions, and it is yours!" Canimbo exclaimed.

Pakshi pretended to look about the room for a few seconds. Then she pointed at the ring on Canimbo's finger. "That ring is what I admire most. Gift it to me and I will know you are as honorable as Ottbof led me to believe."

Canimbo hesitated for a few seconds, and then handed over the ring. Pakshi told him they were to be wed in the morning and Canimbo began rushing about to make preparations for the wedding. Exhausted, and with only a couple hours until dawn, Canimbo fell asleep. As Ottbof began his journey across the sky, Pakshi placed the ring on the ground. She changed into a crow, and grabbing the ring in her beak, flew out the window. Even in his sleep, Canimbo sensed the magic that fueled her transformation. He awoke suddenly and realized he had been deceived. He called for his chariot and gave chase.

Pakshi flew down as fast as she could and Canimbo followed close behind. His chariot flew faster than she did, but its size made it hard to maneuver. Pakshi continued her descent, zigzagging through the air to avoid Canimbo's outstretched hand as he whizzed past her. Finally, Rarit's shrine came into view. Pakshi poured on a final burst of speed and flew into the shrine. Canimbo pulled up his chariot at the last moment and avoided crashing into the ground. Rarit's followers rushed out of the shrine, and evoking the name of their Matron, hurled curses at Canimbo, chasing him away.

Inside the shrine, Pakshi placed the ring on Rarit's altar and the Demigoddess appeared before her. True to her word, Rarit lifted Pakshi's curse. Tears of joy came to Pakshi's eyes as she returned to human form. Rarit lifted her hand and Pakshi suddenly found herself engulfed in darkness. For a moment, Pakshi feared that Rarit had cast an even worse curse upon her, but then the darkness lifted. Pakshi found herself outside of Fynneus' house. She called to him and when he came out, Pakshi rushed into his arms. The two were married soon after and lived happily ever after.

October 14, 2020 17:15

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