Long ago, back when the trees were still learning how to grow, a man learned made a decision that caused him nothing but woe. For he was a lonely soul, living with his brother in a dreary hole. He never knew the kiss of a woman or the gentleness of a friendly hand.
Half-man half-troll is what they called him, and no matter how short he trimmed his claws, his appearance made the townsfolk grim. His pimply face and left leg longer than his right, caused his hobbling to be a hideous sight, and it didn’t help that the lack of light deep in the woods turned his skin a pale white.
The man wished to have someone other than his brother, and one day, he came across another. Atop a spiraling tree, a raven shouted down to him welcomingly, “Dear creature, would you be so kind as to come up here.”
“I’ve never met a bird that talks, or one that strays so far from its flock.” The man replied, and the crow sighed.
“You would be correct good, hideous thing, but alas I have jammed my wing. Might you be able to free me, and perhaps, I could reward you justly?”
“Perhaps you could stop calling me thing.” The man ascended up the tree and wrenched the bird free. “If I wanted to hear that, I’d listen to the townsfolk sing.”
“So, you’re the famous monster. To be honest, I expected a much bigger disaster.”
“I didn’t choose to look this way. If only I was like them, I could change what they say.” The man muttered, and the raven’s feathers fluttered.
“Is that what you truly wish?” A gleam entered the raven’s eye, and for a moment, the world around them seemed to die. “Well, as luck would have it, I ate a fortune fish as my morning dish.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Just tell me your demand, and I’ll be sure it lands in the palm of your hand. That is the gift I received when I ate the fish, the ability to grant your every wish.”
“In return for saving you?” This sounded too good to be true.
“You saved my life, so let me grant you land, friends, servants, gold, or a wife.”
“I want to look beautiful. That is the demand from within my soul.”
“Very well, but I am no judge of beauty. May I suggest a different way to fulfill my duty? Instead of wishing for me to change you, what if I grant you the ability to shift yourself until you feel true?”
“So, I can change how I appear?” It was almost to good to hear.
“In that case, your wish is now yours. You can change anything from your face to your pores,” exclaimed the raven, and suddenly, it was as if the man had entered a haven. His body shook with excitement, and immediately, his nostrils became filled with an exquisite scent.
Bidding the raven goodbye, the man left to give his new powers a try. On the outskirts of the town, he stopped to look around. The people had tan skin, so darkening his was his first step to entering. He then evened out his legs until they were as straight as pegs. Finally, he removed any unattractive features and pimples that made him blend in with storybook creatures.
Beauty belonged to him, and now, he could change it at a whim. Walking forward, no one spoke a word. He was just like the townsfolk, but three days later, he began to sulk. He blended in with them, but no one was speaking to him. Instead, everyone was turned to the man with the iron chin and irresistible grin. His immaculate face was filled with grace, and soon, the man wanted his place.
Changing again, the man sculpted his face to be prettier than the other men, and woman from all around flocked to see him in his prime. This lasted for a week, but one day, he overheard a cluster of people call him meek. He may have the looks to charm anyone, but he couldn’t stop an orc or slay a dragon. In another month, a war far off concluded, and the man soon found himself excluded. Soldiers returned home with square jaws and muscles raw, and it soon became clear, their opinion was the law. The soldiers were admired by all, and the man realized he no longer wished to be viewed as small.
Changing to a third form, the man added a set of muscles that were the perfect storm. Joining the soldiers, he became the strongest of them all, and without assistance, he surrounded the town with a massive, stone wall. The towns folk praise him for protecting them, but a new threat arrived in the form of a gem.
Strolling into town, a noble flooded the market with gold and jewels prettier than the fairest maiden, and all soon forgot about the man. The man flexed his muscles and chiseled jaw, but compared to the diamonds, his popularity was beginning to thaw. Oh, how he wished to be rich and possess the lavish, but then an idea sprung into his mind about how he could once again use his wish.
Fourth times the charm, and this time, he gave himself a diamond arm. Just by clipping his fingernails, he’d produce enough coin to fill one hundred pails. Servants, fine wine, and exquisite food lay at his feet, but as he dined with the elite, another figure appeared for the townsfolk to greet.
A traveler with tales from far and wide. Ancient curses, hidden kingdoms, forgotten prophesies: he’d even picked up a princess as his bride. None could match his experience, and his tales wowed his audience. Soon, the man was once again on the outside, and he could do little as his status died.
One last time, he decided, and once again he made a decision that was misguided. Giving himself wings to soar far and hooves to trek through the darkest woods, he thought this time he was finally good. However, before he could win the townsfolk attention and praise, he needed an adventure that would capture their gaze. So, he set off into the forest where he once came from, and finally, someone saw what he had become.
“Hands up creature. What brings you here?” It was the brother who he once lived alongside, but with his new form, his brother didn’t recognize him no matter how hard he tried.
“Brother, it’s me. I can look like this because I rescued a bird from a tree.”
“If that’s true, can you change back to you?”
“Of course.” The man began to revert to when things were worse. First, he added pimples, then he removed the diamonds and stretched his left leg, but something felt wrong. No, it wasn’t his left leg that was too long. It was his right leg or was it too strong. Also, was it pimples or warts, or was his leg actually too short.
He rushed over to a lake and gazed at the face that felt fake. He knew he altered his chin, but what was it back in the beginning? He used to be ugly so maybe add missing teeth, but even as he ripped them out, he couldn’t change what he felt underneath.
Some say that, to this day, he’s still standing above the lake, ever awake and trying to fix his mistake. After years of changing to become others, he lost the person he was to both him and his brother. Such is the fate of those who take another’s path to haven, and I should know, after all I am the raven.