On Listening to Ravens

From “The Servant and the Raven, “a fantasy novel I am writing inspired by the Brother Grimm’s old fairytale, “The White Snake.” In this excerpt, the two friends, Caedmon mac Cumhaill and Egil Skallagrimsson, resume an earlier conversation about the uncanny powers of ravens.

When the young bard finally returned, the sun had just slid behind the Valley’s high wall and the land within taken on a cool rich emerald hue. Neither youth felt the need to speak. Sitting a little distance from Caedmon, his back against the wall, Egil drew a bone flute from an inner pocket and played meditatively upon it for a while. He then set it beside him, and, as if off-handedly, said, “Speaking of ravens…”

Caedmon turned and studied him. His new friend’s eyes were set in a distant gaze, as if he were about to launch into a tale that had to be gathered up from some far-away region.

“When I was a boy, I travelled much with my father. Those days the petty kings no longer dared stir out of their castles, so strong had the Volsung overlordship become, and so they contented themselves with hunting, whoring, and listening to songs from wandering bards such as my father. It didn’t hurt that my dad was a magician of the sleight-of-hand variety either. Making gold coins appear out of a lordling’s ear always went down well among the rustics.”

Egil laughed bitterly, the memory of those old days still strong within him. Caedmon listened with fascination – what had prompted the bard to share this story with him?

“Of my exiled father’s high art and lineage,” Egil continued, “the kinglets in their tankard thumping halls knew nothing, nor did they care. We eked out a living, and during winter the times got lean indeed.

One evening, my father sat with me before the stingy fire of a miserable inn, tossing our pouch of gold coins up and down in his hand. It was getting perilously light. Outside, an icy wind was gusting out of the North and the dark clouds blacking out the stars over the mountains promised another heavy fall of snow. Although my dad said nothing, I knew we’d need to make the shelter of the next castle soon or freeze in the land of the inhospitable Odin’s Folk.

Yet even in the worst of circumstances, my father never lost his ear for a tale.” Continue reading “On Listening to Ravens”