E Tu Raven
by Christopher Clagg
E Tu Raven
I stood at the foot of the chair, within view of the window and the parapet and the rocky waved sea that crashed against the shore far below.
I stood in armor, my sword at my side, though I would never draw it. The sunlight fell late, and I wanted to turn and look at Emeralda, though she was looking the other way, and I could not turn my face.
Time ran backward and the raven laughed.
The muscles in my arms buckled, straining as they worked themselves without virtue of thought or bone.
My synapses were on fire, my body, a contortionists nightmare ran backwards and tears formed at my eyes and the raven came close.
Alit on the arm of the chair in front of me and turned his head, first this way and that, clucking and cawing softly and then raucously.
"Does it hurt, man? Caw!" And his beak turned, almost like a crooked grin and there was a glint in his eye when he opened his mouth, his black tongue flicking in his black maw. "She is mine, you know. You should never have tried to come and take her, but you, are, shall we say..... Caw!
And here he laughed again,his eyes roving for a moment over the ceiling, as he spied a bug, a small spider moving in the corner shadow.
He pounced, flapping his wings and jumping across the room to peck at the ceiling and swallowed the bug.
"So you don¹t want to talk? Haha, Caw!" He giggled in his throat at the sounds I made as the words came out of me, as twisted and as turned as my muscles that rippled and ached underneath my trembling skin.
"Siht rof yap lliw uoy! Aaawwwww....!"
My lips pulled back but no words came. My mouth closed and the words bent and crawled out from under my teeth and slipped slurring over my tongue.
The raven laughed while I tried to turn my head to see Emeralda. She stood six feet from me, while the crashing waves beat below. And time ran backward, down towards dawn where it would turn, and run forward."
# # #
Hours passed. With dawn, as the last light faded back into night, time stopped for a moment and then moved forward. The raven sat on his chair and gawked and laughed. I turned my head quick to see Emeralda, but she was looking away from me.
The light of morning was coming.
"You will never-!" I began, but was quickly silenced with a look from the bird.
"Watch your tongue, man! CAW! Before I see something spicy in it and pluck it loose and make you silent forever. CAW!"
I stood my ground, and glared back at it, as it sat , perched on black feathered and clawed feet on the top of a gilded worn and wooden chair at the table side. A wizard¹s castle long left for dead and gone. Or the wizard himself, maybe, that had found a way into the realm of enchantment, but not a way out.
But the raven was silent and didn¹t say if it could read my mind or not.
I smiled as graciously as I could and took my hand a breadth away from my blade, and smiled twice again.
The bird turned his head and spoke a word and clouds rushed over the sky outside. The winds blew and Emeralda sighed, I could hear her breathy voice sigh and the sound of it moved in my throat and I wanted to reach out across the small space and touch her, plead with her, hear me, listen to me, love me, I can give thee a happiness that suns would pale over!
But that was not true.
I was only mortal.
And the gifts I could give to her were only soiled and momentary and temporary things. A clouds mist on an early English morn. A partridges song in the evening swell at the death of the day when the silence and the shadows and the tall evening fall.
In the early darkness came the hoof beats of an army below the walls of the high castle, beyond the stone barricade and the sound of waves.
I was not the raven¹s only enemies.
But they stood as little chance as I of ever winning.
My blood moved forward in my veins. But the ache of my twisted flesh was still bruised and ached even in the flow. My muscles throbbed and my body was a pain in my mind that screamed and screamed the name of the bird and the name of Emeralda.
But the army that marched below would never reach the gate of the bird.
They would march forever and ever and always stay in place or retreat and never come a single step closer. They would never reach the gate. Even as I would never reach Emeralda who hovered so close.
The raven laughed and I watched the sun come up and then turned to the bird as Emeralda turned from the window looking across the room, and I caught her eye.
# # #
"But she loves me." I whispered, and for a moment I thought the bird might strike me dead right there. I breathed slow and waited. Watching his one gleaming eye as he turned his head, first in one direction and then in another.
"But she won¹t! Caw! I shall see to it, man. You think she is only enamored of beauty and fair skin? Caw! Haha! "
And then he moved a wing and spoke a word and I became more bent and ugly and my face twisted on the stalk of my neck and my voice became a raspy raucous thing. But in this small display of anger I thought I saw a way out. And I smiled, but it looked like a pout on my twisted lips.
"WWIt is not wwall beauty, wwbird! wwBut a another wwthingww, She loves wwmeewwttthh"
And here the bird smiled and his beak twisted and if he had been a man, I would have run him through on my sword. Or died trying. And the bird waved his wing again, and the sky rushed over and the clouds moved as if they were ants on a mound of blue heaven.
"Caw! No longer will she love thee, man! Ugly and bent, or handsome makes no, Caw! difference. Somewhere there is a time and in that time, she does not love thee.! Caw!"
When she turned then, all green eyes and red hair and her face was a pale sliver of itself, a beauty that no doubt in other times and other kingdoms had sent a hundred warriors to their death at her behest.
A thousand armies, clanging armor and marching into eternity for the privilege of seeing her smiling lips and eyes in their dreams.
She looked at me and there was disgust that came into those emerald eyes.
And she turned away from me, and looked instead at the raven, and there was a look of love that came into her face and a tenderness that moved in the lines of her lips as she smiled at the bird.
I twisted my face away and listened to the bird rant and caw and scream.
Over and over.
As the hours melted away, until midnight. When the hands of the clock struck and time stopped and then began to move backward.
And the pain and agony of my aching body twisted under my skin. Again.
In the dying light of the waning moon, as time slipped back toward dawn, I thought of a way.
A way perhaps to ask a question.
And see if I could win or not.
As I had already lost.
# # #
With morning I turned again to the bird, and whispered through cracked and mangled lips.
"But to the end of time, my crafty and black winged bastard, I shall still hate you, and still love her and still fight you. Until you tire of me and turn me to stone, or banish me into the ether or burn my flesh even as you have twisted it. I will still defy you, and you shall lose at ever making me not love her."
And when the bird smiled and laughed at me, I smiled also.
And prayed to a righteous God, that I might out-trick the trickster.
The anger in his eyes swelled and his beak was a hard flash of yellow on the stone, and he struck it hard and the thunder fell out of the cloudless sky and lightening fell in bolts out of the still air and moved through the stone and seared a mark on the floor at my feet.
"Somewhere there is a time when you shall not love her, man! Caw! And if we move through eternity we shall find it, and I shall rejoice and peck at your flesh and laugh at you and you shall then know that I have won."
And he moved time.
And it moves still, marching in every variation that can combine itself.
Marching down through the possibilities and the improbabilities and the impossibilities... on and on. Through every variation that it could find, while the bird sits, or stands or flies and moves, or sits on the parapet at the window and watches Emeralda¹s sweet face, her reddish hair falling over her pale shoulders of her white and bluish gown. With the sun rising and setting and her hating me, and me hating the bird, and the bird fighting and scheming, and the armies below on the parapet marching with their horses snorting and coughing, their hooves beating in a steady rhythm against the stones.
The sun rises and falls over the glade where the castle stands and beyond the glade to the forest and the countryside and the thin and old world beyond that stretch of hills. And my muscles scream and twist, and the pain is a constant, and has been a constant for more than an eternity.
For a thousand years I have stood in this room and relived this night, these conversations with the beast of the black with the beak and the wings that hold the night and the magic of other times and places and other things.
And at midnight each night I scream and curse at the bird and it screeches back and Caws!
And at each dawn I laugh in the birds face and laugh until it twists its beak and speaks a word and silences me.
It has been more than a thousand years...
But this I know... and smile as each day passes by...
That somewhere out there in the midst of all the possibilities of love and hate and circumstance, There is a time, when she shall love me, and I her, and the bird will be voiceless...
And I shall win.
The agony swells in me, now.
But still I laugh.
Copyright 1998 -- Author & Science Fiction Museum All rights reserved
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