Of crowns and crows

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived a cruel princess. Misery was her goal, and if those below her wanted their survival, they kneeled at her arrival. Once upon a time, in a land far
away, there lived a gentle princess. Happiness was her goal and each life made better by her hand meant the world to her. A single spell changes one's life and later saves the other's.

Once upon a time, in a land far away, in one of two neighboring kingdoms there lived a princess, almost a queen. She was beautiful, skin like ivory, hair raven black, and eyes shining blue as ice; the same ice that hardened her heart. She was a person most would fear to meet. She was cruel and bloodthirsty, spending her time riding through the villages and woods on the hunt for beasts and men alike. Proficient in bow and blade, she would wreak havoc where she wished, looking down at the people around her like cockroaches at her feet. Spoiled and uncaring, she commanded those around her like chess pieces with no care for their wishes. Misery was her goal, and if those below her wanted their survival, they kneeled at her arrival.

One day, the princess rode through the woods and came upon an old crone crossing the same path. The crone called for the princess to stop and the princess, led by boredom, curiosity, and not any good will, did. She sneered when the crone turned towards her with neither bow, nor praise, nor hint of fear.
"Please child, would you have a morsel of food to spare for an old woman?" The crone asked, tone pleading for mercy and compassion.
The princess had none. She looked down at the crone from her steed with eyes full of contempt and nothing else. Her voice was clear and final like a sharpened knife. "As if you would be worthy of a meal I could provide. The only thing you should ever eat is some rat corpse the carrion crows feast on."
With that, she kicked her steed to trot down the path again. And once again, the crone's call stopped her. This time when the princess turned she was greeted by a toothless smile and a voice dripping with equal amounts of amusement and sympathy.
"Did no-one ever teach you to be kind to strangers, child? No matter." The crone cackled. "If anyone here is to join the crows in their feast, it's you. You're a bloodthirsty animal out for death, maybe it's time for you to shed your mask."
The princess didn't have time to reply before her sight was awash in black.

Deep in the forest, all that seemed to be left of the princess was a heap of black cloth and leather; the crumpled outfit the princess' routine hunting attire. Her steed had long left, frightened away. All was silent, except for an angry barrage of clicking and hissing from within the pile of clothes. The fabrics shifted once, twice, as something within tried to get out, before a seam finally burst open, and a flurry of obsidian feathers leapt out, cawing its disapproval for the world to hear. The crow stared at the clothing pooled at its clawed feet before, in one smooth motion, it took to the dark skies.
The princess vanished, but her thirst for conflict did not. If anything, the curse only fueled it further. She wasn't just uncaring now. She was angry, furious, blindly so, at anyone that dared to even come close.

In the dark woods, a crow screamed its displeasure at anyone that traveled past, spooking horses to throw off riders so it could dive for them with beating wings, sharp claws and a sharper beak. Just like the princess before, it reigned terror and spilled blood. It couldn't leave the forest of its own accord, so it let loose its frustration upon anyone it saw, hoping secretly that the old crone would show herself again, just so it could show her just what the crow thought of the curse that plagued it. But that was not to last.

Crows were never meant to rule the skies. They belong to others, the kings even more frightening than the obsidian omens of bad luck. The crow learned this the hard way.
It didn't have time to blink or understand what happened as sharp talons dug through skin and found purchase against muscle and bone, tearing as the hawk shot back into the sky, carrying its prey away. But the crow wouldn't go down without a fight. It struggled, it screeched, it twisted until the talons could no longer hold onto it anymore, and then, wounded and unable to fly, it fell.

Once upon a time, in a land far away, in one of two neighboring kingdoms there lived a princess, almost a queen. She was wondrous, skin the umber of fertile soil, hair white as clouds, and eyes the color of gold; the same gold that people said her heart was made from. She was a person most would love to meet. She was kind and loving, spent her time riding through the villages and woods in search of beasts and men alike. Proficient in craft and medicine, she could and would help whoever she came upon, human or otherwise, she saw them all as friend not foe. Gentle; she treated her subjects like family instead of strangers, putting them before her very needs. Happiness was her goal and each life made better by her hand meant the world to her.

One day, the princess was riding through the woods when she came upon an injured crow laying in the middle of her path; a mass of still feathers in a circle of crimson. Most would have left the creature there, would have ridden past the animal, soon to be just another meal for scavengers.There was no doubt it would die, whether from its wounds or from the elements from which it couldn't hide. Most would have left it there, but not the princess with the heart of gold. She wrapped the crow gently in her cloak, without a care about how its blood would forever stain the white cloth, and raced back home.

The crow awoke to warmth. It squawked angrily as it tried to stand without falling over, but it was unable to balance for one of its wings was bandaged tight to its side. It made sure to voice its confusion loudly as it looked around at the unfamiliar surroundings, shrieking in surprise when it came face-to-face with the curious princess sitting before it.
"Calm down." The princess spoke calmly in the same way everyone would address a frightened animal. The crow bristled. How dare this woman speak to it like to a common beast? It had had a kingdom once, and now ruled over its woods! It deserved respect!
The princess couldn't hear the inner monologue of the crow and reached to pet its sleek feathers only to get her fingers pecked at painfully in return. Once again, how dare she! Unwilling to part with her fingers quite so soon, the princess retreated, leaving the crow alone to fume silently as it considered its situation. It didn't want to remain under the care of another; to depend on someone, to admit weakness, and yet it had no choice. It couldn't fly to find food or drink, nor could it escape any more hawks or cats in its state. The decision was made for it. It would have to remain with the princess to heal. That didn't mean it had to like it.

Days and weeks passed with the crow in the princess's care. It would hiss and screech any time the woman drew near except when the princess first would announce that her intent was to change the crow's bandages or check on its wounds. The princess saw that the bird was smarter even than its intelligent kin for she started speaking to it. At first, the crow ignored her just because it could. As if this too-kind princess would have anything interesting to say. Yet, there wasn't much to do when one could only hop around from one end of a big table to another or risk jumping to another piece of furniture and more than likely tumbling painfully to the floor. So, reluctantly, it listened, if only so that the warm and lilting tone of the princess's voice could lure it to sleep.
But a word here, a word there, and the crow started listening to the tales the princess spun. Tales of laughter, of friendship, of love, of all the wonderful things the crow had never seen as neither a bird nor a woman. It listened to the tales both true and untrue and couldn't help but wish to experience all those things for itself. It couldn't help but come to admire the princess for all the warmth that she exuded and the kindness which made her strong instead of weak. The princess could stare the darkness of the world right in its face and confidently declare herself stronger than it because she never had to stand alone.

The crow didn't even notice as every day it drew closer to the princess if only to hear her words clearer, watch her better. Days passed, and suddenly the crow perched no longer on the table but on the princess's shoulder or her knee and melted into the affectionate fingers that brushed absentmindedly through its plumage, careful not to disturb any healing wounds. Without realizing, the crow had grown to care for the princess.

Maybe it could have been said that it loved her, had love not been such an alien notion to it.

Even when it finally took flight, re-learning how to use its wing still fresh from the bandages, the crow did the unexpected and remained at the princess's side. It reasoned that it was still too weak to travel fast or far and care for itself well, though in the corner of its mind it knew that was just an empty lie. It didn't much care, as long as it could see just how brightly the princess smiled when the crow returned to her unbidden, to hear her laughter as the crow stole a ribbon from her hair or brought her little rings that it had found lost either in the streets of the city or in the princess's own rooms. It followed the princess like a loyal guard.

However, this peaceful life of the princess and the crow wasn't meant to last. The courts of old weren't places for innocence and kindness. Vipers hid behind smiles and people were rotten like withering flowers at the core of vibrant petals. Promises and compliments were just honey to hide the taste of poison. Those that were selfless and loving didn't last long. They left the mortal coil with a dagger between their ribs, or a stab in the back, arsenic on their tongue like a lover's last kiss.
It came as no surprise that the princess, the kindest of all, was destined to fall. If she died, with no heir of their own the king would have to choose one of his court to succeed him, exactly that the nobles wanted.
The assassin didn't even have to creep through the castle unseen or unheard, he just waited for the king to hold court with his daughter at his side. Peasants, one by one, came to the monarch to ask for gifts and favors, and the assassin followed.
Once close, he acted quickly. A dagger, previously hidden from sight, was drawn and thrown through the air with the accuracy of a huntsman, flying straight and true towards the sweet princess' heart. It happened so fast that nobody had time to act. Nobody, but a single bird perched high in the rafters of the great hall.
It had noticed the assassin from the start, their aura full of indifference towards life and death alike. The princess-turned-crow had known such as aura well herself for she had once worn it like a crown.
As the blade flew, the bird fell to shield the princess in the only way it could.

The great hall erupted into chaos. Soldiers swarmed the assassin, dragging him away while peasants ran from the throne room like a herd of frightened sheep. The king called for calm as the princess - still caring more for the lives of others than her own - dove into the fray towards her savior. The crow lay still on the ground with the hilt of a dagger sticking out of its side.
The princess fell to her knees beside the crow, clutching its dying body against her chest as tears rolled down her cheeks.

Somewhere in the commotion, another person stood calm despite the chaos. An old woman dressed in rags watched the scene with a smile on her face.
"You have learned your lesson." She whispered. "Your shape suits you no more."
With that, the old woman turned and disappeared within the fleeing crowd.

In the princess's arms, the crow started to grow, to change, the blade previously lodged in its chest clattered uselessly to the floor. The crow's black feathers moved and shifted around its changing shape before finally parting to fall like a cloak around the shoulders of the princess newly returned. The woman lifted her arms, confused. It had been so long since she had seen anything but wings or claws on her limbs.
A gasp brought her out of her momentary confusion, it came from the other woman that still cradled her in her arms. Both jumped to their feet, looking at each other with something between distrust and familiarity.
The princess in white was the first to smile. "You saved me."
"You saved me first." The one in black smiled back, and for once her smile didn't hold any cruelty in it. "I have waited quite awhile to meet you." She held her hand out towards the woman before her.
"The pleasure is all mine."

Years later in the kingdom far away, there were two queens that ruled side by side.
One clothed in white, who cared for her subjects like a mother would care for her children or a sister for her siblings. She made sure that peace ruled by destroying misery before it took root. Those who bowed to her called her Mercy.
The other was cloaked in black, and she protected her subjects like a warrior protects his charge. She made sure no enemy could threaten her land by hunting them down before they became a threat. Those who bowed to her called her Justice.
Mercy couldn't last without Justice to fight for it, and Justice would be ruthless without Mercy, thus they ruled side by side, two halves of the same coin, opposites yet so much alike. 

Submitted: January 14, 2018

© Copyright 2021 LidijaSm. All rights reserved.

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Such a simple story but it's written beautifully. You have talent and I eagerly await to read more from you

Wed, September 4th, 2019 4:22pm

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