Fractal Myth

THE SEVEN RAVENS

Chapter 1

[Michelle Whitehead ©2006]

This is a fairystory and it begins, as many fairystories do, once upon a time in a land faraway. A land of rolling hills and green water meadows, lazy rivers and thick forests. A rural land, where the old ways of myth and magic survived, unpeturbed by the gradual encroach of Christianity. Here, old and new beliefs melded in an atmosphere of tolerance and friendship. When troubled by a visit from a stray dragon or worse, the Queen's tax collectors, some inhabitants might rush to hang bunches of cleansing herbs around their house to ward off evil, while others might gather to confess their sins. Under the double protection of religion and sorcery, both groups felt themselves to be beyond the reach of any harm. If strange things happened now and then, well, that just made life more interesting, didn't it? Besides, it all depended on where you chose to live. Everyone knew that the closer you lived to the forest, the more likely that something uncivilised would happen. Those who lived there took their chances, like their grandparents and great grandparents before them.

Nestled between the river Orva and the mighty Sunniva forest, the peaceful village of Burrham slowly closed its doors and settled down for the night. Watching from his vantage point on the edge of the forest, Arlys Redgrove drew a deep breath and thanked the spirits of the forest for guiding him through another day. As the sun sank behind the distant hills, he noticed a candle lighting the window of a nearby hut and smiled. Time to go home. Lynet and his sons would be waiting with his evening meal set ready for him on the solid wooden table he had made for their wedding, twenty-one years ago. Strolling down the path to his door, Arlys stopped for a moment near a shadowed garden and crossed himself. It was always better to be safe than sorry, and he knew his wife would appreciate the gesture, whether she saw it or not. Then, his stomach growling, he entered the warmth and laughter of his home.

Much later, having cleared the dishes, scrubbed the heavy wooden table and swept the floor, Lynet Redgrove knelt by the side of the bed, her thick nightdress folded into a pad under her knees. She had just passed her fortieth birthday, but her figure was slim and strong. Her long dark hair fell forward around her face, permanently waved from the tight braids into which she twisted it every morning. In the next room she could hear Arlys chivvying their sons into nightclothes and arguing good-naturedly about which story he was going to tell them that night. For a long time she knelt there, silently thanking God for his goodness to her. She thought of her husband, tall and broadchested, striding through the forest with his sharp axe balanced on one shoulder. He was as handsome today as he had been twenty-five years ago, when she had first caught sight of him as she skipped in a giddy whirl around the Maypole. Just the thought of his large, gentle hands sent shivers of pleasant anticipation through her body. She thought of her seven sons, the oldest nearly nineteen, the youngest, just six, barely ready for his first pair of long pants, but eager nonetheless to follow his brothers anywhere and try anything that they proposed. They were good boys and they looked after each other. Everyone in the village said they were a credit to her and her husband.

"Such polite, friendly boys," the old gossip Esma had said to her, just this morning. "How proud and happy you must be."

Lynet sighed. Proud, yes. She was proud of them. She loved to watch them playing together like a bunch of unruly puppies, so full of energy and always arguing over something. But happy? Lynet would have liked to say she was happy, but it seemed no matter how bright the day and how beautiful the world around her, there was always a dark cloud looming behind her eyes. Everyone knew what it was, but the subject was carefully avoided. Three little graves huddled close to the forest's edge. Three little crosses by the path to the well. Each day she spent an hour there, weeding and tending the little mounds where she had buried her baby daughters. Unlike her sons, who had all been born brawny and bawling, the girls had been pale and weak. Each one had sickened and died soon after birth. None had lived for more than a week. This was Lynet's great sorrow, and it was with this thought each night that she ended her prayers.

"Dear Lord," she pleaded, pressing the knuckles of her thumbs hard against her eyes, trying to will a response from the deity, just as she had tried to will her daughters to live. "Dear Lord, you've given us seven healthy sons. You've helped them grow straight in body and spirit. They are everything any parent could desire and I know I have no right to ask you for more. But Lord, dear Lord, you know my heart's desire. You alone know my need. Oh Lord, please. Please send me a daughter. If I could just have a daughter to teach as my mother taught me. I promise, Lord. I promise, I would never ask you for anything else. Just, please, let me have this one request." Bowing her head, Lynet cried desperate tears that soaked into the thick patchwork quilt.

Watching from the doorway, Arlys felt tears gathering behind his own eyes. She was so beautiful, even after so many years of marriage he still caught his breath whenever he looked at her. It was a joy to head out into the forest each day, knowing that when he returned from its vast reaches and quiet glades, he would find her singing sweetly as she waited for him by the gate. Having spent his childhood alone with his widowed father in the cottage where they still lived, he had been amazed by her abilities to make the best of things. He had almost forgotten how dingy the place had once looked, festooned with dusty cobwebs. Now everything sparkled and shone, as though the very brightness of her presence had banished the grime. If only he could banish the dark circles from under her eyes. He had given her everything he could think of. Everything she had asked for. Everything except the thing she wanted most. A daughter. The soothsayer he had consulted suggested that it was her belief in the Christian god which had offended the spirits of childbirth, but he gave no more weight to that than she gave to the priest assigning the blame to his heathen ways. They understood each other, and both believing in the power of love, they refused to let their spiritual differences drive them apart. If anything, the loss of their daughters had tied them closer together, as they learned to cope with each others' sorrow as well as sharing each others' joy.

"Come on now, lass. You've been bending the old man's ear for long enough, I should think." He leaned down to tickle the bare soles of her feet and she giggled, squirming away from him. "I've got you now," he exclaimed, twining his hands through her hair and gently uncovering her face. "What's this? Tears? That won't do. Praying and crying won't get you a daughter, my love. I think you'd know that after twenty-one years of marriage! Now give me a kiss and I'll show you how baby daughters are made!" Closing the door quietly behind him, he scooped Lynet off the floor and held her against his chest. As always she was amazed both by his effortless strength and his ability to make her laugh and forget her troubles.

"I don't know," she teased him. "Do you think you're up to it? You do realise we're getting too old for this sort of thing?"

"Old?" he exclaimed in mock outrage. "Think I'm too old, do you? I'll show you old!" Arlys dropped her lightly onto the bed and himself beside her, his large hands easily undoing the ribbons of her blouse. Soon she was kissing him with a passion equal to his own, her work-roughened hands sliding beneath his thick linen shirt to caress his smooth shoulders.

"I love you," she murmured, knowing with her heart and soul that it was true. Even after twenty-one years and ten children, he could still make her feel like the blushing maiden she'd been on their wedding night. The clumsy awkwardness of teenagers may have been replaced by a comfortable familiarity with each other, but their eagerness and enthusiasm was unchanged.

Despite the solid wooden walls of the forrester's hut, the muffled sounds of their lovemaking could be heard clearly in the next room where their sons slept. Eadwyn, the eldest, smiled to himself and concentrated on the image in his mind. A sweet face with golden hair and eyes as blue as the little meadow flowers that grew on the banks of the river. He had no idea who the face belonged to, or even if it was possible for such a creature to exist. All the girls he knew in the village were dark haired like his mother. Yet still the image haunted him, rising in his mind whenever his thoughts turned to love. Such thoughts came to him more often these days. He was nineteen, and already the old women in the neighbourhood were asking him when he was going to choose a wife. There were many beautiful girls who would have jumped at the chance of marrying him, but he held himself aloof from them. It wasn't that he felt they wouldn't suit him. It was just that he couldn't chase the girl with the golden hair from his mind. He had tried to forget her. He had even tried to find her, but with no luck. Every trader that passed through the village was a target for his questions, and every single one of them agreed. There was no-one of that description within a month's travel in any direction. All the inhabitants of all the villages around were dark, just as he was. "The boy's fallen in love with a faery," they laughed, and he had begun to believe they were right.

The moans from his parents' room reached a crescendo, and in the little cot by the wall, six year old Durwyn woke up wailing. He had wet the bed. Eadwyn quietly shushed him and helped him to change his clothes.

"They're going to tease me again," Durwyn sobbed, looking at the soundly sleeping lumps that were his brothers.

"I won't let them," Eadwyn reassured him. "Now, give me a hand to hang your quilt by the window. It's a lovely night and it will be dry very soon. No-one need ever know." Durwyn's sweaty little hand crept inside his own and together they silently stripped the bed and arranged the coverings where they would catch the warm breeze. Then Eadwyn sat down and lifted Durwyn onto his lap. The little boy's hair smelt sweetly of their mother's herbal wash. He cuddled into the security of his big brother's arms. As the youngest of seven he often bore the brunt of their teasing, but Eadwyn was always there to defend him, quelling the others' exuberance with a few calm words.

The fifteen year old twins were the worst. Brogan and Drefan. Terror and trouble, their names meant, and terror and trouble they brought wherever they went. There was never anything mean-spirited or nasty about them. They just seemed to have too much energy and a talent for breaking things they weren't supposed to be touching. Tell them not to do something and you could guarantee they'd be competing to see who was best at it, the moment your back was turned. Eadwyn sighed as he looked across at them, spreadeagled in identical sprawls, both having thrown their quilts to the floor. It hadn't been so bad when they were younger, but now they were beginning to question his authority. He was glad their father had decided to start taking them into the forest with him. A few weeks wielding an axe under his stern discipline should wake them up a bit. Eadwyn remembered his own sojourn in the forest at the same age. Arlys had proved immensely knowledgeable about the plants and animals of his domain. It had been a joy to work by his side, though his father's demanding standards had been difficult to live up to. In the end they had agreed that the woodsmans' life was not for him. His talent lay in what happened to the wood after it had been cut down. Eadwyn was a fine carver who delighted in making toys for his brothers and the village children. He was always inventing little wooden bobbins and pins to make his mother's life easier.

Eadwyn hoped the twins would find their calling in the forest. Although he knew how determined Arlys was that his sons should be able to choose a career for themselves, he hadn't been able to hide his disappointment when his second son also proved to have skills which would take him away from the forest. Seventeen year old Erian was a farmer, through and through. From the time he could toddle he had loved to help his mother in the garden, and during his time in the forest with his father he had concentrated on learning about the herbs and smaller plants that grew there, hardly seeming to notice the splendid trees that were his father's living. He was never seen without dirt under his nails, and no matter how often Lynet sent him away from the table to wash his hands, he never could get them perfectly clean. It was hard for her to complain. She herself wasn't a natural gardener, and as the family depended on the vegetables raised in the gardens surrounding the house, Erian's ability to keep everything flourishing was extremely useful. Since he had taken over the gardening, the harvests were so bountiful that they had more than enough to give away.

Durwyn snuggled his face deeper into Eadwyn's chest, snoring lightly, his thumb tucked behind his front teeth. Eadwyn shifted his burden to a more comfortable position, and studied his other two brothers in the soft moonlight that shone through the small window. Twelve year old Irwin was the adventurer, always exploring. He was Brogan' and Drefan's shadow. Wherever they went, he was sure to follow, no matter how hard they tried to lose him. He never joined actively in their madcap escapades, but he would rather die than tattle on them. On those rare days when Irwin wasn't tagging behind his twin brothers, he could always be found in the topmost branch of the tallest tree, swaying in the wind as he studied the land for miles around.

This was in direct contrast to the second youngest boy, ten year old Galan. Galan wouldn't climb a tree if you paid him. He tended to hide at the first sign of trouble, and when a fight broke out between his brothers, he could be counted on to mop up afterwards and dress their wounds. Although Lynet had made sure that all the boys could read and write, Galan was the only one who took pleasure in it. Where his brothers spent any money that came their way on sweets and slingshots, he saved his for the spring visit of the traders. When they arrived he would anxiously dog their footsteps, waiting patiently as they visited every house in the village. Only when all their customers had been served would they turn to him and mysteriously delve into a bag or pocket. They would invariably feel around and pretend to come up empty handed, just to watch the little fellow's face light up when they eventually produced a tattered book of legends, a political pamphlett or a small collection of miscellaneous writings. It didn't matter what it was, Galan would simply be pleased to have something that he had never read before. He would clutch his precious purchase to his chest and wander off singing to himself, looking for a shady, quiet place to read. Even now, the edge of a book peeked from beneath his pillow, and several more small stacks were neatly arranged beneath his bed.

The house was silent now, except for the occasional creaking of the huge oak beams in the roof. Eadwyn was getting sleepy and even the thought of the exotic beauty who haunted his daydreams couldn't stop his eyelids from drooping. "C'mon kiddo," he whispered, gently shaking Durwyn awake. "Your bedding is dry now. It's time to go back to sleep."

"What time is it?" Durwyn asked, sleepily rubbing his eyes. Eadwyn glanced at the stars.

"Nearly morning," he answered. "See? That lovely bright star, just rising above the river to the east? That's Eostre, the dawn star. She's sweeping the clouds into beautiful patterns so the sunrise can be seen in all its glory."

"Can't I stay up with you and watch the sunrise?" Durwyn pleaded. "I want to see how lovely it looks when those fluffy little clouds over there light up."

"I'm tired," Eadwyn yawned. "Maybe next time. Anyway, if you don't want the others to know about your little accident, we'd better get your bed made up pretty quickly."

"Oh, yes!" Durwyn was trying so hard not to be the baby of the family any more. In his new-found maturity, he even helped Eadwyn to smooth out the quilt, which was now perfectly dry. Once he had crawled back into bed, however, the facade faded. "Tuck me in?" he asked, and Eadwyn carefully tucked the bedding around him and kissed him quickly on the forehead. By the time Eadwyn had returned to his own bed, Durwyn was already snoring happily. With a final glance at the morning star which glimmered outside his window, Eadwyn only had time to wonder "who is she?" before he, too, was sound asleep.

The Seven Ravens:

~ Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10

The Original Fairytale by The Brothers Grimm

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