Fractal Myth

THE SEVEN RAVENS

Chapter 4

[Michelle Whitehead ©2006]

For the first few weeks of Cate's life, Arlys and Lynet wondered whether they were going to survive the experience of having a daughter. Of all their children, she was the most fractious. In the days after her birth she developed an angry looking rash which turned her skin into a mess of itchy red blotches. If that wasn't enough, she alternated between burning up with fever and shivering with cold. Her parents were at their wits end as they tried to soothe her crying and coax her to feed. They wandered around the house like zombies, sick from lack of sleep themselves. Meghan had stayed with them for the first few days, but soon the calls of other expectant mothers needing her attention could no longer be ignored. She gave them an ointment to rub on Cate's rash, and a long lost of suggestions for keeping her temperature even.

"Above all, don't panic," she laughed, as she stood by the gate bidding Lynet goodbye. "This is normal for any premature baby. You're just lucky you haven't faced any of these problems before. I'll be back in three weeks, and if something goes wrong before then (which it won't), I suggest you contact Cearo, the soothsayer. She knows more about babies than I ever will, and I'm sure she'll be happy to help you." She hugged Lynet, but before either of them had time to say more, they heard a scream coming from inside the house.

"Cate's awake," Lynet said, brushing her hair back from her eyes. She hadn't even had time to weave it into its normal tidy braid. "We'll manage somehow. You've been wonderful, but you have lots of other people who need your help. Don't worry about us. Cate is getting stronger. She just likes to complain. Speaking of which, I'd better go rescue Arlys. I think he'll be glad when it's time for him to go back to working in the forest!"

Meghan laughed again and waved cheerily as she walked off down the road. In her heart she hated to leave them, though she believed that Cate would soon settle down. In a way, the baby's troubles had been a blessing, as Arlys and Lynet had been too busy and distracted to think about their sons' disappearance. It was as though the boys had merely gone on a temporary holiday and would be back any moment. Their belongings were still scattered everywhere, just as the boys had left them. One of Galan's books lay open on the mantelpiece in the kitchen, near a half-finished wooden doll that Eadwyn had been carving for the baby. A pair of muddy boots belonging to Brogan or Drefan, no-one was ever sure which, waited silently beside the back door. In the garden, the seeds that Erian had planted were just beginning to sprout, thrusting tender green leaves into the the strong spring sunshine. Without him to watch over them, many had already been eaten by snails. Meghan shook her head. Despite their seeming acceptance of the situation, Arlys and Lynet were still in denial. It would be many months before they settled into a new routine with Cate and had time to grieve for the loss of their sons. Until then, perhaps it was better that they were too busy to think. In any case, there was nothing more she could do for them. Cate was out of immediate danger, and the midwife's presence in their house would only delay their inevitable realisation that their sons were gone, and that life would never be the same again.

For a week after Meghan left, Arlys and Lynet had no time to do more than smile wearily at each other as they swapped shifts, taking it in turns to spend a few hours sitting with Cate, gently rocking while they rubbed her tummy or back. As soon as they thought she'd fallen asleep and stopped rubbing, she immediately started to whimper. If the massage didn't resume, the whimper became a wail, and before long, she's be crying so hard she was gasping for breath. At such times, nothing would console her, leaving Arlys or Lynet with no choice but to cuddle her close and talk quietly to her until she finally stopped.

Luckily, spring was Arlys's quiet time in the forest, with no threat of wildfires or winter storms to worry about, so he was able to stay close to the house and help as much as he could. Even so, Lynet's ability to cope was stretched to the utmost. She hadn't realised how much she depended on the boys to be there, always ready and able to help. She constantly found herself calling them to assist with some task or other, then stopping with her hand to her mouth, hoping Arlys hadn't heard her. When he did, the anguished look in his eyes was more than she could bear. Still they avoided talking about it, taking refuge in Cate's needs, and trying to lose themselves in caring for her.

By the end of the week they were completely exhausted. Even Cate was quiet, as though she were now too tired to cry anymore. The weather wasn't helping. A huge storm was brewing and the air was heavy with electricity. It seemed to suck whatever energy they had left out of them, leaving them feeling as wilted as the unwatered flowers in the garden. For hours the clouds gathered, black and ominous, piling up like an avalanche along the line of the hills. When the thunder and lightning finally came it was a relief. The sky lit up with a blinding whiteness, as tongues of fire reached out to lick the earth. Moments later the house shook as thunder boomed, loud enough to deafen them. They sat in the kitchen with the lamp out, watching the show through the open door, a low fire keeping them warm. Lynet clutched Cate to her, certain the baby would be terrified, but she soon realised the little girl was thrilled by the storm, wide eyes watching the lightning and giggling as she waited for the thunder to break.

After the initial lightshow, a raging wind began to blow, tearing into the forest with ferocious fury. The wind was so strong that Arlys could hardly close the heavy kitchen door against its force. It brought huge raindrops with it, dashing them against everything in its path as though the darkness had come to life and decided to destroy the world. Still Cate was unafraid, cooing to her parents as the house shook and whistled around them. Lynet remembered how scared Durwyn had always been of such storms, crawling into bed between her and Arlys as if only his parents had the power to keep him safe. Suddenly, she burst into tears, crying as though the storm had broken something inside her.

"Where are they?" She sobbed. "Oh, where are they?"

Arlys put his arms around his wife and daughter, and began to cry as well. Huge, helpless tears that wracked his body, his chest heaving with pain. They clung to each other as the tempest raged around the house, grief and guilt pouring out from them both in an unstoppable flood. Cate seemed unpeturbed by their distress. Cuddled between them, she closed her eyes and quietly fell asleep. For hours they stayed in that position, long after the storm ceased, long after the tears dried. Finally, Arlys stirred. After hours of kneeling by Lynet's side, his legs were numb with pins and needles. He moved them gingerly, being careful not to disturb Cate. Lynet smiled. Her face was swollen and tearstained, but for the first time since Cate was born, her eyes were calm.

"Time for bed, I think," she whispered, patting his shoulder. He smiled back. Everything suddenly seemed surprisingly normal. He looked at Cate, still slumbering in her mother's arms, silently renewing the promise he had made on the day of her birth. Whatever the fate of her brothers, she would not be made to suffer for it. From this day on, his primary purpose would be to make her happy. If he could help it, she would never know the tragedy which had followed so closely on her birth. She had survived and that was all that mattered. Lynet nodded as if she understood his thoughts. "We will still pray for them, though," she said, as he helped her to her feet.

"Every day," he agreed.

The next morning, Lynet was awoken by the melodious warbling of a wren in the pear tree outside her window. The thunderstorm had torn away the last of the blossom, but fresh green leaves were bursting from buds all along the bare branches, spreading out to catch the bright morning light. There was no sign of Arlys, but Lynet dimly remembered waking earlier, just after dawn, to find him dressed and ready to go out.

"Stay asleep," he had whispered. "I'll be back soon. I have to go and check the forest. That storm is bound to have done a lot of damage." She had kissed him when he bent over her, but had been asleep again before he reached the door.

The wren sat in the branches with all her feathers fluffed out, singing with all her might. Every time she bounced from branch to branch a shower of diamond raindrops glittered to the ground. Lynet turned her attention to Cate, lying beside her in the big bed, snugly nestled in a coccoon of pillows. The baby was awake, but quiet. She seemed to be listening to the bird's song.

"Hello, little baby," Lynet greeted her, and Cate cooed back, giving her mother a toothless grin. "Do you want to see the pretty birdy?" She gathered the baby into her arms and carried her to the rocking chair beside the window. She was half afraid the wren would be disturbed by the movement and fly away. Instead, the tiny bird hopped from the branch to the windowsill, as though she understood that Cate's eyes couldn't focus very far yet. Seeing the little wren so close, Cate stretched out her chubby fingers, and to Lynet's absolute amazement, the bird hopped closer. It must be someone's pet, she thought to herself. Surely no wild bird would be so trusting. Bobbing its head up and down, the wren began singing again, a beautiful tune that reminded Lynet of the lilting waterfall near her grandmother's house. Gently rocking back and forth with the baby on her lap, she felt so peaceful that she wondered whether she were still asleep and dreaming. Alone in the forest, assessing the havoc wrought by the storm, Arlys felt similarly peaceful. It was as if the storm and their tears had washed away all their troubles, leaving only the reality of Cate's existence and the strength of their love for each other.

When he returned to the house, Arlys found Lynet and Cate asleep in the rocker. As she heard his footsteps in the doorway, Lynet opened her eyes.

"She's been feeding," she announced in a happy whisper. He sat down on the low stool beside her and listened closely as she told him all about the wren and its effect on Cate. "It was like magic," she said. "She was such a tiny little bird, so fragile, and yet such a strong voice. She sang and sang and Cate just kept suckling as though she were enchanted. She's had more to drink from me today than she has since she was born. It's as if she's making up for lost time!"

Arlys grinned. "That's wonderful news. She is very lucky to have such a visitor. A wren is a good creature to have as a friend. Did you know that the wren is the greatest of all the birds?"

Lynet shook her head. "Tell me?"

Arlys stopped for a moment and thought. It's a long time since my father told me this story. I can't believe I've forgotten it until now. Galan would love it!"

Lynet shook her head gently and Arlys grimaced. Lying in bed last night they had agreed that for Cate's sake, they would not talk about the boys again. If they were not going to tell her about her brothers, they had to be careful not to drop hints that would make her curious. Of course, she was far too young to understand at the moment, but the sooner they got into the habit, the better. "Sorry," he whispered, leaning over to kiss her cheek.

"Tell me the story?" she prompted gently, when he sat lost in thought without going on.

"Yes," he agreed, shaking himself. "The story. Are you listening, Cate?" His daughter had opened her eyes and was looking at him as though avidly taking in every word. "Once upon a time there was a great gathering of birds. All the birds of the air were there, and they were all arguing about who was the greatest. You see, the time had come for the feathered tribes to choose their sovereign. The bird that would rule over them all. Finally, after a lot of argument, they decided to hold a competition. Whichever bird managed to fly the highest would be declared the absolute Ruler of all the birds. The favourite was the eagle, since everyone knew he was the strongest of them all. Without waiting for the others, he took off, flying as fast as he could towards the sun. Confident of his power, the mighty eagle never doubted that he would win the competition and be crowned King. When he had flown higher than he'd ever been before, the eagle looked back at his competitors, who were far, far below. Stretching and soaring on his magnificent wings, the eagle proclaimed to all that he was the greatest, and therefore, that he would be monarch over all creatures that had wings. Suddenly, however, out from under his wings popped the wren, who had been hiding beneath the eagle's feathers. The tiny wren flew just a few inches higher, then chirped out loudly, "Look up, birds. Look up and behold your King!"

Lynet laughed and clapped her hands. "Oh that's perfect! I can just imagine the clever, cheeky thing doing that. Look! Cate is fascinated too!" With her rosy cheeks, sparkling eyes and wide smile, the baby was a perfect picture of health. It was hard to imagine she'd been so sickly when she was born.

Arlys laughed too. "In the old language, wren means 'happy'."

"Well, I hope she stays around. If her song keeps encouraging Cate to feed, I'll be much happier!" A shadow passed across Lynet's face, and Arlys patted her arm.

"One day at a time," he reminded her. "Anyway, perhaps it's a sign. If I remember my old grandmother's stories correctly, wrens and ravens are often linked together. What was that strange rhyme she used to say?

The wren is the preacher, the teacher of light.
Dark raven, the warrior, eager to fight.

Something like that. I can't really remember, it was so long ago."

Lynet shuddered. "The wren is welcome, whatever she's supposed to symbolize, but I don't like to think of my sons fighting, whether they are birds or boys. God grant them peace until they are back in our arms." She stopped and thought for a moment. "You want to talk about symbolism? You just reminded me of something Father Bede said, last winter. He told us that the first bird Noah sent out from the ark was a raven, but it returned without finding land." Her forehead wrinkled as she stared out the window. "I wonder what that means?" Then she shook her head. "Look at us, searching for comfort in anything we can find. We could just as easily look at that cloud up there and say it's a good omen that it's shaped like a large bird!"

Arlys nodded. "Yes, but I don't think God will mind us taking comfort wherever we find it, do you? It's all his creation, after all. Now, speaking of comfort, Cate may have a full belly, but mine is rumbling."

As the months passed, Lynet and Arlys slowly adjusted to life without their sons. They packed the boys' belongings in the loft of the barn, after wrapping them carefully in oilcloth. Lynet never wavered in her belief that one day they would all return. Arlys humoured her, sure in his heart that it would take more than waiting to bring them home. At first, once they knew Cate was going to survive, he had argued that he should go searching for them. He had inadvertently sent them away, so he should be the one to bring them home. Lynet had been so panicked by the thought of being left alone with Cate, and by the possibility of losing him as well as the seven boys, that he had soon put the idea behind him.

There was one circumstance that gave them both hope. It had first happened when Cate was five weeks old. The morning of what would have been the twins' sixteenth birthday. Lynet and Cate were in their usual feeding position in the rocking chair by the window, with the little wren singing in the pear tree. It was midsummer, and the hard green knobs of fruit were finally starting to swell and ripen. Watching mother and baby together, Arlys was overcome by a deep feeling of tenderness. Suddenly, he remembered how the boys would always bring their mother something special on their birthday, some little treasure they had made or found. He knew Lynet was missing them more than ever today. He decided to sneak out and pick a bunch of flowers for her from the garden.

Arlys opened the door, but stopped with his foot raised, staring dumbly at the threshold. There, on the doorstep, were two shiny black feathers and a sprig of some flower which Arlys could not recognise. His keen eyes searched the treetops all around, but although there were plenty of birds out enjoying the summer sunshine, there wasn't a raven in sight. He gathered up the offerings and carried them in to his wife. When she saw them she collapsed, half laughing, half crying.

"Oh my wonderful, wonderful boys. See, Arlys? They haven't forgotten us." She stroked the feathers, holding them carefully where Cate could not grab them with her sticky fingers. "Brogan and Drefan. Put them in the jar on the mantelpiece with the first feather you found?" While Arlys was gone, she studied the flower closely. It had tiny golden petals, with red stamens at the center and its leaves were nothing more than tiny spikes. Holding it gingerly to avoid pricking her fingers on the sharp pointed leaves, she brought it near her nose. The fragrance was faint, but deliciously sweet. "I wonder what it is?" she asked Arlys when he returned.

"I have no idea," he replied, "and I know every flower that grows in meadow or forest. It must come from a long way away, perhaps a mountain range or a desert, since those leaves look like they're adapted to a harsh climate."

Lynet shrugged. "Wherever it comes from, it's beautiful. It's a gift sent to show us at least two of our sons are alive. I wouldn't swap it for all the roses in the Queen's garden." She placed the little flower in the vase beside her pillow. Then, handing Cate to Arlys, she knelt down and gave thanks to God. Arlys carried Cate closer to the window, where the little wren still sang as if inspired.

After that day, Arlys and Lynet waited impatiently for the next of the boys' birthdays. Erian's was less than a month after the twins, then the others, scattered through the year. Each time they anxiously opened the door together, and each time they found a single feather and a sprig of some strange flower, always different, always unknown. Once or twice Arlys tried getting up early and waiting outside to catch a glimpse of the gifts being delivered, but something would always distract him at a critical moment, and when he looked back at the empty doorstep, the feather and flower would be waiting there, as if by magic.

The years passed and Cate grew beautiful and strong. Her parents felt she was an absolute blessing, always full of energy and laughter. With her long dark hair and flashing green eyes she was everything they had ever wished for in a daughter, and if sometimes they might wish she were a little less effervescent, a little less headstrong, they remembered the sons they had lost and agreed with each other that they wouldn't want to change a single thing about her.

As a toddler, her best friend was the wren who had sung to her as a baby. To Arlys's surprise, the little bird hadn't flown away with the others fleeing the icy winds of winter. Instead, she had quietly moved into the kitchen, roosting on the coathooks near the fire at night and feeding on crumbs Lynet saved for her. At times she would disappear for days at a time, and Lynet would worry that she had been trapped out in the cold, but sooner or later they would hear a little beak tapping on the window, and Lynet or Arlys would let her in.

"I wonder where she goes?" Lynet mused one evening, as Cate sat prattling to the wren, telling her everything that had happened while she'd been away. "I've asked in the village, and nobody else has been feeding her. They all looked at me as if I was crazy." "Cearo used to have a family of pet wrens," Arlys replied without looking up from the blade he was sharpening. A lot of trees had been brought down by the recent storms, and he was going to have a lot of work for his axe in the near future. "Perhaps she goes home to the soothsayer's cave?"

"Would you ask her?"

"Cearo?" Arlys looked confused. Although he and the old woman had once been good friends, he had been avoiding her of late. Lynet had felt similarly uncomfortable around Father Bede. Both the priest and the soothsayer had reassured the parents that they were not to blame for their sons' disappearance, but even so, the mystery of what had happened was so unexplainable that neither of them were willing to discuss it with an outsider, even a trusted spiritual adviser.

Lynet understood his reluctance and let the matter drop. What did it matter where the wren went, so long as it kept returning every now and then? Cate didn't seem to mind its absences, though she was always overjoyed when it returned. The little girl never tried to catch or touch the little bird, but was content to sit and talk to it for hours. Even before she could talk she had cooed and chortled in response to the liquid music of the wren's song.

As she grew older, Cate also grew bolder, eagerly exploring every nook and cranny of the house and its surrounds. Her parents often found themselves challenged by her curiosity, having to think quickly to explain things they preferred she didn't know. Despite their best efforts, they sometimes found themselves lost for words, but Cate had a good imagination and if her parents couldn't explain something to her satisfaction, she would invent an answer that made perfect sense as far as she was concerned.

One day, just past Cate's fifth birthday, her mother spied her wandering down the path from the little cemetery with something in her hands. With a start Lynet realised what the objects were. In one hand, the little girl held a well-used slingshot, and in the other, a faded kite with a long, tattered tail. She danced down the path towards the house as though she had found the Queen's jewels lying discarded in the forest. 'How am I going to explain this?' Lynet worried. She clearly remembered Brogan and Drefan bringing those same objects to her when she was heavily pregnant, confiding their intention to hide them in a hollow of the old oak as an offering for the safe birth of their sister. Now here was Cate carrying them proudly from their hiding place.

Lynet knew all too well that her daughter would soon be demanding to know how they got there. She suddenly realised she was standing in the doorway, eyes wide and hand over her mouth, looking as shocked as she felt. Just when they thought they were safe from awkward questions, something new and even harder to account for would arise. With a sudden burst of genius, Lynet grabbed the kettle from the fire and began pouring steaming water into the wooden tub just inside the kitchen door. She knew her actions would be clearly visible from outside.

"Hurry up, Cate," she yelled as she bent over the tub. "Meghan's coming to visit and I want to give you a bath and clean you up before she gets here. I've laid out your pretty yellow dress. You'll look as lovely as a daisy in a sunbeam!" Straightening slowly, she looked back up the path. Strangely, it was completely deserted. Not a girl or a toy anywhere in sight. She grinned. Cate was vociferously of the opinion that bathing during the day was a waste of valuable play time, especially if it meant having to get dressed up and sit quietly listening to adults talk. The mere mention of visitors coming was guaranteed to send her fleeing into the magical sanctuary of the forest.

More than any of her brothers, Cate had made the forest her own. She spent hours seeking out small furred or feathered creatures to chatter to, and she loved adorning the trees with fresh garlands woven from wildflowers, never picking more than one or two flowers from each plant. Depending on her mood, the tall stands of trees became a many-towered palace, glittering with gold and jewels, or an impenetrable fortress where none could enter without her leave. She ruled the roost from a comfortable nook in the branches of an old pine tree, and more than once, Arlys had followed the sound of the wren's song to find his daughter curled up asleep on a cushion of moss at its base.

At this moment, Arlys was hurrying home from a two-day journey into the woods, his axe balanced easily on his shoulder and his long legs striding easily along the tidy path. He had promised Lynet that he would be back in time for Meghan's visit, and from the angle of the sun he knew that he was already running late. He stopped abruptly, hearing something unusual amongst the forest sounds of birds and bees. He listened for a moment then smiled. Cate! The little rascal was obviously playing hookey. He would creep up and surprise her.

Moving silently with a skill gained from many years of stalking through the forest, Arlys made his way to his daughter's hiding place. As he got closer, he realised she was talking to the little wren who occasionally joined her in her forest escapades. Arlys often worried that Cate was lonely, and he tried to encourage her to spend more time with the other little children her age, running wild in the village.

"But Dadda," she would patiently explain, "they're just too silly. They don't know anything about important things like trees and flowers and birds. Even Aedre would rather play with that dumb wooden doll of hers. What's the point in that? She talks to her all the time, but the doll never talks back! I like my friends in the forest much better. They always take care of me." The little girl was surprisingly stubborn about such things, and her parents had to admit she had a real affinity for animals. Besides, the less time she spent in the village, the less they had to worry about her hearing something she shouldn't.

Sneaking through the forest towards his daughter, Arlys realised he was eavesdropping. He was about to turn back without disturbing her privacy when he heard something that made him freeze on the spot. Cate was telling the wren about the toys she had found in the hollow of the old oak.

"There's only one explanation," she stated, and her little friend tilted her head to one side to indicate she was listening. "I have a brother. Or brothers." Arlys swallowed hard, feeling like his heart was wedged in his throat. What had she found out? He waited breathlessly for her to go on. "Not real brothers, though. Not like Bearn and Gifre." These were Aedre's brothers, whom Cate hated with a passion because she had once caught them teasing a kitten. "No. My brothers are good and kind and strong, only I can't see them because they're invisible." She stopped and thought for a moment, sucking on the end of her braid. "They're invisible because... because... I know!" The exclamation was full of triumph. Arlys bit his lip, wondering whether she could possibly have overheard the village gossips talking. "They're invisible because they live inside the trees, and they're only allowed to come out when I'm not looking, and if I ever saw them they wouldn't be able to go back inside their tree and the tree would die and then they'd be sad! Isn't that right, brother birch?" Cate turned to the slender white-trunked tree in which the wren sat, and threw her arms around it. "That's why I found the toys inside the hollow oak. They hid them there for me to find, because they love me and I love them!" Standing up, she ran from tree to tree, throwing her arms out to hug each one, thin saplings and massive trunks, she hugged them all without discrimination.

Smiling at her enthusiasm, Arlys decided not to intrude on her privacy any longer. He melted back into the forest, hurrying back to the house to share the story with Lynet. They never tired of marvelling over their daughter's imagination. It made up for the constant worry over what they would do when she eventually found out the truth. They were sure that the old women of the village would not be able to hold their tongues forever. Sooner or later, whether well-meaning or malicious, someone was bound to decide it was time the little girl was told. They only hoped it would be later rather than sooner, and each night they prayed in their different ways that their boys would be returned to them before Cate found out.

It was two weeks before Cate's eighth birthday when the secret finally emerged. She had been invited to a party in the village, and for once had not objected to being scrubbed and brushed and dressed in her best. The invitation had come just at the right time, for Cate was becoming convinced that the other children didn't like her.

"I thought you didn't like them?" Arlys asked, and she scowled, screwing up her little snub nose.

"I never said I didn't like them, just that they were silly. There's a difference." She looked at him as though he, of all people, should understand. "I want to know that they are my friends, even if I don't want to play with them all the time, but now they start whispering every time I come near, and they won't talk to me anymore. I didn't think Aedre was even going to invite me to her birthday, but she did, so now I want to be nice so she won't be sorry she asked me."

Arlys shook his head. As always, she had worked out her own logic and would stick to it to the bitter end. "Don't you let anyone make you feel bad," he counselled. "We love you just the way you are, and nothing that anyone whispers will ever change that." His daughter threw her arms around him. "I love you too, Dadda. Don't worry about me. It will be fun!"

"You are beautiful," Lynet exclaimed, when Cate was finally ready. Her long dark hair, which she refused to let anyone cut, was curled into tight ringlets that bounced about her shoulders. Her tanned face shone with health and happiness above the dress her mother had made, a dress without frills or flounces, but soft and green as the forest in spring. She twirled, making the skirt swirl out around her, and her father swung her high in the air, his eyes gleaming with love and pride. As soon as her little brown shoes were back on solid ground she hugged and kissed them both, grabbed the little bouquet of flowers she had picked for the birthday girl, and ran off, full of excitement.

An hour later she was back, her dress torn and muddy, one shoe missing, and a purple bruise slowly forming over her right eye.

"What happened?" Lynet gasped, pulling the crying girl into her arms. "Are you hurt? Who did this to you?"

Arlys crouched down beside them and Cate buried her face in his broad chest, sobbing as though her heart were broken. It took several minutes before she calmed down enough for them to understand what she was saying.

"It was Bearn and Gifre," she sobbed. "They were teasing one of the little kids and making her cry so I told them to stop. Then... then they turned on me and they said... they said I could dress myself up and pretend to be normal if I wanted, but that everyone knew it was my fault... that my brothers had been cursed because of me, and something terrible had happened to them, and they warned all the others to stay away from me or something terrible would happen to them too. I thought they meant the trees... but... but they said before I was born you had seven sons and that they all disappeared because of me. I didn't believe them, but all the other children started pointing and shouting that it was all my fault. I just wanted them to stop. I hit Gifre and gave him a bloody nose, and then they all started fighting with me. Aedre's mother stopped them and told me to go home. I asked her to make them stop lying, but she wouldn't. She told me to come home and talk to you. It's not true, is it? Is it Mumma?" Lynet bowed her head and Cate raised her eyes to her father. "Dadda? Tell me the truth. Whatever it is, I'm old enough to know now, aren't I?"

Arlys looked at her. It was true, she was much more mature than her brothers had been at her age. Not yet eight, but already she knew more about the world around her than most of the adults in the village. He sighed and shook his head regretfully. Much as he would have liked to shield her forever, the secret was a secret no longer. He sought Lynet's gaze and she nodded with resignation. They had discussed this on many a long sleepless night. The most important thing now was to make Cate understand that what had befallen her brothers was nothing to do with her. It was the will of heaven, and her birth had only been the innocent occasion of their misfortune. It was a blessing that she had been born, and the disappearance of her brothers would never change how her parents felt about that.

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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