There is a tale I’ve heard told about an ancient king. Glendower, the Raven King. He sleeps in the forest somewhere, or so I’ve heard. Waiting for the waker—waiting to join us, the living, once again. Somewhere, Glendower sleeps, dreaming of the day he will be woken. Eager to walk through his lands once again.
Eager to grant the waker a wish.
That’s the tale I’ve heard told.
The tale of The Raven King.
A magical king. A wish-granter. A sleeper whose quiet breaths are full of life.
I’ve heard the tale of that king. Heard it several times, actually.
There’s more to the story than what there appears.
You see, I believe that something isn’t adding up.
There are… things… that can’t be explained by that tale.
Things that we, the listeners, have screwed up.
Things that we got wrong.
It’s easy to mistake them.
Crows and ravens, I mean.
They both have sleek bodies. Both have black feathers. Both have black eyes. They both prance around, fly, and carry themselves in much the same way. But, there’s a few differences.
Tails, for instance. Crows’ tails open in a fan shape, while ravens’ appear to be wedge-shaped. Crows caw loudly, boisterously, while ravens make a croaking sound. Ravens are about the size of red-tailed hawks, while crows are smaller.
And ravens are messengers of death and the ancient gods.
While crows remain free-agents. Tethering themselves to who, or what, they please.
Strange, I know.
But that’s how it is.
When you wake to a bed-full of ravens, you know that something is amiss. Something is wrong. Perhaps you’re cursed now, or perhaps you always have been, and the ravens are there to collect their ransom. Or, perhaps death is looming nearby—in the corner of your bedroom, or outside your window. Maybe he’s on his way. Or, it could be that death is simply in the area. There to claim another denizen of the household.
Either way, when you wake to a bed-full of ravens, you know:
It’s not a good sign.
When you wake to a bed-full of crows, however, you can assume it’s an accident. A strange occurrence. Maybe you had something shiny in your room, or maybe you had some food sitting on your desk, and you forgot to close your window.
It could happen to the best of us, a bed-full of crows.
If you’re on a boat, in the middle of a massive lake, and you happen to acquire an abnormally large amount of crows or ravens?
Regardless of which it is—
That means something.
As my boat stirs, listing through the water, they fly overhead. Black birds that flutter lazily at first. Watchful of me as I’m watchful of them. But then—
More black birds pour into the night sky. Blotting out the moon. Swarming lazily overhead, as if they’re clouding me. Watching me. Waiting for something.
They begin to speak.
They begin cawing.
Barking in the moonlight.
I feel only a small amount of relief at the fact that it isn’t ravens. Ravens would mean something sinister for sure. But, crows?
…I’m not really sure what the crows mean.
Not until one sits on the other end of the boat.
Tilting it, slightly, plunging my end out of the water.
A bird sits at the end of my boat.
It’s a bird like none I’ve ever seen. Like no one has ever seen. A big, black bird—larger than me—sitting across from me, on the other end of the boat. Wings splayed out on either side of the vessel. Craning his neck, his gaze turns downward.
Focuses on me.
I’m shocked at the white around his eyes. At the blue tones in them. At the fact that this giant crow doesn’t seem like he’s just a bird.
I’m shocked because I know:
I’ve been right.
This whole time, I’ve been right.
“I do not wish to return to how I was,” the bird tells me flatly. No preamble, no games. Just truth. Baring his heart instantly, without an ounce of hesitation.
He speaks directly to me.
“You know me?” I ask.
Which is ludicrous because, obviously, he does.
But he glares at me, the blue turning lighter, sharper, like ice, in the filtered moonlight.
“Yes. I’ve read your theories. Heard your thoughts on me. My brethren have had an interest in you for quite a while because of it. They don’t wish for me to return either, you see, and you’re quite close to cracking the code—to waking me from slumber. So, little human, I have come to cut you off,” he tells me.
The crows above have stopped cawing now. The only sounds in the area are the waves gently tapping my boat, and the flapping of hundreds of wings.
It gives me time to think.
“You… you’re here to kill me?”
At that, the crows laughs.
Just one, loud guffaw.
“No, little human. No. I simply wish to stop you from publishing your findings. Stop you from searching further. You’re very close to waking me, and—as I’ve said—I don’t wish to be woken anymore.”
“Why not?” I ask. “The crow’s body—it suits you, but… isn’t being human better?”
The bird’s head tilts curiously, disbelief in his tone.
“Better than open skies?” he questions, eyes scrutinizing me. “Better than freedom? Than a kingdom without borders? Better than shirking courtly duty for leisurely days? Humans are fickle, traitorous beasts. But, the crows that travel in my flock are nothing like that. We stick together, they listen to me. Together, we travel, and we eat, and we sleep. We live and we die, tucked under the blue-black gaze of the coolest night skies, skirting around the glory of the heavens. What could possibly be better than that?”
And to that…
I don’t have an answer.
He seems to know it. Expected that I wouldn’t be able to give an answer.
His eyes soften a little. His gaze intent.
“Human, you have the key to my mystery. Though, I have to tell you—both for the sake of now, and for the sake of the future—not all things should be solved. I warn you: do not continue this path. It will wake me, but—” his gaze burdens me a moment. Turning from what it was, to something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. Something dark. Beseeching, as he says, “—I am not the only thing that will wake.”
As that sinks in—my curiosity running rampant in the back of my mind—he continues. Trying to sweeten the deal, I think. Make it seem like I haven’t lost anything in giving up my venture.
“In this form, I cannot grant a wish, but I can watch over you from afar. My brothers are wild, yes, but they listen to me. They watch. And, when they decide to be, they are quite the force. I cannot grant a wish, but I can assure you that the crows are on your side—and they will be, for all of your days. So, please, I beg you.”
The whole boat jostles—
Tall, wings spread. Looking like the darkest of night as he hunches, readying to take off.
“Throw away this key,” he begs.
And takes flight. Soaring into the night sky. Absorbed by the other birds. Taken in as they caw—voices climbing in the night. Welcoming him into their flock.
The Sleeping One.
The one we’ve all got wrong.
He flies directly into the dark void of birds. Unafraid. Eager, if his posture was anything to go by.
And he’s gone.
They all are.
They leave in a noisy, cacophony. Moving as one, dark cloud of feathers.
And I’m struck.
Left listing in my boat for quite a while. Speechless. Glad to know that I was right, that I’ve been right all along about him. But, still.
I will throw away my key.
I do so promptly, tossing my papers overboard. Soaking my maps. Leaving this venture behind.
Giving up my wish for the sake of another.
For the freedom of that sleeper.
For the sake of his changed heart, his new purpose.
I throw it away for his sake.
For the King of Crows.