The Three Ravens
Posted: Posted November 19th, 2014 by elemtilas
One time, when Ysengrim was king in the Old Woods, even beyond Ypsiy Dale a bit, there lived three ravens, Tynselyn, Wenselyn and Tambert, and three eggbrothers were they. It being a bit of a gloomy morning, they sat in a limb of a broad old oak tree by the side of the highway that ran down from the Dale. And as they often did, sitting in their tree of a morning, they sang a bit of old doggerel to while away the lazy summer mornings, gloomy or otherwise. Their song went hey down-a-down, hey down, hey down and they sang it in three part harmony, in the fashion of ravens all through the lands around the Old Woods. Now, since none of these ravens could carry a tune of more than one note, twas well enough the tune was known to one and all, and every raven who heard them singing knew what they were on about.
Soon enough, they quit their cacaphonous singing and, with much back thumping and congratulations on a song well and truly sung indeed, Wenselyn came upon a favorite topic of conversation.
“I say, good gentles, where shall we our breakfast take? After all our hearty songcraft, I do believe I have a naptite waked!”
“Oy Wenselyn!” cried Tambert; “Do stop with thy foul riming! Tha’s absolutely no good at ‘t tha knows. Anyroad, everybird kens ‘take’ ain’t no rime for ‘awakened’.”
“No rhyme says you?”
“Yeah, no rime says i. Stands to reason!”
“And what, pray, reason mought that be?”
“Why, my love, ‘eke’ don’t go with ‘end’.”
“‘S alliteration,” said Tynselyn, for he quickly got all out of sorts when Wensylyn and Tambert took to bickering.
“Slitteration? Never heard of it!”
“Nor me neither!”
“That, me young ducks,” Tynselyn retorted with a sharp clack of his crimson bill, “is on account of ye two is right dinglesome ignoramuses. Littration, yes indeed. That’s what all the great poets get up to, let me tell you!”
“No, thank you!” cried Tambert, while Wenselyn was still trying to sort out whether Tynselyn had actually meant to complement his bit of poesy or not.
It was not long, however, before Wenselyn inevitably brought everyone back to the topic at wingtip: “I don’t know what this slitheration mought be, but I do know it ain’t putting me no closer nohow to a full stomach!”
“Hear, hear!” interjected Tambert.
Wenselyn continued without a pause: “So I ask you, and pace all poets quick and passed, where shall we our breakfast take? Morning’s half on and we han’t budged from this yer branch! But lads, I heard tell of a nice badger got himself squashed on the road up a ways towards the Dale...”
Tambert heartily agreed: “Coo, i do like a bit of road kill, right. Fresh. Stands to reason. But I heard one better: just yesterday I heard tell of ol’ Bruin’s cousin Bando got himself shot by a hunter up nigh Womblyburg. Bears have nice big, juicy eyes, doncha know!”
Wenselyn couldn’t help declaring his preference for juicy eyes: “Oh, yes indeed! I like nice big juicy eyes! Slides right down me old gizzard and no mistake!”
At last, Tynselyn spoke up again, every bit as out of sorts as before: “Listen, me loves, that there bear was shot a fortnight ago, and whoever’s telling you your news is sitting on it for a good long time! And anyway everybird knows old Bando was poxy, and i for one ain’t eating no poxy old bear eyes, no matter how juicy!”
“Well, what do you suggest, then?”
“Now, hark ye well lads,” Tynselyn went on, ignoring the interruption. “I have it on very good authority that this very morning there was a proper old duel done been fought between two errant warriors over Bansdun Market way.”
Tambert pished the suggestion: “So, what of it? Warriors is always bashing in each others heads!”
“Peace!” Tynselyn looked about warily, then cocked his head towards Tambert and Wynselyn conspiratorily, gathering them in close with his wings. He clicked his beak excitedly and whispered: “Numbskull, that, as they says in the business, is rather me point! — one of the two Jock fellows bashed the other fellow and broke his crown. If ye takes my meaning...”
“...and Jell come tumbling after!” crew Wenselyn excitedly. “Coo, manflesh my dear eggmates! And what a breakfast we shall have!”
Tynselyn sniffed, but let Wenselyn have his say. “And not just any manflesh, me good gentles. Two Daine warriors is they. Foreign blokes by all accounts. Not that i have aught agin foreign food of any kind. Manflesh is manflash, under the skin, if ye take my meaning!”
Now it was Tambert who raised an objection: “No good will come of it, i am sure my dear friends. I don’t like the sound of warriors being involved. They’re not like to leave a body unburied, you know! And you know they don’t take too kindly to us what’s only trying to keep body and soul together of a gloomy summer morning! But all the same, i’m with yez good sirs!”
“Right! Very well said,” concluded Tynselyn. “If we are all agreed, then let us go down and pay our last respects to this brave and bold warrior all in his splendid and peaceful repose.” And with that, the three ravens took wing and headed off towards Bansdun Market.
And so the three ravens took wing and flew up over the treetops. High over the Ravenscroft Hill and down into the green meadows beyond. Wenselyn spied the place first, for there met their eyes a feast of such delights they could scarce believe their good fortune! For indeed all was as Tynselyn had said. A Daine warrior in a grassy glade lay slain under the shade of a tall young oak. Nearby was the broken bronze of his sword and upon his right shoulder was his cloven shield. Though mind you, the three ravens took little enough notice of the warrior’s trappings; for their attention was riveted upon the young warrior himself. Not only was he haply lying face up, and not only was he very freshly slain indeed; but best of all, no other raven had beaten them to the groaning board!
Tynselyn could scarcely contain his excitement: “Oh, look me loves! His keen green eyes, beautiful to behold! So large, so clear ...” His crimson bill clacked with delight!
“So deliciously open!” cried Wenselyn.
“...and, most importantly, lads,” and here he paused for dramatic effect; “dead as you please!” continued Tynselyn with no little satisfaction. “Why, eyes of green, i do believe ye be staring right at me! Ah, i can scarce choose which to peck at first, the left then the right? Or the right, then the left? Oh, the agony of choice!”
The two younger ravens alit first upon the warrior’s brow, but Tynselyn scattered them with a roar: “All right you lot! Enough of that! Tis i’ll decide which eye is pecked first and whom shall do the pecking! And, boyos, bags me the left! They’re always the juiciest. And anyway, there’s plenty enough on the right for you two to share.”
And with that, the three ravens took to bickering over the pecking order. Sure, Tynselyn was the eldest eggbrother (by five whole minutes!); yet it was Tambert who urged them on and Wenselyn first spotted the shady place where the warrior was lying in his repose. They hopped about, first upon his shoulder then his still warm breast. They peeked under his shield and picked at his shiny arm rings, hoping perchance to nip away with a bit of shiny treasure after breakfast. But none of them could get close to the warrior’s great green, staring eyes without raising the ire of the other two. Clearly, they would have to sort out their differences, or no one would nibble on his eyes! But none of the three ravens took any notice that not all things in that green field were quite as dead as the fallen warrior!
At last, the two younger ravens gave over and contented themselves with picking at the warrior’s breast, wings extended with pure gastronomic extasy, while Tynselyn proudly strode up along his breastbone, the tender throat and at last alit upon the warrior’s chin, still thrust proudly skyward. At last, he paused, gazing longingly into the now faded and dead green eyes. Perched now upon the warrior’s long thin nose, Tynselyn queried himself: “Ah! And which eye indeed shall i peck first? Now that i look, perhaps the right... Or shall i follow me first instinct in the matter? Oh, the choices i must make!”
And just as Tynselyn settled himself upon the bridge of the warrior’s long nose with a crow of pride towards his younger eggmates, he got the shock of his life. For just as he was about to peck out the warrior’s left eye, he heard a rustling in the grass. Probably a hare, or some overly inquisitive squirrel. Nasty rats, the lot of em! And that’s when he heard it, loud as a braying hunting horn: the angry baying of the warrior’s hounds!
Tynselyn turned his beak away from its happy task and just as the hounds were upon them, he let out a cry of dismay: “Fly!” And before he could say more, he took wing and leapt from the warrior’s nose and into the air!
One hound had got Tambert by the neck and the other got Wenselyn by the wing, but only by the very tip. Feathers flew in every direction as Wenselyn was able to free himself from the hound’s grip and limp up into the lower branches of the young oak tree. There he clutched at the wood of the branch and sat, panting. The hound followed him under the branch and set himself to yammering down below. The other hound was busy shaking his head back and forth, the limp body of poor Tambert flapping about, his wings broken and fluttering uselessly. But haply Tynselyn had managed to flap his wings once, twice, thrice before his hound’s jaws bit down upon him with a crash of massive teeth! They bit into nothing but tail feathers and Tynselyn was able to get airborn.
Tynselyn’s first thought was only flight — not the act of flying, but simply of fleeing — to get away from the monster as quick as possible! Once he had gained a little height and was no longer in immediate danger from the monstrous hound, he heard an even more terrifying sound — the shrieking of the warrior’s hawk! She must have caught sight of Tynselyn limping along, his tail out of whack and not quite behaving properly. “Death to my lord’s attackers!” she seemed to be screeching and she made dive after dive at him, wheeling and turning! But Tynselyn somehow managed to escape by quick last minute turns, hurling his body this way and that. Once she managed to rake her talons across his face, crying: “How dare ye carrion birds come nigh my sweet master? Do ye think he lay there defenseless at the last, even in death?” At the last, Tynselyn himself dove back down into the safety of the young oak where even the hawk’s penetrating and keen eyes could not see all. There he found Wenselyn and he perched close to his eggbrother.
They watched mournfully as the hound continued to worry at Tambert’s limp body, they cawing furiously, but the hound taking no notice. And that was the end of Tambert. The other hound only barked at them in indignation: “How dare you vile carrion birds come here to this hallowed ground to try and peck away at our sweet lord’s body? Did no one tell you fools of his vigilant guardsbeasts? Or did you think he lay here undefended?”
Morning turned into afternoon as the Sun, having long since burned off the gloomy fog of early morn, continued her graceful journey across the canopy of heaven. Entirely oblivious to the doings of the beasts of Old Wood, she strove ever higher into the sky and at last she crested the summit of her daily ride, and now began her downward journey towards dusk and inevitable death of day. Miserable and hungry, Tynselyn and Wenselyn waited while the hounds and hawk kept watch.
Said Wenselyn to his eggmate: “Well, me love, this be a fix tha got us into and no mistake! Twernt half true as young Tam did say. For did he not say no good will come of it?”
“Me get us into a fix! Eggbrother, tha must indeed be mad as any hatter!”
“Well, if tha hadn’t insisted we come down here, we’d have been fed by now on thon tender badger what got himself squashed over Ypsiy Dale way...” He clacked his beak wistfully, the very thought of a missed meal gnawing away at his heart. “Aye, fed by now and not half slain ourselves by these slavering wolfkin beasts! And, what is more, our dear eggbrother Tam would still live to bicker another day!”
“Well now we have it! As i recall the events of the morning, twas thee and thy dear friend as spent the whole morning blathering on about food and not anything at all to find us some! And also as I recall, twas me as said we would go here only if all agreed — no one forced poor Tam nor indeed thyself to fly hitherwards with me! But alas for all that, tis a shame our dear eggbrother has proved his own words true and i would surely rather have seen him a living liar than a dead soothsayer!”
Wenselyn did not reply, remaining silent and sullen. At last he said: “I don’t know about you, eggbrother, but i’m going off to find something to eat. Far from here! These mangy wolfhoundbeasts and that horrible old hawk will not let us dine like peaceable folk here and i am thoroughly famished!”
Before Tynselyn could get in a word edgewise, or any other wise, Wenselyn was off, gliding well above the heads of the warrior’s hounds, but alas that he didn’t entirely escape the notice of the hawk! Tynselyn sighed: “No good will come of this, thou just mark my words, lad!” He shook his head slowly. And in the brief moment the hounds caught sight of Wenselyn winging away from the shady glade, they took to baying and barking anew.
Wenselyn flapped and crew most vexedly: “Stupid mangy dogwolfbeasts! Why can’t ye just let a poor body take his breakfast in peace?” Swooping over their snarling snouts as be chided them, he pulled up at the last moment and turned away from the glade, seeking for an easier meal. But this didn’t sit well with the ever vigilant hawk!
Now high up in the air above the trees of the shady glade, the keen eyed hawk had seen if not heard everything that went on below. She saw Wenselyn swoop down towards the hounds and then pull up and careen away. With a shriek of triumph, the hawk dove and in an instant was upon the hapless raven! Her razor sharp claws found their mark at last and bit deep into Wenselyn’s flesh. He screamed with pain, looking up into the red eyes and crimson beak of his own death. She wheeled back towards the clearing, where she released the raven. Unable to make his broken wings move, Wenselyn fluttered to earth some distance from the fallen warrior. The hawk landed nearby, her wings outstretched, calmly observing the stunned and laboring Wenselyn. She could hear Tynselyn cawing angrily, casting down curses and imprecations upon all hawks wherever they may fly. She took no notice as she leapt upon the stunned raven.
Wenselyn moaned and the hawk drove her sharp beak into his defenceless breast, crying: “How does it feel to be so pecked, filthy carrion bird?” And that was the end of Wenselyn.
Tynselyn clacked his beak sharply in derision of all raptors, toothed and otherwise and shook his head slowly. “Two eggbrothers dead in one morning, me ould self! Surely tis as young Tam said: No good will come of it, and indeed no good at all has come of it!”
As noontide waned into afternoon, low clouds began to pass over the land. Tynselyn heard the low rumble of thunder in the distance and continued his monologue: “Lads, i do believe i shall stay the night right here in this branch. Looks like we’ll be in for a spell of weather, and ye mangy hounds are welcome to join me here in this bit of dry, or ye can bide down below and get rained on! Miserable i may be, and hungry i certainly be, but above all, i’ll live another day!”
The clouds darkened the sky and the thunder drew near. Rain cold and penetrating poured down from the dark clouds. The hounds whimpered a bit then hunkered down next to their cold master, as if to warm him. The hawk alit in a tree at the other side of the glade, ever watchful of her master, just in case the raven should try anything, though she could not actually see where Tynselyn was staying. But no, Tynselyn gave no cause for worry. He stayed put, watching the hounds below as they dozed off and also he could just see where the hawk had perched herself, safely some distance away. All was still and quiet in the glade, apart from the shush of rain on the leaves and the rumble of thunder on the air. By midafternoon the rain lessened considerably, then tapered off. The rumbling thunder had moved off and the storm was past. At last, the hot Sun showed her face here and there among the ragged clouds and Tynselyn felt warm at last. “Well me ould self,” said Tynselyn to himself, “leastways we’ll dry ourselves off a bit!”
And it was then Tynselyn saw a strange thing indeed. At first he thought it was naught but a fallow doe come out from the denser wood and into the steaming heat of the glade. She shimmered and Tynselyn blinked a few times to clear his eyes. When he could see more clearly what was happening, the doe stood and became a Daine woman wearing only the hide of a fallow doe round her waist and a thin necklet of silver round her smooth fair throat; and she herself as great with child as she could be. Momentarily revulsed at the thought of these strange mammals laying their wet slimy chicks all over their warm and cosy nests — but then recalling on more than one occasion tucking right in to a bit of delicious afterbirth up in the farmsteads outside the Dale — rather than how decent mother ravens lay beautiful mottled eggs to contain and protect their eggchicks until grown up a bit; for all that Tynselyn couldn’t help but become transfixed by this strange winged woman. He hadn’t thought on it properly before, but now that he could observe her closely, he could see how she swayed her wings a bit as she walked slowly across the glade, weeping, her own feathers as black and glistening as any raven’s! “Mayhap these Daine are some kind of transfigured bird? Moughtn’t it be some ages ago they was proper birds such ourself? Mayhap they done something wrong and are even now being punished, yet ever reminded of their true natures? Poor sad birdfolk!”
The cry of the hawk brought Tynselyn out of his reverie, but he needn’t have worried. She floated down and alit upon the bare shoulder of the Daine girl as she made her slow way across the tall grass of the clearing. Even so, she remained vigilant, turning her head this way and that as if to catch Tynselyn up to no good, as if to say “don’t you dare come down here!”
As she approached the fallen warrior, the hounds sat upon their haunches and wagged their tails, happy to see their mistress, yet mournful about their master. Fair she was, or rather, Tynselyn supposed she must be fair according to her own kind, for he was quite familiar with the stories told by Men and Daine and all their drollery in describing the beauty of females! But for all that, Tynselyn had to admit she fit the bill well enough. For fair indeed was she, beautiful dark blue eyes and long tresses of raven black hair which Tynselyn noted with some satisfaction; midnight black wings that could be the envy of any self-respecting raven. Slender she was, and tall, her long white feet barely crushed the grass. She bent her head in sorrow, the hot tears began to flow down her white cheeks. She made a sound Tynselyn could hear but could not understand; it made her breath ragged in her heaving breast and made her body shake miserably. “Must be terribly shaken, poor dear chick!” said he to himself. She knelt at the warrior’s side and bent over her love. Tenderly she took his face in her hands and smothed his fair reddish hair, rubbed away the blood from his face. With her own tresses, still damp from the rain, she carefully washed the blood stains from his wounded breast and limbs, wiped the dirt and mud from his legs and feet. These things done, she leaned over him and kissed him once upon his cold lips. Then she rose again, the tears freely running down from her sad blue eyes. With little more than a slight groan, she lifted the warrior up bodily upon her own bare white shoulders. Without a word, she carried him from the place of battle, the place of death and took him away, hawk and hounds following along after their mistress.
At the last, the spell of the girl’s tender care for her fallen love was broken and Tynselyn awoke as from a dream. He looked down and saw no sign of the fallen warrior apart from some tattered and bloodied cloth and broken bits of weapons and gear.
“By the sacred egg of the world!” cried Tynselyn to the empty air of the glade. “God give every brave warrior such hawks and hounds as those and such a love as she!” Exhausted and hungry still, Tynselyn winged his way home in the last light of the evening, for by then the Sun had nearly gone on her last journey down into the West, casting a wan light upon the death of day.
Two days had passed and Tynselyn was still miserable. He had managed to scavange only a few unripe berries. Still stung by the memory of his eggbrothers’ untimely demise, he took wing in search of better dining options. Perhaps a bit of fresh carrion would cheer him up. It was then he came upon a place a starving raven could only dream of! What is that? A freshly cart-trodden hedgehog you ask? No, this was by far better! For there on a copsy hillside, he spied a freshly dug grave — always a delight to the heart of an everhungry raven! — and surely twas the grave of the fallen green eyed warrior! And lo and behold, lying still and motionless nearby, her beautiful, dark blue, but above all else, dead! eyes and her lovely fair face were enticingly staring straight up into the depths of a blue summer sky! It was indeed the same girl, still clad in in the hide of a fallow doe, still wearing the silver neck ring. “Sure me ould self, she did take away our meal a couple days ago, but how now! It looks like we shall feast all the same!”
Tynselyn could barely contain his excitement and couldn’t help crowing and cawing for pure joy! “Oh, my beautiful Daine girl, what a happy, joyful and indeed delicious meal thou shall make for this poor noble raven! If i can’t sup upon thy brave and fallen warrior, then, haply i shall be most honoured to sup upon his fair and lovely lady!” In that moment, he called to mind the disasterous turn of events that befell his eggclutch before and he began to whirl around in desperate search for hound and hawk. “I wonders, me ould self, where those horrible stinky doghounds with their biting teeth have got off to? And worse, is that terrifying hawk with her sharp talons somewhere nearby? How well we remember those talons!” Tynselyn rose into the clear air to have a look, and he could see no sign of hounds or hawk anywhere. “Ha!” he cried. “Fair lady, i hereby declare thee legally abandonned at last and shall now take full possession of thy fair lich!”
Judging the place to be free of all intrusive hawks and biting hounds, Tynselyn leisurely floated back down in wide circles, at last landing upon the girl’s distended belly. Cocking his head he surveyed his meal. “Hmf,” he scoffed, pecking desultorily on her belly. “Too bad you ain’t laid thy chick yet.” He nodded curtly and sniffed. “Good eating on one of them. But all the same!” He fluttered up, then came to rest upon her fair left breast. He pecked here and there. “A bit swollen, but good fat in these, once they ripen up a bit, eh!” He hopped down onto her breastbone and sidled up to her tender throat. He pecked at her neck and clacked his beak in anticipation: “Mmm! Tender nice thyroids in there, yes indeed!” Then Tynselyn fluttered up again and settled at last upon her fair white brow, cocked his head this way and that, looking first into her right eye and then her left. She could only stare back lifelessly. He cawed proudly: “Ah, the choice!” His wingtips fluttered in ecstasy! “Oh, which one of ye two eyes to peck first! Ah, what is that? Yes, indeed! Let us make it a game then, shall we? How did that game go we played as chicks? Ah, yes! Left eye, right eye, left-left-left! Pick and eye, peck and eye right-right-right! Right! Left eye it shall be!” Then Tynselyn paused, turning slyly to the other eye. “But never fear, my pretty, my lovely dark and blue, but most importantly of all, dead! right eye, i shall not forsake thee! I shall peck thee, and suck out all thy delicious jelly and crunch your delicate crunchy bits and savor your juices as they run down me throat! Just anon while i attend first thy dear mate, the equally lovely, equally dark, equally blue, and, of particular note, equally dead left eye!”
It was then Tynselyn paused a moment from the ecstasy of gastronomic indulgence. He surveyed the body of his meal once again, and said: “Aye, God give every brave warrior such a love as thee; but God give every hungry and nobel raven two fresh eyes, ripe for the pecking and fit for the king of all ravens, such as has now been given me!”
And with never a word more, Tynselyn clacked his beak twice and plunged his crimson beak straight down into the raven black depths of the girl’s left eye, thrusting it right to the very back! He lifted his head back, exulting in the cool jelly and fluid as it trickled down his gullet, relishing at last that sweet long denied!
For there were three ravens once sat in a tree; and that was the end of two of them; and also the end of the warrior and the warrior’s heartbroken love; yet one of them all did live quite happily for a long time after, and for many years Tynselyn tenderly and lovingly recounted the tale even as I have done, recording it faithfully as it fell from his beak to my attentive ears. And indeed so well known came this tale to be known in all the Eastlands that a Daine balladwright by the hapsome name of Ravensblack worked the music and story into a tale perhaps more acceptable to hearers of his own kindred, the ballad become as well known as the original story.
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