Sunday, May 10, 2009

counting crows

Counting Crows

This story was a study in writing from a female point of view. Women think very differently from men, and they see the world in a different way. Home and hearth are important, and they value relationships much more than men do. Anyway, I hope you’ll like this one.

     Devan was an odd fellow, that was true enough. “Uncanny” was the word some people used. Most said he liked to keep to himself, and that it was perfectly normal. Megan, of course, never gave much thought to hearsay, and when she came upon him while walking through the forest near their farm, she had to stop for a second look.
     She did not recognize him at first. The boy stood in a clearing with his back to her, staring heavenward and murmuring softly. His woolen tunic sagged over one shoulder, soiled and muddy; and he wore no belt. For shoes he had only a pair of sandals. Golden rays flitted through the branches, and patches of gleaming leaves danced and shifted with the spring breeze. Devan waved a short stick as he spoke, as if making a tally. A flock of crows played in the trees overhead, calling to each other with shrill voices.
     Megan followed his gaze, peering into the branches. “Whatever are you doing?”
     Devan jolted as if lightning struck, then wheeled to face her. His eyes darted about, but seeing only a girl he swallowed and appeared relieved. “I didn’t hear you. What do you want?”
     She stared for a moment. “You’re Ethne’s son--the wise woman.” Long and skinny like any boy of sixteen, wild reddish brown hair sprouted from Devan’s head, and light freckles spotted his face. Though they knew of each other, Devan and his mother lived quite a distance from Megan’s farm, and Megan’s family no longer followed the old traditions.
     Devan bobbed his head. “You’re Beoden’s daughter.” He let his gaze roam freely over her light blue dress and her long brown hair, stopping as their eyes met.
     Megan frowned. “You’re a right mess,” she said. “What have you been doing?”
     “You’re one to talk. There’s dirt all over your face.”
     “There is not.”
     “You’ve been crying.” Devan stared more intently, though his eyes were not unkind. “You’re not lost, are you?”
     “Hardly.” Megan pulled out a cloth and dabbed at her cheeks. In truth she had been crying. She often came to these woods so she could think and be alone, but that was none of his affair. “I was on my way back, and I heard you.”
     Devan made no response, but merely stared.
     “You were chanting something,” Megan pressed.
     “What of it?”
     “What were you saying?”
     “Just a rhyme. It’s nonsense, really.” He gave a smile--ever so quickly, Megan thought.
     She stared at the trees where he had been looking. A large crow cocked its head, then spread its wings and flew away. “You’re throwing things at the birds.”
     “I wasn’t.” Devan looked down at the stick in his hand, then tossed it into the bushes. “You wouldn’t understand such things.”
     Megan smirked. “Go on! You think that just because I’m a girl, I--”
     “I said nothing of the sort.” He stared at her then in a way Megan wasn’t sure she liked. She was ready to turn and leave when he spoke again.
One for joy
Two for pain,
Three for sun
Four for rain,
Five to grant a secret wish,
Six for first love’s tender kiss. . .

     Devan shrugged. “Anyway, that’s how it goes.”
     Megan wrinkled her brow.
     “Have you never heard that before?”
     Devan turned and gazed into the branches. “They say if you see a flock of crows you can tell the future by counting their number.”
     “That’s foolish.”
     “Is it?” He gave her a glance, then stared into the branches above them.
Seven for sickness
Eight for dying,
Nine for laughter,
Ten for crying. . .

     “It goes on like that for quite a bit.”
     “And how many did you count?” Megan asked.
     Devan gave her an arch look and grinned. “I shan’t say.”
     Megan smirked and rolled her eyes. “Such clever nonsense! The things you learn, being the son of a witch.”
     “Father tells me not to believe in any of it.”
     Devan folded his arms. “And do you believe everything your father tells you?”
     “Why shouldn’t I?”
     “He can’t know everything.” Devan gave her a sideways look.
     Megan scowled. She wasn’t sure she liked his tone; yet her curiosity continued to prevail and she did not leave. “Perhaps. Can you show me real power?”
     “If I chose.”
     “Well you’ll have to do better than counting crows.”
     Devan thought for a moment, then glanced toward a flowering currant bush and pointed. “Do you see that butterfly?”
     Megan followed his look, then nodded.
     Devan raised his finger and became still. After a moment of silence his lips parted and he spoke, barely a whisper. “Luatha, hemm!”
     The creature fluttered on command, bobbing as it circled to gain height against the breeze, then flew straight as an arrow’s shaft until it lighted on the tip of his finger.
     Megan knit a brow and gave him a narrow look. Not quite sure what to say, she could only stare. A breeze sighed in the trees.
     Devan grinned to himself and chuckled; yet as he caught her look his smile quickly melted. He shook his hand and looked down. “It’s nothing.” He stepped back. “More of a trick, really.”
     Megan’s eyes followed the butterfly as it flitted away. She stared after it for a moment, then turned to him with a mystified smile. “Do it again.”
     “There you are, worthless boy!” A shrill voice called.
     They turned as a woman approached. Short, with hair flaming red and piercing eyes, she stalked into the clearing carrying a large basket filled with tubers and herbs. A brace of hares hung from her belt.
     Like her son, the witch was soiled from head to foot. Her unkempt hair was tied back in a bushy pony tail. She frowned as she looked from Devan, then to Megan, then back at Devan. “Have you got any, or have you forgotten what I sent you to do?”
     “I found a whole bunch, right there.” Devan turned and pointed at a nearby log. Thick moss spread across its bark, and tiny brown mushrooms sprouted in small clusters.
     “Right. Well done, then. Where’s your basket?”
     Devan’s mouth fell open, and he shifted nervously. “I think I left it by the brook. I’ll have to go fetch it.”
     Ethne’s eyebrows contracted until she looked like a hawk. “Off mucking about, again. You’d forget your head if it wasn’t stuck to your shoulders.”
     Devan jumped as if burned, and began plucking handfuls of mushrooms while his mother glowered. “Gather as many as you can carry,” she said. “That lot’ll do.”
     Megan sidled away, but stopped as the woman turned toward her and smiled. She was missing several teeth, and her left eye had an inward cast. Freckles spangled her nose and cheeks. “How fares your grandmother?”
     Megan wasn’t sure what to say, but soon found her tongue. “Well enough, I suppose.”
     “Hmph! Beoden is stubborn as a goat. I could lend a hand but he won’t hear of it. I gave him his name when he was a babe. Did you know that?”
     Megan blinked, but said nothing.
     “No, I’ll wager you didn’t. I’ll come look after your grandmother if he sends word. Dumb as an ox, that priest of his.”
     “Yes ma’am.”
     Ethne stared for a moment, then shooed the girl away. “Off you go, then. Devan has work to do. No time for pretty faces.”

     Now that they had met face to face, Megan took notice whenever she saw Devan. One day he came down the road beside their farm, driving a small herd of goats. Busy with a cow she was milking, she barely took notice before returning to the task at hand.
     A few days later she spotted him fishing along the riverbank. She had gone after a goat that had gotten out of its pen, and chased it quite a way downstream before catching it.
     A week later she saw him again on the road that went past their farm. He led an ass, laden with two large bundles of firewood. She stopped her work then and took notice, remembering that afternoon in the woods, and wondering how he managed that little trick he showed her. Devan turned just then and caught her eye. He grinned and waved. She returned his smile, but at that moment her mother called her away and she thought no more of the boy, who it seemed, could summon creatures at will.

This is, of cours, only an exerpt of the whole story. That’s all I can post for free online. If you would like to read the rest and offer a critique, let me know. Email me at “gorion” at “email” dot com.

That’s all I can post for free online. From me to you, hot from the forge.

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