By Eleanor Mae
We watched them arrive, the knight and his lady fair. They glittered in the evening sun, their hound sending lesser birds up in a startled shiver of wings for the hawk to catch. Gold and leather and fine red silk are loud things, here in the heart of the wood. We heard them approaching, trampling shoots and blooms and mice.
We flew far from our sisters, into the clearing, sure of our blackness and silence. The hawk screeched at us, terrified, but what could he do? Hawks see crows as men see Death; large, frightening. A symbol of the darker world to come.
They had a fine picnic. Sparrows fluttered in droves, desperate for crumbs. Pathetic, those drab little smears of feathers. Starlings came too, ugly bullies, flocking to fruit peel and meat bones.
We waited. We are wise birds, we and our waiting sisters. Our carrion senses shook; flesh and blood were only a wait away, or so the wind told us. Something bright and brittle lay in the eyes of that fair lady as she broke bread, poured wine, wrapped a stray lock of her knight’s golden hair around her slim finger. Something that shone, like a knife in the dark.
They spoke in the caged, foolish language of men. So many words, to express a single thought! We let the useless sounds drift over us; fate, with child, husband. We watched the knight shake his head, laughing.
We watched the bright, brittle thing inside the woman snap, shattering into shards. A thing she had already known would break—but oh, how sad she was that it had broken!
We understood her next words. They thrilled with slaughter; a bladed battle-hum. The hawk turned to her, startled; any flesh-eating bird could hear it. We heard the whole of it, wrapped in that cooing-dove voice. Eat this, my love. It’s your favourite.
The loud, careless chewing of the knight rang through the wood. Deep in the trees, our sisters rustled their wings.
What had it been? Some small, sweet cake dipped in honey. Something full of all the poison a garden could offer; hemlock, nightshade, sugared and coloured and shaped by a lady’s trembling, ash-white hands.
By the time the knight found the bitter in the sweet, it was much too late.
We watched his death with interest.
Men think us beasts are soulless, but they are blind to the wider soul; the vast, silent darkness that envelops men as the sky does stars. Death is nothing but a joining; a welcome to our larger family. After death, they are quieter. Less damaging.
They are also much more useful. This is what the knight learned after he’d slumped onto the grass, after the hawk had flown, after the dog had fled. After his lady fair had left him, riding away with the last of the sun.
So useful. Full of shining trinkets to give to our swains; chainmail, rings, pearls and stones embedded in sword-handles. Golden hair to feather our nests, warm our fat grey chicks. These things came free with a single tug; fine work for us, beginning.
Then, as our sisters flooded the air, the flesh.
Now, well-fed, we are waiting. The wind must blow over his bones, drying them, before we can read our runes.
Men break us open, reading futures in our entrails. We pay them in kind.
To read more by Eleanor please visit her twitter account @EleanorMae_