Raven flew to the strange city on wings made from the breath of the North Wind. The East Wind had visited the Palace sometime recently and whispered into the King’s ear about the many wondrous things she had seen while she was away from the Court. One of the things she had whispered about was the story of a girl-woman who may or may not be the one the King was looking for. So Raven was dispatched, as he always had been, to spy if this particular female was the same mortal who had caused such trouble all those years ago. Needless to say, he was not very happy.
He wanted to complete his task as quickly as possible, so he had gone to the North Wind and asked to borrow some of the old man’s speed. The cranky fellow, who had never really liked Raven after that bit of bother over a certain boy and some trolls a few ages before, handed his wings over with mumbled words that sounded a lot like a threat. However, Raven just ignored the North Wind’s grumpiness quite cheerfully, donned the wings over his own feathers, and flew off into the world.
His sharp eyes beheld all the changes that humans had made to the earth while he soared through the clouds, and his ever-young heart could not help but break a little with sadness. Oh, they were such meddlesome creatures, these humans. They could not see anything without wanting to touch it, improve it, claim it for their own. As if they could ever truly possess anything in their ephemeral lives. Why, even the Kings of his people never sought to bend the earth to their will. The only reason they were able to wield such great powers over the elements, as the present King liked to point out after one too many goblets of wine, was the fact that they asked the earth politely to do such favors for them. Mother Nature did so appreciate good manners.
As he circled above the mortal city, he got the first whiff of its scents when the breezes leapt up to kiss his beak and nuzzle against his feathers. They were lonely, these breezes, and they did not smell pleasant. Human odors clung to them: smells of refuse, decaying meat, unnatural resins, bitter iron, and tamed lightning. But they were good-hearted enough, that he could see, and quite lonely. No one from the Court had come to play with them in such a long time, they sighed. The sprites complained in their soft voices that kept fading away about their lords abandoning them once the humans started building up their towers, and they would have kept on listing their woes if Raven hadn’t shushed them and told them he was on a mission.
“A mission?” they trilled and gamboled about in excitement, all thoughts of their abandonment blown out of their heads. “Do let us help, Lord Raven!” they begged. “We would ever be so helpful, great and wonderful Lord Raven.”
At these words, Raven puffed up his chest. No one in Court ever seemed to remember that he was actually a titled Lord and not just the King’s favorite companion in mischief. So, taking charge of the breezes and grandly naming them as his temporary honor guards, he began scouring the city for the mortal girl or woman the East Wind had spoken of to the King. As he flew with the company of breezes through the streets and buildings, he asked them to tell him what they knew of the place, for he always had such a morbid curiosity about human settlements.
The natives lived quite amicably with the local Lords until pale people from over the sea had come, the breezes told him. The pale folk conquered the natives and, as belief in them had been slowly wiped out, the Lords eventually decided to leave their lands and join the King’s wandering Court. Things had continued to change further until the pale people warred with the brown people, then the two banded together to war against yellow people, and now they all seemed to live together under some kind of uneasy truce. It was really hard to keep track of the doings of these humans, the breezes fretted when Raven asked them to provide more details. They were incomprehensible in the things they did and they kept dying and changing flesh, and the breezes became so agitated that they were not being helpful to Raven that he firmly ordered them to stop thinking about it. They happily obeyed and began pointing out all the things they liked in the sprawling expanse of the city.
Raven saw many things during his flight. Carriages of steel, both large and small, sped on the roads without the aid of horses. Exotic flowers were sold alongside crumbling tombstones while corpses rotted beneath stone boxes. Little round dumplings steamed under the sun while the spiced oil that gave them a rich flavor glistened in dirty glass bottles. Gigantic air vessels cut through the skies with whistling roars while everyone below ignored the threat of falling destruction they could be. And people. So many people. Bustling against one another in the crowded streets, pale skin and brown and yellow, tongues speaking an array of languages from all over the earth, clutching slim rectangular objects in their hands that hummed with sophisticated clockwork and the captured lightning that humans were so fond of using as power. It was a dizzying, endless display of mortal magics and marvels. Raven was, in spite of himself, quite impressed. Yes, humans were more trouble than they were worth, but they had built a mighty empire in the short time they had lived as a species, and their cities were filled with miracles.
Though the city did seem promising with its masses of people, he still wasn’t hopeful that his mission would succeed. He had gone out into the world with the same purpose too many times in too many lands only to fail. During the first few centuries, every time he had come back to the Court to tell the King that no, he hadn’t found the mortal, his sovereign had raged until the earth itself shared in his fury. But the King no longer lost his infamous temper these decades. Instead, he would take the news of Raven’s failure quite calmly, nod, and proceed to drink himself into a stupor that would last for days. Those were not very good times to be around the King.
Now, while Raven flew, he allowed his senses to lead him, feeling through the air currents for a hint, any clue at all, that would give him a sign of what he was searching for. He had been gliding aimlessly for hours when, suddenly, he thought he caught a scent of something curiously familiar. He narrowed his focus to track it down better until, yes, he was able to detect a tang of magic that might have come from a royal kiss. He followed the lure of it, the breezes faithfully trailing in his wake, until he found himself almost crashing face-first against clear glass. He beat his wings against the window to attract the attention of the people on the other side, but he was ignored. Growing irritated, he used his sharp beak to rap on the glass. The sense of magic was stronger now, but the glass kept him from homing in with certainty on exactly where it was coming from. While he waited for someone to notice him and let him in, excitement began to grow within him. If he had indeed finally found the girl—oh, the thought was thrilling! All the riches and rewards he could ever imagine would undoubtedly be his!
His antics eventually brought someone to the window, a scowling human who made shooing motions at him without any sound. He cawed indignantly and released a small burst of magic that compelled the human to flip the latch and swing the glass wide open. With a whoosh of wind, he immediately charged inside, paying no attention to the cries of surprise and outrage that suddenly broke out upon his arrival.
Raven’s senses guided his wings unerringly through the rooms of the building where many humans sat hunched before panels of bright lights. He ignored those who tried to grab at him with their hands and followed the rich, heady flavor of magic that he now clearly recognized as the King’s. Finally, he found the person who bore the mark of royal favor unknowingly: a female, old enough in body to be a woman, yet young enough in heart to be a girl. She looked up in surprise once she heard the cries of her fellow mortals and her eyes immediately spotted Raven’s form as he flew straight towards her. And, right before he disappeared in a cloud of inky feathers, he clearly saw the fire of the King’s kiss burning in her heart.
He blinked, and he was in the throne room looking at the King. His monarch’s face bore a true smile for the first time in years. “You have done well, my friend,” the King told him gravely. “You have found her again after so long. Tonight, the Court will go to this city, and we will have a revel that none will ever forget. Go, and prepare the way for us.”
“As you desire, Your Majesty.” He bowed jauntily and set off once more, excitement zinging through his body at the thought of the celebration that was to come. When he appeared above the city again, the breezes were there to greet him, and their happiness was doubled when they saw he was not alone. The Court’s servants had followed him, and they immediately set to work so the city would be ready to host one of the King’s marvelous balls.
It was delicate business, weaving strands of magic together at the right points to create a perfect six-sided star. Everything that fell within this shape would be enchanted and become part of the revel. At the very center of the star was the human building that would be transformed into the King’s Palace, and it was at its highest peak that the servants placed the beacon that would call forth the magic from the land and the people within the city. For their dreams and wishes would power the revel’s working, and Raven could tell from the gathering magic growing thicker in the air that the city’s dreams and wishes would be particularly potent. The magic being summoned by the beacon tasted seductive and exotic, like tropical fruits glazed with honey, like the addictive juices of kisses and sex. The revel was certain to be an unforgettable one with such strong emotions and thoughts fueling it through the night.
The Court servants worked tirelessly, their nimble fingers skillfully twisting different rainbow-colored spells together until the city was completely covered by an intricate crafting of magic that waited to be awakened. Raven flew around and around, harrying them, counting down each inch the fat sun slipped downwards to the horizon. The last thread was worked into place just as the day’s golden orb flashed in the sky for one final time before letting itself drown in darkness. Then, the magic stole the city away from its place in the world.
Raven laughed out loud when he felt the power of the spellcrafting sweep over him. He was so exhilarated that he spun in the air several times, then he folded his wings against his sleek body and zoomed towards the earth, making a long black streak in the sky. Just before he could crash into the ground, he gracefully righted himself and took on a form that would be more suited for enjoying the evening’s delights. He transformed into a slender youth with gleaming jet hair and glittering amber eyes. He then joined the throng of enchanted humans gathering in the streets and waltzing their way to the King’s Palace.
The magical working of the revel made all sorts of dreams and fantasies come alive and dance among mortals. The humans themselves were greatly changed by their most fervent wishes. Plain maidens turned into sultry temptresses while shy schoolboys became dashing knights. True lovers met under the light of a sleepy moon and exchanged kisses that made the stars sigh and fall to earth in envy. And music, glorious music, dazzled and intoxicated the senses of all revelers until not a single soul was left unmoved by bliss.
The road leading to the Palace was a river of lights as each dancer shone with a glow that displayed his and her most secret desires. They all swayed to the music in their own way, but they were in perfect step with one another, creating ornate patterns of movement. Raven lost himself in the dance and, for a long unforgettable time, he was in love with every partner who crossed his path. When he finally remembered himself again, he was within the Palace and the King was waltzing with the mortal who possessed his kiss and his heart.
She looked dazed as the King whirled her around the golden ballroom, like she was trying to remember something important that had been long forgotten. Raven felt uneasy at the confusion he saw on her face. The magic of the revel could make one’s dreams come true, and no one in the entire history of existence had ever failed to be completely enchanted by it. But something in the mortal’s eyes, some dark strange glimmer of emotion, made him doubt in the power of the working for the first time. If he didn’t know better, he could almost believe that the mortal seemed to be fighting against the magic. But how could that be possible?
The music then changed from a slow waltz to a more sprightly tune, one that required the dancers to spin around in small circles of eight and then partner with others from a different circle. Raven, though he went through the graceful motions of the dance perfectly, kept his sharp eyes on the King and the mortal female. A revolution separated the two as each faced a new partner and the King, looking gracious and happy in a way that Raven could barely remember, bowed to the stranger he was to dance with. At the same moment on the other side of the ballroom, the mortal looked up at the dancer who had led her away. And Raven felt his heart stop.
Magic came in many forms, but the most unpredictable and wildest kind was shining right now from the mortal’s eyes. Magic pulsed between her and her partner as they stared at each other, completely enraptured, and Raven felt despair wash over him. It was incredible, but the two of them had found each other again; she, the mortal the King had loved, and he, the one who had stolen her away from the revel so long ago. The world had turned and changed many times since then, but they had both been reborn in flesh within the same city to come together once more in a dance.
Raven’s despair then gave way to anger. No. This could not be. It had been so close. The King only had to claim her for a dance come midnight and she would forget all about the human world and disappear with the Court before the dawn. He could still make sure of it. Suddenly moving very quickly with the speed he had forgotten to return to the North Wind, Raven crossed the ballroom so he could accost the King’s old rival.
But a hand stopped him. “No,” the King said as he appeared by Raven’s side. “No. Let them dance.” His smile was gone and his face was solemn once more.
“What?” Raven was confused. “Why? She will disappear again.”
The King did not reply and merely watched as the two lovers spun around the ballroom, locked in each other’s gazes. As the light around them began to take on various colors that grew brighter and brighter, the sound of ticking clocks slowly came to Raven’s ears and he gave a little cry. “Your Majesty, please!” he begged. “It is not yet too late. Take her hand in yours.”
But the King only shook his head. “Sometimes,” he whispered to his old friend, “to love is to let them forget you.”
Then the clocks began chiming the midnight hour. The music deepened in tone and time twisted so that each movement the dancers made marked each second of the spell’s unraveling. Finally, the sound of a clear silver bell rang the twelfth and last note of the dance and the magic was broken. Sleep and silence descended over the entire city.
In the night, a bird flew off into the distance without looking back.
- The End -