A Murder of Crows
The girl rowed across the lake, looking over her shoulder, hoping the man had lost her scent. The full moon hung low over the trees behind her, casting deep shadows around the shoreline.
The girl named Aisling, for her mother had seen her coming in a dream, had taken the boat which she kept loosely tied to a tree on the water’s edge. She was alone here, other than the birds, and had been for most of her young life.
She did not know her age, only that the seasons had turned many times since her mother was taken. The girl had managed to stay alive and, over time, had grown strong. Her legs were long and the muscles showed beneath her skin. Her mother’s clothes, kept in a heavy trunk against the wall, no longer dragged along the floor or sagged at her breasts.
She could not see the dark man at the shoreline and rowed powerfully to the other side. He would be forced to walk around the edge, a slow journey through heavily wooded underbrush. All she could hear was the cawing of the crows in the dark trees, telling her to run. Crows do not see well at night, and so, could not fly to her aide.
She thought about sitting in her boat in the middle of the lake, waiting until dawn, waiting for the crows, but the light of the moon made her feel vulnerable. If she waited, she would not know where he hid or if she could safely leave the water. And so, she rowed.
There was a cave, hidden amongst the trees, on the far side of the lake. If she could make it, she could crawl into the far crevices hidden deep in the back. She had used the cave during the coldest parts of the year, when the house held little heat. But always she returned to the house, where the memories of her mother were. Where there was a small cookstove and a soft bed. Where her herbs were hung from the ceiling and there was a clear stream of water that fed the lake. Where she could still catch her mother’s scent when the breeze blew and the temperature was just becoming warm.
The small wooden boat began to rub its hull into the muddy shore and Aisling leaped to the land. She took only a slight moment to pull the boat firmly out of the water so that she would not find it floating adrift when she was safe to return.
She paused and listened. The forest was quiet; too quiet. Normally, she heard the croak of the frogs and the music of the crickets. Normally, she heard the chattering of the crows together in the tree. The low hoot of an owl echoed as Aisling felt the pressure change with the soft thump of its feathers overhead.
She understood that the owl was warning her, that there was a stranger amongst the trees. She was used to moving silently through the forest, her bare feet were worn and callused, but she was not used to being watched. She was not used to being chased.
As she made her way through the thick ferns, listening, she remembered the men who had come for her mother. The warning of the owl had come too late, and Sabine had spent the few moments left kissing her daughter’s face and hiding her under a wooden panel in the floor. Aisling could see between the cracks, but her mother had wrapped her in a spell of silence so that they would not find her.
The men had pounded on the door and her mother began to chant spells of protection, but there was not enough time. The door fell open and three men, their eyes a strange silver, walked in. Her mother was thrown to the floor and an iron collar was wrapped around her neck.
Her mother had taught her from an early age that iron would dull the senses. The moment she was bound, the light fell from her eyes and her chanting stopped. The men yelled profanities and called her “witch”. They drug her from the house.
Aisling hid until the spell of silence around her broke. She was able to loosen the board from the floor, and then she ran from the cabin, trying to follow the energy of her mother. Nothing was clear to her and she collapsed beneath the trees until the sun rose in the morning. She slept through her tears and when she woke, the trees were full of crows, watching over her.
As her eyes opened, the crows landed around her in a circle. They laid for her nuts and seeds and then, hopping, led her back to her home, now barren. They kept watch from the trees during the day and helped her survive in those early years. They led her to the spring and brought her food.
Her mother had shown her a book, hidden in the brick of the fireplace, with drawings of plants and how to use them. Aisling felt that she was snooping, searching through her mother’s things, but the book soon became her most important possession. It taught her the healing practice through pictures. Her mother had drawn the plants around them, had drawn the way of cutting and caring. In time, Aisling was able to care for the crows as if they were her own children, healing them when they were injured or sick.
Aisling continued through the dark forest until she came to a fallen tree. She knew this forest, and the tree had always stood tall and strong. Suddenly, here it lay on its side, shattered and broken. She traced its bark and, instead of climbing over, moved silently down its trunk. In the rising light of the moon, she saw the raw chops about its base, its flesh white and bare. The man had been here. He had done this.
A twig snapped behind her and Aisling turned to see a form move from the shadows. Silver light reflected from his eyes.
The girl turned to run, knowing she no longer needed to protect her position through covert motion. She ran, ran into the darkness, knowing the cave could no longer protect her.
The man with the silver eyes threw himself at her, and though she was just out of reach, he was able to clutch at the hem of her mother’s dress.
Aisling felt herself falling, and suddenly, the man was upon her.
His thick hands pressed her shoulders into the earth and she tasted the gritty soil on her tongue. She felt something cold and hard wrap around her neck. Her brain became simple as the iron collar snapped into place; her muscles became weak.
The man flipped her over and she looked up into the night sky, the pointed tips of the trees bending in the breeze with a backdrop of stars.
“Hello, little witch,” he said, pulling her arm straight and tracing his finger over a birthmark nested in the crook of her arm. “You have the witch’s wart and will bring me a good bit of gold. You are my own sweet leprechaun, ready to give me my wishes.”
He dropped her arm and began to trace the line of her jaw.
“You are lovely, like your mother.”
Aisling felt nausea rise in her stomach. While her thoughts were a jumble and the iron made her feel heavy and dull, she could remember her mother dragged from their home. One of the men wore a pack on his back made of fur.
The same backpack lay next to her now, a silver knife peeking out of the opening.
Dully, slowly, Aisling found her words.
“You, took, my, mother…”
The man laughed, deeply in his chest.
“Yes, a wicked thing she was. A wicked thing she still is.”
“…alive?” The girl struggled to say the word and felt a fire begin to tingle in her belly. It was a fire of hope.
“Aye, very much alive. She wears the iron bracelets now, and made us some good gold, she did.”
Power surged through the girl and electricity filled the air. A fireball of light streaked through the night sky; a falling star that trailed brilliant blue.
Each of their eyes were drawn to the heavens as the full moon found her place in the center of the sky, lighting up the predator and the prey. The moon was so bright as to create shadows around the two. But the moon only allowed her face to be seen for a moment, and then the night was filled with the sound of beating wings.
The darkness descended upon them as the crows, aided by the light of the moon and guided by the falling star, consumed the man and his silver eyes.
As the sun rose, Aisling found herself surrounded by a circle of birds. The man was gone, his flesh had been torn and scattered, and his silver eyes dropped into the lake. Only the blood-stained earth where he had once knelt identified that he had ever lived at all. She felt no pity for him and was glad that he was dead. The birds left her his ring of keys and slowly she was able to remove the iron that bound her. The crows bowed their heads when she was free and took flight into the morning sky.
Aisling used leaves to protect her hands as she tucked the iron collar back into the fur bag. She tucked the sharp silver knife into the tie at her waist and threw the pack over her shoulder.
She made her way to the lake as the crows circled and cawed, thinking of the woman who had given her life. Thinking of this woman, still alive and bound by the iron bracelets. She decided, as she rowed across the lake, that her mother would have her freedom and that Aisling would bring her home.
12. A hike through the woods
Include: leprechaun, covert, fireball, snoop, wart, pity, backpack, practice, nausea, collar
Read my writing partner Bridgette’s Tale | Meeting Time.
Crows are one of my favorite animals. They are smart, engaging, beautiful creatures. I live in the high desert, and when I started raising chickens, the crows became almost a part of the flock. They alert me to coyotes, chase away hawks, feast on the chicken scratch, and even circle our heads as we walk, talking to me and my dog. They have become friends. They sit on our roof and tap on the chimney, look in our windows, and always make their presence known.
When I started this story, I didn’t know the crows would come in. This story was about Aisling (which means dream or vision in Irish) and her mother. I also didn’t know her mother was still alive until I wrote the words that the dark man said. I realized in that moment, maybe this is a larger story that I should investigate.
Currently, I’m reading Magic Lessons, by Alice Hoffman. If you’ve read this story, you will certainly feel my inspiration from Maria and her daughter, Faith. Their relationship is what I imagined here, only from the viewpoint of the daughter and not the mother.
I was tentative to include crows because Maria’s familiar is a crow. I knew I wanted animals to help in the end, but thought perhaps a bear, a mountain lion, or a wolf. I considered one of these animals to be in the cave that Maria headed towards. I ultimately decided on the murder of crows, because I could imagine them helping Aisling as a child, essentially keeping her alive until she became a part of their flock.
My 52 Week Journey
Next Week’s Prompt
13. A haunted house
Include: silver, relativity, watercolor, Copper Beech, limited, affect, broccoli, politician, arsenal, cufflink