‘Lady of the Court of Black Wings’, Richard R. Blake

Illustration © 2017 Laura-Anca Adascalitei



 [ Black Wings, © 2017 Laura-Anca Adascalitei ] She calls for a Murder. She cries out for an Unkindness.

She floats up from beneath the freshly disturbed mound in the desolate field. She glances down at this new form; this changed body. Through pangs of grief, she raises her voice above the wind that bends the tall brown stalks of dying autumn grass and calls again: Murder! Unkindness!

Shrill cries draw her gaze to a pair of black clouds wheeling in opposing circles against the sky. Similar clouds, but the crows are smaller, with rounded tails and straight wings ending in five broad fingers. The ravens are larger with bent, wide wings ending in four long, thin fingers and tail feathers forming black diamonds trailing behind.

She raises her slender arms to the circling birds, fingers outstretched.

The birds alight around her, circling in intermingled clusters. A raven struts closer and bows its great black head, sharp beak nearly touching the earth.

You called us, the raven says. Ancient magic bestows upon you the mantle of Lady of the Court of Black Wings.

A crow hops forward, flapping its wings with its head back and chest puffed out. Lady? Bah! This is a pretender in a Lady’s form!

Cackles of approval rise from small groups among the birds.

Silence! The raven lunges at the crow and pecks it. Droplets of blood splash against black feathers. Who are you, little bird, to question the old magic? It reveals her true form. She is the Lady.

The other birds fall silent

Forgive me, the crow says. It bows its head. Command me, Lady. I am your servant.

The raven nods vigorously, Yes, Lady. What service would you ask of us?

Service! The birds take up the chant. Service!

She points to the mound of dirt. “Reveal,” she says.

In a flapping mass, the crows and ravens converge on the mound and attack it with beaks and talons. The shallow hole yields its secrets quickly.

“Enough.”

A clump of dirt falls away to reveal a face with blue, swollen lips. A band of pink tulle winds tightly enough around the delicate throat and bites deeply into the pale flesh. Strands of black hair and torn pink rose petals blend among the clumps of loose earth.

She takes stock numbly of the changes between this new form and the one in the shallow grave. No blood nor skin are caught under her now unbroken fingernails. Her neck is unbruised. Her arms are unscratched. Her gown, once robin’s egg blue, is now as black as raven’s feathers. The gown’s lace cap sleeves and neckline are untorn. No delicate pink rose tulle corsage adorns this gown’s shoulder.

She looks away from her old form, raises her face to the sky. The wind tousles her short, black hair. Another change: the hair is her own, and the close-cropped brown hair that threatened to poke out from beneath her wig has disappeared.

The birds screech as they circle the mound.

Who has done this evil, Lady? The raven asks. Tell us, and we will blind him with the tearing of our beaks, deafen him with the thunder of our wings, rend his flesh with our talons. We will see your vengeance done!

The temptation is strong, but she sees the terrible wave of retribution that will fall upon the birds: shotgun pellets tearing into feathers, ripping apart black wings.

“No,” she says. “Not that way.”

Tell us how to serve you, Lady. The crow hops forward.

She stoops and whispers a name to the crow. “Reveal,” She says, pointing to strand of ribbon in the dirt, stained with splotches of brownish-red.

The crow nods, and gathers the ribbon with its beak. I will place this in the nest of your enemy. I will hide it from his eyes, but will place it so that it will be found by others. They will know.

She nods.

Farewell, Lady. The crow says, and takes flight.

And we who remain? The other birds cry out. How shall we serve?

“Reveal,” she says, and points to the cloudless sky. In a great rustling of wings, the birds take flight in wide, sweeping circles in the sky above her.

Only the one old raven remains.

“I’m tired,” she whispers. She sags to her knees. “It’s time for me to leave.” She reaches toward the mound.

No, the raven says. You shall not return to the earth, Lady. It is my duty to carry you home. That has been our task since the dawn of our service to your kind.

She exhales, becomes a mist breathed in by the raven—as formless as a distant memory.

We have borne thought and memory before, the raven says. They rise swiftly. I will bear your memory to the next world.

In the distance behind them, a car parks along the lonely country road at the edge of the vast field. A couple treads across the grass, approaching the mound beneath the swirling clouds of black wings.

The deed is revealed, the raven says. You will have justice.

They fly toward the rising sun.

“In the next world,” she says, “will I feel pain?”

The raven answers with a single word, spoken not in her head nor in the language of the black-winged folk, but screeched aloud above the wind’s roar. It is the only word the raven knows—the only word any raven knows—but it is enough to bring her a small measure of peace.


© 2017, Richard R. Blake

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