MERMAID AND THE RAVEN KING
A short story,
by V. Milovic - November 25, 2017
Once upon a time, there was a lonely raven king. But he wasn't always lonely. His clan used to be a large family who were devoted to one another. Their homeland was invaded by flightless ones who took over the land and cut down the trees. They despised the raven clan and drove them out.
So the great Raven Clan fled their home, in search of another. However, some had grown accustomed to living among the flightless ones. They liked to pick their garbage heaps and found it an easier life. They wanted 'easier' more than they cared about being despised. Those ravens turned back shortly after departing, and returned to the ruins. It was a sad day for the raven king and the clan who remained faithful with him.
They traveled many days, which turned into a month. Many among them grumbled and were tired of traveling and searching. It was about that time they came upon a very large city, inhabited by an endless number of flightless ones. There was so much to discover there in this unnatural habitat. So much chaos, that they were not even noticed. They could pick among the ruins and piles as much as they wanted, undisturbed (for the most part). Indifferent, they bid their king, goodbye, and made it their new home.
Now only a few of the clan remained with the raven king. He was sad for those who left, as he was for those who stayed. He knew they longed to be with the rest. Even in that awful place, they still desire to be together. He knew he could not ever call such a place, 'home'. He longed for the wide open spaces where he could playfully soar on the wind currents to his heart's content. To sit together in the treetops. To gather together in open fields, chattering loudly. To speak freely in their language. Maybe he was just too old anymore, and things were changing...
So the next morning before the sun came up, he sadly departed from what was left of his clan. He was a king and thought it was best if he left, so they could live the life they wanted with the others. Maybe he would find another clan? He shed a tear, as he flew off towards the coast.
It had been days now, making his way to the coastline and ocean. A place he remembered from when he was just a wee raven. This is where he was born and raised. Hills, cliffs, shore, sand, water, wind, trees, and not a single flightless one. Raven king remembered the tree where he and the clan lived, before the great fire forced them out, so very long ago. Strangely, this tree was not harmed. Except there was now a large hole in it, about half way up. He peered in and saw some something deep inside. A memory surfaced and sped him back in time, listening to his father tell the tale of a magical ocarina and how, when you're in the greatest of need, you can retrieve one wish from it. As long as that wish was selfless. Could it be true? Was this the same ocarina his father spoke of? No... he was old now, and not taken by tales. Still he tried to reach it with his beak. Out of reach, he gave up. "This is my home again", Raven king thought to himself, "and I will live out my days here in this wondrous place of my birth." He was content, but lonely. And tired. It was nice to sleep in this tree again...
Time went by. Every day, he would soar on the wind currents. He would walk around on the beach, picking at shells and driftwood. All the treasures one could hope for. Day after day, sitting in the sun, soaring, perching, preening, collecting... calling out, just in case another raven might be nearby. He was growing quite lonely in his new home. Content still, but lonely. He wanted to chatter with his mates, play and be in a clan. This is a raven's nature.
One day, he was walking on the beach looking for treasures to claim, when he saw what he thought was a flightless one. It was alarming and he feared they were coming to destroy his new home (like they always do). He was torn between curiosity and fleeing. Had he become delusional in his elder years to even consider befriending such a thing? He shook his head, ruffled his feathers and said to himself, "I could never be friends with one of those!" And just as he was ready to jump into flight, he saw something shiny. Oh, ravens do so love their shinies! She was in the water and had this sparkly treasure in her hand. The sunlight struck its facets and glinted in raven king's eye. He couldn't resist. So he just sat there, watching. Trying to figure out how he could acquire this gem. He paced. Back and forth and back and forth. She saw that he was watching, so she held out the trinket in his direction. He bounced closer, as ravens do with their funny little trot. There was a rock jutting out of the water and the waves weren't very rough, so he decided to fly out there for a closer look. Once he landed, she swam nearer, holding the prize in her hand, outstretched towards raven king. And smiling.
The item was fascinating and so, so sparkly. She was offering it to him, so why shouldn't he take it? But every time he tried to reach, he could not reach far enough. And she couldn't get close enough, either. The sun was setting and raven king wanted to head back to his tree for the night. So he took off and left the flightless one and the treasure. He arrived back to his spot and watched the last bits of light disappear on the horizon.
His sleep was disturbed by what sounded like a sorrowful song. Haunting and beautiful... almost familiar. Then gone. He drifted back to sleep.
The next morning, the memory of the song was in his thoughts. "Had it been a dream?" he wondered. But he had more important things to do right now, so he headed off to the beach to see if she was there with his treasure. She was not. So raven king went about his daily routine, picking up shells, sea glass, driftwood and things to stow away in his treasure trove. But he couldn't stop thinking about her gift.
That night, while all fluffed up and sleeping, he heard her in the distance. It was far away and dark, and ravens cannot see that well in the dark, so he waited for morning. At first light, he flew to the shore. All he saw was sand and water and rocks and shells and driftwood. The usual. Wait... what's this? Looked like someone had been on the beach there. Things were moved about and disturbed. But no one in sight. He heard a splash. Turned and saw her for a moment, before she disappeared into the deep.
Now this was becoming very disturbing to raven king. And he determined to solve the mystery. So that night, instead of flying back to his tree, he decided to stay on the beach to get some answers. He found a cozy spot on a large, fallen branch, surrounded by undergrowth, except in front. He could roost there over night, safely, and also see if the flightless one came ashore with his treasure. He didn't like sleeping so low to the ground, but his curiosity was greater than his fear. The sun went down on the watery horizon and he drifted off to sleep. He dreamed of being a young raven, listening to his father tell stories while his mother perched nearby and chimed in every so often to fill in details father was leaving out. They spoke of the magical ocarina and he heard the song. He woke from his dream to sounds very near to him. Something coming closer in the sand. It wasn't like ravens or other animals... not even like flightless ones... it was an odd sound. Then it stopped. He held his breath, as it wasn't more than half a tree's length away and right in front of him. Silence, then a sound so sad that he almost cried. He had heard this sound before and knew that it was sorrow. It was the same sound he hear as a child, when they were driven from their home by fire. His clan, suffering from loss of family and home. He also heard it on the beach the night after he left the flightless one when she tried to give him a gift the first time. Trying his best to focus in the dark, he could make out a form on the sand. The sound was coming from this form. This body. Was it her? Was it the flightless one, bringing him his treasure? The constant waves would certainly conceal the sound of him trying to get a little closer, so he hopped down off the branch and waddled his way in the dark. Hard to see, he stepped on a twig and SNAP, it went. The sorrowful sound stopped. Raven king was now close enough to see that it was indeed, the flightless one. She was heaped upon herself in the sand and stared right at him, piercingly, but with fear in her face. Fully expecting her to hand over the treasure, she flipped herself around and flopped off towards the water. Raven king followed, letting out an involuntary, "CAW". She didn't pause, but kept going until she vanished out of sight into the briny deep. "This is just unacceptable", he thought. He really did not understand these flightless ones and was rather tired of trying to.
Cranky at this point, he made his way back to the branch, he tried to sleep, but couldn't. So he just waited for the dawn and thought about his clan. Deciding he had better things to do than this, he wouldn't bother anymore with her, or the coveted treasure. He was alone, and sadly, that's how it was going to stay.
More time passed. Raven king hadn't heard the sorrow song since that night. He went about his usual routine and life was pretty good, but still lonely. He was getting even older, too. He knew it. He could feel it. He missed his clan and thought about setting out for the city in a few days to rejoin them for a visit. He wanted to soar a few more times before leaving, so up, up and up he went on the currents. It was so much fun. He felt so right and so free up there.
The last day before leaving, it was especially windy. He wanted to have some extra great fun and test his remaining skills. It made him feel like a young raven again. He sped, he soared, he plummeted and zoomed back up, elated. "See what an old raven can still do?" he chuckled to himself. Then, as if on queue, a fierce current toppled him right out of the air, sending him spiraling downward. He couldn't right himself in time, and crashed through his tree, tumbling right into the hole where he thought he saw the ocarina. The hole he forgot about in the very tree he safely slept in night after night. But raven king was injured.
It was dark in this hole but he could see the light from outside, streaming in. He didn't know how he could get out. Everything hurt so badly. He hobbled to his feet and tried to get out of there. In pain, he decided to just sit for awhile and recover. He must have dozed off because when he woke, night had descended on the little cove and the tree where he called home. "I should have just left and not stayed to play one last time" he thought bitterly. He was awake now, even though he should rightfully be sleeping at this time. The moon had risen and a stream of light cast into the tree cave he sat grumbling in. He shifted his weight and saw a sparkle. It was the ocarina. Could it be the one his parents spoke of, back when he was a young raven? Whatever it was, he was glad for the distraction and idea of a new treasure to take the sting out of his injuries. If only for a moment.
He scooted the item into the moonlight, for a better look. But it was still hard to see any details in the dim light. He sat, frustrated, thinking what to do next. Then he heard it. The sorrow. The same sorrow he heard on the beach that night, coming from the flightless one who returned to the ocean time after time. He hadn't heard it since the night she fled from him. Or maybe he just didn't want to hear it? He didn't know. He did know that he heard it very clearly now. So he hobbled to the edge and looked out. Nothing to see in the dark but the sorrow sounds were louder than he heard before. Listening, it made him remember his clan for some reason, and the morning he left them. Had he heard this sound as he left, and put it out of his mind? Buried it, so as not to feel the guilt? His family mourning their loss of a loved one. Their king. It was a long time ago and he ached for his kind. Something in the sorrow sound told him this was the same longing. He cried. He was so lonely. Regrets flashed through his mind. He knew it was too late for him, being he was an old raven. But he thought maybe it wasn't too late for her, down there below. This odd flightless one. He imagined her dragging in the sand alone, night after night, full of sorrow and longing. She had reached out to him with a gift and he didn't receive it. Only coveted it. He didn't know if he would ever get out of the hole in the tree, with his injuries and all. But there was this ocarina. He bent to turn it over with his beak. As he did, it faintly glowed. Startled, raven king quickly recoiled, cocked his head and looked intently. A faint light emanated from it, making the small, tree cave glow with a warm pulse.
He recalled from stories that the ocarina was for healing. It contained a song, unique to it. And as the stories went, if you really needed, it would grant one wish of selflessness. This is why no one ever used it. For they only wanted to enrich themselves. At least that's how the story was told. So he thought, "Well, I've lived a long life and have nothing to lose. I will wish for the flightless one to be healed of her sorrow. The ocarina glowed brighter and shown like beautiful stars in the raven king's eyes. He knew all at once, that he fell out of the sky, into the tree for this very reason. He turned the ocarina over, looking at the holes in it. He knew what to do. Sticking his beak into the larger hole, he blew. Out came a song like the haunting melody he heard before in a dream. It was haunting and hopeful, if that makes sense. He blew again and wished with all his heart, that the one on the beach with sorrow, would be healed and restored. The ocarina's song filled the air. You could even see it. It was as if someone poured out all the treasures of the world and they drifted and swirled about, glittering and transluscent. Dazzling gems of all colours, that became one with the song, spreading with the melody as they drifted down to the beach. To the sorrowful one heaped on the sand. She raised her head, then lifted up on her hands to see what was coming closer. She was terrified at first. Then seemed to give in and slumped back down in a heap. She was exhausted and had no more strength to keep fleeing.
Raven king watched as the healing song embraced her. The entire beach was aglow with light from the sparkling treasures (selfless wishes) and music. He was able to clearly see now. The melody lifted her up off the sand where she lay. Raven could now see she had no legs. "What kind of creature is this!?" he whispered. He could see she had been wasting away and was not at all like he had seen her that first time in the water, when she offered him the gift. Suddenly he then remembered an old story about outcast ravens and how sometimes they can die of loneliness. He wondered if this was her plight. Though not a raven, surely other creatures are lonely, too. Surely they have family and loved ones... homes and memories... "Maybe she was like me... just wanting a friend". Raven king was glad that he used the ocarina for a noble gesture like this. To help someone else. To make right what he dismissed before.
All these thoughts in his head, while watching the swirling colours and sounds lift her up off the beach.
The ocarina started to dim, and the song faded. He looked around and she was gone. "No!" He thought maybe she had fallen back into a heap on the beach. Teetering on the edge, he looked down. Just as he did, a radiant light was rising. He wasn't in any position to move quickly, so he braced himself and waited. The light rose to meet his gaze. And there before him, eye to eye, was the most content looking being he had ever seen. But he recognized her, too. It was the flightless one. Only she was flying! and without wings! She was healed. She also looked like a big fish, from the middle, down. "How could such a creature be?" he marveled. She hovered there before him, eye to eye. Then she outstretched her hand. In it was the same treasure she offered him before. So very humbled, he was silent. It was a heart shaped crystal. A treasure of treasures. It held the ocarina's song, too. You could hear it faintly when it glowed. She held it out to him and gestured, so he took it. She smiled a little and a tear ran down her face. She reached for the raven king and took him in her arms. Flying higher, she set him on a branch, then sat next to him. He still had the heart crystal in his beak but was planning to set it with his treasure trove, in the most special of places. It was then, she spoke: "Will you be my friend?" she said? He wondered why she would want to be friends with an forgotten old lonely raven king. She asked again. Setting the heart crystal down, "Why would you want to be friends with a grumpy old raven" he inquired. Feeling ashamed of himself as soon as the words were out. She looked a little surprised, then smiled and said, "Age is just a number, drawn on empty faces. Besides, we are both alone in the world. We need a friend." The raven king nodded in agreement. He was so thankful for this moment (more than he let on). So was she. He raise his sore wing and touched her hand. She placed her hand on his feathery face and said, "So then we are no longer alone." And they never were, ever again.
If you gaze up at the clear night sky, you can see the constellation of mermaid and the raven king, flying together to the ocarina's magical song. Heart crystal held between them, shining bright for all to see. They are a reminder to keep hoping, seeking, finding, believing. A single selfless act can spark a true love story of acceptance, hope, friendship and devotion. So have hope! Don't give up!
How to find them: Look for what's now called the milky way. This is what used to be called the 'ocarina's song'. It is the flowing, sparkling, glowing melody, cascading across vast expanses. And at one end, there you will find the ocarina. Close by, the Mermaid and Raven King, both holding the heart crystal. Still together, they have been the best of friends ever since, and stand as a reminder that you never know who you will find, and who you will be great friends with... who will be your real tribe and who you will love.