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       Odin's Gift, p.1

           Michelle Sonnier
 
Odin's Gift
Odin’s Gift

  By

  Michelle D. Sonnier

  Copyright 2012 Michelle Sonnier

  Cover Art by Lyn Bell of Loime Studios

  Find out more about her at Author's Note.

  The dew covered the dead rook’s wing. Branwen knelt down next to the rumpled pile of feathers on the leeward side of the hill and traced each line with her eyes. The rook was a dull black, absorbing every bit of light into his dullness. The bird lay flat on his back with his wings splayed out, his spindly legs thrust up and his talons curled into useless fists. His head was cocked back at an unnatural angle and his black beak opened on a silent caw. Branwen cocked her head to the side and squinted her eyes. The wind played with her maple brown hair and caused the rook’s legs to sway, as if he were shaking his fists at his unknown and unseen assailant.

  Branwen sighed and settled into the grass with her legs crossed tailor style. She gently pulled the lifeless bird into her lap. She cradled him like a child and stroked his head with her forefinger. She began to rock him back and forth, swaying with the breeze. She crooned a wordless song following a melody only she could hear; first high, then low, then high again. She rocked and swayed and sang while the spring morning paused and held its breath.

  The rook’s leg twitched. His left wing jerked. He coughed up the last caw lodged in his throat and his beak spasmed; shut then open again. His eyes fluttered open, and he looked up into Branwen’s smiling face. He cawed again in surprise, then with a clumsy flapping of stiff wings, tumbled out of Branwen’s lap and hopped a few feet away. He spread his wings and tucked his head down with his beak wide open. He shuffled his legs side to side, wobbling rather threateningly. His inky head and chest feathers gleamed with green highlights while his wings showed shimmers of purple. Branwen laughed.

  “My name is Branwen,” she said. “What’s yours?”

  The rook lowered his wings slightly and brought up his head. He cawed tentatively.

  “Raaf, that’s a pretty name. Where were you going?”

  The rook tucked in his wings and ruffled his feathers. He turned his head back and forth and cawed a few more times while he blinked.

  “That sounds like an important message, but you won’t be able to fly again right away. You have to heal for a little while. You were dead, you know.”

  The rook hopped closer to Branwen and spoke again.

  “I did silly. You were dead in the high meadow and I sang to you and you came back to life. Doesn’t everyone do that?”

  “Caw,” said Raaf.

  “Really? No wonder Papa looks at me funny sometimes.”

  Raaf flapped his wings and tried to spring up into the air, but collapsed into an ungainly pile of feathers.

  “I told you, you have to heal!” Branwen gathered Raaf up into her arms. “If you kill yourself again I don’t know if I can bring you back. I’ve never tried it twice on the same creature.” Raaf looked up into Branwen’s face and cawed sadly.

  “I know you have to deliver your message. You should be able to fly in a few days.” Branwen turned and skipped down the hill. “For right now, you can stay with Papa and Mama and me.”

  ***

  Branwen’s mother raised an eyebrow but did not say a word when her daughter entered the hut with a huge black bird on her shoulder. She was used to the girl bringing lost animals and people home. At least a bird wouldn’t eat much, she thought as she stirred the stew pot over the fire.

  “Mama, this is Raaf. He needs to stay with me a few days while he heals, then he has to deliver an important message.”

  Raaf flared his wings and cawed sharply.

  “I didn’t tell her what about or to who,” Branwen protested.

  Branwen’s mother sighed and said, “He eats from your plate and keep him out of your father’s way. Now, bring me some firewood from the pile.” She flapped her hand in Branwen’s general direction.

  “Yes, Mama.”

  At supper Branwen’s father cast a questioning glance to Branwen’s mother, who shrugged and went back to feeding the baby. Branwen fed Raaf the few small chunks of meat she could find in her stew along with a few hunks of potato. She kept all the carrots for herself since they were her favorite. That night Branwen shared her straw pallet as well. Raaf nestled by her side and slept his first good sleep in years, but not before wondering how angry Hrabin was going to be over his absence.

  ***

  Hrabin paced back and forth in his aerie. He picked up his astrolabe and set it down again. He paced to the fire and laid his hand on the mantle and drew it back almost immediately. He strode to his work table and flipped a few pages in his spell book. He slammed it shut and stalked to the south window. Where in Odin’s name is Raaf? he thought. When he saw no black dot on the horizon he checked the west window, then the north window, and finally the east window. There were no black dots on any of the horizons. He shook his head. He would have to go to the duel without Raaf. Hrabin shook his head. Something must be wrong, very wrong. Raaf had never before failed him. Just as Odin had promised, the rook had been a wise and faithful servant. Hrabin adjusted his robes with a sigh. It was time to go to the duel and prove that he had been worthy of Odin’s gift without the advantage of Raaf by his side.

  ***

  Branwen scattered grain to the chickens while Raaf examined the sky from his perch on her shoulder. He cawed softly.

  “Yes,” said Branwen. “I suppose you could try flying today.” Raaf spread his wings and let the landward gusts tickle his feathers. “I’ll take you up to the hill. The wind will be better there.”

  Branwen climbed to the crest of the hill where she’d found Raaf. Sure enough, the wind was stronger and it sighed through the branches of a lone beech tree. Raaf spread his wings and glided to the ground from Branwen’s shoulder. He stood blinking in the sunlight for a few moments, then looked over his shoulder at Branwen.

  “Go on.” She made shooing motions with her hands. “I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

  Raaf faced into the wind and hopped a few times. Then, in one mighty down stroke of his wings, he was aloft. He circled the hilltop tottering back and forth in the air currents for a few minutes. Then he straightened up and flew strong and straight. He cawed with joy. Branwen laughed from her vantage point far below. She raced down the grassy slope following Raaf’s flight path, laughing and waving her arms. Raaf swooped and dove and caressed her fingertips with his wings. He swooped and dove again and brushed her hair with his tail. He rose high on an updraft and three strong beats of his wings began his journey. Branwen waved until she could no longer see him. When the rook was out of sight she dropped he arms, and sighed, and wondered.

  ***

  The air of the battleground was thick with smoke. There was a choking miasma of burning things; hair and flesh and things unnamable. Hrabin lay panting on the scorched ground while Korokas stood over him.

  “Not so strong without your bird, are you?” he threw back his head and laughed. Both men were covered in soot. Their clothes hung in shreds from their bleeding bodies. Hrabin spat out a mouthful of blood.

  “I’m not finished yet, you shameless fraud.” Hrabin levered himself to his feet.

  “Hah! This fraud has fought you to a standstill for four days.” Korokas grinned wolfishly. “It’s time you admitted that I am your better and gave me the rook.”

  “Never.” Hrabin launched another round of lightening bolts at him. Korokas lazily stepped aside and yawned.

  “You’re starting to bore me, old man. Why don’t you just admit you don’t deserve Odin’s gift and give it to me?”

  “Over my dead body.” H
rabin launched a fireball that Korokas barely managed to duck. The smell of singed hair wafted over the battlefield.

  “That can be arranged.” Korokas launched a sonic blast that threw Hrabin back thirty feet. “Do you yield?” he shouted.

  Hrabin stumbled from the remains of a ravaged tree. He shook himself like a dog, spraying blood instead of water. “Never.”

  Hrabin had raised his hands for another attack when Raaf alighted on a shattered cart midway between the battling mages. Hrabin smiled a haughty smile and drew himself up tall. “Now we’ll see who dies on this field, you insolent pup,” he sneered and began to advance. Korokas girded himself and approached the cart in shaky strides. The mages met at the cart, with Raaf between them, Hrabin smiling and Korokas trembling. Raaf blinked at them and cawed to Hrabin.

  “That’s very nice that you have the answer to my question,” Hrabin said. “But we need to attend to this upstart first.” Raaf cawed again.

  “What do you mean you won’t help me? Lord Odin said that you would serve me!”

  Raaf flapped his wings and cawed several times.

  Hrabin’s shoulders drooped and in a stunned voice he said, “The Lord Odin ordered that you serve the most powerful mage in the land, and that is no longer me?”

  Korokas raised his fists into the air and crowed, “I knew it! I knew it! Come to me, you beautiful bird, and we will finish off this old fool together.”

  Raaf looked down his beak at Korokas and cawed briefly.

  Korokas’s face fell along with his arms. “It’s not me either? Who? Who then receives Odin’s gift?”

  Raaf fluttered and cawed.

  “I don’t give a damn if your mistress values her privacy! You will tell me who she is!” Hrabin stomped up and down. Raaf looked down his beak at him and did not answer. Both mages regarded the rook in silence, and the wind blew over the battlefield wreckage. Raaf ruffled his feathers again and spoke to Hrabin to discharge his last duty so he could leave the service of the mage with a clear conscience.

  “Thank you,” Hrabin said distractedly. “King Corvinus will send me his daughter and his tithe at the appointed time.”

  With a mighty flap, Raaf launched himself into the air and left the two mages to their own devices.

  ***

  Branwen was playing with a rag doll in the dusty yard of her thatched-roof hut when Raaf dropped a plump hare into her lap.

  “Raaf! You’re back!” Branwen swept the astonished bird into a tender hug. “Let’s go show Mama what you’ve brought!”

  “Mama, Mama! Raaf caught dinner!” Branwen ran into the hut with the hare in her hands and the bird on her shoulder. Branwen’s mother, her eyes wide, took the enormous hare from Branwen.

  “Well,” she said. “I suppose if he helps put food on the table he can have his own plate.”

  Branwen threw her arms around her mother’s waist. “Thank you, Mama.” And she went out into the yard to play with her new companion, hardly noticing how nervously he watched the sky.

  ***

  About the Author

  Since I am a writer, you would think that it would be easy to write a little bit about myself. It’s what I do after all. But it isn’t all that easy. When I write a story it’s about the story, not me. Writing about me makes me feel a little bit… exposed.

  I could start in the usual places, where I was born and where I grew up. But like most people, my childhood was rather unremarkable. Like most little girls, I liked horses. Like many of my generation I muddled my way through my parent’s divorce and managed to come out with minimal baggage. Like some, I was geeky and I was teased. I liked to read too much and cared about fashion too little.

  I could run down the resume litany of official accomplishments. I finished my Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts degree in 1995, my Bachelor of Arts in English in 1997, and my Master of Science in Professional Writing in 2004. While working on my degrees, I’ve been a waitress, a secretary, a customer service representative, a receptionist, and a cashier. I’ve worked in the information technology sector as a technical writer and editor since 1999, and I have taught Introduction to College Composition at the local community college.

  But that really doesn’t scratch the surface of who I really am, does it? It’s just the me that shows up on paper. The real me is a bit of a klutz, assumes the best in people, has an odd mix strength and fragility and absolutely no sense of direction. The real me just wants to tell stories and laugh with her friends.

  Let me tell you a story….

  Find out more at www.michelledsonnier.com.

 
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