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So here you have it, the first chapter of my story "Saga of the Crows". I believe you understand why it has its title now, seeing as the leading ladys name is Saga, and she is a Crow!;)
Well, anyway, this is the first chapter of her and his story. It will be a multisided story, with more than one or two main charaters, and we will through my novel get the feeling of their lives in this terrible, unhappy, unfair world.
In this chapter we meet Saga, the unlucky crow, and Alaric, the unknown male that saves her. We will see a little of the town they live in and the lives they lead, but it is more a presentation than anything.
I havent been working on this (the english version) for at least 2 years, so excuse my bad english, and the mistakes. The norwegian version i have is more complexed and more action to it, but just read this, and if you like it i will try to translate the parts thats left out!;)
Enjoy! And do comment!:)
Chapter 1 – The white eyed man
“Is it not a bit strange that our Beak is to resemblance the Beak of those… Crows?” It was the woman in front of me who had spoken the words to a man next to her. “Look at her. She is running around in clothes better suited a boy!” She snapped distastefully, as if it was she who wore my clothes, and not some strange girl she had never and would never speak to. But it was true; I did wear my clothes because it made me look more like a boy, not a frightened little girl in the alleys of the nights. The man next to her nodded stiffly in agreement.
They stood by the fish market, and my head was more occupied with holding me back from throwing myself over the fresh seafood behind her back, than actually paying any attention to my witnesses. Her voice was full of repulsion as she spoke the last word. She threw me a quick glance, but fast raised her chin as her eyes met mine. It was meant as to insult me, but I knew better than making a deal out of it. They both had the pitch-black Beak on their foreheads, of which I shuddered in disgust. Ravens, as selfish and proud as always. They liked to think of themselves as better than most, but in truth they weren’t more worth than Magpies for that matter. Still, I lowered my head so the shade of my hood hid my face in darkness, drew my breath with patient, and moved quickly, but silently, away from the two of them, deeper into the crowd, into another street in the labyrinth of food-, clothes-stands, stands where you could buy carpets to have on the floor or the wall, stands for pottery and other accessories. It was never necessary to attract trouble. The hood made me a little less noticeable in the multitude of baggers, workers and sellers, playing children, jugglers and some of the higher Feathers, maybe the Hawks or Falcons even though they rarely moved themselves around us less appreciated Feathers - ‘Feathers’ is the people of the country we live in, the Feather people. That was what the Sky was designed for. It was a different part of the city, and only important Feathers and their families were allowed up there. There, the brown and white Hawks, the brown Falcons, the red and white Cranes, the yellow Parrots, anyone of the first-class rank, lived. And therefore of course the Eagles. They were our country’s Emperor-family, a proud and rich family. The White Beak’s; feared and worshipped by all. It was the only family of Feathers who only had one line of heirs, so if a second child was to be born it was removed instantly. No one really knew what happened to the lost children, but they always vanished without a trace. Despite to their cruelness, they were our leaders, and against all odds, they had managed to hold their power over the country for more than 300 years.
The Sky was told to be the most beautiful sight anyone ever saw. The pedestals were made of snow-white marble, the great houses a hundred meter tall, the yards as fields of green gold as long as the eye could see, the windows reflected the sunlight as if they were made of diamonds, and on the fountain in the court yard the Gods played with the sparkling water between their fingers. It was told to be a paradise of beautiful dresses; no one wore a cloak, unlike the rat hole the rest of the people lived in.
The town beneath the Sky was on the other hand a filthy place. Here, the narrow passageways and streets were filled up with people who tried their luck as salesmen, jugglers, or like me, tried to steal or even beg their way to a full stomach. It was dirt and soil in the gutter where the babies were born. Guards that was supposed to help the population raped, stole, drank as any other townsman. No one was safe. It was a low standard town, even though it was the capital of this country. It was like every other large town was and always would be.
My hood left my face in half darkness, it at least hid my Beak, but as my clothes wore the same terrible colour it really didn’t matter that much. The Beak, which my family liked to speak of as ‘the curse’ was a with-born mark on our foreheads, with the colours of the bird and rank you represented and must follow throughout your life.
I was born into one of the lowest ranks, the Crow-family. ‘Filth’ or ‘grey thieves’ were famous nicknames for my kind, and there were many, many more. My Beak was all grey, like the colour of the real bird, and I had to wear grey clothes along with it, to match the feathers of it. If not I was to be punished, badly. Therefore it didn’t really make any difference, everyone would spot me and judge me. It was a lonely life. Everyone, even my own family, kept a distance. There’s no one to trust, only me. But on the other hand, that wasn’t as bad as it might sound. If you didn’t have anyone to trust, you didn’t have any weaknesses, only yourself to worry about. Friends and families were unreliable; it was therefore no one of the third rank bothered to think of anyone but himself or herself. But of course, who can go throughout a life without anyone to trust? What a sad feeling that would be.
The chill autumn air stung my uncovered stomach and calves, and I smelled that winter was on its way. It made me wrinkle my eyebrows and sigh. Winter was not a season I treasured. The cold made it difficult to find food and water. But it seemed I was the only one occupied by such thoughts. The people hurrying past me made no more thought to the cold than to blow their hands warm now and then, and hide their faces better in their hoods as to achieve most warmth and cover. I saw a Woodpecker-child smile and point to the cloud-filled winter sky, as she saw the first snowflake of the season. “Cloaks for sale!” a fat woman shouted from a cloak-stand a few blocks away from me. I envied her her size, to have enough food to be full every day. But that wasn’t the only thing on my mind. I wished for a swift moment I had money enough to buy myself a new, longer cloak. My summer cloak, the only one I had, was torn and thin after many years of use, and my shirt under that wasn’t much better. And, well, money at all would’ve been great.
I walked fast past the many people buying food from stands on both my sides, which formed the streets and passageways in the market. Loud shouts from both sides of the stand, about prices and offers, mixed with the sound of people talking casually to each other, or shouting after a kid or a dog, all made the racket of the market this afternoon which made it easy for me to blend in invisibly in the crowd. I found myself hating them all for having enough money to buy anything. The smell of fresh food made my stomach roar so I thought they would all stop and stare. My glare flickered up and down the rows of fruit, fish and meat, and I had to make up my mind soon. Stealing food was no big deal, usually, but I couldn’t shake the feeling something wasn’t right today.
“C’mon, Saga!” I growled impatiently through clenched teeth to myself. It was the whole meaning of coming here, and I was not letting myself down right here, right now. The desperation in my head for food had made me forget when I had my last meal, which never was a good sign. The moment I walked by one with fruits on my left, I reached my hand out, and thanks to my long sleeved shirt I grabbed an apple unseen, or so I thought. I greedily took a big bite of the apple, but before I got time to disappear from the scene into a narrow passageway that led away from the market, someone started to shout.
“Stop the Crow thief!” It was a boy a little older than me who said it, and I cursed loudly as he pointed me out to some guards, and they started running after me. He was a simple Pigeon, the blue and grey on his forehead was easily detected, and I couldn’t see what he would gain on divulging my theft. I threw away the thought of the narrow street. It would’ve been easier to outrun them, but on the other hand they would also have a clear glance of me as it wasn’t as crowded as the main street, and it would be harder to shake them off. So I turned around and sprinted as fast as I could the opposite direction, down the market’s main street. It was slower, and my boots didn’t help me much. They were big. I’d found them somewhere when the pair before that was getting too useless. This couple slipped almost off of my foot every time I lifted it, but somehow I managed to keep a hold of them as I ran from the men.
It wasn’t too easy; the streets were narrow, and the crowd didn’t easily move as I tried to push my way through it. With frequent glances I checked if they still were after me. They were, and they started to catch up now. I didn’t understand how they managed to run so fast. I always used to be the fastest, and they were three.
As I started to push myself harder my breath also came harder than I was used to. The cold surely also was a factor of that. It felt as if I started to get some kind of sickness in my lungs, which was not good. I needed two good lungs if I was to survive the winter. This had never really been a problem before, and the extra power it took to remove people out of the way slowed me more down than I expected. This together made me panic. I couldn’t get caught. Not now.
I exhaled deeply, and threw myself the other direction. The road I now switched to was not big and led out of the market, but wasn’t as small as the one I had planned to turn to before. I thought to myself that I was stupid as I grabbed my inch long knife just in case, ready to defend myself if they really caught up with me. Guards were unreliable, and even though they happened to catch thieves occasionally, you never knew what they might have in mind as a fair punishment. They were unstable and dangerous, and most of the time did what they felt like doing.
My boots made loud thuds as I sprinted for my life down the road. Luckily this was headed more downhill than the other street, and it went much faster, but that meant my followers also had that advantage, and they had longer legs than I had.
As I looked back one last time to check on the men and rounded a corner, two strong hands caught me by surprise and dragged me into a narrower passageway I hadn’t spotted. Because of the great speed I’d had I spun around and hit a wall of bricks with my back before I sunk down on the ground, exhausted. I cried out as I hit the wall, but it didn’t seem like the men had heard me. Apparently they hadn’t seen the passageway either, and I pushed myself further into the shadows as I saw the guards run past us. It was a huge relief, and then I wanted to hit myself. I didn’t usually get caught when I did small thefts as the one about the apple. It was sloppy.
I growled to myself, and felt with my hands if I had hurt my back too bad. As I poked around the area that had been beat up I could still feel the pain from the actual hit, but it didn’t feel like anything was out of place, so it clearly wasn’t vital. A relieved exhale escaped my mouth before I raised my eyes. For the first time I eyed my rescuer suspiciously. He had a grey cloak and hood covering his head, a brown shirt beneath that, a pair of red trousers and a brown leather belt. I thought him a Sparrow, just for the look of things. Sparrows had the colours of red and brown. But then what was the meaning of the grey cloak? It didn’t match what I assumed was his beak. And as I wrinkled my eyebrows in concentration, he sent me a kind smile. That took me off guard, and I suddenly felt embarrassment wash over me, leaving my face red.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” was all I managed to growl at the man, as I got to my feet again. I didn’t know what else to say. In truth I was scared to my bones, but nothing good came out of letting him know I was weak. So I stood up straight with a little effort because of the pain, and looked at him with suspicious eyes. His beak was covered with a piece of brown fabric that in truth was used to cover his right eye, so all I had to rely on was his clothes. It made me wary. This was one of the few good ways to trick the government, but I never had nerves to deal with that kind of stuff. I was indeed a thief, but I was much too jumpy to be running around in colours that did not belong to me.
“Don’t mention it. You’ve got a name, girl?” He found my puzzled looks somehow amusing, because as he spoke the ironic answer, a smug grin emerged on his lips. The one milky white eye he then placed upon me made me catch my breath, as I had never seen anything more beautiful in my life. Usually you had the same eye colour as your beak. I hadn’t, though. My eye colour was bright green, from my father I believed. And if my assumptions were right, neither had he. What were the odds of stumbling upon an Eagle in the narrowest passageway in the city?
I was silently deliberating whether or not I was willing to answer that question, but I found it best to keep my mouth shut. It wasn’t smart to give your name to whomever you met. It could be used later on against you. So I stood straight, my arms tight by my sides, only staring into that eye, and then I pursed my lips.
“Okay, you’re a smart one, I get it. I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t trust me either, but I’m not here to trick you. I just thought you needed some help and…”
“What made you think I needed your help?” I spoke fast and suddenly; I was afraid my voice would fail me if I weren’t totally sure of myself, and didn’t notice nor that I interrupted him. He opened his mouth and closed it again. I noticed now that he couldn’t be more than 25 or so. His face was too clean and straight, even though his appearance and set of tone said middle aged. He had a graceful attitude, one I never had seen before.
“Are you all right?” It was like he hadn’t heard me. That he chose to answer my question with a question made it clear that he was not comfortable and not fully sure of himself or the situation, which in itself was not a good way to attempt respect. It was clear this guy was not born in the gutter.
“I’ll live,” I said with an amused set of tone, and raised one brow as I pretended to clean myself from the dust I’d caught while sitting on the ground, like it mattered. The man had already caught my interest, somehow even before I’d spoken to him or heard his voice. Now I really didn’t know what to believe. Only one way to find out, I thought to myself.
“Good. I’m glad. Now, please, tell me your name,” he spoke as if it was of great importance, but I didn’t want to, and he couldn’t make me.
“I don’t think I will,” I looked at him with a blank expression on my face. He shouldn’t think that he could make me do anything as he pleased. “Why do you wear a grey cloak?”
“I do not see what sort of importance it holds, young lady. However, my name is Alaric,” the grin he now showed off was stunning, but I didn’t let it get the best of me. It was important to stay sharp and alert around strangers. Still, it was a beautiful name, an unusual name, a name for a king, which was in truth one of the most disturbing fact. But why he had said his name to me in the first place also puzzled me. It was like he was somewhat proud of it or who he was. I couldn’t see what sort of importance that held.
He was a good-looking man, no question about it. I hadn’t caught it before, because of his headband, but it was definitely noticeable after a second glance. He had a narrow but smooth face, and his eye under a thick, but delicate eyebrow was hid in shade of his hood, still his eye colour made his gaze penetrating. A couple of smooth, pink lips were placed right under his straight nose. His nostrils were somewhat marked sharp, just as his cheekbones. He was smoothly shaven, though a nicely cut, narrow line of dark hair following the shape of his chin and one above his upper lip were untouched, as if a matter of fashion, something rather unusual amongst men of his Beak. His fair hair was ten inches long and wavy.
“I thought you said I could trust you,” I said with a faint grin, mostly as to state the fact, and placed my fists on my hips. The glare I threw him was meant as to be entertained.
“That’s true, I did. You are indeed a very smart girl, but why I’m dressed in a grey cloak is not essential right now. How’s your back? I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to hurt you. But, you know, it wasn’t all that much time to think,” Alaric moved himself around me, as to inspect me, something I didn’t appreciate. I jumped around so we stood face to face. The way he’d changed the subject made me frown. It didn’t matter to me what was essential or not; I needed to know.
“That’s a relief,” he said in a low voice. It seemed like he spoke more to himself than me.
“Don’t worry about it,” I shrugged, turned and was about to walk away from him, when he called after me.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” I was taken by surprise, and turned slowly to face him. What was that supposed to mean?
“What?” I exclaimed loudly with a big amount of confusion dripping from it. He looked at me with a face I didn’t know how to read. It was again filled with too many emotions, while being completely blank. It annoyed me.
“I’m sorry. I forgot how cold people are in this town!” he growled at me, as if I was the one who had done something wrong.
I didn’t know what to do or say, and the stare he had placed upon me made me really uncomfortable. But it also made me wonder. A Crow was usually to be overseen by anyone who thought themselves someone, and this guy was certainly someone, even though his colours stated that he only was a mere Sparrow. I wasn’t sure how, but I had a feeling he was somewhat important.
“Where do you come from then, Sparrow?” I said.
“You’re not from down-town,” I said in a more serious tone. Again, it seemed the atmosphere had changed abruptly.
Alaric looked at me with the milky white eye, and I again didn’t know what to say. It was as if he didn’t want me to speak about it, and so I didn’t. I hated the feeling of being controlled.
“Maybe you are right. Are you hungry?” He said, as if that was about as much as he liked to talk about that matter. I really didn’t understand this guy.
“Where do you come from?” I demanded again. As I stared into his one white eye, something changed in his expression. It was regret or maybe embarrassment. It wasn’t easy to interpret that eye. I’d never been a great reader of expressions.
“It’s none of your business.”
“Is that so? Well, it’s none of yours what my name is either, is it now?” I growled impatiently. It was weird how impolite he had become in just a second. I took a couple of steps closer to him, and tightened my hands into fists. My eyebrows were wrinkled so hard they nearly touched. Alaric backed up a little, and looked at me with concerned eyes. That annoyed me as well.
“You are right, it’s not,” his expression was blank and straight. He was like a castle; high, dark, and steady. I pursed my lips in frustration, and turned my back to him. Would he stop confusing me already?
It was impossible to make out any sense of what he did. He had perfect manners, then the next moment he was fully rude or sarcastic, and then he was acting humble because he had offended me, or whatever he thought. Who knew what was going on in that head of his? It could make anyone go crazy.
As I turned to face him again Alaric’s gaze seemed humble. The look was the most honest gaze I’d ever seen. It took my breath away, and left me with even more questions.
“What is it you are struggling to keep hidden? It seems you are fighting your own impulses,” I was more calmed down, and tried to figure it out in a sensible way, rather than with anger. Though, the expression it left on his face made me wonder even more. His eyebrows pulled together and he somehow closed his face from everything around him, including me.
“Never mind,” Alaric said, and turned partly away from me. His eye searched desperately for something else to attach itself to. One of his hands twitched before it tightened into a fist. I took a step back, all my questions turned around in my head. I urged to know what he was thinking.
“No,” I said persistent. He didn’t get away that easily. I was too sucked up to let him slip away now.
“What?” The gaze he now sent me was wondering. His eyebrow was wrinkled in a hard grimace as he tried to read my expression.
I hesitated. I didn’t know what to say now that I’d caught his attention again. “I want to know,” My voice was only sad when I said it. My anger vanished as I moved closer to him, and was near to touch his arm lightly.
He thought about that for a while. Alaric moved his hand to his chin and looked as if he was trying to figure out a puzzle.
“It’s not important,” he said, and lowered his head as if speaking to himself. He hid his face in his hands a moment, before sighing heavily. The way he stood, all closed up, supporting himself, it made me uncomfortable. He seemed a little crazy in my eyes, but I couldn’t decide thoroughly what he was.
“I don’t understand you,” I shook my head as I said it, and tightened my brows in confusion. But something changed in him again. He straightened up, and looked at me with something I could swear I’d seen in the face of that Raven woman earlier today. It was manners, like he finally realized he was too good to be speaking to me.
“This is not appropriate. It was a pleasure to meet you, but we are strangers. Good day, my lady,” Alaric bowed down, took my hand and kissed it swiftly. This made me blush, and I probably left my mouth half open. As he straightened up, he looked sad and humiliated. I sure didn’t know who or where he came from, but that look didn’t seem to fit his clean face.
As he started to walk down the narrow passageway without letting me answer him, a cold wind gust sent a freeze chill down my spine, and I shook terribly as a response. Alaric turned around to look at me for a second. I still stood motionless and hard as a rock at the same spot, and I might’ve been a little bit stiffer. My shudder had surprised him, and suddenly he reached out to release my cloak from my shoulders. He folded it over his arm neatly as he started to loosen his own, long cloak. Gently he swept it around me. It was a fine cloak of pure wool, and much warmer than my own. I could feel all my muscles tight as he stood close to tie it up.
“There. At least you won’t be sick.” I didn’t know what to say. He stood very close to me and looked at me for the last time, before he turned around again and left me there between the two narrow brick houses. I felt somehow that I owed him an apology, but couldn’t make myself open my mouth and shout after him; even if I was a Crow, I had some weird sense of pride, and it seemed to be about the strangest things I could encounter. For one I could never apologise, that was something I just didn’t do. Rough experiences and instincts was the cause of that. Secondly I didn’t lie about my colours; that too was something I easily enough didn’t do. And now my pride, moral, whatever you called it, wouldn’t make me call after Alaric with an apology. It almost made me sad, but I turned around, and strengthened myself.
“Gee, Saga,” I spoke firmly to myself. “You have got to stop meeting such weird guys,” It was true, I did intend to meet men, people at all, who weren’t exactly as normal as you might think. But this guy had topped it. He had done nothing save filling my head with more unanswered questions. I had to stop thinking about it; I had to stop caring. I had more important things to have on my mind.
I tucked my new, long cloak around me as if I was afraid it would be taken away from me. I walked down and out into an open street again, and for the first time I noticed how warm it really was. I thanked the strange man quietly in my mind, and moved myself now much slower than I usually would. The extra warmth from the cloak, made me less stressful, and I didn’t need to move my body all that much to keep the feeling in my fingers and toes. It was a huge relief.
Every Feather, both selling and juggling, had already started to clean up their stands in the market and most of them stood dark and empty on both sides of the path. It took me off guard. I hadn’t realized how late it really was, but now I could see the sun low on the blood-red sky, ready to step aside for the moon. I sighed. I didn’t like the night. In the day the streets were full, which was some kind of safety in itself, but in the night the streets were empty and dangerous to wander.
I raised my pace as I walked down the street. It was almost empty by now, only a few people left, and soon they also had finished up and left for a warm home and hearth. I could already feel the creeps in my neck, and envied them all. If anything, my life was not simple. My struggle to find a hot place to sleep every night was bad enough, and now the winter knocked the door for a fine, long visit as well. I knew deep down that this would be a harder winter than ever before.
In a moment of desperation I wondered if I could visit him this night. I counted the weeks backwards since last time I’d been there, and found it was many weeks ago, many moons. That ought to be a long enough time. If anything I didn’t wanted to give him the impression that I was counting on his help; I knew how to take care of myself, and he shouldn’t have any other thoughts. That was why I barely visited him once a new moon.
But it did help to visit him, and he knew that. That was what frightened me the most. He always had a fire in the poor hearth and cups of wine, tea or beer to quench everyman’s thirst, and it was more than I had to offer my dried out and freezing body. Only thinking about it made me desperate to find heat. I lunged for the hearth, the wine and the warmth he always showed me. As I thought of his kind look that always made me warm inside, I shuddered again in the cold, and I managed to keep back from coughing loudly.
This street I now followed was even narrower than the passageway before, and I stopped in distress as I didn’t really recognise what street I had entered, too full of my own thoughts. Again, I wanted to slap myself. It must be the winter. The cold air in my nose and lungs made me sloppy and emotional. It was uncontrollable and dangerous. I knew that. I decided I would go to him, if not I feared something would happen to me, and myself was my biggest worry and first priority.
I looked over my shoulder as I silently deliberated which way was the fastest to his door. I didn’t really know what street I was in, so I wasn’t sure what way I should choose. I got a wary feeling from standing like this, too long in the same spot. As the dark started to be too dark and the shadows grew longer and closer to me, I took a couple of steps backward and started to walk fast the way I’d been coming from.
I moved myself further down the street. I still didn’t know my surroundings, but something in my gut told me I was going the right direction. Had I only remembered the way clearly.
I passed a corner and entered again a narrow street. It was fully dark now, and I heard a mice squeal in a corner behind a couple of wooden boxes. A chill ran again down my spine and I hurried forward, unwilling to know what else might hide in that darkness. As I looked around a company of men came around the corner in the end of the road, in front me. They laughed loudly as they stepped towards me with drunken steps, as they didn’t manage to walk straight. I absentmindedly thought for a second that they would all catch a cold if they were to wander the night without any cloak of any kind, just in shirts as they were now. I then thought myself stupid; why would I concern about the health of some men? It made no sense. Then I came to think about something else, because they were indeed unknown men, coming towards me; a girl, alone and defenceless in the night. I didn’t like the thought.
Fast, before any of them saw me, I moved myself into an alley on the left of the path. I stood there waiting for them to walk past me, when I heard someone call for me. A cold crept up my neck, as I looked at the man who had called. He was tall, his hair and face was made black by the night, so I didn’t recognize him at first. But as he stepped closer to me, with the other men laughing and cheering in the back, I saw who he was.
I took a couple of steps backward, but straightened myself; I had to be strong now, so they wouldn’t sense my fear. It was a tense moment, and I deliberated franticly of how he knew I was here now. I came to the conclusion that it was all a twist of fate that had brought us together. By the smell of him I knew he was as drunk as his companions, and he disgusted me. His hair, which I of course knew was some colour of auburn, was greasy and wet, as if he had ducked his head in a barrel of beer. His voice was thick when he spoke to me for the first time, and I realized how long it had been since last time I’d seen him. Apparently not long enough, though.
“Saga, my sister!” he laughed and turned to look at his friends with a dumb expression, as he too recognised me. They howled as rapid dogs. I felt no more compassion than if they would’ve been, and they made me wary. Drunken men were usually dumb, but strong, knew less how to control themselves, and had no boundaries. They were the most dangerous.
|The Crows and The Eagles - The Beginning||Saga of the Crows - Preface|