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The Raven King, by Jean-François Bladé

Ravens

There was once a man who was as green as grass and had only one eye in the middle of his forehead. Her three daughters were as beautiful as day, but the younger one was even more ravishing than the elders. She was only ten years old.

One winter evening the green man went to the window. Suddenly, in a great sound of wings, a bird as large as a calf and as black as night came to rest on the windowsill.

“Croak! Croak! Croak! I am the King of the ravens.”

“King of ravens, what do you want of me?”

“Croak! Croak! Croak! Green man, I want one of your three daughters in marriage.”

“King of the ravens, wait for me here.”

The green man went into the room of his three daughters and said to them: “The king of the ravens asks one of you in marriage.”

“Father,” replied the elder, “I have been engaged to the son of the King of Spain for a year. Yesterday my lover told me that he would come and search for me soon to take me to his own country. You can see that I can not marry the king of the ravens.”

“Father,” said the second daughter, “I have been engaged for a year to the son of the King of the Islands of the Sea. Yesterday my lover told me that he would come and search for me soon to take me to his own country. You can see that I can not marry the king of the ravens.”

The green man looked at his last daughter, but seeing her so young, he pitied her. Without asking him anything, he returned to find the king of the ravens, who was still waiting, standing on the windowsill.

“King of the ravens,” he said, “none of my daughters want you.”

Then the king of the ravens entered into a terrible anger. With a blow of his beak, he blew the eye that the green man had in the middle of his forehead and flew into the mist. The green man began to scream and his daughters came running.

“Father, what happened to you? Who blew your eye?”

“It was the king of the ravens,” he moaned, “because you all three of them refused to marry.”

“Father,” said his youngest daughter gently, “I have not refused.”

The next day the king of the ravens came to ask for a girl in marriage. The green man said to him:

“King of the ravens, you will have my youngest daughter.”

Then the king of the ravens returned his sight and said to him:

“Croak! Croak! Croak! Tell my fiancée that she will be ready tomorrow at daybreak.”

The next day, the sky was black with ravens. They carried their new queen through the air, in their country of cold, snow and frost, where there were no trees or flowers. At sunset they laid it before the gate of the king’s castle. She entered. Everywhere lights were lit and the fire burned in the chimneys, but she saw no one.

As she walked from room to room, she reached a large room where was set up a table covered with dishes and drinks. There was only one canopy. But she had no heart to eat. She went to sleep in a bed adorned with curtains of gold and silver, and waited, leaving a lighted light.

At the first stroke of midnight she heard a loud noise of wings. It was the king of the ravens. He stopped at his door and said, “Croak! Croak! Croak! Turn off the light.”

The queen blew the candle and the king of the ravens entered, in the darkness.

“Croak! Croak! Croak!  Listen to me. A long time ago I was king among men. Today I am king among the ravens. A wicked sorcerer has changed me and my people into ravens. But thanks to you, our ordeal will end. I will come to sleep with you every night, but you are only ten years old and you will only be my wife in seven years. Until then, do not try to see me, for my people and I would have great misfortunes.”

The queen heard the king of the crows leaving his plumage, then laying down beside her. She put out her hand and felt the cold of a sword he had placed between them. In the morning, when it was still dark, she heard him taking up his plumage and his sword and leaving.

As she was bored to live by herself, the poor girl got into the habit of going for a walk in the country, in spite of the frost and the snow. She took away some provisions and did not return until evening. One day, as she climbed a mountain, she came to a wash-house. An old woman was washing a black cloth like soot, singing:

Washerwoman, continues to wash.

“So when will come
The married girl?”

“Good morning, washerwoman,” said the queen. I will help you to wash your clothes.

“With pleasure, poor woman,” replied the old woman.

She had hardly soaked the linen in the water, that it became as white as milk. Then the washerwoman began to sing:

“At last she came,
The married girl.”

And she said to the queen, “Poor woman, I have been waiting for you for a long time. Thanks to you, my ordeal is over. But you, you have not finished suffering. Now go away and come back here only when you need it.”

The queen returned to the castle. For seven years less a day, she lived thus, without seeing her husband. Finally, she said to herself: “The time of my ordeal will end. One day less, it does not count. Tonight I shall know how the King of ravens looks like.”

In the evening she hid a light in her room. When the king of the ravens was asleep, she went to take the candle and looked at him. He was a young man as handsome as day! She approached him to see him better, and a little burning wax fell upon him. Then he awoke.

“Woman,” he said, “what have you done? If you had waited until tomorrow, I would have been to you forever in the form in which you now see me. But what is done is done. Leave this castle because things will happen that you should not see and go where your steps will lead you.”

———————–

The queen left the castle, weeping. The wicked sorcerer who held the king of crows in his power entered the room, chained his enemy and carried him across the clouds to the top of a mountain. There he pushed the end of the chain into the rock and poured molten lead into it. He had the king of ravens guarded by two great wolves: one was white, and watched by day, the other was black, and watched by night.

Meanwhile, in tears, the queen had taken the road to the mountain, to go and ask for help from the old washerwoman. The latter gave her a wallet, which always contained bread, a gourd which always contained wine, a golden knife, and iron hoofs.

“Put these iron hoofs and seek the blue grass that sings night and day and breaks the iron. When your hoofs break, you will soon find your husband.

The queen leaves. She walked for a long time and arrived in a country where the sun shone day and night. She went through it for a year and found a blue herb. She grabbed her golden knife.

“Queen,” said the blue grass, “I am not the blue grass that sings night and day, and breaks the iron.”

Then the queen leaves again. She arrived in a country where the moon shone day and night. She went through it a year and found a blue herb that sang day and night. She took her knife.

“Queen,” said the blue grass, “I am the blue grass that sings day and night, but I am not the grass that breaks the iron.

Then the queen leaves again. She arrived in a country where it was always dark. At the end of a year she heard singing in the night:

“I am the blue grass that sings day and night, the grass that breaks the iron.”

Then the queen’s hoofs broke. She walked to the place from which the song came, found the blue grass, and cut it with her golden knife.

For seven days and seven nights she walked on and she finally came out of the land of the night. She reached the foot of a mountain and saw the king of the ravens chained to the top. The white wolf watched as the black wolf slept.

The blue grass was still singing:

“I am the blue grass that sings day and night, the grass that breaks the iron.”

Rocked by this song, the white wolf closed his eyes, went to bed and fell asleep. The queen approached, and with her golden knife killed the white wolf and the black wolf. Then, with the blue grass, she touched the chains which imprisoned the king of the ravens. Immediately the blue grass faded, the chains broke and the king of the ravens rose, free. From the four corners of heaven came ravens. As they landed on the mountain, they resumed their form of men. The king said to his wife,

“Thank you, thanks to you my trials and those of my people are over. Now we can be happy.”

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One Response

  1. Gabriella
    |

    Loved this, my beloved formative years story in Hungarian.

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