By now, you know I submit an original audio short to R.B. Wood’s Wordcount Podcast on the regular. I know podcasts are not everyone’s cup of tea, so here is my last offering, originally recorded for Episode 60 of The Wordcount Postcast. (You can listen here, if you’re so inclined — if I do say so myself, this was a decent take…)
Blood Magic is Nothing to Trifle With
“I grant you, Branna, he’s charming, but why such care?” Corbeau’s voice was a rasp from his perch. “What do you think will happen if he survives?”
Branna only squinted harder at the ornate skeleton key on her worktable, ignoring her brother’s skepticism. The table was littered with the treasures she and Corbeau had collected in their travels, old farm tools, keys, lost jewelry, blades, ribbons, shells and stones, but this key was their prize.
In a bookstand, an ancient leather-bound volume, its once lush pages ragged and thinned, offered up secrets masked in a language neither Branna nor Corbeau fully understood.
Startled by her brother’s screech, Branna looked up from the key, which shivered against the sanded wood.
She pushed her silver blonde hair back from her face and fixed the sleek black raven opposite with her sharp, corvid eyes. “What, Raaf?”
“That’s not my name. It’s a man’s name.” He lifted up his wings, spread them to their full span, cocking his head to one side, then lowering it, a mockery of a courtly bow. “I have not ever been a man. Only a boy… And centuries ago.”
“I am sorry, Corbeau,it slipped out” Branna whispered. The key shivered again, this time of its own accord, and Branna turned her attention back to it. “The key wants its brother back, too.”
“Can you do it? After so long? Unravel blood magic four hundred years old?” They never had caught the knack of grudges, so Corbeau had resumed his perch. He kept his beady raven’s eyes on the key as if it might swallow his beloved sister whole.
“You mastered human speech with a raven’s beak. You’re stronger than you think.” Branna waved her hand over the key, which shivered a third time then lay still. When she spoke again, it was the voice of a sorceress, low and formal. “I have studied and honed my gifts over all these years. I have mother’s grimoire. Our power is deeper now than ever. I only have to decipher the spell which binds the key to the boy.”
“Man.” Corbeau croaked. “He is a man, Branna, which is why you like him.”
“Like is too milky a word,” Branna said, and her voice was a girl’s again. “He is like… strong spirits in my veins.”
“Ugh, enough.” Corbeau stepped from his perch into the air, circling their small cabin and making for the door, open to the mild forest air.
“Going to find Magda?” Branna teased, but if her brother heard her, he didn’t look back.
She was sure Corbeau had gone looking for the young female raven who’d befriended him in the village. Magda was named for their mother, which didn’t bother the beautiful black bird, but sent shivers down Branna’s arms. Magda was the one who’d shown Corbeau what they’d sought: the golden key whose twin lay on Branna’s table.
And so Branna had discovered Eochair and his studio.
Branna traced her mother’s hurried hand along the page, deeply slanted as though the witch had feared she would run out of time. The old magic was there; Branna could see it, but it shivered in and out of her mind from behind the long-dead words. The symbols traced along the margins were like the faces of long-forgotten friends, trying to swim up to the surface of recognition.
If she and her brother were night – silver and obsidian, Eochair was day, all golden and green, and he kept the key. It had taken Branna all summer to work out his lineage, hours in the archives and the library and on Eochair’s own computer tracing her family’s descendants. All to understand how to unbind the key from the young man and free Corbeau.
Just last week, Eochair had touched her pale, feathery hair before turning away with a flush on his neck. If she held her breath, Branna could still feel the way the strands fell from his fingers across the straps of her sundress and over her shoulder.
Once more, she gave the key her attention. She read from her mother’s spell, tracing the shapes with her finger around the key as she spoke.
Perhaps the air around it blushed, crimson like Eochair’s embarrassment. Perhaps the key rippled with ruddy color. She was getting closer, but it couldn’t be clumsily done. Blood magic was nothing to trifle with. Errors might mean Eochair’s life.
If he survives…
Corbeau asked why such care, but how to describe the falling of hair on bare skin to a boy with a raven’s heart?
There is a fully formed backstory here, and I’m tempted to distract myself with the writing of the fairy tale, but there are novels to finish…