The Valravn

A Tale of Kazimierz

The raven’s caw echoes through the pines as Kazimierz trudges his way across the snow. He tightly clings his cloak over his chest as it catches the gentle, falling flakes. Cold numbness creeps into his fingertips.

“Curse my father,” he yells.

A raven lands on a pine branch near him and caws.

Surprised, he smiles at the raven. “Glad you agree.” He continues his way through the forest. The raven flaps its ebon wings and flies to one pine and then another, following his lead.

It shakes the snow off of a branch, and it falls on Kazimierz’s dark hair. “Still following me, friend?” He sits down in the snow and leans against a pine. “There are moments I wish my family never moved to Gdańsk.”

The raven caws.

His thoughts go to life before the move, back when he lived in Kraków. His hatred of his father had been tempered by the tediousness of being a nobleman’s son. Even the dark studies his father forced on him became tiresome. His life began when he first met Natalia after Duke Bolesław III ordered his father to move north. He holds out his hand and feels her body’s warmth on his fingertips, then the memory flickers, and the numb returns along with the emptiness from losing her.

“This is from a poem about her,” his fingers graze his face and touch the bruise. “My father found out I was still writing them. That I still loved her.”

The raven caws.

“He took away my Natalia. He took away my words. He took away my freedom. All in service to Zirnitra and her magicks.” The words echo across the pines. He glances around in panic as he realizes there could be Christian ears around.

The raven caws.

Kazimierz looks up at the raven. “I don’t care anymore. My father’s secrets. The Work. Let the Christians find out.” Tears begin to stream down his face. He closes his eyes and feels the winter winds against his cheeks. “A short nap, and then I’m free.”

The raven caws.

* * *

A branch snaps, and Kazimierz’s eyes open up. The crescent moon illuminates the snow. He struggles standing due to his numb legs. “Is someone there?” he says, shivering. He shakily draws his knife and immediately drops it. The only sound is his teeth chattering. His mind wanders to the promises of mead and fire back home. 

“It’s just the wind,” he whispers. “Or the cold is making me go mad.”

The raven lands near him spreading its enormous black wings, surprising Kazimierz. He stumbles back and falls.

The raven caws at him as a young woman walks from behind a tree. “Yes, my child, he does look tired.” Her delicate, ebony dress clings to her body. Her loose, silvery hair dances with the wind as her pale skin melds into the moonlit snow. The raven flutters its wings as she approaches them. 

“Wh-who are you?” he says, with a hint of fear in his voice. 

“Sigrun.” She answers him with a gentle smile. “I bring the freedom you seek, child.”

He chuckles. “Child? You’re the child here. You can’t be older than seventeen.”

She grabs his shirt and lifts him off the ground with one hand. Kazimierz stares at her in fear and grabs her neck. She effortlessly breaks his wrist, and the cracking sound fills the forest. He groans.

She pulls him closer. Her body presses into his body, colder than the air itself. She kisses his cheek, leaving a lingering chill, and tosses him onto the ground. She bends over elegantly and picks up the knife. “Do not fear, child.”

He tries standing, but she pins his torso to the ground with her foot. Her toes dig in, and more bones crack. The knife slices open his chest. His blood warms his mouth. The raven hops onto his chest and pecks at his beating heart. His scream is silent, and the world goes dark.

* * *

His eyes open up, and the world around him is immense. He sees a dead body before him—his own. After a moment, he realizes he is the raven.

“And now you are free,” Sigrun whispers. Her body twists, becoming a white raven, and then takes flight.

Kazimierz caws and flies to her. Free.