Gunuld shuffled her feet.
She did not have an answer apart from her scorching mother love.
"Take my life" -- she said again. She now stood right before him.
The Raven King stood up, colour flushing his cheeks for the first time, and said:
"Go back to your world, woman, or else wander in my kingdom alone."
Gunuld said: "I won't leave your kingdom without my son." And she plucked a black feather from his wings.
The Raven King disappeared: only mist was where he had been sitting.
Gunuld was alone.
She meandered through the maze of halls and heard the voices of many who had entered through the nine gates of the Raven King's kingdom.
She could not see them, though.
They asked for help in wistful voices.
On the walls, Gunuld met her reflected image everywhere, for everywhere there were mirrors.
She picked an iron sword hanging in mid-air, held by invisible threads.
She could have killed herself, but she hit the mirrors.
One by one, she smashed them all.
She could no longer see her own image, the deserted halls crumbled down and children and people of all ages, who had been trapped behind the mirror walls, swarmed forward.
Some cried, and rejoiced. Still others turned into birds, and flew away.
Only, Gunuld could not see her son, and when she ran out of the crumbling mansion on the gigantic fir tree, a big white raven watched her from afar.
It flew down to her, spread its wings and she sat there. She marveled at the pure white of its feathers. They soared.
From above, she saw towns, forests and fields, and the nine gates too.
All the guardians were asleep.
The raven landed on a boulder in the sea. As the sun set, its feathers fell and slowly it turned into a young man: it was Gunuld's son.
They embraced and cried. Then he said:
"Mother, we'll fly back to the world of the living, before the Raven King is strong again. I can only bring you back, but won't stay."
"Why"-- Gunuld said with tears in her eyes.
"Because I vowed to contain the Raven King's greed before dying. Thus, I was granted this life. Live to tell the tale of your white raven-son, Mother."
Gunuld tried to convince him: had she not set free the Raven King's prisoners? They would find a way to trick him again.
The boy shook his head.
"You didn't trick him. He has always been and always will be, as long as men and women get lost through any of the nine gates.
Gunuld gasped. She felt that her motherly arguments would not persuade him. His will was set.
His eyes had the gift of the second sight and were suffused with a mellow, sweet light of compassion.
Gunuld said: "Why you, son?"
The boy raised his shoulders: "Why not me?"
When l live in my own skinFrances Fay
There is a sky
Where sun and moon shine
Together and the brightest star
A lamp shedding light
On the face of mystery.
The rays in its eye
Converge in the lenses
Of sorrow magnifying
The sparrow living
In my deep winters.
But suddenly spring:
No more icicles
In my lashes and in my heart.
A rainbow between
The tempest and the sun.
There are nine gates leading to the kingdom of the Raven King.
They open onto East, South, West, North, Above, Below, Centre, Inside and Outside.
Each gate has got a guardian.
Those who stumble upon the gates are led by great joy, love, loss, need, beauty, hatred, wisdom, truthfulness or melancholy, respectively.
Never has anyone crossed the wrong gate, except for Gunuld, a woman in her late fifties who had lost her son on the battlefield and decided to ask his life back to the Raven King.
Despite her age, she was still beautiful and she mollified the guardian of the Above gate with her piteous tears streaking her high cheekbones, while raising her eyes skywards.
The guardian looked like a boy, but his gaze was ancient.
Since he was not the guardian of the Western gate, whereby the wanderers could enter by experiencing great loss, he was struck by the beauty of her eyes and let her in.
She was hovering in the Above dimension and it took her a while to grasp her situation.
The guardian had told her:
"Keep your feet even and open your arms. You will move by floating in the air. The king will send his ravens to show you the way."
So it happened.
From above, she saw great valleys full of vineyards, and in the evening the crimson and violet sky was crammed with stars.
She had followed the huge black ravens and had landed in front of the strange mansion of the Raven King, a castle perched on a gigantic fir-tree on a mountain top.
Inside, she had been guided by the king's hoarse voice, resounding throughout the deserted halls.
"So you want your son back"-- he said.
A long silence ensued.
The Raven King had huge black wings on his manly shoulders. He wore a sleeveless black fur tunic. His arms were strong and he sat on his wrought iron throne barefoot.
He stood up in his might. His long jet-black hair framed his angular face. His jaw was set. His eyes were grey-bue, as cold as ice.
Gunuld stood five steps below the throne.
She summoned her voice. Her eyes met the king's directly.
Blood came back to the cheeks. She said:
"My son was my only hope. I am a widow and an outcast. Since I lost him, I have known no respite. Take my life and send him back to the world of the living."
The Raven King was taken aback by her offer and the unwavering resolve in her voice.
He said: "You came through the gate of beauty, when you should have come from the West. What makes you think I can grant your request?"
TO BE CONTINUED...
Picture by courtesy of Chanita Sykes via pexels.com
There are voices in the springFrances Fay
Passing into summer
That don't resemble anything
Except the ineffability of
The mist at dawn.
So strange, so eery
That you wonder
Where everything is
Your voice used to
Be like that mist:
I kept on asking
Where it was coming
To that l never
Found the answer.