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Crow Girl

When Crow Girl was released from the spell, she was quite surprised. She'd fully expected to die when the men had caught her in their nets, and it wasn't until they'd placed her in a cage inside the witch's hut that she realized she wasn't to be roasted or baked into a pie. She'd never been a stupid girl, however, and therefore almost immediately understood that they'd somehow recognized her, and were attempting to reverse the spell which had turned her into a crow in the first place.
It seemed much more complicated this time around. Apparently, undoing a spell took significantly more effort than casting one, for the men stood around for hours while the witch cooked up potions and mumbled incoherently over her tattered grimoire. Sometime into the ritual, she opened the cage and took Crow Girl out, and the little bird would have flown away had she not been wracked with excruciating pain. The old woman set her down gently on an ancient, battered table, but she fell over, unable even to stand properly. She looked down, and saw that her thin, corvid feet were slowly beginning to twist and morph into long, ungainly human ones.
She felt that she must have fainted, for her next awareness was of waking up, still lying on the table, now fully transformed. The light from the cottage's one small window had faded, but the men who'd captured her remained as shadowy figures standing against the opposite wall. She squinted, working distant memories of kith and kin in an effort to identify them, but found she couldn't make out specific facial features in the dim light.
She sat up slowly, gazing for a long while at her pale, featherless arms and long, misshapen fingers. Then she burst into tears, sobbing inconsolably until great hiccups made it nearly impossible to breathe. The witch appeared then, crooning to her, gathering her into an embrace and rocking her gently as one might a small child.
"Hush, now," she said. "You're all right."
Crow Girl looked up. "Why?" she asked. "Why did you change me back?"
The witch smiled gently. "True love, my dear," she said, though her voice did not sound happy.
Crow Girl closed her eyes and wiped her tears with the back of one hand. In her mind she was flying over the treetops, her sisters only a wing's length away, soaring and dipping on sun-warmed pockets of air.
"I had true love," she said.
The old woman sighed, and looked down. "Not yours," she answered, her voice no louder than a whisper.
Then he was there, in front of her, and she recognized him immediately.
"Thank you, Old Mother," he said, nodding to the witch though his eyes never left Crow Girl's. He reached up, and gently pushed a strand of hair behind one ear. "She's just as I remember."
The old woman's eyes narrowed and she cleared her throat. "Are we done?" she asked.
"Yes," he said, smiling. He took Crow Girl's hand and helped her down from the table. "Your secrets are safe with me. I'll tell no one in the village about you." He tilted his head to one side, and his smiled turned cold. "Yet."
A thin white shift lay on the table's surface, and Crow Girl picked it up and slipped it over her head. She realized suddenly that she was very cold--an odd, unfamiliar sensation. He put one arm around her, and held her close. She shivered in his embrace.
"We'll get you home and put some proper clothes on you," he said. He had a voice that seemed almost kind, as if the kindness were a thing that could be taken out on special occasions, and then put away when company went home. She swallowed, and made an effort at lifting a corner of her mouth, hoping that the gesture was sufficient. The other men passed in front of him, laughing and teasing as they made their farewells without a backward glance in her direction.
When the cabin was quiet once more, Crow Girl allowed herself to be led toward the door, her mind racing, her heart closing in on the possibility of being trapped forever in this body. At the last moment, however, she turned back, her eyes meeting the milky white gaze of the witch. Something she saw there made her break away and return to embrace the stooped and wizened figure.
The man continued on without her out the door. "Come along," he yelled behind him. "It's time to go home."
The witch released her long enough to slide one hand up her own sleeve, wincing as she plucked something from its depths. Smiling, she placed the long, silky blue-black feather, the tip of its shaft stained blood red, in Crow Girl's outstretched palm.
"What do I do with it?" Crow Girl asked, breathless. Her black eyes glittered in the cabin's muted light.
The old woman's smile was sad, and wistful, and in her eyes Crow Girl recognized a soul who'd once looked down upon the earth from the heavens above.
She squeezed Crow Girl's arm.
"You fly," she said.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

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