Author Archives: Steve Hutton

Sunday Flowers

Sunday Flowers

New artwork on the go – Sunday Flowers. Those who’ve read Raven’s Wand will know that Sunday is one of the main characters. We meet her at different points in her story-arc and see different aspects of her along the way, and although I can’t expand too much on what those aspects are without spoiling the plot, it’s fair to say that during Raven’s Wand we never really see Sunday as she ought to be – the solstice queen of Regal-Fox coven.

She boasts of being ‘a witch of high rank’, but what her duties as solstice queen might be we never find out fully. This wasn’t an oversight on my part, it’s just that Sunday’s background needed just a basic outline, otherwise it would have clogged up the flow of the story. In this illustration, I’ve decided to give Sunday a little of the ‘regal’ treatment that she believes magical practitioners deserve, and I’ve imagined her at Regal-Fox coven (before Krast’s Knights come along, of course) doing what she does best – being the centre of attention. The picture also hints at what her ‘solstice queen’ duties involve. Sunday’s association with the summer solstice is well documented, but I wanted to draw her on the winter solstice, welcoming back the sun after its long sleep, which for me personally is a far better reason to celebrate that the height of summer. Knowing the long winter nights are slowing ebbing is like letting out a huge gasp of relief! Sunday sits directly under the rising sun on December 21st, and she’s been there all night enduring the cold and meditating on this critical day of the year, because while magic might be regal, it’s also bloody hard. The whole coven will gather to see the sun rise as if from her crown of swan feathers, and as it does she becomes the living conduit between heaven and earth. Very regal.

Because this is a frosty December morning, I’ve included a lot of grey tones in her skin and hair, and the background will be likewise subdued. There were two ways to go about depicting her costume as far as I could see; one was to make it very showy, the other was to play it down and make it very simple, and that’s the look I’ve gone for. Our eyes should be on her, not what she’s wearing. When finished, we’ll see her attendants (a pair of foxes) and perhaps her thunder-sprite, Strike, and I hope the overall impact will be profoundly regal, just as Sunday would want. More to come . . .

devisers

devisers

Inventing the kinds of spells used by Dark Raven’s witches was good fun. I really wanted each character to boast a different skill. This is useful from a writer’s perspective as it marks each character in the reader’s mind and helps differentiate them, but also it gave me the chance to create my very own magical skills. I say ‘magical skills’ rather than ‘spells’ because once I’ve described how Kolfinnia can commune with trees for instance, there’s no need to repeat an incantation or spell every time she works her magic – it’s just something she does. Readers might also have noticed the lack of spoken spells throughout the story, (in fact, I think there’s only one instance where we overhear a witch reciting a spell; when Kolfinnia’s at the river, trying to topple the Knights) this is because I find magic spells a bit hackneyed in story terms and because my rhyming isn’t that poetic! Plotting what witch had what skill was very satisfying, but no matter how fantastical their skills I always rooted them in a logical approach. Flora can raise crops in moments because it’s crucial to self-sufficiency, and Kolfinnia couldn’t have recruited trees to their battle without her skill of reading woodgrain. It’s magic – but it’s also logic.

I took the same approach with ‘devisers’, witches’ dark Illuminata counterparts, and I’ve had no less fun inventing their twisted view of magic too. The term, ‘black magic’ has become such a cliché that it’s difficult to employ in a literary sense because readers will instantly think of The Devil etc. I’ve shied away from using the term ‘black magic’ all the way through the Dark Raven Chronicles for this very reason, and because I feel it’s derogatory to true witchcraft. That said, devisers do use magic, and their aims are always wicked, or at least their victims would say so. Deviser magic is the antithesis of true witchcraft because it exploits powerful natural forces for the practitioner’s sole benefit, regardless of the harm it causes to others. If a witch wanted to study nature, they would stand back and observe without intrusion – a deviser would imprison nature and dissect it. This to me is true ‘black magic’, and not a forked tail or cloven hoof in sight. Devisers’ handiwork is evident throughout Raven’s Wand; they inspired the first-dawn experiment and engineered the chromosite interrogation creatures. Without their devisers, the Illuminata’s Knights and Lords would be armed only with sticks and stones.

Here’s a test sketch for a new deviser horror from a later Dark Raven novel. Here I’ve sketched up a drone-scout called a ‘signalman’. Remember – devisers are hostile to rival Illuminata bloodlines as much as witches, and their inventions might equally target enemy knights as much as witches. The signalman looks like it means business to anyone that gets in its way, both from a writing point of view and an illustration one, but it also has to adhere to a twisted deviser-logic. From its cross-section we see a metal skeleton inside, but what’s the power source? Wrapped around the steel, sealed in a pressure suit filled with nutrient-fluids, writhe hundreds of engineered eels – of the electric variety. Remember, this is the late 19th century and the world is just waking up to the potential of electricity. Devisers have converted living creatures into a bio-electrical circuit providing the locomotive power. The signalman’s ‘brain’ is no less cunning. A copper orb is shrouded in a cerebral membrane cloned directly from the deviser controlling the scout. Through a short-range telepathic link, the deviser, who is safely tucked away in a bunker, inhabits the signalman and puts those unfeeling robotic arms and legs to very good (or bad) use. It’s twisted, but there’s a crazy logic to it that’s plausible enough to carry the reader along.

As The Dark Raven Chronicles continue to unfold we’ll see more of deviser society and how it fits the hierarchy of the Illuminata and how sometimes it comes into conflict with it. Raven’s Wand might have started the story with a bang, but it really only scratches the surface. I look forward to unleashing new magic upon readers over the coming months and years.

A Rare Bloom

Flora 150

One of my personal favourite characters from The Dark Raven Chronicles doesn’t take centre stage often and is easily regarded as a support character, although if she were to vanish, then places like Wildwood-coven would dry up and die. Her skills are crucial to Wildwood’s survival and it’s no exaggeration to describe her feats of magic as miraculous, and perhaps even holy.
She cannot make herself invisible, topple mountains, or shoot bolts of lightning from her fingertips, but The Illuminata nevertheless regard her brand of magic as deeply subversive, and toxic to their own agenda. Her powers are so profound, yet so fundamental to everyday life, that she is easily overlooked, but for me, Flora embodies the highest values of witchcraft. What good are lightning-bolts and superpowers if at the end of the day you have nothing to eat? Through the grace of the twins, Hethra and Halla, Flora can summon crops in any soil and any season, and turn barren earth into a productive garden in moments. For an organisation like The Illuminata, that control populations and nations through poverty, this is truly a terrifying prospect. Who would toil in the mills and mines to stave off starvation if they could emulate Flora’s miracle? Nobody. The foundations of Victoria’s Empire would sink into the sand, the pyramid of power would be inverted and the masses set free. All of this a witch like Flora could achieve if her magical skills were shared and spread.
For me, she is a hero of dignity and modesty, neither of which were accidental. Too often, heroes in popular film and fiction win through strength and force, and all too often female heroes have to become like men to achieve their victories. Kolfinnia and Flora take up arms to defend their world, but reluctantly and with consequences, and along the way they may have to take lives. Neither is it accidental that Flora is maimed – who can fail to spot her eye-patch – as when I crafted the character I knew she would be perhaps the most gentle yet most profound of Wildwood’s witches, and because cosmic laws are cruel and ironic, I imagined that she would have faced the greatest violence in her short life, because evil always seeks to undermine the greatest goodness. Flora was half-blinded as a girl, as punishment for being born to a witch. Her mother, Roslind, was taken for correctional-blessing, a civilized way to describe interrogation and capital punishment in The Illuminata’s world. And so Flora’s scars are found both inwardly and outwardly, affecting both flesh and spirit, yet her greatest triumph is to cling to her dignity and humanity despite all that’s been taken from her. As the story unfold, Flora’s skills prove the lifeblood of her coven, and later, when adapting magic to devise new ways of fighting The Illuminata, Flora’s talents veer from growing crops to growing thunder and lightning . . . although it would spoil the surprise if I were to explain how. She might not be a Lycra-clad, kung-fu babe with an attitude (thank Oak!) but Flora packs a punch that can topple empires, and best of all she’s modest about her powers and gentle with it – the rarest of blooms.

Kraken

 

Kraken II

Imagine you’re a witch, and by this I mean you follow a particular faith and pracitse magic to some degree, in the understanding that ‘magic’ is simply holding reverence for the Earth. You might find it hard to believe that this simple lifestyle rouses the intense hatred and fury of an organisation known as The Illuminata Knighthood. They openly denounce magic and magical practitioners as evil and persecute them, while covertly they confiscate any and all magical knowledge and twist it to suit their aims. To this end, they crush all sympathies and allegiance with magic amongst commoners and witches alike, using brutal and merciless tactics, whether in a so-called ‘courts of law’, or on the battlefield. If you were one of those people deemed a target by this organisation, you might wake up one day in your small rustic coven, hidden in the woods or some other remote place, to find an army of giant metal war machines bearing down upon you. These are The Illuminata’s Krakens. You can either run for your life as your home is demolished, or stand and fight, but considering true magic is the essence of revering the Earth, there is potentially little you can do against tons of iron and steel, bullets and flaming jets of fire. Chances are you would run – and run straight into the waiting arms of the massed infantry encircling the coven. You are vastly outnumbered and pitted against professional fighting men who have a taste for their work. Resist and you’ll be shot, and perhaps that’s for the best, as captured witches are taken for ‘correctional blessing’. Another coven is destroyed and more esoteric knowledge is confiscated and vanished from history. All in a day’s work for The Illuminata.

I drew upon my memories of illustrating for Games Workshop (long ago!) to produce this new artwork of Krakens. Against covens, they prove a highly effective psychological weapon, but as The Illuminata bloodlines are constantly warring amongst themselves, they’re also effective in crushing rival infantry, and even enemy Knights. The Illuminata’s roots reach almost as far back as witches themselves, and are equally steeped in magic, although of the malevolent deviser kind. Krakens themselves hint at these deep roots. They are not named for monstrous sea creatures as you might suppose, but for Krakon, the god of war worshipped by outlawed cults in antediluvian Atlantis. Ironic then that Atlantis was devoured by the sea, and the name Krakon became synonymous with a monster of the depths. But Kraken regiments and their arrogant Knights don’t have it all their own way. Sometimes they enter the field with banners flying high, but leave it as scrap metal. This is almost always when confronting enemy Knights, but on very exceptional occasions a regiment of those Krakens swagger into one of those small rustic covens only to be destroyed as surely as Atlantis itself, as Valonia will happily tell you . . .

Back Doors

Destroying Angel artwork

When I wrote Raven’s Wand, it was simply titled as such. There was no ‘Book I of . . .’ because there wasn’t a book II, let alone a series, but something wonderful happened as I typed chapter after chapter – I found myself getting excited about creativity again for the first time in many years. When I reached the last page I could have typed ‘The End’, but I knew it wasn’t the end. I just wanted to keep writing, and so I teased out the most logical story threads from Raven’s Wand and began weaving them again. The result was Flowers of Fate, and at last I was justified in adding ‘Book II of The Dark Raven Chronicles’. It might come as no surprise that I didn’t stop there . . . by the end of Flowers’ I still wanted to keep writing (lucky readers that you are!) and hence Lion of Evermore was born, and the story arc concluded. The three books grew organically, as a result of my continued desire to build the story rather than being plotted as a trilogy from the outset. Lion of Evermore concludes with the words ‘The End’. But it’s not.

If you like something, why stop? Book IV began to unfold, and this time I knew I couldn’t restart my original characters on a new journey, it just didn’t feel right. They’d told their story. What I needed was a new cast of characters, but from the same stage – witches from Wildwood-coven that we hadn’t met before. The trouble was who would they be and how would I introduce them, after all, how is it they weren’t mentioned before in all the action? The first solution was to find a ‘back door’ in the original book, and I’d had one particular back door in mind from the start. Without spoiling the plot, let me elaborate . . . Wildwood-coven faces attack, and its host of witches flee in a small flotilla comprising three boats. The idea was to rendezvous at a determined point and rally survivors. When it came to making this real in the story, I felt that having all three boats reach their destination safely was too snug and lessened the sense of threat. My solution was to ‘lose’ one of the boats. Two boats reach the rendezvous, while the third boat goes missing, along with her crew. It adds to the drama and sounds more convincing, and even mysterious. I could then get on with writing the rest of Raven’s Wand, but unexpectedly I found this missing boat cropping up in my mind like a stone in my shoe. I kept asking myself, ‘where’s it gone, and what’s happened to her crew, and who were they in relation to Kolfinnia – were they friends, peers, mentors, or rivals even?’ This unanswered question became my back door, and when book IV came along I knew it was time to answer it.

Book IV is entitled ‘Kolfinnia’s Coven’, and it forms a collection of short stories about Kolfinnia as a girl, growing up at Wildwood. It enabled me to greatly expand upon the witches’ world, and their beliefs, traditions, folklore and religion. I had great fun crafting creation myths as well as real life anecdotes from Kolfinnia’s early years, and I was also able to resolve the second problem – how to integrate a new cast of characters, with the original ones from Raven’s Wand. As Kolfinnia’s Coven effectively forms a prequel as well as a collection of tales, I was able to go back and introduce my new players, showing them growing up alongside Kolfinnia, and how they relate to her.

So, meet Freya Albright, as she appears in my illustration. She’s the captain of our missing boat, named ‘Speedwell’, and by the end of Kolfinnia’s Coven, we know her, and some of her crew, very well. Well enough in fact to see her take the helm as the new hero of the Dark Raven Chronicles, and at last we’ll find out what’s become of her and her crew of nine other witches. The result is book V and a different kind of tale to Kolfinnia’s. The focus remains on Freya and her crew throughout, and novels aren’t afraid to end on a cliffhanger. The tone is darker, and I’ve crafted new villains and threats, to break new ground and offer the reader a whole other side to the world of Wildwood. Entitled, ‘The Journey of Albright’s Boat’, Freya’s series begins with ‘Destroying Angel’ and introduces the most disturbing and shocking enemies witchcraft has yet seen, it begins to unfold a cosmology of creatures and demigods that show how magic extends not just beyond a coven or a country, but across the stars and planes of reality, life and death. But there’s still plenty of room for the intimate human dramas, and the warmth that binds a coven (or crew) together through thick and thin. All of this I owe to that back door, inserted casually into Raven’s Wand all those years ago. I never knew then what was waiting behind it, and certainly I never expected to find Freya’s story so intense, humourous, terrifying, and so far-reaching.
I’ll end this blog with the rather electrifying fact that The Dark Raven Chronicles are littered with back doors. Some of them are there on purpose, while others are hidden even from me, but I’ll root them out, and if I find something worth writing on the other side, I’ll take you along for the journey. I promise, this is only the beginning . . .

A Story Within a Story

The Fairy's Tale

This illustration is entitled ‘A Fairy’s Tale’. In it, master-storyteller Chikabok entrances a gathering of woodland folk with a vivid tale. The gathering comprises a fantastical array of creatures, including keddy-potts, drummon-toadies, snap-dragons, slug-fairies, baby mountains and potato men, as well as Chikabok himself, who is clearly a magpie-fairy. Confused? You need not be . . .
Within The Dark Raven Chronicles, witches have their own customs and of course their own traditional tales. We might grow up knowing certain popular nursery rhymes, and it’s the same with children growing up in covens. All of the amazing creatures I’ve just described are familiar enough to young witches. I’ve always loved the idea of a story within a story, yet I never found the right place for it in Raven’s Wand. Instead, we’re afforded just hints and glimpses of the rich world that lies behind a coven like Wildwood. I wanted to include these traditional witches’ stories, but the pacing of the novel never really allowed it. Richard Adam’s included two or three of the rabbits’ folktales in Watership Down. (I’ve written a full blog on this, one of my favourite books, here on this website, entitled ‘Black Rabbits and Terrible Generals’). What I will say again, is how effective these small inclusions are at expanding any fictional world. It’s like peeping at the cogs that drive the hands on the clock.

For those who’ve read Raven’s Wand, or are reading it, keep an eye out for the following; Wildwood’s chief witch Valonia, on rare occasions calls her bright young student Kolfinnia, ‘Little Wolf Mother’. This isn’t just a throwaway remark. There’s a whole story behind it entitled ‘Wolves in the Stars’, which tells how in the distant past, a cosmic monster tried to devour the Earth, and was stopped by one particularly brave witch named Luna, and a vast pack of wolves led by wolf-mother Fen. It’s a real story, in the sense that it exists complete and ready to read, and it directly integrates with everything about The Dark Raven Chronicles, and explains why Kolfinnia earned the nickname Little Wolf Mother. Interesting, isn’t it?
There is another, perhaps even more potent example of a hidden story with Raven’s Wand. I think it crops up just twice, and always in a sombre context, but look carefully and you’ll hear Skald, Valonia’s thunder-sprite quote the phrase, ‘If need of witches be so great’. He’s not being melodramatic – he’s quoting a pact made by his own Lord long ago, and which directly relates to his partnership with Valonia. ‘If need of witches be so great’. What does it really mean? Again, the story to explain this vague but ultimately critical pact, entitled ‘A Witch’s Best Friend’, exists and is ready to read, and in doing so we also learn something very special about Skald.
I hope that eventually all of these short stories will become available, but like fractals, the deeper we look the more detail we see, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find a story within a story within a story . . .

Bright Spark

Sprite blog small

One of the most popular character-types of The Dark Raven Chronicles turns out to be thunder-sprites, and so I thought I’d post a few words on these sparky little creatures.
Witches fly. It’s written in stone, so I couldn’t get away from it, but neither did I want to. What I did want to distance my story from was the concept of ‘flying broomsticks’. I can’t express my dissatisfaction at these things without impacting on other popular fantasy serials and ultimately sounding as if I’m being critical. I promise you I’m not, but I remain steadfast in my conviction that as a narrative device, flying broomsticks are common to the point of exhaustion and also present a massive missed opportunity. So often in fantasy fiction things happen ‘by magic’. End of story. I’m more interested in exploring the logic behind the magic, even if it’s fantasy-logic, and here I could really let my imagination run wild – what exactly is the magic that allows a stick, or staff, call it what you will, fly?

Years ago, living in the Yorkshire Pennines, the road to my house was steep and rocky. At one bend there was a small but tortured-looking oak tree. We dubbed it ‘ye old thunder tree’, because it looked like it had suffered a lightning blow, although I doubt it had. It got me thinking about the elemental forces that might have briefly touched it, and had they altered it in someway, other than splitting wood asunder? In channeling the storm’s energy, had the tree been left with a permanent resident, a fragment of the storm so to speak? It was easy for me to imagine that the answer was ‘yes’, and that lightning trees have a different energy to other trees. I tucked this obscure revelation away at the back of my mind, until one day I found it again and thanked my lucky stars for now having swept it out along with all the other clutter. My witches needed to fly, and what better than a branch from a lightning-tree, and what better than to call it a ‘lightning-staff’! It sounded magical but credible, and it offered the reader a fresh take on a well-known theme. After that, the flood gates opened. I came up with ‘thunder-sprites’ to embody the tree’s storm force, and let them have fabulously rambling names to celebrate the storms they’d come from. Kolfinnia’s thunder-sprite is called ‘Gales-Howl-Over-Stormy-Waters’, or ‘Gale’ for short. I invented scores of sprites names, many of which are never even mentioned in full, but they’re there, such is the detail in The Dark Raven Chronicles. One of my favourites is ‘Jump-The-Cross’, named for a bolt of lightning that struck a church spire, rebounded into the graveyard below and hit a holly tree, (lightning-staffs made from holly are very rare, by the way). Although Jump-The-Cross is yet to have his day, (the name’s never been used in any of the DRC novels so far) creating these names and their stories was a pleasure. Note I say ‘his day’. I deliberately made all thunder-sprites male, as decreed by magical law. As they are born where father-thunder touches mother-earth, I saw no need for messy things like gender, hormones or reproduction getting in the way of the action. Thunder-sprites are blokes – they like wrecking things. Enough said. There was another reason I made sprites male, and that’s because the cast of witches in Raven’s Wand are mostly female, although a few male witches take supporting roles. The combination of witch and sprite made sure that any witch in the story had some other character to bounce their thoughts and dialogue off, and provides and nice contrast between female intuition and male logic. A thunder-sprite isn’t a pet, but an equal, an ally and a friend. Witch and sprite share a very deep bond, and the sprite’s contract upon this Earth lasts until the day the staff is broken or the witch dies. Suffices to say, for a witch, breaking their staff and losing their thunder-sprite is no less devastating than the death of a loved one. Also, sprites don’t remain incorporeal within their staffs, but appear regularly to bicker and banter with their witches and other sprites. When they do appear we see them as striking raven-sized creatures similar to small primates, but winged and covered with blue feathers and bearing hawk-like heads. Sprites have a sweet tooth and can’t resist a pinecone sticky with sap. They have their own culture and social structure in the thunder-heights above, ruled over by their great Lord, Silver-fist, who’s as old as the Earth itself. Sprites are loyal but have little patience for self pity, and they’ll give their witch a kick up the rear if they think they’re slacking or failing to live up to the high moral code of witchcraft. As the action racks up in Raven’s Wand, the witches soon find that their staffs aren’t just handy for flying, but they prove powerful weapons when pitted against the Illuminata’s giant kraken steam-suited Knights. And lastly there’s the sheer thrill of flying, and not on some inanimate shaft of wood with bristles at the end, but flying in unison with a friend and a powerful natural force.

Or we could just throw all of this away and say that witches fly simply by ‘magic’. I know what I prefer.

Soul sign

Sunday soul II

Fairies don’t see the world as we do, at least not those fairies that dwell in The Dark Raven Chronicles. When frost-fairy Neet, meets witch Sunday Flowers for the first time, he’s entranced by her soul sign. This mystical representation of the soul takes the form of a tree, and floats above the crown of the head. Some of the branches might be bare, while others are in bud, or laden with fruit or flowers, and these branches might sit right beside others that are twisted and diseased. The branches represent all that’s good and bad about a person. Neet can see this, but Sunday, for all her skills as a witch, can’t.

Neet’s seen many soul-signs down the years, and although he understands little of the symbolism he instantly recognises that Sunday’s soul is unique – terrifyingly so. All other trees he’s seen are complete, yet Sunday’s tree has been cut clean through the trunk. Somehow she has defied the first and oldest universal law – she has died, and returned to life.

Flowers of Fate is the second novel in The Dark Raven Chronicles, and aside from being what I hope is an exciting story, it explores deep issues such as freewill versus fate, atonement and self-sacrifice. I look forward to sharing Flowers of Fate with readers later this year.

Beauty and Duty

for blog

Reworking the cover for Raven’s Wand, the first of the Wildwood books, I brought Kolfinnia to the fore. Book covers demand an eye-catching and appealing image for obvious reasons, but I didn’t want Kolfinnia (the story’s young hero) reduced simply to cover decoration. She’s a young woman with a serious duty, she’s been through a lot and has a lot more to get through before the book’s over.

I hope she’s beautiful (and beauty’s a wildly subjective topic!) and if she is, then I hope it’s because of what’s inside her. Look into her eyes – there’s focus and resolve there. She’s strong, but not in a macho-aggressive way that some writers portray female leads, but rather it’s her sense of compassion and justice that enable her to face the challenges ahead. I wanted to keep the focus on her face and what she’s feeling. Look long enough, and the surrounding details begin to melt away and only Kolfinnia’s steady gaze remains. Before you know it you’re looking at a real person, not just a pleasing face to brighten a book cover, and it’s her conviction that helps make a fantasy story seem more like a story rooted in fact. Neither did I want any trace of voyeurism. Sorry – but nobody goes into action in high heels and a bikini outside of the realm of Hollywood.

So here is Kolfinnia, holding Raven’s Wand itself. Around her are witches’ deities Hethra and Halla, the dragons of oak and holly that she’s prepared to defend to the death, as well as Skald, her loyal thunder-sprite. She is as real as you or I, as are the dangers and joys she faces. The fact that she happens to have a pretty face is immaterial . . . but it makes for a nice cover (-:

Dark Raven

21

The most intriguing character of all the Wildwood novels never speaks and isn’t really alive, at least not in the way we’d understand, yet it’s always there in the background, guiding our way like a compass needle. We might even come to take it for granted in the same way we seldom question the ground beneath our feet, but that’s only proof of its reliability.
During the trilogy of books the spotlight shifts from character to character. Kolfinnia might take centre stage in book 1, but then the focus moves onto other characters (can’t say without giving the plot away!) and back to the familiar faces we began with. If asked, I’d struggle to name one character that’s a key player in all three books other than this mysterious and often mute ‘compass needle’. I speak of course of Valonia’s wand – hrafn-dimmu, or Dark Raven if you prefer its English name. The wand is passed from keeper to keeper through the books like a baton and you can be sure that wherever it is the action’s not far behind. Dark Raven is a constant, much like its flesh and blood counterparts.

Raven’s have featured in folklore and mythology for as long as people have walked the Earth. We’re fascinated by their keen intelligence, and often resent it. We heap macabre reputations upon them for their love of carrion, forgetting who it was that littered the battlefields with bodies in the first place. Their indigo-black plumage reminds us of the dark, and how we still fear it. But Valonia’s wand isn’t named for any of these qualities. My lasting memory of ravens – real ravens that is – if of their always being there. Just like Valonia’s wand, they’re a constant.
Hiking through the Arctic you begin to feel like the last person on Earth. You begin to wonder at the sheer brutality of the landscape, and how could anything scrape a living here. And then you hear a raven’s call ring out. You look up and see not one but two, gliding and tumbling without a care, as if this desolation was Eden itself, and suddenly there’s another heartbeat in this rocky nothingness and you smile to yourself, knowing that you’re not alone. Raven’s pair for life and live many years. Their acrobatics and vocal range are incredible. Stay put long enough and they’ll come to investigate, and you know you’re being scanned with eyes that are almost unearthly. Call out to them as their soar overhead, and if you’re lucky they’ll reply with a sound not unlike a tuneful ‘gulp’, and a dip of their wings.
But I’m under no romantic delusions.
Years ago I saw a raven carry off a black-back gull’s chick with the parent in hot pursuit. Life is harsh. You might be snatched from the nest and devoured at just a day old. It’s tempting to see animals as symbols of wisdom, indeed many people who accept that they have a spirit guide name the raven as their protector. The same goes for wolves, bears and eagles (I’ve yet to meet someone who’s spirit guide is a rabbit or a goldfish). I also know that if I died in those frozen wastes, those ravens would be on my carcass in a shot, probably bickering over who gets the tastiest eyeball. It’s that honesty that I admire. Nature is often hard but it’s always honest. Unlike people, you always know where you stand with animals, and when it came to picking a name for Valonia’s wand I had this honesty and reliability in mind.
Ravens I salute you! And if I keel over in those barren wastes one day and go to that great tent in the sky, I can’t think of a better use for my bedraggled body than to raise the next generation of dark ravens.