Tag Archives: Steve Hutton

Sprite Sense II

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Sprite Sense – Part II

A warm welcome to all of those just discovering Raven’s Wand! Readers frequently tell me how much they adore thunder-sprites, and so I thought I’d post a series of short articles about these wild but popular creatures. Tonight we look at Lifespan, Distribution and Flight. More to follow – enjoy!

A closer look at the world of thunder-sprites . . . LIFESPAN

Witches and thunder-sprites have partnered up for untold thousands of years. They remain a pair from the day the witch finds a thunder-sprite and proves their worth, until either the witch dies or their lightning-staff is broken. Breaking a staff is never deliberate, as no witch would wish to be parted from their sprite, this only happens by accident or in battle. Sprites then return to the thunder-heights and their Lord, Silver-fist, where they become part of the endless cycle of rain and storm once again. They might be born again as another bolt in another place, but with a new name and likely no memory of their former life or witch. Although covens are found in all corners of the world, sometimes lightning strikes in very remote places, and the sprite will go his whole life and never see a human, let alone a witch. In these instances, he will live happily inside his tree until the day it dies, which could be many centuries, or just days if the lightning-bolt was too severe, but the line between a living tree and a dead tree is surprisingly fuzzy . . . When the tree is nothing but rotten mulch, it can be clearly argued as being ‘dead’, but some trees are cut for timber to make furniture and houses, and they can last for many centuries after the tree was felled – as can any sprite still living inside them. Skald and his fellows speak fondly of one such sprite, named Torn. No witch came to claim him, and eventually his tree was felled to make a large four-poster bed for a grand hall. Sleepers in that bed often woke in the middle of the night screaming in terror, claiming an ‘imp’ had been scuttling through the canopy. Torn might not have found a witch, but he kept his sense of humour!

A closer look at the world of thunder-sprites . . . DISTRIBUTION

When Clovis crossed the star-sea to come to Kolfinnia’s aid, he (not surprisingly) had a lightning-staff and thunder-sprite of his own, named Torrent. Torrent lived by the same laws, and even spoke the same language as thunder-sprites here on Earth, even though he was from light-years away. He even looked identical, although his feathers were more emerald than sapphire. Here on Earth, animals quickly evolve into subspecies if separated by only a short distance, so how can creatures from light-years apart be so similar? The answer is that thunder-sprites are born from natural laws that are universal – the power of storms and lightning. There’s lightning on Jupiter just as there is on Earth and it obeys the same laws of physics. Torrent might be from a long way away, but in every sense he is a brother to Skald and every sprite on Earth. The only difference is that on Torrent’s world (which for the record is Vega), the thunder-heights are commanded, not by Silver-fist, but by a different Lord. In thunder-sprite legends, these Lords were always journeying to other worlds to meet strange creatures and even visit their sleeping dragons, just like Hethra and Halla.

A closer look at the world of thunder-sprites . . . FLIGHT

The reason witches and sprites originally formed working partnerships is one of those stories that’s so old nobody can get to the truth of it, although it seems every coven has its own legend explaining the origin of the witch/sprite union. One theme that remains common in every legend however, is the sprite’s love of flight. According to thunder-sprites, there’s nothing like the initial rush of streaking down from a thunderhead at supersonic speed, burning hotter than the sun’s surface, and then crashing into the earth below. It is the ultimate thrill ride. Sadly, for such action-loving creatures, if they strike a tree they’re committed to living in that tree until the day it dies (unless of course the bolt kills it), and that could be many, many years. Working with witches allows the sprite a chance to escape the confines of their tree and fly frequently, and gives a witch an invaluable ally and a magical tool in the form of a lightning-staff. Thankfully for sprites, the witches that come looking for them are at that pre-adolescent age where they feel ready for anything, and are only too happy to fly hard and fast. Some things never change . . .

Pencils

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Coloured Pencils – handy things to know . . .

All of my Wildwood art is drawn in colour pencil, and for those with an interest in this particular medium here’s an article about getting the best from your pencils.

First I gather the reference photos I’ll need, ones I’ve taken myself or sourced from elsewhere. Then I visualise how I’ll piece them together. I always use Daler Rowney pastel paper. It has a rough side and a smooth side and I always use smooth. Most of the time I’ll use Platinum: a neutral mid-grey shade. It might sound odd drawing on grey paper but I find that drawing with colour pencil on white paper spoils the effect, as the pigment leaves all the tiny dips and depressions in the paper uncovered and you end up with a kind of ‘white noise’ behind the image that breaks up its solidity. But that’s just me – a lot of CP artists like white paper.

Graphite can dirty the colours you lay on top, but to start with I sketch up my image with a 2B pencil, and this can take up to a day as I try out different compositions. Once I’m happy I have a choice – if the colour scheme I’m aiming for is dark then I can draw on top of the graphite (with care) but if it’s bright and breezy then first I’ll ‘dab’ off the graphite drawing with a pencil rubber so that it leaves the faintest of lines. I could of course draw faintly to start with, but that’d mean using a HB or 2H and that can leave ugly scratch marks on the paper. Sometimes I draw out my composition not in graphite but with a colour pencil, that way it’s guaranteed to be absorbed by the overlaying colours. The advantage of this is that there’s no risk of graphite smudging areas of delicate detail, such as a creamy complexion on a child’s face for instance. The down side of sketching with a colour pencil first is that they don’t like being rubbed out! You’re dealing with pigment that’s got oil or wax in, and the rubber can’t always get rid of the lines as it can with graphite – so be warned. If I draw in CP first then invariably I’ll use ‘nougat’ which is a nice subtle brown shade in the Polychromos range.

So now the under-drawing’s ready and the colour work can start. I draw a lot of human characters and they can be tricky, so I always start with the face which is the hardest part. If it goes bad then I scrap the picture and haven’t lost too much time. I use a range of colours, finding they all have their strengths and weaknesses . . .

Polychromos by Faber Castelle keep their point well and have good opacity, great for fine detail.

Prismacolor (American) mix and blend better than any other brand I’ve come across. They are softer, and so not as good for crisp fine detail. Not easy to source in the UK.

Derwent Drawing pencils come in a range of 24 earth/natural colours. They are great for nature studies and their cores are quite wide so good for laying down large areas of expressive colour.

Derwent Coloursoft have a wide core and are like Prismacolor in many ways, but I find them a little ‘chalky’ and so I only have a small range, although some of them I wouldn’t do without – cloud blue and brown-black spring to mind.

Lastly on the subject of pencils, don’t forget to include a good range of grey shades. I’ll often add a hint of grey to skin tones, sandwiched in between other pigments. Relying on colours alone can give an artificial ‘Disney’ look to a scene. So don’t forget the greys. I rely on my range of French Greys a lot.

Accessories: I have a small battery powered rubber that’s very handy if you’ve got to alter a small detail in a crucial place. It’s also great drawing tool in its own right, removing colour rather than laying it down.

Pencil extenders – better than throwing 30% of your pencils in the bin! Don’t know why more people don’t use them . . .

Scalpel – always use one for sharpening pencils and for scratching the finest lines in pigment to draw hair or spider silks etc.

Fixative: I use fix not to protect the drawing, but to get rid of wax-bloom. Once your drawing’s finished you might find it looking ‘dusty’ after a few days and wonder what’s going on. It’s wax-bloom. The oils in the pencils are now seeping to the surface. It’s easy to remove, you can either just fix it to seal it and restore the drawing, or wipe it gently with a soft tissue, and then either fix it or leave it – but the wax might come back. As I tend to work heavy there’s a lot of pigment on my drawings and the bloom can be a problem, so I let them ‘rest’ a few weeks then dust them down and spray them, but never spray too much at any one time as it’ll permanently discolour the drawing!

And lastly – tea, plenty of tea . . .

A Rare Bloom

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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.

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

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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

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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

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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.