She walked and walked, the whole day through until she could go no more, then she laid herself down to rest. She woke the next morning and set out again. Everyday she searched, asking all she met if they had seen a great black raven flying overhead and if they had what direction he might have gone, but no one could tell her a thing. This went on for quite some time till it seemed to Aurelina that she had walked the whole world round. Then one day, just as night was falling, she came to a hut at the edge of a wood. Unable to put one foot in front of the other, she knocked on the door not caring who it was that might answer.
The door opened and there stood an old woman with cloud-white hair and a kindly face.
“Child, you should not be here,” said the old woman. “This is Death’s house and it would do you no good if he were to find you here. He spares none, young or old, fair or foul. I should know, I am his grandmother.”
But Aurelina, beyond caring, found that she could not walk another step. Death’s grandmother seeing how tired she was, took pity on the princess. She offered her food and drink, and while they ate, the princess told the old woman everything that had happened. The old woman admired her determination to find the sweetheart she had lost.
“There may be somewhat that I can do to help you,” she said. “Do you see the clock in the corner there? When you have done eating, climb into it and be very quiet. When my grandson returns home, we will see if he knows something which might help you in your quest.”
Aurelina did as the old woman suggested. It was no trouble for her to hide in the clock, for it was a huge old thing that filled the corner of the room and could have fit three of her inside with room to spare.
It wasn’t long before she heard the door open and close. The air around her became frigid and it took all that she had to keep her teeth from chattering.
“Hello Grandmother!” Death said and she shivered to hear his voice. “Phew… I smell mortal blood in the house for sure!”
“Nonsense!” exclaimed his grandmother. “Mortal blood indeed! As if a mortal would come to this house if they had anywhere else to go! Though I did have quite the dream today. Sit down and eat, and I will tell you all about it.”
The princess could hear the scrape of the chair as Death sat down to dinner and the clank of silverware as he ate. As for herself, she stayed as quiet as a mouse, barely drawing a breath.
“So tell me of this dream, Grandmother. Was it a true dream or no?”
“Well I can’t say,” said the grandmother. “I dreamt of a golden-haired princess who roamed the world, hunting for her Raven sweetheart. But sadly, no matter how far she wondered she could not find him.”
“Ah, it was a true dream then, for there is such a princess and she has wandered far looking for her sweetheart, just as you have said. Unlikely though she is to find him.”
“Really? Why would you say so?”
“Because he lives in a castle, on an island in an endless sea, at the furthest edges of the earth.”
“How unfortunate! I had hoped that she would find him. But you say there would be no way for her to reach him?”
“Only if she were to have my pale horse. He can travel faster than a wish and would get her to the seashore quickly enough.”
“But that still leaves the endless sea for her to cross. Maybe she could find a boat to take her…”
“Pfft, there is no boat that can sail that sea! But at its edge is a gnarled old pine tree with a hat snagged in its branches. That hat belongs to the west wind and he has been long looking for it. If she were to have it then perhaps he would take her across that great water. Now I’m off about my business, thank you for my dinner!”
“Of course, my dear. You are very welcome,” Death’s Grandmother replied. “Will your horse need feeding as well?”
“You need not mind him. I left him grazing in the wood next door where I am sure he will be content till I have need of him again.”
With that, Aurelina heard the swish of a cloak and the opening and closing of a door and the air about her grew warmer again.
A moment after that, the door to her hiding place opened and the old woman’s kind face peered in.
“So there you are, my child. The pale horse waits in the wood next door, if you are stouthearted enough to ride him,” said the old woman. “Mount on his back and tell him were you wish to go and he will take you there. Be steadfast and brave and you may yet find your sweetheart. Good luck!”
Aurelina thanked her and left.
Just next door to the hut there was a tall dark wood, exactly as the old woman had said. Aurelina searched resolutely through the trees despite the shivers that ran up and down her spine. Sure enough, she found Death’s pale horse tethered to an old oak, grazing peacefully.
He was a fearsome beast, as pale as old bone and the glow of gravelights shone from his eyes and softly blowing nostrils.
Despite her shaking hands, Aurelina resolutely loosened the pale horse’s bridle and mounted upon his back. He stood quiet enough so she told him where she wished to go. Away he flew like a whirlwind and before she could catch her breath, he had her on the shore of the endless sea. She dismounted from his back, and away he sped back towards his home.
The princess found the gnarled old pine tree that Death had mentioned not far from where the pale horse had left her. Snagged in its branches was an old hat, just as Death had said there would be. All through the tree top birds flew, squabbling over the hat and generally making a huge hubbub.
Picking up a pebble, the princess waited and threw it in their midst just as they had tugged the hat free from the branches. With a indignant squawk, they dropped the hat and flew away.
Aurelina caught the old hat, and as she did she saw a fair-faced man dancing along the dune towards her, setting the grasses asway and aflutter around him.
“My hat, my hat, my dear sweet princess you have finally found my hat!” He spun her around and kissed her cheek his breath was warm and sweet. “No need to tell me your wish for I have seen you wandering the world and heard you asking about a certain Great Black Raven.”
“Take my hand, take my hand for I was always one with a soft heart for lovers,” and with that he swept her up onto his back.
Away he flew. The tumultuous waves that sped beneath them tickled her tired toes and the sea spray kissed her chapped lips. Before long she stood on another shore with a long line of steps stretching up a rocky crag before her and the west wind’s wishes for good luck still whispering in her ears.
To be continued in The Raven’s Bride Pt. 3