Up the steps she climbed and her feet were as light as air because her journey was almost at an end. As she went she wondered if her sweetheart was okay, would he be surprised that she found him despite his dire prediction? Would he be as overjoyed to see her as she would be to see him? But that was the question, was it not? Would he be happy to see her after she ignored his warning and betrayed his trust?
Her heart began to grow heavy with such thoughts, so that when she reached the top of the stairs, it was though her feet had turned to lead.
A grassy hill top rose up before her. On its crown was a lovely castle made of airy spires as delicate as spun glass. She by contrast was as grubby as a beggar-maid, with her shoes full of holes and her once fine dress worn down to threads. Aurelina could not bring herself to got to the front door, but instead went round to where the servants would be found.
Once there, she knocked on the door and asked if there was work to be had. The servant who answered the door did not recognize his former mistress. But he was kind enough, and was told that there was work to be had in the kitchen, if she was willing to work hard.
And so she did, scrubbing pots and carrying trays until her arms were sore. Sneaking glances of her raven-haired love whenever she could. Most often she saw him when cook would send her out into the kitchen garden to pick vegetables for that night’s dinner. Always the Raven King would come out onto his balcony to stare out across the sea.
One day the cook caught her at it.
“Well, Missy,” she said, “if you have time to be mooning about, you have time to help others out!” and sent her off to steward so she might help with the upstairs cleaning.
The steward looked disapprovingly at Aurelina’s tattered self but sent her off anyway to help sweep the chambers and make the beds. That was how she found herself in the Raven King’s bedchamber, staring at the rumpled bedsheets. Unable to help herself, she laid down, resting her head on his pillow. It was soft and warm, and brought to mind happier times when she and her sweetheart would talk and laugh in their castle of alabaster with its shining silver roofs. Truth be told, she would be happy to live in the crude little hut he had first brought her to, if only they were living in it together.
Yet she still could not bring herself to reveal who she was, fearing that she would learn he no longer loved her. That truth would hurt her far worse than the loneliness of being so close to him, and him not knowing. It felt as though she were further away from him now than ever she had been while on her journey.

* * * *

That night, when the Raven King went to lay down in his bed, he found a single hair, bright as spun gold gleaming across his pillow. It pierced his heart like an arrow, for he missed his Aurelina and often wondered where she was out in the wide world.
He carefully wrapped the golden strand around the third finger of his left hand and fell asleep to dream of the smiling face of his love.
This went on for far longer than it should, but that is be expected. People often are fools when the heart is involved. One season passed into the next and Aurelina would sneak in to lay her head on the king’s pillow and he would find golden hair every night and wrap it around his finger.

There did finally come a point where the Raven King decided there needed to be a resolution. So he went out as he usually did in the day, but snuck back in to hide in his closet. Shortly after, he saw one of the servants come in to clean. Her back was to him, she wore a tattered dress that may have once been fine and her hair was caught up beneath a large handkerchief. She lay down on his bed, much to his surprise, resting her head with a sigh on his pillow.
He waited for a moment, then crept out to look down on the sleeping woman’s face. Her cheeks had been darkened by the sun and made rough by the wind and the hand beneath her cheek was callused but that did not stop him from recognizing his own heart’s desire.
Gently he brushed his hand over her head, drawing with it the handkerchief. A river of golden hair spread out across his pillow and his bride, lost to him so long ago, opened her glorious eyes. Startled, she gasped and sat up.
“I truly did not think I would see you again in this life time,” he said and a soft smile was on his lips. “Why did you hide yourself among the servants? Why did you not show yourself to me?”
“I was not sure if you would be happy to see me,” she admitted. “I thought you may be mad at me for betraying your trust, and not heeding your warning.”
“I was mad, for a time,” he said. “But only because I was forced to leave you. I knew it was a risk to give you the napkin before we were wed but even so, I would have you happy no matter the cost to myself. Yet you found me, which could have been no small feat. How did you manage such a thing?”

So she told him of her travels and all that she had gone through to find him. He, in turn, finally told her of the curse that his stepmother, the dowager queen, had put him under so that he might never find a queen of his own, in order to force him as far away from his father’s kingdom as she could. The princess told him of how she watched him and laid her head on his pillow every morning after he was gone and he showed her the strands of hair that he had wrapped about his finger.
And in this telling all was made plain and what ever secrets or doubts there might have been between them where banished like ghosts. Finally the golden-haired princess and her raven king where reunited. The band of hair encircling the Raven King’s finger became a solid band of gold and a matching one graced Aurelina’s finger, so now they might never be parted again.

The End

I hope you enjoyed the Raven’s Bride!

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