The Raven’s Bride is a retelling of Howard Pyle’s “Princess Golden-Hair and the Great Black Raven” which appeared in his book The Wonder Clock published in 1887.
If you have ever read the original, you will find many of the elements changed in my telling of it; although I don’t think I would go so far as to call it a reimagining. Whether you are a fan of the original or have never heard of it before in your life, I hope you will enjoy my telling of The Raven’s Bride.
Just a quick reminder, all these tales are unedited, so there will be typos and grammatical errors, and all artwork is still conceptual or in progress. Still, I hope you have as much fun reading them as I had writing them!
The Raven’s Bride
Part 1 of 3
There was once a great king who had three daughters. All were beautiful but it was his second daughter, Aurelina, who was often called Princess Golden-hair for her hair was as bright and shining as spun gold.
It happened one day, that the king was out hunting in a great wood when, through no fault of his own, he was separated from his huntsmen. On and on he rode, becoming less sure of his way as the trees crowded closer and closer together. Soon the branches above him were thick enough to block out the sky and the wood around him as dark as night.
As he came around a bend he found a great black raven on the path before him. It stood nearly as tall as the king’s horse, and its feathers were as black as soot. The eyes that regarded the king glowed like burning coals.
“Where are you headed, your majesty?” asked the Raven.
“I can not say,” the king replied, “for I am not sure where I am. In fact I am quite lost.”
“Ah, I can help you,” the Raven assured him. “I will lead you out of this wood, if you will consent to give your golden-haired daughter to me as my bride.”
Of course, the king refused.
“As you will,” said the Raven. “But I promise you will not find your way from this wood without me.”
Again, the king refused.
The Raven nodded. “Well good luck to you then, and if you change your mind you have only to call out to me and I will be there. But do not take too long or there will nothing left of you for me to lead out.” And with that, the Raven flew off.
The king wandered for three days, and the truth of the Raven’s words bore out, for no matter how far he went he could not find his way out of the dark wood. Hungry, thirsty, and fearing for his kingdom, the king relented, calling out to the Raven.
As promised, the Raven appeared.
“If my daughter were to become your bride, do you promise no harm will come to her? And that you will take care of her and treat her well?” the king asked. When the Raven assured him that it would be so, the king agreed to give the Raven his daughter as a bride. With that the Raven spread his great wings and bade the king follow as he took to the sky. The king followed and true to his word, the Raven lead him safely out of the forest.
“I will come for my bride tomorrow,” said the Raven flying back toward the wood.
When the morning came, the Raven was waiting outside the castle gates. But when the time came, the king found that he could not give up his daughter. So, he had the swineherd’s daughter dress in one of the princess’s dresses and sent her out in her stead. After all, the king reasoned with himself, a raven would not be able to tell the difference between a swineherd’s daughter and a princess.
The Raven flew away with the swineherd’s daughter on his back. On and on he flew, over flowering meadows and rolling hills and great wide rivers, until he finally brought her to a rude hut perched atop a bleak hill. There was not a soul to be seen for miles, only a great flock of birds of all different kinds wheeling above the hut’s meager roof.
There the Raven landed. “Here is our home,” he said and bade the girl go in and refresh herself.”
When she went inside, she found a wooden table. On it was a golden goblet of good red wine, a silver cup of cider and a earthenware jug full of bitter beer. Tired and concerned for her future, the swineherd’s daughter went straight for what she knew, picking up the earthenware jug of bitter beer she took a long drink. It was then that the Raven knew it wasn’t the princess who stood before him, what princess would be content with a jug of bitter beer when a golden goblet of good red wine was at hand?
“Come, I will return you to your home for you are not the bride I seek,” said the Raven and bade her climb on his back. Away he flew, back over the flowering meadows and rolling hills and great wide rivers until he was once again at the castle gates.
“King!” said the Raven in a great voice. “This is not the bride I seek, send out my true bride as we agreed or you and your people will suffer for it!”
The king felt a shiver of fear run down his back for he did not doubt what the Raven said.
“Come tomorrow and you will have your true bride,” said the king.
When the morning came, the Raven was once again waiting outside the castle gates. Still, the king could not bring himself give up his daughter. Instead, he had the steward’s daughter dress in one of the princess’s dresses and sent her out to meet the Raven. After all the king reasoned with himself, a steward’s daughter is fine enough of a raven.
So, the Raven took the steward’s daughter on his back, and away they flew, back to the isolated little hut on the bleak hilltop. Into the hut went the steward’s daughter, where she found the wooden table with its golden goblet of red wine, silver cup of cider and earthenware jug of bitter beer. Tired and concerned for her future, the steward’s daughter went straight for what she knew. Picking up the silver cup of cider, she took a long drink. It was then that the Raven knew it wasn’t the princess who stood before him. What princess would be content with cider when good red wine was at hand?
“Come,” said the Raven, “back we go again, for you are not the bride I seek.”
So, the Raven flew back to the castle carrying the steward’s daughter with him. When he landed, he called out in a great and terrible voice. All who heard it shivered with unreasoning fear, gooseflesh rising up along their skin as if someone had just walked over their grave.
“So king, this is how you would treat with me! You promise me one bride and send out another. I will come tomorrow for my true bride and if you do not send her out I will bring the castle down around your head and pick the eyes from your skull!” with that dire warning still ringing through the air the Raven flew away. But all who had heard him knew he would be back the next morning.
The king realized there was no way around his promise. When he went to his daughter, Aurelina, and told her of what he had promised she was quite understandably upset. The rest of the day and night she sat weeping in her chambers. Her sisters’ sat with her, comforting her as best they could. But truth be told, deep in their hearts each of them was relived that it was not herself who was to be the Raven’s bride.
The day dawned clear and bright. Princess Aurelina’s hair was like a rippling sheet of gold in the morning sun as she climbed onto the Raven’s back, her eyes still red rimmed from weeping the day before. The great Raven spread his wings and carried her up into the sky. Aurelina did not see all the land that they passed over, her eyes still filled with tears. When they reached the rude little hut with its flock of birds wheeling overhead, she was so tired from weeping that she did not wait, but slid down from the Raven’s back straight away and went into the tiny hut. Seeing the golden goblet of good red wine on the table, she went to it straight away and drank, without even a second thought as to how such a thing would come be in a crude little hut in the first place.
Wonder of wonders, as soon as she drank the little hut began to grow and change transforming into a great castle. Its walls were made of alabaster and its rooftops were of silver. The flock of birds that had been circling in the air above changed as well becoming courtiers and servants and men-at-arms. They all cheered as they gathered around the princess and the Raven. But the Raven was no longer there, in its stead stood a man, tall and fine, in an elegant coat. His hair was as black as the raven’s feathers. However unlike the raven, his eyes did not glow like burning coals, but instead were a warm, lovely hazel.
“You were the bride I sought,” he said taking her hands in his. “It was only when you drank from the golden goblet that my people and I were released from the evil spell placed on us by my stepmother. And now I can ask you properly, will you marry me?”
The princess agreed and so their courtship began. Aurelina could not have wished for more, for the Raven King was very thoughtful and kind to his bride-to-be. They spent many a happy day in each other’s company. But as the time for their wedding grew closer, Aurelina found that she missed her father and sisters, and she told as much to the Raven King, sharing with him her dream to visit them.
“Only misfortune will come from such a visit,” he warned, clearly unhappy. “But I would see you happy, so if you are set on this course, I can not deny you.”
So the princess made ready for her trip. Before she left, her husband-to-be gifted her with a napkin made of the finest linen.
“If there is anything you want, anything at all, spread this napkin out on the ground and wish for it; straight away it shall appear. There is only one thing you must not wish for,” he cautioned. “Do not wish for me to appear. If you do, misfortune will come of it and there will be a price to pay.”
So Aurelina set off to her father’s house in an ebony coach pulled by four silver-gray horses. She was accompanied by a full retinue of courtiers and servants, all dressed in the fine livery of the Raven King’s house. They made a splendid sight, and it was not long before her father and sisters heard about the grand lady that traveled through their land. Weren’t they surprised when it turned out to be the princess they had thought lost to them.
Her father, the king, was so happy to see her! And to hear about the fine husband she was to have and the grand home they lived in. It gladden his heart to know that his daughter had come out the better for the bad deal that he had been forced to make. Her sisters, however, soon tired of hearing about how wonderfully kind, thoughtful, and handsome their sister’s husband-to-be was. And to be honest, Aurelina did go on a bit more than was polite, finding that she missed her betrothed terribly. But it was not truly her chatter that turned her sisters’ hearts against her. Rather it was that they were secretly envious of her happiness. Each feeling that she might have had this for herself if only the Raven Prince had asked for her instead of their sister, Aurelina.
“Yes, yes, such a wonderful husband you’ll have,” said her elder sister. “Almost too good to be believed.”
“True!” her younger sister agreed. “Why is he not with you, dear sister? It makes one wonder.”
And so they went on, their words subtle and spiteful. After several days of this, it became too much Aurelina to bare. So, even though he had warned her against it, she laid the napkin on the ground and wished for the Raven King to appear.
No sooner had she wished it, but there he stood. And her sisters had nothing to say then, because he was all that they had been told and more. But he did not look at anyone else, only Aurelina and his face was both angry and sad.
“I told you there would be a price to pay if you called me to you and now we will both pay it. A geas is on me and I have no choice but to go and I cannot bring you with me. Though my heart might break from it. I doubt you will see me again,” that said he stooped to pick up the napkin on which he stood and was a raven once more. Spreading his great wings, he flew off.
At the same time, Aurelina’s fine ebony coach vanished, and all of her retinue changed into birds once more. They flew off as well, following their master. But, Aurelina paid no attention to that save to note what direction they flew off in. Without a word to her sisters, she tucked up her skirts and headed off the way she had seen her beloved go, determined to find him despite his dire prediction.
To be continued in The Raven’s Bride Pt. 2