Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for intermediate learners. The name of the story is The Raven’s Heart. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Raven. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Raven. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
Today’s story is the longest story we’ve ever had on the podcast, but I didn’t want to split it into two chapters. So I’m going to keep my conversation really short!
Mainly, I just want to give a warning: today’s story has domestic abuse in it. Domestic abuse is when someone is cruel physically or emotionally to another family member. For example, a parent might shout at their children, or a husband might hit his wife.
Obviously, this is a very serious topic, and it is difficult for many people, so please do be careful when listening to this episode. There is not lots of domestic abuse on the page, meaning, you won’t see a lot of it directly, but a lot of it is implied. This means that characters mention it, and you can understand the situation through what they have and haven’t said.
That being said, I’m really happy with how this story turned out! It’s one of my favourite romance stories that I’ve written, so I hope you enjoy. It’s based on the Grimm brothers’ fairy tale Donkey Cabbages, but I changed so much that it’s basically a different story, to be honest.
OK, I’ll just explain some words that are in today’s story.
A raven is a black bird with a big black beak—a big black nose. Ravens are very intelligent. For example, they can tell each other about where to find food, and can learn to talk. Ravens are very important in myths and legends from northern Europe. People often think ravens are linked to death. Ravens open their beaks to make a loud sound, [caws], which we call a caw. The caw of a raven is usually a sign of death or danger in a film, for example.
A huntress is a female hunter, a person who hunts, someone who chases and kills animals. In the past, huntresses rode on horses and used bows and arrows to kill animals.
A cloak is a long piece of clothing. It is basically a coat that covers the whole body and has a hood, a bit which goes over the head. Cloaks are not very popular nowadays, but they were very popular in the past for travelling and keeping warm. You mainly see them in fantasy stories now.
A bolt of lightning is a long, thin piece of lightning that flies from the sky when lightning strikes. It is usually accompanied by thunder. A bolt is a kind of arrow, and generally, we can talk about a bolt of fear, a bolt of excitement and so on.
A witch is an evil woman who does magic. Witches go [cackle]. They have black cats as pets, they have big black hats and they fly on broomsticks. In Harry Potter, Hermione is a very successful witch. The musical Wicked, which is one of my favourite musicals, is about witches.
When someone is true to their word, they do what they said they would do. For example, if your boss promises to give you a promotion after Christmas, and he does, then he was true to his word. True to my word, I try to provide easy stories in English every week!
When you put a plan into practice, you have made a plan and now you are acting on it. For example, you might plan how to rob a bank: your friend will run in with a gun, and you’ll shout, ‘Everyone on the floor!’ and then take all the money. If you actually do those things, you are putting your plan into practice. Though, personally, I don’t recommend this plan!
Vomit means to throw up, to push food out of your stomach and mouth onto the ground. When you are very sick with the flu, you might vomit a lot. Or if you drink too much alcohol, you will vomit.
Splatter means to splash a thick liquid all over something. When something splatters, the liquid usually breaks into lots of little parts and dries onto the thing it splattered onto. For example, if you drive your car through mud, the mud will splatter all over the car, in lots of little bits. Blood is something that can also splatter, for example if someone is stabbed with a knife.
When you hold someone hostage, you take them into your control so that you can make someone else do something for you. For example, bank robbers often hold hostages to make the bank workers and police do what they say. They hold guns to people’s heads and say that if the bank workers do not give them money, they will kill the hostages. We also use this when talking about love. For example, if someone holds your heart hostage, it means they have full control over your feelings.
If you enjoy the podcast and want more, you can support me on Patreon. For just $2 a month you can get exercises with each episode, and for $5, you get an extra story every month, as well as Elevenses with Ariel, a daily conversational podcast for intermediate learners. Last week I talked about how to look after your eyes during lockdown, my fashion journey, discrimination against disabled people during COVID-19 in the UK, pets and siblings. You can support the show and get all the extra content at Patreon.com/EasyStoriesInEnglish. That’s Patreon.com/EasyStoriesInEnglish.
A big thank-you to my new patrons: Marta, Cristina Manenti, Annalisa Corò and Nicolas san marco. Thank you so much. Your support really means a lot to me.
OK, so listen and enjoy!
The Raven’s Heart
Once upon a time, there was a brave huntress called Zelda. She lived alone in the woods, and no men bothered her, because she was stronger than all of them. She had short hair, because long hair would get in her eyes, and she wore boots as heavy as mountains.
One day, Zelda was walking through the woods. In the distance, she saw an old woman walking along. She had an old, worn cloak, and she looked like she was lost. Zelda decided to help her.
‘Good day, kind lady!’ said Zelda. She knew to always be friendly to strangers, even if they were not friendly to her. ‘You look like you could use some help.’
The old woman turned around and hissed. ‘I require the help of no man! In fact, I can’t even bear to look at one! Take this!’
The old woman threw up her hand and a bolt of lightning shot out. Zelda jumped to the side, and the lightning hit a mushroom, which turned green and started making ribbit ribbit noises.
‘Woah!’ said Zelda. ‘Good thing I’m quick. Do you do that to every man you meet? I should mention, I’m a woman.’
‘Oh!’ said the witch, looking very embarrassed. ‘Please forgive me. You do…’
‘…look like a man? I know. I have no time for thin arms and long dresses, I’m afraid. I’m a huntress.’
The witch came up to Zelda and held her arm. ‘Wow, look at the muscles on you! You’re going to make some girl very happy, you know. I am sorry for what I did. You must not think that all witches are bad. I’ve simply grown tired of men bothering me in the woods, when I’m trying to collect mushrooms and plants for my magic. Let me do something for you in return.’
She turned around and pointed into the trees.
‘Walk one mile in that direction, and never turn left or right. You will come to a place where seven ravens sit in the trees, holding an old cloak between them. Shoot the cloak, and your bullet will strike one of the ravens. Take the raven’s heart and swallow it whole. The cloak will be yours—and it is no ordinary cloak! It is a wishing cloak, and you will only need to put it on and think of a place to travel there instantly.’
‘But be careful! The cloak will only work seven times. So make sure that you do not travel to some monster’s home and cannot escape.’
‘And who put this cloak there? I can think of better ways to protect it than some ravens.’
‘Hah! It’s magic. Magic never makes sense. Oh, and one more thing. If you swallow the raven’s heart and your own heart is evil, then you will pass every night with nightmares, and the cloak will bring you to hell and nowhere else.’
‘And how do I know if I’m pure of heart?’
The witch stroked her chin. ‘Hmm… have you ever kicked a puppy?’
‘Of course not!’ said Zelda, shocked at the idea. ‘Who would do such a thing?’
‘There you go. You’ll be fine. Now, I better go before it gets dark. I have a powerful love drink to make, you know. I’m going to make all the girls in town go wild over me.’
So Zelda wished her a good day and headed in the direction of the ravens. She was a little scared of the whole thing, and raven heart had to taste disgusting, but her curiosity had always been greater than her common sense.
And true to the witch’s word, she found the seven ravens holding the old cloak.
‘Sorry, old bird,’ she said, as she aimed her gun and fired.
Even though she aimed right at the cloak, the bullet flew and struck one of the birds, knocking it to the ground. The others cawed nastily and flew away.
Zelda approached the raven and gulped. She was aware that this whole thing could be a trick from the old woman, but if she wanted to do so, she could have simply used magic on her.
So in the end, she did as the witch had said and took out the raven’s heart, swallowing it whole. Then she put on the cloak and held her breath.
But as much as she tried, she couldn’t think of a single place she wanted to travel to, apart from home. And her home was close enough to reach on foot.
‘I’m sure I’ll think of somewhere soon enough.’
Over the next few days, Zelda continued her regular hunting, as she tried to think of somewhere to go with the cloak.
But she knew so little of the world outside her forest.
‘If I am to travel somewhere interesting, I must discover it first,’ she said.
So she headed out into the world. She travelled all around, until finally she came to a castle.
In the castle there lived an old witch with a daughter called Morgana. Unlike the witch who had told Zelda about the wishing cloak, this witch was cruel and nasty.
‘Morgana!’ cried the witch.
‘I told you to call me Morg, Mother,’ said the girl. She was miserable here, in this old castle, with no friends or brothers to keep her company.
‘Quiet, girl. Look out there, in the distance.’
Morg put her head through the window and saw Zelda approaching. To Morg, she had never seen a more beautiful… man? She wasn’t sure if it was a man, a woman or a magical creature, but whatever they were, they were perfect.
Morg’s heart froze as she realised that her mother certainly had evil plans with this traveller.
‘That cloak is no ordinary cloak. It is a wishing cloak, a powerful item of magic. I do not know how such a common-looking man got one, but I must have it.’
‘And how will you do that, Mother?’ said Morg quietly.
‘I won’t,’ said the witch. ‘You will!’
She waved a hand at Morgana, and the girl transformed. Her hair grew long and thick, and shone in the light. Her arms grew thin and weak. Her skin grew soft and bright. Her old clothes turned into a beautiful dress.
The girl stared at her body as if she’d just been turned into a frog.
‘Hello, is anyone there?’
Zelda banged on the door and waited for an answer. She thought she had seen someone looking out the window, a girl with beautiful soft black eyes, like good leather.
‘Oh, a visitor!’ cried an old voice. ‘Do come inside.’
The door opened to reveal a short old lady, smiling widely, and a beautiful young girl. The old woman looked at Zelda’s face with confusion, before hiding it behind a smile. Likely, she was wondering whether Zelda was a man or not.
The young girl—who looked more beautiful by the second—was staring shyly at the floor.
‘You don’t have a room for a tired traveller, do you?’ said Zelda. ‘I can hunt for you.’
‘Of course we do!’ said the old woman. ‘What is your name, dear?’
‘I am Zelda.’
The old woman looked disappointed at the female name. She had probably been hoping for a husband for her daughter.
‘Show Zelda to her room, Morgana, and make sure she is comfortable.’
Morgana nodded, looking briefly up at Zelda, before practically running away.
Zelda caught up with her.
‘You don’t have to be afraid of me, Morgana,’ said Zelda. ‘I’m secretly quite soft.’
Morgana smiled. ‘Please, call me Morg. And it’s not that. It’s just… This castle is dangerous. It’s filled with old magic. I don’t know if it’s a safe place for you to stay.’
‘I can handle a bit of magic. A few months ago, a witch tried to turn me into a frog, and I got out of that situation quite nicely, although I had to eat a raven’s—well, let’s just say it went well.’
Morg raised an eyebrow. ‘Then perhaps you do belong here.’
Zelda laughed dryly. ‘I’m not sure I belong anywhere, though this place has a certain… beauty to it that I find very attractive.’
Morg blushed and pushed open a door. ‘Here is your room. Don’t worry if it’s a bit cold now. The fires light themselves at night. Old magic.’
‘And who put it there?’ said Zelda, leaning against the doorframe and showing off her muscles.
‘It was there when we arrived,’ said Morg, staring at Zelda’s arms. ‘As much as I’d like to stay here and talk to you all day, I should give you time to unpack.’
And the girl ran away before Zelda could say another word.
Over the next few days, the huntress spent almost all her time with Morg. Beneath the girl’s magnificent appearance, there was a warm heart. And although she had looked quite delicate at first, Morg had no trouble helping Zelda with her hunting, even cutting apart animals herself from time to time.
Zelda was surprised. She hadn’t met girls like that before, girls like her. She liked it.
‘How do you eat normally? I mean, when I’m not here,’ said Zelda. ‘I know you have a vegetable garden, but still…’
‘We don’t eat much,’ said Morg, avoiding Zelda’s eyes.
It was strange. The old woman didn’t seem to do much all day apart from sit around, read books and make soup, like an old granny, and Morg was very happy to spend all her time with the huntress. Just how did they live normally?
Zelda kept asking, but eventually gave up as Morg refused to answer her questions directly. Besides, she was much more interested in getting to know the girl, getting closer to her. She found she could tell her all kinds of things, things she had never admitted to anyone.
‘Come to my room tonight?’ said Morg one time. ‘We will drink and make ourselves comfortable.’
Now it was Zelda’s turn to blush. And yet, why did Morg look so serious all of a sudden?
The truth was, Morg was terrified. Tonight was the night when she would put her mother’s plan into practice. For weeks she had been trying to hide the truth from her, but the old witch had found out about the conversation where Zelda had mentioned a raven, and quickly found a passage about raven hearts in one of her old books of magic. Now that she knew how to take control of the wishing cloak, there was no stopping her.
Morg had often tried fight back against her mother growing up, but it had never ended well. Even though Morg was strong, she had no magic, and her mother had hurt her in ways she could never undo. And if Morg went too far, the witch wouldn’t hesitate to kill her, or worse.
So Morg had no choice but to betray Zelda, a woman who she felt strongly for. She reminded herself that Zelda did not know the real her, her true body that was hidden under the witch’s magic. Would she love her if she did?
Over the past few weeks, Zelda had made comments about Morg’s beauty, and each one felt like a knife to the heart. No, Zelda could not love a girl like her.
That night, Morg and Zelda sat on her bed and drank beer, but only Zelda’s had any alcohol in it. Slowly, the great big huntress got more and more drunk, until she was practically shouting and laughing at any small joke that Morg made.
‘I think I should stop,’ said Zelda, when she almost broke a table while making a joke.
‘Just one more,’ said Morg, smiling falsely.
She went and brought Zelda another drink, but this one was different. It was mixed with magic, and it would have a much stronger effect.
And indeed, as soon as Zelda took a drink from it, her face turned purple.
‘Oh God, I’m gonna, I’m gonna…’
Morg quickly pulled a bucket from under the bed which Zelda threw up into. She vomited and vomited, and a nasty smell filled the room. Morg felt sick and guilty, and wished she could stop it. It sounded like Zelda was going to vomit her lungs out.
She felt a sudden bolt of regret. Why had she followed her mother’s plan? She had taken her abuse before and survived, hadn’t she?
Finally, after several horrible minutes of coughing, a small, red thing—the raven’s heart—fell out of Zelda’s mouth and into the bucket, and the huntress stopped vomiting.
Morg quickly hid the heart in her dress and said, ‘Let me get you some water, you poor thing.’
She stepped out of the room. Her mother was waiting nearby, for her to give her the heart. But Morg had a sudden idea.
She took a deep breath and swallowed the heart herself.
‘You stupid girl!’ hissed the witch, running at her from around the corner. ‘I was supposed to swallow the heart. Now the wishing cloak belongs to you!’
‘And so it should. It is for one of pure heart, isn’t it? I will leave here with Zelda, and you can do nothing to stop me.’
For a moment, the witch looked panicked. Zelda didn’t know why she needed the cloak, but clearly it was a matter of life or death for her.
But then a nasty smile passed over her face.
‘You love the woman… But if you leave me, she will die. Each night, I have placed one of my hairs into her food, and now her body is connected to mine by magic. The moment you betray me, I can kill her.’
Tears fell from Morg’s eyes. ‘Please, Mother. Anything but that! Hit me, use magic on me, but don’t touch Zelda!’
‘Pah!’ the witch spat. ‘I wouldn’t lay a finger on you, not while your handsome huntress is around. No, you will do as I say, and I will let her live.’
‘I’ll do anything. Tell me.’
And the witch did.
The next day, Zelda woke up in Morg’s bed with an awful headache. Morg was staring out of the window, looking as sad as a stormcloud.
‘What’s wrong, dear?’ said Zelda, going and putting an arm around her. ‘I hope I didn’t say anything nasty last night.’
‘No, it’s just that… I wish to get away from here.’
‘Where do you want to go? I can take you anywhere in the world.’ Zelda hesitated, and then said, ‘My cloak is magic. It really can take us anywhere. So do not be sad. Let us go somewhere beautiful.’
Morg stared into Zelda’s eyes, unable to hide her amazement at the woman. How could she give so much to her, when Morg was hiding so much of herself? Or was the beauty from her mother’s spell so powerful?
She bit her lip.
‘There is only one place I wish to go. It is a land not far from here, where all kinds of mysterious plants and flowers grow. I have heard all about their beauty, and nothing would make me happier than to see it.’
‘Your wish is my command,’ said Zelda, pulling the wishing cloak around the two of them.
She closed her eyes and thought hard about this strange land, and for a moment, nothing happened. Then Morg murmured, ‘Oh, right, I have to…’
And the next moment, Zelda opened her eyes and they were far away, in a land of strange plants and flowers.
Except this was not the place of beauty Zelda had imagined. The plants were red, purple and yellow, dangerous colours, and they smelled of poison and death. She held Morg tightly to her chest, worried something might jump out and try to attack the girl.
Morg sighed. ‘As much as I love your touch, we have no need to be afraid. I know where we are going.’
She moved out of Zelda’s arms and lead the way, running ahead. Zelda was surprised, but followed her.
‘Here,’ said Morg, holding up a plant she’d just picked out of the ground. ‘This is the reason I wished to come here. Legends say that this plant will bring endless happiness to those who eat it.’
Zelda laughed. ‘Morg, this is all very strange. Do you really believe—’
But before she could finish, Morg had jumped forward and kissed her.
Zelda was shocked. Despite the girl’s soft appearance, her body felt firm and strong beneath her, and her lips tasted of excitement and danger. Of the hunt.
‘Please, Zelda,’ said Morg, tears in her eyes. ‘Do it for me.’
And there was no way that Zelda could say no to that.
She ate the plant and fell to the ground.
Morg watched as Zelda fell into her trap for the second time. It was too easy to trick the huntress into eating the sleeping plant, because she would do anything for Morg. She had realised that last night, but it was still hard to believe it, even as the great woman lay asleep like a baby on the ground before her.
But there was one thing that Zelda could never do. Morg had felt her confusion, as they had shared the kiss. The magic could change Morg’s appearance, but it could not change the way her body felt. Zelda had felt her heavy arms, her sharp bones and rough skin, and she had moved away in surprise.
No. Zelda could never love the true her.
‘Don’t come back,’ she whispered. ‘You won’t find who you’re looking for.’
And Morgana wrapped the cloak around herself and transported back to the castle.
When Zelda woke up, alone and surrounded by horrible plants, she didn’t know what to think. Everything made it look like Morg had betrayed her, but she couldn’t believe it. She didn’t want to believe it.
But it made sense. That last beer hadn’t been any ordinary drink, and she had felt something big leave her stomach, something that had been sitting there for a long time. Morg must have swallowed the raven’s heart, and now the wishing cloak belonged to her. What she said about the plant had surely been a lie to trick her.
‘So this whole time, it was just a game? All she wanted was the cloak.’
Zelda had never felt emptier before.
But the huntress was not one to sit around feeling sad. If she did not get up and start moving, she might not make it out of here alive.
So Zelda started walking. She had to avoid man-eating plants and spiders as big as her head, but she was brave and strong, and nothing could stop her.
Still, Morg’s betrayal ate at her, poisoning her mind with dark thoughts. She was ugly, nasty, an animal. Not the kind of hero that Morg needed to save her. She was probably only into men, and was able to pretend so well by imagining that Zelda was one.
But Zelda didn’t wish to love her like a man.
Another thing ate at Zelda—hunger—and after hours and hours of walking, with no end in sight, she stopped and decided she had to risk eating something.
Before her, she found two heads of cabbage. One was green, and the other was purple.
‘Well, this green cabbage is the closest thing to a normal-looking plant…’
She pulled off a leaf and ate it. It was quite delicious, so she took another, and then another.
And then, before she knew it, she had changed. Her huge, strong body had shrunk. Inky feathers had grown out of her arms. Her nose had become long and hard, and turned into a beak. When she opened her mouth, no words came out, but a loud caw.
She had turned into a raven!
For a few minutes, Zelda flew around, panic filling her. She felt lost and weak, and the flight of her new body felt both exciting and terrifying.
Was this how it felt to be inside another’s body? She had always been big and strong, and she hadn’t realised how awful it could feel to be small.
Finally, she landed by the purple cabbage. An idea came to her, and she hoped it would not lead to further damage.
She pulled off a leaf of the purple cabbage with her beak and ate it. And then her beak turned to lips, her wings to hands, and Zelda cried out in joy.
‘I’ll never complain about being hungry again!’
But these cabbages could come in useful, she decided. In fact, she had just the right idea for what to use them for…
Instead of walking back, which might take hours, or even days, she folded up some of the cabbage leaves, put them in a little bag and tied it around her neck. Then she ate a piece of the green cabbage.
She turned back into a raven, the bag of leaves still around her neck, and flew into the sky. Now she could see the whole land below her, and the castle in the far distance. It would not take long to reach it by flight, which was good, because Zelda hated the feeling of being inside the bird’s body.
Her heart shrank in her chest as she approached the place she had once considered a home. Had Morg really betrayed her? The girl had often avoided her questions, or looked into the distance with a sad expression. She was hiding something, that was for sure, but Zelda didn’t want to believe it was that.
Trying to push those thoughts aside, Zelda flew down to the kitchen window, where she heard Morg’s voice coming.
‘You lied to me! You told me you would help us be together!’
‘Hah!’ cried the old woman. ‘I promised no such thing.’
Her voice was nastier, crueller than ever before. Of course, thought Zelda. She was a witch. It was so obvious now.
‘I promised you I would not kill her, and I have stayed true to my word.’
‘But she’ll die out there if we do not help her!’
Zelda moved carefully, so that she could see inside the kitchen but they would not notice her. Morg looked desperate, her hair a mess, her face red. She wished she could step in and hold her.
‘That is none of my concern,’ said the witch, pulling the wishing cloak tightly around her. ‘You should be thanking me. Real women do not rely on others for help. They look after themselves. Tonight, I will make you cough up the raven’s heart, and tomorrow I will leave on my journey.’
‘And where are you going, Mother? To make more people’s lives miserable?’
The witch slapped Morg, and Zelda’s chest exploded with anger. She had to force herself not to fly in and peck out the woman’s eyes.
‘Watch your tongue, child! I’m going to see your father, if you must know. Ever since he left me, he has hidden in some magical land which I cannot reach. Finally, I will have my revenge.’
Morg held her hand to her cheek, her eyes fixed on the floor. They briefly jumped up to the witch, and she looked like might kill her.
‘What did he do to you?’ she asked quietly. ‘To make it worth all this?’
‘He left me with a useless, magicless child.’
The witch’s words hurt harder than any slap could. Zelda dug her claws into the wall of the castle.
‘Now stop complaining. Once I leave, you will be free to do whatever you want. You can go and find your hero huntress, if you wish.’
Morg looked shocked. ‘You’re going to let me go?’
‘I have no use for you anymore,’ said the witch, waving a hand. ‘Aren’t you happy?’
Morg lowered her head. ‘Will you remove the magic from me?’
‘Hmm? Oh yes, I can do it right—’
‘Don’t,’ Morg said coolly. ‘I’ll stay as I am.’
Zelda didn’t understand. What magic was she talking about?
‘I see you’ve finally learned your place. But the magic won’t last forever, you know, and any other magic will get rid of it. Oh, why am I explaining the fine points to you? You were always too stupid to understand. Go and do whatever it is you do while I cook dinner. This shall be our last supper.’
Morg looked as if she wanted to shout at the witch, but just nodded and left the room.
The witch pulled out a big pot and started cooking soup. Zelda waited until she wasn’t looking, and then dropped the raven cabbage into the pot. She flew outside and waited.
When they sat down to eat, Zelda flew through the window and stole Morg’s spoon out of her hand.
‘Hey!’ said the girl. ‘That big fat raven just stole my spoon!’
The witch just laughed and took a spoonful of her own soup.
And then she wasn’t laughing. She was cawing.
‘What’s going on?!’ cried Morg, jumping to her feet.
Zelda tried to pull the purple cabbage out of her bag, but the witch quickly realised what had happened. She flew in and stole the cabbage from Zelda’s mouth, and a fierce battle began. Both ravens flew around the room, dropping feathers everywhere, fighting over the cabbage.
Morg stood and watched, unsure what to do. The raven who had flown in looked familiar… it couldn’t be, could it? Her heart sank as she wondered how angry Zelda would be at her.
But before she could answer that question, the huntress stabbed the witch in the eye with her beak, freeing the purple cabbage from her grip. As Zelda ate it and transformed back into a human, the witch fell into Morg’s bowl of soup. It splattered all over the girl, landing in her mouth, which was open with shock.
And then there were two ravens, and one very angry-looking Zelda.
‘Get out, you old witch!’ she cried. ‘And never come back!’
She pulled out her gun, and the witch raven flew through the window, cawing madly, dropping soup as she went.
Morg sat on the table, shivering in confusion, staring up at the great huntress before her.
This was it, wasn’t it? Zelda had turned her into a raven, and would kill her for what she’d done.
But she wouldn’t face her death in fear. She flew and bit Zelda on the ear.
‘Hey, what are you doing, Morg?!’ she cried. ‘I saved you! Don’t worry, I have another piece of cabbage.’
Morg landed on the table and turned her head to the side suspiciously.
Zelda carefully lent down and smiled.
‘I heard your conversation before. She was using you, wasn’t she? Don’t worry, I don’t blame you. People will do all kinds of crazy things for magic. Here.’
She pulled out the second leaf of purple cabbage and dropped it on the table.
‘If you eat this, it will return you to your true form. I think it will even remove the witch’s magic. Whatever she… did to you.’
But Morg didn’t eat it. She just stared at it, looking sad.
Zelda thought she just needed time. So she got to cleaning up the room. The witch had left the wishing cloak on the floor when she’d transformed, and Zelda hid it away in a chest locked deep below the castle. It wouldn’t work for her anymore, of course, only Morg. Then she returned to the kitchen, and found the raven was still there.
‘You know, you’ll want to eat it before it gets cold.’
Morg just cawed, and flew to Zelda’s shoulder, making herself comfortable.
Days and weeks passed. Zelda became the queen of the castle, with nobody else there to challenge her. She spent her days hunting and reading, as she had before. At first, she pushed the purple cabbage at Morg at every opportunity. But each time, the girl rejected it, and finally Zelda gave up.
Still, Morg sat on Zelda’s shoulder wherever she went. They ate together, hunted together, and at night, Morg sat on the pillow beside Zelda.
For seven months this continued, and Zelda told Morg the story of her life. How she was born to a single mother, abandoned by a drunken father. How she had fought every day with the boys in her village, coming home with bruises and a bloody nose. How no man had ever made her heat beat quickly. Not that it mattered. Who would want to be with an animal like her?
‘But I think animals are quite nice, really,’ said Zelda, stroking Morg’s feathers. ‘I swallowed a raven’s heart to come here, and now another raven is holding mine hostage.’
She sighed, and placed the purple cabbage on the bedside table, as she did every night. Then she lay down beside Morg.
‘But you’re not an animal, Morg. You’re a beautiful, brave, strong girl. And I need you. I didn’t think I needed anyone until I met you.’
She held her breath, hoping that this time, this time, would be the time Morg took the cabbage, turned back into a human.
But the raven just responded with a caw.
Sometimes, Zelda wondered if the girl she’d known was gone. Perhaps Zelda had spent seven months talking to a raven who couldn’t understand human language. Or maybe Morg truly didn’t love her, and Zelda had been a fool.
The next morning, Zelda rolled over and opened her eyes. But the space next to her was empty.
She sat up, and saw an unknown woman staring out of the window.
This woman was not like Morgana. Her hair was short, her shoulders were wide, and her arms were heavy. But then the woman turned around, and it was Morg. Zelda recognised the pointed bones of her cheeks, the firm way she held herself, and the soft, sweet black leather of her eyes.
The rest of the girl’s face was harder to recognise. It was covered in deep scars, like a well-walked path, and her nose was bent to the side, where it had clearly been broken. On her forehead, there was a great purple area.
‘Well, Zelda,’ she said, spreading her arms wide. ‘Here I am. I hope you have not wasted seven months waiting for your beautiful princess.’
Zelda ran forward and lifted her into her arms. Morg gasped. Zelda ran her hands up and down her cheeks, drowning in those soft leather eyes.
‘And what if she’s standing right here in front of me?’
Morg bit her lip. ‘I lied to you, I betrayed you, and I hid myself from you. Why would you want that?’
‘Because you have swallowed my heart, and I am yours.’
Morg’s eyes filled with tears.
‘For years, my mother abused me. I was nothing, a useless girl without magic. I was not beautiful enough to win a rich husband, and I could not sew or dance like other girls. All I wished was to fight and hunt, to be strong like you. My mother told me, “If you so wish to be a man, let me make you ugly like one.” ’
‘But you are strong,’ whispered Zelda, ‘and your beauty shines through. I was never in love with Morgana, only Morg. The strong, brave girl who won my heart.’
Zelda kissed Morg, and the pain, the pain that the girl had been holding since the first day the huntress walked into the castle, melted from her body.
The brave huntress lifted Morg, carrying her prize to bed, from which they did not leave for the rest of the day.
The next morning, Morg woke her lover with a kiss, and a whisper in her ear.
‘We can go wherever we want. We have the wishing cloak. It still belongs to me.’
Zelda smiled and ran a hand through her hair. It was so much nicer short, like a field of wheat dancing against her fingertips. She brushed her hand down Morg’s face, felt her scars, tough like familiar leather. Finally, she laid her hand to rest on Morg’s strong shoulder.
‘My love, we do not need magic anymore. We have more than enough between us. Let us get on a horse and ride away, and find our own wishes.’
And so they did, and they lived happily ever after.
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Wow, my own story made me cry!