A warm summer breeze entered the room as I thrust open the dusty wooden windows. Dawn had barely arrived, and yet I was already wide awake, ready to clean up every last bit of the household. If I were to stack up any more reagents in this dump, I was sure to drown. I was hoping everything would go smoothly, what with the helper I had lodging in my house. I entered the bedroom and ripped off the sheets from the bed. What had looked like a neat bundle of pillows underneath the blanket was actually a little girl with curly golden hair. She could have been five, judging solely by her looks. As the sheet exposed her, she stirred and greeted me with a hateful glare.
“Ye’ve quite some nerve, Matoya,” Isolde said to me through gritted teeth.
“Come now, sister, remember who’s in charge this time,” I said in a sing-song voice. “My house, my rules, at the very least til yer as big as me.”
Nevermore was sitting by the window above the bed. Silently watching the argument we were having, he shifted his gaze from me to Isolde, and back to me as we exchanged insults. Her voice was driving me insane with its piercing pitch, a quality possessed by most children’s voices, yet the sharpness of her words gave away her true age. Nevermore cawed and waved his wings once, which made us both put aside our bickering and get to some actual tidying up.
Once the sun was high above our cottage, we were already done with the cleaning. The interior now seemed much less gray after all that dusting. I began to prepare to leave for the market in the city. The summer always offered the most bountiful rewards for my products, and the available goods were also most desirable. A knock came on the door. Just in time. I opened it and saw Cillian, a big smile smile on his handsome bearded face. He was looking much better since the strix incident. Though the paleness of his skin turned out to not be an effect of the curse, his cheeks were significantly rosier than when I first met him. The hours he spent chopping wood shirtless in the sun gave his body a fine pink glow. He was almost a full member of our household now. Turned out the poor lad was on his way from the Northern lands which had been desolated by the Lord of Malady. As he had nowhere to go and chopping wood was something I could never bother to do myself, I let him stay as long as he made himself useful. And useful he was. He diligently chopped heaps of firewood every day, rewarding me with not only fuel for my fireplace in the evening, but also a nice view as he worked in daytime. So eager he was that he built his own shack right beside the cottage.
“Ah, Sillian! Right on time,” I knew well how his name was supposed to be pronounced. The wince he gave me every time I mispronounced it was too priceless to pass up.
“I got your firewood, ma’am,” he said as he entered the house. His bright blue eyes lost some of their sheen in the dimly lit room.
“What’s that? How many times do I have to tell ye not to call me that! Do I look that much older to you?”
“No, not at all,” he blushed ever so slightly, his skin tanned pink seemed so dark indoors that it almost matched his auburn hair.
“Look at ‘im,” Isolde uttered as she entered the room. “Such a burly man and he’s shy as a mouse.”
“I’m not,” Cillian muttered. “And I would appreciate it if you would say my name properly for once ma- I mean, Matoya.”
“I’ll think about it,” I said. “Now, I need you now because I’m leaving for the city to sell some goods. Last year was quite a mess, so I figured I’d be needing an escort.”
“Yer taking him?” the look Isolde gave Cillian was that of utter contempt, as if someone had just told her a swamp toad was going to be making her supper.
“No, I’m taking Nevermore.”
“What,” Isolde’s jaw dropped as she said it. “How will that be of any help?”
“And may I ask what my role in all this is?” Cillian muttered.
“Yes, yer staying with Isolde. I can’t take her, people will ask questions. What’s more, I don’t trust her. And I know Nevermore spoils her. Don’t let her touch the biscuits, hear?”
“Y-yes ma’am,” he sighed as Isolde pouted.
“Like Nevermore’ll be a good shield against crooks,” she said in a condescending tone. “Ye should take Gillian here.”
“Ye forget, sister, some fine details,” I said as I reached out to grab the crystal eye lying on the table. I called Nevermore and he landed on the floor in front of me, as if he knew what was about to happen. The ancient spell etched in the Tome of Clarity echoed across the cottage as I uttered them, light seeping slowly from the eye down on the large raven. He stretched his wings which became steadily more elongated. The black sheen of his feathers became uniform, more reminiscent of a glossy black fabric than bird down. As the light intensified, the form Nevermore took seemed more and more human-like. The crystal fell to the ground with a loud clunk. The man standing before me was tall, dark and slender. His pale face with sunken cheeks and dark, deeply set eyes was strikingly handsome, his tangled dark hair adding to the image of a brooding poet. He was dressed in an elegant ebony suit and coat, a cane in his hand, an equally raven top hat with a single decorative feather on his head. I’d already managed to forget what he looked like.
“By the gods,” Cillian whispered.
“Well, well. Nevermore, yer quite the dashing fellow, I must say,” Isolde giggled. Nevermore turned to her, smiled an enchanting smile and bowed. “Can he not speak?”
“Nay,” I said. “And it best stay that way. The best escort it a silent escort. Come, Nevermore. We’ve a whole day ahead of us.”