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The Ballad of Raven's Roost

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From Araxie Haldane’s Folk and Popular Ballads of Faerün, Volume 1.

48. Ravens Roost

Var. A

So high on the windy grey cliffside
And under the mountains’ tall crest
As evening falls over the country
The ravens roost safe in their nest.
          The ravens roost safe in their nest
          The ravens roost safe in their nest
          As evening falls over the country
          The ravens roost safe in their nest.

Yet under a false-hearted hunter
The ravens were sorely oppressed
He chased them with hounds and with arrows
And took what he would from their nest.
           And took what he would from their nest
           And took what he would from their nest
           He chased them with hounds and with arrows
           And took what he would from their nest

Then up spoke a canny young raven
“My friends, we must rise and protest
We must drive off this false-hearted hunter
Till the ravens roost safe in their nest.”
           The ravens roost safe in their nest.
           The ravens roost safe in their nest.
           We must drive off this false-hearted hunter
           Till the ravens roost safe in their nest. 

The ravens swooped down on the hunter
They plucked the gold chain from his breast
His hawks and his hounds were all scattered
So far from the ravens’ tall nest.
           So far from the ravens’ tall nest.
           So far from the ravens’ tall nest.
           His hawks and his hounds were all scattered
           So far from the ravens’ tall nest.

And now that the battle is over
So sweetly I’ll lay you to rest
And with the soft sky as your blanket
The ravens roost safe in their nest.
           The ravens roost safe in their nest.
           The ravens roost safe in their nest.
           And with the soft sky as their blanket
           The ravens roost safe in their nest. 

 

Magnus heard the song for the first time at the Dove’s Tail the night the rebellion ended. The bar wasn’t large enough for all the people crammed into it, but it had been the site of so much planning and so many clandestine meetings that now when it was finally time to celebrate no one would dare suggest they meet anywhere else. Dave Eyrie, the owner, had brought up a cask of his finest mead from the cellar and refused to let anyone there pay for their drinks, especially Magnus.

“No, no listen! Dave! I’ll make you something! D’you need a chair? ‘M really good at chairs!” Magnus called as the barkeeper passed out another round. Beside him, Julia tightened her arm around his neck and giggled into his shoulder.

“You’ve promised chairs to everyone we know!” she whispered, and pressed a kiss to his collarbone before she fell back to laughing.

“But they all deserve good chairs!” Magnus protested.

“Oh do they?”

Julia looked up at him, glowing in the golden light of the lanterns. He cradled her chin in one work-hardened hand. “Not ‘s good as the one I’m making you.”

“How romantic,” she said. She’d probably meant it to sound sarcastic but she couldn’t stop her face from splitting into a wide, soft grin. They’d been smiling all night, so much that Magnus’ face hurt.

The twang of a lute being tuned echoed across the bar, and Dave called for quiet by banging a tankard on one of the tables.

“All right!” he called. “Put your hands together for Lizzie Marshwater and the Ballad of Raven’s Roost!”

Applause erupted from around them. Magnus whooped and slapped the back of the bench with his free hand, and Julia clapped her hands together behind his back. As the song began she kissed him gently right at the corner of his mouth and then turned around and leaned back against him. Her hair, dark as the black bog-oak drying in his workshop, tickled the side of his face, and she smelled like the iron of the forge and the lavender sachets she kept in her dresser.

Magnus kissed the back of her head and listened to the Halfling bard sing.

*

The night was long. They sang other songs and recited other tales and ensured that Dave would need to restock his cellar in the coming weeks, and when Magnus finally announced that it was time for him to head home the company called for one more round and one more song, and Lizzie Marshwater sat on the bartop and sang about the rebellion, and the whole bar joined in on the chorus.

Steven stayed behind, leaving Magnus and Julia to walk home alone. He looked up at the stars, which were always bright and close in Raven’s Roost, and she hummed as they walked. It was an old tune, the one Lizzie had used, and Magnus knew more than one set of words to it already, but he knew that from that night on he would never be able to hear any words to it but these ones.

“And how’s my canny young raven?” Julia asked teasingly. The night air was cold but she was warm at his side.

“You’re the canny one,” said Magnus. “You did all the planning; I just talked to people.”

There was silence for a few paces. Then Julia said, “I suppose we can say that verse is about both of us.”

“Who are we telling?”

Julia skipped ahead and then spun around to face him. Everything had been so grim for so long that he laughed out loud at how carefree she was now, at how they could walk home at night without their hands on their weapons and their eyes on the shadows.

“Well,” said Julia, her eyes shining, “I think it would make a good lullaby.”

“A . . . good . . .”

Magnus caught her up in his arms, spinning her around as she laughed and pressed kisses into his neck and held him as tight as he was holding her. At last the dizziness was too much and he set her down, staring into her eyes as he waited for the world to stop spinning.

He fell asleep to Julia singing the ballad softly, wonderingly, as if she couldn’t believe that the war was really over, and gently running her fingers over the fresh scar on his face.

*

Magnus heard the song for the last time only four months later. It had become a staple of the bars in Raven’s Roost, and he even heard it several days out on his journey to Neverwinter. Lizzie, whose family lived in town but who was generally itinerant, returned to play for Magnus and Julia’s wedding, and the cheers of the townsfolk when she began the ballad were so loud that Magnus’ ears rang.

The black bog-oak rocking chair was half-finished when they were married. There was enough wood left over that he could have made another chair, something he could sell in Neverwinter to make up the cost of the work he’d lose from the journey. But instead he set it away in the back of the workshop. It was the only wood he’s ever worked with that was as dark and lustrous as Julia’s hair, so Julia was the only one who deserved what he made from it, no matter what anyone else offered.

“You’re sure you won’t sell it?” a well-dressed half-elf demanded at the Continental Craftsmen’s Showcase. “I’ll give you a hundred gold coins more than I offered yesterday!”

Magnus shook his head and patted the rocking chair. “No can do, friend!” he said. “This is going to be a family heirloom!” He said the same thing to everyone else who extended an offer, smiling so wide that by the end of the day his face ached. He hummed the Ballad of Raven’s Roost as he wrapped the chair back up and loaded it into his cart. It was getting late by the time he was packed up, but Magnus didn’t wait to spend another night in Neverwinter before heading for home. He rode until sunset the next day, singing out loud to keep himself awake.

*

He was at an inn in the town of Miller’s Cross, the last stop on his journey, when he spotted a familiar mop of sandy hair at the bar and a familiar lute beside it.

“Lizzie!” he bellowed, leaping up from the table where he had been discussing joinery techniques with the town’s resident woodworker. “Have these fine friends heard your ballad yet?”

She jumped at the sound of his voice. “Magnus!”

“That’s Master Carpenter Magnus to you!” he said, scooping the Halfling woman up in a crushing hug.

When he put her down, Lizzie’s face was white and stiff. Magnus patted her nervously on the shoulder. Sometimes he forgot that Julia was the only person he knew who liked to get hugs as tight as he liked to give them.

“You’re alive,” she whispered.

Magnus laughed. That was one of the things he would remember later. He laughed, flushed with mead and happiness and the knowledge that he was only a day’s ride from home.

“Of course I’m alive!”

“Magnus . . .” Lizzie whispered, and there was something in her face that made him pause, something about the way she kept staring at him but wouldn’t quite meet his eyes.

“Magnus,” she said again. “I am so, so sorry.”

*

You couldn’t make a grave marker for a whole city. But Magnus tried. He took wood from the fallen bridges and tools borrowed from the settlements nearby and carved out the names of every person who had died. Every craftsman and woman, every apprentice, every child too young to begin working away from home. No matter how hard Lizzie pressed him, he refused to sleep until he was finished.

Seventy-six people was too many for individual graves. The survivors had gathered their dead in a mound below the fallen pillar and raised the earth over them before they packed up their things and dispersed. Lizzie told him it had been a brief ceremony, no one sure what to say.

Magnus didn’t have any words when he raised the marker. He stood there, running his fingers over the inlaid design of roses and lavender that he’d carved around Julia’s name, the same motif as on the black bog-oak wedding ring they’d buried with her. Eventually the silence was broken as Lizzie took out her lute and slowly, through her tears, sang the Ballad of Raven’s Roost one final time.

From Araxie Haldane’s Folk and Popular Ballads of Faerün, Volume 1.

The earlier version is the most common. It was penned by an unknown bard in the city of Raven’s Roost and spread to the surrounding countryside. Most bards who perform the song now are unaware of its origins. Less well-known is Variation B, which dates to shortly after the city fell. It never gained the popularity of the original ballad, and nowadays is very seldom sung.

Var. B.

But hunters, my darling, are cowards
Of this I can easily attest
So under the cover of darkness
He toppled the ravens’ tall nest.
           He toppled the ravens’ tall nest.
           He toppled the ravens’ tall nest.
           So under the cover of darkness
           He toppled the ravens’ tall nest.

And now that the battle is over
So sweetly I’ll lay you to rest
And with the soft earth as your blanket
The ravens sleep safe in their nest.
           The ravens sleep safe in their nest.
           The ravens sleep safe in their nest.
           And with the soft earth as your blanket
           The ravens sleep safe in their nest.