Raven, by NH53
Raven, by NH53, Flickr CC

I like spooky stories, and some of the best are medieval or even earlier in origin. I wrote this is in a similar style.

Once, in a village not far from here, there lived a man named Thomas. He was ugly and bad tempered, and was covered in thick black hair and he had a nose that was pointed like a beak. Some people called him the Raven, but not to his face; and because of his looks and his unpleasant character he remained without a wife.

Close to where Thomas lived was a town in which lived a beautiful woman by the name of Matilda. She was the daughter of a mean and envious innkeeper who had cheated many people. He and his daughter were widely disliked and distrusted, for they were both of a kind. For this reason she had remained without a husband.

Now it chanced that Thomas needed to go to the town on some business, and while he was there he happened to see Matilda walking in the street. Entranced by her beauty he approached her, but she was so appalled by his appearance that she took fright and ran away. And though this might have deterred many a man, Thomas was of such a stubborn nature that he vowed she would be the woman he would marry.

So he made enquiries and found out where Matilda lived and what her fortune was, and having satisfied himself he knocked at the door of the inn. The innkeeper let him in and having heard why he had come promptly summoned his daughter. But once again she took flight as soon as she saw him.

Far from being put off by this show of reluctance Thomas was pleased to find someone as stubborn and passionate as he, and he vowed to the old man he would do whatever he could to make her marry him. Her father called out again to his daughter, demanding she return and look well upon her suitor, but she replied with a malicious laugh that: “If he would have my hand, let him cut off his own and send it to me. Then I will consider him.”

This would have deterred many a man, but instead Thomas was stirred by the prospect of a challenge, and returned to his home to consider how he should have her as his bride. But as the night drew on and he sat brooding by the fire he could think of no plan to suit him, and he fell into a dark and dreary sleep.

Soon, however, he was woken by the sound of something tapping at the window. Not sure if he was asleep or awake he got up and opened it, at which point a great black raven stepped inside. The bird had dark eyes and a long sharp beak, and it spoke in a deep throaty voice:

“Thomas,” it said, “you know that all women are fickle and that any man who obeys one is surely a fool. But you can beat her at her own game. You should go to the churchyard in the town and there you will find a man who has recently been buried. Dig down and open the shroud and with your knife cut off his hand, and present it to her instead. See how she likes that.’ And with that the raven flew out of the window.

Now, when a raven calls upon you and tells you to do something it is hard to refuse. And in any case the bird’s advice appealed to his sense of justice. So Thomas went at once to the churchyard and there he found the newly dug grave of a man. He dug down through the soft earth and tore open the shroud, and he cut off the hand of the dead man and placed it in a bag he had brought with him and hurried out of the churchyard.

The next morning he presented himself at the inn and commanded Matilda’s father to summon his daughter again. The man did as he was asked, but when she arrived and Thomas offered her the severed hand she screamed in fright and said that she could never marry a man who had done so foul a deed.

Just then they heard a great hue and cry coming in from the street, and when they looked out they saw a large crowd outside the door.

“Come out!” they shouted, “For we know what you have done, and we are here as proclaimed by law to bring you to justice!” And they banged against the door with their sticks and shouted many curses.

Now Thomas might have been a fool in love but he could see the danger he was in. He immediately dropped the hand that would convict him and fled to the church, where he took sanctuary. No sooner had he gone than the mob broke down the door of the inn and finding the hand on the floor, seized Matilda and her father and took them to the town jail, there to await the arrival of the sheriff.

Now the crowd knew they could not arrest a man once he had sought sanctuary on holy ground, but they were so incensed at the sacrilege committed on one of their kind that they declared that as Matilda and her father were clearly involved and were known to be mean and despicable people they should dispense with a trial and make them pay the penalty forthwith. And so they dragged them both out and hanged them there and then beside the crossroads just outside the town.

Soon after, Thomas confessed that if the raven had not advised him to commit his sin, no harm would have come to anyone. At which point someone said he had seen a raven feeding upon the eyes of the innkeeper and his daughter as they swung to and fro upon the gallows in the wind. Thomas pleaded that they seize the bird and kill it and throw its body on a fire.

This was done. But the next morning, when the priest came to open the church he found Thomas dead before the altar, and a raven frantically pecking at the church window, as if begging to be let in.

 

 

 

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