She was born to die...again and again.
For Rhia was bound to the Spirit of Crow, gifted with the foresight of Death's approach and doomed to the isolation of one feared and set apart.
There must always be one whose magic can ease the passage of the people of Asermos to the Other Side. But to be the guide her people require, to truly know the depth of her gift--her curse--Rhia must surrender herself to the wisdom of the Great Forest...and drink deeply of Death itself. And though two powerful men stand ready to aid her, even to love her, the Aspect of Crow demands unthinkable sacrifices from one who walks its path.
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November 01, 2006
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Excerpt from Eyes of Crow by Jeri Smith-Ready
The dog would not die.
Surely he was ill, and had been a puppy before the dawn of Rhia's earliest memory, more than five winters ago. He lay before the fire with his thick gray head in her lap, staring dully into the flames. She stroked the wiry hair along his side. His flesh felt cold, and she could fit her fingers between the ridges his ribs made in his skin. Even his halting breath smelled stale, like a half-open grave.
All her senses told Rhia that Boreas would not see tomorrow's sun. And yet...
Her mother Mayra turned from the table and crossed the room, feet whispering over the wolfskin rug. Holding an earthen bowl and a pale green cloth, she knelt beside Rhia.
"This will take away his pain and help him on his journey home." She showed Rhia the bowl's contents--a tiny amount of liquid, no more than what the child could cup in her palm. It wasn't enough.
Mayra covered the bowl with the cloth and began to chant, low and soft, calling upon her Otter Guardian Spirit to augment the medicine. Rhia closed her eyes and tried to clear her mind of fear and grief. The Spirits worked best when those present stayed out of their way.
Through her eyelids Rhia saw a golden light flare, the color of the sun on an autumn afternoon. A swish of liquid and Mayra's whispered gratitude told her that Otter had hearkened to the plea for help. When the light faded, Rhia opened her eyes and locked her gaze onto the dog's. Two tears, then another, plopped onto his muzzle.
Mayra dipped the cloth in the half-full bowl to let it soak. They sat listening to the only two sounds in the room--the dog's labored puffing and the snapping of sparks in the stone fireplace.
Rhia heard the cloth drip into the bowl as her mother squeezed it. The drops must not be wasted, but enough medicine needed to reach the dog's throat to give him release. Even in his withered old age, Boreas was much larger than Rhia--on his hind legs he could rest his paws on her head. A year ago, while Rhia was recovering from a muscle-wasting illness that sapped all strength from her limbs, Boreas had lent her his sturdy back and legs as a crutch. Now on cold nights like this one, when the wind and the wolves howled in harmony outside these log walls, she would curl up within his furry frame, one forepaw over her shoulder, and sleep warm and safe.
"Hold his head, dear."
Rhia reached under Boreas's snout and tilted it up. All at once he exhaled hard, almost a cough, and a weight lifted from him. In the back of her head she heard a sound like the hurried flapping of heavy wings. Her breath caught, and she craned her neck to peer behind her.
"What is it?" her mother asked.
Rhia turned to the worn face reddened by the wind and the firelight.
"It's not time," she said.
"Time for what?"
"For him to go."
Mayra cast a tender glance over her daughter's face. "I know you wish it were not his time, but--"
"He's not ready." She swallowed a sob and steadied her voice. "The world's not ready."
Mayra's gentle eyes narrowed. "Why do you speak of this?" Rhia tilted her head to the northwest, from where the wind blew. "He'll take a wolf with him when he goes."
Her mother's whisper shook. "How do you know?"
"I just know." She blinked, and her last tear fell, this time on her own wrist. To stop now would be to waste her mother's magic--magic she herself hoped to carry one day. But something not entirely inside her begged for the dog's life. "Please don't make him die, Mama. Wait until morning, and you'll see. I promise."
Mayra's eyes glistened in the firelight as she gazed at Rhia with something more complicated than sympathy. The look held more pain than her mother's face had shown since Rhia's sickness--which, the girl now realized, was the first time she had heard those wings rush over the landscape of her mind.
Finally Mayra reached out and retucked one of her daughter's red-brown curls behind her ear, then brushed the back of her hand against Rhia's cheek. Without a word she stood and placed the cloth and bowl on the table, then shuffled over to climb the ladder to the sleeping loft she shared with her husband, Tereus.
Rhia dragged a thick log across the hearth and heaved it into the flames. It spit and hissed like a cornered wildcat. She blinked at it with near-pleasure as she remembered how even a few months ago she could no more have lifted the log than raise the house itself. Though her limbs would never regain normal strength, they no longer betrayed her, no longer pretended not to hear what her mind ordered them to do. They obeyed grudgingly, with the reluctance of sullen children.
She turned away from the fire and lay on the floor behind Boreas, her front to his back. Reaching around him, she pulled the wolf skin rug over both their bodies.