For years Honor floated alone on her tributary of grief and pain. The tears were so salty- so bitter – that no one could ford the river to reach her in her isolation. She wanted only for the agony to end – and she prayed ceaselessly to be with Zee. She talked to him by day and dreamed of him by night. So weakened by her anguish was she, that the young woman often hallucinated and believed she saw Zee sitting right beside her, but when she reached out to touch him, his apparition faded. Never before had Honor realized how completely alone she was in this world…and now every single heartbeat reminded her that her other half was gone…and she barely subsisted.
Hence, for a very long time, the only disruption of Honor’s solitude came in the form of the ever-faithful Eberheart, who regularly brought messages from the King to try to soothe the girl and heal her broken heart. However, any time the little grey dove would land near his mistress and begin to sing, she would cry out in anger for him to stop. Nothing could make it better. Nothing was right any longer. She wanted to hear nothing of good because she believed everything good had perished with Zee. So Eberheart was always commanded to leave before he could deliver the King’s songs to his beloved daughter.
One day it happened that a shiny black raven alighted on the dead branch which was usually occupied by Eberheart. Valor paid it no attention, but continued to be occupied with her grief. The bird observed her for a few moments, it’s head twitching to one side, then the other, before it flew away, cawing as it departed. It’s cry was eerie — lonely — and it pierced the heart of Honor and amplified her heartache. She pulled her cloak tighter to her, leaned into the giant driftwood that had become her exile, and wept herself to sleep.
Back in Banyon Cray the years had not been kind to Soddy. The wretched torment he experienced over losing Honor and Zee, and all the plans and dreams that died with the young man, had taken a toll on the Scholar. His body was gnarled with age and his spirit had become weak from sorrow. He found little reason to rise from his bed any longer, and Authorious knew his friend’s time here was soon to end. He and his troops had doggedly pursued the course of Honor’s tears, but they could never get near enough to rescue her…she was too distant to even hear them cry out to her. All they could do was watch from a distance and hope that nothing would harm her further.
Every day the Healer came to visit Soddy and tend to him. She fed him nourishing soups and left herbal remedies for Authorious to brew for the teacher. Nothing made him any better — they seemed to just prolong the inevitable. Yet the Guardian knew that Soddy still clung to the hope that Honor would return to him before he died and everything would again be alright. Authorious held no such hope. He believed that the young maiden had drifted too far away to ever reach shore again — and that she preferred it that way. His own heart tore and bled at the loss of Honor, but he had found a way to continue on…knowing he must always be available to protect her. Putting his grief on a shelf, Authorious waited.
The blue-black raven returned to Honor every day. He stayed only moments, but always reminded her how alone she was when he flew from her self-imposed Isle of Despair. Eventually Honor began to anticipate the visits…finding some measure of comfort in the very brief occasions when she was no longer companionless. Eventually she found her voice and spoke tentatively to the bird.
“I’ve nothing for you…if you are waiting for food.”
The raven looked at her out of one eye, then out of the other. Suddenly it shoved it’s long beak into it’s feathers and began to preen.
“You are hideous, like me, bird. You must be all alone, too.”
“I am not alone for I am with you,” said the raven.
Startled, Honor scooted back, trying to put distance between her and the creature. Brittle branches dug into her back, keeping her from moving any farther.
“No need to fear me, as I have never harmed you.” He went back to his preening.
“What are you?” the young woman asked hesitantly.
“Are you blind?” the bird began to cackle. “I would think that a person your age would know a raven when they saw one.”
“The ravens I have seen have never spoken!”
“Never spoken to you. We speak to other ravens, but rarely to anything else.”
“Then why are you speaking to me?” Honor felt heat rise in her face. She had felt no emotion but sorrow in such a long, long time, that ire had become foreign to her.
“If you do not wish me to speak, then I shall leave.” The bird spread his wings to take flight, but Honor sputtered and motioned for him to stay.
“Please! I’m sorry! Don’t leave. I have not had a conversation in many years…I suppose I’m rusty.”
“I will stay for a moment more.” He settled back down and perched, motionless, on the branch.
“Why do you come here every day?”
“If you do not like it, I will stop.”
“No, that’s not what I mean. I just wonder why you come when I give you nothing.”
Honor looked at him closely. “Is there something you want from me, bird?”
“My name is Ghrim, not bird. And what makes you think you might have anything I want?”
“I…” Honor stammered and didn’t know how to respond.
“Have you a name?” Ghrim queried.
“I must leave now. Thank you for the company.” Before she could respond, the raven shoved off from the branch as his great wings stretched at his side and carried him up, up into the sky and away. This time his departure was silent.
The next day Ghrim did not return, nor the next after that. Honor was beginning to believe it was another hallucination when finally Ghrim returned to the deadwood tree on which she drifted.
“Where have you been, Ghrim?”
“Why do you demand?”
“Curiosity is not a demand. I just wanted to know.”
“I came to tell you why I had visited you every day.”
“I’d like to know, please,” Honor encouraged.
“I remember you from the forest. I saw you the day you met your spirit-groom. I watched every day as the two of you explored the woods around Banyon Cray.”
“You were there?” Honor was shaken.
“But what does that have to do with sitting and watching me every day?”
“I was trying to decide whether I could trust you. To speak to you.”
“You could impart every secret of the universe to me, Ghrim.” Honor spoke sadly, “I cannot tell a soul…I am alone here.”
“Do not think I will pity you when it was yourself that imprisoned you here.” The raven flapped his great black pinions and flew away.
Honor sat stunned at the bluntness of his words. Eventually she began to remember the wonderful days with Zee — walking hand-in-hand…laughing at everything and nothing…kissing under the stars…planning and dreaming of a future together…and she realized the monumental pain had subsided to a dull ache in her heart. She was able to spend the night recalling her beloved and for the first time in many, many years a small smile curved her lips as she slipped into peaceful slumber as dawn broke to herald a new day.