Many years ago in a moment of inspiration, I wrote a little short story called "King of Crows." It is till one of my personal favorites as it has threaded throughout a song or a tune humming beneath the narrative. I am almost never without a song running in my head, singing to the dishes, or driving in traffic, or even when writing I will hear the song that evokes the feelings of the moment I am describing. "King of Crows" is a small tale of love found and lost, of the transformative power of song. And I'll admit, the moment the fiddler Johnny Fahey appeared in my imagination, I loved him. An itinerant musician, traveling the Southwest, he stops to rest in a box canyon, only to discover it is home to the King of Crows and his court. And there is one who catches his eye...(Read the full story here.)
Excerpt from "King of Crows."
The crows parted at Johnny’s approach, some turning astonished faces at his unexpected presence, but never stopping in their cries. It wasn’t until Johnny stood before the girl with the white skin and the black hair that the violent arguments subsided into grumbles and then at last into an uneasy silence. The girl stared at him with curiosity, her head tilted to one side as the glittering eyes fastened on his face. A smile crooked the edges her mouth, and the arched brows drew together in a challenge.
“Who are you?” she asked, voice sharp as a scythe.
“No one as grand as you,” he answered softly.
She lifted her chin proudly, the sweep of black hair flowing over the curve of her back. Opals sparkled in her earlobes like tiny stars, and around her waist she wore a belt of turquoise and fresh water pearls.
“What are you?” she demanded, shoulders hunched and face thrust forward.
“A musician,” he said, arms resting at his sides.
The cloaks of the crows fluttered in the rising wind with a dry chaffing noise.
“Play for us,” she ordered.
“Rilka, we’ve no time for this!” a man barked. Johnny Fahey turned to the man, hearing immediately the authority in this voice. A singular voice after so much discord. The man was old, the plumage of his cloak speckled at the breast and dull and ragged along the hem. But circling his forehead was a narrow crown of silver, set with turquoise. There was still power in his carriage, the heavy body leaning over his hips, his shoulders arched back. In one hand he held a scepter made from a fresh stalk of corn that gleamed as bright as newly minted gold. Johnny had no doubt but this was the King of Crows. He looked back at the girl called Rilka, and the music in his heart stumbled as he realized that the girl with moon-white skin and black hair was the King’s daughter. No chance for you, the sad chords played, no chance this haughty creature could be charmed by the fiddle’s song.
“I want to hear it, Father,” the girl demanded, “if only to hear something other than their bickering,” and she tossed her head toward the line of men who stood glowering at the quiet figure of Johnny Fahey.
The King rolled his eyes to the blue bowl sky.
“Spoiled bitch,” came a nasty whisper followed by snickering.
“Play then!” the King roared, turning on the restless court to silence them.
Rilka lowered her face, the shadow of her hair on her cheek not quite hiding the angry blush. Johnny winced seeing how the insult cut her pride to the quick. But he took out his fiddle and tucked it under his chin. He rested the bow over the strings and waited a moment more to hear what the wind would bring him. A tune came from listening, knowing what was already playing in the hearts of those gathered. He thought he could well guess at the tunes a crow might wish — something wild, with the harsh rasps of the double-stops. Then Rilka lifted her face, and he saw in the dark eyes an unexpected hint of longing, of gentleness.
"The soft whisper of her sigh touched him, and without intending to, he lowered his fiddle again and began to sing slowly in a clear tenor voice.
I met a fairy woman
At the river’s eddy.
And I asked her
Would anything unlock love?
She said to me in whispered words,
When it enters the heart
It will never be released.
There followed a silence, filled only with the rise and hollow of the wind in the grass. Johnny Fahey heard the slow beat of his filled heart. Abruptly he put the fiddle beneath his chin again and played a reel as fast as his song had been slow. He might gain her, the notes sang, but how could he keep her? He might lose her now, but she would be forever in his thoughts. Amber rosin smoked over the strings and the white hairs of his bow broke like the strands of a clinging web. He drove the tune, as if to empty the sight of her face from his heart, and yet as he finished the last notes he looked up and her glittering eyes snared him.