The Crow didn’t return till dusk.
Beneath his tongue nestled a pearl, all warm and wet from its long journey.
Crow knew he shouldn’t have claimed it as his own. His feathers tickled with greedy guilt.
“Blow me!” said Crone when she saw him perched on the back of the chair.
“Look what came down the chimney!”
He shook out his remorse in a flurry of dust and feathers. He preened himself nonchalantly.
Crone went to the depths of the cottage and came through with a large hunk of cake – fruit cake – dripping currents all over the floor.
“Here! Some for you you old rascal and some for me.”
There was nothing for it. Feigning a cough Crow gently tipped the pearl down the back of the chair cushion before gulping the cake in mighty mouthfuls. Once again greed had got the better of him.
Crone lit the lamp, prodded the fire and resumed her position close to the hearth.
In the crackling silence Crow remembered his promise. Shamefully piece by piece he gathered in the details.
One pearl from the golden lake to be delivered to the castle steps before dawn on Michaelmas Eve. In return the tall red haired child would be returned to her uncle’s cottage, deep in the oak woods south of Milverton.
She would be waiting for him. She would know that Crow – her trusted friend – had let her down. She would realise that he was not the stalwart companion she thought him to be but just a crow. She would doubt once again that he would ever save her.
His attention returned to the soft light in the room. Crone dozed noisily with her head to one side. Dog twitched fitfully on the coloured rug, dreaming of hedgerows and rabbits. Moonlight seeped in between the curtains and Crow’s anxiety rose.
He edged along the hard back of the chair and peered into the hairy, smelly depths behind the cushion. Could he see the pearl? He toppled forward. Eureka! There it was.
Crone never stirred as he took it gently into his warm wet beak and flew to the window ledge.
“Caw! Caw!” he called.