Arthur and Matilda - Two Crows
Arthur Crow was old. He was so old that he didn't even remember his age. Not that it mattered. All his friends and family had passed on or simply moved ahead with their lives and Arthur had lost track of them. He never had many friends anyway and he wasn't one to look back. He was alone now. Very alone.
It was a curse, this old age. He often wondered why he was chosen to live so long, to see so much.
On Arthur's last day he was flying aimlessly. He didn't know it would be his last day but he had a feeling that the end would be coming soon. Now he wasn't sure where he was. He didn't care. He knew his time was short and he was glad. Glad because he felt that Matilda was close.
Matilda! How he missed her. Like most crows, he and Matilda had mated for life. Since Matilda was gone Arthur's life had no real purpose. He still ate, preened his feathers and generally took care of himself but he was no longer the sparky bird he was when he was young. Now he was lonely and sad and longed more than anything to see Matilda.
He spotted a stump below in a snowy field. It caught his attention and, as he was very tired, he wheeled slowly and swooped. Nothing fancy. His sharp talons gripped the stump. The frigid snow and crusty ice made him ache to his bones. He didn't care. He just wanted to rest - perhaps to sleep. He was simply too tired to go on.
As he looked across the open field a gray mouse scuttled across the edge of a crusty snow bank. The scene reminded him of Matilda. Most things did now. She was so closely associated with the best part of his life. Matilda, whose eyes shone like no other bird he'd ever known. Matilda, whose feathers were jet black and sleek, every one in place. It was on a day not too different than this that he first saw her. As he sat on the cold, snowy stump he remembered...
Foolish mice, he thought to himself. Don't they realize how easily they can be seen in snow? This'll be easy.
With a flip of his right wing tip and a fan and curve of the tail, Arthur dove sharply left, a fancy maneuver for a crow so young. Arthur had always prided himself in his flying ability. Wings curved back, tail feathers slightly fanned, claws forward, outstretched, almost to the mouse, brown fur, snowy backdrop, frightened beady little eyes, a tiny squeak of fright, then...
A shiny black flash in front of him, a rush of feathers and wind... the mouse was gone. Arthur was so startled that he tumbled gracelessly in the snow.
Sitting on a stump looking down at him with the field mouse in her left talon was a beautiful young crow. "Sorry'" she said as she tossed the mouse into the air. "I guess you weren't quite fast enough." She gobbled down the mouse in a swift gulp and then just stared down at Arthur with a look of bemused curiosity. "You are pretty fast'" she said with mild admiration. Arthur thought she was smirking at him, making fun.
"That was going to be my breakfast," mumbled Arthur, embarrassed by his awkward landing in the snow.
"Was is the operative word in that statement," she said eying Arthur indifferently. "You braked a little too hard, Brother Crow. That mouse almost got away from you."
"That mouse," Arthur said, trying to affect an air of his own indifference, "never had a chance."
"True," the young female shot back. "It never had a chance as soon as I spotted it."
Arthur was back on his feet. The snow rolled off his weather resistant wings. He ruffled his feathers and laid them neatly in place. "You got the drop on me is all," he said, trying to seem nonchalant about losing his meal to her. "Anyone could have done that."
As he looked up at her perched above him on the snow covered stump, he noticed how perfectly blue-black and shiny she was, how smooth and perfect her wings were and how strong she was. There was something else about her that attracted him. Sure she was pretty. Almost all young crows with the self-respect to keep themselves in shape were pretty. This crow had something special. She was cocky and strong and apparently flew like the wind.
"You're not as fast as you think you are," he said simply.
"Oh yeah? I'm faster than you." More of that boldness that he found so inviting.
"Wanna race?" he dared.
"Sure, to that tall pine down in the valley and back to this stump. I'll give you a head start, Brother."
This was too much! "Oh no, I insist, ladies first." Like a flash of black lightening she was off.
"Uh, oh," Arthur mumbled. "Who is this kid?" With that he flew as fast as his wings could pull. She had a good lead on him. Why had he let her get that head start? Now there was a chance that he would loose, and to a female! His pride would be badly hurt if he lost. He was gaining on her but it seemed as he got closer that she was deliberately holding back. She was playing with him. She darted under limbs and under rocky ledges in a daring game of follow the leader. It was the kind of game that young crows play with their elders when perfecting their flying skill.
When the young crow broke into the open air the sun shone full and bright on her sleek black body. He caught up after a tremendous burst of speed and, for the first time during the race, he could see her beautiful face. She didn't even look like she was straining.
"Oh, there you are," she spoke calmly, not at all like a bird in a race. "I was wondering if you would ever catch up. So much for ladies first, am I right?"
The next moment she was pulling ahead again, even though Arthur was flying with all his strength. "Who is this kid?" Arthur repeated to himself as he was again viewing her from behind. The tall pine was about one hundred meters ahead and the winner of the race was a foregone conclusion. Knowing full well that she would arrive first at the stump Arthur took this opportunity to examine his new acquaintance more carefully. He could see her bulging shoulder muscles through her dark feathers. She was perfect.
As she reached the topmost branch of the pine tree, instead of circling it and heading back to the stump, she fanned her tail and spread back her powerful wings. It was a perfect landing on the topmost branch of the tree, almost unbelievable considering her speed. He swooped around her and lit beside her on the pine bough forty or so meters in the air. Panting heavily, yet not wanting to seem worn out, it was Arthur who spoke first.
"I thought the race was to be around this tree and back to the stump in the snow field," he puffed.
"I didn't want to embarrass you any more than was necessary." She spoke calmly, as though she wasn't out of breath from the strenuous flight. She was eyeing him now. "You're not half bad, Brother Crow," she said matter-of-factly.
"You're not so bad yourself." He could not take his eyes off her. "My name's Arthur, by the way."
"Mine's Matilda. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Arthur."
Arthur knew then and there that his life was changed. Looking into Matilda's sparkling black eyes he saw his own reflection. She must have seen hers too. She bent forward, slowly, delicately, until their beaks almost touched. Arthur was holding his breath waiting to see what this lovely creature would do next.
"Beat you to the stump!" she cried in a burst of speed and blue black feathers.
"Oh no you won't!" Arthur was after Matilda in a flash. But of course, Matilda won.