The Crow King watches on unseen as the couple shuffle through the darkening woods. The woman is carrying a bundle; the Crow King knows what it contains.
The couple stop several times to rest, the woman finding a tree stump or flopping to the ground, laying the bundle down gently beside her. During the rest, they pray. After a while, the man takes hold of her hand and helps her up, and they shuffle on.
At one point, the woman stumbles on a root and almost falls.
“Don’t drop it!” the man hisses. “Here.”
With great care he takes the bundle from the woman and they continue on their way.
Eventually, the canopy thins. The ground of the clearing they enter is grey earth, though rust-brown in places. Scattered here and there are what look like smooth, white sticks. At the very centre is a small oval area, made of cobbles.
The Crow King holds back, beyond the ring of weak light that enters through the gap in the tree-tops. He waits expectantly but patiently for what the couple have brought him.
The man lays the bundle on the cobbles and unwraps it to reveal a child — a boy of no more than two or three years, asleep. Trembling, the woman joins the man and they hold on to each other, as if their closeness might ward off the malign presence they know dwells here. Then they cross themselves, turn and hurry away, out of the clearing, not looking back.
For several minutes the child sleeps on, seemingly at peace, while dusk turns the sky a darker blue. The Crow King waves a taloned hand and crows flutter into the clearing, chattering, hungry.
At the sound, the young boy opens his eyes. The Crow King holds his breath, eager now for the terror upon which he feeds.
But the boy does not scream, and he does not try to run. He sits up, rubs the sleep from his eyes and giggles at the crows before him. He finds a small brown stick on the cobbles and pokes it playfully at the birds. They do not understand and keep their distance, cawing angrily.
Nor does the Crow King understand. This is not how it should be, how it has always been. He moves from the shadows into the now-gloom of the clearing, towering over the boy in his coat of broken feathers, from which hang a number of small human skulls.
The boy looks up from his game. Taking advantage of his distraction, one of the crows hops forward and pecks the boy on the arm, ripping the flesh. In the dimming light, the Crow King fails to notice the colour of the blood that begins to seep out.
The boy giggles again. Now the Crow King does notice that there is something in the laugh that he recognizes, but it is too late.
Still giggling, the boy snaps his fingers. The crow that pecked him lets out a piercing screech before crumbling to dust where it stands. The other crows flap squawking into the trees.
The boy turns to the Crow King, his young lips twisting into a kind of smile. He lifts his arm to lick the blood away. The Crow King sees the colour of it now on the boy’s tongue: it is black.
The boy raises his hand, slowly, deliberately, preparing his thumb and finger to snap again.
And for the first and last time in his long life, the Crow King feels the very thing he has always craved.