It would be surprising, conference, if you had not heard tales of the Raven King and the glory - the beauty - of his reign over Northern England. The King in the North is a figure much revered by scholars, bedtime stories and assorted other enthusiasts alike. Perhaps it is the ability of such a strong, powerful figure to gracefully change his form into that of the majestic bird that is his namesake. Perhaps it is his skillful mastery of the arts of magic that elude many of even the brightest minds today.
One thing that takes little study to be certain of is that whatever his essential quality is, it was not possessed by all in his family. What is contained within the paper I present today is a detailing of his bloodline, with a stronger than customary focus on his niece, Rowena the Abandoned.
Rowena grew up around her uncle's estate. Occasionally her own mother, Deani, the Raven King's sister, would take her on long, meandering trips round the kingdom. Even from an early age she showed an affinity for the forestry of the countryside. She would slip away from her mother on their walks and hide for hours in the dens and hollows. Often Deani would find her asleep, curled up in the nook of a tree's roots. She would lift her up, and Rowena would curl up in her arms. She was one of the happiest children in all of England.
Of course, the day soon came when she was too big for her mother to pick her up. She started to grow, to resemble more the womanly princess that she was destined to be in the absence of an heir of the Raven King's own. Except, as is often the way with overlooked figures, it did not quite go to plan.
First of all, there was her blind hatred of shoes. Conference, I have yet to discover, even in the depths of Britain's resources on the subject of magic, the term for someone who has a fear of having their feet clad. Perhaps we shall term it Rowenism. She wanted to be free, and apparently this was to start with her feet.
Around the castle gardens she ran, little sparks of magic following behind her as her feet picked up their pace to a speed that behoved her bloodline. She climbed, she hid, she chatted to the caterpillars and the mice.
But her mother found her. Her father chastised her. Her uncle provided her with a dark green velvet gown and a pair of thin-soled black shoes that need only be slipped on when they had guests. They put a circlet round her head, and beads round her neck. They made her womanly.
Then the unrest came. Surely you remember the first time you heard of the risings against the Raven King by those who sought to take his place. They found magic unnatural. Yes, conference, you may well scoff. It seems nonsensical to us now that the harnessing of the land - of course, as long as you give yourself fully to it - be seen as anything other than the true way in which to prove our love to the world we live on.
Conference - conference! I appreciate the support - of course this is nonsense - but there is far more to tell. If you could just quiet down... Dr Hatton, thank you! Right, where were we?
Rowena was old enough to understand what was going on, but far too sane to understand the logic that is today so widely disproven. Why should people be threatened by her uncle's power? Why not embrace it? Why not work with it to make everyone's lives better? When she reached her potential, which her classes had had her on the way to, she was planning to provide sanctuary for each and every soul in the forest. There would be no danger from hunters, or those seeking to destroy their homes. What could be threatening about making souls safe?
Then there came the night of the abandonment. Or at least, that must be truly how she felt. On that fateful day that is well recorded in the few accounts of Rowena's life that do exist, her parents, her uncle, the servants - all disappeared. They all struck fear into the hearts of those who couldn't compete with them. But Rowena, the ungainly, unruly child, escaped unscathed. Who would be frightened of a young lady who couldn't even fasten up her own dress?
And so it came to her to save Faerie, where her family must have taken refuge. It was on her to keep practicing in secret, to master her uncle's arts. She would bring back the Raven King. She would be the spirit of the Raven while he remained banished from this realm and the evil ones worked to destroy his place of sanctuary once and for all.
She trained, all by herself. She focussed harder on this task than she had focussed on anything in her life. She wore shoes for it. She hated it, but she loved her family.
Then came the most important day of her life. It was on her eighteenth birthday, the day when her people diverge from their mortal neighbours - the day they become the Raven - that she would truly begin to take on her uncle's mantle.
But it didn't work. For weeks, months, a year, she tried to force her form into the majesty of that great bird. But its beak was too tight, its feet too spindly. She couldn't cram her energy into that rigid little form. It was hopeless.
It is said that exactly a year later she ran through the streets howling and screaming. This is where the term Abandoned comes from, many of those who saw her being under the impression that her family had left her all alone in that big house on the hill and that on this day the loneliness had finally got too much of her.
And so she ran back home, or rather, to the forest. But truly, that must be what is considered her home, given what we know of her now. She grew wild, less womanly than her mother had ever seen her. She lived with the wolves, the birds, the insects. Her life was perfect, in all honesty, other than the fact that her family were missing, and in terrible, unstoppable danger.
It became too much for her. The fear, the guilt, the longing to see them again. One day she could take it no longer and wandered further into the forest than she ever had before. She found what she was looking for, a nice big cave. It was hidden under a small mound adorned with fir trees, and its darkness called to her. In the dark she could sleep. Sleep. She had to sleep.
There are few children who do not know the story of the Wild Rebellion. The day is marked in history as when the most powerful arcane magicians in the land were assailed by all the wildlife around them, all the wildlife that they ignored while they hid away in their studies. The life that they destroyed when they took the land for the houses that held those studies. The life that obeyed the call of one and one alone. Their leader - the Great Bear.
What those children don't know, is that these events took place exactly one hibernation after Rowena felt that uncontrollable urge to rest, to sleep the pain of winter away and awake when the time was right to strike. When she awoke, she had found her true form. A bear, the caring, joyous, free spirit of the forest, was a far more natural transition for young Rowena than the stick-like rigidity of the Raven.
And so she led one family - the animals of the forest - to save her other. They got the magicians at their weakest - when the banishment spell had reached its second anniversary, marked by an extra large dose of complacency.
Rowena, the enormous, lumbering hero of it all, has been largely overlooked by the Ravenite scholars. But what has been found must surely begin the process of remedying this. The songs of the faerie Jaicinth Godax, recently summoned by renaissance magician Henry Thorpe, must be taken into account. As you, and the rest of most of civilisation are aware, faeries are incapable of outright lies.
"From hibernation I saw awake,
Miss Rowena on a spring day.
That evil spell she then did break,
Oh what glory on that spring day."
If the literary scholars wish to present an alternate reading of these words to me, I await your papers. I however am convinced that these two stories are linked by these recent findings. I look forward to conference's report next year on the less ravenly heroes of the Aureate age.