The Torgaine of Ysengarth by Belinda Kelly

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Since one of the remaining pleasures in my life is sleep, it was of great distress to me to be awoken by the sound of snapping twigs. Someone was blundering their way through the maze of forest pathways towards the cottage. Fearing the worst, I pulled my head out from under my wing, left my perch atop the shingled roof and glided downwards, in search of the poor fool.

It didn't take long to find the young woman struggling through the brush, heading slowly and inexorably towards the cottage. I observed the usual look of desperation on her face. I quickly landed on a nearby branch and called out to her: "Flee! Your life is much better off the way it is now!"

The woman stopped and looked upwards, staring confusedly up at the trees. "Who said that?" she called out breathlessly. She looked to be eighteen or so, with plaited blonde hair and thick, pleated skirts.

"I did," I said, flapping down and landing on a fallen log so that she could see me properly and hopefully get quickly over usual the "Oh look, a talking bird!" moment so she would have a chance to take in what I was trying to tell her. "For the sake of everything you hold dear, go back to where you come from and find some other means of resolving your problem!"

"A talking raven!" the young woman said excitedly, bending down close that she could indeed confirm my black-feathered and bird-like nature, if it wasn't obvious enough already. She wasn't going to be one of the more quick-witted petitioners that I had encountered.

"Crow," I corrected. "And, please - shove off and go back home. If you go on any further, you'll just get yourself in a worse mess than you're currently in."

"I had heard that a powerful sorceress resided here," the woman said stubbornly. "And that she can help people."

"Yes, but you don't want this sorceress," I hissed. "She'll take whatever problem you have and make it worse. Helping? More like meddling and ruining! You'll get something that you didn't want, only you'll find yourself wanting it and..."

"I've got no choice. I'll pay your mistress whatever she wants," the woman said. She had a stubborn set to her jaw, as though didn't believe what I was saying. (Or want to believe it.) "And I'm not going back. Now take me to the sorceress at once!"

"Come this way," I told the woman, my sympathy for her rapidly eroding. I'm not terribly partial to being ordered around by petitioners. "And when your mess is over, don't say that I didn't warn you!"

I flew on ahead of the woman, flitting between various branches and logs so she would, in her own slow-witted way, be able to follow me. Eventually we came to the Torgaine's cottage and I flew in through an open window. "There's another desperate lunatic outside, begging for your assistance," I said.

To introduce my mistress properly, let me start with her appearance. She is a great, overweight sow of a woman, the sort of person who needs to sit on two chairs rather than one to be properly comfortable. I know little of her past. She's mentioned (rather vaguely) a great society of mages, and it's a wonder they haven't arrested her yet for her flagrant abuses of magic.

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