I decided that, as interesting as the library was, flying would be more fun.
"Let's go flying," I said.
The Raven King grinned. "Sure! Come on, this way."
He led us out the library, down the way we had come, and out onto the courtyard. The ravens tagged along, some of them hopping onto the three of us as we passed.
"So," said the king, "Neither of you have gone flying before, have you?"
"We flew to my grandmother house, once." I said. "Mia doesn't remember because she was too little. But that was in a plane."
"Well," said the king, "I don't know too much about planes, but we're going to do it a little differently today. Neither of you have wings, right?" he said suddenly, like he'd just remembered to ask. "They're not secretly under your clothes or anything, right?"
"Nope," Mia said.
"Just human," I said.
"Okay, good. Both of you hold still."
Then the Raven King lightly tapped me on the top of the head.
For a second, I thought I was falling. I had the same spike of fear you get when you're walking on stairs and there's one more step than you think there is, and I felt the air rush against my skin. But I hadn't fallen; my feet had never left the ground, and when I looked up, I saw the Raven King towering over me, grinning like a loon
Beside me was an enormous raven as large as I was-- except it wasn't enormous. We were the same size.
"I'm a bird!" Mia shrieked, but I could tell by her tone, she wasn't upset. "Look, look! I'm a bird!"
"So am I!" I said, dazed.
Mia hopped around and stretched her wings. "Look! Look!"
"You're a raven," said the king. "The best kind of bird! Now you can fly with us!"
I thought that the Raven King would stay human looking and just fly with his wings, but he stretched out his wings and arms, and when he brought them back in, he shrank and warped, and then he was a bird, too.
"Why did you change?" Mia said, apparently thinking the same as me.
"People would notice me otherwise," he said. "It's happened before, and it's so much trouble to deal with."
He took to the air, and the flock of ravens joined him as one. Mia and I hopped and flapped, trying to go too, but we couldn't do it right.
"Oh, sorry," said the king, landing beside us. "Here, see if this works."
He went to us and pecked each of us on the top of the head.
It was like he pecked the knowledge into my head. Suddenly, I knew exactly how the raven body worked. I laughed the same cackling, cawing laugh the other ravens had and leapt into the air. We flew in a group up around the castle, and I noticed something for the first time.
"Is the castle flying?" I shouted.
"Floating," the king said smugly.
And it was. The castle was build on a chunk of dirt-- there was even some space around the castle, you could probably fit another house or two in there and have room for a garden-- but the chunk of dirt was held in the air by nothing at all. The king cackled and led the flock beneath the castle, where we could see roots and stones protruding from the bottom. Mia landed expertly on the side of one particularly large exposed root and began pecking at it.
"Don't do that," I said. "You might knock the whole thing down!"
"No I won't," Mia said. But she stopped anyways.
We followed the raven king and the rest of the flock to a small town far below the castle, so far down that none of the townspeople would ever be able to see it with the naked eye. The king led us to a lawn where an old man had just raked all the leaves in his yard into a red, orange, and yellow pile. The old man leaned against a tree, and some of us landed in the branches above him. Some of us landed in the roof of his house, others landed on his car, and the Raven King landed right in front of the man. The king squawked at the man, who tried to shoo him away with his hat.
"Go on!" said the man. "Git!"
The king laughed and dashed forward to get at the man's shoe laces. The man kicked at him, and the king hopped backwards, but went again for his shoes. The man grumbled, but gave up, and he trudged inside muttering something about needing tea.
"Now!" said the Raven King. All of us leapt from our perches and flew into the pile of leaves, where we dug ourselves into it and rolled around.
"If you two see any bugs, let us know!" said the head messenger raven. "You don't like them, but we do!"
We laughed and chewed and tore the pile up, flying out, then diving back into it again. At some point, Mia found a leaf with a caterpillar on it, and the rest of the ravens fought over it, stealing it away from one another, scrambling to pick it up when it was dropped, flying and hopping around the yard until one of the smaller, speedier ravens finally ate it up.
The king sat with us, watching the others fight for the bug.
"You don't eat bugs?" Mia said.
The king shuddered. "Not unless I have to."
After we'd had our full of playing in the leaves, we flew to the park and screamed at strangers.
"Get away from our tree!" the king howled. "We're higher up than you!"
"Won't they wonder about a talking bird?" I said.
"It's fine," said the king. "They can't understand us when we're birds."
"Get outta here!" Mia screamed. She swooped down from the tree to land on a park bench, spooking a couple that had been sitting there. They left in a hurry, and several other ravens joined her.
"Look at me," said one standing on the seat of the bench. "I'm sitting down like a human!"
The ravens laughed uproariously at this. One of them hopped onto the trash can beside the bench and stuck his head in.
"Hey! There's some good stuff in here!"
"Really?" said another. "I wanna see!"
And then a dozen ravens were hopping around the trashcan. The big was made of metal, with a hole in the top, but it wasn't like the ones at the park at home, which were inside cement cases. This one had a loose chain around the middle, and with enough of us on the sides, the bin toppled over. Garbage spewed onto the pavement, and the ravens swooped down upon it.
"Mine!" they cawed. "Get your hands off-- Mine!"
"Shiny!" said one. He snatched something up and landed in front of the king. "For you, your majesty," he said.
The king preened him for a moment, then the raven went back to the trash.
"What is it?" said Mia, hopping over.
"Treasure," said the king. He took the thing in his beak and showed it off. It looked like a bottle cap, albeit a shiny, silver-y one. "Is anybody coming?" he said. The bottle cap in his beak did nothing to obstruct his words. "Make sure no humans are coming."
Mia and I stood watch. "You're clear," I said.
I felt the air change, woosh, and suddenly there was a teenager with black wings standing on the grass. He took the bottle cap from his mouth and put it in a pocket inside his robe. Then, quick as he could, he shrank back down until he was a bird.
"Where does it go?" said Mia. She went to the king and poked her beak at his side, trying to get him to open his wings. He obliged, and revealed that the bottle cap was well and truly gone.
"I try not to think about it," the king said. "But it will be there when I change back later."
"Neat," Mia said.
"Are you guys hungry?" said the king. "Those guys are having lunch right now. Do you want to grab something?"
"Sure," I said. In truth, flying took a lot out of me, and I was starving.
"Excellent! I know the perfect place. Follow me!"
The Raven King led us to a fast food joint. I thought maybe we would turn human and go inside, but instead we lighted down behind the building, in the parking lot out back. Mia and I landed on the pavement, but the Raven King transformed part-way through the landing, so that when he touched down, it was his human self that did it. I looked around, worried that someone might have seen, but the back parking lot was empty, and the whole area was walled off by hedges one one side and fencing on the other.
"I love this place," the king said, going to one of the dumpsters. "They never lock up properly."
The king opened up the dumpster lid and climbed in.
Mia hopped closer to me. "Is he. . . ?" she whispered.
The king appeared a second later with some crumpled paper bags. "We're in luck!" he said.
He climbed out and dumped the contents of the bags in front of us. Old french fries, half-eaten burgers, and a box of chicken nuggets. The king shrank back into his raven form and tore into the the nuggets, pecking at them and hitting them against the concrete to break them apart into bite-sized pieces.
"Aren't you hungry?" he said.
"No thank you," I said. "I think I've changed my mind."
Mia, however, joined the king in pecking at the chicken nuggets. I sighed and waited around for the two of them to finish.
After they had done, we met with the rest of the flock. First, we went and chased squirrels at the park. Then we shouted at a flock of crows, who shouted back at us. Then we went to a supermarket and sat on the wires and shouted at the customers below. Fun for the ravens was a lot of shouting and digging through trash.
And then the sun began to set.
"What next?" the king said after we'd finished yelling at a family in their garden.
"It's getting late," I said. "Mia and i have school tomorrow."
"Oh," said the king.
"Do you have school tomorrow?" Mia said.
"No. I don't go to school," he said. "So. I suppose this means you want to go home?"
"Yeah," I said.
The king was quiet for a moment. "Are you sure?" he said. "We can still look at the library. And you haven't seen the treasure room yet! I can show you that first."
"It's going to be dark soon," I said.
"You can stay over. There's lots of extra rooms."
"Our mom will get mad at us if we stay out without telling her," said Mia.
"Oh." He sighed. "Alrighty, let's get you home, then."
"We can come visit again," I said.
"Yeah!" said Mia. "It was fun today."
The king perked up. "I'd like that," he said. Then he ruffled his feathers and leapt to the air. "Come on, follow me. We have to go up a ways, but when we come back down, it will be in your yard."
"How?" I said.
"Magic. Don't worry about it."
And Mia, I, and the rest of the flock followed him up.