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Song Suggestion: Dance With Dragons by BrunuhVille
It is easier to say you are going to go on an adventure than to go. Especially if you are a young girl with no coin, three ancient animals and a wagon that has been sitting so long that it is growing out of the earth like a tree. But, in the case of the girl called Bethany, who had never been further than the village in the vale, she was not wholly without usefulness and she was lucky enough to have a cat that spoke to her and was old enough to know its way about; a cat like that is better than coin because cleverness outweighs gold every time.
“It seems to me,” said Bethany, after she had decided that she would take adventure over a safe life,” that we have three problems. One is that the wagon is quite stuck. Two, the wheels are certainly rotten. And, three, our mare is quite on her last legs.”
“One problem at a time,” said the clever tom cat. “That’s the way to do it.” Bethany, who, despite her desire for adventure, was sensible, agreed. After all, the wheels would not matter if the wagon could not be unstuck and the mare’s state would not matter if the wheels were not replaced.
“Alright, well, if we are going to see the wagon unstuck, we will need help,” Bethany said. “If I had the coin, we might find another wagon, but I happen to be rather fond of this one.”
“And you would not find another of its caliber outside the gypsy lands in the west,” the cat told her. “What we need is a team of good, strong oxen.”
“The farmer over the hill has a team,” said Bethany. “They are massive. It is said that the farmer feeds them special corn. There is nothing they cannot unstick. But I’ve no more coin to pay him than I do to buy a new wagon.”
“Just leave that up to me,” said the cat with a knowing cat grin.
And so they went to bed and, the next morning, they set out for the farmer’s cottage. They were nearly there when they saw a circling cloud of crows over the farmer’s fields. They were swooping down and tearing at the young stalks of corn. Bethany could see that, soon, there would be none left at all.
As they approached the farmer’s home, Bethany could hear him lamenting in the barnyard. “They will ruin me, they will! They will eat every kernel! Oh what shall I do?”
Bethany walked up to him and, if the cat was clever, she was not far behind. She might not have been brought up in gypsy lands, but her grandmother had taught her a thing or two and one such thing happened to be the making of gypsy scarecrow.
A gypsy scarecrow is not like an ordinary scarecrow which stands about doing nothing all day and ceases to be useful not long after he is made. A coigealach – as the gypsies call it – is made of old straw and clothes, but that is where the similarities end because they also have a little bit of the old magic in them. No bird will ever try to make friends with them, and that is why, in the west, gypsies spend their springs making scarecrows and they will all be sold before the last stitch is sewn.
“I believe you are in luck,” said Bethany. “I can make you some scarecrows, if you will but help me with my problem in return. I’ve a wagon stuck deep in old earth and I’d like to get it out.”
The farmer knew who she was and was very glad to see her. “If you can get rid of those blasted birds,” he said, “I will pull your wagon out, that I promise.” He held his hand out and Bethany shook it and, in those parts, that was as good as a blood oath.
Bethany knew that to make coigealach right, she would need some time. “I am worried there will be nothing left to protect by the time I am done,” she told the cat as she set to work in the farmer’s barn.
“I’ll handle the birds, said the cat and sauntered out.
The cat was no ordinary feline. He was far older than Bethany knew and twice as crafty as his cousins which hunted in Dumhaile. In fact, he had come from somewhere else that was not Inìsfail and was something very similar to those wild and fierce beasts, but had also a mind for helping those who called him friend, which was how he had come to live with Bethan’s grandmother.
He was quite a hunter and he knew witchcraft when he saw it. So he set to hunting crows in the fields and they soon scattered, frightened, from the shadow which leapt upon them as they fed and dragged them down to the dirt. The cat went a stalking and a sniffing, looking for something particular, and soon enough he found it. Nesting in one of the farmer’s ordinary scarecrows was a crow so large that she looked like one of the kites the children liked to fly in the the city of Tia in the south.
The cat jumped onto the scarecrow and said to her. “If you do not go back to the witch that sent you, I will kill your flock child by child until there is none but you left.”
And Grandmother Crow looked up at him with her intelligent eyes and knew he told her true. “Already I have killed twenty,” said he. “And they lie broken on the earth. How many more do you think I might feast upon before the sun sets?”
“None, said Grandmother Crow, “for we will go quietly.” And she flew away with her flock behind her, back to the witch of the hills, who had sent her to torment the farmer, angry that they had been set upon a field guarded by such a beast as the cat. And all the rest of the witch’s days, there was a cloud of crows above her roof which ate all the corn she grew and made nests in her flue so that her cottage filled with black smoke every time she lit a fire.
In the barn, Bethany had finished half a dozen of her scarecrows and whispered to them the words her grandmother had taught her when she was a very small child. The coigealach were so lifelike they even startled the farmer, when he came to look, for they had a way of moving that made you think it was a living person standing there, even when you knew better. The farmer set them in the fields and never again did he lose a single kernel of corn to a bird.
The farmer kept his word and his team of oxen pulled her wagon free and, because he was so grateful, he gave to her four large wheels of cheese from his wife, a bushel of apples from his orchard, a tub of honey sweetened butter, and milk and cream from his dairy.
“That is one thing done,” said Bethany to the cat as they sat beside the fire that night. “Now we must think about the wheels, for all four are rotted and broken.”
“We will go down to the village,” said the cat. “There is a wainwright there who can free this wagon and set it rolling as it ought.”
“I haven’t anything to pay him,” Bethany told him.
The cat grinned a wicked cat grin that said he knew more than he was telling, but there. That is a cat for you. “Let me worry about that.