The Magpie King

By M.J. Fahy

Children's, Fantasy, Action & adventure, Magical realism

Paperback, eBook

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401
3 mins

 

                           

    Not all faeries are pretty, some are downright ugly. Tatty Moon wasn’t ugly. She could best be described as plain-looking, except for the white wings sprouting from between her shoulder blades. Freckles speckled her nose and cheeks.
    Frustrated, she watched as her friend, Willum Patch, tried slotting the reeds together. She gestured at him to hurry. In reply the elf made a silly face and tugged the mouse closer, muttering all the while. Then, with fumbling hands, he began connecting the hollow reeds to make a long pipe.
    ‘Hurry, Will,’ hissed Tatty. ‘You’re makin’ a right meal of it!’
    The mouse was harnessed to a wooden cart. It rolled forward, barging into Will. He dropped a reed and Tatty heard him curse. He picked up the stray reed and jammed it into the end of another. Out loud he yelled: ‘It’s this stupid mouse, he won’t hold still!’
    Just then, the rodent let out a loud squeak and pulled back on the reins. ‘Ow! What’s the matter with you, Mealy? Pack it in!’ he snapped, yanking hard on the bridle. Finally, the mouse stood still long enough for him to grab the last reed from the back of the cart, completing a long length of rickety pipework. ‘Finished,’ he called shakily.
    ‘Come on then,’ said Tatty, standing on top of a massive milk bottle, which stood upon a humongous doorstep, ‘pass one end up to me and let’s get a move on, it’s gettin’ late.’
    Straining with the effort, Will lifted the pipe.
    The furthest end snaked upward and Tatty caught it. She thrust it through the foil lid of the bottle, then frowned. What’s Will doing, standin’ there? Annoyin’ Mealy by the look of it, she thought. The mouse had been in a jittery mood for ages. It had taken them twice as long on this milk run than usual. She watched him grab the mouse’s bit and push backward; Mealy wouldn’t budge, but jerked his head instead, lifting the elf off the ground for an instant.
    ‘Will!’ Tatty yelled.
    ‘All right!’ he snapped back. He sucked hard on the end of the creaking pipe until milk siphoned down it, then choked as a torrent gushed out, drenching him. Somehow, he managed to guide the spewing pipe into the top of an empty baked bean tin in the back of the cart.
    It was as the milk began to fill the tin that Mealy’s squeaks became more desperate. Sadly, the milk was louder. The mouse sniffed the air, then filled his lungs and squeaked at the top of his voice, displaying long, curved yellow teeth.
    ‘Mealy, hush will you – you numpty! You’ll wake the Biggun’s!’ Will yanked on the mouse’s bridle again, but this time Mealy reared up on his hind legs and plunged forward.

~ ~ ~

     The cat, Delilah, hated being hungry more than anything. She was hungry all the time, though you wouldn’t know it to look at her. The local vet had put her on his ‘obese’ list long ago. Her stomach growled. It was early morning and breakfast wouldn’t be for ages yet. She had stalked each front garden she passed, just in case a small creature fancied a quick death. Catching and eating her own prey was a distant memory, but one that she hadn’t completely given up on.
     Delilah watched the curious little group from the cover of a sprawling rhododendron bush. The cat could almost feel mouse bones snapping between her teeth. A long string of drool plopped onto the dusty earth, leaving a dark stain. Oh the sweet joy of flesh and tendons tearing, nothing could compare – apart from, maybe, being hand-fed something fishy from Mummy-person. She quickly swallowed another build-up of saliva and slithered from beneath the rhododendron like a hairy slug, reaching a stone birdbath in the middle of the lawn. She tried to hide behind it, her stomach sticking out either side, and waited a moment to see if she’d been noticed. All clear – though the mouse appeared very jittery – even jitterier than mice usually were, and mice were the jitteriest creatures ever! That’s if she could catch the rodent. Most creatures were too fast for her nowadays, but the mouse did seem weighed down with all that stuff? It was certainly possible, she supposed … She crept from behind the birdbath, bunched her hind legs beneath her, and launched. In a fraction of a second she was almost upon her prey.                                                 

~ ~ ~

     Mealy had the scent of the cat in his nostrils, so scurried away in a blind panic, dragging the cart and elf like trailing toilet paper stuck to the sole of a shoe. The reed pipe pulled taut, toppling the bean tin and emptying milk over Will, drenching him for a second time. The milk bottle fell too, smashing to hundreds of pieces on the doorstep.
    Tatty shot skyward and hovered over the cottage’s thatched roof, watching helplessly as Will bounced along the concrete path, trying desperately not to get dragged beneath the cart’s wheels. Tatty could see his arm tangled in the reins. There was no use trying to shout either, he wouldn’t hear. Sparks flashed from the luck-stone hanging from his belt. Ha, lucky! That’s a good one, she thought. He would’ve been better off with a bud of white heather in his pocket, same as everyone else, instead of that great lump banging against his hip all the time, leavin’ big bruises … Before she could think of a charm to cast, Will, Mealy, and the cart, disappeared beneath the fence.



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