It was slightly past the third watch of the night, the ‘cock crowing’ watch according to the Romans. Shay had heard the garrison guard change over about half an hour past. Soon the first rays of dawn would break through the forest canopy and the Village would begin to wake. The roosters would begin their raspy serenade within the hour but for now all was quiet.
Shay knew she could stay in bed for just a few more minutes before needing to get up to start the morning bread. The banked embers in the fireplace gently glowed and she snuggled back into her soft bed. As she listened to the sounds of her house she could hear the small sounds of the coals and the gentle breathing of her husband. And there was the sound of silence and peace all around. Life was good.
With her eyes closed, and focused on the sounds in the space, a new noise broke upon her hearing with a discordant ‘gaawwk, gawk, gawk, gaw-gaawwk.’ It sounded like a chicken, but it was very near. That simply couldn’t be right. Then it came again, with more than one voice joining in.
Shay opened her eyes. The light in the room was a soft gray, predawn color, just enough to see by, but not well. As she looked around a single piece of downy chicken fluff came wafting down through the air to land on the foot of her bed. Shay sat up and reached out with a sense of foreboding to pick it up. As she brought it close to her face to confirm her suspicion she distinctly heard a ‘ba-cawk.’
Shay cautiously drew back the covers and carefully placed her feet on the lambs rug next to her bed. Coming from the bakery there was a sort of rumbling ‘cawking’ that had a serious note of discontent. She was almost certain she could hear chickens in her kitchen, but that was totally absurd. She came to her feet with the aches and pains of an old soldier reminding her she wasn’t as young as she use to be. With dreadful wonder she slowly started towards the door that led into the bakery from her family home.
The adjoining door that led from the family home to into the bakery was closed. Which was very odd. Shay almost never closed it. The bright burning lanterns in the bakery had been lit and the white light shone around the cracks of the door. As she approached she could see the two family cats with their noses pressed to the gap beneath the door sniffing and pawing for all their worth. She called their names and they both turned to look at her with eyes that glowed and looked half crazed in the semi gloom. It gave Shay a chill down her spine. One cat gave a pleading sort of mournful wail then they simultaneously turned back to the door pawing at the crack and snuffing.
There was definitely something in the bakery. Shay could sense it, she reached out and slipped her main gauche from a bracket on the wall. A dagger would be better in close quarters she thought. Taking a deep breath she quickly and decisively lifted the latch and burst through the doorway.
What Shay saw was an assault on sanity, the whole space was filled with chickens. They stood on counters and grain sacks. They sat in bowls and in the sink. They had managed to find their way into the netting attached to the wall that held salt and other spices. Several sat in the rafters and window sills. From edge to edge of the space, even on the grinding stone, the floor was covered with chickens. Big ones, little ones, white, black, yellow and red ones. There were dozens of them! Each with a pair of beady black eyes all staring at her.
At first almost nothing happened, a small feathery wave retreated from the door in a shocked and offended way. All Shay could do was say “What the…” then, in the very back of the room, a single, stupidly terrified, chicken burst straight up into the air screaming. Feathers flew in every direction, and the chickens around the blast off point scattered into their friends looking like water retreating from a rock thrown into a pond. Eight feet into the air the ridiculous bright red bird died. As it fell gracelessly to the ground pandemonium broke loose from floor to ceiling.
Chickens leapt in every direction squawking and screaming, colliding with each other like oriental fireworks. The air filled with cascading feathers, the lanterns on the ceiling swung wildly casting downy shadows in a whirlwind. Then, the cats came bolting into the room. Their black and tawny presence caused further panic among the poor birds. There was a great deal of hissing and feline bawling while the birds cawed and fled in terror. Shay quickly slammed the door leading to her home and then turned diving for the nearest cat. The only thing that could make this situation worse would be to have aortic splatters of chicken blood on every surface in the bakery.
Shay crashed through the hail storm of birds chasing the cats who were having the time of their life! After several harrowing moments she wrangled both cats and held them by the scruff of their necks. Both writhed and howled in her grip. Shay found an empty basket on the ground and kicked it over. She unceremoniously stuffed both cats under it and put a grain sack on top. Even over the loud alarums of the foul she could hear the cats low growls of displeasure.
With that catastrophe avoided Shay returned to the immediate problem, a kitchen full of panic-ridden chickens. Instinct told her to shoo them outside, she reached for the door handle to the side yard, and was already lifting the latch, when the situation suddenly made perfect sense. Either Kane, or Lorcan, or maybe both together, had worked out the standings in this little prank war. This was retribution.
In that instant Shay went cold. Not out of fear or hatred, but out of the pure onset of crystal clear logic. She let go the latch, and stood stock still. A great yellow chicken slammed into the door not a foot from Shay’s head and slid to the floor, laying there spread eagle, and unconscious. Shay paid it no heed.
Then she began to laugh. It started out as a gentle almost unheard giggle in her chest, then moved up and out as it increased in volume. Shay’s laughter filled the whole bakery and nearly drowned out the cacophony the poor birds were making.
Like people scared of a lunatic, the birds retreated to the rafters and the far side of the bakery huddling together for protection. Their noise died down out of self preservation. Somewhere in their tiny simple minds they sensed that the loudest would be the focus Shay’s manic attention, so they wisely stayed quiet. They hid heads under wings and pressed into each other looking for safety.
Shay stalked towards the dead red chicken and retrieved it by its neck. As she stood back up she looked at the chicken and talked to it. “Oh well done lads! Well done!” There was no hint of malice in her voice at all, she genuinely appreciated the monumental effort it must have taken to gather what seemed like the western half of England’s chicken population and stuff it into her kitchen. It was expertly done to be sure, without a single person waking up. And all in the middle of the night, in the very cock crowing watch itself! And It was pure genius. Genius and poetry in one. A perfect prank. “Very well done indeed lads. Now what Red?” She asked of the glassy-eyed chicken.
Shay pondered on her response through the rest of the Watch. She pondered as she sent away the baking helpers that came at dawn. She pondered as she sent Miren off with the children to hunt for nuts in the woods. Her husband entered the bakery at some point in the morning and immediately turned around and left, seeking a safe hiding place for the remainder of the day. As villagers and members of the Order came to her window looking for loves of bread she absentmindedly handed them chickens instead, sometimes two or three in a basket. She gave no explanations and they, sensing her feather brained and nearly meditative state, asked for none. Shay noted in passing that neither Kane or Lorcan came for a loaf. As she distractedly shooed the final dozen or so chickens out into the yard around noon she was still pondering her next move.
Turning around to begin cleaning up the feathers and debris a response struck her all at once. Two ideas, one for each of the good natured malefactors. And she had all the supplies right here at home. The chickens had got into two bags of wheat and they were no longer suitable to grind into flour but they could be used for sprouting. Additionally she had netting and plenty of feathers that would do for Kane. All she needed was time. But first she needed to make a pie. Chicken pie.
Shay determined she would leave the pie for the goblins, and while they were distracted with it, she would see to Kane. And as for Lorcan, she would wait till he was down to the tavern playing Quarto to see to him.
Her plan was to wait till Kane was at work in the garrison, provide the goblins with pie, sneak into Kane’s house on the edge of the village and tie all his furniture to the ceiling with the ropes from her nets. She would even sew his blankets to his bed just as he left them so that his house looked exactly as it did, only upside down. She would also fill the tops of the furniture, or bottoms depending on your perspective, with the feathers so that as Kane took them down the house would fill with down. He was terribly clever and might see the feathers before they had a chance to rain upon him, but he would still have to deal with them, which was enough. It would take a little time to pull all this off, but she could manage. Perran would help, and he could pick locks. Shay nodded to herself.
Lorcan’s was significantly easier. The spoiled grain was for him. She would take it into the chapel and sweep it all over the floor so that it filled the cracks in the flagstones, of course she would remove any excess so it couldn’t be seen. Then she would water the whole floor, not too much because it needed to dry quickly, but just enough to get the wheat growing. In two days, or less, it would begin to sprout and Lorcan would have a lovely green carpet in his church. Shay wondered for a moment about the sacrilege of such an action, but she shrugged feeling strongly that the Heavens probably appreciated a good joke as well as anyone.
Shay needed one more thing to finish off the presentation. There happened to be in the house a little gold foil for her husband’s work. She carefully dipped the tip of two white primary feathers in it, and smoothed it with the back of a spoon so it stuck to the spines. The effect was quite pleasing. A gold tipped feather. Shay would leave one for both Lorcan and Kane where they were sure to find it. Sort of as a warning, and a tribute both.
As she finished cleaning the bakery, and as the chicken pie baked to perfection, Shay sang to herself a new Scottish ballad The Elfin Knight. She felt it apropo for in it a fair maiden faced off against an elf for supremacy. They took turns by verses challenging each other to do impossible tasks in order to obtain what they wanted from one another. A ballad and a battle of wills. As Shay sang she smiled. It was a good day.
Welsh Chicken and Leek Pie
6 ounces short-crust pastry
chicken; about 4 pounds
sliced ham steak
large leeks; cleaned and chopped
1 medium onion
salt and pepper
1 pinch ground mace or nutmeg
1 1/4 Cups chicken stock
1/2 Cup heavy cream
Make the pastry and leave it in a cold place to rest.
Meanwhile prepare the pie. In a deep 1 – 1 1/2 quart dish, place layers of the chicken, the ham, leeks and onion or shallot, adding the mace, nutmeg and seasoning, then repeating the layers until the dish is full. Add the stock, then dampen the edges of the dish before rolling out the pastry to the required size and a thickness of about 1/4-inch.
Place the pastry over the pie and press the edges down well. Crimp them with a fork.
Make a small hole in the center. Roll out the scraps of pastry and form a leaf or rosette for the top. Place this very lightly over the small hole.
Brush the pastry with milk, and bake at moderate heat, 350 degrees F, for 25 to 30 minutes. Cover the pastry with damp grease-proof paper when partially cooked if the top seems to be getting too brown.
Gently heat the cream. When pie is cooked, remove from oven. Carefully lift off the rosette and pour the cream in through the hole. Put back the rosette and serve, hot or cold.