x 1 Magpie – July
What the Magpie Saw in the Mirror
Motley Mr. Magpie was out on a limb. He wasn’t making enough money to support his family.
“Business is not doing well,” he said to his wife. “Nobody buys my trinkets. The Furry Folk are not interested, the Fair Folk have better things to buy, and the Feathery Folk can find trinkets by themselves.”
“Well, you had better do something,” said Mrs. Magpie. “You have six little children in there hungry for worms. You simply must find a way to increase your income.”
“Money makes the world go ’round,” said Motley.
“The coins make it go round,” said his wife, “but the bills make it go flat.”
“It’s that weasel Wigglesworth’s fault,” said Motley, pacing around. “He hired two of his nephews to go to the East and bring some silkworms back to Larkwood. Little by little, the silkworms took over the Larva Garden, until there wasn’t any room left for the night crawlers.”
“I don’t care whose fault it is,” said Mrs. Magpie. “You have to do something, Mr. Magpie! These children need worms, and they need them now!”
Motley put on his thinking cap. He began to look through his trinkets to try to get an idea. He had a key chain, assorted badges, a pen knife, and a charm bracelet. The charms were in the shapes of a star, a moon, a squirrel, a heart and a mirror. He looked at the little mirror, and saw his own reflection. Surprisingly (for he wasn’t very handsome, as birds go), he liked what he saw!
“That’s it!” he exclaimed. “To know thyself! That’s what everyone wants! Mirrors! I’ll sell mirrors! ‘Mirrors for the Masses’ will be my slogan! Chukka-chukka-chee!”
Motley set up his mirror factory at Castor’s Ferry. He hired some of his relatives to help make the mirrors. He franchised a store called Mere Mirror, and sold his mirrors in Castor’s Ferry, Fern Hollow, Knotty Glen, and outside the castle. In fact, Motley turned out to be a pretty good businessman. He hired some of his cousins, the crows, to go into “competition” with his own stores. They started a chain called Off The Wall. This prevented other folks from going into the mirror business. It also made mirrors more affordable for the common folks. Before long, Motley became a very wealthy magpie.
Motley’s first thought was to buy shinier and shinier trinkets with his new wealth. Mrs. Magpie, however, reminded him of his nest-bound duties. He used the money that he earned from his mirror business to buy worms from beyond the borders of Larkwood. Then he had enough worms left over to sell them to anyone who wanted them, at cost. That is the reason that the fourth year of Larkwood was named the Year of the Magpie. Motley had saved the folks of the kingdom from starvation.
The best time to buy a mirror or a scarf was during the holiday seasons. These were called “The Ones,” “The Threes,” “The Fives,” and so on all the way down to “The Elevens.” There was also a special “Midwinter Nights” festival, shortly before Christmas.
It was now The Sevens and the Yolk Folk Faire was in progress on the castle grounds. Every year the King sponsored a Fiddle Feste at this time. Borealis the Boar stepped up to the podium and began the contest.
“The only rule is that each group must begin the words of their song with letter A, E, I, O or U. Now let’s begin.”
The first contestants were the Hollow-Tones, led by Mr. Melvin Mole of Fern Hollow. Their song began with the letter A:
As I was going to St. Ives,
I met a cat with seven lives;
“You have too few,” I said, but two
Were lost when the Cat got the hives.
The next contestants were All The King’s Wrens, led by Mr. Winfred Wren. Their song began with the letter E:
Every day I wake up and I look into my mirror; I get my daily shake-up, but it only draws me nearer To you…
The next contestants were the Fern Hollow Woofers and Tweeters, led by Mr. Herschel Hedgehog. Their song began with the letter I:
I was a raindrop with nothing to hide,
If you wanted to see me, you just looked inside!
The fourth contestants were the Castor’s Ferry Cricketeers, an all women-folks’ group, led by Mrs. Chelsea Chipmunk. Their song began with the letter O:
Oh, my, will wonders never cease?
What kind of shiny things are these?
The last contestants were the Knotty Glen Cicadas, led by Mr. Theophile Thrush. Borealis pronounced Theophile as “The Awful” Thrush. Everyone called him that. Even Theophile preferred it that way. He was, when you thought about it, pretty awful. He and the other Cicadas stood and made exaggerated bows in all directions. They acted as if they were on stage in a play. Then they played a song that began with the letter U:
Undecided man, that’s who I am, But don’t get me wrong, now, It won’t be long, now,
’Fore I’z got that 4-eyes Owl in a scowl.
Borealis was shocked by their song. “Now we will take a ten-minute break to allow the judges to make their decision.”
After waiting eleven minutes, Borealis stepped up to the podium and said, “Have the judges come to a decision?”
Winslow Woodpecker came to the podium and said, “I am sorry to say, Sir, that we have not.”
Just then Prince George wandered onto the stage. A peacock, who was watching the contest from a rail at the back of the amphitheater, suddenly said, “My arm!” (For some reason peacocks are always complaining about their arms.) The peacock fanned its tail, exposing a hundred eyes to the Prince, who pointed at the peacock.
“Eye!” said George.
“There you have it,” exclaimed Borealis. “Who can argue with the Prince? The ‘I’ song by the Fern Hollow Woofers and Tweeters is the winner!”
“I thought my ears would fall off after hearing those Cicadas sing,” said King Herald, finishing up his Carrot Candy. Carrot Candy was one of Martha Mole’s latest inventions.
“I thought your ears were firmly attached to your head,” said the Queen, giving him a nudge.
“Just a figure of speech,” he explained. “I meant that I didn’t like that thrush’s poetry.”
“Me neither, Dear. Let’s go watch the Shooting Stars. It’s almost time.”
Two members of the King’s Retinue played on the rims of their drums. The Court Jester (everyone called him “The Lone Loon”) led the procession into the night. The King and Queen were first in the line. Everyone else followed along, two by two, carrying little lanterns. They looked like a procession of fairies as they marched down to the banks of the River of Time. From there, the stars shot upwards into the heavens (for shooting stars in Larkwood shot up, not down). At owls’ lunchtime, the Star Show began.
“Where do they go?” Queen Nellie asked, as the stars shot skyward.
“To The Other Side of the World, where they fall down again,” replied the King.
“I’d like to go there with you,” said Nellie, snuggling up to him.
“There’s no place I’d rather be, than right here with you,” King Herald replied.
It was a very romantic scene. Besides the King and Queen, Mumford and Martha Mole were holding hands. Cameron Centaur snuggled up with Carolyn. Mr. and Mrs. Magpie flirted about a bit. Satterwhite and Sylvia Squirrel smooched a little. Even “Worms” Wigglesworth snuggled up to his missus.
Prince George looked out over the flowing waters of the River of Time. He pointed up toward the heavens, and said a single word: “Stah!”
That night the Marquis de Lop didn’t watch the Star Show. He didn’t want to be escorted by a Maenad Maid. Kamsah forbid! Instead, he stayed home and wrote in his diary. This is what he wrote:
This Northern Kingdom is a very backwards place. The people do everything backwards!
For one thing, they walk on the wrong side of the street. If two people meet, they pass each other
differently than in our beloved Gaul-i-Fleur. They don’t seem to know left from right. When eating,
they hold their knives and forks in the wrong hands. They probably even wake up on the wrong side
of their beds! It is no wonder they like mirrors so much. That’s the only way they can see things in
The Living Stone didn’t stay in Larkwood to watch the Star Show either. He was away on business, business that took him to The Other Side of the World. Some folks thought that this was the reason that the Shooting Stars were “shooting” in the first place! No one really knew what happened on The Other Side of the World, but on the Night of Shooting Stars, no one really cared!
Wesley Weasel, one of Wigglesworth’s nephews, was fooling around the Yolk Folk Faire one Tuesday afternoon. Some crows were selling cute little beveled mirrors that you could wear around your neck. Wesley slipped one of the beveled mirrors into his scarf. Mumford Mole happened to be at the next booth, buying a wind-chime for Martha. He saw what Wesley did and went to report it to Cameron Centaur.
As Wesley was drinking cider and sampling everyone’s nut-brown brownies (for free, of course), Cameron came up to him.
“Ho, Wesley Weasel,” said the Centaur. “What have you got in your scarf, there?”
“Nuttin’ much,” replied Wesley. “It’s just some nut shells that I didn’t want to toss on the ground. I’m waitin’ to find a rubbish bin somewhere or ’nother.”
“Well, I’ll be happy to dispose of them for you,” said Cameron, seeing through the weasel’s lie and meaning to expose it.
“Now that’s right kind of you, Mr. Centaur,” Wesley said. “But you know, a person in such an im-portant position as you shouldn’t be botherin’ with little bits and pieces of trash that people are carryin’ around with ’em.”
“To collect and to serve,” said Cameron, “that’s what I like to do. Show me what’s in your scarf, Mr. Weasel, and show it to me right now!”
Wesley tried to run away, but a centaur can outrun a weasel any day. As he rounded the corner by another mirror booth, a magpie stuck out his leg and tripped Wesley Weasel.
“I’ve got you now, Weasel!” Cameron exclaimed. “Let’s just keep you someplace until you can go to the King’s court, which will meet tomorrow, lucky for you.”
Cameron found a cage, locked Wesley inside, and strung it up from a lamp post.
The King’s Council met at their usual time, on Wednesday morning. As soon as the Trumpeter Swans finished their fanfare, Ockham Ordinal Owl began the meeting.
“My lords,” the Owl said, “we will begin today’s meeting with the case of the Crown versus Wesley Weasel. Guards, bring Mr. Weasel before this court.”
The Yeomen brought Wesley in. He had to be cleaned up after his night in the cage, but they fed him breakfast without making him pay for it.
“Mr. Wesley Weasel,” began Ockham, “you are accused of stealing a mirror from one Curtis Crow. How do you plead?”
“I didn’t do it,” said Wesley. “I was framed.”
“I seen him, I did,” said Mumford Mole. “He took the mirror from the booth and put it in his scarf… but he was caged, not framed.”
“I caught him with the mirror in his scarf,” said Cameron.
“Is this the mirror?” asked Ockham, holding the mirror up for all to see.
“Yes, that’s it,” replied the Centaur.
“Well, I would say you’re guilty,” said Ockham. “What do you say, Your Majesty?”
“Guilty,” said the King, admiring the workmanship of the mirror.
“Mr. Weasel,” said Ockham Ordinal Owl, “this court sentences you to go to the Reflecting Room and think about things, until you decide to change your ways.”
The Reflecting Room was a little chamber underneath the castle, especially built for wrongdoers so they could think about what they did wrong. There was a mirror on the wall to help them think harder.
“Now for our next order of business,” said Ockham. “The King has had another Very Real Dream. Would you explain it to the Council, Cardinal Corvallis?”
Corvallis told the Council that the King had dreamed of a garden filled with butterflies. When the Forest Folk tried to catch them, the butterflies turned into nettles, and stung the folks’ fingers.
“This time I myself know the meaning of the Very Real Dream,” Corvallis said.
“Please tell the Council,” said the King.
“The butterflies are silk scarves,” Corvallis explained. “They have brought envy upon some people of Larkwood, who can’t afford to buy them. When people put on their silk scarves, it makes other people jealous. It’s like the sting of a nettle.”
“Well said,” the King agreed. “What should we do about it?”
“I have an idea,” said Ockham Owl. “If the people envy each other’s scarves, we should cut off the source of envy. If we return the Larva Garden to its original purpose, we might solve two problems at the same time. If we had home-grown earthworms again, we wouldn’t have to bring worms in from overseas. Larkwood could take care of itself. Plus, if we quit raising silkworms there wouldn’t be any more scarves, and the people wouldn’t get jealous.”
“I think there may be another interpretation of His Majesty’s dream,” interrupted Wigglesworth, the Worm Warden. “The butterflies didn’t sting when people simply looked at them. It was when people tried to take them away from the garden that they turned to nettles and stung.
“Many of us have wives who really love their scarves. If we should take the scarves away from our wives, we would surely feel a sting worse than that of any nettles.”
“Hear, hear,” said the Council members all at once.
“How would you solve the problem of envy?” asked the King.
Wigglesworth thought for a few seconds, then answered.
“I think that we should give fancy titles to folks who are jealous,” he replied. “In that way they will feel better about themselves. If we levy a tax on imported worms, we can give these worms away free to the needy folks in Larkwood, instead of charging them money. Let us continue to make silk in the Larva Garden, for our wives will love us more if they have beautiful scarves to wear.”
No one could argue against Wigglesworth’s idea without appearing selfish, greedy, heartless, or just plain rude.
“What do you say, Mr. Magpie?” asked the King. “After all, these are your worms that will be taxed.”
“I agree to this proposal,” said Motley.
“Who shall be in charge of such a task?” asked the King.
“If it please Your Majesty,” said Ockham, “the one who suggested this plan should carry it out. Let anyone who wants a fancy title have one for a small fee. We should let Wigglesworth Weasel perform that duty.”
“All kneel,” said Ockham Ordinal Owl.
The Trumpeter Swans sounded the exit fanfare as King Herald walked to his office. The Yeomen went up to the Peanut Gallery to make sure no one tried to stay there overnight. The Council members gradually left the room, but some of them were not satisfied with the outcome of the meeting.
Outside, Mumford Mole walked with Cameron Centaur a little way through the Patchwork Gardens.
“What did you think of that, Cameron?” asked Mumford, picking a weed out from under one of the rose bushes.
“I didn’t much like the sound of it,” Cameron replied. “What about you?”
“Well, some folks are just plain jealous of other folks. For example, those Maenad Maids are always lookin’ down their noses on my missus, because she worked her way up through the ranks. It sort of discourages a person from doin’ his best, if you know what I mean.”
“I do,” said Cameron, “but I hope you don’t get discouraged, Mumford. After all, you and Mrs. Mole have done wonders here in the castle. Just look at these Patchwork Gardens.”
Cameron gestured towards a patch of geraniums, marguerite and southernwood. Mumford Mole was a genius at mixing flower, foliage and fragrance. He had created a different sensation in each “patch” of the Patchwork Gardens. As you strolled from patch to patch, you had the feeling you were strolling through living works of art.
“Well, anyone can dig a hole and plant flowers in it,” Mumford said dryly. “You and I both know that the reason I’m on the King’s Council in the first place is because of my missus. The Queen really loves her cookin’. You know, since the ladies aren’t allowed to sit on the Council, puttin’ me there was the next best thing. Are you going to apply for a Fancy Title, Cameron?”
“A plain title like ‘Sheriff’ is good enough for me,” replied the Centaur. “I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble, or the expense. See you, Mumford. I have to go.”
“Bye, Cameron,” said Mumford. “Come ’round my cottage sometime for a pint of berry cider, why don’t you?”
“Will do,” said Cameron, now headed for the precincts to see if anything was going on over there.
Then Mumford picked up a pair of garden shears and started trimming around the hibiscus.
The Marquis de Lop didn’t like flowers. He wondered why these silly Northerners planted flower gardens. (In the Southern Kingdom they had such beautiful gravel gardens!) That evening, the Marquis wrote in his diary:
This Northern Kingdom has some very strange customs. When the King holds court,
he does not make a decision until he has given the common folks a chance to speak. They have even built a “Peanut Gallery” above the courtroom for this purpose.
We could never imagine such a thing in our beloved Gaul-i-Fleur. His Splendid Utmost, King Lapin VII, is a true King indeed. He makes decisions by himself. He doesn’t need to ask the
opinion of the people.
x 1 Magpie – July
The Swan Dive
A shower of red and white rose petals fell from the Sapling Road Bridge onto The Good Ship Swan Feather as she floated down the Royal Canal and into the open waters of the River of Time. The Queen looked stunning at the bow, wearing a light brown blazer over a white silk blouse and ankle-length pleated skirt.
When the Swan Feather hit open water the oarsmen heaved and the ship suddenly thrust forward. George let out a shout of joy.
“Wa?” asked the Prince.
“Yes, my Darling, water!” replied Nellie. “There’s enough water to make tea for a hundred years. Mind you, this is the River of Time. A hundred years means nothing here.”
Suddenly a faun cried out, “Swans off the starboard bow, one, two, three afloat, merry-merry!”
The oarsmen lifted their oars, which left water dripping back down into the river. The Queen stood and readied a round trumpet that she placed around her neck and shoulder. She fixed the knobby mute in its bell, and blew.
“Tu-whoo! Tu-whoo!” she played. The swans recognized the Queen’s call and turned toward the ship.
“Ba!” said Prince George, pointing in the direction of the swans.
“That’s right, George,” said Nellie. “Bird! Aren’t they grand birds, at that? These are swans. Can you say ‘swan’?”
“Shwa,” said George, not quite getting it right.
“That’s right, ‘swan,’” said Nellie, raising her horn to her lips. “Come, my pretties, we shall take you upriver to the swan stables to be counted. Tu-whoo!”
Every year, about two weeks after the Festival of Sevens, the Queen’s swan master would count the swans, to find out which of them had not returned from their yearly migration. He would also count the new cygnets and give them names. The Queen herself would lead them upriver.
They saw the next family of swans about fifteen minutes later. Prince George threw some bread crumbs into the water for them. They found two more families of swans that morning. In all, they collected twelve swans, eight adults and four cygnets, before stopping for lunch.
In the afternoon they found another family of swans milling about the Barrel Works. A family with an adopted cygnet joined the procession at Tadpole Landing. They picked up one more family near the Chart House, a hollow oak tree that Milward Mouse used in his surveying operations. When they arrived at the Royal Swannery at Wren Lea late that afternoon, they had collected a grand total of twenty-one swans.
Toward evening The Good Ship Swan Feather docked at the Swannery in Wren Lea. Boncompte the Boar collected and stabled the swans. The Queen and Prince George went into the Swan Dive tavern, where they agreed to meet King Herald for supper. They arrived a little earlier than expected, so they went to freshen up a bit and relax in the Down Room.
At the agreed time, King Herald arrived at the Swan Dive, along with Wigglesworth, Satterwhite and the King’s Retinue. They went straight up to the Gilded Room, which was set up for supper.
Wigglesworth didn’t like babies. He excused himself to go downstairs for a drink before supper. He wanted to find out what he could from Courtney Crow, the innkeeper, about the swans. Some folks placed wagers on which swans would return from their yearly migration. Of course, where there was a wager, there was Wigglesworth.
“What are the odds on Cassandra not coming back?” he asked, taking a sip of berry cider.
The innkeeper checked his score sheet. “Three to one, Your Grace,” he said. “She’s getting pretty old, you know.”
As Titles Minister, Wigglesworth had given himself the best Fancy Title: Lord Furfolk. Several other new “lords” (all weasels) were there at the Swan Dive that night: Lord Sniffington, Lord Wetwhistle and Lord Foggybottom.
“I’m looking for a long shot,” said Wigglesworth, hoping to make some quick money.
“Then you’ll be looking for one of last year’s new cygnets. How about Sylphy? I’ll give you a hundred to one.”
Suddenly the door flew open. A robin, an owl and a mole burst in and sat down at the counter, making no great pretense of politeness.
“What’ll it be, gentlefolks?” asked Courtney Crow.
“Make it three berry ciders,” said the Owl gruffly.
“There you are,” said Courtney as he set the mugs down on the counter. “You seem to be a bit upset.”
“Those weasels up in Castor’s Ferry are taking a third of the imported worms as tax for the King,” said the Mole. “We thought it was supposed to be a fourth.”
The three Fancy Lords overheard this statement, and one of them stood up.
“I am one of those weasels,” said Lord Sniffington. “Do you challenge the right of the King to tax your worms?”
“And I am one of those weasels,” said Lord Wetwhistle. “Do you challenge the right of weasels to collect taxes for the King?”
“And who taught you to count, anyway?” asked Lord Foggybottom. “I’ve heard that moles have to count everything on their fingers.”
“If we are giving away titles,” said the Robin, “I dub myself Lord Bottoms-Up!”
“We’re not giving them away, said Wigglesworth from the other end of the counter. “For a nominal fee I shall grant you a Fancy Title, but let’s not change the subject. If you want, you may petition the King, for His Majesty dines tonight in this very tavern, in an upstairs room.”
“Perish the thought,” said Lord Sniffington. “These guys will not interrupt His Majesty over so trifling a matter.”
“I dare say not,” said Lord Wetwhistle. “Let them finish their drinks and be on their way.”
“Right you are,” said Wigglesworth. “I’ll go ask the guards to throw them out on their ears.”
Wigglesworth went up the stairs, but the King’s Retinue didn’t want to leave their posts. He began to argue with them about whether robins, owls and moles have ears, so he didn’t see what happened next.
“We have as much right to be here as you do,” said the Mole to the three Fancy Lords. “What makes you think you’re so great, anyway? Just because you have a Fancy Title doesn’t make you any better than us. Look at yourselves!”
The mole took out his pocket mirror and held it up to Lord Wetwhistle’s face. The Fancy Lord shrank back with a look of horror on his brow. Then the mole showed the mirror to Lord Sniffington, who headed for the restroom, all doubled over. Lord Foggybottom backed up as if a snake had dropped out of a tree.
“Now would you look at that?” said the Robin. “The Fancy Lords are not able to look at themselves in your mirror!”
“They must see themselves as they really are,” said the Owl.
“Do tell!” said the Mole. “Maybe the King would like to have a look!”
Satterwhite, who had been watching the ruckus from the top of the stairs, came halfway down, sword drawn.
“Not on your lives, Gentlefolks!” he said. “I think we had all better call it a night.”
The King, Queen and Prince left the Swan Dive tavern quickly. Satterwhite kept his sword drawn for the entire trip back to the castle.
And so, as mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow, the Kingdom of Larkwood felt the first tremors of what would become an earth-shaking event. The mirrors, if you looked willingly into them, showed you what you wanted to see, but if you were forced to look into them, they showed you as you really were. Nobody wanted to see that! Until then, nobody knew the destructive power of mirrors. Now that the secret was out, the news spread far and wide, even to the borders of Larkwood, and beyond. Anyone who had a grievance could serve himself justice because, as far as mirrors were concerned, Larkwood was armed to the teeth!
No one told the Marquis de Lop what happened at the Swan Dive tavern. That night, after he finished his supper, the Marquis made this entry in his diary:
The food in this Northern Kingdom is unbearable. They have a “royal chef” named
Martha Mole, whose cookery is heavy and unsophisticated. Thanks to her “all-butter” style, I am
putting on weight. Fie on this Northern Kingdom!
Luckily, His Splendid Utmost, King Lapin VII, has sent Pierre le Poulet
to serve as my private chef. An ambassador of my stature should not be forced into hardships
like eating Martha Mole’s cookery, now should he?