by Tamara Sheehan
Gules looked up from the chopping block, one hand still extended gripped the hatchet, which was frozen out before him in mid-stroke.
“Hey,” he called; then louder, “Hey!” to the boy who came running down the road.
Miev skidded to a halt in front of Gules. Dust settled all around him, stuck to his pink flushed face, his plain shirt. He was panting, the boy had one hand pressed to a stitch in his side, and his eyes were bright.
“What’s all this hurry?”
“Got to go to town!” Miev panted. “Got big news, big news!”
Gules looked levelly at the boy, ten years old and the man of the house. His mother kept a flock of sheep over which the boy lorded. While she spent her days spinning wool, weaving, and took the bales and bolts down to the market once a week, Miev, ten going on twenty, kept the sheep safe, protected his mother and cleared the caves that served as predator’s dens in winter time. Responsible, but still excitable. Gules leaned over the fence, one foot resting a fresh split piece of wood.
“What’s the news?” he asked.
Miev gulped in air.
He must have run all the way from the pasture, thought Gules, watching the boy struggle to catch his breath. Must have flown down here like the wind to find his mother and tell her. I bet an ewe’s had twins.
“It’s the goat.” Miev said at last, breathless as much with excitement as the running. “She’s laid eggs.”
For an instant, Gules felt a twinge of dread, but it passed. “Impossible.” He said. “If a goat were to lay eggs, it would be a terrible sign. A portent of calamity. Besides, you don’t keep goats.”
“It’s not ours, but it did and I saw it!” Miev pointed back the way he’d come. “Happened just now, in one of the caves up on the hill.”
“Impossible.” He said again.
“She’s got horns, got a beard, mother says that makes her a goat.” Then, Miev added, “doesn’t it?”
“No goat has ever laid eggs.”
“But she did.”
“Then she’s a chicken. Got wings? Got funny little feet like this?” He held out three fingers, splayed. Miev nodded. “Chicken, my lad. Chicken.”
A flush crept over Miev’s face. “We don’t keep chickens.”
“So of course you can’t tell them apart.” Gules swung his hatchet into the wood and leaned both arms on the fence rail. “Course you wouldn’t know about them. You found this chicken in a cave?”
“Near the pasture.” Miev agreed.
“Said to be good eating, chickens.” Gules hummed thoughtfully, then kissed his teeth. “And you must get tired of same old mutton every night.”
“Yes sir.” Miev admitted quietly.
“Tell you what, you go on up and make sure this chicken’s still at home, and I’ll follow along with my axe. We’ll split the bird and the eggs and your ma will have a little something special in the soup pot tonight. How’s that sound?”
Miev brightened, spun on his heel. “It’ll be there, I’m sure it’s still there!” he called as he dashed away. Gules watched him go, smiling after the boy, then went looking for his axe.
Miev was winded by the time he reached the cave. He braced his arms on knees until his breathing steadied, then peered into the darkness beyond. Inside lay the goat, or chicken, or whatever Gules had said. Her long, sinuous body curled and coiled around three great, glossy eggs.
She raised her head as he entered, blinked and butted her head gently against his side. He patted her scales, rubbed the rough patch between her horns with both hands.
“Well,” he told her quietly, while the eye, as big as his head, rolled with pleasure at his ministrations, “I’m sorry, girl. I thought you were a goat, but I was wrong. Gules says goats don’t lay eggs.” He felt her sigh, a wave of heat and sulfur in the cavern.
“Does he indeed?” The resonance of her voice filled up his belly.
“He says you’re a chicken and...” a little shamed, Miev added, “he says you’ll make good eating.”
A puff of smoke and sulfur. The pink mouth parted in something like a smile. “Oh... does he indeed?”
Copyright © 2006 by Tamara Sheehan