Monday, August 8


Mama told me, oughtn't hunt the ravens. She told me, flat out. Mama's off the boat, though, and won't look sideways at a sausage even if she don't know what it's made with, and we were so hungry that month. Where she's from, I guess the ravens still speak to the old priestesses. Come straight down and whisper all the Morrigan's secrets in any ears'll listen. You'd think She'd be glad of the flock getting thinned a bit but Mama says no, girl, mustn't, never.

Mama brought my bow over the wide sea, brought it through steerage and customs and immigration, safe at the bottom of her little pasteboard valise. She taught me how to string it at five, and how to track the same year. Learned pretty good, I guess, 'cause she always took me along after that. In the hills ain't much to do but look for food, do chores, pray. The women of our family don't have much to do with prayer, but no one round can say we don't keep our end of the bargain. The year I turned fourteen, it was a dry year, a dusty time, and it was my turn to take up the hunt.

That day burned over the hills like a bonfire. Early mornings are best for hunting but by the time I've had my coffee all the mist's burned off. So I find myself slogging up the foothills in what might's well be noon, according to the animals. It's okay if I'm just checking snares but if I'm gonna do the real tracking I just stay out all night. So, this particular day it was hot, and bright. Felt like a dream of the desert, only with more trees. The hills were dried to dust and dirt and rubble, and scree kept rolling out from under my feet. I'd been in the shade for most of my hike, but sweat was still rolling down my face like a river tryin to get back to the sea.

Mama told me, the snares, girl, snares'll do the hunting when you're still laying about. So I set seven, or maybe eight, along these little scratched-thin paths where rabbits and squirrels were like to scurry without too much mind, and I'd drink my coffee and make biscuits for when Mama woke up. Anyway, this day nothing was going as it should. Line after line was coming up empty til I was bout to sit down and have myself a little drink near the crest of the hill.

Well, I'll be damned if I'll go home empty-handed, so I thought, Saoirse my girl, let's stroll down the crick and see if we can't scare up some trout for supper instead. Just as I capped the waterbag and stood to head downhill I caught a little rustle from the other side of the hawthorn. Sure enough, when I poked my head around the bush, I saw it clear as day, trying to be stealthy so's I would pass on by and it could figure its way out of my trap.

"Fox," I said, "ain't no way you're getting out of that, I tied it just so. And we don't eat fox, no matter how hungry we are. So hold still and I'll let you go." She was a big vixen, I saw, with a flaming brush as pretty as autumn itself.

"Girl," she said, "I never heard your family putting mine in the cookpot, so I'll tell you this--just over the ridge, your snare's got a fat rabbit." I smiled wide with relief as I worked to untie my special nine-knot.

"Which you were gonna swipe from the line, no doubt?" Fox just sniffed and held her paw a little higher so I could pull the rope away.

I was winding the line and headed down the hill toward the next one when I heard her bark, "Girl! Don't you eat that rabbit! Let it get away so you can follow it home. You hear me?" And I was flat put out with that, good supper going to waste because I been taught to listen when an animal's making sense. So I'm sure I came over the ridge looking like a thundercloud, but sure as anything, there was the fattest rabbit I've ever seen in my snare. It slicked its long ears back and crouched down as far as it could when it saw my mad face.

"Girl," it said with a little tremble in its voice, "girl, let me get back to my family and quick, there's a fox been sniffing around your lines, you'll wanna catch it before it do some real damage, yeah?" Well, I was still pretty cranky about losing this guy, what would've made my supper that much sweeter, so I didn't say anything, just leaned down real close to start untying the knots. "Girl," the rabbit said, "you won't regret this, this just go to show how the world repays kindness! You follow me on home, girl, and we'll show you something for sure. Yeah!" I just nodded at it and wound up my line as it shook off the pressure of being bound all morning.

Well, we were headed through the scratch and prickles of the blackberry canes along the crick when we hit along my last snare, and wouldn't you know, there was a damn raven tangled up in my line. "Rabbit, you go on ahead and leave me a marker, I've got to get this raven out of my snare before I catch up to you."

"Girl, you best leave that raven where it is and follow me, I can't leave you no markers on account of that fox."

"Well, I can't, so you are just gonna have to remember what you owe me," I snarled, and it took off in a fair hurry. And now I was in an even worse mood, so when that raven rolled its shiny bead eyes at me and croaked a warning, I just told it to shut up. I sure didn't want to hear any more lip from animals that day.

Then when the fox burst out of the canes behind us and took off after that rabbit, my rabbit, I knew for sure that this was how kindness was repaid in the world. That my sweet-talkin fox was headed to eat up my rabbit and all his kin...well, I was so riled up I strapped that raven to my back, headed home, and when Mama finally woke up? We had fried chicken for dinner.

This week's Indie Ink Challenge comes from The Drama Mama, who sent me this picture for inspiration.  It comes from Beth Moon, and I am so grateful to have been led to these pictures, thanks!  Saoirse, the Sibyl of Eastern Tennessee, comes from my staggeringly long Appalachian-folktale mishmash (still unnamed at several thousand words), and her origin story just seemed to scream straight out of this image.  I challenged Bewildered Bug with a little window into my psyche, and can't wait to read what she does with it.  

For any other folklore nerds that might be following along, this piece was loosely based upon Type 155, Ingratitude is the World's Reward.