This was given to me as part of the Fosseway Writers Christmas prompt. Being a francophile, I knew I wanted it to be about les poulets rather than Christmas and decided to chuck in a fact that not many Brits will know about chickens. Enjoy!
A dragonfly whooshes through the warm afternoon air, weaving its way from the fern-covered riverbanks, over an empty paddock and across the farmyard, finally disappearing into the shadows of the pine trees at the foot of the hill. Two metres below its flight path, strutting regally around her domain, is Henrietta, queen of this farm in the Perigord. Her dappled black and white plumage is reminiscent of a cuckoo, so much so that her breed (not that she would know it) is known as Coucou de Rennes. A bright red comb crowns a head that surveys her domain, looking for dissent, grain and grubs.
As she strides towards the coop she is followed by a black hen, exuding savoir faire and chic disdain. This is Marguerite and in another life (and another body) she would be sporting sunglasses in jazz clubs, smoking Gauloises, secreting an ebony stiletto dagger about her person and joyfully breaking hearts. Luckily for the rest of us, she’s a chicken. She allows Henrietta to throw her feathery weight around because, well, it’s entertainment of a sort, n’est-ce pas?
Henrietta turns to Marguerite and fluffs her plumage in quick, short shrugs. “That buzzard is wheeling around the sky again.” She looks up at the silhouette gliding in circles a few hundred metres above them.
“So? What can she do to us? She might have big wings but her heart, it is small.”
“Yes, like a mouse.”
Marguerite cocks her head slightly, a chicken version of a raised eyebrow. “She eats mice.”
“Indeed. A savage. Still, we must be on our guard, for the sake of the children.”
“We have no children. We haven’t had children for…” Marguerite stares glassily into the distance. Chickens are not known for their calendar skills. “…I forget. That is how long it is since we have had little ones.”
“Well, no, perhaps not. But the ducks have a family.”
“Ugh, the ducks. Always the ducks. Have you seen what he does to her every year? I would not permit that.”
“Yes, well, quite.” Henrietta fluffs herself once more and thinks of Thierry, the colourful Marans cockerel with whom she had shared some dusty liaisons in previous years. These days, he was barely able to find a perch to greet the dawn, never mind getting down to a little farmyard bump and grind.
A pattering of claws and clucking snaps her attention back to her subjects and she watches Josephine approach, even more flustered than ever.
Marguerite sighs. “What now?”
“Oh, oh, my life! I saw a thing!” trembles the white hen. “A scary thing!”
“Now calm yourself, Josephine,” instructs the queen, “you’re not making any sense.”
“Again,” whispers Marguerite to herself.
“In the grass, it was, oh my. A thing,” continues Josephine.
Henrietta takes a deep breath and tries to wrestle some kind of sense from the flustered fowl. “Can you describe it, dear?”
“Long, it was long. And low. And brown.”
“Was it,” wonders Marguerite, “a stick? Again.”
“A stick.” Josephine nods and blinks. “Yes. Yes. No! It moved, it did, I saw it. Like a snake! Oh, that’s the word I was thinking of. Yes. Snake. It’s over there.”
The other two hens whip their little heads around and glimpse the give-away movement of a serpent through grass.
“Well, that is not on,” says Henrietta. She almost adds something around ‘not being allowed in her farmyard’ but doesn’t want to spoil the moment by precipitating one of Marguerite’s anti-establishment sulks. Better to let her do her thing.
Marguerite’s ‘thing’ is definitely being done. The black hen begins to pace forwards, wings unfolding, accelerating towards the snake in the grass. If it had the presence of mind (and good enough eyesight) to look behind, it would see a dark feathery demon wielding dagger claws, killer beak and a soul full of disdain. Henrietta and Josephine scramble after her.
There’s a sudden yowl and a ginger cat launches itself into the air ahead of Marguerite, fur puffed out, limbs rigid, tail like a flag pole. Claude had been lazing in the sun when the snake slid past his toes and the shock had almost put him into orbit. It starts a chain reaction and the snake, itself now a victim of surprise, springs away from Claude and onto the gravel of the farm track. As it lands it sees oncoming black death in the form of Marguerite and rears up to defend itself. A shadow descends on the snake from behind and seconds later the buzzard is powering skywards again, the snake gripped between its claws.
Claude, remembering that he’s a cat and has certain obligations, sits down and begins to wash himself as if nothing had happened.
Josephine peers around the farmyard. “It’s gone. Where did it go?” And then she sees some spilled grain and forgets all about the snake.
Henrietta struts around the battlefield a few times to re-assert her dominance and then says that she’s going to check on the children, but is secretly seeking out Thierry because all of the excitement has raised her passions.
Marguerite stares up at the tree where the thief has landed and is ripping into its serpentine snack. The black assassin has been deprived of her kill and one day… she will have her revenge.