February 9, 2015


A long time ago a maid by the name of Hanna tended the three cows of the master, milking them, taking them to pasture in season, and returning with them to the byre each evening, where Hanna ate her gruel and then bedded down on straw in the loft. She was content with her lot, for she loved making up fantastic stories about dragons and ogres and witches and telling them to the cows all the day long.

One day while the cows grazed, Hanna, seated with her back against the trunk of a tree, waved her arms about and shrieked, pretending to be a dying witch foiled by a clever milkmaid. She slumped to the ground, a dramatic finish to her tale.

‘Very good. Yes, very good. Indeed, quite good,’ piped a voice from up in the tree. ‘Tell another. Yes, tell another.’

Hanna opened her eyes and and righted herself to have a look up into the tree. A goldfinch sat there nodding at her.

‘Was that you speaking, bird?’ asked Hanna.

‘Me and none other. I’m magic, don’t you know. Tell a story about how a bird outwits a giant, and I’ll grant you a wish,’ said the finch.

Hanna doubted that the bird could grant her a wish. On the other hand, it could talk. And for that matter, Hanna did love making up stories. She was confident she could build something spectacular about a giant and a bird. So she set about to do it.

Did she succeed? Oh my, yes. As she danced about shouting in her gruffest giant voice, all three cows raised their heads from grazing. This was something they rarely did when Hanna told her usual tales. Collapsing heavily to the ground as the dead giant, then leaping up to run about flapping her arms and singing a bird song of triumph, Hanna finished the story.

‘How was that?’ she asked the goldfinch, knowing it had been splendid and expecting to be praised.

‘Oh, splendid. I’ve never been so thrilled. Now your reward. Go ahead. You must close your eyes and make a silent wish,’ said the goldfinch.

Hanna grinned and felt awkward, but she followed instructions. Her lips moved. She opened her eyes. The goldfinch was gone.

‘Well, never mind,’ said Hanna. ‘Come along, Della, Linda, Betty. It’s time to go home.’

When Hanna had finished getting the three cows settled for the night, she turned to face the loft ladder. She remembered the goldfinch and thought Could it be? Up the ladder she went, and reaching the top, she stopped to gaze in wonder. There on a shining gold platter was a round white cake with HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HANNA spelled out on its top in gold icing.

In the kitchen, Hanna’s mother, a secretly shapeshifting cook, smiled.

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