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Acquisition

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The recorded tales of Kieran the Bard fall into three categories: the Woodland Cycle, Castles and Kings, and an unnamed cycle of lusty tales (recently destroyed by mysterious accident). Some are in the bard's own hand, while others, mere shadows of the originals, remain only as bedtime tales for children. The structure exemplifies the helical form favored by listeners about the hearth on a long winter's eve. As to whether they describe real events, be allegory, or be mere entertaining fancy, the reader must decide.

Kieran was on the road from Wren to Fairtree, when he grew weary from the midday sun. His boots were tight and he thought to remove them for a bit in the shade of a nearby oak (oaks being a favorite of bards). This particular oak was venerable and gnarled, with sturdy branches that dipped and swooped, nearly touching the ground in spots. From its shade Kieran watched the forest creatures playing in the warm sun. But for the rustling of leaves, high above, the only sounds were of butterfly wings and birdsong.

"What a peaceful day," Kieran thought as he watched a butterfly drift by, "What a beautiful day! In truth, since bards first told tales, has there ever been a day more peaceful and beautiful than this?"

He drank from his waterskin and, taking his lute from its sack, cleared his throat and began to sing:

"Oh, the maidens of Wren are passing fair ...

...with breasts like melons, and flaxen hair ..."

He had just taken a deep breath to bellow the lusty chorus when a small, feminine voice said, "Kind sir ..."

He leaped to his stockinged feet, his face flaming red. "Who's there?" he cried.

The small voice repeated, "Please, sir, if you will be so kind ..."

Kieran looked about but saw no person or creature addressing him.

"Pray thee," he cried. "Show thyself or have cause to fear my dagger." (He tried desperately to remember where he had last seen it.) "Whether thee be friend or foe, pray thee show thyself now."

The small voice replied from above him, "Kind sir, thou hast no cause to fear me, and I am in need of help. Can thou find it in thy heart to aid me?"

He looked up and saw naught but a small robin's nest, three branches above him. Climbing swiftly, he found a robin with three tiny robinlings, their mouths open wide.

"Good mother robin," he asked, "Can it be thee who addresses me thus?"

"Kind sir," she replied, "I have hurt my wing and it will be at least a day before I might fly. If my children do not eat soon, they will die. Would you be so kind as to bring a fat, juicy meal? Would you find a caterpillar or earthworm or grub for my children?"

Now, Kieran was kind of heart and it was not within him to refuse a plea such as this, so off he went into the forest. Searching under some mulberry leaves, he soon found a small green caterpillar. It seemed a perfect meal for young robins.

Plucking it from the leaf upon which it fed, he prepared to hurry back to the oak when he heard a tiny voice. He opened his hand and the caterpillar looked up at him with her big brown eyes wide with fear. "Kind sir," she said, "wouldst thou kill me so thoughtlessly?"

Kieran scratched his head in puzzlement and the caterpillar continued: "When thou cooled thy feet beneath the oak, didst thou not find joy in my parents' beauty as they danced before thee in the sun? I, too, am soon to change. Wouldst thou deny thy successors the joy of my dancing? And if I do not live to have children, how will thine own children find such joy? Please, sir, would not an earthworm serve the needs of the robinlings just as well?

Kieran looked into the eyes of the caterpillar and knew that he could not feed her to the robins. Carefully, he placed her beneath her mulberry bush and continued his search.

Near a rushing brook, Kieran found a flat stone that, when moved, revealed a juicy earthworm enjoying the cool moist earth. "Aha." he thought. "As nice as the caterpillar may have been, this truly seems a more fitting meal for young robins."

He had no sooner plucked the earthworm from it's cool abode (where it had been frantically trying to burrow away from him), when he heard a voice so faint he might have imagined it:

"Kind sir," he thought he heard, and Kieran looked in his hand. The worm continued: "I am but a lowly creature, it's true, but might I plead such case that I have?"

Kieran rolled his eyes skyward as the worm sat up and seized its chance. "I am not a lowborn worm like others you might find. No, I am a prince among earthworms. I come from an ancient lineage. My ancestors burrowed the earth when fires belched from black pits throughout these lands. I command millions like myself. Were it not for my loyal followers, you, good sir, would be up to your neck in leaves, tree trunks and mouldy carcasses. I'll make a bargain with you. If you release me and choose, instead, a pathetic grub for the robinlings, I will dispatch an entire clan of earthworms to keep your foreyard clean and sweet-smelling for as long as ye shall live." The earthworm looked hopefully at Kieran (while calculating the distance to the ground). "Good sir, what say ye?"

Kieran was beginning to lose his patience, but, seeing the value of the earthworm's offer, decided that a grub would, indeed, make a tasty morsel for the young robins. He returned the earthworm to its moist haven and carefully replaced the flat stone above it. And, true to his desire, a short while later, in a forest glade, beneath a wide slab of discarded bark, Kieran chanced upon that which he sought: a fat white grub that would grow the robinlings into beautiful songsters. He plucked it from its hiding place and set forth. It was a beautiful day, indeed.

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