Yesterday an encounter in the magic garden left Queen Filigree more than a little breathless and romance is in the air.
Spring – Chapter Seven – Jeremy the Donkey
Image © Tales from the Irish Garden
As the magic garden came into bloom, creatures that had been sheltering in the nearby forest during the icy winter began to run and play in the long grass and hedgerows. On the edge of the forest was a small farm, with a herd of beautiful black and white cows and a rather bad tempered bull called Gerard. He had a fearsome temper unless he was romancing one of the ten big-eyed cows in his herd, and even the farmer, Michael, took every precaution when moving him from field to field.
This meant enticing the bull over to the barred gate, and offering him peppermints which he was addicted to. Once his head was over the gate and he was munching away happily, Michael would slip the rope through the ring at the end of his nose, and the bull would then follow quietly behind his master; into the next field.
After one such occasion, when Gerard was safely secured in his own private paddock, Michael let his donkey, Fiona, in with the cows, who always welcomed her with a skip and a little dance. Fiona was normally ignored by the bull when he was grazing with his harem, but the donkey had given them a lovely surprise earlier in the spring. By her side was her son, who was just a few weeks old, and who looked the image of his father. Fiona had been lent to Michael’s brother Thomas the previous winter, to help his donkey Ned pull some fallen trees out of the forest to be cut up for firewood. They had spent some time on their own in Michael’s small paddock, and clearly had become close friends. Now Fiona guided her beloved son Jeremy into the herd of cows that gently inspected and kissed him in welcome.
He was a beautiful baby with large brown eyes like his mother, but strong long legs like his father. The cows thought he was adorable and Fiona was filled with pride as she watched her son being adopted by her herd sisters. None of them saw the anger filled face of the master of the herd however, as he glared across the barbed-wire fence at the little infiltrator. Gerard did not care that Jeremy was a donkey. He was male and that was unacceptable. As the bull chewed on the last of his peppermints, he hatched a plan to get rid of the usurper.
His plan took a few weeks to put into action, since he was now kept separate from his herd by the fence and the iron gate. However, he spent the time fruitfully, pushing his big wide shoulders and rock hard forehead into the wooden gate post. Because Michael just threw the occasional bale of hay over the gate, and only checked Gerard out visually as he ate the offering, he didn’t notice how unstable the gate post had become.
One morning when the bull saw his master drive off in his cart to market, he gave one final push to the damaged post. It collapsed into the field where his herd was grazing peacefully. They and Fiona looked up to see the angry bull, shouldering the now lopsided gate aside and charging towards them. The cows immediately sensed that Gerard’s target was the small and vulnerable Jeremy, and they ganged up together, facing the bull as he closed the gap.
Fiona in the meantime, nudged and pushed Jeremy to the hawthorn hedge that enclosed the field on the forest side, edging him towards a small gap in the greenery.
With the thunder of hooves behind her, Fiona knew there was little time; she was going to have to get Jeremy through the hedge without any delay. She was desperate; aware that she might be pushing her young son into a strange and potentially more dangerous world. But if he stayed it would be even more perilous.
Just as she felt the hot breath of the bull across her tail, she managed to push Jeremy through the small hole in the hedge, and felt him pop out the other side. She nimbly kicked up her heels and caught Gerard across his big beefy nose, twisting to one side as he crashed into the green barrier.
She ran up and down the edge of the field calling to her baby; finally hearing a faint cry as Jeremy, now very bewildered, located her voice.
‘You have to go my son. You only have minutes before that monster breaks through the hedge,’ she desperately tried to get her son to listen to her through his crying. ‘Find the path into the forest and follow it until you get to the magic garden. The Storyteller will take care of you.’ Fiona turned to see that Gerard was madly trying to push himself through the small hole he had created, still mad at the innocent young donkey.
‘Go Jeremy, go now and I will find you one day I promise.’ With that the plucky mother donkey charged at the enraged bull, nipping at his heels with her sharp teeth. Momentarily distracted, Gerard backed out of the hedge and started slashing the grass with one of his front legs, head down and preparing to charge.
But the bully had not taken into account the love that the herd of cows had for Fiona and her son. He was not expecting to find his path blocked by several enraged wives, whilst the others gathered around him to the sides and rear. All the snorting in the world was not going to make any difference against the combined efforts of his harem, who stared at him with determination and anger.
Eventually after much huffing and puffing and stamping of hooves, Gerard nonchalantly sauntered across to his own field, stepping daintily through the open gate, satisfied that he had accomplished his mission of ridding his herd of another male, however small.
Jeremy in the meantime had run as fast as his gangly long legs could carry him. Spotting a sunlit path through the mighty trees, he followed his mother’s instructions until he emerged into a wide grassy field full of meadow flowers. He stood petrified; camouflaged in the shadow of the forest, beginning to feel very alone and hungry.
With a startling whoosh, a long-eared face appeared with a bunch of buttercups between its teeth. Jeremy jumped back in alarm, finding himself backed into the gnarly bark of an old oak tree.
‘Don’t be afraid pet,’ A high-pitched voice issued forth between the petals of the buttercups.
‘My name is Neville and I have been sent by The Storyteller to take you to the vegetable
patch in the magic garden for some supper.’
Jeremy was surprised that he could understand this strange creature, but the mention of food helped persuade him that he should follow his new friend.
‘Come on pal, let’s get hopping, I need to get some carrots before the rest of the warren gets hold of them.’
With that Neville turned tail and hopped off through the long grass. Jeremy took a tentative hoof forward, and then galloped after the rabbit along the path he made towards a distant house; smoke billowing from its chimney.
Soon the young donkey emerged from the meadow grass and passed through an opening in a wooden fence. Neville was there, pulling up a carrot, and he also saw some mice and a badger helping themselves to other vegetables. There were even two foxes eating out of a bowl of chopped chicken wings, and a squirrel drinking from a pan of water. It was very strange indeed.
Jeremy was used to the kind human hand of Michael, his master, so was not afraid when an old man walked into the vegetable patch, heading towards him leading an enormous white goat on a rein.
‘Hello there Jeremy, I heard you were coming to visit us.’ The Storyteller’s soft voice comforted his new visitor. ‘You are going to stay with us and you will see your mother soon, but in the meantime, Esme here is going to be your foster mum and give you some warm milk.’
Warily, Jeremy sidled up to the strange creature that turned to look at him with large wise eyes. He nudged her underbelly and snorted with delight at the rich and strong tasting milk he found. He barely felt the gnarled hand that stroked his back or the sound of his new friends foraging. He missed his mother but he felt safe in this magic place.
Over the next few weeks Jeremy grew bigger and stronger, making some very special friends amongst the other inhabitants of the garden. He even came to the attention of Queen Filigree, who would lead him by a halter and rein of silk as she wondered the garden. Small moss lined baskets of woven twigs were balanced on his back, holding precious herbs and medicinal roots that her majesty would turn into healing potions and tablets.
His only sorrow was that he missed his mother very much; each day he looked towards the forest to see if she might have followed the sunlit path through the trees. The queen and the Storyteller could see that the little donkey was pining. They put their heads together and discussed the problem as they sat on a large toadstool in a patch of sunlight.
One day, after spending a delightful day foraging in the woods for mushrooms for the upcoming royal banquet for King Patrick and Queen Seren, Jeremy and her majesty returned with laden baskets bouncing on his back to the rear of the Storyteller’s cottage. As the Storyteller unloaded the mushrooms, Jeremy heard a gentle throaty purr from behind him. He whirled around to find his mother walking towards him being led by Michael the farmer. He took off like a rocket and was soon standing alongside Fiona, touching her warm coat so closely he could hear her heart beat. She gently caressed his face with her breath and a wave of love and happiness swept through them both.
Out of the corner of his eye, Jeremy saw the Storyteller shaking hands with his former master and some paper changing hands. The queen came over and stroked between Fiona’s ears and gently touched her long face.
‘Hello Fiona my dear, lovely to have you join us and we can now gather many more mushrooms and herbs, the three of us together.’
That evening, Jeremy introduced his mother to all his friends as they gathered in their special vegetable patch. That spring night passed delightfully as new friends exchanged their life stories.
©Sally Cronin 2018
I hope you have enjoyed and will join me next Saturday for more adventures in the magic garden.
My latest short story collection is Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet.
One of the recent reviews for the collection
You can find out about my other books and their most recent reviews: Sally’s books and reviews 2019/2021