Yesterday a rescue was mounted to release the badger colony from their burrows after the curse placed on them by the wicked witch..now it is time to have some fun.. at the piglet races
Chapter Fifteen Summer: The Piglet races
Image Tales from the Irish Garden
It was now August, and the long summer days in the palace and the surrounding garden were filled with laughter and parties. The Storyteller introduced the court to another interesting activity that delighted them. Whilst the humans in the Emerald Island were devoted to the sport of horse-racing… the little people known internationally as Leprechauns but locally as Lerpersians, had a love of miniature piglet racing.
As you will have gathered by now, the Storyteller was able to move between both worlds, and could assume the appropriate stature at will. He had returned from the town’s final horse race of the summer, and had managed to acquire, at the farm market that flourished next to the racecourse, six of the most fastidiously bred piglets, born of champion dam and sire racers.
They were also very pretty, and over the next week the fairies came over to the cottage to admire these little darlings. Specially made saddles were being prepared that would hold two fairies strapped into wicker chairs, enabling each to hold one of the reins. This was not a sport for the faint hearted, and the queen ordered helmets to be made from seed pods, with a silk strap to keep them attached. There were also seat belts to keep the riders in their wicker seats, and strong protective gloves woven from goat’s hair.
The helmets were dyed a different colour so that the spectators could keep track of their favourites, and the piglets had large numbers painted on their rumps using beetroot vegetable colouring. Each little steed was put through a rigorous medical by Doctor Doesugood, and the Storyteller supervised the mowing of the track on the lawn next to the magnolia tree. It had an intricate fence of wattle, with a separate paddock where the runners and their jockeys could warm up before the race.
As with any race day, the action was not restricted to the track. Residents of the magic garden, Summer from the cottage next door and Michael from the farm were all invited to set up stalls selling food and drink. To make sure that everyone had plenty to spend, Queen Filigree went into her treasure vault and distributed ten golden linseeds to all the servants and kitchen staff, with twenty of these precious seeds going to her chief courtiers including Chef Marcelle.
The Storyteller also wanted to ensure that all the residents of the magic garden and the forest had sufficient to bet on the races and to buy food and drink, so he provided each person ten poppy seeds, with instructions that they were not to be ground up and smoked as this would lead to far too much unbridled behaviour.
The sun was shining brightly on the day of the races, and gaily coloured stalls lined the perimeter of the track. There was also a VIP pavilion for the royal family, the Storyteller, his daughter, Dorothy, and her family. Inside tables were laden with pies, sandwiches and cakes made by Chef Marcelle and his team. The Storyteller contributed two bottles of fine red wine and two of champagne, as well as amber nectar and strawberry juice for those who did not normally imbibe. Which, he chuckled to himself, was not many!
The food to buy on the stalls was just as varied, and the amber nectar tent seemed to be doing a roaring breakfast trade. Clearly, things might get a little mischievous later in the proceedings, and members of the royal guard were drafted in as stewards to ensure that scuffles and shenanigans were nipped in the bud as quickly as possible. Oddly, those that had disgraced themselves in previous years were nowhere to be found. Apparently their charabanc broke down on the far reach of the forest with no chance of them reaching the event before its final race!
For the week prior to the race meet, the Dapperman and his crew of seamstresses had been busy making brightly coloured summer dresses for the ladies, and light linen suits for the men. Whilst the colours of the dresses were much admired, there was quite a bit of discussion about the length of the skirts and the appropriateness of low necklines. In the end, her majesty intervened and indicated with a piece of string the acceptable allowance for both. Whilst disappointed with the edict, the ladies of the court resorted to other embellishments to stand out from the crowd.
Fascinators are wisps of silk and multi-coloured feathers that perch upon the head. To meet the demand for this first major event in their new kingdom, the Dapperman employed the services of the nimble Orb Weaver spiders who worked in his tailoring emporium.
They were experts in weaving threads into various forms, including lace, and were much revered for their skills. Since time was short, it was decided that all the ladies of the court would have the same round base made from silk and cuckoo spit produced by the froghopper tribe. This frothy white substance could be found liberally splashed on most plants in the magic garden, and the Dapperman had it collected by one of his assistants, fresh each morning.
Once the round base had hardened, feathers that had been collected from the grasslands around the forest over the years and stored in the famed accessory vault at the tailoring rooms, were added higgledy-piggledy all around the brim. The colours were vivid and the fairies were immediately fascinated with each creation. Just in case you were wondering where the name for these head adornments came from!
Of course, Queen Filigree was to have a very special fascinator made to enhance the beautiful turquoise gown the Dapperman had already designed for her. The prized iridescent peacock feathers, imported from the island of Ceylon, crowned her majesty’s head in opulent splendour. There would be no doubt at all at this well attended event, who was the fairest of them all.
The races were an opportunity for those currently unattached to meet the love of their lives, and spirits and hopes were running high. None more so than for the two princesses Narcissus and Persephone, who had been delighted to hear that invitations, sent out to neighbouring kingdoms, had been accepted, with several eligible young princes among the attendees. The young royals might have been only teenagers in fairy terms, but they were approaching 100 years old, which is a good age to settle down.
The queen and Prince Ronan led the court out into the garden, via a carpet of red rose petals that had fallen as nature intended, and not by badgering. As the royal party trod across the petals, the rising scent both entranced and inebriated. Everyone was in excellent spirits as they entered the VIP tent for a restorative glass of champagne, and a meet and greet of their invited guests. After a very pleasant half hour chatting with neighbouring royalty and, in the case of the princesses, eyeing up the potential suitors, the queen and prince led the way to the seats in the grandstand. Here, multi-coloured silk canopies protected the VIPs from the now scorching summer sun. There was much jockeying for position, and that was just in the seating arrangements in the royal enclosure, not those competing in the races.
Finally the crowd drifted towards the wattle fencing; children were hoisted on to their father’s shoulders, and betting slips were gripped tightly in expectant fingers.
There would be three heats with two piglets competing in each. One steed was ridden by fairies and the other by Lerpersians. The first entrants exited the paddock and paraded through the crowd, prancing and shaking their twirly tales in response to the cheers and slightly inebriated strategic suggestions. They took their places on the start line, with the odds in favour of the Lerpersians. These tricky devils were known for not only their piglet riding experience, but ability to extract them from a farmyard expertly in the dead of night, and be a hundred miles away by breakfast. However, Queen Filigree was confident that her chosen fairy riders would be a match for any nefarious little person. She had chosen them personally from her swan express pilots, knowing they had both the stamina and skill to ride these slightly rotund creatures.
A line of silk dotted with red handkerchiefs was raised to piglet chest height, and the two runners in the first race, pranced in place, eager to get away. With a flourish Chef Marcelle yanked the line upwards from his position to the side of the start line, and with a shout from the crowd they were off.
After the three heats it was clear that the Queen had been right to be so confident, and the line-up for the final was two fairy piglets and one Lerpersian. The Storyteller at this point, decided that a word in the ear of the Lerpersian trainer might be in order. In previous years, there had been some underhand shenanigans in the final, resulting in displacing opposing riders, and on one occasion spiking of the favourite rider’s amber nectar with crushed cherry seeds. Thankfully, it was not a large enough dose to be fatal, but certainly sufficient to result in the rider being carried off on a stretcher.
The royal party watched with interest as the Storyteller and the Lerpersian trainer had a quite heated discussion, before their friend returned with a satisfied smile on his face. They saw the trainer approach his rider and hold out his hand, and a very disgruntled Lerpersian handing over a packet of some kind, a large hairpin and a feather duster. The Storyteller explained that it was a last resort, as piglets get hysterical when you tickle them, tending to roll over on the spot.
By now the crowd was getting a bit boisterous. Most had been drinking all day in the hot sun and, as yet, the food had been mainly ignored. There was plenty of time for eating and dancing to the band once the winnings had been counted up. There were hundreds of linseeds and poppy seeds bet on the last race and most had put an all-or-nothing wager on their favourite piglet.
The line of flags went up and the three piglets shot down the track egged on by their riders and the cheering crowd. Around they went, swapping the lead position as they cut each other up on the turns and raced ahead on the straight. Everyone took to their feet in the stands as the piglets approached the finishing line; one second the Lerpersian was in the lead and the next second one of the mounts ridden by the fairies. The noise was indescribable and even Queen Filigree was leaping up and down in excitement. Princess Persephone and Narcissus even dropped their ladylike composure in an effort to catch the eye of the visiting princes, and were screaming for their two piglets as loud as any fishwife.
With a last minute burst, the Lerpersian egged his mount over the line first, and with a roar the crowd erupted either throwing hats in the air, or stomping on them, depending on their fiscal fortunes. No-one was more than surprised than the victor’s trainer, who had thought that winning fair and square was completely out of the question, and he made a note to follow the same tactic at the next meet.
Whilst disappointed not to have won the race with her jockeys, the queen graciously went down to the paddock and congratulated them on their efforts. She slipped the royal riders a small bag of linseeds, with instructions to go off and have a very good time. With the races over for the day, the track was cleared of piglet droppings, and the band set up at the start line. Food stalls did a roaring business, amber nectar and wine flowed freely and one by one couples took to the floor to dance the night away.
With more than a little satisfaction, the queen noticed her daughters on the arms of two very eligible princes and, fingers crossed, there would be an autumn wedding or two. Time those two girls were married! She was comforted that they would not be too far away, with days like this one to be looked forward to every year.
©Sally Cronin 2018 –
I hope you have enjoyed and will join me tomorrow 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
I’m guaranteed to experience laughter and tender emotions when I read a book written by Sally Cronin. In her latest, Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries, she shares a dozen or so short stories and a few poems that focus on the absurdities of life and all the moments that live to teach us something new. I try to convince myself to only read one each night, but an hour later, the book is finished. Perhaps her next collection will include a theme of patience!
Undoubtedly, my favorite is the first story in the lot. All the rest had something amazing to live up to: Sometime in the future (hopefully VERY distant), an automated device is hooked up to EVERYTHING the narrator does. When she wants to order a few grocery items that might have a little too much sugar and fat in them, everything falls apart. Seriously… how many times have we all had this scenario happen in the most briefest of moments — the one where someone says, “Buy the diet item” or “You don’t really need to eat that, do you?” Take it up or down a million notches in this story. No matter what angle our protagonist tries, the computer has her beat.
Life is definitely like a bowl of cherries. It is sweet and sour, you’ve got to go through a hole bunch to find the best one, and if you consume too many pits, I hear there’s an arsenic concern to consider. Luckily, if you devour this particular bowl of cherries, you’ll have some witty stories to share at a dinner party or a fun little tidbit to announce on your next conference call. Cronin completely had my in hysterics over what happened in the first story, and at other times, I smiled and laughed… teared up a bit at the generosity of some and the thoughtfulness of others.
This is everything you want in a short collection of tales about the reality of life. Well worth the purchase and download. Highly recommended. And it reminds me why I’ve grown to love this author’s work. We all need a little bit of her wisdom and humor.
You can find out about my other books and their most recent reviews: Sally’s books and reviews 2019/2021