While Sonny gave no credit to rumours of the owl (the most popular of which now had the mighty beast standing three feet tall, with a scarred face and red eyes), he did take an interest in the other mysterious birds, Alfred and Leon. Sonny asked Winston one morning about these two, and Winston abruptly told him that Leon had long ago been killed by a fox, while Alfred was once a bright young goose who had now gone mad. With the chief rooster obviously unwilling to share any more information on the subject, Sonny went to a different, though almost as knowledgeable source: his own sister, Rosie. She was about two years older than Sonny, and was one of the best laying hens on the farm. Laying eggs was only her day job though; her dream was to become a documentary filmmaker. Her good friend, Rascal the terrier (who, thanks to many hours watching television from the comfort of the farmhouse, had come to know quite a lot about human ideas and behavior), had once told Rosie about documentaries, and she was instantly infatuated with the idea. Rascal thought Rosie would be interested in the art form because she was a passionate storyteller. Actually, Rosie was interested because she liked watching others when they didn’t know they were being watched. Anyway, whether because of her love of a good story, or simply because she was a bit of a pervert, Rosie had become a depository of gossip, rumours, scandals, conspiracies and even true stories involving nearly every animal on the farm. Sonny went out to the shady patch of grass behind the stables, where Rosie was hunting grasshoppers. She was more than happy to answer his questions.
“Winston didn’t want to talk about Leon?” said Rosie, “Well, I’m not surprised. It’s a frightening tale, the Ballad of Leon the Rooster.” Rosie stood proudly and cleared her throat. She took a deep breath and prepared to weave her storytelling magic.
“Just give me the abridged version,” interjected Sonny, just in time.
“Fine,” lied Rosie, ruffling her feathers. “Leon’s identity is no mystery. I remember him. Half the chickens alive today knew him. He is Ivan’s older brother.”
“Ivan has a brother?” Sonny was stunned.
“Oh yes,” assured Rosie. “He was even bigger than Ivan, though not particularly clever. Yes, a lot of us knew Leon. We’re just not supposed to mention him—Winton doesn’t like it.”
“Winston told me a fox ate Leon.”
“Ah, yes, the fox theory—that’s one possibility. But Winston never actually saw a fox take Leon. No one knows what became of him. He disappeared shortly after he fought Winston.”
“He challenged Winston?”
“Oh yes. I remember the fight, though I was young. They fought right there in the yard, just in front of the henhouse. Leon was strong—stronger than Winston—but he was too inexperienced. Winston was just a better fighter. In fact, Winston could see if Leon challenged him a second time he might not be able to defeat him, so he made sure he wouldn’t be able to fight again.”
“He kept attacking Leon even after he yielded. Winston broke Leon’s wing and crippled his foot. It was hideous. It wasn’t right for him to do that, but no one was game enough to say anything.”
“Well,” said Sonny, “I’m sure Winston had his reasons. After all, he had to look after the chickens.”
Rosie was taken aback. “That’s exactly what Winston said.” She looked at Sonny curiously. “Anyway, everybody just accepted the result and forgot about it—except Ivan. Even though he was just a chick he never forgot. For a few days Leon remained with the chickens, and then he started wandering around the farm. He would come back at night to eat and sleep, and then go wandering again the next morning. Then one night he didn’t come back. No one saw him after that.”
“Well, if he was wandering around the farm at night, a fox probably did get him.”
“Maybe,” said Rosie sceptically. “But I only said that since the fight Leon has not been seen.” Sonny looked confused, to Rosie’s satisfaction. She paused, and then looked around for dramatic effect, though she knew there was no one within earshot. She leaned in close to Sonny. “There are some,” she whispered, “who think he is still alive, wandering the farm and plotting his revenge. They say sometimes at night you can hear him hobbling about under the henhouse, scavenging for food.”
Sonny gave a little shiver.
© 2020 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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