By the dam, the duckling pecked at the little black box lodged in the mud among the reeds. On one side of the box a square screen lit up, and a tiny arrow flashed in the corner. The duckling leaned in and squinted at the screen; it showed a dark, almost black picture which the duckling did not recognize: the inside of the old shed, viewed from the top shelf along the wall. The image of old Winston, slumped sleeping on his bed, could be seen near the bottom of the screen. After watching for a few seconds, the duckling quacked and then waddled away to the water’s edge and splashed into the dam. Had he stayed and watched a few seconds more, he would have seen the figure of another rooster entering the shed and approaching the old chief. After that, the video camera screen went black, and the tiny red dot faded.
At the old shed, the chickens listened to a young chick perform a song in honour of Ivan’s coronation. The hens all smiled; one had a tear in her eye.
The Clydesdale stood next to her foal at the far side of the horse yard, and they both stared at a dead bird hidden in the grass.
“Is it a sparrow?” asked the foal.
“No,” answered her mother. “That’s not a sparrow. That’s a chick.”
The foal looked up at her mother. “A baby chicken? A chick wouldn’t have wandered this far from the henhouse, would it?”
The Clydesdale shook her head. “No. Someone brought it here.”
She stared at the chick’s mutilated face, and the blood-stained feathers at its neck.
“Maybe a fox killed it,” said the foal.
“It wasn’t a fox,” said the Clydesdale.
“Then what was it?”
A disturbed look crossed the Clydesdale’s long face. She nudged her foal aside with her nose. “Come away from here.”
The two horses walked back toward the stables.
“Should we tell the chief rooster?” said the foal.
“No,” said the Clydesdale. “Don’t talk to the chickens. And just pretend you never saw the dead chick.”
At the shed, the chickens clucked in appreciation as the young chick finished her song. Sonny once again stood before the birds.
“And now,” he said, “we shall give the chief rooster an honour that even old Winston never received—” (At these words Ivan puffed his chest and raised his head a little higher.) “—the Royal Garland!”
Whispers of anticipation filled the crowd as Sonny stepped into the darkness beside the workbench. He returned a moment later, carrying in his beak a thin wreath of woven daffodils. The chickens gasped and cheered. Ivan stretched his head high, and could not prevent a smile escaping the serious, distinguished expression he had worn throughout the coronation ceremony.
Behind the farmhouse, Mr McGinley locked the tray of his truck, then leaned down and scratched the sheepdog behind the ear. He opened the truck door and the sheepdog jumped in and bounded onto the passenger seat. The farmer looked at the round stump once more. He climbed into the driver’s seat, shut the door then turned the key. As the engine started with a splutter and a grunt, Mr McGinley shook his head and muttered to himself, “I could have sworn I left it there.”
The little grey rooster approached Ivan, carrying the Royal Garland. The chickens clucked so loud they didn’t even hear the frantic honking above the shed.
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