One for sorrow, two for joy,
Three for a girl, four for a boy,
Five for silver, six for gold,
And seven for a secret which can never be told.
Boris flew to the meeting tree looking somewhat bedraggled, and down in the feathers. He’d clearly had a bad day.
“Hey Boris. Tough day?”
“Oh, hi Tony, you said it.”
Now my job as the Magpie barman is to serve the drinks and listen to the stories. Occasionally I offer some advice, but my days of flying Informational Magics is long gone, and most of the chicks they send out these days seem to ignore me.
I lined up a stiff drink for Boris and said, “Do you want to talk about it?”
It was clear he didn’t, but then he shrugged his wings and took a long drink of his drink and said, “You know how some days if it can go wrong?”
“Oh yes. Saw a single one today did you?”
I was joking of course, Magpie magic doesn’t work on Magpies, something I’ve always thought is vaguely ironic.
“Ha, almost as if I had done. My day started with an easy one. I needed to get a farmer to see me. He’s going to get some bad news from his girlfriend it seems. Farmers are easy I thought to myself, wait until they’re out into a field, and then, you know, pop up. He conveniently headed out, and so I flew along. Nothing, he was looking at his phone I think.”
“Bloody things have made it harder than in my day, and no mistake.”
“You said it Tony. You couldn’t line me up another?”
I watched him finish the first as I poured the second. I hoped he wasn’t going to drink too much, I’d struggle to carry him off this tree at the best of times, but my right wing has been giving me shooting pains when I extend it recently.
“Where was I?”
“Yeah, so I had to get over the other side of town for my next job, and I was running out of time, so I popped up again. The farmer looks up.”
“I hadn’t spotted him, but Douglas was flying across the field, on his way to his first gig of the day. Blam, we’ve now given the farmer Joy.”
“Oh, well, could be worse.”
“I know, but now I’m the one who has to go and give his girlfriend Sorrow, because her dream job evaporated and she’s staying with her farmer boyfriend. Sucks for her.”
“Now of course, I’m running late, so I wing it straight over. I reckon I can get away with it, so I cut over the Grey woods.”
“The ones with the footpath?”
“At that time of day I figure it’ll be fine. I was wrong. A couple going for a mid-morning walk. Blam they get some Sorrow. Their car engine’s blown. Then a man walking his dog, more Sorrow. He’s going to get an unexpected, and wrong, gas bill, but it’ll take three months for him to clear it up.”
“Ouch. You speak to Control about doing some reverse work?”
“You seen them recently? Something strange is going on, they’re planning a load of Secret raids.”
“Awful tricky to pull off they are.”
It’s difficult to get seven of us in one place where a human can see, and count, all of us before we have to move on. Anything getting in the way can turn it into something else, and I hated doing them when I was still in the field.
I went on, “I was involved in one of those once, we ended up giving three Silvers and one Gold before we hit it properly. Control was mighty angry.”
“Well they’re so angry already, I wasn’t going to ask them to allow three Joys just to fix my mess up.”
“I get to the meeting place, expecting Steph and Jon, and you know what?”
“Bloody Yanis turns up.”
“Oh he’s alright…”
“Maybe, but suddenly the Girl we’re announcing turns into a Boy. Then while I’m remonstrating with him another couple come along. Now by this point Jon’s off, but they get a Girl, and they weren’t expecting anything if you know what I mean.”
“A bad day and a half. Have another.”
His second had gone almost as fast as the first, but he sipped the third a bit more cautiously.
“Next few gigs went ok, but I couldn’t help feeling the day wasn’t done with me yet.”
“No. My last couple of gigs were over by Westfield farm, you know at the edge of our territory.”
“Bordering the Greenlark mob?”
“Yeah. Bloody amateurs.”
“So I hear.”
I didn’t tell him my mother had been a Greenlark. When I was a chick we’d been on best of terms with them, but last couple of years there’d been some bad blood. Accusations of stealing of missions and suchlike.
“Well I was there to do a Sorrow and a Joy, with Steph again. I like her, real professional. Always on time, flies low, can disappear into anything. Easy to work with.”
He was smiling in such a way that I imagined he wanted a little more time with Steph. He was quiet for a bit.
“You were saying…”
“Yeah, sorry. Steph. She turns up as expected, and we’re about to do the double.”
“Yeah, the dossier on these two said they were inseparable, but that the man always looked round to the right when they got into a new field. Steph and I were prepped. The humans climbed into the field and we popped up. At the same time some bloody Greenlarks are having a fight with a murder on the border of the land. All sorts of squawking and whatnot.”
“Not good? Disaster. She gets the Joy and he gets the Sorrow. Her premium bond numbers come in and his ankle gives way. Doesn’t seem fair.”
“It’s not about fair. At least they didn’t see the Greenlarks.”
“True. And I think Steph blamed me, though she didn’t say anything. Just a bit off.”
“I’m sure she understands, we’ve all been there.”
At that point one of Control’s messengers turned up.
“Oi, Boris, get over to Control. They need you for a Secret.”
“I’ll be there in two ticks.”
The messenger looked like he was going to argue, but then just flapped off, making a deliberate show of his whites.
“Bloody showoffs, think they’re better than us cos they do the planning.”
“It’s a tough job.”
“Yeah, whatever. Not sure what the point of a Secret is, I mean they never tell us what it is anyway.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know that’s the point.”
Boris slurped the last of his drink and then headed off, waving his wings a little unsteadily.
I watched him depart and thanked my stars I wasn’t out there anymore. I’d enjoyed spreading Joy and announcing the little ones. But the Sorrow was always hard. I polished up the glasses and waited for my next customer.