Chapter 1: Of Nights and Storms and Moonlight Stirrings

 

Of Nights and Storms and Moonlight Stirrings

Some time ago, but not too long ago, on a night so wet, and so wild that the wind howled and shivered over the land and the boughs of the trees swayed and tossed until they creaked, a little rabbit was born on Lavender Farm. The full moon, which was beginning to set, peaked out from behind the dark, swiftly moving clouds to cast strange long shadows across the farmyard and into Agatha Bunny’s hutch which stood at the bottom of the drystone walled garden. Briefly, the pale moonlight touched the podgy, furless, little body. The baby rabbit trembled. After scratching up the straw bedding, Agatha nestled close to keep her newborn baby warm with her thick fur.

Malevant the cat lived in the hayshed just beyond the boundary of Lavender Farm, on Mr Fitzgerald’s dairy farm. Malevant made irregular visits to Agatha’s hutch where he enjoyed teasing her by walking up and down on her roof or lounging atop one of the branches of the old plum tree that sheltered her hutch, mewling in a high bloodcurdling voice. But the night had been so windy, with the clouds bringing such cold driving rain that he’d stayed at home. Now that the storm had blown itself out he was hungry.

And being hungry always put him in a bad mood.

It was dark when he slipped out of one of his many bolt holes in amongst the stacked hay bales and crossed the creek using the overhanging branches of the trees that dotted the creek’s edge, running swiftly through the apple orchard and into the farmyard. He searched the chicken pen and caught an unwary mouse.

A rustling followed by a muffled squeak caught his attention and he prowled swiftly over to the duck enclosure and the back of the shed where he frightened Roland Rat who was chewing on a stolen duck’s egg. Baring his teeth at Roland he snatched at the egg, using his claws to tip it closer to him and lapped at the remains of the yellow yoke and the sticky clear fluid. Licking his whiskers he threw a slightly contemptuous look at Roland who was sitting a few feet away, sullenly watching Malevant devour the remains of his meal.

“What’s news, Roly?”

Roland sniffed and threw him a look of dislike.

“How would I know? Been a storm, haven’t ther’. Roof leakin, parlour flooded, lights flashin and the sky bangin fit to burst! Can’t even get me supper an’ wen I does, some bully varmint goes an’ steals it, don’t theys!”

Malevant cuffed him around his ears. “Watch it, Roly!”

Roly squealed and shuffled backwards. “Alright, alright. No need to get violent. As it happens I did slip into the garden and sniff around a certain house jus’ afores. Scrabbling and scarbbling in her straw she was. ’Reckon she might have little ones with her by now. Couldn’t get a proper scent. I thoughts to say hallo—all polite like. Wouldn’t give me the time o’day.” Roly sniffed and threw his tormentor a shrewd look. “Might be worth a visit.”

Malevant flicked an ear and thought for a moment. “Hmm! You might be right, Roly. No harm in paying a social call, asking after the new mother’s health, and so on.” He sniggered at his own joke and walked away with a leisurely swagger.

Roly watched him, his black glittering eyes filled with dislike until Malevant disappeared into the shadows.

“Social call! Ha ha, Mr Funny, I don’t think so,” he muttered. “Swiping a bloke’s meal and me what looks out for his whiskers an’ tail. But we don’t tell everythin, does we? Not likely. He goes stickin’ his snout in some places he’ll be a skinned cat.”

Meanwhile, Malevant had reached the farmhouse garden. He jumped silently onto the high stone wall and looked down on Agatha’s hutch. The moon had set and although the storm had passed leaving a cold clear sky it was still a few hours till sunrise. He flexed his muscles, gathered himself for a moment judging the distance to the top of Agatha’s hutch and jumped neatly down onto the roof, landing with a thump. He caught a rustle and soft, intake of breath. He sniggered and proceeded to stalk up and down, pausing every now and again to peer in or scratch at the wire.

“What a lovely evening, Agatha. I hope you’re well?” he sniffed the air. “I did hear a whisper—my dear lady I wanted to be the first to congratulate you. You must show me your charming babies next time I call.”

Not one sound came from inside the hutch. Knowing from long experience that Agatha kept silent and hidden whenever he was around, Malevant gave up on his nasty little game, jumped up into the plum tree and over the wall again, heading out to the orchards and beyond in search of more prey.

But unknown to Malevant, or Agatha, or in fact anyone else on Lavender Farm, a dark figure sat in the shadows on the long low hill behind the farm, silent and motionless, watching throughout the long hours till the night’s dark waned and the sun cast its first golden beams over the grass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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