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This is part of Jane's series of "Twelve Days of Stories" for Xmas 2007/2008.

A partridge in a pear tree

with apologies to two previously unconnected bits of Greek mythology, to Chaucer, and to Brer' Rabbit.

Once upon a time, there was a boy called Perdix. He was a bright boy, clever with his hands, and so when he became a near-adult he was sent to the tribe's redsmith as an apprentice. He learnt his trade well, and fast, but always wanted to try something new, something different, something to prove himself better than his master. This would have been all well and good if his experiments had worked: but alas, his decoration on the cooking pots caused them to leak, his attempt at a lighter and sharper sword broke when it hit a shield, the nails he made twice as fast as anyone else bent. Some of them did work, but perhaps too well. The knife-handle carved to look like a caricature of its intended owner: neither the object of his satire nor his master had a sense of humour. The pan he made for his master's daughter Jenny, with Niskis' signs around it. And when the axes to be sold to the Lunars, that were intended to look solid but to crack after a week of use, did just that, his master had had enough. The angry Lunars wanted to see the culprit punished, and so did he. He caught Perdix by one foot, and with his mighty arms, swung him round his head three times, and in front of Jenny's horrified eyes, flung him out over the edge of a cliff.

Now, any good Orlanthi would have called on Orlanth to save them. A true craftsman would have called on Gustbran (though there was little even the Great Redsmith could have done to help). But Perdix called on the god he truly felt closest to, who inspired his greatest work at the forge. He called on Eurmal - and, being as confused as that decision implies, called on him both to help him fly like a bird, and to make him attractive to women (thinking of Jenny watching). And the Trickster answered. It should have been impossible, but the Lawless One is not bound by rules. He turned Perdix into a bird as he fell, and one known to be irresistible to women. Sadly, as Perdix rapidly realised, a peacock isn't very good at flying. Magnificent tail fanned, blue and green feathers and crest in full display, he tumbled into the trees below. There were some crashes, a squawk or two, and then silence. A few blue and green feathers drifted on the breeze. "Good riddance," said the Lunars, and the redsmith agreed. Jenny ran into the forge to hide her tears from her father.

But far below, Perdix was not dead. As he tumbled through the trees, one of the branches yielded slightly and caught him gently before he could hit the ground. Other branches wrapped around him. he was battered, bruised, his ankle hurt where the smith had caught him, but he was alive. And then a green face shimmered out of the tree and solidified in front of him. "Mine...." hissed the dryad, eyeing him with what was either hunger or adoration, but terrifying in either case. He realised that the branches that had caught him had tightened around him, and the pain in his ankle was in part caused by the twigs that had tightened around it.

A week later, Perdix was still there. He had changed back into the form of a young man rather than a bird, but the dryad only seemed even more enchanted with his company. She fed him pears from her own tree, she attended to his comfort in every way, but she would not let him go. Once again, his plan had worked all too well. He had tried screaming for help while in peacock form, but to no avail. And then one day, he saw Jenny coming through the wood, picking fruit and berries. She stopped at the foot of the pear tree - a far larger and more magnificent pear tree than most - and looked up at the fruit. But as she reached out to pluck a pear, the branches bent themselves away from her. Startled, she drew back: and Perdix, desperate for her to stay, threw a pear down to her. She picked it up, smelt the sweet ripe fruit, and looked up to see where it had come from: to see, not a branch covered in pears, but Perdix. Quickly he explained his plight, and Jenny listened.

"So she thinks you're hers, does she?" she said. "We'll see about that." She looked round for a way of climbing the tree, but the first branch was just too high above her head for her to reach.

"Get an axe!" Perdix urged her. "There's some in the forge - oh, maybe not."

"No need for violence," Jenny said, watching the branches warily. "No axes, no fires. There's always another way. I'll ask Dad to help."

"You'll WHAT??" said Perdix, trying not to panic: but Jenny was gone.

That afternoon he heard her returning, and her father with her. "You see, dad, there's the tree I got that pear from," she was saying. "It's magic, it must be. But if you'll help me climb into the lower branches, I can pluck as many pears as you like."

Her father grumbled a little, but braced himself against the tree and lifted Jenny up to his shoulders. From there she could easily scramble up into the lower branches, and was soon alongside Perdix. "I'll cut you loose," she whispered, drawing her knife and starting to cut at the twigs that held him. But as she cut, the twigs grew back, and her father, seeing no pears, got impatient.

"Where are you, girl?" he called, and stepped back from the tree to look up. A pear caught him on the nose, and he blinked and shook his head. "What's that I see? That's no pear - that's a man! That's that outlaw who tricked us!"

Perdix was about to panic, but Jenny placed a finger on his lips. "I told you it's a magic tree, father. It makes you see strange things that aren't real. There's only me up here: how could there be a man as well?" And her father, who could not believe his darling daughter would lie to him, believed her. But the dryad was rousing now, and the twigs that held Perdix were growing faster than Jenny could cut them with her little knife.

"This isn't working," Perdix said softly. "Violence is always an option: but let's have someone else do it. Trust me for a moment...." And he grabbed Jenny with both arms and held her tight. "Look up here, old man! I'm real! I've got your daughter! What're you going to do about it, old man?"

The smith looked up, and this time believed what he saw. He bellowed with rage, sounding more like a follower of Urox than of Gustbran, and leapt up into the tree. Taller and stronger than his daughter, he climbed easily, as Jenny had feared and Perdix had hoped. "You let go my daughter or I'll kill you!"

"Fine," said Perdix, trying not to either flinch or laugh. "I'll fight you for her. But up here, not on the ground, everyone knows smiths are stronger when they touch the earth, it wouldn't be fair."

"You'll come down here and face me like a man, you little..." The smith caught Perdix by an arm and pulled. Again, his strength showed itself, and Perdix was torn from the branches and landed hard on the ground, feeling a wrenching pain in his ankle where the twigs had been ripped off, almost taking the foot with them. The smith was climbing down the tree: and his plan to run away wasn't going to work. For the second time in his life, Perdix called on the God of Panic to help him, hide him, turn him into a bird again - but this time not a showy one, please!

And again, Eurmal answered him. He changed, shrank, turned a muddy brown. A bird! And this time, not a peacock! He spread his wings: and winced as he remembered the smith pulling him from the branches by his arm. He hobbled into the bushes as fast as he could, and which was pretty fast, because he was so scared. The smith reached him as he fled into the undergrowth, and grabbed his magnificent (if rather brown) tail - but Perdix was running so hard that the feathers puled right out. And Perdix ran, and ran, and never saw the smith or his daughter, or the dryad, ever again.

And that is why the Partridge, or Perdix, has dull brown feathers, a short stumpy tail, and a limping run. And it may also be why, when roasted, it tastes so good with pear chutney.