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

Eight maids a-milking

"Soup's ready, children, bring your bowls over here. No, Aren, choosing a bowl twice as big as anyone else's will not get you more soup. Who do you think you are, one of the Mudhens?"

"What, you didn't know about them and the Yellow-eared Cow? Well, sit down quietly, then, and I'll tell you while we eat.

"There was a time when the clan got together to ask for Uralda's blessings on our cows, so that they would give more milk. Gusta Many-kin was Cow-mother then, and she was close to the goddess. The next day, one of the chief's cows gave birth to a beautiful calf, white as milk, and with ears as yellow as butter. She grew to adult size in a week, and started giving milk - more milk than we had ever seen!

"Now, since it was the whole clan that had done this, the chief said that the whole clan should benefit. Each bloodline was told to send a maid with a bucket, to milk the cow for their share. Yes, eight buckets, that was how many it took to milk that cow, morning and evening. We had an idea she might have given more had we asked it of her, but it doesn't pay to be over-greedy with the goddess's gifts. Everyone who drank it was happy the whole day, and life was good.

"But then the Mudhens decided to be clever. You see, one of their ancestors had done the Giant's Bucket quest, years ago. So the next morning, young Ornore Mudhen brought along her enchanted bucket, that could never be filled and never be emptied, and sat down to milk. Well, she milked away, and the other girls stood there waiting for their turn, and they waited, and they waited. But the Giant's Bucket can't be filled, even by one of Uralda's own cows. And when the time came for the evening milking, Ornore was still sitting there, tired though she was, still milking that yellow-eared cow. Then the sun set, and the cow decide that she'd had enough. She bucked, and she kicked, and off she went, giving the Giant's Bucket a good kick as she left, and putting a crack through it that the Mudhens still haven't mended. And we never saw that cow again.

"So you mind, next time you're bringing a bowl for soup. Ask for more than your share, you may get nothing at all."