The swordsman said, “Fetch me the rooster.” And his daughter obeyed. Elizabeth left the castle quickly and crossed the street in her search.
She knew which rooster he meant—the great, black rooster, almost as large as she was, with one eye green and the other gray, that lived in the house on Tumble Hill on the east side of the city. She wandered the streets, followed closely by the shadows of her two courtiers.
Elizabeth was not yet seven years of age, but she dressed like her father—in a gilded doublet and breeches, blue and gold—with a blunted sword at her hip. The gray-cloaked courtiers of her family had to hurry through the streets to keep up with her.
Elizabeth knew the way by heart. They always passed the rooster’s house when they were coming from the market. She had seen it, briefly, in the windowsill. It was not a pretty sight, but it was as old as the city itself, and wise as a wizard. It laid its own eggs, that rooster did.
“But roosters don’t lay eggs!” she had said.
“And lizards can’t fly,” her father replied.
There was no door to the house on Tumble Hill, and tumble she did as she mounted the steps to where the door should be. It was a wide, flat wall, plastered white. The rest of the city was painted gold and glittering in the sun.
“I need to focus…” Elizabeth took a step back and smiled. There was a high attic window in the front and another such window in back, she remembered. “Wait for me here,” she told the little man, and to the tall woman, she said, “Come with me.”
Elizabeth walked around the back of the house, the female courtier at her side. There they found an old outer yard where an abandoned stable stood. The woman helped her up to the roof of the stable, and from there she scurried to the wall, with the window high above. The thatch roof held under her weight. Elizabeth found her footing in the wall and climbed a couple feet to the third story.
In from the window, she leapt into the old house.
“Now, where are you, little bird?”
The attic was full of pots and pans, books, barrels, and broken bits of crockery. There was straw upon the floor, and a mountain of eggs in the corner. The stacks were so tall she couldn’t see two ends of the room at once, but that did little to slow her advance.
The rooster was somewhere close, she could tell. She heard the flutter of its wings. Then the stacks toppled over, pots and pans and all. Elizabeth ducked out of the way, remembering well her father’s lessons. She was as quick as a cat, and caught sight of the bird for a time. It landed on a cupboard across the room and crowed.
“You’re a clever one, aren’t you?” she said with a smile.
The rooster roared like a lion as it sprang at the girl. Just like a lion! She was caught off guard, but steeled herself, turning at the last second. It struck the wall at her side and skittered across the floor. It whirled, wailed, and laid an egg in the straw. One green eye looked at her, the other at the wall.
“Are we done here?” she asked.
The rooster fluttered on a ways, leaving the egg behind. She chased the rooster down a flight of stairs and into the lower parts of the old house, from one dark landing, and another darker still, to the basement—the darkest yet. Elizabeth tripped over boxes and barrels, stubbed her toe, and screamed. The rooster carried on, undaunted by the darkness. This was not a bird, Elizabeth thought, but a thing of evil!
Elizabeth spied a crack in the wall, high overhead, where a beam of light shone through. And as the rooster passed into the light for but a moment, she pounced upon her chance. A moment was all she needed, for with the grace of a cat Elizabeth caught the rooster, rolling with it across the floor.
It laid another egg and pecked at her hands, but she knew how to handle such a fearsome beast. Up the stairs she went, returning to the attic. She pranced to the front window and looked out to where her courtiers waited below.
“My lady? You have it!” said the man.
“Yes, of course!” she said. “Now, get ready! I’m coming down.”
Elizabeth leapt from the attic window with the rooster in hand, landing safely in the arms of her startled courtiers. They chided her for her foolishness, but Elizabeth didn’t care. She ran all the way back to the castle. As always, the courtiers were hard-pressed to keep up.
“Da! Da! I did it!” She held the rooster high overhead.
“Well done!” said the swordsman. “He put up a fair fight, I trust?”
“It wasn’t that hard,” she said.
“Well, you did good, lass.” He walked with his daughter through the courtyard and laughed about her little adventure. “When I was your age, my father had me fetch a cow from the market, with only a lasso and a butter knife… but don’t worry, I won’t make you try any of that!”
“Thank you, father.”
The swordsman turned to the rooster. “Oh great beast, I ask that you take no offense from this little game of ours!”
The rooster crowed in answer and bowed its head.
And the swordsman, with his daughter’s permission, let the beast roam free.
— Connor Landon Freeman