Ute Orgassa’s “A Rather Particular Gem” won first place in our latest short story contest.
While reading the paper, Chappy happened upon an interesting ad.
“Serious curiosities collector in search of gallimaufry’s crowning jewel.
Will compensate in kind. No demand is too high.
Will meet in dark alleyway of your choosing.”
You can read it or listen! So many options.
It would have been much easier if Gallimaufry’s crowning jewel had been a gemstone of any kind. I had nicked those plenty of times. Diamonds, rubies, pearls, what have you. I could get them with some planning and cunning and a little bit of luck.
But since the jewel in question was a darn live bird and also one of the most rare breeds to boot, things were a bit harder.
Martin had thrown the yellowed paper on the trestle table last night. It had soaked up the spilled ale and I had to snatch it up before the letters were all turning into foggy squiggles.
“That looks like a job for you, kiddo,” he had said.
“I’m not a bird catcher,” I had answered him.
“You better turn into one. You still owe me and this bird can turn a pretty profit. Get on it.”
I read over the ad again in the bright light of day. Why would anyone want this blasted bird to begin with?
It was bad enough that the royal haberdasher caged one of those in a tiny compartment in the king’s crown every day.
Whoever came up with the notion must have been not right in the head. Yes, those birds looked exquisite and yes, they sometimes sang in dulcet tones, but I doubted that either they or the king were happy with them sitting in his hair.
I had seen the contraption a few times while serving at court. It wasn’t pretty.
Whatever the collector’s motives were, I needed to get moving. I hid my trusty dagger in my skirt and put a shawl around my shoulders. Off to the market stalls I went to speak with Paolo.
He smiled when he saw me coming and inspecting some of the cages he had for sale.
“Let me guess, you want to know how to catch yourself a jewel?”
There was no use of pretending. I made a half circle with my foot in the dirt and hoped not to blush.
Paolo laughed. “You’re the third one this morning.”
He threw some feed into the finch cages and leaned in closer to me.
“But since you’re an honest thief and I like you, I might even have something of use.”
“I will be forever in your debt.”
Two nights later I was wedged in a tree right outside the hilltop monastery and tried to remember the specific trill pattern I needed to play on my newly acquired bird flute.
It was cold and my hands were clammy. The bark of the tree was rough against my legs and I feared that a monk would look out of the small window hole at any moment, discovering me in a place I really should not be.
I trilled the flute. I waited. I trilled it again. Nothing happened.
Just as I was contemplating my best way down, I heard it: An answering trill.
I turned back to playing my flute and just a moment later a jewel flew out to me. Yes, tiny, fluffy yellow bird with a red dot on top of its head and a blue dot underneath. Definitely a jewel.
It landed right on my flute. I snatched it in the tiny net and left as fast as I could. The blasted bird trilled the whole way home.
Martin was ecstatic when he saw the little critter in the dim light of the tavern. The bird had shushed.
“We will get all the gold! These flappers are rare! I heard that none were left at the palace! I’ll arrange a meeting forthwith!”
I was standing in near pitch-blackness about three streets down from the tavern a short while later. I was clutching the net and remembered that Paolo had suggested I should rather pick a bright-lit place instead. When I had asked why, he had just winked and said that I would find out.
I thought I had an inkling now of what he meant, because the bird was tweeting up a storm.
It did not take long until a coach approached. Its lanterns pierced the darkness. It halted before me and a veiled figure leaned out of the side window.
“I can hear that you have what I am looking for,” a female voice said. The voice sounded amused and familiar.
“Yes, I do. And I need ten pounds of gold in payment for it,” I said in a voice that sounded too loud and too timid at the same time.
The women laughed outright. Who was she? Why was her voice so familiar and yet I could not place it?
“Did you not read the ad?” she asked. “It said that I would pay you in kind. So you can pick any other bird and I will gladly give it to you. Even a whole flock, if you like.”
I staggered back.
“No, no. I need the gold. I am just a servant and my master will punish me badly if I don’t bring the gold back to him.”
The woman did not laugh anymore. She pulled back her veil and gave me a stern look.
“We can’t have that.”
I took one look at her and bowed down. Right before me was my queen.
She now opened the coach door. More light shone out into the night and the bird finally quieted down.
“How would you like to work in the palace instead for your master?”
“I would like that very much.”
“It shall be arranged.”
After I handed her the bird, I asked her one more question.
“Why do I need it?” she laughed. “Because if you have a philandering husband wandering the palace at night, it makes for a lovely tracking device.”
Think you have what it takes to be a 7th Titan contest winner? Our Short Story contest is currently open! See the Contest page for prompts and submission details.