This is the final offering in the “Christmas With the Crooked Cats” series. A return trip to the river-bank to hear a seasonal tale from our old friend, Otter.
Otter leaned against the holt’s mud wall and cuddled two pups to her as the snow piled up outside. The bells from the human village sounded over the fields and they could just hear the crunch, crunch of people making their way to the tall building in the centre late in the night.
“It’s time, tell them the story.” Dog Otter leaned back too. He hadn’t heard this since he was a pup and his mother had told it to him under very similar circumstances.
Otter scratched with a hind claw at her throat and asked the pups,
“Have you ever wondered why we have gold patches under our chins? Well, I’ll tell you.”
Staring into the distance, like the Bard she was, Otter took up the tale.
Long ago, on a winter’s night like this, in a place a long way upstream (that is how otters describe anywhere too far to travel) in a place called Puddle-ham, a young human couple arrived on a donkey called Goldie. We know this because great aunt Myrtle (otters cannot go back any further in their genealogy than “great”) and her mate lived in a stream that ran by Puddle-ham, just by the inn, which is a temporary holt for humans who are away from home.
Goldie was very tired because the woman was about to whelp so very heavy and they had come a long distance. The donkey told this to Great Aunt Myrtle while the humans were speaking before they were told to sleep in the animal shelter where there were cows and sheep. Goldie was pleased about that because there was good hay and warm straw but the humans were not happy at all.
The two sheepdogs from the inn, Frank n Spence, went out into the night to see if they could find company for the young people and brought back their shepherds from the fields.
In the meantime, Great Aunt Myrtle, who had whelped many times herself, got practical and knew that the woman would be hungry afterwards. So she dived into the river and came back with a fat trout which she gave to the man. For some reason, perhaps it was the Moon Lady shining so brightly on them, Myrtle felt safe with them. The man was grateful and cooked the trout to eat (filthy habit!).
The new baby was put in the manger, wrapped up and as the woman ate, Myrtle crawled in and lay with him to keep him warm. She knew that it was fatal for new pups to get cold so she snuggled him into her fur. His fat little fist grabbed her chin and he giggled.
The shepherds arrived with their dogs, the Moon Lady shone brighter and brighter until it felt like there was music and Myrtle could swear she saw the shadow of the antlers fall on the human pup in her paws. This was a very special human baby indeed if the Horned Lord blessed him.
Later, when the otters left the humans to their business, Myrtle realised that where the baby had held her chin, it had changed colour. And to this day, my pups, over there in the big place with the bells, you will hear the humans sing about Goldie, Frank n Spence and Myrtle. Sometimes they aren’t bad critters, people.