The Cat, the Bat, the Rat and the Owl

Original Artwork by Lee Romao (https://www.artstation.com/)

In a faraway land, in a faraway time, there were three brother’s fair: Elder Brother, Younger Brother, and Middle Brother. Although they came from humble origins, all three were born with the striking features of Princes: Smooth skin, finely set faces, and golden hair.

The Younger Brother had a good head on his shoulders, spending all night reading dozens of books; he knew the ‘Proper Talk’ of his country’s knights, and he thought of himself as better than his older brothers. The Middle Brother was as sneaky as a cat, the hunter of the bunch who caught woodland creatures for their stews, and so he thought he was the best. The Eldest Brother thought he was the best out of the three, for he was able to pick up a whole tree on his own and chop twice as many logs as the others. The Eldest Brother was always hungry too, eating two pies for dinner and three bowls of stew at dinner!

One day, all three left their magic forest, and travelled to the nearby village. As they walked along a beaten path, the three brothers’ fair squabbled and teased one another—oblivious to the natural beauty around them. Up in the trees, chaffinches tweeted, as bunnies popped up from their burrows while foxes rustled through the shrubs. Everything seemed to have its own breath in the forest, the very air alive with the magic of life as the brother’s passed by.

The Younger Brother called the Eldest Brother an oafish rat who couldn’t feed himself, causing the Eldest Brother to pinch the Younger Brother’s Cheek. Eager to not be left out, the Middle Brother joined in by claiming how they’d all starve without his regular hunting trips.

Photo by L Dross on Pexels.com

On and on they bickered, all three trying to outdo the other. How blind they were! Little did they know that they were going in the wrong direction: All three were going into the dark part of the woods!

They went deeper, deeper into the woods. Trees with sharp branches started to close around the brothers, like the iron bars of some jail. Everything was the colour of midnight. It was only when the Middle Brother remarked that the path was no longer under their feet did they stop. All three knew they were lost, and quickly blamed one another.

‘How could you lead us into the dark woods, Eldest Brother!’ cried Younger Brother, ‘didn’t you say that you have a sharp nose!?’

‘And didn’t you say that you had good eyes!?’ replied Eldest brother, ‘if it wasn’t for the Middle Brother’s boasting I would’ve remained focused and steered us away from the dark part of the woods!’

‘Elder Brother, you are always jealous of my fine skills at tracking prey,’ retorted the Middle Brother sharply, ‘both of you despise me because I am the sharpest out of us three!’

As the three brothers fair acted like children, something stirred in the dark trees. Evil creatures lived in these parts of the woods, with malicious desires inside their dark minds. One of these things flew from branch to branch, observing the argument way below from every angle. Fresh meat, it thought, as it licked its wicked lips. With a devilish glint it swooped down to join the three brothers fair.

The trio jumped with shock as a great beast dived towards them, as it barely missed their faces. With full control over the air, it swerved and landed on a nearby tree stump. The creature unfurled its wings to reveal its true self. An Owl. But not any kind of owl: It was bigger than any the Middle Brother had ever hunted before. With a puffed-out chest like the Eldest Brother’s, the Owl cut a mighty impression upon them. With eyes the colour of gold it glared at the three brothers fair, a glint of something far deeper behind the well of its eyes. Spirals whirled like starry nights on its black feathers, gleaming with an ancient power far beyond the Younger Brother’s understanding. All three were under the grasp of the Owl’s magnificence. It was only when the dust of its landing settled did the Owl speak, a wizened voice speaking with great care and delivery.

‘Three guests have come to visit me,

Father Owl.

Pray tell, what brings you to my humble abode.’

Eldest Brother, bold as brass, wanted to get in the first word, ‘why Father Owl, we were just on our way to the village, for a spot to eat! We are, after all, woodsmen by nature. Our work is hard and today we can rest.’ Father Owl squinted at the brothers for a second or two, and with a wolfish leer he continued to speak wisely.

‘It is such a treat to have such honoured guests!

Such a chore destroying my woods is,

that you seek a bite to eat;

Why not stay here, for my land is the best

for a rest and spot of lunch?’

Now the Middle Brother spoke up next, ‘You are too generous Father Owl! But sadly, it is getting late, and we must find our way again.’

Ah, weary travellers lost in the dark!

I know this part of the woods from the back of my claw.

There are many ways my mind can draw from.’

‘Excellent!’ Younger Brother declared, ‘You will lead, and we will follow!’ Father Owl chuckled and wagged a single finger.

I wish it were as simple as that!

To escape these parts you must compete,

as only the most smart, most canny, most strong, can survive.

Which one of you are these?’

Father Owl watched with glee as each brother boasted about how they were smarter, cannier, and stronger than the others. Each shouted over the other, listing as many skills and feats to Father Owl as they could think of. Soon the shoving and pushing began, and all three began to scuffle. Only by a shrieking caw Father Owl managed to get their attention. As soon as all eyes were back on him did Father Owl begin to talk with his treacle-like tongue.

‘Squabbles like fowls will prove next to nothing,

if you are the something you proclaim to Father Owl.

So, keen woodsmen, what I propose is this.’

‘A competition, a feat, a challenge!

You three will try to beat me in a race

out of these woods, where your pace

may just win you the space

in Father Owl’s heart as

the greatest brother alive!’

The title as Father Owl’s greatest brother alive sounded nice upon their ears. They thought that winning the patronage of Father Owl would end their scuffle finally. After all, they reasoned in different ways, the word of a mighty woodland being could be trusted. Who were they to question the honesty of a god like creature, which had roamed these woods for centuries before they were a twinkle in their mother’s eye?

All three were too blinded by their chance to prove their status once and for all. ‘Aye, we are up for this challenge!’ declared the Middle Brother. Father Owl nodded approvingly, unfurling his gigantic wings and shooting up into the dark sky. The race was on!

Like the tips of a trident the brothers took off in different directions. But they forgot that they were strangers in these strange parts of the woods. This dark place was not their home. It belonged to Father Owl. It was inevitable that the brothers would lose themselves. Father Owl glided through the air, his dark feathers making him invisible to the three victims below. With a gleam of evil in his eyes, Father Owl set his sights on the Middle Brother.

The Middle Brother was the first to lose himself in the deep, dark woods. Without the Younger Brother’s perfect vision, he was blind in the murky darkness; and without the Eldest Brother’s strength he couldn’t budge the gigantic upturned tree that blocked his path. Flanking his sides were trees too thick for his frame to squeeze through. Middle Brother felt his stomach quiver. He knew that he was lost, perhaps forever, in Father Owl’s abode.

With no choice but to circle back, the Middle Brother reasoned that he must retrace his steps. As he turned around, he was greeted by the sight of Father Owl looming over him. With a gulp Middle Brother meekly asked:

‘It seems like I have got myself lost, O wise owl. Could you help me to find my way out?’

Father Owl laughed with a cluck, savagely staring at the tiny Middle Brother. Now, his voice oozed malevolence.

‘Meek middle brother, for all of your talk

you are the first of the three to be lost in this walk;

To lose your life, as you are eaten by me!’

The Middle Brother wailed as Father Owl ate the humanity out of him. Shoots of white beams exploded from the Middle Brother as his soul was snatched by the evil creature. He didn’t fight back as all his energy was devoured. When the monster had finished, the sneaky, slimy Middle Brother was a cat– left to weep as Father Owl sought the Eldest Brother.

Eldest Brother was not hard for Father Owl to spot. He lacked the quiet feet of the Middle Brother and the common sense of the Younger Brother. Eldest Brother hurled trees and branches aside, and he cleared his own path. But it was hungry work. After smashing his hundredth tree he was exhausted—tummy rumbling. Eldest Brother laid himself next to an old oak tree.

Father Owl landed angrily among the carnage of what was a good part of his woods. Eldest Brother was too exhausted to notice the beast’s baleful eyes.

‘Father Owl I’m hungry and parched,’ Eldest Brother panted, ‘can you give me a snack?’

With a rumbling voice Father Owl shouted:

‘No, you, Eldest brother, will be mine!

Like your Middle Brother now’s your time

To be my midnight feast!

I will enjoy sucking your soul—

For wrecking my woods!’

For all the Eldest Brother’s might, he could not overpower Father Owl. Shafts of light emerged from his muscular frame as Father Owl sucked up another brother’s soul. Like the greedy man he once was, Eldest Brother was transformed into a Rat. And Father Owl flew away to find the final brother out of the three.

The Younger Brother became despondent as he saw the stump where the three brothers first met Father Owl—realising, too late, that he had circled back.

If Eldest Brother was there with him now, Younger Brother would have a strong person to lift him high so he could read the stars. And without Middle Brother’s bushcraft skills, the Younger Brother would have a fire and not be freezing cold. Little did he know that it wouldn’t make a lick of difference, for Father Owl glided over to meet brother three.

The Younger Brother couldn’t help himself, and questioned the owl: ‘How do I get out? Have you or another brother won?’ Father Owl simply replied:

‘No, final brother three.

Your brothers are in some way free,

of the human frames that hid their honest selves.

You have won, by being the last.’

Younger Brother’s face was a picture of confusion as Father Owl devoured the final soul of the three brother’s fair. What was left of him was a flying bat.

Remember children when you go into the forest, take care, for they are Father Owl’s woods. Should you find a cat, a rat, and a bat, know who they were. Never disturb the dark part of the woods!


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© Thomas Gallimore Barker, 2021

(@_3lectrify_)

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