The Trickster Family Picnic
Coyote, Otter, Fox and Crow were walking through the forest one day when they came to a clearing. Since it was very hot that day and there was a river at the edge of the glen they decided to sit at the water’s edge and cool their tongues in the river.
It wasn’t long before the four of them heard something in the woods on the other side of the river. Coyote perked his ears but even his sharp hearing could not tell what was making the sound. Crow flew over the trees but even her bright eyes could find what was making the sound.
“I have an idea,” Otter said, “let’s cross the river and look for it.”
“You can swim and Crow can fly,” Coyote said. “I don’t swim or fly so I can’t cross the river.”
Otter frowned. “But you can shape shift, right?” she asked.
“True,” Coyote answered, “but that is very hard magic for very special tricks.”
“Not a problem, big brother,” Fox interrupted. “I remember seeing a log that fell across the river a little ways back.”
Coyote grinned and nodded and the four of them crossed the river.
As they wound deeper into the wood they realized that the sound was music. Bells and drums, pipes and mandolins drew the trickster family deeper into the woods until they found a tall boulder standing in the middle of a ring of yellow and red mushrooms. The music was coming from the stone even though
there was nobody around.
“Come play and dance,” a voice giggled from the stone. “You look tired and hungry. We have berries and fish and mice and you can have some if you want.”
The four looked at each other. One by one they thought about their own lists of things they shouldn’t do and eating berries while listening to good music wasn’t on any of them so they stepped as one into a wonderful adventure.
They found themselves standing in a wide field. Tents and wagons filled with bright fabrics and shiny trinkets lined two sides of the field while a river and a stage bordered the other two sides. On the stage a Raven, a Satyr and a Raccoon wearing a pirate hat played and sang while faeries and pixies bounced and danced under the sun and in the shade of the trees. There was a living rainbow striding proudly around the field but when the music stopped it exploded into a cloud of winged butterfly sized pixies each a single hue of the prism.
The next song began and an orange faun stepped into the middle of the field. She was swinging flaming chains that seemed to breathe and change colors to the tempo of the drums from the stage. As the four of them stood in amazement a group of dancers moved in a circle around them. Hands reached out and petted their fur and feathers. Many kisses were offered, and accepted of course, as they moved toward one end of the field where a pair of long and wide tables had been set up in a giant T.
Once the last song ended, the merry makers made their way, still bouncing and dancing, to the table. Wine and beer filled mugs and plates of fish and meat and berries and nuts were passed around. Coyote, Fox, Otter and Crow shared stories and played tricks for their hosts and the air rang with the music of laughter. As the sun set in the west a bell rang and a drum began to beat a steady primitive rhythm. Everyone at the table stood and faced the east.
From the east came a procession of elves and faeries. The pair leading the procession was dressed in leafs and green silks and carried a large circled star made of branches. Behind them came a pair draped in yellow robes and waving smoldering branches that filled the air with a sweet earthy scent. Next there came a pair of fire jugglers breathing arcs of living flame. Behind them came two blue robed fey sprinkling the ground behind them with water that somehow bubbled as if still breathing from the river. Bringing up the rear were the king and queen of the fey dressed in resplendent finery of silks and ribbons. The procession made a full circuit around the grounds and everyone bowed at their approach. Finally, they arrived at the table and were seated across from Coyote and his sisters.
“Well met lord and ladies,” the king and queen greeted them. “Rabi and Gwayne, queen and king of the River Fey, welcome you to our table. May you never leave our land hungry or in need.”
One by one, the trickster family stood and introduced themselves to the royals; Coyote, storyteller protector and trickster, Otter, guardian game maker and trickster, Crow, singer messenger and trickster and Fox, avenger healer and trickster.
The queen, Rabi, stood and raised her cup of wine. “Let it be said here and forward that the family Trickster are known and welcome among the children of the River!” There was a loud cheer and with that the feasting began.
The next three days and nights were spent eating and drinking and telling stories. There seemed to be no need for sleep or rest. Each of the trickster told tales of their tricks and deeds. They told about why dogs sniff their tails. They sang about carrying news and instructions between the gods and man. They played games in and around the river. They wove epic stories of adventures and the lessons they have taught their people.
At the end of three days Coyote Fox Otter and Crow stood from the table. They bowed deeply to Rabi and Gwayne. “We are very grateful for you hospitality, m’lady and milord, but the time has come for us to return to our lands. There is a lot of work to be done, a lot of tricks to be played.”
The crowd around the table fell silent. They all stopped what they were doing and turned their attention to where the four of them faced the queen and king. Everyone had stopped smiling and the air suddenly crackled with tension. Queen Rabi stood. Her face was no longer bright and full of mirth. Now it was cold and hard. Anger bubbled just below the surface.
“You dare to insult our hospitality? Have you not enjoyed the food and the company? Have we not shared stories and song? Have we not treated you, invaders to our land, as brother and sisters?” Several people, all wearing red caps and wielding iron spikes, rose and began making their way to the center of the table where the queen and the tricksters stood.
Coyote Crow Otter and Fox scattered away from the approaching red caps and Rabi calmly seated herself. She sipped her wine as she watched the chaos that followed directing the actions with but the simplest of gestures.
Crow flew off. Rabi lifted her finger and the wind rose into a great beast that grabbed Crow’s wings and held her fast. Coyote stepped between the wind and Crow. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath as he shape shifted in a mountain blocking the wind. Crow broke the grip of the wind and flew toward the river.
Otter leapt into the river. Rabi waved her hand and the water grew arms and hands that wrapped around Otter’s legs and tail dragging her under. Crow swept down and snagged Otter out of the water dropping her safely on the shore where she shook the water off of her oily coat indignantly.
Fox bounded toward the forest. Rabi nodded her head and a troop of red caps used torches to encircle Fox in a ring of flames. Otter reached out and slapped the river. “TAG! You’re it!” she cried and bolted toward Fox. The river rose out of its banks following her close behind. At the last minute, Otter turned to the side and the river dowsed the flames surrounding Fox.
Before Coyote could regain his true shape a band of red caps, directed by but a glance from their queen Rabi, had nailed him place with iron spikes. He stood motionless as the mountain he had become. Fox boldly leapt onto the table and stood nose to nose with the terrible queen of the river sidhe. Her golden eyes were frozen chips of glacial ice but her breath steamed with the heat of Hell’s furnace. “Trust me when I tell you,” Fox nearly whispered in a hiss, “you do NOT want us as your enemy! Release our brother and let us go!”
Rabi sat unmoved in her throne at the head of the feast. Otter and Crow came to Fox’s side and joined their strength with hers and still the queen was unimpressed. Finally Gwayne stood. He drew his sword and laid it on the table between the tricksters and his bride. Without a word, the red caps immediately pulled the iron spikes out of Coyote’s feet.
“You are each clever and wise,” the king announced in a deep and loud regal voice. “But you have partaken of our food and drink. As is our law, you are bound to dwell with us for a time.” A cheer rose from the gathered elves and faeries.
By then, Coyote had joined his sisters. None of them were amused.
The king raised his hand and the crowd grew silent. “However,” he continued, “you have each bested the champions of my bride. This is not an easy thing to do. In truth, there are gods gathered here who have not been able to escape one of our guards let alone four. This gives me pause.” He seemed to think for a time before going on. “I will strike thee today a bargain. You are free to come and go from our lands but every year, at the first harvest of man’s grain, you shall return to regale us with new tales and lessons you have gathered that year. This will be a pact that will last the seven years one would traditionally spend in our company having dined with us. What do you say Tricksters? Are you willing to agree to that?”
Coyote Fox Crow and Otter thought for a long moment. They knew they had pulled off a pretty good trick to get out of trouble but they also knew that they didn’t have enough tricks to evade all of the soldiers and “champions” Rabi and Gwayne could call against them. Without a word they each nodded their agreement in unison.
“All is well then!” the king, Gwayne, decreed. “Minion, show our guests to the ring and allow them safe passage.” A young girl with newly sprouted wings stepped out of the crowd and followed her king’s instructions. Gwayne returned his sword to the scabbard at his side and lifted his wine to his lips.
“Mother was right,” he said as he watched the four leave occasionally casting untrusting glances over their shoulders. “Despite their mischievous nature they will not turn from each other’s side even to save themselves.”
Rabi motioned for her cup to be filled again. “So it would seem,” she answered. Her eyes never left the four and remained focused on the ring of mushrooms even after they had faded out of the land of the river fey. “They just may be what we need to fight back the coming Dark. We shall see soon enough.” She lifted the warm blood to her lips and sipped thoughtfully.
The four of them stepped out of the ring of mushrooms and back into their own forested world. As soon as they heard the familiar bird calls and the gentle bubbling of the nearby river their moods improved significantly.
“Are we really going to go back?” Otter asked.
“I’d like to go back and pluck out an eye or two. Or six.” Crow cawed ruffling her feathers.
“We did make an agreement,” Fox offered wisely.
“Yes we did,” Coyote grinned a wild toothy grin. “And besides. Just think of the tricks we can play on them when we’ve had a year to come up with something wickedly appropriate!”
The four of them giggled at the thought and they chased each other back to the log crossing the river. There was much fun and work to do and, come the next year, they would show Rabi what it was like to piss off the Trickster family.