The Wise Ones arrived. It had been a long and arduous journey and they hoped it would be worth the discomfort. They crowded around the cradle, peering at the sleeping girl, Cho-Sen. The Wise Ones were accustomed to grandeur and finery, but here they were surrounded by dirt and dereliction. They looked expectantly at the tiny baby wrapped in what resembled an old carpet.
They wanted a sign to prove that this puny infant really was Cho-Sen, that all their signs and prognostications had proved correct. Around them assorted animals walked, scuttled, flapped and crawled. The Wise Ones thought it all very unsanitary, but no one else seemed to mind.
A cockerel strode into the hut, leapt onto the crib and crowed twice. His many-coloured feathers glowed in the gloom, his scarlet comb illuminated the cradle, and his piercing voice drew all eyes to him. To everyone’s astonishment, this magnificent bird then laid a golden egg on the baby’s covering. It was a miracle. The Wise Ones fell to their knees and Cho-Pah, the baby’s father, said ‘Bloody hell, what are we going to do now?’
‘What you are going to do now,’ the Wisest of the Wise Ones intoned, ‘is raise this child to the age of five years and then bring her to us.’
‘And if you don’t,’ the Next Wisest visitor rolled her eyes as she spoke, ‘things will go very badly for you.’
One of the Lesser Wise Ones spoke up. ‘We’ll tattoo a cockerel on her right wrist. We don’t want any imposters being brought to us in four years, eleven months and three days.’
The others looked at her with amazement and, inspired by their approval, the Lesser Wise One continued, ‘We’d better take the egg in case it hatches.’
The visitors departed, leaving a very worried Cho-Pah and Cho-Mah with their baby daughter. Children died so easily in the harsh conditions. What if Cho-Sen succumbed to one of the many ailments? Or was eaten by a wild animal? Or fell down the mountain? After a sleepless night, Cho-Pah went to see the shaman.
Four years and ten months later, six little girls were being prepared for the long journey to the Temple of the Winds where the Wise Ones lived. All of them had been born within three weeks of Cho-Sen and, following the advice of the shaman, each one had a cockerel tattooed on her wrist. The real Cho-Sen was nowhere to be seen. Cho-Mah had taken her to visit relations in a valley two gorges distant, and an unseasonably late snowstorm had blocked the return journey. But with so many understudies, it didn’t matter, and Cho-Sen#1, #2, #3, #4, #5 and #6 were excitedly anticipating their big adventure.
‘Why are there six of them?’ the Wisest of the Wise Ones demanded. ‘We only saw one.’
No one seemed to know the answer. Each little girl had a cockerel tattooed on her wrist and they were all the correct age. The Wise Ones retreated to the Hidden Room to consider the problem.
The little girls enjoyed temple life. To keep them occupied, each had been given a unicorn to ride, and the normally quiet corridors and halls resonated with the sound of drumming hooves and squeals of delight.
Then they found the ultimate dressing-up box in the imperial dressing room. Anything pink was swiftly transformed into Bar-Bee outfits, or embellishments for the unicorns.
The years passed and no decision came out of the Hidden Room in the Temple of the Winds. The Wise Ones argued and bickered until they had almost forgotten why they were there in the first place, unaware that the country was managing very well without their combined wisdom, and that they were being increasingly considered archaic and obsolete by the diminishing number of people who remembered that they were still tucked away in the Hidden Room.
Back in the mountains, the real Cho-Sen helped the aging shaman with some of the more exacting elements of her duties, such as plucking the nasal hairs from wild goats and climbing to the top of a mountain for cloud-herbs that only grew on that peak. Before long, she was recognised as an apprentice shaman, and went on to become renowned across the land for her skills and knowledge. Cho-Sen never allowed the cockerel to be used for divination (or for the cooking pot), but he never again laid a golden egg, or indeed, an egg of any sort.
Cho-Sen#4 was the first to realise that there was more to life than dressing-up and riding unicorns through the imperial orchid nursery. She had watched the gardeners repairing the havoc caused by the unicorns’ hooves, and decided that horticulture was more interesting than Bar-Bee. So, she went to the top Nurs-Ree, studied hard and became a world authority on meristem culture, particularly relating to rare orchids and other epiphytes.
The wonder of flight caught the imagination of #2 and, having failed to teach her unicorn to fly, took herself off to the space academy and became the commander of NISP, the National Intergalactic Space Programme.
#1 and #5 both thought it very unfair that no one from their village (apart from them) had any opportunity of realising their potential in the wider world. #1 became a teacher and was the first person to establish an education system that reached everyone in the country, no matter where they lived and how much they could pay. #5 went to law school and received the highest accolade for her work on advocacy, especially among people who were disadvantaged by where they lived and how much money they had.
They weren’t all high-flyers of course. #3 went back to her parents in the mountains and married a shepherd from the next valley but three. She lived very happily with her growing family, telling the children stories of fantastic cockerels, unicorns and Bar-Bee. When she had time, she wrote these stories down and sent them to #1 who got them published. They were soon discovered by Dis-Nee and made into films. You might have seen some of them.
This left #6. The dressing-up box had had a profound effect on her; it was #6 who had made the best costumes and the most exciting ear-tassels for the unicorns. Unsurprisingly, she became a great fashion designer and sold her creations around the world.
And what of the golden egg? It stayed in the Hidden Room with the squabbling Wise Ones. They all forgot it was there, gathering dust in the corner, a folk memory in a quiet mountain village. But exactly twenty-five years to the day after it had been laid, it began to crack and split. Shards of gold bounced across the Hidden Room. From within the breaking shell, the sounds of peeping could be heard. As the sounds grew stronger, they were replaced by a querulous ‘cock-a-doodle-do’. The Wise Ones stopped bickering, all eyes on the hatching egg.
The door to the Hidden Room crashed open. The Wise Ones looked up, aghast, as a young woman strode into the room that no one except Wise Ones ever entered.
‘I am Cho-Sen. I’ve come to collect my cockerel,’ the interloper announced.
‘You can’t be Cho-Sen. There are six of you here in the Temple of the Winds already, causing destruction and mayhem.’ The Wisest of the Wise Ones attempted to take control of the situation.
‘Get real, Sister.’ Cho-Sen was scathing. ‘They’ve all left this stupid place to do something worthwhile. If you had bothered to open this door, you could have found out what’s going on outside. There’s a whole world out there.’ She rolled back the sleeve on her right arm. ‘I am the real Cho-Sen. See the cockerel tattooed on my right wrist? The others had tattoos on their left wrists!’
The Wise Ones looked on in amazement as the now fully hatched, fledged and feathered cockerel flew onto Cho-Sen’s shoulder and nibbled at her ear.
‘How did you find us?’ asked one of the Lesser Wise Ones.
‘How did you know that the egg had hatched?’ demanded the Intermediate Wise One.
‘Forensic scatology and Goo-Gul.’ Cho-Sen turned towards the door. She had no intention of staying any longer than necessary. ‘I have to get back to my course on Tantric Knitting. With any luck, I’ll never see you lot again.’
The cockerel crowed triumphantly from his perch on the shamanic shoulder.
‘Ouch!’ said the Intermediate Wise One as she stepped backwards onto a shard of golden egg shell. ‘Did that really happen?’
Penny lives in Dorset and enjoys making jams, pickles and preserves from produce grown in her garden or foraged from the surrounding countryside. She writes mostly short stories, flash fiction and poems and facilitates an informal writing group.
Story image via Unsplash.