Long before the first wire fences were made, when farmers wished to separate one field from another, they planted hedges.
Out of all the bushes they used in this way, the barberry was the favourite as its many stems made a thick hedge, while its thorns kept both men and animals at bay.
It was of course from this very bush that these fields surrounding the Hobgood farm were given their name; although, perhaps by the end of this tale the name may take on an entirely new meaning…
Return of the Prodigal
Tranquil and glistening the water continuously tumbled over the rocks. It could be quite mesmerising to the watcher, caught up in my own thoughts. But there it was again; that bitter cold wind to remind me that winter was just in the distance. As the eyes grew heavy, staring at the stream, it was best to make a move before the cold bit right through to the bone.
So I stretched my body, before taking a rather lethargic trip back to the edge of the Copse. Across the Fields I saw a bored and expectant young hare, Tipps, waiting for me. Perhaps, I could avoid him a little longer? Though, that wouldn’t be polite, as he was waiting for me. I had forgotten about him, but it didn’t appear as though he was about to let me away with my promise. He called over in frustration, ‘Hey! Where have you been?’
I had no excuse… But when the Elders were in charge the young would never have dared question an adult. But then, this was Tipps, and as I’d found; as with rabbits, he could be far too cheeky for his own good. ‘I’ve been waiting for you, Twit!’ I’d promised to tell him how the Fields had changed over many seasons. How once, the Fields were a happy and peaceful place to live. Where animals didn’t fear man, and there was no other danger to our very survival than what winter had in store for us all.
I guess, thinking about that, while looking into the flowing water, just before returning, had made me a little melancholy for almost forgotten summers… Though the impatience of youth was unlikely to wait for another creature to collect their thoughts. ‘Come on then, Twit – I’m ready.’
‘Okay,’ I began…
Winters in the past were truly terrible; the cold alone claimed many animals. Then it fell to a single, great, Elder who decided all the stories that had gone before; of the Maker and his safe paradise of Summerland was where the creatures should build their collective futures. He spoke of peaceful cohabitation between all the species native to the Fields.
This would be a place where they could all get along and exist side by side happily. So upon that glorious Summerland, the Elders aimed to build their own happy hunting ground, here in the Fields.
Then, I was interrupted. ‘Oh please, Twit, don’t preach! I know all that, I came here to listen to how the troubles began. What started it…?’ He asked tilting his head, his long ears lolling down to the side. I thought for a while, strumming my talons against the branch of the tree I was perched on. But still the stubborn leveret stared up, awaiting another tale. A far different story from that of Summerland and how the wonderful peace of the Fields began.
So, if Tipps, the young hare, wanted a nice, dark story then that was what I would give him. For the reason the Fields was no longer the peaceful place was complex. Then Tipps began to thump his impatient foot at the bottom of my tree. ‘Hey, stop that!’ I squawked.
‘Well I’m bored.’ He moaned.
‘Tell me something I don’t know.’ I muttered. Then – in a deeper, darker, tone of voice – I told him, ‘Okay, you win! It began in the autumn…’
Looking downwards, Tipps’ eyes began to roll in his head, listening to the start of another whimsical tale, but there was another side to hear.
‘Like, those dangers beyond the Hawthorne Hills, and what lives there.’ His eyes widened further still, ‘The haunted woods of the Copse; the agonising cries of pain and loss.’
‘Ooh, really? Go on…’
‘The shadows and eyes that watch from behind the shaded trees. But if it isn’t them, then it is the human menace whose powerful magic could wipe us all out entirely.’
I paused, creating the desired effect… ‘Or then, something even more powerful – the contrary elements of the weather. Some brought about by mythical creatures, with a nasty streak that certainly aimed to keep the young in check.’
‘That’s what I want to hear.’
‘In that case…’
The story begins many seasons past, in the autumn. That dreaded season when early light brings with it rolling mists across the fields and dew twinkles on the abandoned spiders webs. Autumnal changes increasingly mean the sun becomes as reluctant to warm the earth as the creatures are to venture out first thing. Always avoid leaving tracks or beware disturbing that crisp frost under claw, or paw.
That was a matter of survival for many of the species of animal in the small, self-reliant habitat of the Fields.
Just getting into my stride when Tipps begins to thump his large back foot again. ‘What now?’ I ask. ‘You are not going to keep interrupting, I hope!’
‘No, but what does au-tim-yel mean?’
‘Autumnal.’ I sternly corrected him. ‘It means the autumn, I was setting the scene…’ Now I’m trying to remember where I was.
Imagine the wide-open spaces, a beautifully tranquil farmhouse in the distance and high placed Copse where the vast majority of larger animals dwelt. The area existed in peaceful cohabitation where a long-held agreement and belief system among the animals maintains life’s gentle balance. Their collective, shared past, as well as paranoia, had kept generations of animals large and small – happy.
But to a wiser creature, neither balance nor happiness appeared anything but a carefully placed lie. While without the respected Elders who created the stories and myths on which begun ‘the lasting peace of the Fields’, all was not well. Recently, the younger animals had started to question the existence of such a delicately poised harmony. It was alright for them to do this; they never knew what the Fields or Copse were like before.
They were right about that, however. Beyond these fields, over the Hawthorne Hills and on the other side in the hinterland was where the more predatory animals found their food. While whenever a lone animal disappeared over that hill, never to return, the Elders simply said, ‘They must have lost their way.’ That was the thing of the Elders; they always included an element of truth in anything they said. Only now, few were willing to accept the mythology any longer.
For an animal that didn’t want to hear those fables, he suddenly appeared quite fixated. ‘And so…’
That was especially the case when Scruffy a returning badger found his way back that autumn. All the Fields were alive with rumour of the young badger’s return from the dead. As the stories of animals becoming lost had disappeared in the minds of the creatures. They had been replaced by the real potential horrors beyond their boundaries. Scruffy hadn’t been seen for several seasons, and not since the previous summer.
The noisy chattering birds were first to relay that Scruffy had appeared again at the top of the Hawthorne Hills. Looking a little dishevelled, as always; he had taken a while to get to the Copse, perhaps hoping for a welcome reception from everyone. If he was thinking that, he was very much mistaken, and a tad disappointed. Though for the other creatures it was good to see one of their own back amongst them.
It did call into question what life was truly like to live beyond their set boundaries. Of course, Scruffy was quite prepared to dispel those myths, while maybe embellishing a few of his own heroics. While he talked, all the other assembled creatures listened. He had them captivated with his bright, new world which he had just come from. Several of them had also been there, but not to stay, not to settle down.
From the sound of things, Scruffy wasn’t about to settle either. ‘Why have you come back Scruffy?’ Scarlet the squirrel had asked as he walked by her tree. ‘Just passing through; I’ll bed down in the main sett for the winter and venture away come spring.’ He had smartly replied; mind a little occupied and his poor gaze searching for familiar faces. ‘Where are my parents?’ He asked finally.
‘I’m afraid, you’ve been gone a long while, and so too have they…’ A sad and rather lonely voice of a rabbit told him.
Scruffy’s head went down and he nestled the dried leaves beneath his paws. He was tough, and certainly didn’t wish to detract from his conjured image as the brave badger. His stories were impressive, something along the lines of what the Elders used to speak of. Scruffy’s father, Brisket, the final Elder of the Fields had passed, making his son the next in line. That was of course the reason Scruffy wasn’t genuinely welcome back to the Fields or Copse. The animals didn’t want a new leader.
Then the hare coughed, ‘In line for what? What was he in line for…?’ I cringed, did we have to go through all of that… ‘Scruffy’s father was an Elder, like a chief, and he was the last. So when the badger turned up, he was next.’
‘Oh, so that’s why they were unhappy?’
They’d existed perfectly fine without one, and any ‘calamity’ as the Elders always warned of, hadn’t come about. Yet the free-spirited Scruffy didn’t want confining to the Fields. That temperament of his wouldn’t have been favourable to the role either, but his homecoming wasn’t quite what he had dreamt of. The main sett he’d remembered was forgotten and hidden beneath the overgrown bushes.
The Copse which had thrived once with badgers only had Scruffy now, but for exactly how long would that be? No matter, he thought to himself, as he snuggled down for a rest ahead of venturing out to forage at dusk back on his stomping ground of season’s past. The dark after sun-down left only the bright, glistening moon to light the way for the partially sighted badger. Scruffy – tiring and almost ready to hibernate – happily reacquainted himself with the Fields.
The soil and the memory of its smell had stayed with him, not to mention all of those other scents that hung in the air. Then, there in the distance was an owl’s call. It made him shudder; he’d always hated that squawking sound, though it made the Fields familiar and he smiled. Twit watched him that sun-down. With just Honey, the opinionated, matriarch rabbit, nearby. Twit was still glad to see the return of the brave, Scruffy.
Although, could that be said of all the other creatures? ‘That’s a turn up.’ Twit said, jovially. But Honey didn’t appear quite in the mood to agree.
‘What is?’ She replied, calling up to Twit in his tree.
‘Scruffy. Back where he belongs!’ Twit told her. However, the huffy doe had a very different perspective.
‘Huh, let’s hope he doesn’t see it like that.’
He started again, ‘Twit, is that our Honey?’
‘The very same! Why?’ I told him.
‘She doesn’t talk like that. And what was up with her?’
‘Well, her repeating herself has been omitted for purposes of storytelling. So just continue listening, you’ll work it out.’
Twit had expected a better reaction from the rabbit, ‘Why not?’ He hesitated to ask.
‘Come now, Twit!’ She began again, ‘Do we really need another badger dictating our lives?’
‘He isn’t like that. Besides, we do need leaders.’ He told her, defending the young badger.
‘Dictators more than likely.’ She fired back, stretching out her back legs before kicking up some earth behind her. ‘We rabbits are better off underground away from it.’ She sneered before hopping away. Of course, Honey would never be a dictatorial bunny, he thought.
As the sour doe, bunny-hopped away, she caught some strange scent in her nostrils; the like of which she had never encountered before. The cows all around her were acting up too, she thought. In the middle of the field she stopped to listen, her ears changing direction to hear all around. With an eerie whistling breeze, she decided to take no chances and thumped her back foot in warning. When she did that all of her brood, as well as the rest of the burrow listened.
Right away, they headed for their underground chambers, and wouldn’t be out again before sun-up. After dark – in the peculiar light of the moon – the shadows appeared different, to Scruffy somehow. He sniffed the air and stretched his legs stiff from his nap back in the family sett. In the air were so many familiar smells, and then, there was a scent he really didn’t like the smell of.
Maybe it was something he could dismiss as a memory fresh from over the Hawthorne Hills he’d brought back with him – he thought to himself. Despite his best attempts, he hadn’t slept too well. Again, perhaps it was memories – while Scruffy wasn’t being honest with himself nor the animals of the Fields. However, there suddenly appeared bigger things to worry about than his secret past. He could tell there was great danger in the Fields.
What he had dismissed as memory – now clearly wasn’t. The herd of cows were acting very odd. Between them, in the darkness slowly and very sneakily crept a sly red menace; that’s a fox. For any of the wild animals of the Fields, a fox was something to be quite wary of, while the code would always mean a warning would be given of any such intruder.
But then, cows are livestock, they are protected by man and are almost oblivious of the usual perils that wild creatures relate to. Cows are very much like their digestion systems – slow to take anything in.
Tipps began chuckling, ‘Can I continue?’
‘Go ahead.’ He sniggered.
Not something a fox could ever be accused of. They’re as sly, stealthy and devious as anything known to the Elders. Which was why the animals kept to the safety of their boundaries. Between the cows the red menace went, using the large animals for cover, blindsiding the unwitting hares, present in the field.
Scruffy was just out for his twilight forage, but not exactly bestowed with the greatest eyesight, he was unable to see the intruder in his midst. The fox was staying a step ahead of any warning, covering his scent by navigating around the stench of fresh cow pats. This was a particularly wily creature, a fox to beware of. Bold, brazen and still very young, not the kind of fox to be allowed to feel welcome in these lands either.
It was made all so easy, as their young had few survival instincts in such a protected habitat. They didn’t know what danger smelt like. While the fox’s natural instincts were far from blunt. He’d spotted his target, a lone leveret on the edge of the herd. In a swift rush of blood there was a short chase, a pounding of feet, a curdling squeal and the snatching of the young leveret from the outskirts of the terrified brood. Scruffy had tried to make a dash towards and head off the fox – but too late.
I could see the look on Tipps’ face, ‘Eek, was that a leveret like me?’ He stuttered.
‘Not quite, he was a little younger, not as earthly wise.’ I didn’t want to leave him to dwell on that. He wanted dark… Then I was going to show him the sun-down, with only the moon as its light.
The starving and salivating fox had his kill – his meal – quite satisfied, and now out of range he trotted away back over the Hawthorne Hills. There was a haunting silence which had descended over the Fields just after sun-down. But that was now broken by the strange cries of a hare for her youngster. ‘I’m so sorry. I tried to stop the red menace.’ Scruffy breathlessly told the other hares, but his bravery was no use here.
‘I’d have liked to have said he was the hero, but not that sun-down.’
‘Patience… Little hare.’
Indeed, he’d soon be made to feel less than welcome. It was a shame really; the Fields had certainly missed him. Even if the animals fear of him taking his father Brisket’s place was all too plain to see. Animals, like Honey didn’t want to be lectured, they believed they were free without any wise Elders or leaders to answer to. The problem with rabbits though, they spread and multiply – conspiracy as well as themselves.
‘Oh well, enough about Honey and her brood, anyway; Scruffy, the prodigal son of the Fields had returned.’
‘What does prod-ic-le mean?’ Tipps asked.
‘Prodigal.’ I corrected, ‘Means he’d been away, and was sorry upon his return. Although, it wasn’t known quite how sorry he was…’ Confusion then spread across Tipps’ face, ‘Get yourself back to the others.’
‘Okay, can I bring more with me for the story next sun-up?’ He asked.