The Story of a Magpie

A secret never to be told

The town of Chipping Campden had almost forgotten the visit of the last Magpie.  Time had carried the last visit into distant history.  But it was always possible that another Magpie would, one day, fly down the hill and into the town.

A very few of Chipping Campden’s council leaders, being the oldest of the townsfolk, remembered the last visit of a Magpie to their secluded town.

‘A Magpie is so hard to identify.  That is the very root of the problem,’  was the view expressed by the oldest of the councillors at one meeting of the Town Guild.  ‘If we want to live in any sort of freedom then look out for the Magpie’, he warned. ‘The Magpie takes away freedom, replacing it with its unique call of fear. When a Magpie comes to our town it will alight one morning and come amongst us.  And then, slowly, it will begin its customary behaviour, searching out those of us for whom it has an appetite.  And it will take advantage of those who are closest to it to achieve its depraved objectives.  A Magpie is always, in its heart, the scavenger.’

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They were the scavengers, the predators, the pest-destroyers.  They were the agents of the State and the servants of the Deputy Lieutenant.  He had created his own network of investigators.  They were known as The Magpies.  They were selected and began their training at the tenderest age.

The Deputy Lieutenant held the philosophy that if you are born a Magpie, and learn the ways of the Magpie, then you are bound, in the end, to become the embodiment of a Magpie.

The Deputy Lieutenant addressed the Council.  ‘There are times,’ he said, ‘when the state has a solid foundation.  But when that foundation has been shaken by the calamitous events of recent times, cracks will appear and a contagion of dangerous creatures will make their home in those foundations.  If they are not pulled out they will, given time, cause the entire structure – that is our protection against the raw elements – to collapse.’

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‘You are the most gifted of this year’s Magpies,’ the Deputy Lieutenant said to her, his face lit by a smile that resembled a slant of sunlight in a threatening sky.  ‘For many years before this year as well, I think.  I need you to seek out these worms and the insects that burrow into the bedrock of our State and undermine its already weakened parapets.  Scratch around in the earth of their burrows, peck them out and then, together, we will swallow them.’

She also remembered the parting words of the Deputy Lieutenant as she prepared to leave the shelter of the city walls.  She could even hear his words, caught in the sound of the wind as it blew across the spires, turrets and the defences of that city.  ‘There is no freedom to choose your allegiance in these disturbed times,’ said the Deputy Lieutenant.  ‘There is the good and there is the pestilent.  They cannot sit together on the same bench and beneath the shelter of the same great hall.’

She shuddered as the wind followed behind, pushing her through the opened gates of the city.  She shivered also, of course, because was frightened.  The life of a Magpie was too often a short one. 

She was travelling into a remote area of the country where there was a near hysterical fear of Magpies.  But as her mother had said, ‘If they do not like Magpies, then they should not make for themselves a habitat that is so attractive to Magpies.’