Some versions of the “Wren Song” say three miles, some say ten.
I guess it would just depend on the given morning, how long the boys had to run, in their ragged drag, cheeks and noses flushed red in the cold, under the blackening of burnt cork, before catching the exhausted wren.
Then parading the thing through the neighborhood, dead or alive, for whatever ransom they might scrape.
A kind of very small lynching, you might say, very carefully. Cruel, indeed.
One admires—I mean I admit that I, in a certain way, admire—the act as a thing now long past. And the reasons invented:
That the wren, with his cascading song, betrayed Saint Stephen to stoning.
That he, or a distant grandfather, ruined a surprise attack on Viking raiders by pecking at a drum. Another treason.
Or for the ancient treachery of Tehi Tegi. Fairy queen, witch, and river siren.
Or even that it was to save the robin, to whom the new year must soon belong, the trouble of doing the dirty work himself.
We should all do so well, to avenge and protect a thing we love.
Stay up late, or get up early. Build it up or cut it down, as the case may require.
Rage and Sing. Pebbles on the window. A stick from the shed.
Run until we taste the blood pecking in our throats, or feel it drumming in our ears.