The lion flicked his lazy tail along the icy paving stones. His paws were cold, their fur bedraggled. He did not like the magician’s city. He did not like Menagerie Square. It had been the biggest argument between them.
“Your kind will need a place to congregate,” the magician said.
The lion, in a temper, had eaten three squirrels and a passing clown. “My kind?” he growled. The magician shrugged. He shaped the City with the Square.
Now, the lion sniffed the air, looking for cigars and mothballs, sparks and rabbit fur and feathers. A clock’s reflection wavered where the ice had melted. The lion could not tell time, could not figure if the clock was right side up or upside down, if the hands were going forward or in reverse. Still, he knew the magician was quite late.
In the bakery on the corner, Fat Charley had already made the bread. He was arranging cookies in the window, confections shaped like wildebeests and peacocks, capybaras and small kittens.
Menagerie Square was almost empty. There were no clattering giraffes, no trumpeting elephants, no wide sashay of hippos. There was a seal and otter ice race, judged by squawking penguins. An albatross sat beside the fountain. Messenger wolves passed through, shooting sideways glances at the lion. In the far corner, a polar bear carefully ignored him.
A bell jingled on the steamy bakery door. Fat Charley came out with a white paper bag, his apron splotched with jelly. “Brought you some donuts,” he puffed. “Cream filled and cinnamon dusted.” They were the lion’s favorites.
“Pity ’bout the magician,” the baker said. The lion swiveled towards him, tawny eyes alight. The seals and otters stopped their game. The polar bear looked up. “I told him more’n once that dragons can’t be trusted.”
The lion was not entirely surprised. He had seen the wild explosion of enchantments. Singed magic lingered on the air. Still, he had come. He sat beside the chessboard, game in progress. No one touched the chessboard of the lion and magician.
The baker shifted, brogans slipping on the ice. “I told him, did I, some creatures can’t be trusted.” A penguin coughed. The lion licked his lips, and then he ate the baker.
“He was just the messenger,” the polar bear rumbled from the corner. The lion belched. “Classy,” said the polar bear. “Your brother’s at St. Agnes. Dragons didn’t scorch him much. The seals can move the chessboard.”
“Leave it,” said the lion. He switched his tail through the puddle of the clock, dismantling time and calculations. “My brother always has a deck of cards. We’ll play poker for a change.”
“For stakes?” the polar bear asked.
“Of course,” said the lion, “though I’m tired of his white rabbits. Nurses might be tasty.” The bear snorted clouds of frost. The lion sauntered down a crooked alley, lazy tail flicking at the light. The City was a chessboard, and the lion aimed to win.
Learn more about Wing-Feather Fables here