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The Compaynys of Beestys and Fowlys

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James watches the birds rise up across the river, settling back into a grouping of trees. “A murder of crows,” he muses aloud.

“Never understood that, meself.”

James turns his gaze to Robbie, sitting across from him in the garden of their regular, a half-drunk pint in front of each of them. “What’s that?”

“Why it’s called a murder of crows.”

“It’s a collective noun. Like a flock, or a gaggle of geese.”

Robbie gives him a look that’s half-exasperated, half-fond. “I know that, cleverclogs. What I never understood was why.”

“Why a murder, you mean?”

“Seems a bit fanciful. I know crows and ravens don’t have the best associations, but…”

“Actually, it predates the stories about crows being evil. Terms of venery date back to the mid- to late- fifteenth century.”

“What’re they when they’re at home, then?”

“It was courtly fashion to expand the English lexicon with fanciful and poetic names for groups of animals. It relates to the tradition of hunting, but eventually became just a mark of kenning – that one knew the ‘correct’ terms to use. Some have survived, as you can see.”

A group of children in Hallowe’en fancy dress runs past along the riverbank, shrieking wildly. Robbie nods in their direction. “Is there a word for those hooligans?”

“A blush.”

“Come again?”

“A blush of boys. Although not strictly accurate, as I believe I saw at least one princess in the group.”

Robbie shakes his head. “Trust you to know that.”

James shrugs. “Many terms of venery are still in use today. Herd, flock, swarm…”

“Murder,” Robbie finishes. “Think I like the word better in this context.”

“Indeed.”

James turns back to contemplating the river as another group of gaily costumed children run past, giggling and screaming.

“There’s got to be a better term than ‘blush’ for those little monsters.”

“Monsters… how about a coven of witches? A lunacy of werewolves?”

“Lunacy’s more like, yeah.” Robbie’s gaze is turned towards the children, disappearing round the bend in the distance.

“A vexation of zombies. A devilry of gremlins,” James intones.

“Vexation and devilry. Perfect.”

“A legion of daemon. An audacity of gargoyles,” James continues, the corner of his mouth quirking upwards.

“Audacity sounds about right,” Robbie tells him, a hint of warning in his tone.

“A penumbra of spirits. A clamour of harpies. A scamper of bogeymen.”

“James?”

“Sir?”

“Just drink your pint.”

“Yes, sir.”