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Twelve Days

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There were a lot of things about Tortall that Buri still found strange, even after half a year, but the strangest were the damn songs.

"But it makes no sense!"

"Sure it does, Buri," Alanna said. "It's a song about someone giving gifts to their lover."

"It's ridiculous," Buri snapped, flopping backwards onto a couch in the palace sitting room they'd taken over.

"What's so ridiculous about it?" the redhead asked.

"Well, for one, twelve drummers drumming is noisy. So are eleven pipers piping. Maaaaybe it's okay on day eleven, but by the end of the holiday I'd want to bash my true love's head in."

Gary blinked at Buri, then muffled a snort in his hand.

"And what does one DO with ten lords a-leaping, anyway?" Buri was clearly building up steam. "Why would I want ten lords, anyway? I mean, that sounds like the start of a decent harem, but if they're leaping what good are they, then?"

Thayet, who had just entered the room, blinked. "Maybe you could calm them down? They can't leap forever, can they?" Shooting a mystified glance at Jon, who had his face buried in both hands and was rapidly turning purple, she settled herself on the vacant chair. She wasn't entirely sure he was breathing.

"Nine ladies dancing - that actually sounds okay," Buri mused. "Especially if they'd let me join in. Dancing is fun. Eight maids a-milking, though? That's a lot of milk! What am I supposed to do with it all?" She glared at Thayet, who could only think to shrug. "It's not like I have a fief or anything!"

"We could fix that," Thayet murmured.

Buri fixed her with a stronger glare. "NO. Anyway. I don't even own a cow. Is he giving me that too? Seven swans a-swimming. What is my true love planning to do? Give me a pond? Or are these swans supposed to fit in my washtub?"

"Swans are mean, too," George said, giving up and joining in. Alanna shot him an amused smirk.

Buri pointed at him. "They are. Six geese a-laying? Again, what am I supposed to do with all the eggs? Or the meat? Okay, I suppose if I just kill most of the geese and smoke them it's fine, but if I'm supposed to let them live? I don't live on a farm! And geese are loud!"

"And mean!" George interjected with enthusiasm.

"What does he have against birds?" Raoul whispered to Gary, who had given up on dignity and was curled up over the arm of his chair, cackling.

"Five golden rings - that's okay. I could sell 'em if they were as gaudy as they sound and make a decent profit." Buri paused. "Four calling birds? I'm not even sure what that means. What kind of birds are these? Songbirds? Depending on the bird, that might be okay, if I were in the market for a pet, but honestly. What is my true love's obsession with noisy gifts?"

Buri fisted her hands on her hips and looked around the room irritably, as if someone there might have an answer. With a huff, she went on. "Three French hens? What's a French hen and how is it different from a normal hen? Why can't my true love just give me normal chickens, if he wants me to be prosperous? And is he giving me the land and resources to care for the hordes of animals he's saddling me with, or do I have to have land before I get a true love? Only three hens isn't so bad, though. That's a reasonable amount of birds for one person to keep."

"Hens are also mean," George said solemnly. Alanna whacked him.

"Two turtledoves - that's not bad. I guess. What am I supposed to do with two turtledoves, though? And the partridge? Why do I care about partridges? And why do I want a pear tree? And why does the partridge have to be in the pear tree, anyway?"

George opened his mouth. Alanna smacked him again, harder. He closed it.

"AND," Buri near-shouted, startling Jon into almost falling off his seat. Thayet yanked him backwards, relieved to hear that he actually was breathing after all. "Is this a list of the gifts this true love has given me, recounting each day's gifts as the song goes on, or is my true love daft enough to be giving me all the gifts all over again on each day? Because if he is, by the time Midwinter's over with, I'd have twelve partridges, pear trees, and drummers, twenty-two turtledoves and pipers, thirty hens and leaping lords, thirty-six noisy birds - aside from all the other birds on the list - and dancing ladies, forty gold rings and milkmaids, presumably with forty cows as well, and forty-two geese and swans." Buri blinked. "I'd be set for life, if I could find enough land to put all this on. Where do I find a true love?"

Alanna's eyes locked with Thayet's, and they both cracked up.