A/N: This came about simply because I had the wren song stuck in my head for far too long. It was supposed to be a nice holiday story, but as it happens, I'm definitely more of a Halloween person. So uh...enjoy?
Warning: implied child death
The Wren, The Wren
The church bells rang and young Elizabeth filed out of the church along with the rest of the town and went ahead of her father who had stopped to talk with Mr. and Mrs. Prewett. The sky was clear and heat bathed her face. It was her first Christmas in Port Royal and she didn't think she would ever get used to how warm it was. Why, it didn't even feel like winter. There was no snow, only sand, but that wasn't the same.
She caught sight of Will Turner and with a grin, headed over to him. She hadn't seen him much since he'd gotten his apprenticeship to Mr. Brown four months ago.
"Happy Christmas, Elizabeth," Will said.
"Happy Christmas, though it certainly doesn't feel like it."
"Don't you think it's great, though? It'll be freezing in England."
Elizabeth wrinkled her nose. "I suppose." She missed the way the snow glittered in the sun like crushed diamonds.
"Mr. Brown gave me some spending money for Christmas," Will went on. "We can go to the shop and get something sweet. Unless Governor Swann wants you home soon."
"That would be lovely." Elizabeth glanced over her shoulder into the church but her father was still in deep discussion about something. "I think he'll be a while. Let's go."
"Great!" Will held out his arm and Elizabeth linked hers with his and they made their way down the road.
As they did, she wondered how his Christmas had been and with a pang, thought how sad it would be not to have a family to celebrate it with. When she returned to her father, she would have to ask him if she could invite Will to Christmas dinner.
At the shop, Will bought them both candy sticks even though Elizabeth insisted she had money to buy her own. But he'd refused, saying it was a present.
After that, they enjoyed the sunshine and their candy and were about to head back when the sound of singing wafted to them on the warm air. Elizabeth stopped to listen. It sounded like children and sure enough, a gaggle of them came marching up the road in the most outlandish costumes that looked to be made of straw. They had feathers in their hair and masks which hid their faces. One held a wooden staff in his hands.
"The wren, the wren,
"The king of all birds.
"St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze.
"Although he was little, his honor was great.
"Jump up me lads and give us a treat."
One of the children broke away from the group and ran up to Will and Elizabeth. "Have you a penny to bury the wren?"
Elizabeth glanced at the staff where the wren was tied, feebly shifting its wings. "But that wren's still alive."
"It's tradition," the boy said hopefully.
"It's supposed to be good for the new year," Will said.
Elizabeth turned to him. "And how would you know?"
"One of my friends back ho – in England was Irish. He told me about it."
"Anyway, I haven't got a penny."
"A ha'penny would do."
Elizabeth sighed. "Have a penny." She fished one from her pocket and gave it to the boy who thanked her and ran to rejoin his friends who were still singing. "I think it's rather fascinating but I do wish they'd let the poor bird go."
"They probably will," Will said. "If they haven't the heart to kill it."
Will's eyes widened in alarm. "Sorry. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. My friend used to make a fake wren out of sticks and a bit of fabric but that's cause he couldn't catch a real one."
Yet she couldn't get the image of the trapped wren out of her mind and as they finished their candy and started back toward the church, she spotted the children again, going back the way they'd come.
"I want to see where they're going," Elizabeth said. "And I want to make sure they free that poor wren."
Will must surely have thought her foolish but he didn't say so. "Alright," he agreed and she was grateful for that.
The children seemed strangely subdued, so different from earlier when they'd been marching and singing and grinning ear to ear. Now they tromped along as if they'd just been called for dinner, putting an end to their fun.
Will and Elizabeth followed a short distance behind them and though they made no effort to hide their pursuit, the children didn't seem to notice or at least care. They just kept walking and Elizabeth wondered if she should give it up. Her father would be worried if she didn't return soon. But she'd already told Will of her intentions and she didn't want him to think she was a quitter.
The children led them down toward the stream where Will and Elizabeth had played once, earning her a scolding from her father for getting her dress wet and muddy. Here, the children stopped and they turned out their pockets, emptying them of the pennies they'd managed to collect and piling them all in the silt on the edge of the stream. Then their leader planted the staff into the soft mud, causing the wren to flutter and chirp.
Elizabeth took a step forward but Will grabbed her arm. "Wait," he said. "Something's not right."
One of the children had grabbed another by the arm and tore off his mask.
"Do I have to?" the maskless child whined. "I was it last time. I don't want to."
"You're just a back up," the other child said. "In case it doesn't like what we brought. You'll probably be fine."
But it hardly seemed to console the maskless child, who whimpered and cast nervous glances at the stream.
"Is that all of it?" the leader said, gesturing at the pile of grimy coins. The others nodded, some rechecking their pockets to make sure. "Alright then." Clearing his throat, the leader said, "Tehi Tegi! Irree! Ta'in guee son dty erreeish, arrymider!"
Immediately, the wren began to scream and this time Elizabeth pulled away from Will before he could stop her.
"Elizabeth!" he hissed at her back.
"Stop! What are you doing?" Elizabeth cried before she could fully grasp what she'd done.
Several children looked at her in shock. The maskless child made a break for it but one of the others tackled him and they both went down in the silt.
The stream exploded.
Water rained down on Elizabeth who gasped as Will ran up to her side. Those children who hadn't been distracted began to chant.
"Tehi Tegi! Tehi Tegi!"
"Moylley lesh Tehi Tegi!"
Something enormous rose from the depths of the stream though the water was much too shallow to accommodate it and there was a very low hum that made Elizabeth nauseous to hear it, more so than the overpowering stench of fish and decay that washed over her.
Water cascaded from the thing's form. It had a head like a bird, its feathers all stripped away and its decomposed beak was filled with yellow, very human teeth. Long scaly arms rose on either side of a female torso. The air was chilly and yet Elizabeth was overcome by a fever heat across her face and the back of her neck, making it difficult to catch her breath.
The wren in its struggling finally slipped free of its bindings and flitted away as the monster of the stream knocked over the staff with a swipe of its wrist. Its other hand came down on the pile of coins, pushing them into the mud as the children screamed and scattered. The maskless child tried to get away too but an enormous hand came down on him and dragged him crying into the stream.
Its sacrifice taken, the thing quickly slipped back into the stream and the water stilled as if nothing had happened, leaving the children to wail and curse and throw off their masks.
Will grabbed Elizabeth's hand and she didn't object, even pulling ahead of him as they ran and ran and they didn't stop running until they were back at the church and Will didn't leave her until they'd found her father.
Governor Swann was worried, sure something bad had happened to her, but the scolding lost its heat when he saw her tears.
Though she had run and she had survived, she knew she was not safe for St. Stephen's Day came around every year and with it, the wrenboys.
The wrenboys, singing and chanting and carrying their wren, gathering their offering for their dark god who slept beneath the stream.