"The Ogress and the Orphans" by Kelly Barnhill, Chapters 9–16

October 24, 2022
After an ogress is accused of abducting the children of Stone-in-the-Glen, a group of orphans try to save her and convince the townspeople of her good nature.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Chapters 1–8, Chapters 9–16, Chapters 17–24, Chapters 25–36, Chapters 37–54
What sort of creature consorted with not just one murder of crows, but with many murders?
Other times, she found small trees casually uprooted and tossed aside, as well as wide swaths of undergrowth flattened by the lumbering bulk of a dragon as it sauntered through the green.
She asked the crows to keep an eye out for her, but the crows had no idea what she was talking about—she didn’t know the word for dragon in Crow, and her stilted, wandering explanations didn’t help.
“Their suspiciousness and unneighborliness make them dreadfully unattractive, if you ask me. Why think of them when you can be thinking of handsome crows, such as myself!” He strutted and preened for the Ogress to prove his argument.
They found her forks and spoons and even a few perfectly good pie pans, which glinted in the moonlight as the crows presented them with a flourish of wings.
She had been trying to learn the nuances of speaking in Crow, but she was not very good at it yet.
Instead, she said, “Caw,” which she intended to mean “I am building a thing to help me see important things,” but her pronunciation was garbled, and what the crows heard was “I see that which is the most important thing.”
The following day, she made more treats in the quiet dark of her crooked little house. Some honey candies. A mushroom tart. A sweet-potato cake. A tureen of squash soup.
The crows followed her through the town, moving in great, undulating clouds overhead and settling on trees or roofs or chimneys or the ground.
Every night, a contingent of cats stalked the perimeter of the yard, their tails aloft, their ears stiff and alert.
It was said that the Library housed the heart of the town. And the mind of the town. It had stately towers of carved stone, and wide windows, and books so numerous they seemed to bend both space and time.
I heard the guttural cries as they watched the building collapse into an ashy heap on the ground.
I saw its large, sinuous body unfurling itself from the back to the front, its tail unwinding like a rope around the neck of the Library and its agile legs crawling along the stone wall.
“Being hungry can profoundly disrupt the mood. Perhaps you need something to eat.”
Myron’s rheumy eyes became slicked with tears.
But the money from the town coffers to pay for a teacher began to dwindle.
There was a chicken coop and a small house for the milk goats (the children had painted it a lurid color of pink several years ago, and now the paint was peeling, making it a mottled mess of pink and gray) and a shed that contained an assortment of tools—as well as a small, neat, and well-organized workbench, which Anthea had built herself, along with the shelves.
She had placed hooks and cubbies and had cut holes in perfect circles on the eastern, southern, and western walls, fitting each one with the bottoms of broken bottles, which filled the space with mottled light.
As the boxes of vegetables had gotten bigger and more generous, the stores of flour and dried beans and oil in the larder had gotten smaller, because the town was providing less and less.
Others are known for their prodigious kindness.
Dragons, by and large, have glittering personalities: they are quick-witted, erudite, and persuasive.
Their magic allows them to fly, breathe fire, and camouflage their great bodies to blend in with their surroundings. It comes at a physical cost, of course—it gives them dreadful dyspeptic stomachaches, for starters, and it starts to whittle away at their health and vigor, and, over time, even their size—which is why they use it rarely.
He ate as the antelope ate (and blessedly free of dyspepsia, which almost never afflicts antelopes) and spoke as the antelope spoke.
Very carefully, he picked up the magic- imbued antelope skin and held it tenderly in his arms.
They rejoiced with their antelope friends when a new calf was born, and they wept when one of their number was lost, offering comfort to the bereaved.
By becoming other creatures, they could better understand how dragons were perceived by others, and through this understanding they could endeavor to make themselves nobler, kinder, more generous.
He had fallen asleep next to Hiram, but sometime during the night, Iggy, Justina, and Kye had all piled in as well, curling into the available space and making new spaces that weren’t there a moment ago. Sprawled atop the lot of them was two-year-old Maude, snoring loudly. Bartleby had to move carefully in order to extricate his limbs and wriggle himself away without disturbing anyone.
Instantly, a fluffy gray cat sat on his lap, purring luxuriously, and an orange tabby insinuated herself under his elbow.
He closed his milky eye and saw the cats in sharp detail, from their mottled noses to their careful paws to the rhythmic rippling of their fur. He closed his hazel eye and saw them as permutations of light and shadow, moving in and out of view.
All throughout, the speakers interrupt one another, digress, threaten to leave the room, and never actually answer any specific questions directly.
Myron peeked his head through the gap, looking furtively to the right and to the left.
One day, the crows and the Ogress were deep in the woods, gathering mushrooms. Crows don’t care for mushrooms (they cause them terrible stomachaches) but are adept at finding them, due to the strong, earthy smell.
Their wool was in such a sorry state that the skin underneath had lesions that festered and wept, and their feet were wretchedly sore.
Dogs lack the subtlety and mystery of crows. Dogs bark and scratch and drool. They howl at the moon, and yip at nothing, and dig holes for absolutely no reason.
The crows alighted on the Ogress’s head and arms and shoulders, prepared to defend her if need be.
“A possibly dangerous dog is skulking about! Run for your life!”
It had a shock of bright, beautiful hair, along with a face that looked uncannily familiar—or may have, if the crows could have stood to look at it for long.
The Littles, along with Dierdre and Elijah, piled around Myron in the parlor, listening with rapt attention as he read them stories, while Matron sang to the toddlers in the dormitory.
In truth, the last entry was just a ruse. The Reading Room never needed to be organized—it took care of that all on its own.
The Orphan House receives the occasional box of food, and this act of kindness comes from an unknown benefactor. If we agree that the people are unkind and we agree that this action is kind, then it follows that the person who is responsible for this action is not a person at all. Ergo, our benefactor is an animal.

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