Sunday, September 7, 2008
Egbert, the Laughing Pinhead Chicken
Until the late 1300's, the Pinhead Chicken was the most popular type of domesticated poultry in the world. Unfortunately for everyone, (since the chicken was reportedly delicious), it proved to be unusually susceptible to the Black Death. Within a few years of the outbreak of the first Plague in the 1380's, an estimated 90% of the population were killed by the disease, and the rest were eaten by a depleted and starving population that hadn't yet invented an endangered species list. Our modern chicken, at the time an unpopular and cheaper alternative for the poor, filled the void.
The last remaining animal of the species in the world was kept by King Richard III of Scotland. He named the animal Egbert and taught it to do tricks, including play a mean game of five card stud, walk on its beak, and blow out the song "Green Sleeves". Egbert was also capable of playing dead, sitting, and fetching both sticks and the tubes of parchment that were delivered by heralds. Unfortunately, Egbert also caused his monarch a certain amount of trouble.
Richard tried to take Egbert on a hunting expedition in 1389, with disastrous consequences. As legend has it, Egbert, once out of the confines of the castle walls, started doing a strange ritualistic dance that Richard had not seen before. The dance struck the Monarch as so funny that he broke out in laughter. Egbert, ever the imitator, did a perfect imitation of the King's laughter, which made the King laugh even harder. Unfortunately, the horse found all of this incredibly creepy and bucked the King off his back and tried to kill both him and the chicken. The King was given a wound that would cripple him for the rest of his life. From that moment on, the functional ruling of the Kingdom was done by his brother. Egbert lived on in the King's service, but he never again did his dance, nor did he imitate the King's increasingly rare laughter. He was never again allowed out of the King's castle.
Shortly after that, King Henry the IV of England heard about the Chicken and became obsessed, eventually invading Scotland. Although he never conquered his northern neighbor, he did smuggle Egbert out of Richard's castle and back to London. Legend has it that Egbert did a number of tricks for the King on the journey home, which amused the King greatly. Henry was reportedly so amused that he was still smiling when he ate Egbert at a state dinner the night of his return.
Egbert would get his revenge, however. After that dinner, King Henry heard unexplained laughter wherever he went in the Castle. There was never a source, and the King became paranoid and withdrawn. The stress brought on a debilitating skin disease that required Henry to temporarily grant governance to his son. It eventually killed him while he was praying at Westminster Abbey. After his death, the mysterious ghostly laughter stopped.