Middle-earth Superstitions: 14. Magpies and Rhymes

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14. Magpies and Rhymes


This is based on the first three lines of a rhyme, normally used upon seeing mynahs or magpies. It has, in some parts, become a superstition in its own right - :
One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a letter,
Four for a boy

Letter is usually taken to imply any news from a loved one.


The view from the window was of a seemingly quiet and peaceful city. So quiet did it appear, that for a few brief seconds one could be deluded into forgetting that war might descend upon them any day. But then, Faramir knew quite well that a storm was invariably preceded by calm weather. He did, after all, come from a long line of sailors on his mother’s side. And it seemed strangely fitting that he now awaited an audience with his father. If not actually stormy, the proceedings could certainly leave a cloud over any who met the steward these days.

It was cold in his father’s study. The window was open and the grate, unlit. Minas Tirith could get quite chilly even when the winter was dying out for the winds from the north blew across it unfettered and the icy coldness they carried seemed, to him, to seep into everything.

A raucous screeching interrupted such sombre, disjointed musings. It rose out of the trees in the garden below. Magpies, he deduced, and was more than a little surprised, for spring was as yet approaching. They flew out of the branches, still screeching, and landed on a parapet below the window. He could see a cat clawing at the trunk of the tree. Then his eyes settled on the magpies once again. There were three of them.

“Three for a letter,” the squeaky voice of his youngest cousin spoke up in his head. The long forgotten rhyme came back to him as the noisy birds scattered and flew off elsewhere. The cat slinked off somewhere.

“One for sorrow, Two for Joy, Three for a letter,” he chanted softly to himself. The verse made him smile as much for the memory of childhood as for the hope that it might come true.

Three for a letter…

The cloud seemed to lift and his mood lightened. He shook his head, smiling a little at how the childish notion had suddenly gripped him, and continued pacing up and down the room as he waited. But the next time his steps carried him near the window, his eyes strayed towards the great gates of the city; looking for a carrier, an errand rider, or anyone who might carry the news all of them had awaited for months; he, more than most. His brother was not much of a letter writer, and more so on a long journey, but he might have passed some word along in some manner.


“I would have you return to Ithilien soon. There are reports of movement along Harad Road. Men marching north, I am told.” Denethor’s mood, when he arrived, was much as he had expected it to be. But he found he didn’t mind it as much as he had thought he might have.

The screeching sounded out again even as Faramir nodded and glanced down at the map on the table. He could sense a frown on his father’s face as his head swivelled instinctively towards the window.

Three for a letter…

Perhaps today they might hear some news of him, any news. A dry cough interrupted his reverie and he immediately shut out thoughts of magpies and rhymes. A look of barely suppressed impatience flashed across his father’s face.

The screeching continued even as Denethor recommenced speaking. Wind rustled through dry leaves. Each sound seemed to get amplified in the small, cold room. A draught of icy cold air swept in, causing one edge of the map to fold over. Denethor brought his hand down to hold it in place. Outside, the magpies seemed to have subdued a little.

“May I shut the window, Father?”

It was an unnecessary question and his father obviously seemed to think as much. The screeching had stopped by the time he reached the window.

Three for a letter…

On the parapet below sat a single magpie, silently preening its feathers.

The faint sound came from the north, and he knew at once that it was not that of the wind; it was too deep. Deep enough to be the mighty bellow of his brother’s war-horn. But it was dim, so dim that he wondered if he was merely hearing more from the past. The shiver that ran up his spine was not due to the stiff breeze alone.

A shadow fell over him and he turned to see his father standing by his shoulder. One glance at his face was enough for Faramir to know that what he had heard was not imagination, but reality.

On the parapet the magpie hopped impatiently from one foot to another.

“One for sorrow,” the squeaky voice from his childhood spoke up. The cloud that had lifted briefly, fell back in place.


This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: HA Writers Group

Status: General

Completion: Ongoing Serial

Era: Multi-Age

Genre: Other

Rating: General

Last Updated: 09/07/03

Original Post: 06/15/03

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