Allan Hands has never smiled at a crocodile (you can’t get friendly with a crocodile), but he has got indecently close to snakes. Australia has some of the deadliest specimens in the world, including the homicidal but humbly named Brown Snake, always ready, willing and able to kill anyone that sets foot in its belly-only territory, even if that happens to be your own backyard. Allan could give you several hair-raising examples of these domestic encounters, but time and space allows for only one.
Picture Allan just home from work, after a day spent expertly handling those other little monsters that always get under our feet. He has put the schoolbooks and blackboard behind him for now, and has nothing better to do than wander about the yard, admiring the peace and quiet of Mother Nature – especially that distant drama of the clouds, those marvellous structures that slide about on their flat bellies – when suddenly one foot gets caught in something. Immediately a vision springs to mind of a garden hose wrapped around his ankle, so he looks down and what does he see: no garden hose! His left foot is planted on the neck and tail of a Brown Snake, and his right foot is ridiculously caught in the loop he has somehow made of its stomach.
With the benefit of hindsight, Allan now realises that the snake must have struck at him as he was passing by and, thanks to his lucky stars, his shoe deflected the blow and pinned the snake’s tail and lethal head to the ground, rendering it powerless to strike a second time. He would never have known how lucky he was if his other foot hadn’t inserted itself into the loop, tying him to the spot almost as completely as the snake. Can you imagine how Allen must have appeared to the said slitherer? A godlike adversary that no reptile in its right mind chooses to tangle with! Can you imagine Yours Truly, the master of every situation, calmly grasping it by the safe end, taking the foot off then carrying it to some bushland far from his house, where it might live as Nature intended? You have a good imagination.
In fact, Allen jumped off the snake as if it were a firecracker, far enough and fast enough to have won a medal at the Olympic games, had he competed in something called the backwards long jump from standing position. Meanwhile the snake slithered off into some garden bushes, chastened and bewildered by its experience. The moral of the story: humanity has deep and meaningful encounters with all God’s creatures, great and small – encounters that are sometimes tragic, sometimes comic, and often memorable. We have all laughed with a dog, or wept for the loss of a kitten, or spent an idle moment conversing with a canary, haven’t we? Why aren’t more of these creatures included in our stories?
Mirrored Sword features three significant animals. The hero’s dog is called Wakefield, and the heroine’s ass Lady Lorna Blakeney. She also strikes up a relationship with a hired horse, called Mary of Reading. All three of these sweethearts share in the tragicomic experiences of their humans, sometimes intervening in time to save the day, sometimes offering a shoulder to cry on, and one even perishing in an act of selfless devotion. You’ll have to read the story to find out more.