The Cunins a’Coming… – One of the Abbey 900 Series – by Richard Lutwyche
“Ah, Canon Herbert. Just pause a moment please. I must speak with you.”
The young canon looked up nervously at the imposing figure of the Abbot and gulped. What must he be punished for now?
“Monsieur l’Abbé. How good it is to see you returned safely. I trust your journey was not too arduous.”
“It was long and tiring but not without reward. We have much to learn from our Norman cousins back in their homelands. Believe me, we would not sup all day on this base ale if we could grow grapes and make wine! Ahh, how much difference God’s sunshine makes to the world. But that is not why we must talk. I have a new project for you so that we may never again be half-starved.”
“It was not my fault the swine all died, master. It was the measles. Canon Jacob tried all the herbal remedies he could but nothing could stop it. Even our prayers were not answered. And the fox taking all the fowls. They are the Devil’s own creatures, killing all to feast on just one!”
“Yes, yes, I know it’s not your fault, Canon but someone has got to find a solution and it seems that must be me. Now, I have ordered 20 cunins and they are being sent over in three weeks’ time so that is how long you have to prepare so you must make haste. There will be much to do.”
“Er, ‘cunins’ sire? I’m afraid I’m not familiar with them, I fear. What are they?”
“Oh, you fool! Have you learnt nothing that I have taught you? Leviticus, chapter 11, verse 5. Moses forbade the Jews from eating them – but we know better! I have feasted on the creatures, sweet and succulent, bathed in the richest gravies and soon we too will enjoy God’s gifts. Cunins, you idiot! Little soft furry things.”
“Ah, Sire, you mean conys! But they do not exist here and I know nothing of them. How do I feed them, bed them, treat them?”
“We are importing them and they will thrive here! They feed themselves on grasses and herbage. They dig their own burrows and live as families. And they reproduce so quickly! Twenty will soon become 400 and then 8000 and then we can feed the whole town as well as ourselves. For a price, of course, you understand.”
“But where will we keep so many, Sire?”
“That is where you must make haste. Throughout the journey home I have been thinking of where we shall have our ‘warren’ for that is how they are managed. If we are not careful they will escape then everyone will be eating them and we will see no advantage. So, I came to the conclusion that the old Roman amphitheatre would be perfect. It is derelict, has much feed for the little creatures and they can burrow to their heart’s content. What you must do is to secure the perimeter with a palisade to prevent them spreading. Mark you! It must be buried into the earth to stop them digging underneath. So take some of the townsmen to do the work for you but supervise them well. I am counting on you to make this a success Canon Herbert. I will not be best pleased to find that the peasants are feasting on my… I mean our, cunins!”
“I understand, Sire and will do as you command. You have my word that they will never escape into the wild.”
[Cunins and Conys are old terms for rabbits. The story is based on data on the information board at the Roman Ampitheatre in Cirencester].