This is the third installment in the origin story for the Flying Pig… a magical diner in the 12 Kingdoms, the fantasy world I have created for my debut novel. Check out the first installment here. If you like what you’re reading, check out the sample chapter from my novel Curse of the Vassal Fruit.
Argos swatted at the glitter and looked around for the source of the tinkling chimes when the pair popped back into the world. Fortunately, there was no floating slowly to the floor. The spell wasn’t designed to move groups of people around, and certainly not people as large as Argos. The lights and music were disorienting enough to the minotaur, Ambrosia reflected, floating would probably have undone him.
“Sorry about that. That stuff is hard wired into the spell. I can work on disconnecting it later,”she apologized. That felt weird. She hadn’t been apologetic in a while, mainly because she hadn’t cared enough to worry about making others uncomfortable.
The minotaur grunted in response. He hadn’t gotten used to talking so often and grunting was easier.
Ambrosia glanced about, finding that her eyes didn’t have to adjust to the dimness around her after spending hours in the labyrinth. The ceiling over their heads hung low. Argos crouched to keep from impaling his horns through the boards overhead. Against the far wall, there was a bed occupied by a small lump buried beneath a mound of blankets. The sparse room had a few toys laying about, a threadbare teddy bear hung partly off of the straw stuffed mattress. The lump stirred and the godmother held her breath. Few things in the 12 Kingdoms can be more excitable than a small child waking to discover a fairy in its room.
The stirring continued and the child began to struggle free from the blankets. Ambrosia waved her wand, casting a spell to soundproof the room. A fussy child can be calmed down, but a parent pulled out of bed to discover a fairy godmother tended to be a little more serious.
Crouching down beside the bed, Ambrosia knelt next to the bed and waited for the child to stir completely. As a last minute thought, she put on a smile and tapped her teeth with her wand, casting a simple enchantment that made her smile look friendlier to anyone who saw it.
“Wake up sweetheart,” she chirped in the sweetest motherly tone she could muster. “Wake up. Your fairy godmother is here.” After hundreds of visits to children over the years, she’d become skilled at the art of dealing with them.
A groan snuck out from under the blanket, as the child sat up. Tiny eyes peaked from between the folds of sheets and grew wide when they saw the godmother. Wide awake, the prairie dog tossed his bedding aside and stared, mouth agape, at the fairy crouched at his bedside.
“My fairy godmother?” he chirped hopefully. “Are you here to save us?”
“Of course I am!” the godmother responded in a voice of practiced cheer. Intensifying the magic in her smile, she saw the effects of the charm as the boy fixated on her teeth. “What seems to be the trouble? How can I help you today?” she asked, hoping that the charm would be enough to get the boy to trust her completely.
“There’s a gang. They are coming to destroy our town if we don’t pay them to stay away. We hired 7 heroes to protect us, but they ran off with our money. Now we’re in even bigger trouble than before,” the boy explained, his voice cracking as fear and hope fought for control of his faculties. “They ate our sheriff and now there’s no one left to protect us!” the child continued.
“Well, that’s no good,” the godmother replied, still smiling. “Let’s see. How can we help here?” she mused, thinking for a moment about the predicament. Saving towns was harder for a godmother, mainly because she was supposed to remain out of the spotlight. She couldn’t exactly meet the gang in the middle of the main street in town for a magical showdown. As she thought, her mind drifted from the enchantment slightly.
Less held by the enchanted smile, the boy’s eyes wandered, settling on the shadowy figure behind the godmother. His breath caught in his throat and he froze. Slowly the grip of terror loosened enough that a cry loosed from his mouth, filling the room. Jumping from his bed toward the door, he screamed: “Monster!”.
The godmother whipped her wand around and fired a glittering burst of magic at the door, which froze closed. A second whip of her wrist lifted the boy and levitated him back to his bed. The boy fought against the invisible forces that carried him back.
“Shhhh,” the godmother urged the hysterical child. “It’s ok. This isn’t a monster. This is my friend. He’s not here to hurt you. We’re here to help you.” She couldn’t really blame the boy for being afraid. She had nearly jumped from her skin when she first saw Argos. She’d forgotten about the minotaur in her efforts to deal with the child when they first arrived. She probably should have cast some sort of spell to hide him altogether. For that matter, she should have transported them elsewhere altogether. After thousands of jumps between jobs, simply jumping to where command sent her was automatic. Still, she wouldn’t be able to take the minotaur on jobs. She’d either have to stash him or change him into something friendlier looking. Or not go on any more missions. The thought made it feel as though her heart stopped beating for a moment. Slowly, the boy’s hysteria settled and he was left whimpering and hovering over his bed and the godmother returned her attention to him.
“It’s ok honey,” the godmother cooed. “He’s with me. You don’t think we godmothers deal with street gangs without some muscle at our backs, do you?” The last thought struck her as a stretch. She wasn’t sure if Argos would agree to fight a gang. It was also a major violation of godmother regulations, not that she’d followed them so closely lately anyway. Still, the idea didn’t just calm the prairie dog down, it got him excited.
“Are you serious? The bull-man is going to fight the rattlers?” the boy squeaked. “I can’t wait to see the looks on their faces when they meet him!”
“Uh, Ambrosia? Can I talk to you a moment?” the minotaur asked in a low, almost whispered tone.
“Just a minute, uh, what’s your name?” the godmother asked.
“Daniel,” the prairie dog squeaked.
“Ok Daniel, let me go talk to my friend over here. You just hang out here,” the godmother replied with a wink before turning, crossing the room, and leaning close to Argos. “Yes?”
“You want me to fight a gang of rattlesnakes?” the minotaur asked. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“What, don’t you think you can take them?” the godmother replied, voice dripping with sarcasm.
“I guess that depends on how many are in a gang,” he replied thoughtfully. “Still, is this how you handle all your cases?”
“No. These kinds of cases aren’t very common and they require a lot of finesse. I can’t intervene directly and it’s not as though they choose to send us out to work as local police forces. I’m not sure what is going on today. All of the cases have been a little wonky. My guess is that this kid went to bed wishing that the Mountain King would send an army to fight these rattlers tomorrow, probably right after ‘The Second-rate Seven’ took the town’s money and left. We could have you crush those rattlers tomorrow, but I think I have a better plan.”
“How many rattlers are in the gang?” Ambrosia asked, turning back to Daniel.
“Last time they slithered into town, I counted 25 of them,” the boy responded eagerly. “But they won’t stand a chance against you two!”
“25?” the godmother asked, wide eyed. “That’s a few of them. There must be a den of them nearby.”
“I heard the grown-ups talking. Their hideout is in the caves near the hills. That’s east of here,” Daniel chirped. Ambrosia marveled at the uncanny ability kids had for overhearing all sorts of useful information that isn’t meant for their ears.
“Ok. We are going to go look into this situation. I need you to go back to sleep now,” the godmother explained. As she spoke, she dug around in her satchel, finally finding a small bag of dust.
“I’m not tired! I want to watch! I want to help! Please!” Daniel protested.
“Sorry child,” Ambrosia responded, sprinkling some of the dust from her bag over the still floating child. In a moment, he was asleep. With a flick of her wand, the prairie dog slowly lowered to the bed. The godmother leaned in, pulling the blanket over the boy and handing him the teddy bear. “Dream of heroics. Dream of defending your home and chasing villains away,” she whispered before turning back to the minotaur.
“Ready to go?” she asked through a mischievous grin.
“Uh, yeah,” Argos responded.
“First, we need a wheelbarrow,” she said thoughtfully as she grabbed the bull by the hand and waved her wand. With a barely audible pop, the pair were suddenly in the barn, behind Daniel’s small home. The godmother raised her wand, and it lit up like a torch. Pushing the door open, she stepped into the dark space and looked around for a moment.
“Here we are,” she chirped. “Let’s get this thing out of here and get to work.” The wheelbarrow banged several times as she maneuvered it out the shop door. “Let’s go!” she sang, grabbing Argos by the hand again. With another pop, the pair disappeared again.
7 figures hunched around a campfire laughing and talking. They laughed and joked about the foolish prairie dog town that was witless enough to think they would fight their battles for them. The group laughed and laughed, so focused on their revelry that they missed the pop that announced the arrival of a godmother, her minotaur friend, and the wheelbarrow.
Ambrosia watched the circle of creatures as they warmed themselves. The light from the fire ruined their night vision, making it impossible for them to see anything in the surrounding night. “That helps,” she thought.
“All I need you to do is stand. Maybe swing your axe around a little. Don’t talk. Also, don’t kill or hurt anyone. I need these guys in good health. Twenty-five rattlesnakes is gonna be a handful for them.”
“You didn’t ask if I wanted to help with this,” Argos said flatly. The response shocked the godmother. She just didn’t often find herself in a position where she needed to ask people for help. It was strange.
“Well, do you want to help me?” she asked, hopeful that her new friend would be a partner in her work.
“Yes. I appreciate you helping me. I want to help you,” the minotaur responded stiffly. Obviously uncomfortable with the exchange, though he had brought it up because it was important to him. He wanted the godmother to know he was helping because he wanted to help her.
“Thank you,” the godmother responded, again smiling without having to force it. She let go of the minotaur’s hand and popped open her satchel. Reaching inside, she searched a bit before pulling out an oversized robe. “Everyone said I was crazy for holding on to this old thing. I got it from a giant. He traded it to me for a bag of peanuts. There is no way I was ever going to fit into it, but I figured some day I’d find some use for it. It’s called a annihilation robe. Try it on,” the godmother instructed as she passed the garment to the minotaur, who slipped into the red outfit obediently.
“It’s a little big,” he replied, staring at the baggy sleeves.
“That’s ok. You won’t be moving around. Hop on this wheelbarrow,” Ambrosia commanded.
“So you look like you’re floating, I think,” the godmother allowed some uncertainty into her voice. “I read about this in a fairy book.”
“Fairy book? How is that any different from a regular book?”
“Fairy books are a kind of magic book. They come from somewhere else. We’re not really sure where. They have all sorts of interesting stories and ideas from… somewhere else. There are a few of them around, but most stay in the Fairy Kingdom. I pop in sometimes and ‘borrow’ one or two. They’re pretty great reading. This fairy book is where the idea for the annihilation robe came from. It burns but isn’t consumed, and the person inside is protected. It’s a neat bit of magic. They said it’d be a miracle if they ever got it to work. The tests were pretty awful, or so I hear.”
“You’re going to set me on fire?” Argos asked, uncertain.
“No silly,” the godmother laughed. “I’m going to set the robe on fire. Now hop up on the wheelbarrow and look intimidating.”
“This plan, did it work in the book?” the minotaur asked, staring at the wheelbarrow.
“Well, they were doing something different with it. This will work for us too. I’m going to help it along with a little magic. Remember, don’t try to talk. There’s something about the robe that makes it so voices get all scrambled. It’ll all come out as nonsense.”
“Right,” he replied.
“I’m going to the other side so they don’t run off,” Ambrosia encouraged. “Trust me. This will work.”
“If I didn’t trust you, I’d still be in the labyrinth.”
With a flutter of her wings, the godmother took off into the night. As she passed over the 7 creatures around the fire, she aimed her wand carefully and snuffed their fire. Suddenly plunged into darkness, the creatures yelped and hollered, scrambling to face whatever enemy might come out of the darkness at them. With a second flick of her wrist the wheelbarrow began rolling forward slowly. Another swipe with her wand sparked the robe, which was instantly ablaze. The fire lit the night with an orange glow. The creatures below couldn’t help but spot the towering figure burning and floating across the prairie.
Ambrosia touched down on the far side of the shadowy crew. Using another simple spell, she made her voice boom all around. “You have angered the fairies. We know what you did! Cowards! WE KNOW! Kneel before me and explain yourselves!” six of the figures sent weapons and shields clattering to the ground. The seventh turned and ran.
“FOOL!” the godmother howled. “Do you think you can outrun my wrath?” She raised her wand and sent a blast of wind howling through the darkness. The fleeing shadow was tossed back to the crowd of cowering animals.
Flaming Argos rolled within ten feet of the terrified mercenaries. He was now close enough that they could see his horns poking from under the hood fo the robe. Each was held in place by sheer terror. Ambrosia could see that they were honey badgers. Honey badgers? What in The Kingdoms were they doing here? And what possessed the townsfolk to trust such animals?! Honey badgers were the fiercest creatures that existed, but they were treacherous. It was common knowledge that the only spot scarier than facing a honey badger in battle was standing next to one in battle and wondering if it would turn on you, too. Those prairie dogs must have been desperate.
“What are you doing here? Why are you honey badgers on the prairies?” Ambrosia’s voice boomed like thunder over the badgers’ heads.
“We are traveling. Looking for work. We’ve been all over The Kingdoms. There’s plenty of money for animals who can fight. The Kingdoms are getting lawless these days. Ordinary people need protection,” the largest of the honey badgers responded, his voice shaking.
“Then why aren’t you protecting? You TOOK payment from the prairie dogs. You ABANDONED them. You CHEATED them. Are you COWARDS?” Ambrosia punched the words of accusation so they boomed in the sky.
“We are not cowards!” the lead honey badger leapt to his feet. “We are cheats. No one calls us cowards!”
A bolt of lighting struck the ground before the standing leader and he dropped to his knees again. His bravery and bragging were typical of honey badgers, but they weren’t stupid. They love to fight, and they don’t care about the consequences.
“You must be punished. The Mountain King gave you great gifts and you use them to steal from the innocent,” the godmother grinned as she spoke. This was fun. She was technically breaking the rules a bit, but she was killing two birds with one stone. She would reform these badgers and save the town at the same time.
“Don’t kill us! We swear we’ll go back and make it right!” the lead badger cried.
“Yes. You will. But I demand MORE,” the final words was punctuated with lightning strikes all around the honey badgers.
“WHAT?! What do you want us to do?” the cowering badger asked.
“You will give the money back and from this day forward, you will travel the lands and defend the helpless. You will fight oppressors. You will serve good,” the godmother wasn’t sure the honey badgers could manage anything of the sort, but it seemed like it was worth a shot.
“Whatever you say! We’ll do it!” the seven badgers cried out in unison.
“Take your weapons and go! If you hurry, you can make it to the town in time to meet the rattlers at dawn,” the final booming command sent the badgers scrambling to gather their gear and they ran into the darkness.
“From today forward, you will be my knights. The Knights of the King’s Table. Do not stray from this path! We are watching!” Ambrosia could hardly contain her laughter. When she shut off the spell she’d been using for her voice, she roared and laughed. Tears streamed down her face as she watched the shadows disappear into the darkness.
“Hey! I’m still on fire here!” Argos called.
“Oh yeah. Sorry.” Ambrosia waved her wand and the flames were doused. As she approached, she noticed the wheelbarrow was smoking. With a crack the wheels collapsed and sent the minotaur sprawling.
Ambrosia offered her friend her hand to help him to his feet. He accepted it, but the silliness of a 5-foot tall fairy helping an 8-foot tall minotaur up soon became obvious. The godmother was quickly reduced to laughing fits again, and Argos got himself up.
“Want to go watch the show?” Ambrosia asked.
“You mean the fight?”
“Yes. I am pretty sure those guys are not going to stray from my directions and 7 honey badgers could take 100 snakes in a fight, but I want to be sure. I have messed up my last few missions, and I don’t want to let Daniel down.”
The pair sat on a hill overlooking the prairie dog town and watched as the honey badgers trotted back triumphantly. The townsfolk cheered and celebrated their return. The newly founded order of the ‘Knights of the King’s Table’ returned their fee and set about the work of preparing the townspeople to defend their homes. The battle that happened when the rattlers arrived was fantastic and very one-sided. The hero badgers easily routed the gang and sent them fleeing in all directions.
Ambrosia and Argos watched laughing and cheering. Part way through the fight, the minotaur took hold of the godmother’s hand. He had found that he liked contact with other creatures. She in turn, realized that she had been lonely for years. They sat, holding hands and watching.
“I wonder what will happen to the knights,” Ambrosia mused.
“Maybe we’ll hear about their adventures later,” Argos said gruffly.
“Probably. That’s a whole other story though,” she sighed.
“Where do we go now?”
“I’m not sure. I don’t think I can take you on any more missions. But I’ve been thinking about it, and I don’t want to leave you behind,” she said. The gravity in her voice made Argos’ hairs prickle.
“Are we gonna just sit here forever?” he asked after an awkward silence settled between them.
“No. I think I have to quit the godmothers.”
“Can you do that? Is it that easy? I tried to quit the labyrinth a few times, and I didn’t get to choose.”
“No. It’s not that easy. No one ever has before. But, I’m going to quit anyway. It seems like there are more important things to do now,” her voice shook as she spoke.
“Then what do we do?”
“Well, we need to move on. We’ll find a spot where we can figure out what’s next,” the godmother’s voice shook. “I think I can hide us for a while in the northern forests. It’s gorgeous. I know a place.”
“Well, lets go then. The last time I saw the forests, they were saplings. I want to see them again.”
Ambrosia turned to her new friend and whispered: “Thank you.” She snapped her fingers, and they evaporated from the prairie.
A few hours later and thousands of miles away, at Godmother Headquarters, a fairy whose job it was to coordinate the godmothers’ missions noticed something that had never happened before. A godmother didn’t show up to her next mission. She quickly sent out a godmother trainee to deal with the mission and ran to the command offices to report the anomaly. Reports were filed. Questions were asked. Investigators visited the labyrinth, Drizella’s home, and the prairie dog town. Godmother High Command held an emergency meeting and tried to make sense of the missing godmother.