This is the Fourth 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
Sunlight filtered down through the leaves and branches to paint a picture on the ground below. Argos rested against an ancient Ironwood tree, staring at the pattern of light and shadow dancing over the forest floor as the wind gently buffeted the branches about. The sight of the sun casting shadow still inspired the minotaur, who had spent countless years in the labyrinth. Even after months of opportunity to accustom himself to day and night, sunrises and sunsets, and the warm rays on his skin, he savored the experience. For a creature who spent a lifetime in the darkness, stepping into the light was a whole new life.
“Are you going to nap all day or what?” Ambrosia teased. “Come on! Get back to work.”
“Alright. Alright. I’m moving. You know, I’m doing all the heavy lifting here,” the minotaur replied with a wry smile. They were no closer to figuring out what their next step was, but Argos was certain that he wanted to take it with Ambrosia.
“Keeping you working is hard enough work as it is,” the godmother shot back. “It’s a 24-hour a day job!”
The minotaur hefted his enormous axe from where it lay on the ground beside his resting place, selected a suitable tree and felled it with a single swipe. He made equally fast work of trimming the branches and stripping it into a log before tossing it over his shoulder and strolling back to the clearing where the pair had been camping. With a crash, Argos tossed it into a pile of logs, each similar in size.
“I suppose that’s enough to keep you busy for the morning,” Ambrosia remarked. “It really does look great so far. Are you sure you haven’t done this before?” The godmother eyed the minotaur’s handiwork with a smile. The log house was nearly complete. They’d spent countless hours discussing what it would look like. Somehow the minotaur had managed to replicate the image she had held in her head perfectly. She had told him over and over that they wouldn’t likely be able to stay in the Northwoods for long. When the godmothers finally figured out where they were hiding, they’d have to move on. She hadn’t planned on helping Argos escape the labyrinth just to force him into a life on the run. Really, he didn’t have to run. But, she was certain that he was like a lost puppy that would follow her to the ends of the earth.
“Thanks. I suppose it’s better than sleeping outside when it starts to snow. I still need to finish the kitchen and the fireplace. I think I’ll use these logs to build a porch,” the minotaur mused. He was still getting used to talking to another person. He enjoyed it, but it was very tiring.
“Do you want to eat first?” the godmother asked, fluttering over to the fire. A cauldron hung over the crackling fire with a delicious smelling stew bubbling inside.
The minotaur breathed in the smell of the meal and paused, fighting the intoxicating aroma with his desire to continue building. Finally, he gave in and drifted to the fire. The pair had primarily eaten magical food that Ambrosia made for their first few days together. While fairy food was truly spectacular, the magic mainly duplicated the tastes, preferences, and desires of the person eating it. If you loved chocolate, then fairy food would look, taste, and smell like the best chocolate you ever ate. If you’ve always wanted to try pineapples, then you’d have a chance to try pineapples. It never surprised you with new experiences, just a magical version of experiences you’ve already had or heard of. When Ambrosia explained this to Argos, he began to wonder what he might be missing. So, they experimented with the food the forest around them had to offer. Argos and Ambrosia found that natural food offered an array of unique tastes and smells that were fantastic in their own ways. While fairy food was wonderful, there was something special about real food. The pair experimented with cooking and seasoning food before the godmother had the ingenious idea of combining the two approaches. The result of the pairing of magic and natural foods defied explanation. The pair were eagerly looking forward to each new meal.
Argos stirred the bubbling cauldron of stew before ladling a generous serving into his bowl. Steam wafted from the mixture of meat, vegetables, roots, and herbs, filling the minotaur’s nostrils. His mouth watered and his stomach complained that it had been far too long since he’d last eaten, especially given the day of hard work he’d put into building. As tempted as he was to dig in, he passed the bowl to the godmother, who smiled at the small courtesy.
Ambrosia noticed the gruff beast was far gentler and more considerate than he appeared to be at first glance. He was even quite sweet, though he’d growl and huff at any suggestion that he wasn’t gristly to the core.
“Thank you,” she responded. “I think the house is coming along pretty good. It’s been a bit and the godmothers haven’t found us. Maybe they aren’t looking for me. Maybe we can even live in it for a while.”
Argos silently filled another bowl and dug in eagerly. He chewed slowly, savoring the concoction and concentrating on the experience.
“What do you think?” Ambrosia asked, watching the minotaur carefully. At times his expressions were as unchanging as a gargoyle, making it difficult to discern any sort of pleasure in his non-reactions.
“It smells lovely,” a high voice proclaimed from the far side of the clearing, catching the duo completely unaware. “Might I trouble you two for a bowl?”
Startled, Argos dropped his bowl and instinctively grabbed for his axe in the spot he’d carried it for thousands of years, only to find that it no longer rested across his back. Instead, it leaned right where he’d left it: against the pile of logs across the clearing. After a half moment of hesitation, the enormous creature leapt into a roll across the 20 feet to his axe. Coming up into a standing position, he roared and cocked the great weapon back to meet whatever challenge might come from the guest that had managed to wander into their camp without him noticing.
“Whoa there, big fella!” the voice called out. “If you don’t want to share your lunch, it’s ok.”
Ambrosia had pulled her wand and pointed it at the figure, waiting for it to do anything that would justify her turning it into a toad.
“Sorry,” she called out. “You surprised us. Come on forward and let us get a look at you.” Deep down she hoped it wasn’t a fairy. They’d have to move to another spot if it was, and that’s if it wasn’t a squad of fairies sent to collect her or rescue her or whatever the Godmothers had decided to do in response to her desertion.
“I’m happy to come on over. Your fire looks quite welcoming, but your friend there doesn’t.”
“Argos, put it away honey. I’ve got this,” she commented over her shoulder, never pulling her eyes from the shadowy figure. The minotaur cautiously lowered the axe, pausing a moment before grudgingly slipping it through the loops on his back, where he would be able to draw it easily. Once the axe was stowed, the shadowy figure strolled up the to the fire.
“Now, about that bowl of stew…” the odd figure remarked as he crouched and collected Argos’ bowl and spoon.
Ambrosia puzzled over the odd fellow, who was dressed in a long coat, with a long striped scarf wrapped around his neck, face, and hanging down to drag on the ground behind him. His face was obscured below his eyes, which were framed by a pair of wooly silver eyebrows that arched upward toward his matching silver hair, which stuck up in all directions. A pair of pointy ears peeked out through the bramble of hair on either side of the half obscured face. The figure was small, nearly half the size of the godmother.
“An elf,” Ambrosia thought. “What’s an elf doing all the way out here?” she wondered inwardly. “And what in the Twelve Kingdoms is he wearing?”
The elf pulled the knitted scarf down from his face, and shoveled a spoonful of Argos’ lunch into his mouth. After a couple of slow chews, the elf’s eyes grew wide.
“You made this? Why, this is amazing. I’ve never eaten anything like it. You should go into business,” the elf remarked through a mouthful of food.
“Glad you’re enjoying it,” the godmother responded, pulling her face into her practiced smile. “What are you doing out here, elf?”
“This would be a terrible spot for a restaurant, mind you. There are no roads anywhere near here. You’ll never see a single customer,” he prattled on, completely disregarding her question. Then, as if noticing her for the first time, his eyes focused on Ambrosia and exclaimed: “You’re a fairy godmother! What are you doing all the way out here? I’m Nemo, but no-one calls me that. You can call me ‘the doctor’.” He wiped his hand on his jacket and offered it to Ambrosia, beaming at his new acquaintance.
“Former godmother, and my name is Ambrosia. Nice to meet you Doctor Nemo,” she responded curtly, smiling with her mouth but projecting deadly seriousness with her eyes. She elected not to shake his hand, and after a moment he pulled it back sheepishly.
“Just ‘Doctor’ is fine,” the elf chirped. “And what do you mean by ‘former’ godmother? Who ever heard of a former godmother?” The elf chuckled and spooned more of the stew stew into his mouth, suddenly ignoring Ambrosia completely for a few moments. Then, snapping to attention, he zeroed in on her again. “You’re the one they’re looking for!” he shouted and leapt to his feet, pointing at the fairy across the fire.
Nemo’s excitement was immediately quashed when a hand, roughly the size of a ham, came down on the his shoulder. The minotaur had crept up behind the elf and watched as the tiny creature ate his meal. Protecting his only friend was the main concern on the beast’s mind, and he carefully watched the exchange. A warning growl slipped from between Argos’ clenched jaws.
“Whoa there, big fella,” Nemo said again, his voice suddenly serious. “I’m not looking for your godmother friend. It seems as though I’m the only one who isn’t though. Is that what you two are doing this far away from everything? You’re hiding? That’s what all the spells around here are! I was wondering. Here I was wandering through the forest, minding my own business, and suddenly there are protection spells and magical camouflage and all manner of peculiar things. This explains everything!”
“They’re looking for me? Have you seen them in the area? What have you heard?” the godmother snapped.
“I haven’t heard much. I think they’re embarrassed. I’ve heard they’re looking for a godmother, though it’s all very hush-hush. I haven’t seen anyone out here. In fact, I’ve not run into anyone in days. You two sure picked a spot to hide, though I am guessing that eventually they’ll figure it out. Especially once you two open your restaurant. There’s no way you’ll keep this food a secret for long,” Nemo gestured with his spoon as he exclaimed the wonders of the pair’s cooking. “I have no idea how you are going to keep the masses from lining up for miles just to taste your cooking!”
“We’re not opening a restaurant. Where did you get that idea? And stop messing around. Tell us more about the Godmothers’ search,” Ambrosia urged, suddenly impatient.
“Why, of course you’re opening a restaurant,” he responded, staring in shock. After a brief pause, he knocked the heel of his hand against his forehead and exclaimed: “Of course! You don’t see like that.”
“See like what?” the minotaur grunted over the elf’s shoulder, where he loomed menacingly.
“You’re a prophet!” the godmother gasped suddenly.
“Well, not exactly. I see things. I’m one of the only non-fairies to ever get a fairy book. It was a bunch of stories about the Doctor, who travels and fixes problems. It’s where I got the inspiration to live as I do. Anyways, sometimes I look at situations and I just know what’s what. I don’t think that means I speak for the Mountain King or that I am a prophet or anything. I don’t really know what I am. I don’t fit anywhere, so I live everywhere.”
Ambrosia’s eyes narrowed as she assessed the elf, though her smile never wavered. The Doctor refocused on the stew in his bowl and greedily slurped at the contents, occasionally making delighted noises signaling his ongoing enjoyment of Argos’ lunch.
“How are we supposed to open a restaurant with the Godmothers looking for me. It sounds like we’re going to have to live constantly on the move or go somewhere they won’t look. I hear the Underground Kingdom is lovely,” she responded, sarcasm dripping from her words.
“If you’d like to live on the move, I could use some new companions after losing my last one,” the elf uttered as he refilled his bowl with a heaping ladle of stew.
“Hey! Leave some for me,” the minotaur growled.
“Sorry! I just can’t help it. This stuff is magical,” the elf sang over his shoulder.
“Half-magical,” the godmother corrected. “And what do you mean? How did you lose your last companion?”
“Huh?” Nemo grunted, never looking up from his bowl. “Oh that. Never mind for now. There’s too much to do. I know you two aren’t coming with me, though it certainly would improve my dining on the road. No. You’re not suited for my kind of work. Well, actually you are, but your minotaur friend doesn’t exactly come across as a people person.”
“He’s fine. And his name is Argos,” the former godmother replied peevishly, suddenly feeling oddly defensive about her friend.
“Yes. I’m sure he is,” Nemo sighed, rolling his eyes. “Anyways, he’s not inconspicuous. You don’t need to attract attention while you’re on the run. So, the other option is to hide somewhere the Godmothers would never think to look for you. Is the Underworld really a place you’d like to live? Getting into that place is no small feat. It’d be easier to break into Godmother High Command.”
“No. I’ve heard of some strange things happening there in the last few decades. It’s not safe anymore. That’s why Godmother High Command doesn’t send us down there anymore. Rumor has it there’s an army of monsters assembling. Probably just a rumor, but I am fine not living there,” Ambrosia dismissed the suggestion in a way that made it clear that it was out of the question.
“Where else will they not look for the two of you?” Argos asked.
“I’m not sure. No one has ever left the Godmothers. I don’t even know what they’ll do if they find me. I suspect they’ll look everywhere.”
“Hmmm. That is a bit of a problem. I guess you’re going to have to hide nowhere. It’ll have to be a nowhere they won’t think to look in,” the Doctor said with a faraway look.
“So, you’re insane then? Is that the punchline to this whole thing?” Ambrosia asked, smiling hard to keep from growling.
“Maybe. Just a bit. Still, it stands to reason. If they are going to look for you everywhere, then that leaves nowhere. I have a thought, but first we need to take stock of your inventory. If we’re going to get you two to nowhere in a hurry, we need to know what we’re working with.”
“All I took from the labyrinth was my axe. Also, I have an annihilation robe,” the minotaur mumbled.
“Ooh! That’s good! Do you have a wheelbarrow?” the elf shouted, suddenly excited.
“No,” Argos responded sheepishly. “It caught fire.”
“Drat. That’s out then,” Nemo’s enthusiasm deflating as quickly as it had billowed up. “What else have you two got to work with?”
“I have my wand,” Ambrosia responded, shaking it slightly in front of the elf’s face. “Also, I have my satchel. It’s a standard issue Godmother handbag, fully stocked with any items a godmother on the go could possibly need.”
“A satchel? Like, a real one? What sorts of things does it have?” he asked, suddenly intrigued.
“I’ve got a standard issue potions kit, wand repair kit, a library of magic and history books, a tent, cookware, tools, rope, a croquet set, and a few other odds and ends,” she replied as she pulled items from the satchel to show them to the elf. “It’s all pretty standard stuff.”
Intrigued, Nemo watched item after item emerge from the case and re-enter with no sign that the impossibly full bag was anything but entirely empty and much larger on the inside than it appeared to be on the outside.
“That’s a neat trick. How does it work? Where do things go when they are hidden away inside?” the elf asked.
“It’s pretty standard stuff. It’s another world in there. They make them with magic. It only exists inside the satchel. It’s not limitless, but it’s big enough that anything I could ever want to put inside will fit easily,” the godmother explained. She’d answered the same question multiple times before and gave her well-practiced answer.
“So, the bag has a world in it? How does it fit in the bag?”
“No. It’s not in the bag. The bag is the doorway to the other world. If the magic were to shut down, the world would blink out of existence and this would be an ordinary satchel,” Ambrosia explained.
“So, you can put anything in there?”
“Well, anything that will fit through the opening on the top of the bag,” she replied.
“Huh. Interesting,” the elf remarked. “That wand, is it the standard issue godmother wand?”
“Yeah, I suppose. I heard they’re working on new models, but this one is state-of-the-art for the moment,” she replied.
“You can do all the normal godmother stuff?”
“Of course,” she snapped, growing impatient with the elf. He was probably insane, as she’d suggested earlier. “Is there a point to all of this?”
“You may not have a wheelbarrow, but you’ve definitely got everything you need to go nowhere fast. Now we just need a place to hide your nowhere that they’ll never think of looking,” the elf mused. “I think I’ve got an idea for that one, too. You’ll have to trust me though.”
Ambrosia eyed the elf suspiciously, sizing him up. Trusting the eccentric wanderer seemed like a terrible idea. Still, she ought to hear him out.
“What are you thinking?” she conceded after an extended period of contemplation.
“For starters, you need to shrink your restaurant. I think that’s a pretty standard godmother trick. If you can’t shrink it, turn it into a pumpkin or something,” he started like a child eager to share a clever joke with someone who’d never heard it before.
“First of all, it’s our house. We never agreed to open a restaurant. Second, what good will that do? It won’t stay shrunk for more than a few hours. At midnight it’ll go back to normal,” she replied, now convinced that the elf was wasting their time.
“I plan on it going back to normal. What good is a miniature restaurant? We just need it small long enough to fit it through the opening on the top of your satchel. Then it can be whatever size it wants to be,” Nemo replied.
“Wait, you want to hide our house in my bag?”
“I want to hide it nowhere. What better nowhere than the one you have with you at the moment? You’ll also want to shrink Ergo down. Maybe turn him into a mouse for a few hour.”
“Argos,” the former godmother corrected, but not before the minotaur growled and reached for his axe. “Hold on, sweetheart. I think he might be on to something.” She winked at him when she spoke, confident that the affectionate display would cool the minotaur’s temper.
Argos blushed at Ambrosia’s referring to him as ‘sweetheart’ and winking at him. He was tired of the elf and irritated at the intrusion on their new forest home, but for some reason Ambrosia made his belly feel all wobbly. He liked the feeling and couldn’t muster any irritation when he felt it.
“You plan to hide us in my satchel? What then? Are you going to leave us here in the forest for the elements to rot the bag away? Or are you going to store us somewhere the Godmothers or someone else is bound to find us? And how are we going to live in my bag? There’s no food or anything in that world. We’ll die,” she shot the questions one after another at the elf. The idea was ingenious, but it would never work.
“Don’t worry about where I’m going to hide your satchel. I know a place they’ll never look,” Nemo replied confidently. “As for how you’re going to be taken care of in the satchel, it seems as though you just need a back door. Something that will enable you to step back into our world, only somewhere else.”
“How are you going to do that?” the godmother asked. “You can’t just open a doorway from one world to the next.”
“Yes, I can. I’m the Doctor. Trust me. What have you got to lose at this point? If you decide you don’t like living in the other world, you just have to exit through the top of the bag,” he reasoned.
“Trust you. Just like that?” the former godmother asked, staring at the elf. He seemed to have some semblance of a plan. Still, she had no reason to trust him. Though, she reasoned, Argos had no reason to trust her. He had and it had worked out pretty well so far. Maybe the Mountain King had arranged all of this. Who knew? Still, she had no other ideas at this point.
“Fine,” she said quietly, after several minutes of thinking. “Argos, sweetheart, I think this is the only way. I think I love you. I don’t want to waste our time together running from the Godmothers. Please trust me.” His eyes grew wide at her words, but before the minotaur had an opportunity to say anything in reply, she waved her wand at him and turned him into a mouse. With a flourish of her wand, he floated in a cloud of glitter across the clearing and into her satchel. The same movements turned the log cabin into an ornate cupcake, that followed the bewildered mouse into the satchel.
“That,” she said proudly to no-one in particular, “is how you make a proper cupcake. You never make a cupcake into anything else.”
She eyed the elf and uttered a stern warning: “Don’t cross me, elf. That minotaur means more to me than all the Godmothers and your life combined. If you give me a reason to regret trusting you, you’ll regret meeting me in the first place.” Fire flickered in her eyes as she spoke and her smile faded into a deadly serious scowl. Without another word she stood up and hopped into the satchel, which snapped shut after she entered.