This is the 9th chapter in the Fly Pig Tales collection, a fantasy story anthology about a mystical tavern in a fantasy world. The stories in the series are connected and beginning your reading in Chapter 1 will improve your experience. Enjoy!
As the weeks turned into months The Flying Pig began to find its own order. Argos’ regular teasing of Dwalin began to evolve into a relationship of good-natured verbal sparring. The pixies gradually began to understand the ins and outs of waiting tables. It also became clear that, unlike an ordinary tavern, The Flying Pig was going to have to stay open forever, a shift was worked out based on the ebb and flow of foot traffic. The pixies figured out a schedule where some slept during the day and took over at night. Marigold more or less took charge of the place when Ambrosia and Argos were away. The petite pixie was assertive and managed the place well on her own. Though rumors swirled between the day shift workers about the crowd getting much rowdier when the ex-godmother was off site, and the fun that Marigold and the other pixies had while unsupervised, but everyone seemed happy, so there was no reason to make any changes.
The more the tavern developed a semblance of order, customers began showing up from all over the 12 Kingdoms. Each one was amazed at the presence of a tavern in middle of the tundra or in a cave deep within the Underground Kingdom or a deserted island. One guest found The Flying Pig near the summit of a mountain he had been climbing, then complained loudly that he was supposed to be the first one to reach the top and “what is a tavern doing here?”
The dining room was rarely completely empty and often overflowed with guests. Some became regulars. One such group of regulars was a family, the Robertsons, who had been stranded on an island in the Caspian Sea. They visited several times a week, always returning to their island home, where they had built a house in the trees and had grown used to the idea that they would probably be stranded forever. Their only major complaint was the lack of good restaurants on the island. The Flying Pig’s magic apparently thought that was emergency enough and regularly appeared to provide the shipwrecked family with fried potatoes and hamburgers.
Generally, all of the guests left eventually, except for Dwalin of course, who seemed to have become part of the place both figuratively and literally. Though occasionally guests would stay for a few days building the courage to return to their adventure. The Flying Pig had a habit of bringing in guests who could provide advice or a pep talk to clear out the loiterers.
In the evening, Ambrosia and Argos would clean up and prepare for the evening shift to come in. This always involved preparing extra food that could be warmed easily because Argos was the only person working in the kitchen, and he couldn’t stay there all the time. He considered teaching the some of the pixies to cook. But, for the most part, they didn’t want to help in the kitchen because they had been living on the island for so many years, and they were excited to meet new people every day.
One Thursday evening, as Ambrosia was wiping down the counter and preparing to head to the small cabin where she and her husband stayed when they weren’t running the tavern, the door burst open and the room filled with squeals and screeches. It was rare for the ex-godmother to be startled by an entrance, but the racket that flooded in was both familiar and horrifying to Ambrosia. Reflexively, she dove behind the counter and covered her head to protect herself from the slashing claws that accompanied the screech of harpies moving in for the kill. There were few creatures in the Kingdoms more vicious than harpies. Godmother training had included encounters with all manner of nasty beasts. By far the most horrible was the day they were forced to meet harpies. Of course, they were magical simulations. No one was foolish enough to capture one, and traveling to see one in person was suicidal at best.
The screeching continued and was instantly accompanied by the sound of scuffling and the stampede of footsteps as the dining room occupants overturned tables and chairs in an effort to get as far away from the monsters as possible.
“Help us get this door closed!” a voice squealed through the racket of hungry harpy squawks.
The kitchen door burst open and Argos exploded into the room, carrying his axe in one hand and a spatula in the other. Apparently he hadn’t taken the time to stop cooking before charging in. The minotaur leaped over the counter into the dining room, a guttural growl escaping him as he charged into the sounds of violence on the other side of the counter.
Every instinct in Ambrosia’s mind and body screamed to get down and hide. The fake harpy she’d seen in training was the single most terrifying thing she’d ever encountered. The beasts haunted her nightmares for months afterward. But now her husband was tangling with one. She marveled for a moment at his actions. He was either terribly brave or dumb, or like most men a bit of both. She willed her body to get up and look at what was happening on the other side of the counter. She couldn’t let her husband face the monsters alone, no matter how scared she was. She willed herself up onto her feet to peek at the fracas.
The sight would’ve been comical if it weren’t insane. A pair of pigs leaned against the door, pushing as though their lives depended on closing it, all while crying and squealing. Argos was hacking at wings and taloned feet that stuck through the crack where the door sat slightly open. Harpie feathers were razor sharp and their talons were barbed. Both were made of some mystical material that made them completely impervious to hacking and slashing. The wing swung wildly about, blindly attacking the room. From behind, Ambrosia saw the tip of the wing slash across her husband’s body, flecking droplets of blood on the wall. The minotaur stumbled backward and dropped the spatula, which skittered across the floor, coming to rest against the kitchen door. After a stunned moment, Argos regrouped and charged back into the scuffle, fighting on as though it hadn’t happened at all, so the godmother assumed he wasn’t hurt too badly, but that wouldn’t be the case for long if they didn’t drive the harpies from the doorway.
“Get your wand!” the ex-godmother commanded herself, as she wrestled to move through the fear that gripped her frame. Reaching up to grab the wand, she was suddenly reminded that it sat just out of her reach. Jumping up and down, she cursed herself for not putting a stepping stool behind the counter. Then she cursed Nemo for installing the wand into the Pig slightly higher than she could reach. If the elf hadn’t left them to “attend other business” weeks ago, she’d probably feed him to the harpy in repayment for the design flaw.
She paused, searching the area for a solution and spied the spatula. Ambrosia snatched up the spatula and swatted at the wand where it sat perched. She nicked it twice before finally knocking it free. The wand thunked to the floorboards, bouncing toward the door where the minotaur hacked at the harpy wing, which seemed to be gaining as the monster gradually overpowered the pigs doing their best to bar the door.
Ambrosia stared at the wand which laid within reach of a harpy’s wing, next to her husband’s feet. She froze for a moment, not wanting to get any nearer to the harpy than necessary. She stepped closer and spotted one of the pixies hiding behind an overturned table nearby, cleaning the spilled food that had spread across the floor when the diners ran for their lives.
“Bluebell!” she called to the waitress, hopeful this would get her out of doing something that terrified her to the core. “Can you pop on over there and grab my wand for me please?”
Bluebell glanced around the table, then glared at the ex-godmother while scratching the remnants of the beard that hadn’t quite gone away as expected. She returned to her cleaning without saying a word. Ambrosia rolled her eyes and stepped closer to the door, her heart hammering in her chest and every instinct in her screaming to run away.
The harpy leg reached around the door and grabbed at the air several times before grasping the larger pig by the leg and flinging him across the dining room. Ambrosia heard the pig thud behind her and watched in horror as the remaining pig began to lose ground in his fight to hold the door. All thought left her and her body began to move of its own accord. She almost felt as though she was watching from the outside as she rushed toward the fight. Six feet from the doorway, she dropped to her bottom and slid past her husband, snatching the wand before she collided with the wall. The ed-godmother’s feet made contact with the wall, and her legs folded as she came to rest right under the flailing wing of the harpy. Through the crack in the door she could see the rest of the monster standing on a floor strewn with bones, feathers, and a pile of eggs.
“Those fools were in a harpy nest,” she thought to herself before pushing away from the wall with her legs. She didn’t slide as far as she’d hoped, but every inch further from the slashing wings and claws made her breath easier.
Pushing down the fear that threatened to control her movements, the ex-godmother did her best to concentrate and aim while fear ran through her veins like ice water. The tangled movements of the fight made aiming nearly impossible to target the harpy without any chance of hitting her husband. Frustrated, she did her best to aim.
Suddenly, the last remaining pig blocking the door slipped and fell. The door slid open, shoving him against the wall behind it. As it swung, the edge of the door caught the minotaur by surprise, clipping the minotaur’s shoulder and sending him stumbling back. With no one to impede her progress, the mother harpy stood tall in the doorway. Crimson feathers bristled in all directions, each as sharp as any sword. The monster’s curved beak was a hook that helped hold prey in place while the rest of the harpy’s weapons inflicted as much misery as possible on anyone who was unfortunate enough to get within its grasp.
The godmother instinctively lowered her eyes to the the beast’s chest, knowing that looking into the harpy’s eyes would freeze her in a trance. She’d experienced the terror of being unable to flee the enormous birds on many occasions in her nightmares, and she wasn’t about to experience it in real life now. The harpy tilted its head back to call the rest of the flock, when the godmother blasted it square in the chest with a transformation spell. Jangling chimes and flashing sparkeles swirled around the bird. Harpies are magical by nature and have the ability to fight spells, but the intensity of the ex-godmother’s emotional state translated into the spell, which was far more powerful than the mammoth bird could deal with. She instantly shrunk dramatically in the cloud of magic.
When the dust cleared, a caw filled the air, only this time, it was the squawk of a penguin. Ambrosia had always liked penguins and this one was far preferable to the harpy that had nearly barged into The Flying Pig. Though smaller, the magic had done nothing to calm the vicious disposition of the harpy, who charged at Ambrosia with a rage rarely seen outside of harpies or mothers defending their young. This creature was both. The peck against her foot stung a bit, but did absolutely no damage. Ambrosia yelped a bit before her husband snatched the penguin up by the scruff of his neck and tossed it back into the cave. He then unceremoniously slammed the door and plopped down in the only chair in the room that hadn’t been overturned.
“I thought that Nemo fellow said monsters couldn’t get in here,” Dwalin said from the spot where he always sat at the end of the counter. He was the only patron who didn’t run for his life when the harpy tried to burst into the restaurant, mainly because he was stuck in place.
“Don’t get up and help dwarf,” the minotaur said between heavy breaths. “We’ve got this taken care of.” Sarcasm dripped from the words, and Argos grinned a bit as he spoke.
“It looked like you had that well in hand,” the dwarf-tree replied. “Anyway, if you’re not busy could you fetch me another cup of tea?” The dwarf’s eyes twinkled as he teased the Minotaur. The pair had developed a strange bond teasing each other during the times Argos wasn’t busy in the kitchen.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer some apple juice?” the minotaur teased, eliciting a disgusted look from the dwarf.
“I think it only got that far because it was right there when the doorway appeared,” Ambrosia suggested. “I think that once the doorway is open, it’s open. Now that it’s closed I don’t think anything will be able to come in.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” the dwarf replied.
“Ok, everyone. Sorry about the noise. Have a seat and we’ll get back to business as usual,” the ex-godmother announced. The crowd slowly moved from the corners where they had huddled in a vain attempt to escape the harpy.
“As for you two gentlemen,” Ambrosia snarled through a forced smile as she turned to the pigs, who were examining themselves in shock that they were still alive and intact. “How about you two sit at the counter, and we can discuss what just happened.” The pigs obediently filed to the counter and sat.
“Now, who are you two and what were you doing in a harpy nest?” the ex-godmother snapped. “It better be an answer I like or you’ll be out the door back where you came from.” She was bluffing. Sending the pigs out the door would certainly result in their deaths, and she was horrified by the thought of opening that door ever again. In fact, she was secretly considering having it nailed shut. There were plenty of portals to the outside, one less would be fine. Of course, it was silliness because nobody but the pigs sitting at the counter could open the portal back to the nest.
“I’m Jack, and this is Hector,” the chubbier pig replied after a moment of intense staring between the pair, each willing the other to speak. “We didn’t know the nest was a harpy nest when we went in. It was sort of an accident.”
“An accident?” Ambrosia replied, narrowing her eyes at the pair. “So what? You were walking to the marketplace one day, turned left instead of right, and found yourself in a harpy nest? Ok. That’s it. Argos, honey, escort these gentlemen out.” The pigs’ eyes grew wide when the bloodied minotaur snorted from behind them. Neither had noticed the bull-man stepping up behind them. Now, aware of his presence, the pair grew pale.
“WAIT! WAIT! IT WAS AN ACCIDENT!” Hector cried.
“Harpies only live on islands way out on the edge of the Caspian Sea. You couldn’t possibly accidentally show up in one of their nests. What were you doing? Start explaining or you’re out,” the ex-godmother’s stare drilled holes in the terrified pigs.
“Ok! Ok! We went into the nest on purpose, but we didn’t know it was a harpy nest,” Hector explained.
“How could you not know? Those nests are like giant ant hills. They obviously belong to some kind of creature capable of building them,” Ambrosia’s temper was getting the better of her now. Between the intense fear of facing a monster from her nightmare, seeing her husband wounded fighting the nightmare-come-to-life, and the pair of foolish pigs; she was nearly at the end of her patience.
“We knew it was a nest. We though it was a siren nest,” Jack said sheepishly.
“What?” Ambrosia asked, suddenly wondering if the pair was trying to die.
“Sirens aren’t all that much better! You do know that their song hypnotizes you so they can eat you? The only difference is that you don’t know when sirens are killing you because you’re in a trance. That and harpies like to tortue you a bit because it makes you taste better. What would possess you to go into the nest of any giant bird that could potentially eat you? If you don’t start giving me better answers, so help me…” Argos punctuated the sentence by putting a hand on either pigs’ shoulder.
“Ok! Ok! I’ll start at the beginning. Just please don’t send us back there!” Jack shouted, tears of terror streaming down his face. “We’re a famous band. Or rather, we want to be a famous band. We want to tour the Twelve Kingdoms, playing for kings and drawing huge crowds. We just aren’t really doing very well at that so far. None of the taverns in Casuarina will even let us get meals in them anymore because we sometimes start singing and it drives away the customers. The police watch us when we walk in public because so many people have complained about us playing our music in the streets. Do you know what it’s like knowing that you have greatness inside you, but not being worshipped by the masses for it?”
“So you decided to end it all by feeding yourself to harpies???” the ex-godmother snapped, trying to move the story along.
“No. We thought they were sirens,” Hector corrected before being silenced by a withering glare from the ex-godmother.
“Well, that’s true,” Jack conceded. “We were looking for sirens because we heard that if we ate siren eggs, we would gain their power and be able to sing so well it would put anyone who heard us into a trance.”
“That’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” Ambrosia snorted.
“Who told you that nonsense? Was it someone from Casuarina who was sick of hearing you sing and looking for a way to get rid of you?” The pigs eyes got wide, and they turned to look at each other, suddenly realizing they had been tricked into a fools errand.
“It seemed like the answer to all of our problems. We thought we would sneak into the siren’s nest, steal its eggs, and become the world’s greatest musicians,” Jack said, staring down at the counter and feeling foolish.
“You’re lucky they didn’t tell you to make a guitar pick from the tooth of a dragon to help you play better,” the ex-godmother mocked.
“Would that work?” Hector asked, suddenly brightening.
Ambrosia rolled her eyes and asked: “So you picked the wrong nest?”
“Yeah. It was a bit of a mistake. The harpy destroyed our ship and chased us into its nest. We thought we were dead. Also, why is there a tavern in a harpy nest?” Jack explained.
“We’re not in a harpy nest. We’re nowhere… or at least a magical nowhere. The Flying Pig shows up wherever it’s needed. Travelers in need of help find us. Once you two bozos came in and shut the door, the restaurant disappeared. It’ll show up again when you leave,” Ambrosia explained.
“Can we leave somewhere else? I don’t want to go back to that nest,” Hector shot back.
“Nope. Sorry. When you two leave, you’re going right back were you came from,” the ex-godmother replied.
“Well then I’m not leaving,” Hector announced.
“Do you think I’m going to just let you two stay here forever? We don’t put up with freeloaders around here,” Ambrosia spat. She wasn’t in the mood dealing with these two.
“Yeah. We don’t let anyone stay forever,” Argos interjected while shooting a teasing glance at the dwarf-tree. Dwalin stuck his tongue out at the minotaur, or at least as much as he could manage with his mouth being half made of wood.
“We could earn our keep,” Jack suggested. “Your tavern looks like it could use some live music!”
“Yeah. Your story isn’t exactly a glowing resume,” the ex-godmother retorted. “I suspect your music would just get you kicked out of here. So don’t sing. Ever.”
“Ok,” Jack said. “That sounds fair.”
“How about you two start by cleaning up the mess you caused in my dining room,” Ambrosia suggested.
“Hey, can you two cook?” Argos asked, happening on an idea. “We need an overnight kitchen crew. How about you head into the back when you’re done mopping out the dining room?”
Jack and Hector stared at each other for a moment before shrugging and replying “sure” in unison.
Did you catch any of the movie/book references built into the story? Every story I write has a handful of references built into the story. Let me know how many you found and which ones and the readers who find the most will be recognized in a post on Fridays when I’ll reveal them all. Click here to tell me what you found!
Did you enjoy my story? Subscribe to follow the ongoing adventures of Ambrosia. Also, check out my novel, set in the same world. Curse of the Vassal Fruit: Book 1 of the Frog Prince Chronicles is available for Kindle here. Or check out the sample chapter here.