October 14, 2020

Bonus Story: Fallen Angel, By Henry Herz




Editor’s note: This light-hearted, funny take seemed like a perfect bonus story, and here it is. Henry’s mashup of “The Pied Piper” and one very hungry angel will lighten and brighten your day. Enjoy!


Pride and gluttony led to my fall from Heaven, but that is a tale for another time. Retaining my white wings proved a mixed blessing, as keeping them hidden quickly grew tiresome. I walked the Earth alone, posing as Evangeline the minstrel-mage. I traversed rarely trodden trails to astound audiences and, more to the point, to collect their coins with my spellbinding music, storytelling, and spell casting.


A chill wind blew, stinging my ears and tingling my fingers. I pulled my multicolored mantle tighter about my shoulders and tucked-in wings. Onward I trudged, following the lowering sun westward.


I topped a gentle rise and spied a distant but welcome sight—a small town, its far edge nestled against a dark green wood. Wisps of smoke from hearth fires beckoned. Ah, a chance to warm my chilly hands, rest my weary feet, and fill my empty belly, I thought. I could really go for a curd-smothered beef round between trenchers with a side of fried fingerling potatoes. But there's got to be a catchier name for that ... Encouraged by the prospect of sleeping on a bed rather than al fresco on unyielding earth, I marched without pause, reaching the hamlet before sunset. The peasants seemed pleasant enough, and I obtained without difficulty directions to the only inn. I strolled toward the central square, navigating narrow alleys lined by the wattle and daub buildings common to this province.


But I soon discovered this was like no other town I'd ever before beheld, for the villagers wore blue bretona birds on their heads like living hats! Being winged myself, birds held a special place in my heart.


The birds sang sweet songs. The villagers primped and played with their precious pets.


How odd! This place is for the birds. Hunger outweighed my curiosity, so I held in abeyance my questions about their feathered fedoras until I reached the thatch-roofed inn on the square. There I discovered that the innkeeper wore more than one hat, as they say, also serving as the mayor. I spent the last of my well-earned coins to secure dinner and a modest room for the night.


“I'll have a curd-smothered beef round with fried fingerlings,” I told the barkeep.


“A number seven!” he called to the kitchen. “Would you like an ale with that?”


***


I sighed contentedly after filling my belly. Tomorrow, I'll need to fill my purse. I yawned, eschewing the rustic evening entertainment scheduled for the common room, and climbed the rough-hewn wooden steps to my room. Miffed by the absence of a mint on my pillow, but exhausted by the day's exertions, I blew out the sputtering candle and sprawled on the straw-filled mattress.


***


I dreamt of traveling in style and comfort via a four horsepower luxury chariot. Intermittent slurping sounds woke me. I opened an eye. Beams of moonlight peeked through the curtains, softly illuminating the room. Spying nothing amiss and too tired to spare the noises any further thought, I fell back asleep.


***


I rose in the morn, refreshed though still sore from days of hiking. I longed for a chicken coop of fried eggs, a pigpen's worth of bacon, and a hot spring of coffee. But my empty purse dictated a different plan.


Tightening my belt, I resolved to remedy the situation by finding a suitable spot on the square to play for passersby and pass the hat, as it were. These rustic folk are probably starved for good music. Ugh, I've got to stop thinking about food.


I stepped outside and breathed the fresh morning air. But villagers scrambled helter-skelter in alarm like pheasants fleeing a flushing spaniel. For an overnight onslaught of scaly vermin now disrupted the harmony of the pastoral village. Who will toss me a coin now? I wondered. I'll have to don my thinking cap.


“Pestiferous niblings dug up my flowers,” complained one villager, pointing.


“You don't say?” I replied, having previously encountered such rodents of unusual shape in my travels.


“They snuck into cupboards and ate our berry scones,” cried another.


“Is that a fact?” I responded. That explains why they smelt of elderberries. My stomach growled, but my brow smoothed as a pecuniary opportunity percolated in my mind. Percolated? Stop thinking about breakfast!


“They gnaw my toys, and snurfle while I sleep,” wailed a small boy.


Hence the strange sounds last night. I nodded with empathy. Yet of all the niblings' offenses, the villagers deemed most egregious the torment of their bretona birds. For the tree-climbing niblings gave the birds no respite, chasing them from roosting spot to roosting spot, whether for play or as prey I could not say.


As the tally of complaints multiplied, the mayor strode into the square, huffing and puffing, shouting and pouting, but in no way improving the situation for his folk. He frequently fiddled with a large, lavishly plumed bretona bird perched atop his head. I've traveled enough to know a nincompoop when I suffer the misfortune of meeting one.


The grievances grew, and when he could countenance no more, the mayor stamped his feet. “Mifflestones! This will not do.”


Incompetent and irritable. I mentally doubled my de-infestation fee. “I am Evangeline the minstrel-mage. I can help,” I said to the mayor, throwing my hat into the ring, so to speak. I bowed my head with more manners than were due the backwater bumpkin.


The mayor did not reply. Instead, he ordered the villagers to build cages, weave nets, and set traps.


The indignities I endure to earn a meal. He lacks the courtesy to reply, the wits to solve the problem, and the humility to seek aid. He should hang up his hat as mayor. Biding my time, I made myself comfortable as a spectator. This will be entertaining.


The milking of animals, the planting of crops, and other daily routines ceased. But all to no avail. The pestiferous niblings dodged and evaded. The cages, nets, and traps remained empty. Shoulders slumped as the villagers resumed their regular duties.


The mayor's face reddened.


I stood. “I am Evangeline the minstrel-mage. I can help. Ridding towns of their troubles is old hat for me,” I said, pointing at a nibling preparing to nibble on a dozing dog's tail.


The mayor glared, but approached nonetheless. “What will my townsfolk think of me if I let a stranger solve our problems?” he replied rhetorically in a whisper, tilting his head toward the square.


I smiled, saying nothing. That you are not a prideful fool. Instead, you make clear that you possess the wits of a donkey's back end, but with less aesthetic appeal. I sighed. Oh, the indignities I endure to earn a meal. He won't be able to pull a solution out of his hat. Sooner or later he will bow to the inevitable and hire me. I mentally tripled my de-infestation fee.


After a pause, the mayor's face lit with an idea, possibly a rare experience for him. “Let us loose our woolyfloof herd to chase off the pestiferous niblings!” he cried.


At the drop of a hat, the dutiful villagers again ceased the milking of animals, the planting of crops, and other daily routines. They drove the woolyfloofs from their split-rail pens.


But the pestiferous niblings, while small in stature, possessed the tenacity of terriers. They bared their fangs, swiped with their claws, and snurfled most defiantly.


The larger but timid woolyfloofs bleated and fled pell-mell. Or was it helter-skelter? Higgledy-piggledy? I can never keep those straight.


The niblings resumed their depredations, while hapless villagers scrambled to recover their errant livestock. 


“Wobius!” they cried. “When shall we be free of the pestiferous niblings?”


Third time's the charm. “Shall I rid you of these rodents?” I hailed the mayor, spreading my arms.


Emotions played out on his face like a stage performance. Eventually, he grinned, which I found strangely disconcerting. “Very well. Name your price, minstrel.”


“I shall wipe out your pests in exchange for ... cue dramatic music ... your bretona birds,” I said, pointing at the one perched on his head. My fame would soar as the only minstrel this side of the Great River with a personal gaggle of bretona birds. Or was it a convocation? Parliament? Regardless, in a pinch they could serve as lunch. There I go again, thinking about food.


The mayor's eyes bulged, his fists trembled, and his face reddened further, if that were possible. With a visible effort of will, he gradually regained his composure. “A moment,” he sputtered, storming to the center of the square.


Townsfolk crowded round the mayor. They argued in heated whispers, casting glances at me. A lengthy debate ended with the mayor having the last word, a polysyllabic one at that, incrementally raising my estimate of his intelligence.


He approached me and doffed the bird from his head, cradling it with affection. “We cannot abide the pestiferous niblings. But bretona birds are cherished pets, dear to us as children. Will you accept a hogshead of pike as payment?” he asked, hat in hand, you might say. “Our pickled pike are the pride of the province!” he proclaimed.


I tilted my head but did not reply. That was far too low a price to dignify with a response, and in any event, fish, like this fool before me, tend to stink after a couple of days.


The mayor furrowed his brow. “How about a mule and cartload of woolyfloof milk, butter, and cheese? Is that not a valley of plenty for a humble bard?”


“Hmmf,” I grunted, scowling. A better offer, but still too stingy.


The mayor glanced back at the villagers, stared at his feet, and finally sighed in defeat. “Five splendificant rubies, the size of which are seldom seen?” he offered, touching the leather pouch at his belt.


The villagers gasped.


Now that's a horse of a different color. “Agreed. I shall face the mighty horde,” I declared, making the task sound far more daunting than it actually was. “Clear the square,” I shouted to the townsfolk with a grand sweep of my arm. The cut of my cloak rendered such gestures très dramatic.


The villagers' faces brightened at the prospect of the niblings' imminent removal. They hastened to comply. Many held their breath. A hush fell.


I strode to the center of the square and drew my sorciful flute with all the theatrics I could muster. I traced an orniculous symbol in the air. That would not aid my casting, but wizardry is 50% showmanship. I raised the instrument to my lips and played a dulcet canticle, followed by Bourée. The latter is not part of the spell, but the melody is always a crowd-pleaser.


At once, the niblings desisted their digging, forsook their foraging, and stopped their snurfling. Instead, they swarmed about me, drawn to the sweet sounds like hummingbirds to honeysuckle.


The villagers' eyes widened, their mouths agape.


I led the bespelled beasts out of the village, through shadowy woods to a distant glade. There they stayed.


I hummed a tune for my own amusement as I skipped back to the village, savoring the prospect of a lavish luncheon for their savior. The anticipation of a full belly raised my spirits considerably. But it turns out one should never count their birds before they hatch. Hmm. That's a catchy saying ...


“Huzzah! Hurray!” cheered the villagers. “Hats off to Evangeline!” They leaped and wept. They danced and pranced. They wirbilated in harmony with their beloved birds.


“The niblings shall vex you no more,” I declared. Cue dramatic music. “Now, fulfill your oath.”


“What now?” the small boy whispered to the mayor, unaware of my keen hearing. “You knew we had no rubies.”


The mayor turned to me. “Well, I um ... misspoke. Alas, we have no gems,” he said, holding up empty palms.


“Yet you kept that under your hat,” I growled. He suffers from pride and greed.


“How about ten woolyfloofs?” asked the mayor, pointing at a pen.


“That was not our accord,” I declared, putting my hands on my hips. “Beware. I will brook no betrayal. I wield great power.” … And responsibility.


“No one threatens me,” growled the mayor, clenching his fists. “Certainly not a white-haired mottle-mantled piper. The pestiferous niblings are gone. You may have woolyfloofs or nothing.” He turned and marched off.


He defrauds and derides me? I'm a friend of humanity, but even I have my limits. My face flushed.


The faithless villagers retreated from my baleful glare.


I would have swept out my flaming sword and separated his duplicitous head from his shoulders, but that sort of thing is frowned upon these days as too wrathful. Nor does it tend to encourage attendance at my musical recitals ... except by the teenagers, that is.


Again I drew my sorciful flute. I tapped a tree trunk two times and trilled a 'taliatory tune. The bretona birds flocked to me. Again I trod toward the tenebrous trees.


The villagers gasped. “Wobius! What have we done?” they cried at the sight of their poultry in motion. They wailed and flailed to no avail. For they would never again behold their beloved birds.


Far from the village, but no longer alone, I composed a new tune and sang with my flock. Or convocation? Parliament? In any event, it began thusly:


“If you fail to play it straight, you'll no longer wirbilate.


So, pay the angel, heed your words, and you won't lose your cherished birds.”


***


Bio: Henry Herz is the traditionally published author of 13 speculative fiction adult short stories, 11 children's books, and 3 children's short stories. He edited the dark fantasy anthology, Beyond the Pale. He blogs at HenryHerz.com


***


Image is The Pied Piper, by Arthur Rackham.


3 comments:

Kelly Jarvis said...

I love the story of the Pied Piper and really enjoyed this fun take on it! I especially loved the hats, the birds, the food, and the wonderful alliterative prose. I can't wait to tell my kids I am serving "beef rounds with a side of fried fingerling potatoes" for dinner! :)

Henry Herz said...

Thanks for the kind words, Kelly. Did you catch the references to The Witcher as well? :)

Molly said...

A splendid read for a Sunday night; thank you for alleviating my pre-Monday blues, Henry!

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