Finnen took work wherever he could get it, and never paid for a meal or drink; this was likely due to the now inflated legend of his bravery, beating, and reconstruction- some believed that his brain had been scooped up in Orla’s apron and the Doctor was able to painstakingly reassemble it with glue and bailing wire; others claimed still that various parts of him were now metal (which was partially true, at least in his noggin) and that his actual blood had been replaced wholly by wolf blood– all manner of other wild tales buzzed like gnats about his ears, legends that Finnen would only reply to with a wink or smile, remaining as coy as he could possibly be.
His “fame”, so to speak, was further bolstered by his actions- if somebody so much as pinched the rump of a waitress or picked on a helpless older man, Finnen was quick with a hay-maker, or a kick to the stomach. The old Finnen, now barely just a memory, evaporated like morning dew in the sun, and the new Finnen had exploded out of injury and into a new kind of life- he was determined to protect the innocent from whatever snakes St. Patrick had missed in his blessing of Erin. And as much as the villagers looked at him with awe and thanks, his ragged appearance and general aura of chaos had most (Orla and the Doctor aside) keep him at an arm’s length. He became something much like pistol- a thing that is good to have around, though one hopes never to have to make use of it.
Finnen grew very strong in the occupation of his various duties- farming, carpentry, landscaping (and oddly, puppeteering). He was even taught the art of pugilism by a particularly rough, eye-patched bartender. He was now a very muscular, if unhinged, doer of good- like a Don Quixote who didn’t so much chase after windmills or adhere to some ancient codes of chivalry, but rather walked the streets with one eye looking out for trouble on which he would rain down blows and drag to the local jail. And for a long time, everything was good- he was the same, helpful fix-it man, the same jack-of-all-trades– and though his mannerisms and choice of vocabulary had become rather coarse, he was still the same gentle soul he had always been. Indeed, Finnen may have grown old in that town and lived out a life surrounded by well-wishers, but his plans were derailed by a singularly villainous beast- some say, the most dangerous animal of all- a foul-mouthed horse. But we shall touch on the habits of hopelessly rude equine beasts a little later.
* * * * *
Long after his accident, Finnen had finished his labors one cool, autumn afternoon and visited Dr. McDonnel, a man he now regarded as a close friend rather then simply a medical-man whom he was visiting for a checkup. As an added bonus (and at Finnen’s insistence), the Doctor had been teaching Finnen some basic first aid, so that he could be able to tend to the injured at a moments notice, even if it was just resetting the jaw of a miscreant he had just unhinged with a elephant-kick to the face, rationalizing that the n’er-do-well should at least be able to speak to the constabulary when they arrived.
After his pleasant visit with the good Doctor, Finnen exited into the crisp evening; the leaves upon the trees were but the slightest breath from joining their brethren on the ground, ceding to winter, and babbling unintelligible memories of August under the townsfolk’s shuffling, September steps. The sky on that evening, was brilliantly clear and the full moon hung high and mighty, surveying all the little dots around it, much like a monarch looking upon his fiefdom and recognizing shapes of bears and swans and hunters and lions, all belonging to him.
He took his usual route to the pub, where he would unwind with a pasty and a pint, stopping on the way to pet a peculiar, yet friendly dog who roamed endlessly his owner’s property during the night to alert and protect his sleeping family if danger happened to be afoot. The dog was gargantuan- nearly the the size of a Shetland pony and quite muscular- as if a bear had been covered with a thin, black and tan coat and given a dog’s head rather than its ursine standard. The beast had intelligent brown eyes and jowls that betrayed a strength of muscle that could seemingly bite through iron.
Finnen had many times observed the old dog chasing away salesman and solicitors, and even the occasional poacher with a deep-bass bark and almost preternatural speed. The beast never bit- he never had to- as upon seeing the canine, anybody- either selling the latest bauble, or intent upon theft or harm- was immediately imbued with an “anywhere but here!” level of speed, communicated from the most primal reptilian part of that person’s brain-stem. And good for them- the enormous bear of a dog likely would have no problem “correcting” any bad behavior of an outsider, but it seemed that in his own doggy way, he wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Strangely enough, the dog never so much as growled at Finnen- in fact, they would become fast friends. And while the dog would menacingly growl at even the most casual passerby (never leaving the boundary of his owner’s property, mind you), he seemed to look upon Finnen with a somewhat affable confusion, as if they shared something in common–though the dog was quite at a loss as to exactly what and why it would have anything in common with something pink and on two legs that wasn’t a part of his pack.
Early one evening, Finnen wrapped some bits of sausage in a handkerchief and stopped in front of the dog’s property. He could see the house in the dim light of dusk; it was quite picturesque- a candle in every window, and the silhouettes of a man and woman- who Finnen believed to be a happy older couple-moving about the lighted rooms. Occasionally, the ghostly melody of lively music drifted from the open windows, and he imagined he saw the two dancing.
“They must be,” thought Finnen to himself, “Such lively melodies ain’t fit fer a dirge.”
Finnen, peace offering in hand, cautiously approached the enormous dog who was sitting, head cocked, on the very edge of his property. Finnen scrutinized the animal, seeking any sign that the dog was displeased with his presence- a low growl, a slight change in his expression (however subtle), or the heckles rising on his back– missing one of these little details could change the number of fingers he could boast- but Finnen detected nothing.
The dog’s tail was not wagging, but simply laid relaxed and still upon the grass. The human took a deep breath, dropped to his knees, instinctively closed his eyes, half expecting to lose his crooked nose (he wondered for a moment if Doctor McDonnel had some manner of “replacement nose” but he shuddered at the thought).
Realizing that his face had not been removed and that his person had not been thrust into a world of pain, he slowly opened his eyes and to his surprise, the dog was merely staring at Finnen with its own enormous, thoughtful brown eyes, occasionally blinking and showing only curiosity not tainted with even a hint of malice.
Finnen exhaled slowly and with all caution delicately unwrapped the little bundle of meat, offering the beast a big piece upon his flattened palm. The dog sniffed at it tentatively, then- deciding the offering was suitable- scooped it up with his large tongue and chewed upon it with obvious delight. Finnen repeated this ritual with the remaining pieces of meat, each successive snack requiring less inspection than the piece before. When the meal was finished, Finnen offered his hands, palms open for the dog to lick whatever tidbits had been left over.
“All gone, boy-o,” said Finnen calmly, and to his surprise the dog stretched his thick neck just over the property line, and gave Finnen a solid lick on the forehead; Finnen responding by scratching the beast under the chin. The dog, clearly pleased, closed his eyes, relishing the affection. When Finnen ceased, the dog seemed to “nod” at him and resumed his patrol of his master’s home and abundant orchard. This continued for several weeks, and Finnen eventually took to eating lunch each day with the beast at the edge of the property. Finnen, not knowing the actual name of his canine friend, took to calling the dog Steve French– and as long as there were pets and scraps to be had the beast didn’t seem to mind his new name a bit.
After a week at the property line, Finnen finally felt comfortable enough to cross the property line, and have his lunch with his singular companion under a lone apple tree. Steve would lay his enormous head upon Finnen’s lap, and stare up with affectionate eyes at either Finnen or his meat pie as Finnen ate between sips of coffee.
“Now, Now, Steve French,” Finnen would say affectionately, “I always share! I have ta get some food in me, or I’ll pass out- I’m helping to build a house, y’know. If I don’t eat, I’m no good to anyone.”
Steve French would emit a quiet sigh, as if he understood, and close his eyes to nap. When Finnen had finished two thirds of his meal he would whistle a little tune, waking Steve French who would then stand up, stretch, wag his tail, and gingerly take his portion of the meal from Finnen’s outstretched hand. Then the two would sit for a while, enjoying the warming sun and sounds of both nature and the bustling town around them, Finnen all the while scratching the enormous belly that rose and fell with peaceful sleep. This went on for two weeks, when one day a woman emerged from the house with something in her hand; Steve French bolted upright, wagged his tail, and barked cheerfully at the woman’s approach. Finnen swallowed the lump in his throat.
His concern was not entirely without merit- though he had never caused one ounce of trouble or mischief on the property, he was still trespassing and had done so for quite a while– sure, Steve French had given him the A-Okay, but what court would accept a dog’s testimony? And how would a dog even testify? Additionally, Finnen was all too aware that he was not a particularly pleasant sight to behold- bulky and bald, with a long and ragged purple scar running along his head. With his oddly piercing eyes and nose crooked from a breaking, he cut an unfortunate figure.
His work clothing would have almost certainly given him away as some kind of tramp or hobo, the garments having achieved a careworn and threadbare appearance due to so many months of physical labor. Not knowing what else to do, Finnen got down on one knee, bowed his head, and began mumbling his apologies. The woman- easily in her mid fifties and wearing a floral patterned house-dress, seemed completely at ease, interrupting Finnen’s stream of conscious- induced, apologetic word-salad.
“You never eat our apples,” said the woman in a tone of suspicion, hand on her hip.
“They don’t belong to me,” replied Finnen, sitting back down next to Steve French, “I don’t want any trouble ma’am.”
“Ah! Enough. Its no trouble you being here, seein’ as how Rudy has taken to ya. If you were wicked, I fancy you would have lost a nose or an ear; possibly most of your face (presently Rudy – the dog formerly known as Steve French- was licking Finnen’s cheeks).
“We’re friends,” offered Finnen, “It’s nice an’ quiet here, and Stev- ahem, I mean Rudy is a good lis’ener.” This had been his attempt to inject some levity into the awkward conversation with the woman, but it seemed her serious manner was impenetrable- she did not smile, but merely nodding, understanding.
“And what is your name?” she asked in a clam, but flat voice.
“Finnen McKinnon, ma’am,” he replied in a nervous, gravely voice.
“Mrs. Kelly,” replied the grey-haired woman in a very business-like manner, then,
“Say- your not the McKinnon who was goin’ around exposin’ himself to old folks, were you?” Again, her voice wasn’t so much angry, nor accusatory, but rather like she was conducting an interview.
“Nah, ma’am, must be another McKinnon- common last name, it is. I have no family ’round here, so I can assure you that we’re of no relation.”
She thought upon this for a moment, frown lines deeply creased as if this were her default expression; her eyes looked up and to the left and up as if searching for a face in a memory.
“Now that I think about it, you must be tellin’ the truth. That McKinnon was about two feet shorter, had an unkempt blond perm, an’ a belly so big he had to lift it to expose his privates to poor old Widow Welsh- and she’s such a nice lady.” Here, Mrs. Kelly seemed to lose herself in thought.
“Respectfully missus, I’m not entirely sure how you confused me an’ this twisted deviant.” Now Finnen was perplexed and became lost in a similar reverie, wishing he could greet this other McKinnon with a boot to the backside, and put him in a barrel with suspenders for sullying his name.
After a long silence, Mrs. Kelly shouted, “Hey! I don’t know you from Adam- I just wanted to make certain you weren’t a pervert who underwent some drastic, magical change!”
“But… How would I grow two feet Missus?”
“I don’t know,” thundered Mrs. Kelly, then calmly, “Creatures of Faye?”
“But they don’t exist!” replied Finnen.
“Allegedly, Mr. McKinnon– they allegedly don’t exist. I don’t know what people and the wee folk do in each others company- frankly I don’t want to know. But seein’ as how you’re not the fleshy flasher you can eat lunch here when you please.”
Mrs. Kelly then handed him a wrapped plate, containing a warm piece of apple pie.
“Seein’ as how you’re not a shapeshifter, enjoy the pie. And thanks for being a friend to this old dog. God knows he could use one- the beast absolutely will not come inside until winter- it’s like clockwork. If it rains, he will stay on the porch, otherwise, he’s always on patrol. Blessin’ I suppose. Then, when the trees are bare and there’s the first hint of frost on the grass, he comes right in, plops himself down in front of the fireplace, and hibernates like a sleeping bear- gettin’ a feast of table scraps and pets and scratches from me husband…”
“I reckon he feels like he deserves a vacation,” Finnen offered with a little laugh. Mrs. Kelly’s face remained stern, but she nodded in agreement.
“I reckon he deserves one,” she said, looking at Rudy with just the barest hint of affection peering behind her stone-grey eyes and near-impenetrable “no-nonsense” attitude.
“Anyway, McKinnon, eat your pie. I didn’t slave over the oven for some ragged stranger whose friends with my dog to not eat my pie. Be seein’ you- please leave the plate under the tree.
“Goodbye Mrs. Kelly, an’ thank you,” said Finnen politely, but she only responded with a half-annoyed, half dismissive wave as she walked rigidly back to the house.
He would only see her once more, around the advent of wintertime, though he still stopped for lunch with Rudy each day- and each day, there was a covered dish with a slice of apple pie, and along with it a small note, in elegant cursive:
* * * * *
Things remained much the same for Finnen and Rudy all throughout the fall, right up until the first day of Rudy’s “sabbatical” (read-winter). During those autumn days, Finnen would pick a single red apple from the tree-limbs above him, slice it into wedges with his pocketknife, and share the pieces with his canid companion, who seemed to enjoy the fruit almost more than the pocket pastry Finnen ate each day for lunch. Occasionally, after starting to eat the slice of pie that was left every day for him at the base of the tree, he would glance towards the house, and see Mrs. Kelly staring at him through the window. He would offer a little wave, and she would respond by nodding curtly, then swiftly drawing the curtains.
Once Finnen finished his lunch, and the “back to work” bell clanged a ruckus throughout the little village, he would kiss the great canine on the head and say, “Time to earn me daily bread, Rudy-dog,” and Rudy would trot behind the man, tail slightly wagging just to the edge of the property. Once Finnen was of sufficient distance away, he would resume his rounds, yawning slightly from his restful lunch.
Now, during the winter, as indicated before, Rudy enjoyed his fire-side respite, stirring only to eat his bounty of scraps, or to offer a single friendly bark to Finnen as he passed by– Finnen would respond with a smile and a wave. Once Finnen was out of sight, Rudy would shake himself, lay down by the fire, and enjoy the warmth on his belly. Unknown to either man or dog, that Winter in particular would lead to Finnen’s exile.
Bundled up in a tattered cloak, pea cap and scarf, Finnen braved the bitter wind on the way to the pub, where he was very much looking forward to a hot cider and a warm meal. On his way back to the town the deserted main street (the other residents were moving about their hearth-warmed homes as their shadows fluidly moved about by the light of the candle-lit windows), he noticed that the driveway to the Mayor’s mansion was particularly lit up and busy, especially on a night as unforgiving as this.
The Mayor, name of Miles Millen, was a kind, though somewhat rigid man, very businesslike in demeanor. He lived in the palatial Mayor’s mansion- a tall, red-brick building, three stories tall with a peaked brown roof. The short, straight driveway that led to the large double doors was lit by swaying lanterns placed every few feet. The iron gates were wide open, and it seemed that clearly a visitor of some importance was seeing Mayor Millen, as an elegantly decorated carriage (pulled by four, garishly dressed horses) sat at the mouth of the driveway. To fully make their point, each horse wore a light-blue, gold fringed cap around their ears, topped with a long ostrich feather which waved wildly in the night’s chilling breeze.
Finnen, as one may have already ascertained by this narrative, was a lover animals and he approached the train of horses calmly, wishing only to give each a pat on the head and perhaps a piece of the wrapped peppermint candy he carried in his pocket. There were two guards standing by the gates in what appeared to be somewhat dated metal armor– fluttering, calf-length green capes donned their shoulders and their heads were adorned with shining, though somewhat battered helmets. Most impressive of all were the six foot tall halberds that each held in their right hands- stock-still and upright, as if at attention, much like the guards themselves. Upon closer scrutiny, however, Finnen noticed that these two soldiers were in fact very boarding on sleep, despite their disciplined stance– and were likely not the visiting dignitary’s “best men”.
Considering the drowsy watch, Finnen softly walked over to the horses and reached out to pat the nearest one, only to recoil in shock when the horse turned his head slightly and spoke in an eerily human voice with a disrespectful, mocking tone.
“Hey, fool,” started the horse in an eerily human timbre, “I totally opened mouth kissed your mother last night.”
The mix of shock and anger did not sit right in either Finnen’s patchwork brain, nor his his chest, both of which were now burning in anger.
“Ya what!? Me mother’s a saint, is 99 years old, and lives six counties away!”
The horse then whinnied in a quite normal horse-way, then replied (much in the patois of a spoiled, smug teenager), “Yeah, I know, fool. And she was all like, ‘Open mouth kiss me Brad!’ and I was like, ‘Fine’, and she was like so old and gross, but I did it anyway.”
Something flashed in Finnen’s eyes- something akin to rage at an impossible, but still very-much-occurring event, and with a great roar, Finnen drew back, and punched the horse in the mouth.
Much to Finnen’s dismay, the horse seemed entirely unfazed by the attack, for it worked its horse lips into a grim facsimile of a smirk then winked– a split second later, screeched as if it had received the flogging of a lifetime. The other horses (who Finnen correctly assumed didn’t also speak in vulgarities) joined in the shrill chorus by instinct. The lankier of the two guards had apparently seen the bald man punch the horse through his sleepy, fluttering eyelids, and was made aware that it wasn’t just some crazy dream by the sound of shrill horse whinnies that had so rudely stirred him from the pleasantries of his rest.
“Corey!” shouted the now fully alert of guard, “Up with ye! This arse just punched Colonel Jimmies Jubilee in his mouth! You, shine-top! Ya can’t go ’round punchin’ horses in the face!”
“He did what, Trevor?” asked the second guard, trying his best to show that he had in fact not been sleeping standing upright and awake.
“Punched the horse, right in ‘is mouth! Just what the hell were you thinkin’ ya urchin?”
“Colonel Jubilee- if that’s even his real name- said somethin’ terrible about me lovin’ ma!”
Here, the horse-colonel feigned a look of bewildered innocence.
“Right Mister,” said Corey, “That horse just up-an’-talked to ya.” Now both guards were fully awake (and none too pleased about it) and seemed more annoyed that Finnen and his talking horse antics had robbed them of their somnolence then anything else.
“Your hiiiighnessss!” whined the Trevor, the taller of the two, with all the airs of a spoiled child, “This guy just punched your horse in the mouth!”
“Not the Colonel!?” echoed a high-pitched, churlish voice from deep within the walls of the mansion.
“Ya-huh, the Colonel!”
Here, the door to the mansion’s double doors whipped open with an thundering slam, and Finnen- still outraged (and with a sore hand, no less)- saw the outline of two men. One was clearly the Mayor- his stocky, top-hated frame was unmistakable even as a shade. The other man was of a Napoleonic stature, even in his elevated boots. As the two men drew closer, Finnen immediately picked up on the guest’s harlequin manner of dress. Aside from his uniform, which was wrapped in a loose mauve sash three times over, buttoned six ways from Sunday, and adorned with many glittering pins signifying victories in nonexistent battles, it was all topped off with ridiculous, gargantuan hat– nearly as tall as the man who wore it, and rounded, as if a straight line would be to the man a most grievous insult.
The hat was more of a bulb, than anything else, wrapped about the middle with blood-red streamers, each terminating in a rose (even in the dim light, one could immediately tell the flowers were fake- and poorly faked flowers, even by poorly faked flower standards).
At the top of the bulb was a shining gold point, and was flanked on every side with plumes of feathers from some unlucky peacock. The absurd headgear even sported a cluster of fake, gold colored grapes that hung off the brim and bumped against the left side of the man’s pock-marked cheeks, which were now beat red with rage. Upon further reflection, Finnen reckoned that the man, who was throwing the conniption to end all, his face and neck tomato red in anger, couldn’t have been more than four foot tall without the insane cranial decoration he insisted on wearing. One other thing struck Finnen as he stood downwind from the furious figure- he reeked of beats, which is to say he had “beet reek”.
“The Colonel again?! Corey? Trevor? Just what the hell were you two doing when this happened! Again!” The little man’s voice was a shrill, piercing alto, thickened ever so slightly by the presence of what had to be a rough sinus congestion.
“Why in the name of everything holy are you allowing this…this… crumbum! To punch Colonel Jubilee in the mouth and interrupt these very important meetings (he accentuated the last three words by slapping the back on one hand into the palm of the other)! Have you no loyalty to your fiefdom!?”
Corey and Trevor stumbled over each other in their replies, but the impatient little beet of a man just screamed in frustration. Mayor Millen stood next to his guest, sallow cheeked and ashen, as if being in the his guest’s presence was simply exhausting. Finnen, who had merely been adjacent to the diminutive avatar of madness (fond of lady’s hats, apparently) was already starting to feel the energy drain from his body.
“Mayor, I demand by my authority as Grand Ponce Ratinoose of the Thorny County of Middendiddle, to hang this man immediately! This aggression against Colonel Jimmy Jubilee will-not-stand!”
The mayor sighed with exhaustion, and even in the dim light, Finnen could count a number of grey hairs on both his head and beard that had not been their previously to his meeting with the “dignitary”.
“Mr. Ratinoose, we do not hamg men for charges less than murder or grievous assault. Just this afternoon you demanded that I hang the chef, and we had the same conversation.”
“Your so-called ‘chef’ served me with the protein facing the wrong way!”retorted the little man, stomping his feet with all the quaking of an incoming temper tantrum.
“Nevertheless, Finnen is a good, productive member of this town. He may be a bit touched in the head, but he means well in every action. Son, why did you hit his Ponce’s horse in the mouth?”
Finnen racked his brain for some some explanation that didn’t involve an insult delivered by a horse and as he did so, he couldn’t help noticing little Lord Middendiddle and his over the top manner of dress. Aside from the absurdity of the hat, the little man’s starched-white collar reached up to the back of his head and resembled very much a white fan. His clothes were of a deep purple crushed velvet and ivory buttons adorned his overcoat. Further, his sleeves had become unrolled, and swallowed his hands in their disobedience to the pins that once held them up. If this hadn’t been unsettling enough, he had other strange qualities aside from his appearance.
Aside from being a petulant, shrieking “man of class” (who was presently hopping from one oddly smallish foot to the other), his acne-ridden face was both peculiar and slightly disturbing. His jet black hair was slicked back and hung loosely over the crimson colored, elaborate shoulder pads, fringed in hanging, gold lace. Malice permiated his beady rodent’s eyes, and sweat poured down his brow and over his flat nose, moistening both his pencil-thin mustache and heavily cratered-cheeks, finally flowing off his cleft chin, and down his thin, though short neck.
What Finnen did not and, and indeed could not have known, was that the veritable verruca of a man standing in front of him was technically of royal blood (no matter how diluted ). Frothing Lord Middendiddle was 50th in a line of very similar men with very similar hats. The land they owned was quite sparse- no more that three or four acres, and upon it sat an ancient stone fortification where the “royal family” lived. The surrounding land was dotted with small cottages, and the kingdom had its own general store, post office, and currency. The citizenry farmed beets and nothing else, and the purpose for the meeting with good Mayor Millen was to try and lure him into a lucrative beet contract…though to Finnen, anything that included the words “lucrative” and “beet” seemed to be mutually exclusive. The reason why he was technically royalty was due to an antiquated law, which made his postage-stamp sized property a sovereign and autonomous country.
Trevor, the lanky guard shook Finnen out of his desperate search for a sane excuse. “He said the horse insulted his ma!”
“Yer goddamned right he did!” shouted Finnen, his anger no longer leashed. Mayor Millen looked at his shoes and shook his head.
“Bah!” bah’d Lord Middendiddle, adding a sardonic laugh, “The man’s mental! He’s a simpleton! Imprison him at once in your iron gentleman!”
“For the last time,” said the Mayor, clearly out of patience, “We are not putting Finnen to death. And we certainly don’t own an Iron “gentleman”, nor an Iron Maiden as they are called by the rest of known society. Just how do you rule your fiefdom Mr. Middendiddle?”
“Lord!” screeched the little man. “You will address me as Lord! And I rule my fiefdom with an Iron fist!”
“Yah, an iron fist as soft an’ as small as a baby’s!” said an anonymous voice from the crowd of villagers that started to gather, exiting homes and pubs to see the spectacle in front of Mayor Millen’s Mansion; foremost in the line were Orla and Dr. McDonnel– Finnen however was most relieved to see Rudy, hunched down on by his side, heckles raised, and teeth bared emitting a low, menacing growl. The village constabulary had now also gathered, and five or so of Lord Middendiddle’s soldiers- all beefy dwarves with swords- had exited the Mayor’s mansion, weapon in one hand, torches in the other.
Middendiddle was now literally frothing at the mouth, and began shrieking in his grandiose manner of speech.“
This bald idiot has assaulted my horse and by-proxy, my honor! Millen, I demand to know what he will be charged with!”
A soft murmur hovered amongst the crowd, when all a sudden a voice (who Finnen immediately recognized as belonging to the offending horse) offered, “Regicide!”
“Yes! Inspired!” shouted Middendiddle, “The assault of a Lord’s horse is an assault on the Lord himself! Corey, Trevor, and you five competent soldiers! Apprehend this man at once, and have him drawn and quartered!”
Rudy’s growl deepened and Corey and Trevor took a nervous step back. The crowd shouted for Finnen’s release, but nobody shouted louder than Orla and Dr. McDonnel– though there was another voice- familiar, though not loud and its tone was decidedly flat and no-nonsense, and only slightly out of breath.
“Finnen,” Mrs. Kelly said in her same humorless timbre, “Rudy bolted out of the house and led me here. I figured there was trouble, so I brought the Peacemaker.”
The “Peacemaker”, as it turned out, was the head of an enormous Iron ax attached to a long length of chain, as if meant to be swung like a lasso over one’s head, then to be sent crashing through a targets neck with little regard for bone or sinew. It likely weighed as much as Mrs. Kelly, presently dressed in her nightgown with her hair in curlers.
A paunchy, out of breath man, caught up to the lean figure of Mrs. Kelly (Finnen correctly assumed it was the heretofore unseen Mr. Kelly), and placed one shaking hand on Mrs. Kelly’s shoulder.
“Not now, Harold,” said Mrs. Kelly with the utmost calm, “Everything is under control. These men are cowards.”
Then she addressed Little Lord Middendiddle directly.
“Nobody is going to harm my dog’s strange friend, Sir. Nobody.”
“Your dog’s ‘friend’,” retorted Middendiddle in a whiny voice, “Punched a royal horse in the mouth!”
Mrs. Kelly let loose a loud, unsettling laugh, devoid of any true mirth.
“That poofter of a horse? Ha! He looks to be as much of a living jest as yourself!”
“Why you….you- uncouth whore!” retorted Middendiddle, foaming at the mouth, “It is a fact that you will address your betters with their appropriate title!” He stood as tall as a diminutive avatar of insanity could, but upon seeing Mrs. Kelly running her thumb across the Peacemaker’s long blade, his shoulders slumped and the color drained from his face, making him look decidedly more like a turnip than a beat.
“The only fact I know is this. There was a mountain lion prowling about my orchard today. I split him in half- I literally bisected him. And he was about as far away from me as you are now. It would have made King Solomon proud. Now I ask, do you really wish to proceed?”
Her voice never grew louder than one might use in polite conversation, but it cut through the crowd like a hot knife through butter. At the conclusion of Mrs. Kelly’s speech, everybody was silent, watching the little Lord exchanging nervous glances with his men. Suddenly, the silence was broken by Orla.
“Goddamn it Finnen, Run!”
And with that, the bald man turned on his heel, and bolted down the street and into the adjacent woods, disappearing into the winter’s dark embrace.
“Is there no law here?” screeched Middendiddle, “Why aren’t your constables chasing after that man?”
The Lieutenant of the police service stepped forward and said nonchalantly, “We would, short-round, but you see this? This group of people all about us? It’s called a crowd. And we are presently very busy controlling said crowd. At this point, we can’t spare a single man- honestly.”
“Very well,” frothed Middendiddle, “My soldiers will apprehend the miscreant! Corey, Trevor, you others- get that man!”
The soldiers took an uneasy step forward, but stopped dead in their tracks as Mrs. Kelly, her expression still emotionless (though the deep lines around her rough-cut frown betrayed anger), began to swing the Peacemaker in a slow loop in her hand. She looked at Corey, narrowed her eyes, and mouthed one word.
Responding to their screaming gut instincts, both Corey and Trevor bolted up the driveway a bit, and hid behind some shrubbery, peeking out every now and then to see if the Mrs. Kelly was in pursuit.
“Must I do everything myself!?” screeched Middendiddle, stomping his feet in a small circle, now beet red in color– but as soon as he advanced one small, over-decorated foot towards Rudy, the dog lunged forward, and effortlessly removed the offending boot from Middendiddle’s offending foot, leaving the diminutive man in shock, and with sock.
“Give him the other one,” said an eerily calm Mrs. Kelly.
“Wha-What?” asked Lord Middendiddle in shock, now flat on his rear end, eyes widened in fear.
“He needs two, of course. A matching pair. Do I need to explain further? Give my dog your other boot.”
Middendiddle, mouth agape, did as he was told- he slowly removed his boot and handed it to the towering bear of a dog, who gently picked up the footwear and placed them neatly at the feet of his master.
“Many thanks. These will make a suitable gift for my grandson. He’s turning six next week.”
Seizing the moment, Mayer Millen lifted the now fear-paralyzed lord by the seat of his pants and the scruff of his neck, and placed him upside-down in his carriage.
“I trust our business is over, Lord Middendiddle,” the Mayor stood with his arms crossed over his chest.
Lord Middendiddle, still completely red with anger shuffled about, and when properly seated, he mumbled something in the affirmative.
“Splendid,” replied Mayor Millen, “Now listen close. If I so much as hear that you attempted to catch Finnen…or even whispered his name, I will gather every able-bodied person in this village, and raze your pissant fiefdom into the ground. And then? We’ll salt the earth so nothing will ever grow again. Then you will have the honor of being Lord of the Rubble.”
“A world without beets?!” shouted the muffled Middendiddle, as if this were the most pressing of the threats leveled against him, “You-you’re mad! Mad, I say!”
“We’re all mad here.” answered Mrs. Kelly, Now go.”
Moments later, the carriage containing Middendiddle and his entourage rattled out of town, in a cacophonous crash of clangs and curses. The townsfolk, now rid of the flyspeck Lord, set out into the the cold, moonlit night to search for Finnen. Rudy was able to track him for several miles, but stopped at a thick was of briars, prickers, and thistles. There was a small patch of snow that showed two sets of footprints, which vanished immediately into the impenetrable wall of growth. Several men tried to hack it away, but despite their efforts, it never seemed to diminish in size- there always seemed to be more.
A month or so of further searching was conducted, but with no sign of Finnen, the townsfolk had no choice but to accept the truth that the poor man had frozen to death, lost in some lonely patch of woods or huddled in some hidden cave. And so, Dr. McDonnel, Orla, Mr. and Mrs. Kelly, Rudy, and Mayor Millen held a memorial service in Orla’s pub- one of tears, and even a mournful howl from Rudy. Only Mrs. Kelly seemed unaffected.
“I don’t know why you’re all so upset. The faye took him-he was a strange man, but good- they’ll take good care of him.
The others simply nodded, interpreting her words as those of an odd, superstitious woman’s vision of heaven. They raised their glasses in toast to Finnen’s memory, then drained them in unison. The empty glasses clanked on the table, and everybody was silent for a moment. Indeed, their meeting place was not usually known to be a quiet one, but then again, it was a solemn day, deserving of a solemn atmosphere in the establishment that the owner, Orla, had just renamed “Finnen’s Flight.”
* * * * *
While the upset with the odd little Lord and the villagers was playing itself out, Finnen ran through the woods so quickly that he wasn’t at all sure how far back his pursuers were, or how dedicated they would be to follow orders, mainly the aforementioned threat to both draw and quarter him. Finally, his lungs and legs decided to call it quits and despite his overall fitness, he collapsed in the cold snow, heaving heavily and sweating profusely. His coat had been further tattered by the sharper fauna he encountered in his flight to freedom, and though his brain haphazardly commanded his body to continue to flee, it simply refused to move. He was spent- so much so that he barely felt the creeping cold slowly chill the sweat on his brow.
Eyes closed and prayers to Christ on his lips, he suddenly sensed a presence in front of him- it was certainly not one of the soldiers who so valued a pompous horse, as there was no way they would have gotten ahead of him; additionally, the presence (even without his looking up) felt wholly alien- out of place and out of time. He slowly gazed up at what he assumed was some bloodthirsty Wendigo or similar spirit of general unpleasantness, but was surprised to see a man- an oddly dressed man wearing a strange uniform and carrying a rifle- he certainly had the air of a soldier, though unlike one Finnen had ever seen.
Lungs burning, Finnen fell upon his hands, and awaited whatever violence the stranger was planning on visiting upon him. All his life, he (and all children of his village) had been cautioned about the woods- never to stray off well worn paths, or even worse, take a well worn path that hadn’t been there the day before. And why? Well, according to the older folks, all manner of strange and terrible things lived in the woods- creatures of faye being the most fickle, alternating from gregarious hosts, to tree dwelling proto-vegans who feasted on bitter plant roots, and, contrary to their Hippocratic oath, the occasional stray human. Other spirits roamed the woods, more ephemeral, but no less malign- wood sprites who delighted in separating a mad from his head for an impromptu game of badminton (only, you know, with a man’s head).
Finnen, looking up at the strange man didn’t feel ill at ease, but was confused as to just who the in God’s Holy Name he was, and just what the hell he was doing there. All good, questions, but his aching lungs and dry mouth didn’t lend itself to coherent speech. Fortunately for the fleeing Finnen, the man in the soldier’s uniform and the soldier’s posture spoke first in a polite, but firm voice, with a distinctly American accent.
“What’s your name?”
Between gulps of air, Finnen managed a feeble introduction.
“F-Finnen M-M-McKinnon,”mumbled Finnen with several hearty coughs.
“Why are you out here?” questioned the stranger, a little softer.
“I punched a mouthy horse for insultin’ me ma. A R-Royal horse, or so they say.”
“Mouth horse?” asked the soldier, leaning on his rifle, “What, did he kick you in the head?”
“Oh, no- no Sir. That was from somethin’ else entirely. Wicked scar, I know, but unrelated to a horse– a worse kinda animal, if you must know.”
“Fair enough. Come on, I’ll take you to a safe place. You’re jackets all in tatters from the prickers- take mine, it’ll keep you warm enough.”
The stranger made a peculiar whistle- almost ethereal in quality- and the seemingly impenetrable wall of thorns and thistles and prickers behind him seemed to part, leading to a place in the forest of primeval, low hanging vines and branches, all a-chatter with some unknown life. Eventually, after many strange twists and turns, a poem or two, and a rather crude stony elephant, Finnen arrived at a small, very picturesque village. The cruel winter of his home had been replaced by a warm dusk and a refreshingly cooling breeze, and the sun did not move one centimeter from its position for the entirety of his stay.
“Welcome to Creighton’s Rest,” said the stranger.
Finnen thanked the man, who introduced himself as Creighton, and led him to a room with a soft bed upon which Finnen promptly fell asleep. When he awoke, he noticed the sun was in the same place as when he succumbed to sweet slumber, and assumed he had been in dream for twenty four whole hours. Finnen would, after some time (at least as long as one could guess, given the sun’s stubbornness), would eventually call the little town of Creighton’s Rest “home”.