As predicted, once the Porkish Queen was dead (or at least plummeting towards some bottomless dimension of eternal torment), the Pigmen’s one advantage, that of the hive mind, was taken from them. Better still, it seemed that the enslaved knights had been freed, and were fighting the towering piggy warriors with shovels and picks; even better yet- they were winning, and quite handily so.
“Captain Gordy!” shouted Anais, running over to the milk-eyed man, and plunging her sword into the spine of a Pigman, “Good to see you on your feet and swinging! How did you get free?”
“Ha!” replied the Captain, decapitating a snorting pig fighter with a shovel “You’d never guess! Some nasty old buzzard attacked the overseer, and dropped the keys right at my feet. Gods, I’m glad that thing was on our side- nasty bastard.”
This Deus Ex Machina Captain Gordy had referred to was Finnen’s pet buzzard, Charon. She had apparently followed Finnen and company at a distance, and swooped in – quite literally – to help his bald, scarred friend. Presently, she locked eyes with Captain Gordy and hissed, causing him to shudder– Charon then resumed eating the eyes of the fallen Pig Warriors.
“Oh, that’s a good girl Charon! Who’s Daddy’s perfect little princess angel?!”
And if a gigantic bird carrion bird could shrug, that’s exactly what Charon did.
* * * * *
The remainder of the battle inside the walls of the kingdom was rather short, and over quickly. It seemed as though the upper-class, monocle and top-hatted Orwellian pigs simply reverted back to ornately dressed regular pigs; they were ushered back into their sty, where they happily resumed rolling in muck and eating whatever was placed in front of their snouts, just as they did before. The soldiers, though slightly more intelligent, were quickly defeated by the superior Royal Knights. The bizarre and sickly sweet candy housing was promptly broken down, and the villagers (now free) set to building them back up properly with proper materials, such as wood and stone and brick.
When the clutter and clatter finally settled, the four heroes found themselves in the Piazza, when the last two pigs- who Petka immediately recognized as the gate guards- were being led to the gallows.
“Mr. Fawcett,” said the overly eager hangman, “These pigs say they know you. Can you kindly just deny it so I can hag them? Thanks bunches.”
“I do know them,” replied Petka with an angry tone the group had never heard him use, “Remove the ropes from their necks immediately, or I’ll have Raksha- my wolf here- make you look like a blind man’s jack-o-lantern.”
“C’mon man- er, I mean, sir- I think I have the knots and lengths right- if I pull the lever, their heads should pop off like bottle rockets!”
Chaim spoke up, “You two, did that Christmas Ham tongue-kiss either of you?”
Snowball apparently took great offense at this. Arms akimbo, he responded in a surely tone, “The only pig I open mouth kiss is the one right next to me!”
“Colg is as gay as a gentle rain, honey.” said Colg in his deep baritone.
“And besides, they eat solicitors- if that’s not a reason to keep them around, then there is no pleasing you,” added Chaim.
The hangman pouted, and said, “I never get to kill anything!” then purposely stomped down the stairs after cutting the ropes off of Snowball and Colg.
“Quiet, Mervin!” shouted a strawberry- sweet voice from the top of the hill. All the soldiers promptly dropped to one knee, and Anais, looking up shouted, “Queen Olivia! You’re Alive…but how?”
“Suspended Animation. Oh, and somebody left a ladder inside the side wall of the Pit of Eternal Sorrows- don’t worry, it won’t hold her weight.” replied Queen Olivia; she was quite the sight to see, especially to Chaim. Her skin was a deep olive, her body slim and with accentuated curves. Silver eyes were complimented perfectly by blue-black hair, hanging in loose curls around her ears and shoulders; furthermore, she bore strangely angled tattoos on her forehead and cheek.
“Snowball and er…Colg- I hereby declare you citizens. If you would kindly resume your guard duties at the gates on the morrow? You may consume as many solictor’s heads as you desire.” Both pigs bowed deeply their thanks, then disappeared into the crowd to mingle. Everybody who was imprisoned was freed, the town was slowly being rebuilt, and the evil had been defeated. A grand feast was held for everybody that went into the early hours of the morning, and the main dish was mutton. Nobody had retained a taste for pork.
Normally, at this point in the story, you might have guessed that accolades and awards were passed out (and of course, they were); further, Anais was promoted to second in command, and as the crisp, clear night wore on, and the revelers slipped out of the castle and back to their homes, much as the stars in the firmament blinked until next time the sun would dip below the horizon. At this point, the only ones left in attendance were Anais, on whose lap Finnen’s head rested, eyes fluttering in dream, Petka (attempting to stay awake, scratching a sleeping Raksha behind the ear), and finally Chaim, who was speaking with the queen in nervous, though thoughtful tones.
“You did excellent work for my Kingdom Chaim,” said Queen Olivia, a bright gold intricate tattoo under her left eye caught Chaim’s own.
“The problem with ‘Scott’ was excess, pure and simple. She seemed to believe that simply having more of something – or by being all the things- somehow makes that something more authentic. It was the ludicrous endgame of a being who never truly understood the definition of humanity – as id were to be determined by mass instead of character.”
Olivia nodded and placed a hand on Chaim’s shoulder, and he jumped a little.
“What is the matter?” asked Queen Olivia, taken aback.
“No, nothing-” stuttered Chaim, “It’s just that I’m a spirit, usually people can’t touch me- only if they are on my plane. Generally people and things fall right through me.”
Chaim looked down, balled up his fists and whispered something that sounded like “I am a man!”
Gathering his courage, Chaim began to speak.
“Listen, Your Majesty-”
“Olivia- at the risk of sounding too forward…I mean, you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever set eyes on- flowing locks of red hair, misty grey, eyes, perky teeth, and a forehead that goes all the way back! Oh, I’m going to screw this up.”
Olivia took one of Chaim’s clawed hands and placed it over her heart, “Oh Chaim, you haven’t screwed anything up– can’t you feel that my heart is racing?”
Chaim’s jaw dropped.
“Your slack-jawed stare is yes enough for me. And by the way, I can touch you because my mother was a succubus.” Her eyes narrowed into a coy, come-hither stare.
“A-and your father?”
“A vampire,” she whispered seductively, picked up Chaim like a bag of potatoes, and carried him off to the Royal bedchambers. Chaim was clearly happy with this turn of events, which was made manifest in an open mouthed grin and two thumbs up. Petka returned this look with a smile, and a thumbs up of his own.
* * * * *
Petka felt happy, and allowed his eyes to close; sleep overcame him as the sun rose, and he was woken a few hours later by Finnen, and ushered from the dining hall to a guesthouse where he could properly rest on a down mattress. Finnen stood silhouetted in the door of Petka’s room, and took a deep breath; Petka waited for the Irishman to say something profound about brotherhood, friendship, or honor- it was a real moment.
After a period of silence, Finnen said,“So, Chaim told me he lied about that sterility thing. Can’t say I blame him.”
Another period of heavy silence, then Finnen whispered,“Hey Fawcett- Chaim and that Olivia are going to have some ugly kids, eh?”
And the moment was gone.
“Meh,” replied Fawcett noncommittally, and succumbed to a warm, dreamless sleep.
* * * * *
Nobody was particularly concerned when Petka didn’t show up on time for dinner that evening- they assumed he was still asleep.
After all they had been through, every joint in Petka’s body still ached within him, and every recent smile had forced- not out of a lack of love or mirth or fondness- but out of sheer exhaustion. After dinner, Chaim and Finnen went down to the guesthouse only to find Petka’s room empty the no sign of the Huntsman or his wolf. All his gear was gone, the fireplace held only ashes and not embers, and a single folded piece of paper lay on the desk by the small window. Just the sight of it inspired a sharp pang of sadness in both the Irishman and the Spirit of the Lonely Hollows who was lonely no more.
Finnen picked up the scrap of paper, and gently unfolded it, holding it up so that he and Chaim could both see it.
Something leads me ever onward
O’er snow-capped mountain peaks
Whispering their secrets as I climb them
‘Till worn thin as paper, my own two feet
Siren, she sings all day and night now
And thorns, within prick me bloody, raw
So I heed her song, move on anon
Beyond valleys steep and headwinds strong
So I tend my wounds as always have I
By wending into lands unseen
And when my bones are bare and at last resting
We’ll meet again in the lands of dream
So this eve, for me, no sadness carry
I’ll peaceful sleep under a moon waxed open
For I’m cursed to wander, and cannot long tarry
As the circle must remain unbroken
– Petka Ambrose Fawcett
After reading, the scrap of paper had been slipped inside a stack of journals wrapped in dried ivy that Petka had evidently been keeping of their adventures. As for the contents of the journals themselves, well, neither Chaim nor Finnen had the heart to open them. They preferred their memories, as memories are far sweeter to the heart and intellect than anything on printed page. Finnen whistled, and Charon swooped and landed on his arm. He handed over the bundle of journals to the great carrion bird, and said, “Take this back to Petka’s town. We both know you can find it among the others. Thank you Charon.”
And if a vulture could have rolled its eyes, this is exactly what Charon did, though she complied with Finnen’s request and flew off with the package grasped in her large talons. Somehow, she sniffed out Petka’s hometown and home-time, and dropped the bundle on the head of a fat, bald man. The man, bewildered by falling books only narrowly avoided the other thing Charon dropped. The gentleman was curious enough to leaf through the pages, and after reading them in their entirety, he added a small forward, then passed them on to Petka’s next of kin, which, a few generations later, happened to be Genevieve Spotter-Flash. The ivy-wrapped journals found their way on to Genevieve’s writing desk, and she read the faded ink- now barely legible due to time’s inexorable march, turning the pages delicately, one by one, by the the light of her little desk lamp.
Genevieve closed the last page of the final, timeworn book and stretched her aching frame. She had read all day and night and her neck especially resented it. Of course, Genevieve thought, not a word could possibly be believed. Did some vulture really drop these journals on the head of the mayor of some backwater village? She half wondered if her uncle had even been the author, or perhaps the mayor had written the tale himself– her seven times great Uncle Fawcett being a brave and respected huntsman perhaps disappeared into the forest, never to be found, and the mayor simply penned a story around it, filling in details of his own imagining. The mystery had troubled her at first, but she soon let it go. Sometimes, mysteries aren’t so bad. It can be nice to know that there are still things to discover– certainly her Uncle Petka Fawcett had known that.
The valley the journals had mentioned had long since been populated by houses, strip malls, and other businesses- the electric lights ensured that it was no longer mist-shrouded…but maybe… just maybe the portal her Uncle had stepped through was still there; perhaps in hung invisible the backroom of a barbershop or hamburger stand, completely impossible to find because it no longer had anything to hide behind. And then, she had a thought, and a decidedly silly one at that, likely influenced by the fact that she had read into the wee hours of the morning- it was 2 am when she finally surrendered to slumber. She thought that after many years had passed, and when she passed and had her ticket punched by Saint Peter, she would meet her lost Uncle Petka Fawcett, and ask him about his adventures, and if Chaim and Olivia were still ruling over the Kingdom in the Valley.
And as her closed eyes fluttered in lucid dream, and she fell asleep to the scent of ancient, yellowed paper, and the peaceful rustle of autumn outside; she dreamed that she saw a man- her uncle- a tall, gangly man with a great white beard whose length and color betrayed years more adventure than what was written in his journals, and beside him laid a peacefully sleeping wolf. And the man, with his long, thin nose and smile no longer pained by prickers and thorns, both within and without said simply,
“Why, of course. And their kids were actually pretty cute.”