The lane in front of The Hogs Barrow Inn was in chaos. Carts were overturned. Rubble and dust was everywhere.
A crowd of townspeople blocked Jeffry and Sweet Flower from actually getting to the Inn, but they could see that the Golem, the Giant and the Metal Man had been at work trying to force their way inside.
The Golem banged his rocky fist against the rapidly disintegrating daub and timber exterior. His deep stoney voice rumbled, “The Great Garbonzo compels you!”
A smallish, balding man stuck his head out a window on the other side of the building’s front facade. In a high, whiny voice he responded, “I don’t have to obey your ring-whatever! I ain’t in your circus. An I gots a full hall here, you ain’t the only circus on the fair-way!”
A metal voice chimed in, “We carry royalty, you fool! Open up in the name of noble blood!”
“I don’t care if you’re travlin’ with the king of the moon and all its pits, you ain’t comin’ in or bringin’ no cow in ta my inn!” The Innkeeper slurred his words, and he looked as if he drank more wine than he sold.
Sweet Flower pulled up at the indignation. “Moo?”
The Giant, who. it seemed. had been gnawing on a corner of the inn stood up and put his hands on his hips. “Give us what we can pay for, if not in the name of royalty, then in the name of MAGIC.” His voice was low, but it managed to carry over the inn-keeper’s rantings and the Golem’s banging.
That seemed to be last straw for the Innkeeper. “I don’t believe in no magic!” He shouted. He seemed to miss the irony that he was shouting at three magically made beings. “That’s unnatural, that is! All them magics oughta be run out a’ town and drowned in the river! Them and all that follow ‘em! Freaks they are!”
“I wouldn’t talk to magic people that way if I were you.” Sweet Flower’s tone was low and dangerous in a way Jeffry had never heard it before. Granted, before today he’d never heard her tone at all, but her ‘moos’ were always gentle and passive. This warning was dire, almost harsh. “I’ve seen what happens when the magic folk get crossed.”
Jeffry gave her a reassuring pat.
“Are you threatening me, cow? Idda sooner make sausage out of you!” the Innkeeper growled.
An ear-piercing whistle came from one of the Metal Man’s Claws and Constance peeked out from behind his thumb. “ENOUGH!” She had to whistle a few more times until they were all looking at her. “Jeffry, Sweet Flower, and I will travel on and take our business elsewhere.” She slipped down from her hiding space, and gave Ludvinnio’s leg a gentle squeeze. “Thank you for your kindness, dear Ludvinnio.” Then she turned to the Innkeeper “Old man–” the red-faced Innkeeper seemed to have lost his voice temporarily — “may those who have heard you have mercy on you… I fear you’ll need it when the Great Garbonzo hears what you have said!”
Constance pushed her way through the crowd and got to the cow. Then she attached herself to Sweet Flower’s collar. “Lets get out of here.” Jeffry took hold of Sweet Flower’s tail, and they land leaped again.
The town had grown up on both sides of the river. Their leap took them to the other river bank and into the midst of the western part of the village. The Innkeeper may have been an idiot and a bigot, but he was right about there being more than one circus in town. There were more performers on this side of the ferry.
It was so chaotic that no one seemed to have noticed the sudden appearance of two preteens and a cow.
Constance immediately started walking into the crowd and Jeffry and Sweet Flower had to rush to follow her. When they caught up she spoke in a voice just loud enough for them to hear, “We need to lose ourselves in the crowd, pretend we’re just here for the fair.”
Jeffry’s stomach growled — it had been a long time since his sandwich — “I’ve never been to the fair, but if I had I think I’d probably go for some food.”
She plowed ahead “oh, yes?” They passed Franklin’s Fallafels but she kept moving.
He spotted a shop that looked like a confectioner’s cake. The sign outside read ‘The Princesses’ Tea Room’, “How about there?”
“Rather pink, don’t you think?”
He gave her a pleading look and Sweet Flower added a whiny ‘moo’.
“Fine. You want a sugar coma? Fine. My mother doesn’t let me have those kinds of sweets, so I don’t think much research was done on the “princess” concept. But if YOU think THAT is what being a princess is really all about, by all means, lets go in, and you can judge for yourself.”
Jeffry was beginning to think HIS princess needed to get a nap, and soon!
They never made it inside, so Jeffry and Sweet Flower never did get to judge for themselves whether the “The Princesses’ Tea Room” embodied an appropriate amount of real princess-i-ness. As they approached the door it swung open and a rather robust figure woman filled the door frame. The owner of “The Princesses’ Tea Room” gave them a stern look. The skinny girl was dressed well enough, but where was her shoe? The raggedy boy could perhaps buy a cup of soup from the kitchen door, but he wouldn’t be entering her dining room. And the COW? “No cows,” the she said with an affected, fake French accent, “not in my tea room.”
A very offended Jeffry put a protective arm around Sweet Flower, “But she’s such a well-behaved cow! She can ever talk!”
“I don’t care if it’s solid gold. I won’t have an animal in my tea room, and that is that!”
“Funny, you don’t seem to mind them on your plate. Seems like a double standard to me.” A woman with a voice like honey leaned out of the window of the pub next door.
It was a much shabbier looking establishment, but her smile made up for it. Her face was the kindest any of the travelers had ever seen. “You folks can come here.” She gestured to the opposite side of the building. “Meet you at the front.”
They walked around and found a sign that informed them they were entering ‘The Agitated Poodle’. On the wall under the sign was a series of poorly drawn, but festive looking flowers. The travelers knew right away that they would like this place.
“I bet my honorable neighbor got her stiff rump from the uncomfortable cushions on her chairs.” The honey voiced woman muttered as she ushered them in. She was round faced and moved in a way that put Jeffry in mind of a graceful pear blowing on a branch in the wind. The impression was emphasized by her honey brown hair, smoothed back into a green and yellow cap, and with her matching apron. “My name is Glossy Belle. We have a nice cow couch and table over here by the window, and a clover puree I would very much recommend.”
As she walked them to their table the travelers caught a glimpse of a herd of smaller Glossys peering out from the open kitchen door.
Theirs was not the only animal-inclusive group in the pub, a man shared an ice-cream sundae with a rust colored sheep and a huddle of hedgehogs sat around a tiny table playing poker. The rest of the guest were humans, including a rather rambunctious party in a small private dining room off the main hall.
A tall dark-haired boy brought them their drink order while Glossy went back to tending the kitchen. When he brought them bowls of clover puree two of the smaller Glossys peeled off to join him, carrying bread trenchers.
“These are for you.” The older of the two passed around the bread. Her hair was held up in a bun by two colored wax crayons and a few more stuck out of the pocket of her smock. Her companion, a boy Glossy about four or five years old, had an orange crayon conveyed up his left nostril — obviously the pocket of his green overalls was not up to the task. “We make pictures too.”
“Are you the artist of these fresceos?” Constance asked, gesturing to the childlike flowers and birds that seem to have carried in from the sign outside and were clustered in odd groups on the walls.
“We all did them –well not the babies,” the girl Glossy blushed, “but Sam n’ I, n’ Ellie, n’ Malcom, n’ Bonnie, n’ Sage. Them good ones are Momma’s,” she gestured to a row of even and detailed flowers near a window. “We can put ‘em on paper too, so you can take with. Not just flowers, I learned to do horses too.”
“Can you draw a cow?” Jeffry inquired.
The little girl furrowed her brow for a moment then brightened.
“I’ll ask momma how!” she rushed off but not before little Sam promised, “I’ll make youse an orange cow!”
Constance turned back to her companions, “I think we will be well hidden here for a while. It’s pretty out of the way, and I’ve never been here before, so I doubt we’ll run into anybody who knows–”
“PRINCESS CONSTANCE? IS THAT YOU?”
[End of Part Three]