The door to Hogsfoot Tavern slammed against the wall, letting in the stench of the lowland swamps of Moot. A bearded, disheveled old man stumbled in.
“Here now,” shouted the barkeep. “Get on out, you old sot!”
Maude gave the old man a cursory glance and then returned to contemplate her mug of ale. She was feeling her age today. It was a tough job distilling potions, bent over a cauldron of smelly lichens all day. Maude wet her throat with another long slug of Goodwoman Waters’ fine ale.
The barkeep stalked over to the old man. “Last time I let you drink in here, you sicked up all over the floor and broke a chair in the bargain. What’d I tell you then? I’ll let you drink in here when pigs fly! Meant it then and I mean it now. Get out!”
The old man fell to the floor, trying to avoid the well-aimed kicks of the barkeep. “Just one drink,” he begged.
That voice! Maude turned her attention to the old sot. “Oh my stars! Waverly?”
He turned a rheumy eye to her, snot dripping from his nose. “Eh? Do I know you?”
“Maude,” she hissed. “It’s Maude.”
“You know him? Get him out of here,” yelled the barkeep. “He’s a nuisance. Comes in every couple of months, begging for brew.”
“Don’t you know who this is, you big buffoon? He’s Waverly, the most respected sorcerer in the kingdom of Moot, advisor to three kings and the mastermind of the end to the Phretian War.” And my mentor–and I’ve been searching for him these past months, she didn’t add. She’d been more than happy to keep a low profile and appear to be only a simple potionmaker.
“Him? He couldn’t put an end to pissing on himself. Just smell him!” The other five or six patrons in the bar laughed and shouted agreement. “All I know is he’s a sodding old drunk and I’ll not have him in my tavern. And if he’s friend of yours, then I’ll not have you in my tavern either.”
He stomped across the floor, grabbed Waverly by the scruff of his neck and the seat of his pants, and hauled him to the door. The patrons cheered him on.
“That’s enough. Let him down,” Maude demanded.
“I aims to please, Maude.” And he tossed Waverly into the foul, muddy waters of Wretched Swamp. Loud, coarse jeers and laughter followed Maude out the door.
“Big bully,” Maude said, getting down on her knees on the cinnabark board that served as sidewalk between the stilt-legged buildings.
Waverly came spluttering to the surface. “Wha… what’d you do that for?”
“I didn’t do it, you old coot.” She gave him a hand and hauled him up onto the boards. His fingertips were blue. “You fool. Drinking distilled swamp gas will rot your gut, as well as your mind.”
He tried to rise, but his face turned a putrid shade of green. He rolled to the side and vomited.
What a sad, sore state from when she’d last seen him, dignified in his red court robe, his black hair tied into a neat tail.
He blinked up at her. “Maude? Iss that you?”
She knelt at his side and wiped the hair from his eyes. “What led you to this state, Waverly?”
“No one needs an old man who’s outlived his usefulness, Maudie.” He coughed and rolled to a sitting position.
“What happened to Bella?” It had seemed like something out of a fairy tale, an old sorcerer finding love at last, riding off in the sunset, as it were.
“Lung rot. Damned swamp!” He belched. Maude had to back away from the rank, earthy aroma.
He was a pathetic mess. But how dare the barkeep kick him and toss him out? Had he no regard for people falling down on hard times? How far off was she herself from such circumstances?
The wind sprang up, setting the tavern’s signboard creaking. When pigs fly, indeed.
A lesson or two was what was needed for the barkeep and his patrons, too.
She pulled from the swamp water and the good mother earth below it, building a spell that would most likely put her in her bed for a day or two, possibly three.
Twin beams of lightning flashed from the sky to Hogsfoot Tavern. The wind gusted, rocking the tavern back and forth on its stilts. Shouts and cries of alarm came from within.
Another twist of lightning, and the wind whipped to a frenzy. The tavern rose off its stilts. The shouts turned to panicked screams.
Maude waved her arms in a lazy circle, directing the tavern to fly in a wind-carried dance. Her breath came in gasps as the power flowed and lightning flashed. The strain of handling so much power taxed her, and the tavern lurched to the side. The sound of tables crashing and glass breaking sounded. Maude panicked; she wasn’t sure she could bring the tavern safely down. She’d only meant to put a scare in them; she certainly meant no one harm.
A thread of power joined hers. Waverly was beside her, lending his strength. With his help, she brought Hogsfoot Tavern down to a gentle rest in its original position.
“You still have it, you old sot,” she said, leaning against his shoulder. His color was returning. He needed a bath, first. Then he could decide if he wanted to waste his life hidden away in the backwoods. After a drink, of course.
Maude and Waverly pushed open the door to the tavern. “Barkeep!” she roared. “We’ll have ale. You said when pigs fly, and Hogsfoot flew! You owe this man a drink.”
Pam L. Wallace lives in California with her husband of 30 years. She has two grown sons and two grandsons. When she’s not baby-sitting or writing, she enjoys working in her garden. She’s had a story published by Shock Totem, and another forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction. This is her second story published by Every Day Fiction.