Friday, May 01, 2015

Flash Fiction # 144 -- Once Upon a Time

     The Fire Hand Tavern had begun getting the kind of reputation that made most people pass it by on a night like this. Travelers on the road outside swung well clear of the door, hearing the yells and shouts from within. This was not an inviting place, except to those who had decided to make it their nightly haunt. They were angry men, homeless many, working day to day in the fields and sleeping in the common room after they'd drank their wages.
Tonight an old man shuffled to the front of the room while the crowd in the tavern made sounds of boredom before he even spoke. Guent looked around with narrowed eyes. This was going to be a tough group. The tavern owner had said so. He had trouble keeping entertainers around for more than a couple days, and The Fire Hand was getting a bad reputation with musicians and storytellers throughout the province. No promise of room and dinner would draw some of them back, and word was spreading. Soon he woudln't be able to get anyone and once that happened, the locals were going to be entertaining themselves, and that wouldn't be good.
"Somebody prod the old guy," a voice called out. "Or light fire to his robes! That'd be entertaining!"
Laughter erupted all through the room. Guent gave a glare back to the people -- mostly half-drunken already, if they ever sobered. They were a surly bunch, but Guent had been warned, so he didn't let it bother him. In fact, in a fit of stubbornness, he simply got slower.
There were more rude comments. Eventually, though, he got to the place of 'honor' in front of the hearth. He cleared his throat -- a bit louder than needed, but a few of the men and even a couple of the women quieted down.
"Show us what ya' got, old man!" someone shouted.
That almost started them up again. Guent looked around with a glare that would have silenced kings if they'd been wise. These were not wise people thought.
"Start your story before the gods get old and die!" someone complained. They were all getting worked up and he had to admit that the owner of the Fire Hand had not exaggerating when he said they would be a problem.
"I have a tale to tell!" he shouted and did win silence for a moment. They were not used to someone louder than they were. "Are you ready to listen then? Good. Once upon a time --"
The yells that went up startled even him. It was some time before they quieted enough that he could even catch what any of them saying.
"We don't want to hear some damned fairy tale!" A man in the front stood and waved his tankard, splashing cheap ale all the way to the fire, where it roared for a moment and died back down. "Do we look like a bunch of prissy princesses to you? Give us a real tale or you'll be sorry for it, old man."
The yells went up again, but there was more anger in them now than rudeness. If he didn't get this in hand, there would be damage to the place, which wouldn't be the first time lately.
He looked over at the Inn keeper. Ellit gave a shrug of resignation. He knew where this was going.
The crowd had gotten to the throwing things stage. Not their tankards yet, but that wouldn't be long now. He batted away a couple pieces of bread, which brought laughter, but they were getting louder again --
The shout shook the walls and brought dust down from the rafters. Everyone in the room went still and silent and the building groaned as though a hard wind had hit it. Guent gave a nod. They were ready for the tale at last.  He lifted his hand and pointed at the crowd.
"Once upon a time there was an innkeeper who had trouble with his patrons. They were so unruly that he finally called upon his older brother, a mage, who came and turned them all into frogs. The End."
"What? What kind of a stor -- Croak. Croak. Croak!"
"Off you go then," Guent said with another wave of his hand. Frantic frogs leapt off benches and scrambled away from his moving arm. "Out the door and take the first right between the buildings. You'll find a nice pond in the field behind. Go on now. Enjoy yourselves."
The frogs scrambled out of the building. Guent followed them to the door and then closed it behind the last one.
"Well," Ellit said looking around. "First quiet I've had in weeks. The spell --"
"It will wear off at first light. They're not going to be quick to come back here."
"Well, I guess you earned your dinner and room for the night," Ellit said with a laugh. "So tell me, how is life at court these days?"
"Not nearly as much fun as turning people into frogs."
They had a nice, quiet evening together, though the frogs in the field not far away sounded a bit rowdy tonight.

860Words for more fantastic quick reads

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