The approaching pirate ship never stood a chance.
The spinach-enhanced chickens, fifty in all, launched themselves from the Crab Cabin and circled above the ship, waiting for orders. Years later, Semolina, who had an excellent view from the crow’s nest that day, would swear that they were some of the toughest-looking birds he had ever seen. Some of them even appeared to flex their muscles.
“Now, me beauties!” cried Potpie from the deck below. He pointed to the pirate ship. “Shiver their timbers!”
The chickens flew off in a mass of fluttering, clucking fury toward the unwary buccaneers.
The pirate ship’s look-out was the first to spot the approaching attack. He lowered his spy glass and called for the captain to join him on the foredeck. Silently, he held out the spy glass to the captain, who took it and scanned the scene before him.
“Do ye know what ship that be?” the captain demanded.
“The name on the side says the Crab Cabin.”
“I ain’t never heerd of the Crab Cabin. Be they one of ours?”
“Not sure, Cap’n, but there’s something else.” He pointed to the dark mass moving toward them from the air. The captain directed the glass upward to see what had caught the look-out’s attention.
“Just…birds,” he said. “Gulls maybe.”
The two continued to watch as the flock moved swiftly over the water toward them.
“Cap’n,” the look-out spoke after a moment’s silence. “Should I be hearing clucking noises?”
“The gulls. I think they’re clucking.”
“Don’t be daft!” said the captain, “gulls don’t cluck!”
The look-out reached for the spy glass and peered through it again.
“Chickens cluck,” he murmured.
“Aye, boy,” the captain said in exasperation. “Chickens cluck, cows moo, pigs go oink…”
“No, sir. I mean those aren’t gulls coming our way. They’re…chickens.”
“That be ridiculous! Now why would…?”
However, there was no longer any question. The birds were much closer, they were definitely chickens, and they were approaching at speeds that no chicken should reach.
“Cap’n, what are your orders? Should we prepare for defense?”
“Defense?” cried the captain. “Against chickens? What do ye suppose we do, arm the men with brooms?”
Before the look-out could make a response, the first of the chickens arrived. They made a bee-line for the unfurled sails of the ship. With a fierce sound of ripping and squawking, the chickens managed to punch several holes in the canvas. The rest of the chickens followed suit, bombarding and virtually shredding the sails.
“What manner of devil birds are these?!” the stunned captain managed to shout out, before the chickens swooped around for another attack. By now, the entire crew had clambered on deck to watch the melee. They soon began to run for cover when the chickens began a steady bombardment of eggs and poop all across the ship. The captain himself was pelted with a number of eggs, some of which he could have sworn were hard-boiled.
When the aerial attack ended, the chickens landed on the deck and went after the pirates. Soon there were cries coming from around the ship:
“Gettitoff! Getitoff me head!”
“Help me, I’m surrounded!”
“Arrr, she givin’ me the stink eye, she is!”
“Blimey! This one’s armed!”
While chaos ensued for the pirates, the Crab Cabin had unobtrusively slipped alongside their ship and tossed over several grappling lines, securing the two vessels together. The captain, meanwhile, desperately fighting off three chickens at once with a belaying pin, was the first to spot his vanquishers.
“Call ‘em off!” he yelled toward Asiago who was watching the carnage with horrified fascination. “Call off yer demon birds! We surrender!”
The Chick-FLAy squadron was a thing of beauty. Professionally trained, the two hundred battle chickens rose majestically into the air at Colonel Lander’s command and flew in formation toward Hoboken Mike’s men. Prince Carl’s army cheered as the birds passed silently overhead. On the other side of the field, the ranks of suited men intently watched the progress of the chickens until the bombardment began. For the first wave of the attack, each chicken carried a large rock in their spinach-strengthened claws. One chicken, who was presumably the squad leader, let out a loud “Buck-CAWW!” At that, the Chick-FLAy dropped their payload upon the heads of the enemy. Although the attack was not a devastating one for the Hoboken Mike army, many of the rocks did find their mark, leaving a number of men dazed or unconscious. While the remaining men shouted in anger and made rude gestures at them, the chickens circled around and came at them again. This time, their payload consisted of eggs and chicken droppings.
“Arrggh! It’s in my eye!” cried one man, ripping off his poop-smeared sunglasses and wiping at his face.
“Arrggh! I’m allergic to eggs!” cried another.
“Arrggh! I just had this suit cleaned!”
From his jeweled scabbard, Prince Carl drew out a large silver spatula and raised it high above his head.
“For Hardyshire!” he cried, “for Dryvthru!” He spurred his horse toward the disorganized ranks of the Hoboken Mike army. With a roar, his army followed him into battle.
Reports of the battle filtered into Little Julius’ headquarters throughout the morning. Along with Hoboken Mike and Long Jim Silverware, he waited inside his lavishly furnished tent, alternately pleased and chagrined depending on the news. The opening gambit of battle chickens did not please him.
“Honestly, Mike,” Little Julius said, turning a grim face to his cohort, “I would have expected better of your men. They’re just chickens.”
Hoboken Mike, seated in a plush armchair, merely shrugged.
“Hey, ya know, things happen. Whaddaya gunna do?”
“Well,” Little Julius said dryly, trying to hide his irritation, “you’re taking this all rather calmly considering what’s at stake for you.”
“Don’t worry ‘bout it,” Mike said, waving a dismissive hand. “I got this.”
“I would certainly hope so.”
Little Julius then turned to Long Jim Silverware who was also seated, his feet propped up on a table.
“And what about your men?” Julius asked him. “Are they in position?”
“Aye,” Silverware growled. “I got men hidin’ in the woods on either side of Prince Carl’s flanks.”
“Good…good,” Little Julius nodded, “and with the waterways behind them bottled up with your ships, it’s, ah…” He turned to Hoboken Mike. “How would you put it, Mike?”
“Yes,” smiled Little Julius. “Badda-Boom. What a colorful little phrase.”
As the three villains laughed, a scrawny pirate entered the tent, sketched a salute to Silverware, handed him a note and exited. Silverware gave a low whistle as he read.
“Scouts say that King Burger and his army be ten miles north of here.” He looked up with some concern. “They be movin’ faster than we expected. We should be sendin’ my men in to finish off Prince Carl before the king gets here.”
“All in good time,” soothed the diminutive pizza dictator. “I have a little surprise for King Burger which should keep him out of our hair for some time. However, if that plan falls through…” He walked over to a large purple curtain which divided the tent. With a flourish, he drew it back to reveal Haskin, Bobbin, Father Jon and Arbuckle, bound and gagged on the floor.
“You think the king’s gunna stop the war to save ‘em?” inquired Hoboken Mike.
“For them…no,” replied Little Julius, smiling wickedly at his captors. “However, for that little redhead I’ve been hearing so much about…” At this, the prisoners went into a frenzy of squirming and muffled shouts. Julius sneered and pulled the curtain back over them. “If what I hear about her is true, it won’t be long before she impulsively attempts a rescue of her friends. The king will reconsider his position once he discovers that we have the girl.”
“Ahhh…I like it,” grinned Hoboken Mike, “that’s pretty sneaky stuff.”
“Well…” said Little Julius with all the false modesty he could muster, “…it’s what I do.”
At this point, a large, suited man, spattered with raw eggs, entered the tent.
“How you doin’?” Hoboken Mike replied.
“Eh, could be worse. We’re givin’ it to ‘em pretty good, but we’re still havin’ problems with them chickens.”
Little Julius let out a laugh.
“Chickens…really?” Hoboken Mike growled as he rose from his seat. “You havin’ problems…with chickens?”
“Um, yeah,” replied the embarrassed messenger. “Tony wants to know if you gots any new orders.”
“Yeah, I gotta new order. ‘Don’t be stupid,’ that’s my order. Ya got that?”
“Sure thing, Boss,” the man ducked his head, turned and left the tent. A squawk and a soft SPLUT was heard, followed by the angry cursing of the messenger.
“‘Don’t be stupid,’” repeated Little Julius. “Simple and to the point. I like it.”
“Hey, ya know,” said Hoboken Mike, with lopsided grin, “it’s what I do.”
“Scouts report that my son is holding off the enemy,” said the king to Portino and Innen-Owt as they guided their horses from a clearing into a lightly wooded forest. The army followed behind them in quick-step. “We’ll be on the field of battle within a matter of hours.”
“Little Julius must know that we are getting close by now,” commented Innen-Owt. “I’m rather surprised he hasn’t tried anything to slow us down.”
“Yes,” the king mused, “I have wondered that myself.”
“He’s not stupid,” continued Innen-Owt. “He won’t leave the rear of his army exposed.”
“Perhaps we are walking into a trap.”
“Sire,” piped up Portino.
“All this talk is makin’ me nervous.”
King Burger cracked a smile.
“All the same,” said Innen-Owt, “it wouldn’t do to let…”
He was interrupted by an ominous rustling noise coming from the treetops above them.
“I suppose,” said the king dryly, looking upward, “that it would be foolish to assume that that was an innocent rustling of leaves.”
Before anyone could respond, several shrieks came from above, followed by several objects dropping to the ground. The objects turned out to be a number of wild-eyed people. One landed on top of the king, causing his horse to rear in panic, knocking both men to the ground. A wiry woman with long, tangled hair managed to unseat Innen-Owt from his mount. Another man made a grab for Portino, but received a face full of Sahnik instead. By now, many more screaming men and women had joined the fray, attacking the king’s army with unchecked ferocity.
In the midst of the confusion, Portino hurried to Innen-Owt’s aid as the spy desperately struggled against the surprisingly strong woman. Portino grabbed one of her arms and managed to pull it free from Innen-Owt’s neck. Sahnik, finished with mauling his opponent, joined the battle, sinking his teeth into one of the woman’s ankles. As she howled in pain, Innen-Owt wrenched free of her grasp. Stepping back, he reached into his left sleeve and drew out a small spatula from a sheath strapped to his forearm. Expertly, he twirled the spatula in his hand.
“Who are these people?” Portino shouted as he hurried to join Innen-Owt’s side.
“Vegetarians,” Innen-Owt replied. “They’re vicious and take no prisoners. Here,” He quickly reached into one of his boots and pulled out yet another spatula. He tossed it to Portino.
“How many of those do you have?” Portino asked.
“How many do you need?”
King Burger, brandishing a large silver spatula hurried forward. He looked disheveled, but his face was alight with the thrill of battle.
“Quite a spirited lot, aren’t they?” The king hollered as he pivoted to face a bearded man who was coming at him with a very large, pointy carrot. He deflected the carrot with a dull thud.
“Meat is murder!” cried the man as he prepared to strike at the king again.
“And you plan to prove your point by killing me?” The king once again blocked the Vegetarian’s thrust.
“The world would be better off without you and your barbaric eating practices!”
Their weapons clunked again. Although the king was a skilled fighter, his opponent seemed to be equal to the challenge. They continued to spar for some time.
“We’ve never bothered you,” shouted the king over the growing din of battle. “We leave you in peace. We even offer salads with our meals. Why do you persist in causing problems for us?”
“We will never be happy,” grunted the bearded man, “until the entire world is converted to vegetarianism!”
“Our brother and sister animals will live in a world without fear of being eaten!” shrieked the woman who had shaken off Sahnik and was once again grappling with Innen-Owt.
“And how do you propose,” Innen-Owt said while banging the woman’s grasping wrist with his spatula, “to get this information out to meat-eating animals?”
Portino and Sahnik were now facing three Vegetarians, each armed with buckets of tofu cubes. The boy and his dog nimbly dodged their barrage of bean curds.
“Our wayward carnivore cousins are brainwashed!” yelled one of the tofu-tossers.
“They are corrupted! But we will show them the error of their ways and they will join us!” shouted a second.
“Has anyone ever told you that you are all crazy?” Portino hollered back as he swung his spatula and connected with a tofu cube.
“What I really want to know,” the king said, still battling the bearded man, “is how Little Julius convinced them to join their side.”
The bearded man barked with laughter and stepped back.
“That dim-witted meat-eater? He thinks he’s bought us off with promises of unlimited vegetable supplies and the creation of specialty vegetarian pizzas.” The Vegetarians around the man guffawed. He continued. “We are allied to them only for as long as it takes to destroy you.”
“You seem awfully confident in yourselves,” replied the king.
“We have every reason to be,” laughed the wild-eyed woman. “Once our true allies accomplish their mission…”
“True allies?” queried Innen-Owt.
“They’ve been waiting for an opportunity to avenge themselves upon Queen Dairy for a long time now…”
“The Hellthnutt tribe,” The king said solemnly.
The Vegetarians around him laughed.
“They should be approaching the Whyte Castle very soon,” said the bearded man with a wicked grin. “Maybe you can defeat us, but then you’ll have to choose between two more enemies attacking at opposite ends of the kingdom. So yes,” he concluded, raising his oversized orange weapon, “we are awfully confident.”
With that, he charged the king.