From the top of the hill, Wendy stared down in awe at the bustling port city of Plees-Comagin. It was by far the biggest and busiest community she had ever seen (and she had been to Holdermayo). The blue-green water that surrounded the port seemed to stretch out forever, and the breeze blowing inland filled the air with the invigorating scent of the sea.
Haskin turned to Wendy with a smile.
“What do you think?”
Wendy returned the grin.
“Race you down the hill!”
“Wendy…”said Bobbin warningly, but it was too late. Wendy was halfway down the hill and picking up speed.
“Where should we go first?” Wendy asked when Haskin and Bobbin finally caught up. Before either could answer, the redhead pointed to a dingy-looking tavern across the town’s bustling main street. “How about there?”
“I don’t think so,” Haskin said apprehensively.
“Oh, please!” Wendy pleaded. “It looks just like the inns I’ve read about in adventure stories. The place is probably full of pirates and sailors and other exciting people!”
“And what do you suppose these ‘exciting people’ are going to do when we walk in?” Bobbin retorted.
“Let’s find out!” Wendy chirped as she began to weave her way through the crowded street toward the tavern.
Bobbin turned an exasperated look at Haskin.
“If we survive this trip, I am requesting a raise in salary.”
The handmaidens caught up with Wendy at the door of the tavern. Above them, a weather-beaten sign creaked in the breeze.
“Sam ‘N’ Ella’s,” Haskin read the faded words with a hint of distaste, “I do hope that’s a joke.”
“All the same, order nothing,” Bobbin replied.
The three travelers entered the tavern, and once their eyes had become accustomed to the dim lighting, they observed the long, low-ceilinged taproom filled with rough wooden tables and benches. To their left was a bar lined with tall stools. The room was nearly empty except for a burly, heavily bearded man in a dirty apron who was serving a drink to a strange-looking customer sitting at one of the tables. Both men looked up in mild astonishment.
“Well, blow me down,” said the man at the table, removing a corncob pipe from his mouth.
“I beg your pardon,” said Haskin in an offended tone.
“He don’t mean nothin’ by it,” rumbled the bartender, lifting his large hands in a placating gesture. “That’s just the way he talks. He’s just surprised is all. Now, what can I do for you ladies?”
“Do you have any grog?” Wendy blurted out.
“Wendy!” Bobbin said in shock.
“Shiver me timbers!” said the man at the table.
“What on earth possessed you to ask that?” asked Haskin.
“Isn’t that what pirates drink at taverns?” Wendy inquired innocently. The bartender roared with laughter.
“That they do youngling, among other things. But you’ll find no pirates ‘round here. This place is strictly legitimate if you get my meanin’.”
“What about him?” asked Wendy, pointing to the tavern’s lone customer. “He looks a little piratey.”
“I is what I is,” said the man with a shrug.
“What does that mean?” Wendy asked.
“Wendy,” Haskin sighed in exasperation. “Could you just pretend for five minutes that you have good manners?”
“I is what I is,” Wendy mimicked.
At that, the man at the table burst out with the strangest laugh Wendy had ever heard.
As one, the three travelers began to back away in concern. The bartender chuckled.
“He’s all right, ladies. Ol’ Potpie’ll do ya no harm.”
“Potpie?” Bobbin asked in confusion.
“Are you sure?” Haskin asked warily. Potpie let out another barrage of “Gahs.”
“Well, I wouldn’t think of crossin’ him, if that’s what you’re meanin,’” replied the bartender, idly scratching his beard. “He packs a wallop with them large arms of his.”
Now that he had mentioned it, Haskin and Bobbin were quick to note that Potpie had the large pair of forearms that they had ever seen, each one tattooed with an anchor.
“I never hitsk a lady,” snorted Potpie indignantly. “That would be disgusticating!”
“I like him!” she said, joining him at the table. Reluctantly, Haskin and Bobbin followed suit.
“So you’re not a pirate?” Wendy asked. Potpie shook his head and took a drag on his pipe.
“Not me, squirt. I’m Potpie the Sailor.”
“Oh,” said Wendy appreciatively, “a sailor! That’s exciting!” Suddenly, Potpie’s face fell. He removed his pipe and studied it.
“What’s wrong, Mr. Potpie?”
“Pirates,” interjected the bartender when the sailor made no motion to respond. “The villains sank his ship and left him with nothing. He’s had to find other work.”
“That’s terrible!” Wendy exclaimed, patting Potpie on the arm. “What sort of work are you doing now?”
“I sells this,” Potpie said, reaching down beside his chair and producing a wooden bucket with his name printed along its side. Wendy, Haskin, and Bobbin peered into the bucket.
“You sell fried chicken?” inquired Bobbin dubiously.
“I is. It’s me pappy’s own recipe.”
“Can I try some?” asked Wendy.
Before Haskin and Bobbin could protest, Wendy grabbed a chicken leg and began tearing into it. After a couple of bites, she stopped with look of confusion on her face.
“Wendy, are you all right?” Bobbin asked worriedly. “Is there something wrong with the chicken? Does it taste strange?”
“I knew it!” Haskin fumed. “‘Sam ‘N’ Ella’s’ indeed.”
“What’s me and my wife’s name got to do with anything?” the bartender asked. Potpie just looked at Wendy and grinned, apparently expecting this reaction.
“The food is fine,” said Wendy. “Actually, it’s really good. It’s just that I feel a little funny. My arms are tingling.”
Bobbin reached over and took one of Wendy’s arms, examining it closely. Haskin turned angrily to Potpie
“What did you put in that chicken?”
Potpie continued to smile unconcernedly at Wendy.
“I bets you feelsk like hittin’ somethin’.”
“Yes…I do…” said Wendy quietly.
“You what?” Bobbin asked in astonishment, dropping Wendy’s arm.
Wendy rose from her chair almost trancelike and walked over to an empty table.
Then she punched it.
The table exploded into a shower of sawdust and broken boards. Haskin and Bobbin screamed. Potpie laughed. The bartender was far less amused.
“Aw now,” he complained, “them tables ain’t cheap!”
Wendy seemed to awaken from her trance and stared at the wreckage with wonder.
“Did I do that?”
“What…is…going…on?” Haskin spit out.
“Wendy,” Bobbin said, hurrying over, “your hand. It must be cut to…” Wendy held her hand out. It showed no sign of injury.
“The tingling is gone too,” Wendy added. Potpie just nodded.
“I don’t understand this,” Haskin shook her head. “Eating chicken caused…that?” She gestured at the destroyed table.
“Ya see,” Potpie said, “I adds a little somethin’ extra to me own recipe. I feeds me chickens a special diet that makes ‘em strong. Someone eatin’ the chicken usually gets a burstin’ of power.”
“What on earth do you feed them?” Haskin exclaimed. “Magic potion?”
Potpie laughed again.
“As I likes to say, ‘They’re strong an’ their lean ‘cause they eats their greens!’” With that, he pulled a tin can from his pocket and slammed it on the table.
“You feed them…spinach?” Bobbin asked perplexed as she studied the can.
“Well, blow me down!” Wendy said with admiration.
“Spinach couldn’t possibly…” Haskin began.
“It’s no jest, ma’am,” said the bartender gravely. “I’ve seen his chickens. They could beat a grown man in wrestling.”
“I think I’ll have another drumstick,” Wendy said reaching toward the bucket.
“NO!” Haskin, Bobbin and the bartender shouted in unison.