"I told you not to come back," the Sorceress said when she
looked up from her desk. The feathered quill in her hand twitched back
and forth like the tail of an unhappy cat. "I didn't think even you people
were that stupid."|
Four kings and three queens, a veritable bevy of rulers from the Lost Lands of Katkarol, glared back at her. They were only lost lands because everyone was so tired of the endless Katkarolian wars that they stopped putting the little clutch of kingdoms on the maps. The rulers had finally realized that without outside trade they were falling behind in technology and wealth. They came to her for help -- and came again and again. As soon as word spread that one was leaving to see her, they all converged on her mountain retreat. She was considering retreating a bit farther.
The Sorceress silently cursed her late, crazy aunt who -- for some unfathomable reason -- had believed the answer to all problems was immortality, and had bestowed that blessing everywhere she passed. Aunt Birdy had been more than a little off the norm by the end. She'd even made her cats immortal -- as though such arrogant creatures needed something more to prove they were superior.
Then the old sorceress had gone off and immolated herself in a spell gone wrong -- without ever writing down the immortality spell that she had used even on her successor and niece. And now her niece had to deal with the rulers, cats and what she suspected might be a damned immortal housefly.
"Well?" she finally demanded, reluctantly setting aside her quill and swatting at the fly. These people were not going to leave. "What now?"
"You haven't solved anything!" King Ethan declared. He pretty much *declared* everything, having ruled long past any hope of a normal conversation. "We came to you for help --"
"And I have given it to you, twice over," she reminded him. They pressed their luck, they did. She felt a tingling in her fingers, an instinctive surge of magic she had to quell by obliterating a poor, unsuspecting roach in the corner of the room. Queen Lavena, who was about to stomp the insect, looked startled when it vaporized. "I have twice given you answers to solve your problems. You keep resurrecting them."
"We signed a contract with you," Queen Anabel shouted. The woman was probably hard of hearing but no one knew for certain since she rather hated having her proclamations questioned. "We paid for magic to settle our war and what did we get? A piece of paper! A Peace Treaty! By the Gods, we could have done that much ourselves!"
"Then why didn't you?"
No one answered, of course. They were working themselves up into a good, loud group tantrum. Complaining and throwing fits seemed to be the only things they could do as a team.
They might have had reason to be upset by her second answer, which had been unorthodox, but definitely magical. They just hadn't realized the extent of that magic for nine months or so.
"Daughters!" Ethan shouted. "All daughters for our heirs! How can we marry them off to each other, form alliances, gain power -- get control of all the other lands --"
The others started to shout as well, except for Queen Lavena who glanced at the floor where a small line of scorched wood marked the demise of the roach. She began edging her way back toward the door.
But the others kept ranting about their daughters and the Sorceress's late Aunt who had been so much better at this work -- until the Sorceress lifted her hand and the room fell silent, though not out of respect for her. Their mouths continued moving long after they stopped making any sounds, confirming her suspicion that they never listened to themselves. She waited, glaring until they finally realized that they couldn't be heard.
"You asked me to end your wars and for the past three years I have given you every reason not to fight. First I created a treaty that was fair to everyone. Then I gave you daughters so that you would be forced to make marriage alliances outside of the Lost Lands, to expand your horizons, to bring in trade. By the Gods, you people are dumber than a box of rocks! I don't like wasting my time."
They glared. She finally released the spell, knowing it wasn't worth the power anyway. They would just come back later to complain some more.
"Your pledge said that you never fail!" King Gulab shouted. He did seem a little surprised by his own loudness and tempered that a little. "That was your bond to us."
"And you have failed!" Ethan declared, his face blotchy with anger. "You said you would bring peace to the lands and you haven't. We demand --"
That was the wrong thing to say, of course. Lavena was suddenly moving toward the door very quickly, trying to get past King Kaisov and Queen Eastlyn, neither of whom would step aside. She looked panicked. Wise woman.
"You are correct to point out that my bond with you was that I would bring peace to the lands," the Sorceress said. "It occurs to me now that it's not the lands that have a problem with peace."
She smiled and noted that two more rulers were backing hastily toward the door as well.
"Don't go, my friends. Not yet."
With a wave of her fingers the doors bolted shut. Kings and Queens froze in silent shock and worry. Amazing. She hadn't thought they were capable of realizing their own danger, even now. A shame it came too late. She conjured a map of the world and looked it over carefully.
"Peace for the land, peace for the land. I won't fail, of course. I never do. But there's only one answer I can see."
Her finger moved across the map until she found a tiny spot of brown in the midst of lovely sea of blue. King Gulab, who was closest, shook his head in honest, silent panic.
She waved. The spell was elegant and simple. It gathered the entire group -- kings, queens, wives, husbands, concubines, lovers and devoted servants -- and sent them elsewhere. She left behind only the devoted councilors who had kept the Katkarolian countries from total disaster and the Princesses and their nannies. Immortal girls, she suddenly realized. Aunt Birdy's spell had been a little stronger than she had thought.
The Sorceress watched with no little pleasure as the royal spellbound travelers reached their destination and dropped less than gracefully into a swamp with one quick plop after another.
They spent a long moment of shocked silence.
"I don't think that was our best idea," Ethan declared. He was up to his royal ass in muck, but he wasn't alone. So far everyone else appeared much too surprised to panic.
"What are we going to do?" King Gulab asked, looking around with eyes wide and face white where it wasn't already splattered in mud.
"I think," Ethan declared, "That it's time we talk democracy."
For once in all the years they'd dealt with each other, no one argued.
The sorceress felt a surge of pride, knowing that she'd finally found the right answer. She couldn't guarantee that there would be serenity in the Lost Lands of Katkarol when the lovely little Princesses came to power, but she would have peace for a few more years before they came to her for answers.
Peace? Oh yes. The Sorceress conjured a copy of the Peace Treaty and glanced at it. The rulers might find it helpful now that they would have to work with one another.
The damned immortal housefly chose that moment to annoy her, much to its later regret. She swatted the fly with the peace treaty and sent both off to the Island of the Lost Rulers of the Lost Lands.
The immortal cats, being wiser than rulers and flies, didn't bother her at all for the rest of the day.
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