Today there's a special treat! A fantasy romance coffee-break read, kind of Harry Potter meets Fifty Shades, LOL! I hope you enjoy it.
A FAMILIAR FANTASY
Even before Nicodemus the black cat knocked over the shelf of spells, Helewise knew it was going to be a bad day.
It had all begun with the woman who had breezed into the shop shortly after opening time and cast a critical eye over the many enchantments displayed for sale before asking: “Do you turn people into frogs? Because if that is the case, I am aware of at least four men who would benefit from the transformation.”
Helewise sighed. It was the sixth time she had been asked the question that day, and it was only ten o’clock. “It is possible,” she replied politely, “but it is an extremely complicated spell, requiring many exotic ingredients. It is not really my thing; I deal with more simple enchantments.”
“So I see,” said the woman rather rudely, looking around the shop at its scattering of basic charms. She sighed. “Well, no matter.” She fingered the ribbon of a gaily-tied box on the counter. “I suppose I could settle for one of your little beauty spells.”
Helewise gritted her teeth at the way the woman sneered. It had taken months of hard work to get the business up and running, and a great deal of courage on her part to open up the first ever spell shop in the city. But the customer was always right, she reminded herself with a sigh, and indicated a shelf to her left displaying various bottles, jars and boxes. “There are many off-the-shelf spells, or I have a specialised, made-to-order enchantment service.”
“I want something to clear up my skin,” said the customer, waving a hand at the pockmarks strewn across her face.
Helewise refrained from advising her that the best solution would be to have it removed at the neck and instead told her: “I have just the thing.” She offered her a blue jar with a silver top. “Guaranteed to make the skin smooth and clear.” It wasn’t much of a spell, really; just camomile and lavender water blessed under the full moon and finished off with a simple vanishing charm. She had a better, more complicated spell that guaranteed the wearer true beauty, but decided that the woman didn’t deserve it.
The woman scrutinised the jar. “Will it work? I mean, you are not exactly much of an advertisement for your business, are you?”
Helewise flushed. It did not take a frank customer to inform her that she was not the most beautiful woman in the city, but it still hurt to have her faults pointed out so bluntly. “One cannot do spells on oneself,” she informed the woman. “Magical law. But I assure you that it will work.”
To Helewise’s relief the woman bought the spell and left the shop. Helewise sat on the stool behind the counter and sighed.
“Take no notice,” a deep voice said behind her. “She looked as if someone had used her skin for archery practice.”
Helewise laughed and stroked the black cat that had jumped up onto the counter. “Thank you for trying to comfort me, Nicodemus, but they say the truth hurts. I suppose I am not a good advertisement for my beauty spells.”
Nicodemus licked a black paw and gave her a reproving look. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, my dear.” He looked over his shoulder as the bell jangled above the door. “And here is one beholder who may see with true eyes if the Goddess wills it.”
“Oh hush,” Helewise scolded, reddening. Why had she ever told the damned cat about her feelings for Crispian Redbeard?
The peddler came towards her, smiling through his bright ginger facial hair. “Good morning,” he said, giving Nicodemus a friendly stroke as he passed. The cat purred but said nothing. He only spoke to Helewise, and then only when he felt like it.
“Hello,” she said shyly, her heart pounding. “I didn’t realise it was delivery day already.”
“I’m early this month.” He hoisted a sack onto the counter and untied the rope at the top. “Boats came in yesterday, hoping to miss the winter snows. I’ve got some nice things for you.”
He spread out his wares on the counter. Helewise scanned them with delight. There were scarlet and sand-coloured packets of spices from across the seas for love spells, long swathes of peacock blue and emerald green silks for charm bags, and various exotic dried plants and resins, all of which would find their way into her enchantments. “How wonderful,” she said, inhaling the heady scent of jasmine from a bottle.
“I knew you would be pleased,” he said, grinning. He handed her a breakdown of his costs. “You can pay me at the end of the month as usual.” He leaned on her counter, looking around the room. “How is business?”
“Growing slowly but steadily.” She carried her new purchases carefully into the room out the back where she concocted her potions. “Initially people are wary of magic, but it’s surprising how many of their worries disappear when they realise that you really can purchase an enchantment to make you handsome, or rich, or lucky.”
“I could do with all three of those,” Crispian said wistfully.
Helewise opened her mouth and just stopped herself saying that she thought he was handsome enough. “A person can never be too rich or too lucky,” she said instead. Nicodemus caught her eye and winked at her, but she ignored him. The cat insisted that Crispian had an interest in her, but she knew otherwise. The peddler was married to the road. There was no way that he would ever want to settle down to hearth and home.
And that was when it happened. The cat – usually so light on his feet – slipped on the shelf where he was sitting and knocked several bottles of spells onto the floor. The delicate bottles broke, releasing the charms inside.
“Quick!” Helewise shrieked, vaulting over the counter and grabbing a nice little prize-winning spell in both hands and throwing it into a bag she kept for this very purpose. “Grab it!” she yelled at a startled Crispian, who was staring dumbfounded at a promotion enchantment that was flapping around his head on large yellow wings. He reached up and caught it by its fat body and held its wriggling and protesting form until Helewise took it from him and put it in the bag with the other charm.
“Duck!” she shouted, and he followed her instructions, only barely avoiding the rather nasty hex that stabbed the air where his head had been with sharp black talons. That one took rather longer than the others to catch, and by the time she had it pinned in the bag, she had two long scratches on her arm and had lost a square of her sleeve.
It was only then that she realised that Crispian had left the shop door open. She stood for a moment, frozen by the thought that the enchantments could escape, before she leaped to close it. It was too late, however. She stood in the doorway and stared in despair as two spells danced their way down the street, one a mass of flowing red ribbons, the other a flash of shiny discs that reflected the sunlight just beginning to stream from behind the clouds.
Crispian joined her at the door. “What were they?” he asked, watching the ribbons flap around the corner of the street, out of sight.
“One was a passion spell,” she admitted, “one of my best. It’s only temporary and the sufferers will not remember being under it, but it will still cause absolute havoc.”
“And the other?”
She frowned. “A mirror spell I bought from a French witch I met at a fair. It is supposed to reflect your inner self – if you have a beautiful soul it will give you a beautiful face, but if you are spiteful, rude or arrogant…” She didn’t finish the sentence. She was hoping that the customer who had been rude to her that morning had walked into it.
“I’d better go and get them,” she sighed, retrieving her cloak. “Will you watch the shop for me please, Crispian?”
“Of course,” he said. “But first…” He caught her arm and, to her surprise, kissed her amorously on the lips. She pulled away eventually, shocked but pleased, only to see the remains of a small red ribbon flapping unceremoniously around his left ear.
She sighed again. “If only…” She touched his cheek with its rough, red hair. How tempting it would be to leave the ribbon there! But gently she removed the spell and put it into her bag. “I’ll be back shortly,” she said, aware that he would not remember the kiss by the time she returned. She cast a quick look at Nicodemus, who was looking suspiciously smug. “And I’ll talk to you when I return,” she warned.
She ran down the street and around the corner, pausing to see if she could determine which way the spells had gone. It wasn’t difficult to work out. To her left, further down the road, a woman was standing in the street screaming, her face a mass of boils and scabs, whilst a beggar stared at his reflection in a puddle, tears streaming down his face as he saw how handsome he had become. The small silver discs fluttered in the air like tossed coins. To her right, however, things were even more obvious. Everywhere she looked, couples were engaged in amorous activities. The red ribbon had certainly been busy. Shopkeepers embraced their assistants, men pounced on women they had only just passed in the street and she even saw the pompous owner of the bookshop pushing his rather fat wife up against a wall in broad daylight.
She sighed, deciding to chase the passion spell first. Running down the street, she waved her hand in the air as she passed the victims of the spell, muttering: “Removis amoroso,” under her breath as she did. She knew that everyone would soon forget their encounters, but wondered if anyone would be puzzled by their smudged lip rouge or ruffled clothing.
As she rounded the next corner, she realised with shock that she had already taken too long to catch the spell. Couples here were half-undressed and some were already engaging in the sexual act. The butcher had a woman on the counter, whores were suddenly inundated with customers and, to Helewise’s horror, even the mayor was fondling his secretary in the back of his carriage.
“Oh dear.” She waved her hand and removed the red ribbons curling around the passionate couples, following the trail of amour across the street and through an alleyway. The passage was dark and filled with men and women frantically ripping off each other’s clothes. She chased the curling spell down back streets and along narrow passageways, only realising where she was heading when she left the darkness of the alleys and found herself at the outskirts of the Gilbertine monastery.
“Oh Goddess, no…” Following the Gilbertine rule, the inhabitants of the monastery were both monks and nuns, kept apart in separate cloisters but meeting together daily for mass and mutual prayer. She leaped up to catch the tumbling red ribbon spell, but it flew out of her reach and sailed over the wall.
Helewise broke into a sprint, holding her skirts above her knees as she ran, following the wall up a slight hill until she came to a wooden doorway, and then entering the monastic grounds and searching frantically for the ribbon. It was just disappearing through the door of the main church and she ran after it, ignoring the shocked looks of the monks at work in the fields, who had somehow managed to avoid the spell’s intoxicating grasp.
Reaching the church, Helewise paused in the doorway, staring at the view inside with dismay. A high wall divided the nave of the church so that the monks and nuns were not tempted by the sight of one another. Now, however, all chaos had broken out. Some of the holy men had pushed the veiled, white-robed nuns up against the dividing wall and were busy having their wicked way with them, while others found more comfortable places to indulge in their long-held fantasies; Helewise spotted couples in several of the pews, one pair at the base of the font and quite a few taking advantage of the secrecy of the choir stalls.
A small smile touched her lips. It was actually rather amusing, watching people giving in to their passion. These men and women had spent a lifetime keeping their urges in check, and in a strange way Helewise felt that it would be nice to let them enjoy themselves a little longer before they had to return to the austerity of their single-sex cloisters.
But how would they explain the outbreak of virgin births once their memories of that day had disappeared? Helewise sighed, thinking of the chaos that would cause, and waved a hand. “Removis amoroso,” she said softly, and the red ribbons vanished.
She made her way out of the church. There was no sign of any more of the spell, and she hoped that she had finally caught the whole of it.
As she left the monastery grounds, however, she spotted two figures in the shadow of the wall, engaged in a passionate embrace. She sighed and walked up to them. “Removis,” she repeated, puzzled when they showed no signs of stopping.
The man saw her staring at them. “What?” he said over his partner’s shoulder.
Embarrassed, she realised that there were no red ribbons attached to them. “Oh,” she said, “sorry,” and walked away quickly. Spells obviously weren’t needed when you were young and in love!
She walked back through the town, looking now for signs of the mirror spell, crossing a busy street when she heard screams echoing from a very upmarket dress shop and peering in through the window. Several fashionable young ladies were standing transfixed in front of the long mirrors in the shop, examining with horror their pitted skins with the boils and pustules that had broken out on the surface.
Helewise sighed, watching the small, round, shiny discs winking in the air around them. “Vanishe reflecto,” she said softly, and with a slight ‘pouf’ the discs disappeared and the ladies’ good looks returned. They gasped with relief and twittered on at the shop keeper, who was looking rather ruefully at her own reflection, wishing that she could have kept her high cheekbones and straight teeth.
Helewise walked on through the town, correcting the mirror spell as she went. It was interesting to see how people changed; generally the young and arrogant turned old and haggard, while the older and wiser grew more attractive. She wished that she could leave them the way the mirrors reflected them – it only seemed right that your face mirrored your soul. How easy it would be to understand people if you could tell what they were like just by looking at them! But she had been a witch for long enough to know that the Rule of Threefold Return would always come back to haunt the witch who didn’t follow her heart.
She was severely tempted, however, when she came across the woman who had been in her shop. As she had hoped, the woman had been caught by the spell, and was crying as she stared in a shop window. Her skin had already been pockmarked, but her mean, spiteful nature had turned her nose thin and pointy and her lips tight and pursed. Helewise paused, fighting every instinct in her body to just walk on by and leave the woman ugly, but eventually she sighed, whispered the magic words and changed the woman back.
It was as she left the street after making that decision that she walked straight into a cloud of the tiny silver discs. They span about her head, bouncing light off her skin, and she stood still immediately, dizzy with the sensation. Of course, she realised as she puzzled over the effect, she had bought the spell from another witch and was therefore vulnerable to the enchantment.
Breathless with anticipation, she hurried along the street to find a shop window to look into. Curse it; there were so many people around. She pushed her way through a crowd and ran into a barber’s shop, ignoring the comments of the men around her, and searched hurriedly for a mirror. Finding one, she stared at her reflection.
She gasped. Her skin was smooth and pale as a cup of milk, with just a slight flush high on each prominent cheekbone. Her teeth were straight and white too, and her nose was smaller, and slightly tipped at the end. It was still her face, she was just recognisable, but she had never looked this beautiful, this stunning, even as a child.
“Something for the weekend, madam?” said the barber admiringly, and the customers sniggered.
Helewise blushed, then laughed out loud. Flirtatious comments had not been something that she’d had to deal with in the past. How nice! She sighed, however, knowing that she couldn’t let the spell remain. That wouldn’t be fair, especially after she’d been so honest with everyone else.
“Vanishe,” she said softly, giving one final look at the gently arched eyebrows and the moulded lips.
Nothing had changed.
“Vanishe reflecto,” she repeated, hardly able to breathe.
But her face stayed the same, radiating with a soft, gentle beauty. Reflecting her heart.
Helewise made her way back to her shop in a dream. It was a gift from the Goddess, she knew, for all the good deeds that she had done in the past with her magic, and she felt that she glowed both inwardly and outwardly, so happy was she.
Entering the shop, she laughed with pure joy as both Crispian and Nicodemus stared at her. She gave a twirl. “What do you think?”
“The mirror spell?” Nicodemus forgot that he didn’t speak in front of customers and frowned at her. “Helewise, you know better than that.”
“I can’t change it, Nico, I’ve tried.”
He cocked his black head at her and his whiskers twitched. “Then beautiful you must stay.” He licked his paw. “I suppose you deserve it.”
She grinned at him, then walked up to Crispian. He dragged his eyes away from the talking black cat and looked at her warmly. “You look wonderful,” he said, “although I always thought you beautiful anyway, even before the spell.”
She flushed. “Crispian…”
He caught her hands, interrupting her. “I’ve been meaning to tell you this for ages, but I wanted to wait until I was ready. I’ve been saving so that I can buy a house here, in the city, and not have to travel any more. I wanted to ask you Helewise… Will you be my wife?”
Helewise stared. Her heart soared… and then plummeted to the ground. She touched his face gently. “You don’t know how happy those words make me,” she said softly, “but, Crispian dear, it’s just the passion spell talking. Turn around, let me remove the ribbon.”
He raised an eyebrow and rotated slowly, arms aloft. She examined his clothes. There was no sign of any of the spell upon him.
“Then…” Her voice trailed away.
Nicodemus stood up and walked towards her on the counter. He sat and pointed to a bottle that Crispian had placed there. “You missed this one,” he said. “It escaped before we could put it back in the bottle. I’m afraid that our poor peddler here caught it right in the face.”
Helewise looked at the bottle. It was dark blue and she could just see the remains of the gold glitter charm on its rim. She looked at the label. It said ‘Truth Spell’.
Crispian pulled her towards him, and she could now see the slight glimmer of gold shine on his cheeks. “Spell or no spell,” he murmured, “I’m in love with you Helewise. Make me the happiest man on earth?”
“I will,” she said breathlessly, accepting his kiss as he lowered his lips onto hers. She gave herself up to the embrace, her heart flooding with joy at the thought that she was going to become Crispian Redbeard’s wife.
Slowly, however, she became aware of someone watching them. She opened one eye to look at Nicodemus. Her familiar sat, cleaning his paws, then winked at her before walking off to look out of the window. She thought of the way he had knocked the spells off the shelf. Had he planned this all along? She wouldn’t be surprised; he was like that.
She closed her eyes. She’d quiz him about that later. It mattered not a jot now anyway whether she was under the influence of a spell or not. Who needed an enchantment to make you feel beautiful when you were in love?
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