Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived an old woman. Well, nowadays she would be considered a mid-lifer, but in those times she was old. Her name was Wanda.
Wanda lived alone in a large old castle, except for the butler who butled, the cook, who cooked, and the chambermaid who maided. They made her life easy. All she had to do was eat, sleep, wash herself – and since the law had been passed making bathing a requirement for citizenship, she had been free to wash as often as her little heart desired, without fear of being reported to the authorities as a “luxuriant”, and locked away for her crimes, sans washing facilities – and write the occasional spell.
You see, Wanda was a witch. Not that she cared too much for her station in life, but there it was. The goddess of gifts had gifted her with witchery, and the gift of the scop. In her youth, Wanda had sung the tales of old at court and even been wooed by the Prince of the Realm. But she knew she was not meant to be a princess. Why, she was tall, and fat, and shy, and hated most all men. And so she had refused his suit, and he had been made to marry another by his father, the King. Her Prince was the one who had given her the castle and all the lands around it. All he asked was that she write a spell every public holiday to make him love his wife.
Wanda had been happy to oblige. After all, if he loved his wife, he would not pursue her, and she could live as she pleased. She thought back to the last time she had needed to write a spell. The next public holiday had been Christmas, which was fast approaching, and Wanda knew she had to make an extra special spell. Prince William, for that was his name, although he was called by other names, loved Christmas, and if he loved his wife, would shower her with wonderful gifts to make her happy. Wanda knew from Cook that the Princess, whose name was Hannah, was sad these days because she could not seem to get in the family way. Although she could not be sure, Wanda suspected that the problem would be solved if only William would spend even one night in his wife’s chambers. The chamber maid had it on good authority that they slept in separate rooms.
But that was not her problem. She had been charged with making him love his wife. She sat, that morning, therefore, looking out the large bow window of her castle’s living room, waiting for the Muse to visit her. Erato was late, as usual, so Wanda idly hummed her favorite tune and scribbled nonsense words on the tablet she held on her lap. Soon a picture formed, and before long, Wanda had drawn the face of her Prince. She looked up from her labors to find Basil, the butler, hovering at her elbow, his mouth open to speak.
“Well, spit it out, man!” she said, more impatiently than she should have. She had been feeling unusually crabby that day, and poor Basil always bore the brunt of her ill-humor. She promised herself to give him an extra evening off this week, to make up for her mood. He would appreciate it, him being by way of courting his lady love and all.
“Beg pardon, ma’am, but you have a visitor!” Basil seemed very uncomfortable.
Wanda eyed him with interest. Normally, Erato just walked in unannounced. Since he was announcing the visitor, she could only assume it was not her Muse. She sighed.
“Well, who is it, then, Basil?” she asked, trying to keep the snap out of her voice.
“ Princess Hannah, ma’am!” His discomfort made sense now.
“Show her in, Basil, and have Candy make tea!” As he walked away, she called after him, “And Basil!” When he turned back to look at her, she added, “Thank you!”
She watched his left eyebrow rise a fraction in acknowledgment before he turned away and walked out. Less than a minute later, Her Royal Highness Princess Hannah was announced.
Wanda stood but did not curtsy. She watched the Princess look around her, and wondered if she should offer her a seat. After all, she was royalty – they didn’t wait to be invited to do anything. But the woman hesitated. So Wanda indicated the big leather chair to her right.
“Please sit down, Your Highness!”
Still, the Princess hesitated. ”I did not come to stay,” she said at last, still standing. She looked suspiciously at Hannah as though she had been crying. Something was very wrong.
“Please, my lady, sit down! Candy will bring us tea, and then you can tell me what distresses you.”
Wanda gently nudged the clearly agitated young woman into the chair, and sat herself in her usual place, trying not to grind her teeth. Just when Candy needed to be quick, she was dragging her feet. By the time Basil appeared in the doorway with a loaded tray, Wanda had counted to two hundred. She let out an audible breath, and let Basil serve the Princess. She blew on her own tea, when he handed her the cup, sipped, and waited. Something told her she would not have to wait long before the distraught woman beside her bared her soul.
Princess Hannah put down her teacup and turned earnest eyes to Wanda’s face.
“I want you to stop making spells for William!” she burst out.
Wanda hid her considerable surprise in another sip. She had thought that only she and Prince William knew about her spells. Apparently, she was wrong.
“I know about the spells you write for him each holiday!” she cried. ”He never loved me, and I knew it when we wed.” She clasped her hands tightly together in her lap. “I needed to get away from my father.”
Suddenly, she looked up at Wanda. ”Now I need to get away from my husband. I need you to write a spell for me, instead.”
Wanda could not stop her jaw from dropping at that request. She snapped her mouth shut with some alacrity, not wishing to offend the Princess with her surprise.
“You must know a spell to get me out of this marriage,” she said hopefully. ”After all, you’re a witch!”
“Have you told the Prince how you feel?” Wanda asked, hedging. What does one do in a case like this? To whom does one owe loyalty?
Princess Hannah withered her with a look. Well, at any rate, she tried. Wanda ignored her irritation.
“I cannot promise that anything I do will work, Your Highness, but I will try. Just promise me one thing. You will do everything the spell says to do without questioning it.”
“I promise!” the Princess said eagerly. She stood up. ”I must go now,” she announced superfluously. ”When shall I call round for it?”
“I’ll arrange to have it hand delivered to you!” Wanda had replied.
Basil appeared as though from the mist to usher the Princess out, and Erato chose that moment to appear.
“Before you get all het up, I was caught in a traffic jam!” Erato raised her hand, and sank into the recently vacated chair, and added, “It’s really quite simple. Let him go to the one he really loves and that will release her to find her own joy.”
“And can we do that?” Wanda asked, taking a fortifying sip of tea,.
“Oh, absolutely. Here, let me show you…”
Erato had guided her through the writing of the spell, and she remembered thinking the poem was inspired.
That had been thirty years ago. The Princess had left to marry the man she had secretly loved for a long time. The Prince was once again without a wife…
Wanda sighed. He was due in today. These days her spells were not written down, unless you call the heat and press of passion working on two bodies writing. If that were so, she had taught her Prince very well, with Erato’s help. He was a Master scribe…
She waited till Basil brought the tea tray. She knew he would go home till morning. No one came to her castle except her Prince. And he would be here soon. She wondered when Erato would arrive…
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