The Princess and the Potion

By Hannah Christensen

The smell of tarragon-sweetened vinegar weighed heavily on the air. Abelard sighed deeply. Maybe not the most decorous of manners in a steward, but now was safer than later when the princess really got to brewing. The Chief Retainer of the Tower dearly hoped she would refrain from throwing in pig’s fat or lilac this time. He wished both his stomach and head to retain their composure.

The scent swelled suddenly and footsteps clattered in the hall overhead.

Abelard looked for an unobtrusive corner that needed ordering.

“Abelard!” The voice made cracks in his hope to simply go about his prescribed business. “Abelard! Come here!”

“Yes, your highness?” Abelard made his way into the open where he could see Princess Cyrilla leaning over a balcony. Some red-brown hair pushed its way loose between her hood and horrid monster mask with three bulges, one over each eye and one over her mouth.

“Let me know as soon as one of those sniveling suitors shows up.” The mask muffled her voice while giving it a hollow quality.

Abelard bowed. One advantage to bowing was how it constricted the lungs and made sighing in the face of royalty harder. “I regret to inform your highness that Princess Acenith makes her residence in the palace proper, and I doubt that any suitors will find need to come near enough the tower to be observed.”

“Then send some varlet over to watch. I want to know immediately.”

“Yes, your highness.” Abelard decided to see if Quanda was on duty. The lass tended to loiter to gossip, which might give the poor suitor a whiff of a chance. At least if he met Princess Acenith first, he might become smitten enough to dissuade Princess Cyrilla from starting with her love potion.

Abelard was just finishing his list of tower maintenance needed—a new kitchen door would need to wait one more month because he must hire the gongfarmer before then to clean out the moat and the garder hole chutes—when Quanda returned. He frowned sternly at the lass. “Well, have you news then? Stop fidgeting and spit it out.”

“Yes, there’s a fellow—that is, he’s wandering about the ponds, waiting for the princess. She’s with her tutors, and the king won’t allow him to be announced. He says why bother with an interruption after all the others, and Nelly says he wouldn’t let them in at all any more only it would be even more likely to start a war, wouldn’t it.”

“How convenient for you that Nelly has been brought into the king’s confidences. Did you actually see this young man or is he another spectral of Nelly’s imagination?”

“No, he truly is there waiting—that is, I saw his horse, it was by the path to the ponds, and all the castle knows that the king refused him to be announced yet—”

“Very well.” Abelard waved her away. “Back to your duties.”

She curtsied and scurried away. Most of the staff were quite skittish concerning Princess Cyrilla and her contrivances. It was a well rooted rumor that all of her sister’s suitors came to her, and those who were seen again were addled in the head. Abelard could see no reason to expend the effort needed to fight this gossip. After all, Prince Oswald’s exit from her chamber had been well witnessed, and he had been foaming about the mouth and scrabbling. Reportedly he had recovered at home, which was better than could said for Sir Heward. No, Abelard knew that such stories would be counted as mere servant idle talk and concentrated his efforts on squelching talk concerning the frogs. Still, the servants themselves had been given no reason to fear. At least not yet, he admitted to himself grimly. If the princess ever ran out of suitors to practice on, she might well begin on other hapless men or lads about her.

Abelard slowly trod up the stairs. He stood before the heavy oak door, reluctant to announce his presence. Still, Princess Cyrilla had said immediately. “Highness?” he called. When there was no answer, he tapped on the door. “Your highness?” He wondered how long he needed to wait before he could just leave. He had no place to intrude if the princess did not wish to answer.

The door sprang open.

Abelard jumped, then cringed at the horribly masked face before him.

“Did you bring the interloper?” said Princess Cyrilla.

“I merely came to tell you that the prince seems to be taking his pleasure along the pond banks.”

“He hasn’t seen my sister yet? Good. We should be in time to save her from his infatuations.”

Abelard’s face drooped.

“Besides, it is bothersome when she gets all teary-eyed. Go ahead.” Princess Cyrilla made shooing motions at him. “Go fetch him.”

“I shall attend to the matter at once, your Highness.” Abelard bowed low.

“Make sure you do it personally. Those peons you send tend to loiter around and gossip.”

Abelard held his bow for a few more heartbeats to give himself time to smooth out the twitch in his face.

The door slammed shut. He had no desire to even seem to be eavesdropping. Such a pastime was not seemly for one of his station. Besides, rumors of odd noises and movement had twined around this tower since before Princess Cyrilla claimed the room as her own. He had no desire to be more involved than necessary, either with the princess’ schemes or anything else in that room.

The prince was standing by a lily pond, leaning over to stare.

“Your Highness,” called Abelard.

The prince looked up, frowning slightly. “I say,” he said. “I think I saw a fellow in the glen over there, but he dove into the water after some frogs. Do you have a wild man around here? I always thought they lived in the mountains or some such wilderness farther away from people.”

Abelard twisted his wince into a smile. “Not a wild man. Just preoccupied.”

“He dove right in after them. I thought he had drowned at first, but I couldn’t find the fellow. Then I thought I heard a plash, so that might have been him coming out, but I never saw him. He could have disappeared or turned into a frog himself for all I could see.”

Abelard’s grimace deepened in all the wrong places. “Ah well, that Rupert does love frogs.”

“You certainly have a lot around here.”

Abelard sighed heavily. He wished more of the frogs around the tower could be brought here, especially those which kept trying to climb back up to the princess’ room. Still, it had been bad enough the time Princess Acenith had taken a walk to see the lilies and had been swarmed by frogs. What if they ever left the pond searching for her? He couldn’t tell one frog from another, so he did not know whether any frogs he sent this way would be one which tried to climb the tower or one infatuated with Princess Acenith. Besides, he wanted to discourage any talk about frogs, and having the tower steward inspecting frogs to pick some to send away would not help.

“The princess wishes you to come to her at once.”

The prince looked cheery at the thought. “Let me get my horse and I’ll be at the castle in no time.”

“You are to come to the watchtower.”

“Oh?” the prince frowned. “I thought for certain the princess was in house:

“I was told to bring you to the tower for your meeting.”

The prince did not argue, but fetched his horse and came along. Abelard was glad. He wanted to be away as soon as possible. If he thought Rupert odd, what would he think if he saw Sir Heward?

Their path stayed clear all the way to the tower and up the stairs to the heavy wooden door.

“Princess,” Abelard called. “We have come. Be informed that Prince…” Abelard glanced behind him.

“Edward,” the prince said.

“That Prince Edward has arrived and awaits your audience.” Abelard stepped back, letting the prince take the forefront.

The door sprang open . Prince Edward stared at Princess Cyrilla. To his credit, he neither gaped nor cringed from the hideous mask she still wore.

“I have come to see Princess Acenith,” he said.

“I’m sure you have,” said Princess Cyrilla. “Come in.” She opened the door wider.

Abelard quietly headed for the stairs.

“You too,” said Princess Cyrilla.

Abelard dragged himself forward, not caring if the gloom filling him showed. Only one small high window let in light to this room. All other illumination came from the fire under the cauldron not far from the door. A lid covered its mouth, but burbling sounds still escaped. There was nowhere to sit, since the only bench held overflow mortars and bottles and parchment from the scarred wooden shelf. Straw sprinkled about the floor in small drifts added to the untidy appearance. Though there was a garter room off this chamber, the Princess actually slept in the room directly above, so the only other furnishings was the old mirror, covered with a black cloth. Abelard shivered and turned away. He remembered when that cloth had been gray with dust, sitting mostly forgotten in the the room the king’s father had banished it to after Duke Edgemoor was gone. He wished Princess Cyrilla had never found it.

The princess pulled her monsterly mask off and shook her red hair loose.

“Princess Acenith?” asked Prince Edward.

“Cyrilla,” she said. “Have you seen my sister yet?”

“No.” The poor prince truly did look puzzled.

“Good. Then let’s start with this.” She strode over to the shelf and pulled down a dark glass bottle.

Prince Edward stared at it. “Um…pardon?” He took it gingerly from her.

“Just drink it.”

“And this is…a potion to protect me from Acenith’s charm? A brew of invincibility? Breath freshener?” He smiled, but a little lopsided. “Thank you, but I truly do not believe my breath is that foul.”

Princess Cyrilla rolled her eyes and snatched the bottle back. “Abelard, go arrange a drink.”

Abelard accepted the bottle with a bow and left. The princess had no discretion. Someday someone was going to refuse the potion. Maybe today. Though, he admitted as he called for a bottle of wine and two goblets, that would not be a bad thing. He reveled in the thoughts of the princess’ wicked plans flouted by her own lack of subtlety. She might rant, she might rave, she might scream, she might throw things, she might…make him force feed the potion to the prince.

All the warmth went out of his idle dreams. Ever since she had found that mirror and moved her living quarters to the Tower, Princess Cyrilla had dragged him deeper and deeper into her schemes.

He sighed and finished pouring the two goblets. Into one he emptied the ruby liquid from the princess’ small bottle. Before he picked up the goblets, he carefully filled the small bottle with wine, corked it, and tucked it loosely into the side of his surcoat. Slowly he made his way back up the stairs.

Princess Cyrilla had crammed everything on the bench back on or around the shelf. She sat on one side, trying to make polite conversation, while Prince Edward half perched on the far other side. His eyes looked a bit wild. He would be looking for an excuse to flee. Reluctantly Abelard closed the door behind him. He didn’t want to be ordered to go running down and dragging back the prince, either.

Princess Cyrilla fired a quick look at him, but kept talking. “…though crickets are shriller than frogs. I could see getting tired of all that screeching quickly.”

Abelard handed the prince his drink, then turned to the princess.

If Prince Edward had been a horse, the look he gave his goblet would have shown the whites of his eyes. He was tensed to bolt, even as the princess took a demonstration sip from her own goblet.

“Actually, I find both relaxing, in their places. Though I can see how it might be a bit grating on the ears if you were trying to sleep. Especially if you were trying to sleep, and one was close by. Like over there.” He pointed toward the mirror. “By that…thing.” He leaned forward a bit. “What is it, anyway?”

The princess neither answered nor looked. Her eyes narrowed.

Slowly, Prince Edward drooped. “That thing, over there? Covered in cloth? Do you see it?” Still receiving no answer, he lowered both his pointing arm and the goblet.

Abelard felt sorrow for the fellow. He had picked the wrong thing to use as a distraction with Princess Cyrilla. She was more alert than ever now. What had the poor prince wished to do when she looked away? Switch goblets under their very noses? Not that he didn’t think Princess Cyrilla could do with a little more love, but the lad didn’t know that. His next step would be spilling his drink. It was time to make a move.

Abelard bowed a retreat and gave the front of his surcoat a small tug. The little bottle slipped out and clinked against the paving stones. He swooped it back up. He held it in his palm for as long as he thought the princess would give credence to checking for cracks. Prince Edward looked, too, and Abelard could see some tension ease out from him. Abelard tucked the bottle back away before Princess Cyrilla could notice and ask about there still being liquid in the bottle.

The princess’ foot was swishing back and forth, belying her impatience. As soon as she knew Prince Edward was watching her, she took another drink, a fast, full swig this time.

Prince Edward inclined his head toward her and drank in turn.

“There’s something I want you to see.” Princess Cyrilla jumped up. “I’ll go get it while you finish up.”

Abelard knew she hoped to bring over an inanimate object to catch his attention when the love potion began to work. She took her time, giving him plenty of opportunity to finish his tainted drink. As he watched from the door, Abelard knew she was taking too much time finding some half-believable bauble to show Prince Edward. Already the prince’s shoulders began to grow lax, and his eyes, now quiet, followed her every move.

Princess Cyrilla seized a foreign glass cup with lines on the sides and held it up in the air. She turned and strode back.

“Your hair is like a sunset,” Prince Edward said. “A blaze of glory and color.”

Princess Cyrilla froze.

“It looks as soft as a gentle floating cloud.”

Princess Cyrilla closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “How kind of you,” she said through her teeth.

“Kind? Ah, the kindness is yours. It drips from your lips like honey, like wine, like liquid gold—”

Princess Cyrilla jerked her head at Abelard. She pulled on her hideous mask, then handed him a strip of cloth. Abelard tied it around his nose and mouth.

“—which…which…Have I offended you?” asked Prince Edward.

“Oh no, I just thought you might find this of more interest if I filled it for you.” She moved over to the cauldron and uncovered the glowing green brew inside. It was a little less bright than normal, but the fumes still curled out heavily and stung all the eyes it touched.

Abelard blinked hard.

Prince Edward coughed. “What—” He coughed again.

“Here, drink this.” Princess Cyrilla thrust the strange glass cup at him.

He accepted it fumblingly. “For me?” Uncertainty touched his voice again. He looked up at the princess. A frown touched his face. “But why do you need hide your face from me?”

“Just…” Princess Cyrilla paused, then gentled her voice. “Just drink it, okay? For me.” She reached out with her free hand and touched him on the shoulder.

He straightened, almost braced, his chin up as he accepted the cup. Abelard thought he tried to lock eyes with her like a knight riding to his death in his lady’s defense. The mask blocked this attempt, and his gaze slid to the side, where it caught and held on her hair. Raising the drink, he downed it in one gulp.

Abelard braced himself.

Princess Cyrilla dove down and came up with a handful of straw. “Look here,” she said. “It’s—I always seem to have drifts of this around. Do you have that problem?”

Prince Edward coughed hard, bending over his knees. “What?” he gasped, looking up.

Princess Cyrilla tried to shove the straw at him, but he just pushed it aside. His eyes looked straight toward her face, and they were no longer filled with admiration.

Abelard stepped forward.

“You vixen! What noxious potions have you poured into me?” Now Prince Edward seized both of the princess’ wrists and stood.

Abelard reached for him. A simple shrug repelled him. He looked around for a weapon, something with which to clout the fellow over the head.

“Deceiver! What have you done with the noble Acenith? You deserve to be strung up by your hair!” The prince’s hand moved to Princess Cyrilla’s locks, and Abelard was almost ready use the ladle as a weapon, and let the princess sort out any adverse affects of spattering potion as her just desserts. Prince Edward’s fingers twined in her hair. He shuddered. “I should…I should…” He convulsed once, then again, and began to shrink. Shriveling faster and faster, bumps started swelling out and his color greyed until all that was left was a toad.

Princess Cyrilla stumbled back, gasping. “Some help you were,” she snapped as soon as she had the breath.

“Perhaps next time we could try the mirror as a focus. It would be more eye-catching than a handful of straw,” answered Abelard.

Princess Cyrilla glared at him. “No, no, and no! And if you keep suggesting that, I shall test it on you.” She reached down and scooped up the toad, which was then throwing itself violently against her skirt. “But I do think we got closer this time.”

“Oh yes, turning an innocent prince into a toad is a much better success than turning him into another frog. Your father would be so proud.”

“Hold your tongue, knave. But did you see the look on his face at the end! I think we may have successfully concocted a hate potion.”

“You, princess. Leave me out of it. I have no will to make such a thing. Why anyone would is beyond my ken.”

“Yes, me. It has been my efforts. Only a brainless clod like for yourself would not appreciate the power such a weapon. I have friends who know how to value such a thing.”

Abelard glared at the mirror.

“I think the problem is it’s strength. Perhaps…just the smell, even…Go. I must get busy. Go!” Princess Cyrilla pushed Abelard physically toward the door. “Come back in an hour. If I am ready, I’ll let you know and you can bring someone to try it on.”

“There are no other suitors.” Abelard gritted his teeth.

“Then bring a servant.” She shoved him again.

Abelard allowed himself to stumble out the door.

“And take this with you.” The princess threw the toad out and slammed the door. The key grated in the lock.

Muttering curses, Abelard ripped the cloth from his face and scooped up the toad, which was trying to attack the door now. He stomped down the stairs to find a place suitably far away.

The fresh air did a good bit for clearing Abelard’s head. Even the musty forest air where he let the toad go was calming. Abelard lingered, breathing deeply. If the princess had any wits left after messing with that mirror, they must have been addled from breathing in her potions. Abelard took another deep breath. Someone needed to do something. The question was, who? Abelard tried to ignore the most obvious answer to that question. Slowly walking back, he racked his mind for likely heroes. Someone cut out for dealing with princesses. Not him. Besides, if he were the one doing something, he would have to answer the question of what, as well.

An hour was almost up by the time Abelard returned and mounted the steps. Everyone he could think of either was more vulnerable to the princess than she was to him, was someone he had no desire to confess the situation to, or both. He stood at the door. His hour was almost up, and he still did not know what he would say to her. ‘Here I am, princess, which of your subjects should I bring in for you to destroy’? Or, ‘You cannot keep up this evil; I forbid it’? She had never listened to him before, why would she now? Resentment and anger seeped up and began to curdle inside him.

A strange voice startled him from his thoughts. “No, not that one!”

Who was that? Abelard’s heart beat faster. It was an enchanted mirror, after all. He leaned forward, curious as to what was happening. At first he could hear nothing else through the thick wooden door, but then came a retching sound.

“No! Stop! You fool!”

More retching.

“This is what comes of not listening. You were supposed to make a hate potion, not play around with noxious gas!”

More retching, but a bit fainter.

“Put your gas mask back on.”

“I can’t.” This was the princess. “I have to—” More retching interrupted her. “No!”

“What have you done now?”

“The key—I have to get out!”

Now Abelard could hear fists hammering on the door.

“Help! Help! Get me out!” More retching.

“Princess, unlock the door,” said Abelard.

“I can’t! The key dropped down the garder hole. Let me out!”

“But princess, you have the the only key.”

“No, I don’t. It’s gone, I tell you. It fell to the moat.” Sobbing seeped through the door. “The frogs have it.”

“You fool,” said the other voice. “Stop breathing so hard. You’ll only make it worse.”

“Take it away!” screamed Princess Cyrilla. “Open up and take it away!”

Abelard spluttered.

“No,” said the other voice. “I don’t want that. You made it. You deal with it.”

“I hate you! I’ll—I’ll—”

“Good. Liquidize that, and we can talk.”

Abelard was beginning to feel sick himself. Looking down, he could see smoke curling up from beneath the door. It was a dark, sickly yellow. Slowly he backed away, then turned and went down again. Clearly there was nothing he could do here. He went to send for the gongfarmer. Perhaps the fellow could be persuaded to come immediately on an emergency case, or tomorrow at the latest. If the key had been swept out to the moat, he might find it.

Tower business was just beginning to return to normal (the gongfarmer would be along first thing in the morning, and for double the normal price, guaranteed finishing the job within the week), when Abelard heard a scurry around the corner. Had the princess found a way out? He cautiously rounded the corner.

“Where is—oh, there you are.” The royal cousin, Lance, strode toward him. Lance was the youngest ever Duke Edgemoor, and while his father’s disappearance had made him occasionally withdrawn and wistful in his childhood, it had sharpened him into a restless youth. After taking over from his regent for two years, he had reassigned the duties to his steward and disappeared on quests for the last several years. Now he looked as if he had just returned from slaying dragons or seeking counsel from marsh sages.

“My uncle tells me you have care of the Evil Mirror of Mage. I need you to lead me to it, now.”

Abelard bowed. “Highness. It is…right this way.” He started to lead the way back up to the dreaded room. He paused at the foot of the steps to glare at all the curious servants. They scurried into hiding.

Slowly they walked up until the door loomed in sight. A sickly yellow-green liquid oozed out from under it.

“Your highness, it is in here.”

Lance stepped forward and pushed. The door did not move. He frowned. “It’s locked.” He turned around expectantly.

“Yes…” Abelard hesitated.

“The key,” prompted Lance.

“The key,” said Abelard.

A sob from inside the room turned Lance back. He frowned. “Is someone in there? Who did you put in there?”

“Hello?” Princess Cyrilla sounded more abject than Abelard had ever heard her before. “Is someone there? Please help! Let me out.”

“The Princess Cyrilla seems to have locked herself in there,” said Abelard.

“You let her go in there? I thought you said the Evil Mirror of Mage was in there!” Lance grabbed the door and shook it. It didn’t wiggle.

“’Let is hardly the right word. She has been quite firm on the subject. Forceable, even.”

Lance put his shoulder to the door and shoved. “The key?”

“I’m afraid she has lost the only copy.”

Lance grunted. “Stand out of the way,” he called. He waited a little to give her time to obey, then backed up to the balcony and charged the door. He jumped up and met the door with a double-footed kick. Thud. Lance tumbled to the floor, but the door remained unbudged. The young duke got back up. Instead of charging again or calling for a battering ram, he rummaged in his pouch. He pulled out a long box of bark, then opened it to reveal something long and somewhat crooked. It was an almost transparent brown and came to a point at the end.

“A…gremlin claw?” Abelard asked.

Lance put a finger to his lips. “Don’t let my cousins know,” he whispered. Carefully he put the pointed end into the lock and wiggled it first one way then another. When it clicked, he tested the the door just enough to make sure it was unlocked, then put the claw back away. Drawing his sword and kicking the door open, he charged into the room.

Abelard followed more cautiously.

The room was a mess. No more fire warmed the room. The cauldron was tipped over, and congealing potion and vomit covered the floor. Soggy parchments and broken bottles littered the floor, their contents strewn everywhere: plops and puddles of green and red and orange, with some odd yellow crystals mixed in. The mask lay on the ground by the mirror, and the mirror…the mirror itself was no longer covered.

Abelard quickly looked away.

Princess Cyrilla rushed across the room and threw herself at Lance.

Abelard cringed. The princess looked nearly as much a mess as the room. Lance did not seem to notice. It must come from all that questing.

“Cyrilla! Are you well?” Lance wrapped his arms around the sobbing princess, careful to keep his sword pointed away.

“When I put the last ingredient in, my mask couldn’t keep the smoke out anymore. I just kept getting sick, but when I took it off, it just got worse, and then I lost my key down garter hole—” Cyrilla broke off in harsh sobs. “I hate him! I hate him! He wouldn’t take the smoke away, though I know he could, and he didn’t care that I burnt my hands pouring the potion on the fire.” Cyrilla pulled away, seized up the mask, and began hammering at the mirror with it.

Lance carefully walked up to the mirror as well. “The Malevolent Mirror of Mage,” he said, quietly.

The surface of the mirror began to shimmer.

Abelard thought his heart would die.

“Enough, Mage!” Lance ordered. “You have already destroyed my father and distressed my cousin. You will not have me!” He place his sword tip on the mirror and, drawing a small, golden hammer from his JERKIN, he brought the hammer down on the sword hilt.

The mirror shattered with a white blaze of light. A blast of hot air blasted out from it.

When his eyes finally readjusted to the dim room again, Abelard was relied to see the glass shards had missed impaling the two royal persons standing before the now empty mirror frame. Princess Cyrilla had a streak of blood on on cheek, but that was all.

“What were you doing in here?” Lance turned on his cousin.

Princess Cyrilla blushed. “I told you. I lost the key. I couldn’t get out.”

“But what were you doing here in the first place. You said you were making a potion. What was that for?”

“I never got it right. If I had invented a hate potion, he would have bought it for…oh, never mind. You wouldn’t understand. He had things no one has even dreamed of before.”

“Hate potion?” Lance threw his hands up. “What were you planning on next? Love potions?”

Cyrilla had the decency to look embarrassed.

“No, don’t tell me.” Lance ran a hand through his hair. “You had already used a love potion, and wanted a hate potion to counteract it.”

“No, I just wanted to make sure the hate potion was strong enough, even if someone were in love.”

Lance groaned.

“But I told you, it didn’t even work yet. It just turned them into frogs.”

“What?” Lance jerked his whole attention on her.

“I—that is, it was an accident. Truly I didn’t mean to.” Princess Cyrilla dropped her head.

“That doesn’t help much, does it?” Lance began to pace. “How many people have you reduced to frogs?”

Princess Cyrilla did not say anything.

“Is this where all those rumors of missing princes are coming from? Cyrilla, what are we going to do with you?”

“I’ll make it right. I’ll work night and day until I find a potion that undoes it—”

Lance stopped in front of her and crossed his arms. “That would take a miracle.” He shook his head. “No more potions.”

“Well, do you have a suggestion, then?” The princess sounded put out.

“Hmm. The Amulet of Aversion has a good record for removing spells.”

“Do you have it with you?”

“No.”

“Do you know where it is?”

“No.”

“Then how how exactly is this Amulet of Aversion supposed to help?”

“You’ll have to go on a quest to find it.” Lance picked up the mask and rubbed off some of the mess splattered on it.

“And if I find…this amulet…it should bring everyone back to the way the began?”

“I just said it would remove all their enchantments.” Lane’s smile was hard. “It won’t erase their memories.”

Princess Cyrilla sagged.

“Your problems have only begun. Though you may avoid war by fixing the spells and heartfelt apologies.” Lance studied her. “You’re going to need lots of practice on begging for forgiveness. You might as well start now.”

“I told you, I didn’t mean to turn them into frogs! If I had known how much trouble it would cause, I never would have listened—”

“That’s not not going to pass muster. Try again.”

Long heartbeats of silence stretched between them, and then Princess Cyrilla sighed. “I’m sorry, Lance. I shouldn’t have talked to that mirror, and I shouldn’t have tried to make a hate potion—no, I should have known better than to brew any potion…and…and turning people into frogs was just…wrong.” She swallowed hard.

Lance just stood, arms crossed.

“Will…will you please forgive me?”

Lance beamed and clapped her on the shoulder. “That’s the way. Of course. I’ll even get you started on your quest. Of course, it’s going to be a pain, especially finding the right frogs in the end.” Lance turned to Abelard. “That’s where I expect you to help. You helped her make this mess, and you can jolly well help her clean it up.”

He left the room, Princess Cyrilla close behind him.

Abelard looked around him. Mess was right. He would attend to it in the morning, after he had come up with a list to keep all the servants occupied suitably far enough away while he did. And once these youths went away, he might indulge in a quest of his own. For the first time in weeks Abelard smiled. If his memory served him true, one of the tower’s treasure vaults had listed a magical monocle which allowed one to see if an object was enchanted or not. That would be a much more opportune magical object to show up.

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