The Enchanted Toasting Fork
Once upon a time, in a land far enough from our own, rather ordinary, land to satisfy the demands of narrative convention, two people fell in love. Whether they were of royal descent I do not know; all I can be sure of is that neither was a practising royal which was just as well for them because they were both divorcees. Remarriage is a complicated enough business for commoners, what with the blending of families and child custody visits. Imagine what it would be like if, on top of that, you ended up with two unfortunate enchanted princesses in your family, each needing a kiss from her very own handsome prince to lift the enchantment. It often happened, in such families, that one day, while one of the princesses was off on a visit with the non-custodial parent, a handsome prince would happen along, set on the usual business of finding a princess with whom he could fall in love and marry. And, since handsome princes aren't too particular when it comes to falling in love with enchanted princesses, so long as they can get the whole absurd business of lifting the enchantment over with as quickly as possible, the absent princess would often return to discover that her step-sister was already married off. Naturally she would then turn to wickedness and start looking for ways to get back at her step-sister and, most likely, settle on the traditional resort of placing an enchantment on her first step-niece at her christening.
As commoners, Claudio the Counting House Clerk and his bride-to-be, Cossima, were spared these complications; all they had to contend with in arranging their new marriage was the ordinary problems of commoners who remarry, such as somehow finding room in their humble cottage for all the children, maintaining friendly relations with Claudio's bride-that-was and Cossima's groom-that-was, and so on. While not as rich as royalty, they did well enough; Claudio's job, stacking the coins in the king's counting house into neat piles of tens, hundreds and thousands so that the king could count his money without straining his limited mathematical knowledge., paid well enough to support them both. They had every reason to expect that their future together would be a happy one and very few, most of which they understandably overlooked, for believing things might turn out otherwise. So, after a decorous interval of being in love (sometimes, alas, a little indecorously), they set a date to be married and sent out invitations to the wedding.
When royalty send out invitations to important social events – especially christenings of princes – they're very careful to invite everyone who might feel slighted at not receiving an invitation and so royal weddings and christenings are often very dreary, stilted affairs with a large crowd of wicked witches and step-sisters, ill-tempered fairies and the like, looking for an excuse to get offended and lay a curse on the hapless infanta. Generally, commoners have a much easier time of it; they invite as many of their friends as they can afford to and hope that no-one gets too drunk at the reception. This is how Claudio and Cossima went about arranging their own wedding.
Among their friends they had two named Petro, one of whom who considered himself a wizard. He wasn't really much of a wizard; although he had been trained in wizardry in his youth and granted a license to practice wizardry he had never held down a wizarding job. He had never got the least trace of toad bile or salamander phlegm or any of the other arcane materials that wizards use to effect their enchantments under his fingernails. Not once. For a year or so after he graduated from the wizard's academy, he had tried to get a wizard's job, sending off numerous letters of application to various royal courts where he thought there might be a wicked step-sister or step-mother somewhere in the family tree. Most royal families keep a wizard or two around the palace. Officially they're there to protect the family from various forms of vile enchantment, of course, but in practice the world of wizardry is a little murkier and the practice of it isn't quite even up to peccable standards they teach in Wizarding Ethics 101 or the much more peccable standards taught in Wizarding Ethics 103, the short course for students who don't intend to major in ethics.
When Petro the wizard manque discovered that, although invited to the wedding, he was not getting one of those invitations for “So-and-so and a friend”, he became a little peeved. He was himself divorced, like Claudio and Cossima, and after a fashion in love. Or at least he thought himself in love, which often amounts to much the same thing for a lot of people. One day, while reading Wizarding Today or The New Wizard he had found an article reporting on recent research at the cutting edge of modern wizardry which showed that a wedding reception was possibly the best occasion for an amorous swain to press his suit. He had been looking forward, with some eagerness, to the opportunity to put in a couple of hours of emotional ironing. He was very cross when he learnt that this wasn't going to happen.
So, for the first time since he had left the wizard's academy all those years ago he turned his hands to a little practical wizardry. It wasn't strictly in accord with the standards he had learn in Wizarding Ethics 103; the only thing he chose to remember from this part of his education in wizardry was the tenet that wizards must practice their craft without fear or favour, and so he put out of his mind petty quibbles about the obligations of friendship. This is the way people think when their minds turn to wickedness.
With the help of his old text books, like Badman and Fisher's The Material Basis of Malediction (Third Edition), Podgorbley's Handbook of Wizardry Practice and so on, he selected a range of appropriately vile materials. His next step was to obtain a toasting fork – a traditional wedding gift in that part of the world, although one generally considered more appropriate for newly-weds. Divorcees remarrying could generally be relied upon to have a goodly stock of toasting forks from their first weddings. That he should overlook this shows how little he knew of life and other people; although he believed that he knew the ways of the world pretty well the main thing that set Petro apart from other people was that he was differently delusional.
Once he had his toasting fork, he set about collecting the unpleasant body fluids of various amphibians, reptiles and rodents he would require for the spell and a few herbs and roots, such as wormwood and asafoetida, brimstone. A few nights before the wedding he was ready to cast the spell. He mixed the asafoetida, wormwood and brimstone with ground charcoal and placed them in a brazier. Once the brazier was lit he hung the toasting fork over the brazier and drop by drop, dribble by dribble, poured the mix of vile essences over the toasting fork as he recited his spell:
In sunny day or darkest night,
Await the touch of firelight,
Draw the warmth from heart to hand,
Down thy shaft and then do send
It into whatever on thy prongs be spiked ...
He wasn't much of a poet either but the general intention of the spell was fairly clear; each time the toasting fork was used, it would draw a little of the loving warmth of whoever held it and put it somewhere else: in whatever happened to be stuck on the fork at the time. Over time, the hearts of Claudio and Cossima and their mixed families would grow cold towards each other. Or so he expected.
Once the spell was cast, he opened the windows of his work room and went outside into the fresh air, coughing and sneezing. It was then that he remembered his Wizardry Practice instructor's advice to always have a decoction of horehound handy when casting any vile enchantment. Once he was recovered, he returned to the work room and put the toasting fork in a cardboard box, covered with in paper printed with a pattern of rosebuds and wrapped it in brass paper. To finish, he wrapped a chrome ribbon around the middle of the package and, under that, he tucked a card on which he had written “To Claudio and Cossima on their wedding day, with fond wishes for their future together, Petro.” And so, it was done.
[This story will continue at CattyRox next week. Then back here. And so on.]