One Demand Too Many
By Lazette Gifford
(This story was published in a slightly longer form several years ago.)
"I said never come back." The Sorceress looked up, a feathered quill twitching back and forth in her hand like the tail of an unhappy cat. "I didn't think even you people were this stupid."
Four kings and three queens, a veritable bevy of rulers from the Lost Lands of Katkarol, glared. They were only lost lands because everyone had tired of the endless Katkarolian wars and stopped putting the little clutch of kingdoms on maps. The rulers realized without trade they were falling behind in technology and wealth. They came to the Sorceress for help -- and came again and again. As soon as one prepared to see her, they all converged on her mountain retreat. She considered 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 bestowed the blessing everywhere she passed. Then the old sorceress had immolated herself in a spell gone wrong. Now her niece had to deal with the rulers, cats and what she suspected might be a damned immortal housefly. Forever.
"Well?" She reluctantly put aside her quill and swatted at the fly. "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 help, twice over." They pressed their luck, they did. She felt an instinctive surge of magic she had to quell by obliterating a poor, unsuspecting roach in the corner of the room. Queen Lavena, who had been about to stomp the insect, looked startled when it vaporized. "I have given you answers to your problems. You keep resurrecting them."
"We signed a contract," Queen Anabel shouted. "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 as they worked up into a good, loud group tantrum. Complaining and throwing fits seemed the only things they could do as a team.
They might have reason to be upset by her second answer, which had been unorthodox, but definitely magical. They just hadn't realized the extent of the magic for nine months.
"Daughters!" Ethan shouted. "All daughters for our heirs! How can we force marriages, form alliances -- get control of the other lands --"
Everyone shouted, 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 towards the door.
The others ranted about their daughters and the Sorceress's late aunt who had been so much better at this work. The Sorceress finally lifted her hand and the room fell silent, though not out of respect. Their mouths continued moving long after they stopped making any sounds, confirming her suspicion they never listened to themselves. She waited until they finally realized they couldn't be heard.
"You asked me to end your wars. I have given you every reason not to fight. First I created a treaty fair to everyone. Then I gave you daughters so you could make marriage alliances outside of the Lost Lands. 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 they wouldn't leave until they were done complaining.
"Your pledge said you never fail!" King Gulab shouted. "That was your bond to us."
"And you have failed!" Ethan declared, his face blotchy with anger. "We demand --"
Lavena moved quickly towards the door, trying to get past King Kaisov and Queen Eastlyn, neither of whom moved. She looked panicked. Wise woman.
"My bond was to bring peace to the lands," the Sorceress said. "It occurs to me the lands have no problem with peace."
Two more rulers backed hastily towards the door.
With a wave of her hand the door bolted shut. Kings and Queens froze in silent shock, realizing the danger as she conjured a map of the world and looked it over.
"Peace for the land, peace for the land. I won't fail, of course. I never do. But there's only one answer left."
Her finger moved until she found a tiny spot of brown in the midst of lovely sea of blue. King Gulab shook his head in honest, silent panic.
She waved. The spell was elegant and simple, gathering the entire group -- kings, queens, wives, husbands, concubines, lovers and devoted servants -- and sending them elsewhere. She left only the hard working councilors who had kept the countries from total disaster and the princesses and their nannies. Immortal girls; Aunt Birdy's spell passed to another generation.
The Sorceress watched with pleasure as the royal spellbound travelers reached their destination and dropped less than gracefully into a swamp, one quick plop after another.
"I don't think that was our best idea," Ethan declared, up to his royal ass in muck.
"What are we going to do?" King Gulab asked, his face white where it wasn't already splattered in mud.
"I think," Ethan declared, "We should talk democracy."
The sorceress felt a surge of pride, knowing she'd finally found the answer. She couldn't guarantee there would be serenity in the Lost Lands of Katkarol when the princesses came to power, but she would have peace for a few more years.
Peace? Oh yes. The Sorceress conjured the Peace Treaty, which the rulers might find helpful.
The damned immortal housefly chose that moment to annoy her, much to its later regret. She swatted the fly with the 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 for the rest of the day.
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