"Excuse me. Are you the witch Brenna Gorsey?"
She melted from the low baritone voice, the words brushed up against her ears like silk. Satisfied with her work, she slid the magical viewer off of her forehead and saw the asymmetric bent hat of a wizard. "I'm Brenna. Need an enchantment? I can help you out. And since you're a brother in the arts, I can give you a discount."
He wasn't much taller than her, medium and kind of on the skinny side. Not the wiry skinny suggesting hidden strength. Just not a lot of meat on the bones. He dressed in plain woolens and expensive-looking riding boots. A practical man who put a lot of money on his feet.
"No. Thanks, though. I'm a Constable for the Order. We've had a complaint. You sold someone a good luck charm. Uhhh. Sorry, but I don't understand the problem. The owner said it works and it's dangerous."
He came here to make trouble. She owned the charm, so this must be lucky. The Order was a better buyer than any individual because they never gave up a magical object once they owned it. "I do have a piece that makes the owner lucky, and it's for sale."
His light brown eyebrows moved up toward the hat. "A real good luck charm can't exist. The magic needed to change the way the universe works requires unlimited energy."
"So if it's impossible, why are you here?"
"They said it's dangerous, so I'm here to take the charm."
"No, you can't do that. Come in. Shut the door." She got up from the workbench and stretched. "At best, I make a few coppers a day. Taking the charm without paying will ruin me."
Think fast, girl, and sell. She didn't want the good luck, but she couldn't toss it away. She wasn't giving it up for less than thirty-five gold. "It's right here in the shop. Looks very stylish. Try it on; I bet it'll look good on you. Come in, come in."
Two small steps took him into the shop. "You've packed a lot into this tiny shop. How long have you been open?"
"Four years now. My parents gave me a bit of money when I finished my training. I used it to open a shop. Can't say I like it much, but I don't know what else I should be doing as a witch."
"Hey, what are these? Stuffed animals?" He took another two steps into the shop, and peered into a case.
She waited. Everybody does this to her, no exceptions. She knew what she wanted to sell them, and they went looking all around the shop peering at things they didn't need and taking hours until she got them focused again. The shop didn't help. She had fit in whatever display cases she could steal or get cheap and added shelves to them. Few people ever walked past an open shelf full of magical oddments and curios.
"What's your name, friend? I don't know what to call you."
"Constable Manfredrick Fresnal."
"Can I call you Manni?"
He shook his head no.
In the small strip of floor space in between the selling area and her workshop, she had set up a cooking brazier and assorted chairs surrounding a scarred wooden table. She lit the oil lamp, put water on for tea and sat down to watch his progress. He made it to the next shelf. "Those're lady's charms. To enhance their natural beauty, of course. Aren't you here to buy the good luck charm?"
He turned away from the displays. "You're a lot younger than I expected. Sorry, back to business. Why did customers complain if it worked?"
"Manni, I'll tell you the story of the charm. Have a seat, this is the best chair. I'll get the tea."
While she ran around, he sat. Brenna said, "A couple of months ago, a nice young man came into the shop. He claimed he attracted the ladies, talked them into having wine in his bedroom. If you follow me. But before they got there, the cat would die or they'd come down with a mysterious illness. He wanted a love charm to make him more successful."
The wizard nodded his understanding. She slurped from her cup and added another two spoons of sugar. "Manni, to be honest with you, I rushed it and messed up the spell. I don't know what happened. But he brought it back three weeks later."
He put his hand up and she paused. "It took him three weeks to figure out it didn't work?"
"Other way around. Any woman he talked to went out to dinner or other stuff. And they said yes. His schedule got crowded. Before, he chased ten to get one in bed. With the charm, if he talked to ten, he'd get twelve in the sheets. Say a sister or a good friend came along."
"And he complained?" From the look on the wizard's face, he had never considered this possibility.
"The lover-boy was forced to make excuses. He started drinking. There wasn't enough time. Him turning down women?"
He laughed. She enjoyed the warm and sincere sound. Manni said, "Despite your stirring story, I don't quite feel sorry for him."
"It got worse. Women waited outside the doors of the lady friends he spent the night with. When he sat down in a restaurant, they stopped by to stuff underclothes in his pockets with their names written on. It was too much. Suicidal, right? So he brought back the good luck charm and made me give him a refund."
"Logic says it's a love charm, not luck. The strength of the love charm wasn't a good idea. I still need to take it, because of the complaint."
"You're obsessed with taking my charm."
"I'm fascinated with it. It's the sort of thing that will get the people higher up in the Order to notice me. I could get promoted and sit inside instead of trudging all over dealing with bad tempered wizards."
This proved he was hooked. She bustled over to the door and put up the wooden Closed sign. She needed to focus. "Then buy it; it'll be nice and legal, and Virtin knows the Order has piles of gold."
"Are you sure it's for good luck? I really need to be able to prove that to the Order."
"At the time I thought it was just a love piece, and the overactive kid had used up a lot of its power." She scratched her nose with the teaspoon. "So when a young woman came in asking for a potion to get her husband in the mood, this was the perfect person to sell it to. She didn't need a lot of magic. Come to think, why would a married woman try to get her own man in bed? It seems odd, somehow."
"I'm not married, but a lot of my friends are. I've been taught not to comment on those things." He sipped at his tea, and a surprised smile came over his face. "This is good, the the cinnamon and orange you've added to it perks up the other flavors. Most people don't treat me this nice. I mean, when I'm on a job as Constable I get threats, but no drinks. See, that's why I need to be promoted."
"It's nice you have plan. Most people don't know what they want, so they think they're lucky when they aren't. Remember the housewife? She's a young banker. Matters had been falling off in bed."
"And you're going to tell me it didn't work." He smiled and shook his head.
"These are all real people. I can give you their names and tell you how to find them."
"Sorry. It's the way you tell it."
She grinned back at him. He needed a little more time with her and the charm, and he would be offering her the money. "She bought the stupid thing. Her banking business took off, and her personal investments did too. Merchants offered her shares in cargos that couldn't lose money even if the ship sank. Soon they moved into a chateau, riding in a shiny black carriage with footmen and those silly feathered things on the horse's heads."
"What about her husband?"
"He still loved her, but he hated his life. She didn't want him working, so she told him to quit. He told her he was leaving. Shocked, she assumed the love charm hadn't worked. She made me take it back. Hells-spawned bankers. She got what she paid plus interest!"
"And then? Didn't she continue to make money?"
"Not as much. Two of the ships she invested in were forced to sell their cargos at a loss, four of the clients left. She went back to an average banker's income. And her husband stayed."
"Wasn't she happier at the end? She kept her husband."
"Happier, yes, but not lucky. There's a difference. See, a lot of people don't think about that stuff. The charm seems to latch on to what you want, not what is best for you. If the Order buys it, then you wizards can take it apart and see how it works."
Manni finished off his tea and put his hand over the cup when she lifted the pot to pour. "Why not just keep it?"
"I never go out anymore. I don't want to be busy, I want to be rich. The charm brings a lot of people into the shop, but I'm only making a couple of coppers off each one. It's worth much more. I can get thirty-five in gold for it, but it keeps coming back."
She went over and pulled the charm out of the cash box. He leaned forward in his chair as she held it up to show off the tasseled linen square embroidered with a heart done in silk thread. "This is it, the cause of so much trouble."
His eyes narrowed, and he studied her, as well as the charm. Brenna picked up the magic viewer she wore earlier and brought both over to the table. "See for yourself."
He fit the leather strap on his head, and the sheet of polished alabaster that had been enchanted to pick up magical energies fell into place. He peered at the charm and gasped. "I've never seen this color in an enchantment. And the way it swirls. It's unique."
"See, I told you."
"But it's not good luck. I need proof. I need something amazing to show them back at the Order."
"Right. And I've told you that every person, everyone who purchased this, brought it back. They got their money refunded. Hells, the banker got interest." She waved her hand at the charm. "As long as they're holding it, I don't have a choice. I give them the gold. They're lucky and I'm not."
Manni didn't react at once, but the corners of his mouth twitched up. "No shopkeeper wants lucky customers. I can't help laughing. You made an incredible charm, but it brings bad luck, because you can't sell it."
"You're wrong. I can sell it. Whenever I want." She reached over and grabbed the charm, holding it up in the air. "See, I own the luck. I've sold it a half dozen times. But once I sell it, I can't prevent it from coming back."
"Now you've convinced me. The Order will want this. How about twenty-five gold?"
"I think thirty is good. Let me write out a sales contract."
"Sales contract? For a charm?" Manni shook his head. "What happened to trust between wizards?"
"I'm a witch, we don't trust wizards."
"All I've got is twenty-five."
"Ahh...I'll take it. You have to sign this. The Order will agree to never return this charm for any reason until the end of time."
It felt too easy. She ran around the shop collecting red tissue paper to wrap it in and an attractive box.
"I'm not one of the council members, just a lower level wizard. They'll sign the contract at the next meeting."
"I can't wait that long, I need to get rid of this thing as soon as I can. It's ruining my life."
He pulled out a heavy leather coin bag. "Sell it to me. I have the twenty-five gold. And I'll bring the charm and the contract to the next meeting of the Order."
Her eyes followed the leather filled with gold as he put it down on the table. "So I can get my money right away. Sounds good."
When she grabbed the coin bag, she felt off-balance. This happened every time she sold the idiot thing. Two deep breaths left her oriented again. She handed the charm to its new owner.
"Thanks." He glanced at it and stuffed it into his leather bag that sat on the table. Manni blinked three times. "I read a review of the new play by ApWellen in the broad sheet this morning. It's got a funny name, The Duchess Rides a Cow. Come see it with me. I'll get us box seats."
Now she blinked. He didn't seem the type to ask a girl to a play without a lot of umms and ahhs. Why the sudden change? "Of course, that's a marvelous idea. Did you see his last play? Another odd title, Falling Down Wizards, but a great mix of comedy and social commentary."
"I did see it. In his new one the aristocrats get to be the fools."
It had been months since she talked with a male her age. "It's a great idea. Let's make a night of it and have dinner, too."
What did she say? The plan was to sell the charm and never see it again. Sure, he's kind and good looking, and she could listen to his voice all night. With the money she got today, she might do whatever she wanted. But she couldn't. She was going on a date with him, he owned the charm and she would do what it said.
The charm had fooled her into letting him buy it without the contract. It would come back, it always did. She'd be left sitting in the shop with no gold, too many customers and a good luck charm. Ready to start over. She wasn't going to do that again, not and stay sane.
Smiling, she got up, and as she stood she dropped the gold in front of him so it touched his hand. And her hands just happened to brush up against his bag. She grabbed it and ran to the brazier, fumbling inside as she went. She had often heard money couldn't make her happy. So far good luck prevented her from testing the idea. Being depressed hadn't made her rich either. And she knew of only one way out. She must end it all.
After a last look at her greatest achievement as a witch, she gave a quick jerk of her hand and tossed the good luck charm into the fire.
Manni jumped up from the table and ran over. He cursed at his burnt fingers as he grabbed the flame-covered charm. Tossing it onto the floor, he stomped on it, leaving black soot marks and crushing the charred remains that used to be worth enough for her to buy two houses.
"What are you doing?" Manni panted after his quick sprint.
"The charm made me miserable, and I couldn't make it stop. So I killed it."
"You can't make another one?"
She shook her head.
"Are you sure? How hard have you tried?"
"I can't remember all of the words I used in the spell. Maybe I mispronounced one. Who knows? But the longer I worked at it, the less enthusiastic I became. I'd rather give this up and become a ladies maid."
"Are you crazy? I need this charm. I don't want to be walking in the rain the rest of my life. I need to be promoted." The corner's of Manni's mouth turned down, and he sniffed.
Brenna feared he might cry right in front of her. Yuck. He needed comforting, so she reached out and took his hands, giving them a gentle squeeze. "I'm sorry. I truly am. I feel I did you a favor, too. Think. Were you unhappy with your life before you came into the shop?"
"Well, no. I mean, I did daydream about a better job, but I never felt the pressure to change until today."
"The good luck charm gave you bad advice. Wait a few days."
"I still think you're a nice person, that's not going to change." He gave her hands a squeeze and slipped away.
"Thanks. A sincere thanks. All that effort to sell the charm distracted me. I needed you here. To show me how quickly it turned against me," Brenna said.
"Like in one of ApWellen's plays?"
"And that's another thing the charm did. Don't feel you're obligated to take me to the play. I'll understand."
"You're wrong. The enchantment worked. I was willing to give you a lot more of the Order's gold than I should have. It felt right then, but doesn't now. Uuuhh." He scratched his head. "It's different. Ummm. I want to go to the play with you. Because you're you." His ears darkened. "If you don't mind. You'll have a good time, and I promise not to talk too much."
What a weak invitation. But cute. And complimentary, she hadn't heard much flattery in the last three months.
"Stop by tomorrow at five. I'll buy dinner. Business has been good, and I need to celebrate."
"Thanks. I need to go get tickets. And a carriage." He smiled. "Uh, bye. I'll see you tomorrow at five."
He left, and she knew he would be back. She didn't get the money that she worked so hard for, and the charm had been destroyed. The guy stayed, for now. She gave it three weeks. They'd go out and have some fun doing things together, but he wasn't what she was looking for.
She still wanted the money. She would just have to sell potions and charms a few coppers at a time to get it.
© April, 2013 Ray Krebs
Ray Krebs loves reading and writing, which he pursues after battling in the sales and marketing arenas. This is his first publication, and he plans more soon. He is inspired by real history and mythology. You can find him at www.raykrebs.com.