The Miserable Prince and the Would be Wizard

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Chapter 12

Tuesday came all too quickly for Arric who felt he was far from ready. Both Mordi and Sir Hugo reassured him that he was more competent than he believed himself to be and that they wouldn’t let him go if they weren’t sure he could manage. Arric set off at dusk with Smitty in his travelling case which looked like a miniature coach with blue velvet seats, a little drop down table and pockets containing water and snacks.

He called in at the Drum and Monkey to give Beattie the inks and found her glumly contemplating the imminent loss of two barrels of ale. He discovered not only had the general taxes been raised again but there was also a special levy to defray the costs of the royal wedding. The barrels were part of the levy. The gift of the inks cheered her up.

He grinned “I’ll fetch the barrels up to the bar. I’ll spell them so they don’t enjoy them. It’ll taste all right but whoever drinks it might have to spend quite a lot of time in the privy.”

Beattie burst into laughter. “That makes me feel quite happy about giving them the two barrels. I’m almost tempted to donate a third but I don’t want to encourage them. Now do you want a spot of supper?”

“I wouldn’t say no. I’ll just let Smitty out to stretch his legs.” Beattie was delighted by the rat who stepped out of his travelling case and swept her a courtly bow. He was pleased to take supper with them and disposed of a substantial chunk of cheese and several slices of apple.

Arric arrived outside Jed’s cottage with half an hour to spare before midnight. The groom greeted him with the news that the Prince had been locked up since last Tuesday and that there were bars on all the windows of that wing of the palace. Arric stared at him in dismay

“So he can’t get out?”

Jed shook his head “I’ve been to look. I didn’t dare go too close but I reckon none of the windows will open more than an inch or two.”

“I was going to do the spells here because I need to say them out loud and with the valet in the dressing room it’s too risky. Now I don’t know what to do.” Arric bit his lip.

“Go and have a look for yourself. Seeing it may give you an idea. If I know His Highness he’ll be on the watch for you.”

This seemed eminently sensible to Arric. It didn’t take much looking to see a thorough job had been done, even the attic skylights had bars on them. He flew slowly along until he saw Blaise at his window and holding a finger to his lips. Arric nodded and blew him a silent kiss. Blaise grinned and returned it and then carefully pushed a folded piece of paper through the narrow gap. Arric took it and from Blaise’s frantic hand signals gathered he should get out of sight. He took himself up to the roof where the parapet hid him from view.

The note said Blaise was locked in his room at night, the windows were all barred and the door to the garden had an alarm spell. There was a little sketch of the wing showing which rooms were occupied. The guard patrolled outside but Blaise had established they came every two hours between ten at night and six in the morning. He hoped Arric could get him out but the overall tone of the note was despondent. After a bit of thought Arric wrote ‘are there any guards inside’ then flew down to Blaise’s window. Blaise shook his head and gestured urgently. The sound of the stable clock starting to chime midnight sent Arric hastily back to the roof.

Not long after he heard the sound of boots crunching on gravel and risked a peep over the parapet. There were only two guards and they seemed more concerned with swinging the light of their lanterns over the bushes than anything else. Neither of them glanced up while they walked the length of the building. Arric consulted the sketch again and found a skylight away from the servants’ rooms. He peered in. He was sure the easiest option would be a spell to undo the bars or make the windows open inwards. Unfortunately he had no idea how to do either of those things by using magic. Anything as crude as breaking the glass with a lump of rock would lead to Blaise’s escape being discovered. He chewed his lip trying to think what to do then inspiration struck. He fished his book out of his pocket and flipped through it.

Blaise was peering anxiously out of the window. It was over half an hour since the guards had patrolled and he had expected Arric to reappear once they’d gone past. He whirled as someone made a low hissing sound behind him. When he saw Arric’s head poking round the door he nearly exclaimed aloud. Arric beckoned and Blaise hurried over to him. He couldn’t resist giving him a quick peck and Arric grinned and mouthed ‘later’. Blaise sat on the carpet and Arric positioned himself in front of him. They lifted off and floated slowly along to the servants' stairs and then up them and from there up the narrow attic staircase. They halted in the empty room and Arric settled the carpet on to the floor. Apart from a lot of dust and some broken wooden crates Blaise could see a miniature travelling carriage out of which a rat was peering with an anxious expression, a knapsack and, of all things, a splendid three tier cake. Arric shut the door.

“We should be safe enough here.”

Blaise nodded. “There no servants’ rooms under this end of the attics, they’re at the end next to the main bit of the building. Lot less far to walk. Your carpet handling skills have improved.”

“Just as well. The attic stairs creaked like cannon shots when I started down them. After I sweated for a bit I hit on the idea of using the carpet.”

“So now what?”

“Now I do the spells. You give Smitty the locket...”

“Oh shoot the pig! I forgot it. It’s still hidden in bed hangings.”

“Not to worry. Smitty can retrieve it when I take him back.” Arric opened the knapsack “I brought you some clothes. Smitty will need your nightshirt and dressing gown.”

Blaise nodded and undid his dressing gown. He put it on the pile of boxes and noticed with amusement that Smitty had closed the curtains of his carriage. He gave a snort of laughter when he saw Arric had done the equivalent by shutting his eyes. He went over and put his mouth next to Arric’s ear “I don’t mind you watching” he breathed making Arric shiver and give a half suppressed giggle.

“I wouldn’t mind watching either but I can’t afford to be distracted.” Arric said with as much sternness as he could muster. “We need to get this done and get out of here.” There was an accompanying set of squeaks from the carriage. Arric grinned “And Smitty says he’s the one being transformed by an amateur and he’d like me concentrating properly.”

Blaise gave way to laughter after which he changed into the clothes Arric had brought and said “You can open your eyes now.”

Arric arranged the nightshirt over the boxes as Smitty stepped out of the carriage. “If you sit inside the shirt Smitty.” He said gesturing at it. The rat looked at him and reached back inside the carriage. He re-emerged with a sheaf of paper which he waved at Arric. He took the pile of tiny sheets in confusion then as Smitty squeaked again he enlarged them.

“A revised contract? Now? Smitty you agreed terms with Sir Hugo.” More squeaks. Blaise looked confused and Arric explained “They agree terms on which they’ll be transformed. It’s the ethics. Can’t transform if they’re not willing and now Smitty’s saying he won’t do it unless we agree to modify the terms.”

The rat nodded. Arric and Blaise scanned the pieces of paper.

“Is there anything wrong with the transformation being permanent?” Blaise asked

“Lots. What happens if you want to reclaim the throne for a start. Also he may be a star performer but his natural form is rat. These transformations are time limited because everything has a tendency to want to revert to its natural form. I have no idea what might happen.” He looked at Smitty “Why didn’t you discuss this with Sir Hugo?”

Smitty twitched his whiskers and huffed. He squeaked and Blaise looked questioningly at Arric “He says he didn’t think of it at the time.” Arric frowned at the rat. “I’m not sure I believe him.” More and very indignant squeaking. “All right, all right. How about you agree to step aside in favour of Blaise if he returns to claim the throne?”

Smitty nodded. “How about I make the transformation for six months not six weeks? You might want to get out of here and your travelling carriage is spelled to take you back to the manor. You won’t be able to get in it if you’re transformed.”

Smitty squeaked and Arric gave him an irritated look. “You’ve thought of everything haven’t you? You’ve got us over a barrel and you know it.” Smitty smirked. “All right I’ll do it. If you’re sure you can trust an amateur?” Arric added acidly. The rat nodded and Arric signed his name. The rat added his paw mark with a triumphant flourish.

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