I woke one morning with no plans other than a consultation with a new client. Someone had seen fit to turn the town mayor into a badger and he’d asked for my assistance. For no other reason than to hear the story behind it, I agreed and further agreed to wait on him at his house in the centre of the town.
I wandered down the road shortly after breakfast, then found myself severely stalled as I got near the centre of town. I’d forgotten it was Market Day, and all the farmers within a day’s ride (and some a little more) had set up shop in and around the Square.
I wiggled and wound my way through the crowds, pausing only for a greeting, and telling any with questions to find me after I’d attended the mayor. His situation was well-known, so I was able to make better headway than expected. He was a fair and decent man and the townsfolk were clearly worried about his well-being.
I arrived at the mayor’s house only slightly late and was shown through to the study, where a sturdy badger was perched on a footstool, wearing a tweed vest. One must keep up standards I suppose.
I sat on a similar footstool, it’s generally better manners not to tower and loom over your patients, and asked what happened.
It appeared that the mayor’s wife had been sent a mysterious gift – a full-length portrait of a handsome man the sender (unknown) claimed was an ancestor of hers. Apparently they did have the same nose, so it might have even been the truth.
Unfortunately, the portrait was haunted and the subject of it lost no time in vacating his frame for the nearest one next to it. He roamed the house, scaring the maids, disrupting business meetings and generally creating havoc. In the end, the mayor’s wife had lured him back to his own frame, then locked the painting away, throwing the key into the river to avoid anyone’s curiosity.
She returned to the house to find her husband a badger. According to the servants, there had been shrieks from the locked cupboard and the mayor, having gone closer to try and make out the words, had been hit by a stream of blackness from the keyhole and had been changed to his furry, four-legged state.
I nodded thoughtfully. The portrait and whatever inhabited it was clearly not something I wanted in my town or near my home. The challenge would be getting at with the key now lost.
I sent the pot boy to the blacksmith for a skeleton key and filled my time between his departure and return with the creation of a series of wards, first surrounding the store room in which the painting was locked, reinforced around the door, and then I activated and augmented my personal wards.
The key worked, I entered the room and raised a haughty brow at the scowling creature in the painting.
It shrieked again and hurled a ball of amorphous black at me. I caught it and looked it over. “Oh, nice, that will come in very useful later. Thanks.”
I tucked it in the pocket of my comfortably oversized cardigan. It frequently held strange and unusual things and the reinforced pocket closed over it with a smug sound of threads re-weaving themselves.
The portrait did not look very clever, or frightening with his mouth hanging open.
“Now. Are you going to explain yourself or should I just destroy you?”
“I am a prince. Free me and I’ll…”
He trailed off at my scathing eye roll.
I dug into the other pocket of my cardigan. I’d picked up the idea for it from a fortune teller many years before and it had a useful knack of producing whatever I needed to deal with picky little problems.
It was usually twine for the tomato plants or a woven bag for the surprise blackberry bounty but this time, it was one of my own beeswax candles, infused with lavender and rosemary.
I lit it with a snap of my fingers and held it to the bottom of the painting. It caught unexpectedly fast and I blessed the mayor’s good sense in building the storeroom entirely of stone (walls, floor and ceiling) and that the wards I’d put around it further contained what became a merry blaze in mere seconds.
In mere minutes, it had died away again, along with the painting. All that remained was the blackened frame and even that disintegrated into dust a moment later.
I swirled the black into a neat little ball, contained it in another ward and tucked that into my cardigan pocket as well.
I walked out of the room, cancelling the wards as I went and wished the now human and blanket-wrapped mayor, continued good health.
My reward for my work? I leave them to choose what they wish to pay and the following week took delivery of a side of venison, properly cured and a nice variant to the meats of the local dishes. These people understand what’s important.