Day Four

This morning’s routine was enlivened by the arrival of the Mayor’s kitchen boy, panting like the bellows. Turned out he’d run the whole way up to my cottage.

What was cause? Another of those damn magicked paintings. I started to wonder about the mayor’s wife’s ancestry.

One thing I’ll give her, she’s intelligent and learns from past experience. The instant the package arrived, looking disturbingly familiar, she refused to let it in the house, refused to have it unwrapped and sent the boy for me.

The day was a warm one, the heatwave dying off but not quite gone, so I packed one of my baskets rather than my helpful cardigan.

On a whim, I included the little black bundle of spite the previous one had thrown.

The boy was hopping from one foot to the other, desperate to be back in town and see the excitement. He’d been shut in the kitchen for safety the last time. Sensible, he had the self-preservation instincts of a moth at a lamp.

To keep him from getting underfoot, I charged him with informing the bees of the development. He gave me a strange look, clearly believing I was sending him on a useless errand. He learned otherwise quite quickly.

Bees are always a little more than people assume. My bees are more again, doubtless the product of too much time around magic, but they’re not complaining and neither am I.

The boy returned to the front of the cottage just as I was closing my front door, he looked a little shaken.

“The bees say they want to see this time.”

I nodded, and noticed the fat, striped little soldier quietly at attention on his shoulder.

“You have made a good impression. They don’t normally like sitting on humans.”

He flushed, pleased and kept his pace even and smooth during our trip to town. I would leave a discussion regarding lessons for the boy for another day. It would happen though.

We arrived at the mayor’s house and were met by the hand-wringing owner of the painting.

I set a ward around the package, then reinforced my own protections and stepped inside the circle.

Prying open the wooden box, then unwrapping the hessian surrounding the item, it was obvious the mayor’s wife had been correct. This was another painting, and given its size and the style of frame, it was from the same sender as the last one.

The last of the wrapping fell away and another man stared out at me, then around at the worried faces, crowding just outside my ward circle.

The portrait reached for a pile of parchment by his side and dipped the quill he held in ink.

I presume my esteemed brother arrived before me. Who do I need to un-magic?

I waved an airy hand. “Oh don’t worry about that, I took care of it.”

He jerked back, astonishment and respect on his face (at least I preferred to think so), then scribbled again.

And my brother’s painting?

“Destroyed. Lavender and rosemary in a beeswax candle. I have another here if you’re interested in investigating.”

No, no, I have no interest in harming or being harmed. Indeed, I am most grateful for your services. My brother has been systematically destroying our family for decades and I was in despair.

“How many more of you are going to be delivered here? It’s putting something of a strain on the mayor and his family.”

No others, and I am happy to go elsewhere now I know the threat is gone.

I maintained the ward but turned to the mayor’s wife. “I’m guessing you’d still rather not have an ambulatory portrait startling the maids?”

She nodded. “No disrespect intended sir, but it’s important our household is a calm and welcoming one.”

The portrait nodded glumly and I squinted at it in thought.

“You really should be somewhere where there are enough paintings for you to be able to get about and see things, but not too many people.”

I beckoned to the kitchen boy, then addressed his passenger. “I believe we may have a delivery for Mage Ulfgar. Would you be so kind as to inform him?”

The bee spread its wings, spun a complicated pattern in the air, then zoomed into the sky and out of sight.

The portrait started writing again.

Sentient bees? You have powerful allies, Lady.

I smiled. “That of course is another reason my beeswax candles are effective.”

The portrait nodded, then started as a bang echoed across the square we were standing in and Ulfgar strode across from an alley he’d clearly just teleported into.

I waved him across the line of the ward and he subjected the portrait to a stern once over. He nodded.

“Yes, I’ll take him. It’ll be good to have company that doesn’t chatter all the time and I have a few additional paintings I can hang up the tower in case he’d like to take a look around the countryside.”

We both looked askance at the portrait who, clearly recognising the best bargain he was going to get, nodded and stepped back into his original pose. I suppose it was some sort of anchor for travelling.

Teleporting with unknown magic is risky, so we bundled the painting back up and the kitchen boy was again pressed into service, this time to drive a donkey cart up to Ulfgar’s tower with the painting.

If it was also a convenient moment for a mage to start assessing a young man for potential apprenticeship, I’m sure I couldn’t say.

I stayed in town. The least I could do in return for my bee’s assistance, both in this instance and in the production of my candles, was to gather more news and happenings for their interest and maybe a few unusual blooms to season their honey.

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