Everyone agreed Ambrose the Amber was not your mother’s wizard.
Instead of midnight black robes and a pointed hat, he wore a green silk blouse, a red embroidered vest artfully tailored to disguise his belly, and baggy powder-blue pantaloons. He walked around giving no indication of his arcane powers except, of course, that none but a true master of arcane powers would dare walk around dressed like that.
Everyone agreed his good woman Margery was not your mother’s wizard’s wife.
Yes, she wore an apron of many pockets over her simple navy dress and yes, a dimple dotted each of her cheeks when she smiled her frequent smiles. But, well, whoever heard of a married wizard?
Everyday magic was not for Ambrose the Amber. There were wizards who eased pain, and those who conjured rain, and those who made work around the castle lighter. And then there were mighty warlocks who strove unceasingly to keep the demons of the underworld locked deep away, where sensible folk preferred they remain. Of these, Ambrose was the master.
The King of their land was a sensible man who also preferred demons locked deep away and so he was willing to tolerate certain eccentricities in a certain commoner, albeit a commoner of an uncommon variety. Ambrose and Margery were granted a cottage — a quaint timber and plank house with four whole rooms for the two of them in the shadow of the castle’s walls — one modest salary between them, and access to the royal libraries for Ambrose. That much, and no more, for an uncommon commoner was a commoner just the same.
But to certain people less sensible than the King, a wizard was a wizard was a wizard. Word reached the castle there was a new mage in town, and once Word was in the castle it was impossible the Prince would not hear.
The Prince was recently matched with a Princess for a wife, a matter of politics or what not. The Princess was beautiful, with long blond hair and an appropriately aristocratic nose. She was well trained at princessing, tutored in many forms of needlework, certain forms of diplomacy, and all forms of poison. She also brought with her a princessly dowery of three thousand acres of prime river-irrigated land.
The Prince, although quite handsome, was raised on stories and — much worse — books, and he labored under the misapprehension that the purpose of a royal marriage was a happy, loving home and not just to provide for the line of succession. He whitled away many an hour strumming his lute ‘neath his wife’s bower window, warbling lyrics that relied heavily on the rhyme between “June” and “Moon.”
This was little to the Princess’ tastes, a fact she made quite clear by means of thrown vases and locked bower doors.
Having exhausted his musical repertoire and his bride’s patience, the Prince sent word to the new wizard in town that he was in dire need of a pozione d’amore, as bards like himself were fond of calling it.
Ambrose the Amber was a mage unafraid to rant and rage. “What nonsense is this?” he fumed to Margery. “I’ve told them a dozen times I’m no hedge wizard! I duel with demons, not deal in drinks. What’s so hard to understand about that?”
His good wife was knitting a pair of baby booties in pretty pink, as one of her many nephews and nieces had blessed her with a beautiful bouncing grandniece. “You know how it goes, Bobo,” she told his back as he paced. “They say ‘wizard,’ but they hear ‘miracle worker.’”
“Bah. Foolishness!” Ambrose’s breast was not easily soothed, not even by the sweet music of Margery’s voice. “But someone has to maintain the seals on all the gateways to all the hells! They would not like it at all if a dozen demonic devils were loosed upon the world.”
Not looking up from her knitting, Margery said, “He is not just our Prince and the son of our King, Bobo, but he is also a young man in love, the poor boy.” If a pair of knitted booties, size extra-extra-large, could have eased the Prince’s heart, Margery would have ordered up three sheep-worths of yarn and set to the task immediately. But, alas, a pozione d’amore was a job for a wizard. “You can just take a few minutes and run something up for him, can’t you? After all, the King has been most kind to us.”
Ambrose fulminated. “Of course I can’t ‘just run something up.’ I have the positions of the sixth moon calculated to the eighteenth decimal place. I have to reach twenty, at minimum, to be sure the seals on the gateway to the nether world remain safe. Does he think magic is just so much …” He threw his hands up, nothing up his sleeves. “… abracadabra?”
Even in a house full of magic the magic word can move mountains. With a mutter and a growl Ambrose stomped into his workshop. A variety of imprecations fluttered forth from it. “Wool of bat,” Ambrose said, poking his head out the door. “Have you seen any?”
“Behind the cubeb, dear.”
Ambrose muttered under his breath. A mind occupied by calculation was ill-fitted to inventory. “Tell me there’s fillet of a fenny snake around here somewhere. Dried, preferably? Smoked will do.”
“Pickled, in the brown crock.”
“Witch’s mummy? Dragon scale? Blind-worm’s sting?”
Margery still did not look up. She was knitting the heel and it had to come out right. “Red cupboard, third drawer on the left. The blind-worm’s sting has a funny smell. I suppose we can order some from Bellina.”
It would take a month, thereabouts, for supplies to arrive from Bellina, bandits notwithstanding.
“I shall make do.” The workshop door squeeeeeaked closed.
Time grew long. The booties grew longer.
The door squeeeeeaked open. Ambrose pinched a tiny vial between thumb and forefinger, a clear crystal container containing a bubbling chartreuse liquid from which tiny puffs of purple smoke sprouted. “Well, here it is. I’ll send it to the castle.”
Margery’s knitting needles clicked. “If you think it best, dear.”
To the castle the potion was sent. A decent number of days passed, during which the position of the sixth moon became known to nineteen decimal places. A courier arrived at the cottage, trembling in his boots to be caught betwixt King and wizard. He said, “I fear the Prince has temporarily grown bald. The Princess rejects him all the more, and consequently the King is displeased, your honor.”
Ambrose scowled. “The baldness will not last. Blasted blind-worm’s sting!”
Margery knitted. All things could be solved if one knitted long enough.
Twisting his fancy cap in his hands, the courier said, “The King said to say he was less than pleased, your honor, and, your honor, I think he was less pleased than less than pleased….” He looked around the modest cottage. “He said to say no mage who could not manage minor magic could be trusted with the major, and so he might need to find one who could…”
Ambrose’s scowl grew deeper.
“Would you have a cup of tea?” Margery said. The booties were now ankle high.
The courier looked panicked at the idea of tea in a wizard’s home, where anything, perhaps even fenny snake, might find its way into one’s cup. “Sorry, must dash! Matter of state! So sorry!” He bolted back to the castle leaving a small cloud of dust in his wake.
“It was the blasted blind-worm’s sting, I’m sure of it!” Ambrose’s fingers twitched for the feel of a quill, the better to calculate with. “I don’t have time for this! The twentieth place requires twenty times as long to calculate.”
“If you do not have time, I shall have to manage,” Margery said, quite reasonably. For it followed directly that being evicted for non-performance of wizardly duties would disrupt their lives quite as thoroughly and much more permanently than the production of a pozione d’amore.
Because he understood domestic magic as well as she, Ambrose performed the incantation, “Would you, please?”
The knitting downed for the nonce, she said, “Of course, dear.”
Margery ventured to the kitchen, wherein she found a clean vial of flawless crystal. She filled the vial with a clear, odorless liquid and showed the result to Ambrose. “Shall I deliver this to the Prince in person?”
“Be sure to remember your cap in case it rains.” His quill barely paused in its endless voyage down columns of numbers.
A village crowded ‘round the cottage in the shadow of the castle’s wall, and villagers galore inhabited it. Margery shooed a chicken back to Old Wadlo’s pen, stood aside for a cart drawn by a single tired unicorn, and smiled wistfully at the children playing, “Ring around the roses,” as she hiked to the castle gate in her appropriately sensible shoes.
Once through the gate she inquired discreetly about the Prince and was directed to a section of a keep wall by a crone who was just leaving on an errand of her own, clutching a shiny red apple in her bony hand. Margery heard the Prince pitching his woo before she saw him, and followed her ear tither.
The Prince, it should be said, possessed many appropriately princely traits, including but not limited to a strong jaw, freshly-regrown thick curly hair, and legs well suited to the tightest of stockings. He gazed longingly toward an empty balcony above his head, strummed a lute, and sang,
The elegant neck of the graceful loon,
Hair a dandelion blooming in June,
Most dearest of ladies come grant thy boon
Á moi, your servant, your humble baboon.
The recital was interrupted by a shouted, “You left out moon,” from on high. Margery waited patiently until the Prince ceased caterwauling, shoulders slumped with sadness. She stepped into view.
“Your highness,” she said.
“Oh, you! The wizard’s wife.” Dealing with a commoner, his voice was somehow less delicate. “You have a great deal to answer for after that last fiasco!”
She held up the vial. “Here is another potion, but …,” She pulled it out of his eager grasp. “This potion is much more powerful than the last, and there is a complex spell to cast. A smart young Prince such as yourself would prefer the spell to work, would you not, your highness?”
The words, “I should hope not,” drifted down from the balcony above.
Margery pulled the Prince aside to speak in hushed tones, placing the glass vial in his hands. “One drop, one drop only, one drop precisely, no more, no less, in her wine as she sups each night, until it is entirely gone,” she whispered.
“And that is all?” The Prince was amazed.
Alas, too soon. “No, your highness.” Margery led the Prince further from the bower window for the purpose of speaking freely. “If you will forgive me, your highness, the instructions are quite complex. This is an intricate spell and requires a three-part casting. First, the mental component: Every evening, without fail, you must tell her of the decisions you are considering regarding the kingdom. You must listen to her advice on them.”
“I’ll do everything she says!”
She smiled gently. “No, your highness. You are the Prince of this land and the decisions are yours to make. But you must listen to her advice. Use it when you judge it good, and give her credit to your father when you do. Second.” She raised a hand, two fingers extended. “The physical component. When she has been walking, rub her feet. When at needlepoint, massage her shoulders. If her head should ache, rub her temples. This, too, must be done every day without fail.”
The Prince said, “But…”
Margery held up a third finger. “And the matter of the soul: Every day, you must bring something to please her. A flower, perhaps, or a kitten, or the head of her enemy on a golden platter. You must watch to see which she adores and which she abhors, and make the most of your observations.”
“Presents, yes, of course.” The Prince held the vial up to the sun’s light and shook it, peering at the clear liquid within.
Margery quickly pushed the young man’s hand down. “Do not let anyone see,” she said. “What if the Princess should suspect poison?”
The Prince said, “Ah. Er. Um,” as the likely outcome of a game of Dueling Deadly Dosages with his well-trained Princess occurred to him. He hid the bottle in his tunic. “I understand. Is there anything else?”
“That is the least. More will only strengthen the effect. Do each every day without fail until the potion is entirely used up.”
Margery returned to the cottage and her knitting, for the booties would not knit themselves. At some later point Ambrose emerged from his workshop, a much-scribbled scroll trailing in his wake. “Will the Prince be fine?”
“I expect so, one way or another,” Margery said, as she knit one, purl two’d her way up the bootie. “She will come to love him or he will accept she will not, one way or the other.”
Ambrose the Amber reached over to adjust the lamp so she could see better, and then sacrificed a few more moments from his astral mathematics to massage her shoulders.
He was not your mother’s wizard, to be sure, but he certainly was his wife’s.
Text copyright © 2020 by Dave D'Alessio. Illustration by Pixabay, used under license.
About the Author: Dave D'Alessio (blog) is an ex-industrial chemist, ex-TV engineer, and ex-award-winning animator currently masquerading as a social scientist. His published short stories include "The Twenty-Year Reich" — nominee for the Sidewise Award for best alternative history fiction. He lives near an Ikea and enjoys putting furniture together.