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|This little vignette about sorcery, schnauzers and the power of romantic poetry is, for the most part, pure silliness, but I think that it's still one of my better-written fairy tales. I began it while I was in high school, and although it's been refined quite extensively since then, certain biases I felt at the time remain clearly apparent.||
Once upon a time, there was an assistant librarian who was turned into a schnauzer. However, this isnít particularly important at the moment.
Once upon some time later, there was a princess sitting in the back row of Room 220≥ (a magical accident some years before had rearranged the architecture to the point where a new numbering system was required), in the Applied Enchantments building of the Enid R. Hopbottom School for Evil Sorceress-Queens. She was extraordinarily bored.
The reason for her boredom wasnít related in any particular way to the lecture she was enduring, because it wasnít occupying the slightest bit of her attention. Nor was it an effect of always choosing the seat next to the girl who responded to points such as, "If you add more fennel to the eye of newt mixture before your cauldron comes to a boil, the resulting frog will be wartier," by asking the question, "Are you saying that if you add more fennel to the eye of newt mixture before your cauldron comes to a boil, the resulting frog will be wartier?"
The princess was bored because she had long since discovered that it didnít matter in the slightest whether you added the fennel to the eye of newt mixture before or after it came to a boil, or even whether you substituted plain dandelions and forgot the eye of newt altogether (which she often did, as she felt the traditional recipes were always a bit hard on newts). Enchantment wasnít a matter of finding the right ingredients and saying the right words; it was all in thinking about things the right way. The methods you used to get there were completely irrelevant to the results you obtained. However, no matter how hard she tried to explain this to her instructors, they persisted in teaching the traditional approach. "Itís always been done that way, and thatís that," they would say, as though they had made some sort of brilliant point. The princess would grind her teeth and toy with the notion of turning them all into crickets.
"You there!" snapped the instructor, a hatchet-faced old sorceress whose entire visage seemed to shrink away from her own nearsighted glare, which was indeed all one could remember about her upon leaving her classroom.
The princess looked up to find the glare fixed on her. Bother, she thought. "Yes, Miss Plender?" said the princess, with heavy resignation.
The glare intensified. "Perhaps you would like to explain to the class what it was I was just talking about - since you donít need to bother yourself with note-taking."
The princess took a deep breath. "You were just saying," she said, "that the screaming mandrake is often found in transformation spells because of its homuncular properties, and is therefore a demonstration of the First Law of Magic, which states that certain events must affect similar events; i.e., that like influences like."
The glare narrowed suspiciously. "Hmph," the old sorceress said. "Well, Iím glad you were paying attention after all." The lecture went on, and the princess amused herself by turning her pen into an earthworm and back again. There wasnít much of a trick, really, to reading ahead in the textbook the night before.
Finally, the class ended. The princess broke free of the main flock of students heading off to various lunch assignations, making for the library. She had a pleasant vision of curling up with a book about dragons and knights and damsels in various degrees of distress, whose lives made sense to them no matter how many bushels of straw they were asked to spin into gold.
The library was a sprawling, squat building, without any of the flying-buttresses-and-soaring-towers nonsense that most of the other school buildings (except for the Applied Enchantments building, which had problems of its own) incorporated. Because it was a very large building, for all that it had only one floor, it took the princess quite a long time to wend her way to the very back, where all of the old, dusty histories were kept. The princess scanned the shelves, muttering to herself.
" ĎShining armor, knights iní . . . no, not those . . . ĎSilver, hoarded; Swords, magical (see also Weapons, enchanted)í . . . probably not . . ." The princess slowly became aware of a strange huffing noise.
Odd noises werenít uncommon in magical libraries. The wands and spellbooks in storage generated enough magic to distort reality somewhat; the princess had hunted for volumes to the sounds of the ocean (complete with seagull chorus), the howling of a pack of wolves, the distant rumbling of thunder, and the subdued chatter of a cocktail party. However, she couldnít dismiss the huffing as ordinary magical spillover for two reasons: because it had the gritty edge of reality that the others lacked, and because it was very definitely coming closer.
Fortunately, the princess was at no loss for something heavy to throw.
She snagged the massive volume dedicated to "Damsels, distressed" and backed into a defensible corner to await the Beast. The predatory panting drew nearer, and the princess shifted her gaze to the space between the tops of two shelves, where she was certain the monster would have to appear. She waited.
She continued waiting.
Finally, she looked down at the floor in front of her.
A small gray dog with an extraordinarily bushy face looked back, panting. It wagged its tail politely. "Excuse me, miss," it said. "Can I help you find something?"
The princess, for some time, was not quite sure how to respond. The dog waited patiently. "Look," she said. "I just want to make it clear that I am absolutely not going to kiss you, no matter how handsome you are or how unbelievably huge your kingdom is."
The dog gave her a look. "Actually, I donít have a kingdom. Iím the assistant librarian. Now, were you looking for something in particular?"
The princess stared. She remembered the assistant librarian as a sort of nondescript, slender man with an expression of helpful earnestness as a permanent fixture of his face. As far as she knew, he wasnít the victim of a family curse or a seventh son, and neither of his parents (an accountant and an apothecary) had vanished under mysterious circumstances when he was born. "Who would turn an assistant librarian into a dog?!" she blurted. "It's contrary to all sense! Sort of!"
"Ah," said the dog. "That. Well, you see, thereís this sorceress who checks out the books of magic, then returns them all stained with virginís blood and snake oil. And she refuses to pay the charges on them! So when she came to renew her library card . . ."
"You wouldnít do it, so she turned you into a little ugly dog?"
"Actually, Iím a schnauzer," the dog corrected meticulously. "German breed, developed as a ratter and guard dog, makes an excellent companion. I had to look it up," he explained.
"I'm sure," said the princess. "Itís certainly nontraditional. Frogs, absolutely; bears, why not; rabbits, certainly; foxes, unlikely, but they happen . . . youíre the first schnauzer Iíve heard of, though."
"I know," sighed the schnauzer. "Thatís why things are so difficult. Whoever heard of a fairy tale that started out Ďonce upon a time there was an assistant librarian who was turned into a schnauzerí? It just doesnít work." He brooded. "The worst part," he said, "definitely the worst part is ladders. I canít get the hang of them. Itís terrible, really. I canít get anything alphabetized thatís shelved higher than Q." He sat down and stared gloomily at the floor. "And itís likely going to stay this way unless I can find a princess whoíll . . . What is it?"
The princess was backing away from the dog with a warning gleam in her eye.
"Oh, no. No, no, no. I told you before, I WILL NOT KISS YOU!" she shouted. "Bad enough that I have to put up with all this Ďdouble, double, toil and troubleí nonsense. I will not be sucked into a fairy tale!" She stepped over the dog and swept majestically between the bookshelves - a manner of exit that she reserved for special occasions. Although she was wearing a sensible pair of jeans, she still managed to convey the impression of a full ballgown. The dog hurried along, short legs working like pistons.
"No," huffed the dog, "you misunderstand. In order to be changed from a dog back into a person, as I it was explained to me, I need to get a princess to . . . um . . ."
The princess stopped so suddenly that the dog careened into her. "What?" she growled. The dog cowered.
He told her. She laughed. He repeated it. "Oh, all right then," she said. "What harm can it do?" She walked over to a nearby shelf. "Which one?"
The dog muttered, "Any one will do." She opened the book in front of the dog and sat down. He looked at her, panted nervously, and began to read. "ĎHad we but world enough and time/ This coyness, Lady, were no crime . . ."
Much later, still giggling to herself, the princess left the library. The assistant librarian thanked her politely and went back to cataloguing his books.
Two days later, the princess was back at the library, under cover of history research. She saw the assistant librarian. He saw her. Later, he walked her home.
Many years later, the Chief Sorceress and Head Librarian of the School of Progressive Magic were quite astonished to find that they had, in spite of their best efforts, managed to live happily ever after, after all.
|The Reluctant Unicorn||The Library Dragon|
The Fox's Wish