LJ Idol Exhibit B | week eleven, 1 | 870 words
One Hit Wonder
Zelgard the Wizard was a powerful magician, quite arguably the best of his time. He could conjure, he could transform, he could weave spells of forgetting or even misremembrance, but most of all… he could smite. His target might be someone he'd never even met, someone half a world away, and he could still inflict doom or disaster with a single wave of his wand. This put him very much in demand.
It was also rather troubling.
"The King bids you come to court immediately," a messenger might announce. The King was a vindictive, ill-tempered man, and the notion of reason was utterly foreign to him.
"My enemies in West Antera rise up against me," the King would say. "You must destroy them."
"Might I instead remove their armaments, or make their natures less warlike?" Zelgard would inquire.
The King's answer was invariably the same: "Death."
Zelgard had suggested many alternative solutions over the years—transforming enemies into animals, or moving them to faraway lands and making them forget everything about their former lives. Those were the choices the King's father would have made, but the King had refused them one and all. "Death," he would say, again and again, no matter how isolated or trivial the offense.
No one noticed that Zelgard's cottage was gradually becoming overrun with toads. Had they looked closely, they might have thought some of the toads even looked a bit familiar, with a certain long-necked regal superiority to this one, or a squinty-eyed obstinance to that one. Zelgard finally became so inundated that he created a pond for the toads in a nearby meadow, and put a protection spell around it to prevent larger animals from wandering in and eating them.
One of the usual messengers came by on a windblown autumn day. "What became of the toads?" he asked.
"Change of seasons," Zelgard replied.
"Ah." The man unrolled and raised an official scroll. "The King requires your presence at his court with all due haste…"
It wasn't just the King who demanded Zelgard's services. Noblemen of all lineage and standing came to him seeking vengeance or advantage: "My neighbor's sheep grow fat off the richness of my land." "My scheming kinsmen would have you fence the very forest!"
He'd quickly learned to be cautious about which requests he honored. There was the occasional plea to heal a sick mind or a dying child, but most of the people who came to see him were motivated purely by greed. Zelgard came to regret being such a powerful wizard, and lamented those first few people he had killed at the King's behest before he'd realized exactly what sort of person the King was. He'd been young then—well, younger—and foolish, and he could not bring any of his victims back to life. His growing collection of amphibians was the nearest thing to atonement he could manage.
He dreaded the King's summons. Messengers seemed to arrive day and night. "The King—"
"Yes, yes," Zelgard would say, shutting the garden gate and climbing into the waiting carriage. What dreadful deed has he thought up now?
The King's advisors fared no better in staying the King's hand. Even his younger brother could not persuade him: "Perhaps Your Majesty might—"
"No," the King would say with utter finality. "Zelgard must smite them into the very ground."
One cold, wintry morning, as Zelgard was transporting yet another toad to his protected pond, he decided that he'd simply had enough. He packed up his spell books and robes, his gazing ball and potions, and his dear little black cat. He transformed his horse's tiny stable into a wagon, loaded his belongings into it, and hitched the horse up.
Then he magicked himself into the castle throne room and turned the King into a toad.
There was a collective gasp, followed by stunned silence. Zelgard looked around the room, his wand at the ready to keep any would-be attackers at bay. His gaze fell on the King's younger brother. "Your country needs a new ruler," Zelgard said. "Do you believe yourself capable of treating your subjects fairly and refraining from perpetually waging war on other countries?"
"Most certainly," the King's brother said, with a slight air of confusion.
"So be it." Zelgard swooped up the toad and magicked himself back to his cottage.
He drove the wagon to the pond, where he changed all of the toads back to human form and left them to find their way home. Then he placed the King-toad in the grass by the muddy shore, and drove the wagon back to the main road leading away from the kingdom.
Six months later, a sentry at a village gate on the other side of the world noticed an old man approaching in a wagon. "Halt," the sentry said. "Who are you, and what is the nature of your visit?"
Zelgard smiled with sense of newly regained innocence. "I am Gardel the Elder, and I am a skilled apothecary seeking to ply my trade."
The sentry bowed and opened the gate. "Welcome to Black Oak Village. Your services are sorely needed."
To Zelgard's ears, the words were more beautiful than any he had ever heard.
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