Cold Cure - Conclusion
Late to the story? You can read the rest of it here: Part I and Part II
The wizard's lair was a large, well-lit chamber crammed to capacity with an astounding array of junk. Books cascaded from a bookcase onto the chairs and floor around it, a variety of plants and herbs hung drying from the ceiling, shelves held crocks and jars of varying sizes, a small brazier glowed in a corner with a foul-smelling concoction brewing over it, a large table was piled high with books, papers, amulets, bones, pieces of rock and strings, and off to the side there was a curious contraption of copper tubing and clear glass jars that had a blue liquid bubbling inside it.
A fit of coughing from a side tunnel sent the twins flat to the floor. Nothing untoward followed. They exchanged a glance and cautiously got to their feet.
"I think we should leave," Meg whispered.
"Let go of my sleeve!"
"Who's making all that racket? Well? Speak up!"
The twins backed up a step as the wizard appeared in the passage. He was not the tall, imposing figure they had expected. He was short and dumpy with long, scraggly white hair and matching beard. His large nose was red and dripping and his blue robe was torn and soiled. Watery blue eyes stared at the intruders.
"You are the wizard we've sought for so long?" Peg asked, stepping forward. Meg put a restraining hand on her arm. "Wait 'till he speaks, you might be wrong."
The man in question drew himself up to his full five feet. "I am not a wizard, I am a full sorcerer. Mellatron the Sorcerer. There is a difference you know."
His speech ended in a spasm of coughing. He sniffed loudly and wipe his nose on his sleeve.
"We meant no offense, Great Magnificence."
"A great many leagues we've had to traverse in search of a mage to lift our grave curse."
"Save the heart-rending tale of woe. If you've not yet noticed, I have a head cold. I'll work no magic until I'm cured. Now, begone."
"We came all this way and you can't cast a spell? We're to live with our curse because you're not well?" Peg stood, fists on her hips, glaring at the wizard.
Mellatron glare back at her. "Young fool, a head cold throws magic out of whack. Something to do with the sinuses I believe. Now, I suggest you leave unless you want me to sneeze in your direction."
Meg pulled at her sister's sleeve. "Best go while we still can, and anyway, I have a plan."
To Mellatron it was as if they no longer existed. He went back to his work table without further thought. Meg had to practically drag Peg out of the cave with her. She didn't stop until they were well away from the cave, and out of the line of fire.
Peg demanded an explanation. Meg smiled at her.
"We cure his cold, this man we nurse, and in return he lifts our curse."
"And how are we to do this deed?"
Meg shrugged, "I know not, but with all speed."
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Three days late found them once again outside the sorcerer's cave, knowing more about curing colds than either of them would have though possible. They were armed with herbs for teas, evil-smelling poultices and questionable brews pilfered from the various wise-women, herbalists and farm-wives they had consulted.
"If none of this affects a cure, we'll kill him quick, that's for sure," Peg muttered pessimistically.
"Hello in the cave, Mellatron are you there?" Meg called. "We have returned with potions most rare."
"Go away." This was followed by a succession of sneezes which in turn was followed by a succession of fireballs whizzing erratically out of the cave. One chanced to hit an apple tree, which absorbed it, dropped all its leaves and walked slowly away.
Peg sighed as she and Meg rose from the ground and dusted themselves off. Fortunately, none of the vessels containing their remedies broke open. They found Mellatron in his workshop grinding something dark to dust with a mortar and pestle.
"You two again? How would you like to spend the rest of your lives as bats? I need more bat wings."
"Great Mellatron," Meg began before Peg could voice her angry retort. "We bring you aid, we're here to help all unafraid."
"Aid? Help? I don't need either. But you two will if you don't leave me alone."
"We trespass it's true, but we wish to cure you."
"How?" he watched them suspiciously.
"Now don't make a fuss," Peg said, taking him by the arm. "Just leave it to us."
Though Mellatron did not quite trust the twins, neither their characters nor their motives, his own methods of ridding himself of the cold had been unsuccessful. In short, he had nothing to loose. Or not much, at any rate.
Each person the twins had visited assured them that this remedy alone would cure even the most stubborn of colds. From their vast store of knowledge they selected the three most likely remedies -- three being their lucky number.
Mellatron suffered their help for two days, then declared he could stand the stench no longer. When Meg pointed out that his sinuses had cleared to the point that he could distinguish smells, he agreed that another day of their "cure" wouldn't kill him.
After the third day Mellatron's cold was all but gone, which did much to improve his temper. The twins watched, very impressed, as he righted all the mischief his sneezing had caused his neighbours. That done, he told the twins grandly to come back the next day for their reward. They got little sleep that night and were at the cave just after sun-up.
At last Mellatron appeared, looking every inch a sorcerer in his fresh black robe with its boarder of silver stars and moons. Peg opened her mouth, but Mellatron held up a hand for silence.
"I have given a great deal of thought to the manner of reward for your services. You are far from home, with no prospects, and I have decided upon a reward that shall be greater than money." He paused for effect. "I have decided to take you both on as apprentices."
Meg and Peg stared at each other.
"Of course I realize it's more than you could have possibly hoped for, but I'm not as young as I used to be and I need to think about passing my knowledge on."
"Such generosity makes me weak," Meg ventured, not wanting to insult the temperamental old man by refusing outright. "But what about the way we speak?"
"Your rhyming? Why that's the best part. It sets you apart from the more ordinary folk. One might say it almost makes you worthy of the honour. Now, come along. We have work to do."
He disappeared back inside.
"What should we do? I leave it to you," Peg said.
Meg looked thoughtfully towards the road, then into the cave. "My choice is that we stay to learn the wizard's way."
"Well," said Peg as they prepared to follow Mellatron. "I do suppose it could have been worse. Maybe someday we'll learn to break our own curse."