Authors: Vivian Vande Velde
Tags: #Ages 8 & Up
By the award winning author of
Never Trust a Dead Man
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Copyright © 2003 by Vande Velde, Vivian
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Vande Velde, Vivian.
Wizard at work/by Vivian Vande Velde.
Summary: A young wizard, who runs a school to teach wizards,
looks forward to a quiet summer off but is drawn into adventures
with princesses, unicorns, and ghosts instead.
[1. Wizards—Fiction. 2. Magic—Fiction.
3. Princesses—Fiction. 4. Humorous stories.] I. Title.
Text set in Stempel Garamond
Designed by Cathy Riggs
A C E G H F D B
Printed in the United States of America
the word wizard
How It All Starts
The Beautiful Princess, the Wicked Stepmother, and the Ugly Stepsister
Beasts on the Rampage
To Rescue a Princess
Wizard and Ghost
The Princess and the Quest for the Golden Cucumbers
The wizard was minding his own business—well, mostly—when the witch either put a hex on him or didn't.
It happened like this: The wizard was a young man who often magically disguised himself to look like an old man because that was how people expected a wizard to look. Because he ran a school for young wizards, he spent the school year looking like an old man, for he figured he'd get little respect from his students if they guessed he was only a bit older than they. So once school
was over for the year, it was a relief to take off his magical disguise and relax—sort of like taking off shoes that are too tight and fancy clothes that you've been worried about catching on something or spilling something on.
After what seemed an exceptionally harsh winter and a spring that surely had taken longer than usual to arrive, he had packed the last of his students off for home. On this, the first day of summer vacation, he magically transported himself to the village of Saint Wayne the Stutterer. Saint Wayne was not one of the major saints, and the village was a small one. The wizard knew most of the people there, and most of them knew him in his true form. He needed to buy supplies for his garden, including a new hoe, and he was waiting in line at the blacksmith's shop when the witch—whom he did not know—suddenly appeared with her three children.
As in: One moment, not there—the next, there.
Appeared directly in front of him about five seconds before the blacksmith finished with the
previous customer, looked up, and asked, "Who's next?"
"That would be me," the witch said, stepping up to the counter.
The wizard was willing to give the woman the benefit of the doubt, to believe that she had magically transported herself to where she wanted to be, and that she hadn't intentionally cut in front of him. He was even willing to let her get waited on first, for he was in no rush. He was ready for warm, leisurely days of peace and quiet.
The witch's children, two boys and a girl, were poking, bumping, taunting, and teasing one another. The older boy was a bully, the younger boy was a sniveler, and the girl was a whiner. All three of the children called "Ma!" in shrill, annoying, insistent voices—as in, "Ma, he's doing it again!" and "Ma, she started it!" and "Ma, aren't you through here yet?"
The witch ignored them while she explained to the blacksmith about the gate latch she wanted repaired.
The wizard didn't have children of his own,
but he thought that having students was almost like having children. He thought to himself, I
would never let my children misbehave like this.
Of course, the youngest of his students was twelve, and the oldest of these children was seven, but that was no excuse.
The older boy knocked the younger boy backward so that he stepped on the wizard's toes.
"Careful," the wizard said, putting his hand on the boy's shoulder, for the boy gave no sign of recognizing that he wasn't, in fact, standing on the simple ground anymore.
The boy glanced over his shoulder to give the wizard a well-what-are-your-feet-doing-under-my-feet? look, and his brother took the opportunity to smack him on the back of the head. "Ma!" the younger boy sniveled, elbowing his sister for good measure.
"Ma," the girl whined.
"Ma!" the older boy said as though he were the victim.
The blacksmith was working on the latch, and the witch turned and glared at the wizard.
she asked, somewhere between a snarl and a snap.
The wizard wasn't willing to get into a fight, so he just shook his head to indicate he had nothing to say, and he inspected that part of the smithy where the ceiling met the back wall.
The witch glowered for a long moment before returning her attention to the blacksmith.
The children got louder and louder.
The witch didn't seem to hear them.
She did, however, hear the wizard sigh.
She turned around a second time and asked, "Do you have a problem with my children?"
"No," he assured her. He couldn't resist asking, "Do you?"
"How dare you?" she demanded. "How dare you criticize when you know nothing about us? Do you find my children annoying? Well, did you ever stop to consider whether there might be a reason for their misbehaving? Would you excuse them for being noisy and out of sorts if I told you they've been cooped up in the house for the past two weeks with illness? How about if I
told, you their father may not recover, and their little sister just died?"
"I'm so sorry," the wizard said, for though he had a tendency to get impatient quickly, he didn't wish ill on anyone. "I had no idea."
The witch snorted and turned back to the blacksmith, who had finished repairing the latch.
The wizard felt terrible for finding the family irksome when they'd been through so much hardship. Under the circumstances, he was willing to forgive them, even the little girl, who was sticking her tongue out at him.
The smaller boy was still sniveling, but now the wizard realized it was because he had a cold. He realized this when the boy, who had his finger stuck up his nose, withdrew that finger to wipe it on his brother's sleeve. The older boy didn't notice because he was surreptitiously tying his sister's braids together.
The witch paid the blacksmith, then said, "Come, children, now we're off to speak to the miller."
The wizard wanted her to know he regretted
looking down on her and her children, so he stood where he was and repeated, "I am truly sorry."
The witch was cross for his being in the way. "Why? What have you done now?"
"Nothing," he stammered. "I meant I'm sorry for all that's happened to you."
The witch glanced around suspiciously. "What happened?" she demanded.
The wizard was becoming confused. "The children's father, who's sick. The little girl who died."
"I never said there
sickness and death," the witch snarled as though he'd intentionally misunderstood. "I said, 'What if...' Actually, my children are the way they are because they're spoiled brats." She shook her head and pushed past him, muttering, "Dumb twit of a wizard." She added, "You'll never find true happiness until you learn to be less judgmental and look beyond the surface of things."
If that was a simple statement, it didn't really follow what she'd just said. If it was a spell, normally the wizard would have felt the magic,
especially if it was being directed at him. But the children were jostling him as they pushed by on their way out, and he might have missed it.
Still, if it
a hex, it wasn't a bad one. He wasn't unhappy with his life as it was. He had his garden in the summer—when it wasn't overrun by rabbits—and fishing, and puttering about. And if he sometimes did get lonely, that was usually just about the time his students got back in the fall. Then, about the time they started really getting on his nerves, it would be summer again.
Life was satisfying, the wizard thought as he stepped up to the counter to give the blacksmith his order, if maybe somewhat predictable.
True happiness, he decided, was overrated.
Once he got home, the wizard was happily tending his garden when a crow with a message tied to its leg came and refused to leave.
"Help," the message said. (It was written in lavender ink on pink stationery, all delicately perfumed and sealed with a miniature sealing-wax rose.) "I'm being held prisoner by my wicked stepmother, and my ugly stepsister has put a spell on both me and my betrothed. Please, please,
It was signed, "Sincerely, Princess Rosalie," and whoever Princess Rosalie was, she had dotted the i's in her name by drawing tiny roses.
The wizard could be cranky, but he had a soft spot in his heart for people in trouble, and this sounded like serious trouble. "How far?" he asked the crow.
The crow, standing on the left arm of the scarecrow in the wizard's garden, scratched at the ragged sleeve—twice.
Not two miles, that was for sure: The wizard knew everybody around here and there were no Princess Rosalies. "Two hours away?" he asked hopefully. He had a magic spell that could transport him at a moment's notice, but it only worked for places to which he had already been. Because he didn't know who or where this princess was, he would have to follow the crow she had sent. He'd need to walk—or go by horse. Horses, with their big yellow teeth and enormous, clumsy-looking feet, were not his favorite animal. "Is this princess two hours away?" he repeated.
The crow hopped to the scarecrow's head and pecked at one of the button eyes.
The wizard sighed. "Two days?"
The crow ruffled its feathers and took off in a northeasterly direction, then circled back and relanded on the scarecrow's head.
The wizard sighed again. There was so much to do to get his garden in order. He tried to concentrate on the problems, on the reasons he shouldn't go—like the rabbits, who were no more intimidated by the scarecrow than this crow was, and who were making themselves at home in the wizard's garden. But he found himself looking at the pink-and-lavender note again. "Please, please,
help me," he reread.
After yet another sigh, he muttered the spell that transformed his appearance into that of a man a hundred years older than he really was and that changed his practical work clothes into the star-sprinkled robe and conical hat he always wore in public, because otherwise nobody ever seemed to believe he really was a wizard.
He held his arm out for the crow, which landed on him with a flutter of black wings. Then it lifted its tail and made a mess on his sleeve.
"Bird brain," the wizard muttered.
But by then they were already transported to Farmer Seymour's barn, where there was a particularly bad-tempered mare that the farmer would rent out for an exorbitant fee whenever the wizard had need of a ride.
After two days of riding, the crow led the wizard to a small castle surrounded by a country town, all situated in the center of an especially green and peaceful valley.
And there, strolling down the wide avenue that led from the castle, was the wicked stepmother (he was sure it must be her) and the ugly stepsister.
The mother was a tall, thin woman dressed all in black. Her eyes, the wizard thought, were ferret-mean. And they were constantly moving—glancing this way and that—watching and evaluating all that went on around her.
Her daughter was a younger version of the same, except that her clothes were garishly colorful and she had a loud laugh that reminded the wizard of a pig oinking.
He did not want to make a formal entrance into the castle, for there was no telling how the wicked stepmother would react—wicked stepmothers can be unpredictable. Better to circle the castle and go in the back way. So with what he hoped looked like an expression of disinterested boredom, he rode by the group of townspeople that had gathered around the two women.
However, Princess Rosalie's messenger crow apparently did not reason the way the wizard did. Seeing him miss the turnoff to the castle, the crow rose up from its riding place on the horse's rump and began circling the wizard's head, cawing frantically.