Toil and Trouble

by Kadorienne

Madame Olga was hunting through her grimoires seeking a workable substitute for powdered unicorn horn (terribly expensive out of season) when the Earl of Gloria thrust open the door to her shop and stormed in. Startled at his explosive entry, Graymalkin hopped down from her perch on the windowsill, upsetting a dish of newts' eyes, and dashed under the cupboard, her fluffed-out tail disappearing last. Olga swiftly tucked her silver-plated athamé into her sleeve; she'd been scrying at just the right moment to discover that Lord Gloria was not only an aristocrat, but was also the elusive, nigh-legendary thief spoken of in whispers as "Eroica". Olga had told no one of this, not even to Medea when they were gossiping over a pot of eyebright and a plate of fried lizard tails. Secrets that juicy were to be kept in reserve for special occasions.


His Lordship was clearly agitated, Olga saw at once when she looked up from the yellowed pages. Actually, furious was more like it. She said nothing, just stayed where she was and waited to see the lay of the land.


"You – charlatan! You quack! You mountebank! I'll have you thrown out of the Guild! I'll have Her Majesty throw you into the lowest level of the dungeons! I'll-"


But the Earl got no further, because Olga levitated one of the plums from the barrel by the door and maneuvered it into His Lordship's mouth. (She had considered dumping a bucket of water over his head, but drenching crimson velvet with gold brocade rarely went over well with dandies of his sort.) While he was angrily choking on bits of fruit, Graymalkin cautiously emerged to disapprovingly regard him with her yellow eyes, and Olga remarked coolly, "I gather Her Majesty's spymaster failed to fall in love with you."


The Earl glared at her as he removed the plum from his mouth, holding it between two fingertips as if it were toxic. Which it wasn't; she never gave the poisoned ones to paying clients.


"I'll take that dirty look as a 'yes'. Now, we'll go over every single moment until we figure out what you did wrong."


"I!" the Earl burst out. "I did everything just as you said, don't blame me for your blundering-" He was cut short by a second plum lodging itself in his mouth. Graymalkin started washing her right ear.


"Young man, I was making love-philtres when your mother wasn't even a gleam in her papa's eye. In point of fact, without my help, your grandpapa might never have gotten that gleam in his eye, and you wouldn't be here to glower at me and use up the last plums of the season."


Controlling himself with obvious difficulty, Lord Gloria took the second plum from his mouth and tossed both on the worktable. "I did exactly as you said with it. I waited for him to look the other way just for a second, and then I dumped it into his ale. I'm sure he didn't see me, because he took a swig of it right away."


"Are you sure he actually swallowed the whole drink?"


"When he was done I looked at the inside of the cup! It was empty!"


"And did you watch him the whole time he was drinking it?"


"Of course! I kept my eyes on him every second, even when he yelled at me to stop staring at him." The Earl paused for a dreamy sigh at that. "There is no way he could have spilled his ale, or replaced it, or anything, without my seeing it. I'm telling you, he drank every drop of that potion. It just didn't work."


Madame Olga covered her mouth quickly until she could suppress the smile. Already she was suspecting what the trouble was. "And how do you know that it didn't work?"


"Because he refused my advances – again! He just scowled at me like he always does, and insulted me as usual. He acted exactly the way he always...."


Madame Olga let the smile show this time, as the Earl's eyes suddenly widened.


"...does," he finished, dazed.


"No refunds," Olga informed him as a wide silly smile spread across the Earl's face. Best to mention that while the man was in a good mood. Graymalkin strolled close by him, leaving a few little hairs on his crimson breeches to remember her by before resuming her favorite spot at the window.


"Of course not, my good woman," he said, his eyes still focused inward, on his own thoughts. He absently made two gold coins appear in his hand – legerdemain, not sorcery – and tossed them onto her table beside the mangled plums before wandering out in a daze.


Madame Olga scooped them up, bit one and judged it sound, and then fetched her shawl. The apothecary was an hour's walk away, she had best get started at once. She could afford the powdered unicorn's horn now, and she would likely need it. Also some dried bull cullions and ground swallows' hearts. Unless she missed her guess, the Earl would be back for an aphrodisiac within the se'ennight.