The Curse

Photo by Josh Duke on Unsplash

Written as a response to Writing Prompt Number 22. You can read the story from the beginning here.

Dave exchanged a glance with Umbran. “So you’re not familiar with the normal world?”

Umbran shrugged. “I’ve had access to books, magazines and even the internet.” He paused for a moment as they waited at the corner of Micklegate. “I may be adjusting to the traffic, but I’m not completely unaware.”

“Babies are something new to you as well, aren’t they?” Dave said. “You freaked out when you were stacking the books in the White Hart yesterday and the baby group came in.” He frowned. “Did you spend much time with others in Lord Cerdig’s court?”

Umbran stared at the juggernaut grumbling on the road and slowly shook his head. “I stayed close to my apartments. What is that?”

Dave glanced over. “It’s just a bus. Come on.”

“I’m honoured to be a representative of Lady Freydis,” Umbran said, smoothing a hand over his jacket. He was wearing a glamour of a tall, slim man, aged around thirty with soft brown hair and unremarkable blue eyes. Even the plain leather jacket over the t-shirt and jeans couldn’t make him look threatening. “Dealing with those who threaten the order of her court is a privilege and no doubt entrusted to the bravest.”

Dave thought about the last few years. “Some threats are bigger than others,” he said. “Strictly speaking, I’m the one dealing with the problem. You’re supposed to be here for technical support.” Dave glanced across at Umbran before striding across the road. “Lady Freydis seems to think that you have a lot of power.”

Umbran avoided Dave’s eyes as he awkwardly skirted a knot of tourists. “I have more power, in an absolute form, than Lady Freydis. She, however, has more authority and is better at making people do what she wants them to do.”

Dave thought about it. “Yes, she has skills in that.” He nodded down a small side street. “This way.”

Umbran followed Dave through a maze of tiny alleys. “What exactly is the threat? Lady Freydis only told me to aid and protect you on this mission.”

“Someone’s selling curses,” Dave said. “They’re selling them to normals to use on other normals, That makes it my problem, but Lady Freydis isn’t pleased that curses are being sold in her domain.” Dave thought for a moment. “And I don’t think that they’re paying their tithe to her either.”

Umbran stopped in his tracks. “Selling curses? Who the hell does that? It’s dangerous stuff! You can’t just let dark magic out on the streets, especially to normals!”

“And they’re probably not paying their tithe to Lady Freydis either,” Dave said. “We’re here.”

Umbran glanced at the nondescript door. “Here? It looks like nothing.”

“Yeah,” Dave said as he squinted around the doorway. “Can you see any inconvenient magic out here?”

Umbran squinted. “Just a moment.” His head tilted as he examined the plain door. “Do you wish me to remove any enchantments?”

“I suppose you had better get rid of them,” Dave grumbled. “I can’t believe I just realised that the big reason I’m here is because someone’s shorting Lady Freydis.”

Umbran gazed at the dusty entrance and nodded. “One moment, if you please.”

Dave raised an eyebrow at the formality and then watched as the grimy, dusty doorway disappeared and was replaced by a neatly painted, freshly cleaned door with a flourishing hanging basket swaying over it. “I didn’t expect that.” He stepped forward and rang the pristine bell.

“Good afternoon,” the woman said, then winced as she recognised Dave. “No-one’s been hurt.”

“Good to hear that, Cyan,” Dave said, pushing past her and into the hall. “But that should be a given.” He looked at the elfen in front of him. “And can you change that glamour. It’s giving me the creeps.”

Cyan flicked the long, black hair over her shoulder and brushed down the long, clinging black dress. “I’m comfortable with my appearance,” she said. “And you have no right to just barge in here.” She caught sight of Umbran. “Hello, handsome.” Umbran blushed.

Dave shook his head. “Are you going to invite us in?”

Cyan gestured with her long, slender hand. “This way. You can come into my parlour.”

Dave wrinkled his nose as he looked around the room. “I could give you some decorating tips, you know.”

Umbran looked at the deep red walls, the draped black lace and the skull on the black stand in the centre of the room. “Is that skull smoking a cigarette?”

Dave sighed. “It’s incense.” He turned to Cyan. “You performed a curse, for money, on a garden in Fulford at the request of the neighbour of that garden. Or did you?”

“You cast a curse for money!” Umbran grabbed hold of Cyan’s shoulder. “What were you thinking?”

“Get off me!” Cyan yelled. There was an unpleasant spark and she flew across the room, landing hard against the wall.

“Don’t throw magic at me,” Umbran snapped. “You sold a curse!

“Hang on,” Dave said, raising a cautious hand. He leaned over to help Cyan up. “It’s never that clear cut.”

“What are you?” Cyan said, backing away from Umbran.

“Cyan, what did you do?” Dave asked.

Cyan hunched down and wrapped her arms around herself. “I cast a blessing on the client’s garden and a tiny glamour on the neighbour garden, so that the client’s garden always looks best,” she muttered.

“And how much did you charge?” Dave asked.

“It wasn’t that much!” Cyan cried, then caught Umbran’s eye. “I charged £500, and they were very happy.”

“And did you give Lady Freydis her cut?” Dave asked. He sighed as Cyan shook her head. “Have you got the money to give Lady Freydis her cut?”

Cyan shrugged. “Of course. I don’t really spend much these days.”

“So it wasn’t a curse?” Umbran asked. “Why would you lie?”

“Because people are more willing to curse others than improve themselves,” Cyan said. “I mean, not always, but I’ve always made more from curses than blessings.”

Dave caught Umbran’s confusion. “It’s just how people are,” he said, patting Umbran’s arm. “Listen, why don’t you try a different type of work. There’s a big demand for counselling. You can put a New Age slant on it if it makes you feel better.”

Cyan shook her head. “There’s too much competition. Besides, this is what I know.”

“You need to find something,” Dave said. “Apart from anything else, it’s false advertising. Why don’t you pay up to Lady Freydis and have a think about your next steps.”

Umbran looked around the parlour. It was immaculately staged. Velvet couches framed the black painted fireplace. Delicate dried flowers filled dark glass vases in strategic corners and the dark bronze lamps gleamed under their crimson shades. “Have you thought about going into interior decorating?”

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