Chapter 24: Wish Granted!

It is late at night when at last I am summoned before the king. “Your majesty.” I sweep into a bow. “This time, I am certain that I’ve managed to capture…er, conjure up a pleasant voice for her highness, the Princess Lalia.”

King Frederick gives me a steely-eyed stare. “Are you certain that this voice is better than the last few?”

“Uh…yes.” The truth is, I have no idea if this voice will be pleasant, or if it will make her croak like a frog, or chirp like a parakeet, or bellow like a foghorn. All I can do is hope.

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“If you fail this time,” says the king. “I will have no choice but to execute you.”

I gulp. Is he serious? “I won’t fail, your majesty.” I bow again, then scurry away in search of Princess Lalia.

I find her in her bedchambers, fast asleep. For a moment, I consider camping out on the floor until she awakens, but I dismiss the idea. Her chamber floor is cold and hard. Not to mention that her room is creepy, drenched in garish yellow. Did I ever mention how disturbing the color yellow is?

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I flourish my wand and mutter a charm that wakes her from her sleep. For a moment, she sits up in bed, rubbing her eyes. Then she notices my shadowy figure across the room and lets out a gasp.

“Do not be frightened,” I tell her. “Your father the king has sent me to give you a voice.” She folds her arms and looks at me, eyebrows furrowed in doubt. “It’s fine. I think I got it right this time,” I say.

Shoulders sagging, she gives a slow nod and climbs out of bed to dress. Then she holds up a finger indicating that I should wait a moment, opens a large wooden chest, and rifles through it. She produces an ancient-looking lamp of tarnished metal. It looks awfully familiar.

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“Wait – don’t!” I cry as the princess begins to polish the metal with her fingers. I’ve just remembered where I had seen that lamp before. Too late. A wisp of purplish smoke begins to pour from the lamp’s opening. Startled, the princess runs toward the stairs, still clutching the lamp, perhaps looking for someplace to throw it. I hurry after her, then duck behind the staircase just in the nick of time. My worst enemy has emerged from the opening of the lamp.

The Genie.

Even though I am fully aware that I am Al Becerra, and not the actual Shadowhood, I feel a shudder that vibrates to my bones. Genies despise wizards. If he senses my presence, he will kill me, and my own powers will not be strong enough to stop him. If he senses that the princess has been influenced by one of my spells, he may try to kill her, too.

The Genie is speaking, his voice echoing through the stairwell like thunder. “WHAT IS YOUR WISH?”

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The princess is trembling and pale, but to her credit, she does not faint. She doesn’t try to speak either, instead moving her lips without uttering a sound. I guess the Genie speaks mute, though, because he gives a sharp nod. “YOUR WISH IS GRANTED!” He brings his hands together in a clap that rattles the stone walls, then erupts with bright flashing lights, like a battery-operated children’s toy. Princess Lalia floats up in the air, then her body spasms and clenches forward.

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I must stop this, I think, afraid that whatever the Genie is doing is killing the princess. But then, it is over. The princess is leaning against the wall, breathing hard, her skin white and clammy. The Genie has disappeared, and so has the magic lamp. Too bad. I was halfway tempted to risk sudden death by asking him to send me back home. Along with Melissa, of course. Richard would be optional.

The princess clears her throat. Then, in a clear, sweet voice that is neither too loud nor too soft, she says, “Wizard, please take me to see my parents.”

And so, I do.

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Chapter 23: Magical Fails

“Hello, Father.” Princess Lalia’s voice is husky and rattling, like the croak of a bullfrog. The king and queen’s expressions match the horror I feel. Her voice, transferred to her by the magic spell I’d enacted, sounds worse than it had coming out of the village beggar. It sounds like the voice of a cartoon villain. “Oh no!” Lalia claps her hands over her mouth and looks at her father, who in turn looks at me, questioning.

“Uh…I’m afraid something went wrong with the spell,” I say, as though it’s not obvious.

The queen marches toward me and wags her finger in my face. “You were ordered to give our daughter a voice so that she can get married to an eligible prince,” she reminds me, eyes flashing. “With a voice like that, not even a shoemaker would marry her.”

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I bow down so low, I am practically kissing the floor. “Forgive me, your majesties,” I say, backing toward the door. “If you will allow me another chance, I am sure I can find a suitable voice for the princess.” Then I hightail it out of there, before the royals can order their guards to lock me in the dungeon, or whatever they do to failed wizards.

For the next week, I spend every waking moment trying to acquire the perfect voice for Princess Lalia. Instead of hunting among the dregs of society, I steal the clear, bell-like voice of a beautiful young lady. However, something goes wrong with that spell, too. The lady, who is now mute, also transforms into a hideous creature. Kind of like Shrek, but blue. If that isn’t bad enough, by the time I wave my wand and transfer the voice to the princess, it is no longer clear and bell-like. Unless you mean a cowbell.

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On the third attempt, the unfortunate woman whose voice I steal drops to the floor, fast asleep. But she doesn’t turn blue, and she doesn’t freeze into a statue of ice, so maybe my magic is improving.

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Or maybe not. This time, the princess gets a normal woman’s voice, but it is turned up to max volume. “I DON’T THINK THIS VOICE WILL WORK EITHER!” she bellows so loud, everyone claps their hands over their ears.

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The Jester is getting a huge kick out of the whole fiasco. “Hey, we have a whole herd of milk cows,” he tells me, snickering. “Maybe you can steal a voice from one of them! Surely the sound will be better than what you’ve produced.”

I glare at him, but he just makes a silly face and says, “Moo-oo-oo! Marry me! Moo-oo-oo!”

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The next day, I approach another woman in town and ask her for a bite of bread. “I have worked all night, and I am hungry,” I tell her.

“Of course.” The woman curtsies and starts to turn away. With a surge of guilt mixed with anger over so many failures, I point my wand at her and utter the magic words.

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The woman does not faint, or change colors, or anything really. She opens her mouth to speak, but nothing comes out. Startled, she grabs at her throat and tries to speak again. But like the princess, she is now voiceless. I breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe the lack of side effects means that this time, the spell will work like a…um, like a charm.

It almost goes without a hitch, but then her husband appears, looking as mad as a hornet and shaking his fist at me. I wave my wand again and disappear in a puff of smoke. Thank goodness for magic.

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Chapter 22: A Voice for Princess Lalia

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When I arrive at Castle Allowyn, I am exhausted, not to mention drenched from the soaking rain we had during the night. A servant leads me to a small room with a bed about as cozy as a rock, where I crash until morning. The king doesn’t send for me, however, until I had paced around my room for a few hours. By then, my stomach is twisting with hunger. I’m so famished, I could eat a tofu dog. (In case you’ve never tried a tofu dog, well, don’t. Seriously. I’d say they taste like playdough, but playdough tastes better).

King Frederick the Sad is seated in the dining hall, waiting for me. Luckily, there are no tofu dogs on the table. Instead, there’s an enormous spread of meat pies, soups, sausages, and desserts.

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“Please, help yourself,” says the king, nodding toward the food.

The part of Shadowhood who is conscious remembers to sweep into a bow before sitting at the table and pigging out. I wish I could say it was a great meal, but it was surprisingly bland, like something you’d get at Hometown Buffet. I guess they didn’t have a lot of spices on hand back in…whatever century this is. Still, it’s food, so I shovel it in until I’m stuffed.

Of course, nothing is free. And as soon as I’ve cleared my plate, His Majesty names his price. “I want you to give my daughter a voice,” he says.

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I raise my eyebrows in mock-surprise. “What makes you think I can give your daughter a voice?”

The king presses his fingertips against the table and leans toward me. “I know of everything that goes on in my kingdom, Shadowhood.”

So, he’s heard of me, of what I can do. I nod. “My work does not come cheap, Your Majesty.”

A wry smile crosses his face. “Of course, there is nice purse in this for you. But if you do not succeed, then the usual laws for sorcery will apply.”

I gulp. Even though I know that the real Shadowhood is a talented sorcerer, I am worried that I, in my mostly-conscious state of being Al Becerra, might screw it up and get us both burned at the stake in the town hall. “I accept your terms, sire,” I say. “Your precious pearl shall have a voice by sundown tomorrow.”

“I certainly hope you are right,” says the king.

I hope that I am right, too.

I don’t delay. I set out at once into the village, in search of a voice for the princess. Shadowhood is confident within me, guiding my every step. But I feel queasy, thinking about what I must do in order to complete my quest.

There are many women in the village; some shopping at the marketplace, some hanging up their wash outside of small stone houses, others rocking fat infants on their porches. I scour the town until at last I find a woman who is alone, and apparently idle. I have seen her before. She is the village beggar, clad in rags, a stench like a piggery emanating from her as I approach. She does acknowledge my presence, continuing to pace back and forth, wringing her hands and muttering to herself in a deep voice as dry and husky as straw.

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I take a deep breath, then lift my wand, point it at the beggar woman, and mutter an incantation. The woman’s grimy face registers shock as the glowing rays shoot from the tip of my wand and strike her. “Noooo—” Her screams are cut short as, to my dismay, she freezes into a block of ice.

Darn it. I hate when that happens.

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My wand vibrates, and I know that I have successfully captured the beggar woman’s voice. I take one last, rueful glance at the statue of ice before mounting Styx and galloping back toward the castle.

The guards let me in and march me toward the throne room, where the king and queen await with their daughter.

“Your highness.” I swoop down low before Princess Lalia. Her beauty is even more breathtaking up close – her hair is long waves of brown sugar, her mouth like a plump pink rose. “If you are ready, I have your new voice.”

The princess glances at her parents, then nods at me. As I lift my wand, she squeezes her eyes shut, steeling herself. I recite the spell, waving my wand through the air, then aiming it at her. The impact of the magic beams knock her off balance, and she tumbles to the floor.

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“Lalia!” Her father rushes forward and reaches down to help her to her feet. “How do you feel? Can you speak?”

Lalia’s face is very pale. She focuses on the king and opens her mouth. “Hello, father,” she says.

The king drops his daughter’s hands and steps away, his face a mask of horror.