7. Beware of Magicians Bearing Gifts

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Unicorns! Seriously? Who brings unicorns into a dining hall? It had to be some sort of health code violation, but hey, this was the middle ages and health codes wouldn't exist for centuries.

Then there was the matter of the gift itself.

When an evil magician offered something, the wise princess declined. Generally, they were curses in disguise. For example, you might think you were getting a beauty elixir but end up with an unsightly skin condition. A love potion might win you an obsessed stalker.

If I could give you any advice, dear reader, it would be this: Never accept gifts from evil magicians, genies, elves, dark fairies, or telemarketers. There's always a catch, and it's often expensive and/or painful.

In the case of the unicorns, it was also stinky. The lingering odor from the musk oil mishap in the stalls the day before had vanquished the yummy smells of breakfast. They pawed at the stone floor, wings pinned back, eyes wild. Unicorns didn't like being awake during the daytime nor being inside.

Though unicorns weren't Ashley's favorite creatures, she pitied them, knowing what it was like to be confined. Reflexively, she began to reassure them but thought better of it and clapped her mouth closed. It wouldn't be wise to advertise her animal communication skills, especially in front of a magician.

"Majesties," Marveloni purred, leaning on his silver, gem-encrusted staff and bowing. The man set Ashley's teeth on edge. And it wasn't just his otherworldly paleness, condescending tone, pompous name, and strange clothing—black dragon-skin cloak with matching eye patch and more ruffles on his shirt than on a bridal gown.

The magician's most disconcerting feature was his one exposed eye—white as marble, with no iris. Just a huge black pupil.

Right then, he trained this creepy eyeball on Ashley. Not wanting to give him the satisfaction of looking away, Ashley gritted her teeth and stared back.

Her chest tightened. She imagined an invisible tether stretched between them. Something wild and slippery spilling into her body, heating her blood. The fruity, earthy flavor of mulled wine lingered on her tongue.

Ashley blinked.

That was unnerving. Whatever that was. Magic or her imagination?

She flexed her fingers and wriggled her toes. They responded like normal. For a moment, she detected a tiny glow, like a gathering of moonlight deep in her belly. Had the magician put something there? But no, a breath later and it was gone.

"Did you ...?" Ashley began, not sure how to complete the question.

... poison me with your evil magic?

... feed me mulled-wine scented moonlight?

... curse me with that creepy eye of yours?

Before she could settle on the best question, Charming put his hands on her shoulders and cocked his head. "Are you quite all right, Princess?"

"Fine," she said. Although "fine" might not be wholly accurate, considering her prince was leaving, she'd traipsed through the castle practically naked, her lady-in-waiting was clearly after her husband, the court magician was probably plotting to kill her, and her mosquito bite itched like the pox. She scratched.

"Very well." Charming turned toward his sorcerer. "Marvy, thank you for coming so quickly." 

Marvy? That was even worse than Magnificent Marveloni. The only benefit of Charming's journeys was the fact that "Marvy" always accompanied him.

"Of course. The daylight grows short. The sooner we leave, the safer our travels."

"Well, let us not delay the suspense a moment longer." The prince clapped his hands, beaming with pride.

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