Chapter 1 of Many

On the edge of a forest lived a woman.

This woman’s name was Penelope MacNa’Marain, and she was known (completely ironically) as the penny witch, for she would grant a simple wish for one pence.

Unfortunately, due to a rather sharp increase in living standards and inflation, her services were no longer as cheap as before, though still cheaper than the average mage or sorcerer. She’d begun charging extra for the more complex wishes, and the cheapest were now worth two and a half silver coins.

People still came to her from all over for her work, however, as she had a good reputation for being fair.

One day, a man on a quest came to her for help. “Came”, however, was a little polite.

He’d trampled indiscriminately through her Echinacea and sunflowers as she sat on her porch, drinking tea and enjoying the early morning sunshine.

Furious, she stood from her seat and, with tea in hand, stormed over to where his horse was now grazing contentedly in her azaleas.

“Who do you think you are?” she demanded, yanking the horse’s muzzle abruptly upward with a sharp flick of her wrist so that it wouldn’t continue onto her more poisonous plants.

The man peered down at her from his seat on the horse.

“I’m looking for the penny witch,” he said. “You wouldn’t happen to know her, would you, my fair maiden? I heard that she lived somewhere in this part of the woods.”

Suppressing the flood of mixed swears and hexes that threatened to spill out, Penelope drew herself to her full height. “I am the penny witch,” she declared imperiously. “And you are standing in my flowerbeds.”

The man looked around himself in surprise. “I’m terribly sorry, madam, I was in a hurry, for I desperately need her help.”

Narrowing her eyes dangerously, she felt the magic build and spark at her fingertips. “Remove yourself from my flowerbeds and perhaps I will grant your wish,” she said icily. “Or, don’t and I will remove you by force and kick you and that nag to so far north, you’ll freeze to death before you–”

She never finished her threat (which was good, as she was having trouble ending it), as the man kicked his horse into a hasty retreat to a safe distance behind the fence.

Satisfied that her flowers would no longer be assaulted by the man on the horse, she crossed her arms. “Well, then,” she barked when the man made no move to apologize or restart his bartering. “Start over!”

The man started. “Oh, er, right,” he said sheepishly. He dismounted and hopped over the fence, walking until he stood in front of the witch. He swept low into a bow and said, “My apologies, fair maiden, for I am on a quest. My name is Jeremy von Kittenberries and I wish to meet with the penny witch.”

Penelope smirked in amusement and took a sip of her tea. “Wish granted. Shall I add that to your tab, then?”

Jeremy von Kittenberries looked at her confusedly. “I’m sorry, I see no penny witch. Only a fair maiden with hair like dark fire and eyes like–”

“You are unbelievably stupid.” Penelope finished her tea and waved the mug back into the cottage. “I am the penny witch.”

His horse snorted, as if deriding his rider’s idiocy.

“Oh.” Jeremy looked slightly disappointed.

“What? Were you expecting some old hag with greasy black hair and a double chin?”

“No! No, of course not! You’re just…more…female…than I expected you to be,” he amended hastily.

Penelope stood on her tiptoes and peered into the man’s dull green eyes.

Uncomfortable, Jeremy leaned away from her intense glare. “What are you doing?”

“Trying to figure out if you really are that stupid, or you’re just faking because you think I like men like you.”

“…I think that was an insult.”

Penelope drew back and clapped her hands once in mock delight. “Oh! You’re getting smarter!”

“I feel insulted,” Jeremy said in a wounded voice.

“Good.”

“Now I’m starting to reconsider coming to you for help, Penny.”

“My name is Penelope. Don’t laugh. Don’t call me ‘Penny’. And what you want to wish for is actually quite a bit cheaper here than with the pampered city-mages.”

Frowning in concentration, the man weighed his options as his horse looked on in disinterest. Penelope waited patiently, watching her black mouser approach the large steed cautiously.

Finally, Jeremy’s shoulder’s drooped in defeat. “Fine,” he said. “So I’m a poor adventurer.”

Penelope smiled. “Well then, follow me inside. We’ll draw up a plan and I’ll make you some tea. Would you like black, cinnamon, green, jasmine, elderberry, or ginger?”

Jeremy followed her into her cottage, a blank look on his face. “Do you have any normal tea?” he asked in desperation. Penelope snorted.

 “Black tea for you it is, then. Take a seat at the table.”

As the tea steeped in the tea-pot (cooking with magic made things taste strange in her opinion), she gathered up paper, an inkwell, and a quill.

“Well,” she said, settling herself and two mugs of plain black tea at the kitchen table where Jeremy was sitting. “Your bill is two and a half silvers for wishing to find me. What is your second wish?”

Jeremy leaned forward, a look of secrecy on his face. “If I tell you this wish, you can’t tell anyone else,” he said seriously.

Penelope looked at him in disbelief. “You really are a dumbass if you think I would breach a customer’s confidentiality.”

Jeremy shifted uncomfortably. “It’s just kind of embarrassing,” he mumbled partially to himself.

“Honey, I’ve had everyone from pyromaniac sprites ask me to make rain flammable to silly, ditzy blonde girls ask me to make their true loves rescue them from some life-threatening situation to grown men asking for…enlargement…in certain areas they deem lacking. Believe me when I say that nothing is too embarrassing.”

Jeremy flushed a dull pink. “I know, but….” He fidgeted with the mug of tea in front of him.

“Just spit it out!” Penelope said exasperatedly.

“Iwannafindthegoldenlilytogivetomyfuturefiancee,” he mumbled to his mug of tea.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“I want to find the legendary Golden Lily of Eternal Love to give to my future fiancée,” he said a little more clearly.

Penelope looked dubiously at him. “And just who exactly is this ‘future fiancée’ of yours?” she asked.

“Err…she’s a girl…from the city…she’s gorgeous, and funny, and smart, and–and–”

“And you love her oh-so-much, correct?” Penelope said, amused. Ah, young, unrequited love.

“That’s right,” Jeremy said. “And I would really love to propose to her, even if she hasn’t said ‘I love you’ back yet.”

Penelope suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. “Okay. Well then, to find the Golden Lily of Eternal Love, which we will now abbreviate as the GLEL, you will have to go on a very long and arduous journey.”

She smoothed her hand over her paper and wrote out a few figures. “I don’t know where exactly the GLEL is, but I know some people who know some other people, the cousin of which spent some time with the dragon that guards the GLEL learning the art of dragon metallurgy.”

Jeremy gulped. “D-dragon?” he whimpered.

“Yes, a dragon. A big, scary, scaly green dragon that will eat you alive if you look at him funny.”

Jeremy looked faint.

“Do you still want to go on this quest?”

“Of course!” Jeremy said hastily. “Why wouldn’t I? This is all in the name of Love, after all!”

Once again, Penelope resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “Very well, then. Come back tomorrow with a pouch full of coins and we will begin to compile the things necessary for you to finish this trip successfully.”

She and Jeremy stood and shook hands, Jeremy’s noticeably damper due to his nervousness. Jeremy left on his horse to book a room at the local inn that was ten miles away, and Penelope looked at her cat, who was seated quite comfortably on her fence.

“What has that young man gotten himself into?” she asked. The cat merely blinked at her and licked its paw.

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