It began simply. And it seemed unlikely to improve.
‘Do you see that rock?’ said the old enchantress.
‘Yes,’ said the novelist.
‘Pick it up,’ said the old enchantress. ‘Throw it over the hilltop.’
The novelist picked up the rock, and threw it over the hilltop. It disappeared among the trees with a satisfying swish.
The old enchantress laughed pleasantly. ‘Well, goodness me,’ she said, ‘this bit of hillside looks so much better without that rock lumping up the place. I’ve been meaning to do that for about three hundred years or so–keep putting it off. You know how it goes.’
The novelist admitted glumly that he did, in fact, know how it went.
‘Well,’ said the old enchantress, ‘if, as you say–but I don’t believe a word of it, I’ll have you know–you’re a novelist on your way to sue the Scriptwriter–whoever that is–you know as well as I know that it’s time for you to begin your training in the honourable arts of whatever.’
The novelist explained that, in fact, he knew that as well as she did.
‘In that case,’ said the old enchantress. ‘We’d better start.’
She whirled her magic staff round her head with a terrifying suddenness, blasting bolts of fire onto the hillside. ‘There!’ she said. ‘That’s an excellent way to limber up one’s magical power before breakfast. Terrible in a fight, though, anyone can see that coming from about six miles away.’
The novelist crawled out of the hollow log where he had vainly ducked for safety. ‘Oh, ah? Limber up?’
‘That’s nothing compared to a nice strong cup of tea.’ The enchantress turned a tree into stone with a glance over her eyes, melted it into a table with a cough, and conjured a tea-tray onto it with a wave of her hand. ‘That’s the one, truly powerful disadvantage of our sort of magic.’
‘Our sort?’ said the novelist. ‘Disadvantage?’
‘Yes.’ The old enchantress rattled the teakettle, sighed. ‘We can’t conjure tea. One of the most neglected skills in the profession, but at the end of all the magic it’s just–nip on down to the shop and buy some Tetley. Or Good Earth, or whatever’s on offer. It makes me feel horribly domestic.’
‘Oh,’ said the novelist. ‘Well, I–um.’
He had an annoying feeling that he hadn’t been as clear as he’d intended. He’d meant to ask what he needed to do to succeed at his quest, and to do battle with the Scriptwriter for stereotyping him.
He tried again.
‘Er,’ he said. ‘I say, what–that is–about the Scriptwriter–shouldn’t I–ahem.’
He stopped, abashed.
The old enchantress looked up from the sugar lumps she had been counting for no readily apparent reason. ‘You want to know what to do now, is that it?’
‘Well, yes. That’s how the genre goes, isn’t it?’
‘Oh, you forget!’ said the enchantress. ‘We’re getting on entirely too well, aren’t we? It’s not just mad wizarding skills you need to learn, there’s something inner, something personal. And it’s supposed to come out in utter hatred for me at first. Because you can’t understand how on earth what you’re doing is supposed to help you find the Scriptwriter.’
‘Well,’ said the novelist, silently furious for starting so many sentences with Well. ‘Well, yes.’
‘Right.’ The old enchantress rubbed her hands together. ‘Just nip down to the shop and get me a box of tea. Whatever’s on offer.’
The novelist reeled down the hillside.
No spoilers, but followers of this sorry tale might be intrigued to know that the curator of the shop is a Sock Monkey, named–well, we’ll find that out…