“Don’t you mean behind you?” Otto hissed, standing nonetheless.
“You’ve failed, Roland,” the man spoke again, calmly. “I told Valant that you were not to be trusted with matters involving Marguerite. I tried to warn you years ago. She’s your weakness. Always has been. And since I find you distracted by her instead of completing your simple task, I must conclude that she always will be.” The man sighed, pulling a ribbon on his walking stick. “Of all my students, you two are the most disappointing.”
Otto heard some scuffling behind him, and could see out of the corner of his eye that Marguerite was shrinking further behind the broken stones. It was unlike her to be cowardly. Just how powerful was this man?
“I have the prince safe in hand, Mathias,” Roland pointed out cordially. “There’s no need to be upset.”
Prince Otto took a step back. He knew that name: Mathias the Sorcerer, the most incredibly powerful man in the kingdom. Possibly the oldest. Not someone that anyone wanted to cross, and therefore only called on as a last resort.
“The sun has gone down. You’ve broken your promise, and must now pay the penalty.” Mathias turned his walking stick over in a menacing sort of way.
“Does King Valant want his son only, or doesn’t the treasure matter to him anymore?” Roland casually scratched his head with the tip of the Golden Spoon. “It was about to be stolen by a third party, you see.”
The newcomer stopped, and his eyes widened. “Is that...?”
“The Golden Spoon, legendary artifact of Ivan the Magnificent?” Roland shrugged. “Yes it is. You can see what it did to those monsters if you care to examine their remains. Are you quite sure you want to punish the man holding it?”
Mathias hesitated. Roland was very good at bluffing his way through scrapes, but that did look like the spoon, and there were a lot of mushy clumps on the ground. “Give it to me, and perhaps I will let you run away.”
“I don’t feel like running,” Roland said. “I just had an enormous lunch and the beneficial exercise of fighting ghastly beasts. No, I think it’s you who should run. You look like you could use it.”
“Of all the cheek!” Mathias spat, getting a bit red in the face. “I was starting and ending wars centuries before you were even born! You’re a fool to think you can win against me.”
“Oh, that’s not at all what I was thinking. I defer the pleasure of defeating you to my very best enemy.” Most unexpectedly, Roland tossed the spoon towards Otto, who wisely ducked, and it was caught by Marguerite’s outstretched hand. She rose from behind the broken stone, gleaming in the dim twilight, with a golden bowl on her head and a large, flat pan strapped to her arm like a shield.
A fierce battle began immediately. Mathias shot a fireball at her as she ran towards him, but the flames swept past her without passing on so much as a wisp of smoke. The dish would not let her be burned. When she got close, he swung his walking stick at her head, but it bounced back without making her flinch. The bowl could not be knocked over. She blocked his next swing with the spoon, and though it took a second for the heavily enchanted stick to dissolve, it flopped down limply toward the ground.
For the first time since his first two decades, Mathias was afraid. A single tap from the spoon, and he would be done for. In his fear, he forgot any spell that would have been useful against Marguerite and the set of artifacts, so he summoned a very large door to escape through. But his body wasn’t fast enough at his age. Marguerite took the golden pan in both hands and slammed it down on his head. Mathias fell to the ground. The door disappeared.
Roland came to stand beside his colleague. “You were wrong when you said she was my weakness, Mathias,” he said, looking down at the body. “From the moment we met, it has been her competition that has spurred me to become the great enchanter that I am today.”
“He’s out cold, you know,” Marguerite pointed out. “He can’t hear you.”
“It still needed to be said.” Roland tossed his ponytail with dignity. “You do not disappoint, my dear. I was hoping you would find the bowl and pan in time, and it could not have worked out better.”
Marguerite smiled and nodded her agreement. “You stalled him just long enough for me to do so, Roland. Your eloquence is admirable.”
“I did say some rather amazing things, didn’t I? Admit it, you fell for me a little just now.”
She ignored that. “After all that argument, you gave me the spoon anyway,” she said, looking up at him. “Why?”
“Oh,” Roland shrugged in a dissatisfied way. “Things change when the king that was going to pay you a large sum of money sends your old teacher to kill you instead.” He sighed, “In the end, I think this is the best way to settle the dispute between the two kingdoms. We keep the treasure, and Otto and Beatrice are returned home safely.”
“What do you mean, ‘we?’” Marguerite’s blue eyes narrowed.
Roland merely turned his head. “What do you think, Otto?”
After seeing Marguerite use the golden artifacts to defeat the most powerful man he’d ever seen or heard of, Otto did not actually want his father to have them, especially if it would mean war with Beatrice-- that is-- Beatrice’s father. “It’s alright with me,” he said. “As long as you don’t go losing your temper while holding them.”
Marguerite took the bowl off her head and looked at it with a crooked smile. “They are a bit scary, aren’t they? But think of the good they could be used for! You could make a million cookies in five minutes! Or mash an entire bushel of potatoes.”
“You could run a cafe six days a week and only work for four hours a day,” Roland suggested, a dreamy look in his eyes. “We’ve only to ensure that they don’t fall into the wrong hands.”
“Again, what do you mean, ‘we?’” Marguerite demanded.
Roland turned to face her, an eyebrow raised. “You’re going to make me say it? In front of the prince?”
“You can send me home first! I’ve no complaints,” Otto hastened to add.
“All right, Otto. Just walk through the door. You’re free now.” Marguerite waved her hand, and a door appeared. Otto sighed with relief and obeyed, but before he was entirely out of earshot, and before he turned his back he could see Roland step closer and take hold of the spoon as well, his slender hand covering Marguerite’s.
“We’ve been playing this game for the past several hundred years, my Fair One. Why don’t we stop for a spell and work together?” Otto heard Roland say.
“Why the sudden change?” Marguerite queried, though she sounded uncertain. “If competing against me has made you so great, there’s surely no need for it.”
“A need? No, perhaps not, but... It would be nice to stop having to think up excuses to come over and taste your cooking...” Roland leaned his head down to kiss her, and it seemed like Marguerite didn’t mind the idea.
Otto hurriedly opened the door and stepped through it.
A year later, a celebration took place in honor of the Crown Prince Otto and his betrothal to the lovely Princess Beatrice of the neighboring kingdom. A very affable alliance was formed. Both royal families dined together in the most fashionable restaurant on the continent: a place renowned for its delicious food, sparkling atmosphere, and magical entertainment. Whether it was a sparring match, a theatrical play, or a series of fascinating illusions, audiences were always thrilled.
“Ah, your majesties!” The most gorgeous golden-haired woman any of them had ever seen greeted them with a dazzling smile. “Welcome!”
The tall, dark, and purple-eyed enchanter by her side gestured towards the tables with an elegant wave of his hand. “We reserved the best seats for you, of course. Pray sit down and enjoy yourselves.” They sat down, and Marguerite handed them decorous menus. She paused between the prince and princess seated beside each other.
“Your highness,” she addressed Beatrice with a hand over her heart. “Upon my word, your gown is very handsome tonight. But not as handsome as your fiance, of course! Aren’t you worried that someone will steal him?” Her arm stole around Otto’s shoulders, and she winked at him as he blushed faintly.
The royal parents were uncertain whether to laugh or to call the guards on their hostess. Princess Beatrice’s eyes widened and her lips compressed in a superhuman effort not to explode in an unprincess-like fashion.
Roland came to their rescue by pulling Marguerite back to his side with her apron string. “My dear, do stop teasing royalty. It’s bad for business.” Marguerite just smiled. He continued, “We’ll send someone to take your orders shortly, your majesties.” Roland bowed, Marguerite curtsied, and they walked toward the stage and kitchen, hand in hand.
“What’s all this?” Beatrice’s father spoke up after looking over the menu. “Half of these entrees are breakfast items!”
“I would recommend the pancakes, King Stewart,” Otto smiled. “They are the fair lady’s specialty.”