His third thought was more lingering. It occurred to him as he stamped out the fire that had suddenly caught on the cuff of his left sleeve. He really should have studied magic. He had studied swordsmanship (he dodged as a hairy beast nearly fell down on top of him), but that was useless if a man didn’t have his sword in his hand.
The chunk of stone he was hiding behind exploded from a stray shot of Marguerite’s, and the poor, helpless prince flinched with his hands covering his head. Then he looked up and saw it: a bright glint in the rubble, just out of his reach. He inched forward, brushed off the gravel, and pulled on what looked like a golden handle. It came free, and he got up to his knees, lifting it into the air.
It was a large golden spoon, shorter than his forearm and curved at the bowl, but not quite like a ladle. Otto held it aloft, at a loss for words. A snarling wolf-bear caught sight of it and lunged toward him, jaws open wide. The prince swung the spoon and landed a square hit on the side of the creature’s face. He didn’t expect it to do much, but the wolf-bear didn’t get up again. Its entire body had become featureless, like a puddle of mush.
All the beasts, who had been mainly ignoring him before, stopped for a fraction of a second, and rushed toward Otto and his spoon. He yelped and fought them off in the same manner. Marguerite and Roland came to his aid, but the spoon proved to be more effective. If Otto hit a creature, it would sag to the ground as if made of pudding. Some even became a light and fluffy consistency.
“Where did you get that?” Roland yelled over the fray.
“It was under there!” Otto yelled back, pointing to the broken stone.
After zapping a tigerish beast with a ball of white flame, Marguerite gasped with both hands over her mouth. “It’s the Golden Spoon! The legendary artifact that will cream anything in a single stroke! No wonder King Valant wanted it!”
Roland agreed, and was struck with an idea. “That’s incredible. He could make an entire vat of butter in a second!”
While they were extolling the spoon’s virtues, Otto had beaten the last of the beasts in an anticlimactic finish. Exhausted, he dropped back to his knees and let the heavy spoon hit the ground. The stones beneath him turned to a gray powder, and he sank down a few inches. Otto let go of the spoon in a hurry.
“Nicely done, Prince,” Roland patted his back. “You found the treasure and defeated the guardian beasts! We helped, of course, but you only need to mention us nicely when you tell your father the story.”
Marguerite crouched down by the stone and started digging around where Otto had uncovered the spoon.
“My dear, why are you dirtying your lovely hands? Hoping to find a legendary whisk as well?” Roland leaned over her in a picturesque pose.
“As a matter of fact,” she retorted. “That golden spoon was originally part of a set, and I thought that maybe-- just maybe!-- they might be buried together.”
“A set of spoons?” Otto asked.
“No, a cooking set!” The enchantress impatiently pulled away the rubble. “Made by the Great Chef, Ivan the Magnificent, also known as Ivan the Lazy, Ivan the Greedy. There was a bowl that could never be knocked over or spill anything accidentally, the spoon, and a baking pan that would never allow anything on it to be burned.”
“While that would be nice, we really should go now,” Roland interrupted. “The sun is close to setting, and I may or may not have promised King Valant that I would return his son before the day was out...”
“Who cares about King Valant?” Marguerite snapped. “Go ahead and take Otto back; my task is over.”
“What do you mean?” Roland frowned while Otto looked up in surprise. “Wasn’t Otto your main task? Do you--” he paused, glancing at the spoon. “Do you mean to give the treasure to King Stewart, Beatrice’s papa?”
The enchantress laughed, reaching for the spoon. “Who needs him either? I have what both kings are fighting over.”
Otto snatched the spoon up before her hand touched it. “No, you don’t! I know what this spoon can do, and it’s my duty as a prince to give it to my father!”
“Don’t be a hero, Otto. Your father had Beatrice kidnapped over this,” Marguerite reminded him. “Do you really think he’s the man who should have it?”
“You’re the one who kidnapped me!” Otto protested.
“Water under the bridge,” Roland interjected. “It’s just a very powerful cooking utensil, you two. Nothing to get excited over. We really ought to leave this place, now.”
“Fine, take him and go,” Marguerite said. “Otto, give me the spoon!”
Otto strained against the spell that was pulling his hand that was holding the spoon closer and closer to Marguerite’s outstretched hand. He was unable to resist, but before she could get it, Roland took the spoon first.
“Give that here!” Marguerite stood up furiously.
“What’s so important about it, Mag?” Roland held it out of her reach. “You don’t need it. You haven’t burn anything in years. You already have sturdy creaming spoons and enchanted, spill-resistant bowls. Is it the gold? Has it gone to your head?”
“Shut up! I’ve always wanted it, ever since we studied it in school! Do you know how many spoons I’ve broken just trying to make cookies when I’ve forgotten to put the butter out long enough to get it to room temperature? Why should a king who’s never seen the inside of of a kitchen get it?” She clutched her hair in frustration.
“You have a point, but Otto is the one who found it. Yes, I realize he wouldn’t have if you weren’t busy fighting to save his skin at the time, but think for a moment! What are you going to do after you have it? You’ll become the enemy of two kingdoms instead of one, with entire armies coming to trample your gardens and burn down your cottage.”
This seemed to get through to her. She lowered her hands. “You don’t know that will happen.”
Roland opened his mouth to reply, but they were interrupted.
“Well, well!” A voice made them all turn to look outside of the stone circle, where an older, portly man with a gaudy walking stick was standing. “My dear Roland! Milady Marguerite! We meet again.”
“Oh, fiddlesticks,” Roland muttered.