The teenage apprentice threw his pencil down in disgust. “This is stupid! Copying a whole page out of the dictionary just because one word in my cantrip was misspelled. What does it matter? I’m just going to speak the thing—it’s not like it will read itself.”
His master’s mouth crooked. “You can never be too careful with magic, Alfred. And so, you will continue copying until you reach,” he glanced at the page, “indiscriminate.”
Alfred shot his master a dark look. “I bet Seymour never has to copy out the dictionary. He just figures out what he does wrong and fixes it.”
Seymour surveyed the mess in his kitchen with dismay. “But I need time to finish my spell for the journeyman competition tomorrow!”
“You can do that after the kitchen’s clean,” the brass head on the table snapped. “I can hardly see the room for all the dirty dishes!”
Seymour sighed. The spell that made the brass head speak had seemed brilliant at the time, and it had earned him his journeyman status. But Seymour wished he had greater talents than enchanting objects. He spared a moment for self-pity—his master had died too soon.
He tried sweet reason; it had worked a few times. “I have to do well tomorrow. People only seek me out when they don’t have time to travel to another village. They don’t trust me because my master died before my apprenticeship finished. A few prizes could make all the difference in what we can afford. Maybe I could even hire someone to help take care of the house.”
The head snorted. “None of the village girls would want to work in a wizard’s cottage. And besides, you’d just waste the money on a book of spells you can’t use.”
Seymour shot her a dark look. “I made one of the spells work.” It was depressing that this counted as a major victory.
“Well, you can think about your spell while you do the dishes.” The head had no pity whatsoever, and if he put her off too long, she’d start singing. A drunken sailor had nothing on the head when she warmed up. Her singing voice reminded him of fingernails scraping along a chalk slate.
“Fine! I’ll do the dishes and work on a spell.” Seymour shot a harried glance at the sink. How could the dishes build up so much when he mostly ate sandwiches? As the head was happy to remind him, cooking was another talent he needed to improve. But he certainly wasn’t going to waste any silver on a cookbook, not when he desperately needed to improve his magic. An embarrassing public failure tomorrow would not help matters.
Doing the dishes would actually require several spells. It was a pity he had no homunculus to carry water for him, but he hadn’t had the nerve to make one since enchanting the head. Perhaps the scarecrow out in the garden would serve.
Seymour grabbed his slate and started to chalk out the beginnings of spells. One for the scrub rag to wash and rinse, one for the drying cloth, and one for the scarecrow. If this worked, he’s adapt it for the mop and take care of the floor, too. That should make the head happy.
“Seymour! Why aren’t you fetching water?” Never known for patience, the head was starting to hum, always an ominous sign.
“Just give me a few more minutes. They’ll be done within the hour.” Seymour did not want to explain what he was doing. He knew she’d try to talk him out of it, and he didn’t need holes punched in his confidence right now. New spells were even trickier to master than old ones. But he was good at enchanting objects. This should work.
Seymour finished the spells, recited them silently to himself, and smiled. Everything appeared to be covered. Fetch and carry—that was all he needed the scarecrow to do. He just needed to keep it simple.
He spoke the spell in his best sonorous voice, enunciating each word with care.
The head snorted. “And what was that for? A spell to get a lazy boy to work? All our money worries will be over if you’ve figured that one out.”
Just then the scarecrow appeared at the door, a bucket in its hand. It walked right past the head and dumped the water in the sink.
Seymour savored the look of surprise on the head’s face and spoke the words to the next spell. The dishcloth started scrubbing on the top plate in the sink.
“There—we’ll have these dishes done in no time,” he said, enjoying the silence that greeted this statement. It wasn’t often that he stumped the head for a reply. He spoke the words that would bring the drying cloth to life. It dutifully took up the first washed plate, swiped both sides, and set it on the sideboard by the sink.
Seymour ran over to investigate. Ha! It was clean.
“This won’t end well,” predicted the head, but Seymour grinned. She couldn’t find anything wrong with his spell—she wouldn’t have hesitated to tell him exactly what it was.
Then the scarecrow appeared with another bucket of water.
“Wait, no…we’re not ready yet,” Seymour sputtered, but the scarecrow paid him no mind. It dumped the water into the sink, causing a cascade over the side when it overfilled.
“I told you so,” the head said in an insufferably smug tone.
“I’ll just drain the old water out,” said Seymour. It wasn’t as though he could think of everything. “And then I’ll mop up the rest. You should be happy—the floor’s getting cleaned, too.”
He pulled the plug beneath the sink, elbowing aside the dishrag, and stoppered the sink again when there was only a couple of inches of wash water left. Then he ran to get the mop from the cupboard.
When he returned, the scarecrow was dumping yet another bucket into the sink and the dishrag was scrubbing the counter. With nothing else to do, the drying cloth scrubbed at the scarecrow. It dropped its bucket to fend off this new threat.
“No!” shouted Seymour, and he ran to untangle the mess. He washed a plate and set it in front of the drying cloth, which attacked it. He put the dishcloth in the sink where it started on the next plate. And he picked up the bucket and put it in the scarecrow’s hand. It immediately went back outside to fetch more.
Seymour attempted to mop at lightning speed. He’d just gotten the puddle into the bucket when the scarecrow dumped more water into the sink, causing another spill over the side.
Seymour dropped the mop with a clatter and ran to pull the plug again. At least it was easier this time—he had a stack of sparkling plates that weren’t in the sink. He sighed. He’d been thinking that maybe this spell would be worth a pretty penny, but it was far too complicated to satisfy customers.
And then the scarecrow, unable to reach the sink, dumped a bucket of water over his head.
Seymour shook the drips from his face and slipped in the puddle of water. Ow! He’d landed hard on the stone-flagged floor. He stood, rubbing his sore backside to the sound of the head’s delighted cackle.
He’d show her. He stepped forward, but the scarecrow started its inexorable way to the well, and Seymour tripped over its foot. He sat up nursing a bloody nose, but that wasn’t his biggest problem. His ankle was screaming loud enough to make his nose almost irrelevant.
“I think I sprained my ankle,” he said, not that he expected the world to particularly care.
Nor was he disappointed. “Well, don’t look at me,” the head stated firmly. “I’m just a brass head. You’re the mighty wizard.” The smug laughter that filled the house was the crowning touch.
“Why are we stopping at Seymour’s?” asked Alfred, still sulking over copying the dictionary. The last thing he wanted to see was a barely-older wizard who didn’t have a master to satisfy.
“It’s considered a courtesy,” his master said mildly. “What’s that scarecrow doing?”
Alfred perked up. “It looks like it’s fetching water into the house.”
The two followed the scarecrow to the front door, arriving just in time to see another bucket of water dumped over Seymour’s head. The resigned way in which he mopped his face showed that this had been happening for some time. As did the puddle, which covered the entire floor.
“Thank heaven—a real wizard!” a shrill voice cried from the table.
Seymour looked up and flushed a bright brick red. “Master Elgion. I, uh, seem to be having trouble with one of my spells.”
“Alfred, get Seymour off the floor—I’ll straighten this mess out,” said the master. He rushed to the slate on the table and scowled. “Seymour, you never start this kind of spell without a way to disenchant the object. And for some reason, household spells usually go wrong.”
Alfred and the older wizard got Seymour cleaned up and his ankle well-wrapped, the spells now finished. Muttering under his breath about the essential unfairness of it all, Alfred was stuck with finishing the dishes and mopping up the incipient lake on the floor.
He was somewhat mollified when his master shoved a book at Seymour as he lay with his leg up in bed. “I expect you to copy the entire Limits of Magic before you try another new spell,” Master Elgion said sternly.
Seymour bobbed his head and stuttered profound thanks.
“Now what did you learn?” Master Elgion asked Alfred when they finally headed away from the cottage.
Alfred sighed. What he’d really been thinking was that it wasn’t a good idea to be an able-bodied apprentice anywhere near a mess. “I suppose you want me to realize that I need to be careful with magic.” Then he grinned. “Not indiscriminate.”