Monday, October 1, 2007

A Spell of Youthful Exuberance

Harold and I went to Kew Gardens the yesterday. He wanted to escape the fug of the bookshop for the wilds of meticulously manicured gardens and ornate Georgian ironwork, and besides, it was the perfect place to look for some Monks Hood and Fly Agaric; two ingredients of a spell he was putting together for Mrs. Sparrow at number twenty-three.

“What do you think?” he asked, showing me a rough outline of the formula last Sunday. “I want to give her some of her youth back.”

I’m not sure why he asked me. I may be a demon – albeit a rather handsome one in a designer-label suit – but what I know about spells can be written on the back of a postage stamp and consists of ‘shake well and drink.’ I looked it over and, not to appear totally ignorant, suggested a drop of dragon’s blood would be efficacious in setting the fire of her salad days. Don’t laugh. It seemed poetic at the time.

“This spell will be my opus,” he said. “I’ll be famous with it.”

“You’re already famous for your Elixir of Beautification,” I said.

He grimaced. “Don’t remind me. How was I to know that it would react so badly with gazpacho soup and reduce the imbiber to a close resemblance of their simian ancestor?”

I laughed. “It was funnier when your mate Tom took it. I’d never have guessed there were sheep in his family tree. It did explain his proclivity for jumpers, though.”

Harold was still laughing as we entered the marshland area. The blue spikes of the monk’s hood were well out of reach behind a label stating the poisonous nature of the plant. “Nip over the railing and get me one,” he said.

“Why me?” I asked. “It’s you that wants it.”

“What if I was caught?” he said. “It would ruin my reputation and besides, isn’t stealing from Kew treason?”

“Pft.” I polished my nails against my lapel. “I’ve committed treason more times in the last five hundred years than you’ve had cauliflower ice-cream.”

“There’s no such thing.”

“And your point?” I left him pondering that as I nipped over the barrier and picked a plant that was just on the verge of flowering. Its flesh roots came up easily.

“Excellent!” said Harold, agog at the theft. “Now I just need the fly agaric and dragon’s blood.”

“Let’s try the woodland walk,” I said, heading off to the north east. “We should be able to get both.”

“Both?” He scoffed and hurried to catch up. “There aren’t any dragons in Kew.”

“Perhaps not.” I flashed him a smile. “Trust me, mate.”

He stopped me with a hand on my arm. “Jasfoup,” he said, “I’m a married man, or would be if Gillian could step into a church without being reduced to a pile of righteous ash. There is no relationship between us.”

“Pft.” I shrugged off his grip and stalked off. “You’re only saying that to make me feel better. I meant ‘mate’ as in ‘friend.’” The canopy of beeches overhead shut out the sunlight. “Shh,” I said. “There’s one over there.”

“A dragon?” His skin was bumpy with horripilation.

“Don’t be daft. There aren’t any dragons in Kew.” I pushed him forward. “It’s a pixie. Ask him for the blood.”

“A what?” Harold took an involuntary step forward into the ring of toadstools. “Ah. Er… Hello.” He smiled and waved his hand. “I’m looking for some dragon’s blood.”

The pixie nodded, opening his tattered green jacket to display vials in all sizes and colours. “How much?”

“Er..” Harold looked back at me. “An ounce?”

“Here.” The pixie handed him a tiny bottle. “What are you offering in exchange?”

Harold searched through his pockets. “A packet of cough sweets?” he said. “Well, half a packet, anyway.”

“That’ll do,” said the pixie. “It’s not the value but the willingness to trade that counts.”

“What are you doing here?”

The pixie leaned forward conspiratorially. “Welcome to the fifth column,” he said. “By trading with us, you’re a member by default.”

“Fifth column against whom?” Harold asked. “No-one believes you exist.”

“Exactly.” The pixie winked. “And we want to keep it that way.”

“Harold,” I said, noting the approach of a park keeper. “Time to abscond.”

Mrs. Starling didn’t appreciate the effort. Like most of his ideas, Harold’s spell didn’t go to plan. Her mind remained untouched and people tend to stare when a fourteen year old complains about ‘the youth of today.”

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