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Here's the whole story of how Fain the Gardener became Fain the Sorcerer. But I'll tell it quickly by leaving out the lies.
The King of Envashes offered a reward to whoever could awake his daughter, who had been sent to sleep by a necromancer. This was a tradition in those days: it gave everyone something to chat about other than pigs, and something to think about other than what was important.
Fain visited the court with the intention of squishing a half-lemon onto the nose of the princess, or perhaps simply shouting at her, or both. 'Or perhaps,' he thought, 'when the time comes, I won't be bothered to do either.' For Fain was a young man of his own mind and no-one else's.
But as Fain entered the audience room and saw the King awaiting on his throne, he happened to see also a miming, pranking moron who pulled faces at empty air and generally acted the fool. Enraged by the clown, Fain flew at him and smashed him to the floor, strangling the jangling jester as the whole court protested and claimed they were appalled. Finished, Fain stood to regain his composure as everyone cried out against him. 'He has destroyed the neck of the King's jester!' they announced, and called guards upon Fain. Fain was obliged to run outside, steal a beautiful horse and escape into the forest.
Though a mere labourer and odd-job man, Fain knew the business with the Princess was meant to distract the common people from rebelling against the King and other woes.
'With the spectacle I'm providing,' Fain thought, 'you would have thought the King would be grateful.'
Arriving at the mossy mouth of a cave, he was confronted by a ragged, one-armed man who staggered out with a jug jammed down over his head. 'You!' Fain shouted at the man, leaping from the horse and thwacking it into a run. 'Idiot! I must hide in your cave.'
'Take the jar from my head, and the cave is yours,' the man was saying as Fain knocked him aside and the jar smashed upon a rocky ledge. The tangle-bearded old man shouted 'Land of beer, nook of pine!' or something like that, but seemed quite happy. He picked up a few of the jar shards and scampered after Fain into the cave. Fain was explaining the anger he had incited at court by killing a mime.
'What was your crime?' croaked the old man.
'For the throttling of that stupid clown I'm being hunted by one and all—they'll probably follow the horse awhile, then double back and stab me.'
'Not you,' the old man chortled, and began dancing around the smashed pottery. 'For this urn is enchanted, and it falls to you, its destroyer in good faith, to receive its final three wishes. The old man you see cannot benefit from it—only others may. Choose!'
'Three wishes is it?' thought Fain. 'He's probably a total nutter but just in case, I'd better choose carefully.' For he knew such situations are notoriously sticky and fraught with unforeseen consequences. Magical literature was full of stories of impulsive dreamers asking for stupid things like 'an endless supply of sardines' and so on. Fain considered his options as carefully as he could with the threat of capture upon him. Then he piped up. 'Alright, old man—if this broken rubbish really does have the power to grant wishes, here are mine. One, that I can travel into the past to whatever time I wish, at will. Two, that I be given the knowledge of how to wake the Princess up at the castle. And three, that I have an endless supply of sardines.'
'You choose well, young stranger,' cackled the old lunatic.
Fain felt no different, and immediately wondered why he'd stood here in the cave mouth wasting his time with this dodgy relic.
But as he stormed out of the cave he saw the King's riders bearing down on him, the lead man drawing his sword with a yell. 'There's the villain now!'
As the sword drove toward him, Fain wished he could go back and do it all differently. The entire scene blurred as though he were falling backward over a cliff, the view rushing away from him. And indeed the wind was knocked out of him as he landed in the previous day, completely naked.
Copyright © Steve Aylett, 2007