[Here's a little frivolity for a Thursday. Just because. - RJ]
No, not that one. But this story does have a witch, an honest-to-God witch, some furniture, and a large cat. Such is the way of Caledon.
Our story starts on a fine June day, when Mrs. Greymalkin moved to a secluded plot in Tanglewood. Mrs. Greymalkin was a witch – no one ever knew a Mr. Greymalkin, and all were wise enough not to ask questions – but even witches needed to live somewhere. She purchased a bungalow away from the main traffic flow, one that was badly in need of a good coat of paint or two, and proceeded to set up her stock-in-trade. There was the cauldron, of course, and shelves of herbs and eye-of-newt and all that, along with a bookshelf filled with magical spells. All in Runic, of course, so prying eyes would not learn the arcana of her trade.
She set the cauldron bubbling, and the aroma was enough to make one’s eyes water. Caledonians are fairly tolerant people, of course, but everyone has limits, and soon people started whispering among themselves that the foul stench was not bearable. What to do about it? They could hardly march in and complain about the witch. They instead decided to form a Committee, and the Committee elected Leaders, and the Leaders developed a List of Demands. Such Demands included ceasing all odiferous activities within the area known as Caledon Tanglewood; performing incantations in English only; and requiring all homeowners to maintain their homes in a fully-painted state using only those colors approved by the Committee. These they marched to the witch’s house and presented to the witch.
“We noticed that your house needs painting,” their President said. “Please paint it. Or else.”
“Fools! You dare trifle with me?” Mrs. Greymalkin whipped up a batch of something particularly smelly, chanted in Runic, and, with a wave of her hand, changed her house from a muted blue to a loud pink.
The Leaders looked at one another. They had no contingency plan if the witch refused their Demands. The President of the Committee, though recognizing that he should consult with his fellow Leaders and put the matter to a Vote, took the initiative and repeated the Demands. “If you choose to ignore us, madam, there will be severe Consequences! I can assure you of that.” He looked to his fellow Leaders for affirmation and was pleased to see them nodding. “As you can imagine, the unauthorized color change to your domicile is a most serious offense. Change that back to its original color and we shall be satisfied.”
Mrs. Greymalkin sighed. She wasn’t a mean witch, really she wasn’t. She just wanted to be left alone with her cauldron, her spells, and, perhaps, every full moon or two, a nice game of whist with several of her fellow witches. Whist relaxed her. But no, these do-gooding meddlers had the gall to make Demands of her. What was a witch to do? After further incantations, she pointed her long, bony finger at each Leader in turn.
With a slight pop! each time, the Leaders were transformed, one by one. The man with the cravat shop turned into a dining table; the lady who tinkered with motorized vehicles turned into a wingback chair; the hard-faced housewife in an oversized bustle turned into an ottoman (complete with the Caledon tartan!); and the President, a mousy, middle-aged man with a pompous attitude that attempted to make up for a lack of imagination, turned into a wardrobe.
The witch admired her creations. Her house had needed furnishing anyway, and she had just learned the furniture spell and wondered on whom she could practice it when this opportunity presented itself. No doubt the neighbors would be upset – not so much at the loss of these particular individuals, she thought, as they were hardly worth fussing over, but more at the principle of the thing – but Mrs. Greymalkin couldn’t take their incessant whiny Demands any longer. And it was very handsome furniture indeed.
As she predicted, the townsfolk were not happy about this turn of events. Some visited the furniture, and Mrs. Greymalkin always invited the pleasant ones in for a cup of tea and a biscuit, and showed off the furniture. Some would laugh nervously and make a remark such as, “Mr. Whitcolme was always a bit of a stick, wasn’t he? Now he’s a table – isn’t that appropriate, ha ha?” Yet Mrs. Greymalkin understood sadly that these little bits of humor only served to underscore their distaste at having a witch in their presence who might choose to transform other, more desirable neighbors into furniture at any time.
It was only a matter of time before those same Elements of the town that formed the Committee enlisted the help of a passing Lion. The Lion (as the males are wont to do) swaggered into town, allowing his magnificent mane to flow easily in the breeze. He understood that he was a fine-looking specimen of Lionhood, and was happy to share his magnificence with others. The Elements explained their problem to the Lion, and whispered the promise of a Reward into his ear. The combination of doing a Lionly deed, the satisfaction from the good-will of the townspeople and, of course, the prospect of a Reward were enough to sway the Lion. He agreed to rid the town of the witch and to ensure the safety of her four victims, now prisoners in her house. He traveled to the witch’s cottage in order to eat her.
When the Lion knocked on Mrs. Greymalkin’s door, she understood the purpose behind his visit. She considered her options. She could cast the same spell that she used on the unfortunate Leaders (she glanced at Mrs. Wingback Chair and Mr. Ottoman, the latter now holding a copy of a delightful piece of historical non-fiction that would be published some years in the future (the witch also having the power of manipulating time) involving a young wizard named Potter), but she had no more need of furniture, as her cottage was small, and, in any event, she was not entirely certain how the spell would work with a Lion. Perhaps instead of furniture he would be turned into a teakettle, or an antimacassar, or something entirely useless? She decided instead to apply Reason and appeal to his Good Nature. Though Lions are vain and vicious, they do indeed have a Good Nature, though one must be clever to find it.
“What may I do for you, Mr. Lion?” she called through the door.
“Your house is pink, madam, a color that has not been authorized by my clients, and, therefore, they have retained me to eat you. Please open the door that I may do so.”
One of life’s little ironies is that, despite his name, the Lion is an entirely truthful creature. This is no doubt a result of his vanity and self-image as a heroic protector of his realm. Whatever the reason, he is incapable of a fib, something the witch well knew.
“The house is indeed pink,” she replied. “But that seems a rash response to such a trifling crime.”
“Perhaps it is, but I have agreed to do so.”
“Well, you also transformed four members of the community into pieces of furniture.”
“I did, but let me assure you that they are not harmed, only differently-constructed, and we should not judge whether their current construction is better or worse than their original forms. There is no doubt that they are all more useful as furniture than as people.”
“Perhaps, and yet I repeat: I have agreed to eat you.”
“Consider, Mr. Lion, that I am an old lady, and doubtless taste of such, and am likely tough and stringy as well. As a meal, I would only upset your stomach.”
At this, the Lion paused. He enjoyed a good meal, and he disliked those that upset his stomach which, truth be told, was a little delicate. “Perhaps and perhaps, but –” And now his voice was filled with regret. “– I have given my word.” He paused again. “Unless you have a better suggestion for me.”
“In truth, the people were upset with me because they did not like the smells from my cauldron. They refused to be honest about their concerns – I could have added a little perfume to the mix – and instead chose to complain about my house color. I changed it to this pink color simply to vex them. Their outrageous overreaction is typical of small people given power. Before you arrived, I had thought to leave Tanglewood and find an isolated place where no neighbors could complain about my witchcraft. My plan is simple: instead of eating me, you agree to let me leave. I can pack the entire contents of this house, except for the furniture, into two medium-sized bags. You may take possession of the house, including the furniture. I assure you that the ottoman makes for a comfortable spot to rest your paws at the end of a hard day, though the wardrobe has an attitude problem. You may then assure the people of this shire that you have fulfilled your duty: you have rid the town of me, which you may say truthfully, and if they choose to think you ate me, well, that is their mistake. You will see to the safety of my victims, which, as you will want the furniture to last a long time, you will most surely do.”
The Lion saw the logic of the witch’s proposal. This satisfied his obligations without the danger to himself – and, really, wouldn’t his loss be more than the world could bear? He agreed immediately. The witch left, carrying the two magical bags, and the Lion moved into the cottage. There he lived for many years, with four nice pieces of furniture that he carefully tended. They always gave him excellent service, except for the wardrobe, which tended to have doors that stuck shut, regardless of how much he oiled them.