As a rule, there are only three things that magic cannot do: create life, bring back the dead, and make people fall in love. As a rule, there are only three things that villagers ask from a witch: to produce children for the old and barren, to bring back the dead, and to make someone or other fall in love. Naturally, Toadmila had been trained to handle such requests with utmost professionalism. The key to it was to smile, look confident, and never let on that there was anything impossible for a witch. Toadmila clenched the jaws, widened her lips into what she hoped looked like a convincing smile, opened her mouth and pronounced a definite “No.”
“Oh, but you must,” the girl insisted. “That's what witches do.”
Toadmila wanted to point out that this sort of preconception about what witches do was exactly what caused villagers to try to burn her to a crisp and a regular basis. But the girl kept on talking.
“You're my only hope,” she added quickly. “I've prayed for three years, to every saint I could think of. Saint Valentine, the Archangel Raphael, Saint Dwyn, I've even been on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint William in Flowerton. That alone took ten months of walking barefoot under a vow of silence until the pilgrimage was completed, but it didn't help at all. I guess it wasn't the right saint after all. He's the saint of star-crossed lovers. But that's not quite it, because we're not lovers. Because he doesn't like me. And there's no saint patron of unrequited love, is there? So you're my only hope.”
Toadmila gave the girl a strange look, something between pity and curiosity. She had to admit she'd never seen a villager up close before. They certainly seemed to be a strange lot.
“Have you tried talking to him?” she asked.
“To saint William?” the girl answered, all perked up. “Every night! I pray to him every night and I tell him everything.”
“To this... John,” Toadmila interposed. “have you tried talking to him?”
The girl looked taken aback by the thought.
“Well, I bid him good day every time I see him, except for the ten months I was under the vow of silence, but I didn't see him then anyway, because I was on my pilgrimage. And I say to him 'May your crops grow tall' every New Year's Day, and I say 'Merry Winterdawn!' on Winterdawn and all...”
Toadmila rolled her eyes and waved her hand at the girl as if to shoo a fly.
“Well, what do you say to the man you love?” the girl asked.
Toadmila considered her answer carefully. She had never had time for such a troublesome thing as love. Back at the orphanage, boys were nothing more than nuisances she had to compete with for the little food that the nuns gave them. And later, at the Academy, where food was plentiful, she'd occupied her ever waken hour with her studies, thinking that good grades would be enough to guarantee her a good life after graduation. But, even in her studies, she had overheard other girls talk about their crushes, and talking to the boy had always been part of the whole romance thing. Now that she thought about it, she didn't really know anything about love, what it was, how it worked. There was nothing about it in any of her textbooks, or any of the advanced tomes on magic. There was a brief mention that true love's kiss could break any curse, of course, but no information whatsoever into what “true love” was, or how to obtain it, so the whole thing was a mere footnote, and didn't even show up in the weekly quiz.
“Does praying usually help?” Toadmila asked, deciding to tactfully change the subject.
“Oh, yes,” the girl answered. “But you must pray to the right saint for it.”
The girl proceeded to enumerate the saints she usually prayed to, counting them on her fingers to make sure that she wasn't forgetting any of them. There were saints to pray to for making good soup, saints that protected against bumblebee stings, saints to pray to for rain, and saints to pray to for the rain to stop. Toadmila listened keenly to see what would happen when the girl ran out of fingers to count on, but the girl just stopped at ten and stood thee, looking pleadingly at Toadmila.
“What's your name?” Toadmila asked, mollified. This girl had probably been among the villagers who had tried to kill her the previous week, but right now, she looked so meek, so helpless, that Toadmila felt a strange need to be nice to her.
“Don't you already know? I thought you'd have seen it all in your crystal ball, my name, and how I'd come here, and how you'd help me, and how it will all end well and all.”
“I only use my crystal ball for important things,” Toadmila said stiffly. She didn't want to admit, to a villager, no less, that she couldn't afford to buy a crystal ball just yet, just as she couldn't afford to buy a familiar, even at 50% off.”
The girl looked hurt that she wasn't being considered important enough.
“It's Jane,” she said. “Jane Brown.”
Toadmila studied her from head to foot. She could see nothing wrong with the girl, no reason why a boy would not like her. But, then again, she knew nothing about boys, nothing beyond the basic stuff – how to turn them into toads and such – and she knew nothing about villagers except for the very obvious: thatt they made impossible demands and that they generally wanted her dead. She felt that agreeing to help the girl would be a mistake. Her training covered various evasive tactics for such occasions. Her training did not, however, offer any insights into how to deal with a pair of large, round eyes, staring at you pleadingly. Toaadmila sighed, and resisted the impulse to reach for the cup of tea.
“All right, I'll help you,” she said.
“I knew it!” the girl answered, clapping her hands. “I knew it all along. Because I asked Saint Rosalba to help me, and I knew she wouldn't let me down!”