By Diana Alexander
Utgard the Unimpressed sat in his castle, feeling very satisfied with himself. Things were going rather well these days. He was at the top of the magical field, as well as quite literally at the top of a field. His castle stood upon the crest of a large hill that overlooked miles of farmland and one grubby little village. Utgard had a frightful reputation down in Middling, which was just how he liked it. When the villagers spoke of “the enchanter on the hill,” they did so in hushed tones. Tales were swapped of fearsome creatures that lurked up there. In reality, there was nothing more fearsome on the grounds than Utgard’s cat, but he liked to encourage these rumors. It stopped the peasants from trampling his carefully planted daisies.
Utgard had woken up that morning in his four-poster bed and stumbled to the bath. After a long soak, he had proceeded to the great hall, a soaring room with windows that surveyed the countryside. Breakfast had already been laid out, as well as a pot of tea. As he sat down, Utgard let out a rare sigh of contentment. Yes, things were going very well indeed.
He waved his hand and the teapot rose into the air, pouring its contents into a cup. He took a sip.
The kitchen door banged opened, revealing a freckly young lad dressed in a shabby tunic with several patches.
“Ah, Page. Take a drink of this and tell me what is wrong with it.” Utgard handed over the cup.
Taking a gulp, the boy answered matter-of-factly, “It’s cold, sir.”
“Very good. Now, tell me why.”
“Well, it was hot when I set it out, but you were so long in the bath. Can’t you heat it with magic, sir?”
“I could, but that is not the point. A servant should keep his master’s tea warm if that servant does not wish to be turned into a turtle. Am I making myself clear?”
Page paled a bit beneath his freckles. “Yes, sir.”
“Good. Now get out of my sight.”
As the boy retreated to the kitchen, Utgard sighed. Where had all the good help gone? He wiggled his fingers and the cup began the steam. Still, he thought, Page was mildly cleverer than that Middling riffraff. Utgard had caught him picking the castle lock one night and had offered him a choice: become his servant, or be turned into a common snapper. Funnily enough, Page had chosen the former.
A booming knock shook Utgard from his thoughts.
“PAGE,” he thundered. “DOOR.”
As he waited, Utgard drummed his fingers on the table, wondering who would dare to interrupt his breakfast. A minute later, Page returned.
“Well?” Utgard snapped.
“Sir, may I present…er…Suggs the Tax Collector.”
Suggs was a portly man with shrewd eyes and a gold-capped tooth that flashed as he smiled. He bounced on the balls of his feet as he looked around the hall. “Nice place you’ve got here. Big.”
Utgard did not dignify this with a response.
“S’pose you’re wonderin’ why I’m ‘ere, sir.”
“I was rather curious.”
“Well, I’ll tell ya.” The man sat down and grabbed a piece of toast. Utgard’s eyes narrowed. “Ten years ago to a day, you signed a contract for this hill. At that time, you agreed to pay one ‘undred thousand gold coronets on the tenth anniversary of the purchase—”
“I never agreed to that,” Utgard interrupted.
“Well, now, I have a contract ‘ere that says you did.” The tax collector pulled out a scroll so long it reached the floor.
Utgard examined the contract. “I see nothing about additional payment.”
Taking back the parchment and rolling it up, Suggs tapped it on the table. Unrolling it again, he pointed to a section that had appeared at the very bottom.
“But…but…” spluttered Utgard. “I was tricked.”
Suggs shrugged. “An enchanter such as yourself should know to check for magical concealment before signing.”
“But…I do not have that kind of money.”
“Not my problem. Just out of curiosity, why can’tchu just—,” Suggs wiggled his fingers, “make money appear out of thin air?”
Utgard scowled. “It is…against the enchanter’s code.”
“Fair enough. We’ll be taking the castle and the hill back, then.”
A sly smile spread across the enchanter’s face. “It will be difficult to do that as a turtle.” He wiggled his fingers and closed his eyes. When he opened them, the tax collector was still sitting across from him, smiling.
Suggs tapped the parchment. “It’s not that easy to break a magical contract, Milord.” He snapped his fingers and two burly men lumbered into the hall. “Lads, show his lordship ‘ere the door.” Utgard was hoisted to his feet.
“Wait! What about my spellbooks? My potions? My cat?”
Suggs didn’t reply, but simply smiled his gold-toothed smile as his men threw the enchanter in a heap right on top of his daisies. The doors closed behind him with a deafening thump.
Utgard spent the next few minutes trying every spell he knew, but was eventually forced to admit defeat. The contract had clearly anticipated that he would try to force his way back in by magic.
The doors opened again, and Page landed head-first in the flower beds next to him. As his servant got to his feet, Utgard suddenly had the solution. The contract only provided for magical means. The boy had been able to break in without magic.
“Page, I need you to get me into the castle,” he commanded. “Once inside, I can transport it elsewhere. Those fools can have the hill.”
“What’s in it for me, sir?”
“Not good enough. I want to accompany you as your apprentice, sir.”
As Utgard the Unimpressed looked at the boy, he felt an emotion he had never felt before. A moment later, he realized it was respect. Page had impressed him with his backbone.
He stuck out his hand. “Deal.”