This is no fairy tale, my dear. Fairy tales are the Truth, written in bright colors and roaring flames. There’s no room for the small things there, the warts and wrinkles and important moments of daily life. They burn away as the story gets truer, until there is only the clear color of a lady’s tear, the bright flash of a hero’s sword, and the crimson of a dragon’s blood. Those are the things that fairy tales are made of, and they’re far grander than anything you’ll find here.
No. This story runs alongside fairy tales in the way that some stories have, dipping into that Truth, whirling around it like a leaf caught in a strong wind. But this story only has facts, and they’re much quieter than Truths. The best that facts can try for is the orangey glow of a coal that warms the house at night, or that crunch of the crust of a fresh baked loaf of bread. Simple pleasures, quiet moments, those are what facts are good for. And that’s all I can offer you, should you still want to hear my story.
So let us begin.
Molly Grue noticed that she was in love when Schmendrick tried to grow his beard.
After all, wizards, proper wizards, all grew beards. That's what he said, anyroad, and he seemed very set on it. Molly rather thought that being a wizard had more to do with having control over the elements, or being so filled with power that some days her teeth ached just from riding with him. But he insisted it was the beard that let other people know he was a wizard as well, and it seemed very important to him, so she tried not to be too critical, even when it became clear that he couldn't grow a beard, not properly, not even now that he had the powers of the cosmos in his hands. What he grew instead was a patchy, moldy looking, blondish fuzz that somehow managed to defy logic to make his nose look even bigger and his mouth even smaller. He was as proud of it as a boy with his first razor, but Molly had to fight the urge to pull on the whisps that hung from his cheeks every time he annoyed her. Really, it was ridiculous.
It was a week into the beard's tendrilled life, maybe two, when they camped beside the stream in the Cloverdale Hills. Molly was used to a roof over her head of some kind, even if it was just a few tree boughs, and the open sky made her dreams restless and strange. She woke up at the first hint of light and lay there for a while in a huff, annoyed at the sky, the hills, and at herself for having agreed to any of this. It wasn't until she actually sat up to go about her day that she realized Schmendrick was missing from his bedroll across the fire pit. It didn't worry her, the man could take care of himself, and usually managed without doing anything unforgivable in the process. But when he had not returned in the time it took her to start the fire going again and tidy up the camp, she began to wonder where he had gotten off to. When breakfast was ready and their kits were packed up and he still hadn't appeared, there was really nothing for it but to go out and find him. Honestly, the things that man could get up to. If she found him in the arms of a pine tree, she had a good mind to leave him there.
They had set up camp on the top of one of the hills, with a nice stream running through the valley below. That seemed the best place to look for an errant wizard. Molly grumbled to herself as she climbed down the hill, trying not to think of the many toothy things that could live near or in a stream. They were neither of them strangers to the idea that the world held things even a wizard might have trouble beating in an argument. And while it didn't seem likely there was a Jenny Green-Sleeves or a hinkypuck in the valley below, Molly took some comfort in knowing that she wasn't unprepared. Her years with Cully's crew, while perhaps not the most useful time in her life, had at least taught her how to smack something around the head with her walking stick, and the shapes Schmendrick had whittled into the ends buzzed comfortingly when she tapped it into the ground. Not that it would bother anything that could keep the World's Greatest Living Wizard from his breakfast, but it made her feel better anyroad.
She decided as she walked into the valley that it was probably a good thing that nothing looked too strange. There were some water reeds along the bank, a few trees, and neither hide nor hair of a long-legged wizard to be seen. Well, that wasn't so much a good thing as a lack of bad, but never mind. She walked down to the stream and looked up and down it as far as she could. Nothing. This was starting to be really worrisome. She huffed to herself, trying to replace annoyance for that growing sense of fear, and called out, "Schmendrick! You great fool, where've you gone off to this time?"
In response, a thick clump of reeds, nearly as high as her head, let out a muffled "Mff" sound.
Molly whirled on the offending cattails and, from a safe distance, poked them with her walking stick. "Schmendrick?"
"Urfle!" agreed the reeds, in a desperate tone.
Molly eased up closer to the clump, noticing that all of the plants involved were healthy, thick, and as far as she could tell, entirely new since yesterday. It wasn't just cattails either. There were water lillies and ivy, grass and... was that wheat? All new growth, all thriving, and grown so thick that they were little more than a matted mess. And in the midst of it, she saw two familiar eyes and the barest tip of a nose, looking altogether forlorn.
Really, it was entirely right for her to chuckle a bit. It was funny as anything, and she was more than a little relieved. "Schmendrick," she said between giggles, "did you cast some sort of growing spell?"
From deep within the clump of foliage, there was a sort of affirmative shake. This looked quite difficult, considering that the plants had the wizard in a full body hold that Big Will would have been envious of.
"Trying to grow your beard?" Molly asked, and she thought she could see the plants around his eyes bunch up as if he were frowning.
"I suppose you'll be wanting me to get you out?" She asked with a grin, crossing her arms as if it was the last thing she intended to do. She assumed the vigorous shaking was him nodding 'yes'.
"Right then. I'll go get my carving knife." And with that she turned and started back up the hill, pretending not to notice the fervent rustles and muffled sounds from behind her.
It wasn't until half way up that it occurred to her that she wasn't actually angry. If it had been Cully who had gotten himself into a jam like this, she would have given him a good hard dressing down for having been so stupid. But that had been Cully, and on his best days Cully hadn't been any more than tolerably better than the alternatives. This was different. Schmendrick was different. All she could think of to do when he got free was dust him off and make sure he had some breakfast before they kept traveling. And possibly, later, show him that she was pleased he hadn't been eaten by grindylows. This was a change from how she thought of herself, and the idea that she had changed, somewhere in the days between her old forest and here, put a smile on Molly's face. So back down she went to cut her wizard free.
And yes, my dear, that's it. For most of us, the ones who aren't heroes and witches and under great spells, love is a quiet sort of thing. It doesn't happen in a great moment, it doesn't save your life or fill you with an unquenchable fire. But it changes you, and hopefully for the better. And it ties you to someone else so that you wouldn't have it any other way. And that's enough. Or it has been for me, anyroad.