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leg·er·de·main, n.
1. Sleight of hand.
2. A show of skill or deceitful cleverness

AUGUST 2011

Only a few people over the years have known that until recently I haven't really enjoyed being around magicians. It's sort of a phobia that goes way back.

The first magic trick I can recall seeing was my uncle making a nickel come out of my ear when I was very small, and then when he made a dime come out of my nose I was so awed - and dismayed - that I cried. This was my Uncle Jack, and he was suddenly very STRANGE!

Ever since, I have always felt acutely uncomfortable when I am around magicians. No real logical reason for this, and I don't want to blame dear Uncle Jack, who was a perfectly lovely man, although he did love to tell tall tales when he wasn't making coins come out of unexpected places. Perhaps it is the duality of my psyche that always seems to be raging - one side always doubts everything; the other WANTS to believe, and that inner conflict makes me fidgety.

Also, as a word person, over the years I have learned there are so many ways one can say magician - charmer, conjurer, diabolist, diviner, enchanter, enchantress, exorciser, exorcist, feats or tricks archimage, fortune-teller, genie, genius, illusionist, marvel, medicine person, medium, miracle worker, necromancer, prophet, satanist, seer, shaman, siren, soothsayer, sorcerer, spellbinder, thaumaturge, theurgist, trickster, virtuoso, voodoo, warlock, witch, witch doctor, wizard... and any skill that has that many synonyms is bound to make me nervous.

I was reminded of all this again recently when Mother Goose called.

Usually I am stuck indoors all summer because of the heat and sun. We get most of our rain in the months of July, August and September, and once our monsoon season begins it either gets very muggy and our evaporative coolers don't work very well, OR it cools off. (And for those who think the term Monsoon is laughable for us here in the desert, it is the term that weathermen use to explain our rainy season, which derives from the effects of monsoons far far away).

Anyway, we've been having some rain and I have managed to venture out once in a while. So, when Mother Goose asked me to come, I figured I could get there without too much difficulty. It was with great relief when I discovered that it was delightfully cool where she was, too.

"Well, here I am," I said. "Fit as a fiddle - except for my hands, which have been giving me some trouble lately. And how are YOU?"

"Wanna, you won't believe me even if I tell you. You know how hard it is for me to confide in anyone around here, because word spreads so rapidly and gets embellished with every re-telling, so I figured I would get it off my bosom, so to speak, with you, and perhaps then I could get a better perspective on things."

"Of course," I agreed. "It always helps to talk about something that is bothering us. As long as it remains inside, it has no end."

She poured me a glass of lemonade and handed me a plate of cookies. "The last straw was when the rabbits started disappearing."

I took a cookie. "Oh? You mean they ran away, or what?"

"One minute they were here; the next they were gone. At first, I thought maybe Arda Choak had trapped them all because they had gotten into her gardens, but she assured me that was not the case. It seems that her plan about having a special plot set aside for the cabbage worms was so successful that she set aside another one for the rabbits, and they were so pleased that not a single one has ventured into the main gardens since then.

"Then I heard from one of the elves that Candelaria was having roasted rabbit for supper every evening, but she was very indignant when I asked her; seems she is eating toasted cheese RAREBIT, not rabbit!I couldn't wait to get away from HER; every time she feels put-upon, she sets something on fire."

I nodded, remembering my first encounter with the tempestuous lady, and selected another cookie. "I notice these have the royal seal impressed on them; has The Queen of Hearts been baking again?"

"Oh yes," she nodded. "Arda had a bumper crop of cherries and blueberries and delivered baskets and buckets of them to the royal kitchens. When the Queen found out, she left her ladies-in-waiting to mind the official business and headed down to the kichens. She has been turning out desserts by the dozens for several days now. As a courtesy she sends me quite a variety; and I am always pleased, of course. Why should I heat up my little cottage when she enjoys baking so much? Don't forget to take some when you go home, too," she added.

"Oh, wonderful!" I cried. "Nobody enjoys a good treat more than I, especially if it comes from the royal kitchens. My husband is always thrilled when I come back with something good to eat, since baking is not one of my strong suits. Well, back to your dilemma .... Do you have a theory about the missing rabbits? "

She looked around carefully and leaned forward to whisper, "It's all because of the Alchemist's brother, Sir Leger Demain."

"No kidding! I had no idea Anachronon had a brother!"

"It isn't generally known outside FairyLand. Frankly, the whole family is a bit odd; very, very good at some things and really, really bad at others. You know how Anachronon is always transporting himself to the wrong place? Well, I understand Leger has a similar problem, but it doesn't involve time travel; it's connected with his public magic performances. They turn out to be so stunningly offkelter that his audiences get larger and larger. He thinks it's because they love his tricks; I think it's because they love to see things blow up."

"So what is this fellow's connection with the rabbits? You think he made them all disappear?"

She got a bit wild-eyed and began fluttering her handkerchief and clutching at her bosom in agitation. "I think he either made them disappear himself, or they were frightened away because of ....

She stopped to draw a deep breath. "Honestly, Wanna, it's a whole series of events that have led me to suspect him. He doesn't know his own magical strength, so to speak. He had an outdoor performance a few weeks ago and the bowling green is STILL covered in layers of playing cards.

"Every time the elves gather them up, they just keep shuffling back in. Then he was conducting a clinic for beginning magicians and didn't have sense enough to know that he couldn't open it to the trolls, and several showed up. And you won't believe this - he accidentally made the male trolls so handsome that the troll women are in an uproar. And you ought to know that nobody can create an uproar like a female troll."

"Sounds like he should've been named N. Ept the Magician!" I said, laughing at my own joke. I quickly turned serious again, as she was not amused.

"But what made me suspect he was the one behind all the missing rabbits, and this latest experience, was after he sawed his assistant in half a few months ago. She stayed whole, but her personality was split. And it kept happening with every new assistant he hired.

"His latest, Schizza Frenia, has so many personalities that she can create a whole audience by herself! So, after all that, when the rabbits disappeared I figured it was because he kept losing them in his hat, and needed more and more. "

I nodded. "Sounds like he could make a lot of things go awry, all right. But what really has you so agitated?"

"Well, he has this pet rat ...."

I shuddered slightly. "I understand that rats can make very good pets; can actually be quite lovable. Not for me, personally, but ...."

"Wanna, I am not talking about a little rat in a cage; I am talking about ONE BIG RAT! Why, he treats that rat almost the way I treat Goosey! And despite the fact that it got ahold of his wand once and poked his eye out! Leger rides him around, tickles him under the chin, feeds him treats." She shuddered. "You should see the size of the round of cheese he orders each week from the dairy elves!"

"Rides him AROUND? Is that even possible? How big is this rat, anyway?"

"BIG! Bigger than Leger is; certainly far bigger than you or I. It wasn't intentional; Leger was just practicing with his wand one day and accidentally bumped the animals's cage and gave him a Growth Spurt!"

"Oh no!" I began backing away. "Omigosh! Mother Goose, I am out of my league here. What if he fed the rabbits to that pet rat? Why, I nearly had a fit when we got mice in our laundry room one year. How in the world can I face a rat bigger than I am? Can't you contact the Queen? Get her to talk to the King; get all the King's Men out ...."

"Oh, I still think they're working on Humpty Dumpty, and anyway, I don't think he would really do THAT! I think the rabbits are all probably around somewhere, perhaps just afraid to come out of his hat.

I was dubious and started heading for the border. "Wanna, this is a delicate situation," she said, following me and twisting her handkerchief in agitation as I edged away.

"We are not talking about an ordinary person here. We are talking about a magician who can make things happen that are beyond our comprehension; well, beyond his, frankly. Leger Demain is not malicious, like Candelaria can be; but get him upset and heaven only knows what could happen inadventerntly. And this is his personal pet, you understand. I am afraid if he thinks the King and Queen are involved he might do, well, lord knows what. I am hoping you can help me talk to him diplomatically so that we can get the rabbits back without undue harm to either them or us, and above all get some assurances that the personality and behavior of this pet rat are benign."

I hated to tell her that magicians made me nervous, and I wasn't really looking forward to meeting this fellow Leger Demain AT ALL; and the last thing in the world I wanted to encounter was a giant rat. I confess, however, that despite my misgivings, I was intrigued at the prospect of meeting Anachronon's brother. And after all, a true friend is one who stands by you through thick and thin, and Mother Goose has certainly been there when I needed her in the past. So I swallowed my fears and agreed to go with her to find Leger Demain.

Boy, that was a stressful trek through the woods; every little sound seemed magnified. With every little whisper of wind and snapping twig I thought surely we were going to be attacked and eaten, like two little chunks of tasty human cheese. But that didn't happen, and soon we entered a clearing, much like the area where we had run into Grandmother Matamosca, and there they were.

Lordy, lordy.

Here was this magician with his eye patch, cooing to the pet rat who had cost him his eye, and scratching it under the chin! As my grandmother used to say, that does beat all!

"Greetings, Sir Leger," Mother Goose called from the edge of the clearing. "May we approach?"

"Of course you may," the magician said. "Welcome, Mother Goose! And you, Madam," he added, with a deep bow.

"How do you do?" I said. "I am just a visitor here today," and bowed back, not sure of the protocol and not wanting to displease.

He turned back to her. "How may I help you, ladies?"

It was almost too much; I didn't want to appear rude but could hardly take my eyes off his giant pet.

I looked at the magician instead, but kept fixing on his eye patch and imagining how that eye got lost. What a forgiving nature and what a good sport he is, I thought! And even as we stood there, doves kept circling around his head and landing on his shoulders. Not exactly your everyday encounter.

I desperately tried to think of something to say. "Nice trees around here," I mumbled. "So fresh and green," I said, appalled at my idiotic rambling, but couldn't seem to stop myself. "Bet you've had lots of rain," I added, voice trailing away.

And at that moment, a whole slew of playing cards came shuffling over from the bowling green.

Ignoring the cards fluttering around our feet, Mother Goose grasped my elbow, and, smiling, said, "Sir Leger, this is my friend Wanna, visiting today. She lives in the desert where it doesn't rain all that much. I don't believe I have met your, er, pet," Mother Goose said.

The magician looked up at the rat, which was stretching its neck high, waiting to be scratched again. "This is Spurt," he said, fondly.

How sweet! He named him after the Growth Spurt, I thought! And then the rat lowered its head and looked eagerly toward Mother Goose.

"Would you like to pet him? He does love having his chin scratched and his ears stroked. "

"Well, perhaps later, once we are better acquainted," she said. I just gasped.

"Nice rat. Down boy," she hollered, as he leaned toward her. We moved closer to the magician.

"Stay, Spurt," he said, placing his hand on the rat's ear and touching his fingers to its upturned neck.

Spurt returned quite willingly to his master, sort of chirpily squeaking as Sir Leger scratched his ear.

Apparently, the rabbits had no fear of the giant rat; one was riding his tail as it flipped around.

And as Spurt wiggled happily, he dislodged other rabbits that had been tucked under his arms.

And more rabbits dropped from under the magician's coat.

"Can we talk privately, Sir Leger? I mean, is there someplace where Spurt can go while we discuss some business?" Mother Goose asked hurriedly.

"Oh, of course. Spurt, my friend, why don't you go play Hide and Seek with the rabbits again?"

The giant rat went lollopping away happily, squeaking loudly, probably saying in Rat language, "Here I come!" The little rabbits hopped after, and I heard lots of thumping noises in the distance. Must've been the rest of the rabbits, running through the forest to hide from him.

Mother Goose and I both breathed a sigh of relief. She fanned her face with her handkerchief and said, "Sir Leger; you know that I am quite fond of both you and your brother, Anachronon, and a great admirer of your skills."

"Of course, Mother Goose, and we are quite fond of you, as well."

She took another deep breath. "Your friend, er, pet, er, Spurt, seems quite affectionate. Does he normally behave this way when he is with others?"

"Oh, he is by far the best pet I have ever had, other than the alligator. Unfortunately, Gatey and I had to come to an arrangement, after one or two unfortunate incidents. He now stays only in the environs of the pond and surrounding area. He is just not a people animal, if you know what I mean."

"Oh, exactly. Some animals are quite happy with human beings; others are not." She cleared her throat. "That's one of the reasons I am here, to discuss your pet Spurt, and to find out about the rabbits. As you might guess, their absence has been noted throughout FairyLand, and I was wondering ...."

"The rabbits? They're around here somewhere." He removed his hat and looked inside. "Not here ...." He looked vaguely around.

"I just saw a few dropping out of your coat. And didn't you say they were playing Hide and Seek?" I ventured.

"Oh yes," he cried as he replaced his hat. "That's where they are. They love to hop and hide; Spurt loves to find them and bring them back. It's quite a charming scene; he brings them by the scruff of their little necks, just like a mama cat with her kittens. They've been here several weeks now, and never seem to tire of their little games. They also like to play Leap Frog; well, Leap Rat, or more like Climb Rat," he joshed.

We all smiled.

"It was a bit unnerving, having them all disappear at once," Mother Goose said. "You can understand why I would be concerned."

"Of course, Mother Goose. I should have thought to contact you personally, although I figured they would have left word with someone. On the other hand, rabbits aren't too dependable, either."

"Just so I know they haven't been harmed, and that Spurt knows they are friends, not food. And since he probably doesn't know his own strength, I trust that you will watch out for them, and others whom he may encounter in future."

"You have my word, Mother Goose. I am forever diligent; why, it's even in my maternal family coat of arms - Diligens Aeternum." He looked around. "Spurt is quite content to remain here in the forest; he likes everyone, but prefers lots of room to romp and play."

"Right, then. Let's agree that if you decide to take him anywhere else, you will let me know first?"

"By all means, my dear Mother Goose. Your wish is my command," and he bowed deeply, sweeping his hat in a wide arc.

"Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Demain, er, Sir," I added, "And I hope to see you again some time."

And as we left, he hollered, "Ready or not, here I come!" and went running into the forest with the birds still circling his head.

And that's how I overcame my nervousness about magicians. It's hard to be afraid of someone who plays Hide and Seek with his pet rat and about a hundred rabbits.

...............

NOTE: For how I made the magician and created the setting go to the Dolls pages here.

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