A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher
There is a dead girl in the bakery! Fourteen year old Mona can be forgiven a yelp or two for stumbling on the body, especially at four in the morning, but she wonders Why couldn’t it have been zombie frogs? Luckily Mona’s Aunt Tabitha will know what to do because she can handle anything. Unluckily, Mona has to go through the kitchen, where the dead body is, and step over it *GULP* to get to her aunt. Looking down, Mona notices how shabbily the girl is dressed, especially her mismatched socks. Once past the body, Mona runs, yelling for her aunt. Aunt Tabitha is surprised but seems to take the entire situation in stride. While Tabitha wakes her husband Albert to fetch the constabulary, Mona gets a tray of sweet buns ready for their arrival.
As Mona bakes, her mind wanders to the dead girl and somehow arrives at the conclusion she was murdered. Don’t ask her why, she just knows that she was. Looking down, Mona discovers that her distraction caused her to over knead the dough, so sticking her hands into it, Mona suggests it doesn’t want to be tough. There is a fizzing feeling around her fingers and the dough goes a little sticky. When she came to live with Tabitha, Mona found she had a magical ability with flour and yeast. Willing them not to burn, Mona puts the buns in the oven. Now it’s time to feed Bob his cup of flour.
Bob is Mona’s familiar. He’s a sourdough starter that lives in a bucket in the basement making happy bubbles. Bob was the first big magic Mona performed. When she was ten and came to live with her aunt and uncle, Mona had been put in charge of Aunt Tabitha’s sourdough starter and nearly killed it. When she stuck her hands in, Mona ordered it to live and it seemed to supercharge it. Now, Mona doesn’t think Bob can die, he can even feed himself with the rodents in the basement. (Just don’t tell the customers what Bob eats.) Bob tolerates Aunt Tabitha but Mona’s uncle won’t go into the basement anymore. He claims Bob hisses at him.
The constabulary arrive, look at the body while eating sweet buns, and call for the coroner. The coroner arrives and finishes the buns off. Regulars come to the bakery, staying to gossip despite there being nothing to purchase. They mention the disappearance of another Magicker, they weren’t as good as Mona and only did little things like mending, but still, it’s strange. At this they look expectantly at Mona who makes a gingerbread man dance a respectable hornpipe. Once the show is over, the gingerbread reverts back to a normal cookie and the customers leave. Then Mona heads to the kitchen and is accused of murder.
An imposing figure dressed in dark robes has arrived at the bakery. This is Inquisitor Oberon and he is uninterested in sweet buns. His questions are more like accusations: a wizard conveniently finds the body, at four in the morning, with no motive to kill or any idea who the victim is. A likely story. Despite Tabitha and the constable confirming that Mona is a baker and her magical affinity is for bread, the Inquisitor still wants her taken to the palace. The Duchess is concerned by the rash of wizard murders and is personally overseeing the investigation. Mona is pushed into a coach and taken away.
The ride to the Duchess’s place on the hill is intolerable. The constable with them looks awfully embarrassed by the entire situation and the Inquisitor is treating Mona like she is a dangerous hardened criminal rather than a fourteen year old baker who makes gingerbread dance. On arrival, Inquisitor Oberon orders the underlings to bring the prisoner and it takes a few moments for Mona to realize he means her. The worst thing she has ever done was steal sacrificial wine with the butcher's boy which made them sick, and she was ten! Now, as the Inquisitor starts clicking his tongue impatiently, he says she will be judged this afternoon.
Mona is made to wait ages, so long that she’s desperate to pee and has to beg the guards to go. Thankfully one takes pity on her, the other is too busy eating his bread and cheese. Well, screw that guy because Mona wills his bread to be stale and hard as a rock. He’s looking mighty displeased and unhappy with his lunch as she is escorted back, hahahaha. At last she is fetched for her trial.
Mona is brought before the Duchess, a regal but tired looking woman around Aunt Tabitha’s age. There are many other people there, but Mona doesn’t recognize most of them. Lord Ethan, the Golden General and Wizard who leads the Duchess’s armies is famous enough for Mona to know him (and Fangirl over him a little). The Inquisitor blathers on for a bit before being interrupted by the Duchess. She asks Mona a few questions about her parents, her family and her magic, and quickly concludes that the Inquisitor was overzealous and to let Mona go with apologies. The Inquisitor is not happy about this, but fine, he’ll let her go, but the Duchess didn’t say anything about returning her home. So with a warning that “This is not over, little witch,” the Inquisitor sends Mona on her way.
Mona has to walk all the way home, in the rain, alone, in an unfamiliar part of the city. Rather than taking three hours to get home, it takes six because she gets lost. Great. That fact she was found innocent is of little consolation. Deciding to cut through the seedy Rat’s Elbow, where beer is cheap and blood is cheaper, but at least it isn’t the Rat’s Nest. As Mona is walking through and reasoning how not all people in Rat’s Elbow are bad, just poor and down on their luck, she hears a chattering noise and someone calls out for the bread girl. Mona turns and comes face-to-face with the skeletal face of a reanimated horse, thank goodness! Wait, really?
Knackering Molly is insane. A minor wizard like Mona, her talent lay in making dead horses walk. At first this may seem like a useless ability, but for sixpence Molly can walk your dead horse out of the city which is a damn sight cheaper and cleaner than the knackermen. Nag is Molly’s own walking dead horse stuffed with rags, twigs and old flour sacks and has been dead longer than Mona has been alive. Molly is one of the few magickers Mona has contact with, perhaps dancing gingerbread is too flamboyant? Molly asks what Mona is doing in the Elbow and Mona explains about the dead girl and her visit to the palace as Molly and Nag walk Mona the rest of the way home. Before Molly rides off, she warns Mona to look out for the Spring Green Man.
Aunt Tabitha and Uncle Albert are relieved when Mona walks through the bakery doors. After peppering her with questions and checking her well-being, Mona is sent home (she lives a couple of doors down and over the glass blower as there isn’t room in the bakery and there’s a sentient sourdough starter in the basement). Before Mona finally reaches home, her shoulder is grabbed. What now?! It’s a ten year old boy demanding to know where his sister Tibbie is. She snuck into the bakery last night to get some buns and never came back. He saw a man go in after her wearing a yellow-greeny outfit so he knows they must have done something. Mona breaks the news that his sister is dead. The boy doesn’t believe her and wants Mona to prove it so he’s going to come back later and get Mona to take him inside the bakery to have a look.
The boy, Spindle, visits Mona at midnight. Together they go to the bakery and Mona lets him take a look. With the air of a seasoned crime scene investigator and not a ten year old boy, Spindle surveys the scene and spots something in the cracks of the floorboards. It’s a small space, but nothing a magicked gingerbread man can’t help with. As Mona wills a gingerbread man to life and asks it to collect the object, Spindle tells Mona that Tibbie was a wizard too, she could sneak. This reminds Mona of what the Inquisitor and Knackering Molly said, someone was killing wizards. The object turns out to be Tibbie’s bracelet. Spindle’s face goes a funny color and he runs from the bakery. The gingerbread man, sitting on Mona’s shoulder, pats the tears from her face.
Things return to relative normality for a few days, as normal as it can when there is a wizard killer on the loose. Mona doesn’t see Spindle during that time and worries about him and her own safety, especially when walking home at night. Other magickers are leaving the city, scared for their safety. On top of this, Lord Ethan has also left the city, taking the army to deal with “the enemy” though none of the customers at the bakery are particularly clear about who this “enemy” is when they’re gossiping. One nice thing though, the gingerbread man Mona brought to life to help Spindle’s search is still going strong and is displaying an usual amount of initiative. He’s begun helping her in the bakery and playing guard at night. Now and then Mona thinks about making a life size gingerbread man, but the bakery ovens are too small. After about a week, Mona decides to feed the ducks at Rookshade Bridge and finds Spindle sitting at the bank. Understandably he’s still upset about Tibbie and tells Mona about the things she did to keep him safe. When he looks at Mona and warns her to be careful, his eyes are haunted.
At the start of another day, if four in the morning can be considered that, Mona enters the bakery and reaches for the dough she left proving overnight when she hears the door open. That's not right. The unusualness of it causes Mona to bang her head and stagger, which saves her life as at that same moment, the Spring Green Man tries to stab her in the ribs. Mona, understanding the danger she is in, bolts from the room with the Spring Green Man in pursuit. He says she needs to cooperate, says the Inquisitor clearly didn’t do his job right, then starts bragging about killing Tibbie and other magickers, and disturbingly, how he can smell her. Then he starts to giggle. Mona finds a hiding spot in the cellar near Bob, but the Spring Green Man finds her, so she flings Bob at him and runs. At first his scream is of surprise, then Bob starts to fizz and pop. Meanwhile, at the top of the stairs, Spindle drags Mona outside and through the Elbow. The city is starting to wake and eyes watch the duo. Thankfully they happen upon Knackering Molly and Nag, who tells them to grab Nag's tail (yuck) and follow along as they head into the Rats Nest. Mona’s gingerbread man climbs onto a hip bone and makes “giddy-up” motions.
Knackering Molly listens to everything and not once treats Mona like a little kid who is jumping at shadows, then she gets up and tells Mona and Spindle she has some questions to ask and tells them they are to stay in her little lean-to until she and Nag return. The sun starts to rise, stomachs start to rumble, and patience wears thin. Mona gets the idea from something Spindle says about going to the constabulary, which is not something Spindle would ever advocate since they’re on the lam. Spindle was right, the constable Mona finds tries to arrest her. Together they run off and hide under stairs leading to the canal. The constable has been joined by another, and Mona and Spindle are running out of options. The canal would be a perfect escape except that it’s rancid and it would be healthier to be arrested and thrown in jail. Suddenly Mona gets an idea! Taking the mostly stale bread Spindle has on him, she orders it to slice, grow hard and hate the water then uses them as mini floats, one slice for each foot. They each have a pair and though Spindle is more graceful than Mona, they manage to stay afloat and make it down the canal on the natural current to a sewer tunnel.
The bread floats eventually give up, but Mona and Spindle manage to perch on a small beach in the original smuggler tunnels. Hunger, or more likely Mona complaining loudly about being hungry, draws them out and Spindle steals a couple of meat pies from a nearby vendor. They agree they need to get back to Knackering Molly’s, but on the way, they need new clothes and a dip in a cistern because they stink. Knackering Molly asked some questions and didn’t really get any answers, but the guess is the Spring Green Man is in cahoots with someone important and it’s likely the Inquisitor since he’s so desperate to find Mona. The gossip also says that the Spring Green Man is a magicker himself with a smell or air power so Molly hides Mona in a church bell tower, sans the bell, while she is on the lam, hopeful that the holy ground will help mask Mona’s smell.
In the end, Mona spends five days in a bell tower building a circus out of bread. After teaching her gingerbread man how to play cards with a pack Spindle brought her, and him soundly beating her each game, Mona starts practicing with her magic. Spindle stops by every day with food, more palatable than the porridge the priests provide, and at her request, steals her some uncooked dough to practice with. The gingerbread man just shrugs while Mona practices and goes back to building his house of cards or playing solitaire. With the fresh dough, Mona can feel a connection to the little creatures she makes if she concentrates, the same with her gingerbread familiar. She thinks about making an elephant, but worries about the size. She also tries unsuccessfully to make a dough creature fly, but when she tries, it explodes. While covered in sticky exploded dough bird, Spindle sticks his head up the trapdoor, he has a present. It's a wanted poster with Mona’s face on it.
Wanted for questioning, murder and suspicion of treason. Mona is flabbergasting, she’s a fourteen year old baker as her poor Aunt Tabitha will have to look at this poster everywhere. Spindle pulls out some broadsheets. The first declares a curfew, nobody on the streets between midnight and five unless necessary business. The second exclaims BE A PATRIOT! and asks for people to turn in spies, wizard-traitors and those giving comfort to the enemy. They aren’t sure who the enemy is other than Lord Ethan was dispatched to deal with them. Mona suspects the Carex mercenaries from up North, but they have an aversion to magickers so that doesn’t make sense. The third broadsheet and the newest, announces a registration order for all wizards. This is all terrible news and clearly Inquisitor Oberon is using the Spring Green Man murders for his own end, if they aren’t working together.
Mona is restless that night, the wanted posters are preying on her mind. With the help of her gingerbread man, she sneaks out of the bell tower only to stumble on a priest at prayer. Luckily he’s stone-deaf and lets Mona talk out loud. Having no idea what she said, he gives her his standard piece of advice (good for confessionals or late night angst), appealing to a higher power. That’s it! Inquisitor Oberon commissioned these orders, not the Duchess, so Mona needs to speak to her. When she tells Spindle, he calls her mad but asks for time to come up with a plan. Which is how they end up in the Duchess’s toilet.
The toilet is a garderobe, meaning there is a hole in a bench, a considerable drop and a cesspit at the bottom. Mona and Spindle will work in the palace until nightfall, Mona obviously in the kitchen, Spindle where his talents best lie. Mona actually puts in a hard day's work making biscuits, magicked to be fluffy, making bread, chopping vegetables and washing up, so much washing up. At nightfall, Mona meets up with Spindle to make the climb up the three stories to access the Duchess’s private suite. It stinks, it isn’t easy and Mona gets stuck at the top. Spindle is trying to pull her through the hole when the Duchess walks in carrying a book. Thankfully she didn’t scream. Mona vomits out her prepared speech and after the Duchess’s face crumples as she confesses she knows about Inquisitor Oberon, the assassinations and the plot against her, she just doesn’t know what to do about it.
After the Duchess and street urchin pull Mona out of the toilet seat hole (and a quick clean up) they tell the Duchess everything. Inquisitor Oberon has been keeping the Duchess in the dark, she knows nothing about all the magicker murders and certainly would never have authorized a magicker registration. It seems the Inquisitor’s lust for power is growing. If only Lord Ethan were here, but the Duchess was persuaded to send him to defend against the Carex mercenaries. They could send notice to him but a messenger would take days. Maybe the palace wizards could do it, but one died of “natural causes” a few days ago, another is old with little strength, and the third is likely the Spring Green Man.
The Duchess sends Joshua, a guard, to gather page uniforms to disguise Mona and Spindle and once changed, they head to Master Gildaen’s suite. The wizard is old, really, really old, and once the Duchess tells him Elgar is a traitor, news he isn’t surprised by, Master Gildaen puts whatever magic is left in him at the Duchess’s disposal. Which is how Mona ends up jammed in a closet with the wizard and a large bowl of water. Gildaen is a water wizard and can use the water in the bowl to communicate with its twin carried by Lord Ethan’s army. He explains Elgar is an air wizard and can wrap air around to hide himself, which is useful as his bright green robes are ghastly. Gildaen tells Mona about wizard communication and that she can probably do this, too, if there were twin ovens and dough with the army. Using boiling water, Gildaen is able to tell the person on the other end of the water bowl that Elgar is treasonous, Oberon is a traitor, one wizard is dead, and that Lord Ethan is needed back now. Unfortunately, as Gildaen is calling the person a nitwit, Elgar, shrouded in air, sticks a knife in Gildaen’s side, killing him. He then comes for Mona. She throws the boiling water at Elgar, the scars of which will match nicely with those given to him by Bob. Mona then falls out of the closet and Joshua clobbers Elgar with a chair, knocking him out.
Joshua ties Elgar up like a turkey before the Duchess sends him off to round up guards loyal to her. They must act tonight to confront Inquisitor Oberon. Joshua sends Harold, one of the Duchess’s personal guard, to watch over Elgar who has started snoring. Mona becomes bored during the wait and starts investigating Master Gildaen’s bookcase. One tome in particular calls to her, Spiraling Shadows: Reflections on the Use of Magic. In it, Mona reads that it is not the size of the magical creation that is important, so she may be able to make her bread elephant after all. Interesting.
When Joshua returns, he has with him thirty-seven loyal guards, others he was uncertain of are locked in the pantry. The Duchess gives a rousing speech about loyalty which makes all the guards stand a little straighter before heading off to the Inquisitor’s suite. When Oberon steps out of his rooms, the Duchess lays the charges before him and orders his immediate exile. Oberon tries to tell the Duchess that Mona is a traitor and a murderer, and even now she is clouding the Duchess’s mind, and that they should get Elgar to corroborate this. Oberon is visibly shocked when Spindle tells him Elgar killed Gildaen right in front of them. The Duchess kicks Oberon and his loyal guards out of the city at that very moment. As for the council, the Duchess will placate them by sharing out Oberon’s money, titles and lands. Mona and Spindle have shown loyalty to the crown, there’s probably a knighthood in there somewhere for them, but for now they can have a comfortable bed and decent meal.
The next day Mona finally returns to the bakery complete with honor guard. Everyone is crying and hugging, Tabitha and Albert thought Mona was dead and Mona thought Bob was dead, but thankfully he’s alright too. For three days normality of a sort resumes. During the day Mona is happy and taking pleasure in baking, at night she can’t sleep and reads Spiraling Shadows. It’s heavily philosophical, has a whole chapter on eggplants, and mentions sympathetic magic which is what Master Gildaen was talking about. Mona starts to practice it and feels like she’s exercising mental muscles. The cinnamon roll was a bust, the scone to listen in to conversations wasn’t the best, but the basic gingerbread men could carry out simple instructions. The Gingerbread Man became jealous over those and ordered them to jump in Bob’s bucket.
Aunt Tabitha calls Mona a hero and always tries to show her off to the customers but she doesn’t like the title or being paraded around. She did what she had to do because she ran out of options and had nowhere else to go. It shouldn’t be up to a fourteen year old girl and ten year old boy to save the day. Uncle Albert can sympathize after his time in the army when he wasn’t much older than Mona and he was mistakenly branded a hero. Things are better until the end of the week when Joshua and Harold march through the door followed by the Duchess.
Mona gets in the Duchess’s carriage and Spindle throws himself at it wanting to be included. Joshua picks him up by the scruff of his neck and throws him inside. The Duchess explains that Oberon was followed after being exiled, as is customary, and he very decisively went straight to a Carex mercenary camp not two days away from the city and convinced them to attack the city. Lord Ethan is five days away. The only defenses left are the palace guard, the city walls and one wizard (pointed look at Mona). Oh dang.
Despite Mona’s protests that she only bakes bread, the Duchess tells her she needs her help and will have whatever she needs at her disposal. Mona recalls something she read in Spiraling Shadows “The weakest may command a mountain.” She needs dough, lots and lots of it and it needs to be left to rise until it overflows the bowl. It’s time to bake bread and save the city!
Mona’s plan is simple: bake fourteen foot tall gingerbread men golems. The palace blacksmiths will create giant cookie sheets that will rest on hot coals and the kitchen staff will help with the dough, despite the protests of the head cook. Mona’s gingerbread familiar approves of the work being done in the courtyard to build the ovens but is less impressed by the cauldrons and bathtubs of dough. When he pinches some he frowns and shakes his head. For a cookie, he’s awfully good at facial expressions. Work progresses, slow but steady. The ovens should be ready the following day which doesn’t leave much time until the Carex army arrives.
The next day instead of finding the sour-faced head cook in the kitchen, Mona finds Aunt Tabitha. She’s elbow deep in dough and in command by the looks of it, the other kitchen staff are very relieved by this. She’s not alone either, two thirds of Bob has come too. The rest is at home munching on a whole haddock. Having most of Bob gives Mona an idea, but she needs Joshua. Explaining she has a magical dough that hurt Elgar that may be useful to fling over the walls at the Carex, they plan to divide Bob up into glass jars and use slings to fire him at the enemy. A homicidal sourdough will certainly slow them down. Convincing Bob that the world needs more of him was easy especially since he believed that to be true already. Soon Bob is moved from a soup tureen to a horse trough to six rain-barrels, his bubbling and tentacle-sloshing creeping out Spindle. Eventually Bob, who is spitting mad after Mona tells him about the Carex (and she suspects Spindle fed him chili peppers) is divided into over a hundred jars.
An hour before the ovens are ready, Joshua comes to find Mona and so does a homing pigeon carrying a message from Lord Ethan. He thanks her for stepping forward and implores Mona to “not be bound by what seems foolish or impossible. In magic, creativity is as important as knowledge.” Joshua has come to show Mona the approaching Carex army. They are so close. They’ve stopped for the night and been burning outlying farms, but thankfully the Duchess says they were evacuated and the farmers with their livestock are arguing in the city parks. Joshua bemoans not having assassins out causing mayhem in the enemy camp. Spindle informs them that it’s funny they should mention that as a few of the lads from Elbow used the smugglers tunnels and are currently defending their home the best way they know how. This gives Mona another idea.
On the way back to the kitchen, Harold finds her and informs Mona that Elgar has gotten free. They assume he will make his way to Oberon, but they can’t be certain and they don’t know who helped him escape so he shall act as her personal guard. This fires Mona up further for her next task, making bad gingerbread. They will be evil little buggers who will be released into the enemy camp and cause chaos. The dough is poor quality and she adds cayenne pepper and rat poison to make it worse. In the end she has twenty-three minions with fangs iced onto their faces. When she awakens them, they instantly start getting up to no good, and it’s only her gingerbread familiar who is able to bring them in line. Once they receive their orders, to much glee, they climb into a potato sack, and Spindle, with the help of the gingerbread familiar, will sneak into the camp and let them loose. Meanwhile, Mona has her gingerbread golems to make.
The golems have to be cooked one at a time, they’re a mismatch of different doughs all squished and molded together. To make the dough bind and the golem not burn in the oven Mona has to stick her hand in the baking dough to exert her will. Eventually the first one is out but struggles to stand, it isn’t nimble like the little ones. Luckily the head blacksmith and Tabitha have an idea: give it shoes! They make them from barrels packed with straw and lash them to its legs, and it works and is an intimidating sight. Tabitha tries to make the giant gingerbread men look happy with big icing smiles, and when Mona points out they are supposed to be an intimidating force against the enemy, she adds angry eyebrows. Sigh. As golems two, three and four are made, Mona can feel her mischievous gingerbread minions through the magical bond. As she’s sitting down to eat something, she holds the scrap of their dough and can see through their eyes some of the chaos they are causing, but also a huge frying pan flying at her. Now and then Mona can feel the loss of a gingerbread man. Something else bothers her though, where is Spindle?
Before dawn the next morning, the seventh golem is finished and Joshua arrives informing Mona that the Carex will be attacking soon. Time has run out. Mona is exhausted from the magic, baking and feeling the mischievous gingerbread winking out when she did try to rest. Mona and Tabitha follow Joshua to the Duchess who is already dressed in armor. Orders are given to find armor for Mona and Tabitha to keep them from being taken out by a stray arrow. The attack begins twenty minutes after sundown. The archers fire and it does nothing, so it’s time to send out Bob. The sourdough starter is mad, he’s sat and stewed in his own juices, literally and figuratively, all night. When the jars explode over the enemy, Bob climbs under their armor, tries to get into their noses, jumps from person to person, and causes general havoc and burns like acid. Eventually a rider under a white flag approaches. It’s Oberon. He demands the surrender of the Duchess, but she tells him no and Joshua tells him to shove it up his arse.
The Carex army brings out a giant battering ram and makes short order of the gate. Now it’s time for the golems to enter the fray! Mona puts her hands in the dough and commands them from up the tower. The Carex are stunned, the first is clunked on the head by a club-wielding giant gingerbread man. The arrows fired do nothing and poking them with swords is about the same. However, one Carex hits a golem with an ax, which is effective, and its leg needs repairing which only Mona can do. Climbing down with Tabitha, Mona orders the golem to come to the supply station where the blacksmiths are ready with spare barrels, ropes and dough. As she wills the dough to adhere, more Carex attack. Tabitha picks up a hammer and charges at them with the blacksmith hot on her heels. Once Mona is done, she bends to pat the golem and sends it back to the fray which is lucky as Elgar tries to stab her and hits the armor instead.
Mona bolts. She is exhausted from all the magic use without rest and Elgar quickly catches her. His eyes are wild and he bad-guy-monologues that he couldn’t leave the city before killing her. He’s working with Oberon for now but that man is a fool and will die soon enough, then a wizard-emperor will sit on the throne. Throughout the monologue, Mona can’t stop looking at the green thing between his teeth. Suddenly Nag kicks Elgar off Mona and sends him flying. Knackering Molly, sitting atop her dead horse, has Spindle and the gingerbread familiar with her. She rescued them from some ne'er-do wells in the Elbow. Just then Mona feels one of the golems wink out. Racing back to the city square, she feels a second then a third. Tabitha says the Carex have worked out how to bring them down. No, no, no, no, this is not good! Mona needs to hold the city until Lord Ethan arrives. Mona then has an idea! Getting all the remaining uncooked dough into a pile, she pours her magic into it and forces it to come to life. The grotesque dough slug with tentacle arms then moves towards the Carex and the gate they have breached. Mona has poured so much magic into it she can’t walk, and Tabatha has to hold her up. As Tabitha tells her she is the last wizard and must stay strong, Molly steps up and tells everyone that Mona isn’t the only wizard left.
Molly climbs on Nag’s back, bows her head and a loud thump-thump sound reverberates. Then the ground begins to shake. Molly has called the hundreds of dead horses in the city and leads the charge on the Carex. It’s a waterfall of bone as the horses run through the city into the square and out the gates to the Carex army. Though there are many dead horses in the city, there are thousands in the bone yards outside the walls. The Carex can’t fight them, and many flee or are trampled. Dust begins to settle and Mona knows it is over, a sea of bones lies in front of the city, and in a circle of dead horses lies Molly, Nag standing by her. There isn’t a mark on her, but as she poured everything into her spell, she was killed by magic. The ring of horses lie down, and Nag folds itself down and lies by its mistress. The Duchess asks Mona and Spindle how she can honor Molly since they knew her better. Spindle tells her to bury Molly with Nag in a nice park, and when a monument statue is suggested, Mona agrees to one of Nag, not in a heroic pose, but how he really was.
Lord Ethan and his armies eventually turn up a day too late so the Duchess puts them to work rebuilding the outlying farms. In total, only seven lives were lost and Joshua points out that that’s considerably less than what would have happened if the city didn’t have Mona and her bread magic helping. Two weeks later, Mona and Spindle are all dressed up for their awards ceremony. The Duchess pins a lot of medals to Mona and makes her a Royal Wizard, and even presents the gingerbread familiar, who is wearing fresh buttons for the occasion, with a medal. The city has packed the hall and goes wild at their presentation.
When things settle and routine returns, Lord Ethan visits Mona. He offers her magical lessons because she is a powerful wizard who would benefit from some instruction. People know what she is capable of and if the need should arise again, they will come to her for help. Heroism is difficult to step away from. Mona is tempted but for now needs to take a step back. She’s still angry that the adults let things get this far and that they needed children to rescue them. Mona also sees the sense in what Lord Ethan says. For now though, if you ask nicely and she’s in a good mood, Mona will make the gingerbread dance for you.