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m-s-c-s t1_je8bsy6 wrote

The Budget Mage

Flowing gold and rolling silver. The coins rain from a heavy purse onto the table next to mine. The smug look on the man's face as my customers chase his overflow is nearly too much to bear, but I bear it, because I have a secret.

The woman before me shrinks with shame into her chair, her nuggets of raw copper laid out before me. She hungrily eyes the coins, knowing the risk she's taking on a rumor over food. She doesn't deserve this. Nobody does, not even this rich buffoon.

"Sir, would you mind sparing me a gold coin for a brief demonstration?"

"Perhaps if your customers weren't so lazy, you'd already have one."

He may not deserve it, but he sure is trying to earn it. No matter.

My grin widens. "Can anyone in line spare me a gold coin for a demonstration? I promise you'll get your money's worth and then some."

10 gold slam onto my table faster than the man can blink. The confusion in his face is delicious. He doesn't know it yet, but I've got a secret.

"Oh, how nice, they found the gold I dropped. I'll take it back now, please." A soft, manicured hand extends, palm up.

I primly drop the coins into his hand. The smile on my face has spread further, finding mouths in my line. They know that I've got a secret. Mr. Gold and Silver is now wearing a delightful confused frown.

I pull out 10 copper coins and lay them out with the 4 copper nuggets. As I touch the nuggets, they fall to pieces into a pile of copper coins of the same amount. The woman's face falls, but then brightens. "This isn't what I thought they meant..."

On each of the coins is a portrait of the king. I gently boop each tiny regent on the nose, and his frown turns to a smile.

The others are so excited to pick up their one copper, while silver & gold is staring with a mix of outrage and disbelief. My newest customer is starting to smile too. It won't be real magic to her until her belly is full, I know. It wasn't real for me until then either.

Months later, on a quiet day, Silver and Gold is back. Well, mostly. This time he's much more... cloth and dirt. He lays out a single copper coin. "All I have left. Why did this happen? The only thing I can think of is those smiling fools and their copper... what magic is this?"

I cannot hide the sadness from my face. "You would confuse the magic I make for them for the magic that unmade you? No, you received all that you paid for."

"What I paid for? I asked for magic that would make my servants happier, and that purse was worth more than this whole bloody town."

Behind his eyes, you could see a single copper coin slowly drop and bounce a few times. A flash of anger.

"Oh no. You don't know the worst part yet. They came to my line. They paid me too. Can you guess what they wished for?"

"My RUIN?!" he spat the word onto the table, a faint speckle of phlegm flying satisfactorily onto the table he'd so recently covered in coin.

"Would you believe it, but no! They were so grateful for their generous pay, comfortable quarters, and annual day off (all compared to your field hands) they asked for you to be just as happy as they. Their hearts were full of generosity, but they could only afford true magic."

"CHEAP magic!"

"Oh really? Can you afford it?"

A sullen silence for a few moments, followed by the jingling of a coin purse. A few silver totter out on to the table.

"All I have. Really."

He's desperate enough that it's true, and yet it's still not enough for me to feel better. His fear is just more of the yawning pit that I'm trying to fill with kindness. He won't pick up a shovel today and help, but at least the hole will be a tad smaller.

I boop the king on his copper on the nose. "Roll the coin down the street and follow it. Don't bother trying to remember the route, it's just me showing off my magic through a fancy teleportation scheme. The price is kindness. You'll know it worked when the king's nose glows. When it glows, boop it like I did."

"But why copper?"

"I told people to bring something that had no value to them. If they bring something valuable anyhow, I give them exactly what it's worth and not a copper less. It's a simple teleportation spell."

"What if they bring nothing?"

"Then I pay them a copper for their thoughts."

"How can you afford this?"

I stare at him for a while. I wave my hand and a meal appears. "Lunch?" another wave. "Dinner?"

"I ...... that doesn't answer my question."

"I waved my hand and food appeared. I waved it again and different food appeared. Magic right? How much food did you leave laying to rot in the sun last month while my line had to go on one meal a day, or none?"

An uneasy shift in his seat.

"You don't have magic, but we both know why you didn't wish for magic. You're educated enough to know the cost. How long before the mage you paid is dead? A decade? Two at most?"

His face darkens. "So what crimes are you atoning for then, budget mage?"

A good start?