She didn’t love you from the start, and more the fool you were for thinking you could change that.
But then, magic’s often been the refuge of the fool. If in your sorrow and anger, you fled to ancient books and the whisperings of wizards, who could call that unexpected?
You didn’t mean to kill her.
But she wouldn’t love you. Such a small and simple thing you asked. She gave her love so readily to others it must have sickened you. So many less deserving, who did not adore her as you could. They offered her only empty promises and careless smiles where you would have given her the world.
You were rich once, after all, not so very long ago. A man of influence, intelligence, and means—you said—when first we met and I refused to sell my books.
I might have warned you then, had I any thought you might have listened. There’s wealth beyond the weight of gold. But it was just her heart you wanted. Surely gold was enough to buy you that.
How it must have stung when she professed to love your brother. And held fast to that love even after your first stolen spell laid him in the ground.
Jack was a good enough man, well-meaning and well-liked, at least by like-minded men. The very sort of men, I’ll wager, who will hang you in the morning.
I know you didn’t want to kill him either. Any more than you wanted to bring him back.
But still, she wouldn’t love you. She loved a dead man, and his memory, more than she’d ever love the likes of you.
And so you did the only thing you could: you turned again to the secrets in my books. And, just as you had stolen them from me, you stole your brother’s skin.
It could not have been an easy spell for you, I’m sure. It requires a steady hand with the gravedigger’s shovel and more than a little luck after that with the blade. I’ve only performed it a handful of times myself—and each time sorely regretted it. The cost of that magic is too steep.
There are reasons I wouldn’t sell you my books.
But even then it still wasn’t enough. You might as well have worn your own mud-streaked face back from the grave for all the love that she showed it.
However much you looked like Jack, you weren’t him, and because of that you still could not possess her.
Was it then you finally stumbled across the love spell?
It must have seemed so perfect, the very thing you’d wanted all along. So simple, laid bare, discovered half-hidden in a maze of useless words. True magic—not to kill, or deceive, but simply to make her recognize the truth, to understand the folly of her ways.
A single sip of a simple potion, to grab hold of her heart until the end of your days.
I’d have warned you then once more. Such spells are…unpredictable, even for the best of men. I’ve never tried them myself, however tempted. Lies, and even life, are one thing, but love…?
No, my friend, love is perhaps beyond the reach of magic.
Perhaps those spells, like your brother, should have remained buried.
They’ll hang you for her murder in the morning. Or rather, they’ll hang your brother Jack. After all, she was the only one in the village not convinced that you are him.
Such a wild tale you spun at the trial! Full of spellbooks and wizardry and potions gone wrong. They knew only that you’d poisoned her. They didn’t have to understand why. These like-minded men didn’t need to know the root of whatever madness had claimed you. They’d always liked Jack—not like the other one, that older brother with all his money who’d disappeared—but the facts of the case could hardly be denied.
The truth could scarcely have saved you, even if they’d dared to believe it.
The hour is growing late. I’m not here to rob them of their justice, merely to retrieve what is mine. I have my books again, and have said my piece. And you have your appointment in the morning. A long journey back to the woods awaits me.
Before I go, however, I do wish to bestow on you a small gift.
As I say, for many years I’ve tread carefully through the pages of these books. There are potions and spells that even I’ve never dared to decipher. But watching your efforts from afar has proved more instructional than I’d have wagered. I thought you nothing but a common thief at the start of all this, but your missteps revealed the mechanics of a sorcery I’d long danced around myself.
I’m strangely grateful for what you’ve shown me.
It was easy enough, then, to see where you’d steered wrong. A small mismeasurement. A dash that should’ve been a pinch. A flame that should’ve stayed a spark. It was child’s play to undo the damage you’d caused and set your final spell to rights.
I couldn’t bring her back to life, of course. That wouldn’t be fair to her. But the least I could do was ensure that your love spell didn’t entirely go to waste.
You can hear her now, I think, shambling her way up the stairs to your cell. She is not the same beauty that you wanted, after a fortnight in the ground, and indeed her heart may no longer beat.
But I assure you, my friend, it is a heart that belongs now only to you.
She will love you—or what is left of her will do so—to the very end of your days.
Perhaps be grateful, then, that the end of your days is not very far off.