Okay, so they're not scholars. But, dog-Latin notwithstanding, those Spanish witches are nobody to trifle with. They can dry up a cow with a glare and wither a field with a snort. Three days of aberrant sex coupled with rhymes that would make Cicero wince can slam the stock market downward five hundred points. So when a spite-driven spell to kill the king failed to give him so much as a case of the sniffles, they knew immediately that they'd been unhexed.
"Who would dare?" they cried. "Who would dare?"
"My master, the English wizard Pouffe," said a monkey, climbing through the kitchen window. He politely doffed his little red hat. "By the rules of the Code Duello, he challenges thee to a test of powers in the graveyard at midnight tonight."
"Midnight? With my arthritis?" cried the oldest of the lot, and, "I have a date!" cried the youngest, and, "Get that filthy beast off my countertop!" cried a third. But when necessity calls, all must answer, and so that night all thirteen trudged to the graveyard to confront the English wizard.
Pouffe was a plump little man with a silly hat. He offered the ladies first at-bat.
With no great enthusiasm, the witches threw a hex at him. It was a weak thing, little better than a schoolyard taunt. They were curious to see what sort of chops he had.
"You trifle with me," Pouffe said scornfully. He plunged his wizard's staff into a goblet of blood and then drank the blood. He sprinkled a circle of linnet seed on the ground about himself while chanting runes from the Book of Silence. Finally, he crucified a cat. When it died, a hot wind of sorcery swept through the graveyard, undoing the witches' feeble hex and simultaneously draining them of all their power. "You've been unhexed," said Pouffe smugly. "Let's see you undo that!"
The witches went into a huddle. Finally, the oldest said, "That crucifixion thing—d'you mind if we borrow the notion from you?"
"Be my guest."
The witches took off their clothes and waggled behinds of greatly varying degrees of comeliness in the wizard's direction. Then they came at him in a rush. They knocked away his sorcerous tools, tore his wizard's robe from his body, and knocked his silly hat aside.
Then they crucified him.
"Wait! Stop!" Pouffe cried. "This is a violation of the Code Duello!"
"Oh, women don't fight by codes," the witches assured him. "We fights to win."
It took a while for Pouffe to die, but just at the first light of false dawn, a cold wind came rushing into the graveyard, restoring to the witches all the power that had been taken away from them. Then they went home.
It was not, perhaps, the most elegant ununhexing in the world. But it worked. And that's all the witches cared about.
© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.