The Best Laid Wishes.

Strawberry blonde braids sailed in the air as a young girl twisted and twirled down the cobblestone road. A woven basket filled with roses was slung over her arm, complimenting the sky-blue dress she wore, ruffling and flaring with every prancing step she took. She whistled a tune few would recognize as she made her way through town, passing out flowers to the elderly and the beggars.

“Bless you child,” an old man said, sitting back from his corn shucking to inhale the rose’s fragrance deeply. “You’ve made my whole day, thank you.”

She loved to see them smile.

One day, a young man stopped her on the street. He was easy to look at, and had a very charming smile.

“Miss, I must confess you have caught my eye, and I declare myself smitten. Would you give me a rose, as a token of your affection?”

She cocked her head. “But sir, I don’t know you. How do you propose affection come about so quickly?”

The young man’s chest puffed up, and he jammed his hands into his pockets with a roguish grin. “You do not recognize the lord of these lands, Miss? I could make all your wishes come true, with just the flick of my wrist. I could make nations bow at your feet, and you can wear sable and silk for as long as you wished to! There would be no finer woman than you.”

The young girl pondered him. “Any wish I have?”

He nodded, looking pleased with himself. “Anything.”

With a slow movement, she took a rose from her basket and kissed the tops of its petals, before handing it to the lord. “Then I give you my affection, sir. I wish for you to keep me happy!”

The young man took the offered rose in a swift motion, triumph written all over his face. “You will not regret pledging yourself to me, my wife!”

The girl only smiled in response, and the lord escorted her to his estate, where they married three days later. True to his word, she lived in the lap of luxury for many long years. She was an excellent investor, rarely gambled her husband’s money, and helped him balance his books behind the scenes. The young girl grew into a much-loved woman, still in her sables and silks, still bringing smiles to those she met.

One afternoon, she sat in the study window reading when she caught sight of her husband. Setting her book down, she watched as he stopped a girl with a basket of bread on her arm. Her husband had a charming smile on his face and was gesturing behind him, towards their home. The girl hesitated, then handed him her entire basket, eyes shining with wishes.

He returned home to a waiting and pleasantly-surprised wife, the young girl in tow. He introduced her as his wife’s new maid. Seeing the girl glazing over in shock, she greeted her warmly and told her that everything would be taken care of, and not to worry. Pleased with his prize, he left the two women alone, heading back out.

The wife hurried the girl upstairs to her rooms and shut them inside, before sharing her own story and explaining who she was. The girl was delighted when she was asked to take part of some due revenge.

A fortnight later, the two women went for a walk in town, arm in arm. As they came upon the tavern, the lord stumbled out. On the arms of her husband were two prostitutes, and all three of them were piss-drunk. The wife stopped before him and smiled, her maid’s arm still in hers, a basket of roses and bread hanging by her side.

“Sweetest husband, you promised you would always make me happy! That was my only wish.”

The lord, old and gray, laughed and shook his head. “I offered you wealth, not love. You are the luxurious dressing in my windows, dear, and so is your maid. There is nothing coin cannot buy.”

His wife nodded sagely and, still smiling, nodded for her maid to step forward, who offered a loaf of bread to the lord. “We understand, sir. Will you at least let us feed you? You all look so famished.”

The lord broke bread with his two prostitutes and, upon swallowing it, they dropped to the ground, eyes rolling into the backs of their heads. The lord screamed as his skin began to turn ashen.

“What have you done, you wretched wrench!?”

The maid smiled as his wife knelt beside him, watching as he writhed in pain. “Were you never taught to make deals with the Devil?”

The old lord watched in horror as his wife and her maid flashed their true forms at him: a pair of succubi. The street was suddenly very empty, and a dreadful feeling washed over the man.

“You were doing so well,” his wife said, long horns stretching towards the night sky as she stroked his cheek with a long, dark finger. “But you broke the heart of my little sister! You promised her the world, and went back on your word in almost the same turn. Shame on you.”

The succubus-maid kissed his forehead, a violent shiver ripping through him. “I was really looking forward to being a lovely wife too,” she pouted, picking up a rose from the basket. She kissed the top of it and pressed it against his trembling lips. The lord gasped in horror, before shriveling into a husk, mummified.

The two succubi returned to their human forms, dusting themselves off and leaving the lord where he was, walking arm in arm back to their estate. He was found the next morning by the baker, and after some terrified scrutiny of his body, it was chalked up to some kind of unknown poison he may have had in the bread chunks that lay around him. A small funeral was held for the lord, but his memory was swiftly lost to the vibrant life of his widow and her maid, beautiful and generous both. The maid would go into town on behalf of her mistress to distribute flowers and assist those in need, using the estate funds, and they never withheld alms when asked.

The lord’s soul, however, was another matter.

The old lord stood before the Devil in Hell, shouting his guilt and pleading mercy whilst the Devil listened, hand on his cheek like an ever-patient mother.

“They tricked me! How was I supposed to know those were your wives!”

“And what difference would that make, hm?” The Devil rolled his eyes. “Perhaps do not be a greedy and just enjoy what you have? You do not get to choose who you are nice to. People deserve kindness regardless, even myself. My wives are taking that well in stride now, thanks to your wealth, and yet it’s them who will be remembered, not you.”

The lord screamed his denial, refusing to be bested by them. The Devil sighed and left him there, his punishment his own self-inflicted pain.

The Devil’s wives spent long years in that town, aging themselves with magic until it was appropriate to fake their deaths and move on. That town erected a small monument to the two women who had brought so much good and wealth to their homes. The lord was long forgotten, a passing detail in the stories of his widow and her maid.

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