Brotislaw Fzornik believed in magick. This was a blessing and a curse. Believing in magick meant believing that every bad thing that happened was due to someone else casting a spell on him.
This precluded the possibility of his own actions being responsible for any debacle. This possibility was, in actuality, far beyond a probability. Brotislaw was both incredibly unwise and unwisely credulous.
“Brotislaw! I have found a book that explains everything!” Gromek held up a small volume with a bright red cover.
“Explains everything, Gromek?”
“Yes, everything! It’s a copy of the secret folio of Count Cagliostro! In it, he’s written down the hidden wisdom of the ages, all in this book.”
“But Gromek, what is this ‘hidden wisdom?’”
“Oh, many things! Fabulous things. Too many to tell you. You must get a copy.”
“Can’t I read yours?”
“No, no. I need mine. You must get your own.”
Gromek leaned closer and garlicked, “Upstairs over the apothecary’s is a seller of rare books. He has printed a dozen copies and is shipping them all over the world—London, Paris, Rome—”
“Yes, yes, Poland, too. But you must act fast and get a copy before he ships them out tomorrow.”
“How much are they?”
“Five crowns? That’s a fortune!”
“But a small price to pay for the wisdom of the ages. You must hurry, Brotislaw! And tell him Gromek sent you. Then maybe he will sell you a book.”
Brotislaw borrowed, begged, and stole, and stole some more until he had the five crowns, then immediately sought the bookseller above the apothecary’s. The outside door that led upstairs was locked. Brotislaw knocked and called ‘halloo,’ but no one answered.
After a long time, he turned to leave, and a man in a long cloak and a hood grasped his arm. “You are looking for bookseller?” the man said hoarsely, his breath reeking of garlic.
“Uh, yes. Gromek sent me.”
“I myself am bookseller.” The man nodded his head, but only the tip of his nose was visible within the hood. “You are lucky found me; I leaving for Paris.”
Brotislaw waited for the man to open the door and let him in, but the ‘bookseller’ merely pulled out a small red book and rasped, “Here is what you looking for. Five crowns.”
“It’s so small…”
“If were big, would cost ten crowns.” The man held out his hand.
The money was handed over and the man scooted away.
Brotislaw opened the book. It was all in Latin, a language that he knew even less of than his own. He said to himself, Gromek knew all about this book; he must know what’s in it.
But for some reason, Brotislaw was unable to locate Gromek. Several days of looking were in vain, so Brotislaw sought the local priest, a man who surely knew Latin.
Fr. Vlad looked at the book. “This is the wisdom of the ages? This little book?”
“You mustn’t judge by its size, Father. Gromek says it’s got all mysteries explained, right in there.”
The priest read the cover. “It says ‘Mysteries’ on the cover–”
“There! See? I told you.”
“–But the cover looks like it was torn off another book.” He opened it. “It’s in Latin—”
“Yes. Read some! What does it say?”
Fr. Vlad leafed through the pages. “These are from another book. They’ve been cut and rebound to look like a book, but part of the text has been trimmed off. Some of it disappears into the binding. Some pages are smeared.”
“But what do the pages say?”
“Well, here, roughly translated, this says…‘Wizard Haruspid cast a spell…King Mukkhab and caused him …afflicted with haemorrhoids…Then Haruspid fled to somewhere…Mukkhab searched for a year…captured Haruspid and cut off his–’”
“It doesn’t say. It’s been cut off.”
“But where is the wisdom in that?”
“’Don’t cast spells on kings,’ I suppose.”
“I already knew that.”
“No, you didn’t. You just don’t know any spells. If you did, you might have tried them on anybody, even a king.”
“Well, I won’t now. What else?”
The priest paged through the book. “There’s not much in here that makes sense. Oh, here’s something—”
“A story about a fox. He stole a farmer’s chicken.”
“What happened to him? Did he get his…whatever cut off?”
“Er, actually, it was his tail, this time.”
“I know what you’ll say, Father: ‘Don’t offend a farmer.’”
“Well, they do have a lot of sharp implements.”
“So what else? What else wisdom does this book have? So far, I’m not impressed.”
“Neither am I. This isn’t a real book, Brotislaw. It looks like someone who worked for a printer took scrap paper and bound it so it would seem to be a book.”
“So, don’t mess with farmers or kings, then that’s it?”
The priest smiled just a little. “And don’t buy books from someone you don’t know.”
“But I do know him. He’s the bookseller over the apothecary’s.”
“The apothecary stores his goods and his senile father on the upper floor. Where did you meet this man?”
“Outside, in the street, but it was right beside the door of the bookseller–”
“There is no bookseller in this town. No one reads books, here.”
“Gromek does! Gromek is who told me of this fabulous book.”
“Then there’s more wisdom for you: don’t believe what Gromek says.”
“He must have put a spell on me.”
Fr. Vlad raised his hand to clout Brotislaw, then, at the last second, blessed him hastily, instead, and went away muttering.