I disliked these commands, harmless as they were. I'd hold the bowl, but move my feet so she would have to follow me around the kitchen. She'd call me minx and try to hem me in with more specific instructions, which I would find new ways to evade. Often, it was a long business to get anything done between us, with Mother laughing and egging each of us on by turn.
We'd end happily-with me finally choosing to do what Mandy wanted, or with Mandy changing her order to a request.
When Mandy would absentmindedly give me an order I knew she didn't mean, I'd say, "Do I have to?" And she'd reconsider.
When I was eight, I had a friend, Pamela, the daughter of one of the servants. One day she and I were in the kitchen, watching Mandy make marchpane. When Mandy sent me to the pantry for more almonds, I returned with only two. She ordered me back with more exact instructions, which I followed exactly, while still managing to frustrate her true wishes.
Later, when Pamela and I retreated to the garden to devour the candy, she asked why I hadn't done what Mandy wanted straight off.
"I hate when she's bossy," I answered.
Pamela said smugly, "I always obey my elders."
"That's because you don't have to."
"I do have to, or Father will slap me."
"It's not the same as for me. I'm under a spell." I enjoyed the importance of the words. Spells were rare. Lucinda was the only fairy rash enough to cast them on people.
"Like Sleeping Beauty?"
"Except I won't have to sleep for a hundred years."
"What's your spell?"
I told her.
"If anybody gives you an order, you have to obey? Including me?"
"Can I try it?"
"No." I hadn't anticipated this. I changed the subject. "I'll race you to the gate."
"All right, but I command you to lose the race."
"Then I don't want to race."
"I command you to race, and I command you to lose."
We raced. I lost.
We picked berries. I had to give Pamela the sweetest, ripest ones. We played princesses and ogres. I had to be the ogre.
An hour after my admission, I punched her. She screamed, and blood poured from her nose.
Our friendship ended that day. Mother found Pamela's mother a new situation far from our town of Frell.
After punishing me for using my fist, Mother issued one of her infrequent commands: never to tell anyone about my curse. But I wouldn't have anyway. I had learned caution.
When I was almost fifteen, Mother and I caught cold. Mandy dosed us with her curing soup, made with carrots, leeks, celery, and hair from a unicorn's tail. It was delicious, but we both hated to see those long yellow-white hairs floating around the vegetables.
Since Father was away from Frell, we drank the soup sitting up in Mother's bed. If he had been home, I wouldn't have been in her room at all. He didn't like me to be anywhere near him, getting underfoot, as he said.
I sipped my soup with the hairs in it because Mandy had said to, even though I grimaced at the soup and at Mandy's retreating back.
"I'll wait for mine to cool," Mother said. Then, after Mandy left, she took the hairs out while she ate and put them back in the empty bowl when she was done.
The next day I was well and Mother was much worse, too sick to drink or eat anything. She said there was a knife in her throat and a battering ram at her head. To make her feel better, I put cool cloths on her forehead and told her stories. They were only old, familiar tales about the fairies that I changed here and there, but sometimes I made Mother laugh. Except the laugh would turn into a cough.
Before Mandy sent me off for the night, Mother kissed me. "Good night. I love you, precious."
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...