I knew it the moment I saw the emissary walk up my driveway with the envelope held against his chest. I was being called by the queen.

I gathered all my potions and occult stones in a shoulder-bag and accompanied the messenger back to the palace.

After all my efforts, I had never been able to identify a pattern in the curse. Nothing to do with dates, seasons, phases of the moon. I had even monitored her food habits for a solid quarter of a year.

In her inner sanctum, she awaited me. The multifold queen – a morbid avatar of rulership. This time, I could see a wolf’s head, a gryphon’s chest, chimpanzee and grizzly bear arms, tiger legs, and one comely human foot. Her husband, the prince, sat at the foot of the bed, staring at her lovingly, but still keeping an eye on the bear arm.

The banishing was a matter of minutes, and afterwards, the queen was grateful in quantities measurable in sacks. But I could, as usual, see the nod pass between her and her personal secretary. ‘He can go from here alive,’ it said. ‘For now.’