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"Your homework," said the convenor with an evil glint in her eye, "is Confusion." We looked at her blankly and she looked at us... I felt confused. Perhaps that was the idea.

Benign Confusion

Declan attended the fair at Hambleton Downs where he set up his table close to the refreshment tent hoping to catch the attention of people who might be slightly less than perfectly aware of their surroundings. "Round and round the lady goes," he said, shuffling three cards face down on the table in complex swirling patterns. "And where she travels to, nobody knows." He turned over one of the cards revealing a rather sour looking queen who appeared to be in a mood to execute somebody.

Declan turned the face of the queen back down and started to adjust the positions of the three cards again with rapid and elaborate gestures. "Would anyone care to wager where the lady lies?" he asked the crowd that was starting to gather around his table. Declan noticed with approval that several people were clutching tall glasses and swaying slightly. "You sir," cried Declan to one of the swayers. "Perhaps today is your lucky day."

The swaying man frowned at being singled out but then, with the loud encouragement of his friends, he stepped forwards and placed a wager on the table. "Thank you sir," said Declan. He exposed the queen briefly so as to prove that she was still on the table then he turned her face down again and passed his hands over the three cards, sliding and swapping them hither and yon. "And now sir," he said when he felt that he had sufficiently mixed the positions of the cards, "where would you think the queen might be?"

The man blinked, registering puzzlement, then he reached out and indicated a card. "Please turn the card over," said Declan. "Let everybody see what its face reveals." The man flipped his chosen card over, exposing a smiling knave. "So it goes," said Declan, pocketing the wager. He began to shuffle the cards again while he waited for someone else to make a bet.

A dark-haired woman elbowed her way to the front and laid her money on the table. "I can find the queen," she declared ringingly and Declan smiled and shuffled his cards. The woman hovered her hand over the cards and then she pointed. "That one!" she declared,

She turned her chosen card over, revealing the sour-faced queen. Declan was astonished for he had cast a spell of benign confusion on the cards before he began his pitch to the punters. With such a spell in place the confusion in the cards should always prevent anyone from successfully identifying the queen. Reluctantly Declan paid the woman her winnings. As she took the money, she leaned forward and whispered, "Benign confusion is a very weak spell. We should have a meeting, you and I, to explore alternatives." Then she kissed Declan on the cheek, put her winnings into her purse, and disappeared back into the crowd.

By the end of the day, Declan’s wallet was comfortably full and the crowd around his table was muttering darkly about cheating and magic for nobody except the dark haired woman had managed to turn the queen face up. That was the problem with the spell of benign confusion, mused Declan. It was an all or nothing act of magic. To that extent, the woman was right. It was rather weak. Declan decided that it was time for him to move on before the mood of the crowd turned too ugly. He closed down his table and prepared to leave the fair behind.

Then the dark-haired woman reappeared. "Well," she asked, "have you had a successful day?"

Declan nodded. "Reasonably so," he remarked. "But now the day is over and it is time for me to leave."

"The fair has three more days to run," she said. "Surely your profits would be even larger if you stayed?"

"Perhaps they would," acknowledged Declan, "but the price I would have to pay for that profit would be too high. The crowd grows angry with me. After three more days I would not be able to guarantee my safety."

"But I would," said the dark-haired woman. "For a share of the profits I can over-ride the benign confusion at reasonable intervals, sufficient to keep the crowd sweet and interested. Three more days could earn us both a pretty penny."

Declan thought it over. He remembered the ease with which she had seen through his spell and identified the queen. The scheme seemed workable. "All right," he said and he held out his hand.

She shook it to seal their agreement. "Call me Jenny," she said, and she smiled.

The next three days were very profitable ones for Declan, though they began rather frighteningly. His reputation had clearly been blackened overnight as everyone discussed their losses, and morning brought him an angry and resentful crowd. But he spread his cards as normal and indulged in his usual patter despite the black and threatening circumstances. Jenny sat near his table knitting placidly and seemingly paying little attention to what was going on. Gradually the mood of the crowd improved as, every now and then, someone managed to expose the queen and collect a handsome reward. It wasn’t long before all was cheerfulness and mock concern as the winners consoled the losers. Nobody seemed to notice that the losers far outnumbered the winners. After all, wasn’t that what gambling was all about?

After three more days at the fair Declan had a bulging wallet. As the fair drew to a close and the tents were struck he happily paid Jenny her share of the proceeds. "Thank you," he said to her sincerely. "I think we made a good team."

"Yes we did," said Jenny, taking his arm. "Walk with me a while. Perhaps we might discuss future collaborations."

Declan happily did as he was told and they walked arm in arm through the gathering twilight talking of this and that and making elaborate plans. Presently they came to a small grove where traces of summer warmth still lingered in its hidden places. "Let’s stop here for a while," said Jenny, smiling sweetly at him, "and seal our bargain appropriately."

So they sat together in the grove and Declan let the magic of the moment take its course. Presently, as the enchantment subsided, Declan found that his arms and legs had been constrained to stillness in some mysterious way and he was quite unable to move a muscle. He watched angrily and helplessly as Jenny helped herself to the contents of his wallet. He tried to speak, to curse her and her thieving ways, but no words would come to him. Jenny looked at him with a faint half-smile on her lips. "It is a spell of enforced entanglement," she told him. "It will hold you captive for a short time until I am safely away. Then, following your freedom from entanglement a spell of forlorn confusion will ensure my continued safety by scrambling your senses. Forlorn confusion is a much more elaborate spell than the benign confusion you are more used to. It is much, much harder to see through." She put his money in her purse, and winked at him. "Goodbye," she said. "Thank you for a profitable time at the fair."

Declan watched helplessly as she walked away towards the setting sun. Presently his limbs relaxed and he found that he could move again. Grimly he headed after her, trudging with fixed purpose towards the east. By the time the sun rose in front of him, he was sure that he would have caught up with deceiving Jenny and then he would make her pay for what she had done to him. He shook his head to try and clear his thoughts. Make her pay for whatever it was that she had done to him...

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