“A-ha ha ha ha ha!” I cackled, as the beautiful princess nicked her finger on the golden scissors.
“Oh blast,” she said, “my mother warned me about th–” her voice cut off as, with a final desperate look at her lady-in-waiting, she fell asleep.
“You fiend!” said the lady-in-waiting, “what have you done?”
I didn’t need to answer; she’d just about got the last word out when the spell caught up with her and she crumpled to the floor.
One, two, three, four…
There was a clattering from outside the door.
Better get a move on, I thought, as it was followed by the distant rustling of fast-growing thorn bushes. I stepped over the fallen guard and dashed out of the castle, murmuring the spell to remove my disguise on the way.
I’m a witch, you see, and I happen to think the old routines are the best. My mother was a witch, and her mother before her, and you can’t beat a good castle-cursing. After all, something interesting has to happen to princesses. Embroidery and sitting by windows brushing unnecessarily long hair really doesn’t make a good story on its own. Make no mistake, stories matter. People round here just don’t respect a ruler who hasn’t suffered at least one bit of misadventure.
Still, much as I appreciate tradition, I’ve never gone in for the whole pointy hat, warty nose and straggly hair thing. Quite apart from the fact that it rather gives the game away, a girl’s got to have standards. There’s no excuse for tatty clothes and ugly boots. I don’t care what anyone says, I like a bit of lipstick, and green isn’t my colour.
I kept an eye on the castle. The bushes almost completely concealed it and I knew everyone inside would be all right – I’ve been casting basic send-em-all-to-sleep spells for decades – but I still like to make sure the boundary’s secure. There was that time with the bear and, well, let’s just say that one didn’t end happily ever after.
I was doing my rounds two weeks later when a white charger, draped in an extravagant blue and gold caparison and bearing an armour-clad rider, appeared.
That was quick.
He dismounted and started hacking at the braches near the castle entrance with his sword. Honestly, they never think to bring an axe. I sidled up behind him.
“Hello, kind sir,” I said.
He jumped, then peered at me through his visor. “Hello, good woman. Do you live hereabouts?”
“I do. I was just chopping some wood for the winter. Would you like to borrow my axe?”
“You’re not dressed for woodcutting,” he said, suspiciously.
Smarter than the average prince then; that was promising.
I smoothed down my red dress, murmured something and held out the sharp-bladed tool. He shrugged, took it, and swung at the bushes. It went through the vines like a hot knife through frog’s brains. Very handy for spells, frog brains.
Ten minutes later he’d run up to the tower and was crouching by the princess. I followed.
“Is she alive?” he asked.
“Oh yes, just asleep. It’s a standard ‘true love’s kiss’ deal. Er, I imagine,” I added.
“Oh dear, really?” he asked, taking off his helmet. I was surprised. He had to be sixty if he was a day. A handsome man, certainly, but in a rather well-worn way.
“You’re older than the average prince,” I said.
He sighed. “I know. It’s not my fault, I come from a very long-lived family. My father’s been king forever. I heard there might be a spot of bother and so I popped over the border to check up on the old place.” He glanced at the sleeping princess. “She looks rather like my granddaughter.”
I looked him up and down. He really was rather good-looking, with deep brown eyes and thick, if grey-streaked, hair. He was in good shape, too. Ah, what the hell. Not all stories have to end the same way. I muttered a few words under my breath.
“Perhaps a kiss on the hand?” I suggested. “I’ve heard that sometimes works.”
“Do you think so?” he asked with relief, gently picking up the long white fingers and touching them to his lips. I muttered another word. The princess woke up with a start.
“Who are you?” she asked the prince.
“Prince Gerald of Boscovia, Your Highness.”
“You’re very old. I’m not going to have to marry you, am I?” asked the princess.
“Ah, no, Your Highness. I don’t think that would be appropriate.”
“Thank goodness. No offence.”
“None taken, Your Highness.”
“Jolly good.” The princess looked fondly at her pretty lady-in-waiting, who was just beginning to stir. “I don’t have much time for princes anyway.”
Gosh, I thought. Different times.
“Who’s she?” asked the lady-in-waiting, waking up and looking at me with piercing blue eyes. Surely she hadn’t recognised me without my earlier disguise?
“Just a local peasant who lent the prince an axe,” I said, staring hard at the floor.
“Hm,” said the lady-in-waiting. “You’re wearing very nice shoes for a peasant.”
“Is that the time? I must be going,” I said, backing away.
I waited by the prince’s horse. He reappeared more quickly than I’d expected.
“They’ve got a lot of tidying up to do,” he explained. “I thought I’d leave them to it. The king suggested we work out some kind of trade agreement next month.”
I nodded. It seemed more practical than the usual ‘hand of the princess’ deal in this case. You can’t keep on giving half your kingdom away every time something dramatic happens.
“So,” I said, looking again at the handsome prince. He looked about my age, come to think of it. “You said you had a granddaughter. Are you married, Your Highness?”
He looked sad. “I was, briefly, a long time ago. There was a terrible incident with a bear.”
I thought about it. I was almost sure that was nothing to do with me. “In that case, Gerald – may I call you Gerald? – perhaps you’d like to come to my cottage for dinner?”
I wrote this for a bit of fun, but it’s turned out to be one of my favourite stories. One of these days I might write more about this witch. I rather like her.