A Change of Space

“Welcome!” said Captain Shepherd, as the door to the quarterdeck of the ship Starry McStarface slid aside. “Your grandfather’s told me all about you!”

Freddie Feghoot shook her outstretched hand. “It’s an honour to be invited, Captain.”

She waved her other hand dismissively. Her eyes sparkled. “Would you like to sit in the Captain’s chair?”

Who could say no? Freddie sat in the seat she indicated. It was smaller than he’d imagined. Glowing controls covered the arms. A screen floated in front of him, displaying a complicated pattern of intertwined, silvery strands.

“Strings,” said the Captain looking at the screen. “We use them to bend space, allowing FTL travel, you see. Neat tech. Only trouble is–”

“Captain! Anomaly on Zed!” called a middle-aged woman who’d been studying a display to the Captain’s right. “It’s a way off, but I think we’ll need to alter the knots.”

“Drat! Good spot, Lieutenant Motte. Out you get, Freddie.”

Freddie moved, and she slid into place. He stared at the screen. A red dot appeared, growing into something that looked like a child’s scribble. Captain Shepherd tapped furiously at her controls. Silver writhed around the red.

“Captain,” said Motte, “we need to change–”

“I know! Dammit!”

The floor shuddered. Freddie reached out to steady himself. The red scribble swelled. “What happens if we hit it?”

“Don’t ask,” said Motte, staring fixedly at the screen. “Captain, shall I…?”

Captain Shepherd cursed and pushed herself out of her chair. Motte took her place and reached for the controls. Freddie watched as the silver threads began to tie themselves into new knots which appeared, to him at least, to be pushing the red scribble off the top of the screen. He felt his heartrate slow down.

Then the floor lurched again. He looked and saw that the strands had twisted and slipped. “Are… they back to where they were?” he asked.

“Yes, dammit!” said the Captain. “Keep your eyes fixed on Motte while she tries again, will you? There’s a good chap.”

“Why?”

“Just do it!”

Motte jabbed at the controls again, gazing forward as both Freddie and the Captain stared at her. Freddie thought he could make out a flicker of reflected red in her eyes. Then it was gone. Her face relaxed.

“Thank goodness!” she said. “I thought we were going to collide with the wretched thing.”

Freddie looked cautiously away from the Lieutenant. The strings had adopted an entirely new pattern. There was no sign of any red.

“Well done, Motte,” said Captain Shepherd. “The pattern is dammed hard to alter once we’re underway.”

“Well, you know what they say,” said Motte with a wink, “a Shepherd can’t change her knots!”

“Haha, indeed!” said the Captain, slapping Motte on the shoulder rather harder than was necessary.

“There’s one thing I don’t understand,” said Freddie. “Why did we have to stare at the Lieutenant?”

Now it was the Captain’s turn to grin. “As everyone knows, Mr Feghoot, a watched Motte is never foiled!”


Author’s notes
I’ve always loved a shaggy-dog story. One the first I ever heard involved a chef called Gervais, a kitchen assistant called Hans and a small, green squid. If you don’t know it, I invite you to have a read. There’s a history of science fiction stories with these sorts of punchline endings, the most famous of which were written by Reginald Bretnor under the pseudonym Grendel Briarton and regularly featured a character called Ferdinand Feghoot. As you might have guessed, this is my little homage to those. I wrote it for the Escape Pod flash fiction competition. It got a smattering of votes but not enough to get through to the next round. Ho hum. But anyway, at the time of posting, you can still vote in the final of that contest – it closes on 27th June 2018. Go and check out the fabulous final stories!


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© Kat Day 2018

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Lessons from Madam Hyacintha

Daisy dug her fingernails into her scalp as she stared at the puzzle pieces scattered over the kitchen table. Each was a lump of smooth stone, roughly cubic. They had the colours of autumn leaves: warm oranges, yellowish greens and rich burgundies.

“How are you getting on?” asked Madam Hyacintha, looking over Daisy’s shoulder.

“Hmm,” said Daisy, distractedly.

“Well, let me know if you need anything,” said her mentor.

#

It had been an autumn day when Daisy had first arrived at Madam Hyacintha’s red-brick town house. Inside, the building had smelled of a peculiar mixture of turpentine and burnt sugar.

“What would you like me to do tomorrow?” Daisy had asked enthusiastically as they sat at the kitchen table drinking tea. “I don’t mind if it’s boring! I could clean the floor? I know that certain movements,” she waved her arm in a circle, “are important to practice!”

The wrinkles around Madam’s eyes had twitched, making Daisy think of sycamore seeds. “Ah? You’ve heard stories?”

“Yes! There’s always something like that to start with, isn’t there? Jumping into a puddle without splashing. Painting a wall. Catching flies with forks. It seems pointless, but it turns out it’s all about reflexes and technique!”

“It seems that you’re ahead of me,” said Madam, producing a small, leather-bound book with ‘Abecedarian Magicks’ embossed on the cover. “Read chapters one to four this evening. We’ll discuss them tomorrow.”

#

Daisy picked up the darkest stone piece and turned it over in her fingers. It was slightly warm to the touch. Two of its sides had been carved into the shape of a scroll, with a deep groove through the centre. Madam had told her that all the grooves should line up, making a continuous line. There were twenty-five pieces; perhaps they formed a five by five square? But no matter how Daisy moved them around, she couldn’t make it work.

She wondered why Madam had given her this task. Was it to teach her persistence? Patience? Maybe she was supposed to use some sort of magical technique? She had learned several already. Madam had even allowed her to help with some quite advanced spells.

“You are more than capable of doing these things, with practice and care,” she had said. “But I want you to appreciate the complexities.”

Daisy had felt this was not the way things should go. Surely she should be absolutely forbidden from dangerous magics until she had somehow proved her worth?

As if reading her mind, Madam continued: “Do not feel that you need to creep around and experiment behind my back. You are welcome to try anything, with supervision. I am merely trying to avoid having to clean up a flood, or untangle a misapplied metamorphism, or possibly both. I will not withhold information from you if you request it.”

Daisy stirred the disassembled puzzle pieces with her finger and frowned.

#

A week after she’d arrived, Madam had produced a sketch. It was a woman with pale skin and pulled-back hair: a single, dark strand falling across her face. The iris of one eye was the colour of lavender. The other was white; nothing but veins crawling across the sclera.

“This is Lady Aniya Aston,” said Madam. “She is extremely dangerous. Should you meet her, I advise that you run the other way, quickly.”

“Aha!” Daisy had said, “But I expect you can’t tell me anything else about her, because it would be too dangerous for me to know! I expect you feel you must protect me from the truth.”

“Not at all,” said Madam Hyacintha. “In my experience, that sort of approach always ends badly.” She had proceeded to tell Daisy absolutely everything about Lady Aston: the prophecy, how Daisy’s parents were involved, and even, much to Daisy’s shock, all about her own past entanglements with the woman. “It is usually best,” Madam had said calmly at the end of her lecture, “to have all the facts from the start.”

#

Daisy narrowed her eyes. “Madam?” she said, as her teacher was about to leave the kitchen.

The older woman stopped. “Yes?”

“Are you sure,” said Daisy slowly, “that all the pieces are here?”

Madam reached into her pocket, produced two more stones and placed them on the table. Suddenly the solution was obvious. Daisy pushed the pieces into a cube, three pieces along each edge.

“Very good,” said Madam Hyacintha. the corners of her eyes twitching upwards. “Remember, Daisy, you only have to ask.”


Author’s notes

We know how it is with mentors in fantasy and science fiction stories, don’t we? Mr Miyagi, Professor Dumbledore, Obi Wan Kenobi, even, I noticed, Odette in the recent animated children’s film Ballerina. They teach via obscure methods, withhold critical information, and generally frustrate their mentee until he, or she, does something stupid and gets into trouble. Then they die. Or get critically injured. Or just disappear.

Well I’m a teacher and I say: bugger that. We’ll have a properly structured curriculum and the teacher isn’t going to die at the end of it, thankyouverymuch.

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© Kat Day 2018

The trip of a lifetime

Dear Han and Lettie,

Having a wonderful time in E. California. It’s so different from the forest – the rocks are the colour of cinnamon and chocolate and the sky is clear and bright, like peppermints. Tomorrow I’m going to visit the local “Nut and Candy Store”. I’m sure I’ll find some lovely knick-knacks to bring back. Maybe something pretty for the gables. I hope there’s air-conditioning. The heat here is ferocious. They say that if you crack an egg into a pan and leave it in the sun, it will cook. I can believe it – the ground is so hot it’s like a stovetop. It’s tough on my old bones! Thanks again for spending some of your windfall on little me – it’s been the trip of a lifetime,

Baba Rosina x

Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley

P.S. Look after the cottage, darlings, don’t eat me out of house and home!


Author’s notes

This piece came from this idea: What if Hansel and Gretel didn’t so much as push the witch into an oven, as send her away to one? All the places mentioned – the Nut and Candy store, Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley – are real locations. The witch’s name is an amalgam of the old “Baba Yaga” myths and Rosina Leckermaul, from the Engelbert Humperdink opera. 

© Kat Day 2017

The only winning move

death-valley-sky-597885_960_720

A landscape of barren, dark-grey stone. Above, a black sky dotted with pinpricks of light – as though someone had taken a piece of paper, repeatedly shoved a pin through it, and then put it in front of a something extremely bright. Like, say, the lights of an oncoming train.

There was no breeze. No sound. No moon.

Since the last thing David Snacknot remembered was playing Go with one of his colleagues at the University, this all seemed rather strange.

“Where in the hell am I?”

“Interesting assumption.”

David looked over his shoulder, giving the impression that while his head wanted to see what was going on, his feet wanted to stay pointing in the direction which might provide a clear run.

He found himself looking at a figure with its arms folded across its chest. Its black robe covered it entirely. Even its face was completely hidden by the fall of the heavy cowl.

At this point, David realised he wasn’t breathing.

He tried to take a breath, and found he couldn’t. Then, more out of habit than anything else he tried to panic, and found he couldn’t do that, either.

The cowled figure pushed back its hood. “Do stop opening and closing your mouth, Professor. You look like a goldfish.”

Unbidden, David’s feet shuffled around as he stared. The face before him was not what he’d been expecting. Not that he knew what he’d been expecting, but whatever it had been, it wasn’t this.

“A-are you… Death?” he stuttered.

“I dislike that name. Such negative connotations,” said the figure. The face was feminine, and it definitely had skin. Admittedly, very pale skin, and skin stretched tautly over angular – one might even say bony – features.

“Er…” said David, then stopped to consider the fact that, despite not breathing, he still seemed to be able to speak. He fought back an inexplicable urge to whistle. Just to see if he still could. Then he had to fight back the urge to giggle.

“I rather prefer Entropy,” continued the figure.

What is it called, thought David, when actors are laughing so much during a performance that they can’t say their lines?

“Because that other name, it’s really not what I do. I don’t actually have anything to do with the D-word. That happens before people get to me. My role is merely to move things forward.”

Oh yes, thought David. Corpsing.

“So,” said Entropy. “Shall we begin? Or perhaps I should say, end? Ha ha.”

“Ha ha,” repeated David.

Entropy beamed. “That’s the spirit! Hardly anyone laughs at my jokes! Oh! Spirit! Ha ha!”

David smiled weakly. His eyes slid from her face to the surrounding landscape, and something strange behind her left shoulder caught his eye. “What’s that?” he asked, pointing.

“What? Ah, yes. Well, once upon a time, it would’ve been a pale horse. But we all have to move with the times.”

“A combine harvester?”

“There are a lot of you these days.”

David nodded slowly. I must be hallucinating, he thought. Just how much did I drink?

“The scythe just wouldn’t be practical.”

“No, I suppose not.” His rational side gave up. If he was dreaming he might as well go along with it. “Er, don’t take this the wrong way, but I thought Dea–, sorry,” he said quickly as she frowned, “I mean, in books and things you’re usually male.”

“How can you tell?”

“What?”

“I’m usually drawn as a skeleton.”

“Oh. Good point.” David resolutely fixed his eyes on her face.

“The people who draw me,” pointed out Entropy reasonably, “are not, generally speaking, people who’ve actually met me.

“Of course, yes. Makes sense. Wait a minute. If there are so many of us that you have to use a piece of heavy-duty agricultural equipment to do your job, why am I here on my own like this?”

Entropy smiled enigmatically. “Good question, professor.”

“Is it?”

“It is.”

“Is it a good question with an answer?” asked David, after a few moments.

“If you flipped a coin ten times, what would happen?”

“What’s that got to do with it?

“Just answer.”

“Well… I suppose you’d get a mixture of heads and tails. You’d expect half of each, but in just ten flips,” he shrugged, “who knows? Could be all heads, could be all tails, could be one to nine, or two to eight, or anything, really.”

“Very good. And if you flipped it one hundred times?”

“Then, assuming you had an evenly-weighted coin, it ought to come out closer to fifty-fifty. But I don’t see–”

“A thousand times? A million? A billion?”

“Closer and closer to an even split. And sore fingers,” he grinned. Entropy didn’t laugh, which seemed rather unfair, all things considered.

“Can you, perhaps, conceive of any other alternative?”

David frowned. “Not if the coin is evenly weighted…”

Entropy dipped her long, pale fingers into the folds of her robe and pulled out a coin. It glinted silver in the non-light. Slowly and deliberately, she pressed her thumb against her index finger, then balanced the metal disc on her thumbnail. With a soft ‘fthick’ the coin leapt upwards, turning over and over in a slow arc. David’s eyes followed it as it reached the apex, and then fell downwards, still spinning.

Clink.

He stared.

“You see,” said Entropy, “you’re like the coin.”

“On edge?”

“Exactly.”

The both considered the disc of metal for a moment, perfectly balanced on its side.

“Are you saying,” asked David slowly, “that I’m somehow between states? I could fall one way, or the other? I could… go back?”

“Perhaps,” said Entropy.

“Perhaps what?”

“Traditionally, in this circumstance, you would challenge me to a game.”

“Really?” asked David, champion Go player, “then I choose–”

“But in this case,” she interrupted, “I think perhaps not, given what happened the last time you proposed a game.”

Memories crawled through David’s mind like a drunk getting back to the house at 3am. They missed the lock, knocked over the furniture and set fire to a frying pan. He’d been playing Go with his friend Jian. And they’d been drinking. A lot. Because, because…”

Entropy shuddered. “Spit all over the playing pieces. Revolting.”

Oh yes. The classic Go variant: I bet I can fit more of these playing pieces into my mouth than you can.

“We’d been drinking,” he protested. “I wouldn’t do that normally.” Thirty-four, he’d managed. Then, before anyone could say Heimlich manoeuvre, here he was having a cosy chat with Dea– Entropy.”

“Traditions,” she mused, “are a very human idea. You spend all this time and energy inventing new and more efficient ways of doing things, but every now and then you insist on making life difficult for yourselves because great-great-grandma would have approved.”

Why had he drunk so much? They’d been celebrating, because…

“I don’t have a ancestors. Or descendants. I remember how everything was done, and I know how it will be done.”

“… brandy. They’d been drinking brandy…”

“And I do have a job to do. I can’t sit around playing complicated strategy games.”

“… because…”

“So with that in mind, pick a number.”

“What?” asked David, jolted away from his fractured memory.

“You say that a lot. Pick a number.”

“Any number?”

“Yes.”

“But there are an infinite number of numbers!”

“I didn’t say it would be easy.”

“Can’t you at least give me a, a, range?”

“I can say nothing.”

“What about fractions? Decimals? Irrational numbers?”

“It’s a round number.”

His birthday! They’d been celebrating his birthday! Jian had been meant to be keeping him away from the surprise party he wasn’t supposed to know about!

“Come along, Professor Snacknot, before the universe reaches heat death, if you wouldn’t mind.”

“Fifty! It’s my fiftieth birthday! That’s a round number!”

“Fifty is your choice?”

“Yes!” It was an hallucination! His brain had just been trying to process everything. He’d been trying to find a way back to consciousness! Now he’d remembered, he could go back!

Entropy nodded and raised a finger. Arm outstretched, she drew a spiral in the air, the line picked out with glittering silver. The shape pushed outwards, creating a cone-shaped tunnel. In the distance, David thought he could see colours. The brown of a battered wooden desk, the green of an old carpet…

She pointed.

David ran towards the tunnel.

He could see the desk. See the toppled brandy bottle. See his carpet with round, black and white pieces scattered across it. See the two paramedics. See the figure lying prone on the floor.

He was close. He reached out. Almost there.

And watched in horror as his finger dissolved into a thousand glittering pieces.

Tried to cry out as the fragmentation spread up his arm and along his chest.

Felt his larynx splinter before he could make the sound.

The essence of David Snacknot scattered into trillions and billions of particles and drifted away on the silent winds of the universe, never to be joined again.

#

In the grey-stone dessert, Entropy climbed into the cabin of her combine harvester and patted its dashboard. She sighed. Despite what she’d said about traditions, she had rather preferred the horse.

“You’d think a physicist would’ve worked it out, wouldn’t you?” she said to the silent piece of heavy machinery. “There’s only one number where entropy cannot be. And only one number of playing pieces a very drunk, middle-aged man could survive having lodged in his windpipe.”

The combine harvester, of course, said nothing.

“I gave him clues. ‘I can say nothing’ I said. I mean, short of actually telling him the answer, what else could I do?”

The combine harvester rumbled and rose into the air in an upwards arc.

The silver coin toppled from its edge and fell heads up, a single, round disc of silver against the dark stone.


Author’s notes

This story began life as a piece inspired by the Fibonacci sequence. It didn’t really work, and I didn’t like it. But I had a sense that there was something there, particularly in the character of Entropy, so I picked it up again. I ended up gutting the original tale, chopping up and rejigging more or less everything bar the very beginning and some parts of the end. I hope you like it, and if you do it just goes to show: a writer should never throw anything away!


© Kat Day 2016

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Author’s notes
This piece came out of a challenge to write something inspired by the photo at the top of the page. I thought it looked like it could be fabric, but on its own that would’ve been too obvious. So I took a slightly sideways approach – this obviously isn’t a story as such, but it is (I hope!) a bit of fun.


© Kat Day 2016

The Little Shop of Hairs

Phoenix_Old_Spaghetti_Factory_restaurant_barber_chairs“You definitely put the sign out?” asked Bob, peering out of the plate-glass window at the pavement.

“I’ve told you, yes. Calm down. Someone will be along soon.” A faint, disinfectant smell drifted across the salon as Sal wiped a shelf next to one of the large mirrors.

Beep-beep! The door opened and a young woman walked in, flat shoes slapping on the tiled floor. Bob’s green-gold eyes lit up.

“Hello! How can I help you?”

She pushed dark hair out of her eyes with nail-bitten fingers, stared at Bob and shot a glance back at the door. “Um. I just need a trim. Just my fringe, really.”

#

Bob tweaked his bow-tie, tugged on his waistcoat and adjusted the position of his comb and scissors as the girl settled herself into one of the high-backed, black chairs. He fixed his eyes on her reflection in the glass.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Audrey.”

“Nice to meet you Audrey! Right, the fringe? And an inch off the ends, too?” He let the fine strands slide through his long fingers. “Shall I wash it?”

“Er, no, thanks. Just… a dry cut.” Wide, blue eyes stared back at him. “Are those heavy?”

Bob touched his thick, blonde dreadlocks, his smile displaying slightly too many teeth. “These? I barely notice them! Don’t worry, your hair won’t end up looking like mine!”

Audrey gave a tiny laugh.

He picked up his scissors. The metal flashed and danced, the blades snicking around her head.

Right hand busy cutting, left hand picking up something else…

Transfixed by the motion of the scissors, she didn’t notice as Bob wiped her left ear with a square of fabric and made a tiny cut. A drop of ruby blood welled up and he sucked it into the plastic barrel of a small, cylindrical device. A tendril of his hair whipped it away and twisted in on itself, hiding it from sight.

He stood back.

“There, what do you think?”

“Wow! It looks amazing! How did you do that? It’s so much thicker!”

Bob blew across the top of his scissors. “Years of experience! Ah, let me just…”

“Ouch!”

“Sorry! That loose hair wasn’t quite as loose as I thought!” he said, squirreling away the long strand with its intact root.

#

“Did you get everything?” asked Sal, watching through the window as Audrey walked away.

“Yep!”

“Good. I was worried we wouldn’t get the last sample.”

“You weren’t sure? You were the one telling me someone would be along.”

“I’m a pilot, I’m not telepathic. Never mind, we’re done and,” she looked at a grey band on her wrist, “just in time.”

#

Audrey stood staring at a patch of uneven red brick, spotted with fragments of old posters.

“It was here three weeks ago, I swear!”

“It’s a wall,” said her friend, Seymour.

“But there was a hairdresser. He did an amazing job of my hair.” Audrey looked around, forehead creasing.

“You must have the wrong place. Come on, time for food!” said Seymour.


Author’s notes:
This was written for a flash fiction competition, in which ‘showing not telling‘ (the bugbear of any fiction writer) was the key theme. There was meant to be absolutely no telling whatsoever. I almost succeeded, but in the original submission I wrote: “Three weeks later, Audrey….”

This is, of course, blatant telling. And right at the end, too. Curses!

I still got runner up though, so it wasn’t all bad.

The trouble with a story without any telling is that it can be difficult to work out what’s going on. Which is, I fear, the case here. But, regardless, I’m rather fond of this little tale, so I’ve left it alone.

Barring, of course, moving the “three weeks” slip into a piece of dialogue. I’m fairly confident that there really is no telling now. If you disagree, do let me know…


© Kat Day 2016

The Prince and the Witch

800px-W.E.F._Britten_-_The_Early_Poems_of_Alfred,_Lord_Tennyson_-_Sleeping_Beauty
(c) Adam Cuerden

“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?”


Author’s notes:

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.


© Kat Day 2016