March 24, 2011

The Other End of The Tale, By Gerri Leen

The walk is long
The covering robes heavy
The child whimpers in her arms
She has women who could carry him
She left them behind

This must be done alone

The forest house
Slowly comes into view
Her legs ache as she climbs the rise
The little man sits on his porch
He smiles at her

As if he knew all along she'd come

"You showed me mercy"
He shrugs
"You could have taken my child"
He nods
"You let me servant hear your name"
He laughs

The child reaches out for him

He is the crown prince
She must keep him safe
She hands him to the little man
who cuddles the child close
and sings softly

She cannot understand the words

He hands her back the child
"I didn't help you for riches
I can spin straw into gold
What need have I for gems?"
She understands

He is kinder than she ever gave him credit for

The king would have killed her
For something her father promised

Something she could not do
This little man saved her
This little man set her free

"I like your name" -- the only gift she has for him

His eyes sparkle
"It was a neat trick
Pulling myself apart that way
Surprised you didn't fall for it"
She did

But only for a little while

In addition to having several stories and poems published by
Enchanted Conversation, Gerri Leen is celebrating the release of her
first collection of short stories, Life Without Crows, published by
Hadley Rille Books.  See what else she's been up to at her website:

Rumpelstiltskin, By S. Ashley Burns

He told me his name the day we met--
how else does one begin a conversation?
You exchange names, then small talk,
before coming to the heart of the matter.

I gave him a necklace,
and he spun a room full of gold.
I knew it wasn’t the necklace he wanted,
just as he knew the necklace—-
a cherished gift from my mother-—
was worth more than any jewel.

The king also made a promise:
roomfuls of gold and myself as queen,
or my life cut short.

I asked the dwarf to take my child;
not as payment, but in the hope
he would protect the babe better
than either of us could protect me.
On my wedding night I closed my eyes
and thought of straw-itched conversations,
quiet moonlit laughter, kindness.
It was almost enough to help.

There had to be a challenge.
He had to take the babe openly,
with no blame attached to me.
For two days I laughed inside,
hiding his name and my smile,
and dreamed of how my daughter
would live free of satin-wrapped threats.

But there are only so many names.

It’s true he stamped his feet so hard
a chasm opened underneath.
It’s also true, though not said,
that I grabbed my daughter
and leapt after.

We raised our child
to know the worth of gold,
and the value of straw.

Ashley is 32, married, and prone to make random chirping noises instead of actually speaking. She emigrated from the US to Scotland seven years ago, a fact she still finds startling. Currently she works as a library assistant for the University of Edinburgh. In her spare time she reads, writes, plays the piano, reads, goes swimming, bakes things made out of chocolate, and reads some more.

The Queen's Child Comes In, By Mae Underwood

Dear Rapunzel,

My Dad says you're someone who will understand me. Your father promised you away in a bargain. It must be hard living in a tower all the time. I can't leave our property, but at least I can go outside. But I can understand why it's necessary in your case, with your parents as neighbors like they are. They could snatch you back just like that -- ! --. (That was me snapping my fingers.)

Did your mother.. do you consider her your mother? I bet you do. The witch, though, did she tell you anything about me? She may not have heard the story correctly, so maybe I should tell you from the start anyway. I hope that doesn't sound egotistical, but I can't send you a letter full of nothing but questions, can I?

There. There's one question for you anyway.

So it all started with my grandfather. He wasn't too bad. Not the stupidest or cruelest person in the story. But it did all start with him.

See, he was in a tavern. I'm sure he'd had a few by this time. And the fellows he's with, they're boasting and everything. As drunken men do, so I'm given to understand.

So one of them, he says, "My wife can bake fifty pies in one day."

And the next one, he goes, "My son can lift two oxen. One in each hand."

And around and around. Until they get to my grandfather, and he ups and says, "My daughter can spin straw into gold."

They all get a good laugh out of that one. And I like to imagine he got an extra pint bought for him in appreciation.

Well, wouldn't you know it, one of the king's men is there, and he overhears this. I think he'd had three too many. I think he half-believed it at that point. So when he goes to tell the king, he must've been convincing. Because the king believed it! Yeah, the king my father. Well, my "real" father. What an idiot.

I mean, isn't it the most obvious question in the world to ask, "If this man's daughter can spin straw into gold, then why is he a modestly well-off miller and drinking in the tavern with the common folk?" Oh yeah, I forgot to say he was a miller. It's not that important to the story. But, anyway, no, the king doesn't think this at all. Just ... believes this straw into gold thing with no proof to back it up.

Well, so then he has this brilliant idea of calling the daughter ... this is my mother we're talking about at this point ... to the castle. And he locks her in a room full of straw and says he'll kill her if it's not gold by morning!


What an a-- oh, I suppose princesses oughtn't use that word in correspondence. Well, in any case, you can see the sort of person my "real" father is.

This is the good part of the story though, as this is where my actual father comes in. He hears her crying and he comes to her rescue. The start of a romantic story, you'd think, wouldn't you? So he says, "I can spin it into gold for you. But I need something in return." He couldn't let her think he was a chump, right? You don't get nothing for something!

She hands him her necklace and he saves her a-- oh, there's that word again. Sorry, sorry.

Do you think the king is astonished and awed by this? Of course not! The next night, he locks her in a bigger room full of straw! (Who knew castles had so much straw?) My father comes to the rescue again. This time in exchange for a ring. And spin spin spin, he's done.

At least the next night, though he does lock her in a bigger room, the king tells her he'll marry her if she does it. Wow, what a prize! What a catch! You get to marry the village idiot if you do this thing!

But of course she's desperate. I don't think she actually wanted to marry him, but it's better than dying anyway. (Or is it?) So my father comes in and offers to help her out again. She's out of jewelry though. So this is where he asks for what he really wanted. Me. Her firstborn. A princess. He would've settled for a prince, I think.

She promises. You have to wonder about "real" parents who just up and promise their progeny to people they barely know. I mean, don't you?

Spin spin spin, gold, gold, gold. Man and wife. Ring the wedding bells. Ladeedeeda. And then about a year later, I pop out.

"Oh no, don't take my baby. You can have all the wealth of the kingdom." Woman, really. My father can spin straw into gold. You think he wants your lousy treasure?

My father has a soft spot in his heart though, and offers her a way out. If she can guess his name, he won't take me. She's got three nights to do it. That means he has three nights to plan.

She sent this messenger off to find names for her. Can you imagine being given that task? I mean, just go to the library, woman. Castles have libraries, from what I understand. Oh, but maybe she couldn't read. Well, anyway, the messenger gives her a bunch of silly names. But there's no way they're ever going to hit on the right one.

When my father's done planning, he lets it "slip" what his name is. The messenger tells her. She guesses. She keeps her baby. All is happy in the land.

Except that he totally switched me a few hours before that. Left a random baby in my place. I'm not sure where he got her from.

So that's the story of my birth and rescue. I've lived with my father ever since. (You're wondering right now what his name is, aren't you? Heehee!) He's taught me his magic and everything a princess ought to know. Just like I'm sure your mother the witch has taught you her magic and everything a young woman of intelligence ought to know.

I turn 18 in a few years. I'm not sure what's so magic about 18. It's not a nice number like 3, or 7, or 21. But laws are laws, I guess. I'm going to go to the castle and declare who I am. We have proof, my father and I. I'm going to take my rightful place on the throne.

Of course there's a king standing in my way, but we'll take care of that. Turns out there's also a few younger brothers. It's a shame I won't be able to get to know them. But that male heir thing ... well, again, laws are laws. They need to go too.

I hope the castle isn't cold and drafty. Do you think it is? I bet it smells all musty and like mildew.

It's a shame we can't meet in person, but it's so nice to be able to write to someone my age!

Write back soon and tell me all about yourself and your life.

And maaaaybe I'll tell you what my father's name is.

Wishes and kisses,

Your new friend (I hope?)

Princess Rumpana

Mae Underwood lives in the non-wilds of New Hampshire with absolutely no cats, dogs, or brine shrimp. She probably wouldn't spin straw into gold even if she could. It seems like too much work.

He Tore Himself In Two, By Kurt Newton

He tore himself in two.
What was he to do?
She guessed his name,
the Devil he blamed,
there was no other way she knew.

If truth be told,
his youth was stolen
and his height divided by three,
by a witch in a dell
who had cast her spell
when he trespassed her property.

She kept him then
in a wooden pen,
his leg held by a golden chain.
Until one day he chewed
the chain straight through
and escaped the witch's domain.

But little did he dream,
as he sat by a stream,
that the gold was now in his blood.
He was a hideous runt
that no woman would want,
all he had was his golden touch.

And so his life was altered
when the Miller's daughter
became stuck in a horrible bind.
He spun straw into gold
to save her soul,
once, twice, three times.

On the third
he took her word,
a promise of her first born child.
But when he came to collect it,
she cried and objected,
so he gave her one more trial.

Guess my name
and I'll remove my claim,
he offered the young Queen mother.
When she guessed it right
it broke him inside,
so badly he couldn't recover.

His heart made of gold,
his bones brittle and old,
there was nothing left to do.
He stomped hard with his foot,
the King's castle shook,
and he tore himself in two.

Kurt Newton says, "My poetry has appeared in Mythic Delirium, Strange Horizons, Star*Line, Dreams and Nightmares, and Space and Time.  I hail from the tiny mythical state of Connecticut."

Batul and the Rumpel, By Rumjhum Biswas

atul was short. His sisters had to reach the top shelves of cupboards for him. His brothers had to hoist him up so he could see the rooster fights in their village square better. The pehelwans and other musclemen of their village mocked Batul, despite his wrestling skills. His parents despaired of finding a bride for him. But Batul despaired the most.

“Can’t live like this. Got to do something,” muttered Batul to himself as he tried to hoist himself on the low lying branch of a tree to get a better view. The girls were at the village pond, hitching their clothes up, getting wet, as they filled their pots and washed clothes, laughing coyly and gossiping with each other.

Batul swung from trees. He ate dozens of bananas and drank gallons of milk. He even swallowed the bitter golis prescribed by Hakimji, who was the most trusted quack in the whole district. But nothing worked. Dejected, Batul went to the forest to pray to Hanumanji, the God of wrestlers. Hanumanji continued smiling beatifically, but he did not appear. Instead, a tiny fellow with piercing blue eyes and snow white beard materialized as if by magic.

“Hey!” said Batul, startled, but pleased nevertheless to find someone shorter than himself. “And who might you be Mr. Shorty?”

Shorty smirked. He looked Batul up and down, from head to toe. Batul started to feel uncomfortable.

 “I can solve your problem,” said Shorty, still smirking.

“You? Solve my problem? How do you know I have a problem?”

“Oh come on,” said Shorty contemptuously. “Who doesn’t know? News about your get-tall-quick schemes has gone as far as Timbuktu!”

“You’re from Timbuktu?” said Batul incredulously. He had never heard of the place before. “What kind of a place is it Shortyji?” He asked eagerly. “Are all the people there like you?”

Batul was suddenly filled with visions of being the tallest in the land; and that could happen if he went to Timbuktu. Maybe he ought to befriend this strange stranger. “Would you like a moong dal laddu Shortyji? It’s made with roasted moong beans, the finest sugar and ghee from our own buffalos.”

Shorty looked at him disgustedly. “What nonsense! Stop blathering like a buffoon! Do I look like a laddu-eater to you? Be serious. I don’t have all day you know. You want to grow tall or not?”

“You can help me?” Batul was still incredulous. “Shortyj…” But before he could finish, Shorty snapped his fingers, and Batul found himself in a medieval torture chamber, lying on a bench with his hands and feet shackled to two iron pillars at either end of his body. Shorty snapped his fingers again and the contraption tugged at Batul from both ends.

“What is this machine?”

“No business of yours!”

“No but sir, does it work?”

“You’ll see.”

The machine cranked up and started to pull harder. Batul felt good. His muscles felt stretched. It must be working, he thought. He was sure to grow tall.

“How long do I need to do this Shortyji?” he asked enthusiastically.


Shorty disappeared, leaving Batul dumbstruck for a whole week.

When he appeared again, with a jug of gruel and a loaf of bread, Batul was too frightened and weak to eat. He begged to be released.

“I am a poor man,” said Batul. “But my parents love me. They will sell all their buffaloes to pay you. My sisters will sell all their jewelry to pay you Shortyji. My brothers will shave of their moustaches in penance. Please sir.”

 “I can’t,” said Shorty, stroking his beard. “It’s a spell. Only you can break it. If, you can tell me my name, my real name!”

Batul stared at him. This must be a nightmare! This couldn’t be happening to him. But there was no getting away from it. Batul had to discover the fellow’s name.

“Can you give me a hint at least?” he pleaded.

Shorty shrugged. “Read any fairy tales as a kid? Shouldn’t be too hard if you did.”

Batul tried to bring back Masterji’s singsong voice reciting English Fairy tales from the distant past. He wished he had paid attention to those stories at school when Masterji had droned and droned, instead of fiddling with his catapult and marbles. He strained his head trying to recall, just as his muscles strained on the bench.

“Your name’s Rumple,” he whispered at last. “No Rumpel, something Rumpel? I mean like Rumpel-something, right?”

 “Close,” said the Shorty, smirking. “Not bad for a first try Batul, I must say. You’ve got the family right!” Then his smirk became wider. “But that’s me grand paw’s name! Not mine! No way! Ha Ha-ha Ha-ha!”

Batul focused for the rest of the week. He thought of every single English lesson that he had been taught. At last the name came to him.

“Rumpel Stiltskin,” he said steadily, though weakly.

A sound like thunder made Batul shut his eyes in anticipation. But when nothing happened, he opened his eyes to see Shorty, all cracked up with laughter, holding his stomach for dear life. A smell like rotten eggs hung in the air.

 “Nyah! Nyah! Nyah! Nyah! You Batul boy are still one generation away!” spluttered Shorty.
“One generation away? How many generations are you?”
Shorty rubbed his hands in glee. “That’s me Paw. That’s me Paw! Batul boy! Haw haw-haw haw-haw!”

“What do you mean that’s me paw, that’s me paw? Money’s paw!” said Batul getting upset. “Here I am being tortured, just because you want some fun and games. Not fair! I tell you, it’s not fair. You’re a liar! You promised. What you’re doing is nothing short of cheating! That’s what! You’re a cheat!”

Shorty only laughed, louder. Batul struggled to be free. Rage filled every bone in his body.

“Rumpel cheat!” He shrieked. “Rumpel scoundrel! Rumpel trickster! Rumpel robber! Rumpel Rat! Rumpel Shorty pants!” Batul began to pant. People always fooled him; conned him into believing their tricks. He was always being short changed. Batul was sick of it. Sick. Sick. Sick.

Shorty guffawed.

“Rumpel Shortchange!” squeaked Batul, trying hard not to burst into tears. “Rumpel Shortchange!”

Shorty spluttered in mid guffaw. His face turned red. He stamped his foot in rage.


Batul was back beneath the Peepul tree. Except this time he had a sore back and limp limbs. For a few minutes Batul lay still, feeling dazed and bewildered. Slowly, he got up and looked around. He touched himself to see whether he was all in one piece. He was, but he was as short as ever.

Batul prostrated himself and thanked Hanumanji profusely.

Rumjhum Biswas writes fiction and poetry. Currently she lives on the outskirts of Chennai where local and migratory birds still fly around and do their bird things.

The Name Of The Helper, By James Hutchings

There was once a vizier of Baghdad who had such mastery of deception, and flattery, and insinuation, and all the false arts of the tongue, that he was called Abd al-Katheb, or Servant of Falsehood.

Baghdad was ruled by the Caliph Musa al-Hadi. The Caliph was a wicked man, who attempted to poison his own mother, and committed many other outrages. Ever was Abd al-Katheb at his side, whispering cunning and odious sophistries to calm the conscience of his master. For this service the unrighteous courtier was greatly rewarded, and his wealth was piled as high as his infamy.

At last al-Hadi was smothered to death by the women of his harem, and his virtuous younger brother Harun al-Rashid became Caliph. The new Caliph spoke thus:

"O Abd al-Katheb, it is well-known that your master, my late brother, was greatly influenced in his wickedness by your counsel. Many say that your life should be forfeit. Yet you served only as commanded. Further, Musa al-Hadi has died for his crimes, and it is not just that a debt already paid should be paid twice over. You are wont to boast that your words are so honeyed that you could prove a stone to be the moon, or a beggar's scabs to be rubies. I decree, therefore, that you shall toil in the palace stables, to be released only when you can prove the muck thereof to be purest gold."

Abd al-Katheb was thus sent to the stables to be the servant of animals, and to labor amid filth. Such was his rage and humiliation that his serpent's tongue deserted him. Had he kept his head he could have convinced the grooms and stable hands that he was the victim of an injustice, or that he voluntarily lowered himself from humility. Perhaps he could even have proved that the muck of the stables was purest gold, and gained his freedom. But instead he was as bitter and hateful in manner as in reality, and gained no sympathy.

One day, as he was bewailing his fate, he saw a crone who was a stranger to him.

"O crone," he said, "I see that you have a cheerful countenance. Have you come to gloat at my misery? Though I marvel that you have not been gathered up and thrown away, mistaken for a pile of horse dung." The crone did not respond to his jibe.

"I smile always, but do not gloat," replied the crone. "Indeed I have come to prove Harun al-Rashid a liar, and secure your release."

"Two mighty tasks," the former courtier said dryly, though in truth he thirsted for hope, and the taste of it was sweet. "Yet how may this poor ostler repay you?"

"In truth you have given me much already, though you know me not. Therefore I shall take only a small piece of meat. And since you are poor I shall not take a choice cut, but one you have scorned. And finally, O Abd al-Katheb, I shall not take even this if you can tell me my name."

Such was the certainty in the woman's voice that Abd al-Katheb did not doubt her sincerity, or her power to deliver what she promised, though he of all people should have known that the word is not the deed. Therefore he replied, "I accept your bargain. I cannot tell you your name, since although I know many names, they are those of men of dignity and power, not toothless and wretched old women." Again the woman made no response to his insult, but merely continued smiling.

"This being so, I shall return at sunset, when the bargain shall be fulfilled." With that, she left Abd al-Katheb to his work.

Abd al-Katheb was as greedy as he was false, and to give even a small piece of meat for liberation was against his nature. Therefore he desired greatly to know the name of his savior. To this end he put on the mask that he had laid aside, and all in the stable were greatly pleased by his new attitude of repentance and good fellowship, as they thought. But although he subtly guided the conversation towards the subject, none could name the old woman. This displeased him greatly, despite the great prospect suddenly before him. For it is the way with all who seek wealth and power, that it is as if they drink salt water: the more they attain their desire, the less they are satisfied. Therefore Abd al-Katheb would have found reason to complain in Paradise.

At last the sun set, and behold! The old woman was before him, though he did not see her coming despite his careful watch.

"O Abd al-Katheb," she asked, "have you guessed my name?"

"Indeed I have not, old woman," he replied. "But I remind you that the penalty for this failure is merely a small piece of meat."

"I have not forgotten," said the old woman. Having spoken, she reached into his chest, and pulled out his heart. Abd al-Katheb fell dead on the ground. Thus Harun al-Rashid was made a liar. For the false vizier had not proven that the muck of the stables was gold, yet he had been released from his punishment.

James Hutchings lives in Melbourne, Australia. His work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction and fiction365 among other markets. His blog,, is updated daily.

The Duchess's Boy, By Louise Quenneville

er Grace, The Duchess Stilzchen of the North-East Gnomes, set down the letter she’d been reading. She took off her spectacles and laid them on the desk. Raising a hand, she summoned a messenger. She instructed the messenger:

“Find the human boy Edward and have him meet me in the bramble-garden in half an hour; and tell the Cook to have tea and cakes ready, the kind the boy likes. We are to be alone in the garden, absolutely no-one else is to be there.”

She rose from her chair and taking the letter with her she strode towards the garden, the very picture of gnomish dignity from the top of her ruby cap down to the tips of her claws, and all the wattles and warts in between.

She was sitting on a bench when Edward came into the garden.

“Come here, my boy and sit here beside me – I’m going to have to give you some unpleasant news.” The human boy, Edward, did as he was bid and sat down on the bench with the Duchess.

“I fear, Edward, that you are soon to lose your human inheritance.”

Now the boy Edward was a human boy, eleven years old, not particularly tall or handsome or in any way remarkable in appearance for a human boy; what set him apart from other boys was the way in which he seemed completely at ease sitting not two feet away from a pointed eared, pointy-toothed, pointy-nosed gnome.

“That’s not so bad, your Ladyship, I never really wanted to live in the castle and have the Queen tell me what to do all the time,” answered Edward.

“Edward, my dear, you were born to be a king among the humans. It was only by sheer good fortune and human foolishness that you’ve had a chance to grow up among the gnomes. And a kingdom is a lot of wealth to give up so easily... I could try to speak to your mother the Queen one more time.”

“Please Ma’am, don’t trouble yourself. She doesn’t want me; you’ve tried before.”

The Duchess lowered her head until the dewlap under her chin lay across her broad bosom. “It’s my fault, you know, that your mother is that way. You know the story of how my nephew Rumple made a bargain with the Queen – that was before she was the Queen, just a common girl she was then – that he would help her make gold in exchange for her first born child.” Edward nodded yes.

“Well I know about making bargains with humans, and they are not to be trusted to keep their end of the agreement. And Rumple was such a fool to advance gold for credit – you must never do that with a human, remember that –“ The Duchess paused, looking intently at the boy.

“Yes Ma’am, never; I’ll never extend credit to a human,” he said.

“Good lad... So, knowing that Rumple would have a terrible time collecting on the debt, and seeing myself as eminently more credit-worthy than the Queen, I facilitated the exchange in advance by taking you in escrow....You look confused, Edward – I just mean that I kidnapped you at birth and replaced you with a place-holder I made from a turnip, some clay and some baby clothes... I didn’t actually do anything to you except make sure the Queen couldn’t hide you from Rumple when he came to collect. I didn’t tell Rumple. Poor Rumple wasn’t very bright, and I don’t think he could have carried out his part in getting back the place-holder prince from the Queen without letting the secret out if he’d known.

"Rumple had already promised me he’d give me the Prince to raise once he’d collected the baby from the Queen. So, if all had gone according to my plan, at the end of the exchange the Queen would have been childless, Rumple would have been so proud, and I would have the place-holder back. No-one except myself would ever know I’d already had you here in my home for a whole year.”

“So,” Edward said with a smile, “the Prince in the castle is a turnip-head! No wonder everyone says he’s so stupid.”

“I made the place-holder Prince too well, I’m afraid. He’s got dimples and blue eyes and golden hair in the perfect proportions for a boy, and he always does what his mother and teachers tell him.”

“That’s not very real,” said Edward.

“Well, there is another thing – I needed the place-holder to be believable for a whole year, so I entangled his enchantment with another baby born in the castle three days earlier. That way whatever the real baby did, the fake Prince would do, just three days later.”

“Like growing and crawling and stuff?”

“Yes. I hadn’t thought some things through entirely, such as how unlikely it would be for two real babies to have all of their teeth erupt in exactly the same order, but the humans were fooled.”

“Humans are pretty gullible.”

“Except you, my special boy!” The Duchess tousled the boy’s rather ordinary brown hair. “Now you know how the story goes – Rumple, poor fool, gives the Queen a chance to keep her baby, and ends up dead. Poor Rumple.” She pulled a large handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed at her eyes. “Now to honor Rumple’s bargain, I had to return you, the real prince, to the Queen. I wrapped you up and sneaked into the nursery.  I hadn’t expected the Queen to be sitting there, singing to the fake prince.”

“Prince Turnip-Head!” Edward added.

“Yes, Edward, she was singing to Prince Turnip. She saw me and stopped singing. I quickly explained that I was going to give her back her real baby, and that I could take the fake-prince if she wanted, or I could turn him back into a turnip if she preferred. She didn’t comprehend a thing I said. She grabbed a broom and chased me, screaming her head off that someone was trying to take her baby. Well, that was almost true, but  -- “

“She didn’t want me” said Edward softly.

“It’s not that simple. She thought she had the perfect baby – that’s my fault, for being such a good enchantress. You on the other hand, were real; you had a poopy diaper, you were teething, and once she started chasing us with the broom you started crying like a baby-banshee. She preferred the illusion.”

“Stupid humans,” said Edward, with a tear sliding down one cheek.

“Now there,” said the Duchess, wiping his face with the handkerchief, “you are an excellent apprentice-magician, and one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I’m so glad I got to bring you back home with me again that day.” Edward managed a small smile. She patted his cheek “That’s it, lad, a brave heart can smile even on a dark day.”

“If she attacked you with a broom, why didn’t you put a curse on her?” asked the boy.

“I was too busy running away to stop and curse her. If her aim with the broom had been any better neither of us would be alive today. I tried again to fulfill Rumple’s part of the bargain on your second birthday. The Queen used a torch instead of a broom to chase me away. On your third birthday she was waiting for us to appear and she set the dogs after us. I had to use magic to get away that time.”

“So you gave up.”

“No. The Queen was convinced a terrible creature was trying to steal her baby and replace it with a changeling. So I thought it would be wiser to let the Queen keep the fake-prince until she figured out on her own that he was a fake, and then she would want her real baby back. She still hasn’t figured it out, which says a lot about her intellect.”

“Stupid Queen,” muttered Edward.

“The child that the fake-prince is still imitating, three days behind, is the daughter of the Master of the Hunt and his wife, the Mistress of the Queen’s wardrobe. The Master of the Hunt has no sons, so he takes his daughter riding, hunting, tracking, and so forth, so the fake-prince has not been a completely girly-boy turnip-prince. However, new and important events have transpired.”

The Duchess picked up the letter she’d been reading earlier. “My informant among the drain-pipe dwarfs tells me that yesterday the daughter of the Master of the Hunt was seen kissing the son of the Sergeant-at-arms behind the old west barn.”

“Oh!” said Edward.

“This is a very intolerant kingdom, at least among the humans. The Queen will faint. The King will call the Bishop. The Bishop will blame the Devil and will perform an exorcism. The exorcism will break my enchantment, and the fake-prince will revert to turnip and clay.”

“But then I can be Prince!”

“No. I wish it were so, but the Queen will declare that someone has stolen her blond-haired, blue-eyed boy with dimples, and that the turnip was a changeling. Although this is mostly true, it won’t be quite true in the way she means it. Soon hundreds of young men and boys having blond hair, or blue eyes, or dimples, will begin appearing at the castle, each one claiming to be the lost prince.”

“But I’m the real Prince!” said Edward angrily.

“I know, dear boy, but we can’t prove it. Also, you aren’t blond or blue-eyed, and you don’t have dimples. We’d have to use a spell to make you look that way, and you’d have to pay your first-born child to buy that kind of spell.”

 “I don’t want to look like prince-turnip! Why should I have to change when I’m the real boy?”

Edward’s anger was mixed with tears, and the Duchess made use of her handkerchief again.

“I know, it doesn’t seem fair -- but the world isn’t about what is fair. We gnomes say that it is the sign of a greater heart to look for what is good instead of what is fair.”

“So I should look for something good to come out of all of this?” asked the boy, sniffling back tears.

The Duchess wrapped the boy in her loose-skinned gray arms and hugged him close. “Getting to see you learn and grow has been the greatest good thing that has ever happened to me, Edward. I hope someday you will see all the good you’ve done by being here.”  

“That was the problem, wasn’t it, that the fake-prince was too good-looking?” said Edward, his face against the fabric of her silk and burlap gown.

“That was my fault,” said the Duchess. “I didn’t know what a real human baby would look like. “

“And to get to look pretty enough to be the Prince I’d have to sell my first-born? And I’d never look like myself again?”

“That’s what it would cost.”

“I don’t want to be Prince that much.”

“Do you think you might want some honey cakes?”

The Duchess felt the boy nod against her shoulder. 

They sat for a while eating cakes and drinking tea. By the time the supper gong sounded they had finished all the cakes, and washed their faces in the fountain.  They’d talked about the problem of how sometimes people of all kinds were blinded by beauty, or lack of beauty, and how that had caused so many problems for Snow White, the Beast of Beauty and the Beast, and so many others. They’d agreed; the Gnomish way was best: look for a good bargain, buy low and sell high, and never be afraid to take a profit.

During the daytime Louise Quenneville is found sitting in front of a microscope. Evenings, she investigates the tracks that birds, squirrels, cats, mice, and the neighbor's children have left in the snow of her yard and imagines what might go on in the yard when she is away at work. Sometimes she works late and it is dark when she gets home; that's when the night creatures come out and things can get strange. Skunk tracks look much like cat tracks in the dark. Life is full of lessons.