Sleep Goes Toast / Kelsie Colclough

Cheese, crackers, fresh fruit, and a mug of tea spread out on a table.
 

In a distant land, about a twenty-minute drive from Dundee with little traffic, there lived a Witch named Beneficent. She was known as the Wisest Witch in the Land, partly because she possessed common-sense, but mostly because people thought her true name sounded like a random word from the dictionary.

Beneficent thought her name sounded quite lovely, so that is the name we shall be using.

Beneficent was in the kitchen, stirring up a spectacular orange marmalade for her toast. Pinned on a corkboard, just to the right of the bubbling cauldron, were a few pictures of Beneficent and her flatmate Fretty, and another that Beneficent didn’t want to think about until she had had her morning coffee. The green tiles, like the skin of a frog, were coated in a faint mist from all her cooking. All the windows were closed to keep out the autumn chill.

Beneficent was having a half-decent morning, until Fretty ran into the kitchen holding a bit of parchment and crying as if her broomstick had retired from flying.

Fretty said, “You’ve been summoned to the Castle. It’s urgent!”

More urgent than her breakfast? Unlikely. 

Fretty paced up and down.

“They’re saying the Crown Prince won’t wake up. Oh, it’s just terrible.”

Beneficent sighed. The smell of oranges was filling the flat, and it was a real shame she couldn’t enjoy it this morning since the Kingdom was in peril.

“Alright,” she said and put down her mixing spoon. “Watch the marmalade for me, please. You know where the jars are, right?”

She took the parchment from Fretty’s shaking hands.

“It’ll be fine. My magic can fix almost anything.”

“Yes, yes, you’re right. It’ll be fine.”

Fretty tried to smile.

“You must say hello to Filipa for me,” Fretty said.

Beneficent winced but promise she would.

“Get going then. Go save the day. And make sure you get paid for it. Rent is due.”

Beneficent opened the front door. She said, “See you in a bit!” then ran out before Fretty could start talking about all the bills stacking up precariously on the floating coffee table.  

Beneficent had a long journey ahead of her. The walk to the Castle usually wasn’t too bad for her when she was wearing her witchy cloak and matching hat, but today everyone was out and fretting about on the streets; all of her was lost in the crowd’s whispering.

They were worried about the Prince. But also the King because he had lost his wife recently and the loss still lingered in the streets, in the black banners, and newspaper clippings, so of course it must linger in his heart. She felt it in the breeze too; however, it did not make her stop in the street and wave banners of grief.

“Out of the way,” she snapped.

She pushed through the crowd. Some took more pushing than others as strength was never her strong suit. However, with a few less than polite ‘excuse me’s and ‘coming through’s, Beneficent managed to slowly get by—but not without a few elbows digging into her arms along the way, and whispers hitting her ears like spring rain drops.

“He’s been sleeping for days,” she heard.

“I always said he was working too hard. Poor boy.”  

Beneficent stumbled over her own feet and the cobblestone. She caught herself on a grocer’s shop window and gave herself a moment, just a moment, to think. If the Prince did fall into a magical sleep, her landlord might be distracted enough to ignore the rent due date; however, Fretty would cry. She bit her lip, then hurried forward.

***

The Castle, which looked much like the sort of castle you could imagine but painted in a variety of blues, was bustling. The guards were stood still in their posts, but their eyes danced from the crowd to the tall gates.

All the guards had silver armour, and plain matching helmets, which was causing a dreadful amount of noise from all the rain. Beneficent scrunched up her nose and searched for the Captain.

It wasn’t hard to find her. The Captain was the only one with a large blue feather stuck in her helmet. She was stood at the top of the gates, lording over everyone else.

“Let me in!” Beneficent shouted.

The Captain looked down, glanced her way, then shook her head. The blue feather swayed with her.

“It’s me!” Beneficent said. “Let me in, Filipa.”

The Captain sighed but gave the order. The gates were opened and Beneficent, gazing up at the dark blue wall, followed the guards along the stone path. The Captain was soon by her side, quiet and glaring at whatever was ahead of her. Grey clouds rolled over the distant hills and a big drop of rain plonked on Beneficent’s nose.

“Good weather we’re having today,” Beneficent mumbled.

The Captain marched a little bit faster, so Beneficent lifted up her skirt to walk by her side.

“How you plan on fixing this, Bene?” the Captain asked.

“How do I usually fix things? With magic,” Beneficent said, not meeting her eyes.

“There are some things magic can’t fix.”

Beneficent crossed her arms.

“There’s some things a sword and shield can’t solve either.”

“That’s true. We tried clanging all our swords and shields together and the Prince didn’t even budge.”

“Maybe he’s used to your racket.”

The Captain rolled her eyes and said, “The King won’t appreciate your attitude. Try not to turn him into a frog.”

“Witches don’t turn people into frogs. That’s a stereotype.”

“Yes, and I’m sure that time you turned me into a frog was just a stereotype too.”

Beneficent flushed and walked faster.

“I thought I told you not to mention that again. I turned you back, didn’t I?”

The Captain sighed. “Maybe if you were more generous I wouldn’t. Just… Don’t pull any tricks this time.”

“Tricks? You offend me, Filipa.”

***

Her feet sank into the bold patterned rug—the sort of pattern normally found on bus seat. The door to the throne room was three times her size which seemed excessive, but there wasn’t time to criticise that. She pushed the door open and it didn’t move at all.

“It’s a pull one,” Filipa whispered.

Beneficent cleared her throat, then pulled the heavy door open with more effort than she would’ve liked.

The King was sitting on an uncomfortably shiny silver throne; he wore an equally shiny crown, and his eyes shined with tears. Beneficent curtseyed before him, and although her curtsey would win no prizes, the effort was appreciated.

The King thanked her for travelling so far. He then told her everything she had already heard but with more pleasantries thrown in.

Beneficent nodded along and, when he was finally done, said, “I’ve heard your guards tried clanging their armour. Was it very loud?”

“Terribly so.”

“Have you tried holding his nose?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“What about both at the same time?”

The King declared it would be done immediately, by his own hand.

“Furthermore,” he declared. “All of you shall take a pot or pan from the kitchen and clang it about.”

They all agreed this was a good plan. Or, at least, the only plan they had. Filipa didn’t seem enthusiastic about it; she was rubbing her forehead as they left.

***

And no wonder, Beneficent thought, as she banged the steamer with a wooden spoon again and again. She was near the front of the make-shift marching band that had no sense of rhythm. Clang, cling, bang! All the way through the stone corridors, all the way to the top of the tower where the Prince was sleeping away. Filipa had plugged her ears with her fingers and Beneficent wished she could do the same.

When they finally reached the Prince’s room, the noise had died down to an ugly and slow but steady drumming.

The King was at the very front, hands stiff at his sides, and he was the one to unlock the door to the Prince’s room. Beneficent followed him inside while the guards continued their makeshift band.

“Well, I hope this works,” he mumbled.

The Prince’s room smelled of lavender, overwhelmingly so. On his side table was a stained used tea cup with multiple bags of camomile tea in the white saucer. There was a plush red rug and bits of crumpled or torn up paper for each fibre in that rug on the dark wood floor. It wasn’t her place to question such mess, so she kept her mouth shut, but it didn’t seem princely to use a royal bed chamber as a recycling bin.

The Prince himself was still sleeping, lying on his side amongst silver embroidered pillows and purple sheets. Sunlight peeked through the open window, just enough to brighten his face and reveal the drop of drool making its way onto the duvet. All in all, the Prince was having a serene morning and Beneficent would have been jealous if not for the fact that in his peaceful slumber he hadn’t had the privilege of enjoying breakfast either.

The King rolled up his silk sleeves, then pinched his son’s nose.

They waited for a moment, two moments, and the clanging picked up to such a volume that it was like standing next to a church bell on Christmas Day, and she believed that the Prince would wake, and she would be paid; she could have all the toast she could ever want and Fretty would stop her damn fretting.

Princes don’t often do what witches want, unfortunately. Royal prerogative and all that.

The Prince snored loudly, then rolled onto his other side. The King let his hand fall aside. As he pulled away, his hand caught on a crumpled-up sheet of paper.  

“So, it is magic, then?” he asked, wiping his fingers on his purple sleeve. “A curse?”

She pretended to look thoughtful as she picked up the paper. It was a long list of things to do. It was longer than Fretty’s hair, everything was underlined and circled, and it was far too early to understand half the things on it. Marriage alliances, taxes, ick. Beneficent tossed it away.  

“No, not a curse,” she replied.

He asked if she could cure it, whatever it was.

“Don’t worry about a thing. I’m not called the Wise Witch for nothing.”

She began searching under the bed before the King even tried to respond. There were sprigs of lavender tied to the bed frame and that was all. Inside his wardrobe and desk drawer were a few extra coins for her trouble, but no signs of curses. Curled up between a multitude of multi-coloured socks was a pot of beeswax.

While her back was turned, she heard the sheets shuffle.

“Son? Can you hear me?” The King asked, as he hurried over to clutch at his son’s hand.

The Prince, like his father, was wearing a ring on every finger. One of those would keep her and Fretty comfortable for months. Beneficent’s stomach rumbled. If she had stayed at home, she would’ve finished her toast and much more by now.

“Would you mind if I tried a little curse inspection ritual?” she asked.

The King shook his head.

She smiled, then took the lavender from under the bed and tickled the Prince’s foot with the sprig.

The Prince let out a croak.

Beneficent smiled. “Your majesty, I believe I have a solution. This lavender. You must take it and see that it is burned outside of the castle. Once this is done, I can change the curse on your son. All will be well.”

The King snatched the lavender out of her hands and swore he would see it burn himself. Once the door was closed, and the sound of drumming faltered with the rain, Beneficent poked the Prince’s head to the side.

Beeswax earplugs. Creative. She pulled them out with a touch of magic and careful manoeuvring.

“Oh, no, five more minutes,” he mumbled.

She said, “I could tell the King the truth right now. Or, you could make a deal with me and you’ll get more sleep.”

He rubbed his eyes. “Really?”

“All you have to do is give me one of your rings and I’ll tell the King you’ll must rest for another two days, then the curse will have made its way out of your system.”

He stared at her pointy hat.

“Who are you?” he asked.

She told him, as quickly as she could, everything that was mostly necessary for him to agree and a few extra words to sound most agreeable. The spell was cast and the Prince gave her a golden ring with a ruby as red as the rug.

“I’ll give you another if you tell the King that I can only wake up with true love’s kiss,” he said, then showed her a pretty but plainer golden ring on his pinky finger.

She hesitated then said, “That’s oddly specific.”

“Once one of the royals from next door comes along, I’ll wake right up. Deal?”

She tugged the rings from his fingers, then shoved them in her never-ending pocket. “Deal.”

The Prince put his earplugs back in and was asleep within seconds (something which Beneficent almost envied more than all his riches).

***

That was the tale of the sleeping Prince she told the King over a cup of tea; he was so enthralled by the magical loophole she had managed to create he ordered messages to be sent out to all the neighbouring kingdoms immediately for the story to spread like marmalade (as all good stories should).

“Wise Witch,” the King said. “What reward would you like for helping the kingdom in its time of need?”

“Some breakfast would be lovely, Your Grace.”

“How humble!”

She was given all the toast she could eat, all the jam and spread that could fit in a basket, and a bit of extra coin for her trouble. Filipa was shaking her head, again, but Beneficent found she didn’t mind that so much when she had all the pantry fillers she could ever desire.

***

When Beneficent got back home, she found two full jars of orange marmalade and an empty cauldron that needed a good scrub. Fretty’s broomstick welcomed her back home like a cat—with vague interest—then wandered off to do its own thing. Fretty was asleep on the sofa and all the bills had blanketed around her. Beneficent began sorting through the pile and smiled to herself.

Fretty didn’t have to fret about the bills ever again and that, above all else, was the most generous bit of magic Beneficent ever did.

***

Kelsie Colclough holds a BA in English & Creative Writing from Staffordshire University. She has been published in Palm Sized Press and Platform for Prose. She can be found on Twitter @klcolclough