“Strike Breaker,” part 7 & finale

Hello! I am so excited to let you know that I have finished the plans for my blog re-do, and my next blog post will include an announcement on the direction I’ll be taking.

Thank you so much for being part of my community! I am grateful for your being my audience, however long you have been part of my readers. I have learned so much from you, and you have been a special part of my writing process.

Here is part 7 – and the finale! – of my fantasy story about a princess whose elf-staff has gone on strike.. Thanks for all the wonderful comments on my story as we have gone along.

Strike Breaker, Part 7

Part 1 here.
Part 2 here.
Part 3 here.
Part 4 here.
Part 5 here.
Part 6 here.

“Oh!”  Celia’s vision of a handsome prince vanished.  She drew back.  “Prince Edgar’s –?  Ugh,” she said, in spite of herself.

“And you’re absolutely right about him.  He’s horrible,” the frog went on.

“What are you doing here?” she asked the frog.

“Oh, he has no taste, Prince Edgar.  I tried to prepare for him the most elegant of dishes — duck a l’orange, coq au vin, vichoissaise — but did he appreciate it?  No!  All he would eat was boiled venison meat and mushy potatoes.  That swine!  He ought to be turned into a pig!  I told him so!”

“And then what happened?”

“Oh.  He had this witch on his payroll turn me into — what you see here.  A frog.  But if you, a genuine princess, were to give me a kiss –”

Celia thought it over.  “If I kiss you,” she said, “you’ll turn back into –”

“– a chef.  Your personal chef, if you don’t mind my assumption.”

What the heck, Celia thought.  It couldn’t make things any worse than they already were.

She stooped down, putting herself at eye level with the frog.  He did smell a little like a pond, the warm, sunny, lazy kind of pond with jumping fish and lily pads, and lots of little peepers.  Up close, though, his skin was even more slimy than she’d thought, his eyes bulged, and the bumps under the surface of his skin looked positively revolting.  Still, she was accustomed to preparing game after it had been brought down, or eating seared rabbit meat around a campfire.

She shut her eyes and pursed her lips, giving the frog a light brush with them somewhere near his head, she hoped.

A bell sounded.  She opened her eyes.

Before her stood a tall, skinny young man, wearing a white chef’s uniform.  He bowed a deep, respectful bow, and took her hand, to kiss it lightly.  “My name is Wilfred, at your service.  I am deeply indebted to you –”

“What were you saying about this being a catering problem?” she asked.

Wilfred looked around the kitchen.  “Oh, yes.  No problem.”

She’d heard this before, most recently from the Ezriel, the goblin master.  Her doubts began to return.

“Exactly when do the guests arrive?” he asked, in a brisk, efficient tone.

“In about thirty minutes,” Celia answered.  “Dinner’s in an hour.”

He clucked.  “Doesn’t give us much time.  Ah, well, it will have to do.”

“The wood fairies were supposed to provide the food . . .”  Celia’s voice trailed off.

He clapped his hands.  “Wood fairies?  Brilliant!  Where are they?”

“That’s just the thing,” she said apologetically.  “They were here, but when they saw the goblins –”  She gestured toward the goblins, still scraping at the kitchen door.

Wilfred nodded knowingly.  “Wood fairies can’t abide goblins.”  He wrinkled his nose.  “Don’t blame them.”

He brightened.  “Still, easily enough managed.”

Celia was beginning to wonder if Wilfred really knew all he claimed to know.

“First things first,” he added.  He bent down and searched the floor.  “Hmm, yes, it should be here somewhere . . . Aha!”  He picked up something too small for Celia to make out, and held it up for Celia to see.  It seemed to be a tiny, rainbow-colored feather.  “This will do it.”

Wilfred waved it in the air, and Celia heard a faint sound, like raindrops falling on broad leaves.  That done, Wilfred muttered, “They always leave a summons token.  They’ll be here in a trice.”  He tucked the feather into his uniform.

“Now for the goblins,” he went on.

Going to the pantry where the spices were kept, Wilfred searched among the small jars, and again said, “Aha!”  He carried one spice jar to the counter and, extracting a pinch from within the jar, he tossed it toward the bunch of goblins, calling: “Winklepicker!”

Instantly, the goblins froze in place, as if they were statues.

“An old incantation,” Wilfred said to Celia.  He held up the spice jar.  “Coriander.  Goblins are allergic to it.  Makes them temporarily paralyzed.”

“Are you some kind of enchanter?” Celia asked in amazement.

“Heavens, no!  I just know my spices, that’s all.  — Ah, here are the fairies now.”

At that moment, the fairies reappeared through the door.  They seemed oblivious to the stationary goblins bunched in a pile against the inside of the door.  Seeing Wilfred, the queen fairy seemed to shimmer in delight, and she positively cooed at him.

“Wilfred!” she said.  “What a pleasure to see you!”

“Delighted to see you again,” Wilfred said.  “I suppose everything is in order?”

“Oh, yes,” the queen said.  “There was a — misunderstanding before –”  She looked disapprovingly at Celia.  “But I’m sure that’s all been cleared up.”

“Wonderful,” said Wilfred, fairly purring at the queen.  “We may expect the food momentarily?”

“It will be taken care of,” the queen replied.  And, sure enough, the food caravan reappeared.  Wilfred directed them to the dining hall.  “You’ll find tables to receive the food in there,” he said.  The queen, the floating caravan, and her entourage glided off through the doorway.

Celia, amazed, watched the fairies pass.  Everything was falling into place, after all.  She’d never have believed it.  Thanks to Wilfred, it looked like she wouldn’t have to be married to Edgar after all.

Just then, there was a knock on the door.  The guests! She thought in panic.  It was early, still!  Surely, they couldn’t be here this early —

Periwinkle opened the door.  It was only Mitchell.  Celia’s heart sank as she remembered the elven strikers.

Mitchell’s grin became a leer as he caught sight of Celia.  “Just checking to see if you’d changed your mind about a settlement –”

His grin died as his gaze landed on Wilfred.  He seemed to shrink back from the door.

“Mitchell?  Is that really you?” Wilfred asked.

Mitchell’s face went white.  “Uh, I, well –”

“Last I heard, you were doing a tidy eleven years in Prince Edgar’s dungeon . . . a small matter of pilfered doublets –”

Celia relished the moment.  “Is this true, Mitchell?” she asked.  “How interesting.”

Mitchell stammered, “I — it was a frame-up.”

Celia said, “I think this affects your position, don’t you?”

Mitchell muttered something under his breath, and then he said, “I’ll have to talk to my constituents about this.”

“Meantime, let’s suspend the picketing, just for this evening.  In the morning, we can discuss a reasonable settlement — and you won’t have to be sent back to Prince Edgar’s after all.”

Mitchell scowled, but he touched his had and bowed his way back out the door, saying, “Very well, your Highness.”

The shouts and picketing died down a few minutes after he left.

Celia turned to Wilfred.  “I must say, I’m very impressed with your performance.  I happen to have a vacancy in palace management, ever since my master elf passed on –”

“Well,” Wilfred said, with a raised eyebrow, “I am between positions, as it were.  But you’ll be no friend to Edgar if you take me in.”

“I can handle it.  He’ll be miffed, but he won’t dare do anything.”

A few weeks later, Celia was out hunting with the best of her huntsmen.  She reflected on how useful it was to have Wilfred around.  Her father might have done things differently, but the Council of Nobles was satisfied, for the moment, things were running smoothly at the palace, and she was well rid of Mitchell.  At least she wouldn’t have to marry the dreadful Prince Edgar.  She could take her time choosing a consort, and the time would come when she would do just that.

Sometimes it pays to kiss a frog, she thought.  In many ways, a good chef was much more valuable than a prince, anyway.


Happy writing!

“Strike Breaker,” part 6

Hello! Here is part 6 of my fantasy story about a princess whose elf-staff has gone on strike.. While I’m finishing my blog “re-do,” I hope you enjoy the story!

Strike Breaker, Part 6

Part 1 here.
Part 2 here.
Part 3 here.
Part 4 here.
Part 5 here.

Image by Zdeněk Chalupský from Pixabay

Princess Amadea eyed the frog on her kitchen floor. “Where did you come from?” she asked, not expecting an answer.

To her surprise, the frog opened its mouth again, and said, in a very deep voice, “Good-day, Miss –”

“This is the Princess Amadea,” Mistress Periwinkle put in sharply, “and you’d do well to remember that!”

“Forgive me,” the frog said solicitously. “I’ve been out of circulation for awhile. Good-day, your Highness.”

His manner was strangely courtly, especially for a frog. Amadea looked at him more closely, but he looked just like a frog, albeit a large frog. How had he gotten here?

“Is there something we can do for you?” she asked. “We’re in kind of a hurry around here right now.”

“Yes, and her Highness hasn’t got time to be talking to a frog,” said Periwinkle gruffly.

Amadea, who thought that Periwinkle was being a tad too unfriendly to the poor creature, said quickly, “We’ve got a banquet to prepare –”

“I have but one request, your Highness,” said the frog. “But first, are you truly a princess? The daughter of the old king?”

“Of course she is,” snapped Periwinkle.

Amadea said, “It’s all right, Periwinkle. I’ll sort this out. Can you . . . work on laying the silver or something?”

This had the unfortunate effect of upsetting Periwinkle even more. She put her nose in the air, and said, “I suppose I can try.”

When Periwinkle had left the kitchen, the frog said again, “I have but one request.”

“What is it?” asked Amadea. The shouts of the protesters outside reminded her that time was running out.

“I respectfully request a kiss.”

That’s all I need, thought Amadea. A fresh frog with aspirations to royalty. At a time like this.

“Well, you see – I’ve got this Banquet of Lords to put on –” She checked her chronometer. “– in less than an hour. And the elves are on strike, the wood fairies deserted us and took the food with them. As you can understand, I’m rather busy at the moment –”

“If you would bestow upon me a kiss,” continued the frog, “the spell will be lifted.”

Wonderful, thought Amadea. An enchanted frog.

“I couldn’t possibly help you until after the banquet –”

She stopped, realizing how hopeless it all was. She might as well cancel the banquet. At this point, it would take a small miracle to pull it off. Talking more to herself than to the frog, Amadea muttered, “What does it matter, anyway. I’ve got a kitchen full of goblins with no master, and Lord Harrington and the others will be here any moment –”

“Oh, that,” said the frog, carelessly. “If it’s just a catering problem you’ve got, that’s quite an elementary problem.”

“What?” asked Amadea. “You don’t understand. If I don’t put on a good show for this banquet, they’ll insist on my marrying Prince Edgar. And, well, nothing against him or anything, but –”

A sudden thought occurred to Amadea. She leaned closer to the frog. “You aren’t a prince, by any chance, are you?” she asked. “A prince, enchanted by an evil witch?” From the sound of his deep voice, she imagined an attractive, muscular man with dark brown eyes. Perhaps he’d have a slight greenish tinge to his skin, but she could overlook that, if his other qualities commended him –

“No, I’m not a prince,” replied the frog. “I am – I was – Prince Edgar’s personal chef.”

(To be continued!)

Happy writing!

Life lessons learned from rowing & “Strike Breaker,” part 5

Image courtesy Pixabay.com.

Hello! As you know, I’m working on a blog re-do, and I’ve got some fun things in the works. More soon!

I’ve been away from the blog for a bit, and this fall I’ve been learning to row. I had been a runner, but injuries started to sideline me, and one afternoon in early October I thought, why not try rowing? I vaguely remember a week’s rowing as a teenager, in a summer program on Seattle’s Green Lake, and I still remember the synchonicity of rowing as a team, and of the beauty of being right on the water, and I thought: let’s give that a try!

Fast-forward to now, three months later, and I’ve been through a huge learning curve with the sport. First: you can’t learn everything at once. Like any endeavor that involves physical coordination and muscle memory, it’s overwhelming at first. Like anytime you’re a beginner, you feel like you’ll never get this. It’s frustrating and it goes through your mind to give up.

But you know, when you’re on the water and it’s quiet, and you look out at the horizon and see white-blue wispy clouds that are doing nothing but hanging there for you to admire, and you feel the bump of the water cradling the hull of the boat, just inches from your seat, you think about all the people who made their way on this lake before you who may have pulled their crafts across the water with oars or paddles and who saw the same clouds, the same water, who felt the same early-morning breeze on their faces.

And then you remember you’re in the boat with seven or four or three other rowers, all striving to work together to make the boat go forward in a coordinated, rhythmic, organic way. And you pull on the oars the best you can, you hear the swoosh of the oar blades in the water beside you, and you move forward.

Learning to row. The movements come easier a little at a time. The feel of the water, and the breezes, and seeing the clouds on the horizon makes it all seem real. And connected to everything else.

Learning to row. When things get intense in the boat, I try to look out and remember: one day it will all come together, the form, the rhythm, and the pacing, it just takes time and practice, it just takes patience and determination. You just have to keep going.

And this is like writing, no? You take each scene, each story or poem, each essay, and you do your best at that one thing. As you go along you get better at it. Slowly, and with some frustration and faltering moments. One day it will all come together. In the meantime, the only thing you can do is learn. Learn and keep trying.

While I’m working on my “blog re-do,” I’m serializing a fantasy story about a princess whose elf-staff has gone on strike. Here is part 5 below.

Strike Breaker, Part 5

Part 1 here.
Part 2 here.
Part 3 here.
Part 4 here.

Image courtesy Pixabay.com.

Within a few minutes the shouting outside where the picketers had been chanting was abruptly silenced. When Amadea cracked open the scullery door to see what had happened, she was stunned to see nothing but a new flock of woolly sheep placidly grazing on the small hillock near the back gate. She surmised the sheep were the elf strikers. They looked exceedingly oblivious to their fate. She sighed with relief at the wonderful peace she felt without the threat of Mitchell hanging over her.

The goblins appeared in the scullery, looking like slightly smaller versions of Ezriel, the master, gaunt, thin creatures, with grayish skin and pointed ears. Amadea sent Periwinkle to find suitable livery for them. They stood in a clump in one corner of the scullery, drooping, heads down, and muttering to themselves. They didn’t look dangerous, at least not at the moment.

When Periwinkle returned with a stack of the bright royal blue and gold braided livery of the palace, Amadea asked, “Do they always behave like that?”

Periwinkle clucked her tongue. “Tricky devils.”

Amadea took the livery and approached the goblins. There was a dusty sort of smell about them, like the smell of old books shut up in a library too long. She tried not to breathe too deeply.

“Excuse me,” she said. “Where is your master?”

They pulled away as she came close. Their muttering increased. They shuffled back and forth, back and forth, not answering her question.

This would never do. At least with the elves on strike, she and Periwinkle had been handling the necessary arrangements with what seemed like a minimum of fuss. Now, she had false sheep grazing where the strikers had been – and who knew when they might suddenly be changed back into the loudly protesting elves – and this band of ne’er-do-well goblins occupying a corner of her kitchen.

She had to get hold of the goblin master. She pulled out his card, which she had been careful to put in a pocket when she changed. She inspected it closely. But there was no indication of how he could be reached.

“We’ll just have to work around them,” Amadea said to Periwinkle.

Mistress Periwinkle shook her head. “I’ll keep an eye on the silver, that’s for sure,” she commented.

Just then a filmy brightly colored mist began filtering through the heavy wooden door. As it wafted into the kitchen it brought the scent of tangerine and lime. Amadea felt as if she’d been transported to a fruit orchard.

“Wood fairies!” Amadea exclaimed. The unmistakable citrus odor signaled their arrival, she remembered. If she could just keep the goblins corralled, and somehow manage the serving without too much fuss, she could still pull off the banquet. She strode up to the orange-and-green colored mist and said, in her most lively voice, “Welcome, oh Fairies of the Wood!”

The mist resolved into the forms of tiny figures. At the forefront was a tiny woman about the size of Amadea’s finger, dressed in flowing green robes, whose tiny green wings fluttered as fast as a hummingbird’s. She wore a little golden crown on her head, indicating she was the queen. The rest of the figures were a variety of ladies and gentlemen, all with tiny wings, accompanied by a trailing caravan of food dishes.

The tiny queen spoke. “I am Silvana, your Highness, come to provide the food for your Banquet of Lords. And this is –”

Suddenly Silvana’s tiny face took on a look of horror.

She sniffed the air, then looked in the direction of goblins still huddled in the corner of the kitchen. “What is that?” Silvana hissed.

“Goblins!” she shrieked. The rest of the fairies stared with equal horror on their faces.

At the sound of the fairies’ hisses, the goblins abruptly stopped their shuffling and scuttled in the direction of the fairies floating in mid-air.

“Really, they’re harmless,” Amadea tried to tell the fairies, but she was drowned out by the bellows, grunts and groans of the now-boisterous goblins, scrabbling for the fairies, who departed swiftly through the locked wooden door, disappearing along with the trail of food dishes. Amadea watched, transfixed, as the horde of goblins pounded and scratched on the door after the vanished fairies.

She sank down on a kitchen stool. The food was gone. The goblins were out of control. And, outside, she heard the unequivocal sound of elves on the picket line again, apparently now transformed back to their usual selves.

It was no use. She’d be married off to that disagreeable Prince Edgar before the next full moon.

She looked at Periwinkle, who was frowning at the goblins. “What should we do now?” Amadea called, over the loud scraping of the goblins and the distant shouts of the elven protesters. Mistress Periwinkle shrugged and rolled her eyes.

A gray vapor began to rise from under the door. Great, thought Amadea, what now? As the smoke began to clear she saw something at the foot of the door.

A very fat green frog.

It was the size of a large turtle, emerald-green with dark brown speckles on its back. It opened its mouth and said, “Croak.”


(To be continued!)

Happy writing!

“Strike Breaker,” part 4

Thanks for following along on my serialization of “Strike Breaker,” a story about a princess whose elf-staff has gone on strike. Here is part 4!

Strike Breaker, Part 4

Part 1 here.
Part 2 here.
Part 3 here.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

As the smoke cleared a strange figure stood in the kitchen.

Periwinkle came to Princess Amadea’s side, and they both gazed at the figure. He was all skinny legs and arms, and he stood a bit taller than one would expect for a resident of this kingdom. He wore a scarlet morning coat, a blue silk tie, dark blue trousers, and on his head, a gleaming top hat. When he saw the two women staring at him, he removed the hat and held it in his hands.

Periwinkle gave a little gasp. Amadea, too, was surprised to see his ears were long and pointed.

Periwinkle crossed herself superstitiously.

“Good-day,” he said. “Have I the pleasure of addressing her Royal Highness Princess Amadea?”

Amadea nodded, still coughing slightly at the smoke. “And you are –?” she asked.

“My card,” he replied. With a flourish, the odd creature took out his card and offered it to Amadea. It read, “Ezriel, Goblin Master.”

Periwinkle gave a sharp intake of breath. “Not goblins!” she exclaimed.

Amadea had only a vague notion of what goblins were. She had never seen any, nor could she remember her father mentioning them to her as a child. She had an impression they weren’t the most trustworthy of creatures, but she didn’t think that was reason enough to fear them, as Periwinkle seemed to. But then Periwinkle had always been superstitious.

Ezriel’s smile never wavered. “Oh, there’s been bad talk about goblins for ages,” he said. “But I’ve found through my work that goblins are in fact most easily trainable and highly well-adjusted creatures. I think you’ll find their services can be quite satisfactory, especially on an emergency basis –”

“Goblins are trouble!” Periwinkle broke in. She gave Ezriel a look of pure revulsion.

“There has always been a lot of nasty prejudice against goblins,” he said.

“Prejudice! What a lot of nonsense!” Periwinkle went on. “They’ll rob you. Steal the children –”

Ezriel sighed. ” – curdle the milk, make your livestock go barren –” He shook his head, an indulgent smile on his face. “It’s sad, really, that the old stereotypes continue to be perpetuated.”

“What do you want from me?” Amadea asked.

Ezriel bowed again. He said, “I understand you’ve got a bit of a situation here. The Banquet of Lords is to be held here tonight, and your union of elves has inconveniently gone on strike . . .” His smile was sympathetic.

“We’ll manage,” Amadea asserted, just as she’d said to Mitchell.

“I believe I can be of service,” Ezriel continued. “I can arrange it so your guests will not notice anything out of the ordinary, so that everything goes perfectly –”

“You could get rid of the elves?” she asked.

“Not remove them. I could mask their disturbance, however. Not only that, my goblins could provide the palace service that is normally done by your elves.”

“And what would be the cost for such a service?”

“Well,” Ezriel said smoothly, “normally I do charge a premium for such service. But, in this case, I am willing to forego my usual charge in exchange for certain considerations.”

“Such as?”

“That you consider replacing the elves with my goblins . . . permanently.”

“Your highness!” hissed Periwinkle. “Not . . . goblins!”

Amadea considered the situation. She hated to go against Periwinkle’s judgment, but she couldn’t afford to settle with Mitchell. Perhaps it would work out. What choice did she have?

“How soon can your goblins be here?” she asked Ezriel, ignoring Periwinkle’s gasp.

Ezriel smiled even wider. “Everything will be arranged immediately,” he said.

“And you’ll do something about the picket lines out there?”

He nodded. “It’s as good as done, your highness.”

A sense of relief swept over Amadea. Soon everything would be taken care of. It would all work out.

She had a momentary concern that Periwinkle might abandon her, given her loathing of goblins. But after a long silence, Periwinkle said, “Well, you’ll need someone to protect you, with those dirty devils about. Let the heavens protect us now!”

(To be continued!)

Happy writing!

Lessons learned from other bloggers & “Strike Breaker”

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

When you’ve been blogging for a few years, you learn quite a lot from other bloggers. There are all sorts of blogs out there, travel blogs to lifestyle blogs, cooking blogs to parenting blogs, and, my favorite, writing and artsits’ blogs. Blogging gives you a chance to put your own writing out for an audience to read, and to feel that your work has an impact.

Part of that impact is finding other bloggers that become your own community. In the six years I’ve been blogging I have been delighted to learn from, and to get to know, many other WordPress.com bloggers. My experience reading their blogs have helped me reflect on what I think are the best practices for blogging, at least in a way that engages someone like me.

Here are some things I admire and enjoy in blogs that I read:

  1. Consistent posting frequency. Whether it’s every Monday, 2-3 times a week, or only once a month, you can count on a consistent frequency for the blogger’s new posts.
  2. Inclusion of thoughtful images. I like it when text is broken up with images that illustrate or enhance information in the blog post.
  3. Providing new information I can use. Good hiking trails in my area, tasty and reliable recipes, how-tos on photography or writing poems or traveling on a budget.
  4. A peek into who the blogger is. Are they taking on any creative challenges? Do they have favorite travel locations? Any interesting family traditions or stories to share? Not that they need to divulge their entire life story or personal details, but learning a bit more about their journey helps me feel like I know then better over time.
  5. Thoughtful and relevant responses, even if brief, to comments I leave on their blog indicating I enjoyed a post or describing how their work impacted me. By responding to my comment it’s clear that they’ve noticed my effort to connect and to be impacted by their work.

Do you do any of these things? I would love to hear your thoughts in comments on this post. What do you appreciate in a blog? How often do you blog, and how do you get to know your readers? What advice might you have for a beginning blogger? I’m looking forward to hearing more!

While I’m working on my “blog re-do,” I’m serializing a fantasy story about a princess whose elf-staff has gone on strike. Here is part 3 below.

Strike Breaker, Part 3

Part 1 here.
Part 2 here.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

“Ah, yes –” Mitchell cleared his throat. “I wouldn’t mind something stronger to drink, if you get my meaning –”

He dared a wink. Amadea suppressed a shudder. Old Master Elf Bernard would never have permitted such liberties. Did she really need to curry favor with this Philistine? She glanced at Mistress Periwinkle, who frowned at his impertinence.

“You’d better get back to the table preparations, Periwinkle,” Amadea said. Perhaps this could be settled quickly if Mitchell were provided with a small cup of wine.

“I’ll be in the dining hall if you need me, your highness,” announced Periwinkle. She scurried out, indignation in her manner.

Amadea took out the boysenberry wine from last season. Not the best vintage, thankfully. The fact that she poured it herself was evidently not lost on Mitchell, who had the audacity to grin widely when she offered the cup to him. She drew back and waited. Mitchell gulped down the sweet wine in a single draught, then stared balefully into the empty cup, as if wishing more wine would appear.

“You were saying?” Amadea tried to keep the impatience out of her voice.

“Ah, yes. Now, my constituents and I feel that a significant wage increase would be in order, along with half-staff, for time off, on holidays, and a fowl allowance on all major feast days –”

“How much of an increase?”

Mitchell’s eyes darted to the pantry door, the ovens, the kitchen stove, then back to Amadea. “Double wages, your highness. We think that is suitable, considering –”

“Double wages!” Amadea burst out. Immediately she regretted the show of emotion. Mitchell’s grin returned. He rocked back on his heels. She added, “I cannot agree to such an outrageous proposal.”

“Suit yourself,” Mitchell replied, in a voice with a more than a hint of insolence in it. “You seem to have things well in hand here. All ready for the banquet tonight, I see.”

Amadea held her head high. “We’ll manage.”

“Just say the words, and my constituents – ah, the palace staff – can be back in their usual places in no time,” he said smugly.

“At double wages? I think not,” she said. Then she added, “You should be ashamed of yourself. If old Master Elf Bernard were here –”

“But he’s not, is he?” Mitchell gave one last look at the empty cup before setting it down on the scullery table. “We’ll be just outside if you change your mind, your highness. Near the moat.”

After Mitchell had shut the door behind him, Amadea fumed. Perhaps her father had been right about the need for sternness with the elves. Still, with Master Bernard here, there had been no need for it. Everything had run so smoothly.

Should she call for the ogre squad, as her father would have done? Perhaps she was being too weak. But she shuddered again at the memory of the brutal violence with which they’d crushed the elf strike when she was a child. Even now, she felt sickened at the thought of monstrous ogre arms smashing elf heads with their massive clubs.

Her only option might be to call off the banquet for this evening. No; if she cancelled the Banquet of Lords on such short notice, the nobility would see this entire situation as evidence of her incompetence. She’d be forced to marry the dreadful Prince Edgar. And to produce an heir.

Not that she was disinclined to marriage. In fact, one day she hoped to marry, but why rush things? Besides, there had to be a better prospect in the world than Edgar. There just had to be. At least someone with a little intelligence, and somewhat pleasing to look at. Edgar, with his warty nose and dull intellect, was at the bottom of her list of potential suitors.

Unfortunately, Edgar did happen to be heir to a large highly fertile and productive kingdom, which the nobility of her own land desired. She’d been told repeatedly of the wealth and providence of Edgar’s kingdom by the huntsmen who had brought her back to the castle on her father’s death. Clearly the nobles wanted it that way, especially Lord Harrington, who had paid her a visit that morning to emphasize the attraction of a royal marriage between herself and the neighboring Prince Edgar. “Never,” she’d muttered under her breath, though she had smiled accordingly and said, “We’ll see after tonight.” She could not abide the thought of being wedded to such a person as Prince Edgar.

Something would have to be done about the strike. She had been over the books; there wasn’t enough money in the kingdom’s treasury to afford the kind of wage increase Mitchell was demanding. Yet she could see no other way than surrender.

She called to Mistress Periwinkle, intending to ask her to summon Mitchell.

Periwinkle had just appeared in the scullery when a cloud of smoke appeared in the vicinity of the oven and the nasty smell of sulfur filled the kitchen. Amadea coughed, and covered her nose with a kitchen cloth. As the smoke cleared a strange figure stood in the kitchen. (To be continued!)

Happy writing!