Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess named Pennilopintha who lived in a stately castle in a peaceful kingdom.
Well, to be truthful, Princess Pennilopintha was rather plain. Granted, she had very nice, clear skin, but her nose was lumpy, and her hair was not a color of the sort that princes admire. It was neither shimmering gold nor raven black. It looked more like dust, and was just as prone to take flight in the slightest breeze.
But the castle was very stately. It was enormous, in fact, and even the most tenured servants occasionally got lost in its labyrinthine corridors.
And the kingdom was very peaceful indeed. This, however, was not due to any brilliant reigning philosophy constructed by her father, King Abnegolde, or any skill he had in creating a functional bicameral legislative body made up of representatives from the peasant farmers’, blacksmiths’, woodcutters’ or millers’ guilds. Rather, it had to do with the fact that the kingdom was so ridiculously far, far, far away from anything else that potential conquering (or at least pestering) forces couldn’t be bothered to make the journey for such a small patch of land, no matter how fertile the fields or how full of magical mice. Especially because the obstacles in between said parcel of domain and the rest of the wide world of more accessible kingdoms included a forest full of man-eating spiky bindles, a terminally stormy lake with its very own serpent (Not a sea serpent. Salt dries out her scales.), and a vast desert infested with momphibraks of the worst disposition imaginable.
And this is why King Abnegolde, when he saw armored horses and banners cresting the hill into his valley, assumed that the approaching company must have been sent to seek out his daughter’s hand in marriage. He hoped so. The sooner she was off his hands, the sooner he could really get on with his taxidermy hobby–something which made Pennilopintha terribly squeamish, so he tried not to practice it during supper.
Princess Pennilopintha, on the other hand, sincerely hoped the approaching soldiers were merely lost. From her perch in the tallest tower (the obligatory room assignment for princesses in the mode), she could clearly see the flowing banners and recognized them from her World Kingdoms & Cultures class. The black flag carried the symbol of a ferocious boar’s head. This, she wouldn’t have minded so much, but the traditional swords that normally crossed behind such featured images as an embellishment were instead thrust graphically through the boar’s head. The weavers had spared no effort in depicting the gore.
Down a few terraces, a line of buglers sounded an alarm, and King Abnegolde rode his mighty steed out to greet his guests. The Queen did not because, as is customary in these tales, she had died when Pennilopintha was just a baby. The King had not yet found a decent wicked stepmother to take her place.
“King Hognoggin! Is that you? It’s been years!”
“Abnegolde, old man! How’s that trick knee of yours? Still tricking you?” Here, the hairy visiting regent snorted, and Abnegolde guffawed. The various attendants gratefully hid their rolling eyes behind the visors of their helmets.
Flynnbrim, Hognoggin’s chief valet, often daydreamed about a disastrous hunting trip that would allow Hognoggin’s son, Prince Bumblesmutch, to ascend to the throne. True, the boy was dimwitted, but his capacity to craft lacy crullers and fountain fondues made the banquets more refined, and his incapacity to string more than three words together at a time made the meals much quieter. Altogether a more satisfactory sort of monarch.
Bumblesmutch, heeled like an obedient puppy, six paces behind his father as they entered the Great Dining Hall. He had not the acting skill to feign enthusiasm for the party, so he sat carefully and tried to hide his bulky frame from his father’s view lest he should be called upon to speak.
“Aren’t you going to eat your leg of goat?” said a small, acidic voice at his elbow.
He turned to find Princess Pennilopintha glaring at him.
“Don’t like goat.”
“Oh?” She eyed him skeptically.
“I like pastries.”
“Oh?” She eyed him appreciatively.
He nodded heavily, already somewhat exhausted by the conversation.
“Allow me to show you our bakery while our fathers discuss their next hunt.”
He nodded again, rising to his feet.
“It’s a bit of a walk, and the maze of corridors can be confusing, but as long as you’re at least as smart as a mouse…” Pennilopintha faltered as she saw beads of nervous sweat forming on Bumblesmutch’s upper lip. “Here, hold my hand so we don’t get lost.”
And off they set. The two kings, scoffing and bubbling over their feast of roast quadrupeds and duck dumplings, saw this and winked knowingly at one another.
“There now, that’s a good match!” said Abnegolde. “What say I give your boy my daughter’s hand in marriage if you hunt up some momphibraks for me to stuff and mount on my walls?”
“As long as you give the rest of her, too!” Hognoggin roared with laughter, splattering wine in his glee.
“Take her! Take her!” King Abnegolde waved his hands. “And keep the momphibrak meat for sausage. It’s very savory!”
“It’s a deal!” grinned Hognoggin. “I’ll even savory some for you!”
“You kill me, Hoggie!” chortled Abnegolde.
“I might one day!” he replied, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes.
Further down the corridor, three turns to the left and one to the right, Bumblesmutch was about to break an all-time record by articulating a full-length sentence when he stopped short, rendered speechless by the splendor of the bakery.
“Do you love it? Daddy had it built for me so I wouldn’t have to eat meat. I’m a vegetarian, you know, and I…” She fell silent, watching Bumblesmutch weep tears of wonder. Something in her heart melted when she saw his happiness.
Bumblesmutch muttered, “I stay here.”
Pennilopintha folded her arms across her chest and regarded Bumblesmutch. “You know that by now my father has promised your father that you can marry me.”
Bumblesmutch managed to close his mouth before it fell open again with surprise.
“And you realize that means I will have to go with you back to your father’s kingdom.”
The mournful look in Bumblesmutch’s eyes as he gazed at the granite counters, brick ovens and large mixing basins confirmed her suspicion.
She tugged his sleeve gently and waved her fingers in front of his face until she had his full attention. “You realize that this means we need to get rid of our fathers so that we both can stay here and live happily ever after?”
Bumblesmutch’s left eyebrow quivered with concern.
“I’m not suggesting we kill them off!” assured the princess. “Just find a way for them to…go away.”
Bumblesmutch stood straighter, as if filled with purpose. “Flynnbrim will help.”
Flynnbrim was indeed eager to help under the condition that he would be assured a post under Princess Pennilopintha. Given that their natures were equally practical and peace-and-quiet-loving, she agreed. With a sudden air of authority, she said, “Come with me, gentlemen. It is time to cut the cheese.”
Flynnbrim and Bumblesmutch exchanged a glance that showed they were nothing like the kings who would have snorted and giggled for half an hour. Trotting to catch up with Pennilopintha, they followed her through the maze of the castle corridors, up several flights of stairs and into a strangely cold and dark room in the west tower. Taking care to light the wall sconces from one of the candles in the hall candelabrum, Pennilopintha proudly pointed to a round table in the center of the room upon which stood a large yellowish mound of something pungent.
Flynnbrim’s nostrils flared. “What is that?”
“Cheese, of course. Aged these two hundred years under the sole aid of a no-mold spell. We must carve a piece of it into some sort of recognizable shape and hope it pleases the Magical Mice. If it does, we get a wish.” Pennilopintha moved to the table and picked up a knife. “I usually just make it into a star or something…”
“May I try?” asked Bumblesmutch.
Pennilopintha looked dubious, but Flynnbrim stepped forward and bowed graciously. “My lady, I believe His Majesty Prince Bumblesmutch may prove able to create a piece of cheese art that will please the Magical Mice.”
With a shrug, Pennilopintha handed Bumblesmutch the knife and, while she and Flynnbrim carefully planned the wording of the wish, Bumblesmutch circled the cheese thoughtfully, chiseling a little here and poking a little there. By the time both were done—the wish wording took rather longer than it should have because Pennilopintha refused to include any hint of violence—everyone was quite pleased.
A low whistle at their feet heralded the entrance of a rotund white mouse that stood almost knee-high. “Now that’s what I’m talking about! None of this cookie-cutter star or happy face slop. That—” he waved his forepaws appreciatively, “is a masterpiece.”
Pennilopintha bowed respectfully. “High Wizard Skibble D’Spunk, we are so pleased to see you.”
Skibble D’Spunk sniffed in response and leapt up onto the table to survey Bumblesmutch’s creation. It looked like a mighty tree complete with leaves and birds’ nests. On one of its lower branches perched a hissing, arch-backed kitten, terror literally etched in its face. Below it on the ground, made up of the pieces of cheese removed during carving, stood a sleek mouse with a crown. Its tail and fist were both held aloft in a clear threat to the kitten.
“It looks just like me.” He turned back to the humans and nodded at Bumblesmutch. “Well, sir, you get to make the wish! What would you like?”
A panicked gurgle came from Pennilopintha, and Flynnbrim waved his entire body frantically to get Bumblesmutch’s attention, but to no avail. Bumblesmutch shifted his feet nervously, cleared his throat and took a deep breath. “Is there any way feasible that you, High Wizard, could arrange for our fathers, the kings, to find it mutually beneficial and satisfactory to take up permanent residence back home in my father’s kingdom, and allow me, the lovely Princess Pennilopintha, and Flynnbrim to remain here in this castle undisturbed from foreign or domestic affairs from now on and in perpetuity for our offspring, should we be so blessed?”
“Is that all?” squeaked Skibble D’Spunk amiably.
All three humans passed out for relief, shock or exhaustion as applicable. (The reader can surely discern which was which.)
When they all recovered an hour later, the mouse had eaten most of the cheese tree, though he left the terrified kitten and the commanding mouse untouched. Pounding a belch from his fuzzy white chest, he addressed them. “All better then?”
Bumblesmutch picked up the other two easily and placed them on either side of him.
“Good,” said the mouse. “Now, since this wish requires Abnegolde to give up his kingdom, I’ll just need one special thing from each of you—something you are willing to give up forever—to make this magic work. That’s only fair, you know.”
“I’d give up my throne to have this wish!” Pennilopintha clasped her hands over her mouth with a squeak, but it was clear from the mouse’s expression that it was too late. “Oh, all right then.” She shrugged. “I’ll sit in a recliner.”
Bumblesmutch spoke with his usual labored effort. “Take whipped cream.”
Flynnbrim, startled, turned to the Prince. “Are you quite sure, Your Majesty? The pastries–”
Bumblesmutch grinned. “Use ice cream.”
“Ah, clever, sir. Very clever.”
“And you?” The High Wizard twirled his tail idly and glared at the valet.
“I … don’t really own much,” said Flynnbrim evasively.
“Your fur coat?” suggested Bumblesmutch.
“Ew!” shrieked Pennilopintha.
“My fur coat!” complained Flynnbrim, and he, too, covered his mouth with both hands, also too late to retract.
“Perfect!” declared Skibble D’Spunk. “Couldn’t have made better choices myself. This’ll be a snap! Let’s get those things out to the courtyard. C’mon. Don’t drag your tails!”
In the courtyard, Bumblesmutch set down Pennilopintha’s throne (she had carried his giant bowl of whipped cream down from the kitchen after watching in astonishment how swiftly he worked the dairy into a lather). The prince turned to look at the High Wizard Skibble D’Spunk and Flynnbrim. “Is this good?” He dusted invisible specks from the golden armrests.
“Very good.” Skibble D’Spunk scratched his chin in a very un-catlike way. “You drape the fur coat over the front so it covers the whole thing,” he added, gesturing to the reluctant Flynnbrim.
The valet obliged, thin-lipped in his flourish, after pausing to check for loose change in the pockets.
“Um. Where do you want this?” Pennilopintha hefted the bowl.
The mouse studied the heaping swirl of froth carefully. “Have you got a spoon?”
Bumblesmutch drew a wooden spoon from what heretofore would have been mistaken for the sheath of a mid-sized saber.
Skibble D’Spunk took it without letting his eyes drift from the bowl of whipped cream. Then, wielding the wooden spoon like a broadsword, he became a blur of white fur and cream. When at last he finished, even Bumblesmutch stood in awe.
“You aren’t the only one who got A’s in the Decorative Culinary Arts,” smirked the mouse.
“It’s a queen!” gasped Bumblesmutch.
The High Wizard nodded respectfully in Pennilopintha’s direction. “She will be your benevolent stepmother, if your father isn’t too stupid to take the bait.” He snapped into a rigid stance, raised his arms and commanded: “All of you close your eyes and think of something that makes you very happy. Then, when I count to three, speak its name and open your eyes again to behold happily-ever-magic beyond compare. One, two—no peeking now–three!”
“Hot cherry tarts!”
“Jasmine bubble baths!”
“Green bean smoothies!”
The humans opened their eyes and collectively gasped enough air to inflate a large weather balloon. There before them stood a golden legged, thick-furred momphibrak, and standing beside it, ready to mount the noble beast, was the fairest (albeit palest) queen imaginable.
“Hello, my dear Pennilopintha,” she said in an airy voice. “You look like you need some alone time with your charming suitor. I was thinking I might lure that handsome father of yours back to Hognoggin’s castle. Do you think he’d be inclined to join me? Then you could get to that bubble bath.”
“That wasn’t actually me,” stammered the princess.
Flynnbrim cleared his throat and began humming a tuneless melody that would later be adopted by a game show host to be used during the most grueling round of trivia questions.
The queen noticed this and blushed a faint shade of eggshell before returning her gaze to Pennilopintha. “What do you think, dear? Would he like that?”
“Would I?” blustered Abnegolde, who had just appeared in his finery to welcome this latest guest. “Hey, Hognoggin!” he bellowed over his shoulder. “Get a load of this vision I’m having.”
Hognoggin sauntered out with a well-roasted leg of something stout in one fist and a goblet of something fruity in the other. He took one look at the assembly and dunked the drumstick into the wine. Tossing both carelessly over the wall, he wiped his hands on his leggings and approached the momphibrak with cautious wonder.
“Why does it not hiss and spit and kick?” he whispered.
“It is a magical momphibrak,” announced Skibble D’Spunk grandly. He had gone unnoticed too long for his taste, and made a great show of placing himself in the kings’ line of sight. Both men seemed to take a moment to focus on this abnormally large rodent, and Abnegolde stifled a girlish scream. As if to confirm the mouse’s claim, however, the white queen leapt gracefully onto the back of the golden-legged momphibrak, stroking its fur gently and slipping her dainty white riding boots into the deep pockets on the beast’s side that acted as built-in stirrups. A moment later, she and the momphibrak had pranced out of the courtyard and were making haste towards the horizon.
In a burst of motion, the two kings quickly found their own mighty steeds and mounted them without waiting for a hunting party. They galloped after the white queen on her momphibrak at top speed. “I get the beauty, and you get the beast, right-o?” called Abnegolde as he bounced along.
“Fine by me,” agreed Hognoggin. “She looks a bit pale to me. Besides, I’ve got my own raven-haired bride at home. Can’t wait to catch that strange momphibrak, though, and skin it to make a fur coat! And what about those golden legs?”
But Abnegolde cared not a whit for the momphibrak. He stared dreamily after the creamily clad woman whose riding skills far exceeded his own and vowed to himself he would woo her to wife if he had to follow her through the desert, around the stormy lake and into the heart of the forest laden with man-eating spiky bindles. He would even give up being king.
Which is exactly what he ended up doing.
Fortunately, the magical momphibrak acted as a magnet of sorts for all the other momphibraks, whose tempers it appeased with a flick of its golden armrest hoof. The happily grunting momphibraks made such a ruckus as they reached the shores of the lake that the serpent dared not show her head, and the procession stampeded gleefully around the banks, skirting the worst of the rain clouds. From there, they all plunged deep into the woods, tearing such a path in their wake that the spiky bindles decided to back off the man-eating for a day and try mushroom soup.
It wasn’t until Hognoggin’s own castle came into view at the base of a wide valley that the momphibraks dispersed and began grazing like throne-shaped cattle. At this point, the pace of the white queen’s momphibrak slowed to a leisurely amble, and she alighted on a rock to await the kings, letting the magical creature wander off into the valley.
When the kings came abreast of her, Hognoggin winked slyly. “Why don’t you two hurry on to the castle? I’m sure my bride, Glorisplenda will receive you gladly. I’m going to go pick up a little something for dinner,” he grinned, surveying the miles of green farmland now dotted with docile momphibraks. He clicked his tongue at his steed and set off after the golden-legged momphibrak.
Abnegolde blushed down to his boots and back up to his collar again before finally extending his hand to the white queen. “May I take you the rest of the way to Hognoggin’s castle?”
“Why thank you.” Her fingers felt as soft as coconut oil in his hand, and her breath smelled lite, yet sweetened.
“Do you have a name, fair queen?”
“Why don’t you know? It’s Hapleigh Evveraft!”
Back in Abnegolde’s kingdom—now Flynnbrim’s kingdom, Pennilopintha and Bumblesmutch stayed on at the castle, married, and began their own Vegetarian Bakery and Culinary Cafe which operated out of the west wing. Its white mouse shaped placard was inscribed with the popular slogan, “No animals were harmed in the making of this mousse!”
King Flynnbrim recovered from the loss of his fur coat and learned to live peacefully and fashionably once he’d married the local tailor’s daughter, and they all lived excessively happily ever after as per Bumblesmutch’s well-worded wish.