The King’s patience was wearing thin and the Lord Chamberlain knew it. His Magisteriallymagnificence said, ‘Simper wants the best birthday ever and it had better be just that. Ok? This place needs to be clear and free of anything that might annoy her. I’m looking to you, Eric.’
The slippers evaporated and the Lord Chamberlain limped away. He looked down the list and his unsteady finger stopped next to a name he’d not noticed before: Doris Oomboodle. ‘Bring me her file.’
Doris Oomboodle was a beautiful, strong, intelligent woman with one major failing. She had not one magical power. Not even the ability to light a candle by snapping her fingers, the basic entry level of magical skills expected in Fairyland. Her parents, Phoebe Sponge, a hydrophobic water nymph and Denis Shaving, a wood cutter with appalling hay fever were delighted to have given birth to such a visual wonder as Doris, with her flowing red hair and sharp intelligent features. They imagined a life of bliss and pampering as they benefited from whoever’s heart Doris captured. But as Doris grew and her lack of the essential requisites became apparent, their hopes faded and they feared for their daughter’s future.
As Doris reached her maturity, an unexpected opportunity arose that would change Doris’ prospects: she was recruited by the Ministry as an apprentice. Soon enough, Doris rose to be a lowly investigating officer, merely ascertaining what had happened when a complaint was raised. It was her ability to sneak around, see everything and yet not be seen, which coupled with her russet mane gained her the soubriquet ‘The Fox’. She was conscientious, able and well-liked by her colleagues, something that made her pretty much unique and unlikely to be successful.
Doris had watched the various disasters unfold, determined that she would not make the same mistakes if given the chance. And now she was to be promoted, right to the very top.
Even so, she had already had a near miss. Across her desk came what looked like a simple case; seven vertically challenged miners had employed an illegal immigrant as housekeeper. Doris sympathised with their situation but the rules were clear. Snow White didn’t have a visa or a work permit and, while there were no locals willing to work for the maverick and ludicrously demanding miners, that wasn’t an excuse to hide someone like Ms White. This was especially so, given that Queen Grim had taken a special interest in getting her back.
The papers to deport her back to the Enchanted Kingdom were proceeding through the usual channels and the final hearing was due. Then, out of the blue, a popular revolt send the Wicked Queen onto her broom and across the Never-Never border and into exile in Fairyland. The new Wizardly Democracy, renamed the Peasant’s Republic of Magic wanted nothing of the old Queen’s fixations and dropped the application. The Queen was furious and sent her son, Charming to the hearing that would free Ms White to ensure justice was done. When Charming saw her, he fell in love, had the mother of all rows with his mother – something about an apple and a duplicitous mirror – and planned to run away with the object of his affections.
The Queen appealed to her nephew, the King. He signed an edict to throw the couple into prison but Doris delayed implementing the order for a day – she was soppy romantic and hoped they’d get away. When the King heard, he was livid and called her to explain. But as she entered the Throne Room she saw him reading the paper. The Times was running one of its occasional ‘Keeping It Real: Magic For The Masses’ spectaculars to boost circulation: it had asked for the public to vote who should be sent on an all-inclusive Magical Honeymoon at the Magical Mountain and they had chosen Charming and Snow White. The King’s magnanimity in allowing them to elope was praised and Doris was congratulated, albeit through gritted teeth.
‘Who do you think will have to explain this to the Queen?’ The King had asked, sourly.
‘Of course not. Eric will.’
‘Isn’t that good, sir?’
‘He’ll want new slippers. Do you have any idea how much they cost?’
The Lord Chamberlain, however, was delighted, especially at his rather fabulous toe-warmers. ‘Well done, Doris. I think you’ll do well. You may not have any of the necessary skills for the role, but if you can remain lucky, well, I think you’ll go far.’ He glanced at the sheet of paper in front of him. ‘I just need to deal with all those I’ve passed over to allow you to the top and we are good to go.’
Doris felt rather sick. ‘What will happen to them, sir?’
‘Oh the usual. Some will move sideways, some turned into toads and the rest with take an early Happily Ever After package. All you have to do is concentrate on the Big Day.’
Even the Lord Chamberlain’s laugh sounded rather forced.
It was inevitable that she would be tested early in her tenure and so it turned out. The Gretel Siblings, Hansel Gretel and Gretel Gretel had appeared out of Nowhere, a small spice farming community equidistant from Aroundabouthere and Iwouldntstartfromthisspot, and began to build a reputation for creating the most delicious of biscuits, nibblets and sweetmeats. Simper was a sucker for the sweet things in life and, having tasted one of their signature spicy Always-Improving shortbreads – after one bite you always felt the next would be better still – she nagged her father for the Gretels to be appointed to the Culinary Compliment in the Palace in order to participate in creating the feast for her birthday.
Of course he acceded to the request. Of course, this put out the biscottiers and pastry-maestros. Of course the Lord Chamberlain did what he always did at any sign of conflict. He spoke truth to power. Well, actually he mumbled it so quietly that it was only audible at levels at which three headed scallops can hear; after all, it’s a great theory, but telling it as it is to a barely sane absolute monarch with infinite ways of despatching you to various, and increasingly unpleasant hereafters – and certainly not to the popular and, in truth, slightly passé, Happily-Ever hereafter – was not sensible. Thus the King didn’t realise there was a conflict.
The behind the scenes fights and spats between the existing kitchen staff and the Gretels were fraught and increasingly the whole Palace was affected by the sour atmosphere. Something of the sense of this revolt reached the King.
‘I smell revolting,’ he said to the Lord Chamberlain.
‘Perhaps it’s time for a Royal bath, Your Sweetlyfragrantedness.’
‘Just make sure nothing goes wrong on the Big Day, Eric. Get rid of whoever is causing trouble.’
The Lord Chamberlain did the only thing available to him. He delegated to Doris. Doris undertook enquiries and established that the Gretels were, in fact the main source of the trouble, dominating the kitchen with their cunning spices and Teutonically efficient cooking methods, which sat badly with the essentially laissez-faire French themed cuisine of the Palace.
Doris recommended the Gretels be discretely moved away. The Lord Chamberlain concurred and a meeting was called to arrange for their dismissal and immediate exile, via the Mystical Path to the Never-Never border, utilising one of the Fairy Godmother’s new line of Vegan-Hybrid Magi-coaches – these no longer used mice to pull the pimped pumpkins but instead were powered with magically modified Kumquats, which, while a little bouncy did at least release a pleasant scent while cornering.
When the Lord Chamberlain and Doris appeared at the agreed time at the Gretel’s cottage, however, they found the King and his daughter swooning over the full sized, gingerbread-rendered play house the Gretels has made as her birthday surprise. Simper had already eaten the porch and begun on an architrave. ‘Aren’t they brilliant?’ said the King. ‘They must be given their heads.’
The Lord Chamberlain groaned. If the Gretels stayed and the French cooks revolted, it might be him who was looking anxiously at a future for his head. ‘Doris, you got me into this. Sort it out.’
Will Doris save the day? To be continued….