Once upon a time in a kingdom far, far away, there lived a wizard who made magical potions for the king. Day in, day out, all he would do was make foul- smelling concoctions to cater to the whimsical wishes of the highest authority in the land. The list of demands made by his majesty was endless.
‘Booshus,’ he said one day, balefully eyeing his vast paunch in the mirror, ‘The queen is nagging me about my belly again. She says it’s so big that she can’t find my… er… waist… any more.’ Booshus coughed discreetly and assured the king that he had a recipe for just the thing. Unfortunately, it needed to be taken three times a day. With food. The king, of course, was delighted to have even more of an excuse to eat. Especially when the queen gently pointed out that his appetite was getting out of hand. He would wear a mournful expression and insist, ‘But my dear, Booshus said I have to!’
And then poor Booshus had the queen chewing his ear about it. Not only about the increased eating that the king was doing (‘Can you say “counter-productive”, Booshus?!’ she yelled), but also about the dreadful smell that subsequently emanated from the royal water closet.
‘A thousand apologies, highness, but even the best remedies have their side effects!’
This cut no mustard with the queen.
‘Booshus, I want you to come up with a concoction that will make the king less rotund and also less smelly. Goodness me, it’s bad enough as it is, without you making things worse!’
Booshus bowed his way out of the room, promising that he would work on an alternative.
Long into the deep dark night, Booshus worked. And the next night, and the next night, and the next, trying out formula after formula on his assistant, Vernon. Poor Vernon went all sorts of strange colours, and did all sorts of strange things as he tested each potion.
Meanwhile the king, of course, continued to eat, and to smell, and the queen began to worry for the king’s health. His face was getting redder, his breath shorter, and his legs less useful.
Eventually, the wizard and his deputy thought they may have hit upon a solution.
‘About jolly well time!’ said the exasperated queen when Booshus arrived in the throne room the following morning, trailing a noticeably thinner Vernon in his wake.
‘What does it do?’ asked the king.
‘It will induce a wish or a need to exercise, your majesty.’
The king pulled a face.
‘I’m not at all sure that I like the sound of that.’
The queen’s lips went white as she pressed them together in exasperation. Turning her head, she murmured in the king’s ear. Booshus couldn’t hear what she said, but her tone was unmistakeably clipped.
The king sighed, and waved a pudgy, beringed hand. ‘Oh, very well then. Give it here.’
Booshus took the royal goblet and poured a small amount of the potion into it. It landed in the bottom with a fizz. The king took the goblet and regarded the liquid with deep suspicion.
‘Are you sure about this, Booshus? It looks a bit lively.’
‘Absolutely, majesty. I tested it on Vernon, and as you can see he’s perfectly fine.’
Vernon smiled weakly.
‘There’s not very much of it, is there?’ said the queen.
‘No, highness. It’s potent stuff, and I wouldn’t want to do the king a mischief. It’s best to start these things slowly, after all.’
The king sipped at the liquid, and pulled a face again. ‘Tastes foul!’
Booshus lowered his head. ‘A thousand apologies, majesty. I did try to make it taste better, but it just mucked up the formula.’
The king turned his head to see the queen glaring at him. ‘Oh very well.’ He threw the rest back in one gulp – there wasn’t much there, after all – and the court held its breath.
Several weeks later, things were going well. The king was moving much more, eating less, and generally looking a lot better. This meant that the queen and, by extension, the court were a lot happier.
Unfortunately, however, this was not to last. The king, ever on the look out for more of everything, began to allow his greedy nature to get the better of him. So instead of demanding more food, he now began to demand more of the potion, so he would be compelled to do more exercise. He would exercise every chance he got. The palace staff often found him running circuits around the palace at midnight. By the time the king was scaling the castle walls in order to get to bed at night, instead of taking the stairs, the queen had enough. She came storming into Booshus’ laboratory and had her bodyguards drag him and Vernon to a wood just outside of the palace grounds. There, they were met with the extraordinary sight of the king, stripped to the waist and swinging the woodsman’s axe for all he was worth. His face was filled with the zeal of the recent convert, and Booshus’ heart sank. They were in a clearing filled with recent tree stumps and sawdust.
‘Well? What do you plan to do about this, Booshus?’ demanded the queen. ‘Your cursed potion has brought him to this!’ She looked close to tears.
Booshus was utterly helpless. He, just like everyone else, was a subject of the king. When the king demanded more potion, Booshus had to supply it come what may, and all of his warnings about using it to excess fell on deaf ears. He was about to explain his position to the queen (with a simmering resentment that she made him do so at all since she, more than anyone at all, was well aware of the childlike whims of the king), when there was a tremendous creaking, crackling and snapping noise, and the tree the king was hacking at like a man possessed made its majestic way to the ground, knocking leaves and branches from the surrounding trees as it fell. It bounced once before it settled to the floor and, in the silence that followed, a despairing wail cut through he forest canopy.
A tiny figure materialised, standing on the ravaged stump of the once-great tree the king had so recently felled, and all of the people in the newly- created glade took one step back. Booshus had never seen such rage contained in any form, let alone such a tiny and perfect one.
‘You… you… you unbelievable OAF!’ shrieked the figure.
Astonished though the king was, there was no way on earth that he would stand for such an affront to his dignity.
‘Young lady, how dare you? I am your king, and you will address me as “your majesty”!’
‘Young? Are you blind as well as stupid? I am four hundred years old. Just the same as my tree which you so callously cut down!’
Uh- oh. Booshus suddenly realised that this tiny person was no ordinary woodland sprite. The king in his potion- induced eagerness to exercise had gone and cut down the personal tree of one of the forest’s dryads – a notoriously capricious and hot- tempered bunch at the best of times, never mind when some idiot has just cut down their bond- tree. He began to back away, very slowly.
Unfortunately, his rearward progress was arrested, literally, by one of the king’s bodyguards grabbing his shoulder.
‘Dunno where you think you’re going, sunshine,’ rumbled the guard, ‘I reckon his majesty and her highness are going to want a word with you fairly soon.’
Booshus sagged in the guard’s grip. He knew that the situation was not really his fault. Equally though, he was quite aware that royalty is never wrong, and they are usually pretty much incapable of accepting the consequences of their actions if those consequences are distasteful.
The dryad was still shrieking at the king, and then there was a flash and a boom, and the dryad was gone. The king picked up his axe, and began to walk back toward the palace, with the queen following close behind, trying in vain to get her husband’s attention.
Unsure of what to do next, the royal couple’s bodyguards followed, dragging Booshus and Vernon along with them. The king was walking rapidly and the bodyguards had many pairs of legs to sort out between them, including those of two somewhat reluctant detainees, so they fell behind rather quickly. By the time they caught up with the king and queen, they had reached the palace, and a very odd sight greeted them.
The king was standing at one corner of the palace, swinging his axe at the walls. Stone chips were flying everywhere, and the queen was standing off to one side, out of range of the debris’ swift accumulation, wringing her hands and exhorting the king to stop. This lasted until she saw Booshus.
‘You! This is all your fault you jumped- up cocktail waiter! Thanks to you and your damnable potions, that tree- dwelling hussy has cursed the king to chop down the palace with the same axe he used to cut down her home!’
Privately, Booshus thought that this was a pretty fair tit-for-tat but of course, he rather liked his head where it was so he kept the thought to himself. There was nothing really that he could say, so he remained quiet as he and Vernon were marched to the palace dungeons.
There they sat for days, listening to the sound of the king chopping at the palace walls with his enchanted axe. Eventually, the queen came down to see him. She was a changed woman.
‘Booshus, I don’t know what to do! My poor husband can’t stop in his labours, and the palace is slowly being reduced to rubble.’
‘Well, your highness, it’s said that dryads can be appeased by offering them oil, milk or honey. Perhaps we could try that?’
The queen brightened, and immediately started issuing orders to her chamberlain, who was waiting outside the door. The palace store rooms were mercifully undamaged as yet, so in very short order there was a wagon sitting just inside the palace courtyard, groaning with milk churns, barrels of the finest cooking oil, and hundreds of jars of honey from the palace apiary. Rumour had it that the bees were most disgruntled; the cows had expressed relief along with the milk, and the olive trees whispered only among themselves.
The king’s curse seemed to have had a rather profoiund effect on the queen, too. Instead of sending a minion to deliver the cartload of goodies to the dryad, she actually went herself (even though she insisted that Booshus drive), leaving her bodyguards behind. When the head bodyguard protested this, she asked him to look at the king and then tell her what exactly the kings bodyguards did or indeed could do, to stop the dryad doing whatever she jolly well pleased. The bodyguard was most unhappy and by the time they reached the newly created clearing, Booshus was pretty sure that they had an unseen escort.
At the sight of the dryad sitting sulkily on her stump, Booshus had a feeling that the interview would not go too well, despite the groaning cart.
It didn’t. despite the dryad having her hand almost wrist- deep in a honey jar for quite a lot of the time, and a very sticky face, she still railed against greedy and oafish kings who did just what they jolly well liked with no thought or consideration for anyone other than themselves. When the queen pointed out that the palace housed far more people than just the king, the dryad shrugged, and the sighed.
‘All right, fine. You can keep some of your stupid palace for the rest of the people to live in. but only so’s they can look after the bees and the cows and the trees. And I want more of this.’ Here she waved a sticky hand at the cart. ‘The king still needs to be punished, but I suppose he only needs to chop down the royal bit of the palace. The rest of it can stay. And I want regular deliveries so I can keep my strength up whilst I help my poor darling to grow strong again.’ Here she glanced sadly at the stump she was sitting on. Amazingly, since they had been talking, leafy shoots had started emerging from the stump and trunk of the felled tree. Booshus had wondered what she needed all the honey for. He still didn’t know what she wanted the milk and oil for, but he didn’t dare ask.