Rumpy Stilton

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    Times were hard for the Millers. The bottom had fallen out of the cupcake market. No-one wanted cupcake towers at their wedding any more and there was a mountain of frosting in the back room of the shop that was in danger of setting hard and becoming the highest peak in North London.
    Mandy looked up at the illuminated sign that had once brightly boasted ‘Miller’s Magical Cupcakes’ but now could only offer ‘..ille…gal..cake’. Her father had always hoped that she would take over the business when she was older. Mandy had dreams of her own; she would rather live in a palace and visit her favourite charities, particularly any charity that looked after abandoned dogs. She loved dogs.
    King Christian was opening a new food-bank at their local church hall so Mandy persuaded her father to donate some cupcakes to a good cause and went along with him in the hope that she might at least get her photo in Highness! magazine.
    The king was particularly impressed by the cupcakes which all had an image of the king’s face on top, although the king thought the picture was actually of Dustin, his favourite Staffordshire bull terrier.
    The king shook her father’s hand and, in a moment of madness, Mandy’s father told him that Mandy had made the cakes. If that wasn’t bad enough, he also said that Mandy had won prizes for her baking. Mandy cringed. The only prize she had ever won was for a plate of jam tarts when she was six and, even then, she had cheated and used ready-made pastry.
    As the charity workers were sending people on their way with their boxes of Quality Quilted toilet rolls (no Bargain Brand today), the king whispered to Mandy, “Meet me here at midnight. Tell your father it is a special royal project.” She wasn’t sure, but she thought the king had actually winked at her as he left.
    Mandy was beyond excited. As agreed, she met the king at the church hall as the clock chimed midnight. The door was open and he led her into the kitchen.
    The king sat down, took a deep breath and told her he had a secret that he had never told anyone before. He loved cakes and all his life he had dreamed of being the winner of The Great Royal Bake-Off!’ He asked Mandy to make him some cupcakes with the ingredients in the kitchen. They needed to be good enough to win The Great Royal Bake Off! She was not to say a word to anyone else and there would be a generous reward for her if she did what he asked.
    Mandy saw an obvious flaw in this plan and pointed out to the king that the viewers would be able to see that he had not baked the cakes himself. The king stood up, drew himself up to his full height and said, “The contestants are all immensely rich. We have our cakes delivered to the judges.” Mandy had no answer to that. The king said he would send someone to collect the cakes first thing in the morning.
    After the king had left, Mandy looked in the kitchen cupboards. There was some flour that had a ‘Best Before’ date of 2007 and a packet of icing sugar that was so hard she would need a hammer to break it up. The contents of the fridge were no better. The butter had obviously melted at one time and been re-chilled so had a strange bright yellow glow that made it look radioactive. The eggs were firmly stuck in the fridge door with drops of the melted butter and the milk had some strange lumps in it.
    It was hopeless. If she asked her father to help she would betray the king’s trust and she didn’t have the first idea how to make anything with the ingredients she had. The shops were closed and she didn’t have enough money to buy much anyway.
    Mandy poked the icing sugar with a plastic knife which snapped and flew across the kitchen. She was about to say a rude word when she heard a voice.
    “Problem?” Mandy looked up. There was a young boy in front of her, no older than 7 or 8. He jumped up and sat on the table. Mandy looked flustered, “No I um….hey – you’re out rather late. Won’t your mum be looking for you?”
    The boy shrugged, “Orphan. Long story.” He picked up an egg and scraped off some yellow gunge with a fingernail, “So – what are you making?”
    Mandy really had no intention of telling the boy what she was doing but, before she knew it, she had told him the whole story about the king and The Great Royal Bake Off!
    The boy offered to help her if she gave him something in return. Mandy didn’t want to hurt his feelings so thanked him politely and said she had made the promise to the king so really couldn’t accept any help.
    In one swift movement, the boy jumped down from the table and grabbed a bowl and a wooden spoon. He took an apron from behind the door and popped it around his neck. It was so big, he had to loop it up before tying it round his waist. Mandy decided to humour him as he played at being a baker.
    In a whirl of activity, the boy threw the ingredients together, put the cakes in the oven, laid out a cooling tray and, while they waited, mixed up some frosting. As the cakes cooled he even did the washing up.
    While the boy iced the cakes, Mandy tried to think of some words of encouragement as he was trying his best to help her.
    The boy stepped aside. Mandy opened her mouth to speak then shut it again. Before her on the table were the most exquisite cupcakes she had ever seen. They were smothered in peaks of gold icing that looked so realistic, they could be on display in the British Museum.
    The boy removed his apron, “I think you owe me a little something in return.” He ran a finger across his lips, “For my silence at least.”
    Mandy didn’t know what to say. She felt obliged to give him something but didn’t have much with her. She rummaged in her bag and found a bag of toffees. She handed them over. The boy put them in his pocket and left without even saying thank you.
    Early next morning the king’s servant collected the cakes and told Mandy that the king would meet her in the church hall at midnight to discuss her reward.
    Mandy was so nervous at school the next day that she turned up in science wearing her sports kit. She nearly fell asleep in her dinner but knew she couldn’t miss her royal appointment.
    At midnight she found the king in the church hall kitchen. He had a beaming smile on his face, “I did it. I won The Great Royal Bake Off!” Mandy wondered if she should point out that the king hadn’t actually done any baking but then, technically, neither had she.
    Mandy was desperate to know what her reward would be. She might be knighted in the next Honours List and be able to call herself ‘Dame Amanda’. She smiled and looked up expectantly at the king.
    The king touched her on the shoulder and said, “I want you…” Mandy shivered with excitement as the king continued, “…to do it again.”
    Mandy wasn’t sure she had heard correctly. In her mind she was being offered a trip on the royal yacht and most of the crown jewels. Now the king was standing there, asking her to make some more cakes, this time for The Great European Royal Bake-Off! Not only that, but, the cakes should represent a Day in the Life of the British Royal Family.
    So Mandy found herself once again alone in the kitchen with the same old crummy ingredients and no clue as to what she was going to do. She could confess to the king that the boy had made the cakes but she had broken her promise not to tell anyone the king’s secret so would probably end up in The Tower of London. Or worse.
    Mandy took out the bowl and spoon and started drumming the spoon against the side of the bowl.
    “Your drumming is as bad as your cooking.” The boy was standing in the doorway. Mandy was tempted to hug him and promise him the world if he would help her again but she held back and just said, “Hi ya!”.
    The boy took down the apron, “You’ll have to do better than toffees this time.”
    Mandy thought about what she could give him. For her birthday she had been given tickets for Tina Quickly in concert. She took them from her bag and laid them on the table. The boy barely glanced at them. In a cloud of flour and icing sugar, he began his magic and, in no time at all, had produced a batch of cupcakes that made a picture of an entire Royal garden party, with the royal family, the guests and even Dustin the dog.
    Before Mandy had time to look at them all, the boy and the concert tickets had vanished.
    The next morning the servant collected the cakes and again said the king would meet her at midnight to discuss her reward. ‘Doesn’t he ever sleep?’ wondered Mandy.
    This time the king positively bounded through the door, “I did it. I’m the best royal baker in the whole of Europe.” He skipped around the church hall shouting, “Take that Malcolm of Mordonia.”
    Mandy laughed. She was glad the king was happy and felt a little twinge of pride even though she had only handed the cakes over. The king took her by the shoulders, “Now the big one – World’s Greatest Royal Baker!” Mandy was stunned. Would she never get her reward?
    The king was at the door, “This time the theme is ‘My Favourite Palace’. I believe the expression, in common parlance, is ‘Knock yourself out’.” With that he was gone.
    Mandy began to wonder if she had actually knocked herself out and this was some kind of strange never-ending nightmare. Once more she faced an impossible task or risk royal retribution if she failed and the king was made to look foolish in front of the whole world. She sat at the table, put her head in her hands and sobbed.
    She was disturbed by the sound of bowls and spoons spinning across the table. The boy was dancing around the kitchen whisking up butter and sugar, breaking eggs and tossing the shells in the bin in one swift move. He glanced over to Mandy, “You’ll have to come up with something really good this time.”
    Mandy looked in her bag. There was nothing else she could give the boy. She had no jewellery on her and no expensive watch. She had to promise him something, her very life might depend on it. Or did she? She had no idea where he had come from and, more importantly, he didn’t know her name or where she lived. If he did tell anyone what he had done for her, no-one would believe a small boy like him. Even she was struggling to get her head around it all.
    She could promise him anything. It wouldn’t matter. She thought for a few moments, “When I leave school I’m going to live in the royal palace and look after the king’s Staffordshire bull terriers. You can have his favourite dog, Dustin.”
    The boy seemed pleased with this, although it didn’t register on his face. He continued baking and decorating and, in the blink of an eye, had produced a scale model of Puckingham Palace made entirely of cupcakes. Even the sentry boxes and the king’s guards were made of tiny cakes.
    The boy packed everything away, came right up to Mandy and, without a flicker of emotion said, “A promise is a promise.”
    If the last few days were a bad dream, Mandy was about to wake and fulfil all her deepest wishes. The king won World’s Greatest Royal Baker! and offered Mandy any job she wanted in the royal household when she left school. Mandy said she would love to look after the royal dogs. He even gave her father a job in the palace kitchens.
    The years passed and Mandy started work at the palace. As she strolled around the royal grounds in glorious sunshine with Dustin on his gold lead, she sang to herself, thinking she was happier than she had ever been.
    As she rounded a bend, the sky suddenly went black. Dark thunder clouds hung over her head like a great weight. Dustin growled. There, on the path in front of them, was the boy standing with legs astride and his hands on his hips. He looked no older than when Mandy had first met him. He reached towards Dustin and tried to take the lead. Mandy stopped him, “Wait. You can’t take him. The king will kill me.”
    The boy shrugged, “A promise is a promise.”
    Mandy tried shouting for help but no words came out. She managed a whisper as she pleaded with the boy, “Give me one last chance. Please. I’ll do anything.”
    The boy thought for a few minutes then smiled but it was not a happy smile, “Tell me my name. If you can tell me my name, you can keep the dog. You have one week.”
    With that, he was gone, the sun came out and they resumed their walk. Mandy had no idea who the boy was but someone must know where he had come from.
    Over the next few days Mandy asked everyone she knew who was at the opening of the food-bank if they had seen the young boy at the church hall. No-one remembered him. She contacted the local orphanages and children’s homes but there was nobody who fitted his description. She spent hours on her computer typing in ‘boy cupcake wizard’ and ‘child champion baker’, but he was not listed anywhere.
    The week was up. Mandy was in the royal grounds with Dustin. In desperation she thought she would invent a story about Dustin being dognapped but she would lose her job if she could not be trusted to look after him.
    Mandy’s mind went into overdrive as she tried to think of the boy’s name. She ran through all the usual boys’ names – George, Sam, Liam and even some unusual ones like Percival, Horace and Alphonse. Just for fun, she tried to think of the worst name she could come up with – ‘Billy Big Bum’ or ‘Simon Stinky Socks’. She bent down and looked Dustin in the face, “So, Dustin, what do you call a boy with a big bottom who smells of mouldy cheese?” As she stood up, it came to her – ‘Rumpy Stilton’.
    She was still smiling when the boy appeared in front of her. He held out a hand then snatched it back, “I would introduce myself but that would spoil the fun.”
    Mandy had no hope now. She could only give in and hand Dustin over. With nothing else to lose, she held out his lead, “There you go…Rumpy.”
    The boy stepped back, his face was bright red. This time he couldn’t speak.
    Mandy couldn’t believe it. His name was actually Rumpy. If she was right about that, she could be right about his last name too. With renewed confidence, she stepped forward and offered the boy a hand, “I’m Amanda Miller. Pleased to meet you, Rumpy Stilton.”
    The boy seemed to physically shrivel before her. He looked like a hunched dwarf as he scowled at her, turned and scuttled away.
    Dustin looked up at Mandy and wagged his tail. She patted him on the head, “We did it boy. You’re safe.” As they walked back to the palace, she stopped and looked down at Dustin, “Although, if the king ever asks for more cupcakes, I’m in big, big trouble.”

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