The Prince and the Diddler

Avery Mathers February 28, 2021
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There was a Prince whose fatness so grievously offended his father that the King ordered his mouth to be removed, along with the rest of his head. Since the Prince was a prince, it was all to be done with due pomp and ceremony, and with the most scrupulous adherence to the ancient laws and traditions which pertained to the execution of a nobleman. The first requirement was that he must be executed at noon on a Sunday, when the people had no work to do and could thus enjoy the festivities. So, the Prince was thrown into a comfortably furnished dungeon until Sunday should come around.

In the black dark of Saturday night, the Prince could not sleep. Though he was a little apprehensive about having his head chopped off, he was mostly concerned about breakfast. The law said that he could have whatever he desired for his last breakfast, and the Prince could not decide between his two great favourites. On the one hand, there were a dozen sausages, a dozen rashers of bacon and a dozen eggs, with a slice of toast. On the other hand, there were a dozen cream puffs, a dozen sweet bread rolls and a dozen pancakes, with maple syrup. The matter was urgent. At dawn, he would be awoken and brushed and dressed, and the jailer would ask what he wanted.

The Prince was leaning towards savoury when he heard a soft click. He lit his candle and saw a strange little man peeping out from the wardrobe. The man smiled and stepped out, but then the Prince saw that he was not a man but a diddler, a creature only ever seen in the dead of night, most often by people who’d spent their evening at the inn. Since a diddler had three eyes, three ears and three noses, there could be no mistake. But diddlers were tricksters, so he’d best be wary.

‘Have you come to set me free?’ said the Prince.

‘You know very well that a diddler is only a bringer of gifts,’ said the Diddler.

‘Keys would be nice,’ said the Prince.

‘I have this for you,’ said the Diddler, and he handed the Prince a huge book.

‘A book? Oh well, I suppose it will give me something to do until dawn,’ said the Prince.

‘You’re welcome,’ said the Diddler, and he climbed back into the wardrobe and shut the door.

Squinting in the candlelight, the Prince looked at his new book and saw that it was not new at all. It was a very old book, written in a very old script that was difficult to read. Moving his finger along the first line and mouthing the words, the Prince read: First take the tongue and innards of a new-born calf and soak them in cold water for three days… Ah! So, it was a book of spells. Surely one of these spells would open locks or transport him to some other place, preferably an inn.

The first spell was a complicated one which required many strange things and long preparation. And at the end it did not even say what the spell was for. What use was that? And where could he, or anyone else, find such rarities as dragon’s eyeballs and maiden’s virtues?

But a book was a book and was something to do. He read slowly. All the many, many spells were equally difficult and it would take an expert potion-maker to prepare them. Still, some of the potions sounded quite tasty. In fact, all of them sounded tasty, which is how the Prince concluded that the spells were not spells, but recipes. And nowhere did it mention a dozen sausages.

When the jailer came and the servants had washed and dressed him, the Prince told the jailer what he wanted for breakfast. First, the cook would need the tongue and innards of a new-born calf…

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