Once upon a time, there was a good witch who lived in the belly of an enchanted forest. Her only visitors were the animals that stumbled upon her cottage by accident. Although she mended their cuts and scrapes, and gave them potions when they were ill, her blue skin and silver eyes scared them all away.
After many years, the witch grew lonely. She moved closer to the village, startling the townsfolk and scaring the children. The townsfolk didn’t care if she was a good witch or a bad witch. She was a witch, and witches weren’t welcome. By nightfall, they had donned necklaces of garlic and chased her away with pitchforks and buckets of water. None of that worked for the type of witch that she was, but because she preferred children’s laughter to their screams, she grabbed her broomstick and her hat and marched her house back to the woods.
She would stay up late to wish upon shooting stars and rise early to wake the roosters. Sometimes during a full moon, she would ride her broomstick to the nearest village and peek in windows and float upside-down in the chimneys to watch the children play. She had always wanted a child, but she had no love to call her own, for her beauty had departed long ago. When she looked in the mirror, she saw skin that had faded to grey and eyes that only sparkled with tears.
One day, while she was making spider lollipops to give to the children as presents, she came across an ancient recipe tucked into her cookbook that gave her a brilliant idea. She could make a child. Although part of the page was missing and some of the ink was smeared, she was practiced at witchcraft and brilliant at culinary spells. She had most of the spell. She had some of the ingredients. Perhaps, if nobody wanted her, she should make a child who did. With a feathered quill and a bottle of unicorn tears, she concocted a shopping list for a child with a sugar heart.
Ingredients for my child
Honeycomb without the buzz
The purr after a cats meow
Milk from a dreaming cow
Graveyard soil where flowers grow
Liquid sunshine, flakes of snow
The witch tapped her quill against her head. There were other items she needed, but excitement overcame her. She told herself that she’d come back to it. She wouldn’t forget. But as the sun spread across the sky, she did exactly that.
She stacked the ingredients on her table and waited until the first stroke of midnight. Then, one by one, she plopped them into the pot. At the last second, she tripled the ingredients and tossed in her wand for extra magic. Her cauldron belched out a puff of smoke that seeped through the mossy roof. All colors of soot dusted her cheeks and clothes. Leaning over the rim, she inhaled deeply and something warm and bright tickled her heart. The sweetest-smelling baby bobbed on the bubbles, cooing as she gazed into her mother’s eyes. The witch plucked her daughter out of the cauldron, and proudly named her Sugarheart.
The witch taught Sugarheart everything she knew. How her broomstick flew like the birds, and where to sit when riding a bear. She even took her to the village so Sugarheart could make friends, but the townsfolk ran for their weapons. To make it up to her daughter, the witch conjured a spell to let the children play together in their dreams.
Sugarheart was the happiest child—treasured beyond gold and silver, and spoiled more than an August egg. The witch loved her daughter deeply. Every birthday cake had hundreds of candles. Every night they played trick-or-treat. Years passed in a hummingbird’s blink. Rumors spread quickly about Sugarheart’s uncommon beauty, and it wasn’t long before a suitor knocked on their door.
Upon first glance, Sugarheart swooned, and the witch flinched. He was as tall as the horses that pulled the carts, more unexpected than a rainbow in a cloudless sky.
“My lady.” He bowed at the waist, tipping his crown. “Or should I say, ‘my queen’?” He winked at Sugarheart. “I am Prince Mountebank. And I have come to make you mine.”
Sugarheart’s cheeks turned from peaches to apples. “You’re so handsome. Are you certain you want me? I can never stay out long in the rain.”
The prince chuckled. “Such honesty. Such innocence. You are a confection of perfection. You are—,” he waved his hand around as if catching a thought, “my destiny.”
Sugarheart giggled. The witch frowned; he was more a wizard of words than a prince.
“May I steal but a moment with your scrumptious daughter?” the prince asked.
Sugarheart grabbed her mother’s hands. “May I, Mother? I’ve always wanted to meet a prince.”
The witch couldn’t resist. Her daughter’s happiness was all she’d ever wanted, so she measured the prince with her eyes. His cape was a fine blend of velvet. The buckles on his shoes were polished and gleaming. The emeralds in his crown were the size of plums. More importantly, his gaze never left Sugarheart’s face.
The witch agreed. “You may court her if you promise to keep her safe.”
The prince swept Sugarheart off her feet and placed her in the saddle on his white stallion. “We shall return, no doubt happier than before we met.”
Sugarheart looked at him and smiled. She’d never spent time alone with a boy, let alone a dashing prince. He was a dream. Her dream. He lifted her off the horse, and walked with her arm in arm. When the clouds turned black, he made an umbrella out of a branch, and tossed his cape over puddles so she’d always stay clean. Everything he said elicited a sigh. Every glance he shot her way made her grin wider and her dimples deeper.
Before the sun had set on the horizon, Prince Mountebank had done exactly as he said. Sugarheart was home, safe and happy. The witch was pleased.
The next afternoon, the prince rapped at Sugarheart’s door once again.
“You are late,” the witch said. “You said you would be here in the morn. The sun now tips to the west.”
The prince presented a bouquet of wild orchids. “I tricked a troll and sparred with a giant to harvest these flowers from the field. Nothing less would do for your daughter.”
He was brave, she thought, and handsome and wealthy. Everything she wanted for her daughter, and yet something made her hesitate. Like silence in the forest, or still air before a raging storm.
Sugarheart grabbed her mother’s hands and kissed her cheek. “Please, Mother. He likes that you are a witch and made me out of goodness. It may be hard to find another. Let alone a prince.”
The witch’s heart softened once again, and Sugarheart and the prince went on their way.
Sugarheart let the prince feed her berries as they picnicked in a field of lilies. “You aren’t eating,” she said. “Aren’t you hungry?”
“It is not berries that I love. It is you. I find you delicious in every way.” The prince pointed to her smallest finger on her left hand. “May I have a nibble? Just a bit?”
She’d never thought about how she tasted. Having looked at his lips, she’d wanted a kiss. Was it the same? She decided it must be. “Will it hurt?”
“Not much,” he said, biting down to her last knuckle.
When Sugarheart got home that evening, she grabbed a pair of gardening gloves from a drawer and went straight to her room. She even skipped goulash and toad trifle, which was her very favorite meal. She was too afraid to tell her mother, confused about what the bite had meant.
The next day, the prince came once again, and they rode his stallion to see a dwarf who made her the most beautiful jeweled necklace.
“This pales in comparison to your sparkle. But you may have it if you like. Anything you desire. If only I may have one more taste in return,” the prince said.
Sugarheart thought the gems shimmered like moonlight on the lake. If he thought she had more sparkle, like he said, he must truly love her. She held out her arm. But this time, his bite hurt more.
As before, Sugarheart ran straight to her room while her mother paced in the kitchen and peeked through the cracks in the door. Perhaps Sugarheart’s secretive behavior was normal, the witch thought. A mother’s burden that she must now bear. But when Sugarheart and the prince never returned the next night, terror gripped the witch as she thought of her daughter in danger. She sent the falcons to comb the forest, and flew so fast and so far that she fried the tip of her broomstick. On her last swing around, she spotted the prince bounding on his horse. Alone.
“Here you are. Where is my Sugarheart?” the witch shrieked.
The prince wiped his mouth with his cravat. “You made her too sweet.”
The witch’s eyes hardened and her jaw clenched. “And what of her heart? Is it broken? Is it gone?” If only she had her daughter’s heart, she could bring Sugarheart back.
“I had no use for that.” He spurred his horse forward. “I tossed it away back in the village.”
The witch’s lips trembled. Her two fingers snapped. “You must pay for what you did.”
The prince smirked.
“And so you must feel what she felt.” She waited until his smirk had disappeared, and then turned the prince into a carrot and slowly fed him to his horse.
Near a fountain in the square, a young man held a glass gem up to a lantern. The witch circled above his head, overjoyed at the sight of her daughter’s heart. She swooped down, ready for war. “That is mine.”
The witch’s face was like his mother’s when his little brother had passed away at birth, the boy thought. “It would be hard to let something this beautiful go,” he said.
She held out her hand and motioned for him to surrender.
“Although I am sad to say goodbye,” he said, “I think this should be shared.” Gently, he placed the jewel into the witch’s palm and blinked. She was gone.
Back at the witch’s house, the cauldron boiled. This time, she changed the recipe and collected the ingredients she’d forgotten before. She weighed them precisely, on a scale with perfect balance, adding knights’ armor, the edge of a blade, a lion’s roar, and a drop of jade. Then she rummaged through her cupboard for fragrant herbs and secret spices that she didn’t write down, but kept solely for herself.
Finally, she halved the recipe, but after a long thought, she added it right back in. What boiled up looked to be the same Sugarheart as before. Only this time, she was seasoned with more zest. She learned to wield a bow and arrow like the townsfolk, to banter with the boys in the village. When the day came for Sugarheart to leave home, she found her prince, though he was not dressed in velvet, nor was his mouth stuffed with fancy words. He was the same boy who had once held her heart in his hand, grown now, yet just as humble and kind.
“I’ve built you a cottage just through the grove,” the young man said. “And made goulash and toad trifle for supper.”
Sugarheart jumped into his arms and kissed his cheek. “Is it as good as Mother’s?”
“We’ll know soon,” he said. “I’ve invited her to dinner.”