January 17, 2015


Once in a town not far from the palace there lived a baker’s apprentice. She toiled from well before dawn to far after dusk every day. She milked the cow, drew water from the well, chopped wood for the oven fire, gathered berries for pies and tarts, mixed the batters, kneaded and shaped the dough, baked everything all in preparation for when the baker awoke at noon and did his part. His part was to pipe ribbons of icing onto the cookies and cakes and pies, producing magnificent flowers, stars, and delicate whorls. Then he left to rest, leaving the cleaning up for his apprentice.

One afternoon while gathering berries in the wood, the apprentice, whose name was Millie, gasped in shock when an otter leaped from a nearby stream and ran up to her, shouting, ‘I know you! You’re the baker’s apprentice. You work, work, work, don’t you? You know what I bet? I bet you could win the baking competition at the palace next week.’

Millie replied, ‘Of course I couldn’t. My master is gong to enter. He pipes the most glorious flowers.’

‘Listen,’ said the otter. ‘I like you. You work hard. You deserve to win. So here’s all you have to do. Follow my stream to the ocean. Stand on the shore and shout over the waves, “Oven of fire under the sea, take me below and teach me to be the finest baker the Queen will see.”‘

‘Will it really work?’ asked Millie, hoping.

The otter assured her the spell wouldn’t fail and spent half an hour or more helping Millie to memorize the words. It proved to be a difficult task for Millie, for she had no formal education to speak of beyond baking.

Muttering the spell over and over to herself, Millie walked along by the stream until she reached the sea. She stepped to the shore, cleared her throat, and cried out, ‘Oven of fire under the sea, take me below and teach me to be the finest baker the Queen will see.’

A wave swept up, engulfed Millie, and hauled her down to the bottom of the sea. Before she could register shock, surprise, fear and amazement, a beautiful gold and white seahorse, speckled black, swam up to her and nodded. A great bubble of air surrounded Millie and the seahorse, who wasn’t a seahorse any more, but a golden sorceress in a white gown, speckled black. Down a path to the lava ovens Millie was led by the sorceress.

‘You shall be the greatest baker of all,’ said the sorceress. For she knew all about Millie from her friend, the otter.

Oh, the glory of the cakes on the day of the contest at the palace. Tables groaned under the weight and beauty of them. The Queen paced slowly around the table, observing each cake in turn. Then she circled the table once again, this time sampling a morsel from each. She stepped back, closed her eyes, and nodded. ‘This one,’ she said, indicating the half dome rainbow cake.

And so Millie became the Royal baker. She was most beloved by her many apprentices. For you see, she insisted on doing most of the work.

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