The Apple Tree

(If you’d like to listen to this story, you can find the audio narration at the podcast 600 Second Saga, narrated by Mariah Avix)

    Flowers and leaves swayed in the breeze as Ann strolled through the gardens. It had been a lovely morning, until something hard landed on her head.

    “Ow.” She bent to pick up the bright green apple, then peered up into the branches above her. She sucked in a gasp.

    “Nic, what are you doing up there?”

    The prince perched in a most undignified manner on one of the thicker branches of the large apple tree. He grinned sheepishly.

    “Um, picking apples?”

    Her eyes narrowed. “Picking apples.”

    “Uh, yes.”

    She stared at him for a moment.

    “Any particular reason you are picking them instead of one of the gardeners?”

    “Um … uh …”

    She crossed her arms, waiting for his poppycock excuse.

    “Okay, so I’m not just picking apples.” After darting glances around them, he launched into his explanation, which was, indeed, poppycock. Then he had the gumption to invite her to help.

    “No!” she replied, her forehead wrinkling in consternation.

    “But it’ll be hilarious.”

    “Nic, your pranks are always hilarious to you and annoying to everyone else.”

    “I know. That’s what makes them so funny. Oh, come on, Ann. Don’t be such a stick in the mud.”

    Her hackles rose at the insult. She shot him one more glare, then hiked up her skirts and climbed up after him. He let out a quiet whoop in triumph.

    “I will have you know,” she spat when she reached the branch he was perched on. “I’ve seen plenty of ‘sticks’ flower quite beautifully when simply ‘stuck in the mud.’”

    Nic just rolled his eyes and continued picking. She wrinkled her nose at him and started pulling fruit from the branches as well. He could be a pest sometimes, but he was her best friend. Her only friend. When it seemed like all the world was out to get her, he could always make her laugh. And even she had to admit, his little prank would be funny if they could pull it off. Soon, they’d created a sizable pile of apples at the base of the tree.

    Then a quiet cough came from below and they both froze.

    “Something tells me you’re not picking those apples for the pies Miss Bridget is making for the feast tonight.”

    Ann gulped. It was her father. She knew helping Nic with his prank was a bad idea.

    She dared a peek down toward him. Would she have to scrub the dishes? Go to bed with no dessert? Surely he wouldn’t make her attend the ball tonight. That would be horrid. Her brows pinched in confusion upon finding him staring at their pile of apples. His hands rested on his hips and she couldn’t see his face.

    “Uh,” she heard Nic say above her. Her head whipped up in panic. “Sure. Sure it is. That’s exactly what we’re doing.”

    “Uh-huh,” her father replied skeptically.

    Finally he looked up at them. His lopsided smile baffled her, but not nearly as much as the wink he gave her before turning around and disappearing out of sight. She sat frozen. Should she stay and take the punishment, or try to escape and risk making it worse? She didn’t have enough time to answer the question, though, as her father returned within moments, carrying two huge boxes. As he set them down she was able to peek inside. What she saw only confused her more.

    Nic gasped and when she looked up, his expression was all delight and excitement. She looked back down at her father, who gave her another wink. She looked back at the boxes. Then, as her father began to help with their mischief, she suddenly understood and nearly let out a chirp of laughter. Sometimes being naughty could be fun.

    It took them most of the morning to finish picking all the apples, then a good bit of the afternoon to get through the contents of the boxes. They were all exhausted and sweaty by the time they were done, but they looked up at the tree in pride. Her father held the boxes, now containing the apples they’d picked, Ann carried more apples in her flower baskets and Nic propped his hands on his hips.

    “This is going to be epic,” Nic whispered.

    A creaking in the distance spurred them into action and they all raced back to the rose covered trellis they’d decided to hide behind. The apples were tucked underneath a particularly large rhododendron and they all crouched by the opening in the trellis, Ann and Nic on the left and her father on the right. Just then, Miss Bridget came bustling into view carrying a box much like the ones Ann’s father had brought, only this one was empty. Ann glanced up at Nic and smothered a snicker as his face turned red from suppressed laughter. She turned to her father on the other side of the path and he gave her another wink before turning back to watch Miss Bridget.

    They all held their breath as the cook reach the base of the tree and set her basket on the ground. She straightened, peered up into the branches … and gasped.

    “Pears? Pears?! When did my apple tree start growing pears?!”

    At that point they were clutching stomachs and biting fists to keep silent. The shock and befuddlement on Miss Bridget’s face made all the effort entirely worth it. The ties her father had found blended so well with the branches, no one would know with a cursory glance that the pears weren’t indeed growing on the apple tree.

    Miss Bridget stumbled back a step and made the Saint’s sign of protection against evil and Nic let a snort escape, apparently unable to hold it in any longer. Miss Bridget’s gaze snapped in their direction. Ann gulped and glanced at her father with a worried frown. Would he abandon them? He looked back at her and his eyebrows rose as if to say ‘oops, I guess she caught us.’ Relieved, she returned it with a grin and a shrug.

    Miss Bridget marched right up to them, slamming her fists onto her hips. Nic guffawed in renewed laughter and fell onto his behind, wrapping his arms around his middle, tears streaming down his face.

    “Think it’s funny, do you?” She glared at Nic and Ann, then turned and gasped in surprise to find Ann’s father. He gave a guilty shrug, trying and failing to appear contrite.

    “Not you too, milord! What’s gotten into you?”

    “My humblest apologies, madam,” he replied, rising and giving her a polite nod. “I believe the apples you seek are beneath the rhododendron there.”

    She harrumphed and retrieved the apples, turning to march back to the kitchen. The three miscreants peered at each other, not sure what they were expected to do. Then they all jumped as Miss Bridget shouted back at them without breaking stride.

    “Quit lollygaggin’ and get all those pears back where they belong and report to the kitchen.”

    Ann and Nic peered up at Ann’s father.

    “We’d best do as she says. You know how fond the king is of that woman’s cooking.”

    So, the three of them spent the rest of the day ‘picking’ pears and baking in the kitchen. And when one of those hard won apples somehow ended up thumping Nic on the head, Ann decided it was the best day ever.