“Now then, what seems to be the problem?” The old woman gestured to a stool, her hand a bunch of twigs held together by knotty veins. The Princess Rosamond demurred – the stool was little more than a tree trunk upholstered with moss. Gingerly, she lowered herself onto its edge, aware of the old woman’s eyes, black and gleaming, like a raven’s, watching her every move.
“I – I don’t know where to begin,” Rosamond faltered, her voice barely above a whisper.
“At the beginning, dearie!” the old woman suggested. “And speak up! My old ears!”
“I –” Rosamond wrung her hands in her lap, her fingers wrestling each other, like worms in competition. “You’ll think me foolish and wanton.”
“My dear, many young ladies have perched on that stump. They come to me for help. They come to Old Helga for help when they can find it nowhere else. I have seen all and heard all. There is nothing you can say that will shock Old Helga.”
Rosamond frowned. “And, so we’re clear, you’re Old Helga?”
The woman laughed, a cackle like a rusty hinge, exposing a row of broken teeth like the palings of a ruined fence. She confirmed she was indeed Old Helga, the wise woman of the woods.
“What is it, dearie?” she said, in a softer, kinder voice. “Tell Old Helga.”
“Well,” Rosamond looked at the writhing fingers and forced them to be still. “I’m not happy. With who I am. With my body.”
Across the table, the wise woman grunted. If I had a ducat for every time I’ve heard this one.
“I see,” she said. “What is it, your nose?”
“No!” Rosamond’s hand flew to her nose in horror.
“No!” Rosamond’s hand dropped to cover her mouth.
“Your chin? Your tits? Your fat arse?”
Scandalised, Rosamond got to her feet. “How dare you! You cannot talk to me like this. I am a Princess!”
“And you’re cured!” Old Helga held out her hand, a dry leaf, cracked and paper-thin.
“What?” Rosamond gaped like a landed fish.
“But, I –”
“Three florins, as per our agreement.”
“But, I –”
There was a rustling as Old Helga got to her feet: the susurration of a pile of leaves disturbed by wind. “Shazam!” she cried, pointing a gnarled stick at the princess’s face. There was a puff of green smoke and Rosamond disappeared, her gown billowing to the floor. From a sleeve, a tiny green frog emerged. It looked up at the wise woman and let out a doleful croak.
“That better?” said Helga. “Or would you prefer longer legs? A stickier tongue? Be off, before I drop you into my soup.”
Rosamond muttered a disgruntled ribbet and hopped out into the forest. Overhead, a heron swooped.
No, thought the bird, passing up the chance of a froggy snack. That one’s too ugly.