When the young prince first fled into the barn, he thought it too small and messy for someone of respectable breed to sleep in. Having grown accustomed to feather pillows and silk sheets, he struggled at first to adapt and sleep on the hay.
But he was fleeing an angry wizard’s curse, so it happened more quickly than he’d expected.
Now he gazed sleepily into a corner, remembering long nights spent in hiding from the bitter old man determined to bring about his ruin—all because of a necklace. In the back of his mind, he replayed the moment that amulet shattered when he threw it—he thought of the rage on the old wizard’s face—but he didn’t think of it for long, dousing the memory with a sip of wine.
By now, this place was more than a barn: he’d ordered servants to deliver his most important belongings, like books and comfortable pillows (his mattress wouldn’t fit through the window.) Now it didn’t look like a barn, but a large tree house where no one came to see him.
He gazed at his reflection on the surface of the goblet, wondering not for the first time how he ended up here—but he didn’t wonder long enough to stir his conscience, because at that moment, he heard the old wizard sneezing outside.
“Ha-ha!” cried the prince, delighted for the distraction. “Back again? I see you have yet to brew a cure for your allergies!”
He patted a nearby hay bale fondly. Who would have thought something so common would repel black magic?
Every night at this time, the wizard came to this barn in search of vengeance for his amulet. The prince used to think these appearances irritating, but now he looked forward to them; they broke the monotony of life in this tree house, and it wasn’t as if the wizard could hurt him.
“Oh!” cried the wizard, and sneezed again, loudly. “You—insolent boy! When I get to you, I’ll turn you into a—ah-choo!—a proper toad!”
He took another sip of wine, chuckling. “A rather handsome toad I’d be, don’t you think?” he asked his reflection. “I would be the brightest of all the toads.”
“You would be caged!” cried the wizard. “Caged and then poisoned—or sold to an aquarium—ah-choo!”
“Tell me,” the young man continued, “when are you going to stop coming? I’m sure your allergies are more than fits of sneezing. Perhaps your skin goes up in boils or your nose gets runny. Surely it’s not worth chasing me for one silly necklace.” Deep down, he wanted the wizard to give up so he could go back to his comfortable bedroom.
“Ah-choo! Curse you and every word you say! Curse all your ambitions and dreams! When you step out of this barn, I will set every plague on you—”
The prince yawned, drowning out this familiar string of fruitless curses, and decided the barn was comfortable enough. He could always have more books delivered if he ran out. His mother made sure they sent him food and water, and of course wine. It was not yet cold enough for the situation to be too uncomfortable.
Outside, the wizard’s angry words continued; mixed with each curse was a poignant sneeze. Two sneezes, three, four—the prince counted them, thinking that if anyone ever asked, he would tell them he had always found haystacks the most comfortable place to sleep.