Actually, I'd Rather Have the Pumpkins Back

Merili is an undergraduate dietetics student at BYU.

Image of Long Story Short Award - Fall 2020
Image of Short Fiction
The Cursed-Pumpkin-Field Festival had always been her favorite part of the year.
This year, unfortunately, her father had remembered that she’d turned twenty a month prior.
As he announced to the throngs of people attending the opening ceremonies that the prize for breaking the curse not only included the usual pile of gold, but his “first-born daughter to wife,” Ana decided she didn’t like this particular year anymore.
But, even though it was embarrassing to be theoretically gifted to some wizard-stranger the same way a thick-looking beef cow would be, her consolation was that no one would break the curse on the field.
No one had in four centuries. Clearly, spurned-love wizard spells could be quite strong and very averse to being plowed.
After reminding herself of that, Ana had a peaceful time watching the odd assortment of mages and farmers alike wreak havoc upon the poor pumpkins. The attempts were mostly for show—but they varied in both hilarity and skill as people hacked, chanted, shrieked, and muttered strange spells and curses at the thick vines.
Another wizard stepped up to take his turn. With a dashing dark cloak and gleaming black boots, Ana thought that he looked like every other apprentice trying too hard to appear unapproachably powerful. She cast her gaze to where the children’s races were going on, not bothering to watch what would be yet another failed attempt of sorcery.
After a minute, a sudden hush fell on the entirety of the festival grounds. Curious, Ana looked back, wondering what the source of the change was. She spotted it immediately. Where acres of autumn gourds had ruled, pale flowers now bloomed amidst soft, well-kept grass. The transformation was bewitchingly beautiful.
Her stomach fell.
Oh, dear.

“The prize is yours,” her father said. The grinding of his teeth was nearly audible as he cast a sorrowful glance at the gold pile that would now belong to the victor. If she hadn’t been so horrified, Ana would’ve laughed at his plight—except she was also promised to the stranger whose face she couldn’t see.
“No need,” the cloaked stranger said, and didn’t glance at Ana. He absently picked a single coin off the top of the massive pile. “This is all I’ll be taking. Thank you for the entertainment. I quite enjoyed the festival.”
Ana slumped in her chair, gratitude making her limbs weak. She was too relieved to wonder at how easily the entire situation had solved itself.
Relieved, until her father’s solicitor told her that by taking the single gold coin, the stranger had, in fact, accepted his prize. “While we would not force the remainder of the gold upon the curse-breaker, you are now magically and contractually under his jurisdiction and no longer in the protection of your father.” This translated, clearly, as "your father wants the leftover gold but not you."

Two days later and after enough crying to water the entire new flower field she’d left behind, she arrived at one of the cities nearby carrying a small bag and an even smaller bit of hope. She stood before the desk of the massive government hall, resisting the urge to wring her hands.
Surely there was a way this sort of matter could be annulled?
The woman at the desk was incredibly distracted by two visitors who were both better-dressed and in better spirits than Ana. Ana glanced around herself, hand on the strap of her bag, biting her lip and wondering if there was a polite way to pull the secretary’s rapt interest away from the handsome men.
“I cannot believe you absconded,” one companion was reprimanding the other. “I even spoke to your aunt about your incredible diligence in inventorying south-landers’ farming. Instead, you were flippantly demonstrating your powers—“
“I wasn’t being flippant, I was being clever,” the younger one responded. His eyes glittered with mirth as he leaned against the marble counter, and Ana, despite her exhaustion, noticed that his smile was possibly the nicest thing she’d seen in forty-eight hours. “Can you imagine it? Three or four hundred-odd years, and no one thought to involve a wizard from the royal family. The only stipulation in the curse was that the mage had to be of royal blood. It was ridiculously easy—“
“Excuse me,” Ana said quietly. She’d intended only to get the secretary’s attention, but the two men halted their conversation. Feeling even more uncomfortable, she bent over the desk to speak to the woman. “I’m in a rather strange situation. Do you know anything about annulling engagements? Specifically, betrothals formed from the breaking of magical curses?"
She felt all three pairs of eyes on her.
“It—it involves pumpkins.”