The king leaned forward and glared at the baker. “Tell me how this happened.”
Shaking with fear, the baker began his tale. “It’s because we had to add more beehives, sir.”
“After the trial, when the tarts went missing that the queen had made herself, we weren’t allowed to leave things out to cool any more. Theft risk, and all. We couldn’t leave them on the counter or on the windowsill or on the table or in the cupboard…”
“What does that have to do with the bees?” the king asked angrily.
“Yes, your highness. Sorry, your majesty. I was just explaining how we needed to put baked goods where they’d be secure and not tempt anyone to steal them by being left out unprotected. So we built fake beehives and hid them in with all the others. We had to wear special suits to fetch the scones for lunch and whatnot, but nothing was ever stolen.”
The king nodded, looking a little less angry. “That seems reasonable. Why did you need to add more beehives?”
“The queen wanted more honey to eat with bread in the parlor.” The baker shrugged nervously. “It caught on and so everyone else wanted bread and honey too. We needed a lot more honey, so we needed more hives. But there just wasn’t enough space. Our fake beehives became real beehives by order of the royal beekeepers. So we needed another safe place for all the royal pastries.”
“I assume you didn’t put anything in the treasury, or I would have noticed. I go to the counting house everyday to count all my money.”
The baker nodded. “We don’t have high enough security clearance to access the treasury, your majesty.”
“As it should be,” the king interrupted, looking suspiciously at the baker.
“Of course it is, your majesty. I wouldn’t even think of going there, your highness.” The baker held up his hands in surrender.
The king looked at him for another minute or two. “Very well,” he said at last. “Continue with your tale. Where did you stash all the royal baked goods?”
“We built pie safes in the trees where the blackbirds were nesting. Vicious smart creatures, blackbirds. They immediately thought the sweets were for them. We had to lock up the pie safes, and even then they managed to get a few open. I think they stole the keys from the head chef’s desk when he was out for lunch. He has to keep his windows closed now, even on really hot days.”
“That doesn’t explain what happened today.” The king touched the tips of his fingers together and glared over the top of them.
“I’ll explain it as best as I can, your majesty. Honest, I will.” The baker nervously looked at the window. “It’s just that the blackbirds always seemed to know when we were going to put something in the safes or take it out. I’d have thought they had a man on the inside, but they’re birds and all. I don’t really know how that would be possible. Even with the windows closed, they knew, and they were always all there waiting.” The baker paused and looked at the king.
“Yes, your highness. We carried rolling pins to swing around and scare them off. My apprentice once strapped a cat to his chest, but that ended in blood and tears. We threw bread crumbs and stale crackers as a diversion, and managed to keep most of the treats safe. Unfortunately, the blackbirds held grudges. Even when we wore disguises, everyone who assisted in carrying away the baked goods was later found and pecked soundly. We’re all covered with bruises now.”
“We recognize your courage in defending the royal desserts. However, none of this explains what happened today.”
The baker wiped the sweat from his brow. “Well, we finally moved the pie safes to the royal alligator farm. Climbing trees and fighting off blackbirds was getting too difficult. But the blackbirds found us. They pecked away the alligators and continued their attempts to steal everything we baked the minute it was cool. It got so bad that we’d start carrying a cake back towards the kitchen, and arrive there with crumbs.”
“And the pies?”
“They eat the filling right out of the pie and leave the crust. They don’t like pie crust much. Maybe it isn’t sweet enough? But the one we brought you looked like we managed to get it away safely, your highness, honest. It wasn’t all sunken in like the other pies. I thought it was the perfect dish to set before the king or it wouldn’t have left the kitchen.”
The king sighed. “So they weren’t baked in the pie?”
“Of course not.” The baker looked confused. “If they were baked in, they couldn’t sing like that when the pie was opened.”
“That makes sense.” The king nodded slowly. “And the alligators are all gone?”
“They moved to greener pastures,” the baker said sadly. “The swamps are all blackbirds now.”
“Very well. I suppose there’s nothing to be done for them at this point.” The king thought for a moment. “If we gave more room for beehives, do you think the bees could keep the blackbirds away?”
The baker pondered the question. “I think so. They don’t have those special suits.”
Just then, there was a scream from outside. The baker rushed to the window. “Oh, it’s the maid who helped us bring in the pies. We disguised her, and they never saw her before, but they still found her. I think her nose will need stitches. Vicious smart creatures, blackbirds.”
The king nodded, looking troubled. “Perhaps the bees will be enough to save our pies.”
“I hope so, your majesty. If not the bees, then what can?”