Marie sat on her bed, anxiously awaiting the return of the NutCracker. Although she had furnished him with the sword of a brave Hussar, and she knew he lacked no courage of his own from his battle with the army of mice in whatever Act that was - quite frankly I have lost count - she was still worried about his safety.
She expected to hear evidence of a battle fracas as the NutCracker tackled the Mouse King, but time passed with suspicious quietness. Maybe, she thought, he is a Ninja NutCracker. Maybe he is creeping up on the Mouse King with all the wisdom of thousands of years of Eastern warrior stealth. Or maybe I can't hear anything because I am wearing this pair of enormous and highly effective ear muffs.
Anyway, the long and short of it was that the NutCracker re-appeared, carrying with him a large bag from which he drew, one at a time, seven gold crowns.
'These are the crowns belonging to the seven-headed Mouse King, aren't they?' said Marie.
'Indeed they are,' said the NutCracker, who was looking slightly ruffled. 'The Mouse King will bother you no more.'
'Thank you!' said Marie, because she thought there had been quite enough mouse action in the story and if she saw another she might well just scream. She took the seven crowns and placed them in a line on her book shelf.
'I feel we ought to celebrate somehow,' said Marie. 'How about a game of whist and a muffin?'
'I have something else in mind,' said the NutCracker. 'How would you like to visit my kingdom?'
'You have a kingdom?' said Marie, who rather assumed that the domain of a NutCracker was a wooden sideboard at best and a cutlery drawer at worst.
The NutCracker looked a little embarrassed. 'Indeed I do,' he said. 'It's nothing grand,' he added. 'More of a hamlet really. With several thousands of acres tacked on the side as an after-thought. Anyway, would you like to visit?'
Marie agreed it would be a jolly nice thing to do. Her arm was feeling better and she hadn't been outside for what seemed like days and days and days.
The NutCracker told her to close her eyes and hold out her hands. Marie eyed him suspiciously.
'You aren't going to drop anything into my palms, are you?' she said. 'Like a worm or a blob of cold rice pudding?'
The NutCracker laughed and promised her he was not the sort to indulge in practical jokes. So Marie closed her eyes and held out her hands. And she felt the NutCracker take her hands in his and then she felt a lightness grow upon her. It felt like she was rising into the air. She decided it would be best not to peek, because if she was, indeed, rising into the air, she might have a bit of a panic attack, like the time she went up in the glass lift at Streudelheim Department Store and they had to peel her off the ceiling using a fish slice.
Within what seemed like a few seconds, the NutCracker was telling her to open her eyes. Before she did she tapped her feet on the ground to make sure they had landed and when she was satisfied they were on terra firma, she opened her eyes.
And what a sight befell her! They were in a forest, a magical forest where the trees were silver and their branches were hung with frosted jingle bells. A rainbow of lights danced on the forest floor and little woodland creatures like bunnies and badgers and hippos (yes - hippos. It's my interpretation, okay, and if I want a festive hippo or two I shall have one) flitted in and out of the undergrowth. The NutCracker guided Marie through the forest and out into a pretty glade where winter jasmine scented the air, and toffee and fudge hung on bushes and lo! what was that? Why, 'twas the Sugar Plum Pumphrey, resplendent in enormous tutu and pink ballet shoes.
'She's beautiful,' breathed Marie.
'Yes, I am,' said the Sugar Plum Pumphrey, as she pas de deuxed, pirhouetted and jetted (pronounced 'jzcettayed - I can't find an acute accent anywhere on this darn keyboard and I don't want you to think there are any airplanes involved) across the glade with all the grace and elegance of an dyspraxic emu.
The Sugar Plum Pumphrey was joined in her dance by the Fairies of the Candied Peel, the Pixies of the Jellied Fruits and the Elves of the Salted Peanuts. It was all rather marvellous if slightly surreal, and made Marie feel a tad peckish, so the NutCracker took her to his Palace where they feasted on all manner of exotic dishes, a lot of them from Iceland, for that was where Mummy NutCracker did her shopping. (She didn't really, but it is striking me as funny at this moment of writing. I apologise. It has been a long day - got my roots done, shopped in town for a couple of last minute 'bits', had a traumatically ikky moment at a meat counter, tackled a particularly resistant butternut squash, washed, dried and ironed three loads of laundry, larked about a bit with the granddaughters, made a pie, re-jigged the fridge, hoovered - am I feeling a bit hysterical? Probably.)
After the feast, there was dancing, charades, the playing of some honky-tonk at the piano, and much laughter and fun. Eventually, Marie fell asleep under a table. And the NutCracker, feeling that this was not a good place for a young lady to be falling asleep and that it might encourage bad habits in later years, scooped her up and flew her home, safely to her bed.
The following morning, Marie tried to tell her parents what had happened to her. She even showed them as evidence to substantiate her story the seven crowns of the Mouse King, but as usual they did not believe her. Parents, eh?
Marie knew she didn't really have to justify herself to anyone, just like Mary Poppins only without the carpet bag. She'd had a marvellous time and she loved the NutCracker dearly. So quietly and to herself, Marie swore to the NutCracker that if he ever came to life she would love him no matter what he looked like.
And at this exact moment, there was an enormous 'BANG!' and Marie fell from her chair onto the floor.
('She does make a bit of a habit of this falling to the floor lark, doesn't she?' says Camilla, who, because she is playing the role of Marie, is now finding herself covered in bumps and bruises.
'Would you like a padded body suit?' says Primrose. 'Or a body double, perhaps? Darcy Bussell has been pestering for a role ever since we started.'
'I shall continue on in the manner of a true professional,' says Camilla, who, although young, is a bit of a trooper.
'Good,' says Primrose. 'Last Act tomorrow.'
'Thank goodness for that,' says Camilla, to the chorus of a collective sigh of relief.)