Morli is a prince of Udrodia. A prince despised by his parents for not being a conniving ruthless man, like his elder brother. Morli would love most to find a kindhearted man to cherish him, and to continue to bake in the castle kitchen—all the recipes that his mind could devise. Alas, the king and queen have sent him on a mission that is sure to fail and to end in his death: to save Princess Osenne of Vraelum. It is rumored that the princess, who is in an enchanted sleep in a tower guarded by a magical bramble, has an enormous dowry, and Morli’s parents would like to add that to their fortune. Morli wishes he can go against this order, but it is a question of his honor, and he has been long taught that honor is worth dying for—even if he has no interest in marrying the sleeping Osenne.
Baxter is a single gay man, living in Modesto, California, where he relocated only weeks before the COVID pandemic broke. He’s got brand-new job in a brand-new locale and is now a shut-in due to quarantine. He bakes a bit, experimenting with recipes that don’t always turn out. He has been using his great-aunt’s recipe book, which may or may not be a grimoire, as she man have been a witch.
One recipe, for Happiness, is particularly intriguing and Baxter’s substitutions lead not to “happiness” per se, but to bringing Morli to life in his realm from the yeast bread dough and compost scraps. Baxter does not believe in magic, but Morli’s advent in Baxter’s isolated backyard is a head-spinner. As are the other magical moments Baxter writes off as weird, or unsettling, instead of their true nature. It’s a bit of time before either man can deduce what happened, but it’s immediately clear the Morli is in danger in this strange realm, and he needs Baxter’s help to adjust.
Meanwhile, Morli and Baxter get on like peanut butter and jelly, and it seems that they might in fact be able to begin a romance. However, honor is involved once again. For Baxter, he sees the imbalance of power that his housing and feeding and clothing Morli might present. He doesn’t want to have any experience that might lead Morli to feel coerced. And, Morli recognizes that in order for he and Baxter to be together, he needs to stand on his own two feet, something he can’t really do here in Baxter’s realm. There must be a touch of magic in Baxter, Morli notes, otherwise his spell for happiness would not have pulled Morli to him. So, they work on how to return Morli to his own time and realm, with initially disastrous results.
This is a modern fairy tale and part of the Magic Emporium collection of standalone, shared world stories. This is a fun and interesting twist on the “sleeping beauty” fairytale, as we are following the hero’s journey. It’s quirky and engaging, with all sorts of real-life detail independent of the setting. Udrodia felt as real to me as Modesto, and I’ve BEEN in Modesto. Morli’s heart and intentions are so pure, and Baxter’s life is so lonely that Morli’s magical whimsy is welcome and even celebrated. I loved how these guys were so considerate of one another, and how their camaraderie built in small ways, since Baxter is pretty tense about strangers, especially green-haired ones appearing in his back yard that smell like fresh-baked bread. Their love story is tempered by the adventure and their perceived obligations, and being honorable is the most important part of each of their lives, for different reasons.
This is such a great story, with Morli and Baxter each finding their heart’s desire.