It is Christmas Eve. A fairy, Emerald, waits in the cave of the witch Mother Nightshade, having asked Titania, Queen of the Fairies, to find three princes as husbands for the daughters of a poor woodcutter. But Emerald has received a letter from Titania, telling her that only two princes can be found,
...owing to modern social evolution
And European revolution
And this and that...
Mother Nightshade arrives, and reveals that it has been left up to her to provide the third husband — much to Emerald’s dismay, as Mother Nightshade has an evil reputation. But Titania has given Nightshade her ring, so Emerald has to obey her.
The witch is to make three mince-pies, putting into each the girls’ respective fates: two will bring a prince as a husband, the third will bring “a man without a friend”. Nightshade retreats to the back of her cave to make the pies.
The three daughters of the woodcutter arrive. They are Rosa (20), Violetta (18) and Lila (16). Emerald tells them what is to happen. Rosa and Lila are dead-set on only having the richest and handsomest of princes for husbands, but the quiet Violetta simply wants someone she can love.
Nightshade returns with the pies. Rosa and Lila are afraid of her, but Violetta fancies “music came with the witch’s voice”, and is kind to her. The three girls choose a pie each, and discover magic writing on them which seems to confirm the ambitious girls’ hopes. Lila’s says: “She who me takes/Fortune shakes”. Rosa’s says: “She who me eats/Day-dawn greets”. Violetta’s is the dubious: “She who me chooses/Nothing loses”. They eat the pies.
Mother Nightshade now unmasks herself — she was Queen Titania in disguise (the real Nightshade is under a magical sleep at the back of the cave). She reveals the three girls’ fates. Rosa and Lila are indeed going to marry princes — not quite up to their high expectations, but princes nonetheless. Violetta’s “man without a friend”, however, is a king:
Courtiers a king has, smiling out their lies—
They’re not his friends. Let him be dispossessed
They’ll disappear like smoke. Ministers he has,
Each wishing to be a little king beneath him—
Neither are they his friends...
Titania also says she will grant Emerald a wish, for planning this good deed. Emerald wishes never to be mortal, because she has been frightened enough by what she’s felt this day, and knows that being mortal would only make such feelings all the more intense. Titania grants this wish, until such time as Emerald should change her mind, which she says will happen one day.
Finally, Mother Nightshade is woken and told that she, too, will receive a boon: she will start to remember her childhood, particularly in moments when she is alone or plans to do harm. By this, she will be guided to changing her ways from evil to good.
The play ends with a song sung by all six characters.