The Frog Prince's Daughters
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by Wendy Palmer
Description: In a land where beautiful princesses confidently anticipate adventure and rescue, where step-mothers must almost certainly be evil, where first and second princes are losers, and where the fairy tales have power to create reality, the arrival of a wizard seeking to strike down a beautiful (if not too bright) princess is no surprise. The surprise is that no prince is forthcoming. So Rana, the princess's cousin, decides to take matters into her own hands. Of course, this only makes things worse. Wendy Palmer writes a charming and fresh take on the classic fairy tale, combining adventure, tongue-in-cheek humor and a touch of heart-warming romance.
eBook Publisher: BooksForABuck, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: August 2009
31 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [377 KB]
Reading time: 244-342 min.
Once upon a time, when wishing still worked, a princess whose beauty dazzled the sun lost her golden ball down the well of her father's castle. Peering down the smelly dank shaft, she wept for the loss of her favourite toy. But she had a hundred favourite toys and this one might have soon been forgotten if a frog had not heard her distress and retrieved the ball for her.
He held it between clammy webbed toes and regarded her with eyes as golden as the ball, resting on the edge of the well. The ball had sunk straight to the bottom and he had dived a long way through silty water to reach it, and strained hard to carry the heavy thing back to the princess.
But the princess did not heed his gasping and held her hands out for the ball.
'I will give it back to you,' said the frog. 'If you grant me three wishes.'
The princess was neither surprised at the frog's human tongue nor alarmed by his request. She took the ball from him and ran back to the castle, and thought no more of it.
That night, a great thumping came against the solid castle doors. 'Let me in,' called the frog, in his reedy voice. 'The princess owes me three wishes.'
'Is this so, daughter?' the king demanded.
The princess hung her head, and the frog was allowed in.
'She must feed me from a golden plate,' he said.
The princess demurred, but the king well knew the two-edged sword of obligation. He insisted. His daughter, his youngest and most precious, laid delicacies of chicken liver and white asparagus upon the tongue of the frog while he lolled upon a gold-threaded satin cushion. She finally had to smile at his contented greediness. The king circumspectly sent back a certain titbit, a delicacy made to a recipe recently come from France, so as not to upset their unexpected guest's appetite.
The frog, sated, said, 'I will sleep upon her golden pillow.'
Now the princess truly did protest. 'I cannot, Father, I cannot. This slimy ugly cold creature!'
'Frogs aren't slimy,' said the frog, placidly.
Even the king glanced askance at the guest. But she had promised, and so she would obey.
'He may sleep upon my pillow,' she said. 'But he did not say I also had to sleep there.'
The princess was determined and smug in her trickery, but a glimmering sadness in the frog's eyes touched her heart. She laid her head upon the golden pillow and did not flinch, not even when the frog snuggled into her hair.
She slept soundly and dreamt only of sweet and beautiful things. In the morning, the frog whispered into her ear. 'Now she must touch her lips to mine.'
The thought of kissing the frog repulsed her but she had learnt her lesson. She placed her soft lips to his and was surprised by their warmth. The warmth grew and grew and suddenly there before her stood a tall and handsome prince.
'A witch cursed me,' he said, taking her hand as she stared up at him. 'And you have freed me, beautiful princess.'
The princess could do no other than profess her undying love. As is so often the case, they lived happily ever after.
And had children...
* * * *
Part 1: Seeking
It began the year the king remarried and Anura turned sixteen, when the roses came out and failed to rival the beauty of the princess. She had spent the whole of spring catching light and flower-scent in her golden hair, and the castle held its breath and waited for her prince to come. But he did not, and he did not, and he did not.
When spring turned to summer and the geese came back to hunt frogs in the pond, Rana, cousin to the princess, resorted to a borrowed copy of the Book and read through the histories for mention of an obstinately late prince.
Rana was more avoiding her cousin than expecting a real solution from the Book--the sighing and moping and fairytale beauty were enough to test anyone's patience, let alone Rana's famous dearth of it. She had to bite her tongue to keep herself from pointing out that someday Anura's prince would come but it didn't have to be that particular day.
Anura caught her out, finding her in the sun-greyed gazebo by the pond, its latticed sides open to the breeze. Rana was curled up on old cushions with a jug of mead and the sharp white cheese from the south.
'Rana, if you would let me near a spindle, or an apple, or even my own stepmother, you would not have to go back through those stupid old stories trying to work out why my prince hasn't come.'
Rana put the leatherbound volume aside. Anura was right. Their answer was within the castle, not the Book. Her name was Amaryths, and she had married the king a month ago.
But all she said, tartly, was, 'I'd rather not be ensorcelled into one hundred years of sleep just so you can have a wake-up kiss.'
Anura smiled to Rana's sharp tongue, in her pretty way, and sat absently picking at the seam of a faded red cushion. The smile withered and Rana waited.
'There's a very pretty scullery maid working in the kitchen,' the princess admitted, having picked open the seam and released feathers to float in the air about her.
She often had delicate things floating around her now, feathers, rose petals, a sweep of leaves, strands of moonlight like the fabled white-gold pearls of Joyri. That, and the scent of her, and the way her golden hair fell, and her pale brow, were all reasons why a scullery maid, even a very pretty one, should not have worried her. Except--she was at the very zenith of her fairytale potential, and her prince had not yet come.
Rana made herself raise a scornful eyebrow to that worry. 'Oh, please,' she scoffed. 'It's your turn, Anura.'
Her turn in the way the Domain worked, where fathers of beautiful yet well-mannered children counted on riches or at least a comfortable retirement, and kings and queens made lists of their neighbours' eligible children and tried to predict which fairytale Imperative would ensnare them.
Anura normally listened to Rana, but now she would only be appeased when they heard a splashing and she sprang to the other side of the gazebo in time to see a frog escaping into the depths. At least, she called out to Rana that it was a frog, a fine omen.
Rana privately suspected it could have been a flash of a carp's fin and Anura still would have claimed it for herself. 'You don't need omens. You just need to be patient.'
The princess turned to her, smiling, possibly at the idea of Rana counselling patience, but the smile transformed to a drilling shriek. She backed away, staring wide-eyed at something over Rana's shoulder, her hands clenched to her sun-brightened cheeks.
Rana stood to face the vine-shaded entrance to the gazebo, heart beating hard, thinking that finally the tale had begun and the prince would come. She held her only weapon, the little age-darkened copy of the Book she had taken from the Archive that morning. She half-expected the stepmother, Amaryths.
All she saw was a slender and sleek young man, strange only in his peculiar costume, but nothing to be afraid of. He was not tall, though taller than Rana, and wore a long white tunic with sweeping sleeves, and loose trousers of the same light material. His feet were bare.
The oddity of him was the paint he wore, all along his visible left side, from the very tips of his hair to the ends of his toenails; she assumed it continued under his clothes too. The bright red and blue and green and yellow paintwork decorated him in an intricate pattern difficult to look at and impossible to make sense of. On his right side, the unpainted side, he sported straight black hair to the nape of his neck, and clear bronze skin. His dark eyes regarded her unblinkingly. He was very quietly humming to himself.
The garishness of one side of his face and the blandness of the other made his expression hard to read, but Rana would have sworn he was puzzled as he returned her own frowning and confused regard.
His attention switched to the still-screaming Anura, and he lifted his hands and threw fire at her.