Authors: E. D. Baker
A Prequel to
the Tales of the Frog Princess
E. D. BAKER
This book is dedicated to Ellie for being my first reader; to Kimmy, Nate, Emiko, Sophie, and Andy for their love and support; to Victoria for her insight; and to all my wonderful fans for being so encouraging.
ike everyone else, Grassina knew exactly how important the Green Witch was to Greater Greensward. Not only did the Green Witch have to defend the kingdom from invaders, whether magical or mundane, she also had to ensure that everything was in good working order, like the roads, the moat, and the castle itself. It was a full-time job, made doubly hard when she had royal duties as well.
Grassina’s mother, Queen Olivene, had been the Green Witch since before her daughters were born. Although the queen wasn’t very old, everyone knew that someday, someone would have to replace her. Since the title usually passed from mother to daughter, the whole kingdom had been watching Grassina’s older sister, Chartreuse, for some sign that she had inherited her mother’s talent for magic. Unfortunately, that sign had yet to show itself, and everyone was getting tired of waiting, especially thirteen-year-old Grassina.
Grassina set her hand on one of the thistles that grew at the edge of the moat and jerked it back, scowling. It wasn’t fair. Chartreuse always got whatever she wanted— a horde of suitors, lessons in magic, a new kitten . . . Grassina, on the other hand, had to make do with her leftovers, just because she was the younger sister. Even her instructor in deportment, Lady Sophronia, had taught Chartreuse first, something the old woman mentioned daily. Whereas Chartreuse had been a prize pupil, Grassina was sadly lacking. Her curtsies were either too deep or not deep enough. Chartreuse’s had been exactly right. Grassina’s small talk wasn’t witty. Chartreuse knew how to captivate everyone in the room. Grassina had yet to master the air of command that Lady Sophronia insisted all princesses must have. Everyone from scullery maids to the greatest noblemen paid attention to Chartreuse. Grassina’s ineptness with her lessons didn’t bother her at all; although she loved to learn, she didn’t think anything Sophronia had to say was important enough to worry about. Chartreuse, of course, had considered her own deportment lessons vital.
Grassina was sure that even if Chartreuse hadn’t mastered the art of courtly behavior, she would have been the court favorite. While Grassina hated her carrot red hair and too many freckles, Chartreuse was always tossing her honey gold curls and admiring her creamy complexion in the mirror. No matter what Chartreuse did, she was always pretty. She even looked good when she cried, because it made her blue eyes dewy so that she seemed sweet and vulnerable. All crying did to Grassina was turn her face red and splotchy.
Wiping a drop of blood from her pricked finger, she sat back on her heels, waiting impatiently for her sister to finish her lesson. Grassina had been kneeling beside the moat for so long that her legs were getting numb. That morning she’d overheard her mother telling Chartreuse where they would meet for their daily magic lesson, giving Grassina just enough time to look for a hiding place. The pile of stone blocks left over from repairing the tower was only a few yards from the edge of the moat, close enough to listen in on the conversation. It hid her if she stayed put, but wasn’t big enough to conceal her if she moved more than a foot in either direction. Grassina shifted her weight ever so carefully, trying not to make a sound. Leaving before the lesson ended was out of the question since she wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place and her mother was bound to see her if she stood up.
A medium-sized fish chased a school of minnows just below the smooth surface of the moat. Queen Olivene sighed and shook her head, turning to her older daughter. “You need to sound more confident when you recite a spell, Chartreuse. Listen closely. I’ll do it again so you can hear what I mean. It’s very simple, really. Just trace the letters in the water with your finger and say,
Bubbles small and bubbles large,
Put yourselves within my charge.
On the water, write my name.
’Round it set a lovely frame.
Bubbles formed, gathering on the surface of the water until the name
became legible and a circle of bubbles surrounded the word. The queen’s name floated in place until a curious gray green fish rose to the surface and tried to bite one of the larger bubbles. The bubble burst with a loud
, scaring the fish away. Grassina giggled, then clapped her hand over her mouth to stifle the sound. Chartreuse turned around and glanced in her direction, wearing a haughty look of disdain, which might have been more intimidating if Grassina hadn’t caught her practicing that very same expression in a mirror that morning.
Knowing that there was no use hiding any longer, Grassina sighed and stood up. Queen Olivene frowned at her younger daughter. “Did you skip your lesson in deportment again? I’m sure Lady Sophronia is looking everywhere for you.”
“I finished my lesson,” said Grassina, her legs prickling as she shifted from one foot to the other.
“You’re always poking your nose into things that don’t concern you,” said Chartreuse. “It isn’t as if you’re going to get any magic. For two hundred years the firstborn daughter in our family has been the Green Witch. As the eldest . . .”
“I can’t help it if I’m curious,” said Grassina. “I love watching you do magic, Mother.”
“It’s your sister’s turn now,” said Olivene, and she turned back to Chartreuse. “I want you to try it again, but this time you have to show me that you believe in what you’re doing.”
“That’s just it,” said Chartreuse. “How can I believe it will work when it never has before?”
“It will in due time,” said Olivene. “My grandmother didn’t come into her magic until she was seventeen.”
“So you’ve told me,” muttered Chartreuse, her lips pursing into a pout. Dipping her finger in the water, Chartreuse wrote her name while repeating the spell in a more commanding tone. When nothing happened, she sighed and turned to her mother. “Tell me again what Father said about your magic when you first met.”
A slow smile lit Olivene’s face. “He told me that even without my magic, I was the most fascinating woman he’d ever met, but with my magic I was irresistible. I don’t know how many times he said that he was honored that my parents had chosen him.”
Chartreuse sighed. “That’s so sweet. When I get married, it will be to a man who feels that way about me. He’s going to love me to distraction and put me above everything else. He’ll bring me gifts and take me to tournaments and write poems about my beauty just like Father did for you.”
“That was a long time ago and we were both young,” said Olivene. “Most husbands aren’t so attentive.”
“Mine will be,” said Chartreuse. “I’m going to marry for love. Maybe Torrance or Limelyn. They’re both very handsome.”
For the last few months, one prince after another had come to visit from various kingdoms, hoping to win Chartreuse’s hand in marriage. She had enjoyed all the attention and had been delighted when some of her more serious suitors decided to remain at the castle until she made up her mind.
“A handsome face isn’t all you should be looking for,” said Olivene.
“I know that. They have other good qualities, too. Torrance writes songs about me. He has the most wonderful singing voice, and his eyes . . . Have you noticed what a lovely shade of blue they are? Some of my friends fancy themselves in love with him. I think I might be, too. He says he’ll have another song for me tonight.”
“Prince Torrance comes from a good kingdom,” said Queen Olivene. “But he wouldn’t be your best choice. He’s a second son, and his elder brother is reputed to be exceedingly healthy.”
“There’s also Limelyn,” said Chartreuse. “He’s terribly brave and has the nicest smile. I feel tingly when he kisses my hand.”
Grassina stood up and stretched. “Have you noticed that she doesn’t care if either of them has a brain or is honest or true? The man I marry must have a good heart and love me for myself. He must be smart and caring and—”
“No one asked for your opinion, pipsqueak,” said Chartreuse.
Queen Olivene didn’t look happy. “Limelyn is also a second son. His kingdom is small and poor. He wouldn’t bring enough to the marriage to make it worth your while.”
Chartreuse extended her hand over the water. “I’m going to try that spell again. Maybe if I concentrate harder . . .”
“Careful,” said Grassina. “You’ll give yourself a headache.”
Chartreuse smiled sweetly at her sister. “Be nice, Grassina, and maybe I’ll let you marry one of the other princes. Not Stephen or Clarence; they’re both too serious, and I’ve never seen either one smile. Miguel, perhaps. You like animals and such, so you won’t mind that he doesn’t talk about anything except horses and dogs. I think he’s a tremendous bore. I’m sure you’d find him fascinating.”