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This is what I’ve been working on of late, still trying to choose the best venue for self-pub, Enjoy!

Chapter 1

Nash was crying again. Not that Emeira blamed him or that is, she wouldn’t if servants were allowed to have a say in things. He was the youngest of what had been five children of a minor royal family in a rather large kingdom. That number had not even a month past been reduced to four.

“Ema’ help!”

She set her taper lightly to the lamp above Nash’s soft, much too large for a 3-year-old, bed and then blew it out as the small tear-stained royal crawled into her lap.

“Don’t worry Nash, it was just a bad dream,” she cooed.

The boy clung to her and dislodged her nightcap, sending her messy curls tumbling over them both. “Was it toads again?”

The cascade of whimpered cries that lodged themselves in her shift was a messy assurance. “Things will look up soon young duke. Your father is doing his very best, you’ll see.”

This calmed the child and Emeira shortly had him back asleep, but her own sleep was ruined as she fretted over the lie she had sent Nash back to slumber with. Fenris Lanlin, the heir to the small, but far from shabby, dukedom had been cursed by a witch and sent spinning away in a muddy whirlwind. The remaining children were all under the age of 16, and the next oldest male, Allen, at only 15 was deaf. The Lord to their west had long since made it clear his intent of overrunning the dukedom by way of proposal to the still childlike 15-year-old Elise, who like her twin Allen was deaf. Their father, Duke of Lanlin was a weak, twitchy and scared old man and was cowering under the bullying; very little indeed was being done to find Fenris. Everything was most certainly not going to be all right. As soon Elise as turned 16, the Duke would have to present an eligible heir or accept the marriage proposal under threat of attack. Elise and her twin’s birthday was under a year away, and the only family member with enough backbone to do anything about it seemed to be the Dame of the house Aslieen Carlotta, formally of royal city Travien. Her marriage to the Duke had not been to her liking in her youth and his fearful lack of action enraged her now, but women had very little say in the far holds on the edge of the kingdom. She could release no resources to find her son without her husband’s seal on the orders.

Emeira’s thoughts led her on a wild goose chase around the various members of her new employer’s family before finally settling on the first time she saw Fenris, barely 4 weeks ago. She had been the washerwoman’s hired help at the Duke’s keep, but it was less washing of clothing and more washing of her overseer’s half dozen sticky, spoiled children. It was a local holiday in honor of the Duke’s twin’s, Allen and Elise, 15th birthdays. The villages closest to the keep were invited to the castle to celebrate and hold a small carnival. Word was spread that Fenris had hired a gypsy troop to perform, much to his father’s distaste, and free food and good entertainment were enough to entice even the crankiest farmers out of their hovels for a draught on the Duke’s bill.

It wasn’t enough for a certain cranky washerwoman, but as it so happened, the castle staff had the right to a half day off; as Emeira fell under that category, lowest of the low though she was, she took her holiday anyway. Emeira had just turned her back on the jugglers’ show, which had been spectacular if a little cruel since the deft duo had undertook it to juggle live chickens. They did it well, but she couldn’t help wondering what the chickens would have had to say about it given the choice, when she saw a frazzled middle-aged woman being barred from the court by a side door rather near the large washtubs all stacked up against the wall. It was hot and having nothing better to do than keep the pasty she was eating from getting too sticky in the sun, she ducked under the shade of the largest tub leaning inside to the wall nearest the quarrel.

There was a guard with a banner-decked spear and a tall auburn-haired man, who she quickly recognized as Fenris. Not that she had seen him up close before mind you, but the washerwoman had had her scrubbing that tunic for near half an hour before she declared it clean enough for the Duke’s son and then dumped a squalling 2-year-old with dirty underclothes in her arms to clean, feed, and put down to nap.

“I warn you, apologies or you will pay!” The woman shrieked.

She seemed irate, and from her slow speech and tremors, Emeira guessed she was possibly not altogether sane.

“Madam you were warned twice not to cast spells while in here; since you didn’t abide by the rules, you will leave,” Fenris spoke very concisely, as though to make sure the woman understood.

“I only cast in the name of justice!” she declared haughtily as the guard visibly winced at her high pitched shrieking. Fenris tilted his head up, obviously amused, and looked down his nose at her.

“Madame, casting a fainting spell on a girl for not buying a charm is not anyone else’s idea of justice.”

With the natural grace of the higher born, Fenris turned on one heel and walked off, his shadow melting into the shadow of her hiding spot as the guard locked the door and returned to his post.

She remained long enough to finish her treat in peace and then scrambled out blinking into the sunshine. She was about to go gossip to the baker’s girls in exchange for a treat when a deep shimmer caught her eye. She paused mid-step to look down and saw a damp green stream of something slither past her. The next moment she saw another slither out from under the door and climb up the wall to the ramparts and then another across the ground in another direction. Suddenly her eagerness to relate what she had seen dissolved. Maybe the crazy witch really had the power to make good her threat.

She felt something tugging at her boot and saw the last of the slithers trying to push under her boot, and frightened, she reflexively stepped on it like she would have a spider. The thing exploded with a soft splatter of goop and a muddy festering smell like moldy grass in the sun. Little sparks of green swept up in the air with a small puff before dispersing. Emeira’s fears were instantly belayed. A spell so easily squashed was only likely to curse Fenris with something like an upset stomach. Her fears dispersed, she sought out the fire breathers with a saunter in her step hopefully saucy enough to attract young men with a half-penny or two to spare on candy and ribbons for a kiss.

One apple dumpling and three ribbons later, Emeira was sitting against an empty butter urn that hadn’t found its way to storage before the celebration. It was getting near the end of the supper hour so the royal family and important members of the small court were relaxing at the head table with wine and nuts of a hundred varieties. The Duke was not really looking as though he was enjoying himself. Emeira was sitting just close enough to notice the tic in his right eye. It was probable the gypsies’ fault. Lanlin was infamously superstitious. When his second daughter Annalisa had brought a litter of black kittens into the keep (where she found them was still a mystery, but the 5-year-old was constantly under foot at the stable.), the Duke nearly fainted when the entire group ran across his path chasing an invisible foe on his way to the water closet.  Not only did he throw salt over his shoulder and drown the kittens, he drowned them in the sack that had contained the salt. Annalisa’s kittens were of course replaced almost within the hour by a litter of two whites, a calico, and one bad-tempered tabby.

The Duchess leaned in and whispered something in the Duke’s ear, and his twitch stopped while he stood. At his signal, four trumpeters stepped forward at the front of the dais and sounded the Duke’s hunting call, which in such a small holding doubled for many things, like proclamations. A herald and two servants carting a large canvas-covered cage between them walked onto a platform and began his speech of address to the court. The twins Allen and Elise rose from their seats at the head table and took their places on the platform to the left of the herald and in front of the canvas-covered cage. Thankfully, once they were there, they didn’t have long to wait as the herald’s voice came to the close of the presentation.

Everyone stood to shout. The canvas was snatched off the cage by one servant while the other unlatched it, and an explosion of doves emerged into the sky, probably scared witless by the trumpets. Emeira expected that the twins would be thankful to be deaf if they knew how terrible the trumpeters really were. As it was, Allen’s eyes grew wide and Elise actually jerked as a bird flew past her left side a little too close; Allen grabbed her hand to hold her still again. Emeira wondered if anyone bothered to try and warn them about the birds. Perhaps they didn’t even like birds.

As the small procession on the platform made their way back to their respective places Emeira’s gaze followed the twins. She was contemplating what it would be like to never hear anything when her view of Elise’s sleeve was disrupted by the Duchess’s worried face scanning the court table. It took less than a second to see that Fenris was nowhere in sight. At that instant Emeira’s left foot began itching horribly. She pressed her foot hard against the inside of her boot to make it go away, but then a horrible urge to get up and walk gripped her whole body. She was behind the head table and walking into the castles vaulted receiving hall before the guards on the outside of it could stop her. The thoughts in her head ran roughly along the lines of “myfootitches-ohmy-thoseguardswillrunmethrough-I’mnotsupposedtobehere-isn’tthatalovelyvase-oopsi’mgettingmudontheduke’srugs-whereamigoing?” ending with a “ah, here I am.”

“Here” turned out to be the open doorway of Fenris’s bedroom and Fenris was in it, at least she thought it was him, but she didn’t remember him looking that green. It didn’t seem to be a healthy color. The guards chasing her didn’t seem to think so either, and when they reached her, ran past her in alarm. They dropped to the floor by the side of the bed intent on helping Fenris, but obviously at a loss. Emeira took advantage of their re-directed purpose to run around behind the door and stare as Fenris was looking greener and greener by the minute.

He reached a rather brilliant shade of emerald when he began to shrink. His clothes hung on him like sacks, and the green was still getting greener. He was half the size he was supposed to be within a minute.  The younger guard ran out screaming for help; by the time he was out of her line of vision, Fenris sprouted webs between his fingers; by the time the remaining guards jaw dropped to the floor, he was almost completely hidden inside his clothes and his hair had fallen out.

Emeira stuffed the hem of her sleeve in her mouth to keep from screaming as two vertical black strips appeared at the top of his now very grotesquely shaped head as he fully disappeared inside his tunic. She went limp against the wall, and the guard outright fainted. For the space of three deep frantic breaths there was silence, and then the pile of clothing on the floor took on a life of its own as the left sleeve of Fenris’s shirt began to twitch. Emeira, who was deathly afraid of ghosts, was about to start shrieking in wide-eyed terror when the second guard returned with the Duke, Duchess, three more guards, and a short, square-shouldered bald man of indiscernible age. Any noise she wasn’t able to squelch was swallowed by the Dame Aslieen’s own wails of despair.

Two of the four newly arrived guards went to attend the unconscious one, carefully giving the pile of clothing a wide birth, while the other two stood just outside the door though nearly all their attention was focused inside the room. The Duke and Duchess stood gripping each other’s arms behind the bald man who was prodding the moving sleeve with a thin block-knuckled forefinger. The guards all seemed wary and nervous as his prodding became more explorative when the sleeve gave a hefty jump. A small and green blur leapt out of it onto the bed.

Emeira couldn’t see the Duke or Duchess’s faces, but the Duke gasped and took a large step backwards, pulling his wife with him. The bald man however bent over the frog with a frown on his face. The frog resembled the river frogs very common to the area. Light green with dorsal strips beginning at the top of their heads, large eyes, and very smooth shiny bodies. Normally these frogs were the length of an adult man’s palm and half as wide with deep yellow or amber eyes.

This frog was twice again that and had dark cobalt eyes. It was croaking franticly and kept turning to face the short man as he circled the bed muttering this and that. Finally he threw a hand in the air with and affirmative “ah ha” and pointed at the frogs left forelimb. The duchess nearly swooned at the sight. Emeira had to squint to see but finally it leapt out at her. There on the frogs shoulder was a mark slightly darker green than the surrounding skin, the signet seal of the Duke.

Emeira’s heart sank and her face began to itch as she tried to push the bog witch out of her mind. The Duke released his wife and rushed down on one knee near the edge of the bed.

“William, help him!” He begged. William, the bald man, pondered for a moment as the Duke looked on in fear and then made a few quick simple loops in the air and spoke a spell.

“CLARITY” The frog remained a frog, but now instead of croaking it was talking.

“…it really is me, find that despicable woman and make her change me, oh it seems you can understand me now.” The duchess was the first to move. She ran and sat on the bed and scooped the frog into her lap.

“Fenris darling is it truly you? How has this happened?”

“Who is this woman Fenris?” demanded the Duke.

“If you knew we couldn’t understand you why were you still talking?” asked William.

“Well what would you have done?” This was said with much narrowing of the deep blue frog eyes, but William’s reply was monotone and not without sarcasm.

“Changed myself back.” Emeira wasn’t certain she liked the bluntness of wizards, which really was something of a legend. The Duchess cleared her throat and gave both William and her Frog son a look of distain for being ignored. William fiddled his thumbs, and Fenris launched into a very detailed retelling of his encounter with the witch that afternoon finishing with a resigned “…and now here I am.”

Everyone’s attention moved to William with an air of expectation. It took him a little too long to realize why.

“Oh heavens give me a moment.” He lamented “there are nearly a hundred different spells you could use to turn a person into an animal not to mention any dozens of potions. Figuring this out will be dreadfully tedious and dangerous. Finding the witch would be much safer.” The Duchess moaned and Fenris did his best to comfort her. Despite that fact that being nuzzled by a frog probably isn’t very comforting, Emeira thought it was rather valiant of him considering he was the one in most trouble.

The Duke was now on his feet again and arguing with William. Emeira’s legs were cramping, and she was trying to rearrange herself without being noticed (thank goodness for nobles and their absurdly large doors.) when the sound of small running feet grabbed everyone’s attention, followed by the protest of a heavily breathing woman. Both entered the room at nearly the same time.

“Momma what’s happ’d?” complained the worried little voice of Nash. He came to a stop in front of his mother’s knees, and everyone held their breath (even the nurse who was old and obviously at the moment had no breath to hold at all) as the boy stared eye to eye with the giant frog on his mother’s lap. His back was to Emeira, but she heard him sniff and then saw his bottom lip quiver as he turned a sad face to his father and then back to the frog. “Fen-Fenri?” he asked, before bursting into tears. Aslieen brushed a motherly hand against his face, her own eyes filling with tears.

“Don’t worry pet, William will fix him again. It’s just a little frog spell.” Nash broke away from her to run around the bed and stare up at William with his trusting 3-year-old eyes.

“Don’t forget nothing ‘portant, will he still be taller than me?” Emeira wanted to choke on his naive trust and was immediately in love with the small boy. Apparently the same charm worked on the Wizard and he bent down and picked the boy up.

“Well maybe just a little shorter so you can catch up faster hmm?” Nash nodded and then the nurse, who was looking very unsure of this whole thing but wasn’t about to let Nash see it, took him from the Wizard.

“Come on Nash, we must leave William to work in peace.” This seemed good to Nash, and he allowed himself to be taken out of the room. The Duke had the two guards in the room leave with the still unconscious guard from the floor carried out between them. Aslieen placed Fenris back onto the center of the bed. Fenris was the first to break the silence.

“Well, might as well begin William.”

The Wizard sighed and for the next hour he tried every spell he knew against animalized people. He used herbs, and potions, chants, and symbols, but in the end he was worn out and Fenris was looking very much still like a frog.

“I’m sorry Fenris, but we really do need the witch who put the spell on you.” The Duke seemed ready to start yelling at the Wizard again and the back of his neck became very red before apparently thinking better of it. He gave orders to the guards outside instead.

“Go organize a search party to find the witch who cast the spell. Offer a reward for any aid in her capture.” The guards left and the Duke’s shoulders slumped down as he sat on the bed next to his heir in silent frustration and remorse. Emeira was feeling very uncomfortable and awkward. She was torn between fear of being discovered and wanting to reveal herself so she could leave. In the end, she did neither. The Duchess gave a sigh and murmured,

“The family.” Carefully Fenris climbed into his father’s open hands, and they all left the room. Emeira waited until the silence began to spook her and then left. She ducked into the first servant’s door she came across and thankfully found the washerwoman’s cramped quarters still empty of her employer and children. She took advantage of this by taking a cold bath, and she paid extra attention to her apparently possessed left foot.

The next day the castle grounds were buzzing along with most of the village. Apparently the guard who fainted had immediately resigned upon waking and then spent the whole night in the dank pub telling the story of the cursed heir to everyone whether or not they wanted to listen. Mostly they did. Word of the reward got around just as quick, and so everyone found it immensely disappointing when the bog witch turned herself in just before tea time, complete with a basket of cakes on her arm as if she had been invited.

Emeira was elbow deep in stockings, undergarments, and two crying children when she heard the news. The butler who normally served the tea stopped in the hall to gossip to a page boy about her unexpected (not to mention anticlimactic) arrival in Dame Aslieen’s tea room in front of all of her children, including a still very green and depressed Fenris.

Apparently Nash’s nurse stood up upon the witch’s self-introduction, announced her retirement, and left. The Duke, William, and Duchess were negotiating with the witch right that moment. That was all the initiative Emeira needed. She pulled her arms out of the tub, pulled her apron out of sticky fingers, announced her own retirement to the shocked head washerwoman, and headed straight for the tea room shedding the dirty apron on her way out.

She was in luck for Dame Aslieen was wrestling with her youngest outside the tea room doorway, which having no doors provided a full view of everyone inside.

“NO! Not gonna leave” Nash was unceremoniously declaring. Aslieen was desperate to be by Fenris’s side, but totally unwilling to let another son be near the witch unguarded and in possible danger. Emeira ran up and curtsied. “Nurse hired me as her replacement, Madame.” Aslieen looked her up and down dubiously, but was out of options.

“He won’t leave, but keep him in the hallway. I don’t want him to be at risk.”

Emeira gathered Nash up and took several steps backwards until her back was against the wall and then slid down it, her eyes never off the beehive of nobles, guards, and witch inside. Nash made no protest perhaps even his 3-year-old mind knew he had barely won this allowance and settled into her lap without fret or even too much elbowing or knee-jabbing.

The tea room had been designed for privacy as it had once been the war chamber of sorts before such and such built a new one after such and such a war an uninteresting number of years back. Despite its lack of doors, now very little understandable noise came through since everyone seemed to be talking at once. This continued for quite some time before the busy noise turned into angry noise, which quickly resulted in the witch being put in shackles, and the order was given to imprison her.

Emeira’s left foot by this time was itching again, and Nash began to whimper. Dame Aslieen was weeping in frustration and the Duke was remarkably purple in the face. William looked very on-guard trying his best to put himself in-between Fenris, who was on a small table next to a cup of now very cold tea, and the witch. Unfortunately the guards were very unhelpful and kept getting in his way. The witch hocked her head back and spit on Fenris as she passed, and for a minute everyone stood still at the insult to injury. The witch smiled (Emeira’s foot was almost numb from throbbing), and then a smell like swamp water and lightening immersed itself throughout the room and wafted into the hallway. Nash sneezed and then shrieked as Fenris was picked up by a spout of muddy water and sent twirling around in spirals like some unseen hand was stirring air and mud into a miniature whirlwind. In fact it did grow into quite a decent-sized whirlwind. It was roughly the height of a man when it spun out of the room through the open east window and spun off twice as fast as any horse, disappearing with a trail of mud and cattails in its wake.

Like it? Leave a comment, and go to my contact page and email me. I’ll send you the next couple of chapters! (Just put “The Frog Prince” in the subject line.

 

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3 Comments

  1. So many typos in that comment I left. You’ll figure it out 🙂

    • lol. I’m in that “push after all the procrastination” stage to get this epub done before Nanowrimo, I won’t really have time to bother with it until after that.

  2. Awesome! I love what I’ve read in your story so far, but we left town for about two weeks and now we’re about to leave again… I may not be able to pick it up again until after NaNo! I really excited to hear that your going to be self-publishing. I know a writer who just went through all of that. Her name is Jess Lourey and she was fun to follow of FB during it all because she talked all about it, step by step. Too bad she’s not taking about it much anymore…


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