by Sarina Dorie
Morwynne the semi-wicked witch stirred her cauldron over the hearth. Golden light danced across her visage, the rest of the cottage cast in shadows. “Bubble, bubble, toil and… Toil and—Oh, blast! I always forget the last part.”
“Ahem.” I cleared my throat, passing up an excellent opportunity to snatch up a fly floating just above the jar of bat wings on the table where I perched. “I believe the word you are looking for is ‘trouble.’ And if you’re going to do it correctly, it’s ‘Double, double,’ not ‘Bubble, bubble’…”
The witch turned from the fire, her good eye cast upon me. The vivid azure contrasted sharply with the other one which was white with cataracts. “Nay, Prince Charming, ‘tis rubble. Bubble, bubble toil and rubble… Fire, fire, burning higher, make this spell something… uh, liar… sire… pyre…”
I rolled my eyes and ribbeted in vexation. It was bad enough she was so cliché, but she was beginning to lose her memory. Not that this was always a bad thing. This might be an opportunity for me to undo the spell she had cast upon me. How I wished to be a human once again.
I hopped across the cluttered table of ancient volumes, magical herbs, and animal bones. I hid behind the basket of poisoned apples.
The witch stared up at the ceiling, scratching her wart-covered chin as she tested rhymes. The cat was out of view. The chubby child locked in the cage near the door paid me no mind. Even painted in shadows as he was, I could observe he was far more interested in the crusts of sugar still stuck to his fingers.
I leapt behind the hourglass and shot out a green, webbed hand to turn the page of the spellbook. It opened to the page I had marked—the spell for restoring frog princes back to their normal selves. My heart raced with excitement.
The child stopped licking his fingers long enough to tattle. “That toad touched your book!”
Blasted little brat!
“I protest! I am not a toad. I’m a frog,” I corrected.
Morwynne returned the page to the spell she’d started. She squinted at the spell book on the table. “Eye of newt, toe of—”
“Dog, it definitely says dog,” I quickly supplied. I hopped to the far side of the table and leapt onto the grimy stone floor to hide behind the broom where it leaned against the bookcase. Waiting in the darkest corner, I remembered the last fiasco when she hadn’t been able to read the fine print of the spell book.
She shuffled over to the spice rack on the wall. “Where is the baby venom?”
My eyes swiveled to the canister full of shimmering blue liquid on the table, hoping she wouldn’t spot it. An idea formed in my mind, taking shape into a plan to get rid of her long enough to back to my former self. I managed to mask my eagerness under a throaty croak. “Baby venom should be between the baboon’s blood and the basil.”
The witch must have found the empty space between spices; she released a litany of curses that a proper gentleman such as myself would dare not repeat.
“My step-mother says cursing will cause your tongue to rot,” the child said from behind the bars of the cage.
Rotting tongues should have been the least of that child’s worries.
Morwynne paced the length of the room. “How shall I complete the spell for my beauty potion without the secret ingredient? I have but this eve when the waxing of the moon is the strongest and the veil between worlds is at its thinnest. I haven’t enough time to collect baby venom.”
If the magic of this eve was strong enough to make Morwynne young, it would also be strong enough to aid me in the spell I needed.
I hopped across the floor, passing the stack of enchanted cauldrons and the boy in the cage. “You could do something unconventional and go out to buy some.” I leapt onto the rickety stool to the witch’s right, eying the spell book again. I was almost close enough to turn the page back. I knew the first two ingredients. Mayhap I could memorize the spell.
“Leave the house? Looking like this?” Morwynne smoothed a hand over her wrinkled face and gazed down at her threadbare robes in disgust.
“Come now, you look not a day over a hundred and fifty,” I said. With her cobweb-like hair, hunched-over posture and weathered skin, she could have passed for a hag half her age.
“How old are you?” the child in the cage asked.
Instead of answering, Morwynne looked to me. “Prince Charming, do you think baby venom is the kind of ware they just sell at any village market place? And as midnight draws nigh no less?”
“You could try that new twenty-four hour store, Witch-mart.”
She pursed her puckered lips as if thinking it over and nodded. She shuffled over to her broom. “Let’s see, what am I forgetting? Do I have everything I need for a quick journey?” She patted the small pouch of coins at her belt.
“Underwear? A corset? Your flying license?”
“Mr. Fluffy,” She made a kissy noise to the shadows. “You’re in charge while I’m afar. It’s up to you to make sure Prince Charming stays away from the spell book and doesn’t do anything that might cause himself harm.”
She shook the dust from her pointed black hat and straddled the broom. I covered my eyes, hoping she wouldn’t crash. She only knocked over a shelf of books this time as she took off through the open window. Still, the boy in the cage let out a startled cry.
I hopped up onto the table to read the spellbook. I would need to make haste in order to reverse my curse. The witch might only be gone for half an hour if she rushed. Her current spell called for the fat of a chubby child, a virgin’s blood, and a hair of a hare.
I glanced at the child still licking his fingers. I would need assistance if I was to finish before she returned.
The boy looked up. “What?”
I was about to turn the page to the spell I most desired, when the hiss of Mr. Fluffy—a.k.a. Mr. Evil—cut through the air. I turned to stare up at the black cat perched on the stool. Just as he swiped a claw at me, I launched myself off the table. The stool fell to the ground with a clatter. I hid under the cover of the books near the window the witch had left in her wake.
Mr. Evil situated himself on the spell book at the table. He meowed in a most threatening manner.
With one eye on my nemesis, I bounded across the room. Keeping to the most shadowy regions, I approached the cage.
The chubby boy clad in lederhosen leapt back from the iron bars. “Ah! A toad! Stay away! I don’t want warts!”
Fine, he wanted to believe I had warts. I would use that to my advantage. “Heed my words, boy. If you don’t, I’ll touch you and contaminate you with the worst case of warts the world has ever seen.”
I edged farther into the cage, quite enjoying this power of fear I was able to instill as a frog. The child squirmed away, visibly shaking.
I bestowed a regal bow. “I’m prepared to make you a deal. I’ll let you out of this cage on the condition you assist me in getting rid of the cat.” I eyed the crusts of sugar on the child’s cheeks from his previous meal. “And if I let you out, you can’t eat any more of the cottage.”
The boy’s lips quivered and tears filled his eyes. “I promise. Please let me out.”
I hopped out of the cage, keeping one eye on Mr. Evil as I bounced up and unbolted the lock. The child crawled out.
“Now, pick up the cat, throw him out the window, and draw the shutters,” I said.
Mr. Evil meowed a most ominous warning from where he rested on the book. His eyes flashed gold in the firelight.
“Oh, those apples look so delicious.” The child reached for a red apple in the basket on the table.
“No!” A few ribbits escaped my mouth. “Those are not for you. Just walk around the table where the cat is.”
I tapped a green, webbed foot with impatience. Every moment of delay was time that could have been spent turning me to my former self. The boy licked his lips.
“They have worms,” I said.
The boy’s shoulders slumped. He lifted the cat from the book. The cat snuggled up against him and purred.
“He’s so cute,” the boy said.
I jumped from foot to foot in agitation. “The window. Go to the window.”
Precious seconds ticked away as the boy inched toward the window and dropped Mr. Evil out into the night. As the boy ran his hand over the icing just outside the windowsill, I prompted him. “Now, close the shutters so he can’t get back in.”
The child moved unbearably slow. I wondered if all children were so awkward and bumbling. Once I was human, I would avoid all the sticky, little brats like him.
“Hansel! Hansel!” a girl’s voice from outside cried.
The boy waved. “Gretel, I’m free. I’ll be out in just a moment.” The boy ran toward the door.
With one powerful leap from my brawny legs I beat him there. “Nay, you shan’t leave until you close those shutters.”
The child rushed back toward the window, drew the shutters, then ran out the front door, paying me no mind when I asked him to close it. I pushed against it with all my might. Slowly the door inched closer to the frame. A cat meowed nearby. I used my back legs to push against the floor. It crept toward the frame.
Mr. Evil slipped through the opening, padded across the room and jumped onto the table. He settled himself again on the spell book.
I would be a prince again, with or without that spell. Yet Morwynne might return at any moment. Fortunately, there was more than one way to make a prince.
I stole up the gingerbread tower, a more recent addition to our cottage. I jumped up the stairs one by one—quite the task as there were three hundred of them. By the time I reached the landing, I was out of breath. It took three tries before I was able to unlatch the door. There at the window of the little room sat a princess, her long, blond hair trailing out the window. I suppose she might have been considered beautiful if one was into porcelain complexions, lips as red as roses and delicate features. Perhaps this one would turn out to be a real princess, not some charlatan posing as nobility simply to seduce some knight into rescuing her.
I had experience with these kinds of supposed princesses. Princes could never be too careful. I was fortunate I had spent this time as a frog learning of their deceitful ways.
“Ahem,” said I. “I am here to rescue you. And perhaps you might grant me a tiny favor for doing so, if I might be so bold to ask.”
The princess’s voice was shrill. “I imagined my knight-in-shining-armor would be a bit more… um… well, less green.”
I bowed. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Prince Charming. I’m a cursed prince trapped in the body of a frog. Rumor has it, only the kiss of a princess can cure me from my affliction.”
Frowning, she looked me over.
Time was wasting. I needed her to kiss me before Morwynne returned so we could escape—once I was in my rightful form. I puffed up my chest and let out my most majestic ribbit. “I might be really handsome and rich when I’m a human.”
She crossed her arms, suspicion crossing her pinched visage. “Do you not know?”
“Um, well, no. I’ve been a frog for a very long time. I believe my human memories have slipped away. But surely if my name is Prince Charming I must be rich, handsome and charming,” I said.
The idea of riches and lust for a handsome prince won her over. Had I not needed a princess so badly, I would have turned my nose up at her. But I was desperate.
She lifted me to her lips, closed her eyes, and bestowed a dry, puckery kiss. Ever the gentleman, I tried to subtly wipe my mouth.
“I didn’t feel any magic,” she said.
Neither did I. In fact, it was rather disgusting kissing a princess. Her lips were as smooshy and chapped as the others. Most disappointing of all, I appeared just as green. She probably wasn’t a real princess like the rest. “Maybe you should try using a little tongue.” I flicked my tongue out to demonstrate.
She dropped me, shrinking back. “Nay, I think not.”
“There is another way you could help me. I just need you to go downstairs, hold the cat as I look at the spellbook, and then turn it to page three hundred forty-seven.”
“Oh, is that all? Certainly.” She dragged her golden braid up through the window and let it trail after her. Had I been human, I would have carried her. Instead, I took advantage of my current state while I could; I hopped onto the rope-like hair, enjoying the ride down the stairs. It was so much better than walking down the stairs as she did. Humans did come in handy at times.
Upon entering the witch’s kitchen, the princess asked, “What’s this?” She reached out toward the spinning wheel in the shadows of the bookcase.
“No, that’s not for you,” I said. “It’s quite sharp. And I don’t think you really want a hundred years of slumber. Think what it would do to your hair. A hundred years of snarls.”
She nodded and turned toward the spell book. She shooed Mr. Evil away.
“Page three hundred and forty-seven, if you will.”
She flipped through the pages, occasionally pausing to scrunch up her nose.
“No, that was it!” I croaked. “You had it. Go back!”
The princess looked up as the sound of a horse neighed from outside. She ran to the window and threw open the shutters. She clasped her hands over her heart. “My sweet knight, at last you’ve come.”
As she climbed out the window, I shouted, “Wait, no! I’m your knight. Come back! You’re supposed to help me with this spell!” I tugged at her long hair, but it was of no use.
That fickle princess! She hadn’t even stopped at the right spell. What a relief I didn’t have to run away with her.
I hurriedly turned the pages to find the one that would return me to my normal state. It didn’t escape my attention that Mr. Evil stalked closer. As I came to the right page, scanning the ingredients, the cat pounced. I jumped off the table just in time.
I paced back and forth in the shadows, considering my next move. How much time did I have left? I jumped at the sound of a voice.
A pleasant male tenor called out from the mirror above the hearth. “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, someone wants to give a call.”
I hurriedly hopped atop a barrel of pickled eyeballs, onto the bookcase and leapt across to the mantle just below the mirror. Standing on my back legs I was able to peek above the frame.
The witch’s visage squinted at me from the other side of the mirror. “Prince Charming, how much venom do I need? And was it dragon venom or baby venom?”
I snuck a furtive glance at the book. “It wasn’t either you needed. You went to the store for fresh grasshoppers.” I think that had been one of the ingredients for my spell. And maybe she’d bring a few extras for me. Then again, if I managed to turn myself into a prince, I might not enjoy the crunchy, little treats any more. Pity. Grasshoppers were one of the delights I would miss from my time as a frog.
Morwynne cursed and the mirror rippled like water until it reflected an image of my green head and bulging eyes looking over the frame. I didn’t know if she saw through my bluff.
If only there was a way to get rid of that cat. I tried calling a dragon friend on the mirror, but he wasn’t home. I rolled a poisoned apple at the cat, but he simply sniffed it and stuck up his nose. I even tried aiming the witch’s wand at the cat and incanting a spell. Nothing happened.
I had to do something. I paced the room, trying to think up a new plan.
All too soon, the witch flew through the door, crashing into her stack of enchanted cauldrons. She removed a vial of shimmering liquid from her sack and a small burlap pouch with something writhing and wriggling within.
My heart weighed heavy in my chest.
“Blasted children. I had to scare them off again,” the witch muttered.
“It seems someone should have listened to me when I suggested aluminum siding instead of candy and gingerbread…”
She placed the baby venom vial on the shelf between the baboon blood and basil. “Now what spell was I planning? I got all these grasshoppers for something…”
As Morwynne approached the spellbook, the cat twisted away and yowled. The witch squinted down at the book and then at me. I did my best to look innocent.
“You were never a prince, you know.”
“What do you mean? My name is Prince Charming.”
She sighed, pity visible in her one good eye. “This is my fault. I should have named you Kermit. You would never have developed this prince complex.”
“But I am a prince. I’m different. I’m special. I talk. Mr. Evil—I mean, Mr. Fluffy doesn’t talk.” I puffed up my chest and let out an exasperated croak.
She flipped through the pages until she came to the spell she was looking for. “Aye, but he used to speak… before the spell that called for tongue of cat.”
No wonder Mr. Evil avoided her.
I bounded forward onto the pages of the open book. “Just because you don’t remember turning me into a prince doesn’t mean I’m not one. You forget many other matters.”
“Tell me, do you have one single human memory? Do you crave human food?”
Human food? Eew. And now that I considered it, I’d kissed a lot of maidens claiming to be princesses. None of them had cured me. And they weren’t very good kissers. As for the rest of the humans, children were intolerable, and knights and peasants alike killed my dearest friends, dragons and trolls. Morwynne might have been a bit on the absent-minded side, but she was a decent enough, semi-evil witch—so long as she wasn’t trying to cut off your toes or tongue. Had she been like other humans, I wouldn’t have tolerated her presence.
I slumped down, thinking of all those maiden’s dry, chapped lips. “So I kissed those princesses, and it’s all been for naught?”
She cackled. “You’ve probably given a few of them warts, too.”
I cleared my throat. “Ahem, I am a frog, not a toad.”
Just then a fly buzzed passed me and I caught the savory morsel with my tongue. I did prefer flies and insects over human food.
“Tell you what?” she said. “I have plenty of time to work on my beauty spell later this eve. I’ll cast you up something special. Though, I only have enough grasshoppers for one spell. I’ll change you into a prince if that’s what you really want. But beware, princes have no easy life. They must slay dragons, refrain from eating flies, and bed princesses.”
“But I like dragons!” And kissing princesses was bad enough. I could hardly imagine bedding one of them.
“Or I could cook up a different spell if you wish.” She tapped her finger against the page beneath me. The heading said, “Grasshopper Casserole.”
I ribbited in delight.
Whoever said “It ain’t easy being green” had never had a witch to make him grasshopper casserole.