Princess Claire

           Queen Myrtle and King Martin were at the breakfast table, barely touching their coffee and scrambled eggs. Instead, they sat staring at each other, both wearing puzzled and mournful expressions. They sighed deeply.

            "I'm stumped," said Queen Myrtle.

            "Me too," said King Martin. They both sighed some more.

            "And tomorrow is her birthday," said Queen Myrtle

            "I know," said King Martin. "Tomorrow she turns nineteen!"

            "And we still haven't found a husband for her!" cried the Queen.

            Again they sighed. Princess Claire had always been difficult. She was nothing like her older brother and sister. Then again, she was only sort-of their sister. Princess Eileen and Prince Kirk really were the children of Queen Myrtle and King Martin. Princess Eileen and Prince Kirk had found Claire wandering in the Royal Forest while they were exploring. She had only been about three years old. The Princess and Prince had brought the little girl home to their parents. The King and Queen had tried long and hard to find the little girl's parents, but a year passed without success. By that time Queen Myrtle, King Martin, Princess Eileen, and Prince Kirk had come to love the little girl so much that they decided to adopt her. They named her Claire, and that is how she became a Princess.

            The years came and went, and Princess Eileen grew ever more skilled and graceful. Princess Claire didn't. Prince Kirk grew ever more learned and wise. Princess Claire didn't. But there were a few things Princess Claire could do that Princess Eileen and Prince Kirk could not.

            Princess Claire couldn't ride a horse, but she could easily jump over one!

            Princess Claire couldn't carry a tune, but she could easily carry a piano tuner named Bingham!

            Princess Claire couldn't spin wool into yarn for weaving cloth or sew a straight line. But she could spin a yarn with a straight face, pull the wool over your eyes, and leave everyone in stitches!

            All in all, she was the most un-princess-like princess imaginable.

            Oh, yes. There was one other thing, something no one wanted to admit or talk about, but which was nevertheless all too true. Princess Claire was ugly. And sad to say, but so far no prince had been princely enough to see beyond this one unfortunate fact to discover the very delightful and lovable person that was Princess Claire.

            Queen Myrtle and King Martin had hoped that by now Princess Claire would have found someone to marry, just as Princess Eileen and Prince Kirk had. But so far it hadn't happened, and tomorrow was her nineteenth birthday. Things were beginning to look desperate. And that is why their coffee and eggs were getting colder and colder as they heaved another sigh.

            "What we need," said Queen Myrtle, "is a good, old-fashioned, fairy-tale prince to come riding along on a white horse."

            "Hmmm, a fairy-tale prince," mused King Martin. "You know dear, we may have overlooked one possibility."

            "What possibility?" the Queen asked.

            "We never thought about sending Claire to see Becka Gant," he said.

            "The Witch?" the Queen thought for a moment. "Works for me!" she said.

             Becka Gant was a large, round woman who lived in a yurt, a perfectly round house that she had built herself. It had seven large, round windows and three large, round doors. No corners for Becka Gant, because she didn't like having to sweep cobwebs from them. Inside and out she had painted the walls a crisp white, and all the trim was blue. She had also painted a perfect white pentacle on the brown, wooden-shingled roof. At the gate of her white picket fence was a neatly painted sign advertising her Witching Hours. 




             Princess Claire puzzled over this sign for a moment, then smiled and pushed through the gate. Everywhere she looked a riot of greenery and flowers met her gaze. The air was thrumming with the coming and going of gangs of enormous bees. The grass was neatly trimmed, and a moment later she met the cause face-to-face. Three fat goats came trotting from around the back of the house and stopped, regarding her solemnly. From within the house a deep hooming resonated. Someone was playing a bassoon! Claire waved at the goats and continued up the path to the front door.

            "Halloo!" she called. "Are you there Miss Gant?" The hooming ceased.

            "Halloo back!" someone inside called out. A moment later the door opened and a large, round woman wearing a billowing yellow caftan ambled out. "Halloo, sweetheart," she said, "and what can I do for you?" In her wiry hair a nest of baby wrens cheeped.

            "Good morning, Miss. I am Claire. I have a problem, and my mother and father thought I should seek your advice."

            "Indeed, my dear, indeed," said Becka Gant. "And your mother and father wouldn't happen to be Queen Myrtle and King Martin would they?"

            "Yes, Miss, indeed they are," answered Princess Claire. "Do you know them?"

            "Only by sight, my dear. I've never actually met them. They seem like nice people."

            "Oh, the are, Miss. Ever so nice. I love them," said Claire.

            "Then they are lucky parents, indeed," replied Becka Gant. "And I think I know why they sent you to see me. They're trying to find a husband for you aren't they?"

            "Yes, Miss, indeed they are," said Claire, "but they're having a terrible time of it. Perhaps you could help them."

            "Well," said Becka, "I can certainly try. People often come to Witches with such problems. Most are looking for potions or spells to make someone love them, or to make themselves appear more attractive. Is this the sort of thing you have in mind?"

            Princess Claire thought about it for a minute.

            "No," she said. "I don't want to make someone love me. I know I'm ugly, and it might be nice not to be, but then I wonder if I would still be me."

            Becka Gant peered closely at Princess Claire.

            "How interesting," she said. "My girl, let me make a suggestion. Frogs."

            "Frogs?" Claire asked.

            "Frogs," said Becka. "Kiss 'em!"

            "What? Kiss frogs? Why?" asked Claire.

            "You never know," said Becka. "You might get lucky. If you kiss the right frog, it just might turn into the prince you're looking for. It's worth a try!"

            "Well, if you think so, Miss, I'll try it," said Claire. "Thank you for your advice."

            Claire turned to leave, then stopped and turned back.

            "I'm sorry. I almost forgot," she said. "May I offer you this fresh bread for your help?" Claire held out a wicker basket she had been holding.

            "Why thank you, sweetheart. That's so thoughtful. Yes, thank you, I will take it," Becka said.

              "You're quite welcome, Miss," said Claire, "and thank you again." Then Claire turned and walked back through Becka Gant's wild garden, heading home. 

            At first Queen Myrtle and King Martin were not too sure about Becka Gant's advice. But then again, desperate situations call for desperate measures, and Becka Gant, being a Witch, probably knew what she was talking about. So they gave it a try. A Royal Proclamation was made and posted throughout the Realm. The citizens gathered and read it eagerly. 






(All frogs are to be handled with care, and are to be

returned to their natural homes following their visit!)

Refreshments will be served. 

            "That's weird," one woman said.

            "Way weird," another agreed. "But an invitation to the castle is an invitation! I'm going!"

            "Wouldn't miss it!" agreed the first woman, and everyone else nodded as well.

On the morning of the third day of next month, the road to the castle was jammed with hundreds of people bringing hundreds of frogs to visit. The Queen and King, along with Princess Eileen, Prince Kirk, and Princess Claire, welcomed each one at the front door. There was an enormous buffet set up and everyone was able to eat and drink as much as they wanted. There was even a special mosquito larva and aphid pâté for the frogs' dining pleasure. Grand tours of the castle and grounds were provided, and everyone had a great time.

At the end of the day, as the guests left, tired and full, Queen Myrtle, King Martin, Princess Eileen, Prince Kirk, and Princess Claire personally thanked each one for coming. Princess Claire also gave each frog a little kiss on the cheek. It really wasn't too bad. Some frogs were more slimy than others. Some smelled like rotting vegetation, and some were rather sticky. But most were just fine, simply a bit surprised.

            Princess Claire had kissed four hundred and eighty seven frogs without finding a prince. Things weren't looking too good. Then finally, the last frog, number five hundred and seventeen, changed everything.

            The air around Princess Claire and the frog began to shimmer and the frog made a startled croaking sound. There was a noise like 'thwump' and Princess Claire suddenly found herself standing next to a short, rather hunched and bandy-legged man who was wearing nothing but a smile.

            "Halloo," said Princess Claire. "Are you a prince, or what?"

            "Maybe," he said.

            "What's your name," Claire asked.

            "Ebert," he said, craning his neck to see the still laden buffet table behind Princess Claire.

             "Are you hungry, Ebert?" Claire asked.

              "You bet!" he said.

               "Well, help yourself!" Claire waved him toward the food and he made a beeline for the mosquito larva and aphid pâté. Princess Claire turned to her family and said. "Isn't he just the cutest thing!"

            Queen Myrtle and King Martin looked at each other with puzzled and mournful expressions. They sighed deeply. 

            Prince Ebert must have been a frog for a very long time. So long, in fact, that he had entirely forgotten how to act like a prince! Rather than walking with graceful and regal bearing, he tended to lurch and his feet slapped the floor. Instead of spending his days attending to important kingdom business, he often spent it telling hilarious stories to the children in the village and playing leapfrog with them. All in all, he was the most un-prince-like prince imaginable. 

            But most of his time he spent with Princess Claire. The two of them would tramp for miles and miles in the countryside, discovering secret nests of little birds, or complex designs in spider webs. Some days they would swim for hours at a time in the moat around the castle. Other times they would fly kites together from the highest parapets. And always, they would be singing (badly) and laughing. It was safe to say that they were in love. It wasn't long before Queen Myrtle and King Martin made another Royal Proclamation and posted it throughout the Realm. The citizens gathered and read it eagerly. 







Refreshments will be served! 

            "That's more like it!" one woman said, grinning widely.

            "I love weddings," sniffed another woman, wiping tears from her cheeks.

            "Especially this one," the first woman said, and everyone nodded in agreement. 

            No one missed the wedding. The entire population of the kingdom turned out, happy beyond words for the good fortune of Princess Claire. Three huge banquets were served, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Princess Claire and Prince Ebert spent the whole day shaking hands with and getting hugs from all the people of the realm.

            Finally, it was time for the wedding ceremony. As the whole kingdom looked on, Princess Claire's entire family gathered around. Queen Myrtle and King Martin couldn't stop smiling. Becka Gant, dressed this time in a light blue robe with silver trim, beckoned Princess Claire and Price Ebert to stand together in front of her.

            "Friends," she said. "This is real magic. This is love. Princess Claire and Prince Ebert, may all your days together be blessed. Before the entire community, you are now wed."

            Princess Claire and Prince Ebert looked into each other's eyes, each loving the other with all their heart. Their lips touched and everything changed. The air around them began to shimmer. There was a noise like 'thwap-thwap' and suddenly everyone was looking at a pile of wedding garments where just a moment before the newlyweds had been standing. Then the clothes began to stir and wiggle, and two frogs wriggled free. They looked at each other grinning big frog grins, then hopped away and jumped into the moat. Everyone was stunned.

            "Oh, my," said Becka Gant.

            "What happened?" cried Queen Myrtle. 

            Then everyone started talking at once. It took a solid hour to get the excited crowd calmed down and headed for their homes. Finally the Royal Family and Becka Gant were able to gather and try to figure out what had occurred.

            "Miss Gant," said King Martin, "any ideas?"

            "I've got a theory," she said.

            "Tell us!" Queen Myrtle said.

            "I don't think Ebert is really a prince," Becka said.

            "We certainly had our doubts!" said Princess Eileen.

            "And," continued Becka Gant, "I don't think Claire is really a princess."

            "What?" exclaimed King Martin.

            "Of course she is!" Prince Kirk defended her. "She's our sister isn't she?"

            "Not exactly," said Becka. "Remember, you and Princess Eileen found her wandering in the forest when she was only about three years old. Her real parents were never found and so the Royal Family adopted her."

            "Doesn't that make her our daughter?" asked the Queen. "Doesn't that make her a princess?"

            "Not exactly," Becka said again. "You see, I believe the child Princess Eileen and Prince Kirk found wandering in the woods was actually a frog that had been turned into a little girl."

            Everyone was quiet for a few minutes as they thought about Becka Gant's theory.

            "You know," said King Martin, "that would explain a lot."

            "Yes," agreed Queen Myrtle, "like why Claire could so easily jump over horses, but couldn't ride one."

            "Or," chimed in Princess Eileen, "why Claire couldn't sing very well, but was so strong."

            "Or," added Prince Kirk, "why Claire thought Ebert was so cute."

            "But Becka," the King said, "we all loved her."

            "Indeed," said Becka, "and she loved you. It was one of the first things she told me when I met her. And as I said in the wedding ceremony, love is real magic. It is magic so strong and deep that it lets us see the beauty in all things and all people. It is so powerful that because of it we are able to see ourselves through the eyes of those who love us, to want for ourselves all the good things that they want for us."

            "Like a husband," whispered Queen Myrtle.

            "Like a husband," agreed Becka Gant. "When Claire kissed that last frog, she was so desperate to make her family happy. The magic of her love for you, combined with the magic that had turned her into a little girl so long ago, caused that frog to become Prince Ebert."

            "Then when she and Ebert kissed during the wedding ceremony," said Princess Eileen, "that love and magic changed them both back into frogs, because they love each other for who they really are."

            "Precisely," said Becka Gant. "How's that for a happy ending?"

© David K. Aycock 2013