Crissinda gasped. It was him, Lucas, there in the maze, the prince from her vision. The one she had fallen in love with instantly; unstoppably.
As she peeped through the hedgerow again, she realized he'd drawn a woman into his arms. Locked in their passionate embrace, they neither saw nor heard her.
The wind billowed around Crissinda trying to dry her tears. It steered her from the maze along a cloistered path. As she ran, she held her skirt and petticoat high. As soon as she reached the banks of Emerald Pond the wind dropped, Crissinda skidded to a halt. Loose stones scattered and some landed in the water creating ripples.
A dark green frog popped onto a lily pad.
Crissinda clutched her chest. “Goodness, you startled me.”
She wasn’t expecting a response but he blinked his bulbous, black eyes and croaked, “Sorry.”
“I didn’t know frogs could talk.”
“I can, because I’m not a frog. I’m Prince Lucas.”
“Dream on. You’re as ugly as a cane toad. Prince Lucas is handsome, I just saw him in the maze.”
The frog tried to hop towards her but couldn’t because a length of chain secured him to a marble sundial. He clutched his throat where the chain dug in making his voice husky. “This man you saw, was he with a woman?’
“That’s Frodna, his soul mate. His name is Fytch. He’s an impostor. I assure you, I am the real Prince.”
Wrinkled green skin slithered across his eyes. Crissinda shuddered at the hideous sight.
He continued. “If you want proof, start the Questionnaire.”
Crissinda folded her arms. “How do you know about my Questionnaire?”
“Because I can read your mind. Only joking! Obviously because I am your prince. He alone was given the answers in a vision. Correct?”
She nodded. Her special questionnaire consisted of 20 sentences, each to be completed in two words by her beloved. No harm asking this weird frog some of my questions, she thought, it might provide some entertainment. “Right then, if you claim to know all about it, you’ll be well aware of the terms and conditions, right?”
The frog nodded. “Bring it on, I’m ready.”
“Very well. Question 1: When I marry, my Grandmother will throw…?”
“2: Made from…?”
A look of surprise tensed Crissinda’s pretty face. “Correct. Let’s try 3: One of my aunt’s was a…?”
“4: I want a dining room with…?”
“5: I adore eating …?”
“6: Each morning my father goes outside and checks the…?”
“7: Mum has a secret…?”
“8: I enjoy waking up to…?”
She paused. He was far too well informed. How could a simple frog know so much about her? Had some of this information leaked from the palace to become local tittle-tattle? No that wasn’t possible, there were things she had never told anyone.
“You won’t know Question 9,” she said with confidence. “I detest…?”
“How could you know that? How? My mother has it especially made for me. And to please her I’ve always claimed to like it. No-one knows I loathe it. How could you? HOW? HOW?” She stamped her foot and squashed a toadstool in the process.
The frog raised five webbed green fingers, “Temper…temper CROSSINDA!”
“It’s Crissinda!” She stared him down. “I think we should stop this…right now.”
“Why? My answers too precise for you? Yes, they are. Come on, admit it.”
“Okay, Question 10: I intend designing a special bridal piece called a…?”
Crissinda didn’t want to continue. The way things were heading she would earn herself a frog for a husband. An ugly, talkative one at that. She lifted her coronet and ran her fingers through her hair, “I’m finished.”
The frog grabbed hold of the chain and clanged it against the metal face of the sundial. The clamor resounded and he shouted, “NO! You can’t change the rules now, you have to keep going.”
“Really? These are my rules I’ll have you remember. Tell you what. I’ll break that chain and set you free. That should keep you quiet. Deal?”
“NO! It can’t be broken by force. I’m under a spell. We must break the spell.”
“Under a spell? That’s original…...NOT!”
“It’s true. Keep going with the Questionnaire. You can’t leave it half finished. You should know seeing as you created it. And can you speed it up a bit?”
“Okay, you want fast, you’ve got it. Try and keep up!” she yelled. “Number 11: Mother hides her jewelry in a…?”
“12: I loathe…?”
“13: I like many things but most of all…?”
“14: I have an Italian…?”
“15: I love the color of…?”
“16: I enjoy hearing…?”
“17: I own seven…?”
“18: At our wedding my prince will wear the…?”
“19: We will live in a…?”
She spoke fast but he answered even faster. She became breathless. “I need a break, tell me about this spell you claim is upon you.”
“About time you asked. How would you like to be locked in vile frog skin and chained to this pond all because a dying Caecilian granted Fytch one wish and filled his head with delusions of grandeur. Fytch wants to be me and have control of my kingdom. I need to stop him. I give you my word, I am Prince Lucas. How else would I know all about you? Crissinda, please. Ask me the last question.”
Crissinda had no idea what would happen next. She took two deep breaths then faced the frog. “Question 20: My first born……. is guaranteed to be a…?”
“child prodigy.” As the words flew from the frog’s tongue, the links of the chain shattered. And the frog-skin split. Pale green dust swirled over the pond, then skittered along the path, in the direction of the maze.
The fine particles of dust made Crissinda bend over in a coughing fit. When she straightened the frog was gone and near the sundial stood a young man with honeydew curls, polished leather boots and black breeches. She stepped forwards to touch the rich, brocade of his tunic. “Wow, you really are a prince?”
“Prince Lucas at your service, Ma’am.” He knelt before her on the mossy ground and kissed the back of her hand. “Marry me tomorrow, my sweet. The child prodigy is keen to enter this earthly realm and share his life with us.”
“His life? Who said anything about a boy?”
“Our firstborn will be a boy as will our second. Three raven-haired daughters as lovely as you will also grace our Crystal Palace. This information was also imparted to me in the vision.” He circled his arms around Crissinda and after kissing her, said. “And now if you’ll excuse me. I must check the whereabouts of that scoundrel Fytch.”
“Perhaps someone should turn him and Frodna into frogs?”
“Truth is, my sweet, they were frogs. When my spell broke they became frogs again. Listen. That must be them.”
A cacophony of croaking and splashing radiated across the green waters of the pond.
Crissinda pointed to two frogs crouched on separate rocks placed meters apart. “Look, they’re on chains like you were. Is that Fytch? The big one on the right.”
“It is. And their chains are much shorter than mine. They were warned they'd end up manacled to the same pond but unable to reach one another. They took no heed. It’s the price they now pay.”
“How terrible. Won't they ever be free?”
The Prince shrugged. “I don’t know. In time, I may give some thought to extending the chains.”
Lucas anchored his arm around her slender waist and halfway along the cloistered path, he reached into a flower-bed to pick a few pink blossoms. “Peonies for your chaplet, my sweet.”
“Perfect,” she said.
The wind swirled around them urging them into the future.