The Tale of the Frog Prince Recipient:toomerrymaiden Title: The Tale of the Frog Prince Characters/Pairing: Hobson/Peterson, Lewis/Hathaway (eventually) Rating: K+ Wordcount: ~3000 Warnings: None Summary: A rather loose re-working of a Russian Fairy Tale: 'The Tale of the Frog Princess', Lewis-style. Author notes: this is as close as I could get to hurt/comfort. I'm sorry that it took such a non-standard format, but I hope you enjoy it anyway!
In time gone by, there lived a famous Czarina, Jean the Innocent (of what she was innocent, no-one asked) who had two beloved children: Princess Laura and Prince Robbie. As each grew to maturity she divided her realm of Oxford between them - Laura to the East and Robbie to the West, and for many years they lived, each in their own well-appointed manor house, and were happy in their own ways. Laura became a noted scholar, so that pilgrims came from every neighbouring kingdom to seek her knowledge and advice. Robbie married and raised two children with his wife, Valerie, tending to the needs of his people with diligence and care.
The time came when the Czarina decided that it was time for her to leave the care of her domain in the capable hands of her children, and so she took her retinue on a pilgrimage to the cities she had only dreamed of when responsibilities weighed heavily on her shoulders - Rome and Venice, Seville, Paris and many more. It was five long years before she returned, her baggage laden with exotic souvenirs of her travels (including the mysterious new lover known only as Mister Innocent). Alas, she was not to be greeted as she had hoped. As soon as she crossed into Laura's lands she could see that the roads were potholed and the fields untended. When she reached the border of Robbie's lands, the situation grew - if possible - even worse! Fear grew in her that her children had suffered some kind of harm in her absence and she immediately despatched runners to bring them to her Castle with the utmost haste.
Laura arrived first. "Mother!" she remonstrated, "It is lovely to see you of course but I was just at a crucial point in my research!"
The Czarina gave her a pointed look, such as mothers throughout time have used to prod children into self-examination and apology.
"It's very important research," Laura said crossly, but her shoulders dropped. "It is lovely to see you again, Mother. I read your letters and it sounds as if you had a wonderful time."
"I am sure that your research is very important," the Czarina said sternly, "However I fail to see how allowing your roads and fields to fall into disrepair could possibly aid in it."
"Well I have sent a few people off on research missions," Laura allowed. "And of course anyone capable of operating a pipette is needed in my labs."
The Czarina drew breath to give her opinion, but just then the runner who had been sent to fetch Prince Robbie was announced at the door.
"Ma'am, Your Highness, Your Excellency," he babbled.
"Ma'am will do." the Czarina cut him off. "Where is my son?"
The runner seemed struck dumb, but Princess Laura shifted uneasily in her place.
"Laura?" the Czarina prodded.
"He's staying in a hermitage on an island somewhere, I think," Laura muttered. "At least I think that's what they said. After Valerie died..."
"Mmm yes, about three years ago. And then of course Lynne married that prince from ... oh, I don't know - somewhere up north - and went there to live. And Mark took service with the Czar of Austral in the far south."
"Mark left too!"
"Mmm. So Robbie finished the contents of his wine-cellar and just... left," Laura said.
The Czarina closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Did you go and talk to him at all?"
"Well of course I did!" Laura said. "Well, I meant to. I did speak to him at Lynne's wedding, I'm sure. He was drunk at the time, though, so he mightn't remember."
The runner stared at the gilded ceiling high above his head, then snapped to attention as he was addressed again.
"Right!" the Czarina ordered him with thunderous mien. "Find out where this hermitage is and fetch him here to me as quickly as possible. NOW!" she added. The runner backed hastily out of the room and his footsteps could be heard fading swiftly into the distance as the Czarina turned again to her daughter.
"Now, let's discuss your stewardship of our people while I was away."
* * *
Prince Robbie found his mother and sister in the small salon beside his mother's bedroom on the top floor of the castle. Laura was looking thoroughly brassed off and his mother had that pinched look that never boded well.
"Ma'am," he greeted her. She kissed his cheek but her chilly demeanour did not warm.
"Robbie," she countered, her fingers beating an impatient tattoo on the arm of her chair. She gestured to him to take the seat next to Laura on the couch.
"I can see that we're going to have to take immediate and decisive steps to prevent this from happening again," she said. Robbie and Laura exchanged apprehensive looks.
The Czarina beckoned forward a servant who handed each of them a bow and a single arrow.
"It's time to do things the traditional way," the Czarina continued.
Laura turned over the bow with a puzzled look on her face. The single arrow in her hand was marked with an embossed gold 'L'. "I haven't touched a bow in twenty years," she commented.
It was Robbie who caught on first. "Oh no! Ma'am, this is ridiculous! I chose and married my Val the modern way and I am not some ... some olden-time ..."
Laura's eyes widened. "Mother! You wouldn't!"
The Czarina's eyes narrowed. "I chose and married your father by the old rules and we had a very successful marriage while he lived. And now I come back to find that my supposedly adult children have deserted their people and neglected their duties in an completely irresponsible manner during my absence. You need spouses to remind you of what is truly important.
"Laura, as the eldest you shoot first."
Laura stared at her mother, her mouth still open.
As if in a dream, Princess Laura took the bow and arrow to the window and nocked the arrow. She cast one look at her implacable mother before drawing back and releasing the arrow, which flew far out into the wood below. Then she cast the bow to the ground and stormed from the room without another word.
"Mother... Val..." Robbie pleaded inarticulately.
"Do your duty, Robert," was the only reply.
In one fluid motion, Robbie drew and shot, his arrow glinting in the sun as it flew straight out towards the sunset, dropping finally into the green canopy below.
* * *
The sun shone brightly on the day that Peterson brought back Laura's arrow. She smiled in sly approbation as he bowed over her hand, seemingly delighted with the tall, conventionally handsome groom that the arrow had brought her. The Czarina nodded approvingly.
The following day brought the rain - and Robbie's arrow. Robbie's jaw dropped in appalled resignation as a slender green frog hopped into the reception hall with Robbie's monogrammed arrow in its mouth. His eyes flew to the Czarina but she simply lifted her chin and stepped forward to greet the frog as any other guest. It was clear that she was not to be turned from her course by this unexpected twist.
The frog executed a clumsy bow, dropping the arrow at her feet, and then crossed in three long hops to stand in front of Robbie.
"Um... Greetings to you, my ... lady?" ventured Robbie. The frog shook its... his... head reprovingly.
"My lord," Robbie corrected himself. Someone among the assembled court tittered but the frog merely inclined his head in grave asset.
"The wedding will take place in the chapel on the morrow," the Czarina announced to the dumbstruck gathering. Robbie winced, but there was no turning back now. In a way, it wasn't so bad. No frog could be expected to take the place of his precious Val. Her memory would remain untouched by any taint of disloyalty.
* * *
Laura and Peterson made a handsome couple as they exchanged their vows, Peterson upright and somewhat smug in his well-fitting suit. Behind them, Robbie carried a silver salver with his own groom resting upon it. He bore the whispers stolidly.
"Now we shall see what your husbands are made of," his mother said when at last the ceremony was done. "Three tasks I shall set them to test their mettle."
Laura opened her mouth to protest but closed it again in the face of their mother's obdurate insistence on the old forms. "Very well," she said at last. "What are they?"
"For the first task," said the Czarina, making herself comfortable on an antique loveseat, "You shall have a month. During that time each groom is to attend to the appalling state of the roads in your domains. I will inspect the roads on the next new moon."
Peterson bowed low before saying in his confident tones,"It shall be as you say, ma'am." Only Robbie saw the slight eyeball roll which the Czarina let slip as Peterson rose again and went to take his leave of his bride.
Robbie gazed at his frog with resignation. "Do your best then," he said to the slightly bulging eyes of his own groom. The frog seemed to nod before hopping out of the room after Peterson, and that was the last that anyone in the central castle heard of either of them until they reappeared at the new moon.
Peterson was clearly proud of his filled potholes and ruler-straight roads, but the roads in Robbie's domain were as fresh and broad as any the Czarina had seen on her long journey through the courts of Europe. Sweet flowers lined the roadside and small parks had been installed at regular intervals where people could pull aside and rest along the way; in many of them the local farmers sold their produce at wayside stalls for a small fee.
Peterson scratched his head dubiously, but the Czarina was charmed. Laura raised her head from the paper she was writing to gaze wonderingly at the sight. "We should do that too," she said to Peterson, who nodded in stiff, disapproving acquiescence.
* * *
The second task the Czarina set them was to spend a month increasing the productivity of their lands. This time Peterson gazed suspiciously at the frog as he accepted the task.
"What's your frog up to this time?" he asked Robbie bluntly.
Robbie shrugged. The frog seemed exhausted and had been sleeping curled up in a damp bowl by Robbie's bedside ever since returning from the first task. Right now he was perched on a silver salver at Robbie's elbow. Robbie felt as if he was beginning to understand the small nuances of his frog-spouse's behaviour, and thought that he seemed almost jaunty at the prospect of this new task.
"Dunno," he added unhelpfully. Something about Peterson rubbed Robbie the wrong way, although he was glad that Laura seemed happy enough with him.
As Peterson strode back to Laura, his dissatisfaction plain in the set of his spine, Robbie looked down at his small, green husband. "Anything I can do to help?" he asked. The frog seemed to give the question thought before shaking his head and hopping off the salver. At the door he turned and gave one last, considering glance at Robbie before leaving on his task.
That glance lingered in Robbie's mind. He couldn't think why, but it seemed as if it might be time to go home and see what was left of the manor and lands that he had abandoned so carelessly in the wake of Val's death. He hummed to himself quietly as he loaded up his horse and bade farewell to his mother. "I'll be back by the new moon," he assured her and she smiled serenely at him as she waved farewell.
It had been two years and there was considerable work to do, but true to his word, he returned to the castle in time to see the return of Peterson and his frog. Each of them brought to the Czarina pictures of renewed fields manned by industrious peasants. The Czarina studied it all with slightly unnerving attention.
"But what is this?" she challenged the frog, pointing to pictures of new crops and strange implements. The frog merely hopped off the book on which he had been sitting and nudged it towards her.
"Innovations in Agriculture?" she read dubiously, opening the book to a well-marked page. "But surely the conditions in France are totally different from here!" The frog shook his head and indicated a different bookmark. "I see," she said after reading the indicated page. Soon she was so deep in reading that the rest of the party tiptoed out of the room, heading straight for their own bedrooms.
"You are a clever frog," Robbie muttered. "What on earth did you find to do in a swamp, I wonder?" And he placed the frog in the bowl which he had kept damp and prepared by his bedside. The frog sighed happily and curled up to sleep as if he had never left.
* * *
"This isn't fair!" Peterson was saying to the Czarina when Robbie came down to breakfast the next day. "It's a frog! It shouldn't be able to do all this!"
"Must be magic," Robbie said flatly unhelpful, serving himself some bacon and eggs. He crumbled some sausage meat onto a side plate for the frog, filling a saucer with water for him to drink as well. The frog made the first deliberate noise that Robbie had heard from him, a derisive croak, before sipping gently at the water.
"Very well," the Czarina agreed, resting thoughtful eyes upon her son and his husband. "The third task will be dancing, at a ball to be held tomorrow night."
"Dancing!" Robbie exclaimed. "What use is dancing?"
"It cheers the spirits and gives brightness to dull lives," his mother answered. "Your frog has shown admirably in the first two tasks. Don't begrudge Peterson this task."
"Begrudge," Robbie muttered dolefully to his frog that night. "It was he who was begrudging you your accomplishments. He doesn't like being shown up by a frog." But the frog curled peacefully up to sleep and showed no unease in his demeanour as the time for the ball approached.
From his bedchamber, Robbie could watch the long line of carriages waiting to drop off the noble residents of Oxford at the ball. From early afternoon to dusk, there was a steady stream of them arriving at the Castle. "Dunno what they're coming for," he complained to the frog. "Just to stare at us, like as not."
The frog hopped up onto the window ledge and looked down at the procession of carriages below. Now that dusk was falling, the lanterns of the carriages made a bright winding trail through the forests and fields below. The waxing moon rose slowly over the treeline. The two of them waited there companionably until the servants brought Robbie's newly embroidered ball clothes to lay across his bed awaiting his attention.
"All right, all right," he grumbled, shooing them out the door. "I can manage." The fine shirt and breeches were no problem to change into, but when he tried to put on the coat he could not seem to get it on. He was struggling with it when a hand held it just right, so that he could finally shrug his way into it. When he turned to thank whichever servant had crept in, there was a stranger behind him.
Tall and fair, dressed in fine linen and an exotically embroidered vest and coat, the young man gave him a shy grin as he tugged Robbie's coat to sit precisely across his shoulders, smoothing it with an elegant hand.
"Who the devil are you?" exclaimed Robbie, but his heart was beating fast, as if it already knew.
"Prince James of Hathaway," the young man said, with a deep, courteous bow. He took Robbie's hand as if he had a right to it, his touch warm and human - nothing at all like the cool, damp skin of a frog.
"Hathaway's gone!" Robbie exclaimed. "Nothing but swamp there now. They say they offended a ..."
"A sorcerer," James completed, looking down at him with anxiety and affection visible on his ever-so-slightly-green-tinged face.
"They did. The Sorcerer Mortmaigne was not invited to my Christening, due to my father's stubbornness, and he turned us all to frogs. My father was snapped up by a stork that winter and my mother died of shame and sorrow many years ago. I am all that is left of Hathaway now, and your arrow came as a chance for me to fulfil the terms of the curse I was under.
"I have now been your duly wedded and acknowledged spouse for two months and a day, and the curse is lifted. I thank you, Prince Robbie, and I am at your service."
"Give over, man!" Robbie said. "I am just as indebted to you."
James' eyes dropped in acknowledgement of the things they wouldn't talk about - of Robbie's loneliness and his retreat from his duties as a Prince of Oxford. Of the good that James had done in his work upon Robbie's lands and roads. Of a certain quiet understanding between man and frog.
"May I kiss you, Robbie?" he asked seriously.
"I think I'd like that," Robbie said, tilting his face up to receive whatever kiss James might bestow.
Val's place was secure, but James had built himself a place in Robbie's heart that was all his own. If his kisses were tentative, awkward things at first, Robbie soon taught him better.
Soon enough, the servants came to escort them to the ball, and then there were explanations and exclamations, hugs and kisses from the Czarina and Princess Laura and a firm, if somewhat grudging, handshake from Peterson.
Peterson was a competent dancer, no doubt, but James' elegance upon the dance floor was something quite special. As the music carried them through the night under a silver sliver of moon, Robbie knew that he had been far luckier than he deserved when he found his future in the frog who returned his arrow and the brilliant man who now matched his steps in intricate dance beside him.