Lily pursed her lips. This was more frogs than expected.
Normally she would consider herself lucky if she found an enchanted frog within a couple of hours of marching into forest or swamp and announcing her availability to kiss a frog prince. Once she found two and thought it had been an outrageous fluke.
Before her stood an army of frogs. They gathered at her feet, pushing and tumbling over each other. The swamp water only rose to her heel, but they were splashing it all over her trousers.
“Which one of you is Prince Neal?” She asked.
One frog launched himself at her, jumping as high as her chest. She caught him and held him with both hands. “Are you the prince of Hendel?”
The frog nodded, as much as he could with no neck.
“And the rest of you are princes as well?” She asked the hoard swarming at her feet.
The ribbiting grew louder. She took that as a yes. Usually at this point, she would either kiss the prince or, if he seemed like he would be obnoxious company, she would stuff him in her bag to kiss him when they got to safety.
But she never faced so many frog princes before. She had been sent for Prince Neal, but she couldn’t leave these ones behind. The reward for finding them would be a big help back home. Plus, she didn’t want to come back to get them if she got hired to find them later.
Eh, she would figure something out. She planted a kiss on Neal’s forehead and dropped him on the ground. A flash of light blinded her and for a moment the ribbiting of the frogs ceased before returning louder than before.
“Ribbit,” Neal said.
He blinked at Lily. She’d been in this business long enough to understand what he was trying to say. There was always a period of confusion after the change back.
“You were a frog,” Lily explained. “I kissed you. Now you aren’t.”
The prince’s brown hair was the same color as the mud covering him. He had the lean frame of a scholar and pale skin that showed he spent more time inside than outside. He was wearing travel clothes though, which wasn’t guaranteed for most of the princes she found.
Yes! He did have a travel bag on him. Lily pulled the bag off of him while the prince was still disoriented. The fact that the princes kept whatever they had on them through their transformation had helped her more than once — although usually that help came in the form of a sword. She peered inside.
The usual. Clothes, rations and a… crown?
“Hey!” Neal grabbed the bag back from Lily.
“We are going to need that,” Lily said. “Frogs can’t keep up with humans and we aren’t leaving them behind.”
“No one is messing with my bag.” Neal said.
“Is this about the crown? Look — ” she reached into her own bag and pulled out a scarf.
“Keep your voice down!” he hissed. “This thing is what got me turned into a frog in the first place!”
Lily tied the scarf into a sling. She looped it over his head. “Put the fancy crown that you are carrying around for some reason in here. The frogs can go in your bag.”
“This is what I get for trying to travel incognito,” Neal muttered. He stuffed the crown inside the sling. “I should have ordered a carriage. I just wanted to have a relaxing walk to my brother’s castle. Next thing I know I’m five inches tall and craving flies. How was I supposed to know the witch around here curses princes for sport?”
Lily laughed. The prince eyed her. “You are too happy about this.”
“The hard part of this job is over.” Lily said, “I found you, turned you back into a prince, and now all we need to do is take a stroll through this lovely swamp back to your castle and I get paid.” She took off her bag and opened the top. “Jump on in guys!”
The frogs began to hop inside her bag. After a glance at Neal, he shook his bag open and lowered it so they could jump in.
“I don’t know why you couldn’t just turn them all back.” He mumbled.
“Because the only thing harder than herding frogs is herding princes,” Lily said. “Unless you are pretty. Or rich. And I am neither.”
Neal stared at Lily like he was taking her in for the first time. Her dirty blond hair that was more dirty than blond. The face with more freckles than was fashionable. The crooked smile.
She stuck her tongue out at him and lifted her bag up. “Oof. This is heavy.” She swung it over her shoulders.
Neal rose. “Who are you?” he asked.
Lily grinned. “Lily Stramm, frog kisser extraordinaire.” she made an exaggerated bow. “At your service.”