Authors: E. D. Baker
Book Eight in
the Tales of the Frog Princess
E. D. BAKER
This book is dedicated to my family, who handles
all the horse chores when I get so caught up
in my writing that I can’t think of anything else,
and to my fans, whose enthusiasm
inspires me to keep writing.
illie leaned back against the dragon’s side, enjoying the coolness of his bluish white scales on the hot summer day. The dragon, Audun, was curled around her with his head resting on the grass near her feet while Felix, her baby brother, lay on the blanket beside her, cooing at the tip of the dragon’s tail that dangled over his head. Millie glanced down when the baby batted at the tail with his chubby hands.
“As far as I’m concerned, the smaller the wedding the better,” she said to Audun as she reached out to stroke the baby’s red gold curls. “I want it to be intimate, with just us and our immediate families.”
“Don’t you want our friends there, too?” Audun asked.
“Well, yes, of course, at least our closest friends, like Zoë and her parents and Ralf and his parents and your friends Frostybreath and—”
“Do you see what I mean? It’s going to be nearly impossible to have a small wedding. I don’t have a lot of relatives, but I do have lots of friends I want to invite.”
“Speaking of relatives,” said Millie, “I’m not sure what to do about my father’s side of the family. My uncle, Bradston, is all right, but I’ve told you how much my grandparents hate dragons. They can’t even accept the fact that
turn into a dragon. I can only imagine what they’ll say when I tell them about you!”
“Millie!” called her mother, Emma, from where she was kneeling in the garden, supervising the weeds that were pulling themselves out of the ground. “Don’t let the baby put that thing in his mouth! You have no idea where it’s been. No offense, Audun.”
“None taken,” the dragon replied, moving his tail out of the baby’s reach. Felix began to fuss, so Audun pulled a golden chain from around his neck and held the dangling amulet over the baby. “Here, you can play with this instead.” The ice dragon council had given the amulet to Audun to allow him to breathe underwater, and the rolling waves that decorated it soon caught the baby’s eye.
Millie’s great-aunt, Grassina, sat back on her heels and wiped the perspiration from her forehead. “When we finish this, I’m going to add a new section to the garden. I want to have plenty of fresh flowers for the wedding,” she said, smiling at Millie.
“We have to invite all the dragons who helped us, too, you know,” Audun said, nudging Millie’s foot with his chin.
Millie turned her head to watch Grassina gesture, making a strip of ground crumble until it was well worked and ready for seeds. The seeds flew from the witch’s hand, burrowing into the soil. Another gesture, and a dozen willow wands pushed into the soil beside the seeds and wove themselves into a delicate fence.
“Like who?” Millie asked Audun.
“King Stormclaw, for one. If he hadn’t given us permission to marry, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”
“That’s true … ,” Millie said.
“And then there’s his council … ,” said Audun.
“His entire council?” Millie said, sitting up abruptly. A lock of her long blond hair had gotten caught around one of Audun’s scales, and she winced when it yanked at her scalp.
Audun moved his back legs, and his tail twitched closer to the baby. “My grandmother is one of the members, and they all voted to let us get married.”
Millie sighed as she reached back to free her hair. “I suppose we’ll have to invite them, too, but we can’t include everyone we know.”
“I didn’t say we had to. I just want—YOW! Watch it, kid. Those scales are attached, and I’d like them to stay that way!”
Millie giggled. Her baby brother was just an infant, but his tiny fingers were already strong. She adored the little boy and was still surprised and delighted that he had become part of her life. Although most royalty relegated the care of infants to nursemaids, Millie and her parents spent as much time with Felix as they could. When Emma and Eadric were busy with the demands of the kingdom, Millie often visited the nursery on her own. Sometimes she felt almost as if she were the baby’s third parent.
“Excuse me,” Audun said, edging away from Millie as he got to his feet and put the golden chain back around his neck. “My back is getting stiff. I think it’s about time for a change.” Like the air above a sun-heated boulder on a hot afternoon, the air shimmered around Audun as he turned from a dragon into a young man with silvery white hair and vivid blue eyes. He was handsome whether he was a human or a dragon, with a strong chin and prominent cheekbones.
When Felix’s smile melted away and he began to fuss, Emma looked up from the growing pile of weeds and muttered under her breath. Butterflies flitting around the garden rose above the blossoms and flew to where the baby lay. The multihued cloud descended over the baby, fluttering just out of reach of his flailing fists. Felix chortled and his smile returned even brighter than before.
Audun had just taken a seat on the blanket when the shadow of a large bird passed overhead. Millie glanced up. Her heart rate quickened when she saw that it wasn’t a bird at all, but a witch with long white hair whipping behind her as she darted to a landing on her broom made of palm fronds tied to a stick.
Millie was used to visitors arriving at all hours of the day and night. Her mother was the Green Witch and in charge of dealing with the magical issues in Greater Greensward. Because Emma was married to Eadric, crown prince of Upper Montevista, she had to watch over that kingdom as well. Witches, fairies, and normal humans were always stopping by to tell her about yet another problem. Millie wouldn’t have minded if their arrival didn’t usually mean that her mother was going to be called away once again, leaving Grassina and Millie to deal with whatever problems might crop up in the two kingdoms. So far Grassina had been able to deal with it all, but there was always the chance that Millie would be called upon to help, and that the small amount of magic she was able to use wouldn’t be enough.
Millie tried to stay calm as the visiting witch, who appeared to be nearly ninety, hopped off her broom like a spry sixty-year-old and brushed her snarled hair back from her face. She was a pretty woman with tanned, not-too-wrinkled skin. When she spoke, her voice was unexpectedly husky. “Which one of you is Grassina?” she asked, peering at the women. “My eyesight isn’t so good anymore.”
Grassina stood, dusting off her hands. “I’m Grassina, and I know who you are, Cadmilla. How can I help you?”
“You can offer me a drink and a seat in the shade,” said the witch. “I’ve been on that pitiful excuse for a broom since yesterday, and my joints ache worse than a whale with a sick belly.” She sighed and shook her head. “Listen to me. I’ve spent so much time with those old crones on the island that I’m beginning to sound like them.”
While Grassina hurried into the cottage, Emma helped Cadmilla to a bench under the spreading branches of the oak that grew at the river’s edge. “I must be a sight,” the old witch said, fussing with her sleeves as she made herself comfortable. “I got caught in the rain yesterday. It took forever for my clothes to dry out.”
Grassina emerged from the cottage, carrying a large tankard. “Why were you looking for me?” she said, handing the woman the drink.
Cadmilla took a long sip. “I didn’t want to come, and I wouldn’t have if the old biddies back on the island hadn’t left me the short straw. I think they cheated and used magic to make their straws longer. I would have, too, if I’d thought of it soon enough. I came because of that sea monster. Wrecked our cottages and drove us into the woods. The ugly beast won’t leave us alone. It’s been coming for a week and hasn’t shown any sign of leaving.”
“If you and your friends are witches, couldn’t you have gotten rid of a sea monster on your own?” Audun asked.
Cadmilla curled her lip in exasperation. “Don’t you think we tried? But either our magic is getting as feeble as we are, or the monster is stronger than all of us put together. All our spells and potions didn’t affect Old Warty one bit. That’s what we call it, because of its warts.”