Hi Branks!!! How are you???? I haven’t seen you for so long LOL!!!!! I was thinking about you just the other day ;-) LOL!!!!! Somebody at a party gave me your fée-mail LOL!!! I hadn't known you had gone to work for Nemesis LOL!!! I would never have expected you to do that LOL!!!! I thought you always wanted to be a Wicked Fairy ;-) LOL!!! Are you gay then LOL??? Nobody at the party could remember you ever Shifting LOL ;-) !!!! We thought you didn’t like it!!!! Just goes to show you never can tell!!!! ;-) ;-)
Anyway, enough of that!!! I wanted to get in touch because you’re the only person I know at Nemesis!!! And you’re my friend!!! So I thought that if I sent you my CV, you could show it to Cobweb!!! I would really like to be a fairy Godmother LOL and I would be a dead good one LOL!!! I just love making people happy LOL!!! And the pastel clothes are really good on me LOL!!!
It will be such fun working with you, Branks!!! I can still remember how much fun we had at Universality together!!! Those parties LOL!!! Well, better not talk about those now LOL ;-) ;-) ;-)
Lots of love!!!!!
Carabosse gazed at Cobweb with an expression of total disbelief.
“This,” he said in awed tones, “is a job application?”
She nodded mournfully. “Branks says all her correspondence is like that. She thinks that LOL is a means of stopping you noticing that she’s just said something rude or stupid or contentious, or even that she’s just disagreed with you, and that a smiley face is a lawful alternative to punctuation. At least she’s started using the spellchecker; her spelling is dreadful. She can’t even manage a minor cantrip without needing a witch to undo it later.”
“What does she think punctuation is for? Why are four question marks better than one?”
“Stronger questions? I don’t know, darling. I really don’t. She thinks this epistolatory style makes her look friendly and approachable.”
Carabosse made a rude noise. “I think it makes her look like an axe murderer.”
“The sort of little man who sniggers a lot and has a huge butcher’s knife dripping with blood, and who can quite clearly be heard on your stairs when everybody else is asleep but you shouldn’t have eaten the cheese so close to bedtime?”
“The very one,” he agreed. “The lunatic chuckler who’s going to unzip the policeman’s friend from navel to throat and leave the body in the bath. Mad staring eyes, giggly conversations, intestines everywhere.”
They shared the glances of people who watched thrillers from behind the sofa.
“Or else,” said Cobweb, thoughtfully, “like a total airhead. Daylight from one ear to the other. The nitwit who giggles because she doesn’t know what to say, and who induces in me a dreadful urge to slap her, and not in any good way, either. She thinks she’s cute – she thinks cute is something that an adult ought to want to be. I mean, all right, maybe the layout for a business letter isn’t appropriate here, but that makes her look like an adolescent. She’s of full age and Power, but she writes like an immature fourteen year old. Branks says she signs her name with a heart over the ‘i’.”
The Wicked Fairy made a retching noise. “You aren’t going to give her a job, are you?”
“I most certainly am not,” she agreed. “I just thought, though, that you were complaining about being short staffed, and that you might be able to use her. She’s going to nag at Branks otherwise, and I don’t want him upset – he’s a brilliant P.A., darling, I can’t tell you how grateful I am for him. Haven’t you got somewhere she could go? Haven’t you got something nasty to do, needing a victim? Make something horrible happen to her, Bossy, do.”
He slid a little further down on the sofa, and considered, carefully. Naturally, he would never admit to a willingness to change the laws of Wickedness simply to please Cobweb, but. . .
“You do realise don’t you, that you’re asking me to interfere with Story? To meddle with Plot and Characterisation? To change, possibly, all that Was and Is and Probably Won’t Be Because It Doesn’t Make Sense?”
She nodded. There would be a Price. There was always a Price. He considered some more, and she waited hopefully, peeling the foil off the cava bottle. He was beginning to look like Alan Rickman again, which was always promising.
“I might just. . . If she’s a fluffy bunny, she’d be good for an Idiot Princess, wouldn’t she? I’ve got a spot for an Idiot Princess. I’ve just lost Fatua to Reality, and she’s been my best Idiot Princess since I don’t know when.”
Cobweb looked up from the cava bottle which was stubbornly refusing to give up its cork. “Fatua? What happened to her?”
The Wicked Fairy held out a hand for the bottle, which, like Cobweb, instantly, and sensibly, yielded to his longer fingers. “She went on holiday. Two weeks in Reality before she did me a season as Princess Annidderol, and she hasn’t come back. The television got her.” Cobweb hastily eased a glass under his fingers but the cava, which had been contemplating exploding out of the bottle, looked at the two Elementals and thought better of it.
“They’ve got something called reality television, and apparently she simply fell into a locus. Something called ‘I’m Nearly Famous Like Anybody Cares, Take Me Somewhere To Make A Fool Of Myself’; they gather up people you’ve never heard of, cage them together and wait to see what happens.”
“What does happen?” asked Cobweb, fascinated.
“Nothing at all. Some of them have sex, most of them quarrel about how famous they are, a couple of them weep. Occasionally, an off-screen sociopath requires them to carry out impossible and humiliating tasks. In point of fact it’s remarkably dull.”
“Darling, you’re brilliant. How do you come up with these things?”
“Oh, it’s nothing to do with Wicked Fairies. Humans thought this up all on their own: I’m not half twisted enough to have come up with something like that. But Fatua has failed to be voted out, or in, or off or something for five weeks so far, and is strongly tipped to be the last one standing (hardly surprising, she has the constitution of a tauromorph) so I’m not expecting to get her back in time to start the season. Would this silly cow do instead, do you think?”
“Branks says she’s a complete bird-brain,” said Cobweb, doubtfully. “No use at all in anything requiring independent thought.”
“Reliable in an emergency? Honest and trustworthy? Staunch and dependable?”
She made a face. “No. Panics in a crisis, totally self-centred, one of those people who can always come up with a justification for doing precisely what she wants.”
“Excellent. She can be Princess Anniddorol for me. Mail her in the morning and tell her you’ve got no vacancies but that you know I have a place for a Princess with guaranteed romance. That should fetch her.”
She leaned to kiss him, giving only a perfunctory squeak of protest, as he carefully removed her glass from her fingers and swept her face down across his lap. Where there was a Price, there was Payment, that was the rule and there was no point complaining about it. And he did, after all, look remarkably like Alan Rickman.
It was, thought Carabosse, plain prejudice to assume that Chlamydia would be blonde. She was, but he had no reason to assume it. She also had a face like a horse, but presumably that wasn’t her fault either; it was, he had to admit, a reasonably well bred horse.
No, the irritating thing Cobweb hadn't mentioned, having presumably no knowledge of it, was her voice. That was pitched a little higher than was quite comfortable even to his chiropteroid hearing and was breathy by nature. She spoke, he realised, with no particular surprise, precisely as she wrote, complete with an affected giggle at the end of every sentence. The woman actually did LOL.
“You understand what I require of you?” he enquired smoothly. Cobweb would never have fallen for this; she knew that tones of such bland unconcern from Carabosse always betokened disaster – usually painful disaster – for somebody. Chlamydia scented no danger.
“Oh yes,” she confirmed, with her trademark giggle. “You need a Princess for a fairy tale, to marry the handsome Prince and live happily ever after.”
“Mm,” said Carabosse. If the silly mare hadn't the sense to read the small print, it wasn’t his problem. She would live happily ever after. Happily-ish. And after? Well, there was a lot of action for ‘after’ to be, as it were, after. “You’ll have to go rather young, I’m afraid. The Princess is. . . do you know, I think I’ve been living with Cobweb too long. I can’t pass this, I really can’t. According to the spec, the Princess is old enough to get married but young enough to sit on the grass and play with a ball, and I can’t reconcile those. I’ll have a word with Cobweb, or maybe with that peculiar friend of hers. One of them will be able to think of some reason why you’re letting a ball bounce into a pond. Sign here, please, and. . . here. Lovely. Ready to go?”
She had forgotten, he thought with some satisfaction on Cobweb’s behalf, that he was a Wicked Fairy.
In the dear dead days when wishing still accomplished something, there lived a king whose daughter was so beautiful that the sun itself, which has seen so much, was astounded when it gazed upon her face. So were visitors to the kingdom, who agreed, loudly, that the Princess was beautiful, while thinking privately that she looked like a horse. One of those fancy horses with the metallic-effect coat, perhaps, an Akhal-Teke, but a horse nonetheless. Close by the palace was a dark forest, and under the shade of a tree on the edge of the forest was a pool of dark water, and when the day was hot, the Princess went to the forest with her maidens and her guard, and sat by the cool water.
And one day, one of her maidens, who was not in fact a maiden at all and who would long since have found herself in the pudding club were she were not skilled in herb craft and leechery (not lechery, that’s different), said, “Oh my mistress, have you seen the game that the young men of the guard play when they are off duty? They have a large ball, and they throw and kick it, and run to and fro, and shout, and sometimes they all hold onto each other and push.”
The Princess had not seen this, and she and her maidens all went to watch, and presently they came away, saying, “What, then, is the difference between ruck and maul? And what precisely is playing advantage? And why does that man have his ears tied on with insulating tape?”
(“Rugby, Cobweb? Look, I know that you and that Gnome have become completely obsessive about rugby and rugby players, but you really can’t force them into every chapter of Story. What’s this for?”
“Do you want the ball in the water or not?”
“You know I do.”
“Then don’t be such a fusspot. You asked for my help, and I worked out the ball thing and if you don’t like the way I did it, you can – Ow! Ow! OW!”)
There came a day when the Princess was dull (actually, she was always dull. She was one of the most uninteresting young women in Faery, but Story means that she was bored), and she thought to go alone to the pool, without her maidens, and on the grass beside the water she found the ball with which the young men of the guard had been playing, and she picked it up. It was not like unto the playthings of her childhood, it was a prolate spheroid. But she hadn't enough to do, in the way of minor royalty, and so she attempted to bounce the ball on the ground and laughed foolishly when it span away from her. Then she kicked it, as she had seen one of the young men of the guard do, and it passed between two trees and over a high fence, and a voice from the other side of the fence said, “Good conversion but can you run?”
The Princess was sore afraid for a moment, but the man who climbed over the fence holding the ball was dressed in the uniform of the royal guard, and she knew his face. He was one of those who played this game, and she and her maidens had oft-times commented on his manly physique.
(“Cobweb? May I just remind you that this is a Wicked Fairy narrative, not a Fairy Godmother one? I’ll allow you ‘manly physique’, but the first mention of ‘thews’ and you won’t sit comfortably in a week.”)
“Oh!” cried the Princess, foolishly. “A man!”
“You were expecting a frog?” asked the man. “I am Lieutenant Bendigedig, Princess, and I am bound to watch over your safety. The forest is peopled with many wicked beings, evil Fay and malicious Woodgnomes and spinners of plots and worse things. My duty is to keep you from all harm.”
So the Lieutenant dallied by the water with the Princess, and he explained to her many things about the game which he and his men played, and told her of the legends retailed by the old men who had taught them to play, and of the days of the Gods of the Pontypool Front Row. And presently she began to want to try for herself some of these things, and particularly the rituals of Scrum. But there was only the Lieutenant and the Princess, so the scrum was a little unorthodox, and the Princess was small of stature, although the Lieutenant was not, so when he braced himself on a tree and invited her to form up with him, and she reached round his thigh and up towards his body, she did not reach the front of his shirt, nor did she grip as tightly as Corporal Cythrudd, and the Lieutenant thought disloyally that he would much prefer to pack down with the Princess than with the Corporal. And the days passed very pleasantly for them both.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the country, a Prince was riding along the road when he came across an old woman in a black cloak, and being a Prince and therefore accustomed to everyone getting the hells out of his way, he did not turn his horse aside as a gentleman would do, but shouted at her to move from the road. She did move, but as he passed her by, she made a gesture with her hand, and his horse sat back on its haunches and propped its forelegs on the path and the Prince, who was no horseman, somersaulted slowly over its shoulder and landed heavily on his posterior in the roadway, while his horse staggered up again, and trotted out of reach.
“Here! You! Help me catch the horse!”
“Why?” asked the old woman, who was ill-favoured, having a large nose and a bony face, a look which is pleasing on Alan Rickman but not generally enticing in crones.
“Because I’m Prince Erchyll!”
“And this affects me how?”
The Prince rose up and stared at her, and then he stamped his foot in the dust, and pouted his lip and said in a bratly whine, “I want my horse back and then I shall cut off your head!”
And the old woman said, “Why does this always happen in any story involving that anathematised Woodgnome? Where are all the straight young men, involvement of whom would make my life easier? Listen, you, Prince you may be, but you don’t speak to me like that. I’m supposed to ensure that you get an introduction to a Princess and marry her and live happily ever after, and if you aren’t damn careful I’ll sort out the first two and leave the third to look after itself.”
The Prince stared. “I don’t want to meet any Princesses! I left home to get away from having to meet Princesses!”
“How many exclamation marks was that?” asked the crone, sharply. “Are you sure there was only one on each of those sentences? I’ll allow you one per sentence, although having them on every remark is extremely bad style. Even the Woodgnome says so.”
“I’ll have as many exclamation marks as I please!!!!!”
“Not in my damn Story, you won’t, I’m quite with Cobweb on that one. And don’t stick out your tongue at me, young man, unless you want me to put a clothes-peg on it.”
“I shall do as I want!!! I’m the Prince!!!”
“And what am I?”
“You’re an ugly crone!!! You’re the wicked old woman who. . . Oh, fuck!!! You’re a Wicked Fairy, aren’t you???”
“Yup, sunshine, Wicked Fairy, that’s me. And you are a. . .”
“Frog. And if you would like to hop up here into my pocket, we’ll just go back to the Website and see if Cobweb has any bright ideas about this one. A Prince I can handle, but where there’s a Queen, there’s usually trouble, and you, young man, are about as queeny a queen as I’ve seen in a long time, so you’re her problem. And there is going to be one well spanked bottom before the end of the day, I’m telling you.”
“No, not yours, hers. I knew I should never have let her talk me into this. Although if you continue to punctuate like that, I won’t be held responsible for what she’ll do to you.”
“What did I just say?”
“Better. Control the punctuation, and I’ll bring the horse. It can go and stay with Barnabas.”
The Frog’s vocabulary being inadequate to express understanding of his rôle in Story, Carabosse restored to him – temporarily – the power of speech. The screech with which the Prince met the news that he might be expected to behave according to the laws of Story made him wonder if it had been a mistake.
“I don’t want to marry a Princess! Why do I have to marry a Princess?”
“Because I said so,” said Carabosse, crossly. “And to ensure the succession.”
“She’s a Girl,” muttered the Frog, sulkily. “I don’t do Girls.”
“No, pet, you won’t have to,” soothed Cobweb. Carabosse looked up in surprise. “Won’t he? How are you. . . how am I going to make this go?”
“See that lieutenant? Good breeding stock.”
“What! That’s my succession you’re talking about! My kingdom! Well, it will be my kingdom, eventually.”
The Elementals exchanged glances. This was going to be more difficult than they had anticipated.
It was. It took most of the morning to convince the Frog that it would not be possible for him to secure the succession personally without doing – That – with a female woman. By unspoken agreement, neither Carabosse nor Cobweb mentioned the Gnome and his – her – means of procreation. Some concepts – some conceptions – were simply too difficult. And neither of them fancied explaining how it had come about that they had permitted it to be repeated. . . No. Not that again.
“Darling, are you sure this will work?”
“Just put the Frog in the pond. We’ll be cool.”
Now it so happened that on one occasion the Princess’s ball did not fall into the hand which she held out for it (happens to every fullback once in a while) but on the ground beyond, and rolled straight into the water. The Princess gazed after it, but it floated beyond her reach, and she dared not reach too far, because the pond was deep, so deep that the bottom could not be seen. On this, she began to cry, being a wet hen of the first order, and she wept louder and louder, and as she lamented, a voice from the water said, “Shut the fuck up, will you? I heard you the first time. What’s the row about?” She looked around and saw a Frog stretching its thick, ugly, head from the water. “Ah! Old water splasher, is it thou?” said she; “I weep for my ball, which has fallen into the water.”
The Frog considered. “You want it back, yes? And what’s in it for me?”
The Princess gave him a Hard Stare. He fidgeted, holding out only for a minute before his nerve broke. “What? What?”
“You’re supposed to say, what wilt I give thee if thou wilt bring my plaything back again.”
“No, that’s. . . Do I have to?”
Her lower lip began to protrude.
“Bugger. What wilt thou give me if I fetch thy plaything back from the water?””
“Whatever thou wilt have, dear Frog,” said she. “My clothes, my pearls and jewels and even the golden crown which I am wearing.”
“Like I need those? Your clothes aren’t half as good as mine, and frankly the contents of your jewellery box aren’t up to much. Those pearls. . . those are only river pearls. They’re rubbish.”
“They aren’t!!! They aren’t!!! They’re real pearls!!! My daddy gave them to me for my birthday!!! How can you be so horrible??? :( :(”
The Frog croaked in amazement. “How did you do that??? How did you pronounce an emoticon???”
“Practice!!! You can do it with practice!!!!”
“I think I agree with the Wicked Fairy. Don’t.”
“I shall if I want to!!! :-P :-P”
“Then don’t blame me if something horrible happens to you. Where were we? Oh yes. I do not care for thy clothes, thy pearls and jewels or thy golden crown, because frankly I think thou should’st have got a better dentist and had a white crown, but if thou wilt love me and let me be thy companion and playmate and sit by thee at table and eat from thy plate and drink from thy cup and sleep in thy bed – do I have to say all this rubbish? Why on earth would I want to do any of those things?”
There was a deadly silence, and the Princess’s lip slid outwards like a CD-Rom tray.
“If thou wilt love me and let me be thy companion and playmate and sit by thee at table,” gabbled the Frog, “and eat from thy plate and drink from thy cup and sleep in thy bed, I will go down below and then we’ll see who’s got the golden balls.”
The silence this time was a little confused.
“I mean, I’ll go down into the water and bring back thy golden ball.”
“Oh yes!!!!!” cried the Princess. “I promise thee all thou wishest if thou wilt but bring me my ball back again!!!!!” But she thought, “Hear the silly creature talk!!!! He lives in the water with the other frogs and can be no companion to a Princess ;-) ;-)”
But the Frog, when he had received this promise, sank down into the water and began to look for the ball, which was stupid because it was a ball for pity’s sake, it would float, and any half way intelligent Princess could have retrieved it with a broom handle, but there you are. Presently he bumped his head on the ball and attempted to push it towards the edge of the pond.
It was too heavy. He pushed, bumped, thrust. It was too heavy.
(“Gnome? Gnome? Where are you? GNOME?”
“What? I’m here, what’s all the row about?”
“I need you to be a frog, Gnome, quick.”
“Do you know, of all the things you’ve ever said to me, that’s about the least. . . Why do you need a frog?”
“Story has gone all b2y2 = x3(a-x).”
“How lovely. Do you know that if you cut and paste that into a search engine all the powers go wrong?”
“Yes. It’s the italics. Or possibly the Powers. Anyway, that will be your problem when we get to posting an update.”
“Thank you. Why does this mean I need to be a frog? You know damn well that every time I help you with a Story I end up eating my dinner off the mantelpiece, or worse.”
“The blasted Frog Prince isn’t strong enough to get the rugby ball out of the pond.”
“And this. . .”
“Gnome, I swear to the Goddess that if you say ‘and this affects me how?’, I’ll remember that I’m answerable to the Mother and spank you myself.”
“I was going to say, and this makes him a suitable candidate for running a kingdom? So why do I need to be a frog? Why can’t somebody just give the Princess a landing net?”
“Oh, don’t be so bloody reasonable. I haven’t got a landing net. If you’ll be a frog, I can be a frog too and we can all push together.”
The Gnome snorted. “What sort of frog?”
She eyed him cautiously. “You’re not being a cane toad just because you like the name; I don’t know if they can swim. Frog, one, general purpose, Fairy Stories for the use of. Like this.” She grabbed his hand and pulled and he felt the familiar twist of Folding, and then a sudden damp chill.
“Hop in,” said Cobweb’s voice in his head, and something pushed; there was a splash and it occurred to him that she had never retaliated for the occasion on which he threw her in the mill pond. He started to object.
“Ribbit,” agreed the green individual beside him, striking out for the middle of a rather murky pond and an exhausted amphibian wearing an improbable gold crown. The three of them gathered in the lee of the ball.
“Ruckit,” said the female frog, firmly, swimming to a place behind the other two. The Gnome opened his mouth which instantly filled with water; he coughed anxiously. His life seemed to be unnecessarily complicated these days; time was when he knew what was going on, he knew what he was and what he liked. Rugby players, yes, he liked those, but female rugby players disguised as frogs?
“Ruckit,” she said again, more urgently, and grasped – he croaked. Female rugby frogs with long fingers and he really didn’t want her holding on quite there. . . From the croak and splash on the other side, it appeared that the Frog Prince wasn’t keen either.
“Ruckit!” insisted Cobweb, crossly, and began to swim towards the edge of the pond.
It’s not a ruck, it’s a maul, thought the Gnome, equally crossly. She might at least get the terms right. Still, he kicked strongly; the sooner he was out of this nasty cold water, the sooner he could get back to his Merlot. And she wasn’t having any of it. The ball floated into the reeds at the edge of the water, and something vast and pink. . . a shift in focus identified it as the Princess’s hand, retrieving the ball.
“Cobs? Could I trouble you to let go? If Huw sees you kneeling on the floor with your hands. . . um. . . there, he’s going to want to reassess the entire nature of our relationship, and I really don’t think. . . thank you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I want a bath, in rather hotter and cleaner water than I’ve been experiencing recently. And possibly dry clothes. And a drink. Feel free to shut the door on your way out.”
She gave him a Look, and Folded.)
“Where are you going?” asked the Frog, plaintively, as the Princess, with a little moue of distaste, wiped slime from her hands. The ball, which she had thrown from her in disgust, sat forlornly on the grass.
“Back to the palace for a hot bath,” said the Princess firmly. “That ball was, like, so gross after you touched it, I need to get clean again :( ”
“What about your promise?” asked the Frog. “You promised to make me your companion.”
“Oh yes, like I’m so going to hang out with frogs!!!!” said the Princess in a tone of deep disgust. “Du-uh!!!!!!”
“Ooh, you’re a lying bitch!”
“Well, you’re a slimeball,” retorted the girl, accurately enough. “And I’ll never let you in the palace, so there. Actually, I think I shall have all the ponds filled in, and made into pitches where the men-at-arms can play with their odd shaped balls.”
“You just wait,” shrieked the Frog at her retreating back. “You’ll be hearing from my lawyers.”
Now, the very next day, as the Princess sat at her meat, picking over the things on her little golden plate and discarding most of them with a murmur of ‘gross’ or ‘eww, calories’, something came creeping splish-splash, splish-splash up the marble staircase and cried: ‘Princess, open the door for me!’. She ran to see who was outside, but when she saw she slammed the door shut again, looking pale and frightened, and ran back to the table. And the King saw that her heart was beating wildly, and he said:
“What ails thee, daughter? Are there Jehovah’s Witnesses without, come to seek thy soul, or doth some other terrible evil trouble thee?”
“Nay, good father,” replied the Princess, “it was but a lawyer, but I was too quick for him. I think he may lose that toe, though.”
“A lawyer? What the fu- on earth does he want with thee?”
“Umm” – and the Princess began to blush. Despite lots of practice, she had never been particularly good at lying. “I think it might be – there was this frog, and I sort of promised, well not exactly promised, but he might have got the idea that I had promised, that he could come and live in the palace with me, and share my plate and my bed.”
“A frog? A frog!? Look, I’m a tolerant man. You youngsters want to – um – experiment, that’s fine with me as long as everyone consents. Have fun with the young men in the court. Play with your ladies in waiting, if that’s what you want. But I’m not having bestiality, I do draw the line at that.”
“Oh Daddy, for heaven’s sake!!! You know I wouldn’t do anything like that with a nasty, slimy old frog!!! He just got my ball back for me. It wasn’t like I signed anything, LOL.”
“Thanks be for small mercies,” sighed the king. Just as he did so, another furious knock resounded at the door. “Oh for heavens sake, let him in, or we’ll never get to eat in peace,” added the monarch peevishly.
A thin man in black limped into the hall and approached the King.
“Good evening, your majesty. I am Josiah Dessicant, of Dessicant, Dust, and Scrope, Lawyers at Arms. We represent a Mr Rana Rana, with whom your daughter entered a contract which she subsequently failed to fulfil.”
The King stared at him. “This is technically an absolute monarchy,” he pointed out, mildly. “I’m not sure that the law of contract, or any other law, applies to members of the royal family.”
“Not unless the reigning monarch wishes it to,” agreed the lawyer pleasantly. “However, this really has to do more with keeping one’s word. Neighbouring monarchies are apt to get a bit – ah – fidgety, if they think that sworn vows by a given royal family are no more than so much hot air. So many of those little deals about borders, tributes, and the like are settled by a quiet word between kings, or princes. Or even, occasionally, princesses.” He smiled at the King, who stared hard at him. There was something familiar. . .
“Retire with me to my solar, Master Dessicant,” he said. “I will take counsel with you, and hear your case.”
The lawyer bowed politely, and followed the King through the throng of courtiers who had, of course, all risen when the King did. They entered a pleasant room, hung with tapestries, containing what passed for comfortable chairs in a pseudo-mediaeval environment.
“It is Carabosse, isn’t it?” asked the King uncertainly. The wicked fairy bowed again, and threw off his glamour.
“Hello, Oakleaf,” he said. “I didn’t realise you were working here. How’s it going?”
“Oh, so so. I’m really going to have to have a word with my agent. He told me this was just a simple job in rep, ‘a standard WJM you could do standing on your head were his exact words’, I think.”
“Wise and just monarch. You know the sort of thing. But instead, I’ve got the Daughter from Hell, a palace guard apparently obsessed with some peculiar game involving what looks like a leather ostrich egg and which appears to involve much singing of rude songs, drinking beer, and gratuitous nudity, and now I’ve got you bringing me legal troubles.”
“Ah. Well, I admit the story has deviated slightly from the standard pattern.”
“Well, maybe more than slightly,” conceded Carabosse. “Still, it will come out right in the end, I promise you. I mean, Oakleaf, you’ve been in enough of these productions to know how to ad-lib when you have to. I remember that Perseus and Andromeda you did, the one where you played her mother, and Perseus was running round like a headless chicken because the sea monster and the Princess decided to set up home together and make marine biology videos, and you managed to bring that one in all right.”
“Only by marrying Perseus myself,” said Oakleaf, a little grumpily, but it was clear he was flattered. “Well, I suppose, if you’re going to be here to make it come out right.”
“Oh no no no. That would be quite improper. Can’t have the director constantly intervening. Besides, you’re quite capable of handling it all yourself. You know my methods, Oakleaf. Apply them.”
“Um. You think so?”
“No question of it. Just force the girl to accept the Frog.”
Oakleaf winced. “I can hear the whining now,” he sighed. “But O.K. At least I shall have the pleasure of seeing the little madam’s face when she realises she isn’t going to wriggle out of it. Where’s my new son-in-law?”
“Here,” said Carabosse, reaching carefully into his pocket. . .
“My life is ruined,” said Princess Aniddorol, sulkily to the pond dweller currently staining her eiderdown. “And it’s all your fault.” It was a measure of how distressed she was that this was accompanied by neither text speak nor emoticons.
“Like I care,” retorted the Frog. “Your life is ruined? What about mine?”
“But I’m a Princess!!! You’re only a horrible, smelly, slimy Frog.”
“I am not smelly.”
“You are too! Smelly, smelly, stinky, ugly Frog!!!!”
“At least,” hissed the Frog malevolently, “I’m not an overweight bimbo with a spotty face and a moustache.”
The Princess’s shriek was loud enough to be heard through half the castle. Lieutenant Bendigedig sprang through the door before the echoes had finished dying away.
“Princess, what is it?”
“This, this, this horrible thing. Take it down to the kitchens, Benny darling, and tell the chef I want frogs legs for supper.”
“I. . .”
“Now, please, Benny, otherwise I shall cry and cry!!!”
“Very well, Princess.” The lieutenant picked up the Frog, popped it into his shirt, saluted with a carefully blank expression, and left. Although the expression ‘high maintenance’ was unknown to him, the concept was intimately familiar. “And I hate the name, Benny,” he added, as he walked down the corridor. The Frog, which he had only cached in his shirt for safekeeping so that he had a hand free to salute, seemed happy there against his pecs, so he left it as he made his way down to the castle kitchens. “Poor little bugger,” he muttered. Still, orders were orders.
There was always life in the castle kitchens, no matter what the time of day. He found one of the under-cooks, delved in his shirt, and retrieved the Frog, which sat in his palm looking happy but a bit dazed.
“The Princess would like this for supper,” he said. “Frogs legs, she wants. As soon as.”
“Frogs legs? Where does she think she is, Perrault?” grumbled the cook. “Give it here then, I’ll see what we can do.” He grabbed the Frog unceremoniously by one leg, despite its croaks and frantic kicks, and picked up a cleaver. . .
(“Cobweb! Is that never-sufficiently-to-be-condemned Gnome of yours interfering again? Because if he is, I swear I’ll see him whipped from one end of Faerie to the other. This is NOT supposed to be happening.”
Cobweb frowned. “No, I don’t think so. Not actively. Of course, he may have inadvertently ill-wished the story. He wasn’t very happy about going in that pond.”
“I’m not surprised. From what I hear, the last time he got hauled up before the Small Fays’ Court, they sentenced him to 6 months as a shopping trolley in the middle of a particularly foul canal for Mythappropriation of Fundamental Archetypes.”
“It was a case of mistaken identity,” said Cobweb feebly. “He wasn’t there. So he says.”
Carabosse sniffed. It was a very pointed sniff, a sniff that conveyed volumes.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Cobweb crossly. “Maybe he did do it, maybe he didn’t. Regardless, I don’t think it’s him that buggered up Story this time. And hadn’t you better save the Prince before he loses his assets?”
Carabosse gestured, irritably.)
“Ow!” said the cook, as the Frog twisted in his grasp and bit him. Now normal frogs do not have teeth, but this was an enchanted Frog, and getting a bit of help from an evil genius to boot, and it bit quite hard, hanging on for grim death as the cook shook his hand, trying to dislodge it, until a final snap of the hand sent it flying across the kitchen and under the table.
The angry cook went chasing after it only to recoil in amazement as a young man, naked but for a pair of green swimshorts patterned with cartoon tadpoles, arose from where, only a few moments beforehand, a stunned Frog had been lying.
“You – you – utter brute!” said the youth to the astonished servant. “Cutting up poor little innocent creatures. When I’m king I shall issue a decree that eating frogs is forbidden.”
“When you’re king?”
“I am the Princess’s husband. To be. Umm – which way is her room, exactly? Only I couldn’t see when I was brought down. That is,” and his voice took on a dreamy quality, “I could see plenty, but not where we were going.”
The cook pointed him in the right direction, shaking his head, as the youth, still rather underdressed for court, and apparently oblivious of the fact, scampered off.
As the minutes passed an impatient young lieutenant began to wonder how long a woman’s ‘few moments while I slip into something comfortable’ could take, especially given the way she had left him. Surely it wasn’t a trick? No, a reward promised in that particular tone could only really mean one thing. And she had proved – willing enough, if demanding, the last time. . . he drifted into a pleasant, and rather stimulating reverie. He wasn’t sure about the pink silk ties on his arms and feet, nor the blindfold, but in fact both were loose enough to be removed quite easily since she had tied them with decorative, but inept, bows.
He heard footsteps and a small gasp. At last. The cool air didn’t do a man’s pride and joy any good, though judging by the pleased intake of breath she was satisfied, anyway. A well-moisturised and delicate hand touched him – there – and he writhed a little, then again, slower, for effect, as the hand began to explore. As the gentle fingers probed and stroked, little sounds of need forced their way from his throat, until as if by telepathy, without him needing to say anything, a tongue worked its way urgently up the straining length of him, slid across the quivering tip, and a warm and silken mouth enveloped him.
“Oh sweet blood of ransom,” groaned the lieutenant in ecstasy, his head thrown back, his hands straining against the bonds as tongue and lips worked on him with increasing urgency. “If I’d known you were this good at it I’d have demanded it as payment for the rugby lessons.”
The Princess responded with a squawk and a cry of:
“Who the hell are you?”, but the odd thing was that her voice came from the doorway into her closet. He pulled a hand from the bondage without any appreciable difficulty, ripped off the blindfold, looked down at the brown – brown? hair on the head of the naked, er, the naked, the naked boy?! at work between his parted thighs, and then up at the horrified face of the Princess standing looking at them, one hand to her mouth.
“Shit,” he said, conversationally, and grabbed a handful of the young man’s hair – not too hard, because his manhood was still between the other’s jaws, and fair play to him, he hadn’t – oh Gods that felt good! – stopped at the interruption – and pulled him off as smartly as possible.
“You, who the fuck are you and how did you get in here?” And where did you learn to suck cock like that, and would you like to do it some more, pretty please?
The young man replied with as much hauteur as is possible when you’re practically naked and someone has you by the hair: “I’m Erchyll, I was under a spell as the Frog, and now I’m the Princess’ husband. To be.”
“But I don’t want a silly husband, and I specially don’t want you!!!” retorted the Princess.
“I shall cry. . .” she announced dramatically, her lip quivering like a springboard from which a particularly hefty diver had just launched.
“See if I care,” snapped the boy. “The moat’s looking a bit low – if you stick your head out the window you can fill it at the same time, and do us all a favour.” He turned to the young soldier. “In the meantime, lieutenant, I’m sure I can do even better with a bit of practice.”
“Umm, yes, I mean no,” flapped Bendigedig, catching a filthy glare from the Princess. “I mean, I’m not like that. . .” I think.
“No, he’s a real man,” hissed the Princess. “Unlike some. And he’s mine, so hands off, you boyfriend-stealing perve!!!”
“Don’t you dare call me a perve, you slapper.”
The Princess gasped. “What did you say??? How dare you call me a slapper, you, you gayboy!!! You nancy!!!”
“I am not a nancy, you. . .” but unable to think of an insult of suitable magnitude on the spur of the moment, he leaned forward and pinched her arm, hard. With a yelp, Anniddorol pulled his hair, savagely, and began to pummel him ineffectually with her fists. The shrieking and swearing built to a crescendo until driven beyond endurance, and unable to think of any other means to gain the attention of the two combatants, the lieutenant landed two or three stinging slaps to each of their respective backsides.
There were two squawks of genuine, rather than feigned, distress (the lieutenant having been vexed enough to put some effort into it), and then a sudden, sullen silence.
“Better,” began the lieutenant, but before any further thoughts on the matter could be delivered the King appeared.
“What the dickens is going on here?” he enquired with some annoyance. “It sounds like a dozen cats fighting.”
“Daddy!!!” wailed the Princess. “He spanked me :( :( The lieutenant spanked me. I want you to lock him in the dungeons. For ever.”
“And he hit me, too,” complained the boy.
“And you would be. . .?”
“I’m Erchyll, husband to the Princess,” returned the youth. “Prince Erchyll. In my own right, Prince, that is. And um, husband-to-be,” he added nervously under the King’s hard stare.
“Ah, of course,” replied the monarch urbanely.
“Prince Erchyll???” asked Anniddorol, surprisedly. “I didn’t know you were a Prince, I thought you were just a boring old subject, LOL. Is yours a rich Princedom?” she added, innocently.
“I suppose,” replied the boy with the offhandedness of one who has never actually needed to check.
“Yes, daddy, and the lieutenant attacked my poor husband-to-be as well as me,” said Anniddorol, grasping the startled Erchyll firmly by the arm. “I think it might be an assassination attempt. Perhaps you should chop off his head, just in case.”
“Your majesty,” began a worried Bendigedig, falling to his knees. “I never. . .
“Oh for heavens sake, man, get up,” said the King. “Now let me get this straight. You two,” he indicated the junior royals, “were making that terrible racket. And he,” he indicated the lieutenant, “stopped it, by the simple expedient of smacking both your bottoms.”
“I. . .” “He. . .” “We. . .”
“A simple yes or no will do. Is that or isn’t that the case?”
“Yes, your majesty.” “Yes, sir.” “Yes, daddy.”
“Good, I’m glad we’ve got that sorted out. And now I understand what Carabosse meant about applying his methods. Lieutenant!”
“Do it some more.”
“Take this pair of brats, and spank them both within an inch of their lives.”
“Now, your majesty?” “No, sir!” “Nooooooo, daddy!”
“If you please, lieutenant. At once. Start with her. Oh, and Bendigedig?”
“Sir?” enquired the lieutenant, rather surprised that the King remembered his name.
“Put some clothes on first, there’s a good chap.”
It was a prettily blushing lieutenant who struggled into his breeches, ignored his tunic and reached for the Princess. The ‘something comfortable’ which she was wearing seemed to be frilly and frothy and – well, and excessive, frankly. It was also pink. And damned difficult to. . .
Ah. There she was.
Even Cobweb would have admitted her right to multiple punctuation, given the tanning which was delivered to the royal bottom. In fact, the girl pronounced nothing but punctuation for several minutes, during which a strong and determined young man, armoured with the express approval of his monarch, conveyed to her the general desirability of good manners and self control and also of speaking in her father’s English. And, although it hadn’t been expressly mentioned, the undesirability of interrupting the lieutenant himself in the middle of what had been an extremely affecting blow-job.
Unfortunately for the Prince, if not for Plot, it did not occur to him that while this was going on, he would be well advised to run away rather than leaning on the bedpost heckling and giving advice. The advice was heeded, and any inexperience on the lieutenant’s part had been overcome by the time the Prince found himself tipped over the military knee and inspecting the tadpoles on the discarded swimwear. His betrothed found herself able to stop weeping and to applaud as his whining objections mutated to a high pitched wail of protest and dismay.
“Excellent,” approved the King, smiling on his rather breathless lieutenant. “And from now on, you have a new and well-rewarded post: Rougefesse Puniment, Castigator Manual to the Crown. If either of them steps so much as an inch out of line, spank them. Spank them hard. Show no fear or favour. Train them, lieutenant. Teach them some manners. Teach her punctuation and grammar. Teach him not to whine. Give us all some peace.”
Bendigedig, Duke of Cosbedigaeth, Rougefesse Puniment, is an important man at court these days. He has, it is said, the ear of the King; furthermore, it is well known that he has great influence with both the Princess and her husband. Oh yes, they were married, and the succession ensured. There are two infants in the royal nursery. Curiously, both of them have a resemblance to the Duke, but that is not a subject for discussion at court, any more than the fact that the Prince and Princess do not share a bedchamber. Well, not their own bedchamber. The Duke, according to vulgar gossip to which we do not, of course, attend, occasionally expresses himself in language learned from the Frog: “Rubbit. Grippit. Lickit. Ooooooh, fuckit. Fuckit.”
And both the Prince and Princess oblige.
 Oh all right, here it is:
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