Situated in a land far away there once was a magnificent kingdom. The kingdom is now long forgotten even in the history books. It is forgotten to everyone except to the local people in a tiny village in the shadow of the ruins. They descended from the people who inhabited this once lavish kingdom. Their ancestors once ruled and lived in the region. Of course, the only proof of their claim is a tale that has been passed down from generation to generation. The folklore is revered and they refuse to share it with the world. But I recently had the privilege of visiting this land and thanks to my charming ways one of the older inhabitants shared the story.
This particular kingdom was the home to Princess Cate. According to legend, she was the most beautiful princess in the land. That is a pretty lofty claim if you ask me. I will concede she is definitely the most beautiful princess in this tale. Who can argue with that?
Our story begins on Princess Cate’s eighteenth birthday. At this time, whenever a princess in the region turned eighteen, she was eligible to attend the prestigious Friendly Royals of Gallantry Ball. That’s what the royals called it. The peasants just referred to it mockingly as the Frog Ball. But never within earshot of any of the royals.
The Frog Ball’s sole purpose was to introduce young royals to other suitable royals. The expectation for a young royal after attending the ball was marriage. This ball was responsible for not only uniting lives and but also kingdoms. The rules were well known and simple. If a prince and princess danced together, that was the official start of an engagement. An engagement in that day and age could not be broken under any circumstance except maybe death.
Young princesses spent many moments daydreaming about the ball. It didn’t matter which princess was dreaming, the plot of the fantasy went like this: the most handsome prince would ask her to dance as soon as she entered the room. All the other couples would stop dancing and watch as she and her handsome partner twirled about the room. Of course, the other princesses would glare at her with jealousy. But the other princes were jealous of him. This was the expectation of a young princess anyway.
While a prince could attend more than one ball, a princess could only attend once. Occasionally, a princess would not be asked to dance. When this happened, the poor princess returned home and was relegated to living her life as an old maid. While great expectations were hoped for before the Frog Ball there was also a great amount of nervousness. A prince, however, could afford to be much more relaxed about the matter. He could attend as many times as he pleased until his thirtieth birthday. Before you start complaining, remember I have no control over the events I am merely a storyteller.
Cate received her invitation for the ball on her eighteenth birthday. Most young royals grew up hearing stories of the Frog Ball and all the unions that resulted from it. They also heard, in sad almost whispered tones, of those “poor unfortunate” girls who left consigned to Old Maid status. A princess inclined to the “What if no one asks me to dance” scenario probably worried herself sick before the ball. Cate was so inclined to do so.
Immediately Cate went to her one true confidant to share the news. Her maternal grandmother.
“Grandmother, it has come, my invitation to the Ball!” She held the invitation up for proof.
Her grandmother studied it. “It is your time for the annual Frog Ball?” While technically her grandmother was considered royalty, she never acted like it. She preferred to spend time in the village among the peasants. This was one reason Cate loved to visit her grandmother. There were times when a young girl just did not feel like being proper. Her grandmother allowed her an opportunity to take a break from her princess obligations. “Already?”
Cate lowered the invitation. “Grandmother, I am eighteen,” Cate said with emphasis to make eighteen sound old and mature. “This is my chance to meet my handsome prince,” she forced her voice to be steady. “If I get asked to dance.”
Her grandmother cupped her granddaughter’s face with the palm of her hand. “Eh, if not, it will not the end of the world,” she said but quickly added, “but of course you will be asked to dance.”
“You are just saying that because you are my grandmother,” Cate smiled.
“I am saying that because I have exceptional taste,” her grandmother winked. “Who will be your escort?”
Princesses were required to take one female escort. The escort ensured the princess picked her dance partner wisely. If a princess introduced a prince to her escort and the escort disapproved of the prince, there would be no dance. It was in the best interest of the princess to choose her escort wisely. Most picked their mothers to join them. Rather, the mothers insisted they be chosen as escorts. After all, how could a mother leave such an important task to someone else?
“Will you be taking your mother?” Grandmother asked.
Cate looked behind her in the direction of the castle. She had just left her mother moments earlier after showing her the invitation. Messengers from her mother beat Cate out the door. They were sent to the local tailor to come and make a wedding dress.
Cate looked at her grandmother. “I would rather have you join me.”
Her grandmother nodded. “Probably a wise choice.” She pulled a chair out from the table and motioned for Cate to sit. Then she sat in the chair opposite. “There are some ground rules we must cover first.”
Cate’s brow furrowed. “Rules?”
Her grandmother nodded. “First, you must trust me totally. Do you trust me?”
Cate nodded her head. Her grandmother raised her eyebrows.
“Of course, grandmother,” Cate could feel her cheeks become red with heat. “I have always trusted you.”
Her grandmother licked her dry lips but did not look away. “You have never needed to trust me like you will at the Frog Ball. I need your word that you will trust my judgment.”
“I trust your judgment,” Cate said slowly. But, for the first time, she wondered what that entailed.
Grandmother nodded her head slowly. “And second, patience, as they say, is a virtue. You will need the upmost patience. No granddaughter of mine will settle for Mr. First-Come Prince just to be safe. If I am to be your escort there will be no settling. Understood?”
Cate nodded her head. Why would her grandmother think she would settle? More important, did her grandmother think she would need to settle?
Her grandmother studied her for a moment more before slapping the table with her palm. Cate jumped at the sudden motion. “Good! That is settled. Tell me what you want in a future husband.”
Cate looked down. What she wanted? She wanted a good husband.
“I imagine you want a handsome fellow,” her grandmother asked trying to make eye contact with Cate’s downward gaze.
Cate could feel her cheeks get red again. “That would be nice,” she said. That was actually at the top of her non-formulated list but she did not want to sound vain.
Her grandmother laughed. “And what interests?”
Interests? Cate had never thought of that. She figured if he was good looking that would cover just about everything.
Her grandmother looked at her. “We do have a month to make this list. But I want you to take it seriously. Write down the qualities you are looking for in a husband.”
Other than handsome? Cate thought for a moment. Her grandmother started to stand up “I suppose,” she said and her grandmother sat down and waited for her to continue, “It would be nice if he had a sense of humor.”
Her grandmother smiled. “I think that is a very important attribute.”
Cate smiled and relaxed. With her grandmother’s help she compiled a list of desirable attributes she would like her future prince to have. If one should ask her to dance.
A month later the doors opened to the mysterious castle in the neighboring kingdom. Cate’s mother insisted on walking with them until they came to the entrance. Her mother hugged her before they separated and whispered last minute instructions into Cate’s ear. Because of the noise and commotion, Cate couldn’t hear what she said. Hopefully, it was not important. Her mother sobbed as Cate and her grandmother walked across the drawbridge and Cate wondered if her mother would cry until her return.
The group of young hopeful and slightly nervous royals entered a beautiful hall. A chandelier illuminated the room and the accents gave the room a golden tint. The young royals nervously looked at each other. Cate was not sure if she was only imagining it but she felt like several eyes were sizing her up. This must be how the horses felt when her father went to the purchase a few for the castle.
An older gentleman with white hair walked slowly to the middle of the room. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Friendly Royals of Gallantry Ball. As always, it our sincerest desire that you use the opportunity wisely,” he cleared his throat to let the meaning sink in. “Let the festivities begin!” Sweeping music began playing as he shuffled from the room.
Cate bit her bottom lip. She had never seen so many handsome princes in one room before.
Soon, the young royals began pairing off. Cate remembered the advice her grandmother had given her. Or rather, the rule she drilled into her. Wait and be patient. Give it time and walk through the room before accepting an offer to dance.
After an hour of circulating around the room, Cate decided she had been patient enough. Even with music playing she swore she could hear the clock ticking. A dashing prince in a purple dress jacket walked over to her. He definitely passed her first criteria. Perhaps, he would pass the checklist her grandmother insisted she write and keep folded in a pocket. At the moment, she could not think of what else was on the list. He introduced himself and asked for the next dance. This was it! Only an hour into the ball and she found her future husband. Relief swelled inside her as she took him to meet her grandmother.
“Grandmother, meet Prince Andrew,” Cate said and looked into Andrew’s face. There was no doubt he was handsome. She was positive they would have a lot in common and marry and live happily ever after.
“Nice to meet you,” her grandmother said congenially.
“The pleasure is all mine,” he said and clicked his heels and kissed her hand.
The gesture made Cate go weak at the knees.
Her grandmother stuck her tongue in her cheek. “So, tell me Prince Andrew, how many times have you attended the ball?”
He laughed. “This is my first one.”
Grandmother raised her eyebrows at him.
His smile disappeared and he swallowed. “Or, I mean… how many times have I attended this ball?” He laughed nervously. “I might have attended more than once.”
Grandmother continued to stare at him.
“Maybe three or four times.”
Grandmother didn’t blink.
“All right, nine times. This is my ninth ball.”
Grandmother looked at Cate and shook her head.
“I see,” Prince Andrew said refusing to look at Cate. “I will take my leave at once.” He bowed and walked backwards until the crowded dance floor consumed him and he disappeared from Cate’s view.
“I liked him,” Cate said to her grandmother.
“Yes, but I am your escort. If you trust me, I will help you find a true prince. If you choose not to listen to me you can settle for any of the others.” She swept her hand at the room.
Cate looked longingly at the dance floor searching for Andrew. All the men looked like true princes to her. She took a deep breath. No, she said she would trust her grandmother. Although she worried that perhaps her grandmother’s sight was going bad. Andrew seemed perfectly suitable to Cate. But if she trusted her grandmother – and she told herself she did – she had to let him go.
“It will all work out, my dear,” her grandmother said. “Now, go mingle.”
Cate did not like mingling. It took her an hour for someone to come and talk to her the first time. How would she ever find another?
“Pardon me,” a deep voice said behind her, “may I have this dance?” A prince wearing a bright orange jacket smiled at her showing off the deepest dimples she had ever seen.
Cate looked over at her grandmother hoping for approval. But her grandmother shook her head again. The prince bowed and took his leave.
“Trust me, girl,” her grandmother whispered and hugged her shoulder. “Now, go mingle.”
Cate took a deep breath and started walking around the room. The royals were pairing off quickly and the dance floor was becoming more and more crowded. Cate stopped and watched the dancers. She noticed Andrew dancing with a princess in a beautiful yellow dress. Cate sighed and looked down at her light blue dress. Her mother insisted she wear light blue to bring out the blue in her eyes. She would have preferred a yellow one.
She shook her head to get rid of her thoughts and continued walking. Once she could no longer see Andrew and his partner anymore, she stopped and watched the dancers again. Everyone looked so lovely. The gowns were every color imaginable. Perhaps, this is what it feels like to be inside a rainbow, she thought. She got caught up in the music and started swaying.
“You deserve to be on the dance floor,” a prince in a red jacket said to her. He was not as handsome as Andrew. But she appreciated the fact he talked to her. “We should dance together.”
“I will take you to meet my escort,” he would not have been her first choice, but the evening was getting late.
“You are old enough to make your own decisions. You do not need the approval of an escort. The whole escort concept is old fashioned. Come, let us dance.” He held his hand out for her to follow.
Not use her escort? Her grandmother probably would not approve of him anyway. Cate took a step in his direction. Like he said, I am old enough to make my own decisions. She shook her head, if she knew her grandmother would not approve then she should not either. It did not make sense to drag her grandmother to the ball and then not use her judgment. Even if Cate was beginning to wonder if her grandmother’s judgment was sound.
“No, thank you,” she said and he bowed his departure. Good thing he was not better looking. It might have been harder to be so stalwart otherwise. She looked up at the clock. There were only two more hours left to the dance.
A half an hour later, another prince walked over to her. “It seems inconceivable to me that you are not already on the dance floor.”
She shrugged her shoulders. It did not seem appropriate to disclose how many dances she had turned down.
Their eyes met and Cate thought she would faint. He had to be the most handsome prince in the room and he was talking to her. Shivers went up her arm.
“You are cold?” He quickly took off his forest green jacket and wrapped it around her shoulders. “Please, let me meet your escort so that I can have this dance with you.”
Suddenly, she forgot how to talk. “All right,” she forced herself to say. “My grandmother is over here.”
They walked over to her grandmother.
“And this,” he said walking quickly to her grandmother, “obviously is your fair escort.” He gently took her hand and kissed it. “I can see where this lovely princess gets her exquisite looks from.”
Cate had never seen her grandmother’s face turn red before. But just as quickly as she blushed, she regained her composure.
This had to be the one! This was Cate’s true prince she had waited for all evening. He was worth turning down those other dances for. Her grandmother was a genius.
“What is your name?” grandmother asked.
“Prince Kaden,” he said and smiled. Cate wanted to share an amusing story just to keep him smiling.
Her grandmother held his gaze. “Prince Kaden, where do you hail from?”
“I am King Leonard’s son from the North.”
Grandmother nodded her head. And Cate let out a little too audible sigh of relief. So far, so good.
“How many balls have you attended?”
“To be honest, this is my second one. But I refuse to settle for just anyone just so that I will not be single.”
Grandmother nodded her head. She studied him for a moment. Cate thought for sure her approval would be coming soon. Quickly, Cate’s thoughts turned to their future castle and how she could decorate it.
He did not appear nervous under grandmother’s scrutinizing. In fact, he looked at ease.
Finally, grandmother looked at Cate and shook her head. Cate thought she misinterpreted the signal. What fault could she have found in Kaden? Grandmother shook her head again and this time there was no mistaking. She did not approve.
He smiled and winked at Cate. “It seems I must take my leave now,” he bowed and left the two women standing there.
Cate wanted to call him back. Surely, they could work this out. “I do not understand,” she said. “He was perfect for me.” She thought of their future castle they were supposed to call home, “We would have been very happy together.”
“Be patient. It is almost time,” her grandmother said.
“Almost time for what?” Cate did her best to fight back tears. “Almost time for me to be single the rest of my life?”
“If it came to that, so what? That is not the end of the world.”
Cate looked at the dance floor. So many mothers were approving of their daughters choices. Maybe she should have brought her mother. Her mother would have been happy with either Andrew or Kaden.
The clock started ringing the hour.
“The time has come. Come, hold my hand,” her grandmother said and held out her hand.
Cate didn’t want to but she respected her grandmother too much to disagree. She took the withered old hand. Her thoughts turned to her father’s little cottage in the south part of the kingdom where the weather was pretty mild. Perhaps, she could live out her days there. Alone.
Suddenly, the room started thinning out. Princes and princesses were disappearing from the dance floor. Their partners stopped dancing and looked at the remaining clothes that were strewn on the floor.
“Grandmother, what is happening?” Cate asked.
“Thinning of the herd,” her grandmother replied.
While most of the dancers vanished the floor seemed to be moving. Cate slowly moved a little closer. The clothes started bubbling. No, not bubbling. There was something moving inside the clothes. And then tiny, green heads with bulging eyes peaked out of the clothes. The floor was littered with frogs. Frogs were jumping out of dress jackets and fancy dresses. Several of the dancers screamed in horror. A few of the princesses and one prince fainted.
Cate searched the dress jackets on the floor. She was not too surprised and kind of relieved to see a frog jump out of the orange and red jackets. But she was surprised to see frogs jumping out of the familiar purple jacket. Andrew was a frog. She continued to search the floor until she saw the beautiful green jacket that Kaden wore also on the floor.
Her grandmother really was a genius.
“Welcome to the Frog Ball, my dear,” her grandmother said and smiled.
Cate looked at the dance floor again. Most of the princesses cried as they realized their dance partners were now amphibians. A few of the princes didn’t fare any better as their partners were also jumping out of the dresses on the floor. Cate looked at the escorts lined up on the wall. Most of the mothers walked out to the dance floor to offer comfort. Some comfort! They had been so eager to marry their daughters off they let them settle for frogs.
“I do not understand,” Cate said. “Why did they let them choose frogs?”
“Oh, they are not permanently frogs. Only for the last hour of this ball.”
Cate continued to watch the commotion on the dance floor.
Her grandmother continued, “Everyone here is true royalty. For one hour we get to see who is royal in name and lineage only and who is royal in character and virtue. Since you were little, I recognized the qualities of true royalty and I could not let you settle for less.”
Cate looked at the dance floor again.
“Now, my dear,” her grandmother stood beside her and put her arm around her. “You have an hour to pick from any of these true princes with my blessing. My only advice is to look at your criteria and follow it.” She patted the pocket where Cate had stashed her list.
Cate looked around and saw several men still standing by the wall watching in amazement at the frogs.
“If you will excuse me, it is late and I am no longer needed. I am positive this castle has a little nook an old lady can sleep in for an hour,” her grandmother said and walked toward a doorway. “Enjoy your evening.”
A team of servants quickly came in and cleared the dance floor. The once jubilant dancers left with their soon to be frog spouses.
“Excuse me,” a very handsome prince with a friendly face and a dashing dark blue jacket said to Cate, “may I have this dance?”
Cate nodded her head. They danced that last hour and were never separated after. And yes, according to legend, they did live happily ever after. But that is due to the fact they were equal in character and virtue. And neither one had settled for a frog.