The king and queen of the frogs gave birth to a baby. They were delighted, for they had long wanted a child. The tadpole was as green as the slime in a vernal pond, and the bumps on her skin had bumps of their own. The king and queen decided to call her Beauty, as she was the most beautiful thing they had ever seen.
When the time came to have a party to celebrate her birth, the royal parents invited all the fairies in the kingdom, including bumblebees, butterflies, and an airborne brotherhood of beetles.
The party started out swell. The bumblebees brought their bagpipes, the butterflies brought their banjos, and the beetles brought their bassoons. The queen frog set up the guests in a summerhouse so that their hootenanny music could carry across the pond. (You'd be surprised how much music is written for bagpipe, banjo, and bassoon trios.)
The king frog kept a watch fondly over his little Beauty.
The bumblebees ate the biscuits, the butterflies ate the butter and bread, and the beetles ate the beets. The queen frog kept putting out more, for it was her fondest hope that the fairies would feel like bestowing precious gifts on her beloved, wide-smiled daughter.
When dinner was through, the music struck up again. Many of the fairies danced the hootchy-cootchy. As the lights began to dim and evening chill settled in the air, one by one the fairies stopped their dancing and playing and came forward to look lovingly upon the newborn frog.
"On behalf of the bumblebees, I have a gift," said the boss of the bumblebees, chomping on his cigar. "We bees like to hum a lot. We love songs. So let this little cutie hum and sing songs whenever she likes. She will have a beautiful voice for all to hear and enjoy. Her ribbit will be as loud as a foghorn."
"Thank you," murmured the queen frog. "Thank you all, my darling bees."
The baron of the butterflies fluttered forward. "On behalf of all the butterflies, I should like to give her a gift," he said. "I should like her to move with the grace of a butterfly. Her froggy progress through a pond shall be as moonlight through a glade."
"Bravo," chortled the king frog. "Dear butterfliesour unending thanks!"
Just then there was a buzz at the end of the field. Who should come droning along but the wickedest fairy of the meadowsa huge, ancient hornet, with a stinger as long as a candy cane.
"Who invited her?" muttered the queen frog.
"Croaked if I know," her husband muttered back. "Thinks she can just crash any party she wants? I'll give her a piece of my mind!" He opened his mouth and unrolled his long, sticky tongue, flexing it threateningly.
"Careful, my dear," said his wife. "She is the most powerful fairy in the field. She stings you, you'll be croaking the Last Big Croak. I suppose we ought to give her a piece of cake or something." She put on her brightest face. "Well, look who's here to grace our little party! Old Dame Hornet, what a surprise!"
"You rude things," cried Old Dame Hornet in a rage. "You have a party and invite all these simpering bugs, and you forget to invite me? I'm rocking with fury! I'm rolling with rage! I'll give your daughter a little present to remember this insult by!"
With a speed surprising for one so old and frail, Old Dame Hornet flung herself to the cradle and looked down into the face of the pretty little baby frog. "Before your first birthday," she cried, "you shall bite down on a stray explosive from some stupid human engineering project, and you shall blow yourself to smithereens!" And she gave a fiendish cackle.
"Oh, anything but that!" shrieked the queen frog. She fell into a dead faint, which made a loud slapping noise in the water, like a belly flop.
The foregoing is the complete short story titled Leaping Beauty from the book of the same name by Gregory Maguire. Text copyright © 2004 by Gregory Maguire. Illustrations copyright © 2004 by Chris Demarest. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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