Afterwards, she carried the scent of lilies with her, and the silver of light on the water, gold on the treasured ball. It was as if her heart would carry her back if it could. Back to the day she met the frog.
His voice was gentle now, the voice of a man who for three years had swallowed his truth along with well water. But then it had rattled against her bones much the same way his smile still could, leaving her feeling half-wild and fragile - all the princess shaken out of her, all the manners and charm, until she was simply a woman before him, seen by him the way no one else ever did. He had fished out her heart even before her ball.
And yet she had not seen him. She had seen only the lithe tongue, the gibbous throat, the specks on his wet green skin. The curse on him had been forced apart legally by her reluctant promises: she had known it as a curse only when it shattered against her bedroom wall as she threw him in disgust; only when the frog's gulp of pain became the prince's exhalation.
Oh how she loved him now - but she should have loved him then too.
He never spoke of those days. His voice was too gentle, his heart as kind as it had ever been. And perhaps too something of his desperation remained, for he kept her to her promises still, although she said he should have the bride he deserved. Someone with less beauty - and a more beautiful spirit. Someone less regal - with more humility. A good woman rather than a fair princess. He merely smiled his feral smile and kissed her warmly. For he was determined to break the curse on her, the curse of her self-disgust, and he knew that this time only love could do it.
After all, her gritted obedience to her father may have been what changed him back from a frog, but it was her love ever since that made him human.