The King’s Circus

By Lexi Anders

Gilbert huddled against the concrete wall. The dark wasn’t so bad, but the cold left a chill in his bones he couldn’t shake. In past years such treatment would have been animal cruelty, but nowadays it was commonplace. 

A hopping sound came from down the corridor. Torchlight flickered against the wall and then Gilbert blinked to make out the guard in the gloom.

The guard shuffled through some keys and opened his cell.

“Where are you taking me?” Gilbert asked apprehension pooling in his stomach.

“His majesty has requested your presence.” the guard croaked in reply.

“I have done no wrong, my family have been humble herders in these parts for years.” 

“I wasn’t asking for your life story, toad.” the guard chortled. “Besides I doubt even a horsefly would miss you.”

To first be abducted and hidden in a secret prison was one thing, to now be taken directly to the king? He couldn’t imagine what his brother had gotten into this time. 

At least he wasn’t in handcuffs, that was probably a good sign.

Gilbert was prodded along by the guard twisting this way and that until they came to a great iron door. If he had more time, he would have admired the engravings of a great forest. As it was, he barely even processed it before he was shoved out into a tremendous arena.

The stands were full of citizens of high standing- at least he assumed by their extravagant clothing. He suddenly felt underdressed in his overalls and bare feet. 

The guard gave him a final push and slammed the door closed. The reverberation drew the onlookers attention and they erupted with ribbiting cheers.

Gilbert walked from the shadows into the center of the arena. Although the sunlight warmed his cold skin he began to feel a deep sense of dread.

“The highlight of the show.” A deep voice boomed over the others. The crowd quieted and turned to a frog placed on a raised platform. The frog was dwarfed by the servants framing him, but his croak commanded respect. “I have collected frogs from far and wide to entertain me because I’m sooo bored! My gymnasts and fire breathers have put on quite the show, but now I have an incredible treat. Our first snake tamer!”

Gilbert looked around. His throat bulged in panicked understanding.

“My king, I’m afraid there’s been some mistake! I can’t tame a moth, much less a snake!” He cried and hopped closer.

“Well you better figure it out fast!” the king’s little cheeks bulged wider than his head in an evil grin. His eyes then focused behind Gilbert.

Gilbert jumped around and found a snake slithering across the dirt towards him.

A python. Though not yet full grown, still paralyzing. 

Then it was upon him. Flinching he managed to dodge its fangs, but it encircled him and began choking the life out of him. 

“Well, that was fast.” he heard the king intone.

    Gilbert realized he was still holding his breath. He might have a chance after all.

He released the air from his neck and suddenly had more space. The snake hurried to tighten it’s grasp, but Gilbert was already leaping from the stranglehold. The snake hissed in annoyance and lunged after him, this time however, Gilbert wasn’t caught off guard.

A plan began to form. He may have never fought a snake, but a bit of book learning and farmwork might be enough.

When the snake closed in he pretended to jump then threw a rock with his foot so the snake started to follow the action like a puppy. Before the snake could recover and resume its attack Gilbert sprung at its tail. The head turned furiously as he gave the tail a nip. He continued to press the tail into the ground as the head came to bite him, then at the last moment he punched it’s chin and lassoed the mouth shut with his tongue.

The snake writhed and shook its head, but Gilbert held on stubbornly. It drew closer to wrap around him, but he tugged his tongue sending the python’s head, past it’s target. The python tried again and then, once again defeated, glared at him with murder in its eyes.

Luck had been on his side. The python was young and inexperienced, next time he was thrown into a match Gilbert would stand little chance.

The congregation threw flowers down and gave a round of amazed applause.

Guard frogs were sent in with a special muzzle. While a poison dart frog stood at attention they put the muzzle on the snake and led it away through the iron doors.

He stood unsure of what to do. Then his previous escort took a hold of his arm and led him back towards the door. 

“Ladies and gentlemen we would now like to bring our events to a close . . .” he heard and then the door was shut behind him again.

He was left alone in the tunnel cell for a couple hours. The door wouldn’t budge, the walls were rock hard, and there was no window to bother testing for his escape.

He vowed that he would give his captor a good fight before he went back out there. 

Then, as before, torchlight flickered against the wall. This time however it came from the opposite end of the tunnel and no hopping sounds accompanied it.

A hooded frog crept into view. Gilbert stepped back deeper into his cell.

The frog stopped in front of his door and peered inside. She made eye contact with him and pulled out a piece of sharpened metal. He half expected her to throw it at him, but she shoved it into the lock and, with a bit of jiggling, opened it.

She beckoned him out. Gilbert glanced down the tunnel then quickly obeyed.

The mysterious frog hurriedly retraced her steps and Gilbert had a hard time keeping up after his epic battle earlier. He couldn’t imagine where they might be going, but anything was better than back to the gladiator arena.

He soon found that there was a secret tunnel connected to the secret tunnel. To enter the secret tunnel she tapped a secret pattern on rocks at the end of the secret tunnel. Inside the secret tunnel attached to the secret tunnel the rebellion grew in secret. Can’t get more secretive than that.

“You must come meet our secret leader, Fredrick.” his rescuer said, taking her hood off as they entered into the light.

“Fredrick?” Gilbert groaned, but it was drowned out by the rocks shifting back into place. “How did I know he would be involved with this mess?”

“You’ve heard of him?”

“I’d hope he’s heard of me, considering we’re brothers.” a voice said.

A bullfrog slightly larger than Gilbert strode towards them.

Secret rebel leader, Fredrick, enveloped him in a hug. “You’ve gotten bigger, little brother.”

“You seem the same,” he replied, rolling his eyes.

“Your skin’s so cold! Come sit by the fire.” Fred led him to where others sat on boxes around a campfire. “I’ll go get you some tea and then we can catch up.”

The other frogs looked at him expectantly as he came to sit. 

“How d’you know the boss?” a massive frog asked him.

“We’re brothers.”

“Never heard him mention a brother.” his rescuer hummed.

“We haven’t talked since he ran away to join the circus, but I guess the circus wasn’t really what he expected.” he gestured back to where he had come and they nodded knowingly.

After a quiet pause the toad sitting next to Gilbert laughed and stretched his legs towards the fire.

“How’d you end up here?” Gilbert asked him.

The toad immediately pulled out a banjo from thin air and started strumming. Ding dingdling ding ding ding ding!

“So there I was playin’ this ol’ banjo and some fellas invite me up into the stadium. They thought it was the most dandy thing they ever had seen and they was laughin’ they heads off. Says to me ‘play another!’ when I notice this bowl of flies down below, next to some squirt. It sho’ did look tasty and I hadn’t eaten nothin’ that day. I thinks to meself, that’s a lot of flies for a little guy, so I lick one up real quick-like. Soon as you know it, I find out that frog was the king and he havin’ me arrested! Then these folk come singing of revolution and I join for free fly eating privileges! Or somethin’ or other.”

The frog nearby sniffed and wiped her eyes. “Same thing happened to my cousin.”

His brother returned with a mug of tea. 

“Gilbert! I leave for one minute and you’re making ladies cry.” Fred patted the frog’s shoulder sympathetically. “Now you don’t get any tea.” Fred said to Gilbert downing the steaming cup. That always happened. Probably a good thing because Gilbert didn’t like tea.

“So what’s the plan?”

Fred just looked at him. Of course he doesn’t have a plan.

Gilbert shared his extensive expertise. A plan was formed. All while the king put another show together.

“The road ahead may likely lead to our gruesome deaths, but if the plan is followed well, we have a slight chance to succeed.”

Gilbert was met with silence.

His brother stepped onto the podium and said, “We may be faced with many difficulties, but take courage and our army shall prevail!”

The tunnel of frogs bellowed in agreement. 

“That’s exactly what I just said!”

“Yes, but you were speaking in tongues so I had to translate.”

“I’ll show you speaking in tongues.” Gilbert licked him.

Fred and Gilbert wished the others well and traveled through the secret passage to the secret dungeon. Gilbert still couldn’t believe that they had hidden this secret branch for so long.

He admired the ragtag group his brother had thrown together. All these different frogs united by one purpose. In some ways it could be called a circus.

They went from cell to cell releasing prisoners. The newly freed frogs rubbed their wrists and thanked his brother before hopping into the depths to join the others.

Gilbert kept a watch for guards, swinging a torch back and forth, but it was eerily quiet. Until they came to the last chamber.

The door hung wide open. Fred stepped inside and heard a crunch. On the ground was a thin scaly material. He picked it up and held it to the torchlight. Then the snake struck.

Fred stumbled backwards and the python stopped just short. The chains held it back, but the muzzle was off now and it tasted the air. Gilbert now saw the unconscious frogs that lined the wall, probably thrown back in an attempt to restrain the beast.

Fred breathed heavily for a moment.

“Are you okay!?” Gilbert asked.

“Yeah . . . I- I think we should free this snake.”

“Are you crazy?!!”

“It could have bit me just then, but it let me stumble back.” he was already walking forward and Gilbert reached to stop him too late.

The python bowed its head in respect and stayed in place as Fredick released the chains and let them fall to the ground.

The snake came forward and looked into Gilbert’s eyes then lay down motionless.

“Why do you always have to act so hot-blooded?” Gilbert asked as the sense of danger passed.

“Because you’re always cold-blooded!” Fred retorted.

“Thank you,”

“That’s not a compliment.”

“I beg to differ.” 

Fred took the swords of the fallen guards, strapped one on and piled the rest into Gilbert’s arms. Gilbert juggled the many swords and dropped the torch onto the snake skin. 

In just a moment flames spread across the floor. Gilbert quickly set the swords down then all three, including the snake, dragged the fallen guards to safety.

After such typical disaster he carefully strapped the swords on (with a glare to his brother). Then, the snake pointed its tail to its back as though offering to give them a ride. His brother jumped on. After a moment’s hesitation (it had tried to kill him), Gilbert got on as well. They snaked to the great iron door, which he once again didn’t examine, and knocked.

The door slowly creaked open and a frog peered in. Face to face with the snake he squeaked and desperately pushed the door closed. 

The snake darted in and Fred gave the guard frog a kick that sent him tumbling away.

A juggler throwing ninja stars looked back to see what the sound was. In his distraction he missed his catch and the stars fell in unison to pin him down.

Along the front row secret undercover frogs threw off wigs in a flurry and prepared to fight. Unfortunately, the stadium had this strange policy that banned weapons, so they were unarmed.

The real audience members took one look at the snake, now helping the rebels, and ran. 

Guards soon appeared to quell the not-so-secret rebellion.

Fred jumped off the snake and challenged the king to a duel. The king promptly refused and guards jumped from the stands in his stead. Fred simultaneously fought them and ran towards the opposite door to get up into the stands. 

Gilbert turned the snake to assist the others. He threw his extra swords up to anyone who needed them, then looked to see where else he could help.

He turned to see Fred still outnumbered and struggling to get up into the stands. Gilbert remounted the python and raced to help him, but it was too late. Fred was stabbed!!!!!! 

The snake whipped the frogs away and Gilbert gave the stumbling frogs a couple solid knocks. Then he turned his attention back to his bleeding brother. 

Fred clutched his shoulder and sat up. Gilbert grabbed his hand.

“Hahaha, I win!” the king cried joyfully and pumped his fist. Gilbert spun and glared at him. The king hid behind one of his ridiculously giant guards.

“Fine, you win, Gilbert. Plan B is a go.” Fred conceded. “I still don’t think it’s very honorable though or even fun.” 

Gilbert gave a patterned croak to initiate the actual plan. 

The frog who had saved him earlier crept into the stands behind the king. In the confusion she easily threw a pipe to a poison dart frog two rows down. The specialist had posed as one of the guests with a purple wig and then hid under her seat when the fighting started. Now called to her duty, the poison dart frog aimed and shot a blowdart at the king. 

A goliath frog, who had stayed to protect the king, accidentally stepped in the way. He took the shot in the back and teetered. The king turned just in time to see him falling. Then the little frog was squashed beneath his enormous guard.

The other goliath guard lifted to save the king and the poison dart frog shot him too. He fell off the balcony just missing the juggler who was still trapped by his own ninja stars.

“Well, that wasn’t exactly as planned, but . . . we have a prisoner now!” Fred laughed.

“How would you like to join the circus my king?” Gilbert asked. 

The king’s face began to turn red.

The remaining guards dropped their weapons as the rebels took the king captive.

“What am I going to do now?” Fred pondered, “The circus wasn’t a real ball and I don’t have any secret rebellions to lead . . .”

    “I happen to know of a kingdom that could use some leading right now.” Gilbert suggested. Fred couldn’t do much worse than the old king had.

    “What about you?” Fred asked him.

    “Me? I have some horse flies who’ve been missing me.”

More stories by Lexi Anders

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