By Hannah Christensen
I can’t blame her too much for turning me into a frog. She took the peppercorns and crumbled ivy leaves rather well. She even managed to keep a fake smile on after the black walnut juice explosion, though you could tell she wasn’t happy about the stains on her dress. But the tadpoles in her tea went too far.
I don’t usually focus on just one person. But Father threatened strapping me to the rack and then throwing me into the moat if any of the neighboring royalty decided to declare war after attending my sister’s christening. I knew Henry would be able to keep things from going that drastic, but decided to play it safe. After all, the enchantress wasn’t nobility. It was an honor for her to be invited in the first place. A few harmless tricks should cause no real harm.
Henry was less sure. He hid all the string he could find and emptied my pockets twice before the christening.
“Your father said he did not want any trouble,” he warned right before we entered. I didn’t pay any heed; it was just old Henry. He always worried.
The funny thing is that the tadpoles didn’t even work out how I had planned. I snuck them into her tea live, but forgot about how hot it was. When I saw them start floating belly-up, I figured that was about how my trick would go—belly-up. Something live swimming up to look you in the eye when you take a sip inspires screams. Something dead you see before you start to drink inspires complaints, though it might draw out some funny faces, too.
Enchantress Jillian started to raise her cup, then froze. Her hand and face stopped rigid. Her eyes looked glazed. Even her skin turned a rather snowy color. I was starting to wonder if I might get a good reaction after all when she slammed that cup down so hard it cracked.
“Dead! Dead! What cruelty is this!” She snapped her head around as though looking for the responsible party. I started to edge my way to where Henry stood with his tea and cakes.
“We gather here to celebrate a new life. Who mocks? Who values this occasion so little as to snuff out the new life of helpless creatures? And for no more reason than to break the trust of host and guest.”
When she said ‘host’, I knew I was nailed, and began to slither my way through the guests in earnest. Henry might not be able to keep me completely out of trouble, but I thought he might be able to spare me from the threatened moat. He had noticed there was trouble by this time, and put down his food to start my way.
“You!” The enchantress reached through two noblewomen and grabbed me by the hair. I tried to squirm away, but her fingers twisted in a tight grip. My heart sank as I felt attention flowing toward us.
“So the heir to the throne has no sympathy to those helpless creatures under him? You will learn! You will eat their fare, lower yourself to their resting places, fear their fears! And you will attend to your lesson until you are counted worthy to be guest in the palace.”
Tingling spread all down my body, prickling and stretching at my skin.
“For three days! You will not be released until the sun rises on the third day of your visit.”
I fell from her grasp, twisting in the air. My landing splat pushed out any breath. The guests now towering above me stepped back.
Enchantress Jillian leaned over and picked me up. I could see my father, frozen in the act of striding over. My mother hovered over my little sister’s cradle. But the last face I saw was Henry’s, twisted in fear and horror. Then the enchantress made a pass over me and sent me out of the palace.
So I escaped the moat to land in the swamp. At first I set my mind to enjoy myself as a frog to spite my punishment. It wasn’t hard. I could jump and swim better than any boy. I could play in the mud as much as I wished. Best of all was my stretchy tongue. The stunts I could pull with that would make any boy in the kingdom green with envy.
Even the dangers weren’t that bad. I never actually got caught, and the close escapes sprinkled life with a heap of excitement. The nearer the miss, the better the story.
The worst part was not having anyone to tell the stories to. All the croaks and ribbits of the other frogs came down to “Hello, hello,” “Go away, go away,” “Danger, danger,” and “Come my pretty little girl frog, come and be my girl frog, come and let us start our eggs together.” It makes it hard to talk with frogs. You couldn’t even tease frogs properly. They either ignored you or left. They didn’t have any ribbits that came close to a proper screech.
As years went on, I found myself moving closer to where people were. I moved from the swamp to the river, and then to farm ponds. It didn’t help. I was mostly ignored, sometimes threatened. Finally I had to admit that I was lonely.
I found a well in sight of a castle where I could brood, wondering about my own home. Were my parents glad I was gone? Had they tried to look for me? How old was my little sister now? How had Henry taken my absence? I even wondered, on murkier days, whether I would ever grow desperate enough to try my own “Come my pretty little girl frog” song. I hoped not.
People did visit the well from time to time. I watched them all from the water. Once I even got a lady to scream. She was leaning over trying to see her reflection. I swam up right underneath and looked bug-eyed up at her.
One day as I was watching a young lady play catch with herself she dropped her ball in my well. She was more of a girl, really, because she sat down and started crying about it.
She had her eyes covered, so I decided to try talking with her. Like I said, I was getting pretty lonely by then.
“Why are you crying, little girl?”
“I dropped my ball down the well, and cannot get it out. My father, the king, will be angry that I have lost it.”
I knew she had lost her ball, what I had meant was why was she crying over such a silly thing. She hadn’t even tried to get it out. “Do not give up, child.”
“Can you get it out for me, kind sir?” Sniff, sniff.
Princesses must be made out of different stuff than regular girls. Most of the girls I knew would have put up a fight over being called a little girl. Or maybe that was the royal manners I kept hearing I should have. I wondered if I could get away with calling her an infant.
“Please, if you—sir?” She looked up and around, puzzled.
“I know that well quite well.”
She saw me then. She pulled herself away, staring.
I hopped a little closer.
She flinched back. “Could…could you…” She pulled herself up. “My good frog, if you will get me my ball, I shall see that you are rewarded.”
“Rewarded?” The ridiculous vision of wearing a small golden crown flashed through my head.
“Ask what you will, and it shall be done.”
I was debating over whether getting her to crawl around and pick up bugs for me would top forcing her to kiss a frog, when I realized that this was my chance. “If I get you your ball, you must bring me to your home, let me eat from your own plate and drink from your own cup, and sleep by you in your own bed.” If that didn’t count as being a guest in the palace, I couldn’t think what would.
She swallowed hard on the thought, but agreed.
Frogs are not made to carry things, especially when swimming. I managed to cram it into my mouth long enough to bring it up and spit it out onto the ground. The princess made a face and reached for her handkerchief. She didn’t prissy around about picking it up after that, though; by the time I had made sure my tongue was still intact, she was almost out of sight over the hillock.
I called, but she didn’t come back. That was no surprise. I didn’t expect a golden carriage arriving to carry me up to the palace at supper, either. I started hopping.
That was the longest journey I ever made. By the time I reached the door to the Great Hall, I was so dry I felt crusty. The guards did not even notice me, so I hopped right up to the door. It was too heavy for me to open, so I knocked.
I could smell the food and hear the voices, but my flimsy flipper foot was hard for even me to hear. I puffed up my voice bag and slapped out a knocking rhythm.
Inside went quiet.
I repeated the rhythm. “Princess, remember your promise,” I added, just to be safe.
Voices restarted. I was just about convinced I was doomed to die as a dried out frog when the door opened. I blinked at the light and almost missed the invitation to come in.
As soon as I reached the table, I went for the princess’ goblet. I plunged my top half in, guzzling at the ale. It felt odd against my drying skin, almost tingly.
Frogs are not built for elegant dining. My tongue was amazing, but not up to hauling in the food in front of me. I had to hunker down and shovel it into my wide mouth with my front feet. I’m not saying I minded, but the princess sure did. She didn’t touch any food after that.
I got the impression she didn’t plan on touching her pillow after I slept on it, either. It should have been a comfortable night after so long on mud instead of goose feathers, but I just felt dry. It really was no softer than the princess’ hand. I got up just before dawn to go find a pond.
The second day I was a little nervous. The princess had already let me in once. She might figure she had kept her promise and turn me away the second time. I was in luck. Her father was a real stickler on promises, and made her bring me in again. That night I found out a frog tongue can pick up chestnuts. But they were hard to chew.
The third day I felt mixed up. Excitement over becoming human again kept bounding up. Then I would get sad over never being a frog again. In the end, I tried to get in as much jumping, swimming, and tongue work as I could, and was ready to go back to human. There would never be another chance.
I even used the best table manners I could manage as a frog, but I don’t think anyone noticed. That night I lay awake a long time, listening to the princess’ quavering breath quiet into sleep. Sometimes her breath whistled a bit. It reminded me of cricket song.
I woke just before sunrise again. I could tell the princess was awake. She just pretended not to be. I hopped a little closer. She squinched her eyes shut harder. I took another hop. She hid her face in the covers.
I changed tactics and began to sniff. This is not easy for a frog. The big, wet gulp was easier.
“Why do you despise me, princess?” I asked in the most pitiful voice I could manage. “I can’t help being a frog.”
She slid a little further away.
“I sit all alone in the cold dark.”
Her eyes opened.
I stretched my eyes wide and blinked once to try and moisten them.
“I just wanted a friend.”
I couldn’t believe it. She sat up and leaned over, sympathy softening her face. Forget about puppy eyes. They never got me as far as my frog eyes were now.
“Nobody loves me.”
“Don’t be sad.” She reached down and scooped me up. Her hands quivered a little but she didn’t try to hold me as far away as possible like she had been doing on the trip up to bed. “I will love you.”
I sat still, very still. The princess leaned over me and puckered her lips. She was going to kiss a frog. All by herself.
The last minute I couldn’t help myself. I squeezed my lips into an O and exhaled stale fly breath right before we met.
She screeched and threw me across the room, hard. My body slammed into the wall just as the first rays of sunrise pierced through the window. I slid down the wall, laughing.
When I looked up, she was staring in confusion, the blankets all clutched around her.
I stood and bowed while trying to quiet down some.
“Thank you, princess. Without you, I never could have become a man again.”
She still looked confused, but maybe my laughing made me hard to understand. I tried again.
“I was enchanted to be a frog. You just broke the spell.”
“And you are…” She seemed more uncertain than plain confused now.
“A prince. You can come home with me if you want to see,” I offered.
“Oh! Yes! I do! I will! I—let me tell Papa!”
She jumped up and ran out, still in her nightgown.
There was a lot of confusion at first, but a messenger was sent to let my father. Only few days later, a carriage came to pick me up. Henry was on it. He looked greyer and stiffer than I had remembered, but his face was one big smile. I hugged him tight.
I pulled back, puzzled. “Henry, what’s under your coat? It feels like some sort of bands.”
“Ah, my lad, do not worry about it. When you left, I thought my heart would break. If your father had not ordered the chest bands…but now it is all right. Everything will be all right.”
Now it is time to leave. Princess Amarilia is as fluttery about the trip as though she were headed toward her wedding. It makes me want to laugh.
I do hope she’ll like my home. And my parents. And my sister. If I start thinking about that little sister I don’t know, I’m going to start getting fluttery. Henry is right. Everything will be all right.
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