The Frog Prince
by Thomas Lesh
part 1 of 2
A long while ago, there lived a young prince. His name was Karl Heinrich, but since everyone in those parts referred to him as the Frog Prince, at least for the portion of his history we shall relate here, that is what we shall call him. He was lazy and dissolute and, in general, a great burden and trial to his family. The old prince, his father, considered him a wastrel and a bounder, a disgrace to his heritage.
Once, over dinner, the old prince, Karl Josef, expressed this opinion in the presence of his son and a great company of guests, which included a famous and celebrated magician, who will not be named in these pages. The prince said that he had read stories about men who were turned into toads and frogs, only to be awakened by the kiss of a beautiful princess. He rather wished that the same fate might befall his son, save that, in this case, he should never be awakened, at least not without some significant difficulty.
The guests retired, with the exception of the wizard, who whispered enigmatically to the old prince that he should consider it done. With that, the wizard too retired, leaving the old prince in something of a quandary.
During the night, some of the servants heard a loud splash. Also, the magician ordered his horse saddled and rode off, leaving only a note to the effect that he wanted no payment and that the satisfaction of his lord was recompense enough. This sentiment was all the more remarkable in that the gentleman had arrived without a horse or saddle, indeed with hardly any possessions at all, and had departed upon a handsome bay mare adorned with a rather expensive saddle.
Still, the household had other more immediate concerns that centered upon the apparent disappearance of the young prince. Servants and gardeners and gamekeepers searched high and low. The old prince’s wife and mother both took to their beds. The prince himself was beset with remorse. Stories about the splash were bandied about and magnified in the process. Footprints were discovered along the banks of the lily pond, but no one could remember whether they had been there before or were fresh, and no one could determine if they fit the young prince’s feet or not.
Opinion was divided as to whether the young prince had simply run off, perhaps with some floozy from the town, or whether he had indeed been transformed into a frog by the magician’s spell. When several days passed without a trace of the young man, the general opinion settled upon the latter explanation, as it was supposed that he was incapable of survival for so long a term on his own, at least in human form.
The old prince ordered a thorough search of the pond, and all of the frogs were captured and interrogated, but to no avail. A similar search of the province produced no evidence of the mysterious wizard or the prince’s fine mare and costly saddle. No one really noticed when, perhaps several months later, a rather remarkable new frog appeared in the lily pond. He was of a bright green color with reddish markings about the shoulder that rather resembled epaulettes.
Life went on in the castle following the usual and predictable rhythms of the times, and after some lapse, people in the environs had begun to forget the astonishing events of the previous months and years, and indeed to consider them all rather fanciful tales. Many people forgot that the old prince had once had a son. Others remembered something of the boy, but thought he had entered a monastery or gone abroad to seek his fortune.
So it came to pass months later that a beautiful princess, Maria Elena, was traveling in the province on her way to court. She and her retinue spent several days in residence at the old prince’s castle before resuming their journey.
On one of the days of her sojourn, she walked about the grounds of the estate with her usual assembly of servants and flatterers. She stopped by the lily pond, and to her great surprise and consternation, a rather large frog, bright green with reddish epaulettes, jumped into her lap. The amphibian looked at her with a certain rapturous and frightened attention.
The princess, being of a rather liberal and sardonic disposition, wondered aloud, much to the amusement of her claque, whether this might be one of those magical frogs she had read about, that, when kissed by a beautiful princess, would resume the guise of a handsome prince.
Several of her courtiers and ladies in waiting egged her on, and after some small hesitation — the frog was quite beautiful but rather slimy to the touch — she held it up and kissed it. Accounts of the immediate consequences of the kiss differ in minor respects. Was there an explosion and a puff of smoke, simply an explosion, or merely a puff of smoke unaccompanied by an explosion, or perhaps a little poof, no more, accompanied by a rather acrid and unpleasant smell?
Of the nature of the apparition, however, there is little doubt, for a handsome youth materialized before the princess and her retinue, at first unclothed, and then mysteriously robed in a bright green jacket with reddish epaulettes, green tights and darker sandals. The former appearance left a distinct impression upon the princess and the ladies in waiting, several of whom immediately swooned.
The old prince was summoned from his library, along with the remainder of the household. The apparition was universally acclaimed as none other than the young prince, who had vanished under such strange circumstances several years before.
The household and neighborhood welcomed him back as a prodigal returned. Extravagant feasting and merriment ensued, and, in view of the extraordinary circumstances, the princess’s stay was extended by a fortnight.
During that fortnight, negotiations for the expected marriage took place. The princess herself was eager, as was the young prince. The old prince, however, was at some pains to break down the reluctance of the princess’s father. The old prince finally prevailed in the argument, noting that this sort of thing did not happen every day, there were certain expectations that arose from awakening an enchanted prince that must be satisfied if decorum were to be preserved, and so on.
At the marriage feast, the magician, dressed in splendid robes, offered a memorable toast, in which he declared that he wished for no compensation, the happiness of the beautiful couple and the manifest pleasure of having been of some small service to two noble houses was enough.
He immediately ordered his horses prepared and set off amidst much fanfare in a marvelous carriage drawn by four magnificent grey geldings. It was only later that the guests noted that he had arrived at the feast in a state of some disarray with no visible means of conveyance whatsoever.
All went well for several months. The young prince and his princess bride were the toast of provincial society. They made their way from ball to ball and from castle to castle, dressed in the most fashionable clothing, entertaining all of society with their marvelous tale.
Of his time in the lily pond, the frog prince had at first little recollection, but this did not interfere with his many fantastical tales of pond life, and in particular, his spectacular reconstruction of the awakening kiss. His audience, though somewhat dubious, found him and his princess wife quite entertaining.
Copyright © 2013 by Thomas Lesh