The Frog Prince
by Thomas Lesh
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
However, it was not long before the frog prince resumed his former dissolute habits. He began to disappear on all-night binges. His whoring resumed, and several times he was discovered lying in a ditch on the road to town, dead drunk.
The old prince became despondent once more. He began to wonder what had become of the famous magician, and he let it be known on more than one occasion that the wizard was welcome to the bay mare, expensive saddle, magnificent carriage, and the four matched grey geldings to boot.
In truth, the frog prince had begun to remember his days of enchantment, and to long for their return. He recalled the warm and fragrant waters of the lily pond, the beautiful flowers and the lily pads, the shade trees that lined its banks, and even the statue of the sylph that graced the path immediately adjacent to the waters.
How many times had he carelessly hopped into her arms and enjoyed there the pleasant breezes and the warm sun upon his back. It was actually the princess’s resemblance to the figure of the statue that had at first drawn him out of the water on that fateful day of his reappearance in human form.
His behavior became more and more erratic. He took to dressing exclusively in the green suit he had assumed upon his resurrection. When he was not visiting the brothels and taverns in this ridiculous attire, he was to be found staring aimlessly into the waters of the lily pond or conversing there in some polyglot tongue with its inhabitants, the frogs and marsh hen and even the carp. In short, he became a laughingstock of those environs, much to the dismay of the old prince and his family.
One night the frog prince conceived the fanciful notion that he and his wife could return to the life of the pond together. He thought that the pond itself was enchanted and that merely by slipping quietly into its waters they might accomplish a metamorphosis.
The princess was not disposed to cooperate in this plan. She had already initiated discrete inquiries as to the possibility of an annulment of her vows, given the young prince’s absurd behavior and manifest insanity. But on that night, the young prince succeeded by main force in dragging the princess from her bed and might have accomplished his whim had not the ensuing commotion awakened the household and provoked a timely intercession by his father’s retainers.
The young prince was imprisoned within the castle. Doctors and savants of all descriptions were summoned to examine him, but all who interviewed him emerged baffled by his symptoms and at a lack to their cure. Priests and clergy of all the major orders were similarly called upon to no avail. His frog suit was sprinkled with holy water, and perhaps as a result of this treatment, would not burn. This was seen as a dark omen, but after drying out in the sun for several hours, it was duly incinerated. Still the young prince’s condition did not improve.
A month or so later, the magician visited the frog prince in his cell. Whether it was at the behest of the old prince or the princess or her father, or whether it was from regret, or a mere whim, or some sinister motive that would make sense only to an eccentric wizard of dubious morality, is unclear. They spoke for hours. The young prince was full of remorse for all of his actions. He wanted only to become a frog again and to live out his allotted span in the beloved waters of his lily pond.
The magician told him that nothing could impede his desire, that he might at any time resume his enchantment, that indeed he had always been beguiled, and that he might even avoid the necessity of serving an apprenticeship as a tadpole, a stage of development that the frog prince had found particularly demeaning in his previous metamorphosis, but that he would need to act quickly and decisively.
As for himself, the magician desired nothing, content in the knowledge that he had once again been of service to such a noble house, though perhaps a favorable letter of introduction to the old prince’s table and an account of his many services might be left behind, along with an explanation of the young prince’s hasty departure.
By the following morning, the frog prince had disappeared. Two notes were left behind, the one a sealed missive addressed to the old prince which contained a curious letter of introduction to the magician, the other a rambling and rather incomprehensible farewell filled with random notes about the flora and fauna associated with lily ponds and some rather sensible ideas as to their care and maintenance.
The official consensus was that the frog prince had somehow, through bribery or the connivance of his father, engineered his escape and either drowned himself or escaped abroad to pursue a career as a naturalist of some sort.
A week or so later, the magician presented himself at the old prince’s castle. He was welcomed and invited to dinner. They spoke at length in the most oblique fashion of the young prince and his strange history. The magician would frequently venture that he might be able to accomplish a reverse metamorphosis, if indeed the young prince had been transformed again into a frog, but the old prince would confess that the thought somehow distressed him, better to leave well enough alone, that perhaps the youth had never been destined for worldly responsibilities.
Upon his departure, the magician would invariably find a full purse and some token of the prince’s esteem, a jeweled set of cufflinks, an intricately carved snuff box, and so on.
The magician became a regular caller at the old prince’s castle, and after several visits, he was invited to stay overnight as a guest of the family. On these nights, he would without fail contrive to visit the princess in her rooms, but always in some outlandish and adventurous manner.
Sometimes he would climb up to her chambers by means of a ladder, or he would navigate the exterior walls from his own room to hers, or he would descend by a rope from the rooftop. He even discovered a secret passage that terminated in a false bookshelf in her sitting room, although this mechanism was in bad repair and rather dependent on the assignment of the appropriate guest room.
Upon his departure, the princess would generally notice the disappearance of some trinket or small jewel, but she thought this a small price to pay for such choice amusement.
The princess was of an amorous and romantic nature and took enormous delight in these antics. Together they would pretend that she was a captive princess and that he was her rescuer, imagining all manner of adventures and impediments, ruses and seductions, not all of which were far removed from her real condition within the confines of the castle and its society.
At length, the carelessness of these trysts became common gossip in the province, indeed something of a scandal, so that word of their shameless revels reached the ear of her father.
The princess’s father did not share the liberal nature of the old prince, who thought these activities of little consequence and even rather amusing. Her father vowed to put a stop to the affair. He contrived on one such night to sabotage the magician’s ladder. Upon his descent, after a night of particularly imaginative and satisfying revels, several rungs gave way. The wizard suffered a broken ankle and a fractured forearm.
He endured a long and painful rehabilitation, though in truth he was not the same again. The healing was never complete; there was always something a little off in his balance. He found that his stage act suffered accordingly. He was unable to finish his spells with the customary panache, and their effect was somewhat unpredictable.
For a while, the magician’s visits continued as before, but when the old prince got wind of the apparent decline of the wizard’s skills, his purse became less liberal. Similarly, the princess grew tired of his attentions. He could no longer perform the acrobatic entrances which had so stimulated her affections, and the decline of his fortunes made their ultimate end, her liberation, scarcely believable, even to a woman of so romantic a nature.
All through this history, the magician had regularly visited the lily pond. He would sit there for hours in apparent meditation. Now these visits became the only occasion of intercourse with the castle and its inhabitants. The magician would arrive in the evening or the late afternoon, sometimes not until dusk, especially on nights when there was a full moon. He would stare into the water and hold long conversations, presumably with the frog prince.
The conversations appeared to be rather one-sided, at least to casual observers. He would engage in intricate discourses about the nature of magic and enchantment, and particularly the nature of metamorphosis, drawing learned analogies from Ovid and other ancient texts — the magician was rather a scholar and surprisingly well-read for an entertainer — and explaining their significance with perfect precision.
When he was asked about the well-being of the frog prince, the magician would reply mysteriously that if he were situated in similar circumstances he would be happy with the arrangement, and that he supposed that if any of the stories told were true, the frog prince would consider himself the recipient of a fair bargain, and that he would feel no regret. No one knew what to make of such pronouncements, but the wizard remained a rather formidable figure, so that the local residents were not much inclined to challenge his credibility.
Many other stories circulated within the environs, mainly concerning the ghostly lights and odd apparitions that were observed on the nights of the wizard’s visits. Some said that the statue of the sylph would come to life or would somehow become animated and that it was seen along the paths adjoining the lily pond and even immersed in the waters, and that the magician also spoke to it, much in the same academic vein as he was supposed to have conversed with the frog prince.
Now all of the principals of this story are long dead. The old prince had left orders that the lily pond should forever remain undisturbed and that it should be maintained in strict accordance with the instructions left by his son upon his disappearance. These wishes were carried out for many years by his heirs, but eventually the estate passed out of his direct line, and several generations later, the pond was drained and replaced by a greenhouse.
The statue of the sylph survived the reconstruction and for many years was displayed prominently within the greenhouse. It was said that on moonlit nights a naked nymph, slim and pale as moonlight, could be glimpsed dancing among the orchids and palms and bromeliads that grew there and even upon the pathways adjoining the structure.
When I visited the property, the castle was in ruins and the greenhouse was in a state of decay. Toads lived there amidst the broken pottery. The statue too had fallen from its pedestal and was damaged beyond repair.
Copyright © 2013 by Thomas Lesh