Previously published in Enchanted Times #1, Look Before You Leap re-tells the true tale of the Frog Prince, from the deluded frog’s perspective. You may be surprised to learn that the traditional story as made famous by the Brothers Grimm et al is not necessarily an accurate portrayal of events…
[Sample shown above left: a swatch of fabric as imagined by Frog, to be worn on his wedding day. Receive a FREE fabric sample with your copy of Enchanted Times #1 or print & fold your very own frog-swatch notebook right here!] Frog had always been one for adventure. That was how he had ended up living in this little clearing, on the edge of the wild woods, at the far end of the High King’s castle grounds. One day, when the rest of the froglets had been practising their elementary swimming strokes, Frog had discovered that if he leaped from a rock at the side of the mother-pool, pushing with his fledgeling froggy legs as hard as he might, he experienced the most satisfying sense of swooshing through the cool air. Hmm, thought he, I think I shall do that again. And again. And he did. But instead of hopping back and leaping from that first familiar rock, he decided just to leap from wherever he happened to land, with not a thought to looking before he leapt, being the young and inexperienced froglet that he was.
After a while, frog looked around himself and realised he was far from the mother-pool. Where at first he had been able to hear the distant splish of his brothers and sisters diving and diving again, now he could only hear the rustle of the breeze through the trees. He hopped as high as he could but could see nothing even vaguely familiar on the horizon. Still, he thought to himself, it’s really quite nice here. I already know how to swim, and just look how good I am at leaping. He paused for a moment, resting his head nonchalantly to one side, then flicked his tongue in and out of his broad mouth. Mmm, he murmured contentedly, Quite the little hunter-gatherer, too. I think Ma-Frog would understand that it’s time for this little froggy to venture out alone.
Frog looked around again. Lots of shade from the tall, whispering trees, nice comfortable damp within his clump of moist green grass. A handy stump to hop onto to purvey his new surroundings. Hmm, and what was that strange structure over there? Frog hopped across to the ‘thing’. Constructed of slabs of stone but in a circular shape, there was a little red roof perched on top. A frog-house? No, Frog knew frogs didn’t have houses, but pools (like the mother-pool he had so recently left behind). This one had a handle to one side, and a rope dangling down into its hollow centre. Frog hopped up onto the edge of the brickwork and looked down. Mmm, he thought, lovely damp smell. He craned further forward. Nice and dark – what’s that glimmer down there? Hang on… Practising his already near-perfect dive technique, he pushed further forward still. Splish! Ha ha! he proclaimed, it is a frog-house! Perfect little pool of water, handy walls to protect from prying eyes, and to cap it all off, a roof! Who’d have thought it? Ma-Frog certainly never mentioned such things existed but here it is, right before my very own eyes. And seemingly uninhabited… This might just be a very handy base for my frogly mis-adventures. What a happy Frog I am!
Frog was very happy in his seemingly custom-built frog-house. This was where he met his very first humans. Once every so often, two giggling girls came and wound the bucket down to collect water, wound it back up to decant into another, larger bucket they had brought with them, a process they repeated several times before departing for the day. They were always whispering to each other, and Frog caught snatches of their conversations: the swineherd who paid them too much attention; the shepherd who paid them no heed at all; the cook who seemed to be forever boxing their ears; the princess who had a new gown to wear every day.
At first, Frog was careful to stay out of their way. Ma-Frog had always warned against getting involved with humans. Every breeding time, they stole bedfuls of tadpoles that were never heard of again; but if they caught sight of a full-grown frog, they would scream to high heaven, until a different human came along and committed the offending frog to a very squelchy end. Frog didn’t like the idea of a squelchy end, but he was very curious about humans, and soon, he began hiding in the long grass at the foot of the well (he had learned that was what they called his frog-house) so that he could hear every word they said.
After they had gone, Frog would try to repeat what he had heard.
Croak, croak, he croaked, Croak!
But he could never make any sound that was even vaguely human, which made him very sad, because the little glade Frog had discovered was devoid of any other froglife, and he saw friendship with humankind as the obvious alternative. It was, after all, only humans who ever visited his frog-house.
Aside from the young girls. there was one other visitor to the frog-house: an old crone who drew the water, drank, then creaked off again, back into the woods. One day, however, the crone saw Frog.
“I can see you,” she said in her creaky, croaky voice.
Frog had never heard her speak before as she was always alone, but when he heard the creak in her voice he was suddenly more hopeful that one day he might be able to speak himself. Of course, he was beside himself and nearly toppled inelegantly off the wall of the well in surprise when he realised she was speaking to him. He quickly righted himself and (imperceptibly. he thought) corrected his diving position.
“Come back up here, foolish Frog,” the crone commanded, waiting for the splish after he landed in the water before speaking.
Frog sheepishly (froggishly) hopped back out onto the rim of the well. He remembered what Ma-Frog said about humans and squelchy deaths, but he was just a young frog, foolish (as the crone had recognised) and sometimes even a little prone to a certain rakish recklessness. He peered at the crone, waiting.
Croak, he said.
“Frog,” said the crone, “you are indeed a foolish frog, for I can see that you understand every word I say. Frogs should live like frogs, and humans like humans, but the frog that longs to be human deserves not that safety. The next fly that you consume will empower you, and – should you not realise the foolhardiness of your choice – you will shortly be able to converse in the human tongue. Remember this, Frog, ‘twas not me that cursed you, but a curse brought on yourself. One day you shall know ‘tis better to accept who you are, whatever your limitations, but by then I fear ‘twill be too late. Farewell, Frog.” The crone turned abruptly as if to walk away, then turned back, pointing with the knobbly stick she carried into the air. “See, a big, fat, juicy fly comes your way.”
Before Frog had time to consider anything that had been said, instinct took over, and once he had finished licking his lips and opened his eyes once more, the crone had disappeared back into the forest. How odd, he thought.
“How odd,” he said. Then Frog hopped back into the well in fright, at the sound of his own voice.
Frog was a little scared by this whole interlude, and retreated to the bottom of his frog-house for some days while he thought it over. He did not come out to overhear the young maids’ chatter, he certainly did not raise his little froggy head again whenever the crone stopped by. Then one day, he heard a new voice up in the air overhead. Cautiously (his youthful overzealousness was fading, if only a little) he crept to the top of the well. He could see a girl nearby, around the same age as the young maids, but dressed much more prettily, and her long golden hair flowing loose rather than tucked into a cotton cap. She was tossing a golden ball into the air, then catching it, throwing it, catching it, all the while murmuring to herself in a sing-song tone. This must be the Princess, thought Frog.
The girl did not seem happy, rather the opposite. A scowl darkened her pretty features and Frog decided he knew what was wrong, and what the solution might be.
“She is lonely,” he thought.
“I am lonely,” he added, as an afterthought.
“I could love her,” he thought.
“She could love me,” he added, as an afterthought.
“Hmm,” he thought. “I am a clever Frog. I am not foolish, whatever the crone may think. So as a clever frog, what should I do next? I could speak to her, but she would be afraid. Hmm. I shall retreat to the bottom of my frog-house, and consider…”
With a last glimpse at his beloved, who was throwing the golden ball with more and more violence, Frog dived back to the dank safety of the well-bottom to contemplate how to move this unexpected but happily prospective relationship forward.
“Ow!” he said aloud. Before he could so much as wonder what had happened, he saw the princess’ golden ball settled and glinting in the mud beside him. The well darkened, and the silhouette of the princess was leaning over, peering down. He took his cue. “Hello!” he called.
“Aaaaagh!” she replied, light streaming back into the well as her shadow stepped back in fear. After a moment she stepped forward again. “Is somebody down there?” she asked, her young voice tinged with disbelief.
“Yes,” Frog replied. “Please step back from the well, and I’ll come up. But you must promise not to scream. I promise there is nothing to be scared of.”
Frog took a deep breath then headed upwards. Safely perched on the wall of the well, he said, “Hello again.”
The princess stared at Frog, eyes widening in disbelief, stumbled on the dry grass, and fell over onto her bottom. Her mouth was open, but no sound came out.
“Hello?” Frog said again. Surely he hadn’t gone wrong already?
“Aaaaagh!” the girl screamed again.
“Please don’t be scared,” said Frog. “I can get your golden ball back for you.”
The princess paused for a moment, looking at Frog, considering the unlikelihood of the situation, then – seemingly – accepting it at face value.
“Really? Oh please, Frog, please bring the ball back to me! Father will be so angry if he thinks I’ve lost it.”
“Of course, Princess,” Frog agreed. “But will you do something for me in exchange?”
“Anything! Only please bring my ball back! You can have anything you like in return, it means so much to me.”
Satisfied, Frog hopped back inside the well, then called to the Princess to lower the bucket. The ball was unwieldy to Frog, unused to handling such things, but eventually he managed to manoeuvre it into the bucket, and the princess’ treasure was returned to her.
“Oh, thank you, Frog, thank you so much!” cried the Princess. “I must go back to the castle now, otherwise they will wonder where I am.” With this, the princess turned and headed up the long garden to the castle, seeming in much brighter spirits than when Frog had first seen her playing with the ball earlier that day.
“But what about…?” Frog began, but he was already out of earshot.
Compared to humans, frogs have very short legs. It was therefore some time after the Princess reached the castle before Frog caught up with her. She had just sat down to dinner in the great hall with her father, the King, and several courtiers. The golden ball was placed just to the right of the Princess’ dinner setting. Frog tugged at her skirts. At first she didn’t notice, so he tugged harder, and eventually she looked down.
“Ugh!” she cried. “Oh please, get your slimy little paws off my lovely dress!”
“Oh yes, Princess, of course,” Frog replied, hopping up onto the dinner table, now he had her attention. “But about your promise?”
“What promise? What are you talking about? Leave me alone you horrid little creature!”
“Princess!” boomed a voice from the other end of the dining table. (The courtiers were steadfastly pretending not to have noticed the little exchange between Princess and Frog, but her father had no such compunction).
“Yes, daddy?” she replied meekly.
“I will ignore for the meantime that we have a wild animal sitting on the dining table. What is this about a promise? I hope you are not going back on your word, daughter?”
Sensing an ally, Frog hopped further down the table.
“Excuse me, your Highness, but I retrieved the Princess’ golden ball from the well earlier today, and she promised that I could have whatever I liked in return for it.”
“Did she, indeed! Well, Princess?”
“Alright, alright,” the Princess sighed. “Well, what is it you want, Frog? You can have your choice of any of my jewels or playthings. How about a nice fresh boggy pool of water with all the flies you can eat?”
Oh. Now that sounded tempting… But no, that wasn’t what he wanted: he must remain focused.
“No, no Princess,” Frog demurred. “No, the only thing I want is to be your friend. Let me eat with you, let’s talk together,” he implored. I feel like we have this…connection. I know I look like a frog, but honestly, there’s so much more to me than my appearance. And you did promise. Please – can we be friends?”
“Princess,” growled the King, in a warning tone.
“Oh,” she said, wrinkling her nose and slumping her shoulders, deflated. “Oh, alright. Do you like roast beef?”
Frog was not sure. Still, he seemed to be winning, so he was willing to try anything once. And his prospective father-in-law seemed like a very nice man, very fair…
It was after dinner that Frog sensed things going awry again. Princess was going about her usual business, but she didn’t seem to be paying too much attention to her intended. He was hopping along after her like a dutiful suitor, wherever she went, but she made no concessions for his little legs, and he never seemed to quite catch up with her. Finally, night fell, and Frog crept in while her bedroom door was ajar. I know what’s wrong, he thought to himself, I haven’t actually proposed, yet. I’ll ask her to marry me, and then she’ll know that I love her, and neither of us will be lonely ever again! Of course, seeing her at home inside the castle, with lots of people around her, wherever she went, Frog was beginning to doubt that his beloved really was lonely – could he have been mistaken…? But he brushed the thought aside.
“Ahem,” he cleared his throat.
The Princess whirled around in alarm, looking for the infidel who had invaded her privacy, before finally her eyes hit on the right level and took in Frog.
“Aaaargh!” she screamed yet again, but this time it sounded more an expression of frustration than fear. “Why won’t you leave me alone?”
Frog’s eyes widened.
“But you promised, Princess. I rescued your ball, and you said we could be friends. In fact,” he paused, and puffed himself up a little, “I was hoping you would do me the honour of marrying me.”
The Princess took her time. She crouched down to the floor and held out her hand. Frog hopped on. She raised him into the air.
“Now listen to me, Frog,” she said, slowly and deliberately. “I’m very grateful to you for retrieving my golden ball. Thank you. I appreciate it. But I do not appreciate being followed around my own home, everywhere I go seeing your little trail of slime, every time I turn around or think I might have moment’s peace seeing…you! Please get it into your head that you are a frog and I am a princess. That means that I will not marry you, because I do not want to spend the rest of my life conversing with an amphibian! In fact, I have absolutely had my fill of conversing with you already. Now, as a princess, I have certain rights, and that includes being able to do whatever on earth I like (so long as my father doesn’t find out). So because I’m a princess, and because you don’t seem to understand the fact that YOU ARE A FROG, I’m afraid you leave me no choice. Are you sitting comfortably?” she asked.
“Close your eyes,” she whispered, and for a second, Frog thought she might kiss him. Then suddenly, he was swooshing, flying through the air, just as he did on that first leap from the rock at the side of the mother-pool. Then – splat! A mangled frog slid down the Princess’ wall.
“Maid!” she called, “I have a mess for you to clean up.”
The crone was right. Foolish Frog.