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Justin provides us with a new take on an old tale...


The Princess and the Frog

By Justin R. Lawfer

One day a young princess bounced a golden ball as she strolled through the courtyard of her father's castle. The ball was the princess's most cherished toy, for she had received it from her mother when she was five years old. The princess's pace slowed as she thought of her mother, who had died of an incurable disease when the girl was six years old. Nine years later, the princess still took the ball with her on her walks, for doing so reminded her of the happy times she had spent with her mother.

The princess gently dropped her ball. Instead of bouncing back into her hand, however, it struck the ground at an odd angle and flew over a short stone wall to land in the moat that encircled the castle. The princess started to cry, for the moat was full of ravenous crocodiles that would devour anyone who tried to retrieve her treasured toy.

"Without the ball," she sobbed, "I will never remember the happy times I had with my mother."

A large frog came hopping along the wall. "Why do you cry?" he asked the princess.

The princess's eyes grew wide with astonishment. "A talking frog!"

"Indeed I am," the amphibian replied. "Now, beautiful princess, tell me the reason for your tears."

"Oh, talking frog, I am crying because the golden ball my mother gave to me before she died has landed in the moat, which is full of crocodiles."

The frog smiled. "I will gladly retrieve it for you, princess." He jumped into the moat and swam toward the ball.

The princess watched in horror as a pair of crocodilian eyes penetrated the surface of the moat. The frog dove beneath the water, as did the giant reptile. The water churned and bubbled violently, and a blot of red appeared in the moat.

"The talking frog has been eaten!" gasped the princess.

The frog suddenly sprang from the water and landed on the wall, holding the ball between his tiny hands. "Here is your ball," he humbly said.

The princess let out a cry of joy, not only for the return of her toy, but also because the talking frog had survived. "You are truly the bravest creature I have ever met. I will take you into the castle, and tonight you will dine with my father."

The princess picked up the frog and went into the castle. She did not see the bloody corpse of the crocodile slowly sink to the bottom of the moat, its neck broken and its belly slashed open with deep claw-marks.

At first, the king did not like the idea of dining with a talking water-dweller. But as the evening progressed, His Majesty found the frog to be of high intellect and a well-rounded individual. The frog had great insight into matters concerning agriculture, economics, government, and a variety of other topics. By the time the meal was finished, the king regarded the frog as a dear friend. He asked the frog to spend the night, and the frog accepted.

"May he sleep in my room?" the princess asked.

"I see no reason why he may not," her father replied.

The princess grabbed the frog and rushed to her room. She pulled a drawer from her dresser and placed a blanket on its bottom. The frog laid down and made himself comfortable as the princess readied herself for bed.

"Frog," she said as she slid under her covers. "You are such an amazing creature. Tell me, have you lived an exciting life?"

"Of course, princess." The frog proceeded to tell her about all the incredible adventures he had experienced during his time underwater. The princess tried to stay awake, but the frog's smoothing voice eventually caused her to fall asleep.

The next morning, the princess checked the drawer immediately after waking, eager to wish a good morning to her guest. The frog was gone, but inside were twelve of the most beautiful red roses the princess had ever seen.

The princess called out to the frog, but received no reply. She dressed herself and went downstairs. Suddenly, a servant rushed up to her. Sweat covered her forehead, and she was shaking violently.

"What is wrong?" the princess asked.

"One of the cooks has gone mad!" the servant explained. "He said he saw a horrifying beast outside the window last night."

The princess gasped. Some kind of beast was prowling the castle grounds? Then her face went white as she thought of the frog's safety. What if he had been devoured by the creature? She rushed into the courtyard. "Frog! Frog!" she called.

A shrill cry came from above, causing the princess to look up. Circling overhead was a large falcon with bright brown and red feathers. The bird alighted before the princess, who let out a sigh of relief when she saw the frog sitting upon the avian creature.

"Good morning, princess," he said. "I went to retrieve this wondrous falcon, whom I have trained to be my steed." He gave the falcon a slight kick, and the bird took to the sky. The frog had it perform magnificent twists and turns that delighted the princess to no end.

"Dear frog, you are an astounding creature," she said as the bird landed. "And I would like to thank you for the roses. Their beauty is without compare!"

"No, princess, you are wrong."

"What do you mean?"

"Because their beauty is nothing compared to yours."

The princess blushed. Then a concerned look crossed her face. "Frog, you must be careful around the castle, for last night one of the cooks saw a horrifying beast prowling about."

The frog frowned. "I see. Thank you for the warning, princess. But rest assured that no beast can harm me!"

As the weeks went on, the royal court became quite fond of the loquacious amphibian. All the young ladies swarmed over him, eager to converse with this noble creature. Words of praise spread throughout the kingdom.

"Oh, he is the most handsome frog I have ever seen!"

"He possesses such splendid manners. I wonder where he learned such excellent grace and poise."

"And the way he speaks . . . pure poetry! He has a superb mastery of the language."

"I wish I had a frog like him."

The king had a little sword and a suit of armor made for the frog so he could participate in the yearly jousting competition, where he impressed the crowd with his incredible swordsmanship.

Despite his fame, the frog remained humble and courteous, especially to the princess. One afternoon the frog said to her, "Princess, would you like to accompany me on a picnic by the lake?" The frog was referring to the massive body of water that was a short walk from the castle.

The princess grinned. "Of course, dear frog."

The cooks made a basket of food and gave it to the princess, and she and the frog went to the lake. The princess ate while the frog sang her songs about raindrops, water lilies, and butterflies. As he finished, the princess said, "You have such a marvelous voice, frog."

"Thank you, princess."

"Many ladies of the court are quite fond of you." The frog chuckled.

"And my father likes you as well."

"And I like your father. He is a kind and gracious man."

The princess looked at the frog. "You have never mentioned anything about your family."

"That is true, princess."

"Do you have a family?"

"I do, indeed. A mother and many siblings."

"Where do they live?"

The frog motioned toward the lake. "In there."

The princess moved closer to the water. "May I meet them?"

The frog frowned. "I think it best that you do not, my dear. They are . . . afraid of humans."

"Oh, that is too bad. I would like to meet your family . . . especially your mother."

"Perhaps one day you will, princess." The frog continued with his singing while the princess ate her meal. After she had finished, she leaned back and allowed the frog's song to carry her to sleep. Then a low growl woke her. She sat up and saw a pair of wolf-like beasts emerge from the forest. The princess sprang to her feet and ran. The beasts chased her into the forest, where she quickly scrambled up a tree. The predators circled beneath her, drool dripping from their fang-filled maws.

"Help me!" the princess cried.

"Of course," came the reply. The princess watched the frog hop in front of the beasts. "Your manners are truly atrocious," the frog rebuked. "How rude of you to frighten this young lady!"

The beasts charged the frog. The amphibian hopped through the underbrush, constantly keeping ahead of his pursuers. The princess watched them move into a dark part of the forest. She heard a loud bark, followed by a pair of pain-filled howls. The forest was deathly silent for a long time.

The underbrush rustled, and the frog leapt out. "You may come down now, princess. The danger has passed."

The princess grinned, and quickly climbed down the tree. She embraced the frog and kissed him on the forehead. "My wonderful frog! My savior! How can I ever repay you?"

"Your kindness is reward enough," the frog replied. "Perhaps we should return to the castle before any more unwelcome guests arrive."

The princess laughed. "I am sure you would be able to defeat whatever creatures cross our path."

"Indeed I would," the frog said. "Indeed I would."

Several days later the king said to his daughter, "My dear, the time is approaching when you must choose a husband. I have invited all the princes from the surrounding kingdoms to attend a royal ball which will be taking place in three days. You will select one of the princes to be your future husband, whom you will marry on your sixteenth birthday."

"Yes, Father." The princess had mixed feelings about the event. She was eager to find a husband and start her life as a woman, but was afraid that none of the princes would compare to the frog.

The night of the ball came. The princess wore a shimmering silver dress and sparkling slippers. She looked for the frog, but he and his falcon were nowhere to be found. "I do hope he has not grown jealous and gone away," she thought sadly.

Fourteen princes arrived for the special occasion. The princess talked and danced with all of them, and to her surprise she found three young men who struck her fancy. All were well-mannered, educated, and charismatic. They reminded her of the frog.

"Which of the young men will be your husband?" the king asked his daughter after the ball had ended and the princes had departed for their respective kingdoms.

"I cannot say as yet, Father, but I found three wonderful men to whom I have taken a liking. May I have a few days to think it over?"

The king, filled with joy after learning the names of the chosen princes, quickly answered, "Of course, my dear, of course."

That night the princess tossed and turned as she tried to sleep. She could not decide which of the young men to marry. Then she felt a stab of guilt. Was she betraying the frog?

"I cannot marry the frog," she laughed to herself. "He would never want a girl like me to be his bride. Besides, I doubt the frog wishes to be married. He seems to be the sort of creature who enjoys being free of the bonds of matrimony."

After a long, sleepless night, the princess had made her decision. The next morning she approached her father, who sat upon his throne with a grim look on his face. Beside him stood three solemn-faced messengers.

"What is the matter?" the princess asked.

"I have terrible news, my dear. The three princes whom you had selected have all been murdered."

The princess felt as if she had been stabbed in the heart. "No!"

"I am afraid so. According to these messengers, they were killed while returning home from the ball. They apparently fell prey to wolves or some other wild predators, for all had deep claw and tooth marks covering their mangled bodies."

The princess put her face in her hands and began to cry. She rushed to her room, slammed the door shut, and threw herself on her bed. After several moments she heard the fluttering of wings. She looked toward her windowsill. There, atop his falcon, sat the frog.

"Good morning," the frog said as he dismounted. He frowned when he noticed her tears. "What troubles you, princess?"

Between heavy sobs, she explained what had happened to the princes.

"I am so sorry," the frog whispered. From the back of the falcon he removed a small lyre made from the bits of a reed and the strands of a spider-web. He strummed it with his webbed hands and sang a soft melody that caused the princess's woes to dissipate.

The princess suddenly sat up and said, "Frog, will you marry me?"

The frog stopped playing. His mouth dropped open. "Princess, I . . . I am absolutely flattered. I don't know what to say."

"Oh, please, please marry me!"

The frog smiled. "Of course, princess."

The princess laughed and kissed him on the head.

"He is . . . an odd choice, my dear," the king said to his daughter when she informed him of her decision.

"Father, is there anyone better than he to be my husband?"

The king nodded. "I will admit that he is charming, intelligent, and a perfect gentleman, even if he is not a man. Indeed, there are those of royal blood who do not possess even a fraction of his noble character. Therefore, I will sanction the marriage."

Three days later, the castle was decorated, minstrels were called in, the finest dishes were prepared, and numerous guests from throughout the land arrived to witness the momentous occasion. The frog had requested that the ceremony be held outdoors, and the king had agreed.

"It is such a lovely day," the king observed, staring up at the blue, cloudless sky. "Truly this is a good omen."

The minister stood before the frog and the princess and had them recite their wedding vows. After they exchanged rings, the minister said, "I now pronounce you husband and wife." The bride and groom kissed, and a great cheer went up from the audience. Then a deafening clap of thunder drowned out the applause. Huge black clouds appeared over the horizon and quickly sped toward the castle.

"Cursed weather!" the king said. "Well, at least the ceremony has been performed. Come, let the rest of the celebration be held in my feasting hall."

The castle doors were opened, and everyone shuffled inside as torrents of rain poured from the sky. Streaks of lightning illuminated the black sky. Off in the distance, the huge lake began to bubble and churn violently. Dozens of seven-foot-tall, monstrous amphibians emerged from the water and hopped toward the castle. They had short talon-tipped arms, long muscular legs, and huge sagging cheeks. Their large mouths were filled with sharp teeth, and their eyes were blood-red orbs set in their dark-green heads.

"What are those things?" the king asked in horrified disbelief.

One of the cooks let out a scream. "The beast! The beast I saw in the window! It was one of them!" He raced into the hall and, whimpering loudly, ducked beneath a table. The other guests cried out in panic as they rushed inside. The drawbridge was raised, and the castle doors were closed and barred shut.

The king held up his arms, trying to quiet the crowd. "Do not worry, my friends! You are safe here!" He summoned the captain of the guards. "Arm your archers and station them on the ramparts. Their arrows must slay the creatures before they reach the castle!"

The archers were made ready. As the phalanx of amphibious monstrosities approached the moat, the men unleashed a torrent of arrows. However, the projectiles simply embedded themselves in the creatures' soft skin and did not slow them at all. The monsters leapt over the moat, scaled the walls of the castle, and scurried onto the ramparts. Their talons sliced through the archers' bows. They spat streams of black oily liquid that ate through the archers' armor and burned their skin.

The frog-monsters crashed through the castle windows to enter the feasting hall. They quickly surrounded the guests, but they did not attack.

The king shouted, "Fear not, my friends. My guards will slay these creatures!"

"That won't be necessary," the frog said. "They will not harm us."

"How do you know that?" the princess asked.

"They are my brothers and sisters."

The king and princess gasped. A tremulous groan came from outside, causing the frog-monsters to hop about excitedly. They lowered the drawbridge, knocked open the front doors, and corralled everyone outside.

"What is going on?" the princess asked the frog.

"Another guest is coming," he replied gravely. "You said you wanted to meet my mother, princess. Now you shall have your chance."

From the lake emerged a titanic amphibian monster with huge spikes protruding from its back and bulbous tendrils that squirmed above its abyssal mouth. The huge beast let out a series of grunts and bellows.

The frog turned to the king and sadly said, "My mother says she has come to live with you."


"She says that because her son has married your daughter, the two families are now united."

"That is preposterous! What is going on, frog?"

"We are amphimars, Your Majesty, brutish creatures who usually reside deep at the bottom of lakes and ponds, never seen by human eyes. However, our old queen died and was replaced by the beast who now sits in the lake. This new queen is jealous of the vast land owned by such kings as yourself. She knows you are the most powerful man throughout the land, and so she came up with a plan to gain control of your kingdom without fighting your army."

"And in order to do that, you were sent here to marry me," the princess said as a sickening feeling filled her gut.

"Yes. You see, I am an oddity amongst my people. Although I resemble an ordinary frog, I was born with the ability to understand and speak your language. I spent my youth learning the behavior and abilities of your kind. When the time was right, I introduced myself to you. I retrieved your ball as a way to gain your trust." He hung his head. "My siblings have aided me by killing the crocodile in the moat, slaying the beasts that chased you in the forest, and murdering the three princes. They were eliminating any obstacle that might prevent me from marrying you."

Tears welled up in the princess's eyes. "So you never really loved me, did you? You only acted kind to me with the intention of turning my father's kingdom over to those bloodthirsty monsters!"

"No!" the frog cried. "At first, I was only following my mother's orders. She told me that humans were ignorant, barbaric creatures who deserved to be slaughtered, and I believed her." He placed his hand on the princess's foot. "But being with you has made me change that view. I have grown to truly love you, and I will see to it that no harm befalls you or your loved ones."

The amphimar queen grunted and belched. The frog croaked and burped in surprise, and the queen gurgled angrily in return. The frog's mouth dropped. "That wasn't part of the plan," he whispered.

"What is she saying?" the princess asked.

"She intends to kill you both and make me king. But I will not let her!" He faced the princess. "To prove that I love you, I will slay my mother and save your kingdom!" He hopped into the castle.

The princess fell to the ground. "Father, please tell me this is all a hideous nightmare!"

"I wish it were," the king replied as the amphimar queen bellowed again.

From overhead came a loud screech. The princess and her father watched a falcon fly from the castle. Upon it sat the frog, clad in his armor and wielding his sword.

"I will save you!" he declared to the princess as the falcon swooped toward the amphimar queen. The monster let out a low moan when she saw her son.

The frog cried, "No, Mother, I won't stop! I won't let you harm my wife and my friends!"

The queen opened her mouth and shot forth a thick stream of black liquid. The falcon dove down, and the liquid passed overhead. It smacked into the castle wall, which sizzled and broke apart.

The queen lashed out with her massive talon and struck the falcon. The bird plummeted to the ground as the frog leapt off his steed and landed on his mother's lower lip. The tendrils surrounding the monster's mouth knocked the frog onto the undulated flesh of her chin. The queen continued to move toward the castle, her mighty weight shaking the ground with each step.

The king held his daughter tight. "Close your eyes, my dear. Don't look at the horror."

But the princess could not close her eyes. She watched as her husband again leapt onto the lip of the monster. He drew his sword and struck at her tendrils. Then he jumped into her maw.

"What is he doing?!" the princess cried. The giant amphimar stopped. She put her claws into her mouth and tried to remove her son. Suddenly, she jerked her hands away, which were now coated with her own venom. She let out a wet belch as black liquid dribbled from her mouth, burning her skin away. She groaned and toppled forward. A massive wave of venom spilled from her mouth. Floating at the top of the wave was the frog, his armor dissolved by the poison.

"No!" the princess screamed as she rushed to him. She ripped off the train of her wedding gown and used it to pull his body from the venom. "My dear husband," she sobbed. A tear dripped from her face and onto the frog. He slowly opened his eyes.

"Oh princess," he whispered. "Weep not, for by cutting open my mother's venom-sac and killing her, I have stopped her mad plan. I have saved you and your kingdom."

She leaned close to him. "But you have doomed yourself, my beloved husband. The venom is destroying you even as you speak."

"Indeed, but it is better to know that I died saving you, rather than forcing you to live unhappily ever after." He coughed. "Farewell, princess. I love you."

The princess knelt down and kissed him. Then she started to cry.

* * *
The frog was given a Christian funeral, which everyone in the entire kingdom attended. The amphimars left the lake and traveled south to unknown territories.

The princess eventually married a human husband. She was happy, and soon after gave birth to twin daughters. When they were old enough, she would stroll with them along the moat of her husband's castle while bouncing a golden ball. Sometimes she would let the ball bounce into the moat and wait for her talking frog to appear and rescue it.

Sadly, he never did.