Sunday, November 19, 2006

THE FROG PRINCE

In another writing group we were asked to take a fairy tale from Hans Christian Anderrsen or The Brothers Grimm and to give it our own twist. I chose the sweet little story of the Frog Prince. After all, who doesn't like the kiss and the frog emerging as a handsome savior. Sigh. Well...here is my version.

THE FROG
PRINCE


Born to the common people, she would surely have died young. Addled, and unattractive, Princess Ursula was also unlovable. Small eyes set far apart, weak chin, a flat nose. Her spine curved grotesquely and she shuffled rather than walked. Thick and lustrous gold hair ran so beautiful down her shoulders that her ugliness was made more startling by contrast.

Easy to bear in a child, in a young woman such defects proved a tedious challenge to the king. Protected by her royal station, she was indulged and kept away from the cruelty of those who would seek to exploit any weakness in the royal family. As King Marodius contemplated his only child though, the shame and guilt of such an offspring darkened his scowl and cut short his humor.

“At least it wasn’t a son,” he said, bemused. Had a male heir been born a simpleton of such degree, the king would have been forced to act. The idiot boy would never have become the idiot king. The princess was different. She could be relegated to a small portion of the castle where the queen could harmlessly proffer affections on her plaything.

Occasionally they dined together. Ursula would be escorted in by a servant who would stand beside the girl and keep her quiet. During dinner the servant would whisper calming instruction and occasionally help with her plate. The king would eat in silence, addressing Ursula only when she arrived and again when she left the table.

On this night the child appeared sullen; the king watched her, unused to Ursula expressing any emotion that might suggest her capable of anything beyond childish simplicity. He watched for some time, rubbing his jaw as curiosity increased.

“What has vexed my child this day?” The king asked at last.

The queen turned and studied Ursula and instructed the girl to answer her father.

Ursula’s long skinny fingers strayed to her plaything, a gold ball, a gift from long ago which she carried everywhere. Her forefinger traced its curving surface and she shrugged.

“Have you done something you shouldn’t?” asked the king, amused.

Ursula leaned and whispered into her servant’s ear.

“Begging your pardon,” said the servant. “But Princess Ursula says …”

“Let the princess speak for herself,” said the king. His wife began to object but the king silenced her with a gesture.

Ursula stared at her plate and time passed. She raised her face and spoke softly, her words formed with difficulty around crooked teeth.

“I lost my ball,” she said.

“Did you? Well, you must have found it,” said the king.

“I got it back.”

“And so that makes you sad?”. He smiled and again they waited while Ursula considered how best to answer.

“It fell into the well. I got it back.”

“If it fell into the well, then how did you get it back?” asked the king. He shook his head, smiling with amusement. The amusement dissolved. He stared at his daughter and for a minute imagined her leaning over the well, trying to see into the darkness. He imagined her leaning over a little further and further still until she lost her balance and pitched forward.

“A frog,” she said. “It brought it up to me.”

“A frog,” said the king. “How lovely. Was it a talking frog, then?”

His daughter’s eyes opened wide. She looked down with uncertainty and then up again to nod once.

“A talking frog,” said the king. “Do you hear?” he asked his wife. “And next she will be speaking with the rabbits and the birds. She’ll sprout wings and fly with the faeries. Oh, we’ll have a hard time keeping up with her then.”

The king’s voice had been rising and the last sentence was shouted with a fist pounded on the table before him for emphasis.

He let choler pass. “Well,” he said, “at least you can claim a new friend.”

“He scares me,” she said.

“A frog? Then you must do what I did when I was but a boy and stick him with a knife. Or, crush him with a stone.”

“He gave me back my ball.”

“So he did. I had forgotten.” The king returned to his meal, putting his daughter from his thoughts. The queen nodded at the servant and she took the princess by the elbow to lead her away from the supper table. Before they had gone more than a few feet however, a pounding sounded from the rear of the castle.

The king raised his eyebrows and turned. A young man came rushing in, eyes wide and face pale with horror. He stepped close to the king and spoke in low tones. The king looked at him with an incredulous expression and stood.

“What is it, my husband?” asked the queen.

“There is a beast at the door. He is trying to force his way in, but two of the guard are holding him fast. He is making…” The king’s voice faltered. “He is making claims upon the princess.”

“He brought me my ball,” she said.

One guard brought the creature in, yanking it by a rope looped around its neck. Another guard kept a spear’s tip close to the thing’s back. Shaped like a man, its skin was tinted green and looked slick to the touch. Impossibly broad mouth, a stub of a nose, round black eyes set far apart. It dressed in worn raiment as would befit a man of stature.

“What are you?” asked the king. He rose and brought with him a knife from the table.

“Your daughter promised me companionship,” it croaked.

The king rushed forward and pressed the knife’s tip to the throat of the thing. It writhed as he did so and the guard had to strain to maintain their hold.

“How dare you,” the king whispered. “You are talking about the princess.”

“Princess or not, she is human and she has promised me companionship.”

The king whirled around and pointed a finger at his daughter. “Did you do such a thing?”

The girl nodded and giggled nervously.

“The promise of a princess,” said the monster.

“Don’t presume to teach me about honor,” said the king. He nodded to himself. While the princess may have promised companionship, it was unlikely that she had the wit to promise much else. She could hardly have promised the thing any safe passage. Thinking this and satisfying himself that it must be so, the king stabbed at the belly of monster and yanked up to open the wound. He stabbed again, this time at the heart.

The beast sprawled full length to the floor and as the last of life fled him so too did his curse. Green skin gave way to ruddy flesh; wide mouth to well-formed lips. Curly brown hair flowed from his pate.

“Bewitched,” commented the king. “Those features are distinct. He comes from royal family.”

“What shall we do?” asked the queen.

“We will spare his family the horror of this revelation and bury him in an unmarked grave.”

The princess tipped her head to one side and cried. “I was his companion,” she said.

The king scoffed and reached for his daughter’s chin, cupping it in a blood stained hand.
“Some things should not be,” he said. “You may know no man’s bed. You are denied all that is woman’s nature.”

“What if they have already known one another?” asked his wife.

The king paled and shook his head. “It would be against all nature. There is an order to things and stepping outside such order, we deserve the punishment that befalls us. I have no male heir. She will bear no child.”

Saying this, the king left the room.

The princess looked after him and rubbed first the ball and then her belly. Her mother watched her knowingly and the two women shared a conspiratorial smile.

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14 comments:

SQT said...

Ooooh, I liked that better than the original. It's dark and disturbing but really good.

I wouldn't mind reading a more developed version of this story.

Stewart Sternberg said...

One of these days I'll have to send you some of my polished fiction.

SQT said...

One of these days I'll have to send you some of my polished fiction.

Definitely!

Coprólalo said...

Great story. I've been listening to Black Label Society and it's awesome, thanks.

Lori Witzel said...

Well, this was just kick-a**.

A dark, mordant retelling. And something Caliban-like about the changeling Frog-Prince that I really liked.

Thanks for sharing it...now you've got my mythology juices working!

Jon said...

Hey, this is the real deal. You nailed it. Perfect tone, perfect ending.

Chuck Zaglanis said...

Hi Stu,

I would have been happy to find this in something I paid money for. I can't give a higher compliment than that.

Stewart Sternberg said...

thanks for the compliments. now please go ahead and click the paypal button for your donation.

just kidding.

makes me wish i had submitted it somewhere in a more polished form. maybe i'll just twist another fairytale around and do just that.

Susan Miller said...

Good stuff, Stu, as usual.

Charles Gramlich said...

Cool twist on an old chestnut. These are great exercises, and sometimes there is a market. I know there have been a couple of collections of retold fairty tales. Maybe someone needs to do another.

SQT said...

Mercedes Lackey has made a decent career in recent years retelling old fairy tales. They're not my favorite books of her's but they appear to be quite popular.

Dennis McKeirnan's recent books have also been based on fairy tales.

Neither of these authors have taken the darker route though and Stewarts is much more original IMO.

Ormondroyd's Encyclopedia Esoterica said...

Check out "Parabola" magazine as a place for submission of archetypal stories retold; I've never broken the market, but...
Bill Willingham's graphic novel series "Fables" has the Frog Prince in human form as a continuing character as well.
The version I heard was that the princess heard a little voice croak, "Hiya, beautiful!" and when she laughed, the creature said, "I am no ordinary frog! I am a handsome prince, and if some beautiful virgin puts me on her pillow overnight, in the morning I will be transformed back into my True Form."
Sure enough, when the king looked in on his daughter, there was a handsome prince lying naked in bed next to her.
And the moral of the story is, the king didn't believe that story any more than you do...

Sidney said...

Very nice tale, Stewart. I agree with Charles, worth seeking a market!

DonkeyBlog said...

Dear Mr Sternberg,

I recently fell upon your site, and I'm keen to give the trouser pockets challenge a go.

I also note this post, and I mean no disrespect for doing this (I understand that such actions contravene Blog etiquette), but I have written similar posts in the past. If you're interested ...

http://thisdonkey.blogspot.com/2006/08/keep-your-hans-to-yourself.html

and to a lesser extent,

http://thisdonkey.blogspot.com/2006/08/why-granny-what-big-piercing-betrayal.html

I love the Bros Grimm, and I love sparring with 'em ... oh, and I love your site, too. Thanks.