Copyright (C) 2015 by Randall R. Peterson    All Rights Reserved.


By R. Peterson

Facinated, Dolda Spindel gazed at her reflection in a gilded mirror as she stood on a landing above the ballroom. The raven-haired beauty looked magnificent in a white gown trimmed with thousands of diamonds and pearls. Each elegant stitch had been painstakingly attached to Attaby Silk with silver thread. The largest room in the palace was filled with attractive ladies and handsome gentlemen, all waiting for the prince of Nodnol.
Rising with magnificent fanfare, sixteen trumpeters heralded the arrival of King Astor’s only son. The Great Hall doors were flung open as Prince Dristig and a dozen mounted nobles galloped across a drawbridge and entered the castle.
Orchestrated minstrels played an elegant motet and all eyes were on the beautiful girl as she began to descend a marble staircase. Halfway down the steps Miss Spindel’s shoe caught on her lace petticoat, and she stumbled.  A servant holding a tray filled with champagne glasses, reached out a hand to steady her, and when he did … a single drop of wine fell onto Dolda’s slipper.
“You Dankish, Ill-bred, Pumpkin Butt!” the young woman screeched. “You’ve bloody ruined everything!”
And as Dolda’s rage against the terrified servant erupted … her beauty melted until she was once again a horrible prancing old witch … dressed in sooty sack-cloth and twisting in evil vapors … with two flea-infested goat-hoofs for feet.
                “Good heavens!” the crowd gasped as Prince Dristig stumbled away from his transformed bride-to-be. “Why such a reluctant heart?” the old witch cackled as she pranced onto the dance floor. One of her eyes was a blackened pit, the other a bulging, un-cracked goose egg. “Wanting to trade these warts and crumples for a bit of milk and honey-skin are you, my dear?”
            “I always feared your great outward beauty might hide something hideous and tainted,” the prince of Nodnol stammered. “I prayed that it wasn’t so … that you were merely in the foul grips of a monthly disorder.”
                “Hideous and tainted am I?” Dolda stalked the prince across Nodnol’s Greatest Hall. Her hair was like a nest of squirming vipers. Brutal rage flared from her single functioning eye. “These are words worthy of bloodletting … but alas!  … a prince’s opulent life is not to be taken by anyone … not even a bride of grimoire such as I.” She laughed as she held out a twisted hand and six dancers fell dead on the floor. “Not so with lesser lives … I fear.”
            “I order you to leave these walls at once,” the prince cried. “We’ve had enough terror and treachery on this night to last many lifetimes.”
            “Not without a kiss … will I depart,” Dolda said. “One tiny smooch in moonlight and all your attendants’ lives will be spared. Then shall I be gone forever … filled with dreams and dancing.”
Seven soldiers rushed the witch and with a simple blink of her eye she turned them all into blazing straw-men writhing on the dance floor. “Perhaps I should visit your sleepy village … visit all the villages in Nodnol,” she hissed.
Dolda wagged a bony finger at the prince and laughed as she capered from the palace and floated around the castle walls, hovering above fields and wetlands like an Irish banshee. “One kiss and you’ll be rid of me,” she promised.
            “Scorched lips and the eternal taste of sludge are a small price to pay for the ransom of many,’ the prince said as he met the frolicking witch on the drawbridge.
 A large conquering moon surveyed the castle as an army of wind and clouds whispered from behind and below their master. Hundreds of sleepy evening -birds jostled to the edge of leafy-beds competing to see which fowl had the best limb to witness the duplicitous kiss. The dark shadows of forest and marsh were all filled with bright hungry eyes appearing like stars. “Have your kiss and be done,” the prince said. “But no tongue! I’d rather thrust my patois into a pot of boiling goat-dung than lick your rotted snappers!”
            “One small peck … and this reluctant rooster may hop on his way,” Dolda promised.
Frowning, the prince’s lips had barely touched the witch’s when a bolt of lightning fell from the sky and blasted olive and yellow vapors where once the young monarch had stood. The crowd gasped as the greenish smoke swirled and then cleared. The prince had vanished. In his place, a stupefied frog trembled under the gaze of the horrified moon. Dolda swam in a fit of hysterical laughing.
            “A blood-pudding from a prince is too pricey for my poor widow’s pension,” the witch reasoned “Where is the mercy in Nodnol? … But a pair of spicy toad’s legs? They will be more than welcome in my cooking pot.” She drew a glimmering butcher’s knife from the musty folds of her dank skirts and bent low to secure her evening’s supper.
The frog avoided the slashing knife by inches as it flung itself off the bridge and into the clammy waters of the moat surrounding the castle. A crowd was forming. Someone shouted that a wizard from Scotland had been summoned.
Rocking back on her heels, Dolda whistled and a large wolf appeared slinking from a clearing in the fen. The witch used a length of her own matted hair for a bridle and mounted the beast. Dolda was almost to the swamp when a girl’s hopeful voice rang in the still night air. “True love’s kiss will restore the prince,” she cried. A girl named Sarah, who washed clothes at a nearby river, took off her shoes and waded into the stagnant water to retrieve the amphibian. “My dream lover’s freedom is just a smooch away,” she gushed.
Only a few feet from the forest, the witch reined in the scruffy wolf she was riding and whirled to face the gaping crowd. “Your enchanted prince will be but one of many in this kingdom,” she cackled. Dolda raised her arms in the air and a dark tornado appeared storming across a swamp. The sky blackened and it began to rain frogs … small ones, large ones, eager ones and lazy ones. Green squirming frogs filled the rivers, the streets, the roofs, barrels and the tops of trees. “Find your prince now,” Dolda screamed at Sarah. Then she turned and galloped the wolf across a marsh and into the forest.

Great lakes of frogs sloshed through open windows and flooded cellars. Within minutes the enchanted prince was lost in a sea of hopping madness. “There is but one thing to do,” said the king when he arrived to look for his missing son. “Every maiden of unquestionable virtue, and even those with less than perfect conducts, must be summoned to the realm. All frogs in Nodnol must be captured, kissed, marked and released.” He had a scribe take down his words and he ordered placards printed and spread throughout the land.

Save my son from a life of soggy, fly-feasting squalor and you shall reign as his wife-queen and as my daughter.” Before the day had ended, riders had spread the word all over Britain and beyond.
In the weeks that followed, girls poured into the kingdom of Nodnol … young, old, pretty and pesty … nice, neat, naughty and nasty. They flowed into the city from everywhere by cart, by coach and by canal. They arrived anyway they could … by bridle, by boat, and by boot …
… and the kissing began!

Four-hundred wagonloads of frogs had been gathered. The line of girls vying to transform the prince back into human form and become his wife stretched for miles. Each frog was passed down the line and each girl kissed it. Then strange things began to happen …
Rocking from one leg to another, a plump maiden with fiery-red hair, a face sprayed with freckles, dressed in green and stuffing her mouth with jelly-tarts, kissed a frog who with a puff of glittery green changed into a young baker who looked exactly like she did … and he loved to create sticky confections. The couple were like two halves of a severed coin and they strolled happily away together.
One gangly girl with legs like stilts, wearing glasses and brandishing a nose like a pair of sissors, glittered her frog into a stork-like lad holding a fishing pole and they ran toward the river to do some wading. A woman with a field of hay found a horseman, while a girl who lived on an island found a young man with a boat.
Growing with suspicion, It didn’t take long for the citizens of Nodnol to realize that every frog was enchanted, just waiting for the kiss of  true love that would change it back into human form. The line of girls grew shorter and the wagons filled with frogs fewer until only Sarah the washer-maid remained … and all the frogs were gone.

Sarah walked down the dusty streets crying. “Why am I always the one left alone,” she bawled. “Isn’t there a frog out there waiting for my lips?” She had just cranked up a bucket of water from the town well to wash her face when she heard a croaking sound from deep inside the rock-lined cistern. “Aha! Here’s a hopper the lads in the wagons missed,” Sarah exclaimed happily as she hoisted her skirts and began to climb down a frayed-rope to rescue her prince. Halfway down, the old rope broke and Sarah fell. She splashed in the dark far below.

Froggy … here froggy,” Sarah called as she swam in dark water lit by clouds of fire-flies. “So this is where you’re off to during the day,” she mused as she brushed the air with her hands. She had almost lost all hope of ever finding out what made the sound when she spotted a pair of green legs thrashing through a break in the cistern wall and into an underground stream. A girl who washes clothes at a river certainly knows how to swim for lost socks and other bits of clothing. Sarah soon caught the frog and dragged it onto a sandbar.

Reaching into her soggy apron for a tiny jar of bees-wax and honey, Sarah freshened her lips before she held the frog before her and then kissed it with all the hopeful passion she could muster. There was nothing … no puff of glittery green only the buzz of the fire-flies, the sound of dripping water, and the squelch of the underground stream as it lapped against the rock walls.
                Once again she kissed the squirming frog … then over and over she canoodled the poor creature until it lay on its back in the sand with its long tongue flapping in the water. “Either you’re not the real prince, I’m not your one true love, or you’re playing hard to get,” Sarah gasped as she crumpled exhausted onto the sand. Looking up, she noticed crude steps cut into the rock wall and a dim light far above her. After she had rested, she wrapped the frog in the folds of her apron and climbed the stairs.
                Gusts of wind ruffled Sarah’s blonde tresses as she spied the cave opening that led to the forest. There in the twilight space between light and dark loomed a tethered wolf and Dolda. The wretched witch stood next to a tiny fire, hunched over a cauldron filled with boiling water and floating pig’s eyes. A large wire cage with a terrified frog inside jutted from the rocks next to her. Dolda sprinkled bits of snake-grass, worm-root and chopped toad-stool into the vile steaming brew with her bony fingers as she chanted echoing incantations.
                Drink this soup … and have some tea.
          Shed your flippers … and marry me.
          I’m not fresh and delicate … as I once was.
A few warts and wrinkles … why all the fuss?”

“Dribble, drabble … rattle bone.
Capture love … and lead him home.
Just a drop … placed on his tongue.
Will restore a prince … and make me young.”

Sarah shrieked loudly as the old witch dipped a silver goblet cup into the hot liquid and then reached for the frog. Dolda was startled by the girl’s sudden intrusion and the cup slipped from her fingers and clattered onto the stone floor. “You!” the old witch screamed. “You’ve played with my plans for the last time!” Sarah turned and started to run but her feet were still wet and she slipped and fell on the rock floor. The scrambling witch seized the washing girl by her hair and dragged her to the cage, locking her inside with the frog.

Finding the empty silver goblet on the floor, the witch turned to refill it. Sarah used this opportunity to swap the frog in the cage with the one wrapped in her apron. Dolda turned around and smiled as she delicately lifted the switched frog from its prison … careful not to let Sarah escape. The excited witch pried open the frog’s mouth and pored the potion inside. The frog coughed and rolled its eyes. It wiped its tongue on the rocks and spit and gagged … but it remained a frog.

Rampaging from wall to wall in the cavern, a shrieking Dolda knocked over the cage and the lock on the door burst open. While the witch overturned the caldron and stomped the fire into ash in her rage, the poor washing girl from Nodnol took the opportunity to kiss the frog hidden in her apron. This time she knew she couldn’t fail … and she wasn’t wrong.

Only the sun at mid-day was brighter as the prince appeared in a puff of glittery green. The moment their eyes met Prince Dristig and Sarah both knew they were in love. They were almost out of the cave headed toward Nodnol and already making wedding plans when Sarah happened to look back. She felt sorry for the witch despite all the trouble the old crone had caused.

Grab that last frog in the kingdom before he gets away,” Sarah called to Dolda as the last frog in the kingdom was about to disappear into the darkness. “Try your kiss on him … this might be your final hope!”
Sarah’s words caused the witch to spout crude insults for almost a full minute before her cataract filled eye cleared and reason entered … then … “Why not,” Dolda cackled. “Why the bloody hell-at-the-end-of-a-story not?”

Shooting stars of glittery green bounced off every wall in the cavern as a handsome woodcarver Dolda had known in her youth appeared in a puff of smoke at her lingering kiss. His adoring eyes, and a smile like the gleaming pearls Dolda had worn around her neck in the castle, caused the crone he gazed lovingly at, to transform into the simple seamstress he had always loved.
The two lost lovers were dancing together as Sarah and Prince Dristig untied and released the wolf even though they knew it was big and bad. They entered the forest arm in arm and began the long journey toward his father’s castle.
And they all … each and every person in the magical kingdom of Nodnol … lived happily   … forever and for after … all except the wolf … I wonder about the wolf!

The End

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