October Serial: The Frog King, Part I

October 7, 2014

 

It's not that this is a scary story or anything, but October seemed to be the month to do it in.

 

This is an original fairy tale I wrote a bit after graduating with my Bachelor's in 2009. It's just some silliness really. And I must apologize for the illustrations. I have great hopes of being able to illustrate one day, but until then, I just practice. I figured some attempt is better than none. Hope my pictures don't creep you out too much. ;)

 

This serial comes to you in 4 sections that I will post once a week for the rest of October. And no, it's really no relation to the Frog Prince, really. But it was fun!

 

The Frog King
Part I
 

 

Eva splashed her way through the moonlit swamp but heard the bandits gaining on her anyway.  She could not gather any speed in the mud, and her long skirts and small feet did not help.  The ambushers had much more practice traversing the swamps than she did. She tried to pull herself from tree to tree, grabbing one to keep her from sinking in the mud and using it to propel her forward. 

 

She put her hand on the next tree to steady herself and looked back to see how close they were.  Because her back was turned to it, she didn’t see a pair of eyes open on the tree behind her.  She also didn’t notice that her hand wasn’t resting on bark.  

 

Quick as a lightning flash she was grabbed from behind, one hand over her mouth and the other pinning her arms to her sides. She thrashed with terror that only increased as she tested the unyielding strength of the arms that held her.  The skin of the palm over her mouth didn’t feel natural.  

 

The creature holding her pressed her to the tree, hiding her from sight with his own body.  This made the fastest of the bandits pass them by.  But as soon as they realized she had vanished, they began searching the swamp. 

 

“White,” the creature holding her murmured in a hoarse voice as he ran a piece of her cream-colored skirt through his fingers.  As soon as the bandits turned around, they would be able to see her whiteness standing out in the dark swamp like a beacon. 

 

The creature took care to cover her mouth and nose and then took a single step away from the tree and sank—straight—down.  In the amount of time it took to blink, Eva and her captor were entirely submerged in the murk and mud from their scalps to their soles.  An instant later they popped back on the surface with a sound no louder than a foot sucking itself out of mud.  And now Eva was entirely covered with the dark black grime before she realized she had missed a breath. 

 

Clamping down on her mouth some more to muffle Eva’s groan of disgust, they pressed up against the tree again, perfectly camouflaged and all but invisible to the bandits.  One of the bandits came so close that Eva could have reached out and grabbed his arm had she still had the use of them.  She closed her eyes as his gaze passed over her and heard nothing but her heart pounding in her ears for the next twenty minutes while whoever held her fast stayed as still as the tree that helped to hide them. 

 

Finally she felt her rescuer slacken his grip and her mouth was freed of his hand.  Her arms remained pinned, though not quite as tightly as before. Eva took several gasping breaths as she realized she had scarcely breathed the whole time. The swamp was silent again except for the chirp of bugs, the trills of birds, and the sloshing of other swamp creatures.  

 

“Putrid creatures. Robbed them of their prey.  Will rob them of their lives if they hunt in the Frog King’s swamp again,” her rescuer finally spoke in a coarse masculine voice.

 

Now that Eva could move, she could observe the arm holding her.  They were both covered in mud, but she could still see that the arm holding her was mottled green black and brown and glistened with shine in the light of the moon, most of the mud having already dripped away. Her heart rate doubled again.

 

“Who are you?” she asked.  “The Frog King?”

 

“King of this swamp, and master of the creatures here,” the creature croaked. “Don’t like humans hunting on my land. Especially hunting other humans. Will turn them to frogs if they return.”

 

“Thank you for saving me from them,” Eva said, trying to convince herself that her fate would have been worse if the bandits had caught her.  She wanted to try to be polite if the creature holding her really was a king and really could command the other swamp creatures and turn people into frogs.  “Will you let me go now?”

 

At this, the Frog King stiffened and did not reply. 

 

“What? What’s wrong?” Eva asked.

 

“No,” the Frog King replied. 

 

“No? Why?” Eva demanded, trying to stay calm despite her already far-too-tumultuous evening.

 

“Can’t think of any reason to,” the Frog King admitted.  He liked the feeling of holding someone. He ran his free hand through her hair, and Eva writhed. His arm tightened automatically.  

 

“You have to let me go!” Eva insisted, growing tired and desperate. As if her night hadn’t been stressful enough.

 

“Why?” the Frog King asked sincerely. “Give me a reason. Can’t think of one.”

 

  “Because my cart was attacked by the bandits!  I have to see if it’s still there. If I’m not back by morning my father will be angry!” 

 

The Frog King made a croaking sound in his throat. “Don’t care,” he replied. “Am lonely.”

 

“You’re lonely?” Eva repeated, now exasperated. “That’s not my concern! I can’t stay with you!”

 

“Is your concern, because you can’t get away unless let go,” the Frog King pointed out simply.  And as if to prove his point, he sat down and settled obdurately in the mud, holding her as firmly as ever.  Eva thrashed and writhed and squirmed for nearly a half-hour, but it seemed that if the Frog King decided he wasn’t going to move, he practically turned to stone.  “See?” he said finally as Eva tried to catch her breath and keep from sobbing with frustration.

 

They sat in silence and listened to the swamp sounds for several more minutes as Eva shed silent tears and thought.

 

“Can I see you?” She finally asked, deciding that it was annoying she had not even seen his face, and also thinking that if she changed position at all, she might be able to break free.

 

A low croaking sound rumbled behind her. “No,” her captor finally responded.

 

“Why?” 

 

“Will scare you.”

 

In spite of herself, Eva laughed.  

 

“Why do you laugh?” the Frog King demanded.

 

“I’ve been scared all night!” Eva chuckled, feeling much better now that a good laugh had cleared her system of most of her fear and let her think a little more clearly.  “I’ve thought of a reason why you should let me go.”

 

The croaking sound behind her suggested that he was listening.

 

“You cannot hold me forever.  I’ll eventually escape, no matter how long it takes, and then you’ll never see me again.  But, if you let me go, then I might come back to see you of my own free will.”

 

“Might?” the Frog King asked in a low rumble. “When?”

 

Eva sighed.  She was hoping he would not catch her might.  “I have to pass through the trail that runs by the swamp in two weeks,” she admitted. “Then.”

 

The Frog King made a trilling sound in his throat. “Two weeks,” he said. “Visit.” The arm holding her lifted off and she could move her arms again. She stood up quickly, looking first at her mud-covered self and then at the Frog King, who also stood.

 

Eva jumped back a little.  The Frog King stood over six-feet tall and his skin was the mottled swamp color she had noted earlier, from head to toe.  His hair almost reached his shoulders and looked like a combination of long black faceless slugs and frilly seaweed.  His nose was flat, but not flatter than she had seen noses before. His mouth was long and his lips wide, but his face only deviated slightly from a human face. His eyes were yellow and bright and intelligent. His fingers were webbed and his feet looked like they had been taken straight from a giant frog.  

 

“How—how do I find you in two weeks?” Eva asked. “What is your name?”

 

The Frog King knelt and picked up what seemed to be at first nothing more than a handful of mud.  But he brushed it a little and the form of a frog became clear. “Head Frog,” he announced.  “He will find you and lead you.  He is smarter than most.”  The frog opened its wide eyes and looked at her.  He was perhaps a little larger than an average frog, with a light green splotch on his forehead. He jumped abruptly away.  The Frog King put a hand to his chest. “Call me Frog King, or Slimbark.”

 

“Slimbark,” Eva repeated.  “I’ll remember.”

 

“What is your name?” 

 

“Eva,” Eva replied. “Just Eva.”

 

“Eva,” he repeated. “Two weeks,” The Frog King lick his lips with a knobbed and frightening-looking tongue. “Promise?”

 

Eva had already resigned herself to keep her word. “I promise.” She tried to wipe some mud off her hands and looked the direction she thought she had come. 

 

“Is that the way to the road?” she asked, but when she turned back the Frog King was gone.  Suddenly, eyes appeared on the tree.  

 

“That way,” he lifted his arm to correct her course. Before he moved, Eva could not tell he had been there at all. She ran off in the direction he had pointed.

 

Eva found signs on the road of her cart being driven off, but her horse and cart were gone.  Her father was not going to be happy.  Her father, a widowed drunkard, had let his farm fall to ruin as he drank.  It was left to Eva to weave whatever rugs and blankets she could to sell in the neighboring village, hopefully making enough to buy more supplies and more drink for her father.  She made her trip every two weeks.  She had passed by the swamp many times, but she had known she could not avoid the bandits forever. She would have to use whatever supplies she had left to weave something a rich man would buy. Without looking back, Eva trudged back down the road in the direction she had come, no longer afraid of what might be lurking on the road at night; she had already met the worst.

 

End of Part I of IV

 

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