Hi! I should have gotten this up yesterday at least. I was drawing. Part II of The Frog King fairytale is here! Along with a new original illustration. Maybe I'm getting better? I had a super fun time drawing the swamp trees.
The Frog King, Part 2
Eva did indeed find herself traveling that same swamp road in two weeks, but not under the
terms she had imagined. This time she had companions. One was her father, a sour-looking grizzled man with no more light in his eyes than a dead man. The other was a man nearly as old as her father. His suit was clean and black and his goatee was neatly trimmed. He held a small black cane with a golden top as if his fingers relished the feel of the wealth. His eyes were sickly though, as if he saw everything in terms of its monetary value and not for its worth or potential.
They new cart was laden with luggage and supplies and the going was slower. The trio made camp just off the road in a moderately dry patch of ground and set up tents. Two small cots supported the men, while Eva slept on the ground under the stars. She preferred it like that. As soon as the two men were asleep, Eva stood and fled into the swamp.
Eva wiped tears from her eyes as she ran. Almost instantly, the swamp came alive with frogs, all jumping more or less in the same direction. She stopped abruptly until she found the larger frog with the light patch on its forehead. He stared at her a moment before hopping through the swamp, leading her. The other frogs followed and hopped and made the swamp look perfectly alive with frogs. Eva followed them until, in the same instant, every single one of them stopped jumping and blended into the swamp as if they never were. Her guide frog croaked before a tree and sank into the mud.
“Slimbark? ” Eva coughed. Her throat was sore from the lump of unshed tears wedged inside. She stepped right up to the tree and stared at it hard. If she really concentrated, she could make out the form of her frog-man. He opened his bright eyes and cracked a grin when he saw it was her.
“Eva!” he chirruped gleefully. “You came to visit! Was worried you would not. Would have hunted you if you hadn’t kept your word.”
Eva smiled. The Frog King didn’t worry her nearly as much as what she had left behind. Still, through her smile, her throat hurt worse and her eyes watered more.
The Frog King knew what that meant. “Sad?” he asked, trying to touch her eye. Eva brushed his hand away. “Why are you sad? Are Humans hunting you again?”
“No,” Eva said quickly. “Well, sort of,” she admitted. She hadn’t intended to tell him, but he had brought it up and she was at her wits end. Despair welled up in her as a fresh wave of tears threatened to break free. “Slimbark, can you help me?”
The Frog King stood up straight and tried to look powerful. “Am strong and powerful. What help do you need?”
“My father was angry when he learned about the bandits—the bad humans—from last time we met. They stole my things. He is selling me to marry a rich man. I am travelling with them to be married and to live in the next village. I’ll never pass by this swamp again.”
Slimbark’s eyes narrowed as he thought. “Stay with me,” he said simply. “Am lonely.”
Eva smiled again, but it was broken smile of hopelessness. “I know, Slimbark. But I am not a frog and wouldn’t be happy here, just as you couldn’t come live with me because you would miss the swamp. It would never work.” Her despair increased as it occurred to her that the only men who wanted her were an awful old man and an amphibian.
Slimbark’s face wrinkled as if he was eating something sour and trying to look through her. Finally he nodded. “Thought as much when was honest with myself.” He scratched the back of his neck. “But have an idea,” he said with a gleam in his bright eyes. “Can scare bad father and man away. Very easily.”
“But—but then what will I do? I have no one else.”
The Frog King lifted a webbed hand to silence her. “Will find you a good man, too. But must ask for a favor in return.”
“Go on,” Eva encouraged, both skeptical and hopeful.
The Frog King looked from side to side as if to make sure no one was listening. He put a hand to his chest. “Am a frog,” he said in a soft croak. “Was turned into frog-man by witch. Escaped from her. But am the only one like me. Am lonely.”
“So … do you want to be a frog again?” Eva asked.
Slimbark’s eyes widened with fear and he took a step back, waving both hands. “No! No!” he insisted vehemently. “She will turn me back if she finds me! Wish to stay frog-man, Frog King! Just don’t want to be alone!” He looked in either direction again, and then beckoned her closer. Eva took a step toward him, expecting him to whisper something. But instead Slimbark scooped her up in his arms, crouched down, and took such an incredible leap that Eva’s scream had to take a moment to collect itself. They sailed over the top of the swamp trees until Slimbark landed again. Mud exploded away from them. Eva was clinging to him. Her heart was going crazy. Slimbark jumped one more time. They sailed into the depths of the swamp, far away from the road, and landed in the mud next to a still pond. The pond was small and slimy around the edges, but the water was calm and the moon reflected perfectly off the surface.
Slimbark set her down and lifted his head. His neck swelled with croaks and chirrups that carried over the still pond. It took Eva a moment to realize he was singing. When he stopped after a few moments, his song was returned, and a single head popped above the water at the pond’s edge. Yet another frog. Slimbark knelt and picked it up. He showed it to Eva with his head cocked, gazing at it tenderly.
Eva looked from Slimbark to the frog, trying to piece things together. “Um, is this frog a friend of yours?”
The Frog King glanced up at Eva. “She is the most beautiful frog my eyes ever saw. Was trying to win her before was changed to frog-man. After change, wasn’t frog enough for her. Couldn’t work. But if you take her to the witch, the witch can change her into frog-woman for me.” Slimbark smiled wide and held the frog out to Eva.
Eva held out both hands and let the Slimbark place the little frog into her palms. She held it carefully and studied it. This frog’s face was maybe slightly more pointed, but there was no obvious indication that it was a girl frog. Eva decided she would have to take his word for it.
“Um, she is very beautiful,” Eva tried to agree with him. “What’s her name?”
Slimbark made a short series of ribbits and rumbles. “But that translates to Mooneyes, more or less.”
“I think I prefer Mooneyes,” Eva replied. And since he mentioned it, her eyes did seem plenty round and moon-like. Eva checked her skirts. “Can I put it—her—in my apron pocket?”
Slimbark quickly inspected the pocket before giving his consent.
“So, let me make sure I understand,” Eva said once Slimbark’s true love was safely tucked away. “You’ll scare off my father and fiancée and find me a good man, if I take her to the witch and convince her to change her into a frog-woman for you?”
The Frog King skipped happily. “Yes. Exactly right.”
Eva looked worried. “What if I don’t approve of the man you find me? What if he doesn’t want me?”
Slimbark made a mental note, “Good man. Wants you. Your approval. If you don’t like him, will find someone else.”
Eva nodded after each point on his list, and tried to drink their whole plan in a little more. She was afraid of what might happen with this witch. She was afraid of who Slimbark might come up with for her, but she was even more afraid of the man she was supposed to marry and the temper of her father. She was afraid of things going back to the way they had been her whole life. Surely anything but that had to be better. If this was an opportunity for things to change, so be it.
“Agreed,” Eva held out her hand and took the Frog King’s slimy hand, and shook it. It took Slimbark a while to figure the gesture out, but he liked it once he got the hang of it. “So,” Eva asked, trying not to be obvious about wiping his slime off her hand, “where does this witch live?”
“At the far end of my swamp from the road. Will take you close to there, but not too close. Will send Head Frog to lead you the last part.”
Eva’s brow wrinkled in concern. “How big is your swamp?”
Slimbark stretched his arms wide. “Big. Will have to carry you.”
Eva nodded. “I was afraid of that.”
It took five heart-dropping, impossible leaps to make it to the other end of the swamp, and several seconds before Eva was able to pry her arms away from the Frog King. Once she managed to let go and shake the trip off, she checked her pocket to make sure her Mooneyes was still there.
Slimbark gave a loud croak, reached in the mud, and extracted the Head Frog. Eva didn’t ask questions about how he got there so quickly. Slimbark lifted the frog to his face and seemed to have several words with him in frog-language. Once he was done, he set the Head Frog back in the mud.
“Gave him instructions. Told him where witch lives and looks like and not to be scared.”
“Did he say anything back?” Eva asked, impressed.
“Yes. Said he wasn’t scared. Now, must go to scare off the bad humans. Will find you when you are done. Bye! And good luck!”
With a happy and eager smile, the Frog King leaped and soared through the air into the distance, leaving Eva to her task.