So . . . remember that time when I was going to get the last installment of a short story up the next day and it turned out to be more than a month later? Yeah. Well, I can explain! I had a super cute baby, and I was a bit distracted even before she came. I could have had the story up sooner, but I was determined to finish my illustration for fear that if I didn't put it up with the story, it would never get done.
But in other news, here is Part IV of The Frog King! The whole story is here.
Also, I don't intend to take so long getting future blog posts up. Lots more fun to come.
In the meantime, enjoy the final installment to The Frog King!
The Frog King Part IV
A few moments later, Eva was waving goodbye to Princess Imogene and Prince Alexander, encouraging Mooneyes to follow her back to the other side of the swamp. It was nearly daybreak.
A light mist was clinging to the trees as they traversed the mud, passing dripping trees and open clearings dotted with ponds. Every now and then a frog jumped, which made Eva feel that Slimbark would know they were coming soon.
They were nearly past a muddy clearing surrounded by dripping trees when suddenly the two of them sank waist-deep into what had looked like just more mud. The protective promise of solid ground was just ahead of them.
Eva suppressed a groan. She had been trying so hard to keep the mud off her as best she could, but nothing seemed to work.
“It’s all right Mooneyes, just pull yourself out like this.” Eva leaned forward and tried to use her hands to work herself out, but all she managed to do was sink a little deeper.
With a small croak, Mooneyes slipped completely under the mud, vanishing from sight.
“Mooneyes? Mooneyes!” Eva threw herself in the direction where the frog-woman had just sunk, groping through the mud to find her.
With another sudden splotch, Mooneyes appeared further ahead in the cover of the trees. Slimbark was kneeling to help her up. Eva exhaled in relief. Slimbark picked the dazed Mooneyes up in his arms, looked at Eva, and winked one large yellow frog-eye at her. Eva smiled at him.
Then Slimbark turned and walked into the trees, carrying Mooneyes, leaving Eva trapped in the mud.
“Hey! Slimbark, wait! Wait! I can’t get out! I’m sinking! Help me!” The Frog King was out of sight now. “Slimbark!” Eva shrieked, sinking deeper as she thrashed in disbelief. After all she had done, he was going to take his bride and leave her there? “Slimbark,” she begged to the empty swamp, “help me.” With a sob of utter defeat, Eva let every worry that had been plaguing her wash over her like the mud that was slowly swallowing her.
Before she had time to wallow in self-pity for long, she heard an angry guttural shout echo through the swamp, followed by rapid splashing footsteps. Slimbark splashed through the mud towards her. Eva lifted her head. What was he doing? Just before he reached her he stopped running and lifted his head, emitting the same challenging bellow. Eva noticed that he carried a smart-looking short black cane with a golden top, one that she recognized. Then she realized that Slimbark was being pursued. A second figure emerged from the swamp. His clean black suit looked much worse for the wear, and despite his obvious effort to look clean and important, he looked disheveled and powerless.
“Give me back,” he gasped, “my cane, you filthy vermin,” he cursed as he drew nearer.
Slimbark dropped the cane near a tree and danced menacingly around Eva.
It was Reynard, the man her father had sold her to to marry. Eva’s stomach turned at the sight of him, but she was worried about other things just now.
“Reynard! Please! Help me. I’m sinking!” Eva stretched a hand out to him, fighting to stay still to keep herself from sinking further. She was already up to her shoulders.
Reynard looked taken aback. He made a step toward her, but then saw Slimbark. Straightening his collar as best he could, he hobbled off hurriedly into the swamp without saying a word. Eva’s mouth dropped open.
Slimbark growled angrily. With one mightly leap he shot into the sky and landed on Reynard. Eva heard the splash and sounds of a struggle, Reynard’s scream of terror, then with a flash of green, Slimbark returned, holding a lumpy frog in one hand. He chucked the frog far into the swamp. It made an unearthly shriek as it faded into the distance. Eva’s mouth remained open. She was pretty sure that Slimbark had just turned Reynard into a frog.
“Putrid humans,” Slimark mumbled, still obviously fuming. “Serves them right. Don’t marry him.”
“Humans? Wh-where’s my father?”
Slimbark shrugged. “Somewhere. Been a frog for many hours now.”
“You—you really can turn people into frogs?”
Slimbark shrugged and ran off.
“No! No wait! Slimbark! I’m really sinking!”
But Slimbark returned a moment later and dropped a cart full of wool next to her. A frightened hunchbacked old man finally caught up to him, but took his cart without stopping to help Eva. Eva convinced Slimbark not to turn him into a frog because he was too old to have helped her anyway.
Slimbark, being more careful, led two more men to her. One was a handsome youth that Eva had long suspected of being a pickpocket, and the other was a simpleton who was far too stringy and weak to offer any assistance. The thief ran off without a word like Reynard and the simpleton promised to return with help, but Eva knew it could be days before he even found the road again.
Eva had long since stopped struggling and was hanging there limply, about as hopeless as ever.
Slimbark sat next to her and with a slight motion brought her head out of the mud a little more.
“This is harder than it’s supposed to be,” he grumbled. “Very few good humans on the swamp roads.”
“Tell me about it,” Eva agreed. “Could you get me out now, please?” The smell of the mud was becoming overpowering.
But Slimbark shook his head. “Promised to find you someone. Besides, turned your whole family to frogs. You need a new one.” And he bounded off once more before Eva could protest.
Eva didn’t know how long it was before Slimbark returned. This time he was on horseback, grinning a smile as bright as a crescent moon. The horse was galloping wildly but stopped abruptly before the clearing and threw Slimbark off its back. Slimbark was laughing hysterically. His eyes were bright and happy.
A blonde young man eventually caught up to him and seized the reins of his horse. “Evil creature! I will rid this swamp of you!” he promised as he drew a sword from a sheath on the saddle.
Slimbark threw back his head and bellowed fearsomely.
“No! No wait! Help me! I’m sinking!” Eva yelled at him. The man looked down in surprise when he noticed her.
“Don’t worry! I’ll get you out!” he promised. He gave Slimbark a particularly harsh glare. “I’ll deal with you later.” Testing the ground with his boots, the man began taking precarious steps toward her. When he was nearly close enough to reach her but feared the ground would give way, he stretched out on his belly in the mud with no apprehension or revulsion whatsoever. Holding the pointed end of his sword with a gauntleted hand, he stretched the handle toward her. Eva grabbed it, and the man slowly pulled her out. Even his horse came up behind his master and, biting the cape at his back, helped pull all of them to the safety and surer ground of the trees.
“Ah!” Eva exclaimed in pure relief. It had been hours that she had been sunk neck-deep in the swamp. “Thank you, Sir. Thank you so much. You’re the first man among many who has stopped to help me.”
“Really?” the man helped her to his feet and led her to his horse where he picked her up and set her on the saddle without a second thought. Then he held his muddy sword at the ready and stood primed for a fight. “Where is the swamp creature?” he asked, disappointed.
“I think he left.” Eva tried not to smile when she saw yellow eyes open on the tree next to them, followed by a quick flash of a cresent-moon smile. “Maybe you frightened him.”
“What? Aw, that’s not fair at all. I was hoping for a good fight. I’m really more impressive when I fight,” he said apologetically, suddenly aware that he probably looked ridiculous covered in mud.
“You’re impressive anyway,” Eva said unabashedly. She was far more muddy than he was.
The man was taken aback by her declaration. He sheathed his sword and took one of her hands carefully in both of his. “What’s your name, Lady?”
“Eva. What is yours?”
“Prince Robert. My older sister has taken to witchcraft at the edge of the swamp. I’m trying to persuade her to give it up. We’ll go there first, get cleaned up, and then I’ll take you home.” He pulled himself up behind her on the horse who began to trot away.
They talked all the way to Imogene’s cottage, and then there was a lot more talking. There was enough talking for Imogene and Eva to have a double wedding two weeks later.
Well, a triple wedding.
Eva ended up going with Imogene, Alexander, and Robert back to their castle because she didn’t really have a home for Robert to take her back to. Imogene was in a hurry to marry, and Eva and Robert couldn’t think of any reason to wait.
Just before Eva walked down the aisle, Slimbark appeared. He caused most of the wedding guests to pass out. Guards rushed over, but Eva stopped them. She had already explained about Slimbark to Robert. With a wry smile, Slimbark extended his hand. A wrinkled frog looked up at her from his palm.
“Said he wanted to come, and that he would behave.” Slimbark grinned at her.
“Oh! My poor father,” Eva lamented as she took him into her own hand. “You can’t be doing anything much different as a frog than you did as a man. Surely you’re not entirely miserable, but I am glad you’re here.” She gave him a slight peck on the forehead. He gave no sign of transformation. She handed him back to Slimbark, and continued her march to Robert who stood waiting for her at the other end. The two couples boarded their own carriages to begin their honeymoons. Eva waved to Slimbark and Mooneyes as they rode past.
Eva and Robert were not in line to rule the kingdom; that was left to Imogene and Alexander. But Eva was far more content as a princess than she ever would have been as a queen. And on most nights from her bedroom window she would occasionally see giant frogs leaping mightily over the swamp in the distance. And sometimes she would wave. And sometimes they would wave back.