Saturday 23 March 2024

Saturday Sample: Resilince, Frog Prince by James Bates,lemonade,

Ferdy laid flat on his stomach gazing longingly at the slug as it slimed its way across the damp flagstones of the courtyard. His tongue poked swiftly but uselessly out of his mouth a couple of times, then he put his chin on his hands and sighed.

“Is your Highness quite well?”

The voice came from behind his head, making him jump. He scrambled to his feet and, trying not to feel sheepish, looked into the face of the Valet of the Prince’s Chamber who had crept up behind him. He gathered all his courage: for once he was going to give the servant a piece of his mind.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that! I haven’t got eyes in the back of my head you know!”

“Of course not, your Highness. Whoever heard of such a thing?”

Ferdy could have bitten his tongue out. He lowered his eyes so he couldn’t see the look of sly disdain in the servant’s eyes. Nobody could guess how much he missed the ability to see all around him without moving his head, but even so it wasn’t the most subtle rebuke he could have chosen. Also, as usual, the sharpness of the comment as it had sounded in his head was lost on the way out of his throat. The bobbing of his over-large Adam’s apple as he swallowed gave the impression he was nervous, and truth to tell, he often was. He had underestimated how much he had grown accustomed to pond life, and this environment seemed alien to him now, far more than he had ever believed possible when, full of courage and determination, he had wooed the spoilt Princess Isadora in the most unusual and successful way.

In the general way of things, the idea of a frog winning the heart of a brat of a princess by finding her golden ball and insisting on sharing her pillow as a reward was outrageous, and would no doubt be considered by your average bloke to be a blessed stroke of good fortune: but this was fairyland, where anything could happen – and not all of it beneficial.

The valet bowed in an exaggerated fashion, the depth of his bow somehow managing to convey superiority rather than deference. “Her Royal Highness the Princess Isadora requests that you return to the castle to dress for dinner.”

“I know, I know, I was just coming,” said Ferdy, crossly. He pushed past the servant and strode across the courtyard muttering under his breath, “Pompous old jackass. Why can’t he just say, ‘Your wife is looking for you; dinner’s nearly ready’? What’s so hard about that?”

Ferdy hated dressing for dinner. He hated the long banqueting table, frequently bursting with people sitting shoulder to shoulder, with Isadora at one end and himself at the other. He resented the fact that they were hardly ever alone, and he had to struggle to converse with some female he didn’t know – and didn’t want to know. They either giggled and wouldn’t look at him or talked loudly about subjects that bored or embarrassed him. There had even been one spinster of a certain age who had asked him in a not very subtle whisper about the mating habits of frogs.

Even on the rare evenings that they were alone, Isadora insisted on retaining their places at the head and the foot of the table; she said it was the proper thing to do. Well, Ferdy was fed up with doing the proper thing. He decided that it was time he asserted himself.

The gong sounded, and Ferdy marched into the dining room determined to claim his place next to his wife: but as he burst through the door, he realised his plans were already scuppered. Both places were taken. On Isa’s right hand sat her disapproving Father: on the left–

“Well, I’m blowed!”

Ferdy’s eyes lit up as he recognised his Fairy Godmother.

“If it isn’t old Fairy Fenella!”

He leapt up and down for a moment, then remembering what, as well as where, he was, he bowed impeccably before throwing off restraint and giving her a smacking kiss on either cheek.

“Less o’ the old, frog-face,” she said, her strident accent disagreeing with the polite flow of small talk from the other diners.

“Don’t call him that,” snapped Isadora.

Fenella looked at Isadora, narrowing her eyes.

“– er – please,” added the Princess, in milder tones.

“What brings you to this neck of the woods?” asked Ferdy. “I mean, not that I’m not glad to see you but–” he tipped an inebriated Earl off the chair next to her, lowering his voice as he continued, “Why on earth would anyone choose to come here if they don’t have a good reason?”

The Earl, finding himself on his feet and his chair now occupied, scratched his head and wandered off in the direction of the wine waiter.

Fairy Fenella smiled and patted Ferdy’s knee. “I wanted to see ’ow my little lamb chop was doin’.”

“Oh,” said Ferdy, not very convincingly, “I’m alright, you know.”

“Happy?” she asked.

“Ye-es -” he said.

Fenella continued looking.

“Yes,” he said firmly. “I love Isadora very much. I’m very grateful to you for the help you gave me in bringing us together.”

Fenella squinted at him, but still said nothing.

Ferdy sighed. “I never could hide anything from you, could I, Godma? If you must know, I miss - I miss -” He took a deep breath and burst out: “I miss having slugs for supper!”

Unfortunately, just at that moment there was a natural lull in the conversation, and the statement, bursting from him with the pent-up pain and frustration of months of misery, resounded around the room with disastrous clarity.

“Ferdy!” hissed Princess Isadora, as the guests collapsed into laughter. “Haven’t I told you never to mention your former life? Never!”

She picked up the soup spoon by her plate and began to hit him with it.

“Never, never, never,” she chanted, punctuating each remark with a swipe.

“You total moron,” she continued as the guests tried unavailingly to curb their hilarity. “You’ve undone months of hard work, months! Now we’re going to have to start all over again.”

“Start with what?” asked Fenella, who was noting the princess’ behaviour with interest.

“With a whole new publicity campaign,” said Isadora, excitedly.

“We’ve employed this wonderful PR person, Justin Makepiece, and Ferdy has a whole new image. They’ve even faked photos of him growing up as a prisoner in a castle made of ice. The angle is that my eyes, burning with love for him, melted the ice with one hot glance. It’s the talk of the kingdom.”

Isadora rattled on oblivious as Fenella’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “And of course we make sure he’s never snapped near ponds, streams or drains. The paparazzi are everywhere so we have to be very vigilant. It’s quite a tough job.”

“I’m sure,” murmured Fenella.

The king, whose long experience made him a little more sensitive to the whimsical moods of menopausal fairies, broke in diplomatically.

“You see,” he said in a conciliating tone, “it had to be done, my dear fairy. The kingdom wouldn’t have had it. We’d be a laughing-stock from the Snow Queen’s palace to Puss in Boots’ barley fields. I mean to say, a frog, you know? Now, a bear, or a beast, or even a poor Chinaman with a lamp; those are all politically acceptable; but – a frog? A frog who, as a man, has an unfortunately big adam’s apple, a weedy voice and a predilection for jumping up and down when excited…” He shook his head gravely. “No, Madam, even you must admit, we had to do something. Very grateful and all that, nothing personal against poor old Ferdy, but we couldn’t just leave him as he was.”

“Are you staying the night, Godma?” asked Ferdy, trying to move the conversation on to safer ground.

“She is not,” said Isadora. “I already offered.”

“Changed my mind,” snapped Fenella, “could do with a change of scene. I’ll ‘ave the second best guest bed, if you don’t mind, Belladonna.”

“It’s Isadora,” said Isadora, flatly.

“Ok Isadooora, whatever you say, but the second-best guest bed if you don’t mind. The first one is too close to your Pa’s room. Last time I stayed he lost his way in the dark and I found him curled up in my bed wearing my Winnie-the-Pooh pyjamas. It was very disconcertin’. They were never the same afterwards.”

“Neither was I,” muttered the king under his breath, stroking his head tenderly at the memory. “That chamber pot could have done me a serious injury.”

Fenella got up.

“I’m going to bed now,” she said; “but I just want you to remember this. Ferdy was a frog for a long time. He was a good frog, and a kind frog, but he was a frog; and while he was a frog, I loved him and nurtured him and brought him to you for a good life. Take care, Isadora Belladonna, because I could quite easily make him a frog once again, and if I did, well–” She came so close to Isadora that they were nose to nose. “–well, I might just remember that a wife’s place is by her husband’s side. Then you’d have something to croak about, wouldn’t you?”

She tapped Isadora on the arm in a friendly fashion and turned to Ferdy.

“Godson,” she said in a false posh voice. “Wud you cah to accompany me to may chamber? Ay thank you most kindly.”

Alone in Fenella’s room the two of them looked at each other.

“It hasn’t worked out quite as we expected, has it, Ferdy?” said the fairy.

“No, Godma, but I think that’s my fault. I’m just not comfortable as a human being anymore. This is the life I thought I wanted: but truth to tell – I got used to being a frog, and it isn’t as easy as I thought trying to get back to being a handsome prince.”

“That little madam doesn’t deserve you. I wish I’d never pushed you her way, but I thought you could help each other. This is fairyland after all, where anything can happen – and as we can see, not all of it beneficial.” She sighed. “I suppose I thought you’d help her be less spoilt and she’d help you have more self-esteem. But it hasn’t worked. A spoilt brat she was, and a spoilt brat she remains, and you – well, look at you. You’d be better off without her.”

“Don’t say that,” snapped Ferdy. “You don’t know her. You don’t know what she’s had to put up with, always having to live up to the King’s expectations. She did a brave thing marrying me when he wanted Prince Charming on a white steed for his only daughter. And we were happy, for a while. It was only when they hired that wretched PR fellow, Justin. He thinks I’m not good enough. Not good enough for her, not good enough for the Kingdom. And he’s right. I’m not.”

He looked at Fenella wretchedly.

“Godma,” he said, “did you mean what you said in there? About turning me into a frog again?”

She shook her head.

“No,” she said, “I wouldn’t do it. It really wouldn’t be wise: and you know, you did marry her. You are supposed to stick with her now. Whoever heard of an unhappy marriage in fairyland?”

“I suppose not. And I’m not unhappy with Isa, really I’m not. When we’re on our own... when we wander down to the pond where we met, and sit in the moonlight together... those are the happiest times I’ve ever had; but since that Justin fellow came, we’ve not been allowed near any water, so those times are becoming – well, they’re just lovely memories really. I wonder sometimes if she wishes we’d never met, and then I think it would help her if I changed back into a frog.”

“Well, like I say, it’s possible, but if I were to turn you back, it would not only be dangerous, it would be final. It messes up your metabolism something chronic, shifting back and forth – do it more than twice and you’d end up as a man with frog’s legs, or a frog with a man’s nose, or something. Anyway, it wouldn’t solve matters. She’d still be your wife, only she’d be a Princess married to a frog. Not helpful.”

“I suppose not. Well, maybe things’ll seem better in the morning. Good night Godma, sleep tight. I’m glad you came. It’s good to talk to someone who understands.”

“All part of the service, boy,” said Fenella, winking at him.

Ferdy didn’t feel like going to bed. The guests would be here for a while longer, dancing and partying for at least another hour. It was one of the things he resented; that their time wasn’t their own, that they were continually at the beck and call of the party scene, and that even their nights off were about how to promote the image of a well-bred couple. It made them sound like a pair of horses. Spying the Earl – now completely plastered – going into the ballroom, he slipped out of a side door into the palace grounds and started to walk. The night was balmy, with a few fine shreds of mist whispering their way across the creamy moon; the stars peeked out from small bundles of rebellious cloud; the mountains stood hunched on the horizon, neatly rolled and folded like picturesque bedding. The air smelt delicious as the plants released their night scents, wooing the moths with their honeyed breath. Ferdy walked aimlessly, just enjoying being there, until he realised that his feet had unconsciously taken him to his favourite place: the pond where he and Isa had first met. He stood for a while, drinking in the sounds and scents. He was so deep in thought he didn’t hear the footsteps behind him.

“I thought I might find you here. Did you have an enlightening conversation with your interfering old Godmother?”

Ferdy frowned. “At least she cares about me, Isa. You don’t. I thought you did once, but you don’t, do you?”

Isadora turned her head away to hide her unshed tears. Trying not to cry always made her sound shrewish. “Is that what you think?”

“Well, you seem intent on changing me into something I’m not.”

“You did it once, Ferdy, so I could love you. Do it again.”

“You’re wrong, Isa. You loved me before, when I was still a frog. It took some time, but in the end you loved me because we were best friends before anything else. When I was a frog you trusted me enough to let me sleep on your pillow, and you told me everything; all your troubles, all your hopes and plans. As you went to sleep, I was so near to you I could hear your dreams. We were so close, Isa. What happened? What changed?”

She sighed. “You did, Ferdy. You did.”


“You don’t understand. While you were a frog and my best friend, it didn’t matter. When you changed into a man, and as a man you married me, well, all the stuff that didn’t matter for a frog started to matter for a Prince. You didn’t just marry me, you married my family, my position as Princess of the kingdom. You married the life I lead as the King’s only daughter. How could we know you would need to change even more? I wish that meddling old Godmother of yours had done the whole job and changed your nature as well as your appearance. You just don’t fit, Ferdy, and it kills me every time I see someone smirk at you, or mimic you behind your back. It kills me when they mutter about the way you walk, or the way you dress. It kills me when they find something to mock about everything you do. I can’t bear it, Ferdy. I just can’t bear it. I wish you’d stayed a frog. Better still, I wish we’d never met!”

She turned and ran away before he could see the tears rolling down her cheeks. He shouted after her, “Isadora, don’t go! Isa– Oh, it’s hopeless!”

A voice came out of the darkness. “It certainly looks that way.”

“Who’s that? Who’s been eavesdropping?” Ferdy peered into the shadowy shrubs.

“Eavesdropping? Not at all, dear boy. Just doing my job. I followed you to make sure you didn’t wander near the water. You’ve already done enough damage for one day.”

Ferdy sighed. “Oh Justin. It’s you. I might have known.”

“Can’t keep away from that smelly old pond, can you? Breeding will out, I always say. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and you can’t make Prince Charming out of a frog.”

“Yes, well, there’s not a lot you can do about it is there?”

“Well now, that’s just where you’re wrong. You heard what she said. She loved you more when you were a frog. Wouldn’t it be better for both of you if you became a frog again?”

Ferdy shook his head. “I already asked my Fairy Godmother. She said it was too dangerous, and she said it wouldn’t make any difference now anyway. She’d be a Princess married to a frog, which is worse.”

Justin laughed quietly. “That just shows your Godmother’s lack of skill. I have a little magic of my own, you know: PR magic. I can spin a spell or two. A little spin here, and there is no Prince: a little spin there, and there was no marriage. It’s all a matter of manipulation. It can be done.”

Ferdy was silent.

“Think about it. There’s more than one way to turn you back into a frog. Here.” He handed Ferdy a little phial. “In here are three drops from the Fire Flowers of Norgon. Swallow the drops under the light of a full moon whilst standing on one leg by a lily pond, and you will be a frog again.”

“What do you get out of this? Why do you want me to do it?”

“Me? I don’t want you to do anything. I’m just trying to solve a problem. It’s what I do. You said you were happier as a frog. Isadora was happier when you were a frog. You do what you think best.”

After Justin left, Ferdy sat for a long time by the pond, contemplating the phial in his hand. The moon rose a little higher in the sky and hung there as if waiting for him. Ferdy thought about all that had been said to him, until it seemed to him that there were only two options. He could have a life with Isa, working with her to try and do the best for them both: or he could have a life without her as a simple frog and it would be as if they had never met.

“It’s no good,” he thought, “There’s no such thing as a happy ever after in this love story. I can’t bear the thought of life without her; so, if life with her means life with her family, her position and her PR machine, I guess I’ll just have to put up with it.”

With that thought, he tossed the phial towards the shrubbery where it rolled away, chinking gently as it hit a stone.

Meanwhile, Isadora had dried her eyes and was dressing for bed. When the knock came at the door of her bedchamber, she called out to Ferdy, “Come in.” When there was no answer, she went over and opened the door impatiently. “Silly boy. I know we’ve had a bit of a barney, but you don’t have to knock– Oh!”

“Yes, darling, it’s me.” Justin pushed his way past her into her room.

“Well, PR man, this is a little late for a business call. What do you want?”

He laughed. “I thought you would have guessed by now. I’m not really a PR man. I’m Prince Justin from the Norgon kingdom, and I was hired by your Father to sort out your unfortunate situation. You’ll be happy to know I’ve just succeeded.”

“What do you mean? How have you succeeded?”

“I’ve done a little work on your little froggy husband. You’re free, Isadora. Free at last to marry me.” He grasped her by the hands. “Your husband is down by the pond turning himself back into a frog, and when I’ve finished, you’ll never have to worry about him again.” With that he pulled her to him forcefully and kissed her full on the lips.

As she broke away, there was a cry from the doorway. They turned to see Ferdy, his face full of anguish. He took one look at the sight of his wife in the arms of another man, and he turned and ran full pelt back towards the pond.

Isadora screamed.

“You idiot! What have you done?” She pushed Justin away. He grasped her hands again.

“Take your filthy mitts off me, you absolute moron!” Isadora was struggling to pull herself free. “Let me go! Let me go, I said!”

Finding Justin more persistent in his attentions than she could handle, she suddenly remembered Fenella’s trick.

“Justin,” she panted as he grabbed her more strongly than before, “Justin, I need the pot! I need the chamber pot!”

He took a step back.

“What, now?” he asked.

“Yes, immediately,” she replied desperately.

He watched as she picked it up from under the bed. She stood there, pot in hand, looking at him.

“Oh, of course,” he said and turned his back...


Isadora sprinted down the Palace grounds in her nightdress, ignoring the flashes of the Paparazzi as they took their opportunities. This was a great night for them. First the Prince, then the PR man in Her Highness’ bedchamber, and then the Princess, clad in her honeymoon lingerie, haring it off down the garden. Worth a fortune, and it looked like there might be more. Isadora was already gone. They took off after her as one man.

It took Ferdy hardly any time to find the phial. He’d heard it chink; it was by the only big stone there was. He wrenched the top off. He glanced at the sky; the moon was still up, but waning. He stood on one leg. One drop... Two drops...

“Ferdy!” Isadora cried. He hesitated. “Ferdy, it’s not what you think!”

“How can you deny it? What can you say, Isa? You were kissing him! That- that candidate for a perfume ad was in our bedroom and you were kissing him! With our wedding photograph by the bed! I was right all along; I’ll be better as a frog!”

“Ferdy, no!” she screamed as he stood on one leg and lifted the phial, “I wasn’t kissing him–”

A blinding light flashed as one of the Paparazzi got the best snap of his career.

“– he was kissing me,” she finished, miserably.

Ferdy croaked.

“Oh, Ferdy.” She wept. “Why couldn’t you wait? I love you, you idiot! I’ve always loved you...”


 “Well,” said Ferdy, some weeks later, “I suppose I ought to have expected this. Where are we going to put them all?”

“Don’t worry darling,” said Isadora, “There’ll be space. And in no time at all, they’ll be wanting to leave home.”

Ferdy nodded

“Do you know, Isa,” he said, “I’ve never been happier. You may have been a brat of a princess–”

She giggled, and finished his sentence for him: “–but I make a wonderful frog. I’m going back to the pad. Coming?”



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