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The Frog Prince's Reluctant Bride

Alison Colwell spends her time creating imaginary worlds, crafting memoir from fairy tales and learning how to blur the lines between creative non-fiction and fiction. Her creative non-fiction work can be found in the climate-fiction anthology Rising Tides, and her flash fiction has been published in The Drabble. When not writing she can be found teaching kindergarten kids how to bake bread, or grown-ups how to cook stinging nettles, or caring for her two kids and a menagerie of animals, including a feral peacock.

Sometimes, no matter what you do, you end up with a Prince.
Even when you aren't looking for one.
Sometimes the shoe fits. Sometimes the poisoned apple is dislodged at just the wrong moment and sometimes that frog; the nasty one that keeps creeping into your bedroom at night, the one that rescued your golden ball, the one you hurled against the wall in a fit of disgust after it slimed your cell phone, turns out to be your Prince in disguise.
Disguises make it extremely hard to avoid them.
IMHO disguises are unfair.
So, suddenly you have your own Prince, as if that's what you were searching for all along, instead of a missing ball or a quiet night's sleep or spectacular soft leather shoes that fit you perfectly.
And when you get a Prince, you have to marry him. It doesn't matter that you have different plans for the rest of your life. Plans involving graduate school and career. Marriage hasn't figured into those plans, at least not yet.
It's as if, somehow, the unintentional getting of a Prince becomes an unbreakable marriage contract that no girl before you has yet figured out how to extricate herself from. You'd like to be the first. You'd like a helpful fairy godmother, though you harbor a deep suspicion she'd take the Prince's side. You'd prefer to return to your solitary walks in the forest looking for new types of liverworts, imagining a future as a renowned lichenologist.
But no. Apparently not.
So you agree to marry your Prince.
He's a Prince after all.
"He's a good catch," your mother says; though you see the way she looks at your father, and you think if she caught him now, she'd be trying to throw him back, too.
You try to ignore your Prince's habit of catching flies. How his hand snaps out and he catches them in his fist. He's fast, you tell yourself. Focus on the positive. You try to ignore that sometimes he eats the flies, with too much lip-smacking pleasure. You don't dwell on all those years he spent as a frog in the well on the edge of your parent's property. Instead, you admire the fact he hasn't lost any of his princely physique.
And then you also have to ignore Henry.
Henry is the Prince's "manservant." He was so sad, so heartbroken, when the Prince turned into a frog, that he spent years searching every single pond in every single kingdom, never quite running out of hope, always looking for the Prince.
Everyone else is so thrilled about Henry and what happened to him when the Prince stopped being a frog. How fortunate that Henry's heart swelled so much with happiness that the iron bands around the sad sap's heart broke. You aren't a harpy. You're happy for Henry. Really, you are. But you see the way he looks at your husband. And the way that your husband looks at Henry. And you've got nothing against that.
Except, why hold you to a marriage contract that you weren't looking for, when he's not particularly enamored of you either?
Because he does hold you to the contract and you're married.
Your father is excessive in his plans. You suspect he sympathizes with the Prince. Remembers his own courtship, spent searching for sleeping princesses to kiss. The wedding is immoderate. You wear a huge white dress (that looks frighteningly similar to the cake) and still you're upstaged by the Prince's ruffled cravat. Hundreds of guests are invited, with all thirteen fairies in attendance.
And when it's over, before you have a chance to change out of your own perfectly fitting, spectacular shoes, you're off. The Prince takes you from the only home you've ever known, from your family and friends and drags you off to his own castle in his own kingdom, and you're supposed to be thrilled--look! new castle--smiley face emoji--but all you actually are is lonely and homesick.
You never wanted a husband.
Maybe you dreamed about the fairy tale when you were little, but never planned on the real-life version. Lichenologists are busy people.
So you ignore Henry and you ignore the Prince's questionable eating habits, and you try to make do, make the best of what life has seen fit to give you; a Prince and a castle, after all. You know that some girls barely get to wash the pond scum off their Prince Charming before they are caught in a life not of their choosing.
You're one of the lucky ones and you remind yourself of that.
After all, he's handsome. Attentive. And quick in bed. And in the beginning you think this is a good thing. You might have been allowed to wander the forest alone looking for rare mosses, but in some respects you had a fairly sheltered upbringing. You hadn't known what to expect from marriage.
It's the lurid romance books you confiscate from the cook that make you wonder if you've gotten something else wrong. Bodice rippers she calls them, and once you've read a few you understand why. And start to wonder if there's something else you're missing. Something else your mother didn't tell you about, when she told you to settle for the Prince.
And then you fall pregnant. And it quickly becomes apparent that's all he really wanted; a little prince to carry on the family name. Once you're pregnant, you rarely see your Prince. He spends his days out hunting with Henry. Visiting other kingdoms with Henry. Drinking brandy by the fire with Henry. You're the only one paying any attention to running his kingdom. But you can't manage everything. You can't pay all the servants. Eventually some of them give notice. They have better things to do. You watch them leave and wonder if you should go with them.
He still comes home most nights. Comes to your bedchamber for those quick furtive gropes in the dark. He sweats too much and his skin feels slippery under your hands. Almost slimy. And you're back to being glad he's fast. You're too tired to miss what might have been. You wipe your palms on the sheets and focus on planning meals for the rest of the week.
"Too fat. Too stupid," he says after an evening drinking.
You let the words slide off you. Remember that you were pretty once. That there was a time when your belly wasn't marked by first one birth, then two and your breasts didn't sag. Back when you were a princess with dreams. If your fairy godmother showed up now, it'd be an extreme makeover edition. And really, you don't care. You have two kids, and it's so much work keeping everyone clean and fed and who has the time to curl their hair and change out of the yoga pants you've been wearing for days.
You certainly don't. You've got a castle to manage. All on your own, thank you very much. Henry's no help with anything.
When he forgets your birthday, or your anniversary, you no longer care. What else is there, after all?
Your daughter is five when she finds it. You're sweeping out the downstairs pantry, cobwebs trailing from your hems. She's tossing a golden ball she's unearthed somewhere. Your ball. The one that started it all.
"Come play with me," she begs. "We can be princesses together."
And you rock back on your heels, cold sweat washing over you.
Really, are you going to do this to her life as well as to your own?
You remember how wonderfully cool the air felt deep in the forest near your childhood home. You remember your passion for lichens and mosses and what it's like to have your own life. You remember what it's like to sleep unafraid of the Prince beside you. You remember a girl who is fearless. You remember a girl who is whole.
The Prince comes home, Henry trailing after him. He stops when he sees the packed bags lined up by the front door. You could have left already, but you've waited to speak to him.
"You promised me," says the Prince. "You stood beside me in the cathedral and promised me forever. We didn't even bother with a prenup. I believed you."
You load the bags and the children into the station wagon. You stop in the courtyard, and look back at him, standing alongside Henry in the doorway.
You could tell him you're sorry.
But it would be a lie.
You're not sorry. Not for him.
You're only sorry for yourself.
Sorry you didn't remember the girl with the ball earlier. Sorry that you didn't realize how light you would feel. Sorry that it's taken you years to realize that even if you end up with a Prince there's nothing that says you have to keep him.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, November 5th, 2021

Author Comments

"The Frog Prince" was never one of my favourite fairy tales. I understand that she needs to keep her word, but marry him? That seems an excessive trade for a ball (even for a golden ball.) In the original version of "Iron Henry," not only does the manservant get a name, he gets agency. The Princess gets none of this. That made me cross. And so, during a Storied Imaginarium workshop, I was inspired to tell her side of the story.

- Alison Louise Colwell
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