The Frog Problem, Episode 6

In which our intrepid hero discovers that frog smooches are not all they’re cracked up to be…

Read Episode 5

—6—

Image result for over the shoulder carryObviously, if you have reached this point in my tale, you know what choice I had to make. If it had been merely Edward Hopper and his cashmere scarf whose fate had been in my hands, I am not so certain, but I could not allow Princess Emmaretta and her lovely dreadlocks to perish, let alone allow the frog scout to save her. And so, I swept one arm around her dainty waist whilst valiantly scooping all three frogs with my other hand.

I will admit, it was possible I shed a few tears over the loss of my trusty Craftsman™ broadsword, but the possibility I had blubbered and geysered was impossible. When one spends half of each day executing perfect combinations of lunge, parry, riposte, not to mention ample hours practicing all 36 styles presented in Arnold’s Guide to the Manly Art of Fisticuffs, one is bound to create pools of water when standing on an island deep in the Fens of Crthlus simply due to the weight of one’s ample muscles!

My leap to safety should have been the stuff of legend. Even as the last of the matted sedge grass disappeared beneath ripples, I launched into a full somersault with a half twist, landing on solid ground with only the slightest of wobbles. Easy, you say? Try that with a grown woman over one shoulder and three frogs in your hand! Alas, there was no bard present to record my heroics for posterity.

Of Princess Hag and Grimnek, there was no sign. I grimaced. For a trice, I pondered the value of revenge and self-satisfaction before my true chivalrous nature regained control of my knightly sentiments. In moments like these, one should never indulge the base emotions of the common thug!

“Oh, Sir Roger, you were magnificent!” cooed Emmaretta as I carefully set her back on the path.

“He was okay,” muttered Edward Hopper with a suave flick of his cashmere scarf. I did not set him down quite as carefully.

I smirked. Was that disdain in the voice of my rival for the princess’s affections? Not that any mere wood frog could compete with one such as myself, but it was quite pleasant to hear less surety in the scout’s voice.

Image result for handsome bullfrog“Ribbit!” croaked Prince Charming quite regally (for a frog). Now that I could get a good look at him, I could see Princess Hag’s interest. He was as handsome (for a frog) as Edward Hopper was urbane, a muscle-bound hunk of a bullfrog with virile green skin and bold, dignified stipes that bespoke dignity. He was a frog I could pledge fealty to!

“Purreeek!” purred the third frog sweetly, who I had almost forgotten. Petite and dainty, her yellow skin was as bright as a sunflower, with mottles of shiny black. Truly, no amphibian had ever been lovelier.

“Ribbity ribbit purreeek,” barked Edward Hopper.

“What did you all say?” I asked.

Edward Hopper turned to me.

“The prince and princess are most grateful for their rescue.”

“Ccccrroooooaaaak!” boomed Prince Charming in a baritone croak so low and long, the nearby lily pads shook. I wondered if, in his human form, he had a baritone singing voice. What a bard he would make!

“Purrreeeekkk!” echoed the princess frog angelically. However, I once more had to rely on Edward Hopper’s translation skills to interpret their ribbiting[1].

“The prince and princess would be eternally indebted if you possess the magic necessary to break their curse.”

“What?” Emmaretta asked. “They can’t do it themselves?”

Now we were left with a question I’m certain philosophers would ponder at least as much as how many angels can dance on the head of a pin: could two frogs—both formerly human but now magically cursed—kiss each other and break the spell?

“Ribbety smooch?” croaked Edward Hopper.

The prince sighed while the princess rolled her eyes. Even on their amphibious faces, their annoyance shone quite clearly.

“What?” I asked, equally annoyed. Should you ever be knighted, never ever use that tone before royalty, even if you did just rescue their royal arses. If they weren’t frogs and we were in court, I would have likely lost my head. As in chopping block, not metaphor.

“Rib rib ribbety!” croaked the princess firmly, her petite froggy hands planted firmly on her not-so-petite froggy hips. She stomped to the prince (a waddle really, but I wouldn’t say that to her face), grabbed his shoulders, and squashed her lips against Charming’s. (Frogs do have lips, by the way, but the utter lack of plumpness goes a long way in explaining why so few princes and princesses thus cursed by wicked hags are ever rescued and returned to their former state.)

If a bard had been telling this tale, his harp would be strumming a majestic climax at this moment. My mouth opened, ready to ooh and ahh at the site of magical fireworks lighting the darkness while the two frogs would twirl about in the air, the power of their love ending the curse.

Unfortunately, in the real world, magic doesn’t work like a bard’s tale. There were no fireworks or magical twirling, no oohs or ahhs from the audience. The sky remained dark as the princess stepped back and faced me, her arms spread.

“Ribbit?” she croaked.

“Ribbit,” I answered, my shoulders slumping. Some expressions need no interpretation. I’m not sure if my nuances in my attempt at Frogish were correct, but the princess nodded anyways and puckered her lips. I hesitated. Since when do handsome knights kiss frogs, no matter how cute and petite? However, if I was to ever afford a Legendary Spring Steel Broadsword with Differential Hardening©, I would have to earn my keep, and so kneeled on the muddy path, my eyes tightly shut as I leaned close with puckered lips.

It is a strange sensation to magically twirl, feet lifted from the ground, while enchanted fireworks explode about you, and find a stunningly beautiful princess, complete with glittery pink gown and golden tiara, hanging in your arms, her plump lips puckered against yours. Then I opened my eyes.

The princess was rather pretty, but her dark green dress looked suspiciously like a lady-in-waiting, and there was certainly no tiara in her jet tresses. No magical fireworks lit the sky, either, and she was wiping her lips with the back of her hand, her beauteous face wincing as if she’d eaten something sour.

Emmaretta howled and slapped my back.

“Oh! My!” she gasped between chuckles and guffaws. “Your face! Her face!”

“Never hast a magical curse been lifted with such disdain!” added Edward Hopper in his smooth croon.

“Thank you, I suppose,” said the princess curtly. My eyes narrowed, scanning her choice of evening wear and she blushed.

Image result for bullfrog with puppy eyes“Well, ahem,” she mumbled. “If you could do the same for my love?” She pointed at the crowned bullfrog. I glanced down. Prince Charming gazed upward with puppy eyes. I grimaced. That would be a sight I would not easily erase from my memory. There are some things I’m certain Mother Nature never meant to be, and a frog with puppy eyes is one of them.

Will Sir Roger learn what happened to Princess Hag? What was she doing with Gremnik anyways? Can Prince Charming’s curse be reversed? Will our hero ever obtain a Legendary Spring Steel Broadsword with Differential Hardening©? How many more silly questions will you have to endure before the final episode is posted?

[1] You may be asking yourself why Edward Hopper can speak Human while the prince and princess can only speak Frogish. Partly, it has to do with years of specialized scout training for Edward Hopper and partly it has to do with the cursed-person-now-a-frog thing. Mostly, it’s just fairy tale magic.

On to Episode 7 (Coming Soon)!

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The Frog Problem, Episode 5

In which Sir Roger discovers the dangers of geysering when fending off one’s mortal enemies, not to mention risking the wrath of Leonardo DiCaprio…

Read Episode 4

—5—

There is something immensely satisfying about a trusty Craftsman™ broadsword crunching into the bones of a despicable enemy. Unfortunately, immense satisfaction was not what I enjoyed. Instead, my beloved blade cracked.

Related imageIt was especially disappointing after I had so acrobatically ducked, parried, dodged, and pivoted. Emmaretta had aahhed and Edward Hopper had ooohhed. Even Gremnik had hmpfed most suitably as I sidestepped a swipe from his axe, then thrust at my rival’s backbone, fully expecting my trusty broadsword to—at the very least—disembowel and eviscerate him.

The horror of my beloved blade cracking rather than my archrival finally meeting his doom nearly overwhelmed me. Tears threatened to flood my eyes, generally a fatal flaw for gallant knights such as myself. Worse, the shame of such a failure in front of both Emmaretta and Edward Hopper was nearly enough to undermine my honor.

Related imagePrincess Hag cackled at my misfortune. Yes, the villainess in this mess was indeed the same princess who had hired me (and whose name I still did not know). The mist had obscured both her and her goons, led by the aforementioned Gremnik, as they hid amongst the lily pads. Just as my cherished Emmaretta had knelt to slice the ropes binding the two frogs, our enemies had leaped onto the island, crushing the sedge grass and thwarting our rescue. With one sweep of my mighty forearm, I had pushed my love to safety before ducking, parrying, dodging, and pivoting, felling a goon with each suave swing of my trusty Craftsman™ broadsword until the fateful moment.

Gremnik had lurched when I successfully swerved, providing me with the opening that should have ended the battle. For one brief moment, the thwack of my broadsword had resounded as beautifully as any chiming bell. Then fate intervened.

As mentioned hitherto, a flood of tears threatened to overwhelm me. Fortunately, due to years of steadfast training, I was able to forestall said flood by dropping what remained of my sword and raising both fists in a perfect boxer’s pose. I had not read Arnold’s Guide to the Manly Art of Fisticuffs 72 times for nothing!

“Sir Roger!” exclaimed the delightful voice of Princess Emmaretta. I dared not spare her a glance, but I could spare her a listen.

“Yes, my love?”

“You’re sinking!”

“He’s not sinking!” shouted Edward Hopper far too enthusiastically, considering I was saving him from almost certain death with nothing more than my fists. “He’s crying!”

Gremnik guffawed. Now that, I will admit, was embarrassing. Your enemy should never guffaw at you whilst in the middle of a life-and-death struggle.

“He’s not crying! He’s blubbering!” my blue-skinned rival chortled.

“That’s not blubbering!” cried Princess Hag. “That’s geysering! He’s sinking the island!”

I risked a glance at my feet. Sure enough, there was a rather large pool forming, but that could not possibly be my fault! It must be the sheer weight of my chiseled knightly body. I brandished my fists in Gremnik’s face.

“Fight me, you knave!”

“Retreat!” cried Princess Hag. “Before he drowns us all!”

“Sir Roger!” cried Princess Emmaretta. “Save us!”

For a moment, I could not decide. What should I do? Save the love of my life or chase down my archrival? I could not do both!

At this point you the reader must choose one of the following (please make sure your sound is on):

On to Episode 6!

A Lack of Homogeny

0704181206a_HDRMy favorite part of July 4 celebrations aren’t the fireworks, as spectacular as they are. Don’t get me wrong, I love family time and BBQs, but we enjoy those several times a year. What really moves me is the annual Bothell parade.

0704181228_HDR

Bothell, Washington, is a typical American town and its parade is a typical small-town celebration. Lawnchairs begin appearing on Main Street by July 1, securing a great viewing point for local spectators. U.S. flags and red, white, and blue flowers festoon local storefronts. Banners appear with this year’s theme emblazoned. This year’s theme was Red, White and Bothell; a bit cheeky, but that’s true, brash American spirit!

0704181204_HDRFor decades, the parade has started promptly at noon. Well, never quite, but close enough, which is whenever the cannon goes off and the veterans start the march proudly carrying Old Glory to the cheers of the crowds. Other groups soon followed, most of whom tossed candy to the kids.

Between the Northshore 0704181256bsoftball/baseball All-Star teams, the Mills Music Summer Marchcing Band, the politicans showing off their civic spirit, and the local businesses with badly decorated company trucks (how do you show off your American spirit while advertising your business?), my wife and I noticed that Bothell has lost its homogeny.

outputThere was a time not that long ago when the non-whites in Bothell were the Italians. Today, our parade–like our hometown–has grown up. Yes, the Sons of Norway still have their float, but other cultures are showing off their U.S. pride as well as pride in their origins. It was especially noticeable when the local Sikh community marched past, the most exuberantly joyful group of all. There was no sense they were recruiting (they had no swag to pass out); they simply seemed happy and proud to be Americans.

0704181248aThe Scottish Pipe & Drum Band (I love bagpipes!) and the Mexican Vaqueros (their horses are gorgeous!) are two of my other favorites. A 4th of July parade is nothing without marching bands!

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0704181129For me, this diversity is what makes America great: our heterogeneity united with our respect for the freedoms we enjoy in this county. Indeed, Bothell is now part of the Great Melting Pot.

 

The Frog Problem, Episode 4

In which our interpid hero confronts his own Rico Suave…

Read Episode 3 here

Once I thought I had been in love with Rosa. And Lalena. Not to mention Ruby. Or the glimmer of love with the princess hag whose name I still have not learned.

naveen_frog_transparent_6Now, surely, I knew what love meant. It meant Emmaretta! Even if she spent far more time speaking with the frog scout than me, I was certain every bat of her long flirty lashes expressed her true feelings. Especially when my only potential rival is a common wood frog named Edward Hopper.

How could a common wood frog possibly be a rival, you might ask? It took only ten minutes before I realized my predicament, but those ten minutes were costly. In hindsight, I should have suspected something at the sight of his natty camouflage cashmere scarf complete with fringe that was perfectly clean and pressed despite living in the Fens of Crthlus.

You may find it hard to believe how sexy a frog can look shaking droplets of water off its face. Trust me, I’ve seen princesses try to shake their long golden tresses with only half the sensuality of an Edward Hopper head shake. Then there’s the suave, offhanded flick of his tongue to catch a fly for dinner as if all creation is his to command. The extemporaneous THWIP to snag his unsuspecting prey, the urbane ZING as his tongue retracts, the fly’s face rapturously enamored to have been caught and eaten by Edward Hopper.

Finally, there’s the sheer magnetism of his croak. Low and slinky, his ribbits roll out as provocative as the sway of a serving wench’s hips. Actually, he doesn’t really ribbit. It’s more of a “purrrreeeek” that weakens one’s knees and flutters one’s heart while conjuring visions of moonlit strolls along a tropical beach under a gentle rain.

So that was my competition for Emmaretta’s affections. Two days of “Rrrribbit”… (suave head shake) “Purrrrrreek” (sexy hop) followed by excited squeals of “Rib rib rib ribbitty!” from the princess. How does one vie with such provacativeness when one’s trusty Craftsman™ broadsword is chipped and its edge worn?

The only time he ribbited with a cheeriness approaching Emmaretta’s perkiness was when I asked how he kept his natty cashmere scarf so clean and pressed. All sexiness dissipated as his croaks rose at least two octaves.

“Ribbit riibbity rrrribbbbiit rib rib rib ribbit puuuurrrrreeek! Rib [deep croak] ribbit ribbit ribbit!! Purreeek rib purreeeeeeeeekkkkk!!! Ribbity ribbity ribbity ribbity!!!! PUUURRRREEEEEKKKK!!!!!” And that was only the first paragraph! His excited ribitting would fill at least three pages without a single pause for breath. As you can well imagine, it was also said very quickly with no suavity whatsoever.

I have only heard this high-pitched fervor three times before: one was the baroness of a small city-state in Neitos, another the clockmaker’s wife in Jacumba (he was, after all, the finest clockmaker in the world, and able to charge ridiculous sums for his designer timepieces), while the third was the king’s tailor in Toulumne. All three times before, the excitement had been about shoes. All three times, the excitees possessed more shoes than an entire lifetime of undergarments for the average peasant. Thus, based on the frog’s equally high-pitched fervor, it is safe to assume that Edward Hopper had seized every frog-length cashmere scarf in the known lands.

The third page of ribbiting and purreeking ended abruptly, as did all cogitations about cashmere scarves. Edward Hopper, amidst all his excitement about said scarves, had successfully delivered us to Prince Charming’s hideaway in the fens, a pond with as many lily pads as any frog could dream of. Unfortunately, he and his frog seductress were not alone. Nor were they in any fit state to enjoy their amphibious paradise.

A small island of sedge grass and a solitary aspen tree squatted in the midst of the lily pads. Mist crawled across the fens and my neck prickled. One should never ignore neck prickling, so I slowed my approach wondering what could possibly be wrong.

dreadlock styles for girls | aelida|dreadlocks styles for white women|Awesome as well as proper dreadlocks styles for white women for Dream Is Compatible with Anyone who wants to be the BestMost obviously wrong were the ropes tying two frogs to the tree, both of whom wore crowns, but nothing else. For a moment, I was embarrassed for them in their clothing-less state until remembering nakedness is a frog’s natural state. Thankfully, I refrained from uttering my thoughts aloud. That would have been truly embarrassing.

“Hurry,” shouted Emmaretta. She rushed to the tree, a knife ready to slice the ropes.

Too late I uttered the other most obviously wrong state of the situation.

“It’s a trap!’

On to Episode 5!

The Frog Problem, Episode 3

In which our intrepid hero may have–between ribbits and fens–found true love…

Read Episode 2 here

—3—

Some things are not meant to be: the sun rising in the west; a short wait in line at any government office; mankind speaking Frogish.

Regardless, this is why I am covered head to toe with mud, crawling through wet fens, weeds dripping from my trusty Craftsman™ broadsword. It is all Princess Emmaretta’s fault.

Yes, I have another woman in my life. She can speak Frogish.

“I wasn’t really going to be a princess, you know,” she said as we slithered and wiggled through a bog of spike-rush and sedge. “I was just the daughter of a prominent merchant and me mum was the fourth cousin of the prince twice removed on her mum’s side, or something like that. It’s the thought that counts, you know.”

Would her mouth ever stop moving?

“But once I discovered how much more fun I could have doing boy things, well there you have it!”

“Wait,” I croaked. I would have spoken but my throat hurt from three days of slogging with mosquitoes and horseflies. “You’re not really a princess?”

“Of course I’m a princess, ninny! Just not the kind of princess you thought! I’m the best girl scout you’ll ever find. Princess of the girl scouts!

I sighed heavily. Muck and silt flew off my lips like spittle and landed in her sludge-encrusted tresses. I grimaced. My luck with women has not been noteworthy of late.

I seemed to recall she had thick red tresses and long flirty lashes when we’d crashed into each other as I fled The One-Eyed Toad’s buxom bar-rat, but it was rather dark at the time. I normally don’t fall for feminine charms; however, she’d offered sympathy rather than scoff at my chipped blade. When accompanied by batting lashes, what man can resist womanly wiles?

emmaretta 2Despite the muck encrusting her long flirty lashes, I’d realized she was rather pretty in a girl-next-door-who-crawls-in-the-mud sort of way. Between her large, sleepy green eyes and large, cheery red lips, I’d grown entranced. Well, sort of. I wasn’t certain about her unorthodox style of braiding. ‘Dreadlocks’ she called them. The look was rather matted for my taste. I always prefer a bit of spring and bounce in a woman’s braids. Maybe it was a good thing, though. She was rather springy and bouncy already.

“Are you certain there are frogs in these fens?” I asked for the 111th time.

That’s not exactly the best line I’ve ever used when flirting. However, it’s not my worst line, either. Unfortunately, she seemed oblivious to my charms. Her every response was to jabber, and then jabber more.

“Oh, yes, Sir Roger!” she declared cheerily for the 111th time. “I promise you, we’ll find your Prince Charming!”

“He’s not my Prince Charming!” I emphasized. It was only the 92nd time I’d made that particular assertion.

She punched my arm in what I hoped was more than a comradely way.

“Oh, you know what I mean, silly! For your princess friend!”

I grunted. In this swamp, I thought her wallop was rather romantic. Maybe if I picked one of the flowers sprouting out of a tuft of sedge grass…

Suddenly, she laid a filthy finger over my lips. For the briefest of moments, hope flickered deep in my bosom. Then she spoke.

“Hush! Do you hear them? The croaking?”

All bosom flickering paused. I cupped a hand to one ear. Sure enough, there it was.

“Ribbit!”

The long lashes of her large green eyes batted quite flirtatiously. If only they would bat like that for me. (It should be noted at this point that I would have sighed quite heavily had her filthy finger still not rested upon my lips.) Unfortunately, I had learned she was only excited about one thing. Speaking Frogish.

“Ribbit! Rib-rib-ribbit!!”

I stepped back in surprise. Emmaretta was rather good at Frogish. Or so I assumed. Speaking with animals has never been my forte. (Once, when I languished in a Torg prison, I tried communicating with the local rats in hopes they might chew through my bonds, but they only laughed at me. Yes, rats do laugh—more of a titter, really—particularly when one cannot speak proper Rattish. Lowest point of my knightly career, especially considering what happened next, but that’s a whole other tale.)

Abruptly, a cacophony of ribbits erupted all about us. I could only hope the frogs would not respond as the rats had done when I languished in prison.

“Ribbity rib rib ribbity!” exclaimed my dreadlocked princess.

“Ribbit,” came a single, deep, formal voice. “Ribbity. Ribbit ribbit.”

Emmaretta bowed, then punched me until I followed suit.

frogprinceThe spike rushes parted and an immense bullfrog waddled forth, a crown on its head.

“Rrrrriibbbitttt!” it ribbeted. Actually, it barked, as much as any frog can bark.

My mud-encrusted friend straightened and turned to me, her cheery face cheerier than ever.

“King Buster knows of this Prince Charming you speak of and is willing to help us.”

My jaw dropped. Not because of the offer of aid, however.

“His name is Buster? Seriously? What kind of name is that for a frog, let alone a king? And since when do frogs wear crowns?”

Disgust replaced cheery. I’m afraid I seriously damaged future flirting potential.

“You ninny! That’s your response?” She pointed to her mud-encrusted dreadlock tresses. “I did all this for you and that’s all you can say?”

“Ummm,” I thought furiously. “Ribbit?”

She crossed her arms, and some of the disgust fled. “Hmpf! Well, at least you know how to say ‘thank you’ in Frogish.”

“Ummm,” I managed to stammer. “I did?”

“Ribbbbbbit!” barked King Buster. “Rrrrribbity!”

“Ribbit ribbit ribbit!” answered Emmaretta excitedly.

“What?” I asked.

Cheer returned to her large red lips and sleepy green eyes.

“He’s sending his best frog scout to guide us. These fens are no place for a cursed frog like your Prince Charming.”

Oh great. First a girl scout and now a frog scout. What was next?

On to Episode 4!

The Frog Problem, Episode 2

In which our intrepid hero finds more than he bargained when he meets yet another tavern wench…

Read Episode 1 here

—2—

There are swamps, and then there are swamps. Then there are the Fens of Crthlus, a smelly, fetid, snake-infested pit. Despite traveling on the only road leading to the city of Crthlus, it would be a week before I would get the stink out of my tastefully gold-inlaid sable cloak and studded black leather armor.

Downloaded from Ospreygraphix.comI could have traipsed through the hordes of mosquitos and horseflies while hunting for Prince Charming on my own but chose to travel directly to the city instead. Actually, “city” is a kind word when describing rickety shanties slapped together by punch-drunk imbeciles. Not only that, but the heart of town is known as the Sewer District. The denizens are, of course, the Chtshurs, better known as the ratmen of Crthlus.

The best place for information is The One-Eyed Toad, a pockmark of a watering hole on par with The Blackmore Tavern as far as its usual scoundrels and other miscreants. It’s bad enough to guzzle swill with man-sized rodents, but when you’re served by a snake with four arms and two bodices, you know you’ve entered public house purgatory.

Utilizing my broad shoulders, I elbowed my way through the crowd to a place at the bar and swallowed hard. The serving wench had a buxom form like Ruby with flowing black tresses, yet underneath gobs of makeup, she was still a beady-eyed rat. Her whiskers twitched as I swept my gold-inlaid sable coat over my shoulder and thudded my forearms on the counter. My trusty Craftsman™ broadsword still hung at my side (the tiny bag the princess/hag had given me only covered the down payment for my new sword), but in Crthlus, its steely edge—even chipped and not so keen—was enough to give pause.

She grabbed a large glass tankard, wiped it semi-clean, and held it beneath a barrel’s tap. A thick black liquid poured out. I knew from past experience it was what passed for beer in this town. She leaned forward as she set the tankard in front of me, as if I might find her furry cleavage attractive. This has often been my experience in such wretched establishments when I am so nattily attired with my trusty Craftsman™ broadsword hanging from my belt, regardless of what abominations pass for serving wenches.

“How much?” I asked.

“For you, sweetie, one copper is all.”

My eyes must have popped at least a foot out of my skull while my jaw thudded on the floor with the force of an anvil. It was not the price, which was actually quite reasonable. It was her husky baritone voice. No woman’s voice could possibly be that low!

As soon as my eyes and jaw had banged back into place, I casually clutched my tankard and leaned against the bar, speaking just loud enough for her to hear. At least, I thought I was casual. Maybe “casual” is too casual a term. A better word might be “anxious,” or more accurately, “anxious with a nervous twitch.” You see, there are few things that frighten me in this world, but a buxom rodent with a deep male voice making googly eyes at me is one of them. However, I needed information, and everyone knows the one standing behind a bar is the world’s greatest source.

“I’m looking for a frog,” I said with a prepubescent squeak instead of my normal deep manly voice. The barmaid’s bar-rat’s beady eyes rose.

“Honey, we’re all looking for that special someone, but aren’t you a little too…human for a frog?”

My face burned, I am certain, more crimson than the reddest sunset.

“You don’t understand,” I blurted. “Not just any frog. A talking frog. A frog prince.”

“You mean the kind of slimy amphibian you kiss to turn back into Prince Charming? Oh honey, trust me, if such a frog came around here, I’d be first in line!”

Okay, that was an image I did not need floating about in my head. Still, I needed more information.

“Listen, I’m not making myself clear. The frog’s not for me. He’s hopped off with a girl frog instead of marrying the princess.”

“And you didn’t volunteer to take his place? Honey, what is wrong with you?”

That brought me up short. What, indeed, was wrong with me? If I’d married the princess, I’d have had plenty of money for a new sword. Then I recalled her wrinkled visage.

“She’s a hag,” I mumbled sadly, then guzzled half my tankard. “A cursed hag.”

“Ahhh,” said the bar-rat. Sympathy drooled from her furry, lipstick-drenched lips and I blanched. It was yet one more image now burned into my brain I didn’t need.

The bar-rat rested a paw on my arm. “So, if she kisses Prince Charming, the curse is lifted, I take it?”

“Yes,” I sighed heavily.

“And you wish you were Prince Charming but were too afraid to pucker up when your chance came?”

“I…I…I thought she’d stay an old witch.” The truth was I hadn’t thought of rescuing the princess in that manner at all, but for some reason, I felt my manly image might tarnish if I admitted it.

“Well, honey,” she cooed in her rumbling baritone, “If I hear any strange croaking, you’ll be the first to know. In the meantime, if you need some kissing practice, I’m always ready to help.” She puckered and her whiskers fluttered seductively. My previous icons of mousey horror ran away from the countenance now presented to me. I suddenly could no longer stomach my ale.

“Well, uhm…” I muttered, pushing my stool back, standing up, and tossing a copper on the counter. “I…need to go.”

I dared not glance back as I rushed out of The One-Eyed Toad, especially after not hearing her low, breathy sigh chase after me.

“Now there’s a knight who could make a rat’s heart pitter and patter!”

On to Episode 3!

The Frog Problem, Episode 1

Today, I present you with the first episode of the follow-up to A Princess Problem and more of Sir Roger’s misadventures…

—1—

The Blackmore Tavern is not the world’s safest place.

By now, I should know better, having experienced a multitude of mishaps and misadventures within that heinous den. Alas, I had the misfortune of crossing its threshold once more.

witch1With a deep breath and a final pat of my chipped-yet-still-trusty Craftsman™ broadsword, I ducked beneath the swinging sign of a faded minstrel’s lute and into the smoky din. My eyes carefully scanned the motley crowd for my contact—reportedly a hag of some repute—before spotting a tall black hat, its pointed end bent at an appropriately jaunty angle. If I had not needed gold so badly for a new sword I would have never stooped so low but wishes only paid the piper when I fulfilled someone else’s dream. This hag’s dream should cover the costs of a Legendary Spring Steel Broadsword with Differential Hardening©.

It truly is an issue when the manufacturer of your broadsword, with their lifetime guarantee promise, sells their rights. I had suddenly discovered I could no longer walk into any blacksmith’s shop and expect to have my blade sharpened. Instead, I was forced to endure catcalls and jeers. Tonight was no exception.

“Well, if it ain’t Sir Chippy!” bellowed the most hated voice in the universe. I gritted my teeth, squared my massive shoulders, and tromped through the packed tavern towards the dark corner where the hag awaited, but my most hated rival would not relent.

“Look at the homely coward, boys,” brayed the hated voice. It belonged to a squat, blue-skinned Brimulung who didn’t even reach my chin when I was sitting. An ugly bastard with two massive warts on one cheek and a foot-long handlebar mustache, Gremnik is, I must admit, as handy with his axe as I am with my trusty broadsword.

“Is the big baby going to sulk in the corner?” taunted a runt of a sidekick.

At this point, I turned and growled, hoping that this would not escalate into another brawl with my rival. If I was to ever afford a Legendary Spring Steel Broadsword with Differential Hardening©, I had to keep my cool to get the contract. I could not risk being thrown out of the Blackmore Tavern. Not again!

“Gremmy,” I snarled in my deepest, quietest rumble, hoping the hag wouldn’t notice the gibes, “Do I need to once more decapitate your companions to shut you up?” I delivered a steely blue eyes glare at the half-dozen cohorts while my hand gripped my trusty broadsword.

Unfortunately, teasing him with the nickname he hated above all others did not work. Instead, he chortled.

“You can’t fool us, Chippy. We all know the condition of your sword. It couldn’t decapitate a mouse!”

My fists balled, knowing he was right. I really needed a new sword, but I could not let these challenges to my manhood stand. I quickly calculated the order in which I would need to punch the sidekicks to successfully take them out before they could stand. Unfortunately, my manhood was saved in the worst possible way. A woman stepped in.

rubyRuby has been the featured serving wench pinup in Knights Illustrated’s annual calendar for as long as I can remember, alongside beautiful princesses, witches, and shieldmaidens. Privy walls throughout Solvang are etched with “I Kissed Ruby” as if it’s a ritual of manhood. As far as I know, the Blackmore Tavern would lack half of its notoriety if not for Ruby’s flowing golden tresses and tight burgundy bodice that left little to a young male’s imagination.

Before I could finish my calculations, Ruby was pinching the largest of Gremnik’s warts while all his sidekick’s eyes were focused on her, uhm, bodice.

“Aggghhh!!” squealed my squat rival like a little girl.

Ruby nodded at me. My cheeks burned in embarrassment, no doubt now as red as her name. I do not like this recent trend in my life of being rescued by females, but what choice did I have but to obey and move to the back corner where the hag awaited me?

As I sat, all I could see beneath the woman’s wide brim was a long nose just as pointed and crooked as her hat. A particularly fine wart rested on the tip, with several dark hairs curling out of its core.

Her extraordinary proboscis was not all that welcomed me. A corncob pipe jutted out as well. The bowl glowed orange as she sucked noisily on the stem. For a moment, her face blossomed in the faint light. All I could see, I’m afraid, were wrinkles as deep as a volcano’s fissures.

“So you’ve come,” she croaked in a scratchy rasp that would have made a hedgehog cringe. “I hope I haven’t made a mistake…” She let the sentence hang, glancing past my shoulder. I turned to see where she was looking and cringed. Ruby sashayed towards our table. As I said, the rescue of a mighty warrior such as me by a buxom serving wench progresses one’s reputation in one direction only, and that is not forward!

Ruby plopped a large tankard in front of me. Foam sloshed over the top.

“Your usual, Sir Roger,” she cooed in her deep sultry voice. “This one’s on the house,” she added with a nod towards Gremnik. I risked a quick glance. The squat Brimulung’s blue skin was purple. At least his manhood was as embarrassed as mine.

“Thanks,” I muttered.

The buxom serving wench leaned close and whispered in my ear.

“Are you ready yet to be kissed by Ruby?”

“Ummm…” I mumbled. The truth was I had badly fumbled my first effort as a fresh knight to join the long list of strutting young scoundrels who could spout “I Kissed Ruby.” Ever since, she has thus taunted me. My lips had yet to meet hers.

She slapped my buttocks with a chortle before sashaying away. My face burned. This night was definitely not going well. I could only hope the hag’s job would offer me some measure of redemption.

The hag cackled, a squawk that must have drawn every eye in the tavern. The room echoed with sniggers. I slunk in my stool but did not run out. It may have been the lowest moment in my career, but I desperately needed that Legendary Spring Steel Broadsword with Differential Hardening©.

“Well, then,” she clucked hoarsely, “to business.” She reached beneath her witch’s robe and pulled out a tiny-yet-bulging leather bag tightly tied. “Here’s your down payment, as promised.”

“What’s the job?” I tried to ask as manfully as possible, which was rather challenging while slinking down on my stool. I forced myself to sit up straight and regain a modicum of professionalism.

“Do you think me ugly?” the hag croaked, then waved a hand. “Don’t answer that. Of course you do. I do not wish to burden you with false politeness. The truth is, until recently, I was a beautiful princess.”

That, of course, made me sit up straight. Rescuing a beautiful princess from such a hideous fate is very much in line with my preferred line of work.

She crowed. “Got your attention, did I? My story is long and sad, but the short of it is my prince, on the eve of our wedding, was charmed by another woman.”

I nodded sagely, having heard such a tale before.

“Ah, you think you know all, do you? But it was not a woman such as you would expect. It was a frog.”

“A…frog?” I asked most incredulously.

She nodded, her shoulders sagging. “A rival princess who’d been turned into a frog. At least, she promised my prince she was beautiful and rich. All she needed was a kiss from him. Foolish man! Of course, I would not have any of that nonsense! Unfortunately, I was unaware of the curse placed on her.”

“A…curse? I asked quite quizzically.

“A vile, ruthless spell. Mine bounced off her and struck not only my prince, but myself. He turned into a mighty bullfrog and I turned into this!” She spread her arms wide.

“A…hag?” I asked hesitantly.

She puffed on her corncob pipe, her teeth grinding loudly, until a haze blurred the air between us.

“Of course, you idiot! But there’s more. My prince hopped away with the frog wench. Now you must find him and bring him back to me.”

“You want him back?”

She banged her corncob pipe over my head. I winced.

“Of course, you nitwit! If I don’t kiss him, my curse won’t be broken, and I will remain an ugly hag!”

I reached out and took the tiny bag.

“Do you have any idea where they went?”

She nodded.

“There is only one swamp that would accept magically transformed frogs. The Fens of Crthlus.”

I shuddered but rose to my feet. Those fens were not a very nice place, but what choice did I have? My future as a knight armed with a Legendary Spring Steel Broadsword with Differential Hardening© was at stake!

Bowing low, I uttered as professionally as possible, “It shall be done, your highness. You have my word.”

On to Episode 2!