I heard a loud pop and felt as if I had been pushed in the chest and there, standing in front of me was the most handsome man I had ever seen. Except that he was naked.
I screamed and he screamed back, then I threw my apron at him and covered my eyes with my hands.
“Put that on, quickly,” I said, “and I’ll get you some proper clothes in a minute.”
Two thousand, one hundred and forty three frogs I had kissed, and now the moment I had been waiting for had come and I had forgotten to bring the clothes. The prince – for I assumed he was a prince, or why else would he have been transformed into a frog – held my milking apron in front of him and looked at me with a frown. I suppose he could not remember much about life in the palace, it had been so long since his enchantment, and he had probably never even dressed himself.
“Here,” I said, wrapping the apron around him and tying it off in the front. He looked better covered up, although his long hair definitely needed brushing and his teeth looked a bit green, but there was something in his face that made me wonder if his brain had remained in the frog state.
“I’m Rachel,” I said, holding out my hand.
The prince stared at my hand and then looked at me. I suppose I should have curtsied or something, but it is hard to feel humble in front of a man wearing your own apron. I grasped his hand and shook it, saying, “pleased to meet you.”
“Okay, I guess I’m going to have to give you a quick history lesson,” I said, while he looked around at the field we were standing in.
“You’re the long-lost prince. Or at least, if you’re not him then you must be some sort of prince. I’ve been looking for you for years; in fact we’ve all been looking for you for years. All the girls, that is, I don’t think the boys care too much about missing princes. And now that I’ve found you, I’m supposed to take you back to the palace and claim my reward.”
I don’t know what I expected after all that frog kissing and turning him back into a human; gratitude maybe, or at least a reaction. It was too much to suppose I’d be swept off my feet with a proposal of marriage and get to live happily ever after in a palace, but really, you’d think he would say something after being rescued from the slimy pond I found him in. Instead, he stood there, his two feet planted in the cornfield as if waiting to turn into beanstalks, and his long arms hanging loosely by his sides like pump handles, while the ridiculous apron flapped around his knees. I couldn’t help laughing, but I stopped when he looked up at me with those big, brown eyes, just like a lost puppy.
“Come on, then, let’s go back to the house, get you some clothes and food, and plan how to get you to the palace without being stopped by the guards.”
He did not move, so I took his hand, so as to lead him away and then, thinking I might not get another chance once he regained his senses, I stretched upward and kissed him.
This time the pop was louder and the pressure lifted me off my feet, depositing me on the ground next to my apron, which was heaving and squirming. Thank goodness I recovered quickly and pounced on the apron before my royal frog could hop back to his slimy pond friends.
Well, this was a surprise, I reflected, as I put my apron back on and stowed the frog into the pocket, but not a major problem, provided I could make the prince appear once more when I needed him. The good thing was that I would not have to introduce the prince to the other farm girls, and it would be easier to get inside the palace gates on my own, provided I could think up an excuse.
“Okay Prince,” I muttered, “we’re going to collect our supplies and set out for the palace, so you just have to sit there and be patient.”
The frog did not reply; I think he had fallen asleep, if frogs do sleep, so I grabbed a handful of pond weed to keep him comfortable and made my way back to the milking shed.
My plan was to slip inside the barn, borrow some clothes from one of the stable hands, gather some food, and set out to claim my reward, but I had not counted on bumping into Brenda and Cassie, who were finishing up the milking.
“You’re late, Rachel, have you been off kissing frogs again?” Brenda asked, looking at my mud smeared apron.
Cassie smirked and smacked her lips together.
“Found any princes lately?”
I did not bother reminding them that they had both kissed a considerable number of frogs in the early days of the craze and went to step around them but they blocked my way.
“What have you got there?” asked Brenda, pointing at my pocket. “I hope you haven’t brought any of those toads up here.”
“Ooh, what if it’s the one?” said Cassie and reached forward.
I held my tongue, as I knew any sign of annoyance from me would lead to more teasing, and just shrugged my shoulders, as if I did not care. I hoped the frog prince would stay quietly tucked away in the corner of my pocket until the girls lost interest but as Cassie jabbed her hand in my pocket the frog gave a mighty leap and jumped out, sending her flying backward into Brenda.
“Hey, watch it,” said Brenda, waving her arms around. The frog had landed on a milking stool and sat looking at the three of us, the bulge on its neck pulsing in and out like a bellows.
Brenda stepped towards the frog and pounced, but the prince was quicker and jumped through her hands and over her head. I saw a flash of green and then heard a loud plop as he landed in the closest milk churn.
“Eew! Now you’ve done it!” said Cassie, staring at the bubbles collecting on the surface of the milk. “Mrs. Banks is not going to like that!”
The two girls stood making faces, while I rolled up my sleeves and plunged my arm into the warm milk. I hoped the frog would not drown in the milk, or have his pores clog up or whatever it is that frogs do to keep alive, but I need not have worried for I could feel him scrabbling away at the inside of the pail. I grabbed the frog tightly and pulled him out of the milk, making sure to spray both girls as I shoved the creamy creature back into my pocket.
“Ugh, now I’m covered in milk!” said Brenda, pulling off her apron and blouse. “Here, you can wash this. I’m going up to the house to tell Mrs. Banks you spoiled a churn of the best milk.”
Cassie pulled off her own stained apron and her skirt and followed Brenda out of the barn; they both held their noses so high in the air they looked like geese waddling along in their white underwear, but at least they had forgotten about kissing the frog, who was now struggling to get out of my pocket.
I gathered up the discarded clothes and poured some of the milk into a gourd that hung inside the barn. There was no sense in wasting it, and I knew I could not get food from the house now. However, the skirmish had given me a plan. If I travelled on my own I would stand out, especially if I had to deal with a frisky frog in my pocket, but two girls would be able to pass unnoticed through all the market towns. I would transform the frog back into the prince and dress him as a girl, using Brenda and Cassie’s clothes. His hair was longer than mine, and the guards would not question two girls bringing goods to the palace.
“Okay, Prince Charming,” I said into my pocket. “I’m going to carry you down to the end of the lane and then we’ll get you changed back and dressed up. You get to go home, and I get to leave this farm for good.”
I slipped out of the barn, carrying the bundle of clothes and the gourd and added a couple of apples that I found near the horses’ stalls. I also carried an empty pail so that it would look as if I were busy with chores, should anybody catch sight of me, but I met nobody along the lane and reached the edge of the farm without further incident.
Setting the clothes and provisions down on the ground I took the frog out of my pocket and stared at its spotted nose, thinking I should remember what it looked like, in case it ended up as a frog again.
“I hope this works,” I muttered, closing my eyes.
Once more I kissed the rubbery skin, only this time I was prepared for the pop and kept hold of one of its arms, which transformed into a human hand. I reached for the clothes with my other hand and pulled the shirt over the prince’s head, then made him step into the skirt and tie on the apron. He looked just as shell shocked as before, but he did not resist, and even drank some milk when I offered it to him.
“Right, this is it; we’re on our way.”
I took his hand and pulled him onto the road, wishing that I had thought of taking some boots, but he did not seem to mind walking on the dirt. With his long hair and the skirt he looked just like another milkmaid, and I felt myself relax slightly, and even look forward to the journey ahead. No matter what happened from now on, finally, we were both free.