It was once in a faraway land of kingdoms and great forests and pools of fresh water and rushing streams and craggy mountains there lived a prince who didn't feel very princely.
He was a happy enough prince, so it seemed, though all who met him remarked afterward he carried a sadness with him.
"It is a most distressing dampness of manner," some would say after leaving court.
Others shook their heads in sadness. Often the prince, believing himself alone, let his eyes grow large and would utter several low, abrupt groans in a row.
The truth was he was a very sad prince. He moped around the castle deliberately shuffling his feet to prevent himself from leaping like he wanted.
"Son, you're prince. Act like it. Stop hunching over like Old Hulda and pick up your feet when you walk."
The prince did not dare to tell his father of his desire to jump about the castle. Jumping and leaping were for young boys, especially the common people. It was not for a prince.
"The Princess of the next kingdom will make a fine wife. King Larken and his daughter will be here tomorrow. There shall be a feast."
The King fixed his gaze on his only son. In a low tone that would brook no argument he said, "If you are smart, my son, a wedding will follow shortly."
The prince only nodded and asked to be dismissed from his father's presence. He went to his rooms in the far end of the castle and threw open the shutters. He stuck his head out as far as he could until he saw the great royal pond.
Black–beaked white swans glided over the water. A hart startled by a noise, looked up from the pond toward the prince.
"Oh, to be there instead of here," lamented the prince. "What do I want with a wife?"
And he absent mindedly flicked out his long, thin tongue at fly buzzing near him.
The day was bright and warm. The prince decided rather than look at the royal pond he would swim in it instead.
The swans glided by him and dipped their beaks in his direction as if to greet him. He threw himself down on the cool grass at the water's edge and stared into the water at his reflection.
"Arrbat," he moaned.
"Yes?" came an answer from just in front of him.
"Frog, you're talking. Since when does a frog speak to a prince?"
"I might ask you the same," ribbitted the frog in return.
"How is it I understand you?"
"You're speaking frog. It follows logically that if you speak a language, then you understand it. Am I right?"
"I don't know what you mean," said the prince.
"Then you're a fool," said the amphibian and he disappeared beneath the ripples.
"What an odd, ill-mannered fellow," said the prince as he took off his cloak and boots and prepared to leap into the water.
"Ho there, young one."
An old hunched woman stepped out from behind a clump of alder near the prince.
"What do you want, Old Hulda?"
"To tell you something before your wedding tomorrow."
"I'm not marrying tomorrow. I am only meeting the princess."
The old woman threw back her head laughing until tears streamed down her face and coughs wracked her body.
"Boy prince, tomorrow is your 21st birthday. If you marry before midnight you will stay a prince. But if you get through the day there's a chance you will return to your true nature."
"What true nature? I am a prince. My father is King Reld and someday I will be Dorold, King of all my father's lands and properties."
"Do you wish to marry this princess?"
"I will know that once I meet her. Now leave me, hag. I've only let you speak to me because you are old and I have to respect you. Get away."
"What do you remember of your princelinghood? What did you do as a child?"
It was true he did not remember much of being a boy. His mother and father told he had been very sick as a child. Fevers ravaged his body for many months. They stole his health and his memory.
"It's why they say there's a dampness about you, my son." said his mother, the Queen. "The medicine the doctor gave you to rid your body of the illness left it."
The prince confided in his mother once that he wanted nothing more than to leap about the castle instead of walking.
"Dorold, that's because you were so sick and could hardly move. Now that you're well you've got so much energy to use you can hardly contain it."
She reached over and kissed his round cheek, and brushed the thin blond hair off his strong forehead. "That's all."
"I was ill. I only remember the last few years," the prince told the old woman.
"What else do you remember, prince?"
He thought about her question at great length. Since he'd healed he'd been having strange dreams. In them he was surrounded by water. He swam and jumped and covered himself in mud. Sometimes he was so filled with joy to be in the water he would sing to the stars all night. When he did all his friends and family sang, too, and the night was filled with their deep choruses.
"Nothing, he said, and jumped into the pool.
He swam and swam and dived to the bottom of the pool. There he pushed away the small rocks and wished he could lay himself down in the mud.
The next day the royals from the nearby kingdom came for the feast. His father and the visiting king held a private meeting leaving the princess alone with the prince.
"Would you like to see some of the grounds?" The prince was at a loss as to how to amuse the princess, but he thought a walk was a reasonable idea. He would have rather spent his birthday by the royal pond, or any pond to be completely truthful, but he had a guest and it was his duty to keep her entertained.
They walked through the gardens and past the outer hedges and soon found themselves at the pond.
A low groan escaped the prince without his even realizing it.
"What an odd noise to make," remarked the princess. You sound just like a spring peeper."
"It is but a moan and it is for no reason," said the prince. He searched for something else to say but all he could think of was, "Today is my 21st birthday. I suppose we are to marry, if that's all right with you."
"Not in the least," said the princess. "Not only have we just met, I have plans for my life. There's a world to see and much to learn and, I already love someone else. I'm only here because my father bids it. I'm no more happy about it than you seem to be."
"There's a feast tonight. I believe we're to marry after it. Perhaps we can bargain for some time. We'll tell our fathers we'd like to know one another better so could we wait until mid-summer to be wed?"
"I'd rather tell them we won't marry at all," said the princess. She picked up a small rock from the water's edge and tossed it in the pond.
A large frog broke through the surface croaking and splashing.
"I wonder what that's about?" said the princess.
"He's upset. He's thinks you threw the rock at him."
"You speak frog, my prince?"
"No," he said, shocked by the question. "I don't know why I said that. I suppose I assumed it."
They made their way back to the castle. Before the feast they spoke to the kings about waiting. Both kings were upset at putting the marriage on hold, but relented.
"As long as you swear to go through with it," they both said, "Our kingdoms have a great deal riding on this arrangement."
"Come, let's go to the feast," said the prince, feeling the need to avoid agreeing to anything.
After a few days the visitors left and he once again found himself at the royal pond.
The swans glided serenely along the calm surface. The sun shone on the water at just the right angle for the prince to see right to the bottom and to gaze at his reflection. Soon he was lost in his thoughts.
"Well done, prince," came a cackling voice behind him. "You've survived past your 21st birthday unwed. Do you wish to know who you are?"
"I know who I am, Old Hulda. Go back to your forest and leave me to my thoughts."
And she laughed a bit more and then cleared her throat.
"I've taken a liking to you, prince. "I've always been fond of the creatures of the wood and water and air. Tell me, would you like to be free of your obligations to the king?"
The prince thought for a moment. He had no desire to marry anyone. The princess was a fine woman, smart and beautiful. The agreements their marriage would finalize would benefit both the kingdoms. He'd marry someday, it was expected of him. It may as well be her.
But something nagged him. His dreams had gotten stronger. He'd awakened that very morning feeling an unusual dryness. His body felt soft to him. He'd had to stretch out his fingers and toes to make sure they still were separate.
He'd caught himself flicking his tongue at a passing insect before he was fully awake.
"I think I'll swim on it," he told her and jumped into the water fully clothed.
"That ought to do it," said the old woman as she turned and walked toward the forest.
The moment he hit the water the prince felt odd. His body seemed different, lighter, better.
His limbs changed in front of him. His head grew larger, his eyes got bigger. He felt more alive and at home in the water than he'd ever felt in the castle.
He dived to the bottom and crouched down in the mud.
He was the happiest he'd ever remembered being.
He swam to the surface and jumped out of the water.
Everything was bigger. He turned around to the pond and saw his reflection. Instead of a human prince he saw a large green bullfrog.
Someone hopped beside him.
It was another frog and she was smiling. "It's over. It's over. The enchantment's over. Oh, you've come back to me."
Everything came clear to him then. His memories, his life, it all flooded into his mind.
He was not a prince at all, at least not a human one.
He was a frog of the royal line and would be king of this pond one day.
The frog at his side was his own betrothed. When the full realization hit him he let loose a joyful ribbiting that echoed through all the kingdom, frog and human alike.
The two dived down into the water and were as happily from then on as any two frogs could be.