“She played the game well,” called a familiar voice.
Princess Hannah opened her eyes a crack and the pink glow of the frog illuminated a monstrous ogre as tall as a grizzly bear and just as thick, dressed in tattered rags. The hideous creature towered over the cage, appraising her with one large, filmy eye. Drool overflowed his cracked lips and slopped onto the front of his torn shirt.
The frog hopped to the cage door, and this time there was no mistaking it—he did, indeed, smile. “Yes, she played the game quite well,” the amphibian repeated, staring at her with unblinking amber eyes. “And now she gets to be ‘it’ again.”
Another guttural laugh emanated from the hideous ogre, who reached into the pocket of his ragged trousers and pulled out a long, rusty key. “Come with me, my princess,” growled the ogre. “The frog says you played the game well, so now I have a special place for you. My pretty little decoration. My pretty little bird. My helpless little bird. No longer free. No longer free at all.” The ugly beast swung open the door, reached into the cage and grabbed her arms with rough fingers. “Yes, a very special place for you. Yes, indeed. Indeed.”
Princess Hannah swooned, and the ogre jerked her out of the cage as easily as if she was a ragdoll. He carried her through a door toward a massive fireplace on the far side of the adjoining room. Flames roared in the firebox and cast undulating shadows on the walls. The beast lifted Princess Hannah over his head and shoved her into a cramped cage hanging to the right side of the fireplace. He snapped the door shut. The tight enclosure reminded her of a birdcage her oldest brother had built to keep a mangy raven he had captured. The raven had died of starvation, to the delight of her brother. Princess Hannah turned round and round, searching for a way out of the cage. She found none.
“There, my dear,” the ogre gurgled. “From now on you will be my bird. My bird in a cage.” He turned his attention to the fire, stoking it with a long, rusted poker and drafting it with his leather bellow. The room glowed brighter. After a short time, he dragged a stewpot the size of the castle’s bathtub to the hearth and mounted it on a hook. He filled it with water poured from jugs so large Hannah could hide in one. After he swung the pot over the flames, the ogre turned and thundered out of the room. “Must go hunting, now,” the ogre growled. “Fresh meat for a fresh bird. Hmm.” As he left, Princess Hannah heard the monster laugh again. She curled into a tight ball on the cage floor, sobbing.
She awoke to the sound of the birdcage’s latch unlocking, and when she opened her eyes the room glowed pink as well as orange. Thick smoke filled the chamber, and the sound of boiling water bubbled from the colossal, black cauldron. Princess Hannah coughed. Her throat burned. The pink frog clung to the front of the cage near the lock, the ogre’s rusty key firmly clamped in its mouth. The princess grabbed the key and slipped it into a pouch tied around her waist.
“Come along,” the frog said, hopping out of the cage, “and keep quiet. He’s fallen into a stupor from his ale, but we mustn’t take any chances and rouse him.” The frog nodded toward the far end of the room where the hideous beast slumped in a chair, head lolled to one side. A deer carcass lay sprawled at his feet. A stein the size of a chamber pot lay in a puddle on the floor beside him. “We must leave the house quickly,” urged the frog. The amphibian vaulted off the cage and plopped onto the hearth. “I’ll stay here and distract him should he awaken while you make haste into the woods.”
Princess Hannah didn’t question the frog. She quietly slid out of the cage, lowering herself as far as she could, until she was hanging by her fingertips.
“Let go!” the frog commanded. “And run!” She did as the frog said. As she hit the floor she rolled, stood and bolted for the front door. She ran as fast as her legs could carry her, and, with all her might, she thrust open the door and tumbled into a patch of soft grass glowing silver in the brilliant light of a full moon. As Princess Hannah scrambled up, she heard the ogre roar from inside the house. She froze.
“What happened to my little bird?!” he thundered. “Where has she gone?”
“Sir,” she heard the frog yell. “She managed to free the cage door. I tried to stop her, but she fell into the cook pot and I fear she is now dead. Come quickly and see for yourself.”
The ogre grunted.
Princess Hannah heard him trudge across the floor. Moments later, a loud splash erupted from the house, followed by a dreadful shriek.
Her trance broken, she darted into the woods. She didn’t look back until she knew she was safely away.
She hid in a thicket, trembling, until daylight filtered through the trees. Princess Hannah crawled out from the cover of the bushes, brushed herself off and listened closely to the sound of the forest. Hearing nothing threatening, she made her way east toward the rising sun and, she hoped, home. By and by she stepped onto a familiar path winding through the trees, and she knew then that she was safe at last.
“Hello again,” called a familiar voice. Princess Hannah spun around and spied the pink frog hopping up the trail behind her. “May I come along?”
The princess dropped her hands onto her hips, cocked her head and glared at the frog. “After what you did to me?” she hissed. “Of course not! Run along now before I snatch you up and hand you over to my brothers. You wouldn’t like that. Not one bit.”
The frog looked at her, his amber eyes flecked with gold, imploring forgiveness.
“But, Your Majesty,” begged the frog. “I rescued you.”
Princess Hannah’s scowl deepened. “You rescued me after luring me into the ogre’s house, knowing he would enslave me, possibly even eat me! Why should I listen to you, you fat blob of amphibious jelly?” She crossed her arms tightly. “Explain yourself, else I’ll catch you and serve you in a nice barley soup.”
“I freed you,” said the frog, his rosy glow softening, “because I found myself enjoying your company immensely.” He lowered his head. “By the time I realized how much fun we were having, the cage door had already closed. Knowing I could help you escape when the ogre fell asleep, I bided my time, playing his game until then. Will you ever forgive me?”
“Hmm,” Princess Hannah snarled, a sound unbefitting of a princess. “On one condition.”
“Anything, Your Majesty the Princess,” the frog said, bowing deeply.
“That you come home with me and become my pet.”
“Why, I would be delighted!” The frog hopped up and down, dancing a little jig.
“So what happened to the ogre?” Hannah asked.
“Oh, him?” said the frog, grinning. “He took a bath. A hot one.”
Princess Hannah snickered, then giggled, then laughed, and soon the frog laughed along with her. The beautiful princess and the uncommon frog made their way to the castle, where they found dinner, warmth and hours and hours of Hide and Seek and other imaginative games whilst evading five bratty brothers who stunk like a heap of rotting socks.
Copyright © 2015 David C. Hughes