“What do you mean, about the enchantment working on me?”
“The truth is, the kiss means nothing. These frogs can transform into princes, but they have to choose to. The longer a maiden stays here, and the more kisses she bestows on a frog, the more she will see things the way she wants to. You see him becoming a prince, even though in reality he is still a frog. And he even seems to become ruder and meaner because your expectation of him has changed. You did not expect a frog to be kind and considerate, because he was just a frog. You expect those things from a prince, and even though you see him as a prince, that is not what he is…”
“…He is just a frog,” Hope finished. “And my hope means nothing.” So many things made sense now, but she was stunned and numb.
“Oh, contrary!” Judson said. “Your hope means a great deal – it is why I am here! The Great King sent me to find you. He wants me to introduce you to a true prince – his own son. He already has a bride, but he would be a very good man for you to get to know. He can break the enchantment over you in a way no one else can. Would you like to meet him?”
“Do you mean that he is here?” she asked, surprised. She could not recall a day when she had seen anyone else in the Enchanted Swamp.
“Oh yes, he comes here quite often,” Judson answered. “He has business with the frogs – occasionally one finds the desire to become a prince like him, so he helps them find their way. He’s just on that side of the pond tonight.”
Strangely enough, Hope hesitated. She wasn’t sure she wanted to meet the Great Prince – not like this, anyway. She looked and smelled like she had been living in a swamp. But the thought of meeting a real prince was… enticing. What would he say and how would he act? Surely there would be no fried fly pie on the menu… All she did was nod, and Judson led her away. They found the prince reclining by the water, admiring the fireflies that had just begun to come out.
“Hope, I am glad you are here,” he said with a smile. He looked so peaceful and content, handsome and comfortable and clean… Hope dropped her eyes to the mud, embarrassed. She had worn the same dress since she had come to the swamp, and it was wet, muddy, and smelly. But the Prince stood and came toward her. “I bought you a new garment, in case you wanted to change. And here, I packed you a little snack of bread and berries. I know how the menu here can be… lacking.”
He continued to smile kindly as he held out the gifts for her. It was amazing how he didn’t judge her, yet she felt ashamed of her behavior; how he seemed to call her to a greater and higher standard without condemning her. It made her eager to accept the lovely robe and delicious food. They sat together as she ate, and he told her all about his father, the Great King, and the curious and wonderful places and people throughout the kingdom. Then the Prince handed Hope a single rosebud, beautifully delicate yet strong, pale yellow in the center and bright gold at its tip.
“Where did this come from?” Hope asked in awe. Even as a flower girl, the daughter of a gardener, she had never seen a rose of such magnificent hues.
“It grows in my father’s royal garden, at the Great Castle. I’d like to take you there, to tend the garden for my father. I think it would delight your heart.”
“Oh, it would! Yes, please! When?”
“What about tomorrow? I can go tonight and have a place prepared especially for you. Then I could meet you here in the morning and show you the way.”
Hope had all but forgotten the frog – her imagination was full of fields of golden roses and a place of her own at the castle. “Oh yes, how wonderful! I will be here!”
“There’s only one thing…” the Prince added carefully. “If you come with me, you must never return to this Swamp. You must not put your hope in this place or its frogs anymore.”