Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hope (Part 5)

Hope hesitated. It seemed rather silly to do so, but she did. “I want to find a real prince – one who will love me and fight for me and care for me. I- I don’t want to be alone.” Her eyes filled with tears and she listened to the song of the frogs over the dark swamp. “If I have no hope here, where can I put my hope?”

“Put your hope in me,” the Prince answered earnestly. “Get out of the mud and surround yourself with the sweetness and loveliness of the garden of the golden roses. You won’t be alone. Let me help you and care for you and fight for you. And trust me with your desires – trust me to choose and train the right prince at the right time for you. Will you do that?”

Looking into his loving and trustworthy eyes, Hope knew she could do all he asked of her, and she nodded.

“Then use this last evening in the Swamp well, Princess Hope, and I will return for you in the morning.” The Prince walked into the mist, and like a dream he was gone, except Hope felt more peaceful, joyful, and hopeful than she ever had before.

“Hop! Oh, Princess Hop! Where are you? I am ready for my goodnight kiss!” Hope shuddered a bit at the voice of the frog coming nearer. “There you are! I’ve been looking all over. What have you been doing?”

“I met the Great Prince,” Hope said.

The frog croaked. “That big royal joker? Sorry you had to deal with that… he can be pretty self-righteous, and stuck-up, can’t he?”

“Actually, he was quite wonderful. He gave me a new robe and good food, and offered to help me and care for me.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me! The nerve of that-”

“He’s coming for me tomorrow, and I trust him, so I’m going to leave and follow him… and never return.”

While Hope was very calm, the frog got more flustered by the minute. “What’s he got that I don’t got?!”

Hope almost laughed as a dozen answers instantly came to mind. But she felt a little sorry for the pitiful, selfish frog. He wasn’t evil; he was just a frog who put his hope in a kiss. She knelt in front of him. “I’ve had fun learning about your life and spending time with you in this swamp. But I want to live like a princess, and the Great Prince can show me how. And I think one of these days you will want to live like a prince, and He’s the one who can help you learn how. So when you are ready, find him, follow him, imitate him. You’re a good frog. And some day you will make a good prince.” With those words, she gave him one last kiss goodbye – a kiss of true compassion – and walked away.

Hope did not sleep that night. She wandered around the pond, sipping tea from lilies, singing with the cicadas, and mimicking the dance of the glittering fireflies. She was saying goodbye to the Swamp – her disappointments, failed dreams, and foolish hopes – without a tear of sadness. All she longed for now was the golden rose garden, a room prepared just for her in the Great Castle, and all the hopes that were to be fulfilled by the Great Prince in ways far more beautiful than she could imagine.

At dawn she saw his shadow, then his robe and his smiling face. He held out his hand to her, and as she took it, she stepped out of the Enchanted Swamp forever. Yes, she trusted him. She would put all of her hope in the Great Prince. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Hope (Part 4)

“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.”  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Hope (Part 3)

When morning came, Hope found that the frog had transformed a little more – he was quite as tall as a man, and nearly as pale. His toes weren’t so webbed and his nose was coming to a point. But he didn’t give her a look of fun, mischief or fond admiration… he looked a little annoyed.

“Say, what’s a fella gotta do around here to get some bugs?”

“Don’t you… catch them? You know, with your…” Hope cringed and pointed to his mouth.

“What, and ruin my breath for our next big kiss? You really want that? C’mon, Princess Hop, I have a feeling about true love’s kiss today… so let’s make it special, shall we?” he winked and said it in that tone that made her wonder what romantic plan he had to “make it special.”

“Come on, I’ll teach you how you can catch flies and make a fried fly pie to die for! And then, after a romantic dinner, that kiss – take #3!”

Hope was brave and strong through the catching, mashing, and frying of the flies. The frog even showed her plants in the swamp that complimented the dish like herbs and spices. But her courage wavered a bit when it came time to eat. Then she realized that the frog was looking less warty and his flat head was rounding out. Maybe this is working! she thought, and swallowed a mouthful of the pie without even tasting it. It was easier to kiss the frog this time because he didn’t seem so frog-like and there did seem to be an enchantment working on him, even if it was slower than she expected. So she chose to hope in him.

The frog smacked his lips loudly and thoughtfully, and wrinkled his newly evolved nose. “Too much fungus in the pie… and not enough desire in the kiss. Sorry Princess Hop, better luck tomorrow.” Then he left her alone with the mess from dinner and the growing feeling of frustration and doubt in her heart.

Days continued to pass in this way – Hope learned more about the frog’s way of living and so became more comfortable with life in the swamp. Every evening they would try true love’s kiss again, and it would conclude with some criticism from the frog. He would leave her in disgust, and she would feel more ashamed and more alone than ever before. She thought often of her father’s garden on those dark and muddy nights, and wondered if she would ever see tulips, daffodils, violets, or roses again.

One night after the frog had gone away, Hope sat on the muddy bank and cried.  “Princess, why are you crying?” the voice was gentle and kind, and Hope was surprised when she looked up and saw an old man with a bald head and a long beard. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “My name is Judson, and I am a friend of the Great King. And I believe you are Hope, yes? Although, judging by your tears, you do not feel very hopeful. Will you tell me why?”

Hope sniffed and wiped her eyes. “I’m very tired,” she said. “Tired of not being good enough, of being away from my family, of not seeing gardens of familiar flowers, and of living like… a frog.”

“I see,” Judson said patiently, though he wasn’t sure he did. “So then, why are you still here? Why don’t you leave?”

Hope laughed a little weak, bitter laugh, shook her head and burst into tears again. “I ask myself that every night! But it is the strangest thing… every day the frog looks more like a prince – his skin, face, legs, hands – today I even noticed hair on the top of his head! But he doesn’t act like a prince – in fact, he seems to be meaner and more critical and more demanding every day. But when I look at him, I think the enchantment must be working, so I need to be patient and try harder.”

“Oh, the enchantment is working, alright, but not on him - on you!” Judson whisked a small bloom off a lily pad. “I always find that a nice cup of tea helps me to calm down and think more clearly. Would you care to join me?”

“Tea! But there is no tea in this Swamp!”

“But of course there is! It’s just that frogs prefer to splash in it rather than sip it properly.” And with that he scooped some of the brown-green water into the lily cup and held it out to Hope. “Don’t worry,” he said in response to her skeptical look. “It is enchanted to be perfectly healthy to drink. I know… I made it so.”

With a tentative sip, Hope smiled. It was delicious and comforting, and did help her to calm down. She took another sip and sighed. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Hope (Part 2)

Hope decided not to analyze the situation too much. Sure, it was a frog, and sure, kissing a warty amphibian in the mud with leathery, paper-rough folds and flabs of skin that resembled a thick green tongue was not very desirable. Ewwww…! But who was she to look down on him? She was just a simple flower girl whom no man seemed to want. She took a deep breath in and held it, then closed her eyes, puckered her lips, leaned close, and sssmmmooooooch!

Her eyes popped open to watch the miraculous transformation, but the same frog with the same warts, folds, flab, and tongue squatted before her. And he didn’t seem surprised at the lack of results. “Nice one!” he grinned and winked, then rubbed and licked his lips as if to recall and critique the kiss. “But uh, maybe a little rushed. I’m not sure you really meant it.”

Hope blinked. “That’s why you’re still a frog – because I didn’t mean it? I thought you said the kiss was the key!” Of course she hadn’t meant it, at least not beyond the hopeful attempt to find a prince. How humiliating… she should have known it wouldn’t be that easy.

“Calm down, Princess Hop,” the frog said without concern. “Sometimes these things take time. Sometimes the kiss needs some work. Sometimes a girl’s gotta try a little harder, love a little deeper, give a little more. Hope is risky – but you gotta take the leap!” With that he jumped high in the air and landed on her shoulder. “Yes, Princess, you are a risky one, but I am willing to work with you, ’cause I think you have potential. Stay in the Swamp for a while. I’ll teach you to swim, and tonight we’ll watch the fireflies dance. You’ll love it!”

Hope was a little confused. She thought it was the frog who would change – transform into a handsome and charming prince – that was what she’d always heard before, wasn’t it? It never occurred to her that she would have to change to suit a frog! But, not seeing any charming princes anywhere, she resigned herself to following his lead. A frog had to be better than nothing, and besides, it wouldn’t be forever. If she changed, then maybe he would change, too.

As promised, she did learn how to swim like the frog, and that night they sat together on a mound of moss and watched the elegant, shimmering dance of the fireflies. And Hope smiled – in an odd way, she was having fun. She enjoyed being with the frog and doing new things. Exhausted from a long day of travelling, swimming, and giving her first kiss to a frog who was still a frog, she fell asleep.

In the morning, she woke up and was startled to see that the frog was a little paler and about three feet taller. “Oh my!” she exclaimed, “You are changing!”

“So are you, Princess Hop! Say, have you ever played leap frog?” he asked with a mischievous grin. That day, the frog showed Hope how to hop, skip, and jump from one lily pad to the next, both of them making horrible sloppy splashes each time. Then they leapt over each other, then competed to see who could jump higher, then who could fly further in one bound.

The whole day passed in this fashion of fun and games – jumping, splashing, and laughing together. And when they were both soaking wet and tired, the frog said, “How about we try that kiss again?” He looked muddy and slimy now, and as wrinkled and warty as ever, but Hope thought she probably looked just as bad, so she bent down and kissed him again.

Again, no magic seemed to occur, and Hope frowned, feeling even more embarrassed and disappointed than before. The frog also acted disappointed… in her. “Princess Hop, you still don’t have it quite right… not quite good enough for a prince. But hey, there’s always tomorrow!”

There’s always tomorrow?  thought Hope, incredulous. How many tomorrows would there have to be before she was good enough to deserve a prince? The fireflies started to light up the swamp again, but she was suddenly weary and worn, and found a soft patch of moss to lie down on and went to sleep.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Hope (Part 1)

Once upon a time, there was a Great King, who lived in a Great Castle, and ruled a Great Kingdom and all the Realms Beyond. One of these realms lay at the far edge of the Great Forest, and was known throughout the entire world for its Enchanted Swamp. Ancient legend told that this swamp was the home of a number of frogs who had great potential to become princes. If only a brave and selfless maiden would come and bestow true love’s kiss, she could leave the realm and return home on the arm of a handsome royal husband, live like a princess in a palace, and carry out the remainder of her days happily ever after. And so, eager and hopeful young ladies would travel from all over the Great Kingdom to seek out the men of their dreams.

One such young lady was named Hope. She was simple but lovely, the daughter of a gardener, who sold posies cut from her father’s well-tended bushes to passers-by in the quiet streets of the sleepy village where they lived. Her father was a good man who loved his family and worked hard to provide a comfortable life for them. But he did not have the financial or social advantages that were needed in those days to secure a good match for Hope in marriage. It seemed none of the local bachelors were interested in marrying the flower girl for her smile. She was pretty and sweet, true, but she did not stand out as exceptional in any way – she was quiet and shy, not very witty or flirtatious, not educated or accomplished, and had no dowry or chance of improving her own station.

Hope knew this, and felt the tremendous pressure of social expectation to wed, and the personal burden to honor her family by marrying well, besides the strong desire to belong to someone who would love and care for her. Her prospects were slim, and getting even slimmer as she heard news of courtships, engagements, and weddings all around her. She had to do something brave, and she knew it would not happen in her hometown. So one night, she disappeared into the darkness, and though she disappeared without leaving a note or clue as to her reasons or destination, her family knew she had gone where so many other desperate single ladies had gone over the years.

As Hope entered the Enchanted Swamp, she felt as though she were finally living up to the fullness of her name. The swamp was actually quite beautiful in its own way, with Spanish moss swinging from thick cypress trees that grew out of the brown-green water, surrounded by wide lily pads, graced with delicate white blooms. There weren’t the bountiful, colorful varieties of flowers that she had come to love back home, but she resolved to enjoy what she saw. There was a wild, mournful, and lonely music in the air – humming cicadas, lazily lapping water, and the rhythmic croaking of frogs. Frogs! Hope could see hundreds of them, fat and warty, with heavy eyelids and quick smooth tongues to snatch flies and-

“Well, helloooo Princess!”

Hope whirled around, looking for the source of the pleasant baritone voice, but she saw no one.
“Down here, Princess. I’m a bit closer to the ground, so you’ll have to lower your gaze and you’re your expectations.”

Looking down, she saw a frog. She stooped in the mud to see him better. “Oh, hello there, little frog! But I’m not a princess; my name is Hope, and I’m just a flower girl from the little town of Arcadia.”

“Who cares? If you are here, you might as well be a princess! Hope, you say? How ‘bout I call you Princess Hop, kind of as a nickname? All you have to do is prove you love me, then I can turn into a prince and you-”

“But… I don’t love you! How can I? I don’t even know you!”

“Semantics, darling, it’s all just words. Love is a romantic idea. Everyone knows the kiss is the key. One little kiss, and all your dreams will come true.”