The Frog stared at his reflection in the Pond. Given to sighing lately. A lot. And staring. Not his usual self. Which was pretty happy-go-lucky. The Pond Folk liked him. He got on well with all of them. More than the other frogs, actually. He was not the oldest or the biggest frog in the Pond. But he understood. It was this understanding that set him apart. He understood the Pond Dwellers. What they said. Any of them. All of them. And, if they asked him to listen, he listened. Really listened. And understood. And cared. --- So, he was liked. Well liked. --- Until lately. --- Lately, well, lately, he'd been glum. And a glum frog is very glum indeed.
It seemed it was the visits to the Pond by the very plain-faced and unhappy girl that was getting to him. It had puzzled the Frog for weeks. Why he felt her sorrow so strongly and why he s strongly wished to help. He'd tried to distract her at first. By making huge jumps. Truly spectacular, some of them. ----- Nothing. ------ Then he would miss his landing pads. On purpose. Sending up giant splashes, --- Still nothing. He'd sent his tongue out so far after fly-by flies he'd thought at times he might have snapped the roll-back control. --- But, nothing --- Lastly, he'd tried serenading her, knowing his croaks, while deep and true, were hoarse and far from musical. ---- But there was no reaction. Nothing at all. Not even a frown.
She didn't speak. She didn't sigh. She simply squatted by the Pond and peered at her face, reflected there in the water. And there she'd remain, perfectly still, looking, and weeping silent tears. Her face was quite broad. Her brow was low. Her mouth was thin-lipped and wise, turning downward, And yet, she would come each day. And there she would stay, squatting, frozen, watching herself, sometimes softly keening, misery personified.
After weeks of this, the Frog became miserable as well. Because she was so odd, so unknown, and yet somehow quite familiar. But as she never spoke, the Frog's ability to understand what was said was useless. He couldn't help. And so he sulked. -- And sighed. -- A lot. In time, the Pond Folk were sick of it -- of his acting so weird. All sad and downcast for days and then all silly and off-the-wall suddenly, what with the jumping and the splashing and the croaking. And he paid them little or no attention at all. So when they figured out it was the girl, they were truly disquieted. Disgruntled, even.
It was the Water Lily who was first to speak, beginning by dumping him off her Lily pad to get his full attention: "Do you know my lineage is of the hyacinth family? Do you know that the hyacinth was once a precious stone called the sapphire, valued above all others by the Ancients? Do you know that their love of beauty was so strong that they wished to see the sapphire as a living thing? And so created the family of hyacinths, one branch of which is mine - the Water Lily? Now, I am here, rooted in a muddy pond bottom. There are no more powerful Ancients. And humans see me as a common water weed - even a pesky plant. Yet, still, I bloom and I live and am fair content with Life. -- But you!! Look at you! Seated on my lily pad -- as a Prince on his throne -- a prince among frogs. But croaking at that girl, jumping, splashing. And then diving down among my muddy roots to sit and sulk! Over her!"
As the Water Lily drew breath to continue her scolding, the Dragon Flies broke in:
"Did you know that we once were real dragons? That as dragons we flew high and were fierce warriors? We flew higher and were fiercer than the Flying Monkeys - and we breathed fire! It was their jealousy over how high we flew and how fierce we were and of our fire that led them to beg the Wicked Witch cast a spell of us. And she did. Making us as we are now. She doused our fire and mocked our beauty and fierceness by giving us iridescent wings, fragile and beautiful, instead. Flying insects! No longer warriors. No longer fierce fighters. Except in heart. We have fierce hearts. Despite our sorrows. Yes, we know beauty and we know sorrow -- and your sulks dismay and disappoint us!"
The Bumble Bees who had been busily buzzing nearby swarmed over to push in and begin their tale as well:
"Bumblers, we were, each one of us, all found to be always clumsy and awkward, always full of spills and blots and spills and breakage. And so the Old Gods, in their way of perverse humor, turned us into fat, fuzzy, yellow-and-black striped flying bumblers, always buzzing and bumbling, clumsiness never to be forgotten. Or forgiven. Worse, our spirit never again to be embodied as human. Living now in service to a Queen Bee. Trapped in the hive as a drone, a nursemaid, or made to be a worker, ever bumbling among beautiful blooms, to gather nectar for honey and the hive nursery and to collect pollen on our fat fuzzy clumsy bumbling bodies to leave behind on other blooming flowers. So there will be beautiful blossoms - from which to sip nectar and gather pollen - next year. And the next. And the next and the next - forever! Ever in service to beauty but having none ourselves. To our sorrow. Beauty and sorrow. We know them both. Too well."
It was too much for Frog. Down and down he dove, carrying himself deep beneath the water, there to settle on the murky Pond bed and think himself through just what his problem involved and why it seemed to be all about the girl; at once so known and still unknowable. Why was his heart so sore, his spirits so blue, and why -- WHY -- was he bugging everyone?
The next morning, determined to change his unhappy ways, he decided to amuse himself and pay no attention to whether or not the girl came once again to despair at the side of the Pond. The sun was out. The sky was a piercing blue. The clouds were puffing along in the breezes. Flies were plentiful. The Dragon Flies and the Bumble Bees were going about this business, ignoring him for the most part, but their energy seemed friendly. So he set off on a game of hop-scotching across Lily pads. And they quickly joined in by drifting out of line at the very last minute or popping up in front of him just as he was readying himself for an extra-long leap -- so he knew he was forgiven his moods by the royal hyacinth sapphire Water Lily, too.
It startled him when he heard an unfamiliar voice, speaking directly to him:
"When I was but a seed, I dreamt of sending my roots deep into the heart of the earth and of reaching my branches high enough to brush the sky, but it was not to be. It seemed the God Pan wanted branches that would hang, like leafy curtains, draping clear to the ground, so that he could act the fool and better play hide and seek for the better catch and release off the water and woodland nymphs. Thus we, too, must ever live by water and close to woods. We must bend our branches down to trail along the ground. And so we weep, and are known for both beauty and sorrow. We are called Weeping Willow, and our name bears truth. We know our beauty but we know our sorrows better. "But the girl, Frog! The girl! She came first to the Pond to look upon her face, reflected in the Pond's still waters, and what she saw there has caused her pain. She comes again and again now - to look and to mourn. For her family named her Beauty, but all her life she has been told that she possesses none, and her reflection tells her that it is this that is Truth, not her name. -- That her name is but a cruel joke. For her face is much like yours, Frog. She has none of the blonde-haired blue-eyed beauty of legend and nor any of the raven-haired dark-eyed beauty of fairy-tales. Each day that she comes to look, she sees the plain truth. She is more homely than beautiful of face. And each day she grows more weary of her pain - of her name. Her face, she feels, is a penance for the hubris of that name. -- Her family is all dead. She is alone. She sorrows hard, Frog. Her spirit grows faint. Her heart weeps. She cannot see beyond her reflection to the beauty of heart, of spirit. I fear for her, Frog. She is in despair. She is here now. But today she has sought out Penny Royal. I fear for her, Frog. Go to her, Frog. Go and tend to her!"
The Frog had never before been spoken to by the Weeping Willow. He didn't spend much time sitting on the sunken log beneath its branches, where he now sat. He was mostly out on the Pond, where he was used to hearing the Lily pads prattle and preen until the Lilies called them to order! -- He was used to the Dragon Flies who ate the same gnats and midges, flies and mosquitoes as he did. And he knew their cheers over a great catch and their jeers over a missed one, just as he was used to the gentle joshing amongst themselves as they set to eating-orgy contests when the Mayflies hatched. -- He loved to listen in on Bumble Bees as they shared news of new and beautiful flowers and blossoming weeds that grew in the fields and nearby meadows. Birds, butterflies, turtles, toads, little fish gulping and big fish gulping. But not the Weeping Willow,
Suddenly the Sun was caught and quickly covered by the clouds now clustering together to darken the sky. The breezes rushed the Pond, sending up laplets and causing creases in the surface of the water. The Frog shivered. A very un-frog-like thing. He knew where the Penny Royal grew. It was on the farthest side of the Pond. He didn't go there. The other frogs had set that example and he had simply followed it. But now. -- He hesitated.
"Frog!" It was the Weeping Willow again. "Don't turn away now. Listen to me. Go to the girl! Hurry! Go! Go now!"
And the Frog dove from his perch and swam for the far side of the Pond. She was there. But not, this day, squatting in stillness. Instead, she was rapidly plucking the leaves of the Penny Royal, gathering them to fill her apron.
"Frog," breathed a voice. "She is harvesting my leaves. She means to brew a bitter cup of my tea. While I can be of use to those who seek my cures, those who seek to die can use me to court Death. She has found no cure for her life's woes and so seeks Death. -- Do ye ken what I'm for telling ya', eh? "
It was the Penny Royal speaking to him. Now, the bull frog had made a strong forthright jump that had landed him right where he caught sight of himself and the girl, in a dual-reflection, captured in the now mirror-like surface of the Pond. And he saw at once how closely they resembled one another. It was this familiarity that he'd not understood before. He was used to his face. He'd never felt himself to be ugly. Or beautiful. Just -- frog. He raised his gaze to the girl, and she returned it without flinching. Her sorrow filled the air around her and enveloped him. It hurt him. That terrible sadness. He bent his head to escape her pain. And felt her touch upon his head. He looked up to meet again her gaze fastened upon him. "Poor frog," she said and leaning down she kissed him.
In a mili-second, he found himself standing. And knew himself to be both himself as he had always been and himself as he had never been in living memory. But his own astonishment had to be put aside, for the girl was now lying at his feet.
Again the Penny Royal spoke, and he was astonished anew, for he could still hear and understand. --- "I am ancient. I have always offered help - for good or evil. This Pond is now one of the few places I am welcomed. The girl is a healer. She is schooled in the art of herbal medicine. But today she has tired of her sorrows, of what she perceives as her lack of beauty, though Beauty is her name and is her nature and true beauty is of being, not of face. As yours was and is. Yet, she will still see her face reflected in yours. Will she find there as well a loving heart to reflect her true beauty? Will she discover true love of true beauty?"
And the Prince, for that is what he was, ever had been and ever would be, only cast under a spell by his father's enemies these past many centuries, bent to pull the girl into his arms. As he did so he saw himself reflected in the Pond's clear waters. Human now. But still very like the frog he had been. His form human, but very frog-like. Little or no neck, with short thick torso, and what height there was owed to two log slim yet well-muscled legs. His skin smooth. His head quite bald. His face broad and squat, with eyes too wide-set and slightly bulging. His mouth much too wide and thin-lipped. -- But he stood in kindness and spoke with purpose, his voice still the raspy basso profundo, deep and croaky, of a frog, but lit with a warmth he felt for the girl. "Come, he said to her. "Open your eyes, Beauty. For Beauty you are and ever will be to me. Come. Be my bride. Teach me your healing skills. My father and family are long dead and gone. Prince I may be, but there is no kingdom to inherit nor land to rule. Only me. Prince. --- That is what I am called. --- And you are Beauty. My Beauty. Together we can make a home here by the Pond, where we can live and be happy, healing all who come for help, listening to all they have to tell, offering them healing and hope."
And Beauty kissed Prince
in answer. --- And all that he said came to be. --- And so it
was. --- And so it still may be.