The frog Princess

a short Story

Once Upon a time in a semi- feudal age in a somewhat rural backwater where nothing much ever happened, there lived a girl. At this stage of the story it doesn’t matter what the girl’s name was but what does matter was that the girl felt hard done by – by life, even though she was only fourteen and hadn’t experienced much of it yet and the bits that she had experienced well, they didn’t make much sense to her except that her future seemed to be carved in something like stone, and to be as unappealing as if it had been written on a wall in baby’s business.
Now at the time the girl was living at home with her parents and her two sisters in a kind of ramshackle bungalow that stood on slightly hilly land between the area’s many dairy farms and the lovely unlogged old forest that covered the range of low hills the fields had been made from by countless generations of woodcutters, who no doubt insisted on their wives doing their wifely duty after dinner – and beat them if they didn’t, she would add in a grumpy mutter… And her future seemed to be restricted to getting married to one of the pimply boys of the area and keeping the house clean while he tilled as much in the way of fields as he had access to, and making sure food was ready when he came home from the fields smelling of cow poo and sweat, and then, unless the evidence of her eyes deceived her, either submitting herself to her wifely duty or a beating, depending entirely on the direction of his inclinations; though as she thought about it, the marriage option seemed to consist purely of being an unpaid housekeeper, who would be suspect to beatings at the whim of her employer. And his Love, of course. At this thought she would find her face growing warm and her mouth growing dry. Or there was one alternative although still rare in the area. She could, with the permission of her father, put herself out for work as a maid, for pay, hoping in time to work her way up by promotion through chambermaid to either housekeeper or cook, depending on her abilities. As alternatives went, it wasn’t perfect, since a life of meaningless drudgery looking after other peoples belongings was lacking in appeal.

Yllyne, (for that was her name), had developed a rather cynical attitude to the question after years of fretting about marriage, “wifely duties” and other such weighty matters. In all the time that Yllyne had been fretting about her plight she had never considered that life was just as hard – if not harder for the menfolk of the land. Hard physical labour in the fields every day from before dawn until it was almost too dark to see, every day of the year from when they were quite young boys until they’d become raddled old men. And they were so rude. Father hardly had a civil word to say for himself in the hour or so he managed to stay awake after he returned from the fields. In fact mother had confessed to her once, the whole idea of “wifely duties” made her sick nowadays and if he was too tired to try, and too tired to beat her in the event that his attempt was rejected, or insufficiently dutiful well, that was all to the good, wasn’t it?”

So it seemed that at least one person in the Porton house was happy besides, of course, for Woofie who kept himself mostly to the back yard because he wasn’t allowed in the house and liked to eat everything, from old mattresses to the prized produce of his privately-owned-bone-mine near the workshop. And Miaow seemed to be happy too, even though she did seem to be asleep most of the time, but she usually seemed to be smiling in her sleep, so Yllyne decided that it was the humans of the house on Porton Down that were unhappy and not the animals, and the animals for the most part seemed to be happy because they were free to do what they wanted to do. If Woofie wanted to chase pigeons or rats, he just did. If Miaow was woken from a nice nap, she’d give a loud theatrical sigh, that was almost a snort and stalk off. Pretty soon thereafter she’d be found somewhere else, blissfully asleep again, probably dreaming of summer butterflies. So if the animals were happy, because they simply did what they wanted to to, that was all very well, but how did they work out what they wanted to do? At a guess Yllyne decided Miaow’s plan wasn’t much more complicated than finding the love of her life, giving birth to a goodly number of kittens, and washing them, the way that mother cats had been doing since the beginning of time – but somewhere secret to keep them safe. Yllyne hoped that when Miaow’s time came, Miaow would trust her enough to let her see the kittens, she’d only seen kittens once in her life and the meeting had made her very happy. She thought she probably knew why Miaow smiled in her sleep.
So, she frowned to herself, how could she emulate the animals and grasp at some happiness for herself? She had no desire to eat rats or pigeons with Woofie and no intention of having kittens either – it was very annoying.

As it happened, Yllyne’s time spent fretting was wasted and life took the decision out of her hands. While she was out one day, gathering acorns and nuts at the edge of the old forest, a neighbour came past to visit. Mr Peabody was an acquaintance of her Mother and Father from church. He was a bachelor man of some forty years, whose companion, due to increasing ill-health and disability could no longer care for him. Mr Peabody, who made a decent living as a potter, since he had his own wheel and kiln, was looking for a housekeeper and cook, someone who was young and might learn the craft of creating pottery. Yllyne’s father, instantly thought of Yllyne for reasons that should be quite obvious and Yllyne’s mother immediately started advocating hard on the plan. Seemingly overnight Mr Peabody was convinced, the plan became a reality and Yllyne was bundled up and off to MrPeabody’s small house further down the valley.

Mr Peabody’s house was quite small and very neat indeed, he seemed to be coping well enough on his own Yllyne thought, but as he explained over dinner, she was there for company as much as anything else, and he said; “Before you jump to the wrong conclusions, we have separate bedrooms.” His, she found was on the ground floor, overlooking the garden, and was entirely his responsibility, hers was also on the ground floor, but much smaller and on the far side of the house looking out east over the kitchen garden. She preferred hers even though it was not much bigger than a good-sized cupboard. His bigger, more ostentatious room looked out over the flowers, but she preferred her view, the plants were more stolid working plants more in tune with the new, more adult outlook on life she was trying to inculcate in herself largely due to her mothers’s parting advice, as the horse, loaded with her few belongings, had started to amble off following Mr Peabody along the downhill track into the forest.

Yllyne and Peeder settled into a companionable rut remarkably quickly, Peeder was secluded in the potting shed or around the kiln most of most days, except for the perhaps one-day a fortnight, when he would venture to the swamp to dig enough of the rich, red, smooth clay as he needed for whatever project he had in mind. Peeder took Yllyne on several of these trips, mostly to help deal with the horse who did not appreciate the load. But Yllyne soon found herself almost looking forward to them, not just because they got her out of the house and away from the jobs that Peeder didn’t like doing. But because she found she liked watching Peeder, stripped to the waist working hard with a shovel, he was lean, but impressively muscled and Yllyne would sometimes feel almost uncomfortably warm while she watched him.

So life continued, as it does whether you’re watching it or not, Peeder dug clay, made it into pottery and sold it at markets. Pottery itself is pretty easy and Yllyne picked most of it up for herself but Peeder taught her the rest, the tricks and trickier bits, like how to fine-tune her glazes. In no time at all it seemed their stuff was selling at markets side-by-side across the county. At first, Yllyne’s enjoyed a burst of popularity, due mainly to the novelty of the pottery being made by a woman, but her popularity didn’t last long enough for Peeder’s pout to become a scowl, and he certainly didn’t beat her, so she saw the fickleness of the pottery-buying public as a reward in its own right. Yet at same time, on a level so deeply suppressed she could only express it as occasional flashes of bad temper of bouts of tears, she felt, unfulfilled.

From what she had be told by those who should certainly know, “wifely duties” only occasionally required an actual marriage and Yllyne stayed alert to the slightest hint in that direction and any visit to her parent’s house quickly turned into an interrogation on the subject, conducted by Yllyne’s mother whose technique had all the finesse of a crosscut saw on a piece of fine bone china. But nothing, neither Yllyne, nor, perhaps just as importantly, her mother, could believe it.

When matters changed, it was quite unexpected, in fact, it was almost silly. One afternoon she swept the side hallway in the afternoon, instead of as was her wont, getting all the sweeping done in the morning. This day was different, it was hot, it had been raining and she had stayed in bed longer than usual, hoping the headache would pass by the time she had to prepare lunch. As it happened, the headache stayed with her through the preparation and eating of lunch and only abated about the time Peeder went back to the potting shed. She immediately started the cleaning she should have gotten done earlier. With that peculiar clarity that comes sometimes after a bad headache, she remembered thinking that she wished someone would invent a broom that actually swept dust rather than simply raising clouds of it to attract witches. She devoted great attention to the side hallway and by the time she was finished the floor was spotless. Early the next morning, there were muddy marks on the floor, and it was Peeder who rose late feeling unwell. Yllyne ate breakfast on her own and chewed her porridge slowly. She had lots to think about. Hypotheses whipped through her mind like book pages in a whirlpool. Obviously, loyalty had to be cast aside in the pursuit of clear thought – since they were both still alive and nothing had been stolen, it was very unlikely that the nocturnal visitor had been some kind of thief. In fact, since both of them were alive, she hadn’t been raped, and nothing seemed to have been disturbed. More to the point visitors were rare at their house and she was sure she’d sense if a stranger had been there in the night, still, there was no denying the reality of the muddy marks on the floor, they’d got there somehow, and she was determined to find out how.
Peeder pooh-poohed her concern “Who knew?” He giggled and “Why was she so worried?” Both questions irritated her but it was hard to tell which irritated her more. He really could be the most exasperating man sometimes. It was perhaps her irritation with Peeder’s attitude, perhaps just general truculence but for no clearly defined reason she began to wonder if Peeder himself might not have been responsible for the mud, and his oddly fey attitude be a response to having had them discovered and being questioned about them. Either way, that night found Yllyne wrapped in her blankets lying on the floor of her bedroom with her eye pressed to the jamb of her door, which was open the tiniest crack. From her position she had a just about plausible view of the door to Peeder’s room and she was sure, could not be easily seen in return since the room behind her was dark, as she had taken the precaution of closing both the shutters and curtains because there was a bright half moon on the rise over the hill, and the night before her room had been lit so bright she had half-woken from a fitful sleep.

She didn’t have long to wait. By her estimate it was scarcely three hours since they had both ostensibly gone to bed, and the fire in the front room was still almost glowing when she sensed rather than saw, movement in Peeder’s room. The vibration caused by bare feet on the floorboards across the house travelled into her ears from the place where her jaw rested on the floor. After a moment a drawer opened so softly that she almost doubted the evidence of her ears yet some seconds later the sound returned, apparently as the drawer closed. Peeder’s door opened from being partially lit, it became half-shadow, then a tall black oblong as it half-opened. A figure exited silently, in the jagged monochromatic Yllyne was only mostly sure that the figure was Peeder. The figure was naked, strangely hunched and seemed very pale in the slanting beams of moonlight.
As the figure turned, Yllyne glimpsed an erect penis bobbing in the figure’s loins. Since it was the first penis she had ever seen she paid very close attention, until her breath grew foul in her lungs and her head swam. The figure shuffled out of sight into the side hall and a moment later she heard the tiny faint sound of the door bolt being drawn back stealthily. A moment after that, due to an almost imperceptible change in the density of the air in the house she knew that the side door had been opened. She was terrified, her breath rasped in her throat and, this close to the floor, dust from between the planks set her eyes and nose running. She was desperate to sneeze! She pinched nose and mouth closed with her right hand, so tight that she was tempted to squeal in pain. Sneezed once into the seal of her hand, wanted to scream from the pain in her ears. Sat up. Silence. Waited. More silence. She stood and walked naked across the room on tiptoe to the window. Her skin crinkled into goose pimples as she went. She pressed her eye to the narrow slit in the curtains, squinting at the almost painfully bright light of the moon. Through one of the slats in the shutter outside she saw the figure move furtively through the kitchen garden, so quickly that it seemed impossible. The figure bent and whipped something from the ground stuffed it into a large dark patch in what must have been its head, and froze. Yllyne was sure the thing could see her through the tiny crack in the curtains and called on all her reserves of bravery to freeze motionless where she stood. The thing, Yllyne saw, had only three long thin fingers on each hand, terminating in a broad round flat nail, too stood motionless. She heard a faint rhythmic crunching and guessed the thing was chewing whatever it was that it had stolen from her garden. It sounded like a carrot. She dared to breathe again, but not to relinquish her position at the window. The thing that she couldn’t make sense of was that while the thing stood there in the moonlight silhouetted in the light of the moon behind it, it appeared to be naked yet at the same time somehow it seemed to be wearing a hood. It didn’t appear to have a neck. Also, when it came to it its legs and arms – they were somehow quite wrong. The legs were simply too thin and the arms seemed too short and not attached to the torso correctly. In fact, the longer she stood looking at it the wronger it looked, and the sicker it made her feel.
She desperately wanted to leave her position at the window. Her legs were growing weak and starting to shiver in the freezing cold. Worse still she needed to pee and the chamber-pot was on the other side of the room. She was quite sure that if she left the window and used the pot, the thing outside would know and she’d still be squatting over the pot and peeing when the door of her room would slowly open, and the thing would sidle in. That scenario was too horrible to contemplate. The other possibility which was growing ever more likely as time passed was that she’d just pee, right there, where she stood, down her shivering legs. That was so nasty that she was sure that the thing would just know -perhaps by smell, and she’d be standing there in a puddle, probably crying, and the thing would come up behind her – and god knew what would happen. She blinked, or perhaps her attention was too taken up in her inner thoughts, but before she’d almost realised that anything had happened, the thing had turned and run with horrible, blurred, unnatural swiftness, vaulted a fence higher than her head in a single bound and vanished into the shadows between the trees. After it was all over she found time to gasp.

Peeder’s bed was empty. She cried, then she went looking for him.

The latch gate in the fence squeaked a horrible loud rusty squeak but Yllyne didn’t really notice or care, her mind was still whirling with the happenings of the night – the fact that all Peeder’s clothes had still been in his room; except of course his big heavy greatcoat, which she was now wearing and his low soft riding boots which were even now crushing the freezing dew-sodden long grass under her feet. She looked about her the grass everywhere was black and silver in the light of the moon. She walked along parallel the fence to the point where the thing had left over it. The thing’s precise landing spot took some time to locate because it had seen fit not to just leap over it, but also to land twice the height of the fence on the far side of it.
There was no doubt of it – the small rosebush was completely crushed, blooms exploded across the dark patch of tilled bed at the base of the plant. It chilled her to the bone. She looked around, the thing had made a standing leap to a distance to some twenty paces, at well over her height. It had then, apparently, stood up, dusted itself off and walked off towards the outskirts of the forest and the swamp. She stood up, ignoring the momentary rush of dizziness, and set off after it. At the edge of the forest where the trees were sparse and far apart, the moonlight was bright silver on the patches between however, under each tree there would be a patch of deep black. It was hard to walk past those for fear that something was hiding there in the shadow, watching and waiting for the moment to leap out at her. The forest grew out in two arms along the upper edge of the dell that had the swamp at its base. She walked on trying to ignore the glowering black spaces between the closely packed trees on each side of her, it was mostly clear and well lit where she walked but she could not shake the feeling that things in the dark were watching her, even though she did her best to ignore it. She continued on, downhill along the narrow path towards the swamp. It was very bright here as she walked directly toward the half moon which shone above the treeless swamp, that and her eyes had had had time to adjust to the light. Before long the grasses around the path grew longer in patches around reflective pools of water or mud. With the first grey hints of dawn in the sky the frogs had grown very loud and occasionally, a bird would twerp sleepily. She walked on with no certain knowledge of where she was going or if indeed she was still following the thing. Simple surmise led her on, and if she thought about it at all, decided that boldness would protect her.
The path lead along an narrow ridge between two lily-filled ponds both ringed with sparse growths of bullrush. As Yllyne squinted at the path, reassuring herself that it indeed, wasthe path and not some will’o’the wisp track into danger, she became aware somehow on some level far beneath that of her normal senses, that on their side of the right hand pond was a small boulder. This, of course, her thinking mind assured her, was totally impossible. Boulders, if they exist in swamps at all do not perch on the row between ponds. If they exist at all they are deep down having sunk through the soft sodden earth over years. Her subconscious mind didn’t bother with such niceties; It just gibbered to itself the way a rabbit does when it freezes before an on-coming fox.

The boulder stood up.

Yllyne squeaked. It was an ugly noise and quite painful to produce. Somehow she managed to exhale and inhale at the same time, and the alternate directions of air had some kind of s nasty collision in her vocal chords. Dealing with the blast of adrenaline that hit her like a speeding bull, and the pain in her ears and throat caused by her strange vocalisations she swayed on the uneven ground.
In the strange light of the moon and the growing billows of ground mist her vision started to clarify.
“Peeder? Peeder? is that you?” She breathed explosively and her head swum. Her mind was at war with itself. It was Peeder and the hairs on the back of her neck demanded their right to vote on the subject.

Peeder bounced across the pond, quicker than her eyes could follow, a distance of some fifteen paces. One second he was a full body half silhouette on the other side of the pond, before she could blink her eyes closed his face filled her entire field of vision, then he hit her a full body impact that sent them both flying back onto the marshy ground behind her. In the squelching mud, his tongue slithered deep down her throat as his body pressed itself on hers through her gaping greatcoat. His body was cold and clammy. Sticking to hers like porridge on a breakfast dish. She tried to scream, and his tongue vibrated sluggishly, deep in her throat. 
When she woke dawn had passed, becoming the morning of what promised to be a fine day.

Peeder was late for breakfast shambling in after the smell of fried eggs had cooled and fallen to the floor.
“Sorry.”
“Slugabed.”
For awhile they ate in companionable silence. As Yllyne ate and fussed with the clammy sticky patch of skin on her forearm, she stared at the texture of Peeder’s skin where it met the neck of his shirt, it was very pale and rubbery. At the end of breakfast Yllyne went out into the garden, through the gate and down the track towards the swamp. She understood that Peeter would follow her. The frogs sang their welcome very loud.

Copyright (C) 2019Alex Rieneck All Rights Reserved

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