“I’m here to kiss the frog,” she whispered to him. Her cheeks blushed as she glanced down at the ground. “What about you? Why are you here?”
Luke had to recover quickly from her words, which felt like a giant blow to the stomach. The shattering he felt inside was his world of hope crumbling into a million pieces.
“Uh…the sword,” he said. “I…I want to try to pull the sword from that rock.” He pointed to one of the traveling show booths. ‘FIND YOUR DESTINY’ the banners everywhere proclaimed. The line of men was long and winding as they waited to try their hand at pulling the magical sword free. Even early in the morning, it looked to Luke like the whole village had come out.
He turned back to Ella, the sweetest, prettiest girl in the whole village (at least to him). Visions of her kissing the frog and breaking the prince’s spell made him feel sick. It could happen! Wasn’t she the most beautiful in the land? She would then be a princess, marry the frog prince, and he would never see her again.
No, this was not how true love was supposed to be, he thought. She was HIS true love. He knew it. Ever since they were wee children he had been in love with her.
The whole reason he was here was to prove to her that he was someone special, worthy of not just her friendship but her everlasting love.
“I hoped to try on the glass slipper but I guess some other girl fit into it some time ago. I don’t see it here,” Ella went on. She looked around the small fair, her long blond hair gleaming like gold in the sunlight.
She had worn her favorite dress too, Luke noted. A soft blue that matched her eyes. The dress gathered at her waist to show that the last of childhood was gone and she was a young woman now. His heart ached. She looked so beautiful and he was about to lose her forever. As the son of a goat herder, he had no way to compete with the affections of a prince.
Not unless he pulled that sword out. He took a deep breath, maybe a little too deep because the countryside around him tipped. His heart beat fast.
“Wish me luck?” he asked. “A…kiss maybe? You know, practice for the …um, frog?” He could feel his own cheeks aflame.
Ella giggled and stood on her tip-toes to place a quick peck on his cheek. “Good luck, Luke!”
He stood there stunned for a moment and then broke out into a huge smile. “I will pull the sword for you, Ella. You’ll see.”
And he marched over to the line of men, his chin raised in glorious confidence. The feel of her lips still lingered on his cheek and he reveled in it.
Until he watched as Ella disappeared into the crowd of women waiting to kiss the frog. That brought his spirits down with a sigh. He was just a thin scrap of a young man. Compared to the hardened, muscled arms of the village men in front of him, how could he possibly have any hope of pulling the sword if they couldn’t?
Luke saw man after man leave the booth with dejected expressions. Some were sad, some in a furious rage. Ever since the flyers had been posted a week ago, proclaiming to the village that the fabled Show of Destiny was to visit them, each person had secret dreams of glory. A chance to trade this small country life for one as Prince (or Princess) of an entire kingdom.
Lost in thought, he did not notice it was his turn until a gruff, burly man snapped at him to “step up and see if he was worthy enough to break the spell”.
Luke’s hands suddenly were slick with sweat. Oh no, he thought. He brushed his hands against his woolen trousers and placed them on the hilt.
Now was the moment. He pulled with all of his might and felt the sword ease out of the rock. He cried out as the hilt came out from his hands. Arms flailing like pinwheels, he fell right on his ass.
The men in the line snickered. That was when he realized that the sword had not come free but his sweaty palms had only made it seem so.
He had failed.
With supreme embarrassment, he picked himself up and fled the booth. Ella stood not too far off, he saw, chattering with other girls. But he could not face her. Not now.
He ducked into a nearby tent to hide. The tent held another attraction but this one was empty of lines. Luke saw why. In the middle of the tent, a dead, rotting woman laid in a glass coffin. He recoiled.
“Would you dare a kiss upon the fairest princess in the land?” a dwarf said from behind.
“Uhh, no thanks.” Luke turned to leave but the dwarf stood in his way.
“I beg you, dear boy. This woman is beloved by so many. A whole kingdom prays for the day she is resurrected. Are you sure you cannot spare a single kiss to heal her?”
Luke startled at the dwarf’s vehemence. More out of fear of the crazy dwarf man than anything, he went over to the glass coffin. The lid was already open and he smelled the sickening sweet perfume used to cover the stench of rotting decay. It did not work very well.
Quick, he thought. Just a quick kiss.
Lightning-fast he bent over and kissed her.
“On the lips, you simpleton,” the dwarf growled.
Luke cringed but once again, he bent over and kissed her. Full on the lips this time, pressed against her hard and good so the dwarf would make no mistake at his effort. Something popped and oozed against him. He pulled back, swiping a sleeve against his mouth as he saw that part of her lips had disintegrated.
Oh no. He felt the nausea rising. He turned and stumbled out from the tent. Into the tall grass, he fell to his knees and became sick. Thankfully no one from the fair could see.
With the contents of his stomach emptied, he laid down, his face against the cool dew. A cry of triumph sounded from the tents. A horn blared.
“SHE IS AWAKE!” Someone called to the entire fair. “The Princess has been awakened!”
Luke heard the rising cacophony of excited voices getting closer. A horrible twist in his stomach as he heard: “Where is the boy? The one who kissed her and broke the spell?”
“Here he is.” Luke recognized the dwarf’s voice above him. A crowd circled around, making him wish he could just hide under a rock. The smell of his sickness made the gathering of people take a step back. He looked up to see Ella’s eyes wide with shock and confusion.
The dwarf prodded him to get up. Luke wavered when he finally stood, feeling faint and surreal. “My dear boy,” the dwarf said. “We must get you to the castle immediately, along with the Princess. There will be a parade like you’ve never seen! And then you will be married!”
At his words, the flap of the tent pulled back and Luke saw that the ugly, rotting corpse had transformed into a gorgeous woman of a beauty he had never seen before. Not even Ella could compare. The princess came over to Luke and threw her arms around him. “My hero!” she whispered with tears in her eyes. “My savior forever.”
* * *
“So?” The prince paced back and forth. His long mane of hair was matted and tangled from the endless nights of worry. He now tried to run his hands through it but they got stuck. “Ugh! Tell me, wizard.”
“Yes, my Prince. I believe I have finally broken the evil Queen’s spell! The princess should be alive again. But it has been so long since her death. Do you even know where she is?”
The prince’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “Not a clue.”