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The Enchanted Swamp

Once upon a time there was an enchanted swamp filled with frogs and snails, dragon flies and turtles, and one hundred thirty one different species of fish. Since it was enchanted all of the animals in the swamp could speak to each other. The animals didn't know it was enchanted though. They just sort of assumed that animals everywhere could speak and understand speech. Nobody told them that they were special. Nobody could. Enchantments protect themselves.

One day an old log drifted into the swamp. There was nothing unusual about that. Stray bits of wood were always drifting into the swamp. This log was larger than most, and the frogs thought it was a very good platform for delivering speeches. Frogs, you see, are very political. When they can speak they like to orate at length. Like most political animals, frogs are long on oratory and high principles, and short on practicality.

Sometimes frogs would just sit on the log and ruminate about the problems of the day. Doremus Frog was fond of sitting there and thinking about her problems. (Among frogs Doremus is a female name.)

Doremus was a member of the Revisionist Revolutionary Supreme Council and as such had a lot of problems. She would sit on the log and mutter about the failings of her fellow council members and about the horrid actions of the Anura Supremacy Party.

One day as Doremus was muttering the log spoke up. This was very surpising. As far as the animals in the swamp knew, logs and other stray bits of wood didn't speak. No way, not ever. After she got over her shock Doremus said, "Excuse me sir, but I didn't quite catch what you said."

The log harumphed. It knew perfectly well that it had spoken clearly. Doremus had simply been too surprised to pay any attention to what the log had actually said. However, the log was polite so it repeated what it had said before.

"Excuse me, Madame Frog, but I've been listening to frogs for some time now, and it seems to me that you frogs complain a lot, but you never seem to settle on a course of action. Why is that?"

Doremus replied, "That's because we are frogs. It is in the nature of frogs to jump around. Somehow she didn't think to ask why the log could speak. She couldn't. Enchantments protect themselves.

The log said, "I see. It's very different for logs. We stay in one place so we get the chance to think things out."

Doremus got very excited. "We frogs never get organized and we don't have any common sense because we are always jumping around. What we need is a king like other animals have, but frogs could never agree on one of their own as king. You could be our king! Would you do that?"

"Maybe you should talk to the other frogs first."

Doremus blushed. (Frogs get dark green when they blush.) "Oh, yes, of course. I will call a convocation of frogs so that we can elect a king."

The log thought that Doremus might be hasty in assuming that the other frogs would want to elect a king. He didn't say anything though - old logs are very wise and know when not to say anything.

But Doremus was right. The other frogs were all very excited at the thought of having a king. Doremus stood on the log and explained at length why it should be king. The frogs applauded. However the log noticed that each faction was sure that a king would be on their side. The log thought to itself that that didn't sound very promising. It didn't matter. When all of the speeches were done the frogs unanimously elected the log as their king.

Despite the log's doubts things turned out well - sort of. The frogs would come to the LOG King and ask for advice whenever they got into trouble or whenever they had disputes. The Log King would listen to them, think about what they said, and give them sage advice. The frogs would listen carefully. Sometimes (but only sometimes)they would even do what their King told them to do.

Life went on in the swamp much the same. The frogs were doing better, particularly when they listened to their King. Other animals felt that a royal log was a frog thing, but even they visited the log from time to time and asked for advice. The log always listened to them carefully and offered the best advice that it could offer.

Many generations later (frog generations, that is - log generations are much longer) Doremus IX was sitting on her King. She wanted to know how she could advance the North Swamp Beautification Project. The log was privately of the opinion that this was a very silly idea and was trying to find a polite and effective way to discourage the project. All of a sudden a stork swept down from the sky and gobbled up Doremus IX.

The log indignantly said, "I am King of the Frogs here, and you have just eaten one of my subjects who was here on royal business."

The stork said, "I am not your subject, your Majesty. I am a stork and I will eat who I want when I want."

And so began a reign of terror. Innocent frogs would be sunning themselves on lily pads when sudden death would swoop down from the sky. In truth the number of victims were few compared to the total number of frogs; many more frogs fell victim to the vicissitudes of life in the swamp than were ever eaten by the stork. It wasn't the mere chance of death that was so terrifying, it was the unexpected interruption of normal life.

The entire social life of frogdom came to end. Frogs spent as little time out in the open as they could, and when they were in the open they nervously watched the sky. It is hard to catch flies when your attention is focused on the sky above.

Finally the frogs sent a deputation to King Log. "Your Majesty, this simply won't do. You have been a great King, but you lack one essential attribute of royalty, force. You have never been able to compel us to obey your will, nor have you been able to protect us. We need a new king. We want the stork to be our king. Please arrange this for us."

The Log King thought to itself, "How very frog like these frogs are. First they tell their king that he is fired and then they ask him to recruit his successor." However the Log King saw that they had a point, so he said that he would do what he could.

The Log King waited until the stork came by for a visit. It didn't take long. The stork was always coming by to visit with the Log King. The two of them would argue at length about anything and everything. They disagreed about everything but they got along very very well.

The Log King explained what the frogs wanted. The stork said that the whole idea was ridiculous. First of all, she said, she couldn't be a king because she was a female. The Log King said that that didn't matter; the frogs weren't fussy about gender.

The stork would have none of it. "I am not," she said, "going to be a king."

The Log King thought about it and agreed. "You're right. It wouldn't be suitable for you to be a king. You will have to be a queen."

"Nice try woodie, but no. I don't tell frogs what to do. I don't solve their silly little problems. I catch them and I eat them. That's it. You do wisdom; I do frog legs."

The Log King said, "Why don't we make it a joint monarchy."

"What does that mean?"

"Well, I will take of the legislation and the judging, and you take of the capital punishment."

"Meaning?"

"There are always bad little froggies. You get to eat them."

"You don't get it. I'm a stork. I don't just eat frogs. I catch them and then I eat them."

"Hmmm. Yes, I can see that would be a problem. What if we do it this way. When prisoners are sentenced to death they are released and given a chance to run. You get to chase them down and catch them."

"That might work. What if the prisoners friends protect him and hide him?"

"That's easy. Those who protect prisoners are fair game."

"That would work, but I don't really see any reason why I should do it."

The Log King went to work. He talked. He cajoled. He persuaded. In the end the stork agreed. She said she had been conned, but secretly she had wanted to agree.

The Log King called all of the frogs together and explained the new regime. Henceforth he would be the Log King and the stork would be the Stork Queen. Most of the frogs showed up for the big meeting, but some of them didn't. Those who didn't show up found out the hard way why they should have been there.

The new regime worked out pretty well. The frogs got their social life back; they didn't have to worry about sudden death from the sky. Naturally the frogs who were sentenced to death for offenses against frogdom objected, but the rest of the frogs said that they deserved it. You might suppose that the frogs would have all been very, very good, but they weren't, of course. Frogs are much like people - when they're having fun they forget about the consequences.

Frogs are romantics.

Now that they had a King and a Queen, they thought that the King and the Queen should be married. They held a big meeting and told the King and Queen that they had to get married.

The King and the Queen objected. They said that they were royalty and frogs were commoners, and that royalty told commoners what to do and not the other way around. The frogs replied that even royalty had to obey the rules and that the rules said that the King and Queen had to be married.

The royal couple was upset. They argued with the frogs and for once the frogs won the argument. They talked about it among themselves. The Log King said that he had lost all hope of marriage long ago. Who would ever marry an old log? The Stork Queen said that she had also lost all hope of marriage. There were no male storks in the swamp and, besides, she really didn't like male storks anyway. They were much too flighty.

They decided between themselves that they didn't have any other prospects and that, after all, they really did like each other. There was anything better to do and, after all, it would keep the frogs happy. For lack of any better alternatives they agreed to get married.

The frogs all cheered.

They demanded that the royal couple get married RIGHT NOW. The Log King and the Stork Queen did the equivalent of shrugging their shoulders and saying "Why not?" So they asked their loyal subjects, so what do we do now? After much milling around the frogs located a turtle. As it happens, all turtles are Presbytarian Ministers and are licensed to perform legally binding marriages. (You probably didn't know that.)

The turtle took them through the marriage ceremony. There were some difficulties. The Stork Queen rather strongly informed the turtle that there was to be none of that "obey" nonsense. There was no ring. The Log King lacked the capability of placing a ring on a finger and the Stork Queen lacked fingers. It was decided that a ring was not essential and that a circular ripple would suffice.

Once these little dificulties were ironed out the ceremony went quite well until those final fatal moments when the turtle intoned those final fatal words, "I now pronounce you man and wife. You may now kiss the bride. Oops."

How can a log kiss a stork? Fortunately the turtle was a wise old turtle. He asked the Log King, "When you speak, how do you speak?"

The Log King was startled. He had never thought about it before, After some thought he replied, "I don't speak with any particular part of me. I must speak with my whole self."

The turtle said, "Exactly." Then he turned to the Stork Queen and asked, "And when you speak, how do you speak?"

Without hesitation she said, "By modulating my breath with my beak." She then went on to provide a mass of physiological detail of no interest to anyone save an ornithologist.

"Exactly," said the turtle. "The beak of the stork serves as her lips and whole of the log serves as the lips of the log. Therefore if the stork were to peck the log with her beak she would be delivering a kiss, and if the log were to think of delivering a kiss as he was being pecked he would in fact be delivering a kiss. The matter is settled. The bride and the groom will kiss."

All of a sudden the Log King and the Stork Queen were shy. They had agreed to go through with a pro forma marriage but this kissing business sounded entirely too intimate. Still, they had promised, so they gathered up their courage. The Stork Queen pecked the log just as though she were kissig it, and the Log King responded to her peck just as though he were kissing her.

Immediately the prince and the princess floundered in the water, for of course the log was an enchanted prince whose enchantment could only be broken by the kiss of a princess, and the stork was an enchanted princess whose enchantment could only be broken by the kiss of a prince. (You knew this all the time, didn't you? Of course you did.)

The Prince looked at the Princess, and said, "You, you, you, you're a princess." And the the Princess looked at the Prince and said, "Silly, of course I am, and you are my Prince." The Prince and the Princess garthered each other into their arms and kissed again, this time much more thoroughly, as man and wife.

They stood up, hand in hand, and made their way out of the swamp, to live happily ever after.

And what of the swamp? When the enchantments on the Prince and the Princess was broken, was the enchantment on the swamp also broken? We shall never know. After all, enchantments protect themselves.


This page was last updated February 1, 2010.
Copyright © 2010 by Richard Harter

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