Once upon a time, a princess named Madica met a rather odd frog. Now, Madica herself was a rather odd princess. She was smart as well as beautiful, and while she liked to put on jewelry and dance at fancy balls, she liked to read and sail even more.
In fact, Madica loved to sail. She loved the smell of the sea, and the sound of the waves, and the way the wind messed up her hair. Most of all, she loved her little boat, the Royal Purple. Together, they sailed past ice floes around the Aleutian Islands, and through typhoons off the coast of New Caledonia.
No storm ever beat the Royal Purple, and no pirate ship ever caught her. The day finally came, though, when the little sailboat was worn out and weary. With a long sigh, she simply gave up and foundered near a coral reef in the blue Caribbean. She came to rest on soft white sand, where parrot fish and lobsters could make her their home.
Princess Madica wept when the Royal Purple went down. When her tears dried, she learned how to scuba dive, so that she could visit her old friend. Every year, on the anniversary of the sinking, she spent an entire day repainting the sailboat's deck (which is a hard thing to do under water). As she painted, she daydreamed about how nice it would be to have another boat to sail. She had been on a few since hers sank, of course, but they all wallowed in rough seas, or drifted treacherously away from their berths when her back was turned.
So there she was, with the railing of her old boat in one hand so that she wouldn't drift away, and a paint brush in the other, when lo and behold, she saw a frog swim by. She knew immediately that he was a rather odd frog, because he was wearing a mask, a snorkel, and scuba tanks too. Curious, she put the lid back on the can of paint, stowed it back in the sailboat, and swam after the frog.
When she caught up with him, he was floating beside the reef, comparing the different kinds of coral he could see to the pictures in a little waterproof book he was carrying. He waved when he saw her, and she waved back. Together, they admired the beautiful shapes and colors of the coral for a few minutes, then swam slowly back to the beach.
The first thing Princess Madica said to the frog when they took their masks off was, "Hello." The second thing (which followed immediately afterward) was, "How come you're wearing scuba gear? I thought frogs could breath under water."
"Hello," the frog said, and, "Yes, we can, although salt water sometimes makes me sneeze. I wear the mask and the snorkel and the tanks so that people will know I'm not an ordinary frog. I wouldn't want to wind up on someone's dinner plate, you know, or dangling on the end of a hook as bait." As he spoke, he took a pair of very stylish glasses out of a little plastic case attached to his belt and put them on. The princess thought they made him look very serious, but then he smiled, and she couldn't help but smile back.
"Was that your boat?" the frog asked. "I can't help but admire her every time I come here. I've always thought that someone must love her very much, to keep her so nicely painted even after she's gone down."
"Yes, she was mine," the princess replied. "And yes, I did love her very much. But I think perhaps it's time I found something else to love."
And so they started diving together, the princess and the frog, and of course diving soon led to other things. They stayed up late one night to watch a meteor shower, and traded books back and forth. The frog was very careful not to get Princess Madica's books wet, while the princess never, ever let the frog know that his books smelled faintly of pond.
And of course they talked, and talked, and talked. The princess told the frog about the adventures she'd had sailing around the world, while the frog told the princess about all the wonderful things he'd learned from his studies. (Frogs are actually very studious amphibians.) After a while, though, the princess noticed that the frog never talked about places that he'd actually gone himself. It was always, "I read about this," or, "I saw a documentary about that." She felt a little bit sorry for the frog, because she realized that even today, when people are much more open-minded than in the past, talking frogs are still regarded as rather odd, and many people would rather not have them around.
One day, the princess felt so sorry for the frog that she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek when he was right in the middle of a sentence. The frog blinked his eyes in surprise. "Why did you do that?" he asked.
"I don't know," Princess Madica said, blushing slightly (a real blush, not a learned-in-princess-school blush). "I just felt like it."
"Oh," said the frog. He was quiet for a moment, and then he took off his glasses and started to clean them with his shirttail. "Well, it won't do any good," he said without looking at her. "I mean, I won't turn into a prince. Other princesses have tried. I've tried, too, but..." He shrugged, put his glasses back on, and gave her a serious look. "I'm still just a frog."
"Well, maybe they just weren't the right princesses," Princess Madica said.
"Or maybe I'm just not that kind of frog," the frog said.
"Well, if you don't try, you'll never know," the princess said. She hadn't been trying to turn the frog into a prince—at least, she didn't think she had. Now that he had mentioned it, though, the idea took root in her mind like a rhododendron bush. The frog was very nice, even if he was a bit cold-blooded. He was certainly much nicer than the princes and dukes and bankers who sent her store-bought cards on Valentine's Day. Why, he'd make a fine prince, she thought. And she was very strong-willed, the princess was. She had never, ever been able to resist a challenge...
That day—that kiss—changed everything. They kept reading each other's books, and going to museums together, but when Princess Madica said, "Gosh, it's been ages since we went diving," the frog replied, "I know, but the salt water really does make me sneeze." And while they still talked, their conversations were about everyday things, like what to have for dinner, or how awfully loud some people were on streetcars. They didn't grow apart—they just stopped growing closer.
Months went by. Then one morning, out of the blue, the frog casually asked, "By the way, have you ever been to the Serengeti?"
"The Serengeti?" the princess replied, slightly bewildered. "No, I never have. I've always wanted to go."
The frog looked at her over his glasses and smiled. "Well, I've always wanted to go too. I've read so much about it, and I thought that maybe you'd rather go on a balloon safari this year than go back and paint the Royal Purple some more. Seeing as how the salt water makes me sneeze."
"Oh, that would be wonderful!" the princess exclaimed. "Let's go!"
Two weeks later, their hearts pounding, they climbed into a square brown wicker basket that hung on ropes beneath an enormous round balloon. "Have a good trip!" the balloon master shouted through cupped hands as they rose into the sky. "And take lots of pictures!"
Up, up, up they rose, higher and higher into the clear warm sky above the African savannah. The Serengeti plain stretched out beneath them from horizon to horizon. They saw herds of elephants, and solemn giraffes, and dust-colored lions stalking sharp-eyed gazelles. Curious birds came and perched on the basket railing for a few moments, then flew off again to tell their friends about the wonderful things the world contained.
Princess Madica and the frog floated together for hours. They were having so much fun looking at everything, and taking pictures, that they didn't notice the storm clouds gathering high above them. All of a sudden there was a deafening crack! and a thundering boom! A bright spear of lightning sizzled through the air so close to their balloon that they could smell the electricity. Crack! Boom! went another lightning bolt, even closer this time.
"Uh oh," the princess said, looking worriedly at how dark the clouds were. "I think we'd better set down somewhere."
"I agree," the frog said. "Why don't we—"
The princess never got to find out what the frog was going to say. CRRRRRACK! B-B-B-BOOOMMMM! A bolt of lightning hit their balloon! It set the silk on fire! They were falling!
"Hang on!" the princess yelled. She climbed up on the edge of the basket and grabbed the guy ropes that held it to the balloon. She leaned this way and that, pulling on the ropes with all her might to steer the balloon as it plummeted toward the ground.
"Throw everything out!" she shouted. "Everything you can! We need to lose weight!" The frog grabbed their books, and their teakettle, and all of the princess's shoes, and tossed them over the side.
"Hang on!" the princess yelled again. "Hang on!"
CRUNCH! The balloon crashed into the branches of a big old baobab tree. The princess managed to hang onto the ropes, but the frog was thrown right out of the wicker basket. The princess lunged forward as quickly as a mongoose and grabbed him by the ankle as he flew past.
"I've got you!" she told him.
"Thank you!" he said. (Frogs are very polite, even when they're upside down.) "But I think we should disembark, don't you?" Sure enough, the branches they had landed in were creaking underneath their weight.
The princess leaped out of the balloon into the tree. Just as she did so, the basket slipped from the branches and smashed itself to matchsticks on the ground below them.
"Well, that was certainly an adventure," the princess said bravely.
"I'm afraid it's not over yet," the frog replied, still dangling upside down by his ankle. "Look down there!"
Dust against dust, almost invisible, a pride of lions was gathering around the wreckage of the balloon. First one, then another, looked up into the tree, licking their chops.
The frog grabbed a branch and righted himself. "Do you think they can climb trees?" the princess asked, unable to look away from the tawny gold eyes that were sizing them up.
"Oh, definitely," the frog told her. "All felines can. See?" Sure enough, one of the lions had jumped up onto the trunk of the baobab tree, and was slowly climbing toward them.
"I don't suppose you kept my pistol?" the princess asked the frog.
"I'm afraid not," he admitted regretfully. "I think it went in the same armload as your curling iron. Or maybe the chess set."
"Oh well." The princess smiled bravely. "It's been fun, though, hasn't it?"
"Yes, it's been fun. It's been lots of fun. It's been the most fun I've ever had." The frog hesitated a moment, then leaned forward and kissed the princess on the cheek.
BAZOING! There was an enormous stretching sound, and then crash! Something heavy fell out of the tree. The frog looked down in amazement.
There, right in the middle of the pride of lions, lay an enormous madisaurus. She had four thick legs, and bright green scales, and was still wearing the princess's tiara. She struggled to her feet and shook her head. "Roar?" she said. "Ahem. Roar. Roar. ROAR!" The lions scattered like leaves in a hurricane.
The madisaurus looked up at the frog and grinned. "I think it's safe to come down now," she said. "But watch that first step."
A few moments later the frog was on the ground. "Well, this is unexpected," he said hesitantly.
"Quite," the madisaurus replied. "I, um, I hope you're not disappointed."
"Not at all," the frog said firmly. He put his arm around the madisaurus's neck and gave her a big hug. "Practically every frog has a princess. A madisaurus, on the other hand—now that's special."
So the frog climbed up on the madisaurus's back, and they rode off together into the sunset. And since I'm supposed to write "The End" right here, I will, but it wasn't, not really. Not at all.