A FROG'S HEART
(This is my entry for the second round of NYC Midnight's 2019 Flash Fiction Challenge. I had 48 hours to come up with a 1,000 word story based on their prompts: A Fairy Tale, a veterinarian's office, and a magnifying glass. This story finished sixth in my group of thirty, which advanced me into the third round.)
The candy in Dr. Wondero’s waiting room tasted like flies.
Of course, that’s probably what he wanted. As a veterinarian specializing in animal transformation spells, the former Royal Wizard dealt with more than his fair share of frogs.
King Rian never thought he’d be one of them.
The previous evening, he’d hosted the kingdom’s annual Harvest Gala. It was his first such event since ascending to the throne, and it went smashingly. He charmed the Royal Council, danced with several young noblewomen, and made nice with the witches in attendance. The divisive and violent hostility of his father’s reign seemed a distant memory.
That was, until he woke up a frog.
Dr. Wondero doddered into the room, a noticibly older but kinder looking version of the powerful wizard that served Rian’s father and grandfather.
“Pardon, your majesty, I’m sorry to keep you waiting. Please, hop, er, come in to the exam room. You say you woke up this way?”
“Yes, and I suspect it was the work of trolls. They’ve been trying to destroy my family for centuries!”
Wondero shook his head. “I don’t think so. Trolls have no magical powers. Besides, didn’t you ban them from the kingdom?”
“Yes, the last caravan left yesterday. We will all be safer now.”
“If you say so, your majesty,” Wondero sighed as he finished his examination. “The good news is, the spell has only permeated the physical realm at this point. You still have all the mental, emotional and language functions of a human, for now.”
Rian felt himself jump a little. “For now?”
Wondero pulled at his beard. “Yes, these spells have a way of spreading through your entire being. Once you’re in this form for a while, you begin to forget your humanity. I have a pond out back full of frogs who have no idea they were ever knights and noblemen and merchants.”
If his blood weren’t already cold, Rian would have felt it grow colder.
“We must cure this at once!”
“Well, my grace, to do that, we have to know the source.”
Dr. Wondero wandered back into his office and emerged with an elaborately decorated magnifying glass. The handle was carved from the finest mahogany in the kingdom, the glass a smoky-black shade that made Rian wonder how anyone could see through it.
“A retirement gift from a wizard in a neighboring kingdom,” Wondero offered. “Made with Corovian glass. It determines the age and origin of spells, curses, and enchantments. Hopefully, that will allow us to find a way to reverse it before it’s too late.”
Dr. Wondero took what seemed like hours peering at every millimeter of Rian’s amphibian body with the magnifying glass.
Finally, the frog king reached the end of his patience.
“Please, doctor! Do you know what evil placed this curse on me?”
The doctor leaned back in his chair. “Well, your majesty, it seems the source of your transformation is… you!”
Wondero explained that an ancient spell was placed on Rian’s heart as an infant. Something took place recently that caused the king’s heart to trigger the spell, leading to his unfortunate change.
“But who could place such a spell on an infant?”
“It’s impossible to say exactly, but have you any relatives who dabbled in forest magic?”
Rian’s frog eyes turned wide and dark. He turned to his courtier.
“Summon my Aunt Athena at once!”
* * *
It took three days for the royal guards to return with Athena, while rumors of the king’s whereabouts circulated around the kingdom.
“Oh no, my dear Rian,” Athena gasped as she was thrust into Dr. Wondero’s office.
“Aunt Athena! Did you do this?”
Athena nodded quietly.
“Yes, my dear, but I always hoped it would never materialize. I knew when you were born that one day you’d be king. Your father was such an angry, brutal leader and I wanted to make sure you never followed the same path of destruction.”
“What does that have to do with…”
“I found an old forest spell that would transform you the first time your heart ruled with hatred.”
“But it hasn’t,” Riam croaked. I’ve brought this kingdom more peace and success than it’s seen in ages!”
Athena’s eyes stared sadly at her nephew. Finally, Dr. Wondero broke the silence.
“Your majesty, if I might be so bold, could the spell have been activated by your banishment of the trolls?”
“That wasn’t hatred, that was justice! A troll killed my grandfather! Trolls took part in the uprising!”
Athena pleaded with her nephew. “Yes, dear, but trolls also helped you catch the assassin.”
“And truth be told,” Wondero interjected, “Trolls built much of this city, including your castle.”
Rian suddenly realized he’d never win this argument.
“Just tell me how to get back to being human.”
Athena’s eyes lit up. “Why, that’s the best part, dear. All you have to do is make amends!”
* * *
Under cover of darkness, the Frog King Rian, Athena, and the courtier returned to the castle. Rian reluctantly rescinded the banishment order and was placed in his bed.
As the sun rose the next morning, Athena burst into the royal bedroom to give a hearty embrace to her now fully human nephew.
“Thank you for helping me return to my true form, Athena, but I still don’t understand. How could you place such a terrible curse on your own sister’s son?”
“Oh, dear boy, it wasn’t a curse, it was a blessing!”
Rian pulled back. “How can you say that?”
Athena smiled and brushed the hair from the king’s eyes.
“The spell turned you into a frog, but allowing hatred to grow in your heart would have turned you into something far worse.”
The king took her words to heart, and then kissed his aunt on the forehead. For the rest of his life, Rian ruled with decency and kindness, and the kingdom lived in peace and prosperity ever after.