He had gotten used to it by now. The frog tasted cold and slimy against his lips, with a taste like brackish water, mud, and old compost. But Keric gave it a dutiful smack on its mouth, hoping that it wouldn’t suddenly turn in to the fat old king, who had also been enchanted, along with several more desirable members of the royal family.
But the frog just looked at him, squirmed, and then urinated on Keric’s palm. Nothing. Again. He took a dab of red pigment from his pouch, smeared it on the frog’s head, and then tossed the creature through the trees and marsh grass. He listened to it plop in another pool. Another one tried and failed.
Around him, the sounds of thousands of frogs croaked in the dense swamp, loud enough to drown out the whine of mosquitoes, the constant dripping of water, and the occasional belch of a crocodile.
Sweat and dirty water ran in streaks from his brown hair, down his cheeks, and avoided the frog slime around his mouth. He had caught and tested more than three dozen frogs already, but it would be years before he could find them all—and that was only if any members of the frog-cursed royal family remained alive in the deep swamps. A crocodile splashed somewhere out in the network of cypress roots and branches. Somehow Keric couldn’t imagine the brittle old Queen Mother deigning to eat flies, not even if they were served to her by someone else.
When the evil wizard Cosimor had taken over the kingdom less than a year before, he had followed the traditional path of sorcerous usurpers by capturing the entire royal family and transforming them into frogs and then turning them loose in the sprawling, infected swamps of Dermith.
Cosimor had intended to tax the kingdom to its death, drive the subjects into slavery, and generally keep himself amused. But less then three weeks later the wizard had died choking on a fish bone—no vengeful curse, that; simply poor cooking. Now the kingdom had been left without any rulers, not even the incompetent but somehow endearing royal family.
Keric, who lived in a hut on the fringes of the Dermith swamps, trapping muskrats and selling the fur in the noisy walled town, had decided to try to find the royal family in its exile, free at least one of them with a kiss, and then count on his reward. A palace of his own, perhaps? Gold coins stacked as high as an oak tree? Fine clothes. He pulled as his dripping, mud soaked rags. Yes, fine clothes first. And then perhaps the hand of one of the princesses in marriage?