On the second day, he was able to sit up without feeling as though he would topple over straightaway for the disproportionate weight of his head. He wasn’t quite up for chewing, but he drank as much water and broth as Nevan would allow him.
When he wasn’t sleeping, which he did for long spells, he focused on regaining the operation of his limbs. A far more excruciating exercise than he’d known he could endure, even though his body appeared just as he last remembered it, down to the amount of hair on his chest. Despite his appearance of pique fitness and conditioning, his well-toned muscles acted as though they had no recollection of ever working at his command. Worse, they alternated between fits and cramps and no matter what, always partook in breath-taking agony. Still, by the end of the day, he had his arms and hands mastered—for the most part.
The third and fourth days were passed with much swearing and gnashing of teeth as Nevan, assisted him, over and over again, up and down, back and forth. He couldn’t count how many times his knees simply locked up and refused to take one step further.
In one instance, early on the fourth day, Nevan left Fiachrin where he’d fallen, telling him that he’d either find a way to get up or have to stay there the rest of the day and then, Nevan walked away, flaunting his ability to perambulate with no regard for the derogatory and occasionally obscene remarks the prince flung at his back. Once Fiachrin had run through a farm yard of animals either by comparison, in compliment to other choice curses, or in reference to . . . well, he refocused his energies toward something more productive.
Having fallen a few feet from the edge of the pond, he crawled to the water—stewing in frustration and humiliation almost as intense as that which he felt in those first few days of his amphibian transformation all those years before.
Though the day had hardly begun, it promised to be a sweltering by midday, even in the shade. He hadn’t been wearing any clothes, and so when he reached the edge, he simply slipped in.
Miraculously, his legs didn’t buckle when they touched the soft bottom. In fact, he discovered that swimming was something his body did without balking.
He floated toward the center of the pond, where the water came midway up his torso and then, feeling little more than achy, he plunged under. His arms responded readily, stretching out to pull him forward. His legs kicked, his toes pointing as they propelled him. After a few lazy laps from the reeds to the edge and back again, he could feel the pain subsiding, as though the water was leeching it from his muscles.
Later, when his skin was as wrinkled as Nevan’s, he slowly pulled himself out.
One foot planted and then the next and he was standing, no pain, no falling.
He walked back to the fire, dried himself, and ate. Nevan had a knack for catching rabbits and though they weren’t Fiachrin’s favorite game, he devoured everything that was put before him.
In the evening as the fat summer bugs were humming happily from every cranny and the frogs were singing to each other about filling themselves with fat happy bugs, Fiachrin took to inspecting his body more closely.
He wished that Nevan could see him, to tell him how different he looked. After all, it had been fourteen years, he was forty.
Age had not been kind to Nevan. He looked much older than he was, though he couldn’t have been much past sixty.
Fiachrin watched Nevan’s hands as the old warrior lit his pipe. They were bent as gnarled branches and spotted, the skin seemed thin as parchment, and the veins appeared to be preparing to pop loose and wriggle away. But Fiachrin couldn’t see any difference in his own hands. Not that he was so old that there should have been drastic changes, but surely there should have been some difference.
His hair was just as long as it had been the day he’d been changed, longer than he normally wore it because Gormlaith had asked him to grow it out for the wedding. The ends nearly touched his shoulders. He held out the strands and searched for hints of gray or silver, but they looked just as black as ever. He wished he’d thought to use the pond when it was lighter out, but now that the shadows were long, the pond was too dark to serve as a mirror. And then he noticed Caoinlin’s armor, stowed in the wagon.
“What are you up to?” Nevan asked, suspicious due to the clang of metal.
“Smoke your pipe.” Fiachrin rummaged through the armor.
The breastplate was the best buffed and the most reflective, though distorted due to the curve and the ripples in the metal. He moved closer to the fire and looked at his face for the first time in thirteen years.
It was just as he remembered it.
“I didn’t age,” he marveled.
Nevan grunted, “Lucky you.”
Fiachrin returned the breastplate to the wagon. “How can that be?”
“You were a frog,” Nevan chuckled. “How can that be?”