Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for intermediate learners. The name of the story is Heart of Iron. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Iron. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Iron. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
So today’s story is an adaptation of The Princess and the Frog. The Princess and the Frog is a famous Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tale about a prince who turns into a frog and is then turned back into a human by a princess who kisses him.
At least, that’s the modern version of the tale. So when I went to read the original version to make this episode, I was quite surprised to find it very different from what I remembered. In the original fairy tale, the princess does not kiss the frog. Actually, she’s quite violent towards it. She throws it against the wall in a fit of rage and because of this, somehow, the frog turns back into a human. Although, I guess that’s probably a nicer ending than the frog exploding into slime and guts! Uh, sorry, I have a bit of a weird sense of humour.
There is also a part in the original story that is often left out of adaptations, about Iron Henry. So Iron Henry is one of the servants of the prince, and he is so sad when the prince is turned into a frog that he has three bands of iron wrapped around his heart to stop him from feeling things. However, when the prince comes back as a human, and they are riding to the prince and the princess’s wedding, the three bands around the servant’s heart gradually break, and the prince thinks that the sound of the iron breaking is the carriage breaking, but actually it is Iron Henry’s heart, because he is so happy to see his prince come back to life and get married. Aww, how cute!
Well, I thought that was a very nice ending, but I wanted to make it a bit darker. So this is my version of the story, based on the frog prince and Iron Henry, but it’s quite a bit darker than the original. So if you like happy endings, sorry! You’re not going to get one today. For some reason, I seem only capable of writing very light, romantic fairy tales, or miserable dark ones where most of the people die. But I hope you enjoy this one, anyway! I certainly enjoyed writing it.
OK, so I’ll just go through some words that are in today’s story.
Armour is a type of hard clothing made from iron, steel or leather. You wear armour to protect yourself, and in the medieval times armour was very complicated. You needed someone to help you put on your suit of armour, and knights wore armour when they rode into battle. Now, we don’t need armour so much because we don’t fight with swords. However, you can still get body armour which protects you from bullets, although it still really hurts to get shot, even if you have body armour on, so I don’t recommend it!
A page is a knight’s servant, so a knight in training. So again, this comes from the medieval times. I believe pages trained from the time they were eleven or twelve, and then they were made into a knight after many years of service, and it was your page who usually helped you put your armour on.
A witch. If you’ve listened to previous episodes, you will definitely know this word because I love witches. But if you don’t know it, a witch is an evil woman who does magic. She rides on a broom and she laughs like this: [cackles]. And witches often have black cats as pets.
A sarcastic smile is a smile when you don’t really mean it. You’re smiling but in a way that it’s clear that you’re not really happy. Usually, if someone makes a very bad joke you will give them a sarcastic smile, like, “Haha, very funny. Mm-hmm.” In the UK, we love sarcasm. We use sarcasm all the time, which is basically when you are pretending to do one emotion but you’re pretending in a very obvious way, so people know you are pretending. Like when you say, ‘Oh, wow, that sounds really fun!’ That’s obviously sarcastic. Or I say ‘obviously’… It is obvious to me as a British person but I think, in some other cultures, sarcasm isn’t as big, it isn’t as popular. So just be careful when you come to the UK, ’cause we use a lot of sarcasm. Much more than Americans do, for example.
The next one is a phrase that comes up a lot, I guess, in films, which is: I like girls with a bit of spunk in them. So “spunk” means like a kind of energy, rebelliousness. Basically, when you like girls that don’t act like typical princesses running and screaming and hiding. No, they like to fight back a bit. Those are girls with a bit of spunk in them.
A noble is a member of the highest level of society. It’s not really a big thing now but in the medieval times, the nobles were a complete class of society, and they held all the power and had very big houses.
A roar is a sound that a lion makes, like [roar]. That’s my best roar. We can also say a fire roars, when it gets nice and big, and it kind of goes [whoosh], like that kind of sound. That’s a roar as well.
A chaotic blaze. So “chaotic” means out of control, full of chaos, and a blaze is a big fire that you can’t control. So if there is a chaotic blaze, there’s no sense to anything, it’s confused, it’s a huge fire and it’s probably destroying everything in its way.
Finally, “charred” means completely burned. So burned that it’s completely black and usually falls into a powder. So if you char your saucepan while cooking, it will be very difficult to clean it because all of the bottom will be burnt and black.
By the way, I’m speaking a bit faster today than I normally do, because someone commented that for the intermediate stories, they would like me to speak a bit faster. So if this speed is good for you, if you are at an intermediate level and you can understand everything well, that’s fantastic. But it may be that it’s too fast for you or I’m using too many new words. Anyway, if you have any thoughts about this, either positive or negative, do leave a comment EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Iron. I would love to hear about it.
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OK, so listen and enjoy!
Heart of Iron
Henry’s heart was too big. That was always his problem. He knew that he could never be with the prince, but still, he watched him lovingly every day. He watched him eat, he watched him dance, and he watched him sword fight. Every action Prince Brandle took was beautiful, and Henry loved watching him.
Henry was happy to live this way, watching the prince secretly. He was only a servant, after all. He did not dare speak to the man, and when the prince looked in his direction, he made sure to look away.
But one day, the prince noticed him. He was sword fighting with his trainer, a great knight. He looked amazing in his armour, bright like the sun itself. Henry was so focussed on Prince Brandle, that he did not even notice when the trainer struck his arm, sending the prince’s wooden sword flying through the air and onto the ground next to him.
‘You there!’ shouted the prince, and Henry woke up. He was talking to him. ‘Bring me my sword, would you?’
Henry hurriedly picked up the sword, almost tripping on the way to the prince. They were taking a break, and the prince started to pull off his armour, wiping sweat from his forehead. Gods, he was beautiful. Henry had always envied the page who got to help him remove his armour.
‘Here you are, my prince,’ Henry said, trembling as he held up the sword.
‘Thank you. I don’t think I know your name.’
Henry stared at the ground. ‘Henry,’ he said, almost whispering.
‘I’d like to see your face, Henry.’
But Henry couldn’t look up. He felt like Prince Brandle would read his mind, and would think he was disgusting. After a moment, the prince grabbed Henry’s chin, and pulled him up to look at him.
‘Aren’t you pretty?’ the prince said, smiling.
Henry didn’t know if he was making fun of him, so he laughed nervously.
‘Come on,’ said the trainer. ‘Let’s get back to it.’
The prince went back to training, but from that day on Henry was no longer invisible. The prince saw him. They even spoke, every now and then, when nobody was around. Henry couldn’t understand it. Why was this man, this amazing man, interested in him?
But things did not stay this way. One day, happy news spread around the castle: the King and Queen had found a beautiful princess for the prince to marry. Henry felt his heart split in two. He knew this day was coming, but he still felt awful.
So Henry went to the witch. She lived far away from the castle, in a dark forest, and it took all of Henry’s day off to get there and back.
Henry knew that the prince was stubborn. That was part of why Henry liked him so much. He would not marry a woman he did not have feelings for. But the princess was supposed to be very beautiful, so he needed to make sure the prince didn’t fall for her.
‘I need you to stop their love,’ said Henry. ‘Do whatever you can so that they will not fall in love with each other.’
The witch smiled, and worked her magic, waving her bony hands through the air as she said strange words. She then gave him a folded-up piece of paper. ‘Read this when you return.’
When Henry got back to the castle, there was chaos. Everyone was running around. Finally, someone told Henry what had happened: the prince had disappeared, and in his place was a horrible frog.
Henry couldn’t believe it. He had asked the witch to stop the prince from falling in love, but he hadn’t expected this!
He unfolded the paper she gave him, which had some writing on it. But he did not know how to read. Several days passed, with Henry too afraid to ask anyone to read him the paper. What if it revealed what he’d done? The castle had fallen into a deep despair about the prince, and the wedding was about to be cancelled.
The guilt built up, and Henry had to do something. So he found a servant who knew how to read and asked her to read him the note.
‘It says, True love will make him human again. What is this, poetry?’
Henry just laughed nervously and thanked her.
True love. His heart beat fast thinking about it. He thought back to the look the prince gave him, the day when they first talked. Wasn’t that true love…?
So Henry sent a message to the King and Queen: he knew a way to make the prince human again.
‘It’s a magic word. I need to whisper it in his ear.’
It was a terrible plan, but the King and Queen had tried everything, so they let him in.
The prince looked miserable. It was hard to recognise him as a frog, but his eyes were just the same as before, only now they were heavy with sadness. He sat in a small pond that they had put in his room, lying on his side in the water.
Henry went to the frog prince, but instead of whispering the word, he kissed him on the cheek. It was wet and slimy, but Henry still felt a great excitement. This was how it happened in the stories. True love’s kiss would bring him back!
But nothing happened. The frog stared at him and gave a sarcastic smile, and Henry felt his heart break again. He was not Brandle’s true love.
‘How is it going?’ said the Queen, standing by the door.
‘It didn’t work,’ Henry muttered, leaving the room and the prince behind.
Henry tried to forget about him, but now it was even worse than before. Before he had enjoyed the fantasy of uncertainty, but now he knew, he truly knew, that the prince did not love him. And worse than that, the prince was a frog because of him.
Henry couldn’t stand the pain. He went back to the witch and asked her to make Prince Brandle human again, but she shook her head.
‘Only true love can reverse the spell. But I can do something for you… I can take away your pain.’
‘Please,’ said Henry. ‘Do it.’
‘But first you must do something for me.’
‘I will do anything.’
The witch smiled, and worked her magic.
Ten Years Later
Princess Simone hated everyone. She liked nothing more than to be alone. But there were always new dresses to wear, new food to eat, new people to meet. Her mother and father forced it all on her, and she had to run away from the castle to get any peace.
That morning, she had been arguing with her father, and ran away when he started shouting at her. Apparently, having a mud fight in her newest, prettiest dress was not princess-like behaviour. Never mind that all they gave her were pretty, impractical dresses.
Now she sat in the forest, by a pool of water, and played with a golden ball. It was the only gift from her parents that she actually liked. She threw the ball in the air and caught it, while whistling to herself.
As she threw the ball up and down, she looked around, and saw a fat bird. It was the fattest bird she had ever seen, and she was so interested in it, that she dropped the ball and it fell right into the pond.
The pond looked deep, and she couldn’t swim very well. Just at that moment, a frog jumped out of the water.
‘Oh frog,’ she said, sounding like a fairytale princess. ‘Please go and get my ball for me!’
She said it as a joke. Frogs couldn’t understand people. But the frog jumped into the water, and a minute later, came back with the ball in its mouth. Amazed, she tried to take the ball, but the frog dropped it back into the water.
‘You don’t get anything for free, my dear.’
She fell backwards. The frog could talk!
‘I’ll give you your ball back if you promise to marry me.’
Simone felt sick. It had been a bad day already, and now this frog was asking her to marry it.
But she wanted that ball back, and it had to all be a joke, didn’t it?
‘Yes, yes. I’ll marry you.’
The frog gave her the ball, and she went back to the castle. But the frog followed her.
She thought it was quite funny. Her father would probably kill the sad little thing and have it for supper. There was no way the beautiful Princess Simone could marry a frog!
But when she told him what had happened, her father was happy.
‘Simone, you don’t know what you’ve done! There was a legend, many years ago, about a prince who turned into a frog after a witch cast a spell on him. The only way he can turn back into a human is through true love. And his family is very rich.’
It was no secret that Simone’s family was not doing well. Their castle was falling apart, and they were the weakest of all the kingdoms around. Nobody wanted to marry Simone, because they would not get much from her family, aside from a badly-behaved girl with too many dresses.
‘Father, are you mad? We can’t be in such a bad situation that you want me to marry a frog, surely?’
‘You don’t have to marry him, not yet. Let’s just see if this legend is true. Take the frog with you to bed tonight, and be nice to him. You did make a promise, after all. I always told you to keep your promises.’
So after dinner, Princess Simone went up to her room, and a servant followed behind, carrying the frog on a silver tray. She felt dead. She couldn’t believe what was happening. Everyone would laugh at her for the rest of her life!
Over supper, the frog had been charming and polite. Well, as much as a frog could be. He maintained that the legend was true, and that he was some “Prince Brandle”, caught by a jealous witch’s curse.
They arrived in her room, and the frog hopped onto the floor and said, ‘Fancy! I mean, not as nice as my old place, but this will do for now. Got any chocolate?’
‘Shut up,’ Simone muttered. ‘And look away while I get undressed.’
When she turned back around to get into bed, she found the frog was already buried in the sheets.
‘Oh no. You’re not sleeping with me.’
‘I don’t know. Your father seemed to think I should. You can’t make me sleep on my own. I’ll be cold!’
Simone felt a sudden anger. ‘You’re mad if you think I’m going to sleep with you!’ She grabbed the frog and threw him against the wall.
The frog slammed into the wall and landed with a plop on the floor. And then, he started to grow.
‘Err, I was only joking…’
The frog grew big and tall, and his skin went from green to white, until he turned into a beautiful—and naked—prince.
Prince Brandle jumped onto the bed and laughed. ‘I just love girls with a bit of spunk in them. You are my true love!’
Simone screamed and ran to the door, but it was locked. The prince pulled her onto the bed and showered her with kisses.
Henry couldn’t believe it. It had been ten years. Ten years of loneliness, ten years of magic, ten years of hate. And now, Prince Brandle had returned, and he was going to marry his true love.
Henry felt so angry that he almost avoided the wedding. But he could not stop himself from wondering. What was this Princess Simone like? Was she beautiful? Mysterious?
Deep down in his heart, there still burned a small fire of love for the prince. But Henry could not feel it anymore, because anger had taken him over. The witch, his master, had sealed his heart in iron chains, all those years ago. Now he could not feel love or joy, because witches did not need love or joy.
So Henry went to the wedding. Brandle was as beautiful as before, as if no time had passed, but he still acted in a slightly frog-like way. He blinked a lot, and his hair looked like it was always wet.
But when Henry saw the princess, he was truly surprised. She was indeed beautiful, but she was also evidently miserable. She did not smile once during the whole ceremony. When Brandle kissed her, she looked like a helpless dog.
And there, Henry saw opportunity. He did not seek Brandle’s love anymore. Instead, he sought revenge.
After the ceremony there was a dance. Henry used magic to make himself look like a noble, and slipped into the rows of cheerful guests. Princess Simone and Prince Brandle danced first, after which many noblemen went and asked to be her partner. Henry waited for the right moment, when Brandle was occupied on the other side of the room, and then asked the princess to dance.
‘You know, you don’t seem very happy.’
‘I am happy,’ she said, forcing a smile.
‘You hate him.’
‘I do not!’ But she did not sound convincing at all.
Henry moved forward and whispered in her ear. ‘You know, I can kill him for you.’
The princess laughed, as if he had just told her a witty joke. ‘How?’
She pushed him away, looking disgusted. ‘You are a witch!’
Henry turned around to see Prince Brandle walking towards him, smiling with his arms wide open. ‘You have made yourself into a noble. How lovely! My love,’ he said, turning to Simone. ‘This is an old friend of mine. Let us talk in peace.’
Simone looked very happy to leave them, only throwing a quick glance at Henry.
‘Will you dance?’ said Brandle.
‘Yes,’ Henry said, smiling politely.
For a while, they danced. Henry was unsure what the prince wanted, but now that he was close to him, he felt his hate growing. The flames of love burned in his heart, but all they fuelled were the iron chains of hate.
‘You know,’ said the prince, ‘my new wife really is very beautiful.’
‘She is magnificent,’ said Henry dryly.
‘On the inside and outside. I mean that in a literal way.’ He smiled. Henry realised he was making a sexual joke, but he did not award it a smile. Brandle continued. ‘You won’t believe how good it feels. Ten years being a frog, and then going to bed with a young girl like that… I could almost thank you.’
‘Oh, don’t play that game,’ said the prince, still smiling. Always smiling. ‘I’ve asked around. I know you’re no noble. You’re a witch. And you were the one who made me into a frog.’
Henry tried to move away, but Brandle held his hands tightly. Gods, he was strong.
‘Don’t worry! We’re old friends, Henry. I won’t tell anyone about your little secret. I like having you around too much.’
The prince leaned in and kissed Henry on the cheek. The flames roared, and just for a moment, they broke through the iron. Henry remembered his love for the prince, when he was a young fool, how he followed the man around and watched everything he did.
‘Truly?’ said Henry. ‘You truly love me?’
The prince smiled sweetly. ‘Of course.’
The fires of love wrapped around the chains of hate. And then the prince laughed.
‘Of course I don’t love you. Oh, but your face! You were always so much fun to play with. Simone, she is fun in another kind of way, but I need the emotional side, too. And you’re just full of feelings.’
At that very moment, the fires in Henry’s heart exploded into a chaotic blaze. They fought against the cold iron, the emotionless monster he had become, and the iron began to break. Henry fell back, holding his chest, gasping for air.
He remembered the witch’s words, when she had bound his heart all those years ago.
‘It will lock your emotions away, but there is no lock that cannot be broken. If the iron breaks, then you will break with it.’
Henry was dying. His heart was splitting in two. And as it happened, Prince Brandle, his one true love, was laughing at him. Noble faces surrounded him, with the prince’s face in the middle, floating like a ghost.
Just as Henry was about to give up and let himself break, Princess Simone appeared. He had never seen such an expression of pain, of such complete regret.
So Henry did one last thing. He reached forward and grabbed the prince’s head, pulling him into a kiss. The prince fought back, banged Henry’s chest, but the strength of Henry’s love tied the prince to him. From the charred remains of his heart flowed a poison, travelling up his chest, onto his lips, and into Prince Brandle’s mouth. The poison of hate filled the prince’s body, and as Henry’s heart stopped beating, so did Prince Brandle’s.
His heart of iron had broken, but at least he could break Simone’s chains.
The witch was not at the celebrations. Parties had never been her thing. But she felt Henry’s death, as she had felt them all. She no longer felt sad when it happened. Only disappointed.
‘He was a good one, but nothing could hold that heart. And what about the girl? A pretty young princess abandoned on her wedding day. She might make a good servant…’
The witch smiled, and worked her magic.
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