The road to Royal tree was long, warty, and a little slimy. The large toad underneath the prince set the pace for the one underneath the hermit, and King Toad himself brought up the rear. “To make sure neither if you fall off!” he had said, but the prince had an inkling that the king simply couldn’t jump quite as far as the larger toads.
The group left Toad Country shortly after waking. At first, the prince was too excited to ask how long the trip would be. Now, near midday, he was too afraid of complaining to ask. Instead, he rode the rhythm of the leaps and bounds being jumped underneath him, all the while listening to the buzz and hum of cicadas ahead, behind, and to the sides.
At what he figured to be the very top of midday, the humming grew to a fever pitch, and the prince watched as what he first thought to be just another tree stretch farther and farther into the sky. Royal Tree. The journey had taken the better part of the morning, but they had finally reached their destination. The prince would finally know what a cicada looked like.
Besides its size, Royal Tree seemed just another tree at first glance, but as the caravan of toads and turtles came closer, the prince could see black dots buzzing around the upper branches in lazy half circles, and then the dots disappeared into the tree’s green leaves. And the sound! The prince’s quest had begun because the prince wanted to put an image to the sound he had come to know as the harbinger of summer. But here the sound was deafening, frightening almost, and to question what could make such racket was nearly unthinkable.
“Here at last!” shouted King Toad. “Welcome to Royal Tree, my prince. Home of the cicadas, and roost of the royal family.”
The prince craved his head upward at the dots flying around, trying hard to see a cicada clearly, when the road underneath him came to a stop. They had nearly reached the base of the tree, but the prince could still see the cicadas flying around high above him.
The hermit saw his gaze and smiled gently. “Not the most graceful fliers, the cicadas,” he said. “But too get a better glimpse, try looking at the tree itself. Look at the bark, young prince.”
The prince dropped his gaze to the tree itself. He saw the lumpy bark of the tree, but nothing more. Until the lumps began to move ever so slightly. And then he saw them. Hundreds and hundreds and thousands and thousands of cicadas, all crawling along the tree trunk. More robust than the grasshoppers he had seen, nor as armored as the beetles he and his friends once met, but somehow more graceful than he thought they would be.
“Which are the royal family?” he asked in amazement.
“Why, all of them!” laughed the toad king.
And from each one came the hum and buzz of high summer, here amplified to infinity in an orchestra of nature unlike anything he imagined. On the one hand the prince could barely hear himself thick and wished for nothing but silence. On the other hand, he was listening to the cicada song sung by members of the royal family themselves.