Fairy Tale Contest: Fred’s Journey

This story was originallly written for a contest at Spinning Straw into Gold, in which the photograph below (copyright Lissie Elle Laricchia) was used as a prompt. The contest has since been postponed. To meet the real Fred, visit Fred A Day.

Fred’s Journey

Once upon a time, there was a dog named Fred. He lived in a small castle with a king, a queen, and their daughter the princess. Fred was born on the same day as the princess, and was presented to the king and queen eight weeks later as a present from a neighboring king with a much larger castle.

Fred’s castle was small because the kingdom was small and sparsely populated; there was little money for a giant castle. Whenever the king tried to build more rooms and make his castle as grand as those in surrounding kingdoms, his subjects complained. Even though it was small as castles go, it was much bigger than any of their homes.

One of Fred’s favorite things to do was to sit in his king’s throne. He would sit proudly upright, glancing around at the subjects in the courtyard, wagging his tail whenever one of them noticed him, pointing and chuckling at the dog’s presumptuous behavior. The king would always be upset when he returned, demanding his seat back. Fred never wanted to give up the throne, but always jumped down after the king told him to. He was the king, after all.

Sometimes, Fred and the baby princess would sit in the throne together, with king and queen and the court and favored subjects gathered around smiling. These were Fred’s most favorite times to sit there. The princess would pat his side and he would lick her face, and they would rest their heads on each others’ shoulders.

As she grew into a girl, the princess became enamored with many different toys. Noisy ones, quiet ones, soft ones, bouncy ones, but never for very long. When she would inevitably become bored with a toy, she threw it in the corner of her room and never play with it again. Sometimes Fred would pick up an old toy and dash over to the princess, tossing it in her lap for her to throw. She would giggle and throw the toy, but as soon as Fred tired of the game, back into the pile it would go.

It didn’t take too many years before the pile became quite large, growing from the corner to fill nearly her entire room except where her bed sat. When the toys began to encroach even on his daughter’s bed, the king immediately told his staff to take action.

“Curse those peasants,” he said. “I’ll build a new room for my princess whether they like it or not!”

They did not like it. “Why not give away the old toys to your subjects?” they asked. “Why must the princess have two rooms, one just for toys she no longer plays with?”

But every now and then, Fred would dash into the princess’s old room, dig through her old toys, and pick out some rediscovered delight. He would run through the castle searching for the princess, or, failing that, the king or queen or members of the court. One day he ran all the way to the gate of the castle, where a subject was waiting to see the king. Fred dropped the toy at the subject’s feet and stepped back, legs poised to vault him in whatever direction the toy went.

The subject asked the king about the dog’s toy once his own business was through.

“Oh, that,” the king said. “He digs through my daughter’s old toys and expects us to play with him. He is a silly dog.”

When the subject told his friends the story of the princess’s dog, they told their friends too, and they theirs. Soon the kingdom was abuzz with the antics of a dog who loved his princess’s toys more than she did. Why hadn’t the king told them about this before? Surely a king’s dog needed a place to store all his toys. They would never have been angry with him if they had known.

The king heard that his people had forgiven him, and began to hatch a plan.

“My loyal subjects,” he told a crowd of people gathered outside his castle one day, “I know of your love for Fred, and it warms my heart. So I do hope it pleases you that today we begin building a gymnasium especially for him on the east side of the castle!”

The people cheered, and the king continued. “A giant round room it shall be, so Fred can race around the perimeter! And in the middle, platforms to jump on, hoops to jump through, pools to splash in! He will be the happiest dog in all the land!”

Again his subjects cheered, and the king knew he had found a way to expand his castle.

While the construction continued, Fred still loved to dig through the princess’s toys, and he still loved to sit in the king’s thrown. Now that the princess was almost thirteen years old, she had royal duties to attend to, and couldn’t always sit with Fred. So he sat there alone and waited for her. The king and queen usually ignored him, since they were busy as well.

But one evening, the king came back to the throne room to find Fred napping, his head resting in the crown that the king had left hanging on one arm of the throne.

“No!” the king shouted. “I have tolerated your insolence too long! I have allowed you to sit on my throne! I have given you toys from my daughter’s collection! I have built you a grand gymnasium! But no one, no dog, shall have my crown! You are not the king of this land! And no longer shall you be welcome in this castle!” He grabbed Fred by the scruff of his neck and led him roughly to the front door, where he shoved him roughly outside and slammed the gate behind him.

Fred scratched at the giant wooden door, but there was no answer from inside. For hours he waited, but no one entered or left the castle. Hungry and lonely, he wandered off in search of food.

The princess searched the castle that night, wondering why her dog was not already in her bed. When the king told the princess the next day what he had done with Fred, she flew into a tantrum.

“Why, Daddy?” she cried. “Why would you send away my beloved dog?”

“That old cur was nothing but trouble,” the king said. “He was presumptuous and would not obey, and received the same punishment any of my subjects would for such a crime.” Secretly the king thanked his lucky stars that the gymnasium was already complete. What’s more, he could now use it for his own purposes. An auditorium, perhaps?

His daughter interrupted his reverie with a shocking statement. “I will find my dog. I will leave at once and find Fred if I have to search the whole world,” she said.

The king sputtered. “You will do no such thing. He is gone and that’s that. You hardly played with him anymore anyway,” he said.

“Perhaps I did not pay him as much attention as I used to, or as I ought,” she said. “But he was the one toy I never threw in the corner.”

The king forbade his daughter from going to search for Fred. It was wild and dangerous, and the peasants couldn’t be trusted, he told her; but in truth he was simply glad to be rid of him. She was not about to be locked inside the castle when her dog was out in such peril, though, and late that night, she sneaked out a window to begin her search.

She walked past midnight, toward the village just outside the castle walls. At least in horse-drawn carriages it seemed just outside – on foot the princess could see the first hints of sunlight before she happened upon the first shack. She saw smoke rising from a crooked chimney, and it smelled like frying eggs. If it had smelled anything like that last night, she knew, Fred would have barrelled straight for it. She ran straight up to it and knocked repeatedly on the door until an old man answered it.

“Fred, you say?” the old man creaked when she told him hurriedly what she was looking for. She didn’t even tell him who she was, and Fred’s name didn’t seem to register as a member of the royal family, but he had seen him. “Cheerful little boy,” the man said. “But we can’t afford to feed a dog, me and my old wife; we can barely afford to feed ourselves. We gave him what scraps we had and sent him on his way.”

The princess nearly wept at thinking she was so close to recovering her friend only to be told he was gone, but the old man pointed the way Fred had gone. She thanked him and wearily trudged on.

It was nearly midday before she happened upon another small house, this one surrounded by strutting, clucking chickens. A pile of red-stained feathers clung to the ground near the door.

Oh no, thought the princess, Fred surely would have loved to chase those chickens. I almost hope not to find him here.

But when she knocked on the door, the lady of the house confirmed that Fred had been there.

“Tried to eat one of our chickens, he did,” she said. “Lucky we were able to salvage some for our lunch. I kicked that dog on down the road as soon as I wrestled that bird out of his mouth, young lady.”

The princess had every right to scold this subject for her tone toward someone of her stature, but instead she took off again, following the direction of the woman’s finger.

She reached the next house that evening. There were cows in the field, far too big to be prey for a hungry dog, but their feeding trough would present a tempting feast.

“There was a dog,” said the farmer when the princess asked about Fred. “He was limping toward my cows’ food but I chased him off before he could steal any.”

The princess’s heart broke a little bit to hear of her dog hungry and hurt, but she followed the farmer’s direction in hopes of finding him safe and warm in someone’s home. Whomever that generous family turned out to be, she thought, they would have earned a handsome reward.

As she stumbled along, growing more tired and hungry herself, having not stopped for food or drink all day, a thin mist began to form in the air. It became thicker as she continued, and as the night became darker, and as the path in front of her became steeper, and as she used her hands to pull herself up along the path, she felt as if she were climbing a ladder through a dense fog.

When she could finally see nothing around her but the fog, the princess bumped into something – a soft, furry something with hard bits of various shapes.

“Princess! Hello!” said Fred, slapping his tail vigorously. “You found me!”

The princess was so overjoyed that she didn’t even think it odd that Fred was speaking to her, something she’d never seen him or any other animal do. She smothered him in a tight hug.

“Fred!” she cried. “I thought I’d lost you forever! Never run away again. Wait for me always and I will come for you, no matter what!”

Fred licked the princess’s face, and she patted his side. “I had to go,” Fred said. “The king told me to leave, and one must always obey the king.”

“Even when the king is wrong?” the princess said.

“It’s not a dog’s place to judge a king,” Fred replied.

“Well, I am a princess. I say come home, and one must never disobey a princess.”

Fred stood so he could curl up in the opposite direction, snuggling against the princess. “You’re very tired,” he said. “Let’s take a nap and talk about it in a little while.”

The princess wanted to insist on going home right away, but she was indeed very tired, and her dog was very warm. She promised herself she’d close her eyes for only a few minutes, and then she and Fred would march back to the castle.

When she awoke, it was in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable bed. In the room with her were soldiers wearing the colors of her father’s kingdom, and at the foot of the bed sat her father, the king.

“Hello, my love,” the king said as her eyes fluttered open. “I’m so happy we found you.”

Still groggy, the princess just yawned.

“As soon as I realized you were missing, I sent my men out to find you,” the king told her. “We looked everywhere a dog might go, in every peasant’s house we came across.”

The princess sat up excitedly. “Did you find him?” she asked.

The king hesitated before answering. “Yes,” he said, “but we must talk about that later. You should eat something, and then we must return home.”

The princess suddenly knew where Fred was, and that he would not be going home with them. Thirteen years was still not very many for a princess, but for a dog it was a long life.

“Yes, I am hungry,” the princess said slowly. “And then we will return home. And all the people of this kingdom must be free to use Fred’s gymnasium, for themselves or for their dogs, whenever they please.”

The king smiled. “Of course,” he said.


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