Dog Kingdom: The Wayward Princess

Submitted into Contest #176 in response to: Write a story told from the point of view of an animal.... view prompt


Fantasy Fiction Speculative

NOTE: This is a chapter in a longer work.

Berna Longtail, puppy-in-waiting and royal tutor to Princess Flora, never ventured into the human world. 

The moment her paws touched the sidewalk, she stood and sniffed the air. 

So many different scents! Her nose wiggled all over in confusion and she couldn’t sort out one smell from the other. Too many! The human food with its aromas that went right to her tongue and her stomach until she panted with hunger and lunged at one of the morsels of food held by a human on the grass.

She thought: That won’t do! A royal companion must behave properly at all times. Must not get distracted from finding the princess. Otherwise, this other human will stay chained up in the darkest, dankest cell, when they’re not making her clean up after the messiest dogs in the royal court.

But Kim is so kind. The punishment seems cruel. I know humans have mistreated us sometimes, but…

The human who had the food shrank from her and yelled at her. Another human waved a weapon at her, a metal rectangular thing with a glowing screen that the human held in his or her palm. Other humans held similar weapons up to their ears and talked into them.

Berna searched her memory for any information about the human world. Phones. The humans called these weapon-things phones and talked to each other using them.  

When Berna trotted through the humans and reached the street, a human aimed another long rectangular thing, about the size of one of Queen Cora’s medium-size collie guards at her. At the tip of the weapon, a freakish bright while light shone. Television camera, Berna’s memory said.

None of the humans on the lawn or on the street paid Berna much attention. The humans all clustered around the large metal monsters that raced through their streets. Cars and trucks, Berna’s memory noted.

Berna put her nose to the ground and sniffed. She wandered, her nails clicking on the pavement, toward a bush. Her nose registered a message and her brain interpreted the scent of the dog pee.

The message read: “Rex the dog would like to say the humans on this street annoy him.”

Berna peed in response according to royal court protocol. “Berna the dog, on behalf of Queen Cora of the Dog Kingdom, invites you to visit us and escape the humans.” Queen Cora wanted any member of the royal court to bring more human-enslaved dogs to the Dog Kingdom. Humans, on the other hand, would be a no-no.

She let her thoughts run wild. Helping the human girl Kim isn’t part of my royal duties, but she doesn’t seem to know what to do. And when I find Princess Flora I am going to sit her down and have her copy, in Canidosian of course, the Canidosian Book of Court Etiquette. Starting with the way a princess ought to behave. She’s run too wild and been too spoiled. No consideration for the Queen Dog Mother or the King, the royal court or the Canidosian Guard. And certainly not for the human the guards kidnapped.

She sniffed out several pee-messages and studied them for any information about Princess Flora.

“Peaches would like to tell Rex that humans are good.”

Another message. “Duke loves Peaches.”

A fourth message. “Princess Flora never wants to go back to the Dog Kingdom. And her name is Missy. She’s never going back.”

Berna’s paws skidded on the damp grass outside a blue house ringed by azaleas and her legs went out from under her. She plopped in a mud puddle. She groaned and blushed.

When she struggled with some dignity to her feet, she left her own message on the lawn. “Berna, royal tutor and puppy-in-waiting, is going to smack Princess Flora in the nose.”

Berna sniffed low to the ground so that her nose parted blades of grass. Ahhh. She picked up Flora’s scent. A pleasant mossy smell. Berna followed the scent trail over the lawn and ran so fast she knocked over one of the tiny humans, the bald ones that always cried. Human pups. This one bawled and one of the humans screamed at Berna, then snatched the human pup so fast Berna worried abut the fragile bald pup, which made even bigger, louder, ear-aching noises. 

Berna had no litter of her own and no grounds to piddle on someone else’s way of rearing pups, yet she understood the adult human didn’t exactly soothe the bald puppy.  Hardly Berna’s concern, because Princess Flora’s scent trail meandered past the house and down the street.

Of course. If Princess Flora were in this house it would be too easy. 

An abandoned house, one with the human scent faded but still present if you knew where to sniff, beckoned her with grime-streaked windows just begging for her to peer into. More important than curiosity, Princess Flora’s scent trail led straight to the house.

Berna sniffed at the front door and scratched at it, then barked. How humiliating. She looked like any other dog in this world with her pitiable bark. Pitiable? A royal companion an object of pity?

“Vanity, Berna,” she scolded herself while she pulled herself up and pressed her nose against one of the dirty front windows. “Vanity. You try and sniff your own butt and you’ll end up biting your tail.”

She scratched at the window and pushed on it. No such luck. However, her amulet glowed hot, hot, hot, a fire against her fur.

“I simply must get in,” she said aloud, and circled the back of the house, sniffing her way through a hazard of weeds and human trash as well as broken glass. 

Pain shot through her paws and she yelped, then turned, her tail beating the air, and ran the other direction. She startled a stalking ball of orange-and-white fur that yowled and hissed at her, took a swipe and then fled.

A cat. A common cat.

The felines she knew belonged to the Minan Kingdom and behaved with the most elegant manners. 

“Cat,” she called out in Minanian. “Do you know how to get into this house?”

An answering hiss. “Go away.”

“Pardon my manners.” She blinked. “I’m surprised to find a cat of this world that speaks Minanian.”

The cat’s eyes narrowed. “Of course we do. It’s the simple common dogs that forgot their own language.”

“Hmm. I have to agree with you there.” Berna gave herself a mental tail-wag for diplomacy. 

“Don’t patronize me, toilet-drinker.”


The cat grinned. “Dogs here drink out of the human toilets.”

Berna mentally repeated the teachings of the Canidosian Book of Royal Etiquette. Rule number five: Never have your fur unkempt. Rule number eighteen: Never eat common scraps unless lost and starving. Rule number twenty-seven: Never get in a fight with a Minanian Guard if you can avoid it. And never, never with a rat from the Shuyan Kingdom. “Do you know a way in? The Queen of the Dog Kingdom will reward you—”

The cat’s eyes gleamed. “What kind of reward?”

“Get me into the house and you can name your reward.”

The cat’s orange tail swished while the feline stalked through the weeds toward a low opening inches from the grass. The cat said, “Fortunately they left the kitty door open when the humans moved.” The feline pushed on a flap of gray, which moved back, and the feline shot through. Judging the door looked big enough to squeeze through, Berna sped after the cat into the house and into utter darkness.

The cat’s voice surrounded her. “Just follow me, exactly where I go. I can see in the dark. Don’t get separated.”

“Don’t they have lights?”

The cat hissed in annoyance. “Someone shut them off. I tried the little thing that moves up and down and turns on the lights—”

“A wand?”

The cat hissed again, louder. “No. Try again.”

“You don’t know what it’s called either and you live here.”

The cat’s tail slapped her face. “If I want the lights on the humans turn them on for me.”

Berna stuffed her irritation deep down. “By the way, I’m Berna. Royal tutor to Princess Flora of Canidosia—”

A familiar sweet voice and not-so-pleasing words echoed from underneath. “Missy. My name is Missy.”

The cat stopped dead upon hearing the voice. “I’m Tangerine. Now we’re all introduced.”

Berna nearly fell over in shock hearing Flora’s voice coming from beneath them. “Flora? Are you underground? Under the floor?”

“No.” Flora sounded less cavalier. “Well, I don’t know. I think so. It’s dark and I fell a long way.”

Berna sniffed the floor and separated Flora’s scent from the old chemicals, the stale smells in the carpet and general mustiness. “Did you break a leg?”

“No, but it hurts like I slammed it in a trap.”

Berna bit back a smug response and pressed her nose to the ground, then sniffed and wandered off to the left. 

Tangerine the cat yelped and rushed ahead of her. “I said stay behind me.”

“Then see for me. Do you notice any kind of a hole or pit close by?”

Flora’s voice echoed upward. “It smells—”

Berna grinned and the smugness escaped in her words. “You are going to need a royal bath after this.”

Flora made a disgusted sound and Berna schooled her tongue. It’s probably against royal etiquette to kick people when they’re already trapped in a hole. Even if their own foolishness got them there.

Tangerine kept up a running commentary. “I’m leaning low to the floor, so don’t trip over me and get your dog smell all over me.  I can hear her voice coming from the hole, it’s right up ahead.  The humans never really kept up this place. Everyone around here knows that. “

Berna resisted the temptation to remind Tangerine she didn't come from around here. 

Tangerine added, “And everyone knows about the rats…”

Flora huffed. “Rats are nice. Well, I’ve never met any personally, but maybe they aren’t so bad...”

Berna’s nose bumped up against Tangerine’s bristling fur, which stood up on end. Tangerine sounded incredulous. “Are you for real? Rats are nasty. Especially the ones I can hear around you. Scritch-scritch.”

Flora howled. “They’re trying to bite me!”

Of course, Berna thought. Rats here are like the rats in the Shuyan Kingdom outside Canidosia. Mean. Even though they can’t defeat us, they attack us. And sometimes if they bite you they carry the Plague. The Plague that weakened our Canidosian ancestors. 

Berna broke away from Tangerine and raced toward Flora with blind worry and panic. For a moment Berna’s paws encountered air. Still, empty air. Then Berna pitched headlong into the hole.

Falling. Falling. Her hind legs thrust out and she scrabbled for a pawhold. Then she flipped in the air and hurtled down until she hit something solid, familiar and furry. Flora made an “oof” sound. Deeper darkness enveloped them.

Before Berna had a chance to say sorry, hundreds of tiny bodies swarmed over her. Tiny needle claws pierced her tender skin. Flora cried out, “Get Kim. Get Kim. Please.”

“Tangerine, noblest of cats, please do it.” Berna hoped her sincerity came through. “Kim is the one whose human sister went missing. Where Flora—”

A muffled voice from Flora. “Missy—

Berna bit back her anger. “Where humans hosted Flora.  I’m sure you know her house.”

Tangerine sniffed. “Humans. They can’t keep their kittens close. All right, but you owe me double the reward you talked about.”

“How do we keep the rats at bay?” Flora asked, plaintive.

“We could sing,” Berna muttered. “It worked when the Rat Kingdom invaded Canidosia two hundred years ago.”

Tangerine’s eyes gleamed in the dark far above. “All you cheese-eaters and cat-biters, I will be back with rat poison, so I suggest you don’t bite anyone while I’m gone. Because I’m hungry for a yummy rat snack.”

Berna listened to Tangerine’s feet pattering away from the hole until the sound faded. She curled herself around the princess and formed a protective furry barrier between Flora and the rodents.

Flora mumbled something.

“Was that an apology?” Berna couldn’t help grinning, even though the slime and sewage coming off the rats’ fur made her gag, “I didn’t catch it.”

Flora sounded muffled. “I didn’t ask you to come, but thank you.”

Berna picked up on the fear in Flora’s voice and the shivers of terror running through her. “Kim should be here soon.”

Berna’s necklace warmed and glowed, casting a faint green light in the pitch black hole and illuminating the squirming mass of tiny furry rodents around them. Kim’s voice echoed through the amulet, surprising Berna. “Hello?”

“Kim!” Flora sounded as if someone just gave her the best royal birthday present. “Kim, I’m here.”

Kim sounded worried. “Where?”

Berna gasped. “We can hear each other through the amulets? I never knew that. Kim, we’re in the abandoned house.” 

“Surrounded by yucky rats in a hole,” Flora added. “And it stinks.”

Kim sounded relieved, and still worried. “Can you get out?”

Berna heard the rodents circling them. “No. Too many rats and Flora’s leg is hurt. Listen to me, Kim, we need your help. We need you to come here and deliver us. A cat named Tangerine—”

Kim whispered, low, “But my mom—”

Princess Flora gave a piteous whine. “Kim, please.”

Berna bumped her with her nose. “Apologize for running away from her.”

Flora’s remorseful tone shocked Berna. “I’m sorry.”

Berna told herself not to soften into a puddle. “You should be. Your mother took her sister in retaliation and we have a few hours to bring you back home before your mother makes her a slave.”

Flora gave an indignant bark. “How dare she! Kim and Allie didn’t do anything. Mother always—”

Berna’s tail beat the ground. “Your mother has a kingdom to worry about. And now she can’t even worry about that because she’s too worried that you ran off into the human world and got kidnapped, or worse!”

Flora whimpered and Berna’s tail thumped harder. She felt angry at the princess and sorry for her at the same time. 

The princess trembled and licked Berna’s ear. “I’m sorry, Berna. I’m sorry you have to deal with Mother. And I’m sorry that Kim is missing her littermate. This is awful. We have to fix this.”

Berna’s tail stopped thumping and she softened further. “Yes, we do. Yes, we do. The only way to do that is to go right home.”

Flora whimpered again. “All right. Kim, please come rescue us. Follow the cat Tangerine. Please. It’s the only way to save your littermate.”

“I can’t.” Kim sounded panicked. “I can’t.”

“You have to,” Berna barked. “If you want to see Allie again.”

“I have to go.” And Kim stopped talking.

Flora wailed and turned the wail into a song without words. 

Berna felt very grateful she memorized the Canidosian Book of Court Etiquette because it had some interesting information. Including Rule Number 34: “When you meet a rat from the Shuyan Kingdom or a rat from the human world, do what any king or queen would do: Sing. Shuyans and rats love music and will be hypnotized.”

Flora and Berna sang a melody. The rats stepped back, and Berna and Flora kept singing. Berna willed Flora to sing her heart out.

At least until Kim got some sense in her magic-doubting human head and came to rescue them. Please, Kim.

December 09, 2022 19:31

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