The king was not kind to his advisors. He was never visibly kind at all.
Visiting royals would report that he showed no courtesy to them whatsoever, but that was a lie. King Taylor ensured that any visitors would have whatever they desired when within the walls of his kingdom. He just didn’t prefer to make conversation, aside from negotiations.
The servants disagreed, saying that the king was plenty talkative when about topics he was interested in. New stable boys had been lectured on horses and breeds for hours before the king allowed them to step foot near his prized mare. Gardeners had discussed aphids and parasites and the significance of ladybugs from dawn to dusk and the king didn’t seem to skip a beat.
Of course, no one listened to the statements of a servant, so these pieces of knowledge went entirely unnoticed.
The king had a marvelous menagerie, full of exotic animals as well as common. He invited the children of the kingdom to visit if they could, and would spend the day acting as a tour guide for the young citizens, teaching about birds, and reptiles and “yes, unicorns may have existed once, but eventually adapted to look like the horses we now know.”
Of course, no one listened to the fantastical tales of a child rambling about the king being corrected by a horse, so no one noticed this either.
The king was a vegetarian, which meant that the farmers in small villages soon gained many privileges and a standard was set so that they would not be undersold. Stealing from someone’s personal garden was considered a federal offense, but community gardens were instated so the poor could be provided for.
Of course, farmers had little time for idle chatter, so this too went unnoticed.
This all meant that most citizens of the kingdom knew the king was not as brutal as rumors made him appear; just a tad odd, and monarchs were prone to oddness. Really, the only ones who weren’t aware were foreign dignitaries, who didn’t care and just wanted a grievance to air, and the advisors, who were totally oblivious.
This made it easy for the king to get his work done. Rather than being bothered by nosy advisors trying to get him to sign unnecessary laws into order, he could sit in his chambers and read reports about the goings-ons of his country. It was perfect for both the king and his people.
That is, until the royal advisor kicked a rat.
As mentioned before, the king was particularly fond of animals, and the rodents running and hiding throughout the castle were no different. He insisted that no human be allowed to kill them; cats were allowed.
“We as people are outliers, but the game of cat and mouse is a perfectly natural event.” He would quote.
Keeping servants from keeping the pests alive also provided for more jobs within the castle, which only made the king more beloved. The workers even became fond of them, feeding them little scraps and shielding their favorites from the cats.
So when one of the royal advisors kicked one of the petite honorary pets of the castle, the servantry had no qualms about loudly “discussing” the incident near the king's quarters. He opened the door, enraged and disheveled, and immediately went out in search of the advisor in question like a panther on the prowl.
He wasn’t able to find him, but oddly enough, rats could almost always be found where an advisor was, almost as if they were tempting the perpetrator to reveal themselves. The injured mouse was nursed back to health by a maid’s daughter, whose mother got a pay raise a few weeks after the rat was fully healed.
Since then, the king’s policy on animals had become a little… strange.
“You are to treat any woodland creature you come into contact with with the utmost respect.” Not so strange; most citizens did that already. They had been expecting this law for a while.
“Let your chickens out every two weeks; they like to race.” It made enough sense; the king was looking out for domestic interests.
“If you see a deer eating from a shaded clover field leave them be; they’ve lost a child to the hunters.” This one confused many people, but when the number of crops lost to deer lowered, they stopped asking questions.
These laws kept coming and coming until it just seemed normal for citizens of the town to tell crows their economic problems and to air their grievances about rude soldiers to ravens. The kingdom entered a new time of prosperity.
Then the following law came.
“If a squirrel gifts you three acorns at once, follow it.”
At first, the townsfolk thought their king had gone mad. But when Lindy Glindell was made one of the royal scribes after following the squirrel, their minds opened to the possibilities. Not everyone who followed the squirrels ended up prosperous, but enough did that people were open minded about it.
No one really cared about politics enough to see that the corrupt advisors all followed a squirrel into the forest, and that only the squirrel returned, leading a different group of people to take their place.
Danny Gidmen’s father followed the squirrel. He didn’t return, and despite the funeral, the condolence flowers, and the lack of income, Danny and his mother had never seemed more healthy. He could run and play with the other boys without wincing every time someone brushed his side the wrong way. His mother stopped wearing funeral veils after a mere week. They like to smear trees in peanut butter in case the squirrel is feeling peckish.
Nancy Millens was a street urchin, who followed the squirrel through the forest to a little village by a river. There was a couple there who lost a daughter in childbirth, and took Nancy in gladly. Nancy and her new big brother will always leave a portion of nuts and berries out on their front stoop every night.
No one is quite certain when it became “the squirrel” rather than just “a squirrel,” but they don’t question it. After all, the squirrel seems to know enough to punish the wicked and reward the impoverished; who are they to judge, after all the good it’s done?
There was a great despair in the kingdom after the king died; he had brought about such a lovely life for the people, and they worried that it would stop as his heart did. There was no heir for him, but the advisors assured the kingdom that a worthy inheritor would be found.
“The squirrel has not let us down before,” they promised, “it won’t start now.”
Sure enough, a scrawny teenager stumbled out from the forest near the castle, and a new king was crowned within the day. The new king did well; making no changes to the familiar laws already in place, and even adding some new ones protecting water-dwelling creatures.
Some servants murmur that they can see the boy pouring over the king's old journal with a squirrel, no, the squirrel perched on his shoulder. They say they even heard him speak to it, in uncertain, clumsy squeaks, like an unpracticed actor reading from a script. They swear they saw the squirrel reply.
Of course, no one listened to the words of a servant, so this went entirely unnoticed and life in the kingdom carried on as normal, or as normal as a kingdom could be with its people meowing back at stray cats.