A short, slightly silly story I wrote in the spirit of a child's fairy tale. Partly inspired by my little sister.
Edited July 11, 2010 with the help of reviewers.
In the Kingdom of Siceli, King Richard was a king who constantly complained. There was always something wrong with his new outfit, or his crown didn't fit just right. And sometimes, when there was nothing else to complain about, he would complain that everything was too perfect. His wife, Queen Ann, would try to cheer him up in many different ways, but no matter what she did or said, King Richard never stopped complaining. Someone had to do something about King Richard.
Unknown to the king, there was a stable boy named Max that lived in the castle and helped take care of the horses. Max always had a serious look on his face. He didn't really have any friends because he wasn't like other boys. He didn't like sword fighting or archery, and he was so quiet that no one really knew he existed. But Max didn't mind being alone too much. Besides, he had his horses for company.
One day, when the royal groom was busy, Max was told to go and find out what was upsetting Sultan, His Majesty's royal horse. King Richard had been complaining about Sultan, of course. Max, being an obedient boy, agreed and set off towards the fields where Sultan spent the day grazing.
When he reached the horse, he could tell that something was wrong. Sultan was prancing around in the grass in an agitated manner.
"What's the matter?" asked Max, looking the horse over and trying to see what was wrong with him, but his question was not answered as a loud sneeze echoed from the far corner of the field. Under the fence a girl lay half buried in straw in a tangled mess, a calico cat snuggled on her lap. She looked about Max's age.
"Who are you?" asked Max.
"My name's Emily," said the girl. "It's a long story, but I really don't have anywhere else to go," she added before he could ask.
"Well, you see, Emily," started Max, "I would let you stay, but I don't think Sultan wants a roommate." He motioned to the trotting horse.
"Oh, you mean the horse?" asked Emily, looking at Sultan, "I didn't upset him. He was doing that before I got here."
"Then what," Max wondered out loud, "could be bothering him?"
"Maybe something's wrong with his feet?" suggested Emily, noting how the big white horse was stomping around. Max went over and with expertise lifted the horse's hoof off the ground. Some distance away, King Richard was taking a stroll next to Sultan's fields, complaining that the flowers weren't blooming fast enough. He was too far to see the girl hiding in the straw, but not far enough away to see Max helping Sultan. He paused to watch the scene unfolding in the pasture.
Max examined the horse's hoof. Sure enough, a rock was wedged under Sultan's horseshoe. He pulled it out, and Sultan stopped his restless moving. King Richard, infuriated by this act of simple helpfulness, stormed back to the castle.
"Thanks for your help," Max said. Emily didn't seem to know what to say.
As he had promised, Max let Emily stay with Sultan. The horse, it turned out, enjoyed her company. Max would visit them every night to bring them some food and talk. As it turned out, Max enjoyed her company as well. She was funny and smart, though she liked sports, unlike Max. She said she had always wanted to travel the world. But the two had one thing in common: they both didn't have any parents or relatives to speak of. Her cat, as Max came to know, was called Charlie.
"He's really curious," Emily had explained. "Oh, and he really likes mice."
Over time, Charlie, Emily, Max, and Sultan all became good friends.
Unfortunately for the new companions, King Richard wasn't too happy with Max. He didn't like that the boy had figured out what was wrong with Sultan. However little of a problem it was, the fact that it was solved gave King Richard one less thing to complain about, and that was unforgivable. So while Max and Emily were becoming friends, King Richard was trying to find something horrible to complain about. Something he knew Max couldn't fix. Then, one day while he was eating dinner, he noticed he was being served a smaller meal than usual.
"Chef!" he called, and he explained his situation to his cook.
"I'm terribly sorry, Your Highness," the chief apologized, eyes darting in a timid way, "but for some reason some of Your Majesty's storage supplies have gone missing." But King Richard wasn't upset. Quite the opposite, for now he had the perfect thing to complain about.
The next morning Max was summoned by one of His Majesty's royal messengers.
"The king's royal food supply has been depleted," announced the messenger, "His Highness would like you to find out why this is so and stop it from happening anymore." Max was confused. He had never been asked to do anything like this before. But nevertheless, as Max was an obedient boy, and he did what he was told.
Upon arriving at the cold, damp cellar, Max had no idea what to do. But soon after he arrived he noticed a small flash of gray. Mice! That was the problem! But how was he supposed to catch them all? Then he remembered what Emily had said about Charlie.
Max knew what to do. He hurried back to Sultan's stable.
"Emily!" he shouted as he burst through the door. He told her what was going on.
"Charlie can help," she said confidently, putting her hands on her hips. Emily grabbed her startled cat and hurried towards the place where the food was stored. As soon as Charlie caught sight of a mouse, he jumped out of Emily's arms and ran after it.
"We can leave him here," explained Emily, "He'll come back when he's ready."
And pretty soon most of the mice were gone.
King Richard was furious. How could this have happened? He was more determined than ever to find a problem that Max could not solve. Queen Ann couldn't seem to figure out what was the matter. She had never seen her husband this angry before, and it worried her. But, as usual, King Richard wouldn't listen.
And suddenly, King Richard had an idea. A horrible, brilliant idea.
That morning, another messenger came for Max.
"His Majesty's royal tiger, Anastasia, has escaped," the messenger informed Max, "Apparently the groom is on vacation, so you'll have to go get her." Now Max was really confused.
"Isn't this a dangerous job?" he asked. The messenger shrugged. He didn't know; he just delivered messages.
Max took a deep breath. What choice did he have? It was on His Majesty's orders, after all. And as Max was an obedient boy, the next morning he packed his supplies and mounted Sultan. He was very careful not to wake Emily. Together they rode off towards the forest where Anastasia was supposed to have gone.
Max couldn't remember ever being as scared as he was then. The forest was dark and creepy, the drooping leaves oppressive in their silence and the trees seemed to push in on him as he rode through them. The map he had brought hadn't helped at all. He wanted to go home. A wolf howled in the distance and Sultan got spooked. He bucked, neighing and shaking his head, and Max was thrown off the saddle. Luckily, he landed in the soft grass, but it had still hurt. The horse galloped off into the shadows. Max stood and wandered around for a little while, not sure where to go, when a fierce growl came from behind him. He turned around and found himself face to face with Anastasia herself.
The royal tigress was recognizable by the elegant ruby-studded golden collar around her neck. She crouched in a pouncing position, her ears twitching in frustration. Max had the feeling that this was not a good place to be right now.
"Get away from my friend you... you sorry excuse for a feline!" cried a voice from behind Anastasia. She and Max turned to see Emily holding a sword that looked far too big for her while glaring at Anastasia. Charlie was barely visible behind her. He wasn't as eager as Emily to face a full-grown tiger.
Although he was grateful to see her, Max couldn't help thinking she had gone insane.
Anastasia growled and lunged at the girl, who put the sword up to defend herself even though she had no idea how to use it. Anastasia, however, didn't know that. She backed off at the sight of the silver blade. Emily ran around towards Max and tossed him another sword, sheath and all. Max's jaw dropped.
"Are you crazy?" he asked.
"I'm the crazy one?" said Emily. "This was your idea!" Max couldn't argue.
Anastasia wasn't waiting for them to finish their conversation. She jumped again at Emily, who leaped away to dodge. Max quickly drew his sword while Charlie hissed at Anastasia from a nearby tree. This time Anastasia turned to Max. He gulped. He had no way to defend himself. This sword was too heavy. This tiger was going to kill him… Emily ran to his side.
"You're not afraid, are you?" Emily tried to reassure Max. He wished she'd be quiet. Anastasia seemed perturbed by Emily's comments, though her fear of the swords seemed to make her hesitate. She growled and slashed a claw. The two humans jumped back, the wind from the blow hitting them as they dodged. Anastasia lunged at Emily, but in mid-lunge she changed direction and leaped at Max!
Max had no idea what to do, so he just did the first thing that came to mind: he put his sword in front of him as he'd seen Emily do.
The tiger seemed to almost fall from the air at the sight of the sharp object. Her paws skidded against the ground as she tried to stop her attack.
And then, before Max, Emily, or Anastasia could register who was alive and who wasn't, at least a dozen of the king's soldiers burst into the clearing. At their head stood Sultan, and on his back rode no other than King Richard himself. Everybody froze, staring at each other.
Finally, as if to break the silence, Charlie jumped down from his tree, strode over to Emily, and began pawing at her legs. He wanted to go home. Anastasia went over to Sultan and King Richard and, much to Sultan's dismay, put her forelegs on Sultan's side and gave King Richard the same look Charlie had given Emily. She was done. She wanted to go home, too.
And that was what they did.
After returning to the castle, King Richard apologized in front of the many displeased people that lived there, including Queen Ann, who wouldn't let the matter go for years. In fact, after the event with Anastasia, the queen would never stop apologizing to Max and Emily, and she would go on and on about how brave they were. She offered them whatever they wanted and always got them presents for no reason no matter how much they told her they didn't need any. The king felt horrible about it as well, and often made awkward attempts to be kind. Sultan happily returned to his stable and was later given the honorable status of warhorse for coming to the children's aid. Anastasia seemed happy to be home, too. She never tried to hurt Max or Emily anymore, but the two still avoided her. Since she had gained so much support and was as healthy as ever, soon after the group returned to the castle Emily announced that she was leaving on a world trip with Charlie. Max announced that he would like to go with her, and he did.
King Richard, realizing that sometimes complaining can cause a bit too much trouble, finally resolved to try and be agreeable. He still complains more than the average person, but at least he's working on it.