AN: Written for an Creative Writing class.
Once upon a time there lived a prince named Edward who was the youngest of four brothers. His father, the King of Astor, loved all his sons but, frankly, four sons was three sons too many to have potentially squabbling over his throne when he was gone. As tradition mandated his first son was destined for the throne. His second son had decided to enter the monastery and his third son was currently madly in love with a vapor headed princess of a small and very distant kingdom. The king planned to have them safely married off before the boy came to his senses. This left only Edward, his fourth son, who kept very much to himself and seemed to not have much an interest in anything at all.
So you must imagine it was with some relief that the king received a missive from the neighboring kingdom to the north, creatively named North Kingdom, and the king who ruled there. It announced the northern kings intention to find a suitable husband for his lovely daughter.
Two weeks later a rushed and put upon Edward found himself standing unceremoniously in the great hall of the North kingdom's castle with two other suitors. He had been hastily pried from his comfortable, if a bit boring, routine at home and shipped out with nary a word. Both other suitors standing with him were lord's sons. This would normally have been beneath a prince's presence but as fourth in line for the throne of Astor Edward might as well have been a lord's son himself, though no one would say such a thing in front of him. They never hesitated to say so behind his back though.
The lords sons were a bit more dashing too, he thought sourly, broad shoulders and handsome features compared to his own lanky frame still a gangly from his latest- and hopefully last- growth spurt. He had never been very princely too dark and pale, not the proper golden hair and tanned skin at all. The king surveyed them with pursed lips, obviously not the turnout he had been hoping for. They waited some moments longer as though another suitor would come dashing in even though the deadline for arriving had passed some hours ago. The king cleared his throat and addressed the three men.
In the long tradition of kings marrying off their daughters in North he would not choose a husband for his daughter- whom he loved dearly and much doted on- and he would not let his daughter pick. Edward thought that this contradicted his self proclaimed dotage but wisely kept such thoughts to himself. Instead the king set forth three tasks to be completed by each suitor and whoever completed the tasks best would win the princess hand in marriage.
"You have one year and a day. On that day if you are not here you will disqualified." said the king.
"You will have three tasks to complete. The first is to slay a monster, prove that you can protect your people and bring back proof of your heroism. Then you shall find treasure to enrich your future kingdoms wealth. And finally," and here he paused and looked fondly at his daughter. " you shall each have made a wedding dress for my daughter that will match her beauty for my daughter is the most lovely thing in all my kingdom and she shall be even more so on her wedding day."
Edward struggled not to make a face. Everyone else seemed to think this a wonderful idea, if maybe a little traditional. Who wouldn't want a little fame and glory before settling down? The princess found it very romantic. Edward wondered if maybe his father had concocted this whole scheme to have him assassinated and out of the way. It seemed like something he might do.
So that all three men did not go haring off in the same direction it was decided that they would blindfold the court jester and spin him around in a circle. The direction he was pointing when he stopped was the direction they set off in. Originally the king had wanted to blindfold each suitor in turn and spin them around but the two lordlings had put up a fuss about their dignity and at length they had all compromised with the jester.
For the oldest suitor, a blond man with a ready smile, the jester pointed west. He breathed a sigh of relief for in that direction lay many cities and eventually the kingdom of Hale which was peopled with a friendly populace. He would not lack for help. The second oldest suitor, who possessed a sharp wit, was given east. He also sighed in relief for that direction lay the city of Rien where all the knowledge of civilization was kept. He would not lack for information.
Edward, being the youngest, had his path chosen last and when the jester finally came to a wobbly stop his finger pointed even farther north than North kingdom. In that direction lay only vast and untamed wilderness and beyond that the unnamed peaks of a large mountain range. Edward did not sigh, in relief or otherwise. He kept his thoughts to himself.
Edward set off the next morning with little fanfare, the two lordlings having left the night before, eager to be on their way. The prince had seen no reason to rush off into wilderness so he had packed carefully and slept a full night and then left, the capital fading into various cities, then towns, then villages. As he got closer to the edge of the kingdom he began hearing stories of a beast that lived in the edge of the forest that spoke, but only in curses that were know to melt the flesh off a full grown man at 30 paces. He spoke politely but shortly to everyone and left promptly in the next morning. In the last village before the prince entered the forest a woman warned him again of the beast and added that they had lost many cattle to it this year so they had put out many traps in an effort to catch it.
The fourth prince listened to this quietly then very politely thanked her for warning him and left again on time the next morning for the cool dense forest that stood waiting. He began his first night in the forest alone, close to his fire. He watched the darkness with its chattering bugs and snapping twigs and thought it wasn't half as serene as bards made it out to be. It seemed to him that the darkness breathed like a living thing and maybe not an entirely friendly one.
A crash and a howl of pain interrupted Edward's thoughts and brought him to his feet, sword in hand. He waited a moment to get a baring on the noise and then set off after it, snagging a burning stick as he went. As he neared the howling resolved itself into the sounds of someone cursing colorfully enough to make a sailor blush.
"Hello?" the prince called.
The voice stopped.
"Are you alright?" Edward continued.
"Go away!" the voice snapped.
"I heard a loud noise." the prince said. "Are you hurt?"
He was almost upon the owner of the unhappy voice; he could see a dark shape lying a few meters away.
"Get the hell away from me!" the voice cursed again.
Edward held his makeshift torch up and the dark shape resolved itself into the form of a very large, dirty dog. The prince looked around for the source of the voice as the dog shuffled around so that it faced him revealing one enormous paw stuck in a bear trap. The prince called hello again and the dog bared its teeth and described his mothers lineage in terms fit only for the deaf.
"Oh." said the prince.
He knelt down so that he was eye level with the creature. The dog's fur bristled, sticking up in great matted clumps. It looked like it very much wanted to back away but stuck as it was in the bear trap it could only growl and snap. Edward sat quietly, measuring the time a little as his brand shrank and when the dog finally seemed to wind down he spoke again.
"You must be the creature I've been warned of." he said. "Would you like your paw out of that trap?"
The dog growled and barked and told him to go away again.
The prince thought that having ones foot stuck in a bear trap would be very painful and make one very grumpy but did not mention this to the dog. He seemed like a prideful fellow. His torch was almost gone.
"I'll be right back." the prince said, rising to walk swiftly back to his camp.
Once, there he added more wood to the fire and pulled his small eating knife from his pack. He picked his way back through the darkness to the dog. The prince went straight to him ignoring the dogs bristling and brought his small knife to bear on the snapping mechanism. Up close the dog smelled bad enough to make Edwards eyes water and forced him to breathe carefully out of his mouth. The trap sprang open with a snap and the dog jumped back and was immediately lost in the darkness.
Prince Edward went back to his camp and put his knife away then sat down again next to the fire, drawing his cloak about himself. At length he called out.
"If you want to sit near the fire you are welcome." he said.
Long moments passed and then the dark shape of the dog separated itself from the surrounding woods. He placed himself carefully on the opposite side of the fire from the prince.
"Why are you in the woods?" the dog asked.
"I am going North." answered the prince as he had many others.
The dog snorted.
"Great. That doesn't tell me anything."
The prince smiled and told the dog of the three quests he had been sent on, to which the dog rolled its eyes and wondered at the stupidity of the ruling class. Edward said nothing but stared out into the living darkness and in time went to sleep.
When he woke Dog was gone. Edward did not go looking for him, though he thought he could grow to like the ornery animal.
Edward packed up his belongings, got his bearings and continued on his path North passing through the shrubbery of the new growth into the more open ground of the older forest. The large trunks of the trees standing like ancient pillars holding up the leafy roof.
"For a guy on a quest you aren't very alert." said Dog.
The prince looked down to find the large dog trotting beside him, tongue lolling out of his mouth, limp gone.
"Hello again Dog." said the prince, smiling. "I'm glad to see you."
The dog snorted as though he didn't believe him and told him he was a very odd prince which made Edward smile all the more.
"This way." said Dog, veering off and leading the prince northeast.
"What's this way?" asked the prince, following along nevertheless.
"You need to finish your quests don't you?" asked Dog.
Edward did not answer but followed along nevertheless, curious to see where Dog would lead him. They kept on this path for several days. The first night Edward built up a fire and cooked the last of the dried meat he had brought along. As the stew warmed and the smell of beef and herbs permeated the campsite Dog inched closer and closer to the fire until Edward had to tell him to back away after which Dog went and sulked at the edge of the firelight and refused to be drawn into a civil conversation. When the stew was done Edward split it into two bowls and placed one before Dog. The dog froze, startled.
"It's all yours." said the prince.
Dog fell upon the bowl like a man starving. Every night after that when they stopped for the night the prince built up a fire and Dog showed up with a small game animal clenched between his great teeth , at first hesitantly, as thought Edward would banish him for bringing his own food in but each time with more confidence. Edward would accept this offering and cook it and split the food whereupon Dog would eat his portion as though it were ambrosia. Afterwards they would go to sleep, the prince wrapped in his bedroll and Dog so close to the fire he sometimes made the camp stink of singed fur. Edward said nothing about the smell Dog looked like he was enjoying the fire too much and he didn't want to offend the animal and send him running. Fires, Prince Edward thought, were really meant to be shared.
The dog led him at length to a clearing and a tower that leaned into the sky as though a giant clumsy had sent it down improperly but had many other important things to do and so left it as it was. Birds of all kinds roosted in the nooks and cranny's. The many twigs of their nests gave the tower a frazzled look.
"What is this way out here?" wondered the prince.
"It is a wizard's tower." said Dog shortly.
"Generally it is considered unwise to bother a wizard." said the prince dryly.
"The wizard hasn't lived here in many years." snorted Dog. "Are you a prince on a quest or a ninny?"
They went to the building, the door was stuck shut but at Dogs urging Edward got out his sword and badly abused the edge to chop a hole so that he might wrench it open. Inside was a small round room with a fireplace and a single chair. Books lined the walls in their pages covered in strange tongues and over everything a thick layer of dust. Edward sneezed.
"You would think that a wizard would have spells to keep his home free of dust." said the prince.
"Those require planning." the dog grumbled.
"You know what happened to him?" asked Edward.
"Foolishness and idiocy." answered Dog. "The less spoken of, the better. It might rub off."
The creature led him over to a narrow winding staircase and they went up, on the second floor they passed a dusty and clutter laboratory and on the next a small, barren bedroom. It contained only a single cot and washing basin. This wizard must have been a very lonely man Edward thought, out here by himself and with nothing in his tower but his wizardry. The place seemed to him to be a very sad thing, but he kept these thoughts to himself and did not bother Dog with them.
The fourth floor made him stop. He could see the far window from the stair and it pulled him over to it as though by magic. Out it he could see the tops of the trees fading far into the distance, an emerald green ocean that splashed against the slopes of the far mountains whose tops shone and sparkled with snow all year round. Small clouds chased each other foolishly across a sky more blue than the prince had ever seen. His breath caught at the sight of it.
"What did you stop for?" Dog grumped, nails clicking on the stone floor as he came up behind Edward.
"The view." said the prince.
Dog was quiet a moment and then he agreed that yes, it was a view worth stopping for.
"Come, what we're looking for is on the next level." Dog growled and trotted back up the stair.
Edward wondered how Dog knew about the view, for his head did not reach the windowsill but kept silent and followed the waving tail on the dogs hindquarters up to the fifth floor. The prince did wonder what exactly what they were looking for in an abandoned tower and said so. Dog replied. "A treasure for your quest."
On the fifth floor were piles of strange items, thrown carelessly to lie where they may. It did, Edward thought, look quite like a storage closet. The prince wondered at the wisdom of rummaging through a wizards closet but Dog went straight over to a pile of junk on the far side of the room and began rooting through it. Edward busied himself with cautiously poking through a nearer pile. Gadgets on top of gewgaws on top of what appeared to be a jeweled sword. Under that lay a stuffed dragon as big as the prince's hand. It bit at his finger with its soft teeth when the prince reached for it, growling ferociously all the while. Smiling Edward extracted the small toy from the pile. It made him think of Dog. The prince's self appointed guide made a sound of discovery and came back over to Edward, triumphant, a hand mirror clenched in his jaws.
"It is a magic mirror." said Dog when Edward had taken it from him. "It shows the face of a person who will either bring you great fortune or great ill, but only once and then it is just a mirror."
"How do you know which the person is?" asked Edward.
Dog gave a shake of his head that passed for a shrug. "You have to guess."
Curious, Edward turned the gilt mirror over and was presented with the narrow face and sky blue eyes of a scowling man. He was several years older than Edward and he blinked once and the image faded until the prince saw only his own pale visage reflected back.
"He looked like a very unhappy fellow." said the prince.
Dog ignored his comment, grumbling to himself about ungrateful princes going on stupid quests. They left shortly after, Dog having refused to neither stay the night in the tower nor let Edward touch anything else. Edward packed the mirror away so that it wouldn't break and placing the dragon he had smuggled out on top of it. It gave a tiny little roar as he closed his pack on it.
Two months later they sat around a fire once more. Edward was scowling and wrapping a bandage around Dog's middle.
"Bandaging this won't do that much good against infection when you're as dirty as you are." he said.
"If you weren't so incompetent at being a hero I wouldn't have needed to jump in and save your highnesses royal butt." Dog snapped.
"You could have told me you were leading me into a basilisks den!" exclaimed the prince.
"You're a prince! On a quest! You are supposed to expect these things and be ready for them." Dog growled and wiggled to a sitting position. "Get off of me, your hovering is making me nervous."
Prince Edward drew back, but not very far and tried not to sulk. They sat in silence but for the crackle of the fire.
"Thank you." Edward said eventually.
"What?" Dog asked.
"I said thank you. You didn't have to jump in and help me." said Edward.
Dog looked distinctly uncomfortable. "Well, you're welcome." he cleared his throat and added in a much smaller voice. "You weren't doing all that bad with the one if it makes you feel better. The second appearing just sort of threw a wrench in. Couldn't just let them eat you. I've gotten used to you bumbling around after me."
Edward beamed at his companion and the dog turned his back on him, curling up as well as he could with a banged up middle and pretended to sleep. The next morning dawned clear and blue. The prince put out the fire and packed again in his familiar routine.
"So we have treasure and have slain a monster all that remains is the wedding dress." the prince announced. "Am I to know where we are going for this before we get there this time?"
"We aren't going anywhere." Dog announced. "Take your things off the horse and let it free."
"I see neither seamstress here, nor a loom if I am expected to make the dress myself." Edward joked.
"We are going to be getting your brides dress from the Fae who are greatest artists of all and you get there through no earthly path." Dog informed him.
"I have heard the Fae are a dangerous folk. Is this wise?" Edward wondered.
"They do have an odd sense of humor and there are a few rules you must follow but otherwise it is perfectly safe. I will stay near you. It is fine. You do wish to have the best gifts do you not?" said Dog.
Prince Edward said nothing but took his pack down and gave his horse a swat on the rump, sending it off. Following Dog's directions he drew a large circle on the ground and they both stood within it. Dog warned him of three things before he taught him the words to travel to the never-never. One was never to eat any of the food he was offered or he would never be allowed to leave. Two, was never to thank anyone outright for that put you into debt with the faerie. And lastly was to never to draw his sword under any circumstances for it was made or cold iron and to bring such into the presence of the Fae was a death sentence.
Once Edward had memorized these things to the animal's satisfaction he was taught a series of words that made his tongue twist in his mouth and sounded like gravel. He closed his eyes and painstakingly said the words. There was a rushing noise and a moment of vertigo and Edward opened his eyes up into a grassy plain and a soaring crystalline city.
It walls were blue and purple, some of them so delicate the prince expected a sharp gust of wind to break them off. From all around came a high fluting noise that Edward eventually came to realize what the city itself, the many walls ringing softly in harmony. A figure approached them. A tall woman with white hair and large unreadable eyes. She wore a robe that fluttered around her like gossamer with a pattern like leaves in autumn falling down the back. She was beautiful. Edward felt suddenly very conscious of his grubby, half shaved state and of the matted, stinking dog next to him.
The faerie woman eyed them a moment taking their appearance in and then smiled greeting them as thought they were old friends. She showed them to some guest quarters and Edward cleaned up as the Fae woman and Dog had a hushed conversation. When he came back the lady stood and looked at him closely so that Edward shifted uncomfortably.
"Your dress will be finished by the morn. In the meantime, please join us, there is a festival tonight."
Edward opened his mouth to thank her and remember just in time. "It is much appreciated." he stuttered.
The lady curtsied and left them. A servant brought in a set of very fine clothes in reds and gold's for Edward to wear to the festival as the sun set and after some arguing and not a little protesting about his poor abused ribs on Dogs side, the prince got the animal into a bath. They had to refill it twice with new water but in the end Dog was clean though his pride suffered some. Edward dried him with a large towel and spent a good while laughing when his fur stood on end and made Dog look like a very large, black, dandelion puff.
They went to the festival after Dog's fur has settled down. Edward hung back feeling awkward, refusing all offers of food and drink and dance. Dog had disappeared almost immediately upon arriving off doing god's knew what. Fae girls in dresses that shimmered and did very little to protect their modestly danced and twirled in the firelight. Men sang a high and lilting song and the dancing girls joined in on the chorus. Edward had never felt so out of place in his life than he did among these unnaturally beautiful men and woman, many of whom acted at though he were only a shadow passing among them. He withdrew to the side of a building were few Fae were gathered and wondered if it would be rude to leave the celebration so early.
"You look very uncomfortable." Edward spun to find the Fae lady from earlier standing at his shoulder.
"It is a beautiful city and a lovely festival." he assured her.
"We celebrate the turning of autumn to winter." she told him, scrutinizing his face. "You would rather not be here."
It was not a question. Edward did not answer. "This is your last stop before you must return to your princess's castle. You would rather be with her now?"
Edward was silent.
"You do not wish the princesses hand in marriage?" the lady asked.
"She is probably a very lovely young woman." said the prince in a tone that said she was not very lovely at all.
"Then why complete the quests?" asked the lady.
"I had not actually planned to finish the quests." Edward confided. "I was just going to travel until the time limit was up but I ran into Dog and he seems very intent on my finishing so..." he shrugged again. "I didn't want to ruin his fun."
The lady studied him for a long moment till Edward had to hold himself very stiffly lest he fidget.
"I think you mistake his purpose." she murmured and was gone before he could inquire what she meant.
Very much later Edward collapsed back into his bed in the guest quarters and was almost asleep when Dog came back and jumped into the bed as well.
"You didn't go with one of the girls?" asked Dog.
"Nope," Edward mumbled and rolled over to hug the furry animal closer. "M'glad you don't smell anymore."
Dog told him where he could put his baths.
Edward fell asleep in the middle of it.
The next morning on the edge of the city Prince Edward was presented with a box by the Fae lady who seemed to be their guide.
"There you go. Be on your way. Don't peek into it before you are back at your princesses castle." and to Dog. "Now we are even."
Dog agreed and the lady clapped her hand together. The world blurred, Edward decided he preferred a little warning when traveling like this so that he could close his eyes. They arrived on the edge of the capital of North kingdom in the middle of summer.
"But it was just becoming winter when we left!" exclaimed the prince.
"Time goes a little strangely between here and there." said the dog. "Come let us hope that you aren't late."
Dog ran and Edward followed puffing a little as they came to the castle, stopping only long enough to ascertain that indeed a year and a day had passed since Edward had left the kingdom of North and he was right on time. They had spent 6 months gone from this realm. They were stopped at the castle doors where a guard told them that no animals were allowed. Indignant, Edward opened his mouth to defend his friend's right to enter but Dog interrupted him and said there was no time; he would wait out here for him to hear the news.
"Go." Dog urged.
Reluctantly, Edward entered the castle leaving Dog and the gaping guardsman behind. The other two suitors waited already in the throne room with the King, Princess and court watching.
"Now that we are all here let us begin!" The king called and bade them present their trophies from the beasts.
The blond lord offered the claws of a griffin and the court oohed. The lord with quick wit presented the king with an egg from a dragon so that it would guard the castle when it grew and everyone clapped. Edward stepped forward and bowed very low indeed but presented nothing.
"You have slain nothing?" asked the king.
"I slew a basilisk." said Edward.
"Where then is your proof?" asked the king.
"I am sorry. I have none. My friend was injured in killing it and I forgot to take proof." said Edward.
The king harrumphed and bade the suitors to step forward and present their treasures. The first suitor clapped his hands and three servants brought forth chests filled with gold and jewels rescued from pirates along the coast. The second suitor snapped his fingers and a servant brought forth three large books that held within them the knowledge to streamline the kingdoms crop cycles and bring more wealth and food into the kingdom for years. On his turn Edward stepped forward and held out his small hand mirror.
"What is that?" asked the king.
"It is a hand mirror!" exclaimed the princess.
"A magic mirror." added Edward.
"What does it do?" asked the king dubiously.
"It shows you the face of someone who will either bring you great happiness or great misfortune, but only once and then it is just a hand mirror." said Edward.
"How can you tell which is which?" asked the king.
"You cannot. You must guess" said the prince.
"That does not seem very useful." said the princess but took the mirror when Edward offered it to her anyway.
The king then bade them to bring forth the wedding dresses that they had brought. The oldest suitor had a dress brought forth that a goddess would envy. Pure white and with pearls and diamond sewn into the bodice and trailing behind it a train so long 2 maids would have to carry it. The princess saw this dress and her eyes shone like the gems used in its making. The second suitor brought forth a dress made of a material that floated like mist and shimmered like a soap bubble. It was a gown so delicate and graceful that anyone wearing it would be transformed into a creature air and wind. When the princess saw this dress she sighed and her eye lashes fluttered as though she were already the airy creature the dress would make her into.
And then it was Edwards turn. He stepped forward and opened the plain box he had been given and shook out the garment within. Gasps echoed around the chamber.
"What is THAT?" the princess shrieked.
A plain gray robe hung from Edwards hands, made of no special cloth and in no special cut. It was, in fact, much too large for the princess.
"It is a wizards robe my lady." said Edward.
"I am no wizard!" exclaimed the princess.
"Indeed, you are not." Edward bowed again. "I apologize, I have someone I need to find."
He turned on his heel and left the stunned court and the princesses enraged shrieks behind. No one was waiting at the castle door for him. Questioning the guard told him that his companion had left immediately after he had entered the castle and hey, was that really a talking dog? Edward did not answer instead sprinting into the city robe still clutched in one hand. He caught up to Dog at the edge of the capital.
"Wait Dog! Wait!" he called. "You would just leave?"
"You have completed your quests." said Dog." You have no need of me anymore. I am going back to my forest."
"To do what? Sulk and curse and scare the villagers?" asked Edward.
"It's none of your business!" snapped Dog.
"It is my business because I am coming with you." said Edward.
Dog gaped at him. "Are you mad? I am a dog!"
Edward knelt down so that he was once more eye level with the animal. "You brought me food when I could find none. You kept me warm when my bedroll would not suffice. You helped me through the quests even if I would not have been doing them were it not for you" Edward continued over the dogs sputtering." You kept me company that is more than any human has ever done for me. I would happily spend the rest of my days with you stalking your forest and scaring poor villagers."
And with that Edward leaned forward and kissed the Dog smack on his stunned nose. There was a bright flash of light and where the dog stood was a narrow faced man with sky blue eyes in bad need of a robe. Edward handed him the gray robe that he had clutched in his hand and the man shimmied into it. It fit perfectly.
"Or we could go back to your tower and see about those dusting spells." Edward finished.
The man who had been Dog cocked his head to the side. A rather doggy action, Edward thought it cute and resolved to say nothing of it.
"What about your princess?"
"I never really wanted to rule a kingdom. She will be much happier with one of the other suitors." Edward hadn't the heart to tell him that his quest items had not been received very well, or at all.
"I can't imagine that. How did you know I was really a man?" the man who had been Dog asked.
"Talking animals generally only have once source." said Edward. "Though I am curious as to how you became one."
The man who had been Dog grimaced. "I would rather not go into it. Witches are a touchy folk."
Edward nodded sagely and linked their hands. "Shall we go?" he said.
The man who had been Dog, looked at their hands for a moment and a slow smile spread across his face, he nodded.
"You know, I saw your face in the hand mirror you gave me." Edward said.
"Have you figured out which I am?" the man who had been Dog asked.
"I have a guess." said Edward.