I wrote this story for a 17th C. English class that focussed on connections and distinctions between humans and animals. The piece functions as a prelude to the induction of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew”. Enjoy!
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
After two weeks, two tired eyes get their first glance– at God’s image, looming overhead and capped with a golden crown.
“These five boys are mine. Rid me of the rest” orders the king, and a pair of servants carry off the pups. The runt, exposed to the autumn chill, nuzzles beneath its mother’s hind leg but is quickly plucked up by a third servant. A fourth grabs the mother’s nape with his left, brandishes a blade in his right.
The servant takes the runt down to the river and in his arms it falls asleep once more, its ear folded back to reveal the furless pink of skin. At the banks he encounters the queen with attendant maids, wrapped in coats that fail to obscure the roundness of her belly. “Is this one destined for the water?” she asks, and the servant nods. “These are Richard’s orders, I trust. Here, I’ll take the runt, though I know not how it’s cared for. There’s for the dog,” the queen says as she hands him coins, “now say nothing of it”. With this the servant nods and passes the runt to the queen, who strokes the folded ear. Eyes still closed, the runt lifts its head and suckles on her finger, but bites when it doesn’t receive milk. “Oh, you rogue!” exclaims the queen, and thus the dog is given a name.
On returning to her private chambers the queen insists to her maids that her dog remain a secret from the king, then orders two bowls and a blanket. When they go she removes her coats, places the dog on her bed and looks it over. Its body is winter white but for a few patches of gold on its belly, ears and nose. Its ears sway and flop as it takes tentative steps. The runt’s eyes follow a trail set by its nose, and as it circles sniffing back to the queen’s side she cannot help but smile. Picking it up in her arms she whispers “I have a young one sooner than I thought”. From her blouse she produces a lactating breast, offers it to the puppy and lets it drink.
From somewhere else in the palace the king is heard giving orders to his servants. “Bring out some of those flesh scraps for the dogs,” he tells one, “and don’t forget a wine bottle for me”. The servant leaves as a second enters. “King Richard,” he begins, “there’s growing public outrage about your newest feudal policies.”
“Let them outrage then, but let them know too their anger burns their energy for work. Now go, and come back with wine, not complaints!” he orders. When the first servant returns the king receives wine and bloody scraps before sending both servants off again. The young dogs waste no time in devouring their meal and the king raises his glass to them in a mock toast, saying “Proelia ruris.. Claret for the curs!”.
“Shake a paw. Sit. Roll over. Play dead, Rogue!” commands the queen. She makes kissy noises, claps her hands, repeats the name almost obsessively, but the dog refuses to cooperate. She quickly tires of her companion and abandons it in favour of the view from her window. Outside, branches make light stripes of the setting sun, and with a gust from the slight breeze an expanding ray of light exposes a large figure making its way through the undergrowth. She watches as the figure disappears in shadow, then draws up abruptly when she hears a yelp. Across the grounds, the king’s dogs recoil from a man with a switch. With a shudder the queen reaches to close the window but is interrupted by a knock at her door. She shoves the dog under the bed and reaches for a book as her husband stumbles in. He holds his wine bottle and slurs “the kingdom stands against my feudalism. Society of ungrateful wretches”. He hits the dresser and leans toward the window, where she catches him.
Gazing out he asks “Have you looked upon my new hunting hounds?”
“I care for your kingdom my lord, but cannot say the same for dogs of any kind.”
“You care not for my kingdom?”
The howl of either hounds or rising wind is heard from outside.
“Or it’s me you do not care for? Treason!” the wine bottle slips from his hand, smashes.
“I said nothing–” the queen protests, backing away.
“You have said enough, b–” and a firm wind blows through the room, slamming the door shut.
A chill autumn draft passes through the window and the queen turns over, mumbling in her sleep. From under the bed emerges the runt, cautiously sniffing. A careless paw disturbs a shard from the broken bottle and the queen mutters “Rogue..” but nothing more. Invisible in shadows Rogue turns to her, pauses. The queen falls silent and the dog steps out to lap at the silver-rimmed puddle of wine.
Warm sun makes dewdrops fall from a forest now thick and green with foliage. The queen awakens to the distant laughter of men, and when they knock at palace door she answers. “Beautiful queen, you look about to burst,” quips one of the lords as they enter.
“The Physic says it’s due any day now” she smiles as she seats them.
“Prince, tell your father to repeal those laws!” says another, bending to the queen’s stomach. All laugh as the queen’s cheeks darken from pink to red, and she turns away to speak to a servant. Returning again to the lords the queen offers “The king will come down shortly. Until then, you’ll have to make due with his wine. Servants?” Two servants return with a bottle. “Careful my lords, not too much before the hunt” she chides, and they laugh again. After some time, the king appears and leads the lords outside. “Look on my hounds! Formidable, aren’t they?” he asks, urging the others to inspect the dogs. “What a complete and able brotherhood!” one agrees.
The party moves around the corner, leaving the queen to look past the grounds into the forest. When the men’s voices grow distant she closes the door, takes the half-empty bottle of wine and returns with it to her chambers. The dog sits at its water dish, whimpering. “You’ve water enough, what more do you want?” asks the queen. She puts the bottle to her lips, but before she can take a drink the dog barks. “You’ll drink too? Here– to the thrill of the hunt!”. Giggling, she empties the dog’s bowl and refills it with wine before taking a long pull from the bottleneck herself.
The Broken blood vessels in her cheek turn purple as the queen bends to look beneath her bedskirt. She moans, and a sour-smelling stream of water spills out from between her legs. Letting the bedskirt go she calls for help, collapses. The door opens and the room fills with quick footsteps and anxious voices. “A basin of warm water, and my bag” says one, and the feet position themselves at the foot of the bed. Others can be heard shuffling over the cobble, and the bedframe sinks as the queen is lifted onto it. The feet surround every edge of the bed, leaving only small gaps for light. Presently the queen comes to, screaming. The voices speak rapidly and one pair of feet leaves the bedside to pace across the room. Louder cries now as another smell rises in the air, metallic and fetid, filling the room and drowning out all else but one thought: so this is it, this is the smell of death. The screams subside, the room is still. “My baby boy, you’ve killed my baby boy!” laments the king, and in a moment all feet but those at the end of the bed exit the room.
Through that day and the next the dog’s dish sits empty. The room remains dark, illuminated only briefly during visits by the anxious voice with the rattling bag. Distant shouts can be heard outside and occasionally an ear-splitting crack. “What’s happening out there? Is it too late?” the queen can be heard to ask.
“Nothing, my queen, now sleep– you need your rest.” Later another pair of feet enter, followed by the voice of the king. “Poor peasants and rich lords alike come for my head, rioting against a system that they cannot fully appreciate. And you the cause of my stillborn son lie unmovable, ensuring all our deaths. You’re doubly the downfall of our empire.” A shadow flashes across the floor, a hard sound starts the queen weeping and the king leaves. Rogue whines and paws at the bed post but the chaos outside subsumes the cries of queen and dog.
With dawn the shouts grow louder, more urgent. Doctor and servants enter, calling “Awake, the palace is under attack!” and “Come, the king intends to leave this instant!”. Supported by her servants, the shambled queen collects herself and follows the doctor out. Something on fire smashes through the window as they depart and, for the first time in days, the malnourished Rogue escapes from beneath the bedskirt. Rushing past the group and through the open door the dog descends the stairs, emerges into the fray of the floor below– more fires, falling bodies, flailing limbs– and with a kick from a wayward boot is sent aloft through the palace entrance. Outside an upset crowd charges inward, and when a seam in the onrush appears Rogue takes the chance, darting between legs toward the edge of the palace grounds and on into the safety of the forest beyond.
Inside the tree line, wildflowers and animals leave paths of unfamiliar scent; one leads to a flapping of wings, and the forest echoes with song. Furry Critters cross the path to meet with shared looks of fear and confusion. New sensations and a body weak from months of mistreatment do much to inhibit progress, but paw by paw the smells of the forest subside to those of civilization. Night descends, and the growing stench of sewage becomes sole marker of direction. When lit windows at last appear through the trees the trail is intersected by the scent of sweat and a sweet, acidic aroma that is all too familiar. This last is soon accompanied by another that pours thick through the nostrils into the stomach, conjuring feelings of warmth and comfort. Smell and sound grow until they gain a soft yellow light that shines through an open door. Inside men smile and hop about, embrace one another and empty their glasses. Snout drawn in, limbs long from weariness, Rogue shuts eyes and enters.