Adapted, with permission, from “The Heartless King,” an Indian folk tale adapted by Sophia Fahs in From Long Ago and Many Lands, second edition, by Sophia Fahs and Patricia Hoertdoerfer and illustrated by Cyrus Leroy Baldridge (Boston: Skinner House Books, 1995).
Once upon a time there lived a king who cared for nobody but himself. He had grown rich from the high taxes he had forced his people to pay, while they had become poorer and poorer. He lived in a gorgeous palace, while the poor people who built it for him still lived in thatched huts and tumble-down hovels. The king's table was always heaped with delicious foods, while most of his people had only one plain meal a day, and sometimes not even that. But the heartless king did not care. If he had what he wanted, that was enough for him.
One day a hunter came to the palace gate, intending to teach the heartless king a lesson. The hunter brought with him an enormous dog. The king was fond of hunting and this enormous dog fascinated him. So the hunter and the dog were both welcomed into the palace grounds.
But the enormous dog was no ordinary dog, and her bark was like the roar of thunder. The first time she opened her big mouth and barked, the awful noise shook the walls of the palace and frightened the king and all his courtiers. If the dog had stopped with one or two barks, the matter might have been forgotten.
But again and again her fierce roaring shook the palace and the Earth itself. Before long there was no resting between barks. Nobody in the palace could hear themselves talk. The king was desperate and sent for the hunter.
He asked, "Why does your dog make such a deafening noise?"
"The dog is hungry," said the hunter.
Immediately the king ordered that a big plateful of meat be brought. In almost no time at all, the enormous dog licked the plate clean. Then at once she began barking again.
A second plateful of meat was brought. This the dog disposed of just as quickly as the first. Again the dog began barking.
Over and over the plate was filled, and over and over the enormous dog quickly ate the whole plateful and began barking as loudly as ever. The king was angry. He called the hunter and said:
"You and your dog must leave the palace at once. We cannot endure this deafening noise any longer." But the hunter was firm.
"Your Majesty, we have been sent to you by One greater than you are. We are here to stay." The king was frightened. He grasped the arms of his chair and stared at the hunter. The king was not accustomed to having anyone speak to him in this manner.
"Will nothing satisfy the hunger of your enormous dog?" the king said at last.
"Nothing that is easy for you to give," said the hunter. "Your Majesty, there are people in this kingdom who are eating all the food and who are not sharing it with those who do the work in the field to make the food grow. As a result, there are people who are always hungry. This dog feels the hunger of every person in this kingdom who does not have enough food to eat. As long as even one person is
hungry, this dog will be hungry and he will keep barking."
On hearing the hunter say this, the king was even more frightened than ever. It had never entered his thoughts that he had been doing anything wrong. He had thought that the people of his kingdom were simply supposed to always do exactly what he wanted. It had never occurred to him that a king should think of the happiness of anyone except himself.
He was now angry from his head to his feet, inside and outside. Either he would go mad hearing the continuous barking of that enormous dog, or else something would have to be done and that very quickly. So he called his wise advisors together and said: "What shall I do?"
The wise ones bowed their heads and walked off to think over the question together. (Leader — You may wish to pause here, and ask the children what the king should do.) But try as hard as they could, the advisors could see only two possible solutions. Either the enormous dog must be killed, or else every hungry person in the kingdom must be fed. No one was willing to kill the dog. So that
meant there was only one thing left to do. Everybody in the kingdom must somehow be fed. The wise advisors were very clear in their minds about it. They returned to the king and told him plainly what had to be done. They had to shout, of course, because the enormous dog was still barking. The king hesitated no longer.
"Put all the servants on the palace grounds to work at once!" he commanded. "Go to the storerooms and get all the bags of rice you can find. Pile them high on carts. Take also meat from my cupboards and gather vegetables and fruits from my gardens. Send servants out with these loaded carts into all the towns and villages in my kingdom. Command the servants to find all the people who are hungry. Give them generously of these foods, and keep on giving food until not a single person in the land is hungry."
The advisors hurried away to do as their king commanded. Soon there was shouting and laughing, hustling and bustling all over the palace. In fact, the royal servants made so much noise that they could hardly hear the barking of the enormous dog. Presently a long line of carts, piled high with bags and baskets of food, rolled out through the palace gate. All day long, and day after day, the carts kept going until they had gone to every village in the land and until food was taken to every house where somebody was hungry.
At last the day came when the enormous dog really stopped barking and lay down quietly beside the king's chair. The dog was satisfied. All the people inside the palace ground were happy and at peace in their minds. Everywhere in the land, the people were contented.
For the next few years the enormous dog stayed by the king's side to be sure the king never reverted to his old ways. A few times the dog barked to remind the king about justice, and each time the king remembered the important lesson he had learned.
Finally the dog was convinced the king truly understood the meaning of justice. One morning, she simply got up, walked out of the palace, and went to bark for justice in a new land.