A Reprieve at Tables Turned
By: M. J. Morgan
“Ah. Good morning, Eanrin.” The Prince of Farthestshore greeted his servant, regarding the cat over the piece of parchment that currently absorbed his attention. The cat, in turn, stretched and shook the sleep from his limbs, his blind face turning in the direction of the fair-skinned man, “Morning, my lord. What news?”
Momentarily distracted by the letter in his hands, it took a few moments for Aethelbald to hear the voice of his companion, “Hm? Oh, I just received a letter from Una.”
Eanrin flicked his tail, but said nothing. He heard the light sound of what seemed like a chuckle from the prince, and Eanrin stalked silently from the chamber, seeking a small haven where he would not bother the clearly preoccupied young man.
It had not been more than a week or two, Far World time, that Aethelbald had left the palace, a departure with which his princess had bequeathed him with loving words and a long, tender kiss. As happy as Eanrin was for his Prince and the lovely Princess, something inside him would twitch every so often when they were together.
This twitch was nothing of course. Merely the ache of oncoming weather, yes, that was it. Brave, noble, talented Sir Eanrin would be swayed by nothing less; least of all the prince’s sincere relationship with his wife. So he did what any logical minstrel in search of inspiration would do. He went to see Imraldera.
She was in her library again, reading this time. Perched sideways upon a large chair with her legs over one fabric arm and her elbows resting on the other, Dame Imraldera looked as though she wasn’t expecting company for a while.
Eanrin sniffed once to get a whiff of her scent, somehow discerning her mood immediately. Some strange mix between a frown and a smirk etched itself on his feline face. She was undoubtedly reading the record of Aethelbald and Una’s romance, and, knowing her, probably their wedding, despite the fact that she had been there in person.
The woman clearly heard him even before he opened his mouth, addressing him without even lifting her gaze, “Good morning, Eanrin.”
The animal stretched, his long pink tongue extending with the gesture, “What intrigues ye this fine day, fair maiden?”
A light sigh escaped her mouth without putting her readings down, “What’s your business today, Eanrin? What would you like?”
“The Prince has just received a letter from Princess Una and I am finding it slightly frustrating to be around while he pines for his Princess and I am left only to watch him with no love or attention for myself.” He sighed dramatically, coming out of a cat’s mouth as a discontented mewl.
Imraldera’s eyes visibly narrowed and darkened, but she once again did not look up from her readings, her serious voice coming out as almost a mutter this time, “I cannot say the notion is unfamiliar.”
Ignoring her last remark, Eanrin wailed a complaining drawl and meandered up to the chair, pawing at the edge of her tunic. The woman took a deep breath and glanced down at him, “So, what do you want?”
The cat withdrew from the chair, sitting promptly on the floor as his blind face stared up at her, his tail twitching back and forth periodically. He tilted his head and seemed to drink in the attention while he could get it before he spoke again, “Inspiration.”
She immediately turned away, returning to the beautiful story at her fingertips, “And you came looking for that here?”
Eanrin allowed a slight perturbed groan escape his throat. A few moments of silence fell between them as he sat at the foot of her chair, all fluffed up and staring at her with all the imaginary glaring power he could muster from his empty eye sockets. She seemed to no longer be paying attention, completely engrossed in the parchment before her, probably intentionally.
Slight aggravation and lack of attention drove him to crouch on his haunches, shifting his weight between his front legs as he bounded onto her lap, issuing a withheld grunt from the woman as he landed squarely on her stomach.
The written love story in her hands fell to the side as she came face to face with a furry-muzzled little monster. Both sat in silence for a while as she stared at him; he simply curled up and made himself comfortable on her stomach, tucking his front paws under himself as the end of his tail flicked. Her mouth twisted, “Oh, what, now you think this is appropriate?”
“But you like it.”
Another moment of silence fell until the lady sighed and began to stroke his long golden mane. She raked her fingers down his back, the fur rippling after her fingertips, and raised her hand back to his head to scratch the spot behind his ears.
It only took a couple moments for the low rhythmic sound of a purr to echo from his throat. Glancing at him, she knew if he had eyes, they would be closed in ecstasy in that moment. Her mouth deepened in a sad frown, almost hoping he wouldn’t pick up on it.
“What troubles you, sweet lady?” he managed through a purr.
Her hand stopped scratching and lay on his fur coat as her nose wrinkled a bit, “You know flat well what troubles me, Eanrin. I do not want to hear it.”
“Then let us not speak of it for a while.”
His answer surprised her. That is, until he added a tail end to it, “Now, I believe you left the business of petting me unfinished.”
Imraldera puffed out her cheeks, but continued stroking him nonetheless, and his purring continued. They stayed like that for a few minutes, and, gradually, Imraldera closed her eyes as she sat sideways on the chair, running her fingers slowly through the thick coat of the cat lying so naturally on her stomach.
Whether her state became somewhere between waking and sleeping or something simply very relaxed, she could not tell. But, at some point, as her hands moved through his fur, his weight shifted somehow on her middle, and the mane that her fingers now flowed through felt relatively the same, but seemed just a tad softer and much, much longer.
Her eyes remained closed even as she felt the knight’s humanoid ear amongst his golden locks. Large, calloused fingers of a man touched her free hand and lightly gripped her fingers, her other delicate hand still weaving through the knight’s hair. Silence held the two servants as she felt his warm breath ruffling the fabric of her tunic.
The peace did not hold for long, however, for as she felt the warmth of his hand caress her palm, Imraldera’s dark eyes shot open only to see the form of a cat settling back into his spot once again, relatively content, on her abdomen.
Gritting her teeth, Imraldera shoved the cat from his roost, “Dreadful beast!”
Recovering his footing on the floor and preening his paw for a moment, he did not answer, and she averted her eyes, a very subtle hint of red bridging her nose.
It was another minute or so before she finally spoke, “You are a vile mess.”
A soft trill echoed from his throat, “Nonsense, old girl. I just groomed a quarter of an hour ago.”
But both knew she wasn’t talking about the state of his fur.
So, acknowledging that his presence was no longer desirable, Eanrin returned to the Prince, who seemed to be having a dreadful time containing his amusement at the feline’s slightly miffed manner.
“Might I inquire after your knowledge and experience?”
Placing Una’s letter on the table near where he was sitting, Aethelbald raised his eyebrows, “Am I hearing this correctly? The Great Eanrin, world-renowned bard and romanticist across both Near World and Far, asking me for advice about women?”
A low grumbling noise came from the cat’s throat, “Pardon me, sire, but when did I ever say anything about—”.
“You know, Eanrin, maybe you should take a break from songwriting for a while.” The Prince mused.
Flabbergasted, Eanrin balked, “My lord, with all respect, how does that—”
Aethelbald lifted one eyebrow in wry amusement, “Think about all your written works of music, then think about whom you have claimed to have written them for.”
Eanrin growled, but sat down, waiting for the prince to continue. The prince picked up where he had left off, “Perhaps you should be a little more honest, Eanrin. Your insincerity with even yourself does you no good with the womenfolk, much less the true object of your affections.”
The smile currently playing on the edges of the prince’s mouth was currently toying with the knight’s patience. Eanrin plodded over to a window, pretending to stare outside as his tail began to whip violently in irritation. The prince continued, “Perhaps the best decision, Eanrin…”
When Aethelbald trailed off, Eanrin prompted, “Yes?”
Glancing at the ceiling thoughtfully, Aethelbald continued; a slightly sardonic smile curling across his visage with the gratification of knowing that the knight was actually listening, “Well, and I speak with the greatest respect for your art…”
“What is your suggestion, my Prince?”
The grin against Aethelbald’s lips widened considerably, certainly incredibly entertained by the irony of the situation, “I believe that your problem is, to be honest, not only your insincerity, but your music, not to mention your overdependence on fluffing your diction with unnecessary words you do not even believe.”
Both men were silent for a moment as Eanrin strived to digest the prince’s advice. The poet did not have the patience to decipher the statement and decided to inquire directly, “Sire?”
The Prince of Farthestshore put it extraordinarily simply, “You talk too much.”
Eanrin whipped around immediately to face Aethelbald. Eanrin did not need eyes to see it; he could feel the look on the prince’s face from where he was sitting halfway across the room.
It was unmistakably the smuggest and most highly amused smirk spread clear across Aethelbald’s face coupled with raised eyebrows and an altogether satisfied presence.
Eanrin could sense it as if he was seeing it himself, and it enraged him. In his calm and graceful catlike way, of course.
Exacerbated, Eanrin heaved a heavy breath through his nose and prepared to stalk out of the room, leaving the extraordinarily content Aethelbald alone with his satisfaction and Una’s letter lying on the table.
“I’m going to go chase a ball of yarn.”