This story takes place somewhere between the Prologue and Chapter 1 of Heartless.
Prince Felix of Parumvir was sound asleep in his bed. The purrfect setting, the cat thought as he jumped up onto the windowsill and down into the prince's room. It was around 5:00am on a Friday morning, and all those occupying the palace were asleep, but not Monster the cat, (to whom time had little meaning). He was up earlier than everyone else (save maybe the royal horses and a few guards, but they didn't count). Monster silently padded over to Felix's bed. He quietly jumped up and moved so that he was standing over the prince's head and dropped something on his pillow. He did this several more times, jumping in and out of the window; padding back and forth across the room; and jumping up and down off the prince's bed.
Finally, after a long while Monster left and returned to Princess Una's room. He jumped up upon her bed and sat there grooming himself, acting like he had never left. It was around 7o'clock when Princess Una awoke and pushed him off of her. Monster always found this quite insulting for one of his nature, and left the room with an irritable, “meow” and a swish of his tail. Princess Una ignored this as always. Monster walked down the hall, maids, servants, and guards moving out of his way as he passed. For although he was blind, Monster always had a way of appearing superior. He stopped at the door to Prince Felix's room and put an ear to it, listening.
“Dragons eat that cat!” he heard Felix muttering as he moved about his room.
Many more similar curses preceded the first. Monster smiled (as much as cats can), for his plan had worked and he was very pleased with himself. That would teach the prince not to mention baths! He hurried away from the door and made his way to the schoolroom Felix and Una shared. With a flick of his tail and a twitch of his whiskers he jumped up by the window and curled into a ball, waiting for the prince, the princess, and the tutor (as usual, for he was always early) to arrive and begin another day full of lessons, on past kings and queens of old; ancient Faerie tales, and basic mathamatics. Monster's favorite part of the day was when the tutor had Felix and Una recite poetry from one of chief poet, Sir Eanrin of Rudiobus' many poetry books.
Nobody knew that the famous poet was in the very same room as them during these times, watching as they recited his poetry as if reading an obituary. These humans wouldn't know good poetry if it punched them in the face! Monster had just finished this thought when the tutor came rushing in, a handful of papers in his hands and spectacles hanging crookedly on his nose, muttering to himself. Prince Felix came after him, wiping slime out of his hair. He glared at Monster as he took his seat. Princess Una was last to arrive, and the tutor began the first lesson.
I'm gonna kill that cat! I'll grab him by his tail and hang him from the top of the tower! Prince Felix thought, as he made his way out of the schoolroom later that afternoon. The nerve of that cat, dumping frogs on his pillow while he was asleep! And all because of a little comment I made to a maid about him needing a bath. . . wait, do cats seek revenge?
This one did, Felix was sure of it. Felix nodded at the guards standing outside his Father's study, they bowed and opened the doors for him. Felix stepped inside, the door closing with a “bang!” behind him. “Hello Father.” King Fidel sat at his desk surrounded by piles of papers. He looked up as Felix entered, put down his quill, and gave Felix his full attention.
“Hello Felix. What can I do for you?”
“Well Father, I wanted your permisson to purchase something in town.”
“Oh? Just what is it you wish to purchase?”
“A dog?” King Fidel raised his eyebrows. “What do you want a dog for, Felix? What about Monster?”
“Aw dad, Monster is a cat, Una's cat. Dogs are different, they play with you, they can hunt, and they're great protectors. . . .” And they don't put frogs in your bed.
King Fidel sighed, he wasn't against the idea of getting a dog, he himself had had one as a boy, but he just wasn't sure Felix was ready for the responsibility that came with owning one. But on the other hand a dog might be good for Felix and could protect him more effectively than his guards. “All right Felix. You may get a dog.”
Felix let out a loud, “whoop!”
“But the dog will be your responsibility. . . .” King Fidel hadn't even finished his sentence before Felix was out the door and running for the stables. King Fidel smiled to himself and told the two guards at his door to inform Captain Dirk (who always accompanied Felix on outings) that Felix would be going out to the town that day.
Felix raced through the palace dodging maids, servants, and guards as he went. He rounded a corner and, “wumph!” ran right into his sister.
“Felix! Why don't you watch where your going?” Una demanded, picking herself up off the floor.
“Sorry!” Felix shouted over his shoulder, for he was already up and running again.
Brothers, thought Princess Una as she rolled her eyes heavenwards.
Felix dashed out to the palace yards and ran into the stables. He had his horse saddled in minutes, and leaped up into the saddle. The next moment he was lying flat on his back, the saddle on top of him.
“Need some help there my prince?” he heard someone ask from behind him; a hint of amusement in his voice.
Felix growled. I should have remembered to check the girth before mounting! His horse was out to get him too, Felix thought as Captain Dirk (for it was he) hauled the saddle off of him. “Thanks,” Felix managed to say, his face turning red as he took the saddle from the captain and slung it back over his horse's back, making sure to tap his horse's belly and tighten the girth.
“My king said we were going into town?” Dirk asked, watching Felix as he re-saddled his horse.
“Yes,” was all Felix said as he jumped up into his saddle and rode toward the gates. He hated having an escort watching over him every time he left the palace, but he knew his father would never let him go otherwise.
Captain Dirk mounted his horse (who was waiting by the gate, already saddled) and he and Felix rode through the gate and towards the direction of the nearest town. It wasn't a long ride and soon Felix could see the townspeople milling about, and children running through the roads. They bowed respectfully as he rode through.
But all these things did not interest him. He was here for a purpose. He looked around the town. Captain Dirk, not sure what he was looking for, followed the Prince's gaze and saw when it came to rest apon a box lying on the ground with a sign nailed to it. It read: “Puppies For Sale.”
So this is what the prince has come into town for, Dirk thought, as he and Felix dismounted and Dirk followed the prince over to the box. Felix knelt beside it.
“My prince,” a man standing beside the box greeted, bowing.
“Hello Sir. Are these your puppies?”
“Yes, my prince.”
Felix picked up one of the pups, it was male, with long ears and black, white, and brown patches. He licked his face, making Felix smile. “How much for this one?”
The man named his price and Felix agreeably paid the fee. “Does he have a name?” Felix asked, before turning back to his horse.
“I believe my daughter named him “Rover,” but you needn't keep that name.”
Felix nodded his thanks. Handing Rover to Dirk, he mounted his horse then reached down to received the pup. Captain Dirk mounted and they rode back to the palace, stopping only once when Rover had preceded to use Felix's shirt to do his business.
Captain Dirk had had a hard time restraining the smile that threatened to break out on his face as he helped the prince clean his shirt. This was not turning out to be one of Felix's better days.
Felix set Rover down in the palace court yard, following him as he sniffed his new surroundings. Captain Dirk disappeared with the horses into the stables. King Fidel, who had been watching for his son's return, came out to meet the pup his son had brought home.
“Well who do we have here?” he asked, bending down to let Rover sniff his hand.
“Father, I'd like you to meet Rover. Rover, this is my father, King Fidel.”
“It's a pleasure to meet you.” King Fidel said with a smile as he shook one of Rover's paws. Rover growled playfully, trying to bite the king's hand, which made King Fidel laugh. “You’re a feisty one, aren't you?” he asked.
Felix scooped Rover up in his arms. “I'm gonna go show him to Una.” he said, striding towards the palace doors.
King Fidel nodded. “Go ahead, just don't forget to feed him!” he called after him.
“I won't!” Felix called back.
He entered the palace, and with Rover still in his arms, went in search of his sister whom, he assumed, would be either in her room or in the palace gardens. Felix decided to try her room first. He knocked on the door, just barely keeping a hold on Rover who, by now had had enough of being carried.
“Who is it?” he heard Una ask from behind the door.
“It's me. I have something to show you.”
Una opened the door. “It'd better not be something disgust. . .” she cut off as she stared at Rover, who had now jumped out of Felix's arms and was now exploring Una's room.
“This is Rover.” Felix said.
“You got a dog?” Una cried, not believing her eyes.
“But how...? Father let you?”
“Yup!” Somehow Felix got the idea that Una wasn't pleased.
“But what about Monster?” Una asked, eyeing Rover. “Won't he eat him?”
“Nah. I'm sure Monster would rather eat mice.” Felix said with a smirk.
Una glared at him. “That's not what I meant, and you know it!”
Felix shrugged, picking up Rover just as the puppy began chewing on one of Una's slippers. “Let's go Rover.” Felix said. “I need to find you a bed.”
They left Una's room, and went down the hall to Felix's . “There.” Felix said, as he set Rover down on the floor. He made sure there was nothing the puppy could get to, and then left the room saying, “I'll be right back, don't go anywhere!”
Monster pranced through the hallway, minding his own business. He had just finished “playing” with a particularly persistent mouse that had found its way into the palace pantry and had refused to leave. But now that Monster had taken care of him, the cooks could access the pantry without worry.
He walked past Prince Felix's room, and couldn't help but smirk as he remembered what he had heard coming from inside earlier that day. His smirk soon disappeared however as he heard a noise coming from inside Felix's room.
He stopped dead in his tracks, whirled around, and ran to Felix's door. He sniffed at it, his whiskers twitching.
Monster jumped back. He smelled a dog, there was a dog in there! Monster hated dogs. Especially after his meeting with the Black Dogs.
But why would a dog be in Felix's room? Is it working for Death-In-Life?
Monster paced the hallway outside the door. Maybe it isn’t a dog, Monster thought. Maybe he had spent so much time chasing that mouse around that he had somehow messed up his senses.
Yup, that had to be it. He would just walk back up to the door have another sniff, smell nothing, and then leave. He walked tentatively over to the door, put his nose up to it, and sniffed carefully.
The scent of dog overwhelmed him.
He sprang back. It couldn't be, it just couldn't be! Maybe he could just walk away and act like nothing was wrong. No, he couldn't do that, it was his duty to protect the palace! He reminded himself, as he paced the hallway again. Maybe he could turn into a man, open the door, walk in and address whatever horrors awaited him.
No, he concluded. He couldn't take the risk of being seen, there were too many people walking throughout the halls. He would just have to go outside and get in through the window. He sighed. Being a house pet was a harder job then he'd thought!
He heard footsteps, someone was approaching. He sniffed. It was just a maid. But wait! The maid was walking towards him with...pillowcases? Oh-no! Those were Prince Felix's pillowcases (He could recognize their scent anywhere)! She was going to enter the Prince's room and replace the sheets!
He had to stop her, but how? It wasn't like he could just walk up to her and say, ”My good lady, DO NOT open that door!” She would probably faint before he could finish saying the first word, much less finish the sentence, then there would be a handsome guard that would rescue the poor maid with smelling salts; and she would fall in love with him, they would marry; and probably forget all about him! Another perfect match made by Bard Eanrin, chief poet of Rudiobus! He would then of course have to write a poem about it.
Monster sat down in front of the door. He would just have to do his best in cat form, and save the matchmaking for another time.
The maid came up to him and stopped. “Why, hello there,” she said as a smile appeared on her face. “Are you guarding the Prince's room for him or are you just waiting for him to come let you in?”
Monster licked his paw, seeming oblivious to the maid who continued to aim a stream of chatter in his direction. “Well I'm not here to make a fuss,” she continued. “I just need to put these nice clean pillowcases on Prince Felix's pillows. You know it's the strangest thing, when I came in to clean the Prince's room his pillows were all covered in slime, and this wasn't the first time either! Can you imagine that? I never would've thought the Prince could slobber so much. I took off his pillowcases and washed them, they're dry now. I hope this doesn't happen again.”
She finally stopped to catch her breath, then seemed to realize that she was talking to a cat. “Well I'll just be going,” she said taking another step towards the door. Monster moved in front of her. “Oh come now! Like I just said, I'm only going to change the pillowcases.”
Monster continued to clean himself, not moving from his position outside the door. The maid put her hands to her hips. “Move aside now, shoo!”
Monster purred innocently, rubbing against the maid's legs.
“Oh, now stop that,” she said, although anyone could tell she was pleased by the gesture. She put her hand to the doorknob.
No! Eanrin thought. But what was a cat to do? The maid opened the door.
“Ahhhhhhhhh!” she screamed, dropping the pillowcases.
In the center of the room was Rover, who yipped happily and bounded toward the distressed maid. The maid turned and ran through the hall, screaming as she went.
Monster had remained outside the door, as if frozen there. Now he too turned and ran, trying to put as much distance as possible between himself and the mangy puppy who had now spotted Monster, and was giving chase, his long ears flopping as he ran. The whole palace was in an uproar, the maid still screaming through the halls, “Wolf! Wolf!” guards rushing to and fro trying to figure out what was happening, and in the midst of it all was Monster, with Rover giving chase.
Monster darted through legs and under skirts, he had to lose this pup. He turned the corner and saw his chance, Princess Una was standing there, in the doorway to the main dining room. Monster leaped up into her arms, grateful that the Princess was getting taller with age.
“Monster! What's the matter?” cried Una as she held onto him. Not five seconds later Rover rounded the corner and before Una could even scream, leaped at Monster knocking Una and the cat down. Monster flew from Una's hands and ran into the dining room with Rover back on his heels, leaving a very ruffled and confused Una lying on the floor.
Go somewhere where he can't reach you, Monster thought as he jumped up onto the long royal dining table. It was lucky for him that it was rarely used and was not being so now. That terrible thing was still following him!
Why, oh why did it have to be a dog? Another cat? Fine. A goldfish? Terrific! A lizard? No problem. But a dog? No, no, no, no, no!!!! He couldn't stand dogs.
He looked behind him to see if he was still being pursued. Yup, that mutt had somehow managed to climb up onto the table and was now bounding straight towards him! Lume's crown!
Monster jumped down from the table and sprinted back towards the door, running right into Prince Felix. Felix stumbled back a few steps, knocked off balance. So here was the culprit! Here was the one who had let a dog into the palace, and left him in a room unguarded!
Monster glared at Felix, but soon had to run past him as Rover headed their way.
“Rover! There you are!” cried Felix, reaching down and opening up his arms to the pup.
Rover huh? So it had a name. Terrific.
Rover bounded into Felix's arms, yipping happily. Monster made an attempt to smooth his fur back down into a normal position. Felix turned around, Rover in his arms. There, standing behind him, was an assembly of maids, servants, guards, the palace cooks, King Fidel, and Princess Una.
“Um hi...” Felix started. “I went back to my room and Rover wasn't there so I. . . . Is something wrong?”
“It's the wolf!” screamed the maid with the pillowcases.
“Is something wrong? I'll tell you what's wrong, that dog was trying to eat Monster!” Una exclaimed, picking Monster up off the floor.
“Silence!” King Fidel commanded. “Now, I don't think you're all aware of this, but that pup in my son's arms is Rover, a new addition to the royal family. He just arrived today, and it looks like he wanted to get more familiar with his new home and its occupants,” he said, as he glanced at Monster. This aroused a few smiles from the group. “He is not a wolf. Although it looks like his appetite might be just as big!” He now looked at Rover, who was gnawing on Felix's fingers. This made the distressed maid relax a bit and a few laughs were heard. “Now how about we all go about our business and give the new member some time to adjust?”
Everyone nodded and the crowd dispersed as the people returned to their duties, and posts. The head cook came up to Felix, a plump man with slick black hair, dark brown eyes, and a foreign accent. “My Prince,” he bowed respectfully, “would you like me to take the little pup and get him something to eat?”
“Yes, thank you.” Felix handed Rover to him, and watched as the cook took the pup into the kitchen.
“Felix. . . .” there was a warning tone in King Fidel's voice.
“I would like to remind you that Rover is your responsibility. . . .”
“I know. . .he wasn't supposed to get out!”
“Well now that everyone in the palace knows about Rover that may make things a bit easier for you, but I don't think the maid in charge of your room will ever go in there again without you.”
This made Felix grin.
“I don't know what you’re going to do about Monster though.” Fidel looked at the cat who was still in Una's arms. ”It seems to me that you should let them get better aquainted.”
“But father!” exclaimed Princess Una. “Rover tried to eat Monster!”
“I really think Rover just wanted to play, and besides Monster's almost twice the size of Rover. Rover wouldn't be able to fit Monster in his mouth even if he tried.” King Fidel consoled. “Now Felix, you'd better go and find a collar and leash for that pup of yours before you loose him again.”
“Yes, Father.” Felix said as he walked towards the door.
Una set Monster down. “Father. . . .”
“Let's give it some time Una.” King Fidel interrupted. “Let's give this whole situation some time, and then we'll go from there.”
Una sighed, “All right, Daddy.”
“That's my girl,” King Fidel praised as he hugged his daughter. “Just give it time,” he echoed before leaving the room.
Una looked down at Monster, who was cleaning himself vigorously, as if trying to prove how unafraid he was. “Well, Daddy said to give it time, and I said I would. Come on.” she said, picking him up. “It's time you were formally introduced.”
Prince Felix sat on his bed, attempting to get a collar on the squirming Rover, whom he held in his lap. “Hold still. . .there!” he exclaimed as he fastened the buckle.
There was a knock on his door.
“Who is it?”
“It's me.” Una replied, “I brought Monster.”
“One minute.” Felix attached a leash to Rover's collar and tied him to the bedpost before going over and opening the door. Una walked in, holding Monster tightly in her arms. “Don't worry I tied him up.” Felix said, pointing to Rover.
Una cautiously approached the pup who was jumping at the end of his leash attempting to get to Monster. She stopped about two feet out of his reach and knelt down, forcing Monster to remain in her lap. “Hello Rover, this is my cat Monster. Monster, this is Felix's dog, Rover,” Una introduced them, stroking Monster's back calmingly.
Rover yapped, still straining at his leash. Felix walked over, picked Rover up, unclipped his leash, and sat down with him in his lap. Felix and Una both sat there, restraining their pets as they lunged, yapped, clawed, hissed, and tried to squirm free.
“I wonder what their saying?” Una pondered as she watched the interaction.
Felix snorted, “One is a cat and one is a dog. One meows and one barks. They probably don't understand each other.”
That's what he thinks. Monster sniffed, tuning in to what the humans were saying. “I understand you purrrfectly,” he said to Rover.
Who in turn was saying, “Do you wanna play? Do you wanna play? Do you wanna play? I wanna play with you! I wanna play with you! Can I chase your tail? Can I? Can I?”
It was really quite infuriating.
“How old are you?” Monster asked as he studied Rover.
“What's that mean?” Rover asked, still straining to reach Monster's tail.
Monster hissed at him. He had to put this pup in his place, and fast. “You don't know what an age is?” he purred.
“It represents how long you've been alive.”
“Oh! I get it now! I'm seventy-seven moons old.”
“So, eleven weeks?”
“What's a week? Do you wanna play? Do you wanna play?”
And Imraldera thinks I have a short attention span! Monster hissed, quieting Rover. “Never mind what a week is. Where did you come from?”
“I don't know!” Rover yapped. He was a very energetic, excited, and overall stupid pup Monster decided, but then again to him most dogs lacked intelligence such as his own.
“I see. . . . Do you have any parents?”
Monster sighed, “Yes, parents as in a mom and a dad.”
“Ohhhhhhhh! Yes I do!”
Good, Monster thought, now all I have to do is find them and return this little runt to his litter.
“Or I did....” Rover continued, suddenly looking sad. “I haven't seen my mummy and daddy since I was fifty-six moons old.”
Fifty-six moons. . .eight weeks, thought Monster. “You have brothers and sisters?” Monster asked, deciding to change the subject.
“Oh!” Rover perked up. “ I have nine! Four brothers and five sisters.”
Well at least the pup could count, thought Monster. “And where are they?”
Rover's face fell again. “I don't know...I was taken from them and brought here.”
Hmmm, Monster thought. That could be a problem. . . .
“I'm going to put Monster down,” Monster heard Una say. “You keep holding Rover.”
He felt Una lift him off of her lap and set him down on the ground, closer to Rover than before. He also heard the doorknob turning.
“You wanna play?” Monster asked Rover, nose twitching.
“YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!” yipped Rover.
“Then come and catch me!” Monster bolted just as a servant opened Felix's bedroom door. Rover squirmed out of Felix's arms and ran after him, hearing Prince Felix call his name from behind.
Monster ran for the palace gardens, there were plenty of high perches for him there, and all the royal gardeners were done with their work for the day so it should be quite safe. He heard Rover panting behind him. The pup is keeping up, he thought with a hint of admiration.
He now entered the gardens and dove through a bush, with Rover close behind. Fortunately for him the pup was having a harder time then he was navigating through the bush, which gave him an advantage. He broke through the bush and leaped up onto a statue of one of Prince Felix's and Princess Una's late relatives. He sat there atop the king's (for he was a king) marble head and groomed himself, waiting.
Rover appeared a few minutes later covered in twigs and leaves. “Well, it's about time!” Monster complained with a twitch of his tail.
“That was fun!” Rover panted, out of breath.
“They won't think to look here for us. They're probably looking everywhere else but here. Humans.”
“They seem nice.”
“Oh yes! They're nice, well at least most are, but they're completely clueless.” And in more ways then one, Monster finished to himself.
They could hear Felix and Una calling their names from inside the Palace.
“What do you wanna play now?” Rover asked, his tail wagging.
Monster glanced down disdainfully at him. “We aren't going to play anything. We are going to figure out a way to get you back home to wherever it is you came from.”
Rover sat and contemplated this for a minute. Finally he said, “What's a home?”
Arugh! This pup was trying his patience. “A home is where you live, where your family is. My home isn't here, although I've been living here for some time, and there isn't enough room in this palace for the both of us. Therefore we must find your home, and find it quickly!” Monster stopped then, and stared, for the place where Rover had once been was now vacant. Rover had spotted an animal and had taken off in pursuit of it.
Dragon-eaten pup can't sit still and listen for two minutes. . .uh-oh, he thought as he spotted Rover digging beneath the palace rose bushes. The little guy is in big trouble now.
Monster jumped down and trotted over to the spot where Rover was digging. “I'm gonna getcha, I'm gonna getcha, I'm gonna getcha!” Rover panted as he dug.
“And just what do you think you are doing?”
Rover jumped at the sound of Monster's voice beside him. He raised his dirt covered muzzle to meet the Monster's disapproving gaze. “There was. . . . He was. . . . I was gonna. . . .” Rover tried to explain, for he had never seen a the animal before and was attempting to describe what he had seen.
Monster looked down at his paws which were now covered in dirt and hissed softly. They heard the sound of footsteps and voices calling for them:
“Rover! Come here boy!”
“Monster! Can you hear me?”
“You don't actually expect him to reply do you?” they heard Felix ask his sister.
“Don't be ridiculous.”
Monster smirked and purred loudly, drawing the attention of both children. “That's what I expected him to do!” Una ran towards him, Felix on her heels. “Oh, Monster there you are!” Una knelt and scooped him up into her arms.
“Rover!” Felix scolded, picking him up in turn. “I don't think Father is going to very happy when he's seen what you've done,” he said as he surveyed the mess Rover had made. Rover licked his face and whimpered softly. “We'd better get you cleaned up.”
“Both of you,” echoed Una as she eyed the dirt on Monster's paws.
Not another bath! Monster squirmed in Una's arms but Una held on as both she and Felix carried their pets inside and drew the bath water. . . .
Rover sniffed again, keeping his nose close to the ground. It had been two weeks since the day he had first arrived at the palace, and during that time Rover had grown, both in stature and in intelligence.
Rover paced the palace gardens now, his nose stuck on a scent. Groundhog. Monster had informed him of that the day of his arrival, after the Prince and Princess had given them both baths. Monster had warned him not to mess with one, and that he was not to dig in the rose bushes again under any circumstances. Maybe that was why the gardeners had glared at him when he had returned to the gardens that next morning. He had become well-acquainted with the scent these past two weeks. From his first day the scent had haunted him, teased him, and taunted him. Each time no matter how hard he tried, he could not catch the little critter that danced through the gardens.
But today would be different, he could smell it. Today he would catch him!
He nosed his way around a rose bush, being careful to keep as far away as possible from the prickly thorns. He had learned that lesson the hard way. I lost the scent! Oh, no, wait there it is.
He weaved in between trees, bushes, and statues, the trail ending at the far wall. He stopped and sniffed, the scent was strongest here. A hole, about the width of a large dog bone was located at the base of the stone wall.
Rover stuck his nose through the hole, but soon pulled back with yelp. Something had bitten him!
A round, brown, furry creature emerged, spraying dirt around the yard. So this is what it looks like. . . .
A groundhog peered up at him. “Who are you?”
“Who are you? What are you?” Rover countered, for he could never be too sure. He carefully sniffed this strange creature. The scents matched.
“I am a groundhog, and you are. . . no wait let me guess, a dog?”
“My name is Chuck. What's yours?”
“Well, Rover, I think you and I shall become great friends.” Chuck's eyes gleamed black.
“We will? But Monster said. . . .”
“Oh yes, him. Your well aquainted with the feline?”
“He's my best friend.” In truth, Monster was his only friend.
“Fascinating,” Chuck paused, seeming to ponder something over in his small brain. “You've. . .been inside the palace?”
“Oh yes, Prince Felix made my bed beside his, in his room.”
Chuck brightened. “Well then maybe you can help me!”
“Help you with what?”
Chuck glanced around, making sure no one would overhear. “You see, my brothers and I—”
“Brothers?” Rover interrupted. “There are more of you?”
“Why yes, there are many more like me, just like there are many more like you.”
Rover pondered this for a minute. Many more like me? The only others he knew were his parents and siblings. But Rover was well. . .different from them.
“Like I was saying.” Chuck's squeaky voice cut into his thoughts. “My brothers and I get rather tired of seeing the same old hills, the same old trees, the same old forest. You can imagine how boring that would get.”
Rover nodded, he supposed he would get bored being in the same place for a long time, with nothing new to see.
“And right here, right here under our noses, is this palace to explore.”
Rover looked, but he couldn't see any palace under Chuck's nose. Maybe it was a miniature palace.
“What's it like inside?”
Inside? He has never been inside a miniature palace before. “Inside where?”
Chuck looked at him, impatience playing all over his face. “Have you not been listening? That palace!” Chuck nodded towards the stairs behind Rover which led to the inside of Palace Oriana.
“Oh.” Rover blinked stupidly. Perhaps he should've paid better attention when Monster had spoke of something called “A figure of speech”. . . . “It's. . .it's nice. . . .”
“Show me,” Chuck interrupted, eyes gleaming.
“Take me inside with you!”
“Why can't you go inside yourself?” Rover asked.
“Because!” Chuck hissed, “They'll. . . he'll throw me out if I so much as set foot inside the palace.”
“Never mind that,” Chuck said avoiding the question. “All I need is for you to let me walk beneath you as you enter the palace doors.”
“But how am I. . . ?”
“You’re big, nobody will see me there laying beneath you and if someone does you can simply growl at them and they'll leave us alone.”
“I don't know. . . .” Something felt wrong, very wrong. Rover remembered Monster's warning about groundhogs and their kin.
“Please?” Chuck's eyes lifted to meet his, and Rover saw a plea there, a plea to see things beyond the familiar landscape he lived in, a plea to see inside Rover's home. What harm could one little groundhog do anyway?
Monster paced the steps. What's he up to?
Rover had been avoiding him for days, bopping in and out of the gardens, weaving back and forth throughout every room in the palace. That pup was up to something, and Monster had to figure out what before he got both of them in trouble.
Lume's Crown! He had to do everything himself. It was no doubt due to him the Prince's future queen was safe in her palace. Working alone was his specialty, although he wouldn't mind having Imraldera by his side right now.
Imraldera. Oh, how he missed her. He had several new poems to be recorded in that library of hers when he returned. He pictured her bending over the paper, her hair falling out of her scarf, those beautiful dark eyes squinting in concentration. . . .
He shook himself. Now is not that time to daydream about the future, Eanrin! He paused his pacing and sniffed the air. It smelled strongly of. . . Groundhog? That couldn't be right!
Monster's ears perked as he heard the sound of Rover's velvet paws plodding his way from the top of the stairs. In a moment he will see me!
Monster dashed silently down the remaining steps and flung himself behind a bush. Just in time, for Rover was now descending the stairs. Was it just his imagination, or was the pup getting a bit larger in his midsection?
No, wait! There was something beneath him! Monster watched as Rover stepped down into the garden and walked toward the far wall. He moved closer, being careful not to let Rover catch sight of him. The thing slid out from beneath Rover and plopped into a hole located right beneath the garden wall! It soon reappeared, popping it's tiny head out to speak to Rover.
It was him! He reeked of himself. Monster was too far away to hear what they were saying, so he crept closer.
“Thanks, Rover! I'll see you again tomorrow!” the rodent called.
“Tomorrow?” Rover asked, sounding confused. “I've already shown you the entire palace.”
Shown him the palace!? What was he thinking!?
“Not true, you haven't shown me the royal family's private chambers!”
“Their bedrooms,” Chuck clarified.
“Oh. Why would you want to go there?” Rover asked, clearly perplexed.
“What's a tour of a palace without seeing everything? So, you'll be here tomorrow?”
Not if I can help it, Monster thought.
“Great! See you then!” The groundhog then disappeared, burrowing back into its hole. Dusk was approaching and it would soon become dark.
Dumb animal, Monster thought. He was talking about Rover; the groundhog was smart. Too smart. He had tried to gain access to the palace before and failed, but now that Rover has agreed to be his puppet. . . .
Rover turned and retraced his steps back to the stairway. Oh no you don't. Monster moved fast, dashing ahead of Rover and quickly intercepting him. “Just where do you think your going?
Rover froze. “Oh, um hi.”
“Oh, um hi? Is that all you have to say for yourself?”
“I didn't do anything wrong!” Rover exclaimed defensively.
“Oh really?” Monster circled him, tail twitching.
“Yes. . . ,” Rover said sounding less sure of himself.
“Come, come now. If you've got nothing to hide surely you wouldn't mind me asking you a few questions.”
Rover was silent, not meeting Monster's gaze.
“For instance, one might ask you why you've been so sneaky these past few days.”
“Tutt tutt, I'm not finished. Second, any smart person might ask you why you were escorting a groundhog throughout the palace!” Monster stopped circling and pushed his face into Rover's.
“I. . .isn't there supposed to be a third?”
“A third? Oh, so now you decide to wise up! Don't try to change the subject, two reasons will do just fine for this interrogation! Now answer my question.”
“W. . .which one?”
“Arugh! Why were you escorting a groundhog throughout the palace when I specifically told you to not come into contact with one!?” Monster raged. He felt Rover's fur quiver in fear.
“I. . .I. . . .”
Rover took a deep breath. “So what if I did?” he asked, becoming bold. “What harm is there in escorting a groundhog throughout the palace?”
“What harm? What harm he says! Iubdan’s Beard, dog! Use what little brain you have and figure it out!”
“Chuck is nice. . . .”
“Of course he's nice!” Monster interrupted. “He's nice because he is using you to help him and his brothers get inside the palace!”
“He never asked to bring his brothers. . . .”
“Not yet, but he will. He can't accomplish his task all by himself. At least that’s what I'm relying on.”
“But I still don't see how. . . .”
Monster sighed. “I'll tell you what I can. Come,” he bounded up the stairs and into the palace, Rover on his heels. A few turns and a couple of staircases later they arrived at a large wooden door with a golden lock.
Rover stared at the door. How was he going to get it open? Rover observed as Monster glanced around making sure nobody else was in sight, then suddenly Monster was gone and in his place appeared a tall, golden-haired human dressed in scarlet.
Rover jumped back, letting out a loud bark. Dragon's teeth! He sniffed this new person. The scent was the same as. . . .
“Stop that! I'm trying to find the key.”
But it couldn't be him! Rover observed as the figure opened a secret panel in the door and produced a golden key.
“Here we are.” The figure turned so Rover could now see his face. Patches covered his eyes, and a mischievous grin spread across his pale features. “Don't you recognize me, Rover?”
It was him! “M. . .Monster?”
“Took you long enough!” The grin disappeared and he turned back to the door. He inserted the key into the lock and turned it. The door swung opened with a creaking sound, and Monster entered the dark room. Rover followed hesitantly. The door slammed behind him and Rover heard the sound of a match and saw a candle as it was lit. Blinded by the sudden light, it took a minute for his eyes to adjust. He was standing inside a room that held a desk, and shelves of. . .hard square boxes?
“Pretty impressive for a mortal library, wouldn't you agree?” Monster, back in cat-form, sat beside the candle which sat on top of the oak desk.
A library? Rover didn't know what a library was, but one look at Monster's face and he decided he'd better not ask.
“The original library was destroyed decades ago of course, but this one is a pretty accurate replica.”
Rover nodded, his eyes wondering to a space above his head where yet more square boxes were shelved. How did they get those all the way up there?
“There's a stairway in the corner leading up to those shelves,” Monster said as if reading his thoughts. “Now, I feel I should introduce myself.”
Monster changed form again and appeared sitting cross-legged beside the flickering candle. “I am Sir Eanrin, chief poet of Rudiobus and knight of Farthestshore.”
“How do you...?”
“Change into a cat?” Monster finished. Rover nodded. “It is one of the many characteristics of my people to take on two forms,” he said as if that explained everything.
“But how?” Rover asked. “How do you do it?”
“How does one breathe? He simply does it, without thinking. It comes naturally, such as I can naturally change.”
“Oh,” was all Rover could respond, for he had never heard of such a thing.
“Now that that's over with, back to the matter at hand.” Monster returned to cat-form and jumped down to sit beside Rover. “I will try to make this as simple as possible so you'll understand. As you probably don't know, as a knight of Farthestshore I serve the Prince of Farthestshore. Prince Aethelbald, has many enemies. Enemies that mean to do harm to him and his followers. With me so far?”
“One of those enemies swore to find the Prince's future queen and do her harm. So my Prince sent me, one of his most trusted knights, to protect his future bride.” Monster paused, making sure he had Rover's full attention. Rover's brown eyes were fixed solely apon him. Monster continued. “Chuck, if my information is correct, is trying to capture the Prince's queen as well.”
“And do what?” Rover asked, eyes wide.
“Either he's working for the Prince's enemy, he wants to bargain with the dragon using the princess as a bargaining tool, or he wants her for himself. Either way, the princess would come to no good end.”
“But how do you know that?”
“I have contacts everywhere. Do not underestimate the resourcefulness of my Prince! He has made sure I am not fully alone in this.”
“Wait,” Rover said, a thought coming to him. “Can Chuck change too?”
“Into a person? Hmm, it's possible. But I've never seen him do it. He'd attract too much attention to himself if he just appeared in the palace; a total stranger. That's why he needed you, no doubt. Now do you understand what you've done? You've not only given him access to the entire palace, you've given him access to the Princess! What do you have to say for yourself?”
Rover looked down, ashamed.
“Of course not all is lost.” Monster continued, feeling almost sorry for the mutt. “We can still fix this rather large mess you've made.”
“How?” Rover asked, perking up.
“Simple. Chucky-boy is going to be waiting for you in the gardens tomorrow again, correct?”
Rover nodded, ears flopping.
“Well this time instead of playing tour guide, you're gonna ask him to show you what life is like outside the palace.”
“Why would I do that?” Rover asked stupidly.
“So you can get information. Find out who he has helping him, this is too big a project for him to complete on his own. Try to see if he can change forms. That type of thing.”
“That makes sense.”
Monster's whiskers quivered “Oh, I'm so happy we are on the same page. Now if only we were in the same book!” he said sarcastically.
Rover gave him a confused look.
“Lume's Crown! Never mind!” Monster exclaimed.
“What will you be doing?” asked Rover.
“I'll be beside the Princess every minute.”
“But if I'm with Chuck, how is she in any danger?”
“My good canine, until my Prince comes to take possession of his bride, the Princess will always be in danger. We've been in here too long, we must get back before someone misses me.” Monster returned to man-form, and blew out the lantern, returning the room to darkness. They exited the door together, human Monster locking the door and putting away the key. “Until tomorrow!” the cat meowed, and dashed down the hallway.
Rover just sat there, wondering how he had gotten himself in such a mess. How does he do that?
Monster sat in the lap of Princess Una, purring contently whilst the royal family was eating at the supper table. What is taking that dragon-eaten mutt so long?
It was late in the evening and Rover had yet to return from his outing with Chuck. Monster hoped the pup was all right, and nothing ill had befallen him. Monster only half listened to the conversation going on around him. He caught a few questions being asked to Felix and Una about how their studies were commencing. He didn't bother to listen to their replies, he already knew what both children would have to say on the subject. He purred as Una rubbed her hand along his back.
“I don't see why you have to have him sitting with you during supper.” Felix complained.
Monster hissed at him, making the Prince jump despite himself.
“He has just as much of a right to be here as you,” argued Una.
“Ha! You don't see me sitting there, purring in your lap.”
“No, but when you were a baby guess who's lap you were sitting in then? Mine!”
“Enough, children!” Interrupted King Fidel, and not a moment too soon, another minute and Felix would've started using his spoon to catapult peas in Monster's and Una's direction. “Please put the cat down Una, he can join us some other time.”
“Yes Father,” she replied, dropping Monster to the floor.
Finally. Monster bolted from the room and ran for the gardens. He stopped behind a bush that kept him well hidden from view, and waited. He didn't have to wait long, however for but a short few minutes later Rover immerged from the hole, Chuck behind him. He wasn't close enough to hear the words exchanged between them, so Monster waited patiently, licking his paw and rubbing his whiskers, until finally Chuck disappeared and Rover began walking his way. He waited until Rover was right beside the bush before jumping out in front of him.
“Woof!” Rovered barked in surprise. “Don't do that!” he exclaimed, recovering.
“I shall do whatever I please, to whoever I please, whenever I please!” Monster huffed. “Now, tell me what you've learned.”
“It was great! He took me all through the hills, and there was a stream, and trees, and—”
“Okay enough with the tourist sites. What did you learn about Chuck?”
“Oh, right. Well he introduced me to his brothers. There's Woody, Greg, Howie, Chip, Ned, Tanner, Ace, Wally, Henry, Thomas, Zac. . ,” he rushed. Monster had to stop him before the mutt suffocated himself.
“Hold it! Just tell me how many there are.”
“Uh. . . .”
Iubdan's beard! I hope he remembers how to count.
“Forty?” Rover estimated.
“Forty! Are you sure? How many paws am I holding up?” Please let him be wrong.
Dragon's teeth! So the mutt did remember how to count. He sighed. “Did he ever change form?” he asked Rover.
“Not while I was with him,” Rover confessed. “But I did overhear him talking to Woody, his eldest brother, about it “not being long now.”
Not good, not good at all, but it would make a great story to tell Imraldera one day. Focus Eanrin!
Is that all?” Rover nodded.
“Okay then. Thank you Rover, you've done well.”
Rover barked a happy response.
“Now to figure out our next move.”
Monster made his way through the woods. He hadn't been there for some time, and he had sorely missed the familiar smells and sounds that now filled his senses. He breathed deeply, favoring each scent as it wafted past.
Yes, it was good to be back. He descended down, following the path and soon came to a small river with a footbridge that lead across it. He padded over to the footbridge, sat and waited; all the while doing his best to make himself presentable.
A few minutes had passed when a sweet, very familiar scent came to Monster from the opposite side of the bank.
“Eanrin,” a voice called gently.
“My Prince,” came the reply, and a splashing sound was heard as the Prince made his way towards the opposite bank. “My Prince, for you I gladly would have. . . .”
“Yes, I know you would have Eanrin, but you would greatly prefer not to. I do not mind getting wet,” the Prince said, kindly.
“Think nothing of it. Now brother, tell me the reason you have summoned me.”
What to do, what to do? Monster paced courtyard, deep in thought. It was late in the day and he had just recently returned from his meeting with the Prince. Rover, having agreed it best not to make Chuck suspicious, had consented to giving Chuck a tour of the royal family's chambers. Thus, Monster had decided to stay outside for the time being.
He pondered over the Prince's words. A kidnapping in Rudiobus just a little over four months ago (in mortal time)?
“How is this possible? Rudiobus has always prided itself in its impenetrable gates,” he had asked his Prince. The fact that someone had purposely taken a young citizen of his homeland captive, troubled Eanrin to no end.
“The family was traveling outside the realm of Rudiobus,” the Prince had explained.
“Who did this?” Monster had asked, quite furious.
“I cannot say, but I will tell you of this, the family of the infant are that of the canine decent. The mother is a fox from Rudiobus, while the father is half mortal, being a breed between a wolf and a mortal hound. They were devastated at the loss of their firstborn.”
Monster had taken a moment to absorb this information when it suddenly dawned on him. “You don't mean to say. . .?”
“Yes,” the Prince had whispered softly. “Rover is the missing citizen of Rudiobus.”
A fine mess you've gotten yourself into this time, Eanrin. How are you going to tell him? What if he really isn't the one? No, don't think that! The Prince said he was, and it's wrong to doubt him. But how could I not have known?
“Perhaps you weren't looking,” a little voice tweeted from up above him. “Sometimes things which are visible are not always seen.”
It was true, he had to admit. He had been blind, mistaking Rover for just any mortal-bound pup instead of seeing him for who he truly was. A brother, and a friend.
I get it now.
“Good,” the voice tweeted as it flew away.
Monster turned and strode towards the palace to meet Rover.
Rover had just finished dropping Chuck off at the hole and was now bounding through the halls, his destination the kitchen.
Rover skidded to a stop.
“Meet me in the library.”
It was Monster's voice, but Rover couldn't tell where it was coming from.
Sounds important, I'd better hurry. Rover quickly changed course, and in no time at all was in front of the old wooden door with the golden lock. The door opened, and he entered, the door slamming shut behind him. The candle was already burning in the center of the room, and beside it stood man-Monster, combing his hair.
“So I noticed.” Monster ran the comb through some white-blonde strands before pocketing it, and giving Rover his full attention. He took a deep breath before he addressed Rover. “Have you ever heard of a land called, Rudiobus?” he asked.
“Rud-i-obus?” Rover struggled with the name. “Aren't you from there?”
Monster sighed. “Yes, I am, and so are you.”
“Wraf?” Rover's astonishment made it impossible to distinguish his question.
“What?” Monster asked.
“What do you mean? I've never been to Rude Obyss!”
“Lume's Crown, your right! Maybe because there is no such place as Rude Obyss, although I admit some Obysses can be rude. It's called Rudiobus.”
“Oh, well I've never been there either.”
“Yes you have. You just don't remember.”
“How do you know that?” Rover asked, clearly baffled.
“Let's just say a little birdy told me. Let's prove my little theory, shall we?”
“Let's see you change.”
“Change? As in change forms?”
“Yes, I believe that is what you call it.”
“But how am I supposed to. . .change?”
“All citizens Rudiobus have trouble controlling it at first. Some change continually, not being able to control the ability, while others don't figure out how to change till much later, but then changing comes naturally to them.”
“Which one were you?”
“Me? I was neither. I had perfect control over my ability, and learned quite early. But then again, I am a cat.” Monster changed again, licking his paw and then rubbing his ear.
“So how am I supposed to learn? What will I change into? Will I be a cat like you?”
“No, you’re a dog. The only other form you'll have is one like this,” he said, changing yet again, towering over Rover. “Of course, you won't be this tall for awhile, but you'll grow,” Monster said almost grudgingly.
Rover's tail wagged excitedly. “Teach me! Woof, woof! Teach me!”
They had been at it for hours, and Rover was becoming frustrated. “Again.” Monster urged, watching him.
“I'm trying,” Rover shut his eyes and formed a picture in his mind. He pictured hands, feet, and hair. He felt a tingling. This was it! Now, to do what Monster had said. Relax. . . . His senses tingled harder. It was working!
“Great!” He heard Monster's voice far in the distance.
Suddenly he was surrounded by bright light, as if Lumé himself surrounded him. He squinted, and held a hand up to shield his eyes.
Hand? It had worked!
Rover opened his eyes fully now, staring in wonder at the two hands stretched before him.
“Hello Rover,” a quiet voice said from behind him. Rover spun around, giving un-human like sound of surprise. In front of him stood the Prince of Farthestshore.
“M. . My Pri. . .nce,” Rover said, his newfound tongue clumsy with this newfound language.
“I have been awaiting you. Come, walk with me.”
Rover stumbled beside the Prince, his new legs refusing to work as his old ones previously had.
“I know it's hard, but you will adjust quickly,” the Prince encouraged, smiling.
Rover nodded, but even that small action was hard to perform in this new body. “What about Monster?” he asked.
“We are out of time,” the Prince explained. “When you return he will be as you left him.”
Rover nodded again, this time performing the action somewhat successfully. They went on to talk about many things. Rover had never felt more comfortable talking with someone as he did the Prince; who didn't scold him for asking questions, in fact he seemed to enjoy answering the many that Rover had.
“I have greatly enjoyed our walk, Rover,” the Prince said as the visit came to a close.
“So have I!” agreed Rover.
“Now, there are a few more things I must tell you before we part.” Rover listened. “Your name is not Rover; you were born Dexter, of Rudiobus. Your parents miss you greatly.”
“Will I ever get to meet them?” he asked sadly.
“Yes. But for now you and your parents must be patient, for I need you here. I will inform your parents of your whereabouts, and assure them of your safety.”
Rover nodded, he was getting quite good at it now. “Yes, my Prince.”
This made the Prince smile. “You needn’t be so formal with me. We are brothers. Call me Aethelbald.”
Aethelbald’s grin widened as Rover did his best to pronounce his name. “Now, you must return. Monster is waiting for you and he has yet to see you in this new form.”
“Remember,” Aethelbald said as everything became blurry. “I am always with you.”
“I'll remember!” Rover called as the blurred figure of Aethelbald disappeared, and he was engulfed in darkness.
Monster watched as Rover, excruciatingly slowly, transformed. Paws turned into hands and feet, fur was replaced with skin, and those long droopy ears transformed into hair.
A young lad who looked to be about six or seven years of age (in mortal time) stood before him, reaching almost to his torso. A dirty, blonde mop of hair dangled in front of large brown eyes and he was clad almost entirely in green.
The lad blinked up at him, as if adjusting his eyes to the dimly lit library.
“Dragon's teeth! Would you look at that!” Monster said, grinning at the surprised youth. “Feel any different?”
Man-Rover blinked once more, before his eyes fully focused on Monster. “I. . .I saw him!” Rover said in awe. “I really saw him!”
“You saw who?” Monster asked.
“Aethelbald! I. . .I mean the Prince.”
“But I never saw. . . . What did he say?”
“Lots of things. He told me about who he was, he answered all my questions, and he told me about my parents.”
That was the Prince all right.
“Did you know my real name is Dexter?” Rover asked.
“No. Would you like me to call you that now?”
“No, I think I prefer Rover.” Rover responded honestly.
Monster ruffled the boy's hair. “What else?”
“He said you needed my help. That he had a job for me to do here.”
Need his help? If it had been anybody else who had told him that he would've laughed in their face. But it was Prince Aethelbald who had said it, so he believed it.
Rover swiped his hair away from his eyes. “Are you upset?” he asked quietly.
“Upset? Me? Never.” Monster smiled. “Now come on, if you're to help me we'd best be on our way,” he said, taking the form of a cat.
“What are we going to do?” Rover asked, also changing form. It came naturally to him now.
“First, we fill that hole!”
Rover stood back and admired his handy work.
“Nicely done!” Monster praised, from his perch atop a marble statue.
“Well, I am a dog.” Rover joked.
Monster hissed playfully at him. “It just needs one more adjustment. . . .” Monster jumped down and circled the dirt patch where the hole had previously been. He produced a small pouch, and with it in his mouth, began scattering a grain-like substance over the area.
“What is that?”
“Red pepper. Groundhogs don't like it. It will keep them from re-digging a hole here.” Monster said from between his clenched teeth.
“Wouldn't it have been better if we had sprinkled the red pepper before I covered the hole?”
Monster dumped the bag and stared at him. “Why didn't you mention it before?”
“How was I supposed to know you had red pepper with you and that groundhogs don't like it?” Rover said defensively.
“Because, you. . .oh dragon's teeth! Forget it.”
“Is this really that simple? We just cover the hole, sprinkle red pepper, and we've stopped them?” Rover asked, ears perking.
“Of course not. Do you think groundhogs can only go underground? They can climb trees as well as swim! We could still easily be invaded.”
“Couldn't the royal guards...?”
“The royal guards stop a band of groundhogs from invading the castle and capturing the princess? Don't make me laugh! They wouldn't believe their eyes, much less jump in and do something. No, it's up to us now. I think I will write a sonnet about this.” Monster finished, almost to himself. “Come along,” he called, as he strode towards the courtyard.
“Where are we going?” Rover asked, bounding after him.
“To teach you how to fight. You didn't think I would be engaging the enemy alone while you sat back and watched, did you?”
Rover rolled over onto his back. Oohhhhh, that felt so good! His tongue lolled to one side, and his hind leg began to kick.
“Atta boy, you like that, huh?” Prince Felix asked, as he rubbed Rover's belly. Rover loved the time he spent alone with Felix. The two had bonded well, playing fetch together, going on walks together, and Felix had had no trouble potty training the pup. Rover knew Felix had high hopes of him becoming a hunting dog one day, but that was a ways away yet, so Rover didn't waste his time thinking about it.
Ahhah. Rover was content to lay there and have Felix scratch him forever. But sadly it was late, and time for both Rover and Felix to call it a night. Felix stopped rubbing his belly, scooped him up, and placed him in his wooden box filled with blankets and pillows. “Goodnight Rover.” Felix called from his bed above him.
The candle was blown out, and Rover shut his eyes.
“Psst! Rover! Arise!” Monster prodded him with a velvet paw.
“Waa? What's going on?” Rover yawned, stretching.
“The groundhogs!” Monster hissed. “They're climbing the trees, over the palace wall!”
Rover quickly got up and followed Monster through the hallway. “But what can they do? The princess is safe in her bedroom, right?”
“Right. Exactly where those overgrown rats want her!”
“But the guards—”
“The guards don't know their groundhog from a mole, nor a invasion from a tea party!” Monster exclaimed, running faster.
“They think moles are here for a tea party?” Rover asked, panting to keep up with him.
Monster glanced back and gave him a “How could you be so stupid” look, which Rover read as a “no”. They came to the doorway of Princess Una's chambers.
“Now what?” Rover asked, skidding to a stop beside Monster.
“We need to set a trap. Keep a lookout, if you see a guard, bark once, if you see a groundhog bark twice.”
Rover nodded and sat at his post beside the door, his senses on full alert. Monster changed into a human and disappeared, entering a room a few doors down. He returned a few minutes later with a bucket full of water and some rope.
“What are you going to do with that?” Rover asked, his curiosity piqued.
“Watch and see!”
Rover watched as Monster hung the bucket filled with water above the door, with the rope, sprinkled what Rover thought was more red pepper inside, and attached the rope to the door hinge.
“There we are! Come, we must hurry and enter through the window!” Monster said, changing forms again.
Rover followed the cat outside of the palace and watched as he leapt up and landed gracefully on the Princess' windowsill. Rover's attempt was much less successful. He jumped, fell a few feet short of the sill, and plummeted down to the ground. He heard Monster snicker from above him. Rover picked himself up and shook himself off, getting ready to make another attempt, but Monster stopped him with a, “Shh! Get down!”
Rover dove down, hiding in the shadow of the wall, ears perked, listening. He heard voices coming from around the corner, heading his way. He glanced up, Monster had disappeared from the windowsill. The voices came closer, and Rover picked up on a scent.
Smell. . .worms. . .dirt. . .grass. . .fleas. . .fur. . .groundhog!
His nose tingled with the scent. He listened as the voices came within hearing range.
“You sure this is the place?” a gruff voice asked.
Another high-pitched voice answered him, “That's what Chuck told us.”
“Okay then. I'll stand under the sill, you climb on top of me.”
What do I do? They'll see me! Rover panicked, trying desperately to come up with a plan.
Out of the darkness a small bird flew in front of his face. “Change,” it tweeted to him, then flew off.
Change and then do what? Rover wondered, but he was out of time. The two groundhogs appeared, and Rover changed form, rising tall above them.
They froze, taken completely unaware. Rover knew they couldn't see his face in the darkness, and used that it to his advantage. “Halt! Who goes there?” he asked, standing on his tip toes to make himself appear taller, and deepening his voice.
The groundhogs fled instantly, mistaking him for a guard just as he'd hoped. Heehee, this is fun!
Monster reappeared on the sill. “Good work! But it's not over yet! Get in here!”
Rover grabbed the sill with both hands, and hanging there changed forms, scrambling up beside Monster. Together they jumped silently down into the sleeping Princess' room. The sound of pittering paws, and muffled whispers came from beneath the door.
This shouldn't be so easy for them, Rover thought, as Monster transformed closing the window, and locking it. Well at least now they can't get in that way.
They had to be careful not to awaken Princess Una while preventing anyone from entering. This was going to be harder than he thought.
“What happens when they open the door and the bucket falls?” he whispered to Monster. “Won't it awaken her?”
“Not tonight, I dusted her pillow with sleeping powder before retrieving you. She'll be sleeping like an enchanted princess from a distant realm, and she won't need a frog-prince's kiss to awaken her either. Light of Lume be praised.”
“Long story, I'll tell it to you sometime.”
The sound of the doorknob turning made Rover turn his attention back to the door. It opened, and in the doorway stood a tall figure, a swarm of groundhogs behind him.
Several things happened at once—Monster dashed between the tall figure's legs, and sprang upon the stunned groundhogs before they could react; the bucket fell and dumped the pepper-water substance all over the figure and those closest to the door; and Rover sprang, teeth bared, at the figure, sending him sprawling atop the others behind him. Rover sunk his teeth into the figure's thigh, making him cry out in pain.
Monster was quickly gaining the upper hand on the fifteen or so groundhogs that remained, the others having already been defeated, or crushed. The figure, wiping pepper-water from his eyes, grappled with Rover on the floor, grunting curses as he tried in vain to remove the pup from his flesh. Rover hung on with all his might, locking his jaw like Monster had taught him, not letting go.
At the sound of guards approaching, the figure transformed and Rover had almost its entire body in his mouth! Rover spit, dislodging the animal which ran at the first sign of freedom. Blood spattered the marble floor, Rover looked around at the dozens of bodies that lay beneath him.
He watched as Monster finished the last one off, and the guards arrived, one of them slaying the bleeding groundhog that had escaped Rover.
Chuck, Rover thought sadly. He would've made it if it wasn't for me. . . .
He was too numb with shock to put up a fight as one of the guards lifted him up and brought him back to Felix's room. He heard the distant meow of Monster saying, “We did it kid!” as he was carried off. But none of that mattered, Rover thought. He had just taken his first life, and he knew that his own life would never be the same.
Monster lounged in the lap of Princess Una and watched as Prince Felix and Rover wrestled playfully on the floor. He purred contentedly.
It had been a week since that terrible night, and not a groundhog was to be seen, which suited him just fine. Memories of that night still made his fur stand on edge, although he would never admit it. It had been a close call, and it was partially due to Rover that Una was no longer in danger. Well, of invading groundhogs anyway.
He had seen how shaken the pup was after his encounter with Chuck and had talked with him about it the next day. He told Rover that he had done the right thing and probably saved the Princess' life. He knew Rover still felt bad, and he understood. It was difficult dealing with your first taste of death, especially when you were not made to experience it. Rover had rallied somewhat during the middle of the week and was now back to his normal self, for which Monster was glad.
Prince Aethelbald had visited them the night before, bringing Rover's parents with him. The reunion was so touching, Monster had had to turn away, keeping the family from seeing his tears. Not that they would've noticed anyway, they were too busy hugging, laughing and crying. Rover's parents had thanked Monster for keeping their son safe, and had listened as he and Rover gave an account of what had happened that night.
Prince Aethelbald went on to explain that Chuck had also been from Rudiobus, in fact he had been the one who had taken Rover. Chuck had had the perfect plan: steal a young citizen of Rudiobus, like himself; place him with a mortal pet family, and wait until he grows a little; somehow get him inside the palace and have him help with his plan of capturing the Princess.
It was perfect all right, but it had failed miserably.
The Prince never explained why Chuck had wanted the Princess in the first place or what he had intended to do with her once he did have her. Some things, Monster decided, he just wasn't meant to know; but he trusted that the Prince must have a good reason for not telling him and that was fine with him. The Princess' safety was all that mattered.
rince Aethelbald had given Rover the option of remaining at the palace with Felix, Monster and the others, or returning to Rudiobus and staying with his parents. Aethelbald had explained that in remaining at the palace he would only be staying at the longest, seventeen years, for that was about the average life span of a mortal dog . But seventeen years was a relatively short time for someone who would live until the end of time.
Rover had thought it over and asked many questions before he finally decided. “I want to remain here,” he had said, much to Monster's surprise. Rover had looked apologetically at his parents, who despite themselves were smiling at their son, his mother with tears in her eyes. “I like it here, and I greatly enjoy spending my time with Felix. I've made friends here,” he had said, glancing sideways to Monster, “and I don't believe my job is done.” He turned to Aethelbald. “I know you assigned Monster to see to Princess Una's safety, but can't you use me too? I already helped once, and I know your enemy won't rest until he's found your future bride, so I won't either until your future bride becomes your bride and is safely in your care.”
He had paused, gauging Aethelbald's reaction. The Prince had smiled gently through his outburst, and nodded for him to continue. He then turned to his parents.
“Mom, Dad, I know we just reunited and I would love to go home right now and spend the rest of time with the both of you, but I believe I am needed here, and like Prince Aethelbald said, seventeen years is a very short time for us, the blink of an eye really. I know you'll both miss me and I shall miss the both of you, but we will see each other again. If I went home now, only to return later, I might find some of my friends dead, for Prince Felix is mortal and only has a short time to live. Please let me help make his short life a memorable one,” Rover had ended.
Prince Aethelbald had been the first to respond. “You’re willing to give up your life to serve me?” he had quietly asked Rover.
“Yes,” Rover had whispered. “For I know t’is the only way for me to be truly happy.”
The Prince had made Rover kneel right there and swore him into his service, proclaiming him a Knight of Farthestshore. Both his parents had told him how proud they were, both for what he had done and for his decisions. They said they would miss him, and a tearful goodbye took place, but with it came promises to reunite sometime in the future.
“Love you!” they called each other until they were out of sight.
The Prince stayed a moment longer, and had spoken privately to Rover before turning to Monster and saying, “Well done Eanrin. I am pleased both with your effort and with your success. Until we meet again,” and with that he left, and to the world it was like he had never been there, but to both Rover and Monster his visit had left an impression on their hearts that they would never forget.
A thought pulled Monster out of his reverie, and he quickly leapt down off of Una's lap and ran for the gardens, the sound of croaking ringing in his ears. Prince Felix is in for a surprise tonight!
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