The cat who looked at the King

I haven’t posted anything for a long time. I thought a good way to get back into it would be with a story I wrote that takes place during Holy Week. Enjoy.

Her Most Royal Highness, Daughter of the Moon and Empress over All Things Elegant and Beautiful, Princess Ahmose-Nebetta the Twenty-third, made her rounds of the Temple courtyard as she had done every day for the past eleven years. “How fortunate the commoners are!” she thought as she glided by. If only they knew that when they gazed upon her majesty, her eyes of gold, her sleek fur the color of the Egyptian sands, her very form the pinnacle of beauty and grace, they were gazing upon the royal descendant of the great queens of Egypt. Yet every day she marveled how these lowly peasants merely walked on past as though they couldn’t even see her. Occasionally, though, one of them would give her a piece of fish or meat, smile at her, and tell her what a pretty little puss she was. It was insulting to be called puss, but she knew that even a princess needs to eat, so she forgave them.

Every day she saw people milling about, buying animals or changing money, talking, arguing, laughing, or, occasionally, remembering that they were in the house of God. The spring holy days were approaching and now the temple courts were even busier than normal. This morning, after being nearly trampled three times, she gave up making her rounds and leapt onto a low wall to watch the crowds in safety.

The Princess understood the language of humans well enough. It wasn’t difficult to learn, for they only ever talked about money, taxes, food, the Romans, or marrying off their children. She listened to such chatter now, not paying much attention, as the spring sunshine baked into her aging but still beautiful bones.

Then, suddenly, she perked up her ears. Here was something different! A voice. A man’s voice. Just like all the others, yet, somehow, not like them. It was a voice that almost seemed to speak her name even though it was not talking to her at all. She scanned the crowd, trying to find who that voice belonged to. It was hard to tell. These poor wretches all looked the same – worried, sad, tired, hungry, and they were all so incredibly ugly! No fur, no lovely whiskers, no graceful tails to help them keep their balance.

Then she saw him. He was speaking to a large group of people that had crowded around him. As he spoke, he surveyed the courtyard the same way she did on her daily rounds. He was no better to look at than any of the other humans; he looked like he needed a good meal and a hot bath. He seemed unhappy with what he saw going on around him. The princess could tell that the greedy money-changers, the loud gossipers, the poor animals–bleating and crying in fear while men haggled over them in angry voices–were distressing him. 

She watched this most unusual human intently. Suddenly, he stopped. One of the men behind him walked right into him, nearly knocking him over. There were many people around him, jostling with one another to get closer to him and hear what he was saying. He seemed to be saying something important but the Princess couldn’t understand it very well. He wasn’t talking about money, or taxes, or Romans, or anything else she was familiar with. He sighed heavily as he looked around him one more time.

“Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem!” he cried in an anguished voice. “You who killed the prophets and stoned everyone I sent to you! How often have I longed to gather your children together just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”

The Princess understood this well enough. At least, she understood the tone of his voice perfectly. Once, many years ago, a wicked old woman had stolen her newborn kittens away from her. She had searched and cried for them for days on end, but she never found them. This man’s voice sounded exactly the way her heart had felt – the way her heart still felt, if she allowed herself to think about it.

To her own astonishment, the Princess let out a loud yowl of sympathy. Everyone nearby jumped and turned around to stare at her. But she didn’t care. She yowled again. She wanted the man to know that she understood, that she cared, even though he was only a man and she was the descendant of the great Queens of Egypt. 

She yowled a third time. This time the man himself turned in her direction. Just as they made eye contact, someone in the crowd swore and threw a rock at her. She saw it coming just in the nick of time and nimbly jumped to the side. Then, before another rock could come at her, she leapt off the wall and tore through the thick, dangerous forest of moving legs. She never stopped yowling. She had to get to the man. She had to let him know that he wasn’t alone, that SHE understood what these thick-headed dolts couldn’t. She could still hear his voice, not quite lost in the great sea of voices. People were arguing with him again. Other people were cursing at her and telling her to be quiet. Peasants! Telling a queen to be quiet! They didn’t know that this man needed her. He was hurting, and he needed the comfort and consolation that only a Queen could give. 

She dodged, this way and that, straining not to lose the sound of that voice. Someone kicked at her, just nicking her on her side. She hissed but didn’t take the time to scratch them. She was almost there.

Then, before she had time to react, a sharp stone struck her just above her eye. Her yowl turned into a sharp cry of pain as blood suddenly gushed out over her beautiful fur and feet, splashing on the dusty stones. 

“Vermin, who let you in the house of God?” an angry voice cried. “Git! Git out of here!”

She was dazed and momentarily forgot what she was doing. The blow had sent her reeling backward, and now blood was running into her eye, making it hard to see. It wasn’t the first time this had happened in her long and difficult reign, but it was always unsettling. The wanton cruelty of these creatures was impossible to ever get used to.

“It’s only a cat, Teacher,” she heard a voice say. “Poor thing is hurt.” The voice was gruff but not unkind. A long way from THAT voice, though. 

“Ugh, I hate cats!” said another voice. “Those slit eyes, and they’re so sly and sneaky. Someone get rid of it!”

“Quiet, James,” said The Voice. “This is God’s creature, too, you know. Where is she?”

The fact that he said she and not it was not lost on the Princess. She tried to walk toward that beautiful voice but felt too weak and wobbly. The stone had hit hard. Then, although she couldn’t see very well, she could tell the throng was parting a little. The air suddenly seemed fresher and easier to breathe. But oh, how her head hurt! She cried again, not the mournful yowl of searching, but the high-pitched cry of a lost kitten.

Suddenly he was there, kneeling down to take a look at her. “Hello, your majesty,” he said. “Were you looking for me?”

He said this, not in the coarse language of humans, but in perfect, flawless Cat. She quit crying and gazed at him with the eye that wasn’t covered in blood. But her vision was fuzzy and he wouldn’t come into focus. He went on, “You came here to comfort me but I think for the moment you must allow me to comfort you. May I pick you up to examine you more closely?”

The Princess never allowed anyone to pick her up. If someone dared try, they would be rewarded with a sharp scratch or maybe even a bite. It wasn’t for peasants to pick up a descendant of the great Queens of Egypt! But she could tell now that this man was no mere peasant. “You may,” she said.

He picked her up as gently as she might pick up one of her kittens and looked closely at her eye. “Tsk, that is a bad cut,” he said. “But we will soon set you to rights. Peter, have you any water in your flask?”

“Yes, teacher,” said the gruff-voiced peasant, and he handed over the flask. The special man took a scarf from around his neck, doused it with water, and gently dabbed at the Princess’ eye. It stung, but she did her best not to flinch. He put gentle pressure on the cut until it stopped bleeding, then gently washed the blood off her face, fur, and paws. The whole time he soothed her in a gentle, unspoken language that only she could understand. The people who were with the man looked either surprised or annoyed, depending upon their own disposition. The others, who had been arguing with him, began to walk away.

“James, go and buy a piece of fish for our little friend here,” he said.

“You’ve got to be joking!” said James. But the man gave him a stern look and James walked away without another word. Peter went with him.

“No doubt so they could talk over this unusual turn of events,” said the man, smiling. “Come now, dear heart, let’s get you somewhere quiet where you can rest.” He carried the Princess in his arms as though she were a baby, and she didn’t even mind. They walked through the sunlit courtyard and into a shaded alcove.

The Princess’s head was throbbing, and her eye still didn’t want to focus, but she was so enthralled by this peculiar man that she almost didn’t notice. He talked to her pleasantly about interesting cat things as he gently dabbed her cut and rubbed her affectionately behind her ears and under her chin. He seemed to know everything there was to know about mice and fish, singing under the full moon, and the importance of plenty of naps, as well as all the business in and around the Temple. 

“How do you know all these things?” she asked him with a purr.

“Oh, I’m very interested in cat things,” he replied.

“Why? I’ve never met another human who was.”

“Because I made them,” he said. 

“You made cat things?”

“I made all things,” he answered.

A person might have doubted his words, or thought him mad, but a cat always knows when someone is telling the absolute truth. 

“So you are more than a man,” she said. “That makes sense. I knew you weren’t like the rest of them. That is why you understand my language. That is why your words were the most mournful I ever heard. I wanted to help you.”

“Yes, dearest, I know,” he said, rubbing her under the chin again. She especially liked that. “And I thank you. You are a credit to your noble ancestors.”

“You know where I come from?” the Princess asked, surprised. “You know that I am descended from the Great Queens of Egypt?” 

“Oh, yes, and I know more than that,” he answered. “I remember things you never even knew. I remember a particular ancestor of yours who crossed the great desert between Egypt and this land, so long ago. She, like you, was a great comfort to a grieving heart on that hard journey.”

“You?” asked the Princess.

“No,” said the man. “A little boy whose parents died on the way. A beautiful princess named Ahmose-Nebetta the Third was his particular friend and comforter.” Ahmose-Nebetta the Twenty-third purred even louder with pride in her ancestress.

“And, further back,” continued the man, “your ancestors were on the Ark itself. And, even further back than that, at the very beginning of all things, your noble line began, in a beautiful Garden.”

“And you made us?” asked the Princess.

“Yes, dearest,” said the man.

“Then you must love cats very much! You made us so perfectly! Are any of your other creatures so blessed with beauty and grace?”

“Not to mention a talent for admiring your own virtues,” said the man, chuckling.

“Yet you spend all your time with these wretched humans,” said the cat. “Such an unhappy, prickly lot! Not to mention ugly.”

“Ugly?” cried the man, surprised.

“Why, yes!” said the Princess. “They’ve no fur, just pimply, naked skin like plucked chickens. They lumber around like oxen. And they’re always unhappy, wishing for whatever they don’t have. They never think about anything else. Why did you make them so thick and stupid? None of them can even understand me at all, except for a few crude signs.”

“It wasn’t always that way,” said the man. “They lost their ability to talk with animals when they fell.”

“Fell?” asked the Princess. “What does that mean? Did they all trip and fall down?”

“Not exactly,” he answered. “But they are like someone who has fallen into a deep hole. The harder they try to dig their way out, the deeper they dig themselves into the hole. They’ve fallen in and they can’t get out.”

“So are they all going to die?” asked the Princess.

“Yes, unless somebody reaches in and pulls them out,” answered the man.

The cat thought about this for a moment, then her eyes brightened in understanding. “And that is why you are here? You are the one who is going to pull them out?”

“I am,” he said. “If they will accept my hand. Some will choose to remain in the hole.”

“Couldn’t you grab them and make them come out?” asked the Princess.

“If I did it would be unjust,” said the man. “They have the right to refuse my help.”

“If they refused your help then they would be very stupid indeed,” said the Princess. 

“Well, it is hard to argue with that,” answered the man.

Just then Peter and James found them. Peter had a small piece of fish and James, looking none too happy, had a clay saucer filled with fresh goat’s milk.

“Are you strong enough for some refreshment, your majesty?” asked the man.

“I am since you were kind enough to help me,” said the Princess. Normally she would have acknowledged the kindness of a human with a little purr or rub around their ankles, but she knew now that this man deserved so much more. So she added, “Thank you, my Lord.”

After she had eaten and drank her fill, the man stood up and announced to his friends it was time to find the others and leave for the day. Then to the Princess he said, “You are coming to where I am staying tonight, and that is going to be your new home.”

“But the Temple is my home,” said the Princess.

“It has been,” agreed the man. “And you have guarded it well these many years. But it is time for you to enjoy a peaceful retirement and let another worthy guardian take your place. No arguments, now!”

“I would like to be with you,” said the Princess. “For always.”

“Yes,” answered the man, “but I have important business to take care of and I must be going away soon. My friends are good, kind people and you will be happy for the rest of your days.” He gently scratched her on her chin again.

The Princess felt a sudden sadness she had not known since the loss of her kittens. “I know I am old,” she said. “And I will be closing my eyes soon. Maybe before you come back.”

“Maybe,” the man agreed.

“Can I ask you one more thing?” she said.

“Anything,” he answered.

“Did you really make me?”

He answered yes.

“Then you really do love me?”

He answered yes.

“Then will I see you after I die?”

“Wait and see,” he said.

The Princess was content with this. 

As they headed out of Jerusalem and into the fresh countryside toward the little town of Bethany, the Princess was quiet for a long time, riding on the man’s shoulders. The countryside was pretty, new and green after the spring rains. She could smell sheep, birds, mice, and, in the distance, even the hint of a fox. Being on the man’s shoulders was the deepest contentment she had ever known. How could any human refuse his hand when he offered it?

“It is so easy to be with you!” exclaimed the Princess suddenly. “And these silly, thick-headed people might actually refuse you? How could they? How can they not understand? They will cause you so much pain, just like you cried about this morning. Even worse!”

“Yes,” agreed the man.

“Are they really worth the bother?” asked the Princess.

He answered, “Yes.”

She pondered it for a moment then asked, “Which did you make first, people or cats?”

“Cats,” the man answered.

“I thought as much,” said the Princess. “You should have stopped at cats.”

The man’s laughter could be heard from Jerusalem to Bethany, and beyond.

THE END

One thought on “The cat who looked at the King

  1. This little story is so wonderful! I’m glad to see you getting it out there in the public eye! Now, to find a publisher….. ________________________________

    Like

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