“I’ve been noticing something strange”
“If it wasn’t for the fact that you were different species,” said Fron, Cheena’s life-partner, stretching out beside her on their thick sleeping mat, “I could see myself getting very jealous about your cosy relationship with this Prince.”
Cheena yawned and rolled over. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’ve been his tutor and advisor since he was a child, and he relies on me, that’s all.”
“And will you still be his advisor after the Coronation?”
Cheena gave a little snort. “Well yes, probably. In some capacity at least. And you know my position benefits us, so don’t complain.”
“Who’s complaining?” Fron sat up, looking round at their rather sumptuously furnished home, liberally provided with soft cushions and welcoming couches. They had brought up three litters of cubs there together, but it still looked tidy and comfortable, thanks to the help they were provided by the Palace. “I was just wondering if you were going to go up even further in the world. You know you’re becoming a role-model for our species – one of the most senior cats in the country.”
“You’re pretty senior yourself,” Cheena nudged against him. “I lose track of the number of Committees and Delegations you get invited to join. I hardly ever see you these days.”
“Well, you know,” Fron licked the back of her neck affectionately. “We’ve got to make sure these bipeds remember that they don’t have the planet to themselves. We are just as evolved as they are, just as intelligent. Our interests have to be taken into account, we have to make sure we never lose our hard won equality.”
“How can we lose it? Our two species have been integrated for hundreds of years.”
“Well yes, but there’s always a new generation which comes along with different ideas. Bipeds who insist they are superior – because they have hands, of course, whilst we do not.”
“That’s true,” said Cheena, reflecting. “But the lack of hands hasn’t stopped our brains evolving. And our social structure is arguably much more complex than theirs.”
“And there’s always the fact,” Fron added nonchalantly, “that one of us could easily kill one of them with a swipe of our paws.”
Cheena leapt to her feet. “Fron, don’t even say that, it’s a blasphemy!”
“Of course, I know,” Fron rose also and pushed up against her. “I’m only teasing you. I promise your Prince is safe with me.”
He laughed, but Cheena felt uncomfortable. She loved Fron, and – in a different way – she loved Allam. The thought of either one of them causing the other harm was too awful to contemplate.
“Come on,” she said, to change the subject. “Let’s go and eat. What do you fancy?”
“Good idea.” Fron set off ahead of Cheena, towards the back doorway and the warren of feline eating establishments nearby, which had been part of the reason they had chosen this particular dwelling to settle into, soon after they had met. That and its proximity to the Palace, of course. “I’m not having any more of those nasty little muskrats, and don’t even mention the word porcupine to me ever again! Let’s just have a nice straightforward spotted gazelle. The biggest one they’ve got!”
A couple of hours later they were both gorged and sitting outdoors in a nice sunny spot, licking themselves and each other clean.
“The thing is,” Cheena ventured after a while. “That I actually wanted you to come and meet Allam again, sometime soon.”
Fron groaned. “Must I? I’m not saying I don’t like him, but it was a bit difficult to keep up the conversation last time.”
Cheena ignored this complaint. “There’s something I wanted you to… It’s just that I wondered whether you’d…”
“What?” Fron’s eyes swung round to meet hers. “Out with it.”
Cheena licked one of her paws and tried to think how to explain her concern.
“Well, recently, when I’m with him sometimes, I’ve been noticing something strange.”
“Sort of… well, an unusual feeling.”
“Watch it, or I’ll be jealous again!”
“No, it’s nothing like that, it’s sort of nothing to do with him.”
“So what precisely are you on about?” said Fron, giving her nose a little superfluous lick.
“It’s nothing he does or says, but when I’m around him sometimes, I get… a sensation.”
Fron growled, just a little. “You are not reassuring me.”
“Come with me tonight, just be with us for a little while. Maybe you’ll see what I mean. I wondered whether it might be something you’d feel as well.”
“Oh, if you insist,” Fron sighed. “But I need to sleep first.”
Cheena watched as he slumped down and closed his eyes. Perhaps she should have kept her nebulous concerns to herself – but it was too late now.
So it was that Cheena and Fron paced side by side up to the table at which the Prince was working in his study, pouring over piles of agreements and contracts, and occasionally reaching for a pen to add a signature or make some notes.
He threw everything down as they approached, and gave them a warm welcome.
“Fron, it’s so good to see you again,” he said, bowing in greeting as was customary. “Please, take a drink.” Allam gestured to the bowls of cool water which were always kept full and fresh for visitors of the feline persuasion.
“Thank you,” said Cheena’s partner politely, a little in awe, despite himself, in the presence of royalty. “I’m sorry to hear of your father’s passing.”
“Oh,” the Prince’s face turned grave. “I’ve come to terms with it now, but it was unexpected. I thought I – well, I thought I would have more time.”
“And congratulations on your engagement,” Cheena added. “Your decision to marry is wise in the circumstances, and I wish you every happiness.”
Allam sighed. “Well, thank you. But happiness doesn’t seem to come into it at the moment.” He gestured at the pile of papers. “It all seems to be work and worry.”
“Surely you could get help to do this sort of thing…” Cheena began, but Allam cut in quickly, as if he had heard this admonishment before.
“Yes, yes, no doubt I could – and no doubt I will. But right now, I feel I should understand everything, keep my finger on the pulse of the truth, as it were.” He shook his head. “There seem to be more threats and problems in this land than I had realised.”
They moved away from the table and made themselves comfortable in a private area in front of a huge fireplace – there was no fire burning, however, as the weather was warm.
Allam asked about Fron’s most recent appointment and they began a conversation about the dichotomy between science and politics.
“Quite why there is such resistance to these new ideas, I don’t understand,” said the Prince. (According to tradition, he would not be called King until after the Coronation ceremony, which was scheduled for a few weeks in the future.) “What can be wrong with progress?”
“I suppose it raises fears,” Fron contributed. “Many prefer the comfort of familiarity, and resist change.”
“Well, somehow, things will have to change. We cannot ignore these astonishing recent discoveries. For example – ”
And then it happened. Both Cheena and Fron suddenly felt the hair on their necks rise, and a shudder pass through them. Cheena got to her feet and caught Fron’s eye, but then sat down again, so as not to concern the Prince, who was speaking on one of his favourite topics – astronomy.
“Is everything alright?” he asked, noticing the change in the cats’ demeanour.
“Yes, yes,” said Cheena. “No problem. You were saying?”
The conversation continued, but later, neither Cheena nor Fron were to remember much of it.
“It was as if,” Fron said to her as they bounded home later, “there was another presence in the room with us.”
“I’m so glad you felt it also,” said Cheena. “And we both knew when it had gone.”
“Yes. I can’t say how – it must be our proverbial sixth sense.”
“I’ve experienced it a few times now, a change in the atmosphere like that, for several minutes. But he never notices anything himself.”
They ran on through the Palace gardens.
“The ghost of his father, perhaps, watching over him?”
“It could be. Or maybe some malevolent entity sent by one of his enemies. I fear for his safety, Fron!”
Fron slowed to a stop and touched heads with his mate, to comfort her. “I don’t think it was malevolent,” he said, thinking back to what they had experienced. “In fact, I rather had the feeling that it was – ”
“Well, almost like – ”
“Love,” said Fron quietly, as they stood together under the stars. “Like pure, disembodied love.”