Woman and feline moved in harmony. Their every step was somehow equal, and when they idled, they had the same lazing postures. Had I not seen the two a year previous, I would assume them always in such perfect balance. With a smile, I reflected back through time, to look with my mind’s eye on those clumsy years.
Elise was my grand-niece. She was never a graceful girl, and never thought the filth of an active life had no place on her face and clothing. Many thought her a boy for her wild mane and thin, formless body. She cared not which gender she was labeled, and took joy in shocking those who still assumed her masculine despite a very high voice.
Despite her father and mother’s wishes, she could neither be tamed, nor contained, and ran rampantly free throughout my brother’s city. Few people recognized her, and fewer still wished to oust her publicly. Who would possibly believe that the baron’s daughter was so rabid?
Her transformation began on a cold day at the end of autumn. She was wandering the streets, despite an early, biting cold. I tailed her at a comfortable distance, unwilling to snuff her playfulness by telling the girl that she was impossibly late for her daily lessons.
Elise dashed suddenly into an alley, and I sped my steps through the crunching snow to catch up. As I turned the corner, she shoved a wriggling mass of kittens into my arms She herself picked up a sickly-looking mother cat and the final kitten– a runt.
“Elise, what is this?” I asked in surprise.
“Kittens! We’re taking them home, Grampy. The mama cat is very ill, and I don’t think she’ll last long, especially with so many little babies.” She tilted her head. “We’ll give them over to the stable master to help care for, because he loves cats.” Her tone was calm, and though I knew my brother had no room in the stables, we would take them there together.
With a chuckle, I made a suggestion. “Let’s get a basket to carry them. They wiggle a lot, and I don’t think my grip is quite strong enough.”
The child looked up at me, then nodded and looked around. She dumped snow from a decrepit basket and lined it with her cloak, then took the kitten from me and put them in with their mother. The mewling mass voiced several objections as they fought to become comfortable again. Elise picked the lot up, and I helped carry the weight as we walked back to the keep together.
We arrived just as a hunting party was leaving, and approached the stable master with our crying bundle.
“No, no, no. I can’t. I don’t have time. I can teach you how, but I can’t take care of eight or more new animals.” He shook his head rapidly.
Elise pouted. “But Eddy, Mama would never let me have them in the house.”
Eddy refused to look Elise in the eye as they continued to argue over where the kittens should go. It lasted an hour, until I finally picked the basket up. “I’ll keep them in my room. Eddy, teach Elise how to care for young animals. Elise, you will come to my room every few hours, day or night, and care for the cats.” I looked between the two, and they nodded.
It took only minutes for Eddy to teach Elise and I about how to care for the tiny kittens, and my grand-niece and I walked to the keep’s main building, and then to the back, where my suite waited. I asked a maid along the way to deliver a box of sand and a crate lined with old clothing that was to be discarded.
By the time we arrived at my chambers, the preparations were in place, along with a bowl of kitchen scraps and a bowl of water. I transferred the felines to the crate and slowly fed the mother with the meat scraps while Elise watched.
Over the next several weeks, she came in every few hours. Her play time was drastically reduced, although she minded less and less. The mother cat passed on shortly after weaning the kittens, and most of the young creatures died shortly after. Only the runt and one other remained as the winter passed. The runt spent much of his time with me, and the other spent most of his time with Elise when she came.
Eventually, I confronted my nephew.
“Wil. I would like to offer Elise a present.” I began.
“I see no issue there. She has been well-behaved of late.” Wil answered casually. “What do you have in mind?”
“I want to give her this.” I held up Elise’s kitten. “To live in her room with-“
Wil cut me off. “No. You can keep it in your room, as you have during the winter. She doesn’t need that sort of distraction with her all the time.”
With a sigh, I politely left my brother’s son, and returned to my chambers, where Elise waited eagerly.
“Well, Grampy? Do I get to keep him in my room?” She asked. “I’ve been good in my lessons and even stopped acting like a boy!”
Regretfully, I told her of her father’s decision. “He said no. He said it will be too distracting for you.”
Her heart shattered, and she lowered her head quietly.
“She does need to stretch her legs, though.” I murmured. “I think I will leave the door open. She can fend for herself well enough, and her small brother seems to lack her wanderlust.”
Elise looked up at me hopefully, and we both laughed.
From then on, I left my door open, and the growing young cat followed Elise everywhere. Many times, I spotted Elise talking to the cat, and as time passed, she slowly grew out of her clumsiness, and began to act more feminine. The cat took to sitting quietly beside her during her lessons, and even seemed to pay attention.
Eventually, my nephew allowed the cat to her room, and the two continued to grow and mature.
To be continued.