Witch, Cat, and Cobb
J.K. Pendragon © 2020
All Rights Reserved
I was not accustomed to swamps.
I had been warned about the dangers of swamps, of course, as all children were, and knew the likelihood of traversing the swamp without grave peril befalling me was dismally low. But somehow, in the course of plotting my grand escape, I hadn’t given that fact as much thought as I should have. And to pay for it, I was knee-deep in muck with a cat’s claws digging painfully into my shoulders.
“Don’t make any sudden movements!” said Fen, digging his claws even deeper into my shoulder until I was certain he had latched onto my bone. “It’ll only make it worse.”
“Make it worse?” I screeched at him. “How could this possibly be worse?”
Fen released his front claws from my neck and placed them gently on my head, “I’ve heard about this sort of ground. If I’m right, it’ll be a few hours before it’s swallowed you whole. Whoops!” He had jumped up onto my head, his back legs scrambling over my ear and causing me to shout in pain as his claws grazed me.
“Shh, I’m balancing.” He turned delicately on my head and crouched, wiggling his backside for good measure. “Anyway, you don’t know what sort of creatures you’re likely to attract, making so much noise.” He jumped, shoving me deeper into the muck as he did so, and caught a branch, scrambling up and then perching deftly to look down at me. His normally tawny fur was black in silhouette against the full moon, his eyes a green glint in the otherwise dark swamp.
“I should never have trusted you,” I said, glaring up at him. “You’ve led me to my death!”
“I haven’t!” called Fen, sounding offended. “Anyway, you agreed the swamp was the best choice because no one would come looking for us!”
“And no one will find us even if they do!” I squeaked.
“Hush.” Fen took a step forward, and the tree shifted as he arched his back, swaths of witch’s hair dipped into the muck next to me. He took another step forward, and the branch swayed and bowed downwards. “There, see? Grab that.”
I did so, tangling my fingers in the greasy mats. My shoulders shook as I pulled hand over hand to drag the lower half of my body out of the muck. I was glad I had thought to change into my riding breeches before leaving the castle. Fen made a very un-catlike screech and raced up the tree as it buckled further under my weight.
At last I managed to pull myself up and crawl over to where I hoped the ground was more solid. I let go, falling to the forest floor with a whump and sat, collecting myself. Fen landed lightly on my shoulder, and I hissed at him, causing him to scuttle away and behind the tree.
“Don’t do that,” he said presently, his voice muffled by the leaves and bracken. “Show some gratitude.”
“Right,” I said, standing and attempting to brush myself off as best I could. I was also not accustomed to being quite so dirty. “Thank you for saving me from the peril you yourself put me in.”
“You are the one who wanted to run away, Princess, if I might remind you.” Fen emerged from behind the tree and trotted up to me, jumping deftly back onto my shoulder. “I simply agreed to help you out.”
“You think I don’t know that you’ve got some sort of ulterior motive?” I asked him as I began to walk again, keeping a wary eye out for more of the muck I’d sunken into.
“What ulterior motive could I possibly have?” said Fen. “I’m a cat.”
“A talking cat, I might add. Who waited for how many years, twenty? To decide to reveal that fact to me, and not until I had mentioned I might be thinking of running away to the swamp. Why?”
“I liked the sound of it.”
“You liked the sound of this?” I gestured to the seething wet darkness around us and stopped walking. “No, tell me immediately.”
“Hmph,” said Fen. “If you must know, I’m not really a cat.”
“Fen, I’ve been undressed in front of you!”
“Oh, don’t be so full of yourself, Princess.”