Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: The Family Pet (05/15/08)
TITLE: The Strays
By Peter Stone
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Undaunted by the incessant rain falling from an oppressively dark sky, the lady of the castle hastened forth from the great keep, lifting the hem of her dress off the wet cobblestones. “Could you save Baron Gillet and his family from the rebels, my lord?”
“The rebels’ dastardly work was all but done when we arrived, dear wife. They came at us like madmen, but we hewed them with axe and sword until the rest fled,” said Tristram as rain cascaded down his nose
“They murdered the baron’s whole family?”
Tristram opened his riding cloak. Huddled against his armored chest was a young slip of a girl wearing a linen nightshirt. “All but this one. Do you know her? She appears bereft of her senses.”
Lady Isabelle reached up and took the girl into her arms. “I do--her name is Jehennette. She is, was, Baron Gillet’s youngest. She is ten, I believe.”
“Best get her fireside before she catches a death of a chill. I will join you shortly.”
“What happened out there, Husband?” Isabelle asked from her wooden stool before the hearth. Bathed and dressed in warm nightclothes, Jehennette slept fitfully before the roaring fire.
“Incomprehensible barbarity--these rebels are worse than wild dogs. What they did to that girl’s parents and brothers…” Distraught, his words trailed off. “My every waking thought is haunted by that scene. And all the while Jehennette watched, knowing her turn was coming…”
A female grey cat detached itself from the shadows and butted her head against Tristram’s arm.
“And yet you saved her, Tristram. I just hope we can accommodate her better than the last stray you brought home.”
“What? I thought the cat was making good progress,” he said while stroking the feline’s back.
“Really? When you are absent she hides in every nook and cranny and attacks me, our sons--even the servants—in a frenzy of slashing claws and biting teeth whenever we walk past. Just look at my shins!” Isabelle lifted the hem of her dress, revealing painful injuries. “You said Edine could be a family pet, not yours alone!”
“Observe her jewelled collar.”
“What of it?”
“It means she was tame once--a noble’s pet. She can be tame again.” Tristram scratched the cat’s chin and indicated Jehennette with a nod. “The cat needs time to find her way back to normal life. So does Jehennette.”
Isabelle looked at the girl sleeping before the fire. “I hope so, my lord. Poor child, she gave no indication that she was even aware of our presence while we bathed and dressed her. My heart broke a thousand times over.”
Tristram rose to his feet. “I will help as I can, my lady, but now must take my leave. King Charles of Navarre assembles an army at Beauvais to crush the rebels and has requested that I join him with half my men.”
“Take care, Husband.”
Three weeks later, Sir Tristram and his retinue returned.
“Good news, Husband?” asked the lady as the lord dismounted in the courtyard.
“Indeed, my lady. The rebellion was crushed. But what news do you bear—what of our two strays?”
Isabelle pointed towards the stables. Tristram was surprised to see Jehennette sitting with her back against a stable door, stroking the cat, which lay contentedly on her lap. “After you left, the cat slept with Jehennette. From that moment, they have been inseparable. Although Jehennette is yet to speak, she does acknowledge our words. The cat has improved too--she no longer attacks us. Seems we have a pet after all.”
Tristram made his way quietly over to the girl and feline, and knelt beside them. Jehennette continued petting the cat, but did not look up.
“I rescued the cat from a storm too, you know, much like I did you.”
“Then we are both strays,” the girl said softly. Edine purred blissfully.
Tristram scratched the cat’s chin as waves of relief fled through him--she spoke! “She was a stray, and driven almost feral by her ordeal. She could have left at any time, but chose to stay and therefore became part of our family.”
Jehennette sought out his eyes.
“You, too, are welcome to stay. Our family has room for one more,” he said kindly.
Jehennette examined the cat’s yellow-green eyes. “She has found peace here. Perhaps I will too. I will stay.”
In 1358 AD, northern France was terrorised by a popular peasant revolt. Over one hundred castles and homes of the nobility were attacked, the inhabitants brutally slaughtered. A pretender for the throne, Charles the Bad of Navarre, crushed the revolt on June 10th.
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