Here’s a sneak peak of Chapter 2 of A Cat’s Guide to Saving the Kingdom, the sequel to A Cat’s Guide to Meddling with Magic.
You can pre-order the book from Amazon by clicking on the link at the bottom of this page.
Chapter 2: Pride and Superficiality
There were still guards milling around the closed portcullis though, and many of the serving staff had come out of the doors to the castle, as if waiting for something to happen. The bugle call that cancelled Sports Day had clearly been for something important. Meanwhile, dandelion puffs and grass seeds waltzed gently on the cooling breeze, and I wondered if they’d find any place to grow with this whole place stinking of rotten vegetable juice. Salanraja scudded down against the ground in the centre of the bailey. Given we would have taken second place if it weren’t for the cancellation, we were the first to land on virtually empty ground.
“Get off,” Salanraja said, and I didn’t hesitate to follow her orders. I’d been so long up in the air with her, I was feeling a little queasy. I sprinted down her tail, and she lifted into the air, leaving me standing alone there. She’d been ordered to make room for the other dragons to land, so as not to create any traffic problems. No one had yet told us what the urgency was, but I knew it was a matter of great importance.
I just hoped that the warlocks hadn’t yet decided to march, because I didn’t have my staff yet, and without it Astravar would probably win. In all honesty, I was looking forward to clutching it in my teeth and unleashing the power at Astravar. But it wasn’t so much the battle itself I was looking forward to. Rather, I was looking forward to the praise and adulation I’d get after the battle.
King Garmin, I was certain, would offer me a grand gift for my efforts in defeating the most powerful warlock in the land. And I would ask for tithes of a house in the countryside outside Cimlean, with lots of room for me and Ta’ra – wherever she was right now – to run around in. I’d let Rine and Ange live with us as well, and Aleam could visit along with Seramina whenever they wanted.
I’d already thought of the problem of feeding our three dragons – Salanraja, Ishtkar, and Quarl – and I’d decided that I’d also ask for a cattle rancher, a shepherd, a fisherman, and a huntsman to be employed on our grounds. They could live in a separate house, of course, and they could each have a cat as long as they kept them off mine and Ta’ra’s territory and treated them well instead of employing them as rat catchers. Of course, the king would have to keep sending us tithes of sheep, chickens, and cattle, but that could be my reward for saving the kingdom. I could live, in other words, like a lord.
My mouth watered at the thought of all the nutritious food I could eat there — much of it roasted by not one but three dragons. It was only natural, really — I’d had to accept that I probably now had no way of returning to my home in South Wales. Which meant that I had to find an alternative way to make life just as good as it used to be, if not better.
There came a cool gust from above, and the massive shadow of Quarl passed over me. Ange’s dragon came into land, with Ishtkar and Rine flying only a short distance behind them. Ange paused a moment to watch Rine land wistfully, and then both riders scurried down the sides of their dragons to hit the floor at the same time.
Their dragons took off towards the east tower. Rine and Ange looked just about to step up to each other, when another dragon blocked their path. A smallish citrine dragon flew right between them and landed, pushing Ange back from Rine. Bellari stood up in her dragon’s saddle, looking around her. Her eyes fell on me first, and she frowned. Then she turned to Ange and gave an even more sour look. Finally, she scurried down her dragon on Rine’s side and embraced him in her arms.
“Oh, you were such a fine stuntman up there,” she said, brushing Rine’s hair away from his cheek. Her dragon lifted off, buffeting Bellari’s against Rine, as he planted a prolonged kiss on his girlfriend. I growled, liking this perhaps even less than Ange did. In many ways, Bellari was even more of an enemy to me than Astravar, and I had absolutely no idea of how to stop her disrupting my plans.
Bellari had turned her head away from them and instead was gazing up at Bellari’s dragon turning in a circle to approach his chamber in the west tower. I should have been angry with her, really, after the tricks she’d played on us up there.
“Of course you should be mad at her,” Salanraja told me. “For what she pulled, you shouldn’t talk to her for at least a week.”
“Don’t be stupid,” I said. “She’s part of our future now. She’s virtually family.” I ignored any more of Salanraja’s protestations and I blocked her out of my mind for the time being. Instead, I went over to Ange, mewling.
She looked down at me, her eyes wide as if in surprise. “I would have thought you’d be angry at me,” she said. “I’m sorry, I can get so competitive sometimes.”
I rubbed myself against her bare calf. “All’s fair in the dragon egg-and-spoon,” I said, reciting Salanraja’s exact words during the race.
At that, Ange laughed. “Oh, Ben,” she said. “You’re becoming more like us every day.”
“I hope I’m still retaining my feline mannerisms. Because I’m a descendant of the great Asian Leopard cat, and if my ancestors can see me today from cat heaven, I want them to be proud.”
“Don’t worry, you’re still as cat-like as cats come. Without the talking like humans, of course. Come to think of it, I’d never imagined how a cat would hold an egg-and-spoon before now, but you held it exactly like I would have thought a cat would.”
I mewled and rubbed up against her leg once again. Now, I was purring loudly. Ange reached down and picked me up in her warm arms. I looked up into her wide, bright eyes. Meanwhile, another dragon came down to land just a short distance away, and Ange turned her back to it as if to shield me from the stiff wind.
“What’s all this commotion about?” I asked. “I thought we’d be flying all day.”
“Yes,” Ange said, and she glanced at the gates to the academy. “It’s such a shame, isn’t it?”
“I guess,” I said, not quite meaning it. I’d much rather be curled up by Aleam’s fireplace right now – even if Ta’ra wasn’t here to provide extra warmth anymore. But then, to survive in this place and not be demoted to rat catching duty, I’d learned you need to show at least a little enthusiasm.
“You don’t sound like you mean it,” Ange said. “But I understand. You weren’t born into this life after all.”
“Neither were you,” I pointed out.
“Ah, but I know every day what I do helps my father, and I also know I’m providing a service to my kingdom.”
I yawned and considered jumping back down and getting a drink from the fountain. But I remembered my question remained unanswered. “So, what’s all this commotion about, then?”
Ange shook her head as she tickled me under the chin. “Haven’t the faintest. But I’m guessing it’s something important.”
“You think the warlocks are finally going to march? I haven’t even got my staff yet.”
“I said I don’t know, Ben,” and she sounded ever so slightly huffy about it. “Why don’t you ask Seramina. She has the gift of clairvoyance, right?”
“Sometimes,” I said. “When she decides it’s worthwhile to use it.”
My words didn’t quite seem to register with Ange as she was gazing over towards the door of the west tower where Rine stood with one leg propped up against the stone. He had Bellari in her arms and was holding her very close as he stroked her hair and gazed longingly into her eyes. I smelled a slight whiff of stress coming out of Ange’s glands, and I let out a softer meow this time to comfort her.
“Why don’t you do something about that?” I asked.
Ange looked down as her grip on me loosened slightly. “Oh, not this again. When are you going to learn, Ben? Rine and I aren’t meant to be.”
“But you have feelings for him,” I said. “And he has feelings for you.”
“Do you know that for sure?” Ange said, raising an eyebrow.
“Of course,” I said. “I can smell them.”
“You can smell them… How do you know they’re for me?”
“I just know, okay?”
Ange shook her head and that wistful look returned to her eyes. “Rine’s always been so… You, know… Superficial. He’s never really been in touch with his feelings, Ben. He doesn’t really know what he wants, and I’m not sure he ever will.”
“That’s why you have to show him,” I said. “When I want food, I don’t just keep quiet about it. I meow and I keep meowing, and I don’t stop until I get what I want.”
“Is that how you think love works, Ben?” Ange asks. “You just keep moaning about it until you get it.”
“Why not? It’s how you get everything else in this world.”
Ange sighed. “You still have a lot to learn about humans,” she said. “Life is so much more complicated than that.” She loosened her grip, so I jumped down before she dropped me on the hard cobblestones beneath.
Virtually as soon as I hit them, there came a roar from the sky. Ange and I both looked up at once, and even Rine and Bellari got a little distracted from their displays of affection. At first, I thought it was another dragon coming in to land, making everyone know it had at least got fifth place. But the roar wasn’t coming from that direction, but from behind the gate.
Towards it flew a black dragon. It wasn’t a charcoal like Seramina’s dragon, Hallinar and Prefect Asinda’s dragon, Shadorow. More, it was jet black and, I could swear, almost shiny. On it sat a man in a bright red robe, and an equally red flat hat.
The mist had accumulated in the distance, and I didn’t see the other five dragons until a moment later. But behind the jet dragon came a dozen dragons — two ruby, two citrine, one stone grey, one charcoal, four emerald, and two sapphire blue. It appeared that this man, whoever he was, had decided to fly a little ahead of his flock.
“Well I never,” Ange said.
“That’s Corralsa, Prince Arran’s dragon?”
“Does no one ever tell you anything, Ben? Prince Arran is King Garmin’s nephew, and also the air marshal of all the dragon riders in Illumine. He’s a very important man, and I’ve heard he’s also incredibly handsome.”
“Great,” I said. “Another official.”
Ange said nothing to that, but I could hear her heart thumping in her chest with my sensitive ears as she watched him with those wide eyes as he came in to land. His dragon thudded down just behind the gate, and Captain Onus of the guards went over to greet him. The other dragons remained in the air, circling around the castle for now.
“I knew it,” Ange said. “So handsome…”
“Does that mean you’re not interested in Rine, anymore?” I asked.
“I,” Ange looked back at Rine and Bellari. “I never told you I was interested in Rine. But this man. I’ve heard so much about him.”
The prince clambered down from the saddle of his jet-black dragon, not even looking once at Captain Onus. He strolled in our direction, with his head held high and his hands clasped behind his back. He stopped a moment beside us, then turned to Ange, and gave her a look like she’d just burned his lunch. He then looked down at me without moving his head. “Why, pray tell me, student, is there a cat out of the cattery at this time? We don’t fund this academy for raising pets.”
Ange looked far too gobsmacked to answer, so I did so for her.
“I – pray tell you – am a Bengal, descendant of the great Asian leopard cat, and I’m of great importance to this academy. I don’t belong, in other words, on rat catching duty.”
“Oh, so you’re the talking cat,” the prince said. “I’ve heard a lot about your affairs.”
“Then you must have heard—“ I started.
“Oh, do shut up. I don’t care whether you can talk or not. This kingdom will always be run by humans, and animals are meant to serve us, which means your opinion is not important to me. Only your servitude is.”
“But he’s much more than an animal,” Ange said, her nostrils now flared.
“And students do not have a voice here until they’re old enough to hold council,” the prince said. “Now, if you will excuse me, I have important issues to be seeing to.” He spun around on his heel and strolled off.
“So… You still like the handsome prince?” I asked Ange.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” she replied.
“And why do you think he’s here?”
“I don’t know,” Ange said. “But I’m sure it’s the reason for Sports Day being cancelled.”
“Then, maybe I’ll find out if anyone knows anything,” I said.
“Yeah, do that,” Ange replied. She no longer seemed her usual buoyant self. Rine and Bellari had since vanished into the west tower’s corridors, probably out of sight of the prince. Ange looked once more over to where they had been, then she huffed, and flounced off towards the fountain.
I decided it was probably a good idea to leave her alone. Besides, Ange was right. To learn more about this situation, I needed someone with the gift of clairvoyance. So I strolled towards Aleam’s study, where Seramina had been staying for the last few months.