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ladytimedramon ([personal profile] ladytimedramon) wrote2009-07-17 07:30 pm

Real Cats Don't Wear Boots, Chapter 4

I had been at the mill for nearly three weeks when I finally had a break in the tedium. Jacob turned to William that morning and said “Well, now, William, your friend appears to have made a full recovery. Tis time to start seein’ if there be someone searchin’ afore him.”

“But Father,” began William. I suspect he was as surprised as I was.

His father held up his hand to cut off his protest. “Puss be a fine cat, but somewhere there must be a family lookin’ for him. And as fine a cat as he is, there may be a reward as well. Take him with you to church, then into town and ask around.”

“Yes, Father.” William hung his head in defeat. “Come on Puss,” he said to me as he took his lunch from the cabinet.

I followed William on my first trip down the dirt road. We traveled further than I had walked in a long time. I tried to keep up with William and failed. Honestly, I was out of shape. I should have been able to walk ten times that distance, but I had spent the last three weeks doing a lot of laying around. When I became winded, William picked me up and carried me.

It was one of the most degrading experiences of my life and I resolved to get off my tail and get back into a workout routine.

I estimated we had been on the road for about an hour when we arrived at a stone structure roughly the size of the three millhouse buildings put together. The windows, instead of holes cut into the wall and shuttered, were covered with intricate patterns of a clear, colored substance. Outside the building stood a man in some sort of coarse, brown robe.

“Good morning William,” said the man as William set me down. “I see that you have brought a friend.”

“This is Puss, Brother Bartholomew, the cat I found in the millstream.”

“You are certainly right about him,” returned Brother Bartholomew as he studied me. “I have never seen a cat quite like him before.”

“Father said to take him to the village to see if someone is searching for him.” William took a deep breath. “Brother Bartholomew, is it wrong of me to hope that there is no owner trying to find him?”

“Why is that?”

“I have become very fond of Puss,” William admitted. “When you talk to him, he actually listens. He is not like the other cats… not just in appearances, but in the way he acts and behaves.”

The man nodded. “I do not think that our Lord would think ill of one for not wishing to give up a friend. But come now. The other students are here. Let us say our prayers and begin our lessons.”

We entered the building, which turned out to be part schoolhouse and part place of worship. I followed William and Brother Bartholomew (I later learned that “Brother” was being used as a religious title – this man wasn’t William’s biological brother) into some sort of sanctuary. Boys of varying ages sat on benches according to age groups, with the youngest in front to the eldest in the back. William sat with the elder boys; I decided sit next to him, which elicited a murmur.

As Brother Bartholomew led the boys in prayers, I looked around the sanctuary. Interestingly enough, there was not a single female present. Did the girls go to school elsewhere? This was one time that my self-imposed silence was beginning to chafe. I had questions that I couldn’t ask. After about a half hour, Brother Bartholomew called for a recess.

All the boys rushed outside, except for a teen. He looked rather sheepish about something. Brother Bartholomew watched for a few minutes as the boy slipped into what I had mistakenly thought was a closet. The older man opened a second door.

Naturally I was curious and I slipped inside before the door closed. I don’t think I was noticed. Some sort of wooden lattice seemed to separate two cubicles. After the man said some sort of blessing, I heard the teen say “Forgive me, Brother Bartholomew, for I have sinned.”

“Yes, my son? How long has it been since your last confession?”

“A month. And may the Lord forgive me, but I kissed Rose, the fishmonger’s daughter, on three different occasions.”

“I see,” returned Brother Bartholomew.

I tried not to laugh as the teen recited a laundry list of things that he thought he had done wrong, including kissing several different girls, pulling his sister’s hair, and tricking his brother into doing his chores. Brother Bartholomew gave a long suffering sigh, then prescribed some prayers. The teen appeared relieved to confess his sins as he left his cubicle.

Then Brother Bartholomew noticed me seated beneath his bench. “Well now,” he said as he knelt down and stroked my head in that demeaning way humans treat cats. “Do you have something to confess, Puss?”

“Meow,” I said, trying to look like I’d innocently followed him in. He stared at me appraisingly, then tried to reassemble the boys into a different room.

It was a bit of a challenge (none of them wanted to end their play), but eventually they all gathered back inside. The elder boys sat at a table and used some sort of primitive writing device to scratch symbols like the ones I had seen in William’s books. Some “intermediate” boys practiced reading aloud to each other. The youngest ones circled around Brother Bartholomew. He held up a thin piece of some sort of mineral, then used a white piece of another to inscribe a symbol. The boys had to identify each symbol. No one took notice of me as I sat, watched, and listened as this group of boys learned to read. I knew that somehow, I would have to come to this “school” every day as it was my best (and perhaps only) chance to learn the written language of my new home.

After a couple of hours of lessons, the school broke for lunch. William shared his meal with me (I had finally learned that the crusty round thing was “bread” and the hard, yellowish-orange stuff was “cheese”). Some of the other boys also offered me tidbits of their meal. I seriously missed being able to sit down to my own meal.

The boys spent a couple of hours practicing basic math computations. Brother Bartholomew released the elder boys and kept the younger ones. As much as I would have liked to have sat in on more of the lessons, I followed William once again.

We walked down the dirt road for about another 20 minutes before we came to a more densely populated area. “The market” was what William called it. What it really seemed to be was some small buildings in the same style as the mill and some tables covered with wares. William stopped at the first building we came to.

The place smelled heavenly. My mouth watered as I looked at the baked goods waiting for purchase. Not only were there loaves of bread, but other things that, while I didn’t know their proper names, looked absolutely delicious. A young woman greeted us. “William, what a surprise! And where is Michael?”

“I am not here with a delivery, Miss Anne,” returned William with a polite nod of his head as a man came from a back room. “Good afternoon Sir,” added William.

“Good afternoon William,” said the man. “If you are not delivering flour, what brings you to town?”

“A few weeks ago I found this cat in the millstream,” he explained as he gestured to me. “I was trying to see if anyone had been looking for him.”

“Oh! What a darling!” Anne exclaimed. She scooped me up and cooed over me like she would a baby. Normally I would have taken offense at this, but Anne was a very beautiful woman. She had the type of golden hair that human males seemed to like, as well as the figure that got their attention. Her dress modestly covered her body but didn’t hide her curves. I suspected she had most of the local male population under her spell… particularly from the way that William appeared uncomfortable. I may be Feloran, but I can appreciate an attractive female as much as any male. Of course, when she set me down and sliced a piece of one of the baked goods and placed it before me, I was totally won over. I would have enjoyed it more if I could have sat down at a table with utensils, but I wasn’t going to complain. To this day I still have a fondness for berry pies.

“Beautiful cat,” agreed the man. “No one has been asking about missing cats though. Does he need a home? Is he a good mouser?”

“He appears rather indifferent towards mice,” admitted William. “And if there is no owner, he will still have a home.”

When I finished my treat, I followed William out into the marketplace. He stopped and talked to various people about me. Most of the time, the reaction was the same. No one knew of anyone looking for a cat. Several wanted to take me home.

Finally we stopped at a place William called “the tavern.” He sat down on a stool and ordered a drink. The attendant went to a wooden barrel and turned a faucet, filling the cup with what the humans called “ale” (a fermented beverage they seemed to enjoy – I had tasted it once before at the millers’ home and found it rather disgusting).

“William!” exclaimed a woman’s voice. “Are you running Henry’s errands today?” A buxom redhead approached. From the gown that I saw at least two other women wearing, and from the apron, it was easy to assume that she was a barmaid. From how low cut her gown was, and from the amount of cosmetics she had on her face (something I had seen very few women in this area wearing), I suspected that this woman did more than serve drinks to the local men. William’s face became as scarlet as the woman’s hair.

“No, Miss Molly,” he returned uncomfortably. “I was asking around if anyone had heard of any noble families losing a cat.”

The woman William called “Molly” exclaimed when she saw me and, like Anne did, cooed and fussed over me. It’s a good thing I’m covered with fur, because the way she was cuddling me against her chest would have made MY face red. Molly told William that she hadn’t heard anything, but if she did, she would tell Henry as soon as she saw him (which pretty much confirmed my suspicion that Molly was one of the “loose women” Jacob had referred to disapprovingly). She was soon joined by other barmaids in giving me attention. You would have thought these women had never seen a cat before.

But then, I have to admit… I make a good looking cat.

While I would normally appreciate the attentions of so many lovely females of any species, now was not the time nor the place. I wriggled out of their grasp.

All of the women gave William the same response he had received all day. No one came by looking for the missing cat of a noble.

The sun began setting as William and I left the tavern. As we walked back towards the mill, I noticed William was whistling cheerfully. “I am glad there is no owner searching for you, Puss,” he told me. “You are not like the others. Sometimes I almost forget that you are a cat. I really wanted you to be able to stay with me.”

William’s statements gave me a sort of “warm, fuzzy feeling.” Briefly I considered talking to William. But one thing I had learned in the last few weeks of going to the church school – these people were a superstitious lot, and a talking cat might be considered the work of evil. I didn’t want to take that chance just yet.