The Problematic Captain Cuddles by Stephanie Barr - a short story

>> Tuesday, November 16, 2021

There was a discreet scratch at the door. Colonel Simon carefully placed the ring from a plastic bottle lid on his desk. It was orange and very enticing. "Enter," said Colonel Simon, smothering a sigh. Discipline was a necessary part of any army, but it was never something he enjoyed.

The door opened to allow a perfectly groomed soldier to enter. His nails were trimmed so that there was no sound. His whiskers were long and luxuriant but straight and perfectly spaced. His eyes were large, pale green and glimmered with a subtle sheen also seen in his gray fur. He marched in and then sat in perfect attention after saluting with his tail. "You sent for me, Colonel?"

"Close the door, Captain Cuddles."

Cuddles did so and then returned to his stance, but his face looked anxious. "Have I done something wrong, sir?"

"Captain, you had one of the best scores of all time during officer training, but I've been concerned with your performance on the field."

"Is this about the Battle of Carpet Hill?"

"It is and I'm surprised you seem surprised you'd be called into my office. We are an elite fighting unit, one of the best in the business. We did not get that way by sending in officers who have to be rescued from certain death by those under their command."

"No, sir. Of course not, sir. But I'm confused. I was the only one who had not broken formation."

"On the contrary, soldier, your men had to break formation to rescue you, putting them at considerable risk."

"Oh." Captain Cuddles, staring elsewhere in apparent unconcern, a sure sign he was deeply regretful. "But, sir, were we not ordered to take that hill?"

"We were and, despite your misstep, we were able to do so."

"All I did was advance forward to their fortifications as ordered."

"In a straight line!" the Colonel hissed. "You would have been torn apart by their guns if your men had not taken initiative and pulled you out of the line of fire."

"Was—was there something else I should have done?" Captain Cuddles asked, perplexed.

Colonel Simon twitched his white whiskers, dramatic on his black face despite his white throat, and coughed, a little at first and then with a pronounced hack. Captain Cuddles moved the trash can out of the way so Colonel Simon would have a clear shot to the carpet, but the Colonel managed not to produce a hairball. "Where was I? Captain, do you know why we release cat toys with various amounts of catnip in them?"

"No, sir. It seemed counterproductive since my men, in fact, all of our soldiers, ran after the toys in nearly every conceivable direction."


"I don't understand."

"By having our own soldiers going in every conceivable direction, they become impossible to predict. But, when some cat inexplicably ignores the toys and heads in a direct line, taking them out is child's play. Perhaps you need to go back for more training."

Captain Cuddles slit his eyes. "At training they required us to run in straight lines, climb mountains, go through obstacles."

"Yes, and they badger, pester, and cajole you to do so, using toys, feather wands, whatever it takes to induce you to conquer any obstacle."

Captain Cuddles lifted his chin. "They did not have to badger or cajole me."

Colonel Simon leapt atop his desk and began to pace. "I begin to see what the problem might be. You did what you were told with nothing more than a verbal command? Every time? Without distractions and rewards? What do you think you are?"

"A soldier, sir."

"Not a feline soldier, Cuddles. Maybe I should have you transferred to a K-9 unit."

"Sir!" Cuddles yowled, bristling.

"Stand down, soldier," the colonel said. "When you brag about blind and unquestioning obedience, you are repeating the philosophy of the dogs. Nothing wrong with that, inherently. There are situations when doing what you're told without question is a boon and we use those units for that very reason. It's their schtick. But, even among the K-9 corps, the ones that filter to the top are those that can think independently, read the situation, adapt. In the feline elite corps, that's our schtick. It's what we do down to the lowest private. Did they teach you about Battle Peter Rabbit in training?"

Cuddles, ears bent back in pouting shame, said, "Of—of course."

"Do you remember how we won that battle against a very cat-savvy opponent?"

"Yes. The enemy had littered the field with cucumbers, sir, expecting to send our entire force running in terror." He paused a heartbeat. "I passed cucumber training and pushed myself so that I could even sleep on cucumbers without effect."

"Of course, you did. But that means you missed the point of cucumber training." Colonel Simon decided to give Cuddles an opportunity to think things through so he began washing his hind leg, letting only the twitch of his tail remind Cuddles that he was still in censure.


"What happened in the battle?"

"While our troops were spooked by the cucumbers, instead of retreating, they leapt in every direction, making their attacks on the enemy impossible to predict. Although the enemy had the superiority in numbers, they effectively enabled their soldiers to be individually flanked by jumping cats and lost the battle decidedly, confused and disheartened."

"What would have happened if, instead of leaping in every direction, they had just advanced like you did."
Cuddles began to wash his face. "The enemy had set down a line of mines in front of them. Our jumping in the way we did sidestepped those mines and even drove a few of their soldiers into the mines, making us aware of their existence."

Satisfied that Cuddles understood his mistake, Simon stopped washing his leg and collapsed into zen pose on his desk. "Do you understand what I want from you, Cuddles? I want the discipline and physical skills you built in training, but I want you to think and act like a cat, able to adapt and be unpredictable. Do you think you can do it, or should I prepare a transfer?"

"Sir, yes sir, I can."

"Good. Dismissed."

Captain Cuddles turned to leave but, before he had completely left, the Colonel called out to him. "Next time I leave an enticement like this ring on my desk, I'd like to see you try for it."

Cuddles said nothing but left, the door still open as Simon, as he'd been longing to throughout the interview, batted the ring off his desk and began chasing it around the room.


Captain Cuddles crept out of HQ, tail and head down. With a furtive glance to either side, he would have scurried to his quarters if another voice hadn't spoken up behind him. "Captain?"

Cuddles leapt into the air, spinning as he did and then lowered his hackles when he recognized his own second in command, Sergeant Patch. "Patch, I didn't see you there."

"Got grilled for not being cat enough, didn't you?"

"How did you know?" but Cuddles knew the answer to that. The reason he lived through the Battle of Carpet Hill was because Patch had rallied Cuddles' men to save him when his own actions had put his life in danger. If Cuddles was half the leader he wanted to be, he'd have made a point to tell Colonel Simon about Patch's extraordinary initiative. But he didn't want to lose Patch. He was an exceptional leader and his next promotion would definitely get him moved to someone more important.

"Tain't blind," Patch said, with a gasping laugh. He loved blind jokes given that he only had one eye left. "Whatcha gonna do?"

"I—I have to teach myself to get distracted. Somehow."

"Happen I could help you with that."

"Would—would you?"

Patch opened his mouth in a sharp-toothed smile. "You're a good kid, good bottom. And you're my CO." His smile disappeared and he let a little growl creep into his voice, but not enough to skirt insubordination. "And I can't have you puttin' the whole unit at risk because you're too green to be on the field."

He turned his back and lifted his tail jauntily, despite the crook at the end of it. "Let's get to work."

Cuddles, feeling less like a commander than ever, followed him to a practice field. Several feet in, there was a ball, bright green with a bell in it. Patch sat and indicated the ball with a paw. "So, bat that over to me." He paused. "Sir."

That didn't sound too hard. What was the catch? Cuddles loped over and, without looking at Patch, knocked it over toward him. Patch batted it away toward the distance, a look of disgust on his face. "Have you no instincts, sir?"

Cuddles was legitimately baffled. "Why did you do that? Didn't you want me to do that?"

"Sir. What kind of self-respecting cat deliberately bats his own toy to another cat? I'm the last place in this field you should have batted it to. And, even if you overcame your inclination, you should have at least been reluctant, resisted the urge to keep it yourself. Do you have no feeling for the ball? Did you hear the bell when it when it rolled? Didn't you have the urge to chase it?"

"Was I supposed to?" Cuddles asked, abashed.

"How were you raised?"

"Well, my mother died just outside a German Shepherd rescue. They took me in anyway, but I was the only cat. My siblings never made it."

"So, we'll have to start from the beginning. Go fetch that ball and, for Bastet's sake, don't just hand it back over to me."

"Yes." Cuddles retrieved it and then, at Patch's instruction, played with it for three hours straight. Periodically, Patch would ask for him to bat it his direction and several times he fell for it and was punished by having to retrieve it from the far reaches of the field. But, by the time Patch called it quits, Cuddles was becoming adept at resisting the requests. He didn't feel particularly possessive of the ball, but he did find himself enjoying the exercise now and again.

Sides heaving, Cuddles held the ball under his paw as Patch approached. "Do you get it?" Patch asked. "Do you understand the appeal of the ball?"

"Well," Cuddles said after a moment's reflection. "It does have a pleasant jingle."

Patch sighed. "Well, that will have to do for now."

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash


Whatever other criticisms one might have for Captain Cuddles, he could not be faulted for dedication. Every free hour, he was out there, playing with one toy or another. Sometimes, he took a subordinate to challenge him. Sometimes, even into the late hours of the morning, he'd bat this or that toy around by himself.

When Patch realized he was losing himself in the play, losing track of time, even forgetting why he was doing it in the first place, Patch nodded sagely and sent a memo to Simon. Good thing. The Lepus were on the move and scuttlebutt said the Crazy Cats were going to be called in for a raid. Cuddles was as ready as Patch could make him, as ready as Cuddles could make himself. And the orders were clear. If Cuddles put himself in the line of fire again, no one was to save him. He'd have to save himself.

Pity. Cuddles gave great tongue.

At 0430 they were mustered, Captain Cuddles bleary after playing with a catnip mouse until just an hour or so before. Even so, he combed his whiskers and cleared his throat, giving orders as he had been trained to do. Hi subordinates followed as they always did. Like cats. But Captain Cuddles didn't feel himself frustrated by that for the first time.

There'd be a parachute drop, though it had to be far enough away they wouldn't be detected by the Lepus guards. Cuddles' and one other unit would be sneaking into the Lepus stronghold from behind while others in the corps would be setting up a distraction elsewhere.

Cuddles found it a sound plan, if he could herd his subordinates to the right location. He had to make use of the feather wand repeatedly and once the water sprayer to keep his unit in a semblance of unity until, at last, they had the stronghold in sight.

Cuddles had studied the topography in detail some weeks past and, as he looked at the terrain between the line of trees and the fortress, something struck him as different. Halfway between where he stood and the walls, a trench had been dug, but not one for sheltering enemy soldiers because the ground sloped from his location down to the bottom of the trench. On the other side, the ground was level as it had been before.

Cuddles felt himself spooked, not wanting to venture forth, at least until he had had time to fathom this change out and what it meant. However, the signal was given—the distraction had begun and they were ordered forward, tiny balls of yarn tossed out as enticements. His troops moved forward, batting the little balls of colorful string in every direction. Cuddles gave his own a little bat, enjoying the way it bounced along, leaving a trail of teal-colored yarn. He hit it in another direction, chasing after it, when it hit him.

They weren't going in every direction. All of them were going down the slope and would end up in the trench. They were being herded at the enemy's behest. It was a trap!

But how could he stop it? He spotted Patch batting an adorable ball of pink to his left and pounced, first knocking it from right between Patch's paws and then sending it soaring, up and over the trench to land safely on the other side. "The trench is death," he hissed to Patch as he leapt after the yellow ball of another of his soldiers.

"Don't settle for your own ball of yarn. What's the fun of that?" Cuddles shouted, sending the yellow yarn flying to safety. "Take your fellows' yarn and bat it out of his reach."

The idea appealed to some, clearly, as they began stealing and scuffling over the yarn. Those that didn't, enraptured by the colorful orbs, Cuddles stole himself, sending them harmlessly past the trench. He saw that Patch was doing the same. Cuddles worked himself over to the other commander, Lieutenant Diddums, who was already arching his back and hissing at Cuddles' interference. Cuddles still snagged his yarn and sent it flying, then leapt over him, covering him and crushing him with his own weight as he said, "They're herding us into the trench with our own toys. If we can't get everyone safely to the other side, we'll be killed. Help me."

Diddums looked confused but a particularly spry calico tumbled into the trench at that moment and exploded in a brutal blast. "Mines!" Diddums spat. He turned to his own sergeant. "You heard Cuddles, let's get these toys over the trench so we don't lose any more. And then we'll take the fight to the rabbits."

"Aye, sir," the Siamese said, loping after another's purple ball and smacking it to safety.

Between the calico's sad end, the whispered warnings that spread through the troops, and the fun to be had by stealing a toy someone else had claimed, more of the troops followed suit quickly. When few toys remained in the danger zone, cats leapt safely over the trench to the other side and resumed their play, now in the direction of the Lepus lair. Cuddles and Patch patrolled the upper edge of the trench, batting back the toys that had wandered back and could fall into danger, until all the troops were assailing the stronghold.

Cuddles and Patch rushed to support the assault. The rabbits had expected their passive defense to be effective so had little by way of resistance. In the end, the cats succeeded in ousting the rabbits with only a few casualties in the battle and only two, the calico and a clumsy tabby who missed his jump, to the trench.

As Captain Cuddles expected, he was again called to Colonel Simon's office, but he was not trepidatious.

They played with that ring for hours.

The End

You can find this story Pussycats Galore and find this and more books at


Just a Little Wicked releases today, and I'm in it!

>> Saturday, March 20, 2021


I signed up for a bunch of anthologies where stories (as long as novella length) will be bundled up with others. Some are for charity; some are for profit. All are fun.

This is the first, a collection of witchy tales for those of us who like to see the full gamut of witchy wonders. Here's an excerpt my story, "Best Witch in Town":  

Sylvia took another sip, grimaced, and slammed the cup back into the saucer. "You have to do something about that crazy cat. She knocked the card right out of my hand. My reading was ruined."

"Was it?"

"I did not tell him what he wanted to know. He needed reassurance."

May tsked. "Sometimes, you cannot give them what they want. They pay for truth."

Sylvia huffed and blew a perfect lock from her face. "What would they know about truth? You know nothing about business."

May's sunken lips twisted into a little smile. "True enough, Sylvia."

Sylvia stepped closer to a wavery mirror, ancient and made with blown glass, to admire herself. "This mirror is worthless."

May said nothing, though the ancient mirror was technically priceless and she'd been offered more than one fortune for it.

Pouting, Sylvia leaned on the counter and a huge black cat with tufted ears and long luxurious fur rubbed against her. She made a sound of disgust and pushed it away. "I don't know why you insist on filling my shop with all these fuzzy monsters when you know I'm—I'm –achoo!"

"You're not wearing the medicine bag I made you," May said, gathering up the huge cat in her arms and cooing to him.

"That pouch of herbs? I'm not wearing that. I told you. It's ugly and it smells funny."

May sighed. "And you needn't be mean to Beltane. He's the only one that likes you."

"More fool him." She glanced around the shop and nodded at the more obvious depleted stock, notably some soft cotton dresses in flowing fabrics imported from India, several nice silver jewelry pieces, and a statue of a dragon that had graced the entryway for nearly a year. May was already limping around the shop, pulling out additional dresses and jewelry from the cupboards behind the counter. "I see you sold that stupid dragon. I told you it would never sell. I can't believe someone bought it."

"You were right. I gave him to someone who needed him."

Sylvia shook her head with a tinkle of jewelry. "You gave it away? Who in the world needs a dragon statue?"

"Joe did. I knew someone would," May said placidly, hanging more of the dresses on the hangers.

"Whatever. I'm glad to be rid of the eyesore. This is the list of spells I was asked to cast. Write up the invoices after you restock. Did we sell anything expensive?"

May set down the box of jewelry and fished a notebook from behind the till. "A few things. I made a list," May said, handing her a notebook and taking the single sheet of paper Sylvia offered her. May looked over the list of spells and her skinny brows rose. "You didn't actually agree to a death hex? Spells like this have a karmic backlash that you can't just shrug off.".

"None of your business," Sylvia said. She looked over the notebook, snorted, and tossed it back. "Good thing I'm making money, or this place would go under in a week. And I heard you severely discount that necklace earlier."

"She needs it and only had enough to pay a hundred. She'll come back soon enough."

You can buy it right now for just 99 cents.


Angel Kitty

>> Tuesday, October 6, 2020

 I wrote this story a bit ago for a Facebook friend of mine whose son had just lost a very beloved (and young) kitty. It's in my book of cat stories, Pussycats Galore, but I've been seeing a large number of post recently where someone has lost a long-time companion. I can't fix it, of course, but, if this story could add even a little comfort, I want to offer it to anyone who could use it.

The picture drawn at the end is by my sister, Knixolate Bar. Find links for both of us at the bottom of this post.

Angel Kitty

On the other side of his closed eyelids, Mr. Rex sensed light. Not enough to wake him—sleep was so comfortable—but enough to touch his consciousness. He felt like he'd been asleep a long time. 

After a moment, he felt licking on his face. His mother used to lick his face like that and he loved it. 

"Mother?" He opened his eyes hopefully but a different cat greeted him. 

"Hello, Mr. Rex," she purred. "Congratulations, dear one. You're an angel kitty." The cat was large, a black tabby with a white front and feet. Around her, the room seemed to have no corners or walls, like it was carved from the center of a fluffy white blanket with a soft light seeping in through it. 

Mr. Rex stretched a paw and yawned. He got to his feet and stretched first one back leg, then the other before stretching out his back. That's when he noticed the pain was gone. For days, now, he'd been in so much pain. It hurt to eat. It hurt to drink. The pain began to follow him even into his sleep. But he wasn't hurting now. 

"What happened?"

"You died," the cat said bluntly, but in a gentle tone. 

Mr. Rex had crouched down after he'd finished his stretches, but he sat up at that. "Zane! What about Zane?"

The cat hung her head. "He is very sad, but he's glad you're not hurting anymore." 

Mr. Rex crouched back down, his whiskers drooping. "So, I'll never see him again?"

The cat began purring again. "Of course you will. You're an angel kitty."

"Angel kitty?"

The cat nodded her head. "Every kitty who is deeply and truly loved gets the opportunity to become an angel kitty. That means you can watch over your person for as long as you want to. Love them just like before. Make sure they're never entirely alone."

She stepped back, revealing a circle in the floor, much like the TV box Zane watched now and again. But, at the center of the circle was Zane, helping his mother with dinner. She said something Mr. Rex couldn't hear and Zane smiled in response.
Mr. Rex touched a paw to the picture, but the surface defeated him. "I—I can't touch him?"

"Not directly, but, with practice, you'll be able to send your spirit down to comfort him just as you did when you were alive."

"Does—does he miss me?"

"Yes. He loves you very much."

Mr. Rex sighed. "This seems so hard, seeing him when I can't touch him. Do I have to stay?"

"No. We're cats. No cat has to do anything he doesn't want to do. No one is obliged. You stay with Zane because you want to."

Mr. Rex circled that circle in the floor, his heart heavy. Zane had been warm, perfect for cuddling with when he watched TV. Zane would play with him with a string, then laugh when Mr. Rex had tried to catch it. Would he never hear that laugh again? When Zane scraped his knee, could he not rub his body along his leg and purr? "It seems so hard," he said again.

"It can be," the cat said. "Not everyone's cut out to be an angel kitty, but you have the choice to be one. Why not take a day or two to decide? If you get bored, through that hole,"—and a hole materialized behind her—"there are lots of kitties playing. You are welcome to join them."

Mr. Rex nodded, liking the sound of that, but, instead of getting up to play, he sat, his eyes glued to the circle where Zane was setting the table. He'd go in a little bit, he told himself. He didn't even notice when the other cat disappeared. 


Zane had always been a busy boy. He had school and went riding with his father on bikes. Just like when he was alive, Mr. Rex went to play with other kitties, wrestled balls of paper, chased after butterflies that were always just out of reach, and other things that kitties do, when they're not napping. No hairballs either. That had to be a plus to being dead. 

Maybe Zane didn't really need him. The thought made Mr. Rex a little sad, but, after all, he was having fun wrestling with other kittens and pouncing on tails. And it's not like he could really be with Zane.

He'd been playing for a long time, but he found himself enjoying it less and less. The cloud where he could see Zane seemed to call him. The need to see Zane was sucking the fun out of playing. Well, a nap is always a good idea, he told himself as he sauntered in. He'd just glance at Zane before he went to sleep. 

Zane was in bed, his pillow crunched against his face, tears pouring down his face. 

Mr. Rex stared down, unable to look away. Even the tip of his tail didn't twitch as he saw the boy—his boy—lost in grief. And then, without thinking, he rubbed his head against the circle, as if he was wiggling his head up underneath Zane's chin. Don't cry, he thought. You're not alone, Zane. He could imagine himself squished up against the pillow, cradled in Zane's arms. He curled up on the circle, rolling to get Zane's attention, hoping Zane would feel his soft fur somehow, hear his purr. Don't cry. Don't cry.

Zane sighed, the sobs abating, the tears drying up on his cheeks. When Zane's breathing slowed and steadied, Mr. Rex allowed himself to follow him into sleep. 

When he awoke, the first cat was back with him. "Have you decided?"

Mr. Rex blinked his green eyes. "Decided?"

"Will you be Zane's angel kitty?"

"Does Zane really need me?" He glanced down at Zane getting ready to ride bikes with his father and then squeaked. "His lace is untied. What if it gets caught?"

"What will you do?"

"He can't hear me!"

"Can't he?" 

Mr. Rex pulled in a deep breath. "MEOW!" he said as loudly as he could. 

Zane looked up, looked around, eyes hopeful. "Dad! Did you hear that? It sounded like Mr. Rex."

His father regarded him sadly. "No, Zane, I didn't hear it. Maybe—whoa, you didn't tie your shoes properly. That's dangerous. You'd better fix that."

Mr. Rex looked at the other cat, amazed. "He heard me!"


"And I heard him." 

"You both will, now and again." 

Mr. Rex watched Zane start biking, following his dad. "He won't always need me."

The other cat laughed. "He never did need you all the time. But, when he did need you, you knew. And that hasn't changed."

Do you think he'll stop crying?"

"Don't you want him to?"

"Y-Yes. But will he find another kitty to love?"

The cat nodded her head. "He might. I hope so, when he's ready. There are so many kitties out there that need love. But, it won't change how he feels about you. No one runs out of love, no matter how many they love. And no one loves another quite like they loved the first. Each love is as unique as the one loved. You have a place in his heart that will never go away, even if you choose not to be an angel kitty." She came closer and began to lick his head. "Just as he has a special place in your heart." 

"I don't want him to be alone," Mr. Rex said, amazed at the notion that he was happy to say it. "I want to be there when he needs me."

She licked him right between the eyes. "I thought you would. Go play. You'll know when he needs you."

And Mr. Rex did play, but Zane was never far from his mind. 

That night, when Zane began to get ready for bed, Mr. Rex watched him through the circle, warm with love for this boy, his particular boy. When Zane went to bed, he watched, glad to see no tears this time, and waited until Zane's breathing became slow and steady. Then he wormed his way between Zane's hands, as he had the night before, snuggled up beneath his chin, and thought. I'm in your dreams, Zane. I'll make sure you're never alone

And went to sleep with the boy he loved. 




You can find me at or my fan group on Facebook called Cats and Dragons

Knixolate Bar is the artistic name of an aspiring graphic novelist who was self-taught in her style.

 You can find her at:






Pussy(cats) Galore is on its way! - Releases July 30 - Showcasing "A Familiar Tale"

>> Monday, June 24, 2019

If you've been following me for any length of time, you had to know it was coming. I've had cats wandering in and out of my stories so long, wreaking havoc or fixing everything, that it was only a matter of time before I wrote a book of stories all about cats.

If you love cats or knows someone that does, you've got the perfect gift (yes, you can gift yourself!).
Available for preorder at several on-line retailers for $2.99 (for a limited time)!


Fluffy, soft, and cuddly, 

Keepers of the amazing purr.

Vicious, deadly killing machines.

That choose to share their lives with us.

Science fiction kitties saving lives. Cat shifters. Vampire kitties. Ghost kitties. Zombie kittes. Even angel kitties. Every shape and size of cats, but each with their incredible catness and dual personalities intact. There's a kitty for everyone here.

Twenty stories celebrating the mystery, magic and mayhem of cats by someone who loves them like you do.

  Not enough to convince you? Well, here's a sample, something that might even feel familiar...

A Familiar Tale

You can find this story in another of my anthologies, Conjuring Dreams, but it's such a good example of cat story that I included it here as well as a bit of fun. It was also published in Elphame Realms Issue #2 (no longer available).

"Where the hell have you been, Shimmer?" Darima said, slamming the spellbook she was reading back on the table.
Shimmer raised expressionless eyes, one green, one blue, to Darima's angry face, but made no reply, sitting down on the windowsill she entered through. It mattered not at all that the window was closed. It was part of the magic of her kind that there were no doors or windows locked to her.
"Well?" Darima insisted, tapping a satin-shod foot. "Where?"
Humans are the worst busybodies, Shimmer purred in her mind. I don't see my whereabouts being your business. She padded silently along the windowsill and then leapt lightly to the table Darima sat at.
"When a potion I've been working on all yesterday hardens to useless muck because my familiar decides to choose that night to explore, it damn well is my business. It's my job on the line, here. It's bad enough I have to waste my considerable talents..."
Our considerable talents, Shimmer corrected.
"Our considerable talents on a trivial love potion for the king's pimply son, but, since the first potion blew up in our faces, we have to do it more than once." She pointed an accusing finger in Shimmer's face, which Shimmer was washing unconcerned.
"So, you never admitted what went wrong, Shimmer. It's not like you to let a spell go awry."
For the first time, Shimmer looked a little guilty. It's not my fault I'm not a truly black cat, she said defensively, stroking down fur black at its base but lightening to a silvery gray at the ends.
"You can do anything a black cat can do and you know it. I think you just weren't concentrating!"
Maybe you weren't concentrating.
Damira was forced to choke down a hot denial, well aware that this was far more likely. It did not, however, improve her temper. "So where were you?"
Jealous? You have been irritable ever since Sendat left, Shimmer observed dispassionately.
"Sendat was a moron," Damira snapped.
I mentioned that when you first met him, if you remember.
A sudden suspicion struck Damira. "Did you go and get pregnant last night?"
I don't have to answer these personal questions, Shimmer huffed.
"Did you?"
"Damn it, Shimmer, you know it screws up everything when you're pregnant. We're liable to give Prince Quorn a potion that will turn him into a bumblebee instead of love potion!"
I didn't get pregnant last night, well not entirely, Shimmer said with a touch of apology.
"Shimmer! So that's what happened with the last potion! Darner take you, cat. I'll look the fool if I can't produce a simple love potion. What kind of court sorceress am I?"
I'm in heat. What kind of cat would I be if I worried about your pride at a time like this? It's not as though your job were hanging on this. Sorceresses of your caliber are few and far between and King Morthand surely knows this.
"And he pays dearly for the privilege, too. You can't explain that sorcery requires the abilities of a talented cat, in proper non-pregnant health, and a magically adept chemist with a sensitivity to that cat's mind. He just knows he want magic when he wants it. His son, too."
Take his son to bed. You're considered pretty enough by human standards. That should quiet him for a while...if you're any good at it.
"Ugh! Spare me! Even if my job were on the! And what do you mean if I'm any good at it?"
Amber, the wartiger at the back of the room, roused from sleep, lifting his massive head from his huge paws. Someone's running up the steps, he told her in his deep mental rumble.
Damira stretched an affectionate hand to his head and scratched beneath his chin, inches from the seven-inch teeth. "It's too bad tigers can't do magic," she mourned.
Tigers have better things to do than waste their time with magic, he said proudly.
Shimmer jumped to the floor and regarded him skeptically. True. After all, one can't have brains and brawn.
Amber made a swipe at her, but she magically disappeared, reappearing on the windowsill. Alright, smarty-cat, why didn't you know someone was running up here?
I did, but I didn't feel the need to act like a door-chime.
You're a pest, Amber snarled, bested.
You're only upset because I'm in heat and you're too big to do a thing about it!
Amber rich laughter rolled through their heads. Talk about delusions of grandeur! You impertinent little bitch!
Oh! Shimmer jumped back to the floor, hair raised all over her body and tail twitching furiously. There was no greater insult for a cat. You'll see what this little cat can do, you stone-headed...
"Damn it, you two, will you behave?" Damira said tiredly. There was an imperious knock on the door. Damira gestured and Shimmer leapt to the waiting shoulder while Damira straightened her gold crusted robes.
"Enter," she said softly, and Shimmer mentally opened the door...partway before it began to close again. Damira kicked it open with her foot and directed a glare to her familiar.
Quickly schooling her features into a model of lofty unconcern that revealed none of her surprise when she recognized the short round figure of her King and employer. Before haughty words of greeting could find their way to her lips, the King pushed the door shut and wrung his hands.
"Witch, this is desperate!" the King wheezed uneasily as more than the usual amount of sweat poured down his face.
"Please, Your Majesty, I prefer sorceress," Damira said disdainfully from her superior height. "What can your lowly servant help you with?"
"Lowly servant?" the King asked, confused. He was more than familiar with the exhorbitant salary this sorceress demanded and he had never noticed any humility in her manner. "Damn it, Damira, this is not for the maid's ears. Send her away!"
From the corner, Amber's earthy rumble echoed across the room. The King sent a glance of terror in the animal's direction and swallowed.
Damira swallowed a sigh. "She is gone. How can I aid you, Your Majesty?"
"A dragon! You must help us!"
"You wish me to conjure a dragon? Whatever for?"
"Conjure a dragon? What kind of nonsense is that? Why would you bring another dragon here when there is already one, smashing and tearing up the countryside? Why I would want another drag--? Can you do that? Call up a dragon? Can you specify colors and sizes?"
"Ah, you want to be rid of a dragon. That makes more sense." She glanced disgustedly at her Shimmer. "I can fit that in in two months' time, alright?"
"Yes, a small dragon, say ten paces long, with green and gold scales--like the royal colors, you know--in a golden cage or better chained to the throne with a golden chain! Ah!"
"Your Majesty."
"Eh? What? Oh, yes, the marauding dragon. Too big, really. Pity. Why they say it's 70 paces long and breathes fire. One can't very well chain a beast of that size to a throne. Not safe. You'll have to get rid of it. Say, by nightfall."
Damira gasped. "Your Majesty, even under the best of circumstances, I couldn't conjure a spell that quickly. I must gather ingredients, look up incantations. Yes, and there is another problem. Today marks the beginning of, er, Sorcerer Solstice where one is restricted from performing magic for two months."
"Sorcerer what? You never made mention of this before."
"It only happens every ten years," Damira said through gritted teeth, fixing her familiar with a horrible stare.
"Why would I pay a salary for two months in which you'll be useless? It should have been mentioned before."
Damira closed her eyes in pain. "I will, of course, forgo my salary for the two months I am unable to be of service."
"That's all well and good for you, but what about the dragon? Can't very well have a dragon going around eating unsuspecting citizens and destroying farmland while sit here, comfortably ensconced in the castle, idle."
"But, Your Majesty..."
But the King lost himself in righteous anger at this ill-usage. Her drew himself to his full height, a handspan or so below Damira's, and fixed Damira with a cold regal eye. "I won't stand for it! I'm the King! You must either dispose of this dragon forthwith or I will immediately dispose of your services."
"Forthwith...?" Damira queried faintly.
"By tomorrow." With that, the King turned on his heel and all but went headfirst into the door. Damira, distracted, forgot appearances and hastened to open it by hand.
Damira leaned against the door, brow furrowed in thought. Shimmer rubbed her head against Damira's cheek and purred apologetically. Damira wasn't impressed. "Well, cat, what have you got to say for yourself?"
"'It's not as though your job were on the line,'" Damira mocked, swaying with the odd pace of Amber's stride. She was mounted bareback on Amber's back, and, although he had a fine, broad, well-muscled back, Amber was too fluid an animal to be an easy creature to ride.
Shimmer trotted alongside, turning up her nose at sharing Damira's ride. Do let it rest, she suggested.
"It had better work," Damira said again.
I told you, it will work.
"Well, it better. Did I tell you I stayed up all night pounding out this potion?"
"Well, I'm just telling you it better work."
How sure are you about your potion?
"Sure enough. I checked it four times."
You were tired.
"You don't have to tell me that! I saw you sleeping in the corner, contemplating motherhood, no doubt. I'm telling you the potion is fine. So, it had better work. Understand?"
Amber rumbled. It will work, Damira. Calm yourself.
"How do you know?"
I'll make a snack of Shimmer if she fails. Satisfied?
"Hmm. Perhaps. There it is!" As she spoke, a dragon glowing in red and violet, soared over their heads, neck craning to see these newcomers. A flicker of flame twitched between its teeth and it spun on a wingtip, sinking to land on an outcrop in front of them. The tales had not exaggerated. The dragon was more than seventy paces from nose to tail tip with a wingspan more than twice that. It stretched its serpentine neck and its head, fully ten paces high, studied her from less than a body length away, with no sign of aggression.
"Shit," Damira muttered, her nerveless fingers fumbling for the potion in a belt pouch. Potion in hand, she slid from Amber's back and reluctantly approached the glistening opalesque eye.
What will you do if that makes a snack of me?
"Just concentrate! Alright, here goes!" Damira crouched, ready to spring away and then tossed the contents of her pouch directly into the dragon's eye. She leapt away and rolled on the ground, trying to get out of reach of the dragon's blindly flailing claws.
"Now, Shimmer, now!"
Yes, yes, I'm trying. Do stop yelling.
"Shimmer, this isn't funny!" One talon protecting its mistreated eye, the dragon turned its head and fixed Damira with its good eye.  The other talon reached for her.
Amber leapt to her defense, throwing its body between the monstrous creature and Damira. The huge cat was childishly tiny next facing up to the dragon. The dragon backed for a moment before it answered Amber's battle cry with a low chuckle from its deep throat. Fire winked its humor in that sulfurous gullet. With a careless flick of the dragon's claw, Amber was sent sprawling.
The dragon turned back to its prey, Damira, only to find itself facing yet another obstacle, this in a minute snip of cat, its tail bristled up to twice its size and its eyes glowing blue and green.
How dare you bat away that proud mighty creature as if it was no great moment! It is the king of cats you defile with your touch and your disdain! Know what it is to face a cat's wrath!
The dragon reared on to its haunches and laughed a great roaring laugh with a geyser of fire and smoke. When it had finished, it eyed the mite of feline anger with an almost affectionate eye and reached for Shimmer.
You asked for it! Shimmer's eyes took on a frightening luminosity and the air crackled round her as before a storm. The dragon inhaled to explode again in laughter, and then disappeared.
Damira blinked dully at the spot so recently filled to overflowing with dragon. "You did it!"
Shimmer sat down casually and began to bathe herself. Of course.
Amber picked himself up gingerly and shook his great head. What did you do, little terror?
See for yourself? From the dust, a golden head lifted itself and observed its surroundings dazedly.
Damira's eyes opened and she scrambled to her feet and she approached warily. The red tabby hissed back, coughing a weak stream of flame, but resisted only half-heartedly. Such a transformation was undoubtedly wearying.
Damira cooed and soothed, then scooped him up in her arms. "Well, that's one problem solved thank goodness. I wonder if he wouldn't be able to help with magic until your kittens are born."
I don't know. He seems smart enough to learn a few rudimentary things. He really is a fine male specimen.
Damira glared at her in disgust. "Shimmer, try to control yourself. A dragon cat will be enough trouble; we certainly don't need a kindle of fire-breathing kittens."
I wonder...



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