Basileus and the Cat

This is a foray into a Christian/paranormal historical fantasy world. I’m thinking about a novel or two in this world. What do you think?

This is a free short story. If you like it, please consider checking out my other work as well!

Basileus and the Cat

C. J. Brightley


Basileus hunched deeper into his cloak as he hurried through the rain. It dripped into his eyes and soaked through his hood into his hair. He shivered as the wind gusted again and when he reached the door he sighed with relief. The sack of potatoes under his arm was turning into a muddy mess, and as he fought with the stiff lock, the sack slid slowly from under his arm. He hitched it up more firmly, wishing for one instant that he were not obligated to keep his mouth clean and pure for the holy words. Sometimes a curse would be extremely satisfying. He jiggled the handle and breathed a sigh of satisfaction when the latch finally shrieked. The moonlight brightened for a moment, and he paused mid-stride. There was something light-colored by the door, and he bent to get a closer look. A cat, scarcely more than a kitten, huddled shivering against the damp wood, white and black fur plastered against its scrawny body.

Basileus reached out a hand, and the creature shrank away, trembling. “Come on, little beauty. You won’t last long out here.” He held out his own hand, trembling with cold and weariness. It had been a very long day of much work. Patience is blessedness. “Come, darling. Warm milk and a fire await inside.” The cat backed into the corner, trying to disappear. One finger touched its head, and it blinked dazedly before ducking away. Mercy must be relentless or it is worth nothing. His hand touched its head between the two triangle ears, stroked down the sopping fur to the skinny ribs and then he scooped her up and held her to his chest as he pushed open the door and hefted the potatoes in.

The cat pushed its paws against his chest and gave a squeaky meow of protest. He held it firmly and with his free hand he found the lamp and lit it from the taper in the wall. The cat gave a final pathetic struggle and then went limp with exhaustion, though he could still feel it shivering. He left the potatoes by the door and tucked the cat into his cloak and cradled it close as he hurried through the halls to his cell.

The cell was small, with one shuttered window in the thick stone wall and a small fireplace at one end. There was a low, hard pallet on one side and a spare wooden table on the other with one chair that looked out the window in the summer. He carefully latched the door behind himself before peering into the folds of his cloak. He drew the cat out and set it on the floor, where it darted to the corner and stared out at him with bright green eyes.

He stirred the coals and added several logs to the fire, pushing the smaller pieces in around the larger ones. The fire grew slowly, and he warmed his hands close by the tentative flames before standing. He’d missed dinner again.

Basileus closed the door behind himself and walked through the darkened halls back to the door. He carried the potatoes to the storeroom and found a loaf of bread, a bit of cheese, and a large wineskin sitting out. Dahder Gaien must have left it for him; he was always a merciful soul. The hand of God is on him.

The cat was sitting in front of the fire, mesmerized by the dancing flames.

“Come, beauty. I’ll share my dinner with you if you share your name.” He poured a few drops of wine over a small piece of bread and topped it with a bit of cheese, then put the little dish on the floor. The rest was for him, a meager meal to be sure, but all that he needed. The cat sniffed the cheese carefully, cautiously, and began to purr.

He touched her head gently, and though she kept a wary eye on him, she let him pet her. The purring grew louder, and he could feel the tiny ribs trembling. She turned up her nose at the wine-soaked bread and jumped up onto the windowsill to drink the water that leaked in beneath the shutters. Basileus smiled when she jumped down again and sat near the fire to groom herself, still purring. Her fur fluffed into a beautiful coat of white and black, with an orange splash across her back that brightened as it dried.

“Naomi? Shall I call you Naomi?”

The cat looked up at him and stared for a moment, then went back to licking one small white paw.


Naomi sneezed herself awake. She was exhausted, but still frightened. He is kind, but how long will it last? She licked her paws again. The motion was soothing. Her head drooped. She meowed in protest when Basileus lifted her. He put her on his cloak folded on the floor, and smiled as she turned in weary circles, kneading the cloth beneath her claws.

“Dream sweet, Naomi.”

He lay down on the low, hard pallet, and curled away from her. His breathing deepened, slowed, and Naomi relaxed again. Tomorrow, tomorrow he might change. I must be cautious.

He did not. He woke with the dawn and stirred the fire again. She debated for a moment when he held the door open, then followed him through the halls to the chapel. It was nearly empty, there were few holy men remaining, but those few glanced at the little cat with raised eyebrows. They said nothing, for they were still in the silent hours before prayers, but Naomi shrank from their obvious dismay. Basileus stumbled over her once when she darted too close to his feet, but he made no sound of anger.

He knelt and bowed his head to the floor, murmuring the holy words softly. Naomi thought the ritual odd, disconcerting, as the brothers bowed in unison. The quiet rhythm of their words sounded hypnotic, powerful. Again, seven times, and then they stood and sang, a dozen deep male voices echoing in a chamber meant to hold a hundred. Then they knelt and bowed, seven times, and chanted again. Then they stood and filed out in silence, all except Basileus. He knelt a third time and bowed his head to the cold stone floor yet again. He remained thus, unmoving and silent, for so long that Naomi edged closer to see his face. His eyes were closed, his face peaceful, but his lips moved sometimes. He clenched his hands together, then pressed them flat on the floor. Naomi heard soft footsteps from the back of the chapel and stiffened.

A tall man stood in the doorway, his robes casting a grey shadow across the flagstones. He waited, and Naomi edged carefully around Basileus away from the dark silhouette. She nosed in his ear, her whiskers tickling his neck.

Basileus finished his prayer and stood stiffly, his knees aching. “My child, what can I do for you?”

The man answered coolly, his hand on his sword hilt. “Father, I was given to believe that your order was only for the worship of God. That only holy men lived in these cloisters.”

Basileus blinked. “That is what we strive for. We are but human, child. We have failings.”

The man smiled coldly and stepped away to pace around the small chapel. “And one of your failings has now become a problem of justice, Father. I care not whether you bring whores into your cells. A bit of warm comfort on a cold night. I won’t begrudge you that.”

Basileus gasped at the profanity of the image. “Child! We don’t….”

“Silence!” the man shouted. “I care not what you do in your cells, so long as you bother no one. But my men and I have searched the town for a murderess, and the only place she could be is here. Whores for your own comfort are your own business. Standing in the way of the king’s justice is quite another. Tell me where she is.”

Basileus blinked in confusion, his heart thudding in his chest. Father, give me wisdom. I don’t understand. “Child, there are no women here, murderesses or any other sort.”

The soldier drew his sword and advanced. With the edge of the sword to Basileus’s throat, he spoke again. “Tell me where she is, old man. I am losing patience.”

Basileus could barely breathe, his chest feeling tight with fear. The edge of the sword felt cold against his throat, a sharp sting where it barely cut him. “I do not know what you speak of. There are no women here.”

The man’s gaze did not leave his, hard and cold, and Basileus felt sudden compassion for him. He’s so afraid and so lonely. “You can search the cells if you like. I will speak with Father Gilbar about it.”

The sword abruptly withdrew. “Yes, do that. Quickly.”

The soldier followed him through the passageway to Father Gilbar’s cell. Basileus knocked softly and opened the door at Father Gilbar’s quiet answer.

“Father, there is a murderer in your cloisters. Give me your blessing to search the cells.” The soldier spoke quickly, ducked his head with the force of long habit. He kept his hand on his sword.

Father Gilbar drew himself up importantly. “What is the meaning of this? Do you question the honor of God’s house?”

The soldier said quietly, “No. I question the honor of the men that inhabit it. Even you, Father, cannot tell me that men are faultless. There is a murderess in these walls, and I will find her.”

Father Gilbar took a deep breath. “This house has nothing to hide. You may search the cells and storehouses, but when you find nothing, you will make penance before God for your insolence.”

The soldier smiled again, quick and cool. “If I find nothing, Father, I will make whatever penance you devise.”

He went out to the gate and gave quick orders to the squad waiting outside. The soldiers filed in through the gate and spread out quickly through the small monastery. They searched all the cells, carefully lifting each hard pallet to check for trapdoors, respectfully folding the blankets when they were finished. They searched the large kitchen, the storehouses, the pantry, the small byre with the two sedate milk cows, the chicken coop, and the small chapel. Hours later, when all the monks were thoroughly confused, the soldiers gathered in front of the chapel.

“Sir, we didn’t find anything. No sign of her at all.”

“Footprints.” The commander was sure.

“Only to the street outside, nothing else, sir.”

The commander paced in frustration. “Search again. See if there are signs of anyone climbing the wall. Or anything.”

The soldiers stopped their search only when the sun set. They still found nothing, and the soldier bowed stiffly to Father Gilbar.

“You found nothing.” The old man’s voice was gentle.

“No, Father.” The soldier sounded aggrieved, irritated, unwilling to believe that he was mistaken. “I believe she is hiding somewhere on these grounds.”

“You found nothing,” the old man repeated, his voice gentler still.

“No, Father.” The soldier looked down at the ground. “What penance shall I make?”

The old man thought long, letting the impatient young soldier fidget while he waited. Finally he said, “Give one half of your pay this week in alms to the shelter for wayward children. Pray each night this month for violent men and violent women, that they may see the folly of their ways, turn away from wickedness and seek God instead.” The soldier nodded hurriedly. “And do not enter here again with your sword, child. God’s house is not a place of bloodshed.”

The soldier nodded again and bowed, glad to be away with such a light penalty. He hurried the squad back out into the street.

Basileus’s thoughts wandered during prayers that evening. After the final song, he asked to replace Turneus for the evening vigil. Turneus smiled gratefully. “Truly, Basileus, do you have so much on your mind these days? You came here to find peace.”

Basileus bowed his head humbly. “Brother, pray for me. My heart is not often at peace, but I have found great kindness here among God’s people.”

Turneus put one hand on Basileus’s shoulder for a moment. “Brother, you know I do pray for you.” When he went to his cell, he knelt and pressed his hands and forehead to the floor, his generous heart tender toward his faith-brother.

In the kitchen Basileus poured a saucer of cream for Naomi and watched her eat. She was beautiful, dainty white paws, tiny drops of cream on long white whiskers as she drank eagerly. She purred, the small body trembling with the steady thrum, kneading the stone floor softly. Then Basileus turned back toward the chapel, holding the door open for Naomi. The little cat followed cautiously, darting around his feet and stopping suddenly in the darkness to listen. “Fear not, little friend. The night is safe in here.” The moonlight silvered the stones as he moved toward the chapel door. Inside he used the large taper by the door to light the candles by the altar and then knelt stiffly and bowed his head to the floor.

May God have mercy on the soul of the unfortunate. May God have mercy on the soul of the sinner. The familiar words came easily to his lips, but he paused. Do I mean the words I pray? Do I truly care about the unfortunate who was killed? Do I care in my heart? He licked his lips and pressed his forehead to the cold stone. Do I care about the murderer? Or do I love justice more than mercy? Is that what God would want?

Am I any better than the murderer? Is my arrogance a type of murder, a clean and ostensibly holy murder, but equally vile in the eyes of God?

I wanted peace when I came here, but I have not found it. I found kindness and I found the word of God, but I also found time to think on what I have done and what I have lost, and I cannot escape where that leads.

He forced his thoughts back toward prayer, where they should be. A vigil was meant for worship, not to wallow in the sins of the past. An hour past midnight Brother Fulnaras knelt silently beside him and Basileus knew he was no longer required to stay. But he stayed for another hour, running through the prayers again before he rose painfully and turned back toward his cell. Each step hurt after kneeling on the chilly stone for hours, and he took his time across the courtyard. Naomi darted ahead of him to stare back with glowing eyes.

In his room he fed a small log into the embers and watched it slowly begin to burn. Naomi meowed softly next to him, staring into the fire as if it fascinated her, and he ran one hand over her soft back. She turned away and he stared at the fire a moment longer, holding out his chilly hands toward the warmth.

“Do you really mean all those prayers?”

The voice from behind him startled him so badly that he nearly fell into the fire. He spun around and gasped in horror, and the young woman smiled.

She was young, perhaps nineteen or twenty, and pretty. He noticed that immediately; how could he not? Creamy white skin, dark brown hair, eyes that flashed green in the firelight. She was naked, or nearly so; the blanket from his pallet was pulled across her but he could see… too much. More than was proper. One long smooth leg, two pale bare arms clamped down to hold the blanket in place.

His mouth worked as he tried to find words. “What… who are you?” He crossed himself and stood, his back against the rough stone. “How did you get here?”

She smiled, her small pink mouth curling up like a rosebud. “Which question should I answer first?”

His mouth was open but he didn’t say anything; he only crossed himself again and closed his eyes. God, I came to your house to find peace and flee from temptation! This is not helping. Forgive me for my impertinence. Or honesty.

“May I sit down?” She bit her lip and watched his face.

He swallowed. “Yes.” Fool! “But you shouldn’t be here.”

She sat on the pallet and carefully shifted the blanket so it wrapped around her bare shoulders without revealing anything. “It’s the only place I can be.” She sighed as if she was very tired. “I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t be here. I won’t stay long.”

“How did you get here?” He watched her face, watched her close her eyes slowly and sigh.

“I’m…” she hesitated and licked her lips, looking up at him. “I’m hiding.”

“From the soldiers?” He knew the answer, but it was good to see her nod in acknowledgement. What is my duty to God? What do I do when presented with this choice? What is mercy, and what is justice? Can they ever be the same, or is there always a choice, one or the other?

She took a deep breath, and finally said, “I’m not like other people. I don’t know how much I should say.”

Basileus smiled gently. “No one is quite like anyone else.”

She looked up at him with eyes that glittered oddly in the dim firelight. “This isn’t…” she stopped. “I’m very hungry.” She suddenly sounded on the verge of tears, and he blinked. “Could I please have something to eat? Anything. Please?”

“Yes. Of course.” He glanced back at her as he closed the door quietly. She hunched forward, her hair falling over her face, and he wondered if she was crying.

He gathered bread and cheese and wine from the kitchen and hurried back, his footsteps nearly silent. He prayed he wouldn’t meet anyone who would ask him what he was doing. The brothers didn’t eat in the middle of the night, even when they grew hungry, but such rules did not apply to guests who had not taken vows.

When he entered again, hoping the door wouldn’t squeak, he put the simple meal on the table. She had lain down, curled in his blanket with her knees pulled up like she was cold or frightened, the blanket clutched tightly to her chest.

He hesitated, unsure what to do. “Hello?” She didn’t move. “Excuse me.” Then the slightest twitch, and he said again, “Excuse me.”

She shuddered and clutched the blanket more tightly, blinking at him in confusion before pushing herself up. She sniffed as if she wanted to cry. “I’m sorry. I’m just so tired.”

He gestured toward the table. “I’ve brought some food.” He watched her as she stood unsteadily and padded softly across the room, sunk hunched into the chair. She ate slowly, with small bites, though she seemed very hungry.

She talked as she ate. “I’m sorry. I need to hide. I won’t cause trouble, I just need to rest.”

Basileus felt terribly tired, his eyes burning with the long vigil and the smoke from the fire. She’ll take the pallet, of course. I can’t put her out. I never thought to sleep in the same room as a woman in a monastery, of all places. Well, I never thought to sleep in the same room as a woman at all. My thoughts must be pure. I must keep them pure, whatever temptations might arise.

His attention snapped back to her when he heard, “It was very kind of you to take me in that first night. I was so cold.”

He blinked. “What?”

She smiled slowly. “You didn’t hear anything, did you? Too busy worrying?”

He took a deep breath. “I… I’m sorry.” Forgive me for my distraction.

“I said I’m not like other people. Other people… well,” she smiled. “They’re only people. Some of us are more.”

“We’re all only human.” His voice sounded soft and soothing over the quiet crackle of the fire.

“Some of us aren’t. I’m not. I can change.” She smiled again at his confused look. “I’ll show you when I finish.” She ate quickly, and then stood up. He wasn’t tall, and she nearly looked him in the eye, her green eyes glowing in the firelight. “Keep watching. It isn’t a trick.” But he blinked, and she was gone and the cloak was crumpled on the floor. And then he realized he wasn’t alone; the little calico was back, stepping gracefully from beneath the folds of cloth. She turned toward him and meowed softly, then stepped toward the fire, her tail held high.

What magic is this? I thought I was dreaming, but now… he swallowed hard.

He dreamed that night of the things he’d seen in the north, things he thought were impossible. People that turned to wolves or eagles. He’d seen the wandering peddler Geismalo turn into a hawk right before his eyes, but later, when he saw him at the market, Geismalo denied it, a look of confusion and pity in his eyes. His friend Gesirius told him he was crazy. His brother Horustus told him he was crazy too, but without as much sympathy and much more condemnation. “It’s another of your stupid obsessions, Basius. Like God. If God existed, he’d have answered you by now because he’d be too tired of your voice not to! Give it up.” At least it was a relatively harmless delusion, unlike the idea that she… he couldn’t even think her name now without pain… that she might love him.

Basius had taken the vows and changed his name to Basileus, to indicate the finality of his choice. Gesirius thought it as good a decision as any, and had sent him away with a short, tight embrace and a slap on the back. “Basius, you know I think you’re daft. But you’ll be safe there, at least, and happy. And I do want you to be happy, whatever you might think.” Horustus only shook his head and turned away.

For a time, Basileus hadn’t seen anything strange. Until now. He wondered whether the problem was that he was mad, as everyone said. “Grief does strange things, Basius. I don’t blame you for being a little… off. Anyone would be. But eventually you get over it. That’s the great thing about people, see? They’re resilient. A dog goes to the grave of his master and starves to death waiting for him to come back. People don’t. People move on.”

Basileus didn’t know about that. He thought he had moved on, as well as anyone could who’d truly loved. How can you push love down and pretend it doesn’t destroy you? How can you hide it when your heart is ripped open in front of the world?

The little calico was only a cat, anything else was madness. But when Basileus, half-asleep, looked across the room to where the cat was curled near the fire, he doubted. Maybe I’m not mad. Maybe I’ve been right all along. Maybe I never was crazy. Except about her; I can’t deny that.

The next morning when the bells were rung, the cat curled into a smaller ball and ignored him while he dressed and prayed, his bare feet cold on the stone floor. She was only a cat, nothing more, and all day he smiled to himself to think that in the middle of the night he’d really thought such magic possible. But that night, she changed again.

“I’m leaving tonight. I wanted to thank you.” She smiled at him, the blanket wrapped around her.

“I wasn’t dreaming.” He licked his lips.

“No.” She smiled again and stepped closer, holding the blanket with one hand and reaching out to touch his face with the other. “You never were. I heard about you, you know.”

“Heard what?”

“That you believed in us. Geismalo told me to be careful of you, but that you were a good man. I didn’t expect to find you in a monastery though.” She frowned questioningly.

“I… it’s a long tale, and not especially pleasant.” Not for me, anyway. Someone else might find it amusing. “Are you a murderer?” He frowned at the way it sounded. “I only mean…”

She turned away abruptly, pacing back and forth across the room, her head down and her hair falling over her eyes. “Well, I suppose it depends on how you define murder,” she said finally, taking an obvious effort to keep her voice calm. “They no doubt feel justified in calling it that. But in my mind it is justice.” She turned on him suddenly, face to face, staring at him. “What does your god say about that?”

Give me the right words. “Vengeance belongs to the Lord. It is not our place to take vengeance.” He hesitated. “There is a place for justice in this world, but it should come through the courts and the leaders appointed by God.”

“And when there is no justice through them? When all they do is protect the evil and penalize the innocent for being in the way?” She sniffed angrily and paced across the room again. He watched wordlessly. Of all the things I feel least qualified to counsel about, murder and vengeance are foremost. Of all my many sins, I don’t think I’ve ever been tempted by these.

She suddenly began talking, still pacing, staring at the floor, back and forth, back and forth. “Do you know who I am?” She didn’t wait for his quiet “no.” “Adara Valentin. My father was Tatius Valentin.” He blinked. He knew that name. A prominent… something. Senator? Governor of some province he’d never been to? He’d never paid much attention to these things. “Father was killed by the Sterfalo family. Everyone knows it. But no one could find enough evidence to prosecute. My brother and I were on our own, with Father’s fortune to protect us. And my brother…” she went silent for a moment. “He was young. You’d never met anyone more beautiful. Innocent. He was twelve when Father died, and thirteen when…” she took a deep breath.

“He inherited Father’s title, of course, and he inherited his enemies. A month ago we went to the theater, just him and me, to get out. The house was stifling, full of all Father’s things. The play was stupid, juvenile and not even funny, but we laughed and laughed. Nervous tension, you know, too afraid to let any real feelings out at home, with Father’s portraits looking down at us. Always disapproving, of course, but we still missed him so much.” She sounded choked.

“And on the way back, Sterfalo’s thugs attacked. It was over in minutes, of course, we had guards too, and we were fine. But Sterfalo was so arrogant about it all, he’d been watching the whole thing from his own carriage just down the street. And he challenged Felix to a duel. He was thirteen!” She rounded on him in sudden anger. “And Vinius Sterfalo was a retired soldier! It was obscene. And Felix took it. It was stupid! He didn’t want to look afraid, even though he was terrified, and he didn’t want to disgrace our name. And he was stupid too, stupidly proud of our name, didn’t want to shame it, didn’t want to shame father’s name and his memory by being a coward. As if dying in the street would be better! Sterfalo toyed with him, with everyone watching. Cut him across the cheek, the arm, just to watch Felix try to hide the pain and the fear. Dragged it out just for the fun of it, and then gutted him in the middle of the street and left him bleeding. And the court ruled it was fair and just and everything was just as it should be. It was murder! The man killed him for the fun of it.” She was nearly spitting with anger, pacing again, quick and furious.

Basileus remembered hearing about the incident, though he hadn’t heard the details. “And for the estate. He thinks the king won’t let you keep it.”

She almost snarled. “I don’t care about the estate. I cared about my brother.” She took another deep breath. “Am I a murderer? I snuck into his house and killed him. In his sleep. Yes, I’m a murderer.” She suddenly stopped and brought one hand up to run it over her face and through her hair. “It was the only way; he’d kill me otherwise. Not that I care, now, but I didn’t want him to win. To keep breathing when Felix was rotting.”

“God can forgive even murder,” he said gently. Can He? I have to believe it’s true. Who would not have done what she did, if they had the chance? We’re all saved from such sin not by our better virtue but by lack of opportunity, or fear of the law. Surely that doesn’t count for much in God’s sight. We’re all murderers at heart.

“Can He?” She ran her hand through her hair again. “I’m not normally a violent person. I’m not. But my brother…” her voice trailed away and she seemed like she wanted to cry.

“I’ll pray with you if you want.” He didn’t know what else to say.

She glanced up at him and then back at the floor. “Maybe some other time. I need to go. I don’t want to get you in trouble.”

“Where will you go?”

“Home first, to get clothes. And then…” she hesitated. “I think it’s time for the king to know about us. I talked to Geismalo and he said they trusted me.”

“Geismalo? The peddler?”

“He’s one of the leaders. He knows the most about us, how it works. It’s hard, you know? Not being normal. I thought I was bewitched at first.” She sighed heavily. “He says it’s natural, different but nothing to be afraid of. You just have to learn how to control it. That’s why I was so tired that first day; it’s exhausting to change, and when I’ve been a cat too long I don’t eat enough, and then when I change back, I’m so weak. You learn. Geismalo said… well, I didn’t expect to find you that first night, but I’m glad I did. He mentioned you, said you’d be a good friend. And he said you’re not crazy.” She grinned suddenly, impishly, and he smiled back in surprise. “But I really do need to go. They’ll be looking for me, and I can’t stay forever. I’ll go to the king. It’s time he knows about us. Maybe he can use us.”

He frowned a little. “You’ll leave this place without finding peace? Without praying?”

She raised one eyebrow. “Have you found peace here?”

He swallowed. “The beginnings of it. And kindness, and time to think about things.”

“I don’t want to think about things.” She looked down at herself, at his blanket that was the only thing preserving her modesty. “But thank you. For being a friend.” She smiled. “I’ll see you again sometime.”

“May I pray for you?” he asked. Someone needs to. The child is so lost, and so afraid. She seems younger now than before.

“You can do whatever you want. But do it fast.”

He knelt stiffly, his knees protesting, and pressed his face to the floor. His lips moved almost silently, and he heard her walking back and forth impatiently. May God guide her steps. May God give her peace. May God touch her heart and show her the depth of her sin and the glory of his grace. The relentless mercy and forgiveness that chases a man, or woman, into the darkest sin and still offers a way out. May God grant her a heart that seeks him, because now… now she is so very lost and so afraid. After a while, he heard her kneel quietly beside him and he smiled to himself. He prayed a moment longer and then sat up. Still kneeling, he placed one hand gently on her head and blessed her, the soft words filling the cold stone cell with a warmth and comfort that brought unexpected tears to the girl’s eyes.

She looked up at him one last time. “Thank you. I’ll be back.” And then she was a small calico, and Basileus blinked, wishing he could see how she changed. He opened the door to the hallway and she trotted out, and he led her down the long corridor and through to the front door.

He bent to pet her, and she pressed her furry head into his hand, purring. Then he opened the door, and she ran out into the cool night and was gone.

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