How does a cat measure time? Ser Pounce understands the difference between Before and Now, though he doesn’t like to think about the Bad Thing in the middle. Before, the days were a series of naps and meals. Now, he marks time with hunts. How many has it been now?
Silently, he prowls the darkness. There is prey here. He cannot catch it, or eat it, but he can make it jump. He likes to sneak up on Bad Boy, creeping up on stealthy paws while Bad Boy’s back is turned, and then suddenly leaping at his face with a howling screech. Bad Boy cries, and Ser Pounce disappears back into the darkness. His vengeance is sweet, better than the finest cream that he used to lick from a golden plate.
He hears voices, and sets off to investigate. The humans have been bored, waiting for something to happen. They have waited for many, many hunts now. Fat Man is sometimes angry, and always shouty, but he hates Scary Lady and Bad Boy as much as Ser Pounce, and will play with him when nobody else is looking. Now, though, he is with Dog Man and the Very Big Dogs, and neither man looks at him as he approaches. Ser Pounce avoided all dogs when he was alive, and he isn’t fond of them now, apart from the littlest one, Kind Dog. She was the first ghost to notice the arrival of Ser Pounce, alone and still trembling from the Bad Thing. She curled up next to him until the shaking stopped, and even now, she greets him like a foster mother. He chirps at her, and she whines in response. Friends.
Purring, he nestles at the feet of Pretty Lady. She blows kisses at him, then turns back to Fat Man. They really don’t like Scary Lady, and yet they seem to want her to join them here. Ser Pounce doesn’t understand. They seem to think it will be soon. Are they giving her to him for punishment? They keep saying Cat will hurt her. He extends a paw and checks — yes, a lion still has claws. They are still sharp, of course. As long and sharp as yours. But how can he hurt her? His claws don’t work here. Puzzled, he looks up at Pretty Lady, but she is certain, Cat will make Scary Lady pay for her sins.
I’m only a little lion; she is bigger than me. His eyes narrow, and his fur starts to stand on end. Kind Dog tilts her head, and whines. All is well, little one.
Ser Pounce yawns, and wonders, Will Scary Lady tremble and cry, like Bad Boy?
Kind Dog goes back to her brothers, and Ser Pounce scans the dim space for someone to play with. The humans have retreated to their own groups, huddling together and whispering to each other. He visits the groups, greeting his favourites: Sexy Man (but not his angry daughters); Horse Man; Huge Man. All greet him with a smile and a kiss. All were huge and mighty in life, and all pay homage to the great Ser Pounce.
Here, kitty! He bounds up to the group of men clad all in black, their happy laughter almost obscene in the airless space. Who’s a good boy? He purrs. He knows it’s him. Were he alive, they would scratch his chin and tickle his tummy. But the Night Men play with him instead, crouching on all fours, pretending to chase him. They seem to like it here. They aren’t waiting for anyone to join them. They are waiting to cheer for their friend, the Wolf King. When they say his name, they howl together and laugh. Once, Ser Pounce meowed in response and they cheered him too. They thought it was funny. But he knows all about friends.
Having toured his domain and received the tribute of his subjects, Ser Pounce slips away from the Night Men. He pads away from the loud voices, the shouty voices, and the sad voices. In the distance, he can hear the gentle voice of Nice Girl. She is singing, softly, to the broken boy sitting beside her. Friend.
Ser Pounce curls up next to Friend, and purrs. Nice Girl finishes her song, and looks conspiratorially at Ser Pounce, who chirps a greeting. I’ll take it from here.
Friend doesn’t look up when Nice Girl leaves, but he edges closer to his cat. Ser Pounce stretches out, and rolls on to his back. Do you want to play? Friend doesn’t want to play very often any more, but today he manages a smile before closing his eyes. Ser Pounce is pleased. I am making him better.
He rolls back on to his paws, and scans the area one more time before returning to Friend’s feet. He sits, and closes his eyes, but keeps one ear out for danger. All is well, little one. You are safe now. I will protect you.
And so, the purrs sound through the halls,
With only Friend to hear.
Header Image Source: HBO