Chapter 21 : The Unmoving Cat
The fourth princess of Bengal stepped slowly from the gates, listening yet not looking as they closed behind her, and took the winding road down from the city. She kept her eyes on the crossroads ahead, letting her mind wander, only when arriving did she turn in a circle and think on which path she should choose.
To the north were the strong allies of Bengal: Jarma, Tha’Jun, and Laumphon, and beyond them stretched an impossible dessert. To the south stretched Bengal and a spattering of small countries in the neck of the peninsula. In the west rose the mountains where the ministers would have hidden her away, and to the east were the historical roots of Telano, the old Bengal.
The princess looked up at the sky, and could see no daytime moon. The wind gently tugged her west, but there a flower was arching south… and what is that?
Treading softly, the princess approached the ginger lump until she could make out pointed ears and a curled tail. Here was a cat, outside the menagerie, outside the city. Already feeling a longing for home, Saeng knelt and extended her fingers, making soft soothing noises to catch its attention. But the cat did not budge. Encouraged nonetheless, Saeng stepped closer and put her fingers right in front of the cat’s nose. Still it did not budge. She watched the rise and fall of its stomach, then blew gently over its head and noted the twitching of the ear, she nudged its head with her hand and felt warmth on her skin, but still it would not move. Tired of crouching, the Bengal princess picked the cat up from the dust of the road and held it in her arms, and once she began petting it, it purred.
“Ah, I knew you were alive,” she said, though it did not look at her or adjust itself at all.
As she stroked its coarse fur, she came to wonder at its purpose, and looked in the direction where, curled, the cat’s nose and tail had pointed.
“Kitty, I say we shall go east. What say you?”
The cat did not respond. Disappointed, the princess set it down, and somehow it formed itself as it was before.
“Aren’t you coming with me?” she asked, then sighed. “Perhaps you are not the sign I seek.”
The wind picked up and blew a leaf into the cat’s face. Struck by a mischievous thought, the princess again picked the cat from the dusty road, turned it to the opposite direction, and set it down thus. The world seemed to shift before her eyes, as if it was painted on a folded canvas that was now being stretched straight, and — without moving — the cat was again facing east. Struck by this oddity, and reminding herself the way did not matter, the fourth princess of Bengal took the cat up in her arms and began to walk east towards the rising sun.