Cat's got your Tongue? (The Shoeless Prince Chp. 1)
They say cats have nine lives, and Leo was certain he had at least two. There was a time before, where many things were hazy but mostly pleasant, and then there was now.
Now wasn’t pleasant at all.
His heart raced, and his fur stood on edge as he darted through the gates of Castletown just before sunset. Open market stalls towered overhead, casting long shadows. His paws glided across the cobblestone so silently it unnerved him. He had been in the central marketplace before, he was sure of it, but nothing looked familiar. It was all so big. So loud. And the smells—the human sweat and fish stink wafting off the fishermen’s stalls; were they always so poignant?
At the same time, his other senses seemed dampened. Muted somehow.
He slowed his pace. His tail twitched with displeasure. Displayed next to another market stall, a giant pumpkin loomed larger than him. It should have been orange, but it seemed a washed-out brown or mustard yellow.
What did orange even look like?
Focus. He had come here for something. Someone. There had been trouble, and he needed—
A pair of boots crunched beside him. Loud footsteps. Large boots. The leather came up to the man’s mid-calf but still stretched taller than Leo.
The giant man reached down to grab the giant pumpkin, and Leo startled backward.
“Puss?” the man said, as if he too were startled. “Shoo, puss. Find your master.” His words were dismissive as he turned to place his pumpkin inside a large vegetable cart.
Master? There wasn’t a lot Leo was certain about in that moment, but he didn’t have a master. He wouldn’t. He was the master, the sort other people should bow and cater to. They should come running now that he was here, showing himself in desperate need of their assistance.
And with those thoughts, a dark and commanding voice echoed inside Leo’s head. “Kill the rats; serve your master.”
He couldn’t escape it; something was wrong.
He opened his mouth. “Rr-ow?” Wait. Was that him?
Leo hissed, his tail still moving. That couldn’t be him. He was able to speak, wasn’t he?
But that was ridiculous. The voice inside his head had softened, replaced with a simple certainty. Cats couldn’t speak. Why had he been so sure he could, and that this lumbering crowd of dismissive giants could be persuaded to hear him? The vegetable merchant had already finished loading all his leftover produce into his cart, closing down his stand for the night, and no one else so much as glanced in Leo’s direction.
The crowd of giant feet would be certain to trample him if he tried to walk amongst them. A wave of upset gutter water could hit him, which somehow seemed just as bad. And even if he could speak . . . what would he say?
That there was trouble. Something bad had happened. Worse than being drenched with water. Larger than a black dog with fangs.
Big. Bad. Trouble.
On the tip of his tongue.
No. Now wasn’t pleasant at all.