It had been a few months since Josie had reclaimed her family’s post on the royal throne. The country had responded well, and was enjoying a strong period of peace and prosperity. Josie was well respected as a leader, and wise, knowing when to step back and allow the Meezers to make rules, and when to step in and make judgments of her own. She enjoyed her time in the palace, and knew this was her calling. But she also enjoyed those moments when she could sneak away and wander in the meadows and woods that surround the royal palace. This was one of those times.
* * *
Josie and Jasper were strolling through a lush green field early one morning. Dew still clung to the blades of grass, leaving a little moisture on their fur as they walked. Along the perimeter several royal guard cats patrolled, out of earshot but watching for danger.
“How do you think everything’s going,” Josie asked Jasper. She liked having him as a trusted confidant.
“I couldn’t imagine it being any better,” Jasper replied. “Your parents would be proud of the job you are doing.”
Josie gave a little smile at this. Jasper had been young when he worked for her parents, but he knew them better than most, and their approval meant much to her. She paused, turned from Jasper and stared into the woods to their left. She could hear the stream gurgling just beyond the trees. “Some days I think I’m losing my mind. I’m hearing things.”
“What kind of things?” Jasper asked, only half concerned. The effects of the stress, Jasper thought to himself.
“I’ve been hearing kittens, frightened kittens, crying and mewing, at the strangest times.” She glanced back at Jasper, worry showing on her face. “I haven’t said anything for fear of speculation from everyone that I’m either going crazy or that I want to be a mother. I heard them one night at dinner, and then the other day while I was accepting visitors. Both times, after everyone left, I looked all over like a crazy cat for kittens that didn’t exist. I think maybe I’m wearing myself out.”
Jasper nodded his head in agreement. “Maybe more walks to get your mind off of things.” They started walking through the field again. Josie looked a little relieved to have that off her chest. Tall trees created a perimeter around the field, and at the end was a trail that led through the woods to the stream.
Jasper and Josie turned to head back through the field. In all their talking they had not noticed the sky was starting to darken with storm clouds. “Looks like we’re turning around at the right time,” Jasper said. At that very moment the rain began, large sharp rain drops falling fast and hard. Jasper had started back up the field. The guards looked eager to head back to the palace, but were waiting for Josie who was standing still.
“Jasper, I hear them again. And they’re not far,” she said. “Just in the woods over here.” She looked at the path, nodding her head toward Jasper to follow.
Jasper sighed, shook the water from his back, and started after Josie. Crazy, I’m crazy, he thought. We’re all crazy. He hit the trail a few paces behind Josie. At the end of the trail, he couldn’t believe what he saw. The sudden rain had created a rush of water in the stream, and floating through the current was a basket with three kittens heading toward them.
Josie gave Jasper a panicked look. The guards were catching up to Jasper and Josie when a sudden lightning strike split the air. A nearby tree crackled and fell in the direction of Josie, knocking her into the stream. She disappeared under the water as Jasper rushed to the bank. Then, about 15 feet downstream she reappeared, clutching a large branch that was being pulled rapidly by the current. The basket of kittens was just beyond the end of the branch.
“Go for help!” Jasper commanded the guards, and he turned and started sprinting along the muddy bank, trying to keep pace with the rapidly accelerating current.