THE PALACE OF HEARTS
Khamet was used to being preened and fawned over, but the one thing he could never truly get used to, was the jewelry and sometimes the fabrics. It unnerved him, but he endured until he had the opportunity to remove them. The Princess of Hearts, never having seen anything like Khamet, wanted to do the same, but his advantage was that in this place he truly had a voice and could offer his opinion.
“And how about this?” The Princess pulled another piece of fabric out from a shelf and held it up.
“That might work, but it’s big.”
“Oh not to worry,” she snapped her fingers.
A thin white card person was at the door and prepared to do the bidding of the Princess, a Ten of Hearts. The first one of these Khamet had seen was extremely shocking.
When they were riding into the castle, with the Jack of all Trades being escorted in by a walking apple tree, Khamet saw a bucket that looked as if it were floating in the air. An apple came off the tree and dropped into the bucket, then another. Coming around bucket revealed the thinnest creature Khamet had ever seen, flat as parchment, all white with eight red hearts and an eight in the top and bottom corners. The card slapped something down near the rose bush and a Seven of Hearts turned and looked up. The two cards quickly dropped to the ground, stood at attention and bowed as the Sphinx passed.
The Princess of Hearts nodded to the cards as she spoke about the reception and how Khamet would be the only guest she had ever known from Yonderland. Once they reached the castle Khamet found the cards were more prominent then the servants of Pharaoh had been. Everything was red, hearts and diamonds of all denominations shuffled everywhere. There were white ones with red colors and red ones with white colors as wide as two or three people and each so thin that were not visible at all from the side.
“My lady,” the Ten of Hearts spoke at the door.
The Princess pointed to Khamet holding up the fabric and said, “For this evening.”
The card squatted and in a flash, measured Khamet and began stitching the fabric.
“This should fit you excellently,” the Princess came over with a long trail of jewels. “This usually fits my arm and drapes down to connect to the wrist like so,” she demonstrated. “If you start at your neck it will drape nicely to your tail and…”
“I would rather not.” Khamet said.
The Princess frowned at the comment. She was obviously someone not used to being questioned and made a face. Khamet saw a horrible look, but it arrived in a flash and was gone just as quickly.
The Princess regained her composure. “Now this is a royal ball. You are attending as my guest. I would not be seen with a commoner such as yourself, Yonderland or not. So we must at the very least make you look as if you belong there.” She waited.
Khamet realized that there was no reproach from this and presented his head while raising his tail high.
The Princess squatted and smiled. She wrapped it around his neck and brought it down to wrap around his tail.
Another card came in with alterations for the Princess’s clothing. The Six of Hearts bowed and waited. Megette was the Princess’ lady-in-waiting. Khamet had learned her name when the Princess left them alone for a few moments. Megette seemed very nice and Khamet liked her instantly, but she never spoke unless she was first spoken to.
“Oh,” the Princess sighed. “It’s gorgeous.” The clasp on the jewelry wasn’t working right and the Princess stood frustrated. “Megette, could you fix this and see if that fits him.”
The Ten of Hearts arrived back in the room suddenly and held up the altered piece of fabric. Megette took it from him and shooed him out the door closing it as the Princess began trying on the dress.
Megette dressed Khamet and fixed the clasp giving him a wink as everything came out perfectly.
Khamet stood in the mirror examining himself. The fabric was a simple purple cape that shimmered in the light. It draped down his back and stopped at the tail. The String of jewels ran down the spine on top of the cape. Khamet had to admit he did look quite royal. “What are you going to do with the Jack?” He asked.
The Princess was behind a folding screen changing, “The…?” she sounded as if she choked. “He’s in the dungeon,” the princess said much too breathy for Khamet and Megette leaned out from the screen with a questioning look.
Khamet winked at her. “He likes you. And if I may, I think you like…”
“No you may not!” The Princess cut him off. She was obviously flushed and tried to straighten. “Ugh, Megette!” The Six of Hearts ducked back behind the screen. “I do not think so cat. Could you imagine a rogue courting me?”
Khamet watched as she emerged from the screen.
“There,” she took a step, wrenching her hands as they moved slowly across her stomach. “He’s seeking employment from my father of all… No I don’t think so.”
Khamet took a step in the fabric with the jewels dangling. He flexed his neck and stretched his tail feeling the outfit. He could endure this for a time, a short time. “Princess, I don’t think a person of your stature, position and obvious intelligence has much of an opportunity to mix and mingle with the sorts of individuals who you might find truly inspiring.” Khamet flattered.
Megette looked fearful at what he was saying.
“It occurs to me that you don’t know anything about him,” he continued calmly. “He was not a rogue.”
“Pish posh, what does that mean?” The Princess said.
“It means he could be more than he seems. You might want to explore it before dismissing it.”
The Princess waved Megette off and sat.
“Thank you very much,” Khamet said as Megette left.
Megette paused at this and looked shocked, but nodded slowly as she quietly beamed and left for the other room to wait to be called.
“Now one final thing,” the Princess mused staring at Khamet. “You do look excellent I must say… Now you are a mow?”
“Mau. What is that?”
“Cat?” She thought for a moment. “That is like the caterwaul, you are not a caterwaul? No, they are truly disgusting and dangerous creatures. Hold a moment.” She moved across to another room. When she returned she was being followed by a podium walking behind her with an old thick book as big as Khamet. “Cat,” she said.
Two arms emerged right out of the podium, opened the tablet and began turning pages of parchment. “The Roadscholar is no longer with us and he could answer these questions in a moment, but…”
“I heard that most think he is just a legend.”
“The Roadscholar? A Legend? Absolutely not. This is his book. Everything he knew or named, until he disappeared, is recorded in this book. I will tell you what they say. He knew so much that he forgot most of it and everything he forgot is also in this book.” The Princess seemed proud.
The podium’s arms stopped turning the pages and pointed to a spot.
The Princess moved over and looked down. “Cat,” she read. “A creature not from Heere, but from Yonderland. Similar to the caterwaul, but not very harmful. Affectionate, solitary creatures of disinterest in the goings on of others.” She stopped reading and looked at Khamet. “Well now since I have never seen one of your like I shall introduce you as Cat. Yes, that will be enough. Away.” She waved her hand and the podium walked back to the next room.
“We should get the Jack out of the dungeon.” Khamet prodded.
“Oh why do you insist on pestering me with this,” she flushed again and sat down. She couldn’t hold back a small smile at the mention of him. “Are you a friend of his? If there is something I should know…. Are you two in league with each other?”
Khamet leapt up onto the Princess of Hearts’ lap. She stroked and he purred. “No my lady, but I can tell you about people. It’s a gift I have always had and I don’t find any ill from him. His intentions are true. Especially towards you.”
The Princess stared at Khamet for a moment considering then said, “Megette!”
Megette entered a second later. Her head was down, but she looked at Khamet and smiled.
“Go down to the dungeon. You will find a prisoner who goes by the title Jack of all Trades. Ready him for the ball tonight, but seat him near the kitchen with strict instructions that he is to say away from my father. Make this clear to him as well as all the servers and…” she thought for a moment. “Inform the Ace as well. Is that clear?”
“Yes my lady,” Megette said with a curtsey and threw Khamet a wink as she left.
“Satisfied Cat?” The Princess of Hearts said. She turned away, but Khamet could see her cheeks rise and her skin flush. She smiled, excited.
Khamet hopped down and moved to the balcony to look out over the land below. He wondered on his brother and how long it would be for him to return.