Three little hamsters – Cupcake, Truffle and Bacardi, the Royal Order of Ancient Carissima Hamsters – called in the Ashen Forest for the white-pawed black cat.
Two eyes pierced from under a shaded tree branch.
“What do you little rodents want?”
“We have a message from St. Francis of Assisi,” chirped Truffle.
“He needs to see you right now,” added Bacardi.
“Right now means right now,” put in Cupcake.
“What does he need to see me for? I don’t have a master in the Living World waiting for me,” the feral cat snarled.
“He needs to see you,” said Bacardi.
“Don’t ask questions.”
“Come with us.”
“Not interested,” the black cat hissed. “If big old St. Francis needs to see me, he knows where the Ashen Forest is. Nothing’s stopping him from visiting me.”
“You are right,” came a big, warm, booming voice. “Nothing is stopping me from seeing you. Come out now.”
Mourire poked his head out from under the tree branch. And in that moment, he saw St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of all animals in Collarworld.
“Okay,” said Mourire. “You see me. What did I do this time and who snitched on me?”
“Come on out,” said the saint. “We need to talk.”
Mourire expected St. Francis of Assisi to sit on a nearby rock during their conversation. But the saint remained standing and steadfast.
“I have word that you’ve been harboring escapees from the Rainy Barn. Is this true?”
Mourire said nothing.
“Several people have told me that you took in a Dalmatian puppy and a Siamese kitten some time ago, two animals who left their home in the Rainy Barn.”
A grunt from the black cat.
“This isn’t the first time, is it, Mourire?”
“You’ve been doing this for a while now.”
The black cat whipped his tail back and forth in an angry snap.
“You can be silent all you want. I know you’ve done it.”
Mourire slowly walked toward the saint. “So what if I did?”
“Answer the question. Did you do this?”
“Maybe I did. Again – what’s the big deal if I did?”
St. Francis of Assisi rubbed his chin softly. “I’ve received many reports about you doing this in the past. And that you took one of those escapees to compete in the Agility Games. Is that true?”
“Oh come on, what’s the big deal about that? Hickory had a great time and he even won an award – ”
At that moment, Mourire realized he had said too much.
“Come on, what’s the big crime? Hickory and Beacon were in trouble. I gave them shelter and caring. I even protected them from those filthy Guild of the Bloodline purists. And I don’t even have Beacon any more, she volunteered to be a companion to a human who crossed over some time ago. What, would you rather have had them rot in that stinking Rainy Barn for the rest of eternity?”
“I know this isn’t the first time you’ve been responsible for something like this.”
Mourire’s fur on his back tingled. “Right. Stave and Torch. They were feral cats, just like me. And they crossed over to Collarworld and they were ostracized and shunned. And I took them in and made them part of my family here in the Ashen Forest. And they lived with me for many years, until Torch moved on to work at Indigo Acres with that old drafthorse Cassius Marcellus, and Stave somehow became a member of the Seven Angels. Ha. A feral cat becoming a member of the Seven Angels. I bet that bothers you every single day. Some stinky feral takes on the highest honor an animal in Collarworld can ever achieve.”
“Do you have anything else you want to say?” asked the saint.
“Just this,” growled Mourire. “Hickory is my charge. He needs me to protect him and to teach him and to show him that he does have a purpose in this realm. He doesn’t need to live his life in misery and squalor with all the other overbirths if he doesn’t need to. And if any of those filthy Guild of the Bloodline racists have a problem with that, they should come to me instead of running to you to do their dirty work. Hickory belongs in the Ashen Forest with me. Flat out. Nobody’s taking him away. Not the Guild, not you, not anybody. I would take a flying leap off of Fred’s Chasm before I’d let anybody take Hickory away.”
The patron saint kneeled down in front of Mourire. His big hand gently stroked the black cat’s neck.
“That’s exactly what I hoped you would say.”
St. Francis continued to stroke Mourire’s neck, his soothing touch gently penetrating through the black cat’s stiff fur. “Young cat, you truly have achieved a purpose that very few animals in Collarworld can claim. You have sacrificed your own wishes and desires to take care of others. The feral cats Torch and Stave are now in better times because of you. And you provided empowerment and strength and love to two orphans who needed comfort and care. My child, you truly have achieved great goals.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Many have told me of your kindness and self-sacrifice. Lord Vincent of the Green Meadow couldn’t stop praising you when you helped him save Bate the terrier. Lady Bonnie, before she reunited with her master, praised you for entering Hickory into the Agility Games. And before he became a member of the Seven Angels, Stave told me about how he could never have reached that pinnacle had it not been for your guidance and teaching. My sweet child, your kindness and bravery have provided more goodness in Collarworld than anybody could ever imagine.”
“But I – I’m – look, I’m just a feral cat. Anybody could have done these deeds.”
“Yes,” St. Francis of Assisi replied, “anybody could have done those deeds. You, my child, did them without hesitation or conflict. You are truly a blessed leader and an honored master. You saved lives in Collarworld. And he who saves a single life … thus he has also saved the world entire.”
“Is that why you came here to the Ashen Forest?”
“Yes. I wanted to thank you personally for your kind acts and bravery. And I also wanted to let you know that no matter how you feel about things here in Collarworld, you are always welcome to visit the Meeting Place when new subjects cross over from the Living World, and you are always welcome to join us for other events. And bring young Hickory with you, I’m sure he’d appreciate it.”
And as St. Francis of Assisi continued to pet Mourire, the black cat felt something that he previously had not experienced.
He started to purr. A soft, rumbling purr that slowly resonated through his body like the wind through the leaves.
“I bless you, Lord Mourire, the true lord of the Ashen Forest.”
The patron saint then kissed Mourire on the forehead, and placed him on the ground. He then picked up the three Carissima Hamsters and walked out of the Ashen Forest.
And for several minutes, Mourire felt a relaxation and peace that he had never previously known.
Lord Mourire of the Ashen Forest… the name echoed throughout his mind and soul.
“Pfft,” the black cat thought. “I’m no lord. I’m just an old black feral cat.”
And then he remembered. He promised Hickory that he would take the Dalmatian puppy over to the Doghouse Estates so that the puppy could play with a blind dog named Charlie that afternoon.
So maybe I’m not a lord, Mourire mused.
But I’m doing the best I can for being an old black feral cat.