5

Deals with a Devil Cat

Thomas walked along trying to think of something to say to his talking cat. He had wished for someone to talk to on his long journey, but now that he knew he had someone he couldn't think of anything to say. He couldn't even think of how he was supposed to feel about the whole situation.

"You're a talkative one aren't you," the cat observed as he strode along on all fours beside Thomas.

"I don't even know what to say," Thomas admitted. "I've never met a talking cat before."

"There's a surprise," the cat retorted sarcastically.

"You're not making this any easier on me you know," Thomas groused at the feline.

"Oh," the cat said mockingly. "I'm sorry I guess your father willed you to me so I could take care of you."

"Sorry," Thomas said, though he wasn't sure what he was apologizing for. "It's just that what you said earlier . . ."

"Forget about it," the cat told him. "Until you're ready we're going to just focus on figuring out where you need to go and how to get there."

After that last comment both the cat and Thomas fell into a somber silence only broken by Thomas feet on the hard-packed road. They passed several people in the road and when they did the cat acted just like a normal cat did. Thomas wanted to scream at any and everyone passing that his cat spoke to him, but was wise enough to hold his tongue about it.

"When we get into town I would like to ask you for a favor," the cat said, politely for once.

"Oh really," Thomas thought the cat's deference was interesting turn of events. "And what is that?"

"I know you have little in money but I would ask you to get some things for me," the cat told him.

"And what is that?" Thomas asked in mock pleasure, making a jab at the cat where he could. "Some fish perhaps? Or maybe you would like me to get a silver brush for your fine coat of fur."

"No need to be snooty about it," the cat huffed. "Though all those things sound tempting, but they're not at all what I had in mind. I was wondering if you could procure me some boots and perhaps a hat to top it off."

"What would a cat do with a pair of boots and a hat?" Thomas asked, wondering what the cat had in mind.

"That is none of your concern," the cat sniffed. "If I wanted to tell you I already would have."

"You're awful secretive for someone who wants me to buy him something," Thomas observed.

"I leave it up to you," the cat stuck his tail up in the air and walked haughtily away.

Thomas stared after the feline. What a strange creature it was. It had kept silent to him for all these years now and suddenly it spoke to him as if it had been doing so all along. Cats were proud creatures and Thomas could see so now as the calico marched on in front of him.

He wondered what a cat wanted with boots and a hat. Surely it didn't think that it could pass as human when it stood it was no taller than a toddler. What sort of toddler had a long black tail and talked with such eloquence and acidic wit? Thomas pulled out the purse that contained the three hundred gold that his father had left him. It was quite heavy. What would a few gold pieces be?

"I don't suppose you're going to town walking on your hind legs like that?" Thomas called out.

"Of course not," the cat called back, still refusing to look at him. "You're going to carry me."

"What?" Thomas was incredulous. First it insulted him, and then it wanted his money, now it wanted him to carry it about like some sort of nobility. "Why would I want to do that?"

"Remember," the cat reminded. "Your future depends on me. Besides, I don't want have to bother with the dogs and such."

"I see," Thomas glared at the cat, but his father had seemed to trust it. Was it some sort of con artist or did it really care for his future? Then again, if all it was going to get out of this ordeal was a ride and some pieces of clothing than it had wasted so many years of its rather short lifespan.

"I think you must take after your mother," the cat decided.

"Why is that?" Thomas was sure the cat had never met his mother. He remembered the night when the cat had entered into their lives, or rather the following morning.

"Because," the cat speculated. "Your father was so much more willing to help and much more trusting."

"I wouldn't know," Thomas wasn't sure he liked the cat, even if his father had. It shouldn't talk about his mother, it had never known her.

"Sorry," the cat actually sounded contrite. "I didn't mean anything about your mom."

"That's okay," Thomas lied.

"No," the cat said. "I mean it."

"Don't worry about it," Thomas reassured, though he didn't really mean it. His mother had always been a sore spot for him.

"Now," the cat ordered. "Pick me up, we're getting close."

Thomas entered the small town, the calico cat cradled firmly on his forearm. Every once in a while he would scratch it behind its ears. No one really noticed them as anything out of the ordinary.

Thomas picked his way through the streets, not wanting his only boots to get muddy this early on in the journey. He kept his eyes opened for any cobblers or clothing vendors. He was half tempted to get the cat a lady's hat, but not only were they twice as expensive, but Thomas feared the retribution it would inevitably bring.

He had been through the town many times before, but usually his father's servants had done his shopping for him. Thomas was used to looking for friends to make or some kind of tasty new treat. All sorts of signs hung brightly along the street, trying desperately to grab his attention.

The cat looked up at him, his eyes clearly stating he was already bored of being carried. Thomas knew he had better hurry and find a shop or the cat would either abandon him or scratch him. He spotted a wooden sign swinging ever so slightly in the breeze.

Thomas rushed toward the shop and dove through the door. When he had entered the smells of leather and polishes assailed his nostrils. He liked the smell, but from the way the cat sneezed it didn't.

"How can I help you fine sir?" a kindly crackling voice interrupted Thomas' thoughts.

"I was looking for some fine boots," Thomas smiled at an old man that appeared from the shadows of the shop. The old man's face looked like shoe leather itself, tough and brown. He was old and stooped and when the shopkeeper smiled he revealed several missing teeth.

"Let's get your feet out of those old traveling boots and I'll measure them," the old man proffered a hand.

"No," Thomas smiled at his own mistake. "I am looking for some fine boots for my young nephew. He has just begun to walk."

"Ah," the old man smiled back. "I see. Would you happen to know the size of his shoe?"

"I am sorry to say that I do not," Thomas shook his head. He hated lying to the old man, but he wasn't about to tell the old man that he was buying a pair of boots for his calico cat.

"What if I show you some samples and you decide which one is the closest to his size?" the shopkeeper asked.

"That sounds splendid," Thomas nodded agreeably. He wondered how they were going to solve the dilemma about the cat's shoe size. He looked down at the cat and it nodded at him. It was perhaps the strangest sight that Thomas had ever seen beside the sight of the cat actually speaking to him.

"If you'll wait one moment I'll be right back," the old man held up a finger and waggled it. Thomas nodded and the old man dashed past the only counter in the room and a large display of leather shoes.

"What size do you wear?" Thomas muttered at the cat once he was sure the old man was out of hearing distance.

"The smallest size you can find," the cat growled back, almost making it sound like a mournful meow.

"Great," Thomas rolled his eyes.

"Did you say something?" the old man hobbled into the room, laden with boots of every type.

"Sorry," Thomas said. "I was remembering something I forgot to do while I was in town," Thomas lied.

"That's quite alright," the man smiled at him as he quickly set the boots down so that they could be displayed for Thomas. "No need to ever apologize to me. I'm just here to serve."

"Of course," Thomas didn't know what to say to the old man. He had never lied to an adult before and now everything this man had heard from him was a lie. Thomas wondered if the cat was a bad influence.

As Thomas pretended to eye the boots, really waiting for the cat to choose a pair, the old man spoke with him, "If I may be so bold," the old man said. "What was it that you forgot?"

"I needed to get a hat," Thomas told him. "Not one for myself, but one for a little girl."

"Ah," the old man nodded knowingly. "If you don't mind me making a suggestion I know of a wonderful place just down the street."

Thomas took a moment to recover from the unseen clawing he had received when he said 'girl', "Of course not. I am always open to suggestions. I rarely come to this small town."

"There is a hat shop only seven shops down. Nesbit hats, they have hats of all types for young ones," old man told him. Finally the cat nodded practically invisibly at a small pair of black boots.

"What about that pair right there?" Thomas said, taking the suggestion. "They look perfect."

"They are well built," the shoemaker told him. "That will be five gold pieces."

Thomas wanted to cry out at the price of just a pair of boots. Surely children's boots weren't that expensive. Instead he just nodded slowly. "I'll take them. No need to wrap them."

The old man nodded and held out one hand as he used the other to gather up all the other boots. Thomas pulled out his purse that he had tucked away behind his belt so that no one could see it. Trying not to reveal exactly how much was actually in it he handed the man the coins.

Before the old man could say anything more Thomas scooped up the boots and rushed out of the store. After spending so much on children's boots he was afraid to think about what he was going to throw away on a hat.

"You had better have a good reason to be getting these things," Thomas growled lowly as he looked down at the cat. It blinked up at him innocently. "This money is all have for the rest of my life."

"That and me," the cat purred at him. Thomas could tell by its voice that it was offended.

"We're going to get you your hat and then we are leaving," Thomas told the cat. "The price of those boots was enough to buy us a night and meal at an inn." He kept glancing about to make sure that no one saw him talking to his feline like a mad man. Maybe that is what he was.

"You have enough money to spend on an inn here," the cat told him. "After all I am going to make you rich with these things."

"With a pair of children's boots and a hat?" Thomas asked doubtfully. "How are you going to accomplish that?"

"You'll see," the cat told him, disguising his sentence as a meow.

"Let's strike a bargain," Thomas said, stopping in the street for he neared the hat shop and didn't want to be caught talking to his cat in there. "If I buy you these things then you catch supper tonight."

"Fine," the cat sniffed.

"Alright," Thomas nodded his head, at least was sure to get something out of this deal.

They entered the hat shop. The colors inside practically blinded him with their brilliance for a brief moment. These were hats bought by courtiers and extravagant ladies with more money than sense.

"Good evening sir," a lady with a large fake smile approached Thomas. She was showing far too many teeth, it made Thomas uneasy. "How is it that I will be able to assist you today?"

"I," Thomas stammered, he couldn't get his eyes off her large shiny teeth. "I'm looking for a hat."

"Why yes," the woman looked at him expectantly. Of course he was looking for a hat, he was in a hat shop, and Thomas wanted to kick himself.

"I'm looking for a hat for a fine young gentleman," Thomas told the creepy smile lady.

"And how old is this fine young gentleman?" the woman asked, sidling even closer her large smile still plastered across her face. Thomas fought his desire to turn and run.

"He's not even able to walk yet," Thomas told her. "But his portrait is going to be painted and I would like for him to have a hat."

"I see," the woman smiled even larger, Thomas swallowed hard. Don't run, Thomas thought. Potraits were something that only rich families did, especially with young children, she would treat him well.

"I think we want a black," at this the cat extended his claws and Thomas had to fight not to flinch. "I mean a blue hat."

"Let me just check what I have in the back," Woman was somehow able to speak without breaking her horrid smile.

"Of course," Thomas told her. He waited as she backed away from him, not wanting to show him her back, it was considered rude to do so to nobility. He wanted to smirk as she did so, but instead put on a bored air.

"She's going to rob you blind," the cat growled lightly.

"I'm not scared of her," Thomas told the cat as quietly as he could manage.

"Yes you are, and I mean she is going to overcharge you," the cat spoke back defiantly.

Thomas looked up as the woman entered once again into the room carrying a large box. "I think I have found just the hat you seek."

"Wonderful," Thomas smiled back.

"It is made of the finest suede material and sewn by a master craftsman," the woman told him without breaking her smile. "As you can see it is adorned with a peacock feather."

"It looks superb," Thomas agreed.

"That will be just ten gold pieces," the woman told him, still baring her unnerving smile.

Thomas flinched inwardly, the cat had been right, she was robbing him. He didn't want to appear overly concerned about the price so instead of saying anything he just dug into his purse and pulled out the ten gold pieces.

"Would you like that boxed, sire?" she asked.

"No," Thomas just wanted to get away from her. "I'll take it just as it is, thank you very much."

"Of course," the woman bowed her head ever so slightly. "Thank you for honoring us with your presence."

Thomas wondered who else she was speaking of when she said "us", but he didn't want to stick around long enough to figure it out. With hat in hand he quickly exited the shop.

"I cannot believe that I let that woman cheat me so badly," Thomas breathed once he was on his way down the street.

"It's because you fear her," the cat purred at him. It sounded like it was enjoying itself immensely.

"I got you the things you need, now let's get out of here as agreed," Thomas grumbled.

"I never agreed to anything," the cat interjected. "How about this, if you get us a hotel room, I'll get us dinner."

Thomas heard his stomach growling, and sighed. He never was good at saying no to people or cats evidently for that matter. "Fine, but I don't want you to steal from anyone."

"I would never steal," the cat sounded truly offended. "You obviously don't know me very well."

"Well, up until a little while ago I thought you were a normal meowing cat," Thomas defended.

"I suppose that is true," the cat admitted.

"I'll get us an inn and you get us both something to eat," Thomas agreed. He wanted to add in to make sure that the food was edible for a human, but didn't want to offend the cat any further.