Krys walked silently beside Niamh, her eye lids weighed down by sleep. She let out yet another yawn just as they reached the door to the kitchens. Inside, Bevin was, as usual, yelling at those under her command to prepare the dinner without any faults. Niamh weaved around the working cooks until she had reached Bevin, who turned to her and smiled in a pained, on-the-edge-of-insanity way.
"Lady Niamh!" she exclaimed, "To what do I owe this pleasure?"
Niamh gestured next to her, her mouth opening to make the introduction, only to notice that that Krys was gone. "Wha-? Where'd she go?" She turned around, looking for the cat.
Bevin grabbed her shoulder and brought her mouth closer to her ear. "Is it happening again, my lady? Are you seeing her again?" She sounded so sad, and so sorry, that it made Niamh's throat tighten.
"No, no, I just need to find…" Niamh said, brushing the woman away. She spotted the lynx, staring open mouthed at a closed oven, from which emanated the juicy scent of meat. "There she is!"
Niamh half-trotted over to the Lynx, who barely noticed her arrival, the only indication being a slight swivel of her tall, tufted ears.
"Oh," Bevin said upon seeing the lynx. She looked relieved, immensely, as she stepped up to Krys.
"I take it you'll be joinin' us for dinner?" She asked, catching Krys' full attention at that last word.
"I believe so," Krys said, liking her lips. "I can already tell, your food is going to be absolutely delicious!" She turned to the oven, then back to Bevin, "I must ask, will there be any raw meat?"
"Raw? Of course not! I'm not about to let worms and diseases enter this family because I didn't cook the meat properly!" Bevin managed to keep herself from shouting.
"Oh, ok," Krys said, abashed.
"Listen," Bevin said, kneeling down to the cat, "while you eat here, all meals will be cooked. I understand if you'd rather have something… raw, but here, we need to cook the meat. Thoroughly."
Krys sighed and nodded. "All right, all right," she said, even more morose than before.
"Here, try this. You might like it better cooked." Bevin grabbed a strip of smoked ham and handed it to Krys. The lynx sniffed at it first, then lightly licked it. Then, her tongue flashed out again, and she grabbed the meat and chewed on it happily.
"It'f goof!" She exclaimed through the meat. She rolled it around in her mouth to savor it before swallowing. "Will there be more of that at… dinner?" She asked hopefully.
"If you request it, then it will be." Bevin said.
"Thank you, Bevin," Niamh said, ushering the cat out of the kitchen.
Bevin grabbed her shoulder again. "Will you be all right? Are you all right?" she asked in a low voice.
Niamh nodded. "I'm perfectly fine. It's been two years, Bevin. The need for worrying has ceased." Bevin released her, but didn't look any less concerned. Niamh tried to smile reassuringly, but the cook had already turned back to her duties of spoon waving and shouting. Krys suddenly bumped her leg with her head, then turned to leave the kitchen. As soon as the door was closed, Krys shook herself.
"It's so stuffy and hot in there, how do they stand it?" She exclaimed.
"They have to," Niamh shrugged, "it's their job."
"They couldn't ventilate the air or anything?"
"I'm sure they do, they have screened windows to let fresh air in while keeping bugs out." Niamh led the way back to the main part of the mansion, nodding her acknowledgment to servants as they passed. They soon came upon the foyer. "Would you like to meet Saorail?" she asked.
"So long as they're not in another hot, stuffy, steamy room." The cat grimaced.
"No, I think you'll much prefer her living quarters." Niamh assured her.
The two then left for the stables. The stable boys bowed to her and Krys. They seemed nervous around the cat, as Artiar was-and still is. I guess that with or without magical intellect, a fox is still less intimidating then a wild cat. Niamh thought to herself. They entered the stables, and Niamh wished she hadn't.
As soon as they caught scent of the big cat, the horses threw themselves into a frenzy. Hooves flashed and beat against stable doors, frightened whinnies filled the air, and the whites of all eyes could easily be seen. The stable boys couldn't do anything to calm the horses, lest they get struck. Only one horse didn't react in anything more than mild surprise, the one who had spent the most time with Cailli.
Saorail watched the other horses with what could have been distaste. Her ears laced back, and her nostrils flared, but she didn't fling herself against the walls of her stall or try to trample her door down. Niamh hurriedly rushed Krys back outside and away from the stables. "Perhaps you should wait out here, I'll go get Saorail."
"I'm not so sure I want to meet her with how all the others were acting…" Krys said. Even through her fur, Niamh could have sworn that the cat was pale.
"She won't act like that, I think her extended time with Cailli let her gain more intellect than the other horses could." Niamh said. Krys grimaced, but shrugged.
"If you say so…" she said, uncertainty thick in her voice.
Niamh returned to the stable. The horses had calmed a little- they had at least stopped trying to tear the stable down around them. Saroail's ears perked up at the sight of her master, and she nickered in anticipation. Niamh quickly groomed and saddled the mare, and mounted. She rode back to where Krys was waiting, reining in her mare a few feet away to be sure both horse and lynx would have a comfortable distance from which to observe each other.
Krys stared at the horse, and stretched her neck out as far is as she could, sniffing. Saorail sniffed at Krys as well, pulling against Niamh's hand. Rather than continue her hold on the horse, Niamh loosened her reins and nudged Saorail's sides slightly. The horse slowly approached the cat, sniffing sharply all the while.
Soon, the horse was standing almost directly over Krys. The two sniffed noses, then Krys, much like a barn cat, rubbed her head on Saorail's leg. Saorail, in turn, nuzzled the lynx's shoulder, the way should treat a fellow horse.
Krys walked over to Saorail's side to better see Niamh. "Yeah, she's ok." She said, grinning toothily.
"I'm glad you think so." Niamh said.
"She does have a lot of intelligence, like you said. She said it started to deteriorate after the fox died, but she was able to retain a lot of it." Krys yawned again. "So, what now?"
"Would you like to go for a run?" Niamh asked.
Krys made another face. "Eh, maybe later. I want to nap, really." She walked beneath Saorail's belly to Niamh's other side. "Can we go back inside? I want to sleep on the cushy-thing again."
"You can go ahead, I'm going to ride Saorail for a bit." Niamh said. "You can ask the servants to take you to my room so you can sleep on my bed. They've dealt with magic animals before."
Krys nodded, yawning again. "All right." She said, walking back to the front door.
Niamh gathered up her reins and turned Saorail away from the house, out to the field. She started off at a trot, cutting through the green grass. Once she reached the edge of the forest, she set off at a canter, following along the forests edge.
Suddenly, from the corner of her vision, she saw a flash of orange, yellow, and purple. She gasped and twisted in her saddle. She lost her balance and fell over the side, her left foot caught in the stirrup. Saorail stumbled and came to a sudden stop, her heavy hooves mere inches from Niamh's limbs. Niamh kicked at the stirrup, and after several attempts finally managed to free her foot. It was bruised, that much she could tell, along with several other parts of her body. Her head throbbed, and when she touched it, she could feel hot, sticky blood.
She lay back in the grass, wincing in pain. Saorail, her saddle in twisted disarray, snuffed at her arm and whickered. Niamh scratched the underside of her horse's head in reassurance.
"I just need to rest a bit…" she said. She lay an arm across her eyes, willing the tears to stop. She had already had two years to grieve. There was no reason for this.
Niamh slowly sat up, her head throbbing. She took deep, shuddering breaths, trying to get herself under control.
Saorail lay down beside her, despite her equipment. Niamh reached to her side and wrapped her fingers in Saorail's coarse mane, wishing she had someone –her father, Artiar, anyone- there.
"Well, that's a little odd looking." Niamh's head snapped up, and she found herself looking into the face of someone familiar, someone she had never expected to see again.
He dismounted from his tall black horse and offered a hand. Niamh hesitantly took it, and he pulled her up. She let go and stepped back as soon as she had regained her feet. Saorail stood and shook herself, causing the saddle to slide completely under her belly.
He smiled brightly, with a hint of concern over her obvious injuries, though relieved to see that she was, overall, ok. "Hello, Niamh." He said.
Niamh nodded and smiled uneasily. "Hello, Oisin."