Bonnie followed the king in silence as he led her downstairs and into the throne room. She had never entered the room, seeing as her work never required her to. At the same time she had been curious about the large foreboding room, she had been too intimidated by the enormous guard always standing nearby the entrance. Bonnie felt her heart sink as she spied that very same guard, and continued to follow the king who carelessly approached the man. The guard was very tall and muscular, he had tanned brown skin. His hair was the colour of dirt, framing his face to rest on his shoulders. He had hard eyes and stubble on his chin. Up close, Bonnie had to admit he was almost handsome.
“Jack,” the king greeted casually. “How many left?”
“I’m down to two, sire.”
That was when Bonnie noticed the tiny kitten squirming in the guard’s hands. The enormity of him only made the kitten appear more fragile and weak, and its tiny little eyes blinked over at her in fear.
“You’re a trained killer, Jack” the king said. “And yet here I have you chasing down kittens all over the castle, it’s a waste.”
“The children tried to help, sire” the guard smiled. “But they found hiding the kittens from me was more amusing.”
The king sniggered, “Sounds like my lot.” He gestured to Bonnie, “I’ve borrowed this girl to aid you, keep her busy a while would you?”
“Yes, sire” the guard nodded.
The king turned and stalked away, leaving Bonnie standing alone. She glanced around the throne room, noting to the two thrones that sat atop a dais at the far end of the room. There were two small hallways branching off either side of the room, referred to as the ‘wings’ where guardsmen spent their days watching over the ceremonies within. Bonnie watched the guard whose name was ‘Jack’ lower his captive kitten to the ground.
“We’re catching the kittens?” She asked timidly, unsure of her task.
“And drowning them,” the guard added.
Bonnie gasped, “Surely not? The king said he has a fondness for cats…”
“And that’s why we’re in this mess in the first place,” the guard winked at her. “My name is Jacksyn, your sister Mave mentioned you to me.”
He nodded, “As a guard I’m not expected to socialise with the help, but my wife is employed as a maidservant for another noble family in Marlowe. And my daughter is being trained by the Lady Mirielle, so I saw no harm in befriending the kitchen girls.”
Bonnie wanted to comment, she wanted to ask more about her sister, she wanted to say it wasn’t that uncommon for guards to become acquainted with servants, especially kitchen girls. For a moment she wondered just how well this man knew her sister, and if they were intimate, did her sister know he had a wife? All these things she wanted to say, she pushed aside.
“There are only two kittens left? To be killed?” She asked.
Jack nodded, “If they were dogs then the king might find a use for them.” He told her, “But these are the result of Ratty, the kitchen cat and Caroline, the king’s own pet. And although they might be cute and cuddly, cats have little practical use.”
Bonnie nodded that she understood, and then frowned “Ratty the kitchen cat?”
“He catches rats.”
Bonnie hid her smile from him, and went to scoop up one of the kittens running around their feet. She lifted the tiny creature high, “It’s a girl.” She informed Jack, “How are you going to kill her?”
She could feel his eyes on her, and heard him sigh. “A bucket,” he said.
“A bucket,” she repeated, staring into the tiny eyes of the kitten.
He seemed to recognise her displeasure, “Despite my profession, I don’t enjoy killing.” He smiled, “Would you like to keep one?”
“How could I?” Bonnie asked.
“I don’t think the king will notice one extra mouser around here,” he answered.
When she turned to him, she felt like she had new eyes. He looked at her with sincerity, and she felt that he was genuinely sorry for inflicting death on such tiny, defenceless animals. Bonnie understood why it was necessary to kill the kittens; she knew that it was a common occurrence in most households. But she had never accepted the brutality of taking the life of another living being, in a way she supposed it reminded her of how easily her own life had been taken from her – by the lack of luck, she had been born into a life of servitude.
Bonnie turned back to the guard, “Thank you.”
She knew that he would be lying to his king; she understood that if the kitten was found in her possession she would be punished. And she also knew that the tiny, wriggling kitten in her arms was not lacking in luck anymore.