"As My Lady Sleeps"
By Coral Rosario
I am the last prince of a forgotten citadel. On this frosty evening, I awake and, but for the slumbering maiden whose warm, soft belly I have made my bed, I would find myself once again alone. The sunlight that guards the patch where I lie curled has long departed, leaving the falling snow to collect on the windowsill and cold, marbled floor. With a wide yawn, velvet mouth behind thorn-like teeth exposed, tongue tasting the chill in the air, I stretch, arching head to hind with feline luxury. The fallen gray fur of my coat, grown heavy with down due to this never-ending winter, intertwines with the ermine lining of my lady’s mantle. The mantle conceals the ever-youthful curves of her form, blanketed like a snowy hillside by some thoughtful, royal soul long passed.
My lady is the most accommodating hostess, never sweeping me away as I scratch and knead her thick cloak to arrange my cradle. I press my padded paws into her borrowed mantle, shining and blue like bog sage veiled in hoar frost, and the act recalls memories of my mother’s milk. I suckle, wetting the fabric, but I know my lady won’t mind. I have even played with her long, golden, plaited locks, batting at the motionless end when it irked me. Through all my play, my comings and goings, she sleeps on.
As I lap at my paws, I listen. Despite the once active forms occupying the castle spaces, there persists a vacant silence. Beyond the scurry of fieldmice, no sound has encroached on the stillness in untold years, but I remain vigilant – it is my nature. I cannot rely on the glazed eyes of the guards standing at doors and in halls, layers of dust adorning their broad shoulders. The idle maids, crisp, shrunken leaves huddled about their feet, neglect my mane, so I must keep it myself. The kitchen boy sits on stool, head in hand, before a long-dead fire, and no longer brings me vittles. The fieldmice do, for now. I am master of myself and my domain.
I pad up and down my lady’s body, stopping finally at the swell of her breast. Turning once, twice, and three times, I gather and knead the snow-white ermine of the collar that swaddles her throat. I sit, watching her restful, smooth face, her lips pink as the bottoms of my paws, listening to the faintest sound of deep sleep. I rest my head on my paws and blink, once and twice, deciding to put off my nightly rounds, for a while at least. The moonlight has resumed its nightly post at my lady’s feet, and I, with an occasional lick at her chin, keep watch through this winter’s night.