The Princess and the Cat.
November was not the brightest star in the sky. She was well aware of this. In the many quiet moments she had while her companions were asleep, she told herself it didn't matter. She had other qualities and other people to compensate for what she lacked. Red was her strength and Perrault was her cunning. She wasn't quite sure about her new friend but she felt that the woman was steeped in knowledge, as painful as that knowing was.
November's power was that she knew people. Not in the sense of having social contacts but rather that she could meet a person and know what they were; i who /i they were. She could identify royalty and she always knew when a person had ill intent. It was what had kept her with Red, despite her fierce countenance. Perrault had been wooed out of necessity. His moods and motivations changed with the tide.
She could not shake the feeling that he was going to hurt her. Not out of malicious desire but simply because he wanted to see what would happen if he did. It probably had a great deal to do with the fact that he simply had fun when he was toying with something. Knowing this terrified her all the more.
When you have not slept for days and cannot sleep even then, you begin to hallucinate. Vaguely aware that her eyes were still open, November dreamed. He dreams were strange and painful. The colours were always so very bright. Flowers would engorge themselves and then start to split, their lifeblood oozing away until they fell heavy on the ground. She would try to move her hands but they felt as though they were encased in lead. November had not had an episode quite like this since leaving home. The last time her sister rescued her, shaking her into the room and giving back her autonomy. On her own there was nothing she could do but cry and wait it out.
Pain blossomed along her hand. She groaned but her trance only weakened and did not break. The colours began to swirl and a firm grip tilted her head. Suddenly she was looking at the dusty ground, as far away from that horrible garden as she could be. She almost sobbed in relief. She could feel a glove soft against her cheek. She hadn't been released yet. She pulled a weighty hand towards her face and found it bleeding.
"You were crying out." Answered Perrault to a question she had not asked. "I just wanted to bring you back to the land of the living."
His gentle caress filled her with dread even as his pur soothed her. He let her go before Red returned, the silver-handed lady close behind.
The next time Perrault touched her she was awake and it was night. The other women were asleep because no man could come near November with intent while they were watching. He was purring smugly and his lips were curled gently upward. He sat so close that their sides touched. November wilfully ignored the warnings that her head and her heart were sending. She let her head fall to the side and then she closed her eyes and felt peace.
The nightmare trances were coming more frequently. Initially she was afflicted less than once a week. Now she was approaching one a day. Red had already shaken her from three. She had been thrown back into the world by the touch of cold, metal hands on no less than six occasions. Perrault had not raised her once but whenever she did rise from her illusions, she could feel his eyes upon her. She was a stone's throw from madness. If she did not find the moon quickly, there would be nothing left of her but mannequin with dark-rimmed eyes.
The evening after her most recent attack, November fell again and despaired. This time she saw her sisters, laughing maniacally and slicing at their hair until they hit scalp.
At which point they kept cutting.
She screamed when something rough caressed her cheek. The sound was muffled by a hand. She let the tears come and realised that she had wandered away from their fire and had begun to see while standing up. A warm body was keeping hers upright. She gasped but not loudly enough that Red's sharp ears would hear her. Perrault rumbled into her ear and she relaxed in spite of herself. The vibrations seeped from her shoulders down to her feet and before she knew it they were both sitting. The cat kept his arms around her.
"Hush, hush," He whispered, "There's nothing harming you."
He left a silent yet at the end of his sentence. He held her for a long while and licked her cheek again, an unhurried, loving stroke from chin to temple. He was light enough that she did not bruise the next day.
"Why are you doing this?"
"Why does a cat do anything?"
"I don't know."
Perrault, for all that he looked like a man, was a cat. He toyed with his food. He valued his appearance above all other things save his life. He thought about people in terms of where they filled or disrupted his agenda. In many respects this made him exactly like a man.
Yet, he was a cat.
November had tried to be careful. She had kept herself close to the safety provided by the other women. Her own addled brain kept thwarting her but to her credit she did try. One night she found herself surrounded by trees and drifting into another scene entirely and she had to ask herself,
"Am I doing this on purpose?"
He was so warm against her back. So warm and gentle that she let herself cry. She allowed herself the luxury of big tears and bone-deep sobs. She finally despaired. The light that she had been longing for inside herself dwindled. The darkness of the moonless night took its place and mocked her. Perrault licked her cheek again, this time hitting the edge of her mouth. She looked at him and saw that he was not smiling. He butted their foreheads together and lapped the salt beneath her eyes.
"I am a cat." He said after their silence stretched overlong. "I am not a wolf."
November could not find the energy to even reply, so she just watched him.
"Even a dog that thinks it is a wolf will bite its master. A cat has no master but himself." He did smile then, yellow eyes flashing, "A cat has no need to prove its authority and a cat does not destroy something that is useful."
He moved backwards only to press his face into her neck. His arms were warm and they skirted around her own. He nudged the collar of her dress down her neck. Light fingers caressed her face. He bit down. She cried out. His teeth laved the bite marks. The moon did not come out and they continued down the road the next day.
Perrault touched her hand whenever Red was not looking and November saw less. Of this she was glad.