The Striped Moggie

A Dragon Age tale by Lywinis

"Hush, now," Sebastian said, his voice a murmur in the shadows of the kitchen. The ten-year-old kept a hand on his wriggling sporran as he glanced about him. He crept toward the wooden table, intent on the roasted goose sitting there. The bird was already sliced, waiting to go to table, and Sebastian darted forward to snatch the crispy, undesirable bits that were set to be fed to the hounds. He bundled them in a small loaf of bread, hollowed out so that the grease would be sopped up. Several apples and a small mince pie joined his cache as well as a small jug of cold cider, and he nipped out the kitchen door before the cook was any the wiser.

He juggled the food as he shuffled past guards, servants and advisors alike, until the crowd thinned and he made his way to the family quarters of Arrow's Rest and out the back into the private gardens. The midday sun was warm, but not warm enough to warrant a swim, and he instead picked his way through the hedges to his favorite spot, a stone bench set under the spreading branches of a young apple tree.

Satisfied that he would not be bothered, he settled his haul on the stone of the bench and opened the sporran he wore on his belt. A gift from his brother, a hand me down, and far too large for him, but he wore it with his ceremonial kilt anyway, much to his mother's dismay. Now, though, it had come in handy.

A pair of fuzzy ears peeked out first, striped and brown. A pair of blue eyes, not as bright as his but still inquisitive, followed. The kitten miaowed and squirmed in the oversized pouch. Sebastian lifted the moggie and placed her on the ground next to the bench before sitting tailor-style on the ground next to her.

She was on him in an instant, mewling and butting her head against him, demanding that she be fed. He giggled and stroked his fingers through her soft fur, admiring her fine grey-striped coat and the white of her socks and muzzle. She mewed again and tried to climb his shirt; he picked her up and sat her on the ground next to him.

"No, miss, if you're going to be the companion to a prince, you're going to have to learn how to behave," he said. She blinked at him, and he swore that she understood, because she settled on her haunches and curled her striped tail over her feet like a proper lady. He smiled and broke open the loaf of bread he had nicked, fishing out the good bits of meat for her. The goose was crispy, a little scorched, but still good, and he held out a piece of the meat to her.

She gobbled what he offered, her small teeth snapping short of his fingers. She licked her chops and waited for another piece, gobbling this one as well. He fed her like this until the meat was gone, and she even gulped down a few bites of bread soaked in goosefat before cleaning her whiskers and watching him eat the rest with her pale blue eyes. He devoured what was left, the pie vanishing and the little prince gnawing the crust of bread between gulps of cider. The apples were next, pips and all, and he sat back with a contented sigh while brushing crumbs from his shirt.

The kitten judged it safe again, and Sebastian felt the warmth of a small, furry body climb into his lap. Dirty fingers stroked through the kitten's fur, and she purred, curling into a ball in his lap as she dozed in the sun. The prickle of small, sharp claws became a comfort instead of a minor irritant over time, and he looked out over the garden.

The crunch of footsteps along the crushed-shell path woke him. He wasn't sure when he'd fallen asleep, but the sun had lulled him through the waving branches of the young apple tree. The kitten was still there, curled atop his knee. He looked around, and saw the familiar silhouette of his mother through the hedges.

His blood ran cold. If his mum was looking for him, he must be in big trouble. He scrunched down and tried to make himself smaller, but she always knew where to find him. She turned the corner and spotted him; her eyes tightened at the corners and her elegant mouth pinched down in a frown. He flinched.

"Why did you not come to lunch?" she asked. He knew it was not so much a question as a verbal reminder of how much of a disappointment he was to her sometimes. He swallowed.

"I wanted to play outside today," he said. He was in for a silver already, he supposed. Might as well go for a sovereign. "It's boring inside all day. I don't like lessons."

"You must do your lessons, Sebastian," his mother replied. "Your education as a prince is important."

Fat chance, he thought. Jacob and Nicholas are the ones who matter as princes. What good am I in the library poring through tomes written long before I was born? I'll never be important enough to use it.

"But, Mother," he said, his hands closing about the kitten's middle in a desperate need to cling to something. The moggie chirped, struggling to be put down. His mother looked down into his lap and saw the kitten, and he froze.

"Sebastian, what is that?" She did not point, but she might as well have. She looked at the kitten much like how she looked at him.

"My kitten," he said, his jaw set and stubborn. "I found her."

"Absolutely not," she said. "You cannot have that filthy thing in the house. I'll call the gardener at once to take it away."

"No!" he said. He scrambled to his feet, his mother's shocked expression enough to spur him into action. He cradled the kitten against his thin chest. "She's mine. Her name is Threnody. I found her. No one else wanted her, so I told her I would take care of her."

Her lips tightened. "I said no, Sebastian."

He felt the tears welling up, and willed himself not to cry with frustration. He could feel the tears, hot and prickling at his eyelids. He had promised the kitten he would look after her. He couldn't break his promise.

"Mother," he said, the edge of desperation in his voice shameful.

"Roark?" she called, looking over her shoulder for the burly young gardener. "Roark, where are you?"

His eyes darted about, looking for an escape route, but she blocked the only path away from the bench. If he tried to wriggle through the hedges she would catch him for sure. The kitten mewed again, back paws kicking as she tried to hop down.

"Right here, Highness," said Roark, emerging from the other side of the garden wall. He held his shovel braced over his shoulder, and his hands were grimy from digging behind the western wall. He ducked his head in reverence to Sebastian's mother, dwarfing the woman with his huge height.

"Roark, my son has found a kitten somewhere. Please take it out of the castle."

Sebastian shook his head, auburn locks swinging into his eyes as Roark approached him. The man was huge, but he knelt in front of the little prince with understanding in his face.

"Don't worry, lad," Roark said, his voice a low conspiratorial rumble in his chest. "I'll watch out for the mite. We'll find her a good home."

The tears fell then, Sebastian unable to stop them. Roark took the kitten from him, and Sebastian scrubbed his shirtsleeve over his eyes, turning away from them both.

"Thank you, Roark. Sebastian, come get washed up. You must return to your lessons." His mother's tone brooked no argument, and he trudged after her, unwilling to look back at his first of many broken promises.

"And you took the kitten away?" Androu Vael leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers together. Meghan Vael pursed her lips and nodded as she continued her stitching. Gelis glanced up from his reading, but paid no real mind to the conversation. Androu frowned. His son had ever been negligent of his youngest grandchild in particular, but had always left the rearing to Meghan. It was something the aging Prince of Starkhaven could never understand.

"The thing was filthy, ridden with fleas, and I won't have it in my household." She stabbed the needle into the cloth, pulling it through with a jerk. "I had the gardener dispose of it."

Androu pressed his lips together. He'd seen Roark with the kitten earlier; when asked, the gardener admitted it had been confiscated from his grandson. The animal was now living in the kitchen, learning to earn its keep by mousing. It wouldn't get fat and lazy unless Cook spoiled it, and Androu doubted the woman would. She hadn't spoiled anything in her entire life, least of all animals who begged for scraps.

"And you didn't consider how Sebastian felt about it?" he asked. "From what you've told me, he was very attached in just a short time."

"You know how Sebastian is," she said. She shrugged. "He will get over it in a few days."

"And you have forgotten that he is still a child," he said. "He could do with companionship other than a tutor."

"Then he can play with his brothers," she sniffed, and the rime on her tone indicated that the conversation was over as far as she was concerned. Androu scowled.

"His brothers are striplings, readying themselves for combat training," he said. "Anything you have them do will leave Sebastian feeling left out and alone. He's much younger than his siblings."

Meghan sniffed again. "It was just a stray cat. He won't remember her in a few days, much less a week from now."

Androu rose. "You might reconsider how you treat him before he grows up to make you regret it."

With that, the aging Prince went to go and comfort his grandson.

Sebastian and Celeste picked their way through Arrow's Rest, seeking the kitchen. It had been a long battle to retake it, and the first order of business was to see to the stores. The mercenaries would be hungry; their freedom fighters, starving. Sebastian intended on opening his supplies to all as a temporary reprieve.

Goran Vael's burning of several hundred acres of good grain would cripple the kingdom for years to come. He was grateful for Elaine and Alistair's aid - he knew there were foodstuffs moving up the Minanter as fast as they could go on the slow and wallowing flatboat barges, thanks to Zevran's coercion of the Antivan merchant princes. Sebastian did not want to think of how they were coerced, but he was learning to look past the hows and whys, so long as his people did not go hungry.

The kitchen was wide and spacious, running the length of the great hall, with many hooks and spits for cooking. The hearths were long cold, ashes and cinders gathered in the corners. Their siege of the castle had deprived Goran of firewood for many months. Sebastian frowned as he recalled the hacked apart furniture in the great hall. They had been burning their creature comforts for warmth, one chair at a time.

Still, the kitchen was well-lit for the noonday, and he opened the side doors to let in more sunshine. Celeste bustled through the space behind him, and he could hear the opening and closing of cabinet doors as she explored.

"The larder is in the back," he called, looking out into what had once been the garden. It was overgrown and weedy now, the flora run amok in wild abandon. He could make out the gnarled branches of his favorite apple tree, heavy with fruit, and for that, at least, he was grateful. It wasn't much, but it was a start.

"Oh! Hello!" Celeste said, and Sebastian turned around. The mage was crouched on her haunches, her fingers outstretched to the darkened larder. She made a clicking noise with her tongue, as if summoning Cambert. "You're a pretty thing, aren't you?"

Sebastian joined her, crouching down as well. "What is it?"

"Looks like a cat back there," she said. "With all the fighting, it must have hidden in here for safety."

Sebastian peered into the shadowed room, and could just make out the glint of eyes in the back of the shelving. He knelt in the dust of the kitchen floor, his hands on his knees.

"Here, puss puss puss," he called, his voice low and non-threatening. Celeste gave him room, backing away so the animal wouldn't feel cornered. There was a chirruping meow from the larder, and the glint of eyes resolved themselves into pale blue ones set in a striped head, with a white muzzle and feet. The cat made a beeline for Sebastian, twining her body around his hand as he sat, dumbfounded.

A striped moggie, complete with a chunk torn out of her ear from a fight. It couldn't be, she'd be far older than this, older than any cat would have been known to live. Still, the resemblance was uncanny. Perhaps a daughter?

"Seems like she knows you," Celeste said, stroking the sleek, striped head. The cat purred and greeted Celeste with an affectionate headbutt. She laughed and lifted the cat into her lap. "Very fat and happy. Likely, she was hunting mice and voles in the garden this whole time. No starvation for a good mouser, eh, puss?"

She looked up, smiling at Sebastian, and then sobered as she saw the look on his face. "Sebastian, is everything all right?"

He started, coming back to himself. "Yes, everything's fine. It's just not every day you come across a cat still mousing in the garden. I thought all the inhabitants were exiled or killed by now."

"Looks like she missed the axe," she said, and the cat began kneading her lap. "What should we call her?"

"Threnody," he said without thinking. She raised an eyebrow. "She just reminds me of someone I used to know, that's all."

A/N: *gasp* Lywinis has done more Dragon Age fic? Hell must have frozen over. I'm kidding, of course. Hope you enjoy a little bit of headcanon I've had kicking about for the last few days. As always, Constant Readers, reviews are appreciated, but not necessary.