Of Children and Furry Foundlings
It is impossible to keep a straight face in the presence of one or more kittens.
- Cynthia E. Varnado
Author's note: This was the result from the following prompts on my Tumblr: Valmiro and Quina as kids, and some kittens. Bonus points for Arisen.
If anyone were to ask the villagers what Valmiro was doing, they would likely just shrug and say that the little eight-year-old boy was just wandering around with his head in the clouds again. Valmiro himself would like to differ – well, he would have, if he knew what the villagers said about him – for he was actually going to do some Important Things that adults simply could not understand since they were simply boring and silly adults, like observing the baby birds in the nest up in that tree near—
Oh, wait. He frowned. After yesterday's incident where getting up the tree was much easier than getting down, Merin had firmly told him that there would be no more tree-climbing.
(Well, at least for a day or two. He was sure that Merin would have forgotten by then and would rescue him again should he still have problems climbing down.)
Never mind, he told himself, there were still plenty of things to do that did not involve climbing trees, scampering up the rocky cliffs, wading in the sea or whatever else that made his elders panic for some reason. (Adults were so ridiculous sometimes!) Maybe he should see if there were insects at the village chapel grounds, or if some new flowers had bloomed at the chapel graveyard. He would not hurt the insects, but he would like to have some new dried and pressed flowers for his collection.
He had just reached the chapel grounds when he noticed that Quina was sitting cross-legged in a shady corner, staring intently at a small wooden box, which seemed to be making the strangest high-pitched noises. "Quina!" he called out.
She looked up, smiled and waved for him to come join her. "Valmiro, come look!" she said excitedly.
"Oh!" he gasped in delight when he saw what was in the box. "Baby cats!" he exclaimed, and promptly sat next to her.
"They're called kittens, silly," she said as she gingerly petted one tiny feline with a finger. There were three of them in the box; two brown tabbies, and a tiny ginger tabby that seemed to be the runt of the litter, as it was smaller compared to its two siblings. It was just as noisy as the rest, though.
"Where did you find the baby cats?" he asked, as he gently poked the ginger one in its belly. It hissed at him and tried to claw his finger, but ended up clumsily flopping on its back and flailing its paws about.
"I think Inez found them somewhere. She asked me to watch over them for a little while until she could find some people who would have them."
He gasped. That was one dish he had not expected to be served at the village alehouse. "People eat baby cats?"
"No, silly! She means that she's trying to find someone to keep the kittens and take care of them."
"Oh." He turned his attention back to the tiny ginger tabby, which was currently gnawing on his finger. It did not hurt much, but the tabby looked so determined at it, he let the bad-tempered little thing go on gnawing out of politeness. Then a rather curious possibility ran through his mind.
"What if they're not baby cats? What if they're baby chimeras?"
It was possible. Chimeras are supposed to be bad-tempered, and the little creature trying to eat his finger was doing rather well at it.
"They're kittens," she said firmly in an all-knowing tone that all girls her age seemed to use whenever they were around boys. "Chimeras have three heads."
Valmiro was forced to admit that she was right. Chief Adaro and some of the other elders had told him that chimeras not only had a big cat-head, it also had a snake-head and another head of those silly things with horns that make 'meeh eeeh' noises a lot. Still…
"What if the other two heads just haven't grown yet?"
She did not seem too sure after that, but still insisted, "They're not chimeras. They're kittens. So there."
'So there' was not really a convincing argument, so he looked around if anyone else could offer a different opinion. "Hey cos!" he said when he saw Minnow approaching. Actually, he was not even sure if the other boy's name was Minnow, but that was what all the adults called him. However, adults were rather silly sometimes, so Valmiro decided that calling the other boy 'cos' was more appropriate.
Besides, Minnow – or whatever his name was – frequently got into fights with some of the older boys who liked to tease him and Quina, and Valmiro thought it would better to play it safe, just in case that was not his name after all.
"What have you got there? Hey, kittens!"
Quina gave Valmiro a smug look. "See, kittens."
"I still think they could be baby chimeras instead of baby cats."
Minnow frowned. "What do you call baby chimeras anyway?"
The question left them pondering in silence for quite a while. Valmiro tried to remember if anyone had told him what a baby chimera was called. When he came up with nothing, he decided that it was up to him to decide on the appropriate term. Chimera cub? No, too plain. Baby chimeras should have a special name of their own. Chimeraling? Chimetten? Chimeralet?
He was so absorbed in his thoughts that he failed to notice that Quina had been waving her hand in front of his face for a while now, and only came to his senses when the other boy poked him in the ribs. "What?" he asked.
"I said," Quina repeated rather patiently, "maybe we could keep them."
He brightened. Of course! What better way to see if they were baby chimeras or baby cats? And if they were the former, then he could see when the other two heads would grow. "That's a good idea!"
"We'll have to ask permission first—"
"I'll get Merin to find a box to keep them in," Valmiro said excitedly, "oh, and I'm sure Benita won't mind giving me some of those fish eyes and other scraps to feed them with."
"Are you even listening to me?" Quina said, and then sighed. Minnow merely shrugged and decided that his time was better spent petting the tiny felines.
"But maybe raising three baby chimeras at one time is not a good idea," Valmiro said. "There won't be enough room."
"They're kittens," Quina and Minnow chorused.
"Maybe we can take one each?" he suggested. His two friends looked at each other, and then nodded.
"We still have to ask permission from Uncle Adaro first," Minnow said.
"Then it's settled! I want that brown baby chimera," Valmiro announced, and carefully picked up one of the brown tabbies by the scruff of its neck before cradling it carefully in his arms. It looked startled at first, but quickly calmed and soon was purring softly in content. "Quina, you can take the other brown one. Minnow, you take the ginger one."
"They're kittens," Quina repeated, but Valmiro missed her remark.
"How come I have to take the ginger one?" Minnow said, his tone slightly sulky.
"Because it looks just like you?" he answered, then winced when Minnow's eyes widened slightly before the other boy made a small snuffling sound. He had forgotten that the older boys often mercilessly teased Minnow over his different colouring, his paler skin and wheat-coloured hair a stark contrast to the majority of the villagers, who had tanned skin and dark hair.
Minnow also frequently fought back when teased.
Valmiro braced himself for the inevitable punch.
"He means that the ginger kitten's the most adorable one," Quina hastily intervened, and Valmiro reminded himself to buy her a candied treat some time later. (He forgot, but Quina did not seem to mind.)
Minnow paused. "Really?" he said, his voice still slightly suspicious.
"Of course! Right, Valmiro?" she said, and then stabbed a glare at him.
"Sure! The ginger baby chimera is the nicest-looking one. And it's the bravest one too, I bet."
"Oh, all right then," said the other boy, now suitably mollified, "I'll take it."
Done, Quina and Minnow went home, carrying their two baby chimeras in the box. Valmiro was fairly certain that Chief Adaro would allow his two friends to keep them as pets, since Adaro hardly refused the children anything.
"Baby cats," Valmiro muttered, shaking his head. They were baby chimeras, he was sure of it.