Long, long ago, in a time of fables and fortune, there lived a family of royals. They were a quite content family, as the elderly king was blessed with a lovely wife, and three beautiful children. The youngest of whom was a youthful prince called Brian. Brian was known throughout all the lands for his ethereal beauty. It is said that while the prince was born late at night, his beauty was so radiant that it had shoved out the darkness, as even the sun had strained to see him.
The prince had smooth, pale skin, only detailed by the little brown freckles splayed across his nose and cheeks. When the prince smiled, a dimple formed on his left cheek, making him appear even kinder.
He had misty green eyes speckled with gold, and long dark eyelashes to frame them. The prince kept his hair long and messy, but his curls never looked unkempt. His hair was a dark auburn that was so vibrant and luxurious, many believed autumn herself had woven it.
Brian was a lively prince that loved to explore. He longed more than anything to see the world, travel to places he’s never even heard of. His family’s kingdom sat upon a great mountain, as if the stones were carved into the hilltops. This made it quite difficult for anyone to get in or out of the castle.
Still, young Brian was curious by nature and often ventured out when he could. Although he couldn’t go far, he made every second of his journeys count. The king’s guards were never too distant, but Brian found his freedom wherever he could. Often, he’d don a cloak and walk through the lower towns, hoping no commoners would recognize him.
Some days, when he’d venture outside the castle walls, he would pack a lunch and a good book and sit by the river for hours and hours. And no matter where he went, he would always bring his little golden ball. The toy was a gift, but Brian couldn’t remember from whom. It was his favorite plaything and he refused to go anywhere without it.
One morning, the prince threw on dark pants and a white blouser, grabbed his bag and coat, and rushed out of the castle before anyone could see him and protest. Brian loved his family, but they could be overprotective at times.
They knew how deeply he yearned to travel, but feared for his safety. They worried that his beauty would cause unwanted attention, and he may not have anyone around to defend him. Brian never held it against them; he knew their fear was just out of love. Besides, he knew how to slip past them anyways.
The prince dug through his bag and pulled out the golden ball, tossing it as he strolled down the muddy streets of the lower towns. In his mind, he imagined his destination. A rushing stream surrounded by beautiful wild flowers and towering trees.
He remembered the place from his childhood. His mother, queen Janet, had shown him the path on their afternoon walk. Brian was in awe at the sight of the place. His mother warned him to stay away from the stream, so he leaned against a sturdy tree and listened to his mother share stories of the visiting royals, while she picked bundles of wild flowers.
Brian told her all about a story he had been reading, and theories on where he believed the mythical land would be located based on the details in the book. He had relayed facts he studied in other books and how they proved his speculations.
The queen had simply laughed and told him that he was doing a lot of research into something that had very little meaning. Brian just agreed.
After nearly two hours of walking, Brian had reached the stream. It was higher, wider, and rushing faster than he had ever remembered. After searching around for a while, Brian discovered that a tree had fallen and created a sort of dam effect.
The prince thought little of it and returned to his original spot by a looming oak tree. He noticed that the thickets had grown rather wild. He wondered how deep the stream had become. Queen Janet once told him that it was easily fifteen feet deep, but he guessed it was more now. Again, he thought little of it.
The prince lay down at the base of the tree, cradled between its sturdy roots. He thought again about all of the adventures he wished to embark upon. The prince wondered, not for the first time, what it would be like to be a bird, free to fly wherever he desired.
Brian’s palms dug into the grass as he lifted himself into a sitting position, lightly tossing the golden ball up into the air and catching it in his palms. Brian’s frustration grew as he continued to think about how trapped he felt, throwing the ball harder and faster, until the ball flew out of his hands with the force of his toss.
Wide eyed, Brian lunged forward to try and catch the ball, but it was too late. The golden ball was caught in a low-hanging tree branch on the opposite side of the river, just above the rushing rapids.
Although the prince knew it wouldn’t work, he attempted to wade through the water. The current was too strong and he kept getting knocked down and pulled under. Even when he tried using a branch for support, his feet could not reach the bottom, and he was left kicking desperately to stay afloat.
As the prince pulled himself back on shore, he felt hot tears streaming down his face, for he felt quite helpless. When the prince wept, the world seemed to weep with him. The birds stopped singing and the crickets stopped chirping; all feeling as if the stars had gone dim.
“Please don’t cry.”
The prince turned around, startled. He had been sure he was alone. “Who's there?” asked the prince.
“Don’t worry. It’s just me. I won’t hurt you.” Brian was certain the voice was coming from above, but when he looked up, he only saw the tangled branches of the trees. “I can help you, just please… stop crying.”
“Come out,” Brian demanded, “If you’re no threat then prove it.”
The branches rustled, until out peered a scraggly black cat. Although its matted fur and scarred body was a sight to behold, the first thing Brian noticed was its eyes. Bright, glowering, yellow eyes.
Eyes so bright they seemed like a child had painted them on. What really threw Brian however, was their intensity. Focused, sharp, intelligent, and something akin to… kind. The cat tilted its head and leveled Brian with a stare so profound, he felt as though the cat was looking through him, not at him.
“Hello,” Brian said awkwardly, because he was staring straight at a talking cat and could not think of a more appropriate response.
The cat looked amused, which Brian found funny, seeing as it was a cat and he didn’t believe cats could be amused. ‘Well,’ Brian supposed, ‘I didn’t believe cats held casual conversations either; maybe this is just a day of revelations.’ Sure, Brian had heard legends of animals speaking to great warriors in their times of need, he just assumed it would never happen to him, seeing as he’s as far from a warrior as can be.
“I can help you. But, what will you give me in return?” the cat asked with the same focused stare.
Immediately the prince’s face lit up. “Oh, anything! My clothes, my jewelry, even my crown!” Brian exclaimed, gesturing wildly.
The cat’s face had a rueful smile. “I don’t want your clothes, or your jewelry, or even your crown” he replied.
The prince cocked his head in confusion. “Then what do you want?”
The cat stared down at his paws. “For you to love me.”
The prince once again fixed the cat with a confused, empty, stare. “What?”
“I want you to love me. I want to have someone to keep me company, to sit with at dinner. I want to eat off your plate and sleep on your bed. Promise me this and I’ll retrieve your toy,” the cat said, now staring at Brian.
Brian swallowed deeply. For some reason the prince found the cat upsetting. He supposed it could have been its mangey appearance, but the prince knew that wasn’t true. Somehow, Brian was sure it was the eyes. Familiar, but still unrecognizable.
“What should I call you?” asked the prince.
“Patrick,” the cat replied.
“Patrick,” Brian repeated, “Pat the cat.” If cats could roll their eyes, this one just did. “Alright Patrick, I promise.”
After those words were uttered, Patrick whipped around and swiftly crept over branches and through brambles towards the little golden toy. When he had crossed the river back to Brian’s side, he simply dropped the ball at the prince’s feet and looked up at him expectantly.
However, within seconds of picking the ball up, Brian was running. ‘Those eyes,’ thought the prince, ‘what is it with those eyes? Unsettling but calming. Reassuring but terrifying.’ The prince knew he would never find peace with the cat by his side.
When the prince made it back to his chambers, he collapsed in his bed, exhausted. He fell asleep for several hours, until the maid came to rouse him and call him for dinner. After picking at his food for a few minutes, the prince heard a sound at the door. “I’ll get it,” he said quietly.
When the prince opened the creaking door, he first assumed there was no one there, until a quiet cough made him look down.
Immediately the prince jumped back in fear and slammed the door shut.
“Who was there?” asked the king.
“A cat!” Brian exclaimed, knowing full well how mad he sounded, “He retrieved my golden ball for me earlier because I promised to be his companion, but now he’s here and I don’t know what to do! I don’t want to love him!” the prince exclaimed, voice getting faster with panic.
“But he did you a favor and you made a promise. Let him in, you gave him your word.”
Reluctantly, the prince opened the door once again and found the cat in the same position, looking up at him expectantly.
“Come in,” the prince found himself saying. Even the prince himself could not understand why he was so hesitant to be near the cat. It didn’t appear malicious, just… off putting. Wrong.
The cat slinked through the doorway and sat by the leg of the table, looking up at Brian with the expectant look he had become familiar with. “Lift me up so I can sit at your table and eat dinner with you,” the cat said simply.
Brian glanced at his father, who in turn raised a stern eyebrow. With a sigh, the prince bent down and lifted the scraggly cat onto the long wooden table.
He took his seat and picked at his food, extremely aware of his close proximity to the creature.
“Move your plate closer to me so we may eat together,” Pat requested. Brian found it odd that a cat would request such a thing. Brian found it odd that a cat would request anything at all. However, Brian knew without looking up that his father expected him to do as the cat asked, so he pushed his golden plate towards the animal.
“I’m not hungry,” the prince said quietly, “it’s all yours.”
The cat scarfed down the food furiously; he must have gone days without eating anything at all. Brian immediately felt sorry for the creature. Despite his poor feelings about the cat, he hated seeing animals in pain.
Once the cat had finished his meal, he cocked his head at Brian and said “take me to your room so we may both rest. I’m rather tired from my long trek up to this castle.”
Wordlessly the prince scooped up the cat and placed him gently on the tiled floor. As the prince rounded the corridor towards his chambers, the cat padding softly beside him, he thought about the fables he had grown up on.
Many tales told of fantastical creatures fulfilling great prophecies, but this felt different. The cat seemed like just that. A cat. A cat which seemed genuinely honest about only wanting a friend.
Brian pulled open the door to his bedroom and the cat scurried inside quickly. The prince sat at the foot of the bed with his head in his hands. The day had been long and confusing, and the young prince wanted nothing more than to wake up and realize this had all been a dream.
One wild, perplexing dream that he’d forget minutes after waking up. Perhaps he’d try to remember the details, but they’d slip from his memories like water clasped in cupped hands. He prayed that he’d wake up and the black cat -Pat as he had been told- would be another faded dream.
The prince knew that was not the case however, when the cat jumped elegantly up beside him and landed softly on the plush bed. Everything felt too real. The dip in the mattress from the cat’s gentle landing, the way the linens dipped around the cat’s body from where he’d curled up, the cats paws stretching as it laid on its side.
The prince knew this was real, for his mind -creative as it may be- could never envision a being so clearly in an imagination.
“Why do you despise me?” the cat asked, eyes more sorrowful and earnest than Brian had ever seen them before. It made the prince once again pity the poor creature. He supposed life must not have been easy for a lonesome cat.
“I don’t,” Brian replied, for he could think of nothing better to say.
“But you do,” said the cat, “you promised to love me, but I can see in your eyes you can’t stand me.”
Brian looked down at his feet. Without checking he knew the cat was staring at him. “I don’t understand you,” the prince said at last. “I don’t know anything about you. Where you came from, why you’re here, what you want…” Brian listed.
“I told you,” the cat replied, “I want you to carry me in your heart.”
“And how would you know if I did?” Brian questioned.
“Please,” the cat scoffed, “It would be obvious. The trees would whisper it amongst themselves when they thought no one was listening. The wind would carry their words to young maidens buying threads in the local towns. They’d weave the wind’s wisdom into a tapestry that they’d display for the world to see. This is how I’d know.”
Brian found himself enthralled by the cat’s answer. “Here,” he found himself saying. “Take this.” The prince outstretched his palm, which held the little gold ball he cherished above all else. “I cannot love you, but I can give you something that I do love. Carry this with you and you’ll have a piece of my heart wherever you go.”
The cat peered up at Brian slowly. “Why?” he asked.
“It’s the least I could do,” the prince said softly. “I made a promise; this is the best I can do to keep it.”
Hesitantly, the cat leaned forward and reached its paw out, claws stretching with the motion.
As soon as the cat wrapped it’s claws around the ball, the room was filled with a light so bright and brilliant, Brian thought for a second the sun must have burst. The prince covered his eyes reflexively, and did not move his hands for many minutes.
When the prince did finally open his eyes, he could no longer feel the weight of the cat next to him. Brian looked up suddenly, and the sight he was met with took his breath away.
Gone was the cat, replaced instead by a handsome young man with dark features and even darker hair. He was scraggly in a way that was more ruggedly handsome than disgruntled, but his eyes were the most stunning part of all. Dark as coal, and intense in a way Brian didn’t understand. He appeared to be just as startled as Brian, as he fervently examined himself from head to toe.
“What?” the prince asked, in lieu of a more eloquent question.
The man… Patrick… sat besides Brian and looked at him with an expression somewhere between disbelief and elation.
Patrick began explaining how he had been cursed when he was young, how he had come from a far away land and visited Brian’s kingdom as a guest. How he was a descendant of royals, and had not seen home in ages.
“Come with me,” Patrick said suddenly. “You set me free, come with me… please.”
The prince knew the more he thought the more reasons he’d come up with for why that is definitely a terrible idea and completely mad.
Patrick smiled warmly at him. “Okay,” he replied.
The next morning, a carriage pulled by eight horses rode up in front of the castle. The prince, though extremely nervous at the thought of venturing far from the kingdom, could not keep the smile from his face.
He waved a final goodbye to his father and mother, making many promises to visit soon and travel safely. The prince was finally getting his wish. He was going to see the world, explore, live the life he had always dreamed of.
Looking out the carriage window, Patrick by his side, Brian felt complete in a way he hadn’t in a very long time. He had no idea what the future had in store for him, and he couldn’t wait to find out.