She lived in a castle made of words. It was built letter by letter, day by day. She didn’t know when the first word was placed what would happen, how could she? Nevertheless, she continued to place them, day after day.
At first, it was more of a room and a small room at that. A place to curl up when the world seemed too much. Which it often did. For a while, it was just the same words. They comforted her. More than once, raiders would smash part of the room. Then she would slowly rebuild, letter by letter, word by word.
As time went on, she added more words, which made the room larger. She found that while the first words she used would always make her happy, new words and the way they expanded her room was exciting. In fact, she found that once she started, it was impossible to stop.
Her one room grew into many and became a house. With each word, the house grew in unexpected ways. Towers began to spout in the corners and rose into the sky. Hallways connected chambers, and stairs led up to balconies or to walkways that linked other parts of the castle, which it was by this point.
Some wound downwards to strange and sinister dungeons. She would go then when she wanted to feel the fear of what lurked in the darkness (more terrifying than the known), but she knew all the secret passages in this castle and escape was always an option.
In truth, she spent more time in the well-lit areas. The castle was constantly growing and there were always new and intriguing areas to explore. As a result, she neither found herself bored or lonely.
As is the way of things, not everyone understood. Her Friend showed up, unannounced, and called up to her.
“Come to the ball with me!” her Friend implored.
She loved to read about balls, glittering gowns, music, dancing, and the glamor of it all, but the idea of actually attending one was not for her.
“Thank you but no,” she replied, “I have all I need here.”
“But you must be lonely,” stated her Friend, “Please come to the ball. There will be many eligible knights there.”
“I appreciate the invitation, but I am not lonely,” she said.
“If that is your wish,” acquiesced her Friend.
“It is,” she said with finality.
With a sad gait, her Friend departed. Time passed and her castle grew larger still. Then one day, she heard a sound outside which did not diminish. With exasperation, she went to the walls to see what the commotion is. Standing in front of the castle gates was a Young Knight, mounted on a powerful destrier.
“What do you want?” she asked, a bit saltier than she might’ve otherwise.
“I am here to rescue you!” he declared.
“No thank you.”
This puzzled the Young Knight.
“But surely, you are imprisoned in this dark castle?” he asked.
“You have been misinformed.”
“Then are you under an enchantment?” he asked hopefully.
“Not at all.”
He snapped his fingers, grinned, and said, “But that is just what someone under an enchantment would say!”
“Maybe. There are many kinds of enchantments. However, my mind is clear and my own.”
The Young Knight paused for a moment then spoke once more.
“Perhaps you might invite me into your castle?”
“Why?” she asked.
“We might spend some time together, have a goblet of wine, and get to know each other better.”
She looked at the Young Knight. He was handsome but altogether too enthusiastic. He kept fidgeting and adjusting bits of his armor as he awaited her reply. She knew he would be an exhausting guest.
“Thank you but I’m in no state to accept guests right now,” she said.
“When might you be in a more hospitable mood?” he asked.
She pushed down a particularly sharp rejoinder and replied, “I cannot say. Thank you and good day.”
With that, she retreated into the castle. Soon after, she could hear the dejected clip-clop of his destrier as he left. Giving the Young Knight no more thought, she returned to exploring her ever-growing castle.
After a period of peace, in which she discovered a new series of rooms to explore, a loud roar was heard outside her castle. With a sigh, she strode out to the battlements to see what the fuss was about.
Right in front of the drawbridge, which was of course raised, was a Dragon. It was very, very grand. When it stood on its hind legs, it could look her right in the eyes.
“LET ME IN!” bellowed the Dragon.
While it was indeed fearsome and menacing, she looked it back in its red and gold eyes and simply said, “No.”
“I WILL NOT BE DENIED!” the monster shouted.
“Why do you want to come in?” she asked.
“BECAUSE I AM EVER PRESENT, YOU CANNOT KEEP ME FROM YOUR CASTLE! I WILL TAKE YOUR HOME AND MAKE IT MY OWN!”
Flames snorted out of the Dragon’s nostrils to emphasize his statement. Yet for all its terrible majesty it remained outside, and the castle stood untouched.
“I can’t allow you inside,” she said calmly.
Great gouts of fire blasted skyward and the Dragon leaned in to stare at her.
“YOU HAVE BEHELD MY MIGHT! DO YOU THINK YOU CAN STOP ME!” he loudly hissed.
“I think,” she replied, “that if you could come in and make this your home, you would’ve already done so.”
“ARE YOU SO SURE?”
“DRAGONS ARE LONG LIVED.”
“True, but that’s hardly an argument for letting one into your home.”
The Dragon narrowed his eyes and said, “I WILL ALWAYS BE NEARBY, YOU MAY YET INVITE ME IN.”
She shrugged and said, “Anything is possible, but it seems very unlikely.”
With a flap of his vast wings, the Dragon flew off to perch on a distant mountaintop. His roars could still be heard, but they were faint and easily ignored.
For a long time after that, she had no more uninvited guests. The castle grew in size and scope. Every day she found new and intriguing new places to explore. She was alone but happy. One morning, as she had breakfast in one of her many gardens, something unexpected happened. Sitting on the garden wall was an orange cat with bright green eyes. It regarded her in the manner of cats from the beginning of time. Which is to say, a mix of contentment and arrogance.
While she was not one for unannounced guests, this cat intrigued her.
“Are you lost?” she asked.
The cat meowed back.
“You must be hungry.”
She took a bit of bacon from her plate and held it out. The cat leapt down, gently took it from her fingertips, and ate it. She fed him the rest of her bacon, then the cat jumped onto her lap and promptly fell asleep. He was not wearing a collar but didn’t seem to be malnourished. Too friendly to be a stray. She found herself stroking his fur and scratching him behind his ears, for which she was rewarded with a low, rumbling purr.
“I suppose you can stay for breakfast. But just for breakfast mind you,” said as she pet him.
Breakfast became lunch and then dinner, and then started all over again. The cat would ride on her shoulders as she explored her castle. Sometimes she would carry him in her arms, other times, he would stride alongside her.
Despite living in a castle made of words, she did not name him. Instead, she simply called him Cat. It’s said that cats have secret names, known only to them, but Cat seemed to accept this sobriquet and would respond to it, but only if the mood hit.
Days became weeks and the two of them grew closer. Well, at least she did, it was unclear what Cat thought, but even if he spent time off on his own, he would always return at meal times.
One evening, she was enjoying exploring a study that she had been to before, finding new things, as she always did, when the wind blew in a piece of paper through the window. Picking it up, this is what it said.
ORANGE AND FOND OF BACON
ANSWERS TO “CAT”
PLEASE CONTACT IF FOUND
It also featured a picture of a cat who was unmistakably, Cat.
“Oh well,” she thought, “This was only a for a little while.”
Just then Cat rubbed up against her leg and meowed. For years, all she wanted was to be left alone in her castle made of words. Now that prospect broke her heart. She could ignore this. Keep Cat. He was happy here. Why not? After all, if his former owner (if it was possible to own a cat), let him wander off. How much could he really care?
Then she looked at the lost notice again. It was brittle, and stained in the way that paper gets when you leave it out in the elements. There was a rip on the top where it had been attached somewhere. She thought about how she would feel if she had lost Cat.
With tears running down her face, she sent a message, saying she had found Cat. She spent the rest of the evening curled up in an armchair with him.
The next morning, she awoke to a message being delivered. It was the person who put up the lost notice. It asked if he could come by this noon to pick up Cat. She responded that of course, it was fine.
She shared one last breakfast, a large plate of bacon for Cat, and a cup of tea for her, she had lost her appetite. After which, she washed up and put on fresh clothes. If she had to give up Cat, she would do so with some measure of dignity.
Noon arrived, despite her fervent desire for it not to. She lowered the drawbridge and she and Cat awaited the visitor. They did not have to wait at all as a figure was approaching. It was a Young Man, bespectacled, with slightly messy hair, dressed in a dark green tweed jacket with a mustard yellow waistcoat, faded brown trousers, and a bag slung over his shoulder.
As soon as Cat saw him he ran to him. The Young Man picked Cat up and hugged him. Cat hugged him back and then demanded to be put down, which he was.
“Thank you so much!” said Young Man, “I hope he wasn’t too much trouble.”
“Not at all,” she said.
“Well, thank you again! I’ve been beside myself worrying about him. After all, the world can be a dangerous place.”
“That it can.”
“It’s a relief that he found somewhere safe. I can see he’s been well-fed.”
“How could I say no to that face?”
He laughed and replied, “I have the same trouble myself.”
“I’m just glad I could help.”
“I believe I owe you a reward.”
“Not at all, it was my pleasure.”
“Please I insist,” he opened his bag, quickly rummaged, and pulled out a book.
“It’s only a token, but I can’t see you unrewarded.”
She took it. It was a new book, with crisp pages and a smooth book jacket.
“Thank you,” she said quietly.
“You know it’s funny,” the Young Man said.
“What? No. Well, it might be, I’d not read it yet. It’s funny I didn’t notice your castle before you sent that message.”
“It’s hard to miss,” she said, still not seeing what was funny about it.
“I know, but we’re neighbors, of a sort,” he replied pointing down the road.
Within sight of her castle, was another one. Its design was different from hers. A little more futuristic, perhaps, but unmistakably a word castle.
“I’m a bit of a homebody, much to the consternation of my friends and family, but I’m happy and can’t complain.”
How could she miss it? How could either of them miss each other?
“Well, I don’t want to take up any more of your time. I cannot thank you enough for looking after Cat for me. Say thank you to the lovely lady for putting up with your shenanigans,” he said to Cat.
Cat gave him a look which suggested a shrug more than gratitude as the Young Man picked Cat up.
“Wait!” she said, perhaps louder than she intended to.
“Would you like to come in for some tea?” she asked.
Cat meowed. Loudly.
“And some bacon, of course.”
Cat and the Young Man looked at each other for a beat.
“We’d love to.”