"Hurry, now," the Head Elderly Tender shouted over the noisy chaos of the kitchen. "The Queen will be here promptly at seven and I still see a huge pile of fish to be filleted. Here, careful with that knife - there's a kitten by your elbow."
Red Pearl rushed forward and nosed the fawn-colored kitten to the floor. "Stay off the counters, Precious Topaz, or you'll get hurt. Go back to your basket."
"But, Sistie, Copper Boy said it was okay," Topaz replied.
"Besides, it smells so good and I'm starving," said she as she slunk off toward a wicker basket overflowing with plump pillows.
What you've missed: Two talkative, rebellious kittens, from a royal family of vocal, rambunctious cats, connive, plan and then descend into the cellars and caverns below Aspabibia, one seeking milk, glorious milk, the other seeking adventure, glorious adventure but disaster occurs and we play catch up with the family earlier.
It sat next to a tall stone fireplace where a banked fire glowed crimson.
"Those kittens have all the luck. I'd sure like some goat's milk, or even some cow's milk, myself. Or maybe even cream," he added wistfully.
"You have to learn to think for yourself," Red Pearl called after her. "And be patient. Have some milk to starve you over." Pearl could see Copper Boy with his head deep in a milk bowl.
"Doesn't he look just like me," Rue Shadow said right at her shoulder. "Even acts like me."
Red Pearl almost hopped out of her fur. "You scared me to death! I didn't know you were standing there."
"My, aren't we jumpy," Shadow said with a grin.
She glared at him. "Cats don't like surprises," she replied.
"He does look just like me, though," Rue Shadow repeated.
Red Pearl grimaced. "Only younger," she said nosing Shadow in the haunch.
"Younger, so he still gets to drink milk," grumbled Pink Buddha as he swept scales and entrails into the dustbin. "Those kittens have all the luck. I'd sure like some goat's milk, or even some cow's milk, myself. Or maybe even cream," he added wistfully.
"Not good for a nearly grown cat," Fawn Doll said passing with a tray of goat cheese and caviar hors d'oeuvres. "Diarrhea," she hissed, gliding effortlessly across the marble floor and through the set of swinging doors that led to the dining room. She held the tray high above her head, kept aloft by one dainty paw.
"Show off," Rue Shadow called after her departing fur.
"Just because you drop every tray you touch," Red Pearl stated cheerfully. "Let's get back to work." She moved to a large frying pan on the stove and began lifting out salmon fillets and placing them on a platter, layering the pink flesh in a nest of lemon slices and dill sprigs.
Sidling up to Pink Buddha, Rue Shadow whispered, "You really want milk?" His chef's torque sat at a rakish angle on his sleek head.
"So what if I do? There's not much to be done about it." Pink Buddha leaned over and scraped up a bit of bloody fish skin with his claws, flipping it expertly into the trash bin.
Copper Boy looked up from his bowl. "I love milk," he squeaked in his small kitten voice. A thick, white stain encircled his lips.
"Shut up," retorted Pink Buddha. "You can have it anytime you want. I can't. And clean your face up. You're a mess."
Copper Boy began to lick his paw, hurriedly raking it across his mouth and nose but he only succeeded in smearing the milk all over the rest of his face.
Rue Shadow guffawed and then turned his attention back to Pink Buddha. "I just might be able to help you with that little problem," he said with a sly grin.
Pink Buddha stopped dead, straddling his broom, and stared at his brother. "Help me how?" he asked after a moment. "What exactly are you talking about?"
"What do you think I'm talking about?" Shadow responded, glancing around.
"Oh, no," Pink Buddha said with dawning comprehension. "If you think for one minute that you can talk me into going down to the Goats' Milk Cellar, you're crazy."
"I'll go," squeaked Copper Boy. The older kittens completely ignored him. "Hey," he insisted. "I said I'd go."
"What's the matter?" Rue Shadow asked with mock concern. "Afraid of a little serpent?"
"He's not exactly little," Pink Buddha replied, sweeping up another pile of scales and gore with stiff, hurried motions. "Besides, little or not, he can still sting or bite or whatever it is he does."
Copper Boy's eyes had grown huge. "Is a serpent sort of like a snake?" he asked. He began prancing around among the offal.
Buddha swatted at him with the broom. "Stop it," he crabbed. "Get out of there and clean off your paws."
"You're such a wimp, Buddha," Rue Shadow went on. "Besides, he probably doesn't even exist. I'll bet it's just a myth made up by the Tenders to keep us out of the milk."
"Works for me," Pink Buddha replied busying himself with his broom.
"Just think." Rue Shadow leaned closer. "All that lovely rich goats' milk. I hear there's even a fresh drawing of cow's milk and cream down there."
Buddha licked his chops and firmly shook his head. A shiny drop of drool fell from his mouth and splattered on to the floor.
TAILS OF ASPABIBIA
by Linda Towne