In the Eyes of the Empress's Cat
by Brad Beaulieu
Al-Ashmar sat cross-legged in the tent of Gadn ak Hulavar and placed his patient,
a spotted cat, onto a velvet pillow. Gadn lounged on the far side of the spacious
tent, puffing on his hookah and waiting for the diagnosis of his grossly thin cat.
Al-Ashmar held his fingers near the cat's nose. She sniffed his hand and raked her
whiskers over his knuckles. When the cat raised her head and stared into his eyes,
Al-Ashmar found a brown, triangle-shaped splotch in the right eye, along the left
side of the green-and-gold iris. The location of the mark indicated the cat's liver,
but in this case it was the strong color that was most disturbing.
"What have you been feeding her?" Al-Ashmar asked as he stroked the cat, noting
its muscle tone.
Gadn shrugged his massive shoulders. "Nothing. Cats find food."
Al-Ashmar smiled, if only to hide his annoyance. The wealthy always wanted cats
of status, but when it came time to care for them, they hadn't an idea worth its
weight in sand.
"Not this one," Al-Ashmar said as he picked up the cat and stood, absently
continuing to stroke its ears. "Please, go to the bazaar; buy a large cage and some
swallows. Once a day, put her in the cage with one bird. The activity should
interest her enough to induce appetite. Do this for a week and her normal eating
pattern should return. If it doesn't, send me word."
A bald servant boy rushed into the room and bowed deeply. "Master, if you
please, there is a messenger."
"We are done?" Gadn asked Al-Ashmar.
"Then bring the messenger here, Mousaf." Gadn handed Al-Ashmar three coins
and then embraced him, kissing one cheek, then the other.
But the servant boy remained. "Begging your mercy, master, but they are asking
for Al-Ashmar ak Kulhadn."
Al-Ashmar frowned. "Who is, boy?"
"A man, from the palace."
Gadn shoved the boy aside and rushed from the tent. "Why didn't you say so?"
Al-Ashmar was right behind him. Moments later, they reached the edge of the
caravan grounds, near the pens holding dozens of Gadn's camels and donkeys and
goats. A balding man with a reed-thin beard - the current rage in the Empress's
courts - and wearing blue silk finery stood just outside the caravan grounds, on
the sandy road leading back toward the city proper. Behind him stood four palace
The first thought through Al-Ashmar's mind was the sort of beating Gadn's
servant would get for referring to Djazir ak Benkada as a messenger.
The second was what sort of emergency would require the Empress's own spiritual
guide and physician to personally come asking for him, a simple physic. At the
least it would be to attend to a courtier's cat - after all, he'd been to the palace a
handful of times for just such a purpose - but since Djazir had come personally, he
could only assume it was for Bela, the Empress's cat.
Gadn ak Hulavar, as the caravan's master, stepped forward to meet Djazir.
"Please, Eminence, would you care to join us? A smoke, perhaps?"
But Gadn stopped when Djazir held up an open palm and stared at Al-Ashmar.
"You will accompany me," Djazir said.
"Of course, Eminence," Al-Ashmar replied.