Fandom: The Goblin Emperor
Characters: Maia Drazhar, Cala Athmaza
Summary: "They are capricious, friendly, aloof, sly, trusting, all of these things in one body," Cala said. "but most of them, it seems to us, enjoy interacting with anyone willing to treat them with kindness." The Emperor of the Elflands finds a new source of warmth.
Edited by: None but myself. I obsessively read and reread; if there are mistakes, they are mine alone, and I will correct them once alerted to them.
Author's note:This was written for nenya_kanadka , in the 2016 fandom_stocking fun. She is a fan of "The Goblin Emperor," possibly one of my favorite comfort books of all time. I hope she likes this story of Maia and Cala.
Disclaimer: I do not own the universe of "The Goblin Emperor." All its characters (with the exception of an original character here or there) are the sole property of Sarah Monette, in her guise as Katherine Addison. I intend no infringement and take no coin, but thank her for allowing me to play in her sandbox.
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The night was fully upon them, stars unveiling themselves across the heavens outside the leaded glass windows of the bedroom. Still it was an early night for the Emperor of the Ethuveraz.
From their vantage points on either side of the throne, his nohecharei had watched as his face had paled, the pinched look about his eyes and mouth signalling another of the painful headaches that Edrehasivar tried to ignore as he undertook the daily burden of statecraft.
Cala had caught the eye of Mer Aisava, who had nodded imperceptibly. After a moment, Cala had alerted Beshelar as well. When Mer Aisava then announced, loudly and firmly, that “His Serenity regrets, but must take his leave,” Edrehasivar had said nothing, but had looked absurdly and openly grateful, and had pointedly paid no mind to the obvious shock of some in the court. Yes, he would let Csevet take the lead occasionally, and would that more of his court were as bright and incisive as his secretary, he had thought, while making his way back to the Alcethmeret.
Now, divested of quilted jacket, robes, jewels and tashin sticks by his edocharei, Maia lay in the welcome dark, looking up at the wrestling cats on the canopy above him, barely visible in the shifting light of Cala’s lamp. They no longer chilled him as they had that first night; now they seemed more like kittens playing.
“Cala, do you like cats?” he asked sleepily.
The other man was sitting as he always did during night duty, in the window alcove. He had been looking out at the stars, but turned at the sound of Maia’s voice.
“We do, Serenity. We grew up around them. We even learned how to care for kittens thanks to our sister, who sought out and took care of motherless cats.”
The answer didn’t surprise Maia. Cala’s inherent gentleness argued for such a skill. “Did you have many of them?”
“We always had cats in our home,” Cala said, using the plural. “We did not live on a farm, so they were not working cats. They were always beloved pets.” He was silent for a moment and then surprised Maia by laughing very softly. “Or perhaps we were their pets.”
“Tell me of them,” Maia said, still looking at the bed-hangings. There had been the occasional cat at Edonomee, but Setheris, perhaps unwillingly reminded by them of his Emperor, seemed to hate them. The few times Maia had tried to play with any that he found, usually in the kitchen, Setheris had seen to it that the animals disappeared.
Cala did not immediately answer, and Maia worried that his request seemed childish. Before he could speak, though, Cala did.
“They are capricious, friendly, aloof, sly, trusting, all of these things in one body,” the nohecharis said thoughtfully. “Some are more of one nature, and some are more of another nature, but most of them, it seems to us, enjoy interacting with anyone willing to treat them with kindness.
“And they are very warm on cold winter nights. Sometimes we think that was what was behind our sister’s love of kittens. In the deepest winter nights, she was always surrounded in bed by a kindle of them.”
“A kindle?” Maia had never heard the term.
“It means a group of kittens born of the same mother, Serenity.”
“Ah,” Maia said, caught up in the sudden and sweet vision of a young girl, looking very like Cala, curled up in a bed with happy, sleeping kittens around her. He abruptly wanted a cat of his own.
Of course that was impossible. For the emperor of all the elflands to be seen gamboling with a kitten — completely unthinkable. He could imagine the scandalized reaction of Beshelar, of Berenar and the rest of the Corazhas, the disdainful looks of some of his courtiers, and certainly one or two amongst his royal family—
He thought of Ino and Mirean, in their dark and shabby quarters in the depths of the Alcethmeret. Of how careful and restrained the two of them were around him, until they could not longer be so, and they began acting like children again. He thought about how happy he was when they were no longer restrained around him.
“Cala, are you close with your family?”
“Yes, Serenity, to the extent that we are able. We grew up to the south of Cetho, in Cholo, but we exchange letters with our parents and our sister.”
Maia tried not to feel disappointed, then ruthlessly admonished himself. Hast no right to make such demands of Cala, nor of any of your nohecharei. Art a child, to demand a sweetie and pout when thou cans’t have it not?
He realized that he hadn’t responded to Cala, and searched for something suitable to say. “We are glad that you remain in contact with them.” He thought briefly of Dazhis’ self-imposed isolation from his family, and wondered if closer ties with them might have changed him for the better.
“We are as well, Serenity,” Cala said, and the smile Maia heard in his voice was as natural as Cala himself. “We do miss them, from time to time, but they have promised to visit Cetho within the next year.”
“Perhaps we could be introduced,” Maia said, diffidently, aware that he could order a meeting and doubly aware that he didn’t want to do so.
“Our family would be honored,” Cala said. Then came his soft laugh again. “However, we are afraid that cats and kittens do not travel well in caravans, or on ships or airships.”
Maia was silent, embarrassed that Cala might have realized the true reason for his questions.
“Of course, we have had the ability to enjoy the company of cats at the Mazantheileian. They are much loved there, which means that on many occasions we must search out new homes for new kittens.”
He had understood what Maia hadn’t said, Maia realized. But instead of making him feel more embarrassed, it lifted his spirits. “Do you think, Cala, that there might be kittens there, ready for a new home? We … believe that our cousins need more than nurses and tutors in their suites. And—” Now the embarrassment was back, but he did not allow it to silence him. “— it would please us to present them with a pet, a kitten that we could, with them, watch as it grows.”
There’s statecraft for you, he thought, amused despite himself at the glee he felt in finding a way to fulfill his own desire while, with luck, pleasing his young charges as well. No one could look down on an emperor who visits often with his prince of the court and the prince’s sisters.
“Serenity, we will check with the Mazantheileian’s kitchens. That is where the cats most often have their families. If you wish, we can bring kittens for you to choose.”
“Not an entire … what was it you called them? Not an entire kindle, Cala; we … we feel we might want to give all of them to our cousins. We do not think their staff would appreciate such an extensive gift,” he said, glad that the comment sounded wry, rather than dismayed.
“Nor do we, Serenity,” Cala said. “But if you don’t mind us providing a suggestion …” he tailed off.
“No! I — that is, we — we would very much appreciate your advice.”
He saw Cala nod. “Then let us bring two kittens for your examination. We believe it would be cruel to completely separate one kitten from the family it knows. Allow it to have a sibling with it, and the two will provide plenty of companionship both for your royal cousins and, importantly, for each other.”
Maia thought about how he had hungered for company after his mother had died; how he had wondered about his brothers, and what they might think of him. How he had desperately wanted someone, or something, to play with. “We understand. We look forward to seeing the kittens, and taking them to Ino and Mirean.”
“It is our pleasure to serve you,” Cala said, turning what might be empty flattery in someone else’s mouth to a comforting statement of fact.
“Goodnight, Cala. Thank you.”
Maia looked up once more at the entwined figures embroidered into the canopy above him. He allowed himself a happy grin, before falling asleep and dreaming of a warm bed filled with sleeping, purring cats.