Sweetdew trotted into the tiny pantry and yowled her displeasure.

Her Exalted Ladyship Sweetdew Honeynose the Grim – Eminent Companion of the Order of Bloodtooth, and Eighty-​​third Successor of the War Cloud Dynasty – trotted into the tiny pantry and yowled her outrage.

“You finally show up, and the first thing you want to do is eat?” she demanded.

Dantalion licked his thumb and chuckled softly in private amusement. “If I save it for last, I fear I shall never get around to it. Furthermore, I am hungry – now,” he huffed. “Do you know what that means?”

'Do you know what that means?'

Sweetdew sat herself down with a thump and leaned back against the doorframe, the better to stare up at him with her wide and disbelieving eyes. “Do you truly expect me to answer that?” she asked.

“I am hungry. I must eat – every day! Sometimes two and three times a day!”

“And I?” she cried.

“Then I would expect you to have a little sympathy for me. Where am I supposed to find so much food? Twice and thrice a day?”

“You may either hunt for it like a cat or work for it like a man, but instead you choose to steal it like the scoundrel you are!” She purred in laughing derision.

'Instead you choose to steal it like the scoundrel you are!'

“You’re not above swiping a few tidbits yourself, methinks,” he muttered as he smashed a fat chunk of cheese into a bit of bread and then shoved it into his mouth.

So reminded, Sweetdew leapt onto the broad wooden table and purred prettily.

“How is she?” he mumbled through his mouthful.

Sweetdew immediately stopped purring and stared up at him, swishing her tail.

“What?” he whined.

He reached up to pull a plate off the shelf, and then busied himself inspecting the other items assembled on high – to avoid her eyes, she thought.

He reached up and pulled a plate off the shelf.

He lifted a braid of garlic away from the wall. “What is this?”


“That’s food, isn’t it?”

“Of course it’s food,” she sighed. “Take a big piece of it and smash it in there with your cheese and your bread, and you shall be pleasantly surprised.”

He let the braid fall back against the wall with a soft thump. “Perhaps tomorrow night,” he sniffed. “I am getting bored with this eating business already. I must do what I can to keep it interesting.”

“Garlic will – certainly – be interesting,” Sweetdew muttered to herself between swipes of tongue to her tail.

'Garlic will certainly be interesting.'

“So, how is my wife?” he asked, feigning nonchalance.

Sweetdew stopped grooming herself and stared up at him again.

He looked away and began piling scraps of bread and cold meat, awkward slices of an unpeeled green pear, and three different sorts of cheese indiscriminately upon his plate.

Sweetdew laid her ears back against her head and wrinkled her little nose. “You are a fine jinni, but a rather disgusting man, temanyeh.”

“What? Why?”

She stared at him until he stabbed the pile with his fork and jammed a bit of everything into his mouth.

She stared at him until he stabbed the pile with his fork and jammed a bit of everything into his mouth.

She began to purr as his chewing slowed. “What’s the matter, temanyeh?

He watched her warily until he managed to swallow the great lump. Then his face bloomed into a wicked smile. “It wants salt.”

Sweetdew laughed.

“I don’t know how you dare call me disgusting,” he said as he attempted to sort the food on his plate with the tines of his fork. “You are the one who was sitting there a moment ago licking her own ass.”

“Ladies do not–do what you said!” she cried. “We ‘groom our hind parts’. And I was not doing so a moment ago. I was simply smoothing the fur on my tail.”

'Ladies do not--do what you said!'

“Do not remind me of ‘hind parts’, Sweetdew,” he groaned. “I spend all my time taking care of this body and its appetites. Eat and sleep and shit and scratch myself… and I must bathe, or else I stink.

Sweetdew sighed and gave her paw a few licks. “It was your idea,” she reminded him.

“I want her to have a baby she will love,” he mumbled. “Not a black and batty one.”

He picked up a bit of meat with his fork and chewed it thoughtfully. Sweetdew watched.

Sweetdew watched.

“How is she?” he pleaded softly after he had swallowed it.

The cat stared at him, occasionally whipping her tail from side to side.

“What?” he asked. His pale face was growing pink. “Why do you look at me so every time I mention her? Must I bribe you?”

He flicked a scrap of chicken down onto the table. Sweetdew patted it with her paw, but she was too proud to leap on it. She would say her piece first. But before that, she would stare.

“What?” he whined. “What are you waiting for?”

“I am waiting for you to stop asking and start guessing!

'I am waiting for you to stop asking and start guessing!'

“Guessing what? How am I supposed to know?”

“If you wish to be her husband, then it is your duty to know. How do you suppose she feels, after you carried her off in defiance of every tradition of men, and then abandoned her to their outrage?”

“I did not abandon her! Am I not here?”

“You left her to face them alone,” she hissed. “It is little consolation to her if you come now – and only to lie with her. That is not what she needs from you.”

Dantalion awkwardly shoved an entire slice of mutton sideways into his mouth.

Dantalion shoved an entire awkward slice of mutton sideways into his mouth and chewed it angrily, staring up at the wall. Sweetdew thought he meant to put off the necessity of a reply, but it pleased her rather more than not. She would have the time to say her piece.

She would have the time to say her piece.

“Her family is very angry at her, and worse than that, she has caused them much fear and pain by running away. And I know you cannot conceive of such a thing, temanyeh,” she snarled, “but she and her kind feel pain when they know they have caused pain to someone they love.”

Dantalion swallowed. His pink face had gone white.

His pink face had gone white.

“You have caused your wife pain, temanyeh. Do you feel anything?”

He swallowed again. His eyes darted anxiously from side to side in fruitless search for a distraction.

“So,” Sweetdew sniffed, “that is already a start.” Now she lowered her head and daintily nibbled her scrap of chicken.

“I like that!” he snorted. “A little black cat who has never even had a tom on her back is telling me how to love my wife!”

'A little black cat who has never even had a tom on her back is telling me how to love my wife!'

Sweetdew lifted her head. “I know your wife better than you do, temanyeh. She holds me when she cries. When you can say the same, then you may consider doing without my advice.” She bent and licked a spot of grease from her chicken before adding, “And I am cinder-​​colored. Not black. That would be bad luck.”

She purred in self-​​satisfaction and finished off her chicken.

Dantalion took a last bite and then laid his plate on the table.

Dantalion took a last, half-​​hearted bite and then laid his plate on the table. Sweetdew’s golden eyes widened before this delectable array of chicken, mutton, and cheeses.

“You’re not eating that?” she asked.

'You're not eating that?'

“I am no longer hungry,” he muttered. “Come with me.”

Sweetdew sniffed his plate regretfully, but she was too proud to swipe a morsel on the sly immediately after being accused of doing the same. Anyway, Eithne kept her well-​​fed, and Sweetdew loved her for that and more. She leapt lightly to the floor and followed.

She leapt lightly to the floor and followed.