When Beruthiel woke the next day, the sun was high in the sky. Climbing stiffly out of bed she saw Mithril asleep in a bed on the floor. ‘Why are you on the floor, dear heart? You always sleep with me,’ she asked.
Slowly two beautiful green eyes opened and gazed up at his beloved mistress. ‘You were exhausted, and I did not want to cause you to wake. And I was as stiff last night as you appear to be now; it was more comfortable here.’
She bent down awkwardly and scratched his ears. ‘How are the others?’
‘All are well. A momentary stiffness resolved by a good stretch. However, we never want to have to go through that again!’
‘Don’t worry! I have no intention of doing it again either!’ Beruthiel assured him out loud.
After she had dressed, she went to find Uldis who was still in her bed fast asleep. Beruthiel peeked in the door but left her undisturbed. Nine little black heads rose and looked at her, but quickly returned to their catnaps. Descending the staircase to the atrium, she asked a servant where Lord Galden was. ‘He has been gone all morning, your majesty.’ The servant hesitated and then added, ‘He left orders that you are not to leave the house even to go into the garden.’
Normally Beruthiel would have protested such authoritarian behavior, but she knew these were anything but normal times. The steward must have a good reason. He had performed far beyond her expectations so far. Nodding her head in acknowledgment, Beruthiel moved toward the salon. ‘Inform him of my presence should he arrive, and thank you,’ she said. The household staff would most certainly face discomfort on her behalf over the next few days.
Galden entered the salon to find Beruthiel bent over a desk writing furiously. ‘Your majesty, we need to talk,’ he finally said when she didn’t notice him.
Beruthiel jerked her head up from the sheet. ‘I did not hear you, Lord Galden; my apologies.’ She set the quill down and carefully blotted the parchment. ‘What can I do for you?’
‘I had hoped to give you a few days to rest, but it may not be possible. While the people of Pelargir were unaware of your situation for the most part, agitators from Osgiliath have been seen on the road. Once they arrive here, it is only a matter of time until they cause the same trouble here as they did outside the King’s House. Once again must ask you to be ready at a moment’s notice.’
Sighing, Beruthiel went and stared out the window. ‘I shall have no peace until I leave, I know that. However, I too had hoped for a short break. When do you wish for me to perform my last act?’
‘It will have to be the day after tomorrow at the latest. For now, only a few troublemakers have been seen, but I can guarantee more are on the way. It will be easier for everyone if you leave quickly,’ Galden said.
‘I am ready. Let’s make it tomorrow. I am tired of the drama.’
‘And Uldis? Do you intend to take her also?’
‘Ah, that is where the trouble lies. No, I do not intend to take her, but she will insist. I will use the rest of the day to convince her that her life is here in Gondor and not with me,’ the queen replied.
‘Your ship is almost ready, and this time you will go in a closed carriage. Of course, once you reach the dock you will have to face the crowd, but it should only be for a very short time. Guards will barricade them from you.’ Galden then looked at her hesitantly. ‘You do remember our plan?’
‘Sadly, yes. Once I reach the ship, you will once again read the charges only this time as a matter of convicted guilt. I will rage and yell protesting my innocence while the sentries drag me aboard. What of the cats? Are they also to be manhandled and mauled for the public good?’ she said bitterly. They had argued extensively over this last point.
‘No, after yesterday’s madhouse, I have reconsidered. All the cats can be placed on the ship before you arrive. I would like them visible from shore however. The people will want to be certain they are gone along with you, your majesty.’
‘Fair enough. They will not have to suffer as much and they like sitting on the railings. They will be easy to see,’ she explained. ‘I must insist that Uldis be prevented from trying to follow. I would not put it past her to try.’
‘I will inform the guards of that. One other thing: I want to express how sorry I am about all this, your majesty. When this started, I admit to having had a very poor opinion of you, but you have faced all adversities without hesitation. Falastur did not make a mistake when you chose you as his queen,’ Galden said quietly.
Beruthiel laughed without humor. ‘Yes, he always said he chose me for my strength. I just wish some wisdom had come along with it. Perhaps I could have avoided this!’
‘Perhaps, but only if the king were here. The people needed someone to blame. Falastur could have channeled that anger elsewhere I am sure. Without him, you were a defenseless target. Again, I am sorry,’ Galden bowed his head to his queen.
‘Don’t worry, Lord Galden, if all goes well, I will make a good voyage to the south and find someplace away from the world where I can be happy. This may turn out to be a new life instead of an ending!’ Beruthiel said stoically.
‘I wish you the best of luck, Queen Beruthiel. I will see you tomorrow morning.’ With another apologetic bow, Galden left her to her letters and thoughts.
Picking up her parchments, Beruthiel went to see Uldis. Once again nine cats popped up their heads and stared when she entered. Uldis was laying in bed, her face red and her forehead damp. ‘Uldis, are you awake?’ Beruthiel whispered.
‘Yes, but I wish I wasn’t,’ came the quiet reply. ‘I feel terrible.’
Beruthiel put her hand to Uldis’ forehead. ‘You aren’t too hot, but I think you have a bit of a fever. I am not very good at this kind of thing.’
‘I hope it isn’t the fever everyone had in Osgiliath. I would not want to be the one to bring it to Pelargir.’
‘No, I think you are just exhausted. Don’t worry, Uldis, you will be better soon.’ She sat down in a chair and leaned forward. ‘Lord Galden was here. I am leaving with the cats tomorrow,’ she said bluntly.
Uldis sat up abruptly and then grabbed her head in pain. ‘Ooh, I should not have done that! But Beruthiel, I don’t know if I can face the ocean in only one more day.’
‘You won’t need to, dear Uldis. I have no intention of allowing you to come with me. You must stay here and have a real life, not go with your evil queen into an unknown fate.’
‘Evil queen! I wish you wouldn’t say things like that Beruthiel. Already too many people think it,’ Uldis exclaimed. ‘And I have every intention of being by your side even if I am on my death bed.’
‘No, my dearest friend, this is my journey not yours. You have your whole life ahead of you. I cannot deprive you of that.’
‘But you will be all alone. I must go with you!’ Uldis cried.
‘I have spent most of my life alone, and I even look forward to it. I fear if I dragged you down with me, Uldis, one or both of us will end up hating the other. Please do not ask me to do that. This way we will always remember each other as a good friend.’
‘But I could never hate you, Beruthiel. I have already seen you at your worst and your best! Please let me come with you,’ she pleaded.
‘Even if this trip was an assured success I would not take you with me, and there is certainly no guarantee of that! While Falastur trained me well and the ship is sound, I cannot believe he ever intended for me to sail her outside the harbor even with competent help. You are a very good beginner, but I will not have you come with me. I have left orders with Galden to allow no one else on that vessel even if I beg him tomorrow to change his mind.’
Uldis’ shoulders sagged in defeat. ‘But I will be all alone. What am I to do? Where am I to go? All I am is Mistress of the Cats and now there will be no cats.’
‘You have your whole life ahead of you and can be anything you wish. I thought you had a few friends in Osgiliath.’
‘A few, but I can never return there. They have treated you horribly and beside that, now that they know who I am, they think I betrayed them. I would never be accepted,’ Uldis explained.
‘Probably not, but you can remain here in this house. I have left instructions with Lord Galden to that effect and he has agreed. If, no when, Falastur returns, he will see that you have all you need,’ Beruthiel told her. ‘As for cats, I suspect a few here wouldn’t mind staying behind, right?’ She looked at the lounging cats. ‘If any of you wish to stay, that is quite alright. Let Mithril know later and he will tell me. There is no disloyalty in it.’
Beruthiel smiled sadly at Uldis. ‘I ask only one thing of you. Someday when the time is right, tell my story, the true story. Even if it is to only a few people, I would like to think that someone knows the actual facts and not what will go into the history of Gondor. I have written a few things down that I may not have already told you.’ She put her papers on the table.
‘Oh, my queen, I will do that! I will make sure Falastur knows the truth and I will tell anyone who will listen. Surely the truth will win in the end?!’
Her friend laughed, ‘Somehow I doubt it, Uldis. An ‘evil queen who ruled cats’ story sounds so much better than one about a foolish queen that tried to help in the Ladies’ Court. However, I suppose it will be better to be remembered in some way rather than to be forgotten in a year or two.’
‘I will not forget, Beruthiel, not as long as I live!’ Uldis proclaimed.
‘And that, my friend, is more than enough for me.’
Later that night, Mithril stopped in Uldis’ room. ‘Two cats have chosen to stay, Mistress. Soot and Sable would be honored to be your companions.’
‘And I am honored that they are staying, Mithril. Will you tell Beruthiel or shall I?’
‘I already have. She is quite content. She does not want to take any who are unwilling.’
‘Oh, Mithril, take care of her for me. She will be all alone and I think it will be harder than she thinks.
‘She will not be alone.’
‘Yes, yes, you will be there, but it isn’t the same. I’m sorry, but it isn’t.’
‘She will not be alone with just the cats, Mistress, I promise.’
What do you mean, Mithril, and how can you possibly know?’ The cat only stared at her in silence. ‘If only that were true.’
‘It is’, he said and left the room.