Flin stared at the dead body in front of him, not sure what to do. It had been one of the castle’s cats, taken in to take care of a mouse problem a couple of years back. They had taken care of it quickly enough, and the cats had been allowed to stay. Flin knew it had been Kena and her sister’s begging that had forced the queen to give in.
But now it was dead. Not just dead, either, but likely murdered. Cats had no natural predators in these woods, not really. Maybe a large bird of prey would try to take one on, but that wouldn’t cause a neck to be neatly cut. A bird of prey would just mangle it and eat it. This was different. Somebody had done this. Some pony had done this.
The body had been hidden in the woods. He wouldn’t have found it under any other circumstance, but his basket of apples had tumbled off his cart when he had hit a stone in the road. Of course he couldn’t possibly bring apples to the queen that had been lying on the forest floor, but they could eat them at home or feed them to the animals, so they wouldn’t go to waste. And he couldn’t leave his basket lying in the forest, either. His little sis had made it, after all.
And that was when he had found the cat. He had picked up his basket and there it was, lying with its black fur in the brown dirt. Someone had tried to cover it with leaves and such, but his basket had pushed those aside when it fell. Whoever had hid the body had been in a hurry, as they sure hadn’t done a very good job.
The cat hadn’t died that long ago. The body had hardly decomposed yet. Ugh. Flin pondered on what to do. He would have to tell someone at the castle. But would they even believe him without evidence? Still, he could hardly bring the dead body along in his cart full with fresh produce. They wouldn’t accept it and his dad would be furious.
He would just have to lead whoever wanted to see the cat back, he decided. He contemplated burying its body. Leaving it to lay out here in the open didn’t feel right at all, but then he’d have to dig it back up again. He vowed to come back to give the creature a final resting place later before walking back to his cart. He continued his trip to the castle through the forest, finding it quieter than usual.
The castle looked solemn on this quiet day. The skies were cloudy and it looked like it would start raining later in the afternoon. As he greeted the guards at the castle gates, Flin wondered if he would get to see Kena. He hadn’t spoken to her since their lunch in the forest. Had her mother kept her busy? If they really wanted to take off this summer, they had to make plans. And while it was often hard for her to sneak away, it was even harder for Flin to sneak into the castle.
Flin parked his cart in the usual location and untied the straps before unloading the wares. One of the servant boys came to help him and together they quickly brought all the food to the kitchen storage. The head chef was there, a pony always critical of his wares, but today she looked pleased. She even signed for the goods herself. His father would be surprised, Flin was sure.
Of course, as usual, he wasn’t asked to stay. They didn’t offer him any of the delicious soup they were having for lunch, which had been made with the vegetables he had brought them. Flin could only imagine what they made for the royal ponies, if this was what they made for the servants. Or maybe they were leftovers. It didn’t matter; he wouldn’t get to taste any of it, ever. They dismissed him as soon as all the goods were safely stored away and the papers were signed.
This time, Flin didn’t head home. The body of the dead cat still haunted his thoughts. Who would have done such a thing? He shook his head as he entered the palace entrance. He just hoped the poor thing hadn’t suffered.
“Good day. Can I help you with something?” a pony behind a desk said. She was the pony who booked all visits with the High Queen or any of her officials, Flin knew. Kena hated that they needed someone like her.
“Yes. I… I wish to speak to the head of the staff. Or the High Queen herself, if she’s available.”
The pony snorted, not all that subtle. “The High Queen is busy, sir. If you can explain what your visit is about, I will plan an appointment with the head of the staff.”
“It’s… I found one of the cats. The ones that were taken in to deal with the mouse problem? One of them is dead. In the woods.”
The pony raised her eyebrows. “Sir, I don’t think the death of a cat is something you should bother the head of the staff with. I can send someone to take care of its body, if it bothers you.”
Flin shook his head. “No, no. You don’t understand. See, the cat didn’t die a natural death. Someone killed it, with a knife. The cut was straight and clean. It couldn’t have been another animal or an accident.”
“Sir, I really don’t think…”
“Flin?” a voice interrupted her. For a moment he hoped that it was Kena, but instead Kena’s oldest sister Centrelle stared at him from the other side of the large hall. She had just walked in, the door behind her was still open. Flin didn’t know what was behind it.
“Your highness!” the pony behind the desk bowed deeply before Centrelle and Flin did the same, remembering that this pony wasn’t just his best friend’s sister. She was the heir to the High Throne and future ruler of the continent.
He had to have more respect for Kena and where she came from, he vowed.
“Flin, it’s good to see you. What brings you in here? Is something wrong with your deliveries? Did the staff not treat you well?”
Flin shook his head softly. Was he supposed to keep bowing, or could he look her in the eye? He knew Kena so well, but really all he knew about Centrelle was from her stories.
“It’s… nothing like that, your highness,” he stammered. “It’s just, on the way here, I eh, I found a cat, you see. One of the cats that were brought in for the mice. And it was dead. Killed, I mean. Someone slit its throat with a knife, I’m sure. The wound was too clean.” Silently he wondered if he could even tell such things to the future queen. Would he get thrown out for bothering her with such nasty stories?
Centrelle though, just looked worried. She closed her eyes for a few moments before sighing deeply. “That sounds troublesome, Flin. Are you sure the cat was killed?”
He nodded. “Absolutely positive, your highness.”
“I believe you. I have no idea what happened. As far as I know, the cats weren’t a nuisance to anybody. I don’t recall receiving any complaints about them, and they kept the castle grounds mouse free. I will make sure this will be investigated. Could you wait here? I will send someone to accompany you to retrieve the body.”
“Sure. That’s fine, your highness. I’ll wait.”
“Good. And Flin… Please don’t tell anyone about this. It’s probably nothing, so I don’t want anyone to freak out over this. Can you promise me not to tell anyone?”
“I… Of course.”
“Not even Kena,” Centrelle added as she nodded to the desk lady.
“Not even Kena,” Flin echoed with a dull pain in his chest. Not even Kena? How could he possibly keen anything from her? There hadn’t been a secret between them for years. She would be able to tell that he was keeping something in seconds.
But there was something about Centrelle that he couldn’t deny. She radiated a power he couldn’t identify, that maybe he had never seen in a pony before. This was the first time he’d been around her for longer than a few moments, Flin realized. No wonder he had never noticed it before.
“Good. I’ll send someone your way, Flin. Just wait here. Thank you for telling me this, and of course for your excellent goods and service. Pass my regards on to your father, will you?”
“I will. Thank you, your highness.”
Centrelle looked like she wanted to say something more. Her mouth opened, but she quickly closed it again. She gave him one last smile before she disappeared through the large wooden doors. Flin sat down on the large couch that was standing along the wall.
For a moment he considered looking for Kena. Maybe they could hang out and plan their trip. She was bound to be somewhere in the castle. He could easily lead whomever Centrelle sent to the cat’s body and then meet up with Kena.
But if he did now, she’d be able to read him like an open book. There was no way he’d be able to keep this from her. A part of him didn’t want to keep this from her. They always shared their secrets. It wasn’t fair that Centrelle asked him to keep this to himself, even if he understood her reasoning. Kena would want to investigate the matter on her own right away. And no matter what Kena thought of her oldest sister, Centrelle was the High Queen’s elder daughter. He couldn’t disobey her in this. He had made a promise, and he’d risk his father’s business if he broke it.
Kena would understand. He’d just come back tomorrow and look for her then, Flin promised herself as one of Centrelle’s servants appeared to follow him to the body.