“Wake up, you silly.”
I try to ignore the voice, but it persists. My sleep is ruined anyway. I yawn and stretch without opening my eyes.
“Ma Cailleach wants you at the cúirte*.”
Huh! That news jolts me awake. I stare at the brollach* waiting to fly me over to the head witch’s court.
The stupid broom sweeps me onto its handle and zooms off. I cling to it, my claws scratching the hard wood. It makes little sense. Why does the head witch want me? What did I do apart from being a no-good, familiar-less cat on the entire land? I sleep on the Sapphire tree or loiter near the dirty bins looking for food.
The brollach skids to a stop and dumps me at the entrance. I don’t even have the time to dust myself when loud voices assault my ears.
Now I remember. Today is the hearing of that case. Of course, I know about it. Eolai* Darragh has accused Ri* Cormac of destroying his… whatever that scientist creates in his cloud lab. Ri Cormac has denied it and filed a defamation case for accusing someone of his stature.
But why am I here?
“Silence.” Ma Cailleach’s voice booms.
“Clover, come here, please.” She calls me from her seat at the top of the stairs.
Everyone looks at me- assessing, bored, doubtful, and outright angry. I keep my eyes on the altar. Ma Cailleach has her flower crown on her head and a specter in one hand. She gives me a satisfied smile.
Brr! This can’t be good. My tail twitches in unease.
“Clover is the new jury. She will decide who is lying and who isn’t.” Ma Cailleach turns to me and nods. “This case between Eolai Darragh and Ri Cormac is now your responsibility. Listen to their accusations and arguments. Look at the evidence. Declare who is guilty. None of us will interfere.”
My heart stops. Me? Jury?
I continue to stare at her as the court erupts around me. Both parties and their supporters outrage. The reporter from Silver Vamps inches closer from one side. The Moon Wolfs reporter is doing the same from the other side.
“Silence!” Ma Cailleach roars again. She plucks me from my frozen state and places me on the pedestal beside her and gestures. “Start the proceedings.”
Eolai Darragh is the first one to speak. He looks picture perfect in his hot pink lab coat, trimmed nails, and blue hair brushed away from his face. He stands tall, with thin shoulders squared and head high.
“Your Jury Highness, Ri Cormac has tampered with my inter-portal machine. I’ve been working on it forever, as you would have heard. The machine is finished, and I’m to send my first volunteer into another portal of their choice. This volunteer wanted to meet the Gods, you see.
“On the night before the historical event, I went to my cloud lab to check the machine one last time. That’s when I saw a royal shadow sabotaging my invention. A royal shadow is easy to spot. No one else lives in a painting.” Eolai Darragh sums up and glares at the king, who looks murderous with rage.
“Your turn, Ri.” An elf hisses from the king’s supporters. They surround his painting from three sides, declaring their stance. The elves are ever-loyal to the royal family. Where’s the Banríon by the way? Will the queen not support her king?
Ri Cormac turns to look at me with a slight distaste. He tries to hide it, but I can sniff it from here. These royals in the paintings are so full of themselves with those stubby noses turned up. They issue orders from the comfort of their golden frames. They can’t even get out of the painting, but want to rule the entire land. Oh…
“Clov… erm… Your Jury Hi… ness, I deny the accusations of this scientist.” Rio Cormac waves his hand from the painting to get my attention and continues, “Neither I nor my family have ever stepped out of our esteemed frames. We have been serving the citizens of Iontach for centuries without a remark and will continue to do so. For this mad creator to sully my reputation is disgusting. What did he even do for the public?”
Eolai Darragh’s supporters protest. Ri Cormac plods in full steam. “We know what his inventions do to us. One turned a wizard into a leprechaun, and another changed the faerie’s wings into a tail. I hear the dear little thing still hasn’t come out of her water-filled flower.”
I have to concede that the king has a point. Not that I’ve been one ever, but Iontach has many victims of the scientist’s failed inventions. The media houses fund the scientist and keep him going, no matter the causalities.
Well, I despise them both. But a jury can’t be biased no matter how much I know about the parties. That’s the thing about being a stray. It’s as good as being invisible. They don’t see a black cat with onyx eyes spying from the dark corners.
As the argument escalates, I understand why Ma Cailleach has picked me. She thinks I have more details about this case. Or she wants me to do what I always do and find the truth.
Alright then. I turn to her and meow.
Ma Cailleach raises an eyebrow and gives me a half nod. She looks at the crowd and says, “The cúirte is adjourned for the next new moon. We meet in ten days. Jury Clover is to have full access to the crime scene and any other places she wants to be. The parties are not to meet Jury Clover without an appointment.”
On the Ninth Day
My life has become a nightmare. My freedom is nonexistent now. The Silver Vamps and Moon Wolfs reporters are my constant shadows. The elves are taking turns to follow these idiots. I can’t even pee in peace. Eolai Darragh and Ri Cormac have met me on different days, giving me a headache and an empty stomach. And what information could I get in the last few days?
Nothing. The case is where it has been.
I need to do something tonight. Before that, I should lose these spies trailing me. I fake a yawn and climb up my Sapphire tree to nap. A disgruntled groan reaches my ears. Suppressing a chuckle, I stretch twice on my favorite sturdy branch and curl into a ball.
The reporters get bored and leave after a while. The elves stay longer but decide to rest as I snore. I stay put for another few minutes. The moonlight is dull but still bright enough for me to wait until after midnight.
I listen for sounds and find none. Cats are the only night creatures in Iontach, and none except me live outside. They have cozy homes with their familiars, happy and safe.
First, I go to the cloud lab and climb up the nearest tree. This takes time. I get to the topmost branch and jump up into the dark gray clouds. Scrambling over the fluffy edge, I somehow get inside and breathe a sigh of relief.
The place is a mess- worse than the trash bins. How can that silly scientist find anything in this lab? It’s no surprise that he uses one potion for another. Maybe he should clean his lab instead of pampering himself.
I poke into things to find something; anything. I sniff and choke. Yuck! Such awful smell. Did I catch something wispy too? I ignore it and look around. I don’t want to breathe more than necessary. At least, I see a crystal ball in a corner and rub my paw over it.
Whoa! What is this? I peek again to make sure. Indeed. My eyes aren’t betraying me. A form… hands… silent sneer… aha!
I hop out into the open. My job is done. There’s no need to go to the palace. Sliding down the tree outside the cloud lab, I turn right towards my Sapphire tree when the earth rumbles. I freeze on the spot. It rumbles again, a low warning from the head witch. I turn left with a deep sigh and head towards the palace.
Ma Callieach is watching me. Can she see what I just saw inside? I scratch my ear with a paw (not the dirty one) to think. Iontach has rules about using magic and respecting boundaries. We have to when almost everyone here has a gift and is more than happy to use magic, necessary (or not).
The walk to the palace leaves me tired. It’s on the opposite side of Iontach. Even Ma Callieach’s powerful brollach would need time to cover this distance. That puts me in a fix, but there must be some explanation for what I witness.
I’m panting by the time I reach the palace, but can’t wait outside to catch my breath. The nasty reporters might be on the hunt by now. They’ve been trying hard to declare the scientist a winner. Why, just yesterday, the Silver Vamps channel interviewed leprechauns, vampires, and werewolves about how Eloai Darragh’s elixirs made them better. The interviews didn’t last long, though. There were only a handful of them. The illusion of his genius makes him more famous than his inventions.
Ri Cormac has support despite his royal arrogance and apparent stupidity to avoid anything new. He sure didn’t harm a being (ignoring the rumors about releasing hounds to tear his father’s painting to grab the throne). The land is safe, and everyone has food to eat, work to do, and a home to stay in. Except for me, of course.
Slipping into the palace is easier than I thought. The gargoyle winks as I crawl and climb up the wall and into an open window. It’s dark and cold. I can walk past anyone and not be seen. There’s a faint light underneath the Banríon’s door. Uh oh.
I slip to the king’s room, following the loud snores. Ri Cormac is slumped on his throne (in the painting) with his mouth open and drool dripping down his wobbling chin. I rummage through the place and find nothing I shouldn’t.
I go back out the way I come in. The skunky scent of the Moon Wolfs’ reporter hit me before I expose myself. Making a sharp turn, I weave through the hedges and take another route to my Sapphire tree. The sky is changing color. Not enough time to sleep. Sigh!
The Judgment Day
“Umm…” I’m sleepy and tired.
“Oh, for the Hecate’s sake! Wake up.”
The brollach swats my back with its bristles. “Judgment day, lazy bum.”
“Oww! Stop it.”
“You don’t want to anger Ma Cailleach, do you? Come on, hang tight.”
I jump onto the broom’s handle, my heart hammering in my ribs. I’m no longer sure of my judgment. Daylight changes everything. What if I’m wrong? What if that’s not the right thing to do?
The brollach dumps me again at the entrance of the cúirte. I’m not ready. I want to meow and scream.
“Make way for Jury Clover.” Ma Cailleach announces from her chair.
The rainbow-colored eyes of those inside the court terrify me. No matter what decision I make, some of them will be pissed off. I shudder, thinking what the media houses will do if I decide in favor of the king. Will they play the secret recordings of me stealing food and sneaking into places I shouldn’t be going? What about the elves? Will they stop leaving food outside if I rule against the king?
Ma Cailleach places me again on the same pedestal. It feels like the gallows. She gives me an assuring smile and turns to the full house below.
“Citizens of Iontach, no matter whose side you take, the Jury will rule only in one’s favor. Troublemakers will be stripped of their powers and exiled for eternity.”
A hush falls over the crowd. They stare at me with anticipation. I forget to blink and breathe.
“Go on, Clover.” Ma Cailleach’s soft voice gives me courage. She will take care of things. Ri Cormac and Eolai Darragh may be popular, but the real power is with the head witch.
I clear my throat and speak. “…Thank you, Ma Cailleach. I have gone through, umm… the statements of both parties. I listened to them speak at length about their, err… achievements and responsibilities. After a thorough investigation, I’ve come to my decision.”
I take a long breath and blurt. “The king cannot come out of the painting, but his shadow can. Ri Cormac is guilty of tampering with Eolai Darragh’s machine via his shadow.”
The half a second deafening silence is the longest, most torturous period of my life. The elves and faeries gasp. The employees from Silver Vamps and Moon Wolfs cheer and clap.
Ri Cormac looks ready to rip me into pieces. The scientist bows to me with a smile.
“So be it, Clover. The brollach will drop you back at the Sapphire tree.” Ma Cailleach declares. She snaps her fingers, and I’m outside the court. No one bothers as I get back to my life.
A Week after the Judgment
Every being in Iontach is at the center of the kingdom. Eolai Dorragh stands with his inter-portal machine, a round thingy with multi-colored windows. He claims to have fixed it nice and good. Ma Cailleach has given orders that Ri Cormac would be the first volunteer to travel in the machine as a punishment for sabotaging it.
The scientist is over the sun, telling everyone how this weird machine is his best invention ever. Grinning from ear to ear, he looks at us and says, “Imagine traveling across the space and time into another portal! After Ri Cormac, I’ll send anyone anywhere you want to explore.”
The crowd shudders and steps back in fear. His minions, the reporters, are flashing the event on the crystal boxes in all homes (for whom, I wonder, since every idiot is right here).
A couple of witches from the cúirte bring Ri Cormac’s painting. He is yelling and shaking his fists. His elves are wringing their hands. Some are sobbing. All of us know this could be the last time we’ll see the king. It’ll be a miracle if the inter-portal machine comes back or brings the king with it.
The palace guards bring the Banríon’s painting. She is teary-eyed but holds her pose. I stare at her majestic beauty- amethyst eyes, matching hair, and flawless pale skin. If I have half her looks, I would’ve been Mrs. Clover with a litter on the way. I step closer to her and catch a light whiff of her scent. Ah!
Ma Cailleach hovers above us. Her brollach is no less a throne.
“Begin now,” she orders.
Eolai Dorragh makes a speech again. I nap and wake up twice. At last, he’s done. The witches place Ri Cormac’s painting in the machine. The scientist is explaining what he’ll do when someone steps on my tail. I yelp, jump high, and fall on the witches. They stumble as the elves use this chance to push Eolai Dorragh into the machine. There’s no time for them to take the king’s painting out.
I fall on the machine and slide down. My paws slip over the smooth surface and scratch the colored windows. The witches are fighting off the elves. The vampires and werewolves are dragging the elves.
Someone grabs a handful of my fur. I cry and try to shake free. My paw presses something round and big. There’s a small buzzing sound. Before I can blink, the machine whooshes ahead and throws me on the ground. Ri Cormac and Eolai Darragh are missing along with the inter-portal machine. Just like that.
My body hurts. The crowd is talking and moving around. I limp towards a nearby tree and lean against the rough bark. My heart is still beating double time. Will the two ever come back? We already know the answer. Silver Vamps, Moon Wolfs, and the elves will be better off finding new idols.
I’m ready this time, and the brollach chuckles. “Oops! Lost my chance to smack your little bum. Jump on.”
I meow and cling to the handle as the broom flies me to my destination. The enormous palace looks much better on a full moon night. I thank the brollach and walk inside through the main entrance.
The Banríon’s painting and Ma Cailleach are waiting for me.
“Welcome, Clover.” The Banríon smiles at me. I meow and blush, trying a curtsy.
She waves it away. “You are an equal, darling. Hop up. Let’s dine.”
The three of us eat in silence. The palace has no shadows now. Every corner is lit. The air smells of lavender, rose, thyme, sage, and a scent I now recognize. I push the thought away and focus on my food. It is delicious.
“Thank you, Milady and Ma Cailleach,” I say.
Ma Cailleach replies. “You were good, Clover. No more over-hyped scientists or greedy kings. Iontach will have a head witch, a loving queen, and a smart furry molly*.”
“The Holy Trinity,” I murmur.
They laugh and say in unison. “So be it.”
Ma Cailleach shimmers out after a while. The guards carry the Queen’s painting to the King’s chambers. I climb up the stairs to my new room. The four-poster bed has velvet sheets. My body sinks into its feathery mattress. It’s not as comfortable as my Sapphire tree, but it’ll do. What’s a little comfort in exchange to adopt the Banríon on Iontach as my familiar?
- Brollach- broom
- Ma Cailleach- Head witch
- Cúirte- court
- Eolai- Scientist
- Ri- King
- Banríon- Queen
- Hecate- the chief goddess of magic and spells
- Molly- A female cat with no babies
- Holy Trinity- A trio of neo-pagan goddesses- The Maiden, The Mother, and The Crone (the original trinity before the missionaries appropriated it as The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit)
The words are taken from Irish language.
Picture Credit: Bessi from Pixabay