Rising from her featherbed that next morning was a task Kimberly relished. It was a happy day, for the lingering memories of their time on that rock together last night still brought her that joy. She did not know how it had happened, but she could not help but think Matthias was cute. He was so sweet, thoughtful, and he always said hi everyday to her, without fail. He always treated her like a human being. He always treated her like somebody special.
She jumped from her bed with reckless abandon, her feet touching the floor roughly, but her balance was now good enough that she did not have to worry about it. She slipped over to the fire, and picked up the tinder and began to stir up the kindling from a nearby bucket. She had been required to build fires most of the time when she was young, and so this was not a challenge for her. In moments she had a nice little flame which she coaxed into a happily roaring fire. She warmed her paws a bit, getting the feeling back into her arms and legs. Her tail coiled about her feet as she sat on her haunches.
Kimberly stared at her tail for a moment, and sighed. No matter how nice Charles was, no matter how sweet, she was still a rat. How could anybody love a rat? Despite what Charles had said, she still found herself repulsive. She stirred up the fire a bit more, and then turned away from it, her body warm once more. She slipped into a simple shirt and breeches, not really worrying about what she looked like. What did it matter anyway, she was a rat!
She looked out the window at the back of her room at the Keep at the lazy fields outside. The sun was rising over the Keep, and the long shadows were quickly retreating in the morning mist. There was a certain lassitude over the place, and she felt somehow calmed by the peaceful nature of the scene before her. In the distance, she could see some of the farmers beginning to till the fields, preparing for the growing season which was soon to come. She could hear the distant echoing sound of hammer on hammer as one of the blacksmiths began to ply their trade. Within another hour the entire Keep would be awake and abuzz with activity. She could not hide in her room forever, and the morning was one of the few times she could have to herself.
Her mind made up; she closed the sluice gates to the hearth and straightened herself out. Slipping out the door, she remembered to take her chewing stick with her this time. It was another sign of her rodential state, but Charles had asked her to get used to it, because otherwise the pain would get to her and she might chew on herself in her sleep to take away the need. Of course, all Charles had to do was to ask her to use it, and she would. No explanation was necessary.
Her whiskers twitched as she thought about him. She wished that he would come by more often and spend more time with her. It was the happiest part of her day. She walked through the archway and out along one of the main causeways through the garden. She looked at all the flowers, enjoying the silence of the early morning. It was a bit chilly, but not enough to merit thicker clothes. She had fur after all. She had to admit that she didn't mind the fur, but if it had been of a less dirty animal she would have liked it better. The gardens were beautiful as always, but she wasn't really paying much attention to them. She was just walking to walk. She found herself traversing familiar steps, steps that seemed somehow to be haunted and empty today, where before they had been each a step up into Heaven itself. It did not take her long to traverse the Keep grounds, at least to the point that her feet took her. She stared at the rock amidst the copse of trees, looking out over the dark sky still to the west. Last night, she had sat upon this rock with Charles, who had treated her special, who made her feel good. She liked him, and she wanted him to know that she was happy, but not as a rat.
It hurt her to admit it, standing there in the very place that he had confessed her his love. She wished that she could love him back with equal measure, but it just wouldn't work. Not this way, not while she was a rat. She knew deep down that he was really just trying to make her feel better. She thought he was a sweet rat, but how could he love her? How could he love something that looked as verminous as she did?
She had to admit that after seeing his face for such a time that he did look cute, even if he was a rat too. Even the tail was not quite so bad anymore. However, it was a rat's tail, and rat's carried diseases, were thieves, snuck about in the dankest parts of castles, and were a constant menace to the safety of all near them. Who could ever want a rat?
Kimberly climbed back up on the rock, and sat there, imagining it was the previous night, how he held her paw in his, how he looked into her eyes. How he read that poem. It was so special, it had made her for the first time feel like somebody important. She so wished that he were here now, here to take her back to the Keep, to enjoy breakfast of cheese and bread with her. She wished that he would take her to a Writer's Guild Meeting, just so she could see what it was that he did there. She wished that he would invite her back to his little hole in the wall. She had never seen it, and he seemed loath to show it to her.
She was so confused, on the one hand she wanted to be with him, and on the other she was afraid of him because she did not like being a rat! If perhaps they were something else, if perhaps they were horses, then she would not have any problem. The horse was such a beautiful creature, full of grace and charm. She wished that she could have been a horse. Fate had seemed to be playing a cruel joke on her by placing her in an even worse trap than the one she left.
She sighed, feeling the rough texture of the rock beneath her, letting her tail run over it. Last night, this had been a comfortable divan. Now it was just what it looked like, a very hard rock. She climbed back down, looking over the leaden gray sky in the early spring morning. She wished that somehow she could just leave all of this, and try again. Then again, that would mean leaving the only person that cared about her. She leaned back against the rock, her whole body shaking with misery. She was so confused; she did not know what to do!
Kimberly felt her body heaving, she was so lost in this world, and nobody was going to give her directions. She was a rat, and that was that. She had asked everybody if there wasn't some way to change it, but they had all looked at her sadly and shook their heads. They did not try to comfort her, only to tell her what was the truth. They did not like rats; they knew how horrid they were. Matthias had shown concern however, he had tried to cheer her up, and he had made her laugh and smile.
She got to her feet again, and began walking back to the inside of the Keep. She had never been confused before, it all seemed so impossibly complicated! She started to run, scampering back to the Keep as quickly as possible. Though she had never been to his room before, she knew where it was. She found it quickly enough, offset in the hallway, small door with a nice sloping arch. She did not pound on his door, but meekly knocked. She sat outside, waiting to hear him come to see her. There was no response.
She knocked a little harder, calling out in her weak voice, "Charles? It's me, Kimberly."
There was no response still. Was he ignoring her? Was he deliberately refusing to open the door so that he did not have to see her face? She began to quiver even more, she knew it. Matthias was just trying to cheer her up, but when push came to shove, he still saw her as a rat, filthy creatures that they were. She finally collapsed in front of his door, unable to hold back her misery. She began to sob, weakly though, not very loud, barely audible. The rat, tears flowing from her eyes, the last vestiges of human emotional capability that her face could show in the same manner, was weeping without end.
She did not know how long it went on, but everything that seemed to matter meant nothing, he was not here for her. What else would make a difference? She was a rat. That was all that counted and nobody, not even any of the others rats, would want her around. No, she was not completely a rat, but a rat and a human. Had she just been a rat, she would not have known anything different. The other rats, had they just been rats, they would not have known anything different. But the humans, they hated rats, and that was why Charles was not here.
Suddenly there was a familiar voice from behind her, "Lady Kimberly? What ever is the matter?"
She turned about her head, the tears still fresh in her eyes, and her breath still heavy, "Charles? Why aren't you in your room?" She was too stunned to see him standing before her than anything else. She could not yet move a muscle.
"I was talking with the other rats, especially Saulius. What's wrong?" Charles leaned forward, his face scrunched up in concern, his own eyes searching never knowing what to expect.
Kimberly threw herself into his arms, clutching him tightly, "Just hold me!" she cried. He was stunned, but he did not let go, he held her tight, keeping her close to him. She felt his body's warmth seep into her, and her sobbing found its focus. She was cared about. He did love her, and that was all that mattered. She did not let go, nor let him let go, for as long as she could.