A few months ago, I wrote a short story for my partner’s family, to cheer them up during a difficult time. It features several of their animals, as well as my cats, and a host of other furry friends. Below is the first chapter – it’s suitable for all ages, and is illustrated by my sister. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Happy reading!
Prologue: Welcome to Biscuit Manor
Nestled on the top of a cliff, surrounded by grass and trees and flowers, a large house sits proudly by the sea.
And inside that house, a small cavalier sits proudly upon his throne of cardboard.
Allow me to introduce you to Lord Cookie of Biscuit Manor.
Chapter 1: Lord Cooks of Biscuit Manor
Cookie, known fondly as Lord Cooks of Biscuit Manor, is a fluffy cavalier, white and brown, with big floppy ears that tend to get caught up in things, including his own mouth. But don’t be fooled by his cute appearance, for Cookie rules the land with an iron fist.
Biscuit Manor was once known locally as Cheese Abbey. It was run by Lady Sophie, a fun-loving Labrador, who enjoyed nothing more than eating cheese with her guinea pig friends. Lady Sophie, who retired to the countryside some years ago, now runs a farm, which produces all the cheese she can eat. Lord Cooks was next in line, and accepted the post eagerly.
With royal blood in his veins, Lord Cooks doesn’t have to work hard at ruling. He has perfected the art of looking down his nose at anyone who dares to displease him. If you’re ever on the wrong end of that look, it’s best to take cover and wait for him to calm down, else you’ll be overcome with a sudden feeling of guilt.
One pup who knows that feeling all too well is Riley. Butler to Lord Cooks, Riley often feels as though he has displeased his master, but could you resist nibbling at his tempting cardboard throne? I thought not.
Riley often delivers the midday meal to Lord Cooks, for their chef, a rabbit named Karrot, likes to take a nap at that time. When Lady Sophie hired Karrot for the job, she asked her how to spell her name (for tax purposes, you understand). Karrot replied, “it’s Karrot with a K, if you please”, with an upturned nose as if to say, I care not if you please! And Lady Sophie laughed, and hired her on the spot.
Lord Cooks knows a good thing when he sees it, so he kept Karrot on, and even allows her to take her midday nap with nary a grumble. After all, the food she delivers is excellent.
Early on a Sunday morning, Butler Riley is taking a walk in the garden. While sniffing around his second favourite tree, he is startled by a rustling sound above him. Glancing up into the branches, he spots a cat. No, two cats! Ignoring his first instinct to bark (for Lord Cooks is still asleep, and is very disgruntled upon waking), Riley calls softly, “hallo?”
“Why hello young sir!” A voice calls back. “Forgive me, is this your tree?”
“Yes! Well, I mean.. it’s only my second favourite tree…”
“Splendid!” Comes the reply. “I do believe we shall stay up here for a while longer then. My sister here has her eye on that fat pigeon.”
“But this is a private garden!” Riley exclaims.
The cat who spoke to Riley stares down at him intently. He has large green eyes, glowing out of black fur. His underbelly is pure white, as are his paws, which look bigger than any cats’ paws ought to be, and he has a white patch on his chest that looks curiously like a tie. This cat must have eaten a magic bean to have grown so big, Riley thinks.
“But is it your private garden, young man?” The cat asks, still peering down from his branch. His sister, who is smaller yet still quite large, licks one paw disinterestedly, one eye still on the pigeon. Her fur is black and orange, like fire lighting up a nights’ sky.
Riley sits down. “No,” he says quietly. Sometimes Riley wishes he could be lord of the manor, so he could eat all the biscuits he liked and sleep all morning and laze around in the sun. But little does young Riley know about ruling, as Lord Cookie would tell you.
“Why the long face, pup?” The cat asks. “I thought dogs were always happy.”
“Oh, I am happy!” Riley wags his tail to prove it. “It’s just.. well, sometimes I get sick of being bossed around. Sometimes I wish I could be in charge, and do whatever I want!”
The cat, quite unsuccessfully, stifles a giggle behind one white paw. “Oh my dear pup, don’t you know that it’s no fun being in charge? You have to decide on everything, and the paperwork, gah!” The cat stands up, stretches out, flexes his claws. “It sounds simply awful. Wouldn’t you agree, dear?”
His sister simply nods. She seems to be getting ready to pounce on her pigeon, which alarms Riley.
“Excuse me! Miss Cat? Would you mind not eating that bird?” He calls up. Ignoring him, the cat crouches low, her gaze intent. Quite of its own accord, a bark escapes Riley’s mouth, startling the pigeon into flying away.
The lady cat looks down at Riley in disgust. “Well, you foolish pup, you just lost me my breakfast.” Her brother sighs.
“We’ve already had breakfast, sweet sister.”
“And it’s time for my second breakfast, bothersome brother.”
With a roll of his eyes, the cat jumps down to a lower branch, agile as a dancer, then lands on the ground next to Riley without a sound.
“I wish I could jump like that,” Riley says in awe.
“It would appear, young pup, that you spend far too much time wishing you were something you are not. What are you good at?” The cat sits down next to him. His sister is still sulking on her branch.
Riley thinks hard. “Well, I can run really fast, and I can howl!” He frowns. “I can fetch balls. Wanna see?”
“No, no, that won’t be necessary. Anything else?”
Riley sighs. “I don’t think so.”
“Are you any good at cooking?” The lady cat calls down hopefully.
“Not really,” Riley replies sadly.
“A pity. I’m starving.” She slumps back down on her branch. Riley looks down at the grass.
The cat next to him sighs. “Don’t listen to her, she’s always starving.” He attempts a smile at the sad dog next to him. “I bet there’s loads you’re good at, you just haven’t realised it yet! You know the old saying – if you tell a fish it’s stupid because it can’t ride a bicycle, it will think it’s stupid.”
“I can’t ride a bicycle,” says Riley. “I’m too little.”
“Clever minds shall have to come up with a doggy bicycle then! Which you’ll excel at, I’m sure.” The cat pats Riley’s paw. “Now, shall we introduce ourselves?”
“Did someone mention fish?” His sister asks, licking her lips.
“Oh do shut up about food, sister, you’re beginning to sound like a dog. No offence to our young friend here! And come down here. You’re being quite rude.”
With a groan, the lady cat descends the tree as her brother did, gracefully and without obvious exertion. She lands in front of them and sits down, cocking her head at her brother, as if to say, happy now?
Ignoring her, the cat turns back to Riley. “My name is Nala. Now I know what you’re thinking – that’s a girl’s name! But I would thank you to ignore the urge to ridicule me, and accept that The One Who Feeds clearly thought I was exceptionally cute. Nala means gift, don’t you know.” He seems very pleased about that fact.
In case you were wondering, Riley hadn’t been thinking anything, actually, and had had no urge to ridicule, but he nods all the same.
“I’m Kiara,” Nala’s sister purrs. “It means little dark one, or so I’m told.”
Now that’s a surprise! Riley thinks but doesn’t say. He has better manners than that.
“Nice to meet you both. I’m Riley, butler here at Biscuit Manor.”
Both cats’ eyes widen at the name.
“Biscuit Manor?” Kiara asks. “I didn’t realise we were that far south.” She exchanges a meaningful look with her brother.
Nala edges closer to Riley. “Dreadful business in the north drove us away from The One That Feeds and on to the streets. Is there any chance of us imposing upon your hospitality? I once knew Lady Sophie you know. Lovely, for a dog- uh, I mean, royalty. No airs and graces. She always had a saucer of milk handy when we popped round.”
“Lactose-free, of course,” Kiara chimes in. “Normal milk gives me awful gas.”
“Charming as always, sister.”
Riley thinks hard. “Well, we’ve never had feline guests before. I’m not sure Lord Cookie would like it.” He looks at the cats pleading faces. “But.. but I guess he doesn’t need to know if you came in for some food. I’d hate to see you go hungry.”
“Wise decision, young Riley. A hungry cat is a nasty cat. Just look at poor Kiara there.” Kiara flicks an ear at the insult.
Nala stands up abruptly. “Shall we go in then?” Resigned, Riley follows suit, leading the way through the gardens and up the passageway to the kitchen door. Lord Cooks should still be asleep, Riley thinks. Anyway, he never comes to the kitchen. Another thought occurs to Riley. He stops suddenly, blocking the path.
“Uh, our chef is, well, she’s a rabbit. You can’t, you know, uh, eat her.”
Kiara smiles, but Nala looks aghast.
“Goodness, no! That would be dreadful manners. No, no, we’re on best behaviour, young Riley, let me assure you.”
“Of course! Right, Kiara?” Nala looks pointedly at his sister.
“Best behaviour, right,” she replies. Riley heaves a sigh of relief.
“Lead on then, good sir!” Nala exclaims, and they all head into the kitchen, where a rabbit with purple fur and a K in her name is stirring a huge pot of vegetable soup.