Lenny the Lion Cat was cross. He had been sitting outside the place where he knew the mice had their burrow for nearly an hour. And yet not a single mouse had so much as shown its nose. Lenny could hear them though, whispering under the grass. “Shhhh” “Don’t you shhh me” “Nanna please, there’s a cat out there waiting, trying to find us.” “I didn’t get to be two years old without knowing about cats my lad, so don’t you dare tell me to be quiet. I’ll have the King talk to you I shall.” Wizz turned very slowly to his mother who muttered under her breath, “don’t move you fool, don’t move a whisker until it’s safe”. “But Mum how will we know it’s safe. The King’s not here to tell us.” At that point Lenny lasered in on the tiny, breathy sounds and the slight movement of some dead grass. He pounced and missed the nest, but it was enough to send one of Wizz’s overly anxious brothers rushing out into the light. A moment or two later and Lenny was sucking on the last remnants of field mouse tail. And wondering what to do next. A nap was in order but it was too hot in the sun, so he ambled over to the edge of the field and stretched out under the hedge.
In the mouse burrow a stunned silence spread over the large and previously-growing family. Then to collective shushing, “That’s the third time this week” said Nanna. “You lot need to get a grip and stop letting that lion catch you so easily. He eats you every time and he’s getting a taste for us.” The mice shuffled a little and Wizz’s Mum rolled her eyes and looked to her suckling pups. Nanna was continuing, “It’s just not good enough. You’ve got to do something.” Wizz was close to the entrance of the nest and watching as Lenny the Lion Cat put the finishing touches on his toilette and settled in and soon fell asleep. He looked almost dead so still was he, but for the gentle rise and fall of his very round tummy and the regular little twitches at the end of his tail.
Wizz turned back to the nest and signalled the all clear, watching as his various uncles, aunts, great aunts, great uncles, siblings, cousins and second cousins meandered off in search of snacks and nibbles. “What can I do Nanna? How can we stop the cat from eating us?” His grandmother looked over her tiny mouse glasses perched on the end of her tiny mouse nose and with a little sigh put down her weaving. “Wizz, I don’t know. It’s always been like this, with the cats and us. Sometimes it’s less bad, but mostly it’s always been like this.” Wizz pondered this awhile and wondered aloud “Why?” “Well how should I know? Why? Because, that’s why. And I should know, because I am two years old, old enough to have seen it all and old enough to tell you, you cannot change things.” “What about the King?” replied Wizz. “What if I went to see the King? The King should know what to do, shouldn’t he?” With another long sigh his grandmother replied cryptically “Should and does aren’t the same.” And with that she dozed off with her face snuggled into her weaving and her paws tucked under her chin.
Wizz took another careful look at where Lenny was now deep asleep and crept out of the nest and into the rising warmth of the spring sunshine. As he crossed the field he took plenty of random turns, glancing up frequently in case there was a bird on the look-out for a midmorning snack. He scuttled as fast as he could to get to the far edge of the meadow, to where it joined the woods where the ground was easier to cross and the shadows safer. Wizz breathed a little easier here, where the risk of aerial assault was much reduced. Moving faster across less tangled terrain, he soon reached the giant tree and its complicated tangle of roots. This was where the Mouse King and his enormous family had lived for generations. There had been many Mouse Kings over the years, but Wizz only knew this one. A couple of guardsmen, with the hairs on their heads smartly parted and stout twigs gripped tight in their forepaws, nodded to Wizz. They knew him as a frequent visitor to the Mouse King who generally welcomed this particular supplicant who was about the same age as him.
Wizz entered the underground palace, head bowed and squinting in the low light. He crept softly past the snoozing mousegirls and the mothers with their pups, until he reached a thick tangle of ivy roots that formed a rough walkway up the outside the tree. He scuttled from root to root following the nods of a series of guard mice startled from their dozing by the scratching sounds of Wizz’s tiny paws as he went. Soon Wizz found himself on a small curved platform, formed when a branch of the ancient tree had crashed away under a lightning strike. There at the edge, basking in the rising warmth crouched a large, golden brown field mouse. His ears were bigger than those of the other mice and his tail was a thing quite magnificent. His coat gleamed and his whiskers rose and fell as he breathed in the soft spring air.
“Your highness,” said Wizz crouching low in a mouse grovel. The Mouse King turned and rose up onto his haunches, rubbing his ears and tenderly stroking the whiskers on one side of his face. He observed the mouse whose face was so low to the ground that even if the Mouse King’s eyesight had been good, which it wasn’t, Wizz would have been anonymous to him. After a few minutes of trying to work out which of the hundreds of mice subjects this one was, the Mouse King turned away again and said “Yes? What do you want?” in a lazy drawl.
The problem was quickly outlined and the Mouse King tried to show interest. He still hadn’t looked fully at Wizz who was now standing up, the better to relate the problem to his lord and master. “Sir, my Nanna says it always has to be this way, but does it?” “Aha! ” exclaimed the Mouse King, “Now I know who you are. You’re Wizz and I know this because there is, at the moment only one ancient mouse called Nanna in the kingdom. Well Wizz. Well, well Wizz.” And the Mouse King came closer to his subject, just near enough to get him in focus. “What do you suggest, Wizz?” Poor Wizz looked down at the King’s perfect front paws and their neat fuzz of immaculate little hairs, confused and uncertain. “Why does it have to be this way? Couldn’t we come to some sort of an arrangement with the Lion Cat?” “Arrangement? What do you mean arrangement? How can we, mere mice, even mice as devastatingly handsome as me, come to an accommodation with a cat? It’s just not done, Wizz, just not done.” He looked at Wizz who was less blurred now that the Mouse King was close up and after a while added “but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.” Wizz felt himself puff up with mousey excitement. “You’re right, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. It can be done, and do it we must, for the sake of the kingdom and especially for the sake of my clan under the tussocks in the top paddock.”
Two days later when Lenny the Lion Cat had once again settled under the hedge, a procession of mice was making its way along the edge of where the woods joined the field. They moved in pairs and were carrying various loads which they kept hidden under their bellies. As they approached the sleeping cat, the pairs split to form a circle around Lenny. Some of the mice leapt nimbly into the hedgerow and passed their cargoes paw to paw, threading their way through the branches and out to the roots. Stealthily they formed a network of mousehair ties that reached over and across Lenny’s body. Unseen a small troop of young pups had looped more of the ties over each paw, and on a single signal from Wizz all ties were pulled tight, and every mouse leaned hard against the ropes, knowing that the cat would awaken as soon as he felt the pressure. And this is indeed what happened, but so tightly was he held by the many, many mice, that Lenny the Lion Cat was powerless in their grip. Each time he tried to move he felt the sting of a hawthorn spine sticking into his paws and body. He became aware of a tiny voice saying in an admonishing tone, “now, now children, there’s no need for spite”. But they gave another little surreptitous dig just in case.
Lenny the Lion Cat was a fearless beast of a cat. He was young, strong and limber, with a well-muscled form and a long dark coat streaked with champagnes and greys. The thick ruff of extra fur around his neck enhanced his menacing aspect. His large ears were well tufted and his whiskers luxuriant. Large clumps of fur grew between his toes and his claws were menacing. He chewed on them regularly, to make sure they stayed nice and sharp. Lenny the Lion Cat was big, beautiful and extremely fluffy, which in the situation in which he now found himself was a bit of a disadvantage. There were mice everywhere, clutching their slender ropes made of mousehair or clutching at Lenny’s tufts and wisps or hidden in his fur clutching spikey things. Even his tail was pinned down with the little ropes and the added heft from the thirty or so mice sitting on top of it. And every time he moved, Lenny felt a sharp pricking from hawthorn and bramble spines.
He lay perfectly still and waited to be savaged by a hundred or so mice jaws, waited to hear the sound of his own bones crunching instead of the sound of some other creature’s bones crunching. But there was no sound of savagery or crunching. He heard only a very high pitched noise that very slowly resolved itself into words. The speaker had evidently been trying to be understood for a little while and eventually Lenny heard the same tiny voice he had heard before say “give him a prick or too, he’s ignoring the King.” Lenny gave a pathetic little moan and said through jaws that barely had any room to open, so tight were the bonds, “what, what will you do to me?” Wizz, standing next to the King and trying to keep him looking in the direction of the cats huge eyes, was surprised at the request. This might make the whole conversation and the accommodation it was supposed to produce, much simpler.
“Your majesty, look he’s trapped and cannot fight back. We have him. We have control over the Lion Cat.” The Mouse King was staring into the depths of a pair of giant eyes, fascinated at how they could close diagonally and at how black they were until the black started to narrow when the mice on the cat’s head stood away taking their shadows with them. “You cat,” said the Mouse King, with a small step forward and his foreleg raised in the direction of the nearest eye. “You cat, do you recognise the Mouse King?” As he said this an overexcited youngster who had somehow managed to get hold of an especially sharp hawthorn jumped with excitement. The thorn pierced the tender space between two of Lenny’s toes and he growled in anguish even though he had no idea that there even was a Mouse King. “Good,” preened the Mouse King and added imperiously “now you listen to me. Any more eating of my people and there will be trouble. We don’t want any bother in this kingdom, but you are causing no little grief to the general murine populace.” The cat tried to move and incurred only more pain so he murmured a small growl and said “what’s a murine populace?”
The King was not entirely sure of this himself, as he was being fed his lines by Wizz. “Tell him mice,” whispered Wizz, “Just mice”. The Mouse King was starting to feel bold and power was going to his head a little, so as much as a mouse can boom, he boomed “mice, you must stop killing and eating the mice”. A hush fell on the assembled members of the murine populace who were beginning to feel peckish and losing interest in the capture the cat project. “Your majesty, everyone, Lion Cat, all of us here,” Wizz shouted as loudly as possible. “We have an accord between the Mouse Kingdom of these dominions and the Lion Cat. By order of the Mouse King and agreement of the Lion Cat, said Lion Cat will cease to persecute the mice of this realm. If said Lion Cat does not keep the promise he is making here today to the Mouse King, said Lion Cat will once more be taken, tied and pierced in his tender places, even unto death.” This last came out of Wizz’s mouth quite unexpectedly and shocked them all, so that a collective gasp could be heard. Lenny the Lion Cat lay very still and was wondering what would happen when they decided to let him go. How many of his captors could he catch in those moments between release and escape? But then, how would it be to suffer the Mouse King’s vengeance, if Lenny did manage to eat or maim a tranche of the Mouse King’s subjects? Would it ever be possible again to laze in the sunshine or meander fearless through the woods? There are mouse spies everywhere. As Lenny considered these points he was aware that there were fewer mice sitting on his head and tail and that the evening was coming and it was getting chillier. “Well?” Lenny heard Wizz’s shout and tried to move again only to suffer yet more pricks and pokes. His legs were starting to go numb and he was hungry and he had been awake for what felt like hours.
Lenny was desperate to go to sleep, to find something, anything other than mouse to eat and to snuggle purring at some friendly feet under the covers of a soft and warm bed. “Do you promise never to tie me up and prick me again?” he hissed. “Yes. If you promise never to eat or injure us again, you have our word.” And then Wizz added, “don’t expect to be let loose immediately. We have to get our mothers and youngsters to safety before we let you loose.” Lenny could by now move his head and jaws and tried to answer. But he was so cold and stiff that all he could manage was a feeble nod.
Soon the mice had all gone and the tiny ropes were nothing more than fluff that drifted in the light breeze. Lenny shook himself free and looked about him for some lingering mice but there were none. Only Wizz and the Mouse King had stayed behind to be certain that the Lion Cat would keep his word. “What say you Lion Cat? Can we really trust you?” Lenny looked about him, crouched down and quivering, trying to find the source of the squeaks. He saw Wizz and his Majesty some few paws lengths away, defiant and trembling. Every fibre and instinct in the cat’s body trembled with feline lust for mouse blood. With immense effort he backed away, eyes locked on theirs and ears flat. “Yes your majesty, you have my word.” With a flick of their tails the two mice, shaking but mastering their terror, were gone.
In the old tree palace the mouse celebrations went on into the night. Deep asleep, clutching and clawing the human toes under the duvet, Lenny the Lion Cat dreamt many hunting dreams, but none of them included mice.