GRAND DUKE OF THE FOREST ROYAL.
Sly had wide-ranging responsibilities.
He was, first and last, a friend. He was an advisor, offering sage counsel. And he had social obligations which were part and parcel of his lofty position: to show himself, to be admired, to honor his patron by enthralling all who clapped eyes on him with his charismatic personality and his physical magnificence, his feline grace.
. . . . . He took care to present the attitude of a dandy, bemused, a seen-it-all look in his eyes, arranging himself with studied carelessness, whenever possible crawling up his monarch’s leg as if to gain his attention, but actually to display a taut muscularity, a calculated performance conveying the message: Am I not a handsome bastard?
. . . . . He had good reason to believe that his remarkable advancement should be accepted. The rigid parameters of the feudal class system were crumbling.1 Brains and pluck gained even the base-born appointments of honor and influence with expectations of prosperity and privilege. Sly viewed his unprecedented rise as solid proof of his innate superiority. He was an example of the survival of the fittest, though it would be two hundred years before the phrase was coined.
. . . . . When Rupert nervously inhabited the throne, the cat lolloped at his side on a miniature couch. He wore silk collars edged with pearls and sucked on catmint-laced pate. As it went for the king, his food was sampled first by an individual selected at random from the convened officials, a prudent move, and a sign of the esteem in which he was held. He was to be addressed as ‘Monsieur’, the usage a holdover from the times of French domination, and he was to be shown the deference due a foremost peer.
. . . . . Draped over his shoulder on especially grand occasions was the crimson and green sash of The King’s Archers, the smartly dressed cadre of household guards which in earlier centuries had performed a vital protective service, but which, after the introduction of firearms, became primarily ornamental. Garbed in the full costume of feathered cap, scalloped bolero, jaunty capelet, striped girdle, and cuffed boots, the cat cut a dashing figure. Sadly, the boots pinched.
. . . . . Shod, he could not saunter. He hobbled. Or shambled. But he looked so handsome in them that he ordered a dozen pairs in a range of colors and wore them often. He could stand in them, or he could prance for a few paces. When, sporting the full regalia, he arrived with the king at a banquet or assembly and had to traverse long galleries acknowledging crowds of well-wishers, he was carried on a litter, like an eastern vizier, through the close-packed throng. It suited him. Lounging at shoulder level on a tufted divan, or, alternately, seated in a miniature replica of the king’s grand carriage, he was able to wink at a pal or spit straight into the eye of an enemy.
. . . . . He was forced to use the litter more and more. His critics were bent on doing him harm. The scoundrels stumbled as they passed him in the halls, and, in the effort to recover their balance, booted him in the ribs or the backside. This was invariably followed by frenzied remonstrance: “Oaf! You’ve injured Monsieur! Come, small sir! Let me see to your boo-boos!” And he’d be hoisted and poked and prodded, his ears would be pinched and his whiskers yanked, until he managed to claw free. He traveled solo less and less. It was safer to ride, toted by porter-protectors.
. . . . . The hostility increased until the cat insisted to be guarded round the clock. Rupert appointed two small sons of the head of the Archers to be Sly’s body servants. Standing attention during a review of the regiment, he had formerly leaned on a pike to steady himself. This was no longer necessary. Igon and Eder held held him up. And they were excellent companions, glad to ruffle feathers and keen to cavort.
. . . . . Before long, the trio came to be known as The Three Brats, or The Three Thugs. Or, simply, The Three. The boys flanked him in their miniature uniforms, identical in every respect to official Archer issue, except that they bore an additional patch on the sleeve proclaiming, Special Attendant to the Steward of the Forest Royal. Sly, you see, had been made supervisor of a piece of property, and he would eventually receive a title, which is the prerogative of a King and no cause for fits among your courtiers. The man had rewarded a cat, rather than an unsavory romantic affiliation, as others tended to do, who would have decimated the royal treasury on the strength of the attachment. In the grand scheme of things, to indulge a beloved animal with an honorary post was a supportable affliction.
. . . . . The trouble was, the cat did not see the office as a pro forma assignment. He disapproved of the way the parcel had been managed. He meant to reshape policy. The Forest Royal was not a forest, it was a hunting park, a concept offensive to the critter despite his own blood lust. It was a different order of magnitude, mounted men with advanced technology (bows and arrows, generally) killing for sport verses an elemental urge.
. . . . . When Rupert created him ‘Grand Duke of the Forest Royal’, and ‘First Gentleman of the Bed-Chamber’, which required obeisance by those of lesser rank, when he ceded to his friend the royal hunting park as the foundation of a fortune and ended the ‘Grace and Favor’ tradition of free use by his nobles, the mood among the hereditary peers turned black indeed.
. . . . . Some saw this ridiculous situation as solid proof of the king’s decline. Others were equally sure that the king feigned lunacy in order to humiliate his troublesome courtiers. Neither circumstance was a good one.
- More so in Britain than on the continent, but having been born and raised in England, he expected the same open-mindedness wherever he went.