Harlock watched the feline lead her black riding bird into one corner of the dimly lit castle hall and pull out her curved sword again.
Travelling the world for adventure, he had stumbled upon an abandoned castle at the same time that one of the beast species did, a feline species hostile to humans. She attacked him at once but he held her off until sudden snow and wind became too much to stay outside and he suggested to take cover inside.
‘Let’s continue.’ she growled over the howling wind outside.
He watched the clouds turning darker outside and snow blowing through the narrow windows while he stroked his bird’s cheek. ‘You sure about that?’
‘I’m not letting a little snow prevent me from taking down an enemy.’
He gripped his short straight sword. ‘I don’t think it’ll be just a little snow.’
‘You’re just trying to save your skin.’ she said while crossing the stone slab floor and raising her sword.
He planted his feet firmly on the floor. ‘Yes. And maybe yours as well.’
‘Hogwash!’ she said and stabbed her sword at him.
He deflected it with his sword. ‘Have you looked outside!? It’s getting worse!’
‘I’ll deal with that after I kill you!’ she said attacking him again.
He dodged and tried to hit the sword out of her paw. ‘You’re not going to survive this either!’
Her eyes burned with hatred and she kept on attacking. ‘Shut up!’
His sense of danger grew from her and the noise outside. ‘I mean it!’
He stumbled backward over a loose stone at her next attack. She grabbed the opportunity and was about to slash him when both their birds screeched and hurried off together down a hallway.
‘What the?’ she said as cracking noises come from the windows and doors.
The stone around the windows and the doors frosted over in front of their eyes.
Her eyes went wide. ‘Oh shit.’
‘Told you so.’ he said while his face and hands grew colder from the temperature drop. ‘Let’s get further inside quickly.’
‘Maybe you’re right.’ she said and moved away from the outer wall as the ice slowly covered it further.
He stood up and followed the direction the birds had taken. ‘This way!’
She followed him and they took their birds, who stood at the end of the hallway, deeper into the castle after lighting up a couple of torches. They went down several stairwells and into a library and closed any door behind them.
‘I think we can stay here.’ he said looking around the musty place. ‘We should be far enough from the outside, and we can light up the fireplace.’
She helped him pile up old firewood in the small fireplace and lit it. He checked all doors and found a small hallway leading to a kitchen.
‘There’s water,’ he said after returning to the library and held up two dusty bottles and iron cups. ‘and this!’
She narrowed her eyes. ‘You’re trying to get me drunk?’
He sat down on the tattered rug in front of the fireplace, removed the cork with his knife, and sniffed at the bottle. ‘Would I get anything out of it?’
She huffed. ‘No!’
He wiped the cups. ‘Then, no. If you get drunk it’s your own fault.’ he said and filled the cups. ‘Your choice.’ He drank half of his cup and sighed loudly. ‘Good wine.’
She sat down opposite of him, took her cup, sniffed it, and sipped. She thought it was good too but she refused to say anything.
He looked around at the wooden shelves filled with different sized books and wooden, iron, and stone figurines of people and animals. ‘I wonder what happened for them to abandon this castle.’
‘Battle, famine?’ she said removing her leather armour and red tunic to dry them near the fire.
He could now see she had a black, grey and white striped pattern all over her firm body and not just her tail.
She glared at him. ‘What are you looking at?’
He snapped out of staring at her face and cold grey-blue eyes. ‘Ah, sorry, you look great.’
She opened her mouth for a moment, then closed it taking out another red tunic from the bags she had taken off of her bird. ‘Like your opinion matters.’ she said as she put on the tunic.
‘Yeah, I guess not.’ he said and poured himself more wine. He shivered suddenly. ‘It’s getting colder.’ He stood up and opened the main doors to check the hallway outside, only to find more ice building up further down. ‘Oh hell!’ he said closing the doors quickly. ‘We’re going to freeze to death!’
She looked up at him. ‘What do you mean?’
He hurried over to the fireplace and added more wood. ‘Ice is coming down the hallway! It must be crazy outside!’
His yellow-red bird screeched softly in the corner next to the fireplace where he had left her. The black bird answered, went to her, and they laid down close together.
‘I think they have the right idea.’ he said as he pulled out a dark grey blanket from his own bag. ‘Do you have a blanket or something?’
He pulled up another rug in front of the birds and grabbed the wine and his cup. ‘We’d better crawl together to keep warm.’
She leaned away. ‘I’m not getting close to you!’
‘I know you hate me but if you want to survive we’ll have to set our pride aside for now. Unless you want them to find our dead bodies together after this is over.’ he said and pointed at the doors. Ice crawled through the cracks.
‘Damn!’ she said and knew she had no choice, even if she did have a good fur coat. She took her blanket from her pack, sat down next to him against the birds, and they pulled their blankets tight around themselves. ‘Try anything and you’re dead.’
He chuckled. ‘I’m too cold to try anything that would get me kicked away from your warmth.’
She huffed. ‘Funny.’
They drank and watched the ice expand a little more around the doors but the heat from the fireplace kept it from going further inside.
‘Harlock.’ he said.
She glanced sideways at him. ‘What?’
‘My name. I’m Harlock.’
She kept silent.
‘So, either your name can’t be spoken by humans, or you want me to make one up for you.’
She still kept silent.
He hummed for a moment looking up. ‘So, what do you think about the name-’
He smiled. ‘Nice.’
She looked away. ‘Stop trying to be friendly.’
‘Why? Might as well get along since there’s nothing else to do right now.’
‘You’re my enemy!’
He hummed again. ‘I’d rather not be.’
She sighed deep. ‘We just can’t live together in peace. We’re too different to get along.’
He thought about it for a while. ‘Only in the way we look though. And if all your females look as good as you I just know there will be plenty of men wanting to get along. Not to mention our women liking though guys.’
She frowned. ‘You’re disgusting.’
He grinned. ‘I’d like to think I appreciate beauty.’
She rolled her eyes. ‘How many of your women have you tricked with your snake tongue?’
He counted on his fingers and she knew she was right about him. ‘None actually.’ he said.
‘Wha!? Then what were you counting for!?’
He grinned. ‘Just kidding with you.’
She huffed and looked away again. ‘Sure. I’ll bet you said the same thing to others too.’
He looked up at the ceiling with cobwebs. ‘Been travelling since I was young, never stayed somewhere long enough.’
She hummed low. ‘And you never?’
‘I want to be with the right girl forever. But I know none who would join me in my travels.’ He sighed. ‘Guess I’ll grow old alone.’
He slipped out from under the blankets after a few moments to put more logs on the fire.
‘Is there still something to drink?’ she asked.
He checked the bottles. ‘Empty. I’ll have another look in the kitchen.’
She looked at the sparkling white surface of the library doors. ‘But the ice?’
‘I’ll be quick. I’d like to have more wine myself.’ he said and opened the door to the small hallway. ‘Looks like the ice hasn’t reached here yet.’
He came back after a while carrying several dusty bottles. ‘I brought everything I could find. This should keep us warm for a while.’ he said, put down the bottles next to her, closed the door, and crawled back under the blankets.
She noticed his white fingers. ‘Are you okay?’
He nodded and tried to get the cork out of the first bottle with trembling hands. ‘I’ll be fine. Just need to warm up.’ He managed to get the cork out and shakily filled their cups. ‘Cheers.’
She drank some while his arm trembled against her, then sighed. She put her cup away, took as well to his to his surprise, and silenced his intended question by rubbing his hands between her warm paws. He stared dumbfounded at her.
She looked away. ‘I don’t want it to be said I won our fight because you lost your fingers or got sick. That’s all.’
He gave her a warm smile. ‘Thanks.’ he said and she moved further against his side.
When the warmth returned to his fingers he clutched them between her short, thicker fingers. ‘You have really soft fur.’
She kept silent and listened to the crackle of the fire, howling of the wind through the chimney, and the breathing of the birds. She couldn’t help but feel comfortable in the warmth under the blankets with him despite him being human and cursed him for being nice to her and complicating things. Enemies weren’t supposed to be nice. Not even the males from her kind were this nice.
‘I’m getting hungry.’ he said after a while. ‘I’ve got dried meat if you want some.’
She looked up. ‘You’re willing to share your food with me?’
‘I can’t eat and not give you any. I’d be ashamed to be that rude.’
Another act of kindness she wasn’t used to and didn’t want to accept just like that. ‘Leave it.’ she said and let go of his hands. ‘I’ll prepare the hares I caught this morning.’
He watched her clean four hares and bury them in the ashes of the fireplace to roast them.
‘Now we wait.’ she said as she crawled back next to him.
He smiled cheerfully at her. ‘Looking forward to have some of your cooking.’
‘You should stop flirting with me.’ she said looking at the arched ceiling.
He grinned a little in embarrassment. ‘Sorry. I didn’t mean to flirt. I meant what I said.’
She frowned. ‘Yeah, you say that to anything female I’ll bet.’ He looked down and guilt came over her. ‘Sorry. I just don’t take compliments well.’
He smiled softly. ‘I guess I’m the wrong company for you then.’
She sighed and took his hand. ‘Yeah, you are.’
They drank some more before she checked the hares.
‘Ready.’ she said and cut some pieces of the roast.
‘This is good.’ he said while they were eating. He cleaned the bones thoroughly. ‘Unless it’s too much of a compliment. I’m just not any good at catching hares.’
She grinned at his happy face. ‘Shut up and eat.’
After their meal he stretched and yawned. ‘I’m going to sleep now if you don’t mind.’
‘You trust me not to kill you while you sleep?’
He nodded. ‘I trust you.’
She frowned as he had no reason to do so. ‘You’re too naive.’
He closed his eyes. ‘Probably. But I’ll regret that less than the other way around.’
A sigh escaped her again. ‘Fine. I’ll get some sleep too. Then we can still keep warm together.’
When she woke up again she found him wrapped up in her arms and couldn’t believe she actually had been comfortable enough to get close to someone else. Wondering if he somehow used a trick to make her do this she studied his face for a sign he faked his sleep. His innocent goofy smile amused her though and she stroked his black hair. He woke up for a moment, blinked at her with his grey eyes, then crawled closer against her to continue sleeping.
She frowned. ‘Hey, what do you think you’re doing!?
He hummed softly and rubbed his cheek in the side of her neck. ‘Warm and soft. Want to sleep forever like this.’ he whispered.
‘Oh, you wish!’ she said and pushed him out from under the blankets.
He woke up at once and looked around in a daze. ‘What happened?’
She pulled the blanket against her chest. ‘I knew you were a pervert!’
He looked puzzled at her. ‘What? Why? What did I do?’
Her lower lip trembled as she looked away. ‘Taking advantage of me when I let my guard down to feel me up.’
His eyes went wide. ‘Huh? I did? I’m sorry! I had no idea I did that! It’s inexcusable and I’ll accept my punishment!’ he said and bowed on his knees.
She laughed and he looked up at her wide grin. ‘Just messing with you. Told you you’re too naive.’
‘Damned.’ he said with a deep sigh and sat up. ‘Now who’s taking advantage of whom? And I trusted you.’
She grinned deviously and put her face up to his. ‘That will teach you to get close to an enemy.’
His face turned red in embarrassment and he looked away. ‘Fine. I get it, I get it.’
‘Anyway, looks like the cold storm has died down.’ she said and pointed at the main doors. ‘The ice is gone.’
They went over to the doors and carefully opened them. There was still ice in the hallway but they noticed the temperature was less cold than before.
A natural urge made itself known to him. ‘Let’s check outside and see if there’s somewhere to find some relief.’
She agreed and they went back the way they came in, cracking open every ice covered door on the way and were glad to find a latrine on the way.
He gestured at the door. ‘Ladies first.’
She stepped back and tucked in her tail. ‘You just want to smell my scent after I’m done, pervert.’
His jaw slacked. ‘What!? No!’
‘Just messing with you again.’ she said and grinned deviously again. ‘Sometimes it’s just too easy.’
He frowned at her. ‘I hate you.’
She gave his cheek a pat. ‘Good.’ she said and went in.
When they reached the large hall upstairs it looked like part of an ice palace. The light reflected everywhere on the walls, floor, and ceiling and had turned the dreary stone space into a sparkly crystal cave.
‘Pretty.’ she said as she gazed around.
He smiled. ‘Yes.’
They cut the ice from the doors and opened them with some force. The light outside was bright and they had to shield their eyes to get used to it.
‘Everything’s turned white.’ she said.
‘Yeah. Amazing.’ he said looking around the white garden.
The outer walls, the trees, the castle itself was white and the sky was a clear blue.
‘At least the sun is shining again.’ she said enjoying the warmth.
‘Whatever happened, looks like it has ended.’
‘Then we can continue what we were doing.’
‘Ah.’ he remembered. ‘I was hoping we could skip that.’
She pulled out her sword. ‘It was only a temporary truce.’
‘Yes, but weren’t we getting along? You must know I’m no threat to you.’
She held the tip of her sword under his chin. ‘Fight me.’
‘I will slice you if you don’t.’
‘I don’t want to fight you and accidentally hurt you!’
He grabbed the tip of her sword in his hand. ‘You may think it’s stupid but I care about you!’
She smiled. ‘Yeah, I noticed.’ she said, put her sword away, then turned to enter the castle again. ‘I guess you’re interesting enough to travel around the world with.’
He stared after her. ‘Wait, you want to? You’re not messing with me again?’
She shrugged. ‘Who knows? You’ll just have to find out.’
He sighed and followed her. ‘I guess I got what I wished for.’