Time passed. I was getting very hungry indeed and I shivered with the cold despite the fire and the bubbling cauldron. Paddock had gone into a cooler part of the cave and I thought he was probably sleeping but I could not see from here. The other witch was busying herself, gathering ingredients to throw into the pot, but of my own mistress there was no sign.
I became anxious at her absence and that made me shiver more, and made me hungrier still. I padded to the cave's entrance, looking out. I knew that it wouldn't hasten her return if I waited here for her but at least the activity stopped my trembling. I went outside, into the morning sunlight. It was warmer out here than inside and I ran around, and jumped up at a branch, feeling energised. I was happy that my sides were no longer hurting. The sleep I had had was a healing one.
I knew I must not stray too far. She would be angry at me if I were not here when she returned, but I was young and curious, like all kittens. There was a path leading from the cave's entrance into the wood, and I wondered if I could find a few spiders to dull my appetite. I had eaten a spider or two – I didn't much like the taste or the feel of their wriggly legs against my whiskers, but they were better than nothing when a small cat was so hungry.
I wandered down the path, looking out for movement, my ears alert for the return of my mistress. The path branched and I stopped, sniffing the warm air. No food here, not even a small spider. Suddenly fearful, I turned back.
And froze. A young female was crouching on the the path, looking at me, smiling – almost laughing. She was no witch, I thought. A mortal girl. Smooth, peachy skin and no trace of beard there. She extended her hand and I crept towards it, with caution.
She sat down on the path and smoothed her skirt, patting her lap. I edged forward, looking into her face. I had been taught to fear mortals. They would not understand my kind, or my mistress's world, at all, and would harm me. But the girl's face was kind, and she had not stopped smiling since she spotted me.
''Hello, pretty little thing. Oh, are you hungry, my sweet kitten?'' She reached into a pocket and took something out, dangled it in my face.
I flinched back, opened my mouth and attempted a hiss, but that brought a peal of soft laughter.
''Don't be frightened, little one. It's good.''
I sniffed at the morsel. It was some sort of dried meat. My empty stomach clenched at the wonderful smell. She dropped it on the path in front of me and I batted it closer to me and away from her, then picked it up in my mouth. It tasted good, and was gone in seconds. So much better than spiders.
She dipped into her pocket again and this time I took the scrap of meat from her hand. The first taste had increased my hunger, rather than satisfying it. While I ate, she reached out a soft hand, ever so slowly, and started to stroke my head and my shoulders. I could feel a purr building up and didn't fight it. The second bite finished, I boldly put my front paws on her skirt, sniffing her hand for more.
''My, you really are hungry, aren't you?'' she said. ''I'm sorry, I don't have any more, my lovely.''
Then she scooped me into her lap, tickling behind my ears; such a soft touch, not rough like my mistress's fingers. I could hear the loud rumble of my own purring, and pushed my head against her fingers, asking for more.
She stood up, lifting me under my chest and supporting me underneath. I knew I should struggle and try to get away, but something told me that this mortal girl meant me no harm and I snuggled against her chest and she carried on, bearing me down the path, away from the cave.
''Come home with Sally,'' she cooed, nuzzling me under my chin. ''I have warm milk and plenty more meat at home.''