No One Noticed the Cat by Anne McCaffrey
Fantasy, short story, (c) 1996, reissued multiple times
The story takes place in the sorta medieval kingdom of Esphaia. The wise and careful regent Mangan has just died, leaving young Prince Jamas to prove he can run the country on his own. Jamas learned well from his regent, and he has a very important advantage—Mangan’s cat Niffy seems to have some special skills at judging people and situations, and now becomes Jamas’ companion and protector.
Jamas quickly has to deal with the ambitious ruler of the neighboring country. King Egdril seems most inclined to encourage relations by a marriage between the two families, but his wicked and conniving wife has other ideas. It’s amazing how many nobles in that country have died recently, especially those who opposed the queen or had something she wanted.
One of Egdril’s nieces, lovely Willow, does indeed catch Jamas’ interest and he’s more than willing to marry her. But she fears that she is being used in the evil queen’s machinations and the marriage will only lead to Jamas’ “accidental” death.
This is a cute and interesting little story. Niffy provides a touch of the paranormal, there is a sweet romance between Jamas and Willow and a secondary romance for Willow’s sister. The suspense associated with how to end the murderous queen keeps the pace moving. This is an excellent fantasy, I recommend it for preteens and young teens.