Magic Cat [Excerpt]

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The Trouble with Magic

The stallion's dark coat drank in the torchlight. He tossed his large head and nickered. Zyhaneve balanced the saddle on the low gate of the black horse’s stall, entering. The Rider worked swiftly, placing a blanket across the stallion’s withers before reaching for the saddle. The horse shifted, stepping forward and back and side to side while the persistent human attempted to saddle him.

“Colbaltan, behave!” When the plea failed to enact obedience, the Rider muttered, “You are a mule. Hmph. Maybe I’ll have Haijka change you into one!”

As if the horse understood the threat, he settled down, standing motionless after a whicker swelled his chest. He might have been saying, I was only playing. Zyhaneve snorted and reached underneath the horse for the belly strap.

“Colbaltan teasing you again?” Haijka asked. He came down the narrow stairwell from the stronghold. The torches flickered behind him. The flame extinguished, leaving smoldering stems. Smoke coiled up into the inky, dark ceiling as shadows shrouded the stairs. Haijka didn’t get an answer. Zyhaneve was bent under the horse and might not have heard, but Haijka suspected that wasn’t so. He glanced once at the rounded shoulders, then opened the entrance. As the stone slabs swung inward, sunlight filtered in through the screen of dangling vines. Insect hums were interspersed by birdcalls. The warbles, chirps, and short piercing whistles were welcomed into the silence.

Haijka leaned over the low gate to comb Colbaltan’s forelock with his fingers. He murmured into the horse’s ear. Colbaltan made noises as if responding. Haijka had always felt comfortable around horses. Perhaps if he’d been born a mage instead of a sorcerer, a horse would have been his familiar.

Zyhaneve straightened from tightening the girth and cinch. “I wish you wouldn’t do that, Haijka. You’re rewarding him for his behavior. He’s more prankish on the trail because of you. You should saddle your own steed.”

Haijka spared one look and then crossed the aisle. His own horse, a gray gelding stretched his head over the stall as if looking for a handout.

“I’m sorry,” he patted Neverhane’s nose. “I know you need more rest.” After last night, this was too early to expect the horse to have a bounce to his step. He didn’t want to risk an energy spell. The toll after would harm them both.

Haijka saddled the gelding and hurried after Zyhaneve who was already nudging Colbaltan to the entrance. Similar to Zyhaneve, he didn’t bridle Neverhane. He and Zyhaneve had learned to guide their horses with their legs, like how the Partillians traditionally rode. Haijka found this method made it easier for him to cast spells while on horseback. The Rider may have learned for other reasons, perhaps more of vanity than of necessity.

The draping vines dragged across the riders’ shoulders as the horses pushed through the chokeberry bushes at their hooves. As they entered the sunlit forest a spell pulled the slabs closed and the bushes and vines moved back in place across the stone wall as though there had never been a cave. Morning sunlight peered through the leaves at the hardly-traversed path that ambled down the slope. The trees’ blossoms had long since fallen to the ground on the bed of old leaves. Now the thick foliage blocked the sun in a dappled splash.

The riders started down the mountain, single file under the mottled light. The trees had overgrown the leaf-strewn path in a thick tangle of narrow branches. Unable to avoid all thickets, the humans pushed through with their arms. Haijka provided a spell to hold aside the thicker branches. The horses frequently nipped at the lush vegetation of bushes and ferns, eating what they could reach. As this was the primary meal of the traveling horses, Haijka and Zyhaneve didn’t stop them from browsing except on the steeper paths. Here the travelers hugged the mountainside on narrow ledges little more than a footpath. Rocky, weathered crests threatened below, attentive for missteps.

The steep trail ended where the base of the mountain met valley floor. The transition had been smoothed by various sculpting spells during the year they’d lived in the stronghold. Colbaltan stepped off of the mountain first, his hoof chipping the mossy crust that crept along the edges of the trade road. Here, out of the heart of the forest, the road was well marked, the leaves and moss crushed and rutted by travelers to a dirt road free of weeds. Zyhaneve turned Colbaltan away from Thessia Town. At a crossroads, a markerstone indicated the distance to the next inn and town. The stone’s carvings were frequently scrapped of moss by the lamplighters who came at dusk to light the farthest lamp from Thessia Town. The Rider turned west for Rhewyn Town. Following the trade roads made crossing the ordl swift even though the road curved with stream and mountain side. Less traversed roads cut their way into the mountain slopes and forest undergrowth. Landsmen lived in the heart of the ordl. Stones or rutted trails indicated the way to their secluded huts and villages. Travelers came to larger markets hoping to sell wares or become apprentices to famous masters. Zyhaneve had no interest in anything but the trade roads and so the horses kept to the markerstones, Haijka referring to a map only on occasion.

The pair eventually arrived in Rhewyn Town, at the edge of Thessia Ordl. Bustling crowds filled the market square. Awnings striped with a multitude of color draped over stalls where venders bartered with potential customers. Even if traveling through town faster than a trotting pace hadn’t been against the law, it would have been nearly impossible in the crowd. The shoppers glanced up at the large horses, usually the luxury of the well-moneyed, or those employed by them, and moved out of the way if they could. The more obstinate stood their ground forcing Zyhaneve and Haijka to weave through the bodies and carts. In their passing, the people pointed, whispering. Despite the hood he wore, Haijka’s hair crept out of the edge. He’d grown his hair out from the bowl cut of his youth to be able to tie it back like Zyhaneve did. But some of the strands near his face never grew long enough to be captured by the leather tie. Of course the people may not have been pointing at him at all. Wearing a hood on a gently cloudy day was uncommon. If that wasn’t odd enough, Zyhaneve’s cloak didn’t show a face beneath the folds. Haijka’s eyes roved building sides and shop stalls, wary of any large organized groups. Not knowing the reason for the whispers, he couldn’t discount the danger to himself. One dutiful constable trying to follow the Old Laws would mean trouble. If he actually used magic in plain sight, which didn’t include the veiling spell Zyhaneve wore, his difficulties would be worse still. They could have avoided the masses by travelling the outskirts of town, but Zyhaneve always chose the bold option. Haijka had long given up arguing for discretion. At least their time in Rhewyn was short. They passed through without incidence, and in the next few towns they crossed.

The mountains decreased in size the farther west they travelled. The towering rocks were soon little more than rolling hills. The thick forests gave way to sun-splashed clearings smattered between thinner, younger trees. By mid-day they reached the lower regions of Inmarth on the other side of the hill range. Tree-sparse heaths revealed endless land to either side of the dusty road. Deer herds, similar in appearance to the coarse shrubs, startled upright when the horses neared. Clouds slowly darkened the sky, bringing twilight early to the plains and sending travelers to shelter. Haijka and Zyhaneve pressed onward, Neverhane falling behind his companion with each step. The gray steed’s head lowered. Haijka patted the horse’s neck. Just a little longer.

The sun had set by the time they reached the outermost inn of Chalis, a city outside the Ulartte border. Thunder grumbled overhead. Rain splattered in the dust while a breeze whispered through the cracks in the bubbled glass of the oil lamps. The flames flickered. Neverhane sighed, earning another pat from Haijka. The horse had managed through this ride admirably. He deserved a good rest and proper tending out of the rain.

“Should we visit Lord Nymar?” Haijka yelled ahead to Zyhaneve.

“Yes.” Rider Zyhaneve sat back, slowing Colbaltan to allow Neverhane to catch up. “We are in the vicinity. We shall see how loyal Nymar has been in our absence.”

Haijka didn’t believe the words or their formality. They both knew perfectly well Nymar was faithful. Haijka had found Nymar to be a very good man. He wouldn’t break his promises even if they hadn’t visited him in a long while.

Zyhaneve led the way across the darkened dirt streets. The occasional lamp pole glimmered with flame, the glass splattered by rain drops. The riders’ long shadows reached ahead of them when they past the lit poles, and then cowered at their sides as they neared another. The lord’s mansion was in the center of the town, one street over from the marketplace. It was a log building with a steep roof, like all houses in Inmarth, even in areas with little snowfall, but unlike the houses of the landsmen, thick red stones walled the generous property. The main entrance was a pair of iron gates, which locked not long after darkness fell. A wooden door nestled into the wall next to the gate. The door was crossed with wide iron bars, precautions from an older war.

Haijka dismounted and approached the entry. A lamp hung, bolted to the bricks. He entered the light the rainy mist haloing his shoulders. Two heavy pounds with the side of his fist rattled the door hinges. After a moment’s pause, the passage opened. The gatekeeper peered through, his face hardening as he eyed the sorcerer.

“Get lost, magi. We give no scraps here.”

“We are here to speak with your lord.”

The gatekeeper snorted. “My lord wouldn’t see you, even if it were not night. Get lost and don’t come back in the morning.” He started to close the door.

Haijka grabbed the edge and spoke a short word to keep the hinges from rotating. The door refused to budge. The gatekeeper’s face twisted, short of a snarl. He moved back as if to grab a weapon, never taking his eyes off Haijka.

Haijka narrowed his eyes, wondering if it would be a cudgel—as anyone outside of the lord’s family or militia weren’t allow to have swords—and if he could stop the weapon in time.

“Haijka, the code!” Zyhaneve called from the darkness.

The code? It had been so long, he wasn’t sure he remembered it. He could memorize spells and hand gestures, but not a simple phrase apparently.

Zyhaneve seemed to know Haijka’s struggling thoughts. “The lark was here first!”

“Where did you hear that?” the gatekeeper hissed. He paused with one arm back, his weapon momentarily forgotten as he searched the darkness for Haijka’s hidden companion.

“Your lord,” Zyhaneve said, moving Colbaltan closer to the light. “He would not like you to keep us waiting either. Tell him the Rider has returned.”

The gatekeeper swallowed, eyes darting to the darkness of the hood before he rushed away. Haijka listened as the retreating footsteps echoed across the courtyard. He glanced back. The Rider nodded that all was well and remained mounted. Haijka straightened, smoothing the worry from his face. He undid the spell on the doorway. After a long wait, the gatekeeper returned with Lord Nymar.

“Good evening!” The lord pushed the door open wide. “Welcome, Haijka.” He grabbed the sorcerer’s arm in a tight squeeze before moving toward the Rider. He reached up to the mounted figure, repeating the gesture. “Welcome, Rider Zyhaneve. I’m sorry for my servant’s behavior. He didn’t realize. He’s very new—one of my mother’s unfortunate choices,” Nymar sighed. “Brem should be arriving soon to take your horses to the stableyard. Please come in. I’d love to hear news of the east.” The black-haired man gestured into the small chamber and beyond to the courtyard. His fast-paced speech was easily understood once Haijka adjusted to the speed at which the words tumbled from the lord’s mouth.

The promised grooms appeared, exiting the gatekeeper’s chamber to approach the horses. Zyhaneve dismounted when one took Colbaltan’s head. As neither Zyhaneve nor Haijka used bridles for their mounts, the grooms had some difficulty leading the horses around the wall to the back gate. Haijka trusted Neverhane would behave, wearied by the long journey. Colbaltan might go along to be with his companion, but who could tell with the stallion? He did not like many people.

Haijka waited for Zyhaneve to enter the chamber between the walls before following. As he passed, the gatekeeper pressed himself against the wall, eyes lowered. The man rubbed one hand against the cudgel on the desk beside him. As Haijka left the chamber, the door snapped shut behind him. At least the gatekeeper had been respectful of his lord not to beat the guests.

“You seem hale,” said Lord Nymar as he led the way across to the darkened courtyard to the mansion. His walking pace was as quick as his voice. “Has your journey been favorable?”

“Indeed, most salubrious,” Zyhaneve said. “I shall tell you more, later. When we have privacy. Tell, how is your family?”

“Oh, very well, very well,” Nymar chatted as they entered the mansion. “Our little Brenan was finally born.”

“Congratulations,” Zyhaneve said, the voice containing the smile the veiled face couldn’t reveal. “And Lady Cylene?”

“Better than a fish in water. She’s not one to stay abed, though I told her it would be best.”

“Women know themselves.”

“Yes, they do, don’t they? Why, Cylene even. . .”

Haijka silently trailed behind, knowing he’d never be able to get a word in even if he tried.

The three reached the hearth room where Nymar’s family gathered near the fireplace. The last time the mysterious pair had come, there had only been four children. Now Lady Cylene cradled a baby in her arms. She gently rocked the bundle as she smiled at the guests. Nymar introduced his family. (“In case you don’t remember.”). He beamed happily at them, as proud as a rooster in a hutch full of hens.

“If any of you have forgotten,” Nymar told his family, “these are Rider Zyhaneve and Sorcerer Haijka Youave. They were here last year, before Brenan was born.”

Cylene’s mouth curved as warm as the hearth. “We couldn’t forget them so swiftly. They were quite a delight. The children missed you for weeks when you last left.”

At the moment those children stared at the guests. They lay on the floor, scattered across the tile like fallen leaves. They’d been playing before their guests arrived. Now a few smiled, while the oldest glanced at their grandmother.

A book rested next to the last person in the chamber. It was half open, ready to be returned to. Wellrynn’s finger rested on the very word as if anxious to resume the recital. Wellrynn was the late lord’s wife. With gray hair bunched up on her head and piercing blue eyes and a voice to match sleet in a windstorm, she was formidable. A frown contorted her creased and sagging face into the appearance of sucking on something sour. Then again, that was the expression she always wore. Nymar’s mother had not liked Haijka and Zyhaneve when they came last time, claiming that they were trouble and that her son should not associate with such ‘seamy’ people. That they were little better than sordid bandits—worse, one was a sorcerer! They’d met only a week after her husband had died and the eldest son was given the position of city lord, his brothers going elsewhere in the ordl—the land held by the lord’s family which might include farmland, forest, and other towns and villages. That was the tradition in Inmarth—to allow the eldest son lordship.

In other countries, the new lord was chosen differently. For instance, in Partle the Family patriarch was chosen by the nearest living female kin of the late patriarch. In Ulartte, the auxiliary leaders (the warriors’ leader and industry leader) had the honor of selecting which child of the late lord would be the new lord. Kulart’s method was by far the most unusual. A gathering of councilors voted for one of the lord’s children to lead. If the current leadership displeased them, they could also vote for a popular member of the town to become the head, but only after the previous lord’s death. Then there was the magic country of Milart where anyone with magical talent was banished. The strongest magi who could stay in power the longest was the one who made the rules, though it never meant anything because the sorcerers and mages lived apart from each other. Until now.

After the pleasantries, Rider Zyhaneve and Lord Nymar departed to the study. Haijka stayed with the family to talk and entertain. As Nymar unlocked the study door, Grandmother Wellrynn hustled past, intent for her bedchamber.

“Foolish son,” Zyhaneve heard her mutter. “Allowing this rabble in the house. A sorcerer no less. No thought at all. He should be following the Old Laws, like his father. Don’t know what I taught him in his youth. I don’t know where I went wrong.”

Zyhaneve ignored her for the most part. It was well known she was a strict follower of the Old Laws. Haijka had faced her often enough on his own to attest to that. Nymar had finally ordered his mother to leave his guests alone. After that, the ornery woman generally stayed out of sight.

In the study, Nymar asked, “Tell, what can I do for you, Zyhaneve?”

“We are going to stay the night here. In the morning we plan to journey to Ulartte.”

“Is my house an inn? No, don’t answer. I apologize. Sit.” He motioned to the chairs by the large table. They settled. “I wish you’d stay longer, I truly do. The children and my wife enjoy your company.” He took another breath and slapped his legs as he leaned forward. “If you can’t stay long, do you have any news about the other lords? Did they make their decisions? Are there really others who think as we do?”

The Rider nodded. “There are those with conviction. And those that must be shown the way. There should be more progressive men like yourself. Fine foresight on your part.”

Nymar smiled at the praise. “It’s hard thinking as we do in this city,” he spoke of his wife and himself. “As often as I’ve provided for young men and women unfortunate to be born with magic, the constable and others have executed them.”

“I recall you saying. Any this year?”

Nymar shook his head. “Fortunately not. The constable has been prying into my affairs too often for my liking. And now with the baby, we’ve been busier than ever.”

“I know you try your best. It is your compassion that drew me to you.”

“I think it would have been the other way.”

“The voices of those you have saved have carried their gratitude far.”

“Is that so?” Nymar tilted his head. “Will you tell me now which lord commissioned you?”

“No.”

Nymar sat back. “One day you will have to trust me.”

“I trust you whole-heartedly. My employer still harbors doubts. Not solely against you—everyone who signs. Or will not add their name. Which brings me to my news—all of the lords of Inmarth are with us. A few were in need of a little persuasion, many of which we need to keep a careful eye on. But all have signed the agreement.”

“All?”

“Yes, every one of them.”

Nymar expressed his amazement and joy. He asked if Zyhaneve and Haijka were traveling to the Ulartte Canyons. Was that the reason for their early departure?

“Of course, and when all the Ulartte lords have signed we’ll go to Partle, and then on to Kulart.”

“I hope the lords sign.”

“As do I. Still, there is always a chance they might not. If that happens, Ulartte and Inmarth may come to war again. Not to mention the other countries will involve themselves.”

“I’m not fond of that,” Nymar confessed, his expression turning uneasy. “When will the Inmarth lords meet to discuss the Old Laws? If we’re all in agreement, then isn’t it time we score the laws from our books?”

“You know as well as I, that the Old Laws were agreed upon by all the countries in Art. Only by the cooperation of all the lords, can we hope to repeal them. However, I will speak with my employer.”

When no other details were forthcoming, Nymar cleared his throat. “Well then, would you like supper? We haven’t eaten yet. I’ll call my mother down. You can tell my family all about the places you’ve seen.”

Wellrynn, of course, refused to come downstairs. She would not eat dinner under the same roof with the very people she despised. Her absence was not regretted.


Tymoss licked his lips. What a wonderful meal and an exciting day! After leaving Bell’s store, the cats had gone to the slaughter houses where Claire’s other friend, Seal, lived. On the way, just as Bell said, other cats came with news of the city and what their humans were doing within the community. Tymoss could not remember all the cats’ names, only that none of them had been original or extraordinary like his own. The ginger quickly surmised that Bell wasn’t merely a territory leader. He was in command of the whole city. For what purpose, Tymoss didn’t understand but none of the other cats seemed to find this arrangement unusual. Who was he, a stranger, to protest their behavior?

After mid-meal at Seal’s, Claire had Bell’s permission to take Tymoss on a tour of the city. He was shown landmarks and famous buildings and the cats who lived in them. They teased birds that lived in a hutch on a rooftop. Though hardly taken to every corner of the city, the calico did show him her own house. Unlike what Tymoss was expecting, the ‘house’ was much like the other towering structures of Woappin. This building of chambers stacked on top of another was built above a print shop. Peering through the windows, nose pressed against the glass, and tail tucked safely at his side from humans on the shopwalk (the raised road above the water gutter), Tymoss glimpsed the women and men at work with the precious paper imported from Inmarth. So this was where books came from. Growing up, he’d only ever seen two in his life. They were both treasured items, used often. Hand-written scrolls or poorly bound books of animal hide were more common and made locally. Still, Tymoss could remember being shooed from the books more than once, Lenn’s parents fearful he would tear the paper or scratch the covers.

“My owner works in there. She’s a writer for the broadsheets,” Claire meowed.

“Broadsheets?”

“Noteworthy events and tales captured forever on paper and spread to people around the city four times a year. It dictates upcoming festivals, famous days, recent and interesting history, and tales of far off lands. Doralee, she’s my owner, she says it’s unfortunate the broadsheets are printed sparingly. She’d love to write more, but unless something special happens, no extra broadsheet.”

“You really have an interest for your owner’s work.”

“Oh, I do. Every night she reads me the stories she’s writing. When I was younger, she used to dangle her quill over my paws. I loved the exotic feathers—so long and fuzzy!—but she only writes with those when she composes wondrous tales. Would you like me to tell you one? I’ll tell you on the way. It’s my favorite. It’s about a sailor and a cat!”

The cats didn’t have time to go up the outer stairs to Claire’s home. Claire insisted they had to hurry to Bell’s store, but she encouraged that he visit her anytime.

At the incense store, Tymoss and Claire encountered Bell and other cats discussing worries and ideas. Communicating like a human council. Tymoss could hardly comprehend how many cats there were in the city. To have Claire tell him this was only a fraction left him speechless. There were more cats than he’d ever seen in one place in his life. And there were so many different colors! This was a tale, not Claire’s adventure on an endless sea!

After the meeting, Bell, with Claire’s help, told Tymoss the important part the City Cats had in the humans’ lives.

“Truth is, they don’t realize what we do,” Bell meowed. “We’ve saved them from disease, wild animal attacks, and themselves, among other nameless troubles.” He explained the basics, lightly dipping his paw into the purpose of the City Cats.

“What is most unique about us,” Bell meowed, “is not that we hunt mice and rats and warn of animals from the canyon. We offer other help. If cats witness a crime, we find ways to alert the lower guards to the perpetrators and proper solutions.”

“They’re our investigative force,” Claire explained, stumbling over the phrase as if repeating something Bell had once told her.

Despite whatever else was said, the idea of cats helping humans clung to Tymoss like scales on a fish.

“You help humans? Why?”

“They care for us,” Bell explained. “It is time we repay them. It is only our due for the carefree lives we would otherwise lead. It is our responsibility.”

Tymoss dipped his ears. Responsibility to care for humans? To protect them? So this wasn’t unusual in the city? The concept was outlandish, yet it felt right. “So you’re telling me, that if you knew something dangerous, that could. . . that could hurt the humans, you’d tell them about it?”

“Tell them?” Claire meowed, her body quivering with amusement. “As if we could talk to humans!”

“Yeah, as if,” Tymoss chuckled, his tail twitching.

“Are you all right?” Claire leaned closer. She sniffed his chest fur.

He leaned away. “Of course. What do you mean?”

“I thought you were coughing.”

Tymoss kept his ears upright. That was right. Cats didn’t laugh. He had to remind himself of that. He swallowed back his second nervous chuckle. “I’m fine. Maybe a little dust in my throat.” He hacked as though a hairball tickled his gut.

Claire’s concerned expression remained.

Bell didn’t look so convinced. His blue eyes watched Tymoss’s twitching tail. Tymoss held it still.

“Tell . . . do the warriors have cats?” Tymoss asked, hoping to distract them. “I mean if you do all this, maybe they think they have a few of you ‘trained’.”

“No,” Bell meowed. “There are no cats nor dogs nor messenger birds in the order. Only horses. We have heard the men say we—the cats—hinder them and always get in the way. I suppose at times our own forces do get . . . overly excited—so eager to help that we intrude. The warriors are good people though. There are a few who treat us pleasantly and do appreciate us. Even if they don’t realize we help. Sometimes that is best. Although, to answer your first question, yes, if we knew something we’d tell them to the best of our ability. Even if cats don’t speak Paltan.”

The nagging feeling he’d first felt at Bell’s announcement persisted. An idea fashioned in Tymoss’s head. Not scheming, not exactly, but a hint of a plan.

After their talk, the three had supper at the lord’s home, one of the few single-level homes in the space-confined city. Bell knew a cat who lived with the servants. Fluffy was an old, white, long-haired she-cat. The lord did not have a cat of his own but liked the servants’ as though she belonged to the entire household.

For their evening meal, the cats ate what the lord’s household dined on—sweet meat squab and vegetable broth. This was the best meal, and the best day, Tymoss had had for months. If Lenn hadn’t fled before the wedding, he would have eaten like this every day, although maybe not with this abundant company. The group of cats shared the scraps from a large bowl the kitchen staff provided. For the first time in years, he felt safe. He felt comfortable. This was something he could get accustomed to. He was with friends, he was sharing food, and he didn’t fear predators. The tom glanced at Claire, grateful that she’d rescued him.

“Well now, where should we spend the night?” Bell meowed. He licked the last of the meal from his lips. The droplets of broth disappeared from his chin whiskers.

“Why not here, Bell?” Fluffy offered. “It’s comfortable and don’t mind the company.”

“What do you think, Tymoss?” Claire yawned. She blinked her gummy eyes.

“You’d sleep anywhere, wouldn’t you?’ Tymoss teased.

“Even on a galloping horse.” She bumped her head onto his own.

“Sure, we can stay here,” Tymoss purred. He wouldn’t mind settling into this household. Everything he’d ever wanted was here.

Bell accepted Fluffy’s offer and motioned the old she-cat to lead the way. The three followed the white cat out of the kitchen. Cats do not always speak in vocal words but also body language and so Bell’s group knew when Fluffy would turn or when to stop. They could even tell how tired Claire was and see Tymoss’s excitement in every step and whisker twitch.

When the cats reached the hearth room, a chamber set aside strictly for family usage, a fire was blazing in the brick nook. The logs crackled and popped in the heat that consumed them. Basking in the warmth, the lady knitted in a rocking chair beside her husband. Tymoss hadn’t heard of any children in the household. He supposed the lord and lady, although not quite passed middle-age, hadn’t been able to produce offspring—a sad state of affairs for humans of such high status.

The creaking of the chair stopped. The knitting needles ceased to click. “Look, Fluffy brought some friends.”

“Isn’t that Evie’s cat, Bell?” the lord asked.

He must know the incense seller, Tymoss thought.

“So it is,” the lady said. “He’s not looking as sprightly as he used to.”

“He’s an old cat, Sylva. I don’t expect to see him chasing your yarn anymore.”

The lady and lord laughed.

“What of the other cats?” the lady asked. “Doesn’t the calico look adorable and the ginger handsome?”

“He does have a strong jaw.”

“No, it’s the marks over his eyes. He looks as though he has eyebrows and human expression.”

As they debated exactly what made Tymoss ‘handsome’, he lay beside Claire on the corded rug and proceeded to lick his front paws, wiping them across his ears. Claire started to twitch with dreams. The lord pushed himself off the velvet-upholstered chair and bent over the pair. Tymoss stopped licking as he was lifted into the air. He hung limply, allowing the lord to carry him back to the chair. Once seated, the lord placed Tymoss on his lap where the tom promptly sprawled across it.

“This tom is certainly a friendly fellow, isn’t he, Sylva?” the lord asked as he petted Tymoss. The cat did not hear the reply because he was purring too loudly. He quickly fell into a restful slumber.


Rain splattered against the darkened glass outside the window. Lenn tossed her hair away from her face. She brushed the long ginger locks in rapid strokes. A single flame flickered from the porcelain oil lamp, enfolding the young woman in a wavering orb of light. From the mirror her pale face frowned back. Scalloped shells had been carved on the rim of the mirror an inlaid with mother of pearl. Elaborately beautiful. She didn’t see it. Nor did she look past her reflection to view the rest of the seaside-themed chamber where mermaids waved from rocks and the ocean foam crashed against sailing vessels.

She was getting closer to him, the one who could give away her name. Closer to Tymoss. She couldn’t say how she knew his whereabouts, but she could feel his presence deep inside. The feeling was how mages could sense their familiar animals. The mages knew if their animals were safe, near or far, or if the creature had even become an enemy. Lenn was neither a mage nor a sorcerer (sorcerers did not have familiars) and didn’t understand fully how this ability was possible. She trusted it though. It would lead her to him.

A few more cities and she would be within grasping distance of him.

Just you wait, Tymossenia, I will be there. You will not show anyone your speaking talents! I will have you back!

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