More than Meow
As Carl started breakfast, a fleeting thought crossed his mind. The thought wasn’t his own. It was hers, as if she’d been at this same table, thinking about him. It was an odd feeling, the return of something familiar. For a moment he expected her to be sitting on the other side of the table, or walking around the corner into the tavern. He’d almost called out to her. But she wasn’t there; his mind was playing tricks on him. Or telling him that she was close.
He had to be on the right trail. Now, after so many years, the search was over. He’d found her—Lenn, his sister. I can go home. Finally, he’d have done something to please his parents.
He stood, leaving his unfinished meal on the table, and went to saddle his horse.
Benvle left the garrison, his eyes lingering at the base of the bronze statue. Tom was nowhere in sight this morning. The warrior glanced covertly at the other warriors exiting the building. They paid him no mind. He called for the cat, keeping his voice low, but Tom did not appear. After a few moments of half-hearted searching, Benvle gave up. If the cat wasn’t here, he wouldn’t come. Besides, he was already late to the meeting. The troop leader tossed the sausage bits from breakfast into the bushes and walked away.
Tymoss tensed as he peered through the narrow leaves of the hedge. The small tangled branches pressed down on his ears and back. Though uncomfortable, the prickly leaves kept him hidden. Benvle didn’t even look back as he tromped passed. When he was halfway across the square, Tymoss crept out of the hedge. The fallen twigs poked his paw pads. He shook his body and gave his fur a quick swipe with his tongue before bending down to devour the sausage scraps.
Breakfast finished, he lowered his ears and hurried after Benvle. The leader meeting was in session today as it was every beginning of the week. Benvle didn’t know it yet, but the troop leader would get Tymoss inside.
The cat had visited the meeting hall previously; Claire was kind enough to show him Justice Square on one of their strolls. It was a few buildings away from the lord’s mansion, which was still far considering the sizable gaps between the houses of those well-moneyed. The building itself was situated between a narrow slot in the canyon wall. He’d circled the squat building and found various doors but no windows.
“We’ve been trying to get inside for forever,” Claire meowed about the City Cats. “It would be so helpful to know everything the humans planned. They don’t talk to us cats about important things.”
Not having a reply for that, Tymoss said nothing and the pair went on. Had he taken the time or had the confidence to explain to her his plan for today, she would have asked to join him. Tymoss was glad he hadn’t offered. He didn’t need her to hear what he had to say.
Tymoss continued to dog the troop leader through the city. They reached Justice Square. Benvle passed a large gallows in the center of the open ground as he made his way for the meeting hall. The tall wooden pole had gone unused since Tymoss’s arrival. Tymoss wondered how long the ropes might remain empty, imagining his body strung up on display. He twitched the image to his ears.
The troop leader was reaching for the door knob. Tymoss raced forward and brushed against his legs.
“Oh, hallo.” Benvle paused to look down at him. “There you are, Tom. What are you doing here?”
Tymoss meowed pleadingly and scratched at the door.
“No, no, you can’t come in.”
“Please?” Tymoss mewed and rubbed his head against Benvle’s calves. He wasn’t dressed in his armor today and his belt only supported a short sword, not the one-shot or its powder or metal pellets. Perhaps it was frowned upon to be prepared for battle when meeting with the lord and lady. Tymoss was relieved at the lack. He was sure he could dodge a sword, but those ones shots appeared very accurate at close range. In the meeting hall he didn’t know if there would be a lot of room for a cat to panic.
“Tom, you should know better than to go in strange buildings. I’ll play with you after the meeting. Wait here.” The troop leader picked him up, probably to set Tymoss aside while he snuck through the door. Tymoss had learned this tactic well to the point of frustration.
*You will take me inside.* Tymoss thought, determined. Even if he had to run between the man’s legs, he would get in there. He concentrated only on entering, no matter what it took.
Benvle paused. Tymoss watched the troop leader frown, face scrunched in puzzlement as his eyes dilated. Then he held Tymoss closer to his body. His face cleared and, almost as if he’d forgotten about the cat, Benvle opened the door. They entered the building into a chamber smaller than the cat thought it would be. There were no other doorways, despite the extra doors that dotted the outside of the building.
Iron holders embedded in the wall speared thick wax candles, propping them upright. The luminous flames were reflected by polished metal disks placed behind the wax sticks. In the windowless chamber this was bright enough to illuminate the faces of the people sitting around a triangular table: Lord Eyen and Lady Sylva; the miner foreman Jeren Armol; and finally, Rior Helfan Umard—the term rior was short for warrior leader.
As Benvle took his seat beside Rior Umard, still holding the cat, he wondered why he’d even brought the animal inside. Bewildered gazes turned in his direction. He hoped Rior Umard did not think him a lunatic. He’d never done something this odd. However, the compulsion to take the cat with him had entered his head and he’d acted on that impulse, hardly thinking at all. Maybe because he was so accustomed to Tom he’d forgotten he held the cat. That had to be it.
Lord Eyen said, “Did you know that this cat has been wandering around my house?”
“No, my lord, I met him at the garrison.”
“Red is just a darling,” Lady Sylva added. “I’ve been playing with him with these little feathered toys the servants must have given him. He’s much more lively than Fluffy, the poor old dear.”
“Actually, I’ve been given, uh, Red, the toys, my lady,” Benvle confessed. The cat’s back twitched under his rapid strokes.
Tom lowered his ears and glared at Benvle’s hand. Benvle recognized the danger and stopped stroking. The cat hopped from Benvle’s lap. Under everyone’s observation he sauntered to the scribe’s desk at the back of the small room. He rub his cheek against a wooden leg then leapt to the top of the desk. He pulled back, startled by the warm vessel resting beside polished cups. That morning’s drink was inside, the others already having filled their own cups. Arriving late and with cat in hand, Benvle did not partake. Tom leaned closer, sniffing. He sneezed as if displeased by the strong tang and then spread out to nap.
Sylva laughed, “Adorable!”
“Yes,” Umard cleared his throat, and glanced at Benvle drolly. He was the only one not captivated or mildly interested by the cat. Benvle hoped the rior would not ask him to explain himself. He couldn’t think why’d he’d brought the cat. He refused to look at Tom now, dissociating himself.
“I have business to attend, Lord Eyen. We should start,” Umard said. Eventually everyone, including Lady Sylva, finally turned their attention to Rior Umard. The meeting started and it didn’t take long for the leaders to forget about the tom.
Wax dripped from the shortening candles. Tymoss’s ear fur tickled as the drops slid over the waxy-mounds surrounding the metal rims and hit the stone floor in wet splats. Lumpy runnels traced their path, some solidifying before they fell, until the candle holders looked as if warm icicles pointed toward the stone floor. Tymoss pretended to sleep, listening to the leaders’ conversation. He waited to hear anything that indicated what he’d wanted to say had been discovered. That he didn’t have to alert the humans to the threat. If so, he could leave without anyone the wiser about their ‘handsome Red’. He could continue to live in the mansion until Lenn remembered him.
“Well, we covered important things today,” Lord Eyen concluded. “I will keep what you said in mind, Armol. And Umard will start those procedures. See you again tomorrow. Good day.”
Tymoss opened his eyes and flicked an ear. Nothing. Not a word. Aside from city management, only the miner foreman’s’ family life was of any interest, but not what Tymoss had been waiting to hear. The prey was for him to catch; though no savory piece of meat he’d been stalking, he was the one with the position, the knowledge. As Claire would say, that gave him the duty. Tymoss’s tail twitched rapidly.
Before he could change his mind, Tymoss stood. “You aren’t done yet!”
He watched their heads turn as fast as a child’s spinning toy. The wide eyes darted toward him, then away, as if searching for the source. Ridiculous expressions—varying degrees of dull and confusion—were stamped across the humans’ faces. Tymoss leapt to the floor and hurried to the triangular table.
“Did that cat speak?” asked Lord Eyen. “Is this a joke?”
Tymoss pulled himself to the table top, licking his bristling fur down again in rapid licks. “Yes, I did speak. I spoke to you.” He wasn’t surprised at their reaction. After all, a cat didn’t speak to humans. It wasn’t possible in their minds.
“Bu-but how can that be?” Benvle stuttered, “I’ve seen you with other cats. Meowing!”
Tymoss’s tail swished and his whiskers jutted downward. Foolishly attempting to understand how when what he had to say was more important. He needed them to focus on his words, despite this absurdity. Would they fully pay attention if he told them about himself? A shortcoming to his plans was showing his talent. It declared he could be something dangerous. Magical. Something to be killed. He thought he’d taken that into consideration this morning. Even if his safety was in question for only a moment, if he succeeded, he wouldn’t ever again have to worry about his ill-tidings or losing his life.
Maybe he’d thought too soon. Rior Umard’s hand crept to his sword belt. Tymoss needed to distract the man. Talking about himself might be worth attempting.
“My name is Tymossenia, though I prefer Tymoss. I came from Kulart. I have always talked. Whether it was because a spell was cast on me or that I am magical I don’t know, but I can speak both cat and human languages. I mean you no harm.” This time he looked directly at the warrior leader. The man’s hand was on his sword hilt.
Lady Sylva cleared her throat, motioning Umard to wait. “Red—ah, Tymoss, when you came to converse with us, tell, what did you have in mind to talk about?”
Sylva had come to the root of the situation. Tymoss liked this woman even more.
“The countries of Art are in danger!”
Uncomprehending stares met his declaration. The cat sighed. This would take longer than he supposed. Despite planning when to speak with the leaders, he’d never actually formulated a speech. Lenn would be disappointed.
“You haven’t heard anything about Rider Zyhaneve?” Tymoss demanded. “You mean to tell me that you have no idea that most of the lords in Art have been agreeing to a disastrous proposition?”
“What does this Rider want?” Rior Umard asked. “What is so dangerous about him?” and not you? was the unasked question.
Tymoss gathered his thoughts, not liking the way the warrior leader still glared at him. “Well, because they are in Ulartte now, I think they have everyone in Inmarth committed to their cause,” Tymoss said. “As to who they are, I know them both as I grew up with—them—in-in Kulart. Uh, did I mention the Rider has a sorcerer? Haijka Youave of Rindare, he’s the sorcerer. The other is Zyhaneve, is a twin from Zhanfell.”
What more should he say of the Rider? What more could he say? If it wasn’t for Bell’s influence, Tymoss might have chosen to be a regular cat and not speak of what he knew. He’d lost that opportunity the moment he opened his mouth in the meeting. He had to finish, one way or the other.
“I can tell you little,” he concluded, his tail twitching. “But I have another thing to say. Something to ask of you. My owner, Zhanlynneve. She is looking for me and I want protection from her.”
“You have an owner?” Sylva asked. “Why have you been living in our house?”
“More important, why do you want protection from her?” Lord Eyen demanded.
“Does she live in the city?” Sylva asked.
“No,” Tymoss chose to answer Sylva first. “We don’t. I was passing through and I thought I could warn you about the Rider—”
“Why do the Rider’s and your owner’s name sound the same?” Foreman Armol interrupted.
Tymoss stared at him until Armol became uneasy, glancing toward Umard as if for assistance. Tymoss stilled his tail. If any other cats had been in the chamber, they would have known he was purposefully composed. Tymoss looked away from the foreman, turning to Lady Sylva. This was the only person he felt he could talk to, who was trying to understand his warning.
“Lenn—that’s my owner’s short-name—does not forgive easily. I left her and she’s angry about that. As for their names . . . everyone in Zhanfell have names that start with ‘z’ or ‘zhan’. It’s to honor the founder.”
He hoped that satisfied them. That by asking such a broad question about his owner they had dismissed the shock of a talking cat and were listening to him now. He could tell them more now that they’d accepted him and wanted to communicate. His belief was dashed immediately.
“This is very, um, interesting,” Lord Eyen said. His eyebrows, smashed together on his brow, resembled the beard on an iris flower. “But I’m afraid this meeting has already gone beyond its allotted time. We all have tasks today. If there is such a person as the Rider, Umard, you find out what you can. Tomorrow we’ll discuss this, all right?”
There was nodding all around the table. Tymoss’s eyes grew wide. “Wait a moment, this is important!” he growled.
“Please, quiet,” Lord Eyen motioned toward the cat. “We don’t have time for something so . . . strange. Let us at least adjust to the fact that you’re a cat actually able to converse with us. Give us time. At least until tomorrow.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever look at him and see him the same way,” Sylva whispered to Umard. “What if he’s a spy?”
“This does not bode well for my retirement,” the man muttered. He turned to Benvle, “Keep an eye on this cat. He’s your responsibility.”
“Yes, sir,” Benvle nodded. A confused expression hung on his face as he stared between his leader and Tymoss.
The warrior leader leaned in closer, holding a hand over his mouth as he continued, “If there is magic involved, it is likely the mages are behind this. He could very well be one of their familiars, or a mage in disguise. This could be an attempt to catch us off guard. You remember what happened in North Mine? Good. Keep an eye on him and if anything unusual happens, report back to me.”
Tymoss was able to hear it all despite their whispers. His fur bristled with anger at the thought of being a false newsbarer. “Please, you have to listen to me. I am not lying. I’m trying to protect you. This isn’t some vague danger! Zyhaneve seeks to free the mages!”
A grave silence met his words. Until that moment Tymoss hadn’t realized he’d neglected to tell them the true threat. No wonder they hadn’t wanted to listen.
“I know you all must still find it difficult to believe anything I tell you, but you have to. I’m trying to help you. The Rider and sorcerer will come to this city sometime shortly. You need to alert your warriors before then—”
Foreman Armol interrupted, “Tymoss, are you a mage’s cat?”
This was the second time the man had interrupted him with such a penetrating question. Tymoss’s ears flattened. This was obviously a question that bothered them. Was he or his owner the mage?
“No. Lenn is not a mage, but yes, she is looking for me. She knows where to find me. When she does, you can’t let her take me. You need me to help you.” Tymoss had a feeling these people would abandoned him at the first chance they got; he had to make them believe it was important they didn’t. “All I need is for you to keep her away from me and if she tries to take me, don’t let her. I’d rather not go back. You might think because I can talk, she’d understand.” But it’s because I talk that she fears me. Fears what I might say.
“This maiden is very odd,” Lady Sylva said. “Some things don’t tally. But I can’t pin it down enough to ask you about it. But she is the least of our worries at the moment. What about the Rider and his sorcerer? What about the mages? Is there anything more you can tell us?”
“There is not too much I can say about Zyhaneve.”
“Nothing at all, not even the slightest relevance?”
However, Tymoss didn’t get to answer Lady Sylva. The door opened, banging against the stone wall. A cloaked stranger crossed the threshold, his boots tapping loudly in the silence as he pulled the hood off of his white head. A sorcerer.
Tymoss scrambled for Benvle, leaping into the troop leader’s numb lap.
“Hmm, it seems we’ve been summoned.” A smirk lifted half of the sorcerer’s mouth. His teal eyes examined the chamber with a glance. His hand moved up as if to adjust the cloak ties. Backs tensed around the table.
The Rider entered behind the white-haired man and there they loomed in the doorway, blocking the exit.