Magic Cat [Excerpt]

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Why Lenn Hates Her Cat

“Ahh,” Haijka collapsed onto the bed. His hand was at his throat, rubbing. Everything around him was turning white. Things not in front of him didn’t seem to exist. “I’m going to die. I’m going to die,” he got out, gasping. His heart raced. His hands wouldn’t stop shaking. “I’m cut, I know it. Is there blood? There has to be blood. Is there?”

The Rider crouched by his side, tilting Haijka’s head to look at the soft skin below. “No. You are fine.” Zyhaneve stood up, stalking to the other bed in the inn chamber.

“I almost got my head cut off!” Haijka exclaimed. He couldn’t even sit up anymore. His head went down into his hands. His heart was pounding but at the same time seemed as though it would stop. He closed his eyes. That felt better. He didn’t want to faint anymore. He tried to remember the breathing exercises Tarce had taught him, but he couldn’t bring them to mind. There was still the feeling of cold steel against his throat, pressing deeper. He rubbed his throat again, a small sound coming from his lips.

“Oh, stop it,” Zyhaneve said, sitting on the other bed. “You are fine. Stop acting like a swamp frog.” Those things always peeped piteously.

Haijka peered up through strands of white hair. His friend was acting calm. Too calm. Sitting on the bed as if nothing had happened. He’d expected . . . well, something. More sympathy, more worry. Zyhaneve could have lost him. He shuddered, closing his eyes again as everything swam around him. He had to lie down. He pulled his legs up on the bed, his head resting against the pillow.

Sometimes Haijka wondered why he was still with the Rider. He knew that today Zyhaneve could have gotten hurt. If Haijka hadn’t gotten them away with a quick spell, Zyhaneve could have had the cut throat. If anything, Haijka needed to be there to keep the Rider out of danger. Too bad there didn’t seem to be any other reason.

Stars shimmered above, beads of silver strung through a black tapestry. Lenn crouched in the darkness at the base of the stone building. Now that the city slept, she could hear the whistle of the wind above the canyon. An eerie, ceaseless tune. Lenn carefully hid her body behind the thick hedge. Crouched down, ducking her head, she tried to fit inside the shadow. Guards stood watch all around the building.

She’d heard versions of the morning event from people around Woappin. Lenn suspected the warriors weren’t as tight-lipped as they’d been instructed to be. The citizens knew all about the talking cat and the Rider and the sorcerer. So much so that there were seven different tales. Hounded by protests and exaggerations, Lord Eyen promised to hold a public briefing the next day. Still, tomorrow was a night away. The rior responded to the citizens’ concerns by posting guards at various locales around the city. Lenn, of course, did not appreciate this precaution. These people overreacted. Why be up in arms when no one had threatened?

Lenn scratched her arm as she peered around the building corner. These bushes were making her itch. She frowned at the hedge, then the guards standing near the doorway. The sooner the pair moved away the sooner she’d be out of the muck. Lenn would have never gone near the garrison if she hadn’t known Tymoss hid inside. It was time to get him back.

The guards faced toward each other in conversation. Lenn sighed. This might be her only opportunity. So far she hadn’t even seen them circle the building. She was beginning to doubt they’d move from their position, unless it was change of guard. Fresh guards would be more alert. Lenn pulled away from the corner, and peered at the armory. The lower guards in the square patrolled. She couldn’t see them as they’d gone to the opposite side. Hopefully they left the garrison to these half-wits. She stood up and clambered onto the hedge with difficulty. Her feet poked through the unsturdy branches. She lost a shoe and the twisted wood clawed at her ankle, tearing through the trousers she wore.

“Burn to the ground!” she spat at the hedge, not even trying to retrieve her shoe. Her knees shook and she wobbled as the hedge quivered under her weight. She reached above her head to the windowsill. In an effort to catch night breezes, but deter bandits foolish enough to break into the garrison, the only glassless windows could be found above the ground level. However, most of the second level had their shutters tightly sealed, leaving her little option but one of the windows closest to the front entrance.

Lenn heaved herself upward, swinging a leg across the sill. Unlike normal windows, Ularttians had the sills inside the building, so when the spring torrents came, water did not collect to spill over the frame. Flower ledges were the exception but weren’t to be found on the garrison.

Lenn fell inside onto the floor. This entrance was less elegant than she hoped. She peered up from her position and saw no movement down the corridor. On her feet she crept down the corridor in a limping gait until she slipped off her second shoe. She clenched the leather in one hand and continued to the stairwell. Her heart was in her throat. Every closed door held a potential threat, willing to detain any intruder. She could only hope the men behind dreamt on, confident in their safety.

Then by one door, she felt as if she could reach out and touch Tymoss, as if he were by her side. Even though he tried to block her, the closer she was, the firmer their connection. She could find him, even if he refused to speak with her. Easing open the door, she peered in. First, she saw the man Tymoss was sleeping with. The covers were partly on him, partly not, revealing a very nice view. The training exercises had sculpted a muscular and lean figure. She would have stood there, gazing at the troop leader it if weren’t for that nagging feeling that she had work to do. She spotted the one-shot he kept on the nightstand, the dark lump a distinctive shape. Closing the door to a crack, she glided over. With a nudge the weapon was moved just out of reach. If he tried to grab it, it would fall onto the ground. Enough warning for her to leave, and too much time for him to grab the one-shot and harm her.

She crept around the bed. Tymoss curled at the edge, far away from the door, next to the window. There was a bar across the shutters, preventing anyone from entering. Too bad the man hadn’t realized intruders could come from the other direction too. A good body, but not mentally skilled. A pity. Lenn smirked and reached for her cat.

Lenn could only make out vague shapes in the darkness, enough to not bump into the bed. Most of the light from the hall was blocked by the thick wooden door. As Lenn reached down, Tymoss opened his eyes and his head lifted. His eyes glinted in the hint of light from the doorway.

Believing the warrior had roused, she flinched backward. The shoe slipped from her fingers onto the floor. As her heart calmed, she could see her imagination played falsely. Lenn scowled at the shadowed cat.

Tymoss had slept for a while, tired by the day’s events. Then she entered the room. Mind as sharp as an eagle’s beak, Tymoss’s drifting dreams ended, his heart pattering. He lifted his head, startling her.

“I was expecting you, Lenn.” He was quiet, not wanting to waken Benvle, as if the heavy sleeper would wake by something as light as a whisper. Certainly he didn’t want anyone in the other bedchambers to hear. “I’m surprised it took you so long to find me here.”

“Sure you were, Tymossenia,” she whispered angrily, glancing once at the sleeping man, but there was no indication he heard them. “Why are you with these people? Come back to me.”

Tymoss was silent. He could heard her heart thudding. He wondered if it were fear or anger.

“You’ve learned to control your temper. Once, you’d have demanded I come with you. You’d give me no choice before shoving me in a cage.” Then she’d have run out of the quarters, uncaring of the consequences. Oh, he could remember her fiery temper and how quick she was to take what she wanted. She did not wait to be allowed to do anything. Her time in the service of another had changed her in more than one way.

“I don’t need to hear this from you—”

“Something else you don’t want to hear?” Tymoss asked. “That’s something you haven’t grown out of.”

“Tymossenia,” the word squeezed from her clenched teeth. Tymoss knew he was drawing her thin like a fishing line that could bear no more weight.

“Lenn,” he said. “I like these people. I like Benvle. I’ve met other cats, finally. Zhanfell is nothing like Woappin. I prefer this.”

“Zhanfell is not our home,” she was quick to remind him.

“I don’t like that place any better,” he growled back. “How can you call it home? What you do is dangerous.”

“So is staying with people who are going to start wars,” she interrupted. “So much for your dreams of comfort. These people will bring more danger than ever being with me would. Now, please, come with me!”

“No. I like it here. Please, understand me. Don’t make me do something I don’t want to again.”

“You know I can’t. You’re a danger to me. You have information I would like to have buried. If you tell these people, you’re a dead cat. No one can know what I’m doing. Not Carl or my parents. Not these people. NO ONE.”

“Lenn, I know this—”

“And you expect me to trust you? To let you stay?”

“Listen to me,” he begged, trying to relieve her fear. “I won’t tell them anything about you. Not a soul. I don’t want to hurt you, but I have to stop what you’re doing.”

“It’s the same thing.”

“No, it isn’t. I know if I don’t agree, you’ll just take me anyway. But I’m ready for you. You make one move for me and I’m going to yowl until everyone in this building is awake. They might not know who you are or what you do, but you will still be arrested. Leave me be if you’d rather keep your freedom.”

“Traitorous cat!” she spat. “Why are you doing this to me?”

Tymoss felt her pain. Her confusion. She really didn’t understand. Why couldn’t he do as she asked? Why did he rebel now when for years he treasured everything about his Lenn?

“I do not mean to hurt you,” he whispered. “No more than you meant to hurt me, I suppose. But this is something I will never accept. You never have seen it, how dangerous Neiss is. What she’s made you. Stop this now, Lenn, turn back. You have a chance now. Walk away. Come back to me and I’ll gladly never leave your arms.”

Lenn shook her head, her hair a shadowed rope flying through the air. “I have to do this. Lady Neiss is the only one who can get me what I want. The only thing I couldn’t get on my own. Unlike you.” She reached for him.

Tymoss let out a low growl. “I keep my word, Lenn. Touch me and I yowl.”

Her jaw clenched and her eyes narrowed. To his surprise, she didn’t insist. She backed toward the glimmer of the doorway. She paused with her hand on the round knob. “I’m not giving up on you—”

*Nor I you,* he whispered and thought. But his words faded as though they had not reached her. That even when he dropped his own wall, she refused to open up to him.

She glared. “Remember this: I will be around, even if I am only watching you. And the moment you’re alone—you’re mine.”

The door closed with the softest click.

Lenn later left by an easier ground floor route, no one noticing a difference until morning when Benvle discovered that his one-shot had been moved out of reach. He also found a shoe by his bedside. Tymoss feigned confusion. Still, Benvle ordered a search of the premises, discovering an unlatched doorway.

Umard also noticed something that morning. All of his underclothes were missing. He feared magic was involved.

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