Even on my knees I could feel the hot, malodorous, slow panting on my face as I stared up into the unfriendly maw of the Great Hound. It still wasn’t making a sound while the little dog yipped and squealed and practically turned itself inside out.
“Um…Gannara,” I repeated intelligently. He was just in front of me, kneeling next to a the beginning of a hedge. Thank Selestialis that there was a thick, strong, tough wooden fence next to us.
“Here Pish Pish!” He softly called into the yard. “Here Pishy! -- Okay. -- Here Pish! Fishfish!”
“You should… maybe… crawl back towards me, Gannara, before the fence comes down…” I swallowed hard. My throat was dry. Its lips curled further back, showing far too much fang and all in deadly silence.
“Huh?” His attention was all on the cat. “I thought I heard her meow.” A flutter of lip from the dog sprayed a splash of drool onto Gannara’s back. “Oh fik, it’s raining. Pish Pish Pish. At least its warm rain.”
“Gannnnnaaaara… back up… don’t get up… there’s a dog…”
“I know there’s a dog the stupid little fikhead won’t shut up.”
“Forzak it… crawl back, Gannara!” I managed to somehow croak. Or hiss, I wasn't sure which. He finally looked around, just as a small rumble of thunder began in the back of the monster’s throat.
“What? Oohhhhhhhhhhhhh ffffffffikkkkkk.....” He crawled back, out from under the snarling maw blocking the moon with a weird combination of slowness and speed. Somehow he managed both at the same time. Right into me and the box. The massive head turned. It had both front paws hooked over the top of this enormous, hardwood fence and I understood why the stand of catmint was untouched. “Ohhhhhh mamaiyana......” The fence creaked ominously. “That’s not a dog, it’s a… it’s a.. it’s a…”
“Nice dog. Good puppy.” I ventured. The lips curled all the way up and that rumble… it couldn’t be a growl, it was a passing beer wagon surely…
“aaaaaaahhhh,” Gannara whispered.
And distantly, “Meow?”
We scooted back away from the property on our butts, the box scraping behind us as we scrambled up, backing away to the wall and hedge of the house across the road. It watched, showing its teeth the whole time.
I had Gannara by the back of the cloak and he called, “Pish Pish!” There was someone walking down the street, coming toward us. No doubt someone with legitimate business, perhaps walking home, and here we were, clutching a fruit box with some holes punched in it, a fist-full of fish leftovers from dinner and a stalk of catmint that Gannara had somehow not dropped in the excitement, all jammed suspiciously behind a cedar hedge.
My mouth was so dry I couldn’t swallow. Wonderful idea, Minis. You get caught and hauled into custody by Sereniteers, exposed and get your head cut off, because of a smash-faced bruiser of a hooped old cat called Pish Pish.
“Is there room for us to hide?” Gannara whispered. I pointed.
“In the shadows, round that way.”
The person on the street walked right up the street on the side with the Great Hound on the fence, apparently not seeing it immediately. “Shut up ya little WHOA FIK!”
The man leapt sideways almost his own height when he came almost nose to nose with the big dog. “What the fik are people doing keeping animals that big in the city!” He continued on, in the middle of the street, still talking to himself. “… world’s gone to Hayel in an express chair since the fikken wool-hairs took over…”
The hedge was prickly and digging into my back and Gannara’s back and the box was jammed between us and while the citizen stamped into the night and the Great Hound clambered off the fence with more noise than it had made getting up there, and who should show up looping and rubbing around our ankles?
Gannara looked at the man’s back, already hard to see, the nearest lamp post had burnt out for some reason—and looked down at the shadowy cat stropping his ankles before stretching up on its hind legs to wave a beseeching paw at the fish flaking out of his fingers.
“Here, cat. Here Pish Pish… Have some of this.” His hand was trembling but the cat didn’t seem to mind. I could feel him shaking all over.
Pish Pish settled to devour the bit of fish, purring and eating at the same time, before making a few ‘prrrt’ noises, stropping her face in, rolling in and eating the catmint.
“Nice kitty,” Gannara said, voice still shakey. “When you’re a little more blissed out we’ll just get out of here.” He knelt down to stroke the cat stretched out on the dirt under the hedge. “Yeah, yip your fool head off you stupid little mophead.”
I was shaking. “I stuck my hand through that fence this afternoon…. I guess… I guess that’s why the catmint is still all there.”
“Yeah, Pish Pish and the other local cats aren’t insane.”
“Yeah, that.... thing would eat her for breakfast.”
“Awww... Pishpish... Miss someone? -- Breakfast?! She’d probably get snuffed up into one of that monster’s nostrils!”
“Is she mellow enough not to take our eyes out if we put her in a box now?” I whispered. The cat that Ailadas called his little Imperatrix was a battered, scarred cat, with notches in her ears and nose. Old scars shone in thin lines of white fur across her head. I gently set the box down next to her and flipped open the lid, slowly. “She’s a fighter.”
“I think so.... awwww sweet kitty...” He kept petting her and gently slid his hands under her, she mrled but let him lift her. “Wait till she sees Ailadas.”
“Yeah.” She went into the box with her paws clamped around a stalk of catmint and the lid was just closing when the door to Ailadas’s old house opened, and someone with a light stepped out onto the porch.
“Vya sha sha sha sha sha!!”
“Oh kyash!" Gannara groaned. "They're calling her! Close it quick!”
I did and latched it just as Pish Pish thrust her nose against the closing lid. But rather than get upset she slumped down and apparently went back to her treat.
“Taiya kyashin ti fikka!” The person... the woman on the porch snapped.
“They don’t like the yappy dog any better than we do.”
“Vya sha sha sha sha sha sha sha!” She called again into the night. I supposed it was the Yeoli version of 'Here kitty kitty kitty." I had not asked Gannara the word for 'cat' in Yeoli, yet.
I threw my cloak over the box and picked it up, carefully. “Lets go… that way!”
“All right.” We stepped carefully out of the hedge, away from where the Yeoli might see us and walked away down the street as if we were supposed to be there. The little yapper ran along the fence, stuck his nose between two slats and continued to bark.
“Oh, get eaten,” Gannara said.
The Great Hound did bark then, a ground-rumbling single WOOF!
“Fik, maybe we should run,” Gannara said, looking back over his shoulder. The big dog didn’t seem to be trying to jump or climb the fence, or break it down.
I said, “Just walk a little faster. Don't draw attention to us... we're just going home with our auntie’s old cat.”
Gannara started humming nonchalantly, so patently false, I started laughing as we turned onto Rubas Street. Behind us I could hear the faint call from the Yeoli as they tried to call Pish Pish into the house. “Vya sha sha sha sha sha sha sha!” Faint and growing fainter as we walked.
I looked sideways at Gannara. He looked sideways at me. I snorted. He started giggling. I laughed right out loud and then we had to set the crate down and lean on each other laughing helplessly.
“YIYIYI!” I said. We could still hear it in the distance.
“Hahahaha, oh shen, oh… just lets get her back before she decides to scratch the Hayel out of us.”
“Hehehehe, ‘s all right, brother… we can stick more catnip in the holes. Hahaha!” We sat on the edge of a public fountain, giggling, shaking with reaction. “Here, sweetie!” He poked another stalk through one of the holes in the box. “Pish Pish it's okay, we're taking you to your real human…”
“Oh, thank goodness you had some left. You didn't even drop it when that thing drooled on you!”
He smiled at me, shy and wry at the same time. “That's because my muscles all locked up. I thought I was going to shit myself.”
I snorted. “You did it, and you didn't shit yourself.”
“Not yet anyway.”
We looked at each other, burst into laughter again. “YIYIYIYI!” I barked. “I’m a little wet… myself!” I hadn’t pissed myself but it made him laugh harder. The worst I was, was sweaty.
“Stop it, you idiot!”
“You did it!” I clapped him on the shoulder. He looked hard at me.
“Me? It was both of us.”
“Hey, I just held the box... you seduced the cat! I’m not good with cats… OR dogs.”
We picked up the box of cat and headed back to our new home. That was nice. Our home. I didn’t want to leave but I should, for a while. I figured the Sereniteers would find out that Kyriala was back, and Ailadas, and would question them, so I’d have to leave soon. But I’d write and find out if it were safe enough to come back to the city. I wanted to come back to the city.
I should find a scribe somewhere in the quarter willing to come up with a birth certificate for Minakas Akam. It would be safer rather than have some clerk digging around trying to find Sakras and Binshala (nee Direm) Akam’s records to verify. I needed to open an account with a chainkeeper if I intended to sell things to the Pages, that way I wouldn’t draw in Ailadas. One less connection should someone decide to truth-drug him.
“I think he's gone to bed,” Gannara said. “Should we wake him up? We can't keep her in the box all night.”
“Nope. We have bowls for food and water… the bottom of this box filled with some sand will do for tonight. We’ll set her up in the alcove off the kitchen by the back door, crack open Ailadas’s bedroom door so she can find him.” All the doors and windows are closed for the night and Ailadas gets up early.”
“Sounds good. Especially from someone who says he’s not good with cats.”
“Shut up,” I said, but affectionately.
The cat was meowing along the crack of Ailadas’s bedroom door, sniffing, thrusting her paws into the crack.
“Go on Pishpish.” Gannara said, opening the door a fraction. “Go cuddle with your human.”
Next morning we came clumping down around sixth bead and found Ailadas in the kitchen, with Pish Pish trying to trip him while he made kaf.
It was so nice to have running water and a stone stove all in the same place. He was just setting the water to boil, talking to the cat. “We have something for you my little Imperatrix, my sweetheart, just wait.”
“Yes, yes, fish from yesterday. Wait.”
“’Morning. So, Ailadas did you adopt a stray cat yesterday?” I tried to be completely innocent about it.
“Good morning! Why, ahem, no!”
“What? I clearly see a cat on the floor...” “Meow!” “um, counter...” “Meow!” “um... windowledge...”
"Meoooooooowwwwwwr!" Right by his head. He smiled in a way I hadn’t seen in several eight-days.
“I think somehow someone spirited a stray cat to me!” He took up a towel to supplement his gloves, picked up the pot and poured the boiling water over the grounds. “I can't imagine who.”
Gannara giggled and started cutting slices of bread. “Must have been the good fairies then...”
“Ahem. Either that or she's actually a spirit cat... able to penetrate closed doors and screened windows.”
“I thought all cats could do that...”
“Ahem, well! Perhaps!” His smile was so good to see. “As I was telling her, it is a good thing we have fish left over from last night.” As he knelt to pet her she began purring loud enough to shake the dishes on the shelf. “She seems rather content.”
“She has her human back,” Gannara said.
“A fine coincidence that, ahem.”
I rummaged behind the curtained cupboard for the cast iron pan. I’d been amazed how expensive it had been to buy. It was almost the equivalent to a half-decent sword. “I'm starving. Does anyone want to risk my bacon?”
Gannara shuddered. “No, let me cook it.”
“All right,” I said. “You cook and I’ll break… ah… wash dishes.”
I had read a funny comment in the Pages at one point and felt safe enough to write the Pages in my former name.
To: Norii Maziel, aitzas
From: Minis Aan, in Exile
I noted your commentary in The Unexpurgated Life is Everything about not having reached me yet for my view of the current Imperator. If your editor is amenable for you to do this perhaps you may print your list of questions directly to me in the public pages. I will be happy to reply by anonymous letter, the lack of return address regrettable but I am sure understandable given the unusual circumstances.
(titles in Exile being of course redundant, I am)
Minis Joras Kurkas Amitzas Aan
Perhaps the honorable Aitzas remembers the time in the Pages offices where I gave you black ends on your hair by dipping them in the machine ink while you were not looking? As I recall I sent along a jeweled pair of scissors to you later as an apology.
p.p.s. Dear Intharas, to further quell some doubts, perhaps the honourable fessas remembers how I scarred the leg of his desk while suggesting the Journalistic award... with the toe of my faib skates. Something that no one else was close enough to see, not even my Mahid.
Dear Ser Akam,
We will be pleased to print your article “The Weak Are Cruel”, with some editing of course, in the next Pages. Please inform us as to how you wish to be paid, either in person by chain, by scrip on the Honourable City Chainkeepers Associated, or directly into your personal city account. Our current rate sheet for freelance work is enclosed.
Intharas Terren, fessas
High Editor, Pages