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Authors: Paul Kater

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Hilda - Cats (9 page)

BOOK: Hilda - Cats
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"Crappedy crap. Did she see that all the way
from up there?" Hilda was truly amazed. The two cats had led them
to another paw-print. As they went around the area a bit, they
discovered more prints. There was quite a trail of them. It
started, for some odd reason, just off a gravel path that according
to Esmee was frequented by travelers and salesmen with their
carriages. The prints led down into the forest quite far where they
suddenly stopped, as if the creature that had made them had flown
off or evaporated.

"This has to be the same creature," William
said. "If there's a nest of them, then someone should have seen
them by now. Especially if it's a flying kind of uber-cat."

"Unless they can become invisible," Baba Yaga
pointed out. William had not considered that option.

"Whatever they are, they don't seem to shed
their hair easily," Hilda pointed out. She had tried to find more
bits of hair, but with no success. "Two scrawny bits of it, both
from the castle garden, that's all we have." The four magicals
tried to locate more evidence, magical or visible, but there was
nothing for them to find.

Hilda picked up Grimalkin and stroked the
black head. "Good girl, at least we now know that the creature gets
around a bit." That was true; they had gone quite far from the
castle already. They walked back to their brooms and soon they were
over the trees again. After some cruising and keeping their eyes on
the two cats, they decided that this was not going to deliver
anything better, so Esmee took the lead and set course towards the
village.

"Oh, uhm, please, when we get there, could
you try to be a bit calm? The villagers know only me as the witch,"
Esmee asked them as they approached the spread-out collection of
houses that with some imagination could be called a village. Baba
Yaga laughed. It made Esmee worry, with reason.

Their appearing in the middle of the village
caused moderate commotion. Within half a minute everyone that was
in the houses near the village square had come outside and stared
at the four. Most of the assembled gapers were women and children,
only a few men were there and most of them were old. William and
Hilda picked up their cats and put them on a shoulder. Esmee took
all their brooms and took them to one of the people in the street.
"Would you please take care of them for us, while we are here?"

As the woman she had addressed nodded, Baba
Yaga turned to Hilda and William. "We should do something about
that too. No respect, I'm telling you."

"Looks to me that our Esmee has plenty of
respect for the people here," William couldn't resist. His remark
made Baba Yaga laugh so loudly that within fifteen seconds the
entire square was empty again, save Esmee who looked back,
wondering what was going on. She returned to her three companions,
broomless.

"Are you sure our brooms are safe there,
Esmee dear?" Baba Yaga asked.

"Oh yes, no need to worry about that. I know
these people, they are always very kind to me. At least, until
now," Esmee frowned. She hoped her reputation would not suffer too
much from the presence of the three that were here with her.

"Now take us to the shops and the good
places, girl," Hilda said, patting Esmee on the arm. She was so
good in creating a false sense of safety.

Esmee smiled happily, and as she chattered
about the wonderful people of the village, the produce they brought
forth on their fields and the great things that were available in
the shops here, Hilda, William and Babs looked around and hoped to
find anything that could be a clue to finding the strange creature.
They visited several shops too, one with herbs and spices that had
Hilda's interested, and one with fabrics where the owner tried to
sell some pink fluff to Esmee. To his surprise she declined and
bought something burgundy red, stating that it would look great as
a new cloak. Baba Yaga displayed a big and satisfied smile. The
shop owner did not interpret it as such and gave Esmee a big
discount on the material, hoping they would leave the shop quickly
before other customers were scared off.

As they roamed the narrow streets, the cats
walking by themselves, Babs stated that they'd get somewhere yet.
Hilda and William understood that she meant Esmee, Esmee responded
that they'd just have to stay close and no one would get lost. Her
comment invoked quite some amusement among the three, and she
laughed along. They reached a large area that seemed somewhat lost
between several groups of houses. "This is the marketplace," Esmee
shared with the others. "We have a market here every week."

"A market. Astonishing. And what do people
market here?" Hilda asked.

Esmee worked down a list of vegetables,
fruits and meats as if she had studied for it. Or worked in the
market for far too long.

"So no large cat creatures, eh?" Baba
Yaga.

Esmee stopped and stared at the ugly witch.
Her face showed that she was really thinking; then a giant grin was
on her face. "Oh no, you almost tricked me, Baba Yaga, but you
don't get me that easily!"

Babs laughed. "She's good, she's good," she
said, looking at Hilda and William. The two almost died laughing.
Magic helped them to keep a straight face.

In the market area, six men were working to
load crates on a cart. "Oh, look, there's Jock," Esmee said. "Jock!
Hello!' She waved frantically. Her companions frowned and wondered
what they were up for now. "Come, I will introduce you to Jock,"
the mostly pink witch said as she briskly walked off towards the
cart.

Jock turned out to be a very simple man who
had been forgotten to come in on the day that 'smart' was handed
out. Actually, he had been absent most days that beneficial traits
were available. It did look as if he spent all that time in the
place where muscle was distributed. The man was enormous in size.
He seemed to care about Esmee a lot, too. She walked up to him and
almost disappeared from view as he wrapped his impressive physique
around her. "Esmee," he said slowly but clearly.

Esmee spoke just as slowly as she introduced
the people who were with her. Jock nodded as she mentioned their
names, then he bent down and petted the two cats, very tenderly.
"Cats," the big man stated and he looked up to Esmee, a happy smile
on his face. Obsi and Grim allowed the man his time to pet
them.

The pink witch then introduced the trio to
the other men who had continued loading the cart. Without big
Jock's help that went a lot slower. One of the men asked why they
were there, and Hilda explained vaguely that they had been called
over to help with something at the castle.

"Oh. Something that our witch can't handle
then, is it?" The man, only half Jock's size, positioned himself
next to Esmee, as if he wanted to protect her from something. He
had been introduced as Charles. "Just so you know, our witch is the
best witch in the area."

"I am sure," said Baba Yaga, "but sometimes
even the best of the best need some help. Look at your man Jock,
for instance."

Jock was happily stacking things onto the
cart. Charles frowned. "He don't need no help."

"Oh yes, he does," Babs said.

"What do you mean?" Charles did not look at
ease all of a sudden.

"Jock is good at what he does, but what he
can do is limited, right?"

Charles nodded. "Yeah. He needs us to tell
him what- Oh... I see."

Esmee again had the desire to look daggers at
Baba Yaga, but held herself back. "I think we need to move on now,"
she said instead.

Babs looked at Hilda and William and
shrugged. They said goodbye to the men, Esmee was hugged by Jock
again and then they walked on. Once they were away from the market
square and far from any people, Esmee turned to Baba Yaga. "I would
appreciate it, Baba Yaga, if you would not make me look like a fool
any more. Please?"

"Finally," Baba Yaga said. She popped up her
wand and some chairs. "Sit." Esmee sat. "Wrong, get up." Esmee got
up. "You don't get it, do you?"

Esmee looked at Hilda and William, her whole
face shouting 'HELP'.

12. Now listen

Baba Yaga sat down. "Sit."

"No," Esmee said, her face glowing red as she
did so. "I want to know why!" Her lower lip trembled as she
realised that she was challenging this ugly but powerful witch.

"Good girl. Now sit down and I will tell
you." When Esmee sat, Hilda arranged for some cups of tea, while
Baba Yaga started talking. "Esmee, child, you need to smarten up.
What is the worst thing you've come across in your life?"

Esmee told them about the children of Snow
White and Jordan. About finding frogs in her bed. And about a ghost
in a closet that she'd had to remove with magic.

Baba Yaga nodded. "Yes, that all sounds
blood-chilling, Esmee. I have bad news for you though; the thing we
are looking at now is even worse than all that you just mentioned.
We seem to be facing a woman who can turn into a cat of tremendous
size. Not something like the kittens we have here." The kittens
meowed in protest but were ignored. "So we can't afford to do the
nice and pretty thing, Esmee. If that creature comes storming at
you, you have to slam it, not ask if it wants some tea."

"But maybe it-" Esmee started. Then she
changed her mind. "No, probably not."

"Good girl. Remember the lesson we did
earlier? Use your magic when you have to. We'll make sure your
magic will be pumped up to something usable and help you to keep
that under control. But people have to understand that you are not
someone that will be happy with a flower when you need a hammer."
Here Baba Yaga wondered for a moment where she was going with that
statement. "What I mean to say is that you have to be clear and
don't accept just anything from anyone. Not even from me, unless
it's clear that the situation calls for it of course."

Esmee stared at Baba Yaga. "Not even from
you? But you are..."

"Yeah, I know, I'm big and bad and powerful
and all that. I know. But that does not mean that I am always
right. We all know things, but only when we toss these things in a
cauldron and stir it together, we share that knowledge."

Esmee nodded. "But I see no cauldron," she
then said. Hilda and William were convinced that Baba Yaga's eyes
would roll now, even when they weren't clearly visible. They braced
for a minor explosion. Just before something else could happen,
Esmee started laughing and got up. She popped out her wand and made
a cauldron appear. It was a tiny one, but it was there. She picked
it up and handed it to Babs. "Here is a present for you. I really
understand what you mean. Well, at least I think I do."

Baba Yaga held the small cauldron up in her
wrinkled hand. The lower part of her face showed what they all knew
to be a smile. "This flower witch may actually learn something
after all," was all she said, but Hilda and William understood the
significance of her words. Then it started to rain. William slapped
a magical umbrella over them; the two cats ran for cover under
it.

"Seems to be a good time to go back," Hilda
said as she looked at the skies where more and darker clouds were
moving in. As they walked back to the house where their brooms were
kept safe, William wondered if they should do another night
watch.

"Perhaps we should set some magical wards in
the most obvious places," Hilda suggested, "I'm sure Esmee will
know the places where the creature struck most often."

Once on their brooms again, Esmee detailed
the best places where the safeties could be put up, and she was
very interested in how to make things like that. Baba Yaga said
that she would see to it that Esmee was trained on the job. Hilda
thought that a great idea.

They reached the castle grounds. Rain was
pouring down in streams. Some overzealous gardeners were still
trying to do something nice for the plant life they were
responsible for. The men stared as the small squadron of brooms
came in to land near the large cage.

"Oy, honourable witches," one of the
gardeners said, "how long do you reckon that metal box has to stay
here in the garden? It's pretty much an eyesore, you should know,
the king said so himself."

Hilda nodded understandingly. "Would it be
terribly offensive to make the king temporarily blind?" Esmee and
William said that it would be, Baba Yaga was tempted to take
Hilda's side.

"Let's first get these wards up, folks," Baba
Yaga decided, "we'll have time to ponder the king's eyesight in a
dry environment." Everyone agreed with that. Staying on broomstick,
as the paths had all turned into mud, they followed Esmee to the
places where most of the times bones had been found.

Hilda and William, who had been charged with
additional magic from Zelda's place, helped Baba Yaga in supplying
magical power for Esmee as the flower witch was trained in setting
wards. The first one was an absolute disaster, as all three had
expected already.

"Listen, wench," said Babs, "I can't do this
for you, I can only explain what you have to do. So you'd better
listen carefully and do it well. This rain, even when Willy here
makes it fall somewhere else, is not good for my old bones. So, you
envision a web of magic here around the place and you pin it to the
place. Let's first get that part done."

Esmee nodded, held out her wand and nothing
happened. She shook her wand a few times. "Maybe it got wet..."

"It did not get wet," William was certain. "I
don't see a drop on it, nor on your hands. Let me try something."
He put his hand on Esmee's shoulder. "Give it another go."

She did. William let some magic flow directly
into her. A web appeared where Esmee wanted it, but it was slightly
too powerful: a magical explosion meant the end of the web, and
four magicals found themselves in the mud. "Oops," said William.
"That was a bit too much, wasn't it?"

BOOK: Hilda - Cats
12.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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