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Norton, Andre - Anthology

BOOK: Norton, Andre - Anthology
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Catfantastic IV

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

 
          
 
Introduction © 1996 by Andre Norton.

 
          
 
The Last Answer © 1996 by Wilanne Schneider
Belden.

 
          
 
The Quincunx Solution © 1996 by Anne Braude.

 
          
 
Circus © 1996 by Marj Krueger.

 
          
 
Tybalt's Tale © 1996 by
India
Edghill.

 
          
 
The Tale of the Virtual Cat © 1996 by Heather
Gladney,

 
          
 
Don Clayton, and Alan Rice Osborn. Arrows ©
1996 by Jane Hamilton. Miss Hettie and Harlan © 1996 by Charles L. Fontenay.
The Neighbor © 1996 by P. M. Griffin. Tinkerbell © 1996 by Sharman Horwood.
SCat © 1996 by Mercedes Lackey. Professor Purr's Guaranteed Allergy Cure © 1996
by

 
          
 
Brad Linaweaver and Dana Fredsti. Noh Cat
Afternoon © 1996 by Jane M. Lindskold. Totem Cat © 1996 by A. R. Major.
Deathsong © 1996 by Lyn McConchie. Noble Warrior, Teller of Fortunes © 1996 by
Andre

 
          
 
Norton. Born Again © 1996 by Elizabeth Ann
Scarborough. The Cat, the Sorcerer, and the Magic Mirror © 1996 by

 
          
 
Mary Schaub. One With Jazz © 1996 by Janet
Pack.

 

INTRODUCTION

 

 
          
 
It would seem that the very word
"cat" sets the imagination furiously to work. Nor can any editor
guess in how many directions at once. Catfantastic IV sees some familiar
characters returning for further adventures, and introduces new ones as well.
Also this year the offerings are international, one being from
New Zealand
and one from
South Korea
.

 
          
 
You shall meet wizards' four-footed helpers
(often quite a bit more intelligent than their so-called masters), talented
Japanese cats able to improvise a Noh play to interest a lordling, a cat who is
a strict judge of the very best in jazz, a cat who chooses reincarnation to aid
a beloved human companion, cats who deal with Jinns and Angels, and a number
more, all at home in this universe, world, or time, or journeying to other
places of feline activity.

 
          
 
It all adds up to one point of blazing
importance—in all dimensions there is nothing equal to a CAT!

 
          
 
. . — Andre Norton

 

by
Wilanne Schneider Belden

 

 

            
Wilanne Schneider
Belden grew up in the
Midwest
. She was (and is) involved in reading,
writing, dance, music, and drama. Then: Bachelor in Fine Arts in Drama from the
University of Iowa; marriage and a move to Southern California, motherhood,
elementary school teaching, Masters degree in education, and writing short
stories for adults and novels for children and young people. She taught Gifted
and Talented

students for many years and still consults, offering courses in creative
writing, bookmaking, and science fiction and fantasy.

            
Perielle was pretty
sure they were going to kill her. An eight-year-old girl was proving to be a
nuisance. She wasn't old enough to be married off to one of them,

probably the big man who always smelled of blood. So he couldn't rule
as-husband of the crown princess. She'd overheard talk of using her as a puppet
ruler, but this required too much statecraft for the big bloody one. So they'd
kill her, and soon, and eliminate the last member of the Royal Family.

            
Not that it would
help them any. No one could rule this kingdom without the Relics. The sword and
crown had mystical properties. Whoever wore the crown became invulnerable to
all untruth, whatever that meant. Whoever bore the sword was rightful King,
accepted by all. Being an unimaginative child who knew truth from fiction, Peri
was none too convinced of the truth of these adages. Her opinion was that a
sharp sword swung by strong arms is an excellent tool of persuasion. But the
difficulty these invaders were having seemed to bear out the validity of the
legends. However, she told herself, the problems probably were caused by
Alfesian, the traitorous Royal Magician. He should have showed up weeks ago to
begin ruling—or to have it out with the invaders' magician, who was spoiling
for the fight.

 
          
 
Perielle knew her twin brothers lived. In
those last days, Father told her things now and then. As she had figured out
for herself, Father had so little Royal Power that he'd had to employ Alfesian,
the Royal Magician, whom he had never entirely trusted. When the boys were
born, he had them spirited away, weeping as he announced that they'd been
stillborn. He took great care not to reveal the strategy or the location of the
boys to anyone. "When the invaders came, he'd discarded his minimal, useless
Power and had taken up the Sword to defend his realm. Carolus and Hadrius were
safer where they were, he'd believed, far from war, being raised like peasants.

 
          
 
Perielle was surprised and a little confused
to be told her father's secret. He never lied, but she thought him unreasonably
optimistic. Alfesian had much magic and many, many spies and informers.

 
          
 
When Alfesian announced that he intended to
rule, he and Father disappeared in a blinding flash of black lightning, leaving
mind-numbing terror behind. All resistance to the enemies died. It took the
ihvading army only six days to overrun the capital and declare its leader the
new king. His magician prepared to battle Alfesian when he returned. Peri had
infinite contempt for the newcomers. Because it took longer than they had
thought, they supposed he would not come. He would. Peri shuddered and thought
about something else.

 
          
 
Suppose Carolus was alive—and not in
Alfesian's power. First someone would have to tell him who he was, and nobody
knew. Next, he'd have to locate the Relics, which Father had when he
disappeared. Then he'd have to learn to use the sword. Peasants used hoes and
pitchforks. If he developed a great deal of Royal Power—and only one of every
three rulers ever had enough to be useful—he'd put aside all killing to retain
it. No, hoping for help from Carolus was pointless. She sighed. If he lived to
grow up, Carolus probably would wring the neck of any female who stood between
him and the crown.

 
          
 
She realized this wasn't fair. He could be a
pretty good person. But she had little trust in men. Her early life hadn't been
easy, and it had gotten harder when Mother died. Father ignored her. He'd sent
away the only tutor who taught what she wanted to learn. The magician said not
to bother him until after she'd been sick. She'd never had so much as a cold.
Carolus was unlikely to care about her either.

 
          
 
At least, the new inhabitants of the castle
didn't think she had any information worth knowing, so they just penned her up
in her room and ignored her. Oh, she was fed, and she had water and firewood,
and nobody hurt her. But she wasn't too sure that would continue for long. She
spent long hours hoping that her father might still be alive. Being an orphan,
alone in the world, was more than she could handle—and continue to act as a
crown princess was expected to do. Father hadn't cared much for her, but he was
better than no one. If he still lived, where was he? She'd know, if she ever
came there.

 
          
 
The insurgents had no such doubts. King Morion
was dead. Everyone Whoiiad s£en the spectacular disappearance agreed to that.
They searched constantly and ever more desperately for the Relics.

 
          
 
When her guard brought her evening meal,
Perielle could hardly choke down the ill-prepared food. But she had a healthy
appetite, sense enough to try to stay alive and strong, and no desire for the
new "king" to remember her. He was busy enough that she hoped he'd
forgotten her for now. If she didn't eat, somebody would remind him.

 
          
 
This evening, as on several before, Chithit
slipped in when the door was open. Chithit was not a prepossessing cat, being
long and lean, principally gray, and frequently battle-scarred. Perielle had
never been fond of cats. Her opinion was based on Alfesian's familiar: a huge,
all-black, longhaired tomcat with a disposition like boiling lye. But since her
imprisonment, Chith had taken to visiting her, and Perielle found his presence
comforting. She cuddled him and whispered how welcome and how superior he was.
After all, he alone had found a way to visit her, to leave when he chose, and
to get along in a castle now overrun with large, fierce hunting dogs.

 
          
 
Usually, he came in to sit in Peri's lap in
front of her tiny fire and bathe. Tonight he requested food. Being fed more
than she could eat, she obliged. She knew she might be eating her last meal—in
which case she and the cat would leave the world together—but decided that was
his problem. He seemed far more capable of solving problems than she was.
Tonight he gulped down every bite she left and licked the plate, then drank an
entire bowl of water. After he washed his face and paws, he leaped onto
Perielle's bed and appropriated her pillow.

 
          
 
Peri was a little miffed and a good deal
disappointed. When one has only occasional contact with a companionable living
being, moments with that individual become precious. She tried to pretend that
it did not matter, but she was only eight, and it did, and she cried a little.

 
          
 
Having nothing better to do, Peri poured
enough wine into the water to make it safe to drink and took one gulp. Uggh!
She wandered over to the bed and observed Chith. How odd. She was almost
positive he wasn't asleep. Why was he pretending to be? She sat on the bed and
wondered. She knew that she was watched, clock around. Did her spies stop
spying when she went to sleep for the night? Well, it wouldn't hurt to find
out. She set her cup on the floor by the wall and curled up next to the cat.

 
          
 
Planning to remain awake, she was sure she
would fall asleep instantly—the contrary having been her life-pattern for many
months. She wished she hadn't drunk the wine. Her mouth tasted awful. They must
be using water from the well in the courtyard. How could anyone believe her
family would drink that?

 
          
 
The longer she lay on the bed, eyes shut,
breathing deeply, the more wide awake she became. If someone had dropped an
eyelid, she would have leaped to her feet screaming. The sound of the cat's
breathing became loud in the silence. She heard a muffled yawn, a soft scraping—chair
on a stone floor? Well, someone was watching from behind the picture at the
head of her bed. She grinned. He couldn't see her; she and Chith were too close
to the wall. Hm. Is that why Chithit chose to sleep there? She turned over
sleepily and wiggled up a little toward the head of the bed, then reached out
and circled the cat gently. He rubbed his head against her hand.

 
          
 
Peri realized that she had slept, after all,
and that a sound had wakened her. She listened.

 
          
 
"What's the word?" one of them said
in their language.

 
          
 
"Asleep. Drank wine with dinner. She'll
be out all night."

 
          
 
"Ahhhh. I can use the sleep."

 
          
 
Scuffling noises. Sound of footsteps. Sound of
person clearing throat. Silence. Sound of snoring.

 
          
 
Perielle lifted her head. She looked directly
into the cat's open, alert eyes. He, too, had raised his head. He seemed
impatient.

 
          
 
Peri began to shake a little. She had not the
least idea what would happen next, but she waited, tense, ready.

 
          
 
Chithit stood, stretched and padded to the foot
of the bed. He crouched on the edge, tail lashing. Perielle leaned up on her
elbows—slowly, quietly.

 
          
 
The cat gave a powerful leap across the four
or so feet separating the bed from the wall and drove all eighteen claws into
the edge of the tapestry hanging next to the fireplace. Peri held her breath.

 
          
 
Chithit clawed upward until he was just below
the mantel. He reached out with his right front paw and attempted to press
something—one of the centers of the carved flowers? The tapestry simply moved
away from the wall. He could not apply enough pressure.

 
          
 
Perielle slid off the bed and crept to the
wall. She put both thumbs on the flower and pressed with all her might.

 
          
 
The tapestry appeared to curve into the wall,
cat and all. Perielle slithered behind it. The opening was narrow and not too
tall. People much larger than she would find it hard to wiggle through. A soft
thud indicated the cat had dropped to the floor. In a moment, she felt his
furriness against her ankle. His brief delay had been to find and drag one of
Peri's soft boots with him. She pulled it on, then retrieved the second boot
herself. As she stood, she felt the end of his long, silk-furred tail against
her hand.

 
          
 
He couldn't want her to hold it; she might
pull. He hissed softly and whapped the tail against her hand. Well, I guess he
does. She tried to grasp firmly but without squeezing. He did not go far—to the
right, where he scratched the wall. Pen caught on at once. She'd been wondering
how to close the opening. She searched up and down and sideways—and found a
handle. When she moved it in an arc. the stones slid back into place.

 
          
 
Peri followed Chith into the darkness. The
sound of a snore made cold sweat break out all over her body. They turned a
corner. The next snore was a little louder. She saw a faint hint of light—one
candle in a dark lantern. Not too slowly, cat and girl passed the sleeper.
Chith slipped his tail free. He leaped onto a narrow-ledge and pawed at
something. Groping next to him, Peri located a bumpy leather pouch. Food, she
guessed. She slung its ties over her belt and knotted them, picked up the
lantern, and took Chith's tail again. He led her on and on, down, at last, down
and down and down and down.

 
          
 
The first part of their escape had been
through passages built when the castle was. They were old and, if narrow, high
enough for a man to walk through without bending. This downward section,
leading off from the passageways, was new, rough-cut into earth, even narrower,
and little higher than her head. Something said, "Magic" about the
tunnel—perhaps she smelled it. People said Mother could.

BOOK: Norton, Andre - Anthology
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