Telling Tales 129
Necessity Is the Mother of Invention and Necessity Is Apparently a Cat
The soldier had thought that the fisher (or polecat) that told him about the giant skunk was a conversational challenge, but the cat was clearly made of richer grain. It sat staring at him from the branch, now that it was done with its description of the events to come. If the soldier had followed its words correctly, he would have to become the prey of the hunted prey (Count Arnau), sneak past that eternally damned man and his doubtless enchanted hunting dogs, only to face the second set of hunters. With any luck, those latter persons or things would be more concerned with Arnau – except, of course, that according to the cat they were the ones who might have his breath in the first place, which suggested that they might not be the friendliest sorts to begin with.
“Can you give me and more advice? Which is the best way I might want to go?”
“That depends a great deal on where you want to get to,” answered the cat.
“You’re not a great deal of help,” said the soldier with some degree of frustration.
“Contrariwise,” said the cat with a grin that showed all its teeth, and with that it looked much, much more menacing, “I am precisely as much help as you need.”
“It would be so nice if something made sense for a change,” said the soldier, who was growing to have his fill of talking animals.
“Take care of the sense and the sounds will take care of themselves,” said the cat and then faded away, leaving only the ghost of its smile to linger on the branch.
The rumble in the distance grew louder. “Hooves, howls, or thunder?” the soldier wondered again and cursed the cat in his mind for its wandering speech. “I’m too tired to run. I’m too weak to climb. What I need is for this Count Arnau fellow to get the scent of some other prey besides me. Then again,” he realized, “I have no scent! But if they see me it’s just as bad, his dogs will tear me to pieces all the same, or whatever it is his dogs do. And I can’t imagine I want to find out what an eternally damned hunter does with his quarry. For all I know, he uses it to throw his own pursuers off the trail. Which wouldn’t be bad, necessarily, since I want to talk to them, but there are all sorts of ways one might be left and I might not be in any condition to speak.”
A feeling of despair, a full hollowness that swelled his chest and threatened to drown him where he stood, enveloped the soldier. The pressure he had felt since waking up with the cat on him had not eased. He thought of the great horned spirit.
And nothing happened. “I don’t understand your rules,” moaned the soldier. “Why is it you appear sometimes and not others?”
You need to pay more attention. You’ve got all the facts already. The cat’s words sounded in his head. “If I have all the facts, then I should be able to deal with what’s coming.” He ticked off facts on his fingers. “I have no scent. I have no breath. I have perhaps two weeks left to live. This cat and others do not have my breath, but they can jump with it. The Gathering Storm are hunters chasing a hunter and they may be the ones that have my breath.”
And slowly, an idea began to take shape in his mind.