“I can Haz Prophecy”
In the Woven Chamber, Garfan, Lockwood, and Tarnah bowed to the King of Catfolk, Mitt-Aans, who lounged on her dais, lazily batting a bird on a string that hung in front of her as the late afternoon light streamed in from the high elaborate windows, making the large room warm and sleepy.
Rulers of the Catfolk were called Kings, regardless of gender. The current one had become ruler by being the first Catfolk on the throne after the last king had died. That and refusing to leave, despite much urging. Once her scent permeated the seat, which was more of a large pillow, she was acknowledged as King.
“Chosen One, why do you come here in this time of strife?” growled the King.
Still bowing, he tapped lightly on the floor mats in a sequence that he hoped would capture and hold the King’s attention.
“Great King, it is because of the unrest that I come to you, knowing how perceptive your people are to the ebb and flow of the energies of the world.”
She shifted and sat up, ignoring the bird that had held her interest a moment ago. “What do you know of this?” she asked, her ears flattening against her sleek head.
“Your Majesty, may I present the Lady Tarnah, Daughter of the Duke of Whattlesworth and Captain of his Guard. Her sister Daphnae was kidnapped by Shadow Creepers several days ago and no ransom has been demanded.”
At the mention of Shadow Creepers, all the Catfolk in the room hissed, sounding as if though dozens of kettles had gone off at once.
“Shadow Creepers are our mortal enemies!”
“Indeed,” said Garfan. “And knowing that, I know that you will want to see justice meted out to these evil beings AND to those who would employ them.”
Looking at Tarnah, the King commanded, “Scratch me behind the ears.”
The Captain of the Duke’s Guard narrowed her eyes and was about to bellow something when Garfan leaned in and whispered, “It’s a good sign. Just do it.”
She stood and walked to the dais and began to gently scratch. The purrs began immediately. Tarnah mouthed to Garfan: “How long?”
Just then, the King twisted her head and hissed at Tarnah, not as loud as before or as fiercely, but it was clear that the ear-scratching segment of the audience was over. With a flick of her paw, she dismissed Tarnah, who returned to her seat.
Her whiskers twitching, she regarded the humans with her amber eyes, stretched, walked a tight circle, and sat once more.
“There are disturbances in the wider world,” said King Mitt-Aans. “We have felt them like the shifting of furniture.”
When entertaining Catfolk for at one’s castle, it is vitally important to keep everything just as it was during their previous visit. They will not care if you found a better “flow” for your great hall; change upsets them greatly. Eventually, they will get used to it, but until then, be prepared for some terse negotiations.
“Great King Mitt-Aans, do you know where this disturbance is located?” asked Garfan.
She arched her back and stretched out. “Brush me,” she commanded.
As Garfan got up, a chorus of yowls and hisses were heard outside. Two guards dragged in a bound figure and dropped it in front of Mitt-Aans. They flipped him over to reveal an unconscious Caliric.
“Oh hells,” muttered Garfan.
Tarnah leapt up, “That’s Caliric!”
All the feline eyes fell on her. Garfan tried, unsuccessfully, to catch the warrior woman’s eye.
“You know this one?” asked the King.
Garfan loudly cleared his throat.
“Yes! He’s from my homeland!” Tarnah exclaimed.
Suddenly, but not unexpectedly, all the weapons in the room were pointed at them. Tarnah reached for her battle-axe but Garfan stopped her. “You shouldn’t have done that,” he said quietly.
“Why? Is it not the truth?”
King Mitt-Aans yowled and all eyes turned to her. “This mostly hairless ape has come into our land without leave! Because he is your countryman, you are responsible for his deeds!”
Tarnah looked defiantly at the ruler of the Catfolk. “I will be responsible for him while we stay! We all will,” she pronounced.
Later, sitting in the holding pen for the gladiatorial maze, Tarnah asked; “How was I to know that these Catfolk were so territorial?”
“Because they are Cat People!” yelled Garfan. “They are incredibly territorial! Saying that we are all going to be responsible means we are all guilty of trespassing!”
She glared at him. “I was always more of dog person.”
Caliric raised his hand and spoke softly. “Is it all right if I apologize again?”
Garfan turned to his would-be squire. “Why didn’t you go home? I sent you home and you were going home. Why aren’t you home?” He began to pace back and forth, seven steps, turn around, and take seven more, and so on.
Caliric squirmed and looked at his feet. “The thing is, Sir Garfan…”
Caliric stood up. “It’s my fault I didn’t rejoin you swiftly enough.”
“What? Why were you trying to rejoin us?” asked Garfan as he trod back and forth.
Pulling a note out of his pocket, Caliric read, “Sir Garfan will need your help, join us as rapidly as your feet will allow.” Handing the scrap to the knight as he passed, Garfan saw that it was Lockford’s handwriting.
“Well, that seems to be working out well,” quipped Garfan as he pivoted and continued pacing.
Hanging his head low, Caliric whispered, “It is my fault Sir Garfan, I must bear this shame alone.”
Lockford patted the young man on the arm, “I too must share the burden of this.”
Garfan nodded. “Sounds about right.”
Tarnah stood up in front of Garfan and glared at him. He tried to walk around her but she held his shoulder with a startlingly strong grip. “It seems to me that if you had taken this youth as your squire, none of us would be awaiting a very public execution!”
Lockford stood and looked at his master and the captain. “There is more than enough blame to be shared by all, sir. Perhaps we might spend our time more profitably by planning a stratagem in response to this unfortunate turn of events.”
Disengaging from Tarnah’s painful grip, Garfan began pacing again, but now looked more like he was actively strategizing.
“Lockford, good advice. This is what I remember of the arena. They set it up as a maze but the pattern changes every few months, so it will be all new.”
Caliric joined the huddle. “Will we be fighting the Catfolk?”
Lockford shook his head. “No, they enjoy watching prisoners fight wild beasts and sometimes other prisoners.”
Garfan looked at each of them. “It’s VERY important that we don’t split up. If we stick together and work as a team, we have some chance to get out of this and being found not guilty.”
A frown furrowed Tarnah’s brow, “We are guilty, by their odd laws. How can we be found not guilty?”
He sighed. “Catfolk laws are… Lockford, how did you put it?”
Garfan shrugged and continued to walk back and forth.
Tarnah regarded him with a puzzled look. “Why do you pace like a guilty pie thief?”
“Pie thief?” asked Garfan who thought it was oddly specific, but did not stop moving.
Lockford interjected, “Before a battle, Sir Garfan finds that pacing energizes the humors and prepares him for the heighten state of combat. Is that not correct, sir?”
“You know me too well, old friend,” he answered, making a note to himself to get the valet a good bottle of brandy when they hit a civilized part of the Land.
Grinning, Caliric looked at Garfan. “I know we will be victorious, we fight alongside the Chosen One!”
Tarnah clapped Garfan on the arm. “This is true! There is no monster or beast that will stand against us!”
Caliric and Tarnah began to pace as well but didn’t get as much out of it as Garfan, but it did have the benefit of making them both stop speaking.
Just then Catfolk Folk guards arrived to lead them to the arena, their tails flicking back and forth in anticipation.
After a walk through a series of tunnels, they emerged into a hexagonal chamber.
Under the wary amber eyes of their escort, they were each handed their weapons, except for Lockford, who had carried none. He was offered a spear but he declined.
Tarnah shook her head. “Servant of the Chosen One, you should arm yourself; in this moment, we are all warriors.”
Garfan said, “He’s fine, trust me.”
“Would you send him to his empty-handed death?” she said, looking at Garfan with equal parts contempt and shock.
Lockford smiled, “Please, Captain. I’m well prepared for this. I have served Sir Garfan for many years. This is not my first time in an arena.”
She pulled a razor-sharp dagger from her belt. “Please, it would ease my mind.”
He smiled indulgently and slid the dagger into his belt.
With the sound of stone grinding against stone, the platform at their feet shuddered and rose, the ceiling opening up. Around them appeared the great arena of the Catfolk. Across the killing floor a group of Goblin skirmishers rose up.
As a side note, Goblin skirmishers are the most savage and least intelligent type of Goblins. Unlike the guards employed by the Master of who were trained and housebroken, skirmishers are small, green agents of chaos and violence, which makes them extremely well suited for combat and less well suited for weekend guests. Unless you like fighting tooth and nail and are not upset by collateral damage.
Ululating cries and hisses echoed from the stands. The Catfolk Folk loved gladiatorial fights. Some scholars have postulated that it was because of the inherent blood lust of their feline nature. Others theorized that it was a remnant of an ancient mating ritual deeply imbedded in their cultural zeitgeist. There was a joke, in academic circles, that it was actually because the Catfolk were drawn to shiny moving things. This is much closer to the truth than they knew.
Tarnah grinned. “Look at them, stunted and frightened, they will pose little challenge!”
“Don’t say that.” Garfan made a sour face. “First, Goblins are at their most dangerous when cornered.”
“Is this the bravery of the ‘Chosen One’?” she sneered, “I am less than impressed.”
“Secondly,” he said, ignoring her dig in what he felt was a great act of restraint, “you never know what else is waiting for you.”
Some people say that if you ask for trouble, you’ll get what you ask for. Those kinds of people are right, but not the sort you ask out to the tavern as they will, at best, find any excuse to complain. Then, inevitably, you’ll end up in the stocks or join some sort of cult that doesn’t mind if you depart, as long as you leave behind all of your blood or your vital organs, your choice. The worst part of that will be the inevitable “I knew this would happen.”
Garfan suppressed the urge to say “I knew this would happen” (because he did not want to be that guy), as a huge beast burst through a slightly huger doorway, straining at the chains that held him down.
“What is it?” asked a wide-eyed Caliric.
“Giant Dire Wolf,” answered Garfan.
It was about three hundred feet away, but it looked as though it could just step up into the stands, were it not chained up.
“How do you know?”
He squinted at the monstrous creature. “Well, it’s very large, so there’s the giant part.”
“Sir Garfan, it was more about the dire part I was wondering.”
“Right, you see how there are spikes running along its spine and really, just all over its body?”
“If you see any animal with great nasty spikes coming out of it, it’s a dire whatever.”
He glanced at the young man. “Kid, you’re keeping it together. Good job.”
“Truthfully, I’m pretty scared.”
“That’s a good sign.”
“Not being an idiot. Everybody, let’s keep close.”
It was then the maze sprung up, separating them all. Even so, they all heard the blood-coagulating howl of the Giant Dire Wolf as if they were standing right next to each other. So, there was that.