Like all cats I was born knowing that I was special.
I was one, and of course the best, of a litter of seven kittens. For the first few weeks of my life my mother nursed us and told us of our purpose. All cats have a purpose, of course. Only lesser creatures don’t. Some of us are ratters, some are companions. My purpose was of great importance. I was to be a witch’s cat! I would be sent to a witch, who would give me a task to fulfill.
My mother told us about other things, the world in general and our place in it. Cats are beings of balance. We walk the line between the Wild and the humans, we stalk through the shadows of the world, our own masters who chose help humans in matters they can’t navigate.
When I was old enough I left my mother and stepped through the ways secret to cats until I found my witch. By this point I was fully in my power, master of all I surveyed, a full ten weeks old!
It was nearing the end of the day when I arrived at the home of the Witch of the Heartwoods. My mother had heard about her from her witch and knew her to be sensible and of proper import for one such as me. I stepped from the shadows and saw the witch sitting in a rocking chair in front of her house, sipping tea and watching the colour fade from the sky. I roared mightily to let her know I was there and she looked up, a smile bursting across her face.
“Well hello there,” she said, coming across and kneeling in front of me as was proper. “And what is your name?”
I ignored her, washing my face to show what I thought of such impertinence. Everyone knows that a cat’s true name is secret. Then I looked up at her and roared again.
“What a cute meow,” she said and gathered me up. I would have protested but she was very warm and comfy and the journey had tired me somewhat. She took me inside and fed me water and some fish. After that I was given a cushion, upon which I fell asleep.
And so I was a witch’s cat.
It was very boring.
The witch did not often get visitors, living so deep in the woods. Those she did have were barely worth my attention and I often didn’t greet them myself. The house was well appointed, with a lot of plush seats to sleep on, but the trees grew so tall that there were rarely enough sunbeams in which to sprawl. She also had her own way of doing magic and didn’t need my assistance. I was wasted here and I could see the witch agreed, though she fulfilled her side of things with regular offerings of food and strokes.
The day all of this changed and I was given a purpose I was napping in the back room of the witch’s house. I heard the visitors come in and the bustle as my witch supplied them with that tea drink but couldn’t be bothered rousing myself to investigate. I would have probably dozed through their whole visit if the witch hadn’t coming into the back to find me.
“Kitten,” she said respectfully, “I have a task for you. The family out there have a girl who must venture out into the dangerous woods. I want you to go live with them and, when she leaves, go with her and protect her.”
I yawned to show her how I felt about her waking me. “You want me to leave?” I asked.
“Of course not,” the witch replied earnestly. She was at least intelligent enough to understand Cat, even if she couldn’t speak it. “I love having you here. I simply feel that this is a better use of your time. This is a quest worthy of you.”
The idea of a quest did intrigue me and, as I had mentioned, I was getting bored. So I agreed, the witch picked me up and brought me through to the other room.
I saw my new family.
Frankly I wasn’t impressed.
There were three of them, parents and their kit. The parents looked old, whereas the girl was barely in her teen years. She was the one I had to protect and no surprise, being so young and small.
She did have comfortable arms though and she held me close as was proper upon being handed me. I focused on her and missed what the parents were saying to my witch. However I did hear them say, “So when danger appears it’ll grow big and frightening or….?”
The audacity of them! Thankfully my witch set them straight with a smile.
“No, it is what it is. This will keep your daughter safe.”
By this time they must have seen more of my majesty or the sheer obviousness of the statement had finally gotten through to them. Either way they said nothing more, just thanked my witch and took me to my new home.
Much though I felt it demeaning to be in a common store, far beneath my station, I had to admit that it was much comfier than the witch’s hut. The shop and attached house were spacious, with lots of interesting nooks and crannies to investigate. There were many of the much missed sunbeams and they were quick to feed me, though they had to be reminded from time to time.
It was while I was patrolling my new domain that I heard them discussing the problems in the forest. Apparently some wolves and some bandits had moved into the area. It was no wonder that they needed me to protect the girl. Just being around the house must have made them feel safer.
Eventually the day came when the girl needed to make her next delivery. She packed a rucksack, shucked on a green cloak and picked up a basket, which was the perfect place for me to ride in. Then we set off.
The forests have a wild beauty all of their own. The sun dappling through the leaves and the swaying of the basket combined to have an almost soporific effect. It was tempting to fall asleep but I had a duty to protect the girl. Luckily I was a cat and we have the ability to doze while being completely aware of our surroundings.
The day wore on, the girl visiting five different houses of people who didn’t interest me. They looked at me, uncertain and awed by my magnificence, as was only right. Nothing of particular note happened and eventually we started walked back.
Which is when I noticed the wolf.
It was lurking on the side of the path, just a little further on. The girl, with her substandard sight, hearing and sense of smell, was unaware of it. I, of course, could easily defeat it in combat but the girl might get hurt. And unlike properly civilised people she didn’t speak Cat, so I couldn’t warn her. What was I to do?
I was reduced to communicating in the most basic of pantomime. I stood up and stared off the track, away from where the wolf lay in wait. Then, once I was sure I had her attention, I leapt bravely from the basket and led the way to safety.
It seemed that she had gotten the message because I heard her crashing through the undergrowth after me. I had no doubt that the wolf would also be coming after us so I kept up the charge, leading her around unexpected hollows and the worst of hanging branches. This was unsustainable though. Wolves could run faster than her, even if they couldn’t run faster than me, and I had to find a place where it couldn’t get her.
Eventually I both heard and smelt men ahead of me, emphasis on smelt, they were an uncouth bunch but needs must, and led her to them and safety. I decided to let her go first into the clearing where they were making their camp. They would naturally be terrified if I suddenly burst upon them and they were, after all, humans. I dealt with the wild, the girl dealt with the humans.
I knew I had made…well not a mistake, merely a miscalculation, once the girl entered the glade. She reacted to them not in joy, like I’d have expected, but rather in fear. After a few moments I realised that, instead of a gang of smelly but helpful humans, these must have been the bandits that I’d heard of. And they were surrounding the girl.
I was in something of a quandary. Yes, I could just leap into the middle of them and kill them all but there were a lot of them and, again, the girl might get hurt. I was amazing but there was only one of me. There was a chance that a few of the bandits might have enough presence of mind to harm the girl. I needed a large group that would be properly distracting.
I decided to abide by the third law of Cats. If there’s something you don’t particularly want to do, get someone else to do it instead. With that I turned and sped through the forest. Why solve one problem when you can solve two?
It didn’t take me long to find the wolves. I simple had to go back to the path and follow the wolf’s scent back to where they gathered. It was a large pack, several families all gathered together, probably as many as the bandits were. I decided to make an impression upon them. A proper introduction can solve all sorts of problems.
I appeared in front of the pack of wolves like a ghost, unseen but feared, and roared. Heads turned and a large wolf that must have been the alpha stalked over to me.
“What do you want, little morsel?” he growled. “Speak before we snap you up!”
I understand that some leaders need to make themselves feel more important but really. If I hadn’t needed him I would have struck him down on the spot. “I come baring a warning,” I told him. “There are men not far from here that are coming to hunt you. You must attack them first!”
A low chuckle broke from his jaws. “Oh, must we? And why is that?”
“Because if you don’t they will hunt and kill you all! I will do you a favour and lead you to them but you will owe me.”
The chuckles weren’t just coming from the leader now as the pack gathered around. “I think I’ll just eat you,” the wolf said, leaning close to me and showing his fangs.
I inwardly sighed. Why were some animals unable to listen to reason?
Other methods would have to be used.
I extended my claws and swiped the wolf across the snout.
He recoiled with a satisfyingly high-pitched squeal. The rest of the pack lunged at where I used to be but I was already speeding through the trees. Within a moment I heard a hunting howl and they were after me.
A cat like myself will always be faster than some canines, of course, but I will admit that they were faster than I expected. I had to let them keep me in sight, of course, but they were getting a little closer than I’d planned. We were only halfway to the camp and the howls were uncomfortably close.
It was a surprise when we almost crashed into the bandits. I managed to vanish into the undergrowth just in time but the wolves weren’t as cunning. Both group stopped and stared at each other for a moment.
What were they doing here? Then I saw the girl leading them and realised that she must have somehow figured out my plan. Maybe she wasn’t so bad after all.
The wolves snapped out of their confusion first and attacked. Several bandits fell before the rest got their act together and counter attacked. I saw the girl stumble off to the side and vanish as the fight got under way. Just like I’d planned.
I stayed to watch the confrontation play out, hidden safely under a bush. Both group struck at each other with ferocity doubtless born of their inner limitations. While the wolves had gotten first blood the bandits were armed with swords and axes and these fake claws counted for a lot. The fight ground on, more falling on both sides every moment. Eventually the tattered remains of both groups limped away, neither a threat to anyone any longer. Just as I’d planned.
I headed back to the path and waited for the girl there. The day was nice and warm and I was tired after completing my quest in such a final way. So I found a nice sunbeam, curled up and waited for the girl.
Saving the day must have taken more out of me than I had thought because the first that I was aware of the girl’s return was when she picked me up and, holding me close, began to walk back home. The basket had vanished at some point but being carried like this was a nice substitute. I curled up deeper into her arms and purred to let her know that I was satisfied.
The girl held me tight and whispered in my ear, “You may not have done anything to help but I love you anyway.”
It’s not her fault. She’s only human.