Just a reminder, every second Sunday of the month I’m doing a serial with an original illustration from the wonderful Dani English, who also does my book covers.
It’sJune, and we reach Part6 in my serial starring two fox-rabbits, a magpie, a man, his horse and various other travellers they find on their adventure.
We left the Adventurers searching for the ranger, Carver, who had disappeared from their camp in the forest.
Carver’s world had turned upside down. Blood pounded in his head, singing in his ears. His hair fell straight up from his head, and sweat dripped upwards too. He shook his head to clear it from his eyes and wished he hadn’t. A vague sloshing feeling in his brain made him feel very ill indeed. He wriggled a little, decided his arms were bound tightly to his body, and that he was probably suspended by his feet in some way. His whole body was encased in something, from toe to shoulders.
Having established the state of his person, he turned his attention outwards. The world in front of his eyes seemed several dirty shades of brown and black.
No, rock. Dirt was on the floor above his head. He was in a cave, and light seeped in from somewhere over his left buttock. Not a lot of light. Enough to give him a headache.
He closed his eyes, then felt a movement of the air around him.
He was not alone.
“Awake at last!”
Carver groaned. It sort of escaped along with his breathing. As soon as he’d let it out he wished he hadn’t. His groan was answered with a musical chuckle.
“Just who you wanted to meet, eh? I bet! Just where I want you, anyway. I’ve been longing for this moment.”
Carver kept his eyes closed. He knew what he’d see if he opened them. Large green eyes, twinkling with fun, and perhaps with anger, but mainly fun because he would be enjoying this moment, Carver’s discomfort, with an enjoyment fit only for those who have waited a long time to pay a debt. A debt of honour. If it wasn’t Carver himself who was going to be on the receiving end, he would have used the word revenge, but that sounded as if he might deserve it.
“It wasn’t my fault,” he spat out.
“Oh, I think you underestimate yourself. You were certainly the cause. And now, I have you in my power, so what shall I do with you?”
“Let me down and give me some dinner?”
“Well, yes, I could do that. But this would be much more fun.” As his captor stopped speaking, Carver started twirling in space. Then he stopped twirling, his legs jerked down to meet his chin, and he performed a double back flip in mid-air from a flying start.
“Oooh, impressive!” his captor capered about; Carver could hear his boots clicking on the ground. “Now, how about a somersault with forward roll—yes! Perfect!”
Carver lurched sideways as he completed the manoeuvre, his stomach several turns behind the rest of his body. “At least turn me upright,” he whispered through gritted teeth, trying not to retch the little left in his stomach.
After a few more aerial acrobatics, Carver fell to the ground.
“You never were much fun. You might as well open your eyes now.”
There was a tapping noise as his captor sat down. Carver knew it would be his heavy-headed hickory staff. He imagined the hat being swept off his hair and cast aside, or neatly aimed to hang on a hatstand, if one was available. Maybe the cloak would follow, or maybe it would be carefully wrapped around his torso to provide extra warmth. Carver did not, at present, need extra warmth. He reckoned he might do once the Red Mage Cat released him.
“Oh, sit up and talk. Have some wine.”
Carver scrambled onto his side, unable to use his hands to push himself upright. He stared at the Cat, wondering just what else he had in store for him.
The Cat raised his staff with one hand, pointed his other at Carver, and muttered something under his breath. Carver fell into a heap; whatever had bound him so rigidly had now disappeared. He sat up. Despite the turbulence inside as all his bodily fluids sorted themselves back into their proper positions, his brain was working furiously. Act normally. Don’t give him the satisfaction. And whatever you do, don’t mention the money.
The Cat watched as Carver struggled into a sitting position, then reached behind him for a wineskin. “Catch.”
He laughed as Carver missed the skin, his arms reacting way too slowly.
Carver glared at him, reached for the skin and drank deeply.
“So, who are your travelling companions? Two fox-rabbits, a magpie and a horse. Come down in the world, haven’t you?”
Carver growled. “Hardly my fault.”
“So you said earlier. But you were the one who got me locked in the dungeon of obsidian, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to get out. And you were the one with the great plan to take the money and then flood the castle. And you were the one who knew the flood would end up in the dungeon of obsidian. So, yes, I would say it was your fault.”
“It was Lord Kayel who caused it all. Take it out on him.”
“Oh, I have.”
The Cat was so airy, that Carver’s nerve nearly failed him. What could the Cat have done to the great lord at Erewhen? Why hadn’t Carver heard?
The Cat chuckled. “Got you there, haven’t I? Your sources failing you? He went hunting out on the Moor of Despond, and somehow he parted company with all the rest, and went following a will-o-the-wisp to see him home safely.”
“But a will-o-the-wisp—”
“Would never see him home safely, of course not. I wonder why on earth he thought it would. Maybe someone whispered something in his ear, something not quite true!” The Cat grinned so wide Carver could see his back teeth around the sides of his fierce fangs.
The Cat waved his arm in the air and a small glow appeared in his hand. “Just happened to be this sort of will-o-the-wisp. It knew exactly what to do. I led him a merry dance before he exhausted himself and begged for mercy. Then I sat in front of him, just as I do now, in front of you, and I reasoned with him. I won’t bore you with the details. Just let’s say he was happy to do my bidding.”
The implication was clear enough. Carver looked down at his feet. It hadn’t been his fault. He had just saved his skin like anyone else would do in the circumstances. The Cat had been left behind: the sacrifice so the others could get away.
“What about the others?” he asked quietly.
“Oh, I’ll get to them in time. I’ve plenty of that, you know.” The Cat studied one paw, then flicked out the claws and began cleaning them with his teeth.
There was a long silence. Carver took a few more pulls on the wineskin while the Cat continued his manicure. At last it was complete. He sighed, flicked his tail a few times, then stretched, yawning.
“So, what did you do with all the money?” the Cat asked, as if it was the least important subject in the world.
“It was all shared out, fairly and squarely.”
“And my portion?”
“We thought you were dead.”
Carver was wholly unprepared for the Cat’s response. He fell back under the Cat’s leap, whose body arched over the ranger’s, his teeth bared, his huge eyes glaring mere centimetres from Carver’s own. Carver felt the claws start to dig in as the Cat started the low, penetrating, hissing sound that Carver remembered so well. He started shaking as the vivid picture of the Cat’s last victim filled his brain.
“But I’m not, am I?” the Cat hissed in Carver’s ear.
© J M Pett 2018
Illustration © Danielle English 2016
Jemima has a story in a new science fiction anthology due out NOW.
Galileo’s Theme Park