Now read on…
“Yes, yes! They’ve fallen for it!” The Red Mage Cat capered about in glee.
Across the room, Carver the Ranger fought his bonds and scowled. He could neither move nor warn the two fox-rabbits. Shouting at them would do no good. He could only see them in the large crystal globe poised in the centre of the room. His captor danced around it, occasionally poking at it with his staff.
“See? See how they follow it blindly, thinking it’ll show them the way? Hee-hee!”
“Why don’t you just bring them here like you did me?”
“Oh, I will. I’ll just play with them first.” The Cat paused and looked at Carver over his shoulder. “You know them? Ah, yes—that’s your horse. Oh, glory! Hmm, now…”
The Cat turned to his bag lying in a corner next to a cloak, crumpled on the floor. He scrabbled inside it, going deeper and deeper, until his head and shoulder disappeared inside. Carver considered this. By now, the Cat must be through the floor and looking into the room below.
“Ah,” came a muffled exclamation from inside the bag. The Cat withdrew, standing upright and repositioning his feathered hat on his head with one paw, while tossing an item casually in the other.
“Know what this is?”
Carver considered feigning disinterest. His eyes followed what seemed to be a bundle of rags as the Cat continued to toss it.
“It’s a parsefal: a valley piercer. I’ve never tried it through an orb before, but I should be able to…”
Carver continued to watch as the Cat cupped the object in his paws, faced the crystal globe and started waving it around, in what appeared to be a purposeful pattern. It meant nothing to Carver, but he watched as the light inside the globe danced around, and his friends followed it. What had he told Alice about strange magical objects? Never trust them. Surely she would understand that this was no saviour to them? He winced as he saw Talbot slip in the murk of the swamp, emerging with his whole side black and dripping with ooze. Carver’s horse tossed his head at the fox-rabbit, but said nothing. Then again, he only said things to Carver. That was an idea.
The Cat continued to wave the parsefal about as Carver concentrated on thinking a message to his horse. If the Cat could influence what was going on inside that orb, surely it was worthwhile Carver trying.
“I hate it, I hate it, I hate it…” Talbot grumbled loudly as he shook his leg off and scraped the rest of the gloop off his hip, only succeeding in transferring it to his other side and promptly messing up his ears as he straightened them.
“Shh. You’ll give our position away.” Alice turned and shushed him with a finger to her lips for emphasis.
“And just who will hear us in this horrible place?”
“You never know…”
They squelched onwards, following the dancing light, which seemed to be moving rather more jerkily than before.
At last they emerged from the swamp, onto a rocky foreshore with lichens, moss, bogweed and small bent bushes emerging from cracks between the boulders.
“Won’t it ever get light? We’ve been walking all day and night already.” Talbot wished for the seventeenth time that he’d never left home. Adventure was not matching up to what he’d dreamed.
“I think there’s a lot of cloud, and maybe tall hills above the trees,” said Alice. “And if we don’t keep walking, we’ll never find ourselves, let alone Carver.”
Talbot stopped and shook himself from ears to feet. That was right, they had to keep going to find Carver. How did a ranger disappear without a trace once they’d camped for the night? Someone must have kidnapped him. But now they’d lost the trail, so how did they know they were still following him? They were lost. Completely lost. He shoved his hands in his pockets, felt the stone in his left paw, and curled his fingers around it. As before, it made him feel better.
“Okay, let’s keep going. Up that track there, I think.”
He pointed where the bobbing light was rising up the hill, lighting a rough track that looked newly made. Alice sighed and shook her head. As if they were going to do anything else.
In the hours that it took Alice, Talbot, Carver’s horse and Magpie to follow the parsefal’s track through the mountains to the town of Erewhen, the Red Mage Cat continued to play with Carver.
“So you stashed your cash, then gave it away when you picked up the wrong notes! Ha-haha-hahaha.”
Carver couldn’t decide which he hated more, the Cat’s laughter or the embarrassment, no, the excruciating pain, of knowing you’ve given fifty thousand kroner notes over to pay for a fifty kroner saddle, bridle and ranger’s outfit. Colour blindness was the pits.
“How much is left?”
“How much was your share of Lord Kayel’s ransom money, anyway?”
Carver shifted in the cradle the Cat had conjured up for him. He had released the bonds, so Carver merely sat in a harness, able to move around, feed himself from the plate hovering in front of him, making sure he didn’t tangle with the netting as he manoeuvred the food to his mouth. Just not walk anywhere, since the netting was suspended from a beam.
“Two hundred thousand, seven hundred and fifty,” he finally admitted.
“Funny share. How’s your maths?”
“Oh, it was right. The ransoms had been gathered over several years, after all. I checked it, Markku checked it, Fabio checked it too.”
“And my share?”
“It was in there too. We thought you had died, really.”
“A Mage Cat? Die?” The Cat hissed in his face again. Carver winced away from the fangs and spit, and just managed to set the netting spinning again.
The Cat laughed cruelly, and helped the spin increase. He tapped it idly, as he gnawed on a bone with his other paw. “So, by my reckoning, then…. yours was KR 200,750. It was even shares. Hm, multiply by seven, divide by eight….”
The Cat leapt down from the step below the netting and rummaged in his bag again. He tapped something he kept hidden from Carver. “You owe me one hundred and seventy-six thousand kroner. I…”
“Less than that.” Carver interrupted.
“I haven’t got it. I told you, I’ve already lost more than half of it, what with the ranger’s gear and other expenses. Besides… I should only give you a seventh and you can get the rest from the others.”
“No, I shall take yours, and you can get the rest from the others. That’s only fair. I’m very fair. I’m always fair. Unlike some!”
The Cat whirled his staff again, and Carver’s net spun dizzyingly fast. Carver screamed. The Cat stopped the net abruptly with not even a wobble. “Don’t be sick. How much are your fox-rabbits worth? Hm?”
“Fox-rabbits? They aren’t for sale, they’re free travellers.”
“Were, my dear Carver. Were free travellers. And now they are on their way here, with your horse, and its saddlebags full of the remains of your cash.” The Cat smiled from ear to ear. “How convenient for you.”
He turned towards the orb, which showed two fox-rabbits, a horse and a magpie coming down the track towards Erewhen’s main gate.
© J M Pett 2018
Illustration © Danielle English 2016