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Song Suggestion: Chapter 5 – Blood Of The Vikings by Peter Gundry
When Bethany got back to the camp, the child was curled in the wagon’s soft bed. The dog was digging up rabbit holes, and the mare was happily grazing. The scene would have been a sweet one, if Bethany did not think it very likely that she wouldn’t see it again after this day. The cat was not in evidence and Bethany soon gave up on him and laid down to sleep herself.
She woke to the sun sitting low on the horizon and the great, gray cat sauntering out of the wood. “And where have you been?” Bethany asked.
“With an old friend,” said he and narrowed his eyes at her. “Look here,” he said, “I’ve just about had my fill of Master Shrim’s game, haven’t you?”
“I have,” said Bethany. “But what am I to do? I agreed to play.”
“And all this time he’s had it his own way,” said the cat. “I think it is time we changed that.”
“How?” Bethany asked. “I’ve searched and I’ve searched and have suspected all along that lantern is too well hidden.”
“It is,” the cat said. “Because it isn’t up the tree at all!” His whiskers bristled, as if this was an unforgivable insult. “For two nights you’ve searched the lower branches, like those who’ve come before. And I’ve looked higher, suspecting that as his trick. Yet I’ve seen nothing of a lantern lit with starlight and I’ve a better sense of what it will look and smell like than you ever could. So I’ve been to see my friend, more clever than me by half. I was born in the Elder Wood, back when it still was young, and though much that walks here has forgotten me, she never has.”
Did she tell you where Shrim has his lantern hid?” Bethany had many questions, many things she wanted to ask the cat about how he had come to be with her grandmother in the blessed lands if he came from this dark and wicked forest, about his age and if he really was a cat, but this was not the time.
The cat yawned. “No. Creatures like that don’t speak plain. She gave me a riddle and said that you would unravel it. Though I’ve made short work of such things in the past, I cannot turn this one on its head. And she has promised to help us a bit as well, for it will take more than just knowing where to look to outsmart Master Shrim, for he was one of Elphame’s own knights, a lord and one of her favorite children, though she did not give birth to him. He is dangerously clever and strong besides and if he guesses that his secret has been found out, we are lost.” The cat’s eyes glinted in the growing dim. “But there is a price you must pay for such help.” He told her quickly what she would have to do and Bethany turned pale.
“But that would be cruel!” she cried, repelled by this demand.
“Any more cruel than what he has planned for you?” the cat asked.
“I am not a goblin,” Bethany pointed out. “Why would I stoop to such a thing?”
“Because, if you do not agree, then you and the child are both lost forever.”
“Yet what life is it that is won through treating others with malice?” Bethany asked coldly. “Be they an enemy or a cheat, to stoop to such a base level as they only means you remove them so you might sit on their throne. This my grandmother taught me and well do I know it. He who answers evil with evil will burn in a hell of their own making.”
Then the cat relented and patted at her hands with his soft paws. “My friend would never ask such a thing without reason. She is not a cruel thing, though she is stern and does not forgive easily, and some might mistake that for wickedness. Anyway, it is the only way. For you and the child. And, perhaps, for Shrim.” He flicked his tail about him one way and then the other. “Do you think that he truly enjoys his game? Or does he only look for an answer to the suffering he must endure?”
“How could such a horrible thing bring relief?” Bethany asked. “Do you trust this friend of yours?”
“Never has there been another with truer heart in this land. Never has another cared for those who live within the forest more than she and she’d have no harm come to them, no matter their nature,” said the cat. “So yes. I do trust her.
“And I trust you,” Bethany said at last. And she was already praying to the gods she’d left behind in another land that they might be forgiven if the cat had been deceived.