I Trust Your Judgment

I Trust Your Judgment

With a mighty yawn, the tawny-colored cat stretched, letting his claws slip free of their sheaths, though he was careful not to catch them on any of his mistress’s blankets. He was tempted, for a moment, to curl back into the sunbeam, which had shifted a few inches since last he stirred, and return to sleep, but light this bright meant the morning was well under way. He was lucky to have been allowed to laze this long.

He retracted his claws and leapt from the bed, padding across the wooden floors to the door. He didn’t have to ask or wonder where his mistress had gone off to; even without her scent he could have located her in a moment with nary more than a thought. He sensed her at all times, just as she sensed him. She could have stirred him from afar if she needed him, but that didn’t mean he could get away with spending the day asleep.

The door opened at a touch of his nose and he trotted into the warmth of the day. It was late spring, not yet hot enough to feel oppressive, but not so cool that nights and mornings grew unpleasant. Several of his mistress’s medicinal plants were already in bloom, their soft floral smells drifting on the breeze.

The witch was in the food garden, her skirt bound high on her legs to keep it out of the way. She could have worn trousers – they were far enough from the village that no one would see, and even if they did no one was likely to argue with a witch over her choice of wardrobe – but she had confessed to him once that she simply preferred to feel the wind on her bare legs. She already had a basket full of the latest harvest and she didn’t bother to straighten has he approached.

<Finally decided to greet the day, my dear?> Her tone was teasing.

He graced her with a catty snort. <If I must, I suppose. Soon it will be too hot for any of my chores.>

<I’m sure you’ll manage, kitten, you always do.>

It wasn’t that she was unsympathetic, she was a kind and thoughtful mistress, the best a familiar could hope for. It was just that she would weave a cooling spell if he complained too much and set him right back to his tasks.

<Should I check the perimeter?> One of his biggest tasks was to check the paths leading to the humble hut he shared with his mistress. She liked to be alerted to visitors well in advance, and there were dangers his senses could detect that hers couldn’t. He sat just beside the garden while he waited for her answer, curling his tail back and forth.

<Wait a moment. Could you check on the pond before you go? It will be a little while before I have a chance to get over there.>

<You know the fish hate it when I get close.> But he was already on his way even as he protested. It was a favored pastime of his to sit on the damp rocks during the high heat of summer and watch the fish swim in their hypnotic circles. Sometimes he even licked his lips and bared his teeth to watch the fish skitter and hide.

<But they do appreciate it when you keep the birds away. As do I.>

Grinning to himself he pranced to the far end of the garden area. Sure enough, there were a pair of birds in a nearby tree, looking for a prime moment to dive. With a growl he liked to think compared with that of a lion, Crescent leapt onto the lowest tree branch and wove his way higher until both birds, and several in neighboring trees, had taken to flight. He allowed himself a moment of triumph before he descended.

<Thank you, dear. Now if you would, the usual morning circle should do.>

The swamp in which his witch lived was not one of the stinky, smelly bog type with decaying trees and thick mud. It was the kind with clear waterways and tall, leafy trees. It was the kind often shrouded by mist in the morning and evening. It rained fairly often and almost never snowed, though a few times during winter the ground would freeze.

Crescent liked their swamp. It was full of interesting wild things, both mundane and magical. It grew a wide assortment of land and water plants. And it kept the two-legs away unless they really wanted something. That was his favorite thing about the swamp; people didn’t like to come here and it meant they didn’t trouble his mistress with their foolishness and ignorance.

He liked the two-legs in the village well enough. There were some kind and pleasant ones. But he thought it was only because they had grown used to the witch and the benefits of her presence. Crescent had no patience for anyone who couldn’t appreciate her talents. He had bitten her last two callers, and she hadn’t even been angry.

It was quiet today. The magic currents flowed as they should. The creatures were content and had no interest in meddling with his mistress’s affairs. The paths were empty and quiet.

All but the last one.

His keen ears pricked forward and he fell still, even his tail, waiting, listening. Footsteps. Four. Hooves, hard on the packed earth. One set. One horse. Did that mean only one rider? Unusual. They usually came in pairs, too afraid to face the witch alone.

The hoof beats grew steadily louder. Whoever it was, they were coming fast. He took off up the path, bounding at top speed. He could move much faster than regular cats, another gift from his mistress, but he didn’t have to go far before he sighted him. One rider on one tired horse. His pack was small. Had he stayed overnight in the village?

He drew his horse to a walk as he approached and Crescent realized the man’s keen eyes had spotted him. Not that he had been trying to hide, but most people didn’t notice a cat from horseback.

His skin was the color of dusk, his hair like midnight. His eyes, though, they were interesting. Blue like the sky but tinged with the grey of storm clouds. And deeper, somehow, than the eyes of most two-legs. Almost as deep as the witch’s, though his wisdom did not reach so far. Crescent locked eyes with him.

“Then I am close,” he said. It was not a question.

Crescent nodded and spun imperiously to lead him back up the path. <Mistress, you have a visitor.>

<And right on time too. The kettle is already boiling. Please see him in.>

He realized with a jolt that she had delayed his morning rounds not out of concern for the fish, but because she had arranged this particular meeting. It was not the first time she had toyed with him so, but he always wished she would warn him.

“You are her familiar?”

The rider was talking to him. Who was this man? Crescent had never seen him before – he would remember that face! But most two-legs did not regard him as intelligent even after his mistress explained what he was.

<I am,>  he said at last.

The rider almost looked relieved. “I worried I had taken a wrong turn.”

They cleared the last of the foliage and the forest opened onto the clearing where his mistress made her home. Light smoke floated from the hut’s chimney. The witch was nowhere in sight.

<You are expected, rider. Leave your horse to graze and come.> He trotted down the garden path and opened the door with his nose again. They had a few moments before the rider entered. He used them to glare at his mistress.

She sat at the table, arranging a pair of plates on opposite sides of a platter of fruit she had prepared. She must have started as soon as he left.

<You could have told me you expected a caller.>

<I didn’t want to rob you of the chance to meet him on your own. You’re going to be traveling with him very soon, I think.>

Crescent sat on the floor at her feet, in part to hide his surprise. <You did not mention sending me on a journey.>

<Some things are best not thought about too long before they happen. And you will be gone some time, I think.>

He swished his tail rapidly back and forth. He could hear the rider moving outside, but he hadn’t come through the door yet. <In three days it will be the crescent moon. What will I say to him then?> It was one thing for a man to set out with a witch’s familiar; it would be quite a shock when he woke to find himself with another man.

The witch reached down and scratched behind his ears. <I trust your judgment, my dear. I’m certain you’ll figure it out.>

Cryptic as always.

The rider knocked and the witch called for him to come. Crescent leapt straight onto the table and settled himself beside the witch’s tea cup. The rider didn’t even blink. He crossed the room and sat where his mistress indicated.

“I have come a long way,” he said without introduction or preamble. “I believe there is something you can help me with.”

The witch smiled her knowing smile, the kind that made most men flinch. But it didn’t seem to bother the rider. “Yes. I believe I can.”

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I’ve done a little bit with this world before. This serves as the opening of a story I have in mind, though I’m not sure if/when it will ever get written ^^;; I’m actually hoping to continue it with later prompts.

Please also check out what my writing partner did with this prompt.

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