Chapter 9

The beginning of fall marked one year since I had arrived on this backwater planet. Just because I had been here for a year didn’t mean I liked it. Look at it this way:

First of all, I had to pretend to be one of the primitives. While I didn’t eat mice, I began chasing them just to satisfy the humans (I rationalized this as “contributing to the security of the business” – the mill ground grains, which attracted mice, which would eat the grain, etc. – a horde of hungry mice would destroy the product – plus it was another source of exercise).

Second, I hadn’t had a conversation with a living being since Jacob’s death. Sure I’d talk to the cats, the donkey, and the horses, but they couldn’t talk back to me. My tongue was sore from all the times I had to bite it to keep from speaking my mind… which was becoming more and more frequent.

Word reached Brother Bartholomew about an opening at St. Johns’s University for the brightest, most promising student in the village. Naturally that was William. William would have to leave as soon as the thaw began to make the long journey to the university. The priest showed William the location on a map. To get there, we would have to journey through two small kingdoms – one of which contained the Marquisate of Carabas… and Ogarius (no, I did not forget about him – my plan for capturing him only went as far as getting William to university so that I could get better information about what was happening in Carabas). The whole journey would take close to a month on foot. If William was lucky enough to hitch rides, he might shorten that time.

Michael began to panic. The baby was due late spring. If William left when he needed to, the eldest Miller brother would be alone to worry about his wife and child as well of the start of the mill. He had come to rely on the free work William provided (and Henry resented). Michael began coming up with every possible excuse he could think of to try to convince William not to leave. Despite Brother Bartholomew’s best efforts, William began to weaken.

Like the previous year, the family began a frenzy of winter preparation. William and Michael fished, hunted, and gathered firewood. Anne, due to her advanced pregnancy, could not do a lot of the heavy work. She canned fruits and vegetables, oversaw the smoking of the meat, and mended clothes. Still, last year there were four people preparing for the winter, and this added to Michael’s panic. I did what I could to help. Many mornings the family awoke to find a basket of fish or small game I’d caught or piles of wood I gathered and left for them at the front door. I suspect that William and Michael might have begun to believe Henry’s “ghost stories.”

Still, it all began to wear on William. He was awake at the crack of dawn to check the traps and to fish. After a rushed morning meal, he dashed off to school. Then he came home and helped in the mill. Then he gathered wood for the pile. Then he checked the traps before dark. Then he quickly ate his dinner. Then he did his homework or studied by candlelight in the hayloft. Then he finally collapsed into his bed, to wake up a few short hours later and do it all over again.

William had been on this break-neck schedule for about two weeks when things started to get to him. It was late in the day, and William had gone into the forest to check some of the traps he and Michael had set. Experience taught us that if something had been trapped and left overnight, only the remains might be there in the morning. Wolves enjoyed easy meals. My presence served as a warning so that William did not become a meal as well. After my fight with the wolf last year, the rest of them gave me a wide berth.

The sun was first starting to set when an exhausted William plopped down onto a stump. “I cannot take this anymore,” he said to me. “Tomorrow I will tell Brother Bartholomew that I must stop my classes… and I will not go on to university.”

“Not if I have anything to say about it!” The words slipped out of my mouth before I realized it.

William froze. He looked around cautiously. “Who… who is there?”

The cat was out of the bag, so to speak. But then, it was about time I spoke my mind. “Your parents both wanted you to continue your education and I intend to make sure you do.”

The miller’s son stared at me, his eyes wide, his jaw hanging open. “Puss… you spoke… how…?”

“I am an officer of the Intergalactic Police,” I began explaining hastily. “I crashed on your planet while I was on the trail of a dangerous felon who has eluded capture….”

“A talking cat…,” muttered William as he put his hand to his head unsteadily. “I have been working too hard… I must be going mad…” Next thing I knew, William collapsed to the ground in a dead faint.

The sun had nearly set by this time. We would not be able to make it out of the forest before it was totally dark. My camp, however, was a short distance away. I dragged William to what I called my “home away from home away from home”.

William was so exhausted that he didn’t wake up until mid morning. I let him sleep - the boy needed it. He awoke to the smell of fish that I caught and set cooking over a campfire. Warily he looked around. “I must be dreaming,” he muttered as he looked at the tent, the fire, and me.

“You’re not dreaming,” I told him. “As I was saying before, I am not a cat. I am an intergalactic police officer…” Before I could say anything else, William fainted again.

By the time William roused himself again, I had rethought my strategy for explaining myself to him. First, I made sure he was seated on one of the stumps that served as a chair. Then I faced him. “I am a magical sheriff,” I explained, putting myself into terms that would fit into this world’s mind set. When he didn’t pass out, I continued. “I come from a magic world that is very, very, very, very far from here.” I waited for any sort of a reaction. “My magic carriage crashed when I was trying to chase down a very bad, magical being.”

“I… I always knew you were different from other cats…” William finally managed to stammer. “I did not know how much.”

“You have no idea,” I returned dryly.

William appeared wary at first, but I insisted he eat. After his surprise he appeared to be in a state of shock. Eventually he succumbed to my insistence. Periodically he glanced at me nervously. Once William was eating his grilled fish, I decided it was time to return to the topic at hand. “Last night, you were talking about quitting school, forgetting about university, and giving up everything to work in the mill.”

“Last night!” William jumped to his feet and glanced at the sun above. “Everyone will be worried!”

“Sit down!” I commanded. Startled, William complied. “They can worry for a little while. Perhaps that will stop your brother from taking you for granted. Your father worked hard to make sure that you continued your education. He asked ME to look out for you and to make sure that you reached your full potential. That means leaving home and going away to the university.”

“But Michael will not be able to manage on his own,” protested William, his wariness of me temporarily forgotten.

“Your father used to talk about when you and your siblings were growing up. He didn’t seem to have any help when Michael was born. Michael is just panicking. His whole world is being turned upside down. But life is full of changes. I'm certain if you talk to Brother Bartholomew about the situation, he might be able to help come up with a resolution. Michael's future is the mill. Your future is out there, somewhere in this world."

"Is it the right decision?" he asked me as I handed him more food.

"Your parents and Brother Bartholomew appear to have thought so. In the end, though, I suppose the decision is yours. Where I come from, there's no staying home. I left home at your age, went to university, and learned to become... a sheriff... It was hard at first, but not as hard as coming to this world. I am totally cut off from everything I know," I ended. "Still, that's life for you."

William's curiosity took over. "Have you family?"

"Some brothers and sisters. I haven't seen them in years though."

"Then you understand."

I nodded. "My... people... don't maintain close, lifelong ties the way yours seem to. Like your cats, when we mature, we move on. No regrets though. As a 'sheriff', I've put away a lot of dangerous criminals and saved a lot of lives."

"Does everyone on your world look like you?"

"There are a lot of... magical worlds out there. Beings are different on each one. Some worlds have several different races." I noticed that the sun was high in the sky. "We can talk more about me later. Right now we need to head back." William nodded his agreement. "Don't worry. Things will work out in the end. Leave it to me."

We began to walk back to the mill. "Puss, does everyone speak the same language as us in your magical world?"

“There are more languages than there are stars in the sky.”

“Then how do you speak so well? Can our cats learn to speak? What about the horses? Can I learn to speak their languages?”

I stifled a laugh. “The horses and cats… are not magical,” I tried to explain.

“How did you learn?”

“I have a… magical device… that teaches me your spoken language… but it only works on me,” I hastily added at the end.

“Can you read?”

I hid my amusement. Now that William’s shock and surprise wore off, he appeared to be filled with an insatiable curiosity. “Why do you think I followed you to school?”

The sun was starting to set again by the time we arrived at the mill. We were surprised to find Michael and Henry in an animated discussion with Brother Bartholomew and Anne's father while Anne's mother comforted the agitated and expectant Anne and very pregnant Molly. "William!" the brothers exclaimed as they rushed over to us.

"I got lost in the woods," William explained, just as we rehearsed on our way back. "I saw a deer and thought I could catch it. The meat would have lasted us the winter. It escaped and the sun began to set. I made a camp in the woods and stayed until daylight."

"How could you go off into the woods by yourself?" demanded Michael.

"I was not alone," returned William. "Puss was with me. And if I did not go, who would check the rabbit traps?"

"Enough," interjected Henry. "I told you before Michael. You expect things of William that he has not been taught. Mother, on her deathbed, wished that William be allowed to continue his education. I'll not have her spirit in tears for your selfishness. Or perhaps you wish Father's ghost to haunt the mill, angered that his dying requests were not honored." I had to fight myself not to laugh at Henry's ghost fears.

"And how am I supposed to manage the mill alone?" returned Michael. "You know very well how much work it was for the three of us." Michael and Henry started arguing again. William gave me a helpless glance. Then Mr. Baker stepped forward.

"If I might venture an opinion," he said. "When Anne left, things were difficult at the bakery as well. However, I would not begrudge her the chance to become a wife and a mother and force her to remain at the bakery... or require that Michael give up his life and join her." He looked at his son-in-law pointedly. "Do you remember Alan Fisher? The lad whose father drowned while fishing and whose mother died of the fever last winter? Well, I've taken him in as an apprentice. He is now learning the craft of baking. Whether I leave the bakery to him or sell it in the future is another story. However, I have an assistant, and Alan has a roof over his head, three meals a day, and clothes on his back."

"Aye, and twas a good thing too," added Brother Bartholomew. "Alan was almost too old for the orphan's home, but too inexperienced to survive on his own, and not of the type to take up a life devoted to the Lord. Learning baking will give him a chance at becoming self sufficient. Not all are suited to the pursuit of books and letters like William. Perhaps an apprentice is what is needed here as well."

Michael scratched his beard thoughtfully. "An apprentice would be like having a younger brother without having a younger brother?" asked Henry with a chuckle.

"Perhaps," laughed Brother Bartholomew.

"What say you, Anne?" asked Michael. "Taking in an apprentice would affect both of us."

"I say we discuss it later," said Anne sharply. "Your poor brother has been lost in the woods for a day and is likely half-starved and all you men can think about is standing and talking," she admonished him. The others laughed, except for William, who by this time WAS tired and hungry.

At this point, the women took over. Mrs. Baker led the charge as William found himself whisked into the house and guided to a chair in front of a hot bowl of stew. Yours truly wasn't forgotten as I received my own personal bowl. As soon as William finished, he found himself shuffled off to bed. Not to his bed in the hayloft though. No, Anne made sure he was settled into one of the extra rooms that had been prepared for future children.

"You were right, Puss," said William drowsily as I settled onto a folded blanket that had been placed for me in the room.

"I usually am. Things are going to work out for you."

"Puss, that's not your real name, is it?" William yawned.

"My name would be unpronounceable in your language. Most beings call me PU-55."


"My... magical sheriff identification..."


"Puss is fine," I told him. "PU-55 does seem a bit odd as a name for this world. Once I learned your writing system, I realized that the PU-55 on my collar and Puss do have similar shapes. Besides, people wouldn't understand if you suddenly decided to change my name."

William yawned and nodded. "Good night Puss."

Most Popular Tags

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags