state of the cat

She’s a little miffed today. She’s getting the bad habit of climbing onto my computer keyboard and parading there, insisting on attention, naturally while I’m trying to use the computer. So I’ve said, “No,” to her a few times yesterday and today.

She understands the word perfectly well, and has for as long as I’ve had her. The very first time I said it to her, she instantly jumped off the kitchen table; that was soon after I got her. Not that she hears it very often! In fact it’s easy to spoil her, because she doesn’t seem to have many bad habits about food, my food that is. It mostly doesn’t interest her.

But my computer keyboard? Yes, that interests her all right.

state of the cat

She caught a mouse yesterday and brought it to me; I think what she wanted was to carry it into the house, where she could play with it at leisure. If she was a game-dog, people would say she has a soft mouth, because she didn’t hurt the mouse – that’s if you don’t count damp mouse-fur and terror. She dropped it, and it hunkered down and trembled. She let it run off, and grabbed it again and trotted back toward the house door. Naturally I wasn’t about to open the door for her. Mice are vermin and deserve to die – this is what I know from experience. What a nest of mice inside a building can become is almost beyond imagination, unless you’ve seen an infestation of the nasty little things. They stink so you can tell they’re present just by the smell. They multiply geometrically. Hundreds of mice in no time at all, chewing into everything. Ugh.

Mice are also cute, like tiny living toys that run along the floor. My cat put hers down again, and let it run off with its tail sticking up and out.

This is how you get a cat to release its prey: ignore the prey, but give the cat lots of praise and petting. Then while it’s distracted, whatever it caught gets away. I was of two minds about the mouse – yes, vermin, but cute as a wind-up toy – but I waited, and sure enough Greymouse lost interest and let it run under a flower-pot. It vanished. About half a minute later, she noticed and pounced at something in that direction, then pursued it into the neighbour’s yard. I believe it got away.

The state of everything (ie, writing)

Man, I’ve been offline from blogging for a while.

Two important chapters wrapped up, though. I’ll be finished with the book soon (and it’s about time!!) and that’s a great feeling right there. Of course things are going very well in my day job too – they usually are, it’s a great job, and I enjoy the work – but life’s about doing what you really want to do, and for me that’s writing. When I can’t do that, or it doesn’t come out well, I feel scuzzy. When it goes well, I’m great. So.

Christopher Key, chapter eleven final scene

… and this is the end of part one.

——

Mere hurried through a world of shadows. For an instant, as Crown shook her, she’d been stabbed by pain behind her eyes, enough to make her blink. She’d caught sight of Christopher then. He’d been the one clear thing she could see, in a daze of movement and darkness. Christopher at a distance, his back to her. Walking away confidently, his step quick and light. Glancing back over his shoulder for some reason, not because he saw her—he didn’t, she read it in his eyes—and breaking into a sudden smile. That was an expression she’d never seen on his face. No matter the circumstances, it was the look of a boy having the adventure of a lifetime. Once she saw it, she couldn’t see anything else. Just him. Just one boy in all the world.

Going to him was easy then—like walking straight through the shadows that lay between them.

Shouldn’t there have been walls? But there weren’t. Nothing stood in her way.

Christopher saw her.

He stopped short, eyes going wide. From somewhere he’d evidently managed to filch a servant’s grey livery coat. It should never have disguised him—he should have been challenged by the first real servant who spotted him—except that he looked so ordinary, nobody would ever look twice at him. Nondescript features, messy brown hair. And what a pointy jutting chin he had. But still …

“Mere?” he whispered.

So ordinary-looking, but still a Key.

Mere darted toward him, stumbled over something, almost fell. She had the feeling it was something she should have seen. He caught her just in time.

She clutched his arms, her fingers twisting in the wool twill of his sleeves. “What do you think you’re doing!”

“I was just—”

“You were running away. How—how could you? Climbing down the walls—risking your life—I don’t know what I can say—”

He shook loose of her hold.

“I wasn’t risking anything,” he said. “And not so loud! I had half the afternoon to look at the walls. That’s long enough to memorize anything. And what happened to you, how’d you find me like this—do you know what you just did? Do you?”

“You could have killed yourself!”

“You walked out of a wall!”

“I did what?”

He took a step back, then deliberately poked her in the shoulder, as if testing whether she was solid. Mere grabbed his coat-sleeve again. She was shaking all over with fear, her skin cold—she couldn’t let him get loose again—all she could feel was his sleeve pinched between her finger and thumb. She didn’t dare hold him any more securely. What if he ran from her?

Words failed her. She should go to her knees and beg, if it would do any good. Kiss his feet if it made him stay. Promise anything. What would Alexane do?—probably hit him and try to haul him back, a disaster. Alexane always thought she knew what to do. She definitely always had something to say. Mere didn’t. Words meant nothing anyway—any liar could say whatever they pleased. It was what you did that mattered.

Her own raw whisper shocked her. “What can I do to make you happy here?”

“I don’t want to be here!” he hissed back. “Shut up in that room? With guards keeping me in—” He broke off. “Go find some other Key.”

But the knights-royal had been searching for another Key for all the years since Amily herself had been found—she knew that from her father—and in all that time, over thirty years, the only one they’d found had been Christopher. Just Christopher. Queen Amily wasn’t in good health. The kingdom couldn’t wait another thirty years to maybe—maybe— discover some other Key.

“Make a bargain with me,” she said. “You’ve barely been here two days. And we need you, so drive a hard bargain, Christopher. You’ll say what you want your life here to be like, everything you might want, and if I can, I’ll get it for you. Would that do?”

He thought about it, his eyes going vague and his teeth raking his lower lip, and she felt faint with relief that he was taking her seriously. It wouldn’t do to let him see it, though. It would distract him, and be unfair. She hoped her face stayed blank.

But at the same time, she pulled on his arm, taking a step backward, and another step, and another. Drawing him with her. The world had gone confused again, shifting around her, but she thought she was walking back toward the safety of his chambers. Through walls like smoke, through shut doors she could imagine away. As if what she didn’t see, didn’t exist.

“Will you help me?” he said.

“What?”

“Help me do the things I want?”

She nodded, still towing him along. She thought they were almost there.

“Bargain,” he said.

“Bargain.”

Suddenly he was gripping her hand, the tables turned. “That’s good. I don’t want to be locked up all the time. In this place? I want to get out and explore. So you’ll help me do that.” Mere tried to pull away, appalled, but he wouldn’t let go. “And all the other things I want to do. You’ll help.” She’d made a mistake. A very bad mistake. His sudden bright-eyed look told her so. “After all, you can walk through walls!”

She twisted around to look, taking in the familiar walls around them—the room, the other girls running toward them, Crown standing there with her jaw dropped. Christopher let go of her hand. “And me too,” he finished in wonder. “I’ve walked through walls.”

She’d done it. She’d brought them both back safe. Why, no one would even know he’d run away.

In that moment, as if there was no more need for it, her sight failed her again. She was blind.

End of part one

Christopher Key, chapter eleven cont’d

It’s Stampede week!

Half of Calgary is dressing up in cowboy duds and taking to the bars and midway; the other half is keeping low, or maybe just getting out of the city. I’m probably in the second half. The Stampede is wild and great, but it’s exactly the same every year, and when you’ve attended since you were six, eventually you’ve seen enough. The horse barns are always worth visiting, though.

To go, or not to go? Still thinking …

————-

Coming back with a note: I originally posted only part of this scene, ending with “He’d run away.” That’s a cliffhanger moment, which makes it a good point to break off, but then it didn’t look right on the page. I went back and added in the rest of this short scene, which breaks off with a moment of magic instead. That works better. It’s the best choice. Interesting. Always go with sense of wonder, I guess.

————-

Later, in her empty bedchamber, Crown set fire to the letter. She watched it burn, and crisp into to ashes and the ashes go dull and finally cool and the skeletal sheet fall to powder; then she ground the remnants under the heel of her hand. She sat still for a long time after, but never let her shoulders slump. Then she jumped up, shook herself and strode off to Christopher’s chambers.

Mere had returned, she was pleased to see. She was a still point in the midst of bustle, the others being all occupied with wooden practice daggers, swinging them, jabbing them. Pretty maids all in a row and busy with knives. Crown stopped for a moment just to envy them. She ought to be taking those lessons too, she realized. And from Sir Percevale, the most accomplished of all the knights-royal; he was the one who should teach her. Well, there would be time later. She’d make sure of it.

She waved them off when they would have stopped to curtsey. “Go on, don’t stop.”

“Crown?” Mere said. Her eyes were like mirrors, like still water reflecting the sun on a brilliant clear day, like polished quartz with a rainbow sheen. It made the back of Crown’s neck go cold. She sat down opposite her.

“Yes, it’s me,” she said.

“Your royal mother,” Mere said, and the others gathered around them, their faces pinched with worry.

“There has been no change,” Crown said quickly. She clenched her hands together in her lap, and then shook herself hard and straightened her back. Anger is better than worry. Be angry. She’d have yanked on her braid, except that she’d cut it off yesterday. Her head still felt lighter, an odd sensation. “Where’s the boy? I don’t see him.”

Merriment said, “Your grace, he’s out on the balcony looking at the sky. He’s been there all afternoon. He said he wanted to be alone.”

“Did the queen explain to him what he is?” Mere asked, those blind eyes looking at nowhere.

“Yes, she did.”

“So now he knows his duty. That’s good, then. He was upset, he wouldn’t talk to any of us, but if he knows what his duty is, he’ll do very well.”

Did Mere honestly think so? Crown rubbed her jaw, looking at the windows—it was full night out there, lights crossing above from the palace walls, but she couldn’t see a thing on the balcony. She shrugged. “Mere? I feel strange again. Stronger. Maybe it’s a knightly power, do you think?” She crossed her fingers on the thought. “Arm-wrestle me. You can use both hands to my one if you want. I feel strong, I’m sure to win.” Though to tell the truth, she always won against Mere, no matter what the game. “I don’t see the boy out there. We quarreled earlier …”

“What?”

“Nothing. Are you sure he’s there?”

“He wouldn’t run away,” Mere said, astonished. “Not now he knows we need him so.”

Didn’t she know anything about people? “Of course he’d run.” Crown stood up. “In his place I’d be leagues away by now.” She strode to the balcony doors and threw them open. “Damn, damn, why am I always right? Blast it.”

The balcony was empty. He’d run away.

Behind Crown, Dimity uttered a faint scream, and swooned.

“Useless.” Crown came back into the room very fast. The others were already setting up a horrified outcry, not to mention rushing in all directions—toward the balcony, toward Dimity lying prone on the carpet, toward nowhere in particular. Yes, useless, all of them. In their midst, Mere rose unsteadily from her chair, hands out at her sides as if for balance. Crown took her by the shoulders and gripped hard. “Mere. Those eyes of yours. Use them. Can you see where he went?”

“He must have climbed somehow … As soon as dark fell, he climbed down the walls? But, in the dark— He couldn’t have. But I can’t do anything, I’m blind. Crown, he may have fallen and killed himself already!”

“Forget that, if it’s happened Father will flay us with his tongue and we’ll be dead too, so forget about it. Mere, your eyes.” Crown shook her. “You have a knightly power. Then do something with it. Now!”

And like a pool going transparent as shadows crossed it on a cloudy day, Mere’s eyes cleared. Mere gasped. She turned it. Her expression of horror turned to astonishment. She said, “Oh.”

She jerked free of Crown’s grip, took two steps—following whatever she saw, not seeing anything else—and plunged through the wall and vanished.