Cat and the Cradle

Getting to the Goblin Market is a matter of knowing someone who knows how to get there. Unless you are a cat. A cat does not require an invitation or a map as they are their own invitation. They can walk the paths of the unseen and are a law unto themselves. That doesn’t mean they’re opposed to being taken to the Goblin Market. After all, why should they do all the work, when they have a human who can do it for them?

Veena sat on the shoulder of her human, Trever, as he and his two companions entered the market. A sleek black beauty with green eyes she had the noble bearing of an Egyptian Queen. The goblin watching the entrance looked queerly at the four of them as they approached the gates. Humans were a rare sight in the market, but the three of them had tokens so they were let in. They had to be let in; neutral territory was neutral territory, after all; as long as had a token you could go in. Even the king of the fair folk himself couldn’t enter the Market if he didn’t have a token. The laws governing here were as old as Fairy itself, if not older.

Once safely inside, Rhys, the caretaker of her human and Trever’s twin brother, Kale, took them off the main thoroughfare. The stood in the shade of a tent that glistened like a humming bird in the sun, bright tassels hanging from the awning. Veena reached out to bat at them as Rhys talked. Realizing that they were just out of her reach she swatted at her human’s ear and merowed.

“Veena…” Trever said, “Those aren’t toys.”

She gave him a blank look. Of course they were toys. She wouldn’t want to play with them if they weren’t, now would she? She swatted his ear again, this time pricking it with a bit of claw to chastise him.  Rhys chuckled as Trever sidestepped closer to the tassels so she could reach them.

“You spoil her,” Kale said, watching as she attacked the tassels. She sniffed and decided to leave a hairball in his shoe later. She was not spoiled, she merely got what she deserved.  One of the tassels fell loose and she jumped off Trever’s shoulder to continue her attack. The silly thing found its way under the tent wall and on to the other side. Miffed she started to follow it when she felt the tug of restraint.

The dreaded, evil, horrible harness held her back.

Trever made her wear it when they went out. So she wouldn’t get lost, he said.

She was a cat, she thought. A cat never got lost. A cat was always where they wanted to be.

Hissing, she twisted around, rolling and trying to squirm out of it.

To make things worse, her human ignored her anger and picked her up, putting her back onto his shoulder. “Come on, we’re going to go explore the Market.”

“Remember,” Rhys warned. “Do not take any gifts, do not give any kisses or take any wishes. Not a memory nor a dream. I gave you gold, use that.”

Her human and his brother nodded. “We will Rhys.”

Veena decided that being on her human’s shoulder was the only way to see the market. After all, why should she walk when she could ride? She settled around his shoulders, tail occasionally flicking into his nose. From her perch she could see everything. Tents tall and short, long and wide, were shuffled together on a haphazard network of dirt paths. They were decorated with flags, flames and flutterings. Looking into some of them hinted at larger spaces than their outsides suggested. Individuals of all the variations that the tents came in walked down the dusty paths. Tiny pixies flitted past teasing and daring her to swat at them. She ignored them, her head held up high. Even though she could come and go as she pleased, Veena could still be bared from the market if she broke the neutrality. Long-necked and horse-faced creatures with backwards legs and skinny arms ambled passed, their nostrils flaring at the different scents that abounded in the market. Round dwarves and thin elves stalked along with bird-headed beings that Veena would have liked to tackle and steal feathers from.

Merchants yelled and enticed from all sides.

“Dreams for sale!”

“Fish from the Enchanted Waters of Eluna!”

“Tears of a virgin! Scales of a dragon!”

“Swords! For adventures and defenders!”

“Pudding pies! Fresh meat pies!”

“Fairy Servants!”

The last cry caught Veena’s attention and she leapt off of her human’s shoulder dashing to the booth. She had a good reason to be interested in a fairy servant: Trever and the two others had a horrible tendency to be un-necessarily un-messy. Sure, they kept her litter box clean and her dishes as they should, but everything else tended to be a complete disaster. There were hardly any clean and warm clothes from the dryer to nap on since they got put right away. The beds were always made, leaving little room for nesting. The one place with any interesting things to knock off shelves was kept locked and warded off so that she couldn’t reach them. When every she even got near it they chased her out. It was her room! Just like every room in the house. How dare they not let her into it?  She even had a cat door so she could come in and out as she pleased as opposed to making a horrible yowling noise to let them know when she wanted to come in or to go out.

Once again the evil harness caught her, yanking her back. She looked up at her human and mewed plaintively.

“What?” he asked, looking down at her. She tugged again towards the booth where a silvery-white haired man with silver eyes and moon pale skin leaned against the counter. Behind him were fairies lounging in cages collars around their necks. More than a few were grouchy looking. On the corner of the booth a sign read: “Fairy Servants! Bound and indentured for one mortal life time or a hundred years, which ever comes second.”

Trever picked her up and walked over to the booth’s owner, settling her down on the counter. “I thought the fair was a free space,” he said as she strained against the harness to go and examine the servants.

The booth owner smiled and proffered his hand to Veena, “They are criminals. Nothing dangerous, of course, just petty crimes like theft. They’ve been bound by courts to be sold as servants. So, they’re products not people.”

Veena sniffed at the man’s hand. He smelt like summer nights under a full moon. Obligingly he started to scratch her, as well he should.

“And what do they do?”

“Whatever you wish! They’ll clean house. They’ll cook! They’ll build you a temple to rabbits if you so wish.” The man frowned. “Though I do not know why you would want such a thing, you don’t look the type.”

“Veena might want one, if only so it’ll attract rabbits.”

She rubbed against her human; clearly this was a good idea! They should get one. Leaning over the side of the counter she swatted at Trever’s pouch of money, trying to open it and get at the gold. He pushed her away. “I don’t think we need one of those. But thank you.”

“Of course. Good day sir, lady,” the man said as Trever scooped her up and left the tent.

Trapped in her human’s arms, she found herself being taken further away from the fairy servants. She yowled her displeasure in great lengths, but got nothing in return but a “Hush.” Veena settled for viciously pricking her claws into Trever’s shoulders and smacking her tail into his face. She was only partially mollified when he offered her some fresh turkey that he bought from a stand. Still she kept on looking back the way they came trying to figure out how to get free of the harness.

It was the only thing that stopped her. Normally she didn’t mind it. Well, no, she did mind it most of the time, but at least it wasn’t the demeaning one with bells on it. Or like the time one of them got it into their heads that she’d like to wear a sweater. She expressed her displeasure to this idea later by shredding the thing and then hacking up on their pillows. Needless to say, they never tried it again.

As it should be.

After a while, she allowed herself to be placed on the ground so that she could walk besides Trever. Tail held high and straight she led her human through the crowds. She still dwelt upon the fairy servants, but for now she couldn’t do anything about it. To show that she was still irritated about it, she didn’t walk in a straight path, but instead darted under tables, between legs, and around poles. Each time she became entangled she waited patiently for him to catch up before tugging tightly against the lead so it was near impossible to untangle.

Getting bored of this game of tangle the human, she started to twitch her tail and look for something else to entertain herself with. Trever had stopped at a booth made of glass that flowed like fabric. The stall-keeper smiled demurely at him as they talked. She wore the some of the fabric like glass as she spun threads from a glistening liquid spool into a loom. Everything about her and her wares shinned and glimmered, but Veena did not edge forward for a scratch. She knew glass with its sharp edges. Pretty as it may be, she had no desire to get cut.

“Would you care to help me, sir?” the glass lady asked, her voice sounding like wind-chimes. She held out a length of glass-string almost like a cat’s cradle out to Trever.

He hesitated, the loop to Veena’s lead around his wrist. Veena tugged at it, trying to leave. She did not like the woman’s smile.

Trever looked down at her and then back at the glass woman. Tiny spots of rose light appeared on her cheeks like a blush on a flesh and blood maiden. Veena knew exactly what her human was thinking: helping was not one of the things his care-taker forbid. But it was string which could be used to catch someone, and the maiden was pretty.

The woman held up the string to Trever again. “You just need to hold the thread like so.”

Veena sensed the exact moment Trever gave in, it came with a slight relaxing of the shoulders and a letting out of air.

He held out his hands to take the string from her, which she looped around his fingers tightly. Tight enough that it cut into his skin. “Hey!” he cried out, jerking his hands back. The glass woman held the string tight though and pulled him forward. He got spun around into the stall and sat onto a chair where his eyes went blank and his hands were held still, just like a china doll. Veena’s ears went flat and she let out a low growl at the woman, a paw flashing out to cut against her skin. It only scratched, like a nickle on tin.

“I took him fair and square, Lady Cat. I offered he agreed. There’s nothing wrong with that.” She said a frown on her lips, her fingers now long and narrow like spindles. A glass spider woman, a web weaver, she was. “I’ve not broken any laws. Now be off with you.” A finger went snicket and cut through the lead.

Again Veena growled. How dare this woman take her human? He may not be the most intelligent, but he was hers and this woman was stealing him. She leapt up at the spider woman and was casually knocked aside.

“Off with you!” An empty spool was sent with those words and Veena vanished out of the tent without a sound. Reappearing on the other side of the path, she glowered at the spider woman, eyes narrowed and gleaming. Her human had been taken. She could go back in there, but she couldn’t free him. She flicked her tail back and forth. The shadows were starting to get long. Soon the market would be done for the day and if she didn’t get him back before then, who knows? The spider woman may not appear again in any of her nine life times.

And what sort of cat would she be, if she couldn’t even take care of one measly human?

The woman ignored her, if she saw her at all. This would not do..

Veena studied the stall more intently. There were bobbins on shelves and tables, a loom and a spinning wheel. Lengths of woven cloth hung to entice passer-byes, as the wind moved they rustled and chimed. Trever sat, almost as a center piece, with string caught around his fingers, blood dripping down his arms. Her tail twitched and she appeared inside the booth.

The glass woman did not see her. Light as a snowflake Veena traipsed across a shelf and with a solid thwap knocked a bobbin off. It crashed to the floor and broke with a very satisfying shatter.

Now the woman turned and looked at her. Veena stared right back, unblinking. The glass woman looked down at the floor and back up to Veena, her face turning red with rage. A hand reached out to swipe at her, but she was gone. Now she was on top of the fabrics. She gave a long stretch, her back arching and claws flexing. Holding in this position, she waited for the woman to see her.

As soon as the glass woman’s eyes widened, Veena started to claw at the fabrics. Picking at them with sharp plucks, the strands broke and cut the pads of her feet, but still she continued right up until the woman again reached out to strike her. And again she vanished. This time she appeared on the loom where she left bloody foot prints on the fabric being woven. These strings also cut into her feet, but still she pranced. Her claws flicked out cutting strings which sprung out like those from a lute.

“What are you doing!” the woman cried out, lunging forward to grasp at Veena. All she got was her face in the loom as Veena jumped out of the way. The wood groaned under the glass woman’s weight, but still held, much to the cat’s annoyance. However, to her delight, a small crowd was starting to form. “Cat! Leave me be!”

In response, Veena knocked over a few more bobbins. Leave her be? No. Not until the moon crawled backwards in the sky to chase the sun. Not until Trever was free. Another bobbin went flying, this time into crowd, after spinning across the front counter and knocking over some thimbles.

“He is mine! He accepted to help me, fair and square!” The glass woman tried to smoothly move closer to Veena, but it was harder now with string lying in tangles on the ground. She had to pick her way carefully, least she trip.

With far more grace, Veena prowled around the edges of the stall. She’d found the skeins of glass yarn all wrapped up neatly in balls. The leveled look she gave the glass woman spoke otherwise. Trever was hers. He came with her. She rode on him. She marked him. He was hers. The glass woman did not ask permission. She took! She tricked! The laughter of the crowd agreed with her. They were enjoying the show of the glass woman getting tangled by a cat.

The glass woman, didn’t seem to notice the crowd. All her intent and fury was on Veena.

Round and round the stall they went. Veena knocking things over and shredding others always prancing just out of reach. Sometimes further away than other times. It was important so that the glass woman would have hope of catching her and continue to chase. It was the reverse of normal cat and mouse games. Here the cat was chased and the mouse tried to grab. But still the cat was the one in charge. The mouse only went where the cat wanted her to go.

Finally Veena appeared on Trever’s lap. He felt wooden and stiff, the soft flesh that she kneaded gone. Replaced by what, she didn’t know. Her paws left bloody prints on his pants. She stared at the glass woman.

Her human.

The woman stared back at her, her fingers drawn like needles, but she found herself caught in the web of thread created by their chase. She couldn’t move closer, completely caught. Her nails clacked together. “He’s mine cat. You cannot free him,” she hissed like a snake.

“Perhaps, perhaps not,” a new voice said. The white haired man from the fairy servants booth came to the front of the crowd. He leaned on the shop counter, looking at the tangled web they wove. The glass woman froze, but Veena continued to look complacent. She didn’t expect the man, but from the woman’s reaction it was probably in her favor that he appeared. Now that she looked at him closer, she saw that he was one of the high sidhe, with that ethereal glow about him. The glass woman was lower fey and thus under his command. What he said would be law to her.

Veena approved of this.

“The human is mine, I got him fair and square. I asked him to help me, he agreed. He’s mine.”

“But the human also has a champion,” he said, gesturing to Veena. She licked her paw modestly. “And she appears to have caught you quite well.” This earned a laugh from the crowd as the woman struggled in the string.

“He is still mine.”

“Perhaps. Perhaps not. Let’s see if the lady has won her mortal’s freedom.”  The man had turned half way to the crowd, trying to and easily engaging them. This was a story. This was magic. This was how fairy worked. The witch stole the mortal away and the champion freed them. If the witch was lucky, as the glass woman was starting to realize from the drawn expression on her face, she might live. Veena didn’t care one way or the other. The crowd loved it though. The smiled and laughed, a few clapping, as the man gestured to Veena.

The glass woman snorted though. “As if a kiss from a cat would wake a human.”

Veena’s ears went flat for a moment as her eyes narrowed. As if she’d kiss Trever to wake him up. That would never work. What was the woman thinking?

As it was a show, Veena waited until the glass woman and everyone else was watching her. Then she reared up and placing one paw on Trever’s chest took the other one and poked him solidly in the eye with an ear splitting yowl.

Nothing happened for a moment. But Veena continued yowling over and over again like she was hungry, which she was, and smacking him in the face. Three pokes after she started Trever jerked and shoved her away.

“Veena! Stoppit!” he snapped. His hands jerked, breaking the string around them as he pushed her off his lap. She vanished and reappeared on the counter next to the white haired man who started to stroke her. The crowd clapped in approval as Trever looked around confused. “What… Veena! What happened to your paws?” Standing up, he wobbled over to her to carefully inspect her feet. She mewed at him pitifully. Her poor feet! Look what she did for him! Trever scooped her up gently and nuzzled her. She purred happily.

The white haired man smiled. “I see that she was the mortal’s champion. Now, my lady cat, how do you wish to deal with she who has wronged you?”

Looking over Trever’s shoulder, Veena gazed at the havoc she wrought at the glass woman’s expense. Her products were ruined. Everything was tangled or torn. It would be a while before the woman would have something to sell and it was highly likely it would be a long time before she stole from a cat.  She gave a wide yawn showing off her teeth before starting to groom her fur industriously. It’d become horribly ruffled in the chase. Trever stepped out of the stall and into the sunlight. She approved of this, as it was warm.

“I see you’ve been granted clemency, I suggest you enjoy it,” The white haired man said with a laugh to the glass woman. The crowd laughed with him.

“Thank you for your help,” Trever said to him.

“I did nothing, your lady cat did everything. It was quite the show, it was a shame you missed it.”

“Veena, her name is Veena, and I’m Trever.” he said. “And from what I can see, it does look like that.”

“Well then, Veena did quite the job of it. You may call me Ash.” He gave a dazzling smile. Veena decided she liked Ash. He was nice. He also had fairy servants which she still wanted. She flexed her claws, digging her nails into Trever’s shoulders.

Taking that as a hint, Trever sighed, “I suppose I should reward her with a fairy servant, which she did want earlier.”

“That sounds like an excellent idea. Why don’t you come with me and we’ll take a look at them as well as take a look at the lady’s paws.”

Veena purred loudly at this idea. After all, who wouldn’t be happy when they were a cat who got what they wanted?