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Finch groomed himself in front of the fireplace at Orge's, looking as self-conscious as a cat can with a room full of humans staring at them. "I still don't know how to say things in your language," he said after chewing between the toes on one front paw. "Would the elf speak for me?"
Tag sat in an armchair and patted his lap. "Gladly. And the word is 'translate'."
"Trans...late..." the cat repeated, jumping into Tag's lap and wrapping his tail around his back feet. "Ready?"
The rest of them settled into spots on the floor or pulled up chairs, most armed with coffee or mulled wine. Amy sat at Tag's feet and stroked Finch's back. "Whenever you are."
He purred, bumping her head with his chin before starting. He sat up straight, his voice carrying the almost musical language of the elves throughout the room.
"I'm going to speak as if I were him," Tag said then listened. "We live in the forest in family groups, tribes. Kittens are treasured, taught the ways of the woods and language of the pixies. Our families are ruled by our mothers who sit on the council and decide on matters that affect our tribe. Few venture out beyond the forest.
"Years before my birth and the birth of my mother's mother and her mother, the elves who were once tribes like ours gathered in one place. They were not going to move from place to place but settle in one spot where they would live always. Pixies and Malevolent lived there but we were forced to move. One cat defended her kits and accidentally killed an elf, starting the elves' hatred and mistrust of our kind.
"We started hiding ourselves after the elves began hunting us for sport. We became legends, feared by them for our vicious ways which we fueled by attacking elves that strayed from the city. No one was ever injured but it kept our kits safe from harm and allowed us to live in peace."
Tag stopped Finch. "He's right. Every elf fears the cats, from the guards to the children. We're taught that they are hunters and they shun industry so we're safe as long as we're in the city and don't stray from the paths in the woods." He patted the cat. "Go on."
Finch preened for a moment before continuing. "In our tribe, some are born with the gift of dreams," Tag translated. "I am my tribe's Dreamer. One night I had a dream that a human man threw stars in the air and the elves stopped moving. We then heard through the pixies that humans would be entering the city and I hide myself int eh trees to see your bard sing. I didn't know what I was supposed to do and followed him back to Border Town.
"That night I dreamed that I was walking with a human woman with hair like the sun and gentle hands. She told me she would help free my people but I had to find her by following the star man. I left a message for the pixies to find and hid in Prey's cart-"
"'Prey'?" interrupted Bunny.
"Yes," Finch said. "Your name means 'food' in my language." His smile was oddly human and he twitched his tail, speaking in Rune once more. "I hid in Prey's cart and rode here, not knowing what I would find. No cat had been beyond the forest. I was frightened until I saw Girl and as soon as she held out her hand, I knew I was where I was supposed to be. Then I heard you talking about saving the elf-woman and her child. I knew you would help my people as well." He hopped down from Tag's lap to curl in Amy's. She stroked his back, his rumbling purr echoing in the silence.
"Wait," Ogre put down his coffee. "You want us to help your tribe regain their place in the forest?"
"Yes," came the muffled answer.
"But we are a small group!" Anthony said, throwing up his hands. "What can we do?"
"I don't know." Finch lifted his head. "My dreams will tell me what to do next. I know I'm supposed to learn something here..."
"I think you have that backwards," Kiva said gently. "In one day you've completely changed our perceptions of Malevolents. I've learned more in the past few moments than I have in years. You're a Dreamer?"
Finch nodded and spoke in Rune. "I am one of three to be born in our tribe since we learned to write. They are only born when needed," Tag translated. He blinked. "Wait, cats have a written language?"
"Yes." Finch reached into the ashes and made marks that looked like a series of lines connected at various points. "This means 'family'." He trilled. "That is the word in my language."
Tag shook his head. "I was raised to believe that your kind were nothing but animals, no better than a house cat. But you have a government? And writing? You're a nation? How did this escape the elves' notice?"
Finch dipped his head and spoke in Rune. "The pixies hide us," Tag translated. "They are the ones who hide the paths and make the illusions that keep the elves from harming either of our peoples."
"Wait, wait..." Marti frowned. "Pixies? Helping others? From what I know they only help themselves!"
"They are anarchists at heart," Tag translated. "They only pay attention if matters involve them personally. They have no government and don't work together unless they can benefit from it. We live with them because they find us fascinating but no one relies on them because it is like trying to catch a rainbow with a net. The order the elves impose on the forest offends them."
Maureen knelt in front of the cat. "So you want us to overthrow the elves and free the cats and the pixies? We're not the heroes you dreamed of."
Finch sat up, his face inches from hers. He spoke Rune softly. "You may not see the hero in yourself but I smell it," Tag translated. "When we are ready, my dreams will lead me back home. I am in the right place with the right people."
She smiled crookedly and scritched his head. "I like you, even though I think you over estimate us."
He butted her hand with his head. "And I like you, even though you underestimate yourself," Tag translated.
"I have a question," Duck said from the window. "Finch, do your people know magic? Alchemy?"
Finch cocked his head. "No, I don't know those words but would like to learn," he said slowly.
Marti stood up. "An alchemist cat? I need a drink."
"Alchemist?" Ogre snorted. "Magic! A cat that can throw spells would be a sight!" He followed Marti to the kitchen, both arguing loudly.
Amy hugged Finch. "I'm glad you came here and that you chose me."
"I will be sad to leave you," he said, curling in a ball. "I will miss your hands."
She stroked his back, ignoring the lump in her throat. "Let's not think about that."
He twitched his tail and raised his head. "Can we go play in the white stuff?"
"Snow?" She smiled. "It's getting dark. I can't see at night like you can." She rubbed his ears. "We have tomorrow."
"Yes," Finch's eyes closed. "Tomorrow."
Amy looked at the purring cat and wiped away a tear.
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August 2011


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