A children's book for grown-ups by Jon Evans

August 9, 2007

25. The Queen of All Cats

"Pay no heed to my unfortunate surroundings," Zelina said. "I have been tricked, abused, betrayed and exiled. My throne has been stolen from me. But a throne does not make a queen. I will die here in this broken shell of a ruin, but I will die a queen."

After a moment Patch said, "Is there any food near here?"

"No. Three days I have been without food, Patch son of Silver, ever since I was betrayed. I will starve here, and I will die."

"But you can get food here," Patch objected. "You're a cat. You can catch birds. I've seen sparrows and starlings in the bushes."

"Catch a bird?" Zelina asked, offended. "And eat it with … with feathers and bones and blood? I, the Queen of All Cats? Don't be ridiculous."

"You'd rather starve to death?"

"I lived as a queen, and I will die as a queen."

"I see," Patch said, although he didn't really. "Are there humans near here?"

"No."

"Is there anything near here?"

"No."

Patch looked at her suspiciously. "Are you sure? I crossed a fence before. How much have you explored?"

"A queen does not explore."

"Do you at least know where we are?" Patch asked, exasperated.

Zelina looked at him for a moment. Then she said, "Follow me."

Patch followed her up the ridge, and then up a thick bush atop the ridge. She climbed nearly as well as he did. Once they stood at the top of the bush, Zelina turned to the northwest, and said, "See there."

Patch squinted. His vision was not near as good as a cat's, but in the very great distance, past the waving field of grasses and bushes, he could see … something … rising above the horizon. Something gray and silver and glittering, and very far away. After a moment he gasped with recognition. What he saw was the mountain range that surrounded the Center Kingdom.

"There is the heart of the city," Zelina said, her voice soft with longing. "There is the Great Avenue. They left me close enough to see it, but so far away that I can never return. Oh, but their cruelty knows no boundaries."

They descended from the bush. Zelina had to choose her way down very carefully, and once she almost fell. Cats were not near as good at downclimbing as squirrels. Patch moved without thinking, for his mind was in his memory book, trying to map what he had just seen to his vision of the world when he had hung in Karmerruk's talons, as if the Center Kingdom itself was an acorn he had buried and needed to find. He was almost certain, from the angle and distance of the mountains, and the location of the great waters, that the boat had carried him far beyond the other end of the great bridge, to a distant tail-shaped shred of land on the very edge of the world. He was no closer to the Center Kingdom than he had been before. But at least he had crossed the great waters, and he was alive.

"Thank you for showing me, Zelina, Queen of All Cats," Patch said politely when they were both back on the sandy earth. He turned to leave.

"Wait," she said. "Where will you go?"

"To the Center Kingdom. To my home."

Zelina looked at him for a long and thoughtful moment.

Then she said, "Of course I must not accompany you. I am a queen. I cannot demean myself even to survive. Even though my subjects need me, it wouldn't be right to reduce myself to a wandering scavenger, living off refuse, travelling with a ragged, filthy squirrel."

"I am not filthy!"

She gave him a look. "Your fur is all clumpy and you are covered with sand and dried salt."

"Oh," Patch said, chastened. "Well, I almost died several times yesterday –"

"That is no excuse not to keep up appearances. Look at me. I expect to starve to death very soon, but see how neatly my fur is groomed." And indeed Zelina's fur was clean, neat, and shining.

"I think I should be going now."

"My subjects cannot demand of me that I become a vagabond, a tramp, a beggar queen. They cannot ask me to surrender my dignity, my pride, no matter how they suffer."

"I understand. Now it's time –"

"But their needs are so great. A traitorous pretender sits on my throne. If I must abase myself, I shall. Because a true queen loves her people as they love her, and will make any sacrifice they require, even stooping so low as the shameful expedient of travelling with a squirrel."

"But –"

"Lead the way, Patch son of Silver," Zelina commanded. "Take me back to the Great Avenue. If you serve me well you may be rewarded when again I sit on the throne."

Patch did not want to travel with Zelina, even if she was Queen of All Cats. But he decided not to protest her decision to follow him. He was sure she would lose interest soon enough, or some event or obstacle would separate them. And he felt sorry for her. Despite her arrogant words, he knew by her scent that she was terribly frightened.

Zelina followed him north across the grassy wilderness. Patch began to catch the scent of death machines. He found a narrow, pebbly rivulet, and ate beetles from beneath its damp rocks, and purple flowers that grew from its sides, as Zelina watched with fascinated horror. Patch was glad she did not want to eat this food; there was barely enough to take the edge off his own hunger.

As he picked beetles off rocks, a swirling gust brought a new scent to them, the scent of mice. Zelina leapt to her feet.

"What is that?" she whispered, amazed.

Patch looked at her oddly. "Mice."

"Oh yes. I've heard of mice. They smell delicious!"

"You've never smelled mice before?" Patch asked, amazed.

"No."

"What did you eat, before you came out here?"

"Caviar. Cream. Sushi."

The words were gibberish to Patch.

"Just wait a moment," Zelina said. She advanced into the grass, following the mouse-smell, and soon disappeared.

When Patch had finished with his food, he moved on, towards the smells and now the sounds of death machines. He thought he had seen the last of Zelina. But as he reached a big, rusting wire fence, she reappeared from the thick grasses. There was blood on her mouth and whiskers, and she smelled of adrenalin and delight.

"It's a very primitive way of eating," Zelina said. "All that thrashing and screaming and blood. Of course it was disgusting. It was absolutely disgusting. But sometimes queens have terrible responsibilities. And I must say, it has to be admitted, there is a certain savage thrill in the hunt. And the kill. Especially the kill. I've never killed anything before, Patch son of Silver. It's really quite thrilling. I never understood before that queens must know how to kill. We must be revered with terror as much as with love. That was my downfall. I was well-loved but I was not terrible. But that will change. Oh, yes, I see that now. When I return to the Great Avenue, my return will be the dawn of a day of blood and terror and vengeance!"

Her exultation in killing made Patch uneasy, and he said nothing. She followed him out through a large hole at the base of the wire fence, into a grassy field that was much more to Patch's liking than the tangled wilderness behind them. There were human buildings at the end of the field, and the severed trunks and wires of a sky-road.

Author's note: I will be road-tripping around Northern California for the next 10 days. Updates will continue but may be rather sporadic. Normal service will resume thereafter.

4 Comments:

Blogger Kent Gustavsson said...

Enjoy your road-tripping, the story is great and at the end of each chapter follows a disappointment that it was already finished.

August 10, 2007 at 12:04 AM  
Anonymous Rakie said...

yep, that sounds like my cat. :D Very cool chapter, all these new characters are a lot of fun!

eeek, sporadic updates?? i don't like the sound of that... my patience is not so good these days. :D But have a great trip!! *jealous*

August 10, 2007 at 2:45 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dunn said...

Zelina is hilarious!

September 23, 2009 at 11:26 AM  
Blogger Phayona said...

Thats why I love cats,they are pure royalty. I'm really enjoying this story I shall definately look out for more works from you Jon.

November 2, 2009 at 8:26 AM  

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Jon Evans is the award-winning author of the thrillers Invisible Armies, Dark Places (aka Trail of the Dead), and The Blood Price. See his web site rezendi.com.

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