Malina and the Border Banners, Chapter 4 (A Story for B)

Began here.

Chapter 2 here

There was a tower in a castle in the sands on the edge of the border Malina had never seen before, certainly not like this.

There was a room at the top of the tower, a room high up in an intact tower in a half-ruined castle.

There was a throne in the room, a cat on the throne, a sand-cat, who had not signed the Last Treaties.

And in the middle of the room was Malina.

There was only one chair, something Malina’s feet were protesting loudly. She considered the floor. She considered the cat.

She considered the windows – the glass was wavy and speckled, so that she couldn’t see through them – the piles of documents, the map in sand.

“It seems like someone left, planning to return in just a moment,” she murmured, for something to say, for something that wasn’t lifting the sand cat and removing him from the throne. She was still torn on that action, as tempting as it was.

“And they did,” the cat agreed, “but now you are back. The map awaits. The Next Treaty is there. You are home.”

She was beginning to think the cat had a strange definition of either *home* or of *you* – that was, of her. Malina looked at the cat. The cat looked at her.

“I am home,” she tried. Somewhere below her, a door slammed shut.

She had closed every door behind her. What had closed?

“I see the table, the documents. But, cat, I see no place to rest, no water to drink, no food to eat, no view of the castle, no explanation of where I am, nothing. Nothing but a cat grooming himself on a throne.”

“The answers are always there, Princess, if you know what you’re looking for.” The cat concentrated on a particularly difficult-seeming bit of fur between 2 of his back toes.

“Cat,” Malina pointed out, her exasperation growing, “if I *KNEW* what I was looking for, I wouldn’t have been lost in the desert. I know that I was lost, that I found border-trees, & that you and the lovely mustang brought me here. To this tower.” She strode over to the box of sand, the map drawn in deep lines of stone.

The cat – she was watching him from the corner of her eye – glanced up at her, then returned his attention to his toes and said nothing. Malina ran a finger along the lines of stone. They seemed to hold in an area of grey sand between two waving lines. Sticking out of the box, she could see a few tiny banners, the charges by now familiar.

She peered at them, banners bright & unfaded, charges no bigger than a thumbnail. To the left of the sand, small troop-markers waited. ~

~On the board at current were only a couple pieces – several horses, scattered through the grey sand of the border and into the realms on either side of said border, the right marked with her family’s crest & the left with a crest Malina did not know; s few very small cats, and three human figures, each wrapped like a desert-walker so that you could see nothing of their skin nor outline but two gem-set eyes.

Malina touched one; the border area seemed to grow larger. The figure was in a castle~

a castle which seemed to rise from the grey sand, its outline still half-buried even as the tower grew as tall as her hand and more, the figure and one cat perched on it.

“This map is either prescient, moving as its pieces move, or the last time it was used, there was a single important figure and a cat in this tower.” Malina wasn’t sure which bothered her the most.

“And what else does that tell you?” The cat looked up at her like it was waiting for her to figure out her lessons. 

Malina had never liked that feeling.

“That I am hungry & tired, & while I appreciate – I really do – not being outdoors and lost in the desert any more, I would like to rest & to eat something This map gives me neither of those.”

“Answer the question.” The cat had stood to glare at her. “Answer the question. It is important.”

She looked at the figure. Its eyes, two little gems, were the same color as hers. “The board believes I am an important piece.”

She wasn’t sure she liked that at ALL.

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