The bed was soft and fluffy; it smelled of an herb Malina could almost remember and it felt like sleeping in a pile of silk and feathers, which she thought might be a bit more accurate than intended.
The sand-cat slept on the pillow Malina wasn’t using, and thankfully, he did not snore.
She had fallen asleep far more easily than she’d expected – a strange place with nothing but the reassurances of a cat that she was safe; a place far from home where magic seemed to do all the housekeeping, when she had considered magic something that was barely in one’s life, or at least barely in her life; a place where she was still, when she came down to it, quite lost. She had slept solidly, but as the sun filtered in through screens of silk, paper, wood, and stone, all of her dreams were loud in her memory.
She opened her eyes to the bedroom, the Queen’s sleeping-chamber, which was draped in silk so that the limestone walls seemed very far away, although it was not a huge room. She closed her eyes to pull back to mind the banners flying in the air, crisp and perfect.
“Three spears azure, upright, oh, bother.” Malina furrowed her brow. “I was never good at all that terminology. Three spears azure, upright, per chevron, with tips bloody, on a field vert, the border or.” She saw the banner fluttering, and it seemed to her like the blood on the spears, the spears themselves, were suddenly real.
“The three chiefs of the place that became the Ever-Flowing Fountain, the Karanala.” The cat had not yet opened his eyes. It didn’t seem to matter. “They lay their spears down on the green grass where it still remained green and not red with blood, and they swore an ever-lasting peace, so long as the fountain flowed.”
She could see the fountain, too. It was sputtering, but it still flowed a little, in her vision.
“Someone needs to get in there and clean it out,” she muttered.
“And you will, or you will have it done.” The cat rolled over and sounded for all the world like he was asleep again.
Malina looked past the fountain. There were four banners, she thought. The next one was blue, mostly. The bottom corner had been ripped off, leaving the further back hoof of the stallion – or Mustang, she guessed – missing.
“A mustang, Tawny, rampant, on a field per fess embattled, azure and or.”
“The Lame.” She could have sworn the cat was asleep, but he answered anyway. “The bottom foot is missing? That’s the Lame, from the Golden Sky. They are mighty, for all that their king went to battle on a three-legged mustang.” The cat snorted. “Never doubt a mustang. Any mustang.”
“You really remember all of this.”
“What I don’t remember-” the cat opened an eye. “-I don’t remember why you know these. Or what you are doing up so early.”
“This isn’t early.” She gestured at the sunbeams. “The sun is up. And I dreamed them, those and two others.”
“One was almost pink and had a lion on it?” The cat yawned mightily. “Call for breakfast, scion of Dominika.”
“Be less pushy, oh cat of cat-ness. There are other concerns. Yes, one was a very faded red, with a lion. The other-“
“Was black as night, so that one could not see any charge, because the charge was also black, as was the banding, against all tradition. That is the midnight sword.”
“How did you know?” She stared at the cat as if its feline expression would tell her anything.
It told her that the cat had a small spot on his face he wished to clean off, or something of the sort.
“I remember the scene,” he answered after a moment. “It was soon before the signing of the Final Treaty, and it was many things, but good was not one of them. There were many battles, and a great deal of blood lay on the ground. And after that – after that, it became still worse, as if to say no, we were never even trying to parlay.”
The cat huffed and set his head on his paws. “It was a bad time,” he repeated. “It was very unpleasant.”
“It sounds – it sounds bad.” Things that the cat had said kept swirling around. “I hunger, I thirst, I need clothing,” she called. “And paper and pen.”
The air-sprites flicked in and then out again, in and then away. The cat looked at her. “Why am I dreaming about this?”
“If I was going to tell you a comforting lie, I’d tell you that you were dreaming it because you had seen banners yesterday, or because you saw the banners in the work-room last night, or because I spoke to you of banners yesterday.”
“I’m not sure I saw any of those baanners, though,” Malina countered slowly. Then she stopped, looking at the cat. “That’s the comforting lie, then. The truth?”
“The truth is harder, sadly. The truth is something like the fact that you have Dominika’s legacy and you’re here in her castle. It’s something like there is ancient magic that your family line signed, and that magic is, for lack of a better word, excited because you’re home. It’s something like if you found me, then something is coming.”
“Wait.” Malina glared at the cat. “Wait. I found you because I was bored at a party. That wasn’t fate, that was nothing but me wandering around because there were too many people. That’s it,” she added, as if saying it again and maybe again after that might help. “That’s all. I was lost.”
The cat stretched up and looked at her. “If that helps you,” he declared, “then it helps you. But something is coming, Scion of Dominika. Something other than you, and your coming was known for decades before you arrived. Something is coming.”
“I was just lost,” she repeated woefully. “That’s it. Just.. just lost.”Want more?