“Wait. Wait.” Malina stared at the cat. “Wait, some people think that Dominika – the one I’m named after, my ancestor- that she came from another world?”
“Well, many people did. Right up until the Final Treaty was ratified.”
“Right up until – Wait. People thought that, or – or people came from another world?” She was trying to remain calm. She was mostly managing not to shout. “People were coming from another world?”
“People.” The cat looked very calm. “People like you, with two legs, and people like me, with four, or like the mustang, with altogether too much leg. Yes. People came here from other worlds, and people from here went to other worlds. Sometimes there is debate on how many people became stuck in each place, when the treaty was ratified.”
“Really?” She took a breath and another. People are coming from other worlds. The cat hadn’t answered, so she repeated herself. “Really, there are people there are living here that are – that are descended from people from another world? How can you say that so calmly?”
She had stopped even pretending to be calm. The cat waited, watching her thoughtfully.
“Say something! You can’t just – things like this – that my family might be from another world – you can’t just say things like that.”
The cat waited. Malina gulped down another breath. “Say something?”
“Are you calm again?”
“I am – well. No . But I am done shouting,” she decided. She could be done shouting, at the least.
“We are in another world now, child of Dominika. We have travelled between the worlds. Before the Final Treaty was signed, people did so quite often. If Dominika, the one who built this place, was from the other side of the border, who is to say that her great-great grandmother wasn’t from this side of the border? For a hundred generations, people crossed the borders as they would. Of course.”
The cat paused dramatically. Malina waited, showing patience she still wasn’t feeling.
“Of course,” the cat continued, “wars also crossed the borders, wars and skirmishes and assassins and other, less savory things.”
Malina let herself slowly sink to the ground, leaning on the tower wall. It wasn’t gracious or proper, but it was exactly what she needed at the moment.
The cat climbed up into her lap and sat down, purring loudly.
She petted him behind the ears, finding that this let her calm down, allowed her to take the information and look at it more rationally. “Wars.”
She had, of course, heard of wars.
“When borders – when people cross borders with malicious intent.” That was one definition in one of her books. “When people – when they cannot agree on borders.”
“As I understand it, there has not been a war since the Final Treaty. They have been arguments, yes, and perhaps even some skirmishes, but even those have been – what? Several generations?”
“I think – Let me see. Three or four, yes.” Her family’s habit of reusing names, so prevalent in her own name, made things a little complicated, especially in matters that hadn’t been deemed all that important by her tutors. “Probably four generations. Since the last war over – over trade. Five people died.”
The cat washed his paw and used it to wipe his face.
“You understand – no. You don’t, but perhaps you can. Wars, wars before this, before what Dominika did, they would have hundreds of dead, thousands of dead, maybe tens of thousands. War would have huge swaths of land destroyed, completely melted down or churned up. War would have innocent people dead because of – well, either direct attacks that missed their mark or because their land and their food were destroyed.”
Malina stared at the cat for a moment. She tried to process that. Thousands of people. Thousands of people – she knew that one of Lady Rosário’s parties had been known to hold 900 people. More people than that, dead, dead because of a border skirmish. Because of a very, very big border skirmish.
“So – So – Dominika – she did that – “
“To stop war. To make war between certain places impossible, to be specific.” The cat turned to stare at Malina face-on. “She planted this place here – so her writings say – so that would be a breather, as it were, and that all the nations and states involved could – ah, to use the words I learned for this, grow up a bit. I think it’s possible they have. I think your people, if you are an example of them, have done so. But it is not mine to judge.”
“Whose is it to judge?” Malina had a sinking feeling, deep in her chest. She was beginning to understand what the cat had done to her now.
Had the cat done it to her? Had she done it to herself? She did, after all, know better than to go wandering off into the desert on her own, and she’d ended up – as the lectures had told her – lost in the desert.
Had her ancestor Dominika set her up for this when she built this castle?
The cat hadn’t answered.
Malnia continued her questioning – she might not have been intentionally talking over the option of an answer, but then again, the thought did occur to her. “And – and Dominika, the Dominika that was my ancestor, the one who might have come from another place, another world – and who might not have – she built this.” She gestured around her with the hand not supporting the sandcat on her lap – to the stone brick tower next to her, to the tiled courtyard with its brilliant colors, to the trees blooming in the middle of the desert and the fountain that seemed to be singing to them. “She built this place, this castle, the whole land between the worlds?”
“What we know,” the cat answered slowly, licking his paw between words, “and what we think from those bits we know, and what notes we can find, that tells us – it tells us that Dominika took this castle – whether she built it or had it built or found it – and used the bricks to nail down this small bit of land. I think she – we think she found a fragment of land that was already unmoored from whichever world it came from. Some people think it was something of an entirely different world than the ones it borders. But Dominika-“
The cat took a long pause. Malina stared at the fountain, at the water bubbling up in patterns too elaborate to be real, like the water itself had been crafting. She watched a fish jump out of the water, flashing in brilliant blue.
When the cat spoke again, she had to struggle not to jump.
“What we’ve heard, what we’ve read, it suggests that she was, Dominika was, so much more than a queen. She was a force, a pressure, a storm. She could have told this land to separate, and there are those who think her word would have been enough.”