Chapter 6. Misdirection
Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep.
And in his simple show he harbors treason.
--Shakespeare, Henry V
Roup chose to visit Treace in the early morning. The wood was soft with pre-dawn light when Roup and Lyndi began to pass the tree stretchings and scent marking that denoted the edge of Treace’s territory. They found two separate sets of marks—one for the broader territory and one for the individual den that claimed this patch of wood.
Roup had not sent a messenger to announce his coming, and he did not call out as they passed the markings. “Sir?” began Lyndi. She was already bristling a little. All cats found this sort of trespass uncomfortable, doubly so as they came unannounced. The markings around Treace’s territory were partially aggressive—deep gouges, as though the cat who’d placed them had an abiding hatred for trees.
“Let’s just have a look around,” said Roup. “They’ll find us when they find us.”
They encountered the first den a short time later. Treace’s territory had very little in the way of natural caves, and the den was dug into the side of a hill amid a thicket. Roup did not approach it, but watched from upwind. A number of cubs were playing around the edge of the thicket. Lyndi tried to count them, but kept losing the number in her agitation. “Shouldn’t we go down there and introduce ourselves?” she whispered. “I’m sure one of them knows where Treace is likely to be found at this time of day.”
“No,” said Roup without looking away.
So it’s like that, thought Lyndi with a sinking feeling. She’d wondered why Halvery or Sharmel had not been sent on this errand. You wanted to sneak, oh my craft leader, and sneaking is dangerous.
They watched for a little while longer and then padded away. Roup was paying attention to everything—ears twitching at every sound, nostrils flared, eyes scanning the ground. Lyndi was watching, too, but mostly for other cats, who might attack them for this unannounced intrusion.
They encountered another den sooner than Lyndi would have expected. Once again, a number of cubs were playing around the entrance. Roup sucked in his breath sharply when he saw them. He hunkered down as though he definitely did not want to be seen, peering from around a tree. “Is that what I think it is?”
Lyndi squinted. The cubs were playing with something—long and redish. At first, she thought it was a small animal, but as she watched them toss it into the air, she saw the shape more plainly. “A…ferryshaft tail?” It was much too long to be a fox tail.
“That’s what it looks like,” muttered Roup.
Lyndi frowned. This was not the raiding season, and even during raids, she’d never known creasia to take trophies back to their dens. It had been done in wartime, of course, but now… What pride could anyone take in possession of a ferryshaft tail?
They passed three more dens, and still Roup made no move to speak to anyone. Lyndi was sure they would have been apprehended by now if not for the time of day. Perfectly chosen, Roup. Many of the creasia were dozing off. They would have full bellies from a night’s hunting. Still, someone is bound to cross our scent-trail eventually, and I don’t think they’ll be pleased.
Roup broke into her thoughts. “Did you see those tracks back there?”
“Curb tracks,” said Roup. “Lyndi, please pay attention. I brought you for your eyes and nose.”
You brought me because Arcove wouldn’t let you go alone. “Sorry, sir. I’m too busy watching for cats coming to kill us.”
Roup gave a low chuckle. “You think they’d dare? Well, maybe you’re right. Things here are more complicated here than I expected.” He stopped suddenly, and Lyndi jumped, her nerves strung taut.
Roup muttered something under his breath. Following his gaze, Lyndi saw a deer hanging at least two lengths in the air. She blinked. A thick tendril of vine looped around the deer’s neck and upper body. Its hindquarters were quivering. As they watched, the animal thrashed a few times. It was choking, but not quickly.
“Impressive, isn’t it?”
Lyndi spun around, head down, already preparing to meet an attack. Three creasia stood behind them. She recognized the one in front, and this did not ease her nerves. Moro. He was Treace’s brother and second in command—a cat almost as black as Arcove, but with pink nose leather and strangely pale eyes. He did not often leave the clutter’s territory, but there were disconcerting rumors about him.
Roup turned smoothly and without surprise. “Good morning, Moro. Are you having problems with curbs of late?”
Moro smiled. The two creasia with him had fanned out. Three to two isn’t such bad odds, thought Lyndi, but she did not like that smile.
“I don’t know about curbs,” drawled Moro, “but we certainly seem to be having problems with trespassers.”
Roup refused to be baited. “We’ve been looking for Treace. There have been complaints about game management over the summer. However…” Roup jerked his head at the struggling deer. “If curbs have been setting these traps in your wood, I can see why it’s happening. I’ve heard that lowland curbs are becoming extremely populous on the southern plains, so it makes sense that they’re coming into your territory.”
Lyndi watched Moro. Roup is giving you a graceful way out. Say it’s the curbs and that you’ll look into it. It doesn’t have to be your fault…even if it is.
Moro cocked his head. He didn’t say anything. The two cats with him had circled Roup and Lyndi completely. They’re not even going to pretend to have a conversation, thought Lyndi.
Roup had apparently come to the same conclusion, because his ears flattened, and he growled. “Think about what you’re doing, Moro. Think about what it will cost.”
One of the two subordinates leapt at Roup. Roup dodged the charge easily, catching the other cat a slap across the face. However, as Roup came down, the earth opened beneath him, and he vanished from sight.
Lyndi was so startled and horrified that she missed the other subordinate cat, who charged her, knocked her off her feet, and pinned her with his teeth around her throat. He was savvy enough to pin her cross-wise, so that she could not slash his belly with her back claws. For a moment, Lyndi panicked, struggling as he cut off her air. Black spots flashed across her vision. Some logical part of her brain told her: He hasn’t ripped your throat out. This is a threat, not a death grip. She went limp.
An instant later, the other cat’s grip slackened, and she was able to get a breath. Her vision cleared. Lyndi craned her neck upward, disoriented and desperate. What happened to Roup?
Half upside down, she saw Moro and the other cat, standing on the edge of a partially-covered hole. Suddenly, Lyndi understood. They dug a pit and covered it with slender sticks and leaves. A trap. She had never heard of creasia doing such a thing, though she grasped the concept immediately. Are they doing it all over the wood? No wonder they’re catching pregnant does!
Moro was talking into the pit, which gave Lyndi hope that Roup was alive. A moment later, Roup shot out onto the half-caved covering of the pit, but it gave way beneath him, and he dropped again. Next instant, he tried to clamber over the far side of the hole, but the edges were crumbly, and Moro’s subordinate knocked him back easily.
“I suppose we are having trouble with curbs,” Moro was saying, “and these new traps of theirs. How unfortunate that you fell into one. I suppose it most have caved in and buried you alive. Oh, if only we had found you in time!”
“Perhaps, he died of thirst,” offered the subordinate who kept thwarting Roup’s attempts to jump out. “Trapped here for days.”
The cat pinning Lyndi spoke up. “Do you think they both fell in? Perhaps he killed and ate her before he expired.” Lyndi forced her fear down. I will not die without a fight. She rallied herself for a final effort, but then she heard another voice.
“Moro… What is this about?”
Lyndi craned her neck again and saw Treace pace into view.
Moro did not look at all guilty or concerned. “We have trespassers,” he said.
“So I heard,” said Treace in a speculative voice. “Though it would be a shame if this misunderstanding resulted in the death of Arcove’s…”—he allowed the briefest of insulting pauses—“beta.”
Moro gave an exaggerated expression of surprise. “Oh! Is that who it is? He might have said so. Let him out, Pons.”
The cat above Lyndi let her up as well. She was fairly choking on rage. As though anyone in Leeshwood could fail to recognize Roup!
Roup scrambled out of the hole a moment later. It was apparently just deep enough that he could not gracefully clear the edge, and he struggled for a moment before getting his back legs over the lip. He was dirty and bristling, but when he spoke to Treace, his voice was even. “How many of these have you set in the wood, Treace?”
Treace cocked his head. A tiny smile curled the edge of his mouth. “You never lose your poise, do you, Roup?”
You’d like to see that, thought Lyndi.
Roup repeated himself, “How many?”
“The curbs set them,” said Treace. “As you say, we have a problem.”
So you overheard the whole thing, thought Lyndi. Did you just want to frighten us? Or were you trying to decide whether to let Moro kill us?
Roup shook himself, sending twigs and dirt flying. The other cats stepped back from the spray—all except Lyndi, who came to stand beside him.
Treace appeared annoyed at the dirt on his coat. Before he could say anything, Roup spoke again, “Stop setting them. You’re catching female deer. We eat fawns in the spring and summer, bucks in the fall and winter. We do not eat does unless we are desperate. This is the oldest rule of game management.”
Treace inclined his head. “Duly noted. May I ask who was complaining?”
“No, you may not,” said Roup, and for the first time, irritation crept into his voice. “I trust Arcove will not have to address this problem himself?”
“Of course not,” said Treace.
“One other thing: why are your cubs playing with ferryshaft tails?”
This seemed to catch Treace by surprise, which Lyndi was sure Roup intended. The briefest flicker of a glance passed between Treace and Moro.
Moro spoke up. “They wander into the wood from time to time. You can’t really expect us to spare them.”
“Wander into the wood?” repeated Roup.
Lyndi shared his skepticism. To reach Treace’s territory, a ferryshaft would have to “wander” all the way through Halvery’s or Sharmel’s. While a desperate ferryshaft might forage on the edge of the wood, this degree of penetration sounded extremely unlikely. Nevertheless, she wished Roup would stop talking. We already know they have no respect for tradition. Let’s leave…and not return without the entire clutter.
“Yes,” said Treace, “I had heard that a few had wandered in. They grow bold of late…what with that foal that Arcove took so long to deal with.” Before Roup could say anything, he continued, “But I’m sure they’ll soon settle down, now that the problem has been resolved.”
Roup looked hard at Treace. “I’m sure they will…and I’m sure we’ll hear no more complaints about deer.” He turned and walked away, back towards the edge of Halvery’s territory. Lyndi was shaking just a little, but she followed him with her head held high, tail up. You won’t see us run, you arrogant sheep turds.
But as soon as they were out of sight, Roup picked up his pace.
“Sir,” began Lyndi.
“Not now,” said Roup. His voice was low. “We need to get out of here.”
“I was going to say that they didn’t offer us an escort out of their territory. Doesn’t that seem odd?” Unless they’re going to try to kill us again.
“Find water,” said Roup.
“Water!” he snapped, and she knew then that he was anxious. “They can’t dig pits in water.”
It didn’t take them long to locate a stream, they walked in it all the way to the lake, which they reached near midday. Lyndi had to keep shaking her head to stay alert. Roup went all the way out into the lake, where they paddled along until near evening. Lyndi thought several times that she saw cats moving along the bank, just out of sight amid the trees.
They were both drooping with exhaustion when they finally pulled themselves from the water. Lyndi thought that the scent and scratch marks of Halvery’s clutter had never looked so attractive. Roup began calling as soon as they emerged from the lake—long, loud yowls that cats customarily used to announce their presence. They were soon answered.
Roup turned to Lyndi before any of Halvery’s clutter arrived. “Don’t speak to anyone about what just happened. Let me tell this story…or not tell it.”
“Yes, sir.” She hesitated. “Why do you think they’re doing it? Just lazy? They don’t want to hunt properly?”
Roup hesitated. “I think…” he said slowly. “I think we’re being misdirected.”
At that moment, several members of Halvery’s clutter arrived. “I need to speak to Halvery,” Roup told them. “And then we need a place to sleep for a while.”
Lyndi looked back towards the lake as they started away. She could have sworn that she saw the flash of a pink nose and pale eyes amid the evening shadows.
If Moro was a human, he’d be a neat little man with round glasses. Heh.
Once again, this whole sequence is new. I have changed some things to make the nature of the ultimate conflict more complex and more interesting.
This sequence does replace some content from the original that did some of the same things, though not as well. We had several creasia conferences during this part of the story. They continued to demonstrate the various attitudes of the officers towards ferryshaft and towards each other. We also saw a lot more of Treace. There were a number of brief interludes with him and his second in command, who used to be a cat called Chetsle. They are always plotting during these interludes. Sometimes, I did that annoying thing, where you see dialogue, but you don’t know who’s talking. And then - big reveal! - it’s Treace and Chetsle!
Poor Chetsle. She started out male in the first version and then got changed to female during the college rewrite when I was half-heartedly trying to put more female characters into this male-dominated story. She was a little shit of a villain, but not very scary—the equivalent of the parrot that sits on Jafar’s shoulder in Aladdin. She was constantly spying on Arcove and Roup and then reporting back to Treace. In addition, female Chetsle allowed me to show Treace’s antisocial nature when he gets her pregnant (off screen) and then shows no concern when she gets killed later. As a villain, I suppose I could have done worse, but I also could have done better.
For the rewrite, I came up with Moro. He is a lot more scary than Chetsle. I’ve developed Roup’s beta as a female, rather than Treace’s, because Roup is more likely to be progressive that way.