Hey there, cats and kittens. Here’s another excerpt from my upcoming book, Cleo and Meander. As always, I treasure the feedback of my readers and would love to hear your thoughts.
The trouble had started with the damned door. She’d been in a hurry and left it unlocked, which meant that Rafo strolled right into her bedroom instead of being forced to struggle with the lock for ten minutes…and that, in turn, meant that he’d seen her startled face drop out of sight as she slid out the window. She was up and running in a wink, but Rafo’s angry roars were already chasing her before she was halfway across The Commons. By the time she’d made it here, to the Lost Promenade, he’d had his underwardens prowling the entire estate. If she hadn’t been able to reach the loft before he stormed in, tail swishing, she would’ve been caught for certain – and if she was caught, her house arrest might very well become permanent.
Lying in the shadows formed by stacked crates and old bits of stone, Meander thought about her options. Rafo, like most of the Felis, had a keen nose and even keener eyes, which meant that any hiding place was temporary at best. He’d no doubt notified her father of her escape, so in addition to eluding Rafo and his pack of enforcers, she’d have to give the main house a wide berth. Inching forward for a better view, she stifled a gasp when she saw a familiar silhouette illuminated by the torches in the entryway. Her father.
“Rafo, please tell me that you’ve found my daughter.” Daffyd Reynaldo was not a tall man, but nevertheless managed to give the impression of towering over the giant housewarden in front of him. “Er, no, xefe, not yet. I thought she’d be here…in fact, I’m almost sure she is here, somewhere…” His employer’s snort brought him up short. “Rafo, you’re almost sure? Are you telling me you can track a bird by its shadow but you can’t find a girl who has trouble traveling to town without three maps and an escort?” Rafo’s eyes shifted, his tail twitching against his legs. “Xefe, you know how it is with her. She’s…slippery. Especially when she doesn’t want to be found. Remember when she was a child, and she hid for three days because she didn’t want to take a bath? And even then we wouldn’t have found her if it wasn’t for her…” The felis snapped his mouth shut, biting his tongue painfully in the process…but he wasn’t fast enough. “If it wasn’t for her mother? Is that what you were going to say, Rafo? I sincerely hope not, because you know the penalty for even THINKING that name, let alone mentioning it.” For a moment, Daffyd’s eyes glowed almost as brightly as his housewarden’s, and the torches leapt in their brackets. Rafo took a step back, wondering for the second time this evening if everyone in the Reynaldo family was going slowly insane. The light in Daffyd’s eyes winked out, and he shook his head, as if clearing away fumes. “Rafo, forgive me. You know better than most the pain I carry. I should not have threatened you so.” He looked up as Rafo put a meaty paw on his shoulder. “You ask for that which is not needed, old friend. It is not an easy thing, raising a child alone, and it is made doubly difficult when that child grows into a woman as…spirited as Andi is.”
Daffyd smiled, smoothing his silvering hair with one hand, and sighed. “You’re right, of course. And “spirited” is probably the nicest thing I can say about my wayward daughter at the moment. I pray that Inri and Celene will bring her the strength to tame that spirit before it gets her killed.” Rafo, back on firmer ground now that he was reasonably sure he’d live to see the sunrise, smiled as well. “We won’t let that happen, Daffyd. She’s a good girl, she’s just restless. It’s for the best that she’s heading to Academy next month…the change of scenery will do her good.” He turned, his eyes roving over the stone pillars and alcoves of the Promenade a final time. As they passed over the storage loft, they narrowed. “Xefe, I think…” With a plaintive meow, a ginger-colored cat leapt down from the shadows of the loft, startling both men. “Looks like you’re not the only one on the prowl tonight, eh, Rafo?” The housewarden smiled, but his eyes searched the shadows again for a moment before he turned to follow Daffyd into the courtyard.
Coughing as quietly as possible, Meander thrust aside the dusty blanket she’d used as impromptu camouflage and sat up, brushing the dirt and straw from her tunic. Thank the gods for that barn cat! She’d tried to stay hidden, but hearing her father talk plainly with Rafo about matters he’d long since ceased discussing with her had piqued her interest, and she’d moved forward in the shadows to better hear their conversation. Even the faint torchlight that reached the loft was sufficient to expose her to Rafo’s sharp eyes, however, and ducking under the blanket wouldn’t have worked if the cat hadn’t been napping on it when she grabbed for cover. Sighing, Meander stood, stepping carefully across the loose boards to the edge of the loft. After a thorough survey of the Promanade, she decided the coast was clear. She was two rungs down the ladder when she heard soft laughter from the shadows.
“Rafo’s right, you know. The Acadamy will be good for you. It might even teach you some discipline.” Meander gaped, surprised to see her father standing not ten feet away. “Oh, come now, Andi, did you forget whose child you are? It’s a loft, not the far side of Maya.” He took a step forward, his face a white mask of rage that belied his calm tone. “Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to come back to your apartments with me, and you’re going to stay there until you leave for Acadamy next month. You are banned from not only the Lost Promenade, but from any and all stonewalking. I’m sorry, Andi, but you’re too unfocused – and far too powerful – to remain untrained.” A note of pride crept into his voice at the end, and Meander felt an unwilling thrill at this grudging praise. “Father, I know how you feel, but I told you, training isn’t essential. The most powerful stonewalkers weren’t trained at all! Training focuses your power, but it also limits it. Who knows what we could accomplish, if we only…” Daffyd cut her off sharply. “I know. I know what can be accomplished. You can lose your mind, or end up in the middle of a sun, or vanish without a trace into the spaces between the stars. Is that what you want, Meander? To end up like your mother?” To Meander’s shock, her father’s face was wet with tears. “By Inri’s Mirror, girl, do you want to see me dead? Because losing you would kill me as surely as frost kills the flower.” All the anger seemed to drain out of him, and for the first time, Meander could see just how tired and old her father really was. Her eyes flooded with tears of her own, and she moved to step from the ladder to go to him. “Patro, I never meant to…”
Then there was a loud CRACK!, and she was falling.
Even though the loft was only twenty or so feet above the Promenade floor, to Meander the fall was endless. She felt the shattered bits of ladder dig into her calf as she twisted, hands closing on nothing but air. She tried to scream, but her throat was locked shut. Her father’s face appeared at the edge of the loft like a distant moon rising above some alien ridge, calling her name, his voice as seemingly remote as everything else. She felt the roof of one of the pavilions give way as she struck it, and knew the next thing she hit would be the broken stepstone stored inside. Without thinking, she reached out blindly, and as her hand touched the cool white stone, Meander Reynaldo went walkabout.