Arnold and Lisa were sitting together in the Sneaky Vole, continuing the lessons that had started a week ago. “Have you been able to hold the quill yet?” asked Arnold.
“Not very well. Can you show me again?”
“It’s not an easy thing to show, as we have very different…thumbs. But all right.” Lisa watched him intently as he grasped the quill pen, showing her where his fingers went. Abruptly, he said, “Lisa, you’ve never asked…” He broke off, shaking his head.
“Never mind. We’ll talk about it later.”
Lisa raised her eyebrows, then shrugged and watched his hand. “Just try to hold the quill and make the A, as best you can, like this,” Arnold continued, slowly marking an ‘A’ on the paper in front of them. She took the quill from him and tried to maneuver her fingers into the positions she’d seen. Sticking her tongue out a little, she moved her hand, trying to trace out the same shape Arnold had made.
“You’ve never asked why I’m not like the other cats in town,” Arnold said impulsively, as he looked at the letter she was creating. “The ones who walk upright.”
Lisa looked up at him. “I thought you… must have gone through something different than them. And what that was is up to you to tell or not.”
Their conversation came to an abrupt end when Tepic entered the loft, “Watcha Lisa, Mr Arnold!”
The young fox plonked himself down on a stool beside them and reached for the flagon of milk, pouring a mug for himself before looking at his friends. “Errr…. you two want some?”
“No thanks.” With that the three conspirators moved closer, and began whispering between themselves, glancing round occasionally to ensure they were alone. Arnold suspected that Tepic had a hand in the reduction of the bells, and though the boy had been vague about what he knew of those events he had enthusiastically joined in the rescue planning. However, some of his suggestions had raised the eyebrows of his companions.
The difficulty, apart from getting access in and out of the Asylum, was how they were going to help a person who was a menace to himself and especially others if he were out loose! The only solution seemed to be to effect a cure on the werewolf before letting him out.
Lisa was taking part in the conversation, but couldn’t entirely hide her apprehension. Tepic looked at her and asked, “Yer scared, Lisa?”
She nodded. “I can’t help but remember our stories about… werewolves.” She said the word slowly, still unused to it. “We call them -” she yowled a Feline word softly. “Fik’am’an. It means… Dog-man, I think.” Arnold nodded slightly, and she continued. “A group of cats were living in a town with menfolk, long ago. One day, one of the men was bitten by a strange, large canine. The cat who lived in his dwelling with him stayed by his side, and saw when he changed into the Fik’am’an. The cat barely escaped with his life, and all the cats were horrified to watch it ravage the town, attacking M’an and Feline alike. The terror only stopped when a stranger came to the town and killed it.
“The story was quickly passed from cat to cat, in warning to all. Thankfully, they soon learned that rolling in a certain herb would help to keep the Fik’am’an away if ever it came.”
From his previous capture of Rasend, Mr Arnold knew how transitory the effects of the herb, wolfsbane, were in this case, and from his notes it was clear that silver weapons were also of only limited use. But it was her story that caught his attention…his people hadn’t retained any stories like that…the farthest back he had was to his mother’s mother.
Tepic continued, but noted that the cures listed in the libraries seemed unduly harsh, took a long time, and had a high chance of actually killing the patient! There was one that might possibly work, given the time they would have. It seemed that if you threw a shiny bit of metal over the werewolf, they would revert to their original form, at least for a while. Then, if they could get him to tell them his birth name, saying that to him three times would cure them.
Arnold had never liked the sound of that. They’d have to open Rasend’s door, get close enough to throw something over his head, and then hope that the book hadn’t been speculative. And if it didn’t the two children would be trapped with a werewolf inside the Asylum.
They had already argued about it and there had been no talking them out of it. Tepic was of the opinion that he would be alright anyhow, as Rasend had talked to him. Lisa, though scared, remembered her own captivity well enough to want to help another. Tepic was especially confident that if the cure worked that they probably didn’t even need to release him: the doctor’s would realize he was not that kind of wolf anymore.
Gaining entrance was going to be difficult. Tepic didn’t think that the gargoyles would support Lisa, and bars had been added to the upper windows. There was an exhaust pipe for the boiler and those pipes could get them inside, but the problem is that it would choke them both badly and they could get stuck or worse. The canal entrance could be operated by a secret panel, unfortunately the noise would call everyone’s attention and they would have to pass by Canergak’s office to proceed.
But as Tepic had mentioned several months before, when he had shown Arnold the Flying Vole, he had a submarine. He and Lisa were going to sneak inside following a shipment undetected. From there they would wait until night and then try to get to the cells, treat Rasend, avoid the other orderlies and Canergak, and ignore the other patients and hope they didn’t give out an alarm.
Arnold looked dubious, but he handed them the spare keys he’d made all the same. That would unlock everything in their path and only Emerson, Junie, and some of their staff knew that he had them. If he could have taken back his admission he would have. The boy turned the keys over in his hand, examining them closely before muttering a comment about it may be quicker without the keys.
“Someone already tried to break into the rooms last month and the noise they made called me back downstairs long before they got inside,” Arnold replied, hoping his friend wouldn’t take it as a challenge. “These will get you past the bars too.
“Tomorrow I’ll be leaving for Mondrago,” Arnold explained to them quietly. “If you do get caught, make as much noise as you can, and call for Dr. Solsen. He’ll keep them from hurting you when he gets there. And make it sound like you did it all on your own, make a production of it that you just wanted to help ‘Mr. Wolf’. You’ll still be in trouble, breaking and entering….but he helped me when I was in similar trouble.” The two nodded, the cat had gone over all the risks and consequences many times, and they had been prepared to do it without his help.
As the meeting finished, Tepic asked to borrow Lisa’s coat before he left. As an added precaution, he was going to wash it and his own jacket in an infusion of wolfsbane, just in case things went wrong. He didn’t mention to either of them what he had been brewing in the urchin still for the past few days, but the thin glass vial in his pocket was certainly a comfort.
After he was gone Arnold was going to take a step outside when he stopped and turned back to Lisa, “I want you to teach me something too…”
Lisa looked startled. “What can I teach
“Just stories…like the one about the
Fik’ama’n.” The cat said softly. “I know how that would roughly translate, but I’d never heard of them.”
Lisa gave him a keen look. “Well, I’m no Oel-cir’va, no Master Old-singer, to be able to tell stories well. But what I can, I will. Though I wonder why you don’t have any stories yourself.”
He’d never heard of those before now either. Sighing he shook his head, “Lisa..do you know how I’m always getting into trouble? Life threatening situations? How I think that the worst is always coming?” Lisa Fargazer nodded slowly and he continued, “Imagine an entire race of cats that are just like me….that were always attracting situations that jeopardize their lives.”
Lisa thought about it for a few moments, and winced. He continued, “That’s probably what happened to our stories. After a while there was no one alive to remember them.”
Lisa said, with much sympathy in her voice, “Oh, dear–I’m so sorry.”
Arnold didn’t respond as he went through the maze. He would be back, he had been spending the night in the Vole ever since he had been released.
Lisa watched him leave, feeling truly sorry for Arnold. Stories and history were such an integral part of Feline society. Even during the worst times in her relations with her fellow cats, back when she still was one, she had still attended every Meeting, listening to the
Master Old-singer and his stories. The thought of losing that sense of identity completely was saddening to her. ‘I must do all I can to help him,’ she thought.