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Fiction #418
(published January 22, 2009)
Caught Out
by Doug Mathewson
Renn always worried. He worried about something, trivial or not, almost everyday of his long, long life. A life so far of over a thousand winters, but now he really had something to worry about. "I am hardly myself", he thought, "I am but a wind-fell weak branch. There is little magic left in me now, but I shall be a stubborn old stump."

He was never powerful, or even regarded as clever in the wide and intricate realms of Queen Mab Kingdom. His kind were once many, and fiercely loyal to The Fey. The power and magic of Dryads was deeply knotted twisted within the trees. Oak was strength and Ash offered wisdom, but Renn dwindling tribe, still kept the oldest ways of Faerie. Rowan was Renn's tree, the one wood of magic, the wood of his bond. Now in a time of fewer trees, nymphs had been brought low. When sap no longer flows, natural magic dies.

He was weak, capable of only simple, small spells. Once he could wildly shifted-shapes with ease, now he could only manage small creatures, nothing massing more that five or six kilos. For centuries he won his way artfully by theft, impersonation, and deceit. And now, he was reduced to beg. He went back-door to back-door trying shapes that might gain him a meal. He found these humans he once tricked with ease took no interest in his well being when he assumed aspects of marten, stout, pocket-bagger, or raccoon. Of the simple forms he had taken in the past, only strayed house cats gained some small degree of charity in this place, once forest, now bland domesticated lands.

He felt cold and weaker still as the seasons changed. The few remaining trees slowed for winter's sleep.

Luckily Renn found his benefactor, or benefactress to be more accurate in Marguerite. She was a small elderly woman whose small elderly home was thankfully beneath several mature Oaks so Renn could summon strength and inspiration there. He appeared over several days as different cats—charming, curious, hungry cats, each in need of a meal. For his own amusement he added a unique personality to each, one affectionate, one timid, and one so rude and bold! Marguerite had a loving heart, but spending so much of her time cataloguing the districts wild flowers, pressed during summer months, left her with little imagination for the naming of cats. Particularly the bland variety of cats that Renn could barely manage in his weakened state. She called him in turn "Marmalade," "Snowbell," and "Tiger." Kindly she spoke with each, complementing them in the manner that cats so love.

Often she would reminisce aloud about a Tuxedo Cat, her dearest companion of many years who had passed. He was a fine cat and her dearest friend. They took leisurely walks together, though he might insist on being carried for the return leg. Evenings they would read by the open hearth, or play cards (they both cheated outrageously). Afternoons they might garden. He disdained getting his white paws dirty, so helped for his part by reading aloud to Marguerite the books they both held dear.

She loved those summer afternoons, listening to his small high voice reading Pride and Prejudice or Wuthering Heights. His own taste ran more towards poetry, but Paradise Lost hardly seemed something for the casual work of gardening. Most of all, they found great comfort in the pleasure of one another's company over the years.

Marguerite was concerned about the health and well being of her visitors, now her friends. On her pension-petite, as she called it, one cat would visit the Veterinary Clinic per month to insure their continued good health, but who should be first? Fate would decide, she thought. "Who ever I can pop into a pillow case today, will go first."

Renn was adorable and cuddly, comically overplaying "Marmalade" when the fabric closed around him. Weakened as he was, all he could do was tussle and hiss while his mind spewed curses and spells. He changed through every form he could remember, hoping to locate his small sharp sword in the possession of one. But it was no use and finally he drowsed.

A strange voice woke him " Well, yes Mme., let us take a look at this fine chat-in-a-sack you have brought." Renn panicked! What had he been? Often he slept as a hedgehog rolled into a spiny ball, but that couldn't be right! Frantically he tried to snatch an image from Marguerite's thoughts! A cat! Yes a cat of course! In a wink he changed just as the cloth was unknotted! Marguerite caught her breath with surprise. It is the miracle for which i have so long hoped, she thought. Renn smiled to himself and purred with satisfaction as she scooped him into her arms. He admired how striking his black and white paws looked, set against Marguerite's lavender velveteen collar. She trembled with joy and holding him close she lovingly whispered, "Boots . . . you've come back."

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