Slowly, Mirain lowered the bow. “Dayr is a weyre?”
“Yes,” she said patiently. “Now, would you please tell everyone to put down all the various implements being pointed at my best friend?”
A fist-sized rock skimmed past her and struck Dayr on the shoulder, hard enough to make him mrowl in outrage and squirm over onto his stomach, scanning for the source of the attack.
“I said, he isn't a threat!” Vixen shouted. Why were humans so stupid? “Unless, of course, you act like fools and provoke him into it while he's in a state that keeps him from judging consequences!” With a brief pang of regret for the gorgeous dress, she dropped to a crouch between Dayr and the uneasy crowd, one hand on his head. “Easy,” she crooned, reaching behind her for one length of ribbon and dangling that in front of him. He forgot the stone instantly, rolling back onto one side so he could swat at the ribbon. “No one's going to hurt you. Not without going through me.” It wasn't at all a comfortable position for her; these clothes were absolutely absurd for anything other than staying indoors and being relatively sedate and decorative! But if it kept Dayr distracted and therefore alive, she could live with it.
“Stand down,” Mirain said finally, easing the tension on the bow entirely and letting go of the string. “And I very much hope that you're right, milady.”
“Does he look like he's attacking me?” Vixen asked acidly. “I'm seeing a singular lack of bloodshed. And you were all just told to stand down, so do it!”
Reluctantly, spears and pitchforks and garden implements were lowered, and rocks were tossed aside, though not without some apprehensive looks and barely-audible muttering.
Vixen let herself take a deep breath finally.
“Are you staying here, milady?” Mirain asked.
“It would be just as well if I can get him out of the catnip. Could you find me, oh, a few feet of rope or leather strap? I can't promise it will be any use afterwards. And think of somewhere not far away that would be quieter? Even the corral the jennies are in would be fine, they're used to him, as long as there are no other animals nearby to be frightened.”
Mirain spoke quietly to the older man with the pitchfork, who looked rebellious but finally yielded and left, muttering under his breath.
“As for where... the threshing floor, perhaps? Not comfortable, but it's not used in this season and it will be at least somewhat private.”
“That will do. Where?”
Mirain gestured past her, in the direction of the other outbuildings. “I'll have to show you.”
The old man finally returned with a coil of something in one hand; Mirain accepted it and took a step towards Vixen, then hesitated. “Will he attack if I come nearer?”
“He likes you, so I doubt it, but go slowly.”
Dayr paused in his assault on the ribbon when Mirain came near, and watched him quizzically, but Vixen saw no signs of aggression. That could, of course, change very rapidly with catnip involved, but it was a good sign at least.
Mirain, catching on, uncoiled what he held—a harness rein, perhaps, since it didn't look like rope—and tossed the end in Dayr's direction. The great cat rolled to all fours and crouched, tail end wriggling, then pounced. With impressive courage, Mirain held his ground, though he did recoil perceptibly.
Vixen took pity on him and seized the leather strap herself. Even in this state, Dayr would never hurt her. Gratefully, Mirain moved back a few feet, but stayed near enough to guide her.
Dayr was quite willing to keep stalking the twitching end of the worn leather strap, jerking her repeatedly to a halt. Once, the strap broke, much closer to his end, and he worried and gnawed at the short piece for a moment before his attention came back to the moving end.
The threshing barn had huge sliding doors on two sides that could be opened both at once to allow a breeze through for separating the lighter chaff from the heavier grain. Mirain pushed one door open and stood well back so she could lead Dayr inside onto the well-worn wooden floor.
“I should stay with him,” Vixen said quietly. “I don't want any accidents to happen. I don't imagine we'll be there for lunch.”
“I'll explain,” Mirain said. “You're very brave, milady.”
She looked down at the cat who was batting at the leather strap to see if it would move again. “No, not really. He saved my life, a long time ago, and has been watching out for me ever since. And weyres aren't so hard to understand, on their own terms. They're usually less complicated and less contradictory than humans are.”
He gave her a thoughtful look. “Perhaps. I'll return in a moment.”
When he came back, it was with an armload of blankets or rugs, which he spread on the floor in front of one of the supporting pillars; the one on top looked finer and cleaner than the rest. “Scant comfort, milady, and I'm sure Jared will be displeased...”
“He has no call to be,” Vixen interrupted firmly. “I'm quite capable of sleeping outside on the ground to get here, so I'm sure I can endure having something softer than the bare wood to sit on. Thank you, I appreciate it. If it will make you feel better, you can leave the door open enough that you can check that I'm still safe.”
Mirain got the hint; he swept her a bow and retreated.
For a while, Dayr continued to play, kitten-like, chasing the leather strap around. Vixen paused to remove the soft slippers, down to her bare feet, and rather wished for Tylla's presence so she could get out of the heavy and rather constricting dress, which also grew excessively warm from even this much exertion.
With no more catnip in reach, though, Dayr wound down, and when Vixen seated herself on the bed of rugs, legs crossed and her back against the pillar, he sprawled with his head in her lap. The vibrant purr faded gradually down into silence as she sang shyani lullabies to him, stroking the soft fur of his face and head, throat and shoulders.
Vaguely, she was aware of low voices outside, but didn't care enough to bother looking in that direction.
Jared's voice she recognized, however, and Dayr's ears flicked, a growl rumbling low in his throat. Hoping Jared had more sense than to come nearer, she kept her attention on her feline friend, soothing him back to sleep.
“Milady?” That was Tylla, a distinct quaver in her voice; Vixen looked up quickly. The maid, with a well-filled tray, crossed the wooden floor towards her, though every line of her body spoke of understandable nervousness.
“Oh, please don't tell me someone ordered you to bring me lunch,” Vixen said in exasperation.
“No, milady, but it's well past, and you should eat.”
“You didn't need to, but thank you. It's all right, he won't hurt you, but I can't move. I'm afraid I've just made more laundry for someone to do. And probably repairs. With any luck, that's all. But we won't be able to check the damage until Dayr wakes up and I can get up. Which may have to wait until I can feel my legs again.” Tylla was clearly determined despite her fear, and Vixen's running chatter appeared to help reassure her. “Silly cat. Don't worry, weyres don't eat people, and this particular one once rescued a human who was lost and who would have died. He's the same person he has been since we got here. He just made a mistake and let a secret slip out that should have stayed a secret. In either form, he's still him. Although after a lot of catnip, well, the nearest parallel would be enough wine or ale to interfere with judgement. But he isn't like the kind who get aggressive.”
Tylla dropped to one knee to set the tray in easy reach. Dayr opened one eye to look at her sleepily, and yawned. Understandably, Tylla blanched and backed hastily away from the alarming display of teeth.
“That was just a yawn,” Vixen said. “Not an attack.”
Tylla edged back closer, and knelt. “Milady,” she said softly. “It's not my place to gossip, but I do think you need to know. Lady Alys is, well, hysterical, and claiming that you both are disruptive and dangerous. His Grace is currently refusing to see her.” Tylla hesitated. “Lady Alys has been asking me questions about you, milady. I'm refusing to answer. You're His Grace's guest and she has no right to ask me to break confidence that way. Leofric, who sees to milord,” she nodded towards Dayr, “is a good man and will also say nothing. Servants aren't supposed to gossip, but it does happen. We'll do what we can about that. But please be careful.”
Vixen sighed and closed her eyes, letting her head fall back against the pillar briefly. “Why under the sun does she dislike me so much? I haven't done anything to her, as far as I'm aware.”
“I couldn't say, milady, but I think Lady Lyris might be some help.”
“If she's still speaking to me.”
“I think that won't be a problem, milady.”
“Thank you. I'll try to stay out of trouble, although so far that hasn't been very effective. Maybe I should just stay quietly in my room.”
Tylla rose, watching Dayr warily. “I'll make certain there's something clean ready for you to put on when you come in, milady. And I'll bring something here for milord to put on.”
“I don't think I'm going to feel up to going to dinner. Something simple and comfortable, please?”
“You can leave Dayr's right inside the door, that's close enough for us to reach them once he wakes up.”
Alone again, Vixen looked down at the drowsy cat who was also her best friend, and sighed. “I have to admit, I'm rather enjoying the chance to be the lady I should have been, to whatever extent around the excitement, but for the sake of peace in Hyalin, I hope the tarika appear soon so we can go home and let things go back to normal here.”
Home to the more casual ebb and flow of time, punctuated by flurries of intensive activity and by the still times, without the formalities of status and convention.
Home to the community that she'd become a part of, despite the uncomfortable reminders now and then that she had grown up in a fundamentally different culture, and the necessary but inconvenient accommodation to a few aspects of her basic physiology.
Which was ridiculous. Shyani culture had accepted her, given her the freedom to be herself, given her an important job to do. Within human culture, she could only be a freak and an abomination, unless she denied and concealed a part of herself. She didn't belong here; she couldn't even be here for a few days without creating waves.
The contents of the tray were mostly light things: bread, fruit, thin-sliced cold meat. With it, though, was a covered bowl of thicker slices of what she decided was cold venison, roasted and lightly spiced. Whose idea had that been, to include something that would be to Dayr's tastes?
Between lullabies, she nibbled at her own, lost in thought.
Had she only been born right, was life here what could have been?
No, probably not. Lord Laures would never have sent a daughter to the University. If he had, though... as a younger son, Jared might have been able to get away with marrying the daughter of a Lord less wealthy and powerful. Then, when he inherited the title...
Regretfully, she banished the fantasy. There were just too many impossibilities in it, stacked on top of that initial inescapable one. Still, life could have involved a good marriage, if not as Lady, at least within a highborn household. Even with less formal education, she'd still have been literate, and one could learn a lot simply by reading.
Or it could have involved a marriage to a man who was physically abusive or unfaithful or simply treated her like a child, who placed little value on books or forbade her access to them. A highborn woman had little say in her own marriage. As daughter of a Lord, even a minor one, she'd certainly have been married off for the good of her father's house.
All in all, she would have been a very different person, walking a very different path.
Dayr stirred, yawned, and rolled to all fours for an enormous multi-stage stretch: tail up and chest down, then the reverse, then with his back arched upwards in the middle. He sat down with his tail around his feet and looked around, ears twitching.
“Well, good morning,” Vixen said drily.
Dayr blinked once, slowly, then the memory must have clicked into place: he shifted to human, entirely naked, still sitting on the wooden floor. “Uh-oh. How bad?”
“Aside from you nearly being killed? A lot of people have been badly frightened.”
“Sorry. I was waiting for Mirain, the horses mostly don't like me being inside, and I thought I smelled something, and...” He shrugged.
“I expected it was something like that. Get dressed, and let's go to our own rooms before we can cause any further trouble for today, shall we?”
- Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Scribble Hub: https://www.scribblehub.com/profile/57217/prysmcat/
Heads up: I do not plan to release any new fictions on RR, since it seems to be a poor fit - but I do plan to finish Transposition here. I'm not abandoning anything in mid-story! For other work (lots of it, ongoing), try Scribble Hub or my website.