The cat came back the very next day: it just couldn’t stay away. Bruce, that is. He may not be a normal feline, but since he looks and acts like a cat, I’m going to call him a cat. Even if he does have an extra effective knack for fading in and out and can talk.
Not that talking is all that unusual here. There was that toad. Even the cockatrice I killed early on complained about my methods. So I take a talking cat in stride.
Now that he’s let on that he talks, he talks constantly.
He still believes he is in charge, too. Which bugs Gwen to no end. But she can’t admit it because of some silly rule of dragon honor. Naturally we all find ourselves bound one way or another. I have no way home. Gwen doesn’t have a cat. And Bruce, he knows things and will occasionally share.
“I have a message for you, Sydney”
“I ran into an old friend of yours. Tricky fellow. Large. Black. Definitely not a bird one should chase, let alone catch.”
“Yep. He had some ideas for you to ponder.”
By now, Gwen was also paying attention. But Bruce is first and foremost a cat.
“I don’t know, I wasn’t listening by then. And then you left on this quest, and were going in the right direction. So I tagged along in case you ran into something you couldn’t handle.”
Sydney’s frustration was mounting. The exercise was described as simple. All he really had to do was get from one side of the garden to the other. But the garden kept changing shape, and occasionally he’d turn a corner and find himself in another part entirely. Solving a maze without a view from the outside is hard enough. But solving it when the maze is constantly changing and is not simply connected is even harder. He knew that if he could only calm down and focus, his growing ability to draw on his sword’s powers would assist. But that is always easier to say than to do. And his score on the exercise will include the time spent as well, so he needed to hurry up and solve the maze. The more he stews about his dilemma, the worse it gets, of course.
He’s currently in a spot with a politely bubbling fountain at the center, and a continuous ring of hedge around the edge. There’s no sign of where he stepped in, and the dry flagstones are not showing any footprints. There are stone benches on four sides of the fountain, each offering a similar view of the fountain and the hedge beyond.
He drops onto one of the benches, and considers his next move. He forces himself to close his eyes and clear his mind, then draws the sword and lays it across his lap where he can see reflections in its blade.
The reflection of the fountain is subtly wrong. He shifts a little, and realizes that the reflection of the far wall is also wrong. Wrong in the sense that it differs from the reality he perceives with his eyes. Which may not be a surprise, lots of things he’s meeting now that Gwen is training him hide differences between perception and reality.
In the reflection he sees a cat walk nonchalantly into the fountain area, take a drink, and walk out again.
“He was just going to lie to you, you know” explained Gwen after chasing the talking frog away.
“I know. He’s been popping up now and then. He told me he was lying. Which could have been a lie. But he’s just a frog, isn’t he?”
“Sydney, you have a lot to learn about this place.”
As we look away for a while, Gwen and Sydney chatted for about many things that Sydney would need to know. Gwen didn’t give him many direct answers, just told him things he should seek to learn more about. And suggested ways to do that. By this point, it was getting on towards sundown.
“You should camp in the orchard for the night” offered Gwen. “I need to change, and attend to a few things for a while. The orchard and this garden are under my protection, so you will be safe here tonight. We’ll talk more in the morning.” Gwen disappeared in a swirl of skirts, leaving Sydney somewhat overwhelmed.
He decided that his best course of action was to do as she suggested. She hadn’t quite come out and said that she was the dragon he met earlier, but he wasn’t stupid either. He was a guest in her domain, and she might very well be the most powerful entity he had met so far.
The orchard was just beyond the garden, with a clear space suitable for camping surrounded by fruit trees. It extended as far as he could see in this part of the valley. He made himself comfortable near a grand old apple tree and settled in to contemplate all he’d learned.
Stubbornness has always run in my family. At every turn, we’ve always turned back and tried again. This has not always ended well, lots of effort has been sunk into goals doomed to fail. And yet, occasionally the persistence pays off.
I’ve wondered at times if there is a system to it, of if the universe is just random.
I know it isn’t rewarding the “pure of thought” or “pure of mind and body” because some of those who succeeded were clearly scoring low on those scales. I mean, “chicken racing”? Really?
And “frog jumping”? Again, really?
Especially when after setting up the contest, you rig it by feeding iron slugs to your opponent’s frog. Just to win a bar bet. And then when caught red handed, you parley that into an annual event?
Some kind of strange clumsy dumb luck is clearly at work, there. Failure leads to failure, as odd stepping stones through the swamp of failure to learn, failure to succeed in industry, and failure to buy property that isn’t nearly all swamp.