Elam the Mule did not trust the cat. From the very first moment he had witnessed it float in the air and then turn and speak to the dancing one, Elam knew the party was more just a simple traveling group. The mule had hoped to return to a farmstead, where there was sunshine in the spring and warm hay in the barn. Life was simple. He missed that. But the smelly, toothy ones had come in from the North. They had hurt his family, killing big farmer-man, and burning the barn. They had even tried to catch Elam, presumably to eat, the Mule thought darkly. But Elam had always been faster than he looked, maybe he just had more horse than donkey in him.
Grazing on a soft patch of ground near a bubbling creek, Elam narrowed his brown eyes on the nimble feline. Cats were always trouble. Even back at the Farm, cats were just so…mysterious. Creeping in and out of the shadows, occasionally killing mice or birds who flew too close. Indulgent creatures who looked like they were moving even when sitting still. Now, dogs he understood. Simple creature themselves, wanting to please the humans. Enjoying the sunshine and the smells. Maybe a little too nosy for his taste; Elam remembered when Old Joe had barked so loud that big farmer-man had come running and found Elam into the oats. Tattle-tale, the mule snorted. But still, even when Old Joe had gotten his head stuck in a bucket, he was a good dog. Elam reminisced how the dog had warned the family of the approaching toothy ones. It had been his courage that allowed milk lady and the two little ones to flee into the woods, as the dog and big farmer-man had tried to fight of the newcomers. There had been so much blood…
The disappearing light shaded down the mule’s back, as he braced himself against the wind and memories of Before. The cat sauntered by, its tail high. Elam stared down at the cat. The cat stared back.
We need to talk. The cat glanced up.
How do you do such things! Elam demanded.
Not important. The cat answered. But was is…is you. Why are you dragging your feet so? I know you can move faster. Are you afraid? Hurt?
___Who says I can move faster?_
_______The horses told me_. The cat tilted his head. Elam glared at the others, who pointedly ignored him. Horses, Elam thought, were vain, meddlesome creatures who should keep themselves quiet.
I am not hurt or afraid.
The cat stared back.
Ok, maybe a little afraid…These people are not trustworthy. You are not trustworthy.
What exactly is wrong with them? The cat queried.
Elam snorted. __Everything! Everything is wrong with them. The dark one hints of blood! The shadows cling to him. The short fancy one should not be travelling. She is with foal! The Arrow one walks too silently and his tiny one buzzes to close! He picked me. I am here because of him._
__And me?_ The cat asked.
You and the dancing one are the worst! You too quick! You play with forces better left alone! It was not this way Before.
I see. The cat murmured thoughtfully. Licking his paw quietly, he inched his ear. You miss your home. The Before?
__Of course. It was Peace. It was Home._
__Well I know of another who misses his home._ The cat turned towards the murmuring adventurers sitting by the fire. ___Do you see the fair one? What do you think of him?_
_____I…I do not know yet of him. He is quiet…but not silent. He is the sad one._ They watched the young ranger, sitting back a little bit from the other four figures. His head bowed over a blade.
__Yes, he is sad. Do you know of him? He too lost a family to the orcs of the North. He was a farmer and now he has nothing. His home and family are gone. He misses the Before as well._
__A farmer-man?_ The mule looked over at the figure.
You may not trust the rest of us…I can’t exactly blame you. And I do not have the power to bring you back the Before. It too is gone. But Hamreth grieves too. Maybe you can grieve together. The cat turned and walked back towards the fire.
The next morning the sun rose bright and the adventurers were up early to start the day. But before Hamreth could saddle the older mule (who very much preferred to carry the lighter packs than a fully grown man), the previously skittish brown mule bummed into the ranger. Refusing to let the man saddle the other, the mule stood calmly as the Hamreth signed, frustrated.
“What do you want you silly mule?” Hamreth signed as he scratched the mule’s ear.
Suddenly, the cat popped his head up from the grass.
__His name is Elam and he wants you to ride him._