Title: Dreaming of Cats
Prompt: Sleep and Sound
Disclaimer: The characters, worlds and situations of Chrestomanci belong to Diana Wynne Jones and her publishers. No money is being made from this fic.
Sometimes Cat dreams of being a cat.
Fiddle runs through Chrestomanci's gardens. He leaps over ruins, listening to the snow-covered autumn trees sing their songs. He adds his string symphony to the noise as summer comes around the corner.
It is a strange fact, which Cat will soon learn from Michael, that animals can hear the songs of plants. Cat will think of Stocks-and-Shares Bernard, and know that it is human thought which stops the nature-magic from taking root as a chorus in the mind.
Fiddle prowls the streets of Bowbridge, a proud tom. He rules over the town-cats with a claw-filled paw, even though they have many lives between them, and he has only one. They know he has a power they do not – perhaps it is something in the eyes? a white she-kitten thinks, as he approaches her during her first heat and she does not move a muscle.
Her kittens are born with nine-lives each, purring in harmony.
Sometimes Cat wakes flushed and embarrassed, his sheets wet. Michael hesitantly gives him a lecture on nocturnal emissions. As Cat leaves the classroom, feeling vaguely unclean, Roger blushes too, offering to play toy soldiers all afternoon.
Fiddle does not come back to the Castle with scrapes and cuts. His authority in the town is rarely challenged – just as the townsfolk defer to the Castle in all matters but cricket, the cats defer to Fiddle with vague thoughts of magical doom. However, on occasion a new Tom (who likes to be scratched below the jaw, which Aunt Mabel faithfully does when she visits the Vicar's wife) has entered town, cock-sure and nine-lifed, Fiddle has had to take him down.
The soldiers go wherever Cat wants them to, but Roger is the better strategist and wins most often. But Janet helped Cat with this strategy, thinking of World 12B, and so Cat's reserve soldiers float close to the ceiling. When Roger's soldier's advance, Cat's 'parachute' to the ground, attacking from behind.
Julia smiles, knots her handkerchief, and her brother's soldier's flee.
A family of rats (large black ones, their tails long and grey) nibble their way into a bag of horse oats. Their scratching echoes through the night, blending with the snorting of snoring horses, the scuffle of hooves in a dream.
Fiddle hears them before the stable-boys do. The chase lasts for hours, a dance across the exposed oak beams, dangling above haystacks. When Fiddle makes a catch he eats only the heads, leaving the rest on the kitchen threshold.
The sound of Cook's scream when guts squish between her toes echoes up the side of the Castle. Cat wakes to the noise, the taste of blood still in his mouth. He reasons that he bit his tongue while he slept, though he does not remember a nightmare. He was running in his dream, he knows that, but it was not the fear/chase/escape familiar in the Garden Nightmare, but something pleasant, which leaves him in a good mood.
He's rather hungry, and is disappointed there is no meat for breakfast.
Fiddle spends his days asleep – lolling on Janet's decorative cushions; upon the hood of Chrestomanci's shiny car when the engine is still warm; in the summer of the garden, one eye upon the archway where his Maker disappeared.
He has the most curious dreams of classrooms, of running on two-paws, of magic dancing with the sound of crackling flames upon his claws – which are fingertips.
He wakes. In winter he watches the fire once more. In summer he wishes for fingers again, as paws cannot play conkers the way the Boy can. Sometimes he magics his dinner, so it tastes of salmon instead of minced offal, but he has only one life, and so cannot make fire or fingertips.
Cat's dessert tasted of fish, when it was meant to be pudding. He thought it might be Julia, but then he saw her unknotted handkerchief beside her plate. Roger ate his own in large distracted gulps, slurping milk all the while – he was going through a growth spurt. Janet looked at him curiously, but he shook his head.
There was nothing wrong with salmon for dessert, he thought, and then wondered why he thought it.
The stars are brilliant that night, so he sleeps with the curtains flapping in the summer breeze.
The brilliance of the stars causes the trees of Chrestomanci's garden to sing nostalgically of spring; tonight Cat dreams of being an eagle - he hears the footfalls of prey, but has no time for the noise of the trees. He flaps through the open window, the loose curtains attempting to strangle his progress. As a large bird of prey, talons sharp, he spots a cat stalking in Autumn.
The eagle swoops, talons slicing through fur and flesh to scrape against bone.
The cat fights back, but his seeming-magic and his Enchanter's stare are useless against the dream-creature. Teeth grapple with feathers, a beak plucks at proud ears. Cat's sleep is distressed, and his sheets entangle around his legs/talons/paws.
The fight is successful, and with a sharp claw scraping across the eagle's left eye Fiddle escapes. The fall is less terrifying than the flight upward had been – Fiddle sees winter coming up to meet him, and thinks the white snow looks soft and inviting.
But Fiddle, unlike most cats, has only one life, and it is upon the snow that he loses it. The bright red of dream-blood becomes the soft splitters of a cheap violin, the splatter of wood lost to the night.
When Cat wakes he feels odd – stretched and thin, as though he has been weak with fever for days. His left eye aches, and dried blood cakes it shut. In the mirror across the room he can see his face, complete with fangs and whiskers and brown fur.
"Chrestomanci!" he screams.
The door opens, a green-leafed dressing gown appearing. "Good lord, Cat," he squints at Cat in the particular way which always made Cat's insides jump and try to hide, "you've gained a life."
Cat squints at himself – the fur dissolves: an old man with liver-spots and wrinkles; middle-aged with silver-gold hair; bearded in his twenties.
They find the broken violin in Chrestomanci's garden, discords playing in the long-grass around it, and resolve that the magic of the garden must have released Cat's life when Fiddle fell.
With silver touching his temples Cat listens to the trees of his garden. They dance somewhere to the East, telling of the beauty of sunshine and rain. He doesn't try to look, or visit – he's been there many times before, so he knows what the garden has to offer.