many hats, one cat

Once upon a time, there was a cat.

The story about Jack the Miller's Son and a pair of boots and an ogre and an easily deceived king was, shall we say, exaggerated. So was the story about the Italian rake and the rich old man's wife and the plump tabby. So were quite a few other stories.

But there were stories.

And one day the cat, old and battered, slunk his way across the ocean (via ship - really, did you think that cats could walk on water or something?) and all the way to Japan, where, he had been told, he could find someone who could make his wish come true.

He licked his whiskers. "I'm tired," he explained to the Dimension Witch.

"Tired?" Yuuko inquired, putting dishes of salmon and cream in front of him. "I'm sure a gentleman like yourself could find any number of households who would welcome you. Surely you haven't come so far just to ask me about something as minor as that."

The cat stretched and scratched himself, tail flicking in embarrassment. "It's not quite like that," he said. "I - ahem, this is most shameful, but - I have to admit it. I've got to like the whole process of helping the little buggers."

"Little buggers?"

"Heroes," the cat said. "Those irritating little vermin. You won't tell any other cats about this, will you? I'd be mocked in public for the rest of my life."

"I wouldn't dream of it," Yuuko said. "What is said between these walls is strictly private. But what would you like me to do for you?"

"Let me keep on doing it." The cat flattened himself on the ground and crept forward hopefully. "I'm sure that a wise and well-kept lady like yourself can manage some sort of little arrangement to allow me to keep on greasing the wheels of heroic stupidity. I wouldn't even have to mention it to anyone else."

"Mention it?" Yuuko enquired, raising an eyebrow.

"Well, it would be a great shame if I were to leave here disappointed and end up telling every hero from Andorra to Zanzibar that you were open for business and ready to fulfil their wishes, provide magic swords, seven-league boots, fairy godmothers, and . . . but I'm sure that I don't need to make a list," the cat said. He licked his whiskers again.

"Blackmailing me is a dangerous business," Yuuko said warningly.

"Blackmail is such an ugly word," the cat said. "Let's call it . . . incentive?"

"I begin to see how you've got so many heroes past the mark," Yuuko said. She picked up the cat and petted him. "It's that little bit of sadist in you, isn't it?"

"Just doing my job," the cat said. He rolled upside down and let her scratch his belly. "That's all I want, really. Just to keep on doing my job."

"I believe that I can manage such an arrangement," Yuuko said. She kept on scratching. "There will be a cost, of course, but I can promise you continued existence, good health, and I'll even trade what's left of your nine lives for one that you can remove and hide elsewhere."

The cat looked up at her through slitted eyes. "That sounds too good to be true."

"Let's call it my charity for the day," Yuuko said. "In return for all those heroes you've helped along their path." And if her smile was perhaps a little disturbing (one might even say foreshadowing), it was accompanied by another dish of cream that would have distracted better cats than this one.

And thus it was that a human who called himself the Marquis de Carabas made his way to London, on the grounds that it was as far as he could get from a certain lady in Japan who had, as he put it, "screwed him over even worse than a fairy godmother". And while in time he assisted many heroes, he refrained from travelling back to Japan, on the grounds that the Dimension Witch might turn him into something even worse than a human next time.