He hadn’t known what to expect. He knew he would probably meet cats with whom he was probably related and cats he had spoken to through the glass or from inside the tunnel of sun and rain, and cats he had heard of through the Great Circle. He hoped he would meet one or two of the famous cats he had held in high esteem for their wonderful singing voices, their awesome beauty or their legendary hunting skills. And he knew he would be reunited with a beloved friend. The reality took him completely by surprise, though. As he stepped off the bridge onto the springy turf (a feeling which he found slightly startling, though pleasant) he found himself face to face with a huge crowd of cats of all sizes, shapes, colours and ages – there was just a sea of faces, all smiling, with their eyes fixed firmly on him. And the noise! It sounded like distant thunder rolling over the mountains and it kept on rolling – into his ears, his paws, his whiskers, and it grew louder as the crowd of purring cats began to walk towards him. As they came close enough, each of them either touched his nose with theirs, or extended a paw, or pressed their bowed head against his, and then moved on. He sat, a little taken aback at this outpouring of love and respect until, gradually, the crowd dissipated and he could actually see some daylight. And that is when he saw her, sitting a few feet away from him, smiling and blinking away a small tear.
“Tuffy…” They touched noses and licked ears and bonked foreheads, and he gazed into the familiar, beloved grey face and was forced to stifle a sniff. “I’ve missed you. We’ve all missed you” Tuffy smiled and gave her old friend an extra lick on his woolly ears. Life was sweet on the far side of the Bridge, but now it was just a little sweeter.
The sun was setting as the two friends strolled side by side through the birch glade and onto the path that led away from the Bridge. Loki’s senses tried to take in all the new sights and scents – there were so many – the smell of fresh grass and newly cut hay and pine trees and lilac blossom and the distant, salty tang of a far off ocean, the rosy glow of the setting sun reflecting on the silver bark of the birch trees and the tiny dancing shadows cast on the grass by the leaves, the loud rustling, squeaking and whispering, accompanied by the occasional glimpse of a furtive kitten face popping up from behind a stone…
“Why are all those kittens following us?” he asked.
“You’re famous” Tuffy replied, “and I don’t think they’ve ever seen anything quite like you before”. She stopped and gave a low murr and, slowly and tentatively, kittens began to emerge from behind every rock, tree, bush and hillock. As their walk resumed, they found themselves at the apex of a flying wedge of over-excited kittens and young cats, all bursting with pride at being allowed to accompany this magnificent creature to his destination.
“Where are we going?”
“To the meadow – for story time”
“Oh good – I love stories. Who’s telling them?”
He cleared his throat, nervously surveying the audience ranged at his feet, and shuffled a little on the molehill on which he stood.
“I’m sorry,” he began “but I don’t know many stories. In fact, I only really know one – my own, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I stick to that.” The audience all hunkered down contentedly, tucking in paws and curling up tails. He cleared his throat once more…
“I was lucky enough to live in a castle. It was a true fortress, keeping us safe from the dangers of the world outside. With me lived a handsome lord in a black velvet cloak, a venerable grey lady and two young squires. We were also lucky enough to have two of the most faithful, loyal and useful hoomin retainers, who hunted prey for us, prepared our meals, kept us well groomed and provided us with many comfortable places to sleep. We wanted for nothing and our happy home remained unchanged for some time. Then, one day, one of the young squires (I forget which) came running in to tell us that he’d found two urchins lurking under the desk and they wouldn’t speak to him and refused to come out. Well, I found this hard to believe, so I went to see for myself and – sure enough – when I bent down and peered with one eye under the desk, there were two pairs of eyes peering back at me. “Who are you?” I asked. “Who are you?” replied a set of eyes. “What are you doing in there?” I asked. “What are you doing out there?” replied the other set. I sighed. It was going to be a long night….
Eventually, the hoomins were able to persuade the urchins to come out from their hiding place. We all took a good look at them, sniffed them carefully and voted almost unanimously to keep them (Sammy voted against – he was afraid they would eat all the crunchies). So, despite the fact that they smelt a bit funny and had no manners to speak of, they became part of the household. For several weeks, the halls of our castle rang to the sound of thundering kitten paws and the crash of falling ornaments, and occasionally the squeaks of protest as one of the young squires decided that a bit of chivalry was called for and cuffed an urchin round the ear. I would take refuge in my favourite sleeping box for a bit of peace and quiet, but it would be only a matter of minutes before the small she-urchin would push herself in beside me and keep me awake by sucking noisily on my fur. I found this most bizarre, but Tuffy told me she was just missing her mama, so I tolerated her and I soon found myself warming to this odd little creature.
The he-urchin, in the meantime, found many areas of common ground with the young squires, mostly food, destruction and sprawling on his back with his legs in the air. As time passed, we grew accustomed to their joyful presence, until we could no longer remember what life had been like before they came. They took on the task of keeping the castle walls safe from wild beasts, by glaring through the window at them, and Little Tory Longtail put herself in charge of checking our food, before it was served, for substance and quantity. She also began to spend more time with the grey lady, whose task it was to educate her in cat lore and the ways of the Moon and stars. Truffles, as the only female, was the household’s representative and advocate at the Great Circle, a job of great responsibility which could not be undertaken by any cat without the necessary education and, although none of us liked to think about it, a time would come when Tory would be obliged to take on that role herself.
That day came sooner than we expected – and long before I was ready. Our beloved Truffles told us it was time to say goodbye and I was so unprepared and terribly sad, not just to lose our dear sister and friend, but sad too that Little Tory Longtail’s kittenhood was so soon over and that she no longer needed our protection. In fact, it would be she who would be protecting us and watching over the household, as Tuffy had done for all those years. Tory crept into my sleeping box for the last time that night and we were glad for each other’s company, for the next day Tuffy set off on her journey to the Bridge.
So Tory sat in the window in the last hours before dawn and sang Truffles’ name to the Moon and we all listened as the song was picked up by every cat in the Circle. Then, in accordance with the tradition, we looked up and waited, and, sure enough, a tiny star appeared like a jewel in the night and sparkled brighter than the others and I thought “Is it her…is that our friend?” And I saw the star wink with an emerald light and I knew. Our sister was watching us now and she would watch us forever.
And then, the time came when I knew I too had to leave and I asked them for their help and it was gladly given, even though it made them sad. And I said my goodbyes to the young squires and to my darling urchins and to my old friend Sammy and told them I would be watching over them until the time came to meet again. Then I said goodbye to my hoomins, which was much, much harder…”
He tailed off, unable to think what to say next. Tuffy licked the top of his head and pointed into the sky. All the cats in the meadow fell silent and looked up. It was a cloudless night and the silver crescent of the new moon (his favourite) hung low over the horizon. Then, as he watched, a small star appeared winking with an emerald light and, beside it, another, fiery amber like a topaz. It burned in the sky like the flare of a match and, on the breeze, he thought he could hear the echo of a familiar feline voice, singing his name. And all the cats in the meadow joined in the song, to give thanks to the Moon for the life of Loki.
Much later, Loki and Tuffy sat together in the meadow, tranquil and content. All around them were curled up cats and piles of slumbering kittens.
“Where do we sleep?” asked Loki
“Anywhere we like,” Tuffy replied “but tonight I thought you might appreciate this..”
She stood aside to reveal a battered cardboard box, and Loki couldn’t help but grin. He climbed in and tested its construction (a little shabby – good) and size (just a little too small for his huge frame – perfect!) and he circled around ten or eleven times just to get the feel of it. Once he was oriented to his satisfaction – positioned so that he could see his new star if he chose to open an eye – he began to doze.
A small sound brought him back to wakefulness and he found, peering over the rim of his box, a small black kitten gazing at him with huge saucer eyes.
“Yes…?” he asked. The kitten said nothing, but continued to gaze at him. “Shoo…off you go. It’s time you were asleep.” The kitten’s eyes began to mist, and her lip trembled a little.
Loki sighed deeply and rolled his eyes.
“OK…just for tonight” and he shuffled over to make room.