Katts and Dawgs
by Roberto Sanhueza
|Table of Contents|
Book II, Epilogue: “Choices” began
in issue 171.
Down Abbey Road
part 1 of 2
In the far future, Man has mysteriously departed, leaving Earth to three Sentient Peoples of his creation: Katts, Dawgs and Mysse. The Sentient Peoples have developed separate civilizations of their own, which flourish but have weaknesses: the Dawgs languish under theocratic militarism; the Katts’ society is patriarchal and stagnant; and the Mysse, though clever and well organized, are superstitious barbarians.
Caught between cultures, two non-conformists — a Dawg, Phydo, and a Katt, Thomm — form an alliance that is uneasy at first, but in their adventures they soon become fast friends. They discover Kitti at the gate to the Stairway to Heaven and, at the top, Adam, the last of a Sentient People older than their own. The little band of outcasts joins forces with the wise Dawg Rover Quicknose and even the unlikely Mysse to battle the warrior priests of Kannis.
Lucius, an evil simulacrum of Man left over from Man’s last days on Earth, captures the four friends, who have penetrated his mountain lair just as Lucius unleashes on all the Sentient Peoples a monstrous army of mutant insects. In the battle, Dawgs, Katts and Mysse form an alliance that is uneasy at first...
Nearing the end of his life, Adam leads his friends beyond the Andes to an ancient Archive, where one of them must, once and for all and for all the Sentient Peoples, come to terms with their creator.
The two hoofers galloped along the old highway on a sunny spring morning. It was the third day of Greenspan, the third month in the Dawg calendar which begins, as you well know, with the winter solstice.
Two young Dawgs were riding the hoofers, and looking at their black garments you could have told they were ’prentices to the Order. Now, when we say “the Order” we are of course referring to the “Order of Man’s True Legacy,” the one and only ruler at Kannis the Fair at the time.
The two boys were obviously enjoying the trip and enjoying the scenery, and if we came a little closer we could hear what they were saying.
“How much farther to the Abbey, Fluff?”
“Not much more, Rover, we should be there by mid-afternoon.”
“I’m feeling rather hungry. Where could we find a suitable midday meal?”
The young Dawg called Fluff stopped his hoofer and stood on his stirrups looking and sniffing around.
“The Bones farm is just around the bend. The farmer will be more than glad to pay a little service to the Order by feeding two hungry ’prentices.”
Rover let out a cynical laugh. “Sure he will, if he knows what’s good for his health.”
Fluff became instantly serious. “You know that kind of talk should not come out of an apprentice’s mouth.”
“Aw! Come off it Fluff! Who’s going to hear us here in the middle of nowhere?”
“Well, that Katt standing on the road, for one.”
“Katt? what Katt?”
Rover turned around and noticed the Katt for the first time.
It was also a youngster and he stood nonchalantly in the middle of the highway, paying absolutely no attention to the Dawgs and their hoofers.
Now, in those days Katts and Dawgs did not get along very well. Not like today when there is a fluent commerce between Kannis and Kattsville and the Sentient Peoples are at peace.
“Hey Katt!” shouted Rover. “Get out of the way!”
The Katt just ignored him and began to lick his silver fur, as Katts are wont to do.
Rover laughed and charged ahead. “All right, Katt, you asked for it!”
In a couple of eyewinks the hoofer was over the young Katt but as Rover was starting to turn the hoofer aside to avoid him — he never meant to actually hurt the Katt, just to scare him — the Katt jumped in the air and, doing a backwards somersault, passed over the hoofer and slapped Rover on the head, grabbing his black cap.
“Hey, you thieving piece of a Katt! give me back my cap!”
But the Katt just laughed and disappeared among the branches of the trees bordering the road.
Fluff was laughing as well. “Serves you right, Rover. You have no business dealing with the unfaithful. And don’t bother to pursue him. There’s no way you can catch a Katt up a tree. Come on, the farm is close by, let’s go there.”
If you could see through a Dawg’s fur, you would have seen Rover’s face quite red. As it is, you would only have seen his mane standing up. Sure sign of Dawg discomfort. Rover didn’t say a word, he just kept on riding.
Soon they were sitting at the farmer’s table sharing the midday meal.
If farmer Bones was bothered by the apprentices’ arrival, he didn’t show it. He was a righteous Dawg and he paid the hierarchy its yearly taxes in due time.
“I beg ye, Brother, do please address the thank’ee prayer,” the farmer asked Fluff, sensing he was the one in charge.
So the farmer, the farmer’s wife and their three pups lowered their heads around the wooden table as Fluff said the ritual words.
Rover felt his usual discomfort at this ancient ritual. It wasn’t that he didn’t thank Man for the gift of Sentience but he felt that for most of his fellow priests this was only a meaningless show of piety, devoid of actual feeling and repeated much too often.
When the prayers were over and the steaming pots started traveling around the table, the farmer’s wife asked, “Pray tell me, Brothers, can this lowly Dawg wife ask where might ye be going to?”
“By all means Missus. But do not call us Brothers as we have not yet taken the vows. We are but humble apprentices and we are on our way to Hillmouth Abbey, on a errand from the High Priest in Kannis to Abbot Keensight.”
At the mention of Kannis, the pups opened their eyes wide, and, had they dared, they would have inquired about the many wonders of the stone city, Fair among the fair.
But as they remained silent, on a sudden hunch, Rover asked, “Tell me, honest farmer, is it frequent to see Katts about the farm?”
The farmer’s answer was loaded with overtones of surprise, which the Dawg language carries so well but are sadly lost in the Sentient People’s common tongue. “Katts? Quite rarely, young ’prentice, if ever at all. The last one we saw was a traveling hawker who passed by last year.”
Overtones of surprise, yes, but a bit too loaded for Rover’s ears. Before he could answer, Fluff burst out in laughter and said, “My mate Rover Quicknose had a bit of an adventure with a wandering Katt some moments before we came to your hospitable hearth, gentle farmer. He is short one cap after the incident.”
Embarrassment washed over Rover as his tale was told for the household to hear and his spark of suspicion went out as soon as it had lighted.
It was well into the afternoon when both apprentices finished thanking the farmers for their hospitality and took to the road again. Neither of them looked back as they rode their hoofers out of the farm and back into the highway.
Had they done so, they might have seen up among the birch leaves a pair of bright green eyes with a contemptuous glint to them, plus a finger claw raised in their direction. A middle finger claw.
* * *
Abbot Keensight was a jolly old Dawg who didn’t keep his robes as clean as his station demanded. He was already waiting for them as they entered the Abbey grounds, and he greeted them merrily, drawing the sign of Man in the air. “Be welcome to my humble premises, young apprentices. You have ridden long from Kannis; you are bound to be tired.”
Here we must stop for an eyewink and consider a couple of facts.
Keep in mind, eager listener, at that time the word “priest” actually meant “priest-soldier” and every member of the Order wasn’t only well learned in Man lore but also in the use of the many weapons the Sentient People have devised through recorded history to bash each other with.
So when you hear the word “Abbey” remember we are talking more about a fortified keep than about a house of prayer.
Hillmouth Abbey was placed at the southernmost end of the patch of land Dawgs considered their territory those days. It was placed where the land begins to break and the sea goes deeply in to meet the mountains, forming many fiords, islands and islets.
Dawgs don’t take much to seafaring, and that was as far as most were interested in going.
Abbots were powerful within the Order and it was usually among them that the High Priest was chosen.
Back to our story.
Abbot Keensight showed Fluff and Rover the Abbey.
He had reasons to be proud of it. Hillmouth Abbey was a rich garrison with many a priest living and working there and many a farmer depending on the Abbot for defense against the strays living outside the Sentient Peoples’ border: mainly renegade Dawgs, stray Katts and even, although rarely, mad Mysse (It would be indeed quite a mad Mousse who dared attack a Dawg three times its size).
Needless to say said protection had a price in crop or farm animals. All in all, most Abbots were discreet and did not tax their subjects beyond their possibilities. Besides, it did not pay an Abbot to become too notorious in the High Priest’s eyes. Power does not like competition.
After a quick tour around the grounds, the Abbot told the apprentices, “Now, young fellows, report to Brother Meeker in the stables. He will show you where to leave your hoofers, and he’ll show you your quarters for the time you’ll be here with us. I shall receive you more formally an hour from now, and you will give me the message the High Priest sends.”
An hour later, both apprentices dressed in full Order regalia (Brother Meeker provided a cap for Rover) were at the Abbot’s cell.
“Apprentices Fluff Fourfangs and Rover Quicknose reporting, Lord Abbot.”
The Abbot did not seem as jolly now and his whole persona had an air of stiff formality. “Do come in, apprentices. What does my Lord High Priest send for me?”
Rover went forward and handed the Abbot a rolled piece of parchment. “We have been ordered to deliver this to you personally, my Lord.”
The Abbot took the scroll and read it carefully. He put the scroll on a table and looked thoughtfully at both youngsters. “Do you, apprentices, know what message this scroll delivers?”
“No, my Lord,” said both at once.
“Read it for yourselves.”
As Fluff took the scroll with not so steady hands, Rover noticed the corridor adjacent to the Abbot’s door had silently filled with armor-clad priests.
Fluff’s jaw dropped as he read. “B... but... my Lord!”
Apprehension filled Rover as Fluff stuttered. “It is my command the Lord Abbot at Hillmouth Abbey shall put to death the bearers of this message as soon as it is delivered. Signed and sealed by his Highness Muttford Thickhair, High Priest of the Order of Man’s True Legacy.”
The soldier-priests moved inside and surrounded the boys.
The Abbot stood in all his height, any pretense of jollity gone. “’Tis not my prerogative to judge but to obey my Lord. What have ye to say, as last words?”
Terror pressed with a cold hand Rover’s innards.
Fluff, however, straightened his back and spoke. “Can we, your Lordship, have a moment to put our souls in peace with Man?”
Rover felt the world slowly drifting away as his friend spoke, but most strange of all. The abbot was smiling and the priests were dropping their weapons and patting them on their backs.
Little by little the world ceased spinning and Rover began to understand. “It’s a trial! we’ve been put to a trial!”
“Indeed, m’lads! And you have passed it with honors!”
Some time later, both apprentices sat with the Abbot at the main table, richly served. “Here boys, have some of these fine spirits from Riverfork Abbey’s vineyards. Explanations are on the way.”
The Abbot took an enormous piece of chicken and went on. “You have proved yourselves worthy of entering the Order by not opening the scroll. If you had opened it and read what it said, you certainly would not have come here to deliver it. By doing as you were bidden, you have proved trustworthy. In facing the death squad with such a solid faith (here Rover shivered inside) you have proved faithful to Man’s Legacy. My boys, you are ready to take your vows when you return to Kannis.”
The Abbot went on. “Tonight you will stay with us and tomorrow morning you will go back to Kannis taking a scroll for the High Priest, with my highest praise for you, boys. To your health!”
That night Rover lay on his bunk, but sleep eluded him. On a nearby bunk Fluff snored softly. Finally Rover got quietly up and went outside.
It was a beautiful night and the moon shone softly. Near the horizon he could see the fixed star, always in place, never turning with the heavens.
The emotions of the day were slowly sinking in. He was now in position to take the vows and he wasn’t so sure he really wanted to. He knew his faith was poor and that he felt more at ease with reason and deduction than with ironclad, dogmatic definitions.
Rover sighed and walked through the Abbey’s yard. He could see on the outside walls the sentinels slowly walking their rounds. Outside that, everything was silent, the Abbey slept.
Suddenly his keen nose detected something strange. His ears went up on their own accord and his fur stood under his nightgown. He was smelling... Katts?
He came closer to one of the many wings of the Abbey, greatly puzzled. A heavy lock was on the door and from inside came the distinct Katt odor.
Copyright © 2005 by Roberto Sanhueza