Katts and Dawgs
|Table of Contents|
|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.
“But then... Why did Man really leave the Earth?”
Scholar Rover Quicknose smiled at young Phydo. “That question has been asked many, many times, Phydo, and no absolute answer can be given.”
“What do you mean, ‘absolute’?”
Rover remained silent for a moment, gathering his thoughts. “By ‘absolute’ I mean there is no proven answer, only what the Order of Man’s True Legacy tells us is the orthodox answer.”
“Meaning that it’s not necessarily true?”
Rover shuddered in spite of himself and looked nervously around.
They were alone in the barn which had served the last few years to give the children of the farming community the holy teachings. One by one the Dawg children had abandoned the lessons to join their parents in the farm work and Phydo was the only one who remained.
“You will have to learn, young Phydo, there are some questions which are best not asked. Not aloud anyway.”
Phydo only stared at Rover, not quite comprehending.
Rover sighed. “What I mean to say, Phydo, can be shortly summarized. First, there is some evidence, some remaining ruins of an ancient civilization.
“Second, there is the Stairway to Heaven, an ancient tower of some sort which can be seen if you walk way up north from the northernmost border of the Sentient Peoples’ land. It is obviously not a natural structure. It begins at ground level and goes way up into the clouds until you can’t see it any more. Some say it ends in the Fixed Star, the one which doesn’t move through the heavens with the others but stays always in the same place.”
“Have you seen it, Scholar?”
“Which one, the Stairway or the Fixed Star?”
“The Stairway, of course, everybody can see the Fixed Star at night!”
Rover smiled inside. He enjoyed forcing Phydo to express himself clearly. “Only from a distance, but I’ve seen it. It exists, and it is no legend.”
“So, quite likely Man existed and He created us. But still you haven’t told me why Man left Earth.”
“Let’s consider orthodoxy. The Order of Man’s True Legacy was created among Dawgs to maintain the memory and teachings of Man.” Not to dominate and abuse everyone, added Rover to himself.
Aloud he went on. “To achieve that goal, the Order exhibits some really wonderful and strange props. There are in Kannis Castle some tablets made of a material that is neither wood, fabric, leather, nor metal. It does not age, rust or change in any noticeable way. These tablets are engraved with a most strange script which only the initiated can decipher.”
“Can you read it, Scholar?”
Rover laughed. “Of course not. When I chose not to take the vows and I became a secular scholar I also chose not accede to all the secrets and mysteries the Order is so fond of. But then again, not every Brother in the Order can accede to them, either. Only the high ranks.”
“And those tablets tell why Man left?”
“I repeat, I can’t read them, and I have only seen them from some distance on the very rare occasions they are shown outside Kannis Castle. I can only tell you what orthodoxy says.”
And so for a while Rover told Phydo how Man had left the Earth to seek transcendence beyond the heavens. But not without first creating the Sentient Peoples: Dawgs, Katts and Mysse, who were left to grow and fill the Earth.
They talked and slowly the morning went on until Phydo, startled, looked at the sun outside the barn. “Cripes! It’s time I went back to farm work! my father lets me take the lessons only until noon.”
Scholar Rover smiled with affection as his only student left the barn in a hurry. He gathered his few utensils and started his long way back to Kannis.
“Is it worth it, Rover old boy? All that effort for only one child?” he asked himself. “Yes it is,” was the certain answer.
“A single candle may in time light up many others. Quit grumping and start walking, old Dawg!”
A little later his scholar red robe was only a blotch of color on the way to Kannis.
* * *
“My Lord Abbot, there is someone to see you outside.”
“Someone, Dokus? It must be an important someone for you to interrupt my rest.”
Dokus only smiled, unafraid of Abbot Fourfangs’ implied threat. He had been the Abbot’s main Dawg for a long time now and he knew his master well. “Importance is a relative matter, my Lord. Judge for yourself. Mongreel Strongarms is outside asking to be received by you.”
“Mongreel! The High Priest’s henchdawg!”
“The very same, my Lord.”
“Well, ask him in, Dokus, ask him in!”
Abbot Fluff Fourfangs sat in his cell in Riverfork Abbey. The ascetic look of his quarters did no justice to his wealth and power. He wore no fancy robes, only the black ones that signaled him as warrior priest of the Order of Man’s True Legacy. He made no move and only sat there as an old Dawg made his entrance.
The newcomer bowed deeply. “Thank you, my Lord Abbot, for receiving me on such a short notice.”
Fourfangs contemplated a Dawg with a canny face and a heavy build. He knew well how dangerous a Dawg Mongreel was. “You are the kind of person who always has something interesting to tell, Mongreel. Speak up.”
“Allow me, my Lord, to be blunt and go straight to the point.” And he looked at Dokus with a meaningful glance.
“You may speak in front of Dokus. He has my utmost confidence.” Meaning he wouldn’t be caught alone with such an ill-famed assassin as Mongreel if he could help it.
Mongreel shrugged. “As you wish my Lord.”
He looked Fourfangs squarely in the eyes and let it out. “The High Priest is very ill. He does not have long to live.”
Both Fluff and Dokus’ ears went up and they looked at each other.
“If what you say is true, Mongreel, it has been a very well-kept secret. I haven’t heard about it, and my sources are usually reliable.”
Mongreel let out a dry smile. “Nobody knows this. Not even Brother Head Physician, up at Kannis Castle.”
“If so, why do you bring this information to me, Brother Mongreel?”
The visitor seemed to doubt for a moment, but his path was already chosen. “Fairfan Keensight’s succession is going to be a tough one. Many Abbots will go anywhere and will do anything to occupy Kannis Castle’s main tower. So I thought it wise to address the most powerful one in advance.”
“And that one is I, according to you.”
Mongreel stood in all his height, his tail slashing inadvertently. “We have had dealings in the past, my Lord Abbot. Let us not fool each other. You make no show of wealth; you display no armies; but I have known all along where power is.”
Fourfangs smiled, pleased. “Some say I am a trifle too young to become High Priest.”
“Power is ageless, my Lord.”
“Should the information you bring turn out to be true... No, Mongreel. I do not mean to doubt you. I am only trying to set things straight. Should this be true, I would be in a very favorable position to buy some Abbots and to threaten some others...”
Fourfangs let the words die, and his face took on a very mean expression. He then shook his head and turned again towards Mongreel. “So, what do you ask in exchange for such a powerful break as the one you offer?”
Mongreel bowed even deeper than before. “Naught, my Lord. Just remember, when the tides of power shift, who helped you. Remember as well I have served the present High Priest for a long time, and such expertise as I have might prove very useful for the next one when sailing the troubled waters of transition.”
This time Fourfangs laughed out loud. “Very well put, Mongreel. I see your timing is perfect. You know exactly when to change masters. We have a deal. Leave me now and wait for my call.”
Mongreel straightened up, as if to say something. He seemed to think better of it, bowed a final time and left with no further words.
“What do you think of this, Dokus?” Asked the Abbot when they were alone.
“I don’t like it. It could be a trap. You should not trust him, my Lord.”
Fourfangs smiled sweetly. “You should know by now I trust no one, Dokus. No one!”
Dokus only bowed. He knew indeed.
* * *
At the time of the High Priests’ rule, the University of Kannis was not the bright center of higher learning it would become with the advent of the Mayors, many years later. It was merely a gracious display of thin tolerance from the religious hierarchy to secular science.
Head Scholar Spot Finenose was well aware of this, and one of his main concerns was to keep a low profile lest his ever-present fear of provoking the hierarchy’s anger come true.
In this particular evening, the Head Scholar was addressing Scholar Rover Quicknose. “How long do you plan to continue teaching out there in the woods, Rover?”
“Sadly, not much longer. The children I started with have grown and all but one have dropped out by now.”
“And you’re going to all that trouble for one child?”
Rover sighed. “We’ve gone over this before, Spot. There are too precious few freethinkers among Dawgs, and while the Order is eager to get as many youngsters as they can in their ranks, we find very few young minds willing to shun the possibility of a sure roof and meal for something so abstract as knowledge.”
“And this youngster you talk about is one of them?”
A smile lighted up Rover’s furry face. “You should hear him talking and asking shrewd questions. He shall make a fine Scholar.”
“If his parents allow him to.”
“Oddly enough, farmer Bones, his father, is quite broad-minded and does not feel much love for the Order.”
“Then let’s hope he ends up here with us. We need new people.”
* * *
Young Phydo Bones woke up to the sound of angry voices on the front door. He got up from his bed and peeked out of his window to see his father facing the Abbot’s soldiers.
He put on some clothes in a hurry and ran to the door in time to see his father leaving the farm house with the soldiers. “What... what is it, mother?” asked the frightened child.
Momma Bones tried to hold back her own fears and answered in the steadiest voice she could find. “Nothing much, Phydo. Brother Dokus, the tax collector, asked for your father over at the Abbey.”
But they both knew what that could mean. Quite well.
A while later, Farmer Bones faced Brother Dokus in a small, bare cell in the Abbey proper.
Dokus sat on chair by a table with some scribbled pieces of parchment over it. He did not look up as the farmer came in but rather continued to write on the parchment with a quill.
Farmer Bones just stood there, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, without daring to speak up or interrupt in any way.
Finally, Brother Dokus raised his head and pretended to notice Bones for the first time. “Farmer Bones! Do please come closer. I summoned you here so we can talk about last years’ harvest.”
Bones felt a cold sweat run down his back. He knew was Dokus was aiming at.
Dokus pretended to check on his scrolls. “It seems, Farmer Bones, you are not declaring the totality of the crops you harvested. A mistake, surely.”
Bones just gulped.
Copyright © 2006 by Roberto Sanhueza