I hadn’t ever actually been at the top of Spencer’s Butte at night before. All around me the Willamette Valley was dark, with lights shining up from Eugene nearby, Springfield a bit further east. I don’t yet know the names of the towns further out, and anyway my eyesight isn’t that great, even with the glasses. I was nervous about snakes, but consoled myself with the knowledge that they weren’t any more likely to be atop the cold rocks at night than I was. Diurnal creatures, rattlesnakes. Not so the cougars – shit. I really, really did not want to run into any cougars on my way back down the trail. Why was I up here, again? Surely I could be conducting this interview in the safety of my own home? I mean, if it wasn’t for me, none of this story would be getting written. Why couldn’t I make those calls?
“Because you are a humble and generous interviewer who respects my wishes for this to be low key. Clearly. Now, step inside before some one sees you!”
A doorway opened in the middle of solid granite, light that wasn’t quite light spilling out into the night. “Come on, hurry up!”
“Erm,” I said, ducking through the doorway. The door closed up fast behind me with a zipping sound that made little sense, and my host lead me into the chamber. With the door shut, the room seemed a bit like . . .well, a tomb. Plain, seamless granite walls all around, two chairs set in the center of the room, a table with steaming mugs of something sitting between. My host wore his hood up, as if to disguise who he was. As if the tail peeking out from under his cloak didn’t give him away. As if his hands that weren’t quite paws and weren’t quite hands either didn’t name him for me. As if I didn’t recognize his voice. “Keti.” I reached for his hood. “Is this necessary?”
He ducked away but he let the hood fall just the same. His grin was all teeth and not exactly reassuring. “I’m already working against her orders as it is. I’m not going to get talking to people I shouldn’t be talking to. My Queen will have my hide.”
“This isn’t that sort of an interview, Keti. It’s not an interogation.”
The cat-man rolled his shoulders in a semblance of a shrug. “You know how it is with her.”
He had a point. His Queen was powerful and ancient and not the least caught up in human mores. I wouldn’t say I was afraid of her, mind you, but neither would I say I wasn’t, if you follow me. “Well, I’m here now. And you’ve agreed to speak with me. So, can we sit down and get this underway?”
“Make yourself comfy. Have some tea if you’d like. English breakfast. Candy tea.”
I eyed the steaming mug. “Fairy tea?”
His teeth flashed again. “Just think how quickly you’d get the story written if you no longer felt compelled to sleep.”
“Or eat. Or shower. Or go to work. Or breath.” I left the mug untouched. “I’ve already refused this offer once, you know.”
“Suit yourself.” But his grin didn’t falter.
The tea did smell good. And it was chilly outside. The warmth it promised was tempting.
I shoved the point of the pen into my thigh. “No,” I said again. “Not yet anyway. Stop stalling.”
Keti’s grin did falter then. He deflated and sank into the opposite chair. “Very. Well. Ask your questions – as if you don’t know the answers – so we can go back to our night and you can go back to your bed, and the story may resume.”
Two stories, and partway into a third, and this . . . man . . . cat . . . creature . . . was difficult to pin down. He was loyal, this much I knew, but he was loyal in his own way, and there were lines that one ought not cross with him. Thistle commanded his loyalty, though I’d seen her back down a time or two with him. He was approachable enough to provide comfort for traumatized victims, yet menancing enough when he wanted to be. I loved knowing him, loved getting to tell the bits of the story he shared with me, and felt like I barely knew him at all. Typical cat nature, right?
“Right. Questions.” I pulled my paper out. For once, I would be sticking to the sample questions suggested. “What was your life like, growing up?”
He arched a brow.
“No, really. Keti, come on. You said you would.”
“Very well.” He picked up a mug and lapped at the tea, green eyes sparkling with mischief. “Cold. Dark. Bloody. Is that what you want to hear?”
“If that’s what it was like.”
“Near enough,” he said. He sighed. “I was young a very long time ago. The world was different. Of course it was different, but you can’t really know, can you? Before the boundaries that you have that you think are so permenant and solid, before your illusion of security was drawn so tightly around you . . I was young in the day when it was common to whisk people away, only to return them decades, centuries later. I was young before your kind crawled all over this earth. There were jungles that stretched from one sea to another, and in those thick jungles, I grew from cub to man.” There was a far-away look on his face, but it disappeared when he caught my eye. “What? The stripes? I’m not a domestic tomcat that was enchanted. Is that what you thought?”
Embarassed, I shrugged. “So, you’re from . . . ?”
“The jungles. It doesn’t matter where; they’re gone now. We’ve moved on. Adapted. Felines are good for that.” He took pity on me. “We can look as we wish, you know that. Normally, my feline shape is much larger than what you’d expect.”
“Can I see your normal shape?”
“No. I had three litter mates, all girls. I never knew my sire. My mother left us once we were old enough. It’s our way.”
“No? Just like that. You won’t even consider it?”
“No. Next question?”
“Before this story began, what were your hopes for the future? Have they changed?”
“It’s like you’re not even writing the story,” he muttered bitterly. “Before this story began, my hopes for the future were peace and quiet, at least until wintertide. Does that happen with my Queen? Of course not. Have they changed? Now I’m hoping we just make it through this intact.”
“How would you describe your personality?”
“Oh, you are not. I think you’re sweet.”
“You have a soft spot for over grown male felines.”
I couldn’t argue that point.
“How would you describe your looks?”
“I’m quite dashing.”
I rolled my eyes. “What’s your greatest talent?”
“You do realize that I am one of the fey, right? All other things aside, I am still one of the fey. Do you think I’m simply going to tell you that?”
“Fair enough. Fine then. Who are your closest friends?”
His ears whilted, just a fraction. “Do you know what it means to be fey?”
“Who do you love?”
“Clearly, you do not . . .”
“Who do you hate, and why?”
The light in the room went chill. Absurd to describe it that way, but I have no other way. Nothing changed, and yet everything changed. Did I mention how menacing he could look? “It’s irrelevant. They’re either all already dead, or soon on their way to being so. Next question.”
Shaking and trying not to, I glanced down at my list. What do you think is going to happen next? Um, death, apparently, and hopefully not mine. What was the worst thing your parents punished you over? No, better not. No electricity for a week – he’s fey, and a cat, that’s just silly. “Whose your favorite author?” I squeaked.
He didn’t answer at first, just sat, staring into his cup of magically enchanting English breakfast fairy tea. I waited, not daring to interrupt him, but wanting very much to be done with this venture. Finally, as my fingers grew numb from holding my pen poised over the paper, Keti gathered himself together, gave me that ridiculous grin of his, and said, “I thought that should be obvious. Who’s telling my tale, after all?”
Just like that, the forbodding in the room was gone and I could breathe again. I could feel my fingers again. “Oh, I am not your favorite author.”
“And I’m going to tell you that? While the story is still yet half done? Tsk. Come. Let’s get you back down this hill and into bed. It’ll just be a wink. Give me your hand. Oh, right, are you sure you won’t take some tea?”