Katja sniffed the tracks again. According to their freshness, the human and horse couldn’t be far from her crouched position. Katja cautiously crept toward the rocks that broke the eastern lakeshore into a jagged cluster of intermingled sandbars and shallow pools. She peered around a large boulder and spied a canvas tent tucked away under the shadow of a narrow granite outcropping. A small campfire stood a few paces from the tent with an array of metal containers strewn in the sand around it. Two forked, wooden branches stood erect on either side of the fire pit with a straight branch running between them half of a body-length above the flames. The straight branch had been sharpened to a point on both ends; and, as Katja pondered the reason for this strange contraption, the answer presented itself with a small gasp.
Katja jerked her head in the direction of the noise and discovered a human youth’s dark-blue eyes staring warily into her own. The lanky, auburn-haired female was sitting cross-legged atop a slightly submerged boulder four body-lengths away from Katja’s crouched position. Katja cursed herself for not checking the direction of the breeze. This human had been upwind of her and Katja had had no chance of smelling her before she herself was discovered.
The two females steadily regarded one another. While Katja had seen humans before, she doubted that the startled human had ever seen one of Katja’s kin. As the wind shifted, the werecat discovered why. The human’s clothing smelled of flowery perfumes and sea salt. Her chest-cover was that of a human male’s. Its deep-blue material was expertly woven and richly embroidered with the silver symbols of a sea bird flying with wings fully outstretched over a crossed double-bladed sword and axe. Katja’s ears twitched. This garb was not of Vihous and neither was the pale-skinned human wearing it.
In her slightly shaking hand, the human held a whippy stick with a thin string tied to one end. The string trailed off into the water far beyond the human’s boulder and, as she scanned the three large, finned bodies splashing in the shallow pool near the human’s feet, Katja realized that the human was using the stick and string to catch fish—and faring well, too. What an ingenious way to catch food without getting wet!
The human followed Katja’s eyes to the fish.
“Benefta maddí, mí mela semvora. Voli menar un nedaleta?”
Katja’s eyes swiveled back to the human’s and judged cautious kindness in their depths.
The human paused and added, “Maiun hi vizt calge coma tu. Hi ellesta commolo shonorat per la selva presènzia.”
Katja finally realized this human’s origins. The crest on her chest was from Tyglesea and the salty perfume of her clothes gave further proof of her kinship with that west-coast kingdom. Her dialect was one of formality and education. She must be someone of high status among her kin to have these sorts of manners. Why was she here?
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