Khamet’s size increased with all the rich food and pampering he was given. His education of life, language and human behavior continued to grow while he continually watched for the reflection of his other self. He grew to understand dogs a little better and decided they were not all stupid. Simple of course, but they too had their uses and he found they could also manipulate humans to do their bidding. He observed this on several occasions with one dog in particular.
The people called dogs Iwiw. There was one dog that belonged to a guard that let it run loose on the grounds. Khamet knew to stay away from the baboons. They didn’t like most creatures, but it seemed that cats held a special place of hatred for them. Dogs were for the most part pleasant and almost as lazy as cats, but dogs seemed to crave and need the attention that no self-respecting cat would ever admit to. The dog learned that a simple bark, a trick and wag of its tail got many of the servants to give him food and attention.
Khamet enjoyed walking the grounds at night. It was not the same as the day and he was free to slip in and out of the smallest areas that might be blocked during the day. He often came across the heavy scent of dog. In the outer courtyard one evening he picked up the scent and followed it through the palace then back out to the courtyard again.
A heavy growl from some nearby shrubbery halted him. Khamet froze and began to look for the source when the flash came. …a blur of bristling blackness from the left… teeth gleaming white in a dark maw… it leapt and was on him fast, he was down being bitten…
Khamet leapt straight up into the air as the attack came and landed on the top of the attacker with his claws out. He turned and leapt off, darting towards the nearest tree. He would not be fast enough. …the dark shape was on him from behind… large and ferocious… it bit into his back…
Khamet turned sharply and ran into the shrubs.
The bristling shape could not see as well as he could. It reached the shrubs and stopped. It was angry and Khamet could sense desperation and hunger in its growls.
The wall in the back of the garden was high, but it was rough enough for Khamet to reach the tree if he was fast enough. Khamet darted forward.
The dark bristling shape snarled and attacked.
Khamet was faster. He hit the wall and in a moment was along it and leaping for the tree. He grabbed the branch and was climbing.
The dark bristling mass was in the air right behind him. It reached the tree and shot one arm out to catch the branch. The hand grabbed, but the momentum was too great and it couldn’t hold itself. It slipped and fell hard on the ground, moaning in defeat. Slowly it picked itself up and began to drag itself back to the safety of the shrubs.
Khamet could see its left arm hung limp as it moved in awkward defeat and recognized Chione. It had been a little while and Khamet was shocked to discover the baboon was still alive. It looked terrible. She was emaciated. Khamet climbed down to the base of the tree and gave a meow.
There was a growl from the shrubs, but it sounded hopeless. It must have spent all of its energy in the attack. Khamet got an idea and left the outer courtyard. In the inner courtyard he found one of the bowls that regularly sat near the pool. He picked up a date in his mouth, brought it back and dropped it at the edge of the shrubs. Then he moved back to the base of the tree, ready to run if necessary.
The shrubs rustled. Then the baboon’s right hand reached out and took the date. Khamet heard it eating for a moment. Then the hand came out to where the date had been and scratched the ground. It wanted more. A grunt sounded from the shrubs and the hand scratched again.
Khamet fetched another and meowed to the baboon. It consumed the next and scratched the ground again. Khamet moved to the passage that led to the inner courtyard and meowed to Chione. The baboon grunted and scratched the ground refusing to leave the safety of the shrubs.
Khamet meowed again and waited as the baboon cautiously slipped out from the bushes. It looked around nervously. It was dark, but Khamet could see how disheveled and neglected she was. She had been living off scraps and scrounging what she could. It looked like she had been beaten, but it was unclear. Her left arm hung dead and black at her side and her left eye was white with blindness. Her other wounds seem to have healed, but the bite on her shoulder where the lioness had gotten her was swollen and dark. She let out a growling moan and again Khamet meowed at the passage. Chione followed the mau slowly through to the inner courtyard and around the pool to the bowl of dates.
The baboon took a date and ate it quickly, sitting and looking around as she did so. No one came out and in minutes the entire bowl was finished. Chione looked to Khamet and gave a grunt of “Thanks.”
The mau responded with a simple meow, and watched as the baboon walked on all three’s back to the safety of the bushes.
The unlikely pair became friends and the nightly ritual became routine. The two learned to distinguish each other’s grunts and meows. The challenge for Khamet was that Chione did not go out in the daytime. She had to avoid the gardeners when they came to tend the shrubs. The one time she had revealed herself the humans went up in alarm for a baboon without a trainer or a tether was quite a dangerous thing. Khamet had to find a place more suitable for Chione to live.
In the temple to the left of the main court, behind the great statue of the cat headed woman, was a small portion cut out of the wall. What reason it was there neither Khamet nor Chione could fathom, but they could get through easily enough. The lack of nourishment had emaciated Chione and she was able to drag herself through with her right arm, though it obviously left her in pain. It led outside the palace wall and to the ledge that moved along the precipice. Khamet explored everything below and discovered several good areas where a baboon could reside in comfort and relative safety. A small outcropping behind an overgrowth of wild shrubs proved to be the chosen spot and in the evening they would slip back through the hole and wander the palace grounds for food.
More and more often Khamet would see his reflection looking back at him and each time it was similar to the last, as if the two felines were sitting at a window curious about each other, but having no real way to connect. The reflecting bowls were too high for Khamet to approach them, but both cats seemed to test their reflections trying to understand. Twice Khamet had seen a shadow behind the other mau, but nothing else.
Twice since wandering with Chione he had discovered the heavy dog scent. Khamet tried to explain to Chione what he associated with the scent and Chione seemed to understand. Both times they went searching and lost track of it, once at a door and the other at the exit to the courtyard.
One night Khamet entered the temple of the great cat headed woman to meet Chione for their evening, but the baboon wasn’t there. Khamet found a perch and lounged to wait, but Chione never came. Khamet slipped behind the statue to search. The passage was clear and Khamet crept through to the ledge where he caught a faint scent of the baboon. The passage went all around the back of the palace with doors at regular intervals for waste disposal and Khamet followed the baboon’s scent.
It did not take long for Khamet to find why Chione had gone this way. The heavy dog scent came up as he moved past the second door and the two odors mingled together down the path. A rope was tethered to a stone and hung off the side of the steep embankment and Khamet could smell the dog scent on it as well. It was so strong now that he could no longer smell Chione at all. The baboon may have followed the man or the scent down the rope or perhaps she had fallen. It would have been difficult to climb down with only one arm. Khamet could make it down the slope, even at night. The rope just made it easier.
At the bottom of the slope the scent of dog led away from the rope and moved along the embankment. Chione’s left arm had a distinct trail in the dirt and Khamet followed it as the dog scent grew even heavier.
A faint glow led Khamet towards a small cave in the base of the slope away from the palace. Khamet could make out several torches burning in the opening and he could now hear as well as smell the dogs.
One of the dogs began to bark and a man’s voice called out angrily. There was a thump of something and a painful ‘yip’ followed by silence.
Khamet crept closer to the entrance and looked back the way he had come. He could see the palace at the top of the slope with torches illuminating the walls. Beyond him was nothing but desert reaching to the mountains. He had no place to go. He crept closer.
The odors coming from the entrance were horrible and he could not identify them all. He could smell the dogs and the burning of torches as well. Also waste, real waste like things left to decay and rot in the heat and mingle with other odors. Beneath everything was the faint scent of Chione as if she were an afterthought.
At the mouth of the cave Khamet felt the breeze of the desert air blow past him. A moment later the dogs all began to bark in frenzied unison. Khamet crouched low. He knew the tone of those barks. They had smelled him and were barking a warning to the man. The man cried out to the dogs and something banged again. The dogs quieted, but they continued to growl low in their throats. Humans rarely paid any attention to their dog’s warnings. Perhaps they thought they were as stupid as Khamet did.
Khamet slowly entered the cave, his hair bristling, his big green cat eyes wide and curious. The dogs were penned towards the back and the man was at a table working near the far side. The dogs began to bark again at Khamet’s proximity and again the man yelled something. Khamet saw a plank of wood fly across the cave and strike the wooden pen. The dogs yipped and quieted again.
From behind Khamet could only see what he had seen before of the man. He had dark hair and long robes. When he turned to the side Khamet could see he had a well pronounced beard. The dogs were barely contained now, squealing with their ears pricked and jaws chattering as they saw the mau move deeper into the cave. Khamet slipped around the debris. Rocks and discarded strips of fabric, broken planks, and rope were scattered around what might have been a workshop.
The man called out something and made a motion of throwing towards the pens. There was a slap of something wet against the floor and the dog went for it with a growl. Khamet could see the man raise a saber and bring it down fast. He pulled and twisted. There was the sound of wet tearing and he tossed another wet thing towards the pen.
Khamet froze. His ears flattened and he dropped to the floor. The dog’s scent overpowered everything else, but he knew Chione was here. He could not see what was on the table. His view was blocked by the man who again brought the saber down and tossed what could only be meat towards the pens. Khamet crept closer and saw what looked like fur hanging off the edge.
One of the dogs released a series of ravenous barks and rushed the bars of its pen. The man started yelling as the wooden latch gave. The dog forced its head then the rest of its body through and then rushed at the mau.
Khamet darted forward.
It was a mistake. The cave was short and came to a dead end. The dog was right on his tail, but there was a great deal of debris stacked near the back and Khamet slipped between the boards to avoid the beast. Most of him wanted to get away, but a part of him had to see what was on the table. What had the man been cutting up?
Khamet crouched in the debris as the dog came in to snap at him. It started to dig and scratch at the pile and began looking for another way to get at the mau.
Khamet watched the teeth and flinched at each bark trying to decide what to do. He hissed and clawed at the dog’s nose to fend it off as it came in. It seemed he was in danger, but no premonition came to him. He had no sense of déjà vu, no vision of what was to happen. He simply crouched and tried to make himself smaller. The dog started to push further into the pile and it suddenly began yipping and squealing in pain. Khamet watched as the snout came away from the opening and the dog suddenly rose up in the air with a painful howl.
Khamet didn’t waist the opportunity. He darted from behind the debris and ran towards the front.
The man was standing away from the bench and yelling. When he saw Khamet he dropped down spread his legs and dropped reached down to catch the cat.
Khamet turned back to where he had come from to see the dog still squealing. Its entire upper body was being held off the ground by its ear. He was struggling to break himself free from an arm that reached out of a pen, Khamet hadn’t noticed sitting on top of the debris.
Chione and Khamet made eye contact. Then a crash erupted from another pen. Another of the dogs had broken free. Chione let out a roar so loud it reverberated all around the cave and Khamet saw…teeth opening wide and turning as they came down on him from behind, grabbing him at the neck and snapping it as he was hoisted and violently shaken back and forth…
Khamet ducked and rolled onto his back as the other dog’s teeth barely missed him. Khamet found himself looking at the bottom of the dog’s neck and he used the underside of the dog for momentum. Dragging his back on the ground, Khamet used his claws against the underside of the dog to pull himself forward. His sharp claws gripped the skin beneath the fur down the chest, to the belly and past the animal’s most tender region as he ran free.
The dog twitched and released a loud yelp as Khamet exited.
…a hand came down and viciously snatched Khamet up…
Khamet shot another direction.
…another hand reached down, missed, but a sandaled foot caught him and sent him flying towards the back of the cave again…
Khamet turned the other direction and leapt up onto the dog’s pens. They barked ferociously at him as he ran across, leapt to the ground and ran to the entrance. At the mouth of the cave Khamet stopped and looked back at Chione. The dog she was holding onto was still screaming frantically. The other dog had recovered from Khamet’s claws and was in pursuit of the cat.
The man grabbed his saber and turned to the back of the cave. Chione released another raging scream that told Khamet to run. The mau had no choice. He turned and ran with the dog right behind him. Chione screamed again and Khamet heard a loud yelp of pain from the dog. Khamet imagined it was the baboon taking its ear. One final bit of retribution before…
Chione’s scream was suddenly cut off and Khamet felt an ache hit his stomach as he leapt for the rope. He was up it in moments leaving the dog barking at the bottom.
Inside the palace Khamet hid for a long while. He ached for his friend. Chione had given herself to save him.
Khamet never returned to the hole behind the cat headed statue. He sulked around the palace for a time lingering at the tree and the shrubs where they had met for the first time. He stopped observing the humans. He stopped caring about his reflection. His sadness consumed him. He missed his friend and hated the man who smelled of dogs. He ceased going out at night. He became a lazy, royal mau, lounging and eating the day away and lashing out at anyone who tried to pet him.