Noble Warrior and the "Gentleman"

by Andre Norton

 

all.cats.are.gray.1953 fantastic universe

 

1st PublishedCatfantastic V (1999) Edited by Andre Norton & Martin H. Greenberg, Published by DAW, PB, 0-886-77847-6, $6.99, 339pg ~ cover by Mark Hess

Available Now ~ Tales from High Hallack vol. 2 (2014) Published by Premier Digital Publishing, DM & TP, 1-624-67189-6, $22.95, 450pg ~ cover by Kib Prestridge

 

Bibliography Page - Noble Warrior and the "Gentleman" (andre-norton-books.com)




 

It was dark, though a number of candles had been lit in the dining room. The paneled walls, the long table, the rows of chairs and all the other heavy furniture seemed to thicken the gloom. Noble Warrior had his own chair next to Emmy's, with two pillows added to make him tall enough to see fully both the table and those gathered about it.

There were no cheerful looks tonight, nor any light or happy talk. He felt shadows as well as saw them and was alert to any clue of the dark thing threatened Princess Emmy and her family.

It was Emmy who broke the silence first. "Why is it making us so unhappy, Father? I always thought it was a good thing to be a Lord---"

The frown on her father's face did not clear. Lady Ashley, his great-aunt, was watching him intently, as if she wished to echo that same question.

"Emmy," her father answered very slowly. He might want to make sure that his every word counted, "I was never meant to be Lord Garnley, you see. I had an uncle and two cousins, so the inheritance was never considered to possibly be mine. As a Lord, I will have many duties which I do not understand. I have been a sailor for many years, have lived in a far-away country. I am not the proper one to wear Garnley's coronet. Why, I am not even acquainted with his lands, the people in his employ and---" suddenly he brought his list down hard on the table, "And---“

"You must, you know," Great-Aunt Amelia said simply, It was quiet again as if she had made plain that this was so and could not be questioned.

Emmy looked down at her plate. She had eaten very little of her serving because it seemed that one just could not swallow easily tonight.

Noble Warrior was alert to the feelings he sensed. His brown-gloved paw went out and touched her arm gently. Emmy swung around and gathered him into her lap, which he allowed (although such a liberty was not suited, of course. to one of his rank) because he knew she needed comfort now.

"Is the place in order? You have had some weeks to survey it all," Great-Aunt Amelia continued. "Did Garnley have a bailiff who could be trusted?"

Father shrugged, his frown still heavy. "Oh, they have reassured me, up, down and sidewise, that all is well, both Findley and that law fellow Markson. Only---" He lifted his hand a little as if he were going to slam the table again. "What are we going to do, Aunt Amelia'! I suppose I shall be tied there most of the year doing whatever is expected of me. But I can't leave Emmy and you here---"

Emmy nodded to that. She remembered only too well what had happened before When Father was doing his duty at sea for the East India Company and she and Great-Aunt Amelia had the terrible time with Miss Wyker. She hugged Noble Warrior tightly, and he nipped her arm, very lightly, to remind her that there were limits to this kind of comforting.

"It is very simple, Giles." Great-Aunt seemed to think that there was only one proper answer and she was now stating it. "I may be old: I may have to use a cane and welcome a supporting arm upon occasion. But I still run a good-sized household satisfactorily, and I shall have Asher and any other I need from Hob's Green. We'll simply visit Garlynstone for the summer and see how well it works out for all of us.”

Father looked for a moment as if he were going to protest, but before he could say anything she added, "Do you forget. Giles, that I spent most of my girlhood there?”

Thus is came about several weeks later that they moved---nearly as a complete household---across country to an area Emmy had never seen. This time, remembering the bad time of being catnapped and then lost, Noble Warrior was in the carriage with Emmy where she could keep an eye on him.

The road into which they turned at last was rough, so that she and Great-Aunt Amelia, as well as Aunt's maid Asher, and Lucy, the one chosen to look after Emmy's needs, had to hang on to the nearest stable part of the carriage and hope this jolting would soon end. Noble Warrior expressed his disgust with a growl and held on with all his claws.

Emmy cried out as a huge shadow loomed up at the window of the carriage beside her seat.

' 'Noooooo!" She denied that there was a big black thing reaching toward her.

"Now. now," Great-Aunt Amelia really laughed as she reached over to pat Emmy's hand.

"Those are just the Gars---strange beasts some distant ancestor of ours dreamed up to decorate his entrance posts. You’ll see them pictured other places about in Garlynstone."

The carriage swept forward under an arch of trees until it came to a wide stretch of gravel. And there was Father standing on the steps waiting for them, the steps of what seemed to Emmy to be truly a castle. It was so high one could get a crick in the neck pushing one's head far enough back to eye its roof from under the edge of a bonnet.

Big it certainly was. It took Emmy several days to learn her way about so she could find the morning room they used for dining, Great-Aunt's sitting room, and the library where Father could sometimes be found. Noble Warrior, of course, was not in the least surprised that this palace had appeared in his life. He had been the protector of Princess Suphorn far across the sea and then came to Emmy---his second princess. It was only fitting that she should have such an important setting also.

He explored. Nighttime was good for that, and he found his way into some strange places both above and below. One thing he searched for he did not find. Hob, the house goblin he had known at Emmy's former house, had no counterpart here.

Though there was a strangely unsettling sensation in one of the lower rooms, and he detected a presence there---an unhappy Presence. But it was no threat to those under this room here and now.

The rain had fallen steadily during the first four days they had spent here in this---this place. Emmy found it very hard to think of it as “home.” She and Noble Warrior both kept under cover, though through windows they had surveyed the world beyond. Emmy knew that the distant pounding which had kept her awake at first was really the sound of the waves, as it had been very stormy and the sea was not too far away. Father had sternly warned her to stay away from the sea shore unless someone was with her, but he had not forbidden her to go into the garden.

There were people working there. One was a boy who pushed a wheelbarrow and was grunted at by a gruff-looking man who could only be one of the gardeners, Noble Warrior raised a lip as he spied a black-and-white inferior of his race, but not his breed. who dared to slink along a terrace.

But now the day dawned fair and Emmy planned further exploits. The house was full of interesting things right enough, but she longed for the outside where there was Sun and flowers. Admonishing Noble Warrior against going off where he could not be easily found. she went out.

They enjoyed a glorious week exploring the garden before there came another dark and stormy period. When it struck, this one was even worse than the first. Lamps and candles seemed unable to provide any real light, even in the house. Father mentioned that there was a shore watch out for fear of wrecks. Though he also added that those would certainly be of strange vessels as the coastal seamen here knew every twist and turn of wave and reef.

Noble Warrior stood by the door of the room they had entered shortly before for breakfast. As he pawed at it, he gave the small demanding call that always aroused Emmy to some need of his, and she did notice him. However, when she had opened the heavy door with no small effort. he did not dart away along the passage and leave her. Rather he stood looking around and she knew he wanted her company---which was usual.

Into the chamber of that Presence they went, a little swifter with every step. Then they were in the dark---or not quite dark---for there was a window against which the force of the storm beat furiously. Emmy wanted to edge back, but the feeling that there was need here held her.

Noble Warrior slipped through the shadows to face the wall just to one side of the wide fireplace. Emmy could only see his lighter patches of fur now as he stood facing the wall and looking up. She looked about for a candle; surely there was a candle! The servants always kept any room lit in which the family might wish to go.

And there was one! It stood on a small round table beside a big chair near the fireplace. She felt almost as if something had pushed her in that direction.

There were some of the new matches, too. Father had shown her just how to make use of them. A moment later there was light, and she turned back to Noble Warrior.

He had raised up on his hind legs and was scraping with extended claws down the paneled wall, but whatever he was trying to reach was too far above. His eat sight was much better, of course, than Emmy's kind and it was very plain---a round stain in the wood panel.

Then more light made it all the clearer as Emmy, with her candle, was beside him. She raised the flame closer, above the scratches, centering it on the dark spot. Holding the candle, which was beginning to flicker in the draft from the window, as close as she dared. she planted the fingers of her right hand on the dark spot. It was rough and splintery under touch as if it were broken. But that did not matter as much as the fact that, though she had only intended to touch it, she was now pushing it with all her might.

Noble Warrior again reared up on his hind legs, and it seemed he was using his front paws to aid in her efforts.

There was a sound, even above the roar of the wind. Emmy was never afterward certain whether she had actually heard that word or not:

"Open!" A cry of strength and purpose.

The panel moved, not backward, but to the side. She and the cat were looking into a dark passage into which the candlelight scarcely penetrated.

But that which had drawn them there was not satisfied. They were to go---IN!

Noble Warrior went first and she must follow or lose him. There were steps going down and spiderwebs which she tried to avoid. Down and down they went.

Once more they walked along a level, but very narrow passage. Only that did not last long, and that which had brought them here was still not satisfied. There were more steps and Emmy kept glancing fearfully at the candle. If it went out---!

Noble Warrior looked up at her and his lithe tail nipped up against her. She stooped and caught hold of it, taking care not to pull, and he seemed satisfied. So they kept on, linked by firm flesh and soft fur.

Even though there was only the single candle, and that was burning own so that the wax dribbled near to Emmy's fingers, she could see now that they were in a much larger space. It was not empty. Some humpy shadows along one wall proved to be small barrels. Several chests such as the one Father used to keep his things in at sea took shape also.

She could smell the sea---she was sure that that smell was from the sea. Noble Warrior suddenly took charge of his own tail again and eluded her fingers.

He marched straight for the far side of this rock-walled place. Emmy, determined not to be left alone, followed him quickly. She dared not look behind her. For, that thing which had sent her into this strange place followed seemed to become more real! She could almost believe she heard footsteps.

Noble Warrior rounded the end of the row of small barrels and halted. When Emmy joined him again, he was stretched up against the wall clawing at a door impatiently. It was barred, and his eager paws were much below the barrier he strained to reach.

He gave his impatient summons for assistance. Why must a warrior of his rank be so dependant upon humans at times? It was shaming.

Emmy started at the sound of something striking the rock of the floor. In another moment her ankle was given a sharp blow and she edged back from what lay there---a big stick---thick, and one end of it rolled up in a mass of what looked to be rotting cloth and straw. It was not by any will or knowledge of hers that her hand shook, and she dropped the candle. The stick clattered against stone, but the candle appeared to pop out of the holder almost of its own will, to fall on the untidy bundle. The candle flickered and dimmed.

Then there was more fire starting up strongly, coming from the wadded end of the stick. Emmy, wanting light more than anything else, caught up the stick, and, raising the burning end above her head seemed to make it burn all the brighter.

"WhaGauh!" Noble Warrior raised his voice in the most demanding cry of his protest range. He looked back at her, his impatience plain to be read in every line of his sleek body where he stood, still upright against the barred door.

Emmy handled the torch gingerly, holding it as far away from her she could. But they were not finished with the task that had brought them here. They must also go beyond this door. To jug e the bar from its holds and yet steady the torch in one hand was difficult. But at last the length of rusting metal also moved, striking on one of the barrels and rebounding to clang on the floor.

“Whhhhhoooo!”  Emmy quavered in the moment, for surely something she had not seen, only felt. something must be helping to move the door. She shrank back against the barrels and had a hard time not dropping the torch from her shaking hands.

Noble Warrior was gone---into the dark---with the thing following him! She did not want to go, but what if---?

There was water ahead someplace; she could hear it. And smell the sea. What if Noble Warrior were to be caught in one of those pools her father had warned her against?

Grasping the torch in both hands, Emmy forced herself to go ahead. There were rock walls all around, but this passage was much wider than those they had followed within the house.

She came out on a big rock jutting above and into a pool of water, troubled water which surged in and out from some dark place beyond. Noble Warrior had gone no farther but stood staring down into the direction from which it came.

There was splashing, coming closer. Emmy swung the torch out a little farther. She did not want to see what was making that commotion in the water and yet she must.

Then---at the end of the rocky pierlike formation there was movement and something raised to claw about. Emmy could only think of a spider---a huge, sea-born. spider---but Noble Warrior made no attempt to move.

Not a spider but a hand! Someone was climbing, moaning a little at the effort of pulling a length of clammy and bruised flesh up onto the rock.

The torch showed him clearly when, gasping, he was at last out and lying on the rocky point. He was an old man, his white hair and beard plastered to his head, and now, when he tried to raise himself higher, he began to cough. But all at once his head came up and he looked straight at a point to Emmy's right.

There was someone else there. Though even when she tried to hold the torch so she could see that misty figure better, she was no wiser as to who---or what---it might be. He (for it appeared to be a man) was as tall as Father, but the clothes he wore were queer, not like any she had seen, except in some of the portraits along the walls of the house.

However, his face seemed to grow clearer and clearer until she was sure she would never forget him. He was not ugly, nor old, like this one from the sea. But he was sad. Something in Emmy made her throat begin to feel as it did when she was going to cry.

Noble Warrior had come away from his post on the sea edge of the rock shelf to stand before this stranger for a long moment. They seemed to meet eye to eye, the stranger even stooping a little. Then that misty shape made a slight gesture with one hardly-to-be-seen hand as if in thanks.

"Made it!" that was the voice of the man from the sea. "Never thought I would, did you!" He spoke angrily, harshly. "Thought as how old Rufe would never turn up---Cousin! I was the last as could point you out to the King's men---so---" He hesitated a moment, and then his words came as if he were spitting at the misty one. "So I found me on a slaver for the Moorish ports. Only I didn't die. You would have done better, Cousin, to have had the captain tap me on the head and slide me overboard. I lived---if you could call it living. And I held sure in my mind I would take what was due me out of that smooth gentleman's hide of yours. Which," he was on his hands and knees now, "is just what I'm going to do."

“Rufus” ---That whisper of a voice seemed to come from very far away and the words were slow as if the speaker found it difficult to mouth them. “It was Patrick, you see. He told me after it was too late. So I waited, I was set to wait to bring you home and safe. The light brought you in---“ Another misty hand movement was made in Emmy's direction.

"The child, the cat, they were all I could use when the time came. You are home safe---Rufus---at long last. Perhaps the only one of the 'Gentlemen' left now."

The man from the sea had not been able to pull himself up any farther than his knees. His head shook slowly from side to side and drops of water showered about.

"You---you're dead!" His head went back, and he uttered a cry which made Emmy whimper. "Dead---" Then he crumpled and lay still.

Emmy could no longer see the misty man either, she turned and, With Noble Warrior beside her, ran from the dark sea cave. She wanted Father. She wanted him now!

It was not until she burst into the upper hall from the room where the panel still remained open, Noble Warrior a cream-and-brown steak before her, that she found Father---just in to gather things for some wrecked sailors who had managed to make it ashore. What she tried to tell him was all mixed up, but he understood enough to take two of the footmen and return to the passage after he had seen Emmy into Great-Aunt's comforting arms.

It was not until later that Father explained things to Emmy---about the cousins who had been part of a smuggling band, even though they were gentlemen in truth and not by the nickname the townspeople called them. They had been betrayed to the riding officers in the end. And one, Manners Gerlyn, had shot himself, so it was thought, though there was always suspicion thereafter, since another young man, a more distant relative had also disappeared.

Then it was thought that Rufus Tengarde, Garlyn's cousin, had been drowned when their ship had gone down in a storm shortly before they were denounced.

Noble Warrior listened after a fashion. It was a story he already had learned---from the Presence on his nightly trips. He bit delicately at one claw on a forefoot. The Presence was gone. Who knew what new adventure might turn up next for a very alert guardian to a princess?

 



 

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