March 1, 2019

Cat of Thunder

by John Taloni


“Mirru had seen enough to conclude that the battle would stay contained on the field when the fire giants made a rush forward.”

Mirru padded around her nest, ears twitching. Her tail flicked back and forth as she heard distant thuds. Her kittens curled against each other, sleeping fitfully. Their paws pressed against one another as they cuddled together in the underbrush, hidden in a clump of gorse bushes.

A column of smoke rose in the distance. The faint whiff of its far-off smell caused Mirru’s nose to wrinkle. Then a louder noise cracked the night – an explosion. She could hear shouting and observed a whirl of activity. The figures had two legs and two arms. People, of one variety or another. One of her kittens woke and mewled, then settled back to sleep.

Mirru sat and licked a paw, then washed her face with it, contemplating. Her kittens were old enough to walk, but just a short distance. They could not easily relocate away from whatever created the noise and smoke. She would investigate. It was time to hunt anyway.

Mirru climbed up the small incline of the nest and turned to look back. Her kittens remained asleep. They should be safe for the time being. The yellow of the gorse blended well with their dull orange fur, giving them some camouflage from predators.

Mirru sniffed the air. There were some prey scents, but they were all old and distant. She padded towards the encampment. As she went she searched for newer scents, but they were scarce. Birds had flown away, or hid in their nests high up in trees. Mice, voles and similar animals had gone to ground, difficult to track in their burrows. Her stomach growled. Milk for her kittens would be thin and low tonight, unless she could find food. Nor was prey easy to find. A dry summer had parched the forest, leaving prey with less to eat.

The forest came to an end within a short walk of the encampment. Mirru walked up to the last tree between herself and the group of people, and watched. One group of people walked around putting up tents with wooden poles and canvas in a rough semicircle. A much larger group worked on a shield barrier towards the front. Another tended a fire in the center. Large hunks of meat hung on spits, turning through the efforts of a single person.

Mirru crept closer and hid behind a tent. The meat smelled delicious. If she could get some scraps…

Her focus broke as a loud noise assaulted her ears. It came from the front. Several people dropped a load of logs in a heap, the wood clattering to the ground. One of the people from the tent-making group separated out and approached the log pile. He drew a small horn from within his tunic and blew.

A figure arose from a stump and came forward. “As if I would need a horn to hear your call, Heimdallr,” he said, joining the other figure.

“I thought perhaps you were sleeping there, Thunderer,” replied the other.

“Mayhap I need my rest for the battle on the morrow,” he replied.

“For some measly fire giants?” responded Heimdallr. “Surtur is nowhere near. We shall easily beat back this incursion. Even if this land is drier than our usual.”

“If it be so easy, perhaps you should be back at your post,” replied the Thunderer.

“I can see the Bifrost from here,” replied Heimdallr. “And you can use my strong arm to dispatch the group quickly.”

“A bit dull holding watch every day on the Bifrost, eh?” said Thor

Heimdallr rolled his eyes. “You have no idea. As for the battle, Odinson, your father does not even see the need to attend himself, but only sends you, Thor.”

“Perhaps he seeks to avoid manual labor,” replied Thor with a grimace.

“Yes, well, as to that?” Heimdallr glanced over at the log pile.

“Hmm. As you say,” replied Thor. He pulled a small mallet from his belt. As Mirru watched he rubbed it and it grew larger. Soon it attained the size of a fully formed war hammer.

“It is a shame to use Mjölnir for so base a use, yet the shield walls must be made,” Thor said. He approached the pile and selected a log. “That one. Over there.” He indicated a spot and a group of men placed the log in position. Thor leapt into the air and dealt a mighty blow to the top of the log. It sank into the ground, standing firm.

Then Thor sank another, and another. Within the span of minutes the frame of a wall took form. Thor returned to his seat as the others filled in the rest of the shield wall.

The sun dipped towards the horizon as the people bustled around, putting the final touches on their encampment. As twilight hit they assembled to eat.

Mirru’s caution struggled with her need for food. She slunk into the camp, hiding behind tents and piles of equipment. She stayed in the shadows as she crept closer to the men. Finally one tore off a morsel of meat and dropped some on the ground. Mirru darted forward and picked it up in her mouth, then ran back to the shadows to eat.

Her immediate hunger sated, Mirru stepped closer to the group. Her fear went down as she got closer with no negative effects. Another person dropped a piece of meat and she leapt forward again, dragging it behind a tent to eat.

Thor nudged Heimdallr in the shoulder. “We have a visitor.”

“Yes, I saw her approach some time ago,” Heimdallr replied.

“Think you that Freya watches us? Though I see not her cat-drawn carriage near.”

“Not tonight,” said Heimdallr. “This is a common forest cat. She is harmless.”

“Why here?” Thor asked. “She should be hunting where people are not. Especially warriors. We are not especially gentle.”

“We have scared away all the game,” said Heimdallr. “Well, her kind of game anyway. And she has kittens to nurse, not far away.”

“Ah, a family protector!” said Thor. “Why did you not say so.” He ripped off a hunk of meat and tossed it towards Mirru.” She emerged from the shadows and took a few tentative steps toward it. One of the men in the camp threw a bone into the fire, and Mirru stepped back, frightened at the noise and sparks as the bone struck a log.

“Don’t be scared, little one,” called out Heimdallr. He threw another, smaller piece of meat towards her. She trotted forward and quickly ate it, then went to the larger piece that Thor had thrown.

Mirru walked up before them and let out one loud meow. She looked up at Heimdallr with plaintive eyes, then tentatively reached out a paw towards his hand, which held a bone full of meat. Heimdallr pulled off a larger chunk and dropped it on the ground. She ate swiftly, tearing the meat into smaller chunks and swallowing quickly.

When she finished with that piece, Thor pulled some more from his portion and threw it to her. She ate more slowly. That was sufficient food to sate her hunger. She stood and walked a swift, friendly brush against each man’s legs, then bounded back into the forest.

Moments later Mirru arrived back at her lair. Her kittens were awake and restless. As she approached the nest they mewed plaintively.

Mirru licked them all in greeting and lay down in the back of the nest. Her milk had not  yet come in, but with the meal she had recently completed, it would not be long. She let her kittens snuggle in and nurse what they could. By the middle of the night they would be as well sated as she was now.

*

Mirru slept soundly, barely waking for the midnight feeding her kittens demanded, as they instinctively knew when her milk was ready for them. She dozed, partly awake, as dawn broke across the heavens.

A burst of light, far brighter than the break of day, pushed her to full consciousness. A split second later noise and vibration roiled the landscape. Her kittens woke, mewling piteously. She gave each several fast licks, then lay down for a quick feed.

Moments later Mirru was on her way to investigate the situation. If it was bad enough she would have to move her kittens. That would be a difficult proposition. Possibly they would become so scared that one or more would run off. With four to manage she wasn’t sure she could move them all in safety. Better to keep them in the nest, if that were possible.

She reached the edge of the encampment several minutes later. The people stood behind the shields and made occasional forays out into the open field. There they fought gigantic beings of fire. It seemed to be a stalemate. One side would be forced back, then another, neither gaining an advantage.

Mirru had seen enough to conclude that the battle would stay contained on the field when the fire giants made a rush forward. The dry brush seemed to add to their substance, making them flare more brightly. Were they to break through, their burning essence could reach her nest in moments and destroy it with their flames.

She then saw the man with the hammer stride forward. He knelt and struck the handle on the ground. The skies darkened, clouds forming with great rapidity. A single lightning bolt seared between earth and sky, passing through the hammer. Torrents of rain began to fall shortly thereafter.

“Piece of cake,” he said, rising. The fire giants shrank back, the rain affecting their bodies. They formed a solid wall of flame as they moved back.

Mirru remained behind a tree, watching carefully. The person with a horn gazed towards the other side. “Their bodies block me,” he reported. “I cannot see–”

His voice cut off as an object streaked toward their camp at high velocity. It struck behind the shield wall the people had so carefully prepared the day before. As it hit the ground it exploded in a vast ball of searing light and crushing noise. Mirru pulled back behind the tree, covering her head with her paws.

After the explosion passed she looked up. The tree had been mostly destroyed, with only the trunk left. Even that was partially gone, with the front now smoking.

Mirru looked towards the camp. None of the people stirred, not even the strong one with the hammer. Were they dead? She could not tell.

The fire giants marched towards the camp. Their flaming bodies, now fully extended, burned everything in their path. She would run, but it seemed there was nowhere to run to.

Light from the flames glinted on something in the camp. Mirru looked over. The hammer. The fire made a ruddy dance over the metal’s semi-polished surface. A thought lay hidden just below the surface of her mind. Something about the hammer.

The fire glinted again off the metal, giving the illusion that the hammer changed form. Then she remembered. The hammer had been small when the man pulled it from his belt. It could change size. It seemed to control the elements, or at least some of them. But what could she do with it?

Mirru wasn’t sure, but she had to try something. The fire giants would destroy everything in their path. Herself, her kittens, dead. Even the prey that she ate, she respected and wanted to live, if only so she could hunt again.

She sprang forward with all the speed she could muster. In a flash she stood at the hammer’s side. She reached out to rub it with her paw and–

A flash of light blinded her. Yet she was not knocked out. Mirru came back to her senses almost immediately. Yet those senses seemed expanded.

Nor was that all that had changed. Her front paws had extended somewhat and she found she could grasp the hammer’s handle. She picked it up in both paws and leaned back on her haunches. The hammer seemed curiously light.

Mirru went to walk forward and found her torso elongated. Instead of walking on all fours, she balanced on her back two legs. The hammer seemed to be whispering suggestions into her expanded mind.

I can strike like the person did, she thought. With a meow that sounded more like a roar, she bounded forward. The first group of fire giants was almost upon the camp. She bashed one in the leg, causing it to fall on the ground. She ran to its face and raked its face, moving quickly around the flames to the substance beneath. On to the next, where she leapt up and hit it in the knee. At the next one she singed her fur a bit while hitting it in the shin.

A vision of a whirl of air appeared unbidden in her mind. She stopped running and twirled the hammer in the air. A small cyclone formed above the whirling motion. With a thrust from her forepaw the mass of air headed towards the fire giants, disrupting their advance.

Mirru found herself panting from the effort. Fatigue threatened to overwhelm her. Meanwhile the main force of fire giants had advanced down the plain, towards the camp. They were too many to fight individually.

The hammer whispered suggestions in her head. She remembered what the man had done with the handle. Mirru ran to a clear space, giving herself time to kneel without being attacked. She howled at the sky, emitting an inchoate “Mrrraaaaawwwwwwrrrrrr!” With a decisive thrust she hit the handle on the ground, twice.

Clouds formed immediately. Rain fell in torrents. It slicked the ground around the fire giants, dampening their flame and making them lose their footing. In the back the bigger fire giants lost some of their size as the flame fought against the rain.

And yet… the rain stayed only so long as she could concentrate. Though she held the hammer, her kitty body contained much less strength than its usual wielder. The fatigue made her lose focus. Black spots formed in front of her eyes. She headed back towards the encampment and its shields to gather herself. After only a few steps she passed out and collapsed on the ground. The transformation undid itself and she was a regular cat again.

At the camp, the rain and wind had started to revive the men. Heimdallr was first on his feet. He pulled the horn from his belt and blew. Others got up, groggily. The bomb blast still affected them, but they were able to stand – and to see the advancing army of Fire Giants.

Thor stood up and noticed the lack of a very important weapon. “Mjölnir! To me!” he cried out.

Out in the field, the hammer rose, then twisted so that the strap wrapped around Mirru’s paw. It flew through the air, placing the handle into Thor’s outstretched hand – and the unconscious cat directly onto his chest.

Thor looked at Mirru, puzzled. Then he lay the cat down gently behind him, out of the way of the crush of warriors.

The Aesir charged forward. Thor led the group partway up the field. Then, on his command the group pivoted and held their ground. He called down the lightning onto the fire giants. Torrential rain followed. Their flame lessened and the giants shrunk. Moments later they retreated in defeat. The day belonged to the defenders of Asgard.

*

Mirru came back to consciousness in her nest, her kittens cuddled around her. When she woke one of them began licking her singed fur. Her mind, now returned to feline normal, could barely process the previous events. She mainly knew that she was exhausted and hungry. Her kittens would have little milk until she hunted, but where she would find prey after the loud, noisy battle had scared them off she did not know.

Looking up from her bed of leaves, she realized she would not have to hunt. A plump rat and some juicy voles awaited her at the top of the nest. Who had provided them she did not know. She was grateful, though, and devoured a vole and half of the rat. The remainder she would eat after some rest.

Several hours later the sun set. Mirru watched it idly through the trees, following as the sun slid down the firmament. Full darkness took over. She ate again, then settled in with her kittens to sleep.

She was safe for now… but would it last? The fire giants might return at any time. Without the people to oppose them, what would happen to the land?

The next morning, the forest had mostly recovered. Birds flew from branch to branch, seeking food. Small ground prey came out of their holes. Mirru hunted, and the events of the previous day slid from her mind.

So it went for several days, until one morning Mirru saw two chariots flying across the sky. One flew through the efforts of two goats, loudly bleating and snorting as they went. The other was pulled by cats that looked much like herself. Mirru went down to the field to see more.

The goat-pulled chariot curved around in a long, powerful turn and landed on the field near where the encampment had stood. The goats chuffed as its driver stepped out.  “Toothgnasher, Toothgrinder, some good eating here,” he said as he released them from their harnesses.

The cat-drawn vessel slowed mid-air and took a much more sedate curve, landing lightly some yards away from the goats. A woman stepped out. She wore a dress of light material, beige in color, with light brown trimming. A circlet of gold sat atop her head, keeping her hair from blowing in the soft wind. She made a gesture and the cats walked free, leaving the chariot and their straps behind.

“Hello, little one,” Mirru heard in her head. The words seemed strange, and Mirru realized that the woman had not spoken. Mirru hung back at the edge of the forest, apprehensive.

One of the cats left the woman’s side and came over to Mirru. He stood and let her sniff him, then as a courtesy she did the same.

“Join us,” said the woman by the same strange mechanism. Mirru felt safe and so padded over. The woman chanted a few words and made a gesture. A blanket appeared and landed open on the grass. Three low stools materialized as well.

The woman sat and smiled, waiting. The man thumped down with a grunt. Mirru’s head felt strange, and she realized that the man was the one called “Thor.” His hammer lay attached to his belt in its small form, as it had before the battle.

The woman gestured at the third stool. Mirru understood the invitation and jumped onto it. “Welcome,” said the woman.

“Hello,” replied Mirru. “My head feels strange. Why are you here? How is it that I understand you?”

“I’ll take the first part of that,” said Thor. “A few days ago you gave us a boon. And you showed bravery. Bravery we wish to reward. This is Freya. She has somewhat better understanding of cats than I.” Thor waved towards the two cats who had drawn her chariot. They mostly ignored Thor but twitched ears at Mirru in acknowledgment.

The woman nodded at Thor. “He has asked me to assist with some magic that he finds exceeds his own skills. The hammer can translate battle speak, but we need to go beyond that.”

“I remember the battle,” Mirru communicated. “Even then, though, I did not think as I do now.”

“It is temporary,” said Freya. “We want you to understand the nature of the gift we bring.”

“Yes,” said Thor. “We can only offer. You can choose, or even refuse.”

“I have my own realm,” said Freya. “It is called Folkvang. There are many pleasant fields to play in. Cats are abundant. You are welcome to join us there.”

Mirru thought for a moment. “That sounds like a nice place to visit. I would like to come for a while, but only after my kittens are grown. And this is my home. I would want to return here.”

Freya nodded, and Thor took up the thread of conversation. “If protecting your home is what you want, you have certainly earned a boon.” At these words the hammer glinted. Mirru sat up straight, remembering the battle and the feel of the hammer in her… hands?

Thor reached into a pouch and drew out a small version of the hammer. “This is yours for the asking.”

“And how would I wield it?” asked Mirru, though she could scarcely keep from licking her lips in excitement as she stared.

“The hammer can be imbued with a small amount of Mjölnir’s enchantment,” said Thor. “You would not transform as much as before, but you would grow to twice your current size. It would not last long, or else the magic might burn out your mortal frame. But you would have the power again, for a short time.”

“How will I carry it?” she asked.

“I take it you are decided?” asked Thor.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Stretch out a claw,” said Freya. Mirru poked out the middle claw of her right front paw. Freya passed a hand over Mjölnir and a faint impression of a cloud formed. It picked up the small hammer, then went to Mirru’s outstretched claw and coalesced around it, turning the claw silver. The small hammer disappeared.

“Tap twice,” said Thor. Mirru did so and a small thunderclap pealed. Mirru sat on the stool in her large form. “Mrrraaawwr!” she said in pleasure, twirling the hammer in her paw-hands.

“You will be the protector of this area,” said Thor. “Simply think, and Mjölnir will relay your thoughts to me. And I believe this area might have a bit more rain to feed the plants that sustain your prey,” he said with a grin.

“Call me Silverclaw,” replied Mirru. Now she could truly protect her kittens. Even the prey would benefit from her watchful eye. No fire giants would threaten them again.

* * *


About the Author

John Taloni lives in Southern California where he may or may not have portals to various Nordic locations hidden around the home. His two house cats, Logan and Shadow, seem to head off to adventures daily. Logan returns regularly for cuddles, kitty treats, and to occasionally sheath his claws in his human servant.

In addition to “Cat of Thunder,” Taloni has written “Cat Gardian” about a Nordic feline who defends Asgard and opens the Rainbow Bridge for all pets. He also has a two-book “Cats of Space” series with Uplifted cats on a space station.

Taloni has been reading SFF since the age of eight when he stumbled across a copy of Alexei Panshin’s “Rite of Passage.” His major influences include Anne McCaffrey and Larry Niven. Taloni is a long-time attendee at SF conventions, and he met his wife while dressed as a Pernese dragon rider. Their daughter asked at the age of four if they could watch more of the show with “the robots that say ‘exterminate,’ and the entire family has happily watched Doctor Who together ever since. Taloni is a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA.)

Comments

1 thought on “Cat of Thunder

  1. What a great tale! We are all surrounded by quiet and not so quiet gods, and the guardians of one can be guardians for all. I have so many questions about what happens next for Mirru! Long may her ear meow protect us!

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