The Demons of Constantinople – Snippet 01

The Demons Of Constantinople

Eric Flint, Gorg Huff, Paula Goodlett

Chapter 1 — A Cat’s Eye View

Location: Farming Village, Lorraine, France

Time: Evening, August 23, 1372

Half an hour into her stalk, the cat was frustrated and angry. She moved through the weeds next to the clearing as silent as death, watching the crow calmly peck at something, apparently completely unaware. Again hope of a meal rose. This time I’ll pounce.

This hunt had started deep in the grove of trees that was the cat’s hunting ground. Every time she got close to pouncing, the crow flew away. Never too far. But always a tiny bit out of pounce range. By now her emotions were so strong that she didn’t even notice that she was about to leap into an open field filled with humans and their works.

Then the cat heard a voice.

“You don’t want to do that.”

It was said in cat, and the cat twisted her left ear back in the direction of the voice.

“Not a good idea,” the voice said.

The cat growled back, “Mind your own business.” Then she turned her head to bring the source of the voice into view. It wasn’t a cat. It was a human. A human with strange clothing and stuff, sitting on a fallen log next to the clearing.

“Okay,” the human said in cat, “but that’s not an ordinary crow. It’s part wiloklisp.” The last bit wasn’t in cat or human talk, but the cat still understood it.

That was when it occurred to the cat that the speaker wasn’t an ordinary human. A human shouldn’t be able to speak cat. Even cats didn’t speak cat with the sort of clarity or precision that the human’s meows conveyed. And that last bit was a combination of sounds like nothing she had ever heard before, but she understood it. A wiloklisp was a “lying light” that led travelers and enemies into traps. A hunter who hunted by being hunted.

The crow said something in human talk.

“You’re welcome, Carlos,” the human cawed in crow, with more than a little sarcasm. Then the human turned back to the cat. “Carlos,” he pointed at the crow, “was ‘thanking’ me for spoiling his game. You would have lost an eye, not gained a meal.”

The cat looked at the crow, and it laughed a cawing laugh at her. Disgusted and intent on ignoring the crow, the cat turned back to the human. “How can you talk to me?”

“It’s magic,” the human said.

And the cat, who had never even had the concept of magic before, now understood what the word meant, and even that it was at best an inadequate explanation of what was going on. It growled in frustration. “Explain.” Another new concept.

“All right,” the human said. “I guess I should start at the beginning. I’m Wilber Hyde-Davis. Before we came here, I was profoundly deaf. I had a device to let me hear, called a cochlear implant. When we were brought to this time, a muse — that’s a being from the netherworld — inhabited my hearing aid and implant, and in the process, fixed my hearing. Now my implant is at least sort of alive and a part of me. It gives me the magical ability to translate. I can talk to almost anything in their own language, even if they don’t have a language. That’s the magic part.

“Merlin, that’s the muse, is still hooked into the implant –” Wilber pointed at a point behind his left ear. ” — but he mostly resides in my computer.” He twisted a flat box thing with the top open around, so the cat could see its screen. “He can talk to me via my implant. He can also talk to other people through my computer, or indirectly through my phone, or any of the electronic devices, with the consent of whichever demon resides in the device. Say hi, Merlin.”

The screen of the computer showed a man with wings like a bird. It bowed at the cat and said, “Hello, cat. What shall we call you?”

Like Wilber, when Merlin talked to her, she could understand. But the cat didn’t really have a name. There were things the humans in the village said, but the cat mostly thought of those sounds as instructions. “Here, Brownie” meant she should come get food or petting. Or “Damn cat” meant she should go away if she didn’t want to get kicked. Which she generally didn’t.

She explained that and Wilber said, “How about we call you Leo?” and the damned crow laughed again. Through the magic, the cat knew that Leo was sort of short for lion and was a male name, and so understood the crow’s derision.

Apparently the human was so stupid it couldn’t tell a male cat from a female cat. With a flick of her tail, the cat said, “I am female.”

“Oh, sorry,” Wilber said. “Ah, how about Fluffy?” At her look, he said, “No, I guess not. Leona?”

The crow laughed again. And said something in crow that Wilber didn’t translate, but was probably insulting.

“Fine,” Leona agreed, as much because the crow didn’t like it as because she liked the fact that Leona meant female lion. “Now, do you have any food?” she asked, since snooty crow didn’t appear to be on the menu.

“I think we can manage something,” Wilber said. He drew a knife and sliced off a chunk of the fine white cheese that the villagers made, and tossed it at Leona.

Leona jumped back. In her experience the things thrown at her were hard, not edible. And in that moment, the crow swooped in and stole her cheese.

Wilber shook his head. “Carlos is a bit of an asshole.” He cut another slice of cheese and set it on the ground. Leona made her way cautiously to the cheese and grabbed it in her mouth, then quickly backed away. Because she could understand Wilber didn’t mean she trusted him.

For a time Leona nibbled on her cheese, while Wilber made strange gestures and spoke to the air in words of some language that made no sense to Leona. When Leona had finished her cheese, which wasn’t truly enough for a real meal but did take the edge off, she meowed a question. “What are you doing?”

“I’m preparing a spell,” Wilber told Leona, and again as she heard the meow she knew what a spell was, though not what this particular spell was.

“What does the spell do?”

“Nothing yet, but once it’s finished I will be able to invoke it and it will produce a set of wards that will prevent demons or angels from entering the mortal realm around us.