Ch. 32.1 — Eli galloped into the forest, heading west but not paying much attention to where he was going. His heart was full of anger towards his older brother. Matthew hadn’t let him say goodbye to his mother or his sister. He hadn’t even been allowed to visit his dying father. After packing a small bag, Eli had been marched out of the city and told to be on his way.
How could Matthew do this?
After many hours, Eli slowed his horse and looked around. He was lost. Again.
Why was it that whenever he tried to go to Saltonia, he got lost? He was perfectly fine when he traveled within Nelsonia, or the Elves’ country, or even Lakeland. He never got lost there.
Eli came to a small valley where nothing grew. Ahead Eli heard the chatter of rushing water. The ground was stony, but still his horse picked his way across the loose rock, trying to go forward. Eli noticed that his poor horse was lathered and blowing hard.
“I’m sorry, Dessy. I didn’t mean to push you so hard.” When they came to the stream, he dismounted, and they both had a long drink of the cold, refreshing water.
They crossed the stream.
Eli looked around at the desolate valley. It was too quiet. The only sound was the wind and the gurgling water — not even any birdsong. The hair on the back of his neck stood up. Eli drew his sword and led his horse away from the stream and up the slope until they were in the trees again. Strange, the woods were quiet too. He stood there, listening. He gripped his sword and turned slowly around.
Something was watching them. Following them. Hunting them. Eli looked around again but could see no one. He mounted and continued on. Overhead, the trees were so tall and thick they crowded out the sun. The path was dark and gloomy. He kept his sword ready.
Then the horse snorted. His ears went back, and he neighed out a challenge.
Ahead of them on the path sat an enormous cat. His yellow eyes glowed in the dusk. The cat licked its lips, exposing long, sharp teeth.
Eli pulled back on the reins. “Whoa, Dessy.”
They watched each other in silence. Finally, Eli couldn’t stand it anymore. “What are you waiting for? Let’s get this over with.”
He was about to urge his horse forward when the cat spoke.
“You’re Prince Eli, if I am not mistaken.”
Eli stared at the cat in astonishment. “You can talk.”
The cat put his ears back and lashed his tail back and forth. “Why do people keep saying that?”
“Maybe because cats don’t talk.”
“Why would cats talk to humans, as a general rule?”