Laughter drifted over the root bridge, a rumble of sound that I didn't appreciate at the moment. Edmond liked it even less. His ears went back and he hissed and growled.
"Mew. Meow. Meow!"
He was cursing. I didn't need to know the words. And I didn't blame him.
"Keep back Lord Snow," I warned. "All of us better keep back."
Something had begun moving across the bridge. Huge and white with shaggy long hair that covered the body: it moved on four legs, but the head that lifted had an intelligent face; I could see speculation in the bright eyes that peaked out from behind the hair.
Edmond wasn't happy. As the creature got closer, he tensed and lowered his head. I grabbed him before he attacked.
"My what a brave little creature." The giant white fur ball stopped about three quarters of the way across the bridge and took a look at all of us, up and down the path. "Do you really think you're going to cross my bridge and at no cost?"
"I doubt we have anything that you would want," I admitted. "We're all refugees, you know. We only want passage to a safer place."
"I should care?"
"Then I guess we'll find another way," I said and started to turn.
"You never asked my price."
I turned back and gave a bow of my head. "What is it?"
"I think that lovely little black creature you're holding would make a nice lunch --"
Hiss, growl. "Meow-ther thing threatens to eat me I will -- oh. That's better."
"Edmond isn't going to be lunch," I said. "No deal."
I turned again. Lord Snow moved up beside me, his own ears back. Edmond purred, though. I was glad whatever had hit him had been temporary. I was going to need him to help us find another way.
"You didn't ask any of the others if they agree," the creature said.
"They're welcome to stay and make whatever deal they can with you," I replied, though I chilled at the thought they might turn over one of their own. "But Edmond goes with me, as well as anyone else who wants to come along. I will find another way to safety."
"A bit pretentious, aren't you?" He smirked this time and watched as Maggie and Beth came closer. Maggie put a hand on Edmond, but Beth had a different look that I didn't like much at all. "You make all the decisions. Well here's my final word: You give me Edmond or none of you cross."
"No," Maggie said.
"Now wait," Beth replied. "Maybe we need --" I turned to her, stunned by her answer. She went silent and then frowned. "I'm sorry. You're right. Of course you can't give him the cat."
"No, I can't," I said. I looked back up the long path. Why couldn't anything be --
"But I can," Beth snarled.
She grabbed Edmond out of my arms. He flailed and scratched her hands, but she tossed him straight at the creature.
That worked, of course. Everything froze in place but me, but I had trouble moving. I fought my way forward, knowing I was going to lose my hold on all of this soon.
The best I could do was reach out and hit Edmond away from the huge open mouth with the dagger teeth. I'd barely made the connection when I lost control of the magic.
Edmond, howling, flew off to the left. I hoped he found something to grab hold of before he fell the rest of the way. But now I was about a foot away from the creature and on his bridge. The only thing I had going for me was surprise.
And it worked.
From the creatures point of view, there had been a tasty cat morsel about a foot from his mouth. Now he blinked and found me instead. And I punched him in the nose.
"Gah!" Shocked, he leapt backwards, lost his footing, and tumbled off the bridge. I looked over to see him land on his back about fifty feet below us. He bellowed and sat up. Then fell back down again.
"Edmond!" I shouted.
The cat had grabbed the edge of the bridge and was hauling himself up. I knelt down and caught him by the scruff the neck and pulled him up.
"I don't much care for flying," he said. "But thanks."
"You can still talk."
"Yeah. I think with him off the bridge, it's safe."
I looked back over the edge. He wasn't getting up. "Okay, let's get across!" I shouted to the others. "Go!"
"You need to go first," Maggie said. "In case there's more trouble on the other side. I'll stay here and keep them moving. Take Edmond and Lord Snow with you."
I looked around. Beth stood with Lady, but her face was ashen white and she wouldn't meet my eyes. I couldn't trust her after this. I turned away without saying anything. She knew what she'd done.
Lord Snow stepped out in front of me and started across, his tail swishing from side-to-side. I held Edmond who still seemed a bit shaken as we hurried forward. The bridge was huge and I couldn't see the other end.
"You okay, Lord Snow?"
"Fine, Mark," he said. "I suspect there will be more trouble before long."
"There is always more trouble."
"The woman did the logical thing, you know." Lord Snow looked back over his shoulder for a moment. "Nothing personal, Edmond, but what she did made sense in a species preservation way."
"If I had to throw her to a monster to save us, I suppose I would, too," Edmond agreed. "But I don't trust her. She's unstable, Mark."
"Yes, I think you're right. We'll keep an eye on her. But I think we have other things to worry about."
Something else was moving on the bridge ahead of us.
To Be Continued. . . .