Erasmus

The house is wrong. It is wrong that the house was even built. Call it a castle if you must. It might warrant it for size, but it would be a misnomer, as it is something else. It’s not a castle. Castles are things that humans make. It’s not really a house. Something so vast is not a house. It can’t be a house. Not if it has all those rooms, those dank warrens of chambers, where no one goes. To call it a home is not quite right either. Though three live there. Only the three cats. They have lived there longer than anyone but they themselves could possibly remember.

Call it a building. Call it a structure. Call it an edifice.

The cats wish it would be gone. For they are its servants and its guardians, pledged to watch over the structure and keep its magic safe. For the castle is powerful. In itself. It is energizing. They wish it would just vanish as the island upon which it sits vanished long ago. You cannot see the island in its channel. Isoltane needs no fog to hide it. It is invisible. You cannot see the stones of Isoltane. That is the name the witch gave the stones which hold the form of the house or castle or whatever it is.

Isoltane and the island upon which it sits are invisible until a human foot steps upon the island. Then all becomes clear. But men in boats or ships can only find the island, find Isoltane, by accident. They must accidentally land there. This has only happened twice. There are creatures in the water who fend off sea-goers who would be sea-comers. This is an additional finny protection. These creatures have ways of reducing the chances that any human will set foot upon the island. But sometimes they slip up. Twice they did fail to prevent landings. Both arrivals ended badly and the accidental guests never left the island. They are at the bottom of the island. Those men are at the bottom of Isoltane. Their boats are ashes at the bottom of the sea that sloshes coldly against jagged, green stones which gird the island over which Isoltane floats. Yes, Isoltane floats (ever so slightly) since a witch’s house must not rest upon the earth.

Isoltane is an aeolian dwelling. It is powered by wind, the strong winds of the channel. The uppermost floor of the castle (here I will give in and use that word) is open to the sky at either end. It is a channel for the winds that come off the water, off the waves. It is a tunnel to channel the winds that come off the water and its cold waves. The wind screams through that hall and there are machines which catch it, which harness its power. These machines turn other machines below and the power of the sky animates the strange house. The sea, then, manages the house. The house belongs to the sea in whose channel it sits. Nobody knows who built it. Probably someone enchanted by the witch whose house (not home) this once was. Witches do not have homes. They have houses. Or perhaps the stones were levitated into place by musicians whose instruments possessed the charms to accomplish this. This was a quite common form of home construction in the Ancient World. A magician who could ensorcel stones with his lyre would make a good contractor in those days.

The three cats occupy the three levels of Isoltane. Erasmus the Elder occupies the uppermost floor. He has patroled it for many human lifetimes. Merribelle the Huntress watches over the second level of Isoltane. And Dolor the Miserable patrols the lowest level of the castle.

The cats of Isoltane gather frequently to pool their information and fine-tune their strategy. Make no mistake: the guardianship of Istoltane is a military operation. You might think they lead sedentary existences, since they are cats and since humans so rarely arrive there. This is not so. Though humans rarely chance upon the island, the original owner of Isoltane makes frequent and vicious attempts to reclaim her former house. This is the witch Mgraga, the one who built Isoltane–or caused it to be built. Even the cats do not know which is correct. Isoltane was already standing when they were stolen from the Celtic priests they served so well and brought here against their will.

Merribelle was in the Green Serpent Chamber listening to the player piano which she had asked to play The Meribelle Concerto. This was one of her own symphonic compositions and she was still trying, after seventy years, to determine whether this composition was truly finished. She never knew for sure. Certainly, she had no problem with the eponymous and vainglorious title. That was fine. But the music That was a different story. The player violins had just reached the scherzo, which sounded like cats screaming and running all directions, and this portion of the composition pleased her still, pleased her mightily. At this moment of supreme self-satisfaction, Erasmus padded into the room and launched into a fusillade of criticisms. The charmed instruments stopped playing instantly.

Merribelle swung around as though her tail had made the decision on its own and faced her fellow feline-in-arms.

Erasmus was not criticizing her concerto. He was nothing but supportive when it came to Merribelle’s composing. It was rather her defense of Isoltane that he sometimes judged less than satisfactory. But then Merribelle considered him a worrywart and a fussbudget.

“And if Mgraga were to appear at this instant at the weakest point of defense on this floor, would Isoltane not fall back into her claws this very day?”

“Oh please! Do you think I would be enjoying these few moments of leisure if I had any doubts about my defenses?”

“Well, there was the Beltane Incident.”

“The Beltane Incident was due to the eclipse and you know that. Any cat would have had a breach on a night with a conjunction like that. And she was repelled.”

“I seem to recall Dolor repelled her. From your floor. Not his. Why should a watch-cat have to defend a floor other than his or her own?”

“In any case, Erasmus, I have checked my crystal points and everything is functioning smoothly. I even changed two quartzes today that were supposed to be good for another fortnight. Just to make assurance double-sure.”

“That’s good. You haven’t bought any more of those generic crystals online, I hope? I nearly jumped out of my fur when I saw those in the network. They’re made by trolls not gnomes, you know. Trolls produce…

“Trolls produce substandard defense crystals. Yes, if I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times from you. And we’ve been through this as recently as last full moon. If you’d like to run a check on my floor’s network, just say so and let’s be done with it. Besides, if you watched WNN you’d know that Mgraga is vacationing in the Southern Ether with her sisters right now. She was featured on a program just yesterday.”

“I don’t watch WNN because I cannot stand the pro-witch propaganda, the outright proselytizing. And I think they sometimes give out misinformation to misdirect. In fact, I’m sure of it. How could you possibly trust witches to give you good news?”

“Well, I do find it entertaining sometimes and not all the news anchors are…”

“I’ll be upstairs,” Erasmus said, “doing my job.” It was worse than curt. It was rude. His tail was virtually in her whiskers before she had even reached the halfway point of her sentence.

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