The Wildings

The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy Read Free Book Online

Book: The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy Read Free Book Online
Authors: Nilanjana Roy
live. Mara means us no harm—in fact, she’s lonely—and her talents are unusual. If she is not of the clan, she is not a stranger either. If she’s an inside cat, that’s good for us—Mara’s unlikely to ever come outside. We should wait and get to know her, perhaps train her, change her scent even, before hunting and killing the kitten. There’s something special about her, and if you wish to go into the Bigfoot house and kill her, be aware that you break into my territory. I may not allow that intrusion.”
    Hulo’s growl rose from the back of his throat, as he leaped down from the wall. Close up, he was an impressive specimen—large, well-muscled, his fur permanently bedraggled and unkempt, but his flanks rippling with power. His paws were twice the size of Beraal’s, but the young queen was in no way intimidated—if it did come to a fight, she was faster, and her claws could rip chunks out of his flesh.
    She arched her back and spat as Hulo padded towards her, his massive head lowered in warning. Katar moved between the two of them and hissed loudly.
    “No fights in the cemetery,” he said. It was part of their pact with the fakir.
    Hulo narrowed his eyes, still growling.
    “I say the kitten dies, Beraal. If you don’t do it, I will. It may be your territory, but you were supposed to make the kill, and if you can’t, I have none of your scruples.”
    Beraal let her fur erect; her claws shot out. “I say she lives, and we give her a few moons of grace. I’ll train her as though she were my own kitten, from my own litter.”
    Hulo seemed ready to spring, but Miao intervened, her whiskers bristling. “Settle this the usual way,” she said to the tom and the queen. “To the baoli!”
    MIAO THREW BACK HER HEAD and howled as the cats moved swiftly from the cemetery to the baoli next door. “Brawl! Brawl at the baoli, come out naaaaaoooowwwwww!” The Siamese cat was older than any of them, and her once bright blue eyescarried clouds in their depths, but her voice was as deep and piercing as ever.
    The ground of the baoli was dry and pitted, with a few puddles of green, slimy water forcing the cats to step carefully. Beraal moved easily, darting down the broken stone steps towards the centre, turning to face Hulo.
    “What rules?” sang Miao. “Will first blood do, or must the fur fly?”
    “First blood,” said Hulo quickly.
    “No,” said Beraal. “Let this be open throat.”
    There was a murmur among the cats, and Katar and Miao both cocked their ears in Beraal’s direction. Open throat was serious business; the first cat to get a clear slash at its opponent’s throat would win, but they could risk serious injury before that opportunity presented itself. Hulo had the advantage of weight and muscle over Beraal; the young queen was lethally fast, though, and both of them were known to be dangerous fighters.
    Hulo twitched his whiskers in assent. Miao hesitated, and then took up her song again:
    “The rules, then, for all cats to hear;
    this fight will be blood-filled and chilling
.
    But the rules of open throat are clear;
    There shall be no killing
.
    First blood can be drawn, so can third;
    Bleed too much, and I may give word
    To stop the fight, however thrilling.”
    From the dusty alleys near the shrine, from the rooftops of Nizamuddin, from the banks of the canal: in ones and twos, cats began to appear. Qawwali from the dargah, Abol, Tabol and the other canal cats, and a veritable clowder of the normally busy market cats arrived, attracted by the prospect of watching a rousing battle.
    They slipped in silently, perching in small clusters on the stone steps, arranging themselves on the walls, a few watching from the branches and generous shade of a neem tree. Southpaw was the only kitten present, but the Nizamuddin cats were so used to him tagging along in their wake that they let him stay. Curled up between Abol and Tabol, the brown kitten’s eyes were wide as he took in the baoli—this was

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