The tiger leapt at Fred, clawing the bard’s shoulder as he dodged out of the cat’s grasp. The dwarf reached for a hammer hanging at his side, and bludgeoned the tiger into the middle of the road.
It yowled, then crouched, issuing a low threat, its legs tightening as it readied itself to pounce again. I shot the striped beast with an arrow through the eye, felling it. The cat flopped to the ground, shuddered a bit, then lay still.
The dwarf grunted in disappointment, then took his hammer and pushed the tiger’s head off the ground, examining it. “These kitties rarely attack a group of travelers. Either she’s starving, rabid, or protectin’ cubs. I’m certain she in’t rabid, and she don’ look hungry either.”
“She’s protecting her kittens,” Jerry said, towering over our shoulders.
Looking up to him, the dwarf asked, “Oh? How can ye tell?”
The tabaxi’s eyebrow raised, as though we ought to know the obvious. We stood there, waiting for some sage feline insight. Jerry swept his gaze from the dwarf to me, and then past us, where he lifted a claw to point, “Because they’re right there.”
Glancing over, I spotted the kittens hiding in the long grass. “Oh no!” I exclaimed as my heart plummeted into my stomach. Dashing over, I swiped the little guys from the grass and pressed them against my chest. There were two of them, and they squirmed and mewled in protest. Honestly, I’d never been a pet person, but the guilt at leaving these poor things motherless ate at my insides.
“What are ye going to do with those?” the dwarf bellowed. The logic behind his words rang true with me. I’ve always considered myself a practical person. Perhaps a bit impulsive, but practical nonetheless.
“We can’t leave them!” I responded, “We killed their mother.” I turned them away from the grumpy dwarf.
“Ye sentimental twit. What are ye going to do with ’em?” he asked again.
“I don’t know!” I exclaimed. “But I can’t leave them. This is terrible.”
“The mother shouldn’t of attacked us,” he responded. He turned, waving an arm in exasperation. “Whatever, let’s go.”
“Wait!” I said urgently. “Can you take the mother’s body with us? We aren’t too far from town.”
The dwarf turned on his heel, the scowl on his face threatening to smack me. “What for?” he asked, his voice low and menacing.
I dropped my gaze to the tiger. Its short fur glistened a bit in the evening light. The stripes were nice, and I could appreciate the burnt orange color. “Well, I would hate to just let her rot in this humidity. Surely it’s a nice hide?”
He appeared thoughtful for a moment, then said, “Aye, that makes sense. Alright.” He grabbed the cat’s head, hoisted the corpse over his back, and started walking, the tail dragging behind him. “Well?” he shouted over his shoulder. “Are ye coming?”
Following the dwarf, I draped both kittens over my left arm and held them close, their little heads looking about inquisitively. It didn’t take long for them to settle. I could feel them purring against me. I didn’t have any idea what I would do with them. Perhaps someone in Nicodranas would appreciate an exotic pet. Either way, I rarely fretted over future problems. A solution would present itself.
In the meantime, I gaped at the view of Nicodranas as we neared it. Towering spires with spade-shaped domes littered the bustling city. Trostenwald barely made up a third of this gorgeous port city. It was love at first sight. I hadn’t even set foot on her streets, but I knew that I was home. Pedestrians started filling up the road, many of them farmers returning home after a day of trading their wares.
Small homes lined the road as we neared the walls, a testament to the grand city’s expansion over the years. I waved and smiled and greeted people as we passed. Everyone seemed friendly, although we received many curious, sometimes cautious, stares from folk, what with the dead tiger, massive tabaxi, and tetchy dwarf marching along.
Traffic filtered into and out of the city proper through a gaping white stucco arch. At this time of day, not nearly as many citizens were waiting to get in, but a steady stream poured out. The few seeking entry had an unhindered path on the left, and we shuffled in behind them.
We had just stepped up to the entry when a guard stepped up to block our path. “Halt,” he barked.