Story: Lost Socks

Andy, or Ser Andrew Banvard, is a character I play at Warden’s Vigil. I write a lot of short stories for Andy. He’s one of the most insistent voices in my head and such a patient little fellow. I enjoy writing him and I enjoy sharing his adventures.

In the following story, Andy has returned home after a shift with the guard. He is supposed to be looking after a cat for his friend, Iain. His wife, Blythe (Bit), is next door with her sister, Evelyn, helping Evelyn pack for a trip overseas. Andy is in a bit of a broody mood. He’s just seen Iain off on a quest, his wife is due to give birth any day and his dear friend, Evelyn, will be leaving soon after. Losing Iain’s cat will make a trying day even less memorable and Andy would prefer not to let down a friend.

((29 Bloomingtide, Evening. Highever))

The house had a foreboding look. Pausing at the gate, Andy frowned at the darkened windows and shadowed doorway. From the street, his house appeared unoccupied. From the perspective of an active imagination, his house might be haunted. Lips twisting in a pensive manner, Andy attempted to talk himself down; yes, haunted houses existed outside of stories and, yes, he had been taunting himself with the idea a rift in the Fade wandered Highever, ready to part at whim, spewing demons and the shade of every fish, rabbit and chicken he’d ever eaten onto the cobblestoned streets. But, to imagine the convergence of three such fantasies in one place…

That took talent.

Pushing open the gate, Andy navigated the path to the front door. His lips moved in a slight mutter meant to defy the anxious twist of his belly. The young knight berated himself for believing his house was haunted. What arrogance! The denizens of another plane would prefer grander surroundings, surely. What folly.

Bit was probably next door, right? A glance over his shoulder confirmed all the windows at Evelyn’s house glowed with light.

A deep sigh pushed up and out of him. Andy turned away from Evelyn’s house and pondered the shadows beneath the bushes clustered about the small front porch of his own. It would be weird to sit down in the dark and spend the night looking at the house next door, but that’s what he felt like doing. Soon that house would be dark too. Evelyn would be gone. Andy didn’t imagine rifts in the Fade tearing open and ripping apart Evelyn’s house, the truth seemed fantastic enough. The small herbalist, his best friend, had received an invitation to study in Tevinter (with a mage who could tear the veil at will?). Bit was probably over there helping her pack boxes. Andy knew he should be there too, spending every last minute with his best friend. A ready excuse tripped off his tongue, though.

“Evie and Bit will want time together.” They were sisters.

Andy would miss Evelyn keenly. Highever…Ferelden would not be the same without her. He was proud of his friend’s accomplishments and he understood she had received an accolade along with the opportunity to further her craft. Her efforts had been recognised and rewarded. Selfishly, though, Andy could only think about the vacuum she’d leave behind. Blythe would lose her sister, he would lose a dear friend and Iain… Andy shook his head. Poor Iain.

The blonde knight had moved out of Evelyn’s house the day before. Andy had helped him carry his gear up to the castle and set him up in the room he’d and Blythe used to share. He hadn’t mentioned the small coincidence (a room was a room and Castle Cousland, while extensive, did not have an infinite number of them) and Iain seemed oblivious to it. Actually, Iain had seemed oblivious to everything. Andy had noticed his fellow knight tended to become oddly still at times, the quietude a stark contrast to his more usual exuberance. He reckoned Iain had a good reason to be broody, though. He’d just been swapped out for another man.

“Oi, you there.”

Looking up, Andy peered at the shadowy figure paused in the street.

“What’re you doing there in the dark?”

“Er…” Andy looked around as if to get his bearings. The garden offered few clues. Behind him, the house remained dark. Over the low wall, Evelyn’s house still blazed with light and life.

“Someone lives there, you know.”

Andy looked up. “Aye, I do.”

The figure leaned forward, probably to get a better look at the odd young man lurking in the front garden. Andy moved over to the fence to meet him. “I, er…” How did one explain the need to stand in a dark garden? “I was just, um, thinking… about stuff.”

“Well go do it inside, eh?”

Encumbered by a broody mood all his own, Andy simply nodded and retraced his steps to the front door. A deeper, darker shape wavered in the shadows of the porch and Andy stopped, eyes narrowing. Nothing else moved, but the young knight reckoned he could feel something. His imagination tried to suggest all manner of terrible things. Annoyed, his mood souring further, Andy shoved fantasy aside and moved toward the door. The darkness at his feet shifted with a suddenness that seemed to stop time. Breath catching in his throat, heart stilled between beats, Andy rocked backward, arms flailing out to each side. He landed on his bum, arms and legs akimbo, and something dark shot over his head, tearing a startled yelp from his closed throat.

An answering yowl followed the demon across the yard, the otherworldly sound creeping beneath Andy’s skin, causing the hair along his arms to stand to attention. The back of his neck prickled. A violent shudder rippled across his shoulders, knotting muscles almost painfully. Shaking off what felt like a small fit, Andy rolled to the side and looked back across the yard. Darkness met his eyes, quiet and undisturbed.

“Holy Maker,” he murmured, testing his voice.

The gate opened, the quiet grate of iron against gravel startling Andy all over again. Something between a yelp and a yowl clawed its way out of his sore throat. A large, dark shape advanced across the yard.
“You all right there, lad?”

It was the man who had questioned him before.

Pushing to his feet, Andy swallowed and cleared his throat, both actions aggravating the raw scrape of tortured vocal chords. Maker’s breath, had he really yelled that loudly? Casting a quick glance at the brightly lit house next door, Andy blushed into the darkness. What if Evie and Bit had heard him? How would he explain…?

A hand landed on his arm. “Not your cat, I take it.” Andy looked down into a pair of narrowed eyes. “You sure this is your house?”

Cat?

“Crap.”

“Huh?”

Wrestling free of the grip on his arm, Andy ran toward the gate, caught his shoulder on the angled iron, grunted and pushed through the gap. Cat…Socks. Iain had asked him to look after Socks. The cat must have been waiting on the front porch for him.

“Socks!”

Did Socks know his name? Would he come when called?

He knows his name and he’ll come when he’s called, but in his own sweet time. Just leave a window ajar if you don’t want to wait up for him.

Andy recalled the blonde knight’s tone as well as his words. Iain had sounded wistful and sad. It had been obvious he didn’t want to leave his cat behind. But a quest on behalf of the teyrn could not be refused. Andy counted himself lucky Teyrn Fergus had not asked him to go. He’d have done his duty, without question, and if Blythe hadn’t been about to give birth, he’d gladly accept the charge to search for the teyrn’s brother. But Blythe looked as if she’d pop any moment and this was his, hers…their first child. He wanted to be here. A knight could not always be where he wanted to be. Likely, he’d miss the birth of some of his children, particularly if he and Blythe continued with their plan to populate their own bannorn. But his first… There could only be one first.

“Socks!” he called again, his throat loosening with the effort of running down the street.

Stopping beneath a hoisted lantern, Andy looked both ways, shading his eyes as he peered into the shadows, looking for anything that moved. His blood, already stirred by his fright in the garden, swished behind his ears. Andy found the sound distracting and shook his head, to no avail. Just as he came to the conclusion he’d embarked on a fool’s errand, that he should return home and prop open a window, a sliver of movement caught his attention. The he realised the pounding noise behind him wasn’t entirely constrained to his eardrums. The man who had been pestering him before came to a halt beside him, fingers grabbing for his sleeve again.

“What do you think you’re about, eh? I’ve a mind to turn you into the guard.”

Andy looked down at the man. Roughly ten years his senior, he stood half a foot shorter and half a foot wider than the young knight. Dark hair curled across his forehead and dark eyes glared up from beneath a pair of bushy brows. He had a magnificent moustache. Thick, full and quite possibly curly. The handlebar of bristle distracted Andy for a moment.

Redirecting his gaze upward—with some effort—Andy answered, “I’m with the guard. Sort of. I’m a knight and that is my house, but not my cat. It’s a friend’s cat…I think. I’m supposed to be looking after it and, crap…” He tried to flail. The man’s grip on his left arm hindered movement. His right arm compensated, flying up over his head in an arc of wild gesticulation. “He really, really likes his cat and it’s all he has left. He just lost his girl and the teyrn sent him away.”

Dropping his arm, the man stepped back and nodded. Andy waited for the stranger to declare him mad or incompetent or both. Instead, a hand jutted forward. “Blake. I’ll help you find the cat.” A smile edged across the older man’s lips. “If only to stop your caterwauling.”

Andy blew out a breath and reached forward to clasp Blake’s hand in a firm shake. “Andy.”
“Thought you said you were a knight?”

“Ser Andrew,” Andy amended. Then, with a rueful smile, he added, “Just call me Andy. I’m not feeling particularly knightly tonight.”

“Fair enough.” Blake smiled and gestured the cross street. “Name and description of the cat?”

“Socks. He’s big and grey and has…”

“White socks?”

Andy brightened. “You’ve seen him?”

Laughing, Blake shook his head. “Nope, was a lucky guess. So, you’re half of the young couple who just moved in across the way, eh?”

As they moved down the street, Andy answered, “Yes. We just got married.” He sounded like someone who just got married, didn’t he? All bright and hopeful.

“Congratulations.” A bushy brow wriggled upward. “Unless I miss my guess, I’ll be saying that again next week.”

Even the night could not hide Andy’s blush. “Maybe.” Chewing thoughtfully on his lip he pretended to calculate a date engraved on his psyche. “23 Justinian.” Another three weeks.

Chuckling, Blake said, “Could be tomorrow, then.”

Andy blew out a long, steady breath and nodded.

They had seen nothing out of the ordinary as they walked along the street. No shadows, no tears in the veil. Andy’s heartbeat had slowed to something approximating normal. A scuffle in an alleyway caught the attention of both men and set Andy’s pulse to hiccupping once more. He nodded toward the dark recess in the rough stone walls and Blake nodded. Together, they turned into the alleyway. Like some of the lanes in Highever, this one existed purely to serve the houses on either side. The other end, blinded by a high stone wall, contained a lopsided pile of crates. Together, they watched a shape creep up and over the haphazardly stacked crates, feline grace obvious in the slow, careful movement and the simple fact the pile did not topple. The cat paused atop the wall, its silhouette clearly identifying it.

“He’s taunting us,” Blake murmured.

“I’m not climbing those crates,” Andy answered. “Last time I tried something like that I got my leg stuck in a barrel and a woman had to rescue me.”

Blake gave him an odd look and Andy shrugged. He was used to receiving odd looks.

“You want to follow the cat or not?”

Andy sighed.

“I’ll hold the crates for you and if you fall and get your leg stuck I’ll go get my wife, or yours.”

Laughing, Andy replied, “Holding the crates will be sufficient, I think.” Blythe would laugh for a week if she had to extract him from a crate.

Andy reached to steady the first crate and began to climb. Blake parked his solid frame to the side, bodily holding the crates in place. He extended an arm across the middle of the stack as Andy clambered past him. After a couple of minutes, Andy had his fingers hooked into the top of the wall. He pulled himself up and peered end to end. Two glowing orbs met his gaze and a shiver crept down his spine. Why didn’t Iain have a dog like a normal person? Dogs were never creepy. Not usually. Never in the case of Calenhad. The most offensive thing Andy’s round puppy ever did was break wind in bed.

Andy smacked his lips at the distasteful memory and turned to offer Blake a ‘report’. “I can see Socks at the end of the wall. I’m going up there.”

Blake responded by leaning into the crates.

Hauling himself upwards, Andy clambered onto the narrow ledge formed by the top of the wall and crawled toward the spooky eyes at the other end. As he moved hand over hand, knee past knee, he gritted his teeth. Crawling toward a cat, in the dark, could be one of most ill-advised things he’d ever done. But, it was Iain’s cat and the blonde knight had suffered lately. And, Andy had no idea how long Iain would be away—even a week would be long enough for an ulcer to form, right? A month would see the lesion perforating his gut, which would be messy and painful, if he’d understood the book correctly. Why did Evelyn need to know such things?

A low growl unfurled along the top of the wall. Andy froze. The cat hissed—or breathed in noisily—and growled again. Andy swallowed audibly.

“Not a friendly cat, is it?”

Andy thought about the times he’d woken up from a nap to find Socks curled atop his stomach or into his side. “Usually he’s alright. Maybe I should have brought some food.”

“There’s an idea. Want me to run get something?”

“Would you?”

“Be right back.”

Blake disappeared down the alleyway, his figure visible again for a brief instant as he turned into the street. Andy remained perched on top of the wall, locked eye to eye with Socks… This was not the way he’d planned to spend his evening, but it was more distracting than sitting in his garden brooding.
Eyes narrowing, Andy peered into the amber lamps opposite. That was Socks, right?

“Socks?”

The cat answered with a growl that started low, but rose in tone and volume until it ended in a shriek. Andy didn’t bother trying to pretend he hadn’t nearly messed himself. Maybe he’d be better off on the ground and they could entice the cat down with whatever treat Blake returned with. Andy began shuffling backwards, but the cat had already taken exception to his presence. With another hiss, it sprang forward, giving the young knight little time to react, unless one counted falling off the wall. Andy toppled onto the stack of crates and the stack of crates topped to the ground, taking the lanky knight along for the ride. Letting loose a few of the colourful curses he reserved for painful situations, Andy rolled from crate to crate, falling between two, catching his ribs and ear on opposite corners of another, bounced, winced at an ear-splitting crack, flailed, scrabbled, yelled some more and finally came to rest on damp cobblestones and the remains of two of the crates. He flailed one more time before dropping his arms and groaning into the sudden silence. Then the cat dropped from the wall toward him, eyes blazing, claws catching evil sparkles of moonlight. Andy threw his arms over his face and braced for impact.

Claws raked through sleeve and skin, and man and cat hissed and howled together. Andy flung one of his arms out in an effort to dislodge the cat. The claws tugged at his skin before ripping free, a tearing sound announcing the ruin of yet another shirt. Andy’s panicked thoughts did not have time to add it to the tally, wonder what his mother thought he did with all his shirts. Dislodged, but not deterred, the cat hissed and swiped at Andy’s cheek, a claw hooking skin. Andy swore. Then a shadow swooped over the pair of them, collecting the cat. The furred demon rose up, shredding more of Andy’s shirt, and slammed into the wall with a meaty thud.

“You alright?” A hand appeared in front of his face.

Andy turned away from the limp form resting next to him and blinked up at Blake. He opened his mouth and croaked. Looking at the cat again, he whispered, “Is it dead?”

Oh, holy Maker, they’d killed Socks.

Cuts, bruises, seeping puncture wounds and ruined shirt forgotten, Andy reached over poke the limp pile of fur. Though warm, the cat felt oddly still. Andy rolled away, scrambled over broken crates and stood up. He leaned over to look at the cat again, frowned, then looked up, brow furrowed. “That’s not Socks.” Even in the low light, Andy could see the cat lacked the four distinctive ‘socks’ that gave Socks his name.

“So… are we going to look for another cat?”

Rubbing a sore arm and trying to ignore the sticky feel of blood, Andy shook his head. “I think I’ll just crack a window, eh?” He hadn’t imagined cat sitting would be so messy. He looked at his hand. Or bloody. Plucking at the tatters of his shirt, he let out a sigh and turned away from the cat.

“We should bury it or something. Might attract feral dogs.”

Andy nodded. He was reluctant to pick up the corpse, though. Blake leaned forward and tugged the cat into a broken crate and then picked up the crate. Together, the two men left the alleyway and plodded back along the quiet street.

“We can bury it in my back yard,” Andy mumbled distractedly. Worry had set in—for Socks, for Iain, for Evelyn and for Blythe. Another broody mood loomed on the horizon and it was too late to head down to beach to throw rocks. Digging a hole would help, right?

Blake brought over a shovel, but seemed happy to let Andy dig the hole. Beneath the light of a lamp, Andy dug. He channeled his despondency into every bite the shovel and imagined every portion of dirt was a stone as he tossed it aside. Soon, he had a hole. Blake tipped the cat into it. Andy shoveled dirt over it.

“Think we should say anything?”

“If you’re worried about the cat’s soul, we should have burned it.”

Chewing on his lip, Andy nodded and handed over the shovel. “Thanks for your help.”

Blake smiled. “Sure. Welcome to the neighbourhood.”

Andy snorted. “Heh, thanks.”

He watched the other man leave the garden, then turned back to the small hillock of freshly turned earth. Would it be wrong to offer a few words for a cat? Would the ferocious feline lurk behind the veil, waiting for another opportunity to strike, or would its soul drift off somewhere, a Fade-city full of plump rats and puddles of milk. Or, would the cat find a place at the Maker’s side, more content in death than life. Andy didn’t know and he didn’t want to suppose he might find out one day. He hoped to be forgiven in death, to be reunited with his loved ones and his Creator, but he had a life to live first. An honorable and virtuous one.

“Draw your last breath, my friend, cross the Veil and the Fade and all the stars in the sky. Rest at the Maker’s right hand and be forgiven.”

A blush creeping across his cheeks, Andy looked up at the stars and sent another prayer into the night, this time for Iain. “Maker, light his path.” He looked at the wall separating his house from Evelyn’s and thought about the small herbalist. “And look after Evelyn, too.”

Finally, his thoughts settled on Blythe, his Blythe, and the baby. He almost didn’t dare ask for beneficence, to do so felt too much like tempting Fate. Instead, he reached into his pocket and extracted his small book of Verse. His thumb traced the well worn pages, pushing through at random, and the book fell open to a familiar page. Andy read the words silently and let the soothing cadence drive doubt from his thoughts.

Later, when he stepped inside his new house, his home, he noticed a square of parchment on the floor by the front door. He bent to pick it up and unfolded it.

Keep your socks on, mate, you haven’t lost Socks. He’s with me. See you when I see you, Iain.

 –+–

As always, thank you to BioWare for allowing us to play in their sandbox.
While Andy belongs to me, the setting for this story and Warden’s Vigil were inspired by Thedas.

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