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Cat of all trades

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Once upon a time, there was a witch's cat who loved his position.

Sometimes he was asked to kill mice and rats. Sometimes he had to catch them alive, because the witch needed to turn them into horses, gather their body parts, or do other such things. He kept the house against gnomes far better than any dog could. One time, he had even frightened away a tax collector by posing as a ghost. He certainly thought he was the most competent witch's cat in all the country and probably the world.

His mistress had never told him so, but she was not forthcoming with praise; and she had never told him he wasn't, either.

One day, he was playing with the life of a small spider. He let her go, then jumped on her again, and as he was very clever, he knew how to count down from eight on her legs.

As she was slipping between two shelves, the cat jumped to drive her out. But he was more gracious than deft, and he knocked over a vial the witch had prepared earlier.

What was her recipe? No one living can tell, witches keep their secrets well. One sure thing, one of the ingredients was catnip, and our hero licked it up to the last drop. It was not even to hide his misdeed, as he left the glass shards in the middle of the room, so as not to damage his delicate paws.

He was in a very good mood.

"What have you done this time?" the witch grumbled at the cat, when she came back from her witchy duties. She took her broom to sweep it all away - the ordinary, non-magical broom.

"The potion smelt so good! And the vial was broken, so it would have been useless!"

The cat didn't mention he had broken it in first place. The witch hadn't asked. Also, it was all the spider's fault.

The witch, instead of admiring the cat's discretion, exclaimed "You talked!"

"Not at all," the cat objected. He was feeling very believable.

The witch picked up one of the glass shards and sniffed it. It was a hard task for her poor sense of smell, but she concluded: "You drank my truth potion."

"I didn't!" the cat answered. Then he tilted his head. "Or maybe I did, but then it was a really ineffective one, and you don't have to miss it."

The witch snorted. "I can see that. Seems I have a talking cat now. I'm curious to see why it worked differently on you."

The cat, since he lived here, had seen many rats and mice cut into slices in the name of more knowledge. So he felt a bit of worry, with a side of no remorse at all. "The best way to know will certainly be to talk to me."

As the day passed, it became clear that the cat spoke perfectly not only in French, but in English, in Arabic, and in more languages than the witch was able to test. It became equally clear that he loved to give his opinion about everything. His favorite subject, of course, remained the way cats should be treated (like kings), but he didn't stop there.

After two weeks pointing out to her mistress that her hair looked like a mice nest from behind, or that the smell of her potions was unpleasant but not as much as that of her cabbage soup, she grew tired of it.

With time, she was less and less interested in what he had to say, and more and more in what the potion had done to his stomach and blood. It was, at least, what the cat had suspected. His conversation was still as brilliant, so the witch was totally foolish here. And she had said nothing about her plans. But the cat liked better to be cautious and ungrateful than dead.

So he ran away.

The woods were not a pleasant place. Animals were still as stupid and easy to catch as ever, but you couldn't reason with rain, even in German and Chinese. The cat decided therefore that he would jump into the first passing carriage to the town. No one noticed him in the heap of animal furs, and he even nibbled on a few voles.

"Honestly, I shouldn't complain, but I wonder why you people don't already have a cat," he commented. "Some people have no taste."

The man who drove the cart looked back, and saw the cat sitting in the soft comfortable furs. Instead of thanking the cat for protecting them, he threw up his hands, and cried out "The devil! The devil!"

"I have already met the devil," the cat commented, "and this comparison is not flattering at all."

The man left running.

The cat wondered briefly what he would do with a cart full of comfortable but inedible furs. Then he decided to give them to someone. He had been present at his share of birthday parties, and knew that that was what you did with useless junk.

The first human passing by had not shaved in days and drank alcohol, but at least he made no rude remarks when a cat offered him for free a cart of furs and a mule. He was thus, necessarily, a reputable person.

The cat didn't change his mind when he saw the man lived with his coworkers in a small cabin in the deep forest, where they stored a surprising quantity of knives and booze. And that's how our hero became a brigand's cat.

His first idea was to reorganize all this business from start to finish. His first disappointment was brigands laughing at his muzzle. He found solace at the fireplace, rubbing against the legs of the brigand chief's wife.

"Why does no one ever listen to me?" he complained.

"Maybe it would be better it you weren't telling everyone they're stupid?"

"But all humans are stupid! It's their nature."

"That's not a reason to say it," the woman answered calmly, while petting him.

"I've drunk a truth potion," the cat explained. It was not very convincing, probably because it was true.

The cat tried again, this time coating his words with honey. And, in only a few weeks, he had made himself totally indispensable, planning every one of the brigands' best plans. He also made himself quite unpleasant with gloating, but any reasonable being would have understood it was worth it.

Of course, a drunken brigand was exactly the reverse of a reasonable being, and one day the cat woke up under key, in a cage, at a marketplace. The brigand was asking for one coin to hear the cat talk.

At the beginning, it seemed tempting to keep quiet and ruin his business, but the temptation to insult the man creatively was stronger. People seemed to appreciate it and think they'd had enough for their money, but even this didn't comfort the cat. Then he had an idea. Just as a guard was passing, he cried out.

"By the way, did I tell you why I could talk? This man is a great sorcerer. Thanks to his magical practices, he gave me the power of speech. Did I mention how sad it is that such a capable man has to live in the forest and live off of petty theft?"

The guard immediately arrested the brigand, and the town anticipated a satisfying witch burning. Unfortunately, they planned to burn the cat too.

"I can explain everything!" the cat protested. "It's a big miscarriage of justice, and I'm the victim!" But no one listened.

"Ah, if only I had had the time to bequeath my master's cursed treasure to someone! It would save his soul, and make someone rich!" he cried out then. He had noticed, during his adventures, that humans preferred lies to the truth, and here again it was so.

The cat explained to a very interested guard that he had the sacred duty to lead him to the treasure, but that for this he should be free, to lead him on foot by secret pathways.

To make his story more believable, he was even kind enough to lose the guard in the heart of the woods, before abandoning him completely.

On the one hand, the cat would have loved to brag about this ability of making good on any situation. On the other hand, if he chose to see it as a happy ending, he could no longer complain, and he wanted to very much. He didn't feel like going back into town right now, so he laid in a barn to sleep.

"Oh, what a lovely cat!" he heard.

Of course, it could only be him. Not only because there was no other cat here.

The man turned out to be the local miller, and when he offered the cat to live at his house and hunt mice, the cat answered with enthusiastic approval. Then he admonished himself a bit. Hadn't he had enough problems, talking to humans?

The miller raised his eyebrows and asked "Are you a spirit? Because cats are far better at killing mice."

The cat promised he was a fully authentic feline, and started to live at the mill. He kept all his promises, and even managed to stop himself from giving his opinion on everything, mostly because he neither knew nor cared anything about wheat. It lasted many years, but even if millers live long, witch's cats live even longer.

Upon the miller's death, the cat was left to his youngest son, whose stupidity was exceptional. The cat couldn't resist the urge of giving him advice - excellent, as usual.

And - the chance of a lifetime - the miller's son listened.

The cat thought about all the good advice no one had listened to in dozens of years, and thought it was really the boy's lucky day.