Jaythen felt ill, her whole body ached but she must have slept for it was now several hours later. She stumbled out of the bed and attempted to pull the clamp from her ankle but it was hopeless. All she managed to do was to make it bleed. She remembered that a tinderbox and lamp were somewhere across the room so she crawled forward and felt around. Her hands touched a small shelf but she was at the end of the chain and could not reach a thing. She heard scratching. Anger and self-pity turned to terror as she glanced into the darkness where the door was. There was definite scratching.
“Who are you!” she called.
A muffled meow hit her ears while the scratching continued.
Jaythen relaxed a little. There were numerous cats in the castle and a few she knew herself. “Pixie,” she called out to the tiny kitten that the girls in Maiden’s Hostel had befriended. “Is that you Pixie?”
The scratching stopped but her heart raced. That could a wee kitten do to help anyway? She heard a thud of feet. Something was running outside and it was far bigger than Pixie. There was a thud and the door rattled. Jaythen strained her eyes. She could see a faint line along the side of the wall. That’s it; the door had moved a fraction. Somebody was trying to break it down.
“I’m chained to the wall,” she yelled. “I can’t reach the door to help!”
It was silent outside. She listened and heard running again. There was an almighty splitting noise and the gap widened. She could now see top and bottom lines as well as the side one. “It’s coming!” she screamed.
The third bump on the door was in a different spot. The top left hand corner split and more light shone in. Jaythen’s excitement turned to fear. She could see four massive claws poking through the gap. They pulled on the broken wood before retreating.
“What are you?” she cried.
The claws appeared again, seized a section of wood and ripped it out. Oh my God, two yellow eyes stared unblinking at her. They disappeared, she heard pounding and another crunch. The door shook, timbers groaned and it fell inwards in a shower of splinters. Light poured in and for a second, the girl was blinded. She wiped her eyes and held her hand up to shade them.
A massive cat stood there! It was over two meters long with a sleek coal black body and those yellow eyes. It looked at her and crawled in between the splintered wood. Jaythen calmed down. The beast held its tail up. Didn’t an angry cat always wag its tail? Its eyes too looked kind, almost compassionate.
“Have you come to help me, panther?” she asked.
The cat sat down and did the strangest thing. It began to purr. Jaythen wriggled forward and touched the massive creature. Its fur was smooth like silk. She brushed its neck and talked softly. All the time the panther looked at her with those kind eyes.
“I’m chained to the wall,” Jaythen said as she continued to pat the panther. When her hand went down its neck she found a collar. “You’re someone’s pet?” she said.
The panther gave a low growl.
“Sorry,” Jaythen replied. “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”
She stretched her fingers and gasped. There was a piece of paper wrapped around the collar. With infinite care she pulled it out and opened it. Yes, it was a message. There was writing on the paper.
“Oh panther,” she said. “You did come for me.”
She placed the note on the floor in the light and saw shaky pencil lettering.
Jaythen. This is Rochelle. She is a wild beast but has come to help you. Make your way to the top of Tower Four and lock yourself up there. Don’t worry. Other friends have distracted the guards. Rochelle will wait with you until dawn when other friends will come for you. Sliver.
Sliver. Jaythen frowned. She had heard the name somewhere before.
“Sliver,” she said. “This note is from Slither but I don’t really know him.”
Rochelle stood up and wagged her tail twice.
“Wait a minute. I do know a Slither. He visited Maiden’s Hostel one night looking for one of the other girls. He was a tall skinny guy as old as the hills. Is that right?’
The panther gazed at her and wagged his tail once.
“One wag for yes and two for no, is that right?”
Rochelle wagged once.
“So you can answer my questions?”
“I know. It was Kyla Kiro. I remember she seemed to be sweet on Shane Wynex. Do you know of him?”
“He missed out on being selected as a knight. I guess he went away.”
“He didn’t? Has he something to do with you being here?”
“Oh well so it was Kyla?”
There was sort of a wag and a half. “You’re trying to say you know them but they didn’t really send you?’
“But their friend Slither sent you to rescue me?”
The panther stared at her and wagged her tail just once.
“But I’m chained to the wall, Rochelle,” Jaythen’s voice became apprehensive. “It’s so tight around my ankle I doubt if even you can get it off. Look!” She sat on her bottom and stuck her foot out. The iron clamp and padlock were attached to a chain made up of links about three centimeters across. “You’ll never break it,” she said.
Rochelle sniffed at the clamp and brought a paw up. Her claws stretched out and gave the clamp a tug. She licked Jaythen’s ankle and gave the padlock another tug but it remained secure.
“Don’t give up. Please don’t give up.” The girl broke into a sob.
The panther turned and followed the chain to the wall. Here, the padlocked looked as solid as the one that held the clamp. Rochelle growled and seized the hook with a front paw. She twisted and yanked. The wall shook and she fell back in a cloud of dust.
“You did it,” Jaythen gasped. “Rochelle you did it!”
The padlock was still attached to the hook but this was hanging in Rochelle’s claw a half a meter away from a hole in the wall.
Jaythen stood up, pulled the chain towards her and wound it up. She reached over and hugged the massive animal. “Can we go up to the top of the tower now?”
Rochelle stood up, stretched and wagged her tail once and a bit.
“I know,” the girl said. “I’ll need things.” She stood up, found the tinderbox and lit the lamp. “I’ll go bare feet,” she said and glanced in the small mirror on the wall. She gulped at her reflection, the cut lip, blackened eyes and the ugly tufts of hair that remained. “I’m like a monster,” she cried.
Rochelle licked her hand and wagged her tail twice.
“If you say so,” Jaythen whispered. She wound up the chain, slid it over her arm and turned to the panther. “Ready now?”
The panther walked to the door and slid out. Jaythen had to wriggle to fit through the damaged door. Her bruised ribs sent a spasm of pain through her body but she gritted her teeth and continued. Once outside she stood up and glanced around.
“Oh hell,” she gasped.
Two panthers squatted in the corridor gazing at her while two lines of bats sat along an outer wall shelf.
“More friends?’ Jaythen whispered.
Rochelle wagged her tail once. She and the larger panther rose to their feet and walked away. Jaythen hitched up the chain with one hand, held her boots with the other and followed her rescuers towards the stairs.