I stood stock still as I gazed at the tableau before me. I really did not have anything else that I could point to in comparison.
There was an assortment of houses and buildings that could serve any of a number of purposes, all of which I would assume made sense within context of this community. Not a small gathering, as there appeared to be several hundred buildings in the near view. Even so, farther on, I could see that a number of additional buildings, various homes unless I missed my guess, continued on, that were recessed into a vast array of hills lightly grassed over.
The buildings in the near view were all made of various combinations of wood and stone, but kept a vague edge of organic design. It was almost as if the collection of buildings were grown from the bones of the very earth. The wood construction shored up by neatly placed stone of various sizes and designs. In its entirety, the ensemble of buildings resembled what I would make out of a warren of complex compartments and unnamable things. However, with an extended view, it was obvious that this was a living community; one that cherished a clean and harmonious environment.
It was a quant little town or community or random collection of living conditions by a variety of people. But, what an odd selection of people there was.
The people, or so that I assumed them to be, were normal sized and featured men and women, but atop their shoulders, there sat the heads of cats. All kinds, colours, stripes and patterns they were. Their heads were normal sized, but furry, with whiskers and cat quick eyes that took in everything around them. At first, I mistook them to be masks, fanciful creations denoting something about style or culture or something of that sort.
I was quickly disabused of that notion as I watched one woman shaped figure round the nearest building, skid to a halt point at us with wild gestures, and then ran back at a break neck pace. I wasn’t sure if she was just pointing at me, or rather the two of us; I couldn’t see how she would have been able to see Thistledown.
“What?” Thistledown, at his best, to my mind, appears to be incapable of anything but incongruity. I suppose that my travels with him will end up being a constant non-stop iteration of amusement and pure, un-diluted terror. Thankfully, we haven’t encountered the terror portion of that assessment; but, I’m sure it’s bound to rear its ugly head soon enough.
“Uhm, doesn’t it strike you odd, that the people here are all, uhm, not like you and I?” I was trying to be polite, far be it for me to be commenting on people of different appearances. I’m not one to judge, or at least I don’t believe so.
“Different? You mean, like how you and I are different? Size, shape, breadth and cape? Oh, crap; rhyming! Sorry. How do you mean, different? In this land, there are many differences in people; you may have to broaden your definition of what’s different, good sir.” He swept his arm in a broad sweeping motion, indicating if nothing else, everything.
“Sure, I can understand that. But, bear in mind; this is all new and very different to me. I’ve never seen a person with a feline head, nor a man only eighteen inches tall. I am not inclined to pre-judge, but I do have a right to be surprised by these things, yes?”
“Well, sure; just don’t let it get to be the taking of the better part of you. There are more things here than you may have dreamed of; never let pass what may not be against, but might be there to help.” He waved at the town he had named Ulthar, to which I nodded agreement.
“So, Ulthar is a town of cat people, then?” I tried again, merely to get some more information to flush out what little I knew that I did not know.
“Arightly, that is partly so; more likely it is to say, that Ulthar is a town of cats. To whom some just happen to combine the best parts of man and the best parts of feline.” He smiled as he nodded towards the little picturesque town before us.
“But, is it safe here?”
“Surely, as safe here as anywhere in this land. The cats bear no ill will to any, who do not bear any ill will to them.” Thistledown jumped up into the air and clicked his heals; if I had done that, I would have fallen over and landed hard upon my backside. I beckoned him to lead on, as it would only take another ten minutes or so to approach the gates of the town. We continued on, in silence after that.
I continued to look around at the landscape. The woods off to the left, distant even though they were, filled me with grave misgivings. The river, now on the right, however filled me with joy and longing. They tore at inner turmoil’s within me that I was not aware existed previously.
While I was mulling over these two extremes, I realized that I had acquired a new addition to the group. Small, furry and black haired with a white patch stain on his forehead, he, or at least I assume he, sidled up beside me quietly, like cats are wont to do. He strode beside me as we walked to the gates, occasionally glancing up at me.
Stopping, I reached down to scratch the little guy on the back of the head. Likewise, he did too, allowing me to do so. Thistledown, from what I could tell, realized that we had company and reacted completely differently that I would have expected.
“Stop! Don’t try to touch that cat. It’s from Ulthar.” I looked down at the cat, then at Thistledown then back at the cat. The cat did the same thing, looked at me, and then back at my diminutive friend.
“Yes, obviously it’s a cat. But then, cats and I have always gotten along.”
“No, no, no; this is different. That’s a cat of Ulthar. Not to be played with. Dangerous.” Thisltedown looked hesitantly and cautiously at the tabby, curling around my legs. Totally out of character for him, even given that I’ve only known him for a few hours, days, whatever it was.
“This little guy? He hardly seems like he’s trying to be intimidating right now, don’t you think?”
“Well, he is correct; I am from the Town of Ulthar. My name is Harabalimnoriz; you can call me Hara. Welcome to Ulthar.” I let out a yelp and jumped back, totally unprepared to be hearing a cat talk.
“Whoa, you can talk.” I didn’t really say this to anybody in particular, but more in the general direction of the feline.
“Yes, I can talk in cat; and apparently, so can you for that is the language we are currently speaking. Shall I escort you to the town?” Very urbane, this talking cat. I looked over at Thistledown, and he just shrugged in the universally accepted form of, ‘Hell, I dunno; he’s your friend.’
“Uhm, sure; please, lead on.”
I decided to follow Hara to see what would happen next. Thistledown and Cloud and Shadow, all surprisingly quiet, followed after me.