An Excerpt from Anne Barwell’s Cat’s Quill

“Friendship is built on trust.” Tomas shrugged, his gaze settling on the book in his lap. His fingers brushed against the worn edges, seeking solace in something familiar. “You are asking me to trust you, but you will not do the same in return.”

“Cannot,” Cathal corrected. “It is the way things are.” He looked down, his gaze following Tomas’s to rest on the picture of the dragon that was the centerpiece, the other illustrations mere shadows bordering it. “I enjoyed the story. The main character risked everything to be true to himself, to follow the path he was meant to, not the one dictated to him.”

“Yes, he did.” That was one of the things that had drawn Tomas to the character of Christian. The setting was wonderful, dragons and knights, mythical lands to explore, but it was Christian who had haunted him, spoken to him, made it impossible for Tomas to put the book down or part with it. That and a hope that one day he might find someone or something he would feel that passionate about to fight for in that manner. “He was prepared to give up forever for the person he loved.”

“He lost her,” Cathal said quietly. “Would you give up forever if you loved someone like that, Tomas?”

“Would you?” Tomas countered.

“I have never been in love. It is not a question I can answer.” Cathal pulled up several blades of grass, arranging them in a circle on the ground in front of him. “None of us know how we will react unless we come face to face with any given situation. We can hope and guess, but we cannot be certain.”

“That sounds very cynical.” Tomas picked a daisy and placed it in the middle of the circle, pointing to it. “The flower represents the dragon on the cover of the book. He is surrounded by an unbroken circle of shadows, an eternity that can’t be changed.” Tomas removed a blade of grass, breaking the circle. Letting it rest on the palm of his hand for a moment, he took a deep breath and blew, watching it be carried away by the wind. “Now his future isn’t so certain. It only takes one blade of grass or one gust of wind, and everything is different.”

“Or merely the idea that things can be different.” Cathal smoothed over the remainder of the circle of grass, using his hand to flatten it so that it no longer existed. The flower he picked up and put in his pocket. “I’m keeping it safe,” he explained.

“Safety is an illusion.” Tomas couldn’t help but smile at the serious look on Cathal’s face. “Nothing lasts forever, only in our imaginations, and even we grow old and die. That flower will wilt now it has been picked. You’ve already squashed it by putting it in your pocket.”

“I thought I was the cynical one.” Cathal met Tomas’s smile with one of his own. “Not everything grows old and dies, Tomas. I expect in Christian’s mind, his love remains the same, his memories keeping her alive. They say if you don’t forget someone, they never truly die. I don’t think he would have forgotten her, the same way she never forgot him.”

“He might have found a way to come back to her, for them to be together.” Tomas preferred a happy ending in his fiction; reading was supposed to be a means of escape from the realities of life, rather than reinforcing the futility of it all.

“So romance is allowed in fiction but not in reality?” Cathal raised an eyebrow.

“I know the difference between the two,” Tomas said firmly. “And never the twain shall meet.” He picked up the book to put it safely in his bag. “So you don’t think there was a possibility that things might have been different after the book ended?”

“Once a book ends, the story is finished.” Cathal’s tone suggested that this was a statement that was not open for argument or discussion.

“Some books have sequels.” Tomas had never taken any notice of that tone when anyone else had used it. He wasn’t about to start now.

“The story is finished,” Cathal amended. “Some stories take longer to tell than others. Unfortunately often the true story is rushed and not told properly, and so the endings are lost. This one was finished.”

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