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Panda Bo oks Australia “Corfield has again ensured he will never become a victim of plagiarism.” —Don Marconi, on probation. “As cultivated as an established rose garden, but with far more manure.” —Name withheld because of low self-esteem. “It’s no wonder the Dooven books conclude with a certificate of achievement.” —Brigette Formea, Dark Urine Marketer.

CONTENTS Title Page Licence Notes Sample Important Note Some Relevant Links Doovenism Opening Chapter Excerpt From The Next Book Thank You About the author

LICENCE NOTES All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law. Written in Australian English. Thank you for purchasing this ebook. If you didn’t, and it’s pirated, then a pox upon you. I don’t do this for fun, you know.This is work. And it’s quite hard too. Especially some of the spelling. This book must not be reproduced, copied or distributed, nor can it be printed out to write shopping lists on. If you enjoyed this book, please return to to discover further books. If you didn’t enjoy it, then I suggest you re-read it paying closer attention. Consider visiting for music, dancing and much merriment.



t the desk, a receptionist repeated a question he hadn’t heard. “And you’re his doctor, I understand?” she asked. Oscar turned back to her. There were other receptionists beside her, busy with telephonecalls and notes, and one was bandaging the paw of another who’d damaged it during some emergency dialling. “I’m sorry?” “You’re his doctor, I understand?” “Well, not really.” She glanced at some notes and frowned.“We were told his doctor would be accompanying him.” “Oh, yes. Sorry. I thought you were asking if I needed one.” The receptionist looked up at him.“Why would I ask whether you need a doctor?” He shrugged. “Well, this being a hospital, I presume it’s a common enquiry.” “So are you a doctor or not?” she tried after a sigh that was borderline diagnostic for needing one herself. “If not, I’ll have to page for one.” “Yes, I am a doctor,” he said, before wondering how he was going to contact the Loud Purr while keeping an eye on his patient. The receptionist’s look withered to irritation. “And?” “And what?” “What are you admitting him for, doctor?” Oscar glanced at the Returned Poet, who remained strapped to the stretcher and mumblingthings about cheese and antique curtain rails.“He’s completely insane-of-the-mind,” he said. “He burst in on this evening’s lectures in the Inaugurate Halls of Liebe and disrupted them entirely.” The receptionist went pale and a paw covered her mouth. “The lectures? Surely not!”

“Yes. Such interruption is unforgivable, of course.” “Of course! How dreadful! Were they terribly cross?” “Terribly. Fortunately, the Elder Pom-Wimple, whom I know personally, called me directly.” “You know the Pivotal Elder of the Inaugurate Halls of Liebe personally?” “Oh, yes.We had a brief chat about poetry just this evening.” He glanced at the Returned Poet again. “I blame myself for his state. He’s been my patient for five years and has gotten worse over recent months.” The receptionist peered over the desk too. “He appears to be eating himself.” “Yes. It’s one of the problems associated with Cheese Syndrome.” “Of what?” “Cheese Syndrome. He thinks he’s made of cheese.” “Cheese?” “Yes, you know, the yellow stuff sometimes found in certain gourmet buns.” “He thinks he’s made from cheese?” Oscar nodded in a manner reflecting the severity of such diagnosis. “Goodness.” She scrabbled across her desk for an application form that might help lessen the gravity of their situation. “I’ve never heard of Cheese Syndrome. Is it very dangerous?” “It can be fatal if you’re lactose intolerant.” She found one and began filling it in. “Because he interrupted the lecture,” Oscar continued, “there are significant medico-legal-quasi-geo-political factors that have to be addressed most urgently.” “Yes, of course.” “So I’d like to make a telephone call if possible, to a colleague who’s an expert in professional cheese-shaping.” “Of course, doctor.” She stopped scribbling and dragged a telephone to him. After wiping some blood off it, she said, “Use this one, but be careful: it’s very sharp and has been responsible for three ad-

missions already this evening.” “It’s all right,” said Oscar, warming to the role, “I’m a doctor. I’m used to sharp things” She smiled in apology and continued her frantic scribbling. Oscar dialled and waited, wondering how he was going to speak to the Catacombs without a herd of receptionists overhearing. There was a voice at the other end. “Hello?” “Hello,” said Oscar, before realising he hadn’t thought any of this through. He tried turning from the desk, but the telephone’s sharpness threatened to cut the cord. “It’s doctor Teabag-Dooven. I was wondering whether I might speak to the animal in charge.” “Who?” “Doctor Teabag-Dooven.” He pronounced the name very clearly. “Is that Oscar?” “Yes.” “Goodness! It’s Binklemitre here! We’ve been up all night wondering how things were going.We’ve been playing cards. It’s very late here.What time is it there?” “Well, latish, I suppose. Look, can I speak to the Loud Purr?” “No, not really.” “What do you mean not really?” “He’s got a really good paw and I think he’s about to beat Messington—” “Just put him on the phone, Binklemitre!”When the receptionist looked up, he covered the receiver and said, “New administrative staff. Still learning the ropes. Nothing like the well-oiled machine you’ve got going on here.” When she smiled and went back to her scribbling, there was a gruff voice on the other end. “Pantaloons?” Oscar stood to attention, which had her looking again. “Good evening, You Illustriousness,” he said. “Sorry to bother you, but something very interesting has come up.” “Indeed?Well?” “Yes. Look, the thing is, I think it would be a good idea if you

came over here almost immediately.” “Certainly, if you think it’s necessary.What’s happened?” He glanced at the receptionist, who was looking at him. “Cheese, mainly.” “Cheese?” “Well, Cheese Syndrome.” “Cheese what?” “Yes. A quite serious case.” “You’re not making sense, Pantaloons.” “I know, but there’s a very good reason.” “And what’s this about cheese. Did you say cheese?” “Yes. Perhaps as soon as you can.” “Pantaloons—” “Far away from other patients, you say?” “What?” “Yes, I’ll do a complete and thorough examination.” “Pantaloons, have you finally lost your collar?” “Contagious? Are you certain?” “No I’m not! Stop speaking rubbish and start making sense!What’s going on?” “That’s marvellous then.” He gritted his teeth, adding, “I’d be very grateful if you could arrive here unbelievably quickly before the seriousness of the situation becomes something that I’m incapable of managing, let alone comprehending.” There was a pause on the other end. “We’ll be there directly.” He hung up, being careful not to cut himself. From Chapter 11

IMPORTANT NOTE This publication contains references to characters, events and places from other books in the series. It also contains 3 intentional typographical errors. Readers astute enough to identify these errors are eligible to receive a delightful ‘Certificate of Astuteness’ and a paw-written letter of congratulation from Oscar Teabag-Dooven. Moreover, readers who post a review of this book anywhere—even on their fridge—whether favourable or otherwise (the review, not their fridge), will receive a ‘Certificate of Indebtedness’ for doing so. These two certificates, along with the one received upon successful completion of the book’s quiz, add up to a veritable swathe of credentials which would improve the appearance of any wall, providing it would look good draped in certificates. Submit your finding(s) at Alternatively, don’t.

SOME RELEVANT LINKS The Velvet Paw of Asquith Novels are representative of the emerging New Fable fiction genre. Consider visiting the following links to find out more about both. 1. Chosen Chapters from the Velvet Paw of Asquith Novels on Youtube:

2. Hotel Scenes from the Velvet Paw of Asquith Novels on Youtube:

3. Writing Wrongly – The Middle Bits, a book about writing the Dooven Books, on Youtube: adult themes)

4. The Velvet Paw of Asquith Facebook page: 5. A bit about the author: 6. Dooven Muzak is music written exclusively for the Velvet Paw of Asquith Novels, the books referred to in this one. Listen to some here: 7. The Dooven Books are available as Cinematic Audiobooks all over the place:

DOOVENISM The Velvet Paw of Asquith novels, aka the Dooven Books, are complemented with additional media to enhance the reader’s experience. Visit VELVETPAWOFASQUITH.COM to learn more about these additional components of the Dooven Books:

DEDICATION For Oliver and Jeremy, Tabitha and Natalie

TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels 1 ____________________

“Courage arises when escape is possible. Heroism arises when it isn’t.” — Lyeia-Emther-Essden-Tonquaroughly.

ELL me about your mother.” Doctor Flem Funnel-Bremly leant back and waited for an answer, already aware what it would be. He’d asked the question of this patient each week for the past five years. Over that time, her response had not improved. It began with verbal abuse, followed by blazing row which culminated with the sort of violence that demolition is renowned for. She’d throw things at him, smash his pot plants and storm from his office, before confirming her appointment with his secretary for the following week. This was because Lyeia-Emther-Essden-Tonquaroughly was both insane-of-the-mind and not getting better. Her lack of progress, coupled with a desperation to make some, had been financially rewarding for Funnel-Bremly, even after taking office damage into account. Funnel-Bremly sat in a plush armchair and held a pen over a pad of notepaper. The chair was expensive and upholstered in green Cavaron leather which squeaked when he moved.The chaise longue upon which Lyeia lay was a similar design, and both went well with his office, which was also expensive, green and plush. Green wallpaper had gold flower motifs above a wooden beading that ran around its middle, which complemented a chandelier hanging from the ceiling. At one end of the room was a mahogany desk, upon which re1

When Fear Is Not Afraid sided a gold-nibbed writing set and an elegant reading lamp with a cover of green glass. There were pot plants in reinforced concrete containers either side of floor-to-ceiling bookcases, the latter brimming with leather spines and folders containing years of patient notes. His office had an air sophisticated, intellectual establishment, which pleased him, as he aspired to the same. He pushed at glasses that slid down his nose, before pondering Lyeia through them. Most practitioners who’d treated a patient for five years without improvement would consider it failure. Funnel-Bremly, however, did not. As far as he was concerned, if a patient couldn’t be cured then there was nothing wrong with them in the first place. Indeed, he’d written a book along these lines entitled Stop Whinging, which had been published to considerable acclaim. In it, he suggested all psychiatric disorders arose from self-indulgent moaning, and its release had inspired a new movement in psychiatry known as Funnelism. Stop Whinging excused practitioners’ unsuccessful treatment by suggesting they probably shouldn’t have bothered treating patients in the first place. Up until Funnelism, psychiatry had focused on patients. After Funnelism, however, focus turned to the practitioner. It insisted that psychiatric illnesses were the patient’s problem, not theirs, and consequently, neither was failure to cure them. Funnelism involves a two-stage treatment regime regardless of patient presentation. Firstly, a clinical insistence that they stop whinging is implemented, followed by a serious dose of perspective. For example, if a patient hears voices that aren’t there or sees things they shouldn’t, or wears gardening tools on Thursdays, or eats house bricks, Funnelism insists they stop moaning and points out that in a hundred years no one will care. For more difficult case, a millennia may be used. Highlighting patients’ whinging against a backdrop of eternal indifference often turns out to be the proverbial slap in the face necessary for patients to re-evaluate their behaviour. Moreover, because they’re mad, they readily accept this and continue wearing gardening tools and eating bricks without beating themselves up 2

TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels about it. Lyeia, however, was different. She did not accept this proverbial slap; five years of expensive therapy being testament to the fact. And although she didn’t wear gardening tools on any day of the week, she did hear voices that weren’t there and certainly saw things she shouldn’t. Funnel-Bremly glanced at his bookshelves, and at one shelf in particular that bulged with notebooks from their previous sessions. Lyeia’s insanity had cultivated a temper so short that she had a habit of losing it—and even finding it again often left her furious. As a result, she had a tendency to punch animals in the face. She didn’t mean to. She wasn’t an aggressive dog at all, despite her habit of hospitalising strangers. Had she a choice, she’d prefer discussing the weather or cheese, rather than smash animals’ faces in. And although she didn’t understand why she heard voices that weren’t there and saw things she shouldn’t, she remained adamant that it had nothing to do with her mother. Which is why Funnel-Bremly was convinced it did. Habitually punching animals in the face inevitably compromises socialising for both parties. As a result, despite her tender years and charming looks, Lyeia was yet to converse with anyone for longer than twenty minutes that didn’t result in intensive care and bail application. She lay on the chaise longue and stared at the same ceiling she had for the past five years. She’d wanted to be a doctor, but had decided against it when realising there was little point helping others if she couldn’t help herself. Instead, she worked in a library. Funnel-Bremly asked the question again. “Lyeia, tell me about your mother.” She focussed on the ceiling, its detail limited by virtue of it being a ceiling, rather like her life. The only thing she’d said about her mother was her bizarre choice in names. Lyeia had no siblings. Her mother worked in a laun3

When Fear Is Not Afraid drette and her father in a coal mine. On this alone it was a convenient marriage. Both were kind and loved her, and gave her all she needed. She’d changed schools twice; once when her father had changed mines, and again when she’d set fire to a teacher’s car after ensuring the teacher was in it. “Lyeia? Your mother. Tell me about her.” She wiped at tears. “We’ve been over this before.” Funnel-Bremly glanced at his bookshelf again. “Indeed,” he said, “yet never once have you answered.” “I have.” “I mean without destroying my office afterwards.” “It needs redecorating.” “It does after you’ve trashed the place. We’ve been over this many times. Your violence toward my office is an excuse to avoid talking about your mother.” While she stared at the ceiling, he felt a déjà vu so exhausting that he wondered about jotting it down. With a sigh, he lowered his notebook. “Lyeia, you must understand that your reaction insists I probe further.You don’t want me to resort to Funnelism, do you?” She rocked her head against pillow. “Good. Now, do you know why you find it so hard to talk about your mother?” “Because there’s nothing to say.” “Well, I think there’s a great deal to say.” She turned to glare. “What is it with you and my mother anyway?” “It’s you and your mother I am interested in, Lyeia. This has nothing to do with me.You know that.” “I know only that there is nothing to say on the matter.” “There is always something to say about our mothers.” “It depends on the mother.” “You’re avoiding the question again.” “I’m not avoiding anything,” she said. “I’m answering your question by saying that there’s nothing of relevance to say.” 4

TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels “Perhaps I ought to be the judge of that.” After a time, she said, “She had a bizarre choice in names. Clearly she was a fan of hyphens.” Funnel-Bremly nodded, having noted this over two hundred times already. “Yes, but more than that.Tell me about how she makes you feel.” “I don’t feel anything. I feel nothing good or bad regarding her. I am completely devoid of opinion on the matter.” More nods as he flipped through well scribbled pages. “So you’re indifferent to her?” “I’m indifferent to the question. It’s irrelevant. She’s irrelevant. It’s like asking me to express my opinions on pompoms: they’re fluffy, light and often found on hats. But I see no point in deliberating over them.” “But most animals would consider their mothers rather more influential that pompoms, Lyeia.” “Perhaps. Certainly she avoided sitting on hats.” “Now you’re just being flippant.” “No. I am answering an irrelevant question with irrelevance. It makes perfect sense to me.” “If things made perfect sense, Lyeia, I don’t think you’d be here, do you?” “Then what do you want me to say?” she growled. “If you keep pestering me like this, then I’ll end up mentioning something about her which you’ll insist arises from some deep-rooted maternal pathology that gives rise to my hallucinations, and that I’ll spend the next six months agonising over until it’s contradicted through further questions—which will not only leave me in a blubbering mess for a further six months, but you in traction for even longer!” Funnel-Bremly sighed. It wouldn’t be long now, and he cast an uneasy glance at his reinforced concrete pots.They were designed for war zones, so should survive another of her outbursts. He’d had them installed by specialists, having gone through seventeen standard ones this year already. He peered at the floor beside him where an 5

When Fear Is Not Afraid empty tray waited as impromptu shield. “All right,” he said, trying a more lateral approach. “Tell me how your mother makes you feel.” “Oh, for fluff’s sake! How many more times? My being insaneof-the-mind has nothing to do with my mother!” “Nevertheless, Lyeia, tell me how she makes you feel.” “I don’t think—” “Don’t think, Lyeia. I want to know how you feel. Begin the sentence with I feel.” “I feel your pedantic wording is ridiculous. Using words interchangeably makes no difference to what I’d wish to say!” “And what do you wish to say, Lyeia?” When she turned to glare again, he said, “Lyeia, need I remind you that I’m a psychiatrist and you’re a librarian.There’s a difference. A big one.” Her eyes narrowed. “You know very well my reasons for surrendering medicine,” she said. “I did not take the decision lightly. My being a librarian does not make me less of an animal than I otherwise might have been. Indeed, such sacrifice might prove my being a far finer one.” “Are you certain of that?” “You know I am.You must have written it down often enough. I cannot hope to help others if I am ill myself.” She folded her paws and turned back to the ceiling. “It was a sacrifice necessary.” “Are you certain, Lyeia?” She nodded as tears welled. He hesitated. If she got upset, his office wouldn’t stand a chance. Nevertheless, he asked again, “Your mother. Tell me about her.” With a sigh, she wiped her eyes.“Have I made any progress at all?” “In a manner of speaking,” he said, thinking of his new yacht. She sat up, which had him leaning toward the tray. “I don’t think I am making progress,” she said. “What’s more, I think my boss is beginning to suspect the same.” 6

TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels He frowned. “Fingelberry? But I was under the impression that you were finding the library very peaceful. As I recall, only last month you assured me you felt far less likely to punch animals in the face while working there.” She nodded. “Yes. But recently arguments have been erupting out of nowhere.” Her eyes welled again. “I know it’s ridiculous: animals come to the library looking for books, not fights. So why do I end up telling them that they’re stupid and asking whether they want their snouts smashed in? If they’re in a library they’re not complete idiots, surely? So why do I find myself telling them that they are?” “Perhaps you’re indirectly telling yourself?” “No,” she said, with a defiant sniff. “It’s definitely them. I find their voices and questions and smiles irritating, even though all they’re doing is asking about due dates and where the non-fiction is.” “And that irritates you?” “Yes! It’s a library. Surely they can read? I mean, there are signs all over the place! It’s not difficult to work out where the non-fiction is if they read the signs indicating where the non-fiction is! They should consider it practice for when they get there.” “The Great Library of Liebe is the world’s largest library, Lyeia.” “All the more reason to make an effort.” “But it’s your job, surely? It’s part of what a librarian would do.” “A librarian should not have to teach stupid animals how to be less so.” She began hitting her head. “They irritate me so much that I end up screaming at them.” Her blows lessened and she looked sheepish. “At least, I screamed up until recently.” “What happened recently, Lyeia?” She bit her lip. “I began punching them in the face again.” He closed his eyes, realising he was going to need more shelving. “So even in the library you find opportunity to punch animals in the face?” She nodded. “I thought we’d been over this, Lyeia. I thought we’d developed 7

When Fear Is Not Afraid coping mechanisms to implement when you start feeling like thumping animals. Remember? So you can redirect violence into something resembling polite dinner conversation?” “Yes, but there’s a problem with your coping mechanisms.” “What’s that?” “They’re rubbish.They don’t work at all.When I get infuriated, the last thing on my mind is implementing mechanisms of convivial dinner conversation because all I want to do is punch them in the face!” He sighed and shook his head. Lyeia did not look capable of such violence. She was beautiful, for a start. Her ears were long and floppy and hung around her shoulders as though they were the latest fashion. Her eyes, big and brown, seemed incapable of harbouring anything other than wonder at the world. Yet here she was, LyeiaEmther Essden-Tonquaroughly: the most unstable patient he’d ever met. Who wasn’t in prison. She had a sick note regarding that. But even sick notes from psychiatrists as influential as he would become redundant if she’d begun punching animals in the face again. His reputation had persuaded Fingelberry to engage her at the library, and her relapse wouldn’t do much for it. Although Fingelberry was a kind animal, the Library Board would be far less understanding. Ambulances were supposed to be noisy. Libraries were not. Changing his approach, he asked, “The visions, Lyeia. Are they as frequent?” She looked away and fought tears. “Yes.” “More so?” “Yes.” “And still the same imagery?” “Yes.” “And the voices, Lyeia. Do they whisper more insistently than before?” She stared at nothing; a lull before storm. “Lyeia?” he asked. “The voices. Are they more insistent than be8

TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels fore?” She shook her head and sniffed at an escaped tear. “Are they lessening then?” When she shook her head again, he frowned. “If they’re not as insistent, but they’re not lessening, are they getting louder perhaps?” She shrugged. “What do they say?” “I don’t know,” she whispered. “Why? You can’t hear them clearly anymore, perhaps?” Another shake of head. He was encouraged. “Is that a good thing?” he asked. When she turned to him, he felt to be kicked in the chest. “I can’t hear them properly,” she said, “because they scream.” He reached for his tray while swallowing at nothing. “All the time, Lyeia? Do they scream all the time?” She returned her attention to ceiling. After a moment’s deliberation, he asked, “And you’re absolutely convinced that this has nothing to do with your mother?” When she turned to him again, he retrieved his tray without any sudden movements. “Would you please leave my mother out of this?” she hissed. He glanced at his pot plants, hoping the war zone was a particularly violent one. He didn’t want it inverted again. The repair bills alone were his greatest expense last quarter. Next to hospital bills. “It’s just that every time I mention your mother, you get defensive.” “I am not getting defensive!” “True,” he said. “I stand corrected. Offensive is perhaps more apt.” “Offensive? How do you think I feel?” she cried. “I have no choice! Your insistence about my mother drives me mad—which is quite an achievement, considering I’m already insane!” She leant closer. “I can assure you, Funnel-Bremly, that my mother has got 9

When Fear Is Not Afraid nothing to do with my problem!” “That you admit you have a problem, Lyeia, is the first step to recovery.” He wanted to jot this down, but didn’t dare surrender the tray. Her glare hardened. “I told you I had a problem five years ago! For five years you’ve been supposedly curing my madness!Yet nothing has changed. I still hear voices that aren’t there and see things I shouldn’t! Am I beyond help? Tell me, Funnel-Bremly! Because I have seen five psychiatrists in seven years! None of them helped. All they could do was refer me to you—” “You did put two of them in traction.” “And here I am five years later having made no progress whatsoever, other than ample opportunities to discuss my MOTHER!” She stood and lunged around his office as frustration boiled. “Listen,” she growled, “my mother has nothing to do with the fact that I hear voices that aren’t there and see things I shouldn’t. She’s got nothing to do with the fact that as a result, I spend my pathetic and lonely existence assaulting every second animal I come across!” “Every second one’s not so bad—” She turned to him as though mechanised. “That’s because the others run, Funnel-Bremly! They run from me! Can you imagine what that’s like? Can you conceive how it feels to have had no contact with any animal longer than twenty minutes?” He shook his head and braced the tray. “Twenty minutes!” she cried, waving her paws at everything. “I’ve never spoken to any animal for more than twenty minutes that hasn’t resulted in their admission to casualty!” “Lyeia,” he tried, “we’ve gone over this many times and discussed various coping mechanisms you could—” “You can shove your coping mechanisms right up your bottom! They don’t work, Funnel-Bremly.They never have! I am beyond coping mechanisms!” “You see? That was a perfect opportunity to insert one and steer the conversation toward a more constructive narrative. It’s called 10

TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels conversation, Lyeia, and they’re not difficult.They can be rather fun if you make the effort.” She stared at him. “Are you patronising me?” He sighed. “No, I am not. But I am frustrated that after all this time you still haven’t inserted anything into your interactions other than clenched paws.” When she stormed towards him, he raised the tray. “This is not about inserting coping mechanisms!” she cried. “My inability to discuss the weather is a symptom of my illness! I need, therefore, to be cured! That is what I need from you! Not ways of discussing weather prior to smashing animals’ faces in!” With a groan, she lunged across the room and grabbed his desk. “I don’t want to hear voices that aren’t there anymore! Or see things I shouldn’t! I want to be like all the other normal, boring idiots running around the place. I want to chat about spoons and cheese and weather without being compelled to smash faces!” She gripped the desk so hard that it shook with her. “And what’s more,” she cried, picking the thing up and waiting while lamps and gold-nibbed writing sets slid to the floor, “I do not want to discuss my MOTHER!” With a growl, she hurled it at a bookcase, which toppled, fell and distributed its contents across the floor. With another one, she picked up his chair and smashed it across a pot plant. Her obscenities were so extraordinary that he wondered about jotting them down. He didn’t, however, being too busy deflecting pawfuls of books she threw at him, and a broken part of his desk lamp. With another cry, she wrenched open the door, stormed from his office and confirmed her appointment for next Thursday. In the wilting chaos of her wake, Funnel-Bremly lowered his tray and wiped books from his lap. He stood and surveyed the damage, impressed that she’d managed to crack a pot plant after all.Wading through mess, he gathered the sessions’ notes and circled the word mother several times, afterwhich he hunted for an intercom 11

When Fear Is Not Afraid that used to be on his desk, before hunting for his desk. Finding both, he pressed a button. There was a crackle from broken speaker when his secretary’s voice spluttered through. “Do you need an ambulance?” she asked. “Not this time, no.” “Insurance details then?” “Yes. Did she made a time for next week?” “I’m afraid so. It’s rather hard to refuse her, you see.” He sighed, knowing that it was indeed.


TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels

2 ____________________ HE doors of the underground train hissed open. From them, passenger spilled. There was jostling when waiting animals pushed through to replace them, both parties grateful to not need their pillows. It was busy time of evening; those disembarking were eager to get home, as were those trying to board. One, in particular. The Returned Poet hopped from paw to paw, waiting for the alighting passenger bolus to lessen. When the station he sought was announced over the platform’s loudspeakers, he could wait no longer, and fought through the throng, ignoring the indignant swipes of those just as eager to board. Air smelt of ozone and detergent, and the noise of train and bustling passengers made further announcements incomprehensible. Passengers had long given up trying to decipher station announcements, and clutched pillows instead. Some time ago, when an announcement tried explaining that all services had been suspended as a result of drivers developing acute train allergies, passengers were forced to sleep on the underground platforms. As a consequence, there’d been a determination to comprehend announcements from badly positioned loudspeakers in poorly chosen locations. But because the desperate “shhs!” of those wishing to hear drowned out said announcements, passengers gave up and brought pillows instead. Struggling through flailing paws, the Returned Poet scrambled into the carriage and recommenced paw-hopping. Embarking passengers watched him with concern, worried he required a toilet long before he’d find one, and gave him a large berth. He glared at them, 13

When Fear Is Not Afraid aware he wore tattered robes and knowing he hadn’t washed for weeks. He closed his eyes and tried to lessen his breaths, which had become even more ragged than his attire. He willed the train to move. When it began to, he willed it to go faster, which it did. He looked at the roof, desperate for patience as his hopping bordered on dance. He whimpered, trying to quell rising panic. It felt like bile in his throat and rose as the train gathered speed.When he dared glance around the carriage again, he discovered its berth had grown to encompass its length. Alone, he closed his eyes in relief and forced his hopping to slow. When the train began slowing also, he stumbled to its door and pressed against it, eager for them to open. A squeak of brakes taunted him, and he gritted his teeth while pulling doors in an effort to slow the thing. The squeaking lessened and died, and the train jolted to s stop. When doors hissed open, he ploughed through a tide of boarding animals, before collapsing upon the platform. He ignored paws stumbling over him and looked up at the station’s name; his relief at having arrived forging a determination on par with that of boarding passengers. He struggled upright and lunged toward stairs. At the top of them, two Ticket Inspectors waited, one of which intercepted his arrival. “Excuse me, sir,” a large uniformed dog asked, barring the way in a manner akin to walls. “May I see your ticket?” Although the Returned Poet halted, his aroma did not, which left the Inspector retching when it continued past him. “May I see your ticket please, sir?” Patting his tatters absentmindedly, the Returned Poet realised not only was he devoid of one, but that he didn’t care. The Ticket Inspector wasn’t surprised. Having considerable experience inspecting tickets, he was adept at recognising fare evaders in the same way others recognised colour. He’d been nominated for Ticket Inspector of the Year eight years running. But having been thrown from a train by fare evaders recently, he’d failed to achieve the award for an eighth time, and had instead been demoted to station duties, which had shattered his confidence into the sort of thing dustpans had been in14

TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels vented for. The Inspector folded his paws and glared. “So you don’t have a ticket?” The Returned Poet shook his head, his desperation to arrive having left him oblivious to the requirement of doing so. “If you don’t have a ticket,” the Inspector said, “then I shall afford you the opportunity to purchase one now. If you don’t purchase one, then I shall have no choice but to reprimand you.” The Returned Poet stared, his desperation leaving no room for decision making. “Well?” the Inspector said. “Would you like to purchase a ticket now? Or would you prefer a reprimand? Reprimands can be nasty. Certainly a ticket’s nicer.” Holding out his tatters to indicate he had no money, the Returned Poet stared in dismay, unable to believe he’d come so far to discover he needed a few coins for the last bit. He asked whether a reprimand would take long, as he had to be somewhere almost immediately, which the Ticket Inspector hoped might be a bath and wardrobe in that order. “I shall offer you a caution,” the Inspector decided, pulling out a notebook and flicking through pages. He found an appropriate one and scribbled upon it, before tearing it off and holding it out. The Returned Poet took it and read. Don’t do it again. Tickets exist for a reason, you know. If I catch you evading a fare next time then I shall get very cross indeed, all right? Amidst a veritable swathe of blinks, the Returned Poet looked at the Inspector in bewilderment. “You are fortunate,” the Inspector said, pocketing his book. “I have spent the past few months in hospital and then traction, which has made me seriously consider how much effort I should make re15

When Fear Is Not Afraid garding tickets.This, as you might imagine, leaves me in somewhat of a quandary, considering I’m a Ticket Inspector.” The Returned Poet nodded, seeing the dilemma at once. “Should you find any money upon you at a later stage,” he continued, “I insist that you return here and purchase a ticket in order to make amends, understood?” After another nod, the Inspector stepped aside. “Go,” he said, “before I change my mind and care.” After glancing at the remaining Inspector, who watched with interest, the Returned Poet hurried from them and scurried up some more stairs. His desperation returned like rising bile, and he stumbled from the station and into the night. The second Inspector approached the first. “How are you feeling?” he asked, unable to imagine the trauma of being thrown from a train, let alone miss out on the Ticket Inspector of the Year award for the eighth year running. The large dog sighed and wiped at a tear. “Oh, fine,” he said. “Quite fine, except that I don’t seem to have any sarcasm anymore. And how can I be a Ticket Inspector if I don’t have sarcasm?” “Give it time,” the second said, patting his shoulder. “You have to give these things time, you know.You’ve been through an awful lot recently—and I’m not just referring to the traction. Being thrown from a train must be dreadful, let alone when thrown by fare evaders.” There were some nods. “It was pretty horrid, yes.” “You have to remind yourself of the Ticket Inspectors’ mantra, that the moment tickets are no longer inspected is the moment that society needs them to be.” The notebook was retrieved and fiddled with self-consciously. “It’s just, you know, so disappointing. I could have had the title for the eighth year running.” There were some understanding nods from the first. “It’s not the title itself, you understand,” he continued, “it’s just encouraging to know that the Ticketing Board recognise that I’m 16

TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels good at it.” “But they do know you’re good at it. Seven times in a row is proof of the fact.” “Then why did I get thrown from a train? I’m used inspecting to the hardest, toughest railways in the world, not being thrown from them!” “Perhaps it was slippery?” “And now I’m assigned to Liebe, where the only fare-evaders are ones who catch the wrong train and end up here accidentally.” “Look, I’m certain the Board just want you recover properly, that’s all. And once you have, I’m convinced they’ll again assign you to the most dreadful routes imaginable. Before you know it, you’ll be sarcastic and infuriating and ticketing fare-evaders until your bum falls off.” “But that requires that I care.”The notebook sagged. “And at the moment, I just don’t.” “Give it time.” “Do you really think so?” Another pat of shoulder. “Rudeness is like a plant,” the second said. “It takes times to grow. And you’ve just been very heavily pruned.” The city of Liebe was busy. A night sky was thick with cloud, which the place bustled beneath in amber haze. Streets and pavements choked with fumes, honks and shouts as traffic attempted to move amongst more swathes of animals vying to return home. Cars stopped and started, tending toward the former when pedestrians got in the way, and buses did the same with cars. Above the din, lamp-posts lit their haste with a patience rare for the time of day. The city was known well to the Returned Poet because he was a poet. Liebe is known as the city of poets, having hosted the greatest recitals ever recited and being home to the greatest poets who’d ever lived. One building in particular epitomised the realm of poetry: the Inaugurate Halls of Liebe, an institution having the greatest poetic license since the things had been invented. 17

When Fear Is Not Afraid It was where he’d learnt his craft. He stumbled across pavement and into traffic, battling its currents until reaching the opposite one. He stumbled across pavement and into traffic, battling its currents until reaching the opposite one. He hurried past pedestrians, ignoring their stares. He ignored the aromas of restaurants too, despite having not eaten for months. He rounded a corner and turned down a laneway, breath as ragged as his attire. When he stumbled into another street, breath left him altogether; he skidded to a halt and stared at the magnificence greeting him on the street’s far side. Beautiful gardens adorned a hill. Upon its crest perched a stunning seven storey mansion. Lit in floodlights, its vestibules gripped hill as though it were a monster ready to pounce. Beneath cloudheavy night, the building had sinister mass, and its sandstone walls shone in silver black grime. Spires stretched toward sky like treacle, as though having been spun from the clouds they hung beneath. Pulling his tatters closer, he shivered, certain that brightness of day would render the place no less menacing. For those knowing little of rhyme, the Inaugurate Halls of Liebe left them in awe of the craft, while those knowing something of it, were left with an awe still greater. He hurried across the street and grasped railing. Beyond it, manicured lawn rose, blue where it sprawled and black where groves of tree wound up its flank. The air had a weight of cold and smelt of wet branches and dead leaves, which rendered the scent of vibrant traffic suddenly more appealing. At a driveway, he squeezed though railings of gate and hurried across gravel to cover of trees. Through them, he peered up the hill until certain he’d not been seen, and then scrambled up the hillside. At its crest, he cowered in hedges, trembling with despair and hope, before darting across the driveway and into a vestibule’s alcove. There, he reached for a metal knocker and thumped it once. A boom echoed through space beyond. Having finally arrived at the Inaugurate Halls of Liebe, he fell against wall, exhausted, hope withering, 18

TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels and struggled to reconcile his desperate return with the wonderful years he’d spent in it. A latch shifted and a bolt followed. He stumbled backwards, readying to beg and plead for all he was worth. The door opened to reveal a slither of cat, whose whispers poked out along with a portion of paw. “The Elder Splunnet Pom-Wimple,” the Returned Poet whispered, unable to find volume. “I need to see him urgently!” The cat said nothing. “Please. It is most urgent! I was a student of his many years ago. I pray he still resides within?” “Is he expecting you?” The hesitation that followed was answer enough. “Unless he is expecting you,” the cat said, the door no wider, “I cannot allow you to enter, regardless of how urgent your concerns may be.You will have to wait until a more sensible hour when he is available in the Halls, and make an appointment in the traditional manner, which involves both making an appointment, and a more sensible hour.” “Please—I assure you my request is not for personal gain. I have something terribly pressing to advise!” “And that is?” “I fear I cannot tell you, sir. But I beseech you ask that he grant me a moment. He will be indebted, I can assure you.” “Even so, I cannot. If you wish to speak to him, I have told you how you might do so. Goodnight.” The door moved to close. “Wait!” cried the Returned Poet, lunging for it. “Please— look—I shall wait here. All I ask is that you pass one word onto the Elder, and you will be asked to fetch me!” “But he’s having dinner,” the cat said. “I cannot disturb the Elder Pom-Wimple when he’s in the middle of dinner!” “Mention this word to him, and you can be assured he will have no appetite for what remains of it.” 19

When Fear Is Not Afraid The cat sighed. “And the word?” The Returned Poet whispered, “The Creed.” “The what?” “The Creed.” “I can’t hear you.You’re whispering.” “I’m know—and I’m sorry—but it’s such a terribly dangerous word!” “And yet you wish me utter it?” “Just mention it to him. Please. I shall wait here. I can assure you that he’ll demand my presence!” “Creed?” the cat repeated, to be sure. “The Creed.” “The Creed?” “Yes.” “So it is, in fact, two words.” “What?” “It’s two words you want me to mention.” “Does it matter?” “Of course it matters!You’re asking me to disturb the most esteemed Pivotal Elder of the Inaugurate Halls of Liebe with an assortment of words—and during dinner, no less—so I think it rather does!” “It’s not an assortment of words, it’s just two—and one of them isn’t that important.” “Which one is that then?” “What?” “Which is the less important word?” “Isn’t it obvious?” “None of this is obvious.” The Returned Poet stared. “The first one: the.” “The?” “Yes.” “And what was the second one again?” “Creed.” 20

TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels “The. Creed.” The Returned Poet nodded. “Please, I beg you. Mention both to the Elder.” “I haven’t agreed to mention either, yet.” “Please—I implore you!” “I mean, it’s almost a sentence—” “Please, cat!” “In fact, I am quite certain it is a sentence. If you’d asked ‘can you mention one sentence,’ rather than swamping me in an assortment of words—some of which aren’t even important—we could probably have avoided all this confusion and the Elder’s dinner need not be threatened in the first place.” The Returned Poet felt blood rise in panic. “It’s cauliflower cheese,” the cat said, his deliberation apparent. “Which is the Elder’s favourite. So if I’m going to interrupt him, it had better be worth it. One word, possibly, but not a sentence.” More stares. “So I shall mention the second word only,” the cat decided. “Just think yourself lucky it’s only one syllable.” “Please mention both!” “I can’t! It’s cauliflower cheese!” “You need to mention both!” “Why?” The Returned Poet stared so much that his eyes hurt. “For support.” “Support?” He nodded. “The second word is so dire, that the first must be included to help lessen the shock when uttering it. Should you mention the latter without the former, the Elder may well bring up whatever portion of cauliflower cheese he has already consumed.” The cat was aghast. “You wish me to be responsible for making the Elder Pom-Wimple vomit? That’s hardly helping your argument!” “Please!” The door was opened more and the cat studied him. “Only if 21

When Fear Is Not Afraid you admit that it’s a sentence.” “What?” “Admit that it’s a sentence and I’ll have a bit more of a think about it.” “Why do I need to admit it’s a sentence?” “Because I have but a lowly role within this most esteemed institution. I’m responsible for mops and doors, you see—for which I am grateful, of course. But if you’re supposedly a poet, and I’ve just recognised a sentence when you haven’t, then your admission to such oversight would make me feel a great deal better about being lowly.” “Yes, it’s a sentence—but does it matter?” “You’re the poet,” the cat said, “So it fluffing-well ought to.” When the door closed, the Returned Poet released a breath he’d been unaware of holding. He turned to the gardens.Their manicured blue was ominous, the night having surgically carved the grounds and rendered them bruised. He shrank against the alcove and waited. The Inaugurate Halls of Liebe were huge, so it would take some time for the Elder to be sought. He waited. There would be time for the shock to dissipate and the Elder to find words. He’d tremble, perhaps, go a strange colour and probably gag. He’d throw his meal of food aside and demand the messenger be fetched directly.The Returned Poet smoothed his tatters in anticipation. He’d be ushered into a reading room, where, in the presence of the venerable Elder Pom-Wimple, he’d surrender a burden that threatened to crush the world. Still he waited. After a time, he wondered if the cat had done anything at all. He knocked again. There was another shift of latch and a slide of bolt, before the slither of cat reappeared. An enquiring blink left the Returned Poet stunned he had to ask. “Well? The Elder Pom-Wimple. Did you find him?” 22

TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels “I did, yes.” “And?” The cat shrugged. “I mentioned the words. Both of them, actually, and then in reverse order to make quite certain. But the Pivotal Elder was entirely indifferent.” The Returned Poet stared at him as the door began to close. “Wait!” he pleaded, a paw upon it. “Pom-Wimple? Splunnet PomWimple? The esteemed Pivotal Elder herein?That was who you mentioned both words to?” “Yes. And he wasn’t bothered with either of them.” A weight of despair pressed at his lungs. “But—what—he reacted not at all?” The cat shrugged again. “I noticed him hesitate, but then he continued slurping. That was it, really.” “He asked nothing of why such words were brought to him?” The cat shook his head. “But—there must be some mistake,” the Returned Poet said, pressing at the door. “You didn’t pronounce them clearly enough! Or perhaps you whispered too quietly?” “Not at all. I have rather good diction as it happens. It’s a prerequisite for employment within the Inaugurate Halls of Liebe. I’m also very good with mops, quite good with buckets and know an awful lot about doors.” The Returned Poet’s stare became all-consuming. He’d expected shock, not indifference. He’d anticipated the Elder would gasp with horror, desperate to know everything. “Something is wrong,” he whispered, before pushing at the door. “Let me in. I must seen him!” The cat barred his way. “No chance. I have done what you asked, and no one appears to care. The Elder Pom-Wimple is not interested in your words and is now busy with pudding. That is an end to it.” He looked the dog up and down. “And what’s more, your attire is hardly befitting a Poet of Liebe, if indeed you are one, considering your inability to identify sentences. On the account of your 23

When Fear Is Not Afraid clothes alone you shall not enter this place.” The Returned Poet forced the door with a shoulder. “Regardless of attire, cat, who is larger? You or I?” The cat barred it harder. “It matters little,” he growled. “You shan’t enter. And certainly you will not disturb the Elder.” “I do not believe you have even sought him out!You have done no more than play games of tease with dangers you cannot begin to imagine!” “Excuse me,” the cat said, “but I have done exactly as you asked. I even swapped the words around. I can’t help it if the Elder’s more interested in pudding. And what’s more, I don’t need to imagine anything: this is your madness, not mine. Now leave before I get cross.” The Returned Poet felt night close in, its dark pressed and reminded him of what he’d fled. If his teacher was in denial, then the world was already lost.With a growl, he threw himself at the door. It shifted inwards and there was a frantic scrabble of bolts behind it. “I shall be in soon enough, cat,” he growled, “so I advise you to step away or be torn apart once I do!” After another lunge the bolts were surrendered. When the door opened, the cat stepped back, saying, “You shan’t get away with this, you know. No animal barges into the Inaugurate Halls of Liebe without some pretty dire consequences, I can assure you!” The Returned Poet didn’t hear, besotted by huge vestibule he’d once known well. Its floor remained as he remembered, with thick carpets across polished stone, while ceilings towered over columns supporting a colossal web of black beam. Lamps glowed in recesses in cathedral-like walls, between which rugs cascaded, their fabric stained with centuries of incense that left the air potent, mature and wise. “I fear, cat,” he whispered, staring at its height, “such consequences are already upon us all.” While the cat ranted about security arrangements and mops, the Returned Poet revelled in nostalgia—until the cat mentioned 24

TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels cauliflower cheese again. “Which dining room?” the Returned Poet demanded, spinning to him. The cat had armed himself with a mop and bucket. “Which what?” “Which dining room is the Elder in. There are over thirty in this vestibule alone!” “I’m not telling you!” the cat said, sloshing his bucket threateningly. “You shouldn’t even be in here. I’m responsible for doors, you know, and having poorly attired creatures barge through them has rendered my tenure of the role dubious!” When the Returned Poet strode towards him, the cat retreated. “Don’t even think of hitting me!” he cried, waving his mop. “I’m also very good with this—which you’ll find out if you get any closer!” With another growl, the Returned Poet hurried across the vestibule. The cat called after him, waving his mop and shouting things about security and unconventional mop-usage. At the far end was a broad sweep of staircase in a glacier of marble, up which the Returned Poet leapt until arriving at a landing as elegant as the hall downstairs. Corridors led from it, and he spun around trying to recall which one led to dining rooms. Choosing one, he barrelled along it, turning at some corners and ignoring others. He stumbled through a large doorway and into a library, which he hurried through, ignoring two surprised Elders reading in it. After careering through more doors, he transgressed a reading room, three sitting rooms, a second library and a cheese room. Down further corridors he hurried, before bursting into a large dining room where three Elders were eating pudding. Two of them looked up in surprise. The third, however, did not. With his breath lost somewhere near the second sitting room, the Returned Poet stared at him. The Elder Splunnet Pom-Wimple. His teacher. 25

When Fear Is Not Afraid His mentor. The Pivotal Elder of the Inaugurate Halls of Liebe, and an animal unperturbed at having a mad, tattered dog burst into dining rooms during pudding. With a surge of hope, the Returned Poet stepped forward. But with breath still elsewhere, he was unable to find words. “Elder Pom-Wimple?” he asked, when it arrived, his paws clasped in plead as much as apology. The dog did not look up and remained engaged with pudding. The Returned Poet glanced at the others, both of which stared at him. “Where’s the custard?” one asked. “Elder Pom-Wimple,” the Returned Poet said, ignoring them. “I must speak with you. It’s terribly urgent!” Still Pom-Wimple ate. But the others didn’t. “Did you bring more custard? Because I can’t see any custard.” He turned to his colleague. “Can you see any custard?” The other shook his head that he couldn’t. “Where’s the custard?” Not interested in custard, the Returned Poet ignored them still. He took another step, hesitating to mention the words lest the Elder spray pudding across the table. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and said, “I must speak with you regarding the Creed!” When he opened his eyes, the Elder continued to slurp. “Did you hear me, Elder? I speak of the Creed!” A deliberate licking of spoon. Astonished, the Returned Poet asked, “How can you ignore my mentioning the word? I speak of the Creed, no less!” Still nothing, other than the other two demanding custard. “You must help me, Elder! I have been stolen for years, yet have found myself returned this day with barely a week having passed! We are trapped, Elder! All of us!Your greatest students! Stolen from this world and forced to work upon the Creed!” 26

TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels Still nothing. “How can you just ignore me!” “I know nothing of which you speak.” The words were deep and heavy and felt like granite. The Returned Poet stared. “You know nothing of it?” he whispered, taking a step closer. “You know nothing of the Creed? Nothing of the Enslaved Poets?” “I know nothing of which you speak, dog,” the Elder growled, staring at his pudding. “I know nothing of your creeds or your slaves. You speak in riddles.This is a hallowed hall of verse, and I do not take kindly to it being invaded by vagrants who believe they have tendencies in the craft.” He glanced at his colleagues, who agreed, before demanding custard. A weight of despair descended and breath again left. The Returned Poet began trembling. Something was wrong. The Elder had once nurtured his study of poetry. That he now refused to acknowledge what was once taught was devastating.Without the Elder’s help, those enslaved would remain trapped and the world would invert as a consequence. “You deny me?” he whispered through tears. “You deny what you once taught?” When the Elder returned to his pudding, the cat in charge of doors arrived with security. Blinded by desperation, the Returned Poet collapsed to his knees. “Tell me, Elder; do you also deny the Morrigan?” The Elder threw his chair backwards and stood. “DO NOT MENTION SUCH NAMES HEREIN!” Everyone froze. Silence fell. And the Returned Poet’s hope surged. One of the other Elders stood also. “Dog,” he said, “not only have you no custard, but you distress our colleague. He has already admitted knowing nothing of your cause, so I suggest you leave now lest your tatters become more so and unable to cover you at all.” 27

When Fear Is Not Afraid When security flanked him, the Returned Poet ignored them too, not interested in the fate of his attire. He’d risked his life to find the Elder and wouldn’t surrender easily.When security grabbed him, he fought their grasp. “They write the Creed!” he cried. “The Enslaved Poets write under duress for the Morrigan! You know it to be true! You told us this would come to pass! You of all animals can imagine the horrors the Morrigan is readying! You must help us, Elder Pom-Wimple! You must before this world becomes theirs!” To this, the Elder smashed a paw at his half-finished pudding. The bowl scattered across table and fell to the floor. Seething, he turned and approached. “There is nothing I can do for you, dog,” he growled. “Nothing, I know nothing of your Creed, or the Seven of whom you speak. I know nothing of your poets enslaved, nor of the world being under duress. Is that understood?” The Returned Poet’s hope surged further. “That you mention them by number proves you know them! You deny them because of fear! Well, I have seen them, Elder! For years I’ve remained crushed beneath their will! If you refuse to help, then rest assured you’ll choke upon denial when the world burns beneath their rule!” In disgust, the Elder turned back to the table and ordered the dog’s expulsion. Despite further protests, the Returned Poet was dragged from the room. While the Elder stood and seethed, the cat in charge of doors slunk forward to retrieve the bowl, before scraping splattered pudding off the floor into it. After returning it to the table, he apologised for having permitted such disturbance and asked whether it meant he was no longer in charge of doors. The Elders ignored him. “Do you know that animal?” one asked, helping Pom-Wimple back to his chair. “I have no idea, truly,” the Elder whispered. He sat and flapped a napkin as though it was the reason he’d stood in the first place. “Why in the Name of Verse would he mention fables of creeds and morrigans?” the other asked. 28

TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels To this, Pom-Wimple did not reply, knowing the answer only too well.


When Fear Is Not Afraid

3 ____________________ he Great Library of Liebe is huge and old, and has the sort of prestige that envy was originally invented for. Lyeia loved working in it, providing she didn’t interact with those frequenting the place. Questions about where books on interpretive paw painting resided, or the nomenclature of seahorses, she could manage by pointing. But anything more detailed had dire consequences. And although being curt and pointing reduced the chances of violence, it also left her dreadfully lonely. Lyeia sat behind the borrowing desk and tried not to assault anyone, which she achieved by sitting on her paws and forcing the sort of smile that looked as though it involved sutures and pulleys. Because punching patrons in the face wasn’t condoned by the Library Board, she’d tried negotiating a clause in her contract which discounted any assaults that didn’t require hospitalisation. When her boss had laughed at this, she’d punched him in the face, which left her on ice so thin that it might be better described as a meniscus. As a result, pointing was the only way Lyeia could ensure she didn’t assault patrons, which, although effective, left her frustrated that despite years of therapy, it was a technique she’d invented herself. Furthermore, opportunities for assault had lessened since the library began trialling new signage to indicate exactly where the non-fiction was. Lyeia looked at one of them, which was shiny and well lit, with large letters and an arrow, and was relieved at the number of patrons taking its advice, rather than asking for hers. This was fortunate, because Lyeia found the phrase ‘non-fiction’ as irritating as their re30

TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels quests for directions to it. Non-fiction suggests fiction is in some way superior, which was ridiculous, she thought, considering it’s founded in the intangible. As a consequence, she felt non-fiction ought to be labelled independently. Factual, for example, which would help rectify the inequality of invention over reality in much the same way she battled insanity.Were patrons to ask her where the factual books resided, she was convinced she’s be less inclined to punch them in the face.When she’d mentioned this to her boss, Fingelberry had laughed again—but not before cowering behind a barricade of books he’d piled upon his desk. She sat on her paws and tried to appear sane. To be behind the borrowing desk was unusual, as Lyeia’s temper meant she was generally assigned to reshelving, which suited her because it allowed considerable opportunity to read. This morning, however, a staff member was away and the library was busy. Fingelberry had initially assigned her to the help desk, before realising the hypocrisy of such appointment. She was subsequently assigned to the borrowing desk, which, although just as dangerous, was less likely to have patrons ask where the non-fiction was. She removed her paws and shook them, dreading the thought of using the borrowing stamp in case she did the same to patrons’ faces. She had to show restraint. She owed it to herself. And to Funnel-Bremly. And Fingelberry, for that matter. Let alone innocent members of the public. She sat on her paws again, wondering whether she could get patrons to stamp their own books by using facial gestures alone. If not, she’d try one of Funnel-Bremly’s ridiculous coping mechanisms while reaching for it. After all, polite dinner conversation was preferable to extreme violence unless extreme violence was its subject matter. When a young dog approached, she groaned and sat harder. He smiled and waved a book helpfully. 31

When Fear Is Not Afraid “I wish to borrow this, please,” he said, handing over a book about the nomenclature of seahorses. After some facial gestures that didn’t help either of them, Lyeia removed her paws, took the book and waited for his library card. But so excited was he about seahorse nomenclature, that he forgot about it. “Card,” she said, extending a paw. Realising his oversight, he apologised and rummaged through his fur. “Sorry,” he said, handing it over. “I forgot about that bit. I’m just so excited to find a book on seahorses, you see. Especially their nomenclature.” She took a deep breath and inserted a subject-extrapolative coping mechanism. “Do you like seahorses?” she asked, realising she wanted to punch herself in the face. “Oh, yes indeed! They are the most fascinating creatures imaginable. I have read over seven books on them, but have never come across this one before. I only read books on seahorses, you see, because they interest me considerably.” “Do you mean eight or three hundred?” she asked, already bored. “What?” “Do you mean you have read eight books on seahorses, or three hundred?” The dog blinked, not understanding. “I don’t understand,” he said. “You said you’ve read over seven books, which implies a number greater than seven. So do you mean eight—with this being your ninth—or a figure nearer three hundred?” “Three hundred is an awful lot of books. I don’t think anyone’s has read over three hundred books on anything.” “I have.” “On seahorses?” “No.” “That’s good.” He laughed. “Otherwise I’d have to ask you 32

TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels where you found them all.” “And I wouldn’t tell you.” “You wouldn’t? Why not?” “Because I’m not the one interpreting the world through the narrow-minded assumption that reading only what interests me affords a realistic view of it—a view which happens to justify avoiding the convoluted, intricate confusion it’s built from, which would not only prove the ignorance of said assumption, but disprove the assumption that I’m not at all ignorant.” After some more blinks, the dog said, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t understand a word of that.” “I’m not surprised.” “Perhaps you could explain it again?” “You’re an idiot.” She stamped card and book harder than necessary, while the dog looked on in confusion. “Are you being sarcastic?” he asked, with a knowing smile. “That you even ask proves my point.” “Wait—are you saying I’m stupid?” “I don’t think I need to now.” She handed both back to him. “Do you like seahorses?” he asked, taking them. “I’ve never tried them.” “No, I mean does the subject interest you?” “Not particularly.” “Perhaps I can convince you otherwise? Perhaps over dinner?” “Perhaps not.” “We don’t have to talk about seahorses, of course. We could talk about other things.” “Like what?” He shrugged. “I don’t know.” He glanced at some books nearby. “Eighteenth century architectural heritage of Splaam?” “I can borrow a book on that.” “Ah, but you can’t talk to a book.” “It would be far more interesting than talking to you.” “That’s not very nice.” 33

When Fear Is Not Afraid “Neither are seahorses.” He stared, realising she wasn’t joking. “I think you’re just being rude.” “Oh, so you’re not stupid?” “Why are you so insulting?” “Why are you so stupid?” He frowned at her. “You’re really mean, you know.” “You have no idea,” she said, before punching him in the face. Twenty minutes later, after the ambulance had left and the borrowing desk hosed down, Fingelberry asked her to step into his office for some very stern words, most of which would be his. Unlike the library, Fingelberry Flampp-Yogurt’s office was small and cramped with barely room for a desk. Despite being Head Librarian, this wasn’t surprising. Designed from the outset to be the greatest library in the world, the place housed books at the expense of everything else. Including administration. Indeed, Fingelberry had been surprised he’d been given an office at all, having expected a cardboard box, or one of the wooden packing crates the library’s books arrived in. Other library staff were not so fortunate, although they did have places to retreat when necessary. There was the pavement, for example, outside. Despite its lack of size, Fingelberry’s office was lined with shelving and packed with so many books that the removal of one would remove them all. The books were Fingelberry’s favourites: unknown volumes and forgotten editions.They were old and weathered, and gave his office an incense of musty paper, saged ink and aged leather; a room both pregnant and claustrophobic, and one that left Lyeia spellbound. Indeed, she sometimes wondered whether her habit of punching patrons in the face was merely excuse to be summoned to it. Fingelberry wedged himself behind a bunker of books he’d built upon his desk in response to their previous arguments. She followed, besotted by the books rather than pending reprimand. 34

TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels He watched her with concern and a sadness for her struggle. Were it not for her blood-stained paw, most would assume the most violent thing she’d contend with each day was waking up at the beginning of it. A dog tall and old, Fingelberry wore glasses that he peered over unless reading, and an old, worn coat that he never took off. He had the look of the austere; a drawn searcher and the bearing of a cleric. Being a kindly animal, he’d readily permitted Lyeia a position in the library, though hadn’t anticipated it being such a violent one. “Lyeia,” he said, “as we have discussed on previous occasions, there is a limit to how often I can permit this sort of behaviour.” She stopped browsing and her gaze fell to a carpet so old that only mould kept it together. “I have tried to help you,” he said. “I am a very tolerant animal as you know, and will do anything I can to assist your treatment. But you must understand that I cannot allow such wanton violence upon patrons or staff. Including me.” She said nothing, both aware she’d broken his nasal septum twice previously. “We all get cross, Lyeia. Goodness, we all get frustrated. But you are an intelligent animal, and I cannot understand your predisposition of smashing animals’ faces in.” She stared at dusty spines, wondering at the tales that lay within. With a sigh, Fingelberry extricated himself from his bunker. Considering what he was about to say, he felt to deserve a punch in the face. “Lyeia,” he continued, “I am very sorry, but although I am Head Librarian, the Great Library of Liebe is governed by animals far more influential than me.Your antics have become impossible to hide from their attention, which leaves me in an untenable situation.” She said nothing. “As much as it grieves me, I am on the verge of having to relinquish your terms here.” He braced, expecting a flail of paws, expletives and books. 35

When Fear Is Not Afraid But none arose. Instead, she remained staring at carpet while blinking at tears. Although he felt wretched, there was nothing he could say that he hadn’t been said many times already.There’s a limit to the sacrifice one can make for another before both become embroiled in slaughter. Lyeia stared at books she knew nothing of and reached to touch a spine. “I understand,” she whispered. “Yes, but you’ve said that before.” “I know. But your kindness leaves me indebted.” Fingelberry said nothing, aware of the waste: whether in medicine or in a library, she had much to give, yet was burdened with a mind too insane to deliver. “I can hardly blame you,” she said. “That you have given me opportunity at all leaves me grateful.” He looked away, her loneliness damaging him more than if she’d lunged at his face. “Lyeia, other than your sick notes, I know little of what you have been going through. Perhaps you might help me understand why you explode? What frustrates you to such an extent? I know you to be far above the mediocrity of others. So why do they infuriate you so?” She sniffed at tears and wiped blood upon shelving. The books had age, wisdom and contentment, while she had nothing. “Do you truly not know?” he asked. “After all your sessions with Funnel-Bremly, do you still not know why you become so angry at others?” “I am not angry at others,” she whispered. “Or frustrated with them, despite how it might appear. I am angry and frustrated with myself.” “But why, Lyeia?You are an intelligent animal, and you’ve been so committed to getting better. Surely you can find kindness, rather than frustration?” “A lack of kindness is not the problem,” she said. “The problem is that I haven’t been cured. My madness leaves me so alienated that 36

TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels I’m beyond the help of others.” After a sigh, she said, “I’m even thinking of trying Funnelism.” Fingelberry stumbled backwards. “Goodness—Lyeia—surely there’s no need for that?” Her paw fell from shelving. “There’s nothing else left.” “But—there must be something—” “There is,” she said. “Punching animals in the face. But even that doesn’t stop them.” “Them?” “The hallucinations. I see things that aren’t there,” she said, while staring at nothing, “and hear things I shouldn’t.” “Like what?” “I see places. I hear voices.” “What do you mean?” “I see worlds where there should be none and the ghosts that walk upon them.” Her words shocked him into silence. “It happens when I least expect it,” she said. “It happens out of the blue. It happens when I’ve forgotten that it happens.That is why it hurts so much.” A silence descended and rendered the room small and dense. “How cruel is such madness?” she cried. “How cruel is it to be assaulted the very moment I’ve forgotten that I’m haunted?” She turned on the spot. “There is no reprieve, I am forever awake. My insanity not only drives me to despair, but dumps me there. That is why I have little tolerance for others.” She stopped and stared at nothing again. “I am, perhaps, envious of their oblivion to such torment.” Fingelberry stared, having been under the impression it had something to do with her mother. After licking his lips, he asked, “What exactly do you see, Lyeia?” “Places unfamiliar,” she whispered, “despite knowing them. Dark places with shadows where there should be none, and others 37

When Fear Is Not Afraid with colours bereft of hue. Places where mountains touch stars and moon bites soil. Places where animals scream and run; where the Earth turns only to see what is chasing it.Worlds unfamiliar, you see, and yet I know of them entirely.” She fell silent, her gaze lingering somewhere beyond them both. “Lyeia?” he asked, hesitant to encourage. “They used to whisper,” she said. “When I was young I used to wonder whether they were far away. Then they became louder. Or closer.” She shook her head, her gaze unbroken. “But now they’re too loud to understand.” “What do they say, Lyeia?” When she wiped her eyes and stared at the floor, he retreated to his bunker. “I cannot tell anymore,” she said. “Why not?” “Because they scream.” He swallowed, noticing how cramped his office was. “And what do they scream about, Lyeia?” “Nightmares.” More swallows while regretting having agreed to FunnelBremly’s request. “Have you read all these books?” she asked. He stared, bewildered at her sudden change in demeanour, before realising it might not be unusual when insane-of-the-mind. “Well, yes,” he said. “Some of them many times. But not for years now. Ironically, my position here leaves me with little opportunity.” “Why are they not on the library shelves?” “Most of them are un-catalogued,” he said, squeezing from his desk to examine them himself. “They’re generally rare volumes, or over-run editions of forgotten ones.” He reached for a book and pulled it from shelving. Blowing at its dust, he said, “Some have errors that were only discovered after an initial print run and then abandoned once the typeset had been corrected.” He flicked through 38

TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels yellowed pages and felt a warm fondness. “The errors supposedly render them worthless, though I find it makes them priceless.” He offered it to her. “I have collected these over a lifetime and consider them safer here than in my own home.” When she took it, their mutual love of books pushed his concerns elsewhere. “It’s a misconception that the worth of a book resides in its words,” he continued. “There is something far more powerful about a work than what is held within its text.” He looked at her. “Do you know what that might be, Lyeia? Do you know to what I refer?” She turned the book in her paws. Its leathered jacket was clean from being tucked against another, and its gilded lettering remained bright despite dusty spine. With pages yellowed where they’d been exposed to air, they remained a crisp, textured cream within. She brought the book up to her nose and breathed its scent. Fingelberry smiled. “That’s right, “ he said. “Books are not for eyes alone. Their words may be printed, but books are for all the senses. Their aroma tells tales, too. As does the feel of their press. And their binding. And their weight within paw. Even the sound of page against page and the texture of grain and leather. Even the very bumps of their gild.” “And taste?” she asked. He raised his whiskers, impressed. “It is certainly true that book connoisseurs will always buy two copies; one to read and one to eat. Books are to be digested, Lyeia. Literally.Terribly good for the bowels, you see.” “Is that really true?” “Oh, yes. They are almost entirely roughage.” “No, I mean about connoisseurs always buying two?” He nodded. She looked again at the one in her paws, before saying, “During the stillest part of the night, when I’m too frightened to sleep, I feel more might be hidden between their lines than are contained within them. It’s not the words that are important, but what the mind con39

When Fear Is Not Afraid structs from of them. And that must vary from animal to animal.” He felt a stab of despair for her madness; it was a cruel irony that her intuition of books was expelled from them because if it. “Are there more of these?” she asked. He frowned. “You do realise what I’ve said, Lyeia? That from this moment on I am left bordering on having to relinquish your employment here?” She nodded and glanced around, convinced the world’s most hallowed library must harbour rooms full of the things. “Yes, but you said as much alongside the words teetering and bordering, which suggests some hope remains.” “I can give you one more chance, Lyeia. One more only. The next hint of unprovoked public rhinoplasty and you will leave me with no choice but to terminate your employment here. Do you understand?” She nodded. “I understand, yes.” Understanding was one thing, but ensuring as much was another. “So what will you do?” he asked. “How will you make certain such behaviour doesn’t occur again? I do not want to banish you from this place. I know how much it means to you. But you must understand there is little more I can do if things continue to regress. It really is up to you.” She glared at him. “It has always been up to me,” she said. “Always. No other creature had been able to help. Regardless of qualification. It’s been more lonely than you can possibly imagine.” When she held out the book, he took it. Her resilience was remarkable; she had the courage of an animal who’d only ever battled alone. He deliberated over something he should not, wondering whether there was a final bastion in which she might find answers to her plight. He put the book upon others covering his desk. “Come with me.” He took a large ring of keys from a drawer and led her from his office. In a corridor not much wider, he unlocked a door that led 40

TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels deeper into the library’s bowels. He trudged down an old wooden staircase, while Lyeia followed. Dim lamps glowed on wood-panelled walls, the latter sagging with age, which pushed at floorboards no less decrepit. It became dark where bulbs had not been replaced, and air held a staleness suggesting few ventured down often enough to warrant doing so.They passed doors bowed and wedged, their fragile frames distorted by weight of building that bore down. When Fingelberry stopped at one of them, he hesitated. Keys jangled when he turned to her. “Few animals come down here,” he whispered, the words loud in such confines. “Certainly not without knowing what lies at such depths.” He looked at the door and deliberated further. “You should not be shown this place, Lyeia. It exists for those of a certain education only. A certain echelon. That said, I cannot offer anything else that might help you find an answer to your predicament. Were it not for your intuition of books, I would not dare. But we are here now, and I shall take the risk of revealing something that remains unknown to almost all.” He looked at her sternly. “Your plight has me certain you can honour secrets, Lyeia. And I beg that for my sake, you do not tell a soul what you see, let alone that you know of it. Is that agreed?” She nodded. He jangled keys in a lock and pushed at a door. There was a squeak, and air thick with mustiness, dust and age spilled from it. He stepped though it and into a vast hall. He brushed at cobwebs and flicked an old switch. Lone bulbs buzzed into life at its heights, illuminating countless rows of loaded bookshelves. Their structure soared to more than three stories and were so old that they teetered in warp, their pinnacles grey with dust and web. Lyeia followed in astonishment, staring at heights until turning on the spot to aid comprehension. Despite the number of books, she could find no words. Fingelberry offered some. “This is a secret vault beneath the Great Library of Liebe,” he said, “and is known to only a select few 41

When Fear Is Not Afraid Elders of influence. It contains volumes lost to the world; editions dangerous and forbidden, books that should never have been written. Herein lie texts that even I do not dare peruse.” They stared for a time, with reverence and bewilderment. “My duty is to shelve them and nothing more,” he continued, “for I know what damage holding flame might do to my paws.” Lyeia peered between rows, unable to conceive such a secret. Fingelberry followed, pondering the same. “It is a peculiar thing,” he admitted, “that libraries across the world wish to compare themselves with the Great Library of Liebe, without knowing what treasure it truly houses.” “But there must be thousands here!” “Several thousand, in fact.” “But why here?” she asked, hurrying to the nearest shelf and wiping caked dust from spines. “Why are these hidden? Why are they not on the shelves upstairs?” “Lyeia, you make the mistake of assuming that just because a book is written, it should be read.” She turned to him, puzzled. He took a deep breath. “Upon these shelves are texts, ideas and imaginings considered dangerous in the paws of ordinary animals.” Her puzzlement turned to glower. “Who are you to decide what should or should not be read?” “I decide nothing, Lyeia. I am merely the Head Librarian. Such decisions are made by animals in far higher realms than me.” “And what gives them the right?” He shrugged. “It is not my place to question, but certainly they have their reasons. Who knows? Perhaps they wrote them.” She turned to back the towering shelves. “Wrote them? But some of these must be hundreds of years old. There’s no way their authors could still be alive!” “Not the authors themselves, Lyeia, but the schools founded upon them.” She turned to glower again. 42

TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels “The world is old, Lyeia. Very old. We can conceive it only on the scale of our own lives. But thousands have lived before you and me; thousands who read and thought and wrote with a conviction then as strong as yours and mine is now.” She humphed. “My conviction borders on being remarkably fragile, actually.” Fingelberry conceded this with a nod. “If these are so dangerous,” she asked, “why are you revealling them to me?” “Because although these books are deemed perilous, I must confess to finding you far more so.” She thought about this, before shrugging in acceptance. “But I also wonder whether you might find within these volumes some clue as to why you are the way you are. Perhaps some means to help yourself. Because for all you have read in the library above, I fear you are no better mended than upon your arrival.” Turning back to the books, she wondered at the possibility herself. After all, it was unlikely they’d mention her mother. There was a sudden flash followed b a high-pitched whine. She wasn’t expecting either—which was always the way—and she took a step backwards as realisation dawned. A shudder went through her and she snarled. “No,” she growled, unable to believe it was happening “No—not now—not here!” She grabbed her head, furious that when shown something so wonderful, she was brutally reminded of why it was revealed at all. Above her, bookshelves began to warp. Another step backwards. “No!” she cried, paws over ears as shelving reached across aisle. “Not now! Please! Not now!” As shelves stretched, books began to melt and slide downwards.The hall’s height distorted in elongation, before disappearing in silent tear to reveal a night sky beyond. The bulbs, buzzing in low wattage, exploded, their glass shattering across the sky in a shower of scattered stars. Around her, floorboard bent and rolled, flexing as though pushed from beneath. With a pop, they sprang upwards and 43

When Fear Is Not Afraid began sawing at each other, leaving her to scream and stumble amongst their shards. A rumble shuddered from shelving to ground as bookshelves reverted back to the branch and bark they were made from, which blistered to reveal rock like bone beneath flesh. From it sprang grass and vine, into which torn pages melted into its grain and covers scurried into crevices like rats. In despair, she lunged for the doorway, only to see it race away to the horizon and grow into a moon, whereupon it floated upwards like a bubble with Fingelberry’s horrified face staring from it. Her frantic breaths became sobs of terror and she sank to the ground, cowering upon wet and pungent soil. A storm of leaves began to fall. They were cold and heavy and threatened to bury. She scrabbled through them, desperate to escape along a path that appeared, until it disappeared beneath leaves. She fell sideways when ground heaved, cracked and fell to an abyss. Night became bathed in pale moonlight and swirled where mist rose from collapsed ground. Choking on cries, she grabbed at vine and pulled herself against cold stone. She fought through fern and frond until finding a crag, into which she crammed as leaves threatened to overwhelm. She covered her ears, knowing the screams would soon begin, and began singing in a futile attempt at drowning their cries. She sung between sobs a song about a cradle. “Hush now and sleep, I am here. Close those tired eyes—” When the screams arrived, they were like metal striking bone; they stung and split and emptied her of marrow. Having stumbled back to the doorway, Fingelberry watched in despair as Lyeia cowered halfway up a bookshelf.With paws over her ears and eyes screwed shut, she sung in a wail of sob. Not knowing what to do, he stared until realising one thing clearly: that showing her this vault was a biblical mistake. He wanted to run and hide, but 44

TheVelvet Paw of Asquith Novels her behaviour was so disturbing that he couldn’t move. She clutched and sang and wept a lullaby he knew well: one his mother had often sang to him. ####


4. When Fear Is Not Afraid, the first three chapters.  

In which pretty much everything is under dire threat by the seven greatest poets who ever lived. Unfortunately, Oscar isn’t one of them. Hen...

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