Taming of the Cat
People in this time lived in nice huts, clean and closed up tight. There were all kinds of things in the huts too. While Ayla had seen a lot traveling with Crono and their friends, Crono's own home was an interesting place. There was a large metal box that Crono's mother said was for cooking food. She was currently warming up something to eat on that stove box, a soup that had things she called noodles. Were they strange white leaves? Or maybe a bread, which was strange to put into soup.
Besides all the things, Crono also had some small animals living with him. They were called cats, animals that Ayla had seen living with other people. One had come close to her, so Ayla crouched down on the ground to get a better look at it. The cat stiffened, its ears tilted towards her in alertness. "Maow?" it said, showing its teeth.
"Maow?" Ayla echoed. "Maow has great fangs! Claws too?"
"They're little claws, but they're sharp," Gina said. "That kitty's a good hunter; she took out a mouse within an hour of showing up."
"Cat hunt mouse?" Ayla asked, tilting her head up to look up at Crono's mother.
Gina nodded. "Of course, that's why a lot of people keep them around. Many also keep them because they're cute; it's nice to have a purring cat snuggled up to you in winter."
"Hunting mice is why humans tamed cats in the first place, or so I've heard," Crono said.
"When that?" she asked. There were tame cats in Zeal, but not in her time.
He thought for a moment, then shook his head. "Don't know. But it had to have been a long time ago."
Maybe in her time? Because having some animals in the village that hunted mice would be a big help. And if it was during her time, why not her being the one to tame cats? That'd be great! "What cat like?" Ayla asked.
"Meat and fish," Crono said. "There's an herb called catnip they also like."
"Yes, I keep some out in the garden out front for them," Gina said.
Ayla checked on what this catnip herb was; she thought it looked familiar, but others of her tribe would know. To make sure, she took a stem with a few leaves to show them. Once they made the world safe by taking out Lavos, she could tame cats too!
When Lavos was defeated, Ayla went back home to Ioka Village. Kino had done a great job convincing the people of Laruba Village to be their friends rather than hiding away. They celebrated that agreement with a great party, with a whole roast dino and lots of drink. However, the days were cooler than normal, with ashy clouds covering the skies. Nights were even worse, making things cold except near fire. The elders said they should prepare for the weather to get worse. Lucca and Robo had warned her of the same, so Ayla agreed with the elders. To keep warm, they made sure their huts could be kept snug with extra mud and straw.
Ayla left early one morning to search the far edges of the hunting range. She had seen little cats in this area before, but hadn't seen much reason to bother with them. While they might be good to eat, they were quick to hide. They would keep to the bushes, although those who fished here said the little cats sometimes watched. Fishing wasn't her normal work, but she set up to catch fish today. Crouched on a stone over the stream, she watched the water for shadows of the fish. Elders said that fishing took patience. Ayla didn't mind times for patience, but she preferred hunts where she could run and be more active.
Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a gray cat watching her. Good. Ayla kept watching for the shadows. One small one slowed near her perch. Slowly, she brought her hand to the surface of the water… don't make a big splash… then darted her hand in and grabbed the small fish out. "Got fish!"
The gray cat lifted its head, looking at the fish wiggling in her hand.
"Want fish?" Ayla asked, holding it out.
"Maow!" It came forward a few steps.
"Have fish, friend!" She tossed her catch over, making sure it wouldn't bounce back into the water.
The cat was quick to pounce on the fish, purring as it ate. Another pair of cats came over, taking her next catch. When she hopped over to the shore, the cats stayed there. This was going well.
"Cats, come Ioka!" Ayla told them. "Friends! Come?"
"Meow?" one of the others answered.
"Follow, Ayla go home," she told them, standing up.
It took a moment, but the three cats decided to follow along after her. They were small, so she walked slow to make sure they didn't get lost. At this time of day, there were a few others from the village hunting for meat here. They had taken care of the monsters who lurked near the main paths, leaving them clear. In that way, Ayla brought the cats to the village. Some others who were patching up a hut looked over curiously.
"New home, welcome!" Ayla said to the cats. "Friends!"
"Chief, what these?" one of the women asked, coming over.
"New friends!" she said as one of the cats darted over to a woodpile. The other two watched it go. "Cats little hunters, fight mice! Share fish, cats stay. Be nice!"
"Fight mice?" the woman repeated. "Good! Good friends."
Most of her people agreed with that. Mice were even smaller than cats, quick and hard to catch. But the mice would get in and eat their stored food and skins. It was valuable to store things, in case of lean hunts and bad weather. By keeping these cats around, less things would end up chewed on. The three cats proved their worth quickly, catching five mice between them by the end of the day.
Kino was happy with the cats. "Good hunters, good friends."
Nodding, Ayla said, "Many cats in future. Cats good friends. Ayla find new cats, more friends!"
"More little cats?" Kino asked.
"No! Big cat!" She pumped a fist into the air.
He paled at that. "B-big cat? Big cat bad! Ayla…"
"Big cat strong hunter," Ayla explained. "Big cat and Ayla hunt together! Bring back much meat."
"Ayla strong," Kino said, still worried. "Big cat strong. No get hurt."
"Yes, Ayla not weak, Ayla win," she said to reassure him.
Kino was still worried, enough that he saw her off the next morning when she went to find a big cat to tame. "Not good day," he said, taking her arm.
Fog blanketed over the village, tinged with an icy sparkle. The nips on her skin reminded her that they really wanted heavy large furs for this cold. Once she got moving, though, she should be fine. "Ayla tough, come back. Ayla beat Lavos! Big cat, no fear."
Nodding slowly, he said, "Kino understand. Ayla, come back safe." Then he hugged her.
"Sorry Kino," she said. "Ayla come back."
By the time she got to where the big cats hunted, the fog had disappeared with the rising sun. This was a rocky area with tough ground and short grass. In some small caves here and there, the big cats with long teeth made their homes. They hunted these flatter areas outside of the jungle, blending into the rocky ground until they sprinted to overcome their prey. She had learned to hunt better by watching them. Now she could make them her friends too!
She searched carefully until she spotted one of the big cats lying on a large rock. It had speckled fur of sandy orange and brown. Twitching its tail, it looked over in case she was something of interest to it. Ayla watched it too, waiting for it to get used to her presence. It eventually turned its head away, searching the area. Keeping quiet, Ayla crept closer to it. Little moved around them, not even a rustle of small animals in the grass.
With that stillness, the big cat noticed her once she got in pouncing range. It snarled, showing its sharp fangs. Ayla snarled back to show that she wasn't afraid. Tilting its ears, Big Cat looked away.
"Be friends with Ayla?" she asked, digging out some jerky she'd brought along. She took a bite of one, then tossed the other on Big Cat's rock. "Friends share!"
Big Cat nearly jumped away at the thrown jerky. After a moment, it sniffed at the jerky, licked it, then decided it was good to eat.
"Big Cat friend?" Ayla asked, holding a hand out to it.
On seeing that she only had the jerky she was eating, Big Cat gave her an incredulous look.
Ayla finished off her jerky, then put her hand on the ground. "Hunt together! Ayla strong!" She then pounced on Big Cat and wrestled with it.
Big Cat yelped in surprise, then fought back. Ayla came away with some scratches, but she was pretty sure she'd won that match. Unfortunately, she hadn't convinced Big Cat to be her hunting partner yet. There was always next time, though.
There were many big cats in the stony area north of the Tyranno Lair volcano. Ayla soon narrowed down what she believed to be her Big Cat, from a nick on his ear from their first wrestling match and the pattern of his speckled fur. Many times, she found him with a female that was likely his mate. Ayla tossed the female some jerky or fish on occasion, but only wrestled with Big Cat himself. They got used to her presence, understanding after a while that she was just playing in proving her strength. As she had helped destroy Black Tyranno, Lavos, and many other great beasts, she had to keep to a playful strength to not hurt Big Cat any more than that nick.
Still, they wouldn't come back to Ioka with her like the little cats had. The little cats had settled in quickly, getting along well with most everyone. One of them had a litter of kittens who were now starting to hunt pests with their mother. Perhaps the big cats were too proud to be tamed. Perhaps they liked this area too much. But Ayla wouldn't give up! She'd make them see that being friends was good!
One afternoon, she came back after playing with the big cats and found Kino playing with one of the little kittens. He tapped a long piece of grass to the kitten's head; the kitten snatched the grass with its mouth and paws. "Ayla!" he said, looking up at her and smiling. "This one my friend."
"Good!" She came over to sit by them.
The kitten looked up at her. "Mew!" Then it chomped on the piece of grass again.
"Not get Big Cat?" Kino asked.
Ayla shook her head. "No. Make friends! Not come home."
"Ayla get Big Cat, Kino knows," he said. "Ayla, must be careful."
"Yes, Ayla be careful," she said. "Ayla strong! Be fine."
There was a reason to be careful, but she would be fine.
Big Cat and his mate would let Ayla pet them, even take a nap with them. But they wouldn't come back, no matter how she tried. Showing snacks but not giving them, beating both cats in wrestling matches, promising to be good friends; they didn't seem interested. What would interest them enough to come to Ioka?
One afternoon, a group of rotund dinos appeared in Big Cat's territory. They were good for hunting, with good meat for eating, good bones for tools, and good skin for leathers. "Share hunt!" Ayla said to Big Cat and his mate, pointing to the dinos.
None of them had a way to call upon lightning like Crono, so the dinos were tough. But they were slower than normal in the cold, giving them a good opportunity to attack them. Ayla could distract the big dinos, and then the big cats would pounce from out of sight. She got a lot of bites and scratches in doing so, making her feel worn down after the dinos were killed. Leaving one of the dinos for the cats, she started to take care of another to take back home. Big Cat's mate came over and rubbed her shoulder.
"Ayla tired," she admitted. "Ayla fine, don't worry. Good hunt."
Big Cat's mate then left them, having some business of her own. But Big Cat stayed with her, keeping watchful. Maybe there were Reptites around? Azaela was defeated, but her followers were still around in a few tribes. They raided the human towns occasionally, but they weren't as tough. When she glanced around, she saw a few other of the rotund dinos. Those ones were keeping their distance. Once she was done, Ayla sat down to rest.
She must have dozed off because Kino shook her awake. "Ayla! Ayla hurt."
"Not bad," she insisted. "Just tired. Ayla and big cats hunt good."
"Yes, but Ayla hurt," he said. "Big Cat help."
In fact, the big cats decided to follow them back to the village finally. They became such good friends that a couple years later, Big Cat would let Ayla's daughter ride around on his back. With the small cats taking care of the mice and the big cats helping take down big prey, the villages would be in good shape despite the changing weather.
Searching all of history for Crono's cats was quite the adventure, possibly more fun than hunting for a way to end Lavos. They had brought a few back to their time, but not all. The others had found new owners and homes they preferred in every period of time they'd visited. In the Dark Ages past Zeal's fall, a pair of avid mouse hunters opted to help the cats there. Several of them stayed in the Middle Ages with various people they liked, including Queen Leene, Porre's mayor, and even Frog. Others stayed in the future, which was a really nice time without Lavos destroying civilization.
And of the few that came back to their home, one had come back to the castle to live with Marle. She expected to come back to find Blanka up in her bedroom. Instead, she found a pair of saber-toothed tigers with jeweled collars sitting outside the room. "What are these tigers doing in the castle?" she asked in shock.
The knight there seemed puzzled at her reaction. "They're a traditional part of the castle guard, of course. The tigers have long protected royalty and important figures. Actually, I'm surprised you didn't take one of the tigers on your adventures. They would have been a great help to you, enough that the king might not have worried about you leaving the castle."
"We didn't have tigers when I started," she said, looking at one of the tigers approaching her. It rubbed its head against her hip and purred like it was happy to see her.
This was another change to the timestream; she didn't need Lucca to check to know that for certain. But how? Was it Ayla's doing? She had seemed fascinated by Crono's cats.
And it was disappointing that she hadn't had a saber-tooth tiger guard along on her adventures. That would have been so fun!