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I like cats. Some of my all-time favorite cats were Trash, a sad, malnourished stray kitten my family found at a dump and nursed back to health (she grew up to become a beautiful Russian Blue) and Anastacia, a.k.a. Stinky Annie, a Siamese rescue with bad teeth who, when shown affection, expressed contentment by sticking out her tongue and passing gas. However, I fear there will be some Sign of the Throne readers who will think I have a vendetta against cats, and that writing this book was an elaborate form of revenge against a species that doesn’t, so far as I know, read. I assure you cat lovers, this is not the case. I like cats. Really.
Why then, would I cast them as villains? Cats are efficient predators. Sneaky, slinky, silky, silent predators. They have sharp teeth and retractable claws, and muscles built for leaping and pouncing. When I visited Puerto Rico, I was astounded by the number of cats I saw on the streets of Old San Juan while walking around one evening. I was exploring Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a 16th-century citadel, when I realized I was being watched. I turned and saw the glowing eyes and dark silhouette of a cat, crouched on a rock wall overlooking the sea. The experience was eerie. As I wrote Sign of the Throne, I thought back to that night, and how a seemingly innocuous creature like a housecat would be the perfect disguise for an insidious evil to hide in plain sight. Cats are everywhere—we hardly give them a second glance. But sometimes they watch us, peering down from high perches, peeking out from dark corners. And they look so smug about it, as though they know something we don’t.
In folklore, black cats have been viewed as both good and bad omens. In Great Britain and Japan, black cats are seen as lucky. In Western history, black cats were thought to be connected with sorcery. There are stories about black cats being able to take on human form to act as spies for witches or demons. Unfortunately, this superstition has sometimes led to large-scale exterminations of these creatures. Black cats are not the only animal victims of superstition—the aye-aye, a rare lemur in Madagascar, is sometimes killed because of the belief that it is evil and uses its longest finger to pierce human hearts.
The shape-shifters of Cai Terenmare come in many forms. Some of them, like our animals on Earth, have similar coloring to the animals you would find in our world, allowing them to blend in. Others are more closely linked to superstition. Whereas black animals are usually considered bad omens, white animals in mythology are often seen as good omens. In Cai Terenmare, the color white is associated with the Light and the Solas Beir, so people with a white spirit animal may be nobility. Likewise, people with a black spirit animal may have aligned with the Darkness, although this is not always the case—ravens are an example of black-colored animals connected to the Light.
The Newcastle Beach cats, however, may look feline, but they’re not cats at all. They are the Kruorumbrae, blood-thirsty bogeymen similar to the phooka, an Irish hobgoblin with black fur that can appear in a number of forms—a shadow, smoke, or animals like cats, goats, and bulls. And make no mistake: though Kruorumbrae masquerade as cats, given the opportunity, they will eat you alive.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2012