This occupation of the People, described only briefly by ehhif writers (the most reliable and perceptive is Pratchett*) has occasionally been called a pastime. But such a characterization is similar to calling soccer, baseball, and American-style football “pastimes”—for which human beings have sometimes wagered and won or lost fortunes, ignored almost all the other important aspects of their lives, and occasionally died under circumstances both comic and tragic.
An exhaustive analysis of hauissh would be far beyond the scope of this work, but it seems useful to include at least a summary.
Hauissh is of such antiquity that it almost certainly predates the time at which felinity became self-aware. Its most basic structure implies a conflict over hunting territory between two prides, and most authorities agree that it evolved from this strictly survival-oriented behavior to a more structured but still violent dominance game between individual members of a single pride or (later) extended pride-community, with the loser usually being run off the pride’s territory, or killed. (Even now the biggest predators tend to play hauissh in this mode, considering the refinements of later millennia to be oversophisticated or effete.)
It would be as difficult to determine exactly when feline self-awareness arose as it would to fix a time at which hauissh began to develop beyond concerns of food, territory, and power into the more intellectual and entertainment-oriented version now played by cats the world over. All the families of the People seem to have at least some knowledge of the basic concepts of the game on an instinctive level. But the demands and challenges of the modern form of hauissh require a great deal more of the player than instinct alone will provide.
In Ailurin, the word hauissh is a derivative of the passive/active root hau’e, “to see or be seen by.” The “-issh” suffix adds the conditional, “…or not.” The single word therefore sums up the object of the game: to see, while (ideally) not being seen by anyone else.
There is no mandated maximum number of players of hauissh, though games involving more than thirty or so players in one session are likely to be considered “inelegant.” Most play involves no more than ten or twelve players, though, since some level of personal relationship is considered desirable among a majority of those playing.
Hauissh involves controlling a space—yard, sidewalk, field—with one’s presence. This presence, called aahfaui, is not a constant, but is in turn affected by the space one is trying to control.
“Control” is defined by eius’hss, “being alone.” The minute a player can see another cat, the control is diminished slightly, but not in such a way as to lower one’s score. Control is diminished more if the other cat can in turn see the first player, and the first player’s score suffers.
A successful position is one in which a cat can see several others, without himself being seen. The beginner would immediately think that this could be easily achieved by being down a hole while able to see several other cats. But such concealment is not considered gameplay in the rules, and a cat retreating to such a position, having previously been in play, is then considered out of it until once again exposed.
There are many other variables that affect play. Most important of these is eiu’heff, a variable expressing a combination of the nature and size of the space being controlled. Nearly as important is hruiss’aessa, the location of the “center” of the game, the (usually invisible) spot around which the game revolves, representing (in more abstruse thought about hauissh) the Tree under which the Great Cat took his stance against the Serpent on the night of the battle by the River of Fire. The ultimate point of the game is not necessarily to reach or occupy this spot, but to dominate or master it, while also dominating as many of the other players as possible.
Feline nature being what it is, individual People tend to resist domination, even for the best of reasons. So it can easily be seen that any given bout of the Game will be prolonged and fairly stressful. Most play in hauissh is individual—pre-organized “team” play being considered too difficult to maintain for long periods, and likely to cause what some People call, in Ailurin, laeu’rh-sseihhah, an unhealthy shift in one’s nature toward a “foreign” style of being (cf. the German word uberfremdung, “overalienation”). By People who hold this position, pre-organized teamwork is seen as being a distasteful kind of pack behavior better left to less advanced species such as houiff.
Play begins when a quorum of players are determined to have arrived and to be ready to start. It ends when one player is deemed to have successfully “dominated” the hruiss’aessa and a majority of other players. A single such sequence is a “passage,” roughly equal to an inning in baseball. Passages are grouped together in larger groups called “sequences,” but there are no fixed numbers of passages-per-sequence, or sequences-per-game. Consensus usually determines when another passage is required to fill out a sequence (and it almost always is).
A detailed or exact description of how scoring is done is well beyond the scope of this work. Scoring hauissh fairly and to all players’ satisfaction is difficult work, filled with imponderables, and much more an art than a science. It is nowhere near as clearcut as scoring in any sport with which humans are familiar (and frankly, if it were, cats would probably lose interest in the game almost immediately). There is a tremendous number of rules and variables influencing score—for example, weather, local conditions such as traffic or the passage of ehhif or other species through play, physical condition of the players, and total time of play compared against time actually spent making moves, to name only a few. And so many of the variables and requirements are mutually contradictory that scoring a bout at the end of a round or “passage” far more closely resembles a discussion among Talmudic scholars than an umpire yelling “Yer out!”
To speak of how one “wins” at hauissh is probably a misnomer born of looking at the pastime through the human mindset. It is nearly as erroneous as speaking of “winning” at cricket—the human game that comes closest to hauissh in its (unspoken) expression of the idea that gameplay for its own sake is far more important than a result, of whatever kind. Like cricket, a bout of hauissh can go on for days or weeks, can be called on account of bad light (i.e., atmospheric conditions so bad that not even cats can see each other: rare), will often stop (repeatedly) for meals, and can run up extravagant scores that sound really impressive when you talk about them afterward, but which are actually indicative of neither group really being able to get the better of the other, no matter how long the process continues.
The record duration for a single bout of hauissh was set in 1716 (the actual date being either in January or February, but uncertainty involved with the Gregorian calendar shift and its coordination with the People’s timekeeping makes a definite date unavailable). Six cats located in the town of Albstadt-Ebingen, then in the duchy of Württemberg and now in southern Germany, began a bout that lasted until 1738 and was completed by five of their great-grandchildren. The bout was forced to end in a draw because of a local outbreak of the plague, which killed what was judged a “threshold” number of the competitors.
The game (to People interested in it) naturally has profound philosophical and even mystical meaning. One saying is that “Rhoua plays best,” the indication being that Iau the Queen, in Her aspect of “Winking” Rhoua, can by definition see all People without being seen Herself, and that the Game is therefore a metaphor for life… which is (come to think of it) exactly what ehhif say about baseball, and soccer, and nearly every other sport down to tiddlywinks.
*in The Unadulterated Cat (Gollancz, 1989)