Here are the Prologue and Chapters 1 – 2 of Cat Born to the Purple. I hope you enjoy them!
The Grandmothers named me “Purple Gleaming in Shadow,” because of the way sunlight picks out purple highlights in my black fur. Rarely do the elders name a kitten after the purple dye that so enthralls humankind, but at my birth the Mother of Cats sent the Grandmothers a dream, and they saw my days rolling out like a tapestry woven of all the rainbow hues of the pebble-purple shellfish. Indeed, the mysteries of royal purple have wrapped me round all my life, for I am descended from the noble cats of the fallen temple of Acco—where skilled dyers and weavers still create the most vibrant purple cloth in the Roman world.
Wherever the pebble-purple snails are pulled from the sea along the white sand beaches of my homeland, cats tell this same tale:
Once, in the long, long ago, when the Mother was walking along the beach after a storm with her cats gamboling at her side, one cat danced down between the shallow waves, scooped a buried snail up with her paw and carried it in her mouth to the Lady. Crouching before her mistress, she hooked the flesh of the snail with her claw, pierced the vein with her teeth, and dropped it onto the sand at the Mother’s feet . . . where the snail’s blood seeped out into the sun and air and worked its magic—turning from yellow and green to blue and finally purple. The Mother’s cat had simply reminded her of one of the many small wonders of her creation, and in time the Lady shared it with humankind.
Yet my story does not begin with purple. It begins a full year before my birth, far away in the land-locked hills of the Galilee. So for a while I shall speak through the memories of Wind on Water, a wise cat who once traveled with Yeshua ben Yosef, the human known among cats as He Who Brings Life to the Earth, beloved of the One.
Part One: Spinning
Spinning involves both twisting and drawing out the fibers of raw material into thread. The twisting and stretching is tediously slow, and the new yarn is always trying to tangle, untwist, or perform any of an amazing variety of other nasty feats the moment you let go of it. The thread must be kept under constant tension until the twist is permanently set.
paraphrase of E. J. W. Barber, Prehistoric Textiles
1: Fine Phoenician Border
Wind on Water speaks:
The wildfire raging on the mountain called Tabor filled the world with a choking haze, blotting out the stars and burning my eyes. Cats might not cry for grief, but I could feel the tears now, scalding and blurring my eyes, pooling at their corners, doing what they could to wash the grit away. My throat scratched and itched like a goat’s after eating thistles. Even crouched down in my sling beneath the son of Earth’s mantle, I wheezed and gagged . . . and found no relief. How could I escape something that flowed back into my body on each new breath? I whimpered and pressed closer to his breast.
I knew if I raised my head up into the foul air, I’d see what I’d seen ever since the sun had set in the brown sky: fiery explosions in the distance where the southerly wind swept flames up over the next hill, and the next, into yet another stand of summer-dry forest. Only my love for the son of Earth kept me with him instead of fleeing like every other beast in this blighted land. Simon, James, and John stayed with him as well, their coughs muffled by the mantles wrapped around their faces. They didn’t try to speak.
Strange noises filled the night. All around us winds spawned by the flames gusted through the wadis and dry oak woods, rattling the leaves like empty seedpods, peppering plant and fur alike with grit and ash. At length, with the drab dawn approaching, I felt ben Adamah’s steps begin to slow—as if he were suddenly unsure of his way. Reluctantly, I raised my head to look around, but I saw only more smoky outlines of rocks and trees before he veered up a small path that branched away from the road and up a rocky hill crowned with a straggling oak grove. Then I heard what he must have sensed already: the exhausted whimpering of a beast in pain.
Uncertain what to expect, I watched from my sling as he climbed the hill. Just under the hilltop he turned toward a massive boulder as big as a small cliff, with a shallow depression undercutting its base. There he found the source of the cries: a human female, trying to press herself even further under the rock’s shelter as we approached. Her breath came in ragged gasps, as if the very act of breathing shredded her breast with invisible claws.
Not wishing to come between ben Adamah and the injured woman, I leapt down and crouched nearby, pressing my mouth as close to the ground as I could. My nose twitched with distaste both at the smoke and the rank odor of fear that filled the small clearing. The woman’s clothing clung to her body in tattered ribbons, almost glued into the oozing paste of blood and dust coating her flesh. I could see that her hands were shattered, as well as much of her face. The Mother only knew how much damage I couldn’t see.
Yet what I couldn’t see didn’t matter. I could already feel the son of Earth pouring his strength into her body, soothing her spirit with his voice. The sullen red glow of the reeking dawn faded behind the clear light flowing from his hands and enclosing her flesh. Then to my surprise, I sensed a struggle . . . almost as if her spirit were a piece of cloth, seeking to loosen its spun thread and revert to the fleece that had formed it, unraveling at his touch, streaming away into his light to lose itself in the love flowing through him.
“No, child,” I thought I heard him whisper, “not yet. Stay a while, even if the world has treated you cruelly. You are strong, and joy will come in its own time. Your attackers meant you harm, but even now the One is weaving their evil into good.”
Slowly the threads began to weave themselves together again in his hands, until her spirit came to rest in the light holding her close. She breathed a small sigh, like a child curling into her mother’s arms after a long day, and fell asleep. Ben Adamah bathed her body with the water we’d been carrying, and cut strips from his own robe to bind the worst of her wounds—or perhaps to prevent her unraveling again. Who can say what things are possible? Last, he wrapped her in the ruin of his robe and took her hand in his, settling down to wait beside her while she slept.
But these things all happened a full turn of seasons ago. I recall them now only because she has touched our lives again.
Ben Adamah told me that the young woman had been the victim of an angry mob hurling stones at her, punishing her for violating one of their many laws—and that her own husband had probably been the one to rouse their fury. I was still new to the cruelties of humankind then, and this was my first meeting with the human frenzy that feeds on the lifeblood of its own kind. For a long time I didn’t understand it. How could I? As a cat, I knew nothing of such evil.
By the time she awakened, the wildfire had burnt itself out. The son of Earth gave her a new name then: Eliana, because the One had answered her prayers. Finally, after making arrangements for the three disciples to bring her safely to his friend Eli in Cana, ben Adamah and I went into the wilderness for a time of prayer. That was the last I heard of her—except for the warm mantle she sent to ben Adamah, woven with her own hands—until Eli’s message arrived.
A chill wind whipped ben Adamah’s robes with the promise of bitter cold to come as we left the shelter of Capernaum’s streets and set out on the road to Acco. I’d endured the disciples’ complaints for days, until I wished I could sink my teeth into their tongues. The people of Acco were treacherous, the men insisted, and they hated Jews. We’d be murdered as we slept. Slavers would snare us in their nets. On and on they grumbled—all but Maryam. The son of Earth listened patiently, but held to his plan: he would travel first to Acco and then up the coast to Tyre and Sidon, taking advantage of the mild coastal winter to preach to the Phoenicians. The others could come or not, as they chose. If their fears saddened him, he gave no outward sign, but I could sense his disappointment. Now, as we climbed the brown hills under heavy skies, the twelve straggled along behind us, unwilling to reject ben Adamah’s lead, yet making their resentment clear. Maryam walked beside him.
We weren’t even out of sight of Capernaum when I heard a messenger running up behind us, his long strides eating up the distance like a bounding lion.
“Lord!” he cried out as he approached. “Please wait!”
Dropping to one knee, the young man took ben Adamah’s hand in his and gasped his message out between heaving breaths. “Your friend Eli begs you to come to him. The woman Eliana whom you entrusted to his care is in danger. He fears for her life if she remains in Cana. You must not delay!”
Then the messenger dropped ben Adamah’s hand and looked up into his face, his eyes pleading.
“You know Eliana, my son?” the son of Earth asked.
“I do, Lord, and I would not see her harmed, whatever the reason.”
“Has word of her presence in Eli’s home reached her enemies?”
“We fear it, Lord. There is little doubt.”
“Then I will come. Tell Eli that I’ll join him in Cana by midday tomorrow. And do not fear. All will be well.”
Yet although he’d recovered his breath, the man still knelt in the road. I watched without surprise. Even a cat could lose herself in the son of Earth’s eyes, slipping down into the light-filled depths of his heart. At last the messenger rose to his feet, moving awkwardly at first, but recovering his balance as his pace slowly increased, as if he recalled his errand only gradually.
So we turned back toward the caravan road that ran along the shores of the sea toward Magdala and Sepphoris. The disciples seemed cheered by our change of plans, but most still followed at a distance.
“Yeshua?” Maryam called, hurrying to catch up with ben Adamah at his quickened pace. “Who is this woman who needs your help?”
I could feel his smile as he looked at Maryam. “You weren’t with me when I met her,” he agreed. “Eliana is a rare woman, Maryam. She survived being stoned long enough to crawl away to shelter—long enough for me to find her. I healed her body, but the scars in her mind and spirit needed time and gentleness, so I sent her to live with a friend in Cana, where I hoped she would be safe. I couldn’t keep her with me, but I’ve always held her in my heart, remembering her to my Father’s care.”
He paused, and I could imagine the memories rising in his mind.
“She was little more than a girl, Maryam, and I sensed no evil in her, only such foolishness as a child might devise. But the path I hoped she might follow has come to an end. I must help Eli take thought for another . . . until she is strong enough to walk free.”
I remembered the child’s smile when she’d first opened her eyes to find a cat sitting beside her under the trees. No, there was no evil in Eliana.
“They stoned her?” Maryam murmured, and then she was silent, her steps slowing until she lagged behind all the others. Soon after that I fell asleep, lulled by the silence of the mist-bound lake and the son of Earth’s rapid stride.
His sudden swing away from the main road woke me from a pleasant dream of Maryam’s house, with its warm hearth and soft beds. The dream was shattered against the rocky ledges of the small track the son of Earth followed now . . . up the gorge and away from Magdala. Instead of guiding us to Maryam’s warm house, he’d chosen to spend a miserable night tramping among Arbel’s rugged cliffs. He didn’t even apologize.
Lake fog mingled with the clouds shrouding the cliff tops until I could hardly see the rocks along our way. Worse, the higher we climbed, the less like mist and the more like rain the clouds became. At length the humans were slogging through running water, heads bent beneath a heavy downpour. Even tucked against ben Adamah’s breast, I was cold and damp. I wanted to stop. I growled my displeasure, but the only response I got was a soft chuckle.
We walked all night. Hardly anyone spoke. I grumbled now and then in pointless protest, and tried to sleep. Finally, as the low-hanging clouds began to brighten with a dull dawn, the son of Earth turned off the highway, toward Cana. In the growing light I began to see familiar landmarks, and then, at last, the walls enclosing Eli’s house and garden.
Journey’s end! At least I wouldn’t be expected to greet our hosts. I abandoned the humans and slunk off to find a snug corner for a nap.
Except for several women going about their own business, the courtyard was empty when I emerged from my storeroom. I couldn’t tell for sure how far the day had advanced, since the same heavy clouds still hung over the hillside, but I sensed that the sun had climbed almost to its full rising. With my belly protesting breakfast’s long delay, I wandered into the garden, where a fat ground squirrel grown slow and foolish with the approach of winter practically stumbled under my claws. By the time I finished meal and bath, angry voices were drifting from the house. I stretched and wandered inside to see what trouble had been brewing in my absence.
The voices led me to a room painted to resemble a summer garden and furnished with fine wooden furniture. The son of Earth sat on a chair close to his friend Eli, while Simon, James, and John leaned against the wall behind them. I saw Maryam sitting on a couch with Eli’s young wife Rachel, who looked as pleased with married life as she’d been with her wedding . . . if you didn’t count the look of delicate distaste flitting across her face, apparently in response to an older female and a young male facing her across the room. Eliana was nowhere to be seen.
Not knowing these two guests’ feelings about cats (chances were good that they’d consider me an abomination), I crept into the room and crouched in the shadows behind their chairs. I could see little of the male, but the old female reminded me of a desert vulture, with her wrinkled yellow skin and stringy grey hair barely visible beneath an astonishing number of coins and jewels dangling over her forehead. The regular tremors that shook her body set her heavy gold bracelets clinking in time with her headdress, and a faint odor of decay drifted into the closed space under her chair. I hissed softly and moved as far away from her as possible without calling attention to myself.
I couldn’t help noticing that her shimmering robes merely mocked her age as they slid away from the talon-like hands clutching the chair. Why would such a one choose the soft silks of a young woman? I’d met aged humans often enough, and like the Grandmothers, the wisdom of years often lay in their eyes. But this woman repelled me. Something unclean dwelt here. I could feel the prickling along my spine as my hackles started to rise. From the male I felt nothing. If these were Eliana’s enemies, then perhaps ben Adamah should rethink his idea about whose hand lay behind her attack.
But the old woman was speaking now, and I forced myself to listen.
“You can’t deceive me, Eli! I know you’ve hidden her here. I call upon the Holy One of Israel as my witness! Return her to us for the justice we are owed!”
The woman did hiss like a vulture, but it seemed due more to the absence of teeth than to a vulture’s beak. I could see flecks of spittle beginning to spot her fine robe.
Eli leaned forward, one hand on his knee, and replied mildly. “Shabtit, mother of Aner, I must ask you to calm yourself. I’ve told you already that there is no one by the name of Dena in my house. If you have nothing else to say to me, then our conversation is at an end. My patience has its limits.”
I cocked an ear at Eli, impressed by his calm. He was a human male of ben Adamah’s age, much the same as my friend in height and bearing. Before this day, I’d encountered him only as an ordinary man engrossed in his own wedding. Now I perceived the merchant whose shrewd judgments had amassed the fortune that had built this house.
But Shabtit wasn’t finished.
“And you!” she seethed, turning toward Rachel. “How can you pretend that the embroidery on that travelling cloak is the work of your hands? How would you, a village wife, know the secrets of Phoenician needlework? I tell you, I know this wanton’s stitching like my own! You will return her to me!”
“Do you insult me as well as my lord?” the young wife asked softly, looking up from her folded hands with barely concealed anger. “Why should I pretend anything to you, mother of Aner? I know little of you, and you know even less of me. Have you ever sat with me and my women as we stitch and weave? When have we ever shared our handwork with you? Is this poor dead girl the only seamstress in all the Galilee who can embroider a fine Phoenician border?”
Then after a pause, she spoke again as she started to rise. “Your rudeness is not welcome in my home.”
“Oh, no, neither of you will dismiss me so easily!” Shabtit raged.
Her son Aner said nothing. He only sat rigid in his chair, fists clenched at his sides.
“I will have what is mine!” she shrilled. “You’ll see! I’ll have the Sanhedrin down on your heads! You’ll be shamed in the marketplace . . . ”
Ben Adamah’s voice cut across her abuse, sharp as flint. “Have you not already had what is due you, woman?” he asked. “Do you not have the child’s bride price, and her parents’ legacy? Have you not already sold her land and the kilns her father left her, without yielding her any profit from their sale? And with all else gone, have you not stolen her good name and even her life as well?”
There was absolute silence in the room, until the son of Earth spoke again.
“Take care, woman, how you call upon the Holy One to witness what you deserve!”
Then Simon pushed away from the wall, walked across the room and stopped before the two guests, scowling down at them like some rustic angel of destruction. I remembered then that Simon had cared for Eliana during her journey to Eli’s house.
cat tales and purple snails
Apparently ben Adamah found this pair as repellant as I, which was unusual. I was accustomed to his sadness when confronting cruel humans, and sometimes his anger as well. But his voice had cracked like a whip across this woman’s rage, silencing her with a cold distaste I’d not often seen in him. In fact, the only time I could remember hearing anything like it was when he spoke to the evil spirit binding the man in Capernaum’s synagogue . . .
2: Reminder of Grace
Wind on Water speaks:
I leapt up onto ben Adamah’s shoulder as Rachel led the way to Eliana’s room. No one else went with us. The others had followed a servant to the large room set aside for visiting travelers.
It seemed to me that of all the sleeping chambers in Eli’s house, Eliana’s must be the most private. Set in a corner at the end of a long dark hall, her room was hidden from all but those intimately familiar with the house. Whoever had chosen her room had done well by her. The young female I remembered wouldn’t easily welcome the closeness of strangers, nor relax without a sheltered den of her own where she could feel safe . . . at least not for a while.
Rachel called softly from outside the room, knocked, and then pushed the door open. “The teacher has come, Eliana,” she smiled, and then stood aside.
Eliana spun away from a loom where she’d been weaving with an older woman, her sudden movement setting the small clay weights at the bottom dancing. I wouldn’t have recognized her. Of course, the bloody bruises and cuts had healed, leaving only faint lines to mark their passing. I wasn’t even sure that I saw lines at all; they were more like faint traces of light leaking out from within. She was taller than I’d remembered, too . . . which was nonsense, since I’d never seen her on her feet. Mostly her face confused me: even I, a cat with limited appreciation for human beauty, could see that this young woman would be difficult to hide. I dimly remembered a child’s plump features from our first meeting, but that child had vanished. Her face had molded itself to her bones, taking on the contours she would bear all her adult life. I couldn’t say what struck me so, but I knew with some greater-than-feline instinct that this young woman was lovely beyond the wont of human females. Perhaps the Mother’s own grace had touched her in recompense for her suffering. No doubt ben Adamah would know.
But Eliana only had eyes for the son of Earth. No more than an instant passed after she’d turned toward us before she fell to her knees, her hands stretched toward him—hands that carried no sign of the ruin visited upon them.
“My Lord,” she whispered.
The son of Earth squatted on the floor facing her, taking her hands in his. I jumped down and wandered over to the loom to watch the swaying threads settle back into stillness. I’d seen looms before, but only from a distance. My toes itched with the possibilities that leapt to mind.
“All is well, my daughter,” I heard ben Adamah say. “You’re safe, and no one will harm you.”
Then he rose to his feet, pulling her with him. The other woman bustled from the room, leaving us alone, although I could sense Rachel hovering in the hall.
Ben Adamah led Eliana to a bench along one wall and gestured for her to sit beside him. Now that her shock had worn off, she was drawing into herself, overwhelmed with shyness. She sat and stared at her white-knuckled hands, without even a sidelong glance at the son of Earth. The silence lengthened. I decided it was time to introduce myself, since apparently no one else was going to. I sauntered across the room and stopped just in front of her feet, composing myself neatly, my tail curled around my toes. Then I stared.
It always works. Humans have no resistance. Even the smallest kitten can stare down an ordinary human, and Eliana was no exception. I drew her gaze like a lodestone draws an iron nail. I watched as her eyes grew large and the beginnings of a smile appeared.
“I remember you!” she cried. “I thought you were just a dream. I had so many . . .” Her voice slowed and lost its delight as other memories rose into her mind.
“Eliana?” I whispered, and rose up onto my haunches, placing one paw lightly on her knee.
She looked around the room, seeking the source of the voice. Ben Adamah smiled and raised his eyebrows at me.
“It’s me . . . Mari,” I said. “The cat,” I added impatiently when she failed to understand. “The one you call Teacher gave me the gift of human speech.”
For a moment I feared she would panic like Maryam when we’d first talked, but then she looked at ben Adamah, and he nodded and smiled. She reached out a shaking hand to touch my shoulder. Slowly she smiled as well, but hesitantly.
“Here, Mari,” ben Adamah laughed, “come sit on my lap, where Eliana can see you.”
I thought she could see me perfectly well where I was, but the son of Earth always had his reasons. I jumped into his lap and settled myself comfortably.
“You see, Eliana, Mari is my very good friend. She travels with me everywhere, in a sling under my robe. No one notices her there, and she can come and go as she pleases.”
I purred loudly, happy to be the center of his attention for as long as it lasted.
He laughed again, and I felt his body shake. “She makes that noise when she’s happy. It’s called purring. And,” he added, “she’ll always give you fair warning if she wants to be left alone, so you needn’t fear offending her. Cats are like little lions. They’re direct—and they can be very fierce—but only when they feel angry or threatened. Or perhaps if you’re a mouse, and dinnertime is near.”
I felt Eliana’s hand creep over to stroke my back, and I purred louder. Several pleasant moments passed before her hand strayed to a fold of ben Adamah’s mantle. She fingered the wool lightly and smiled up at him.
“You were pleased with my gift, Lord?” she whispered. “The robe has served you well?”
“The kindness woven into it has kept me warm through many a cold night, child,” he smiled. “You’re a very gifted weaver, Eliana. And I see that your skill with a needle is no less.”
He smiled as he nodded at Eliana’s own robe, its edges bordered with brilliant woven bands, embroidered flowers trailing across it in rows of wavering vines, almost as if the stitching had been added to disguise mended tears. I leaned out of his lap to look more closely at her robe, sniffing the worn fabric deeply. I knew this mantle! Surely it was ben Adamah’s own, the one he had cut to bind Eliana’s wounds, then wrapped around her to protect her from the cold!
She ducked and tried to hide her face, but the son of Earth caught her chin and lifted it up. “You did well, Eliana,” he smiled. “You’ve transformed an evil memory into a thing of beauty and a reminder of grace. I’m pleased that my robe brought you comfort.”
I could see the anxiety building in Eliana’s breast, threatening to send her flying out the door . . . although I wasn’t sure why. But I needn’t have worried: the son of Earth was already reaching out to soothe her.
“Now, daughter,” he said in a tone of firm authority, “tell me about your life. Are you happy here with Eli and Rachel?”
She met his eyes uncertainly, but whatever she saw there reassured her.
“Oh, yes,” she smiled, and color began to spread back across her cheeks. “Rachel has been so kind to me, and Eli as well! Not everyone would welcome an orphaned stranger into their home,” she added.
I licked her hand, and she jumped with surprise. “Your little tongue could card wool, it’s so rough!” she laughed.
“Eliana.” He spoke her name like a blessing. “Do you remember what I told you when I gave you your name?”
“Yes, Lord,” she whispered. “You said it was mine because the One had answered my prayer.”
“And do you recall what that prayer was, child? What happened to you before we met? Shall we look at it together?”
The sudden panic in her eyes reminded me of a flock of doves beating their wings in a desperate frenzy to raise their heavy bodies into the air and out of the reach of a predator’s claws.
“Hush, child,” ben Adamah whispered, laying his hand gently over hers. “Don’t be afraid. You’re safe now.”
Her confusion was plain, but as I watched, the fear sank away as if it had never been. She smiled at him like a trusting child, the tense cords in her neck relaxed, and her eyes grew calm. She’s forgotten! I marveled. She’s forgotten that she was stoned.
Was it possible? She remembered the son of Earth—she even remembered me—but the rest was lost. Yet I could see that the threat of remembering hung over her head like a boulder suspended from a fragile thread. Part of her knew the horror was there, but she was unable to admit its presence, or to flee from it. What would happen if the thread unraveled and the memories broke over her?
“Ben Adamah?” I whispered.
“Wait, little leopard,” was all he said.
Cat tales and purple snails
Later that evening, Ben Adamah told me that Eliana just needed time, that once she realized her own strength, the memories would return. Until then, the One would hold them for her in a small pouch spun of spider’s silk. I think he might have been making up that last part.
But he knew that I found Eliana’s lapse disturbing. She’d mislaid a chunk of her life, a part of who she was. What if she never got it back? Would her mind be pocked with empty holes where memories used to be? More than a few times while we were in Cana, I dreamed that I walked through a wilderness riddled with black pits echoing with nothingness, waiting to swallow me up if I missed a step.
Even cats have nightmares.