Yeshua’s Loom

Here are the prologue and first chapter of Yeshua’s Loom: A Tapestry of Cats (working title) due out this fall!

Prologue

In the dark hour before dawn—at the very moment of my birth—a star fell into the sea off the rocky coast near Perga. When the sun rose and humans woke to the news, half the city bragged of having seen it . . . but in truth, only the sacred cats of the Mother’s temple and a paw’s count of sleepless humans saw it fall. It blazed across the sky in a great arc, glowing in the cats’ eyes like a fiery jewel, gilding their fur with the brilliance of its passing, and finally disappearing beneath the black swells. The Grandmothers pondered long over the meaning of this wonder, but the Lady spoke no word to their hearts.

“Perhaps the message was not for us,” they shrugged.

At my coming of age the Grandmothers named me “Nightfire,” for the star at my birth, my fur like a moonless night, and my eyes that burn like coals. I was born a sacred cat of the Mother, descended from the line of the Great Cats of Bubastis. Long ago, in the time before time, the Mother of Cats shared with us her understanding of human thoughts, and charged us to keep watch over their foolishness, recalling them to the great Balance when they strayed—and truly, humans often strayed after the very demons of chaos.

Although many generations have passed since our ancestors came to this foreign temple far from the Lady’s native soil, we still speak into human hearts with the voice of the Great Cat Who Is Bast. We may hiss softly at their perversity, but we do what we can to penetrate the tangled thickets of their minds.

I grew strong in the Mother’s temple, learned the beginnings of wisdom, and sired many kits among the temple females. Life was good . . . until the dreams began. I don’t know why the strange human who visited my dreams disturbed me so. He was only an ordinary human male; I didn’t fear him. But he pursued me relentlessly, night after night, day after day. Whenever I closed my eyes, he was there. He stalked me like a hunting cat. I even tried the unseemly solution of avoiding sleep altogether, but the harder I struggled, the more intense his presence grew when sleep finally overtook me.

In the end, my dreams spilled over into the Grandmothers’ dreaming, and after that there was no escape. They peered into the shadows of my dreams and perceived that this human was drawing near in the waking world. The Mother spoke through my dreams, they said, summoning me to bind my life to his like the fibers of a closely spun thread. The temple would miss me, but I’d given generously of my strength, and my blood ran true in my many kits. I must find the human male without delay.

So it was that I was sitting on a hilltop staring across the sea, feeling angry and uncertain, when a small ship appeared on the horizon. From across the water a glowing cord reached out, a ghostly echo of the birth-cord that had bound me to my mother, and touched me with a waking dream. When my vision cleared, I sat up, licked my fur into place, turned my back on the temple, and loped down the hill, easily keeping pace with the boat’s slow progress toward the distant harbor.

1: Royalty

Purple Gleaming in Shadow speaks

Wind gusted, shrieking around the ship’s cabin and snapping the sail like thunder. The boat rolled down into the trough of a new wave and then wallowed up the heaving mountain beyond it. My screams rode the wind along with our frail ship until the plunging deck flung me to the end of my safety line and my jaws snapped shut. The boat spun on, cresting the next wave and hurling itself down again on the far side. Growling deep in my belly, I scrabbled at the slippery deck, digging my claws into the wooden planks and thrashing in a fury of despair, trying to free myself from the harness that bound me. It held fast. I yowled my outrage as I retreated to the wooden hovel where Aeliana, my traitorous human, and her foster mother Tirzah sheltered from the storm.

Aeliana stretched her hand out in welcome, but I hissed at her, slashed out with my claws, and bared my teeth. Hadn’t she betrayed me into this horror? Hadn’t her hands fastened these demon ropes around me, lashing me to this pitiful bit of driftwood that carried us toward a watery grave? Was I a tottering human cub, that I should be bound with ropes to keep me from falling into the waves? And where would I be if the boat sank?

I refused to hold that thought in my mind.

Do it for me, Purple, Aeliana had begged in her soft voice. How could I bear it if you were lost?

I noticed that she hadn’t tied herself to the mast for my sake.

Then Chariton’s exultant laugh rang out from the windswept deck, dousing my rage like a bucket of cold seawater. Not for an instant did I imagine that he laughed at me. No, his laugh was filled with delight: he was enjoying himself. And he wouldn’t be enjoying himself if Aeliana were in danger. I turned and scowled at her again. Neither she nor Tirzah seemed worried. I licked angrily at the salt spray beading my fur and forced myself to think. The son of Earth’s words echoed in my ear: Listen, and choose, Purple kit!

I sighed and gave up. I hadn’t been listening. The truth was right in front of me: this horror was normal. Just a squall, as Chariton had tried to assure me. Small storms blew across the sea every day. I hunkered down against the cabin’s wall, bracing myself as the boat pitched and rolled beneath me. Finally, having nothing else to contribute, I hacked up my breakfast into Aeliana’s lap.

The son of Earth, known among cats as He Who Brings Light to the Earth, once called me clever, a scholar among cats. I often wondered if he’d mistaken me for some other kitten. True, I hadn’t had much experience with humans in those days, but I’d been standing right beside Aeliana when she’d agreed to go with Chariton to his far country beyond the great sea. I’d heard her with my own ears. Now if I’d been a clever cat—a scholar among kittens—wouldn’t I have realized that going to a far country might require travel? And since Chariton always traveled on ships, wouldn’t a clever kitten have suspected that our travel might involve ships too?

Not I.

In my defense, the moon had waxed and waned many times after Aeliana gave her promise, yet still she’d remained in Aqhat’s house, weaving, dyeing and stitching in his workshop as if nothing had changed. Chariton had come and gone across the sea several times. Summer had turned to winter, the calm seas had risen with the winter tides, and still he’d continued his trips, paying exorbitant sums to nervous captains who sensibly preferred their safe harbors to the treacherous open water.

He’d said little about these trips, at least in my hearing, and I’d settled into my own life. After all, I’d just passed through that most wondrous door in a young cat’s life, when I was finally able to birth kittens of my own.

And that was another thing. I glowered at Aeliana again, but this time she scowled back (she and Tirzah were both working to clean my breakfast off her best wool robe). I’d had to leave my kits behind! Admittedly, Aeliana had waited until after their naming to set sail . . . but never to see them again! I’d always promised myself that if I lived long enough to have kittens of my own, I’d never abandon them as my mother had me. Be fair, Purple, an inner voice scolded. You didn’t abandon them. No, not exactly. I’d left them in the care of Aqhat and his many household cats. They had food and shelter and a safe place. And they were old enough to make their own way.

I sighed again and closed my eyes. The son of Earth had explained what it meant for a cat to bond with a human. At the very least he expected me to stay by Aeliana’s side. But more than that, I knew he was depending on me to help her find her way in this new life. Like my own youth, hers had been cruelly hard. She’d been little more than a child when her father had arranged her mating with the son of a Galilean wine merchant. Then, within a year, her parents had died in a fire that devoured her inheritance along with their lives, and her grasping in-laws had tried to rid themselves of their now penniless daughter-in-law by driving her out into the hills to die. The son of Earth had rescued her and settled her on the Phoenician coast as a weaver’s apprentice under Tirzah’s loving eye. Fortunately for Aeliana, her worthless mate had died within the year, and she’d met Chariton, a trader from a wealthy merchant family famed for the richness of their royal purple dye. This pitiful ship was carrying us to his home, where they planned to marry.

So I was stuck. No way out. I closed my ears to the crashing fury of the sea and let my mind sink into the nowhere place, where all beasts go when life spins out of control and no more choices remain.

The calmness of the water roused me from my stupor. Aeliana and Tirzah had abandoned our shelter and joined Chariton on the deck, where they were leaning over the rail and pointing at something I couldn’t see. I yawned, stretched and walked toward them as far as my rope allowed.

Land! The sun hung low, the sea was calm, and we were coming into a rocky harbor . . . docking for the night! I sighed in relief. If it weren’t for these nightly returns to solid ground, by now I’d be as witless as the flying fish that had flung itself into the ship cook’s delighted hands. Yes! Here came Chariton to gather up everyone’s belongings. And me. Cat baggage.

“Are you feeling better now, small Purple?” he asked me with a knowing grin. “I heard about your accident . . . if accident it was!” he laughed.

I responded with stony silence. Nothing about this trip amused me, and I was in no mood for Chariton to be rummaging through my mind with his unnerving skill at grasping feline thoughts.

He bent to release me from my harness, and held out his arm in invitation. I took my time climbing up, and then lurched around his shoulders, intentionally snagging his mantle with my claws each time I slipped, before circling one last time and curling around his neck where I’d begun.

“You’re in a good mood,” I grumbled, as he almost danced across the deck toward the women. “I am, aren’t I?” he laughed. “I feel like something extraordinary is about to happen . . . and we’ll be spending the night with two of my family’s oldest friends.”

He laughed again, with the same sudden burst of pleasure I’d sensed earlier. I switched my tail and slitted my eyes against the blinding rays of the setting sun. I’d had enough of humans for one day, happy or otherwise. Maybe Chariton’s friends would have a large garden. We’d stayed in so many different houses since we’d left Acco that I’d given up trying to imagine the ones yet to come. And anyway, all the houses had a depressing sameness. Still, maybe there’d be a cat. A simple conversation with an ordinary cat would be a pleasant change.

That’s when I felt the strange cat’s presence, almost as if my thoughts had summoned him. But surely I wouldn’t have called a male—a powerful male, if his impact on my senses were any measure. I rose up on Chariton’s shoulder, swaying against his head as he strode across the bouncing plank to the dock where Aeliana and Tirzah waited. Chariton was tall for a human, so I could see over most of the human heads crowding the pier. Cliffs rose above us, blocking all view of the city, except for a sloping path cut into the cliff where seamen and merchants streamed back and forth between town and dock. I saw no cats.

“Hail, human stranger,” the rumbling voice of a cat broke into my thoughts. “I greet you, and welcome you to our shores.”

I spun around on Chariton’s shoulder, searching. This stranger was speaking into Chariton’s thoughts directly, as if he already knew he’d be heard.

Chariton had stopped at the unseen cat’s first words and now stood unmoving at the water’s edge. Aeliana and Tirzah must have heard the voice, too: like me, both were scanning the dock. But Chariton was looking directly at a spot halfway up the cliff. I followed his gaze . . . and felt as if the breath had been knocked from my body. The strange male sitting on the ledge was as black as I, but massively built, larger than one of the wildcats who roamed the hills above Acco. And his eyes! Even at a distance, I could see that they were neither green like mine, nor tawny, but a blazing gold with flecks of orange fire.

“Greetings, noble cat with eyes of flame,” Chariton was saying. “I am Chariton of Miletos, son of Proteas. Will you speak your name?”

I held my breath. Speaking cats—as this cat clearly was—did not share their names freely.

The black male rose to his full height, looked down at Chariton, flicked his gaze over the human females—and me—and answered. “The Grandmothers named me Nightfire. I am descended in direct line from the great cats of Bubastis, born a sacred cat in the temple of the Mother at Perga.”

He inclined his head like royalty. So this was what a real temple cat was like! I shrank against Chariton’s neck like the scruffy provincial rock rabbit I was. Various near-death experiences at the claws of brutish bullies skittered through my memory.

“What do seek from me, Nightfire, sacred cat of the Lady Bast?” Chariton inquired.

Nightfire’s eyes gleamed with approval at Chariton’s response. “For many days you have haunted my dreams, son of Proteas. Even the Grandmothers shared my dreaming. Their council decided that the Mother of Cats was calling me to join my path to yours. More than this I do not know.”

For the first time I caught a hint of nervousness in Nightfire’s manner. He’d probably never asked a human for anything before, much less what amounted to adoption.

But Chariton smiled broadly, and nodded his head. “I, too, have dreamed, Nightfire. And only this afternoon an unreasoning joy gripped my heart, on the wings of the certainty that something extraordinary awaited me here.”

He paused and bowed low, leaving me no choice but to jump down. I stalked away, fluffed my fur, and licked my tail as if the whole encounter were of no interest to me.

“Welcome, Nightfire. You shall be as my brother, and I yours,” Chariton said solemnly.

I felt the huge cat breathe an almost imperceptible sigh of relief before turning his gaze to Aeliana and Tirzah.

Chariton stretched his hand out toward them and smiled. “This is the lady Aeliana, my intended mate, and her foster mother, Tirzah. Both are animal speakers in their own right.”

Last he turned to me, where I sat near Aeliana’s feet. “And this is Purple Gleaming in Shadows, bonded to Aeliana, and descended from the sacred cats of a temple of the Mother on the Phoenician shore. Her distant Grandmothers also walked the sands of Bubastis.”

If Nightfire had possessed human eyebrows, he would have quirked one. Instead he nodded to me—not the nod of a bully to a victim, but of an elder to a young cousin. My legs felt weak with gratitude for Chariton’s kindness, and I forgave him all his recent failings. I would never be a ragged waif from the dyeing beaches of Acco in this stranger’s eyes. With one hand Chariton had adopted Nightfire, and with the other he’d pulled me in as well.

Cat threads: Purple Gleaming in Shadow speaks

Perhaps I should explain something. The son of Earth was a prophet and healer of the One (and more than that, too). I was never sure exactly what his relationship was to the Mother of Cats, but it was good. He didn’t call her names and kick her sacred cats as some humans did. The friendship we four shared was his doing. Perhaps he’d sent this strange cat as well.

I do know that once, in a dark dream, the Mother of Cats had pulled me back from the great Silence and into her light. She told us then that she was no more than a bright image of the One Creator. She had emerged into the world when the One had first conceived her feline children, and, for an instant, taken on their seeming. The Mother of Cats was creation’s memory of that moment, and she spoke with the One’s voice to all cat-kind.

From words ben Adamah spoke later, I also know that he must be even greater than the Mother. But that is a mystery to me.