An attempt at a traditional storytelling style.
This is a tale of long-ago, when humans were just learning to build cities and the gods were still young. A trading ship from the land of Kakuoikuch'ha, Where The Sun Rises, came to the land of the Keres by an accident of weather, having been forced north and west by a storm while on the way home. The occupants of the reed vessel traded peacefully and fairly for fresh water and food, and wondered at the occupants of this unfamiliar land, as they in turn were wondered about.
As it happened, a young woman, Tsa'tsu, was among those watching the strangers, when the cover was removed from a cage on deck. In the cage was a cougar, full-grown but still young. The girl, seeing this cat, and it's fright and anger, strode boldly onto the ship, and demanded the cat be released. None of the crew knew the local tongue, and she knew little of the trade tongue they had learned in their dealings with her kin to the south. Still, her demands were clear.
A minor chief of the ship, seeing this, thought to have some fun.
"Bring her to the cage," he told his men. "We shall see how brave she is when she is close to the beast."
And so she was brought to the cage. At first she thought she would simply be spoken to by this minor chief, and perhaps lectured on minding her own business. But then a man seized each of her arms, and others, armed with spears, formed a line on either side of a lane between her and the cage, while the minor chief smiled, and opened the cage.
The cat was upset at all this activity, and snarled and hissed, backing away. The men laughed, and at the minor chief's gesture, Tsa'tsu was pushed forward.
"Now do you still want the beast freed?" the minor chief taunted.
The girl understood his meaning, if not his words, and was angered into boldness.
"I am a woman of the Keres," she said, firmly. "I am a descendant of the Twins, the Sons of Osha'ch Paiyatium, ruler of the Sun. I am a daughter of Iatik, the First Mother, chosen of Uchtsit, the All. I am not afraid."
And having spoken, she stepped forward, ducking to enter the cage.
The men were amazed, so much so that for a long moment they could do nothing. The minor chief wanted to snatch the girl from danger, but was too startled, and too afraid of the cat.
The cat snarled and hissed and crowded hard against the rear of the cage.
"Do not be afraid, brother," said Tsa'tsu, in a calming tone. "I know the legends of the Twins, and how their playmates were lions. I am a friend."
She carefully held her hand out, and waited. After a moment the cat, its curiosity overcoming its fear, reached towards her with its nose and sniffed. And the men of the crew watched, amazed, as it came to her, first tentatively, then boldly. Soon cat and human were behaving as long-time friends.
The chief of the ship came up now, to see what the commotion was. And he was stunned, then outraged. The minor chief explained what had happened.
"I meant only to scare her as a joke," he said, "but look what happened!"
Now the minor chief, while a man of rough humor, was not evil. The chief of the ship, however, was evil, from greed. He saw this marvel, and avarice overcame his wonder. His face grew stony, his eyes flashing like the lightning in flint, as he thought of how much this pair could bring, a price far greater than the cat alone.
"How soon until we are ready to leave?" he asked the minor chief.
"Perhaps at noon," said the minor chief. "The tides will be with us then, and we have nearly all we need on board."
"See that all our supplies are aboard by noon, for we will leave then. Now, close the cage."
"How do we remove the girl from the cage?" asked the minor chief.
"My chief?" said the minor chief, surprised.
"She has chosen her place." With that, he walked away.
Now the minor chief was not an evil man, but he was a weak one. He obeyed his chief, though he did not like this order. The people on shore, having seen and heard only a little of what happened, began demanding the return of the girl.
"She has chosen to come with us," the minor chief lied, "to care for the cat."
Those on shore did not like this, but the girl was no close kin of any of them, and those on the ship had more and better weapons, spears with long hardwood shafts and points of the finest flint. They moved away, grumbling. Word was spread, to the local chiefs, of what had happened, but before they or the girl's family could come to the dock, the ship was gone.
* * *
The journey was long and hard. Tsa'tsu had never been on such a boat before, or on the ocean. She was ill, as was the cat. Making matters worse, the chief of the ship ordered that she and the cat be fed the same, raw meat while it was fresh, then salted. The girl was revolted by this, but hunger soon made her try the uncooked food. The crew marveled after her first such meal, as the cat then licked her clean, causing her to fall into giggling protests.
It was the third day when Tsa'tsu formally named her friend. She decided to call him Mukaitch, after her people's word for cougar. The cat considered this name for a while, then accepted it. Tsa'tsu smiled and rubbed his brow, bring an enthusiastic purr.
Many days later they approached land, but their journey was still not over. First they passed through the Great Pillars into a much smaller sea, then continued on eastward. By now Tsa'tsu's clothing was tattered and foul, and her body gaunt. Only the attentions of her friend, the cat, kept her from yielding to despair. Finally, the trip came to an end. She still could neither speak nor understand the language of the crew, but she could see that they were coming into a harbor. She knew she had to act soon. With a quiet prayer, hiding her actions from the busy crew, she opened her belt pouch and brought out the chip of obsidian she kept for small cutting and scraping tasks. Carefully, she began slicing at the cords holding the cage together. Mukaitch, sensing something about to happen, became more attentive, and agitated. Tsa'tsu had to stop her work for a while to calm him.
The ship moved close to the dock. Ropes were thrown to those on land, who then pulled the ship, reeds creaking in protest, to the wharf. The crew was just starting to relax, and congratulate each other on the journey being over, when a disturbance came from the cage.
With a cry and a hard shove, Tsa'tsu broke the last, frayed cords, and the side of the cage came crashing down. Girl and cat bounded free, leaping to the wharf. Tsa'tsu cried out in triumph as she and her friend raced away from the ship. And then in pain as a spear found her back, and an arrow her leg. Beside her, Mukaitch also cried out. The girl stumbled, half falling onto the cat. With one arm around his neck, she was dragged by him further away from the ship, moccasins scraping the stones, around a corner and down an alley.
They had arrived early in the day, and few people were around, so the pair were able to quickly find a hiding place. As human and cat huddled together Tsa'tsu examined their wounds. The spear had fallen from her back, and the wound in her friend's gut - appearing to have also been made by a spear - was likewise free and bleeding. Tsa'tsu screwed up her face, said a quick prayer, and pulled the arrow from her leg, screaming through her nose to muffle the sound. She tore a strip from her skirt and bound her leg, but there was nothing she could do for her back or Mukaitch's gut. Whimpering, she staggered to her feet. Helping each other, cat and girl made their way slowly down the alley.
* * *
The town was not large, little bigger than the port where Tsa'tsu had begun her journey. The land outside was also similar, dry but with a healthy covering of hardy plants. The wounded pair staggered into the brush, with no idea of where to go to, only the goal of where to go from. Tsa'tsu knew their wounds were serious. Blood still streamed down her back, and Mukaitch kept moaning and licking at his side. She wondered if this land had healers, and if so how she could persuade one to help them.
Then they came to a clearing, and in the middle stood a simple building, with stone walls and wooden roof. Outside the structure stood several statues of cats. Tsa'tsu felt a surge of desperate hope. Surely a place which so valued cats would help them!
They staggered inside, startling the attendants, who scattered from the strange pair.
"Please," Tsa'tsu pleaded, collapsing, unable to even hold her head up, "help us!"
"You are dying, child," said a gentle, female voice. "So is your friend."
"You must save him!"
"But what about you? Do you not wish to be saved?"
"I would like to live. But if only one of us may live it should be him! He has been a true friend and saved my life."
"That is quite odd. For he says the same of you. How am I to reconcile such conflicting requests?"
Tsa'tsu summoned her fading strength and raised her head to look at the speaker. And saw a creature which had a woman's shape and a cat's features. The girl was stunned, and realized that this was why she had been understood, and been able to understand.
"I am just a common girl, with no strength or authority," she said formally. "I come to you humbly, to ask for aide. Please help us."
"Done," said the spirit woman.
Tsa'tsu felt a strange warmth sweep through her, not only healing her wounds but filling her with a vitality unlike anything she had previously experienced. She raised herself up and let out a startled gasp, producing a very feline sound. For her arms were now a lion's forelegs, and she could see a muzzle projecting from her face. A sound to her right made her turn. There, where the dying Mukaitch had lain, was a naked and very startled young Keres man.
"You are the first of your kind, a new thing in this world," said the cat woman. "I am B'ast. You will serve me, not because I require payment, but because you wish to. And, in the fullness of time, you will return home, to found a new race."
* * *
"The first of my kind," whispered Lisa, stunned. What had begun as a simple tale of adventure had become an origin story.
"They did serve me, and well," said Bast, absently stroking the sphinx statuette on Lisa's altar. "When they finally left for home I honored them by ordering my worshipers to have statues made of their various forms. Some of those were the first sphinxes."
"That's why the Great Sphinx has the proportions of a cougar, instead of a North African desert lion!" exclaimed Lisa, with the thrill of sudden realization.
"Yes, though that work came much later. It was patterned after some of the copies of those first sphinxes." Bast smiled at distant memory. "This tale took place over twelve thousand years ago. The island then called Atl'an'tsis was still a fishing and farming community, and the occupants of what would later be known as northern Egypt were the greatest seafarers on Earth, even braving the great ocean in their reed boats."
"I knew archeologists had found evidence of trans-Atlantic trade, but not that it was so old!" said Lisa.
"The other gods saw what I had done, and remembered," Bast continued, as if she hadn't heard Lisa. "When, a few centuries later, the now-warlike and aggressive Atlanteans began attacking our land, Wepwawet made warriors of men and wolves. Only he fused man and beast, creating an internal conflict which continues to this day, though now partially reconciled."
"Beautiful," whispered Lisa, thinking back to the story.
"Your kind are few in number, but there are more of you now than at any other time," said Bast, suddenly becoming more direct. "There have even been periods when there were no shapeshifters of your type; but the potential was there, in humans and cats, and always resurfaced."
"Well, of course," said Lisa with a smirk. "We are needed."
"That you are, daughter," replied Bast. "That you are."
This story is Copyright 2010 by Rodford Edmiston Smith. Those wishing permission to reprint it may contact the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org.