THE BET
by Kattail Gomeow

It was a warm evening under a moon in Egypt in a time when the Sphinx was newly carved, even before the Pharaoh's face had been added to her. In fact, it was long before that, but no matter.

Two women walked the smooth stone floor of a temple. Desert sand was gritty beneath their feet, yet they made no sound.

"A lovely night, Little Sister," Sekhmet said.

Bast's ears flicked around, taking in every night sound. Her golden earrings flashed with the movement.

"Yes, Big Sister, with a good moon for hunting."

"What do you think of our new temple?"

"They have done a fine job."

The two paused before large stone likenesses of themselves.

Sekhmet tilted her lioness-head and stared hard at the statues with eyes of fierce unblinking amber.

"It is good that men fear the lions and tigers and leopards, since we are superior to them and can kill them so easily."

"I would not put so much faith in size," Bast answered, her green eyes glowing from the sleek black fur of her face.

"I put my faith in my strength, my fangs and my claws," Sekhmet said tartly.

"Those we all have, but survival may depend on more than that."

"You think your kind can survive better, Little Sister? Your small domestic cat that seeks comfort on the hearth?"

"I think so, Big Sister."

"Then we will have a bet."

They set a time for the duration of their bet and went their ways.

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Thousands of years later, they met again. The temple had long ago been eaten by the desert and time and the ravages of men. The Sphinx was ancient and damaged, but stared resolutely at the place where Leo ruled the sky.

Sekhmet prowled restlessly. Bast settled herself upon a rock.

"Things have not gone well, Big Sister?"

"You know they have not, Bast! The big cats are hunted, driven from their homes, their habitat destroyed. They wear our skins for frivolous pleasure or grind our teeth and organs for useless remedies. Our numbers dwindle. One day we will be gone. They still fear us, yes, but that fear is becoming no more than a fading memory."

Sekhmet turned her burning gold eyes to Bast. "Things have gone better for you, Little Sister."

"I cannot say that all is perfect in the realm of the small cats, but generally speaking I would say we rule our human slaves very nicely. Our numbers increase -- a bit too much for our own good perhaps. We are pampered, coddled, given treats, have doors and cans of food opened at our command, sleep where we wish on what we wish or whom we wish. They parade us and put our image upon everything from pajamas to teapots. They write poems and perform musicals in our honor."

The lion goddess continued her unhappy prowl, unable to hold back a snarl. "You have won the bet, for all the good it will do for my kind."

"Your kind is my kind, Sekhmet. Did you forget this? I did not. I have done what I can to safeguard them."

"How so?"

"By capturing the human heart. They look at their beloved small cat purring beneath their hand and believe they have tamed the tiger. They see the majesty of the lion in the strut of the tabby. And in this way, we awaken the wise mind to protect you. Their love for us is the salvation of your kind."

"May it be so, Little Sister," Sekhmet sighed as she faded into the wind.

"May it be so, Big Sister," Bast said as she vanished leaving behind the low rumble of a purr that lingered beneath the moon and buried itself in the timeless sands.


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8 March 2002