• I dreamt of my mother for the first time in many seasons, of the small cottage I had been born under many miles from the Abbey where I now lay. I could see the warm earth den clearly, could almost feel the warmth of her body and the roughness of her tongue as she groomed my downy kitten fur. Her purring was loud in my ear, and in the dream I closed my eyes with joy, tilting my head back so that she could reach under my chin.

    “As a cat, my son, you’ll one day have responsibilities that you will have to meet,” she purred into my ear. “Humans are such helpless things, stumbling through their lives with dull senses and no idea of the destiny that guides them. You’ll help with that once you’ve grown?”

    I remembered this discussion.

    “But how?” I had asked her, playfully pouncing her sleek silver body to disguise my disappointment when she stopped grooming me. She laughed, cuffing me lightly and wrestling to hold me momentarily beneath one of her paws.

    “You’re a cat, my son. And as a cat, you were born walking the line between this world and the world beyond. You are a part of both, but belong to neither and the humans will fear you for it. It’s their nature, and they have no hope of understanding the gifts you possess?”

    “If they’re frightened, won’t they resist my help? How do I help them, Mother?”

    “By being a cat, son. You’ll be there to help guide them to where they need to be, and not all humans will be so frightened. Some will welcome you, and that welcome will be a sign that you’ve found a kindred soul. Return kindness for kindness, my son, and you will live well.”

    I lay still for several long moments as the dream faded, trying to hold to the comfortingly familiar sound of my mother’s purring. It had been so long since I had seen her, seen the warm, dry den beneath that far away cottage, and I ached inside for it. As my senses returned to me, I realized that the ache was more physical than emotional and I remembered the dog and the cart. I lifted my head to look around me.

    I must have slept for hours. The room around me was now cool and entirely devoid of light. Above the narrow cot on which I lay there was a high window, and through it I could discern the pulsing glow of stars and her the callings of night insects. It was dark, but my eyes could still discern the room around me. It was small, and sparsely furnished but it was neat and smelled clean. It also smelled of her, of Sophie.

    As I thought her name, I heard the quiet scuff of footsteps approaching down the corridor. A flickering light appeared beneath the crack of the door and Sophie pushed open the door, carrying both a candle and a linen napkin that smelled divine. She smiled at me in the warm light and stepped inside. The candle in its holder she placed on a low wooden stool and she knelt down on the floor beside the bed. The napkin she placed down before me and began to open it.

    “I thought you might be hungry if you were awake by now,” she said. “Brother Justin says it will take time for your leg and your ribs to heal, so you’re not to go hunting until they’ve had a chance to do so properly. You were in luck, though. The Abbot was entertaining a group of noblemen this evening, so there was plenty for me to choose from for you.”

    The meat was cold but it had been cooked – a new experience for me. But my mouth watered and I eagerly ate the tidbits she had provided: grouse and pheasant, pork and lightly seasoned venison. She smiled as she watched me eat and as I washed the grease from my muffle after I had sniffed the napkin to ensure there was nothing left. I felt full, contented, but also something more. Something I couldn’t quite define.

    “They were only scraps that I was able to salvage as I helped to clear the tables, but I thought you would appreciate them,” she laughed, and I found the sound to be very pleasant. She brought her hand up to caress my head, scratch behind my ears, and I purred despite the discomfort it caused in my broken ribs. This seemed to please her.

    “You’re so soft,” she murmured. “One of the noblemen had fur trimming on his tunic, along the collar and sleeves. It was soft, too; it brushed my arm when he reached out to touch my hand as I filled his goblet with more wine. It was dark in color, too, but not as dark as you are. He called it sable, and I liked the name, so I think that’s what I’ll call you. Sable,” she said again, and nodded at its apparent appropriateness. I had never had a name before, but I found it did not displease me. Neither did her company.

    Sophie talked a great deal that night, finding in me perhaps the first willing audience to her tale. She had been raised by her grandmother, a woman who had been keenly skilled in the healing arts, out beyond the abbey. It had been a pleasant life, one full of the kind of freedom that moderate seclusion could offer: they were far enough away from other people that they were rarely bothered, and on the occasions they found themselves with company, the need that forced the visit was so great that little else was observed. It was from this grandmother that Sophie had learned her respect for cats.

    “She said they had powerful magic,” Sophie had whispered mysteriously, mirth glittering in her eyes. “She said it would never do to cross the cat-folk.”

    Sophie had first come to the Abbey one winter in search of aide for her deathly sick grandmother. The brothers took in the young and the old woman, but the grandmother did not live to see the spring. Sophie, who had not yet learned her grandmother’s arts, chose to stay behind and work in the kitchens serving the brothers and their guests to repay their kindness. My heart ached for the young woman, hearing her sadness. My mother had left me one winter and never returned, so I knew the pain of losing one so dear.

    When she grew tired, rather than remove me from her bed Sophie very carefully moved me up beside her pillow. She then quickly undressed, blew out the candle and crawled in beside me. “I hope you don’t mind sharing,” she yawned, “but it is still my bed, even if you are an invalid. Tomorrow I’ll see about bringing you some cream from the kitchen, and maybe about getting you something more to eat.”

    Her breathing soon evened out and deepened into that of one deeply asleep, but still I lay there watching her. There was something vulnerable about Sophie as she lay there asleep, and even as she had spoken earlier I knew that something was missing from her life that she would never find here. I wanted to give that to her, or help her to find it if I could to repay her many kindnesses to me.

    It was then I knew, and it all began to make sense. My dream, my mother’s words and the feeling towards Sophie that I couldn’t explain all became clear in an instant as I watched the human woman sleep. Sophie was the kind of human my mother had spoken of, the kind that I was meant to help and guide. The how and where would work themselves out later, but there was one thing I knew for sure as I lay listening to her breath. I walked the line between the worlds and I would do everything in my power, search both worlds, to find what she needed.