The Temple Cats
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by Catherine Soto
Description: Lin Mei and her younger brother Bio Mei fled to the western deserts of China to escape the people who siezed their home and killed the rest of their family. When the caravan they were hiding in took shelter in an abandoned temple, they found two kittens and adopted them. Then their lives got really interesting...
This is a group of five stories first published in SWORD & SORCERESS 21-25. The individual titles are: Step by Step; Night Watches; Hope for the Dawn; Sages and Demons; and Winter in Khotan.
eBook Publisher: Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust, 2012
eBookwise Release Date: August 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [134 KB]
Reading time: 88-124 min.
The wind whipped a spatter of rain into Lin Mei's face as she looked up at the dark mass looming ahead of them. The temple was much larger than it had appeared from the road, as well as being very old and abandoned.
The caravan came to a stop in front of it, twenty-two pack horses, four grooms and ten guards, all soaked from the rain and glad of a place to shelter from the storm.
"There's a barn or something off to the side!" Shin Hu, the caravan master, yelled over the wind. "Get the horses in it and the packs off and under a dry roof!"
Lin Mei dismounted, slipping in the muddy puddles. She and the other grooms held reins and leads in cold wet hands barely able to grip them and led the horses toward the dark outbuilding beside the temple.
Biao Mei, her brother, paused for a moment as he passed her. "Keep moving," he told her quietly. "You shiver when you stop." He looked at her worriedly. Although he had only fifteen years to her seventeen, he was stocky and muscular while she was slender and willowy, although far tougher and stronger than she looked.
She nodded and walked as quickly as she could to the outbuilding and the welcome shelter under the roof. It was just as cold inside as out, but at least the walls cut most of the wind and the leaky roof kept out almost all of the rain, and unsaddling and grooming the horses would warm her quickly enough.
It was hard work, Lin Mei thought, but it was better than their last job had been--and much better than the death her uncle had planned for her and her brother. They had survived, and now they worked towards the restoration of their house and their honor.
"Grain for the horses!" Togrul Magh said, coming up with a heavy bag on his shoulder. A long bow protruded from over the squat and stocky nomad's other shoulder. Lin Mei gave him a quick smile. He had been kind to them, getting her brother a job as a guard and her as a groom with this caravan.
"Good if we get some for ourselves too!" another guard said. "These horses eat better than we do!"
"Rice is cooking in the temple building," Togrul said. "We eat as soon as the horses are seen to!" He balanced the sack on his shoulder and slit it open with a slash of his dagger, then poured a golden spout of grain into one of the troughs alongside the wall.
"Now we can eat!" Togrul said. There was some low laughter and he led them all through a door to the main hall of the temple, each of them stopping for a moment at the door to make obeisance to the front of the hall. There was no longer an image or idol of whatever deity the temple had been raised to, but no luck was gained by disrespect to the Gods and spirits that ruled these mountains.
A fire burned in the center of the empty hall where a hearth had been laid. A frame of iron rods supported a trio of kettles over the flames.
"The rice and tea are ready," Shin Hu said. "Everyone, get your bowls out." Rice bowls and teacups came out from their packs. Biao Mei took a spot near the fire with the other guards, and Lin Mei squeezed into a small space next to him.
Togrul heaped a mound of steaming rice into her bowl with a wide grin then poured her some tea. She nodded her thanks and held the bowl close to her, enjoying the warmth for a moment before digging into it and wolfing down mouthfuls of the steaming rice.
She smiled wryly to herself. To such simple pleasures had her life shrunk to. The past was gone, she lived in the present, and the present was good, if sometimes uncomfortable. It was also a step towards the future. Lin Mei was determined, but not impatient. She and Biao Mei would reach their goal, but there was much to be learned before they could return to their distant home and take on their uncle.