The best beloved beast of Underearth was nothing other than the serpent. Down below in the bright shadows, he was admired for his grace and elegance, and for his cool blood and wicked self-command. Presently the demons, innocent then, or merely extremely cynical, brought the snake up to the earth, supposing thereby to make men also fall in love with him. But men took against the snake, scenting his demonical origins, mistrusting his lack of legs and ears, his smart teeth and implacable garment. Indeed, they turned on the snake, threw him out of doors when he came in, brained him with mallets when they were able and cursed him and spat on him when they were not.

The Eshva mourned for the serpent, for they loved him best of all. The Vazdru said to each other: "Let us trick mankind into adoration of the snake." And this they did by various means, causing him here and there to be elected a god and worshipped, or venerated as useful in magic.

But one of the day-nights in Druhim Vanasta, certain Vazdru princes began to bet with each other that they could persuade men to like the snake himself. And this they tried, and this they failed at.

At last the vexatious problem came to the notice of Azhrarn. And accordingly Azharn went by night to the world to listen to men's opinion of the snake. "How we abhor his cold scales," they complained. "And his teeth, which are sometimes venomous, and his forked tongue, which might be. And how allergic we are to his leglessness. He is all tail, and the sound of his hiss causes our hair to rise up like bristles."

Then Azhrarn smiled, and he went back to the Druhim Vanasta. There he took up a snake and he inquired, "Would it be worth while to you, in order to win the affection of mankind, to be a little changed?"

"Of what good is mankind's affection?" asked the snake.

"Those they love," said Azhrarn," fare well. And those they hate they harm."

The snake had heard reports from his cousins concerning mallets, and after some thought, he agreed.

Then Azhrarn conducted the snake to the Drin, and the Drin made for the snake particular extras, which had all to do with what men had said they disliked about him. First the Drin make him four muscular little legs with four round little paws on the ends of them. And then they make him two little pointed ears to stand up on top of his head. Then they bulked out his body with a cunning device, and straightened his tongue with another - but it remained in fact a thin tongue, and in fact a great deal of tail remained to him at the back. Next they made him an overcoat of long soft black grasses, and decorated his face - which was now very pretty - with ornaments of fine silver wire. His jewel-like eyes, which had always been quite wonderful, they had need to alter only a jot. Lastly, to compensate for removing his venom, (although they left the shape of his teeth alone), they presented him with some sharp slivers of steel to wear in his round feet for purposes of self-defense.

When Azhrarn beheld the result, he laughed, and ran his hand over the new animal's spine. At which all was transmuted into flesh and muscle, and the coat of grass into luxuriant, velvety hair. And at the touch of Azhrarn also, the new animal made a strange sound, not a hiss, but -

"My dear, you are purring," said Azhrarn, and again he laughed.

To this day, no cat can bear to be laughed at, even in love.

However, sure enough, the animal, legged, eared and furry, was an enormous success on earth. Men were pleased by his grace and elegance, admired his cool blood and wicked self-command. And when he grew sometimes peeved, forgot himself, and hissed - they did not remember the snake, but remarked: "There is the cat, hissing." Nor did they notice how both the cat and the snake slew mice, or enjoyed milk, though both became the pets of sorcerers. And men never would credit that if they overlooked the fur and held flat the two pointed ears of the cat, then and now, you might see still the wedge-shaped demon head and the sharp teeth of the serpent, poised there, under your hand.

from Tanith Lee's Delusion's Master, Part III, Chapter 2, "Mother and Daughter"

ECH - October 7, 1996 - Tales

Snake and Cats from Art Explosion, Copyright Nova Development