The White Cat
Once upon a time, there was a king who was growing older and older. He knew he was going to have to retire soon, but he really didn’t want to. Working for him were some advisors who liked to cause trouble. They began to tell lies about how his three sons were plotting against him and would send him soon to a rest home and never, never visit him. The King believed them and thought, “Well, I’ll fix those conniving sons of mine!”
He called in all three of the young men and said, “My boys. My boys. You know I am growing older and I will have to give up my kingdom to one of you soon. I have decided that in my retirement, I would like to have a nice dog to keep me company. I want you to all go away for an entire year and when you come back, my successor to the throne will be the one son who finds me the smallest and cutest dog.”
The three sons thought this was strange, since they all knew their father really didn’t want to retire, but they liked the idea of an adventure. After they packed up their bags and their father gave them plenty of jewels and gold, the three young men headed out of the castle.
When they reached the crossroads, the three young men set out in three different directions.
Now, I’m just going to tell you about the youngest son, because honestly his story is the most interesting. It started out much like his brothers, visiting pet stores and dog breeders, looking for the Smallest & Cutest dog, to please his father. Each time he would find one, he would buy it immediately and then give the last dog away. He found himself following a constant chain of dogs- one after another.
One night, he was playing with the shiatsu he had just bought, when it suddenly ran off into the woods. He was determined to not lose that dog, so he ran off after it, leaving behind all of his traveling gear- his jewels, his bedroll, his jacket. Unfortunately, he did not find the dog in the dark. And what made it worse was the fact he was now lost in the woods. And what made that worse was the fact it was now… raining.
Wet and tired, he wandered around, looking for the path back to his campsite. Finally, he saw a light through the trees. He thought, maybe it was a cottage where he could dry out his clothes and then look for his gear in the morning. He started walking in the direction of the light.
When he reached it, he did not find a cottage. No, he found a castle that seem to light up on its own, covered with jewels and adornments. The doorbell was even made of a delicate deer's hoof, held on a chain of diamond links.
"Thieves would make a lot of money with just the shavings off the golden walls. How can this castle be so safe?" asked the prince. He guessed it was magic.
Then, as if someone was reading his thoughts, the door opened... by itself... without anybody standing on the other side. The Prince stepped into the foyer, where he saw 12 hands, floating in the air and holding torches, so that he could see the hallway in front of him. And there were invisible voices singing softly, reassuring him that this place was the home of magic and love. If he brought joy to their mistress, he was welcome to stay in the castle.
Finally, the hall led to a room with a warm fire and comfortable armchair. The prince was still soaked, so the floating hands helped him remove the sopping clothes and gave him a brand-new dry outfit. He dressed himself and rested in the chair for a time, dozing slightly.
Suddenly, there was a dinner bell and a procession of trumpets coming through the door. The horns were not played by people, though. Instead, they were tooted and blown by cats- cats dressed in the grandest finery, like furry courtiers. The prince was roused from his seat and guided to a dining room, where the finest china had been set in two places. He wondered if he would finally meet his mysterious host.
The door flew open and the procession continued, with cats walking on their hind legs and dressed in little boots and wearing silky trousers and beautiful dresses. In the middle was a particular cat, wearing a black lace veil. She was escorted to the dining table and assisted gracefully into the chair opposite the prince.
When she lifted her veil, the prince found that he was looking at the most beautiful of white cats, with dainty features and intelligent eyes. She spoke to her courtiers, gesturing them to bring the food- a spinach and chicken quiche and a mouse frittata. When the prince looked concerned, she explained that he didn't have anything to worry about in eating their food. each dish was prepared separately, so he would only have human food, while they would only have cat good. The prince was then overcome with gratitude.
"Dear White Cat, you have been so kind to me- a stranger in the wood. Your generosity has simply known no bounds. How could I ever repay this debt?" he exclaimed.
"Oh Prince, you needn't worry. Let us not talk, especially of praises and compliments. Let us instead eat and enjoy these amusements my court has planned."
And so they did, eating their fill and then enjoying an interesting play, performed by his hostess' court of cats, wearing a variety of costumes and even playing their strange cat music on guitars and drums. When it was bedtime, the Prince was led to an unusual, but comfortable bedroom, where the bed was made of butterfly wings and spiders' gauze, making it sturdy, silky and soft. He slept very well.
Indeed, he slept well for almost a year in the White Cat's castle, waking up every day to enjoy some new amusement she and her court had created. One day they went for a hunt, with him riding a wooden horse and her riding a great monkey. Another evening, they created a song for every star in the sky and the court's musicians played them in a midnight performance when the stars were the brightest. Soon, it was only 3 days before the Prince was due back at his father's side. Three days to travel and three days to find the dog he had been seeking. Three days was simply not enough time.
"Do not worry, my Prince," said the White Cat. "Ride your wooden horse and you shall be there in no time."
"But what about the dog?" worried the Prince. "I lost the last one I sought."
The White Cat smiled and handed him a Avocado pit. "Take this to your father and you will win his favor."
The Prince looked her suspiciously. Was she making fun of him? Then he brought the seed up to his ear and heard the tiniest of barks. She was telling the truth. With a flourish, the Prince kissed the White Cat's paw, jumped on the wooden horse and rocked to his father's house in a matter of hours.
When he arrived, his brothers were already showing us their prizes. Each of them had small dogs wrapped in a pile of quilts. The tiny creatures could not stay warm in the cold castle walls and were afraid of all the new people. They shivered and howled in misery. They were small, but not cute. Then it was the youngest Prince's turn.
"Your Highness, I present your companion in retirement." said the Prince, bringing out the Avocado seed. With great effort, he popped the ball open. There was the tiniest & cutest dog, the King had ever seen. This creature was not shy or shivering and was able to dance cheerfully all the way up his arm and back to his hand, where it performed various tricks. It was obvious that the youngest Prince had won the contest, but... the King did not want to retire just yet. The old man thought quickly.
"Well, this is very fine, my young son. Still, I worry that this little dog will need a little coat to keep warm in the cold walls of castle. Whoever can bring him back a piece of cambric or muslin material, so fine that it passes through the eye of a needle, will gladly gain my kingdom. Come back in a year after your journeys and I will chose one of you then."
The older sons were glad for this announcement, since they now had another chance to win the kingdom. The youngest son was morose, for he saw that the old king was being tricky. Still, the three set out again, each with a journey bag full of riches. The two older brothers took their separate roads, but the youngest jumped back on his wooden horse and headed straight for the castle of the White Cat.
Worried, he told her of his father's challenge of finding a piece of cambric or muslin fine enough to slide through the eye of a needle. She invited him to stay another year in her home, saying "Don't worry. I have some of the finest spinners of thread in this very castle. My cats are all very good at what they do."
Since she had saved him before, he trusted her and let himself fall into the rhythm of the castle life once more. One day they went fishing for freshwater salmon in a diamond-shaped pond, another night they danced to the strange cat music until dawn. Life was wonderful in the company of the beautiful white cat. The Prince remarked more than once,
"Oh I wish I were a tomcat or you were a fair maid. Then we could live our whole lives with each other, just like this."
The white cat would just shake her head at such compliments.
Three days before the Prince was due back at his father's house, the White Cat reminded him of his appointment to find the fine material.Three days to travel and three days to find fine material he had been seeking. Three days was simply not enough time.
"What am I going to do, dear Cat?" asked the Prince. "I have been lazy this whole last year, ignoring my search!"
"Don't worry, my Prince. You were not lazy. You spent a lovely year with me and entertained me with your laughter & conversation." responded the White Cat. "For that job, I will reward you."
At this, she brought out a small box, "Here is the material I promised. My cat spinners are the finest in the land. Remember- you cannot open this box until you stand by your dear father's side.
"Oh, and Prince, I have readied company for your trip home, which should remind your father of your station & how you have already won the contest once before."
The Prince thanked the White Cat for the box & walked out into the yard of the castle. There was a grand golden carriage, surrounded by 1000 guards. In this manner, the Prince arrived at his father's castle in half-time. It was a fantastic parade.
Inside, he greeted his brothers, who were showing off their beautiful finds- one bearing the cambric and the other muslin- both of which slid through a large needle with ease. The king was being tricky though, and insisted on testing the fabric pieces against the tailor's finest needle, which had the smallest eye any of the brothers had ever seen. Neither of the brothers succeeded in threading this needle with their fabric.
The youngest Prince finally took his turn, pulling the box from his pocket. He opened the box to find another avocado pit. At this, he despaired, muttering to himself,
"White Cat, have you betrayed me?"
He was immediately admonished for his doubt by a invisible, but painful cat scratch on the back of his hand.
"Ow, sorry," he apologized, knowing she had heard him.
Then he broke open the seed to find a buckeye. Cracking open the buckeye, he found a pomegranate seed. When he squished the fruit, he found the finest of threads, made of muslin. It easily slid through both his brothers' needles, as well as his father' tailor's finest eye.
"Alright, alright!" exclaimed the King, "I admit defeat! Still, a king must not rule without a queen. Each of you must travel for the next year, finding and courting the most perfect woman you can find. The one who finds love, laughter, wisdom, and beauty combined in one will rule my kingdom."
Again, the older brothers were happy to have a 3rd chance to win the kingdom. The youngest, however, having already won two times but for nothing, only wished to return to the perfect company of the White Cat. And that is what he did.
"Oh, dear Prince, you've returned to me again without your kingdom!" exclaimed the White Cat, as he walked in the door of her castle.
He then explained his father's trick and the third task.
"Oh, I'm sure we can find you someone suitable," she reassured him.
"But dear Cat, as strange as it sounds- why would I want to marry a princess, when that would mean I would have to give up these dear visits with you?" asked the Prince, lightly petting her face.
"Well, we'll see," was all she would say.
Then she led him nto the games parlor, where they played darts and billiards, while her courtiers greeted him warmly with mews and purrs.
Again a year passed quickly and again the White Cat reminded the Prince of his mission 3 days before his deadline. Three days to travel and three days to find and court the woman he was supposed to seek. Three days was simply not enough time.
"This really isn't fair, dear White Cat," the Prince complained again.
"My Prince, if you truly feel the way you have said... If you care for me, then you will do this thing I ask of you.... If you love me, you will take your sword and cut off my head and tail and throw them into the fire." declared the White Cat.
"If it is magic you seek, you shall have it, but only if you do what I ask- cut off my head and tail and throw them into the fire."
In tears, the Prince drew his sword, almost unbelieving his own arms' work. He took two steps and cleanly decapitated the White Cat. Then he lifted her tail and cut it off as well. Lifting the tender fur into his arms, he threw both of them in the fire. It was when he felt tears in his own eyes, that he suddenly heard a voice behind him. His Lovely White Cat! He turned excitedly, but instead of the furry companion he expected, there stood a fair maiden, with white skin and delicate felinesque features. She spoke with the voice of the White Cat,
"My dear Prince, I am your White Cat with whom you have shared company for the last three years," said the Lady. "All of this time, my court and I lived under a horrible curse until a kind-hearted man would help me, well, shed my skin."
The Prince was so elated again to have his friend, his best friend, he immediately bent down on one knee.
"Dear Lady of Cats, my White Cat Maiden, would you travel with me to my father's house and marry me and share my kingdom?"
Of course, she said Yes, and the two of them traveled quickly to his father's estate.
There his brothers were showing off their prizes, women who were pretty and somewhat smart, but not really wise or fun at all.
When the Lady of Cats walked into the the throne room, all talking stopped. She was obviously beautiful, smart, loving & full of laughter. It was clear the youngest son had won again.
His brothers immediately began to argue over the unfairness of the situation & how they deserved to have kingdoms of their own. No matter what the old King or young Prince said, the two older brothers kept yelling. Finally, it was the Lady of Cats who spoke to their King & father.
"Your Highness," she said. "I have six kingdoms of my own. With your permission, I will give your two eldest sons one apiece. Your youngest son can help me rule my other four kingdoms until you are truly ready to retire."
In this way, the Lady of Cats resolved the 1st of many squabbles in her new family. The arrangement worked out well- each of the older brothers got a kingdom of their own, while their father didn't have to retire until he really wanted to. And the youngest Prince & the White Cat?
Well, they lived happily in their four kingdoms & had 2 children, who loved kittens & cats very much.