The Tale of the Lonely King and the Moon White Cat
by R. LaFille
Once upon a time there was a King with seven sons and one daughter. Now the king had grown old with age and was lonely, for his wife had long since passed away, so he called to him his sons and his daughter and he said to them, “Soon, I must choose an heir, but I wish first to take me a wife, for while I miss your mother, the Queen, dearly, an old man cannot live the rest of his life alone. The one of you to bring back a lady suitable for me to marry, I shall give you my throne. I grant you six months to present each to me a lady and myself six months to pick the one I will marry. The one who presents the Lady whom I choose, I shall give my throne.” So saying, he sent his sons and daughter away and returned to his duties as King.
Immediately the seven sons called for their finest clothes and their grandest, most impressive horse, and as much gold as they could carry upon their person, and they set out, each in a different direction: North, South, East and West as well as the non-cardinal directions except for Southwest, for all knew that the lands of the North were of great cities and regal queens, and that the Eastern lands were rich with silks and spices, while in the South dwelt ladies of dark and exotic tastes, and in the West was the ocean and tropical island nations. But to the Southwest was only more of their own country, a land of farmland and farmers, of farmers’ sons and farmers’ daughters and little else.
Now the King’s daughter had been born upon her mother’s deathbed and so had known only her father her whole life, she who had laid her dark silken head on his knee and told to him all the wondrous tales from the books her nurse had read her and later the ones she had made up in her own head, for she loved her father dearly, and she worried that her brothers could not possibly know her father nearly as well as she nor find him a woman worthy of his affections.
Knowing her father would not approve of her setting out on her own—for he also guarded her dearly—she stole the clothes of a serving woman off the drying lines in the washroom, dressed herself in this simple habit, and left the castle unnoticed, traveling on foot and carrying nothing but a purse with a few pennies for water and bread.
Down through the paved streets of the city she wandered and out through the gates until she found herself upon the road, with wide open prairie all around, its tall golden grass rushing in the wind and the birds calling sweetly. For miles the prairie stretched and for miles she walked until at last as the sun was high in the sky, she came upon a grand house built all of white marble stone and approaching its ebony dark door, she knocked and waited. Three times she knocked until at last a man with a long face peered around the frame, stared at her suspiciously and asked, “What do you want? If you are a beggar, we have no lodgings here or monies to spare.”
The princess curtsied prettily and said, “I am the King’s daughter, and I come for him in search of a wife. Please, if you have any daughters of your own, I ask that you present them to me.”
For a while, the man stared at her, speechless, then he let out a great snort and slammed the door in her face. Unfazed, the princess turned to leave and went upon her way.
Further down the road, she came to a house built of great carved oaken beams with a broad gravel lawn that threw back the heat of day. Approaching the house, she knocked upon a door made of heavy iron, twice, until it opened and a round woman stood before her, with her hands on her wide hips and asked, “What do you want? If it’s money you want, we have none, but we will give you a crust from the pantry and water from the well in the back.”
The princess nodded politely and accepted the water and bread and upon finishing her crust, she curtsied thanks to the woman and said, “I am the King’s daughter, and I come for him in search of a wife. Please, if you have any daughters of your own, I ask that you present them to me.”
So saying, the woman turned red in the face and white at the knees and shoved the princess out the back door and into the lane.
Dusting off her dress, the princess turned back to the road to continue her quest. Far and long she wandered, asking at each house she passed, explaining her errand and at each she was turned away, until at last, as the sun was hanging low in the sky, she turned at the end of a long, narrow lane. Pushing through the brambles that grew near to her waist and the grass that grew to over her head, she found herself before a tiny shack built of branches and leaves with no door in its frame. Yet the garden was well tended and neat, and on a crooked fencepost, lay a cat, her fur long and white and brilliant as the moon. The she-cat took one look at the princess, jumped off her post and rushed inside. Curious, the princess followed and standing in the dark doorway, she found herself staring at a bed and upon the bed lay a withered old man, his every breath rattling his lungs and shaking his frame, and beside his head lay the white cat, bathing his sweating face with her tongue in loving affection.
Quietly, the princess knelt before the man and took his hand, stroking it until he opened his eyes, and she said, “Dear sir, I am the King’s daughter, and I come for him in search of a wife. Please, if you have any daughters of your own, I ask that you present them to me.”
So saying, the man turned his head and smiled and in a broken, gasping voice, he said, “I have no daughters, fair princess. But I ask instead, that you take from me my cat, for I lie upon my death bed, and she has tended me this entire time, catching mice for me when I am hungry, bathing my head when I am hot, and curling up beside me when I am cold. She is the light and the joy of my life and she will be lonely and heartbroken when I am gone. For I can see that you are not a princess but an angel sent by God to know that my lovely lady is safe and so I must bid farewell.” And saying this, the man gave up his last breath and died.
Closing his eyes, the Princess stood and turned to the cat. “What shall I do?” she asked, “For I have no shovel and he is too heavy for me to lift, yet I wish to bury him that he may lie in peace.”
Twitching her tail, the cat meowed once and immediately the Princess noticed a shovel in a dark corner, plated in pure silver. “I swear I did not see this here before,” the princess murmured, but she set out with it anyway, found a clear spot in the garden surrounded by rose bushes, and she set the shovel into the warm earth. Immediately, the earth lifted and before her was a hole as wide and deep as several men and beside her a mountain, and returning to the shack, she found not an old man on the bed but a blood red rose around which the white cat lay curled, crying mournfully.
“Surely there is more to you than meets the eye,” said the princess to the cat, caressing her nose. Then tenderly she took the rose and laid it in the earth and the mountain of dirt lifted and buried the rose whole.
Turning back to the road, the princess found the white cat waiting for her, and the Princess smiled with a lighter heart and returned down the track and back to her task.
Many more miles the Princess traveled, and deep into the night, and nowhere could she find anyone willing to give her food or a place to rest until finding herself growing hungry and shivering with cold, she turned off the road to look for a place to lie down and considered ending her quest, when suddenly she found before her a tiny silver house with silver doors etched with figures of the moon. Wondrously, she approached those silver doors and knocked. They sprung open at her touch, and immediately the cat pranced in as though it were her home. Cautiously, the princess followed, and at the end of a long hall—far longer than she had thought the length of the small cottage could exist—was a long room with a wide hearth and a fire in it dancing and crackling merrily. A silver table was set with snow white linen and silver plates and cups steaming with food.
Ravenous but afraid to intrude, the princess called for the owner of this fine place, but no one answered. Instead, the white cat leapt up onto the table, minced over to a dainty plate, carved in mother of pearl and heaped high with delicate white fish, and she sat down to eat. Anxiously, the princess sat in the silver chair and lay the linen napkin upon her lap, and realizing perhaps the food was meant for her and the cat after all, she set about to eat.
Delightfully satisfied and at last well fed, the princess set down her napkin to find beside her a low silver couch set with silken blankets and comforters of down and beside it a smaller nest of blankets upon which the white cat had already made her bed. Smiling and feeling perhaps this had more to do with the magic of the Moon-White Cat, she lay upon the couch and fell fast asleep.
The next day, the Princess awoke to find herself still in that long room, with breakfast set for two, her and her kitty, and finishing her meal, she laid down her napkin, rose, and at the door she turned and curtsied and said thank you, if you please, that was lovely, and she set off for the road and returned to her quest.
Many months the princess traveled, telling everyone she met her quest, but dressed in the clothes of a peasant, no one believed her and fewer still were kind, and in the evenings when she grew hungry and tired for sleep, all she need do was to lose herself beside the road, turn a little, and she would find before her the house with silver doors, etched with figures of the moon and within a place set with silver and platters full of meats and cheeses and delightful fruits and a bed upon which to sleep. And always beside her was the Moon-White Cat. It kept her company and was a delight always to caress and play with besides, and the cat was loyal and never left her side. Gradually, the princess grew to look at the cat and talked to her as she would any person, until one day she said, “Oh, if only you were a real human lady, for a lady indeed you are! For my father the king I would only have somebody as loyal and kind and graceful and beautiful as you, but you are just a cat and so cannot marry a king.”
She had not but finished her words when the cat lay a paw upon her hand and stared up at the princess with wide blue eyes as though to say, “I will gladly meet your king.” But the princess laughed and shrugged it off as whimsy.
Yet at last, the six months drew to a close and the Princess returned to the palace empty-handed, for she had found no one whom she believed suitable for the King and thought to see instead how her brothers had fared.
Her father, the King, was overjoyed at her return, and her brothers for they had all returned, one-by-one, with Ladies from all corners of the world. Tired but exhilarated by their quest, each believe himself to have found the Lady for whom their King would wife, and that very night was to be held a great feast in which each prince could present his hopeful bride to the King.
Stunning each woman was to behold. Some had skin like midnight, draped in silks that shone like the stars or complexions smooth as milk with voices that sang like a nightingale. Every woman stood proud and was fair to look upon and every one believed herself to be the greatest of all, the most beautiful woman in the world. But at last, the youngest Princess approached the king, knelt low, and said, “Oh Father. I too went in search of a wife for my dear King, for I desire only your happiness. Every mile of our lands I traveled in the hope that you needed somebody who understands our people and our ways and so could know your heart, but I am sorry to say I found no one whom I believed worthy. But because you say you are lonely, I have for you this White Cat whom looked after me in need, who stayed beside me always, and whom comforted me in my sorrows, and whom I hope to bring you nothing but joy and peace.” A hush fell over the room as she presented the Cat for true she was the most beautiful kitty any had ever seen with hair long and white and as brilliant as the moon, eyes blue as sapphires, and a nose pink as coral. Delighted the King took her up, kissed his daughter on the forehead, and returned to his hopeful brides.
Weeks passed, and one by one, each lady presented herself to the King, and one by one he grew tired of each, for while they were all beautiful to behold, some were proud and some were vain, while others were found to be unkind and terribly cruel, for these women had spent their whole lives blinded by their own beauty and inured to the faults none had ever dared point out.
Over the months, it was noticed that everywhere the King went the Moon White Cat went too, for she never for an instant left his side, presenting herself for his caresses when he needed them, and standing stoic and still when he was in a rage. She caught him mice and made him laugh as she played in the sunlight or tackled leaves like a kitten. And one by one, the ladies sunk deep into jealousy for all knew that none were loved as much as the Moon White Cat.
The First of the Ladies presented to the king called to her the others, and she explained, “I am afraid none of us will be a King’s wife as long as that wretched kitty is beside the King’s side. We must do away with her if we are to regain his affections for they have waned and not a one of us can seem to recapture them.” So the ladies set about plotting how best to dispose of the Cat and thus regain the affections of the King.
That very night, the King fell deathly ill. He ranted and raved and turned in his bed, and the doctors were called to him, but none could comfort him or bring his fever down, and he dreamt in his delirium of a lady with long silver hair and skin like the moon with eyes like sapphires and cheeks blushed like coral, and through the night, the Lady sat beside him and bathed his head with a cool cloth, and speaking to him with a voice that chimed like small bells of silver, she told him of the land she had come from, that she was cursed and it was only in death that she could finally be free.
At last, the King recovered from his illness and his delirium, and opening his eyes, found the Moon White Cat loyally washing his face and purring into his ear, and tears sprang to his eyes as he told her, “If only truly you were a lady and I your King, for I would love no other as great as thee for those women out there care for nothing but themselves and you care nothing but for me.” And he closed his eyes, only to be woken again by a great shout and a terrible howl, and sitting up he found upon the floor lay his beloved cat, her beautiful long white hair stained red with blood. Beside her stood the Lady of the East with her hands to her mouth, saying she had not seen the Cat, that she had only come in to check upon the King, and that she had stepped upon her and crushed her.
Furious, the King rose out of bed, still unsteady upon his feet and banished the lady from his room. Trembling with grief, he picked up his beloved cat only to find her turned into a golden bird that fluttered in his palm and she sang,
“Bury me in the garden beneath the great rose bush and in three months, I shall be born again, a single white rose, then take the white rose and breath upon it three times and tell me my name, and I shall be again, your lady.”
Then the canary turned back into the cat and mournfully, the King took her to the great rose bush in his gardens and buried her with his own hands and then returned with a heavy heart to the castle and to his duty as King.
Three months passed and in those three months, the King was known finally to favor the lady of the North, for though her vanity knew no bounds, it was at least the lesser to cruelty or pride or greed. Yet, every day, the King visited the rose bush and never did it produce white roses, only red, until his sons began to torment him to choose at last a bride and sighing mournfully, he picked at last the lady of the North and prepared for his wedding, for he had convinced himself at last that the golden bird had been but a part of his illness and his delirium and that he had dreamt the whole thing.
The day of the King’s wedding dawned bright and clear. The streets were decked in bells and flowers and the people dressed in the gayest colors of yellow and pink. The bride was clothed in gold and shone as brilliant as the sun, but the King readied himself slowly and in great distress, for he did not love the bride and knew only that at least he would no longer be quite so alone, but still he thought of his Moon White Cat and missed her dearly, when suddenly, as the church bells were ringing to call him to chapel, he looked out his window and behold, there was the great rose bush in the garden and upon it was blooming a single white rose, nodding its delicate head in the breeze.
Breathlessly, the King ran from his room, past the attendants and guards ready to bring him to his wedding, past the chapel where waited his bride, and down into the garden where stood the rose bush, glowing in the golden light of the sun, but the rose shone silver as the moon, and leaning towards it, the King breathed upon the rose thrice and whispered the name the lady had given him during his illness and sleep. The rose bush quivered and parting its thorny branches, uncaring for the gouge and scrape of its thorns, the King found inside a lady with hair long and silver with skin as pale and luminous as the moon, curled up in a crescent with her arms about her knees and breathing softly in her sleep. Gently, the King gathered the lady in his arms and carried her to his room where he lay her upon the bed and covered her in a robe of richest midnight blue and whispered to her once more her name.
Slowly, the lady’s eyes fluttered open, and when he saw her eyes were brilliant as sapphires, the King knelt over her and wept, holding her hand as though he would never let it go, and she smiled and rested her own small, pale hand on the back of his neck and whispered to him, “Peace. I will not leave you a second time.”
And so they were wed, and all the other Ladies were returned to their lands, and the Princess in her turn was rewarded as well, for the Lady had a son back in her own Kingdom, and the Princess and the Prince were wed, and the two of them ruled well and long and made their people and themselves as happy as can be.
As for the King, he took his Lady and they returned to the silver house to keep each other’s company, for both had had long lives and desired only their rest and the quiet comfort of each other.