Tuesday, September 20, 2011
The Cat's Bride
For my 8th birthday, my parents brought me to see a play about a cat who wore boots and was a hero to many people. I adored the play, and when we returned home, I reenacted it as often as possible with the cat my parents gave me. I used him like a doll, dressing him up, and pretending he was an invincible force of justice.
A strange thing happened; one day, I looked around and realized that there were hundreds of cats watching me. I blushed, and curtseyed. Imagine, a simple girl like me catching the attention of so many cats!
They were all silent as they watched me, and I wondered what I should do. Should I ask them to leave? Should I leave?
My questions were answered a moment later when a cat almost as tall as my father appeared before me. He sat delicately in front of me, and I stared at him in awe. He was the most beautiful cat I had ever seen!
“My dear human girl, you fascinate me.” The cat spoke! “I wonder, will you consider becoming my bride someday?”
I blushed, and held my hands to my cheeks. Yes, I was far too young to be thinking about marriage, but at that moment, I wanted nothing more than to be his wife someday. I nodded.
“Yes! I would love to!” I gushed happily.
He grinned at me in a mischievous cat way, and then gestured for a couple of cats to come closer. “I’m so happy to hear you say that! As the future bride of the King of Cats, I give you these two to guard and protect you. In addition to Boots, of course.”
I cuddled my cat Boots closer as I watched the two new ones bow to me.
“Wow!” Boots exclaimed, astonishing me. “You’re a Princess now!”
After that, I saw my future husband once a month, on the day of the full moon. He could not step out of his magical Kingdom any more often than that, and I wasn’t allowed to step foot inside it until I was ready to be his bride.
I told my parents that I was going to marry the King of Cats someday, and they simply smiled and nodded. It didn’t occur to me until much later that they didn’t believe me. I tried to convince them, but no matter how much I begged, my cats would not talk to them, or rather, my parents could not understand what my cats said.
Life went on, and years passed. The Cat King and I agreed that I would marry him on the day of the first full moon after my 16th birthday, and I was beside myself with joy. It was coming up soon!
Meanwhile, my friends wanted to know what had me dancing on cloud nine.
“Please Akari! Tell us what is going on,” they begged.
I looked around at Alice, Kira, and Justin. Alice was a year younger than me, Kira was already 16 by two months, and Justin was 20. I was an apprentice gondolier – the same as Alice and Kira – but Justin was my friend for a different reason. He liked my older sister, but she wouldn’t give him the time of day.
I figured that it couldn’t hurt to tell them, and besides, it wasn’t like they would believe me anyway. I smiled, turned to gaze at the beautiful sky, and felt like I was glowing. “I’m getting married soon. I’ve been seeing him in secret for years, and just thinking about him makes my heart pound. I can’t wait to finally be his wife!”
“What???!” My friends demanded in shock. I bestowed each of them with a smile.
“Who is this guy?” Justin added. I could not decipher the look on his face, but he looked almost… hurt.
“He is…” I paused, mostly because I was overcome with love and couldn’t speak for a minute. “The King of the Cats.”
My friends all clutched their hearts, and sighed in relief. “Akari! You almost had us there!”
We had all been sharing a picnic underneath a tree, and I felt like I couldn’t sit still a moment longer. I leapt to my feet, grabbed Boots, and began to dance. My other two cat body guards had no choice but to show themselves in order to keep an eye on me.
Suddenly, my sister laughed. I have no idea when she joined us, but apparently my friends had told her why I was waltzing around with my cat. I paused to cast her a curious look.
“Are you still going on about how you are going to marry the Cat King someday?! You’ve only been saying that since you were 8 years old!” My sister scoffed.
“It’s true!” I insisted. “It’s going to happen the day of the full moon.”
“You’re such a dreamer, Akari,” Kira laughed.
“Just you wait,” I murmured. “You’ll see.”
Days passed, and finally it was the day I had been waiting for almost my entire life. I excused myself from practice early, and snuck away to the meadow where I always met my husband to be. It was the same meadow I had picnicked in with my friends, and so I guess that it was really no surprise that they followed me.
“Do you still insist that you’re getting married today?” My sister surprised me. She and my parents had snuck up behind me as I was scowling at my friends for intruding on my special day.
“Yes,” I stated firmly.
My mother laughed. “Well then, what a lovely excuse for a picnic.”
I really wish they’d believe me already. I sat to eat with them, but could only pick at my food. I was much too excited and nervous!
“Why do you want to marry the Cat King anyway?” Justin asked me unexpectedly.
“Because I’ve been in love with him for years, and because he asked me,” I tried to explain.
“It’s certainly true that you’ve talked about this mythical cat for years,” my father mused.
“Um… Akari?” Alice tugged on my sleeve urgently, and pointed behind me.
I turned to look, and smiled when I saw that the meadow was positively packed with cats. I stood, and curtseyed to my two guards, who had a large package balanced across their backs.
“For you, Highness,” they informed me respectfully, and my loved ones all gasped.
“I guess you can hear them now,” I hypothesized.
The box turned out to contain the most beautiful dress I had ever seen, and I twirled happily as I held it too me. A large pile of cats somehow managed to hold up a screen, and I changed into the dress. My loved ones were speechless when I emerged from behind the screen, and every cat in the meadow bowed to me.
“Princess!” The murmured respectfully.
“It’s time,” Boots informed me, and an aisle cleared in front of me.
I squealed, and jumped for joy as I spotted the Cat King. He beckoned me to come to him, and I walked down the newly made aisle. I placed my hand in his paw, and faced him, a smile stretching my lips.
He grinned at me, and announced. “As my bride, you are hereby granted entrance to the Cat Kingdom for one year and one day. When the time comes, you must make a choice, will you stay by my side always, and become a true cat yourself, or will you return home and remain human.”
“I understand,” I nodded solemnly.
The cats in the meadow all began to meow as if they were singing, and suddenly, I discovered that I was in a different place completely.
“Welcome to my Kingdom,” the King bade me.
The wedding ceremony was gorgeous, the wedding night was sheer bliss, and I felt like my dearest dream had just come true. That was because it had! I could not stop smiling for days.
Life in the Cat King’s palace was peaceful. I was cherished as the Queen of the cats, and never wanted for anything. My every tiny wish was instantly granted.
I am told that kittens gestate anywhere between 60-70 days, and humans for close to ten months, so I guess it really was no surprise that I gave birth to my kittens about 6 months after my wedding. I was fascinated by these tiny creatures. They were normal kittens in every way, except that they could turn into humans whenever they were hungry so that I could feed them.
I had two girls and a boy. Their papa was such a proud Cat that I swear he strutted like a peacock! I couldn’t be happier if I tried, except…
I kept thinking about my family and friends. How were they doing? Had Kira passed her apprenticeship test? Was she even now a full-fledged gondolier? Were my parents happy? How were Alice, Justin, and my sister?
These questions plagued me until I couldn’t sleep at night. I often found myself practice driving my gondola in my daydreams. I couldn’t eat, and I felt horrible from the lack of sleep. My husband was deeply concerned about me.
Mere days before my trial period was over, I lay in the sunshine, playing with my kittens. They grew quickly, and were almost 6 months old now. In cat years, this would have been the equivalent of almost fully grown, but because they were half human, they were only about half grown. They were about 5 or 6 in human years. I loved them to pieces!
“What’s wrong?” My husband finally asked.
“I have given that question enormous thought, and I think I finally figured it out. I am living a dream… a fantasy. I know it’s real – I know that – but I still keep expecting to wake up. I can’t enjoy my life because I keep wondering how my family and friends are doing. As much as I want to, I just can’t seem to be happy here.”
My husband nodded. “So… you choose to return then?”
I felt tears sting my eyes. I really wanted to deny it and promise to stay by his side always, but I just couldn’t. Life here was too wonderful… too perfect. It didn’t feel real, and it probably never would.
“If that is what you wish,” my husband granted, and then left me alone with our children. I am certain he went to grieve, and as much as I wanted to comfort him, there was nothing I could do.
On the day I was supposed to return to my world, my husband finally came to see me once more.
“I want you to know that I truly love you, and always will,” he informed me.
“I love you too!” I blurted honestly.
“I can’t hate you for your choice, and so I will give you a few gifts,” he continued. “I give the gift of Cat’s sight so that you may always see clearly; the gift of Cat’s hearing so that you may always -” he proceeded to give me each one of the Cat’s superior senses so that I would always know if I was in danger, and be able to protect myself. And – in case that failed – he assigned me two new bodyguards to watch over me always – the ones I’d had previously had retired.
I hugged him, and kissed my children goodbye. I knew that they needed to stay in the King’s palace until they were grown, or else something serious could go wrong; they were magical beings after all. Tears streamed down my face as I once again realized that leaving them would be the hardest thing I had ever done, but I would see them again… every month on the day of the full moon.
The magical doorway to my world appeared, and I waved goodbye one last time before stepping through it. My family and friends waited for me in the meadow, and I could see by the look on their faces that they were relieved that I had chosen to return home. My husband had come here with me to ensure that I made it home safely, and he took my hand in his.
“I give you one last gift,” he said, and then bit my hand. “You are forever marked with my scent, and will forever remain the Queen of the Cats.
I smiled, and brushed his face with my lightly bleeding hand. “There, now you are forever marked with my scent as well.”
I watched his hair absorb my blood, changing color in that spot. I smiled at him, and he smiled at me. After that, he was gone, and I turned to face my loved ones.
“I’m back,” I announced with a nervous laugh. My parents rushed to hug me.
“We missed you so much!” My mother exclaimed as she squeezed me.
“We prayed that you would return,” my father added.
“I hope you weren’t worried about me. I was well cared for in the Cat King’s palace,” I assured them.
They stroked my beautiful dress – a dress fit for a Queen! “We can see that,” they laughed.
I arranged my skirts so that I could sit on the picnic blanket with my sister and friends, and my two guards joined Boots on my lap.
“So…” my sister began hesitantly. “Tell us about the Cat Kingdom.”
I told them all about my life until I was parched from talking so much, and laughed when I saw my guards glaring at me. “You didn’t need to tell them quite that much! No human is supposed to know about the Cat Kingdom.”
“I’m human and I know,” I pointed out.
“You are not human!” They insisted. “You are the Cat Queen!”
“I know,” I murmured. My eyes flashed as I used them to look around my world for the first time in just over a year. All the colors were vibrant, much more so than I remembered them. I could hear squirrels and mice sneaking around through the grass. I actually smelled a rabbit, and that made my mouth water.
“You’re eyes!” Justin gasped softly. “They’re just like a cat’s eyes.”
“Shh,” I whispered urgently. “Keno, Mika? Do you smell that?”
“Yes, my Queen,” they both answered with a nod.
“Can you get it for me?” I asked, the rabbit tantalizing me.
“Yes my Queen!” They vowed excitedly.
“Rabbit for dinner,” I rubbed my hands together in anticipation.
“My!” my mother laughed. “You certainly have changed. It used to be that you wanted a rabbit for a pet, but admittedly that was before we got Boots and you apparently fell in love with the Cat King.”
“Oh, I still love him, and I always will, but I realized that I can’t live in his world. There was nothing for me to do there. I had no family – other than the kittens and my husband,” I murmured that last bit quietly since I hadn’t mentioned the kittens at all yet. “And no friends. I had no job; I had absolutely nothing to do but play. That was fun and all for the first hundred or so days, but then I grew bored. I missed my gondola… I missed all of you.”
My sister hugged me. “And we all missed you.”
“Kittens?” My mother interrogated me.
I flapped my hand at her airily. “No need to worry about that! You’ll get to see them when I do. I’m sure they can’t wait to meet you.” A shadow crossed my eyes, and I mumbled as I looked into the distance. “They’ll have grown, I’m sure… I wonder how big they’ll be?”
A month later, we were all picnicking again as a way to pass the time until my husband came with the kittens. I sensed them coming long before everyone else noticed something was different.
“Mama!” My kittens cried happily as they jumped into my lap. Boots, Keno, and Mika leapt out of my lap just in time to avoid a collision.
“Look how big you’ve gotten!” I clucked like a mother hen, holding each one up to get a good look at them.
“Papa taught us a wonderful party trick,” one of the girls informed me, and as one, they all turned human with clothes on. I clapped like a proud mother should.
I grinned at the Cat King, who was watching us from a small distance. I knew that he didn’t want to get too close to my human companions. He smiled at me, and I realized that while I still loved him, I did not feel the need to be with him anymore.
My mother was still astonished that I actually had children, but there was no denying that their human form looked just like me. I had to order them to behave and hold still, but they finally let both my mother and my father hug them. Afterwards, they all reverted to their kitten form, and sat to lick themselves.
“Ugh! Human smell!”
I laughed. “You’ll get used to it.”
Their father took them home as dusk approached, and I waved goodbye. This time, it felt like I was waking up from a dream. I squared my shoulders, and vowed to be the best gondolier who ever lived!
Time passed, and though I saw my children once a month, it truly felt like we lived in different worlds. I passed my test, and proudly accomplished my other lifelong dream. It took me a while to realize it, but eventually I knew that something was wrong; I simply wasn’t happy.
By this time, I was 21, and my kittens were fully grown. They had even become parents themselves. My cat senses often made me restless, and I often got agitated for no reason. I could do nothing but hide in my meadow until the mood passed.
One day, Justin followed me. He silently watched me hunt for a rabbit, and then play with my cat guards. By now, Boots was too old to romp with me, and spent most of his time curled up in my house. After our interest in the hunt faded, we stretched out in the sun to take a nap.
Justin carefully sat next to me. “So… does the Queen of the Cats still think she made the right decision by returning?”
“Yes,” I mumbled sleepily. “But…”
“But what?” He wondered.
“Something’s wrong… Something’s missing,” I tried to explain.
Justin changed the subject abruptly. “You are not legally married here in the human world.”
I sat up equally as abruptly. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Just that I think that’s what’s missing. You are keeping yourself separate from the rest of the world in order to be faithful to your Cat husband. The problem is that you never actually spend time with him – other than a couple of hours once a month – and I think you are lonely.”
I gaped at Justin in shock. I think he might be right! At the same time, I was confused; what am I supposed to do? Return to the Cat Kingdom?
I think Justin read my thought by the look on my face. “Or, you could marry me.”
“Think about it; who else will believe that you really are the Cat Queen? Who else will understand and accept that about you… and love you anyway.”
I felt my heart skip a beat. He was right! I waited to give him my official answer until after I had received the blessing of the Cat King, but then we were married in a huge celebration.
My melancholy finally faded once and for all, and a year later, I cradled my son in my arms. He was utterly perfect, and I ignored the looks strangers gave me when they saw his eyes. He was entirely human, except for some remarkable cat like eyes – and a keen sense of hearing, if I was right.
One day, I would tell him about my time in the Cat Kingdom, but until then, it was enough for him to play with his nieces and nephews once a month on the day of the full moon. I finally had everything I wanted, and life was good!
Justin smiled at me from across the meadow, and I realized that I was so lucky to have a man that loved me for who I was. I crossed the meadow, held him to me, and offered my lips for a kiss. “Though I didn’t know it at the time, I’m so happy I chose you.”
A tear formed in his eye, but refused to fall. He smiled at me, and gave me another kiss. “Me too.”