Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Room To Swing A Cat: A Fairy Tale

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There was once a prince who was held captive in a tower by an enchantress for seven years, until he was rescued by a lady minstrel. It's a fine story, but this story begins where that one ends.

The prince was grateful to the minstrel, and loved to listen to her songs, so he asked her to return with him to his own kingdom. The minstrel agreed, in part because the prince was very beautiful and she loved to look upon him, and in part because she loved to journey to strange new lands, and she had never visited the prince's kingdom before on any of her travels.

The prince's kingdom was far away in the mountains, but the minstrel's songs made their journey pass quickly. At last they arrived at a harsh, cold land, where wolves roamed by night, and vagabonds by day. But the prince's castle had high walls of thick stone, and nothing could get inside once the door was barred.

The prince was welcomed back with much joy and feasting by the king and queen his parents, and by all their people. The minstrel was toasted for returning their beloved prince, and all listened with joy to her songs. Outside the snow fell, and the blizzard howled, but inside the fire in the great hearth never went out.

The prince asked the minstrel to be his bride, and the minstrel, who had travelld far and seen many things, but had never before had a hearth to call her own, accepted.  But on the night before her wedding, the minstrel remembered the cat imprisoned in a bag that her prince had brought back from his tower of captivity. The minstrel did not know the cat was an enchantress in shape shifting form, she only knew that the cat had once scratched her, and in her fury she had spun the cat around her head and flung it through the window of the prince's tower.

The minstrel was superstitious. She would not enter into marriage without putting right her past wrongs, so she went to the room at the top of the castle where the prince had left the cat in the bag, unlocked the door with the tool she kept in her instrument case for such purposes, and tried to untie the silver chain that held the bag fast.  But the silver chain was enchanted, and burned her hands. The minstrel dropped the bag with a cry.

A voice came from inside the bag. "Only the prince can untie the silver chain."

The minstrel was alarmed. "But you are a cat - how can you talk?"

"I may be a cat, but I am also an enchantress," the bag replied, "And I have been bound by my own enchantment."

So the minstrel went to the prince on the eve of their wedding, even though it is bad luck for the betrothed to see one another on that day, and asked him to release the cat.

"I will never let the cat out of the bag," he replied. "She is an enchantress, and she kept me prisoner for seven years."

"She may be an enchantress," replied the minstrel, "But she is also a cat." Like all musicians, the minstrel was fond of cats, for cats, like musicians, come and go as they please. But this cat could not go anywhere.

But the prince would not be moved, so the minstrel returned to the cat and told her that the prince refused to set her free.  The minstrel asked the cat, "Will you at least forgive me for throwing you through the tower window after you scratched my face?"

"I will not give you my forgiveness until I am free," replied the cat.  So the minstrel went to be wed with her past wrong unforgiven.

But after the wedding night she forgot all about her former misdeeds, and seven years went past while the minstrel enjoyed the warmth of her hearth, and the cat remained trapped in the bag.  The minstrel's instrument, too, lay neglected in a corner for seven years, until, one day, the minstrel came to dust the forgotten room at the top of the castle.

Picking up the instrument, she tuned it and began to play and sing her favourite song. But her voice was hollow and her playing was jarring on her ears. She had forgotten her art.

"A minstrel does not have a hearth," said a voice. "As soon as you acquired a hearth of your own, you ceased to be a minstrel."

"Who is there?" asked the minstrel, for having a hearth and a husband to tend had dulled her memory.

"I am the cat you threw through the window of a tower and abandoned for seven years trapped inside a bag. But I am also an enchantress, and if you help me escape my prison, I will return to you your minstrel's art."

"But I cannot unfasten the silver chain," said the minstrel. "Only the prince my husband can do that."

"Then you must find a way to make him release me," said the cat, "Are you not his wife?"

So the minstrel went away and thought. Then she remembered she had a second trade, and that was to open doors that people needed opening. Surely, then, she could also find a way to open a bag? Or had she lost that gift too?

Presently, she began to complain to her husband that her private chamber was too small. "There is not enough room in here to swing a cat," she protested. Day after day she repeated her complaint until the prince, in frustration, cried, "Bring me a cat, and I will show you that there is!"

Now it happened that in the prince's land there were no cats, only dogs and wolves, and the prince knew this.  But he had forgotten the bag in the high room of his castle. The minstrel went to fetch the bag, and whispered to the cat as she carried it downstairs to her private chamber, "Make your tail wet and slippery."

The minstrel presented the bag to the prince. "There is a cat in this bag. Very likely it is dead. But you can still swing it and show me."

The prince did not want to untie the silver chain, but he did not want to lose an argument with his wife either.  "You will not dare," taunted the minstrel, "Because you know this room is too small to swing a cat in." And so she went on.

The prince could stand it no longer, so in fury he untied the silver chain and pulled the cat out of the bag by the scruff of its neck. He grabbed it by its tail and swung it around his head in a full circle. "See?" he said triumphantly, "There is room to swing a cat!"

But just then the cat's wet tail slipped through the prince's fingers, and the cat sailed through the window to freedom.  "Thank you, minstrel," called a voice from outside. "Your powers will be returned to you."

The prince looked at the minstrel and knew she had tricked him. "Leave," he said, "And take your instrument with you. You are no longer my wife."

So the minstrel was cast out of the castle with nothing but her instrument, and the door was barred against her. The hearth continued to burn inside, but now she was on the outside of the high walls of thick stone, with the vagabonds and the wolves.

The cat was waiting for her outside the door. "Let us travel together," said the cat, "For we are kindred spirits, you and I." And so the minstrel and the cat set off along the long road side by side.

Presently the minstrel asked the cat, "Did you know that I would be banished from my hearth for helping you?"

"It was what you wanted," said the cat.

"But I loved my hearth," protested the minstrel.

"You did," replied the cat, "But you loved your minstrel's art more, and longed for its return. Taking away your hearth was the only way to give you back your gift."

"You have used me to serve your own ends," said the minstrel to the cat, "But I forgive you. The hearth warmed me, but it burned with its own fire that did not belong to me.  I am glad to have my own gift returned."

"I know you are glad," said the cat, "For you are a minstrel and I am an enchantress, whatever other forms we may take on our travels, and we are kindred spirits, you and I."

"And now do you forgive me for throwing you through the window of the prince's tower, seven long years ago?" asked the minstrel.

"I will forgive you when you find me food and a warm place to sleep," said the cat.

And the minstrel smiled a wry smile. Now, finally, she knew the cat's nature, and knew that forgiveness would always be one more favour away, because they were kindred spirits, the cat and she.

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The End.
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1 comment:

Teri Reed said...

Love "Like all musicians, the minstrel was fond of cats, for cats, like musicians, come and go as they please" and there's even a sneaky reference to Schrodinger in there.