Friday, January 28, 2011

The Coming of the Cait Sidhe

In which a strange but welcome visitor makes a first appearance.

In a realm close but far, visited seldom by citizens of our own country, a king sat brooding.

He sat, looking out the open window of a tall tower, his golden eyes gazing into the far distance, or into nothingness, his long, elegant fingers folded, the forefingers extended upward, pointing to the sky, as he rested a handsome chin on folded fists.

The king sighed a deep sigh, a sigh with the weariness of a hundred worlds on its back.

"I am troubled, Cat," said the king. A handsome black cat, who might or might not have been there just a moment ago, turned luminous eyes on his sovereign. He was a huge beast, blacker than a starless night, blacker than the deepest cave. A shining patch of white fur blazed on his dark chest.

Feeling the attention of the cat upon him, the king spoke again.

"There is a woman," he said, still gazing upon things in the unseen distance.

"She is sore beset."

The wind groaned a quiet melody, in minor mode, about the twisted turrets of the tall tower, ruffling slightly the king's long locks and teasing gently the cat's silken fur.

"I fear she will not hold."

After a time, the sky deepened and grew darker, becomeing golden, pink, then royal, then midnight. When the little lanterns of the stars began to wink on shyly, one by one, the king rose from his seat and strode from the chamber. The cat was nowhere to be seen.


"The City of Cats and the City of Men exist one inside the other, but they are not the same city." ~~Italo Calvino

In an old City in the country of Men, there stood a house that had been allowed to tumble into disrepair, and thus found itself abandoned by humankind. No human lived there; the walls of brick sported gaping holes. Vines and saplings did their work year by year, doing their best to pull the structure down, to return it to the earth. A wealthy but unscrupulous merchant owned the place. He had taken it from a poor family who could not pay what they owed him, had turned them out weeping, out into the world, where they wandered shelterless, making their way as they could, while the sad house stood empty and unused. The neighbors were sorry to see them go, when they learnt of it. The family had left quietly, in the dead dark of a quiet night, ashamed of their poverty and of their misfortune, and not wishing to draw attention to themselves in their season of need.

Now this merchant lived far away, and had no use whatsoever for the house. Occasionally, his agents in the City would bring some interested party 'round, but a deal was never made. As the house continued to tumble down, no family was ever able to pay the price the merchant asked for the place with its overgrown garden and jungle-like grounds. These agents were not much involved in the fate of the house, and so never much exerted themselves to make it seem appealing, to point out its merits and benefits, nor to advise the merchant that perhaps his price was unreasonably high. To the merchant in his far away home, the ramshackle house, continuing its sad decline year by year, was simply a line on ledger, one line amongst thousands and thousands of lines. The fate of the house never entered his thoughts; indeed, he barely even knew of its existence.

It happened that a clan of cats came to take up residence in this house that humans had abandoned. Indeed, they found it quite to their liking. The many holes in its walls provided many entrances and exits for the coming and going of many cats. The holes were not so many, though, as to prevent the walls from keeping out the cruel gusts of the north wind when it raged down in the winter from the Kingdon of Ice and Snow. The roof was strong and sturdy, keeping out the rain. When the first of the cats came to their splendid new home, they found as well many mice, and even a fearful tribe of rats, making camp amidst the ramshackle walls. This provided the cats with opportunity for much hunting and sport for some small time. In short order the villainous rodents were disposed of, leaving the cats to reign as supreme masters in their new home.

From time to time, new cats, destitute perhaps, fallen upon hard times, or abandoned by their human companions, found their way to the ramshackle house of cats. Some were welcomed into the colony, others were driven away, according to the ways and culture and judgement of cats. These ways remain always mysterious to the tribes of men, so we must not judge the cats too harshly if sometimes they refused to welcome a newcomer into their midst. We can never know completely what evidence they consider in coming to their conclusions.

Now it happened that the cats had amongst their neighbors some who cared for them deeply, and who stood to their aid as very good friends whensoever they might. If you have read at all into the literature and folklore concerning cats, if you have listened to the stories the old grandmothers tell, you will know cats always prove to be the greatest of friends to those who treat them well; never throughout all their many lives do they forget a kindness shown them. One thinks immediately of Baba Yaga's cat, or of the famous Puss in Boots. This particular clan of cats had a neighbor who loved them dearly, and stood as a good friend to them whenever and wherever she might.

She was a woman neither old nor young, neither beautiful nor ugly, neither a great genius nor a terrible dullard. She was as kind as she could be, and the days of her wickedness were mostly over. Wickedness takes, as you may know, a great deal of energy, and, as the Autumn of her life approached, she found wickedness to be a great deal more trouble than it was worth, or than she had time and strength for. She possessed a great fondness for the cats.

The cats, for their part, had come to care for her as well. She began to feed them one winter, having made their acquaintance, when a poor mother cat gave birth to a litter out of season. The little kits struggled to survive as the winds of November blew down from the North, and the woman couldn't bear it, and opened her pantry to her neighbors in need. Perhaps she thought sadly of the neighbor family who had lived there once, before the cats had come, and of another type of cold wind blowing from far away, cruel to kittens who walked on two legs instead of four.

For their part, the cats hunted the rats and mice from their neighbor's premises as well as their own, and this she found to be a great service, and thanked them for it sincerely. And so for many years the two houses lived neighborly together, and in peace.

One Autumn, though, something more than the cold rode the north wind as it blew down from the lands of Ice and Snow. Ill luck and a fever of the brain rode the back of the wind as well, and settled like a great flapping bat on the roof of the house where the woman who loved the cats made her home. She became ill; she became sad. Many things that had hence gone well went now awry; the knobby hand of poverty and privation stretched its fearful fingers her way. Then one icy day in winter, someone the woman  loved most dearly died. Her hope and her joy abandoned her, clutched as she was in the cold, grey arms of despair. She continued to feed her neighbors the cats, but she shuffled listlessly about her tasks, and the cats, who watched her daily with their great, glowing eyes, took note, and were concerned.

There is an old story, told now and again by grandmothers to please small children, of how the Kings of Elfland look out through the eyes of cats, gazing when they will upon the realms of mortal men. Watch, the old grandmothers say. See how closely catkind watches all we Humans do. They are watching, say the old grandmothers, for the Elf Kings, who find our doings curious.

They also say this is why cats seldom allow humans to look into their own, luminous eyes. For the looking goes both ways, and if you gaze long enough into the eyes of the cat, you may see into far realms and flowered meadows, far,far far from the fields we know.

This may be or it may not be; everyone must judge for themselves.  Nevertheless, one spring morning the woman, bent and sad, shuffled out to bring her offerings of good will to her furry neighbors. The cats gathered 'round her and rubbed her ankles, gazing up into her eyes and offering their sleek backs for petting. She smiled a small smile, for their companionship and kindness lifted her spirits a little, and gave her courage.

As the woman and the cats communed thus in neighborly fashion, she looked up and noticed a cat she had not met before, sitting a bit removed from the cats who lived in the tumbledown house, watching. He was an enormous beast, as big as a  dog, and as black as ebony. A shining blaze of white fur decorated his broad chest, and his eyes seemed to glow from some fire deep within. He sat, quietly, regarding the scene with great interest, though he did not approach.

"Well, aren't you a beauty," said the woman to the newcomer. "Come on up here, and have something to eat." She smiled a friendly smile as the great black creature regarded her steadily. "You are most welcome here."

The cat gave a small, almost imperceptible bow of his head, for cats are the most courteous of beings, always, and answered the woman with a loud and melodious "Meow." He remained seated where he was, though, making no move to join the clan at their dinner. However, when the woman began to walk through the garden, back towards her house, the black cat came to her, and rubbed in friendly fashion against her ankles.

Now in the garden of the house where the woman lived, there grew a strong maple tree, tall and straight and beautiful to behold. It had passed the years of its saplinghood, but had years yet to go, decades in fact, before it reached the season of its old age. It was really, barely old enough to take sap from, in the Autumn, for the making of maple syrup. Many birds and squirrels made their homes in its strong, welcoming branches. In the summer, it shimmered green silver in the breeze, a fairy tree.

To the foot of this tree the cat led the woman, running a little ahead, tail held happily high, looking over his shoulder and calling to her with insistent meowing, until she would come a few steps in the direction he indicated. He ran often back to encourage her, rubbing against her ankles, purring. Then he would run ahead again, calling, until she once more moved forward to join him.

So they came at last to the foot of the silver maple, where the cat sat down and turned his glowing eyes upon her. It was early spring. A lush growth of violets, richly green and leafy, made a cool carpet at the foot of the tree. Tiny violets like purple stars were scattered lavishly in this green carpet.

The woman regarded the newcome cat for a moment, thinking, then said, "You wait just here, if you please, my Beauty." It's always good to speak politely to cats, for, being courteous creatures themselves, they appreciate it. "I will be right back." The woman went into her house, returning with two crockery bowls, one filled with cool water, and one with the food cats like to eat. These she placed at the foot of the maple.

"There," she told her visitor. "Those are just for you."

The great black cat looked back at the woman, gave her a warm cat smile, and, accepting her gifts, went to work on the meal with a good will. The woman sat down amidst the violets, in the shade of the silver tree. A gentle breeze came and toyed with the wisps of her greying hair, caressing. A small song bird took up a post in the tree, from whence he poured out a symphony of silver cascading song. The violets curled their cool leaves around her hands. A tension loosened in the woman, though she barely noticed; she breathed deeply for the first time in months. A great peace she breathed in; a great strength began to soak slowly into her from the earth whereon she sat beneath the fairy tree.

The great batlike thing, perched on the roof, lashed its tail and hissed profound displeasure. The woman saw nothing; the cat ignored it. Having finished his meal and taken a drink of some water, he went to sit near the woman, stretching out his long silken back and offering it for petting.

It might have been an hour they sat thus, the woman and the cat, beneath the silver tree among the violets, listening to the symphony of birdsong. It might have been a year, or a hundred, for time is a strange and fluid thing in the company of cats. At length the woman came back to herself, looked at the cat and said,

"Well, Sir Cat, what next?"

And the answer to that question, Gentle Reader, we will defer until next Friday, which will February 4th, when the story continues with "The Lands Beyond the Lands We Know".  On Monday, however, we will have Part Two of the true tale of Carl the Cranky and Tabby Tom. Catch Part One if you haven't already.

Thanks for reading!

stlcatlady is a poet, blogger, and freelance writer of shortstories, news articles, and other such oddments, many of which center around her favorite subjecs: cats, philosophy, and folklore. You may contact her by sending email to stlcatlady1 at gmail dot com.


  1. That...was gorgeous. Your use of words to draft an image for the reader's mind is truly clever. I'm eternally grateful to you for posting in the LJ Kittypix comm, as that's how I've found you, and this wonderful place. You're an amazing writer ^_^

  2. Ah, this is a wonderful thing to find to brighten up a windy Monday afternoon. The flow of words between the worlds speaks of realities we sometimes seem to forget about, or refuse to see through the everyday mundane. Or perhaps, (as I tip my bonnet to Lord Dunsany), it is only poets and madmen who see the world so. At any rate, this is as poetic a piece of prose as I have had the pleasure of perusing in some time. I shall read on!