The Cat Who Looked At A King

Once upon a time – well, 'once upon a time' when Henry VIII was just on the throne, and before he started cutting off his extraneous wives’ heads – there was a tiny kitten who was born on a scrap heap outside a dirty little village in the south of England. There was no way this kitten should have survived; it was abandoned almost immediately by its mother, left for dead... and, to be brutal about it, that should have been that.

As Henry himself may have said, whilst throwing an extremely well gnawed haunch of venison over his shoulder towards his pack of eager hounds, survival of the fittest, y'know.

However, the kitten dragged itself onto the high road and was lying there, near death, when all at once there came a great trampling and trotting and viewing and hallooing. It was a company of the newly crowned and no longer ‘Prince Hal’s’, but rather The King’s Men, on their way to a great tourney in the North. The villagers all came to gawp and gape as the pages and squires scurried to water the horses and get their masters wine and refreshments to break their fast.

A young page saw the kitten and went to kick it – not out of cruelty, you must understand, but to put it out of its misery – when a great voice stopped him, and he felt a hand on his shoulder. ‘Why would you not try to save the creature first?’ inquired the voice. ‘Well, sir, it looks more like kindness to let it go to God’, said the boy. ‘I disagree’, said the voice, whom the boy could not see the owner of, as the hand was preventing him from turning around. ‘I believe that every living thing deserves a chance at life before we consign it to the possibility of heaven’.

The boy was confused. A possibility of heaven? If you were good, you had to get to heaven yes? However, his was not to question why; the voice told him to get the kitten some milk and bread, look after it and take it with him on the journey, squeezed him briefly on the shoulder, and disappeared. The boy, who was after all a page and thus trained to obedience, did as he was told. The kitten ended up looking like a very small (and very loudly purry) barrel, and it promptly went to sleep in his saddlebag.

The boy never did find out who the voice had been. But he and the kitten – soon known as Leo The Lionheart, for his habit of killing ‘infidels’ or rats before they had a chance to strike sleeping knights – became fast friends, and the page’s rise to squire and then knight came about more rapidly than he would have imagined. It was almost as if the day The Lionheart came into his life had been a lucky omen – if he believed in that type of thing.

Eventually, the boy – and you must understand, to go through his kind of training meant being of noble birth – took his place at court. He was very shy, and not inclined to the kind of bawdy blathering that the others of his age indulged in. They would have been seen as quite the odd pair, he and The Lionheart, if he had not been intensely brave, and coincidentally able to knock the teeth sideways out of anybody who questioned his - shall we say - ‘manhood’.

Plus, The Lionheart bit.


By this stage, Henry had become slightly less the young dashing prince and more the stern and running towards stout king – but there were still signs of that merry eyed boy he had once been. So when our friend and his cat – yes, Leo of course was there – were eventually presented to him and his Spanish Queen, the King’s eyes brimmed with mirth.

‘God's wounds!’ he exclaimed, ‘is this a lion I see before me? Do you seek ennoblement for this fine defender of the realm, my Lord Robert?’ (for this was our hero’s name).

Robert finally realised whom the voice belonged to, not unkindly telling him to keep the cat alive some twelve years before. He was astounded, but realised that the King awaited his reply.

‘Why yes, Your Grace, I do.’

There was an intake of breath around the court at this presumptive behaviour, except from the Queen, who looked as if this whole interchange was of absolutely no interest to her (NB future Mrs H Tudors: not wise) – and the King himself, who grinned.

‘And why is this? What possible service could a humble animal have performed to merit a rise to the ranks of my most devoted and noble men? A mere beast, not even of the field, who neither reaps nor sows?’

Robert looked squarely at the King.

‘Because, Your Grace, if every living thing deserves a chance at life, doesn’t every living thing also deserve a chance at bettering its station in said life? And as for what service Leo has provided – well, last night he recognised that the wine destined for your bedchamber was poisoned. He sniffed it and knocked it over, whereupon we had a mouse be doused in it – and the mouse died.

‘He has performed this service for you three times now, Your Grace. Because Leo indeed has the heart of a lion’.

Henry turned very white, then very red. The entire court held its collective breath. Robert felt the whisper of the axe's blade as it slowly descended on his and Leo’s necks, and squeezed his cat to the point of Leo saying ‘ouch’, loudly and ostentatiously, in Tabbyese.

‘It seems that you paid a great deal of attention all those years ago, my Lord Robert’ said Henry, quite calmly, and everyone exhaled. The Duke of Suffolk had a coughing fit and rapidly left the throne room before the king’s mood could change. ‘Not only did you listen to my words, but you listened to the intent behind them. Please bring your cat, and yourself, forward, and kneel’.

Robert of course did so. Leo refused to kneel. He sprawled at Henry’s feet. On his back, with his legs in the air.

Henry grinned again.

‘Leo the Lionheart, I now name thee Lord Leo of The Tower, Keeper of the King’s Person, Royal Ratter and Privy Council Cat. I would say arise but I doubt I would be obeyed. Lord Robert, I hereby appoint you to my Privy Council and ask you to become the head of my Personal Guard. You, I think, may manage to rise’.

Robert was astounded. He had a feeling that this may all end in tears, at least for him, because the King’s moods were what were then known as mercurial – but how wondrous that Leo was being recognised for the loyal and clever creature that he was! What gratitude he felt that Henry had not let him ‘put him out of his misery’ all those years before!

Henry waved them both away. Robert bowed out backwards. Leo sauntered fatly away, occasionally stopping to lick his behind and have a bit of a sniff up the ladies’ frocks. Sometimes, Robert reflected, it was uncanny just how much like the sovereign that cat actually was.

Amazingly, perhaps because every time he was prone to contradict Henry’s wilder ideas (mainly concerning the lady Anne Boleyn, who had just popped her minxy little head up – not yet off), Leo would headbutt him in Privy Council sessions – Robert thrived. But of course, by this stage, Leo was a ripe old age – and one day, sadly, Robert found him peacefully, permanently asleep in the sun of the winter garden at Windsor, his legs in the air and his fat tummy looking glossy and content.

There was a half chewed rat by his side.

Robert cried great tears of loss and gratitude for his wonderful companion. When his page asked him very timidly if he was not ashamed to be seen weeping in public – ‘for he is but a cat, my Lord!’ – Robert turned and took the boy to his quarters. There he gave him one of Leo’s most recent great-grand offspring (Leo was a cat that Henry would have been proud to call ‘son’, or in fact, possibly be slightly jealous of in terms of his procreational abilities).

This is what he said:

‘A cat is never just a cat. A cat is a friend. A cat is an adviser. A cat will tell you when you are a bad master with naught but a simple look. A cat will always be there to warm you. And if you are very lucky, a cat will look at a king – and make you see the value of every life’.

With that, Robert walked away, and with the King’s permission, left the court and retired to his estate in the country.

He died at the age of 82. All that was on his tomb?

‘A cat may indeed look at a king – and if a king is wise, he will look back at a cat.’

A furry tale -  or should that be furry stomach? - ending.


The Cat That Walked Alone

Even cats grow lonely and anxious.
— Mason Cooley

There was once, in a far away kingdom, a prince of the blood royal.

By the way, why are they always far away kingdoms? I wonder if there are any nearby kingdoms; obviously not, or the story would begin 'in a nearby kingdom' wouldn't it? I suppose it wouldn't be anywhere near as mysterious if you were to say 'there was once, in the kingdom down the road, next to the service station and across from the fish and chip shop, a prince'.


As I was saying.

There was a prince.

His name, fairly unfortunately, was Milksop. Why would his parents do that to him? Well, they didn't really want to; they weren't nasty, or unkind, and he didn't have enormous buck teeth and look like he deserved a name like Milksop - it was just the name that was given to the firstborn boy and thus one day he would be crowned Milksop XXVI and his son would be Milksop XXVII and so on and so forth.

Tradition. Sometimes it really blows chunks.

Luckily, because he had nice parents, and because he was generally speaking a delightful child who grew into a pretty good kind of adult, he was given a second name that people actually used, rather than calling him 'Soppy' or anything like that.

This name was Jon.

Much better, yes?

So, Prince Jon, as he was commonly known, by the commoners, was, as I said, a pretty good prince. He was firm, but fair; he could swing a sword, had an excellent seat on a horse, was able to shoot lots of stuff with a crossbow without shooting the person next to him by accident, excelled at falconry and was also not a complete thickie when it came to things like astronomy and history and subjects that some of his prince-y friends found a gigantic yawn. In short, he was shaping up to be an excellent King Milksop XXVI, on the sad occasion when Milksop XXV popped off the twig.

With one small problem.

Prince Jon had been cursed at birth (and not just by being named Milksop).

He just didn't know it yet.

Oh, his parents had been meaning to tell him for ages, but you know how it is - the years go by, time rolls on, and the moment to say 'By the way my dear boy, at your christening, an evil fairy put a curse on you which will take effect on your twenty-first birthday. Oh well, chin up, back to the archery range' seemed to sort of... drift. And eventually, his parents forgot about the curse, because nothing seemed to be happening, the evil fairy hadn't put in any guest appearances, and young Jon was - well, normal.

Until suddenly it was the eve of said birthday.

There was a massive ball. The whole kingdom was invited. There were roast hogs, and gallons of mead and ale, and basically everyone was dressed in their best and having a really stupendously (and fairly drunken) good time.

Jon it must be said was not entirely sober himself. He was busily flirting with four or five giggling ladies of the court when, at the stroke of midnight (evil is so predictable don't you think?), the doors to the castle ballroom flew open with a bang!

There, in a cloud of smoke, stood one of the most beautiful and terrifying women Jon had ever seen. And the King and Queen knew fear beyond words as they realised that all of their years of willful ignorance were about to come back at them with a vengeance.

'Prince Jon' she purred, weaving her way towards him, her emerald green eyes never leaving his.

'I come to collect my debt.'

'Debt, my lady?' said Prince Jon, who was both repulsed and enchanted by this - well, he wasn't sure what she was exactly.

'Your parents did not tell you? Your mother the Queen was so desperate for a child that she promised you in marriage at the age of twenty-one to the one who could provide her with her fiercest desire. I shall become your bride, and rule your kingdom by your side - or perhaps I shall just rule it myself, if you displease me.'

Jon looked at his parents, who could not meet his eyes, and realised what this - well, this witch, or enchantress, or fairy, said was true. Then he saw the tears falling from his mother's eyes and felt no anger at her promise, only sadness at her need for him. And then Jon showed why he was indeed no Milksop.

'And if I refuse? What then?'

Suddenly the beauty was gone, and she who stood before him was simply terrible.

'You would refuse? Refuse me? Then in that case you would suffer the consequences immediately! You will be reduced to a form which will make you less than the lowest peasant!'

Jon straightened his spine, and looked at her glowing eyes.

'Do what you must; but I will make a bargain with you as you bargained with my parents. Curse me, do whatever you will; but you will not harm my mother and father. And if I find someone to love me in the form in which you place me - truly love me - you must reverse the form and then - then I will hunt you down and chop off your head'.

The fairy laughed, because nobody, in her two hundred years, had ever bested her.

'Done - and so it shall be - become the lowest of the low - a mewling beast' she said, and the next thing Jon felt was absolute agony, as his bones contracted and snapped, he heard people screaming... and then...


The next thing he knew, he was curled in a ball and lifting his left leg to casually lick his...


He untwisted himself, and realised he could not only untwist himself, he could really, really untwist himself. In lots of directions. His spine didn't seem to have - well, a spine. And he was furry. Really, really furry. And he had four legs.

And a tail.

He half fell, half walked over to what turned out to be a puddle, because it appeared he was asleep in the grass beside a road.

Oh crapcakes.

He was a bloody cat.

He hated cats. Superior little know-it-alls, always looking as if they ruled the world, waiting for the day they got opposable thumbs...



He wasn't even an attractive cat. He was a great big, moth-eaten black moggy, with a torn ear and a scar across his eye which he thought made him look vaguely piratical but also gave him the feeling that on the cat cuteness scale made him sinister as hell and likely to get thrown out of the finer establishments of the kingdom.

How on earth was he going to find someone to love him - truly love him? He was a cat! Cats can't talk, or write sonnets, or sing love songs with a lute; they can't fight tournaments in honour of a beautiful princess, or indeed rescue beautiful princesses from towers and dragons.

He was a dead feline walking.

Tail drooping, he started to pad along the side of the road towards what he recognised as a small village not too far from the kingdom's capital. Naturally it started raining, because well, it wouldn't be much of a curse if things weren't truly miserable, would it? Cats don't like rain. And he was now a cat, so he didn't think this was much chop at all. He was wet, and cold, and miserable, and his paws hurt.


Heeventually reached the courtyard of an inn, coincidentally called The Prince's Arms. He was just hovering hopefully next to the kitchen door with a few other cats (who didn't have a problem with him; scars and being the size of a small rogue elephant spoke multitudes in cat talk) and thinking 'I can't believe I am waiting for scraps at a kitchen door', when through said door came the most wonderful sight he had ever laid eyes on.

A girl. A girl with hazel eyes, and long coppery hair, and a swift step, and a look about her that suggested mischief and mayhem and merriment all wrapped up in one.

She was dazzling.

Jon the cat nearly swooned (the big girl's blouse). Who was she? Why hadn't he met her when he was human? And how the hell was he going to get her to fall in love with a plug ugly big black scruffy cat? Even if he did look - to himself at least - like a cool pirate puss? Hmmmmmm...

He rolled on his back and attempted to look as adorable as possible. Four paws up in the air. If the other cats could have rolled their eyes, they would.

She looked at him, and laughed. It was the sweetest sound he had ever heard.

'Well, who have we here? You're new, aren't you? Not a pretty sight (Jon's heart sank), but there's something about you that makes me think of... pirates?' (Jon's heart lifted in his furry chest). She shook her head and laughed again. 'A piratical cat! Next thing you know I will start talking to you and expecting an answer!'

Jon rolled over and nodded his head furiously.

She looked very hard at him for a moment. He could have sworn he saw a spark of - what - confusion? - behind her crystal gaze, but then she shook her head, and said 'well come on all of you, I have your supper waiting', and all of the cats rushed forward to a corner of the stableyard where she doled out milk and leftovers equitably to each of them.

Mind you... she did give Jon an extra piece of fish.

This went on for weeks, with Sophie (he heard her name being screeched by the owner of the inn constantly) doing exactly what she thought she would - ending up talking to him.  She wasn't sure why, but she couldn't seem to help it. She told him all about her life; about being an orphan, and being taken in by the kindly innkeeper and his wife, and now that the innkeeper was dead, having his shrew of a widow making her work all hours of the day and night until she was nearly dropping with exhaustion. She did not say this to complain, but merely as a statement of fact. And all the while she would stroke him and pet his torn ears, until Jon wanted to scream out loud who he really was and tell her not to worry, that when she was his princess her life would be very, very different indeed.

Three years passed. Jon became Sophie's best friend. This didn't make her a weird cat lady; it's hard to make friends when you are a slavey in an inn. You reach out to any comfort you can get.

And then one day Sophie told Jon (whom she had named 'Cutlass', which he far preferred to Milksop, and felt was far more manly - uh - catly) that she was to be wed. The innkeeper's widow had, to be blunt, sold her. To a fat, balding widower who owned the local smithy and wanted not just a wife, but a housekeeper and unpaid governess to his tribe of unruly children.

'And the worst part, dear Cutlass, is that I do not dare take you, for the Smith would surely chop off your tail as soon as look at a cat. He is known as one of the meanest men in the kingdom.' And she laid her head on his fur and sobbed until he thought that he could not stand it anymore.

He laid a paw on her face. And tried to speak. One. Last. Time.

All that came out of course, was a meowly yowl. But Sophie hugged him even harder, then ran inside as the screechy voice of the widow commanded her to come and serve customers, and to stop wasting time with that damn ugly brute of a cat.

That night, as he slept in his corner of the inn's barn, Jon realised he could hear Sophie crying again. He padded outside and leaped up to her window, and onto her bed. She was asleep, but obviously dreaming (nightmaring?) of her life to come. He tucked himself under her arm and purred as loudly as he could to comfort her. She stopped crying, and smiled through her tears. Even in her sleep, and with a very snotty nose, he thought how beautiful she was.

'My Cutlass' she whispered. 'I do love you so.'

And with that, the curse was lifted. Miles away, the evil fairy felt it as a stabbing of steel though her cold black heart, and for the first time in her long existence knew true fear. In Sophie's bedroom meanwhile, there was a hell of a lot of explaining to do, because cats don't generally wear a lot of clothes, and Jon went through the reversal process on the spot.

If you get my meaning.

This is a fairy tale, so after Sophie got over her initial shock (and Jon came round from being hit with a poker), she realised that she did in fact think that Prince Jon was pretty damn handsome, and yes, it's much nicer to have a conversation with someone who can answer you back, and you don't have to feel like a crazy cat lady, and yes, she could probably see her way clear to thinking about marrying him and becoming a princess.

Jon found some clothes and swept Sophie off to the palace and his parents, where there was great rejoicing, and then toodled off to kill the evil fairy, which he did fairly easily, mainly because he had a gang of cats who took out her evil minions and helped enormously. He cut off her head as promised, which is gruesome but was quite frankly well-deserved. Don't feel sorry for her dear reader; she wasn't a nice person at all. Who turns people into cats for heaven's sakes?

Jon and Sophie had a whirlwind courtship, got married and were blissfully happy. He was smart enough to realise she would always be the one with the opposable thumbs in the relationship, irrespective of whether he was a man or a moggy. They had ten children, who all loved cats. She refused outright to call any of the children, male or female, Milksop. They named their eldest boy Cutlass.

And just occasionally, Jon may or may not have worn an eye patch. For old times' sake. Who can tell?

The moral of the story? I know that fairy tales are supposed to have one, so here it is.

Parents, don't make wishes to evil fairies, no matter what; and people - always - ALWAYS - be nice to cats.

You never know when they may be a prince - or a pirate for that matter - in disguise.

Frogs don't have the monopoly on fairy tales you know.