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.
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.
He eventually 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.