The Cat and the Stable Hand

This is a Raising Pagan Voices Project Submission

There once was a woman named Freya. She was a skilled and well liked woman in the village of Trellis despite being a known witch with unusual powers.  She would use her powers for good, blessing young married couples with fertility, tending the sick but her most favourable talent was assisting the growth of harvests- Especially harvests that would be used in wine, beer and mead production.

She was rather beautiful and lived alone which only made her the most desirable wife to be, yet she enjoyed her solitude greatly and grew tired of trivial flowers and proposals left at the door. One day at a town meeting she had made a decision after the fourth proposal from the town baker.

“I have decided. Every night I shall let my cat out, upon her collar will be a letter. You must catch the cat AND remove the message from her collar. Once you are able to bring me the note, I will know truly who is worthy of marriage”

That night as she returned home Arnold, the vineyard owner, was too excited to go straight home and formulate a plan. Instead, he followed her home and waited to see the cat as he peered through the hawthorn in the garden.

He couldn’t remember what Freya’s cat looked like, nor even if she had a cat! Yet the lingering memory of the taste of wine she had helped to create kept him awake. He thought to himself, with her as his own, he would be the only wine maker in town and that would make him a very rich man.

A light escaped the door for a brief moment followed by a small tinkle of a bell at the cat’s neck. Arnold, close to the floor, attempted to stalk behind the cat. He crept ever, closer the greed for money causing him to speed up.

The cat spotted him with a glance over her shoulder and expertly dashed away from the oafish man and into the hawthorn and brambles.  It’s black fur in the nightfall made it impossible for Arnold to see where the cat had gone. The bell’s jingle seemed to have become silent.

He decided to sleep beside the bush ready to pounce at the first tinkling. As he fell asleep, the cat slipped away to a local barn,  cuddling up to and warming the young stable hand who simply stroked the cat, shared his rations and offered a saucer of milk as they spent the evening together.

The next morning however Arnold was greeted by Freya’s kind smile and a hand to help him up.

“It seems your greed got the better of you. The cat returned whilst you lay napping.  I offer help and blessings for all harvests to grow. Not just the ones that benefit me.” She told him with a smirk offering him a jar of ointment to sooth the cuts on his arms he had sustained reaching into the bush.

Arnold decided to go and tell his woes to the tavern that night, Drunk on wine (which he had not made) he told his story to the blacksmith Baldrick.

Baldrick went back to his forge and created a trap.  No one had mentioned that the cat had to be alive when the note was presented to Freya.

The sharp toothed jaw trap he had created would have been enough to rip the trunk of a tree into small shards. He set it open at her front door and went home for the night.

Upon seeing the trap, the cat simply decided to leave from the window to spend another night with the kindly stable hand.

The next morning Baldric returned Flowers and wine in hand. To his surprise however as he got closer he noticed the trap was not there anymore. 

‘Cat must have got lucky and lived. Never mind the trap will still be with it!’ he thought to himself as he placed the gifts on the door step and took to his hands and knees to look for a blood trail. He followed what could have been a liquid splatter across the garden only to be startled by Freya holding out a bandage to him.

“You would hurt me to make me yours? That will not do.” She said simply shaking her head.  Confused Baldrick took the bandages and stood up leaving her garden yet he was stopped just beyond her gate as the jaws ripped into his own legs.

Baldrick who was patched up enough to walk with the magically infused bandages, went directly to the guards’ station. He was muttering about the trap having been set to catch HIM instead of the cat! but was not looked upon favourably. 

Heath, a young guardsman heard his story and took to write his own note.  He had worked with Freya on several things, generally as she healed wounded soldiers and guards.  He was almost certain he knew her handwriting well enough to forge a note.

“Bring this note to me,” he wrote on parchment using his best guess to work out what it would say. It was worth a try at least.

He tucked the note into his pocket and put on his best uniform and made his way to the witch’s house.  Before he could rap at the door, it swung open.

“No, I shall not be marrying someone who tries to trick me into wedlock either.” She said shortly and promptly closed the door in his face.

Standing bemused and confused he turned his attention to the window where the cat jumped out and wandered off towards the farm to spend another cosy night with a good friend.

As the cat settled down it felt the gentle touch of Frederick the stable hand’s hand rubbing softly at her chin then stopped. 

Frederick’s nimble fingers took the capsule from the cat’s neck and read it.

“Please return with my cat to Hyacinth cottage” it read.

He gave the cat another friendly rub and was surprised to see the cat begin to walk away, checking back on the young man frequently to ensure he was following.

The cat’s paws pattered away through the forest as it led Frederick to the cottage. Stopping at the door with a thunderous meow to which the door replied kindly by opening.

The lad peered around the door as the cat sauntered in.

“Hello?” he cooed around the open door whilst the cat just looked at him in a welcoming manner.

“I can’t just come in uninvited,” he whispered.

The cat turned to face the boy and reared up onto it’s hind legs as ebony black fur began falling away from it’s skin in a puff of smoke, smouldering and encapsulating the animal yet rising and growing.

Panicked he ran in trying to waft the smoke away with his hands when out of the smoke another hand reached out and stopped it.

In the middle of the room stood the witch, nude as the day she was born only just protecting her modesty with her hair smiling at him gently with one of the kindest looks he’d ever been afforded.

“I’m sorry! The cat was… THE CAT?!” he exclaimed as he looked around for his furry companion.

“My sweet. Please don’t be alarmed, For I am the cat.”

The witch, who’s hand had turned from him to reaching for her robe, had her back to the puzzled man as she wrapped the fabric around her body and turned to face him.

“Why have you brought me here?” he asked with an innocent tone and trepidation.

She pulled a chair out offering it to him, as he took it still puzzled.

“I set out a challenge for all the men of the village. The man who could retrieve the note from my cat would be eligible for my hand in marriage.” She took a seat in front of him and took his hands in hers.

“You my boy, are the only one to have managed it. If you wish for my hand, it is yours.” She told him simply.

Tears began to roll down his cheeks as he tried to wipe them away, the witch’s brow furrowed as she took the sleeve of her cloak to help him.

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to.” She told him in an honest tone frightened she had offended him.

“It’s not that,” he choked with a pause.

“You see I’m not the boy you think I am” he muttered just loud enough for her to hear.

“I was born a girl, but when my family needed money I found that jobs for girls didn’t pay enough to give us any real help.  I dressed as a boy. Most days I forget what it was I was born as and now I almost hate what I was. “

The witch began laughing, confusing the poor boy even more.

“My Sweet, you ARE a man! A man of kind heart, of courage, of care and compassion. You ARE all I would want in a man and you have proved this to me nightly.”

At this the young man’s face mellowed his tears dried.

“But, I don’t …” His face reddened “You know,” He nodded downwards to his bandaged chest.

“You do!” she exclaimed putting her hands on his shoulders as the bandages fell from his decreasing chest.

His eyes widened as he shifted his feet his underwear becoming uncomfortable.

“I.. I’m a Man?” he asked as the witch paid him the same welcoming smile she had moments ago.

“You always have been.” She told him. “You simply have the body you were always supposed to have now.”

With a strong embrace the man wrapped his arms around the witch drenching her coat in happy tears.

Whilst it’s true they did indeed live happily ever after, the boy and witch never married. Instead, she would take him to the village meetings as her protégé dressed in finery. Being well mannered and charming he soon found a wife of his own. He would insist the bedroom window was left open a crack. Every now and then on a cold night a black cat would slip in through the window, Joining the cuddle. Often visiting with the couple’s adopted children too, purring contently as they all fell to sleep happily.

Samantha Kent