The Princess, the Cat and the Lady in Black – A traditional fairytale with a contemporary twist
Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful, flame haired, princess called Amber. Amber lived in a magnificent white palace, with her father, the King. Amber loved her father very much but she was very lonely, because the King insisted she never meet new people until the time came to meet her betrothed. Her only friend was her ginger cat, Saffron, who slept on a bed of purple velvet in Princess Amber’s bedchamber.
One day the King announced that Amber was to meet a Prince. Amber knew that this could only mean one thing; she was to marry and leave her father’s Kingdom. She should be happy for it meant she would finally meet new people, but she was troubled. She had heard the Prince was extremely handsome, soon to be King of a very grand Kingdom. She had also heard that he was a melancholy man, who grieved for a lost sister.
The Prince, she had heard, did not care for cats; she could never leave without Saffron. However these weren’t the things that troubled her; what troubled her was that, no matter how charming, handsome or rich the Prince was, she knew she could never love him.
The next morning Amber decided to take a stroll in the palace grounds. It was a beautiful day, the sky was blue and the sun shone. After a while Amber felt thirsty. The palace was surrounded by the clearest river in the Kingdom, the perfect place to quench her thirst. Kneeling on the bank of the river she stared at her reflection in the crystal clear water, she looked across at the opposite bank. She had never crossed the bridge but today she wanted to explore. She crossed the rickety bridge and felt both excited and nervous at what lay ahead.
She walked into the trees on the edge of a forest. As she walked she experienced many new sights and sounds, only ever having spent time in the palace grounds. Distracted by these sights and sounds, she failed to notice she had ventured into deeper, denser forest; the sun strained to penetrate the canopy of the trees. She felt a chill and pulled her cloak around her shoulders. She decided to return home but realised she couldn’t remember which path to take. She chose the path that bore right, but soon realised that she was lost. Amber decided to carry on, convinced she would find someone to take her home, after all she was a Princess!
After an eternity walking in the shade she felt the heat of the sun starting to settle on her as she came to a clearing. She was in a meadow carpeted with sweet smelling violets and marigolds. In the distance she saw a little cottage with smoke coming from the chimney. “At last”, she thought, “Someone who can help”.
She ran toward the cottage but was suddenly gripped by childhood stories about old hags who lived deep in the forest casting spells on young girls. “Nonsense Amber, they were just stories” she scalded herself and carried on.
She knocked lightly on the little door and it opened slowly. Amber gasped when a lady wrapped in a black cloak stood in the doorway, “Could the stories be true?” she asked herself. Then composed herself when the lady smiled warmly.
“Hello child, are you lost?” asked the lady.
“Yes, I’m afraid I am. My name is Princess Amber, I live in the magnificent white palace. I was walking in the forest but I lost my way. Could you take me home please?”
“I’m afraid my legs are too weak to travel that far” replied the lady, “However if you were to stay the night the woodman will come in the morning, he would take you home.”
“Oh but my father will worry so, not to mention the trouble I will be in.”
The lady sighed, “There is something I can do, but you must do something for me in return.”
“Certainly, anything, I will do anything to get home before nightfall. Tell me, what do you want?”
The lady explained that a miller lived nearby who would help her, she promised to take her there but Amber had to take the lady’s cat home with her and say it was hers. She explained that some of the villagers suspected she was a witch, and the knowledge that she owned a black cat would spell her end. Amber promised to take the cat home, although she worried about the Prince’s aversion to felines. On the way to the miller’s cottage they chatted and Amber told the lady about her situation. She promised Amber that in return for caring for her cat, on the day of her engagement she would find true love. Amber smiled to herself, “Maybe she is a witch, but she is not wicked at all!” When they reached the miller’s cottage, Amber bade farewell to the lady and climbed aboard the miller’s cart with Ebony, the lady’s black cat, curled up on her knee.
Amber went straight to her bedchamber, where Saffron was still sprawled out on her purple velvet bed. She took Ebony out from under her cloak and introduced the two cats. Over the next few weeks the three were inseparable.
The day of the engagement ceremony arrived. The palace was adorned with magnificent finery. Amber was dressed in an exquisite purple, silk gown. Her copper hair was pinned with amethysts. The King sat on his throne with Amber beside him; Saffron and Ebony slumbered in their purple velvet bed, which had been placed out of sight of the Prince. Amber worried about the Prince’s reaction to the cats, she couldn’t face leaving them behind and she had told her father, “If he won’t take my cats, then I won’t go!” Her father had reluctantly agreed.
Trumpets trumpeted and grand horses in full dress trotted up the parade followed by a magnificent black horse whose coat gleamed like glass. Atop the horse sat the most handsome man Amber had ever seen. “Maybe the lady was right”, she thought. She waited anxiously as the Prince dismounted and strode up the steps to greet the King. The King beckoned to Amber and she rose from her chair. As she did so the Prince sank to one knee and bowed his head to her. As he rose, Amber bit her lip in trepidation. She hoped and prayed she would feel something as she looked into his sea blue eyes, but, alas, as she swam in their depth, she felt nothing. Sighing inwardly she smiled politely and allowed him to kiss her hand.
Just then there was some commotion among the congregation. The King demanded to know what was happening as a lady dressed in black crept slowly up the palace steps. As a guard leapt to prevent her getting any closer Amber realised who she was.
“Release her!” she yelled and everyone looked at her.
“What is the meaning of this?” demanded the King.
Amber explained how the lady had helped her in return for looking after her cat. The congregation gasped and whispers of “she’s a witch” travelled round the crowd. The whispers changed to shrieks and insults until the crowd were almost delirious.
“ENOUGH!” yelled the King, “If my daughter trusts this lady, and what she says is true, then how can this be? Is my daughter hexed, do you see any sign of spell casting upon her? Leave her be guard, at least until I have had chance to speak to her privately”. The guard let go and the lady spoke to Amber.
“I came to see that my promise was fulfilled, do you remember what I predicted would happen today?” she asked.
“I’m afraid your prediction was erroneous,” said Amber sullenly, “although the Prince is the most handsome man I have ever seen, and his riches are plenty, I can never love him, I looked deep into his eyes but felt not a stir”.The lady whispered “Have faith, the day is not done”. Then Ebony, the black cat, opened her eyes and stalked over to the Prince. The Prince did not recoil, but stood transfixed on the cat. A fog started to form, it rose up around the cat until its denseness was impossible to penetrate, still the Prince was transfixed. The fog started to clear, and everyone’s eyes were fixed on the phenomenon. Slowly a shape was forming, hair as black as night, beautiful, big, bright eyes and skin the colour of ebony. A woman now stood before the Prince and they were lost in each other.
“Her name is Stephanie” explained the lady. “She was put under a spell by a good witch many years ago to protect her. I was charged with looking after her until the time came that she was found by the one who would see beyond her skin and love her truly.”
“Stephanie you have found your Prince!” the lady said to her. Stephanie and the Prince were too entranced to hear a word.
Amber was bewildered. “You promised I would find love today, but you were wrong. This palace has witnessed true love today but not for me”.
“Have faith the day is still young”, the lady replied.
The lady crouched as if in pain. Amber moved to her aid but was shrugged off. As the lady stood up, she unbuttoned her black cloak and slowly removed the hood. As it fell to the floor the crowd gasped and fell silent, Amber looked at her in amazement. In front of her stood, not a withered old lady, as she had expected, but an extraordinarily beautiful young woman, with long, lustrous, raven hair, hypnotic hazel eyes and exquisite red lips. As Amber soaked in every detail she felt a stirring in her heart, they looked into each other’s eyes and simultaneously sought out each other’s lips. Silence filled the air as all eyes were fixed on the two couples.
The King broke the silence, “Would someone please explain what is happening here?” he pleaded.
The prince looked around and his face lit up when he saw the lady who was now embracing the Princess, “Erin? Erin, is it really you?” he asked.
The lady turned to him, “Yes brother it is me”. She explained how many years ago she had got lost while out walking. She was promised to a prince but was sad because she knew she wouldn’t love him. She had encountered an old lady and had shared her troubles. The old lady promised that if she stay with her and care for her in her dotage, she would protect her until she discovered her true love. One day the old lady brought the black cat home. On her death bed she told Erin the story of the black cat; she was changed, for her own protection, into a cat. Erin was charged with caring for the cat and the old lady promised that when someone was discovered who would love the girl, then she would be transformed back to human form and Erin would be rewarded with true love. “It appears brother that today we have all found love.”
The Prince and Stephanie married and lived happily ever after.
The King never recovered from the shock so Princess Amber became Queen Amber, married Erin and ruled the Kingdom.
Saffron, the ginger cat, continued to spend her days sprawled out on her purple velvet bed.
If you would like to view the illustrated version of this story please click here: The Princess, the Cat and The Lady in Black
If you are interested you can view a full commentary for the story here: Commentary
as well as a full annotated version here: Annotated version