Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Jean Roberta: Rescuing "La Chatte Blanche"

[Jean Roberta has been having trouble posting here, so I'm doing it for her--Sacchi.]

Jean Roberta

The theme this month is "Rescue." So here is a fairly long passage from "Madame Blanche," my fairy tale based on "La Chatte Blanche" by the Countess d'Aulnoy. In my version, a transman trapped in a female body and a noblewoman trapped in the body of a cat must rescue each other.
"Madame Blanche" is in my story collection, Spring Fever, available here: https://www.amazon.com/SPRING-FEVER-Other-Lesbi…/…/B07T9FCFC
Val rode through one village after another on her quest, and the people addressed her as “Your Lordship.” But the only dogs she saw were thin or half-wild and clearly not fit for a King, and so her quest seemed fruitless. As though Nature herself wished to discourage Val from riding ever farther from her own hearth, the autumn winds blew cold and gray clouds often hid the sun.
At length she came to a dark forest, and her horse was reluctant to go forward. But Val knew that many wonders can be found in such wild places, and no one ever overcame a challenge by surrendering to fear. She urged her horse to pick his way between the trees until they arrived at a clearing that reflected the light of precious jewels: glowing rubies, sapphires as blue as the sky, cool green emeralds, golden topaz, brilliant diamonds. She found herself staring at the walls of a small but exquisite castle made of gemstones, with golden doors and crystal windows.
"Who lives here?" she asked aloud, and her horse neighed as though he were perplexed as well. No gate or sentries impeded her approach, so Val dismounted and strode bravely to a shining door with a great knocker in the form of a lion showing its teeth.
The clang of the knocker echoed deep within the castle. Slowly, the door swung open although no one could be seen within. A sweet voice called out:
"Welcome, Traveler. Have no fear.
Here is linen, meat and cheer."
Val peered into a dark foyer, and saw no one. "Who welcomes me?" she called loudly, knowing she had come to a place of enchantment. She was wary, but determined not to surrender to fear.
The clear voice answered:
"One whose truest form must be
Concealed until her heart is free."
Val felt she had heard herself described. Whoever dwelt in the wondrous castle was surely afflicted, as she was, with a body which did not represent her true self.
To her surprise, a pair of hands floated through the air to seize the bridle of her horse and lead him to an outbuilding which appeared to be a stable made of copper. Another pair of hands seized her by the sleeves and gently pulled her inside, as though honored by her visit. Val’s curiosity and her determination to face every challenge prompted her to accept the strange, unspoken invitation. As soon as she had crossed the threshold, the door closed behind her with a ringing crash.
A hand holding a torch led her into a grand hall whose walls were entirely covered with murals of cats on wooden horses hunting mice, cats dancing upright in elegant clothes, cats fighting battles with drawn swords, cats seated around a table, looking as serious as judges. Val had no time to study the curious images before the hands pulled her firmly to the door of a bedchamber in which all the furniture was decorated in green silk. The pale hands lit the fire and the lamps, then exited. When Val tried to open it, she found herself locked in.
No matter, she assured herself. I have a comfortable bed for the night, and my horse doubtlessly has food, water and clean straw. She would not willingly have deprived the beast of nourishment, although her own appetite had quite fled. Whatever awaited her in the enchanted castle, Val knew that rest would help her to preserve her strength. She removed her clothes and donned the soft nightshirt she found folded on the bed before climbing under the coverlet and falling into a deep sleep.
When Val awoke refreshed in the morning, the door opened, and the hands presented her with a savory meal of venison and dove’s eggs on beautifully pattern china, with fragrant tea and cherry juice to quench her thirst. No sooner had she eaten and drunk her fill than she regretted giving way to her hunger. Would she be held in this place forever by a cantrip?
As though in response to her questions, a pair of hands tugged at the nightshirt which was her only covering. She held the fabric in one hand as she used the other to repulse the hands as though they were weapons. At length, the hands laid a washbasin, soap and a comb on a beautifully carved table before her, and placed a powdered wig and the clothes of a court gentleman on a silk-upholstered chair. A pair of fine, buckled shoes, too small for most men but just the right size for Val, were placed on the carpet beside her feet. Then the hands made an elaborate shrug in the air, floated to the door, and disappeared. Val knew that her magical attendants were waiting to escort her to their master or mistress. When she was fit to be presented to others of her rank, she opened the door and followed the beckoning hands.
Val was led back to the great hall with its painted scenes, which was now filled with cats large and small, all dressed as rich nobles and twitching their tails at the sight of her. She marveled at the sight before her, and then she held her lips tightly closed to prevent a laugh from escaping. The most awful meowing echoed off the walls and the ceiling, and the Princess realized that the assembled company must be discussing her in their own language.
A small, graceful figure covered in a black veil and matching gown came forward, walking on hind legs.
"Welcome, Visitor," said the figure, whose French was as perfect as that of the court in which Val had been raised. "We so rarely have a chance to offer hospitality to strangers that we are grateful for your company. Though you may leave whenever you choose, I hope you will stay with us at least until spring returns. I shall not demand your true name or your position in the world, but I will tell you mine. I am Blanche, and I am the chatelaine of this place."
"Pardon me, my Lady," said Val, "but can all the members of your court speak as humans do?"
"We can," answered Lady Blanche, "but amongst ourselves we prefer to speak as cats."
Val felt very self-conscious, being the object of so much curiosity. Many pairs of green and golden eyes stared at her openly. For once, she felt too large. As she had often felt the lack of a tail in front, she was now keenly aware that she also lacked one behind.
Lady Blanche turned her head to confront her too-curious courtiers, and at once all the other cats looked elsewhere as though searching the wainscots for mice. “Please forgive our incivility, Sir,” she asked her guest. “Will you join us in the hunt this afternoon? Hunting rats is great sport, and it discourages them from invading our larders.”
“I would be honored.” Val thought this the most diplomatic reply.
“And now will you join me in my private quarters? We may converse more freely there.”
Val gladly assented. By now, she suspected Lady Blanche and her court were humans of high rank, all under an evil spell. If they were so cursed, Val hoped she could restore the lady and all her courtiers to their true forms by fighting a dragon or perhaps an old witch: whoever had changed them to cats. And perhaps in return, Blanche could help her win her father’s favor and inherit the kingdom which she knew to be rightfully hers.
The other courtiers scampered hither and yon in a way that looked startling to Val, who was accustomed to human etiquette. Lady Blanche skipped lightly on four paws to lead her guest out of the room, glancing back to make sure she followed.
They came to a charming room outfitted in teakwood and rose-colored damask draperies, where Lady Blanche curled up on a loveseat. Like all cats at ease, she seemed to be waiting to be stroked, but Val did not dare presume to touch her. Val sat as closely beside her hostess as she thought seemly.
The little cat used her forepaws to lift her black veil over her head, revealing a furry white face with delicate whiskers. Val could have sworn the cat was smiling. "What am I to call you, my Lord?" asked Lady Blanche.
"Prince Val," answered the visitor. "In thanks for your hospitality, my Lady, I will explain how I came to enter your domain." Looking at the cat’s sympathetic little face and gently-moving tail, she found it easy to recount her father's dilemma and the strange challenge he had given to his three offspring.
"Ah," replied Lady Blanche. "As you may have noticed, dogs are not welcome here. However, you may ask me for a favor before you depart, and I will do all within my power to help you."
"You are most gracious, my Lady. Everything about you leads me to think you are really a noblewoman in the form of a cat. May I not help you to return to human form? I am fearless in battle, even when fighting magical enemies."
"I have faith in your courage, Sir," replied Lady Blanche. A small pink tongue delicately flicked out between two rows of sharp little teeth. "But do not ask me to tell you my history because I cannot. That is part of my condition. We will not speak of this again."

1 comment:

  1. Love this, Jean.

    Of course you know how I feel about cats...!

    "For once, she felt too large. As she had often felt the lack of a tail in front, she was now keenly aware that she also lacked one behind."

    Wonderful line!


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