I have a new tale that will please all. A most heroick historie. I will set down the first part now.
Purrsa and her brother Purrsie had scarce oped their eyes to the light of day when their mother made them swear to avenge her.
She was beauteous, and her old master had kept her pent up in a tower. There was a window, but it was barred. She could not leap out, so spent her days in singing.
Many stone-cats came by, crying:
Mine ears! What voice through yonder window wails?
Why, ’tis the call of a most lovesome queen.
This tower’s walls are high and hard to climb.
My master’s locked me in, and swore to kill
all courting cats. In sooth, I would be thine.
Or thine. And even thine. You’d know my will,
were I not jailed. But Sirs, I pray you, flee,
lest there be tragick ends for you and me.
(To set down all in verse will use much paper, of which I have scant supply, so I will write in prose and keep my poesie for the telling.)
One of her suitors (his name was Soose) was akwaynted with a fair lady. This lady’s hair was the colour of moonlight, and her eyes as yellow as the sun. She was also a witch, as Soose well knew. He begged her to turn him into wind so he could waft through that barred window.
The Witch sayt she would, with one condition. She’d heard of a garden sacred to the Queen Cat of Heaven. It was filled with fragrant flowers to sniff, and mints to roll in.
She promised that if Soose led her there, she would do all that he desired. Oh, she was wicked.
For no sooner had Soose breezed off to seize his sweet queen by the scruff than the Witch and her franion [paramour] did the like in the sacred garden. Underneath an elder tree.
The Queen Cat of Heaven saw all and waxed wroth. She cursed that Witch’s silver hair, making snakes of it.
Next she cursed her golden eyes, so that any who looked on her fair face and were touched by her eye-beams would turn to stone.
Thus it was that when the Witch’s franion cried out in horror at her hissing hair, the first she made a statue of was he. Bare-arst.
The Witch ran home. All creatures who looked upon her face as she passed were petrified. Word of her wickedness spread.
The Queen Cat of Heaven doomed Soose to live as wind forever, and you may hear him on wild nights a-wailing at your walls.
She cursed the elder tree, too. Its berries will poison us, even though we might love its flowers and the dust it sheds when a branch is cut.
And any who cuts an elder branch may also be curst, should they forget to say “Sorry” to the Queen Cat of Heaven.
Meanwhile, the queen in the tower grew fat, and her cruel master put her in a bag and cast her in the sea.
The Queen Cat of Heaven took pity on the two innocent kits in her belly. She sent a great shoal of fish to swim beneath the bag and keep it afloat until a poor fisherman netted all, fish and cat together.
Purrsa and Purrsie were birthed in his hovel, and fed on fish. They grew to be as light-foot as the air.
There came the day when they set forth to be revenged on the man who used their mother so ill. They had not walked far when they came to a house with a yard full of statues. Cats, birds, squirrels, foxes – Purrsa and Purrsie had never seen the like. Many children, too. And men and women with knives, clubs and staves; gentlemen with swords and pistols; great dogs with spiked collars.
Some were covered in moss or ivy. Others were new-made.
Purrsa and Purrsie guessed whose house it was, and durst not raised their eyes from the earth. They crept along swivel-eared, and when they heared footfalls and the rattle of a chain, they ran home.
“Have I reared two coward cats?” arrkst their mother.
“You have not,” sayt Purrsa. “But before we kill your old master we mean to kill the Witch who petrifies all. And we must have a stratagem.”
The next evening Purrsa hid herself behind a tree and waited till a little bat came clicking by. Oh, how that bat cried Mercy when Purrsa caught him with soft paws.
“I’ll spare you if you swear to serve me this night and the next,” sayt she.
The bat so swore.
Purrsa told him to fly to the Witch’s house and make a survey. “And discover, if you can, who there wears a chain. Does the Witch keep a dog, or some other living thing? But beware. You must keep your eyes tight shut, and find your way by clicks alone.”
“And did you teach your mother how to birth and suckle you?” arrkst the bat, but stayed not for Purrsa’s answer.
Gib’s latest tale is obviously inspired by the story of Perseus and the Medusa, which he probably came across in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. However, he’s adapted it to a rural English setting and introduced new characters.
In using Ovid as his main source of stories, Gib’s in good company. Shakespeare did the same.