There is a secret among us, daughter,
Amongst the tribe, amongst men, amongst us
The sun is hot and it wearies you child
In the paddies, drenched in mud to your knees.
Let me tell you the secret, dearest daughter,
Your time has come, you are a woman now.
Before you leave to your husband dear child,
There is a story that your ears must hear
It is a story about two lovers.
There was a queen, you see, darling daughter,
And she ruled fairly over her city.
Her beauty was that of a new flower
Opening its petals graciously and
Absorbing the golden light from the sun.
But when she was asked to take a husband
She would turn to her women and ask them,
'Oh, friend maids, I beg of you to tell me
Across what endless ocean or great plains
Or over how many mounts I must go
To find a man so great to be worthy
Of my hand, and my kingdom, in marriage?'
And when asked this, the maids would fall silent.
It happened one day that a stranger came
His eyes burned like deep pools of golden fire.
He spoke to none; he came and went his way
Dressed in gray and black and brown muted furs.
He had no riches; he carried nothing,
But so fine he looked that people assumed
He must be a prince from another tribe.
It was when he passed that the queen looked down.
As her eyes rested upon the stranger,
She fell in love with him a little bit.
He looked up but once to catch her staring
And smiled the way a cat smiles, but also
He, too, felt his heart uplift at the sight
Of surely the woman more beautiful
Of any flower blossom, more graceful
Than any angelic swan, more stunning
Than all the stars on the velvet sky.
But then he passed, and left the great city.
The queen demanded her soldiers look for
The stranger; they looked throughout the city
And sought as far as the kingdom's borders,
But they could not find a man with eyes of
Burning gold. Finally, feeling her heart
Breaking, she went out into the jungles
On her own, and asked the animals if
They had ever seen such a man pass by.
When she spoke of him, the animals would
Tell her, 'Turn back, fair queen, for the man you
Seek is not a man to love,' and then flee.
Yet the queen continued her journey,
Driven by the sacred fire not even
Mother Death has the power to destroy.
It was the King of Birds, a proud heron,
Who recognized it, and spoke to the queen,
'We shall find this man, be he man or god.'
You see, some time before this happening
The queen had saved the King of Birds' small kin
And though proud as he was it was custom
To return such favors in full, so he
Sent out his subjects to fly across the
Far lands. 'Have you seen this man?' King Bird asked,
But no one knew of such a man to be
Alive. The queen felt her heart start to break,
Until a small sparrow pushed through the crowd
And stood in the Bird King's massive shadow.
The king bowed his head, and the sparrow spoke
Until the King wrenched his head up and cried
'Queen! No man or god is this, but a beast!
Go back to your kingdom and forget you
Ever loved those eyes of murderous fire!'
He gave a great screech, and his subjects screeched
With him and spread their wings. The queen stepped back
In alarm as a great wind blew and swept
The birds away, all except the little
Sparrow bird, who perched himself on the queen's
Shoulder. In a small voice he spoke to her,
'My heart bleeds for your pain, but first let me
Say before I tell you anything else
That there are worse fates than a broken heart
And if you trust this I ask you to turn
Back, but since I know this is not the case
I will tell you that you are close to your
Goal; he hides in the jungle, but beware!
Beasts take familiar forms there, and I can't
Follow you; you must travel alone now.'
'Thank you, friend sparrow, and for your kindness
Go to my gardens and find a bush
Or tree that suits you and make a nest there.'
The sparrow smiled at the queen and thanked her.
He flew away, leaving the queen alone
To take her first steps into the dense brush.
It was not long before she came across
A fire and two poachers skinning a hide.
There was a cage, also, and in it she
Saw a great white cat, with fur as pure as
Winter snow on top of distant mountains.
The poachers knew her not, and overtook
Her and threw her in the cage with the cat
Who gazed up at her with inhuman eyes.
'Release me, poachers, for I am a queen,
And it would be a greater crime than you
Have already committed. Let me go.'
They would not, and the sparrow's advice rang
True in her ears that beasts take familiar
Forms. She turned her head to face the great cat,
But her heart softened as she saw he could
Not harm her; blood seeped from a deep wound in
His shoulder, and it was the wound that caused his
Great fury in his golden eyes. Night fell,
And the poachers drank themselves to slumber.
Their fire, though, continued to burn, and sparks
Crackled and snapped close to the trees until
A single spark ignited the poachers'
Clothing, and the fate that fell to their crimes
Fell to them as well. The fire continued
Its gluttonous rage and it was not long
Until the Queen found the fire upon her.
The great cat saw the queen's distress and ran
To her, shielding her from the great blazes
Blackening the sky. The Queen tried to cry
But thick smoke and burning smells filled her lungs.
It was hours later that a drizzle fell
And the flames were humbled by the great skies.
She felt the great weight lift from her body.
Around them death stank the air. The Queen coughed.
The cat that had shielded her fell to the
Ground and she rushed to her savior's side.
Then she knew that if he had been human
She would have known who he was. Instead now
He wasn't human, but the great Cat Prince
And the once king of the Azure River
Until the age of man came. Her sorrow
Filled her eyes and she wept over his frame.
'Do you protect me because you love me?'
Asked she, stroking the Cat Prince's scorched fur.
No longer was it pure as winter snow
But bronzed to orange fire, cracked with stripes of
Char. He gazed up with hurt in his eyes
Yet he spoke steady with a rumbling
Voice like distant thunder, 'Beauty, funny
I find it; you are the only woman
Who has come such great distances for me.
Surely a queen with determination
Such as yours must rule with the same power
That I rule over my people with Please,
I ask, no I beg you, to join me by
My side as a queen to make all others
Jealous. I have known many beautiful
Queens, but you surpass them all not with show,
But with mind and will. Please be my fair queen!'
There was no measurement for the joy that
Filled the Queen's heart as she heard his words, no
Was there any to measure her sadness.
'Prince of the Wild Cats, my heart beats gladly
That you chose me over all others,
But my people would accept a king
Of creatures they fear, nor would yours
Accept, I suspect, a human ruler.
I love you, but I cannot be your bride.'
At this the Prince found enough strength to roar.
'No! There is no other I will accept.
Say you will be my bride.' He commanded.
The Queen cried then, and took his great head in
her hands. 'I can only promise that none
From my kingdom will ever harm your kin,
And that I too suffer from this hurtful truth
Like a wound from a double edge blade. It
Is no less real a truth, though; we must think
For the better of the people, not us.'
But the Cat Prince is a proud one, never
Before knowing rebuff. He asked once more.
The Queen cried harder. 'Do not make the pain
Worse, for I love you more than the birds love
The endless skies.' She took the iron bars
In her hands, forgetting the twinge in her
Arms and forced the bars apart. They were still
Hot, and easy to move. When they parted
Enough so she was sure he could leave, too
She left. 'I love you Prince, but do not ask
Me again to be your bride, for I will
Reject you again.' And she returned home.
She took ill sometime later; no doctor
Knew what ailed her, but gave her all the cures
And panaceas they knew off. The Queen
Knew what was wrong: her heart was breaking and
The ache was killing her. But she remained
Loyal to her people until, at last,
It was too much a burden to suffer.
From here on, daughter, I cannot tell you
What exactly happened but I do know
That what I think happened must never be
Passed to a man's ears, for men are all so
Violent at heart that the tale will sicken
Them. I know they believe that endings should
End in death and gore and tears, not triumph.
So listen daughter. The next day the Queen
Was not in her chambers, and a great cry
Rose from her people. At the edge of the
Jungle stood two orange and char stripped beasts.
Men will say gruesome things about these two,
But daughter believe me when I say that
It was the Cat Prince and the Queen, married
At last in heart and soul. So know this tale
Child, and save it to tell your daughter when
She comes of age to be given marriage.
Even if your man tells you otherwise,
Know that whichever story, theirs or ours
Is true, that we do not hurt the tigers
In the jungles, and they do not harm us.
Evoke child, we are the Tiger People.