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.