The Cat and the Candle

A hand olding birthday cake candlesThere once lived a man-cat partnership on the edge of a royal city. The man was a candlemaker, and he did reasonably well in the dark months when everybody needed candles, but in the bright months, when their need for candles flickered and went out, he often went hungry. The cat would have been happy to supply him with as many voles as he could eat, but he found he just couldn’t stomach them.

“Puss,” he said to the cat one day, for that was her name, “I’m all out of food.”

“I don’t suppose you’d like to try vole?” asked Puss.

“We’ve had this conversation.”

“Sorry, Ander,” she said, for that was his name. “What can I do?”

“Take the cow to market and sell it,” said Ander.

“Why don’t you eat the cow?”

“She’s a milk cow, not a meat cow.”

“Why don’t you drink the milk?”

“She stopped giving milk years ago.”

“Why have you kept her around?”

“Nostalgia. Will you take her to market and sell her, or not?”

“Fine. How much should I ask?”

“At least five siba-siba.”

The siba-siba was the local currency, worth about twenty-three poomi.

So the next day, Puss woke early and led the cow to market. On the way, however, she met a confidence trickster who said, “Hey, Puss, how much you want for the cow?”

“How did you know my name?”

“It’s a generic term for cat.”

“Get out.”

“How much for the bovine?”

“Couldn’t take less than twenty siba-siba.”

“Is it good eating?”

“Wrong breed.”

“Gives milk?”

“Dry for years.”

“And you want twenty siba-siba?”

“I could let her go for eighteen.”

“You’re mad.”

“What are you willing to pay?” asked Puss.

“I’ve got a magic candle here, and a small ham. Take it or leave it.”

“Throw in a pair of boots, and it’s a deal.”

They made the exchange, and Puss went back to the house.

“Wow, that was fast!” said Ander. “Did you get five siba-siba?”

“Better!” said Puss. “I got a magic candle, and a ham!”

“And some boots too, I see.” said Ander.

Puss ignored this.

“Is the ham magic?” Ander asked.

“Whoever heard of a magic ham?”

Ander ignored this. “What’s magic about the candle?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” said Puss. “Light it.”

Ander set the candle in a candlestick, and lit it. Suddenly the whole room went dark. The light streaming in from the window was stopped cold; the cracks around the door might have been stuffed with tar. Ander blew the candle out, and light flooded back into the room.

“Let’s try it outside,” said Puss.

Once outside, Ander lit the candle, and all went dark.

“Keep it lit while I walk,” said Puss. Ander heard her footsteps on the gravel slowly get quieter, then slowly grow louder again.

“It goes about twenty feet, the fades out,” Puss said.

Ander blew the candle out, and the daylight returned. “Now for some ham,” he said.

“Too salty. I’ll go catch a vole and meet you back at the house.”

All the next day they experimented with the candle, and found that it never burned down, but always stayed exactly the same length. “I’m glad regular candles don’t do that,” Ander said, “or I’d never sell another.”

The next day, Puss grabbed a bag and said, “Give me that candle, and I’ll make you a rich man.”

“First look at these,” Ander said, pointing to a row of tiny candles. “I call them birthday cake candles.”

“Why would anybody want candles on their birthday cake? And why so small?”

“In order to blow them out. Watch!”

He lit all the candles, took a deep breath, and blew them all out.

“Seven in one blow!” he said.

“That would make a great motto,” said Puss. “You should put that on a tunic.”

“How?” asked Ander.

“Write the words on the shirt with melted wax. Dye the shirt. Boil the wax out. Then the letters will stand out in white against the dyed background.”

“Ooh, or I could dye it in different colors, changing where the wax is each time.”

“Go for it,” said Puss. She put the candle into a lamp with an opaque chimney, and was gone.

The first person she saw on her walk was a general in the army. “Excuse me, sir,” she said, “but my master the Prince of Battique has sent me to offer my services.”

“Are you a spy?” asked the general.

“I could be. What do you need?”

“Our enemies are massing troops on the border. If a spy could steal their battle plans, we could defend our kingdom with minimal bloodshed.”

“Point me the way,” said the cat.

They came to the border, and Puss crept toward the enemy camp. When she spied the plans, she unshielded the candle, and all went dark. The enemy soldiers ran around shrieking and fighting each other, while Puss grabbed the plans and scurried back to the general. “Here you go, sir,” she said, re-shielding the magic candle.

“Good work,” said the general, eyeing the lamp suspiciously. “Give this bag of gold to your master the Lord of Battique.”

“Thank you very much,” said Puss, bowing.

The next person she saw was the sheriff. “Excuse me, sir,” she said, “but my master the Prince of Battique has sent me to offer my services.”

“Are you a runner?” asked the sheriff.

“I could be. What do you need?”

“Shifty Sam has been robbing houses up and down the square for the past week. No one can catch him because he runs too fast.”

“Point me the way,” said the cat.

They came to a house, and Puss told the sheriff to stand ready and move a certain box on her signal. When Shifty Sam arrived, they watched him fill his bag with booty. As he started to run, Puss unshielded the candle, crying, “Now!” The sheriff moved the box into Sam’s path, and he tripped, falling flat on his face. When Puss re-shielded the candle, the sheriff had Shifty Sam in custody.

“Good work,” said the sheriff, eyeing the lamp suspiciously. “Give this bag of gold to your master the Lord of Battique.”

“Thank you very much,” said Puss, bowing.

The next person she saw was the King himself. “Excuse me, your majesty, but my master the Prince of Battique has sent me to offer my services.”

“Are you a child care specialist?” asked the King.

“I could be. What do you need?”

“My grandson Paidi cannot sleep, and my daughter, the Princess Ginny, cannot console him. His crying has been keeping the whole castle awake. The queen has gone back to live with her mother.”

“Point me the way,” said the cat.

They came to Paidi’s bed chamber. He was crying piteously in Ginny’s arms, and no matter what she did, she could not comfort him.

“Put him in the crib,” said Puss. When Ginny had done so, Puss unshielded the candle, and the child fell asleep instantly.

“He just needed a little dark, is all,” Puss said.

“Good work!” said the King. “In reward, I will give your master one half of my kingdom.”

“I was rather hoping you’d offer him your daughter’s hand in marriage.”

“Would any man want to marry me,” said Ginny, “widowed and with a young child?”

While all this was going on, Ander had managed to create a beautiful, multi-colored tunic with the words “Seven in One Blow” in bold letters. He wandered around the city bragging about his prowess, not admitting that the seven in question were birthday cake candles. Everywhere he went, he also asked about Puss.

“Have you seen a cat wearing boots?” he would ask. Thus he learned about Puss’s successes with the general and with the sheriff, and that she had gone off with the King. He hurried to the castle.

“When I saw her,” said a courteous courtier in the courtyard, “she was going up to lull the royal grandson to sleep.”

“You’d better take me up to see,” said Ander.

And so it was that Ander, the King, the princess, the courtier, and Puss all met in a room just outside the royal grandson’s bed chamber. Dark streamed from under the door. Puss told Ander all she had done, and presented him with the two bags of gold.

“I’ve been dying to ask,” said the princess to Ander when the cat finally ended her tale, “What does your shirt mean, ‘Seven in One Blow’? Did you kill seven men with a single stroke?”

“Actually, no,” Ander admitted sheepishly. “I blew out seven birthday cake candles in one breath.”

The princess held her hand to her mouth and stifled a giggle. But she couldn’t stop, and soon she was laughing out loud. “That’s wonderful,” she said. “I see you are a talented and clever man.”

Ander blushed.

“Tell me, Ander,” Ginny said, “could you love a widow who is still nursing another man’s baby?”

“I don’t see why not,” he replied, “as long as she has a good sense of humor and bathes regularly. Why, is there one around that needs to be loved?” He turned his head from side to side, as if expecting one to walk in the door.

“Ander,” the princess asked, “Will you marry me?”

“Oh, you meant yourself,” said the candlemaker, turning even redder.

Then everybody laughed, and Ander with them.

The wedding was held the next day, and Ander and Ginny took the two bags of gold and the half-a-kingdom and created a happy land and a happy life.

Puss went to work for the sheriff, and between the two of them, they soon had crime completely stamped out of the kingdom. Unfortunately the vole population exploded, but that’s another tale.

© 2016 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

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