How the Cheshire cat became.
|The Cheshire Cat: A beginning
There is a world, far unlike our own, with colours we could not name, terrains unfamiliar and horizons that would excite or frighten us. It is unknown to our mundane eyes.
And yet, even in this strange land with its many strangenesses, there is one thing we may recognise, which are human beings. They look allot like you or I, give or take a limb or an eye, and our world might be as curious and frightening to them as theirs is to us.
This world has many things our world does not. I could tell you about the trees that grow upside down, or the mountains that float in the air. I could tell you that while rainbows are shades of grey, rain is multicoloured and decorates the landscapes with watery colours in winter. And the thing that makes all this possible is the permeating presence of magic. It lives in the ground and the air and animals. And while the people of this world remain curiously vaccinated against it by virtue of living there, they have found ways to channel it as well as avoid its more dangerous manifestations.
There are pockets of dense and concentrated magic here too. Where a seemingly normal part of the landscape might suddenly reveal itself to possess man eating flora, or cause anyone who might wander through to suddenly become an inanimate object or even leave it with the knowledge of how to heal an incurable disease. Magic, being unpredictable, does this. And so while magic has it uses here, it is also carefully navigated around. One of these pockets of magic is the small valley of Cheshire. It exists independently of any country, as no king or feudal lord will claim it. It is a particularly feared and unpredictable place, and the land surrounding it is rough and dangerous. And while in the valley itself, there is a sense of it being an eternally late summer afternoon, the weather surrounding it is changeable and unwelcoming. It is a place feared and respected and avoided.
The valley of Cheshire has only one inhabitant: The Cheshire Cats. These cats are unlike those that we know, the ordinary house cat. Affected by their own magic, they are strange, almost beyond recognisable as cats. Though a house cat is unique in the animal kingdom, Cheshire cats might be what house cats would be, should evolution come to call and grow them into something that could easily rule the world. The cats of Cheshire are creatures of magic. No two are alike. They may have spots or stripes or stars; they may be as small as a fox or large as a horse. Their fur may be pale purple or deep blue blue or poppy red or a combination of many colours. Their limbs are elongated, or shortened, their tails long or nonexistent. They may have three ears, or 6 legs or 8 eyes, each with a thin slit of an iris. Though Cheshire cats rarely speak, they have been known to speak languages both known and unknown. But the most important, and indeed the most terrifying, thing about Cheshire cats is this; they can predict the future.
Being creatures that are as steeped in magic as they are, it manifests itself into this form. They might also be able to read your mind, or speak of your family if it relates to their ability. However, one must remember, they are cats. And as is true of cat nature, they are as unpredictable as the magic they embody. Should you seek to know your future from a Cheshire cat, you must realise that even though you have made a long and perilous journey to the valley, it matters nothing to a Cheshire cat. They might tell you the future you ask, but they might also tell you parts you will not want to hear. They might tell you something that has nothing to do with your quest. You might even be turned away or barred entry. You might be eaten. Your question might be answered with a judgment based on your future acts, or they might demand that you dig a new well or a scratch behind their ears before giving you the fruit of your efforts. So it is clear, that apart from the journey to Cheshire being long and difficult, it often results in frustration, fear or disbelief, and one is as likely to leave satisfied as not. And, being cats, they are after all indifferent to any plight that is not their own. Thus, to make the journey to Cheshire, one must have a pressing need and a pressing reason to hear what a Cheshire cat may or may not have to say.
And so it happened that one day, a certain king of a certain country, set out to see a Cheshire cat. He wanted to know the outcome of his next campaign, as he was a war mongering king. Not only was he greedy for power, he was also proud and arrogant. He refused to listen to his advisors when they told him of the nature of the Cheshire cat, in his mind; there was no possibility that any creature could refuse him anything. He knew the Cheshire would answer him and be glad that he had graced him with the question. Though his pride already chafed at having to go to the valley itself, he knew that once he had arrived there, the cat would apologise to him for making him take such a journey and even offer himself up in service as a royal soothsayer. In the king's mind, this was all certain. Such was his arrogance, and cause of many things to come.
Naturally, things did not go according to the king's internal script. He was first angered by the fact that none of his courtiers or entourage could enter with him, being barred by some magical cause, and he was forced to make the journey alone, and on foot. A pampered and plump king, this ill suited him and his mood. He searched the entire day, after realising the cat would not come to him, and when he finally found a Cheshire cat drinking by a pool, he demanded rudely that the cat attend him.
This cat may have been a shade of pink, or blue with stars on his coat, or she might have been black as night and as tall as a bear, the king had not cared. Full of indignation and pride, he demanded his prediction.
The Cheshire cat answered that yes, he would emerge the conqueror in his next war, but it would bring about his downfall as a consequence. The king puffed himself up with anger, and not only accused the cat of lying but also then insisted the cat return with him to live out his crime as his personal soothsayer. Of course the cat said no. Such a request is naturally impossible and ridiculous, but this king lived in a world inside his mind, outside of the rules that others yielded to.. He demanded and screamed, and eventually cajoled and bribed, but still the cat said no. Finally, the king, incensed at being denied, left the pool and the valley.
Upon his arrival in his kingdom, this king waged a war on Cheshire. With fire and arrows and fury, he set his resources and armies on Cheshire like a hound on a fox den, and laid waste to the magical place. Every cat was hunted down and destroyed. The more beautiful ones the king commanded to be skinned and their pelts hung in his halls. The beauty of that valley was scorched and made ugly. Kittens were caught, tortured and drowned. And the most terrible thing in all this anger and murder, as every man would who had been sent there would tell, was that the Cheshire cats, already knowing their fate, did not fight back. And so it was not truly a war, but a holocaust.
And so, this world of magic lost of its most precious gems. As predicted by the offending cat, the king won his war, but those he ruled, as well as those who neighboured him, were so disgusted by this act of wanton vengeance and murder, that they revolted against him. He was toppled form his throne and his pride with him, and was skinned alive as he had done to the Cheshire cats. But Cheshire and its cats were lost forever, and though the country had never loved them, they mourned.
Hope is a strange and difficult thing and almost never takes the forms we desire or expect. It glimmers, like a firefly on a black night sky. For far away from the ruins of Cheshire, a small shape makes its way across the unfamiliar terrain. It is a Cheshire kitten. His fur is unkempt and stained with ash, so its colour is more that of a normal cat than a Cheshire. He has bright yellow eyes that will turn purple with time. His paws are large, possibly indicating that one day he will be much larger than he is now. His claws do not retract, and he leaves scars in the dirt and scrapes on the stones. He is alone, and the only thing he hears is the last prediction of his parents;
"We are all to die, but you alone must survive."
And so he walks on, to a destination far from this land, to a place where none have heard of Cheshire or is magical soothsaying cats. He knows he must go there, because he is a Cheshire cat, and the magic that made him he takes with him. He knows that the thread of his life is part of a greater tapestry.
But he is also just a kitten, a baby of his kind. And for the first time in the history of Cheshire, a Cheshire cat is away from its homeland, away from the constant source of nourishment for his mind. The grief of the murder of his parents and siblings and people weigh heavily on his young shoulders. The knowledge that he is completely unique and completely alone the world seeps into his mind and heart like cold black ink.
And so the last surviving Cheshire cat walks on, with the roots of madness beginning their insidious growth.