Myth Monday: The Cats’ Elopement (Japanese Fairy Tale)
By Kara Newcastle
A long time ago in Japan, there lived two cats. One cat was Gon, a handsome male who lived in a house with an acclaimed music teacher. Gon was a lovable friend and excellent mouser, so the music teacher was very happy to have him.
Across town lived Koma, a beautiful female cat. She belonged to a lady who loved every little thing about the sweet cat. The lady often hugged Koma against her and said, “Oh, Koma, what would I ever do without you?”
At night, the cats of the city would wander the streets and rooftops to meet and play, and it was one these nights that Gon and Koma met, under the spreading limbs of a blossoming cherry tree. Gon was instantly captivated by the pretty green-eyed Koma, and Koma was immediately smitten by the strutting Gon. Every night they met, exploring the city, hunting mice together, whispering and cuddling. At last, Gon declared his love for Koma, and asked her to marry him. Koma was beside herself with delight and said yes.
The next morning, Gon went to his master and Koma went to her mistress, and each cat asked permission to depart from their home in order to marry and live together.
Gon’s master, the music teacher, was aghast. “What? Have you leave? Never! I need you here with me, hunting the rodents!”
Koma’s mistress, the lady, was horrified. “What? Have you leave? Never! I need you here with me, being my companion!”
Worried, the cats pleaded with their owners. Gon urged the music teacher to go to Koma’s owner and offer to buy her. The music teacher offered a price, but the lady refused. Koma begged the lady to buy Gon, but the music teacher dismissed any offers. Each human then grabbed their cat and spun away from the other, each telling their felines that they must never meet again, and that they had to stay home.
Furious, Gon charged out of his house the second the music teacher set him down. Angry that the lady would deny her the right to see her true love, Koma wriggled out of the woman’s grasp and ran away. The two cats met each other under the cherry tree and agreed; if their owners would not let them marry, then they were going to have to run away and elope.
And that’s exactly what Koma and Gon did. Wrapping their tails together, they struck out through the city, hunting mice and accepting offerings of food from kindly humans as they passed, searching for the perfect place the marry and start a family.
Not long after leaving their homes, Gon and Koma came upon a high wall. Scrambling up it was no effort for them, but they were overjoyed when they saw what was on the other side; an exquisite garden, filled with colorful, wonderfully scented flowers, winding trees and curving ponds.
“This is the perfect place!” Gon declared as he sprang down into the garden, Koma right on his tail. “It’s so quiet, and the wall will keep strangers out—let’s live here!”
“Gon, it’s amazing,” Koma breathed as she gazed around the garden. “I love it!”
Pleased, Gon rubbed his head against Koma’s, and together they trotted across the trim grass, searching for the best place to make their home.
However, even paradise has its evils, and as Koma and Gon came down over an arching bridge, a growl cut the air around them. Startled, Koma and Gon froze, their heads snapping around in the direction of the fearsome sound. Their eyes widened when they saw the source; a big, lean, black guard dog, lounging beside the pond. It narrowed its beady eyes at them and slowly rose up onto its feet. It growled again, louder, its lips curling back over its hooked white teeth.
Horrified, Gon puffed all his fur out and raised his back. “Koma! Quick, climb a tree!”
Not needing to be told twice, Koma spun around, raced across the grass and scrambled up the trunk of a juniper tree just as the dog roared and lunged forward. Seeing that his beloved was only halfway to safety—well within the reach of the dog’s fangs—Gon screamed and threw himself in front of the charging dog, raking all of his claws across the beast’s nose and muzzle. Howling in pain, the dog barreled forward, opening its jaws wide and clamping them down on Gon’s body.
“Gon!” Koma shrieked as the dog shook the yowling cat back and forth. With a snap of its head, the dog whipped Gon to the ground. Gon bounced with the impact, rolling across the grass. He laid there, dazed, in pain, distantly aware of the dog stalking towards him—
Too weak to be surprised, Gon struggled to lift his head, watching as a human man—a groundskeeper—rushed down over the bridge he and Koma had traveled, raising a rake high over his head. Swearing through clenched teeth, the groundskeeper brought the handle of the rake down hard over the black dog’s head, making it yelp in pain and surprise.
“Get away from that poor cat!” the man shouted, swinging the handle at the dog’s face, making it whimper and back away with its tail between its legs. The man menaced the dog a bit more, driving it further away from Gon, making sure it wouldn’t dare come near him. Once he was satisfied that the dog would keep its distance, the groundskeeper spun around and fell to his knees beside Gon.
“Oh my,” he gasped, gingerly sliding his hands under Gon’s battered body. “You’re hurt. Don’t worry, I’ll bring you to Nozomi-hime—she knows how to heal animals.”
Gon barely heard any of this as he slipped into unconsciousness, the world closing in around him. He had no time to warn the groundskeeper that poor Koma was hiding in the juniper tree. Koma saw the groundskeeper hurry away with Gon in his arms, but when she tried to cry out, the dog snarled. Too frightened to speak, Koma huddled in the tree as the black dog circled beneath, trapping her there for hours until a guard came to collect it at night.
Koma had no idea where Gon was.
It was hours before Gon woke up, and he blinked in surprise to see the smiling face of a young woman dressed in beautiful robes kneeling beside him. She was Princess Nozomi, the daughter of the emperor. She loved animals, and it had so troubled her to see them hurt that she became very skilled in healing them. After the groundskeeper had brought Gon to her, Nozomi-hime tenderly cleaned Gon’s wounds and bandaged his bruised ribs, laying him gently down on a silken pillow, then waiting patiently for him to wake.
Seeing Gon’s puzzled face, Nozomi-hime smiled brighter. “It’s all right, little one, you’re safe here in the palace with me. Can you tell me your name?”
Gon opened his mouth and was alarmed when no sound came out. He swallowed hard and tried again. “Gon …”
“Gon? You look like a Gon.” Seeing him struggle to speak, Nozomi reached down and delicately stroked his head. “No, no, don’t waste your energy. It’ll be some time before you’re well enough to speak and move. You just lay right there, and I’ll bring you whatever you need.”
‘I need Koma!’ Gon wanted to wail, but he had no strength to speak. Distraught, he put his head down and told himself to concentrate on recovering. The sooner he recovered, the sooner he could find Koma.
He prayed she was all right.
Gon recovered slowly but steadily, still struggling to speak. Nozomi-hime took care of his every need, and Gon was thankful for everything she did. She kept him in her room, fed him and cleaned him and talked to him, helped him to walk again. Gon grew to like her very much.
As Gon recovered in the princess’s quarters, he soon learned that though Nozomi loved animals, there was one animal she absolutely despised; it was a large, green snake that lived in the gardens. The snake was obsessed with Princess Nozomi, visiting her every single day, proclaiming his love for her. Every day he asked her to marry him, and Nozomi repeatedly turned him away. When the snake demanded that she marry him—or else—Nozomi ordered him removed from her gardens. The snake was angry. Gon was worried that he would try to do something bad.
One night as Nozomi-hime slept in her bed and Gon dozed by her feet, the lattice shutters on her window rattled softly. One shutter nudged open, and the blunt nose of the jealous snake eased over the sill. He slithered down to the floor, his evil forked tongue darting out, his yellow eyes fixing on the princess’s sleeping form. He bared his fangs briefly in rage; she had denied him for the last time.
The sound of a venomous snake gliding along the floor is nearly imperceptible to human ears, but Gon’s ears were much more attuned. He snapped awake in a flash, sitting up just in time to see the snake’s tail vanish beneath the bed. Shocked, Gon spun around to warn Princess Nozomi, but he jolted in horror to see the wicked creature had already wound itself up along the bedpost beside Nozomi’s head. The snake’s head hovered over Nozomi’s throat. It bared its fangs. It hissed.
The alien sound startled Nozomi awake, and the second her eyes focused on the snake rearing above her, she screamed in terror.
Every inch of fur standing on head, Gon summoned an infuriated shriek and lunged, leaping over Nozomi-hime and slamming his jaws down around the snake’s throat. Shocked, the snake tried to roar and thrashed wildly, but Gon clung on, digging his fangs in deeper, raking the snake’s long body with his claws. As Nozomi darted out of the way, Gon wrestled the snake down off the bed, dragging it to the floor. Pulling the outraged serpent far away from the princess, Gon shook his head hard, beating the snake against the floor. At last, the evil thing hung limp in Gon’s jaws, and the brave cat spat the sinuous body out in disgust.
Astounded by what had happened, Princess Nozomi rushed to Gon and gathered him up in her arms, kissing his head. “Oh Gon! You were so brave. Thank you for saving me! How can I repay you? Name what you want, anything, it’s yours.”
Gon purred but said nothing, only resting his head sadly on the princess’s shoulder. All he wanted was Koma … but it felt like it had been so long.
What if she left?
Days passed, and though Gon at least regained his full strength and voice, he never told Nozomi-hime what he wanted, though she pleaded with him to share. One morning he padded over to a sunny spot on the princess’s veranda and laid down, sighing …
No sooner did Gon put his head down on his paws did he notice two shapes in the garden. Two cats. One was a big, rough looking male that Gon had seen around the palace before, bossing and bullying the other cats there. The other was much smaller, and the big male had driven it deeper under a bush. The small cat hissed wildly and swatted at the big brute, but he would not go away.
Gon’s hackles stood up; he could never stand to see big cats like that picking on smaller ones. Growling mightily, he sprang to his feet and charged down the path. “Hey! Leave that little cat alone!”
Baring his teeth, the bigger cat rounded on Gon. “And who’s going to make m—?” Realizing who was standing before him, the bigger cat’s eyes shot open. “O-oh, it’s you Gon, the Snake Killer. I didn’t—I—”
Gon puffed out his tail and laid back his ears. “I don’t care what your excuses are. Get lost, and don’t pick on any more cats!”
Cringing at Gon’s tone, the bigger cat muttered under his breath, but turned and slunk away without ever raising a claw—he knew better than to challenge the princess’s feline champion. Gon smirked at the bully’s retreating tail, then ducked down and peered under the bush. All he could see was the little cat’s paws and swishing tail. “It’s all right, you can come out now.”
Sighing gratefully, the little cat pushed through the bush’s woody twigs. “Oh, thank you so much. He just wouldn’t leave me alone …”
She stepped out of the leaves, and Gon felt his heart stop in his chest. He stared opened mouth at the beautiful little cat as she blinked in the bright sunlight up at him.
“Koma!” Gon cried.
Startled, Koma flinched. “How did you know my na—? Wait …” Blinking hard, Koma squinted, then slowly inched her tiny pink nose closer to Gon’s. She took a deep sniff.
Her eyes flying wide open, Koma jolted, all four of her paws actually leaving the ground. “Gon?! Is that you?”
“It is! It’s me!”
“Gon!” Koma squealed, throwing herself at her beloved. They fell into a laughing, purring pile, rubbing their faces and heads against each other, licking each other ecstatically.
“I didn’t recognize you,” Koma gasped as Gon wrapped his arms around her and buried is face in her soft fur. “You look so different. What happened? Where have you been?”
“Koma, I’m so sorry I couldn’t find you. That stupid dog hurt me, and Nozomi-hime kept me inside the palace until I was better.” Standing up, Gon took Koma’s paw. “I saved the princess’s life, and she promised me anything in return. Let’s go to her right now and asked to be married.”
Paw in paw, the two lovers ascended the steps and entered the palace, walking straight up to Princess Nozomi. Together they told their story, and Nozomi was so moved she was more than happy to permit them to marry, and promised them that they would never ever be separated again, inviting them to live with her.
In time, the princess took a prince as her husband, and he loved Koma and Gon just as much as she did. Koma and Gon had many kittens, and Princess Nozomi and her husband had many children, and they all lived happily ever after.