Myth Monday: The Fox’s Killing Stone (Japanese Legend)

Myth Monday: The Fox’s Killing Stone (Japanese Legend)

By Kara Newcastle





I’ve been trying to get to this story since the news broke this past March. Maybe you heard, maybe you didn’t, but after all the bull crap we’ve been through the last three years, I think a lot of people heard this and said, “Soooo, a rock in Japan broke open and possibly freed the spirit of a fox demon into the world. Sure, at this point, why not?”

All right, lemme back up so you can get the full story here …

Throughout Asia, foxes are creatures to be feared. Yes, they are funny and mischievous and have those gorgeous tails, but they are also highly likely to become powerful, shapeshifting demons that survive on the life essence of human beings. Usually, when a fox is born, it’s just an ordinary fox, but should it live to be one hundred years old, it grows a second tail. For every hundred years it lives, it gains another tail, and with each new tail it becomes even more powerful. In Japan, these creatures were known as kitsune.

Japan has many legends of kitsune (see my blog Kuzunoha, The Fox Mother here), and while a handful are somewhat benevolent, the vast majority of them are evil to the core. These evil kitsune will go after any human, but a high ranking male official—like the emperor—is a special target. The kitsune will transform themselves into astonishingly beautiful and talented women and make their way into the royal court, becoming courtesans and ingratiating themselves to the emperor, princes and other powerful men. The men become so enraptured by their seductive new companion that they spend as much of their time with the disguised fox spirit as they can. Gradually, the men’s health begins to fade until they die to what appears to be some kind of wasting disease.

Then the kitsune moves on … if she isn’t discovered first.

This particular kitsune we’re going to talk about seems to be one of the most aggressive demons out there, as her destruction spread over three kingdoms and cost thousands of men their lives.


We don’t know what this nine-tailed kitsune called herself before arriving in Japan, but the Japanese remember her as Tamamo no Mae. Tamamo no Mae made her appearance first in China during the Shang Dynasty. There, she killed Daji, King Zhou’s concubine, and transformed herself to resemble the dead girl. The fox spirit enraptured King Zhou to the point where he started to slack off on his royal duties spent lavishly on her, going so far as to have a lake of wine made for her. The false Daji was sadistic, laughing at executions and torturing innocent people because she was “curious” about how their bodies worked. This became too much for the Chinese people, and King Zhou was disposed in a rebellion. The new king, Wu, ordered Daji executed. Some records say that Daji was indeed killed, but others say that the fox spirit escaped, fleeing to India, where she resumed her murderous ways.

Lady Kayo carrying a severed head

Safe in India, the demon took on the guise of Lady Kayo, and became the concubine to crown prince Banzoku (if these don’t sound very much like Indian names, remember that the source material for this story comes from Japan.) She influenced the prince with so much evil that he was prompted to cut the heads off a thousand men. In time, the fox was discovered, so she ran back to China sometime around 780 B.C. This same year a fierce earthquake struck Guanzhong, and Bo Yangfo, a fortune teller, predicted that this signaled the end of the Zhou dynasty.

Indian crown prince Banzoku terrorized by Lady Kayo in her fox demon form

In 779 B.C., Bao Si, said to be one of the most beautiful women in all of Chinese history, became a concubine to King You. She rapidly became the king’s favorite, and after giving birth to his son, Bofu, King You kicked out his wife, Queen Shen, and their son the crowned prince and installed Bao Si as the new queen. Bao Si often seemed unhappy, so, to entertain her, King You would order the emergency beacons lit. This caused the nobles from the surrounding states to gather their armies and rush to the capital, but, instead of putting down an uprising or repelling an invasion, they only found Bao Si there, laughing at them. King You did this so many times that the nobles began to ignore the beacons.

Bao Si

Meanwhile, Queen Shen’s father was outraged that his daughter had been shunted aside in favor of a bratty concubine, and that his grandson, the legitimate heir, lost his rightful throne to an out of wedlock child. The queen’s father raised an army and attacked the palace. King You ordered the beacons lit, but the nobles no longer believed that there was any danger, and no one came to his aide. King You and Bofu were killed, and Bao Si was given first to the army’s commander, then to Queen Shen’s father. The queen’s father paid Bao Si to leave the capital. Bao Si did, but when confronted by an attack by nomad warriors, she hung herself.

Or did she?

Well, if this legend is to be believed, no. No, she did not.

At some point between the 700s B.C. And the 1100s A.D., the kitsune kept a low profile and traveled from China to Japan. When Emperor Toba was crowned in 1108, the kitsune decided to come out of retirement and was hired by a rival warlord to assassinate Emperor Toba. The kitsune disguised herself as Tamamo no Mae, an exquisitely beautiful, highly intelligent and very refined courtesan. Toba was immediately infatuated and spent all of his free time with her.

Tamamo no Mae

It wasn’t long before the emperor became deathly ill. The court doctors were at a loss, as his symptoms didn’t resemble anything they were familiar with. Out of desperation, they brought in a sorcerer named Abe no Yasuchika to examine the dying emperor. After examining Toba, Yasuchika declared that he was not dying from disease, he was slowly being killed with magic. The sorcerer accused Tamamo no Mae of cursing Emperor Toba.

Initially, the court was shocked; how could it possibly Tamamo no Mae? She was so beautiful. How could something that beautiful be evil?


Abe no Yasuchika reveals Tamamo no Mae to be a kitsune

Abe no Yasuchika said he could prove Tamamo no Mae’s guilt. He suggested that he preform a holy ritual with Tamamo no Mae in attendance. At first, the courtesan resisted, but agreed after the court pressured her to join. Almost as soon as the ritual began, nine fox tails sprang out from under Tamamo no Mae’s kimino. Before anyone could react, the exposed kitsune leapt out a window and fled into the mountains.

Emperor Toba was devastated to learn that the woman he loved was actually a monster, but he knew that she had to be stopped before she harmed any one else. He ordered his generals Kazusa no suke and Miura no suke to take an army and hunt her down.

Miura no suke catches up with Tamamo no Mae

As anyone who has hunted foxes knows (and I hope you never have), it is damned hard to hunt the red rascals as they are so clever, and Tamamo no Mae was no exception. Kazusa and Miura tracked the kitsune all over the country, finally catching up to her on the plains of Nasu. There, Miura managed to shoot an arrow through her neck. As her body fell to the ground, either the kitsune’s spirit sprang out of the corpse and leapt into a boulder, or the body itself transformed into a rock. From then on, anyone who touched the boulder died soon afterwards. It became known as the Sessho-seki, “The Killing Stone.”

Sessho-seki (the boulder with the prayer rope around it)

Interestingly, the Sessho-seki is not the only stone of it’s kind in Japan, it’s just the most famous due to the legend. This boulder and other rocks like it are found in areas where fissures release toxic volcanic gas, so to ancient people who didn’t understand this sort of thing, it’s easy to see why they would assume it was the rock itself doing the killing. This particular Sessho-seki remained on Mount Nasu I disturbed for over a thousand years before unexpectedly (or, like I said before, given everything that was going on at the time, it’s no surprise that it happened) split apart. This wasn’t exactly great news for some of the more superstitious folk in the area, but some more level-headed people suggested it was bound to happen, as the boulder had cracks that would fill with water and then freeze.

Sessho-seki, shattered (by Miyuki_Meinaka, May 6 2002, wikimedia commons)

Then there was that earthquake near Fukushima about a week later, but don’t worry about that.

However, we might actually escape any nine-tailed fox demon wrath. There is a story that many years after the kitsune had been defeated, a Buddhist monk named Genno was traveling through the area when he paused to rest near the stone. The kitsune’s spirit hurled abuse at the holy man, but, rather than be frightened or insulted, Genno kindly asked the spirit to talk with him. Eventually, he got the kitsune to tell him her life story and admit that she was ashamed of what she had done. Sensing that the kitsune truly was repentant, Genno preformed an exorcism and the kitsune’s spirit moved on, promising to never haunt the stone again.

Maybe it’s true, and we’ll scrape by this one … but if any phenomenally beautiful women suddenly start hanging on to any world leaders and weird crap starts happening, I’m checking for fox tails.

Red fox, by US Fish & Wildlife, wikimedia commons






Myth Monday: The Boy Who Could Not Shiver (German Fairy Tale)

The Boy Who Could Not Shiver (German Fairy Tale)

By Kara Newcastle

Note: Just so everybody knows, when I first wrote this it was A LOT longer, so I edited out a few parts to make it a somewhat quicker read. I’ll post the full version later on either here or Wattpad.

Naab_-_Kallmünz_in_2014 by David Schiersner wikimedia commons

Once upon a time, there was a village man who had two teenaged sons. The elder boy, Jack, was smart and could do anything you asked him to do. His younger brother Hans … well, he had some trouble learning. You could tell him to do something, he’d just get a faraway look in his eyes. People in town used to mutter behind his back, “That boy is so stupid. He must be a real burden for his father.”

However, when it came to courage, Hans had it in spades, while his older brother was a horrible scaredy-cat. One night they had guests over, and one of the men began to tell a spooky story. Just as the man neared the middle of the story, Jack squeaked out, “Please stop! This is too scary—it’s making me shiver all over.”

Hans cocked his head at his brother. “What do you mean, ‘shiver all over?’”

Jack scowled at him. “I mean, the story’s so scary that it’s making me shake.”

“A scary story can make you shake?” Bemused, Hans shook his head. “I’ve never had that happen to me.”

“That’s because you’re too dumb to be afraid,” Jack retorted, causing their father to roll his eyes and all the other guests nod in agreement.

Hans frowned. “That’s not fair. I want to know what’s like to shiver.”

Dejected, Hans began to walk through the town by himself. He spent the day thinking about his bad luck, his stupidity, how everyone hated him, and all he wanted was to know how to be afraid. Finally, in frustration, Hans yelled out, “What is it like to shiver?”

“What’s that?”

Surprised by the voice, Hans turned around and found a man leading a team of horses and a wagon coming up behind him. The waggoner looked at him questioningly. “Did you say that you want to know what it’s like to shiver?”

Hans cringed. “Yes, I did. But I don’t know how to do it.”

The waggoner shrugged. “Well, I don’t know how to teach you that, but you look like you need a hand. Come with me—there’s an inn I visit a ways up the street. I’ll buy you something to eat.”

Grateful, Hans walked with the waggoner up to the inn. As they walked through the door, Hans was explaining to the waggoner that he didn’t know how to be afraid, that he had no idea what it was like to shiver. The inn’s owner overheard the pair talking and waved Hans over.

“Couldn’t help but hear you guys,” the big man said as Hans approached. “You’re looking to be scared?”

Hans nodded. “Yes sir, I am.”

“Have you heard about the haunted castle?”

Hearing him speak, the innkeeper’s wife rushed out of the kitchen. “Don’t tell him that!” she hissed. “Too many people died of fright there already.”

That perked Hans’s interest. “‘Died of fright’ you say?”

The innkeeper nodded smartly. “Yup. It’s full of ghosts and demons. But get this—the king himself has said that if anyone can survive three nights alone in that castle and bring back the treasure inside, then he can marry the princess.”

“Hmm.” Considering all the information before him, Hans shrugged. “Well, marrying a princess is great and all, I guess, but what I really want to do is learn to shiver. I’ll give it a shot.”

The very next morning, Hans went to the king and proposed that he spend three nights in the haunted castle. The king was impressed—mistaking Hans’s dimwittedness for courage—and allowed him to go. “You must not bring another living thing with you,” the king told Hans. “But I will grant you any tools that you may need. What would you like?”

“Just a fire, a cutting board, a turning lathe, and a knife,” Hans answered.

Castillos_Hohenfreyberg_y_Eisenberg,_Eisenberg,_Alemania,_2015-02-15, by Diego Delso wikimedia commons

These items were granted, and Hans went to the castle by himself. The castle was a crumbling wreck, and as it loomed over Hans its windows looked like soulless black eyes boring down on him. But, Hans being Hans, didn’t notice any of this, and he let himself into the castle without hesitation. After exploring the ruins a bit, he found a room that didn’t have any holes in the walls or roof and decided that this would be where he rested. He built up a fire with the torch the king had given him, then set the cutting board, knife, and lathe to the side, and made himself comfortable.

At midnight, just as Hans was beginning to sulk that nothing frightening had happened yet, he rose to his feet to stir the fire. As he plunged the rusted old poker into the embers, he heard a sound from a dark corner of the room.

“Meow! Meow!” the voice whimpered. “How cold it is!”

A strange voice coming out of an empty corner would have been enough to frighten anyone, but Hans only scowled in its direction and said, “Well, don’t be stupid—come closer to the fire so you can warm up.”

Black_cat_with_glowing_eyes by Laveol wikimedia commons

No sooner did Hans say these words when two huge black cats, each the size of a mastiff dog, leaped out of the tiny corner and settled beside the fire. As they warmed themselves, the cats turned their blazing red eyes to Hans and said, “Would you like to play a game of cards with us?”

“I’d like to very much,” said Hans, “but would you please do me a favor and let me see your feet?”

Obligingly, both of the cats held out their paws for Hans to examine, stretching out their wicked claws, each the size of scythes. Studying the claws, Hans said, “Ugh! Now that I’ve seen those things, I’d rather not play a game, thank you.”

And with that, Hans killed both of the demon cats and tossed their bodies out of the window and into the moat.

No sooner did the dead demon cats hit the moat water when suddenly a hoard of black cats and black dogs of every size lunged out of the same dark corner and flooded the room. They rushed around Hans and charged through his fire, scattering the embers as though they wanted to put out the light.

For a moment, Hans just watched all of this in mild confusion, but when he saw the mess they made of his fire, he grabbed his cutting board and knife and shouted, “Get out of here, you horrible things!” A few of the demons managed to escape, but Hans killed most of them with the board and knife and deposited their bodies in the moat.

By now it was quite early in the morning and Hans was exhausted. Taking a moment to build up the fire again, Hans then trudged over to the moldy old canopy bed in the room and collapsed into it. No sooner did he lie down than the bed began to quake. Before Hans knew what was happening, the bed reared up like a horse, then went galloping through the castle on its four wooden legs. Hans, unalarmed, just hung on to the bed until it crashed headlong into the castle’s front gates, splintering to pieces and flipping him end over end onto the ground.

Kicking off the mildewed blankets and pillows, Hans dusted himself off, muttered, “How can anybody sleep in a bed that does that?”, went back up to his room and fell asleep by the fire.

At daybreak, the king came to the castle to check on Hans. Finding him asleep by the fire, the king was at first heartbroken, thinking that the boy had died of fright. As the king mourned, Hans woke up, assured the king that he was well, and told him, “Actually, the night was kind of nice.” Later, when Hans went back to the inn for breakfast, the astonished innkeeper told him he was certain Hans would have died. When asked if he had learned to shiver yet, Hans snorted and replied, “Not at all. I’m starting to think I’ll never learn.”

As per the bargain, Hans went back to the castle for the second night. As he sat there by the fire, he heard a man scream. Glancing up, Hans blinked in surprise as the upper half of a man’s severed body flopped down through the chimney.

Hans arched an eyebrow. “A whole lot of noise for only half a man. Where’s the other half?”

Promptly, there was another unearthly shriek and the man’s lower half crashed down the chimney.

“That’s better,” Hans said, rising to his feet. “Put yourself together while I build up the fire again.”

No sooner did Hans build up the fire than was there another chorus of wails, and nine more severed men thudded down through the chimney. After putting themselves back together, they all stood. Nine of them carried human thighbones and set each one up on their ends. The first corpse who had appeared produced two human skulls from his rotting pockets. Standing, the first wraith rolled the skulls like balls and knocked down the thighbones.

Hans lit up at the sight. “Ooh, that looks like fun. Can I play?”

The first corpse that had fallen down the chimney looked at him and said, “Yes … but only if you have any money.”

“Lots,” Hans answered. “But those balls are uneven. Let me smooth them out.”

Taking the skulls, Hans ground them down on his lathe until they were perfectly smooth. Hopping to his feet, Hans and the revenants bowled all night long and had a great time until daybreak, when the creatures vanished and Hans went to sleep. The king visited again to check on him, and Hans told him about the great bowling party he had with the ten dead men.

We made bets, and I lost some and won some. But I still haven’t learned to shiver!” the boy moaned.

That third night, Hans again sat himself down by the fire. Just as he began to dread that he would never know what it would be like the shiver and be afraid, six men marched somberly into the room, bearing a coffin on their shoulders. Recognizing the coffin, Hans sprang to his feet and said, “Wait a minute! I know who that is—that’s my dead cousin! Here, put him down on the floor here.”

Wordlessly, the six men did as they were asked. Hans pried the coffin lid off and, looking down, did indeed see the face of his dead cousin. Touching the dead man’s face, Hans said, “You’re as cold as ice!” Scooping the corpse up, Hans carried it to the fire and proceeded to rub its back and chest. The body did not warm, so Hans then carried it to a bed and tucked the body in snugly, and laid down next to it.

In time, the body began to warm, then move. As the corpse opened its eyes, Hans grinned and said, “Aha! See? That’s all you need to come back to life—just some warmth.”

“Yes,” the dead cousin said, slowly sitting up. “And now that I am alive … I will strangle you!”

Horrified, Hans jerked back. “What?! That’s the thanks I get for bringing you back to life? In that case, you’re better off dead!” Grabbing his dead cousin by the collar, Hans yanked the body out the bed, flipped him back into the coffin, and slammed the lid shut. He stood there glaring as the six men quickly picked up the coffin and hurried out of the room.

Disgusted, Hans threw his hands up. “I give up. Nothing’s going to make me shiver!”

The words were barely out of Hans’s mouth when a figure stomped into the room. It was a man, an enormous man, four times as tall as Hans with a white beard that reached the floor. The giant towered over the youth and roared, “You wretched boy! You want to shiver and shake? You’re going to feel it now, for you die tonight!”

The words were barely out of Hans’s mouth when a figure stomped into the room. It was a man, an enormous man, four times as tall as Hans with a white beard that reached the floor. The giant towered over the youth and roared, “You wretched boy! You want to shiver and shake? You’re going to feel it now, for you die tonight!”

The words were barely out of Hans’s mouth when a figure stomped into the room. It was a man, an enormous man, four times as tall as Hans with a white beard that reached the floor. The giant towered over the youth and roared, “You wretched boy! You want to shiver and shake? You’re going to feel it now, for you die tonight!”

Hans scowled up at the giant. “Hey—you can’t kill me without my consent.”

“Watch me!”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, old man. You might be strong, but I’m far stronger than you.”

Nearly turning inside out with rage, the giant howled, “Fine! Prove it to me then—if you can beat me, I’ll let you go. Follow me.”

Not the least bit worried, Hans followed the giant through the twists and turns of the old castle until they reached the smithy. By the forge stood a huge anvil. Picking up an axe, the giant walked up to the anvil and swung the axe down, cleaving the anvil in half as though it had been no more than a lump of butter.

“Pfft,” Hans huffed. “I can do better than that.”

Stunned by Hans’s boast, the giant trailed closely behind Hans, watching every move he made. Hans picked up the giant’s axe and walked over to another anvil. Motioning for the giant to stand on the other side of the anvil, Hans pointed to the surface. “See that?”

Confused, the giant leaned forward. As he did, his immense beard draped over the anvil. “See what?”

With barely a grunt of effort, Hans swung the axe down onto the anvil, pinning the giant’s beard down between the top of the anvil and the axe’s blade. As the startled giant squirmed and yanked on his beard, Hans picked up an iron bar and snarled, “Now I’ve got you, you old crank. Prepare to die!”

Hans beat the giant all over the head and body until the creature begged for mercy, promising that he would let Hans live and even give him all his treasure if Hans would just set him free. Hans decided that the giant was telling the truth, but even after he pulled the axe free, he kept it close to him as the limping giant led him into the depths of the castle. Opening a door, the giant pointed to three massive chests of gold.

“The first one is to be given to the poor,” the giant said, “the second one is for the king, and the third one is for you.”

Impressed, Hans began to thank the giant, but in the distance a cock crowed and the giant vanished. Shrugging to himself, Hans groped his way out of the depths and returned to his room, sleeping there until the king arrived.

Now that the treasure had been retrieved and distributed and the haunted castle conquered, the king was more than happy to uphold his end of the bargain. Making Hans a prince, the king married him to the princess and threw a magnificent wedding feast. As happy as he was to marry the princess, Hans was sullen during most of the feast, for he had not learned to shiver.

This bothered the princess greatly, and she discussed it with one of her ladies in waiting. The maiden, concluding that Prince Hans might never know fear but could still learn to shiver, came up with a clever plan. Taking a pail, she went out into the palace garden and scooped cold water from the little brook there, being careful to catch as many gudgeon fish as she could. She gave the pail to the princess, who hid it in their room.

That night, as Prince Hans fell asleep, the princess snuck out of bed and retrieved the pail of water and fish. Tip-toeing over to the snoring Hans, the princess upended the bucket all over him.

“Blaaaaaarrrggghhhhh!” Horrified, Hans snapped awake and jumped out of bed, dancing around their room as he frantically shook out his soaked nightgown, freeing the squirming fish from his collar and sleeves. “What’s going on? Why am I shaking like this?!”

The princess laughed. “Darling—you’re shivering!”

Astonished, Hans looked down at himself, at the flopping fish around his feet. “Oh … this is what shivering is like? Thank you! Thank you darling, I finally know how to shiver … although I didn’t realize it would make such a mess.”

Myth Monday: The Three White Cats and the Spinning Wheel (French Fairy Tale)

Myth Monday: The Three White Cats and the Spinning Wheel (French Fairy Tale)

By Kara Newcastle

Once upon a time in Brittany, there was a king and queen who loved each other more than words could possibly describe, but they were saddened for they did not have any children. Wanting nothing more than a baby of their own, the royal couple became desperate and approached a powerful and wise sorceress who lived in the mountains. The sorceress listened intently to their plight and nodded slowly, gazing off into the distance.

“I do see a child in your future,” she told the elated monarchs. “It will be a beautiful baby girl, and she will be born to you before the year’s end.”

As the king and queen joyously embraced, the conjurer’s face grew dark. She reached out and caught the queen’s sleeve in her fingers, stopping her from leaving the fortress. “Take heed,” the sorceress warned. “If your daughter should ever marry a prince, she will fall down dead.”

At those words, the queen was overcome with horror and the king began to rage at the sorceress, accusing the enchantress of cursing his unborn daughter. The sorceress snapped her hand up, stopping the king in his murderous tracks.

“You do insult me,” the witch hissed, “but be assured that I have not placed a curse upon your daughter—I have no reason to do so. In fact, because I see how distraught the queen is, allow me to offer you a way to guard the princess’s health; find three white kittens—purest white, without a hair of any other color upon their bodies—and raise them with your daughter. Give the kittens three balls of linen thread, and three balls of gold. Should the kittens play with the linen thread, the princess will face no harm.

“But … should the kittens ever play with the three golden balls …” The sorceress’s face softened. “Be prepared for the worst.”

The king was not comforted by the sorceress’s advice, but the queen took the recommendation to heart. As soon as their daughter, Princess Mireille was born, the queen ordered her courtiers to comb the countryside and find three perfectly white kittens. The vassals searched diligently, and soon three kittens—perfectly white, without a single hair of different color upon them—were brought back to the castle. When she became old enough to speak, Princess Mireille named her kittens Lyonette, Leonce, and Leonelle, and all four loved each other very dearly. Mireille adored her cats, and the trio played happily at her feet, batting their linen balls back and forth to her and each other. They never once paid any notice to the three golden balls.

Princess Mireille grew into a beautiful, clever, intelligent young woman, and Lyonette, Leonce, and Leonelle spent every waking moment in her company. They were just as bright and curious as Mireille was, and when the princess learned how to spin thread, the cats sat and watched, enraptured by the furiously spinning wheel and the long strands of thread she pulled free. They would often try to help in their own way, grabbing the linen thread in their teeth and pulling, batting at the blurring spokes of the spinning wheel, gingerly placing their small paws upon the pedal.

All too soon, Mireille turned sixteen, and all the princes of the neighboring lands came to court her, as her parents had refused to betroth her at birth, for fear of the curse coming to pass. Fortunately for all, Mireille was amused by the attention, but was not interested in any of the princes that came to visit; they were too dull and haughty, and, worst of all, they did not like her cats. Mireille dismissed them all.

One morning, a prince named Taillefer came to call upon Princess Mireille. He was a handsome as many of the other princes and gave Mireille wonderful presents, but he was different from the others; he was kind and intelligent, he was polite and listened to Mireille when she spoke.

Best of all, Taillefer loved to play with Lyonette, Leonce, and Leonelle.

Mireille plunged headlong into love, and waited anxiously for the days when Taillefer would visit, and dread when he would leave. They spent so much time together—with the three white cats always close by, of course—that Mireille was sure that he loved her as well, but she worried that he would not say so out loud. One night as Taillefer prepared to depart, Mireille, hardly aware of what she was doing, grabbed both of Taillefer’s hands and pulled him close to her.

“I don’t want you to leave,” Mireille whispered. “Not now, not ever. I love you Taillefer! Please say the same. Please say you would be my husband?”

Taillefer’s eyes widened at Mireille’s words, and just as the princess feared that she had made a fool of herself, Taillefer smiled and swooped down, wrapping her in his arms. “I love you, Mireille. I will be your husband.”

At that moment, Lyonette, Leonce, and Leonelle, who had been lounging quietly nearby, all turned their attention to the three golden balls, left to collect dust in the corner.

Horror tore through the castle when Mireille’s beloved cats were seen chasing the golden balls up and down the corridors. Mireille’s parents nearly swooned with terror, but, strangely, miraculously, Mireille did not fall down dead as predicted.

Before the royal family had a chance to wonder if the curse had been wrong, a messenger arrived from Taillefer’s castle with horrifying news: Prince Taillefer had fallen ill with a strange disease the doctors couldn’t identify. They fear that he would not live much longer.

Fearful for her true love, Mireille wrapped herself in a cloak, slipped out of her castle and rode by herself into the mountains, up to the palace of the sorceress her parents had consulted before her birth. The princess barely had a chance to dismount her mare before the fortress’s gates swung open, and the sorceress strode out.

“Princess Mireille,” the sorceress said, waving Mireille’s trembling bow away. “I have been waiting for you. I learned about your betrothed, Prince Taillefer. I am deeply saddened for you.”

“I don’t understand,” Mireille blurted out. “How is it that Taillefer has taken so ill? IS there anything that can be done? How can I help him? The curse—my cats were playing with the golden balls—you said—”

The sorceress sighed. “One question at a time, Your Grace. I’m sorry to tell you that one of the princes you turned away became envious of Taillefer, and used a witch to curse him into sickness.”

“How do I break the spell?”

“There is a way …” The sorceress gazed steadily at Princess Mireille. “It will not benefit you.”

Mireille spread her hands. “Anything! I’ll do anything to save him!”

“I know. Listen—to break the evil spell, you must spin ten thousand skeins of wool thread before Christmas Eve.”

The color drained from Mireille’s face. “Ten thousand …? But … Christmas is twenty-seven days away. How can I …?”

The sorceress shook her head. “It must be done. If ten thousand skeins are not spun on your spinning wheel by that time, Taillefer will die Christmas Eve at midnight. If you do not complete this task, you will die of heartbreak.”

The enormity of the task weighed down on Mireille’s quaking shoulders, but she shook her head hard. “No. No, I can do it … I won’t sleep, I won’t eat. I’ll keep spinning—”

“And you’ll work yourself to death.” The sorceress looked at Princess Mireille sadly. “Succeed or fail, you will die, Princess. That is the curse I saw upon you. I am truly, truly sorry. There is nothing that can be done.”

Tears flooding her eyes, Mireille spun away from the sorceress, leapt back atop her mare and raced for home. Barging inside, Mireille didn’t even bother to remover her cloak. She sat down at her spinning wheel and set to work, spinning until daybreak, with her three worried white cats watching her every moment.

Morning brought new tears to Mireille; though she had worked all night long, she had barely produced two skeins of thread. She sat beside her spinning wheel with her face in her hands and sobbed. She felt Leonce and Leonelle pawing at her knees and Lyonette rubbing against her ankles, all three meowing anxiously and gazing at her with large, concerned eyes.

For a moment, their love drew Mireille out of her weeping. She looked at each of them and whispered, “If only you understood what was happening. I wish you could help.”

Leonce perked up. “We do understand,” he said

“And we can help,” Lyonette added.

“We know how to spin,” said Leonelle, nodding towards the spinning wheel. “We’ve watched you do it.”

Lyonette licked her lips eagerly. “If you can get us two more spinning wheels and wool, we can help make thread.”

“But we’ll have to move fast,” Leonce declared. “Even with all of us working, there isn’t a lot of time left.”

Mireille was astonished, to say the least, but her three white cats reminded her of what was at stake—the life of the prince, and hers as well—and the princess immediately leapt into action. She retrieved two more spinning wheels and ordered as much wool as each servant could carry to be brought up to the spinning room in the tower. Once the pile wool reached the ceiling, Lyonette, Leonce, and Leonelle ushered Princess Mireille out, urging her to rest while they went to work.

All day and well into the night the cats worked the spinning wheels, producing yard after yard of thread so fine that one was sure only a princess could have made something so wonderful. At night when the humming of the spinning wheels fell quiet, Mireille would creep into the tower to check on her devoted pets. She would find the three of them curled together, fast asleep, with an ever-growing mound of skeins stacked in a corner.

With every skein of the thread the cats completed, Prince Taillefer’s health began to improve. By Christmas Day, all ten thousand skeins of thread were finished, and the prince was well enough to get out of bed. Upon hearing of the magnificent feat, the sorceress herself visited Mireille and her three white cats and praised them all, encouraging the princess to give each cat a reward. Mireille was more than happy to do so, and at her wedding she gave Lyonette, Leonce, and Leonelle each a seat of prominence at the banquet table, perched upon velvet cushions and draped in her finest jewelry, which each of them had always admired.

The cats were overjoyed at accomplishing their feat, and Mireille loved them more than ever. As the princess and her new husband cradled their cats at the wedding feast, they began to notice a strange, throbbing hum—much like the whir of a spinning wheel—coming from Lyonette, Leonce, and Leonelle. At first Mireille was alarmed, but her three white cats told her it was nothing to worry; they had absorbed the sound of the spinning wheels, and now that they were happy, they hummed the sound in remembrance.

And that’s why cats purr.