A fictional story created and written by Damian Galvin, to capture the magic and beauty of Romania and its people. Reading time: 31 minutes. If you like the story, please share it.
A long, long time ago, in a Carpathian valley far away, the wicked giant Gornol lived in a great castle between Rasnov and Fundata peaks of Transylvania, surrounded by forever green trees. The castle had eight doors, each protected by 4 huge, hairy wolves, with tongues of fire and claws of steel, who tore to pieces anyone or anything that went to the castle without the giant’s permission. Gornol had made war on the peaceful King Mihai of the Dacians, and, having fatally wounded the King, he slaughtered his loyal people and razed his palace in Sinaia to the ground, and he carried off his youngest daughter, Princess Alicia, to the castle in the valley of Bran.
Before King Mihai drew his last breath, Pasha, his little black cat came to his aid, trying relentlessly to stop the flow of royal blood by lying on his wound. Finally, as the King could feel his end was near, he drew Pasha to his face and kissed Pasha goodbye. It was no ordinary kiss. At that moment, Pasha, an otherwise ordinary little black cat, was surrounded by a silver sparkling aura. Pasha had inherited magical powers so great, that all the cats in the land of Transylvania would worship their new master, Pasha, King of Cats. As a parting whisper, Pasha promised the lifeless King that justice would be delivered.
Gornol, back at his castle, provided Princess Alicia with luxurious living quarters, and assigned twenty dwarfs, dressed in orange silk, to serve her every need, and flautists to play soft music for her, and he gave her rubies without number, brighter than the sun; but he would not allow her to go outside the castle and told her if she went one step beyond its doors, the Wolves, with tongues of fire and claws of steel, would tear her to pieces. A month after her arrival, war broke out between the giant and the King of the lowlands, and before he set out for battle, the giant sent for the Princess and told her that on his return he would marry her. When the Princess heard this she began to cry, for she would rather die than marry the giant who had slain her father.
“Crying will only disturb your pretty eyes, my little Princess,” said Gornol, “and you will have to marry me anyway.” He then sent her to go back to her room, and he ordered the dwarfs to give her everything she asked for while he was away at war, and told the Flutists to play the prettiest music for her. When the Princess gained her room she cried as if her heart would break. The long day passed slowly, and the night came but brought no sleep to Alicia, and in the dull light of the morning, she rose and opened the window, and looked about in everywhere to see if there were any ways of escape. But the window was high above the ground, and below were the hungry and ever-watchful Wolves.
With a heavy heart, she was about to close the window when she thought she saw branches of the nearest tree, moving. She looked again, and she saw a little black cat creeping along one of the branches. “Meow!” cried the cat. “Poor little cat,” said the Princess. “Come to me, little thing.” “Stand back from the window and I will,” said the cat. The Princess stepped back, and the little black cat jumped into the room. The Princess took the little cat on her lap and stroked him, and the cat raised up its back and began to purr. “Where do you come from, and what is your name?” asked the Princess. “No matter where I come from nor what my name is, I am a friend of yours, and I come to help you?” said the black cat. “I never needed help more than now,” said Princess Alicia. “I know, now listen to me,” said the cat. “When the giant comes back from battle and asks you to marry him, say to him you agree.”
“But I will never marry him,” said the Princess. “Do what I tell you,” said the cat firmly. “When he asks you to marry him, say to him you will if his dwarfs will knit for you three batons from the fairy dew that lies on the bushes on the foothills around Moieciu on a misty morning as big as these,” said the cat, putting his right paw into his ear and taking out three batons––one yellow, one red, and one blue. “They are very small,” said the Princess. “They are not much bigger than a matchstick and the dwarfs will not be long at their work.”
“Won’t they?” said the cat. “It will take them a three score and a day to make one so that it will take ninety and three days before the batons are wound; but the giant, like you, will think they can be made in a few days, and so he will easily promise to do what you ask. He will soon find out his error, but he will keep his word, and will not push you to marry him until the batons are wound.”
“When will the giant come back?” asked Alicia. “He will return tomorrow in the noon,” said the black cat. “Will you stay with me until then?” said the Princess. “I am very lonely.”
“I cannot stay,” said the black cat. “I have to go away to my palace on the island on which no man ever placed his foot, and where no man except one shall ever tread.”
“And where is that island?” asked the Princess, “and who is the one man?” “The island is in the far-off seas where craft never sailed; the man you will see before many days are over; and if all goes well, he will one day slay the giant Gornol, and free you from his power.”
“Ah!” sighed the Princess, “that can never be, for no weapon can wound the thirty-two Wolves that guard the castle, and no sword can kill the giant Gornol.”
“There is a sword that will kill him but I must go now,” said the cat. Remember what you are to say to the giant when he comes home, and every morning watch the tree on which you saw me, and if you see in the branches anyone you like to look upon more than yourself,” said the cat, with a knowing smile at the Princess, “throw him these three batons and leave the rest to me; but take care not to utter a single word to him, for if you do all will be lost.” “Shall I ever see you again?” asked the Princess. “Time will tell,” answered the cat, and, without saying so much as a good-bye, he jumped through the window on to the tree, and in a second was out of sight.
The morrow afternoon came, and the giant Gornol returned from battle. Alicia knew of his coming by the furious howling of the Wolves, and her heart sank, for she knew that in a few moments she would be summoned to his presence. Indeed, he had hardly entered the castle when he sent for her and told her to get ready for the wedding. The Princess tried to look cheerful, as she answered:
“I will be ready as soon as you wish;, but you must first promise me something.” “Ask anything you like, little Alicia,” said Gornol. “Well, then,” said Alicia, “before I marry you, you must make your dwarfs wind three batons as big as these from the fairy dew that lies on the bushes around Moieciu on a misty morning in summer.”
“Is that all?” said Gornol, laughing. “I shall give the dwarfs orders at once, and by this time to-morrow the batons will be wound, and our wedding can take place in the evening.” “And will you leave me to myself until then?” “I will,” said Gornol. “On your honour as a giant?” said Alicia. “On my honour as a giant,” replied Gornol.
The Princess returned to her rooms, and the giant summoned all his dwarfs, and he ordered them to go forth in the dawning of the morn and to gather all the fairy dew lying on the bushes around Moieciu and to wind three batons––one yellow, one red, and one blue. The next morning, and the next, and the next, the dwarfs went out into the fields and searched all the hedgerows, but they could gather only as much fairy dew around Moieciu as would make a thread as long as a little girl’s eyelash; and so they had to go out morning after morning before the sun-dried all the dew away, and the giant roared and threatened, but all to no avail. He was angry with the Princess, and he was upset with himself that she was much cleverer than he was, and, worse, he saw now that the wedding could not take place as soon as he expected.
When Pasha went away from the castle he ran as fast as he could up hill and down valley, and never stopped until he came to the Prince of the Purple River. The Prince was alone and very sad and sorrowful he was, for he was thinking of Princess Alicia, and wondering where she could be. “Meow,” said the cat, as he sprang softly into the room; but the Prince did not hear him. “Meow,” again said the cat; but again the Prince did not hear him. “Meow,” said the cat the third time, and he jumped up on the Prince’s knee. “Where do you come from, and what do you want of me?” asked the Prince. “I come from where you wish to be,” said the cat with a knowing look. “And where is that?” said the Prince.
“Oh, where is that I wonder! As if I didn’t know what you are thinking of, and of whom you are thinking,” said the black cat; “and it would be better for you to try and save her.” “I would give my life ten times over for her,” said the Prince. “For whom? I mentioned no name, your highness” said the cat, with a knowing smile. “You know very well who she is,” said the Prince, “if you knew what I was thinking of; but do you know where she is?” “She is in great danger,” said the cat. “She is in the castle of the giant Gornol, in the Bran valley beyond the mountains.” “I will set out there at once,” said the Prince “and I will challenge the giant Gornol to fight me, and will slay him.” “Simpler said than done,” said the black cat. “There is no sword made by men’s hands that can kill him, and even if you could kill him, his thirty-two Wolves, with tongues of fire and claws of steel, would rip you to pieces.” “Then, what can I do?” asked the Prince. “Listen well to me,” said the cat. “Go to the forest that surrounds the giant’s castle in Bran, and climb the high tree that’s nearest to the window that looks towards the sunrise, and shake the branches, and you will see what you will see. Then hold out your hat with the red feathers, and three batons––one yellow, one red, and one blue––will be thrown into it. And then come back here as fast as you can; but speak no word, for if you utter a single sound, the Wolves, with tongues of fire and claws of steel will hear you, and you shall be torn to pieces.”
Well, the Prince set off immediately, and after two days’ journey he came to the forest around the castle, and he climbed the tree that was nearest to the window that looked towards the sunrise, and he shook the branches. As soon as he did so, the window opened and he saw Princess Alicia, looking prettier than ever. He was about to call out her name, but she placed her fingers on her lips, and he remembered what the black cat had told him, that he was to speak no word. In silence, he held out the hat with the red feathers, and the Princess threw into it the three matchstick-sized batons, one after another, and, blowing him a kiss, she closed the window. And well she did so, for at that very instant she heard the voice of the giant, who was returning from hunting Bears and wild Boar.
The Prince waited until the giant had entered the castle before he came down from the tree. He set off as fast as he could. He went uphill and down valley, and never stopped until he arrived at his own palace, and there, waiting for him was Pasha, the little black cat. “Have you brought the three batons?” said the black cat. “I have,” said the Prince. “Then follow me,” said the cat.
On they went until they left the palace far behind, crossing Great Plains by day and by night, and came to the edge of the black sea at the town of Balchik.“Now,” said the Cat, “unravel a thread of the red baton, hold the thread in your right hand, drop the baton into the water, and you shall see what you shall see.”
The Prince did as he was told, and the baton floated out into the Black Sea, unravelling as it went, and it went on until it was out of sight. “Pull now,” said the cat. As the Prince pulled, he saw far away something on the Black Sea shining like gold. It came nearer and nearer, and he saw it was a little golden boat. At last, it touched the strand.“Now,” said the Cat, “step into this boat and it will carry you to the palace on the island on which no man has ever placed his foot––the island in the unknown seas that were never sailed by crafts made of human hands. In that palace, there is a sword with a diamond head, and by that sword alone the giant Gornol can be killed. There also are thirty-two cakes, and it is only if the Wolves eat these that they can die. But mind what I say to you: if you eat or drink until you reach the palace on the island in the unknown seas, you will forget Princess Alicia.” “I will forget myself first,” said the Prince, as he stepped into the golden boat, which floated away so quickly that it was soon out of sight of land.
The day passed and the night fell, and the stars shone down upon the waters, but the boat never stopped. On she went for two whole days and nights, and on the third morning the Prince saw an island in the distance, and very glad he was; for he thought it was his journey’s end, and he was almost fainting with thirst and hunger. But the day passed and the island was still before him. At long last, on the following day, he saw by the first light of the morning that he was quite close to it and that trees laden with fruit of every kind were bending down over the water. The boat sailed round and round the island, going closer and closer every round, until, at last, the drooping branches almost touched it. The sight of the fruit within his reach made the Prince hungrier and thirstier than he was before, and forgetting his promise to the little cat––not to eat anything until he entered the palace in the unknown seas–he caught one of the branches and began eating the fruit. While he was doing so the boat floated out to sea and soon was lost to sight; but the Prince, having eaten, forgot all about it, and, worse still, forgot all about Princess Alicia in the giant’s castle. When he had eaten enough he descended the tree, and, turning his back on the sea, set out straight ahead of himself. He had not gone far when he heard the sound of music, and soon after he saw several pretty maidens playing on white harps coming towards him. When they saw him they ceased playing, and cried out:
“Welcome! Welcome! Prince of the Purple River, welcome to the island of fruits and flowers. Our King and Queen saw you coming over the sea, and they sent us to bring you to the palace.” The Prince went with them, and at the palace gates, the King and Queen and their daughter Sinita received him and gave him welcome. He hardly saw the King and Queen, for his eyes were fixed on the Princess Sinita, who looked more beautiful than a Rose. He thought he had never seen anyone so lovely, for, of course, he had forgotten all about poor Alicia pining away in her castle prison in the lonely Bran valley.
When the King and Queen had given welcome to the Prince a great feast was spread, and all the lords and ladies of the court sat down to it, and the Prince sat between the Queen and the Princess Sinita, and long before the feast was finished he was head over heels in love with her. When the feast was ended the Queen ordered the ballroom to be made ready, and when night came, the dancing began and was kept up until the morning star, and the Prince danced all night with the Princess, falling deeper and deeper in love with her every minute. Between dancing by night and feasting by day weeks went by. All the time-poor Alicia in the giant’s castle was counting the hours, and all this time the dwarfs were winding the batons, and a baton and a half were already spun. At last, the Prince asked the King and Queen for their daughter in marriage, and they were delighted to say yes, and the day was fixed for the wedding. But on the eve of the day before it was to take place the Prince was in his room, getting ready for a dance when he felt something rubbing against his leg, and, looking down, who should he see but the little black cat. At the sight of him, the Prince remembered everything, and remorseful and sorry he was when he thought of Alicia watching and waiting and counting the days until he returned to save her. But he was very fond of the Princess Sinita, and so he did not know what to do.
“You can’t do anything tonight,” said the cat, for he knew what the Prince was thinking of, “but when morning comes, go down to the sea, and look not to the right or the left, and let no living thing touch you, for if you do you shall never leave the island. Drop the second baton into the water, as you did the first, and when the boat comes step in at once. Only then you may look behind you, and you shall see what you shall see, and you’ll know which you love best, Princess Alicia or the Princess Sinita, and you can either go or return to Sinita.”
The Prince didn’t sleep a wink that night, and at the first glimpse of the morning, he stole from the palace. When he reached the sea he threw out the baton, and when it had floated out of sight, he saw the little boat sparkling on the horizon like a newborn star. The Prince had scarcely passed through the palace doors when he was missed, and the King and Queen and the Princess, and all the lords and ladies of the court went in search of him, taking the quickest way to the sea. While the maidens with the white harps played the prettiest music, the Princess, whose voice was sweeter than any music, called on the Prince by his name, and so moved his heart that he was about to look behind when he remembered how the cat had told him he should not do so until he was in the boat. Just as it touched the shore the Princess put out her hand and almost caught the Prince’s arm, but he jumped into the boat in time to save himself, and it sped away like a receding wave. A loud scream caused the Prince to look round suddenly, and when he did he saw no sign of King or Queen, or Princess, or lords or ladies, but only big green serpents, with red eyes and tongues, that hissed out fire and poison as they writhed in countless horrible coils.
The Prince, having escaped from the enchanted island, sailed away for three days and three nights, and every night he hoped the coming morning would show him the island he was in search of. He was faint with hunger and beginning to despair when on the fourth morning he saw in the distance an island that, in the first rays of the sun, gleamed like fire. On coming closer to it he saw that it was clad with trees, so covered with bright red berries that hardly a leaf was to be seen. Soon the boat was almost within a stone’s cast of the island, and it began to sail round and round until it was well under the bending branches. The scent of the berries was so sweet that it sharpened the Prince’s hunger, and he longed to pick them; but, remembering what had happened to him on the enchanted island, he was afraid to touch them. But the boat kept on sailing round and round, and at last, a great wind rose from the sea and shook the branches, and the bright, sweet berries fell into the boat until it was filled with them, and they fell upon the Prince’s hands, and he took up some to look at them, and as he looked, the desire to eat them grew stronger, and he said to himself it would be no harm to taste one; but when he tasted it the flavour was so delicious he swallowed it, and, of course, at once he forgot all about Alicia, and the boat drifted away from him and left him standing in the water.
He climbed on to the island, and have eaten enough of the berries, he set out to see what might be before him, and it was not long until he heard a great noise, and a huge steel sword cut down one of the trees in front of him, and before he knew where he was a hundred giants came running to him. When they saw the Prince they turned towards him, and one of them caught him up in his hand and held him up. The Prince was nearly squeezed to death and seeing this, the giant put him on the ground again.
“Who are you, my little man?” asked the giant. “I am a Prince,” replied the Prince. “Oh, you are a Prince, are you?” said the giant. “And what are you good for?” said he. The Prince did not know, for nobody had asked him that question before. “I know what he’s good for,” said an old giantess, with one eye in her forehead. “I know what he’s good for. He’s good to eat.” When the giants heard this they laughed so loud that the Prince was frightened to death. “Why,” said one, “he wouldn’t make a mouthful.” “Oh, leave him to me,” said the giantess, “and I’ll fatten him up; and when he is cooked and dressed he will be a nice dish for our King.”
The giants, on this, gave the Prince into the hands of the old giantess. She took him home with her to the kitchen and fed him on sugar and spice and all things nice so that he should be a sweet treat for the King of the Giants when he returned to the island. The poor Prince would not eat anything at first, but the giantess held him over the fire until his feet were scorched, and he gave up his resistance and began to eat.
Well, day after day passed and the Prince grew sadder and sadder, thinking that he would soon be cooked and dressed for the King; but sad as the Prince was, he was not half as sad as Princess Alicia, in the giant’s castle, watching and waiting for the Prince to return and save her. Six score and two days had passed and the dwarfs had wound two batons and were winding a third. At last, the Prince heard from the old giantess that the King of the giants was to return on the following day, and she said to him: “As this is the last night you have alive, you may ask me one wish, for if you do your wish will be granted. Take your time, think well on your wish. I’ll come back again,” said the giantess, and she went away. The Prince sat down in a corner, thinking and thinking until he heard close to his ear a sound like “purr, purr!” He looked around, and there before he was the little black cat.
“I ought not to come to you,” said the cat; “but, indeed, it is not for your sake I come. I come for the sake of Princess Alicia. Of course, you forgot all about her, and, of course, she is always thinking of you”. It’s always the way, for favoured lovers may forget, but slighted lovers never yet. “And so you ought to blush,” said the cat; “but listen to me now, and remember, if you don’t obey my directions this time you’ll never see me again, and you’ll never set your eyes on Princess Alicia. When the old giantess comes back, tell her your# wish when the morning comes, to go down to the sea to look at it for the last time. When you reach the sea you will know what to do. But I must go now, as I hear the giantess coming.” And the cat jumped out of the window and disappeared. The Prince blushed with shame when he heard the name of the Princess.
“Well,” said the giantess, when she came in, “is there anything you wish?” “Is it true I must die tomorrow?” asked the Prince. “It is.” said the giantess. “Then,” said he, “I should like to go down to the sea to look at it for the last time.” “You may do that,” said the giantess, “if you get up early.” “I’ll be up with the cockerel in the light of the morning,” said the Prince. “Very well,” said the giantess, and, saying “good night,” she went away.
The Prince thought the night would never pass, but at last,it faded away before the grey light of the dawn, and he sped down to the sea. He threw out the third baton, and before long he saw the little boat coming towards him swifter than the wind. He threw himself into it the moment it touched the shore. Swifter than the wind it bore him out to sea, and before he had time to look behind him the island of the giantess was like a faint red speck in the distance. The day passed and the night fell, and the stars looked down, and the boat sailed on, and just as the sun rose above the sea it pushed its golden bow on the yellow strand of an island greener than the leaves in summer. The Prince jumped out and went on and on until he entered a pleasant valley, at the head of which he saw a palace white as snow.
As he approached the central door it opened for him. On entering the hall he passed into several rooms without meeting with anyone; but, when he reached the principal apartment, he found himself in a circular room, in which were a hundred pillars shoulder height, and every pillar was of marble, and on every pillar except one, which stood in the centre of the room, was a little black cat with blue eyes. Mounted around the wall, from one doorframe to the other, were three rows of precious jewels. The first was a row of brooches of gold and silver; the second a row of torques of gold and silver; and the third a row of great swords, with handles of gold and silver. And on the many tables was food of all kinds, and drinking horns filled with fine wines.
While the Prince was looking about him the cats kept on jumping from pillar to pillar; but seeing that none of them jumped on to the pillar in the centre of the room, he began to wonder why this was so, when, all of a sudden, and before he could see why, there right before him on the centre pillar was the little black cat. “Don’t you recognise me?” said the little black cat. “I do,” said the Prince. “Ah, but you don’t know who I am. This is my palace and I am Pasha, the Little Black Cat, and I am the ruler of all the Cats in Transylvania and the late King’s cat. He gave me magical powers before he drew his last breath. But you must be hungry, and the feast is laid out.” Well, after the feast was ended,
Pasha called for the sword that would kill the giant Gornol and the thirty-two cakes for the thirty-two Wolves. The other cats brought the sword and the cakes and laid them before Pasha. “Now,” said Pasha, “take these; you have no time to lose. Tomorrow the dwarfs will knit the last baton, and to-morrow the giant will claim the Princess for his bride. So you should go at once; but before you go take this from me to your Princess, Alicia.”
And Pasha gave him a brooch lovelier than any on the palace walls. Pasha, and the Prince, followed by the other cats, went down to the water’s edge, and when the Prince stepped into the boat all the cats “meowed” three times for good luck, and the Prince waved his hat three times, and the little golden boat sped over the waters all through the night as brightly and as swiftly as a shooting star.
In the first flush of the morning, it touched the shore. The Prince jumped out and went onwards, uphill and down valley until he came to the giant’s castle. When the Wolves saw him they howled furiously and bounded towards him to tear him to pieces. The Prince flung the cakes to them, and as each Wolf swallowed his cake he fell dead. The Prince then struck his shield three times with the sword which he had brought from the palace of Pasha, the little black cat. When the giant heard the noise, he cried out: “Who dares to disturb me on my wedding day?” The dwarfs went out to see, and, returning, told him it was a Prince who challenged him to fight.
The giant, fuming with rage, seized his heaviest steel hammer and rushed out to the fight. The fight lasted the whole day, and when the sun went down the giant said: “Enough fighting for the day. We can begin at sunrise on the morrow.” “Not so,” said the Prince. “We fight to the death.” “Then take this,” cried the giant, as he aimed a blow with all his force at the Prince’s head; but the Prince, charging forward like a flash of lightning, drove his sword into the giant’s heart, and, with a groan, he fell over the bodies of the poisoned Wolves.
When the dwarfs saw the giant dead they began to panic and tear their hair. But the Prince told them they had nothing to fear, and he bade them go and tell princess Alicia he wished to speak with her. But the Princess had watched the battle from her window, and when she saw the giant fall she rushed out to greet the Prince, and that very night he and she and all the dwarfs and flautists set out for the Palace of the Purple River, which they reached the next morning, and from that day to this there never has been a happier wedding than the wedding of the Prince of the Purple River and the Princess Alicia; and though she had diamonds and pearls in abundance, the only jewellery she wore on her wedding day was the brooch which the Prince had brought her from the Palace of the Little Black Cat in the far-off seas.
Pasha, many miles away purred with contentment, and at that moment felt a warm breeze enter the room, and the distinct feel of a kiss of King Mihai on Pasha’s head, once again creating a silver, sparkling aura. Then it was gone, and Pasha’s magic with it.
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Backstory: I was fortunate enough to be of service to a Romanian Princess recently, the daughter of the late King Michael. The princess has 3 cats. One of which is King Michaels black cat, Pasha. I dedicate this story to the King, and to Pasha, which I created by drawing together different folklore, myths & legends. It is my first such piece of writing. I hope it brings you pleasure. Please comment below with your thoughts, ideas and feedback