The Legend of the Marble Cat

Deep, deep in the rain forest, a very long time ago, a jungle mother gave birth to six, perfect little kittens and the Spirit of the Forest was pleased.

Four of them looked just like their mother, soft and gold and spotted all over, like tiny leopards, a pattern designed by nature to hide them in the deep forest from ancient and fearful enemys who liked kittens for lunch.

The other two, however, were different. They too, had coats as soft as velvet, but one of them was all gold, as bright as the sun and the other was as white as the full moon! Mother named them Sunshine and Moonbeam.

She named her other kittens more traditional names, names that had been passed from mother cat to daughter cat, on and on, down through the generations: Panthera, Tiger Lily, Orchid and Raven.

Deep in the nest, hidden in the secret glen behind the waterfall, in the thickest part of the rain forest where the trailing orchids bloomed in a wild and colorful profusion, Mother cared for her kittens and worried.

She knew that her son Moonbeam and her daughter 
Sunshine would soon be exposed to a very dangerous world and with their beautiful, bright coats, they would stand out like lights on the jungle floor, easy for enemies to see.

As the kittens grew and the day approached when they would be venturing from the safety of the den, Mother began to council them in the ways of concealment. To 
Sunshine and Moonbeam she said: "Now, remember, until you are grown and can run very fast, you must stay under leaves and vines so you will be hidden from above. Never venture into the open jungle unless you can sit in a spot of bright sun or a beam of the full moon, for that is what you look like.

To her spotted children she said: "You must also be cautious, but you may use the pattern of the forest floor as your camouflage. When stalking your prey, move only when they look away and when you freeze in place, your spots will help you to disappear into the sun dappled jungle.

And so it was that the two kittens learned to hide their special beauty, venturing out from beneath the leaves and vines only rarely, while their spotted brothers and sisters came and went as they pleased, carrying their concealment with them. The Spirit of the Forest was pleased.

One bright, sunny day, Mother took her four tiny leopards on a hunting lesson, warning Sunshine and Moonbeam to stay hidden until they returned.

"I don't want to stay here all day." complained 
Sunshine, "Me either. I want to watch Mother." replied Moonbeam. "Why don't we just creep from plant to plant and keep hidden. She will never know we're there." suggested Sunshine. Off they went, excited to be on an adventure, and, being the good kittens they were, proceeding cautiously as well, remembering all the lessons their mother had taught them.

They could smell the scent of their family and followed it. They scampered on, always under the leaves of low growing plants, while the sunlight painted beautiful, undulating patterns of deep shade on their bright coats.

Suddenly, the smell of danger raised the hairs on their backs and they froze like statues even before they saw the horrible sight. As their eyes adjusted to the pure sunlight, the kittens saw they were at the edge of a brightly lit clearing, filled with dry weeds and golden grasses. Up against a rock wall were their brothers and sisters, cringing in the presence of... Jackal! A very large Jackal! He was in between Mother and her kittens. Mother was crouched and snarling behind him. Everyone knew, Jackals eat kittens!

Glancing back and forth between the kittens and their mother, Jackal sneered and boasted to her, "You know I'm going to get at least one of them, maybe even two. Why, I'll be out of here with my lunch before you can reach me. I just don't know which one to take first. They are all so fat and yummy looking."

Under the cover of a leaf, Sunshine and Moonbeam looked at each other and passed a single thought between them. "Mother's lessons!". They silently circled the small clearing, keeping to the cover of the forest. Now they were on opposite sides of Jackal and entered the dry weeds. Softly. Quietly. Keeping as flat to the ground as the dry, dusty rocks, they inched toward their ancient enemy, each moving only when he turned his attention to gloat to Mother or frighten the kittens. As they neared the Jackal, Mother's crouching posture changed just slightly, subtlety. She knew they were there! She couldn't smell them because they had wisely placed themselves down wind of the enemy, but she could just barely see her bright and beautiful children in the bright sunlight of the field! Intent on the kittens he had cornered, Jackal was oblivious, he never knew what hit him.

Jackal took half a step toward the frightened kittens frozen against the rock face and Wham! The earth before him erupted in a squalling, screaming fury of knives and teeth! Stunned and frightened, Jackal felt Mother's teeth sink deeply into his rear haunches and her claws rack his sides. Slashing, screaming demons were fastened to his head! Leaping madly about the clearing and crashing into trees and rocks, Jackal finally managed to dislodge his attackers and all he could see with the eye that was still open, was the tail end of Mother, as she disappeared into the jungle.

Panthera, Tiger Lily, Orchid and Raven had been stunned by the apparently sudden appearance of their brother and sister, but wasted no time streaking past the besieged Jackal, into the safety of the rainforest. They were followed shortly by Sun, Moon and Mother. Together, they ran swiftly through the jungle, to the safety of their hidden den, in the secret glen, behind the waterfall, in the thickest part of the rainforest where the trailing orchids bloomed.

It had been a miracle. Nothing needed to be said. Mother cleaned her kittens and purred them to sleep.

Sunshine and Moonbeam awoke at dusk, from a deep slumber of complete exhaustion. They crept out of the den, called by a silent summons. There! Under the big tree, or was it part of it? They thought they could see the faint form of the Spirit of the Forest. They knew it was she who had summoned them.

Her voice was like the whisper of the leaves or maybe the passing breeze, but the kittens could hear her plainly in their heads. This was strange, indeed. Not in the time of any ancestor they could remember, had anyone actually seen the Spirit of the Forest, but, oddly, they were not frightened.

She spoke, "You are all my children and I love you. Even the Jackal is one of my children, but it was not his destiny to eat kitten for lunch today. You have performed a selfless act of incredible bravery and shall be rewarded. I give you something you have always wanted, the gift of concealment."

To Moonbeam she said: "You will be a cat of the night: I bless you with the misty shadows of the leaves and vines, falling across your back by the light of the full moon. You will be able to pass by unnoticed in the night jungle."

To Sunshine she said: "You are to be a cat of the day, wearing the deep shadows of the leaves and twisting creepers across your body, letting your glittering sunlit coat sparkle through in bits and swirls. You will be impossible to see in the jungle on a sunny day. Step forward now."

The kittens stepped out from under the leaves they had instinctively stood under and were amazed to see that their coats now had the patterns of the vines and leaves.

As her image and voice began to fade, The Spirit of the Forest said, "From now on, your names will be Secret Sun and Hiding Moon. All of your unspotted descendants will be blessed with these marking as well, to conceal them safely in either sun or moonlight. I am pleased."

To this day, marbled kittens carry with them the patterns of the leaves and vines of that long ago jungle, the reward of their ancestors' uncommon courage: the shadows cast upon them through the trees, by the sun and the moonlight.

Discovered by Susan Dunsworth after countless hours of research, pouring over ancient texts and speaking with cats.
2004

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