Once upon a time, a king in Kashmir had many wives but no children. This troubled him. "I must have a daughter," he insisted to his many wives.
The king prayed to all the gods, but no matter how hard he prayed, none of his wives gave birth. He was a powerful king, and he had a mighty temper, and he finally told all his wives that he would punish them if they failed to produce an heiress.
The queens were terrified. They had no doubt the punishment would be cruel. They, too, began to pray, but spring turned to summer, and still no children were born to any of the king's wives.
"You must produce an heiress by August," he warned them, and because they were afraid, they decided to pretend one of them was pregnant. When August came, the wives announced that a child had been born to the king -- a beautiful daughter.
In truth, there was no baby. When the king insisted that he see his wife and child, they sent her forth carrying a little kitten that had been born that very morning. She wrapped the kitten well and hid the creature from the king.
The king was so happy at the sight of the little bundle his wife held that he did not even ask to see the child.
Week after week, month after month, year after year, the queens somehow convinced him that he must wait to see his daughter until she was grown and ready for marriage.
The years passed peacefully until one day a prince came to visit the castle and announced he wished to marry the daughter of the greatest king in all the land.
That very day, the king sent word to his wives to prepare his daughter for marriage. Once again, the queens worried. At long last, they decided they must confess their deception to the prince and include him in the ruse.
They invited the prince to visit, and they told him the tale: "The king is a cruel man, and he will punish all of us if he learns the truth."
The prince had a big heart, and he understood the wives' fear, and so he went along with their plans to arrange a wedding.
On the wedding day, the wives covered a cat in veils. The king again was so joyful, he did not notice the bride's unusually small size or the many veils that shrouded her face.
After the ceremony, the prince left the palace with the cat, and the king was no wiser. Now the prince was left to wonder how he would keep this secret from his own parents.
At first, he pretended that his wife was too beautiful to show her face. "She will shame the sun," he said. "When she is older, you may see her."
He locked her in his chambers, and he took care of his cat bride with fresh food and sunlight, but he never set her free.
One day, the prince went out, and his mother decided she must see her daughter-in-law. She knocked upon the door and called, "Daughter, your husband is gone, why don't you come sit with me for company?"
The lonely cat began to mew so loudly that her cries rose to the heavens, where the goddess Parvati heard them.
She complained to Lord Shiva. "There is a lonely cat in misery, locked in a palace and unable to show her face. You must save the poor creature."
Lord Shiva was sympathetic, and so he told the cat how to solve this problem. "Take the flask of oil sitting on the prince's table and apply it to yourself," he told the cat. "This will transform you into a beautiful maiden."
The cat did as she was told, but she left one spot at the very top of her shoulder without oil. She wished to prove to the prince that she was his cat.
When the prince returned to his chambers, he found a beautiful maiden sitting there waiting for him -- a beautiful maiden with one patch of fur on her shoulder. He was overjoyed, for now he could, without fear, introduce his parents to his bride. Now he would have a wife instead of a cat.
She was as beautiful and kind as a maiden as she had been as a cat, and the prince loved her. His parents also fell in love with her, and so the next week the prince, his parents and his bride traveled to her father's palace.
"This is your beloved daughter," the prince told the king, and naturally, he loved her even more than he had all those years before.
And everyone lived happily ever after.
"Tell Me a Story 3: Women of Wonder," the third CD in the audiobook series, is now available. For more information, please visit www.mythsandtales.com.