I know that you've heard tell of Koshka Mookael the Elder, how he sailed the great ship "Moonweaver" from Catsport to faraway lands with many adventures here, there and all the world's places in between. But what you probably do not know is that before he became known as Mookael the Elder, Captain Mookael or even Mookael the Thief, that around his village in Catsport he was called, by a good many of the townspeople that lived there, Little Mookaleen the Fool.
And you may find it difficult to believe that someone so brave and so honored and so well known through every corner of the Lone Isles could have begun his life with such a low name. However it is true! Not a soul expected him to amount to much more than a shame and heart's sorrow to his dear parents, but after he met the Bear King everything changed. So if you are patient and sit with me here by the fire, I'll explain what came to pass. Perhaps then you will know, my friend, a little of how the strange, wide world works and often plays odd tricks of fate on the people that dwell in it.
Mookaleen as a boy was not like other mothers' sons. When most children were out in the fine weather, running and playing in the warm sunlight, young Mookaleen would be inside, working on some curious invention in his father's workshop. When the days were cold and winter's snow covered the hard ground and all good sons could be found inside studying by the stove's sweet warmth, Mookaleen walked high and low, here and there, wandering until his mother's heart would fill with worry. The boy would come home, wet to the skin, cheeks red from the breath of the north wind, carrying some bright feather or stone that he had discovered on his wanderings. And people began to say that he was naught but a fool and would never find his way in the world.
When the time came for little Mookaleen to become an apprentice and learn a trade he did not become a Toymaker like his father. No! That was not to be. He told his parents,
"I have too much wandering in my boots to be a Toymaker. I'm going out to seek my fortune and make my way in the great, wide world." So his father, sad because his son had always been clever in making toys and a help to him in spite of his wild ways, took him to the Baker and arranged to have Mookaleen learn the trade of baking bread. After a week of learning to grind the wheat and knead the dough and test the oven the boy returned home, covered in flour, with a great bag of warm bread and said,
"Being a Baker is not for me. I have too much wandering in my boots to be a Baker." So his father took him to the Tailor and arranged to have him learn the trade of making suits for gentlemen to wear. But after a week of learning to weave and measure and fit the cloth Mookaleen returned home with a fine new set of clothes for his father and said,
"Being a Tailor is not for me. I have too much wandering in my boots to be a Tailor." So his father took him to the Cooper to learn to make barrels to fill with sweet wine but within a week Mookaleen had returned rolling a grand barrel as wide as he was tall, a gift for his mother and a wish to try another trade. And so it went, he tried the Greengrocer and the Blacksmith and the Glassblower and none would suit the boy. Soon there wasn't a trade in the little town that he had not tried and he still had not found his right livelihood.
Mookaleen's good parents had given up hope of their only son settling into honest work when one cold, rainy morning a great, hairy man wearing an old bearskin, foul and rotting, came striding down from the mountains, reeking of all things dead and dark. The dogs of the village ran away in terror and the gentlefolk all held their handkerchiefs to their noses at the loathsome stench that came from his horrid clothes. Long strands of teeth and bones hung from around his neck and every bit of him from his head to his boot was covered in dark hair. Mookaleen had never seen anyone so strangely dressed so he climbed up onto the thatch of the roof to get a better look.
"I am Ursan the Bear King. I want to hire help and I'm willing to pay good money for it!" the strange man yelled, and the women crossed themselves and small children burst out weeping. "I've got gold to spend and I want help preparing my house for my bride that I'll take this autumn when the leaves fall like fire from the trees." His voice was like the growl of a wild beast and his eyes glowed, dark rimmed red. He held a sack of coins heavy in his hands for all to see.
"It's more like a bath you'll be needing!" Mookaleen called down from on top of the roof. "There's not many a girl who'll take kindly to a husband as foul smelling as the likes of you." Now that day more than one of the good townspeople thought of Mookaleen as a fool as they peered out their windows in fear. But the stranger just laughed and said,
"And who are you, little man, that you are so wise in the ways of wooing women?"
Young Mookaleen blushed for he was but a boy, but being quick of wit and words, he replied,
"I'm Koshka Mookael, called Mookaleen and I have no knowledge of wooing women but I have a nose on my face and you smell enough to make the very angels hide behind the clouds of heaven."
"That's a bold bit of speaking coming from one so small," the Bear King growled back. "You had better watch what you say or your careless words will take you down a path of woe."
When Ursan the Bear King saw that no grown man could be hired to help him he returned and called to Mookaleen to come with him.
"You'll have to do," he said. "Get your things, little man and follow me." So before his parents could say goodbye young Mookaleen gathered a few belongings in a sack and followed the stranger down the road and up to the mountains to seek his fortune in the strange, wild world.
Chapter Two - The house of Ursan the Bear King
After walking for many days, over meadow and fields, through the gray woods and up the lonely mountain, until Mookaleen thought his very feet would fall off his legs, they finally came to the house of the Bear King and what a terrible, miserable place it was! Bones were in piles in front of the house and bones were all behind. Nary a stitch of work had been done for the place in more years than you or I can imagine, but Mookaleen was not dismayed. Being a stouthearted lad he put his things in the barn where he was to sleep and set about putting everything to rights.
He thatched the roof and he glazed the windows. He cleaned the bones away and dug sod to plant in front of the house so there was a nice green carpet before the house. Then he planted a garden of flowers and fruit behind the house so that soon it was pretty as a picture. Before long Mookaleen had cleaned the house from top to bottom until it was fit for a fairy queen. Now off to the side of the house was a little stone shed that the Bear King kept locked fast as a miser's purse. And he told Mookaleen to stay away from it or he would beat him with a willow switch from morning till sunset. Mookaleen managed to stay away from the little stone shed for a week or so until one night he heard the noise of a shuttle passing to and fro and a fair voice singing soft at a loom.
"Hilla illa illa e oh,
Sad am I, my darling
Never more to see you, no
Nevermore my darling."
The song was so sad and so full of tears that Mookaleen's young heart broke quite open and he set himself to help whatever poor thing might be locked inside that dark hut. Being a resourceful lad, a plan came to him quite quick and he started right away to build a large barrel. He filled that huge barrel full to the brim with clean, warm water and told the Bear King that he would have to start learning to bathe if he was to be ready to be married in the Fall like a proper gentleman. So before the sun was too far up across the sky the Bear King was soaking in the washbarrel, drinking a large cup of honeymead, with steam rising off the hot water just as warm and comfortable as soup in a pot. While the Bear king was soaking, Mookaleen tiptoed off to the shed and picked the lock in two beats of a bird's wing. And in the shadows, sitting no farther away then I am from you now, do you know what he saw?
He saw a beautiful girl monkey, dressed in fine clothes and a fine gold circlet about her ears. A long silver chain fastened her ankle to the loom locked tight as a coffin. And the monkey girl said,
"Who might you be?"
And Mookaleen replied,
"I am Koshka Mookael, called Mookaleen by most and who are you and how did you come to be locked in this awful place?
"I am the Princess Palmleaper and I have been kidnapped by Ursan the Bear King. He says that we are to be wed this autumn when the leaves fall like fire from the trees." Then the Monkey girl took to weeping as if she were sorrow herself.
"Now shusha, shusha, shusha!" said Mookaleen, worried that the Bear King would hear her mournful cries. "I'll help you if I can, miss." Then he started to pick the lock of the chain that held her fast to her loom. He had almost solved the puzzle of the lock when the Bear King came in, waving a willow switch and roaring like the very Hounds of Holyglen. He grabbed Mookaleen with one hand and the willow switch with the other and beat the poor boy up one side of the mountain and down the other until the sun set in the west as it always does. Poor Mookaleen could not move for three days he was so bruised and sore.
"I'll not let the Bear King get the best of me," he thought as he lay on the wet ground. "I have learned how to be a Baker and a Cooper and a Tailor and a Greengrocer and Blacksmith and ever so many other things. I think that it is time for me to learn to be a Thief." So on the morning of the third day he got up and washed himself off. Then Mookaleen made breakfast for his master as he always did. After the Bear King had eaten half a side of mutton and four great bowls of beer and thirty seven pancakes he went to take a nap on a hillside in the hot summer sun.
"Would you be minding if I took a bit of breakfast to the monkey girl?" Mookaleen asked, as easy and free as if he were talking to his mother. "She looked a little of this side of thin to me and you don't want your kinfolk talking on your wedding day, do you now?"
"Aye, go on," growled Ursan the Bear King. "But if I catch you trying to steal her away from me then it'll be the worse for you, little man."
"Oh no sir!" replied Mookaleen, looking as innocent as the world's first day.
"And I'll beat you with a willow switch from the sun's first rise to the sun's last set!" said the Bear King.
"Me, sir? Oh no, sir! I promise to see you married, sir!" replied Mookaleen. So the Bear King cuffed the poor boy again as a reminder to mend his ways and sent him rolling down the hill.
Mookaleen put together a plate of the daintiest food that he could find and took it to the little stone shed. Princess Palmleaper was twice as sorrowful as she had been before when she saw the cuts and bruises that Mookaleen had endured. But he told her not to worry her dear heart and that he promised to set her free before autumn when the leaves fall like fire from the trees. He also asked her to start weaving a fine lace wedding veil, and so she did.
The days passed by fast as flowing water and the Monkey Princess wove a long white veil just as Mookaleen had asked. No sooner had she finished when the north wind blew cold and leaves began to turn red with fire. On the night before the wedding, under the light of a full moon, young Mookaleen slipped out into the garden and stole a large pumpkin from the vine. Then he bore a little hole into the side of the pumpkin and filled it with sweet honey. He patched the hole and went off to wander in the woods. And he wandered and he wandered until he came to a rushing river where he found what he was seeking.
Chapter Three - The Bear Maiden
Sitting on rock by the banks of the rushing river, bathing in the light of the full moon was Ursula the Bear Maiden. Her fur was golden and her fangs were white as snowdrops and her eyes were dark and knowing as the midnight sky. Ursula the Bear Maiden was wild and fierce as well, and as you can imagine, she did not take kindly to a human interrupting her bath. So she sprang out of the water like a flash of bright light and grabbed little Mookaleen in her great sharp claws. The poor boy almost died of fright then and there with the Bear Maiden's hot breath on his face and her terrible jaws open wide, her teeth like knives shining in the moonlight. But Mookaleen pulled his wits together and clutched the honeyfilled pumpkin to his chest. He cried in a great, wailing voice,
"Please eat me, Mistress Bear, for my heart is broken and my life's tale is so filled with sadness and woe that I cannot endure another moment of this world's sorrow." At this the Bear Maiden stopped and looked at the boy and smelled the honeyfilled pumpkin. She was overcome with curiosity, as bears and women are known to do, and asked,
"What is wrong, little man. Who are you and why are you weeping so?"
" I am Koshka Mookael, called Mookaleen by most, but today I am the companion of misfortune. What to do? What to do?" Mookaleen replied in a sad, wee voice. "My master is so lost and alone. He has no one to care for him. My good master, Ursan the Bear King has been put under a spell by a Monkey Witch. She has him locked to her by a golden chain and naught will free him but a kiss from a Bear Maiden who has eaten of this pumpkin."
"How did this come to pass?" asked the Bear Maiden sniffing the pumpkin, which smelled most sweet and comforting.
"She trapped him with a spell and wishes to marry him tomorrow and take all his riches. He is very wealthy, my master is, and handsome as well. What was I to do but steal this magic pumpkin and try to find someone to save my poor master?"
"I might be able to help you, Mookaleen the Thief," replied Ursula the Bear Maiden for the honeyfilled pumpkin smelled most agreeable to her and she was very hungry.
"You, miss?" said Mookaleen, drying his pretended tears. "No, no. It's too dangerous! My master is not himself. He says all manner of strange things under this enchantment. He is wild and untamed."
"Not to fret now, little Mookaleen," said the Bear Maiden. "There is no storm in a man that the storm in a women isn't wilder still." So the Bear Maiden took that pumpkin filled with honey and ate it all up in three bites, chomp, chomp, and chomp! Then she followed the boy back to the house of the Bear King.
The house of the Ursan the Bear King was filled, top to bottom with guests for the wedding and great was the sound of their drinking and merrymaking. So, without any trouble at all, Mookaleen crept into the little stone shed with the Bear Maiden and loosed the lock that held the Princess Palmleaper fast to the loom. The Monkey girl thanked little Mookaleen a hundred times and blessed his family to his children's children. Then she said,
"Thank you, dear Mookaleen. I'm beholden to you, may your days be filled with luck and love. Now I have one last request to ask of you, if I may be so bold. Here, take this acorn, go to the ocean's edge and throw it into the Firth of Cats for me. What you see there you may keep." She then slipped a golden acorn into his hand and scampered out the door. And Mookaleen did not see the Princess Palmleaper again for many years upon years until he went to the christening of her second son, but that is another story for another night.
So Mookaleen threw the white bridal veil over the Bear Maiden and told her to wait quietly in the little stone shed until sun's first rise. Then Mookaleen the Thief, feeling pleased beyond measure with all the mischief he had done, went to the barn where he slept in the straw. There he lay down and closed his eyes and did not open them until morning light.
The air was crisp and cold the morning of the wedding with the leaves falling like fire all around. The wedding guests were as worn as old shoes from the reveling of the previous night. Ursan the Bear King stood at the arbor and his tired eyes grew wide as saucers when he saw his bride to be.
"Mookaleen, tell me true, is this my bride?" asked the Bear King, for the figure standing in front of him was much taller and wider than the Monkey Princess.
"As true as the sun, my master," replied Mookaleen, as easy as you please.
"She looks powerful big to me, little Mookaleen," said the Bear King.
"I've been feeding her regular like and she's taking to eating, sir," the boy replied, sweet as new milk.
"Ah! Well! I like a lass with some meat on her bones," the King said after a moment. So the ceremony went along without so much as a bump and then Ursan the Bear King lifted the wedding veil of his new bride and do you know what he saw?
He saw Ursula the Bear Maiden of course, and she was greatly pleased to be married to a King with such a fine house and gardens. So she grabbed her new husband and kissed him hard and then cuffed him around a bit for good measure. Then she turned her attention to the wedding feast. Good food was piled so high that the tables were in sure danger of collapsing under the weight of it all and sweet wine flowed from big barrels, better than any guest, man or beast, had tasted in their lifetime.
After the guests were on their way to being fed and full to bursting Mookaleen decided to return home. He was tired of his wandering ways and wanted to see his dear parents once again. So the boy took the big bag of gold that the Bear King had promised to whoever came to work for him and slipped down the lonely mountain. He had almost made it to the gray woods when he heard footsteps fast behind him. Mookaleen being a clever boy climbed up a large pine tree as high as the branches could hold him to see what he could see. And there, running down the mountain faster than the rushing water, was Ursan the Bear King carrying a stout willow switch and looking none too pleased for his efforts. He came to rest at the foot of the tree where Mookaleen was hiding and yelled up,
"Is that you, little man?"
"Honor bright and yes it is, sir!"
"And did you trick me and take my gold, little man?"
"Yes sir, I have to say I did, sir!"
"And are you a thief, little Mookaleen?"
"I have to say I am, sir!'
"And what did I promise you, little man?"
"That if you caught me stealing the Monkey Princess that you would beat from sun's first rise to sun's last set."
"And?" yelled the Bear King, shaking the pine tree so hard that Mookaleen had to hold on for dear life.
"Well," replied Mookaleen, swinging like the wash on a windy day, "You didn't catch me, sir!"
"And right you are there, little man," said the Bear King, who was becoming tired from all his pains.
"And I did promise to see you married, sir!" said the boy. "And a fine bride you have now, do you not?"
"That you did, little Mookaleen the Thief and right you are!" the Bear King growled with a great big laugh. So Ursan the Bear King went back to his new bride and his wedding guests and the merrymaking lasted until after the Winter Solstice.
When Mookaleen finally arrived at his parent's door they were filled with such happiness as the world has not known since, for his mother and father thought sure that their only son had been lost to them forever. But before the boy would sit down to table and a well-deserved meal he said that he must go down to the water's edge and follow out the wishes of the Monkey Princess. So Mookaleen went to the ocean's edge and threw the golden acorn into the Firth of Cats. The water boiled and bubbled like water for tea, for it was magic, and the finest sailing ship that you or I have ever seen came rising out of the water. Mookaleen made the sign of the Maker on it, marking it to grace with the blessed sign and so the ship sailed true for him and brought him much luck and love just as the Monkey Princess had promised.
Now I wish that I could tell you that after this day Mookaleen changed his wandering, thieving ways and settled down to a quiet life of honest work. However, as much as I wish that I could tell you this was true, and as much as I know that you wish to hear it, that's not what happened. Mookaleen took that ship and named it "Moonweaver" and sailed from Catsport to faraway lands, with many adventures here, there and all the world's places in between. He even went so far as to sail all the way to Catlandia after he stole a Fairie Wishgiver who became the mother of his son, which is an interesting tale. But I am tired and that story will have to wait for another night.