The Cats’ Revenge
An excerpt from the “Canticle of Barbaro”
The Quatrian cat spirits, Chabderhuff and his sister Chabderal, featured in a number of Quatrian folktales. The following excerpt (trans. Newman 1987) is the most well-known. This tale appears in the “Canticle of Barbaro,” played and sung in two part harmony by Benda and Ofend as they departed Quatria in their fishing vessel. In the midst of a squall, the sailors chanted this light-hearted tale to calm their nerves.
Then let us sing, dear Benda-yon,
That waves may not upon us fall,
Or if they do we shall abide
And be of cheer if seas are rough.
Upon the deck the waves did crash
So Ofend took up flute and drum
And all about the wind did cast
But Benda’s voice sang loud and true.
When Chabderhuff and Chabderal,
Their whiskers wet with stormy slough,
Came upon the house of Jefer,
Mewed for dryness, Let Us In.
So the man, a claimant of land
Who empowered, ruled his lessors
(Such one may be, in the places
Where the land can be exchanged);
The man named Jefer, hard of conscience,
Unkind to those under his hand
Because he saw them as mere income
And was more concerned with status.
Jefer sees the soaken kittens
And invites them to his table.
Dry, he asks them for a favor:
Rid his stores of mice and serpents.
So the two did set upon them,
Tearing through the stores of blim-grain,
Making bones and blood of rodents,
Tossing snakes twixt teeth and claw.
Then Chabderhuff and Chabderal
Returned to newly laden table
Where Jefer sat gaily feasting,
Proclaiming his request now met.
Yet he met them with betrayal,
Mocking them though they had saved him.
Unwelcome to his table were they,
And sent back out into the storm.
We must have revenge dear sister,
For this unclean, unfair betrayal.
This odious man Jefer who owns the land
Cannot continue in this way.
So we shall, my dearest brother;
I have seen his downfall coming.
We will bring Barbaro’s justice
To this odious man Jefer.
The man keeps songbirds, who are nesting,
Rest upon eggs meant for hatching.
These are his greatest love, dear.
Perhaps they are a way to wound him.
Let us see our cousin Raffin,
Rat-lord Raffin, sometimes-friend.
Let us ask for Raffin’s favor,
In exchange for Jefer’s stores.
So to Raffin’s den they scurried.
Raffin dear, would you be fattened?
Would your family find fatness?
That they may abide the winter weather?
The Rat-lord’s nose twitched as they spake,
Describing Jefer’s odious practice,
He agreed to help them punish,
Take revenge on Jefer’s house.
Calling up his family members,
Raffin went, with cats, to Jefer’s,
Where they sneaked into his bird-house,
Silent sets of squeakers sneaking.
Chabderhuff and Chabderal came,
Behind the Rat-lord and his people.
Taking up the song birds, swiftly,
Luring them with sweetened berries.
Now the rats began their nesting
Upon the eggs the birds had lain there.
So each night the rats would nest there,
Warming the eggs in the birds’ absence.
Finally Jefer came searching,
For his birds which now were missing.
Yet he saw the eggs were hatching.
(Cats and rats looked on, quite hidden.)
Gleeful, Jefer gladly waited by them,
Thinking of new songbirds to sell.
But then, you know this story, listener:
Out from ‘neath the shells came whiskers.
Wriggling noses, fur-covered toes.
Raffin’s children hatched from eggshells!
Imagine the look on Jefer’s face,
As he, shocked, fled back to his home.
Raffin’s children flooded then,
Into Jefer’s stores of blim-grain,
Devoured his stores in day-and-night,
Until no single grain remained.
Then did Chabderal and brother
Watch as Jefer’s house came falling
And his reputation crashing,
Until he had to leave the city.
Jefer then became more holy,
Magician-made of Anthuor’s people.
Now called “Azer,” “Rat-made Human,”
Never again to be an owner.
Take heed, dear one who listens,
If you would gain Barbaro’s favor;
Of Chabderhuff and Chabderal,
And how they taught Jefer a lesson.
At this point in the Canticle, the squall passes, and the boat enters calmer waters.