A big shake up.

 

 

Allie lay in her and Sam’s lie up, examining her fore and hind paws in a mirror, watching her pads and toes bunching and relaxing as she played with her paws in a manner that she’d not played with them since she was a cub.  Lying on her back, she examined each forepaw by sight and touch, then sat up and, using mirrors, examined her hind paws by sight, while her forepaws played over the pads and toes of each hind paw in turn.  Allie saw herself relaxing as she let herself go with the flow of pleasurable sensations.  At one point, she felt she was outside herself, and that it was another bear stroking her paws, as the toes of her forepaws knew how to pleasure her by touching the pads and toes of her hind paws in a way she liked.

 

Another polar bear was watching how Allie played with her own hind paws.  Little Arki watched how her mum’s forepaws played with her hind paws.  The cub smiled at her mum’s expression as the toes of her right forepaw played over the pads and toes of her left hind paw.

      “Mum,” Little Arki said, padding over and touching her mum’s shoulder with her paw, “can I stroke your paws?”  Allie looked at her cub.

       “I would like that,” she replied.  Little Arki looked at her mother, examining her from nose to paw pads.  Allie let her cub explore her hind paws with her fore, trying not to move her paws too much, but pleasure made her paws relax, her toes curling involuntarily.  Arki felt her mum’s paws relax and smiled at her.

       “I love your paws mum,” she said.  Allie sat up and took her left hind paw in her right fore, playing with the toes of the held paw with her left fore.  Arki explored her mum’s fore and hind paws with her own forepaws as Allie massaged her own pads and toes.

        “”I’ve never explored another polar bear’s paws while they’re stroking their own paws,” Arki said.  Allie smiled, feeling Arki’s toes working between the toes of her right forepaw and the pads of her left hind.  Allie smiled at her cub and withdrew her paws.  Arki looked at Allie, then at herself in the mirror, noting similarities.  Their eyes were alight with the same excitement that paw play and pretend play caused in Arki herself.  Their paws were almost alike, big, fat paws, with stubby but expressive toes, as well as large black pads on the soles.  Arki realised she was generally big all over, a, “fat huggy bear,” as her mum would say.”

        “A penny for your thoughts dear cub,” Allie said, seeing her cub’s smile.

       “I was comparing our body shapes,” Arki said, “we’re very alike mum, right down to our paws.  I wouldn’t change a thing about my body.”  Allie grinned.

       “You like your paws then?”  Allie asked, knowing her cub’s answer, but asking anyway, it was all part of the game.

       “I love my paws,” Arki replied, “I love playing with them too!  They’re my favourite playthings.”  Allie had often seen her cub playing with her own paws, a time which she loved as much as Arki seemed to.

       “You played with your hind paws for over four hours once,” Allie said to Arki.  Arki smiled, remembering the episode.

      “I just couldn’t stop myself,” she said, “things just went so well that day!”  Arki looked in the mirror at her mum sitting beside her.  Allie’s face was alive with pleasure, her eyes shining. Her forepaws rested across her chest, her hind legs bent slightly, the heels of her hind paws resting on the carpet at an angle, so the soles of her hind paws were slightly obscured.  Allie watched her cub’s eyes in the mirror, tracking her progress, wiggling the toes of her fore and hind paws as Arki’s eyes explored them in the mirror.

       “That’s great,” Arki said, “but touching your paws is better, and having you touch mine is exquisitely pleasurable.”

      “I like touching the paws of other animals and having them touch my paws,” Allie said.

     “Oh mum, I didn’t know that!”  Arki said with mock surprise, her mum playfully slapping her with her paw.

       “I know you and Samson used to stroke each other’s paws,” Arki said, “I saw videos of it.  You two looked so happy!”

      “We were, we were very much,” Allie said, closing her eyes briefly as she remembered her hours with Samson.

       “Let’s play with each other’s paws mum,” Arki said.  Allie smiled.

      “Would you like that dear cub?”  She asked.  Arki knew this was part of the game:

     “Yes mum,” Arki said, “but, but, you’ll have to find my paws for yourself!”  A chase began, Arki crawling away, her mum following by crawling after her.  Once the first paw contact was established, the bear whose paw was touched first had to make a lot of fuss, as if she was scared of her pursuer.  Having touched one paw, the bear that’d chased down her quarry would then touch all four of the caught bear’s paws, the caught bear wriggling and pawing frantically at their mock attacker.  Once this was played out, both bears would engage in a rough and tumble game, where paw contact was maintained constantly.  After this was complete and both bears were laughing and exhausted, they would lie for a while, paw in paw.  Then they’d choose another game to play.  Allie loved the chasing game, and would often try to outdo her cub’s antics after she’d been caught, screaming and pawing frantically while Arki pressed her attack home, catching all four of her hard won prizes, while Allie whimpered, squealed, wriggled and  pawed at her attacker in a desperate attempt to stop her claiming her paws.  This desperate last fight was never won by the caught bear, for that wasn’t the object of the game.  The object for the caught bear was to make as much fuss as possible, the whole thing relieving stress and pent up energy in both bears.  While the caught bear complained and fought to keep their paws out of their attacker’s reach, the attacking bear would snarl and growl threateningly, while taking each paw in turn before massaging the caught paws.  The paw massage would subdue the whimpering struggling bear.

 

Lying together after the games, Allie and Arki recovered slowly.

      “To think our paws give us such pleasure,” Arki said.  Allie smiled at her cub, which was fast growing into a strong but gentle creature.

        “To think I’ve had three cubs here,” Allie thought.

 

Allie got to her paws and left the lie up, Arki following her.  On route to the pool complex they met Tigger and Namrah, Allie hugging each tiger in turn.

       “Hi Tiggie, and you Namrah,” Arki said.  Namrah smiled at the polar bears, who took her paws in their’s and embraced her.

       “Tigger’s Namrah,” Allie said softly.  Namrah smiled and nuzzled Allie’s cheek.

        “I thank you all for giving me a home,” Namrah mewed.  Allie smiled and touched Namrah’s nose with her paw.

       “You love Tigger very much,” Arki said to Namrah, the tigress smiling at the polar bear.

      “I love him and he loves me,” she mewed.

 

Meanwhile, Pip and Nick padded through the wood.  The two lynx had mated the night before, both wanting cubs of their own now they’d both put their own personal tragedies behind them.  Pip and Nick’s friendship had grown into something more than that, and before they knew what was happening, they were stroking each other’s paws with something more than friendship passing between them.  Nick loved Pip from her nose to her tail, as she did him.  They also loved Ahanu and Silver, even though they were not strictly speaking their cubs.  Silver and Ahanu were supportive of the two lynx getting together.  Nicks other cubs, now half grown lynx, had left the community to look for their own home.

 

Nick and Pip returned to the house and went to their lie up.  Stroking bodies and massaging of paws soon followed.  Nick had soon put Pip’s relationship to Ellie to the back of his mind.  When he heard Pip’s tale and had spent more and more time with her, he’d grown to like, then love her.  He could feel through the contact between her paw and his that she meant him no harm, that she was gentle and wanted to be gentle to others.  Pip loved Ahanu and silver, which delighted them both.  Ahanu and Silver had become firm friends very quickly.  Now Leo was somewhat out of the loop since his involvement with Tess and her cubs, Ahanu, silver and Haimati were often seen together.  Leo occasionally saw them, but more often than not, he was busy with his own family.  Silver, now fully grown up, spent most of her time padding round the huge house in which the community lived, trying to find something to do.  Sometimes she’d find a cub to play with, something that she was quite good at, no matter what kind of cub it was, other times she’d find herself talking to Raja or Hop along as they patrolled the wood.  Silver, with her distinctive silver coat and large paws, was a favourite in the community.  Silver would pad through the wood with the tigers, lions or bears.  Silver knew about her feline brothers and sisters, and also of her ursine cousins.  She’d often stroked the bear’s paws, mutual stroking of papaws soon following.

 

Today Silver found herself in Tess and Leo’s lie up, the tigress and cross bred cat happy to see her.  Little Tess played with silver’s left forepaw, silver wiggling her toes, encouraging the cub to further play.  Little Tess pounced on silver’s forepaws, then batted at her whiskers with her forepaws, before crawling to silver’s hind paws and grabbing her right hind paw in both her forepaws.  Feeling the cub’s grip on a paw that she’d injured in the wood, Silver mewed and struggled against the cub’s hold on her hind paw, before curling round and catching the cub in her forepaws.

        “Now let go of my paw,” Silver said.  Little Tess could feel the lynx’s strong forepaws round her, and gave up her prize.

      “Thank you,” silver mewed.  Little Tess looked hurt.

      “But Leo said you liked having your hind paws stroked,” the cub protested.

     “I do,” Silver mewed, “but my right hind paw hurts at the moment, I think I’ve got a thorn in one of my pads.”  The cub touched the toes of Silver’s right hind paw, Silver growling at her.

      “Leave my toes alone,” Silver snarled.

      “Is Tess annoying you Silver?”  Leo asked.

      “Getting close,” silver mewed.  Suddenly Tess wriggled free of silver’s grip and leapt at the lynx’s right hind paw!  Silver felt paws gripping, claws digging in to her pads, then teeth biting at her paw!”

      “Let go, let go!”  Silver screamed as teeth bit into her paw pads!  Leo sprang forward, just as his cub released Silver’s paw.

       “Here,” she mewed round something held between her teeth.  Then she dropped something on the rug.  Silver looked at what the cub had dropped, a peace of twig.  She could smell it had been stuck in her own paw, and realised what the cub had managed to do.

      “Thank you little Tess,” Silver mewed, feeling blood trickling over the sole of her right hind paw.  Tess, realising the lynx could not reach her hind paw, found the injured paw and began to lick her pads, before putting pressure on the injured paw with her tiny paw.

        “Thank you little one,” silver mewed.

      “Let fleur take a look at that,” Leo said to silver, “your paw needs medical attention.”  Silver looked at the blood stained thorn.

      “I could have gone to fleur before,” she said, “but me being me, I didn’t.”  Little Tess stroked then kissed the pads of silver’s injured paw, silver laughing merrily.

        “I found the thorn, I found it Leo!”  Little Tess mewed excitedly.  Silver gave little Tess her right hind paw, then, smiling, withdrew her paw, shuffled round, and then let the cub have access to all four of her large hairy paws.  Tess, feeling her way over silver’s paws, purred with contentment as she explored her silver friend’s fore and hind paws with her own fore and hind paws, silver smiling as she felt tiny pads and toes working over her larger ones.  Silver made sure her paws contacted with little Tess’s, letting the cub know she could have free reign to explore her pads and toes.  Little Tess found not one or two, but four of silver’s paws close together, Silver having drawn all four paws close to her body.  Being only five days old, little Tess’s eyes were not open so all she knew was four paws were suddenly very accessible.  Touching Silver’s left forepaw; Tess began to stroke it very gently.  Silver began to purr, holding onto Tess’s tiny toes with her larger ones, the cub mewing to her to relax her paw.  Silver relaxed her paw, Tess patting her toes as she worked.

 

Leo and Tess watched their cub working on Silver’s paws, first her right fore, then left fore, then right hind, then left hind.  Leo looked at Silver’s injured right hind paw, and then went to get Kodiak, who came with an antiseptic spray.  Taking a look at silver’s right hind paw, Kodiak wanted to take a closer look.  Washing his paws in antiseptic wash, he took hold of the injured paw and stretched the skin on the pad of silver’s paw, exposing the injury.  Silver mewed and tensed up, Little Tess trying to comfort her.  Kodiak saw the wound was clean, that fortunately the thorn was excised fully.

     “How did the thorn get pulled out?”  Kodiak asked, “Silver didn’t go to fleur to get it seen to.”

     “I felt it and pulled it out,” Little Tess mewed.  Kodiak stared at the tiny liger cub.

     “You did what?”  The bear asked.

      “I pulled the thorn,” Little Tess mewed.

     “Show me,” Kodiak said, unable to believe what he was hearing.

      “I dug my claws into her pads and used my teeth to pull the thorn out,” Little Tess replied, “You want me to bite and claw your paw?”

      “No,” Kodiak said.

      “Well how can I make you believe what I did other than telling you!”  Tess yelled, “will you believe Silver if she tells you?”  Then Tess, in a fit of rage, slapped Kodiak’s left forepaw, the spray can flying from his grip and landing on the other side of the room!

       “How dare you lay paws on me!”  Kodiak snarled, angered at the cub’s actions.

      “Leave it Kodiak,” Silver said, “that cub’s not your quarry.”

      “No but she disrespected me!”  Kodiak yelled.

      “You did not give her account the time of day,” Silver mewed, “You wouldn’t even investigate it.  You are the one being disrespectful, not the other way round.”  Kodiak grumbled and retrieved his spray can.  Spraying some on the pads of Silver’s right hind paw, he thought of the liger cub that had a liking for Silver’s paws.

      “You told her to leave your right hind paw alone though didn’t you silver?”  Kodiak asked, having got the briefing from Leo on the way back to the lie up.

      “Yes I did,” Silver mewed, “but she disobeyed me, and now I know why.  If she hadn’t, I would have been scared of the minor operation to get the thorn out of my paw pad.  As it was, in the frenzied of the assault on my paw, I hardly noticed anything.  Sure there was the pain of claws and teeth going in as my pad were stretched between claws, while teeth bit down hard to get the thorn out, but I was so angry I hardly noticed pain.  The cub let go after she’d done her work.  She even licked my wounded paw. which I think a loving thing to do.”

       “No, it was disgusting,” Kodiak said, “the bacteria in all that stuff.”

      “We’ll end up too sanitised if we carry on the way we’re going,” Silver mewed, “you’re already washing your paws with every kind of antiseptic thing on this earth Kodiak.  If we carry on like this, we’ll get to where the humans are now.  We’ll end up with bacteria that are resistant to everything, and then we’ll be able to treat nothing.  That is almost where the humans are now.  Vie read it on the internet.”

       “So you are saying we let mothers have cubs in the open?  With all the mud and junk in the wood?”  Kodiak asked.

      “Yes,” silver mewed, “that’s how lynx, lions and other animals have had their cubs for generations, not in houses!”

       “But Allie and Tess liked having their cubs here,” Kodiak said.

     “Oh, by the way,” Leo said, “I didn’t specially wash my paws before helping Tess have her cubs you know.  All right, I did after I used the new relieving place, but not after that.  I’d been padding round with her for a good hour or so, her paw on mine, mine on hers before I helped her deliver her cubs.”

      “You could have spread infection to her or her cubs!”  Kodiak roared, “You inconsiderate half cast moggie!”

       “Rubbish!”  Fleur yelled, barrelling into the room, “Leo was right to do what he did.  Kodiak, I would have left silver’s paw the way it was, and by the way, Leo is not a half cast Moggie!”  Fleur leapt Upon Kodiak, beating him with her paws, the bear fighting her off and running away.

        “How can you fight him like that?”  Leo asked his mum, “Kodiak’s a huge bear!”

     “He’s a wimp,” fleur mewed, “he’s not into fighting.”  Fleur turned too little Tess and smiled down at her.

     “You did well getting the thorn out of Silver’s paw little’n,” she mewed.

      “You saw it?”  Silver asked.

      “Yes I did,” fleur replied, “Theo told me to come take a look at something and then he showed me the replay of the whole thing.  It was well done!  It’s a pity I couldn’t see how it was actually done though.  Things were a little crowded.”

       “I found the pad on the sole of Silver’s paw where the thorn was, and then I got the claws of both my forepaws, dug one paw into one side of the pad where the thorn was, and the other into the other side, and then pulled.  The pad stretched and then I put my nose down to the pad, felt for the thorn with it, and got my teeth around a small bit of the thorn.  I pulled the thorn out while stretching silver’s pad even more.  The thorn came out okay, but silver’s paw bled, and Silver herself was angry with me.  Once she’d calmed down, I licked her injured paw pads,” little Tess said.  Fleur hugged the tiny cub.

     “You did very well Tess dear,” she mewed, kissing the cub’s nose.

      “I think she was a disobedient cub!”  Tess’s mother snapped, “But as she helped Silver, then I suppose I can overlook her disobedience.”  Silver got to her paws, bounced on her toes, then padded from the lie up.  Meeting Kodiak in the passage, silver was subjected to a torrent of abuse from the Kodiak bear regarding her complicity in the treatment for her injured paw.

       “Now you’ve insulted my breeding, markings, paws, personality and age,” Silver mewed, “can I leave?”  Kodiak stormed from sight, knowing he’d get a public wigging from fleur.  This public humiliation was not long in coming, for Fleur had seen Kodiak pouring out frothy insults at Silver.

       “Kodiak,” fleur said when he arrived for work in the afternoon of that day, “come here please.”  Kodiak went to the funny furred cat, knowing he would not be able to avoid her Roth.  Fleur squared up to the massive Kodiak bear and wagged her paw at him, something he hated.

       “You do not insult Silver!”  She yelled.

      “But she let that disgusting cub remove the thorn from her paw and then lick her paw too!”  Kodiak yelled.

      “As ever was in nature,” fleur mewed, “it’s only because we live here that we use antiseptic sprays,” fleur mewed, “in the wild we’d be licking our own paws and those of injured animals we help out.  Are you saying you’d never pull a thorn from your cub’s paw?”  Kodiak looked down at his own paws.

      “I would,” he replied.

      “And would you kiss the injured paw?”  Fleur asked.  Kodiak was about to =give positive answer, when he stopped himself, though his eyes had told fleur what he was really thinking.  Fleur slammed her paw onto the tiles.

      “I knew it!”  She yowled, “You are stupid!  You do not take note of what I tell you!”  Kodiak knew fleur had told him not to use too much medicine and to let nature take its course when necessary.  That was why he was not allowed at cubbings, in case he administered drugs where they weren’t needed.

      “You like your antiseptic sprays and injections too much!”  Fleur yelled, “Kodiak, you need serious monitoring!”  Kodiak looked miserable.

      “No wonder I’m never told when a cubbing is happening,” he grumbled, “I do like medicines, but I like to see those I treat cured!”

      “But you endanger their long term health,” Fleur mewed, “Your use of anti biotic is reckless!  I will accompany you to cases now; you will not go on your own, is that clear?”  Kodiak nodded.

      “Let nature take its course sometimes,” fleur said, “You saw the births of Allie and Tess’s cubs?  You saw how Allie had a large cub without medical intervention, and how Tess had her cubs without help from us.  Brunetta also had her cubs with little intervention from medical sources.  Two difficult cubbings and a normal cubbing.  If in doubt, paws off!”

 

Meanwhile Silver had met up with Tigger and Namrah in the tiger’s lie up.  She wasted no time in relating to them everything that had taken place in Tess and Leo’s lie up.  Tigger smiled at the story of little Tess’s intervention.

      “Got to love the cubs,” he mewed.

      “She grabbed my paw and pulled out the thorn,” Silver mewed, “I am so grateful to her, I can’t tell you in words!”

       “Androcles and the lion all over again,” Namrah mewed.

      “Who?”  Silver asked.  Namrah smiled and settled comfortably.

      “Let me tell you a story,” she mewed, as if talking to a sleepy cub.  Silver grinned and settled down with the tigress.  Namrah hugged silver to her and started to tell the tale.

      “Aesop wrote a fable about a human slave who escaped from his master and, while walking through a forest, found an injured lion.  The human, Androcles, pulled a thorn from the lion’s paw.  The lion, eternally grateful for the human’s compassionate service, took him to his cave and brought meat for him.  The emperor of that day had the lion and Androcles caught, and Androcles sentenced to be eaten by the lion.  The lion was starved for days, and then let out into an arena where several thousand people had gathered to watch Androcles die at the paws of the lion.  This lion, furious and frantic from hunger, comes barrelling out of the cage, snarling growling and roaring with rage.  He bounds up to the human, then recognises his friend and refuses to eat him.  The Emperor is so astonished he lets Androcles go free and frees the lion to return to the forest.”

      “Well, I don’t know if I’ll be providing meat for the cub for ever more,”  silver mewed, “but I would never think of killing her.  Especially now.”

     “Were you thinking of killing little Tess then?”  Tigger asked.  Silver looked shocked and upset:

      “No Tiggie, no!”  She protested.

       “Little Tess and the lynx doesn’t have the same ring about it really,” Namrah mewed.

 

Silver cuddled up to Namrah, taking no note that she was cuddled up to a tigress.  Purring, Silver smiled as Namrah’s paws enveloped her.

      “This feels great,” Silver mewed.  Namrah kissed silver’s nose and the toes of both her forepaws.

 

Meanwhile, Geming and Weici lay together in their lie up, enjoying just being together.  Whereas Shen and Shuang did not want cubs, Weici and Geming did, but no matter how they tried, Weici could not get in cub.  It was said that Shuang was pregnant with Shen’s cub, much to the astonishment of the two pandas.  Weici and Geming didn’t know the truth of the story, but one panda did.  Yi Jie knew very well, and knew Shuang’s due date.  Yi jie was not as upset at the situation as Shen and Shuang were, though she thought that Weici and Geming would have greeted the arrival of a cub with more enthusiasm than Shen was.  Shen, angry with himself for letting go of his legendary control for one night, now paced, angry and disgusted round the lie up as Shuang’s time for cubbing drew nearer.  He’d asked fleur about aborting the cub, but the big cat had refused to help.  Initial disgust and anger on Shuang’s part had resolved itself into acceptance of her situation.  Now she was just looking forward to having the cub so she could be rid of it.  Shuang was resigned to a long labour and knew that all the tricks in the book would have to be used to soothe her.  To that end, she spent time with older Arki and Allie, Arki because she was the ursine cubbing attendant, and Allie because she was the bear who, to date, had endured the longest labour of any new mother in the community.  Shuang asked many questions about paw massage, labour pain and how to control it, and what to do to relax during the lull in contractions, as well as the best position to give birth in.  On this last point, noone was really much help, as the general answer was, “chose your own,” which wasn’t what Shuang wanted to hear.

      “At least you could show me how to massage my paws!”  Shuang begged after a rather unproductive question and answer session with Arki and Allie.

       “We could,” Arki replied, “who do you want to show you the ropes, me or Allie?”  Shuang asked for both to show her the techniques used.

 

Arki and Allie both sat down with Shuang, first showing her how having her paws massaged felt, something Shuang wasn’t going to argue with.  Shuang, comatose after the most exquisite paw massage, indeed the only paw massage she’d had in ages, said something that made Arki and Allie pause a while.

      “Shen doesn’t want to be there when I have my cub,” Shuang said, “he doesn’t want the cub.”  Arki nodded, she knew this, as Fleur had come to her in a rage after Shen had discussed aborting the cub with her.

      “Do you want this cub?”  Allie asked gently.

      “I don’t know,” Shuang replied, “I wasn’t planning on having a cub, but I suppose, now, now I’m in cub, I will give birth to it, and then I’ll have to look after it.  It was my choice to accept Shen’s advances; even though he is furious he ever made them.  Now I’m in cub, and I don’t know if I like it or not.”  Arki looked at Allie, Shuang catching their drift.

      “I won’t abandon the cub if that’s what you are worried about,” she said, “I won’t be like Jinghua.  I hate that panda!”  Allie and Arki held one of Shuang’s forepaws each and promised her they’d do all they could to help her.

       “Do you want anyone with you during your cubbing?”  Arki asked.  Shuang looked tearful.

      “I do,” she sobbed, “but, but Shen won’t do it, he refuses!  He says the sight and sound of a panda giving birth is more than he can take!  He’s watched Weici’s birth you see, many, many times, trying to get used to it, but he says he can’t!  I could have another panda with me, or maybe a polar bear, or a lion, or anyone!  I just need help!”  Arki cradled the weeping sow panda in her huge polar bear sized paws.

       “How about if I help you through it,” Arki suggested, “or Allie helps you.”  Shuang looked at Allie, who nodded and smiled.

       “I suppose we’re sisters, you and I, polar bears and pandas.  You know in some measure how it will feel for me to give birth to this cub.  So it could be either of you, or both of you.”

      “My job is usually in security,” Allie said, “but I’ve got cover if you want me Shuang.”  Shuang looked at Allie, a polar bear with huge paws and gentle eyes.  Then at Arki, who had equally gentle eyes, but was smaller and had smaller paws.

       “Arki’s very good,” Allie said, reading the sow panda’s thoughts, “she helped me you know, and I loved it.  Have you seen the births of Bjorn and Orsa?”  Shuang had, and knew how paws on older Arki were.  Allie thought of her youngest cub, little, now younger Arki.

       “My youngest cub is interested in the work you do Arki,” she said, “Would you show her a mock cubbing one day?”  Arki grinned and replied that she would.

       “I’m not surprised she’s interested,” the polar bear said, “after her birth n’all, which I believe she remembers quite well.”  Allie winced:

     “so do I,”  she replied, “young Arki will sometimes describe what she felt during her birth, and it makes me want to massage my hind paws and squeeze my toes like I did during contractions.  Sometimes young Arki says I even end up doing just that during our discussion of that time.  Lovely though the birth was, young Arki can trigger off vivid memories of that time, and I can’t help my unconscious responses.”

 

 

Shuang looked a little happier with things as the two massive polar bears showed her how to stroke her own hind paws during contractions.

      “The trick is to hold your hind paw with one forepaw, and use the other to stroke the pads or play with the toes of the held paw,” Arki said.  Shuang, now sitting down and bending her right hind leg to bring her right hind paw closer to her, took her right hind paw in her left fore, the toes of her forepaw gripping the pads of her hind.  Then she relaxed her free hind paw, reaching over with her left forepaw to play with the toes of her right hind.

      “Now gently massage and play with the toes of your hind paw,” Allie said, “get deep into it Shuang, feel the world through your paws my dear, breathe deeply and let your paws do their work.”  Shuang felt herself relaxing as the toes of her left forepaw played over the toes of her right hind.  She even tried rubbing the pads of her right hind with her right forepaw, smiling at how good that felt.

      “Now imagine you are having a contraction,” Arki said, “What do your paws want to do now?”  Shuang knew what she’d want to do and told them.

      “My toes would curl hard, my teeth would clench and my eyes would squeeze tight shut, I’d also be groaning and panting,”  she replied, “but, I suppose you don’t’ want me to do that, or try not to do that.”

     “When you have a contraction, try focusing your world into your paws, nothing else matters other than the touch of paw pad on paw pad.  And if you want to push, push down into the soles of your paws.  When you want to squeeze something hard during a heavy contraction, grip the paw you are holding as hard as you can, squeezing the toes of your right or left hind paws faster and faster with the growing pain using one forepaw while holding hard onto your hind paw with the other forepaw.”  Allie told Shuang lots more, the panda trying many techniques out for herself as the polar bears demonstrated them.

     “When it’s time to have your cub,” Arki said, “no matter what position you choose to have it in, be it squatting, lying on your side or on your back.  A good trick during contractions when you can no longer sit down properly and the cub is low down, is to open your mouth during contractions, relax your paws and pant hard.  If you want to push, push hard with your mouth open, groan, pant, yell, but always keep your mouth open Shuang.  That way you are getting air and so is your cub.  It also helps to loosen things up for the cub to come into the world.  It may also be less painful for you as you are not fighting your own body.”  Shuang tried squatting and panting hard, as well as lying on her side and on her back doing much the same, feeling her whole body relax from her nose to her toes.  Shuang found that panting caused her paws to relax, her toes becoming less tense.

     “All this might induce early labour,” Shuang said half seriously.

       “No, not yet,” Arki said, “but it will tell your cub you’re thinking of it.  A stress free happy labour is not only good for mum you know; it’s good for her cub too.”  Allie grinned at Arki.

      “I know that only too well,”  she replied, “younger Arki’s birth could have been so much more painful and difficult, but due to me not stressing over it, taking each contraction as it came, I got through it with only paw massage to help me.”

      “Will those attending the birth of my cub be able to massage my paws?”  Shuang asked.

     “Yes, but only if you allow it,” Allie replied, “Noone will do anything unless you say so.  It’s driven by you Shuang.”

      “Brunetta won’t thank you for saying that Allie,” Arki said.  Allie shook her head.

     “I know, but her cub was in danger, she couldn’t have it, no matter how she tried, so we had to do something to help.  Theo did well that day, and the cub was born naturally, if with a little help from a higher power.”  Shuang was surprised at the length of time the two polar bears spent with her, answering her questions, showing her how to stroke her paws, as well as letting her feel how their paws reacted to mock contractions, as both Allie and Arki had mastered the art of mock cubbings.  Shuang also got paws on with Arki as she panted, strained and moaned during a staged final few minutes of labour.  The panda touching Arki’s belly, feeling her paws clench and relax as she had her cub, as well as once feeling her clenched teeth as her paw stroked the polar bear’s cheek.  Feeling Shuang’s paw stroking her cheek as she bore a mock contraction, Arki bared her clenched teeth, the toes of Shuang’s left forepaw feeling her clenched teeth, and then how wide she opened her mouth to pant as the contraction ended.  Arki even rolled over onto her side from lying flat to embrace Shuang and moan as a contraction hit deeply.  The sound was low and resonant, vibrating through both their bodies from noses to toes.  Arki expressing her pain and discomfort in one long groan of pain.  Shuang encouraged Arki in her efforts to have her imaginary cub, and Arki responded positively, and very Soon the cub was born, Arki calmed down.

      “That was wonderful!”  Shuang enthused.

      “I thought I did well,” Arki panted.

       “You scare me Arki,” Allie said, her paws covering her face, “that was almost too real!”

      “Wow Arki, how brilliant that was!”  Younger Arki said, emerging from behind a curtain where she’d been watching the whole thing from about the time Shuang had got paws on with Arki during her mock cubbing.

      “Can I have a go?”  Younger Arki asked.

     “You’re not pretending to have a cub just yet!”  Allie snapped.

     “No mum no!”  Younger Arki laughed, “I meant have a go at helping Arki.”  Arki looked down at her trembling forepaws.

      “Let me rest a while and have a drink,” she said, “then maybe you can help me.”  The young female polar bear was overjoyed!

 

Arki drank water for a long time, and then made tea for herself and Allie, the two bears settling down with a bowl each.  Shuang left to find her angry mate.  Shen, having watched everything, slapped his mate.

      “You stupid bitch!”  He yelled, “Why did you go to the polar bears!”

     “Because you won’t help me have my cub!”  Shuang yelled.  Shen stormed off, furious with her.

       “If you’d refused my advances, we’d not be in this position!”  Shen yelled.

      “It takes two to tango,” Shuang said.  Shen racing back to her and slapping her face!  Shuang fought her mate off, the two pandas growling and snarling at each other.

      “Stop it!”  Yi Jie yelled, barrelling into the situation.

      “Leave us to sort our own problems!”  Shen yelled.  Yi Jie stood between the two scrapping pandas.

      “Shen, leave Shuang alone,” Yi Jie mewed.  Shen squared up to the sow panda.

      “Leave us alone!”  He yelled.

      “You will not attack Shuang, regardless of your reasons.  Now get out!”  Yi Jie yelled.  Shen fled!  Yi Jie licked Shuang’s ear and kissed her nose.  Placing her paw on the younger sow panda’s, she asked her a question.

      “Do you want to have your cub?”  Yi Jie asked.  Shuang smiled and cuddled up to the older sow panda.

       “You understand what it is to look after cubs,” she said, “yes Yi Jie, I do want my cub.”

      “You did well going to the polar bears,” Yi Jie said.  Shuang smiled and hugged the sow panda as best she could.

      “Arki and Allie were wonderful to me, and I hope they didn’t mind me questioning them and asking them to demonstrate things over and over.”

      “The bears love their role,” Yi Jie said.

       “You are comfortable with Arki and Allie?”  Yi Jie asked.

     “I am,” Shuang replied, “to have either, or both of them help me with the birth of my cub would be wonderful.”

 

 

Yi jie hugged her now grown cub.

     “If Shen doesn’t want the cub,” she said, “I’ll help you look after it.  Don’t worry Shuang.  Enjoy the birth of your cub, for it’s a wonderful thing.  Then, be assured, if Shen won’t help, we will.  Not just me and Liang, but the whole community will take you and your cub in their paws.  That means me and my mate, as well as the lions, tigers and snow leopards.  Panja’s a pest, but, but Namir isn’t.  The only thing that matters now is that you have your cub in safety and comfort.  Go to your paw massage time, enjoy your paw play and most of all, don’t worry, for worry and anxiety can affect your cub.”  Shuang cuddled up to Yi Jie.

      “I enjoyed my time with Arki and Allie,” she said, “they showed me a lot that relaxed me.  I now know how a cubbing works, but am sure I’ll be shown again before my cub is due.”

 

Meanwhile, Shen stamped about the main room of the house, venting his rage to anyone who would listen.

      “I don’t know what you’re so upset about,”  Geming said, “me and Weici have been trying for a cub for ages, when she’s in season and when she’s not, but she can’t get in cub.  You’re lucky!”

      “If you think I’m so dam lucky, why don’t you take on the dam cub when it’s weaned?”  Shen snapped, “I didn’t want a cub!”

      “How about Shuang’s feelings in all this?”  Liang asked, “Isn’t she part of this too?”  Shen nearly hit him!

       “She’s sitting on the fence!”  Shen yelled, “She won’t commit either way.  I’ve tried getting fleur to help me convince Shuang to abort the cub, but fleur refuses!  What business is it of hers to refuse us anything?  She’s a bloody medical moggie and she won’t do this for us!”

      “Fleur has a responsibility towards everyone, not just selfish pandas,” Arki said, padding into the room, “she won’t abort a cub just on your say-so.”

       “Panda cubs are wonderful,” Weici said, “I wish me and Geming could have one, but it’s not happening for us.”

       “You wouldn’t have a clue what to do with it when you got it,” Shen snapped.  Liang and Geming had heard enough and leapt upon Shen, clawing and slapping at him!  The sound of battle brought Samson bounding into the room, his roar stopping the assault on Shen.

       “What the hell’s going on?”  Samson demanded.

      “You keep out of this!”  Liang said with uncharacteristic venom.  Samson walloped the male panda hard with his paw, Liang curling up in a miserable heap.

       “Shen want’s to abort his and Shuang’s cub,” Geming said, “Liang and I got angry with him and beat him up, that’s what happened.”  Samson looked at Shen:

      “You accepted our rules when you ate our food and accepted our company,” the lion said, “I know I wasn’t here at the time, but I know the rules.  Now you will accept our rules or leave.  If you try anything like attacking Shuang to induce miscarriage of the cub, you will die slowly and painfully.  I will make it so you suffer as much pain as you cause Shuang.  Now go Shen, and don’t threaten your mate, or the newborn cub.  I’m watching you!”  Shen, his face scratched and paws sore from being stamped on slunk away to lick his wounds.

       “Run away you coward!”  Liang yelled.

      “Leave it Liang,” Samson snarled.  The panda whipped round on the lion, anger in his eyes.

     “You will never know!”  The panda yelled.

       “Leave it,” Samson said again, “before I tie your paws together.”

       “Dam lions!”  Liang grumbled.

      “No Liang,” Samson mewed, “not dam lions, caring lions, for I want that cub to live.  I just don’t want you to get involved with Shen’s punishment.  He will be punished if he puts a paw wrong.  It’s just not your job to carry out punishment.  Liang looked at the lion.

       “You love pandas don’t you,” he said.  Samson smiled:

      “I love all bears,” he replied.

      “I’ve heard you want to be a bear,” Geming said.  Samson smiled:

      “I love bears,” he replied, “Allie lets me stroke her paws for many an hour.”

      “You could also do worse than stroking mine or Weici’s paws,” Geming said, “We’d love it if you would stroke our paws from time to time.”  Samson smiled.

       “I would like that,” he mewed.  Liang looked at Samson.

      “I suppose you want me to stroke your paws too?”  The lion asked.  Liang nodded.  Samson sighed heavily and looked bored, but the pandas knew he was delighted to have contact with them.

      “Can I also put a word in for a friend of mine?”  Samson asked, “Theo wants to get closer to you pandas, if you will allow him.”

      “We will,” Liang replied, “let him come and stroke our bellies and paws.

 

Theo heard of this offer and his mind went back to how he’d felt when he’d asked to meet Weici when she was very young.  Jinghua had refused, but now she’d gone things were different.  Theo padded up to Liang, the largest panda that lived in the community and looked him over.  He was sprawled on the rug in his lie up, paws relaxed and eyes half closed.  Theo had wanted to hug the pandas for a long time.

      “What is it about us bears that you like so much?”  Liang asked.

      “I don’t know,” Theo mewed, “your adaptability, strength and intelligence, the way you play with your cubs, how agile your paws are, all that.

     “Well the first one is rubbish as far as Pandas are concerned,” Liang replied, “Pandas are not versatile at all.”

     “You asked about bears, not pandas,” Theo replied, “as for Pandas, Well, I like them because they are so different to other bears.  I just like bears, all right?”

      “Okay,” Liang replied.  He gave Theo his right forepaw.

      “Want to stroke my paw?”  The panda asked.  Theo massaged the offered paw, Liang soon comatose with pleasure.  Theo drifted to sleep with Liang’s paw held in both of his.  The lion could tell the panda was at peace with him, and this soothed his mind.  Theo woke after an hour or so, Liang still sleeping peacefully.  Theo examined Liang carefully from his black nose to the brown soles of his paws.  Theo knew the power of his own paws to heal others, and used them as a primary source of communication.  Now he stroked the soles of Liang’s paws, trying to convey his peaceful intentions.  Liang seemed to sense the lion’s peaceful intentions.  Theo felt Liang’s pads and toes relaxing under his touch.  Liang woke slowly, his paws sending him messages of peace and warmth from a lion.  Liang smiled sleepily.

      “I love the touch of your paws on mine,” Liang said.  Geming and Weici, having stayed for the whole hour and a half since Theo had entered the room, had watched everything.

     “Would you stroke my paws Theo?”  Geming asked.

      “I will,” Theo mewed.  Liang shook himself awake.

       “That was amazing,” he yawned.

      “You’ve a very handsome panda,” Theo said.  Liang smiled.  Geming settled back watching through half closed eyes as Theo took his left forepaw in both of his.  Theo massaged all four of Geming’s paws, Geming enjoying the lion’s massage of his hind paws more than his fore, pressing the pads and toes of first his left hind, and then his right into Theo’s paws as the lion massaged each of his hind paws.

       “You can’t get enough of that can you Geming,” Weici said gently to her mate.  Geming smiled and relaxed totally into Theo’s massage.

       “My paws are all yours Theo,” he said softly.

       “How about us polar bears!”  Arki demanded, padding into the lie up.

       “All right Arki, I will massage your paws when I’ve finished massaging my panda pals.”  Arki smiled at the lion.

       “He’s massaging my paws after Geming’s, so you’ve got a long wait on your paws Arki,” Weici said.  Arki smiled, ran to the sow panda, rolled her over and began tickling her paws, Weici shrieking with laughter.

     “Not if I tickle your paws so much you can’t feel anything for ages,” Arki said playfully.

     “That’s not fair!”  Liang protested, “Arki, your paws are much bigger than Weici’s.  Let her go!”  Weici wriggled and squirmed as Arki tickled her paws.

       “That’s enough!”  Weici panted, Arki halting her assault.

       “It was fun though,” Weici admitted.  Arki smiled.

      “I’ll bet you can’t tickle my paws,” she challenged.  Weici accepted the challenge and Arki was soon laughing fit to bust.

      “I think she can tickle your paws Arki,” Theo mewed.  Arki smiled at the lion, the toes of her left forepaw curled round those of Weici’s right fore.

      “I love you pandas,” Arki said.  Weici kissed her nose.

      “Shuang has proven we pandas like you polar bears,”  she said, “I know Shuang wants you and Allie to help her have her cub, as would I if I could have a cub of my own.”  Arki smiled and kissed Weici’s nose.

      “Let’s all settle down and wait for Theo to get to massage our paws,” she said, “or, even better, we could ask Samson if he’d mind lending a paw.”

     “Sammy would lend all four paws if he could,” Theo said smiling.

      “Too right I would,” Samson replied, padding into the lie up, “by the way, just before we lose ourselves in amazing paw massage, I’d better let you know that I’ve locked Shen up in the concrete shed.  He’s threatened Shuang once too often for my liking.”  Noone cared about Shen’s ware about, for all had heard of his views on Shuang’s pregnancy and hated him for even thinking of aborting their cub, let alone asking fleur to help.  Samson, having put Shen well out of commotion, could think of other more pleasant things to put his paws on, like the paws of other animals who wanted to feel his touch for example.  Samson smiled as he lay down beside Geming and took the male panda’s left forepaw in both of his.

      “You carry on,” Geming said, “for my paws are yours to massage and play with.”  Samson smiled and kissed his nose.

      “Why is it I feel at home when my paw is in that of a lion?”  Geming asked.

     “Because we lions are basically caring big cats?”  Samson asked.  Geming smiled.

      “Yes I think that’s it,” he replied.

 

Meanwhile, Fleur got a call from Allie up in her control room.  She’d spotted something on her cameras, Clarence lying unusually still in his lie up.  Fleur knew Clarence, the oldest lion in the community, had spent less and less time involved with community life.  Had he felt his time coming?  Fleur padded to Clarence’s lie up, and found the lion lying on his rug.  Checking his body over, she found he was dead.  Fleur had expected as much, for Clarence had spoken to her in confidence about his death.  Fleur said to him she was unable to help him die, but she would talk to him whenever he wished.  Now Clarence’s time on this earth had ended, and suddenly too.  Fleur searched the lie up, but could find nothing amiss.  Clarence had just lain down and passed away.  Fleur went to a phone and asked Allie to look back on footage from the camera in Clarence’s lie up.  Allie did, and could see nothing amiss either.  She reported that Clarence had come in from the garden, lain down and gone to sleep.

      “He’s quite definitely dead now,” fleur mewed, “This is sudden, but happens sometimes.  Perfectly healthy creatures can suddenly die its part of the way of things.”

       “Shall I tell the community?”  Allie asked.

      “Yes, please do so,” fleur mewed, “I’ll wrap things up here.”  With that she put the phone down and turned back to the lifeless body of the lion, finding Tigger lying beside Clarence’s body, holding the lion’s paw in his.

     “Tiggie,” fleur said, “What are you doing here?”

       “Clarence came with me to this place,” Tigger mewed, “I saved his sanity when he was caught in the Okavango.  Now he’s dead, and he never told me a thing about how he was feeling before.”

      “Tiggie,” fleur mewed, “sometimes those we care for die unexpectedly.”  Tigger wiped his eyes with his paw.

      “He was healthy though,” Tigger mewed.  Fleur didn’t reply, knowing that if she said anything or even touched Tigger’s paw she’d betray Clarence’s confidence.

       “What’s the matter fleur?”  Tigger asked.

       “Nothing,” fleur replied.

      “You know more than you’re telling,” Tigger said flatly.

       “I do,” fleur mewed, “but Tiggie, please ask no more, for I can’t tell you.”  Tigger left the lie up, knowing his cub could tell him nothing of her conversations with his late friend.

       “Do what you have to,” Tigger said.  Fleur hugged him tenderly.

       “We’ll bury Clarence quickly,” fleur mewed, “just like we do every deceased community member.”  To that end, fleur called Percy badger to prepare Clarence’s final resting place.  Unknown to most in the community, two other long standing members had left for a better place.  Constance and Brock, as badgers have always done, went into the wood one day and never returned.  Fleur knew this, and had told Allie about a month ago, not to watch the badgers on the cameras.  It was bad form, so Percival Pettigrew said, to watch where badgers went on their final journey.  He said they’d dig themselves a set and fill it in from the inside taking with them enough food for a few days.  Once that was eaten, they’d eat a special bark that sent them to sleep, never to wake again.  Fleur hadn’t asked where the bark came from, as she knew the badger would never tell her.

 

Percy got down to digging Clarence’s grave with the help of a female badger whom he’d met a few weeks previously in the wood in total secrecy.  Percy, having heard of the disastrous rate of divorce in the community, had kept his meetings with this female badger secret from all but a select few, namely those on patrol, who couldn’t help seeing everything, as that was their job.  Percy and his mate, for mate she was.  Dug Clarence’s grave with the solemnity and dignity that befitted their own kind.  Fleur watched this, as did Petra, who wanted to see everything, to be part of the commemoration of the life of a lion that’d fought, no matter how briefly, for her own life.

       “Clarence was a sad lion,” Petra mewed to fleur, “he felt responsible for what happened to me when I was a cub, I know he did.  Tembi did her sire wrong when she abused me, for it didn’t just hurt me, it hurt him.  Now he is dead, and I hope at peace.  I cannot say for certain that he is at peace, for I no longer have that insight.  I can only hope he is.”

 

Clarence’s body was laid to rest in a short ceremony, the two badgers watching the bears, which carried Clarence’s body to the grave and laid him in it. Samson then motioned for the badgers to fill in the grave, which they did with startling speed.  Soon the patch of woodland where Clarence’s body rested was back to its normal state.

      “Clarence say he want we bury him like badger, so that’s what we be do for him,” Percy’s mate said to Samson, who was a little uncomfortable about the speed of things.

       “What happens at a badger funeral?”  Samson asked.

      “We bury body dam fast,” the female badger replied, “it be no good with body lying about all over the place.  We make sure we bury deep too, and away from homes, can’t bury near homes you know.”

       “How do you remember your dead?”  Samson asked, “For there’s no marker for Clarence’s grave.

      “No,” Percy’s mate said, “for who need one?  We badger carry memories in our families for long time.  We tell stories to our cubs who tell of us to their cubs, and so on and so on.  We are great historians.  We tell stories of old badgers, telling our cubs of their history.  Now I am talking to Theo, big soft lion I think he is,” the badger continued, “he is telling me community stories, and me storing them up in head, for lions, they are no good at memorising anything.  They lose their mind for they throw out male cubs and sometimes females too.  Their pride no grow like our badger family do.  We have many generations under one roof.  But pride, they throw out poor male lions and lose their stories.  I never heard of a leonine historian.  The closest you got is big soft Theo, and he only one.  We need more, so I make two, but me no lion.  I know community no care who you be as long as you care for others, so me could become historian for lions and community, but how me get into real situations to experience history in making, like panda cub birth for example.  Surely she panda no want big pawed badger busting in on cubbing do she? 

      “I see Percy’s been keeping you up to date,” Shuang said, “what be your name?”  The badger grinned at the panda, realising she was trying to imitate her dialect.

       “My name be Honeyfur,” she replied.  Swarupa and Sushanti sniggered at the badger’s name, but they didn’t laugh for long.

       “You no laugh at my name!”  The sow badger snapped, sprinting to the two cubs and cuffing them with her huge paws!  The two female tiger cubs laughed no more, so astonished were they at this strange English creature’s sudden aggression.

      “I make dam sure you know badgers!”  Honeyfur said to the community, “From the oldest to the youngest, let them know of us.  Clarence knew us.  That why we bury him like badger, for he used talk many a day with us.  He be one with us, he learn our ways.  He say he no feel right in community because of his cub doing horrid things to white lioness cub.  He feels big responsibility for this.  I know you know he feel this way.  So he no wants be problem to community any more.  He makes sure he keeps away from house, away from tigers, lions, everyone.  I talk to him after meeting in wood one day.  He speak his heart to me, and tell me he want be badger as he like badger way of life.  We tell him he can no more be badger than we are lion.  Clarence very upset at this, and vow to learn badger dialect and way of life.  He even tries eating badger food, but he no like it much.”

      “No wonder noone saw him for weeks,” Petra mewed, “where is your home Honeyfur?”

      “Me no tell that to white lioness,” the badger replied, “it be secret as cubbing den place.  I’m sure you understand.”

       “Yes,” Petra mewed.

     “All I say is that home is long way from here, cross road and down track,” Honeyfur said.

      “Now we go from here,” Samson said, “but I’m still wondering how we remember Clarence?”

       “You silly lion or something Samson?”  Honeyfur asked, Samson growling at her, “you remember him with stories and tales.  Honeyfur already tell you that.”

      “There’s not much to tell,” Theo said sadly, “Clarence wasn’t willing to talk about his time in the Okavango, and he got his paws into one or two things here, things he would not talk about either.  He’s got one cub which he hardly took any interest in, and that’s it.”

       “So Clarence spends most time with badgers,” Honeyfur said, “and as for Ahanu, he spends time with white Haimati tigress that he loves to ends of earth.  I know, for Ahanu talk to me too.  You have no idea how many young members of community talk to me.  I am young badger, but I know many of you.  I no give away names, but some of you know me very well.  Now I come to community because Percy is mate to me and invite me here.  Maybe we have cubs.  If we do, then fine.  If no, then fine too.”

       “We lions run the community though,” Samson said, “what if we don’t want you here?”

       “If you no want me, that’s fine.  Badgers are okay with living outside community, for even though you patrol wood, you no patrol underground, and we live in underground place.  Now Clarence, he want come in badger home, but he too dam big!  We want him come too, but he couldn’t.  Now he dead, and he say he want be buried like badger, so we do such thing for him.  Now grave all made good, we go.”  Honeyfur took Percy’s paw and they padded away into the wood.  Samson turned to Fleur.

      “What a load of country bumpkin bunkum!  The lion roared.

      “No Sammy, please don’t say that,” Fleur mewed, “for every last word of Honeyfur’s explanation is true.  Clarence did love the badgers, probably more than he did his own community.  He told me a lot about them, and I knew of Honeyfur before any of you did.  Clarence was loved by the badgers, and he loved them.  Now he is buried by the badgers, who adopted a lost lion.”

        “But he was one of us, a big cat, not a stripy rat!”  Samson said.

        “Clarence didn’t feel part of this community,” fleur said, “and I wish you’d not refer to the badgers like that Sammy.  They are wonderful creatures, and we couldn’t live without them, you know this, so just shut up.”

        “Not marking Clarence’s grave is an insult to him!”  Samson blustered.

      “No Samson,” Petra mewed, “what would be an insult to him is forgetting him.  Let us do what Honeyfur suggested and remind ourselves of Clarence, not that there’s much to talk about, but we can try a little.  I know Tigger would like to talk of his old friend, for he and Clarence were close.”  Samson looked on the patch of turned earth with eyes full of confusion.

       “Let’s go home,” Samson said, “I’ve had enough.”

 

Tigger stopped Honeyfur as she was leaving the grave site.

       “How long had Clarence been friendly with you badgers?”  He asked.

       “Months,” Honeyfur replied, “but he say no tell anyone, not even best friend Tigger, that’s what he call you.  Clarence no want you worry about him, for he feel he make huge mistake with own cubs and know no way of making up for them.  He feels total waste of space and want die.  He comes to badgers and we talk with him for long time, but he no want live any more.  He just says he like badgers and that he want be buried with little ceremony and no headstone like badgers be buried when them die.”

       “Wiping himself off the map,” Tigger mewed sadly, “Poor Clarence.  I didn’t know his depression was that deep?  He’d never tell me a thing.  The only time I talked with him about it, he threatened to do me harm if I brought the subject up.  I didn’t, and he became unreachable.  That was months ago.  I tried Honeyfur, but I suppose if he didn’t want to see a path for his own life, noone could help him find it.”

       “Clarence wanted quiet death Tigger, and that what he got.  He thinks he done much damage to community by bringing his cubs to place.  His mate too.  Elsa, she is still out there after giving birth to Petra.  I know she has another white cub, and that you now call him second in command here.  I know, though I wasn’t born then, what his story is.  White lioness named Petra is good lioness.  She and Simba love each other like badger family, big and deep love with tender paws wrapped round.”  Honeyfur said.

        “Do you know of Rowena’s story too?”  Tigger asked.

      “Yup, she is nice lioness too, though she messes up when she bring Baingana to community.  We badgers no know Baingana, for he is inside wood for short time before Rowena find him and we no get know him much.  Now though, we know what his parentage is, and we badgers bloody angry with Nuru!  We make trap for big stinky lion that screw up the life of white lion Son cub and then impregnate helpless white tigress.  Now we wait for him come for he is in wood now.”

     “How can badgers take on a lion like Nuru?”  Tigger asked.

       “We be big army, we dig hole which then we cover with loose earth and grass sods.  Lion get paw down whole, fall down quick.  We then jump on him, tie legs together and muzzle him too.  I have best fighting badgers working on Nuru.  We be strong badgers!  We bring Nuru to white tigress Tess so she sees what Nuru really is.  We know secret about Nuru you see, though me no tell.  That is for Tiggie tiger to laugh at long and hard.  Oh, by the way, tigress Tess knows nothing of us badgers fighting for her, so you no tell.”  Tigger smiled at the thought of Nuru being tripped by a simple hole in the ground.  Would the lion be disabled enough to let the badgers immobilise him?”

 

In another part of the wood, Nuru padded down the track.  Nuru was preoccupied with his own thoughts when suddenly his forepaws sank into the track!  Nuru screamed as his nose hit the track as his entire body pitched forward and downwards!  Nuru ended up with his head and forepaws in a hole, his hind legs pedalling in mid air!  Suddenly he felt strong animals pulling him out, and then they were binding and gagging him!  Nuru, stunned and sore, soon lay on the track, the attack over with in seconds.  Blearily the lion looked up at the sky, the sun beating down on his face, making him close his eyes.  The muzzle binding Nuru’s mouth was loosened so he could talk, but badgers kept sharp eyes and swift paws on ropes that would tighten it again if he made any sharp movements.

        “Let me go!”  Nuru snarled.

       “No,” Honeyfur replied, padding from the wood.  Nuru stared at her.

       “Oh, oh no!”  Nuru mewed, horrified, “not you, not badgers!”

        “You no like us then?”  Honeyfur asked, Tigger, who was listening not too far away, wondered what the hell was going on.

      “I have a mortal fear of badgers!”  Nuru said, “When, when I was a cub, I challenged one to a fight, and it beat me, and his family tied me up with woodland rope.  My mum came and freed me, but slapped me with her paws when she heard my tale!  She said there were not badgers in the safari park, and what the hell was I doing being beaten by one, but there were!  I’d been attacked by one!  Now badgers have done for me again, me, a huge lion, king of all, done in by bumpkin badgers!”  Tigger covered his mouth with his paw, trying not to laugh.  He couldn’t see Nuru, but could imagine a lion, tied up securely with badgers gathered round him.  Honeyfur then had an idea which would humiliate and anger Nuru further.

       “Tiggie,” she said to the tiger, “bring Tess here.  I want Nuru know that his conquest no work now.  He is at mercy of tigress that he make in cub.  Tigger ran off, returning with Tess a little later.  Tess looked down at Nuru, knowing the ranks of badgers would somehow keep her safe.  Nuru saw Tess’s angry eyes draw level with his, and he felt a thorn touch the pads of one of his hind paws.

      “Look into the eyes of the tigress you made in cub,” Honeyfur said, “Nuru, you close your eyes, and we dig blackthorn into your paw and break thorn so stick in paw.”  Nuru knew what blackthorn was, and knew also the threat was no idol one.  Looking into Tess’s eyes, he saw an angry tigress, and then felt her anger as she slapped his face with her paw!

       “You horrid animal!”  Tess screamed at Nuru, “you violated me, but I got away, I now have a family who love me, you have nothing!  Your filthy mate is dead because she didn’t help me that night, and you are now tied up by your worst enemy!  Who would have thought a lion would be mortally terrified of a band of badgers? But this one is!  Come on everyone, touch his paws and tickle his belly.  I know he’d like that.”   Nuru squirmed and fought madly, but could do little to change his situation.

       “Ah, first, let those who cannot see this spectacle get paws on with it,” Honeyfur said, “Tiggie, come, come and touch the lion, the king of beasts that is now bowed before the humble English badger.”  Tigger padded up to Nuru, who was again muzzled with ever vigilant badger guards watching over his every move.  Nuru breathed deeply, trying not to think of the blind tiger’s paws touching him.  The thought revolted him!  Tigger started at Nuru’s face, touching nose, whiskers, and ears, as well as gently passing a paw over the lion’s tightly closed eyes.  Then Tigger felt Nuru’s neck fur, ran his paws over the lion’s belly, then down his forelegs to his massive forepaws.  Feeling the lion’s claws were extended in anger, Tigger gently patted the pads of Nuru’s paws until the lion retracted his claws, forced to do so by something he couldn’t understand.  Nuru felt a weakness spread throughout his paws, rendering them useless, but he could still feel everything.  Panting with mental distress, Nuru felt Tigger’s exploration of his body end with the tiger tweaking the end of his tail like a playful cub would.  Nuru wriggled and snorted his anger!

       “Now we will drag you to the house,” Percival Pettigrew said, going to the lion’s head.  Nuru looked into the eyes of the big male badger, and his mind took him back five years to a scene in the safari park where he, Nuru, then a cub, challenged a badger to a fight, the badger winning.  Nuru began to cry, tears of fear rolling down his nose threatening to choke him.  Quickly his muzzle was relaxed, and Nuru was rolled onto his side to allow him to breathe. The lion, now shaking with fear from nose to tail, opened his mouth in a scream of terror!

      “So we meet again little lion,” Percy badger said.  Nuru brought his bound forepaws up to fend off the badger, pressing his pads against the badger’s unyielding shoulder to try and push him away, but he couldn’t.  Nuru was as weak as a cub!

       “Leave me alone you demon!”  Nuru screamed.

       “No no no, I cannot accept that,” Percival Pettigrew said, “demon?  I’m no demon.  I’m just the badger you challenged to a fight all those years ago.  Nuru isn’t it?”  Nuru, now crying like a cub, whimpered that he wanted to be left alone.  Percival Pettigrew touched Nuru’s paw with his.

       “You are weak big lion,” the badger said softly, Nuru wailing with fear as the badger’s touch seemed to draw the strength from him.

      “Just leave me, leave me!”  Nuru yelled.

“So Nuru is afraid of badgers?”  Simba asked, having heard all about the goings on in the wood from Allie and ran to the place as if his paws were on fire.

       “I hate badgers!”  Nuru wined.

      “I quite like them,” Simba mewed, padding up to Honeyfur and kissing her nose, Honeyfur catching on fast and curling up on the grass.  Nuru was nearly sick!

        “You are a load of tea drinking, paw massaging idiots!”  He screamed.

       “Not really,” Simba mewed, picking up Honeyfur’s left forepaw ands beginning to massage her pads and toes, much to the sow badger’s delight, “we care for our family, that’s all.  I understand you hate yours.”  Nuru spat at the white lion.

       “Thought as much,” Simba remarked.

       “Just let me go!”  Nuru yelled.

      “What will you do if we let you go?”  Percy asked, “Attack Tess again?  Kill her cubs? Injure Leo? Answer me now!”

       “I’ll go, and you’ll never see me again!”  Nuru pleaded, “I promise I’ll leave you all in peace!”

       “Do you really mean that?”  Petra asked, padding into the terrified lion’s line of sight.

      “I do, I do!”  Nuru whimpered.

      “You’ve already killed Baingana,” Petra mewed, “he died because you were a disgusting influence on his life!  How do you feel about killing your own cub Nuru?  Oh, I forgot, you hated him before he even got a mind of his own didn’t you, you horrid shit!”  Nuru’s eyes filled with tears, and he began to cry quietly.

       “It’s all gone, everything’s busted!”  Nuru sobbed, “Me, a big male lion, brought down by a gang of badgers!  The badgers protect a community of big cats and bears, and would die for them if needed.  I know too the bears would die for the badgers if necessary.  Who would do the same for me? Noone!  I have no love here, nothing, and it’s all because I am a selfish cub.  My pride is gone, my mate is dead, her cub taken in by those who least had reason to give him shelter.  I then attack a weakened tigress and she runs to this community, who, in the full knowledge of her situation, take her in, love her, help her have her cubs, and will stand by her forever.  Now I have nothing like that.  If I’d seen the error of my ways and prostrated myself in front of the leaders of this community after we were defeated that first time, I might have survived.  I should have looked at Afua and his fait.  I had it all explained to me then, everything, but no, I put my paw in it once more!”

      “Remorse is a great thing,” Petra said, “if you really mean what you said Nuru.  I think maybe you don’t.  You are staring death in the face and you can’t cope with it!  Clarence died earlier today, and he was at peace, for he knew he’d be buried by his own people, who were the badgers.  Clarence had withdrawn from our community because of things he blamed himself for that were really not in his control.  I am sorry for him, but he died when he wished and was buried in the way he wanted.  You Nuru, you will have noone to speak of your good name, noone to love you after your passing, noone to close their eyes at night and think of the happy times they had with you, for you are disgusting, awful, and wretched.  You are not worth thinking about, for the thought is too painful.  Your life has come down to this.  While Clarence’s grave is unmarked, his memory will live on in two communities.  Your grave too will be unmarked, but it won’t be through the custom of any community, it will be because noone wants to know where you are buried, for noone will Maun your passing.  Think of this and make your prayers to whichever lord of the other side will have a soul like yours in their court.  For I know for certain that Eohippus will not have you in her court.  She will not allow you to tread the wilds of her land.”  Nuru’s eyes, which had been fixed on Petra throughout her speech suddenly looked away, he was staring at something running through the wood.  It was Leo, chasing after a fast crawling cub!

      “Stop!  Tess, Stop!”  Leo yelled.

        “My cub,” Nuru mewed softly.  Simba growled at Nuru:

      “Don’t even think of it,” Simba raised a paw to hit Nuru, only to have a paw bring his down to the grass.

       “Let them meet,” Rowena said.  Simba turned on her.

      “Are you bloody crazy?”  He asked.

       “Just watch,” Rowena said.  Simba did, feeling sick as the tiny liger cub and Nuru met.  Nuru’s eyes took in the tiny cub from nose to tail.

       “Release his paws,” Older Tess said.  Now it was Leo’s turn to stare in horror as the badgers did just what Tess asked.  Nuru, feeling his paws freed, reached out and embraced little Tess.

        “For Eohippus sake!”  Petra breathed, using language she’d never use normally.

        “I don’t believe this,” Simba mewed, “how can this happen?”

        “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you,” Rowena said.

       “You don’t mean, no Rowena!  You’ve not been talking to this horrid animal have you?”  Simba asked.  Rowena smiled slightly.

        “Even the blackest hearted lion can want to change,” she mewed.

      “I spoke to him in the wood many a night.  Nuru told me he wanted to change, that he regretted what he’d done to Tess, and that he wanted to make amends.  I told him he’d have to go through many trials before he got anywhere near mending bridges.  I knew what the badgers were planning, and let them get on with it, for they had a right to take their revenge on Nuru.  Nuru only knew all this about the community and about Tess living here because I told him.  He thought she’d died.  When I told him she was alive and well and that she was now loved by a cross bred cat, Nuru was moved to tears.”

       “Let Nuru get to his paws and breathe easier,” Simba said.  Nuru got to his paws and looked at the tiny cub that’d touched his own paw.

       “I know I had to be caught by the badgers,” Nuru said, “I know I had to meet those I’d wronged...  I have a good friend who also helped me.  Rowena found me ranting and roaring in the safari park.  She asked me what was wrong, so I told her; she told me where I’d gone wrong.  She told me all about Tess and Leo and the birth of the cubs.  She said Tess was comfortable, well looked after and safe.  I began to see what I’d caused and that I’d lost everything.  Rowena said I’d have to suffer the Roth of others before I’d be allowed to repair the damage I’d caused.  I now know what she meant.  Now, now I really want to sort myself out, I want to make myself into a good lion, to say sorry to everyone I wronged.  I know words are cheap, but I will use my paws to express my feelings, as I used to use them to conquer and subdue.”

     “I just hope I’m not making the same mistake as I did with Baingana,” Rowena said.  Nuru looked at her.

       “Baingana’s attitude was my fault too,” he mewed, “I’m sorry he attacked you.”  Rowena held Nuru’s paw, feeling his pulse, the heat in his pads, as well as any sweat build up on his pads.  She knew he was as sincere as was possible.  Simba looked at Tess, who smiled at him.

       “Killing you Nuru would serve no purpose what so ever.  You need to learn about your mistakes.  I was disgusted by what you did to me, but now I am just weary of your antics.  You say you want to reform, and the only way you can do that is to be exposed to real situations.  I have such confidence in my community that I will let you be with the cubs you made.  I want you to see the births of my cubs, to see how gentle another member of the community can be.  You see a funny furred cat here?”  Nuru looked round and spotted Leo.   His shock was comical.

       “That?”  He yowled, “That thing?”

       “Yes that thing,” Leo mewed, “that thing happens to love tigress Tess and her cubs.”

 “Rowena said there were unusual creatures here,”  Nuru mewed, “I suppose you are the Leo she spoke of, the one who stayed with tigress Tess throughout her labour and saved her still born cub.”  Leo smiled.

      “I am,” he mewed.

     “But there is only one cub here, not two!”  Nuru said,”Where is the other cub?”

       “He’s safe with Silver,” Leo replied, “I came running after little Tess when she crawled after her mother.  That cub’s quick!”  Nuru looked down at the liger cub on the grass, then, as naturally as if he had always known her, rolled onto his back and took little Tess in his paws, holding her tenderly on his chest like a lioness would.  It was then Samson found the little group.  His arrival was heralded by a roar of anger!

      “What the hell is he doing here!”  Samson demanded.

       “Watch the video,” Simba replied, “I can’t explain it all here.”

     “I won’t!”  Samson yelled, “I’ve just come off patrol with the tigers, I want to know who the hell let him in the wood, let alone have access to the liger cubs!”  Rowena looked Samson full in his face, the lion screaming and attacking her!

      “You stupid bitch, you stupid, stupid bitch!”  Samson yelled, throwing Rowena on the floor and beating her with his paws.  Simba leapt upon Samson and dragged him off, throwing him on the floor in his turn.

      “You okay Rowena?”  Simba panted, while the badgers tied Samson’s paws together.

      “Yes,” Rowena said, “that wasn’t unexpected Simba.  How can Samson understand what I do.  He doesn’t know anything about the third eye.”

     “The third eye?”  Samson roared, “I knew this cross breeding of animals would cause deformities in the end!  What the hell are community members doing with third eyes?”  Rowena and Simba literally rolled about on the grass, waving their paws in the air and laughing helplessly.

      “No, Sammy, no!”  Rowena gasped, “Not three eyes, two normal eyes and the mind’s eye.  You are so funny!”  Samson then realised he was tied up.

      “Why are my paws tied like I’m a criminal?”  He asked.

      “It is because you were attacking Rowena,” Honeyfur said, “she do nothing wrong.  She just follows her paws, like be community motto.  Rowena see Nuru want to reform himself and help him do so.  She makes no mistake this time, for Honeyfur know Nuru well.  He wants to reform himself long before Rowena find him.  As soon as he learns about births of liger cubs he knows he wants make amends with community.”

 

Meanwhile, Petra stood paw to paw with Rowena.

      “How can you know Nuru’s sincere about his intentions?”  The older lioness asked.

       “I spoke to him for a long time, over nights and nights of self hated and loathing” was Rowena’s response, “remembers Petra, your abilities were given you by a higher power after your birth.  I had mine from the first breath I took on this earth, as did Simba.  This was how we recognised each other and came to love each other like we do.  Simba and I understand each other’s abilities.  Killing Nuru would serve no purpose, but letting him reform would.  He wants to make amends from his ears to his claws, I know this.  His reaction to his cub was genuine and unforced.”

      “I hope you know what you are doing,” Petra mewed, “for if Nuru does anything to upset or damage our community, I will hold you responsible!”  Rowena saw her friend’s mood and nodded.

       “I know,” she replied.

      “Can someone let me out of here?”  Samson asked, “I promise I won’t go after Rowena.”  Nuru calmly placed his cub in Leo’s care, then, getting to his paws, padded over and freed Samson.  The two lions stared into each other’s faces for a few minutes, neither able to take in what had just happened.

        “Thank you Nuru,” Samson said.  The realisation hitting both of them that Nuru’s actions had been automatic.

        “Now what,” Nuru asked.

      “I vote we go indoors and get a bowl of tea each,” Simba mewed, “this is all too much!”

       “Tea?”  What is that?”  Nuru asked.

      “The most heavenly liquid apart from water you’ll ever taste,” Petra mewed, “and you’d better make mine a double, for I’m feeling rather weak.”

 

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