A lion with a long mane.

 

 

Petra, still tired from her battle with eohippus, ate a good meal of vegetables and settled down to sleep once more.  As she’d feared, sleep brought dreams and questions from eohippus.

 

The white mare stood in front of Petra, the lioness knowing she’d have to answer questions.

      “Why did you choose to reject my guidance?”  The mare asked.

      “You got the wrong creature,” Petra replied, “I am not capable of killing anything!  I am a vegetarian, and hate death of any sort.  When you asked me if I wanted to help snowy, of course I agreed, I would agree wouldn’t I?  A cub who’s about to lose her friend would agree to help her.  The problem with that was that you didn’t tell me I’d have to go against everything I believed in if snowy got a new lease of life.  You didn’t tell me you’d ask me to do things I wouldn’t normally do!  I love you Eohippus, but I am not the right creature to help you.  I believe you helped me and those tigers get back from London, and I’m grateful for that.  I also hold the same views as you regarding their lifestyle, that they should be able to live in peace, but what I do not agree with is you making me kill others.  I am not a killer, deep down I cannot kill!  I am gentle, Look at me!  What would most animals like me to do when they see me?”  The mare examined Petra from nose to tail.

       “Hug you and let you hug them,” she replied.

      “Yes Eohippus, that’s right!”  Petra mewed, “they respond to who I am, physically and emotionally.  I am made large and huggable, with large fat paws for a reason!  I want nothing more than to embrace and love others!  Killing anyone, even Simba, that’s not my way!  I would have imprisoned him, that way, those he did wrong to could see justice done.  Killing Simba did nothing for justice.  You used me!  Then, when Leo killed Halfear, and you made me kill him…”

      “Yes, you weren’t meant to remember that,” eohippus said, “but you fought me, and I couldn’t dull your mind.”

      “Yes, because I knew what I was doing was not me!”  Petra snarled, “I didn’t want to kill Leo, but I couldn’t fight you on that one!  Do you know how terrified I’ve been by memories of that day?  They’ve torn me apart!”  The mare looked into Petra’s eyes and was moved to tears by what she read there.

       “I’m sorry,” Eohippus whinnied, “I should have looked into your past a bit more before I asked you.”

      “Yes eohippus you should,” Petra mewed, “take it from me, I will never do your work again.  I will be my own lioness, living by my own beliefs, beliefs instilled in me by my adopted sire, Theo, who, while he studies your life, is not enslaved by you.  He is decent and loves the community he leads like almost no other leader alive, but he will not kill for you, even though he loves and respects you.  The reason why he will not kill for you is because he is not made that way.  Neither am I eohippus, neither am I.  Please, let me go, don’t try to stop me.  I am no longer your mouth piece.”  The mare touched noses with Petra, and then was gone.

 

Petra woke in the early morning feeling like she’d been beaten all over with a baseball bat.  Her body aching horribly, she struggled to her paws and stumbled in a manner reminiscent of Theo after waking from being knocked out after his fall down the stairs, to the bathroom.  Petra knew somehow that Theo’s fall wasn’t an accident.  She knew eohippus had engineered that, so Theo didn’t see the horror of Leo’s death.  Petra vowed never to tell Theo what she knew.  Reaching the bathroom, Petra met Duke, who looked a changed tiger.  Since he rescued Petra from her doubt after Simba’s execution, the once weak tiger was now stronger of spirit.  When he saw Petra, he swam to the side of the tub and tugged her into the water with him.

       “I’m so glad to see you Petra dear,” he mewed, kissing her nose.  Petra smiled at the white tiger.

      “I’m glad to see you too duke my friend,” she replied.  Duke took Petra’s left forepaw in both of his and held it tightly.

     “Are you completely recovered now?”  He asked.  Petra knew she’d have to be truthful.

       “Yes,” she mewed, after some thought, “I am, I’ve talked to those in the know about everything.”

       “They won’t make you do things you don’t’ want to will they?”  Duke asked, sounding like a cub.

       “No duke, they won’t,” Petra mewed, feeling his anxiety, “I am my own lioness now, not the plaything.”

       “So what now?”  Duke asked, “Your whole life was governed by Eohippus.  You have to learn to live your life all over again.”

      “It’s not quite like that,” Petra mewed, “but I will have to make my own way in the world, making relationships with others based on the fact that they want to be with Petra, not with Eohippus.”

       “You have started already,” duke mewed, “I never believed in eohippus.  I believed in you Petra.  When I massaged your paws and spoke to you all that time ago, I wanted you back with me Petra, not eohippus.  I wanted you back with us, because, because I love you Petra, Petra, the lioness, not Petra, Eohippus’s mouth piece.”  Petra smiled at duke, knowing they’d helped each other get through their individual crisis of identity.

      “I am more grateful to you than I can put into words duke,” Petra mewed.  Duke looked into Petra’s eyes, which had turned from brown to blue.

      “You have ice blue eyes, just like a white creature should have!”  He mewed.  Petra kissed duke on his nose, the white tiger gulping hard to refrain from crying.

       “It was you, not eohippus who wanted to bring those two tigers back from the zoo wasn’t it Petra,” duke stated.  Petra nodded.

      “Eohippus helped us get back by making sure no human stopped us,” she replied, “but yes, it was at my instigation the journey took place.  Now, now Halfear is dead, and Whitepaw is, well I don’t know where he is.”  Duke stroked Petra’s paw as he replied:

      “I know where Whitepaw is, he’s hiding in the one safe place which even Leo wouldn’t violate.”

      “The cubbing den?”  Petra asked.

     “Yes, he’s there, grieving for his dead male partner, and longing to talk to you Petra.  He knows what happened, he knows all about your fight with eohippus.  He’s desperate to meet Petra the lioness, the Petra he loves and respects more than anyone else in the world now.  He’s been asking about you for the last week, but I’ve told him you’re not ready to see anyone.”

      “Thanks for giving me time,” Petra mewed, “and well done for tracking Whitepaw down and convincing him to come back to the community.”

        “I found him in the wood,” duke mewed, “he was hiding beneath a bush, and we spent ages there, me talking to him, reassuring him, holding his paw while he wept for his dead partner.  Now, well, we’re friends, firm friends too.  I don’t mind what his sexual preference is.  His lifestyle is not the one I’d choose, but I don’t hold his choice against him in any way.  Petra, tell me, would it be crazy for me to say I almost felt the love Whitepaw felt for his partner?  He spoke of Halfear, whom he referred to by his born name, “Tigger,” or “Tiggie,” with such gentility and love.  Those two, though totally different cats, Whitepaw more outgoing than his partner, they also were one, one unit when together.  It was a perfect match.”

     “No duke, it wouldn’t be crazy to say you felt the love Whitepaw had for his partner.  That’s how enlightened creatures perceive things, by listening to their instincts.  Theo does that, Leo didn’t.  He hated what he was told was to be hated, without exploring first.”

      “So Leo hated what Whitepaw and Halfear were because he’d been told their lifestyle was wrong, not because it actually was wrong?”  Duke asked.

      “Yes,” Petra mewed.

      “Poor Leo let his trained hatred overwhelm his natural goodness and he paid the ultimate price for his actions,” Duke mewed.

      “He did,” Petra replied, “and I’m sorry for it.”

      “We all are,” Theo mewed, padding into the bathroom, “Leo wasn’t a bad lion…”  Petra left the water and cradled Theo while he wept for his brother.  She didn’t try and stop his tears, letting Theo cry openly for Leo.

      “Our mother was very old fashioned,”  Theo sniffed, “she drummed into us, what she called the ways of life, and one of those was that no creature could love as a partner another of the same sex.  Leo believed everything she said, but I didn’t.  I knew differently, for I’d seen, on loan walks into the wood, how love could blossom between animals of the same sex.  Once I saw a male lion courting another large male lion in the prime of his power.  They got on well together, each knowing what the other felt, and enjoying each other’s company.  They were unashamedly in love with each other, and I found their relationship among the most beautiful in the wood.  When one of them died suddenly from fish he’d eaten, the lion left behind mourned his passing with heart felt grief, and like you duke, when you spoke to Whitepaw, when I spoke to this lion, whose name I can’t remember at the moment, I could feel the love he had for his male partner when he spoke of him.  I wonder where that lion is now.”

      “A lion?”  Duke asked, “A huge lion, with big paws and a shaggy mane?  His mane was rather long actually.”

      What are you saying?”  Theo asked, “have you seen a lion round here?”

       “Yes, well, he was in the wood near where Whitepaw and I were talking.  He seemed to be listening to our talk.  He seemed to be deep in thought, remembering someone in his past maybe.”

      “This lion was reaching his full prime,” Theo mewed, “it can’t be the same lion I knew.”

      “Why can’t it be the same lion?”  Someone asked.  Theo turned and stared straight into the eyes of a lion from his past, the lion with the long mane which didn’t stand erect from his head like Theo’s, but lay flat, in a profusion of long, luxurious locks.  Theo stared at the lion, the lion looking back at him in shocked silence.

      “You look familiar to me,” Theo mewed, “but you can’t be the lion I knew all those years ago.  The lion I knew was in the prime of his life, at the top of his power!”

       “No,” the newcomer said, “Theodore, you were a very young cub then and any animal more than a year older than yourself seemed to have immense power and courage.  I wasn’t much older than you, though I suppose I must have seemed it.  When my first and only male partner to date and I found each other, I was only two years old, you about six months old at the time.  My partner died six months after we met, though to you it seemed longer I don’t doubt.  Cubhood days seemed longer didn’t they.”  Theo padded over to the large lion and placed his paw on his.

      “They used to call you Samson on account of your long mane,” he mewed, “is this still your name?”

      “As much of a name as it will ever be,”  the lion replied, “my mother never named me formally, for she realised what I was, and hated me for it.  It was you Theo, who named me Samson, after a human in a story your mother told you in a book she’d found in a rubbish pile left by some villagers who lived nearby.  Because of my unusual mane, and the strength you insisted I had, you named me Samson, the only real name I had.  We were wild in those days, and lost touch when some villagers heard they could get money for capturing lion cubs and sending them to a zoo.  You and your brother were caught and sent to the zoo far from where we were.  I left when the humans burned the forest for farmland, barely escaping with my life.  My mane got burnt off but I managed to live for years, scavenging from bins, that kind of thing.  My mane grew back after about a year.  I heard from some English birds that I’d tasked to look for you years before, that you were living in a house in England.  I guessed you would be around five or five and a half years old now, me being about seven at the time.  I knew I wouldn’t be free for much longer if I stayed where I was, on account of the humans taking more interest in me than was healthy.  I decided to try and find my long lost friend, the only lion who accepted me for who I was and am.  I remember the time when your mother heard you’d named me Samson, she went up the wall, telling you that I wasn’t worthy of the name, or any name, because of what I was.  You argued with her, and nearly got yourself hurt by her.  Now I’m not going to start pulling down buildings, or killing thousands of men.  I don’t think you named me for that reason Theo.”

      “Giving you the name I did wasn’t because of any physical strength, and you know it Samson,” Theo mewed, still disbelieving his own eyes, as well as the feel of the paw beneath his.

      “No,” Samson replied, “I know I wasn’t named by you because of physical strength, you were cleverer than that.”

      “So you found your way here,” Theo said, “and heard duke and Whitepaw talking in the wood?”  Samson nodded.

      “Yes Theo I did,” he mewed, “I am lost, desperate for a home, and terrified I wouldn’t find one.  I nearly got captured twice and barely escaped with my life when a truck nearly ran me down.  I needed somewhere safe to rest.  Finding the gate to the garden open, I wandered in here and was approached by a large snow Leopard who asked me what I wanted.  I told him, and he led me in here.  Now here I am, pleading for a home, for sanctuary.  I have no religious belief, for what was taught to you and Leo did not allow me to be myself, so I’ve had no faith to fall back on other than my own determination to survive.  I’ve heard tell that they believe in a white mare here, eohippus is her name I think.  I’ve never heard of a lion believing in an equine higher power, but I’ll try anything.”

      “A belief in Eohippus is not mandatory,” Petra mewed, “take it from me Samson, I should know.”

      “It’s the white lioness they spoke of!”  Samson exclaimed, “Eohippus’s representative on earth!”

      “Not any more,” Petra mewed, “my name’s Petra, and I have renounced my position as Eohippus’s right paw.  Now I am just Petra, a white lioness who wants to live her life in peace.  Put out of your mind everything you’ve heard about me Samson, for its ancient history.”  Samson stared at Petra.

      “You do look like you’ve been through it lately,” he mewed.

      “I have,” Petra replied, “and I’d prefer it if you didn’t talk to me about eohippus.”  Samson caught Theo’s eye and the look Theo gave him stopped any further questioning.

     “How is Leo?”  Samson asked.  Theo looked at him, and Samson wished he’d not spoken.

      “Didn’t you listen to Whitepaw?”  Theo asked, “Was there any mention of Leo?”  Samson shook his head.

      “Whitepaw referred to the lion who attacked him as just “the lion,” he didn’t give him a name,” Samson replied.

      “The lion who attacked Whitepaw was my brother Leo,” Theo mewed.  Samson lowered his head in grief for his friend’s brother.

      “I am so sorry,” Samson whispered, “I didn’t know.”

      “Maybe you should have found out a bit more before you opened your mouth,” Duke snapped.

      “That’s not fair duke,” Petra mewed, “if Samson says he didn’t hear the name Leo mentioned by Whitepaw, then I believe him.  Now, the question is, do we give him a home or not?”  Theo looked at his daughter cub.

       “We can’t refuse to give him a home,” he said, “Samson’s in desperate need of a home, and we cannot refuse him.”

      “Thank you, thank you!”  Samson mewed, almost prostrating himself at Theo’s feet.

      “Come, let’s wash you from nose to tail,” Petra mewed.  Samson looked shocked!

      “Wash me?”  He asked, looking into Theo’s face for confirmation, “Why do you want to do that?”

      “It’s a ritual we have here,” Theo mewed, “its non threatening.  Samson looked into the water, where Petra and duke stood.

     “That water looks deep,” he mewed.

      “It’s warm and comforting,” Petra replied.

     “Who will be bathing me?”  Samson asked.

      “I’ll do it if you like,” Theo mewed.  Samson smiled at him:

      “I remember when you and I played in the river when you lived near me in the wood,” Samson mewed, “will it be like that?”

      “Ten times better,” Theo mewed.

      “Have you ever had your paws massaged?”  Duke asked Samson:

      “My paws massaged?”  Samson asked, “no, never, never in my whole life.  I’ve heard of it, but never had it done for me.”

       “Would you like to try it now?”  Theo asked.  Samson looked down at his paws.

      “I don’t know,” Samson mewed, “what pleasure can I get from my paws?  They are only good for walking on, and are painful if I get thorns in my pads or sticks wedged between my toes.  My paws aren’t of much interest to me really.”

     “Do you want to try it though?”  Petra asked.  Samson looked at her, then down at his paws once more.

       “I don’t know!”  He mewed, suddenly distressed, “I, I was told, told that, well, that my paws weren’t to be touched by anyone.  My mother told me that if I thought of playing with my paws, or asked others to touch or stroke them, I’d be punished, as it was illicit pleasure, and shouldn’t be allowed.”

      “I know your mother used to deny her cub things she took for granted,” Theo mewed, “paw massage and play was one of those things I’ll bet.”  Samson lifted his left forepaw and turned it sideways so he could look at his pads.

      “Haven’t you ever tried stroking the pads of one forepaw with the toes of the other?”  Duke asked Samson.

     “No,” Samson replied, placing his paw back on the tiles, “I haven’t.”

       “You’re missing something,” Petra mewed, “here we all communicate with our paws, touching each other’s paws, stroking, massaging and tickling paws, and its lovely.”  Samson looked into Petra’s eyes.

       “I, I, I can’t not tell you this!”  he mewed, “painful though it is, but, but, the truth is, I have tried stroking my paws, I did once know what pleasure my paws could give, but, but, one day, my mother found me with another cub, we were stroking each other’s paws, and she put an end to it by biting my paws and cuffing me until I was nearly unconscious.  From that day on, I’ve vowed noone would touch my paws.  Samson looked tortured.

      “I can’t remember what it was like,” he mewed, “because my last memory of it was tainted by my mother biting my paws!  I couldn’t walk properly for a week!”  Samson suddenly rolled onto his back and held out his forepaws for inspection.  Petra got out of the water and took a look at the soles of the lion’s paws.  She saw Samson had dirty claws and pads, obscuring whatever he wanted to show her.

      “Your paws are dirty,” Petra mewed, “that’s why we wash you.  Then maybe I could then take a look at what you wanted to show me?”  Samson looked at Petra’s clean white paws, then his own paws, ashamed at how dirty they were.

      “I’m sorry,” he mewed, embarrassment adding to distress, “I will let you bathe me.”  Samson stepped into the water, Theo and Petra each taking charge of half of him.  Samson lay there, feeling very strange, as the two lions rubbed him down, duke passing them bottles of this and that.  When they came to his paws, Petra took a look at the dead skin on Samson’s pads, and then handed Theo a plastic rasp which Theo rubbed over the pads of each of the large lion’s paws until Samson complained.

       “What the hell are you doing to my paws!”  Samson growled, “That’s horrible!  It feels strange!”

      “Getting the tough dead stuff off your pads,” Theo mewed.

      “That might have been useful stuff! you know, hardened pad, not dead skin!”  Samson roared.

      “I know the difference between dead skin and thickened paw pad,” Theo mewed.  Samson let Theo get on with his work, and when it was all over, and he was clean from nose to toes, he was asked to leave the bathtub.  Samson put his paws to the tiles and they felt strange, he could feel a lot more under his paws, the tiles on the floor were now rough to his pads, whereas they’d been smooth before.  Confused, Samson raised a forepaw and touched the pads with his nose, feeling the toughened pad, but there was something different.  Samson realised he had three pads on the sole of his forepaw and one on each of his five toes.  He guessed the other forepaw had the same pads as this one, and his hind, instead of having five toes, only had four.

      “Problems with your paws?”  Theo asked, smiling broadly.

       “Yes, I mean, well, no, well, sort of,” Samson mewed.

       “I’ll bet you can feel more than before,” Petra said.

     “I can, I can!”  Samson mewed.

      “Come on then,” Theo purred, “let’s get you dry.”  Samson, feeling cleaner than he’d felt since he was newborn, padded through to the towel room, where, as if in a dream,, he was asked to lie down on a warm towel, and once he was lying comfortably, , and Petra took each of his paws and wrapped them in a towel, rubbing his pads and toes until they tingled.  Samson mewed with surprise as his paws got a proper going over with the towels.  Then it was time for the rest of him to get the same treatment.  More cats appeared, one had funny markings, or so Samson thought, as his head and body were enveloped in towels.  Samson didn’t’ have time to protest, for his towelling off was over so quickly!  Gasping for breath, Samson looked round him at the washing party.

      “Now what?”  He asked.

      “Maybe now I can look at your paw?”  Petra replied.  Samson, shame faced, extended his now seemingly brand new left forepaw for Petra to examine.

        “You have scars on the sole of this paw,” she mewed.

      “My other three also have scars,” Samson replied, “I used to like my paws, until, until that day.”

       “His mother bit his paws so he’d be ashamed to let others see them,” Duke mewed, “how dreadful!”  Samson’s eyes filled with tears as the truth was spoken by another.

     “That’s why I’ve never let anyone touch my paws, hardly ever washed them either, so I didn’t have to be reminded!”  He sobbed.  Petra gently kissed the toes of the paw she held, Samson staring at her through his tears.

      “Your paw isn’t painful is it?”  Petra asked.  Theo gulped back tears, for Samson was looking into the clear blue eyes of a young white lioness!

      “My paws aren’t painful now,” Samson choked.

       “Neither will they ever be after this,” Petra mewed.  She kissed Samson on his nose, the lion catching his breath.

       “Have you seen the soles of Fleur’s paws?”  Orsa scoffed, “They’re so strange!  Pinkie black pads with spotted muddy brown fur around them!  They are possibly the most horrid paws I’ve ever seen!”  Fleur, part of the drying off party, spat at Orsa.

      “If it hadn’t been for fleur,” Petra said, “you and your brother wouldn’t have had such an easy time of it when you were born, so shut up!”

      “It was Arki who helped our mother, not fleur!”  Orsa yelled, jumping up and down.

      “It was fleur who indirectly taught her everything she knew though,” Petra said calmly, trying to soothe fleur with a look, which she feared would not soothe anything.

       “I have funny paws do I?”  Fleur asked, “Well, at least they’re more interesting than yours Orsa!”  The cub, expecting more of a frothy response, slunk away.

      “What was all that about an easy time for them?”  Samson asked.

      “Pain relief for their mother during their births,” Fleur mewed.

       “Paw massage is pain relief?”  Samson asked.

      “It’s pain relief, a way to make love, a way to soothe a cub, a way to give comfort and it’s play too,” Theo mewed.

      “We cat’s can’t stroke our own paws, well not our hind ones,”  Samson mewed, “though I know bears can stroke all four of their own paws, I saw a mother bear showing her cubs once, it looked so much fun.  The cubs loved it!”

      “They do,” fleur mewed, “and no, you’re right, we cats can’t stroke our own paws, that’s why if one of us is in pain, another has to stroke our paws to give relief.”

       “How much relief can massage give?”  Samson asked, now interested.

       “Enough to allow stress and virtually pain free cubbings,” Elsa mewed, padding in and taking Theo’s paw in hers.

       “That much?”  Samson exclaimed, “Well, I might have to try it someday.”

      “Well now you have clean paws, you can,” duke mewed, “they were disgusting!”

      “I think you’d do the same if you had his experiences, so shut up!”  Petra snapped.

       “Oh all right,” duke mewed, “keep…”  Petra’s warning growl made him remember just in time.

     “Calm down I meant,” he mewed, staring at his paws.

      “Now let’s see if anyone else wants a bath shall we?”  Fleur asked airily.  Samson got to his paws, smiling as he felt the carpet beneath them.

      “I’m tired,” he mewed; I could sleep for a week.”  Petra led him to a rug where the huge lion flopped down, completely exhausted by his day.

       “Where’s Whitepaw?”  Petra asked.

      “Back in the cubbing den,” Duke mewed, “He’d like to see you Petra.”  Petra went up to see the male Bengal tiger with white paws.

 

Petra passed Samson on her way to the cubbing den.  As she passed him, she glanced at the wall to her left, seemed to shake her head and left through the main door.  Samson, curious as to the reason why Petra looked at the wall for a second, got to his paws and walked to where she’d been as she looked at the wall.  Samson noticed something, a crack in the tapestry depicting a jungle scene covering the wall which shouldn’t be there.  Going closer, he noticed the crack was actually a flap of fabric.  Drawing it aside, he found a latch.  Pressing down with the toes of one forepaw, Samson felt the wall come towards him.  Hinging it out just enough for him to pass through, he closed the door behind him.  Samson found himself in a lobby area, with a slope to his left.  Turning left, he padded up the slope.  Samson found himself feeling his way in the dark, as he hadn’t found any lights, but this wasn’t a problem for him, as he’d worked in the dark before, using his whiskers to inform him of his surroundings.  Reaching the top of the slope, Samson pressed his ear to the door which barred his way.  Hearing nothing, he opened the door carefully, to find yet another door.  This one had a sheet of one way glass in it.  He could see in, but whoever was in the cubbing den could not see him.  Samson thought this might be for cubbing attendants to watch mothers and cubs without disturbing them.  What Samson saw made him catch his breath.  Petra was talking to a tiger, a Bengal tiger so it seemed, with white paws.  Samson covered his face with his paw as he heard what was being said.  This tiger was the same one Samson himself had overheard in the wood at the back of the house!  Petra seemed to sense something, and made her way to the door behind which Samson stood.  There was no chance of escape for the lion, who stood flat pawed and dry mouthed on the metal floor.

       “What the hell are you doing here!”  Petra roared as she opened the door and saw Samson looking rather guilty.

       “I, I was curious,” he mewed.]

      “How can you be curious about a secret place!”  Petra yelled.

      “You, you didn’t make it secret,” Samson gabbled, “you, you paused and looked at the wall, it was blatantly obvious you were looking at something.  I’m wild I am, and I notice these things!  Petra kicked herself for that momentary lapse of concentration.

       “My fault,” she admitted.

       “That tiger, the one you were talking to,” Samson said, “he looks familiar to me.  I think he was the one duke was talking to in the wood.”

      “What if he was?”  Petra enquired.

      “Nothing,” Samson replied.  Whitepaw padded up to Samson and looked closely at him.

      “You have the look of one who has gone through much,” he mewed.  Petra glanced at Whitepaw.

      “What on earth are you on about?”  She asked.

       Petra,” Whitepaw asked, “could I talk with this lion for a while?”  Petra looked angrily at Samson.

       “I suppose so,” she snarled, stamping off down the ramp.”

      “What’s eating her?”  Whitepaw asked.

       “I think maybe with her renouncement of her place with eohippus, a little of her understanding of situations went too,” Samson mewed.

      “I heard that!”  Petra growled, storming up the slope.

       “What the hell do you mean by that!”  She demanded.

      “Think it through Petra,” duke mewed, padding up behind her and taking her paw in his.

       “’er, um, no you’ve lost me,” the white lioness mewed.

      “Whitepaw and Samson understand each other,” duke whispered, “they are both, um, subscribe to a similar lifestyle, and they’ve both lost their long term partners, does that ring a bell?”  Petra stared open mouthed at Duke.

       “Anyone would think you had special abilities, not me!”  She snapped, angry at herself.

      “You are a white lioness,” Duke mewed, “not Eohippus’s mouth piece.”  Petra had missed what could have been so glaringly obvious if only she’d taken a few minutes to think.”

       “Of course,” she mewed, now ashamed, “like a lioness that’s had cubs of her own can sense if another’s had cubs, so it is that Samson can sense things about Whitepaw!”

       “I’d leave them alone for a bit,” Duke mewed, “it might be the best thing to do.”  Petra, now furious with herself, and a little upset, padded down the slope with duke, the white tiger holding her paw at all times.

 

Samson kicked the door closed behind him and Whitepaw watched him approaching.  If Whitepaw was surprised by Samson’s appearance, he wasn’t showing it.  Samson had a mane that was so long, it lay flat on his head.  The huge lion’s mane hung down to within an inch of his forepaws, and dangled in front of his eyes in a long fringe which looked in imminent danger of obscuring his vision.  Whitepaw let Samson settle down beside him and take his right forepaw in both of his.

       “I guess you know,” Samson mewed.  Whitepaw looked into the lion’s face.

       “We both have a lifestyle others find abhorrent,” Whitepaw mewed, “and what’s more, we’ve both lost our partners.”  Samson nodded.

       “I understand you lost your partner through foul play,” the lion mewed.  Whitepaw looked down at his paw held in those of the huge lion.

      “I did Samson, I did.  Um, your name is Samson isn’t it?”

      “Yes,” the lion replied, smiling at Whitepaw, “it couldn’t be anything else with my mane the way it is.”  Samson’s instant and genuine smile caught at Whitepaw.  The lion seemed gentle, kind and unobtrusive.  Whitepaw shook his paw free of Samson’s and took the lion’s left forepaw in his.  Stroking it gently, Whitepaw fought to sort his mind out.

      “I can feel you’re confused,” Samson mewed.  Whitepaw nodded.

      “I am,” he replied, “but you’re not.  You know what you want.”

      “When your ready Whitepaw,” Samson mewed, “then we talk maybe?”  Whitepaw was desperate for a companion, though at the same time didn’t want to rush things and possibly frighten Samson off.

       “Halfear or Tigger as I knew him died over two weeks ago,” Whitepaw mewed, “we tigers don’t grieve for long, not like lions.”

      “I know that only too well,” Samson thought, “when Margi lost her mate, she was courting again within a month.  When I lost my partner, I couldn’t even think straight for a year after.

       “It’s not the same for lions,” Samson replied, “I couldn’t move on for at least a year after my partner died.  I suppose it’s the need for a pride family in a lion, tiger’s don’t have that compulsion.”

      “I know lions are family orientated,” Whitepaw mewed, “we tigers though, males especially, do not hang about in groups.  We can’t stand each other you see.”

      “Lions were always better at the family thing,” Samson mewed.

       “How about if you teach me the way a pride works,” Whitepaw mewed.  Samson looked at Whitepaw, and something didn’t feel right.  He looked at his paw in that of the male tiger, white paws this tiger had, white paws, just like the lioness that’d brought genuine tears to his eyes, and for whom he’d nearly fallen.  Was he really Homosexual?  Or was it that he’d been thrown out of his home, needed partnership with someone and had leapt at anyone who’d give him love?  Samson shook his head, his mane flying in the face of the tiger, Whitepaw batting it away, as if batting at a fly!  Samson suddenly panicked, wrenching his paw from Whitepaw’s; he leapt to his feet and fled!  Samson almost fell down the stairs, nearly crashing head long into Aslan going the other way.

      “Where’s Petra!”  Samson panted, “I, I need to talk with her!”

        “No you don’t!”  Aslan snarled, sensing a challenge for Petra’s affections from this lion, “you leave her alone!  She’s mine!”

       “You don’t own her!”  Samson growled.

      “She and I have been lovers for ages,” Aslan snarled, “you can’t change that!”

       “Where I come from, in the wild, it’s the largest, strongest pride male who has the mating privilege,” Samson roared.  Aslan, being brought up a soft, community raised lion, wasn’t used to this.

      “You can’t have my mate!”  Aslan yelled.  Samson’s world contracted, so all he saw was Aslan, his challenge, his enemy.  All thoughts of just talking to Petra, which he’d had only five minutes ago were now gone.  This male lion had challenged him, stopped him from talking to whom ever he wished to talk to, and Samson wasn’t going to stand for it!

       “You little runt!”  Samson roared, the sound filling the passage!  Petra, hearing the commotion, stepped out into the passage from the living room, and couldn’t believe what she was seeing!

       “Fight me then, you great big wimp!”  Aslan yelled.  Samson lifted Aslan off his paws and shook him like a rat!  Petra had thought Aslan large, but when stood next to Samson, he wasn’t, he was a runt, just as the huge wild bred lion had stated.

      “Be careful Aslan, Samson’s wild” Petra yelled.  Aslan was on tiptoe now, the scruff of his neck in the jaws of the larger lion!

       “You’re a cub, a bloody cub!”  Samson snarled, “You know nothing!  You’re just a soft house cat!  A puss in lion’s clothes!  You have no idea do you Mister big bad lion!  All I wanted to do was talk to Petra, and you mistook it for a lust for her.  Now you have put the thought in my head, as a wild lion, I run with that thought, and I want Petra to be my mate!  You could have prevented this, kept your mouth shut, but oh no, you, like a silly cub, which is indeed what you are, spoke your mind without thought, provoking me into a rage!  Now you will die!”

      “No Sammy, no!”  Petra screamed.

       “This lion is a disgrace!”  Samson snarled, shaking Aslan like he weighed no more than paper, “I will show him!”

       “No Samson, no!”  Petra pleaded, “If you do anything to Aslan, I’ll never speak to you again!”  Samson suddenly came to his senses.  Realising what he was doing, he dropped Aslan on the floor, the smaller lion’s legs collapsing beneath him.  Samson then realised he wasn’t what he’d thought he was.  If he’d been so, Aslan’s challenge would have not provoked the response it did.  Shaking his long mane, Samson looked blearily at Petra.

       “What happened?”  He asked.

      “You were about to kill my mate!”  Petra replied, almost crying.

       “Was I?”  Samson asked, staring at Aslan, who was getting to his paws.

       “Yes you were,” Aslan mewed, trying not to meet Samson’s eye.

       “I remember wanting to talk to Petra, then, well, I nearly cannoned into a male lion, then, I don’t’ know after that.”

       “You want Petra to be your own mate,” Aslan mewed, “you’re not as you think you are Samson.”  Samson remembered his experience in the cubbing den and shook his head.

       “I wanted to talk with Petra that was it.  I don’t think I really am as I have always thought I was, if you see what I mean.  I, I want a lioness in my life!  Not a lion, a tiger, or anything male, I want a lioness!  Petra showed me that!  I want to talk to her again, get things straight.”

        Petra’s mine!”  Aslan screamed.

       “Let me talk with him,” Petra said, “Samson, no tricks all right?”  Samson looked into Petra’s blue eyes.

     “No tricks,” he replied.  Petra led Samson to a private place where they settled down together.  Samson poured out everything he felt to Petra, all his confusion, all he was certain about, which wasn’t much, and what he now felt.

      “I think you need to take more notice of what happened in the passage,”  Petra mewed, “that was genuine, you might not remember it, you might remember it and want to deny it, but you went ballistic at Aslan, just like a male lion should towards another.  You’re straight Samson!  Things in your past might have conspired to make you think you weren’t, but you are as straight as they come, and Whitepaw hinted at it, and Aslan confirmed it.

      “Anyone want a bath?”  Someone asked.  Petra snarled with irritation.

      “Fleur, this is private!  I came here for a private chat with Samson!  Get out!”  Samson looked at fleur, and he remembered something from a long time ago, a long long time ago, or so it seemed.  This strange cat, with her funny markings, had soft warm paws; for it was she who’d massaged his forepaws during the mass drying session.  Samson was sure of this.  In fact he remembered, when the polar bear cub had said about Fleur’s paws being stranger than her own, that he’d thought of the funny cat’s paws, muddy brown, with black spots between pinkie black pads, they were beautiful paws, warm soft paws too.  Petra and Fleur could almost see the cogs clicking in Samson’s brain as he added these images and emotions up.

       “Samson, can I take your paw in mine for a minute?”  Fleur asked.  Samson dumbly watched as fleur padded across to him, her huge paws carrying her closer and closer to him.  Then, suddenly his paw was in hers, and he felt a rush of emotion welling in him from the end of his tail to the tips of his ears, which left him panting from exhaustion with tingling paws.  It was as if fleur had reprogrammed his brain.

       “You are not who you thought you were,” fleur mewed, “for you have been thinking about me, I can feel it.”  Samson, feeling hot and uncomfortable, mewed a reply, the sensation from the paw fleur held scrambling his mind.

       “This is the real thing,” Samson mewed, “the real thing, at last!”

       “I thought you said you wanted a lioness?”  Petra mewed.

      “No, not now, not now I know,” Samson gasped.  Fleur smiled at the lion with the long mane.

       “I’ve been watching you these last few days,” she mewed, “in the wood before you set paw in here.  I knew you were unhappy.  Now though, now you are happy, and so am I.”

       “You like lions with absurdly long manes?”  Samson asked.

       “I love them,” fleur mewed, “how does muddy brown fur, a spotted face, belly and paws and dirty brown stripes sound to you?”

       “Sounds fine,” Samson replied, “coupled with what’s inside, it sounds even better than just fine.”

       “So I have a challenger for my mate’s affections do me?”  Gosheven yowled.

        “Oh, oh no!”  Fleur yelled.

       “I want that lion dead!”  Gosheven screamed, “You pledged yourself to me fleur, and now, now you’re going back on that?  Why!  I love you with all my heart and you promised yourself to me!”

       “Does the name Portia mean anything to you?”  fleur asked acidly.  Gosheven looked horrified!

       “That wasn’t anything serious!  How the hell did you find out!”  Gosheven snarled.

      “Serious enough to put her in cub though,” fleur spat, “your cub Gosheven!  I know, for I am the one who will have to help Portia give birth to her cub!  She came to me in a hell of a state a month back, and told me!  I was faithful to you until that day, and then, then I saw I need not be, for you had broken your promise to me!  You’d not only been with another female, you’d impregnated her!  I hate you!  Now get out of my sight you disgraceful animal!”

      “Portia’s in cub?”  Gosheven asked, totally stunned, “and there’s no termination here, she’ll have to have the cub!”  Fleur spat at the puma.

        “Yes she will!”  The cross bred cat yelled.  Gosheven slunk out of the room, to be replaced by Aslan storming in.  He looked at fleur, then Samson, then Petra.

      “Come to my place when you’ve finished,” he snapped at Petra.

      “If you ask like that, I’ll go with Samson.”  Aslan snarled with fury.

      “That bloody lion!”  Aslan spat.

      “He’s all right,” Petra mewed, “you just got on the wrong side of him earlier.  If you accuse him of stalking me for his own purposes, he’s going to flip isn’t he.  The problem Aslan, is Sammy’s wild, you’re not.  Samson knows how to protect himself against far stronger lions than you or me.”

 

Meanwhile, Samson and fleur ventured into the wood.  Samson was hungry, and wanted food, so he’d asked Fleur if she wanted to come hunting with him.  Thinking he’d only be going after berries, Fleur agreed.  Now outside, she wasn’t so sure.

      “What exactly are we hunting for?”  She asked.

      “Squirrel, hedgehog, Even a badger if I can get one,” Samson mewed.  Fleur was horrified!

      “You can’t eat those!”  She mewed.

      “How do you think I’ve been living so far?”  Samson asked.  Fleur hadn’t given it a thought.

       “I hadn’t considered that,” she mewed, “oh Sammy, can’t you eat something else?”

     “No,” Samson replied, “here, if you like, I’ll catch you some fresh meat too.”   Fleur felt physically sick.

      “No, no you can’t do that!”  She mewed, “I couldn’t eat it!”

       “If you were hungry enough you would,” Samson replied.  Fleur looked at her new-found friend.

      “I suppose if you accept our ways, we should try to accept yours,” she mewed, “take me to where you hunt.”  Samson decided he’d try and teach heavy pawed fleur how to be silent on her paws.

      “Right,” Samson said, “you are too heavy on your paws to have a hope of catching a potato, let alone the prey I go after.  Tins of tuna and vegetables do not run away.  Oh, and another thing, do you wash your paws before you eat?”  Fleur looked guilty.

       “No, sometimes not,” she mewed, “I forget sometimes.  Another thing while we’re confessing bad habits,” she extended her claws, which were badly bitten and let Samson see them, “I bite my claws something terrible.”

       “I was worried you might be too clean,” Samson mewed, “for the prey we eat isn’t going to be clean, not like out of cans, and so you need to have a good immunity to things.  You will not have got all you need from the cans, or from the very occasional times you didn’t wash your paws before you ate, or from biting your claws.  You will be unwell for a while on a diet of wild bush meat, but I will help you cope.  What we will do first is this.  If you are still with me on this, I will catch you bush meat, and you can try some.  A squirrel or maybe a hedgehog will do.  I will show you how to eat each of the prey we catch.”

       “We?”  Fleur asked, “not me surely?”

      “Not at first,” Samson replied, “but soon, you will be silent on your gorgeous fat paws my dear Fleur.  Then you will be catching your own dinner.  I intend to make you self sufficient.”  Fleur knew this would be the adventure of a lifetime.

 

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