A thorny problem.
Raja and Theo, on night patrol, were padding noiselessly through the wood when their keen hearing caught the sound of something moving through the wood. In fact, had Theo and Raja been half deaf, they felt they might still have been able to track the progress of this thing. It sounded heavy, and rattled slightly as it moved. The cats could hear the thing had four feet, and the soles of the creature’s feet were naked of hair, for Theo could hear the slight patter of pad on forest floor, which was absent in animals who had paws with furred soles.
“What’s that?” Raja mewed.
“Surely I don’t know,” Theo replied, “sounds like a yard broom on legs to me, but that’s impossible!”
“I can hear you!” The thing yelled, “I know who you are too! Tiger and lion! Evil enemies of my people!” Theo trotted towards the sound of the voice, Raja following. Suddenly Theo threw himself backwards, bowling Raja over and landing smack on top of him! Theo clung to Raja with desperate paws, almost weeping into the tiger’s fur.
“What the hell are you doing?” Raja demanded when he’d got his breath back.
“Oh, oh, that, that was lucky, porcupine, a bloody great porcupine!” Theo gasped.
“What did it do?” Raja asked. For answer he got a slap in the face from a hard paw.
“I’ve always wanted to wallop a tiger,” the porcupine said. Raja threw up his paw to protect his face.
“But we did nothing to harm you; we haven’t raised a paw in anger!” Theo pleaded, still sprawled across Raja.
“See if I care,” the porcupine spat, “you lions want me for your dinner! I’m not becoming a meal for a lion, or for that matter a meal for a soft tiger! I know you Raja!” The porcupine jeered, slapping at Raja, “you are that sappy excuse for a tiger who played dead at the zoo, well, so did I. Remember me? You’re an idiot!”
“Oh, it’s you, Pickles, I might have known you’d turn up,” Raja mewed, looking decidedly unhappy.
“Who is this?” Theo asked.
“Pickles is a jumped up know it all from the zoo who kept me prisoner for two years,” Raja replied, “She’s a real pain in the backside!”
“I can see that,” Theo mewed, viewing the spines in the porcupine’s tail and on her back, “you now know why I leapt back when I saw her, she had her back to me!”
“Defensive action I call it,” Pickles said, “you lions never learn!”
“Look Pickles,” Raja mewed, “we come in peace! We want no war, no bloodshed!”
“I know who you are,” Pickles said, waving her paw at Raja, “but who are you lion? What’s your name?”
“My name’s Theo,” Theo replied. Pickles’s expression changed, and she seemed to collapse totally.
“Oh, um, oh dear. She mumbled, all aggression gone, “I’m so, so sorry, I should have known, Tembi told me of you. She said you were leader. I’ve just, um, well, I’ve just threatened the leader of the community I wish to join, how silly of me.”
Who’s the idiot now?” Raja mewed.
“Oh shut up!” Pickles snapped, furious at herself rather than Raja.
“I know what you are,” Theo mewed, “so, like a well trained lion, I kept out of your firing line, especially when you turned that horrid tail to me!” Theo snarled.
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry!” Pickles replied, almost begging now, “Please, please, I don’t mean you harm, I’ll retract all I said about Raja too!”
“You’d better,” someone said softly. Pickles turned round to be confronted by a huge cross bred cat! Pickles had never seen anything like this before in her life! It was a tiger, but not a tiger, a snow leopard but not a snow leopard. Now you may ask how a porcupine knew of so many animals, but the answer to that is simple, she had lived in a zoo most of her life, and knew these and more.
“What the hell’s that!” She yelled, waving a paw at fleur.
“Trust me,” Raja mewed, “you don’t want to get on the wrong side of her!”
“Look you animated yard brush,” Fleur snapped, what the hell do you think you’re playing at?”
“Don’t, don’t hit me!” Pickles pleaded, all thoughts of using her quills vanishing from her mind, “I’m no threat to you or, or your family.”
“Well done spiky one,” Salty mewed, “you’ve only managed to anger the community leader, his cub, and that cub’s brother cub. I know your sort, you are dangerous, but roll you over, and there’s a good meal there.” Pickles squealed like a wounded thing!
“No, no! I beg you, don’t hurt me, I was, was, I mean I wanted, would like, oh, where’re my manners? I mean I’d like to join you, live with your people, but, as you can see, I’m not doing too well. Please, don’t hurt me.” Pickles tried to look submissive, but found it difficult with the world’s supply of spines and quills at the ready. She made a conscious effort to lower her spines, keep her head down and her feet flat on the floor. Pickles found herself looking into the eyes of the strange cross bred cat, and she couldn’t take her eyes from the cats.
“You might have the world’s most dangerous spines on your back Pickles,” the eyes said, “but you don’t know real power.” Pickles whimpered with fear and shame.
“I’m sorry!” She said, “I didn’t know, I didn’t know!” Fleur let her gaze drop to the forest floor, releasing Pickles from her torment.
“Come,” Theo said, levering himself gently off Raja, “let’s go into the house. Fleur, you know what to do.” Fleur nodded, waving her paw at Pickles telling her to follow her.
Fleur led Pickles into the bathroom, where she filled the bath, the female porcupine watching her with huge interest.
“HI mum, who have we here?” Pepper asked, padding into the bathroom to help fleur.
“Her name’s Pickles, she’s a porcupine,” Fleur mewed. Pepper looked at Pickles, and Pickles looked at Pepper.
“Another, um, cross bred cub?” Pickles asked, trying not to sound too surprised.
“Yeah, I am,” Pepper replied. The young cat no longer resented her biological mother’s actions.
“Pickles is a porcupine Pepper,” fleur said. Pepper looked Pickles over, noticing the sharp quills and spines covering her back and tail.
“No wonder mum’s taking care when bathing her,” Pepper thought, making a mental note not to get on the wrong side of this particular animal.
“So who found you?” Pepper asked. Pickles looked embarrassed.
“I, well, I heard of this place from a lioness who’d lived here once,” Pickles began, “she said I’d be safe here, so I made my way here, but, then, well,,” Pickles paused, “I, well, I kind of messed things up. Forgetting what Tembi had told me, I treated the lion and tiger that I saw wandering through the wood as natural enemies and spoke to them as such. I knew the tiger, Raja; he was once imprisoned in the same hellhole I had just escaped from.” Pickles told Pepper what had taken place in the wood, the tawny cross bred cub looking more and more concerned as the tale progressed.
“You really shouldn’t have threatened Theo,” Pepper mewed, “he’s gentler than you could ever imagine. He wouldn’t eat you for lunch, even if you asked it of him.”
“I know that now,” Pickles replied, “and I’m feeling more foolish than I have words to describe, but now, now I’m trying to make reparations for my stupidity. I mean, approaching a situation like the one I was in in the manner in which I did would be quite proper and understandable, if it hadn’t been for the fact I knew where I was, and within a guess or two, would have guessed the name of the lion facing me. I’m not a violent animal, despite what my quills and spines say about me.”
“I wouldn’t like to cross you Pickles,” Pepper mewed.
“Oh dear,” Pickles whimpered, “I’m not doing too well here.” Pepper grinned and held out her paw to the female porcupine, who took it in hers.
“You’ve got the softest, warmest paws I’ve ever known!” Pickles exclaimed. Pepper smiled.
“Me and my mum have both got warm paws,” she mewed. Pickles could feel Fleur’s warm paws working over her body, and they felt wonderful.
“How can I apologise enough to all of you for what I said and threatened to do?” The female porcupine asked.
“Just show us you mean no harm to us, and you will be fine,” Leo said. Pickles stared at him!
“What other animals have we here!” Pickles yelled.
“Lions, tigers, kangaroos, pandas, brown bears, polar bears, otters, horses, and even a racoon!” Leo replied. Pickles stared at him.
“Don’t forget us!” Someone yelled, and two mongooses ambushed Leo, bowling him over and tickling his paws, much to Leo’s surprise and everyone else’s amusement!
“Those bloody animals!” Leo yelled, making a play of struggling to free his paws from those of the mischievous mongooses.
“Oh, Leo!” Fleur laughed, losing it totally, “I can’t believe what I just saw! Where did those two come from?” Leo mewed, though they could tell the huge lion was half enjoying the mongoose’s attentions.
“Leave my paws alone!” Leo whimpered, blatantly giving the older of the two mongooses his left forepaw to tickle.
“I can see you love it really Leo,” fleur mewed, Leo grinned at her.
“What are your names?” Pepper asked the two mongooses. The older mongoose broke off briefly from tickling Leo’s left forepaw and looked at her.
“Ricky,” he replied.
“Predictable really,” the younger Mongoose, and obviously Ricky’s sister said, “My name’s Jinny. I don’t know where that comes from.” Ricky smiled at Leo, tickling his whiskers while Jinny tickled Leo’s right forepaw.
“Get off me you two!” Leo mewed, but his eyes told a different tale. The mongoose left off, and Leo got to his feet, his whiskers and paw pads tingling from the attentions of the two young creatures. Fleur finished off bathing Pickles and turned her attention to Ricky and Jinny.
“Now you two troublemakers,” Fleur said, “get into the tub.” Ricky and Jinny looked at each other then at Fleur.
“Do we have to?” Jinny asked.
“Yes, now get in there!” Fleur replied, waving her paw at the bath.
Leo left Fleur and the two mongooses alone. Approaching Theo, he lay down beside him. Theo glanced up at Leo, Leo smiling at him.
“Pickles is a real character isn’t she,” Leo mewed. Theo looked away.
“I’m still kicking myself at my reaction to seeing a porcupine,” Theo mewed, “they’re lethal to us lions though, and our mother drummed that into us as cubs. Raja’s been great about the whole thing, even though I knocked him down, squashed him almost flat, and then clung to him with all four paws, while almost weeping, he’s been wonderful.” Leo smiled at his brother.
“I’ve never met Raja,” he mewed. A huge paw suddenly enveloped Leo’s left forepaw making the huge lion look down at it. The paw covering his was orange brown with black stripes and a hint of white under fur. Leo then looked at the owner of the paw.
“Raja?” Leo asked. For answer, Raja briefly brushed Leo’s nose with his. This gesture brought tears to Leo’s eyes.
“Leo’s a big hard lion, or so I’ve heard,” Raja mewed.
“Not me,” Leo replied, wiping his eyes with his free paw, “I might look it, but I’m not, not any more.” Raja asked nothing more, not wishing to pry; though feeling he already knew something from his talk with the lioness he’d met on his journey to the house. She’d told him of Leo, but could not tell him of anything which happened after her expulsion from the community. Raja guessed Leo had made dreadful mistakes, and was haunted by them every day. Raja, sensing Leo’s distress, gently squeezed his paw, this only seeming to distress the lion further.
“Hug him Raja,” Theo mewed. Raja took Leo in his paws as best he could and hugged him, the lion weeping into the tiger’s fur.
“You made mistakes I see,” Raja mewed, “mistakes born of a need in yourself to believe that noone could do to cubs what Elsa and Tembi did to their own cubs. You projected your fear onto another lioness of the same name as had the lioness who abandoned her white cub, even going so far as to attack her when she unknowing of the previous history of the names she gave her cubs, named her cubs after those who’d caused so much trouble. I know what happened, for Elsa and Tembi told me.” Leo wailed with pain, clinging to Raja with desperate paws, just as Theo had in the wood.
“It haunts me every day!” The poor lion sobbed, “I can’t stand it! Theo says it’s all over now, but it isn’t! Not for me, it will never be over for me!” Raja felt his fur getting wet, and could only guess at the torment Leo was experiencing. Glancing over at Theo, Raja saw the young lion was dreadfully upset by his brother’s disintegration.
“I fought my own brother, and I wanted to destroy his mate and her cubs,” Leo sobbed.
“That’s all over now Leo,” Theo mewed, knowing his words probably wouldn’t make any difference to the way Leo saw things. Leo looked at his brother.
“Theo,” he said, “I can never forget what I did, it was stupid, and I nearly lost you. The thought of that tears me apart!” Theo padded over to Leo and touched his paw. Raja released Leo, the large lion reluctantly letting go of the tiger, and Theo rested his head on Leo’s shoulder, taking his brother’s left forepaw in both of his.
“Please Leo,” Theo mewed, “let it go now, or it will eat you inside, torture you forever. I don’t want that, we knew what happened, and you’ve made amends. Now let it go my brother, and never think of it again.” Leo looked into Theo’s face, the young lion’s eyes looking into his with a gentility Leo felt he could never achieve. Theo was able to do the most amazing things, even calm a terrified panda into letting him stroke and hug it after only talking to it for a few minutes. Leo knew then in all honesty that he looked up to his younger brother. He wanted to be like Theo in so many ways, but he knew he could not be. Where Theo was content to let cubs and adult animals play with him and him play with them, Leo knew he could not do so. He could not let himself feel the same things he knew Theo did. Theo could tune into an animal’s mood and react to it, where Leo knew he could not do so. Theo massaged Leo’s paw, the older lion relaxing as the massage took affect. Eyes half closed, Leo breathed deeply, his paw feeding pleasure to his brain, soothing him from his nose to his tail.
“That’s it Leo,” Theo mewed, massaging his brother’s paw, “let it all go.” Leo smiled sleepily, all tension gone. Theo felt Leo’s paw relax in his own, the lion’s toes resting lightly in Theo’s fat paws.
Meanwhile, fleur and Pepper settled down with Pickles to talk to the porcupine. Pepper had the first question for Pickles.
“Why are you named Pickles?” The porcupine smiled.
“I was named Pickles because I am constantly letting my mouth get me into a real pickle.” Fleur laughed at this”
You certainly ended up in a pickle,” she mewed.
“You two,” Pickles said, “you two are cross bred cats?” Fleur and Pepper smiled and took each other’s paws.
“We are,” Fleur
mewed, “me, I’m a
“We both have fat spotted paws,” Pepper mewed. Pickles smiled at the cub.
“Look, fleur, and you Pepper,” she said, “I’m sorry I caused such a drama, can I please talk with Theo and Raja?” Fleur nodded, telling Pickles where she could find them. Pepper watched the porcupine leave, and then turned to her mum, who hugged her tightly.
“Mum,” Pepper mewed, “would you stroke my body and paws?” Fleur kissed her cub on the nose.
“Of course I will,” she replied. Fleur rubbed Pepper down from nose to tail, her huge spotted paws working their way over the fat cub’s body, parting the tawny fur, her toes working gently over Pepper’s spotted under fur. Pepper began to purr softly as she felt her mum’s paws working over her body.
“I love this,” Pepper mewed.
“So do I Pepper love,” Fleur said gently. Pepper cuddled closer to fleur, basking in the sensation of the massage. Soon fleur came to Pepper’s paws, and began stroking them with more care, if this was at all possible, than she’d taken when stroking the cub’s body. Fleur’s paws worked over Pepper’s with infinite care, the cub pressing her paw pads against her mum’s, though she knew this wasn’t the done thing.
“Relax those paws pepper,” fleur mewed, “or they’ll become tired.” Pepper relaxed her paws, letting her mum’s massage do its work.
“I love this,” Pepper purred. Once Fleur had massaged all four of Pepper’s fat well padded paws, she gathered the tawny cub to her and hugged her tenderly, Pepper snuggling up and falling asleep in the warm embrace of Fleur’s paws.
Meanwhile, Leo calmed down, drying his eyes on Theo’s fur. Theo cradled the huge lion until Leo was calm. Pickles arrival didn’t do much to improve the situation, Raja spitting at the porcupine when he saw her.
“Get out of my sight!” Raja yelled.
“Okay okay!” Pickles replied, holding up a paw, “keep your fur on!”
“How dare you tell me to keep my fur on you disgusting animal!” Raja yelled. Pickles watched as Leo, Theo and Raja got to their feet. Realising what they were about to do, she turned and fled!
“I wouldn’t be sad if I never saw her ever again!” Raja mewed.
“That’s a little harsh I think,” Theo replied. Raja turned his eyes on Theo, and the community leader wished he’d never spoken.
“You have no idea,” Raja said, “the torment she gave me over my efforts to find Tigger was almost beyond coping with. Just because she thought I was making the whole hunt thing up, she mocked me when I told other animals about the events leading to me running away. Pickles isn’t just a dozy sort, she’s vindictive too. She’ll be very surprised when she meets Tigger and finds my tale is true.”
Indeed, Pickles had found Tigger in the bathroom while she
was wandering about the house, the
“He got angry because he knows the story about the hunt and the deaths of his mother and family is true.” Tigger replied. Pickles wondered why Tigger wasn’t looking at her while he spoke to her. Then, when she saw him groping for a bottle with his paw and knock it into the water, she realised why he wasn’t looking at her. Screaming, she fled from the bathroom and pounded from the house, her flight causing the whole community to gather at windows to watch her go.
“What’s going on!” Tigger called out to whoever was nearby. Pepper ran in and leapt into the bathtub with Tigger before grabbing his paw.
“It’s okay,” she panted, “it’s just Pickles overreacting to something.”
“I only knocked the shampoo into the water!” Tigger mewed.
okay,” Pepper mewed, hugging the
“It’s okay Tigger,” Pepper mewed, “Fleur, Raja and I love you.” Tigger released Pepper and both scrambled from the bathtub. Pepper picked up a towel and made a move to rub Tigger down, much to Tigger’s surprise.
“Can I?” Pepper asked. Tigger lay down, letting pepper towel him dry. Pepper rubbed Tigger down from nose to tail, missing nothing, and making sure she carefully dried his paws.
“You are so
gentle Pepper,” Tigger mewed, kissing
her on the nose. Pepper smiled at the
“You are so much like your mum,” he mewed. Now Pepper could have taken offence at this, but she knew what Tigger meant, her mum being Fleur, her mother being Perdy. Pepper snuggled close to Tigger, the huge tiger rolling onto his side and gathering her close to him. Fleur found them like this five minutes later.
“Pickles has gone from here for good,” Fleur mewed, “Theo and Raja won’t let her back in here again.”
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