A trio of tigers.

 

Raja woke slowly, wishing he could sleep for a week.  He’d been up most of the night patrolling the wood, and now he was exhausted.  The word had gone out that Pickles, the porcupine had been seen near the boundary to the house and all patrollers were to look out for her and warn her off if they saw her.  Raja was first on the patrol with Theo, the two cats prowling the woods and finding nothing.  Frustrated, they returned to the house, and Raja, went straight to his bed, and soon fell asleep.  Now he was waking far too soon for his liking.  His paws stiff from walking in the wood, Raja flexed his toes, hearing them cracking.

     “You’re old, fat and unfit you lazy sod Raja,” he thought to himself.  Raja rolled off his rug and got to his paws.  Walking out of the room, he felt the change in temperature as his paw pads met the cold tiles of the hallway.  Gasping, Raja increased his slow walk to a run on tiptoe so he didn’t have to endure the cold tiles for long.  Bursting into the living room, he was greeted with a roaring log fire, and soft warm carpet.  Throwing himself on the carpet, Raja rolled so all four paws were facing the fire, the heat warming his pads.  Right then he didn’t care if they got singed, as long as they got warm.  Raja heard someone stifling laughter and looked up.  He saw two fat, half grown Bengal tiger cubs and their mother lying on the rug.  Their mum was very much like Raja in appearance, very brightly coloured orange fur with black stripes and white patches here and there.  She even had a white paw as Raja did, though her white paw was her left fore, whereas his was his right hind.  One of the cubs, a male, held a fat forepaw over his mouth, trying to stifle laughter, laughter of which his mother obviously disapproved.

       “Remember your manners Rupert!  We’re guests here!”  His mother snapped.  Rupert growled at her.

      “I wish you wouldn’t call me that!”  He snarled, “It’s such an English name, and we’re tigers, not hedgehogs!”  His sister, named Sally, spat at her brother.

       “Will you two stop it!”  The tigress pleaded.

      “I’m sorry,” Raja said, “but I don’t know if we’ve met before?”  The tigress looked at him.

      “I’m sorry,” she mewed, “we haven’t met.  I and my two cubs arrived here early this morning.”  She padded over to Raja and held out a fat paw, Raja noticing her toes were white, the rest of her paw being covered by orangey brown fur and black stripes.  Raja took the offered paw, finding it warm and soft to his touch.

     “My name’s Rani,” the tigress said.

      “Rani,” Raja mewed, liking the name, “and how about your two cubs? Surely they have names too?”

      “Um, well, yes they do,” Rani mewed, Rupert shooting her a disgusted look.

      “Don’t tell him!”  He growled.

       “My male cub’s name is Rupert, my female cub’s name is Sally,” Rani said.  Rupert’s growling turned into a scream of anger, and he ran to his mother, lashing out at her with his paw, catching her on the side of her face.  Rani turned and used her own paw to great affect, smashing it down on Rupert’s nose, the cub shrieking with pain!

“How dare you hit me!”  Rani yelled her voice like thunder.  Sally, seeing her mother was furious, ran and threw herself at Raja, who took her in his paws.  Whimpering and mewing, Sally shook and trembled in Raja’s embrace.

      “It’s going to be okay Sally,” Raja purred, licking the cub’s ear affectionately.  Sally relaxed the stranger’s warm paws and gentle nature calming her.

       “This is nice,” she purred, feeling one of Raja’s huge paws take hold of one of her smaller forepaws.  Raja massaged the female tiger cub’s paw, Sally smiling with pleasure.

 

Meanwhile, Rupert was getting the worst of it from Rani.

     “I gave you and your sister English names so you wouldn’t get picked on like I did when I was a cub!”  Rani yelled, “Can’t you just accept it?”

      “We’re tigers, not squirrels!”  Rupert yelled back, “I refuse to be known by that idiotic name!  I want a name like Raja, a proper name which befits a male tiger!”

       “That’s my name, get your own!”  Raja said, Sally laughing merrily at his words.

      “I don’t care!”  Rupert screamed stamping his paws, “I! Don’t! Like! The! Name! Rupert, and that’s flat!”

       “I don’t mind my name,” Sally mewed.

      “Your name’s as idiotic as mine!”  Rupert yelled, Rani finally losing her temper and leaping on top of her cub, almost squashing him flat!  Rupert’s complaints were suddenly drowned in a mass of fur and huge paws, as Rani clamped her paw over his mouth, holding it shut so he couldn’t bite her.  Rupert snorted and snarled, angry with his mother and sister.  The male cub struggled and Rani was forced to relinquish her hold on his jaw, so she caught his forepaws instead, holding them tightly in her own, Rupert trying to bite his mother’s forepaws while using his hind to try and kick her. Sally saw this and released herself from Raja’s embrace, running round behind her brother.  , As he drew back his right hind paw to kick Rani; Sally suddenly grabbed Rupert’s ear in her mouth and hung on with her teeth.  Rupert screamed with fear and tried to free his ear, Sally’s grip increasing in strength.

     “Let go of my ear!”  Rupert demanded, struggling and snarling.  Sally shook her head, Rupert’s eyes becoming wide with fear as he realised the damage such an action could do to his ear.  Sally pressed down gently with her teeth on the flesh of Rupert’s ear, the male tiger cub screaming and begging for her not to hurt him!

      “All right, all right!”  Rupert screeched, “I won’t kick our mother again, nor will I hit her, is that good enough?  Now, let go of me Sally! Let go of my ear, please!  Rupert begged.  Sally let his ear drop, Rupert almost crying.

      “Your behaviour hasn’t done you any credit,” Raja said to Rupert, who scowled at him.

      “You disgust me Rupert!”  Rani yelled, still clinging determinedly to her cub’s forepaws.

       “Let go of me!”  Rupert yelled, struggling against the grip of his mother’s vice like paws.

     “No,” Rani replied, tightening her hold ever so slightly.  Rupert howled with pain.

      “Until you will promise to lie on your side with your mouth shut and paws visible to all so we can see where they are, I’m not going to let you go,” Rani said calmly.  Rupert capitulated, his mother releasing him and the disgraced tiger cub lying so Raja and Sally could see the pads on the soles of his large paws.  Sally went up to her brother and touched the pads of his paws with the toes of one of her smaller forepaws, Rupert evidently wanting to slap her with one of the paws she was exploring.

 

“Leave me and my paws alone!”  Rupert growled.  Sally padded away, wishing her brother would play with her like he’d done before they’d been captured and then escaped from the circus.  Rani had given birth to her cubs soon after being captured from the wild, and she’d been forced to perform for the humans while her cubs watched helplessly from their cage.  Rani and her cubs escaped one night when the tiger trainer, who was always drunk, left their cage door ajar.  It was the work of a moment for Rani to hook the toes of one paw through the bars and open the door further.  They’d just walked out, and when they’d got to the boundary of the compound, they climbed a fence and jumped.  Landing on the other side, the three tigers fled for their lives!  Weeks passed, and Rupert had become more and more morose.  Now he was hard to live with.  Rani and her cubs had found their way to the community more by luck than planning, stumbling across the patrol in the wood a couple of hours before Raja had entered the room.  The patrol that night consisted of Ellie, Clarence and Elsa, and it was Elsa who first spotted the three tigers hiding beneath a bush at the side of the track.  She’d spoken to Rani, and on learning of their plight, had invited them in.  Now Rupert was safe, he was no less morose and no less disagreeable.  Sally looked at her brother, wishing he would play with her.

      “Don’t look at me like that!”  Rupert snapped, “we’re not cubs any more Sally, we can’t play like we used to!”  Raja looked at Rani the eyes of the tiger and tigress meeting across the room.  Before she knew what was happening, Rani’s paws had taken her to Raja and she’d taken his left forepaw in both of hers.  When she came to her senses, Rani, much embarrassed, just lay there, her paws still gripping Raja’s.

       “I’m so sorry!”  Rani mewed, releasing Raja.

     “I’m not,” Raja replied.

     “What do you mean?”  Rani asked.

     “I mean I’m not sorry you took my paw in yours,” Raja replied, “I liked it, it was nice.”  Rani looked into the male Bengal tiger’s bright eyes, he looked so handsome.

      “I want, want to,” Rani said, wondering if playing rough and tumble was what adult tigers did.

      “My paws are yours,” Raja said to Rani, “tickle them, stroke them, for I’d like you to, if that’s what you want to do.”  Rani wanted him to stroke and tickle her paws, but would he?

     “Here are my paws Raja,” Rani said rolling onto her side and waving her forepaws at him.  Raja then imitated her, then their forepaws met and they clung to each other’s paws.  They even linked the toes of their hind paws, rubbing pads and toes together.  Rani’s eyes told Raja what she wanted, and he smiled at her.

      “I think mum’s got a new love in her life,” Sally mewed.  Rupert grinned, then grabbed his sister’s left hind paw and tickled it, sally laughing merrily.

     “I love this!”  Sally mewed.  Rupert hugged his sister, realising that he could play with her without reprisal.  Raja and Rani rolled on the carpet in play, laughing and play fighting, each grabbing and tickling the other’s fore and hind paws.  Rupert and sally watched them, each realising raja and Rani were rapidly falling for each other.  Rupert hugged his sister and began to stroke her from her nose to the pads of her paws, Sally purring gently as his huge paws soothed her into a comatose state.

     “I remember doing this when we were young,” Sally mewed.  Rupert smiled at his sister, stroking the pads of her right forepaw.

 

Rani stared at her eldest cub.

      “Raja,” she asked softly, so Rupert could not hear her words, “you saw Rupert’s reluctance to play with his sister, and to be honest, he’s been acting that way ever since we escaped from the circus, now though, they’re playing together.  Rupert was even reluctant to let Sally touch him, and would definitely not let her take his paw for any reason what so ever.  Now though, as you can see, he’s stroking her, and she him, and they’re enjoying each other’s company.  I can’t work out what changed Rupert’s outlook so quickly.”

      “I think I can guess,” Raja mewed, taking Rani’s left forepaw in his and kissing her on the nose, “when you and I began play fighting, tickling and stroking each others paws, Rupert saw that adult tigers were still able to play, that it was not taboo here to express himself in ways which might be considered by some to be cubbish behaviour.  When he realised this, and realised that what you and I were doing was exactly what Sally wanted him to do, I.E, play with her, Rupert put his inhibitions aside and played with his younger sister.  Now they are happier than they’ve been for a long time.  Now Rani, please, I have one question.  You said you’d escaped from a circus.  Please, if you will, tell me about it.”  Rani’s eyes filled with tears, and Raja wished he’d not broached the subject.

      “I’m sorry, I didn’t know it would upset you, I wouldn’t have asked,” Raja mewed, hugging the tigress close.  Rani took a deep breath and shook herself, trying to keep control.

      “It’s a dreadful tale,” she mewed, “I was a wild tigress, once, but I was captured and put into the circus when I was young.  The humans taught me to perform various tricks, riding on carriages pulled by horses, and all manner of dreadful and unnatural behaviour.  One trick they taught me was to dribble a ball between my forepaws and then strike at a goal as if I was some kind of feline footballer!  I’m not anything of the sort Raja!  Anyway, I was impregnated by the head male tiger in the enclosure, and Rupert and Sally were the result of that.  After their birth, I was determined that they would not suffer as I had.  So we escaped one night, running for our lives and sanity.”  Raja hugged Rani tenderly.

      “You will not be asked to perform tricks here,” he mewed.  Rani smiled.

 

The unmistakable “thud, thud, thud,” of a ball being bounced along the tiled passage outside the room they were in made Rani and Raja look round.  Rani saw the ball before she saw the animal that followed it.  Raja saw the look in the tigress’s eyes as she remembered the tricks she was taught.

     “Even though you hated that way of life Rani, you still remember it,” Raja thought.  Rupert came into the room, somewhat inexpertly controlling the ball with his forepaws.  Rani leapt to her paws, ran over to the ball and gained control over it with the skills taught by humans.  Rupert, his eyes wide with surprise, watched as his mother reared onto her hind legs and used her forepaws to keep the ball in the air while pivoting on the toes of her hind paws.  Dropping to all fours, Rani passed the ball back to Rupert, who stood staring at her in astonishment.

      “How?  Where? Where the hell did you learn all that!”  Rupert exclaimed.

     “Learned as part of a former existence,” Rani replied, “you can’t call it a life, for I had no life then, I just performed for human enjoyment.”

      “But why do something which you hate?”  Raja asked.

     “Some things you can’t forget, ever,” Rani mewed, “and I will play with a ball, if I want to.  You see, it’s not playing with a ball which upsets me; it’s being forced to perform with a ball.  If I want to bat the ball above my head with my paws or dribble it between them on the ground, I will, and if I don’t want to, I won’t.”  Raja smiled at her.  He then grabbed the ball and imitated Rani’s actions, standing on his hind legs and, with Rani throwing the ball to him, he passed the ball from forepaw to forepaw, before dropping to all fours and punching the now bouncing ball to Rupert, who dribbled it round the room and passed it to Rani, who passed it back to Raja.  The three tigers grinned at each other.  Sally then arrived, looked at the ball, then at her brother and guessed what happened.

      “I can’t dribble a ball,” she mewed, “I’ve got four right paws when it comes to that!”  Raja grinned at her.

     “We’ll teach you how to do it,” he said, padding over to her and hugging her.  Rani realised then that Raja had taken her cubs to his heart, and had this further confirmed when he instinctively went to Rupert and embraced him, much to Rupert’s astonishment.

      “We’ve hardly met,” Rupert protested, but everyone could see his protest was only half hearted.

      “Welcome home,” Raja mewed.  Rani looked uneasy.

       “How do you know we can stay here?”  She asked, “You’re not leader, someone named Theo is, and we’ve not met him yet.”

      “I can soon remedy that,” a voice said, and Theo padded into the room, saw the ball and booted it out of the door.

      “We don’t want to be playing with balls when we’re talking serious business,” Theo said, grinning at the three newcomers, “I believe you met Elsa my mate.”  Rani nodded.

     “We did, or rather I did.”

      “Right,” Theo replied, “how are you finding it here?”

     “Very pleasant indeed,” Rani said, glancing at Raja, who grinned at her.

      “Raja’s making you feel welcome?”  Theo asked.  Rani smiled at Raja, who looked straight back at her, knowing his leader would know what had passed between them.

      “He is,” she mewed.  Theo smiled.

     “And how about you two?”  He asked, turning to Rupert and Sally.

       “Yes thanks,” Sally replied, “Raja’s been wonderful.  Rupert looked away, ashamed of his conduct when Raja first entered the room.

      “Tell him what you did Rupert,” Rani said.  Rupert did so, all the while looking down at his paws.

      “Raja’s got sensitive paws,” Theo mewed, “cold paws aren’t nice to have Rupert.”  Rupert smiled at Theo and gave the lion his paw, Theo stroking his paw ever so gently. 

     “Can I have a hug Theo?”  Sally asked.  Theo smiled and released Rupert’s paw.  Padding over to sally, he enfolded her in his huge fat paws, sally purring contentedly.  Then it was Rani, then Rupert’s turn for a hug from Theo, and even Raja decided he’d like one, so Theo was kept busy.  Theo’s warm paws worked their magic on everyone in that warm room, filling them with warmth from their noses to their paw pads.  Rupert found he didn’t want the hug to end, and clung to Theo for as long as he could, Rani deciding she had to forcibly prize the lion free from the cub’s embrace, though Theo hadn’t asked it of her.

     “You don’t cling to the leader of the community!”  Rani snapped at Rupert, cuffing him hard across his nose with her paw.  Theo rested a huge fat paw on hers.

      “Maybe he felt he needed to hang onto me in the way he did,” he said.

      “But Theo,” Rani began; when something in the lion’s eyes made her words die in her throat.

      “Rupert’s traumatised by something,” Theo’s eyes said.

       “I wouldn’t doubt what your paws tell you Rani,” Theo said.  Rani was used to her eldest cub holding tightly to her with his paws, but hadn’t expected him to do the same to Theo.  Maybe he was so terrified of going back to the circus that clinging to Theo was his way of pleading with the lion to let him and his family stay, as when he clung to her, he was expressing his feeling that Rani was all he had and he didn’t want to lose her?  Rani’s mind worked this through and she padded over to her cub and hugged him.

     “We’re safe now, really safe,” she mewed.  Rupert, now crying, buried his face in his mother’s fur.  Sally looked at her brother, realising for the first time how the circus had affected him.  She’d not understood much of what went on in the cage, but Rupert had.  He knew his mother had been forced to work for the humans to get her own, and by extension their food.  He knew Rani hated being forced to perform tricks.  He knew the sight and smell of the circus horses excited the predator in her and that she was forced to suppress her wild need to hunt.  Now she was free, and so were Rupert and his sister.  Rani had seen the Shetland ponies in their stable, and thought briefly about bringing one down and eating it, but stopped herself.

     “We do have horses here,” Theo mewed, “are you about to eat them?”

       “I could, but I won’t,” Rani mewed, “I promise I won’t do anything to your horses.”

     “You will be well fed and well entertained, just wait and see,” Theo mewed.  Fleur padded in, and the tigers turned to her.

      “She’s a beautiful creature,” Rupert thought.  He ran to fleur and embraced her impulsively.  Fleur laughed merrily and returned Rupert’s hug.  Suddenly a low menacing growl stopped them.  Jespah sprang upon Rupert, tore his paws from Fleur’s fur and nearly killed him!

     “Get off my mate!”  He yelled.

     “Get off my cub!”  Rani screamed her full weight landing on Jespah!  She dragged him away, smashing her paw down on the lion’s nose.

      “That was silly Jespah!”  Theo yelled as the young lion was dragged screaming from the room.

      “You’ve heard of the saying “fighting like a tigress defending her cubs?”  Rani asked Jespah, “Well now you know what it’s really like!  I’m a tigress, and I’m defending my cub!  You’re dead meat!”  Fleur knew Jespah’s life was in danger, but like Yi Jie felt when Kuan-Yin was killed, Fleur knew Jespah knew the rules.

 

Rani dragged Jespah away; her anger at his actions undiminished by the lion’s shrieked apologies.

      “You do not attack my cub!”  She yelled.

      “Well your blasted cub shouldn’t have gone after my mate like he did!”  Jespah screamed.

       “Rupert’s a cub!”  Rani shouted, “He doesn’t want your mate!  All he wanted was a hug!”  Jespah spat at Rani, who whacked him across his nose with her paw, the lion howling with pain.

      “Now let that teach you!”  Rani yelled, “Next time, I’ll kill you, is that clear!”  Jespah whimpered acknowledgement of the tigress’s terms.

       “And you can forget fleur ever coming back to you too,” Rani said, “she’s sick of you not listening to her!”

       “Just leave me alone!”  Jespah pleaded.  Rani kicked Jespah hard in the belly and then left him, padding back to her cubs.  Rupert, still shaken by his encounter with Jespah, ran to Rani and threw himself at her.  Rani lay down and gathered him to her, the cub crying hysterically into her fur.

      “It’s okay now, shh my cub.  It’s okay, I promise nothing will harm you now,” Rani said softly to Rupert, the cub greatly upset by his run in with Jespah.

      “I’m sorry, very sorry,” fleur said miserably, “Jespah’s a possessive sort.  He’s done this once or twice before, but he won’t do it again.  I will not be dictated to!”

     “Um, I beat him up,” Rani mewed.  The large cat with the strange markings looked at her.

      “He knows the rules,” she said, “I can’t apologise enough for what he did though.”

      “It’s not for you to apologise,” Rani replied, “It’s his job to do that.”

      “I’ll go and talk to Jespah,” fleur said to Theo, “you stay with Rani and her cubs.”

      “You can’t talk to your leader like that!”  Sally mewed.

       “Fleur speaks wisely Sally,” Theo mewed, “so I will obey her instructions.”  Theo then went to the strange cat, hugged her and kissed her nose.  Fleur padded from the room in search of Jespah.

 

She found him curled in a miserable heap on a rug nearby.

      “Fleur!”  He screamed when he saw her, “don’t hit me!”

       “You have disgraced yourself Jespah!”  Fleur yelled, “I don’t want to see you again!”  Jespah mewed pitifully, but knew why she’d said what she had.

      “Rupert was a cub Jespah, and no threat to you, but you forgot one thing, I’m not your possession, I’m my own person, and I will not be treated as such!  You are so stupid!”  Then fleur turned tail and walked away.  Petra watched her go, then did what she’d wished fleur had done, she strode up to her brother and brought her paw smashing down on his nose.  Jespah screamed with pain.

      “You disgust me Jespah; I’m ashamed to call you my brother!”  She yelled.  Jespah moaned in misery and covered his face with his paws.

 

Petra stormed out of the room, slamming the door.  She padded along the passage, her paws telling her the slate tiles might have not been such a good idea after all.  Entering the living room, she found Rani and Raja curled up together.

     “That’s lovely to see,” she mewed, going to raja and kissing him on his nose.  Raja smiled at the white lioness.

       “Dear sweet Petra,” Raja mewed.  Petra smiled.

      Are you white all over Petra?”  Rani asked, ashamed of her own curiosity.

     “No,” Petra mewed, rolling onto her back, “look, my paw pads are black!”  She waved her paws in the air, Raja catching hold of one of her forepaws and tickling her pads.  Petra squirmed and wriggled, laughing helplessly.

      “That wasn’t a cue for you to tickle my paws!”  She laughed, though it was clear she enjoyed his attention.  Raja let Petra’s paw drop, the lioness rolling onto her belly and pawing at him with her forepaws while mewing pitifully.  Rani laughed merrily as she realised the white lioness was playing with raja.  Raja grinned and tenderly embraced Petra.

      “We all love you Petra dear,” he mewed, the lioness snuggling up to him.

 

Meanwhile, Rani and Rupert were talking together, the cub begging his mother not to go back to the circus, like Rani wanted to do that.

     “I won’t go back there, listen to me Rupert; I promise I won’t go back to the circus!”  Rani mewed.  Rupert clung to his mother with desperate paws, Rani doing her best to comfort him.

      “It’s going to be okay Rupert,” Theo mewed, padding up to the cub and taking him in his huge, fat warm paws.  Rupert snuggled up to Theo, the lion nuzzling and licking the cub’s ear in an attempt to reassure him.

      “I won’t turn you, Sally or your mum away from here,” Theo purred.  Rupert clung to the lion with both forepaws.

      “Promise?”  He asked.  Theo kissed the cub on the nose.

      “I promise,” he purred.  Rupert looked into Theo’s eyes, the lion gazing back with a gentle expression.

      “We live in peace here, if not always in harmony,” Theo mewed.

      “We live in peace” you say Theo,” Raja mewed, “peace is when a panda gets killed for upsetting a lion?  Peace is when two snow leopards get killed for expressing their views is it?”  Theo looked at the tiger.

      “The rules are such that if you get on the wrong side of a member of the community to a degree they may turn on you.  This is just punishment for a crime.  If we didn’t have this Raja, we would be ruled by anarchy.”  Raja made a mental note not to cross Theo.

     “Blanche and Amber were dangerous animals,” fleur mewed, padding into the room and hugging Theo.

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