Birth, death and a transfer of power.

 

 

Kamchatka watched Petra and her grown cubs embracing each other.  She still couldn’t sort things out in her mind to explain what she’d seen.  Dismissing the goings on from her mind, she decided to treat Petra as she’d done Theo, for the two were very close, and alike in so many ways.  It was almost as if Petra, not Aslan was Theo’s natural cub.  Kamchatka had heard Rowena say that Petra was not Theo’s cub, though both wished she had been.  When Kamchatka asked why Rowena should say such a thing, Rowena wouldn’t say any more.

       “All I can say is that Petra was not Theo’s natural cub.  She was taken in by him and protected by him from others.”  Kamchatka knew Rowena was younger than Petra by several years, but at the same time she could not guess Petra’s age.  The white lioness seemed ageless, while at the same time weighed down by years of Experience.  It was now Kamchatka asked Petra:

      “How old are you Petra?”  The lioness turned from hugging Rowena and looked her full in the face, something Kamchatka found unnerving.

       “Why do you ask?”  The lioness asked without ranker.

       “I don’t know,” Kamchatka babbled, “you seem older than Rowena, but Rowena seems to tell tales of a lioness who should be dead now, if all accounts are correct.”

        “Rowena’s tales of Eohippus’s representative on earth,” Simba said, “she was a white lioness, her mind stolen as a cub to perform another’s will.  Eohippus abused the cub, and then the adult lioness, making her do things that were unnatural to her.  That lioness rebelled against her mistreatment.  And now she is of her own mind.  When Petra rescued me from the string bag in the wood she had the blue eyes of a cub, but since then, she’s grown into an adult lioness.”

       “I’ve heard you call her mum,” Kamchatka replied, “how can she be a cub and a lioness within two years or so.  How can you have called the lioness who rescued you mum if she was a cub?”

       Petra was a cub in years, but not in experience,” Simba mewed, “Petra was a cub long long ago, but a force made her into a lioness before her time and made her do things that were unnatural for her.  Now she is herself once more.  I know little of how or why it happened, Rowena knows more, but she will not tell, and nor will Petra or Theo.  It is only them who know what really happened.  All you need to know is that Petra is here, and that she’s one of the gentlest lionesses you’re ever likely to meet.  She can kill, but has to be driven to it by horrendous events.  Mum likes eating vegetables, having her paws massaged and hugging her cubs.”  Kamchatka knew she was being told to take Petra as she found her and not pry into her past.

      “Okay,” the sow grizzly bear said.  Simba looked into her face, ramming the message home with his eyes.  Then, for good measure, he took Kamchatka’s paw and she got the message that way too.

       “Now we go on,” Simba said, “you Kamchatka learning about the community as we are now, for that is all you need to know.”  The female grizzly bear shivered as she saw and felt Simba’s mood.  Kamchatka knew this white lion could be dangerous if provoked.  Casting her eyes to the floor, Kamchatka dared not look into the eyes of the male white lion.

       “Leave it Simba,” Petra mewed, “I think Kamchatka knows not to ask questions.”

        “Okay,” Simba said, removing his paw from that of the grizzly bear, “I want her to know how serious this is!”

      “She knows right enough Simba,” Petra said, “please, don’t be heavy pawed about this.  The story of me and Eohippus is a strange one, and Kamchatka was only curious.  Now she’s been told to mind her own business I’m sure she will.”

       “You’d better take heed of this,” Simba snapped, baring his teeth and extending his claws to make his point.  Kamchatka looked terrified!

        “I’m going, I’m going!”  She whimpered, turning tail and bolting!

       “You bloody idiot!”  Petra snarled, slapping Simba across his face with her paw, “you call yourself a leader and you handle things in that manner?  How could you act like that?”  Simba, his eyes watering, screamed at her!

       “I was only trying to protect you, to save your feelings!”

       “I’m grateful for that,” Petra mewed, “but Simba, you didn’t need to overdo it.  When I said about her minding her own business, I knew what Kamchatka was thinking, I could see it in her eyes!  You went and scared her off!  Now, now she’s run off, and who knows what damage you’ve caused.  One day I might tell her the story, or Theo might, but it’s not under discussion for now.  Now you go and apologise to Kamchatka!”  Simba looked at Rowena for support, but somehow knew his mate was the conduit between Kamchatka and his mum.

     “Do as mum says Simba,” Rowena said calmly.  Simba, knowing he’d been given a double dressing down from his mate and mum, padded away, his head hung and tail drooping.

        “Simba’s protective of you mum,” Rowena said, “and I can see why.  I know his tale, though he doesn’t know I know it.  I know why he’s protective, and I would be in his situation.  But the story of your cubhood, which I also know, is for you to tell.  Even Theo is not at liberty to tell it, and he knows that.  I will never tell a soul about what happened to you.  That’s your choice and yours alone.  Despite his gentility Simba is a hot blooded male, and sometimes that comes out.  He needs to learn to control that.  I know Simba’s killed before, and could kill again too.”  Petra’s eyes filled with tears.

       “Rowena,” she said, “did you see the look in his eyes?”  Rowena nodded.

        “He was threatening to kill Kamchatka mum,” the younger lioness mewed, “and Kamchatka knew it too.”  Petra gulped hard.

      “If he kills Kamchatka for asking questions, I’ll go mad!”  Petra mewed, “noone needs to lose their lives over this!  I’d rather tell Kamchatka the story myself, warts and all!  She doesn’t need to die for this.”

 

 

Meanwhile, Theo, trailing Simba, followed the white lion to Kamchatka’s bolthole.  The grizzly bear, frightened beyond words, had run to the cubbing den and slammed and locked the door.  When Simba, tracking her by scent, found it leading to the locked and bolted cubbing den door, he angrily banged on it with the flat of his paw.

      Kamchatka!”  Simba yelled, “Let me in!”  Theo padded noiselessly up to Simba and stood on his tail.  Simba screamed and whipped round, Theo letting him pull his tail free.

       “How dare you!”  Simba snarled, ready to attack.  The look in Theo’s eyes made Simba pause.  And suddenly his left forepaw was in that of the older lion, Simba feeling his mind being torn to bits.  Theo destroyed Simba’s bravado in half a minute without saying a word.

       Petra knows,” Simba mewed, “she saw it, Kamchatka saw it, and so did Rowena!  Theo, I won’t lie, I was prepared to kill Kamchatka.  I was going to admit that too, I was about to tell her!”  Simba mewed.

        “Were you? Honestly?”  Theo mewed.  Simba knew the gentlest lion he’d known in his whole life already knew his reply.

        “I couldn’t tell her that,” Simba mewed, “my standing would be destroyed.”

       “Your standing in life is more important than honesty?”  Theo asked.  Simba cast his eyes down.

       “Samson would have killed Kamchatka,” Simba said lamely.

      “No he wouldn’t,” a voice said behind his right shoulder.  Simba looked round and saw Samson, The look in the lion’s eyes making him want to cry.

        “You kill Kamchatka; you destroy your mum,” Samson said, “Simba, just because you found killing easy before, killing isn’t the solution to everything.  Winifred had to die because she’d done horrible things to you, but Kamchatka has done nothing.”

      “Mum killed Leona for expressing views on Rowena’s spiritual connections,” Simba mewed.  Samson shook his head.

       “You know dam well why Leona died,” he replied, “You know Leona’s intention was to kill Rowena.”  Simba knew this, but could not admit it, so ashamed was he of his own intentions.

       “I want you to go into Kamchatka’s presence and admit that you were going to kill her.  Tell her Simba.”  Samson said.  Simba watched as Theo lifted a phone on the wall, Kamchatka’s frightened face appearing on the screen.

      Kamchatka, Theo here,” he said into the phone, I’m coming in with Simba and Samson.  Simba’s no threat to you now.”  Theo then tapped a combination into the pad on the cubbing room door and opened it.  Leading the way, Theo found the grizzly bear curled up in a miserable heap.

       “Simba wanted to kill me Theo,” she sniffed.

      “I know my dear, “I know.”  Theo mewed.  Kamchatka hugged him tenderly, Simba feeling awkward and angry.

       “I was going to kill you Kamchatka,” Simba mewed, “I can’t deny that.  Though I can also tell you that I wouldn’t have told you straight out either.  I’ve been awful to you, overprotective of my mum too.”

       “I can understand why you are protective of your mum’s tale,” Kamchatka said, “but surely no tale is worth a life?”  Simba sniffed hard as his mum walked into the lie up.  Going to Theo and hugging him, Petra said:

       “Shall we tell her?”  Theo nodded:

      “Your choice dear cub,” he mewed.  Petra then sat down with Theo, and told Samson and Simba to sit down too.  Simba looked desperately for Rowena, but she was nowhere to be found.  Leaping to his paws, he tried to run out the door, but Samson tackled him to the floor.

       “You are staying,” Samson said softly, and Simba knew by his tone argument was useless.  Petra and Theo then told Petra’s tale, and when it was over, Simba was sweating with fear, his eyes full of horror, while Samson just lay with his head in his paws, quietly crying.

       “I dreamt of a white cub,” he sobbed, “she was very dear to me, my first cub I suppose.  I wanted to find her, to protect her, for I could see she was being abused.”  Petra went to Samson and tenderly hugged the weeping lion.

       “I’m here now, and noone can abuse me any more,” she replied, “yes what happened to me was dreadful, but it’s finished now, all of it, abuse by lioness and mare is finished.  Simba’s protective stance is welcomed, but his overreaction is most definitely not.  Simba, come here please.”  Simba looked scared:

      “What are you going to do to me?”  He asked.  Petra looked at him, and Simba found his paws taking him to her.

       “Give me your paw,” Petra said.  Simba gave her his right forepaw.

       “You need to learn to be self reliant,” Petra said, “Rowena won’t be there for you forever.”  Simba looked mystified, then frightened.

       “What’s happened to her?”  He demanded.

       “Nothing,” Petra replied, “but you’ve been relying on her too much, wanting her to take your view on things, and she won’t Simba, not if she feels differently.  Now you have to be taught self reliance again.  For this reason, and so you can be totally dedicated to this, I think Samson has something to say to you.”

       “Simba,” Samson said, “from now on you are no longer deputy to me.  You will not choose my deputy, nor will you have any say in my choice.  You will be sent back to the ranks to learn how to be a lion.  How to be reasoned in everything you do.”

      “Who’s going to take my place as deputy?”  Simba asked, now shaking from nose to tail.

        “He who was born in the night time but has seen the light of day,” Samson said.

       “Not, not Nuru!”  Simba screamed, “not him, please!”  Samson nodded.

     “The reason why is this.  He has proven himself time and again to be a gentle and kind lion, and done so against impossible odds.  Nuru might have been born with a heart as black as the night he came into the world, but through struggle and courage, he has proven he can overcome those feelings to emerge from his hate filled life and become a better member of the worldwide leonine pride.”  Simba felt sick.

      “But, but he attacked us, he violated tigress Tess!”  Simba screamed.

       “He may well have done this,” Nala said, padding in and smiling at her mate, “but Theo knows, as do I that Nuru now is not the lion that was.  Nuru is gentle and caring.  I would gladly have him present at the birth of mine and Theo’s cubs.  Theo smiled.  Simba stared at her.

      “But, but, he ruled over your life with an iron paw!”  The white lion yelled.

       “Nuru’s no longer the violent lion I knew and feared,” she mewed.  Simba stamped out of the lie up.  Kamchatka looked nervously at Petra.

       “He, he won’t touch me will he?”  She asked.  Petra went to Kamchatka and hugged her.

     “No he won’t,” she replied.  Simba threw himself down in his lie up, furious with himself.  He knew he’d overreacted, but he loved his mum, and hated to see her hurt by careless talk.  He buried his face in his paws and cried.  Simba could not think of Nuru as his replacement.  When the call came for everyone to gather in the main room for the announcement of the new leadership, Simba attended with a heavy heart.

       “I won’t keep you long,” Samson said, “but I have something to say.  Due to personal issues, Simba’s been forced to relinquish his post as deputy leader.  In his place, I would like to ask Nuru to take the responsibility in his paws and embrace it.”  Nuru, who’d been briefed, padded solemnly to Samson’s side, Simba forced to let him take what was until a few hours ago his customary place.  Simba then did something very cubbish and stupid, he spat at Nuru’s feet.  Nuru glanced at him, and then wiped his saliva covered paw on the carpet.

       “Stupid cub,” Nuru grunted.  Simba growled with anger.

       “Screw you!”  Nuru padded up to Simba, raised a paw and brought it smashing down on his nose!  Simba shrieked with pain and collapsed.

        “That will teach you,” Nuru snarled.  Simba rubbed his nose with his paw.

        “You horrid animal!”  He whimpered.  Nuru looked at Samson.

       “So what do I do now?”  He asked.  Simba opened his mouth to say something, but Rowena’s paw covered it. 

      “Simba, shut up!”  Rowena begged.  Simba bit down savagely on Rowena’s paw!

       “Simba, get off!”  Rowena yelled.  Simba closed his eyes and bit down harder, grinding his teeth into her paw, Rowena screaming in pain!  Nuru padded up to Simba and belted him across his nose!  Simba opened his mouth to scream, and Nuru cuffed him hard across his face!  Simba, blood streaming from his nose and split upper lip scrambled to his feet and bolted.  Rowena lay licking her mangled and bleeding left forepaw, whimpering and sobbing.

       “Let’s take a look,” Nuru said.  Rowena limped to the bathroom, where fleur and Nuru washed her injured paw, a process which hurt her a great deal.  Crying with pain, Rowena endured her treatment, until fleur and her new deputy could see the injuries to her paw.

       “it’s badly crushed, with many small bones broken, three broken toes out of five, and a lot of tissue damage,”  fleur said, “we will have to bind up the paw, then keep treating the paw with ointments to keep the infection out.  You licking your paw probably did a deal of good, and I would recommend that too, though for now I will help with ointments and things.  Bathing your paw in salt water will help too.”  Rowena looked down at her mangled paw.

       “I’ve lost the use of my paw haven’t I,” she mewed.  Nuru gently lifted Rowena’s paw, the pain in the lioness’s eyes hurting him.

       “Let me look, just a second or two,” he said.  Rowena clenched her teeth as Nuru gently raised her paw, then turned it sideways to look at her pads and then back to look at the upper portion of her paw.

       “I can’t say,” he mewed, if we bind it up enough, maybe you’d get away with partial use, but it won’t be the paw you were born with.”  Rowena looked down at her injured paw, tears rolling down her nose.

       “I can’t believe he did this,” she sobbed, “Simba, my dear Simba, why hurt me?  Why?  For Eohippus sake why?”  Nuru covered his eyes with a paw, for he knew Rowena must be desperate if she was calling out to her spiritual leader.  She had noone else to turn to, for even she had no idea this time.

 

Meanwhile, Simba had been brought down by Theo and Petra.  After beating him up, they threw him in a corner.  Once he’d recovered, his Grandsire and mum questioned him about his attack on Rowena.

       “I don’t know why I did it,” Simba mewed.  “I only nipped her paw.  I don’t know what the fuss is all about.”  Petra shook her head.

     “You didn’t nip her paw Simba; you crushed it in your teeth!”  She yelled.

       “Oh, oh no!”  Simba mewed, “I remember the taste of blood.”  Simba then looked in a mirror, and saw his teeth covered with blood, Rowena’s blood.

       “How could I have done this?”  He asked, “How could I do this to my own mate!”

       “If you’re distressed about the blood on your teeth, you wait until you see the damage you did to Rowena,” Theo thought uncharitably, “that will make you scream and beat your paws on the carpet.”

       “Look at the video I am about to show you,” Petra said.  Walking to a console and punching in a code, Petra requested the last hour from the cameras in the main room and those going to the bathroom and in the bathroom.  Simba watched as first the meeting, and then his attack on Rowena, then her journey to the bathroom and treatment of her injured paw took place.  Simba could hear and see everything, and what he saw made him cry, then vomit as, despite being heavily sedated, Rowena squealed in pain as Nuru and fleur bound her paw.

       “It was then that Allie did something in her control room which finished Simba and Theo.  She flicked back to when Rowena was looking down at her mangled paw after it was cleaned and before it was bound.  The white lioness was asking why Simba had harmed her, begging Eohippus for guidance to understand the violent actions towards her of a lion that she’d loved so well.  Simba howled with misery, while Theo quietly wept.  Petra looked stonily at her eldest cub.

      “You deserve to be punished!”  She yelled.

     “No mum!”  Simba begged, “No more, this is enough!”  Petra knocked Simba off his paws, and then grabbed his right hind paw in her mouth.  Closing her teeth round his paw, she bit down carefully, Simba struggling and screaming as Theo held him down.  Simba shrieked as he felt his mum’s teeth penetrate his paw pads and put pressure on the bones on the top of his paw.  He felt warm blood covering his paw, and the bones moving slightly.  Closing his eyes, he sobbed and screamed!  Petra left off, having punctured and badly bruised her son cub’s right hind paw, and most of all, given him a fright.

     “That was nothing!”  Petra yelled.  Simba could not tend to his injured paw, so Petra bathed it in hot salty water, the male white lion screaming and begging for mercy.

      “Your paw is not crushed, is barely scratched!”  Theo yelled, “You have permanently disabled Rowena!  You did to her what you hated others doing, Remember Sarafina?  Remember what she wanted to do to Rowena?  Well you’ve carried out her will; you’ve injured your own mate!”

      “You’ll always have a place in my heart, for you are my cub,” Petra sobbed, “but right now Simba, I hate the lion I see in front of me!  Where is my Son cub?  For the gentle and caring cub I once knew is not here.”  Simba almost choked on his tears.

        “Think on what you’ve done today,” Theo said, “thinks on what you have done for vanity, for status, for a title.  Leadership is not just a title Simba; it takes guts, courage and a lot of thought.  You did not think before you bit your mate’s paw.  Samson gave you time to look at yourself and at your relationship with Rowena.  Now you’re screwing everything up!”

       “Tell Rowena I’m sorry,” Simba begged, almost choking, “Tell her Theo, Petra.  For Eohippus sake someone tell her!  For I can’t, she won’t let me near her now.”

      “Why don’t you tell her yourself,” Petra said.  Simba looked up, and saw Rowena padding into the lie up, no, not padding, and limping badly.  Her left forepaw was bandaged, and she could hardly put weight on it.  Indeed, she held it up off the floor mostly.  Simba watched her come closer, for to look away would have been seen as cowardly.  The sight hurt him, and he was sure everyone could see it.

        “I have nowhere else to sleep, so I’m coming back here,” Rowena said.  Simba knew this wasn’t the case, but let it go.  He knew the real reason Rowena was back so soon.

       “Fleur didn’t want me to come home,” Rowena said, “she wanted to keep me in her lie up for a night, but I said I didn’t want to stay with her.  My paw isn’t half as painful as other things, and I need to sort them before I can even think of relaxing.  Simba, you can’t see the damage you’ve done, for my paw is too injured to be unmanaged, but you will see it in time.  I want you to see what you did to me.  Rowena was now beside Simba, and she couldn’t properly lie down, almost collapsing on top of him as she tried to settle down.

       “I tried to stop you saying something you’d regret, and you mangled my paw,” Rowena panted, the effort of limping on three legs and one damaged paw exhausting her.

        “I was going to tell Nuru he could go screw himself!”  Simba snapped.

       “And where would that have got you?”  Rowena asked, “A slap from a paw, a spell in the prison, or worse.”  Simba looked at his mate, at her beautiful face, her sad brown eyes watching him, then quickly over the rest of her body, white fur and paws with black paw pads.  Three paws with black paw pads, and one, one white paw, totally white, and oversized.  Simba also saw that Rowena could not help licking the bandages from time to time.  This action made him want to cry buckets.  For when she licked her paw, a look of complete bewilderment and sorrow would come into her eyes.  It was this which broke Simba’s control.  Hugging Rowena hard, Simba buried his face in her neck and cried.

       “I’m sorry Rowena!”  He sobbed.

        “You’re sorry you hurt me, or sorry for being a total idiot over Nuru’s appointment?”  Rowena asked, licking her paw, as if her rough tongue could heal torn flesh and shattered bone.

       “Sorry for that and for hurting you,” Simba Replied, “Rowena, please, answer me this.  Why did you put your paw over my mouth?”

       “To stop you saying things that might get you killed!”  Rowena snapped with sudden emotion, “Despite your somewhat stupid actions in the recent past, I love you Simba, so I wanted to stop you from saying something that would get you into even more trouble with the leadership!  You need a break; you’ve lost touch, literally.  Simba, you lost touch with me, with |Petra!  You know something else?  You know what hurts me more than my mangled and almost useless paw?  What hurts me is that you didn’t just bite my paw; you tried to lame me for life.  You ground your teeth together while biting my paw!  I tried to save you from yourself Simba, and you maimed me.  I pleaded with you and you increased your attack!  Now, now Simba,” Rowena began to cry, “now I don’t know what to think!  I can’t think, for my paw is hurting, hurting so much, because the one whom I loved more than anyone else in the world deliberately mangled it.  Simba, you could have stopped when I asked you to let go, but you didn’t, you snarled at me and bit down harder Simba, and, and you ground your teeth into my paw.  Fleur and Nuru took a look, as did Brunetta; they say my paw will never heal now.  I am keeping it bandaged until things settle down, wounds heal, and that sort of thing, but my paw will never be as it was.  Why Simba?  Why did you bite my paw?”  Then shouting, crying, “why Simba!  For Eohippus sake why did you maim one who you love?”  Simba covered his eyes with his paws, unable to look at his friend any more.

       “I was crazed, not of my right mind, angry, bitter and furious I’d been demoted.  I wanted to say so much to Nuru and Samson, to tell them they were bastards for demoting me, and you stopped me Rowena, you stopped me dam you!”

      “I stopped you because I care for you Simba!”  Rowena screamed, “You know what Nuru can do, you know what Samson can do, they are wild, you are not!  You don’t understand wild ways, I do, I know!  I know what they can do Simba, they wouldn’t give any ground, they aren’t like Theo or Petra!  They are fair, but if you play dirty with them, they will rip you up and spit you out!  Nuru already clobbered you once, and you nearly went back for more!  Leo thought he could take Nuru on, and he died.  I didn’t want you going the same way, for that’s what would have happened, no doubt about it, you would have lost paws down in a fight with either of them.  I tried to stop you Simba, but you bit my paw, and then crushed it!  Now I wish they’d hurt you, just so you know!  Your vanity got in the way Simba!  Your lust for power got in the way of sense, and you were prepared to do anything to regain that power, including maiming your mate!”

      “The leadership was a great accolade for me,” Simba mewed, “you have no idea Rowena!  To have it summarily taken away from me, to have Nuru take my place so quickly, well, that was too much!”

      “Do you know why Samson did that?”  Rowena asked.  This was a stupid question but conversations go like that sometimes, “he did it because you were becoming irrational, not thinking!  Kamchatka did not deserve to be threatened with death for asking questions, and Samson had to stop you, to end your power over the community to save her from your stupidity!  Kamchatka, she’s no threat, she’s no danger to Petra or anyone else!  She’s a poor lonely bear who needs a home, just like you did when you were young.  Simba, you fell on your paws, Petra picked you up and ran with you, and then you get the leadership, and now look what you’ve done!  Your problem is you don’t think!  Now you are demoted, I am maimed for life.  Simba, you can regain your status, but I won’t regain full use of my paw.”  Simba looked at Rowena, at her face, into eyes that he pledged would never see violence done to their owner.  Rowena looked defeated, weary beyond expression.

       “Simba,” Rowena said, “I gave you everything, and mum gave you everything she had.  Now this is how you repay both of us.”  With that Rowena tried to get to her paws and make a dignified exit, but she could not manage it. 

 

Limping heavily on her injured paw, Rowena made her way to Tigress Tess’s lie up.  Once there, the short walk having tired her, she collapsed in a heap beside the white tigress.  Tigress Tess looked at Rowena, then, as gently as she could, gathered the white lioness into a huge tigress sized embrace, careful not to aggravate her injured paw.

       “Dear Rowena,” Tigress Tess said softly.  Rowena snuggled hard into the tigress’s hug.

         “Simba attacked me because I put my paw in the way of his power,” Rowena sobbed.  Tess stroked the lioness, trying to soothe her.

       “Simba bit the paw which soothed him,” the tigress said, “He is the weak one Rowena, not you.  It is he who needed the leadership to feel he was someone.  The leadership had become his life, and he thought he knew it all.  Leadership is not all killing to maintain order.  Killing is easy, far too easy. And because of this it is the last resort. Or should be.  Negotiation, talking is harder, but the taste of water while discussing things is sweeter than the taste of blood.  If blood is tasted when not in the search for food or defending one’s family, then we have lost, the community has lost.  Aslan died because he could not talk to his sire, Leona because she could not talk to you.  Neither of them wanted to learn from the other.  For them death was the only way out, the last resort.  For Simba, killing Kamchatka was the first course of action he would have taken, and thank Eohippus for Theo and for you and Petra he did not.  Now you are maimed, and Simba is discredited.  I suppose the question could be asked, who has won.  The answer is noone.  Not Nuru, not Simba, or Petra, and definitely not you my dear.  But who comes out the strongest out of this entire shambles?  Not Simba though he has four good paws and has lost nothing but his job.  Simba’s weak, and has proven himself so.  The strongest player in this awful game is you Rowena.  You did not raise a paw in anger, only in defence of your mate against himself.  Simba crushed his defence against himself and smashed himself against the rock of his own misjudgement and complete disregard.  He has lost a job, maimed his mate, and is left with very little.  You did what you did because you love Simba dearly and wanted to protect him.  He did what he did because he loved his job and wanted to show his spite towards another lion.  Hot headed males are not good.  Why is it that the lionesses lead a pride?  It’s because they think, they reason, they have a purpose for every paw print they put on this earth.  I am sorry for you Rowena, but please, promise me this.  Promise me you will let your paws tell you what is right, for they’ll never let you down.  Even an injured paw can help a bit.  You are strong, courageous, and you have made your life count.  Please, keep making every paw print count.  You might not have an official job here, but you’re well known all over the community, and are highly regarded.  More highly regarded than Simba if my information is correct.  For you make contact where it really matters.  I know that.  Nuru knows it too.  The touch of your paw was the best thing that ever happened to him Rowena.”  Rowena knew all this, but it was comforting to hear it from tigress Tess.  Nuru padded in, very distressed about everything.

        “Simba, Simba bit Rowena Tess!”  Tess nodded, her huge body hiding Rowena quite well.

        “I know,” the tigress replied, “Simba won’t get away with what he did to his mate.  He will suffer the vengeance of eohippus for what he did.  Maiming her was unnecessary and cruel.”  Nuru didn’t see Rowena hiding in the curve of his mate’s body, the white lioness being quite a bit smaller than the white tigress.  Nuru looked with pained eyes at Tess, who nodded and smiled:

       “She’s safe,” she mewed, “Rowena won’t come to harm where she is.”  Nuru gulped hard, trying not to cry.

       “Simba crushed her paw!”  He whimpered.

      “I know,” tigress Tess said.  Nuru padded from the room, very distressed.  Meanwhile, Simba was getting the worst of it from Samson.

 

“You horrible creature!”  Samson yelled, cuffing Simba hard across his face.  Simba cried openly now, for his world was falling to bits.

       “I can’t undo what I did!”  The white lion screamed, “but, but I can try and make amends for how I treated my mate!”

       “She should have let you speak your mind and get clobbered!”  Samson snarled, “But it is not Rowena’s way to let those she loves put all four paws in their mouths at once!  She cares Simba, and you forgot that! You bit her dam you!  You crushed her paw!  Have you seen the damage?  I have, and I don’t think she’ll ever be able to use that paw properly ever again.  You’ve done Sarafina’s job for her!  You maimed your own mate!”

      “Don’t rub it in, don’t rub it in!  Please stop!”  Simba begged.

      “Do you think Rowena will forget what you did?”  Samson asked.  Simba shook his head.

      “Even when her paw is healed, the bones inside will still give her pain, just like Hop along’s paw gave him pain.  She will remember what you did to her for the rest of her life!  Do not go to her Simba; do not even try to get a message to her.  Leave her alone.  Now you can go, for I don’t want to see you in my lie up for a long time!”  Simba fled!

 

Meanwhile, Rowena, depressed and anxious, limped into the garden, and finally out into the wood.  Her left forepaw hurt like hell, but she carried on walking, her mental torment driving her on to a clearing where she could collapse and think a while.  She thought over the events of the last ten hours, the whole sorry state of affairs making her burst into tears. Rowena must have cried herself to sleep, for she was woken by a nose nuzzling hers.  Opening her eyes, she immediately lifted her left forepaw to rub them, as was her way when waking.  Gentle paws restrained her, stopping her from performing her natural act.  Rowena had almost forgotten her injured paw, and the memory of it saddened her to her core.

        “Simba’s torn me apart,” she thought miserably, “with that one bite, he’s wrecked everything!”

     “Blink, don’t rub your eyes dear sister,” someone said.  Rowena closed her eyes, feeling the newcomer’s presence and smelling their scent.

       “Baingana?”  Rowena asked.  The newcomer smiled:

       “You need not be afraid of me any more,” he said, “Eohippus has spoken to me and told me the error of my ways.  I am, as was lion Leo before me, now trying to make amends for hurting those who I had no business to hurt.  Simba is hurting you at the moment, and he has no business doing that either.  He bit your paw, but cannot prostrate himself in front of you and beg your forgiveness.  I hurt you in other ways, and now come to help you, but first beg you to find it within you to forgive my stupid actions.  I broke leonine law, but was not strong enough to break the ties to my sire, which has changed himself beyond recognition.  I too have tried to change.”

      “I can feel you have,” Rowena replied.

       “You of all should know the truth of it,” Baingana said.  Rowena leant forward and kissed the lion spirit on his nose, Baingana’s tears wetting her facial fur.

        “I saw what Simba did,” Baingana sobbed, “it was horrible, spiteful work!”  Baingana’s spirit then kissed Rowena’s nose and bandaged paw.

       “I know it hurts,” he said, referring to her paw.

      “No it doesn’t, well, not when set against everything else,” Rowena said.  Baingana hugged her tenderly.

       “Simba is a proud but weak lion,” the apparition said, “he will have to come to you, and not just say he’s sorry, mean it too.”

      “You meant it when you apologised to me,” Rowena replied.

      “With every part of me,” Baingana’s spirit replied, Rowena knowing what he meant.

      “Simba likes power,” Rowena sniffed, “he wants it more than anything else!”  Baingana hugged Rowena hard.

       “You are more powerful than him; you are stronger, gentler, and lovelier than he will ever be.  Many respect you Rowena; I know it, as do many here.  Now, though your paw is injured, please, don’t hide it.  When its better and no infection can get in it, show it to the world, show everyone that you are stronger than the body you inhabit.”

      I was going to get rid of the bandage as soon as I could,” Rowena said, “I hate it, but can’t take it off until my paw has settled down.  Then I will.”  Baingana released Rowena and left her alone in the wood.

       “Who the hell were you talking to?”  Simba asked, padding up to Rowena.

        “Noone,” Rowena said.  Simba looked scared.

       “You were communing with the other side weren’t you?”  He gasped.

       “Baingana if you must know,” Rowena said, “he apologised to me, and meant it too, unlike you.”  Simba stared at his mate, but knew the truth of her words.

       “I’m a fallible lion, not a perfect saint!”  Simba screamed.

       “All I want you to be is truly sorry for what you did, and you’re not!”  Rowena mewed, “you saw me as a barrier to your job Simba, and to get me out of the way you bit my paw so hard I won’t be able to use it properly ever again!  I’m not asking for the world.”

       “I can’t say what I’m not,” Simba replied, “I’m sorry you got hurt, but you shouldn’t have put your paw in my way!”

      “Right next time I won’t!”  Rowena mewed, “despite my love for you, I will remember not to help you out of your sticky situations, for you requested to be left alone.  Hard though it will be, I will watch you flounder and die Simba!”

       “My rage was with Samson and Nuru, not with you, you shouldn’t have interfered!”  Simba yelled.

       “They would have killed you Simba!”  Rowena mewed, “and you know it too!”  Simba snorted and walked away.  Rowena looked up at the sky.

      “I’m on my own,” she thought, the realisation making her sick, “Simba doesn’t want to know me like he used to.  Not now.  I want to fall apart, but I mustn’t.”  Rowena turned her face to the sun to feel its warmth.

        “I can’t let him go, not like that,” she thought miserably.

 

That night, Simba’s dreams were racked with pain.  He couldn’t sleep, whenever he drifted off, a nightmare would bring him awake with a yell of fear.  The nightmares were of lions tearing up lionesses, one lioness in particular got the worst of it every time, in the dream he was running to help this lioness whom he thought he knew.  She was being killed by horrible things, male lions with horrid eyes, mangy fur and jaws covered in blood, wild things that tore and murdered without thought.  Simba rushed forward, trying to pull the lions off the lioness, but his paws weren’t strong enough!  Screaming, Simba thrashed about, waking sweating and crying.

      “What’s going on in here?”  Petra asked.  Simba, his eyes out on stalks, told her of his dream.

     “I think it means you need to believe in the love you have for Rowena to stop the relationship with her going down the tubes,” Petra said.  Simba leapt to his paws and ran from the lie up.  Pounding out of the house, he ran following Rowena’s old and faint scent.  He found her in the wood staring into the sky.

      “How long have you been here?”  Simba asked softly.  Rowena looked at him.

      “I don’t know,” she replied, shivering in the cold night air.  It had been raining, and Simba noticed a dry patch where Rowena sat.  She’d been in the same position for hours.

       “Your fur is soaked, as is your bandaged paw,” Simba mewed.  Rowena tugged the bandage off her paw, exposing the damaged paw.  Simba looked at it, the paw had begun to heal and it looked horrible.  Rowena began to lick the paw, feeling for damaged skin which had died, which she nipped off with her teeth, spitting it onto the grass.  Simba turned away and vomited violently onto the grass.

       “All done,” Rowena said, licking her paw once more before padding back to the house.  Simba felt sick.

      “I know it’s necessary,” he said, “but did you have to treat your paw without warning?”  Rowena smiled.

      “Paws wait for no animal,” she said, “when it needed treatment, I treated it.  Now I will let it air.”  Simba followed his mate to the bathroom, where Rowena bathed her paw in salt water, clenching her teeth as she totally amerced her paw.

      “It hurts doesn’t it,” Simba said lamely.

       “No, it’s a picnic!”  Rowena snapped.  Simba felt awful.

        “Look,” Rowena said, “You maimed me for no reason, do you expect me to be unconcerned about it?”  Simba watched horrified as Rowena patted her paw dry with disposable non lint producing towels, which she jerked her head at for Simba to throw away.  Simba did so, and tried to take Rowena’s injured paw in his, something which angered the lioness to growls and snapping.

       “Leave it!”  She snarled.  Simba’s eyes screamed at her.

       “I only want to help!”  The distraught male lion whimpered.

        “I don’t need your help,” Rowena snapped.  Simba prostrated himself at her feet.

      “What do I have to do to show how sorry I am for what I did?”  He yelled.

       “Don’t speak, use your paws,” someone said.  Simba leapt to his feet, bristling with anger!

       “What would you know, go away Baingana!”  He screamed.

        “No,” the dead lion’s spirit replied, “I won’t go away.”  Simba covered his eyes with a paw and screamed!  Rowena smiled at Baingana and padded to him, kissing his nose.

       “Don’t, don’t take her from me!”  Simba yelled.  Baingana’s spirit smiled and didn’t reply.

       “He won’t take me from you,” Rowena mewed, “only you can push me away Simba.”  Simba choked on a sudden rush of tears.

       “How can I show you how much I love you?”  Simba mewed.

      “Try going back to basics,” Baingana said, “fall in love with Rowena all over again.  After all, you don’t know her that well.  If you did, you’d not have bitten her paw.  Oh and by the way, learn to love her from nose to tail once more.”  Simba looked at Rowena’s eyes, then down at her injured left forepaw.

       “Yes,” Baingana said, “you did that to her, you injured your own mate Simba, and what for?  For a title, for a job.”  Simba squealed in pain.

       “Let me show you Rowena, let me try!”  Simba begged.  Rowena looked tired.

       “Simba,” she yawned, “I’m exhausted, and the events of the last day or so have drained my strength.  I’m beaten.”  Simba led her back to the lie up, looking fearfully at Baingana’s apparition.

         “Leave us alone!”  Simba snarled.

       “I’m not a problem to you Simba,” Baingana mewed, “you are the problem, you hurt your mate.  It is you, not me who have caused Rowena’s lethargy.  The damage to her paw is not the only damage you did Simba.  Now think on that.”  Simba spat at Baingana’s image.

       “I hate you!”  He screamed.

       “It’s not him you hate,” Rowena said wearily, “you hate yourself.”  Simba stared at her, then, raising his paw, he cuffed her hard!  Rowena squealed with shock and pain, Simba shaking with rage!

       “Get out of my sight!  Go on!  Piss off!”  He screamed.  Rowena limped away, Simba bullying her out of the room by kicking at her hind paws.

        “How could you do that?”  Petra asked sadly.  Simba dared not look at his mum’s face, for he would see her disappointment and pain.  Even so, his eyes were dragged to hers.  The look in Petra’s eyes made Simba want to cry.

      “Why Simba?”  Petra asked, “Why bully your own mate after she’s loved you so well?”  Simba looked down at his mum’s forepaws, seeing her claws were unsheathed and ready for action.  Simba knew his hide could be their next target.

 

Meanwhile, Shuang lay in her lie up.  She’d been feeling uncomfortable for a few hours, and knew her time for cubbing was drawing near.  Shifting uncomfortably, she tried to think of something else other than the increasing labour pains.  Breathing deeply, she felt her paws and teeth clench as another contraction built in her.  Shuang knew the cub’s arrival was some time off yet, for she had no urge to bear down against the cub, the pain being manageable without having to push.  Shen had vanished when Shuang had told him she was in labour.  Now she was on her own.  Rowena, depressed, and with the soles of both her left fore, and both hind paws hurting from Simba’s attack on them, limped past Shuang’s lie up just as Shuang was enduring a contraction.  Hearing her moan of pain, Rowena changed her mind about going to Samson’s lie up and padded painfully into Shuang’s instead.  Rowena found Shuang in pain and very frightened.  Shuang fired questions at Rowena, the lioness responding calmly, for she could feel Shuang’s distress.

       “You’re giving birth to your cub,” Rowena said gently, “its fine, nothing’s the matter.  You’re just in the first stages of labour.”  Rowena wished she’d had a cub, so she knew a little of what Shuang was going through, but she hadn’t.

        “It’s like when you’ve eaten bad meat,” Shuang said, “the contractions feel like my stomach is complaining.  I’ve already been to relieve myself twice.  Rowena, what happens if I make a mess delivering my cub, if I push, and, well,” Rowena knew pandas, like her own kin, were clean creatures.

      “Don’t worry about that,” Rowena said gently, “you want to push, you push Shuang, don’t worry about a thing.”  Shuang smiled, she liked this strange white lioness a great deal.

      “I’ll call Arki,” Rowena said, picking up the phone in the lie up.  Speaking to the female polar bear, Rowena told her that Shuang was in the first stage of labour.  Arki, taking her turn on the security team, told Rowena she’d been monitoring Shuang carefully.

      “I can’t see the cub coming any time soon,” Arki said, “Shuang’s contractions aren’t frequent yet.”

       “I’ll come up and take over from you,” Rowena said, “your place is here with Shuang Arki.”  Rowena said this because it was true, but she desperately wanted to stay with the sow panda.  Arki saw the look in Rowena’s eyes, and guessed her true thoughts.

        “Shuang doesn’t need me there yet,” Arki said, “why don’t you stay for a bit.  Indeed, she might not need me at all.”

      “But I can’t massage paws like you can,” Rowena replied, “I’m a lioness, not a bear Arki.”  Arki smiled:

       “You don’t have to be able to massage your own paws,” the bear replied, “You can stroke other’s paws can’t you?”  Rowena admitted she could.

       “I’ve stroked Simba’s paws before, Samson’s too, but not those of bears.”

      “No time like the present,” Shuang said, wriggling and panting.  Arki, overhearing, said she’d be down if she saw or heard anything suspicious.  Rowena knew what the polar bear was doing, and she was secretly pleased and excited about what was happening, but even so, she was suddenly unsure of her own abilities.

      “You know what’s going on with the cub Rowena,” Arki said, “you know better than any of us.  If you feel it getting distressed, call me.”  Rowena knew the cub was preoccupied, wondering what was happening to it, but not distressed.

       “Okay,” Rowena said, “I’ll stay here.”  With that she put the phone down and lay down so she could take Shuang’s left hind paw in both her forepaws to stroke it.  Rowena felt Shuang’s pads damp against her own dry ones, the sow panda flexing her toes as Rowena gently held her paw.  Then Shuang gasped, moaned and curled the toes of all four paws.  Rowena felt the intensity of the sow panda’s pain in the shaking paw she held, and in the tightly curled toes and bunched pads.  Shuang, groaning with pain, panted and puffed a little as she came down from the contraction.

       “They’re getting heavier,” she remarked to Rowena, who knew only too well.  Shuang reached forward and took her right hind paw in her forepaws.  Leaving Rowena in charge of her left hind.  Rowena knew what this meant, and sure enough, when the next contraction came, Shuang leant forward and, taking her right hind paw in both forepaws, tried to crush her paw as the contraction built.  Rowena, lost for a moment, set about trying to massage the bunched pads and curled toes of Shuang’s left hind paw.  Shuang rocked slightly, whimpering and puffing as the contraction eased.

       “Thanks Rowena,” she panted, “but it’s going to get worse, much worse!”  Rowena didn’t reply, still stroking the paw she held in hers.

       “The touch of your paw on mine is comforting, even when I’m in the worst pain,” Shuang said.  Rowena smiled and patted the sole pad of Shuang’s left hind paw, before massaging her toes.

        “Everything’s going to be all right,” Rowena’s touch said.  Shuang pressed her left hind paw into Rowena’s forepaws, feeling the lioness’s paws cupped round it.  Pressing down hard into Rowena’s paws, Shuang felt Rowena tighten her grip slightly.

      “Don’t worry Shuang,” Rowena said.  Shuang smiled.  Rowena stayed with Shuang as she endured her labour, getting up, sitting down, and rolling about with the sow panda as the cub’s birth drew near.  Rowena remembered seeing scruffy Leo helping during tigress Tess’s labour, and imitated his actions, getting right into things with Shuang.  Rolling with her, stamping her paws when the sow panda did, panting, pawing and groaning, as well as massaging and playing with Shuang’s hind paws when she wanted.  Rowena knew when Shuang’s cub was close, because the sow panda suddenly sat down, covered her belly with both forepaws and yowled with pain!

      “The cub’s coming soon!”  Shuang squealed, “I can feel it Rowena!”  Rowena watched as Shuang wriggled and squirmed, and then lay back in a reclining posture, her eyes squeezed tight shut and forepaws held tight over her belly, the toes of her hind paws curled so tightly her claws nearly dug into her pads.  Rowena tried to massage the pads of Shuang’s right hind paw, but all she could reach was her sole pad.  Shuang, feeling the toes of Rowena’s forepaw on the sole of her own hind paw, pressed down hard against them.  Straining to deliver her cub, Shuang moaned, panted, and then shrieked as her cub’s head emerged.  Puffing and blowing, not knowing whether she wanted to sit, curl up or stand, Shuang fought Rowena, the lioness trying to keep eyes on the emerging cub.  Every contraction now caused the sow panda to become violent with anxiety and agony, Rowena letting her get on with it.  Shuang attacked Rowena, driven to slapping and kicking out at the lioness wile screaming in agony.  All Rowena was concerned about was keeping eyes on the cub which was nearly half way born.  Shuang suddenly got to her feet, squatted and strained hard.  Rowena caught the cub as its mother splayed and braced her hind paws, leant on her fore, and bore down with everything she had.

      “Just one more push Shuang!”  Rowena said, “The cub’s nearly here, just its hind paws to come.  Come on one more effort!”  Shuang rested on all fours, the pads of her hind paws visible to Rowena.  Cradling the cub in her forepaws, Rowena could not reach Shuang’s hind paws to rub the pads.  Shuang rested for a minute or so, then got onto all four paws, raised and lowered herself on tiptoe a couple of times, then, with all four paws flat on the rug, accompanied by a lot of grunting and squealing, pushed down for the last time.  Rowena caught the cub as it came free, cradling it in her paws.  Shuang, feeling her pain ease, looked round at her cub in the paws of the most unlikely birthing attendant she could have imagined.

       “I think this cub is yours?”  Rowena asked.  Shuang laughed, sat down and took the now dry cub from Rowena.  Cradling it, Shuang examined the cub from nose to tail.  Relieved the cub was all right and her labour was over, Shuang let the tiny form drink its first milk.

       “The cub’s male,” Rowena mewed.  Shuang smiled broadly.

       “Thanks Rowena thanks a lot!”  Shuang said.  Rowena smiled, got up, and padded from the room on all four paws.  It was only when she was half way down the passage that Rowena remembered her injured left forepaw.  Looking down at it, she saw it was misshapen from the fight with Shuang in the latter stages of her labour.  Rowena smiled, for her paw was no longer as painful, even though it was misshapen, and should have hurt a great deal.  The lioness knew that her elation at what she’d just done was blocking pain signals from reaching her brain, and that she’d suffer for it later, but for now things were great.  Flopping down in her lie up, Rowena slept the sleep of the exhausted.  She’d been tired when she entered Shuang’s lie up, and now, five hours later, she’d had enough.  Even the elation of a cub’s birth could not stop her from sleeping.

 

Meanwhile, Simba watched incredulously as Arki showed him the video of Rowena helping Shuang have her cub.  Simba’s toes curled as he witnessed the sow panda beating Rowena up in the latter stages of her confinement.  The panda steamrollered the lioness!  Rowena’s injured paw was stamped on at least five times, and crushed by Shuang’s paws at least four.  Even so, Rowena kept on going, helping the sow panda until her cub was born.  Simba turned to Petra as they watched Rowena pad steadily down the passage from Shuang’s lie up.

      “She’s forgotten her injured paw,” Simba said, “it’s mangled, crushed even more now Shuang’s had a go at it, but it doesn’t hurt her in the least.  Mum, Rowena’s belief, her conviction and wish to help Shuang, and Shuang’s love for her have cured her pain.”

       “Most of her pain was caused by you Simba,” Petra said, “her paw would have ached, but not given her the pain it seemed to.  Rowena’s a strong lioness; you are not a strong lion.  Rowena would help someone she loves even if it killed her, could you do that?”  Simba looked grim.

        “Rowena’s wonderful,” he said, “and I am sorry beyond words for how I treated her.  Maybe now though, she’s cut away from me, binned our relationship, just as I did.”  Petra looked at her Son cub.

       “So you and Rowena are no longer mates?”  She asked.

       “How can I be a mate to her now,” Simba mewed.  Petra lay down and buried her face in her paws, Simba knew she was crying.

        “I’ll go now,” Simba mewed, padding from the room.

 

Rowena was woken by a nose brushing hers, a tiny nose it was.  Then she felt a tiny paw scrabbling at her own paw.

       “Rowena, Rowena!” a tiny voice said.  Rowena shook herself awake.

      “Hmmm? Who’s that?”  She asked.  Her nose told her exactly who this newcomer was, but she could hardly believe it.

      “My name’s Kuan-Yin, I’m, I’m Shuang’s cub,” the tiny voice said, Rowena feeling a tiny body cuddling up to her.  Shaking herself, Rowena groaned involuntarily.  She felt like she’d been worked all over by a grizzly bear, stamped on from nose to tail.  Kuan-Yin held Rowena’s left forepaw in his tiny ones.

       “My mum’s asleep,” the cub said, “I wanted, wanted to come and see you.  You aren’t angry with me are you?”  Rowena was concerned, but how could she be angry with a tiny cub that was no more than ten hours old.

       “Your mum won’t be a happy panda,” Rowena said.

      “There he is!”  Shuang panted, busting into the lie up.

       “Your cub came to me,” Rowena mewed, Shuang looking at Rowena, shock at her appearance clear on her face.

       “I beat you up!”  Shuang said, “You let me beat you up Rowena!  You should have stopped me!”

      “You weren’t fighting me, you were fighting labour pain,” Rowena mewed, “I can’t punish you for that.”  Shuang padded up to Rowena and hugged her hard.

         “I love you,” Shuang said softly.  Rowena kissed Shuang’s nose.

        “I love you and your cub too,” Rowena whispered.  Shuang wept into Rowena’s fur as she remembered her confinement and the pain she must have put Rowena through.

       “I slapped and kicked out at you,”  Shuang sobbed, “here,”  she said, sitting down, “here’s my right hind paw, I think I’ve crushed a bone in it, for it hurts, “go on, take your rage out on it!”  Rowena took hold of Shuang’s injured paw in both her forepaws, lifting it gently.  Shuang watched, waiting for the retribution she thought she deserved.  Closing her eyes, she waited to feel teeth biting into her pads and toes, but she felt a lioness’s kiss placed on the toes, then the pads of her paw.

       “Why should I hurt someone who meant me no harm?”  Rowena said.  Shuang felt her paw getting wet, and realised Rowena was crying.

       “I don’t want to hurt you Shuang,” Rowena sniffed, kissing her hind paw once more, and then gathering her close.

       “I love you from your black nose to your brown soled paws,” Rowena mewed.

      “I know,” Shuang replied, “that was why I came, to tell you my feelings towards you, and my cubs too, are identical to yours for me.”

      “Your cub too,” Rowena mewed, “I love you both so much, so very much.”  Shuang suddenly wanted to groom Rowena, to run her paws from the lioness’s nose to her paw pads, the urge was so strong she had to curl her toes into the carpet to stop herself.

       “Do what you feel,” Rowena said.  Shuang gently put pressure on Rowena’s shoulder until the lioness rolled onto her side, then she kissed Rowena’s nose, then gently took each one of her four paws in her forepaws and kissed Rowena’s pads and toes.  Rowena purred as she felt Shuang kissing her nose and paws.  Then the grooming started, Shuang working the toes of her forepaws through Rowena’s fur from her ears to the end of her tail and down all four of the lioness’s legs.  Shuang’s cub, Kuan-Yin listened to what his mum was doing and took hold of one of Rowena’s hind paws in his forepaws.

       “Can I kiss your paws too?”  He asked.  Rowena, now crying, replied that he could, wiggling the toes of the paw he held, which was her right hind paw.  She felt the cub kissing her pads, and then curled round and took the cub in her paws.

      “I love you Kuan-Yin, I love you my dear cub,” Rowena purred.  The cub snuggled up to Rowena and kissed her nose.

       “I love you as much as I love my mum,” the male panda cub said softly.  Rowena gulped hard.

       “You could make him an honorary member of the pride,” Shuang said laughing.  Rowena looked up, turning serious eyes on the sow panda.

        “I will do just that,” she mewed, “for this cub deserves our protection, as do you.  Your cub is my cub too.”

     Auntie Rowena?”  Kuan-Yin suggested.  Rowena smiled and kissed the cub’s nose, then the pads of his tiny left forepaw when he raised it to touch her nose.

       “I like that,” Kuan-Yin said.  Rowena gathered Kuan-Yin close to her, embracing the newborn panda like she would a lion cub, the panda cub snuggling hard into her embrace.

        “I here by call you Maoxiong Kizungu, a bear like cat of the white people.”  Rowena said to Kuan-Yin.

      “How nice,” Petra purred having seen all.  Rowena smiled at her mum.

        “Rowena,”  [Petra said, tears filling her eyes as she watched Kuan-Yin cuddled up to her daughter cub, “what you did, for Shuang and her cub, it, it was amazing and lovely!”  Kuan-Yin smiled and kissed Rowena’s nose and forepaws once more.  Shuang padded up to Petra and took the white lioness’s paw in hers.

        “Your daughter cub was so lovely to me,” she said gazing into Petra’s face.  Petra knew it; she’d seen Rowena’s selfless actions.  Glancing down at her cub’s left forepaw, Petra noticed it was badly mangled, and thought it must cause Rowena terrible pain, but the younger lioness seemed not to be bothered by it.

        “I will never forget helping you give birth to your cub,” Rowena said to Shuang.  Shen ran in suddenly, spat at Rowena, and then went for the newborn cub!  Rowena threw herself at Shen, Petra protecting Shuang and Kuan-Yin.  Rowena fought the enraged boar panda and brought him down!  When he was soundly beaten, Rowena looked at Petra.

       “Kill him,” Petra mewed, “for his intentions were to kill the cub.”  Rowena already knew Shen’s intentions, but wanted to check with her mum.  Rowena killed Shen there and then, cleanly, clinically executing him.  Rowena realised then that she’d done something she never thought she could ever bring herself to do.

      “Mum,” she said shame faced, “I killed another creature, and I feel nothing other than relief that the cub is safe, I feel no unease at what I’ve just done!”

       “Rowena,” Petra said, “you know why you feel no unease at your own actions.  I will not spell it out for you.”  Rowena looked at Kuan-Yin cowering beside his mother.

       “You, you, Rowena,” Shuang stammered, “You were protecting your cub!”  Rowena looked at Kuan-Yin and smiled.

       “Yes Shuang,” she said.  Petra had Shen’s body removed quickly, so that Kuan-Yin did not have to be around it for long.  Once this was done, Petra returned to her lie up, where Simba lay distractedly licking his paws.

        “Rowena’s one happy lioness,” Petra remarked to her Son cub.

      “I know she is,” Simba growled, “she even used the suffix that is reserved for you and me alone!  Who the hell does she think she is?  Eohippus?” Petra cuffed her cub hard!

      “I resent that remark!”  Petra snarled, “Rowena does not think she’s Eohippus!  She’s just used a suffix which we thought was only ours to use.  She’s used it correctly, even though the panda cub isn’t white all over.”

     “Loosely,” Simba snapped, “Rowena’s stretched it a bit.”

     “What she means is Kuan-Yin’s of her own pride, the white lions.  Rowena is right to adopt the cub.”  Petra replied.  Simba knew now that Rowena had forgotten about him.  He’d forgotten about her often enough, and now he was being left for good.

       “I thought Rowena was incapable of killing?”  Simba asked, “That was why she couldn’t deal with Leona, you had to mum. Why did she find killing Shen so easy?”

       “When you have cubs of your own you’ll know,” Petra replied.

      “But Rowena only helped at the birth of a cub,” Simba protested, “she didn’t actually give birth to the cub.  So her change of heart can’t be explained just like that.”

       “I felt Shuang’s pain,” Rowena said, padding into the lie up, “so I almost had a cub.”  Simba stared at her.

      “How can you feel another’s pain?”  Simba asked.  Rowena touched Simba’s paw and the lion screwed up his face, panted and screamed!

      “Make it stop!”  He roared!

       “Satisfied?”  Rowena asked the now sweating lion.

       “You are that tuned in,” Simba panted, “oh no!”

        “I whimpered and clenched my teeth, but you couldn’t hear me for Shuang’s cries,” Rowena mewed, “Whenever she had a contraction, I felt it Simba, though I knew what was happening inside, so could tell her all was fine.  That is how I can adopt this cub and kill anyone who threatens it.”

        “But you kept calm,” Petra mewed, “I’d have been screaming my head off.”

       “It was difficult,” Rowena said, “but I managed it.  Why do you think I let Shuang beat me up?”

      “Because you knew her pain, you could feel it,” Petra replied.

       “Bingo,” Rowena said smiling, “no wonder I felt like I’d been hit by a truck afterwards.  Everything hurt!”

        “So you experienced contractions too?”  Petra asked.

       “I don’t know,” Rowena replied, “but I remember the pain transmitted to me from Shuang.  I knew what she was going through, I could feel it.  It was up to me to soothe her pain, and I knew I was winning when she told me things were less painful.”

       “What is labour like?”  Petra asked.  Simba swore:

      “If the few seconds I had of it are anything to go by it’s shitty,” he snapped.

       “First contractions are like bad cramps in your stomach, later ones make you feel as if you want to relieve yourself.  Contractions where pushing is needed are like something is stuck and you need to push to help it along, so you push, you have no choice,” Rowena replied, “Well, that was my experience anyway.”

      “I would be physically sick,” Simba said.

       “I don’t doubt you would be for one minute,” Rowena mewed.

      “Why weren’t you attempting to push against something if you felt the same pain and urges as Shuang?”  Petra asked.

      “It was all in my head, no bodily pain at all,” Rowena mewed.

     “Psychosomatic,” Simba grunted, “bleedin’ hypochondriacs!”

      “I’d shut up right now!”  Rowena warned.  Simba glared at her.

      “What is there to prove a word of what you say?”  Simba challenged.

      “Simba,” Rowena said, “I know what muscles worked to bring the cub into the world, “I can make them work in any animal, and I need only suggest it.  The results are quite different in males and females though.  If I suggested to Petra she was in labour, she’d feel abdominal pain and would want to push against an imaginary cub.  You however, would experience something quite different and more embarrassing.”  Petra, furious with Simba up until then, suddenly roared with laughter.

      “No Rowena, you couldn’t!”  She said.  Rowena’s eyes told Petra that she could.

       “You can take control of our bodies?”  Petra asked.

       “If I think about it,” Rowena replied, “but I won’t do it to Simba, he’ll hate me more than he already does.”

       “You have the same power as Eohippus,” Petra said, “she made me feel the pain of Simba’s encounter with Orsa, “and you can make Simba, or me feel the pain of cubbing.”

      “Yes,” Rowena replied, “because you haven’t got trained minds to switch off your bodies to the suggestion, your brains will tell your bodies to use the muscles to create the pain.  I can turn my body off, so all I get is the sound so to speak, no fury.”  Simba felt sick.

       “You could even, oh no, no no no!”  Simba shrieked!  Rowena caught his thoughts and smiled wolfishly.

      “Yes Simba, if I was feeling particularly vindictive I could even do that, so don’t tempt me, okay?”  Petra guessed her Son cub’s thoughts and almost wanted Rowena to show him how it felt to have his paw bitten and crushed.

       “I’ve always wanted to have a cub,” Petra mewed, “maybe, just maybe,” Rowena smiled at her mum.

       “I could never do that to you without feeling guilty,” she said, “though I can inflict pain, I don’t like doing it.  I won’t misuse my power, for I know what it can do.”

       “Couldn’t I experience cubbing, just for a while?”  Petra asked.  Rowena knew how much her mum had actually wanted to give birth to her own cubs.

      “The disappointment of not having a cub at the end would destroy you,” Rowena mewed, “I can’t put you through that.”

       “Fleur does it,” Petra said lamely.

      “Fleur’s only pretending, acting,” Rowena mewed, “this is real mum, real pain, real effort, and for what, for nothing.  Trust me mum, you’d hate me forever if I let you go through cubbing with no cub at the end of it alive or dead.”   Petra begged Rowena for a chance, telling her of her dreams of giving birth to her own cubs.

      “Those dreams mean you to go and get pregnant mum, they don’t mean that I should induce a false labour,” Rowena mewed.

      “But you had a false labour,” Petra protested.

       “I had a cub at the end though,” Rowena said calmly, “it’s not a cub of my own species, but that doesn’t matter, Kuan-Yin’s a cub who I love with all my being.  Powerful though my gifts are, I can’t magic up a cub which doesn’t exist.  You’d be heartbroken when you didn’t have a cub at the end of hours of pain and effort.  No mum, I won’t do what you ask.”

      Prove it Rowena; prove you can make things happen!”  Simba yelled a crazed look in his eyes.

       “Simba,” Rowena said, “go to the relieving place.”  Simba went.  Rowena and Petra padded after him and watched as he entered the room.  Simba bounced on his toes a little as he walked, cocky and smug.  Rowena’s eyes told Petra Simba was about to be brought down a peg or two.  Simba positioned himself over the hole in the floor and waited.  Rowena padded into the room and stood in front of Simba.

       “So you want to feel labour pain?”  Rowena said.  Simba nodded.

        “Do your worst!”  He goaded, his eyes maddened.

      “As there will be no long term affects from this, I can show you the closest you will get,” Rowena said, “hang on tight.”  Rowena suggested Simba’s brain tell his body to contract his stomach muscles, which were the closest thing he had to what she and Petra had naturally.  Simba suddenly screwed up his face in pain.

     “I want to relieve myself!”  He gasped, “I can’t stop it!  Oh no! No!”  Simba strained hard, gasping and pawing at the tiles.

      “Now do you see?”  Rowena asked as Simba panted and sobbed.

      “I can’t stop it Rowena!”  Simba yelled.

     “I’m not suggesting anything more,” Rowena replied.

     “I must relieve myself, and now!!”  Simba sobbed.  Rowena looked coldly at her ex mate as he got on with obeying the urgent call of nature.

      “You asked me to do this, you asked me to show you!”  She snarled her eyes full of anger, “now Simba, let this be a lesson to you, do not medal in things you know nothing about!”  Simba, exhausted and sore, began to cry with humiliation and pain, for every muscle in his body ached.

        “You’re right Rowena,” Petra mewed, “it would tear me apart if I went through cubbing without a cub to show for it.”  Rowena’s eyes were brimming with tears.

      “Mum,” she sniffed, “I, I didn’t want to do that to Simba!  I hated doing it!”

      “He asked it of you,” Petra replied, looking with contempt at her son cub that was now sprawled moaning beneath the shower in the adjoining room.

       “He brought it on himself I guess,” Rowena replied.

 

Simba lay beneath the shower, his whole body aching from the experience he’d just had.  Struggling to his paws, Simba stumbled from the shower room, Petra and Rowena ignoring him.

       “The power you have is very mysterious and very much open to abuse,” Petra said, starting a mother to daughter cub conversation.

      “Mum, please,” Rowena said gently, “don’t you think I know this?  Don’t you think it scares me?  How would it be if you had these suggestive abilities, where just thinking about something made it happen?  You can sort of do it, as your dreams of having cubs leave you exhausted and sore, the mind is there, but the physical stuff isn’t.  I could make Simba’s paws feel like mine did when he crushed and kicked them, but I won’t, for what would be the point.  I’m not vengeful; I don’t want to cause pain.”

       “You’ve got a kind of paws off version of the ability Theo has to suggest to a body to perform the actions it physically is capable of, not the actions the mind thinks the body is capable of,” Petra said.  Rowena hugged her mum, Petra noticing her cub was trembling.

       “You are scared aren’t you,” Petra said softly.

        “Wouldn’t you be?”  Rowena asked.

       “I would be my dear cub, I would be,” Petra mewed.

 

Shuang and her cub Kuan-Yin played together, the sow panda and her cub stroking and playing with each other’s paws.  Kuan-yin smiled as his mum played with his hind paws, loving her attention.  Rowena padded in and watched the goings on, Kuan-yin hearing her and crawling towards her, Shuang turning and smiling at the white lioness.

      “Come my deer cub,” Rowena mewed.  Kuan-Yin smiled and found Rowena, who’d lain down.  The panda cub started clambering over Rowena’s body, using her like a climbing frame.  Smiling, Rowena began to purr contentedly.  Shuang watched her, their cub.  Shuang was convinced Rowena had felt the same pain and emotions she had while giving birth to her cub and that was why she was so close to Kuan-Yin.

        “Use all four paws to feel your surroundings,” Rowena said to Kuan-Yin.  Feel with your hind as well as your forepaws.  Explore my paws with both your fore and hind paws.  Climbing back to carpet level Kuan-Yin ran his forepaws over Rowena’s face, the lioness opening her mouth and sticking her tongue out.  Shuang laughed helplessly at the white lioness’s antics.  , Kuan-Yin found Rowena’s open mouth with his paw, then her teeth and tongue.  Rowena closed her teeth around Kuan-Yin’s paw, growling and snarling with mock ferocity, the panda cub laughing merrily.  Rowena released Kuan-Yin’s paw and kissed his pads.  Kuan-Yin then clambered up onto Rowena’s neck, lying down so his face was at her eye level.  Rowena was treated to an upside down view of the panda cub’s face.  Rowena laughed helplessly and raised a paw to scratch her nose.  Kuan-Yin crawled backwards off Rowena’s neck and onto her back.  There he sat, gently holding onto the lioness’s fur with his toes.

        “Dig those toes in well,” Rowena said, “I’m taking you for a ride.”  Kuan-Yin did as Rowena ask, holding on tightly.  The lioness got to her paws and padded from the room, then along the passage to the outside air.  Entering the wood, Rowena found a straight piece of track and settled herself to thinking about a sprint.  The panda cub on her back felt her mood, flattening him against her back and holding on with all four paws as best he could.  Rowena suddenly accelerated, her paws carrying her into the trees.  Racing round a bend, she leapt a log, raced down a slope and up another.  Shuang, unable to keep up, had raced back to the house to find Allie tracking Rowena and Kuan-Yin.  The panda, screaming with delight, rode Rowena’s living roller coaster ride with huge enjoyment.  Rowena knew what she could and couldn’t do with a panda on her back, and raced round and round, giving herself and Kuan-Yin rest breaks by slowing down and then speeding up from time to time.  At one of these rest points, Rowena was trotting, when Kuan-Yin asked:

      “Rowena, how fast can you really go?”  Rowena was concerned, for she could run, but would the panda be able to hang on?  She then remembered the tiny harness Simba had been placed in once, but realised almost in the same instant that Kuan-Yin was just too small for that yet.  The realisation pricked Rowena deeply, and she had to stop trotting for a moment.  This panda cub was really enjoying himself, and so was she, he wanted to go fast, but Rowena couldn’t risk opening up full throttle.  She’d gone quickly before, but had made sharper turns than normal to make things seem quicker than they were.  She knew she’d not be able to make those sharp turns when going flat out, but she could still make it.

      “Maybe when you’re bigger, we’ll go faster,” Rowena mewed.  In the end, her sprint had been more half hearted than she’d at first wanted, though it had looked terrifyingly quick to Shuang watching in the house.

      “Time to go home,” Rowena said.  Shuang met them at the door, helping Kuan-Yin, who was suddenly tired, off Rowena’s back.  Throughout all the time Rowena was in the wood with her cub, Shuang had never feared for Kuan-Yin’s safety.  Rowena looked fit, her muscles rippling beneath her white coat.

       “You look lovely Rowena,” Theo said, kissing her nose.  Rowena smiled:

       “I’m hot and covered in sweat,” she mewed.

      “Even so,” Theo mewed, “you haven’t looked at yourself in a mirror lately have you?”  Rowena shook her head.  Theo led her to a room with a mirror, and Rowena saw herself in it.  She was a stocky lioness, but well muscled and as healthy as could be.  Rowena saw the eyes of the lioness looking back at her.  They were full of light and warmth, and there was something else too, a gentle calm, despite her recent problems.  Rowena smiled and caught a glimpse of how others saw her.

      “I’m no saint,” Rowena thought, “please, don’t make me something I’m not.”  Theo felt his Grand cub’s anxiety.

       “I love you Rowena,” Theo mewed, “don’t ever forget that.”  Rowena kissed Theo’s nose, the mirror reflecting her innermost thoughts, the eyes of a frightened cub staring out from the glass.

      “My power scares me Theo,” Rowena mewed almost crying.

       “Don’t be scared Rowena, for the power cannot do harm in the right paws.  Yours are the right paws Rowena dear.”  Rowena let Theo hold her close.

      “How is that cub of yours?”  Theo asked gently.

       “Kuan-Yin?”  Rowena replied automatically, “he’s fine, he begged me to run like the wind today when I let him ride on my back, but I couldn’t.  He’s not large enough to hold on if I were to run really fast.  Kuan-Yin loved every minute of it!”

      “Shuang enjoys seeing you and Kuan-Yin getting on so well,” Theo said.  Rowena looked at Theo’s face, the lion looking older than ever to her eyes.

        “Rowena,” Theo said, “I’m not as young as I once was.  Life has really beaten me up.”

     “But Samson’s older than you are, he’s at least a year older,” Rowena protested.

      “He doesn’t look it,” Theo mewed, “he’s a young lion, like you.”  Theo rested his head on Rowena’s shoulder.  It was as if all strength had gone from him.

       “Theo?”  Rowena said gently.  The lion’s head suddenly felt very heavy, and Rowena knew what this meant.  She looked at the mirror, seeing a white lioness with the wisdom of ages in her eyes.  Gently lowering Theo’s body to the floor, Rowena turned to find Petra watching with a helpless expression.

       “He told me earlier,” she said faintly, “Theo, he, he said he could not cope with the memories of Aslan and what happened to me when I was a cub.  He said he could not forgive himself for what he didn’t do.  I knew his power was transferring when you said you’d almost given birth to Kuan-Yin.  I knew then, for Theo told me much the same about the time when he attended Fleur’s and Nanuq junior’s births.  He felt he’d almost given birth to the cubs.  I knew then that Theo was losing heart.  Aslan’s behaviour was the last straw, the end of everything for him.  Then, then to see you and me killing, even though we had good reasons, finished him completely.  It’s not our fault, it’s not his, and Theo just couldn’t cope.  Rowena looked back at the mirror, and it showed two lionesses, one was Rowena herself, the other looked like Petra.

       “See that?”  Rowena said, waving a paw at the mirror, “the will of Eohippus is shown there.”  Petra knew this and lowered her head in deference to the white mare.

       “Let’s get Theo’s body out of here,” Petra mewed.  Samson padded in behind them and stared down at the lifeless body of his friend.

       “I knew he was dying,”  Samson said, tears rolling down his nose, “Theo told me last night, he said he couldn’t cope any more, that, that he was torn apart by Aslan’s attack on him, that was what did it.  Aslan, why?  Why attack your own sire?  You destroyed him!”  Samson’s raised voice bounced off the walls.

        “I love Theo,” Samson sobbed, “I loved him like a brother, but now, now he’s gone.  He was younger than me too.”  Samson looked at the two white lionesses.

        “Tell me it was a quiet passing!”  Samson begged.  Rowena looked into Samson’s eyes, and the big male lion almost choked on his tears.

       “He suffered,” Samson cried, “Theo suffered until the end.”

       “Noone could have done anything to ease his pain Sammy,” Petra said gently, “Theo was torn apart by those whom he loved most of all, and that is what killed him.”  Samson kissed Petra on her nose, and then hugged her hard.

      “The only link I have with him is you,” the lion said.  Petra shook her head.

       “I’m no link with Theo,” she said, “he adopted me, “my lineage is far darker than his.”

       “But he brought you up; you took his teachings to heart!  He is part of you.”

       “No Samson, he’s not,” Petra replied, “I loved him dearly, but he and I were not related.  I am not his flesh and bone.  All I can say is that I loved him dearly.”

       “Rowena?”  Samson asked, desperate for someone to give him reassurance.

        “I can’t tell you anything about his whereabouts now,” Rowena mewed, “I am not allowed that info.  Our next job is to bury Theo with all due ceremony.”

       “Not like Clarence,” Samson choked, “not like him, with no headstone or memorial.”

       “No,” Honeyfur said, now heavy with cub, “we make proper headstone for Theo lion, he is be buried with big ceremony, and all cubs attend.”  Smiling she indicated her belly with a paw, “even unborn ones,” she said.  Samson was so overjoyed, even the pain of Theo’s death eased a little.

      “You’re having cubs?”  He asked dumbly.  Honeyfur roared with laughter and playfully cuffed Samson.

       “You ask silly things big Sammy lion,” she replied, her eyes shining.  Samson laughed a little, for even he saw the funny side of what he’d just said.

       “Now we make bury him quick snappy, but we make sure all animals is there.  Taws a good thing Theo finished telling his story of the community last night, or we badgers have only part story.”

       “Theo planned this,” Samson mewed dispiritedly,

       “He knew he was dying,” Petra replied.

 

Honeyfur and Percy badger arranged for Theo’s grave to be dug.  Then, at sunrise the next morning, Older Nanuq and Kodiak brought Theo’s body to the place in the wood where he was to be buried.  Gathered round three sides of the grave were all the members of the community, from the oldest member, now Snowy, to the youngest, the panda cub Kuan-Yin.  Theo’s body was carried past all the animals, each and every one able to see the dead body of their former leader.  Some were crying, Kamchatka, who’d only known Theo for a few weeks, sat on the ground, screwing her bunched forepaws into her eyes, trying not to show her tears.  But when Theo’s body came past, she covered her face with both paws and wept.  Samson, inconsolable, stood with Fleur and Tigger, fleur no help to her mate for she was as upset as he.  Fleur remembered Theo’s actions that had saved her life before she was even born, and she couldn’t remember if she’d thanked him for saving her.  It fell to Percival Pettigrew to speak of a lion that he himself had hardly known in life, for his superior was unable to summon the courage to speak openly of his dead friend.  The badger spoke from memory of Theo’s life, having got the potted version from several sources, birds included.  He spoke of Theo’s adoption of Petra, and of him embracing Elsa number two and loving her cubs as his own, of how he’d come to lead the community and be a spiritual guide to so many.

       “We hope someday to see the like of him again,” the badger said, “For it is the Theo’s of this world that hold the rest of us together.  He was good, kind and gentle, something we all could do with being.   To learn to use our paws, not our claws when settling disputes.  The death penalty has to be a thing of last resort, not first consideration.  Theo knew this.  His view of a community where everyone got on together, regardless of their species is here today, but some have sullied his vision.  Some of us have thought of using the claw before the paw to resolve disputes, and have had to be prevented from carrying out those actions.  Theo would not have liked to see innocent questioners killed.  We need to follow our paws, just like Theo did, for it was he who brought paw contact to the community, who popularised the pastimes we all take for granted now.  He made paws from a means of locomotion and defence or attack, to things of pleasure.  He gave us the strength to experiment with our paws, to touch our world, and each other.  Theo always joked that his paws were cubbish, all fat with big toes, but he knew how to use them to soothe and comfort.  Many here have taken comfort from his hug.  Paws are only as communicative as their owner, and Theo gave everything to those he loved.”

      “And some of those he loved most of all betrayed him!”  Petra yelled, leaping to her paws, grief exploding from her in a torrent of angry words, “Aslan, you betrayed our own sire!  You bastard!  You great big horrid bastard!  Theo wasn’t your father, for he could not produce a lion like you, I don’t know who sired you, but it wasn’t Theo!”  Simba tried to calm Petra, while Samson got angry!

       “Quiet Petra!”  He yelled, thrusting through the crowd to get to the now subdued lioness.

       “Get out of here!”  He snarled, “Before I boot you out and forget to use my paws rather than my claws!  This is not the time to talk of Aslan, to sully this place with the memory of one so dreadful!”

        Petra is only speaking her mind,” a voice said behind him, “I was indeed betrayed by my own cub.  She has a right to say these things, for it is true, Aslan did try to kill my earthly body.  Samson, leave her.  Your intervention is not needed.  Petra needs to be comforted by gentle family paws, not the hard forceful paws of a leader.  She needs her spirit soothed.  You all need that.”  The wood fell silent as the voice continued as Samson returned to his place.

       “You gather here and Maun my passing, but I never left the house.  If you want me, you only have to think of me, and I’ll be right by your side, holding your paw in mine.  Now I must leave the wood, for I have a meeting with a white mare.”  With that, the voice fell silent.  Petra, still crying, lay beside Simba, the male lion trying to comfort his mum when his own spirit was so low.  Rowena could not comfort anyone, for it was not hers to approach others and ply her trade.

       “Come on Rowena, save us all!”  Samson roared, angry with the silent white lioness.

       “Sammy, don’t!”  Fleur snapped, “Just don’t, don’t say things like that, for Eohippus, I mean, just don’t say anything!”

        “I think we all need to leave here now,” Percival Pettigrew said, “let us bury Theo’s earthly body and depart this place.”  Samson, angry with Petra, watched as she was helped from the graveside.

      “You won’t hear the last of this!”  Samson snarled.

       “Leave it Samson, please,” Fleur begged, “Petra is right, Aslan did betray his sire.  He attacked him with the intent of killing him when Theo had done no wrong.  Now you rage at Rowena, and you sound like Leona.”  Rowena looked at Samson, the lion’s eyes drawn to her own.  The lion, expecting comfort, got the opposite.  Theo’s anger at his words, transmitted through Rowena caused him unimaginable pain.  Screaming and howling, Samson beat his paws on the woodland floor!  Theo screamed at Samson, and the lion could not avoid his wroth.  Soon Samson was crying, screaming to be left alone!

        “You dare to ridicule Rowena’s power one more time; you’ll feel my real anger!  This is just a warning!”  Samson laid sobbing and shivering on the woodland floor.        “No Theo, leave me, leave me alone!”  He begged.

       “You do not understand Rowena’s [power,” the presence in Samson’s head said, “so do not ridicule what you don’t understand.”  Samson got to his paws as the presence left him.  Rowena was sitting down, absent minded licking her left forepaw.

      “Let’s go from here,” fleur mewed to her mate, helping Samson to his feet.

 

The badgers buried Theo’s earthly remains and then left the wood.  Once all the animals were back in the house, Samson went to Petra and Rowena’s lie up.  Standing awkwardly before Rowena, he tried to compose words that would express how apologetic he was, but he couldn’t express himself well enough.

       “You need not say anything,” Rowena said, “for I know how you feel.”  Samson kissed Rowena’s left forepaw.

       “It was stupid of me to say what I did,” he said.  Rowena said nothing.  Samson looked into her eyes and saw he need not have said anything.  The lioness seemed to know.

       “How’s Petra?”  Samson asked.  Rowena shook her head.

      “You mean she’s, she’s ill?”  Samson asked.  Rowena put her paw against Samson’s lips as if to shush him and pointing him out of the door, she gently gave him a push.  Samson took the hint and left.

 

Rowena returned to Petra’s side, the older lioness still tearful.

       “I’m sorry Rowena,” she said, “I shouldn’t have said what I did at the graveside.  I should have been restrained, but it burst from me, I was so upset!”

        “You lost the sire,” Rowena said, “the only parent who loved and cared for you.  You are entitled to speak your views, or break down crying and beating the floor with all four paws.  I’m sorry Petra, but I could not get involved in any of that.  Strange things were happening, and I didn’t want to upset a situation.  Theo spoke through me, I know he did.  He told you, things, and then when Samson said his stupid words, he got spoken sternly to.  Now, now we need to go on from here, loving the cubs and loving those Theo loves so well.”

      “You say loves, as if he’s still here,” Petra said sadly, “Theo’s gone Rowena, and he’s gone!”

       “When you go out in the wood at the dead of night, go to the clearing, and then tell me he’s gone.”  Rowena said.  Petra then knew, she knew she would be able to see her sire again, briefly maybe, but she could see him.

       “You gave the protection of the white lions to a panda cub, oh; I don’t know how long ago,” Petra said, “Rowena that was a lovely thing to do.  Rowena, have I told you that I love you?”  Rowena hugged her mum tightly.

       “I love you Rowena,” Petra purred.  Rowena kissed her mum’s nose and forepaws.

 

Meanwhile, Shuang and Kuan-Yin lay together, the panda cub upset by the goings on in the wood.  Shuang tried to explain who Theo was, and why Petra had screamed the words she had.  The cub was sensitive to her mother’s and Rowena’s distress though, and nothing would soothe him.  He cried for a long time, screwing his tiny paws into fists and banging them on the floor whimpering and sobbing.  Shuang could not comfort her cub.  In the end, she just lay with him hugging him tightly in her paws.

 

Meanwhile, Honeyfur was feeling restless.  She knew her cubbing date was near, and could feel the first contractions.  Percy badger stayed with Honeyfur, massaging and playing with her paws as her labour intensified.  Honeyfur wriggled and panted, her mate stroking her paws and belly as she fought to cope with increasing discomfort and pain when contractions hit.  Honeyfur was soon pushing hard against her cubs, the toes of all four paws curling and relaxing with the build up and end of every contraction, the sow badger screaming with pain, moaning and groaning when she had to actively bear down to deliver her cubs.  Percy guided one cub into the world, then very quickly, he guided a second, watching Honeyfur’s hind paws and tail, the sow badger’s toes curling and relaxing as another violent contraction built in her, the pads on the soles of both hind paws bunching and relaxing as she flexed her toes.  Suddenly Honeyfur clenched her teeth and curled the toes of all four paws harder than ever, screaming and straining with all her strength.  The second cub was a big one, and Percy helped Honeyfur by pulling the cub as she strained with everything she had.  This cub was enormous, and Honeyfur had some difficulty giving birth to him, the whole process from the emergence of the cub’s head, to the time when its hind paws slid out into the world being about five minutes. Honeyfur gave herself up to screaming, wriggling and straining all the time while Percy pulled the cub into the world as she pushed against it.  Once all was over, Honeyfur lay exhausted on the rug as her cubs nursed for the first time.  Honeyfur’s body ached from nose to tail, and her paws felt as if they’d been under a pile driver.  Her body was bruised inside and out, and she felt lousy.  Honeyfur examined her cubs listlessly, noticing how large her second cub was.  For a badger cub, even for a male, he was gigantic!  His paws were huge, as was his body.

     “No wonder I had to work hard to deliver you,” Honeyfur thought.  The large male badger nursed from her milk bar, Honeyfur watching him and her youngest cub, a female.  Honeyfur looked at her cubs, and immediately started considering names for them.  The male she thought of calling Magnus, as he was huge, the female, Furcone?  She put her suggesting to Percy.

      “Magnus and Furcone they are then,” he said, almost clapping his paws with delight.

 

Meanwhile, Kamchatka sat in her lie up, the funeral for Theo having taken all strength she had.  During the weeks they’d known each other, Theo had confided in Kamchatka, the lion and grizzly bear talking long into the night.  Now Kamchatka was bereft, her heart aching for a lion she’d only met weeks before, but felt she knew as well as the pads of her own paws.  Hearing someone come into the room, Kamchatka looked round.  Seeing Petra brought a rush of emotion to Kamchatka, which she tried to hide by covering her face with her paws.  As grief constricted her heart and tears welled in her eyes, Kamchatka balled her forepaws into fists, pressing them to her eyes to stop herself from crying, but it wasn’t working!  Almost choking, Kamchatka turned her face away, burying it in her paws, her whole body shaking with racking sobs.  Petra knew what affect her arrival had on the bear.  Concerned, she padded to the weeping grizzly bear and kissed her ear and the brown furred top of one forepaw, which was doing a bad job of damming Kamchatka’s tears, which leaked between her toes, staining the brown fur a darker brown.  Petra smelt Kamchatka’s strong scent, and remembered she’d not been given the ritual bath yet.  After this experience, most animals could not keep themselves from the bathtub for long, so there was very little natural scent about.  Petra also knew that Kamchatka’s scent was stronger because she was upset, the stress intensifying her scent.  From the sweat on her fur and damp paw pads, Kamchatka was telegraphing her distress to the world.

       Kamchatka?”  Petra said gently, the bear still crying, but quietly now.

      “I’m sorry,” Kamchatka mumbled from behind her paws, “I am insensitive, crying is wrong, especially in front of you.”

      “No Kamchatka, it’s not wrong,” Petra mewed, “you lost Theo too, we all did.”

       “I loved him Petra; I loved that lion,” Kamchatka sniffed, “I told him, though I think he knew before.  After, after we met that first time in the pool area, well, I thought nothing more about it.  Theo had opened up to me, and I liked the lion a lot, but I went to bed that night cursing myself for being part responsible for Aslan’s death.  It was in the early morning a few days later Theo came to me, he found my lie up, and we got talking.  He cried like a cub when talking about you and Aslan.  Theo never forgave himself for force feeding you meat when you were very young.  As for Aslan, Theo could not work out where he’d gone wrong.  Petra, Theo cried like a cub!  He could never find the words to apologise to you enough for what he did to you.  Now, now I’ve, we’ve lost a dear friend.  I’m sorry for crying like this Petra.”

     “No, no, don’t be,” Petra replied, herself crying, “For it’s only natural.”  Kamchatka held Petra in her huge paws, and both bear and lioness wept for Theo.  Kamchatka held Petra in a bear hug, the lioness warm and safe in her embrace.  When the tears had dried, the bear and lioness looked at each other for a minute.

       “My paws are yours,” Kamchatka said, Petra smiling and nodding.

       “Mine are yours too,” she mewed.  Very gently, the two vastly different creatures explored each other’s paws, each becoming closer to the other.  Petra had to lie on her side to stroke Kamchatka’s hind paws, Kamchatka lying down to allow her to stroke all four of her paws.  Petra carefully explored each one of Kamchatka’s fore and hind paws with her forepaws, then, bringing her hind into play, she explored the bear’s hind paws with her own hind.  Kamchatka smiled when the toes of Petra’s hind paws touched those of her own hind paws, the toes of the lioness’s hind paws gently stroking the toe and sole pads of both her hind paws.  Kamchatka couldn’t wait to enfold the white lioness’s paws in her own, an it seemed Petra could feel her need.

       “Come on then,” Petra said gently, “my paws are yours.”  Kamchatka took both Petra’s forepaws in hers and began to stroke her pads and toes with gentle care, the lioness surprised at how exquisitely pleasurable the bear’s massage was.  Kamchatka knew her stuff, and Petard was soon comatose on the floor.

       “This is amazing,” she purred, Went the female grizzly bear took her right hind paw in both forepaws and gently embraced it.  Petra felt a wave of pure pleasure wash over her from her right hind paw to her nose.  Petra mewed with pure pleasure , the bear’s touch focusing her world into the contact between ursine and leonine paw pads.

       Kamchatka, please, don’t let go of my paw, please!”  Petra begged.  Kamchatka began to stroke the pads and toes of the paw she held, Petra panting and wriggling slightly with pleasure.  When it was all over, and Kamchatka had stroked all four of Petra’s paws, the lioness was nearly asleep.

       “That was amazing,” Petra choked, suddenly tearful.  Kamchatka hugged her hard.

       “I’m glad you enjoyed it,” she said, kissing Petra’s nose, “for I know I enjoyed it enormously.  Petra got to her paws, her pads tingling.  Smiling at Kamchatka, she left the room.  Petra heard tiny sounds coming from Honeyfur’s lie up.  Putting her head in, she saw Honeyfur and Percy protecting two newborn cubs.  Padding in, Petra was invited to sit down and watch the video of the births of Honeyfur’s cubs, the badgers watching with shining eyes.

       “You did wonderfully,” Petra mewed, hugging Honeyfur and Percy in turn.  Suddenly, Petra even found herself hugging the newborn cubs, first Magnus then Furcone, the cubs snuggling into the lioness’s embrace.

        “Who is this?”  Magnus asked.  Honeyfur smiled and introduced Petra.

      “She’s a white lioness,” the sow badger replied, “We wouldn’t meet those in the wild.”  Petra, having hugged Honeyfur’s cubs, turned her attention to Honeyfur herself.  Lying beside the sow badger as she was, Petra reached out with both forepaws and gathered her close, embracing her tenderly.  Honeyfur had never been embraced by a lioness before, not even Rowena had dared to embrace her, the white lioness conscious of the badger’s fierce reputation, but Petra didn’t seem to heed any warnings.  She enfolded Honeyfur in a lioness sized embrace, careful to be as gentle with the sow badger as she’d been with her cubs.  Honeyfur, feeling her paw disappearing into that of the white lioness, gulped hard, fighting back tears.

      “Are you scared?”  [Petra asked gently.  Honeyfur’s eyes glistened with tears.

     “No, no,” she choked, “I, I’m not scared.  Not a bit of it.”  Petra knew the sow badger’s real emotions, but pretended she didn’t.  In truth, Honeyfur was feeling vulnerable with her cubs in an open space, even though it was a homely lie up.  Also, Honeyfur still felt uneasy about living where she now did.  Though no harm had come to her when she was giving birth to her cubs.

       “Did anyone, apart from the camera hear or see me cubbing?”  Honeyfur asked.  Petra shook her head.

     “Even if anyone did se, you are totally safe,” Petra mewed.  Honeyfur tried to ignore the things her paw, held so gently in Petra’s, was trying to tell her.  She could hardly believe her paw’s message.  It told her this lioness loved her, but how could a lioness love a badger?  It was this feeling, as much as the vulnerable feeling she had which was upsetting Honeyfur to the point of tears.

       “I must go, but I don’t want to!”  Honeyfur thought, trying to pull her paw away.  Petra released her slight grip on the badger’s paw, but it stayed there, Honeyfur’s pads resting against Petra’s as if glued there.  Honeyfur found her toes feeling their way up Petra’s paw until they could and were curling round Petra’s own toes.  Honeyfur couldn’t stop her toes from doing their own thing, and then her pads were pressing hard against the lioness’s pads!  Petra saw the confused look in Honeyfur’s eyes, and then, very gently, she kissed the sow badger on her nose.

        “Does that resolve anything?”  Petra asked, as the badger cuddled up, weeping into her fur.

       “How could you, a lioness, love a badger?”  Honeyfur asked.  Petra embraced Honeyfur with her free paw.

        “I love all animals,” the white lioness replied, “no matter what they are.  Now Honeyfur, you are learning quickly I see, your paws told you something and you followed them.”  The sow badger laughed delightedly, the sound surprising her.

       “I know this is a good feeling,” she said.  Petra rubbed her pads against those of the badger’s paw holding hers, Honeyfur smiling broadly.

        “Would you let me massage your paws?”  Petra asked Honeyfur.  The sow badger let go of Petra’s paw, Rolling onto her back and waving all four of her own paws at the lioness.

      “Come,” she said, “my paws are yours Petra.  Petra smiled and took Honeyfur’s left forepaw in both of hers.  Tracing pads and toes, Petra explored the sole of Honeyfur’s paw, the badger smiling with genuine pleasure.

       “I love that!”  Honeyfur enthused, Petra smiling and kissing her nose, then, very gently, kissing the pads of the paw she was massaging.  Honeyfur, finally overcome, cried like a cub, tears rolling down her nose.  Petra kissed the sow badger’s wet cheek as Honeyfur cried.  Then, very gently, the lioness kissed the pads and toes of every one of the badger’s four paws.  Honeyfur felt the lioness’s warm breath on the soles and toes of each paw, first her left fore, then her right fore, her left hind, then right hind as Petra kissed them.

        “Do, do you kiss the paws of all animals you meet?”  Honeyfur asked when she’d recovered herself, which was a struggle.

       “I do if I really love them,” Petra replied.  Honeyfur remembered seeing Petra kiss the pads and toes of Rowena’s fore and hind paws, and Rowena was an adult, just like her.

        “Do you kiss the paw pads of male creatures too?”  Honeyfur asked.  Petra smiled and nodded.

       “Male lions, bears, even badgers,” She replied smiling.

       “Does Simba let you kiss his paws?”  Honeyfur asked.  Petra’s body stiffened and the badger knew she’d said something out of turn.  Petra buried her face in her paws, smelling the badger’s scent on her pads as she fought not to cry.

       “I am sorry!”  Honeyfur said quickly, “I should have realised.”

        “No, no need to be sorry,” Petra gasped, “no need,” tears welled in the lioness’s eyes and she screwed bunched paws into them, fighting a desperate battle with emotions which wanted to burst from her.

       “It’s okay to cry,” Honeyfur said softly, touching Petra’s bunched right forepaw with her left.  Petra panted, gulped, and sniffed, trying to control herself.  The toes of both hind paws curled as she fought physically to hold in emotions which she just had to control.  Wriggling and biting her bottom lip, Petra fought madly with welling sadness which rose in her like a volcano about to erupt.  Petra felt pressure building inside her, and she couldn’t keep a lid on it.  Embracing Honeyfur hard, Petra went to pieces.

        “Simba is destroying himself!”  Petra sobbed, “He’s being so stupid, so stupid over his loss of a job, a bloody job Honeyfur!  He’s hurt his mate, who’s now left him, and now he’s hurting me.  He’s heard of the proposal by eohippus to make Rowena and me spiritual leaders of the community, and he’s furious!  He says, says that if I become a spiritual leader, I’ll be at Eohippus’s mercy once more, but I know that’s not true.  Simba wants his job back, and can’t bear anyone else getting a job in leadership of any sort.”

       “But spiritual leadership have nothing to do with physical leadership,” Honeyfur said gently, “even Simba be knowing that fact, surely.  He one stupid lion if he no know this!”

       “I know,” Petra mewed miserably, “but he won’t have it.  He says that spiritual leader is one step from the leadership of the community, and by right, he should have that job.”

      “I wouldn’t trust Simba to lead me spiritually if he paid me with worms,” Percy badger said.  Petra was about to ask about the reference to worms, when she remembered they were a badger’s favourite food.

       “Yes, agreed,” She mewed, “I wouldn’t either, though it would be a sweet corn or something equally vegetarian in my case.”  Percy badger looked concerned.

      “Simba be crazy lion if he no knows difference between physical and spirit,” he grunted.

       “You’ve got my vote,” Honeyfur said, “I love big white lioness very much.”  Petra smiled and kissed Honeyfur’s nose.  Percy smiled at Petra and padded over to her, cuddling up to her.  Honeyfur went back to tending to her cubs, feeding them as Percy took her place beside Petra.  Petra began to massage the male badger’s paws as she’d done Honeyfur’s, Percy overwhelmed by the emotions transmitted by his paw contact with hers.

       “This is wonderful!”  Percy said softly as Petra’s paw transmitted calming feelings to him.  Percy was soon comatose.

 

Meanwhile, Rowena and Simba faced each other.  Simba still sore from his last encounter with his former mate, was wary.

       “I don’t understand your power,” Simba mewed, “Rowena; you’ve adopted two pandas, helped a mother give birth to her cub, and helped Nuru become a better lion.  I, well, I’ve threatened an innocent bear and lost my job and mate over it.”

       “So what do you expect me to do about it?”  Rowena mewed.  Simba looked into the eyes of a lioness far wiser than him, though she was younger.

        “Rowena,” Simba said, “I’ve lost my mate, and do I need to lose a friend as well?”

      “That’s your choice,” Rowena mewed, “you’ve hurt me Simba, biting my paw, kicking the soles of my hind paws, as well as all the emotional stuff.  I loved you Simba, and would have fought to the end of the earth for you, but you pushed me away, all for a job.  Now I don’t know what to think.  Do I love you?  Yes for you are my cubhood brother, but I don’t know if I like you.  I’m scared of you Simba!  You will resort to using the claw too readily, and that’s not good, not good at all.”

       “Rowena, please, listen,” Simba mewed, “when I was young, my first experience here without Petra was with a horrid otter who persecuted me because I didn’t want to eat the fish she offered me.  Angry, she shoved me into a cupboard and slammed the door!  After that, when I was rescued, I wanted to kill the otter who did that to me.  I killed her, and was promoted to leadership when Theo resigned.  I suppose, somehow, that I have always been one for sorting problems out with violence.  That was how I sorted the otter, and it’s stuck with me.  Now I perceive a threat to my mum’s sanity, and threaten Kamchatka, only to be told I can’t do it that way.  I lose it totally and push away my own mate when she tries to help.”

       “Nice tale, but where’s all this leading?”  Rowena asked.  Simba looked scared.

      “Earlier today,” he said, “I was asleep and, and, eohippus found me.  She dragged from me everything I’d thought of, all my most horrendous thoughts about you, everything!  I told, told her how I wanted to kill you too, to shut you up!  You said nothing to me, but even that was too loud.  You never told me what to do.  Eohippus kicked my hind paws and stamped on my left fore.  She told me I was going to be killed, and I was scared, really frightened!  I asked what I could do to remedy the situation with everyone so she would stop threatening me.  Rowena, I want to change my path.  I used to be guided by my paws, but I’ve strayed.  My paws are desensitised, the feeling dull and useless to me.  I need help! Please!  Eohippus threatened me, but what she was really saying was that if I didn’t mend my ways, others would end my life!  She told me that Samson’s got it in for me, Even Petra has!  That, that my own mum would kill me if I laid a paw on anyone without good reason.  Can you imagine being told that?”  Rowena could, for she was seeing the truth of Simba’s words, reading him like a book.  Rowena picked up Simba’s right forepaw and held it in hers.

        “Where is that cub who loved me as his sister?”  Rowena asked silently.  Simba gulped hard.

       “I can’t go back there, we’re adults now!”  He protested.

        “Where is the spiritual cub in you Simba?  Is he dead?  Have you killed the cub in you?”  Simba’s eyes filled with tears.

        “Theo never lost his inner cub did he,” Simba choked.

        “No,” Rowena replied, “that was why he never came close to committing a crime in his life.  Petra’s poisoning was misguided, it was either that or Tembi would kill the cub outright.  Theo was gentle, kind and caring, just like his white cub.  Petra brought you up to be a kind and caring lion Simba, and how do you think she will feel if she finds out you are killing before thinking?”  Simba closed his eyes as a vision of Petra’s eyes, devastated and full of grief filled his mind.

       “If you don’t go back to being a cub, you will refuse to learn,” Rowena mewed, “right now you don’t want to listen, you admit you were a killer before a thinker, but they are only words Simba.  You need to go back to a former time, when you linked forepaws with a white lioness and promised to learn from her as she learned from you.  Simba, that lioness is here now, but the lion she knew is gone, unless you can find him.

       “My earliest memory of wishing I was cradled in someone’s warm paws was when I was thrown out by my birth mother.”  Simba replied, “I was cold and frightened.”  Simba looked round him, and he was alone in the wood, his paws tiny, shivering and cold.  Curling up, he began to cry unashamedly, the smell of leaf litter in his nostrils, his paw pads freezing cold as he wept into his forepaws.

        “I wan’a go home!”  Simba sobbed, “Take me home!”  Simba slept deeply, dreaming of a lost white cub, a female little lioness wandering through a wood.  Simba saw her as a cub, for her paws were tiny, and her eyes were blue like a cub’s, but her manner was that of an adult but rather cubbish lioness.  She would stroll confidently through the wood, then, without warning, chase her tail like an excited cub, roll over onto her back, play with a stick she’d found, and then tickle her hind paws with the leaves on the end of the stick because it made her smile.  Then she’d walk on again, a little lioness with the blue eyes of a cub.  Simba watched her drawing closer to him, and wanted to go with her.  He was cold and frightened, hunger clawing at him, his paws freezing cold, and he was alone.

        “Hey!  You, female cub, little lioness!”  Simba shouted, not moving his curled up posture.  The female cub stopped and watched him with her head on one side.

      “Come here!”  Simba yelled, tucking his paws beneath his body to keep them warm, “come here please!”  The little lioness with the cub’s eyes shook her head and beckoned to him with her tiny left forepaw.  Simba put a paw out into the wind, it was ice cold.  Huddling close to the ground, he whimpered with misery and pain.  Simba breathed on his forepaws, trying to warm them.  Looking up, he saw the female cub beckoning to him with her right forepaw, then her left.  Simba gazed into the lioness cub’s eyes, begging her to come to him, but she shook her head and beckoned with her paw once more.

       “You look warm little cub,” Simba yelled, “My paws are freezing!  I can’t come to you, but I want to, have mercy on me dear cub!  I’m hungry and cold!”

       “Come to me,” the lioness cub’s eyes said.  Simba put his paws to the ground and heaved himself onto them.  Screaming with pain, he felt ice envelope his pads.

      “My paws are freezing to the ground!”  Simba screamed.

      “If you trust me enough, your paws will let you come to me, frozen or not,” the lioness cub said.  Simba dragged his paws out of the freezing mud, stumbling forward, one forepaw, then a hind, the other fore, then the other hind, again, and again, and again.  Simba’s paws ached with cold, but his eyes, though closed with concentration, were filled with the vision of the lioness cub, the well fed and warm lioness cub!

       “I must get to her, I must get to her, and I want to get to her!”  Simba thought desperately.  Suddenly he felt warm paws holding him, warm, soft and unusually large paws.  These couldn’t be the paws of the lioness cub could they?  The scent was the same as that carried on the wind to him before he made his journey.  His eyes closed with the effort of forcing himself to his paws, Simba felt the lioness cub holding him, enfolding him in warmth.

       “You’re safe now, safe, warm and pain free,” the lioness cub mewed, kissing Simba’s nose, Simba crying into her fur.  Simba’s vision cleared and he was lying on the floor hugging Rowena, weeping into her coat.

        “Are you ready to embark on your journey?”  Rowena asked.  Simba almost choked on his tears.

       “Yes Rowena, yes, don’t, don’t let me go!”  He sobbed.  Rowena kissed Simba’s nose, then, letting go of him, Rowena kissed his fore and hind paws.  Simba rubbed his eyes hard with his forepaws.

       “I can’t betray those cubs,” Simba mewed, if I do, they’ll be out in the cold once more, and it was so cold Rowena, so very cold.”  Rowena kissed Simba’s nose once more.  Petra ran in.

       “What the hell’s going on?”  She demanded, “There was horrendous screaming, screaming like a cub was lonely and cold!”

       “There was a lonely and cold cub,” Simba mewed, “a lonely and cold cub, that cub, it was, is me mum.  I don’t want to be that cub any more!  Simba shouted, “help me mum, Rowena, please, please help me!”  Petra witnessed Simba’s total collapse, the once self assured lion disintegrating in front of her.  Crying, Simba threw himself down on the rug and covered his face with his paws, sobbing and thrashing about in almost physical pain.

       “What does he mean I’m that cub?”  Petra asked.  Rowena glanced at her.

        “Don’t ask,” Rowena begged, “let him, us, work it out.

      “My cub is unwell and you won’t tell me what’s wrong?”  [Petra asked.  Rowena touched her mum’s paw.

       “Mum, if you were in spiritual distress and you came to me for help, would you want me talking to others about it?”

       “But I’m his mum!”  Petra mewed, “he can, must talk to me.”

       “Simba could talk to you, but why must he do anything?”  Rowena asked, “Why must he talk to you at all mum?”  Petra gulped hard and left the room, feeling rejected.

 

Rowena watched her go, feeling and understanding Petra’s emotions, but knowing that confidentiality was as much part of her trade as the spiritual side.

 

Simba looked at Rowena.

       “Can I stroke your paws?”  He asked.  Rowena lay down beside her brother cub and gave him all four of her paws.

      “Stroke away,” she mewed.  Simba took Rowena’s left forepaw in both of his; nervously stroking her pads and toes.

 

Meanwhile, in Shuang’s lie up, Yi jie and Liang were being introduced to Shuang’s cub Kuan-Yin.  Yi Jie fell instantly in love with the newborn cub, the sow panda and tiny cub playing easily together, each soon tickling the other’s paws.  Laughing helplessly, Kuan-Yin gave his grandmother each of his paws in turn for her to explore and tickle, Yi jie tickling and stroking the cub’s tiny paws.  Kuan-Yin smiled and cuddled hard into Yi Jie’s hug.

       “I love you,” the cub said softly, Yi Jie smiling broadly.  Liang watched them, smiling at his mate as she played with Shuang’s cub.  Suddenly Yi jie, Shuang and Kuan-Yin mobbed Liang, the male panda engulfed in the loving embrace and caressing paws of his immediate family.  Liang laughed as first his mate, then adopted cub, then adopted Grandcub ran their paws over his own paws, loving them.  Liang laughed helplessly as he was used as a living climbing frame by Kuan-Yin, the cub clambering over his body.

       “I love this!”  Liang laughed.  Kuan-Yin tickled the sole of Liang’s right hind paw; the male panda curling his large toes gently round his grand cub’s tiny ones, Kuan-Yin laughing helplessly.

       “Your paws are so soft!”  The cub laughed.  Liang sat up, reaching forward with his forepaws and hugging his cub, before releasing Kuan-Yin’s hind paw and lifting the cub up to eye level.  Kuan-Yin waved all four paws in the air, his grandsire blowing on the pads and toes of his hind paws, the cub shrieking with laughter.

       “Yi Jie and I love you very much Kuan-Yin,” Liang said softly, kissing the cub’s nose.

 

Meanwhile, back in Petra’s lie up, Simba was still nervously stroking Rowena’s paws.

      “Go with it Simba,”  Rowena mewed, “don’t worry if you feel a little silly, if you want to embrace my paws one at a time, then please do, if you want to hug me, please do.  Simba kissed Rowena’s nose, then the pads and toes of all four of her paws.  He could smell her scent, like coconut oil.  Rowena responded to Simba’s mood, snuggling up to him, making dam sure he knew how she felt about the vibes coming strongly to her through his paws.

        “Simba,” Rowena said when he’d caressed and stroked all four of her paws, “how are you feeling now?  Are your paws still cold? Are you still hungry?”  Simba had forgotten his discomfort as soon as he’d started massaging, no, playing with Rowena’s paws.  It was cubbish play, not structured massage.  Simba had played with Rowena’s paws like they were very delicate toys, moving her toes with his paw, curling them, uncurling them, rubbing her pads, curling Rowena’s toes so he could feel how her paw pads felt when bunched,, Rowena loving every minute of it.  Petra watched everything, having crept back on silent paws.  She knew Simba was struggling to reform himself.  She could feel it in his frantic play with Rowena’s fore and hind paws, Simba wanted so much to be warm and safe.

 

Once Simba had finished playing with Rowena’s paws, Rowena played with his, imitating her brother cub’s play, Simba letting her manipulate his paws as she wished, curling his toes so his pads bunched, stretching them so his pads relaxed, tracing and stroking [pads and toes.  When it was over, Rowena let Simba’s right hind paw drop, Simba tearful and almost begging her to continue.

       “That was amazing Rowena,” Simba choked, “I’ve never felt anything so amazing!”

      “But you have,” Rowena replied, “When you and I first met, we used to play like that.”  Simba kissed Rowena’s nose.

       “It was like, like learning what my paws could do all over again!”  He said softly, “it was amazing!”

       “I loved playing with your paws Simba,” Rowena said with genuine affection for him.  Simba knew what this meant and kissed Rowena’s right forepaw.

       “Can we play like that again?”  Simba asked.  Rowena kissed the toes of his right forepaw.

        “We can play like cubs, often too,” Rowena replied, “for I trust you with my paws, all four of them.”

       “I trust you with mine too,” Simba sobbed.  Rowena held Simba’s right forepaw in both of hers, loving the contact.

 

Meanwhile, Petra lay in Samson’s lie up, pouring everything out to him and fleur.

       “They’ve grown up, moved on,” fleur said to Petra, “you can’t expect to have the same relationship now that you once had with them.  You need to get pregnant Petra, for a cub is what you really want.  You asked Rowena to make you experience labour, but she is right not to.  I could teach you how to act out a cubbing, but you’d be dissatisfied.  You need a cub Petra, even more; you need to give birth to one, properly.

 

Petra left Samson’s lie up, desperate to have a cub of her own.  She and Ginger strawberry, a lion that came to the community with Percival Pettigrew and Petra had been seeing each other on and off.  They’d been secretly talking of having a cub, but mating hadn’t produced cubs.  Embarrassed and confused, Ginger and Petra hadn’t told anyone about their failed attempts to have cubs.  She was desperate to have a cub of her own, to give birth to a cub and nurture it.  Petra had come so close before, but hadn’t actually given birth to a cub.  Petra knew of tigers that would help her have a cub.  She knew ginger wouldn’t want to help her have a cub; Petra approached Whitepaw, the tiger whom she’d rescued from the zoo before big Leo’s death.  The tiger smiled as he heard her proposal.

       “So you want to have a cub?”  He asked, “Well, I can help, but I don’t want contact with it once it’s born, okay?”  Petra smiled and nodded.

        “You are desperate aren’t you Petra,” Samson said, padding into the lie up.

        “I want a cub Sammy!”  Petra mewed, her eyes screaming at him.  Samson looked at Petra.

        “You don’t care who sire’s the cub do you,” He said.  Petra shook her head.

        “I’m desperate, frantic!”  She admitted.

        “You would let anyone mate with you wouldn’t you,” Samson mewed.  Petra nodded.

       “A donor lion or tiger is what you need,” ginger said, padding into the room, “I won’t, for it scares me.”  Petra looked at Samson.

       “Who do I ask for help to have a cub?”  She asked.

       Petra, first you need to go to Rowena,” Samson said, “she will tell you whether you can have a cub.”

      “I can, and I asked her to help me experience a cubbing, but she wouldn’t!  I can love a cub that’s not mine Samson, I know I can, and so do you!  I want a cub as soon as possible, before it’s too late!”  Whitepaw and ginger looked at Samson.

       “Could you help her?”  They asked.  Samson flinched:

      “Me? You mean, me, help Petra have a cub?”  Ginger nodded.

       “I’m Fleur’s mate, not Petra’s,” Samson replied.

      “But you wanted to be Petra’s mate once,” Ginger replied.

      “Well, I did, for a while,” Samson replied, “but I can’t now!  I love fleur, she’s in cub again, and wouldn’t be happy if I helped Petra.”

       “Why wouldn’t I be?”  Fleur mewed, padding in and touching Samson’s paw, “I’m in cub, and it’s only right that a lion does his duty by his lionesses.  Petra wants to have a cub, so why not help her?  You love her Sammy, not in the same way you love me, but surely you can help her?  I don’t know, turn to your wild side, and fight ginger off in a mock battle and then mate with Petra.”  Samson looked at fleur.  They’d been recently going through the same feelings as Petra, both desperate for a cub.  Samson looked at Petra, and Petra looked at Samson.

        “Our cub would have a wonderful home,” Petra mewed, “and best of all, it would be loved by both you and me.”  Fleur kissed Petra’s nose, feeling her intense emotions.

       “Samson will help you I’m sure,” she whispered.  Petra looked at Samson, begging him with her eyes.  Samson hugged fleur hard; the cross bred female big cat smiling at her mate.

        “Please Sammy, make Petra happy,” fleur mewed.  Samson looked into Petra’s face.

        “Go wild Sammy,” |Petra mewed, bracing herself for the unknown.  Samson looked round at fleur, who smiled and turned her back on him.

      “I’m not looking.  She said, covering her eyes with one paw.  Samson laughed nervously; Petra could see the toes of his forepaws were picking nervously at the rug he stood on.

      “Do you want to do this Sammy?”  Petra asked.  Samson touched her paw, looked into her face and nodded.

      “I will,” he said, “for your need for a cub is not a selfish one.  You want to complete the process.  You’ve fed cubs with milk, you’ve cried with joy and pain for them, but you’ve never actually given birth to a cub.  Adopting cubs is lovely Petra, but sometimes there comes a time when it is right to have a cub of one’s own.  Ginger loves you, but he cannot sire cubs.  That was why he was thrown out of his pride.”  Ginger looked scared.

       “How do you know that?”  He demanded.

       “Dear Ginger,” Petra mewed, “you and I tried many a time to have cubs, and we tried to do it in secret, but there were patrols watching.  They know lengths of gestation for lions.  It was clear to most we couldn’t have cubs.  It is only now I am so desperate for one that it comes into the open.

       “Ginger, please,” Samson begged, “tell me this truthfully.  I know you and Petra have kept your love secret, and for understandable reasons.  Please, could you find it in your heart to love a cub that wasn’t yours?”  Ginger looked at Petra, tears in his eyes.

      “I could, I could!”  He sobbed, “Samson, make it happen, for both of us!  Please!”  Samson turned to Petra, smiled at her, and then turned to fleur.

       “Fleur?”  He asked, “dear sweet fleur, please, tell me truthfully, from the bottom of your heart, would you mind me helping Petra and ginger?”  Fleur, Petra’s need for a cub now plain to her, looked at Samson.  The lion now saw why she’d covered her eyes, she was crying.

       “Sammy,” she choked, “I wish she’d told someone earlier.  Petra’s so desperate for a cub, she even asked Rowena to make her experience a cubbing.  I know that real labour with no cub at the end, alive or dead would traumatise Petra to the point of madness.  You Samson, as her friend, would be doing her a loving service in helping her achieve a cub of her own.  Do it Samson, do it with my blessing, for you helping her have a cub is as much of an act of love as is our mating.  Samson, please, conceives that cub with love, not out of duty.  Love the cub from the first time you touch Petra’s paw, for it has been shown that if a cub is not loved from the first act which produces it, the cub itself will be unable to love.”  Samson hugged his mate hard.

         “I love you fleur!”  Samson sobbed, “But I will do as you say.  I will love Petra and her cub from the start.  I will do this for a dear friend.  Thank you for understanding fleur.”   It was Petra’s turn to go to fleur, and the two big cats talked in low tones for some time.  What they said was not divulged, but the conversation was animated and tearful.

       “Go now Petra, go with my blessing and love your cub,” fleur mewed.  Petra padded away towards Samson, ginger looking from Samson to fleur.

       “Thank you both,” he mewed softly.

 

Samson and Petra adjourned to a small darkened room where they settled down together.  Samson took Petra’s forepaws in his, feeling her need and hoping his nerves weren’t too obvious.

       “Just let you go,” Petra mewed.  Samson closed his eyes, thanked fleur for her understanding one last time, and forced himself to think wild, to take what was his rightful place at the head of the pride.  Petra’s mood affected Samson’s mad soon they were rolling on the rug, play fighting, Petra pretending she wanted to get away, Samson stopping her.  Then the roles Reversed, Samson crawling away while Petra chased him, the game ending with the merciless tickling of paws.  One round ended with Petra kissing the pads of Samson’s left forepaw, and Samson felt her love for him, hoping he’d communicated enough about his love for her.  Samson sprang to his paws, staring with wild eyes at Petra, who gazed back at him with a challenge in her expression.

        “Come on!”  Her eyes said, “If you’re a lion, show me!”  Samson forgot about fleur, about the community, he wanted Petra and now, right now!  He took the white lioness’s challenge in both paws and neither he, nor Petra regretted a minute.  They played and mated for two hours, until both were exhausted; their paws numb from constant tickling and paw play.  Petra was happy and so was Samson, but for different reasons.

       “And that’s a wrap I think,” someone said.  Samson and Petra sprang to their paws, staring about them as the realisation dawned; they’d been filmed the whole time.

      “How much did you get?”  Samson demanded of Allie, who was up in the control room.

       “Everything,” Allie replied, “And it was lovely too.  Infrared is a great invention.  And anyway, it’s not totally dark in there, so we’ve got very good footage.  Everyone was watching, fleur included.”

      “I don’t know whether to be angry or pleased,” Petra mewed.

        “Samson has done you a great service Petra,”  Allie said, “it took a lot for him to do what he did for you, love you dearly though he does.  It was hard for him to mate with another big cat other than fleur.”  Petra knew this.

      “Thank you Sammy,” she said softly, kissing his nose.  Samson smiled:

       “Please,” he said, “could, could I be present at the birth of a true community born cub?”  Petra smiled.

       “Yes Samson, you can,” Petra mewed, kissing his nose.

 

Meanwhile, Rowena and Simba had put their own problems aside, watching Petra and Samson.

       “What do you think of your brother doing that for Petra,” Simba asked Rowena.  Rowena smiled:

        “Samson’s not related to Petra in any way,” she said, “so it’s fine.  The most important thing is that the cubs are born with love.  If it is, or they are, then things should be fine.”

       “I call Petra mum, but in reality, she’s my full sister,” Simba mewed.  “I’m your half brother too.  Samson is your half brother Rowena, how do you feel about him helping the lioness who is your half sister and my full sister to give birth to a cub of her own?”

        “As Samson and Petra mothers were unrelated, it’s fine,” Rowena replied, “Simba, the spirit doesn’t know genetics, it doesn’t care who is related to whom.  Petra’s mother was Theo’s first mate Elsa, Samson’s mother was Sarafina, my mum.  Samson never did say who his father was.  For I believe Sammy was dumped at the entrance to Sarafina’s den as a very young cub.”

       “I know who Samson’s father was,” Simba mewed, “the same as mine, as yours, as Petra’s.  Though Petra was born of Elsa, Clarence’s only mate, Elsa also gave birth to me.  Hence why we are full brother ands sister.  Sarafina gave shelter to Samson as a cub, whose mother is unknown, but whose father we know very well.  Your mum is Sarafina, your father is my father, and is also Petra’s father.  The only thing that makes this okay is the fact Samson’s mother was an outside lioness.  Otherwise, this would not be possible.  Petra is Samson’s half sister, as are you my half sister Rowena.  Petra is full sister to me.”

     “And we call her mum,” Rowena said sighing, “families, who’d have them!”

        “Samson’s father was Tommy Trip, as was yours, and mine,” Simba mewed.

     “So it’s only thanks to Samson’s mum being an unknown lioness that he can help Petra?”  Rowena asked.

      “Yes,” Simba mewed.

       “Pride dynamics give me a headache,” Rowena said.

        “Mum will be able to have her own cub now though,” Simba mewed, “how would it be if mum gave us a brother or sister, or both?”  Simba asked.  Rowena lay down, her face in her paws.

        “I can’t see into the future that well,” she said, “but I know something.  Petra’s labour will be a long one.  The cub is going to be a big one, though I can’t tell whether it’s to be a male or female cub.”

      “Will it be a white cub?”  Simba asked.

      “I think so,” Rowena mewed.

 

Weeks passed, and Petra’s pregnancy was soon plain for all to see.  Already a fat lioness, she grew bigger with cub.  Samson, looking into the mirror one day, saw Theo’s face looking back at him.

        “Samson,” the lion’s spirit said, “I thank you from the bottom of my heart for making my daughter cub a happy lioness.”  Samson, having doubted his actions for weeks, was encouraged by this word from the other side.

 

Simba and Rowena carried on Simba’s spiritual reformation, Rowena keen to bring back the friend she once knew in Simba.  Simba loved Rowena anew, playing with her as a cub friend, not as a mate.  Rowena hoped the birth of Petra’s cub would intender in Simba a reinforced will to do the right thing.

 

Petra’s labour began one night about ten weeks later.  Pacing round her lie up, she felt small contractions building and spending their strength.  Petra paced and paced, bouncing on her toes during contractions.  She didn’t feel too uncomfortable, things were a little uneasy, but not bad.  Petra padded from the lie up, and went straight into Samson’s.  Silently she took the lion’s paw, even though Samson had seen the signals, and placed it on her belly.

      “Wait,” Petra mewed, fleur, who was also heavy with cub, watching her.  Samson felt Petra’s stomach contract beneath his paw.

       “You’re in labour,” Samson mewed softly.  Fleur smiled at him.

       “You never know,” she mewed, “I might go into labour soon too.  Two cubs born at the same time Sammy, you the proud father of both.”

       “Me the scared father of both,” he mewed.  Petra smiled with happiness.

       “I’m looking forward to this,” she said, “having my own cub, how wonderful that will be.”

 

Samson Petra and fleur went to Petra’s lie up, where Simba and Rowena already sat.  Petra looked at Rowena and smiled:

       “Okay leonine midwife, what next?”  She asked playfully.

       “Nothing,” Rowena replied, “Nothing from me anyway, well, unless you want me to hold your paw at this early stage.”  Petra shook her head.

      “Later,” she said, “maybe not at all.”

      “Oh you’re gonna need her Petra,” fleur mewed, “trust me on that one.  Labour pain is horrendous.”

       “Thanks for the warning,” Petra mewed.  Allie had already turned her cameras on the lie up; convinced fleur and Petra were going to have their cubs at the same time.

        “What if our cub comes now?”  Samson asked fleur.  Fleur smiled:

       “I wonder if Rowena here can do something about that.”  She asked.  Rowena looked at Samson, then at fleur.

      “Lie down fleur,” she said.  Fleur lay down, her huge paws relaxed and belly round with cub.  Rowena placed her own paws on Fleur’s belly and didn’t need to even ask the cub, for it shouted at her.

       “Can you let me out of here?”  Rowena stroked Fleur’s paw, the cross bred cat’s eyes becoming dreamy.

       “Are you willing to let me take control for a minute,” Rowena asked fleur.  Fleur silently replied that she was, so Rowena told her cub to unlock the door to the outside world and push it open a crack...  fleur moaned deeply as the first contractions hit.  Her labour was going to be faster than Petra’s, but Rowena could do something about that.

      “Take your time dear cub,” she advised, “try to be gentle with your mum.”  Fleur watched Petra as she suddenly lay down and covered her mouth with her paw, giving vent to a moan of pain.

        “First real contraction,” Petra panted.  Fleur was also feeling the affects of her cub’s will to be born.  Wriggling uncomfortably, she panted and whimpered as she endured a few powerful contractions.  Samson, watching intently, padded forward to lend a paw.

       “Everything okay?”  He asked.  Fleur nodded, her eyes far from that room, looking inside her, wondering what was going to happen next.

 

Meanwhile, Rowena and Simba watched over Petra, the white lioness’s contractions now heavier and more frequent.  They’d been like this for about an hour, and it had been four since the lioness and fleur had come to the lie up.  Both Petra and fleur were regularly trying to outdo each other in the loudest complaint competition as their cubs made their presences felt.  Petra wasn’t actively pushing down against her cub yet, though she wanted to.  Every contraction forced her to curl up into a ball, cover her mouth with her paws and roar with pain.

       “its okay,” Petra panted after every contraction, it’s, oh, here comes another one!”  She curled up once again, snarling, panting and roaring in agony, before lying flat out once the contraction eased.

      “What are we going to do?”  Simba asked, “Only two of us have the gift of second sight.  One is you Rowena; the other one who has it is in labour herself now.”

        “I’ll, I’ll be okay,” fleur panted, “I’ve done this before, you, you look after Petra, she, she needs you, I, I, I can, can cope!”  With that fleur bit down hard on her right forepaw, unable to stifle a squeal of pain as she was forced to bear down hard for the first time.  This seemed to spur Petra’s cub on, for the white lioness was soon heaving and straining, Rowena trying to keep paws on with her, while Petra wanted none of it.

      “Let me do this my way Rowena, let me do this!”  Petra gasped, “I can do it, paws off dam you!”  Rowena grimaced as she walked away, Petra’s shriek of pain filling the room as she was forced to push down hard for the first time.

        “Oooh this is awful!”  Petra panted, biting her paw just like fleur.  Pressing down hard against her cub and biting down mercilessly on her paw, Petra felt the cub shift inside her.  Panting, she squealed as tremendous contractions forced the cub downwards.  Groaning and roaring with pain, sweat pours off her, Petra bore down again, and again, and again, Fleur’s cub causing her to do the same.  It was as if the two cubs were having a race to be the first into the world!”  Rowena fought to control the playful cubs, begging them to be gentle on their poor mothers.  Petra and fleur once even rolled over and held each other’s fore and hind paws and, while pressing pads and toes together, they screamed in unison as their cubs forced their way into the world.  Feeling secure, the two big cat mothers stayed [paw in paw for the rest of their confinements, pressing pads together and roaring into each other’s faces as they fought their individual battles.  Petra and fleur panted hard as the cub’s heads and forepaws emerged.

     “Contraction coming Petra,” fleur mewed, as a warning to her friend to expect crushed toes and burst eardrums.

      “Same here,” Petra replied, panting hard, “Let’s see if we can play them at their own game?  These cubs are racing each other!  Let’s see if we can make it a photo finish.  Fleur, if, if you can, push on the count of three, ready?  One, two, three!”  Fleur and Petra bore down with everything they had, their paws pressed hard together, and their noses inches apart.

      “Nearly there mum, fleur, nearly there!”  Rowena and Simba shouted, “Just one more, one more push from both of you!”  Petra, her mind clearing now she’d got someone to focus on, gripped Fleur’s paws in hers.

       “I’m almost beaten!”  Fleur mewed.

       “Not much more fleur, our cubs are nearly here, come on!  When I count to three, I want you to push harder than you ever have before, press down into the tip of your tail, and go on!  You can do it!  I’ll be doing the same, and I want to hear you roar, try and outdo me fleur.  Come on, you can do it, just one more!”  Petra encouraged, feeling weak herself.

       “I’ll try,” fleur mewed, settling her hind paws to grip Petra’s toes with hers.

      “Curled toes, pressed pads, but open mouths and eyes, breathe and roar fleur, come on, let’s rattle the walls!”  Petra encouraged.  Fleur wriggled, set her paws, opened her mouth and strained hard!  Petra bore down into her tail also, the lioness and cross bred cat roaring, screaming and snarling, the two cubs emerging together.

      “We both won the race!”  They mewed, everyone laughing with relief.

        “That was the most unorthodox cubbing I’ve ever seen!”  Arki said padding into the room five minutes later when Petra and Fleur had cleaned up their cubs and the two newborn bundles of life were busily nursing.

       “We did our own form of paw massage and encouraged each other towards the end,” fleur mewed, “it was real fun.”  Petra smiled.

       “Talk about surplice to requirements ay Rowena?”  Simba said.  Rowena shook her head.

      “We weren’t Simba, they needed us as much as they needed each other,” she replied.

 

Once the cubs had finished nursing, they turned to each other, one with fur as white as snow, and the other with fur as multi toned as Fleur’s.  They crawled towards each other, their mothers watching them intently.  When they found each other’s paws, the cubs lay down facing each other and touched noses before each kissed the other’s nose, each holding the other’s forepaw in a fierce grip.

       “Friends?”  The white cub asked its cousin.

       “Of course,” the multi tone furred cub replied.  Petra, her eyes full of tears, looked at her cub.

       “Sorry, got to go, my mum wants me,” the cub said, patting his friend’s paw and crawling quickly to Petra’s side.

       “How, how could you have known I was looking at you, let alone that I wanted you to come to me when I hadn’t even called to you?”  Petra asked her voice cracking.

       “I don’t know,” the cub replied, “I just knew.”  Petra looked the tiny creature over from his nose to his paw pads.  He was white like herself, a mini version of herself.

        “How would it be if I named you Theo?”  Petra asked her cub.

       “Theo,” the cub mewed, “I like it, though I don’t know why.”

         “Go back to your friend now Theo dear,” Petra mewed.

      “But he’s got no name yet,” the cub protested, getting quite upset about the fact.

      “His mum will name him soon,” Petra mewed softly, gently kissing her newborn cub on his nose.

       “Promise?”  The cub asked, “For it is wrong for me to have a name and for him not to have one.”  Petra covered her eyes with her paws, trying not to cry.

      “What’s the matter mum?”  Theo asked, feeling for his mum’s paw with his and holding it as best he could.

     “Nothing, nothing,” Petra sobbed.

       “Noone cries over nothing,” the cub said, “did I upset you?  If I did, I’m sorry, really sorry, I just feel that for me to have a name and for my cub brother not to have a name is unfair.”  Petra swallowed hard.

      “One day, one day you’ll know why I cried here,” Petra said gently, “but for now, dear cub, don’t worry about it.”  But Petra knew, oh yes, she knew her cub would worry about her.

 

Meanwhile, a little way off, fleur was naming her own cub.

       “I think I’ll name you Clarence,” she mewed, cradling her cub in her paws, “for I wish you to have a clear and bright future little one.”

        Petra,” Rowena said softly, “I think, it’s just a suggestion this, but, maybe it might be good to explain why you wept when little Theo said what he did.”

      “But he won’t understand, he’s only an hour old!”  Petra protested.

       “Try him,” Rowena mewed, “you might be surprised.  Petra turned to find her cub playing with Simba’s paws, the big male lion letting his baby brother play with his forepaws, just as he’d let Rowena play with them so often before.

       “Theo, dear cub, come to me, please.”  Petra mewed.  The cub gently patted Simba’s paw, told him he wouldn’t be long and crawled quickly to his mother’s side.  Petra looked down at her cub.

      “You wanted to know why I burst into tears when you said that not naming your brother cub was unfair.”  She asked.

      “I did want to know,” The cub mewed, “but it can wait, for you said it could wait.”

       “No Theo, it can’t, you see, you remind me of someone very dear to me who passed from this world some time ago.  He was a lion, very close to me.  You speak like he did.  You are very considerate of others, and I heard he was when he was a cub.”

     “The other Theodore,” the cub mewed.  Petra caught her breath.

      “Tell on,” she urged.

       “Theodore, a friend of a lion with a long mane.  He was ill treated by some.  Why, am I like him?”  Petra, and Samson, who’d crept forward to listen both gasped, Samson covering his eyes with his paw to stop himself from crying.  The tiny white cub crawled quickly to where Samson stood on three legs, the male lion holding his left forepaw over his eyes to hide his emotions.

       “Your paw has spiky things sticking out, just like mine,”  Theo said, “mum’s paws are soft, can you make yours soft too?”  Samson looked down at the cub through the gaps between the toes of his left forepaw.

      “I could, could try,” Samson said, retracting his claws, “is that better?”  Theo attempted to pick up Samson’s right forepaw; the lion snorting as he almost fell on top of, and then nearly trampled the cub as he lost his balance.  Collapsing on the floor, Samson stared wide eyed at the tiny white cub.

       “You lifted my paw little one, you lifted my paw!”  Samson choked.

      “I didn’t mean to be any trouble,” the little white cub replied, “I just felt you needed that paw stroked.

     “Here, stroke it,” Samson said, thrusting his paw at the tiny cub, who took it gently in both of his.  Little Theo held Samson’s paw, breathing on the lion’s pads as he explored it with his whiskers.  Samson watched him, his eyes full of fascination.

       “You have the same gentle manner with paws as my dear friend had,” Samson mewed.  The cub, sensing the huge lion was distressed, leant forward and kissed his nose.  Samson choked back tears.

        “You’re crying,” the cub mewed; gently putting down the paw he was working on to wipe Samson’s eyes with his paws.  Samson found himself grooming the cub, holding him tightly in his paws and grooming frantically.  Even Petra hadn’t done this yet, and Samson was desperate, wanting to convey to the cub everything he felt at once.  Petra watched Samson’s urgent ministrations.

       “A new lion I see,” she said giggling slightly, “grooming the cubs now Sammy?”  Samson hugged little Theo hard, the cub wriggling and complaining loudly.

       “My fur’s all wet with your tears, and your nose is cold and wet too!”  He squealed.  Samson wiped his nose on the back of his paw, unable to stop his tears.

       “I’m sorry,” he gasped, “so, so sorry Theo.”  The white lion cub shook himself, water flying off his fur.

      “You trying to drown me in your tears?”  He asked.  Samson sniffed hard, and then started to laugh as the cub picked up his right forepaw and began to tickle his pads and toes.

 

Meanwhile, fleur and her new cub Clarence were curled up together, Simba watching the cub’s every move.  Rowena had suggested to Simba that it might be good if he made friends with the newborn cub.  So, to that end, Simba was gently talking to the cub, stroking him and letting him hold his paws while fleur, having some inkling of the situation, let them get on with it.  Simba lay down so he could be near little Clarence.

        “I feel you are confused,” the cub said to Simba, the white lion shocked at his perception.

       “I’m a little overcome by what I saw today,” Simba lied.  Rowena was about to reprimand her brother for his conduct when the cub shook his head and gave him such a slap on his paw Simba was instantly ashamed.

       “All right, I admit I am confused,” Simba replied, “I have had some problems lately, and am trying to sort them out.”  Clarence smiled, Giving Simba his forepaws.

        “Will you play with me?”  Clarence asked.  Simba felt the cub’s huge warm furry paws in his, and closing his eyes, kissed Clarence on his nose.

        “You hold my paws like that,” the cub said, “and I can tell you are confused Simba.  You are a confused cub, just like me.  I know where I came from though, you don’t.  How about if we start here?”  Simba knew what the cub was saying, but looked up at Rowena for confirmation.

        “Go with him Simba, see where your paws take you,” was Rowena’s reply.  Simba hugged Clarence tightly, the cub purring contentedly as he felt the larger lion’s warm embrace.

       “This feels wonderful,” Clarence mewed.  Simba kissed his nose, the cub laughing merrily.

 

Meanwhile, little Theo curled up with Samson, the lion still choked up by emotions he could not understand fully.

       “How could he have lifted my paw?”  Samson asked himself, “Unless Theo’s got massive physical strength that is”

        “I can feel you thinking about me,” The white cub mewed.  Purring announced Petra’s arrival, the white lioness looking down at her friend and cub.

       “I love you both more than I can say,” Petra said.  Samson smiled and kissed Theo’s nose, then kissed his dear friend’s nose.

       “I love you all,” Petra mewed.  Rowena padded up to Petra and whispered to her.

       “We need to talk,” Petra nodded and looked at little Theo.

      “But little Theo needs feeding, my cub will get hungry, can it wait?”  Petra mewed.  Rowena looked at Samson “I won’t spread the word,” he mewed.

       “I want to ask if your cubbing was all you expected it to be,” Rowena mewed.  Petra smiled.

      “It was wonderful, amazing, unforgettable,” she replied.  Rowena nodded:

      “But you said it was awful?” She asked.

      “The effort I had to make was awful,” Petra mewed, “some of the pain was horrendous, but over all it was lovely!”  Little Theo crawled to his mum’s side.

       “I’m sorry Clarence and I raced each other,” he mewed, “but you and Fleur had the last laugh, you stopped us.  You controlled our arrival, so we arrived at the same time.”  Petra looked Theo over, from his nose to his paw pads.  The cub, sensing this, rolled over and pedalled the air with all four paws, curling and wiggling his toes while mewing theatrically about wanting his paws stroked.  Petra lay down, took each of Theo’s paws in hers before kissing his pads and toes, the cub laughing merrily, then purring and snuggling hard up to his mum.

       “Thank you Samson,” Petra mewed, “thank you for helping me have a cub.  I love him and you so much!”  Samson kissed Petra’s nose, then gently kissed little Theo’s paw pads.  So the cub got each of his paws kissed twice, he wasn’t about to complain about that.  Theo smiled and tried to kiss Petra and Samson’s paws, the adult lion and lioness lying down and letting him kiss their paws.  Laughing with delight, Petra and Samson let Theo clamber over them, his paws exploring their bodies until he found their noses, which he kissed, and paws, which he first played with, then kissed pads and toes, Samson and Petra becoming tearful as their cub explored their bodies with gentle paws, kissing their noses, paw pads and toes with love for each of them.

 

Allie, up in her control room, worked her cameras live.  Driving her equipment to give the rest of the community a ringside seat, zooming in on episodes of paw play, kissing of noses and paw pads, moments of emotion and of sheer playfulness.  Allie excelled herself during the births of the cubs, showing everything she could get her cameras to display.  From the general area, with both fleur and Petra lying on the rugs, to the faces of the individual mothers to be, to the way their fore and hind paws held each other’s while the two mothers gave birth to their cubs.  Allie focused a camera on each cub as it emerged, splitting the screens so everyone could see everything.  Thanking the foresight she’d had in installing cameras in four corners and one in the roof of each room, Allie used everything she’d got.  Excited by what she was seeing, once or twice she nearly forgot to drive the show, rather than watch it.  All in all though, she got seven hours of amazing footage of the births and first few minutes of two very cute and cuddly cubs.

       “What are we going to do for space here?”  Petra asked when Theo had finished exploring and kissing her and Samson’s paws.  Samson looked concerned, his instinct to shut his family away from the world strong in his eyes.

      “You and little Theo stay here, fleur and I will return to our lie up with little Clarence, and I’ll have to shuttle between the two,” he replied.

      “No you won’t!”  Tigger said, padding carefully into the lie up, “mine and Namrah’s lie up has a connecting partition door with yours Petra.  Why don’t we move into Samson and Fleur’s lie up and Samson and fleur move into ours with their cub?  Then you’d all be together.”  Samson was about to protest, when Namrah padded in, approached him, and gently placed a paw over his mouth.

       “That’s settled then,” she said finally.  Samson’s eyes told everyone he was overcome with gratitude, but he couldn’t voice how grateful he was because a tigress was covering his mouth with her paw.  Samson kissed Namrah’s pads, the blind tigress laughing and removing her paw.

       “I, fleur, Petra and our cubs are very grateful indeed.”  Samson said.  Namrah hesitated, it was clear to Samson she had something on her mind.

      “Could, I mean, would you?  We’d quite understand if you feel you can’t, of course, we don’t want to intrude, but, but would it be possible for me and Tigger to touch your cubs?”  Namrah asked shyly.  Samson looked surprised and a little anxious, then incredulous.

      “Why on earth would you want to do that?”  He asked, then, getting angry, “no!  Who the hell do you think you are?”  Then, as he watched, little Theo crawled up to Namrah and touched her paw.

       “I believe you are as I am,” he said, “of course you and Tigger can stroke my brother and me.”  Samson turned away, hiding his face from the world.  Little Clarence went to Tigger, little Theo to Namrah, and the blind tiger and tigress lay down and ran their paws all over the cubs, encountering tiny heads, bodies and miniature paws.  Of course the cubs loved this too, and they stayed much longer than Samson wanted the male lion still anxious that too much time spent with others who were not immediate family might break the bond forming between him, fleur, Petra and the cubs.  Fleur told him the cubs were in charge, it was they who’d decided to let Namrah and Tigger stroke them, and they should decide when to call an end to it.  Theo and Clarence wriggled, pawed at the tiger’s noses and paws and hugged them lovingly.

       “You gave up your home for us,” Theo mewed to Tigger, “the least we can do is let you hug and stroke us.”  Crying, Tigger hugged Theo hard.

       “Isn’t that right Clarence?”  Theo asked.  Clarence, his paws being embraced by Namrah, shook himself out of his semi comatose state and replied:

       “Yes Theo, it is the least we can do.  I vote for letting these two come and hug us whenever they want.  For I have a connection with these two large cats.”  At Clarence’s words, Samson felt even worse.

      “I’m leaving before I put my paws in it even more than I already have!”  Samson snarled, angry with himself.

      Petra,” Tigger said, the lioness going over to him, “please, as your cub has no grandsire, could I?”  Petra rested her head on Tigger’s shoulder.

        “His grandsire would have been big Theo,” she mewed sadly, “yes Tiggie, please, I, we that is Samson, me and little Theo, would love you to do that for him and us.”  Tigger kissed Petra’s nose and, making sure Theo knew what he was about to do:

       “I’m about to hug your mum little Theo,” Tigger embraced Petra tenderly.  Petra had forgotten how good a tiger’s hug was, and Tigger could really hug.  Everything poured from his paws, all his emotion, all the love he felt for her and her cub, everything.  Petra felt she might burst with it, as if Tigger’s love for her and her cub was physically filling her from her tail to her ears.  As a release, she returned his hug with everything she had, closing her eyes so her emotions were channelled through her paws.  No words had been exchanged between lioness and tiger, but little Theo and his cub brother Clarence felt suddenly tearful, as well as a need to be still, for their paws to be disconnected from each others for a few minutes.

      “Tigger and I love your mum and you and your brother cub with all our hearts Theo dear,” Namrah said to the white lion cub.  Little Theo rubbed his paws over his tightly shut eyes, for he felt he was about to cry for the first time in his life.

      “Thank you Tigger, and you Namrah,” he choked.

 

Simba looked at Rowena, then at his mum.

      “Rowena and I were talking about pride relationships,” he said, “what I’d like to know now, is what is little Theo to me?  Is he my cub brother, or my nephew, for Petra, you are genetically my full sister, but I call you mum.  I’m confused.”

       “What would you like me to be?”  Little Theo asked.  Simba looked down at the tiny white cub.

       “I don’t know,” Simba mewed.

      “Let’s keep it simple,” Petra mewed, “Simba, you have only recently worked out my heritage, and my position in your life was worked out before you knew the truth.  How about if you think of little Theo as your cub brother?”  Simba looked relieved, glad to be given direction.

       “What a day,” fleur mewed.  Petra looked at Tigger.

       “Tiggie, and you Namrah, Samson, he, he didn’t mean to be offensive.”

      “A leader who forgets the most vulnerable in his community is no leader, for if he can’t give direction and thought to his most vulnerable community members, he can’t even begin to give direction to those less vulnerable.  Samson should think of the most vulnerable first, and he forgot them,” Fleur said, “Petra, don’t apologise for Samson.  He knew what he was saying, and he had time to think, time to remember.  His comments were offensive, and were totally uncalled for and wrong.  Samson needs to come to Namrah and Tigger and apologise to them himself.”

       “Samson was horrible to Namrah and Tigger,” little Theo mewed, “all they asked was for the chance to touch what they cannot see.”  Rowena looked at the white lion cub.

       “You speak more like big Theo every minute,” she mewed, “what you say is correct Theo dear.  Samson does need to apologise.  I’m sure he will, in his own time.”

 

Samson stood outside the lie up, cursing himself fluently.  He’d forgotten Tigger and Namrah were blind, how could he have forgotten such a thing.  The worst of it was, he’d got angry with Namrah, and he couldn’t deny that.  Namrah had asked to touch his cubs, and Samson hadn’t just denied her request, he’d asked her why she wanted to touch the cubs, and in the most awful way possible.  Very upset, Samson turned back into the room and padded over to where Tigger and Namrah lay playing with little Clarence and Theo.

       “Tigger, Namrah, Samson here,” the lion said, and then hesitating, thinking hard on how to approach them, “Please, will you listen to me?”  Samson realised he was trying to make eye contact, a bad idea when talking to two blind animals.  Lying down, he tried to touch their paws with his, the tigers not resisting his attempt.

       “I need to, want to, apologise to you two for how I spoke to you earlier.  Namrah, I, I can’t excuse my words or their intention.  I’d forgotten your blindness, and not in an inclusive way either.  I should have remembered, I should have thought first.  I am so sorry!”

        “The worst of it is you forgot the most vulnerable in your community,” Fleur said.  Samson looked into her eyes.

       “I can’t undo the hurt I caused,” Samson said, “but I will do all I can to make amends.

       “Let’s move lie ups,” Tigger said to Namrah.

      “No Tiggie!”  Theo yelled, trying to throw his paws round the tiger’s neck, “you can’t move out! You’re family now!”  Tigger and Namrah turned their ears to the white cub.

      “There’s not enough room for all of us in here,” Tigger mewed, “Namrah and I need to move out of our lie up so you and your mum, plus fleur and Samson with Clarence can move in.

      “Just open up the partition door and we can live together,” Theo mewed.  Tigger kissed his adopted Grand cub’s nose.

      “Okay,”  Tigger mewed, letting Theo kiss his nose, “let’s try pushing that door aside and see where that gets us space wise.”  Petra pressed a button, the door sliding aside, the door disappearing into a recess in the wall.  Looking round the lie up, Petra saw there was more space than she first thought.

      “We can all live here in comfort,” she mewed.

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