The cirrcle of life.

 

 

Early one morning, Allie, up in her control room, sat down to start her shift on the cameras.  Adjusting her paws on the pedals and joystick, she scanned her screens.  She wasn’t surprised to see nothing doing yet, the house was still asleep.  Then she saw something in the pool complex.  She couldn’t think who’d left the doors unlocked, but someone had, for in the main pool area stood a lion, a large lion he was, with a scruffy mane.  Allie zoomed in on him, examining him from nose to tail with her cameras.  The lion was standing by the edge of the main pool, staring into the still water, it was clear he’d not been swimming.  Allie examined the lion further, noticing he had a heavy build, though he was not fat.  His build was heavy because he was well muscled, his paws larger than most lion’s paws.  Allie looked at her own paws on the control stick and thought the lion’s paws were large because he was a born swimmer.  Most lions weren’t swimmers, hating water as a rule.  This one though, had he been born near the water?  Was his hunting ground in the water?  Allie knew Clarence’s hunting ground had been the Okavango delta, and his paws had been large, just like this lion’s.  The lion raised a hind paw, curling and stretching the toes, his pads bunching and stretching, as if he had stiff paws.  Placing the hind paw back on the tiles, the lion did similar things with all four paws, still staring into the water.  Allie picked up the phone to Aslan and Hop along’s security patrol.

       “Hi, Aslan?”  Allie said, “We’ve got a new lion in the pool complex.  He got into the complex last night; I haven’t yet reviewed the tapes or found out who forgot to lock the doors.  Go carefully; the lion doesn’t look like a threat.  I haven’t told him he’s under surveillance yet.  Please, go carefully.”  Aslan put his phone down, rubbing his paws together with delight.  He loved apprehending intruders.

       “I’m taking this alone, bugger the rest of them,”  he thought, padding out of his lie up and silently making his way to the pool complex.  Padding noiselessly down the passage, Aslan made his way to the lion’s position, creeping up with stealth and intention.  Allie, watching him, swore as she realised what the power crazed lion was about to do.

     “Aslan, no!”  Allie yelled into her microphone, “stop!”  Aslan leapt, bowling the new lion into the water!  Both Aslan and the lion tumbled into the water, Aslan trying to drown the newcomer!  Allie hit an alarm which went off in all patrol members lie ups, then spoke, her voice full of panic:

     “Theo, Hop along, Anyone!”  Allie screamed into her microphone, “Aslan’s gone mad, he’s in the pool complex, currently drowning an intruder!  Stop him!  For Eohippus sake!”  She watched as Hop along, Theo and even raja exploded into the pool complex, leaping in to rescue the poor newcomer.  Theo dragged Aslan out of the water and beat him up severely.

      “You are a stupid lion Aslan!”  Theo yelled.  Nuru joined the pack leaping in and dragging the newcomer clear of the water.

       “He’s half drowned!”  Nuru mewed; rolling the lion with Hop along’s help.  The rolling caused the lion to vomit water and regain consciousness.

       “Get your paws off me!”  The lion groaned.

     “We’re here to help,” Nuru mewed.

      “That horrid lion wasn’t, he, he tried to kill me!”  The newcomer whimpered.

      “Aslan’s heavy pawed,” Allie said, her voice echoing round the complex, “I shouldn’t have contacted him, I’m sorry.  I should have chosen a gentler pawed creature.”  The lion looked up into the lens of a camera.

      “Please, I’m no threat,” the lion pleaded, “I wanted a warm place to stay, so I came in here.  Someone left the door open and I came in.  Do with me what you will.”

       “We won’t harm you,” Nuru said, “where did you come from, and what’s your name?”  The lion looked at him.

       “I came from a circus,” the lion mewed, “I was a performing lion, swimming in shows and things.  I was born near water, hence the size of my paws.  Humans knew this and forced me into performance.  They caught me and used me to entertain them.  I got dissatisfied and left about a week ago.  Walking for ages, I spoke to birds, and met a badger or two.  The badgers pointed me here; I had a hard time with one of them though.  She questioned me for hours, her name was Honeyfur.  I told her my name, which is Androcles.  Nuru smiled.

       “No thorns in paws though I hope,” he mewed.  Androcles looked mystified.

      “I don’t know what you mean,” he said.

      “I’ll pass you on to Namrah, she’ll tell you,” Nuru mewed.

      “Namrah? A tigress?”  The lion asked.

      “Yes,” Nuru replied, “but she’s friendly, as are most of the community here.”

      “Tigresses are mad!”  Androcles mewed, “they’re fierce, and I am more scared of them than any other big cat!”

       “I’ll introduce you to her,” Nuru mewed, “she’s lovely.”

       “Now what do we do?”  Theo asked, “This lion’s had a hellish time.”

     “I vote we hand him over to Fleur to check over, and then she will give us direction,” Nuru said.  Androcles looked scared.

      “Fleur, not another tigress?”  He asked.

     “She’s lovely,” Nuru mewed.

       “So you say about everyone here,” the lion replied, “now, let me get to my paws and I’ll follow you.”  Nuru let Androcles get to his paws, marvelling at the lion’s huge paws and muscled body.

       “I wish I was as fit as you,” he said.  Androcles smiled at Nuru and raised a paw.  Nuru and Androcles compared paws.

       “Now let’s go,” Nuru said, Theo dragging Aslan behind the main group.  Aslan, tied up by Percy and Honeyfur, who’d been alerted by Allie, whimpered and sobbed as Theo dragged him.

 

The group met fleur in the bathroom, fleur smiling at the group.

     “Hi,” she mewed, “another poor stray for me to tend to?”  Androcles stared at fleur.

       “She’s unusual,” he thought, “but somehow, she’s not scary, not like that lion that jumped on me.”  Fleur took Androcles paw and held it for a minute.

       “You have big paws my dear,” she said.  Androcles looked into Fleur’s deep brown eyes, which seemed to see straight into his soul.

      “Come, let me bathe you,” she said, “what’s your name my dear?”

      “My name’s Androcles,” the lion mewed, the strange looking female big cat’s tenderness making him want to cry.  He’d never felt this from another big cat, all the ones he knew were so stressed by their life of performance that they were never in the mood for tender play or snuggling up at night.  Androcles, having been captured as a young lion, had tried to make friends with a lioness he’d been housed close to, trying to get her to accept him as her cub and love him, but she wouldn’t.  Androcles had been caught very young indeed, his body mature, but his mind still very cubbish and wanting to be embraced with warm paws.  All he’d got from the lioness when they’d been put together for the show had been hard blows from her paws.

       “Come with me Androcles,” fleur said.  The lion padded after fleur, his paws feeling heavier than he imagined the huge female cat’s large fat paws ever felt.

      “Don’t worry,” Samson said to the newcomer, having been briefed by Allie.  Androcles looked at Samson and knew he was leader.

        “I’m sorry,” the lion mewed, “I shouldn’t have come in here.”  Samson touched Androcles paw with his.

      “We give refuge to abused creatures,” he mewed, “I won’t harm you Androcles.”  Androcles looked down at Samson’s paw covering his, realising the lion leader’s paw was smaller than his.

     “I know I have smaller paws than you do,” Samson mewed.  Androcles rolled onto his back, letting Samson examine his belly and large paws, submitting to him completely.  Samson tickled the lion’s paws, Androcles laughing and squirming with pleasure.

       “After this, am I going to get a chance to tickle your paws?”  Androcles asked when all had calmed down.  Samson smiled and blew on the pads of Androcles right forepaw.

       “You big cub!”  Androcles laughed, dabbing at Samson’s nose with the paw he’d blown on.  Samson gently took the toes of the paw in his teeth, gently pressing the pads as if he was about to bite the paw.  Androcles recognised this was in play and whimpered with mock fear, which caused Samson’s eyes to sparkle and Samson to drop the paw, only to blow hard against the paw pads.

        “Love him Sammy,” fleur said, realising what Samson had picked up on.  Samson smiled and rubbed Androcles paws and belly some more.

      “Can I get a paw in edgeways to do my job please?”  Fleur asked.  Samson laughed and let Androcles get to his paws.

      “I love a lion with big paws,” Samson mewed.

      “Anyone with big paws is a magnet for Samson,” fleur mewed, “just look at mine!”  She held up a huge forepaw.”

      “You mean he mated with you for your paws alone?”  Androcles asked.

      “No,” fleur mewed, “but my paws told him more about me than eyes ever could.”  Androcles knew a little of what paw contact could divulge, and smiled.

      “I don’t’ mind anyone touching my paws,” he mewed, “anyone can, I would like it.”  Fleur took his paw and led him to the bathtub.  Splashing into the water, fleur started rubbing him down.  Androcles loved the feel of the shampoo on his fur and between his toes.  Purring contentedly, he watched as a female brown bear joined fleur and both began work on him, the bear massaging the shampoo deep into Androcles fur while fleur directed operations.  Androcles realised the bear was new to her job, but also felt she was gentle and caring, which was instinctive.  Brunetta rubbed Androcles down from nose to tail, loving her work, a love which transferred to him through her paws.

       “Once you’ve done your work, would you rub me down without the shampoo?”  Androcles asked.  Brunetta smiled:

       “Fleur?”  She asked.  Fleur grinned:

      “He can feel how much you love your work, so he wants more, its okay, whatever he wants.”  Brunetta smiled and carried on with her job, working her paws through the fur on Androcles belly.  Brunetta had her claws cut short, blunting them and smoothing out any sharp edges.  Brunetta cursed her claws because she could not retract them.  Even so, she did what she could.  She used her paw and toe pads rather than her claws to rub in the shampoo.  Brunetta felt Androcles relax beneath her paws.  Once the lion was cleaned from his ears to his tail tip and from his nose to the pads of his paws, Brunetta helped him from the water, guiding him with gentle care to the drying room, where Androcles got towelled down by two white lionesses, something he wasn’t expecting but hugely enjoyed.  Petra and Rowena thoroughly dried Androcles, from facial fur to paw pads; they took gentle care, massaging the water from his body, rubbing paw pads and toes, working the towel between his toes and paw pads.

      “Are you going to clean my teeth as well?”  Androcles asked.  Petra smiled and gave him some mint bark, which Androcles chewed on, spitting it out and carefully washing out his mouth.

       “It was a joke!”  He said after he was pronounced fit to be released.

       “You might have been joking, but we clean our teeth here,” Petra mewed.

       “If we don’t, Petra gets sick,” Rowena said, “she’s got meat intolerance.”  Androcles looked at Petra.

       “A lioness with meat intolerance?”  He asked, “Whatever next?”

        “How about a lion stroking a polar bear’s paws?”  Samson asked.

        “You, you stroke a polar bear’s paws?”  Androcles asked.  Samson smiled:

       “I do,” he replied, “and the female polar bear and I love our time together.”  Androcles looked at Samson.

      “You’re leader, but you’re also very gentle I feel,” he said.

       “You’re very forward in your manner towards our leader,” Rowena said.

       “Am I?”  Androcles asked, “Well, I’m sorry.”

       “If he’s not known anything but fending for himself, then he would be,” Samson replied.  Samson touched Androcles large left forepaw.

        “Where will Androcles sleep?”  Fleur asked, “Nuru’s got Clarence’s old lie up.”  Nuru poked his head round the door.

       “I don’t mind sharing a lie up,” Nuru mewed.

      “Don’t male lion’s fight?”  Rowena asked.

       “Let me see,” Nuru mewed, padding forward and taking Androcles left forepaw in his.

        “He’s a big cub,” Nuru said, “I’ve taken on two cubs, I can adopt a third.”

       “Androcles isn’t a cub!”  Petra mewed.

      “Nor is Samson, but have you seen how he acts when he’s around cubs?”  Fleur asked.  Nuru looked at Androcles.

       “I sense you were taken into the abusive tyranny of humans as a very young cub,” Nuru mewed.  Androcles nodded.

        “I know you want to play like a cub, play with your paws etc,” Nuru mewed, and I don’t mind helping you do that.”  Androcles smiled at Nuru.

       “I would like to meet your cubs,” he said.  Nuru padded away, Androcles following.  Up in Nuru’s lie up, Androcles met two young liger cubs.  Staring at them, he knew what they were instantly.

        “Was their mother Namrah?”  Androcles asked.

     “No, Namrah is Tigger’s mate, Tess and Leo’s mother is tigress Tess,” Nuru mewed.

      “All these names,” Androcles said, “I’ll have to get used to them.”  Nuru kissed his nose, Androcles recognising what the gesture meant.

 

Days passed, Nuru and Androcles getting on well.  Nuru wanted a quiet life, and Androcles was content to have one too.  They spent many an hour curled up together, liking each other’s company.  Androcles calmed Nuru and Nuru soothed the ex performing lion’s young mind.  Little Tess watched Androcles with interest, seeing in him a potential playmate.  One day, not too long after his arrival the female liger cub approached Androcles and asked him if he wanted to play.  Androcles looked at the liger cub, examining her from nose to paws.

       “I would like that,” he mewed.  Soon Androcles and little Tess were rolling on the rugs in Nuru’s lie up, batting at whiskers and tickling paw pads and toes, both snarling and growling with mock ferocity.  Nuru watched the duel between his cub and the larger lion.  Little Tess pretended to bite the back of Androcles neck, as if she were going in for the kill.  Androcles, drawing on his performing past, went limp, slowing his breathing so it looked as if he was dead.  Little Tess, realising her new found friend wasn’t responding to nudges from her paws, looked at Nuru in sudden panic!

       “I pretended to bite his neck, and he’s now dead!”  She wailed.  Nuru went to Androcles and took his paw, there was a pulse, and he could feel it.

       “Now do I carry on the game, or do I break the spell,” Nuru thought, looking at his cub, which was close to tears.

        “Androcles, please give it up,” Nuru mewed, “I know you’re a performer, but little Tess doesn’t know this.”  Androcles raised his head, shook his mane and looked round him.

      “I thought you were dead!”  Little Tess mewed.  Androcles hugged her hard.

       “No,” he mewed, “I was just playing games, acting dead.”

      “Like Fleur acts out a cubbing,” Nuru added, having seen a video of Fleur’s acting talent.

     “Oh right,” little Tess mewed.  Nuru massaged Androcles paws, the lion purring contentedly.

 

Leo watched Androcles and Nuru, hardly believing his eyes.  Allie deliberately showed footage from the camera in Nuru’s lie up until Leo was forced to watch it.  Leo’s eyes took in Nuru’s tenderness to ward’s Androcles, a tenderness he knew male lions rarely felt towards other males.  He thought the former black lion’s behaviour strange; it was almost as if he was treating Androcles like a cub!  Eight days of this footage drove Leo over the edge, he challenged Nuru about his behaviour.

 

Finding Nuru in the pool complex, where he, Androcles and little Tess were playing in the large main pool, Leo asked Nuru about his behaviour.

       “I can’t talk here,” Nuru mewed, “all I can say is that you have no idea what Androcles went through at his old place.  He is a very special lion, but he’s also a cub under all that fur.  He was never allowed to be a cub, thrown into a life of performance and slavery before his paws touched the ground.  All you need to know is that Androcles is doing well, enjoying life for the first time since his capture by the humans who wanted him to perform for them, and loves his new home, okay?”  Leo couldn’t argue with that.

       “What are you going to tell your new friend if he asks about your life Nuru?”  Leo asked spitefully.

       “The truth,” Nuru mewed, “I will tell him the truth.  After what he told me last night, I owe him that.”  Leo snorted and stamped off, convinced Nuru would fabricate something.

 

Androcles overheard everything and swam to where Nuru stood on the edge of the pool.

      “That scruffy bag of fur doesn’t like you,” Androcles said, “and what’s this about your life?  Have you had a hard life?”

       “I, well, not me,” Nuru mewed, “but I used to make others lives hell.  I was leader of a pride of lions in a safari park.”  Nuru poured it all out, everything, right then and there in the pool complex.  Nuru didn’t care who heard him or saw him cry.  Androcles had told Nuru everything about his life till then and the telling had upset him hugely, so Nuru did the same for him, not making him wait for the information, but pouring it out then and there.

      “You know the thing which still amazes me?”  Nuru sniffed, “it’s this, it’s that these people, whom I attacked with intent, took me in and looked after me!  Why should they do this after all I’d done to make them hate me?  That I don’t know, but they did, they gave me a chance, a chance I took in both paws and didn’t waste.  I am grateful to them even now, and will forever be so.”  Androcles looked at Nuru and wanted to hug him.  Scrambling from the water, Androcles motioned to Nuru to lie down on the tiles, which Nuru did, and then he hugged him hard.  Nuru buried his face in Androcles mane, sobbing and sniffing.  Little Tess watched both lions.  She ran to Leo to bring him back, to show him how vulnerable Nuru was.  The cub was sick of her adopted sire’s hatred of Nuru and wanted to stop him from spreading his views.

      “Leo come, come here now!”  Little Tess commanded, dragging him back to the pool complex, much to Leo’s disgust.

      “I’ll get you for this!”  Leo snarled, knowing that with Nuru here, he could not strike the cub as he used to have the authority to do.  Leo found Nuru and Androcles curled together, each holding the others paws, each squeezing the others forepaws as hard as they could.  Their grip was so fierce their toes were white.

        “Here is Nuru, here is that black lion you insist still pads among us,” little Tess mewed, “Leo, I’m sick of you, I’m sick of you and your hatred for a lion who is no longer here!  I saw what he did to the community, I saw it Leo, Allie showed me, she showed me Leo!  The look now in Nuru’s eyes is not the look he had then; he’s a different lion, a different lion I tell you Leo!”  Leo saw his cub shaking with emotion and also noticed her eyes blazing with the intensity of her argument.  Leo, unable to take any more, like a coward, looked away.

       “You can’t cope can you?”  His cub asked, “You can’t deal with this!  You can’t deal with the fact you are wrong can you Leo?”  Little Tess said softly, “Your arguments worked before now, but are now sunk, busted and finished.”  Leo turned and fled!  Angry beyond words, he ran to his and Tigress Tess’s lie up and began to pour it out to Tess, but she stopped him, telling him she’d seen it all and agreed with her cub.  Leo knew he could not go to Samson or fleur; he had noone to turn to!  Furious, he turned to a screen, just in time to see Nuru tickling little Tess’s paws!  Leo screamed with rage!

       “Get your paws off her you horrid animal!”  Tigress Tess completely lost her temper then.  Whacking Leo hard on the side of the head, she floored him.

        “You are an idiot!”  She yelled, kicking Leo to his paws, and then knocking him down again!

         “Tess, Tess!”  Leo screamed, “Stop it! Stop it” Tess kicked Leo in the belly, making him vomit.

        “You horrid bitch, you horrid bitch!”  Leo gasped.

      “If you will not listen to reason or see sense, or even follow those horrid paws of yours, you will listen to physical violence!”  Tess screamed, standing over Leo.  Leo looked into the maddened eyes of a tigress who he knew he’d pushed over the edge.

        “She’s dangerous,” Leo thought dimly, “Tess is dangerous!”  Tigress Tess put her left forepaw on Leo’s shoulder, pinning him down under her massive weight.

       “No Tess, don’t crush me!”  Leo begged.

       “You are worthless Leo,” Tess said, “completely and utterly worthless.  You said you loved my cubs, but then you tried to pollute their minds with untrue tales that I knew no lion was capable of.  You then tried to keep little Tess away from her sire, even though your eyes, her words, and your paws told you he was no threat to her or even me.  Nuru apologised Leo, and he did it from the bottom of his heart.  You know what?  Right this moment, I’d gladly have Nuru’s cubs again; at least he doesn’t poison the minds of his cubs!”  Leo screeched with pain!

       “Oh, Tess, Tess, no!”  He gasped.  Leo then saw something which made his blood run cold, Nuru, Androcles and little Tess standing in the doorway.  Little Tess looked at Leo, then at Nuru, smiled, padded up to Nuru and embraced him hard.  Leo leapt to his paws and attacked Little Tess!

 

Allie, in her control room, focused her cameras on the fight, broadcasting it to everyone.  She knew this had to happen; the fight had to run its course.

 

Samson watched without emotion, knowing Leo had brought this on himself.

 

Nuru and Androcles fought as one cat, Tigress Tess dragging her cub clear and bolting for safety.

 

Fur Flew, blood flowed and blows were exchanged.  Nuru fought Leo off, who had gone for Androcles, trying to neutralise the smaller lion first.  Nuru just pounced on Leo, dragged him clear of Androcles, and then threw him across the lie up!  Leo landed on the floor with a sickening crash!  Samson looked at Fleur in their lie up.

       “I’m sorry fleur,” he said, “that this had to happen to your cub.”  Fleur wiped her eyes with her paw.

       “Leo refused to follow his paws Sammy, and now look where it’s got him,” she said, “he’s angered a force he can’t control and doesn’t even know.  Samson, I don’t want to watch my cub die, but don’t stop what is about to happen.  With that she walked out of the lie up.  Samson watched more, knowing fleur wanted to be left alone.

 

Nuru padded over to Leo’s broken body.

      “Leo,” Nuru said softly.  Getting no response he rested a paw on Leo’s chest and felt nothing.

        “Leo,” Nuru said, “You didn’t have to die.  I didn’t want to kill you, but you brought it on yourself.  You could not let your cub go to her natural sire, for all your promises, you could not let that happen.  I love my cubs Leo, I love them more than I can explain, I love every bone in their bodies, every hair on their coats, and every pad on their paws.  Leo, could you say honestly you would die for the cubs you adopted?  For I know I would die for my cubs.  You learned nothing from meeting me, nothing from seeing me with my cubs.  the final act, when little Tess looked at you and then at me before running to me and hugging me told you that her loyalty was to her family, to her mother and sire, who truly love her and would not prevent her from going her own way.  I did some dreadful things in my past Leo, but I never bound my cub’s paws.  Now you are dead, and I am here, but this is no victory for me Leo.  Because of your stupidity, your mother now grieves for her lost cub, and your sire is left wondering what turned a promising life into this.  Fleur, and you Samson, I am truly sorry your son cub is dead.  I will go to the prison now, as that is the rightful place for me I believe.”  Nuru turned away from the camera he’d been staring into.

        “Stop, Nuru, please,” fleur begged, placing her paw on his.

       “Fleur,” Nuru mewed, “I killed your cub, and how can you bear to see me now, let alone talk to me?”

       “Leo broke the rules of the pride,” fleur mewed, “he forgot we always look after the cubs,” fleur said, “Nuru, you did not kill Leo, he killed himself.  He ignored warnings, signs, events that would have told him what the truth was.  Leo absolutely refused to consider what you’d done to change your ways.  Now he is dead, dead because he crossed a force that was greater than him, a force that had conviction which he did not.  You completely, absolutely and totally love your cubs, he had doubts.”

      “But why didn’t you or Samson come to rescue your cub?”  Nuru asked.

       “Because we’d tried before this,” fleur replied, “Samson and I had tried talking to Leo, telling him he was going to die if he carried on the way he was going.  Samson told him he would die if he crossed paws with you Nuru.  Leo didn’t listen; he didn’t think before he stomped all over the cubs with his rubbish talk.  Now he is dead, and I am sorry for it.”

       “I didn’t want to kill him fleur,” Nuru sniffed.

     “I know,” fleur replied, kissing Nuru’s wet nose, “I know you didn’t.”

       “He went for little Tess,” Androcles said disbelievingly, “Leo went for a cub he said he loved!  He wanted to kill her!”

      “I know,” Samson mewed, padding in, tears rolling down his face, “I know he did, I saw him, I saw my son attack his cub!”  Samson looked at Nuru through his tears.

       “Say nothing Nuru,” he said, “for there’s no fault here, none that can be punished any more.  Leo’s hatred for you Nuru has finally done what was predicted.  It has destroyed him.  Nuru, go in peace and love your cubs.”  Samson kissed Nuru’s nose and stepped aside.  Fleur released Nuru’s paw and the lion left the lie up, his paws as heavy as lead.

 

Padding up to his lie up, Nuru realised his paws were numb; he could no longer feel the carpet beneath his pads.

       “I killed Leo,” he thought miserably, “I didn’t mean to, but who will believe me?  Samson seems to, as does Fleur, but is this just the shock of losing their cub which makes them shy away from confronting me?  Fleur’s paw didn’t tell me she was secretly angry, but is she?  I need help!  I need to understand what just happened to me!”  Nuru walked unsteadily into his lie up, his eyes unfocused.  Indeed, if a paw hadn’t stopped him, he would have walked straight into Tigress Tess, little Tess and Rowena.

       “Nuru,” Rowena said gently, “remember me?”  Nuru looked sightlessly at the white lioness.

       “Rowena,” he said flatly, “my dear friend, I’ve just done something awful.”

       “What happened is not your fault, and noone blames you for it,” Rowena mewed, “Leo went for your cub and you defended that cub to the death.  You cannot be punished for doing your rightful and lawful pride duty.  Please Nuru, let me take you through events one more time so you may see the true sequence.  Please, settle down here.”  Rowena patted the rug with her paw, Nuru flopping down as if his paws could no longer support him.

        “Listen,” Rowena said, beginning to tell Nuru the story of Leo and tigress Tess.  She spoke as if to a cub, gentle and soothing, but missing nothing out.  She spoke of Nuru’s faults, and how he’d tried to rectify them, and of Leo’s goodness and how he’d destroyed his own mind and tried to destroy those of his adopted cubs.  She spoke of Nuru’s love for his cubs, which everyone felt, from the cubs themselves to the people around Nuru.”

      “I want you to see the births of your cubs,” Rowena mewed, “so you can see how Little Tess and Leo came into the world.”  Nuru watched as tigress Tess padded over to a screen and pressed a button with her paw.  They then watched the video, which took most of the morning and some of the afternoon.  Once it was over, Nuru was calmer, having heard Rowena’s tale about Leo and come to terms with his part in it.

      “You restored the order of the pride,” Rowena mewed, “Tigress Tess wants a pride, for she wants a family.  Now she has that, as do her cubs.”

      “I will never hurt tigress Tess again,” Nuru mewed, “I am eternally sorry for what I did in her enclosure in the safari park.”  Nuru felt his right forepaw taken in tigress Tess’s forepaws, cool, soft paws they were.  Then he felt her kiss his nose.

      “I’m sorry Tess,” Nuru mewed.

      “It’s all done now,” she mewed, “let it go, but promise me you’ll love the cubs as much as I do.”  Nuru sighed deeply, and said nothing as little Tess cuddled up to him, for there was nothing to be said.

       “I can’t stand those who lie,” tigress Tess said, “I would much rather have cubs with a lion who was honest than a cross bred cat who said he loved the cubs and didn’t truly love them.

      “I will court my own kind, but gently this time,” Nuru said, “I will not ravage tigresses or lionesses any more.”

      “I know this,” Tigress Tess said.  Androcles padded into the lie up, smiled at Nuru and settled down beside him.  Tigress Tess also watched Androcles arrival.  Nuru knew what was going through her mind.  With little Tess and Little Leo now coming off her milk, she was open to the advances of a male, and set her eyes on Androcles.  Tigress Tess had not completely wasted her time with Leo, sizing up body shapes and paws, realising she liked big males.  She could give birth to ligers easily enough, and her white coat worked well with a lion’s darker fur.  Tess was one tigress who loved a lion rather than her own kind.

       “You like Androcles?”  Nuru mewed.  Tigress Tess smiled.

      “I think I do,” she mewed.  Androcles looked scared!

       “But, but I’m only a cub!”  Androcles protested.

      “I won’t force you,” Tess said, “but I know you could love cubs as much as Nuru does.  But if you don’t want to mate with me,” her eyes slid towards Nuru.

      “After all I did to you, after all that?”  He asked.  Tigress Tess took Nuru’s paw.

     “Nuru, you could not now do what you did then.  Here is a different place, a different time.  The stress is off us all.  We are different now.  You and me.  I’ve changed, and so have you.”  Nuru looked at Tigress Tess, taking her in from nose to paw pads; tigress Tess even showed him the soles of all four paws, rolling onto her side, then her back to show him everything.  Nuru, in a fit of mischief, tickled tigress Tess’s paws and belly, the tigress laughing helplessly.

       “You have changed Nuru, you have changed!”  She mewed.  Nuru kissed her nose.

 

Meanwhile, in fleur and Samson’s lie up, fleur lay curled in a miserable heap.  Since Leo’s death only two hours before, she’d been thinking about him and about his life.  Where had he gone wrong?  Then she knew what must have started it, her lack of love for him when he was born.  Noone could forget that.  Leo was scarred even before he’d set paw from the bathroom where he was born.  Fleur knew why she’d hated Leo, because she hated herself and didn’t want to bring a cub into the world that looked remotely like she did.  Samson felt his mate’s thoughts and didn’t know what to suggest to her.

      “I don’t know if I can carry on after this Sammy,” Fleur mewed, “I killed my own cub’s mind.  He hated himself because I hated him due to me hating myself.  I don’t have peace in my mind Samson, I hate my paws, and I hate my fur and my tail.  But others, like Androcles, love my fur, paws and tail.”

      “Fleur, dear sweet Fleur,” Samson said, “You give love to so many, including me.  Everyone loves you dearly.”  Fleur wiped her eyes with her paw.

      “I must talk to Simba,” fleur mewed, “for it was he who made sure I didn’t abort Leo.  Was he wrong?”

 

Indeed, Simba, in his lie up, was thinking about Leo.  He’d seen the fight, and had been considering what caused Leo to go wrong.  Simba realised he could not have predicted Leo’s future, and left it at that.  His main concern was now fleur, making her feel loved and wanted.  Padding to Samson and Fleur’s lie up, Simba found Fleur and Samson curled up together.

      “Fleur,” Simba said, “please let everything out.  Don’t bottle your feelings up.”  Fleur told Simba everything.

       “Leo was weaned by you, he was an independent cat.  Now you must let him take the blame for his own actions.  He, not you went for little Tess rather than going for Nuru himself.  Now if Leo had attacked Nuru, he would have not been killed, maybe only beaten up.  He made the fatal mistake though, and paid for it.”  Fleur looked into Simba’s eyes, and then touched his paw.

       “Fleur,” Simba said, “we love you, and we love your mind, your body, and your work.  You are loved here, Androcles and Nuru, our newest community members are crazy about you.”  Fleur knew this and could feel it in the touch of her paw on that of her deputy leader.

      “What do your paws want to do now?”  Simba asked fleur.

      “I want to hug someone,” fleur mewed, “my paws want it so much!”

       “I’d like a hug,” Roxanne said, padding into the lie up.  Fleur smiled and embraced the bear cub tightly.

      “This feels great!”   Roxanne enthused, Fleur purring deeply.

      “It is wonderful,” fleur mewed.  Roxanne rubbed her head against Fleur’s, then took one of the big cat’s huge forepaws and rubbed her pads and toes.

      “Your paws are cold fleur,” Roxanne said.  Fleur knew this, her pads were freezing.

        “I’m a little unwell,” fleur said, “after all this stress and worry about Leo.  It doesn’t do me any good.”  Fleur examined Roxanne’s left forepaw, taking in five toes with one black pad on each, and a large pad on the sole of her paw.  Fleur kissed Roxanne’s paw pads, the bear cub laughing merrily.  Fleur’s resolve came flooding back to her.  She knew her place was not with Leo, but with her community, her pride.  Fleur kissed Roxanne, Samson and Simba.

      “I need a bath,” she mewed, “anyone joining me?”  Fleur, Samson, Roxanne and Simba trooped out of the lie up.  Fleur and her group padded to the bathroom, where they found Nanuq and Brunetta in the pool stroking each other’s hind paws.  Nanuq and his mate were taking turns massaging each other’s paws, as fleur and her group watched, Brunetta sitting paw to paw took Nanuq’s left hind paw and rested the heel of his paw on the top of her leg, then began to massage his pads and toes with both her forepaws.  Nanuq smiled and lent over to stroke Brunetta’s nose with his forepaw.  Both bears smiled, then, the massage of Nanuq’s right hind paw over, Brunetta transferred her attention to his left hind paw, resting the heel of that paw on her right hind leg before continuing to massage pads and toes.  Nanuq watched this through half closed eyes.

       “I’ve never seen a bear stroking another bear’s hind paws,” Samson said.  Roxanne looked at him:

      “We do it all the time, my, my mum used to stroke my paws and me stroke hers in the way you see Brunetta and Nanuq doing.”  Samson hugged Roxanne hard.

       “Do you want some of that?”  He asked, “For you need a bear, not a lion my dear.”  Roxanne smiled and nodded.  Brunetta smiled at Roxanne and beckoned to her with her paw.

      “Come,” she said, and I and Nanuq will massage your paws.”  Roxanne joined the polar bear and brown bear in the water, and Nanuq and Brunetta took turns to hug her.

      “Can we adopt a third cub?”  Brunetta asked.  Nanuq smiled and nodded.

       “Let’s do just that,” he replied, kissing Roxanne’s nose.  Brunetta and Nanuq finished their massage, and then turned their attention to Roxanne, leading her from the water and padding away, their fur and paws still wet.  Drying their paws, Brunetta and Nanuq led Roxanne to their lie up.  Settling down, the adult bears began to stroke Roxanne’s fore and hind paws, the cub enjoying their attention.

       “This is wonderful,” Roxanne said dreamily as Nanuq massaged her right hind paw, stroking the pads on the sole of her paw.

        “I can feel you like it,” he replied, gently kissing the large sole pad on the paw he was stroking, much to Roxanne’s amusement.

       “Do you kiss the paws of all your cubs?”  Roxanne asked.  Nanuq smiled:

       “Those who will allow me to,” he replied, “my daughter cub won’t allow me or her mother to even touch her, but Nanuq junior, our son cub is very tactile.  He loves all the paw play and massage, though he’d hate me telling you this.”  Roxanne grinned:

      “Nice,” she said, as Nanuq’s forepaws embraced her left hind paw and began to stroke the pads.  Roxanne relaxed as Nanuq’s feelings were transmitted through his paw pads to her own and then to her brain.  She knew he loved her, every inch of her from nose to paw pads, and Roxanne needed this.  She wanted to be loved completely, just as she had been before her mother’s death.  Nanuq felt Roxanne’s emotions, and began playing with the toes on her left hind paw.

      “This feels great,” Roxanne said, curling her toes so they trapped Nanuq’s.  Nanuq playfully tugged at his paw, whimpering and struggling to free himself.  Roxanne smiled:

     “Got you now!”  She growled in mock fury.  Nanuq tugged harder, pretending his paw was caught and he couldn’t free it.  Snarling, he tugged and worried at his trapped paw, then, remembering the old trapped paw game, worked the toes of his free forepaw between the pads of his trapped forepaw and those of Roxanne’s left hind.  He gently began to massage the cub’s bunched paw pads, Roxanne relaxing her grip.

      “So you know that trick then,” Roxanne said.

      “I played all those games as a cub,” Nanuq replied.

      “And still do now,” Brunetta said laughing.  Nanuq grinned at her.  Roxanne and Nanuq played with each other’s paws for a while, and then Brunetta had her turn playing with Roxanne, the female brown bear tickling and stroking the cub’s pads and toes with gentle care.  Roxanne loved Brunetta’s attention, the cub finally cuddling up to her as she sat on the rug.  Brunetta, cradling Roxanne in a huge bear hug, looked the cub over, and then kissed the pads of her forepaws.

        “I love you my cub,” Brunetta said gently.  Roxanne smiled and pressed her hind paws hard against Brunetta’s belly.

      “Push with those paws little one,” Brunetta said, tensing her belly, Roxanne pressing hard with her hind paws.  Brunetta rocked Roxanne gently back and fourth, the cub soon falling asleep in the female brown bear’s warm hug.

       “She’s beautiful,” Nanuq said softly.  Brunetta had tears in her eyes as she looked down at Roxanne.

       “We need to be there for her Nanuq,” she said.

       “We will be Brunetta, we will be,” he replied earnestly.

        “Yes, we will be,” Brunetta said softly, kissing Roxanne’s nose.  Brunetta and Nanuq looked round as Nanuq junior padded into the lie up.

       “Who’s this?”  He asked, waving a huge paw at Roxanne.

       “We, we’ve adopted another cub,” Nanuq said softly, braced for an explosion from his son cub.

       “This one?”  Nanuq junior asked.

      “Yes, this one,” Brunetta replied, “her name’s Roxanne.”  Nanuq junior looked at Roxanne sleeping in his mother’s embrace and smiled broadly.

        “She’s lovely,” he said, “she’s the cub Nuru brought in from the cold isn’t she?”  Nanuq nodded.  Nanuq junior touched Roxanne’s nose with his.

        “Sleep well little Roxanne,” he said gently.

 

Meanwhile, Up in Nuru’s lie up, Tigress Tess and Nuru were lying together.  Paw in paw, they lay in silent companionship.

       “I’m still feeling bad for killing Leo,” Nuru mewed, “he didn’t have to die, he, he just pushed me beyond my limits!  Attacking a cub, what was he thinking?”  Tigress Tess looked into Nuru’s face.

       “I don’t know Nuru, I don’t know,” she replied, “but Leo’s death is not your fault, it was entirely his.”  Nuru rubbed his eyes with a paw.

        “I love my cubs,” he said, “and noone will threaten them unchallenged.”

       “So it should be,” Tigress Tess replied.

 

Meanwhile, in Honeyfur and Percy’s lie up, the two badgers lay together, paw in paw.  While Constance and Brock had been conservative badgers, Honeyfur wasn’t, and dragged conservative Percy out of his shell.  They’d spent a lot of time playing with each other’s paws, play fighting and eventually mating.  Now they lay together, each contented with their lot.

 

Meanwhile, back in Nanuq and Brunetta’s lie up, Nanuq junior and Roxanne, who’d woken, played with each other’s paws, Nanuq junior letting Roxanne take his hind paws in her forepaws and explore them.  Resting the heel of his right hind paw on Roxanne’s left hind leg, the cub sitting directly opposite him, Nanuq junior closed his eyes, concentrating on the touch of the younger cub’s paw on the pads of his own paw.

       “I love doing this,”  Roxanne said, “I love it because I can feel you are enjoying it too.  I love handling the paws of other bears too, and this is amazing for me.

        “I can’t describe what I’m feeling,” Nanuq junior replied.

       “This is only half the massage,” Roxanne said, “There’s another paw for me yet to explore.”  Nanuq smiled, though Roxanne didn’t see it, for she had her eyes closed in concentration.

      “Don’t concentrate too hard my dear,” Nanuq junior said, “let your paws guide themselves.”  Roxanne smiled and moved her right forepaw to the toes of Nanuq junior’s right hind paw.

      “I love your pads and toes Nanuq junior,” Roxanne said.  Nanuq smiled.

      “I love them too,” he replied, “I massage my own paws often.  I take my left hind paw in my left fore, then massage my pads and toes with my right fore.”

      “Sounds lovely,” Roxanne replied, “I also have played with my hind paws, not for ages though, maybe I’ll take it up again.”  Roxanne transferred her attention to Nanuq junior’s left hind paw, resting his heel on her right hind leg before taking it in her forepaws.  Nanuq junior smiled and curled the toes of his left hind paw, feeling them gripping the smaller toes of Roxanne’s forepaws.  Roxanne squealed with surprise and tugged at her trapped paws.

      “Let go of my paws!”  She wailed.  Nanuq junior gently massaged the cub’s toes, Roxanne smiling as she realised his intentions.

      “”that feels great,” Roxanne said.  Nanuq junior smiled and let go of her paws.

       “Can I massage your hind paws now?”  He asked.  Roxanne smiled and settled back to enjoy Nanuq junior’s massaged.

       “Your paws are huge compared to mine!”  Roxanne exclaimed.  Nanuq junior smiled and kissed her nose.

      “All the better for massaging your paws then,” he replied.  Roxanne pressed her paws into his, loving his attention.

       “You’ve got a friend there I think,” Brunetta said.  Roxanne smiled.

       “Yes he has,” Roxanne replied, “my paws like the messages from his paws very much, so I will follow their lead.”  Brunetta laughed merrily.

       “It’s like when I and older Nanuq got together, we let our paws be our guide, and that worked.”  Older Nanuq smiled and embraced his mate tenderly.

       “I think this has worked out well,” Nanuq said, “Roxanne seems to like our family and that’s great.”  Brunetta watched her son and adopted daughter cub playing with each other’s hind paws.

       “Just their minds and their paws,” Brunetta mused, “that’s all they need for a good time Nanuq.”  Nanuq smiled.

       “We were like they are,” he reminded her, “we spent hours just playing with each other’s hind paws.”  Brunetta had forgotten their courtship, it being pushed to the back of her mind.  Now she kicked herself for forgetting it.

      “I remember,” she said, but Nanuq knew she’d had to think hard to drag the memories back.

        “Are you bored?”  |Nanuq asked.  Brunetta knew what he meant.

       “No Nanuq, no!”  She protested, “I, well, I suppose, unlike you, I have always been secure here.  You weren’t, having to fight for mates, where I could just look about me without fear of being killed.  I’ve got lazy about expressing my love for you.  Me who likes being so tactile it am untrue, forgetting to be tactile with my mate.  You have no problems with it though, for you are tactile with Nanuq junior, and the bond between you is strong, very strong, sometimes,” her voice trailed away.

       “Sometimes you think you are not doing enough to warrant my staying with you?”  Nanuq replied.  Brunetta hid her eyes with a paw.

       “I’ve become comfortable, complacent, fat and lazy,” she replied.  Nanuq took hold of the paw covering Brunetta’s eyes and gently pulled it away.  He saw into the eyes of a terrified bear.

        “Come,” Nanuq said to his mate, “let’s talk somewhere else, if you will come with me.”  Brunetta looked into his face, then closed her eyes and took his paw.

       “I will come with you,” she replied, “I will tell you everything.”  Nanuq told Nanuq junior they would be back in a while, and then led Brunetta into the wood.  In a clearing, the two bears sat down opposite each other.  Taking Brunetta’s right hind paw in his forepaws and resting the heel of her paw on his left hind leg in the old bear ritual of stroking hind paws while talking over great matters, Nanuq began to massage Brunetta’s right hind paw.

        “It’s like this,” Brunetta said, the paw massage soothing her, “I’ve got caught up with my work since the births of our cubs, either defence training or food preparation, then the medical stuff, and been shattered at the end of the day.  You’ve been busy too, security and whatnot.  Now, Nanuq, I went to cubs for my paw massage and play, for they saw me on a daily basis and wanted to play with my paws, which I was happy with them doing.  I was so exhausted at the end of a day that I would crash out in our den and not make time for us.  I feel bad about that, and it was the paw play in the bathtub that crystallised my feelings.  You were so gentle, so in need of time with me, I could feel it in your touch, but you said nothing.”

        “We have to snatch our time when we can Brunetta dear,” Nanuq replied, stroking the toes of her right hind paw.

       “Then, then I saw how you and Nanuq junior played, it was natural, unforced play, both of you revelling in it.  I contrasted that with little Brunetta, who hates anyone touching her paws, and knew I didn’t want to become like her.  I was getting my paw contact, but not with the right people.  Sure, getting in with the cubs and playing with them, letting them stroke my paws and me stroking their’s is fine, but I wasn’t playing with the paws I should have made regular time to make contact with.  Those paws should belong to you and to Nanuq junior.  I’m just sorry I haven’t been making an effort recently.”  Nanuq, now stroking the sole pad of Brunetta’s left hind paw, looked into his mate’s eyes, though he knew her words were sincerely felt.

        “I’ve been longing to play silly paw touching games with you for a long time,” he said, “but we never have the time Brunetta.  Promise me this, that you will stop me at any time of the day or night, within reason, and ask me to play with you?”  Brunetta smiled:

        “Please Nanuq, would you do the same for me?”  She asked.  Nanuq let go of her left hind paw, giving Brunetta his right hind.  Resting it on her leg, she held his hind paw in her forepaws, while they pressed the pads of their free hind paws together.

       “I will,” Nanuq replied, as Brunetta embraced and stroked his right hind paw, massaging his toes and stroking the large black sole pad on the underside of his paw.

       “Let’s go on from here then,” Brunetta said.  Nanuq smiled.

      “Yes let’s,” he replied.  Brunetta released Nanuq’s hind paw and kissed his nose.  The two bears returned to the house, their resolve hardening.  Padding into the main part of the room, Nanuq led Brunetta back to the lie up.  He smiled as he saw his cubs playing together.  Roxanne was playing with Nanuq junior’s hind paws, the two bears enjoying each others company.

       “Two cubs following their paws,” Brunetta remarked.

      “Yes mum,” both cubs replied.  Brunetta smiled at their words.

 

“Um, ah, could someone, um, help me please?”  A voice asked.  Brunetta and Nanuq turned to see a huge grizzly bear standing awkwardly behind them, shifting her weight from paw to paw.

       “Who are you, and what do you want?”  Nanuq snapped.

      “Nanuq!”  Brunetta growled, “That’s not very nice.  She’s no threat to us, anyone can see it,” she slapped him with an irritable paw,   what’s your name my dear?”  She asked, turning to the newcomer.

      “My name, its Kamchatka,” the female bear replied.  Brunetta noticed this bear had a strange accent, very thick and totally unlike any she’d heard before.

       “Where do you come from?”  Brunetta asked.

       “I am Russian, from Kamchatka peninsular, that is why I’m named Kamchatka,” the newcomer replied.

        “But how did you end up here?”  Nanuq asked.  The female grizzly bear sat down and rubbed her nose with her left forepaw.

       “She’s got big hind paws,” Brunetta thought, “and smaller fore, she’s big and fat too.”

      “I come to England on a train, then get on lorry to place where other Lorries are, then, I run like hell.”  Kamchatka replied.

      “You are an illegal immigrant?”  Nanuq asked.

       “No, I don’t think so,” the huge grizzly bear replied, “I’m able to be here.  I am not in trouble.  I came here, because, because I got in cub to a polar bear, and I had my cub in the woods round here.  When my cub was big enough to get to his paws and run, I took him from the den, then, then hid him near here.  This was yesterday.  I heard a big lion complaining he could not get to me once.  He was out with a tiger.  The lion looked angry and very bitter.  The tiger had the lion’s paw tied to him by a length of rope.

       “Aslan and Hop along,” Nanuq said.

      “Yes, the lion was called Aslan,” Kamchatka replied, “the tiger told him to shut up and then hit him.  The lion was most angry, but could do nothing to the tiger.  I know lions and tigers, for I was in park in Kamchatka, where bears roamed free, but tigers and lions were caged.  I had tiger friend there.  I came here because curious me got on a train and fell asleep.  Before I knew where I was I was over the water in England.  Now I’m here.  I heard of this place from a lioness that was resting nearby here.  I told her I was in cub, and she said that I could have the cub in the wood and then go to the community, as she called it.  So I’m here, but my cub’s hidden, and I’m not telling you where.”

       “Allie knows where,” Nanuq grunted.

      “Who knows where my cub is?  Who is Allie?”  Kamchatka asked.

      “Stop being so rude Nanuq,” Brunetta said crossly, “Kamchatka, I’m sorry.  Allie is a polar bear, a female.  She’ll look after your cub; she can see where he is.  She won’t let Aslan anywhere near him.”

 

Indeed, Allie was watching a very frightened polar bear cub cowering in the bushes where his mother had left him.

       “You are so cute little one,” she thought as the cub curled up under the bush to sleep, “I’ll get your mum out to you as soon as I can.”

 

 

Kamchatka began nervously chewing the claws on her right forepaw while fingering the toes of her left hind paw with her left fore.

        “I want to go back to my cub now,” she said round the paw in her mouth.

      “Stop biting your claws!”  Nanuq snapped, “It’s dreadful!”  Kamchatka took her paw out of her mouth and rested it on her chest, feeling her heart pounding.  She could feel the sweat on her paw pads as she waited for instant violence from these bears.

      “We won’t hurt you,” Brunetta said, recognising Kamchatka’s distress.

       “I will talk to our leaders, then, then you might be able to stay here with your cub.”  There was a sudden commotion by the back door, a squealing, roaring sound and protestations of peaceful intent.

      “Look, I won’t harm you!”  Simba yelled, as he was violently attacked by a polar bear cub, “I want to help!”  Kamchatka leapt to her paws and ran snarling and roaring towards the sound, snatching her cub from Simba.

       “What are you doing with my cub?”  She demanded, whacking the lion with her paw.  Simba looked shocked and dropped the cub he’d been carrying in his mouth.

      “I was trying to help your cub,” Simba mewed, “I found him in a bush!  Please, please, you’ve got to believe me!”  It was plain to Nanuq junior and Roxanne who’d, left the lie up and run down the passage after Kamchatka, that Simba was scared of the huge Russian grizzly.

        “I hid my cub, now cats find him and dig him up like food?”  Kamchatka snapped.

      “I wanted to help, I really wanted to help!”  Simba mewed, almost crying, “He was lost, and I wanted to give him a home! Please, just, just let me go back to my lie up!”

       “Are you scared of her Simba?”  Nanuq junior asked.  Simba didn’t reply, for he didn’t have to.

      “A lion scared of a bear,” Roxanne mused, “whatever next?”

       “I’m sorry,” Simba gasped, running past Kamchatka and bolting for safety.

       “How can he, the king of beasts be scared of little old me?”  The female grizzly bear asked, “I’m gentle really.  My favourite pass time is playing with my hind paws, I love it!  Now that’s not the mark of an angry fury is it?”  Brunetta smiled, touching the newcomer’s back with her paw.

      “I’m sure you are not aggressive,” Brunetta said, “but we must get you and your cub to Samson who can speak to you.  You’ve already scared off the deputy leader.”

        “I’m sorry for scaring him, but I did nothing,” Kamchatka said, “now I will be hurt for scaring the deputy leader?”

     “No you won’t,” Samson replied, padding up to Kamchatka.  He’d seen all from his lie up, for Allie had made the goings on in the passage front page news, “you have nothing to fear from us.  Come into my lie up and we will talk.”  He looked at the cub, “and bring, um, your cub, I don’t know his name, with you.”

       “His name is Boris,” Kamchatka replied, “he’s coming with me all right.”  With that she picked up the cub which had stopped squealing, and followed Samson to his lie up.

       “Now Kamchatka my dear,” Samson said settling down on his rug and licking his paws.  Kamchatka told Samson the same tale she’d told Brunetta and Nanuq.

      “We saw you in the wood, we saw you have your cub in the wood, we knew you were there,” Samson replied, “we kept paws off though.  I know you came here about four months ago, but we left you alone.  Now I’m glad to welcome you here.  Kamchatka, and your cub, you are free to stay here.  Please make yourself at home.”  Kamchatka sighed deeply, all tension leaving her.

       “You don’t mind if I like playing with the toes of my hind paws, rolling on the ground, or playing like a cub?”  She asked.  Samson smiled:

      “I’d love for you to do all that for as long as you want to,” he mewed.  Kamchatka grinned, sitting down beside Samson.

       “You’ve got big hind paws,” Samson said.  Kamchatka smiled:

      “I have had large hind paws ever since I was a cub,” she replied.  Samson touched the pads of Kamchatka’s right hind paw, the bear smiling broadly and curling her toes, the sole pad Samson was touching bunching.  Samson grinned.

      “I feel you like bears,” Kamchatka said, “Do you want to stroke my paws?”  Samson withdrew his paw, suddenly nervous.

     “Well, um, yes, please,” he gabbled.  Fleur, padding into the lie up, laughed at her mate’s hesitation.

      “He’d very much like to spend ages stroking your paws my dear,” fleur mewed.  Kamchatka looked at Samson’s face and laughed at his expression.

        “You two know me too well!”  He wined.

      “Love my paws Samson,” Kamchatka replied, “for I love them.”  Samson watched as Kamchatka settled her cub and then crawled towards him.  She then sat down opposite him and gave him her hind paws to explore with his fore.  Samson began to stroke Kamchatka’s paws.

      “I love these paws,” Samson mewed.  Kamchatka wiggled the toes of her right hind paw, Samson stroking the sole pad of her paw, then blowing on her toes, Kamchatka laughing merrily.

      “That tickles!”  She laughed, “Do it again Samson, do it again!”  Samson blew on her toes once more, Kamchatka laughing helplessly.  Boris, Kamchatka’s cub, watched his mother and the lion playing together.  He thought nothing of this, his mum having born him in a wood far from their natural home.  What he could see and hear were unmistakable sounds of play and pleasure.  He knew his mum had huge hind paws compared to her fore, for he’d touched them often enough.  Boris loved his mum’s paws, for they were warm and, if he ignored her rough pads, soft too.  They also transmitted love to him, love he knew Kamchatka felt for him from her nose to her paw pads.  Boris padded over to where his mum and the large lion were playing.  Samson saw the cub coming and, rolling onto his side, he gathered Boris into a leonine hug.  Kamchatka smiled as she watched Samson and Boris.  Unlike Simba before him, Samson knew how to cuddle a cub, for he’d had a cub of his own.  Boris felt immediately safe and secure.  Snuggling up, the bear cub closed his eyes and relaxed.

 

Meanwhile, in his lie up, Simba watched the goings on in Samson’s lie up, for Allie was tracking Kamchatka and her cub with her cameras.  Simba could hardly believe what he was seeing!  His memory was of an angry cub, and a raging fury he now knew as a grizzly bear.  Mewing with fear, Simba licked his paws.

       “Simba?”  Someone asked.  Simba woke suddenly!

      “Ay? Um, what?”  He gabbled, blinking hard and rubbing his eyes with his paw.

      “Samson sent me here to make peace with you.”  Kamchatka replied.  Simba stared at her.  Kamchatka seemed even bigger now she was in the confines of his lie up.  Simba looked Kamchatka over, from her nose, to her huge hind paws.  Kamchatka smiled as she realised she was being examined.  She turned sideways on from her near head on position, then rear on, then she showed him her other side, before sitting down and, with a forepaw,  silently pointing out her nose, opening her mouth and pointing out her teeth, then her belly, then the pads and toes of her hind paws with her forepaws.  Smiling, she reached forward to Simba and took his left forepaw in hers, touching her nose with his paw.  Then she gently closed her teeth around the confused lion’s paw, holding it gently.  Simba smiled, and then Kamchatka released his paw, pointing to her hind paws.  Simba touched the pads of her left hind paw.

     “Go on,” she said, “touch my paws, hold them, and explore them.  Simba, as if in a dream, started to explore Kamchatka’s left hind paw with both his forepaws.  Kamchatka could feel Simba’s inherent gentility in the way he handled her paw.  She had no fear of him, but she knew why he’d feared her.  Curling the toes of the paw Simba was working on, Kamchatka played with the lion, catching his toes in hers and holding them.  Simba mewed and tugged at his trapped paw, Kamchatka smiling and releasing him.

       “My paws are a lot bigger than yours,” she remarked.  Simba smiled and kissed the toes of her left hind paw.  Kamchatka grinned, sat forward and bent her left hind leg, bringing her left hind paw closer to her body, Simba’s own forepaw still in contact with her pads.  Then, very gently, she brought her left forepaw down and covered Simba’s paw with it, pressing her pads against his paw, and his paw against the pads of her left hind paw.  Then, with Simba wide eyed, Kamchatka covered the toes of her left hind paw with those of her right fore, Simba’s toes, at the time she’d taken his paw against the bears toe pads, covered by Kamchatka’s right forepaw.  Simba smiled as he felt the pressure of the bear’s paws on his.

       “I love that,” he mewed.

     “Is there a place where I can swim near here?  A lake or something?”  Simba nodded.

      “We have a pool complex, I’ll show you.  Kamchatka, this feels amazing!”  The bear smiled Rubbing Simba’s forepaw with hers.

      “I like it too,” she replied.  Simba examined the sole pads of Kamchatka’s right hind paw, Kamchatka wiggling and curling the toes of that paw to make her pads bunch and stretch.  Simba smiled and kissed the sole pad of Kamchatka’s right hind paw.

       “You silly thing!”  The grizzly bear laughed.

       “I love these paws,” he mewed.  They were disturbed by Rowena laughing merrily.  Simba looked round.

       “You kissed that bear’s pads!”  Rowena guffawed.

      “How long have you been watching?”  Simba demanded.

       “Since Kamchatka took your paw in hers and held her hind paw all at once,” Rowena replied, “I’m silent on my paws you know.”  Simba looked embarrassed.

       “Look, I’m sorry for kissing her paw, okay?”  Rowena padded towards Simba and kissed his nose.

       “No problem here,” she replied, “if that’s what you two want to do.”  Simba and Kamchatka grinned.  Releasing his paw, Kamchatka followed Simba and Rowena to the pool complex where she stood on the edge of the pool, staring in amazement.

       “This is wonderful!”  She exclaimed.  Rowena then led Kamchatka and her cub Boris, who’d joined them with Samson and fleur, to the water slides.  Kamchatka stared, and then slid.  She screamed with delight as she shot down the open slide, splashing into the water.

      “She’s one happy bear!”  Samson remarked.  Fleur grinned at him.

 

Splashing down into the water, Kamchatka swam underwater to the side of the pool, her powerful legs and huge paws thrusting her body through the water.  Surfacing, she clambered out of the water.  Panting with excitement and eyes shining with delight, she padded to the lift and pressed the button.  Kamchatka then rode the lift, which she seemed to be comfortable doing, to the top of the slides.  Padding to the closed slide, she threw herself down it.  Five more times Kamchatka rode the slides, and then joined the others in the pool.  Splashing into the water, she smiled at Simba and ducked beneath the water, tickling the lion’s right hind paw.  Simba screeched with laughter and thrashed about.  Rowena, seeing what was happening beneath the water, applauded Kamchatka by roaring her approval.  Kamchatka’s mock attack on Simba’s hind paw lasted two minutes, by which time Simba was exhausted.  During this time, Kamchatka had put her nose up for air twice while tickling the lion’s paw.  Simba stared at Kamchatka, then swam to her and hugged her.

      “You great big rogue!”  He laughed, kissing her nose.  Kamchatka smiled and waded to the other end of the pool, where her cub and fleur were playing.

       “We’re fine here mum,” Boris said, not wanting his mother to break up his and Fleur’s fun.  Kamchatka looked at fleur, who nodded.

       “He’s no problem,” she said.  Kamchatka waded back to Simba’s end of the pool, Rowena stopping her.

       “I feel you would like your paws played with?”  The lioness asked.  Kamchatka smiled:

       “I don’t know how you know,” she replied, “but yes, I’d like that.”  Rowena looked at Allie, who’d padded into the complex and stood watching them for some time.

      “”This is Allie, head of our camera team,” Rowena said to Kamchatka, waving her paw at the large female polar bear.  Allie smiled and padded close to the edge of the pool, Kamchatka watching her every move, from the way her eyes moved, to how her paws carried her across the tiles.

        “Have you something on your mind my dear?”  Allie asked.  Kamchatka left the water and looked at the female polar bear.

       “I would like to share something with you, and I don’t know why you specifically.  Allie, I don’t know you, but I feel, well, that you know me very well, and that it’s thanks to you that I was able to give birth to, and rear my cub in peace.”

      “Thanks maybe to me and my team,” Allie replied, “but we were just doing our job.”

        “I, I would like to share the birth of my cub with you.  For I know your cub, younger Arki.  She and I met up just before the birth of my cub.  She told me about you, and of her long birth.  Boris’s birth wasn’t half so long, but your cub taught me how to stroke my hind paws to help me through contractions.  I knew how to stroke my hind paws before this, but not like that.  I thank you both.”  Allie smiled and touched Kamchatka’s right forepaw with her left.

       “Did my cub tell you of the video made of her birth?”  Allie asked.  Kamchatka shook her head.

       “There was one,” Allie replied, “I could show you it,”

      ?”But you’d like your paws massaged first?”  Kamchatka asked.  Allie looked relieved and nodded.

       “Rowena knows we both want to play with each other’s paws,” Allie stated.  Kamchatka grinned.

      “Where is a place where we can sit down and massage each other’s hind paws?”  She asked.  Allie smiled and guided the female grizzly bear to the spar pool where they sat on the bottom of the pool, in a place where the water just covered the toes of their hind paws when they were sitting with their legs out in front of them.  Allie took hold of Kamchatka’s right hind paw and rested her heel on her left hind leg.  Kamchatka smiled as she felt the female polar bear’s intentions.  Kamchatka relaxed her right hind paw, her toes curling slightly.  Allie massaged the pads and toes of the grizzly bear’s paw, Kamchatka smiling broadly.

       “I love this,” she said, “but on with the discussion of my cubbing.  I want to describe the cubbing, would you mind that?”  Allie smiled:

     “No,” she replied.  Kamchatka sighed deeply.

       “Labour was about an hour long, with heavy contractions from the outset.  I fear I made a lot of noise, wriggling and pawing at my belly and grabbing hold of my paws and squeezing my toes and pads in an attempt to ease my pain.  I screamed and groaned too, making too much noise really, but it was painful!”  Allie listened, gently massaging the sole pad of Kamchatka’s right hind paw.

        “I know how it feels,” Allie said gently.

      “I pushed hard sometimes, and nothing seemed to happen,” Kamchatka said, “but then another push and I would feel my cub coming closer to the outside.  I gave birth leaning back in a sitting position, my fore and hind paws clenched and eyes closed, so I didn’t see the cub emerging, though I caught him half way out and pushed down hard to deliver his hind legs and paws.  My paws were slippery with sweat and I could hardly hold onto little Boris.  Plus I was in pain and frightened.  Now though, it’s okay.  I can talk about my cubbing.”

       Mine was longer, much longer,” Allie replied, transferring her attention to Kamchatka’s left hind paw.  Kamchatka smiled:

       “The birth of your cub is known throughout the area,” she said, “younger Arki’s birth story is well known.”  Allie smiled.

      “It was painful, stressful, but in the end lovely,” she replied.  Kamchatka gently removed her left hind paw from Allie’s forepaws and the bears swapped roles, Kamchatka taking hold of Allie’s left hind paw, resting the heel of her paw on her right hind leg, then massaging the polar bear’s pads and toes.  Allie smiled as she felt Kamchatka’s roughened pads against her own.

      “You are so gentle,” Allie said.  Kamchatka gently embraced the paw she held, Allie smiling.

       “I feel paw contact is very important to you,” Kamchatka said.  Allie smiled and curled the toes of her free right hind paw round those of Kamchatka’s left hind squeezing them tenderly.  She then pressed her pads hard against those of the grizzly bear’s right hind paw.  Kamchatka smiled broadly.

       “I thought so,” she said.  Allie leant forward and kissed Kamchatka’s nose.

       “I love paw contact,” she said softly.

      “I would like to teach my cub the art of good massage,” Kamchatka said, “Though I crushed my paws during my labour, I didn’t massage them much.  They were painful and bruised afterwards.”

     “I crushed the toes of my hind paws with my forepaws too,” Allie admitted, “they hurt like hell for ages.”  Kamchatka examined Allie’s right hind paw with hers, Allie remembering the pain of labour and her adult on her own hind paws in an attempt to soothe her pain when her massage no longer worked well.

      “I know your story Allie,” Kamchatka said, “but I would like to finish massaging your paws.”  Allie smiled and wiggled the toes of the paw Kamchatka held in hers.

     “Go on, for as long as you want to as well,” Allie replied, “my paws are yours.”  Kamchatka smiled, embracing Allie’s paw tightly, the polar bear pushing her pads into Kamchatka’s embrace.

     “Let’s go from here,” Allie said, withdrawing her paw.  Kamchatka smiled and followed Allie from the water.  Kamchatka smiled at Allie and lifted one of her hind [paws, Allie lifting one of her forepaws and tickling the grizzly bear’s toes.  Kamchatka laughed and curled her toes, catching Allie’s paw.  Allie kissed the pads of the hind paw holding her forepaw and Kamchatka let go.

       “Soppy you are Allie,” she said.  Allie smiled and blew on the sole pad of the grizzly bear’s raised paw.  Kamchatka laughed helplessly.

       “Hey, want some of that!”  Boris yelled, running towards his mother.  Kamchatka stopped him with one massive paw.

        “I and Allie were playing together,” she said, “It was adult time.  You have to learn to play with cubs first.”  Boris looked downcast.

      “But there are no cubs here!”  He complained.

       “There might not be bear cubs, but there are tiger and liger cubs,” Allie replied.  As she spoke, young Leo and young Tess, closely followed by Swarupa and Sushanti came running towards them.

       “Now go play with them,” Allie said to Boris, Kamchatka pushing her cub away with her paw.  Boris looked at the big cat cubs.  He knew what they were, for his mum had told him tales of her life before his birth.  Padding towards the big cat cubs, Boris were soon among them and playing with them.  Kamchatka watched her cub with shining eyes.

      “This is time for you to do what you want to do,” Allie said to the grizzly bear.  Kamchatka smiled and padded towards the slope up to the top of the slides.  Padding up the slope, Kamchatka found her way to the closed slide and waiting for the bell, threw herself down it.  Speeding towards the end of the slide, Kamchatka screamed with delight.  Ending the slide with a customary splash, Kamchatka levered herself from the bottom of the slide.  Padding damply from the slide exit, Kamchatka smiled at Simba and Rowena, who were just about to go up the slope to the slide.  Padding to the main pool, Kamchatka slipped into the water.  Swimming powerfully towards the other side of the pool, Kamchatka smiled as she left the pool.  Smiling to herself, she bounced on her toes as she walked, enjoying the feel of the tiles beneath her paws.

 

Returning to the main pool, Kamchatka found the half crazed lion she’d first seen in the wood, now  talking awkwardly with another younger looking lion, overseen by a third older lion, who seemed to be related to the crazed lion.

       “All right,” the crazed lion was saying, “Androcles, I’m sorry for leaping on top of you and nearly drowning you.  I thought you were a threat!”

       “Allie told you I wasn’t a threat!”  The lion named Androcles protested, “I heard her yelling at you through those speaker things.  You are a stupid heavy pawed maniac Aslan!”  Kamchatka wondered if Aslan would attack the lion named Androcles, but he didn’t, instead, he just stared down at his paws.

      “I am heavy pawed,” the lion admitted, “and I’m sorry for what I did.”

     “I think that’s good enough,” Theo said, “Aslan, you are my cub, but you are a stupid cub too.  I thought I’d brought you up to be kind, gentle and thoughtful, you always used to be.  Now it seems power has gone to your head.”  Aslan could not look his sire in the eye.  Instead he turned and padded away.

 

“Don’t I know you from somewhere?”  Aslan asked, going to Kamchatka.  Kamchatka looked confused.

       “Maybe,” she said, “but I don’t think we ever met.  You might have seen me in the wood?”  Aslan sighed heavily, his mind going back to an argument he’d had with hop along a month or so previously.

       “Yes,” he said, “I saw you in the wood.  And I suppose you saw me too.”

      “You were having a disagreement with a tiger,” Kamchatka said.  Aslan snorted:

      “Mind your own bloody business!”  He snapped.

       “Now that’s uncalled for,” Kamchatka replied, “I didn’t ask anything more did me?”  Aslan turned and left, anger vibrating in every movement.

       “I’m sorry,” Theo said, padding up to Kamchatka, “my Son’s a little angry at the moment.”

       “That’s an understatement if ever I heard one,” Kamchatka replied.

       “He got rather heavy pawed with Androcles, and now he’s paying for it,” Theo replied, “Aslan, well,” Kamchatka could see deep sadness in the lion’s eyes, indeed, he looked as if he were about to cry.

          “Aslan, he used to be gentle and loving, but now, now, he’s not.  He won’t listen, goes his own way, and screws everything up.”  Kamchatka touched the lion’s paw.

       “I don’t wish to pry into your family business,” she said gently.

       “It’s hardly private,” Theo sniffed, “Aslan’s misdeed was as public as one can get.”  Theo poured out the whole sorry tale.

       “You seem a very well organised community,” Kamchatka replied, “and the security seems good too, but Aslan went too far?”  Kamchatka asked.

       “Far too far,” Theo replied miserably.  It seemed to Kamchatka that the lion before her was more upset than he wanted to let on.  It seemed his son’s behaviour had affected him deeply.

       “You were leader here once,” Kamchatka speculated.  The lion swallowed hard, fighting for control over his emotions.

        “Yup,” Theo said hoarsely, and my cub saw me at that job too.  He was so gentle once, now though, now he’s gone mad with power.  The leadership almost destroyed me,” Theo said, “I had to give it up, for I couldn’t make choices that had to be made.”

      “Life and death choices,” Kamchatka said, understanding more every minute.  Theo looked down at his paws, much ashamed.

       “A lion not able to lead his pride,” Theo mewed, “can you imagine that?”

        “I have a feeling you came to the leadership without intention,” Kamchatka replied.  Theo nodded.

       “I deposed my own brother,” he replied, “we fought over a lioness and cubs I’d adopted, and I beat him, though did not kill him.  I don’t know why I’m talking like this, for I don’t even know your name.”  Kamchatka was about to reply when Aslan, who’d been hiding and listening, sprinted out and leapt at Theo!

       “Stop talking about our family issues Theo!”  He yelled, trying to hurt his sire.  Kamchatka felt sudden anger and defended the lion that the crazed lion had attacked.  Kamchatka threw Aslan off Theo, using her hind paws to stamp on Aslan and fore to smack him round the head.  Aslan screamed with pain and fear as the grizzly bear went crazy!

 

Throwing Aslan into the pool, Kamchatka’s attack ended as quickly as it had begun.

       “Stop it, Kamchatka, stop it!”  Samson shouted, running into the complex.  Allie ran from the complex to look at the video, picking up a phone on route to contact Petra, to ask her to rewind the video.  Petra, so shocked by what she’d just seen, she could hardly move her paws to carry out the task, scrambled to comply.

 

“Aslan attacked Theo and the she bear defended Theo,” Androcles said to Samson, who watched Aslan floundering to the pool’s edge.

       “Someone get him out,” the lion leader snapped.  Simba leapt in and dragged Aslan, whose injuries were unknown, out of the water.  Meanwhile, on dry land, Kamchatka set to tending to Theo, who was uninjured, if a little shocked.  Theo submitted to Kamchatka’s probing paws, smiling as he felt her exploring him from nose to tail, something he’d wished a bear to do ever since he was a cub.

 

Up in the control room, Allie and Petra viewed the video, seeing the attack from start to finish.  Once they’d viewed the footage, copied it and stored it securely, they watched the goings on live in the pool complex.  Petra smiled as she saw Theo being rubbed down by Kamchatka.  Laughing merrily as she caught sight of her adopted sire’s face.

       “I think this is a dream come true for Theo,” Petra remarked to Allie, who smiled.

       “Theo only had to ask,” she replied.

      “He won’t, he’s too shy,” Petra replied.

       “Samson isn’t,” Allie replied.

      “Theo and Samson are two vastly different lions, even though they are close,” Petra reminded her friend.

 

Meanwhile, back in the pool complex, Samson had found Aslan and kicked the lion to his feet.  Driving him out of the complex, Samson bullied Aslan back to his lie up.

      “Be grateful you are not dead!”  Samson roared.  Aslan, sore from his nose to his toes mumbled that death would be preferable at that moment.  Kicking his paws from under him, Samson threw Aslan on the floor.  Aslan screamed with genuine pain, and then vomited blood.  Samson realised something was desperately wrong!

        “I can hardly breathe!”  Aslan gasped.  Samson knew what this meant; he’d seen this in the wild with prey animals when their ribs were crushed.

     Kamchatka must have run over Aslan like a steamroller!”  Samson thought, hardly noticing Theo entering the lie up and going to his injured son’s side.  Samson ran for fleur, but he knew in his heart nothing would save Aslan.

 

Theo lay beside his dying son cub, holding Aslan’s paw while the injured lion fought to breathe.  He knew as well as Samson what had happened, and that only the boss could help Aslan now.  Theo also knew though that Aslan had attacked him with intent.

      “I can’t feel my paws!”  Aslan gasped.  Theo hugged his cub tightly, knowing there was nothing he could or the Boss does now.

       “Just relax, you’ll be fine,” Theo said, hating himself for the lie he told.

         “I’m floating away,” Aslan mewed.  When fleur ran in twenty seconds later, it was all over.

        “He’s gone,” Theo mewed, tears rolling down his nose.  Fleur looked at Samson, who’d joined her.

       “I saw the footage,” she said, “who is reasonable for this?  Kamchatka or you.  Samson looked horrified!

        “I suppose, well, the fight with Kamchatka bust his ribs, but, but me knocking him to the floor caused him to die!”  Samson whimpered.  Fleur looked at her mate

 

Meanwhile, Kamchatka, Simba and the rest of the community watched the goings on in Aslan’s lie up.

       “I’ll be killed for this!”  Kamchatka wailed, “But I was only defending that lion!  To me the crazed lion looked murderous, so I stopped him.  Anyway, Aslan swam to the edge of the pool, so what I did to him can’t have been that bad.”

        “It looks to me as if you broke a rib and Samson’s indelicate handling of Aslan after the injury drove the sharp end into his lungs,” Brunetta said.  Kamchatka sat back, her paws sweating as much as they had during Boris’s birth.

        “Fleur’s going to go mad!”  Brunetta observed.

      “I don’t know how she’s going to find out what killed Aslan,” Rowena said.

      “I think I do,” Kodiak replied, “it’s not going to be pretty either.  They watched as Theo and Samson carried Aslan’s lifeless body to the garden, where Theo left, unable to watch the next bit.  Fleur walked back to the house, the cameras tracking her every move.  Soon enough, she was in the main room of the house.  It was then Allie cut the feed to the screens.  She didn’t want everyone seeing what was about to happen.

 

Theo entered the main room, hardly feeling the carpet beneath his paws.  Petra got up to go to her sire, but Rowena stopped her.

        “Leave him,” she said gently.  Theo collapsed in a corner, his whole body shaking.

        “I can’t cope with this,” he mewed so quietly hardly anyone heard him, “where did I go wrong?”  Then he screamed to the four winds, “Someone tells me where I went wrong!”  Petra could feel his disintegration, Rowena even more keenly than her.

        “Go and help him, oh spiritual one!”  Leona scoffed, nudging Rowena.

        “I will only go to him if he asks it of me,” Rowena said with gentle calm, while Petra’s eyes told Leona exactly what she wanted to do to her.

     “Leona,” Petra said softly, “you make one more comment like that, or set paw on Rowena one more time, you’ll be joining Aslan!  You know something else?  Your death won’t need investigation, for I’ll kill you in broad daylight!”  Leona squared up to Petra.

     “Go on, you couldn’t, you wouldn’t!”  She goaded.

       “Don’t tempt me,” Petra snarled.  Rowena watched Theo lying shivering and sobbing on the rug.  She knew he had to come to her; he had to ask her for help.  To force her own views on him would not be the right thing to do, no matter what her own feelings were.  Leona looked at Rowena.

      “Disgusting white scrap!”  She yelled, smacking Rowena about the head with her paw.  The air was suddenly rent by a roar of rage and Leona found herself pinned under what seemed to be a huge set of paws!

       “Now you’ve done it!”  Rani mewed, “you won’t be able to get out of this one Leona!”

        “You filthy animal!”  Petra roared, “You dared to lay paws on my cub?  I think you did!  You horrid beast!”  Leona looked up into the angry eyes of a lioness protecting her cub.  Leona had forgotten Petra’s adoption of Rowena as her own cub.

        “Spare me, have mercy on me!”  Leona begged.

       “She won’t,” Raja said, “you’ve lost all nine lives Leona, you’re dead!”

        “You are worthless Leona!”  Petra roared.  Leona looked up into the white lioness’s face.

       “If you are going to kill me, make it quick!”  She begged.

       “How dare you make fun of the spiritual side?”  Simba roared.  Leona screamed with terror!

      “No Simba,” Petra said gently, “this is my fight, not yours.”  With that she looked back down at Leona.

      “Give me one good reason why you should live?”  Petra asked.  Leona could not.  She had no cubs, no family at all now.  She’d alienated herself from Theo ages ago.  Before Leona could reply, Fleur padded in, whispered to Brunetta and led the bear out.  Leona watched all, and turned to Petra.

        “You know what she’s going to do don’t you,” the tawny lioness said, “Brunetta’s going to use her knives on Aslan.  She’s going to help Fleur.”  Petra closed her eyes, trying to block out images conjured up by Leona’s words.  As hard as Petra tried, she could not stop her mind from imagining, and what she saw shocked her so much she collapsed on top of Leona!  Petra saw a lion with his chest torn open, his head bloody and bruised.  Petra knew what this was, and she knew how it would end.  The lion, close to death, pleaded and begged her not to kill it.  Petra wept as she felt the uncontrolled anger of another flooding through her, ripping, tearing, and killing.  Petra heard someone screaming for help, for someone else to stop her from killing Leona. !  Petra came to her senses, her paws slippery with some kind of liquid.  Looking down, Petra found she’d killed Leona, and that the warm liquid on her paws was the tawny lioness’s blood.

       “Not again, please not again!”  Petra sobbed.

        “What on earth was all that about?”  Kamchatka asked.

       “Don’t ask,” Simba replied, dragging Petra away, “come on mum, let’s go.”

        “I wasn’t killing Leona, not Leona, not Leona,” Petra mumbled, her whole body shaking.

         “It’s going to be all right,” Simba said gently, but he knew he was talking rubbish, nothing would be all right.

      “You mean she was hallucinating?”  Kamchatka asked incredulously, “Petra thought she was killing someone else?”

         Kamchatka, don’t even attempt to ask questions,” Samson replied padding in, “for you will never understand.  None of us will.  Reality has just fused with Petra’s worst five minutes.”

      “But Petra can kill, she’s told Leona that already,” Kamchatka said, “so she carried out her threat.”

       Petra could never kill Leona,” Samson said, “She hasn’t got it in her.  Yes she talked tough, but she couldn’t do the deed.  It was someone else who killed Leona, another being not Petra.”

        “I heard of a lioness that was thought to be the incarnation of Eohippus on earth,” Kamchatka replied, “we bears all knows that tale.  Was, was Petra that lioness?”  Rowena nodded.

      “She broke away though, went her own way.  Now her worst nightmare, that of the last killing she performed, and the image of Aslan in the garden created by Leona has conspired to reform the nightmare.  Believe me; you don’t want to see what I just have,” Rowena said.

       “We all heard Leona begging for Petra not to kill her, to give her a chance, but Petra wouldn’t!”  Kamchatka replied.

        Petra couldn’t give Leona any chance;” Theo said wearily, “for it was not hers to give.  Eohippus killed Leona, using Petra’s mental distress as cover.”

       “You, you mean, eohippus made Petra’s paws rip and tear? Made her teeth bite and snap?”  Kamchatka asked.

        “Wow you do catch on quick!”  Simba snarled, more upset than he’d let on.

      “Mum’s in her lie up,” Simba said to Theo, “I don’t know what to do now.”

       “You’re asking Theo to set aside the death of his own cub to look after a murderess?”  Kamchatka asked.

      “It, it’s not like that,” fleur said, padding into the room, “Kamchatka, please, stop questioning.  You have witnessed something few of us understand.”  Theo, glad to be able to think of someone else, got to his paws and padded from the room.

 

Finding Petra in her lie up, Theo lay down beside her.

        “I can’t cope with what I did today and that other time Theo!”  Petra whimpered, “It’s not me, I wouldn’t kill anyone, and if I was driven to it, I wouldn’t do it like that!  I’d be careful, make it as painless as I could, not like that, not like Leona, not like Leo!”  Theo kissed his adopted daughter cub’s nose.

       “I know,” he replied, “I know.”  Petra clung to Theo, weeping bitterly into his fur.

       “Were you serious when you pinned Leona down?”  Theo asked.  Petra nodded.

       “I would have killed her,” she replied, “but not like that.  It would have been quick, I don’t know what she suffered before she died, but the evidence is all over my paws.”

      “Eohippus made you forget your inhibitions and go with your instinct,” Theo mewed.  Petra nodded and looked down at her blood covered paws, the fur now stiff and sticking up all over the place.

       “You mean to say Leona needed to die?”  Petra mewed.

       “Leona’s been heading for trouble,” Theo mewed.  Rowena could not kill her, but you could, if only you let yourself use your leonine instinct to kill.  Rowena could never kill anything, if Eohippus had asked her to kill; she could not physically do it.  You can, so she put you up to it.”

       “Forced me to do it,” Petra mewed, “I thought I was over all that!”

       “Why didn’t eohippus let me kill Leona,” Simba mewed, “I would have done it.”

      “Because the crime was not against you,” Theo replied, “Petra had two things to deal with, the insult to her brother cub and former mate, and to Rowena, who while she is your mate she is also Petra’s cub, as are you.  The bond between mother and cub is strong, so it is only right that Petra show her anger towards Leona.”  Simba’s toes curled and relaxed as if he wanted to rip Leona apart all over again.

       “I’m tired,” Petra mewed, “I’m also sick of death.  First Aslan and now Leona.”  Yawning, Petra got to her paws.

       “Who is going to deal with Eohippus,” Simba mewed.

        “I don’t think she’ll trouble you again,” Theo replied, “she only troubled Petra because the object of Leona’s anger could not fight her.”  Simba hugged his mum, and then left the room.

 

Theo and Petra returned to the main part of the house, where Kamchatka met them, a strange look in her eyes.

        Petra, I’m, I’m sorry,” Kamchatka said, her eyes cast down.

       “If you are going to apologise to my mum, look her in the face!”  Simba snapped.  Kamchatka dragged her eyes from her paws and looked Petra full in the face.

       “I’m sorry for branding you a murderess, for I now know that was wrong.  Rowena, she told me stories of my own life, stories about episodes I’d kept hidden and told noone about!  How she knows all this I can’t guess, but she does, and she assures me all’s safe with her.  We were in a private room, one that she’s found with no cameras that only she has the magic paw and code to enter.”

        “Rowena’s confessional,” Simba mewed, “she’s taken me in there from time to time when I’ve been upset about something.  She’s been persuasive and persistent, finally getting whatever it was from me.”  Petra touched Kamchatka’s paw, the bear smiling at her, sitting down and hugging her tightly.

       “I will not ask any further questions,” Kamchatka promised.

         “Aslan and Leona are both dead,” Petra mewed, “I don’t want any more death here!”

       “Death is part of life dear Petra,” Kamchatka replied, “you might be able to control birth, but not death.”  Petra knew the grizzly bear was right.  Releasing Petra, Kamchatka got to her paws, bounced on her toes, then left the room.  Petra smiled at Simba and Rowena, the grown lion and lioness going to her and hugging her.

       “We both love you mum,” they said.  Petra smiled, kissing their noses.

       “I love you both too,” Petra mewed.

 

 

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