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This is a short story that I wrote in college, which I’ve been coming back to recently.  It has no connection to the first chapter posted of my first book, just a separate piece that I recently revised.

I’ve been considering expanding on it, perhaps basing my second novel on it, or re-writing it into a longer short story.  I figured I’d post it here for feedback/ideas.  Hope you like it!

 

“Healing Tiger”

By: Paula Gallagher

 

“You don’t have to-” I stopped as Sira moved her massive head along the long gash that ran down my forearm.  She purred, which sounded more like a low growl coming from her, as her saliva began to heal the skin.  It hurt, but for only a moment.  And then new flesh grew over the wound and it was gone.

Sira stared up at me with her unbelievably brilliant green eyes, as if waiting for approval, but at the same time exuding enough wisdom so that I knew she didn’t need it.

Being in the academy for so many years and particularly being assigned as paige to the stables, I had gotten used to my share of scrapes and bruises.  And accidents do happen.  Even today, when the hunters brought back a frightened live Minotaur and it slashed my arm open with its cracked horn, I wasn’t too surprised, and I didn’t complain.  But I’m sure if Sira was capable of speech, she would have.

“Erm…thank you”, I said.  She shook her head, trying to get her fur straight.  Then she stood up and lumbered across my room to the large mound of pillows that she had apparently declared as her bed, and flopped over on top of it, her eyes closed, paws outstretched in front of her.  

From this angle she looked like a gigantic kitten laying down for its afternoon nap, rather than an ancient beast that I had inherited and been bonded with after twenty years of wishing for something else.

When I was a child, I remember being terrified of her.  When she yawned her huge teeth looked like daggers shooting out of her gums.  But then my Grandfather instructed me to touch her face.  I stretched out my tiny hands, and she placed her massive nose in them, and stared at me with an expression of calm curiosity.  She looks at me the same way, even now.

“You know you get tired every time after you do that thing-after you heal me”, I said.  The giant tiger didn’t stir.  “Maybe you shouldn’t do it”.  She opened her eyes and stared at me.  And somehow I had an idea of what she meant.

We were together now.  We were partners, bonded for life.  Just as she had protected my grandfather, and I assume his grandfather before him, she would protect me at any cost.  It didn’t matter that I hadn’t wanted her, and was a horrible bitch about it.  Now it was me and her, and nothing could change that.

I remember when I had been called into my master’s office, and he had explained that because of my Grandfather’s death, Sira needed an owner.  Without a bond of someone with his direct bloodline, she would die.  I couldn’t believe it.  After all of this, after all of the preparation, after all of the hard grueling work, I would be stuck with her.  Ceremonies were coming up, the Dragon eggs were hatching, and the Griffons were being given away.  Even a Pegasus would have been more useful.  At least it could fly into battle.  And I wanted to fly.  More than I had wanted anything in my short impatient life.  Ever since I saw my father fly on his harpy for the first time.  Ascending until he was nothing more than a tiny dot in the stretching blue sky.  Ever since he told me that our family was meant to fly-to be warriors fierce and unyielding, the ones who flew eagerly into battle.

But no, I would be given a Healing Tiger; and the oldest one in existence at that.  She was massive, about the size of a mule, and fierce looking; but she was slow, and thoughtful, and careful.  All the things I most certainly am not.  My master had winked at me before I left his office, “You may be able to teach that old tiger some new tricks”.  I sincerely doubted it.

Perhaps if my Grandfather had lived out the remainder of his life in peaceful solitude like he was supposed to in his retirement, he would still be alive.  He’d be holed away in his little secluded log cabin, Sira at his side, sleeping peacefully, watching the days roll by lazily.  She would have loved that.  Everything would have worked out for the both of us.  But no, my Grandfather had to go volunteer in the war.  As if people actually did that.  And then he got himself crushed by a giant.  One step and he was only a splatter of skin, blood and guts on the bottom of a foot of a creature with less than half of his intelligence.  

And then I imagine Sira sitting there, looking at what remained of him, distraught, and trying in vain to figure out how to go about healing him.  She was too loyal for her own good.

But then, I liked how she always stayed close to me.  She did not stray when we went into the forest, or chase fireflies like the newly hatched dragon babies tended to do; their people rushing after them aimlessly.  Sira never left my side, and her ears were always perked forward, always on the lookout for danger.  She would always be looking out for me.

She opened her eyes once again, saw me staring at her, and blinked a few times before turning her gaze to the brush that sat on my little night stand.

I sighed.  “Yes.  Sure”.  As I began combing through her already immaculate fur, she placed the entire weight of her massive head in my lap.  It was at least twenty pounds.  Then she closed her eyes, breathing slowly.

After a long day of work, this was what she always wanted; and it was the only thing she ever asked for.  She never even asked to be fed.  I typically remembered; if only because I ate frequently enough to be reminded of it.  And I suppose she could always go out to the pasture and eat a goat if she got hungry enough.  

It was shockingly simple, and low-maintenance.  I recall my master saying, when he first told me of my inheritance, “You may be able to teach that old tiger some new tricks”.  And I wondered, as her tail began to whip in the air, if it might be the other way around.

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