Originally published June 19, 2008.
It could be said that much of what transpired in that ensorcelled place was a mystery to me. While I was there, it seemed I moved in a dream, all parts choreographed and fixed. The creatures I met there were more than real, and the few minutes there were as real to me in comparison as all the rest of my years combined. When I left that garden, my limbs had grown strong, my teeth long, my fur lengthened and rugged. I had come into my prime without noticing.
I traveled past the dwellings of man, out into the wild reaches. There I found deer and swallow, and found it good. I slept beside running water, and dreamed of patterns of orange and black. I woke, and killed again, and traveled further into the forest, fording a river, pausing to chase wild pig. Again I feasted. Muddy, I went for a swim, and bathed myself with long, slow licks. My fur shone, and I was languid in the summer sun.
It would mean less than nothing to you, my dear, to relate all the days that passed under the sun and moon where I did naught but kill, eat, bathe and sleep, but it must be related that these days occurred, for they are at the heart of my character. I learned in that time that I was both meant for only that and meant for more than that, for I thought often of love in those days. I wanted to be known by someone, and to know them. I wanted someone to be near me who was neither prey nor stupid, beneath me. I did not know what I wanted, but it frustrated me not to have it.
I suppose to you it will seem a betrayal of what was, and what is to come, to say this, but it is truth. I found love, passionate and harsh, with another of my kind, only about a year after I left that garden. We made love like tigers, and parted as tigers do, and I watched from afar as she raised our cubs. They grew tall and strong, and went their ways. I fought one, for it would have encroached on my territory, and fought another male of my kind for the right to get her with cubs again, and won. Again she raised my cubs, and I found another mate, though not for want of one. Her territory was near mine, and it would have hurt my pride not to have her.
My life was good there, and I had many children. Some of the females stayed nearby and became my mates, and the males went their way and mattered naught to me. For a tiger, this life of claw and bone and anger was better than any sweetness, more soothing than any touch, more fulfilling than any easy meat. I grew old with passion and languor. I feasted. I played. I swam. I lived.
There is a truth to my life that should be evident to you by now, my dear. I was born with a skill not common in tigers, the speech of men, and their ability to reason. I thought little of it in my youth, and thought little of it again in my years of freedom, but in my next tale it mattered more to me than anything.
It came to pass that a hunter came to my woods, and I evaded him with little thought, spending my days in the trees, considering whether to kill him sooner or later, and how sweet his flesh would taste. Man was a rare treat. I hesitated too long, and he killed my first mate, who had grown old and half-blind while I still felt young and strong. He skinned her, and ate the flesh from her carcass, his fire a brand in my forest.
I stalked him and leapt, scattering his fire and leaving him in the dark, with my claws pressing him into the earth. I asked him, “Did you stop to pray, that her spirit might find rest? Did you ever think that any would miss her, or that she might have cubs?”
He stammered in the language of men, “I am a hunter. I kill. She was prey, and I needed the money she would bring. If she had cubs, I can kill them to, so that they do not suffer. She is a tiger, and every tiger lives alone.”
I tore his throat out, because I did not feel like talking anymore.
The death of a man is like an evil curse. It haunts the lands around it, and draws ill luck to it. I left my home that night, and traveled on. I would find a new home, and again I would find a life for myself. Alone.
I was a princess, and expected to marry, but I did not. How could I explain that all I thought of when I thought of marriage was a tiger’s bloody teeth? No one knew I was in the garden that night, and I did not care to explain. My father put up with me, for some reason, and I was sheltered and protected by him as long as he lived. When my father died, a new lord came, and he wed me and bedded me. I was fond of him, after a fashion, but my heart stayed distant, and he reacted with distance of his own, though I think he would have loved me if he could have. He was a good man.
I had no children, and eventually he brought his brother’s sons to live in his household as his own, to take the lands when he was gone. I lived as I had always lived, quietly, in my garden and in my rooms. I never wished to know the larger world, and never did.
I was not lonely, because I knew no other existence.
In the end, when the choice was going mad with boredom and doing something about it, I locked my mind away, deep within myself. I lived as a fish must live, sometimes, for food and water and sunlight above me. I circled in my pond, and my mind slept.