The Lion and the Lamb
"The soul is healed by being with children." English proverb
There is a veil of great dust clouding the air from the frantic pace of their mounts. The poor beast have barely come to a stop before the sharp tang of blood is stinging the king's nostrils and he has dismounted.
The dry film clears as the king steps through into the shattered village. He isn't prepared for what he finds.
It is a ghost town and the spirits are restless and very new.
They had seen the fires all the way from the great wall of Thundera and rode out for hours until they reached the town but it would seem help for these cats had arrived too late.
Spears, swords and staffs litter doors, the tall grasses surrounding the remote village and rooftops. Fires are still burning on overthrown carts and houses and somewhere close by an equis is braying in terrible pain. If it was in all shape similar to the others they had seen stabbed with spears and arrows a humane swift killing would be the only comfort for it once the creature was found.
There is so much blood painted on the thematic golds and greens of the town structure. A hanging rug is reduced to a burgundy smear and a tigress lies where she has fallen just beside it, grey-green eyes wide and unseeing in death, a trickle of blood staining one ivory cheek.
"My lord Claudus? Orders sire?"
He had nearly forgotten his army beside him. Death was always hard to stomach but she-cats and cubs…kittens was unbearable. And there were plenty.
The weary king is forced to turn away from the small girl cub crumpled like a doll in the middle of the street, an arrow flagged through the kitten's chest. She could not have been more than six seasons or so.
"Door to door, comb for survivors," Lord Claudus orders shortly. "We will gather and prepare the dead for a proper burial after."
The king kneels beside the girl cub carefully removing the weapon piercing her before arranging his own cloak of royal blue atop her, he is sure the image of her tiny paw still holding her bucket of spilled milk will never leave him.
The men are off and he too with wide quick steps convinced his heavy heart will cause him to be lost in the sands if he does not move fast enough. There can be no help found for the dead only the living and he hopes there are cats somewhere here still breathing.
There are dead cats everywhere, men, women and children nearly all of a striped variety, coats of pale oranges to fiery reds, green-eyed, grey-eyed, brown…
Far too many cats lay amongst their weavings, milk pitchers, iron castings and various other chores. They'd clearly been ambushed in great numbers, so great many cats had not time to even become suspicious of any noise or movement before being struck. Most of these cats are riddled with arrows.
And lizards are among the dead as well and he is satisfied with the look of brave determination frozen on the face of a fallen tiger, hand still clutching a blade, the end of it attached through two lizards rooting them to the ground.
A small noise stops him instantly and his ear flicks at attention.
He is sure he hears a mewling little cry from somewhere close by.
There is a ticking of blood leading up and into a house and the great lion follows. He is not prepared for what he sees inside.
The house is in shambles and the only thing that is left whole is a chair in the middle of the room. A lizard is speared clean through on the broken leg of an overturned table, another by fatal neck wound, another lanced cleanly in half and another opened from neck to navel. He nearly slips in the entrails of one he hadn't noticed in his path.
The positioning of a half dozen of the creatures is odd, facing away from the attacker as though running. If the situation were not so grim he's sure he'd laugh at the rewards of his enemies' cowardice. He counts a total of fourteen lizards and one tiger lying across the threshold of a curtained room.
The tiger male is, he'd guess, is just a bit younger than he himself, well-muscled and hard features and his pelt scarred with old battle wounds. He still holds a sword in hand and it is scarlet and sticky in its owner's pool of blood. Amber brown eyes are murderous even in death. The tiger had died an extremely skilled and brave warrior, a warrior any king would be proud of.
But as such these are kingless people but his heart only recognizes them as brothers, he would have been worthy to be called Thundercat.
He is careful in stepping over the male and only allows himself the large disrespect of such a warrior because he's sure he hears the noise again that originally brought him into the house and it's coming from past the curtained room.
A slender striped figure, half twisted in a sheet, half out of it, is lying on the floor, a fairly young she-cat, mid-twenties, he'd guess to be the mate of the other. Her modesty preserved by the same cruel sheet that had trapped her as she tried to escape her attacker. A massive lizard warrior is lying dead, large mouth agape only feet from her. Long ribbons of flesh missing from the scaly neck and one yellow eye badly lacerated. He'd guess the severing of the carotid artery responsible for his death.
The female's claws are stained red and caked with green flesh, even her long striped hair is matted with bits. There is a chunk of green flesh in a pool of blood and spittle seeping from her mouth. She had obviously bitten, scratched and clawed to get away and failed.
Without the evidence of her aggression and the dead lizard he'd guess she'd died sleeping and had simply fallen out of bed. She is strikingly beautiful, her moss green eyes were soft and her lips parted gently as though ready to receive a kiss from her lover. One arm is resting underneath her at a strange angle perhaps gingerly pressed against the opening of the fatal wound.
There is a whimpering cry again and the king realizes it is coming from underneath the she-cat. He is careful turning her over and there cradled beneath her is a tiny striped kitten.
The small creature blinks, the kitten's eyes cloudy but gaining a vibrant golden brown that will be twin to the father's that the cub will never know. He manages to roll himself to his stomach, fuzzy head trembling with the effort to hold itself up, tiny paws too weak to be of any real help.
The kitten is no larger than one of his paws and clearly only weeks old, naked and spotted with his mother's blood. The cub trembles and gives a little growling cry of discomfort looking around before toppling over onto his back. His tiny legs and feet are flailing in an effort to right himself but he lacks the strength to combat a healthy baby belly weighing him down.
Ah. The cub, it would seem, is male.
"Well then all is not lost."
The king had heard his soldiers long before their arrival but could not take his eyes from the striped orphan fussing for his mother.
The king nods simply, "No, all is not lost."
"He seems the last my lord."
The kitten seemed to have just noticed the strange intruders who smell nothing like neither the sweet smell of lilac and breastmilk nor the masculine scent of pine and sandalwood of the other. The hair rises on the nape of the babe's neck and he growls with all tiny fanged milk teeth exposed, small pointed ears back practically spitting.
The cub is clearly agitated being without his mother's comfort or milk and naked and wet with blood, he is a tragic sight. But not completely defenseless as an unlucky soldier finds.
The cub is surprisingly quick to twist and bite the outstretched arms of a puma who recoils instantly with a cry.
Theodus though bleeding terribly for his trouble seems to be somewhat amused looking at both the cub and the other soldiers. "He's a fiery little cub, isn't he?"
Claudus gives a grunted agreement, "quite brave to be so frightened."
There's a few murmurs of agreement even wistful chuckles at the small hope in such a grave situation but no other men dare make a move for the scared cub who is trying his best to retreat back to his fallen mother.
The kitten squalls, all pink mouthed and needle sharp teeth exposed when the king's great hand firmly but gently scruffs him. The handsome cub looks him right in the eye and snarls trying his best to wriggle free and even boxes at the king's nose with a clawed hand.
The cub misses but not for lack of trying.
He is quick and strong.
"Alright, alright easy little one," Claudius soothes.
The little one becomes a naked ball of orange, black and white clawing and biting, he seems outraged at the indignity of being scruffed. It's endearing and a sign of great things.
"He's going to be quite the independent cub," Servios remarks as the kitten continues to wriggle.
"And prideful," Claudius adds thoughtfully. He adjusts his hold careful not to claw open the soft skin of the tiny one and swiftly cloaks the kit in the only sheet left on the bed, he is still trembling but seems to settle some. His paw finds its way out of its silk bindings and he begins chewing on his fist whimpering.
"Theodus, find the little one some milk, the rest of you keep looking, there must be more cats left alive somewhere." The king is once again alone in the house of the striped orphan.
He knows it futile and is deeply remorseful for the young kit. Motherless, fatherless, people-less.
What would become of him?
He takes a last look at the mother; her slender striped arms contain only empty space where her child would never be held again. He takes another at the father at the door knowing even without the cat in the kitten's life he would grow to be just as great a warrior if his personality was any indication.
The kitten has lost interest in eating his fist and is stretching the drool covered little hand out toward the lord's fiery mane, he is mostly quiet despite his still present discomfort.
He takes the little one closer carefully cradling him in his warmth and gradually the tiny body stops shivering. Relief passes through him, the cub is still much too fragile to get sick. He is already preparing his thoughts for things the little one would need upon their arrival back home and he is set on the babe being kept close.
The boy cub is little more than a lamb but time and patience would grow him into a handsome and strong cat even lions would fear, he just needed not be alone in this world.
He would guarantee the child would be a son they would have been proud of.
"Tygra" would be a cat a king would be proud of.
Yes. It would do.
He says a pray of peace for the tiger couples' journey into their next life and reassures them and himself though much is lost today the lamb, Tygra, would live on to become a much loved son and proud Thundercat.
He'd be sure of it.