The prince visited the tiger as often as possible, being careful always to slip away unnoticed, and never staying as long as he would like. Some weeks he couldn’t visit the jungle at all, and his eye and his mind would linger on the palace wall and what lay beyond it.
In their many visits, the tiger taught the prince how to travel safely and stealthily through the jungle. It taught him how to listen to the sounds of the other animals, and what the absence of some sounds meant. It taught him how to understand direction and how not to get lost. It taught him how to climb trees and how to hide and how to hold very still. It tried to teach him how to hunt, but the prince had no knack for it, and the tiger soon grew weary and frustrated of trying to teach the prince how to spring out quickly from bushes, or how to unsheathe his claws, or how to bare his teeth and roar ferociously.
The prince shared his knowledge with the tiger as well. He taught the tiger about astronomy, about geography, and politics. He taught letters and numbers, though the tiger struggled with reading and writing and couldn’t seem to appreciate the usefulness of math. He taught the customs of the palace, which fork to use at which time, and how to dress for different occasions. And he told the tiger many stories, stories that he heard from his mother as a very young child, stories he learned from his tutors, and stories about things that he had seen and heard for himself, stories about people and places and things that the tiger could only shake its head about and wonder if they could possibly be true.
But most of all, when they got together, the prince and the tiger learned about friendship. The prince learned that friendship was being jumped on and tackled and nipped in the legs and the back of the head. The tiger learned that friendship was being dared and teased and called silly names. And they both learned that friendship was being open and giving and laughing together. Years passed, and the prince grew taller, the tiger stronger, and their friendship more trusting.
One day as they were walking and joking and laughing with each other, the jungle around them suddenly became silent. The prince did not notice, and continued his teasing of the tiger, but the tiger immediately stopped walking and looked around, trying to find the source of the trouble. The prince walked a few paces past the tiger and then turned around to see why it had stopped. Suddenly the tiger leaped straight toward the prince with such malice and determination on its face that the prince cried out, stumbled backward, and fell. And a good thing, too, for where the prince had been standing only moments before, now the tiger was battling a massive panther.
The fight was too animated for the prince to follow very well. He was too frightened and shocked to tell what was happening. He only heard the snarls and roars and howls. He only saw the claws slashing, the fangs attempting to bite and tear, the bodies rolling together on the jungle floor. Then suddenly with a yelp it was over and the panther streaked away, leaving the tiger slumped on the ground. The prince rushed to the tiger’s side.
“Are you okay?” the prince cried out.
The tiger raised its head. “I am well enough. I don’t suppose that panther will be coming back for more any time soon. Did you see the pounding I gave him?”
“You saved my life,” said the prince.
“Of course I did,” said the tiger. “And you would do the same for me. Is that not what friends do?”
“I don’t think I could have taken on a panther,” admitted the prince.
“Then it was a good thing I was with you,” the tiger said, getting to its feet.
“Oh! You’re hurt!” the prince said, pointing to the tiger’s side.
“It’s not my blood,” the tiger said. “I put a few holes in that panther before I sent it on its way.”
“No, look,” the prince said. And indeed it was true; the tiger was bleeding from a gash on its side.
“Must have nicked myself in all the confusion,” the tiger said.
“That’s no nick,” the prince said. “You are gravely wounded.”
“I’ll be fine,” said the tiger.
“That wound needs looked after,” insisted the prince. “Come with me to the palace. We have a doctor who will know just what to do.”
“If I enter the palace, the people there will be too afraid. They will kill me.”
“You will die just the same if you stay out here in the jungle.”
“Better to die in the jungle of an honest fight than in the palace from men with sharpened sticks.”
“We will just have to ensure that they aren’t afraid of you, then,” said the prince. “We shall make you my pet. Come with me.”
They traveled quickly to the palace walls, where the prince said, “Wait here for me to return,” before disappearing inside.
The tiger waited, and stewed, and tried to lick its wounded side, but couldn’t quite turn far enough because of the pain. And while it waited, it thought.
When at last the prince returned, the tiger said, “Before we enter the palace, I want to know. Are you sure this will work? The people won’t be afraid if they think I am your pet?”
“Trust me. If you stick close by my side and wear this around your neck, I can get you safely into the palace.” The prince held out a rope, at the end of which he had made a loop and fastened it with a knot.
“You’re going to tie me up?” the tiger asked. “I thought we were friends!”
“Only for show. Only to let people know that they are safe from you. Wearing this rope, and staying right beside me, everyone will know that you are a tame tiger and will not harm them. Then they won’t be afraid of you.”
“And you’ll let me go when we are done?”
“Of course. We are friends.”
“Very well,” said the tiger. “You may place the rope around my neck.”
And so it was that the tiger first felt a rope around its neck and first entered the palace where the prince lived. And true to his word, the people, although a little surprised at seeing the prince with a tiger, were not overly afraid and did not harm the tiger. And the tiger was seen and treated by the doctor, and a few weeks later, after the tiger was almost fully healed, the prince returned the tiger to the jungle and removed the rope from around its neck.
To be continued…