The Prince and the Tiger III

After the tiger was returned to the jungle, it did not see the prince for a very long time. It hunted close to the palace walls to ensure that if the prince came to visit, the tiger would be alerted. Day after day passed, however, without any sign of the prince. The tiger tried to keep track of the days, but it couldn’t remember what came after twelvety-nine, and it lost track soon after that. And still the prince did not come.

At last the tiger decided that it could no longer hold out hope for the prince’s return, and it wandered farther and farther from the palace in its hunts. But even though the day soon came when it told itself that it would no longer wait on the prince, it still found itself retracing the paths back to the palace each day.

And finally the prince did return to the jungle. The tiger knew almost the instant that the prince set foot in the jungle, yet it remained hidden in the jungle, watching the prince. The prince called for the tiger, but the tiger did not answer. The prince traveled through the jungle, visiting all of the places where the tiger and he had liked to go, calling for the tiger as he went, and becoming increasingly agitated. When the prince arrived at the place where the tiger had fought the panther, he sat and hung his head and cried into his hands.

“Why do you cry, my fine young prince?” said the tiger at last.

“Oh!” cried the prince, jumping to his feet and rushing to embrace the tiger. “I thought you had left me!”

“You thought I had left you?” demanded the tiger. “What was I to think during your long absence?”

“I’m so sorry,” the prince said. “My parents would not permit me to return to the jungle when they learned I had befriended and tamed a tiger. They said it was much too dangerous to be out here all alone and unprotected.”

“Did they not find my company and my protection sufficient?” the tiger asked. “Who did they think saved you from the panther?”

“But I’ve found the solution. My father has agreed to build you a home in the palace, and I can visit you there.”

“A home in the palace? My home is here, in the jungle,” the tiger said.

“But I’m not to be allowed to come to the jungle any more,” the prince explained. “The only way I will be able to see you is if you come live with me in the palace.”

“I can’t live in the palace. I’ve already forgotten all the rules about which clothes to wear for which occasions and which fork to use first. And I fear my claws would scratch the floor.”

“No, silly!” said the prince. “It wouldn’t be in a home. My father would build you an enclosure, and it would be just like the jungle inside.”

“An enclosure,” the tiger said. “You mean a cage.”

“Not a cage. A place like this, just with walls around it. It would be just like your home.”

“I already have a home. One without any walls around it.”

“But I can’t see you. I thought we were friends,” the prince said.

“We are friends,” said the tiger. “You live in the palace, and I live in the jungle. And we are friends.”

“We won’t be able to be friends any longer. I will be in the palace, and you will be in the jungle, and we shall never see each other again.”

“Very well,” said the tiger. “I treasure your friendship, and I have been miserable without you. I shall come to live with you in the palace. Have your father build me the enclosure.”

“Oh, I’m so happy!” the prince said. “I can’t wait to tell my father.”

And with that, the prince ran back to the palace, leaving the tiger sitting in the jungle wondering if it had just made a mistake. Many days passed once more, and the tiger watched as workers came out and extended the walls of the palace, swallowing up just a little bit more of the jungle. And finally the work stopped, and the tiger knew that the time would soon come when the prince would return to the jungle. And then the long period of their separation would be forever at an end. And the worry in the pit of the tiger’s stomach grew and grew.

To be continued…

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