The prince returned the following day. “I’ve got the solution,” he said.
“The solution to what?” said the tiger.
“Here,” said the prince. He held out his hand to the tiger and showed him a set of short ropes all tied together.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” the tiger said.
“It’s called a muzzle,” said the prince. “And it’s the only way my wife will agree to join us.”
“What does it do?” asked the tiger.
“See, this part goes around the back of your head, this part over the top of your mouth, and this wraps around the bottom of your mouth.”
The tiger puzzled over that for a moment. “And what is the purpose of it? Surely it’s not a fashion statement.”
“No, I told you. It’s a muzzle,” the prince said. “It’s to make sure you can’t bite anyone.”
“You know very well that I won’t bite anyone!” the tiger said. “You don’t need to put a muzzle on me for that!”
“Yes, my friend. I do know that. You would never bite anyone. But my wife, she is still afraid of you. She won’t come back unless you’re wearing this.”
“And how will I talk if I can’t open my mouth?” asked the tiger.
“I won’t tighten it completely, of course. Just enough so that my wife doesn’t have to worry about being bitten.”
“Look, this is ridiculous,” the tiger said. “Just tell her that I won’t bite her. She will trust you, and then she will learn very soon to trust me as well.”
“That’s what I thought, too,” the prince said. “I’ve spent the past night trying to convince her to come back and get to know you better. But she wouldn’t come. Not until I agreed to the muzzle.”
“And if I refuse to wear it for her?”
“Then I suppose she will never come back.”
“Frankly, that seems to be something that I can learn to live with,” the tiger said.
“And I suppose that she will ask me not to come so often as well,” the prince said.
The tiger paused and considered. “Tell her to come. I will wear the muzzle.”
“Let’s make sure it fits properly first,” the prince said.
He placed the muzzle around the tiger’s face, pulled it over the back of its head, and tightened it. The tiger felt its mouth clamp shut under the pressure of the ropes.
“A little looser, if you please,” the tiger said, working its lips as best it could through clenched teeth. It found it could still talk, but it definitely wasn’t as easy.
“No, that’s just right,” the prince said. “You can still talk, and your mouth can’t open enough for your teeth to be a menace.”
“My teeth would never be a menace to anyone.”
“You and I both know that. This muzzle isn’t for either of us. It’s for her,” the prince said. “With this muzzle on, she will know that your mouth can’t open enough for your teeth to be a menace to her. And who knows? Maybe after a while, she will start to trust you, and we won’t have to play this silly game any longer.”
“Silly,” said the tiger. “That’s exactly how this feels right now.”
“Okay, that looks good,” the prince said. “Let me run and fetch her.”
And with that, he was back out the door. The tiger was left alone, feeling very silly, and very restrained, and very uncomfortable in the muzzle. It looked up at the birds chittering in the trees above.
“If any of you breathe a word about this to anyone!” the tiger breathed out through the muzzle. “I’ll … I’ll … I’ll eat you!” It tried to let out a ferocious roar to drive the point home, but with the ropes around its mouth, the roar just sort of died in its throat, and didn’t sound very threatening at all.
It scratched its nose with a giant paw, trying very hard not to feel self-conscious. “As soon as I get this thing off me,” it added.
The tiger was sure the birds were laughing at it as they flew off.