11 or 8 Strength / Fortitude
A young woman, often portrayed as blonde or red-haired, accompanies a fully grown lion. Sometimes she walks with it, sometimes she is portrayed as riding it. (You would not want to know what she is doing to it in Aleistar Crowley's Thoth deck.) It is clear that a battle of wills has taken place and – temporarily at least – Beauty has overcome the Beast.
The vet had clearly been shaken up after his duty visit to the Zoo.
He had dosed the zebras without a qualm. His affinity with horses and horse-like animals was clearly apparent: she and the escorting golems had had little to do in his support, both with the zebras and with Unpronouncziwicz's Horse(1).
Problems had arisen, however, with the Lancre Hill Ponies(2), who were truculent beasts and not in the mood to be medicated to. They had chased the vet across the paddock, teeth champing and mouths foaming, until she had called a halt to it and sent in the golems to subdue them.
The Zoo Trust had acquired the ponies while she had been away dealing with other matters. She had agreed on her return that they were a rare species and worth acquiring in their own right. But the shifty-looking dwarf who had sold them to the Zoo on the basis that they were a gentle and tolerant animal well suited for the kiddies to ride in the Petting Zoo was now the subject of pointed inquiries from the Guild of Assassins, who owned a controlling interest in the Zoo. In the absence of a city Trading Standards Office, the Assassins intended to have a quiet word with him about selling as described and fit for the purpose.
In the Zoo office, she politely commiserated with Doctor Folsom about the loss of his trouser seat, and assured him he could put replacements on his invoice. Would he like a cup of soothing rooibuis tea?
And then a keeper was tapping her on the shoulder and whispering something into her ear. She listened, nodded, and apologised to the vet, as there was an emergency with the lions that needed her expertise. The vet expressed the thought that he couldn't help her there (3), miss, and better you than me. She smiled, and again excused herself.
She looked down into the enclosure.
"The Mother Rejected These Cubs. We Have Succeeded In Persuading Another Recent Mother, Whose Cubs Were Stillborn, To Become Foster Mother. But She Absolutely Refuses To Take This One."
A single lion cub, looking as lost and bewildered and unhappy as any unloved kitten, aimlessly scrabbled its feet in the bottom of the basket. There was something about theeyes…
On the veldt, a lion with eye problems is a crippled lion. It cannot co-ordinate to take its prey. It can contribute nothing to the pride. It becomes a liability. It will starve, or else be taken by natives looking for the pelt and the mane to turn into marks of warrior status. The mother recognises this at birth, and paradoxically to reject or kill it now becomes a kindness to one who will not thrive.
Born and brought up in Howondaland, she recognised this and knew it instinctively. A zoologist by inclination and an Assassin by trade, she thought of one or two little preparations she carried with her. A drip of a certain essence on the end of a blowpipe dart, pricked into the skin, would end this little creature's suffering. She had done as much for animals in mortal pain in the past, and watched them slip painlessly away. But this was not Howondaland. And the animal was not in physical pain, only bewildered by rejection.
And then one of the creature's startlingly blue eyes met hers. Only one, given its condition, but one was enough. She closed the pouch on her Assassin's equipment belt. It wasn't just twelve-year old student Assassins who could be moved by a helpless baby animal.
"You are coming home with me, little fellow!" she said, in a language that was not Morporkian. She packed a small blanket into a transporter box and transferred the animal. It nestled into the arms of an unfamiliar species not meant to nurture lion cubs, made a mewl of alarm for a second, then recognised it was up against the warmth of a friendly body, listening to a strong slow reassuring heartbeat. The lion cub settled and snuggled.
She smiled. She could go back to the Guild now and still have an hour before her first class of the day. Time enough to get the new arrival settled.
Mr Wimvoe, Assassins' Guild Bursar, looked again at the questionable invoice that his financial assistant, Mr Blakeney, had just sent to him for querying.
At first glance it was a routine bill for services from Mr Ronnie Soak, the milkman, who prided himself on meeting any dairy-related order.
For provision of: three thousand pints cow's milk. AM$150 @ 00.5 per pint.
Six thousand yoghurts, made from cow's milk. AM$120. @ 0.02 ea.
Well, yes. But this was all routine mass catering stuff to serve the School's catering budget. But what was this item towards the bottom of the list, hidden away there….
For special provision of 4 gallons' fresh lioness' milk. AM$136 @ AM$4.00 per pint.
Mr Wimvoe sighed. He blinked and reached for the Dried Frog Pills. It was going to be a long day…
"I'd try Miss Smith-Rhodes at the Animal Management Unit, sir" said Mr Blakeney, helpfully. "I've heard a couple of interesting rumours…"
Johanna Smith-Rhodes, like many another Assassin resident at the guild, kept pets. In most cases these were dogs, mainly stylish and sleek hunting dogs, and the Guild never had a problem with this. While Johanna had been promised a couple of puppies from her uncle, the Howandalandian Ambassador, owing to an unplanned mating between two dogs belonging to the security detail at the Embassy and a consequent predicted need to dispose of unwanted puppies to good homes, this would still be a month or two in the future. Johanna felt there would be more than enough room, temporarily, for three animals, and raising two puppies alongside a rejected lion cub might prove to be an interesting experiment on animal psychology.
Besides, it was only temporary. Even Johanna could see that a fully grown lion would not be a practical pet in the close confines of the Guild school. You could only domesticate a lion to a certain value of "domesticated", and it would be asking a lot of one to remain stable and even-tempered when in among over two thousand humans.
But a cub…
She smiled, and poured some of the special milk, carefully, into a babies' bottle.
What was it with Ronnie Soak? He hadn't needed to be asked, he'd just added it to the delivery. Mr Wimvoe had insisted it was paid for, but ag, she was a proven Assassin with contract money in the bank… a question was niggling at her mind as she fed the cub. She had not the slightest doubt, knowing Soak, that it was lioness' milk. It could be tested at the Zoo or the AMU, for one thing, and the milkman knew this. But where does he get it from?
She looked down at the lion cub with a compassionate eye. Which was one eye more than it could focus back at her. The poor thing's cross-eyed. He would not last five minutes on the veldt. And he looks so much like Uncle Klarenz… She felt guilty for laughing, but she laughed anyway.
And Klarenz the cub grew. He grew too big for the baby-sling Johanna had improvised, to carry him to classes in the early days. Now, he padded obediently at her side, a way opening for them in the bedlam of between-classes rushes, the girl students delighted and enthralled, the boys more cautious, but saying things like "Cool, miss!". And Lord Downey shaking his head in disbelief as a growing male lion padded proudly in the corridors alongside his mistress, centre of attention wherever he went, the hunting dogs belonging to other Assassins slinking aside with pretended nonchalance or getting out of the way altogether in response to urgent genetic prompts.
At night he slept on or next to her bed, the atmosphere in the bedroom becoming decidedly Howondalandian. Johanna dealt with the growing litter-tray problem by arrangement with her colleague Davinia Bellamy, who carefully bagged and sealed the contents of the full tray to spread over her prized flowerbeds and gardens. Davinia, the school botany mistress and close colleague, explained that it kept other animals off her plants – if the average domestic moggie smells lion-shit, it will think the lion is nearby and will therefore avoid the area, rather than become lion-shit itself. Johana, who knew farmers back Home used similar tactics to ward off meercats and chimpanzees, nodded appreciatively.
And then the puppies arrived. Two Rhodesian Ridgebacks, progeny of the animals used for night security at the Embassy. Klarenz sniffed them curiously, then decided they were uninteresting things and left them alone.
And for a while, lion and puppies grew together, an amicable inter-species pack. Klarenz, now eight months old and beginning his first mature mane, was de facto pack leader. Johanna looked at him. She knew a decision was near. Besides, Downey had called her to the office and given her what was as near as he could manage to an ultimatum. She understood: if a lion belonging to a teacher were to eat a pupil, it would be bad for School enrolment. Oh, but so good for discipline!
But what really decided her was that the puppies were growing. She remembered Ridgebacks were also called lion-dogs and that they'd originally been bred to tire and run down a full-grown lions.
And that lately, she'd observed signs that as all three creatures grew, they were getting less friendly towards each other, and their respective genetic conditioning was taking over. Lion and lion dogs. Won't work, Johanna. You're asking too much of them.
And it was only meant to be temporary, to give Klarenz what that Fourecksian Doctor Berwin described as a "fair go"…
And none of them were small creatures. She tried to visualise her rooms wrecked by the inevitable inter-species fight.
Then, sadly, she took Klarenz on his final trip out of the Guild.
Back at the Zoo, an enclosure had been prepared with a better shelter than usual. Fresh meat, the best, had been laid out for him to eat. In the future there would be other lions to try to socialise him with,and the tantalising scent of lioness in heat, that would soon have its own significance.
But she still felt a heel to lead him into the enclosure and then to walk out alone. And to walk away.
"I'm sorry, Klarenz" she whispered, through growing tears. "I will see you every day I'm here. That's a promise. Trust me, this is for the best. You're a big boy, now!"
But Klarenz would not forget her. Ever. And she would not forget him. The bond had been made.
(1) A species of pony native to Central Agatea, "discovered" by Zlobenian zoologist Doktor Antonz Unpronouncziwicz.
(2) Described as being akin, in shape, size and general disposition, to a barrel of number one powder with a leg at each corner, the Lancre Hill Pony is a bloody-minded creature once used to tow battle chariots. A herd of Lancres can make a mountain tiger decide it isn't that hungry yet, and even Feegles approach them cautiously.
(3) "Doughnut Jimmy" Folsom's default position on all veterinarian work, regardless of species, was to stick a thermometer up its bottom first to give himself some thinking time. Even he had thought twice about this when confronted with the Zoo's lions and tigers for the first time