Can you imagine the humiliation? I, with fur of gold, am the majestic king of the beasts, a lion cub who at only three days old, was discovered and rescued by this shabby wolf pack: the pack that raised me as their own.
It might have been more of a kindness to leave me to starve? A lion cub clearly born to better things? A lion cub strong, keen, skilled of sight and hunt? Perhaps they should have left me. These canines understand nothing.
When I view conflict they see only play. When I view opportunities for dominance and mating practice, they again see only play. When I stalk prey animals, their strong, ripe bodies inviting my pulling them down to the ground with my powerful jaws, the wolf pack, unless ravenous, see yet another play mate. Undoubtedly this wolf pack is a collection of ludicrous imbeciles.
A dark furred canine crouches, watching me and pouting a little. She wags her tail then rises and does her usual thing of bouncing over to lick my face. I remain still as she does so. The last time she did that I bit her by accident, and she still bears the scars.
I allow her to continue licking, and keep my own instincts at bay. Another pads over, breathlessly to join in and the two lick my face in welcome and love. Every part of me wants to rebel, to move away and to roar at them both, then to pounce and rip them to shreds with my teeth, tearing the fur from their bodies and devouring the juicy flesh lying beneath. But I breathe deeply, controlling those impulses, and stare instead at another wolf, who is rolling in the clay mud to change his colour from dark to orange.
He’s a wise one. One who is clever enough to watch and to learn. Clever enough to change, and to experiment. He’s not like the others. I gently push the still-licking wolves from my face, placating them with a friendly growl, and swagger over to the wise one.
I see the licking-wolves’ disappointment, and I sense their rejection too. But it matters not at all. The wise one is like me. I know he is. I’ve been watching him a lot. Watching him in groups where he remains silent yet still dominates. I’ve seen him alone practising skills of fight and flight and might. And I’ve watched at night while the others are sleeping, when he prowls round the den seeking adversaries, challenges and enemies. I sense. I know. He is my adversary. And now is our first time of conflict.
I circle him and he circles back. We move in a curious dance of domination, and what he lacks in size, he will make up for in cunning. I am sure of that.
I pace then change direction. He mirrors my movements, both of us reticent and unwilling to show our colours yet. We weigh each other up. He snarls at me, baring his teeth, but his aggression barely registers as a threat. I snarl back, my own sound sonorous and strong, echoing throughout the valley. He backs off a little. I am winning, I think, I am winning. I have that canine under my spell.
But then he pounces, this brave and stupid wolf, and sinks his teeth where my right shoulder meets my neck. His firm hold and locked jaws mean that by the time I can shake him off, he has already ripped through my skin. He will pay for that, be sure of it. Blood dripping onto the ground, the other canines come to smell, but I pounce back at my aggressor and fall while the pack circle round me. Some entice me to stop by licking my paws and eyes and cleaning the wound. Others circle the wise dog, whining in supplication. Our future unsure, our lives paused.
From the silence, a sudden howl throngs through our valley: a canine howl, intense and high pitched. I have much to learn, but the howls sounds as if determinedly telling us of a pack member in danger. All animosities in abeyance for now, we move as one to the site of the howl.
An injured friend? A kill? No. Humans – bearing leads and collars.
Dogs with wagging tails and pendulous tongues, run towards their masters, no longer wild wolves, no longer hunters acting on instinct. Now they’re trained and controlled and owned.
And I am no longer king of anyone’s jungle, in reality I am a tabby kitten who has grown up in this house positioned next to the playing fields. And I’m a kitten who is always imagining new stories, and play fighting with my canine buddies.
The regular dog walking crowd walk away, their canines attached to them now by strips of leather, chain or rope, and I slope off back home watching the dogs wag tails inanely at their human owners. I shrug, because I know that through my own cat flap will be a bowl of biscuits and I also smell fresh tuna… and after I’ll consider spending time in that warm fuzzy bed in front of the fire, and with my own loving owner, who’s just waiting to spend time with me.