Friday, February 26, 2010

"The Tiger and the Hare" -- Act IV

"The Tiger and the Hare" -- Act III

And now we finish out "The Tiger and the Hare" with Act IV.


~ Charles


"The Tiger and the Hare" copyright 2010 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.


WITHIN THE RAINY LOCH: Wherein Lung Ti Chen Chiang and Mabo Come to Loch Cam Valen; Tiger Chiang Becomes Chef Chiang; Together Mabo and Tiger Chiang Discern Their Mutual Destiny



In the Spring when the grass grows strong with melting snows and dandelions sprout to bloom, Mabo the Hare came to the small town of Loch Cam Valen. In this port town did Mabo come, starving and cold, nearing death from a long journey. His eyelids were forever low now, weak with exhaustion and lack of food. Yet he pressed on, chasing whispers of rumors, chasing the scent of a demon and a murderer.

He came to the small town cold, hungry and wet. He came near death and during Spring rains, when the many gods waged a war in the Heavens for supremacy of the skies, when Thor rode out with Bone-Gnawer and Tooth-Gnasher, striking down enemies with his wicked hammer. The constant thunder rattled Mabo's mind until he knew not where he was. He knew only that the scent of his enemy was being washed away. He knew only that his strength was slipping from him and that buildings were near.

Thunder struck and Mabo scurried in fear, running through heavy rain, seeking shelter. When he found it under the raised steps of a family's home, he mounted a rock not yet made wet with flooding waters and there perched, watching. His eyes lowered, his breathing heavy. He found himself unable to concentrate.

With another clack of thunder Mabo jumped, then jumped again when the children in the house above him screamed in terror at it. He wanted once more to run, but his legs refused to work. He could feel the pads of his paws raw with his journey. With a sniff, he could tell they were bleeding and wet.

Mabo breathed deep until his breathing slowed, his thoughts became clear. He breathed deeper still, afraid of the world. He breathed deep a final time, wishing he was once more with his family and friends, if only they hadn't been hunted until he alone remained.

Weariness crept into Mabo. His body settled upon the rock without his command. His head lowered. His eyes closed. The sound of driving rain in his ears now fallen in the water below the rock, Mabo thought he was slipping into death. So tired was he that he welcomed it, wished for it.

He did not know that while he chased straightward for his enemy, Comet Fox had lead Ketsueki Sato and Elkhorn upon a chase back and forth across the country, doubling back from one point to another. Mabo had not only caught up to his enemy, but passed them by completely.

He also had no knowledge that Comet Fox, Ketsueki Sato and Elkhorn would soon be upon the little town of Loch Cam Valen.

The hare soon lay sleeping upon the stone.



The indomitable tiger came roaring from out of the Korrawi jungles, but soon found his claws tamed with the hardships of life. He was not always excepted everywhere he went. He did not at first have much to offer anyone but his strength. He worked for a few people as a bodyguard - the exploits of which could hardly be reveled in as he mostly carried people or packages, undeterred, from hither to thither. He grew sour upon the world, finding it filled with hunters the likes of which he once fought in his homelands. "Mortals prey upon mortals," he once told an obese drunkard while in a state of drunkenness himself, "And they prey most of all upon Immortals. I cannot count the many instances someone has come to me asking for a blessing or riches without having done so much as help themselves."

Of course, his words were largely slurred, but the obese drunkard got the point of the conversation and decided not to ask for a drink paid by the tiger's coin.

On wandered Tiger Chiang, aimless and haphazard. He fell into a life of drink until he came upon the small port town of Loch Cam Valen, where he one afternoon awoke, his mouth and skin dry from the sunlight of the day. He had fallen on his back amidst a paddy. The locals farmed around him, thinking there might be a reason the Blessed Tiger slept there and, should they disturb him, he might ruin their crops.

He raise himself from the paddy, eying the farmers nearby who returned the eying. He growled, more in pain, but this startled the farmers nonetheless. Tiger Chiang blinked the bright of day into his eyes, held his head with one of his immense pawed hands and staggered off into town where he continued to sober up, mostly out of necessity since no one would give him liquor and he found himself without coin to purchase so much as a smell of alcohol.

He was resting, sitting and leaning against the outside of an inn, when a child approached him.

Tiger Chiang heard the child, at first ignoringhim. But when the child did not speak nor move away, he looked up. Squinting through one eye, Tiger Chiang asked of the boy, "What is it that you want? Have you come asking for a forever? Forget it. I grant no favors nor blessings. All I'll have from you is some coin so that I may enter this inn and buy a bowl of saké."

The boy was small and thin. His neck was long with the awkward growth of someone nearing the teen years. He smiled, Tiger Chiang thought stupidly, at the tiger. He wore grey tattered farming clothes and held in his hand a large conical straw hat. He said, "You're distrustful."

Tiger Chiang closed his one open eye and grunted, "Shouldn't I be?"

"No," said the boy with some authority. "It is bad for your health."

"So is death," mocked Tiger Chiang.

The boy considered the tiger a while longer.

"Get out of here," said Tiger Chiang.

The boy held out the hat, his elongated arms and spindly fingers appearing longer when outstretched. "Here," said the boy. "I've made this for you."

Tiger Chiang opened one eye again. "What's that?" he asked.

"It's a hat. We wear these in the paddies to keep the sun out of our eyes. When I saw you seated here, squinting at everything, I decided to make one for you. I made it while lunching with father in the paddies. He'd never let me make one and skip out on my farming, so I made it whenever I was on break. It'll keep the sun from your eyes."

This occurred to Tiger Chiang as being odd. He said, "You've made it for no reason. I don't need such a thing. What I need is more drink."

"It is rude to refuse a gift," scolded the boy.

Tiger Chiang grunted. "If I take it, will you go away?"

The boy nodded. "I need to return to the paddy."

Tiger Chiang reached out to grasp the hat. He looked at it a moment, then to the boy. "What do you want in return?"

The boy shook his head. "Nothing," he said and ran back to the paddies where he returned to his work.

Tiger Chiang watched him as he went. He closed his one eye again and lowered his head, trying to keep his head low so the sun wouldn't shine too brightly upon his face. At last, feeling stupid for having a hat to block out the sun and not using it, Tiger Chiang placed the hat upon his head. It fit perfectly and blocked out the sun so much that Tiger Chiang could open both his eyes some and look out onto the world. He looked towards the paddies where the boy had run. He lowered his hat and secretly smiled, happy to have met the boy.



Tiger Chiang remained in Loch Cam Valen for some time. He offered himself in the paddies, where he worked for a small time before moving over to the small docks where he worked loading and unloading cargo from the small junks that sailed into and left the loch. He earned money this way and, instead of buying saké, he rented a room at the inn. He made a few friends, including with Riki, the small boy that had made the hat for him.

Tiger Chiang then made friends with Riki's family. They invited him into their home so he could save his money instead of spending it on a room at the inn. He gratefully did this and offered his help once more in the paddies.

"No," said Riki's father. "This cannot be done. When before you worked in the paddies, you did not do so well. you are strong, but not always agile. You do not pick quite right. You would need more practice, but we haven't much of the paddies to spare presently to train you."

So Tiger Chiang instead stayed with the women of the family, which embarrassed him a little at first but he soon grew accustomed to. There he was taught by Riki's mother to make steamed buns.

"This will teach you the gentle care you must take with the paddies," explained Riki's mother, "As with all things in life."

Tiger Chiang soon learned he had a great natural ability in cooking. He cooked in great effort for the family and then began creating his own recipes until, at last, he discovered a sweet and savory steamed bun he made with fresh steamed and mashed mangoes.

"I call them mango buns," said Tiger Chiang as he set them before the family after one supper.

The family raved about them. So sweet and good were the buns that Riki said, "You should return to the inn. There they make foods. You could sell these in great quantities to the traveling merchants and make a lot of money."

Tiger Chiang took Riki's advice and shopped his steamed buns to Ipatiev the Innkeeper.

"They are astounding!" exclaimed Ipatiev. So in love with Tiger Chaing's cooking was Ipatiev that he opened a small diner adjoining his inn and there made Tiger Chiang head chef and gave him a permanent room at the inn of his own in which to make a home, free of charge.

Hard time soon came to Loch Cam Valen, however. The Spring storms came early and disrupted the crops of the farmers there, in turn decreasing the traders and merchants that visited the town. Ipatiev's business fell off, both his inn and diner struggling to stay open. Even the great tastes Tiger Chiang could produce with his steamed buns was not enough to entice tourists or merchants to pass through Loch Cam Valen.

Tiger Chiang found himself getting paid less and less often. He argued with Ipatiev, longed to return to Riki's family's home, but felt he should try to help rebuild the diner as much as possible. He truly enjoyed cooking for people, enjoyed watching their faces grow smiles with every bite of his food. Instead of fighting and murdering, Tiger Chiang was creating happiness and memories for people. He stayed at the inn to struggle with Ipatiev.

Then came a day when Ipatiev approached Tiger Chiang to say, "Chef Chiang, though it hurts my heart to say so, I fear we must entertain the idea of closing the diner." Seeing the sorrow in Tiger Chiang's eyes, he added, "But perhaps we should give it one more day."

Tiger Chiang removed his his apron, sighed and said nothing. He grabbed up a bag of trash and a few of his mango buns then stepped outside the diner where an eave had been built and stood under it, setting down the bag of trash to slowly chew and think over matters.

In another part of town, the rumbling of thunder awoke a small hare sleeping upon a stone beneath a family's home. Though he had wished for the rest of death, Mabo was glad to be once more alive. Hunger rumbled through his stomach as thunder rumbled through the sky. He quickly cleaned himself, though not too thoroughly for he could see the rains had made the town quite muddy and messy. He then leaped from the stone
into the mud nearby. He caught a scent that made his stomach gurgle and followed it. The scent brought him to Tiger Chiang standing outside the diner.

The tiger appeared very fearsome standing alone in the dark. But whatever it was he was eating, the hare knew he wanted some of it. He ventured forward timidly.

Tiger Chiang heard the tiniest of footfalls and turned to look upon Mabo.

Mabo skittered behind the bag of trash.

Tiger Chiang considered this little creature. He called out, "Come, little one. Who is it that hides behind the bag there?"

Mabo crept out, afraid. His nose worked at the air. Rained poured onto his already soaked fur.

Tiger Chiang wondered what the hare was smelling at, then looked to the bun in his hand. "Oh," he said with realization. He then thought of Riki's kindness in his hour of need and wished to repeat the act. He asked, "Do you smell this? Would you like some?"

Mabo stood starting, afraid to speak but wanting the food.

"Normally we charge for such things, but it would seem we'll not be in business for much longer." Tiger Chiang crouched, holding out one of the uneaten buns.

Mabo's nose worked the air furiously.

Seeing the hare's timidity, Tiger Chiang set the bun down, then inched backwards so the bun was out of his range of reach.

Mabo hopped once, then twice and was upon the steamed bun, ravaging it with all his hunger.

"Slow your eating, little one. You'll give yourself a stomach ache if you continue to eat that way."

The steamed bun was soon gone and Tiger Chiang reached out to place another one on the ground.

Mabo darted from his hand, peering around the bag of trash once more.

Tiger Chiang smiled. "You must've gone through some trials to be so timid, even for a hare."

Mabo approached the new bun less timidly. he devoured the bun as quickly as he had the first.

Mabo looked at the tiger. "These are quite good," he finally spoke, "thank you."

Tiger Chiang dropped his last uneaten bun on the ground. "Thank you. I made them."

Mabo ate the final bun.

"What's your name, little one?" asked Tiger Chiang.

Mabo crawled under teh eave where the ground was a little drier and said, "I am Mabo the Hare."

Tiger Chiang said, "I am called Tiger Chiang."

The hare cleaned himself, then told Tiger Chiang his tale.

Tiger Chiang watched the small animal with interest, listening carefully.



For the next two days did Ipatiev approach Tiger Chiang about closing the diner. Each time, he then added he would try it for one more day.

For the next two days, Tiger Chiang's and Mabo's friendshi grew. Mabo continued to sleep upon the stone beneath the home and ate the steamed buns given to him by Tiger Chiang.

On the third day, Ipatiev came to Tiger Chiang once more. Tiger Chiang did not allow hims to speak, however. He instead raised a pawed hand to silence his employer and said, "Close down the diner. Stop dragging out its death. It is not right."

Ipatiev nodded with agreement.

Also on the third day, Comet Fox lead his small group through the forests near Loch Cam Valen, but avoided the town all together. Ketsueki Sato and his group, however, came marching right through town late that night. Such a commotion did they stir that not a single soul in Loch Cam Valen did not know of their presence. Ketsueki selected two homes and had them burned, the people yet inside, whilst Elkhorn threatened that should anyone ever lend aid to Comet Fox and his band, their would meet with a similar fate. Only the pouring rain saved the rest of the town from the fires that would otherwise most surely have spread.

Neither Ketsueki Sato nor Elkhorn looked back upon the small town as they left.

Emotions stirred deeply within Tiger Chiang as word came to him of this.

Yet none were so stirred as Mabo. He came to the door of the diner, seeking the shelter of his developing friendship with Tiger Chiang. The tiger met him there.

"Everything will be all right," soothed Tiger Chiang. "They have already gone. This town is safe once more."

"I don't want them to leave!" cried Mabo.

Shocked by this, Tiger Chiang asked, "What? Why?"

"That's the demon I told you of! And the man traveling with him is the very man that killed all my people!"

"Are you certain?"

Mabo ran in a circle, "Yes! Yes! Oh my yes! Their scent is still on the air!" Mabo stopped running, realizing something, then looked to Tiger Chiang and said, "I must follow them!"

"What? How?" asked Tiger Chiang. "What will you do should you catch them?"

"I don' know, but I cannot remain idle. I must do something before they kill again." Mabo darted, steering himself for the main road through town.

Mabo's words struck Tiger Chiang. He felt the hare was correct; that something must be done; that he, too, could not remain idle. He felt the calling truth, he felt the tugging destiny and the purpose he was made so long ago in the Korrawi jungles, he thought of his last conversations with Elder Macan.

Tiger Chiang called out to the racing Mabo, "Mabo! Wait!"

Mabo called back, still running, "I cannot wait! I must give chase!"

Tiger Chiang growled, roared. He called out, "Mabo! Stop where you are!"

Mabo, fearful of the tiger's growl, stopped and turned.

Tiger Chiang ran after him.

Together they stood in the pouring rains, fires dying nearby, people wailing for the lost lives. Together the two friends stood facing one another.

"You cannot make me stay!" Mabo defied, almost in tears.

"I don't want you to stay!" argued Tiger Chiang. "I want to go with you!"

This astounded Mabo. He asked, "You would go with me?"

Tiger Chiang nodded. "I would go with you. But I need you to wait long enough for me to take care of a few things first."

Mabo looked back, looking down the road where the demon and the hunter had traveled. He then looked to Tiger Chiang, his eyes pleading.

Tiger Chiang nodded. "I will hurry."

Mabo nodded. He found shelter under the lid of an overturned box.

Tiger Chiang returned to the diner where he gathered up a small pouch of steamed buns and ingredients to make more. He went to his room where he grabbed his hat and palced it upon his head. He said farewell to Ipatiev, then returned to Mabo's side.

"I've one more place to go," said Tiger Chiang.

Mabo did not like this, but agreed to it nonetheless.

Tiger Chiang walked to the home of Riki's family. He called out and Riki's father answered by opening the door.

"I've some matters to attend to," explained Tiger Chaing. "I'll be leaving the loch for some time."

Riki's father said, "Fare you well, tiger."

"May I see Riki?"

The father agreed and called for his son. Riki came running to the door.

Tiger Chiang knelt low and hugged the boy. "I wanted to thank you before I leave."

"Thank me for what?" asked Riki.

Tiger Chiang smiled. "For the hat," he said.

Riki smiled. "I can make more!"

"Maybe another time."

His farewells said, Tiger Chiang picked up little Mabo and placed him upon his shoulder, beneath the rim of the hat where the hare could remain dry. He then walked down the very road Ketsueki and Elkhorn took through town.

"You don't have to go," said Mabo into the tiger's ear.

"Quiet yourself," said Tiger Chiang. "I'm going. There is nothing you or anyone else can do to change that."

Mabo sat upon the tiger's shoulder in silence a moment. He then ventured, "But... but this isn't your fight."

Tiger Chiang flexed his muscles, clenching and un-clenching his pawed fists, baring his sharp and wicked claws. He thought over his purpose, he thought over his people. He felt kinship with this hare. Both his own people and those of the hare had once been hunted mercilessly. The great tiger almost growled thinking of this. It took all his will to pull his claws safely away from his palms.

"It is now," spake the tiger.


That's it for "The Tiger and the Hare"! I hope you enjoyed, and I hope it was worth the wait. Check back in two weeks for the next story in the Broken Sorrows novel!

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