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The Lion

Mari Ness has appeared many fine places, including often at Daily Science Fiction!

The lion never speaks about his past. This has led, naturally, to considerable gossip. The lion, many insist, is not really a lion--after all, real lions can't talk. No, he must be a transformed prince, in love with a princess. Or--given the way the lion watches the prince, a transformed princess, in love with the prince. No, a transformed prince in love with the prince. Or a transformed prince who once fell in love with a lion. Or a princess seeking revenge on the prince, or a prince seeking revenge on the king. These things are said to happen, after all, if only in implausible fairy tales told to children.
Then again, they have all seen the implausible: a talking lion.
Those against these conjectures point to the lion's unquestionably terrible table manners. Surely, they insist, anyone born human, royal or not, would not tear so viciously, so messily into the meat thrown at him from a careful distance. No: those are the manners of a wild lion. Besides, there's the issue of his mangled speech. Oh, yes, he talks--which is not, in anyone's experience, usual for lions--but hardly clearly. He can move his tongue, but struggles with moving the rest of his mouth; he has never been heard to make the sounds of b or p. At least, not successfully. Surely, that suggests that he must be a lion, since a human would have learned how to make such sounds, though others argue that it must mean the opposite: surely a born lion would know how to move every muscle in his body? No. The lion must be a human, still struggling to adjust to the transformation.
None of this is said anywhere near where the lion can hear, of course. They are all--even the king and the prince--more than a little afraid of him. The king still sports a long scar down his arm, as do several of the servants, and two soldiers once set to guard him are now missing hands and feet. A reason to send him back to wherever he came from, some whisper--cautiously. A reason to keep him near the king, others argue--also cautiously. Who could be a better bodyguard? Exactly why he should be removed from the palace immediately, a few say--safe in other palaces.
An impossibility, counter others. After all, removing the lion from the palace would deprive the palace of its greatest treasure--a lion able not just to talk, or roar truths into the ears of the king and prince, but to predict the future.
When he is so inclined.
Sometimes only petty things: noting that that the hair of a proud duchess would soon catch on fire, just moments before it did, or warning a small girl that she would lose her golden ball in a well. Sometimes personal things: informing a baron that his wife would leave him by the end of the month; an archer that she would soon find herself struck by an arrow. Sometimes great things: a coming war between nations, a forest fire, the birth of a child.
Very often, truths no one wants to hear.
Which is why, everyone agrees, the lion is seen so often in chains; why so often his words are mixed with roars. Why the prince, when the lion is dragged into the throne room by chains, often turns pale.
And perhaps why, when the prince is found in his room, gaping wounds in his neck, a dagger standing in the center of his chest, the lion is nowhere to be found. Or why, a few days later, tufts of rough brown hair--the sort that you might find in a lion's mane--are found in the king's bedroom, or why the king and two of his soldiers now sport red scars on their faces and arms. Scars that might have been left by a prince's dagger. Or a lion's claw.
With the lion gone, no one can find out the truth. Not that this stops the stories. After all, everyone agrees, this part of his past should be made known.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, March 6th, 2017

Author Comments

This is another story where I try to look at the unsaid things in fairy tales. in this case, the story of "The Twelve Huntsmen," a fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, where, for no particular reason, a prophetic talking lion shows up and everyone in the story is just like, ok, whatever, WE HAVE BIGGER PROBLEMS. I couldn't help thinking: even in a fairy tale, wouldn't a talking lion garner more attention?

- Mari Ness
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