About In the Hearts of Tigers
Author: Sean Michael and Julia Talbot
Word Count: 49700
Page Count (pdf): 191
ISBN: : 978-1-942831-30-3
Series: Tigers Tales
Date Published: 10/2016
Publisher: Turtlehat Creatives
File Types available: Pdf, epub, mobi
Malik and Rishi are tiger shifters who live and love in a world far away from man. At least until a lord of some manor comes exploring and Rishi is kidnapped and hauled away in a cage. Rishi has never lived as a man, but Malik know what humans are capable of, and he’s desperate to get his mate back.
Lynn is the lord’s valet, and when everyone else goes missing, he has no idea what to do. Then he meets the human Malik and thinks he’s either been saved or he’s about to die. When Malik ends up owing Lynn a life debt, Malik and Rishi must teach Lynn how to survive in the jungle, and how to live and love among tigers.
*Note: This is a darker alternate universe shifter story that was featured in the Shifting II anthology. The publisher has changed
He would never chase the pretty winged ones again.
He swore on his tail and his claws and his stripes.
If his Raj would just come now and help because the mans had him in a hard box, a very hard box with tiny sticks that hurt his teeth and shoulder and he wanted Out.
His roar was loud as he could make it, his fear so big inside him that it took up everything. He wanted his Rock, his Tree, his Raj. He wanted out to run and pounce and not stay by the badhotbright burning fire and the smelly mans.
Rishi wanted fresh water and running and hunting and grooming and purring.
Oh, he wanted purring so bad.
Please, Raj. Please hear.
The biggest, smelliest meanest man ever came and poked him with a stick and he snarled and swiped and broke the stick before it hurt him. Mean man.
It was not Right and Good that he be in a box.
Not at all.
Oh, Malik. Love. Home. Heart.
Please hear your Rishi.
Lynn curled up, arms around his legs, face buried in his knees and rocked in place.
He was going to die.
Lord Ledringham was gone.
Not just gone but eaten.
At least that’s what the guides had said before they’d fled, the two guards going with them, leaving Lynn alone to bury the remains, such as they were.
He’d been unhappy when Lord Ledringham had first suggested going into India and capturing several animals for the London Zoo. Even more so when his Master had made it clear that he would be going along.
India was hot and humid and his fears and unhappiness had not improved when they’d left the overcrowded city for the wide open spaces. Indeed, he was as trapped by his servitude as that poor tiger was in his cage.
Oh, sweet Lord. The tiger. When was the last time it had been fed? Watered?
He wiped his eyes and stumbled up, finding his Master’s machete and stumbling over to the antelope they’d killed. Disgusting. There were flies everywhere and the stench of rotting meat was unbelievable. He chopped a leg off the carcass and dragged it back to camp, throwing it into the cage.
The young tiger just kept roaring, the sound so constant that Lynn could ignore it now. Surely it would tire of caterwauling at some point and give him some peace.
He went down to the river and stood in the water, cleaning the blood and dirt from his hands and then filled the two skins with fresh water. He used one to fill the tiger’s water bowl.
He watched the beast pacing and roaring, wishing it would stop, just for a moment or two. He’d let it go if he wasn’t sure it would attack him the moment the gate was open.
He went and sat by the tree again, watching the tiger, trying to ignore the grave of his Master. There wasn’t even a proper headstone, but the ground was disturbed there, dry grasses dug away.
He supposed he should dig his own next to it, if he wanted a proper burial. Yes. That would be something to do at least. Taking up the broken bowl he’d used as a shovel, he crawled over to Lord Ledringham’s final resting place and began to dig next to it.
His hole was a foot deep and three wide before Lynn realized the clearing was quiet. The tiger had stopped roaring. Blinking, wiping the sweat from his brow, he turned.
At the mouth of the clearing, where the trees swallowed it up, stood the first man he had seen since the native guides had all run off in fear. This man gave native a whole new meaning, as he was nude but for a bit of cloth about his waist. The man watched him intently, saying not a word.
“Oh sweet Lord, preserve me,” he murmured. He stood, limbs not quite steady, weak as he was from hunger and exhaustion. He was almost too worn out to be afraid, but the man’s stare was quite frightening in its intensity, in the way it didn’t seem quite… human.
Perhaps it was the man’s looks. Tall, muscular, the fellow had skin the color of beaten copper, and a shock of thick hair that looked dappled in the half light, dark brown warring with bright orange, fading to almost white. The eyes that stared right through him were the most startling thing, however. They were bright blue.
“He..hello.” His voice was a croak, barely more than sounds and he cleared his throat and tried again. “Hello?”
The tiger was making the oddest sounds — almost barking, almost speaking sounds. He shivered, half-stepping toward the man, taking a path that would keep him away from the tiger’s cage.
The man spared a glance for the tiger, tilting his head briefly, and the animal quieted once more. “Hello.”
He nearly began to cry again, managing not to by biting his lip hard. “Oh, hello. Hello.” He took a few more steps toward the man, moving slowly so he wouldn’t stumble. “Did the guides send you back for me? Are you here to take me…”
He was going to say home, but really, with Lord Ledringham quite dead he didn’t exactly have a home anymore, did he?
The man did not even seem to blink, watching him so carefully. “I am Malik. I will help you get back to the man’s city.”
The voice was different from the guides and guards, lower in pitch, the cadence different. The tone was more guttural, much less nasal.
“Oh… oh thank you.” He started to shake. It was all too much. “What about the tiger?” he asked. “We can’t just let him go — he’ll eat us. We can’t leave him in the cage though — it would be cruel.”
He was responsible to properly finish Lord Ledringham’s task now.
The man, Malik, frowned at him. “I will help you, but for this I ask of you two things.”
He blinked. Oh, dear. He didn’t seem to have much choice in the matter — well he did actually — he could do whatever this Malik asked of him or he could go and finish digging his final resting place.
“W..what?” he asked, voice wavering.
“The tiger must be let go. And when you go back to the man’s place, you must tell the Eenglish who will ask that the other man, who you put in the ground,” here Malik waved a hand at Lord Ledringham’s grave. “Tell them he was not killed by an animal.”
“What do I tell them then? That he was eaten by ants?” His voice rose shrilly.
Malik’s voice remained perfectly calm. It was maddening. “To my tribe, the tiger is sacred. If you tell the men your Raj was eaten, they will hunt tigers. Tell them he drowned in the river, or tripped over a root and broke himself.”
He thought hard — the men who had run away would contradict him if he said something like that. “I guess I could say he was poisoned by a snake.” He nodded to the tiger. “But he’s going to eat me if we’re still here when he gets out.”
“He will not.” Malik smiled, and made a low sound, much like a purr. “I will let him out now. You will see.”
Before he could even protest, Malik went to the big cage and opened it right up. The tiger ran out, twining around the man’s legs, growling and snarling and… nuzzling? Nuzzling? Tigers didn’t nuzzle. Malik squatted, taking the big cat’s head between his hands and rubbing their noses together. The tiger rumbled, their cheeks rubbing together, slowly, surely.
He was obviously hallucinating now. Probably the heat and the shock of recent events catching up with him. He sat down hard. The man probably wasn’t even real. He wasn’t even sure the tiger was anymore. He closed his eyes. He thought maybe sleep would be a good idea and thought maybe he could sleep now. Or at least pass out.