They didn’t speak of him. Not at all.
The king with the white mane.
A notch hanging off his ear.
Ridges gouged around his eyes.
He sat in the corner, silently. Watchfully. His tail swishing mindfully as the others ignored him. Steering clear of him, because of his odd color. His strange scars. Or, maybe, because of the way he seemed quiet. Daunting.
He was an anomaly, honestly. Something to marvel. To ponder. Something to observe, take in, and marvel.
And yet, there he was.
There, in the corner—away from all the others—he sat. Just the tiniest bit of sunlight shrinking in his eye.
The white lion.
I waited until dark.
When the other lions had found homes. Found places to be kept, to sleep. New prides and new owners—Rangers who were eager to walk with younger lions. Eager to take on new prospects, new challenges, new spells with their spirit guides. With their fearsome beasts. Kings of the wilds, who could teach them the ways of the natural magics.
At the end of the day, they were all gone.
All but one.
The white lion.
“How long has he been here?” I asked one of the handlers.
It used to be that the lions would roam free. Back in the days when Rangers had to fight for survival. When they were hunted, and challenged by Techs and their harsh, metal magics. Back then, the lions would traverse the forests, because there were so few Rangers to pair with them. So very few could understand them, harness their wild energy, their natural magic.
So they roamed free.
But now, there were loads of Rangers.
Lions were heralded as kings after The Running War. After Techs and their bad magics and their disgust for lions were destroyed, the Rangers were allowed to teach their own magics. Give everyone a piece of what nature could bring. Lions—being the main channel through which Rangers brought magic, a sort of conduit—were, of course, in higher demand after that. Once people found out anyone could use natural magics—with the help of a lion, of course—everyone wanted one.
And so, there are places like this.
They aren’t bred like dogs. Not really.
They are gathered and brought into big settlements. Allowed a place with food and shelter until they find a Ranger to be paired with.
And, why would they agree to that, you ask?
Having their magic used is gratifying to them. Akin to being praised, or pet. They love having a Ranger, just as much as Rangers love having lions. Mutually beneficial. One growing on the other, giving the other strength and support. If done right, it’s a perfect balance. Lions and Rangers…
They’re perfect companions.
Something many strive for.
Quite the fulfilling thing, if done properly.
And so, here the lions gather. Waiting for a Ranger to pick them, take them home.
Since these types of establishments—Pair Centers, they’re called, not shelters or anything of the like—had been created, it doesn’t take long for lions to find Rangers. The lions gather here, then the Rangers come. They form bonds pretty quickly, and they have new partners in no time.
Doesn’t take long at all.
Usually, it doesn’t.
“That lion’s been here for over a year,” the handler says, looking disgruntled. “He’s older than most of the lions we usually get. Not as outgoing as most, either. Strange personality, I guess. Kind of… quiet.”
“Hmm,” I reply.
What a weird guy. Seems to me like he’s trying to talk me out of something.
I’m not buying it.
Ignoring his remark, I walk across the field. Heading straight for my goal. Questions fixed in my mind. Questions that only one creature can answer.
The white lion.
Of course, he sees me walking across the field, as I move confidently across the night-lit grass. He sees me, and so, he watches me. Eyes hooded beneath the cover of the tree above him. White fur glowing slightly in the moonlight. I see the way his snout is pointed in my direction, and I feel burning in the way one does when eyes are watching. The kind of burning that becomes stronger by the minute, trying to lock your muscles, weaken your bones. It’s the sort of gaze that can glare splinters into mountains, or melt glaciers as you pass.
I don’t stutter.
And I don’t stop.
And I don’t falter.
I keep walking.
I walk right up to the beast. The king of the moonlit garden. Crickets chirping, and frogs croaking, and, occasionally, an owl hooting between the trees. A small symphony sung to all who bravely gather in the dark.
But, that’s not all there is.
Not at all.
Beneath the dim noise is the silence, and beneath the silence is the stars. And beneath those stars, I am facing a king with many, many scars.
So many scars.
I’d seen them earlier, during the day hours, but, with his fur glowing in the moonlight, it makes them more apparent. Much more obvious. Highlighted across the planes of his calm face are tracks of battles. Tracing over his life, cutting back and forth with the steady hand of experience. The harsh glimmer of knowledge and pain. Of loss and life and loves dragged through the undertow, shimmering in the blaze of house fires and black clouds of smoke.
In the beam of night, I can see the scars clearly, and I know for certain.
Before me sits no ordinary lion.
Not at all.
Here, beneath the noise and quiet and winking of stars sits a beast.
Calmly, the white lion blinks.
And he stares.
And in the wake of the moon’s gaze, he says nothing.
This thoughtful king sits quietly beneath such a sound kingdom. Such an empty, beautiful cascade. A glorious embarkment, full of hollow promises and expanses of dark nothings that stretch between stars.
I see the eyes of the king. Those orange, burning eyes. Wise. Knowing. Kind, I think. A demand of compassion, from himself to me, sits beneath the dark orange. That shadowed place. A forgotten hollow that seems bursting with autumn’s promises. New beginnings and life lived anew, the season’s greetings garnered in that gaze. A window to a crisp, new era. A promise to reset.
The eyes of a good king, I think.
Strong, powerful, thoughtful.
“You want a partner?” I ask him, daring to be the first to break though this kingdom of night.
For a moment, I lose his orange eyes as they close behind the white cloud tufts of his fur. Snout pulling up slightly, loosely.
Amused, I think.
“Don’t you mean to say that I need a partner?” he intones, the rumbling words forming in my head, rather than being said aloud.
Which means he’s accepted.
And it means he already knows my answer. Has found it acceptable, pleasing.
For my sake, I say it anyway.
“If you needed a partner, you’d have taken one already. Clearly, you’re better than that. That’s why I asked: do you want a partner?”
He chuckles, a gentle thunder in the distance of my mind, and I feel the tugging tethers of binding magic between us. The workings of nature weaving through my mind. A tingling hum blooms in my veins, the tell-tale signs of magic.
All I can think is:
I’m glad he’s amused.
“I am Tao. I have waited a long time for you, Ranger.”
The way he says it speaks of droughts and rain and grass. Of feeling endless thirst, and sleepless nights. Of wondering and gazing at stars and roaring into the void of the sun. Of prayers unspoken, and stars that have, nonetheless, heard. Miracles bursting, and blessings being found.
He doesn’t mean it so meanly, I know he doesn’t, but still.
I can’t help but feel a little bit guilty.
Apparently, it shows.
He chuckles again, and the sound resounds within me. Shaking some of the worry of my bones.
“It will be well-worth the wait, I’m sure.”
Author’s note: I hate Valentine’s Day. There’s so much pressure to find/have/be a valentine. There always has been and, as long as stores keep making money off it, there always will be. It’s ridiculous.
I hate it.
People need to know:
There’s a white lion somewhere out there for you. Or, maybe you ARE the white lion in waiting. Either way, pick someone who’s going to want to share your strengths and watch you become something better. Don’t pick just any old cat, alright? And never feel bad for waiting. Especially if you’re waiting on something that’ll be good for you. Let other fools make mistakes, you do what you gotta do. Even if what you have to do is “wait”, then, go for it. Don’t be afraid to wait it out.
Besides, you look like a majestic beast doing it.
Which is actually the moral of today’s story—
You’re a beautiful beast, and you’re worth it.
Happy Valentine’s Day!!!!