There was a time when innocence walked the world. With all of the magnetism usually given to heroes, she walked among us drawing the animals and children to her. What was most unusual was the lack of pretense she had of her own value. Adults in the village thought her simple and childlike. They preferred to ignore her and her gifts. But the children understood that if they stood quietly enough, they would see a miracle. So they stood at her side and waited. Soon a fawn, or mother cat with kits, or a fox would come and sit by her side. When she smiled at the children and bid them welcome, the animals would rise and greet them as if they were equals. Sometimes they would allow themselves to be petted by children.
Rumors of her ability to see the simple but exquisite left the village and found the ears of a merchant. He came to the village and brought her gifts of magnificent beauty. He begged her to marry him, but she refused. Angered by her decision, the merchant went to the town’s mayor and demanded that the woman be given to him. The mayor, ignoring all that the children had gossiped about her, agreed that it was well past time for her to be married, as a single woman was a danger to the balance of harmony in the village. Sending a group of elders to the woman they demanded that she comply with the mayor’s orders. Again she refused. The merchant left, angry and full of lies. These lies spread through the country. Lies that told of her possessing the souls of children and animals. Lies that called her a witch or sorceress, lies that gave her power over the divine, and lies that gave her the power of ensorcelling an entire village spread like wildfire.
Eventually the king heard of the woman, and believing a village in his domain was at risk of demonic possession, sent a squadron of trained soldier to arrest her and bring her back to be tried for her crimes.
They found her in her home, the fawn and mother cat by her side, and bound her arms and legs. They slew the animals. The children screamed and cried, they protested the cruel treatment of their friend, but no one paid heed to them. Those that cried the loudest were also bound hand and foot and were taken to the king to show how the innocent had stolen their souls. The parents of the children now cried out in terror, fearing for the lives of their children. They were ignored as hysterical. If the soldiers had any qualms at all it was because of the innocent’s stillness. For she made no cry or complaint, only turned to the children and told them she loved them.
On the trip to her trial, she waited calmly, sure that no one could find a complaint against her. She was wrong. Arriving at the capitol city, she found that a pyre had been erected in advance, her guilt assumed. The trial began immediately. No time was given for her to freshen or eat. No kindness was extended to her or the children. The chief witness against her was the merchant who spoke of how she had refused his marriage proposal. He spoke of how she had so ensorcelled the town that even the mayor’s orders were not obeyed. He said he only wanted to give her the protection a married woman needed, for no woman was complete without a husband.
The children were called to testify, but were to terrified to do more that speak of her friendships with the creatures of the wild. They spoke only of her kindness and sharing. Enraged, the merchant called out. How dare they speak of something they were too young to understand. Surely the judge must see that they were under a demonic curse, that they were possessed. The judge was a wise old man, kin to king, and of a noble house greatly revered.
“Let the woman be led into the forest with myself to guard her. Let us see what she does to free herself.”
The judge led the woman and a squadron of soldiers to a clearing in the nearby woods where it was rumored that one of the great tigers lived. She was tied to a pole and a cut was given to her arm. Bleeding, she sobbed that she had done nothing wrong. But she was mistaken, she had done one thing she didn’t even know she had done. The blood pouring from her arm was pure of evil and malice, and it drew the tigress from her den where her young ones were growing.
Tigress smelled the blood and was drawn to it like a moth to candle. She entered the clearing, ready to kill this scent, for it was like a forbidden wine and she must have it. Finding the sobbing woman, she paused.
“Why do you sob and bleed the tears and blood of the innocent?”
The woman didn’t reply, but she also didn’t fear the great cat. The cat, coming close, tasted the blood flowing from the woman’s arm. The woman stopped sobbing, and did something unexpected.
“You must go, Tigress, for there is a squadron of soldiers hiding in the bush watching and they will kill you. Flee for the life of your children. Roar at me and run. I am doomed as it is. A man has made false charges against me and I can not prove my innocence for I did refuse him.”
“I am not afraid,” answered the tigress. She continued to lick the bleeding arm until the bleeding was staunched. Then she bite through the ropes that held the woman, freeing her. At once the judge jumped into the clearing.
“Take her now and kill her for she has captured the soul of the tiger.” And on that command, soldiers burst into the clearing fearing not the tiger but that innocent who had no protector to stand before her. Intent on killing her, they did not see the whirl of the tigress and she turned and used her claws to strike down the first soldier. They ignored the death of a second soldier, thinking that the woman controlled the tiger. As the third soldier fell, a spear point stabbed the woman in the abdomen and she crumpled to the ground. Enraged, the tigress stuck right and left until at last only the judge stood before her. He cowered, crying out, “Leave me be, I am a righteous man. It was a fair sentence.”
The tigress was disgusted. How had all of the adults missed the sign of a goddess on earth in human form. She turned to the woman who was dying. The last thing she expected was about to happen.
Opening her eyes for a final moment, the woman blessed her and her offspring. “Thank you for your protection. I will be with you in the afterlife to protect you and all of your species for your kindness. I ask only one thing. Please escort the children who were stolen from their homes to a place of safety. Make them part of your litter and care for them as you care for your cubs. Children deserve wonder in their lives and should not be deprived of it. My mistake was to let others know that kindness was a virtue. Forgive me, Tigress.”
She died, as all true heroines must. But the tigress having heard her words, called upon her people to join her in taking the children from the soldiers as they were being returned home. Striking with great violence, the children were liberated and given tiger back rides to the forest where they met their new brothers and sisters. No one saw them again, but it is said that if you wander into the woods and sit still and listen, you can hear the shouts of joy as the young of both species played together with great respect for each other and with kindness to all they met.
Innocent died but others came that taught over and over that kindness was a virtue. The tigress still waits for us to learn that lesson.