Once upon a time there lived a girl. She was young and strange and she lived inside her head. Oh, she could hear and see and smell sounds, but she was always locked in her head. It caused her no end of trouble or of pain, because although she longed to get out of her world and talk to other people, when she stayed out of her head too long she began to ache. Light hurt her, and loud noises. She shivered when it was barely cool, and burned at the slightest trace of warmth.
One day, she decided to get out and find another world that was warm, and safe, and didn’t hurt. As she was getting out of her head, a voice warned, “Beware. You will find more hurt out there.”
“But I want to know how it feels.” She replied.
“Yes. You will find a prince who will take care of you, but he will also harm you. You will experience a pain far worse than you ever have.” The voice told her. “And you will harden, and you will bleed inside, and part of you will be sliced away and die. Are you certain you want to pay the price?”
She lowered her head and thought about it. And then she said, “What use am I, locked up here in my head?”
And she was out.
She realized she had turned into a puppy. And she was staring up at the face of a young boy. He was talking to her.
“… I’ll name you Arrow.” He smiled, rubbing her chin. “I’m your new Master, you know. Prince Daimien. And you are the best dog in the world.”
And so he was. He brought her to his strange white castle, with its large white gates and servants always running about. She was his only puppy and he adored her. He would feed her tidbits and give her the softest blankets to lie on, and when it was cold, he insisted that she stay by his bedside.
He brought her to all his hunts and when there were other Princes around he would show her off proudly. And so the years passed and she grew, older and much beloved as the Royal Dog. And when Daimien looked at her, she knew he was happy.
One day, another prince came visiting. This was Prince Valerian, and he was a good friend of Daimien. He looked at her oddly, but she came close and sniffed his hand, for she was a very friendly puppy. He yanked his hand away and sneered.
“Is this your mutt?” He drawled condescendingly at Daimien. Her young happy prince smiled. “Yes, isn’t she beautiful?”
Valerian only sniffed and commented, “She’s not a purebred. She’ll never amount to anything.”
And Arrow looked up to see Daimien looking at her, studying her intensely in a way that he never had before. A chill swept through her body; the icy wave of foreboding. But determinedly, she ignored it and continued to wag her tail at him.
For the first time, he ignored her and went to catch up with Valerian.
The following day, Arrow awoke rudely as the royal chambermaid dragged her downstairs from the Prince’s room, to be dumped unceremoniously into the Kennel. “’E’s over this one, finally.” The chambermaid said as she passed the cook. “’Ow this dog caught ‘Is eye, I’ll never figure out. Never saw a scrawnier mutt in me life. Even the Royal Kennels’ re too good for ‘er.”
Arrow was shocked. Of course, they had made a mistake. Patiently she sat down and waited for Daimien to rescue her. And waited. And waited. But he never came.
One day, many months later, she thought she heard his voice. Eagerly, she went to the door of her cage, ready to lick his cheek and wag her tail as he had taught her. And then she saw him cradling a new puppy, just a brand new baby puppy, like he had cradled her before. And it was a purebred. Valerian stood behind him, smiling.
And she felt the worst pain she had ever felt before. He looked up with shining eyes and then saw her, Arrow. And then he looked away as if he hadn’t seen her. “I’ll name you Arrow.” He told the squirming puppy.
Quietly, she sat in the corner of her kennel and stopped waiting.
That night, the entire Royal household awoke to the prince’s screams and found him covered in blood. The new puppy was half-wild, and it had gone for his throat. Nobody knew if Prince Daimien would live.
In the ruckus that followed, the girl stopped being a dog and slowly slipped from the castle.
She sat in the woods, tired after her exodus from Daimien’s castle. And she closed her eyes and willed herself back inside her head again. But it was not the same.
“You have opened the door.” The voice taunted. “You have gone out and you have returned and the world inside is a different place. It will never be the same.”
“I am here.” She answered, but she knew the voice was right. It would never be the same.
The second time she left her world, she was a bear. A great growling bear that wandered wild in the forest. She saw other bears that played splashing in the mountain brooks, and went after honey, and slept during the cold. And she felt a little better, though the voice had been right. Part of her would die.
One day she was in the woods when a net was thrown over her head. She struggled vainly to free herself but it was no use. Men had captured her.
She was placed in a small dark box, with no light and no air. Briefly, she wondered if she had died, and prayed that she had. And the box began to move. She realized she was being transported somewhere. And she slept in the dark.
When she awoke, she was chained, in a giant cage with wheels. She was at a fair and there were people all around her, pointing and staring. A little boy picked up a stick and started poking her with it. With a roar of helpless fury, she tried to move away. All the people laughed nervously, but nobody tried to stop the boy from hurting her.
Soon the boy was joined by other little boys, and her sides were bruised and bloody. And since she was chained in place, she could not even move away from the sharp sticks. Miserably, she curled into a ball as best as she could, and closed her eyes.
Suddenly a voice shouted, “Hey, stop that! Why are you hurting the poor bear? Has it harmed any of you?” Mercifully, the poking stopped. She slowly opened her eyes to see that a man had thrown himself at the bars of her cage, placing himself between them and her.
He looked back at her once and she realized that he had kind eyes. And then one boy sneered, “Who the hell are you!?”
“I am Cameron, Prince of this troupe. This animal is mine and you shall not harm it.” That was the last thing the bear heard before passing out.
Cameron was gentle to the bear, as he fed her and put salve on her wounds in the coming days. He would often sing to her and to the old tiger in the next cage late at night, talking to them of his dreams and hopes and memories.
Slowly, he trained her to stand up properly, once her wounds had healed, and he gave her a little hat to wear and a vest. And at night he would take her into the big tent full of people who watched, wide eyed, as she performed stunts and danced to his little tin whistle.
All the animals loved him, because he was ALWAYS kind and patient with them.
He favored the bear best, though, and gave her extra honey sometimes. He thought her eyes were sad.
(to be continued)