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                                by Lynne Charles

Walking alone in the forest, she felt especially safe. A cape of protection and confidence settled around her shoulders as if it were developed specifically to fit her. Her light, intricately designed moccasins kept pace faultlessly, stepping through the woods noiselessly as she continued into the dense brush. The forest air was deliciously cool and brought with it the fresh scent of pine. Having journeyed a great way, she decided to rest. She chose a comfortable spot among the trees near a softly rippling stream and settled back to rest for a short while. Her long, flowing cape billowed about her, providing a warmth and comfort in the solitude of the forest. Only the singing of the slowly running stream brooked the silence. Wearied with the pressure and length of the journey, she easily drifted off to sleep.

When she awoke, the light of the forest had long since dimmed. Now, the friendship and safety of the forest seemed to be replaced with feelings of danger and helplessness. She walked quickly, eager to leave the forbidding blackness of the forest. Then, pausing for an instant to regain her breath, she heard the heart-rending cry of something in terrible pain. Her intelligence and compassion forced her to venture in that direction, though she was troubled at the prospect. Listening to the pitiful moans, she was eventually directed to the site. What she saw there left her breathless with sorrow.

Lying on its back in the dense underbrush was a jet-black panther. Its yellow eyes gleamed warningly in her direction. She approached cautiously, all the while fixing an intense look of concentration into the brightly shining eyes of the wounded animal. At last she was near enough to touch the animal. Its head slowly sank back against the ground. The woman placed her hands on the great cat's side and made an enormous, concerted effort to heal the panther. Beneath her hands she could feel the broken bones knitting, torn muscles mending, pain subsiding. At length, satisfied with her work, she released the cat from her power and stood back. The great cat slowly got up, testing his strength. Then he came to sit by the woman. The cat, which she named Intrigue, strode by her side, matching her pace, always there. And, so it was, as the pair exited the forest, they were met by a guard, dressed in various hues of red.

 © 1985, 

K. Blaire, L. Charles, D. Conrad, Enad the Great, J. Pierce, B. C. Randolf, and T. G. Taft

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