Little Danny Claiborne had raised him from a cub. Taka, the Saber Tooth, was an adolescent tiger. He went from sleeping with Danny under the covers of his bed to living in a shed next to the house.
Taka’s brother Kai, and his sister Aka, were raised by two other children, Sha Clanton and Dran McLaury. Danny, Sha, and Dran loved their sabers but as the tigers grew toward maturity, the villagers became more wary. There had been a few occasions when an unannounced visitor to one of their homes had nearly been mauled.
But to the children who were still children, the sabers were beloved pets, and the sabers had the children no reason to believe otherwise, at least until recently.
The man village was small; maybe a few dozen clans who gathered together for mutual support and defense. The three cubs had been rescued after the village hunters killed their mother. The father had not mated for life, nor had he been seen in the vicinity for a season or more.
The first sign of trouble was when Sha went to feed Aka her portion of the day’s kill, a nice haunch of water buffalo. Instead of Aka waiting for the little girl to place the haunch on the saber’s plate in the shed, the tiger abruptly used its powerful jaws to yank the meat out of the girl’s hand.
The child gasped and fell backward, landing on her bum. Then her shock and fear turned to anger. She stood and shook her finger at the great beast.
“Now that wasn’t proper, Aka. You wait until you are served.”
The Saber casually glanced up a the child while feeding, staring at her with the coldest stare Sha had ever seen.
Danny, Sha, and Dran had been meeting every Saunder’s Day afternoon for the nearly nine months they had the cubs. They compared notes on feeding, sleeping habits, changes in stool, anything having to do with the care of the sabers.
“Something’s not right about Taka.” Danny was the oldest of the three, the leader, the one to suggest to his father, the head of the Claiborne clan, that the village should nurture rather than murder the cubs.
Last night, when I fed him his dinner, he looked like he’d rather eat me than the antelope.”
“The same with me three nights ago, Danny”. Sha recalled the “incident” with the buffalo haunch. She could feel a lump forming in her throat. She loved Aka so much. Why would her saber become so cold to her?
Dran rolled up his right sleeve. “Look at this.”
It was a very thin scratch, but it ran all the way from his wrist to his elbow. “I surprised Kai when I went to change his water the other morning.”
“You’re kidding. A saber’s claws should have ripped the flesh from your bones.” Danny was astonished and also getting scared.
“I think it was meant as a warning, not to really hurt me.”
“Not yet.” Sha finally spoke up again. “Hey, we’re all thinking it. I just said it.”
“You mean now that the sabers are growing up, they’re acting well…like sabers”.
“Yeah, Danny. Big cats and people don’t mix. Next time, my scratch might become a mauling.”
“I’ve heard enough, children.”
The three always met under a mulberry tree in the back of the McLaury property and it was Old Man McLaury himself, Dran’s Granddad, who unexpectantly came around from the other side of the plant.
Old Man McLaury, elder of the McLaury clan, and arguably the most influential person in the village, save for Kane Claiborne, the Leader of the Hunters.
“We warned you children when you begged to take the cubs in. We warned you again over the past month when the sabers started getting more aggressive. Now you know what’s to be done.”
The clan leaders met an hour later as an emergency meeting was called. The sabers had to go. The villagers had no hope of just driving the three large predators out. They had to be killed.
It would be dangerous. It was dangerous hunting one saber. These three were still immature and inexperienced, but they also had a tremendous amount of raw power. There could be many casualties among the hunters, but better that than to serve the villagers up as convenient meals for the sabers.
The hunters quietly gathered their weapons and gathered in the village square. As was mentioned, the village was small, so there was no attacking one saber without the other two immediately hearing the commotion. The hunting party had to divide into thirds and hope each group could dispatch their saber, ending the threat all at once.
There was just one problem. When the hunting parties each approached the shelter for their quarry, they had already gone. Chains had been broken. Leather straps had been chewed through. Taka, Aka, and Kai had vanished.
Except that three large sabers cannot simply vanish. Instead, they stood at the north end of the village, the trail pointing toward the Bandi mountains, where their mother had been killed a year ago.
The hunters went to confront the tigers but Kane Claiborne held them back.
“Steady, men. Three sabers together…they’d rip us apart and after us, the village.
No one moved, not the hunters, not the rest of the people of the village, and not the sabers.
Danny, Sha, and Dran edged forward.
“You children stay back,” Kane whispered, afraid a shout would bring the animals down upon them.
“We just want to see.” Danny whispered defiantly back at his father. The boy had a will about him. Someday, he’d make a fine successor to his father as leader.
The three children huddled together looking into the eyes of their sabers who were no longer theirs. Each saber looked back, making eye contact with the child who had raised it.
It was a silent farewell. For a few moments, the body language of the sabers softened. It was as if they were trying to tell their children how much they were grateful, for their lives, for the gentle care the tigers received.
That’s what the children took away with them, though no one could ever know what the sabers were really thinking.
The trio suddenly turned and ran to the north, to the mountains, to the canyons, to their home.
“Well now you did it.” The immediate danger past, Kane looked down scornfully at his son and Danny’s companions.
“We raised three saber cubs to become three dangerous hunters prowling a stone’s throw from the village. You remember how we labored to dispatch her mother.”
“I’m sorry sir.” It was the first time anyone had seen Danny Claiborne cry in a while. Both Sha and Dran began to sob, out of shame, grief, and loss.
But as the days and nights passed, as the weeks and months passed, no hunter, gatherer of berries in the nearby hills, no traveler passing through the village, ever reported sighting or hearing any of the three sabers.
Old Man McLaury finally concluded that they went off looking for their father rather than hunt their mother’s territory. It was as good a story as any.
Dran still bears a faint scar where Kai scratched him as a reminder of those days. As the children grew, became adults, married, and had children of their own, they remembered and told others, including their own broods, of how they once rescued three saber cubs from being killed, raised them, loved them, and when it was time, instead of their being blood between man and saber, the sabers took their leave in peace.
May the sabers hunt well, and may they never cross the path of man, but may they always remember those days when man was not their enemy, but those who nurtured them.
Inspired by the tale Saber Tooth Beast.