The Young Priest and the Black Panther

It was very green in the valley where the young priest resided. It was said the young priest choose this valley, for he saw it in a dream while praying in the desert of his birth. His vision danced before his eyes and his sun scorched face in the heat that rose from the flat dusty ground. In the ripples he saw tall mountains of covenants, green leaves like roof tops, and rivers as blue as infant stars. In that lush valley he also saw a black panther staring at him with her cold yellow eyes. He knew he must find this place.
His journey took many winds, and cajoled him into many different places.
Ah, but those are songs for another fire, and my loves, trust you’d gain great heights from their chords!
This story, however, is about the young priest in the valley and the black panther.
As it is with most young priests that have been touched by creation itself, his tales come before his presence. I shall tell you some of his truth.
The young priest wore a cloak about him. This cloak held in its fibers a constant flux of color. One moment it was green, the next it was blue, then all of a sudden it would be the orange of a summer fire flower. The undulation of the pigments never waned- not when he ate, nor slept, nor made love. I have heard, and tend to agree, that this cloak was the manifestation of his ability to immerse himself in all the possibilities of the universe and measurable time. He was favored among the elements of the universe, for he was touched by creation herself at the moment of his conception. Some people say the great goddess herself weaved him his cloak and disguised herself as an old hag to present it to him. She wished to see if his eyes were still blind from birth, or if they opened to see the mysteries that gathered in the breezes that swept through insect wings. Surely he passed her test, for he wore her gift and never removed it from his shoulders.

***
The young priest found the valley as he saw it in his dream. Leaves like roofs, mountains of covenants, and blue rivers of infant stars. Yet, he did not see the black panther. He took his daily mediations on the grass and hanging from trees. He slowly built a small house for himself, not for need of shelter, but for the sheer pleasurable amusement of building with his hands. He walked the curves of the mountains and communed with her inhabitants. As it is with those touched by creation, all manors of creatures came to greet him. Winged wicked things that stung for fun rested on his arm, while small Bengal foxes tugged at the hem of his cloak. His laughter bounced around the mountains like the reflection of metal in sunlight.
Soon the surrounding villages heard tell of the young priest. Young men would come and debate the terms of water droplets on the backsides of elephants while lounging half naked in the stones of the blue rivers like infant stars. Old women would send their daughters with gifts of fruit to entice his stomach and heart. It was on one of these nights as the young priest explored hills of a particularly supple girl he when he heard the large paws of the blank panther. He tried to ignore the low rumble that vibrated from her throat. His attempt to focus his attention on the young girl was in vain- and his distraction was noted.
“What is it?” she whispered/
He did not answer, for he could not lie.
“I heard something. Didn’t you hear that growl?”
He gently replied, “Pay no mind.”
The girl sat up and looked through his open door. They both saw the flash of yellow eyes at once, and then disappear in the dark night.
“We are not safe here! Your house is made only of leaves and sticks! It won’t keep a beast like that out!” she cried.
He smiled at the girl, “Who said I wished to keep it out?”
Flabbergasted and fearful she rushed from his floor and gathered her garments around her. She jumped at the sound of the blank panther’s growl.
“We must go!”
The young priest did not move from the ground, his voice was calm, “You have nothing to fear, stay.”
Pacing paws of the blank panther were behind the small shack. The young girl cursed with terror and ran home to the safety of her village and family.
The young priest laid there for quiet some time. I cannot tell you what he thought about, I could only guess. And guessing when it comes to matters of the thoughts of the young priest is like writing in stone the single color his cloak held. Finally he sat up and left the cover of his little shelter. He found the black panther lying in front of his shack, head resting on her paws. She stared at him as he stared at her; eyes wide wondering who was hypnotizing who. She broke the moment when she choose to lick her paw. Her big tongue washed in between her toes. He sat down across from her. They stayed like this till dawn- the young priest watching the black panther bathe herself with her tongue and his attention.

***

For a time no one came to visit the young priest at his twig and leaf shelter, out of fear of the blank panther. The two were left alone to get to know one another’s habits. The young priest liked to meditate in the mornings and evenings, while napping in the shade away from the midday sun. The black panther slept nearby while he explored the aspects of the self. Day by day they became closer, until his naps took place on the dark smooth stomach of her fur. The young priest became nocturnal and followed the black panther while she explored the valley under the light of the moon and stars. He watched her swipe fish from the shallows of the dark blue rivers that aged to show their wisdom. He climbed trees to see her silently stalk unsuspecting impalas and impale them accurately with her sharp teeth.
Soon word spread that the young priest lived in peace with the black panther. Visitors slowly returned to the valley. The young men came and pondered why the bodies of the celestial swirled in the sky only to return to the same resting place year after year while lounging half naked in the smooth stones of the blue river of infant stars. The old women sent their nervous daughters with food and wine to win the stomach and heart of the young priest, for old women thought to gain favor with the gods was to ensure a proper marriage for their daughters.
The young men who came were intrigued by the black panther. They asked the young priest questions.
“How is it, young priest, that this black panther stays with you?”
“The black panther is elusive, yet she plainly shows herself in the day time while you are around, why is that?”
“What favor have the gods shown you, that they have given you such a gift?”
The young priest replied to these questions, “I saw this valley in a dream, along with the yellow eyes of this black panther. I came here over desert and snow, knees bleeding and sirens singing. I wanted to feel the breath of the creature that ventured to find me over the fields of dreams. I wished to learn what she had to teach.”
“And what has she taught you, oh wise young priest?”
To that the young priest had no answer, for he could not lie.

***

The young girls, who so eagerly came to visit the prancing and dancing their way through the valley, now arrived pale and ashen. The black panther kept a close watch on those who came, but never came to greet or attack.
“Oh sweet young priest, can’t you send that creature away for a moment, it frightens me so! Besides, it won’t stop staring at me!” said a red head with supple hips.
“I don’t think its natural for a young priest to spend so much time with a wild animal. There are other things you could do.” Whined a lass with teak black hair and too much rouge.
“What makes you think you can control it?” complained a very pragmatic brunette.
To these questions, the young priest had no answer for. He just smiled and ate of their fruit.
One day a fine young lady came. She ventured from the far northern mountains to commune with the young priest. She came into his valley as the evening light was sweeping in like lava. She saw the black panther.
“How is it, young priest, that this creature favors you so? Would you allow me to sit with her?”
At this the priest did not know how to respond. This was the first person to take a fearless gaze into the black panther’s yellow eyes.
“If you wish.” He replied.
“Then let us alone.” She said a with a power in her voice.
The young priest retired into his twig and leaf castle to ponder the possibilities. The young lady and black panther stared at each other deep into the night. When a cloud passed over the moon, the black panther rose to its feet and walked away from the shack, but not before she brushed the young lady with her flank. The young priest noticed this favor and wondered.
The young lady entered his castle and stayed there until the morning light turned warm.
“Why is it that you wear that cloak? Why don’t you remove it, just for a moment?”
The young priest thought. “I rather like my cloak, it was gift.”
“But I would like to see you with your shoulders bare.” She said coyly.
“Why is that?”
“Your cloak, it shines so many colors. It never chooses just one. Could you not, but for a moment, let it hold a single color?”
“You ask much from a simple young priest.”
She smiled, “I do. Please, my eyes either need rest of the flutters of shades or to bask upon the muscles of your broad shoulders.”
Now, the priest took a moment to think. It is hard to say what the priest thought. Perhaps he thought of the old hag and the words she told him. Perchance he thought of the warm air and how it would be nice to let his skin loose. It’s conceivable he remembered the black panther rubbing past the young woman and what a strange auspicious sign that was.
Regardless of what he thought, his cloak stayed on and he politely asked the young lady to leave.

***

That evening the young priest waited outside his shack for the black panther to return. He heard a rustle on the pathway that led from the river. He thought for a moment it would be her, but knew she would never make such a clamor. Instead a young woman came into his view. She was unlike any of the others that came to visit him. Her skin was light and fair as was her hair.
“Hello young priest, may I sit with you for a few minutes. I am traveling and am quiet tired.”
“Of course.”
They sat across from each other for a long time. The young woman began to braid her light long hair, while the young priest stared. He sang her a song that he sung to many of the girls before her. The young woman just continued to unbraid and braid her hair. The young priest changed his key, but not his song. She listened to him and sometimes smiled. They stayed outside the shack until the morning light began to rise from the mountains.
“I have enjoyed your cloak this night. It seems to tell so many tales, yet still tell the same one. You should never remove it.” She took a black ribbon from her satchel. She tied the end of her braid with it.
“Thank you lovely one.”
The young woman rose to her feet. “Thank you for this rest, my journey is not yet complete.”
“Will you return?”
“Do you love me?”
The young priest paused for a long time, for he could not lie, “Yes.”
“Then I shall return.”
The young woman kissed the young priest’s head and continued her journey south.

***

It wasn’t until much later in the day that the black panther returned. She looked tired and hungry. The young priest brought her some water and stroked her head while she fell asleep.
For a long time it was only the black panther and the young priest. The young men found that asking questions only bred more questions and there wasn’t enough rice to feed all those hungry uncertainties. The old women didn’t send their daughters with fruit for they were all heartbroken and fearful of the black panther. So their routine returned: meditation, sleep, and nocturnal exploration of the lush valley around them.
It was a moonless night when a woman with light skin and fair hair came. The young priest sang his songs and she entered his castle. The black panther watched from a tree above. Her growl went unheard or unnoticed.
When morning came, the young priest saw his mistake. The light young woman was not the same as his love. His eyes betrayed him and as the girl left his shack he felt confusion.
He went outside for his morning meditation. He did not see the black panther. He took his midday nap, but without the comfort of her smooth sleek stomach fur his sleep was uneasy. He mediated in the evening and ventured the valley in the night. The black panther was no where to be found. He stood under the tree where she so often lounged. A long black ribbon fell at his feet.
And as it was with many of those touched by creation itself, the black panther’s pride was hurt quiet fast; for the one who possessed the eyes to see beyond the fur, where the same eyes to only see its dark weave.
It is those same souls who have been touched by creation itself, that too often forget that their eyes still have the crust of birth still sticking to their lashes and lids. Only the warm water of life will melt the bits of film.

***

Now loves, it should be said that this tale is not fully complete. The young priest gathered the ribbon in his cloak and left the valley with no destination in mind. The black panther dreamt herself a different dream. And as it is with most tales like this, the figures will spin round and round until they blur and you cannot tell their beginning from their end or even one from the next.

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~ by ambur on October 8, 2010.

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