A couple of years ago I wrote the first draft of a novel called Tiger Be Brave. In this excerpt, the main character, Max, a young, heart-broken and hungry tiger, meets the crow who will be his companion on his upcoming adventure.
Water rushed over Max's face and filled his mouth. It hung slack. His belly felt as empty as the sky. Hunger rumbles passed through it like dark rain clouds. He couldn't bring himself to get out of the stream. The cold would soon take care of his problems. He closed his eyes and saw an image of Anya striding over the hilltop to rescue him.
Something landed on his chest. A crow. Its beak hovered just in front of his face. The crow stepped back and turned to the side, fixing the tiger with a gleaming black eye. Its beak was crabby and gnarled with deep gouges.
"Oh, you're alive," said the crow. Its accent sounded foreign. "I thought you'd maybe rolled over and carked it from shame." It squawked a laugh and shook its head. "Not very good at hunting are you?"
Max frowned. "I've hurt my paw," he said in his thick Russian accent. He lifted the proof out of the water and watched the red drops hit the water and race away down the stream.
"That little scratch," said the crow, looking down to his left and shielding his face with a wing. "I think you'll live."
Max bristled and turned on his side unseating the crow. He growled.
"I know that," he said. "I just fell on it badly." He shook the water from his coat and padded to the bank trying to hide his limp. The crow hopped after him.
"Not much of a tiger are you?"
Max's empty stomach tightened and blood ran to his head. He turned to the crow and roared. It flapped up to the safety of a branch.
"That's more like it. Get some spirit back into you. That's what we want to see. Thought I was dealing with a cockroach. Not the king of the forest."
Max swished his tail and climbed up the bank.
"Now, looking at how scrawny you are I'd say you were in need of a good meal," said the crow.
Max lay on his front under a tree and crossed his good paw over the bad one. He shivered by way of answer.
"There are so few of you tigers these days that us crows don't get much to feed on." He looked at Max with kindness. "Bugs and worms will keep a crow from death's door but they're not much to write home about. A nice meaty treat once in a while is all I ask for."
Max bent his head to lick the excess water from his forepaws like his father had trained him. Sitting around all wet was how you caught a cold. He agreed with the crow but wasn't inclined to let on.
"I've been doing fine, thanks for your concern," said Max. "I've killed plenty."
The crow squawked a laugh again. "Pull the other one!" He swaggered up and down the branch.
"What did you do with the bodies? Dissolve them in a pond of acid you've hidden somewhere?" It snorted and flapped its wings.
"Think you could get a juicy corpse within five miles of this schnoz? No chance."
Max cleared his throat and decided not to pursue the lie. "Where are you from, crow? You don't sound like you're from here."
The crow puffed its chest and raised its beak.
"London, mate. Greatest city in the world."
It brought its beak down and thought for a moment.
"Shit hole mind."
Max wasn't in the mood for small talk.
"And what brought you to the Russian Far East to annoy me?"
"I'm only teasing, mate. Calm down. I came here for the clean living. London's all covered in soot and dirt from the car fumes. Not here though. White as far as the eye can see. Not as much fighting over turf neither." He hopped a few paces down the branch as if to prove his point. Then he gave Max a sly look.
"More chance of stumbling across a nice tiger kill every once in a while too. Not much more chance, but you know … no no, don't be like that! Only messing. You're a touchy one now ain't you?"
Max sat up proudly and exhaled a heavy plume of breath. His tail flicked snow from left to right and his whiskers twitched.
"What do you want?"
The crow glanced around to make sure they were alone and shuffled down the branch towards Max.
"I want to help you out, you see. I think we could be good partners. I bring the brains and you bring those nice sharp claws of yours."
The crow jumped down from the branch and pecked at one of Max's paws. Annoyed, Max jerked his paw and sent the crow hurtling towards the tree trunk. "Steady on!" He flew around it and returned to the safety of the branch.
"Is that how partners treat each other? Not where I come from. Now as I was saying, I'll help you find prey and give you some tips about killing I've picked up over the years. You let me share the feasts. Simple as that. You are hungry aren't you? The faster we can get this off the ground, the faster we can get some food in our bellies."
Max closed his eyes and buried his chin in his chest. He didn't trust the crow one bit but didn't have much choice. His stomach groaned and he coughed to cover the sound.
"OK, crow. I'm not making any long term deals but let's see how we get on. Now where's the food?"
The crow chuckled and danced along the branch.
"Go on, my son. I knew you'd come round in the end. Right, this way."