When the giant panda took sick and died, I grieved with the princess every day. I dug the grave and carved its name on the marker with my own hands. I even spoke kind words over the poor beast at the funeral. I believe I was a great comfort to the princess at a time when she needed comforting. We grew close and before too long she took me to her bed. I am not proud of that, that’s just the way things turned out.
She loves me now and that is good for me and my future at court. I’m not sorry about the panda, it suffered terribly but it all turned out well in the end. Now the princess will be my champion at court and nominate me for a loftier position than that of zookeeper. It is only a matter of time before the king knows my name.
In the meantime, I must lie low and keep the princess happy. I have to be careful that she never suspects what I have done. The panda cost the king a thousand ducats and I was entrusted with its care. The princess loved it from the first and did not care for anyone or anything else at the zoo. Losing it could have been very bad for me. As it was I endured my share of royal suspicion. It was only the princess’s spirited defense of me that saved me from the dungeon.
I don’t know how much you know about pandas but they are demanding, filthy beasts. Very finicky about their bamboo, their water and the cleanliness of their cage. Insufferable buggers. The slightest unkindness puts them off their feed for weeks. I could see we weren’t going to get along right from the first minute. But the princess loved it and came to the zoo every day to visit it, stroke it and generally make a fuss over it. Then it was zookeeper this and zookeeper that. She made me feel like the panda’s servant. It was enough to make a man choke.
The good thing was that the princess and I got to know each other. I always made sure that I was there to greet her. I could tell that she thought that I was doing my job well. After several months of daily visits the princess began visiting the zoo less frequently. I felt that she was growing bored. I became desperate to keep our contact alive.
When I sent word that the beast was ill, she began coming again. She was very troubled by the panda’s decline, even sending the court physician to look at him. I was afraid the physician might suspect me. I needn’t have worried as the old fool was too drunk to know what was going on.
The princess was distraught and this made the king himself take an interest. He came to visit. It was awful. The zoo looked terrible, the cages stank and the animals neglected. I was summoned to the king’s presence and knelt at his feet. I expected the worst and begged his forgiveness. “I have been spending all my time nursing the panda,” I claimed. He asked if I needed anything. I humbly declined. A day later I was given an assistant and a purse full of silver. The note was in the king’s own hand. It said, ”for the panda.”
My assistant was a young peasant lad with no experience with any beasts other than cats and cattle. At first I saw him as a hindrance and assigned him to mucking out the cages and feeding the exotics. Later I realized how useful an assistant could be. It gave me more time to devote to the princess whose daily visits had resumed. My assistant proved to have a way with animals and they all appeared to thrive under his care. Even the panda showed signs of improvement. The zoo was never cleaner nor the animals happier. Even the princess noticed. I graciously gave the credit to the king’s generosity.
As the panda’s condition improved, I saw the inevitable end to my royal connection. It was time to make a bold move. That evening I gave the panda a larger than usual dose of its “medicine” and, soon after, it died writhing in its cage. I noticed my assistant watching. When he asked me about the medicine I was using, I knew what I had to do. That night, I throttled the lad in his sleep and fed his parts to the lions and the bears. The next day, when the princess found the panda dead, it was all I could do to console her. I held her in my arms and kissed away her tears. Together we gave the panda a good Christian burial.
The rest, as they say, is history. The princess fell in love with me and she has used her good offices to put my name before the high council. I don’t expect to be a zookeeper much longer. I suspect I owe a debt of gratitude to the panda but, to tell the truth, I don’t believe in debts nor do I put much stock in gratitude. A man makes his own way in the world. Some men are just better at it than others. We are all given the tools we need to flourish, we only need the wit to recognize them for what they are—tools. Whether pandas, peasants or princesses, we use them to get what we want. Sometimes people get hurt. I didn’t write the rules.