"That has got to be the most brave thing that you ever smurfed to Azrael, Tapper," Nat said. "I probably would have smurfed the same thing in your place if I was in that situation."
"Well, I think that it's the dumbest thing we could have smurfed for Azrael, Nat," Snappy said. "There's no way that cat was ever going to change for any of us."
"Maybe this kitten we found won't turn out to be anything like Azrael, Snap," Slouchy said.
"It all depends on who owns this kitten, my fellow Slouchy," Tapper said. "But anyway, most of my fellow Smurfs were thinking the same thing when we smurfed Azrael into our village, that smurfing him home with us to tend to his injuries wasn't the brightest idea in the world."
"But you knew that it was the most moral thing in the world to do, Tapper, despite what your fellow Smurfs thought at the time," Empath said.
"Galloping grasshoppers, Tapper, what happened next?" Sassette asked, eager to hear the rest of the story. "Oh, please, tell us, tell us, tell us!"
"Settle down and I will smurf you the rest of what I know and have experienced firsthand, my little Sassette," Tapper said, pleased to know about her interest in the story.
As Tapper's story continued, Empath saw in his recollections the Smurfs in the village gathered around Tapper and the few Smurfs that were with him to bring Azrael into the village. There was a lot of talking going on among the Smurfs about what they saw being brought into the village.
"Please settle down, my fellow Smurfs," Brainy said. "It's not what you think it is."
"Cre vingt schtroumpfs, are you Smurfs crazy to bring ce chat de monstre maudit into the village?" Painter shouted angrily.
"Smurf aside, and let us smurf at it with the pussycat," Fencer said, making moves with his hand like he was wielding his foil.
"Great Smurfiny Crickets, my fellow Smurfs, there's no way that I'm going to let you hurt Azrael when he's injured like this," Tapper said with an indignant tone in his voice.
"You would smurf between us and Azrael?" Fencer said. "Smurf me with the foil, and let's see who will capitulate first. En garde, you knave!"
"If you're going to fight anyone with a foil, laddie, you're going to have to smurf through me first," Duncan said as he joined Tapper beside Azrael.
"I'll be pleased to smurf you a shave with my trusty foil, you Gutsy Smurf," Fencer said, eager to challenge him.
"The name is Duncan, which you will smurf me by when I'm through with you," Duncan said as he approached Fencer.
"All right, all right, settle down now, everybody," Brainy said as he saw Papa Smurf approaching the scene. "Papa Smurf is coming through."
The Smurfs stepped aside to let Papa Smurf approach Tapper. "Great Smurfs Of Fire, Tapper, what is smurfing on here?" he demanded.
"Tapper found Azrael out in the forest with this iron trap on his paw, and we need a few strong Smurfs to help smurf it off him," Smurfette explained.
Papa Smurf sighed. "I can understand your love for animals, Tapper, but I think that you have smurfed your love a bit too far."
"Right!" most of the other Smurfs said together in agreement.
"Please, Papa Smurf, we've got to smurf something for him," Tapper said. "Look at how much pain Azrael is in right now because of this."
Papa Smurf looked at Azrael, who obviously was sounding like he was in great agony. "Amazing...Azrael must have been caught in one of Gargamel's traps," he said to himself while stroking his beard.
"Hefty tried to smurf the trap open by himself, but he wasn't strong enough, Papa Smurf," Tapper said. "We need Duncan and Tuffy to join Hefty and help smurf the trap open so we can smurf to his injuries as soon as possible."
"Well, I'm sure not joining those two Smurfs in opening up any trap for Azrael to smurf out of," Tuffy said, folding his arms and looking away.
"And neither will we," the other Smurfs in the crowd said as they also folded up their arms to show they mean business.
"Now, now, my little Smurfs, I know that we all have our differences with Azrael," Papa Smurf tried to speak to the crowd.
"I hate Azrael!" Grouchy shouted.
"We all hate Azrael!" the rest of the crowd shouted.
"But haven't I taught you all that as Smurfs, we must love all creatures great and smurf?" Papa Smurf said. "Granted, loving your enemies will not be easy, but what kind of Smurfs would we be if we didn't extend the same care for our enemies as we would our friends when they are in need?"
"But, Papa Smurf, Azrael always chases after us," Painter protested.
"Yeah, how about that?" Greedy seconded. "You like smurfing your lives always being like mice to Azrael? Well, I sure don't like it!"
"I'd say just throw him out and be done with it," Vanity said.
And all the Smurfs seemed to say the same thing that Vanity had said in that moment, demanding that Azrael should leave.
"I don't know how you could see Azrael as being any different from any creature in the forest that is in dire need of help, but he is a living being just like we are," Tapper said. "If you are truly Smurfs, you wouldn't be this discriminating toward a helpless creature, now would you?"
"That's right, my little Smurfs," Papa Smurf said. "Are any of you truly Smurfs or not?"
The crowd of Smurfs looked at each other and themselves and wondered what they're going to do about Azrael. Then Tuffy stepped forward. "Well, I'm not afraid of Azrael, even if he is helpless."
"Attaboy, Tuffy," Duncan said. "I knew that you would smurf up to the plate."
"Okay, let's smurf this together now," Hefty said, as he, Duncan, and Tuffy grabbed the bear trap and pulled it with all their might to force it to open. Soon the trap opened, and Tapper and Smurfette gently pulled Azrael's paw out, with the cat giving a sigh of relief.
"We're going to need a bed for Azrael to smurf upon so that he can recover, my fellow Smurfs," Tapper called out.
"You heard Tapper, my little Smurfs," Papa Smurf said. "Let's show Azrael that we care about him as we would our other forest friends."
"Yes, Papa Smurf," the other Smurfs said before they rushed off to get things for Azrael's recovery.
Brainy stayed with Papa Smurf to talk to him. "So what do you think, Papa Smurf?" Brainy asked.
"I honestly don't know about this, Brainy," Papa Smurf said. "All that I do know is that a leopard cannot change his spots overnight, no matter what Tapper would believe."
"Oh, I would honestly agree with you on this, Papa Smurf," Brainy said. "But do you think there's a chance that Gargamel himself might change?"
"That is something I just don't have the answer for, Brainy," Papa Smurf said. "But whether he changes or not, we are still to act like Smurfs and behave like Smurfs or else we would be no better off than Gargamel."
"In the meantime, Gargamel was still having problems trying to control his silver-fanged growler as it was smurfing him here and there instead of toward his intended target," Tapper said.
"Awww, poor Gargamel," Sassette said. "He would never learn his lesson now, would he?"
"I wonder if Gargamel has learned anything since we smurfed him, his cat, and his apprentice out of the forest," Slouchy said.
"Naah, he's still as dumb as ever, Slouchy," Snappy said. "That wizard's never going to learn anything except to be more evil."
"That isn't thinking anything useful or even positive about Gargamel, Snap," Nat said.
"Unfortunately that may end up being the truth about Gargamel, my fellow Smurflings," Tapper said. "Even being around people who will smurf that doing good is better than doing evil, he's still responsible for what he smurfs in this life, and if he refuses to smurf good rather than evil over a long period of time, he may become so hardened that it will be impossible for him to change his heart and mind."
"That sounds like a terrible thing to happen, Tapper," Empath said. "This smurf hopes that this Almighty of yours will be able to reach out to Gargamel and change him to a decent human being before it's too late."
"So how was Azrael doing after the Smurfs removed the iron trap from his paw?" Nat asked.
"He was recovering quite well, my fellow Nat," Tapper answered. "We have smurfed up a bed for him to rest on with some pillows and quilts. Papa Smurf made up some lilyroot salve to soothe the pain away. Vanity was doing some grooming to make sure Azrael smurfed his best. Overall, the Smurfs were being very nice to him, even if he didn't deserve it."
And as Tapper continued his story, Empath saw in his mind the Smurfs gathered around Azrael lying on his bed watching Vanity doing some grooming while Hefty was holding up the ladder Vanity was standing on.
"Well, Azrael, I see that we are looking very smurfy this morning," Vanity said, as Azrael looked at himself in the mirror Vanity gave him. Azrael made a purring sound that made him seem pleased at the attention he was getting.
"Oh, Azrael, would kitty like more milk?" Smurfette asked politely, holding up a saucer for him to lick up. Azrael looked at the saucer and just simply yawned.
"Or how about some of my fresh smurfberry tarts?" Greedy offered, holding up a tray of his tarts. Azrael just shook his head and settled down on his bed to close his eyes and rest.
"Azrael hates smurfberries," Grouchy said.
"Well, can't say I didn't try to offer him something to make him feel better," Greedy said, eating one of his tarts.
"You smurfed your best, Greedy, and that's what counts," Papa Smurf said as he stood next to Tapper talking with him. "Now, Tapper, we're going to have to smurf some way to release Azrael back into the forest once he starts to feel like his old self again."
"It's too bad that he can't smurf with us forever, Papa Smurf," Tapper said. "We would smurf him much better than his old master Gargamel."
"As much as I would like to have a pet like Azrael, he's still a cat at heart, and as a cat he smurfs a danger to the village," Papa Smurf said. "When he is feeling better, I would like for you and a few other Smurfs to smurf him back to Gargamel in a cage, but let Gargamel be the one who will open the cage while you and your fellow Smurfs smurf back to the village without either of them seeing you."
"I would rather not want to put Azrael in a cage even if he does trust us, Papa Smurf, but I see your point," Tapper said as he looked toward Azrael sleeping peacefully on his bed. He then went over to Azrael and whispered, "Rest well, my feline friend. I don't want to smurf goodbye to a possible friendship, but I will have to let you go back to your master when you're feeling better."
Then Tapper's story turned to speaking about Gargamel's continued efforts to tame his silver-fanged growler as it roamed through the forest in the evil wizard's vain search for the Smurfs. Then as Empath watched, Gargamel saw something on the ground that made him pull on the creature's leash to get him to stay still long enough so that he could observe.
"Look, my stupid swamp-breathing friend, there's Smurf wagon tracks, and I smell fresh smurfberries," Gargamel said, sounding excited. "We must be near the village."
Then Gargamel heard the painful sound of a cat moaning. "You hear that?" he spoke to his silver-fanged growler. "I swear that sounds like my worthless cat Azrael. He must be around somewhere looking for the Smurfs, or chasing after squirrels, or playing around in catnip, or doing some stupid feline thing. There's only one thing left to do to get his attention."
In the Smurf Village, Azrael was still sleeping in his bed when he started to hear a voice calling for him. "Oh, Azrael. Here, kitty, kitty. Where are you?"
"Gargamel!" the Smurfs shouted as soon as they heard the voice.
Azrael suddenly awakened from his sleep, dropping the mirror that he was holding in his paw. "Azrael, you naughty kitty," Vanity scolded. "Don't you know that breaking a mirror means seven smurfs of bad luck?"
Azrael's demeanor became fearsome as he now raised up a paw to bare his claws. Vanity saw that Azrael was ready to strike at him and quickly ran away, crying, "Oh! Papa Smurf!"
Brainy and Tapper stood before the basket, with Brainy fearfully watching Azrael getting even more riled up. "No, Papa Smurf, this is just another one of Gargamel's tricks," Brainy said.
"This isn't a trick, Brainy Smurf," Tapper said.
"Oh, Azrael, come to your dear old master Gargamel," the voice continued to call out. Azrael climbed out of the basket and slowly approached the Smurfs that were standing before it.
Vanity, Duncan, and Papa Smurf ran quickly to the scene taking place. "I had a feeling that this was not going to last for very long, Papa Smurf," Duncan said.
"Tapper, smurf out of there while you can," Papa Smurf called out.
Brainy departed, but Tapper stood his ground. "Now, now, Azrael, please calm down," he said in a soothing voice. "Gargamel can't find you in the village. He doesn't know where it is."
Vanity, Duncan, and Papa Smurf watched as Azrael pinned Tapper to the ground with his uninjured front paw. "Tapper!" Vanity and Papa Smurf cried out.
"Injured cat or not, Azrael is going to wish he hadn't smurfed that to my friend," Duncan said with his fists balling up.
"Handy, Hefty, go get the fire wagon, quickly!" Papa Smurf ordered.
As the Smurfs ran to and fro to evade being Azrael's next target, Tapper continued to talk to Azrael while pinned down. "If you must smurf me down, Azrael, I would gladly smurf my life for you, as I would for any creature in this forest. But someday you will have to answer for what you have smurfed in this world to the Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, and to His only begotten Son Jesus Christ."
Azrael paused as he heard Tapper speak and just looked at him in wonder.
"That's right, Azrael," Tapper continued. "He's the One who died for the sins of the world, and He is coming to redeem all of creation, to smurf forth a new world in where justice and righteousness reigns, where all creatures will smurf in peace, where the lion shall smurf down with the lamb and eat straw like the ox. But you won't be part of it if you continue to smurf other creatures in this world like your master Gargamel wants to smurf us."
Then Azrael was distracted not just by the sound of his master Gargamel, but also by the sound of a ferocious creature that he knew all too well. It was the silver-fanged growler, and it was coming straight into the village, dragging Gargamel along with him, and very much out of control.
"Not so fast! Not so fast!" Gargamel cried out, pulling uselessly on the leash to get the silver-fanged growler to stop. "You're going to take us right through the village!"
Azrael saw the silver-fanged growled approaching and ran as quickly as he could out of the village for his life. Gargamel and the silver-fanged growler followed right after Azrael, unable to stop as the growler was now in pursuit of the cat.
The Smurfs watched as all three of them left the village. Then Papa Smurf and Duncan turned to Tapper, who picked himself up from the ground and dusted himself off, looking strangely unscathed. "Tapper, are you all right?" Papa Smurf asked, sounding concerned.
"You almost had us fearing for your life there, laddie," Duncan said.
"I appreciate your concern, my fellow Duncan, but again the Almighty has proven Himself faithful in His protection," Tapper said. "For a moment I felt like I was Daniel in the lion's den, but as there was nothing for me to fear, the Lord has indeed smurfed me safe under the cat's paw."
"Amazing!" Papa Smurf exclaimed as he looked at Tapper.
Later on in the tavern, the Smurfs celebrated the departure of Azrael with a glass of sarsaparilla ale, though Hefty celebrated it with a glass of Vita-Juice.
"C'est la vie, he was a friendly kitty while it lasted," Painter said as he drank his glass.
"It's too bad that we can't have Azrael as a pet, Tapper," Smurfette said.
"Then you might as well go back to smurfing with Gargamel again if you want him as a pet, Smurfette, because I sure don't," Hefty said.
"Well, it only goes to smurf that cats will be cats, no matter what anybody smurfs to them, because nobody on this earth can ever change the nature of a beast," Brainy said. "They will still smurf after mice, they will still smurf around in catnip, and they will still..."
Tuffy hit Brainy in the back of the head with a mallet to get him to stop talking.
"No Smurf is interested in me just smurfing the obvious facts around here," Brainy muttered, dazed from the mallet.
"I hope this is not going to stop you from helping out anymore animals in the forest, Tapper," Smurfette said.
"Nay, it will certainly not stop me, my dear Smurfette, not as long as I'm still smurfing here on this earth among the living," Tapper said.
"I'm not eager to have Azrael smurf us another visit anytime soon, even with the protection of your Almighty, laddie," Duncan said. "One time dealing with an injured cat is one time enough for many lifetimes."
"I understand how you feel, my fellow Duncan," Tapper said. "But whatever happens to Azrael now, I will not stop praying for him or his master."
"You honestly think your praying is going to change the nature of the beast, Tapper?" Brainy asked in disbelief.
"I only know that the Almighty is capable of anything, Brainy, including changing your heart and your mind so that you will believe He is real," Tapper said.
"Well, that's one thing that I would like to see this imaginary God of yours do," Hefty said.
"Be careful of what you ask for, Hefty Smurf," Tapper said. "It might just make you a believer someday."