THE SPIRIT QUEST
Part Two of Chronicles of the Pride Lands
by John Burkitt and David Morris

LEGAL NOTE

This original copyrighted work is based on Walt Disney’s feature film, “The Lion King.” Elements taken directly from “The Lion King” are the property of The Walt Disney Company. “The Spirit Quest” is distributed free of charge excepting reasonable distribution costs. Quoting passages from our work, writing original pieces based on our work, or using characters we created is fine as long as you secure prior approval. That begins by sending either of us a copy of the work. Our e-mail addresses are

John H. Burkitt: john.burkitt@nashville.com

David A. Morris: damorris@wilmington.net

Your comments on our work, pro and con, are always welcome.

This story is a fictional work, but we don’t claim that any resemblance to any characters living or dead is purely coincidental. With love and respect, we acknowledge the debt we owe to those who taught us how to laugh and cry. Without acting as clear models for any one character, many great souls, some non-human, have been woven deeply into the fabric of our lives only to end up in “The Spirit Quest.”

FOREWORD BY THE AUTHORS

In the middle of writing this work, the awesome power of nature reaffirmed itself. Hurricane Fran devastated portions of David’s hometown and we were out of touch for several days. I never realized before how much I missed his friendship, gentle humor and insights; things I no longer take for granted. As Uzuri so truly said, “There is not much time between sunrise and sunset. If you would not be caught out after dark, you must leave some time for all the important things.”

This work tackles the unique perspective of Rafiki without being a simple restatement of Chronicles. Reading it, you will find that there is a little Rafiki in all of us.

Now let us discuss lions and ourselves. Male lions sometimes kill cubs when they take over a pride. Sometimes they won’t, and that is very significant. Leonine society is a patchwork quilt of possibilities, probabilities, and the occasional life that sets a higher goal for the species. Human society is much the same in its diverse way. We have hopeful possibilities, depressing probabilities, and the occasional life that sets a higher goal for our species, like Moses, Francis of Assisi and Florence Nightingale. The Nazi holocaust and the Mayan sacrifice of war prisoners were documented human behaviors. You are human. That means these things are part of the observed behaviors of YOUR species. Does that make you feel offended? Many of us are repelled by these events, though events such as this form a recurring pattern in the history of our species. Pick up the paper-they are still occurring and most likely will continue despite our best efforts. By this criterion, “Cruelty, Human” has earned a place right before “Cub Killing, Male Lion,” in the encyclopedia of behaviors. Is this intended as a stinging indictment of the human race? Hardly. What about the “Magna Charta,” Robert Louis Stevenson, and Livingstone’s charity hospital in Central Africa? Isn’t that also part of the human legacy? Sure it is. “Magna Charta” comes before “Mother Love, Lioness.” A light begins to shine on you, and the meaning becomes clear. We are not that different—not really. A divine spark of love in each of us waits for the chance to burst into flame. Tend it, encourage it, add the tinder of respect and blow upon it softly with kind words. Those of us, human, lion, and mandrill, who burn brightly in the darkness not only walk with God, we light the path for others. Follow this trail and strive to set a higher goal for yourself and your species—it is your own Spirit Quest.

John Burkitt, Nashville, Tennessee
October 1, 1996

It’s good to be back again. It feels like a homecoming, to be back in the Pride Lands. There are so many wondrous places to go, and faces to see… like the song says, “There’s more to be seen, than can ever be seen; more to do than can ever be done.” So stay a little longer with us.

There’s a few other places we still have yet to visit.

On Saturday night, September 7th, Hurricane Fran had smashed her way into history here in Wilmington. With the power out, I was sitting in the pitch blackness of my room, trying to write down a scene for this story by candlelight when the phone rang. To my utter delight, I heard John’s voice on the other end. His selfless concern for me moved me to tears, and the buoyant effect on my spirits was immeasurable. I count myself lucky to have such a friend.

David Morris, Wilmington, North Carolina
October 1, 1996

DEDICATION

This work is dedicated to Aslan, the lion whom we have adopted through the Born Free Foundation. His newfound freedom and the loving care given him by his friends in the BFF is a source of joy for our spirits.

And how I love you! You make the morning start Joy streaming from my heart as I repeat your name; You are my treasure. You came into my world; Whatever Fate may hold, my life won’t be the same.

PROLOGUE

“The righteous are bold as a lion.”

— Proverbs 28:1

Early one morning Busara, a young Mandrill shaman, was headed far afield to gather Tiko root. It was scarce and very valuable, but he knew some secret places to gather it easily.

Since his income relied on a secret, he was careful not to be followed. He only told his wife where the mint grew, and he was careful never to take the same route twice.

This day, he dared to ford the tall savanna grass. He was surrounded by golden wands that screened his enemies but shifted noisily around him and crackled under his feet. He was very nervous, and felt like he was being watched. He stopped and listened carefully, glancing about for signs of watchful eyes.

He spotted a lioness in the grass and gasped. For a heart-stopping moment, he sized up his situation. She had seen him and was watching his every movement. He began to tremble violently.

He thought about walking quietly away, but knew it would probably trigger a spring and certain death. The moment he ran, she would pursue. “Great Pishtim,” he thought, “hear my prayers. If I must die today, gather up my soul. But please don’t let me die!”

But he then saw the ugly red gash on her shoulder. No one hunted cape buffalo without risk: she had gambled and lost. She would not spring on him. In fact, she was the one who was afraid.

Relieved, he took in a deep breath and slowly let it out. The air felt good, venting the fear from his lungs. He started to walk off, still a little trembly in the limbs. He thought about his wife and home that had for a moment seemed forever lost. “Once I get home, I’m going to kiss that girl!” He would also make an offering to Pishtim, and remember to pray for that poor lioness—may her suffering be cut short.

He tried to block out her pained expression. It would not be easy, for Busara was a healer and compassion was his way to worship God. Once when he was a child his father had taken in a sick leopard cub. For three agonizing days and nights, he watched as one formula after another failed to satisfy her needs. Finally with a faint cry, she died of starvation in his arms. Somehow at that moment it did not matter that leopards eat mandrills. Busara wept and held the still-warm body until it was cool. It was his first experience with death, but certainly not his last. He knew that death was a part of life, and he knew he was not responsible for the wound that brought down the once mighty lioness. Still each death took a small chunk from his soul, and he would bleed inside. Many old wounds were reopening.

“I will pray for her,” he said. “There is nothing more that I can do. She is dying, and yet she could kill me too.”

He kept walking. There was Tiko root to gather. He had a wife to support and herbs to trade for. After all, he had devoted his life to healing the sick. If he threw away his life on this lioness, many would die on some future day. There was simply nothing he could do!

“Pishtim, take care of her. Shorten her suffering. Take pity on her.” The fearful eyes and the ugly wound haunted him. How that must hurt! How pained and thirsty she must be, panting away her last moisture, watching her life ebb away in a red river of death. “There’s nothing I can do!”

He was nearly to the patch, and maybe work would take his mind off of her. But something inside him grew sick—the kind of sickness even Tiko root cannot dispel. He tried to walk forward, but he felt himself being dragged back. “If I were alone, and did not have a wife, I would go back. But I must consider Kima’s welfare.”

He stopped. He knew that a compassionate husband left home, but a different husband would return if he could abandon that creature to a slow death. He may look the same as the old Busara, but inside he would be more cynical and less caring. He did not like the person he was in danger of becoming.

Against his common sense, he turned back. “I’m going to regret this.”

She greeted his arrival with a snarl that made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. “Go away! Buzz off, ape!”

He stared at the shoulder. Clearly, she could not walk well, if at all.

“I said beat it! You think you can throw sticks and stones at me? You think you’re really funny?? I’ll make you laugh till you beg death to release you!”

Busara just stood there staring, tears in his eyes and his chin beginning to quiver. Despite her spirit, she was obviously afraid and in deep anguish. He took a gourd from his staff. “There is an artery just under the skin on my throat,” he said calmly, drawing a line with his finger. “If you rake me there, I will die in two minutes, maybe three and you won’t have to die alone.”

The lioness was surprised by his answer. “You’re very brave—or very stupid.”

Busara reached in the gourd and took some moistened herbs. “Lie still.” He started to put the herbs on the wound when a paw swept out and struck his hand. Busara moaned and clutched his bleeding hand. No doubt she expected him to run. Her expression changed from anger to surprise.

Without unkind words he gathered up the scattered herbs from the grass. Setting the example by putting a small dose on his own hand, he said, “I mean you no harm. A little more still, if you please.”

Patiently, but trembling, he reached toward the wound. “This won’t hurt a bit—I promise.”

“What is that stuff?”

“It will relieve your pain.”

“It looks like weeds to me.”

“It can save you.” He reached for her jaw and before she knew what to expect he slipped his other hand in her mouth. Her eyes turned to stare at him. “Consider it our agreement. If I hurt you, bite it off.”

Despite her misgivings, she held still and let him place the poultice on the wound. It did not pain her, so she even let him poke and prod around the wound, then massage the area to restore circulation.

She sighed with relief and let go of his hand. “That does feel better,” she said. “I have been stoned by monkeys before. I didn’t know they could be kind.”

He looked into the large, beautiful eyes of the lioness. “Anyone can be kind.”

She looked back. “You’re crying, aren’t you?”

“The Bedango makes my eyes water.” He wiped his eyes and got another gourd. “Here, drink this water.”

Slowly and carefully he poured its contents into her mouth. Some of it spilled, but enough made it into her parched throat to bring a smile of relief. “The gods must have sent you. What is your name?”

“Busara.”

“‘Teacher.’ That is a good name. I am Asumini.”

“That means ‘jasmine.’ A delicate flower.” He looked at his cut hand and glanced at her injured but still powerful arm. With a smile of amusement, he harvested grass, then raised her head and made a soft cushion. “Asumini, as soon as you can walk we have to get you out of this sun. I live in a cave nearby. There you will be safe from the jealous eyes of night.”

“I can’t stay here. I can’t eat fruit, and you’re no hunter.”

“I’ll scavenge.”

“You’ll drive off the hyenas, eh?” She looked at him wistfully. “I know I am not long for this world, but I will pray for you, Busara.”

“There must be someone that can help you,” Busara said. “Don’t you have family or friends?”

“My husband and my pride sisters,” she said. “If you would go to the west to Pride Rock, surely the gods would repay you someday. As you walk, chant ‘Aiheu abamami,’ so they will know you are a friend. Tell them Asumini sent you.”

“I will find them.”

“It’s a long trek.”

“It does not matter.” He reached down and stroked her face. “Don’t worry. This time death will not win. I promise.”

Her tongue touched his hand. “I won’t forget you.”

“And I won’t forget you.” Clearly it was not the Bedango that made his eyes water that time.

Thus begun the ‘Peace of Asumini’ which made Mandrills corban—safe from harm—which is still honored in the Pride Lands to this day.

CHAPTER 1: RAFIKI IS BORN

The mandrill Neema was crying out in anguish as she brought her child into the world. Her husband, Chief Kinara, had sat unruffled through many struggles with a calm smile. Now he was clearly in distress listening the muffled moaning of his wife. His sons Makedde and Makoko were trying to comfort him as best they could.

“Bear down,” the midwife said. “It will hurt more, but it is much quicker. Bear down.”

A piercing scream left no doubt it hurt. “Oh gods! Oh gods! See me through!”

The midwife said, “The more it hurts, the more you will love your child.”

“If I love him much more, it’ll kill me!!”

Even in her pain, she kept a little sense of humor. But the chief was not amused. He kept wringing his hands and pacing around. “Why doesn’t she hurry!”

“She’s doing the best she can,” Makedde said. “Some things can’t be hurried.”

“That’s it,” said the midwife. “Come on, Neema! It’s almost over!”

Finally there was a cry that sounded more like a call of relief. And a few moments later came a shrill yip showed that a new voice was speaking.

At long last the midwife came for the Chief. The young sons were warned away for now. “You’ll get your chance. Don’t crowd the mother.”

Chief Kinara looked at Neema and the small moist bundle of fur and long limbs she held. “Our son,” she whispered.

“Our son,” he said, bending down to kiss Neema’s perspiring brow. “You said you wanted a daughter this time. Did you change your mind?”

“I stick with what works. You know that.”

He turned the small face to look at him. With a slight shrug, he contemplated the somewhat plain but pleasant visage. “Metutu,” he said, for the child was no beauty but also was not ugly. The midwife, not understanding, went outside and said, “Listen all! Chief Kinara has a son. By the will of the gods, Metutu!”

Neema frowned at her husband. “Now look what you’ve done.”

“It means one whose face does not lie.”

“It also means plain one.”

“He’s the son of the chief. They better not call him ‘plain one’ if they know what’s good for them!” He bent down and looked into the child’s eyes.

“Oh look, he’s smiling at me!”

“It’s probably gas,” Neema said.

“I tell you he’s smiling,” Kinara stressed. “And well he might smile. His life will be easy and free from pain, at least if I have any say over it.” He kissed the child. “Welcome home, Metutu.”

CHAPTER 2: GROWING PAINS

Metutu’s first days at home were a series of pleasant experiences. Kinara’s promise was being fulfilled, for the only hardships he’d ever known were in the stories of gods and heroes his mother used to tell. His every need was taken care of by his devoted mother and his trusted servants.

When he turned three, the age where other young mandrills took on small chores, Metutu was told to keep a sharp eye on the servants and make sure they did not shirk their jobs. Even then, there was no doubt he was being groomed for leadership, perhaps as the next chief.

Metutu’s brothers were much older. They treated their young sibling with affection and gentleness, but they were interested in playmates more their own age that understood the rough, complex games of older boys. So when Metutu wanted a playmate, Busara was careful to select someone about his age, a bright, polite youth from one of the powerful families on the council. Wandani by his temperment and learning was the clear choice. In addition, his parents were strongly loyal to Kinara’s administration, so Wandani would never try to influence the Chief through his son.

By the time they had coached Wandani on his duties, he knew the honor given him was balanced with the weight of responsibility he bore. The only remaining question was if Metutu would like him. That was quickly settled to the joy of all—Metutu was delighted with him.

It would be unkind to suggest that Wandani was only doing his job. Metutu was a gentle soul, much like his mother. He didn’t have the charm of his father, but he had no lack of compassion as far as his sheltered life would let him understand it. Wandani quickly warmed to this, and it was expressed in the zealous way he carried out his job.

Metutu knew that he was different from the others. He knew that other children were not as privileged, and had to work harder. He also knew that others, including Wandani, had a sort of beauty on the outside that he lacked. Once Metutu asked him if he were really so plain, and Wandani was beside himself with passionate denials. But Metutu knew he was no great prize, and he reaffirmed his belief by a quick glance at his reflection in the water.

Wandani, in a moment of great maturity, told Metutu that his beauty was on the inside. It was little comfort when Metutu took a great deal of ribbing about it from some the other youths. They seized upon his name as a cruel taunt. Still, he never forgot what Wandani said. Like most young males, he was not overly demonstrative about his feelings toward his playmates. But in his love for Wandani, he would often call him by the name he would come to bear himself: Rafiki Wandani, “my dearest friend Wandani.”

Most of the time Metutu played with Wandani and Asumini, the daughter of Chief Scribe Busara. It was rumored that this Asumini was named after an old lioness that used to visit Busara’s cave.

Those two friends were his circle, and with his parents formed much of his world. Kinara often wondered if it would be healthy for his young son, or if it would withdraw him from the world. If ANYTHING, an up and coming politician must be able to mix with people well. There lay the problem: Kinara wanted him to like other people but not imitate them. He would invite the “right” people to his home after coaching Metutu on what to say and how to behave. Metutu would shyly stammer through the mandatory greetings when others came by, and then would more likely than not hide himself away at the first chance. But around Wandani and Asumini he was bubbly, friendly, and even a little bit of a show-off.

Every time Kinara would contemplate doing something to change his son into a small version of himself, Neema would quietly and subtly change his mind. She was in her meek, quiet way the greatest power in the village. And she liked Metutu just the way he was. Her love for him was unconditional, and her only plan for him was to find happiness.

On the other hand, a bully, named Duma, devoted himself to making Metutu’s life miserable. He was about Wandani’s age, but otherwise he was everything Wandani was not—crude, unfair, and quick to say things that cut the spirit to the deep arteries. His knack was in finding Metutu and Wandani when the other adults were not around. And worse, he always had several of his own shiftless friends with him. But when it comes to actually pounding Metutu into the ground, he would draw the line. As loyal Wandani would quickly remind him, “You better not! I’ll go call the Chief and YOU’LL be sorry.”

The threat was a magic talisman, a mark of the great respect paid Kinara by young and old alike. Metutu was glad for the safety, and he was also glad that he did not have to utter the shameful excuse himself. Still, bullies could come and go, but he would always be plain. Sometimes he would sneak away and cry until he was ready to face the world once more.

CHAPTER 3: UNDER CONTROL

“Four large stones he had tossed, and still the leopard came closer. Little Brother Chako had only the small one left. This he tossed at a nearby hornet’s nest. Kerplunk! It fell onto the leopard’s back, and with great anger the hornets came out to avenge this outrage. Only they directed their attack at the leopard who had to run for his life! And Little Brother Chako laughed loudly. ‘It’s not how big the rock is, but how you throw it that counts!’”

— “LITTLE BROTHER CHAKO”, SECTION 10-B

Metutu, Wandani and Asumini had been playing tag, but it eventually lost its edge and they sought new pursuits.

“I know where there is this great tree with lots of vines,” Metutu said. “Come on.”

He headed off into the jungle where there were no paths. “Where are we going?” Wandani asked. “This place is dangerous!”

“Dangerous?” Asumini said. “I don’t know about this.”

“Aw, don’t be such a big mwana! I’ve been here lots of times. It’s safe!”

Wandani threw up his hands. “You’ve been sneaking away again. You know your dad would whack me good if he knew.”

“Yeah, but he doesn’t know. And he won’t know if you don’t tell him. The way I look at it is this—he doesn’t think we should do fun stuff till we’re too old to have fun doing it. I mean, how many times have you seen HIM swinging from a vine?”

Wandani scratched his head. “I still don’t like it.” Still he came, and Asumini followed. The subtle marks on tree trunks showed that Metutu HAD been that way at least once before and left his trail. He skipped through the brush with such enthusiasm that before long they were all wondering just how good it could be to risk a spanking for twice.

And then they found it. Twin trees in the middle of a clearing with lots of vines that reached the ground. Metutu pointed excitedly. “Check this out!”

“Yeah!” Wandani forgot about his unease. He grabbed a vine, stepped back a few paces and pulled up his feet. “Oh, this is so neat!” As he swung, he bellowed out, “Asante sana, squash banana! We we nugu, mi mi apana!”

Asumini sprang for another vine. It easily held her weight, and she quickly climbed hand-over-hand to a low branch. She put her knees over the branch and hung upside down. “Hey Metutu, look!”

“Don’t do that!” Metutu was beside himself. “You could get killed!”

“I’m fine. You ought to—oh my gods!”

“Are you all right?? Hold on, I’ll get you!”

“Leopard! Get up, get up!!”

For only a second, Metutu thought it might be a joke. Then he thought better and sprang for a vine, quickly pulling himself up. Seconds later, a huge spotted cat lunged and touched the bottom of his foot with a swipe of the paw. Metutu did not stop until he was safely in a crotch of the tree between two strong branches. He glanced around for Wandani, but found him hanging from a branch about halfway up the tree.

“You’re lucky I saw her,” Asumini said. “You might have been killed.” She pulled herself upright and shivered.

“Oh, I wasn’t a’skeerd,” Metutu said. “I was just worried about you two. You gotta let them know who’s boss. They smell fear, you know.”

“Really?” Wandani asked.

“Sure. Look at that ugly nose. See, she’s sniffing. Sniffing for someone that’s afraid, because she won’t attack unless you’re afraid. She wouldn’t dare tangle with me.”

“Well I’m not afraid,” Wandani said, pulling a nut and tossing it down. It fell with a plop beside the great cat, and she looked down at it with a huff.

“Can’t you hit a target that big?” Metutu pulled a nut and chucked it at her. With a sudden growl, the leopardess wheeled around and struck with her claws. “Right on the behind!” Metutu said. “This one will go right between the eyes.”

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Asumini said. “Big cats have a sense of pride. If you make her mad, she’ll come for you.”

“Yeah, right. Don’t worry about me, girl—I have the situation under control.

“I’m telling you, this is a mistake.”

“Oh? Who made you such an expert on big cats?”

“I have a lioness for an Auntie, that’s who.”

“Yeah? No foolin? Well I have an elephant for an Uncle!” He pulled another nut and aimed carefully. “Look out below!”

Whap, it struck her right between the eyes making her wince. “I told you to look out!”

“That’s enough, you half pints!” Enraged, the leopardess began to climb the tree. “I’m going to skin you alive, and every time you scream I’m going to laugh!”

Her heavy but firm treads made the whole tree shake. She was remarkably quick. The three mandrill children had to make a dizzying leap into another tree. Wandani charged across without a second’s hesitation. Asumini leaped and rather than landing with her feet grabbed a branch and swung for a moment by her arms.

Metutu looked down at the ground far below. It began to spiral and he lost his nerve. Clutching his stomach, he moaned. “I can’t!”

The leopardess was working her way out onto the smaller branches. His precarious perch began to sway alarmingly. He found the motivation, and with his heart practically in his throat he jumped! For an awful couple of seconds he was airborne between tall trees. He desperately grabbed for a branch. Gotcha!

He worked to get his feet on a good-sized branch. Catching his breath, he works his way toward the trunk of the second tree and from there hoped to climb down on a vine to safety.

The leopardess jumped, catching a limb with her forepaws. After hanging for a second with her legs dangling, she felt the limb go ‘crack!’

The concussion almost threw Metutu off of his perch. She fell from branch to branch, and finally dropped to the ground, her fur looking scrubby and flecked with bits of green leaves. Her dignity damaged, but otherwise intact, she licked her paws nonchalantly, then sniffed derisively.

Metutu yelled down, “I’ll tell my dad!”

She shrugged. “Maybe I’ll skin him for raising a brat!” At once she began to climb up the trunk.

Asumini, her voice trembling, shouted down, “Forgive my friend. He was foolish to challenge your honor. Indeed you are powerful, and your anger must be unstoppable. I crawl before you, Mother of Death.”

The leopardess stopped. “Your mother has raised you well. I will spare you and the silent one.”

“I plead with you for the blood of mercy. Remember who separates the milk from the mud. May he separate your anger from your wisdom. He’s only a child—if he is not killed, he will learn from this.” Trembling in every limb, Asumini climbed down toward the great cat, her breath shallow and fast, and her heart pounding. As she came closer, large hazel eyes watched her every move intently. With less than an arm’s length between her and the powerful huntress, she held out a trembling hand.

The leopardess’ nose came up very close so that Asumini could feel the breath on her hand. Depending on the merits of her apology, one of two things could happen. Asumini shut her eyes tightly, gasped for air, and prayed.

The pink tongue shot out and licked her hand. The leopardess purred appreciatively. “My honor is satisfied. On the off chance that you are right, I will spare him—for YOUR sake.”

The leopardess climbed down, but she was in no hurry to leave. To live up to her reputation, she groomed her powerful, lithe body, sharpened her scimitar claws on the tree, and made a forced but effective yawn to display her arsenal of death. Then she leisurely strolled off into the forest.

A few minutes later Metutu, who had everything under control, could be talked into climbing down to join Wandani and Asumini. The three friends then started home, scratched up and sore, and maybe a little bit wiser. Metutu looked at Asumini and said, “I didn’t know you liked me that much.”

She scowled and slapped his face with all her might. “Don’t you EVER do that to me again!”

“I’m telling his dad!” Wandani said.

“Be sure to tell him you started it! The moment you snitch on me, I’m holding nothing back!”

“You wouldn’t tell him that, would you?”

“Just try me.”

Metutu rubbed his cheek. “I only meant ‘thank you.’”

CHAPTER 4: THE TIME TO ACT

The leopardess was not Metutu’s only problem, nor was she his worst, for she had a sense of honor and fairness. As the favorite target of the troop’s bullies, he was subject to almost daily harassment. And eventually the time had to come when matters would come to a head. Wandani could not be the permanent solution to the problem, and threatening Duma with telling Kinara would be trumped.

That day, Duma, with triumph in his wicked leer said, “Yeah, tell his daddy. The little baby can’t take care of himself. Go tell his daddy before he starts crying.”

“I’m no baby!” Metutu said.

Duma knew he was already winning. “Don’t cry, baby! Your daddy would punish me if I made you cry. We all know he wouldn’t let his ugly little babykins get hurt!”

“I’ll tell you who’s ugly!” Metutu said as tears streamed down his poor, plain face. “I hate you! I hate you!”

“I’m telling if you hit him!” Wandani shouted at Duma.

“But you can’t!” Metutu protested. Metutu took him by the shoulders and shook him. “I’m not a baby. I have to fight my own battles, and you aren’t going to tell my Dad, understand? Promise me.”

“But I can’t!”

“You have to! If you’re really my friend and not just a servant, promise me!”

The tone of that remark stung Wandani who really loved Metutu. “If you’re really my friend, please don’t do it. He’s bigger than you. He’ll chew you up and spit you out! Please?”

“You better listen to your friend,” Duma taunted. “If your face got much uglier, you’d have to wear a basket over it.”

Metutu looked at his friend right in the eyes. “I have to do this, my Rafiki Wandani. Don’t make it harder on me than it already is. The moment you run to get dad, I’ll fight him.”

Tears began to stream down Wandani’s cheeks. “All right. Do your best.”

In fear, but with defiance in his eyes, Metutu pulled up his fists and told Duma, “Just the two of us. Leave him out of it.”

“Anything you say.” Duma saw his hands up protecting his face. He made a quick feint at his chin and when Metutu brought his hands together, Duma’s other fist hit him squarely in the stomach. Metutu doubled over with pain. He quickly straightened up and tried a few weak swings at Duma, but he paid for them with repeated blows to the face and stomach that battered him to the limits of his endurance, and as he lost control were more like events happening to another person standing on the same spot. He was about to pass out. Finally Metutu crumpled to his knees. “I give up.”

“It’s not that easy,” Duma said. “You started this, and you’re going to finish it!”

Wandani pushed Metutu on the ground and fell over him.

Duma kicked Wandani in the side and struck him in the back. When Duma tried to lift him off, he put his arms around Metutu in a tight clinch and gritted his teeth.

“Leave him alone!” Wandani cried. “Go away!”

“I’m going to finish this!” Duma viciously kicked Wandani in the ribs.

“You’ve hurt him enough! Go away, or I’ll fight you myself! I may not win, but I’ll mark you!” Wandani sprang up like a rabid animal and grabbed Duma by the fur on his neck, startling him. His fingernails pierced the skin and brought blood. “I swear, I’ll mark you for life even if you kill me for it! You can’t get me off that fast! I’ll mark you!”

Duma saw the fun was over, he shoved Wandani away and made a forced laugh to his friends. “You just name the time and place, short stuff! Hey fellows, let’s get out of here before the baby starts crying again!”

CHAPTER 5: PLACING THE BLAME

When everything was still, Wandani got to his feet. He pulled Metutu upright, not an easy job for Metutu was nearly battered senseless, bleeding from the nose and horribly bruised. “Oh Metutu, why won’t you listen to me?”

Metutu said, “Don’t be mad at me Rafiki Wandani.” He put his arms around him to hold upright, but he was also clearly hugging him as the tears ran down Wandani’s cheeks. “You can’t fight all my battles. I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. You still my Rafiki?”

“Always.” Wandani held Metutu upright and let him lean on him all the way home.

“Do you think Dad will notice?”

“On a new moon night under a bush with his eyes closed he would notice.”

Kinara was already fit to be tied. He was angry over Old Maloki, the neighboring chieftain. “You would think he was trading us Tiko Root at those rates! Five bundles of Bonewort, and for this wilted Mitobi stalk! Just look at it—it looks like it sat out in the sun!” The chief looked around. “Son? Oh my gods! Have you two been fighting??”

“Not each other,” Metutu said. “Wandani’s my friend.”

His mother was openly horrified and rushed to embrace her son and kiss him. His father was angry, but maintained a certain gentle outward charm that kept the rank and file of mandrills guessing.

“Now tell me who did this to you. It’s all right. I’m not angry. Well, I am, but not at you.”

“I can’t tell. I’m not a baby. I promised I wouldn’t go telling. If I tell, everyone will think I’m a baby.”

“You promised that?” Kinara smiled—a genuine smile—and he gently stroked Metutu’s cheek with his fingertips. “A little boy went out to play, and he came back a buck.”

Metutu’s battered face broke out in a warm smile.

“Who won?”

Metutu’s smile dropped. “He pounded me into the ground. If Wandani hadn’t covered me, I’d still be lying there.”

Kinara gave him a hug. “You won anyhow. You conquered yourself, and that is no small thing.”

“Wandani helped a lot. He fought like a honey badger. See, he’s cut up pretty bad.”

“I can see. And don’t think he won’t get his reward.” Kinara took Wandani away a distance, leaving Metutu with his mother.

Kinara said in a low voice, “Who hurt my son?”

“He made me promise I wouldn’t tell.”

Without showing anger, but only concern, he said, “I promise YOU something, Wandani. If you don’t tell me who did this, your father will not get his promotion on the council. I expect a priest to have a family that respects the law above rash promises.” Kinara looked at the scratched, bruised face of Wandani and saw the tears start. He knelt and hugged the child. “I won’t tell him you told. He will never have to find out. But how can we protect him if you won’t be open with me? Hmm? You can see that I want to do MY share protecting him too.”

Shamed, Wandani bowed his head and cried. “It was Duma.”

“Duma,” the Chief said slowly. “Nyongo’s son. Always thinks he’s so much better than the rest of them, but he strikes a harmless child.” He ruffled Wandani’s hair affectionately. “I will see that Metutu is safe in the future, and you too, you little squirt.” Kinara faced him and smiled warmly. “Friends?”

“Friends.”

Kinara kissed him on the forehead. “You were always my fourth son, you know? If your dad says anything about you fighting, tell him that I called you a great hero. Now run on home.”

The Chief came back to his son. “Metutu, I’m proud of you. You know, bravery is one of the marks of a true chief. Even if you don’t tell me who this bully is, I know one thing about him. He thinks he has you licked, but he’s not half the buck you are. Don’t you cower down when you pass him. Show him you are confident. When you pass him, look him in the eye. If you cower down, he’ll will know he’s won and he’ll do it again. The next best thing to being stronger is to be strong enough that you’re not worth the effort.”

“Do you really think he’ll leave me alone now?”

“I’m sure of it.”

Metutu did not have to wait long to find out. The next day, he had to run an errand for his father. No servant could do it this time—Kinara insisted that he do it in person. Wandani went with him for moral support, and even to make good on his threat, but Metutu was still vulnerable and frightened.

And yet his old worries about what being beaten up were worse than the pain itself. Now fighting was not an unknown terror, but an unpleasant memory. He was not as afraid as he used to be, and he determined that he would control his fear and face Duma. Maybe he would smile and say, “Good morning.” Yes, that felt safe enough. Of course, there was the chance that Duma would say, “It’s a good morning, but not for you.” That was a chance he had to take.

Duma was not waiting for him by the Acacia tree. He was not in his usual place next to the basket weaver. In fact, for a while Metutu was certain he had left the village.

“It’s late enough. I thought he’d be up by now.”

Then by the path leading to the Council Rock, Duma appeared.

Metutu faced him directly. “Good morning, Duma.”

Duma bit his lip. His face, on closer inspection, was badly swollen and bruised. “Yeah. Good morning.” He came over, but not to push him. “Look, Metutu. I’m, like, really sorry I hit you and Wandani here. You’re not a baby and you’re not ugly. I just said those things because of the other guys.”

“That’s fine. I forgive you.”

“Are you all right?”

“Still a little sore.” Metutu looked more closely at Duma. “I know I never hit you that hard. Who lit into you? Did Wandani do all that??”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“I don’t know who messed you up, but I didn’t tell. Honest.”

“I said don’t worry about it, all right??” He dropped his stern tone. “I’m sorry I hit you. It will never happen again.”

“That’s nice. Well, good bye.”

Metutu breathed a sigh of relief and went on. Still in the back of his mind was a nagging doubt. Somehow, some way, a witness must have told his dad. But to have a boy beaten like that? Surely that was not in the village law? Then it occurred to him that his father sent him on that errand just to hear Duma’s apology. Somehow his Dad knew he’d be there cut and bleeding. He knew because he had caused it.

Metutu still loved his father, and he understood that Kinara loved him too. But he didn’t know if he was proud of his Dad or ashamed of him.

CHAPTER 6: SHIFTING THE BURDEN

As soon as Asumini heard about Metutu’s fight, she came to see him. Metutu cringed, expecting another upbraiding over the leopardess. Instead, she was kind and sympathetic.

Metutu was thankful to have her back. “It was worth getting beaten up if it means you like me again. I missed you.”

“I never stopped liking you,” Asumini said. “You just need to learn a little humility. How do you think I would have felt hearing your screams? Watching you die?” She caressed his swollen cheek with her hand.

“Yeah,” Metutu looked down, contritely, but he glanced up out of the corner of his eyes and smiled a little. “Thanks again. You were very brave.”

Asumini smiled. “I don’t know where it came from. Every time I think about how close she was to my hand, I wonder if I had it to do over again…”

“Oh, yeah. I know how you feel.” Metutu’s smile fell.

“I was just kidding—but don’t put me to the test.”

“Since you’re here, I’d like to go skip rocks. Wanna come with me?”

“I can’t right now. Later, all right?”

“Sure.” He rubbed his cheek again. “You sure you’re not mad at me?”

“Sure I’m sure.” She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “There, now it will be all better.”

Metutu looked at Asumini, open-mouthed with embarrassment. “Maybe tomorrow?”

“We’ll see.”

Early the next day, Metutu came to her cave. He caught a rare glimpse of her parents inside. Busara and Kima were the subjects of a lot of nasty rumors, including one about blood sacrifices under the full moon. Still, their daughter was so gentle and kind. How could there be any substance behind those stories?

“Asumini? Can you come out?”

She skipped to him, but saw him holding the smooth stone. In her hand was a grass whiskbroom. “Oh, the creek. I forgot.”

“Yeah.” He shifted his weight from foot to foot. “Can you get away for a moment? I mean, I was hoping we could beat our old record.”

“I’m sorry, but I have chores to do.”

“But Asumini, you promised! I can have one of the servants come over and sweep the cave. They don’t mind.”

“I’d rather do what dad told me to.”

“I won’t tell if you don’t.”

She frowned. “That’s being sneaky. I thought you were better than that, but then how could you be with a politician as a father? You’re growing up to be just like him.”

“And just what did you mean by THAT?”

“My dad said Kinara is a leopard at heart, and he didn’t mean it nice!”

The reference to the leopard made Metutu rankle.

“Well that’s a fine how-do-you-do! I come over to throw rocks with you, and you insult my Dad! Well I hear that your Dad is a sorcerer. Tema says he kills goats on nights of the full moon!”

“That’s a mean thing to say! He’s good and gentle and always trying to help sick creatures get well! He’s never killed anyone in his whole life! You’re an ugly little monster, Metutu! Go home!”

Metutu stormed off. Soon from behind him she called, “I didn’t mean it! Oh gods, please come back!” There was an edge of desperation in her voice.

He wanted to forgive her, but there was also a voice inside him that was indignant. It temporarily had the upper hand. “She’ll be sorry she called my dad a leopard! She called me an ugly little monster!” That was what hurt worst of all, for he knew that by mandrill standards he WAS ugly. “Maybe I won’t come back tomorrow either. She can get ALL of her stupid old chores done!”

Metutu went home. He climbed to the crotch of the tree where he often slept. There was a knot there that looked like a rabbit looking back at it. “What about it, Bun? Girls!”

His dad looked up at him in the fork of the tree. “Whew, a storm must be blowing in—I just saw a cold, dark cloud go by.”

“A thunderhead is more like it.”

“Uh huh. So, do you want to talk about it?”

Metutu turned his face to look down at Kinara. “Dad, why can’t more females be like Mom?”

“They are like Mom. That’s the problem.”

“But she doesn’t go trying to make you mad all the time. Does she?”

“No, because I learned the great secret of dealing with her.”

Metutu climbed down. “Really? What is it?”

Kinara looked all around, then whispered into Metutu’s ear. “Give them what they want. They have you where they want you, and the sooner you realize that and play along, the better off you are.”

“But she didn’t want anything.”

“Asumini, I take it?”

“Yeah.” Metutu scratched behind his ear nervously. “Do you know what she said? She said I was growing up to be just like you.”

“Gods forbid!” Kinara gasped and put his hands to his face. “Call the shamans! This is very serious!”

Metutu fought back the smile and tried to concentrate on his anger. “She said her dad called you a no-count politician with the heart of a leopard, and she didn’t mean it as a compliment.”

“A leopard!” Kinara laughed aloud. “I’ve been called worse and by more dangerous opponents! I guess I could see how Busara might think it though—being wealthy has dulled his claws. He surrounds himself with comforts and he has all the ambitions of a gopher. He even lives in a hole like one!” Kinara laughed at his joke, then bucked out his front teeth and wiggled his fingers in front of his ears. “That Kinara’s a no-good politician with the heart of a leopard!” he said in a falsetto voice. “Bet he’s out hunting antelopes tonight!”

Metutu couldn’t control himself anymore and he began to laugh. Kinara put his arm around his shoulder and gave him a pat. “Next time you see her, apologize like crazy.”

“For what?”

“Whatever you did that made Asumini spout off like that. And don’t do it again. She has other talents you’re too young to appreciate now, but you might want them later.”

CHAPTER 7: GROWING UP

Metutu’s apology must have worked. As days passed into weeks, and weeks into months, he began to see more of Asumini. From time to time he would hear strange stories about her father, but he discounted them because of his feelings for her.

They had an on-again off-again dating relationship. Usually when it was off-again, he had tried to impress her with some new skill. He almost always failed to do so, for she was very well educated where few mandrill females are. The frustrations she heaped on his struggling male vanity were actually part of her allure to him. With each new failure, she became more desirable, and if he couldn’t impress her with athletic ability or wit, he would pursue more intellectual goals. This would prove to be more of a natural strength for him.

Once he came over to show off what he’d memorized of the Miracle Flower Saga. Because she knew the parts better, she ended up correcting him periodically. It made it difficult for him because the more frustrated he became, the more he forgot. It built on itself.

For a while he was upset, but he grudgingly admired her abilities. He settled back to watch her perform, and paid careful attention.

As she recited verse, her hand gestures melted one into the other with a grace and beauty that made the gods take notice

Many days the journey lasted As the sunset dies on nightfall And the nightfall flees from sunrise Ever dancing in the heavens Sun and moon would count the hours

Hearts grew weary, hope was waning And their feet grew tired of walking Yet so steadfast was their leader And his countenance unchanging That they dared not disappoint him

Great Numinu flowed before them Guarding with her sacred waters All approaches to the garden Where the magic blossoms flourished Lest a thief should steal their beauty

She stopped and looked at Metutu’s rapt stare. “Are you all right? Was I doing something wrong?”

“Nothing wrong,” he said slowly. “You were a goddess speaking words as smooth and beautiful as water flowing over stones. They should let you perform for the council.”

“Are you sure it’s my voice you like?”

“Well,” he said hesitantly. “You have special kind of presence too. Your gestures are beautiful. Everything about you is beautiful. Uh, you know what I mean.”

“I know what you mean,” she said, giving him a kiss on the cheek. “You’re very sweet. But if you think that’s something, you should hear me do the leonine ceremony of rising over. I did that for my Auntie Asumini when she died last moon.”

“You did?” He’d never heard of a female doing ceremonies before. “That lioness we’ve always heard about—so she was real?”

“I told you I had a lioness as an Auntie. A second mother was more like it.”

“I’m sorry about your loss. I know you loved her, and it’s sad that you’ll never see her again.”

“Don’t be too sorry, ‘cause when I die, she will be waiting for me. Till then, she is in here.” She put her hand over her heart. “Sometimes she’s out there too! There is no difference in the way God treats us when we die. I follow Aiheu, and believe that all animals are brothers and sisters.”

Metutu was shocked. “You’re an Aiheuist? I always thought you were one of us.”

“One of you?” She smiled. “Everyone is one of you and one of me. We are all one large family. All that divides us is our opinion, but no opinion alters the truth So there is no us and them except in the mind.”

“I guess so,” he said, dubiously. “Did your Aunt Asumini teach you that?”

“I have many good friends who happen to be lionesses.”

“Pfff! Any lions?”

“Only a couple of times ever saw a grown lion, and didn’t get to say much, but their manes are so wonderful. You know, I have a secret desire to hold one around the neck and roll in his mane.”

“You would disappear down his throat in seconds. Maybe two whole bites, if he didn’t swallow you whole.”

“Have you forgotten the leopardess so quickly? Didn’t you see how she did not bite when her honor dictated it? Teeth and claws are sharp, but much more of them is soft and furry.” She sat back against a tree trunk. “They teach you that God is just a bigger one of us. As if one of us could hope to become like Him by simply learning the right spells and overcoming mortality. No. There is a fairness and kindness in Him that is a goal to strive for, but which we could never reach.”

“What does Aiheu look like?”

“Everything and nothing at the same time.”

“Now that makes NO SENSE.”

“Oh? Unlike those who follow the great ape Pishtim, we believe Aiheu is aware of all things and all peoples. Otherwise, how could he hear our prayers? So he must not be an old ape, or he would only be one place at a time. The wind is real, but you don’t see it’s shape. You know it’s there because you feel its effects. And if he is not an old ape, than we apes have no basic superiority unless we choose to ACT superior. And that does not come through trickery or negotiation. It comes through compassion, generosity, and honesty. The traits that make us noble make us more like God. But there are others besides us who have those traits, therefore all animals must be brothers and free to please the gods. And greatness is a matter of the heart, not an accident of birth.”

“That’s a really nice philosophy. You’re as clever as Little Brother Chako!”

“I hope not! Little Brother Chako was a rogue, someone who did not honor his promises. How we could pick someone like that for a hero is a slap in the faces of the gods. When I ask you to make a promise, I expect you to keep it. When you do, I look up to you. Those who treat me honestly are my brothers and sisters, not Little Brother Chako.”

Metutu looked at her in shock, but not outrage. “I bet you spend a lot of time just thinking.”

“You should give it a try, Metutu.”

“As if I never do?”

“I don’t mean it that way. It’s just that the problem with mandrill philosophy is that they teach you WHAT to think, not HOW to think. We’re not supposed to question authority.”

“Whoa! We’ll have to continue this talk sometime.” Metutu went home. He was somewhat thoughtful, for she had made many good points. “All animals are brothers,” he said to himself. “Even the leopardess and I.”

When he reached his home, old Wajoli was waiting for him with a bowl. “Here, Master Metutu, your favorite dish. Elephant Stew.”

Metutu took the bowl and smelled it. “Ah, fresh and sweet. You did well.”

Metutu noticed how Wajoli’s eyes followed the bowl. “Have you eaten yet?”

“No sir. I was running late, so I came straight over here. I’ll take care of you first. When you are finished, if you don’t need me more, I’d like to go scrounge something up.”

“I see.” Metutu held out the bowl. “Scrounge this up. I’ll get something from the orchard.”

“Oh, no sir! If your father found out, he wouldn’t like that.”

“IF he found out. But you can go hide behind those trees.”

“Is it not to your liking?”

“It’s fine. But you know something, Wajoli? If you would be like the gods, you must practice compassion, generosity and honesty. You’ve always done right by me. Now I’m going to do right by you.” He handed the bowl to Wajoli and gave him a little pat. “Enjoy, old friend.”

“I will,” he said. “I’ll enjoy knowing you are the next Chief, even if I don’t live to see it.”

A smile spread across Metutu’s face. He headed for the orchard with a great joy in his heart that was almost too great for words. “Yes! I feel more godlike already!”

CHAPTER 8: THE GREAT OUTDOORS

Metutu yawned, scratching his back languidly as he lay sprawled upon a branch high in the tall tree that Makedde had made his home in. Initially, the move had been exciting. Metutu had thought that he would enjoy the independence from his parents, but after only a few days, he had begun to miss the comforts of home already. He had napped fitfully the first night there, awakening abruptly to see the stars dimming in the early morning light. He had arisen eagerly, sitting up and stretching… how disappointed he was to find no mother there with a bowl of elephant stew to greet him! No Wajoli, no Wandani, no Asumini. Only his brother there to greet him.

Makedde picked up his staff, twirling it playfully. “I usually go for a walk in the mornings. Would you like to come?”

“Yes!”

The two descended carefully, pausing at the base of the tree. Makedde peered about thoughtfully, then looked at Metutu. “Which way shall we go?”

“Uh… that way, I guess.” Metutu pointed.

“Why go that way?”

Metutu frowned. “I don’t know. Is there something wrong?”

“Should there be?” Makedde asked, looking at him intently.

“Is there a swamp out that way? Mosquitoes? Snakes??”

“What do YOU think,” Makedde said with a serious nod and a wink. “Use your powers of observation.”

He stared in the general direction. “Well I…” Metutu stopped, looked at the hint of a smile on Makedde’s face, and shoved him. “You dirty lizard you! Gods, I hate it when you do that!”

Makedde laughed aloud. “I can’t help it! You should have seen your face!” He patted Metutu’s shoulder. “Come on. I’ll take you on my usual route.”

They set off at a leisurely pace, enjoying the cool breeze, and feeling the morning sun warm their back. Makedde’s home lay at the border between the jungle and savanna, and Metutu stared at the new world just waiting to be explored. Few trees dotted the greenish gold sea of grass which was swept with waves as the winds played tag among the acacias. Small islands of scrub brush thrust their stubby crowns defiantly towards the sky. Here and there the thorny acacias had begun to put in an appearance, and in the distance, Metutu saw what looked like the trunk of a dead tree, pointing heavenward like an accusing finger!

His pulse pounded in his ears, and he suddenly realized he had been holding his breath. Exhaling with a rush, he laughed aloud in sheer delight. “Gods, this is so beautiful!”

Makedde smiled at him. “Now you see why I live at the edge of the forest.”

“Father said it was because you were a hermit.”

The older mandrill burst out laughing. “On the contrary. I live here because I prefer EVERYONE’S company.”

“Huh?”

“Come on, I’ll show you around.” Makedde jumped lightly down to the bottom of a wadi and motioned to Metutu to follow. Shrugging, the younger mandrill complied, following as his brother strolled slowly along the channel.

“Metutu, if you limit your experiences, you limit your knowledge. Sometimes the wisest statement is a question. Do you understand?”

“Uh, I guess.”

Makedde smiled. “Once there were three brothers. One who knew, one who knew who knew, and one who knew nothing. When the evil spirits came to the one who knew, the one who knew knew what to do. The one who knew who knew what to do asked the one who knew and then he too knew what to do. The one who knew nothing to do knew too late that he should have known who knew what he did not know.”

Metutu was busy counting on his fingers and whispering to himself. “Run that by me again?”

Makedde laughed. “Just remember this. The path of wisdom begins with curiosity and ends with enlightenment.”

“Oh!” Metutu smiled.

Later the two paused under the shade of a thorny acacia to rest. Makedde glanced up at the sun, observing the orb’s position in the sky. “My boy, it is highsun. Why don’t we sit down and eat lunch.”

“Whassa matter, you too old and tired to keep going?” Metutu teased gently. He tugged slightly at the beard jutting from his older brother’s chin. “Look at that. Shot with gray already. Tell us a story, Gramps!”

Makedde chuckled lightly, tossing him a breadfruit with great dexterity. “Young pup. All right, eat your lunch and I will.”

Metutu grinned, forearms flexing as he tore the fruit in half and handed a piece back to his brother. He bit deeply, enjoying the feeling of the juice running down his chin. Wiping it away, he chewed slowly as Makedde began to speak.

“A long time ago in the reign of the great king Ramalah-”

“What kind of a name is that?” Metutu laughed. “Ramalah? What was he, a gibbon?”

Makedde frowned. “Metutu, Ramalah was once the Lion King of the Pride Lands. Over thirty generations ago, he and his ilk were absolute rulers of this land.”

Metutu stopped laughing immediately. “The Lion King? Really?”

“Yes. Their land is much smaller now, and lies far to the west.”

Metutu gazed across the land. “Wow. Do you think we’ll see a lion?”

“Doubtful. They rarely venture this far out.” Makedde cleared his throat. “Anyway, Ramalah’s wife Chakula had given birth to twin sons, N’ga and Sufa. Now the queen has many responsibilities, and so she must often leave her cubs in the care of another. The queen’s favorite baby-sitter was Alba, her younger sister.”

Makedde scratched his leg idly and smoothed the fur back into place.

“One day, while N’ga and Sufa were being watched by Alba, they were caught in a cave-in.”

“What’s that?”

“You remember what Busara’s home looks like? The Chief Scribe?”

“Yes.”

“Well, imagine what would happen if the roof fell in. That’s a cave-in.”

Metutu looked horrified. “Gods, that’s awful! What happened?”

“Well, the three lions were trapped in the cave. One day passed, and then another. N’ga and Sufa grew weak with hunger, for young cubs need milk, and Alba had none to give. So she opened the veins in her foreleg and gave the two cubs her lifeblood, to sustain them until Chakula freed them several days later.”

“Oh, no!” Metutu looked stricken. “Did Alba die?”

“Yes.”

“But why? She didn’t do anything wrong!”

“She gave her life so that the cubs would live, brother. And her sacrifice has never been forgotten, for the red flower of Alba, ‘the blood of mercy,’ is a shaman’s most prized medicine.” Makedde stretched, then rose, picking up his staff. “Time to get on.”

As Makedde walked back slowly, he wondered at the deep silence from his young brother. “Maybe I pushed it too far too fast,” he fretted. “He may not be ready.”

“Makedde?”

He turned to look at Metutu.

“I was talking with Asumini the other day.”

“Which day?” Makedde chuckled. “You talk with her quite often, brother.”

Metutu socked him in the arm lightly. “I’m serious, Makedde!”

“OK. What about?”

“She told me… well… ‘Greatness is a matter of the heart, not an accident of birth.’”

Makedde’s heart sang as he fought to keep still. “That’s very true.”

“You think so?” Metutu smiled, relieved. “I think Alba was pretty great, don’t you?”

“Indeed.”

“I mean, I bet Mom would have done that for us.”

Makedde smiled. “I know she would have. Love is the source of all greatness.” Makedde resumed walking, Metutu alongside. “There are countless others just like her. Her sacrifice is an example. Others may not give up as much as she, but their gifts are never ignored by Aiheu.”

Metutu looked at him wonderingly. “I thought you sounded like Asumini. You believe in Him too?”

The mandrill smiled openly. “I do. His teachings are not those of trickery and deceit, but love and trust. These are the things I would share with you, brother. And they are all I ask in return.”

“Then I guess I believe in Aiheu.”

Makedde hugged his brother roughly, then patted his shoulder. “I see promise in you, my brother. Great things lie within your grasp.”

Makedde finally stopped. “Ah! Here we are.”

Metutu looked ahead, seeing the dead tree they had sighted this morning. “So what? It’s a tree.”

“Nope. Look closer.” The two moved up next to the tall spire. Metutu ran a hand along it and was surprised to see small grains flake away at his touch. “Why, it’s made of dirt!” He looked around, warily.

“What made this?”

“Look down.”

Metutu glanced down and saw tiny forms scurrying madly at their feet. “Ugh! Termites! They made this?”

“Indeed.” Makedde knelt and scooped a handful up, watching them crawl frantically about on his palm. “Tiniest of creatures, yet they build homes as hard as rock, and as tall as trees. They are the epitome of hard work, Metutu. But too much is just as bad as not enough.”

“Hmm?”

Makedde knelt and gently brushed the insects off. “They toil all their lives, yet take no time to enjoy the beauty of the earth, and the gifts that Aiheu has blessed us with. To find happiness, Metutu, you must find some kind of middle ground.” Makedde turned away and resumed walking back the way they had came.

They had only walked a short distance when Makedde paused. “No, this will not do.”

“What’s wrong?”

“My brother, you follow me like the jackal pups follow their mother. Roam if you like. Stop and smell a flower. Look at a cloud. Enjoy yourself, for goodness sake!” Makedde laughed and ruffled Metutu’s head roughly.

“Cut it out!” Metutu laughed, poking Makedde in the ribs. The older mandrill yelped, falling back as Metutu tackled him playfully. The two rolled about in the grass, laughing and giggling wildly. Tiring finally, they lay on their backs quietly, staring upward at the brilliant azure sky.

“Look! There goes a bird!”

“What?” Metutu looked curiously. “I don’t see any birds, except for a vulture in that tree over there.”

“He probably thinks we’re his dinner,” Makedde chuckled. “I’m happy to disappoint him. No, I’m talking about that cloud up there. See it? It looks like a little bird.”

Metutu stared hard. “I don’t get it.”

“See the end? That’s the beak. And that part on top is a wing…”

“Oh!” Metutu exclaimed. “I see it! I see it!” He laughed delightedly. “It does look like a bird!” He peered about avidly, his eyes roving from spot to spot. “Look! There’s a tortoise!”

“Where? Oh! Yes, you’re right!”

“And look at that one!” Metutu leaped up and ran a short distance. “There’s a hare! And look at that one!” He giggled. “That one looks like old Umbogi from the council… see his potbelly?”

“Oh gods, don’t let him hear you say that!” Makedde laughed. “I see it, though, you’re right!”

Metutu pointed. “Look! That looks like a lion!”

Makedde peered curiously. “Where?” He looked about, but couldn’t see even the faintest wisp of cloud where Metutu was pointing.

“Right there!” Metutu laughed. “It looks more like a lioness, actually. But she’s all white instead of golden.” He stared up dreamily, then giggled. “She looks like she’s smiling at me.”

Makedde looked again at the empty sky where Metutu was peering, then down to his brother. His skin tingled as he looked at Metutu with renewed interest. “Yes, I suppose she is, brother.”

CHAPTER 9: THE JOYS OF WORK

The more Metutu found out about work, he realized that good feelings were a small part of every job. That more often than not there were other feelings—weariness, perspiration, and sometimes boredom. As he began helping his brother Makedde, he expected to feel as good as he did giving his dinner to Wajoli. But after the initial burst of pride, he took a full dose of reality. Metutu was not yet skilled, and so he was most useful doing hard labor, freeing up Makedde for his thriving medical practice.

Campa root was a valuable resource in shamanic medicine. It was also easy to recognize and almost indestructible. This made gathering Campa a great way to break in a new apprentice.

Metutu kept repeating to himself one of the verses that helped him remember what he was after

Three leaves out, and two leaves back, Leaves of green, and berries black; Good for your stomach, great for your skin, Keeps your hair from getting thin!

After nearly three hours of pulling Campa, he had a very large stack of leaves to discard, and a precious small hoard of root tips. It was almost more than he could bear to see how little of a gourd he could fill with the prize.

Disgusted with himself and his job, Metutu headed back for lunch, half decided to quit. He walked into the baobab. “Brother, we need to talk.”

“Just a moment.” Makedde was busy with a small mandrill child. “Open your mouth, son.”

The boy gaped open. “Ah, I see. Is it sore around here?”

“Ahh haa,” the boy said.

“But it isn’t making you cough?”

“Ahh ahh.”

“Fine. You can close now.” Makedde smiled. “It’s a sore throat, and not serious at that. We’ll give you something for the discomfort, and maybe even a pinch of Tiko Root. You like that?”

“Yes sir!”

Makedde rubbed the boy’s head affectionately. “Jamala, you make sure he takes three of these crushed in a cup of water every morning, highsun and evening for pain. Two days worth should do it, but if it’s still bothering him, you know where to find me.” He got a sprig of Tiko root and handed it to the boy. “Aren’t you growing like a weed! Soon, I’ll have to look up to see you eye to eye!”

The boy laughed and chomped down on his Tiko root.

When they were gone, Makedde looked to Metutu. “I don’t know how I’d get it all in without your help!” He took the gourd. “That’s a lot of Campa root. Are you sure that was empty when you got it?”

“Yes, brother.”

“Impressive. Now what did you want to talk with me about?”

Metutu smiled shyly. “I forgot. I guess it wasn’t that important.”

CHAPTER 10: THE PATIENCE OF AIHEU

The sweat rolled down Metutu’s face, dripping off the end of his nose and making it itch. But he didn’t dare raise a hand to wipe it away. He glared fiercely at the Euphorbia he was trying to uproot. Makedde had cautioned that he needed the plant undamaged; the virtue of the roots lay right at the skin. Scraped, they were almost worthless.

Metutu was locked in mortal combat with the plant. He bared his teeth and grinned at the root. “Sooner or later, you’re going to be conquered, and I’m going to laugh at you! You hear me??”

Of course the plant did not hear him. Metutu felt a little foolish arguing with it. He looked at the sensitive root endings exposed to the air and decided against using the sharp wooden digging stick Makedde had given him. Sighing, he set it aside and used much of his precious water ration to moisten the soil. Then he worked with his fingers to carefully scoop away the mud. He hissed in irritation as he felt his fingertips scrape against the small rocks embedded in the mud, but continued to uncover more and more of the plant until it finally gave up. Metutu had managed to outthink a plant, and he grinned in triumph.

“Stupid old weed! Did you really think you could win against my superior intelligence??”

Metutu bore the hard-won prize back toward his home in the baobab. The sun was hot, and he had no water left to quench his thirst. Worse, the mud that had caked on his hands was hardening into a cement that served to irritate the scratches in his skin. “Next time I’ll think to bring more water.”

There was a patient with Makedde. Uwezo looked miserable, and he was. Metutu was hoping to find Makedde alone to share his moment of triumph. And though he was loathe to interrupt a patient, he felt he should quickly show his brother him the bulb. “Hey, look what I got!”

Makedde looked up a little upset. “That’s nice. Right now I’m in the middle of… oh, look at your hands!”

“Oh, I scraped them.”

“Why not go pound your head on a rock while you’re at it!” Makedde sighed at the reckless youth. “God only gives you one pair of hands. There will always be more bulbs.”

Uwezo laughed. “You know, that reminds me of…” He winced. “My sore throat. Sorry.”

Makedde turned back to examining Uwezo. “Metutu, the Bedango extract is right in the…” He looked around to point, but Metutu was already rubbing down his hands. “Hfff, well pardon me!”

Metutu dried his hands and stood next to Makedde to watch Uwezo describe his symptoms in dreary detail.

“I couldn’t sleep last night,” Uwezo droned on. “Today, however, all I wanted to do is sleep. Then when I lay my head down my pulse pounds in my ears. Tic tic tic all the time. I have a headache and my throat is sore. And there’s this dryness in my nose.”

“Not to mention the itching under your arms,” Metutu said.

“Yeah, that too.” He looked at the young mandrill. “I didn’t know you were a shaman too?”

“Not yet,” Makedde said. “So great Metutu, what is your diagnosis?”

“Brother, that sounds like Dol Sani.”

Makedde burst out laughing, along with his patient. “Dol Sani is a CHILDHOOD disease. And, well, LOOK at him!”

The rather robust mandrill was a bodyguard for Kinara. He smiled indulgently. “Oh PWEEZE don’t tell my mommy!”

“So you’ve never had it before?” Metutu asked.

“Well no.”

“That’s right. You were an only child and you grew up on the edge of the village.” Metutu looked at Makedde with a wry grin.

“But he MUST have had it at SOME time,” said Makedde, unbelievingly. “Everyone gets that growing up. I mean, it’s almost tribal law.” He laughed.

Metutu shrugged. “I guess so. Still, the itchy arm pits. I was asked for my opinion…”

Metutu climbed down to collect more herbs. He resolved to make no more diagnoses that day.

“That’s a fine young brother you’ve got there, Makedde.”

“Indeed, Uwezo. He’s come a long way.” Makedde chuckled as he bent over him again, his sensitive hands exploring under the other mandrill’s jaw, testing the glands there. “I remember when you couldn’t GET him to use his own hands to pick up something. Now I can’t get him to keep his hands off…” he broke off, frowning. Makedde sat back and looked at him. “Did you say your joints ache?”

Uwezo looked at him, confused. “Yes, a little. I’m not old enough for the Mifupa, am I?”

“No, that’s different.” Makedde stroked his chin and grinned wryly. “By the gods, I think he’s right! You DO have Dol Sani!”

Uwezo looked worried. “How? I will be a laughingstock!”

Makedde patted him. “Nonsense. Nothing will be said by me or Metutu. Just tell them you have-hmmm—acute pediatric aesthenia.”

“I’m glad you think my Pediatric whatever is cute, but let’s just say that I have the flu and leave it at that.”

“Fine.” He gave Uwezo an elixir of Protothecus milleri. “Now drink this.”

“Ugh! It smells nasty.”

“Dwink it or I WILL tell your mommy!”

Uwezo did not appreciate the joke, but he did appreciate blackmail. He downed the awful remedy that left him reeking of sulfur. “Oh gods!” He took the water gourd offered by Makedde and downed it all in a couple of gulps. “Ugh! Nasty stuff!”

He turned to leave. “You’re welcome,” Makedde said grimly. As Uwezo walked away, Makedde watched him. He muttered, “You DO have a cute pediatric aesthenia…” Laughing, he thought about Metutu’s emerging diagnostic skills. “I have to tell him about it.”

Hearing a noise below, he looked down. “Metutu, I want to tell you something.”

But it was Kinara, his father. He looked upset.

“You could live a little closer to the ground, like civilized folk.” Kinara was short of breath.

Makedde sighed. “What can I do for you, Father? Those backaches again?”

Kinara said, “Haven’t you done enough already?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I know the love Metutu has for you, and I would not begrudge him anything. But I will NOT stand by and watch you corrupt him.”

Makedde opened his mouth to protest, but was cut off. “Oh, no! Don’t you try to deny it.”

“Why, because I give him a little work to do? It’s good for the soul.”

“PAH!” Kinara growled. “A little hard work is fine. But you have filled his head with dry grass! Lion stories! Meat-eater religions where a lioness nurses cubs with her own blood! My gods, did you think I would want my son to hear that perversion!”

“It is NOT perversion! I try to respect all people’s beliefs when they are sincere about them, but a god that lies and steals is no god of mine. I have dared to hunt out the God whose love is unconditional and whose heart is pure.”

Kinara thumped his staff down. “At least you don’t deny it. You were always too honest to lead our people effectively, so I didn’t mind when you wanted to be a shaman healer. But now you heal the body while corrupting the spirit. Who says that Pishtim—may he increase—lies or steals?? Since he is the source of all things and all truth, he can change the truth as he sees fit, and he can take back what he has given! See that you don’t offend him with your impious ranting!

“Me impious? Father, don’t you know your own son better than that? Hasn’t love given you eyes to see or ears to listen?”

“Don’t think I don’t still love you, for I have worked to keep your secret from the council. I’ve stuck my neck out for you, and I’ll continue to do so, but I will NOT have you taking Metutu from the true path! I’m sorry, Makedde, but you are no longer his teacher. I’m sending him to live with Busara. He will teach my son the old ways that have sustained us for generations. He will be made worthy to take my place when I die. Gods, how I wish I’d done better with you! I wonder if I could have done or said anything different. You send me to my grave with many regrets and a broken heart!”

“Father!”

“I warn you not to try and interfere. Don’t presume too much on our ties of blood, for I am still your leader and you are still my subject, understand?”

“Completely, SIR.”

“Don’t sass me boy! You’re not too old to get a few licks from your old dad, and I’m not so sure they wouldn’t do you some good!”

He whirled and left, descending the tree so abruptly that he almost fell to the ground.

The shaman sat on his haunches and sighed. He gazed at the painted drawings on the side of the tree’s bole, where a stylistic portrait of Metutu was emblazoned on the bark. “The gods will have their way. Father, you have pulled him from the creek only to plunge him in the river.” He looked through the swaying branches of his home to the bright azure sky above. It was a bittersweet victory, just another thorn between himself and his father when once they had been so close. “Touch his spirit, Aiheu. Bless my father in his darkness, and shine the light of wisdom into his heart.”

CHAPTER 11: HOMEWORK

Metutu eyed the cliff wall warily. The caves were only a few minutes walk from the lush aerial homes of the rest of the troop, but to the superstitious mandrills, they were a completely separate world. Few dared to venture there. Busara’s wisdom was legendary, but so were his eccentricities. Metutu remembered hearing stories that he sacrificed goats on nights of the full moon in exchange for powers from the evil Makei. But Kinara had always insisted that his Chief Scribe was kind and patient. “You would love him. I could kick myself for not introducing you long ago.”

Metutu had seen Busara from a distance once or twice, but had never been introduced. That was a real shame, for he was rather fond of Asumini, and he was curious about her parents. He was about to explore the great mystery, and he was more than a little nervous.

Metutu mused over this as he observed the coming and going of the birds high overhead. They wheeled and chirped, their colorful plumage flashing in the sun as they went about the daily business of gathering food and hauling it to their nests at the top of the cliffs. Some of them were weaver birds, constructing elaborate nests that hung like baskets made out of carefully woven grass.

“Enjoying the view?”

He gasped and spun, whirling to see Asumini standing behind him, a look of amusement on her face. “What do you want, Metutu? I can’t talk long; father is expecting a new student soon, and I have to go meet him.”

Metutu grinned. “You just did. I’m going to be a scribe!”

Her eyes widened disbelievingly. “You?” She laughed. “Oh, that’s good, Metutu! You can tell them how to escape leopards. I’m sure you’ll have the situation under control!” She added, “I was being perfectly serious. He should be here any moment.”

“Asumini, that is no way to treat a guest, is it?” The old voice was gentle, with only a hint of reproof. They both turned to see Busara leaning heavily on his staff. His wizened features bore the scars and furrows of age, but his eyes were bright with intelligence, crowned with wonderfully expressive eyebrows. His kindly smile was as warm as a good hug. “Please show Metutu inside, and get him settled in. We have much to discuss, and it is already high sun.”

Asumini looked at Metutu, unable to hide her surprise.

It was the first time that Metutu had been in a cave. He stepped back into the refreshingly cool recess. Expecting things to be pitch black, he found to his delight an invention lit the passageway. “You like the lamps? They burn rendered fat. My Asumini scavenges carcasses to make sure I never run low. You have to get there quickly you know, before the hyenas snatch up everything.”

Now it was Metutu’s turn to be surprised. He looked at Asumini with new respect.

The twinkling lights were like stars in the night, but much brighter. As they got further into the cave, there was what Busara called his “tree trunk.” It was a shaft of stone that reached from the floor to the ceiling, and Metutu fingered it with wonder, for it had not been carved but formed of its own accord. There Busara stopped him. “Tell me, young buck, do you know where Mano is?”

He says quietly, “I have no idea. You’ll have to ask Minshasa.” That was the pass phrase by which Aiheusists in hiding recognize each other.

Busara took the boy by the arm. With almost pleading in his voice, he said, “I know you are the son of the chief, but I also know why he sent you here. Now I ask you in all sincerity to tell me you are not here to spy on me. That before the gods all you seek is the truth for your soul’s sake.”

“That is all I seek,” Metutu said. “My father teaches me that the gods argue among themselves, that they have been known to cheat and even steal. My brother tells me that the creator is perfect and holy, and that he loves us all. I want so bad to believe he is right. I watched the birds just now. I cannot believe that the beauty I see, and the good things I feel when I see it came from petty, thieving, lazy gods that must be bribed to bring the rain and heal the sick. If I were God, I’d do those things to make people happy.”

“Let me tell you why I believe. Son, you are much closer than you think to the source of faith. Aiheu is not a secret hidden under a rock. The work of his hand is everywhere, filling the world with beauty and wonder. Open your heart and take it in. The hardest task would be NOT to believe.”

In the golden flickering light of the lamps, Busara’s kindly face looked almost godlike. “Look, son. See the paintings?”

Metutu looked at the walls. They were covered by paintings much like the ones on Makedde’s baobab, but done with such skill and artistry that it took Metutu’s breath away.

“I have to keep the lights out in this place when Kinara comes calling. I wish they could be visible to the public, where the words of comfort they represent could become bind to their hearts and settle in their minds.”

Metutu was humbled. “I’m sorry I called you an evil sorcerer. You know, we kids grew up telling stories about sacrifices of goats by the light of the full moon.”

“Once I was brought a goat carcass. I had to cut it up for some sick lion cubs. It might have been a night of the full moon—I don’t know. All I know is that I couldn’t let them starve to death.” Busara shook his head. “And to think that I love children so much. Perhaps you will put in a good word when gossips tell their tales?”

“I’ll try.”

Metutu looked up and down the wall. He recognized many of the paintings from his brother’s work, but one thing was missing. “Where is your story? I bet it’s interesting.”

Busara smiled. “I like to think so. Let me see your hands.” He took a look at Metutu’s palms by the lantern light. “They are young and fresh, not used to hard work.” His own were callused. “Hard work is part of my story.” He tugged at his gray beard. “Worry about my daughter’s future. Her first case of Dol Sani and her near death from pneumonia.” He drew his finger down the deep lines etched in his cheeks. “Long hours of study, tending the sick, teaching lore, crying tears and smiling smiles.” He drew his finger across the deep wrinkles on his forehead. “Late nights with sick lion cubs and a couple of leopards. Oh yes, my story is plainly written. The youth has been pulled from my outside, but inside I still feel like the young buck that earned these.”

He showed Metutu the back of his hand with five parallel scars. “To you they are ugly scars. To me they are beautiful. You see, my lioness sister Asumini was once warm and strong like you and I.” He took from around his neck a grass cord from which hung an ivory fang. “Once she could bear me on her back without thinking about it. Now I wear what’s left of her next to my heart.” His eyes began to grow misty. “If you learn anything from me, learn this. Love well and for always. For everything else a shaman does is but leaves and branches.” He patted the column of stone. “Love is the trunk and the root of all good things.”

Busara sat on a prepared cushion of leaves. He motioned for Metutu to do likewise. “I’m going to tell you a love story. One that is strange, for it is about a young mandrill shaman and a lioness. Listen well to my words, for I can make you look, but I can’t make you see.”

“Is she the one I heard rumors about?”

“The rumors pale next to the truth.” He fondled the relic and kissed it. “Once I was in search of worldly treasures. And instead I discovered God. Only I did not recognize the significance of the moment, for the truth came in the form of a wounded lioness.

“At great risk I tended her wound and saved her life. Her name was Asumini. It means ‘jasmine,’ and may I say that the flower is more beautiful because it bears her name?” He put the tooth back around his neck. “She received comfort to the body, but returned to give me comfort to the spirit. Everything that came before I count as loss. Everything that has happened since I treasure. Through her eyes, I have seen face to face what others only saw dimly reflected. Because of her, I have seen the face of Aiheu and slept at the feet of Minshasa and Mano. And I will sit with them when I die, among the great kings of the past.”

“Who are the great kings?”

“Those whose hearts are warm with the joy of service. It is good to receive eternal life. It is far greater to give eternal love. In the beginning all animals were brother spirits. In the end they will all be brothers once more. Some of those spirits will be weak cubs crying out for milk. Others will answer their cry and say, ‘Come you who hunger for my milk. No one shall I turn away.’” He drew close to Metutu and took his hand. “Aiheu calls to you. He says, ‘Metutu, feed my cubs. Feed my cubs.’”

Metutu slowly knelt and bowed his head. Busara rested his hand on his head and blessed him.

“Aiheu, come into my heart! I will feed your cubs! I swear!”

Busara knelt beside him and put his arms around Metutu. “Bless you, son! I have lived to see the promise fulfilled in you. The light will not go out!”

Kinara loved his son, but there was a depth and genuine warmth to Busara that endeared him to Metutu at once. “When I am Chief, everyone will see your paintings, and there will be no punishment for worshipping as your heart dictates.”

Tears came to Busara’s eyes. “I have lived to see this moment! Now I can die happy!”

CHAPTER 12: BREAKING BREAD

Busara told him, “Let’s celebrate. How about something to eat?”

“Fine!”

“Then come on. We’ll prepare it together.” A second later Busara added, “I forget you have servants. Do you know how to prepare a meal?”

“What I don’t know, you can show me.”

“That attitude will take you places, my son!” Busara put his arm around the smiling Metutu and led him into the pantry.

The year-round cool of the deeper cave passages made it possible to store greens in fresh-picked condition for quite a while. Busara found all the fruit and vegetables he needed in the flickering light of his lamp.

“I can’t believe this!” Metutu saw herbs and fruits that he knew were out of season. “This is incredible! You’re a genius!”

Busara laughed. “I make a mean fruit salad too.” He took a mango and took a sharp dagger from the wall that he used to slice it into this sections, then dice them.

“What is that??”

“It’s a man thing. There was a big male that drowned in the river a few years back. Very sad, but he was wearing this. I figured he didn’t need it anymore.”

“A man thing? But those are cursed!”

“No. The only time it’s cursed is when it rests in an evil hand. Funny thing about those big hairless creatures: for all their collections of things, they are mortal and full of fears just like us. Aiheu made us all for one reason or another. I haven’t figured out why he made their kind yet, but it’s enough just knowing he had a reason to show a little tolerance and understanding.” He smiled. “They do make some great stuff, though.”

“If you say so,” Metutu murmured, looking closely at the dagger but not touching it.

Later as they ate, Metutu glanced at the tooth of Asumini around Busara’s neck.

“Tell me more about the lioness.”

“She is probably listening right now,” Busara said. “She reveals herself to whom she will as the spirit moves her.”

“No, I mean as a person.”

Busara smiled. “She is full of love. Love that echoed through her cubs and now her grandson Ahadi who rules at Pride Rock. Our spirits are one, bound together eternally with cords that cannot be broken. She brought my family and I into the light. My debt to her could never be repaid.” He leaned over and kissed Kima. “My wife is very understanding about this—she shares me with Asumini. I think that if I’d spent that much time and affection on another mandrill…”

“I would have killed you,” Kima said, kissing his cheek. She turned to address Metutu directly. “Sometimes he sleeps next to her. At least she waits for him to fall asleep before she sneaks away. But when she was alive, that was even worse. She would sprawl out in the floor with Busara snuggled up against her. The two of them would snore like a thunderstorm. Sometimes he’d rub her stomach and her leg would kick.”

“You talk about her like a nuisance,” Busara said with a slight scowl. “I know you used to spend hours grooming her, picking ticks, and calling her ‘Fuzzy love.’ And those cubs: I thought you were going to fight her for custody!”

“Well sometimes she was a nuisance. But only sometimes.” Kima smiled reflectively. “She was always very sweet. Sometimes out of the blue she would say something absolutely wonderful that would take your breath away. Then you wanted to hug her and never let go. She was so wise about so many things.”

“They must be great philosophers. And I thought all they did was hunt.”

Busara laughed. “Oh my boy, what constitutes great philosophy? I remember the way she used to say it

“You have lots of time to sit about in that odd crossed-legged stance to do thinking. That kind of time must be wonderful—I spend much time hunting and tending to my family. But even in my busy life, I have moments when I feel that small voice inside me speaking truths. I know what works for me.

“In one way, there are no mothers who aren’t philosophers. We use what works for us, and if you are interested, I would tell you some truths. For one thing, we see the beauty that surrounds us. The father sky, the mother earth, the dew on the grass. We know that God is beautiful, though we have not seen him. You can tell a mother’s looks by her cubs. Even so, we see the beauty of God in everything he made.’”

“My gods!” Metutu gasped.

Busara sighed. “Such pure, beautiful and childlike faith! Rather than dealing in vague concepts, she brought comfort for the spirit… words that help us face the pleasures and pains of life. Well my son, she helped me face them. She lived to be quite old for her kind, then she came here to die, and she has never left. Sometimes in the night you can see her keeping watch over me, my blessed Nisei whose prayers are always before the feet of Aiheu.” His eyes grew misty again. “To think she leaves the blessed presence of Aiheu to tarry in the shadows with me. She healed my spirit, and all I did was heal her body!”

Suddenly Busara looked around. “No, I didn’t exaggerate!” He listened for a moment, but all Metutu could hear was silence. “It’s true!”

“Was that her?”

“Yes. She’s among us. Apparently she has not revealed herself to you yet.”

“Well ask her to. If you ask her to, she will.”

“I believe it. But I will not ask her to. When she is ready, she will show herself.”

Busara’s daughter got up and reached down to touch something, though Metutu could not see a thing. “Is that her?” Metutu asked.

“Yes.”

Metutu reached out in that direction. Asumini scowled. “You drove her off! Give her time—she’ll come to you when she’s ready.”

“Will I know it?”

“She could chew you up and spit you out. I dare say you’ll know it.”

“Is she temperamental? I mean, is she good to you?”

Asumini said, “She was a second mother to me. She was very strict but very kind, like most lioness mothers. I could never get away with anything because she would tattle on me to Dad.”

“I bet you hated that.”

“No. She always took good care of me. I only wish I could have known her well before she died. When I was very young, I remember her grooming me. That seems so long ago. At least I could hide from her then.” She looks to one side. “Cut it out, Auntie! You know I’m only teasing.” Suddenly Asumini laughs. “In your dreams!”

Hearing only one side of this, Metutu felt odd. Still when Metutu sat his stick down for a while, it ended up moving mysteriously. “She is shy with newcomers, but she wants you to respect her existence. That’s her subtle way of saying ‘hello.’”

“Oh.” He looked around uncertainly. “Hello to you too.” Something dawned on him at last, and he burst out laughing.

Asumini looks at him strangely. “You think this is funny?”

“No, I think you are! Your father said Asumini scavenged carcasses for fat before the hyenas stripped them clean! I thought he meant you!”

“Are you so sure he didn’t?”

Metutu stared at her. “You are kidding—aren’t you?”

She grinned. “Well, I might be.”

CHAPTER 13: THE FACTS

Metutu was excited about his new religion, but the very ones he wanted to discuss it with were the ones he could not tell. Wandani had never discussed religion with him. Telling his father was out of the question, and he was afraid of horrifying and saddening his mother. So without a proper forum, his new ideas surfaced as moods.

He had locked away inside him the secret plan to go with Busara to the open savanna, wade through the waves of grass, and there see a real lion. He wanted to live the stories about the night sky, standing on Pride Rock and seeing for the very first time the sparkling canopy of stars. He wanted to hear a real roar.

He passed his mother. “Hi, Mom!” He gave her a big kiss. “Isn’t it great to be alive!”

“Yes, it sure is.” She kissed him back. “Did you learn anything interesting today?”

“It was so neat!”

Without further elaboration, Metutu climbed into his bunk and looked at the trunk of the tree. A knot that had always reminded him of a rabbit’s head stared back with unseeing eyes.

“Well, Mr. Bun,” he thought, “I’ll ask him the next time I see him! Yes, we’ll think of SOME excuse for Mom and Dad. We’ll call it an extended field trip or something.”

It would not be easy. But if Aiheu answered prayers, there would come an excuse to cement their ties and strengthen their new bond! “Aiheu, light of lights, creator of the universe, I’m the new one that met you this evening. Find a way through love!”

“I have some fresh fruit,” Neema called up to him.

“Not right now, Mom. I’m not really hungry.”

“Did you eat at Busara’s?”

“Just a little.”

“You’re a growing boy. You need your nourishment.”

“OK, just a little.”

She climbed up with a couple of melon slices. “Now you finish these, you hear?” She looked him in the face and smiled. “How are you feeling, fuzzy love?”

“Fine, Mom,” he said affectionately but distracted.

“Want to talk about it?”

He laughed. “What part of ‘fine’ do you want me to explain?”

“You know what I mean!”

As honestly as he dared, Metutu said, “Busara is a great teacher. As much as I love Dad, it’s great to hear someone that can talk all day without mentioning Old Maloki ONCE.”

She looked about, then laughed softly. “You really shouldn’t say that,” she intoned in a whisper. “But I almost envy you.”

“Besides that, I like Busara and Kima.”

“And you already like Asumini?”

“Of course. A lot.”

Neema smiled and nodded. “She is very likable. Just the sort of doe that would make a fine wife and mother someday. I think a curious sort like you would like an intellectual like her.”

“Well, uh, I guess so.”

“Just like your father likes politics and he got a politician for a wife. My vote doesn’t carry far beyond this tree, but he spends half his life here.”

“You know how to call the shots, Huh Mom?”

“Don’t underestimate me. But I would never misuse that power. If anything, I try to help your father and keep both of his feet on the ground when he starts going wild. Choosing someone who really loves you and that you can trust is the key to happiness. If I can venture an opinion…”

“Sure, Mom.”

“I think the gods made you and Asumini as a matched set. If I saw the two of you married, I could die without worries or regrets. Makedde is married to his work, and Makoko will get by somehow. He’s durable. But Metutu, you have a loving heart. Without love, you would die like a sprout in the dry season.”

“I can get along.”

“I don’t mean it as an insult. I think your heart is made to love and be loved. It’s God’s gift to you. If you turn your back on that gift, there will be consequences. Whatever you do, and wherever you go, look for love to follow you. When I am gone, and your father is off on some mad scheme, I know that Asumini will be holding your hand. And when I look down and see that, it will make me so happy.”

Metutu kissed her. “That’s very nice, Mom. But stick around for a while. I don’t want you leaving any time soon.”

“No sooner than I have to,” she said, squeezing his hand. “I’m still rather young. Maybe I want to play with my grandchildren first.”

Neema climbed down and gathered up the rest of the fruit. “Kinara, dear? Have you eaten?”

He came around the tree. “Oh, that looks good! Is Metutu back yet?”

She kept her voice down and motioned Kinara away to the privacy of the deep forest.

“When you look that way, Neema, you’re up to something.”

“Our little boy had come back a buck, and he needs someone to have the talk with him.”

“What do you mean?”

“Asumini. That’s what I mean. Just look at him. He’s so jumpy if you touched him he’d jump sky high. Metutu needs to hear the facts from someone who knows, not from his young friends. When I was his age, I thought I’d get pregnant if a boy kissed me.”

“Fine. I’ll have a talk with him sometime.”

“Sometime today.”

He returned to the tree but did not see Metutu around. Acting on a hunch, he went to the creek where he found Metutu skipping rocks. “Why, he’s still just a child!” Kinara sighed.

“Metutu?”

“Yes sir?”

“No calling me sir. Today I’m not just your father, I’m also your friend. And we need to talk heart to heart, OK?”

He sat on bank by his son, their feet in the smooth, cool water. Putting his arm around Metutu’s shoulder, he started out rather obliquely. “Now then, you remember when your grandmother died? We all grow old and die someday.”

“No fooling?” Metutu covered his face. “Even me?”

“Now don’t you poke fun. Let’s understand each other: I know all about Asumini.”

Of course Metutu thought Busara was keeping his lioness a secret.

“You may find your friendship with her a little different than the ones you have with your other friends. You may feel strange urges you don’t understand. You want to touch her, to kiss her, to be with her.”

Metutu is a bit taken aback. “Well, I think she’s really neat. I’d like to see more of her—to be able to touch her and feel her soft fur. To look in her hazel eyes. Sometimes I even wish I could lay my head on her side and go to sleep just listening to her breath.”

Kinara squeezed his shoulder. “I know the feeling, son. But you need to know where this is leading. Encourage her and she’ll be all over you like green on leaves. Your mother and I felt that way, but we decided to respect each other and wait till after we were married before our level of intimacy spread that far. Things can quickly get out of control.”

Metutu was aghast. He suddenly realized where this was going. “Oh, you mean Busara’s daughter!” Starts to laugh.

“Is there ANOTHER Asumini?”

“What brought this on, dad?”

“We’ve seen all the classic signs. Restlessness, poor appetite, mood swings. If that’s not it, what is?”

Metutu laughed. “Let’s see. I started training with Busara. He’s really neat. I got to go in a cave for the first time. I’m excited about life. I’m going to be on the council someday. No denying that Asumini is pretty, but really Dad…”

“But what about this business with the touchy-feely stuff. Like laying your head on her side and going to sleep?”

“I was talking about a lioness!” Metutu laughed uncontrollably. “Don’t worry, dad—we respect each other’s feelings and we’ll wait till after we’re married before our level of intimacy spreads that far. We don’t want things to get out of control.”

The little joke was lost on Kinara. “A lioness?? She’ll eat you in one bite!”

“No, Dad. She’s dead.”

“Oh, that changes everything.” He began to nervously scratch his head. “You want to cuddle with a DEAD lioness!”

“Not a dead body! A guardian spirit! Her name’s Asumini too.”

Kinara took in a deep breath, closed his eyes, and let it out slowly from the mouth. “Thank the gods.” He looked at Metutu and smiled. Metutu smiled back. “I love you, son. We can talk when we want to. Just take me aside and say ‘Dad, I’d like to talk.’”

“That’s nice, Dad. I love you too.” Metutu looked up with a wry grin. “Did mother put you up to this?”

“She sure did. That obvious, huh?”

“Well she was really acting kind of odd.”

“When I tell her, she’s going to flip.” Kinara rubbed the top of Metutu’s hair. “I had a different name picked out for you. Metutu was a mistake. I was going to name you Mawata, after your grandfather. Let’s be honest, son. You may not have Makoko’s looks, but the beauty from inside is so great that it doesn’t matter. Don’t you dare tell anyone I said this, but of my three sons, I have always loved you the most.”

“Oh dad!”

“Let me finish. You inspire love in people, and someday some female is going to latch on to you. You need to know about these things so when Asumini, or whomever it is, throws you off balance you’ll know what to do. There’s no need to rely on rumors, not as long as I’m around.”

Kinara talked with Metutu in the quiet of the forest about the renewal of life, and about love. It was one of the few times Metutu had ever seen Kinara as gentle or as shy, and years later he would look back on that talk and smile.

CHAPTER 14: ALL THAT GLITTERS IS NOT GOLD

Metutu headed to Busara’s cave, feeling a little upset and longing for some inner peace.

Kima came out to greet him affectionately. “Come in, my son! Look Busara, it’s Metutu!”

Busara came out and threw his arms around him like an old friend. Already Metutu felt his anger melting away like wax in the hot sun. “I was just thinking about you, and here you are! Have some fresh grapes with us and let’s talk.”

“About what?”

“I can sense that you were upset with someone. Not us, I hope?”

“Certainly not!”

“Your father again?”

Metutu took some grapes, blessed them, and began to eat them a couple at a time. “I don’t mean it wrong, but I really hate politics. I love my dad, but I can’t stand what he does for a living.”

“Hfff! Can it be that you have lost your faith in politics?” Busara offered him some cold water which Metutu gratefully accepted. “So what is it this time? Old Maloki again?”

“Isn’t it always?” Metutu scratched his head. “I mean, why don’t those two just try to get along? I don’t believe Maloki is half as evil as my father says he is.”

“Well you knew they were like that. There’s something else, isn’t there?”

“Yeah.” Metutu put his head in his hands and sulked. “Dad tells Chidu one thing, then turns right around and tells Bugweto exactly the opposite. So I asked him about it, and he told me that God is the source of all truth, and that when he wants something done, he can change the truth.” He looked pained. “I let it drop, but any way you look at it, he just plain lied. I remember my mom always telling me not to lie, but I can’t remember my dad saying anything except that I should not lie to HIM. I never know when to believe him anymore!”

“I see.” Busara put his hand on Metutu’s shoulder. “This disturbs you. But there is more to it than that. Much more.”

Metutu felt he had said too much already. He quietly took a couple of grapes and chewed them very slowly.

Busara smiled understandingly. “You are worried that one day you will take his place, and that lies will not bother you. That the means will be justified by the end. It makes you feel dirty somehow just thinking about it.”

Metutu met his glance intently. “Is lying part of being chief? Can’t I be honest and still do the right thing? Do you really think God changes the truth?”

Busara sighed deeply. “Lies are fruits that are ripe and beautiful on the outside but have a worm inside! The same is true of someone that cannot be trusted. I trust God with my life and the life of my family. I know that his words to me will endure forever incorruptible and perfect. Now if you’ll pardon me for a moment of honesty, I think you’d make a terrible chief.”

Metutu looked down. “I see. Then what am I fit for?”

Busara gently raised Metutu’s chin to look him in the eyes. “Last night I had a vision of you bowing before Mano and Minshasa. Mano kissed you and said, ‘Arise, my true son. Your father was chief of a small village, but if you are faithful you will rule in splendor and might with the great kings in the sky.’”

“Me?? Are sure it wasn’t just a dream?”

“A dream?” Busara patted his cheek. “Son, your whole life to this point has been a dream. Now it is time you awoke.”

“What would Aiheu have of me? What must I do?”

“You have just taken the first step. Always ask what Aiheu would have of you. Make it your morning and evening prayer, your first thought on waking and your last as you fall asleep. Next, you must go on a vision quest and open your heart to the Creator. When a cub cries to his mother, he is fed. When you cry to God, he will not leave you empty. Guidance will follow.”

“You want me to be a shaman?”

“What I want is not important. I pay little heed to what I want, yet everything I truly wanted is here for me. It is a simple trade. You worry about what Aiheu wants, and he will worry about what you want. I tell you son, once the staff of a chief is in your hands, it is so hard to let go of it. You’ll spend the rest of your life in regret, but you’ll cling to it as a vine clings to a tree. I tell you a higher purpose awaits you, one that will never bring you to shame.”

“If I am not the next chief, who will free our people?”

“Someday the people must free themselves. And if Aiheu wills it, so shall it be. You can run from God, but you cannot hide.”

“But what can I offer him? I don’t feel like a child of Mano. I want to do this, but I’m frightened.”

Busara laughed. “And you’re the only one? Maybe the world is vast, and on it you are just a tiny spot. But is it not better to be a bright spot among the stars than a dark spot on the ground?”

Metutu sighed. “You always say the right thing. I’ll do it.”

CHAPTER 15: AT ODDS

“When Koko had managed to reach in the basket unobserved and remove a totem, he felt very clever. Now he had power from the gods! Such mischief he might work against all his enemies who laughed at him! And he stole away chuckling to himself. But the gods soon stopped him and demanded the return of their property. And they condemned him to death, but being fair-minded allowed him to choose the method of his execution. Without hesitation, Koko said, ‘Old age.’

“The answer impressed the gods, and they knew no ordinary ape could have stolen a totem. So they let Koko go on his way and keep the totem, but only to use for good. They warned him that the day he cast a spell of harm he would surely die, and not of old age! For that reason, Koko became a great healer—the first shaman. And though he worked no harm, his enemies ceased to laugh at him, so his days were long and happy in the earth.”

— “LITTLE BROTHER CHAKO”, SECTION 7B

The Council of Elders was upset. The rivalry between Kinara and Maloki who lived just across the creek had always been a source of controversy, but it was usually handled on a personal basis and rarely involved the entire council.

Chango and Bugweto had been to the creek for water. Everyone knew how much Maloki had been charging for water rights, for he had claimed to own the creek right up to the opposite bank. But when some of his people were pulling fruits from the breadfruit tree that hung out over the water, that was too much.

“It is rooted on our bank! It is our tree!” Kinara charged. “This is an outrage!”

Azima, Maloki’s son, was equally adamant. “We only pull fruit that hangs out over the water. There is no way you could pick that fruit without trespassing!”

“We are not trespassing when we pay rent!” Bugweto shouted.

“The rent is for water. For water! You may pick all the fruit that hangs over land. That is legal. That is fair before the gods! Must I remind you that we had an honorable agreement?”

“At your rental fees, there are no honorable agreements,” Kinara said, his arms crossed. “However, we have with us an unimpeachable voice where the law is concerned.” He nodded at Busara. “Everyone knows that his word is impartial and honest. So, what say you, Scribe?”

Busara looked thoughtful. He walked between Kinara and Azima who were standing dangerously close. “Once there were two brothers. They both fought long and hard over a great prize for five days and nights. They did not eat or sleep. Finally on the fifth day, they both collapsed exhausted. And while they were asleep, a stranger came in and stole the prize.”

“What are you saying?” Azima said.

“When the tree is ripe, remove all the fruit into one large pile. Then divide it equally between our villages.”

“Fine and good,” Kinara said. “But I will do it personally. Azima is a cheat like his father.”

“I?? I’M a cheat??”

“Please, distinguished opponents…” Busara put a hand on each of the two mandrills. “I have an answer. One of you will divide the pile into two groups, and the other can take his group first. That way, no one would dare cheat.”

“But why would I give him anything?” Kinara said. The others nodded and murmured. “Why should I even honor his claim?”

Busara took Kinara out of hearing range, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Maloki likes nothing better than to make you angry,” he whispered, glaring at Azima. “If you are generous and give him fully half, you will take away his excuse to curse you behind your back. He will be miserable.”

Kinara thought a moment, stroked his chin whiskers moodily, then smiled. “I like that. And next time he accuses me of being greedy, I shall remind him!”

Kinara came back. With a kindly smile, he patted Azima on the back. “My boy, you are right. We will give you half of the fruit as my friend has suggested. By all means. Maybe even more. Why not take it all? We don’t need the extra fruit.”

Azima began to look uncomfortable. “Is there something wrong with it?”

“No, not at all! It’s wonderful. I hope you enjoy it. Why not take some home with you?”

Azima began to scratch his head. “Now wait a minute here! What did Busara tell you just now?”

“He told me that it is more blessed to give than to take.”

Azima looked around at the others. He began to tremble as he met each pair of eyes, looking for some hint. “Like hell he did!” he shouted, throwing up his hands. “You’re all a bunch of scheming, lousy good-for-nothings! Do you think I’m stupid?? Keep the fruit! I hope you DO eat it! By the gods, I hope whatever you planned falls back on you threefold!”

Azima stormed out. For several moments, there was not a word, not a sound. Then when he was out of hearing range, Kinara began to chuckle, then he burst out in laughter, putting his arm around Busara’s shoulder. “You no-account scheming little devil you! I didn’t know you had it in you!”

Busara smiled, but his heart was not in it.

After the meeting, Kinara took Busara aside. “I’d like to show my appreciation, old friend. I want you to be my chief advisor. You know that is second in power only to me, and I offer it because you are as shrewd as you are honest.”

Busara looked uncomfortable. “Thank you, my chief, but perhaps I’m not as shrewd as you think—or as much as I should be.”

Kinara smiled, but laid his hand on Busara’s shoulder a bit firmly. “Save your double speaking for them. When I want a good riddle, I’ll ask you as Chief Scribe. Right now I need one word. It sounds exactly like ‘yes’.”

“I’m sorry, my friend. I’m not the type you need.”

“Oh?”

“With all due respect, you want to win at all costs. It has become your fruit and your water. What you desire most becomes your god, but when you die, earthly powers will desert you. Only love can bear your soul to the Blessed Realm.”

“Are you calling me irreligious?”

“No, old friend. I’m calling you precious and one of a kind. A child of the gods. I want something for you greater than this world has to offer. Go home tonight and kiss your wife. Speak to your son Makedde. Make peace with the boy and realize how much he still loves you. These are more important than all the breadfruit in the world.”

Kinara looks at him undecided. But he recognized the kindness in Busara’s voice and patted him on the back. “You’re beginning to sound just like my mother. I’m a big boy now, and I can look out for myself. As for my son Makedde, I pray for him every night.”

When Busara saluted him and went back toward his cave, Kinara leaned over to one of his lackey guards nearby. “Take Uwezo and follow him. See what he’s up to.”

CHAPTER 16: THE WALLS HAVE EARS

Uwezo and Doya were very good at what they did. They were Kinara’s bodyguards, but they also were remarkably quiet and stealthy for large mandrills. It was a combination that had helped Kinara maintain his power for many years.

Usually, Kinara’s ability to “get the goods” on his opponents led to no great mischief. In fact, there were many members of the troop that shared an odd kind of bond with him. They would ask for advice about matters they could confess to no one else, and Kinara would usually try to be helpful in return. In that way, he was the Father Confessor of the wealthy and powerful. And never had he violated his confidence.

Uwezo was very observant, and his hearing was very good. But he wondered about the two sets of footprints he thought he heard as Busara walked along. One of the sets sounded very heavy. He glanced about nervously, thinking a leopard may be spying on HIM. All he saw was Doya behind him, and Doya was doing a good job of muffling his steps.

Suddenly, there was a loud lioness roar. Forgetting to be quiet, Uwezo charged back toward Doya and passed him brusquely. Busara looked around, but by the time he saw the two mandrills, they were far enough away to not be recognized.

“What’s the matter, old girl?”

“I just don’t like it,” she said. “They looked suspicious.”

It would do little good to follow Busara when he was alert. Uwezo and Doya had a job to do, and they did not dare risk the wrath of Kinara if they failed him. So deciding that he was headed home anyhow, they waited until evening to quietly and cautiously took up hiding places right outside the mouth of the cave.

“This will always be your refuge,” Busara said. “When you need a place where you can come and be accepted for who and what you are, our arms are always open for you.”

“Thank you,” Metutu said. “I love you more than I can say! You have been so kind. You and Kima and Asumini.”

“May Aiheu bless you, my son,” Kima said.

Doya glanced at Uwezo. “Uh oh!”

“Shhhh!”

“Your destiny is a special one, Metutu,” Busara said. “In a small way I tried to bring some change about today. Maybe if I am lucky, before I die I will hear Kinara and Maloki exchange a few civil words. But you are to be the new chief someday. You will do more in a year than I have in my lifetime. Freedom will blossom and grow like Alba, and worship will be the choice of the heart, not that of the council.”

“Just wait till he hears this,” Doya said.

Just then, they heard heavy footsteps leaving the cave and padding through the leaves. “It’s that sound again. Let’s get out of here!”

Busara looked up. “What happened to Asumini? You’d think she saw a ghost!”

Seconds later, the lioness appeared, very agitated. “Doya and Uwezo were right outside.”

“What did they hear?”

“Probably everything.”

Busara closed his eyes and tilted his head back. He moaned as if someone had gouged him. “We are in grave danger.”

“Let me kill them,” Asumini said.

“No, girl. That will only make Kinara more suspicious than ever. We are not judge and executioner. Not like him.”

When Uwezo and Doya found Kinara, Chief Priest Kasisi was with him. They competed to be first to give their reports, knowing that there would be a bonus in it for them somewhere.

“He’s an Aiheuist,” Uwezo said.

“He’s teaching Metutu to be one,” Doya said.

“He said he tried to get you and Maloki on speaking terms, but that Metutu as the next chief would really clear out the cobwebs.”

Kinara sat stunned for a moment, then jerked to his feet. He almost never showed his temper, but he grabbed a fruit he had been eating and hurled it at a tree.

“My son! He thinks to turn my own SON upon me! That triple cursed barbaric heathen! I trusted him. I gave him my own son! Oh gods!”

Uwezo and Doya were really expecting a reward for that. Instead, Kinara merely dismissed them with a wave of his hand.

Kasisi was almost foaming at the mouth. “We have to wipe this thing out! It is a disease, and it’s spreading! Wipe it out, I say!”

“I’ll have to have a little talk with Busara.”

“You’ll have to kill him,” the Chief Priest said.

“Denounce my friend to the council? Have him put down like a thief or adulterer? I will banish him.”

“Banish him and you make him a hero in your son’s eyes,” Kasisi said. “The same will happen if you give him a public execution. No, he must disappear. Suddenly and without a trace, do you understand?”

“But you’re talking murder!”

“I’m talking the salvation of the race! Death is a part of life, but we can influence our time of death by our chosen lifestyle. His was risky-very risky. He has lived much longer than he ought. We are correcting that oversight.”

“But Kasisi, Busara is my friend!”

“Busara is heading your son straight to hell! When he is separated forever from the blessed realm, he will curse your name through all eternity! He will say ‘My father did this to me!’”

“But murder him??”

“God will bless you for it, so it is not murder! I tell you Kinara, there are more in this troop that follow him. Those who are in danger. Like Makedde.”

“What about Makedde!”

Kasisi crossed his arms smugly. “You thought you had the goods on me! You thought you had me under your thumb, old friend? You do your duty before God or as sure as there is a God, I’ll denounce him to the council the way I should have long ago!”

“You do that and I’ll kill you!”

“Kill the Chief Priest for following his religion? Do you think that would help? Do you think you could get away with it? Do you think I haven’t told anyone else why I was coming here tonight?”

“Enough!” Kinara stood facing the trees for a moment, then slowly turned back around. “I don’t have to enjoy it as much as you do. But so be it.”

Kinara recalled his two trusted bodyguards. He grabbed Doya by the chin whiskers. “Listen well. Our Chief Scribe likes to contact the spirit world.” He scowls darkly. “Very well. We must arrange it so Busara can spend all his time there, if you read my meaning.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Handle it discretely, but handle it by sunrise tomorrow. For if you fail me—” He patted Uwezo on the head. “No chance of that. You wouldn’t dare fail.”

Bowing and scraping madly, they rushed off.

CHAPTER 17: THE DIASPORA

Busara was terrified. “Metutu, I must gather my belongings and go. I will take Kima and Asumini far away.”

“Take me with you.”

Busara kissed his cheek. “In my heart, you are always with me. It would not help either of us if you ran away from home right now.”

“Where are you going? You can tell me.”

“I will send Asumini for you when it is safe. They can’t hurt her.” He took Metutu firmly by the shoulders. “I don’t have much time. There is so much I would say to you, my son. For now, you must hide the faith. Not in the way you treat others, but in the way you speak to others. Later it can shine, but something awful is about to happen. You must remember what I have taught you. You are our hope, Metutu. Don’t let me down or my sacrifice would have been meaningless.”

He grabs Busara’s hand. “Aiheu give me the strength.”

Metutu put his arms around Busara. “May the gods see between us till we meet again.”

“In case things go wrong, bless me for my death.”

“Oh gods, don’t say that!”

“Bless me, Metutu! I would ask my eldest son, and you are he.”

With trembling fingers, Metutu drew a circle around Busara’s right eye and drew his fingertips under his chin. “May you see God. May you speak with Him.” Tears started down Metutu’s cheeks, and he hugged him again. “Father, friend, and teacher! Don’t you leave me! Don’t you dare die and leave me!”

“I’ll try not to.” Busara dried Metutu’s cheeks. “Go now. Tell no one you were here.”

Metutu hugged him one more time, then headed out by the long, winding path. He didn’t want to be seen.

Kima was gathering up some food, and Asumini—Busara’s daughter that is—was taking some herbs and talismans.

“Don’t leave until I come back,” Busara said. “I’ll scout out the trail and make sure we are not being watched.”

With the lioness Asumini, he left to run the first dangerous leg of the journey through the cane field and the scrub bushes. It would not do taking them on the well-worn paths. That route had served him well gathering Tiko root, and it would get them over to Maloki’s village. Maloki detested Kinara and would be only too glad to accept his wise Chief Scribe as a guest, knowing it would rankle his old adversary to no end.

Asumini stopped and looked around. Busara, who was a little hard of hearing, relied on her keen senses. “What is it, old girl? Behind me?”

He looked around. “Uwezo! Doya!”

Doya was holding a large rock.

“I used to tell you stories when you were kids! Please! Let me run and just say you killed me!”

Doya looked a little ashamed. “OK. But swear you won’t come back.”

“I swear!” Busara slowly turned around, his heart pounding. “I’ll never come back!”

Doya lifted the rock and brought it down on Busara’s head as hard as he could. Busara fell and moaned. Doya hit him again and the moaning stopped.

Asumini appeared, snarling. In fear and dread, Doya threw the stone at the crouched lioness, but it passed through her harmlessly. “Don’t kill me! Please don’t kill me! Oh gods!”

“Maybe I can let you run away and just say I killed you.”

“Oh gods! Have pity on me! I was following orders!” He fell to his knees and would have groveled on the ground, but right before him was the body of Busara smeared with his own blood. “For the gods’ sake!”

“For the god’s sake,” she snarled, springing forward.

The next morning Busara did not come to his breakfast meeting with Kinara. The chief acted impatient and made a token effort to have him searched for. But Metutu spotted some blood on the ground and signs of struggle in the grass. “Come look at this!”

“The trail is old,” Chango said. “He might have been taken by a leopard.”

The chief followed Chango, wondering why his own trusted bodyguards never came back. Then he found them horribly ripped with their heads nearly bitten off. It looked like a lion attack, but no meat was eaten.

“Oh gods!” Kinara wailed.

There are no lion tracks, but the cuts left no doubt what had happened. “Chango, I trust you. Right now I need you. Carry the bodies away and bury them, and swear to me that NOT ONE WORD gets out to ANYONE about this.”

“I swear.”

Sure he knew what had happened, Metutu headed back. He heard footsteps beside him, heavy footsteps.

“Asumini, is that you?”

She appeared at his side. “Metutu, have courage. I will be with you.”

“Asumini, did my father do this?”

She looked at him glumly. “Your heart knows the answer. Metutu, I am so sad, so very sad!”

“I know you loved him.”

“Not sad for him. Sad for you! Because you love your father no matter what he has done. Because hard times lie ahead for you. But take heart, for I will not leave you till my work is finished.”

CHAPTER 18: IN LOVE

That evening Metutu returned to the one place he could find peace. Coming into the mouth of the cave, he saw Kima standing over the food for the meal. Though she was going through the motions of her old life, the look in her eyes was very different. They were dull and lifeless.

“Kima? Are you all right?”

She looked up. “Metutu?”

She looked notably older. Without a moment’s hesitation, Metutu went to her and embraced her. The old fire came back to her face as she wept on his shoulder. “Oh thank God you’re all right! You are such a good boy. No wonder Busara loved you so!”

“I loved him too. And I promise you that I always will. I want to help any way I can if you’ll only let me.”

“You mustn’t come here often. It might harm you if word leaks out. There are spies out there.” Without mentioning Kinara’s name, she said, “You know that HE knows everything that goes on. We must be careful.”

“It does not matter if I am in danger. When I am struck down, I will be lifted up like Busara in triumph over death!” He went back into the cave and held a lamp next to the paintings. He saw a picture that represented himself together with the family group. Metutu fell to his knees and wept. “That must be the last thing he painted!” He touched the painting carefully with his fingertips. “Oh gods, I still can’t believe he’s gone. I will see that he did not die in vain, Kima. I will carry on his work, so help me gods!”

“See this line that connects you to Asumini? It was his hope that you should one day be joined in marriage. It was my hope too that one day you would enjoy a love rooted in truth and beauty.”

Metutu, understandably, did not want to betray his own father to the council. Not that much would come of it, with suspicions about Busara’s religion having being confirmed. But he could not condone what his father did.

“Kima, I am going to continue with my studies with Makedde. I will be a shaman as I had promised.”

Kima smiled, but her eyes were sad. “Aiheu will bless you. I only wish Busara could have been here to finish your training. He was looking so forward to it.”

“I didn’t know him for long, but I will never forget his gentle wisdom. He told me to follow my dream. I will.”

“You must be careful. Don’t let the ignorant put out your light.”

“I am willing to spill my blood for the love of Aiheu. Without his love, life is not worth living.”

“Still don’t count your life worthless. Don’t discard it lightly. Remember that some of us love you.”

He hugs her around the shoulder. “Some of us love you too.”

Asumini was looking at the paintings. “There is my Auntie,” she said tearfully. “She loved us, but she was always my father’s. I will miss her.”

“She told me she would not leave until her work was done.” He thought a moment. “Besides, I will always be there for you.” Metutu took Asumini in his arms. “As your father gave up his life to pass the truth to me, I will make sure you have what you need even if I must do without! I will be another son to Kima, and a husband to you.”

“Metutu, we do not want your pity. That is not the kind of love we feel for you.”

“Not pity! I have always felt for you. You were always so wise and as beautiful as I am plain.”

“Your face is not plain.”

“Only because you are beautiful enough for both of us.” He kissed her first on one cheek then the other. “Don’t blame me for feeling attracted to you. What son of Chako could look at you and not think guilty thoughts.”

She gave him a chaste kiss. “Someday there will be a time for guilty thoughts when grief has run its course. And they will be of you. If you love me, give me time.”

“I give you my whole lifetime. When you need me, I won’t be far behind.”

CHAPTER 19: THE NEXUS

Metutu could not get out of his mind what the lioness Asumini had said. “Have courage.” What did she mean? Courage about the death of Busara? About his new faith? Secretly he had fantasies about calling her up, opening his arms, and saying, “Come to me, Asumini!” And she would make him her brother and tell him wonderful things about life and beauty.

His father wanted him to be the next chief. But he felt the call to do the will of Aiheu. He longed for a life of sincerity. Of course, he had hopes that one day mandrill society would change. But change must come from other sources. Is that the courage he must have?

Kinara’s ongoing feud with Old Maloki was coming to a head. Finally the privilege of getting water from the creek on their lands was going to start costing them more. That was it. Old Maloki had been holding on to his lands with great tenacity, but some of his people were ripe for a change. And Kinara thought the best change for all concerned was a greater village, and a united council.

But how best to go about it? Certainly not by military force, at least not the forces of Kinara. Rather, it must be done subtly from the inside with a few well-placed rumors. After all, the chief felt, there was nothing he could say about the old greedy gut that was worse than the truth.

As he was working on his plans, Neema brought him his favorite dinner, a mixture of several different fruits mashed together with a bowl and antelope bone with an egg. The three children used to love it, not so much for the taste or texture, but the way she fixed it, describing the elephant stomping through the village. She called it “Elephant Stew.”

“Neema, is that you?”

She startled and dropped the plate, spilling the contents all over him.

“What is wrong with you, Missy??”

She grasped her head. “Oh gods, I’m so sorry.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I’ve been a little clumsy lately. Maybe it’s this headache.”

“Headache? Oh.” He brushed himself off as best he could, but the mixture was a little sticky. “Don’t bother with it—I’ll clean it up. Besides, I need a break.”

Usually she would insist on cleaning it up anyhow. As Kinara headed to the creek to bathe, he began to wonder if maybe her headache was worse than she’d been telling him. And come to think about it, she’d had that headache for a number of days that he can remember.

Makedde was humming to himself softly as he cleaned out the little wooden bowl he used for mixing his medicines. Wiping it clean, he discarded the handful of leaves and set the bowl gently in a corner. Rising, he turned around and nearly collided with Neema. Startled, the mandrill tumbled backwards, upsetting the stack of crockery and sending it tumbling to the floor.

“Merciful Lord! You nearly frightened me out of my wits!” He held his chest and exhaled strongly.

“I’m sorry, son, I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

“Of course, Mother. It’s just-unexpected, to see you here.”

Neema wrung her hands nervously, a small tic twitching at her cheek. “I know, and I wouldn’t bother you, but…”

“Mother,” Makedde said, slightly chiding. “You are no bother; you are welcome any time. What is it?” He looked at her curiously. “Are you all right?”

She smiled thinly. “Actually, no. My head hurts.”

“Again?” He kissed her. “If I had to live with dad and his schemes I’d have headaches too. So what is it now, Old Maloki again?

“Yes. Always.” She moaned. “I was wondering if you could help me with it. I need something stronger.”

He chuckled softly and led her over to his sleeping mat where they sat down. “Oh, the day I can’t fix a little headache is the day I give up my work.” He cocked his head, studying her face. “Did you fall or did it just start hurting?” He began to feel her head ever so gently.

“No, I didn’t fall, it just started hurting one day, and it’s been getting worse ever since.”

His fingers massaged her temples and she wailed in pain. Makedde jerked his hands back as though he had been burned. He looked at her, astonished. “How long ago was this ‘one day’?”

She looked at him miserably, tears glinting at the corners of her eyes. “Only since the last time you came to eat dinner with us at home; on Metutu’s birthday, remember?”

He gaped at her. “Your head has been hurting for two moons?? My gods, why didn’t you tell me!”

She began to weep openly. “Please don’t get mad at me. You know how your father gets; if he knew I was coming to you for help it would upset him terribly. He wouldn’t understand.”

“Why didn’t you go to another healer, then?”

“They aren’t good like my son. I don’t know about this Aiheu you worship, but you have a light that shines in the darkness. I’m not sure if I believe in him, but I believe in you.”

Makedde felt tears sting his own eyes as he gathered her into his arms. He sat back and looked at her, wiping her tears away with a trembling hand. “I will be as gentle as I can.”

Hating himself for the pain he knew he was inflicting, he placed his fingers softly on her temples. Neema hissed in pain but kept still. Makedde was alarmed at the thready pulse he felt in her temples; her heart was racing like a panicked zebra. He felt the glands underneath her jaw and felt his own pulse race with fear; they were swollen and hard, and was hot as a rock at high sun. He seized a stick used for stirring his medicines and held it in front of her eyes. “Mother, I want you to look at the stick. Follow it with your eyes.”

She looked at him curiously, but nodded.

Makedde moved the small stick slowly to the left, watching her eyes carefully as they tracked it smoothly. He moved it back the other way, with the same result. His panic receded somewhat; she was not showing the signs he had feared. He stopped moving the stick, still watching her.

Her eyes stayed steady on the twig, but began to twitch uncontrollably. Suddenly her pupils dilated and she fainted.

“Oh great Aiheu, please, no!” Leaping forward, he cradled her in his arms gently, rocking her back and forth and weeping.

There was a huge commotion at the entranceway as Kinara came bustling in, ringing wet from his bath and out of breath. “Have you seen your mother? I’ve looked all over and…” He broke off, staring at her prone form. “What have you done! What’s wrong with her??”

Makedde looked up at him, his eyes wild. “She’s very sick. Please, help me carry her. We’ve got to get her home—now.”

Wordlessly, his father helped him carry the unconscious Neema down to the ground. Amidst a growing crowd, they bore her off to the small tree where the chief made his home. Carrying her up, they laid her gently upon the mat of leaves she used for a bed. Makedde lay a hand upon her forehead and groaned; the fever was already building rapidly. He could have asked for no surer sign.

“Makedde?” Kinara looked at him nervously, the confident tone missing from his voice for the first time Makedde could remember. “Son? What’s wrong with her?”

Makedde was unable to speak for a moment; he sat staring at the ceiling of branches overhead, blinking back tears. Finally, he spoke in a trembling voice. “Walk with me.” He looked over at Metutu, who sat in the corner, watching him with wide eyes and trembling. “Metutu, keep an eye on Mother for me. Let me know if she wakes up.”

Makedde rose and led his father outside. “She is ill, Father.”

“How ill?”

“She has Bhe’to.”

His father looked at him silently. He shook his head in disbelief, backing away from Makedde. “People have died from that. Tell me what I have to do, and I’ll do it.”

“Make her comfortable till the end comes.”

“Is that it?” The look in Makedde’s eyes was unyieldingly grim. “Can’t you do something? Isn’t there even a small chance?”

“No. You know as well as I do there is only a matter of time. All we can do, we are doing.”

“Please, Makedde, help her. Of all the shamans, you are the most skilled. This Aifor—or whatever his name is—doesn’t he know how to heal this thing?”

“I’m sure he does. Aiheu is all-knowing, but shamans are not. Busara might have laid hands on her. Of course, that will not happen now.”

“That’s it, isn’t it?” His father looked at him, anguished. “Am I the reason? Don’t be afraid—you can tell me. I’ll gladly do whatever you want. I’ll debase myself in front of the whole council, Makedde, if that’s what you want, but for the love of your mother, DO something!”

“There is nothing I can do.”

Kinara grabbed him by the shoulders and looked wildly into his eyes. “My life for hers. All right, I thought he was ruining our way of life and I killed him! I admit it! My life for hers! Kill me—sacrifice my blood to your Aiheu! He’s only killing her to punish me!”

“Tell no one about Busara,” Makedde told him sternly. “It will destroy you but it won’t save her. Aiheu does not want your blood. He does not destroy the innocent to punish the guilty. Pray for forgiveness for your own sake.”

“I will walk in the light, I swear.” Tears sprang to his eyes. “How long does she have?”

Makedde embraced his father, feeling the sobs wracking his frame. “Days. Hours. Perhaps minutes. Make each one count.”

The two froze as a blood-curdling scream reached them.

“Makedde! Come quick!”

“Brother?” Makedde leapt from the limb like a shot arrow, scrambling across the heavy limbs as fast as he could go. Kinara struggled to keep up.

Makedde swung down from the upper branches and froze in horror. Before him Metutu tugged at their mother ineffectually, screaming for help. The mandrill had seized hold of a thickly knotted branch and was smashing her head repeatedly into it, blood running down her face in rivulets as she howled in agony. Her unearthly chant of, “Make it stop! Make it stop!” chilled Metutu’s blood. Leaping forward, he laid hold of her arms and tried to pull her away, and was nearly pitched out of the tree for his efforts.

“Father, help me!”

“Oh gods!” Kinara joined his son, and together the three of them barely managed to pull Neema away from the limb. She convulsed violently for a moment, then lay still.

“What do we do now?” the chief asked Makedde. “What do we do?”

“I cannot forbid death, but I could prolong her life for a day or two with Mechoti. You would need to keep her from the poisons and she would have to be restrained, for in her pain she would try to end it any way she could. On the other hand, I could give her Dakim Bark. Her last moments would be free of pain, and she could say her farewells with a clear head.”

“That is not a decision. It is a test of my love.” He bit his fist. “I love her enough to choose Dakim bark. For the gods’, if she must die, at least stop the pain.”

Makedde drew close and hissed, “Don’t you dare try to lighten your conscience by confessing to her. You let mother die in peace, you hear me??”

Kinara’s jaw began to tremble. “Don’t be angry, son. I don’t think I could bear it now. Please?”

Makedde hugged his father for the first time in a long time. He then went for his supply of Dakim Bark which he soaked in water. The tea he gave to his mother, who responded soon enough. As Makedde and Metutu looked on, Kinara knelt beside Neema and held her hand.

“I’m not a fool,” Neema said. “I know I’m dying. I have no choice but to let go. Kinara, my love, you must also let go of your sons. They must find their path to happiness, and to their God. Promise me you will give them their freedom. Never do to another what you did to Busara.”

“Oh gods!” Kinara fell across her. “Oh gods, Neema! How sorry I am! How many times I would have brought him back!”

“Even with your own life,” she said. “I heard all.” She reached up and brushed his cheek with her hand. “Learn from it, my love. There is forgiveness in Aiheu, if you will only ask him.”

She glanced around. “Where is Makoko?”

“I don’t know,” Kinara said, kissing her brow. “I’d get him, but I’m afraid to leave you!”

“No time,” she said, falling back exhausted. “I love you all. Tell Makoko that I know he loves me. He didn’t have to say it—I could tell. I’ve been very lucky in love. I will wait for you all, and pray.”

The chief lifted her and held her close to his breast. “Son, give us a moment alone.”

Makedde went outside and began to pack his materials. His hands shook so badly that it took him twice as long. Nervously, he began to unwrap and rewrap the grass cord that served as a handgrip on his walking staff. He struggled to get the winding even and firm, the way he liked it. Soon enough, he would have to braid some new cord out of the supple river grass. It was not easy to obtain or prepare, and it took quite a length to wind a good handgrip.

“Oh gods!”

Makedde dropped the staff and the cord unwound like a clock spring. He and Metutu ran into their father’s quarters. The chief was bent over her still body sobbing brokenly. “Neema! My precious Neema!”

Makedde, Metutu and their father huddled together and wept. Makoko came in. “What’s going on here?”

He came to the bed and stared with horror. Her face was cut and bloody, but on it rested a final look of peace. He fell to his knees and took her hand. “Mother!”

Metutu put his arm around Makoko. “She said she loved you. She said she knew you loved her. We couldn’t leave her to get you.”

The memory came back to Metutu. “Have courage,” Asumini had said. He knew now what she meant. Indeed, he could feel her silent presence like a cool wind, giving him strength when he needed it most.

He reached out and grasped Kinara’s shoulder. “Father.”

“Yes?”

Metutu swallowed heavily. “It pains me to say this, but I must. I cannot take your place as Chief of the council. Aiheu has given me a gift of healing which I cannot ignore. He has called me to be a shaman, and that is what I must do.”

His father looked at him wordlessly, and Metutu’s jaw began to tremble. “I am sorry, Father. It was a bad time to tell you.”

“Do not apologize, son.” Kinara drew Metutu close and embraced him. “Metutu, she was very proud of you. I am very proud of you.”

“Really, Dad?”

“I don’t say it unless I mean it. The hand that heals blessed by God.” Metutu took his hand and gave it a little squeeze. “Makoko will one day take my staff and follow in my path. But you, my son, will bear a staff made in Heaven, and all who see you will know you are a child of the stars. Brightly they will shine for you. Be the best you can be. And wherever you go, or whatever you do, remember that my heart goes with you.”

CHAPTER 20: IN WITH THE NEW

“Oh lazy Pishtim, how long must we pray for rain!? Your chosen people are made foolish in the sight of them who say you are not the god of gods! They mock us and say, ‘who is their god that cannot make the rains fall in due season!’ Rise up and make the rain come down! Put an end to their foolishness, that you might be known as god of gods, light of lights, and strength of strengths, even among the heathen.”

— Traditional Mandrill Prayer for Rain

That evening, High Priest Kasisi came to console Kinara after the manner of his faith. “There is a large thorn in my heart,” Kasisi said. “I suffer with you. But Pishtim is merciful. To his chosen ones, he brings pain in this life that in the next we face him with our debts paid and our souls free.”

Kinara immediately took exception to this. “I have never known my Neema to sin. In fact, she has spent her lifetime giving, giving, giving and getting very little in return.”

“Yes, but my brother, I only meant…”

“I know what you meant. But if anything, Pishtim owed her something. She had no debts—she was cheated out of her old age. Cheated! She is dead because I killed an innocent friend!”

“You don’t know what you’re saying,” the priest said. “I will come back later when you have settled your mind.”

“Don’t bother, all right? Just go pray for your own sins and leave me alone!”

Kinara was surrounded by too many painful memories in his home. Kasisi’s visit only pushed him faster toward Makedde’s tree.

“Son! Are you home??”

“Father?”

“Oh thank the gods!” Kinara struggled up the side of the tree to where Makedde sat grinding herbs.

“The backache again?”

Kinara’s jaw trembled. “My heart this time,” he said.

“Dad!” Makedde embraced him tightly. “Thank you for coming. You honor my house.”

Kinara wept on his shoulder. “The priest was by. He had the nerve to suggest Neema’s suffering was earned. Earned! I ask you son, do you think it was earned?”

“Oh gods no!” Makedde frowned. “I hope you straightened the old fool out!”

“Perhaps too much. I spoke rashly. Just how rashly depends on your answer, so speak very carefully my son. Are illness and death Aiheu’s punishments for sin, or do they often happen to the innocent?”

Makedde gave Kinara a little pat. “Dad, bad things happen to good people in this world of pain, but the kingdom of Aiheu is ruled by love alone, and there is no suffering. Pray to him, and even here in this land of suffering, he hears everything you say. Sit and face the earth and repeat my words.”

Kinara knelt and touched the ground with his forehead.

“Into your hands accept her spirit, she who filled the earth with beauty.”

“Into your hands accept her spirit,” Kinara stammered. “She who filled the earth with beauty.” He burst into tears. “Please God, whomever or whatever you are, be kind to her! Oh please! Pull this thorn from my heart!”

Makedde put his arms around his father and began to sob.

A quiet moment passed, then Kinara said quietly, “I want to give my life to him. I know now that there is no Pishtim, there is only Aiheu. Will he accept me?”

Makedde kissed him. “Before you ever believed in him, he believed in you. Before you ever loved him, he loved you. And before you ever accepted him, he accepted you.”

Kinara took Makedde’s hand very tightly in his own. “As God has accepted me, I must accept others. There must be freedom to worship as we see fit.”

CHAPTER 21: SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT

High Priest Kasisi called an emergency meeting of the council. Without Uwezo and Doya, Kinara was helpless when the scribes came to summon him none to gently to appear.

Kinara had been the focus of many council meetings, but never before had he seen so many cold stares and curious leers when he walked into the circle. And the most icy of stares came from the High Priest.

“I answer the call. Now what is required of me?”

“Only one thing,” Kasisi said. “One very important thing. The most important thing.”

“Cut to the chase,” Kinara snapped.

The High Priest said, “It is fine if other peoples rebel against the True God, Pishtim. But not the people he has chosen as an example to the world. If they are not loyal, they will be punished. Their wives will sicken and their children will die. That there is no chief with the right to rule that does not willingly cry, ‘Great are you, Pishtim, God of Gods, Light of Lights, Creator of the Universe!’” He comes toward Kinara. “Already your wife has died for your lack of piety. And do not think the grief will end there if you will not pledge your loyalty. But even now, all could be forgiven if you will take my sacred rattle and swear your allegiance to Pishtim.”

He started toward Kinara and held out the rattle. Kinara took it and said, “Listen all of you. I speak before the gods my unbreakable oath.” He looked at the severe smile of triumph on the priest’s face. “I, Kinara, chief of the tribe, tell my OLD FRIEND Kasisi that he can go STRAIGHT TO HELL!”

Kinara smashed the rattle on Kasisi’s head. When he fell back, a couple of mandrills rushed to lift him up. There was a hush in the crowd. An ant toiling on a leaf cutting could have been clearly heard.

“There is no God but Aiheu!” Kinara boomed. “God of Gods, Light of Lights, Creator of the Universe! Blessed be the father!”

“Blasphemy!” some of the mandrills shouted, throwing dust into the air and beating on their chest. But Bazoto and his two sons ran to Kinara, fell to their knees and kissed his hands. “Aiheu abamami! Aiheu abamami!” Kinara laid his hands on them and blessed them.

“I call for a vote!” the Priest said, spreading out his arms. “Shall we follow God, or shall we let him mire us in lion dung??”

Jadi cried, “Pishtim!”

The brothers Makali and Kumba cried, “Pishtim!”

Kinara watched, his heart sinking as one elder after another said, “Pishtim!”

He looked pleadingly at Kobi, his old friend. Kobi looked away, ashamed. “Pishtim,” he stammered. Kobi had a wife and young children to look after, and Kinara understood.

Smugly, the High Priest looked at Kinara and the three who huddled next to him. “We know how you voted. It’s all too clear. Do you want a recount? Oh please, if you do, I will give you every opportunity.”

Kinara took in a deep breath, let it slowly out, and said, “I step down in favor of my son Makoko. This is the word of the chief—so be it.” He tossed his staff on the ground.

“A wise decision,” the Kasisi said with a sneer. “Now I want you and the other three out of the circle. And let everyone understand clearly…” He looked around at all the faces one by one, then pointed at Kinara and those huddled near him. “… that if THESE unhallowed persons EVER defile this holy ground again, they will be put to death IMMEDIATELY. This is the word of the Chief Priest—so be it!”

CHAPTER 22: MEA CULPA

The next morning, Kinara took the longest walk of his life. Busara’s cave was a shrine of peace for Metutu, but Kinara found it a monument to his crushing guilt.

“Kima, are you there?”

“Where else would I be?” She stepped out and looked at him with icy reserve.

“I wondered if you were all right. Have enough food?”

“My needs are met. Sorry about your wife.”

“Sorry about your husband,” Kinara said with a catch in his throat. “You could never imagine how sorry.”

“Maybe not.”

“What I mean is…” Kinara scratched his chin nervously. “What I mean is, it’s very sad he didn’t live to see an age when hearts will be free to worship God as they see fit.”

“It IS a shame.”

“You’re not making this very easy. Not that I blame you. Chiefs come and go, and are soon forgotten. Busara had a different kind of greatness. When I die, I’d be flattered—no, extremely lucky if Busara even lets me bring his breakfast or run his errands.”

Kima looked at Kinara. “You killed him, didn’t you?” she asked quietly.

“No! My bodyguards…” he stopped and looks at the ground for a moment. Sighs. “They acted on my command. I must pay for what I have done.”

She took a digging stick and shoved him back against the wall, the point pressing against his throat. “Oh, you’ll pay, all right!”

“Please, hear me out!”

“If you were REALLY repentant, why not admit your guilt to the council and be punished? Give me one good reason why I should let you live.”

“For my son’s sake. Metutu would give up all that Busara taught him to support you and your daughter. Servants are not hard to find, but my son has a power and a calling I don’t understand. I must free him to do the work that Aiheu requires. Busara would have wanted it.”

She let the stick drop a little. “So if you cared what Busara wanted, why did you kill him? He was a kindly old graybeard who never hurt a soul.” She jabbed him lightly with the point of the stick. Clearly, she wanted to do worse.

“I thought he was corrupting my son. I love my son, and I would kill for him. You would have killed me to protect Busara. Even now you hold that stick like a lioness ready to strike. I can feel your rage, so akin to mine.”

“How could you know how I feel? How could you possibly know what I feel?”

“My Neema,” he said. Tears began to stream down his face. “If your husband had been alive, he could have saved her. I’ve done much mischief in my life, but I gave my family the same love you give your God. Now your God is all I have left.”

She wavered for a moment, then threw away the stick. “Very well. I will tolerate you, but I don’t have to like you.”

She got a basket for herself and one for Kinara. “Come with me. Be silent and see that we are not followed.”

She took him by a long, winding route toward the place where her husband used to gather Tiko root. She paused for a moment at the edge of the forest and looked down in the grass. She was very quiet and contemplative, so that Kinara’s curiosity was aroused.

“Is something wrong?”

“No. It’s just that her presence is very strong here.”

“Whose?”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“The lioness, isn’t it. The stories were true, weren’t they?”

“Yes. She killed your two bodyguards. The one that stopped my husband and the one that hit him with the rock.”

The red patches on Kinara’s face were flushed. “So you knew all along.”

“Had you not come to see me, she would have killed you too. She loved him, in her own way as much as I did. She loved Asumini and I, but he was her special joy. When you had him…” She stopped herself. She felt of the spot in the grass and started to cry. “Damn you, Kinara for the pain you brought this family! We never hurt anyone—we were healers and teachers of the young!”

He touched her shoulder. “I’d give anything if I could bring him back.”

She jerked back. “You can’t! You will have to fill the hole yourself. You have been a taker all your life. Now you must be a giver like my husband, or Aiheu will ask for a reckoning. That is your one chance, and you’d do well not to trample it the way you trampled my heart!”

Together they went into the cool of the forest and sought out the rare mint.

CHAPTER 23: THE QUALITY OF MERCY IS NOT STRAINED

Though the path was deliberately long and winding, Kinara remembered where the mint was and had little trouble finding it again. Dutifully, he took his basket into the forest to gather the rare mint, and even sneak a small piece to savor its wonderful taste and aroma. While his sense of direction was good, his skill at escaping detection was not as well developed.

Coming from the forest, he had only traveled a short distance across the grassland when he sensed he was not alone. He began to glance about anxiously, his breath coming in quick tides. His pace quickened, and he knew his best hope was to get back to the cave as quickly as possible.

In the grass on either side, he could hear rustling. He began to run. Then all pretense of stealth was dropped and three mandrills came running after him. They quickly overtook him and while two held him by the arms, the third, a long time enemy named Jambazi, took his fist and plunged it time and time again into Kinara’s stomach. By the time they let him go, he crumpled into a miserable, moaning heap.

“Oh gods, help me!” he gasped. “Help me!” He lay there for several minutes before he could move. Then he slowly, painfully crawled about looking for the basket. It was gone, and the mint with it. He fell to the ground, exhausted.

Back at Busara’s cave, Kima was beside herself with anger and worry. “He’s been gone for hours! To think I was stupid enough to tell him where the mint was! To think I was stupid enough to trust him! He used me, the same way he’s used them all!”

The lioness Asumini rubbed against her. “I will kill him, honey tree. They will not trace it to you. He will pay for hurting my little Kima!”

“Not yet, my dear. Not yet. First I want to see him again and see what excuse he gives. It may be amusing to hear what lies he comes up with.”

“Still, I think a good quick bite to the neck will do him a world of good.”

“You’ll get your chance, I promise.” Kima reached down. She could feel the soft warm fur of the lioness and it gave her comfort. “You keep me sane, old girl. The kindness my husband showed you has been repaid many times over.” Kima smiled. “You must tell me all about it when you get through with him.”

Just then, a strange sound came from outside the cave. Kima got up and came to the mouth of the cave. She saw something moving toward her and ran to investigate. It was Kinara crawling on all fours, blood oozing from the corners of his mouth. He heard her approach and looked up pitifully, holding out a trembling hand. “Kima, help me!”

Kima reached down and grasped his hand. She lifted him carefully to his feet and let him lean on her as he staggered into the cave. “What happened?”

“Jambazi found me. The coward had two of his friends with him. He won’t face me alone.” He wretched. “Thank the gods they don’t know where the mint is—I’ll never tell them even if they kill me.”

“Forget the mint,” she said. She got a gourd full of water and washed off his face. “Lie still on the bed! I will get you something for the pain.”

She mixed him a special tea, and got him some fresh grass for the bed. It was not long before he began to show improvement. “Thank the gods for you, Kima!”

“You were gone so long, I was worried about you.” She quietly resolved never to tell him what she had discussed with Asumini.

“My enemies. Once there was fear in their eyes, but now they only laugh at me. Look at the old fool!” Tears well up in his eyes. “How low I have fallen!”

He got his strength back overnight, especially when Kima worked his injured stomach and gave him a powerful soporific tea that made him sleep dreamless and deeply like a stone all night long.

The next morning with a resolve that was reminiscent of his old self, Kinara took the basket and started to leave again.

“You must be careful.”

“I will. I’m not going to go without a good hard stick. I’ll pound them into the ground!”

“We should tell the scribes and have them arrested.”

“The scribes would not help me. They hate me.” He patted her hand. “I learn who my true friends were too late.”

She shrugged. “Take care.”

Kinara left with his basket. Kima watched him from the cave mouth until he was far afield. She looked down at Asumini. “Follow him.”

Stoically, Kinara took another path. With the stick at his side, he felt a little more brave. He glanced about, anxious to spot trouble and change his path if necessary.

But without warning, an arm reached out from a bush and grabbed the club from his hand. “I was just thinking I wish I had a good club. And there it was!” It was Jambazi. He stepped out to face Kinara, and his two toughs came out quickly and cut off his escape.

They laughed and shoved him back and forth.

“You know, I tend to get what I want. I wanted a club and I got one. And right now, I’m in the mood for Tiko Root. You know, maybe a sprig or two. Maybe more? Know where I can get some?”

“Maybe from Makedde. My son keeps it in stock.”

“Maybe I want mine picked fresh, old fool. Where can I pull a sprig or two?”

“I don’t know, and even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you.”

“Oh you know, and you’ll tell me.”

“For the gods’ sake, leave me alone! I’m trying to help out a widow!”

“Oh, well if that’s all.” The leader makes a gesture. Without a word, the other two grabbed his arms and held him tightly. “As I see it, you killed Busara. We could help the old widow by sending her your ears in a gourd—or maybe your heart.” He laughed. “Of course we might work out something less violent. Maybe we could work out a trade here.”

“You don’t want to help her,” Kinara said. “You just want to steal her Tiko Root.”

“Aw, listen to that, guys! I’m hurt! Really wounded!” Jambazi drew up close to Kinara. “Fact is, we’re going to prove how wrong you are.” He pokes him in the stomach with the stick, making him yelp. “You’re going to show us where the mint grows, and we’re going to protect it for her. Understand?”

“I understand perfectly.” Kinara spit on him.

Jambazi wiped his face off, and with a forced grin said, “I think it’s time we taught you manners, old fool!” He felt of the stubs of broken branches on the end of the large stick. “Interesting possibilities, eh? Now where do we begin, Kinara? On the stomach, or on the ribs?”

He drew back the stick. “Answer me quickly, or I’ll do both.”

Jambazi felt a slight tug on the end of the stick. He tried to swing it, but it was caught on something. He looked around but saw nothing. “What the hell?”

With a huge yank, the stick came flying out of his hand.

“What are you doing?” one of the other bullies asked.

“I don’t know!” Jambazi began to back away. Maybe he knows magic, deadly magic. “Yeah, it’s either him or us!”

“But the root!”

“Forget the root!” Jambazi took a sharp-pointed digging stick that he wore around his waist and lunged at Kinara. Something sharp and thorny grabbed his ankle and he fell flat on his face.

Turning over, he looked up into empty air. Something heavy bore down on him. He looked around for his friends, but they were gone. “Oh gods! Oh gods! Something’s got me! Come back! Help!”

“So you like to beat up old folks?” a lioness’ voice growled. “Try me on for size!”

Jambazi dropped the stick and began to cry. “Don’t hurt me! Please don’t hurt me! Let me go!”

Hot, meaty breath enveloped his face, gagging him, and a voice spoke in his ear

“If you or anyone else so much as touches a hair on Kinara’s beard, there won’t be enough of you left to make a meal for a jackal. You’ll be sure to tell your friends now, won’t you?

“Yes ma’am!”

“Now GET OUT!”

“Yes ma’am! Thank you, ma’am!”

As soon as Jambazi felt the weight lift from his chest, he scrambled to his feet and ran back toward the village.

Kinara stood quietly, afraid to move. He saw the footprints approach, then stop in front of him. A warm tongue bathed his hot face, and the smell of wild honey gently enveloped him. A faint shimmering outline appeared, and coalesced into Asumini’s form.

“So the rumors are true.” His jaw trembled. “You saved me. I owe you my life.”

“You owe Kima your life. I’m just along to make sure you pay up.”

“Is that the only reason?” He reached out and stroked her cheek and the top of her head. “Can it be that there is forgiveness for old Kinara yet?”

The lioness shook her head. “No.”

His face fell. “Then Aiheu has rejected me?”

“He has rejected the old Kinara.” A smile appeared on her face as she slowly helped him up. “You have rejected the old Kinara as well, so take heart.”

He put his arms around her neck and hugged her.

She told him, “Busara prays for you and asks me to help you. So does your wife Neema and your parents. In fact, you have a lot of good friends for such an unprincipled, irritating little monkey.”

“Thanks, I think. I’m sure I deserve worse.”

“I see the good in you. I see it striving to come out. Once I found good in an unexpected place. Perhaps I will again.”

“In me, perhaps?”

“I will take care of you whenever you go out to help my lady. I will be your companion, and when you need it I will even give you some mothering.”

“Bless you! Bless you!”

She touched him with her warm tongue. “We will be good friends, Kinara. And this will be a bond between us that as long as the goodness in you prevails, I will watch over you. And my repentant friend, the minute you put the moves on Mrs. K, I’ll slowly skin you alive.”

He smiled sheepishly. “Agreed, my dear. But I wouldn’t worry. You’re much more my type.” He reached out and kissed her cheek.

“You still have that old charm, I see.” She licked her paw and purred softly.

That evening Kima was taking her walk when she saw Kinara by Busara’s funeral effigy—a small clay figure that represented him for grieving purposes. She stood silently in the concealing brush and listened.

Kinara was sobbing like a baby. Taking a large thorn, he jabbed it deeply into his palm and let the blood drip on the clay figurine. “I love you, Busara! Rest peacefully, old friend! Remember me.”

He looked up and saw the first bright star of night. “Kinara,” it whispered, “Remember the admonition.”

“Daima pendana,” he stammered. “Love one another.” Suddenly it became clear to him. It was not a mistake he must regret, but a sin he must repent for. It did not matter what Busara’s faith was, for he knew better. He had always known better, and so had the high priest! “God forgive me! Forgive me, God! Forgive me!” He wept, but a great weight was lifted from him. “I’ll never forget the admonition again! I swear!”

That night, Kinara went to his usual bed outside of the cave mouth. He stared at the sky, hoping to see a friendly star looking down on him. But the stars were quickly swallowed up by clouds from the west. The cool wind brought the smell of moisture, and it would have been great sleeping weather if he had been in a shelter. Instead he braced himself for what he knew was coming.

A cool drop fell and hit his nose. It was followed by its sister that wet his ear. Several more came, tapping lightly on the leaves of the tree where he huddled for shelter. Unfortunately, the tree was not very full, and as the drops increased in tempo, he felt the lucky ones pelt his fur. The wind strengthened, and as the storm matured, the rain bypassed the tree entirely, soaking him.

Lightning silvered the drops for an instant. A few seconds later, thunder roared its mighty challenge that no one dared oppose. “No sleep tonight,” Kinara thought to himself. His musing was punctuated by a second bright flash and underscored by another roll of thunder.

Kima came to the entrance. “Come in, Kinara.”

Without arguing his unworthiness, he came at once. She showed him to some dry bedding.

“Bless you.”

She saw blood on his hand. Pretending surprise, she asked, “What happened to you?”

“Oh this?” He timidly shrank from the question, but tears began to flow. It was some time before he could regain his composure.

“You did this to yourself, didn’t you?”

“The blood of my guilt,” he said. “No God craves the blood of the gentle and kind. Not Pishtim, and not Aiheu. I said there were circumstances when anyone would do what I did. Maybe so, but that still does not make it right.”

She looked at him with pity. “Now you truly understand. You cannot kill for God, and you cannot heal for the Makei. The only way to know God is to know love. That is the only real mystery of our faith.”

Kinara smiled. It was such a warm smile that Kima had to smile back. “You’re chilled. Let me fix you some hot tea.”

CHAPTER 24: THE VISION QUEST

Kinara’s scandal was the talk of the village, though most people were discrete about it because his son Makoko was now chief.

As proud as Metutu was of his father for standing up for his beliefs, he bitterly resented the timing. The situation could affect his petition to make a vision quest, and Metutu needed the chance to come to terms with his grief and prepare for his future.

Metutu was determined to follow his dream, regardless of what the council decided. Yet he knew it would be almost impossible for him to trade for herbs and to spend the kind of time with Makedde he needed to complete his training if he did not get their blessing.

Custom forbade him to lobby directly with the chief, though they were brothers. Instead he turned to Makedde.

Makedde could go to the chief on behalf of another, and he used all of his influence for Metutu’s petition. That involved making a deal with the kindly but shrewd Makoko. Makoko loved his brothers, but he had a request from the Lion King Ahadi that he was agonizing over, and he smelled an opportunity. So to push Metutu’s petition through, Makedde must agree to become Metutu’s sponsor—no small responsibility—and also return to the Pride Lands for another two-year term as healer to the Lion King.

It would be difficult living in a hollow baobab tree far from the forest rim, and Makoko expected his brother to be upset. Makedde did his best to look outraged, but to graciously give in “for the boy’s sake.”

In fact, he had longed to immerse Metutu in the culture and religion of the lions, his adopted people. He dared not show his enthusiasm to the chief, even if it was his own brother.

“Brother, I give you my word before the gods,” Makedde said with a carefully staged sigh. “Let it be even as you have said.”

It was also the perfect excuse to leave before rumors began to leak out about the death of Busara, and it was sure to happen soon enough. He quickly went to his residence and took all of his medicines and charms with him. His patients would be referred to Andara, and with barely suppressed excitement, he took a gourd and hung it near his entrance. The moon painted on it said “I am away,” and from it he hung five small bundles of grass. One would mean “back momentarily.” Two would mean “returning later today.” Three meant, “try again tomorrow.” The message of five was unmistakable. “I will return someday, God willing.”

Metutu had reached the next step in his spirit quest. For to be accepted as a shaman, the petitioner must go apart from the others for a time of prayer and self denial. He may be gone for a few days, a few weeks, or he might not return at all. And he would seek a mystic vision that would guide his future training and map out the course of his life of service. It would point out his strengths and weaknesses. Until he had that vision, he would not return.

After bidding farewell to Kima and Asumini, Metutu left on his journey with far less preparation than his brother Makedde. Taking nothing but a charm which he wore around his neck on a grass rope thong, Metutu left the village where he had spent his whole life.

He knew to look for a sign, and he would journey until that sign was reached. An eagle will alight on a kopje. While he would otherwise have given up hope, he knew the vision was from the gods, and he would see it when the time was right.

As he walked the tedium began to play on him. He asked for relief, and the gods sent him a song. He didn’t know if the words were ancient, brand new, or just meaningless sounds, but they lightened his heart. Part of it went something like this

Be’ha, me’ha, topi ko hiha Menego muta kohoki! (Clap twice) Do’ka, mo’ka, lopi mo gopa Menego muta aloki! (Clap twice)

The verse seemed to have magical properties. When he continued to sing it, he was not as weary and hungry, and he didn’t mind the reduced rations as much. When he would pause for a moment, the fatigue and hunger would sap at his resolve.

Of course there were times he had to stop and rest. For he kept going all day, and of course he could not walk all night. Under the stars. Fascinated by how they shined. Wondered who they were in their stately beauty. Though he had remembered many star stories, he had only seen them a couple of times before and he could not place the proper names to the right constellations. This is not an uncommon fate for those who live in the deep forest where the night sky is filtered by the fingers of countless leaves. The sounds were strange. Frogs. Though he had grown weary from a long day’s march, he had trouble sleeping. One of the stars seemed to call to him. The more he looked at it, the more he felt compelled by it. He remembered what Busara had said about the great kings of the past. Could that be a friend? The star seemed to twinkle with special brilliance. How could it not be calling to him? Seeking to comfort him?

There was a dancing blue light and laughter. Asumini’s laughter. Busara’s laughter. As he stared, the light resolved into two figures. The lioness squatted down, her tail lashing. The mandrill began to dance about, taunting her. “You can’t catch me!”

“Oh yeah?” Asumini came up, her back legs tensed to spring. She launched after him and he sprang straight up to let her pass underneath. He fell with a plop on her back and laughed. She wheeled about, scooping him in the crook of her arm. Then playfully but gently she tossed him into the air and caught him in her powerful forearms.

Busara’s arms went around her neck and he kissed her around the face. “I love you so much, I could just eat you up!”

Delighted, Metutu came running. “Wait for me! Hey, it’s me, Metutu!”

They looked at him, a calm smile on their faces. Asumini ran to meet him, stopping just short of a collision. She said not a word, but took in a deep breath, then blew a puff of wind in Metutu’s face. It smelled like wild honey. It intoxicated him.

“Asumini,” he said, drunk with the fragrance of the blessed. “My girl!”

She breathed on him again. “Sleep. Dream. Be happy.”

He collapsed to the earth, looking up while his heavy lids would remain open. Asumini and Busara looked down and smiled.

CHAPTER 25: THE SIGN

His rest was disturbed by the early morning singing of birds. He looked about. The sun was up, and in the early morning light the field looked almost magical. Where had the night gone!

He was hungry, and for once no one had prepared breakfast. His stomach was ready to mutiny and he had to eat something! He took a few supplementary bits of dried fruit from his basket and managed to locate a few ripe fruits on Mafutu bush. This would have to do. Taking a little of his precious water supply, he ate slowly to make the meal more filling, then relied on his morning meditation to take his mind off his mean diet. He prayed for each of the friends he left behind, and for a few that recently went to join Aiheu in the heavens. Finally, he remembered Asumini. How his mother had wanted to see them marry before she died! But far removed from the sights and people he associated with his duty and his griefs, he could contemplate Asumini on her own merits. And what his cleared head and purged heart were telling him was unmistakable: he loved her! Beneath the plans of others and the call of duty was a real love. He missed her terribly, and hoped she felt the same way about him.

He traveled far that day. There was a change of scenery, and he seriously worried that he could get lost if he did not watch for landmarks, and perhaps leave a few. The path was looking more and more like a simple scratch in the earth, and he worried that this game trail may disappear completely.

It did worse than that. It was joined and criss-crossed by many others. Now he knew that without God’s guidance he may never find his home. But still he kept his faith in the fore and continued.

Finally, he had made it to the savanna. It was a land of windswept beauty, but it was also a land that had never known the Peace of Asumini. Here he was not corban. “Aiheu abamami!” he cried. Surely he would not be attacked with the holy name of God on his lips! “Aiheu abamami!” He saw the eagle on the kopje, and his heart danced! The eagle looked at him, said, “Aiheu abamami!” and vanished. So he knew that was his place, and he sat on the rise to pray. Though it was a very exposed spot, he was no longer afraid.

He ate certain plants he found there, but only at sunrise and sunset. His Spartan regimen was enough to frighten most young bucks away. There was very little sleep, much prayer and chanting, and bedding on the bare ground at the mercy of the gods to keep him safe.

The first two days yielded no visions. But the simple living he endured opened his spirit to the small voices inside more than days of talking to others could have. At times, he could feel the presence of Asumini and Busara, giving him subtle nudges in the right direction. His prayers flowed naturally from the heart—they were not forced or contrived. The light-headed sensation that came from minimal food and much water cleared out all of the spiritual impurities of his past. He felt like a gourd ready to be filled. Somehow, he knew he would not wait much longer. Somehow, he was certain that the gods were with him.

By the third day, he passed a very important stage. He felt glad that he had come, whether or not he saw a spectacle. For his heart knew a peace it had never felt since his mother’s illness. Once again he felt like a fresh young student listening to Busara’s stories in the cave.

Finally on the fourth day, he saw a sign. From the jungle came a spirit leopardess. He knew her the moment his eyes caught sight of her. He could feel her strength, but he could not feel fear. “I greet you, Mother of Death.”

“Mother of life now,” she purred. Indeed, in her soft hazel eyes was warmth and approval. “I spared you for a reason that even I did not know. It was perhaps the greatest thing I ever did.”

“You taught me that other people have feelings too.” He held out his arm. “Asumini is not here now. I would apologize for my own behavior, from the heart.”

She came to him and smiled. “Yes, you are changed.” She purred and quickly touched his hand with her tongue. “I tell you this day you will find answers.” Before Metutu could answer her, she had vanished.

It was a puzzling saying. Did she mean, “Today I tell you that you will find answers,” or “I tell you that you will find answers today?” One way or another, it gave him hope, and he renewed his efforts, praying to Aiheu with arms outstretched. He looked into the golden sun, then bowed his head to the ground. By concentrating on the phrase “Aiheu abamami,” he could block out all other things. His excitement made it difficult to achieve the state of openness he desired, but eventually even his excitement was set aside and in the purity of his fasted body and open mind came the realization that he was being tugged in the spirit. He closed his eyes, then bowed his head to the ground once more.

Suddenly he felt himself yanked upright, though he didn’t feel any hands on him. He opened his eyes and saw that he was in a very bleak place, no trees, no grass, no birds in the sky. All is dead.

Then he saw was a pure white lioness. He had seen a leopard close up before, staring at him from tree to tree. He’d been terrified of encountering such a thing again, but she was bigger—much bigger—and still he was not frightened. She spoke to him of strange and wonderful things that in the barren world were like an oasis of joy

Silver swans fan the moon with misty praying wings Night shadows gather over every living thing Silent shining dewdrops are caressing fragrant flowers Follow me beloved, for the mystery is ours!

Her voice, like a siren, pulled him onward and upward.

Soft fur cushioning your gentle, weary face Senses are filled with joy, heart is filled with grace Time has no meaning here, heaven knows no bound Follow me beloved, and tread on holy ground!

She nearly led him to walk off a cliff, but at the last minute she prevented it. He pursued her and she ran from him, but no faster than he could follow. At the top of the sacred mountain, before a cave, she came to him. “Metutu,” she half whispered. “Have you ever heard the sun rise? Have you ever tasted the wind?”

“No, my lady.”

“Neither have I.” Her laughter was merry and infectious. “Yet stranger things shall you hear and taste. Now let us make life.” Rather surprisingly, a pure white lion came over the ridge. Quiet as a snowflake, he padded toward the white lioness. “Stay here,” she said to Metutu, nuzzling the white lion passionately and following him into the cave.

Metutu saw nothing, but moments later there was a cry of ecstasy. Brilliant golden light streamed from the mouth of the cave. Almost at the same moment under his feet grass sprouted and spread. Flowers pushed up through the earth and budded into rapturous bloom. Forests raised branches in worship toward the gods, and in the boughs birds emoted their woodnotes wild. In the dry creek bed, water rushed with passionate intensity toward the distant lake. The leaden sky turned deep blue, and the sun with golden intensity painted everything in vivid colors.

From the cave, the white lion staggered. Then he glanced briefly at Metutu.

“Are you a god?” Metutu asked.

“Are you?” the lion asked. Then he collapsed and his breath rushed out in a prolonged sigh.

Metutu ran to the lion. Felt of his heart. He was quite dead. Metutu did something he’d always wanted to do, but under happier circumstances. He ran his fingers through the soft white mane. With a flint from his pouch, he took a small lock of the mane and cut it, putting the fur lovingly away. “Poor thing, poor beautiful thing. Pray for me when you sit among the stars.”

“Do not mourn the living,” Busara said. “His power, his life, are all around you.”

Busara’s sudden appearance startled him. “What does this mean?” Metutu asked.

“Does it have to mean something?” Busara smiled beguilingly and embraced him. “Perhaps there is a great light inside of you. Perhaps it is in everyone just waiting for love to release it. And when you give up that love, sooner or later it comes back to you.”

The white lioness came from the cave. She went and breathed on the face of the white lion, and his eyes opened. The lion, more beautiful than ever, lifted his head and kissed her. Metutu looked on with his face beaming. Now he understood. “Live, friend. Live forever in love.”

Suddenly, Metutu was back sitting on top of the kopje where he had gone to meditate. He looked around and saw nothing had changed since that morning. Then just to be sure he glanced in his pouch. With trembling hands, he pulled out a lock of pure white fur that was not there before. He closed his eyes and caressed the lock to his cheek. “O thank you, Father Mano! Thank you! Live forever in love!”

CHAPTER 26: INITIATION

When Metutu returned from his vision quest, he did not go to see his father or his friends. He was met at the outskirts of the village by a couple of pages who took him in the strictest silence down the pathway to the meeting place of the council. Walking this path in silence was on pain of banishment, for the spirits of evil must not have a trail to follow to the heart of the community.

The Council of Elders had convened and around the council rock sat all of the important leaders of the village. On council rock itself sat Metutu’s brother Makoko who was now chief.

Metutu bowed to the ground before Makoko. “I am not worthy.”

“You are worthy, my brother. Rise.”

Gravely Makoko stared at him. It is what Metutu expected, for the events playing out there were part of initiation, and he was not upset. “So candidate Metutu, you have returned to us. What have the gods shown you?”

Metutu looked over the large group. He fought to keep his nerves in control, took in a deep breath and let it slowly out. “I was taken to a barren land under gray skies. It was cold and desolate. Then into it came a lioness of purest white who sang to me. She invited me up a sacred mountain where on the peak she met a white lion. She said, ‘let us create life,’ and the two of them went into a cave. Then they…” Metutu bowed his head sheepishly.

“Candidate, what the gods reveal is beyond reproach.”

“Well, they made love. At least I think they did from the way he cried out.”

One of the younger members snickered, but he was quickly cut down by several icy stares.

“Anyway after he—cried out—this bright light went out of the cave and everything that was dead started to bring forth life. The skies were blue and full of singing birds. There were trees and grasses and rivers and all kinds of animals. It was so beautiful!”

“And what does this mean?”

“Busara told me that there was a light inside of me waiting to come out.”

“You saw a vision of Busara?”

“It was a vision, but Busara was there. They were all there! Look!” He pulled out the lock of white fur. “This is from the lion’s mane!”

There were gasps from the assembly.

Makedde stood by him. “I ask permission to teach the candidate the ways of healing.”

“Granted, Makedde. But first I should warn the candidate that those who would seek the truth are apt to find it.”

The very next day, Metutu was preparing to leave for the Pride Lands. He was approached by Asumini, a name well given for she was fragrant with the smell of blossoms that she crushed in her hair.

“I’m proud of you Metutu. When you first came to study with us, I laughed at you. But you’re not funny. I think you’re very brave and that the love of truth burns in you.”

“I covet your praise most of all.”

“I was worried about you. The whole time you were gone I only got a few hours sleep. And what’s more, I missed you terribly.”

“Oh Asumini! I missed you too! You are my very special friend.”

She said “As special as you could need or want.” She kissed him passionately.

He trembled. “Oh gods, I feel like the white lion.”

“Tell me about the white lion.”

“In my vision quest, there was a lioness white as snow. She came to the dead world and told me that we must create life.”

“And did you?”

“What a thought!” He smiled. “Of course not! A white lion came over the hill. They nuzzled and went into a cave together.”

“Oooh, that sounds romantic.”

“Just wait till you hear this: there was a great light—a living light—and soon the dead world was filled with life. Then Busara came.”

“You saw my father?”

“Yes. He said to me, ‘We all have a great light inside us, just waiting for love to release it.’”

With the back of her hand, she stroked Metutu’s cheek and under his chin. “The wait is over. Let me release your light.”

“Asumini,” he whispered, looking at her face. “I don’t have the right to ask you. My path is long and stony. It would lead you far from friends, far from the jungle shade. It would lead you to hard work and long hours.”

She took his hand and gave it a squeeze. “Don’t be afraid. I will go where you go, and I will make the light in you shine, and you will bring life into the world.”

Metutu said, “If I died and if you breathed on me, I would live again.” He took her other hand. “We must see the priest. If you would come with me, I would give you my very soul. But if you left me, I would lose it. You must love me forever, or not at all.”

“It will be forever, Metutu. We will live forever in love.”

At the sound of that phrase, he gasped. “Live, friend,” he said, kissing her. “Live forever in love.”

A mild breeze stirred them as they stood with their arms around each other, so much in love. They did not notice the alluring scent of wild honey, nor did they know that Busara cradled Neema gently in his arms and kissed her on the brow. “Just look at them. Our children getting married! Where has the time gone?”

Later that evening they went to the priest. Metutu looked into Asumini’s eyes and smiled, for her eyes were glowing. “Metutu,” she whispered, “Your eyes are glowing.” The priest bound their hands together with a vine. “One blood, one love, one family,” he intoned. “Look well, o gods.”

CHAPTER 27: IN THE LIONS’ DEN

Makedde’s call of “Aiheu abamami!” was the first sign that the three mandrills had reached the Pride lands. “Aiheu abamami!” he repeated loudly. It was evening, and a very dangerous time to be small and walking about.

Metutu was a little afraid, but Asumini had a look on her face of expectant joy. These were the lands of her namesake’s grandson, the Lion King Ahadi. Ahadi’s father had once peeked shyly at her from the forest rim when Queen Asumini came proudly into Busara’s cave. He was a young cub, still small enough to be afraid of the strange monkeys with the striped faces. Asumini, a child herself, tried to pet Prince Zari, but for her trouble got a few minor scratches and a frantic game of hide and seek. Now she secretly hoped to satisfy her desires on Zari’s great son. Now it would be her turn to be afraid!

“Aiheu abamami!” Makedde called again.

“Aiheu abamami!” A lioness called. “Who’s there?”

“Makedde and two friends to see the King.”

Yolanda’s pleasant face burst through the grass. “My old friend!” She nuzzled Makedde, who took her large head in his arms and kissed her.

“Teacher, you do my heart good!” he said. “How goes the King?”

“Well—thank the gods—and you?”

“I’m back.”

“I can see that.”

“No, I mean I’m back where my heart lives. I’m BACK, Yolanda.”

She smiled broadly. “I prayed they would send you! How long this time?”

“Until I’m too old to dream.”

“And your friends here?”

“I’m Asumini,” the doe answered. “And this is my husband Metutu.”

“Asumini,” Yolanda said thoughtfully. “THE Asumini?”

“I suppose. Busara was my father.”

“Now THERE is a name that is known in these parts! How is he?”

Asumini looked down. “Dead this moon,” she said.

“Oh Honey Tree, I’m so sorry! You and your friends must see the King. He will be glad to see you.”

Metutu looked at Asumini and smiled sheepishly. “I will go down in history—as Asumini’s husband.”

She smiled naughtily. “When I get you alone, you’ll know why.”

Makedde nudged Metutu with his elbow. “You walked right into that one!”

With Yolanda leading the way, they headed toward a tall finger in the moonlit sea of grass. Pride Rock was exciting just to look at. It seemed to have a life of its own, watching the savanna with a lordly detachment in rain or drought, sun or moon. As they headed toward the stone sentinel, it seemed to grow larger and more powerful, until even Yolanda seemed small.

A winding trail led up the side of the main hill toward a jutting stone promontory. Yolanda and the young mandrills were able to take it in stride. Makedde was a little winded, but his excitement began to mount as the promontory came closer. For at the base of the promontory was a cave, and in the cave, Ahadi.

“Guests for the King!” Yolanda sang out cheerfully. A regal face peered out of the cave, ivory in the spell of moonlight. “Can that be my old friend Makedde?”

“Indeed!” Makedde shouted, hurrying the last few steps. “Too long has it been!” He plunged his arms into the soft mane and stroked the strong shoulders. Ahadi nuzzled him. Then Akase came and stood beside her husband.

“Look at the old graybeard!” She kissed him, and she was hugged in turn.

Asumini watched with barely suppressed excitement. “Aren’t they beautiful! Look at them, Metutu! Look!”

Ahadi overheard her. “Come, friends! Don’t be frightened.”

Asumini headed for him as one possessed. With a smile of conquering joy that overpowered her fear, she did as her brother in law had done, burying her arms in Ahadi’s mane and kissing him around the face. “You beautiful creature! Aiheu has touched you with beauty!”

“Dear daughter,” he said, touching her with his tongue.

Metutu was also excited, but he was more reserved. Falling at Ahadi’s feet, he exclaimed, “I touch your mane!”

“Rise, friend. I feel it.”

Metutu stood before the great king. He wanted so badly to make a good impression.

“Sire, I have brought some gifts. One of my herbs will get rid of ticks and fleas!”

“Really?”

“Sure!”

Metutu held up a handful of something that Ahadi sniffed. “Gods, that should get rid of ticks and fleas all right. Pesky cubs, female companions, you name it.”

“Well, it does have a slight odor.”

“A slight odor??” Ahadi laughed. “Put that on a fresh carcass, and a starving hyena wouldn’t eat it!”

Metutu looked down. “Oh, I’m sorry to waste your time.”

Ahadi nuzzled him. “Buck up, Metutu. If you want to get rid of ticks, perhaps you might groom me sometime?”

“Oh Sire, may I??”

“By all means.” Ahadi looked deeply into Metutu’s eyes, and the mandrill looked down, embarrassed. “You’re rather shy, I’ve noticed.”

“Oh? Well I may be a little shy, but I also show respect. You’re a King and I’m not.”

Ahadi laughed. “You’re a monkey and I’m not. Now that we know who we are, let’s be friends. Asumini set a good example.”

Cautiously, shyly, Metutu stalked over to the lion. Unsure how to go about this, he came straight into Ahadi’s face, then backed back. He laughed nervously. “Oh yes.” He timidly reached around from the side and buried his face in the long, flowing mane.

“Oh, it is so wonderful!” The soft, flowing tresses caressed him and surrounded him. He stroked Ahadi and almost without thinking said, “You beautiful thing! You feel like a king! Oh!”

Eventually, Metutu stood back, realizing how he was going on. Before he could recover his composure, Akase motioned for him to come. She had no mane, but he felt the warm softness of her strong neck, and it was reassuring.

“And to think I almost missed this just to be chief!”

Suddenly, a string of lionesses entered. Cubs appeared from nowhere and began to mob them. Ajenti rubbed against Yolanda and purred. “What’cha got, Mom?? What’cha got??”

“Nothing, fuzzy love. But it won’t be much longer.”

Uzuri came to Ahadi. “My lord, no luck tonight. Still, there were no shameful deeds.”

He nuzzled her. “Even so.”

“I touch your mane.”

“I feel it.”

Uzuri had kept her calm, cool disposition, but one of the young females was rather unhappy. It was her chance to become a lioness—to make her first kill. She had missed. Makedde whispered to Metutu the significance of that failure.

“She is still a cub in the eyes of the pride.” He added, “Why don’t you talk with Uzuri, the hunt mistress? She could use some cheering up.”

“What’s a hunt mistress?”

“She leads the hunt. The others obey her commands, for only through cooperation can they hope to succeed.”

“Oh. So she’s like a queen?”

“On the hunt she is. Here she’s one of the Pride Sisters.”

Metutu was not used to judging lionesses. But Uzuri seemed rather young to him to be entrusted with such a job. He nervously went to her to introduce himself. She didn’t look ready to be cheered up or even meet someone.

“Excuse me?” Metutu looked at her carefully. “I’m Metutu.”

“Uzuri,” she said.

“I hear you’re hunt mistrees.”

“Yes.”

Metutu crossed his feet nervously and began to squirm a little. “I may be wrong, but you seem awfully young to be hunt mistress.”

“Thanks.”

“You must be very good at it.”

“Thank you-uh—Metutu was it?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Are those stripes real? I mean, do you paint your face, or is that natural?”

“Natural,” he said. “Females have a little color, but not this much.”

“Oh. That’s very interesting.”

She laid down and began to groom her forearms. In almost a state of shock, Metutu went over to Makedde. “The lionesses will be gossiping about our affair for many moons.”

Makedde smiled indulgently. “For a first contact, that was practically a torrid affair. I mean, she even asked you a question!”

“The quiet type, eh?”

“She’s had a bad hunt. Besides, she does not warm up quickly to strangers. She’s just like that, so give her time.”

Metutu nodded. “I think she’s like a melon. Dull color on the outside, but bright and fragrant on the inside. Look in her eyes. There is so much going on that she does not let show.”

“Your perceptiveness will serve you well. She is anything but cold, but Uzuri does not expose her feelings to just anyone. Maybe someday you’ll find out. Her love is like a beetle that hides under a large rock. You don’t see it until you lift the stone, then it comes rushing out.”

“You sound like you have experience.”

Makedde took him to Yolanda, who was much more transparent. The moment she saw Metutu coming, she blossomed into a warm smile. “Who’s your friend?”

“This is Metutu. He’s been wanting to meet you all evening.”

Metutu broke into an embarassed smile. “What a pretty cub! Do you mind if I touch him?”

“Her. Ajenti.” Yolanda thought a moment. “Sure, why not. Be sure you support her under the head and back. You don’t look like the neck-carry type.”

Metutu picked up little Ajenti and hugged her up to his chest. “Oh gods, such a precious thing! She will grow in beauty like her mother. Isn’t she beautiful, Asumini?”

Yolanda purred. When he reluctantly put down the small bundle, Yolanda touched his hand with her warm tongue. “Welcome to the Pride Lands.”

Asumini smiled. “Our child will also be beautiful, like its father.”

“I feel beautiful when I’m with you,” Metutu said, stroking her cheek softly. “You are beautiful enough for both of us. And I think… oh my, the hour grows late!”

She looked out at the moon. “Yes, dear. We don’t want to wear out our welcome.”

Yolanda smiled coyly. “If you two want to see some great scenery, there is a nice path to the cistern behind Pride Rock. It’s a quiet place where you can talk undisturbed.”

Metutu took Asumini by the hand and bidding farewell to his hosts, he led Asumini away to spend their wedding night under the silvery stars. There, far from the prying eyes of night, their light went out into the world.

CHAPTER 28: SLOW WORK

Life in the baobab was not always easy. Asumini adapted with a cheerful attitude. Complaining did not make the work any easier, and it only lowered morale. So while she worked hard, she refused to complain.

Still, Metutu saw her one day working hard in the hot sun to gather herbs for him. He stood over her as she grubbed in the dirt with her stick.

“Get up, you.”

She stood, a bit woozy in the heat. He put his arms around her and kissed her. “You come inside. You know that Jasmine does not do well in bright sunlight. I’ll take over.”

He knelt and with the stick began to work up some roots. The sun was powerfully hot, and there was not much water left in the gourd. After only a few minutes, he was sweating profusely. “What have I pulled her into? She must really love me.”

Occasionally someone would stop by the baobab. A cub with the colic, a lioness with a thorn in her leg. Even Ahadi came by to ask Metutu to pull ticks. It was a lot more enjoyable to have someone to talk to, and he enjoyed spending time with his new friends getting to know them better. Where Asumini would shamelessly hug his mane and kiss Ahadi, Metutu used the excuse of grooming him to fondle him and enjoy his company. Ahadi seemed to understand this, and he would make a habit of coming by frequently. Sometimes Ahadi would note the poor condition of Metutu’s fur and groom him as well. It became an outlet for their deep mutual affection.

That evening, Uzuri came in from the hunt flush with victory. Metutu sought to ride that wave of good feeling and went directly to her. “So you brought down your prey?”

“It was a team effort,” Uzuri said, noting a red spot of gazelle blood on Yolanda and grooming it away with her pink tongue.

“I bet you feel like the mighty huntress tonight!”

An eye looked away from the grooming. “Guess so.”

“Feels good, doesn’t it?”

“Guess so.”

“Well, tell me about it. That is, if you don’t mind.”

Her answer came in short bursts, punctuated with licks to Yolanda. “Not much to tell. Old gazelle female. Pincers maneuver. No big deal.”

Uzuri was looking keenly at Yolanda, continuing her grooming though the blood had disappeared. He took the hint and walked away to nurse his hurt feelings. He really liked Uzuri, but he got nowhere in a hurry, and felt he probably never would.

While Yolanda was getting all the affection she could handle, Metutu contented himself playing with Ajenti. The cub was strong and had sharp claws. He had to practice great restraint and caution to keep his hide intact and still show her a good time. Finally he took her paws in his hand and pushed her claws back enough that she got the message. “Your Uncle Metutu is fragile. You have to retract those claws.”

When Metutu was alone with Makedde, he got the lecture he’d been expecting. “Give her time, brother. Her love is like a beautiful flower. First comes the sprout, then the bud, and then one day it opens and it’s beauty takes your breath away.”

“Why are some people like that, Makedde? Why don’t they just say what they feel?”

“When you say what you feel, you can never take it back. Remember when you came back from Busara’s cave and you were so excited you wanted to tell the whole world? And mother thought you were in love!”

“Did father tell you about that?”

“He sure did. Cuddling with a dead lion and everything!” Makedde laughed. “You are still young. You want everything now. But the reason Aiheu gave us a lifetime is because it takes a whole lifetime just to live!”

“But think of the time we waste? Uzuri could have been friends. I really like her. You think everyone will live forever, and things will never change. Then one day your mother starts beating her head on a branch.” His eyes misted up. “Then she’s gone. I think you should tell people how you feel, and live for the day.”

Makedde smiled indulgently. “Brother, no one ever really dies. Really. When you love someone the way I love you, death is inconvenient and painful, but it cannot break the bond between us.”

Metutu bit his lip, then put his arms around Makedde. “You always knew the right thing to say.”

Two days later, Uzuri came back from the hunt with a cut. She went to Makedde and asked him for help.

Makedde thought a moment, then said, “I have a number of things to do this evening. But Metutu will be glad to help you.”

Metutu got some disinfectant and pain killers to patch the small wound. Then he used Dwe’dwe resin to seal the edges of the cut together.

“It will leave a scar,” she said morosely. “It’s my first. I thought I was better than that, but I made a stupid mistake. Stupid, stupid, stupid!”

“I wouldn’t worry about that,” Metutu said. He mixed some Dahlia rubidium with a few drops of her own saliva. “This will prevent scarring if you have discipline enough not to lick it off.”

“Really?”

“It works miracles, especially on furry regions of the body.” He put some on the cut and began to rub it in lightly. “We rub it in, then restore circulation in the skin around it.”

She patiently endured the rubdown, especially when it did not cause discomfort. Finding it pleasurable, she let him stroke her whole shoulder. Before long, he began to get venturesome soon he was stroking her gently, looking at nothing in particular. She sits silently, her eyes half closed. Eventually she starts to purr. He half smiles. “The other shoulder could use a little work,” she said dreamily. He was embarrassed, but complied.

“No, up a little. Oh yes.” She sighs contentedly. After a moment of such bliss, she said, “Goodness, I have to see Yolanda!” She got up, stretched, and started out the door. She paused for a moment and looked back at Metutu with a smile.

“If you have more problems, don’t hesitate to come back. Please.”

“Thank you,” she says. She had started down the side of Pride Rock when she stopped again. Uzuri called after him, “Do your people have any star lore?”

“Yes we do. I love watching the constellations.”

“Remind me sometime and we’ll trace the night sky together.”

After she left, Metutu looked back at Makedde. “Brother, I think I have a friend.”

Makedde nodded. “Just don’t push it. You’re doing fine if you just let Nature take its course.”

“Indeed, brother. You have ground that same bit of Campa shoot five times over.”

“It needs to be fine.”

“I wouldn’t say it NEEDS it.” Metutu smiled and put his arm around Makedde’s shoulder. “Still I guess it can’t hurt.”

CHAPTER 29: INVITATION TO THE DANCE

Akase had come into her season. She knew after her last miscarriage that she might not survive another pregnancy. Ahadi was very demonstrative to her, even in public. But he knew that she could die during a pregnancy, and so his need for intimacy was not expressed in the usual way. Instead he looked for ways to enjoy closeness with her but not give in to his strong desires.

He soothed his need for her presence by lying his great mane down and letting her fall asleep resting on his side. He would kiss her, but always chastely. And he would tell her he loved her for who she was, and always would. That just being with her was the great joy of his life.

In this, Akase was little help. She was firmly in the grip of her natural inclinations. Her thoughts drifted back to all the blissful moments she had spent with her husband, and to the hopes and dreams they shared. Now they had no cubs. And worse, she was not even allowed to try!

“Husband,” she whispered. “Lover, come to me.”

“Call me husband, but do not call me lover.” Ahadi looked down, ashamed. “You are putting thoughts in my head.”

“Someone needs to.”

“We’ve been through this before. After your miscarriage, I thought we BOTH agreed that our marriage could last, but that we would be strong and face this thing rationally.”

“What you want isn’t a wife but a sister! If I must live as a sister, and never feel you close to me, I’d rather be dead!”

“Wife!”

“Lover!” She repeated it to make the point stick. “Lover, lover! That’s what I am—that’s what you married!”

“Don’t do this to me! I’m showing my love the best way I know how!”

“When I see you, I want you. But you say I could never have you, and you could never have me. Have you declared our marriage null and void?”

“No! I love you—God knows I do! I don’t want anything to happen to you!”

“But it is happening. Can’t you tell? This is not natural.” She rubbed him full length. “I may not become pregnant. It is always a risk, but one that I’m willing to take.”

“But darling!”

She nuzzled him, kissing him gently and passionately. “Make love to me, I beg you! Make love to me!”

“Oh gods!”

“Make love to me, husband. Lover, I know you want me. Let me hear you cry out my name in ecstasy!”

He looked in agony. He was. “Oh gods, I can’t endure this! Can’t you help me just a little?? Aiheu, help me!”

She nuzzled him. “Can’t he help ME just a little? I don’t want a miracle—I just want you.”

“For you, anything. But I feel guilty that it should please me too! I have no right to any pleasure that puts you in danger. If you died, my cries of passion would come back to haunt me like a curse! I would have to live with that for the rest of my life!”

“Never let that make you feel unclean! Never! Don’t you know that our pleasure is rooted in love? Love that will outlive these mortal bodies. Love that will make beautiful all that it touches! Love that will one day reunite us in the heavens! Come to me freely, because you love me!” She rubbed her face along his cheek. “I want to make you happy. I want to make you deliriously happy. I want to feel you shudder once more like a thunderbolt.”

“Oh gods!” He began to kiss her passionately. “I’m on fire!”

She walked a few paces in front of him and knelt down. Looking over her shoulder, she peered deeply his eyes and her jaw quivered.

He stalked toward her lithe, golden body, awash with the raging fever of his passion. “Lover, I come!”

CHAPTER 30: CRAFTING THE TOTEM

Metutu had studied long and hard. The gods had blessed him with wisdom and the strength to use it, and he used those blessings well for one whose heart was filled with so many distractions. Indeed, there were times he wanted to be with Asumini, but had to sit through lectures on star lore and wade through the savanna grass to learn the different herbs and their uses. Patiently Asumini would wait for him to return. She remembered her father well, and how he put his service before his comfort. Metutu was a lot like him, and it felt comfortably familiar. Also, like Busara, Metutu would use the time he was with her to its best advantage. Feeling guilty, Metutu would forgo rest when he was tired, and rush through meals. The precious minutes he saved were spent holding her hand, brushing her hair, talking about whatever was on their mind, and of course there were also times when he would take her hand and lead her away with him. Makedde would smile and try not to notice that some chores were being neglected. Makedde was married to his work, but he understood that Metutu was not.

One day, Makedde questioned Metutu at length about treating wounds and setting broken bones. He tried very hard to find some weakness in his knowledge, wondering where to concentrate his training. He found no weakness at all, and anxious to help Metutu settle down with his new wife, offered to take him to the council.

That evening, a nervous Metutu was ushered into the circle and presented to his brother Makoko. This was no time for casual greetings, and Metutu did not speak unless spoken to.

Some of the elders were leery. Dedou asked, “How could such an admittedly bright young buck know all that a shaman needs, and bear the weight of that much responsibility? Is it not the optimism of youth here rather than the considered opinion of his esteemed sponsor?”

Makoko looked at Metutu. “Well, candidate? Answer him.”

Metutu glances around at the other faces, then looks right at Dedou. “My love for the King is the light of my world. His people are my joy, and his welfare is my abiding concern. Even if you forbade me, I should humble myself in the dust before him and offer my hands to his service. The wonder of one acacia leaf is so deep and rich that I could never learn it all. Who can hope then to understand God’s world? And if we must concede that no shaman could possibly know everything, we must ask how much knowledge is enough to comfort those who suffer? I tell you brothers that I am an expert on suffering, for I have suffered greatly. It was suffering that put me on this path. But I also understand love, for I have received much of it, and it is love that keeps me on this path. Without the path, my life has no meaning. That, my esteemed Dedou, is my answer.”

“I withdraw my objection,” Dedou said.

Makoko stood up, deeply moved, and waived the age requirement, allowing Metutu to be admitted into the Council. The high priest gave him a large rock to hold. “This is the burden which you willingly accept, for with knowledge comes the weight of responsibility.”

Makedde took the rock from Metutu. “Love is the gift of God. It inspires your friends to share your burden, when their love is genuine. So I admonish you to love others all the days that God gives you in this land.”

They made Metutu a clay totem and consecrated it according to the law. And they taught him the words of passage into the circle, “Daima pendana” which means, “Love one another.”

Makoko embraced him. “I’m so proud of you, brother. My love flows like the spring rains!”

Standing with the uninitiated outside the circle, Kinara watches as tears of joy run down his face.

CHAPTER 31: THE KING AND I

Metutu and Asumini were both helping Makedde, who was getting older, in his daily tasks. Metutu had become a well-liked member of the leonine community, and had virtually all but assumed his brother’s duties as healer, leaving Makedde free to concentrate on the mystical arts.

Metutu slowly finished massaging the last of the paste into the cut on Avina’s shoulder. “There now,” he said, leaning back to study his work with a satisfied air, “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

Avina flexed the foreleg gingerly, then smiled as she put her full weight on it. “Beautiful! How did you do it?”

“Easy, my dear! The pain is still there; you just cannot feel it right now. You must go home and rest.”

“Ah,” she flipped a forepaw at him. “I’ve hunted in worse shape before, and alone besides.”

“I’m well aware of that, my dear. But just because you can do it doesn’t mean you have to. That hoof almost tore the muscle away. If someone else had been there, you wouldn’t have had to limp all the way back here yourself to get me.” He strode forward, clearly distressed. “Please, Avina, go home and take it easy for a while. Humor a foolish old ape just this once.”

“You are not foolish, Tootles.” She grinned at him, knowing how much the nickname embarrassed him. Purring, she rubbed her cheek against his. “All right. If it will make you feel better.”

He smiled at her. “Absolutely.” He patted her unwounded shoulder gently and bade her good-bye. He knelt to pick up his bowl he used as a pestle and grimaced as his knees popped stiffly. A shadow fell over him, and he looked up to see Makedde standing beside him, frowning.

“Brother? What is wrong?”

Makedde shook his head in admonition. “Using crushed Bonewort like that is not exactly what I would have done, Metutu. You would have done better to give her something else.”

“Really? And what would an old monkey like you know about medicine?”

Makedde grinned and grabbed Metutu’s ears playfully, shaking his head. “You impudent whelp! I dare say you’re going to be the best shaman the Pride Lands have ever seen.”

“You really think so?” Metutu frowned and looked out over the savanna broodingly. “I don’t know if I really quite fit in, here.”

“What’s the matter? Don’t you like it here?”

“Of course! I’m not talking about that.” Metutu waved his hand dismissingly. “I mean, I just don’t know how everyone will like me taking your place; you’ve been here so long. Besides, the Council has to approve the appointment, anyway.”

Makedde spat. “Who cares what the Council thinks! The King is going to make that decision. Don’t believe everything the Council tells you, Metutu; Ahadi’s word carries tremendous weight, however much they might not wish to admit it. And he’s been watching you carefully, brother. Believe it.”

“Very carefully?” Metutu moaned. “What if I make a mistake?”

Makedde looked solemn. “Well, in that case, he’ll probably just eat you.”

“What??” Metutu looked at him in alarm, until he saw Makedde struggling not to laugh. “You dirty…”

A harsh yell broke in from outside, jarring them both. “HELP!” Startled, they hurried over to an overhanging limb and looked down. Peering through the leaves, Metutu saw Yolanda sprinting hurriedly toward the baobab.

The two descended quickly and met her at the bottom. “Easy, my dear,” Makedde said calmly. “What is it?”

“Please come quickly!” She panted rapidly. “Oh Gods, come quick! Akase is in trouble!”

“What’s wrong?”

“She was complaining about her stomach hurting this morning when I left to go hunting. When I got back, I found her lying on the ground, moaning. She’s bleeding, too.”

“Did she cut herself?”

“No, it’s from inside! I don’t know what to do!” Yolanda’s voice cracked and she bit her lip. “You must save her!”

Makedde and Metutu exchanged a look. Without a word, Metutu headed for the baobab. Seizing his staff, Makedde followed the lioness as she made off across the savanna. Metutu clambered up the trunk frenziedly and hurried over to the niche where the two stored their medicines. Quickly snatching up a few cure-alls and some painkiller, he descended the baobab.

A few minutes later, he caught up with Makedde. Yolanda had checked her pace, mindful of Makedde’s advanced age, but the delay obviously gnawed at her. Metutu drew alongside of his brother, panting with the exertion. “I brought the cure-all and a little Alba as well, along with…”

Makedde glanced at the pharmacopoeia and nodded curtly. “No need, brother; I’m sure you brought the right things.” His face was wan with concern. “What worries me is that we may not have the right medicine here at all.”

“What’s wrong with her?” Metutu asked, knowing already.

“It is what we feared. Her body is rejecting the cubs.”

“Oh gods!” Metutu looked away for a moment. “Can we do anything?”

Makedde sighed. “I wish I knew. I only hope it is something else, but I doubt it. The signs are clear enough.”

The three continued on in silence until they reached the foot of Pride Rock, where they were met by Ahadi. The two mandrills bowed before the massive lion. “I touch your mane,” Makedde said reverently.

“I feel it.” Ahadi blew out a great gust of air. “Aiheu bless you for coming, Makedde. It’s a long journey, and I know you are not young anymore.”

Makedde said, “My brother came with me. Together we can beat this thing, eh?” He reached out and patted Ahadi’s shoulder.

The lion’s eyes closed and he slumped visibly. Unwilling to trust his voice, he merely nodded.

Yolanda padded over to them quickly. “This way, Makedde.” As they followed her away, Metutu glanced back over his shoulder at Ahadi, then immediately regretted it. He faced forward again, ashamed at the sight of the great king crying like a child.

Akase lay on the floor of the cave, trying to stifle a moan and failing. She shuddered as another wave of pain rippled through her abdomen, her midsection feeling as though it was being seized in the hands of a giant and being slowly twisted in two. “Oh God, please help me,” she groaned. “Please.” A warm tongue bathed the side of her face as if in answer. Blinking blearily, she opened an eye to see Yolanda standing over her. “How’s it feeling, hon?”

Akase moaned again. “Not much better.”

“Don’t worry. Makedde and Metutu are here to see you.”

Her eye opened wide. “Praise Aiheu! Bring them in!”

“I already did.” Yolanda’s worried visage was replaced by Makedde’s worn and kindly one. “And how are you today, my dear?”

“Lousy.”

“I see.” He chuckled lightly, trying to put her at ease. Grunting with the exertion, he knelt slowly, laying his staff beside him. Bending over her, he stroked her cheek with his hand. “Rest easy, Akase. All will be put right soon enough.” His smile faded away. “Courage, now.”

She nodded, closing her eyes. She began breathing rapidly as Makedde began to run his sensitive hands gingerly down her ribs slowing as he neared her belly. She growled involuntarily as he drew his hand across her abdomen. Makedde was shocked; the flesh was burning hot to the touch and enormously swollen, more so than her state of pregnancy could account for. As he reached her navel, she cried aloud and he jerked away, startled. “Forgive me, Akase. I do not mean to cause you pain.”

“I… know, old friend,” she gasped.

Metutu was equally disturbed; Akase’s flanks were matted with blood; enough that the lioness was dangerously weak. He looked up at Makedde and shrugged helplessly.

The mandrill nodded and turned back to Akase. Selecting a couple of herbs, he tapped her on the nose gently. “Now see here. I want you to leave these under your tongue. They are bitter, but they’ll make you feel a little better. Okay?”

She nodded, opening her mouth. Makedde slipped the herbs in place carefully, his dexterous fingers avoiding the enormous fangs easily. Rising, he patted her cheek. “You rest easy now, while Metutu and I go talk.” Motioning to his brother, the old mandrill led him outside.

Blinking in the bright sunlight, they nearly collided with Avina. The lioness sat in the entrance, staring into the depths of the cave miserably. “It’s my fault, isn’t it?”

“What?”

“If I hadn’t gone and gotten hurt, she wouldn’t have been worried sick about me this morning. That’s what did it, isn’t it?”

“Nonsense.” Makedde patted her consolingly. “You might as well blame yourself for the dry season, or making the wind shift while you’re stalking. You had nothing to do with this, Avina, it just happened.”

“Will she be okay?”

Makedde sighed. “I just don’t know right now.” Excusing himself, he drew Metutu away. The younger mandrill strained to hear his brother’s voice.

“It will be all I can do to keep her comfortable until the inevitable happens. She will lose the children.”

Metutu shook his head violently. “No! There must be something-”

“Hsst! Keep your voice down!” Makedde looked at him sadly. “Brother, as yet I have been unable to find a cure for her. For years I have searched. After they lost their first litter, Ahadi and Akase waited patiently while I searched, but at last I admitted defeat. And I cannot blame them for trying; the drive of life is strong. Who knew it would happen again?” He covered his eyes with a trembling hand. “And this time, it’s worse.”

“How so?”

“Akase has lost too much blood already, and she has begun to run a fever. She will probably not survive.”

A deeper voice spoke from behind them. “Then it is as I feared.”

The two spun to see Ahadi standing a few feet away. “Sire,” Makedde stammered, flustered. “I simply meant…”

Ahadi raised a paw to silence him. “It has been a long time since we have had to mince words, you and I. Let us not start now.” He sighed deeply, shuddering, and a single tear slowly tracked down from his eye to darken the fur on his cheek. “I have sat here and watched as she grew weaker and weaker. Even as you looked upon her she was slipping away.” Ahadi cleared his throat. “All I would…” He stopped, momentarily, then continued. “All I would ask of you is that you make her last hours peaceful ones. Will you do this for her?”

Makedde swallowed and nodded slowly. “Everything will be done. Come, my lord, let us go to her.”

Picking up the painkillers from Metutu’s crude satchel, Makedde motioned to his brother to wait there. Turning, he followed Ahadi as they paced slowly away.

Entering the cool dimness of the cave, Makedde made his way slowly over to Akase, Ahadi alongside. The king followed unwillingly, each step heavier than the last, until he felt he would sink through the rock floor. Bending down, he nuzzled his mate. “Akase?”

“Hmm?” The lioness opened her eyes and looked at them. “Cnn I shpt vese out?”

“Oh!” Makedde nodded. “Certainly.” He cupped a hand under her jaw as she daintily spat the leaves into his palm. “Feeling better?”

She nodded. “A little. It doesn’t hurt as bad, but it still hurts. Thank you for trying, though.” She fixed the mandrill with an uncomfortable gaze. “What were you two whispering about out there?”

Lion and mandrill looked at each other uncomfortably. “My lady, I’m not quite sure how to say this…”

Akase chuckled softly, wincing at the effort. “Oh, Makedde. I know that my life grows short. I shall see Aiheu’s face soon enough, no doubt.” She looked back along her side wistfully. “I only wish I could have spent some time with my children…” Her eyes glistened as she shook her head.

“Oh gods!” Ahadi bent low and laid his head alongside hers, weeping openly now, uncaring. “Beloved, I’m so sorry. It’s my fault. I never should have touched you.”

Akase lifted her head to look at him. “Nonsense. How can you say that? In the time I’ve spent with you, I’ve known the love of a dozen glorious lifetimes.” A tear tracked down her cheek. “I just wish I could have borne this one litter. I wanted to give you a son, my love. Oh, Ahadi, if anyone is to blame here, it’s me. You should have married another.” She bent and hid her face from him, shuddering. “When I am gone, that is what you must do. I will look down on you and bless your union.”

The lion reached out with his paw and stroked her face tenderly. “Now look who’s talking nonsense. There could never have been another. I could have lived without a son. But you I cannot live without.” He blinked back tears. “If I could have but one wish from Aiheu, it would be that we both go together.”

“Ahadi…” Akase nuzzled him and kissed his cheek. “You are too young to die just yet.”

“So are you.”

“Well, then, we need prayers, not tears.” She lay back down again, stroking his face with her forepaw. “Go on, love. I’ll be all right for a little while longer.”

Ahadi glanced at Makedde, who nodded silently. “Very well. Rest easy, beloved.” Kissing her cheek, he followed the mandrill out of the cave.

Metutu watched as the two of them emerged quietly and walked a short distance away, muttering softly. Embarrassed, he realized the two were deep in their prayers and turned away hurriedly. He moved away until he was out of earshot and sat down, taking a deep breath of air and letting it out slowly. The late afternoon breeze blew his hair gently about his neck and shoulders, cooling, but not comforting him. He picked up his mortar stick and idly began to trace aimless circles in the dirt as he looked out across the savanna, seeing in the distance his beautiful baobab home. Glancing down, he stared silently at what his roaming hands had unconsciously drawn in the dirt. An inward drawing spiral with lines radiating from it. He recognized it well; it was one of the first icons Busara had taught him in his apprenticeship; the maishamazingo, the great Circle of Life.

The vein in the center of Metutu’s forehead began to throb in time with his heartbeat. Leaping to his feet, he seized the handful of sand and dirt and cast it away angrily, obliterating the icon. “No! It’s not right! It’s not Akase’s fault! Why?” Realizing the other lionesses were staring at him, he stalked away, making his way along a steep, winding path that led to a granite shelf that jutted out away from the Rock. Sitting on his haunches, he clasped his knees to his chest. Huddled up, he stared out at the open plain. As his eyes roved about aimlessly, out of long habit he absently began identifying the various plants he saw and cataloging their various uses.

Suddenly, he sat up straighter, and looked about with renewed interest. Carefully noting the flora around, he wracked his brain, trying to think of some way he might be able to resolve Akase’s predicament. After several minutes thought, he slumped to the ground, shaking his head in despair.

“Oh, Aiheu. All the knowledge you have blessed me with, and yet I still do not know enough to save one lioness.” Metutu raised his head to look up at the sky beseechingly. “I may yet be unworthy as a healer, but I ask only this: help me to bring some joy into their lives. Please.” He lowered his head to his chest, his eyes stinging with tears. Abruptly, he heard the featherlight tread of leonine footsteps behind him and felt the weight of a furry chin resting lightly on his shoulder.

Irritated at the intrusion, he spoke without turning. “Avina, please leave me alone.”

“Hmpf. That’s some way to treat family. I thought I taught you better than that.”

Metutu’s eyes shot open wide and he whirled about. Before him stood the form of a beautiful lioness whom he immediately recognized. “Asumini!”

The lioness smiled, her eyes sparkling with amusement. “No hug for your old Auntie? Or are you getting too old for that?”

In response, Metutu leaned forward and wrapped his arms around tightly, burying his face in the soft fur of her neck. “Oh gods, I’m so depressed! And how I’ve missed you!”

“I know.” She smiled again, a faint silvery light playing about her form, like a ring of frost around the moon. “But I heard you talking nonsense, so I had to come see you.”

“I am unworthy.” He sat back and looked at her morosely. “Akase lies dying, and I can do nothing. All the long hours I spent learning herb lore at Busara’s side, and I’ve come up empty when I am most needed. I am useless.” He turned away and looked at the ground.

“Pfahh! Have you not listened to one word I’ve said to you? Use your head, you young twit!” She batted him lightly with her tail. “There is great virtue in Maraliscus when mixed with Heartleaf.”

“What?!” He snapped his head around to look at her, but saw only empty air. He looked about, confused, while his mind began working furiously.

“Maraliscus will kill by itself,” he muttered. “It suppresses breathing. But the Heartleaf opens the lungs and…” His eyes widened and he shouted with glee. “Yes! It stimulates breathing. They balance each other out! That just might do it!” Snatching up his things, he took a step towards the path leading down to the ground, but stopped after a few strides.

“But the nearest concentration of Maraliscus is half a moon’s journey away.” He slumped to the ground. “Oh gods! To be so close!” He leaned back against the rock face, stretching his arms out for support. His left hand closed over something soft and velvety, and he jerked it away involuntarily, looking down.

Next to where he sat lay a neat clump of Maraliscus plants, carefully sitting upon a swatch of Heartleaf.

Metutu closed his hands reverently over the priceless herbs and lifted them to his face, inhaling the faint scent of wild honey that clung to the plants. Uttered a silent prayer to Aiheu, he struggled to his feet and carefully picked his way down the slope to the cave entrance, where he saw Makedde talking quietly to Yolanda.

Without preamble, he simply showed Makedde the herbs and explained what he intended to try.

“Absolutely not! Metutu, I realize you are knowledgeable about herb lore, but this is not the time to experiment. Akase is already very weak; any abrupt change could push her over the edge.”

“Brother. Please, listen to me. This is the only chance we have. I know I’m right.”

Makedde looked at him for a long moment, then nodded slowly. “Very well. I shall tell Ahadi. Whatever you intend to do, do it quickly; Akase’s time is very short.”

Metutu grabbed his things and hurried inside the cave, where Akase lay unmoving, bathed in a coating of sweat that matted her fur. “My Lady?”

Slowly, the queen opened her eyes to look at him. “Metutu?” she said muzzily, the painkiller blurring her voice.

“Yes. I have something here for you.” Filling one of his small bowls with water from a gourd, Metutu shredded a piece of Heartleaf into it. As he picked up the Maraliscus, he realized with some alarm that he did not know just what the correct dosage might be. He thought quickly for a moment, carefully gauging Akase’s weight, along with the fact of her pregnancy thrown in. Taking hold of a corner of the soft leaf, he closed his eyes. “Aiheu, guide my hand.”

He tore a small piece off and ground it up carefully, adding it to the mixture in the bowl. The concoction immediately turned an ugly greenish yellow color, and began to give off a strong acrid odor.

He picked the mixture up and held it out to her gently. “Here. You must drink this.”

She sniffed it warily and recoiled. “Gods! What is it?”

“It may help you.”

“May?” She looked at him peculiarly. “Don’t you know?”

“No,” he admitted. “I don’t.” He pulled the bowl back slowly. “It’s not without risk, but it’s the only thing I know that may save you and your cubs.”

Akase’s eyes opened fully and she stared at him fixedly. “The cubs also? I could have my cubs?”

“Possibly-”

“Then let me have it.”

“My lady, what if-”

“What if, indeed.” She smiled, and reached up with a paw to stroke his agonized face gently. “Metutu, should I die, I will smile down on you from the stars above, for I will know that you did your best by me and my children.”

Metutu clasped her paw in his hands and nodded wordlessly. Moving behind her, he lifted her head, grunting with the effort, until she could reach the bowl. She sniffed again, wrinkling her nose with distaste, and looked him in the eyes.

“Aiheu abamami,” she whispered, and drank.

Metutu emerged from the cave mouth a few minutes later and sat down wearily. Makedde wandered over to him and sat next to him, holding his brother close as they fought the chill of the approaching night. “Well?”

“We wait and see.” He looked about for the king, seeing him sitting some distance away at the point of the promontory with another lion. “Have you told him?”

“Yes.”

“What did he say?”

“He said he trusted in you and Aiheu, and that was enough for him.”

Metutu looked at Ahadi, unable to speak.

The king sat silently, watching the ebony blanket of night draw itself over his Pride Lands, the kings of the past taking their places in the vault of heaven one by one. But tonight he could draw no comfort from their presence. His thoughts lay inside the cave, with Akase.

Shaka, his brother, lay next to him quietly. “Ahadi?”

“Hmm?”

“You awake?”

“Of course,” he said, offended.

Shaka’s ears drooped. “Sorry.”

Ahadi sighed and nuzzled his brother. “No, I’m sorry. I’m just nervous.”

Shaka said nothing, but moved a little closer to his brother, sharing the heat of their bodies. Thus the four brothers comforted each other as they began the long wait for the dawn.

In the depths of the cave, Akase lay quiescent as the medicine did its strange work within her. Time had become meaningless, and so it was with some surprise that she opened her eyes to the gray light of dawn seeping into the cave. Raising her head gingerly, she tried to sit up, but only made it halfway before collapsing back, panting heavily. Gods she was tired! Her stomach rumbled noisily, and she wondered if there was any leftover zebra lying about.

Her eyes flew open and she peered at her abdomen with renewed interest. The pain she felt was not the sharp stabs of agony from yesterday, but the mild pangs of hunger. And that other sensation she felt… she froze as she felt a soft kick from one of the unborn cubs inside her.

“Oh, God!” she exclaimed with delight. “Ahadi!”

Outside, the king’s eyes flew open as he heard her call. Leaping to his feet, he inadvertently smacked Shaka in the nose with a hind leg.

“Ouch!” Rudely awakened, the lion rubbed his wounded nose, eyes watering as he watched his brother sprint towards the cavern mouth. Ahadi burst inside, trotting quickly over to Akase and nuzzling her lovingly. “Beloved! Thank God you’re all right!”

“Oh, pfft on me. Listen!” She laid a forepaw over the back of his neck and drew his head close to her, pressing his ear to her belly. Her eyes sparkled in delight as she watched his face light up. “I can feel them! I can feel them, Akase!” She laughed, the sound filling the air like sweet music as she kissed his cheek. “Thank Aiheu.”

“Aiheu, and a certain mandrill we know.” He grinned widely. “Metutu! Makedde! Come in here immediately!”

The two brothers stumbled in sleepily, rubbing their eyes. The sight of the radiant Akase and Ahadi immediately aroused them, though. Metutu bowed low before Ahadi. “Your Majesty.”

Ahadi nuzzled him so suddenly and hard, it rolled Metutu over. “Metutu, I owe you more than I can repay.” He kissed the mandrill with his warm, moist tongue. “Bless you! You have saved my wife and children. If there is anything you desire, name it.”

“Your Highness, I heal out of love. Love brought me here, and love taught me the secret. I want your friendship.”

“You already had that. Surely, there must be something else?”

“Well…” Metutu looked at Makedde shyly, who nodded. “Your Highness, my brother grows old, and will soon be replaced by a new shaman. If you love me, let me remain here. Tell my brother that you have captured my heart. If I had to leave, I would have no more heart.”

Ahadi looked at him for a long moment. “This is what you would have of me?”

“Y-Yes. If it is too much trouble, I’ll understand.”

“Metutu, let me tell you something.” Ahadi leaned close, until his face loomed in front of Metutu’s. “Should your Council of Elders dare to appoint anyone else but you as my shaman when Makedde is relieved, I shall be displeased. Very displeased. Understand?”

“I understand.” Metutu kissed his mane. “I love you, Ahadi.”

Ahadi smiled. “Yes, I can see it in your face. And that face is anything but plain to me, my little striped friend. There is another way I will show my gratitude. From this day on, you shall not be called Metutu but Rafiki, for you are my true friend.”

CHAPTER 32: TWIN SONS

As Akase’s time to bear cubs came close, Rafiki watched with special interest. No male mandrill had ever witnessed a birth before, and he was more than a little curious. But far more than that, he felt a kinship to these lives that he had already saved once.

As it was, Akase had already shown great affection for Rafiki, and had asked him to place his ear against her side to listen to the cubs moving about. Now how many mandrills had ever done that before!

“And when will we be hearing good news from the shaman?”

Rafiki smiled wryly. “Akase, let’s say no new arrivals are on the way yet, but not from lack of wishful thinking.”

Akase patted him affectionately with her paw. “Surely the gods will give you fine cubs. I want to be there when their eyes open.”

Rafiki tried to hide his amusement. “They are born with their eyes open. Of course they don’t see too well for the first few days.”

“I want to be their Auntie, if you’ll have me.”

“Have you? I’d like to see you try and squirm out of it!”

Uzuri came in. The hunt mistress looked at Rafiki and laughed.

“What’s so funny, madam?”

“I don’t mean anything wrong by it,” she said, giggling. “It’s just you’re so cute when you walk on your back legs like that.”

“That’s not very polite,” Akase said with a frown.

“Oh, that’s very polite coming from Uzuri,” Rafiki said with a warm smile. “Yesterday it was these colored stripes on my face. Before that, it was these colored stripes on my… other end.”

He saluted her and walked on by. Then Rafiki wheeled about and saw Uzuri staring at his buttocks with a broad smile. “You’re just jealous.”

Rafiki went on his way with a happy hum. Uzuri used to laugh at his appearance, but there was a good natured friendliness about her that warmed his heart. He wanted a witty come back line, but she was so beautiful and possessed a silky smooth manner that surrounded her like a turtle shell and deflected even the most determined attack.

Due to the difficult nature of Akase’s pregnancy, Rafiki had to stay near Pride Rock day and night. The extra time around lions had been very instructive. For one thing, they stopped acting like they had company and just acted like themselves. Mothers began to groom their cubs. Itches began being scratched, regardless of their location. But much more than this, talk became more loose and free. Rafiki learned more in those days about what lionesses think than he had in the whole rest of his time in the Pride Lands. He also discovered a joy that would rarely be his—napping wherever and whenever he liked. He had a lot of time to kill for the first time since he was very young. The lionesses would drop to the ground in groups, enjoying the contact. This posed a bit of a problem for Rafiki since he was a mandrill. But Uzuri quickly solved it. When she lay down and saw Rafiki’s searching face, she would pat the ground next to her and flick her muzzle back. And gratefully he would come and snuggle next to her. In those special moments, there was no need for humor in their relationship. And sometimes Rafiki discovered that if he lay very still and pretended to be asleep, Uzuri would touch his cheek with her warm, moist tongue and purr. He would fight very hard not to break out in a revealing smile and stay very still.

Long days passed which turned into long nights. Though Akase was getting restless, she was not allowed to hunt, and had to suffer through the performance of her “royal duty,” avoiding any possibility of endangering the already perilous pregnancy.

Rafiki was even more restless. While Akase was brought food from the hunt, he looked at the delicacies he was offered and almost wretched. He would smile and eat a little meat, but afterward had to step away and find fresh grass, then take a little Tiko Root to keep it down. He would easily use up a week’s worth of work at each meal as the precious herb was downed, but without it the meat would come right back up. The strong minty fragrance began to linger around him, coming out in his perspiration and every breath he exhaled. Then one day Uzuri came back from the hunt bearing a cluster of wild grapes as large as a melon. “Do you eat these?”

Rafiki seized the prize greedily. “Yes! Thank you!” He ate the whole cluster in one setting, then sat back with his stomach full to capacity for the first time in several days. The sensation made him a little sleepy, and he looked forward to another nap beside Uzuri.

“It’s time!” Akase shouted. “Hurry!”

Rafiki’s sleepiness vanished. He ran into the cave to where Akase lay, bathed in sweat and panting. While he offered her a gourd full of water, Uzuri took up her position as midwife.

“Are you all right?” Rafiki asked?

“I’m being slowly twisted in half. Otherwise, I’m fine.”

Uzuri nuzzled Akase. “How are the contractions coming?”

“Strong. Fast.” Akase stared at no one in particular and panted. “Oh gods,” she said. “Here they come!” Her water broke, and Akase gnashed her teeth. Her breath came deep and fast.

“I see a nose,” Uzuri said excitedly. She watched closely to see who was first born. “Here he comes!”

Rafiki watched in horror. Despite all he heard about birth being a beautiful thing and a miracle, he saw that it was also very gory in some respects. He quickly grabbed another sprig of Tiko Root and bit down.

“He’s a male! Oh, look at him!” Akase cleaned off the tissues and fluids with the excitement of a child opening a birthday present. “He’s so beautiful!” Actually, he looked to Rafiki like a drowned rat.

Another nose came out, shortly followed by the rest of a cub. “Another male! Twin sons!”

Akase smiled. “Twin sons!” Various other things came out, leaving quite a mess on the cave floor.

“He’s not breathing!” Uzuri prodded and licked the second cub. “Oh no, he’s dead!”

“The will of Aiheu,” Akase said quietly. “At least I have a son. That’s more than I ever thought I’d have.”

Rafiki was seized by a thought. Later he would say it could have been a vision. Queasiness was forgotten. He quickly grabbed the wet, dead cub from Uzuri and put him on the floor. With his hands together, he pumped the small chest a couple of times, then putting his mouth over the cub’s tiny muzzle, blew into it until the chest rose. He let the air run out, then repeated it.

“What are you doing??” Uzuri stared. “He’s dead. Let him rest in peace!”

“Bear with me.” Rafiki blew several more breaths into the cub, and then when he was about to give up, the cub grimaced, coughed, and took in a deep gasp.

“Oh my gods!” Uzuri shouted. “He raised the dead!”

“What happened?” Akase asked. “Did I hear what I thought I heard?”

“He’s alive!”

Swimming in a sea of elation, Rafiki held the little cub close to his heart. “Thank you, Aiheu! Thank you!” He kissed him and whirled about, holding his wet body to his face. “Oh, you precious little thing! God bless you! Live forever!”

“He must nurse,” Akase reminded him. “If you’re finished, my friend…”

“Oh yes.” He put the undersized cub next to his brother and watched the two of them draw life from their mother. He bent down and kissed Akase, then he went to Uzuri, hugged her and kissed her cheek.

“We have a custom,” Akase said softly. “You have saved his life twice now. You are his uncle now, and he is your nephew.”

“I like that custom.”

He looked down at the cub. “What is his name?”

“I call him Taka. And his brother is Mufasa. I had thought of those names for a long time.”

“Taka,” he said. “My little Taka.”

Then in the middle of his haze of joy, he remembered hugging and kissing Uzuri. He looked back over at her. A blush of embarrassment made the colors of his face all the brighter. She stared back at him, rubbing her cheek with a paw.

Quietly, he gathered up his staff, his empty water gourd, bowed to the queen and headed out.

He dared not look around, but could hear behind him the padding of lioness feet. As he headed at long last toward his baobab, he tried to be casual about it. Still the feet followed him. He cringed inside.

“Oh Rafiki?”

He stopped still but didn’t look around. “Yes, Uzuri?”

She came up beside him and sat down directly in his path. “Am I mistaken, or did you kiss me in the cave?”

“I think it was on the cheek, actually.” He made a feeble attempt at laughter. “I was just so happy for little Taka. You know, the cub I saved?”

“So that was it? You were so happy for little Taka?” Betraying no emotions, she drew closer. “Did you enjoy it?”

“I’m not sure. Should I have?”

She cracked a grin. “Why don’t you try again, and this time pay attention.”

He smiled an embarrassed grin and came forward. “Like this?” He put his arms around her neck, rubbing his hands along her side and nestling his cheek to her shoulder. “Uzuri, I enjoyed every moment of our time together. You are a very special lady, and very dear to my heart.”

She touched him with her tongue. “You must teach me how to breathe into a cub. Where did you ever learn that?”

“You know, I didn’t learn that,” he said, still holding tightly to Uzuri. “It just came to me.”

“That’s amazing.” She touched him with her tongue again. “You may let go now.”

“Oh.” He gave her another pat and let his arms slip down. “I got a little carried away.”

“That’s all right. But wash off before you hug me again.”

“Oh.” Blood and humors had matted his hair and made him smell like a newborn cub. “Ycch! Good heavens!” He left straightway for the creek.

CHAPTER 33: THE PREDICTION

“And so it was when Koko the Gorilla, who had thrown mud into the holy lake, became sorely afraid. For from the fouled milk of Mara arose the Makei. Their faces were terrible to see. Just enough mud had been cast into the lake that they could take the shapes of Ma’at, but not the substance. And while they longed for pleasure, they were unable to experience it. Grief and anger, however, were theirs and they plumbed them to the depths for only when they were sad or angry did they feel alive.

“They cried out to Aiheu. ‘Lord! Why have you given us only pain? Where is our beauty, our happiness?”

And Aiheu wept, for their suffering was dire. And he said, “Though the cause does not lie in your own actions, you are polluted. Do not be filled with resentment, but rather be mindful of the hope I offer you. Cleansing comes from within, in a clean heart and truthful witness. You will be sorely tempted by the mud, but you are also full of my milk, and it will overcome all else if you let it. Remember in your darkness that my light is with you, shining on the true path.”

— THE LEONINE STORY OF BEGINNINGS, VARIATION D-4-A

When Ahadi’s sons were old enough, they would come to Makedde who loved children of all kinds. He would tell them stories from the simian past and the leonine past. Rafiki loved to hear these as well, and he would get snacks for the cubs when they came. Making these treats was no small task, for they were small strips of meat cured and dried with spices. It was a sign of Rafiki’s devotion to the children that he would scavenge the meat, for while mandrills were corban to the lions, the hyenas did not honor the Peace of Asumini and would gladly snack on mandrill! However Rafiki soon forgot the danger when he saw the smiles on the cubs’ faces when he held out the jerky from behind his back. “Are there any good little cubs here?” The resultant tumult was deafening, but both Rafiki and Makedde loved every minute of it.

Makedde would not have approved the extra tidbits that Rafiki handed out when his back was turned. At times he wondered why the children always flocked to his younger brother whenever they came calling. But of all the cubs, only Taka would get an occasional piece of rare Tiko root. Rafiki would hold up the root and say, “Who do you love?”

“You, Uncle Fiki!”

“How much do you love me?”

“More than life!”

Laughing, Rafiki would drop the Tiko root and Taka would snap it up. He never let it hit the ground once. But after the prize was eaten, Taka would wait to nuzzle Rafiki and say, “I really do, honest.” He knew to close his eyes quickly, for sure as the world Rafiki would kiss him on the face and whisper, “My precious little boy!” These were the moments of unbridled joy by which Taka would later measure the depths of his pain.

Rafiki was nearly crushed by the enormous number of things he had to learn. Makedde was patient, but he knew that there was much his young brother needed to know to be confirmed as a shaman, and he pushed Rafiki as far as he safely thought he could. And this urgency was not without just cause. The struggle of Aiheuism and Pistism was heating up again, or so Wandani had said when he made the long trip to the baobab. Makoko did not have the years of acceptance that had made his father a fixture in the political landscape. And even worse, he did not have the talent or the desire to dig up secrets on his enemies which he seemed to inherit simply by being Kinara’s son.

Scrying was Rafiki’s favorite activity. He would have been even more enthusiastic about it if Makedde did not impose such strict rules. The pursuit of the future and past can take one’s mind off the present, and that is where all of Aiheu’s creatures find their rightful work. Rafiki had a tendency to cling to his unfortunate mother, something that only served to deepen his hurt for he could see her but not touch her. Makedde was strict, but only as strict as he had to be, so there were times it was all right for Rafiki to contact his loved ones.

Opening a window on the spirit realm was not without risk. It had to be done carefully and only after certain precautions had been taken. The lesser Makei were by and large morose spirits in search of salvation, and were by their nature prone to try and better themselves. The greater Makei, however, were ruthless and would take any means to work mischief on the world of Ma’at. They waited for someone to open a passageway they could go through. For this reason, no shaman would scry without first invoking the chief Nisei. Mano and Minshasa were of all the Nisei the most powerful, and their link to Aiheu was very strong. They would sweep away the dark spirits to let only the truth come through. Rafiki was working on his guardian prayers when three visitors came to the baobab.

“Rafiki, mix a poultice quick!” Makedde rushed to the bleeding cub. “Oh Master Taka, what have you done now!”

Rafiki looked up. His favorite cub was suffering. “Oh gods!”

Makedde held up his hand on one side of Taka’s head, then the other. “No sight on that side. This is bad. Very bad. But perhaps I can fix it.”

Makedde got some moistened Alba from Rafiki and squeezed it on the ground. The dust became mud, and he took this mud carefully in his hand.

“These are badger marks,” Makedde said. “If I couldn’t see it, I could sure smell it.” He shook his head. “What on earth possessed you to play with the badgers? You know they are dangerous.”

“It was a white badger,” Taka said. “I wanted to get a wish, like N’ga and Sufa.”

“Oh I see.” He frowned. “You don’t know the difference between a white lioness and a white badger! So you wanted a wish, did you?”

“It was my idea,” Mufasa said. “When we died, I wanted my brother to sit by me with the great kings of the past.”

The remark misted Rafiki’s eyes.

“Noble sentiment indeed,” Makedde said, “but all living things are precious to Aiheu.”

Makedde packed Taka’s damaged eye with herbal mud, then pressed it carefully back into its socket. The eyeball had been lightly scratched but not punctured. Makedde washed away some of the mud a little at a time, then he sealed the edges of the cut with Dwe’dwe resin.

Rafiki brought a gourd of water for Taka to which Makedde added blood builders, pain killers and a disinfectant. A little honey went in to sweeten the mix, but not by much. “It won’t taste good, but it will feel good.”

Taka found the mixture hardly bearable, but he was terribly thirsty after losing so much blood in the heat. And it did feel good.

Sarabi asked, “Will that eye work again?”

“Rafiki,” Makedde asked, “You heard the lady. What will come of Taka?”

Rafiki was nervous. He was as afraid of the answer as Taka was. It was his first time to scry for another, so he looked into the water thoughtfully, trying to remember all his brother taught him. A wind came out of the west and stirred the water. It carried with it the odor of decay. The ripples died down, and he gasped. “Wait, something appears. It tells me…”

“What?” Sarabi asked impatiently.

Rafiki stared into the water. A chill swept over him as he suddenly felt his spirit being seized within his own body by a tremendous force. “Makedde, help me!” he shouted, but no sound came out. He tried to show his distress by gestures, or even by a look of horror. He had no control of his own body, but apparently the spirit inside him did.

A deep voice came from inside him. “The road is long and hard. Those who smile to your face bare their teeth as you leave.” Rafiki felt himself leave the bowl and stoop in front of Taka. He fought but was weak and helpless as a newborn. Pointing an accusing finger, the spirit said, “Friends come from unlikely places, then abandon you in your hour of need. He who is first to touch you shall beget your doom, and she who gives you love shall let it turn to hate.”

The prayer! Rafiki had forgotten the prayer of protection. “Mano!” he cried out in spirit. “Minshasa! Help me! Aiheu! Oh gods!”

“Rafiki!” Makedde shouted. “Control it! It’s an evil spirit!”

“Anger is your only salvation,” the spirit muttered, gripping Taka by the fur of his cheek. “Arm yourself with cruel hate. Take what is yours, for it shall not be freely given.”

Taka broke away and tried to hide behind Sarabi and Mufasa, crouching low and trembling. “No! It’s not so! Tell me it’s not so!”

“Stop it!” Makedde shook him violently. “Stop it in the name of the gods!”

Rafiki looked wild-eyed as if he’d seen a ghost. He could move—he could speak! It took him a few moments to fully come to himself. “Brother! Oh gods, what happened to me?? I could not control myself. I was a stick, and some hand was swinging me!”

Mufasa’s jaw was slack with horror. “Is this going to happen for sure? Can’t we stop it?”

Rafiki was as weak as a newborn kitten. He crawled behind Muffy and Sassie to look at the cringing Taka. “Don’t be afraid, my son. It’s gone! I didn’t say those things!” He stroked Taka and wept. “Oh gods, that was not me speaking. That was not me! I love you. I would never say such things. You must love, always love, the way I love you. Forgive me. Please forgive me!”

“My brother did not know what he was saying,” Makedde said. “ Smell the reek of death in the air? If you forget to pray for protection, evil spirits come to speak, and they use a half-truth to work mischief. When I can see you alone, Taka, I’ll tell your future and I will do it right.”

Taka wept. “Do they really hate me?”

“No, Taka,” Mufasa said. “We all love you, even if you do get in trouble all the time.”

“But what if it’s right?” Sarabi asked. “I mean if its a half-truth, doesn’t that mean half of it is true?”

“None of it’s true,” Mufasa said. He touched Taka’s shoulder with his paw. “There—I’m the first one to touch you. I’m your bestest friend in the world, so you don’t have to worry any more.”

“And I’m the one that loves you most,” Sarabi said. “When we grow up, I’m going to marry you.”

Taka smiled. “I can see you! I can see you with both eyes!” He nuzzled her. “You would never hurt me, would you, Sassie?”

“Never! Not in a million years.”

After the cubs had left, Rafiki crawled to the wall of the baobab where he rested his head and wept. “Poor little child! Don’t let them hurt him! Please don’t let them hurt him! I would give him the blood of mercy! I would die for him!”

“Rafiki, are you all right?”

“Who cares! Is Taka all right??”

“Do you think so?”

“Brother, I’m afraid there is more than half truth to this.”

“I know,” Makedde said. “But sometimes it is from the telling that the prophesy comes true. You did not pray for guidance first—you left yourself unprotected. Evil spirits just wait for chances like this. They speak their piece, filling innocent little heads with foul thoughts to stir up trouble. Sometimes silence is the wisest prophesy of all.”

Rafiki hung his head. “I am so ashamed. Can’t I undo it, brother? Is there nothing I can do?”

Makedde went back to the scrying pool. He looked deeply into the water, praying first to Mano and Minshasa for protection. Then there was a gentle breeze from the east and on the wind was wafted the comforting scent of wild honey. The wind stirred the surface of the water, and after it had passed, the power of the holy pair had dispelled the shadows.

Makedde stared like one in a trance. “Rafiki, if you would hear the words of Aiheu, pay attention. For a little truth is like a little branch that will not reach to the choice fruit.”

The young mandrill fell on his face. “Speak, Lord.”

“A spirit has entered your world. The evil which you have set free, you must also bind. All the years of your life shall you toil to undo a careless moment. Milk and mud join quickly, but do they separate quickly? Your words have made the milk unfit to drink, yet I have not forsaken you. For if milk and mud are my creations, I can appoint whom I please to separate them, and it will be done.”

Makedde gently helped Rafiki to his feet and helped him climb up a large branch to a fork near the top of the huge baobab. Here, the branches had interwoven tightly, forming a kind of nook in which he sat down.

Cupping his chin in his hand reflectively, Rafiki sat silently, feeling the great tree sway beneath him, listening to the wind whisper past his ears, and watched the sun track its way across the great dome of the sky.

Some hours later, the twinkling stars emerged from their daytime hiding places to find him still there, unmoving. The gentle breeze had turned cold with the passage of the sun, but the mandrill sat shivering, and made no move to go below.

“I deserve it,” he thought. “I have destroyed the very thing I love!” Aloud he whispered, “Oh God, what am I doing out here?”

“I was about to ask you the same question.”

He turned to see Asumini behind him. “What?”

“Your dinner is ready.”

He shook his head. “I don’t think I could stomach anything right now.”

The night breeze ruffled her hair gently as she sat next to him and hugged him close. “What’s wrong?”

“I ruined young Taka’s life, today. Gods, how could I have been so stupid?!” He clutched his head in his hands. “Am I really the one Minshasa chose to serve the King? God rest his soul, but maybe your father’s dreams were bigger than his hold on reality.” He raised his head and looked at her glumly. “You always did like the forest better than the savanna anyway, didn’t you?”

Her forehead furrowed in confusion. “What are you getting at?”

“I’m talking about quitting.” He looked back at the dark skyline, avoiding her questioning gaze. “I’d be better off foraging for a living than dabbling in things I have no talent for.”

“What?” Asumini drew back in disbelief. “Metutu, you can’t! You are a wonderful healer, and a fine shaman.”

“Pfah. I should have stuck with being a scribe. When Mother died, I hurt so badly. Gods, Asumini, I just wanted to DO something, to make a difference!” he shook his head and laughed bitterly. “Oh, I made a difference, all right! In a matter of seconds I took everything Taka held dear and ripped it to shreds. He would have been better off had I never shown my face here.”

Asumini moved around and looked him in the eyes. “He would have been dead had you never shown your face here. Along with his brother and mother. You made a difference then, love. You will do it again.”

“So I saved his life only to ruin it three moons later. I’ve accomplished something indeed.” He reached out and broke a stem from a nearby branch, twisting it between his fingers slowly. “Asumini, your father showed me his dream. I was supposed to be the chief that would save mandrill society from itself. I was SUPPOSED to be the voice of Aiheu to my people.” Angrily, he cast the twig away. “I reward his trust by dragging you out in the middle of nowhere and playing God.”

Asumini sat silently for a moment, then rose. She carefully made her way over to the branch and began to climb down, but paused. “Rafiki?”

Rafiki half turned. “Yes?”

“I love you dearly, and will stay with you no matter what you decide. But think on this. If you had the choice to make all over again, if you could choose between becoming the great chief and leader of our people, or saving the life of that one little cub: which would it be?” Without waiting for an answer, she turned and left.

It was well into the night before he followed her. He slept only lightly, and his dreams were fraught with nightmares, in which the scene with Taka was repeated over and over. Finally he gave up, rising long before the sun made an appearance, and climbing quietly up to his perch where he had sat the previous night. Crossing his legs, he gazed into the expectant eastern sky, looking like a stone sentinel set to guard over some priceless treasure.

Feeling the tree shake, he looked about and saw Makedde ascending behind him. “Good morning, brother.”

“Good morning, Rafiki. Up early, I see.” Makedde froze in the midst of reaching for a handhold, shock widening his eyes as he stared at his brother. “My God, what has happened to you?!”

“What are you talking about?”

“Go look at yourself!”

Rafiki climbed down, grumbling irritably. “Honestly. I just haven’t had much sleep, brother.” Reaching the naos of the baobab, he meandered over to the scrying bowl which still stood full of water. “From the look on your face, I’d have thought you had seen a monster.”

Suddenly he caught sight of his reflection. An old mandrill, wizened and white-haired with age, stared back at him.

“Oh my gods, what has happened to me?” Rafiki moaned, clutching at his cheeks with his fingers, feeling the irrefutable evidence of the lines etched within. He turned to Makedde, who stood next to him, the horror in Rafiki’s eyes reflected in his own. “Brother? What’s wrong with me?”

“It was the Makei.” Makedde sat down heavily. “The spirit has drained much of your youth.”

“And left this empty husk behind,” Rafiki added bitterly, staring at his withered hands. “Why didn’t it finish the job?? Why didn’t it go ahead and kill me!”

“Do not speak such nonsense!” Makedde grabbed Rafiki by the shoulders roughly. “Your body may be weakened, but your mind is untouched. Use it! Think, brother!”

“I am.” Rafiki shook him off and snatched up an empty basket Makedde used to store dried herbs. Picking up his digging stick, he chucked it inside, and reached for a small pouch of medicines.

“What are you doing?” Makedde said, watching him toss item after item into the basket.

“Thinking.” Rafiki continued to pack the basket without looking up. “I think it would be best if I left this place for good.”

Makedde looked alarmed. “Brother, these are hasty thoughts, borne of the heart, and not the head. Reconsider.”

Rafiki shook his head. “This is for the best. I will best serve the house of Ahadi by staying as far away from it as possible, now. I have caused enough damage by my folly.” He picked up his medicine pouch and tossed it into the basket. To his irritation, a small packet slipped out and landed with a slap on the ground. Grumbling, he walked over and picked it up.

The old, brittle covering of leaves fell away, and he found himself staring at a small remnant of Maraliscus. The soft fronds tickled his palm as he ran them through his fingers gently.

Makedde cocked his head curiously. “What’s that you’ve got there?”

“Huh? Oh, nothing. Just some Maraliscus leaf.” He crammed it unceremoniously into the basket. “Leftover herbs; you know.”

“Indeed I do.” Makedde frowned sternly. “I know you are making a big mistake in going.”

“Brother, please! You know this is for the best.”

“I know nothing of the sort. What I DO know is that-” he broke off, staring over Rafiki’s shoulder. Turning to look, the mandrill saw a questing paw appear at the edge of the baobab’s lobby-like center. Small claws which had been only partway retracted now flicked out to their full extent, and a very weary looking lion cub hauled himself up into the tree.

“Taka?? What are you doing here??”

The little cub looked at him curiously. “Uncle Fiki asked me to come back this morning so he could check my eye. Is he still asleep?”

Rafiki felt a thorn pierce his heart. “No! No, Taka. It’s me!” Rafiki walked over and knelt in front of the cub, holding his hand out. Taka sniffed it curiously, then looked up at him, bewildered. “Uncle Fiki?! What’s wrong with your face?”

Rafiki ran a hand over his features tremblingly, then forced a smile to his face. “I’m just getting older. Now, be a big boy and hold still while I look at the cut, okay?”

“Okay.” Taka cocked his head obligingly, but squinted the other eye shut, anticipating pain.

With the lightest of touches, Rafiki gently moved the fur away from the torn eye. The mandrill nodded approvingly, seeing the clean area where Akase’s careful tongue had done its job. “Good. No infection in the cut. But I’m afraid my brother was right, it will leave a scar.” He clucked sympathetically. “You poor child. This should never have happened to one so young.”

Taka smiled up at him, his swollen eyelid making his grin lopsided, and all the more endearing. “It’s OK. It doesn’t hurt that bad.”

“Oh, now aren’t we the big brave lion!” Rafiki again forced a smile to his face. He fought to hold his emotions in check, wondering how Taka couldn’t see the turmoil inside.

Taka peered over his shoulder at the half open basket. “Ooh! Whatcha got? Any jerky?” Without waiting for an answer, he darted past Rafiki and was nosing in the basket before the mandrill could stop him.

“Taka, no! Please don’t touch that.”

The cub looked at him slowly. “All your stuff’s in here, Rafiki. Are you going away?”

Rafiki looked at his brother helplessly. “Yes I am, Taka.”

Taka’s jaw began to tremble, his eyes growing large and bright. “But you love me! You can’t go!”

“Taka, I have to go. It was my fault you heard that stupid prophecy. I must leave before I cause you more pain.” He move towards the cub, intending to comfort him, but Taka drew back.

“So you’re not going to stay? Even if I want you to?” The tears began to roll down Taka’s face in earnest. “Is it happening already? Don’t you want to be friends anymore?” He buried his face in his paws, sobbing. “It’s my fault, isn’t it? I made you look old. I didn’t mean, it, Uncle Fiki, I SWEAR!” Taka collapsed to the floor of the baobab, crying hoarsely. “I won’t ask you to tell the future again! I’m SORRY!”

“Oh gods, what am I doing?” Rafiki went to the shaking cub and held him close, stroking his soft fur. “I didn’t think you’d want me around after that. Yes, I want to be friends! Oh Taka, you know how much I love you!”

Taka looked up at him, sniffling, both eyes now equally reddened. “R-Really? You really do love me?”

“More than life! Just like you love me!” Rafiki reached up and drew a hand down his seamed features. “This is a mark of my love for you. Never forget that. If I hadn’t fought the evil spirit so hard, I’d still be young. But I did—I fought it tooth and claw! I’d fight a whole pride of evil spirits for my precious little boy!”

The little cub peered into his eyes searchingly for a moment longer, then nodded. Reaching up with a forepaw, he drew it down Rafiki’s face lightly, feeling the wrinkles give under his gentle paws. “It’s not so bad,” he said at length. “You look better than I do, anyway.”

Unable to speak, Rafiki clutched Taka to his chest, rocking him back and forth as he stroked his dark fur.

Makedde paced quietly over and emptied the basket onto the floor. Bending down, he picked up Rafiki’s medicine pouch and hung it up on the bole of the tree again. Satisfied, he picked up the basket and tossed it into a corner. “You shouldn’t need this anymore.”

CHAPTER 34: MODUS OPERANDI

Of all the animals in the Pride Lands, only the lions surpassed the hyenas in their perception of time. The clan watched eagerly as Sister Moon grew pregnant again. This was her sixth litter since the birth of Mufasa and Taka, and they looked forward eagerly to the migrating herds that would soon begin passing through the Pride Lands. One day the scouts returned with a report of Hartebeest grazing only a few minutes away! The hunters chuckled as they sortied forth to the hunt; Great Roh’kash smiled upon them today indeed. Only a few hours later, at highsun, the lookouts spotted the hunting party returning as fast as their legs could carry them. Bolting into the graveyard proper, they were quick to mingle with the large group and lose themselves.

Several guards crowded around curiously. “What happened?”

“Hsssh! Nothing!”

“What is that smell?” One of the lookouts sniffed warily, then recoiled. “My gods, have you been eating lion?”

“None of your business!”

One of the hyenas, Jalkort, had been a little slower than the rest. He skidded down the hill at the entrance to the graveyard and stumbled over a pile of bones. Right behind him came Shaka, the Prince Consort.

“Cripes, you HAVE been eating lion! We’re all going to die!”

In moments, Shaka was on top of him. Jalkort’s ribs creaked as the huge lion rested his weight on the small body. “You killed my wife! You ripped out my heart, and I will rip out yours! I give you a moment to pray to your god.”

Hyenas quickly crowded around, some indignant, all curious. One of them was Amarakh, the ruling Roh’mach.

“You are trespassing on our lands!” she said. “You are holding one of my people!”

“He’s a murderer!” Shaka glared at her, his eyes burning with terrible fury. “He killed my wife in cold blood, and he was on my land! She had two cubs, Amarakh. Two cubs that won’t have a mother coming home tonight! She was alive when they ripped her! Alive!”

She looked at the trembling hyena trapped under the large forepaws. It was a face she knew all too well. “I will investigate it. I know him. He’s a trouble maker anyhow, and you can be sure I will punish him if he’s guilty.”

“IF??” Shaka glared down at his prisoner. “I saw him over her body. Zazu saw the kill.” He drew very close to the anguished face. “You tell her!” he bellowed at Jalkort, the force of his voice flattening the hyena’s ears back against his head. “TELL HER, VERMIN!”

The trapped hyena squealed, “Somebody help me!” He looked into the crowd. His eyes met Fabana’s and fixed pleadingly on her. Her mouth silently formed the words, “Husband! Why??”

Amarakh stared right into Shaka’s eyes, trying to appear as fearless as she could. “You can’t extract a confession to a murder by death threats.” She looked around at the hyena faces and saw agreement in their eyes. It emboldened her. “This is my land, and I give you my word we will investigate within the customs of our law. But you must let him go. Leave—now!”

Shaka spat. “I do not believe you.”

“You are not in a position to negotiate,” Amarakh said. “Leave at once. I will see your brother the King tonight. We will talk.”

Tears began to roll down Shaka’s cheeks. “You are right,” he said. He stared at her, his eyes as empty as the summer sky. “You are absolutely right. I am NOT in a position to negotiate!” Looking heavenward, the lion took a deep breath. “Aiheu abamami!!” He swung down and taking the hyena’s throat in his jaws bit down and twisted, nearly severing the head. Blood shot out and spattered some of the onlookers and the body twitched in spasms before collapsing in a final sightless stare.

Fabana shrieked and ran around in little circles. “Oh gods! Oh gods!”

Hyenas looked at other hyenas. The rage swept from body to body like a grass fire. And as if by an unseen signal they all descended on Shaka and tore him apart.

When she could restore order, there was very little left of Shaka. Amarakh looked at the remains and a fear sank into her like a dagger of ice. “Roh’kash will soon test our mettle,” she said. “The Lion King Ahadi will no doubt wish to avenge his brother’s death. Well, we shall meet fang with fang, and claw with claw.” She raised her head high. “Oh, Chosen Ones! Guard your children now!” Turning to her mate, she nuzzled his shoulder. “Set out double watch, my love. I’m expecting company.”

Tension built as the time passed. Then finally about three hours had elapsed when one of the guards called out, “Lions approaching at post number eight!”

Ahadi appeared at the rim of the depression. Beside him were Sarafina, Uzuri, Isha and Zazu.

The four lions reached the boundary of the elephant graveyard. Waiting for them was a large war party with Amarakh. “Steady lads. Be ready to die for Roh’kash and Roh’mach!”

The lions came in a tightly knit group, with fangs bared. Ahadi came right up to Amarakh. “Where is Shaka??”

“What is left of him is removed to the place of the dead.” Amarakh struggled to show defiance. “He took the law into his own teeth and killed one of ours on our own land without a trial. We offered to hold an inquest, a fair trial by the law of our people. But he turned us down and killed a male whose wife is pregnant.”

Ahadi’s eyes hardened into stone. “So you murdered him!”

“We EXECUTED him. We couldn’t wait for him to kill others. He was too dangerous to place under arrest.”

“There is no doubt he was dangerous after his wife was ripped alive by YOUR PEOPLE!” Ahadi unleashed a terrible roar. Uzuri and Isha joined him, igniting terror in the hyena guard. “We have seen the evidence.”

“We had not, Sire. We could not be sure, and we could not wait to be sure.” She had Fabana brought forward. “Here is the dead male’s wife. If you would have revenge, let all the people see that you fight honorably with her one on one. Let them see that you have given her the FAIR chance to defend the honor of her family.”

The quaking female stammered, “Mercy! Have mercy! I am with child!”

Ahadi looked at her with some pity. “Now you know what it feels like to lose someone you love. The Roh’mach is courting death to toy with my sympathies like this, but she has won this round. You will not be harmed.”

But Ahadi looked sternly at Amarakh. “Because your people have killed my brother, and because his wife was basely murdered, you are banned. No more shall you scavenge on the Pride Lands. Not until the last of the group that killed Avina is dead.”

“But my Lord, we will all starve!”

“Perhaps a few hungry nights will motivate you to enforce your own laws, Amarakh. Besides, this is not such a bad spot to scavenge. You never know when an elephant might want to die.”

She held up her head and stared back. “You mock me because you are powerful, and I am but a hyena. But the gods know I must be fair to my people. Grief has blinded you, impaired your judgment and robbed you of your wisdom.”

Ahadi and the lionesses left. Someone had to break the news to Sarabi and Elanna. Ahadi knew that Sarabi and Elanna belonged with him, and he knew he was the one that must speak the awful words. “Aiheu abamami,” he stammered. “Please God, give me strength.”

Amarakh stood silently, watching them go. All the efforts of generations of hyenas before her had left with them, she realized. Gnashing her teeth in frustration, she paced away towards her waiting mate.

“This calls for immediate action. This ban of Ahadi’s means death for us all if we don’t find a way to placate him—fast.”

“But how? You heard him. All the guilty ones must die before he’ll release the ban.”

“That’s just it. Ahadi has no target for his anger. If we were to give him one…” she looked silently at him.

“It’s a little late for that, don’t you think?” he snorted contemptuously. “What are you going to do, smell their breath for lion leavings? He was a big buffoon-there was enough to go around for all.”

“You overstep yourself,” Amarakh said dangerously.

“Well, what do YOU suggest? Perhaps we should just ask them, eh?”

Amarakh sat quietly, a smile tickling the corners of her mouth. “No, WE will not ask them. But Shimbekh will.”

“The seer?”

“Is there another Shimbekh?” She cuffed him lightly. “Of course, the seer. She is the most gifted in many generations. She will sort out the truth if anyone can.” Amarakh gazed off into the distance, where Pride Rock could be seen shimmering in the heat.

“And when we have found the guilty one, we will have justice. The leader will be brought alive to the Lion King for judgment.” She rose and stalked off.

In the great open courtyard at the entrance to the graveyard, the entire clan stood assembled, waiting nervously. All were lined up. One by one, they were asked one question: “Did you lead the attack?” As each was cleared, their cheeks were marked with a bloody pawprint from the leavings of Shaka.

At the far end of the line, one hyena looked on as the number of suspects began to narrow down. He could not pass the test, and he did not want to die helplessly as Jalkort did. Gur’mekh sneaked away temporarily, and with all the courage he could muster bit himself—hard—on the inside of the thigh. He gritted his teeth and tried to blink back tears. Taking his paw to the blood, he marked his cheek and then with agonizing effort put dust on the wound to stop the flow of blood a little. It would not do to be hemorrhaging if the deception was to work.

Trying to hide his limp, Gur’mekh tried to blend in to the other hyenas. He realized to his horror that he had marked the wrong cheek, but it was too late. He must try and go unnoticed.

“Hey Gur’mekh, you’re leg is bleeding! How did you do that??”

“Hsssh, Korg! Not so loud!”

Korg shook his head sympathetically. “You should have that looked at.”

“I will later.”

“But it’s serious.” He bent his head to examine the wound closer.

“I’m serious. Drop this conversation!”

Korg sniffed of his cheek, a gesture that prompted Gur’mekh to slap him with a paw. “STOP!”

Heads turned. Now Gur’mekh was the subject of scrutiny by dozens of hyenas. He began to tremble.

“It’s yours! It’s your blood!” Korg shouted, “Roh’mach, it was him!”

Gur’mekh panicked. He tried to run, but his leg was cramping. He was quickly overtaken and stopped by bared teeth on all sides. Pushing through the crowd was Shimbekh. He tried not to look in her eyes.

Shimbekh finally secured a straight-on stare into his eyes. “Did you lead the attack?”

Gur’mekh squirmed. “She was dying anyhow! In the name of the gods, there is no way she could have lived!” He fought frantically with teeth and paws, but was grabbed roughly by the throat and choked into submission.

Amarakh glared down at him. “You’ve been a thorn in my side long enough. This time you went too far, and you will pay for it.”

CHAPTER 35: JUSTICE

Ringed about with a huge escort, Gur’mekh was carried to Pride Rock. Amarakh had sent messengers ahead to the Rock, and it was not long before the hyenas spotted tawny forms moving through the grass just ahead. Six lionesses took up station in an encircling ring around the hyannic delegation, falling in formation without a word. The hyenas began to mutter amongst themselves and wonder if Gur’mekh was truly the only one to be punished today.

They were met at the base of Pride Rock by two more lionesses, who flanked the prisoner on either side as they ascended the slope. Gur’mekh tried to hold himself steady as they reached the top of the path, but when he turned to see Ahadi sitting silently in the mouth of the cave waiting for him, he began to whimper. Next to Ahadi stood Rafiki, who observed the proceedings with no small interest.

“What is going on?” He looked at Ahadi curiously, but the Lion King sat immobile, as if carved of stone. The mandrill felt a touch behind him and turned to see Yolanda, her normally soft features now hard edged with anger. She bent and whispered softly in his ear. The mandrill began to tremble as he heard the details of first Avina’s, and then Shaka’s death. Looking at the shaking hyena before him, he realized what was happening and moaned softly.

“This is Gur’mekh. He called for Avina’s life,” Amarakh said. “His paws are stained red with her blood. We bring him to your justice.”

The hyena was terrified, looking into the face of Ahadi. He’d seen what happened to his companion, and without control he urinated on the cave floor. “Roh’kash, help me! Help me!”

Rafiki watched in horror.

Ahadi came over to him, just a whisker’s length away. Quietly, without malice, he purred, “I do not want to kill your immortal Ka. Aiheu will decide. I give you a chance to admit your guilt.”

“Have mercy! Oh gods!” Gur’mekh fell on his back, soiling his fur in the urine as he began to paw at Ahadi. “I don’t want to die!”

“That is not an option at this point.” Ahadi nodded gravely. “You will have an opportunity to be right with your God. Now tell me Gur’mekh, they didn’t torture it out of you, did they? Are you guilty as they say?”

Gur’mekh licked his dry lips and swallowed hard. “Forgive the others,” he stammered. “I talked them into it. All my fault. The Roh’mach didn’t know. All my fault. And I’m sorry. So sorry!”

“It’s good that you’re sorry. Your friends are glad as well, for I will not punish them. Now don’t you feel better telling the truth?”

“I thi-think so. Yes.”

“Now then, I want you to think really carefully. I can make it swift and nearly painless. But the gods may not think you have suffered enough. Or I can punish you now, and you will die forgiven.”

Hyena teachings on eternal damnation were very strong but very vague. He had killed a lioness, true. But she was dying anyhow, and even a shaman could have done little for her—or so he thought. He tried to figure out if his soul was really in danger. On the other side, Ahadi’s claws and fangs were all too clear. “I don’t know,” the hyena gasped. “I don’t know!”

“But you must know, Gur’mekh. When you do something, be it good or bad, there are consequences. I would not want to face God after an easy death. I would take my punishment now, but it is your decision.”

The hyena began to gasp for air, his heart pounding. “Well then, I want to be sure. Hurt me bad. Hurt me very bad.”

Ahadi looked around. “Take the cubs outside. Far away. Wife, you may want to leave as well.” Ahadi glanced at Rafiki, but he could neither move nor answer.

Several moments passed by as the young and squeamish filed outside. Soon there were only a few adult lions, two mandrills, and all of the hyenas, none of whom budged.

“You ripped her alive,” Ahadi said gravely. “If you would find peace, I will have to return in kind.” He looked upward. “Oh gods, look down on your child. Witness his suffering and accept his atonement.”

“If you do this, do you promise you’ll forgive me? Promise?”

“I promise, son. While you can, go as far as you can. Your friends will have to drag you the rest of the way.”

He winced at the sound of that but stammered, “I understand.” Gur’mekh shut his eyes tightly and whimpered. “Mother Roh’kash!!!”

Ahadi spread his claws and with a quick, precise swipe laid the hyena open. His protracted shriek was deafening in the confines of the cave. Hyenas winced. Gasping, he lay shuddering for a while, his inner secrets showing through the five parallel wounds. After the initial shock, he looked down at the damage and looked around at the others and their expressions of horror. He tried to struggle to his feet, but the pain from every movement was mind numbing. “Somebody help me!” he hoarsely cried. “I can’t get up!”

The hyenas could not stir. They were planted like trees. Ahadi looked down with the gentleness of a lioness moving her cubs and took the back of the hyena’s neck, lifting him upright. “Can you walk?”

“I’ll try,” he gasped. With all the courage he could muster, he took a few hesitant steps, his abdomen exposing bits of bleeding entrails. As he stumbled forward, blood streamed down his hind legs and left crimson tracks. “Roh’kash, great mother,” he gasped. “My spirit longs to nurse at your side. Forgive me. Brother Sun, Sister Moon, do not shine on my transgressions. Shine only on my good deeds. Let my debt be paid. Oh gods, I’m hurt!” The crowd parted in horror as the ripped hyena began his torturous journey into the arms of death.

“Did that make you feel any better?” Amarakh asked indiscreetly. “Maybe you want to save us the trouble of dragging him off. I’ve never tried Hyena myself, but you might have a taste for it.”

“Watch your tongue!” Ahadi said.

“Don’t fight,” Gur’mekh said. “I’m getting what I deserve. Let it end here.”

Without another word, the Roh’mach turned and led her hyenas from the cave to form a grisly honor guard, guiding his faltering steps, giving him support, and even pushing him forward as he crawled up the promontory. Rafiki felt tears stream down his face. He had to avert his eyes.

Gur’mekh had finally crawled to the end of the promontory. Glancing over the edge, he was still terrified of the fall. Afraid someone would push him off, he said, “Don’t touch me! I can’t stand heights!” Then he looked up. “Help me, Mother Roh’kash! Kill me please!” He began to wretch up some bloody scraps, wincing with the effort but helpless to stop. His piteous moans were broken by fits of gagging.

Ahadi came out to the end of the promontory. The other hyenas stood back. The hyena’s eyes rolled up to look into the bright sun. From it emerged Ahadi’s large, sad face.

“Do you release me, friend? Have I paid the price?”

Ahadi reached down and whispered, “You have paid in full. I forgive you. Relax, son—I’ll be gentle and quick.”

The lion took the hyena’s throat in his mouth and pressed down. As the teeth pricked his neck, a paw came up to grasp at Ahadi’s mane, but he fell limp and waited for death to release him from his broken body.

In a few moments his eyes closed and a look of peaceful oblivion came to his face. Ahadi dropped Gur’mekh off the end of the promontory where he fell several seconds into the waiting meadow grass.

Ahadi glared at Amarakh however, and told her curtly, “You are not forgiven. You killed my brother out of revenge, not out of the justice you claim. He had no desire to kill again, but you let the crowd run free rather than stop them. Then you brought death here and paraded it before our cubs. You insulted me in my own house, and you expect mercy? Be glad we have justice, or I would send you hurdling down after him. By the gods, I am tempted! Now get out, all of you!”

“We will take the body and leave, Sire.”

“No, Amarakh. Leave the body. I want you out quickly—now GO!” He roared loudly and terribly, and the hyenas beat a hasty retreat. Rafiki stared at the Roh’mach, looking for a sign of grief. But if there was grief, it was well hidden behind fear and indignation.

Ahadi’s head bent low. The light wind stirred his mane, but otherwise he sat still as a stone at the end of the promontory. Several moments passed without a sign, without a response. Then when Rafiki felt he must say something or burst, he approached the lion. Ahadi looked up.

The young mandrill looked into Ahadi’s face, deep into his eyes. The depth of sadness clung to him like wet grass.

“Go ahead, my son. Call me a tyrant. I won’t be angry.”

Rafiki continued to look searchingly into Ahadi’s large eyes. “You’re grieving for him, aren’t you?”

“Killing him did not bring back Avina or my brother. I did what I had to do, but I am left with a great emptiness inside.”

“I know that path. It does not have to be walked alone.” Rafiki put his arms around Ahadi’s soft mane and held him.

CHAPTER 36: ONE OF THOSE DAYS

Rafiki gazed up at the expanse of blue above him, wondering what he had done to anger the gods. Nothing had gone right that day. Climbing down the bole of the tree that morning, he got a sharp splinter in his palm. He managed to extract half when it broke off under the skin. The spot burned, despite the medicinal balm he had rubbed into it, and it would likely become infected. Grumbling, Rafiki had made his way to the water hole with a handful of gourds, intending to fill them for later use. He had filled perhaps half of them and had paused to soothe his aching palm in the cool water, when movement caught his eye. The gourd he had just filled tipped over, dragging the others with it. He flailed at them, but too late. The gourds had been tied together, and the weight of the full ones dragged the rest down into the depths. Despairing of diving in after them, he looked for replacements, but there were none. There would be frequent trips for water ahead.

As the evening stalked in, he gave up and headed home. As he climbed up the trunk, he glared at the rough spot where he had acquired the splinter and avoided it. Reaching the lower branches, he sighed gratefully and made his way over to his favorite spot. As he sat, he felt a terrible stinging. Yelping in pain, he leapt up and flailed wildly at his backside. An echoing sting bolted up his arm, and his palm opened. A yellow and black hornet buzzed about his head angrily before streaking away to find a safer perch.

Rafiki’s eyes watered as he eyed his puffing palm, then examined his wounded backside. Great. Now BOTH hands hurt, as well as his seat. There was no way to sit or lay that was not painful except on his stomach. And he was almost afraid to try it. Finally, cursing inaudibly, he flopped onto his belly, crossed his arms, and laid his head upon them.

Asumini descended from the upper branches warily. “What’s going on? I thought I had a water buffalo trapped in here with me.”

He snorted glumly. “No, but from the feel of it, my rear will be as big as one before long.”

She laughed prettily and embraced him, kissing his cheek. “I’ll get some marhamu for the stings. Oh, smile, Metutu! How can you be so down on such a fine evening?”

“What’s so fine about it??”

“Because I am carrying your child.”

Rafiki was silent for a moment. He swallowed, feeling a lump in his throat as he looked into the shining eyes of his young wife. His pain was forgotten in the magic of the moment. “Oh, Asumini! Are you sure?”

“Does it please you?”

“Oh gods!” He embraced her and rocked her gently from side to side. “Bless you! Maybe a little Asumini, or a little Rafiki…”

“What do you want most, my husband? A son or a daughter?”

“Yes!” He kissed her. “Son or daughter regardless, it shall be beloved, just like the mother!”

CHAPTER 37: PENDA

As the moons passed, Rafiki and Asumini’s love took on tangible form. Ahadi was pleased, and there was much rejoicing among the lionesses. Uzuri took a strong interest in how the mother and child were progressing. Asumini found the attention flattering, and only half jokingly said she was probably going to be the first mandrill to have a lioness for a midwife. On hearing this, Uzuri merely shrugged.

“I would not mind. In fact I insist. I want it done right, after all,” she said, grooming her forepaw and examining it intently.

“Oh, of course,” Rafiki said.

Indeed, when the time came round for the child to be born, Uzuri stood by Asumini as she endured the pains of labor, whispering terms of endearment and nuzzling her softly. Makedde stood by, ready to assist if need be.

Rafiki sat near him, drumming his fingers impatiently on an empty gourd and wondering just what was taking so long. A yell of pain brought him out of his trance, and forgetting where he was, he leapt up to go to his wife’s assistance. A solid THWAP resounded as he struck his head on an overhanging branch, and he fell back, wincing. “Gods! That hurt!”

Makedde grinned at him. “Are you having pains too? You’ll have to wait your turn.”

Rafiki glared at him, holding his head, but his reply was cut short by the appearance of Uzuri, her fur slightly tinged with crimson. Makedde and Rafiki both looked at her.

Uzuri came and nuzzled Rafiki. “Congratulations father. Aiehu has blessed you with a daughter.”

Rafiki froze, unable to speak.

Uzuri whispered in his ear. “That means you can go in and see her now.”

“Oh!” He hurried forward and went to his wife’s side. She lay quietly, a sheen of perspiration on her forehead, but her face was aglow with pride as she motioned to the wet bundle of fur she held close to her chest. “Look at her,” Asumini whispered, smiling. “Isn’t she beautiful?”

Rafiki nodded, stroking her cheek gently. “Just like her mother.” Leaning forward, he kissed her forehead gently and held her hand. “What shall we name her?”

“Penda. For you said whether the child is a boy or girl, it would be beloved. So ‘beloved’ she is.”

CHAPTER 38: THE FEVER

A new mother, Asumini devoted her time to tending to the child. Her care was absolute, and it left no time for gathering herbs, or seeking out rare plants. Consequently, Rafiki found himself pushed to the limit of his endurance to get her enough food and still provide for his practice. As a result he got very little sleep, but when anyone came to call, he never complained.

On the contrary, he took great pride in his family, and was at great pains to show everyone his beautiful daughter. On the rare occasions when he got a chance to relax, the family would pay a visit to Pride Rock to call on their friends. Inevitably, this resulted in nothing but fun for Penda, as she was doted on by everyone. Her favorite game was to try to catch the furry tuft at the end of Akase’s tail, which the stately lioness kept ever in motion, and just out of reach. In the meanwhile the adults indulged in good-natured verbal sparring, with the cue to begin a lament from Akase or Yolanda about the latest escapade in their children’s misadventures. Rafiki would clear his throat solemnly.

“That IS a shame. Of course, I don’t have any problem with Penda getting into such trouble.”

“Really?” Yolanda stared at him, wide eyed, for all the world as if she had never heard him say this before. “What DO you do?”

“Why, nothing,” Asumini said, surprised, picking up her cue. “Penda is just that way. She never gets into any trouble.”

Their pride was promptly torn to shreds as Penda, unable to catch Akase’s tail, promptly seized the tail of a sleeping Taka and gave it a gleeful squeeze.

“Yeow!” His brilliant green eyes flew open and he leapt into the air, twisting lithely to come down facing her. Delighted, she gave a gurgling laugh and wrapped her tiny arms around his furry neck. “Taga!” The poor cub gasped uncomfortably for air and writhed with embarrassment under the amused stares of the adults. Finally detaching himself, he shook himself off and trotted off with an air of injured dignity.

Several weeks later, Rafiki returned home thoroughly worn out from his harvesting efforts; he had been required to make a trek of several miles to gather Alba for his depleted stock. The rare flower was precious, and was increasingly hard to come by. Lately he had discovered a fresh patch in a relatively nearby forest, but it required a whole day’s trip to get there and return. Still it was preferable to trying to trade with his brethren for the precious flower; the asking price for the herbs climbed higher with each purchase.

Entering his cool, shady home, he was greeted by a rather drawn looking Asumini. “Hello, husband.”

“What’s wrong?” He embraced her, then held her at arm’s length. “Gods! You’re burning up!”

She smiled thinly. “Well, I do feel tired…”

“I cannot imagine why.” He led her to their soft bed of leaves and lay her down gently. Quickly mixing a broth with some water and a few select herbs, he held the bowl while she drained it slowly. “Relax, beloved.”

“But your work…”

“My work can wait. You are what matters to me, not staring at this old face in a bowl of water.”

She reached up and stroked his cheek with a finger. “Only old on the surface, love.” Closing her eyes, she drifted off into an uneven sleep.

Rafiki worked frantically over the next several hours to try to break the fever which was burning her up from within. He wished desperately that Makedde would return, but the old mandrill was attending a special meeting of the Council and probably would not be back for some time. Rafiki had only himself, and the comforting presence of his daughter. He hugged Penda to his chest as he sat beside Asumini’s bedside, watching helplessly as she thrashed and moaned in the grip of the sickness.

In the early hours of the morning, her temperature soared to new heights, and Rafiki began to feel the teeth of panic nibbling at his mind. How much more can she stand? he thought. Her skin was burning hot to the touch, and she shifted and shook in the grip of chills. Time and again he knelt and forced a few swallows of water down her throat to ward off dehydration.

The sun had risen, and the day was clear and beautiful, but he paid it no heed as he kept up his vigil. Penda had long since tired and was sleeping comfortably on her father’s lap. Rafiki peered at her blearily through reddened eyes, and smiled at the contented look on her face. Sitting up carefully, he laid her gently by her mother’s side and made his way across the tree to where he stored his medicines. Pulling out a half full gourd of water and some powdered extracts, he set them carefully on a limb beside him. Turning to it, he stood for a moment, staring at the medicine vapidly, then suddenly sat, the impact jarring his spine and making his teeth click together painfully. He leaned against the bole of the baobab, his eyes closing of their own volition. Just a moment, and then he would get up and mix the extracts and give them to Asumini. Just a moment…

He opened his eyes slowly and peered about, confused. Sitting up, he groaned as the muscles of his back voiced their protest in a symphony of pain. Rubbing his eyes, he stared, blinking, at the bowl on the limb before him.

It sat there, quietly, minding its own business. The sun shone in, its reddish glow silhouetting the bowl’s shadow against the tree trunk…

His eyes snapped open and he stared in horror. The sun was blood red, sitting low in the western sky, oh gods, he had fallen asleep for HOURS!

“Asumini?” Rafiki hurried down and across the tree, swinging under a low branch to find his mate’s bed lying empty. Penda’s absence was also felt; the child was nowhere in sight. Rafiki made a quick scan of the tree, followed by one of the ground below. Nothing.

He spun, intending to descend the trunk to the ground below, but froze. His eyes bulged and his mouth opened and closed silently as he stared at the paintings across from him on his shrine. Asumini and Penda were both depicted there, lovingly drawn by his own hand. What he had not drawn was the Eye of Aiheu which now lay emblazoned on the wood over their heads.

“Oh God, no! NO!” He ran over and scrubbed furiously at the wood, but the marks neither smeared nor stained his hand. They lay ingrained deep in the wood, mutely expressing something which his mind cried out against over and over.

Turning, he scrambled down the trunk of the baobab and cast about frantically in the tall grass for some sign of their passage. Finding a depression in the grass, he saw a rough trail of broken stalks heading away from the baobab. He sprinted off down the track, unmindful of the pain in his knees, kicking up dirt as he ran. “ASUMINI! PENDA! Please Gods, let them hear me.”

He skidded to a stop, nearly falling as he saw the grass thrashing ahead. A tawny head emerged and turned to look at him. “Rafiki?”

“Ahadi! Thank the gods!” The mandrill ran to him, panting. “My wife is ill with fever; I fear she has wandered off and taken Penda with her.”

Ahadi’s started. “How long has she been gone?”

“I don’t know. I fell asleep like an old fool, and when I woke up, she had vanished. It could be several hours; I don’t know.”

Ahadi eyed his friend; the exhaustion on Rafiki’s face was plain to see. “You just drove yourself past your limit. I’ll help you find her.”

Rafiki slumped, quivering. “Thank you, Sire. Do you think you can track her scent?”

“There’s no need for that. I can see her trail clear enough.” Ahadi’s eyes narrowed as he eyed the grass. “The trail is fairly fresh; I would say not more than an hour old.” Turning, he made off at a rapid pace, just slow enough that Rafiki could keep up. The grass began to thin out, replaced by thicker greenery. Small bushes and shrubs dominated the ground ahead, and Rafiki heard faintly the gurgling sound of running water. Ahead, Ahadi slowed and began to push his way through the dense underbrush. Thorns and branches tore at his beautiful mane, snatching away tufts of hair in painful tugs, but these he ignored, bulling his way through. As they reached the water’s edge, he suddenly halted. Rafiki nearly collided with his haunches, which filled the gap in the brush and blocked his view of the water. He heard a gasp from the lion and hopped about, trying to peer over his bulk. “What is it?”

“Great Aiheu,” he heard Ahadi stammer. “Oh gods! Oh gods!”

“What?!” Rafiki shouted. He began to force his way in between Ahadi’s massive shoulder and the thorns, but the Lion King shifted and blocked him off. Ahadi turned himself around carefully and sat in the gap.

He took a shaky breath and looked at Rafiki unsteadily. “Do not go in there, my friend. There’s nothing you can do.” The lion looked away and blinked rapidly. “Her fever must have driven her down here to bathe in the cool river water.”

“Is she dead? Where’s Penda?”

“It looks like a crocodile attack,” Ahadi finally said. “Asumini was wounded but got away from it. I’d say she died later from loss of blood.” He rubbed at his eyes with a paw. “Of Penda, there is no sign. The crocodile must have found her easier prey.” He looked away.

Rafiki stared at him, feeling the blood drain from his face. The fear and pain fell away, replaced by a numbness. He stood mutely for a moment, then nodded and turned away.

SCENE 39: TRUE FRIENDS

When the moon rose later that evening, orange and full in the night sky, it found Rafiki sitting silently in the naos of the baobab, his medicine pouch clutched in his lap, staring silently at the paintings on the tree’s side. The branches moved slightly in the night breeze, making strange shadow shapes on the wall, and giving the paintings an eerie lifelike quality.

He remembered his speech to Dedou in the council the day he became a shaman. “I tell you brothers that I am an expert on suffering, for I have suffered greatly. It was suffering that put me on this path. But I also understand love, for I have received much of it.”

He sighed. “An expert on suffering,” he said reproachfully. “You were right, Dedou. I was a young optimist speaking from my inexperience. A fool who knew so much of herbs but so little of pain!”

Reaching into the pouch, he pulled out a small bowl filled with a whitish paste. “Deadly Euphractus,” he thought. “So the promising young shaman finally makes his last prescription. Something to relieve suffering in the heart.” He dipped his finger into the bowl and scooped up a small clump. In tiny doses, it would relieve cramps, but he had enough on his fingertip to kill every mandrill in his village. “So it has come to this,” he murmured, staring with unfocused eyes at the paintings. “Busara, forgive me. All your teachings are like kudra seeds scattered in the wind. I have not passed on the light.” He rested his gaze on Asumini’s portrait one last time, then sighed. “Live forever. Live forever in love.” Opening wide, he closed his eyes and with a trembling hand lifted the paste towards his mouth.

“Rafiki?”

Sighing again, he lowered his hand and spoke without turning. “Please leave. I can not help you right now.”

“Why not?”

“It is none of your…” he whirled, intending to drive away the owner of the voice, but stopped when he saw Uzuri sitting quietly behind him. “Oh, hello.”

“What’s wrong?”

“My wife and daughter died today,” he said simply. “I am in mourning.”

Her eyes gleamed in the moonlight as she gasped in surprise. “Oh, gods! Both of them?? Rafiki, I’m so sorry!” She moved closer until her foreleg was touching his shoulder.

“It’s quite all right, my dear. Thank you.” He patted her forepaw. “Things like this happen. It’s life, I guess. Good or bad, we can all die at any time.”

She looked at him for a long moment. “You seem to be taking it rather well.”

“Yes, well, as a shaman, I’ve learned to accept death in one form or another. It happens. We should not fight it; we should prepare for it.”

Her eyes focused on him sharply, and she frowned. “I would think instead that we should try to enjoy life all the more for it.”

His lip trembled and he turned away to face the wall again. “Perhaps you should go.”

As he shifted, she spied the paste on his finger. “What’s that?”

“Oh, just something to help me feel better.”

Uzuri sniffed at it. An acrid odor burned her nostrils, and she flinched. She drew back, the muscles at the corner of her jaw tightening as she looked at him. “Why don’t I try some? It will make me feel better too.” Quickly, she bent and touched the paste with the tip of her nose.

The response was immediate. Rafiki sprang up as if shot. “Don’t lick that off!” Desperately, he seized a gourd of water and splashed the end of her nose, rinsing away the paste that had stuck there. Picking up a soft leather cloth, he dried it carefully. He bent and sniffed it closely, his own nostrils twitching intently, then shook his head and repeated the process.

While he was drying her nose a second time, Uzuri flicked a paw out and slapped the bowl away. It clattered over the edge of the baobab and dropped silently through the air to shatter on the roots below, spraying the ground with white death.

Rafiki observed this silently as tears began forming in the corners of his eyes. “It will take me three days to collect that much,” he said. “Please be a good girl and leave me alone.”

She looked him directly in the eyes. “Make up your mind. Should I be a good girl, or should I leave you alone?” Flopping to the floor on her side, she motioned to him with a paw to join her. “We lions have a custom that might make you feel a lot better.”

He looked at her but said nothing.

Inwardly stung by his refusal, she pressed on. “When someone we love dies, we roar. It’s our way of getting the grief out. Don’t you shriek or make some sort of noise when you grieve?”

“We cry.”

She shook her head. “We do too. But I mean something big. Something that tells the whole world how you feel.”

“No, we don’t do that.”

“Try it.”

“I’d feel like a fool.”

“You’d feel better. Shout it out. If you can’t roar, just yell, ‘She’s gone!’”

“She’s gone!” He sighed. “There, did that make you happy?”

“No! Not gone hunting herbs. Gone! Make my ears tingle!”

“She’s gone!!”

“Didn’t you love her more than that?? My gods, she was your wife! It was your daughter! It’s not fair! What kind of husband and father were you??”

“Stop this! You’re making me angry!”

“Good! It’s not fair, and you SHOULD be angry!”

Rafiki’s hands began to tremble. His eyes narrowed to slits. The tides of his breath rushed in and out. “I’m mad as hell! I try to live the good life, and what do I get?? First my mother, and now this!! All my training is not worth a pile of Kavana husks!!” He picked up the paint pot and viciously swung it at the paintings, spattering them with red hemorrhages. “Stupid, useless paintings! Stupid house in the middle of stupid nowhere! No one to stop her from taking the child! Stupid brother in a stupid meeting of the stupid council! Oh gods, why did I bring them out here!!” He took his staff and began to beat on the paintings as he shrilly shouted, “And where were the gods in all this?? I gave my life to them, and look at how they repay me—nothing but heartache, neglect and bitterness!!”

Rafiki faced the wall and sobbed for a few silent moments. Finally the staff dropped from his hand and he meekly said, “I didn’t mean it, Aiheu. I’m sorry. I’m sorry! Please don’t hold it against me. Please don’t abandon me!”

With mixed penitence and desperation, he wiped a few red spots off the eye of Aiheu and used some of the spilled paint to fix the smears. It looked like an eye again. In one corner of it he drew a tear.

“He understands, Rafiki. It’s OK that you’re mad at him right now.”

At last he turned to face Uzuri, his face drawn and tear-stained. “Is that how it feels when you roar?”

“Perhaps.” A tear began to run down her cheek. “Do you feel better?”

“I feel so… I feel…” His lip began to quiver, and he broke out in deep sobs. “I’m so alone! All alone! My youth is gone, and everyone I love I hurt!” Uzuri nuzzled him, and he grabbed tightly around her neck and sobbed on her soft fur. If he hugged her too tightly, she didn’t complain. She stroked him with her pink tongue, wiping away the salty tears.

“Maybe I feel better now,” Rafiki said. “Maybe I’ll make it.”

Uzuri stayed with him. Every moment she was off the hunt, she spent trying to bring Rafiki out of his shell of severe depression. She would tell him stories and groom him like a cub. She even searched out special things for him to eat, though she recognized very little of what was in his diet. A few eggs, a few fallen fruits that she learned to recognize. By and large, he had little appetite, but she would cajole him to eat. He would stare vacantly, but rub her soft fur with his arm as she talked. When she could not be there, she had Makedde sit with him with strict instructions that he not be allowed to mix any of his own medicines.

Finally after a week, he turned to look at her, meeting her gaze completely. “I have made a decision.”

“Yes?”

“I have decided to live.”

She nodded, purring. “A wise decision.”

He stopped her as she rose to go. “Thank you, Uzuri. The gods will bless you for what you have done for me. You will have your reward in Heaven.”

“That’s nice to know. However, I intend to wait a while to collect. See you do the same.” She nuzzled him quickly, the turned and headed into the dry grass, the brown stalks parting before and then closing behind, whispering together in the warm breeze. Rafiki stared after her for a moment, his white hair floating about his face, then turned and went inside.

CHAPTER 40: LOVE’S LABOR LOST

Zazu glided upon the thermals that wafted gently upward from the ground below. His eyes roved restlessly, scanning the grassland far beneath him, cataloging everything he saw for later reference, should it prove useful to the king. Dipping the leading edge of his wings, he descended slowly, arcing around the great spire of Pride Rock to come to a graceful halt at the base of the promontory. As he headed inside to report to Ahadi, he noticed Mufasa and Rafiki at the point of the promontory, having an extremely animated discussion. He chuckled to himself at the pinched look of concentration on Mufasa’s face.

“Oh my, looks like it’s time for mantlement rehearsal again.” Ruffling his feathers in amusement, he waddled inside, leaving the mandrill and lion to themselves.

Rafiki motioned with his arms energetically. “Ah! No slouching. Straighten up, there… yes. Head up!” he exclaimed, jerking his chin up at the lion.

Mufasa raised his chin up until he was nearly looking skywards. “Like this?”

“No…” Rafiki reached out and took hold of Mufasa’s head, feeling the huge jaw muscles playing under his fingertips as he turned his head slightly. “Hold your head just so, son.”

Mufasa stood, unprotesting as the mandrill turned his head this way and that. In his mind’s eye, he saw the assembled host stretched out on the plain before him, all come to see his great day. His chest swelled with pride, and he unconsciously raised his chin higher.

Rafiki responded with a tap on the nose. “No, no, now you look arrogant. Lower your nose…” His forearms flexed as he pulled Mufasa’s head down with his fingertips. The fringes of his new mane tickled the palms of Rafiki’s hands, complicating the mandrill’s task still further. “Lower… ah-HA! That’s it!”

Afraid to move, Mufasa’s eye rolled in its socket to look at Rafiki. “My neck hurts.”

“Ahh, you’ll only need to sit that way for short while; just until your father finishes his speech.”

The majestic pose vanished as Mufasa crumpled, looking aghast. “WHAT? Aww, c’mon, Rafiki, you know how Dad gets when making a speech…” He groaned and buried his head under his forepaws.

“Nonsense. Your father only says what needs to be said, and no more.”

“Yeah, but he takes so long to say it!”

Rafiki grinned. “If this is the worst ordeal you deal with in this life, you should rejoice, son. All right! Head up!” A shadow flitted overhead as they resumed their exercises, and Rafiki saw the blue-white form of the king’s majordomo heading back out over the Pride Lands. His eyes followed the bird for a moment, but then his attention was drawn back to his reluctant pupil.

Zazu soared in an ascending arc, the air slowly dragging away his speed as he climbed rapidly. He glanced around quickly to make sure he was unobserved, then grinned to himself. He had a little free time before he was to meet with Boga Kwitu, the elephant Incosi, and he intended to make the most of it. Tucking his wings, he tilted in mid-air and dropped like a rock. The soft whisper of the wind in his ears became a deafening roar as the ground rushed up at him. His wings flicked out and he leveled out perhaps two feet over the ground. He laughed joyfully as he sped over the tops of the waving grass, the slender stalks only a blur beneath him as he arrowed over the ground. In the back of his mind, the ever present voice nagged at him, reminding him of the dangers of flying this low. There were several predators agile enough to snatch him out of the air and drag him to earth forever, only to find out too late he was the king’s advisor and corban. Nevertheless, it was the one vice he had picked up from his obnoxious brothers, and he took the opportunity now to indulge in it shamefully.

A break in the grass appeared ahead; one of the many paths the lions used traveling to and from the water hole that lay nearby. As he flashed overhead, he caught a glimpse of a tawny shape moving along the path, but was past before he could identify the figure. He started to turn back, but a glance at the sun reminded him of his appointment with the elephants. Sighing, he lifted a wing and climbed gracefully away, turning southwest.

Far below, Sarabi trotted along the tunnel-like pathway that countless generations of lion paws had worn in the grass. A smile graced her young features, but it was partially obscured by the limp and dangling form of the hare she clutched carefully in her jaws. She floated through the grass like a spirit, humming to herself in a pleasant tone as she walked, switching her tail from side to side and slapping the tip against her flanks gently in time to the music she was making. Unable to voice her happiness, she kept up with the song in her head.

“Moko Greatmane was a great cat, And a great big cat was he, He climbed up over the mountain pass to see what he could see, As the cat climbed up, all the rain climbed down and the wind was blowing fast…”

Sarabi smiled and glanced up at the sky overhead. Do you see me, Father? she thought. Aren’t you proud of me? I wish you were here today. Her cheeks pooched out around the hare as she sighed, then mentally berated herself for being so moody. Her father might not be here, but there was someone here who loved her just as much. Changing direction, she angled around the base of Pride Rock and headed towards a rough and tumble pile of stone a short distance away. Nearing it, her skin tingled with excitement as she saw the silhouette of the young lion in the small cave.

Taka lay quiescent inside, enjoying the coolness of the stone as it seeped into his belly, his legs sprawled awkwardly to allow more of his underside to contact the rock beneath him. His eyes tracked restlessly, observing the minutae of everything before him. The grasslands below rippled restlessly in the breeze, echoing his mood. Lately, things were… all wrong, somehow. Everything Muffy said seemed to irritate him to the point he felt like cuffing his brother across the nose. And Sassie… his pulse leaped at the thought of her. Reflexively, his claws extended and scraped the stone, leaving dull scratches in the gray surface. Crossing his forepaws, he lay his head upon them and watched as heat lightning played on the horizon.

His ear twitched as it picked up a faint swishing noise. Lifting his head, he looked around to see Sarabi padding toward him, her forepaws curling inward and then flicking out gracefully as she set them down. “Hey, Sassie,” he said, brightening. He raised an eyebrow at the dangling form that she carried in her mouth. “Whatcha got?”

Sarabi neared him and laid the hare at his feet, then stepped around him. She rubbed against his side roughly, catching him off balance and nearly sending him careening into the cavern wall. “For you, Fuzzy Love,” she purred, circling around and rubbing up the other flank. “Something special.” Halting in front of him, she sat and smiled, her amber eyes twinkling in merriment.

“Huh?” Taka looked at the battered hare, then up at Sarabi’s enigmatic expression. He glanced down at it again, then swallowed. “Uhh, Sassie?”

“Mm-hmm?”

“Uhh, it looks like an ordinary rabbit to me.”

She cocked her head and grinned. “Really?”

The tone in her voice made him look up sharply. He opened his mouth to ask her what was going on, but froze, staring.

On her left cheek, slowly drying in the afternoon breeze, was the reddish-maroon pawprint of a lioness.

“Oh-ho!” A grin split his features and he rubbed his cheek against hers, their combined purring making a rumbling noise in the confined space. Sitting back, he drank in her features, unable to contain his happiness.

“Look at my beautiful lioness!” He nuzzled he cheek again, and she responded, slowly licking his ear and sending a wave of feeling down his back. “Everything about you excites me.” He bent and rubbed his face against her rib cage. “I can hear your heart beating, Sassie.” She trembled, her eyes closed as he dreamily worked his way back. “Proud, strong haunches of a lioness, crying out for love!”

Her eyes shot open abruptly and she whirled, a forepaw whipping out and smacking him across the face. “Don’t touch me there! We’re not pledged yet.”

He rubbed his stinging cheek with a paw, his eyes watering. “I wasn’t going to VIOLATE you. Lighten up, girl. We’ll be pledged soon enough.”

“But not yet.”

“What’s wrong with it?” He drew away and looked at her. “Are you ashamed of me or something?!”

“No! Are you trying to prove something?! Look, I just don’t feel right about this. You need to respect my feelings.”

“And I have none, eh?” he shot back caustically.

“Well obviously you have ONE, and you need to cool it.” She spun and stalked away, her tail lashing furiously. Taka stood motionless as he watched her form recede. He looked over at the hare’s carcass, which still lay where she had left it. He walked over to it and nosed it disinterestedly.

“Great going, idiot,” he muttered.

As the days passed, by and large Mufasa made excellent progress in learning his part of the formal mantlement ceremony. Taka, however, had not been to practice in some time, and Rafiki was worried that a disaster was waiting to happen.

Finally, his patience wore thin, and Rafiki requested an audience with the king. He felt rather bad about getting Taka into trouble like this, but he had no wish to see the boy inadvertently ruin what would be one of the most important days of his life. Zazu bade him wait outside while he informed Ahadi of his presence.

He did not have long to wait.

“Your Majesty, I wish you would talk with your son Taka. He’s missed so much practice.”

Ahadi blinked at him, confused. “Have you seen him??”

“Your Majesty?” It was Rafiki’s turn to be mystified.

“He’s missing. His mother and I are going crazy. The moment you see him, tell him to report to me IMMEDIATELY.”

“Yes, Sire.” Rafiki left, wondering what mess Taka had gotten himself into now. “That boy is going to be the death of me someday.”

As he forded the long grasses on the way home, he saw something moving towards him. Abruptly, the stalks parted before him, revealing the tear stained face of a young lioness he knew all too well. “Sarabi! You haven’t seen Taka, have you?” He cocked his head curiously and peered at her face. “What’s wrong?”

She broke into fresh tears. “He’s gone! He’s run away, and it’s my fault!”

“How so?”

“He believes in that prophesy. I didn’t realize just how strongly till this morning.”

“So?”

“He felt if he remained here, it would come true. He wanted me to come with him, but I just couldn’t.”

“So it’s not your fault after all.”

“Well I…” She sighed. “Can’t you tell him it was all just a mistake? Like a bad dream?”

Rafiki rubbed her cheek softly. “My dear, it was not a mistake. I don’t want to upset you, but something from the other side came through the passage I opened. It is one of the Makei, I fear. Truly, Taka brings many of his problems upon himself, but this was brought on by clever lies, lies buried so deeply in his heart that only God himself can uproot them. I fear he will not know peace in this life.”

CHAPTER 41: THE LETTER OF THE LAW

Over the next several months, Rafiki watched helplessly as his relationship with Taka went from bad to worse. Taka was a great favorite of Rafiki’s, and even when most of the lionesses did not like him and Zazu addressed him with open contempt, Rafiki kept trying to prove that his heart was steadfast. Still, for Taka, all of Rafiki’s attempts to make friends seemed like plots against him.

When Sarabi finally deserted Taka in favor of Mufasa—and most everyone thought Taka brought it upon himself—the frayed ends of his sanity began to completely unravel. Rafiki had to avoid Taka completely to avoid an “accidental” injury. And since Taka was pacing about like a thing possessed, it became harder and harder to avoid those confrontations and still do a shaman’s job.

In the middle of this misery, Sarabi with ever-flowing optimism announced that her love for Mufasa was bringing life into the world. What words of encouragement they were to everyone—everyone but Taka. Sometimes Taka prayed, often beautifully. Other times he cursed God and defied the universe. In that sense, he was being torn apart from the inside, raising love from hate and hate from love. In a timid way, Rafiki sought to bolster the strength of the good fighting within him. Once when Taka was deep in prayer, Rafiki slipped down on his knees beside him and offered him some jerky.

“I love you, my precious boy. Remember when Makedde used to tell you stories? Remember how I would stroke you and sneak you extra treats?”

Taka looked at him fiercely. “Leave me alone! Have you no pity??”

“Pity born of suffering. Pity born of death and despair. Pity that only one who has suffered can understand. But I have loved, too. Loved you and cooled your fevers and rubbed your sprains. Don’t reject me, little Fru Fru. Don’t put a thorn in my heart!”

“Don’t call me that!” he snarled. “My name is Scar, remember? It’s what everyone calls me. It’s quite difficult to forget; just look at my face, and you’ll have no problem remembering!”

Rafiki passed a hand over his own face, wizened and deeply lined. “And am I so different? We have each been marked with pain, for all to see. But I bear my marks proudly, for they were borne of love. For you, my boy.”

Taka’s fierce expression crumbled. Turning, he walked into a corner of his cave and flopped down, sobbing. “Oh gods, I wish I were dead!”

Rafiki fell upon him, rubbing his mane and kissing his cheek. “Not my little boy! Don’t say that, Fru Fru! You know how it hurts me. I saved you once. I told you to live forever! You must live! You must!”

A soft paw reached up and draped over Rafiki. “Remain a moment. I could use some company now.” In that moment, Rafiki felt perfectly safe and very loved.

There were moments like that, and then there were other moments, dark ones when Rafiki feared for his life. Still, he had promised Ahadi and Akase that he would take care of Taka, and as long as Aiheu held breath to body, he would.

SCENE 42: KOH’SUUL!

After the marriage of Mufasa and Sarabi, all of the joy went out of Taka’s life. The one thing that held his spirit and flesh together was the unconditional love of his parents. Particularly his mother’s love, for she saw the childlike yearning for love and responded to it much as she always had since he was a young cub.

Rafiki held out a slim hope for Taka. Resolutely, he would refuse to call him “Scar” for that badger had wounded him just as deeply. He knelt in his baobab in prayer. “Mano, Minshasa, protect your child! Protect Taka from the Makei! Bring back the gentle light to his eyes! Have mercy on him!”

Just then, Zazu came fluttering in, all in a panic. “Come quick, Rafiki! The King is feverish—he’s dying!”

It seemed to take an eternity for Rafiki to reach the cave, though the did the best he could. Rafiki arrived out of breath with a small pouch of powdered Chi’pim and his staff.

Rafiki took some water from the cistern, mixed the leaves in it, and gave Ahadi the broth to bring down his fever and bring him to himself. After Ahadi drank it, he checked his eyes, even pulling up a little on his eyelids. He stuck his thumb in the corner of his mouth and felt around. Then he listened to his chest. His face was grave.

He took Akase to the back of the cave. “Has he had trouble sleeping lately?”

“Yes.”

“And the muscle stiffness?”

“He told you about that?”

“No. I’m afraid not. It’s a symptom of Koh’suul.” He whispered, “When he comes to himself, take him across the savanna to the edge of the forest.”

“Where to?”

“The most appropriate place. The fever will subside, and he’ll have a couple of hours of clear thinking. But my dear, you must hurry. He will not live to see the moon tonight.”

“Oh gods, no!”

“Hsssh!”

“You’re a shaman,” she whispered, but every bit as urgent as a scream. “Can’t you do something? Anything? I can’t let death take him from me! I just can’t!”

He looked in her eyes, pulling down the lid gently with his thumb. “Don’t worry, in his own way Aiheu has shown you mercy.” He silently traced a circle around her right eye with his fingertips and touched her under the chin. He wanted her to know she would soon look on the face of God and call Him by name. “Two, maybe three days alone. Use that time to prepare yourself.”

“Oh.” She nodded, and warm tears trickled down her cheeks. “I understand. Aiheu is merciful. But if I could have only seen my grandchild first. You must send my love to the child.”

He wiped away her tears. “Say good bye to no one, not if you really love them. You must not drink from the common watering hole or the stream till you have crossed the meadow. You must not stop to relieve yourself until you have found the place. I will have to purge this cave before it is safe.” He kissed her. “Is there anything you want me to tell Mufasa?”

“No, just say good bye for me.” She sighed. “Poor Taka, I would not live long enough to say what is in my heart. Promise me you will try and look after him. He is so dependent. Promise me you’ll look after him.”

“I promise I will do what I can.”

“Whispering about me behind my back, old girl?” It was Ahadi, much improved.

“I was just telling Rafiki about the surprise. You haven’t felt well, and now that the medicine is helping you, you can take a little trip with me to see something special.”

“Yes, I am much improved. I won’t have to be dragged out, and that is a pleasant surprise. Don’t think I didn’t know my time was up. Death has been stalking me—now it rushes in for the kill.” He regarded her gently. “He gave you the marks of Aiheu. I take it old girl that we are in this together?”

“As always.” She nuzzled him gently.

With a heavy heart, Rafiki gathered dead grass from the savanna and made a pile of it in the middle of the cave. He put ferns on top of it and a sprinkling of powdered Alba. Then he took a clay pot, and emptied from it a few glowing coals on the tinder.

The coals satisfied their great hunger, raising a cloud of smoke that quickly filled the cave with its bitter incense.

“Fire! Fire!” It was Taka. He rushed into the cave, coughing and wheezing at the smoke. “Is anyone in here?”

“You must leave,” Rafiki said.

“You foolish ape! What do you think you are doing?? Have you lost your mind?? When Mom and Dad see this, they will cuff you senseless!”

“They will never see this,” Rafiki said. “It was the Koh’suul. Flee. You are in great danger here.”

“Koh’suul?” Taka’s eyes widened. “But that’s fatal. You mean Dad is dying? Does Mom know?”

“Akase has gone with him.”

“Hffff!” He stiffened up. “She was well. I saw her this morning. She was well! What do you mean she has gone with him? Without telling me?? She’ll catch it too! Where is she??”

“You cannot see her. It would be death to you. I’m sorry, but she had it when I got here. Death had already placed his mark on her.”

“But I must see her!” He pounced on Rafiki and held him to the floor of the cave with his paws. “Tell me where she is or I’ll crush the life out of you!”

“Your mother made me promise to care for you. If you must kill me, you must. “

Taka looked confused, sad, and finally released Rafiki. He turned and sat facing the wall. “Sassie doesn’t love me. My brother doesn’t love me. The gods don’t love me. All I had left was here. Now I’m alone. They are killing me one small piece at a time. This time they killed my heart.” He trembled. “I walk, I speak, yet I am dead inside. Dead.”

“There must be something I can do,” Rafiki said, getting up.

“Haven’t you done enough?”

“That’s not fair, Taka. When I was young, my mother died of Beh’to. Before the end, she was banging her head on a tree, trying to force the headache out. I watched her die in the most dire agony. That’s when I knew I must be a shaman. I would never have to feel so helpless again.”

“Then why not help them?”

“As my knowledge grew, every answer raised new questions. I cannot heal every wound. So more important than my herbs and spells is knowing something to say to comfort the Ka when these bodies of Ma’at crumble.”

“Then say something comforting to me.”

He stroked Taka’s mane. “I think about the prophesy. I think about it a lot. Oh, I knew where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do in a year, in five years, in ten. Now I am committed to fight this thing. All my hopes and dreams have been turned upside down. In this way we are alike, my friend. Our childhood dreams are over. The morning has come and we awake to face reality in the light of the sun. Let us find something real in the sunlight, something that pleases us, and hold on to it. All else is vanity.”

“You are a foolish ape,” Taka said. “But even a fool may say the right thing at times.”

Later that evening, Zazu reported the death of the King.

Rafiki came and put his arms around Muffy and whispered, “It’s time.”

Mufasa climbed slowly up the precipice of Pride Rock and when he reached the tip, paused for a moment. Then he lifted up his head and roared. It was a sad and terrible roar that rent the evening sky, and the lionesses joined in. The King was dead. Long live the King.

The following weeks took their toll on both Mufasa and Taka. The death of Ahadi and Akase left them without guidance and they had to become self-reliant. The emotional toll was especially bad on Taka, but Mufasa nearly crumbled under the the weight of ruling a kingdom. He found himself increasingly turning to Rafiki for advice.

The mandrill chuckled lightly, arms crossed. “Why ask me? You are the king; I am just a simple old monkey.”

“You are not simple. You’re a whole lot wiser than I am.”

Rafiki shook his head vehemently. “No! A whole lot older, I’ll grant you.”

Mufasa shifted uncomfortably. “You are gifted, Rafiki. You can see the future. Can’t you tell me what the right course will be?”

“Ah, so that’s it.” He grunted as he sat down on a low rock. “Come here, my boy.”

Mufasa obligingly padded over and sat next to him. Rafiki reached up and patted Mufasa’s shoulder. “Gods, you have grown. I still remember the young cub who used to come to me for jerky.”

“It was good, too,” Mufasa said.

“Let me give you something to chew on that is not as tasty, but fills the empty spirit.” Rafiki leaned forward. “Mufasa, it is better not to be tied to the future. It is the natural way of things to happen as they will. Your brother is bound to the future. It has crept around him like a small vine. But look what happens as the vine gets larger.” He took out one of his walking sticks, the top of which was coiled and curved. “It will grow to dominate your life, and twist your path in many directions. You will stop ACTING and go through life REACTING. You will be like a stone that lies around helplessly, waiting to see where the future will toss it next.”

Mufasa sighed. “I guess you’re right. I just… I’m afraid of making the wrong choices.” He looked at Rafiki, his face open and honest as ever. “I don’t want to ruin someone’s life because of an ill-thought decision.”

The words stung Rafiki. He had a vivid recollection of young Taka cringing in the corner of the old baobab, crying out in terror: “No! Tell me it’s not so!” He gasped and dropped his staff.

Mufasa blinked and peered at him. “Are you OK?”

Rafiki took a deep breath. “I’m fine, my boy. I don’t think it is wise for me to coach you on every small decision. Still, I don’t guess it would hurt THIS ONCE to look out for a major crisis?” Rafiki took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Meet me at my tree this evening. Come alone. Tell no one.”

The time seemed to drag on interminably. Zazu made several reports to him which Mufasa only half heard, his mind on the coming evening.

Rafiki was also restless. He spent his time in prayers and preparation. Set lovingly by the scrying bowl was a large dose of deadly euphractus. At the first sign of trouble, he would take it immediately and silence himself forever. No more would the makei use him as a weapon against the ones he loved.

Mufasa found himself urging the sun to hurry along its path in the sky. Finally, the cool of evening encroached upon the land, and Mufasa excused himself from the others. Slipping quietly into the night, he wended his way along well known paths through the grassland until he reached the soaring baobab. Rafiki greeted him warmly, then bade him wait outside.

Rafiki entered his home and crossed to where his scrying bowl sat, the surface of the water lightly rippled by the slight breeze that blew through his home.

“Mano protect us. Mano equip us. Mano, we thank you.” Completing his prayers, he sat crosslegged before the bowl. The water rippled a moment longer, then stilled. Rafiki felt a pulling sensation, then all went dark.

He drifted in the darkness, floating calmly. This was only the beginning of the process, and sometimes it felt like it took hours before the vision would appear. Impatience only disturbed concentration and slowed the process down, so he relaxed and waited.

Abruptly the darkess took on a deeper tone, and fear began to make him shiver. The cold of death, more icy than an arctic wind, brushed him slowly. He felt a dragging sensation, pulling at him inoxerably with a grip of iron. He jerked away as two eyes flared alight in the darkness in front of him, a cold light emenating from them which illuminated nothing. Pain awoke in his hands, slamming up his arms in a wave of agony. Suddenly the eyes vanished, along with the dragging sensation, and he tumbled helplessly through the dark, crying out in fear as unseen shapes began to buffet him mercilessly in a frightful current of invisible force…

And then he opened his eyes to see the bowl of water shimmering in the bright moonlight that seeped through the leaves of his home. Shuddering with the reaction, he sat for a moment, composing himself. “Mufasa?”

The lion appeared quickly. He started to speak, but cut himself off, staring at the mandrill’s wan expression. “Are you all right? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Rafiki laughed shakily. “I’m supposed to see ghosts, my boy. That’s my job, remember?” He put out a hand to push himself off the floor, but winced. Pain throbbed in his hands as he looked at the bloodless gashes that perforated the backs of his hands. They faded even as he watched, but the pain left slowly.

Mufasa glanced down curiously. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Just a little mifupa setting into these old bones.” He flexed his hands gingerly. “I had a strange vision-”

Mufasa held up a paw, the gesture so like his father’s it broke Rafiki’s heart. “Hold, my friend. I was thinking while I was waiting down there about what you said to me earlier. I don’t want to know. I want to make my own destiny.”

Rafiki relaxed, smiling slightly. “And you said you weren’t wise.” He placed an arm around Mufasa’s shoulders. “All right, but let me give you this little bit of advice: some of us are destined for long life. Others are not. But a little caution never shortened anyone’s time.”

“Sound advice for a king,” Mufasa grinned. “Thank you, my friend.” He started to turn away, but paused. “Are you sure you don’t need to tell me something? You looked awfully scared.”

“No, my friend.” Rafiki put his arms around Mufasa’s neck and gave him a quick hug. “I worry about you sometimes. Just a foolish old ape with the jitters, I guess.” He backed away and flapped his arms at the huge lion as though he was shooing a fly. “Now beat it. Sassie’s probably waiting for you.”

“Well, since you put it like that…” Mufasa chuckled as he headed away into the night. Rafiki watched him go, then lifted his throbbing hands to his face again, his smile fading as he looked at the red spots that remained.

The next day, Rafiki led Uzuri aside. “I was wondering if you could perform a favor for me.”

“Certainly.”

“Shhhh! Quietly. Should Mufasa go with you on your hunts, please be careful. I don’t want to see anyone get hurt out there.”

“I am careful on every hunt, no matter who goes.” She shrugged, lionlike, by flicking her tail. “Still, it won’t hurt to bear extra caution.” She peered at him warily. “Why? What is wrong?”

“Just a feeling.” He sighed, then patted her shoulder. “Not to worry; I doubt much will come of it.”

SCENE 43: FAMILY MATTERS

The warm sunlight backlit the mandrill as he walked through the crowd of animals, stretching his shadow out before him in a wavering line. Rafiki nodded and smiled at the familiar faces as he made his way through the throng, the creatures parting before him in a living wave. Reaching the foot of Pride Rock, he began climbing the steep rocks carefully, finding a grip easily in the time worn stone as he ascended.

His arm curled up and over, laying flat upon the surface of the promontory as he hauled himself up. Gaining his balance, he lifted his head and saw the hulking form of Mufasa sitting there, awaiting him. The wind ruffled Mufasa’s mane lightly as a smile spread across his face. Rafiki grinned back at him, setting his staff down and embracing his old friend. The two stood there for a moment, then they both turned to look behind Mufasa.

Sarabi lay quietly, her forepaws wrapped around the small furry bundle that had become the center of her universe. As Mufasa came to stand beside her, she nuzzled him, burying her face in the soft tresses of his mane. Their purring blended in a soft rumble as they looked down at what their love had brought forth into the world.

Rafiki stepped forward slowly and peered intrestedly at the cub nestled next to Sarabi’s chest. The tiny head turned and looked up at him, the young eyes open now and staring up at him with a wonder that delighted the mandrill. Sarabi smiled at him and nodded, and he picked the cub up gently, feeeling the child’s purring in his hands as he held him to his chest. He looked up as Mufasa and Sarabi for a moment, then turned and headed toward the end of the promontory. Reaching the end, he looked with awe at the assemble throng of life which spread before him. The sight took his breath away, and he held the cub out for all to see. “May the wind blow kindly on you,” he said softly, as the crowd below burst forth in jubilation. “May the sun shine brightly on you. May the gods take you to their heart.”

As if in answer, the clouds above parted, a brilliant shaft of light shining down directly upon him, dazzling his eyes. A golden nimbus surrounded the cub he held in his hands, and he stared in wonder and joy as the animals below knelt in reverence.

At last, he lowered the child and held him for a moment, then returned him to Sarabi’s loving arms. She smiled radiantly and nuzzled him. “Thank you, Rafiki.”

Mufasa nuzzled his son once more, then turned and descended the rocks carefully, his good mood fading. He had an unpleasant visit to make.

Some distance away, a small mouse lay flailing madly at the empty air in panic, her tail trapped in between two enormous claws. Taka stared across the gap between himself and the rodent, feeling as though he had been set aflame. Slowly, he turned the mouse this way and that, noting idly how the light glinted off the beady black eyes, now spread wide in panic.

“Life’s not fair, is it?” he queried the struggling mouse. “For you see, I… well, I shall never be king.” He uttered a grunting laugh, then looked at his captive in mock commiseration. “And you… will never live to see the light of another day.” Chuckling lowly, he spread his jaws, fangs gleaming in the morning light. “Adeiu.” He closed his eyes and extended his tongue expectantly, preparing to savor the delightful crunch the rodent would make before she was swallowed whole.

A voice which had begun to annoy him increasingly of late spoke from behind him. “Didn’t your mother tell you not to play with your food?” Zazu glared at Taka, who lowered the mouse, sighing with exasperation.

“What do you want?” he rumbled.

“I’m here to announce that King Mufasa’s on his way,” Zazu informed him gleefully. “So you’d better hava a good excuse for missing the ceremony.”

Taka’s claws flexed angrily, and he felt the mouse struggle free of his grip. The creature scurried acros the floor into a crack and was gone. “Oh, now look, Zazu, you’ve made me lose my lunch,” he growled angrily.

Lunch became the least of his worries after Mufasa’s arrival.

“Sarabi and I didn’t see you at the presentation of Simba,” he said. Please say you were sick, he thought. I don’t care if it’s true or not.

His heart sank as Taka looked at him in a expression of utter contempt. “That was today? Oh, I feel simply AWWWful.” Stretching, he drew his claws down the rock face with a screech that set Mufasa’s teeth on edge. “Must have slipped my mind.”

“Yes, well, as slippery as your mind is, as the King’s brother, you should have been FIRST in line!” Zazu glared at him. His bellegirence vanished quickly as he dove away, Taka’s fangs clicking together in the empty air where he had been.

“Well, I was first in line,” Taka shot back acerbically, “until the little hairball was born.” What little chance he had of making something of himself had vanished with the arrival of that cub.

Shocked at this outright insult, Mufasa felt his blood boil. “That hairball,” he rumbled dangerously, “is my son, and your future king.”

The discussion went downhill from there. Taka emerged from the cave seething, his tail lashing angrily as he swatted rocks out of his path with a powerful forepaw. His own brother had challenged him, by the gods! And in front of that idiot Zazu, no less. Taka groaned and collapsed in a clump of bushes, hiding his head under his forepaws.

Rafiki found him there a few minutes later. “Taka? What are you doing hiding in here?”

“What does it matter to anyone now what I do? They have their prince,” he said, biting the word off savagely. “They don’t need me anymore, do they?”

Rafiki slipped in and tentatively laid an arm around Taka’s neck, relaxing when the lion made no move to disengage. “Ridiculous. Of course you are needed. Simba will need his mother and father more than anything. But there will come a time when he need someone else to talk to. His uncle.” Rafiki turned Taka’s head to face him. “You are special, Fru Fru. He will share things with you that he will never tell anyone else. You’ll be his best friend, and his most trusted confidant.”

“How can you be sure of this?” Taka looked at him.

“Because, I have my own nephew. Or have you forgotten?” He tapped Taka’s nose gently with a forefinger.

The lion blinked, chastened. He looked into Rafiki’s eyes for a moment, then smiled, a real smile, the first one Rafiki had seen from him since the death of Ahadi and Akase. “You’re right. By the gods, I’m going to see him right now!” He sat up and hugged the startled mandrill to his chest. “Thank you!”

Shortly after, Sarabi was surprised to see his brilliant green eyes blinking timidly at her in the gloom of the cave. “Sassie?”

“Yes?”

He figeted nervously. “Can I… I was wondering if I could… see him?”

“See him? You could have done much more than that, had you been here this morning,” Sarabi said icily. “Why bother now?”

His ears fell flat and his whiskers drooped as he stared at the ground. “I was wrong,” he said. “I’m sorry.” He turned to leave, his tail dragging in the dust.

“Wait!” Sarabi looked at him for a moment. “Come here.” She shifted her foreleg as he slowly padded over to where she lay, exposing the sleeping cub to his questioning gaze. Taka stared, captivated by the tiny form.

Simba lay quiescent in his mother’s care, the morning light shining in and gleaming on the little whiskers that poked from his muzzle. He twitched and moved slightly as he dreamed peaceful cub dreams, enjoing a peace Taka longed to return to. Taka bent his muzzle to the cub, filling his nose with scent of his nephew. Making the lightest of contacts, he nuzzled Simba with his nose. “Gods, Sassie, he is beautiful, isn’t he?”

Sarabi watched him wonderingly, seeing him as she had not seen him since cubhood, his eyes aglow with utter delight. “Yes, he is.” She licked the tiny form, eliciting a belated wriggling from her son. “He’s going to be a great king someday.”

A terrible pain wrenched at Taka, and he closed his eyes tightly until it passed. The light seeping in became cold and dull, and he sat up, looking down at the object between Sarabi’s paws. “Oh, yes. He looks so much like his father.” He glanced disintrestedly at the cub’s face, the words falling upon his own ears like so much dead grass. Whoever the cub looked like, it had nothing to do with him. His eyes flickered coldly as he peered at Simba. “You will live an intresting life.”

He turned lithely and paced out.

SCENE 44: UNWELCOME GUESTS

“… and it is with a heavy heart that I assume the throne.” Taka paused, biting his lip and looking at the lionesses gathered before him, a look of terrible grief etched on his face. But behind his eyes, something capered and danced madly with glee, he had DONE it, by the gods, he had finally done it, and no one was the wiser. Euphoria filled him, and he took a deep breath, as if fighting back tears.

“Yet out of the ashes, we shall rise to greet the dawning of a new era, in which lion and hyena come together in a great and glorious future!” At his signal, the hyenas emerged from their hiding places, slinking down the rocks and crawling from ravines and gullies, eyes gleaming ferally in the faint light of the crescent moon which hung over the Pride Lands, looking for all the world like the scythe of the reaper come to claim his own.

Later that evening, a stunned Rafiki was led out of the cave by Krull and two other hyenas. As he stumbled down the rocky path, shoved and pushed about by the two thugs, he recalled numbly the manic look in Taka’s eyes when Rafiki had confronted him. “Oh Taka,” Rafiki moaned as the guards led him away. “What has happened to you?”

“Shut up,” one of the hyenas growled roughly. He butted Rafiki in the back with his nose, sending the mandrill reeling into the dirt. Raucous laughter resounded in Rafiki’s ears as he lay there, staring at the coarse grass which fluttered in the light breeze. A shadow flickered over his vision, and he glanced up, expecting to see the guards looming over him.

Instead, his eyes met empty air. He frowned uneasily as Krull tongue lashed the other two into a semblance of obedience, then motioned to him with a paw. “Get up, old one. We don’t have all night.”

As they neared the baobab, he wondered nervously if the shock of Mufasa’s death had clouded his senses. Shadows flickered in and out of his line of sight, yet whenever he turned and tried to seek them out, they melted away into the night. As they ascended into the tree, a small voice spoke something inaudible in his ear, and he glanced at Krull curiously. “What?”

The hyena glared at him. “By the gods, are you feebleminded? I haven’t said anything!” Nosing him inside, the hyena looked him squarely in the face. “By the King’s authority, I have been appointed captain of this guard detail. Know this, prisoner; your life lies in my jaws. Disobey the boundaries His Highness has set, and I will crush it between my teeth. Understood?”

“Clearly,” Rafiki snapped.

“It is good, then.” Krull nodded to him and departed.

The mandrill watched him descend and take up station at the foot of the tree. He sighed and sat down, legs dangling over the side of the tree as he looked wistfully at the empty spot where Makedde’s bed had once sat. He missed his brother terribly, but at least he had been spared having to see this tragedy. Rafiki rubbed his eyes, groaning, and glanced at his shadow next to him, sharp and neat in the light of the moon which hung low in the sky in front of him-

His face pinched in confusion. The crescent moon sat before him in the sky. A quick glance behind him confirmed that his shadow was right there at his back, as it should have been. He glanced to his right at the puddle of darkness that lay next to him, wondering where the other light was coming from.

His eyes bulged as the shadow streched out and flitted away, seeping into the crevices of the baobab. A tenebrous whispering sound reached his ears again, making him twitch his head reflexively. His hair stood on end as a chill ran down his spine, making him shiver. Kneeling, he muttered a quick prayer to Mano and Minshasa, then opened his eyes again and looked out at the savannah, a moan escaping his lips as he peered about.

The air about his tree swirled with dancing shapes, flitting here and there from shadow to shadow without revealing detail. A faint hissing sound, like rain on the savannah issued from them, and occasionally he would catch a swatch of unintelligible whispers. He glanced up at the sky, and saw them whirling about overhead, in a faintly circular pattern that seemed vaguely familiar.

He bolted forward, seizing a limb and swinging upward, flitting from branch to branch agilely until he was perched as his favorite lookout spot. It was from here that he loved to watch the sun rise and spread its golden rays across the Pride Lands, but he stood now helplessly, jaw agape as he watched a much darker dawning take place.

A roiling mass of blackness, tinged with angry purple at the edges danced and shivered over the elephant graveyard. At one end, a long tentacle-like extrusion was protruding towards the spire of Pride Rock, and it was from the tip of this that the shadowy shapes emerged, to go spiraling down the pinnacle and flowing out over the ground below.

“The Makei,” he whispered. “The Makei are everywhere, oh gods what is happening to us?” He raised his eyes beseechingly heavenward. “Aiheu, help us. Guide us in our time of need-”

One of the dark shaped arrowed from the sky, enveloping his chest and freezing his breath in his lungs. A second darted down and surrounded his face. Total blackness enveloped him, and with a startled cry he fell through the air, flailing blindly. He collided with several branches before coming to halt with a bone-jarring thud. Feeling about, his hands roved over his staff. Snatching it up, he swung wildly around him, but the only response was a faint trace of laughter. The cold feeling in his chest spread as he groped feebly, hunting for some kind of weapon, but his searching hands only found his medicine pouch. Falling to his knees, it spilled across the floor of the tree, sending roots and herbs in a hectic sprawl. He sank to his side, fingers twitching, and felt the smooth silkiness of a lock of hair at the bottom of his bag. He drew it to him weakly, wanting to feel the brush of the fur against his face one last time-

An unholy shriek drilled into his head. Suddenly, the veil was ripped away, and he saw the brilliant sprawl of stars above him. The benumbed feeling had left his chest as well, and he drew in a deep breath, coughing as he glanced at the lock of fur in his fingers. It shone in the dark tree, glowing faintly from within.

“Mano,” he whispered. “Thank you.” Dragging himself to his feet, he looked about. There was no sign of the dark shapes he had seen earlier, but the feeling of malevolence in the air was unmistakable. It beat upon him, and he felt the well of despair threatening to return, eagerly waiting to swallow him whole. He clutched the white fur to his chest, and the feeling faded immediately. Nodding to himself, he picked up a torn piece of leather he used to wipe up spilled medicines. Wrapping it carefully around the fur, he tied a thin leather thong securely around it and slipped it over his neck. The makeshift locket felt warm against his chest as he made his way to the edge of the tree. He gazed at Pride Rock slowly, then walked over to the shrine Makedde had so carefully hewn into the side of the trunk. His fingers traced the outline of Simba he himself had drawn into the bark as a tear ran down his cheek.

“Poor child. Innocent and now dead because of me.” Sadly, he took his hand and wiped over the painting, smearing the mark of his anointing. “Somehow, some way, I will undo this evil. I swear I will never stop trying till death takes me.”

SCENE 45: THE DROUGHT

As the months wore on, Rafiki found himself increasingly distrusted by the new monarch and his associates. Taka was no fool, and realized that a shaman who could look into the future could just as well look into the past; it is far easier to determine what has been than what might be. Rafiki was forced to watch as his scrying bowl was reduced to splinters by his hyannic overseers.

One particularly odious guard took great delight in tormenting Rafiki as he wrecked the priceless artifact. “Don’t fret, Painted Face,” he said. “I’ll help you tell the future. Let me predict what will happen if you don’t keep your mouth shut about our great and noble king.” He bared his fangs in a cold grin.

Krull, who took no pleasure in tormenting the old mandrill, cut him off with a glare. “Enough, Skulk. You are dismissed.”

Skulk spat at him derisevely, but departed willingly enough. The old monkey never fought back anyway, and there was little sport to be had in trying to provoke him.

Rafiki looked at Krull, his intrest piqued. “Why do you restrain them? Why not let them pound me into the ground?”

“There is no honor to be found in assaulting a helpless old monkey.”

“Helpless?! Give me my staff, and I will show you how helpless I am!”

“Calm yourself, old one. It is not hurt I need from you, but healing.” He winced, squinting, and Rafiki saw the faint discharge from his left eye. “I thought I had chaff in my eye, but it hurts even worse now than it did yesterday. It requires the services of a healer.” His good eye looked into Rafiki’s. “If you are as good as they say you are, it won’t matter that I am a hyena.”

Rafiki’s features softened. “I don’t know about ‘good,’ but it does not matter what you are as long as you feel suffering.” The hyena sat as he began to examine the eye gently.

Krull peered at him curiously from the good eye. “Why does Scar hate you so?”

“Hasn’t he told you?”

Krull chuckled lightly. “Let us say for now that he has not. What would you tell me?”

Rafiki stopped his minstrations. “I would tell you that I am partly to blame.” He looked away. “I had toyed with powers that I did not fully understand, and gave a foothold to the curse that burns him.”

Krull’s good eye opened wide. “Hfff! Honest little chap, aren’t you? And yet a half-truth is like a half-carcass—it can be dragged twice as far.” He grinned at Rafiki for a moment, then grew somber. “Tell me about this curse—help me to understand it.”

Krull cursed inwardly as he recalled uttering those words. Oh, he had found understanding, all right-in the form of servitude to the mandrill which lay asleep across the baobab from him. He watched the gentle rise and fall of Rafiki’s chest; he appeared to be in the grip of sleep. The peace of night surrounded him on all sides; he might never get another chance like this. Who knew what bewitchment the old monkey might thrust upon him when he awoke? Better to leave now. He rose on silent feet, his eyes gleaming in the dark.

A few feet away, Rafiki muttered restlessly in the depth of his dreams. He chased Taka through the grasss, the little cub laughing delightedly as his Uncle Fiki stumbled through the plants trying to catch him. Grinning, Rafiki pounced, lionlike, sailing through the air to land upon the cub and seize him in his hands. “Gotcha!”

The cub turned to face him, still giggling, but then his smile faded. His body swelled under Rafiki’s, growing until he was dwarfed by the body of a full grown lion. The skin over the left eye split, forming a horrible scar. The young eyes became ancient, filled with fear and loathing as he stared up in horror at the old mandrill. “You did this to me! All your fault, Uncle Fiki!” he screamed hoarsely. “All your fault!”

Rafiki jerked upright, bathed in sweat. Panting heavily, he saw Krull leaning over him, looking worried. “Great Roh’kash, what is wrong with you? Are you posessed?!”

Rafiki reached over with a shaking hand and picked up the leather locket which had slipped off in the night. “No,” he said, putting it back on. The feeling of terror diminished rapidly, and his breathing eased. “Thank you, Krull. I’m sorry I woke you.” He patted the hyena’s shoulder. “Go back to sleep.”

The hyena felt a wave of shame as he padded back to his corner and lay down. The old monkey was obviously terrified out of his wits about something, yet he was upset about waking Krull up!

Over the next few weeks, Rafiki became more and more of an enigma to the hyena. Many of the odd stories he had heard about the mandrill paled next to the truth, while still others turned out to be bald faced lies. Krull discovered an outlet in talking with the old shaman, one he had never enjoyed in the company of his bretheren.

Late one summer’s eve, the two were sprawled comfortably in the naos of the baobab, relaxing in the balmy air. The talk wandered aimlessly, and they found themselves discussing the differences in their females.

The hyena asked casually if he had ever been married, and was quite taken aback when he learned of the death of Asumini and Penda. “I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault, son.” Rafiki glanced at him. “And you?”

“Nope.” The hyena grinned to himself. “Though I came mighty close. I escaped by the grace of the gods, and by virtue of a weak stomach.”

“What?!” Rafiki perked up.

“Well, it’s a long story-”

“We have plenty of time.” Rafiki grinned maliciously. “Tell me.”

Krull was silent for a moment as he remembered what had happened. “We have a ritual in our clan for those members who have gone three years and remain unmarried. This is called “Spunking” and it is a jolly prank-unless YOU are one of the unmarried ones.” He chuckled lightly. “It takes place on a night of the full moon. The poor males are brought into a ring of spectators. They want to pick the most level headed male and female, you see, so they have each of them spin around tightly three turns, then run across to the other side of the circle. Spin three times, run back.”

“Oh gods,” Rafiki said, laughing.

“That’s what I said.” Krull grinned and shook his head. “The male that is left standing when the others have stumbled woozily staggers over to the unmarried females. He gets to pick, though she has the right of refusal. They are encouraged NOT to refuse by their parents who would be responsible for their upkeep for another year. They then after a rest, they send the males back out for another go at it. If a male throws up, he is automatically disqualified for that season.”

“Sounds fair,” Rafiki snickered. “So what happened to you? Did she refuse?”

Krull flushed underneath his gray fur. “Uh, well no. I was staggering all over the circle, and finally made my way over to where the females sat. When the Roh’mach asked me if I was okay, I…” He rubbed the back of his neck nervously with a forepaw. “I sorta barfed on her.”

Rafiki clutched his stomach and howled, his eyes watering. After a minute, he regained his breath and patted the hyena on the shoulder. “Not to worry, son. I’ll bet you made it the next season.”

“Yeah, I did. But she turned me down.” He looked at the ground, embarrassed. “You can’t force someone to love you back, though you can try to sway them.

Rafiki’s smile vanished. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. We still see each other. I mean, her husband and I are best friends. We share everything right down the middle.”

“You mean?”

“Heck, if she’d married me, he would have expected no less. Friendship is important among our peoples.”

“That’s nice,” Rafiki said, shaking his head and scratching his beard. “Whew, there is a lot I have to learn.”

Krull looked at Rafiki with an amused twinkle in his eyes. He began to snicker.

Rafiki looked at him crossly. “Why you old scoundrel—you’re pulling my beard!”

“YOU didn’t know I was kidding, and I’M the old scoundrel!” Krull laughed. He had a pleasant, infectious laugh and Rafiki was sorry he’d not heard it before. “I’m already spoken for. Her name is Brill. If my own brother touched her, I’d bite off his tail and shove it up his nose!”

Rafiki smiled. “Well spoken! So her name is Brill, eh? What does that mean?”

“It means beloved.”

Rafiki smiled wistfully. “That is a good name. In our tongue, it is Penda.”

“Your daughter?”

“Yes, Krull. Thank you for remembering.” Rafiki gave Krull an affectionate pat. “Once a leopardess taught me that other people have feelings too. How quickly we sometimes forget.”

SCENE 46: MINSHASA’S AUGURY

It was well into the second year of Taka’s reign as king before things became noticably wrong. Rafiki had seen countless dry seasons come and go, but this year it had begun several weeks early, and with much greater ferocity. Coruscating winds swept across the open plains, sifting dust into every nook and cranny. It got into everything. The lionesses found it neccessary to clear a place in their caves to lie down in. It drifted into the dwindling water holes, making a clean drink impossible. It even got into the body in one way or another; Rafiki could feel it grinding between his molars as he chewed his dinner, and his patients kept him busy constantly cleaning the dirt from open wounds and sores which refused to heal under the onslaught, but simply became infected.

One evening, he sat down after treating a cut on Khemoki’s rump. The Zebra’ha Incosi had suffered a small wound, but to hear him talk, it was as if his leg had been torn asunder from his body. The piteous moaning and complaining had set Rafiki’s nerves on edge, and after the zebra left he brewed a cup of tea to calm himself.

The balmy scent of the tea combined with the slightly medicinal side effects had the desired result, making him drowsy and feeling slightly disconnected. He leaned back, closing his eyes, and began uttering his prayers in a low voice. His mind’s eye opened, and he found himself sitting upon a rock in the middle of a grassy plain.

He heard a rustling behind him and looked about curiously. A small vixen wended her way through the grass, her questing snout twitching delicately. She looked up and brightened. “Oh, there you are!”

“I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure…”

Her large ears flickered in amusement. “Oh, I don’t have a name. Don’t need one. I’m just the messenger.”

“Oh? What’s your message?”

“Mishasa will be along soon. She’s quite busy.”

“Oh.” Rafiki looked nonplussed. He’d never heard of a Nisei having a full schedule. “I guess I’ll wait.”

“Good idea!” The vixen sat and began to groom her lush tail. Rafiki eased to the ground and leaned his back against the rock, looking at the bautiful sky above. He began to while away the time by finding animal shapes in the clouds overhead, amusing himself by trying to count how many of which animal he saw in the clouds. First one to 20 wins.

He had upped it to 50, with the lions well in the lead, when he finally gave up, looking around agitatedly. “Where IS she?! Even a Nisei shouldn’t take this long to do anything.”

The vixen lifted her head from herpaws where she had been napping. “What’s wrong?”

“She thinks she’s got me flummoxed. But no, I know what she’s up to, you see.” He wagged a finger at her. “She’s playing mind games with me, that she-devil of a lioness.”

“So you think you have her all figured out, eh?”

“Enough to know I wish I was large enough to give her a good spanking.”

The vixen grinned suddenly, her teeth flashing in the sun. “You should have done it when you had the chance.” Laughing, she darted behind a nearby rock.

Rafiki sat up. “Hey you, come back!”

“Okay.” The brilliant white head of a lioness arose from behind the rock. “Spank me, daddy!” she said, grinning, and launched herself at him. Rafiki backpedaled madly as she flew through the air, knocking him to the ground and driving the air from him in a rush.

Wheezing, he drew in a breath of air, and was nearly smothered as she drew her tongue across his face in a long, wet, drooling lick. “I love it when you talk mean to me.”

“All right! I surrender!”

She rolled away from him and sprawled comfortingly in the grass, motioning for him to sit beside her. Her face sobered as he lay his head against her shoulder. “You seek answers.”

“Yes.” He looked at her searchingly. “We are afflicted with a terrible drought. I have suffered through hard years before, but this is unnatural. I fear the Makei are responsible.”

“You are correct.” She looked off in the distance at the shimmering horizon. “Some of the worst Makei feed off pain. One of these has entered the Pride Lands, drawn by the pain and suffering Taka bears, as well as that which he has wrought.”

Rafiki shuddered. “What can we do to stop this? Our land is dying in front of our eyes.”

“The Makei that holds this land in his grip will not permit the Nisei One-who-brings-rain to enter. The pain of this land has given him enormous power, and he holds the other Makei in bondage, to keep his grip upon you.” She paused, looking into his eyes. “There is a way to defeat him, however. But you may find it harder than you think.”

“Tell me! Before Aiheu I swear I will try, no matter what the cost to myself.”

“Very well. This Makei is fixated upon Taka’s Ka. It is the center of the suffering here, and it is the anchor with which he remains. Your only hopes are three-fold. Either you heal Taka’s pain, drive him off, or kill him.”

The mandrill moaned and covered his eyes. “I would rather hurl myself from the top of my tree than kill him. Please don’t ask me to do that.”

Minshasa bent and gently kissed his forehead with her tongue. “Of course I won’t. Were your face young and untouched by the evil released by this curse, I could still see the love your heart bears for him.”

“But what am I to do? I am yet Aiheu’s servant, but I am only an old ape.”

“You are not without hope, my son. Someday, while there is still time, I will send a light into the darkness. You will receive a sign of great joy. Wait for the son of the king.”

“Bless you, my Lady.” He fell before her. “I touch your face.”

“I feel it.”

When he arose, Minshasa was gone.

The day Taka emerged from the cave on Pride Rock and announced that Elanna was pregnant, Rafiki was absolutely ecstatic. “It’s the sign!” His hopes were dashed, however, that terrible night that Krull summoned him to come with him to Pride Rock, informing him of Elanna’s impending miscarriage. Rafiki worked feverishly over the lioness, but his medicines were depleted entirely, and no amount of reassurance from Uzuri and Taka could dispel the fact that the birth could not be stopped.

In a moment of desperation, Rafiki stepped outside the cave for a second. “Oh gods, where is Asumini? Where is she when the whole world cries out to her?” Light flicked at the edges of his vision, and he glanced at it hopefully, only to see the light from the moon glinting off of the surface of the water hole. Dejected, he turned and went inside.

As he passed Zazu, folorn in his ribbed prison, he looked thoughtfully at the hornbill for a moment, then stopped, eyes wide. “Taka!”

The lion padded over quickly. “What?”

“I need two plants to make a medicine that can save your mate. They grow far from here, though.” He began to describe the herbs, and Zazu began to hop about excitedly.

“I know those plants,” Zazu said from his confinement. “Please let me go.”

“But you won’t come back,” Taka snarled.

“I would come back for her.”

Their discussion was sundered by a wavering cry of pain, followed by a lower and more agonizing wail. Isha emerged from the cave, eyes streaming as she bore the dead child of Taka and Elanna in her mouth. She laid the child before Taka, who stood, trembling. “You son, Bayete. Mano has called him away.”

The lionesses bowed their heads. “He waits for you,” they intoned softly. “He waits by the side of Minshasa.”

Taka nosed the still form, tears blurring his vision as inhaled the scent of his son, locking it away in his mind forever. “Aiheu abamami,” he finished, his voice breaking.

Isha picked up the cub and caried it over to Rafiki. He took it from her gently, stroking the lifeless child as tears ran down his face. “You were our only hope,” he thought. “Oh gods, we are all abandoned to die here.”

Krull was careful to keep away intruders as he escorted Rafiki back that evening. It took four cups of tea to calm Rafiki’s nerves, a dangerously high amount, but his scrying bowl was ruined, and he had to speak to Minshasa quickly. Krull looked on in fascination as the mandrill’s eyelids fluttered, deep in the depths of his inward journey.

As his vision cleared, he saw the lioness lying down placidly, nursing a cub. Mano lay watchful nearby. Rafiki looked from one to the other. “Your cub?”

“Now he is.”

With a sudden rush of emotion, he recognized Taka’s cub. “Gods!” “Shhh,” she said. “Be very quiet.”

Rafiki smiled at the sight of the small body replete now with health and vitality. Bending to his knees, he kissed the lioness on the forehead. Mano nodded with a kindly smile.

Rafiki smiled back and looked to Minshasa. “Now you have a little one of your own.”

“I have thousands,” she said. “And he is not the last. The hopeless, the helpless, the lost all come to me. Mano gives them safety, and I give them comfort.”

“Bless you. But how do you find the time?”

“All the past, all the future is mine. I have time for your needs as well.” She took the cub gently in her teeth, placing him between her large paws and began to bathe him with her tongue. “This child is not the sign. You must look for another.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that. No riddles this time.” She resumed bathing the cub. The look on her face was so gentle that Rafiki knelt by her and presumed to interrupt her one last time. “How is Asumini?”

Minshasa looked up at him and smiled tenderly. “Your path has not been easy, Metutu. You walk the stony ground of servanthood. But if you are faithful, the Lord will pull all thorns from your heart and kiss away all your tears.”

He bowed his head and closed his eyes for a moment while the warm words filled his darkness with shimmering light. When he opened them again, he was facing a hyena. Krull’s face was lit from within.

“Did you see her, Krull?”

“No, though I would have pulled out my whiskers one by one.” He leaned dreamily on the wall. “I could feel a presence. Oh gods, what peace. The last time I felt that way, I was…” He looked down, embarrassed.

“Nursing at your mother’s side?” Rafiki smiled. “She died when you were very young.”

The guarded look threatened to return to Krull’s face. “Who told you?”

“No one. I could see it in your eyes.” Rafiki draped his arm over Krull’s shoulder and gave him a little pat. “Well, my friend, hope is not dead. Life continues. We will look for another sign.”

SCENE 47: LOOKING FOR LOVE

The announcement of Uzuri’s pregnancy was a thorn in Taka’s side, made all the more evident when her children finally arrived. He felt as if the lionesses were deserting him, perhaps even preparing to run off and join other prides. His mate, Elanna was no less distraught; at first she saw the pregnancies as evidence that Taka’s late night excursions were more than just simple “patrols.”

The sight of the newborn Togo and Kombi reassured her; the cubs had none of the earmarks of her husband. Even the scent was wrong, and she secretly delighted in the knowledge that Taka was hers. That evening she snuggled alongside his warm body, nuzzling his dark mane.

“Uzuri’s children are quite beautiful, aren’t they?” she said dreamily.

“I have yet to find out; I couldn’t even get near her today,” he said crossly. “You’d think the lionesses had never seen a cub before.” His eyes darkened. “I shall have to make a formal inspection in the morning.”

“Good. That means I have you all to myself tonight.” She nibbled on his ear, sending shivers down his spine.

“Don’t try to distract me. You know what I mean.”

“Yes love, I do. Now let me show you what I mean.” She kissed his cheek as the night drew gentle shadows around them.

The next morning, Uzuri felt a cold wave of fear sweep over her as Taka entered her cave. “Good morning, hunt mistress.”

“Good morning, sire.” She looked on with astonishment as Taka touched the twin cubs with his tongue. “You are blessed, Uzuri.”

For the first time in her life, Uzuri was at a loss for words. She nodded numbly as Taka sat down, his tail stirring restlessly as he watched the tiny cubs wriggle and roll about at their mother’s belly.

“I was young and fresh like them once. Before I was marked, and life took it’s toll on me, there were people that thought I was cute. Remember, Uzuri?”

“You were a cute cub,” Uzuri said. “I remember.”

“Look at them. They are too young to know I’m ugly. When I kiss them, they don’t want to slink away and rub in the grass.”

“You don’t look that bad,” Uzuri said, forthright even then. “People are just afraid. Afraid of you and afraid of the hyenas. Maybe you have this unique kind of thing with them. Maybe they like you. But they don’t like us. They make it painfully clear that all we’re good for is hunting. Don’t take my word for it—just ask them.”

“It’s too late to change that now.” He shook his head. “I will never live to see them gone, just as I will never live to be forgiven for bringing them here. I don’t think they like me any more than they like you, but they bow and scrape before me, seeking favors.” He sighed. “They’ll kill me when they get the chance. Every time I pass one of them, I wonder, ‘will it be you?’ And every night the same dream reminds me that each day may be my last.”

“Oh gods, how awful!”

“So you’re not amused by my plight? You have a kind heart, just like your mother had.”

He spoke to her so tenderly that Uzuri dared address him unbidden.

“Sire, when you were born you weren’t breathing. I saw Rafiki breathe life into you with his own mouth. Can’t you find it in your heart to forgive him? It would mean a lot to me. Please?”

With a great sigh of resignation, Taka said, “Of all else, I could forgive him. But for trapping me in this life of pain, I cannot. And what’s worse, I am too much of a coward to undo it. If I could just go to sleep one night and never wake up…” He sighed deeply, then reached down and kissed the cubs again. Taka half laughed. “I do tend to run on like a fool, don’t I?” He silently turned and padded away.

Later, as he lay upon the peak of Pride Rock, his majordomo, Gopa the stork, flew in with a great flapping of wings. “I have your daily report, Sire,” he grated.

Taka peered down at Uzuri, who lay sunning herself on an outthrust rock below, her cubs nursing placidly. Tameka lay beside her, the pronounced swelling of her abdomen unmistakable. “Gopa, where are all these new children coming from? I have cubs practically running out of my ears!”

Gopa blinked, the wattle under his neck shaking gently as he glanced down at the lionesses, then cocked his head at Taka. “Who do you THINK brought all those cubs? The stork? Well it certainly wasn’t me.”

Taka looked at him askance. “What in the devil are you talking about?”

“Forget it,” Gopa sighed. “You want this report or not?”

SCENE 48: CLOSE QUARTERS

Rafiki and Uhuru had just finished their evening prayers when there was a great deal of excitement among the other hyenas outside the baobab. Fabana was rudely thrust into the baobab hollow. One of her guards looked at Uhuru and relayed the orders of Shenzi’s anger

“Krull, merketh Fabana om arant. Beershomb nik gorun om Shenzi flethun, om Fabana marukh! Oblez?”

“Oblez!”

“Kreblat Roh’mach!”

“Roh’mach kreblash!”

Uhuru glanced at Rafiki. “It seems we have company. Indefinitely.”

“Oh I see.” Rafiki sighed.

Fabana fell before Uhuru. “Krull, oms merketha besath! Beshum Taka gatha om Shenzi pardu om I’bu! Roh’kash ne nabu!”

Krull tried to comfort her as best he could. “Fabana, Roh’kash ne nabu. Disi blechuri m’oh, okash.”

Rafiki breaks in. “That is so sad! Your own daughter!”

Fabana stares at him. “Bet’ra hyanikha?”

“Bih hyanikha,” he said with a nod. “And without a strong accent, I might add.”

“Is there nothing you don’t know?”

“Plenty. Like why your own daughter renounced you?”

Her ears pricked up in anger. “Because I renounced her first. She is a butcher and an ingrate. She would kill Taka by driving him insane and pushing him to suicide. No daughter of mine would do that to her own brother.”

“Then it’s true, isn’t it? You adopted him.”

“Yes. Now they will probably tell him I’m dead or or that I’ve run away.” She looks at Uhuru. “Krull, in the name of the gods, please get a message to Taka telling him what had happened to me.”

“Not a good idea,” Rafiki says. “If your heart is still tied to your family, and I suspect it is, you must not tell Taka. Out of love for you, he would have Shenzi put to death. Do you want to make that kind of choice? Son or daughter?”

Fabana drew in a deep breath. “Oh gods!”

Rafiki scratched his beard thoughtfully. “My lady, you are a victim in all this like I am.”

“You’re one to talk. You put a curse on my Taka and all this is your fault. All your…”

“Now you listen here!” Rafiki cried, grabbing up his staff threateningly. “I won’t hear that again from you or anyone else! I breathed into him when he was born. Gods know how much food I scrounged for him when he was a young’un. I loved that boy like my own son—more than I loved Mufasa. I still do, but given a chance I would take this stick and beat him to death, understand? I pity you, but not enough to share this tiny baobab with your constant whining!”

Fabana looked down, her ears drooped. “I always knew he’d die young. But if you ever get the chance, please don’t beat him with the stick. Put him to sleep with one of your herbs. And promise me you won’t let them rip him alive. That’s his nightmare, you know.”

“I know. I’ll do what I can.” He reached over and rubbed Fabana between the ears. “Maybe we’ll get along after all.”

Fabana began to scratch energetically. Rafiki said, “Oh no!” He reached and got some fleabane. “You leave the little buggers outside when you stay here!” Krull grinned as Rafiki seized the protesting Fabana and began to rub the elixir into her fur.

SCENE 49: THE SIGN

Fabana overheard Rafiki’s exultant shout and rushed in to see the mandrill capering about, chuckling and dancing, Krull sitting across from him and grinning widely. “What is going on, here?!”

Rafiki whooped and danced over to her. “Look!” he said, holding up a handful of milkweed floss and dust. “Just look at it!” He held it up to her face for close inspection.

She exploded in a sneeze, sending him into more gales of laughter. “What’s so great about a handful of dust?”

“It is the sign! Simba is alive!”

Rafiki uas unknowing of the shock his words had on the hyena, for Fabana had been at the ceremony when Taka took power. She had heard the lament issue from his own lips of the death of his brother; she had heard the grief in his voice as he described the lifeless body of his nephew lying next to him. And now… she shook her head, eyes growing wide as she heard Rafiki exclaim to the newly named Uhuru: “We go to the King!”

Her protestations went unheeded, and when the two eluded their hyena guardians and set out to find the rightful king, she accompanied them determinedly. If she could not change their minds, she would change Simba’s.

The going was slow and tortuous, as none of the three were prepared for the rigors the desert threw at them. The scorching heat compelled them to take shelter in the daytime, and this provided ample time for thinking. Too much time for one particular hyena. Fabana agonized endlessly over the elegy Taka had given for his brother and son. He had been sincere; she would have sworn it. That foolish ape must have misread the signs in the floss, if there were indeed any there to be had in the first place.

As they trekked on, the knowledge beat at her as harshly as the desert heat. Why lie to her? She had heard him praying at night, begging the gods to forgive Taka, forgive. She had seen the paintings on the wall of the baobab of the cub, and, while ignorant of the markings around it, had understood their meaning clearly enough. The mandrill practically viewed Taka as one of his own family. The knowledge beat at her like a hammer, and finally, unable to stand it any longer, she went to Uhuru.

He listened, a grave but sympathetic look on his face. “So what do you want to do?” he said at last.

“I don’t know.” She bent her head, looking at the ground. “But if what he says is true, then my child has sinned teribly. When Mother Rroh’kash calls him to her, there will be a reckoning.” Her breath hitched.

Uhuru patted her consolingly. “Don’t despair. I have spoken to Rafiki, and the son of Mufasa promises to be a just and kind soul. I will stand with you, Fabana, and plead Taka’s case with you. Perhaps together, we can convince Simba to find forgiveness. He is a child of Aiheu, after all.”

“Thank you!” Fabana nuzzled him. “By the gods, my boy may be lost, but he will find his way again. He must.”

SCENE 50: REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE

As they picked their way through the jungle, Fabana stumbled over a vine for what seemed like the thousandth time. “Where are you GOING?”

The answer proved disturbing to say the least. Rafiki was led by something ambiguous; a voice might tell him to turn here; a sign in the gnarled wood of a tree compelled him to go around an obstacle instead of over it. This was disconcerting to Uhuru and Fabana, who were used to tracking real smells, sights and sounds. Fabana lost her paitence when the mandrill stopped for a moment, closed his eyes, then pointed. “That way.”

“Oh wise one, shouldn’t you keep your eyes OPEN when tracking?!” she snapped.

Rafiki glanced around at her, grinning. “Sights and sounds are more of a distraction. They drown out good judgment.”

“Good judgement seems to be seriously lacking, here!”

Uhuru stepped in front of her. “You speak from ignorance. You should see what he’s capable of!”

“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.” She sighed and followed them.

Presently, Rafiki called them to a halt. “We are close now. You must stay behind.”

Fabana shook her head, inscensed, and Uhuru balked. “Why have we come all this way to stop now?”

“Uhuru, you are my brother in truth. My heart wants you by my side, but I know in my head that you must not interfere, for your training is incomplete. Fabana, you want to plead your case before Simba. I must do this for you, my dear. I will try to protect Taka, but I must not interfere with the justice of the gods.”

He sat down. From a gourd, he took some saffron yellow seeds. “I must be careful while I mix this. No talking please.”

“What is it?” Uhuru asked.

Rafiki half laughed. “It’s so funny, you know. Every time I tell someone ‘no talking please,’ they answer me with a question?” He slyly winked at the hyena to show there were no hard feelings. “This will put me in closer touch with the spirit realm. But it is very powerful. Too little and all I have are side effects. Too much and I will convulse and die. This other package contains an emetic. If I convulse or fall down, I may not be able to take the dose. You will have to hold me up and dump the entire dose in my mouth, then give me plenty of water. Got that, Uhuru?”

“Yes, teacher.” Uhuru looked at him puzzled. “What side effects?”

“Oh, you’ll know. It either makes me giddy or terribly depressed. Let’s begin with a prayer for guidance.”

Uhuru and Fabana laid on the ground belly-up and reached out to paw at the sky, then they got up and faced the sky. This was a pious act among hyenas. Rafiki got down on his knees, then touched his forehead to the ground. “Oh Mano, I touch your mane! Oh Minshasa, I kiss your brow! Hear the cry of your cub in the night! Hear the prayer of one who needs your love!”

“Yes, Father! Yes Mother!” Uhuru shouted in the ecstacy of prayer. “Favorites of Aiheu, friends in distress!”

“Bless our undertaking,” Rafiki said. “Not for our sakes, but for those whom we serve.”

“Let us not trust in our own wisdom, which is foolishness,” Uhuru cried fervently.

“We summon you from the halls of the righteous.”

Rafiki rose, rubbed Uhuru between the ears affectionately, then took the yellow seeds, counted out eighteen of them carefully, counted again to be sure, then combined it with a paste of Tiko root to keep it from coming back up. “To the gods and good friends,” he said, downing the mixture.

The bitterness, even through the tiko root, made him cringe. His breath reeked of mint. “Oh, what a hard kick!” He reached for some water and drank it quickly. “Ycch!”

“Are you all right?” Fabana said.

“I think so.” He rubbed his head. “It has been a while since I last did this. But I think it was not too unpleasant, at least till it was over, then boy oh boy what a headache!” He half laughed. “Imagine me, a shaman, not thinking to lay in a stock of cure-all, the most common perscription! What a fool I was—a stupid fool!” He laughed. “I won’t soon forget!” He patted the gourd affectionately. “Yes sir-ee. No WAY I’m running out THIS time! I got a big bunch! BIGGY-big!”

“That’s good,” Uhuru said, warily. “How are you feeling now?”

“Fine, and how are you, my friend?” Rafiki laughed. “I hope this takes effect soon. I don’t have all day.”

“Oh I think it’s coming along nicely.”

Rafiki looked about, and gradually he could percieve that they were anything but alone. Restless spirits wandered the savanna. A herd of wildebeests that only he could see. A leopard stalking past him with an intent look. Two lion cubs wrestling in the grass, laughing. In the distance, a couple of animals Rafiki could not recognize. A Sabretooth came close by, very leonine but with enormous fangs. She did not look at him or even seem to acknowledge his existance at first. But as the drug took full effect, he said, “Greetings, Pride sister!”

She looked about, startled. “Oue khuch? Ghash’ee spumu kio?”

“Do you understand me?”

She tilted her head in puzzlement. “What sayest thou? Thou art earthen, and yet thou seest me?”

“Yes. You must not be from around here.”

“This was my land. Now our noble line is lost. No more do our cubs nurse at their mother’s side.”

“That’s very sad.” He began to cry. “You’re so beautiful!” Rafiki fell to his knees. “So sad, so sad!”

The cat nodded gravely. “Good manners are not extinct. Peace be with thee.”

Uhuru came to him and shook him. “Are you all right?”

“Why of course I am!” Rafiki got up and dusted off his knees. “You think I am old, perchance? I’ll have you know there’s a lot of wear and tear left in this old body!” He straightened with pride. “My whiskers may be white, but I can still pick you up!”

When Rafiki started toward him, Uhuru backed back. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Nonsense!” Rafiki laughed. “I’m small but wiry! Here, let me show you.”

“He’s right,” a lioness voice said. “It’s not a good idea.”

Rafiki turned and looked at the cloud white lioness. Her crystal eyes regarded him intently.

“Mother Minshasa!” Rafiki fell before her, grovelled, kissed her paws, and then rose and hugged her neck. “Favored child of Aiheu!”

Minshasa touched him with her tongue. Uhuru and Fabana could not see her, but they did see Rafiki leaning out at an angle, resting on empty air. The fur on their backs stood on end.

“My dearest angel,” Rafiki stammered. “When this is over, take me away with you. I want to be one of your cubs. Kiss me again, and call me your own, and I will bless you forever!” He hugged her again. “Tell me stories about the long-toothed lioness. That was so sad!”

“The drug has rattled your good sense,” Minshasa said, pushing him with a paw. “Get a grip on yourself.”

“Whatever you say, dearest.”

“Follow me.”

“Anywhere, my angel.”

“And that’s enough of that,” Minshasa said firmly. “Try to hold yourself together till this is over. Then you may sweet talk me all you want.”

Minshasa led him away from his friends. She took him to a tree and looked up. “From there, you will be able to see him.”

Excited, Rafiki kissed her again. “Thank you, mother of light!” He climbed from branch to branch, looking through the leaves and across the grass. He spotted Simba pacing in a field. The lion was splendid in stature and grace, crowned with a beautiful mane. While he had some of his father’s looks, his face was slender and shapely like his mother’s. “Ooooh!” Rafiki looked down at Minshasa who waited silently at the base of the tree. “Isn’t he something!” She silently nodded.

“Shhh! Listen closely, Rafiki.”

Simba was talking to himself. “She’s wrong,” he said. “I can’t go back. What would it prove, anyway? It won’t change anything. You can’t change the past.”

“Who’s wrong?” Rafiki asked Minshasa.

“Nala. She’s asked him to come back. Now listen!”

Simba looked up at the stars. “You said you’d always be there for me! But you’re not. And it’s because of me. It’s my fault. It’s my fault!” Simba bowed his head, choking back tears.

“The poor thing!” Rafiki whispered. “I must cheer him up!” Rafiki didn’t know what to say, so he thought to break into a rhyme to get Simba’s attention. It was one Wandani often used in blind tag.

“Asante sana, squash banana! We we nugu, mi mi apana!”

Simba glanced at him, annoyed. To have looked Simba in the eyes again so thrilled Rafiki that he thought he would jump out of his hide!

Simba left, and Rafiki followed. When the lion settled down on a log that crossed a small pond, Rafiki tossed a rock. He was still good with his pitching, and the rock landed in the water right in front of him. Rafiki hustled up a nearby tree to avoid a nasty claws-out swipe he felt he deserved. But Simba only looked up.

“Asante sana, squash banana! We we nugu, mi mi apana!”

“Come on,” Simba said. “Will you cut it out!”

Rafiki laughed, jumping up and down. “Can’t cut it out. It’ll grow right back!” He giggled at his own joke. Minshasa looked up at him. “When I cut it out, it won’t grow back! Now behave yourself!”

Trying to tone himself down, Rafiki followed Simba as he left the log and travelled on. Simba looked back and saw it was a mandrill and corban. He decided not to act on his feelings of annoyance by turning his pest into a meal.

“Creepy little monkey. Will you stop following me? Who are you?”

Rafiki rushed to him. Got right in his face. “The question is: who are YOU?”

Simba was taken aback, but he sighed. “I thought I knew. Now, I’m not so sure.”

“Well I know who you are. Shhh. Come here. It’s a secret.” He pulled Simba’s head over to whisper. “Asante sana, squash banana! We we nugu, mi mi apana!” He laughed.

“Enough already!” Simba looked puzzled. “What’s that supposed to mean, anyway?”

“It means you are a baboon—and I’m not!”

“I think you’re a little confused.”

“Wrong! I’m not the one who’s confused. You don’t even know who you are!”

Simba began to rankle. “Oh, and I suppose you know?”

“Sure do. You’re Mufasa’s boy.” Rafiki smiled at the effect that had on him, and he skipped away.

“Hey, wait!”

Simba chased him across the grassland. Finally he reached Rafiki who sat in meditation on a rock.

“You knew my father?”

Rafiki turned only his eyes. “Correction. I KNOW your father.”

Simba looked down. Painfully he said, “I hate to tell you this, but…” He caught a tear before it could show. “… he died. A long time ago.”

Rafiki became agitated. He leaped off the rock and headed toward the trees. “Nope. Wrong again! Ha ha ha! He’s alive! And I’ll show him to you. You follow old Rafiki—he knows the way. Come on!”

With an energy that could only be an effect of the powerful herbs in his blood, the old mandrill spryly swung through, around, and over the branches and bushes. Simba struggled to keep up with his large bulk.

Rafiki laughed, easily outpacing the lion. Suddenly he stopped and put his hand up in Simba’s face. “STOP!”

He motioned Simba to some nearby reeds. “Shhh!” He parted the reeds and pointed with his staff. “Look down there.”

Simba worked his way to the edge of a pool of water where he saw his reflection. He peered at it intently for a moment, then sighed with disappointment. “That’s not my father. That’s just my reflection.”

“No,” Rafiki said intently. “Look harder.”

The mandrill made moves over the water. He struggled to concentrate despite the giddiness of the drug. His love of Simba came out fully and focused him. The water rippled, breaking Simba’s reflection into tiny bits of color. The colors then resolved to form Mufasa’s face.

“You see? He lives in you.”

Simba stared at the picture. While he was staring spellbound, Rafiki took a large thorn from his staff, and gritting his teeth, jabbed it into his palm. He stifled a cry as the red drops of blood fell into the water.

His sacrifice was accepted. The wind began to pick up, and upon the clouds came one of the Nisei—Mufasa! He was immense, but the light of love in his eyes was reassuring.

“Simba,” he said quietly.

“Father?”

“Simba, you have forgotten me.”

Simba was wounded. “No! How could I?”

Mufasa was stern. “You have forgotten who you are, and so have forgotten me.” He looked a little more kindly but kept his reproachful tone. “Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the Circle of Life.”

“How can I go back? I’m not who I used to be.”

Mufasa drew near. The light of his love filled Simba with awe and grief. “Remember who you are. You are my son, and the one true king. Remember who you are.”

Mufasa began to retreat, and as he did so, his image faded. Simba ran after him.

“No! Please! Don’t leave me!”

“Remember,” Mufasa intoned.

“Father!”

“Remember.”

In anguish, Simba cried, “Don’t leave me!” But it was no use. He was gone. The lion trembled.

Rafiki drew alongside. “What was THAT!” He laughed. “The weather. Pfft! Very peculiar, don’t you think?”

“Yeah. Looks like the winds are changing.”

“Ah, change is good.”

“Yeah, but it’s not easy. I know what I have to do. But going back means I’ll have to face my past.” He recoiled. “I’ve been running from it for so long.”

Rafiki looked at him with a devilish grin. He whacked Simba on the head with his staff.

“Ow! Jeez, what was that for?”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s in the past!” He laughed at his clever example.

“Yeah, but it still hurts.”

“Oh yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or… learn from it.” He took another swing at Simba, but this time the lion ducked down. “Ha, you see! So what are you going to do?”

Simba couldn’t resist the opening. “First, I’m gonna take your stick.” He batted the staff out of Rafiki’s hand with a sudden swipe.

“No, no, no, no! Not the stick!”

When he bent down to reclaim his staff, Simba hurried off.

“Hey, where are you going?”

Simba shouted, “I’m going back!”

“Good! Go on! Get out of here!” He laughed, giddy with his success.

Minshasa drew up next to him. “You did it, honey tree!”

“I did it? We did it!”

“Your humility serves you well.”

“Your kindness serves you well.” He hugged her around the neck. “Oh gods, oh gods! Can he really set things right?”

“Don’t worry, my child.” She nuzzled him and kissed his cheek. “Breathe in deeply.”

Rafiki took in a deep breath. As he did, she blew softly in his face. The scent of wild honey filled his lungs, and his head began to clear. “Oh, my lady, do it again!” Rafiki took another deep breath and felt the odd excitement run out of him. “Oh yes, that’s better!”

He looked down. “All those things I said to you. I’m so sorry. I mean, all that mushy goo…”

“Look at me in the eyes when you say that,” Minshasa said softly. “You would never say something you didn’t mean because of a herb. No, it just loosened your tongue more than you would have liked.”

“Well, perhaps.”

She purred and began to nuzzle and groom his face. “Perhaps?”

The colored patches on Rafiki’s cheeks showed a deep blush. “My lady, I must remind myself that you are not an ordinary lioness.”

“There are no ordinary lionesses,” Minshasa said. “There are no ordinary mandrills, either.” Minshasa lay in the grass. One last time she blew on him, dissolving his tensions like dry earth dissolves in spring rains. “Rest here, good and faithful servant.”

Rafiki lay his head on her side and closed his eyes. Moments later he fell peacefully asleep with her as a pillow, a gentle smile on his face.

Uhuru and Fabana showed up. “Hey Rafiki,” he said. “Did you see that lion in the clouds?”

Minshasa looked right at them. They caught sight of her, and Fabana and Uhuru fell before her and grovelled.

“Shhh, he’s asleep!” Minshasa said. She smiled at Uhuru and made a kissing sign with the tip of her tongue. “Your prayers are a warm cub snuggled under my chin.”

Uhuru looked at Fabana. His eyes were shining. “Isn’t she wonderful, Fabana?”

“My gods,” she mouthed, but no sound came out.

SCENE 51: THE STRUGGLE

The fight upon Pride Rock was a horrible thing to behold. Lightning flashed and thunder ripped across the sky as Rafiki sought for a desperate foothold. High above him, Simba and Taka grappled, snarling and snapping savagely at each other as they fought for dominance.

The two traded powerful blows, each striving to undo the other. Simba struck out, but Taka blocked his swing and countered, sending the younger lion sliding across the flat peak to the edge.

Lightning flashed again, and Rafiki felt the air about him shimmering and roiling, like the air over the desert at highsun. A twisting, rippling shape flitted in and out of his vision, hovering over Taka like a ghostly thundercloud.

“Makei,” Rafiki grated. The ground thrummed under his feet. Slowly reaching up, he clapsed the makeshift locket he wore around his neck. Always warm to the touch, it flared brightly now, full of its own inner heat as he held it in his fist. Gripping the thong, he placed a rock in the pouch to weight it down and began to twirl it about his head, the light making a glowing circle that lit his face, the scintillating light flickering over his aged and lined features, now set in determination.

Faster, faster he twirled it, waiting. Simba twisted, struck by a heavy blow from Taka. The line was clear to the peak.

“Aiheu, do not fail me now!” He released the pouch, watching as it shot through the air, a brilliant streak of light flashing to the peak…

It intersected the billowing cloud of darkness over Taka’s head and exploded in a shower of thunder.

Taka twisted as he flew through the air. Simba’s feet sank into his belly, driving the breath from him and sending him flying over the edge of the peak. Rafiki watched in horror as the lion’s form dropped through the air to dissappear in the rocks below.

“I am sorry, my boy,” he whispered. A cold drop splashed from his head, and he looked up, blinking in surprise. A second drop fell, then antother, faster, faster—soon he was deluged by the gentle caress of rain. Minshasa’s voice rang in Rafiki’s ear. “Let us make life!”

The old mandrill fell to his knees, hearing the hiss and sputter as the fires around him were quenched by the blessings of heaven. “Even so, old friend! I touch your face!”

SCENE 52: BUSA SIMBA IYO!

Sarabi truged slowly through the downpour, tears and rain blurring her vision to the point she was nearly blind. Blinking rapidly, she took a deep breath and fought to control herself. Her breath shuddered out of her as she rounded the foot of Pride Rock slowly, glimpsing the other lionesses at the base. A cream colored lioness looked up and brightened immediately.

“Sassie!” Sarafina rose and padded over to her, rubbing her cheek against Sarabi’s. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Fini.” Sarabi nuzzled her gently. “Where’s Nala?”

Sarafina nodded over her shoulder. “Over there, resting. We’re all waiting for Simba to come down.” Her eyes glowed as she looked at her friend. “Gods, Sassie, did you see him in the fight? He looks beautiful!”

“I know.” Sarabi’s voice faltered, her eyes stinging suddenly. “Oh, Fini, my son lives! Praise Aiehu, he lives!”

Sarafina rubbed Sarabi’s cheek with her own. “Look, there he is!” They turned to look up the slopes of Pride Rock. Simba emerged from the smoke and mist, moving slowly but surely to the bottom of the path where the rock met the ground. Sarabi, unable to bear it any longer, rose and went to him.

He looked at her and smiled uncertainly. “Mother?”

“Yes?”

“My nose hurts.”

Sarabi laughed, her tears mixing with the rain as she looked at the scorched spot on his muzzle. “If that’s all that’s hurting you, you shuld count yourself lucky.” She licked his face gently with her warm, moist tongue and nuzzled his wet mane. “Oh, my son, I love you so much.”

Simba closed his eyes, shuddering. The words which he had thought he would never hear again since his father’s death now rang in his ears. “I love you too, mother.” He smiled at her. “I’ve missed you so much.”

“And we, you.” He turned to see Uzuri smiling at him, her eyes lidded in satisfaction. “I told you if you listened to me and ate right that you’d grow up to be big and strong like your father.” She cocked an eyebrow and studied his lean, muscular form. “What have you been eating, anyway?”

“Don’t ask.” A warm shape brushed against him, and he turned back to see Nala standing before him. “Beloved,” she purred, nuzzling him firmly.

He moved to respond, but they were interrupted by the dry rattle of a seed filled gourd. They all looked to see Rafiki perched atop a small outcropping. The tired old mandrill nodded at Simba and lifted his staff to point at the outthrust promontory of Pride Rock.

Simba felt a wave of fear ripple through him, followed by a tingle of excitement. Slowly, he moved away from his family to stand in front of Rafiki. The mandrill’s brown eyes looked kindly into Simba’s amber ones. He smiled and bowed deeply before the lion.

Simba felt a wave of warmth drive away the dampness of the rain. He lifted a massive forepaw and gently draped it over Rafiki’s shoulder, drawing the mandrill to him in an embrace. Rafiki wrapped his arms around Simba’s shoulders and held him for a moment, then drew away. He met the lion’s gaze again and nodded.

“It is time.”

Simba returned the nod and moved away. Placing a paw tentatively on the granite outcropping of the promontory, he began his ascent.

Below, the lionesses followed his progress in awe. “Gods forgive me,” Isha said, “but I never thought I would live to see this day.” Her voice broke, and she nuzzled her young cub Habusu, crying. “Look, Habu! There is your king!” Habu stared upward, neck craned back until it ached, jaw gaping in delight as he watched the magnificent lion above him.

Simba strode toward the end of the promontory, awash in such an array of emotion that it made him giddy. Reaching the end, he looked down upon the hopeful faces of the lionesses below staring up at him. Lifting his gaze skyward, he peered at the gray clouds overhead. The rain poured down on him, streaming into his ears and soaking his mane, but still he waited. Abruptly, a rift opened in the clouds overhead, and he saw the stars burning brightly overhead in the vault of Heaven. A voice filled his ears, numbing his mind as he recognized it as his father’s.

“Remember…”

Simba stood at the tip of the promontory, suspended halfway between Heaven and Earth, floating on a wave of feeling so intense he could barely breathe. He felt each drop of rain as it struck him, the gentle breeze caressing his face, carrying upon it such a myriad of scents his head fairly exploded with them. Lifting his face again, he closed his eyes and roared, the sound filling his soul as if God Himself had touched him with thunder.

Below, Uzuri bellowed into the driving rain. “Behold, the King!” She answered Simba with her own roar, the other lionesses joining her. He returned it tenfold, the sound echoing off the kopjes and stones. It reached across the freshened plains to the mighty forests. At last, at long last, Mufasa’s anointed was king.

Nala watched him descend, her eyes tracking his every move as he leapt gracefully to the ground. Pacing over, Simba stood in front of her, breathless, the steam rising from his body as the rain evaporated. As the lionesses looked on, he lifted his left forepaw and rested it upon Nala’s shoulder, caressing it, feeling the muscles playing underneath the pads of his paw. She answered with a purr from deep in her chest. Looking up, she met his gaze, and their eyes locked. The light from the last of the rapidly dying fires gleamed in her eyes, the twin pools of emerald radiance holding him in an iron grip he had no wish to break. Simba took a deep breath and spoke.

“Before the gods, before the stars, before the assembled host I swear to give you my protection, my life, and my comfort, forever.”

Nala trembled. “Till the last beat of my heart, to the last breath I sigh, our lives are one, so help me gods.” She moved close to him and settled her head against his mane, purring.

Simba nuzzled her, oblivious to the pain in his scorched muzzle. “Until this day I have been but half a lion. You have made me whole.”

Rafiki made the pilgrimage to the bottom of Pride Rock where Sarabi and Fabana sat watch over the body of Taka, washed in blood and rain. He knelt beside the body. With fumbling fingers, he reached into his pouch and removed a strip of jerky. Sarabi and Fabana watched silently as he produced a piece of Tiko root. He knelt by Taka’s face, its weary features relaxed at last, and laid the two objects by his muzzle. “I cannot breathe life into you now, my little boy!” He took Taka’s large paw between his hands and tears began to stream down his face, mixing with the silvery curtain of rain that drew itself around him.

SCENE 53: DIVERGENCE

Kidnapping a lion cub, Uhuru thought disgustedly, shaking his head. What next?

He was silent as he watched Skulk and his group of rebellious miscrants fade into the night. It never seems to end, he thought disgustedly. One trial after another. He half jokingly wondered if he was being punished for the sins of one of his long dead anscestors.

Sighing, he shoved the thought away. He had been true enough to Aiheu’s calling, and he knew it. Perhaps with the removal of Shenzi’s malign influence, things would go back to normal. He hoped so; Uhuru was sorely sick of fighting, deception, and betrayal. The past three years had seen enough of that. But it seemed an insurmountable wedge had been driven between the children of Roh’kash and Aiehu, and he was helpless against it.

He picked up a slight movement in his peripheral vision and turned to see Simba making his way toward him. Grimacing, he sat up and headed toward the king. Things were about to go from bad to worse, it seemed. The arena-like atmosphere of the Shi’khal had dissapated, and the hyenas and lions stood apart, polarized around their rulers like iron filings near a magnet. The noise of conversation diminished as Simba moved to stand in front of his group of lionesses. The hyenas parted to make way for Uhuru, who nodded at them. The two leaders contemplated each other silently for a moment, then Uhuru crouched, extending a forepaw before him. “Incosi aka Incosi. I touch your mane.”

Simba breathed a silent sigh of relief. “I feel it. Rise, my friend.” He blinked wearily; the events of the past several days had exhausted him terribly. Still, as he looked at the hyena standing before him, he felt supremely satisfied; his faith had been vindicated. His gaze moved to the hyenas standing to either side of Uhuru. Their appearance was similar in all respects; the poor creatures were slat sided and thin, their grey coats dull and staring. But they now stood shoulder to shoulder with a hyena that they had previously denounced not three days ago as a traitor. Uhuru had given them back their faith as well. Unlike Shenzi’s ragtag lot of hooligans, they had not sided with him for personal gain, but because they knew he would never betray them to save himself. Uhuru had returned their capacity to trust. Now it was time to give them back their hope.

Simba cleared his throat, a deep rumbling sound that carried clearly. “I say this before the gods, and the great kings of the past: the ban which great Ahadi placed on scavenging in the Pride Lands is over and done.” Eyes widened and heads turned on both sides as Simba continued. “There is no reason why you cannot live as Aiheu intended.”

For a heartbeat, dead silence reigned. Then a raucous cheer arose from the hyenas as they began to dance with joy. Uhuru sat amidst the tumlut, struck with wonder as his brethren flocked to Simba, falling prone before him and humbling themselves. “Ebu Simba,” they cried joyfully. “Roh’mach aka Roh’mach!”

Rafiki clapped the hyena on the shoulder, making him jump. “Congratulations, my friend. You handled Shenzi well.”

“Not as well as you did,” Uhuru grinned. “You planned that, didn’t you? You knew I was going to win.”

“My boy,” Rafiki chuckled, “I had no idea.” The mandrill walked to a low hummock of grass and sat down, grunting with relief. “So! What now? What are you going to do with yourself, now that you have the whole of the Pride Lands on your side?”

“I don’t know, to be honest.” Uhuru looked at him. “I really don’t like this, Rafiki. Simba should have chosen someone else to do this.”

“Why?”

“Maybe this could all have been avoided.”

“Indeed. We could have avoided this. We could still be fighting each other. Don’t sell yourself short, Uhuru.” Rafiki rubbed his friend between the ears affectionately.

Uhuru grinned at him, then glanced at the crowd. “Look at them,” he whispered.

Rafiki watched the hyenas as they streamed homeward in small groups, the night air filled with cries of happiness as they laughed and joked together, whooping gaily.

“I’ve not seen them like this since my childhood,” Uhuru said wonderingly. “You can feel it.”

“Even so. I told you of ‘The Peace of Asumini.’ Your children will know this as the beginning of ‘The Peace of Uhuru.’ A wonderful thing has been born, tonight. Nurture it. Care for it like you would your own son.”

“I want to! By the gods, I cannot leave my people now! But a son must bear love for his father, much as I do for you.” Uhuru looked at the mandrill, torn with indecision. “How can I leave you like this? Who will help you out at the tree? And don’t you DARE tell me you’ll get by, Rafiki; I’ll not see you out in the fields pulling roots at your age!”

Rafiki laughed and patted Uhuru’s back. “Not to worry, friend. I’ll not argue that point with you. I have friends in the mandrill villages who will be willing to trade. There are enough strong backs there to keep me in my medicines.”

“But-”

“But nothing. Aiheu has shown you your place in this world. Don’t refuse him.” Rafiki reached out with both arms and embraced his friend. “Do not fret. You are making the right decision.” Places his hand atop Uhuru’s head. “Aiheu abamami, Uhuru. God bless. And Uhuru, go propose to Brill today. There is a saying among our people: ‘Harvest while the fruit awaits.’”

The hyena smiled. “You read my mind!” He turned to leave, but froze, staring at the last remaining hyena who stood, silently, waiting for him.

Rafiki peered at the figure. “Ah, is that her?”

“Yes,” Uhuru said, captivated. “Isn’t she beautiful?”

Rafiki scratched his head, musing over the hyannic features. “Er, ah, yes, of course. Her beauty shines from within,” he said truthfully.

“Doesn’t it?” Uhuru agreed. He padded over to Brill, nuzzling her on the cheek. She returned his caresses, then leaned on his shoulder, her head tucked under his. Rafiki watched as the two walked slowly away, their shapes fading into the darkness.

CHAPTER 54: FEELING HIS AGE

Life returned to some semblance of normality in the Pride Lands. Simba and Nala had a son named Tanabi. He married his childhood friend Misha, and not surprisingly, she was soon ready to kindle the next generation.

Rafiki, by contrast, still lived alone, and his premature aging, like a cheetah, was making a swift rush to its victim. Only his skill in pharmacology kept him active and alert.

The early morning mists rested lightly upon the African plain, the soft gray blanket rolling gently across the land, broken here and there by the jutting crowns of the great trees. One such tree in particular, a huge baobab, dominated its surroundings, seeming to watch over the countryside with a monarch’s benevolence.

Rafiki sat quietly in its uppermost branches, cleaning his teeth with the frayed end of an acacia twig as he waited for the dawn. His eyes peered interestedly out over the otherworldly landscape which lay before him, sensing the frenzied hum of activity hidden in the mists below, waiting patiently with the sure knowledge of one who has stood such guard many times, a wizened steward of the land keeping careful watch over his wards.

The air around him was filled with the reddish gold of sunrise as the fiery orb made its appearance, bathing the land below in its warm rays. A gentle breeze ruffled his brow, setting the leaves around him to rustling. He smiled to himself as he listened to them, talking amongst themselves about the funny old mandrill in their secret leaf language. Peering below, he watched with interest as the breeze tore great rents in the mists, opening holes through which he could see clear down to the ground below.

He leaned forward, eyes focusing sharply as he caught signs of movement. Rafiki smiled and relaxed as he recognized the group of lionesses, weary and footsore as they padded slowly home after the night’s hunt. Lifting his gaze, he looked out over the thinning mists to the outthrust shape of Pride Rock, its massive shape looming in the distance. They had quite a way to go, yet; it would probably be well into midmorning before they arrived, he thought.

He clambered slowly down the branches to his home in the heart of the baobab, hearing the soft tinkle and clink of his wood and bone wind chimes as they swayed in the breeze. Humming a little ditty in time to the sound, he wandered over to the small shrine set in a niche in the bole of the tree. Picking up a small bowl of ochre, he began to daub gently at the half finished portrait of Habusu, adding the fringes of a reddish mane to the head and shoulders. He paused for a moment, uncertain, then sighed, setting down the bowl and dusting off his fingers. His heart was not into painting, today, and he had no wish to botch the job with a half-hearted attempt. He gazed around the baobab, feeling suddenly lost, the warm tinkling of the chimes now a lost and lonely sound, reflecting what he felt inside.

He felt so old. What he had tried to deny to himself was too obvious to ignore. He was not just old on the outside, and the time was not too distant when Minshasa would come and take him away with her.

He blinked suddenly as a guttural grunt sounded from below. Peering down, he saw a lioness sitting under his tree. Rafiki smiled as he recognized Uzuri peering upwards at him. “Hello, madam.”

“Good morning, Rafiki! Up early again, eh?”

“As always.” He nodded to her. “How did you fare last night?”

“Pfft!” She snorted. “A waste of time; we saw only a few gazelle, and they must have had cheetah blood in them somewhere.” She shook her head. “Gods, they were fast!”

He chuckled. “Not to worry, I’m sure you’ll fare better next time.”

“Are you still going to come by and check on Misha?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Why don’t you come with me, then? It’s a long journey to make by yourself, and I would certainly enjoy the company.” She looked at him inquiringly. “Unless you’ve got something else to do? I don’t want to interrupt anything important.”

A smile lit his face as he picked up his staff and descended to stand next to her. “You twisted my arm.”

She smiled at him as they began to move off. “It’s one of those days that makes you happy just to be alive.”

He looked at his friend and nodded. “Yes. I know what you mean.” As they made their way slowly along, he mentally berated himself for being so gloomy. There had been a time, he thought ruefully, when he could count friends like Uzuri on the fingers of one hand, and beautiful mornings like this had been few and far between.

SCENE 55: MAKEDDE’S REST

Once Makedde said he prayed he would not die on a rainy day, but that he would go on a beautiful day. He wanted to die with reminders of Aiheu’s beauty to comfort those he left behind.

Indeed, just as the sun gilded the perfumed grass, and the wind swept the trees to wordless melody, Zazu came flying to Rafiki’s tree with urgency in every word. “Come quick, your brother’s dying!”

Rafiki grabbed a gourd with painkillers, but took nothing else. There was no need. This was an expected death, one that crept on its victim with the determination of wild dogs on a blood trail.

He ran as quickly as he could, which was not very fast. His pulses pounded, and beads of sweat popped up on his aging brow. Still, he pressed himself to make the effort. He knew his brother would do the same for him.

By the time he got to Makedde’s cave, the old mandrill was lying still on a bed of fresh hay gathered by a friend. The hay smelled like a morning meadow, masking the dampness of the cave. Still there was another lingering smell—the smell of death. Perhaps only a shaman like himself could smell it, but it was unmistakable.

“Is he dead?” Rafiki asked Zazu.

Makedde opened his eyes. “Not yet.” He reached out weakly with his hand. Rafiki took it. “I knew you’d come.” He smiled. “Zazu didn’t get you out of bed, did he?” Makedde’s head fell over and hand went limp.

“Oh no,” Rafiki said, giving the limp hand a little squeeze and putting it softly on his brother’s chest. “Oh no.” Tears welled up in his eyes. “He was the last of my family. Now I am all that’s left,” Rafiki told Zazu.

“The last of your family? Don’t be ridiculous. I mean there’s Simba, Nala, Misha, and don’t forget Uzuri.”

“Or you?”

Zazu preened his wing feathers. “Well yes, actually. And I’m sure you could think of others too.”

Rafiki mused over this later as he sat up in the top of his baobab. He smiled to himself, fresh tears tracking down his face as he thought of the other members of his family, long gone in the past. Busara’s visage sprang up, then his mother’s. Kinara, ever complaining about old Maloki. Asumini, Penda… he sighed deeply.

Cool light flared at his back, and he turned to see a cub sitting in front of him. The fact that the cub was hanging in mid air sixty feet off the ground was irrelevant as he recognized the features. “Taka!”

A smile appeared on Taka’s face as he rubbed against Rafiki’s ankles. “Hello, Uncle.”

Reflexively, Rafiki felt at the pouch for his side, then stopped himself. It had been ages since he last had a use for it; what use had an old mandrill now for…

His throat closed as his palm slipped around the Tiko root in the pouch. He withdrew it, his hand trembling.

The reaction was immediate. The cub sat upright, haunches splayed against nothingness as he fought to keep his balance.

“Who do you love?” Rafiki whispered.

“You, Uncle ‘Fiki.”

“How much do you love me?”

“More than life.”

Rafiki dropped the snack and Taka snapped it up. “I really do, you know, no matter what I may have said!” Tears began to run down his cheeks. “Please forgive me!”

“Of course I do, Fru Fru,” he said, stroking the soft fur of Taka’s face lovingly. “You don’t have to hide from me.”

The cub bowed his head. The light flared again, brighter this time. Rafiki squinted, unable to make out the features. “Taka?”

A wave of feeling washed over him as the light touched his face. “How could you still love me?”

“I always saw that light. It got buried deeper and deeper through the years, but never so deep that I couldn’t see it.”

The light shifted for a moment, then coalesced into the familiar form of the lion. His once dark mane now shone, shot through with brilliant strands of light as he looked at Rafiki. “Service,” he said. “I am here to serve, and through service find growth and peace.” He stepped forward and nuzzled Rafiki. “You are ripe with knowledge, Rafiki. It is time for you to bear fruit.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The bond between Ka and flesh is strong, but it cannot last forever. You must seek out someone to pass on your wisdom to, before it is lost to the winds.”

“I tried! I tried, but Aiheu had other plans for Uhuru. He has found his place.” Tears threatened Rafiki again, and he wiped them away. “I have no one else.”

“I do not speak of the hyena. The tree of knowledge starts at the roots; try looking there first.” Taka smiled at him. “You will find the fields much more fertile than when you left.” He reached out and placed a paw on Rafiki’s shoulder. “It is imperative you not be hasty to accept unwanted advice. Be brave in making the hard decision. Respect the first impression.” He withdrew slowly. “I must go, Uncle. You have tarried too long with me. Return to your home.”

“Go now?”

“Yes, now. Hurry.”

Rafiki straightened up, blinking. The leaves of his tree swayed gently as he shook off the effects of the vision.

“Rafiki?”

“Who calls?”

“Misha.”

At the very mention of that name, Rafiki lit up like the sun. The lioness came to his entranceway. “I had an accident.”

It was only a small cut on her shoulder, but when Rafiki saw it, he was very pained. Misha saw his tear stained face.

“Come now, it’s not that bad. I almost didn’t come.”

“Not the cut, my dear. I just…” He put his arms around her neck and kissed her cheek. “I just needed a friend tonight. My brother died today.”

Her ears laid back. “I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you. It was expected, you know. I guess they will say the same thing about me someday: ‘the old ape had to go sometime.’ I can remember your great grandfather. He was my dear friend and to you a worthy ancestor.”

“I don’t know whether to envy you or pity you,” she said frankly. “Who wants to outlive all their friends?” She looked at the tears that started in his eyes and regretted saying it. Nuzzling him, she asked “Why won’t you come live with us at Pride Rock? It may seem a little crowded at first, but we all love you. You know I have invited you many times.”

“And I have thanked you many times.”

Her face drew down in a frown. “You are going to say no again, aren’t you?”

“My dear little Misha. My work takes me into the forest. I would never get my herbs if I lived there. I have a place for everything, and everything in its place. Such as it is, this tree has been my home for most of my life. Most likely I shall die here.” He kissed her. “Still, every time you ask me, I feel warm inside.”

“Then I must ask more often.”

He quickly retrieved some heal-all and crushed it into a paste. This he put on the wound with all the care he could muster. “There, that should feel better.”

“It sure does.” She touched his cheek with her warm tongue.

“Take care of yourself, honey tree,” Rafiki said.

“I’m not in a hurry,” she replied. “Sit down. We’ll talk.”

With a smile that made his old face beautiful, he sat cross-legged on the ground. She came and laid her large, shapely head in his lap. Tears of grief and love flowed freely as he stroked her soft fur.

CHAPTER 56: THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD

Rafiki was not afraid of death, but he felt his own mortality stalking him. Someday it would spring and he would be cut down, and he must find someone to carry on his work.

He decided to go home for the first time since he left many years ago. He would return to the scenes of his youth and find what little of his past is left to him. And while he was there, he would look for the future. He took a gourd and hung it near his entrance. The moon painted on it said “I am away,” and from it he hung five small bundles of grass. One would mean “back momentarily.” Two would mean “returning later today.” Three meant, “try again tomorrow.” The message of five was unmistakable. “I will return someday, God willing.”

Taking only his staff and a few herbs for his back pains, he left his home in the baobab.

The herbs he needed grew in the edge of the forest, but it had been a long time since he immersed himself in the dense trees. The light was dim, and fell in small golden patches around him that shifted drunkenly in the wind. Huge trunks like columns bore a roof of verdant leaves. It took him a moment to find where he was.

The path had changed some, but it brought back many old memories. Rafiki found himself deeply stirred. Crossing a stream where he used to play as a child, he reached in and got a small flat rock. He pulled back his hand, and unhampered by age gave it a quick snap, skipping it once, twice, and again across the water. “Still got it,” he muttered with satisfaction. He went and sat on the bank in the spot where his father had talked with him about the facts of life. Much of the anger that he had carried for years was gone. He was left with the good memories of a kind father that loved his family.

After a rather long walk, he finally got back to the village where he was born. With a smile of fond recognition, he looked at the clearing, and at the lone acacia that stood in the center. One of the females was pounding roots with a stone. Another was nursing an infant and gossiping with her companion. Young were running about, playing tag. “Asante sana, squash banana! We we nugu, me me apana!” Once he had been one of those.

He stopped to talk with one of the females. One after another of the friends he asked about was dead. Chango’s son was still there, as was a nephew of Bugweto. Duma, who had once terrorized him, was a pale shadow of his former self. He didn’t recognize Rafiki, but as his son said, “Some days he does not recognize me. Today is not one of his better days.” Pity surged in Rafiki. He tried hard not to associate the trembling, drooling specter with his childhood arch enemy.

Most never heard of, Rafiki, even though he used his old name. Finally he saw his old friend Wandani.

Wandani came up to the strange mandrill, still looking rather young. “Sir, can I help you find something?”

“Don’t you sir me, Wandani! What’s the matter—don’t you know your best friend?”

Wandani looked at him carefully. His eyes misted up. “Oh my gods!” He reached out and touched the snow white whiskers and looked at the wrinkled face. “Metutu, what happened?”

“Is that any way to greet an old friend?”

“I’m sorry!” Wandani hugged him firmly, stroking his back and patting his shoulder. “Metutu, I didn’t realize how long it had been! My dear friend!” He wept.

“It does my heart good to see you again.”

“Same here. So how is Asumini? How many children did you have?”

“You mean you don’t know?” The freshness of the pain surprised Rafiki as the tears welled up in his eyes. “She died after the first year. My daughter Penda too. It was a crocodile.”

Wandani gasped, bit his lip, and began to sob. “Oh no!” He hugged Rafiki so tightly he could hardly breathe. “Forgive me, but I must tell you I was in love with her.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It doesn’t matter. She never returned my feelings. Oh gods! Not my little Asumini!”

“Rafiki Wandani. My dear old friend. How many times I’ve wondered what happened to you.”

Wandani struggled to regain his composure. “Well, let’s see. Your brother Makoko died about three years ago of blood fever. His son Kudura is now in charge. Of course your dad is long gone, but you would have expected that.”

Wandani took Rafiki to the spot where his father died. “Here we buried his totem, right next to the effigy of Kima. It was his wish. Now some wanted to destroy it because he was an Aiheuist. It’s still not a safe philosophy, but it’s not actually illegal anymore. It’s beginning to spread, too.”

Rafiki smiled. “That’s what Busara said. He knew what he was talking about.”

Next Rafiki passed by the tree where he had grown up. It still stood much as it had then. But there was a different home that called to him, one that had briefly been a refuge from the harshness of the world.

The cave was unoccupied. He and Wandani felt their way back into the dark recess as far as they dared. The few remaining lamps were long dried and withered. He had never even reached the stone column where he had first pledged his life to Aiheu.

Suddenly there was a soft blue light. They looked about, startled. “Asumini?”

The lioness purred. “Honey tree, welcome home. Hello Wandani!”

“It’s her!” Wandani said, shaking. “The ghost!”

“She’s quite nice when you get to know her.” Rafiki knelt and hugged her. “Oh it’s good to see you again! Has it been so far to travel that you won’t drop by?”

“You don’t need me. Most of my crowd are dead, so there’s not much left to hold me to this world. But my love for you is deathless.” She nuzzled him. “Take the cord from around my neck.”

It was the tooth that Busara had worn—her own canine on a cord braided from Ahadi’s mane. Rafiki pointed to himself, and she nodded. He slipped the cord around his neck.

“Now when you are lonely for me, I will be next to your heart. But don’t live in the past. As I have been to Busara, Uzuri has been to you. Appreciate what Aiheu has given you.”

“I know, but I shall not forget you.”

She nodded her head. Suddenly the lights twinkled to life. It was as if Busara had only just stepped out. Glad for the light, Rafiki walked on past the pillar of stone and looked at the wall. Busara’s paintings called to him with messages both pious and joyful. But they were also reminders of a happy time that had long since fled. He knelt down and looked at the painting that represented himself. Next to him was young Asumini, and their hands were joined. Rafiki reached out with his fingertips and brushed them lightly over Asumini. “My wife, my lover, my dear friend.” He looked at Wandani, a melancholy smile on his face. “I am fast growing old. Someday when my people are free, you must bring them here and show them these paintings. Tell them about Busara. Tell them that death itself could not destroy the work of Aiheu.”

“If not me, I promise I will send my son.”

“What is his name?”

“Metutu, of course.”

CHAPTER 57: THE COUNCIL’S CHOICE

“Now when Baba who was the first lion breathed upon the cheek of Mamaan, she kindled new life. After two moons, she began to show, and they did not understand the light in her eyes. In fear, Mamaan called upon Aiheu to heal her.

“Aiheu only smiled and said, ‘Surely you will not die. Be of good cheer, for you will bring life into the world.’

“Baba and Mamaan did not understand, for there had been no cubs before. But their trust was in God, and they endured the suffering of birth expecting what the Lord had promised them.

“And when the two were born who were the firstborn of lions, they gladdened the hearts of their parents. The male was named Huba, for he was born of love. The female was Rajua, for she was the promise of hope.

“Aiheu came to see the cubs and to teach Baba and Mamaan the ways of parenthood. He also strictly charged them that what he taught should be passed down through the generations, father to son and mother to daughter. And so it is done to this day according to the will of God.”

— LEONID SAGA, “A” SECTION, VARIATION 3

Rafiki’s fame had come to the attention of the council. So he had little trouble getting an appointment with the elders. They were curious to see him, if for no other reason then to ask him about the mysterious new cures he’d discovered.

All Rafiki wanted was look for a successor. He fell before the Chief Kudura. “Unworthy am I.”

“I call thee worthy. Arise, Rafiki.” Kudura said, “We have considered your request. Among us is a youth who is bright and full of the fire to learn. I present Tambo.”

Tambo and his young brother Makaka stood before Rafiki. “Great Shaman,” he said, “I have studied long and hard. Test me according to your great wisdom. See if I may help you and learn from you.”

“He’s really good,” Makaka said. “He’s a hard worker too.”

Tambo frowned. “Speak when you’re spoken to. This is a Council meeting!”

Rafiki looked long and hard at Tambo, then he glanced at his younger brother. “So little fellow, you say he’s a hard worker?”

“Yes sir.”

“Look at me right in the eyes, son.”

Makaka looked into Rafiki’s eyes. “Oh my,” Rafiki said. The old shaman looked at Tambo again. The older brother was getting impatient. “Aren’t you going to ask me any questions, sir?”

“I just did.” Rafiki scratched his whiskers. “You answered honestly and completely.” Then he rested his hand on Makaka’s head. “My boy, do you know what a lion is?”

“Yes sir.”

“Do you want to meet a REAL lion?”

“Yes sir.”

“How would you like to come live with me?”

Makaka smiled shyly. “Do you mean I can come too?”

“No, I mean just you. To become the next Shaman to the King?”

“Oh neat!”

The council members were scandalized by this choice. Kudura silenced their chatter with a sweep of his hand. “Are you sure?”

“I am sure, my lord. The sign is upon him.”

Kudura had been hoping Tambo would be chosen. Tambo owed his status to his agreement with the chief on practically every issue. And he could be counted upon to come back with reports of the strange goings on. Such as the use of powdered Alba and of scrying with sepal root. But Kudura could not let his feelings be detected and he kept his pleasant but enigmatic smile. “Let us have a short recess while I consider your request.”

Rafiki is escorted a short distance away while the council members carry on an animated discussion. Rafiki knew not to take the council’s recommendation lightly, especially after what had happened to his father.

Kudura himself came to him. “I would speak with you privately, old whitebeard. You presume much because you are my uncle. I think you want to take all your secrets back with you, but if you are to have the boy, you must answer me one thing. You were the son of Kinara, and destined to be chief. You gave up power for something else. To these followers of mine, I have everything that can be desired. But do not hold out on me. Tell me about this great thing that was worth more than being chief.”

Rafiki smiled and presumed to place his arm around the chief’s shoulder. It reminded him of a similar question he once asked Busara. “I have had thorns through my heart. I have held up cubs soft and tenderly and watched them grow old and wither like grass. I have bound up wounds and pulled roots till my hands were callused. Sleep have I lost, and many meals have I forgone. My wife and child have I lost. My youth was stolen before I had enjoyed it. Still, when I am loved, I am loved more than you could ever imagine. Your kind of power can inspire fear and respect, but it cannot bring you what I have found. You must seek that on other paths.”

Kudura looked at him in wonder. “Honestly spoken. I cannot be angry with such candor. I feel more noble just from looking at you.”

Rafiki bowed. “I feel more noble just listening to you, my great nephew.”

“Don’t flatter me, Rafiki. There is no flattery in my words. It is too late for me, but if you had taken me when I was Makaka’s age, it would have been different.”

CHAPTER 58: FACE TO FACE

Come sisters through the embracing grass.

Sunlight shouts, but moonlight whispers.

Mysteries abound in the shadows

And uncertainty stalks the savanna.

Earth mother, gently support me, conceal me.

Wind giver, misty clouds, breathe into my face.

Take my fragrance away from the fleet gazelle

And grant me my heart’s desire.

— WIMBOA SIMBAKE (SONG OF THE LIONESS)

As Rafiki and Makaka reached the border of the savanna, Makaka felt apprehensive. “Will they like me?”

“Sure they will. I liked you from the moment we met.”

“It’s so open here—all this grass.”

“It exalts the spirit. You must see the sun rise from Pride Rock.”

“Is that your house?”

“Yes.”

“Can I have my own room?”

“If you wish.”

“Can I go home to visit once in a while?”

“Sure you can. I wish I had. But after a while you will realize you are home. Home is where you are loved.”

“When will I meet a real lion?”

“In a few moments. I see her coming now.”

“Where? Where??”

“Over there. Don’t be afraid. You’ll become use to it.”

Makaka looked up, way up. His knees began to buckle. Rafiki put his steadying hand behind his back to keep him from falling over.

The large head of the huntress drew near. Makaka could smell the warm moisture of her breath, the mild scent of her fur. The large eyes were fixed on him.

“Please don’t hurt me.”

“I won’t.” Uzuri smiled and pushed forward, nuzzling him gently. Then she touched his cheek with her large tongue.

Makaka gathered a little strength and took a good look at her. “Isn’t she beautiful!” he told Rafiki. He was almost afraid to make the remark directly to her. Then when she nuzzled him again, he asked, “May I?”

He realized his hope, putting his arms around her strong neck. “Oh, your fur is so soft! Oh, this is so wonderful! You even smell good! Can I come home with you?”

Uzuri looked at Rafiki. “Got any more like him?”

Rafiki chuckled softly. “I think you’ve made another conquest.”

Without fear, Makaka looked right into Uzuri’s soft eyes. She smiled gently and so did he. “What’s your name?”

“Uzuri.”

He bowed awkwardly. “Makaka,” he said. “Glad to meet you, Uzuri.”

“So I gathered.” She rubbed his cheek with her paw with surprising gentleness. “And I’m very glad to meet you, Makaka.”

“Can I see you again?”

“Any time.”

“Where can I find you?”

“Don’t worry. I’ll find you.”

With only a mild rustle, Uzuri disappeared into the grass.

“Wow,” Makaka said. “I was right next to a real lioness!”

“You were right next to seven real lionesses.”

Makaka looked around nervously. “Seven?”

“That I counted, anyhow. Don’t worry. You’re safe. In fact, you’re safer now than you’ve ever been before.”

When they departed, Makaka was talking non-stop about her. “Are all lions like her?”

“No two are alike. Just like us, they are all different.”

“I mean nice like her.”

“Well, more or less. Fact is, if you were an antelope you might not like her as much.”

“I should think not,” Makaka said with a nervous laugh. “Those were really big teeth. Big!”

“Yes. But when she carries cubs by the nape of the neck, she doesn’t leave a scratch. It’s not what your mouth looks like, but what you do with it that makes you dangerous. My old teacher was killed by a single word from a mandrill just like you.”

“Was it a magic word?”

“No. It was a thoughtless word. That is the worst kind.”

“Does Uzuri like me?”

“I think she really likes you,” Rafiki said.

“That’s nice. I’d hate to mess with her.”

“I don’t just mean you’re safe. I mean she really likes you, and she will miss you when you part. She doesn’t usually take to someone right off. Maybe you’re special.”

Makaka grinned broadly. “I’m glad. I really like her too. She’s really special.”

“When you stop to think about it, everyone is really special,” Rafiki said. “But you made me very proud today. I took a great risk turning down the council’s choice. The gods pointed to you.” Rafiki stroked his whiskers. “But don’t let it go to your head, you hear me? The gods did not choose you so much for what you have done, but what you are expected to do.”

“And what is that?”

“What you did today. Spread your love around. I’ll tell you friend, there are herbs I give out in small amounts. A little bit will do wonders. Too much may kill. But love is always best given in large doses and often. I can teach you how to use herbs, but only God can teach you to love. That’s why I did not pick your brother. Among other reasons.”

Makaka was now part of Rafiki’s job so he would have to meet everyone. Pride Rock stood before them like a monument to nature’s immense power. The sheer size of it took Makaka’s breath away.

“Can we get closer?”

“We’re going to climb it.”

They took the winding path up to the cave. At the door, he met Zazu who said, “Greetings, Master Makaka. Welcome to the Pride Lands!”

“Thanks. Who is the big lion?”

“That is King Simba and next to him is Queen Nala.”

Makaka fell to the ground and crawled toward Simba face down the way he would before the chief elder saying, “Unworthy am I! Unworthy am I!”

Simba smiled. “Little one, you can’t be that unworthy or you wouldn’t be here.”

Makaka kept his forehead to the floor waiting for the signal to rise. Simba did not understand.

Finally after several awkward moments, Rafiki came forward and whispered something in Makaka’s ear. The young mandrill looked up timidly and said, “I touch your mane.”

“I feel it.”

“Really?” Innocently, Makaka came forward and reached out to feel of the long, soft fur. He looked at Nala and smiled. “Gee, you’re pretty.”

Nala purred and touched Makaka’s cheek with her paw. “You’re cute.”

Makaka smiled, embarrassed. But as soon as he felt he’d paid his respects, he went back to Uzuri, putting his hand on her shoulder.

Later, he went out on the promontory. “Here is where the great kings come in to their estate.”

Makaka went to the tip of the rock and looked down. The height scared him for a moment—it was much higher than any tree he’d ever climbed. Then he gathered his strength, drew in a deep breath and went, “Rrrwawwrr!”

Rafiki said, “You’ll have to do better than that if you want to be King of Pride Rock someday.”

Makaka set his eyes. He drew in a very deep breath and opened his mouth. Suddenly an earth-shaking roar nearly sends Rafiki into a panic. He looked around and saw Uzuri, a mischievous grin on her face.

CHAPTER 59: UZURI AND MAKAKA

Uzuri came to think of Makaka almost as her own cub. She looked after him, gave Rafiki loads of unsolicited advice on taking care of him, and every chance she got she mothered him. Makaka responded in kind. In fact, he practically worshipped her.

That’s why she ended up telling him stories of the old times, of the gods and the customs. Because from her came the undiluted leonine viewpoint. She was the authority after all, being somewhat fond of her culture. Rafiki contented himself with teaching Makaka the ceremonial and pharmacological arts.

Once when Uzuri was talking with Makaka, she told him about tracks. “When they are close, an animal was moving slowly. When far apart, it was moving quickly. How deep they are tells you how heavy the animal is. Even sometimes if it is male or female. The point is you can tell much about an animal from the tracks it leaves. If you would know about Aiheu, look at his tracks. He has marked this land and everyone in it. When I look at you, I see his wisdom and beauty, so I have no excuse for ignorance of God.”

Makaka kissed her. He yawned, tired from a long time listening to stories. Snuggling down, he curled up with her as a pillow for his head. Uzuri tenderly draped her paw over the child. Rafiki came looking for him and found him asleep next to Uzuri.

“Be very quiet,” she said. “He’s asleep. A little too much folklore, I suppose.”

“If he doesn’t learn his herb medicine, it will be all your fault.” Rafiki was being friendly, but a little reproachful.

“If he doesn’t have love, his medicine will have no heart.”

“Well met,” Rafiki said with an approving nod. He knelt down by her and said quietly, “The boy needs a mother. I try to care for him, but I cannot be a mother.”

“He must eat with you. I know nothing about such things.”

“Agreed. That and his herbal lore. All else I give you. Frankly, I envy the child.”

“I can see that. He has powers I can feel, but not understand.”

“Not the powers,” Rafiki said. He tugged at his chin whiskers. “Sometimes old Rafiki gets sad and feels sick inside. I don’t want to be young again, but I long to feel my mother’s kind arms around me. No one else made me feel that safe and contented—except you.”

Uzuri looked at him with her soft eyes and gently purred.

CHAPTER 60: TURN BACK THE SUN

Makaka looked with great interest at the paintings inside the baobab tree. “What’s that? It looks like an eye.”

“That’s the eye of Aiheu, watching out for us.”

“Look at those monkeys. That’s you and me, and who’s this?”

“Well, that’s me, but this is my wife and here is my daughter.”

“Where are they?”

Rafiki drew his fingertips across the picture. “They’re in heaven with God.”

“You miss them?”

“All the time.” He reached into a small hollow and pulled out a carved wooden ball. “This belonged to my daughter. Her name was Penda.”

Makaka handled the ball. A strange look came over his face. “Whether it’s a boy or a girl, it will be beloved.”

“I always suspected you could read markers.” He handed Makaka Asumini’s digging stick.

Makaka ran his fingers over it. “Jasmine does not do well in direct sunlight.” He fingered the point and a pained look came over his face, and not because he pricked himself. He began to cry. “Give me back my daughter! Oh gods, don’t let it kill her! Metutu, help us!”

He began gasping. He was having an asthma attack. Rafiki grabbed away the stick and looked for Chi’pim. A few deep breaths of the strong, musky odor settled Makaka. But it took a long time of holding him close to stop his tears. “Oh my precious boy! Such a kind little heart!”

There would be no more experimenting with markers that day. In fact to be safe there were no more lessons in medicine or ceremonies. Rafiki sent Makaka to Uzuri to listen to her stories.

Makaka loved her. In fact, his love for her was so deep that it surprised those who saw them together. And Uzuri returned that love. It was clear that they were for all practical purposes mother and son.

The grief Makaka felt passed, and soon he was joking with her, trying to catch the tuft on her tail, and having a good time. Uzuri found that she did not have to tell stories to keep his attention, though they enjoyed listening to the tales of long ago.

One story of Uzuri happened not so long ago. She chose it out of love.

“Once there was a mandrill named Metutu. That meant ‘plain one’ for his face was not very beautiful nor was it very ugly. But inside he had a great beauty that was plain to anyone who looked with the heart.

“He came from a place far away in the forest to this very rock. Queen Akase was going to be a mother to twin sons, but she woke one morning in great pain and fever. Her friends told her that she would not have her sons. In fact, she was so sick they thought she would die. Then along came Metutu who looked at the sadness of Akase and her husband King Ahadi. And he decided that he must save the mother and her two cubs no matter what.

“He walked under the stars of night and prayed hard with his face to the ground. And an angel came and brought him magic herbs that would save Akase and her cubs.

“King Ahadi was so grateful that he kissed Metutu and gave him a new name. Now he’s called Rafiki, which means friend.”

Makaka smiled. “Tell me about Asumini and Penda.”

Uzuri looked a little upset, but she checked her emotions. “I didn’t know them for very long, but they were both good people. Maybe if you ask your Uncle about the leopardess he threw nuts at, he might smile. That’s when you can get him to talk.”

“The leopardess? Is that a funny story?”

“Yes, and worse, it’s true! You’ll embarrass him, but at least he won’t cry.”

Makaka yawned and stretched. It was time for his nap, something he coveted every second of snuggled against her soft fur. His eyes looked up and he saw Uzuri turn to look back. His warm smile had the usual effect of starting a bath, something he always enjoyed more than Togo and Kombi ever did. Makaka took nothing for granted, and he found the joy in everything he did. But he felt suddenly as if something was wrong. Very wrong.

“Uzuri, stop!”

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m not sure, but I have to see Rafiki.”

“You’re just having a panic attack.”

“No, it’s real. I’m sure.” He kisses her. “I’ll be back, I promise!”

With his heart in his mouth, he ran as fast as his short legs would carry him across the broad savanna. Gasping for air, he was heedless of snakes, a flock of noisy guinea fowl, or even a vulture picking at a carcass.

Worn down, he finally stumbles into the baobab. “Rafiki! Come quick! I need your help!”

Rafiki was lying on the floor, curled up in a ball.

“Rafiki, wake up!” He shakes the limp mandrill, but there is no response. “Wake up! For the Gods’ sake!” Begins to panic. He grabs an owl quill. Holding the tip in front of his nose, the shaft did not twitch. He held the small tuft of down fluff on the base of the feather in front of his nostrils. There was a very slight stirring.

Makaka went to the door. “Uzuri! Anybody! Help! Can anyone hear me?? Oh gods, can anyone hear me??”

He began to sob. “Don’t leave me, Uncle! Don’t leave me!” There was a gourd of Bonewort lying shattered beside him. It was his usual medication—it had never affected him that way before. He held up some of the herbs. There was something else in there as well. A small strand of a brighter green that he could not recognize. Rafiki had evidently poisoned himself, but with what, Makaka had no idea.

“Oh gods, please help us! Aiheu, if you can hear me, please don’t let him die! Please!”

Makaka realized he nearly spent his nap time blissfully curled up on Uzuri’s side. He fell over Rafiki and began to sob again. He knew he’d never put the herbs in the gourds himself. Though he gathered herbs, Rafiki always checked them before he put them in the gourds. He racked his brains for one small hint of what to do. He tried to stop crying, but he couldn’t. “Oh gods, please help us!” Makaka’s breathing began to be labored. His stress had triggered an asthma attack.

“Not now!” He had to keep his courage up and fight it if Rafiki was to live.

Makaka bowed his head to the ground. “Mano, protect him! Minshasa, comfort him! Aiheu, save him! Please, if you can hear me, somebody help him!”

The wind shifted unexpectedly from the North to the West. The smell of wild honey came wafting into the baobab tree. As he breathed in the fragrance deeply, he relaxed. It opened his lungs, numbed his pain and made him very calm, collected. His hands began to glow softly.

“Who are you? What are you? What are you doing to me?” Makaka took in another deep breath of the honey fragrance and let it out slowly. With that breath, his fear leaked out. He took his hands and for lack of other ideas tried placing them on Rafiki. A tingling went out through his fingertips and palms. He felt like strength was flowing into Rafiki.

Rafiki took in a sudden gasp. His eyes popped open. “What happened?”

Makaka grabbed him about the neck and hugged him so tightly that he almost choked.

Rafiki kissed him. “I had left my body. I was floating above, looking down on myself. I remember saying, ‘Oh gods, send my Makaka to help me.’ And you came. Somehow I knew you’d come.”

CHAPTER 61: MAKAKA’S COOL PERIOD

Makaka was anxious to play with someone roughly his own size. While Togo and Kombi were not quite his size, at least they played roughly.

“Hey, fellows!” Makaka said.

“Yo, Makaka. Wanna play?”

“Gee, that would be swell!”

Togo looked at Kombi. “Is he speaking in simian?”

“I don’t think so. We have a serious problem here.”

Kombi felt of Makaka’s forehead. “Stick out your tongue, Master Makaka.”

“Aaaah.”

“Now belch!”

“Buuurrrrrp!”

Kombi said, “Uhhh! Gross! I love it! There’s hope.”

Togo shook his head. “I’m not so sure. Walk around, Makaka.”

Worriedly, Makaka paced back and forth. He watched Togo’s long face. “What’s wrong with the way I walk?”

“That’s not walking, it’s just going from place to place. We have to perscribe some therepy. It’s the only humane thing to do.”

Kombi put his paw on Makaka’s shoulder and gave it a reassuring pat. “Leave it to the doctor. He’ll clue you in.”

Togo stretched, letting his claws snap out full length, then yawned. “OK, first of all, I want four in the floor!”

“Drop down,” Kombi said.

“Now do like this.” He started forward with a syncopated slide. “A one and a two and a one-two-three. If you wanna be cool, gotta walk like me. Keep your chin turned up and maintain your pace, or your not really walkin, you’re just a changin your place.”

Makaka put his heart into it. “A one and a two and a one-two-three!”

“More bounce,” Kombi said. “Keep a slinky slide that’s the mark of the pride. Oh baby, you’re cookin now!”

“Gee! This feels swell!”

Togo abruptly stopped and Makaka ran right into him. “Let’s do something about that ‘swell’ thing! This is a full-blown cultural emergency!”

Kombi said, “Repeat after me. Cooool!”

“Cooool!”

“All right!”

“All right!”

Kombi began to smile. “Can you dig it!”

“Can you dig it!”

“He learns fast!” Kombi said, “This one takes real effort.” He held up his paw and, being quick on the uptake, Makaka high-fived him.

“How does that feel, ape dude??”

“Gee, it feels swell!”

Kombi shot Togo a pained glance. “I hate to see the little guy suffer. Cancel all my other appointments.”

Meanwhile, Togo and Kombi’s mother was getting her stiff shoulder rubbed by Rafiki. Uzuri half closed her eyes and purred as the mandrill’s skilled hands massaged the pain away.

“Today Makaka ground his own Campa root,” Rafiki said. “You know, that boy is headed for great things. When I was his age, I was out playing with my friends. He’s probably saying his morning prayers right now.”

“I don’t know about that,” Uzuri said. “Children have to be children. They’re not just small adults. I give him love—and that’s not to say that you don’t—and you give him wisdom. But he needs to get out and play. And I don’t mean alone. He needs to learn from other young and growing minds. He needs to burn off excess energy. He needs to have a life.”

“And you don’t think he has one?”

“I didn’t say that. I only meant that everyone needs to do some service, but they all have to be served too. Makaka is a child. He needs a childhood.”

Rafiki put his hands under Uzuri’s ears and began to rub in little circles. She purred again, closing her eyes. “Oh yes!” she murmured.

“You make a valid point, old girl. Maybe I forget sometimes how it felt to be young. Do you think the cubs would accept him?”

“All right!” Kombi shouted. “We’ve created another masterpiece!”

“Too cool!” Togo answered.

“Just gotta get with the program,” Makaka said, slinking about with a swaggering flip of his tail. “Cool isn’t a thing, it’s a way of life.”

“It just gets me right here,” Togo said, patting his chest. “Another soul snatched from the jaws of utter geek-dom.”

Later that day Rafiki returned, tired but refreshed by his time with Uzuri. “Hello, Makaka.”

“Yo, daddy-o.”

“Huh?”

“You look beat, dude. Why don’t you chill while I raid the pantry.”

“Chill?” He watched the way Makaka slinked to the cache of fruit. “Is there something wrong with your legs?”

“Man, my dogs are barking! You know what they say—sometimes life’s a…”

Rafiki clapped his hand over Makaka’s mouth. “TOGO!! KOMBI!!”

CHAPTER 62: DIETARY REQUIREMENTS

“Aiheu showed them that the earth was large but not boundless, and offered them a choice: “You may choose amongst yourselves who will be fruitful and continue the line, or you may choose to be treated alike, and I shall decide how to limit your numbers.”

There was only a short discussion before they answered, saying: “My Lord, we are brothers and cannot deny others what we desire for ourselves.” In those days, their love for one another was fresh, for they were equal as spirit children and none oppressed the other.

Aiheu smiled upon them, saying: “There is wisdom in compassion. You shall all be fruitful, but you will face challenges from your own people and from other peoples.”

Aiheu seperated them into two groups, and one group dwarfed the other. “To the greater group, I give the plants of the field and the fruits of the trees. But lest you strip the earth of all green things with your offspring, I give the lesser group a taste for blood. To them I give the eaters of plants.”

Some of the plant eaters were upset and cried out to God that they should not all die. To this, Aiheu answered, “I offer you to the hunters, but they must catch you first. Be vigilant, wise, and careful, and you will not perish from the land I give you.”

For a while life was fearful for the hunter and the hunted, but as the seasons passed they discovered new pleasures, and from them new life. And only then did they fully appreciate the wonder of their existance.

— THE LEONINE STORY OF BEGINNINGS, VARIATION C-7-A

Rafiki and Makaka heard the climax of a hunt very close to the baobab. Makaka is stunned; he was seeing his friends in a new light; he knew they hunted for a living, but he’d never seen a kill in all its gory detail before.

Makaka turned to Rafiki. “They are so gentle sometimes.”

“So are you. You must the creation, when Aiheu offered a choice to all living things, and all of them agreed that this way was better than the alternatives. We all live, love, and die. We are all children of the same God, and when we do what we are called to do, we return to him, all reaching the same destination and the same joy. There will be no room in a heart full of love and wonder for hard feelings.”

Makaka headed over to join the fray. Quickly he grabbed a piece of meat and bit down. As he chewed, his face screwed up in displeasure. But unwilling to spit it out, he continued to chew slowly.

“Good, isn’t it?” one of the cubs said. Makaka nodded his head, swallowed hard, and went back to Rafiki.

“Ugh!” He stuck out his tongue as if it had been burned. The moist, musky smell filled his breath as he breathed out, and flooded his throat, emanating from his red-flecked face. “Eeew! Do you have any Tiko root?”

Rafiki got some from a gourd. He handed a piece to Makaka who chewed it rapidly, filling his breath with the rich minty aroma that took the smell of raw meat away and settled his stomach.

“They like this stuff?”

“Love it. Still, you were very brave. I don’t think I could have swallowed that stuff—not raw, anyhow.”

He kept chewing the Tiko root. “Oh yeah. That’s much better. May I have some water to wash it down?”

Uzuri came over bearing a piece of meat with a broad smile on her face. “This is the best part. It was hard to get this away from those greedy gusses.”

“You did this for me?” Makaka said.

“It was no trouble. Not for my special little boy.”

Makaka looked at her expectant smile. He picked up the piece of meat and without hesitation took a large bite. “Thanks so much,” he said, a little drop of warm blood running down his cheek.

Uzuri is pleased. “My boy is going to grow up big and strong eating like that!”

He came and put his arms around her neck, stroking her soft fur. Makaka’s heart was so full of love, he forgot to feel sick.

CHAPTER 63: MOURNING BECOMES HER

Uzuri had been depressed since the mantlement of Togo and Kombi. For that reason Habusu was sure he was bearing the most wonderful news. He rushed quickly to find the hunt mistress.

“Guess what, Uzuri! I just saw Togo and Kombi!”

“You did? Where??”

“Right next to the Pride Lands! They are our neighbors now. They took over their own kingdom when Ugas died. How about that! Now you can sneak down and see them whenever you want.”

“Yes,” she said, a little weak in the knees. “I see.”

“I knew you’d be thrilled.”

“Yes, of course.” Uzuri’s jaw began to tremble, and tears filled her eyes. She ran off quickly rather than be seen in that state. She knew the only place where she could go and find understanding in her predicament, and she headed at once for Rafiki’s baobab, running across the savanna without a single pause to rest.

Rafiki was looking into his scrying bowl. Without even looking up, he said, “Come in, Uzuri. I’ve been expecting you.”

She looked at the bowl of water. “Just how much do you know?”

“I knew you would come by.”

“And how about Ugas. Is he?”

“Yes, he is.” Rafiki looked at her face with some concern. “So you found out today, did you?”

“Habusu told me.” Trying to maintain her perpetual dignity, Uzuri seated herself, head erect even in grief, and only her tail tip betrayed her inner struggle. “I want you to help me. This is secret—tell no one. Ugas, my husband, must be mourned.”

“Of course.”

“I want you to come with me. My heart is heavy, and I have no one I can tell. I need someone, Rafiki, as once you needed me.”

“What an honor,” he said, putting his hand over her paw and giving it a little squeeze. Her regal demeanor was well-kept, but Rafiki knew how she must feel inside.

“Uzuri,” he shyly ventured, “Ugas was my good friend. He spoke often of you. He would ask me about Togo and Kombi. Too bad he never met them—his own sons.”

“It was too bad,” she agreed tonelessly.

Rafiki worried about all the pent-up grief she carried. “Where do you want to hold the ceremony?”

“Our special place. The bank of the stream that runs along the border of our kingdoms. There is a patch of reeds there. We would meet there at times.”

“I know.”

“He told you? Did you know him that well?”

“Very well.” Rafiki watched the tip of her tail twitch. Her stare was regal but rigid and forced. His heart went out to her. “I’ll keep your secret, but you must keep mine. I have a little something for you.”

He reached in a gourd and pulled out a lock of golden fur. “I brought this back for my shrine.” Presenting it to her, he watched her quivering nostrils smell the old fragrance.

Her trembling paw reached out and stroked the lock of mane. Her eyes welled up with tears and she bent to face the ground. “Ugas,” she stammered. “My beloved Ugas!”

Rafiki took the liberty of putting his arms around her strong, shapely neck and held her to his breast. She leaned her head on his shoulder lightly.

“Uzuri, how it breaks my heart to see your grief. I know what it’s like to lose a mate. I will pray for you day and night.”

“You’re a good friend,” Uzuri said quietly. “I knew you would understand.”

That was the closest Uzuri came to telling Rafiki she loved him too, and the mandrill gave her a little squeeze. “You were always a queen to me. You always will be.”

Uzuri, as soon as she regained her composure, said, “Until high moon.” She pulled herself erect, walked with regal dignity out of the baobab, and bid him farewell.

Rafiki was nervous. He had wanted to arrange the service a little earlier, for there was a danger ahead, and the “special place” would be used for other matters.

He stuck a stick straight into the ground. As the moon’s shadow shortened, he watched the midmoon hour approach. “Please, o gods, let us get this over with before it’s too late.”

As if in answer to his prayers, Uzuri came a little early. She stalked in somberly and for this brief time set aside her reserved manner. Ugas was dead, and she would not want his spirit to look down on her and find her cold.

“Oh, Ugas! Oh gods, my husband, my lover, my heart! He’s dead!”

Tears began to stream down her face. She wanted to roar, but dared not. Instead, she nestled in the sanctuary of Rafiki’s arms and sobbed.

“That wonderful lion! That kind and gentle soul! What little time we spent together made me more noble, more grand just for having loved him! And let me tell you, Rafiki, more important than his breath on my cheek was being there with him. He was caring, with a voice as warm as a good nuzzle, and a nuzzle as warm as the sun. Sometimes we would just lie side by side, and I would smell the honest fragrance of his mane against my cheek. He always made me feel special and beautiful. The last time we made love, he said—” Tears began to stream down her face and she looked at the ground unable to control herself.

“What did he say?”

“He looked at me sadly and said ‘Love me as if it was for the last time.’” The words stung Rafiki, and he put his arms around her neck, kissing her around the face.

“My poor girl! My poor little girl! It will get better with time. You will never be the same, but you will learn to live with the loss, as I have.”

Uzuri looked around and touched Rafiki’s face with her warm tongue. “I was right. You do understand.”

At that painful moment, another lioness showed up—Barata. Rafiki sighed.

“What is she doing here?” Uzuri asked curtly.

“Uzuri, dearest, try not to be too upset.”

Uzuri went to Barata who was embarassed and intimidated by the wrath of the hunt mistress. “You are here because of him, aren’t you??”

“He had an affair with you too? I didn’t know! I swear I didn’t know!”

“Affair?? He was my husband!”

“You never told me!” Barata rolled over on the ground. “I swear, Uzuri, I would never have cheated on you. It was only once, and it was many moons ago. Oh gods, I love you! You’re my pride sister! I’m sorry!”

Uzuri nuzzled her. “Get up, friend. I should have gone to be with him. I left him alone, and I can understand how this might happen.” She tilted her head puzzled. “Still, I always thought you never had an interest in—you know.”

“Just because I never got pregnant didn’t mean I never…” She glanced over at Rafiki. “You know.”

Ajenti poked her head through the bushes. She saw the other two lionesses and gasped. “Oh my gods!”

Isha pushed past her. She looked appraisingly at the other lionesses. And shook her head. “I knew I wasn’t the only one, but I underestimated the old boy.”

“Watch what you say about my husband!” Uzuri spit.

“Your husband??” Isha said.

“Your husband??” Ajenti chimed.

Rafiki held up his hands and tried to begin the ceremony. “Death has struck down our friend Ugas. Let us remember him as a brave lion, a good lion, whose heart was full of love…”

“Yeah, you can say that again!” Ajenti quipped.

Isha nodded assent. “He was Bango’s father. And I must admit he was a good lion—quite good.”

“Yes,” Sarafina said. “He was good, wasn’t he?”

“Sarafina? You too?”

Rafiki stood helplessly as the lionesses began to compare their relationships.

“I couldn’t imagine you’d like him,” Sarafina told Isha. “I like a comfortable routine, but you would have gone crazy. The same old thing every time.”

“Never the same thing twice!” Isha said. “Are we talking about the same Ugas?”

“And his sense of humor,” Sarafina said. “He always told the funniest jokes. Most of them don’t bear repeating in public, but there was this great one about the elephant and the rhino that would kill you!”

“Jokes??” Uzuri was outraged. “That somber, powerful and tragic lion of destiny??”

Barata said, “It seems he sized us up like prey. He chose a different approach with each of us. Sisters, we were had!”

“It was worth it,” Sarafina said.

“I learned a few things,” Isha said.

“Now ladies,” Rafiki said forcefully. When he got their attention, he lowered his voice to some semblance of dignity. “He meant a lot to you all, and we honor his life. He was devoted to his extended family, he had enough love to go around, and he died the way he lived, doing what he loved best.”

“It must have been ‘Old Number Four.’” Isha said. “That will do it if you have a weak heart.”

Rafiki shook his head. “Ladies, put aside your judgment. He was with us for a time, now he is gone. Let us remember that whatever else he was, he was a child of Aiheu, a compassionate lion, a fair lion, a wise ruler, and for me a dear and gentle friend. And we will all miss him. His first wife died of Babesa, very horribly. His second wife was killed in a hunting accident. After that, he was always afraid of commitment. He was, as Uzuri saw so plainly, a very tragic lion who had known much suffering. The comfort you brought him was the only good thing to brighten his long and lonely life. Out of love, he wanted you by his side, but out of love he sent you away to keep you safe from harm. Now from the stars he looks down and sees your sad faces. Now he is no longer afraid to love you with his whole heart.”

They all roar, then start bawling. It felt good to be able to share that hidden grief with a friend, and they huddled together as they wept.

The moon drifted ever onward, and by ones and twos the lionesses left to return to Pride Rock and try to sleep. Finally Uzuri had Rafiki alone and she clearly had unanswered questions.

“Why, Rafiki? If this is true, why did Ugas marry me?”

“So your children would be legitimate heirs to reign after him. You see, you are the very image of his second wife. He often called her Kamba—‘Honey Tree.’”

“He would call me that when he…” She looked at Makaka and paused. “You know… at the height of passion.” Her eyes filled with tears. “Oh gods! Bless his precious old heart! That poor, sad lion!”

Quiet except for her sobs, she turned and wandered slowly into the night to be alone.

Makaka pulled at Rafiki’s arm. “That’s so sad. We ought to say a prayer for her.”

“We will.”

“And we ought to say a prayer for him and his other two wives.”

“There were no other wives,” Rafiki said. “But you must never tell another soul that. Especially not Uzuri.”

“You told a lie?”

“In her case, it was the only merciful thing to do.”

Makaka looked puzzled. “What’s Old Number Four?”

Rafiki patted him on the back. “Isha promised to tell me someday—when I’m old enough.”

CHAPTER 64: SUNSET

“I tell you he’s smiling. And well he might smile. His life will be easy and free from pain, at least if I have any say over it.”

— CHIEF KINARA

Makaka was too quick to hurry up the side of Pride Rock. It triggered an asthma attack, and Rafiki nervously rummaged through his medications in the wan light of dusk looking for silver vein mint. He was only sure by the smell, and when he crushed a few leaves and held them under Makaka’s nose, the youth began to settle down and breathe deeply.

“I can carry you back down, but I can’t carry you to the top.”

“Let’s go on up. I can make it.”

With more caution and reserve, Makaka went up the shaft of stone to the tip, followed by Rafiki.

“You need to be more careful,” Rafiki said, taking his seat on the end of the shaft.

Makaka sat next to him. “I’ll try. Well, some of the time.”

“What does that mean?”

“I was just thinking.” Makaka paused for a long time. “You know, it’s like Minshasa told me. I was safer in the village, but I’m happier here.”

“I must admit I’m happier with you here.”

He put an arm around Rafiki. “I love you too.”

As they sat together, the African Sunset came to its climax, the red orb of the sun wavering as it sank below the horizon. Overhead in the afterglow a few stars winked into the purple sky, watching over the land and its peoples. A lioness came and sat next to them quietly. Makaka scooted over to her and slipped his arms around her plush, strong neck. Uzuri touched the child with her warm, pink tongue. Then she looked over at Rafiki. “It’s you I came to see.”

“Me?”

“Yes. Makaka can wait in the cave.” She sent the child away with a gentle pat of her paw, then twitched her head for Rafiki to come closer. “You are tired, honey tree. This world has worn you thin. I can almost see the moonlight through you.”

“We’re none of us getting younger, old girl.”

“How well I know.” Her eyes, old but still alert, met his. “There is not much time between sunrise and sunset. If you would not be caught out after dark, you must leave some time to do all the important things.”

Rafiki put his hand over her paw. “Do not talk of sunsets, my dear. I’ve seen more than my share.”

“Don’t make this harder than it has to be.” Uzuri sighed deeply. “I slipped in the hunt tonight. A hoof nearly caught me in the cheek. For one moment I looked death in the face.”

“Uzuri, dearest!” He gave her paw a squeeze. “You must be more careful. Don’t put a thorn in my heart. You, Makaka, and Misha are the reasons I go on living. You must never die.”

“Someday we all must die, but I have things I need to say before I go. Important things.”

“Is it what I think it is?”

“I hope so.” She touched him with her warm tongue and looked penetratingly into his eyes. “I love you, Rafiki.”

“Oh Uzuri!” Tears of joy began to stream down his face. He reached out and fondled her strong, soft neck and felt the gentle rhythm of her heart. “I love you too.”


THE END: THE SPIRIT QUEST