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 Leonid Saga” 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
David A. Morris: email@example.com
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.
This is a return to my roots as a fanfic author when David first expressed curiosity about the spiritual and mythological dimensions of Chronicles. Now I take the luxury of exploring those themes in a way that will help you share in the legacy a lioness would seek to pass to her cubs.
These stories are arranged in a way that makes the most sense. The storytellers themselves came from different times, and as you recognize old friends from the Chronicles series, you’ll notice that the times the stories were actually told would suggest a far different arrangement.
In three ways I put myself at risk before you. First by attempting to carry forward a self-contained story cycle. Second by undertaking a work that requires a different style. Third, by holding my personal ideas and feelings up to public scrutiny. The lions have a belief that if you can look at your reflection in the water and say something to it and not have to turn your glance away, then it must be so. I look at this reflection of mine and say, “I will take the risk,” and I do not turn away.
John Burkitt, Nashville, Tennessee
March 23, 1997
The material you are about to read represents a lot of history. In the simplest fashion, it is the history of the Leonid Saga, a tale of the heroes, villains, and events that are shrouded in mystery and spoken of as legends from lions and lionesses to their cubs.
It is also a deep personal look into John and I. The stories that follow have ranged the entire gamut of our “Chronicles” series… but most of them are what originally inspired us to tell the tale in the first place.
We invite you to share them with us.
David Morris, Wilmington, North Carolina
March 23, 1997
Makaka slowly and reverently ran his fingers over the body of Uzuri. As his tears splashed on her fur, he remembered many safe and happy times he had spent as a child hugging her strong, soft neck and snuggling to her side to sleep. But most vividly in that moment, he remembered her quiet voice telling him stories under the stars.
“Now you are with Mano and Minshasa,” he whispered. “Now they will be more than stories to you.” He caressed her cheek gently and sniffed back bitter tears. “Oh Momma, my love will find you wherever you are. And someday, I will find you too.”
The lionesses Misha and Swala came solemnly to move the body of their pride sister to its final resting place. Misha gently but firmly gripped one of Uzuri’s front paws, and Swala grasped the back of Uzuri’s neck. At a given signal, they both pulled backwards, and her body lurched forward about half a length. Makaka gasped in horror.
“Oh gods, don’t hurt her!” Makaka fell across the body and clung monkey-like to her neck. “Don’t bite her! Look, there’s blood on her neck! Oh gods, she’s bleeding! She’s bleeding!”
“It’s just her body,” Misha said soothingly. “Her Ka is in Heaven with Aiheu.”
“But there’s blood on her neck! Look, she’s hurt! See??” His hands reached for his throat and he began to gasp for breath. “Oh no!”
“Remember your asthma!” Swala said, nuzzling him softly. “Relax, Honey Tree! Try to relax!”
Makaka stared wide-eyed at the entrance of the cave, struggling for breath. His thin, ineffective gasps could not fan the flames of life, and he began to crawl in torment toward the one person that knew how to help him. He could not even call her name.
“Anasa! Come quickly!” Misha shouted. “He needs you!”
Makaka’s wife rushed in with a pouch she always carried with her for just such an emergency. She reached with trembling hands to sort through the different cures and finally pull out some silvervein leaves. She crushed them between her fingers, and putting an arm around her husband, she held the aromatic herbs in front of his nose and mouth till the minty smell permeated his lungs. The look of glazed panic left his eyes and his breathing became more regular. “There, my dear. Relax, honey tree. Everything’s going to be all right, my poor, dear husband! Breathe deeply. That’s it, darling. Deeply and slowly like crystal clear waters from a spring. Think about the spring, the calm, deep spring, and let the waters slowly carry your pain away.”
Between the silvervein and her gentle love, Makaka relaxed and began to take deep and regular breaths.
Anasa nodded at Misha, and the two lionesses took up their stations again. With a powerful effort, they started Uzuri on her last journey.
When Makaka found his tongue again, he shuddered and said, “She was bleeding! Oh gods, it was awful!” He looked down at his palm where the red bloom of her lifeblood lingered still. “She’s gone. All that’s left of her is a few drops of blood!”
“I cut a lock of her fur,” she said quietly. “She had me take it just for you yesterday. She knew the end was near.”
Makaka took the golden treasure and scented the familiar fragrance. His chin trembled and tears streamed down his face. “You don’t know how much this means to me. Thank you!”
Anasa put her arms around him and let him weep on her shoulder. “Husband, you really should thank Misha and Swala. Uzuri only stayed here because they promised to take her away, and now they’re going to have to drag her heavy body clear out to the eastern meadow. All this so you and Rafiki could spend a few more moments with her.”
“You’re right,” he said, reaching up to dry his tears. “Poor Misha and Swala! I treated them very badly.” He sniffed back tears. “I’ll give them some of the jerky that I was saving for the cubs. They really are good friends.” He managed to regain some of his composure. “Oh, I’ve been such a fool. I hope I didn’t hurt their feelings.”
“They will understand.” Anasa put her arm around his shoulder and held him near. “They love you, and so do I.”
He clung to Anasa and kissed her softly. “My little Nisei. What would I do without you?”
“I hope you’ll never know,” she said, resting her head on his shoulder. “We’re in this to the end.”
“When you are a King, forget not that the Antelope graze on
— Wisdoms of Jabani
Ahadi sat on the tip of the promontory, bathed in the warm glory of the morning sun. Young Mufasa was as close to the edge as his father would allow, watching at the distant herd of wildebeests. Their movement across the plain mesmerized him as the herd changed shape like a single dark cloud. Taka was snuggled between Ahadi’s arms, his back and head buried in the soft mane that wrapped his father’s face. Ahadi looked down at Taka and quietly kissed him between the ears. There was no need to say anything in that moment, and Taka simply rubbed his face against one of Ahadi’s powerful arms and touched it with his tongue.
The morning lesson had to come soon; before long, Mufasa would be too engrossed in games and adventures to concentrate on learning. Were Taka an only son, things would have been much simpler, for he was blessed with the patience and curiosity of his mother. He absorbed knowledge as dry earth absorbed rain.
Ahadi looked into the distance at the setting moon, and a slight wind stirred his mane as the morning winds ushered in the new day. “From the start there was Aiheu the Beautiful,” Ahadi said. His voice could be loud and commanding but that moment it was as soft and pleasant as a warm hug.
“Aiheu was the first of the living and the cause of all life. He had many spirit children, and he shared his love and knowledge with them. It was a happy time, but still unfulfilling for the lives of spirit children were of thought alone. And Aiheu sensed that his children were longing for something more.
“So Aiheu went to the world of Ma’at which at that time was completely dark and sterile. He put two lights in the heavens, the sun and moon. And the brightness of the sun caused the water to form clouds, and wherever the clouds rained on the dry earth, green plants grew. And so in time the world of Ma’at was changed from ugliness into beauty.
“And Aiheu summoned his spirit children to show them his work. The beauty of the land was the first thing they had ever seen, and they were very pleased. For a time, they explored the world, some preferring the skies, others the ground, others the trees, and others the waters. And yet they were still unfulfilled, for the sun did not warm them, the breeze did not cool them nor the waters wash them, and they could not feel the grass beneath their feet. And they asked Aiheu, ‘What does this land have to do with us? We are strangers here.’ So Aiheu moistened some soil with water, and with his hands shaped the first bodies. Some were fish, others birds, and others the animals that walked on land and climbed trees, each according to the domains they were created for. When he breathed into the bodies, they took on life and became dwelling places for spirit children. Because they were finally part of the world, they could feel the warm sun, the cool breeze, the waters and the grass. They had these and many other pleasures, but they were given a warning. The price of pleasure is often pain. And it was not long until they had all felt pain, yet they assured Aiheu that pleasure was worth the price. This was the first agreement, that pleasure is worth pain.”
Taka nudged his father’s leg. “Why did some spirits want to be birds, and some want to be fish? I was just born this way and I didn’t get to choose. Did they get to choose?”
“That’s a good question. Why do YOU think they chose the way they did?”
“I don’t know. I mean, who’d want to be a bird when you could be a lion?? They’re safe and their strong, and they’re so cool.”
“And they have to outrun dinner, and they get gored by impalas and they don’t know what it’s like to fly. Aiheu gave blessings to all his children.”
“Are you happy being what you are?”
“Why, if I may ask?”
“Because if I was anything else, I wouldn’t be your son.”
Ahadi cuddled him next to his heart with his broad, strong paw and purred deeply. “And I wouldn’t be your father, so we’re both glad.” He nudged Taka and smiled slyly, pointing at Mufasa. Unaware of his audience, Muffy kept glaring at the wildebeest herd as his father continued in a normal teaching voice
“Lions have several blessings. They get to eat dirt and roll in elephant dung. And when they’re really lucky, they get to jump in the thorn bush and flop around until their hides are red with blood. ISN’T THAT SO, MUFFY??”
“Of course,” Mufasa said, looking around. “Everyone knows that.”
“You do that as often as you should, don’t you?”
“Uh, yes sir. Maybe I forget sometimes, but not very often.”
Taka began to giggle and roll on the ground. “Eat dirt and roll in the dung!”
Mufasa looked at his brother sharply. “Well, maybe I missed a little bit.”
Ahadi nodded with a wry smile and continued. “Now that we’re all listening, understand that those bodies of Ma’at were not permanent. Earth, water and air may only rest apart. When they are mixed, they become restless and strive to separate. That is why death and decay are part of the world, for the elements will eventually prevail. Aiheu knew this, so he took steps to prevent the world from becoming sterile. He went to the Lake of Mara and changed its waters into the first milk. And all animals were brought together to drink from it.
“Milk fertilizes animals the way rain fertilizes plants, for it makes soil, water and air content to mix for a time. And all those who drank milk obtained the gift to produce milk in their bodies. The milk of the male could awaken new life in his mate, and the milk of the female could sustain it. For no living thing except Aiheu can create life from the ground by breathing into it. This was the second agreement, that life should always continue.”
Mufasa rolled on his back and looked up at his rudimentary teats. “Gosh, I didn’t know we could give milk!”
“Further back, nit-wit,” Taka said with an amused smile. “Gods, sometimes you act so dumb! When you get married, you sit on your wife’s tail and she’ll have babies!”
“Taka!” Ahadi shouted with a frown.
Taka flattened out on the ground, glanced at his father’s stern face, then looked away and shuddered. Indeed he looked so miserable, Ahadi could not remain angry and he came and nuzzled him.
“Son, we’ll discuss it later. Some things you need to hear from your father, not your little friends.”
“You’re not mad at me?”
“No, son. Surprised maybe, but not mad. But don’t ever call Muffy a nit-wit. Sometimes he has a little trouble paying attention, but he’s bright and what’s more, he loves you very much.”
Mufasa glanced at Taka plaintively, then shyly looked away. In his own way, his feelings were as easily hurt as his brother’s, but he had different ways of showing it.
“Come here, son. Well, Muffy?”
Mufasa looked at Taka, then looked away, and crept to his father’s side. Ahadi nuzzled him. “I’m sure Taka is very sorry he said that.”
Taka looked down and very quietly, very shyly said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have called you a nit-wit. Friends?”
Mufasa waited a while—he felt that Taka deserved to squirm for a moment.
“Well, son?” Ahadi nudged him and nodded slightly. “Do you accept his apology?”
“Yeah. I guess so.”
Ahadi smiled wryly and nudged him. “You guess so?”
Taka hopped up and down. “Oh goodie! Does that mean I get a big wet smooch?”
“I’ll smooch YOU!” Mufasa shouted, charging. He tangled with Taka, wrestling with abandon and giggling.
“STOP!” Ahadi was livid. “Not up here! My gods, do you want to fall off and get killed??”
Mufasa looked back at his left foot. Two of his toes were actually over the edge, and trembling he crouched and slinked away from the sheer drop-off.
“Now then, let’s finish the lesson while I still have my nerve.” Ahadi looked off the promontory, cringed, and took in a deep breath, letting it out in a sigh.
“The world was very large, but it was not without limits. So Aiheu offered his children two paths. Either they could choose who may carry on the line, or they could all be treated equally and Aiheu would find another way to control them. And they all said, ‘Treat us equally,’ for no one wanted to be the one to live alone. So Aiheu chose some animals to be hunters and others to be hunted that they may keep the earth in balance. Thus arose all the peoples and their ways that carry on to this day. This was the third agreement, that a full life involves struggle.
“Aiheu separated 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.’”
Ahadi looked at Taka and Mufasa. “What does this mean?”
“Me, me!” Taka chimed.
“Let your brother get this one.”
Mufasa thought for a moment. “Well, I think…”
Taka huffed. “He wasn’t paying attention!”
“No, Taka. Let him take his time.”
Mufasa said, “It means that God is fair. It also means that we’re all really brothers, and even though we kill antelopes and eat them, we shouldn’t hate them because they’re people just like us.”
Ahadi smiled and nuzzled him. “That’s EXACTLY what it means. See, Taka, your old father doesn’t have dim children!” Ahadi nuzzled Taka. “Do I, Taka?”
“Well??” He began to tickle him.
“I guess not. He he!”
“You guess not??”
Giggling and squirming, Taka said, “OK, OK! He he he! Cut it out, Dad! Daaaad!”
“Well all right then!”
When Ahadi sat upright again, Taka quickly sat back against his father’s chest and snuggled into his mane.
“And when Aiheu had set this into motion, he showed them that it was not random, but part of his plan from the beginning. The cycles of birth, growth, death, and decay were like four legs-they had to work together to travel anywhere. Yet from his steadfast love, he would have his children accept the three agreements of their own free will.
“Some beings did not choose to accept these agreements. These spirit children were the first Nisei, which are the good spirits which oversee the balances of creation. They are often called the minor gods, though they are truly brothers to the animals. The major gods arose from the lake of milk, and they were all kindly like Aiheu.
“Then one day Koko the gorilla came along. He wanted a son, though no female would pledge to him. So he made a crude baby out of mud, but not having the wisdom of Aiheu it was only in the outward shape of one. He threw the mud into the lake and it melted, spoiling the milk. From the fouled milk of Mara arose the terrible race of the Makei. 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.’”
“What happened to the gorilla?” Mufasa asked.
“Koko confessed what he did before Aiheu, and he was pardoned. Aiheu gave him authority over the mud to purge the lake, and he became the keeper of the lake until it was finally drained at the end of the first era. Because he drank from the milk each day, he only began to age when the lake was no more, and his days were two hundred and seventy years.”
Taka said, “But if it kept him alive all that time, wasn’t Aiheu rewarding him for doing something wrong?”
“Who said it was a reward?” Ahadi asked with a sly grin. “How would you like to guard that watering hole for two hundred and seventy years?”
“I see what you mean.”
“Personally, I’m glad that if I take care of you, God willing I’ll die first as is the natural order of things, and I’ll never have to watch my sons die.”
“But I don’t want to watch you die either!” Taka said, pressing tighter against his father.
“Of course you don’t. But by then you and Sarabi will be married and have lots of cubs to take care of. The same way I miss my parents, but I spend most of my time thinking about you two and your mother. Someday you’ll have people to take care of, and it won’t hurt as badly as if it happened right now.”
He continued with the story: “I would not have you ignorant concerning death, for Aiheu has provided for his children. When an animal dies whose life is acceptable to God, it becomes one of the second Nisei. They oversee the welfare of those they left behind. The greatest of the second Nisei are the Great Kings of the Past and those whom Aiheu has blessed for good service. Koko became one of the second Nisei. And then there are animals whose deeds are constantly evil, and they join the Makei. These are doomed to walk the earth without bodies until they find the image of Aiheu within themselves and seek redemption through service. They are called the Makei, which means ‘the bringers of tears,’ for their suffering makes Aiheu weep.
“The first children of Aiheu were close to their God and to each other, for their spirits had roamed free together. But their children who were born to bodies of soil were not able to hear the words of the Lord. To keep the peoples from losing touch with him entirely, Aiheu anointed some children with holy chrisum that from birth they may hear him when he speaks. And these he called shamans. They were strictly charged to bring the word of God to his peoples with honesty and unselfishness. A lying shaman is worse than the Makei, and Aiheu will not weep for them nor will he repent of his anger.”
“Are there any lion shamans?” Taka asked. “Are they all monkeys like Makedde and Rafiki?”
Ahadi laughed a little. “There were a few lion shamans, but not very many. We have a lot of work to do, protecting our family and ruling responsibly. Many more were lionesses, but they usually have to hunt for their mates and cubs.”
“And monkeys don’t have as much to do?”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Ahadi said. “Every time I see Rafiki, he’s busy.”
“Yeah, just like you.” Taka sighed. “If God put us into this world to have fun, why do we have to work all the time?”
“Sometimes I wonder that myself,” Ahadi said, kissing him. “But you know what? When I’m out there patrolling the borders, I think about my sons and my mate safe at home, and it gives me a warm feeling inside. Somehow when I come home the love I get is much better because I feel like I’ve earned it. The hard times make the good times feel more special.” Ahadi smiled. “Story’s over. You can go play now.”
Mufasa ran and kissed Ahadi good-bye, then he bounded off like a liberated prisoner. Taka continued to snuggle against Ahadi’s soft mane.
“What’s wrong, Taka? Why don’t you go and play?”
“You said we’d talk later. I want to get it over with.”
“You’re shaking, my son. Why? I’m not angry with you!”
“You’re not? Honest?”
“I don’t say things I don’t mean.” He gently pressed Taka into his soft chest with a paw. “I just want to know what your little friends told you. I’m not even going to ask their names.”
“You can play with Muffy now. We’ll talk later. I’m an experienced lion, and I can tell you things your young friends never even dreamed of. Then when they tell you nonsense, you can smile and think about how foolish they are.”
Taka smiled with amusement and started to walk off.
Taka turned, horrified. He rushed back to Ahadi and when the King bent down kissed him several times. “Dad, you know I love you. I just forgot. Honest!”
“I know. You see, I know Muffy loves me because he tells me every day. But you never have to tell me. Everything you do shows it.”
Taka stood on his back feet and put his paws into his father’s great mane. He stood there rubbing his face against his father for several moments before standing down and going to look for his brother. Ahadi reached up with his paw and felt the spot where his son had been, smoothing down his mane. “I’m going to have to say that again sometime.”
“You asked for something different, my cubs? This is
a rare delicacy: a black Zebra with white stripes!”
Isha knew that the best time for stories was in the early evening, shortly before the hunt. For her it was a peaceful moment before the toilsome job of finding food. For her cubs it was a warm moment with Mom before she left them with the cub-sitter.
Isha was settling down on the rock where she had slept so many nights with her young ones snuggled against her side. Habusu her son and Lisani, her sister Beesa’s child, were settling in for their story. Habu sat close to “Miss Priss” whom he loved greatly and often referred to as his ‘fiancee’ despite her young age.
Isha felt Lisani cuddle under her chin and she purred deeply, settling her paw on Lissie’s small chest and feeling the tides of her life. Habu sat upright, watching the tuft on the end of Isha’s restless tail. He was getting a little old to be pouncing on tail tufts, especially with his sharp teeth, yet there was no law against WANTING to do it. The moment Lisani grunted and winked at him, he came and settled next to her and pushed his face against hers in that endearing way that always made Isha smile.
Isha drew in a deep cleansing breath through her nose, held it a second, and let it escape through her mouth. “In the first days, all living things that were made were made from the mud by Aiheu’s own paws, and into them he breathed life that the restless spirits of the Dream Time could be flesh and blood and experience things rather than just thinking about them.
“Love they knew, for wisely Aiheu chose the bodies for each Ka, that he should pair those whose love for each other would be great and beautiful. And so the first Lion Baba and the first Lioness Mamaan looked in each other’s eyes and knew they were made for each other and their love was great and marvelous.
“Now when Baba breathed upon the cheek of Mamaan, she kindled new life.”
“Not so close!” Lisani told Habu with genuine fear. She rubbed her cheek. “He breathed on me! Aunt Isha, make him stop! I’m too young to have babies!”
Isha looked at her, first with grim surprise, then with a painful attempt to keep a straight face. She looked away, and a half-stifled giggle came out. Isha in desperation bit her own paw. Tears streamed down her face from the sting, but she rolled over on the ground and began to howl with laughter. “Oh gods, Lissie, it’s too much! I’m sorry, but really!”
Lisani looked at her crossly. “I’m just trying to look out for myself. Isn’t that what you taught me?”
Isha laid down and covered her eyes, then she glanced at Lisani cautiously. She began to laugh again and it was several moments before she came to herself.
“Look here, Lissie. It’s an EXPRESSION. Like the time I told Kombi not to get a knot in his tail. An EXPRESSION. You could jump down his throat and you would not have cubs!”
“Oh.” She looked over at Habusu whose ears were lowered with supreme embarrassment. “I’m sorry, Habu. Really.” She nuzzled him, kissed him, then nuzzled him again. Then she lay her head on his shoulder and purred. “Someday, when we’re both ready, I’ll be proud to bear your cubs.” Habu’s ears perked back up.
“What happened next?” Habu asked.
Isha took a moment to pick up where she left off. “Well, after Baba and Mamaan did that special thing that married people do when they love each other, she kindled new life. After two moons, she began to show, and they did not understand the light in her eyes.” Isha cleared her throat. “That’s another expression, by the way. It means expecting cubs. So as I was saying, after two moons, she began to show. In fear, Mamaan called upon Aiheu to heal her, for she thought she was sick.
“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.”
“A boy and a girl,” Habu said. “Just like us.”
“Indeed, just like you!” Isha nuzzled him. “You were born of love. And Lissie is the promise of hope.” She kissed Lisani too.
“What is that special thing they do?” Habu asked with concern.
“If I told you now, it would spoil your mantlement. There is a proper time to know these things, and your father will speak with you—I hope. I don’t want to take that away from him if I can help it.”
“But I don’t want to do the wrong thing. I mean, I’m too young to take care of kids.”
Isha smiled, and this time without amusement. “Without a mane, it’s not going to happen. Trust me, Habu. You really should speak with me on this, and not even trust your close friends. Once when Ajenti and I were little cubs—and that may be hard for you to imagine—Ajenti thought she would tell me where babies come from. She said that the father plants a little seed and that over time it grows into the child. That was another expression, but I didn’t know that.” She looked down and in a half whisper said, “So one day I put a mango seed under a rock. I waited a whole week to see what would happen.”
“Nothing happened,” Lisani said. “That’s silly.”
“Oh really?” She looked at them both intently. The suspense was thick enough to touch with a paw. “I lifted that rock and out ran this mouse! Eek eek!” Isha laughed and patted her head. “I spent the better part of the day trying to catch my child and find out if I had a boy or a girl! Needless to say, when my Mom found out about it, Ajenti got a good cuffing!”
Habu cried, “Eek eek!” and sprang on his mother. Lisani joined him, and giggling, Isha wrestled with them, once in a while shouting, “Claws in! Claws in! I’m not as young as I used to be!”
After Isha ended up flat on her back and cried, “Uncle!” she rose, stretched her aching joints, and kissed the two cubs. “Well, let’s finish this thing before sunset.”
Habu nodded at Lisani and they settled to the ground like proud sphinxes to listen.
“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. And I speak the words of Aiheu the Beautiful who breathed into our nostrils the breath of life: Come, let my children grow in grace and stature, and let my gift of life endure from generation to generation as long as the sun shall rise and set. And I place a sign among you that my favor endures forever.
“When the mane comes forth the gods expect certain things of a lion. He shall be tested by the wilderness, and if he is found worthy, he shall become a King.
“And among the children of Baba and Mamaan were Amalkozi who was great among lions. Also King Ramallah, whose sons N’ga and Sufa watch us from the stars. And there was Malawi, the father of Lord Mano whose name is blessed forever.”
“Is that it?” Lisani asked.
“No, Miss Priss. But if I told you all their doings, we would be here till the next rains.”
Young Wajanja enjoyed being with Isha. The two of them shared a passion for living that made them appreciate the miraculous qualities of the ordinary. Jannie had been watching a bee on a flower as it probed the golden treasure trove of pollen, packing it on its legs to fly back to the hive. Isha helped her track the bee back to the hive, and then they watched at a safe distance as the workers stocked the hive with honey.
“Look at the perfect little tubes that make it up,” Isha said. “Just don’t get too close. Each one holds a drop of honey. That’s what they eat, you know. They spend their life hunting flowers the way we hunt antelope, only they don’t kill them. Heaven will be like that, you know.”
“Isn’t that wonderful!” Jannie said, getting closer.
“I can’t see. I’m not going to touch it.”
A bee saw her curious gawking as a threat and swarmed her. “Hey, get away!” She ran a short distance and tried to roll in the grass.
“Hold still!” Isha cried. “I’ll get it!”
“Leave me alone, stupid bee! Get away!”
Isha came up to her as she batted like a windmill. She watched her small prey until it lit on Wajanja, seeking its target. A sudden but careful swat of Isha’s paw knocked the bee on the ground without even scratching Jannie’s fur. Then Isha stomped down on the bee in the grass.
“DAMN!! Owww, ohhee, ooohh!!” Isha hopped around on three legs, holding her injured paw up. “The little bugger! A curse on your whole hive!”
“Are you OK??”
“Yeah,” Isha said, settling down in the grass and sucking on her paw. “I bet I hurt her more than she hurt me!”
Togo and Kombi came bounding up. Kombi shook his head. “You ought to be easier with your Aunt Isha!”
“It was a bee,” Isha said. “There’s a hive over there.”
“Uh oh! I’m out of here!”
Kombi ran off, followed by Togo and Wajanja.
“Hey, wait up!” Isha hobbled after them on three legs. “Jannie, I promised your mother I’d keep an eye on you! Stop, NOW!”
The three cubs came to a halt and sat watching Isha painfully cover the distance with one paw in the air.
“Gee, are you going to be OK?”
“Yes, Togo. Thanks for asking.”
“It bit you real good, didn’t it?”
“Bees don’t bite, they sting. That’s the other end.” She settled to the ground again. “Look, I don’t feel like playing games now and I can’t keep running after you. Does anyone want to hear a good story?”
“Mbogo’s big fight!” Kombi said.
“Something with wild dogs in it!” Togo said.
“Eww, gross!” Wajanja said. “I want a love story! Kigali and Lisha!”
“Who wants all that kissing!” Kombi said. “Mbogo and the Lioness! That’s the best story EVER.”
Isha smiled benevolently. “I tell you what. I’m going to tell you a special love story.”
“Come on, Beebee,” Togo said. “I just ate and I don’t want to lose it all.”
“Yeah. We’re out of here.”
“No, wait!” Isha smiled mischievously. “This is about a different kind of love. You’ll like it, Kombi—there’s some fighting in it. Best of all, there’s not a lot of kissing.”
“Well, if you promise…”
Isha looked at each of the cubs intently with a long, silent glance. Soon, they were all staring at her and she hadn’t yet spoken a word. Such was her flawless delivery that she was always in demand for stories.
“Many years ago there was a lion cub named Mano, the favorite son of King Malawi and Queen Penda. In Mano’s time, most of the animals who were not born of a female had gone back to be with Aiheu. Few remembered what it was like to live in a world without birth or death during the time of dreams. But for the sake of these few, Aiheu would sometimes walk among his creations.
“Mano was carefree in those days. But the source of his great joy was not playing games but serving his parents. When he was but one year old, he would hunt small game with his mother, and before the first threads of his mane began to show, he would walk the border with his father.
“At first the hyenas taunted him and the wild dogs laughed at him as he marked the territory. But as the days passed, they came to admire him and would pay respect to him due a king. Malawi rejoiced to think that someday the land would go to a son who inspired such admiration even from his adversaries.
“But one day when the Queen was hunting, she was struck in the face by a zebra’s hoof and her jaw was broken. It was a mortal wound, and she went home so she might not die alone. The heartbroken Malawi prepared her for her death the way Aiheu had taught his children, marking around her eye and under her jaw with his paw as he wept. Her cubs huddled against her, grief stricken. But of all the cubs, Mano grieved the most, too much to accept her fate.”
Togo said, “Kind of like Avina?”
“Yes, only poor Avina died surrounded by enemies. You missed a lot not knowing her.” Isha patted his cheek with her paw. “An elderly baboon shaman was passing through the kingdom to bless cubs. Mano sought him out and fell before him, begging him to help.
“‘Shall I bless you, my child?’
“‘A zebra broke my mother’s jaw!’ Mano sobbed. ‘She can’t eat! You must help her!’
“The baboon looked at him sadly. ‘It is the order of things that some die young. Only Aiheu himself can conquer death.’
“‘Where can I find Aiheu?’
“‘Do you think the mighty Aiheu will give you audience? Do you not know the bargain made by your grandfather that pleasure is worth pain, and that the two are brothers? That pain is the price of pleasure?’
“‘But if I gave him a gift?’ Mano insisted. ‘Surely he would let my mother live if I gave him a gift! Something to trade for my mother’s life?’
“The old one said, ‘It would take something of equal value. You would have to die in her stead, but no one has ever proposed such a thing.’
“‘Then I will be the first,’ Mano said. ‘My life for hers. Now sir, tell me where I may find Aiheu.’
“‘It is not simple,’ the baboon said. ‘He is in the distant east, a journey fraught with danger and challenge. And if you would see him, you must be quick, for if your mother’s jaw is broken, she will die within the week. In your dreams you shall see a vision where to find the Lord, and it will give you true guidance if your heart is pure and your courage is strong.’”
Kombi asked, “Is this a true story?”
“All of my stories are true unless I tell you they are not. Listen carefully—you may learn something.” She continued
“Mano went to his mother to bid her farewell. She motioned for him to come near. ‘Take your place by my side, dearest son. Let me love you while my strength holds out, so you will remember me when you are old and tired.’”
A tear slid down Wajanja’s cheek. “That’s so sad!”
“Mano wept. ‘I could never forget you, Mother, but I cannot stay. I must go into the east to find Aiheu and bring you healing.’
“‘Foolish, kind child, stay with me. I shall not live to see you return.’
“‘Mother, I must go. If I stay here and watch you die, I will never be happy again. Bless me for my journey and pray for my success.’
“She put her paw on his cheek and blessed him, and he headed toward the land of the sunrise.
“He was afraid that he would fail, but he was also afraid that he would succeed. To one end or the other, he would die, and he prayed to Aiheu that his Ka might sit with his grandfather among the stars.”
“Does he die?” Togo asked, clearly distressed.
“Wait and see.”
“I’ll listen to the whole thing. I just want to know if he’s going to die.”
“Everyone eventually dies,” Isha said, rubbing his face with her good paw. “Just bear with me for a little longer.”
“So alone did he feel, for he could not tell his brother or sisters of his plan. It was a terrible secret to carry under the hot sun. A few of the Pride Sisters tried to stop him, but he bid them a sad farewell and continued. Finally, his own father stopped him at the border. ‘Go home, my son! What you are doing will accomplish nothing but to double my grief.’
“With wisdom beyond his days, Mano said, ‘If I returned now, I would not be the son you love, and I would not even love myself.’
“Malawi looked into his eyes of love and kissed Mano. ‘If you had been another cub, I would have scolded you for such foolishness and sent you home. But not my Mano—if you say you must go, I will not stop you. Yet before you leave, I would lay my heart at your feet. For I shall have no more happiness until you are safely home.’”
Kombi nudged Isha with his paw again. “Did he really put his heart down?”
“It’s an expression. Now do you want to hear this or not?”
Isha looked at each of the cubs piercingly. She managed to recapture the moment before she was interrupted. “Mano did not want to tell his father he was leaving home to die, so he was brave and smiled. ‘Watch for me in the East. If I am not back in two weeks, watch for me in the stars.’
“With that, Mano crossed the border and headed into the Big World.
“He walked all day in the hot sun, but he found no water. Weary, hungry and thirsty, he collapsed and fell into a deep sleep. He had a dream that he would meet Aiheu in a mountain pass the next morning, and it gave him hope. Surely this was a sign from God!
“The next day he traveled on. He did indeed find the mountain pass but the Lion King met him in the pass and required that he fight to proceed. ‘No one may enter my land through this pass, for the prey is for my family alone.’
“‘I will not hunt your prey, though I would take some of your water to ease my burning thirst. I must pass through your land, but I shall not stop along the way—may Aiheu witness my oath.’
“‘And where are you headed that is so important that you must trespass on my land?’
“‘I am headed to find Aiheu. I am going to give up my life for my mother’s.’
“‘That is a difficult story to believe!’
“Mano said, ‘My life only has value if it can ransom my mother. Kill me if you must, but I will seek the Lord.’
“The lion kissed him. ‘Your bravery astounds me. You shall pass, little one. I shall escort you as far as the eastern creek. There you can refresh yourself, but you will be on your own. And may the gods grant you success, though I hate to see you die so young. When you rule from the stars, remember me.’
“Mano kept his promise. He did not stop to rest until after he crossed the eastern creek. It was night, and though he had drunk, he had not eaten in two days. His hunger kept him awake until after midmoon, but when he finally slept, he had a dream that he would meet Aiheu across a desert.
“Heartened, the next morning he headed out into the desert. Indeed, it was as desolate as his dream had warned him, but he did not see Aiheu. Instead the wind rose up and buffeted him without mercy. He was tempted to turn back and drink from the creek and try to hunt, but still he kept on and crossed the sand. ‘Aiheu, I will not stop until I find you! I am coming to give my life for my mother!’ And when he said this, the wind died down.
“Still, the sun was blazing hot. After long wandering in the sweltering heat, he spotted some distant trees. And going to them, he found blessed coolness where he could regain his senses. He was thirsty and needed a drink. Perishing from thirst, he found to his great joy a deep pool. It was filled with milk rather than water, something that made Mano wonder, but he was willing to drink most anything by that point.
“‘Stop! It is forbidden!’ A gorilla came and raised a club in threat. ‘This is the sacred spring of Mara, the birthplace of all life. You are forbidden to drink here!.’
“‘This is a holy place. You came in your selfishness, wanting to take what is not yours to ease your discomfort. Find another place to drink! Any place but the Lord’s pool!’
“‘But I am going to give my life to Aiheu that he may spare my mother. If I am dead, I shall have nothing to give him. Strike me if you must, but if I live, I will go to my Lord.’
“The gorilla withdrew. ‘Drink, then.’
“The milk took away his hunger and thirst, and he fell into a satisfying sleep. He dreamed that the next day he would meet Aiheu in a field.
“Heartened, he went in search of the field, and he found it just as it was in the dream, but all he saw on it was an elephant that charged him every time he tried to cross, stubbornly driving him back toward the jungle.
“‘Let me pass, old tusker! I have no quarrel with you!’
“‘We do not allow your kind here. You just want to kill our children and harass us!’
“‘I am not here to kill but to save,’ Mano said. ‘You must show me where Aiheu is, for I have come a long way, and my time grows short.’
“‘The young fool speaks of time growing short!’
“‘I may be a fool, but I must see Aiheu to give my life to him that my mother may be spared. If you do not show me the way, I will fight you as best I can!’
“The elephant believed him and relented. ‘Brave one, go between the two purple hills, beyond the two acacias and find the spring where Aiheu comes to cool his thirst. I wish you success, but I hate to see one so young die. When you come to your kingdom among the stars, remember me.’
“‘Even as I will remember the Lion, I shall remember you.’
“Two long days it took him to complete the journey. On the first night he did not dream at all. But on the second night he dreamed of Aiheu by the spring, and heartened, he knew what he was looking for at last would be his.
“He did in fact find the two hills and beyond them the two acacias. And he found the spring, but rather than Aiheu he only saw the old baboon who sent him on the journey.
“‘You said I would find Aiheu in the east! Now I’m here—where is he?? I’ve been misled three previous times and now all I see is an old fool!’
“The baboon smiled. ‘The dreams were all true. Aiheu was in all of those places. He was a lion, a wind, a gorilla and an elephant. And then as now he was also an old baboon.’
“Mano fell to the ground. ‘Forgive me, my Lord and my God!’
“‘Only one whose heart was steadfast and true could find me. I had to test your resolve.’
“‘So, are you saying that I may die in my mother’s stead?’
“Aiheu took a large rock. ‘If you would come of your own free will. I will crush your skull—it will be very quick, my son.’
“‘Will I come with you?’
“‘You will come with me.’
“‘Will I see my mother again?’
“‘When she dies, you will be reunited with her.’
“‘May I not see her one last time in this world before I come with you?’
“‘There is not enough time. Are you having second thoughts?’
“‘No, Lord.’ He cringed, closed his eyes tightly, and said, ‘Kill me as we have agreed and get it over with.’
“In a moment, Mano felt a light tap on his head and he cried out. But Aiheu said, ‘I was testing my swing. I should not want to miss and cause you extra pain.’
“Mano cringed again and shut his eyes tightly. ‘I am ready, Lord. Kill me as we have agreed and get it over with.’
“In a moment, Mano felt a harder blow that made him flinch, though it did not even draw blood. Aiheu said, ‘The sun was shining in my eyes, and I did not want to strike you wrongly.’
“Mano closed his eyes tightly and said, ‘Hurry, Lord. My mother is dying. My pain is not important when my mother is hurting!’
“Aiheu dropped the rock and put his arms around Mano. As tears streamed down his face, he said, ‘My son, my son! How I love you! Not one hair of your dear head would I harm, even if you were still a mortal which you are not. Come look in the water.’
“Mano looked into the spring at his reflection. He gasped, for his fur had turned snow white and his eyes were not hazel but sky blue.
“When you drank from the pool of Mara you became immortal. But it was not by chance you did this, for I had need of you.”
“‘Whatever you need from me, I will give it gladly. Only spare my mother’s life!’
“Again Aiheu wept. ‘My child—the moment you headed into the East, I healed your mother.’
“He fell at Aiheu’s feet and kissed him. ‘Bless you!’ he cried, but he asked, ‘Why then did you continue to test me?’
“‘I already trusted you, but now you have learned to trust yourself. In a real sense, you have given your life to me, for you are my servant now. But you will count your bondage the greatest freedom you have ever known. Neither time nor distance shall confine you, nor shall life nor death.’ Aiheu blessed him and kissed him. ‘As long as you remain faithful in your duties, I shall look after your every need. You shall rule the host of the Nisei, for you are now a king in your own right. For now, go home to your mother and be for her the good son you are. But when your mantlement comes, I will return for you and take you to your kingdom.’
“Mano went home to his family with much rejoicing, and he was indeed a son to bring his parents joy, but he passed his right of inheritance to his brother Akbar and nothing would he take away except the life his parents gave him.
“As the days passed into moons, his beauty grew until the very mountains and plains saw it. And creatures came from distant places to catch a glimpse of him. Many were the lionesses that knelt before him and said, ‘Remember me when you come to your mantlement!’ The path that lay before him was difficult and long, and when he explained to them what Aiheu had planned, they walked away sadly. Only one did not want to go away.
“Now when the days were due for his mantlement, Aiheu came out of the east to bless the sons of Malawi. ‘Akbar, you will be a mighty king and rule long and happily in the land. But of all creatures which I have made, the greatest is my servant Mano. In him I place authority to oversee my kingdom and only my word shall surpass his. Great shall be his wisdom, and mighty his power, and any good thing that he asks of me, it shall be done.’
“Mano left to wander the world, doing the will of Aiheu wherever he went. The lame he healed, and the ill he made whole, and as Mano’s fame spread, the beauty that shone from his eyes seemed to increase as well, for he never healed another that he did not also strengthen himself, and he never taught another that his wisdom did not also increase, for in the measure he showed goodness to others Aiheu showed it to him.
“For a while he was satisfied with his solitary path, making a new friend over each hill, but passing on like the restless wind. Aiheu kept his promise and looked after all of Mano’s needs. But Mano had one need that became more keen with the passing of years. He begged Aiheu for a mate, someone like him who would accompany him.
“Aiheu heard his prayer and found a lioness named Minshasa whose heart was pure and good. At his bidding she drank from the lake of Mara and became immortal and dazzling white. Then she was sent in search of her husband, and was told only that he was ‘one like her, of great courage, wisdom and love.’ But he did not tell her Mano was a white lion.
“In her wandering, she found N’ga, son of Ramallah. He was strong and comely, and brave enough to make her a handsome consort. But before he could pledge to her, his brother Sufa came and challenged him for her favors. The brothers fought bitterly for three days under the sun and moon. They were of one strength, one endurance and one determination. Neither could prevail, and they fell to the earth exhausted
“Minshasa felt that both lions were too foolish to be the husband Aiheu had promised her and she went on. It was then she saw Mano by the mountain called Niobe. And he knew her at once as the mate Aiheu made for him. Joyfully he came to her and said, ‘The wife I prayed for has found me.’ And at once he pledged to her and she to him.
“As for the mother of the blessed Mano, death came to her as it came to all mortals, but it could not separate her from her son. That is why it is said to this day in the mantlement, ‘Like Mano, you shall not forget who gave you life.’ And do you know what her name is? One of us has it.”
Togo said, “Was it Kombi?”
Isha laughed. “No, you little Rat Fink!” She pawed him and said, “It’s Isha! That’s why it’s one of my favorite stories. So cubs, did you three learn anything from this?”
Kombi said, “I sure did! It’s stupid to fight over a girl for three days. N’ga should have told her to choose between them.”
“Well, that’s one thing…” She looked at Jannie, who was drying her eyes. “How about you?”
“That’s easy. Love is the strongest thing in the world.”
“Very good!” Isha nuzzled her. “That’s certainly true.”
Togo sat still and somber, and after it was a while before Isha noticed and nuzzled him gently. “I haven’t heard from you.”
“The same thing she said.” Togo said, looking down. “You know, love.”
“But there’s more, isn’t there?”
Togo looked her in the eye. “I guess so.”
“You guess so??” Isha tenderly nuzzled him. “What are you thinking? You can tell your Aunt Isha, honey tree.”
“Well, I was just thinking about Malawi and how much he loved Mano.”
“He did indeed.” She quietly said, “Just like Mufasa really loved Simba, and Ahadi really loved Mufasa… and I guess Scar too. You came along at a bad time. Things weren’t always like this.”
“I wonder if my dad even knows I’m alive,” Togo said morosely. “I wonder if he even cares if I’m alive.”
“Why, Togo! Of course he cares! That’s what your mother said.”
“She doesn’t tell me nothing about him.”
“You said it. And I’d like to meet him, but Mom won’t even tell me who he is.”
“She hasn’t told me either. But she said that someday soon you’d know all about your Dad. Uzuri told me he was wonderful and kind, and he will love you very much. Buck up, son, and humor your mother in this. She will tell you when she feels the time is right.”
Isha got up, tested her foot, and finding she could rest her weight on it she limped toward Pride Rock with the cubs in tow. “Yes, Togo, you have a very good father because no one else would be good enough for your mother.”
Togo moved alongside and nuzzled her shoulder. “I love you, Aunt Isha.”
“Grow old along with me. The best is yet to be.”
— Robert Burns
Once when Ugas was lying under the night sky, Uzuri his wife came alongside and laid next to him. It was often her custom to leave the hunt when things were slow and she would not be missed. She would spend those times next to her husband to feel his closeness and watch the stars proceeding overhead.
“Look, it is The Brothers,” she said.
“That is easy to spot,” Ugas said with a chuckle.
“No, there is a significance to The Brothers. They are your sons almost exactly. Togo and Kombi were twins, and they have been trying at times.”
“Do they fight each other a lot?” Ugas said, worried.
“No. They are—well—high spirited. In many ways they are like N’ga and Sufa.”
“A little high spirits won’t do them any harm,” Ugas said, draping a paw across her chest and feeling her heart beat. “Just as long as they’re not at each other’s throats. I picked one out for Togo and another for Kombi. Amara is a little shy. She would be perfect for Togo. Togo is the shy one, isn’t he?”
“Yes.” She thought a moment. “He got it from you.”
“About some things. About things that mean a great deal to you.” She rolled over and pawed his cheek softly. “You’re my shy little cub, and I want to hold you next to me and protect you from anyone who would hurt you.”
Ugas looked at her, his eyes sparkling in the moonlight. “Protect me then. Stay with me, Uzuri. Bring our sons. Please?”
She gave him a slow, lingering kiss on the cheek. “Soon, Darling.”
He rubbed his cheek with a paw.
“You wiped off my kiss?”
“It was an accident. Now you’ll have to replace it.”
She kissed him again, and he nuzzled her and cuddled her cheek with his paw.
“Tell me about N’ga and Sufa again.”
“You know that story so well.”
“I love to hear you tell it. And I like to watch your mouth form those round little vowels when you say ‘Sufa.’”
“Sufa?” she asked.
“Ooooh, there you go again!” He gave her a kiss. “Precious little mouth, so deadly on the hunt but so wonderful to kiss!”
She could never refuse him. She rolled on her back and looked at The Brothers. Their sparkle brought memories flooding back of her cubhood when her mother taught her about her heritage.
“When Ramallah was ruler of a great kingdom, his wife Chakula conceived twin sons. They were the brothers N’ga and Sufa of whom many stories are told. So bold were N’ga and Sufa that even within their mother’s body they would struggle, and she would eat herbs to dull the discomfort.”
She shoved him with a paw. “Quit watching my vowels!”
He grunted and shoved her back. “Your consonants are kind of cute too.”
As soon as she could regain her composure, and he had stopped watching her mouth, she continued
“When time came for her to give birth, she called them N’ga and Sufa after the sun and moon, for they would chase each other as the sun chases the moon. Though they often fought each other, their hearts were good and they walked with Aiheu. Queen Chakula consulted the shamans about them, and was very happy and sad at once. For they all agreed N’ga and Sufa would live happy yet short lives. From that moment she was afraid to leave them with anyone but her sister Alba for she worried about them constantly.”
Ugas looked at Uzuri. “I know how she felt.”
Uzuri kissed him. “Don’t worry, Darling.” She looked back at the stars and continued. “Once when the Queen was aprowl, Alba took the cubs to her cave to sleep. And that night the earth shook, and the entrance of the cave was sealed. When Chakula returned, she found the rubble and tried to dig them out. But all her efforts and all her mother’s love was not enough to clear the entrance. So the other lionesses took turns digging, and the work went on as the moon rose and the sun rose. One, two, three days, then four days passed and still the cubs were beyond reach. All hope had gone, and Chakula was left alone to dig, but she was faithful and kept working into the fifth day that she might see their bodies one last time. She was sure this was the fulfillment of the prophesy.
“On the fifth day, she opened a passage to the inside of the cave. And N’ga and Sufa emerged weak and unhurt. Chakula wept with joy, and gave thanks to Aiheu. But when she looked inside, her sister Alba lay dead. Alba, who was not in her milk, had opened the deep veins of her arm and nursed the cubs with her own blood so they might survive.
“Alba’s body was dragged to the fields, but along the way where each drop of blood fell there grew a beautiful red flower which to this day is called Alba in her memory. There is a medicine made from this plant called ‘the blood of mercy,’ and it has great power to heal and instill gentleness.
“N’ga and Sufa grew in power and size until one day they were ready to take a mate. It was at this time a white lioness named Minshasa came into their kingdom, and N’ga and Sufa were both smitten with her great beauty and the powers she possessed.
“Their father Ramallah spoke with them, having seen the lioness and spoken with her. ‘I have known this strange vision. Minshasa, cloud white, borne upon the breast of the savanna like a dream of love. Who that bears the mane shall look upon her visage and remain unsmitten? Minshasa, the voice of tender longings. Minshasa, beloved of the gods. Beware, my sons, her awful charms! She is not of this world, and it is better that you choose among the daughters of Mamaan.’”
Ugas’ paw ran down her chest and ventured a bit too far down for casual grooming. “Beware, my sons, her awful charms!”
She popped his paw with hers. “Do you want to hear this story or not?”
“I’ll be good,” he said with an innocent smile.
She gently fondled him. “You good? I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“At least I’ll listen.”
Uzuri smiled. “Their father Ramallah spoke with them, having seen the lioness and spoken with her…”
“You already said that part.”
“You got me so confused!”
Ugas said, “It serves you right. You have the same effect on me.” He added, “Because they were both strong and determined…”
Uzuri cleared her voice. “Because they were both strong and determined, the brothers fought for five days and nights without sleep or food. On the fifth day, they both collapsed in a deep sleep, and while they were unaware, Minshasa left to find Mano whom she married. And when N’ga and Sufa awoke, they felt sore and foolish and swore before Aiheu to end their days of fighting forever. To seal their pact they prayed to Aiheu that neither should outlive the other to succeed his brother, but that both should die on the same day…”
Uzuri fell silent. She was looking at Ugas and tears began to run down her face.
“Uzuri, are you all right?” Ugas looked into her pain-filled face and wiped the tears that streamed down her cheeks with his paw. “Honey tree, speak to me! Dear? It’s my age again, isn’t it?”
“You are handsome to me,” she said. “I will never stop wanting you just because you’re older.”
“But my path grows short, and you don’t want to grow old alone—I can understand that.” Ugas kissed her. “If I can come back from the stars and comfort you, I will be there for you whenever you need me. I swear it.”
“You’re really very sweet,” Uzuri said. “That’s one of the things I love about you.” She looked away solemnly for a moment, but added, “With all the glories of heaven, would you really come to me?”
“Of course I would—you are my heaven and my earth. But I’d be a lot better company if you’d come to me now. I’d spoil you rotten every day and whisper a thousand loving names in your ear and paint your world with a thousand loving dreams.” He looked into her eyes, a hint of sadness in his large face. “I wish this night could go on forever, but it won’t. Let’s make the most of what path lies before us. Uzuri, stay with me.”
“Soon, my love. Soon.” She pillowed her head on his soft mane and closed her eyes.
“What? No end to the story?”
“Mmmmm,” she grunted, snuggling closer. “N’ga died fighting a pack of wild dogs. His brother had been napping, and when he found the body and grieved to death, thus fulfilling the vow.” She added, “Love can make you do strange things. I never heard about N’ga or Sufa ever taking a mate or having cubs. Maybe N’ga was all he had.”
In a moment, Ugas raised his head suddenly, dumping Uzuri to the ground with a thump. “We have to get one thing straight, my dear. I’ll be very disappointed if you don’t marry again.”
“When I’m gone, I expect you to follow your heart. You’re very beautiful, and you’re also very young. I wouldn’t blame any lion for wanting you, and I wouldn’t be jealous, as long as he treated you well. But God help him if he mistreats you! You tell him I’ll be watching him very closely.”
“I don’t want to think about that.”
“Neither do I. I’m not greedy—I don’t want to live twice, for God has been good to me over this lifetime and I’m ready to see Aiheu face to face. But I don’t want you to be left alone, and I certainly don’t want you to die young. No, I want you to hunt your game and watch the sunrise. I want you to get as much out of life as I have. And I’d be grateful—truly grateful—to anyone who helps you do that. You must not grieve too much for me. Try to remember the good times we had—let them be happy memories.”
“Well, I’m glad you told me that. Fact is, there’s a rogue lion to the north. He’s handsome, young, and Isha tells me he’s quite an accomplished lover.”
“Hey, wait for my body to cool off, for God’s sake!”
Uzuri laughed and kissed his cheek. “I’m glad you’re not the jealous type.” She rolled over, draped her paws over his chest and rubbed his soft mane. Drawing near to his face with hers, she whispered, “Beloved.”
He reached up with a paw and gently rubbed her cheek. “I love you, Uzuri. Oh gods, girl, I wish I could see your face every morning. You could make my days begin!”
Brother Sun comes to greet the morning;
N’gonyama, oh, incosi, oh!
Brother Moon better heed his warning;
N’gonyama, oh, incosi, oh!
Wake up, wake up, you sleeping beauties!
N’gonyama, oh, incosi, oh!
Time to see to your daily duties!
N’gonyama, oh, incosi, oh!
— Traditional Lioness Chant
The time for Tanabi’s presentation was drawing close, and feverish preparations were being made. Everything had to run smoothly and well, for this would be the first formal presentation since Simba was held up. The land had returned from a long sleep to wakeful fertility and prosperity, and this ceremony would be an acknowledgment of the King’s gratefulness to God and of his duty to his subjects.
Zazu excitedly went about the Kingdom spreading the happy news—Aiheu’s light would be seen anointing the brow of the new prince! Lisani wondered about the goings on, and asked Isha to tell her about the presentation and what was so special about it.
“This is one time I defer to Rafiki, my dear. He presented Simba, and before him Makedde presented Mufasa. I think Busara did it before him, but that was a long time ago.”
Lisani was a curious cub, and she went to find the old mandrill who was busy making preparations.
“Miss Priss??” Rafiki came and embraced her. “It’s so good to see you, my dear! So much work for this old monkey, and so little time! I need a break, and you are it.”
Lisani purred and rubbed against Rafiki. “Now I feel guilty. You don’t know what I came to ask you.”
“Something more to do??” Rafiki sighed. “What did I forget this time?”
“Nothing, I hope. I just wanted to know a little more about the presentation. I heard that it didn’t used to be done this way. Wasn’t Ahadi the first?”
“No. Zari was the first. And he was presented by a dear old friend named Busara. Busara was my mentor and he used to…” Rafiki cuffed himself in the cheek. “Now listen to me, starting in the middle of a tale! Those are the three things that begin to fail when you get to be my age. Your concentration, your memory, and… the third thing!”
Lisani laughed and touched his cheek with her tongue. “You crazy monkey! I’m sorry. You’re busy and I’ll come back later.”
“Oh no, Lissie! Talking about it isn’t my problem. Maybe it will help me to go over it again. Busara made it all look so easy.”
“What about Busara? Who was he?”
“Who was Busara??” He laughed. “I didn’t think there was a cub in this pride that hadn’t heard of him! When Queen Asumini was alive and her husband King Hatamu ruled the Pride Lands, Asumini went on a hunt and was badly injured near the village where I grew up. Busara was a young shaman in those days, and you must understand that he was old for a mandrill when I was very young to see how long ago that was. Busara won Asumini’s trust and treated her wound. Then he went and got a pair of lionesses to help him haul the queen back to Pride Rock. She was VERY grateful indeed, and Busara was very relieved.
“He got home, told a couple of folks what he was doing because he was gone all day and his friends were worried for him.
“Then the very next night our friend the leopardess decided to kill herself a young mandrill girl.”
She was scandalized. “I thought that was against the Peace of Asumini!”
“Whoa, you’re getting ahead of me. Who’s telling this story, anyhow?” Rafiki smiled and kissed Lisani. “The very next day the blood is seen and her toy is seen where the leopard dragged her off into the bush. A raving, grief stricken mother pointed at Busara and said, ‘See how they show their gratitude?? A curse on you, Busara! May you rot in hell!’
“I didn’t make this up. I only reported it.” Rafiki nodded gravely. “Let’s just say some people were very upset. And from that moment Busara and his family were in great danger. Adults would threaten him and shun him, and some children threw rocks at him and his family.
“Grieving and feeling a little betrayed, Busara headed back to the Pride Lands. He humbled himself before the King and Queen. ‘Why, my lords, why have you cast me down before my people? Did I not unselfishly heal the wound on your shoulder, my queen? Even after you cut my hand?’
“‘What is this you are saying?’ Asumini said. ‘I am your friend. How have I cast you down before your people?’
“Busara said, ‘Long have we hidden our village from the Pride. One day I helped the Queen and the very next night one of our children was killed. Tell me that it was a leopard and not one of your people!’ Busara fell to the ground and kissed Asumini’s paw. ‘I do not regret that I saved your life. Even if you had killed half my village, I could not have let you die. But tell me it was not a lion that killed her!’
“‘I swear it was no lion,’ Asumini said. ‘I swear by Aiheu.’
“Busara wept. ‘I believe you, my lady. Only my people will not believe it. Let me bring my family to live here in safety.’
“King Hatamu stirred. ‘My lands are as yours, and safely shall you walk through them with your family. But for those who hold you to scorn, I will let you present my son Zari. Do this so all who breathe may see my love for you.’
“And so it was that on the day of the presentation, Busara held up the son of the king for all to see, and a shaft of light touched him, and in the light was a voice which spoke to Busara. Weeping, he held the cub to his heart and kissed him. ‘My Lord and my God!’ Busara cried.’
“Deeply moved, Hatamu said before all the assemblage, ‘Since Mano, there has not walked the earth one so good of heart and true of path as my friend Busara. And my friend he is, for I swear by my mane that between our peoples there should be peace forever.’ And all of the mandrills who were there were humbled and ashamed for the way they treated Busara. That was the beginning of the Peace of Asumini.
“When Zari was placed back by his mother’s side, Asumini asked him, ‘What did the Lord say to you?’
“Busara said, ‘He told me I must protect the Prince, even as Aiheu has taught me.’
“Busara had nothing in the rough pouch he wore over his shoulder except some herbs to treat Asumini’s sore shoulder. But when he reached inside, he found a fruit which he split. Taking his thumb, he took some of the living oil of chrism and anointed the forehead of the cub. ‘May your works be fertile and prosperous as the fruit which sprouts new life.’ He took dust from the ground and sprinkled it on the oil. ‘May your body be strong and enduring as the dust from which you came.’ He took a rattle from the pouch which, since it came from Aiheu would be passed down as a relic, and shook it. ‘May your spirit be mighty as the thunderstorm, yet kindly as the rain.’
“Finally, he took herbs from his pouch.
“‘What do those represent?’ Asumini asked.
“‘These represent my love for you,’ he said, placing them on her healing shoulder and rubbing them in gently. ‘I should not have listened to my people. I should never have asked you if it was a lion that killed the child. Forgive me.’
“Asumini took her paw and drew Busara to her side. She nuzzled him and kissed him and pawed his cheek. ‘I cannot forgive you until you anger me, foolish monkey’
“Busara said, ‘I have seen the Lord, my lady. Everything I once believed has been turned aside. I am empty as a gourd in the dry season. Fill me with the knowledge of this Aiheu, that I may keep the Lord in my heart all my days.’
“And Asumini smiled. ‘Blessed are you, Busara! The peace you seek within is a far greater gift than any peace from without. You have chosen the best part of the kill, and I will feed you till your hunger is satisfied.’ And to this day there has been a mandrill from my village to do the presentation.”
Lisani looked at Rafiki intently. “Will you see Aiheu when it happens?”
“Probably. I did when I presented Simba. But my dear, I see Aiheu in many places. I see him in the way you smile at me. There is so much wonder in the world, that if you lived a thousand lifetimes you could not witness it all. And in all of it, you can find God.”
Kombi eased around the rock with Togo. “What??” Togo asked, exasperated. “Are you going to tell me or ain’tcha??”
Kombi looked both ways and drew close. “Keep it down!” he whispered. “I couldn’t tell you in front of Mom.”
Kombi smiled. “So help me you better not go spreading this around. First you have to promise not to tell another soul as long as you live.”
“That good, eh?”
“OK, I promise.”
Kombi leaned over and half-whispered, “I promised Lisani I wouldn’t tell anyone else, so you better mean it.”
“Ahem!” Uzuri said.
“Oh!” Kombi looked up. “Uh, hi, Mom.”
“Hi yourself! What makes you think Togo won’t tell when it’s the very first thing YOU wanted to do?”
“Well… uh… I trust him.”
“The way Lisani trusted you?”
Kombi’s ears flattened down and his tail sagged.
“Now what am I going to do with you two??” Uzuri plopped down and sighed. But rather than let her frustration show, she tried a less direct approach. “Tell you what. I have this story I was just coming to tell you. It’s just a little racy, but I think you’re old enough to handle it, especially since Miss Priss is not here.”
Anxious to escape being disciplined, and more than a little curious, Togo and Kombi listened intently.
Uzuri bent down and in a lower voice than usual, said, “Mano and Minshasa went by the river to make love in the evening cool. King Bobo, a curious lion, saw them and rather than turn away he hid in the reeds and watched to amuse himself with their passions.”
“Whoa!” Kombi said. “This IS racy!”
“Do you think you can handle it?”
“Sure! I was just saying it was racy.” He strutted about, chin up. “We’re all old enough here, aren’t we, Togo?”
Togo just stared. “You mean they were getting down?”
Uzuri nodded gravely. “Way down.” She looked at them both intently. “At last, Mano heard his muffled laughter from the reeds and confronted him angrily, that he should surely die.
“Bobo pled for his life, falling before Minshasa with tears that she should have mercy on him.
“Minshasa said, “Peace, husband. He merely finds me beautiful and wants to look upon my body. Let him see me and depart.”
“‘Your beauty is great, and a lion may wish to look upon it and live for what lion would not wish to look upon your beauty! But he has shamed our modesty!’
“But Minshasa took pity on the miserable Bobo and said, ‘I will send you away with a warning. Never speak of this to anyone, that you may not shame our modesty again, or you shall surely die.’
“Mano was content with the judgment and let Bobo depart in peace. But it was a terrible secret and it burned within him so strongly that he felt he must tell it or burst. So he went to a baobab tree and into its hollow whispered, ‘Behold, I have seen Mano crouching with Minshasa by the river!’ He had a good laugh and felt much relieved.
“Aiheu hears all things, even that which is spoken in secret, and he changed King Bobo, but he was very subtle and Bobo went back to his pride unsuspecting.
“But when the pride sisters saw Bobo coming, one of the lionesses shouted, ‘Look, a gazelle! We shall eat well tonight!’
“Bobo ran with all he had in him, but he was still quickly overtaken and slain by his own kindred.”
“Oh wow,” Kombi said in shock. “Then it’s a good thing I didn’t tell Togo what I heard today, isn’t it?”
Uzuri looked at him wonderingly. “What was that??”
“Sorry, Mom. I’m not telling ANYONE now!”
Ahadi and Akase took Mufasa aside. “Your mantlement is one week away,” Ahadi said with a nervous smile. “You may want to pledge your love to a lioness. It is time for you to know some things before you embark on your life as an adult.”
“Uh, Dad, we already talked about—you know what.”
Ahadi smiled. “You know what? You mean making love? Go ahead and say it. Don’t be shy.”
“OK. We already talked about making love. Remember?”
Ahadi said, “Yes, I remember. But there’s more to making love than going through the motions.” He laughed self-consciously. “Sorry. Bad choice of words.”
“Much more, son. That’s why we’re going to tell you the story of Kigali and Lisha. I’ll speak for Kigali, and your Mom will speak for Lisha. My parents did the same thing for me when I was your age.”
“Yes, my son.” Ahadi nuzzled him. “Just sit there and pay attention. You might learn something.”
Kigali (a lion):
I seek the spring to slake my thirst To drink from waters pure and deep And yet I am not satisfied. Its shining veil reflects my face A face in love.
I roll back in the fragrant blooms that cap the new green Alba shoots And gaze into the open sky. The candid sun stares back at me smiling knowingly.
The huntresses peek out at me from vantage points around the mead and laugh with scorn at my expense. "He pines with love," they say in jest, and somewhat jealously.
Lisha (a lioness):
No prey have I to fill my void And yet the herds of antelope Regard me as no threat today "The huntress has become the prey" they say amused.
And prey am I for Aiheu grants that I should know the blissful days of my receptive period. I hunger for my lover's touch upon my flank.
"Where lies my lover?" I inquire of my Pride Sisters gathered by, that I may love him yet again. They smile at me annoyingly and gossip.
Who is there like my lover mild? So lithe and supple as the reeds in days of emerald youthfulness! A golden sunshine stalking me on the savanna!
I hear soft steps approaching me and see the ripple in the grass portending an encounter soon. Oh gods, it is the careful tread of my lover!
Like jasmine is her fragrant form, the fragrance of my lover mild bespeaking of her inner fire And like the kiss of morning sun is her nuzzle.
As springs of crystal water shine So are my lover's hazel eyes Enthroned in flowing tresses soft; The splendid musky russet mane of my lion.
"Behold your prey, oh hunter great Awaiting eager for the spring That brings the hunter to my throat So caught and helpless I'll collapse in your embrace!"
"Defend your prey, oh hunter great From jackals gathered round the plain That envy you the hard-won prize. But let them not by subtle moves obtain one scrap!"
As Bor the monkey pounds his fruit Upon the tree to free its juice And savor its elixir sweet So pounds against my anxious chest my trembling heart.
The restless tide that vents my breath Comes in swift waves that makes me feel Euphoric and excitable. I come to breathe upon her cheek and yet she runs!
My temptress turns in coy retreat A gold flamingo arched in flight, Her merry laugh betrays her game She would prolong the episode but not escape me!
Far from the crowd whose prying eyes would violate our solitude we shall make love among the reeds Here unobserved by jealous hearts we shall caress.
So musky is the russet mane Entwined about his trembling form And stirring like a thundercloud. Full bright as stars his hazel eyes regard me.
So playfully, he swings his tail and bobs his head inviting me to wrestle with my lover now. And laughing softly, I accept his invitation.
So warm and soft around my throat My lover's arms are seeking ways to bear me to the verdant grass. And cautiously I test the strength of her embraces.
My lover's arms bring endless night To bontebok and gerenuk But bend like reeds before my strength. And quickly I in triumph rise above her form.
Still panting from the revelry I gaze into my lover's eyes I tremble like a willow leaf And feel the tides of my desire sweep over me.
I call my lover tenderly And crouched submissive in the grass To plead for favors from my mate I sweep away remaining doubts of my intentions.
As prey defeated in the hunt Perceives the hunter's victory I felt his hold upon my throat! I knew at last the full extent of his passion.
As waves of heat at midsun rise And set the trees to shimmering I melted in the heat of love And cried out in my ecstasy his name.
Now who is like unto my mate? A source of every benefit That gods enjoy in heaven's bliss! And falling to the earth fulfilled, I lay exhausted.
Unto my side I called my love With stealthy tread she joined my rest And lithely lay her body nigh Her lovely face upon my mane, while I stroked her.
A gentle breeze caresses us And stirs the jade acacia leaves That cool the ardor of the sun Content beside her golden form I will rest.
Ahadi finished with a smile on his face. He reached over and nuzzled Akase’s lovely body. “My gentle lover.”
“My tender Nisei,” she purred, eyes half closed as he rubbed her full length.
“Oh wow,” Mufasa said, a little trembly in the limbs. “Where did you learn that??”
“It’s a part of your heritage,” Akase said. “It’s been passed from parents to their cubs for uncounted years. I like to think it’s our way of getting you off to a good start.”
“Oh wow,” Mufasa said, still stunned. “That was so neat!”
“I’m glad you liked it.” Ahadi and Akase both nuzzled him and kissed him.
“Oh wow,” Mufasa whispered again. “Is that how you two feel about each other?”
Akase nuzzled her husband. “Honey tree, we used to act out the parts. Of course, as time went on we realized that no two loves are quite the same. Your father and I settled into our own comfortable routine. That’s the way it is with married life. You find in that special someone the missing part of you that makes you whole. So being married is just another step in becoming yourself.”
“Oh wow!” Mufasa said.
“Is that all you can say?” Ahadi asked. “Oh wow?”
Mufasa nuzzled him. “Thanks, Dad. I love you. I love you too, Mom.”
Sarabi looked in the cave. “Good morning, Ahadi! Good morning Akase!”
“Good morning, Sassie!”
Mufasa stared at her. Under the spell of the words, that echoed through his heart, he fondled her with his eyes and thought
“Still panting from the revelry
I gaze into my lover’s eyes.
I tremble like a willow leaf
And feel the tides of my desire
Sweep over me.”
“Oh, hi Muffy! I didn’t see you there!”
“Are you OK?”
“Uh, yeah?” She glanced at Ahadi with a smile of amusement. “Our next king?”
Mufasa headed out of the cave, and passing by Sarabi, he rubbed her full length and shuddered.
She smiled broadly and said, “Well, good morning to YOU TOO!”
Heart pounding, Mufasa hurried down the path from the promontory, rounded the bulk of Pride Rock and found the cold waters of the cistern. Stopping briefly to look at his reflection, he could hear the words more clearly
“I seek the spring to slake my thirst To drink from waters pure and deep And yet I am not satisfied. Its shining veil reflects my face A face in love.”
“But she’s Taka’s!” Mufasa’s feelings stemmed from much further back than he would admit. Never before had he given them a name and dared to say it. “Sassie! I love you! Oh Gods, I’m in love with my Brother’s fiancee!”
With a spring, he launched himself into the icy embrace of his reflection. “Ooooh! Aaaaah! Eeeeee! Ooohhhe!” Splashing about in the shock of the incredibly frigid water, he forgot about romance for the moment.
Isha was passing by the cistern. She looked down at the soggy lion paddling about and shook her head. “Didn’t your parents teach you better?? We have to drink that stuff!”
“Yes, of course, Ma’am.” He grinned sheepishly and swam to the edge. “Sorry.”
“He ain’t heavy. He’s my brother.”
— Anonymous boy
The fur rose in hackles along Togo’s neck as he glared at his brother. “Idiot! Why did you blame ME for it, Beebee?? Now Mom’s mad at me, too!”
“Hey, I didn’t hear you complaining while we were sneaking up on her.” Kombi grinned smugly. “Admit it, you enjoyed it.”
“I did NOT, Kombi! And Vianga laughed at me, too! Why did you tell her about the song I was trying to make for her?! It was a secret!”
Kombi burst into fresh laughter. “‘Oh, Vivi,’” he said, eyes fluttering. “‘Your fur is like the sun to me, that sets my heart on fire! Your eyes are like two sparkling pools that fill me with desire!’”
Togo’s vision doubled. “SHUT UP!” he cried suddenly. “I HATE YOU!” He buried his head under his paws, for a moment his sobbing the only sound in the shocked stillness.
Kombi felt something stick in his throat. “Well I hate you too, then!” His chest hitched, and with a choked growl he swatted blindly at Togo. A sudden flurry of paws exploded at him, and the two rolled about haphazardly, squealing and growling epithets that would have shocked their mother.
A loud snarl ripped the air, and they separated abruptly. Sarafina stalked quickly toward them, her eyes flashing in anger. “Stop it right now, you two! What’s going on here?”
“Komb-b-bi’s making f-f-un of me!”
“He said he hated me, Aunt Fini!”
“I DO hate you!”
“ENOUGH!” Sarafina shook her head. “I’ve heard all I’m going to listen to of this. You two apologize to each other.”
Togo’s lip stuck out and he set his shoulders. “No.”
Sarafina stared at him disbelievingly. “What?!”
“I’m sorry, Aunt Fini, I’m not being disrespectful… but I can’t.” Togo looked at Kombi venomously. “I’ve had it with him. He always makes fun of me when I say what I mean.”
“Oh yeah? Well you always make me feel stupid with your fancy-tail songs and poems.” Kombi looked ready to burst into tears again. “You think you’re better than me. Well, you’re not!” He looked at Sarafina. “I’ll never apologize to him! I swear!”
“Don’t say that.” The lioness sighed and lay down, motioning to them to approach. They did, warily keeping her bulk between them as they drew close to her. “I’d like to tell you two about two brothers who had the same problem.”
“N’ga and Sufa?” Kombi made a face. “I know about them already.”
“Me too.” Togo shook his head. “We’re not like them, Aunt Fini. We’re SERIOUS.”
“And so were these brothers. It is not N’ga and Sufa of whom I speak.” Sarafina settled back, remembering the long ago lioness who had held her in her paws and told her the story of two brothers who never forgave…
Duma and Obade were brothers and were fond of each other. They had a sister, Asherati, by their father Jadi’s remarriage. Obade lusted after Asherati and went to great lengths to seduce her, though it was an unholy thing. He finally forced her and she ran sobbing to her father.
“Forced her?” Kombi asked. “Forced her to do what?”
“Something naughty,” Fini said. “Then King Jadi set out to punish Obade, but the punishment—that he would not be King after him but would defer to Duma seemed too weak a punishment to Duma. Duma wanted blood. Duma argued with his father, but Jadi told him that the judgment was final and sufficient, and that in good lion fashion, he should forgive his brother.
But Asherati kept inciting Duma to hate Obade. “You must kill him to avenge my lost virginity.”
Togo shuddered, and crept close to his aunt, who laid a forepaw across his small shoulders, covering him in welcome warmth. Kombi paused uncertainly, then did likewise on Sarafina’s other side.
“Oh, I get it!” Kombi said. “Kind of like Taka and Elanna were doing the other night.”
“Kombi!” Sarafina was all huffy. “I ought to tell your mother!”
“I was just passing by,” he said. “I mean, they were at the spring. Anybody could have seen em. Please don’t tell Mom! Please??”
“Well, I guess we’ll let it slide this time. OK, I won’t tell her. Still, once you knew what was going on, I hope you didn’t hang around.”
“Well, how was I supposed to know! He was saying, ‘Come out, you naughty little bunny. There’s nowhere else to go.”
Sarafina began to giggle nervously. “Naughty little bunnies?? Don’t you tell another living soul what you just told me, understand??”
“Uzuri is going to die. She’s just going to die!”
“Please don’t tell my mom! You promised!”
“Oh, that’s right. Darn it, I got the scoop of the year and I can’t tell my own sister!” She tried to regain her composure and go on with the story. “Duma swore a mighty oath by Aiheu that he would avenge her. Then Aiheu appeared suddenly from the clouds. “What is this evil thing which you have done?”
“And he was afraid but said, ‘Milk and mud are easily mixed, but once together, who shall separate them? Thus is the oath mixed with my blood, and only spilling my blood can release me.’
“Aiheu rebuked him saying ‘I am the Lord who made the soil and made the mother’s milk. And to those I anoint comes the power to separate mud from milk, that they may also separate foolishness from righteousness. What mother would vow to give her cub mud instead of milk? How then shall you vow to slay your brother when it is evil?’”
“But Asherati came to him day after day, rebuking him and accusing him of having no love nor courage. “You must kill him to avenge my lost virginity!”
“Duma plotted Obade’s murder. He lay in wait for him. He successfully overwhelmed Obade and then as he was about to strike the fatal blow, Aiheu came to him angry and upbraided him. “Did I not tell you this was an evil thing??”
“He felt ashamed that he tried to kill his brother and begged Aiheu for mercy, which he received.
“But Aiheu also upbraided Obade and told him that he was banished into the Big World there to be a rogue until he had learned forbearance and duty.
“Obade went out into the Big World and he was gone for five years, the time of bitter wandering foretold by Aiheu. Finally when he was allowed to return, gaunt and worn but much wiser, he found that his father was dead and Duma was King in the land.
“‘Much have I suffered, brother. Much have I learned. May I stay here?’
“‘You may live here, but so does the acacia tree and I do not love it nor do I speak to it when I pass.’
Obade turned started to leave, but Duma wept and ran after him. “Do not listen to my words of anger, my brother! I have lost my father, but my brother who was gone has returned again!”
Sarafina fell silent, peering down at the two cubs under her paws. Togo and Kombi lay quiescent a moment, the raised their heads to gaze uncertainly at each other.
“Kombi? I’m sorry I said I hated you.”
“Me too. I didn’t mean it.” Kombi looked at his brother a long moment. “Actually, I thought your poem was nice—actually.”
Togo nuzzled forward under Sarafina’s gentle weight and pawed his brother’s cheek. “Friends?”
Kombi grinned and pawed Togo. “Yeah.”
Ahadi was sitting at the end of the promontory where he had been for an hour or more just looking out over the lands. Taka crept quietly out on to the shaft of stone. With stealthy pads, he approached his father, anxious to see what mood he would find him in. Akase looked rather upset but would tell him nothing about what the King wanted. He hated it when she did that.
“My son, come sit by me.”
“Dad, did I do something to make you angry?”
“No. Come sit by me.”
“You’re not sick are you?”
“No. Just sit by me.”
Taka sat next to his father. Taka’s breath came and left in hurried bursts and there was a trembling in his limbs. “It’s not fair! I know something’s wrong!”
“It all depends in how you look at it.”
“I don’t even know what it is.”
“It’s just that I’m having one of those times when it’s not easy to be king. I have to make a lot of difficult decisions, and when I do, I come up here and let the wind clear my head. Feel the wind, Taka. My son, if you concentrate hard enough, you can let the wind blow your worries away and all that is left is the decision itself.”
“So you are making a hard decision? And you need my help?”
“In a way, yes. I’ve made the hard decision already, but I don’t know how much pain it will cause, my son. Pain inside me, and pain to the ones I love.”
Taka looked away. “You might have known a long time ago if you had been more observant. Why don’t you cut to the chase? I want to hear you say it rather than overhearing it in the shadows and crying alone.”
“Very well, son. Mufasa is going to be the next king. It was not an easy decision.”
“I guess not. Either pick the one you love the most or the one that’s best qualified. Love always wins out, doesn’t it?”
Ahadi looked down. Tears came to his eyes. “Oh Taka, before Aiheu I hope you didn’t mean that! Muffy loves me, but I’ve always known who loved me the most. Son, I love you more than I could say.”
“Oh, Dad! I’m sorry!”
Ahadi nuzzled him. “Son, to me you will always be beautiful and wonderful, but you are not strong enough to bear the brunt of the world when it becomes harsh and unyielding.”
“So it’s my scar.”
“Then it’s my weak body.”
“Not just that, though Muffy’s strength was a factor.”
“Then what was it, Father?? Why was I passed over?”
Tears streamed down Ahadi’s face and he looked away. “Must I say it? What’s done is done.”
“Why, father?? At least tell me why??”
Ahadi looked around and stroked Taka’s cheek with his paw. “Because your heart is so gentle, you would not be able to make the hard decisions demanded of a King. You are so full of beauty and love that you can see no ugliness in anyone or anything. Muffy has a good Ka, but he always cautious to avoid the deceit and wiles of his adversaries. He can be harsh when a King must be harsh. Could you have put Gur’mekh to death? Could you have slit his innards with his sad, terrified eyes looking up at you?”
Taka looked away.
“See, your own heart tells you I’m right. In love, I did not burden you with this weight. You may not see it this way, but I’m doing you a great favor.”
“So that was it. You think me only a scholar?? Did I learn one too many stories? Did I know too much history?? Did I pay a little too much attention and not watch the wildebeests enough??”
“No, my son! I am not perfect, but I have always acted in good conscience.” Ahadi’s chin began to tremble. “Have I not told you every day that I loved you? Did I miss a day? Do you hate me, Taka? Do you hate your old father who sired you and gave you his unconditional love?”
Taka looked at him and shuddered. “How could I!”
Ahadi leaned into Taka and nuzzled him. “I love you like the rivers love the rain. Never tell your brother what has passed between us. I love him very much and don’t want him hurt. And I want you to love him too. More than anything.”
Ahadi took in a deep breath and let it out. “Don’t start ignoring me now. You need to hear this story.” He put his paw over Taka’s and gave it a light push.
“When Aiheu first brought light to the world, he brought to shine the two brothers Sun and Moon. And at first they were alike, equally bright and warm, and very proud of their great beauty. But the heat of their twin lights was unbearable and no good thing could grow and no good thing could walk upon the ground. And Aiheu repented that he created two brothers, and wondered which one should lose his light and warmth that the world might live.
“Sun begged the Lord that he might shine forever, and that his faithful service would bear witness to his entitlement.
“‘Moon your brother has also been faithful in his duties and served me well.’
“At this, Sun began to cry and begged the Lord that he should not be extinguished.
“At this, Moon bowed before Aiheu and said, ‘As my brother has asked, so be it. I cannot stand to see him harmed, for he is my brother and I love him.’
“At this, Sun felt shame. ‘Blessed are you, Moon, for you are the greater brother. To you should go the light of Heaven and I will sit in darkness and bewail my foolish pride.’
“Aiheu wept. He held Moon to his heart and said, ‘As you have asked me, so shall it be done. But I shall not extinguish you, but only cool your light. And my children will mark their lives by you, the brighter light to be the day and the lesser light to be the night. But greater are you, Moon, for your mercy shall be remembered as long as this story is told among my children.’ And Aiheu kissed him three times, each time dimming his light a little until he only shed a soft glow.
“Now when the living things were made as Ka was placed in forms of Ma’at, Aiheu considered that these children would have life, then die. And he considered what to do that new life would arise to replace the old. So he considered the brothers Sun and Moon, and one of every living creature he made like the Sun, powerful and fiery. The other he made soft and gentle. And so it was that male and female he created them, that by working together through love, the gift of life should endure forever. Because the male is powerful, he fights to protect the Pride from all its enemies. But it is the female whom God has given the miracle of bearing children. Remember, my cubs, to honor your mother when she commands.”
Ahadi nuzzled Taka. “I’m asking you to be Brother Moon. Mufasa thought you deserved to be King. He also asked me to divide the kingdom between you. I refused him, son. But I want you to carry all your days the secret that he would have given you the kingship and half of everything he owns. Don’t hurt him, Taka! Please don’t hurt him!”
“Oh, Daddy!” Taka pushed his face into Ahadi’s soft mane. “I love you!”
The violent lightning made little Nala tremble and huddle ever tighter against her mother’s side. “When is it going to stop?”
“I don’t know.”
“It will stop, won’t it?”
“Sure it will. Then if you’re lucky you’ll see Lord Rainbow and his pride. You’ve never seen that before, have you?”
Another bolt of lightning hit very close by—close enough to make even Sarafina edgy. There were a couple of times she remembered when lightning struck the promontory of Pride Rock. No lion was foolish enough to stand out there when the lightning was bad.
“Tell me about Lord Rainbow,” Nala hissed between tightly clenched teeth.
“You’ll like this story. There’s someone named Nala in it.”
“Yes. That’s where you got your name.”
Another bright flash made Sarafina as white as Minshasa herself and the rumble of thunder made the stone under her paws shake.
“Once a long time ago, there was a member of the first Nisei named Lord Rainbow who was taking care of a rogue lioness and her new cubs. Though they never saw him, his presence was protective and he spared them from many griefs.
“One of the cubs was named Nala, and she was very beautiful. Her beauty was great, and so is yours. The older that Nala grew, the more beautiful she became, just like you, and Lord Rainbow loved her with his whole heart. She was his favorite, and at times when he saw her struggling with a nightmare, he would come to her in her dreams as a playmate and chase away her enemies that her sleep might not be troubled. Then he would play games with her, and while he was with her, he could feel what mortals feel through her. Lord Rainbow was content, and would have remained so forever, but as Nala grew, her interests matured, and one night when Lord Rainbow came to her, she fell desperately in love with him. As she rubbed Lord Rainbow full length, he trembled as new feelings very frightening and very pleasant were awakened in him.
“In fear he fled from her dream, and he decided that no more would he interfere in her sleep. But the love of her had swept over him like a fever, and he had no peace in his heart, so much did he love her.
“When the time came of Nala’s first season, Lord Rainbow appeared to her in a dream and swept away by the force of her passion, he made love to her.”
Sarafina nuzzled her. “Sometimes when you want something so badly you don’t know what to do, you’ll dream about it at night. That’s Aiheu’s way of granting you an escape.”
“Aiheu is really nice.”
“You said it.” Sarafina nuzzled her again. “Now when Lord Rainbow left her dream, Aiheu was standing nearby. ‘What is this that you have done?? Do you think I would not know you crouched with her??’
“And Lord Rainbow fell before him in fear and trembling. ‘Indeed, as you say I crouched with her, but for some time I have loved her, and my life was not my own. I belong to her, my Lord, and when she calls me, my strength fails! Do not hate your servant, I pray you!’
“‘It is not my nature to hate them who love me. But you have angered me, and not without consequence. You have enjoyed her pleasures, will you also bear her pains?’
“‘Let me then feel pain, my Lord, but do not deny me my love.’
“And Aiheu said, ‘So be it. For her you shall live the days of your Ma’at and for her you shall die. All her joys and all her sorrows you shall drink as the waters of the earth unsparingly, and when the pain comes, do not think to walk away from it. Do not say, ‘I am Nisei’ and turn your face from her.’
“And Lord Rainbow said, ‘I shall not turn my face from her.’
“‘And no miracles shall you expect from me, or your friends. As Ma’at you have become, and as Ma’at shall you live until your breath returns to me.’
“‘Even so, Lord.’
“The morning came and Nala awoke. And when she woke, she felt beside her a strange lion. And at first she was afraid and started to flee, but he called to her by name. ‘Nala, Nala, do not run from me! You are the lioness I have dreamed about since I was a cub! At last I have found in you my playmate, my friend, and my lover!’
“‘Is this another dream?’ she asked.
“‘No. I have sought you out and now I have found you by the hardest. A great price I have paid to be your lover, yet I would count it no loss if you pledged to me!’
“Lord Rainbow married her, and he stayed with her and loved her with a marvelous love that gave his whole existence new meaning.
“Now Nala hunted as she could, but Lord Rainbow was a hungry lion, and he ate much food. Without a territory of his own, he had little to offer his new mate. And under the influence of his love, the light was in Nala’s eyes and she would bring new members into the Pride.
“Long and hard Lord Rainbow sought a new land, but one day when he was despondent, One Who Brings Rain sent a cloud to hover over him to shield him from the hot sun and grant him relief. And Lord Rainbow heard a whisper that there was a land to the north in the valley between two hills that would be a safe haven for his family. This the cloud said for it was not forbidden that his friends should speak to him, only that they should not grant him miracles.
“And Lord Rainbow claimed and guarded the territory which meant that he walked the boundary every morning and evening of the land he claimed for them. And at first the rogue lions who roamed the valley would challenge him for they found that he could not fight well. Once, when he was badly wounded, he cried out to Aiheu that his blood was spilling on the ground, for he did not understand the wounds and their power over him. And Aiheu sent Mano the Blessed to his side. ‘You bleed, but you will not surely die,’ Mano said. ‘Aiheu has told me that I may not grant you a miracle, but every lion deserves fighting lessons from his friends, and the herbs of healing are his gift to all Ma’at.”
“And so it was that Lord Rainbow was healed, not by a miracle but by mercy, and he became a good fighter in his own right and through courage and hard work made safe the lands of his pride.
“When her time was due, Nala brought forth cubs, and the pride grew in size and strength. His three daughters were huntresses already, and his son Eritrea was approaching the days of his mantlement, and Lord Rainbow was happy in the life he had been given. But there came a plague of distemper, and his wife and son and daughters were ill, as was the mother. But he alone was not stricken.
“Again Mano came to him, but he said, ‘There are no herbs this time, my old friend. Your family will die. If you are wise, you shall not kiss them, nor shall you smell them lest you become sick as well.’
“‘Aiheu, Aiheu! Why have you forsaken me?? Why was I spared that I might see my whole family die??’
“Now Lord Rainbow knew full measure the pain of which Aiheu had spoken. There was nowhere to go, and nothing to do, and even when he did not look into the faces of his sick cubs, their sufferings put thorns in his heart. And he asked himself if the pain he endured was worth the love after all. But he did not wonder long, for his cubs called out to him, and he came and kissed them and nuzzled them that the plague might enter his body.
“Aiheu had pity on him and came to his side. ‘I have judged you harshly because you did not ask me for a body but sought to satisfy your cravings with deceit. You made shameful what was meant to be beautiful. But that you might know I am a just and kindly God, I swear to you that the plague was not sent by me. Many cubs has Mano gathered, and many more await him.’ And when Aiheu saw him weep, his heart was moved to pity. ‘Once I sent a Nisei to protect Nala. If he were still willing, he could yet protect her.’
“Lord Rainbow fell before Aiheu and cried, ‘Even so, Lord!’ And with a loud cry he gave up his Ka.
And at that same moment a great crimson light shone from the heavens on Lady Nala and her five children. And in that moment she was cured by the power of Lord Rainbow, but she wept for she felt in the light the touch of her husband and that he was no more.
The years went on long and hard for Lord Rainbow. Following his old friend One Who Makes Rain, the crimson light of his Ka would shine down on the land where his wife and cubs dwelled after every rain that the terrible plague would not return. And then when death came to Lady Nala, she joined him so that the bow of light in the heavens was both red and blue. When Nala’s mother died, she joined her faithful daughter and became a yellow light. And in the course of time when his four cubs grew old and died one by one, their lights went to join their family, and so now after the rain the whole family can be seen playing together in the heavens with their first and dearest friend.”
The mercurial African storm died down, and the rays of the sun streamed through the vail of clouds like a blessing. And next to the golden burst of enchantment arched a breathtakingly beautiful rainbow.
“Look! There he is!”
“Yes, child! See Lady Nala?? That’s your namesake, Honey Tree!”
Nala waved with her paw and shouted, “Hello, Nala!”
A few seconds later, a voice answered, “Hello, Nala!”
“She heard me!” Nala squealed with delight. Sarafina suspected it was only an echo, but she groomed her daughter with tender affection and said, “She knew your name. That means you’re special—but I always knew that.”
Elanna was very fond of cubs, but after her miscarriage Rafiki broke the sad news that she would never have any children of her own. Starved for love, she yearned for the sporadic attentions of the Pride’s cubs.
Unfortunately, the other lionesses did not approve of her husband Taka. They did not want her to be associating with their cubs, and while nothing was ever said to her face, they left no doubt how they felt. Hushed whispers, subtle gestures and icy glances hurt her like claws at every turn. And with anguish she would rest on her rock alone and watch cubs playing in the distance while she pined to groom them, tell them stories and kiss them softly and lovingly on the cheek and between the ears and maybe, Aiheu willing, feel their small soft bodies snuggled against her side in sleep.
It was time for the hunt, a pleasure Elanna had been denied for almost three years. And rather than leave Elanna with their cubs, Isha stayed behind to sit with them. It was the ultimate accusation of uselessness hurled against Elanna that a fine huntress like Isha would leave the hunt to cub-sit.
Taka was surveying his territory, about to leave to walk the border on his usual evening rounds. Though Elanna counted herself fortunate that he was a very loving husband, he had turned more and more inward as the drought had worsened. He would neglect her for hours at a time, even when he was not walking the line. These times were her private hell, as neglected by her Pride Sisters she was also neglected by the reason for their scorn.
Isha had to go relieve herself. That was what she told the cubs at any rate, but the fact was she had other things she wanted to do. One was to raid some of the food the hyenas had stashed away to keep up her strength. After days of eating lizards and mice, she felt entitled to her turn at raiding the cache. It would take skill and finesse, and Elanna knew she would be gone for a while.
She sneaked quietly to the cubs and sat down next to them. “Hello there, sweet things! It’s good to see you again!”
“Hi, Aunt Lannie!” Togo and Kombi said. Habusu and Lisani rubbed against her endearingly and wiggled with joy as Elanna kissed them.
“How about a nice story?” Elanna asked.
“Yeah!” Togo said. “One we haven’t heard in a while!”
Now there was one story they had not heard in a very long while because it struck uncomfortably close to home. It was the only one Elanna could think of before they lost interest, so she started uncertainly into The Drought of Negeb.
“There was once a Lion King Ulu who was a great ruler and exceedingly kind. He had a son Negeb and his love for him was boundless, and everything that came to his son had to be the best. But Negeb son became spoiled to this attention and when his father died and he had to rule the kingdom, he wanted to keep the privileges to which he had been used.
“Where his father had placed few responsibilities on his shoulders, he did not wish to make his daily patrols but instead had the lionesses drive off the hyenas and wild dogs whenever they found them. And though the lionesses worked harder for him than they did for his father, Negeb barely deigned to notice the voices of the lions under his rule, and the other animal Incosi were rarely permitted an audience.
“Kills made by the lionesses were judged harshly, and if deemed unfit for his tastes, he ordered the lionesses to hunt again.
“Tashi who was his betrothed came before him and nuzzled him. ‘My King, I would remain behind from the hunt tonight.’
“‘And why is that, Tashi? Are you ill?’
“‘I am approaching my first season, and I have come to please my husband.’
“He looked at her appraisingly. ‘Then why do you come here if it is your husband that you seek.’
“‘But Sire, were we not betrothed by our parents good and true?’
“‘Indeed we were,’ King Negeb said. ‘And yet your face is round and eyes are small, and your constant croaking like a raven is only matched by the harshness of your giggle. What COULD my father have been thinking??’
“‘Oh, my King!’ she cried, falling prostrate before him. ‘You pierce my heart with thorns!’ She sobbed inconsolably. ‘If my chatter bothers you, I shall remain silent, but do not cast me out!’
“‘Who cast you out, I say? My belly is empty—the hunt begins. Hunt well, and you shall remain. But do not call yourself my betrothed—the thought of breathing on your cheek makes me want to wretch!’
“Deeply hurt, he young lioness went into the North, into the land of the hyenas, and when the sentries challenged her to leave or die, she said, ‘All places are one to me. Do to me as it seems fit.’
“Her great sadness touched the hearts of the hyenas, and they allowed her to remain and eventually to be adopted into the clan. And for a long time Tashi stayed with them, learning their language and their customs. Because her heart was good, they came to love her like a clan sister, and her love for them was returned. But still there was an emptiness in her heart. She missed her old pride sisters and despite all she still loved King Negeb and prayed each night that he would love her in return.
“Aiheu was incensed with Negeb for his sins. In a cloud of anger which blotted the sun and sent thunder and lightning to shake the foundation of the earth, Aiheu revealed himself in all his glory to the king, who wailed with terror. ‘What is this that my servant has done? In foolishness have you increased, oh Negeb, and in foolishness shall you decrease. Suffering shall overtake you, son of Ulu, and with the measure you granted mercy shall mercy be granted to you. But for the sake of a good lioness who prays each night for you, I shall not rip you alive as I had wont to do.’
“As the days passed, Aiheu’s meaning became apparent. The Lord’s wrath burned from the heavens scorching the earth below. Plants withered and died under the assault, and animals became scarce. Only the hardy gemsbok remained, scrounging what nourishment they could from the dry earth. The kings lionesses preyed heavily upon the gemsbok, as they were their only source of food as well as moisture.
“One morning dawned to find the plains empty.” Elanna bowed her head and tears began to stream down her face. Lisani snuggled closer against Habusu in the awful quiet, and her eyes reddened.
“Lannie, are you all right?” Habu asked.
Elanna kissed him. “I’m sorry. Really I am. I just get emotional when I tell that story, Honey Tree. I’m sorry.”
“Oh Lannie!” Lisani cried. “Are we all going to die?”
“No, hon. Don’t say that.” She rubbed her eyes and said, “I feel much better now, really I do. Let’s finish the story, shall we?”
Elanna regained her composure. “Aiheu had instructed the gemsbok to leave the land and journey to another kingdom far away which he had prepared for them. The lionesses began to desert the land as well, saying, ‘Shall we remain here and die with one who loves us not?’”
“I hope Nala comes home,” Habu said.
“So do I,” Lisani said.
“And us,” Kombi said. “Do you think she will?”
“I hope so,” Elanna said. “Well, the king railed bitterly against God for the curse; each day his pride numbered fewer and fewer, their reports becoming more and more bleak. Many things did he learn to eat, and days came when he would have been glad to eat anything, but there was nothing. Then finally, he awoke one morning to hear only silence. His cries for help were pitiful, but no one remained to hear them.
“Utterly desolated, he shrank in a corner of his cave, the taste of fear strong on his drying tongue. Weaker and weaker he became, his cries for help becoming hoarse, feeling his body’s grip on his soul become weak as the water was drawn from him with each breath he exhaled. At last in utter misery, he cried out, “Oh gods, kill me! Aiheu, release me form this torment, I cannot bear it any more!”
Elanna’s chin began to quiver. “Poor, dear creature! He wasn’t evil—he was just an overgrown cub that wanted to be loved by someone! Somewhere along the way, he got on the wrong path, but his heart was good!” She looked up at Taka as he sat unmoving upon the promontory and trembled. “Who can say what pain and suffering he felt inside? What lonely thoughts he carried in his heart?”
Lisani left Habusu and snuggled against Elanna. Habusu then lay against Elanna’s other side and nuzzled her. Togo and Kombi looked down, depressed.
“His ear twitched as he heard the gentle pad of footsteps. A voice spoke to him in the hyena tongue, and he shrank back. ‘At last, it pleases Aiheu to release me from my suffering.’
“‘I do not know what pleases Aiheu,’ the voice said plainly. “But it would please me to ease your suffering.’
“He opened his eyes and saw very dimly a lioness bearing a zebra haunch. ‘Bless you, child!’ Hungrily he devoured the meat, muttering thanks to Aiheu and the stranger. ‘I would have perished without your help.’
“‘Milord values my presence, then?’
“‘I value you well!’ He said, ‘Your voice is familiar, but tinged with some great sadness. Who has harmed you?’
“‘I was scorned by my betrothed. He saw no value in me but my hunting skills.’
“‘Stay here, then. I will appreciate you.’
“‘But does my voice not still croak like a raven? Is my face not too round? Only don’t worry, my betrothed, I do not laugh harshly anymore, for all the joy has gone out of my life.’
“Negeb fell before her and sobbed. ‘Tashi, Tashi! How I wronged you! Heaven and Earth have condemned me, and justly so!’
“‘You feel sorry for me?’
“‘I feel sorry for myself, that I have lost the love of a noble and gentle creature. But for your prayers each night, Aiheu would have slain me.’
“‘He spared you for my sake that we might be married someday. You have not lost my love.’
“He nuzzled her and said, ‘I long to see your lovely round face and your beautiful small eyes. And your sweet raven’s voice I would hear always… ’”
She looked up at Taka again. Her eyes followed the curves of his body and the sad set of his chin. “‘… and you shall laugh again, so swear I before Aiheu that I will put joy back in your life.’” Elanna reached out toward him with her paw. “Joy and love, my darling! Love that will last till the last beat of my heart. Love that will overlook your faults and build you up when others tear you down. Love that looks past the scars and sees the beauty! Oh gods, just look at him! He’s worrying himself into an early death and all they do is heap abuse on him!”
Lisani started to cry and paw Elanna’s tear-stained cheeks.
Elanna tried desperately to cover and go on with the story. “‘The land is dying,’ Negeb said, ‘and I am dying with it. It is no good to stay here.’
“‘Perhaps the Lord will have mercy on you for my sake. I shall remain.’
“And so at last they became husband and wife. And Aiheu saw true repentance in the lion’s heart and relented. He allowed One-who-brings-rain to return and make the land fertile again, and called back the animals and birds. Oh, and what a beautiful sight it was, my cubs!”
She looked out over the dust-choked landscape with its leafless trees writhing in mute agony in the dry wind. “When the rain came, it smelled so sweet and dry earth soaked up the water and the grass turned green again!” She ran her paw through the dust. “Oh to see the green grass and the flowers one last time! To feel the rain pelt on my fur again and watch the waterhole grow broad and deep again the way it was when I was a cub! Can you remember when the water was deep enough to reach the base of the shrubs? Can you?”
“I can,” Lisani said, tears coursing down her cheeks. “Oh, Lannie!”
“Look at me going on like an old fool! I’ll never finish this story if I keep wandering like that!”
“You’re not an old fool!” Togo said. “Don’t say bad things like that—it’s not true!”
Elanna stroked him with a paw. “No, you’re right of course. I just feel old. Bless your heart, Honey Tree. You were always good to your Aunt Lannie.” She waited a moment until she was properly composed before she continued.
“The land healed itself of its scars, and Negeb thereafter acquitted himself nobly, with Tashi as his queen. And though Aiheu blessed the land and its inhabitants, each year he called the animals away for a time and One-who-brings-rain withheld his gift to remind Negeb of his obligation to the gods. And so it is till this day.”
“Did Taka do something bad?” Habusu glanced nervously at the dark lion brooding up on the promontory above. “Is that why Aiheu is punishing us?”
Elanna drew close and nuzzled him behind the ear. “No, Habu. Aiheu isn’t mad at us. The drought is a part of life, and so are the rains that follow behind it. In this way, Aiheu reminds us of our place in the Circle of Life, that we are all equal in his eyes, king and commoner.”
Lisani peered up at Elanna. “Even cubs?”
Elanna kissed Lisani on the tip of her nose. “Yes, even cubs.”
“And Taka too?”
“Of course, even Taka too. Aiheu loves us all, hon.”
“Good.” Lisani craned her head back up to where the king sat still, watching the horizon for some unknown sign. “I hope God makes it rain soon to remind him. I think Taka’s forgotten it.”
Elanna kissed the cubs again and sighed deeply. “I hope so, too.” She managed a smile. “Why don’t we do something happy? How about the Sufa Song! Does anyone know all the movements?”
“OK, Lisani! Why don’t you lead us?”
Wiggling with pride, Miss Priss faced her small audience. Her eyes narrowed in deep concentration for a moment as she mentally went over the parts she was unsure of, but then she brightened. Facing away from the sunset with a paw against her cheek, she began
Lord, I want to meet you in the East! Lord, I want to meet you in the East! When I’m young I won’t neglect you in the least; Oh Lord, I want to meet you in the East!
She turned to face the sunset and touched her nose to the ground, putting a paw on top of her head.
Lord, I want to meet you in the West! Lord, I want to meet you in the West! When I’m old your loving arms will feel the best; Oh Lord, I want to meet you in the West!
Finally, with simple, heartfelt faith, she rolled on her back and rubbed her chest above her heart. Elanna and the others followed her.
Lord, I want to meet you in this place! Lord, I want to meet you in this place! When I do, I’ll see the beauty in your face; Oh Lord, I want to meet you in this place!
“Wasn’t that good!” Elanna kissed her repeatedly. “And how big you’ve grown! Don’t wait so long till you come to see me again, or you’ll be all grown up!”
Isha, who showed up near the end of the song, said rather urgently, “It’s time for your bath, Habu. You too, Lissie.”
“Oh, I can handle that,” Elanna said.
“No thank you,” Isha said, almost curtly.
“I don’t mind, really! You take Habu and I’ll do Lisani.”
“No thank you, my lady. Unless that’s a direct order.”
“Of course it’s not an order. I just love them, that’s all.” Elanna bowed her head. “And I thought you loved me, Isha! Don’t you remember when I used to groom you after the hunt? You said we’d always be friends! Have you forgotten, Isha??”
Isha looked away and sighed. “Please, not in front of the children. They don’t understand.”
“Neither do I. I wish to Aiheu someone would explain it to me!” She looked at the cubs who stared at her with sad faces. “Good bye, Miss Priss. Take care, Habu. Well, I guess you other cubs had better run along too.” As Isha stalked off with her pair, Elanna left Togo and Kombi and sneaked off to hide in the reeds.
Shouldering the plants aside, Elanna stared down at the dry dust. A tear trickled down her cheek, hanging from a whisker for a moment before dropping to vanish into the parched earth. “Aiheu, Aiheu, why have you abandoned me?? This judgment is more than I can bear! Let it rain, God! One little drop to fall on my husband’s parched tongue! Why won’t you listen to me! Oh God, if there’s hope for me, show me a sign! Don’t abandon me, God! Please don’t abandon me!”
Togo and Kombi came and huddled next to Elanna, kissing her and snuggling by her side.
“I thought you were headed out with Isha,” she said, startled.
“Lannie,” Uzuri’s voice said from behind her, “would you mind looking after these two until I get back? I may be a while.”
“Zuri! How much did you hear??”
Elanna bit her lip. “You won’t tell anyone, will you? You’re such a good person, Zuri. I hate to cry like a cub, but sometimes I get so depressed, and it seems like there’s no way out…” Elanna shuddered. “Nala left the Pride. Oh gods, Zuri, if you left me, I’d go crazy! Stark raving mad! Never leave me, Zuri! Whatever you want, I’ll make sure you get it! I’ll give you my portion. Anything, Zuri! Don’t leave me! Please!”
“Did you say you’d do anything? Then would you consent to be the Nurse-mother of my children? If I died, would you take care of Togo and Kombi?”
Elanna’s chin trembled and her eyes flooded with tears that spilled over and ran down her cheeks. It was a few moments before she could speak, and her first words were, “I love you, Zuri! I would offer them the blood of mercy if need be!”
With her paw she fondled Togo and Kombi, and kissed them. “See, Uzuri, God has not abandoned me!”
“Of course he hasn’t,” Uzuri said, kissing away her tears.
“You do know I love you, don’t you? You know I’d do anything for you, don’t you?”
“Of course I do. Now buck up. You don’t want your husband to see you’ve been crying, do you?”
“No.” She sighed. “It would be one more thing for him to worry about.” She took in a deep breath, let it out slowly, and smiled.
Whenever Rafiki told stories, he would bring some of his jerky for the cubs. It always ensured a large crowd, but it also fostered the close ties of love and trust that made Rafiki an integral part of the pride. Sometimes when Rafiki would examine a wounded lioness or massage a pulled muscle, he would have to bend painful joints and prod aching abdomens. These things and many more he did for many years, and never once was he bitten or scratched, though he could have been killed with a single well-placed blow or bite.
Rafiki was always happiest surrounded by cubs. He loved their antics and always laughed at their jokes, no matter how many times he had heard them before or how poorly they were told. And within the limits of his strength and durability, he would play games with them. He had to make those limits clear to each new generation. Indeed, among the few phrases of leonine he learned in his long life, “I love you,” “Let go,” and “Claws in, please!” figured most prominently.
Misha would always get jerky with the other cubs, but as he once did with Taka, he would save a piece of rare Tiko root for her alone. He gave her the treat, and as always her eyes half closed in pleasure as the fragrance and flavor permeated her. And as always, he quietly whispered, “Misha, mabinti penda,” which is to say, “Misha, my beloved daughter.”
She kissed him. “You’re my bestest friend. Did you give my mother Tiko root?”
His face clouded. “Some. I wish I could have given her more.”
“What do you mean?”
“I loved Mufasa very much. When he died, I was heartbroken, especially because Taka looked like he didn’t really care. I had no way of knowing that he killed Mufasa, but I was plenty upset, and I said some things that really made him angry. He confined me to this tree and for almost three years.”
“Three whole years?” She snuggled against him.
“Three years is a long time, but doubly so because I was prematurely old. I lost my youth over him, and it seems I did not lose enough of my life to suit him.” Absently, he began to stroke her as he spoke. “I missed your mother’s coming of age. I wasn’t able to be there for Nala and Habusu, and to think of poor Simba wandering around in the jungle like a lost soul! I try to be philosophical about all this and go on with my life, but sometimes its hard. But just you wait till someone tries to hurt my little girl, and they will know what fear is! I’ll move heaven and earth for my little Missy.” He put his arms around her and hugged her. “Maybe I’m giving you all the love that I kept stored up inside of me all those lonely moons. You know, I used to plan on one day walking out of this baobab and never coming back. But now that I’m free to come and go, it’s a funny thing—I just can’t find a home as nice as this one. I guess I’m stuck with it. And you have to help me.”
“You’ll help me make some happy memories that will sweep away all the sad ones. It’s easy. See, you’re doing it right now.”
He slipped her an extra piece of Tiko root and said, “I shouldn’t do this. I’ll spoil your appetite for red meat.”
“Thank you, Rafiki.”
She snapped up the treat and closed her eyes, savoring the fragrant treat. “Will you tell me a story now?”
He looked at her with a smile but a trace of reproof. “You forgot to thank Aiheu for your food.”
“But YOU gave it to me.”
“I know, but when you look closely enough, all blessings come from Aiheu.” He said, “I know just the story, Missy. You listen carefully and you might learn something from this foolish old monkey.”
“King Amalkozi, the son of Baba, had a son named Zara. And Amalkozi loved Zara with a marvelous love. Indeed, between his wife and son he divided his whole heart, and Aiheu whom he had not seen he had no great love for.
“‘You should thank the Lord your God before you eat,’ the shamans would warn Amalkozi. ‘He has provided for you, and it is at your peril that you neglect him.’
“‘I will thank my lionesses before I eat,’ he said. ‘It is they who work hard that I might not go hungry.’
“And then one day when Zara was playing with his sister M’hetu, a giant eagle swept down from the sky and grabbed him in his talons. And before Amalkozi could stop him, the eagle bore Zara away screaming.
Misha’s ears flattened. “That’s terrible!”
“Hold on, Honey Tree,” Rafiki said, patting her cheek. “I’m not done yet.
“After this, Amalkozi grieved as no lions grieved before and few have grieved since. And when the shamans told him that the Lord had taken his son, he said angrily that where he had once neglected God, now he hated him and with just cause. And for six years the name of Aiheu was corban in his presence, and he would not bless the lionesses before the hunt.
“Then one day a strange lion showed up asking to see the king. He called Bavisi by name and several members of the household as well, so that Bavisi was afraid and suspected magic.
“Bavisi fell before his brother the King and said, ‘The strange lion will tell his name to no one but the King.’ And King Amalkozi wondered if he was being challenged, and he went out to greet the stranger with kind words while judging his strength as an enemy.
“But when the strange lion came before the King, M’hetu, the faithful sister humbled herself before him and cried, ‘Behold it is Zara who once was lost but now is found. Look, my King, my brother the cub has returned a lion!’ And the King looked closely and saw the scars on his back from the talons and knew that it was his son. He wept and lay on the ground, pawing the sky and praising Aiheu for his mercy. And Amalkozi put out a decree that all lions should thank God before they eat and remember the Lord before they sleep.
“Now this, my child, is the importance of the story. That Aiheu loved Amalkozi and returned his son BEFORE he repented, for Aiheu loves all of his children.”
“But why did he tell the eagle to take away his son?”
“Who says he told the eagle to take away his son! But if he had prayed to Aiheu and asked his help, he might not have had to wait six years.”
Misha bowed her head quickly. “Aiheu abamami! Aiheu provides!” She looked up sheepishly and said, “I don’t want to take any chances.”
Yolanda was trying to rest. She was at an age gracefully referred to as “looking westward,” and she needed more sleep than she once did when her carriage was straight, her stomach was firm and her step was lively.
“Oh good!” young Misha said, gamboling over and rubbing against her face. “You’re not busy.”
With a sigh, Yolanda rolled over. She managed a smile despite her aches and pains and reached out with a comforting paw to draw her granddaughter to her side and begin grooming her. “Something on your mind?”
“It’s not really important, but I was just wondering…”
“About what?” Yolanda began to groom behind Misha’s ears and the cub half closed her eyes in luxury.
“All these spots. I have more spots than Wajanja. I wish they would go away. My mom’s spots never all went away like Nala’s did. Does that mean I’m going to be spotty all my life?”
“I hope so,” Yolanda said.
The answer got Misha’s full attention. “Why?”
“Those cub spots were left where Aiheu touched you when you were born. He blesses all new cubs.”
“Boy, he sure must have blessed me one good!”
Yolanda smiled, amused. “When the spots stay on after you’re grown, it’s a good sign. It’s a blessing, and I think it looks beautiful.” She drew close and said, “Your mother’s spots used to drive your father wild. Lions think lionesses with spots are extra special.”
“I don’t know. It probably makes no difference, but why tell THEM that? Hey, if you got ‘em, flaunt ‘em!” Yolanda whispered in her ear, “Don’t tell anyone I said this, but have you ever noticed how many spots Isha has?”
“Whoa!” Misha giggled.
“Didn’t I tell you!” Yolanda fondled her with a paw. “You’re very beautiful, and the older you get the more beautiful you’ll become.”
“That Wajanja thinks she’s so smart and so cute! But you know what? She’s the only one without a steady boyfriend!”
“Aiheu abamami!” Yolanda said with a good laugh. “There are words for cubs like her, and someday when you’re older you’ll hear some of them. Remember now, what I tell you lioness to lioness doesn’t get spread around, OK?”
“Sure!” Misha kissed her and rubbed against her face. “I love you, Grandma.”
“I love you too.”
Misha trundled away happily, and Yolanda watched with a smile as her granddaughter disappeared into the distance. Then she laid her head down, took in a deep breath and slowly let it out.
The African sun warmed her body, loosening her joints and making her drowsy. She rolled over on her back and let the warmth soak in her stomach, then turned on her sleeping side. With a contented grunt, she closed her eyes and waited for sleep to bear her away on quiet velvet paws. All was at peace.
“Oh good, you’re still here!”
One of Yolanda’s eyes opened slowly. She saw Togo barreling down on her just in time to pull her stomach tight before impact. Eyes shining, Togo climbed over her body to put his arms around her large neck and rub her with grunts of love and joy.
“How did you know I needed a good hug, Honey Tree?”
“Just a lucky guess?” Togo said, kissing her with his warm tongue and nuzzling her until she had to smile and then snuggling under her chin.
“Where’s your brother?”
“Over here!” Kombi said, walking over her back, across her ribs and down the other side to end up snuggled by her side.
Kombi watched the tuft on the end of Yolanda’s tail intently. It was all he could do not to pounce on it. “Togo and I were just talking about storms.”
“Arguing about it,” Togo said.
“Whatever. The point is, Togo says lightning is falling stars and I say that’s just nonsense. Everybody knows lightning is when the rain catches on fire! That’s what Wajanja says.”
“Good old Wajanja,” Yolanda said with a sigh. “Thunder and lightning happens because One Who Brings Rain roars a warning to the Makei. He’s tells them that the ground is about to be blessed. Makei cannot stand the rain because it is holy and hurts them. But One-who- brings-rain is merciful and would not even hurt the Makei.”
“Wow!” Kombi said. “Mom was right. When you have a question, ask Yolanda.”
“I see,” Yolanda said. “I have a question for your mother next time I see her.”
Kombi ran on his merry way. Togo watched him go and became restless. “Well, I guess I better go.”
“Come on, Togo!”
Togo looked into Yolanda’s eyes and drew close. His pink tongue shot out and touched the tip of her nose. “I gotta go.”
“I understand,” Yolanda said, kissing him. “Come back—later.”
Yolanda smiled and laid her head down on the soft grass. “That Togo is such a dear,” she muttered softly. “If I was a few years younger, I’d want a son just like him.”
Dealing with the cubs was her special pleasure, and it had become her job since her loss of speed and strength on the hunt had made her more valuable as a cub setter. Once in a while she would follow along on the hunt in search of her lost youth. Just a week ago, she brought down a gazelle, and it did wonders for her self esteem. But for the moment the wonders she needed would be found in a good nap.
“Merciful Aiheu,” she whispered, “I love them all, but let me get some sleep? Remember old Yolanda who loves you.”
Lisani came treading quietly toward her. Yolanda glanced up and sighed. “Maybe you’re getting a little hard of hearing with age? Please, Lord?” She glanced back at Yolanda with a forced smile. “You came by to ask old Yolanda for a story? Maybe a quick question?”
Lisani yawned. “Not now. I’m too tired.”
Lisani rubbed her cheek against Yolanda’s face, then she snuggled quietly next to her chest. Yolanda draped her paw over Miss Priss and smiled sweetly. “Thank you, Aiheu. Maybe your ears are still sharp.” And with Lisani’s tiny, soft body cuddled to her, she grunted with contentment and finally fell asleep.
Beesa was funny and sweet and when you looked at her beautiful face, her eyes shone like a warm nuzzle. She was a good and patient mother, and everyone who knew her loved her. And when the moon stood at its zenith enchanting the acacia trees with a silver luster, an angry elephant crushed her body and left her there to die.
Small Lisani huddled by her Aunt Isha and trembled. The enormity of her mother’s death was an inescapable burden wounding her cubhood innocence to the core.
When Lisani was alone with Isha, she worked up nerve enough to ask a question—THE question.
“How did it happen?”
“We had been hunting all night, but by midmoon we had nothing to show it. By the moonlight we could see the small group of elephants in the distance, but Uzuri told us to ignore them. But you know your mother—Beesa saw that a calf had strayed too far from the group and she must have thought she could cut it off and out of the herd.
“Uzuri was calling out our sweep pattern. We were going with the fork pattern, and she was going to lead the left wing. She wanted Beesa in the trail spot, but didn’t see her anywhere. She asked about your Mom, but no one had seen her.
Then Malaika saw her. There was this big elephant cow sneaking up behind Beesa. Uzuri shouted for her to watch out, but by the time your mom turned around it was too late. That elephant charged her and tossed her like a twig, then it stomped on her.”
Lisani gasped deeply and let it out in a shrill shriek. As tears streamed down her face, she ran in tight circles shrieking, then bit herself on the flank so hard that a few red drops stained her fur. “Oh gods!” she shrieked almost incoherently. “Oh gods! Mommy! I love you, Mommy! Oh gods, it stepped on you! Oh gods! I love you! I love you Mommy! Can you hear me?? I love you!”
“Shh, honey tree!” Isha stopped her with a large paw and drew her to her side. “Shh, honey tree. Let it out on me. Isha’s here.”
Lisani buried her face in the soft fur of Isha’s side and shrieked while her aunt gently cleaned and soothed the wound on her leg. She sobbed. Then after a while it died down to a soft, mournful weeping that lasted for what seemed like an eternity. In the night sky, the two brothers had ascended, and the moon had long passed its zenith. Isha had seemed to drowse off, but her eyes never completely closed.
Finally Lisani spoke again. “Aunt Isha? Are you awake?”
“Yes, Honey Tree. I won’t sleep till you do.”
Lisani rubbed her face against Isha’s and kissed her repeatedly. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
“Be careful, Aunt Isha. You’re all I have left,” Lisani said. “If you died, I’d have to do my own hunting.”
Isha wept. “Oh child! What a thing to say!”
“Can I go see her?”
“No, Miss Priss.”
“Her body will be corban for a moon—those are the rules, and your mother would want you to obey them. I said good-bye for you.”
“Why are those the rules? Who makes these rules? Taka? He makes stupid rules—everyone says so!”
“Never let him hear you say that! You could get into trouble. But these were not his rules: They were made long ago because we go back to the earth from which our bodies came and our spirits go back to God from which they came. We are not to interfere with that. Aiheu’s pretty smart. He knows what he’s doing. When we die, he gathers us up and takes us to be with him, and he misses no one, no matter how big or small. Now the important point is that death is not an end in itself but a continuing of the path. This life is like swimming across a deep river. If you seek to avoid death, it is like swimming in circles forever, never reaching the other side.”
“But she wasn’t even old! She still had a lot of time left! It’s not fair!”
“I agree. It’s not fair. But honey tree, she left the world a better place than she found it. Her life had beauty and meaning, and through you a part of her goes on.” Isha nuzzled and kissed her.
Lisani considered her words carefully. “What happens then? After you die? I mean, what does it feel like?”
“I’m not sure, honey tree. But if God is there, it must be good. If only you could go to see Rafiki, I think he knows more about it than anyone else in the Pride Lands. Tomorrow I’ll see if I can get you to him. It’s the least they can do—this whole mess was their fault.”
Lisani lay next to Isha and Habusu and tried to sleep. But sleep was denied her. There was grief for sure, but there was also uncertainty. The dawn would not come—the night seemed a dreary eternity. So she finally decided to act on her own.
After a while, when Isha and Habu were asleep, she went across the sleepy savanna toward Rafiki’s baobab.
The guard stopped her at the perimeter of his confinement. The hyena looked down at her with some amusement at first, then he recognized her. He reached out with a paw, and Lisani shrank back, but he gently rubbed her shoulder and cheek. “Hello, Miss Priss. I’m so sorry about your mother. You know, my mother died when I was your age.”
“Yeah. My name’s Krull. You remember me, don’t you?”
“Isha says you’re one of the good ones.”
“Well that’s nice to know. You shouldn’t be out here after dark. It’s not safe.”
“I need to see Rafiki. I need it real bad.”
“Does Isha know you’re out here?”
“No. Don’t tell her, please?”
“I won’t. But it’s dangerous out here late at night.”
“Do you need any help?” one of the other guards asked.
“Sure. I thought I was done for till you got here. Save me!”
“You made your point, sir. But you know she’s not allowed here.”
Krull straightened up to full height. “You idiot, don’t you know who this is?? It’s Beesa’s daughter!”
“Oh.” The other hyena, who didn’t look anywhere as kind, stared at her. “So it is. Sorry about your mom and all. But no one gets to see Rafiki—orders of the Roh’mach.”
Krull smiled kindly, even patronizingly. “Look here, you. You weren’t thinking of reporting this, were you? Cause if you were, I’d have to rip out your liver and stomp on it till you changed your mind. Nothing personal, mind you, but this girl’s mother is dead. If she wants to see Rafiki, she sees Rafiki. Do you have a problem with that??”
Krull escorted her to the tree and watched as she scrambled in. Rafiki was asleep, and when Krull awakened him, he opened one eye and asked, “What the devil is going on??”
“Shhhh, I have a little stowaway to see you. It’s Miss Priss.”
“Oh, Lisani! I didn’t see you back there! Are you sick, honey tree?”
“No, it’s my mother.”
“What is her problem? Is she very sick?”
Lisani started to cry. “Oh Rafiki!”
“She’s dead,” Krull said, bowing his head. “Stove through on the hunt.”
“Oh my gods!” Rafiki stammered. He gasped, and his face dropped as tears began to flood his eyes. As his trembling hands raised to his cheeks, he seemed to be trying to sort it all out. “Stove through?? Oh child! Oh, Miss Priss!” He gasped again. His chin trembled and he half-whispered, “Oh no!”
Lisani began to wail inconsolably. “The elephant stepped on her!”
Rafiki broke into uncontrollable sobs, scooping her up gently in his arms and hugging her to his chest. As tears coursed down his face, he kissed her again and again, stroking her small body and softly moaning in his despair. Lisani, who could relate more to his cub-like grief, put her paws around his neck and snuggled her face tightly under his chin, her lion tears wetting his throat.
Krull’s ears drooped and his tail hung limply. As his face looked away, tears slid down his cheeks and he stalked quietly away from the entrance.
Lisani kissed Rafiki and muttered, “What is it like when people die? Aunt Isha said you knew about that stuff.”
“I’ve had a few experiences with the spirit world. I’ve met Mano and Minshasa, you know.” He took the locket around his neck and opened it, holding the small tuft of white fur in front of her nose. It smelled like lion but it also smelled like wild honey. “This came from Mano’s mane. It was his gift to me long ago when I was young.”
Rafiki put his arms around her and gave her a comforting pat. “When you die, your last breath goes back to Aiheu, and with it, your Ka. At first, you can look down and see your body of Ma’at lying there, and you can see and hear what other people do. That’s why it’s important for you to show respect and grief when someone dies, to let them know that they were important and that their death is a great loss. But you must also let them know that it’s OK to go on and be with Aiheu so they will not feel guilty for leaving you. That’s part of the reason why a body is corban for a moon, though there are other more practical ones that spring to mind.”
“Then what happens?”
“There will be a bright light, a beautiful light more wonderful than the sun breaking through the storm clouds when a few golden rays touch a spot and make it special. You feel as you go toward that light that you are walking—indeed, you will feel that it is at the end of a canyon. The walls of this canyon are covered with shiny, brightly colored stones. Then you get through the canyon, and things broaden out till you can’t see any more of the walls, and the floor is covered in misty clouds. And you see on either side of you friends that wait for you. Some of them are people you’ve known. Others are people that just want you to feel welcome. Akase and Ahadi were probably there to welcome her. Mufasa, too. They come close and they touch you, and you feel warm and comfortable, and you cannot feel afraid no matter how hard you try. Then you come close to the light, and it’s Mano and Minshasa, the white lions, who come to escort you into the source of the light itself.”
“Yes, my child. The light is from Lord Aiheu. And when you look in his face, all your questions will be answered, and your heart will be filled with love and happiness. And he will let you drink from his great river of milk that sustains the blessed in their home among the stars.” Rafiki looked at her worriedly. “Does Isha know you’re out here?”
“Then you must sneak right back the way you came. But first there’s something else I want you to know.”
“Old Rafiki loves you very much.”
A tear slipped down Lisani’s cheek. “I love you too.”
Rafiki looked out the entrance. “Krull, you make sure she gets home all right, and don’t you dare wake Isha up. She shouldn’t have to get in trouble tonight.”
“I’ll see to it myself.”
It was to be Mobuta’s first hunt with the lionesses. Having reached a suitable size and received the approval of the hunt mistress, the young lioness was in a state of high anticipation. Being invited to the gathering-up for the first time was a great thrill for Mobuta, but she was very nervous as well. She had her heart set on making her first kill. She had hoped to bring down some prey, no matter how small, when her mother was teaching her to hunt. But while she was an apt pupil, she never had the chance to put what she knew into actual practice and draw first blood. She had so wished to be able to gain one honor at a time, and so relax and enjoy herself. As it was, she was trembling in the joints.
“Listen, Sisters!” Ajenti said excitedly, crashing through the brush. “I’ve seen it!”
“It?” Sarafina asked.
“It! The greatest of great omens!
“What, what??” the Pride sisters asked.
“Don’t you know? Or are you unwilling to believe it? Many are the white zebras with black stripes, but there is a black zebra with white stripes on the eastern meadow!”
“The black zebra!” Sarafina said with awe. “No, it can’t be!”
“Such a thing was seen in my mother’s time, but only rarely,” Uzuri said. “Mobuta, you have brought us good luck. I say you should try for it. If you bring it in, your sons will be great kings and blessings will be on the land all the days of your life.”
“Oh my gods!”
“Should we let a new lioness do this?” Isha said.
“It shall be and it must be,” Uzuri said firmly. She took the new lioness aside. “Since we have chosen this means to earn your first blood, listen carefully. You cannot chase down the great zebra by yourself. We will divide into two groups. You approach straight on with all your stealth, and our group will divide in two. Half will circle around the right and half will circle around the left. When you get as close as you can to the zebras, roar as loud as you can and shout, “Come, sisters!” We will rush out and drive the great zebra toward you. And it should be easy enough for you to claim what’s coming to you. Understand?”
“Yes ma’am. I only hope I’m worthy of this great honor.”
With well-practiced speed, the main group broke into two halves and when Mobuta headed out, the leopard patrol headed left and the cheetah patrol headed right. But as soon as Mobuta was out of range, they circled back to the west and quickly reunited behind a grove of acacias. Isha began to snicker. “It should be easy enough for you to claim what’s coming to you.”
“She’ll be blessed for the rest of her life,” Uzuri said with a sly wink. “Not only her, but whatever she finds out there.”
It was the same on every first hunt, as the Pride Sisters headed into the west to find food and left poor Mobuta to her eventual humiliation.
Before long, they heard a loud roar. “Come, sisters!”
Isha snickered. “What do you know, she’s found something!”
Uzuri looked over at Ajenti. “Damn! Now she’s spoiled the hunt! Everything in sectors will be running for its life! Why didn’t you see them, scout??”
Ajenti was aghast. “There isn’t a even a moon tonight! Who do you think I am? Minshasa??”
“Well, what’s done is done. Let’s get Mobuta before she squalls her head off and runs off all the game.”
Uzuri flinched. “We won’t have meat tonight. Some joke.”
They headed a hundred lengths into the east. And before long they met with an astounding sight. Mobuta beamed at them, her sides heaving as she stood prowdly over a dead zebra. “You were great! Boy, they were running everywhere when just like you said, the great zebra came charging right at me! But you know, I can’t tell the difference, I’d have thought he was just a regular zebra. Are you sure it’s the great zebra?”
“Uh, honey tree, there’s something I think we need to tell you,” Isha said.
“Yes,” Uzuri interrupted, stepping in front of Isha quickly. “Beyond a doubt, it’s the Great Zebra. And because this is your first blood, that makes you a lioness and a member of our hunting clan. Since your mother was not here tonight, I’d be honored if you’d let me mark your cheek.”
“The honor is all mine,” said the beaming lioness.
Uzuri rubbed her paw in the fresh blood on the throat and touched Mobuta’s cheek gently. When she pulled away her paw, it left a recognizable, if dripping, pawprint in blood. “All hail the lioness! Aiheu bless the lioness! Mobuta the Pride Sister!”
The pride sisters all came and nuzzled her and sniffed of the blood on her cheek. Mobuta was in tears. “Oh gods, I’m the happiest creature alive!”
“This print is the first step of your path as a lioness,” Uzuri said. “Welcome, Pride Sister.”
The lionesses all quickly muttered, “Aiheu abamami! Aiheu provides!” and they started quickly on the still-warm body.
Isha’s side rose and fell slowly with the tides of her breath as she napped fitfully in the oppressive heat. Sighing with resignation, she gave up and rolled upright, licking a forepaw absently as she began to groom herself. She mentally cursed the drought which gripped the land in its dry and thirsty clutches and again wondered if the mumbling overheard from the hyena seers were true; that Taka had lowered a curse on the land and the rain was gone for good.
Motion at the cave mouth caught her eye, and she glanced over to see her son trot in, tired and dusty. “Hi, Mom.”
“Hey, kiddo.” Isha reached out with a paw and swept him to her, nuzzling his side.
He wriggled uncomfortably. “OW!”
Isha flinched and looked him over. There was an ugly scratch on his flank. “What happened to you? Have you been fighting?”
“No, but I sure wanted to. Kombi knocked me over when we were playing. He and Togo always push me around.”
Isha rolled her eyes and sighed. “Those two! At least it’s not too bad, Honey Tree.”
“Yeah, but Mom, Lisani was there!”
Isha’s mouth made a soundless “Ohhh.”
A rough growl escaped the cub and he scuffed the floor angrily. “I wish I was bigger and meaner. I’d show them!”
Isha slapped her tail idly at an annoying fly. “And what would you show them?”
“I’d give them a pawful of claws across the nose, that’s what I’d do!”
“Habu, you would not.” Lisani’s warm voice drifted into his ear as she snuggled up from behind him. “You’re too sweet to be mean like they are.”
Habu’s ears flattened and he writhed in embarrassment. “Sometimes I want to be mean, though. When people deserve it. If I was strong and powerful like Simba, I wouldn’t take that stuff off ‘em.”
Isha blinked. “Another lion once thought as you did, son.”
“He thought that if he was strong and powerful, it would solve all his problems. He found out how to become the strongest and most powerful lion. And you know something? His name was Habusu. I named you after him.”
“Oh?” Habusu settled into a sphinx, with Lisani sprawling comfortably against him. “What did he do? Did it work?”
Isha smiled and shook her head. “Not exactly…
“Long ago, a lion named Habusu lived with his wife among the grasses of the savanna. They were a happy couple, but seldom got to spend time together; Habusu was ever on his guard to defend his mate and territory from intruders.
“One day he was confronted by three brothers who approached him, roaring challenges. Habusu fought bravely, but was overcome; they sent him running in fear, jeering and shouting epithets at his back as he ran.”
Habu frowned. “What’s an epithet?”
Isha grinned. “It’s those naughty words Togo and Kombi use.”
“Ohh! You mean like—”
“Ah-AH! Not in my cave, please.” Isha cleared her throat and continued. “Habusu had to flee as the three brothers took everything he had; his lands, his food, even his mate. In tears he wandered away into the wilderness, railing bitterly against his fate. “Would that I could avenge myself upon those who torment me!
“Suddenly a black lioness emerged from the grass nearby. Such a thing is rarely seen, and he took it as an omen.
“‘What is wrong, traveler?’
“‘My mate, my home, all is lost! I would give anything to regain them, anything!’
“‘Did you say anything? If you would really be avenged, go to the holy lake of Mara, and drink your fill; for then you shall be like the Nisei themselves; immortal and invulnerable.’
“Habusu was dubious. ‘It is forbidden; the lake is for the spirits themselves, and not for a simple lion.’
“‘Did you not hear the cries of your mate as she was wrested from you? No simple lion could save her, yet one blessed with the milk could cleanse the land; indeed, Aiheu Himself would smile upon your quest!’
“Now these were lies, for the black lioness was one of the grand Makei, the race of those separated from God. The lake was indeed forbidden to mortals, and for good reason. Yet Habusu set out for the lake of Mara confident that God had answered his prayers.
“He encountered many obstacles on his way, for Aiheu knew the temptations of Mara and accordingly set wards to bar the beings of Ma’at from his precious spring of life. Yet Habusu was pure of heart, and had set out on his journey out of love for his mate, and so won over the guardians that stood between him and his goal.”
“So then what happened?” asked Lisani.
“Well, Habusu eventually got to the lake forest itself, but his exertions had exhausted him, and he fell asleep in the cool glade. He was awakened the next morning by the sound of Koko the Gorilla making his rounds, for Koko is Aiheu’s most trusted guardian; he keeps all mortals from the lake itself. Bracing himself, Habusu made a dash for the shore.
“Koko thumped his chest angrily and blocked his way. ‘Go back, lion!’
“‘I seek only to drink from the lake my friend. I mean no harm.’
“‘You will drink from it indeed, but only when you have joined the kings of the past in their eternal rest.’
“Habusu growled deep in his chest. ‘Are you threatening me?’
“‘By Aiheu’s grace, I do not threaten, but tell you as a friend. Go hence from here, and find happiness, for you shall slake your thirst with woe should you drink here.’
“Habusu snarled angrily at Koko, for he only saw him as an obstacle to his goal. He fiercely he drove off the gorilla and knelt to drink. As he bent his whiskers to the milk of Mara, Koko called to him in vain, ‘You shall learn to regret what you have done!’
“‘Then if it is my regret, it is no concern of yours.’ He drank anyway, and went home rejoicing. In a stream he saw his reflection. HE was a white lion like Mano; his fur white as the snow on the mountains, and his eyes as blue as the vault of Heaven above. Indeed on his way home the very enemies he had faced as obstacles ran from him or fell to the ground and kissed his feet.
“At last Habusu returned to his homelands. And he found the three brothers and terrified them, charging in among them and striking fiercely, for he feared no fang nor claw; immortal, like Mano, he suffered no wound from the creatures of Ma’at. At last, his enemies were set fleeing, and he stood proudly before his mate. ‘Look, love, look what I have done!’
“A terrible fear and sadness filled her. ‘Oh gods,’ she moaned, ‘what have you done to yourself, my husband?’
“‘I am like the Nisei, free of the accursed bonds of earth. Come, my wife, join me, and we will live together in love forever!’
“‘This cannot be! One day I shall lie down and give up my Ka to Aiheu to be with him forever. Husband, you have left the path we walked together! Do you not see that one day we should be separated, and not for a while but forever??’
“Habusu was stricken with grief and he begged Aiheu to take the gift away but Aiheu said, ‘Did not Koko, my servant, try to warn you?? Did he not say there would be consequences??”
“‘Then convince my wife to drink as well.’
“‘What?? And double the mistake??’
And so before him she grew old while he remained young. Finally she was in her old age. She had become receptive, and he came to her, purring words of love into her ear. ‘Let us make love.’
“But she denied him, saying ‘I am sore and tired. No more shall I know my husband’s pleasures. Find yourself a younger wife, that she may please you for a while before she too grows old. Someday you shall forget me.’
“Habusu was stricken. ‘Never! I shall never forget you! And I shall remain faithful, my dear wife, till we are reunited in death!’
“We will never be reunited. You have chosen a different path that leads you apart from me.” She kissed his cheek tenderly. “Goodbye, my love. I wish you all happiness.’
“‘Where are you going?’ he asked, frightened.
“‘I journey to the West, where Aiheu awaits me.’ She fondled his cheek with a paw, then slipped into death.”
Habu and Lissie huddled together. “Aiheu let him die, didn’t he?” Habu was agitated. “I mean, if he was very sorry, or did something very brave??”
Isha kissed him. “Let me finish. Habusu was devastated. ‘Oh Aiheu, that I should die some strange and painful way, I would yet be set free of this burden!”
“I knew it!” Habu said. “I knew there would be a way out!”
“Aiheu denied him.”
Habu’s ears fell flat against his head and he sighed. “That was a sad story.”
“Does he make her alive again? They’re together forever, aren’t they?? That’s it—that MUST be it!”
“Who’s telling this story? You, or me?” Isha kissed him. “He then awoke on the forest floor near the lake of Mara. His paw before him was golden. Before him stretched the lake. Though years had seemed to pass, it was only a dream, one which Aiheu granted him as a final warning to the foolish.”
“Yes!!” Habu gave Lisani a long, wet lick on the cheek, then went and rubbed his mother.
“Koko spotted him and started to forbid him access, but Aiheu spoke, saying, “He has come a long way. Let him refresh himself.”
“‘Thank you, I should rather not, Lord. Not if you offered it freely.’”
“‘But if you will not drink, is there something else I may offer you?”
“‘Yes, my Lord. That I may be a good husband and father, and rule my land with wisdom and compassion.”
“‘You have chosen the good portion, my son. A good lion shall you be, but also I shall protect you from your enemies all the days of your life, that no rival shall put fear in your heart.”
“And when Habusu left the Lake of Mara, the Lord Aiheu drained it that no more would his children be tempted. And to this day when a lion is named Habusu it is in the hope that he will be as good as his namesake.”
Isha reached out and caressed her son’s gentle face with a paw. “That is why I named you Habusu. I can see the love in your heart, just as I saw it in your father… and I know that wherever he is, that he’s very proud of his son.”
Habusu sat content in his mother’s embrace and draped a paw over Lisani, who purred quietly.
Zazu escorted Nala from the dangers of the elephant graveyard back to the safety of the Pride Lands and the comforting presence of her mother. “Good evening, Sarafina. Never fear! I’m returning your little girl safe and sound.”
“Safe and sound?” Fini smiled, but looked a little uneasy. “Was there some doubt?”
Nala froze, waiting for the truth to out.
“Oh, you know how cubs are,” Zazu said, passing it off with a good-natured laugh. “She wandered a little too far away for her own good. Things got kind of dull at the watering hole and she went chasing rabbits. Maybe I’m too strict, but I sent her right back home. Better safe than sorry, I always say.”
Sarafina relaxed and the tip of her tail stopped twitching and moved casually back and forth. “I appreciate that.” Fini nuzzled Nala and pawed her.
Nala gradually realized she was not going to get a good cuffing. She looked at the bird she had so recently deceived, taunted, humiliated and endangered and quietly mouthed, “Thank you.”
Zazu smiled and winked at her. “Well, I’d best be off. I’m going home to see my Mum. That brother of mine has been next to useless. You think he’d visit her once in a while, living practically in the next tree while I have to fly over six quarrains!”
Fini smiled. “At least you are a good son.”
Nala nodded in hearty assent. Indeed, things were better between Zazu and her after that evening, and she never called him a “dodo” again.
“Mom, how far is six quarrains?”
“That’s twice as far as three quarrains. How should I know!” Fini laughed. “Well, Nala. What did Simba want you to see? Was it as great as he said it was?”
“Not really. Zazu was right—it was kind of dull.” She thought back over the things that had happened, looking for one that could be safely discussed. Suddenly her face was awash with irritation. “There’s something bothering me.” She scratched behind her ear.
“What’s bothering you?” Fini asked, grooming her behind the offending ear. “A flea? I hate those.”
“No, I mean something I heard today. Zazu said I was betracked to Simba. He said we were going to be married someday and there was nothing I could do about it.”
“Oh, you mean betrothed!” She smiled and cuddled Nala to her side. “That’s something that you should be glad about. When Simba has his mantlement, he will put his paw on your shoulder and ask you to be his wife. The moment you accept, you will be a princess, and someday Queen of the Pride Lands.”
“Why would I want to marry him??”
“I thought he was your best friend!”
“That’s just it! It’s so weird!”
Sarafina laughed softly. “It’s time we had a talk—lioness to lioness. Honey Tree, it’s great when you get older and you want romance. But friendship is the most important part of marriage. You are laying on my side right now, and you feel safe and happy. Someday when you’re a big lioness, you’ll still want to feel safe and happy, and those are the times you’ll lay touching his soft, warm body and listening to his heart beat. When you’re tired from hunting all night and nursing cubs all day, and your eyes are red and swollen, he’ll look at you and say ‘My beautiful Nala,’ and you’ll know he means it with all of his heart. That will mean a lot to you then. And when he comes back from patrol with grass and sticks in his mane and mud on his legs, you’ll call him, ‘My handsome Simba,’ and he’ll know you mean it with all of your heart.” Sarafina touched Nala with her tongue.
“What would I do with a lot of squalling cubs?” Nala said, not thinking of herself as one because she was a whole three months old.
Dreamily, Sarafina said, “You can groom them, and kiss them, and nurse them on the cool afternoons when their sweet little mouths draw sustenance from you, and you can tell them stories…” She pulled Nala closer and began to fondle her with her paw. Mother love radiated from her kindly face. “In fact, I’d really like to tell you a story just now, if you’re not too old.”
Nala rubbed her cheek against Fini’s and kissed her. “Sure, Mom.”
“There was once a Lion King named Kamambe who was blessed with many children, but all of them were daughters. After the third litter of females he began to worry he would never have an heir. He decided to welcome any deserving suitor who would wed his eldest daughter Nasaba.
“Many lions came to pay homage and woo the royal bride, but she rejected them one by one. Nasaba was a hunt mistress, just like Uzuri. She lived for the hunt but not want to take on queenly duties. She was used to being pampered and getting her way from her doting parents. The idea of being accountable to some stranger coming in to become her king was not her idea of fun. She also said there was not another lion like her father—if there was, she would marry him, but as it was, no lion would come in and be her king.
“Then one day in came Prince Mohatu who was determined to put his paw on her shoulder. She was not very receptive to his advamces, but this did not deter him; he saw through to the beauty within her. Like sunshine was her face, like stars her eyes, and like supple reeds her limbs. He fell hopelessly in love with her and begged her to accept him as her mate.
She refused him as she had many others, and to King Kamambe this was scandalous, for he liked the Prince and would have him above all others rule his land when he was gone. “Why have you refused him?”
“For the same reason I have refused all others. There is none I would marry, even if Mano himself had a son and presented him to me.”
“But you cannot do this! You cannot let your father go to his death worrying! Promise me that you will at least put him to a test. Give him a chance, and if he fails you, I will send him away.”
And for love of her father, Nasaba agreed. But she determined to invent a trial that no lion could endure.
And coming to Prince Mohatu, she said, “If you would be my husband, you must bring me a token of your love. Cross the River of Death and the Desert of Sorrows. You will see the Mountain of Hopelessness before you, and on its summit grows a tree with pink blossoms. Pick me one and bring it back unwilted as a token of your love, and I will be yours.”
Now the River of Death was well named, for it was very deep and broad, and no lion could live to swim across it. But so full of love was he, that he jumped in and swam and swam until his strength was gone. And as he started to go under, Mohatu cried out to Aiheu and said, “Lord, if you look with favor on my undertaking, help me!”
Aiheu heard his cries and sent four large snapping turtles to him. Mohatu stepped on their backs like stepping stones and he was carried across.
Mohatu reached the Desert of Sorrows. Indeed it was well named for it was a fierce and forbidding land. No lion could live to cross it. But so full of love was he that he set out and walked and walked until the sun had drained the life from him and parched his throat. And as he started to collapse, Mohatu cried out to Aiheu and said, “Lord, if you look with favor on my undertaking, help me!”
Again Aiheu heard his cries and sent One-who-brings-rain to place a cloud over him to shade his path. And because he was parched, the cloud rained until he had drunk his fill. Thus he was safely across the desert.
Before him was the Mountain of Hopelessness. Indeed, it was well named for its slopes were steep and treacherous. No lion could live to climb it. But so full of love was he that he started up and climbed and climbed until he was trapped on a ledge. He could not climb up or down, and as he was ready to fall, for the third time Mohatu cried out to Aiheu and said, “Lord, if you look with favor on my undertaking, help me!”
And when he had spoken, an eagle came gliding down the mountainside, and in his beak was a single pink blossom! Now this eagle was Aiheu himself, and he said, “Before you call on me again, I have looked with favor on your undertaking or you would not have come this far. Thus I have blessed this flower, and as long as your love lasts it shall never wilt.”
“Then indeed it shall never wilt at all!”
Kamambe was very sad, and he paced about in his anguish. “My daughter, you have killed a good and worthy lion! As surely as if you choked the life out of him with your own jaws!”
“He could have refused me, or he could have gone home.”
“Or you could have married him.”
Nasaba was moved by the grief of her father, for she truly loved him. So much did she love her father Kamambe, that she considered all other lions unworthy. And she said, “I will go to look for him. And if he lives, I will marry him.”
But Kamambe refused. “I shall not lose my daughter whom I love. If he returns, however, you shall keep your offer.”
Within the week, one of Nasaba’s sisters spotted a lion with a pink blossom in his mouth. “Behold, it is our Prince!”
Nasaba fell at his feet. “Thanks be to Aiheu that you have returned!” She inhaled the fragrance of the flower and when she did, Aiheu opened her eyes to the love Mohatu felt for her, and she kissed him. “I thought in the whole land there was not another lion like my father. But you have loved me when I least deserved it, and you shall be my mate and my king. Your love is true as the sunrise is to the morning.”
Nala looked at her mother suspiciously. “There wouldn’t happen to be a moral to this story, would there?”
“Do you want to take a guess at it?”
“I’m supposed to marry Simba someday ‘cause you promised.”
Sarafina pawed her gently. “Maybe it’s not that at all.”
“You mean I don’t have to marry him? Then what IS the moral?”
Fini smiled. “Maybe the point is not to turn people away without giving them a chance—a fair chance. Then you can make a good decision. Honey Tree, you never know what token of love Simba might risk death to give you. Don’t rush to answer ‘no.’ until you’re old enough to understand the question.”
Coming from the east was Mufasa and young Simba. “I bet he got a good cuffing,” Nala thought. She got as close as she dared and watched carefully. But Simba and Mufasa were smiling and talking. Simba caught a glimpse of her and looked at her for a moment, a warm smile on his face. Nala felt the smile escape her from deep inside, and her tail twitched restlessly. She could hear a poem going through her head
I once saw two cubs a-walking through the grass
One was named Nala; a sassy young lass
The boy was named Simba, a handsome young cub
The two went out to play one day and fell in love!
With a smile of embarrassment, she said to herself, “Well, I guess it COULD happen…”
Crickets celebrated the night constant chirruping which carried clear across the savanna. Avina shifted slightly on her perch amid the rocks of Pride Rock, twitching out of the way of a protruding stone which was irritating her back. Flicking her tail in satisfaction, she closed her eyes.
Warm breath puffed in her face and a wet tongue caressed her cheek. “Hi, Mama.”
Avina blinked and turned her head. “Hello, Sassie.” Her jaws opened in a wide yawn. “You girls were out late You know I worry about you when you do that.”
“I’m sorry, Mama,” Elanna said, rubbing against her mother and clambered atop her and settling next to her sister Sarabi.
Avina purred in her chest as she pulled her daughters close. “Mama? What happened to ‘Mom?’ You two haven’t called me Mama for a long time.” The lioness wrapped her paws about her children, sharing her warmth with them as they lay together. Suddenly an arc of light sparked across the heavens, a claw mark of light against the velvet sky.
“What was that?” the girls asked.
Avina tracked the light intently. “Bow your heads, quick! Give thanks to Aiheu for his love.”
Obediently, they touched muzzle to paw in prayer until Avina raised her own head. “What was it, Mama? Why were we praying?”
Avina nuzzled Elanna softly. “That light was one of the lost souls, the Makei, still searching for his home.”
“Why are they lost?”
“They are polluted, and it makes it difficult for them to find guidance from Aiheu. Still he holds out a paw to them. He told them, ‘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.’”
Sarabi shivered. “That’s so sad. I feel sorry for them.”
“That’s good, Honey Tree. They don’t mean to be bad.”
“But how come that Makei fell out of the sky? Wasn’t he with the old kings?”
Avina sighed. “The Makei may call upon Aiheu to judge them. If he deems their heart is good, Aiheu cleanses their Ka of the mud and gives them life, true life on Ma’at.
“However, if they are decieving him, he sees this too. They are cast back to earth without their form to continue their search.” Avina scratched idly and groomed her paw. “Legend has it that a Makei fell to earth right here and created Pride Rock.”
“Yes. You see, long ago a lion pride lived here when there was nothing but grassy plain. It was a strong pride with a fine king. One season the drought struck them particularly hard, however, and they began to starve. The king decreed that large portions of kills would go to the lionesses who participated in the hunt, with the largest going to the one who made the kill itself.
“Now the king’s son, Mashlaika, was still an adolescent. He couldn’t hunt very well, and since he contributed the least amount to the pride itself, he got the smallest portion of food… which, all too often, was nothing. In desperation, he pleaded with his father for something more. ‘Even you take more from the kill than I, and you hunt not at all!’
“The king looked at his son sadly. ‘I must take more to keep my strength, for it is I who guards your family from the jealous eyes of night, and gives you safe haven.’ Yet tears came to the old king’s eyes at the sight of his son, whose ribs stood out clearly. ‘Still, I cannot bear the pain of your suffering; you may have a portion of my meal, when the others have slept and do not see.’
“Mashlaika could not stand to take his father’s food, though, and continued to suffer. Finally, he was alone one day with one of the lionesses of the pride, who was babysitting the cubs while the others wwent on the hunt. His eyes burned as he watched the cubs draw sustenance from the lioness. ‘Even THEY eat better than I, and yet give us nothing.’ he thought. A fierce anger swept him, and in a rage he approached the cubs. The lioness rose to stop him, but he struck her and knocked her senseless. Mashlaika settled among the cubs and began an unholy feast, gorging himself on their flesh until he was sated.”
Sarabi and Elanna gasped and shuddered, staring at their mother in shock. “He ATE them? The little cubs??”
“Yes.” Avina nodded sadly.
“Aiheu seized him, and he felt the terrible wrath of God. ‘What is this that you have done??’
“Mashlaika cowered before him. ‘My Lord, I was starving! And they gave nothing to our family, only stealing life from their own mothers!’
“‘One cannot ‘steal’ what is freely given, Mashlaika, and one’s value is not measured by contribution or ability. If it was, I would have killed you the day you were born, for you are greedy and heartless.’ Aiheu seized Mashlaika by the scruff of his neck, lifted him high and tore the Ka from his body. Then he tossed the soul of Mashlaika to the earth. And he placed this large rock over him to prevent him from harming anyone else.
“Here?!” Elanna looked startled. “You mean Mashlaika landed here?”
Avina nodded. “It is said that his Ka still sleeps deep within the earth in the caves behind Pride Rock, where he still waits for little cubs to come wandering in… and sometimes, those cubs are never seen again.” Avina’s voice dropped to an awed whisper.
Sarabi clutched her mother fearfully. “Wh-what happens to them?”
“Why, if they disturb his rest, Mashlaika awakes, and he goes YUMMY IN THE TUMMY!” Avina lunged and nuzzled Sarabi’s belly, eliciting a shriek of terrified delight from the cub.
Elanna laughed and pounced on her mother. “You teaser!”
Sarabi pawed Avina’s face, still giggling slightly. “Oh Mom! Do you really believe that story about the caves?”
“Well, my mother told it to me.” Avina shrugged with a shake of her tail. “Who knows? One thing IS for certain; I don’t want you going in there, okay?”
“You too, Lannie.”
“Now you two come here and lie down; you’ve been up far too long as it is.”
The cubs complied agreeably enough, and soon were drifting off to sleep. As she dozed herself, Avina idly wondered at the odd note in Lannie’s voice as she had finished the tale.
Shrugging again, she closed her eyes and rode the chirping of the crickets into the peace of sleep.
Makaka sat huddled next to Anasa, quiet and depressed. The plague had taken his mother Uzuri first because she was old and weak, but there were many others near death. All around him were sick lions. Unable to catch much food, there loomed a very real threat that hunger might destroy them if the plague did not.
“I feel sick inside,” Makaka said.
Anasa touched his forehead. “Honey Tree, surely not!” It was dry and cool, and she sighed with relief. “It must be fatigue, dear. You shouldn’t scare me like that.”
“I never meant I had the plague.” He sighed. “Once everything was going my way. I thought I knew where I would be a year from now, five years from now, even where I would die. I planned to lie on the promontory and look into the east and slip away quietly.”
“And what about me?”
Tears came to his eyes. “You’re all I have left, you and my pride family. The only mother I’ve ever known is dead, and the only father that cared for me.”
“Are you sure? Are you sure your real father didn’t care for you?”
“My mother died giving me life. He only tolerated me. I have an older brother that loved me—at least I’d like to think so.”
Anasa put her arms around him and held on to him as if to keep him from going away. “I should not be jealous, really. But I have loved you with my whole heart. Makaka, I will help you any way I can, but you must let me.”
He hugged her tightly and kissed her. “I’ve put you through a lot lately and I’m sorry. Someday I’ll make it up to you. You and I and one day our children.”
“Our children,” she said. “That’s the secret, my husband. You must see beyond this grief and recognize hope in the future. Don’t push me away, beloved! I may have come along late in your life, but I can’t imagine someone loving you more than I do right now.”
“I know. You’re a very important part of my life. Right now, you’re what keeps me from falling apart.” He rested his head on her shoulder and swayed slightly back and forth in the shelter of her arms.
A lioness came up begging for help. “Please, Makaka, come quick! My cubs are near death! They are burning hot to the touch and wet with perspiration.”
“Are they resting?”
“They are mumbling things, but I can’t understand what they’re saying.” She fell before him. “I’d do anything! Anything! I can’t stand it anymore!”
“If I had a quick answer, I would have saved my mother. Pray and I will pray as well. Aiheu is merciful and he will not abandon us.”
The lioness looked at him with despair in her eyes. “Let us hope so.”
After she went, he turned to Anasa. “What CAN I do? I’ve tried everything I know. Only Aiheu can help us now.” And so he got on his knees and prayed. Then in the midst of his prayer, it occurred to him. He had used everything HE knew about. Perhaps there was another.
“Mano! Minshasa! I call upon you! My old friends, I am at a total loss! Help me! Do with me what you will, and I will accept it!”
He fell in despair and wept again.
Anasa went to prepare dinner for him, but he was not very hungry. He was near panic. “Try this. It’s your favorite.”
“I can’t eat now.”
“You really should eat to keep your strength up,” Uzuri said.
He looked about in shock. “Mom??”
She came forward and kissed him. “Uzuri pleads that you should remember the admonition. Daima pendana-love one another.” Before he could answer, she put her paw to her mouth for silence and pointed him toward a large bush.
When Makaka reached the bush, an elderly mandrill tapped him on the shoulder. He looked around, surprised. “Busara reminds you that the stranger you help is a friend you haven’t met.” He put a finger to his lips and pointed ahead.
A lioness came from the bush as he approached. “Asumini advises you that friends come from unexpected places in your hour of need.”
Quietly, he went on in the direction she pointed him. A white lion came and kissed him. “Mano tells you that in serving Aiheu, you find your true freedom.”
A young, strong mandrill whose powers of life had been restored reached out and hugged him. “Rafiki says listen to the prompting of the Nisei and follow your heart.”
A white lioness came and pawed his cheek. “Minshasa asks you a question. Will you practice what you have been taught faithfully and unselfishly?”
“I will.” He put his arms around Minshasa’s neck. “Help us please. Help me, dearest friend!”
Minshasa purred. “You will help yourself, and many besides. Look at your mate.”
Makaka looked at Anasa and gasped. She was pure white. She regarded him strangely as well, and he held up his hands which were startlingly white.
“Welcome, Nisei! Hail Lord Makaka! Hail Lady Anasa! All hail!”
Mano said, “From your birth you were chosen to be a healer. Time and time again you have rewarded our faith in you. Now there is a plague in the land. Make whole the sick!”
Rafiki said, “Did I not tell you to listen to the promptings of the Nisei and follow your heart?”
Asumini said, “Did I not tell you to look for friends in unexpected places?”
Makaka thought for a moment, then he held up his arms. The words came to him in the spirit. “Out of the east I call the winds!”
A strong breeze swept through the Pride Lands, bringing the fragrance of wild honey with it. It was intoxicating, and it made all who breathed it strong and healthy. Within moments, cub laughter began to ring again, and prayers to Aiheu were heard round about as the miracle of healing made whole every illness and wiped every tear.
Makaka came to his mother and hugged her neck. “I’m so sorry I didn’t do this before! I’m so sorry!”
“Don’t be. I died the best way a lioness could go. Full of years, surrounded by love, and free from pain and fear.” She kissed him, then looked over and kissed Rafiki. “I am so proud of you, my son! We both are.”
Makaka looked at Mano and Minshasa. “Will I have to wander all the time like you? Will I have no home of my own?”
Mano smiled. “Now every place is your home, this as much as anywhere else. Time and space will not bind you. Whom you will see, you will see. Whom you will love, you will love. Where you will go, you will go. I have not taken your home. I have given you your home.”
Makaka smiled. As the realization dawned on him, he trembled. “Uzuri, you will always be my mother. But there is someone I have always wondered about.”
Uzuri smiled. “I have always wondered about her too. She came with us. Healing must come to everyone, including the physician.”
The final guest stepped out, a female mandrill. “When I look at you in your glory, I feel honored to have given my life to bring you yours.”
Makaka bit his lip and tears streamed down his face. “Mother.” Quickly, he looked at Uzuri and ran to her, hugging her tightly. “Don’t feel bad, Mom! I’ll always love you as much as I ever have-more even!”
The old mandrill came and also put her arms around Uzuri, stroking her face and neck. “You are among friends. There is no jealousy among the Nisei. We are both your mother, and we always will be.”
Busara put his arm around Rafiki’s shoulder, and Mano nuzzled Minshasa. Ugas came and rubbed full length against Uzuri, and Anasa slipped her hand into Makaka’s, giving it a little squeeze. Kinara and Neema embraced and smiled. Now Makaka stood at the boundary of the Gentle Kingdom, and in the distance, the soft, kind voice of Aiheu called to him. “Dwell in my lands, child. Come to know me better.”
“Even so, Lord. I come!”
THE END: THE LEONID SAGA