This original copyrighted work by John Burkitt and David Morris 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. “Chronicles of the Pride Lands” is distributed free of charge excepting reasonable distribution costs. Quoting passages from our work, writing original pieces based partly (or entirely) 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: email@example.com
David A. Morris: firstname.lastname@example.org
Your comments on our work, pro and con, are always welcome. We have been asked about our legal note. This is our official response: “The copyright is maintained solely to prevent patently vulgar or lewd misuse of our characters. Most any work, including parodies would be fine as long as it meets certain reasonably broad standards of decency. We reserve the right as copyright holders to define and change those standards. None of these standards is meant to force the applicant to be consistant with the literary style or plot of the original work.”
The characters Akase, Isha, and Malaika are the property of Brian Tiemann. Used with permission.
Finally, this story is a fictional work. All resemblance to any characters living or dead is purely coincidental. Well actually not. With love and respect, we honor those who taught us how to laugh and cry. Without acting as clear models for any one character, many great souls, some non-human, pressed their mark indellibly on the fabric of our lives.
It is pointless to compare the old and new Chronicles for consistency. Consistency WITHIN this version was more important that consistency with the older materials. Many sharp-eyed readers pointed out a number of flaws in the old Chronicles of the Pride Lands, and those concerns have been addressed here. We both request that all earlier versions of Chronicles of the Pride Lands be replaced by this later revision.
With stirred emotions I watched the pagentry and color that was The Lion King. Secretly I harbored the desire to meet these characters, to lavish upon them in person the great love I felt inside and share the joy that lit my countenance.
My wish was granted here in The Chronicles. I have lived for a moment in the company of great lives and experienced through my pen their triumphs and tragedies. Humbly, I submit this work, holding it up on the pinnacle of Pride Rock. Behold my son, for it truly is my son, and the end of the writing process is a form of saying farewell. Asante sana!
July 15, 1996, Nashville, Tennessee
Back in late 1994 when I first saw The Lion King, the effect it had upon me was astounding. Never before or since have I been so totally captivated by a story like this. The magic, the splendor, the wonder of it all swept me away.
Within this work, I was presented with the opportunity to give something back to it, to express with the written word my love for a story which has deeply affected me in so many ways. The paternal guidance of Mufasa, the wisdom of Rafiki, and the selfless friendship of Simba all have made a significant impact on my life, and so I set out to return a little of the magic, and maybe learn something about myself along the way.
And once again, I got more than I bargained for.
July 15, 1996, Wilmington, North Carolina
The early morning sun reflected in Queen Akase’s eyes. King Ahadi looked into their fire and whispered the word “beloved.” She smiled and nuzzled him, then kissed her new twin sons as if the four of them were alone in a private kingdom of love.
But they were not alone. Next to them Shaka, the King’s brother, his wife Avina, and their twin daughters Sarabi and Elanna welcomed in the dawn. And spread out across the plain in their tribes were the works of Aiheu the Beautiful in all their splendor-the solemn elephants, the tall giraffes, the lithe zebras with stripes more joyous than the brightest bird. Side by side they stood, rank on rank, row on row. And never was the fang shown, nor the claw bared. They had come to celebrate the mystery of life through the presentation of the new Prince. For that one day, death did not walk among them.
Spread the tidings far and wide, Shout them from the mountainside! Cry Ai-heu a-ba-ma-mi all, because the Prince is born!
Akase (to Taka):
Our love, at last, has found its pure embodiment in you, Our love, at last, is visible in everything you do; The way you feel, the way you smile, the way you look at me, Will prove to all, beyond a doubt, how great a love can be.
And how I love you! You make the morning start. Joy streaming from my heart as I repeat your name: You are my treasure, you came into my world, Whatever Fate may hold, my life won’t be the same.
Ahadi (to Mufasa):
You will be King, you will be great, your dreams will all come true, But just for now remain my son, and let me comfort you. I want the best to give my sons, I offer all I own; What good is wealth and lands or health if one must live alone?
And how I love you! You make the morning start. Joy streaming from my heart as I repeat your name: You are my treasure, you came into my world, Whatever Fate may hold, my life won’t be the same.
Through the gathered hosts walked Makedde, the mandrill. Those near him drew back and cleared the way. He blessed them with signs of Aiheu’s love, touching the very young with outstretched fingers, and also the very old.
Makedde forded the boulders that protected the base of Pride Rock, a warm shaft of stone whose sheltering arms protected lions from the uncertainties of night. Up, up the winding trail he climbed until he reached the promontory of stone where destiny awaited. As the world held its breath, Makedde approached the two sons of Akase. Ahadi lay his paw on small Mufasa and nodded gravely.
“I touch your mane,” Makedde said with deep respect. “Incosi aka Incosi, Great King.” He sprinkled Mufasa with powdered Alba and anointed his brow with Chrisum. Then he picked up the small golden treasure and held him up. A shaft of light broke through the morning clouds and lit the cub like a kiss of joy. A child born of love who had known nothing but love in his short life looked over the admiring throng. Through the shouts, through the clamor of the transformed crowd a voice of sweetness whispered through the light, “Makedde, will you protect him?”
“With your help, Aiheu, I will not fail.”
Below, the crowd in respect and awe felt the presence of God, and they fell to the ground bowing, scraping and calling in their own tongues the words of worship each according to their own belief. But Makedde did not hear them. Taking the tender baby to his arms, he kissed him. “May the wind blow kindly on you. May the sun shine brightly on you. May the gods take you to their heart.” A tear of joy ran down his face.
Reluctantly, he lay the cub down by Akase. Small Taka looked up expectantly, his eyes full of innocent curiosity. With a smile, but some regret, Makedde cuddled the cub under the chin and felt the hum of his happy purr. “This will be the wise one,” Makedde whispered. “He would have made a great king.”
Ahadi loved to play with his young sons. But he also took time to see to their education. Some lessons were naturally fun—like stalking and pouncing. Others were less fun, but equally important.
Mufasa was always good at stalking and pouncing, and he held his own wrestling with his brother Taka whom he almost always beat. But Taka could listen to hours of the Chronicles of the Kings and the Law of the Pride while Mufasa would start to squirm and follow the distant herds with his eyes.
Ahadi found Taka a thirsty sponge, and flattered by the rapt attention he got, he drew on all the learning of a lifetime and told him many wonderful and strange things on the inspiring setting of the promontory.
“The words of wisdom are sometimes hardest to hear,” Ahadi said. “N’ga and Sufa, the sons of Ramalah ignored their father’s teachings, and it would bring them to grief. For a father teaches out of love, and to reject his teachings is to refuse his love. It’s the same with us, my sons. I would not have you come to grief…” Ahadi paused, glanced at Mufasa who was wrapped up in his own daydream, winked at Taka, and kept right on going in the same voice. “And it was in this time that a certain lion cub watched the plains for wildebeests, dreaming of the day when he would have no more lessons to learn. And doing so, he stuffed his head with dead grass instead of knowledge.” He added with some emphasis: “Isn’t that so, Mufasa??”
Taka laughed and rolled about, singing, “Dead grass, dead grass, nyah-nyah-na-nyah-nyah!”
“What’s so funny??” Mufasa looked at Taka with irritation, but his father scowled, and he looked down embarrassed.
“Taka, what were we talking about?” Ahadi knew he could rely on him.
“There were these two brothers N’ga and Sufa. They were very famous. One day N’ga got into this fight with Sufa over this girl. Not just any girl, because she was white as clouds and magic, see, and if one of them married her, their kingdom would be great. But she was one swell number, and they both wanted her to marry them. So they went down by this lake (and this is the really neat part)—they fought all day and all night without stopping. And they fought the second day.”
He began walking around Mufasa as he talked. “They fought all the third day. They didn’t sleep either. They fought for five whole days and nights, cause she was such a babe, and they were so stubborn that neither one would give in. And on the fifth day, they both fell asleep at the same time. And while they were asleep, the girl sneaked out and married a magic lion with powers like hers, and boy did N’ga and Sufa feel like a couple of idiots!”
“Good job!” Ahadi nuzzled Taka. “And such a unique interpretation.”
Mufasa looked dejected.
“Come here, Muffy.” Ahadi pulled Mufasa over with his paw and nuzzled him. “I wish you could play all the time if that’s what you really want. But you need to learn the skills of leadership. Besides, while I learned these lessons from my father it was a special time for us to spend together. Enjoy this time while it lasts, and make the most of it.”
“I try. Really I do.”
“I know. But remember that I don’t love you for how smart you are or how strong you are. I love you because you’re my sons. Whatever gifts Aiheu gives you, you need to make the most of them, and that takes education. Understand?”
Ahadi smiled indulgently. “Why don’t you two go play for a while.”
The cubs gamboled away, but Ahadi shouted, “Whoa! Aren’t you forgetting something?”
Muffy and Taka ran back and gave their dad a quick kiss.
The next morning, Ahadi rose earlier than was his custom. Stealthily, he crept over to where his twin sons lay side by side, and with the most careful nudge touched Mufasa. The cub shifted but did not rouse. He pressed again, a little harder, and stirred Mufasa from his sleep. Muffy looked up a little surprised and irritated, but Ahadi touched his mouth with his paw and silently jerked his head about to say “follow me.” His interest piqued, Muffy struggled to his feet quietly and began to follow his father out of the cave.
Taka, who was a light sleeper, felt a cold place on his back where it was warm before. He grunted and pushed himself back toward a brother that was not there. Sleepily he felt around with a paw, then looked about and just caught a glimpse that he was missing something important.
On stealthy paws, he stirred himself and crept out onto the platform that served as his spectacular front porch. There in the light of the early morning sun sat father and son. Mufasa leaned against his father, gold rimmed in the splendor of daybreak.
“Why wasn’t I invited?” Taka wondered. He wanted to bury himself in the fragrant softness of his father’s mane and enjoy the sunrise. For a moment, he considered snuggling up on the other side. Then Muffy said, “What’s up, Dad?”
“Shhh! You’ll wake Taka.”
Taka enjoyed secrets, so he crouched in the doorway where he could see and not be seen.
“See what the light touches,” Ahadi purred softly. “That is the boundary of my kingdom. I sit here sometimes and look at it and it humbles me. So many peoples depend on me, and I must put their needs above my own. But it has been wonderful. It is always wonderful to be needed, especially when you always do your best to meet those needs. Someday you will know that feeling when I am gone, for I have chosen you to follow me.”
“Me?” Muffy looked genuinely surprised. “Whoa, neat!”
Taka gasped. “No! It’s not fair!” formed on his lips, but no sound came out.
Muffy said, with some difficulty, “But Taka has always been the smart one. I thought sure he’d be King. He knows everything.”
“Not everything, son, though he is very bright. You’re bright too, though you need to apply yourself more in your studies. I brought you out here in the hope that you would work harder if you knew what was at stake. What you are learning is the wisdom of our people. You are the future king. As long as you know how to be a good king, you will have lionesses who can chase wildebeests.” Ahadi sighed deeply. “The decision was not easy. Don’t tell Taka just yet. Right now, it’s our little secret.”
“Why is it a secret, Dad?”
“Because as you say, Taka is smart. He tries so hard. If he knew he would not be King, he may be discouraged and waste the talents that Aiheu gave him. Much as you were tempted to do.” He looked deeply but not judgementally into Mufasa’s eyes. “You know I speak the truth, don’t you. You are very clever when you want to be.” He sighed deeply. “This should have been a happy occasion. Instead it breaks my heart. I wish I had a kingdom to give each of you, but I don’t.”
“Why can’t we cut it in half. He can take that half, and I’ll take this?”
“That’s very kind of you, Muffy, but it won’t work. Hunting would be poor in a smaller kingdom. Accept fate—the whole kingdom belongs to both of you, but you will be King, and he will not. That’s why I taught you the story of N’ga and Sufa. If you always fight and can never agree, the prize will often go to another. If you love Taka, and I know you do, you will say nothing for now. I want to tell him in my own way when the time is right. I will be gentle.”
“I see.” Mufasa said thoughtfully, “I want to be King someday, but I sure feel bad about Taka. I won’t tell till you say it’s OK.”
Ahadi smiled. “Maybe you have to work harder on your lessons, but you have a good heart. That was my greatest hope, to leave this world without worries or regrets. When I think of you as King after me, I feel no worries or regrets.”
For a moment, Taka was very angry, but his anger soon changed to hurt. Head bowed and ears flattened, he sneaked back to the warmth and comfort of his mother.
“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!”
— RAMALLAH, FROM LEONID SAGA, “D” SECTION, VARIATION 1
Akase was worried about Taka. She had a lioness’ sensitivity to how her own cubs felt, and she knew Taka was not feeling well. He moped about. At times he would not meet her eyes. At other times he would stare into them as if he were trying to see something deep inside.
Even Ahadi could tell something was amiss. He nudged the small cub playfully with his nose. “Something got you down, Taka?”
“You can tell your Dad. I know—how about a nice story? You know, one of the Great Kings of the Past. Have I ever told you about Moko Greatmane?”
“Yes sir.” Taka sighed deeply. Ahadi started to say something, but Akase silently shook her head and mouthed, “No.”
Ahadi gave his son a warm lion kiss on the cheek. “I love you, son. You know there is nothing you can’t tell me when you’re good and ready.”
Taka looked up pitifully. “Do you, Dad? Do you still love me?”
Ahadi bit his lip. “Oh gods. Don’t you know?” Deeply affected, he stared at the cub for a while, then wandered off a few steps to sit facing the distant mountains.
Akase was a little sharp. “What on earth made you say that? Of course he loves you. Look how you hurt him!” She softened her tone. “Honey tree, what ever made you think he didn’t love you?”
“Well I…” Taka could tell her the truth, but she would know he had spied on his father. He struggled with the burden for a moment, then said, “I was just asking, that’s all. I’m sorry.”
Quietly, Taka went over a secret list of every foolish thing he’d ever done, wondering which one condemned him to be second place for life. Was it the time he sneaked away without telling Mom? Was it the time he pulled that practical joke on Uzuri and she got so upset with him? Maybe Uzuri told Dad, even though he’d begged her not to? Should he have the nerve to ask? No. Of course not. He was not even supposed to know anything about it. Besides, after his Dad told Muffy his decision, it would be too late to change anything.
It was nearly noon, time for Taka’s nap, but Mufasa gamboled up like a box of rubber balls, so full of cubhood enthusiasm that he was about to burst. His mood was contagious. “Taka, you just gotta see this!”
“Gotta see what?”
“What is it, son?” Akase purred. “Another hedgehog? A meerkat perhaps?”
“Well, it’s—” His tail twitched. “Yeah, a meerkat.”
“What’s so great about a meerkat? We see them all the time,” Taka said, sulking. “It’s almost noon. It’s hot enough to melt your brain, if you had one.”
“But this meerkat is DIFFERENT,” Mufasa said with a sly wink. Taka saw the way Mufasa’s tail twitched, something that always happened when he told a lie. He half-smiled with a toothy, wry grin.
“Different, eh?” Taka was shaken out of his self-pity. “Well, I guess so. Is it okay, Mom?”
“If you’re back soon. You’ve been kind of under the weather today.”
Almost before she could finish her sentence, Mufasa and Taka bounded off like a shot, startling a flock of noisy guinea fowl into a conniption. They headed through the deep grass of the plain, stopping once in a while to stand up above the grass like furry jack-in-the-boxes.
Deep in grass though they were, young Sarabi saw them fording the broomsedge and knew there must be something up worth seeing. She hurried across the rocks and plunged into the green waves. Before long, she joined them, panting.
“So what’s up?” Sarabi asked.
“Oh, nothing,” Mufasa said. “We were practicing—stalking.” His tail twitched.
“Every time you’re up nothing,” Sarabi said, “You’re up to something.”
“We are going to look at—a meerkat,” Taka volunteered.
“A meerkat?” Sarabi asked, a little unconvinced. She saw his nose twitch, a sure sign that he was lying.
“Well, this one is different,” Taka said.
“Then I want to see, too,” Sarabi said.
“Good work, lame brain,” Mufasa half-snarled. He cuffed Taka soundly on the cheek. Taka growled and cuffed him back. These were done with the claws in, like the well-bred lions they were, but they started wrestling full-tilt.
Muffy was stronger, and he fought cleanly. Taka was a determined opponent, and before long he started snapping at ears and tails. As the fight threatened to turn really ugly, Sarabi started running little circles around them, distressed.
“Stop it! Stop it right now!” Sarabi was highly indignant. “We’ll never see that stupid old meerkat at this rate—if there ever was one.”
She had no effect. The snarls began to sound more serious. Taka was losing, as he usually did, but he wasn’t giving up. “Say Uncle!”
“Not till you—ow!—stop calling me names! Just cause you’re bigger than I am doesn’t make you smarter!”
Sarabi shouted, “I’ll tell your mother if you don’t stop! You’re both lame brains sometimes.”
“We’re just funning,” Mufasa said, on top.
“Yeah. We didn’t mean anything,” Taka said, wiggling out from beneath, and giving Mufasa one last hard swat with his claws out.
Sarabi looked Taka over, and seeing a small spot of blood on his right ear felt very motherly, began to clean it with her tongue.
Taka could always count on her sympathy, but he wanted to look more grown at the moment. “Doesn’t hurt.”
“Oh, it’s nothing. Really.”
“Yeah, really,” Mufasa said, cleaning a nasty cut on the back of his paw by himself. “Well, if you insist on coming, there’s this honey badger near the forest. He’s white—whiter than clouds. You remember when N’ga and Sufa were fighting over that white lioness because she was magic and could grant wishes?”
“You mean Minshasa?” Taka thought a moment. “Oh yeah! But you can’t marry a badger. Or can you?”
“I don’t want to marry it. I only want a wish.”
“What are you going to wish for, Muffy?”
Mufasa smiled an embarrassed smile. “That’s why I wanted you to come. I want you to sit with me when I join the great kings of the past. Dad wants me to be King when he dies.”
“I heard him. I was hiding behind a rock when he told you.”
“You shouldn’t spy on people,” Mufasa said sternly, but he added, “Maybe you won’t be a king in this life, but if the badger really gives wishes, you’ll be a king when you die.”
“Really?” Taka was in transports. “You’d do that for me? What a neat idea!” He was very demonstrative, and he nuzzled Mufasa. “You’re the best! You said wanted to give me half of the Pride Lands. I heard you.”
“Yeah. But it’s not going to happen, so don’t tell anyone I said that.”
“I won’t. It doesn’t matter now, but it was really neat. You’re the best, Muffy!” He laughed and took a swat at his brother. The two of them got into a wrestling match, giggling and squirming. Both of them did their utmost, butut as usual Mufasa quickly won, pinning Taka.
Mufasa had to smile a little inside. He was glad he didn’t wish for something selfish. Still holding Taka down, he said, “Look, when Dad tells you I’m the new King, you act surprised. You’d better. You know he’d cuff you good for spying on us.”
“I want to be where Taka is,” Sarabi said. “Either I get to sit with Taka, or I’m telling on both of you!”
“That’s going to be my wish,” Taka said. He squirmed out from under Mufasa, went and nuzzled her. “Now what are you going to wish for?”
Sarabi gave Taka a quick tongue touch on the cheek. “You’ll find out.”
With this settled, the three cubs headed toward the burrow at the edge of the acacia grove.
The entrance to the burrow was a forbidding black hole. Mufasa started to enter it, but the opening was barely large enough for a regular cub to squeeze in properly, not really enough to maneuver in. Mufasa was a bit large for his age, and he had no hope of getting down there. He suggested that they call the badger out.
“Hello in there!”
There was no reply.
“Come out, badger. I can hear you breathing in there, so I know you’re at home.”
They waited several moments. Nothing happened.
“Let’s go,” Sarabi said. “Looks like he’s a no-show.”
“Wait. I think he’s holding out on us.” He yelled down the hold, “I’m Prince Mufasa-I’m going to be King someday, and I’m making you my prisoner. If you want to get free, you’ll have to bless me and my friends!”
They could indeed hear the sound of muffled breathing coming from the depths of the tunnel. Carried by the walls of the burrow, it sounded loud like the sound of the sea in a shell, and it was quick, almost urgent and upset. They didn’t know if he was afraid or angry.
“Maybe he’s deaf, Your Majesty,” Taka said with a laugh. “You pulled me all the way over here for a hole in the ground? I bet it’s a rabbit. Just a scared little rabbit! And YOU called ME a lame brain!”
“But there was a white badger here, honest!” Mufasa looked at Taka, then at Sarabi. “You do believe me, don’t you? I mean, does this smell like a rabbit to you??”
Taka sniffed carefully of the opening. He’d never smelled a honey badger before, but he knew it was not a rabbit. It was strange and pungent, and full of possibilities. “I’ve come this far,” Taka said. “If I’m going to get my wish, I guess I have to go in there.”
“You’ll never do it,” Mufasa said, looking at the dark hole with a barely repressed shudder. “He sounds really angry. Besides, it’s dark in there, and you’re afraid of the dark.”
“Says me, that’s who! You always think the hyenas are going to get you. Sometimes you won’t go to sleep till high moon, then you have bad dreams.”
Taka was deeply stung. Often he would wake with the same nightmare of being ripped apart by hyenas. Akase, always listening with a mother’s ear, would be there quickly to comfort him with warm kisses that smelled like lioness love and let him rest his head on her soft belly until he fell asleep to the music of her breath. He never knew if he also woke Mufasa. Now, there was no doubt. Taka’s stomach knotted. He looked at the hole and knew what he must do.
Sarabi could see the fear and cuddled up next to Taka. “Don’t do it if you don’t want to. I sure wouldn’t.”
“That’s cause you’re a girl,” Taka said, but he looked at her kindly. Then he faced the dark hole. “I’m not afraid of the dark. I’m not afraid of the badger. I’m a lion, and lions aren’t afraid…” He looked over at Muffy. “…no matter WHAT their brothers think.”
With stooped shoulders and head held low, Taka angled down the steep passageway. As he reluctantly headed down the dark shaft, inch by inch, he kept talking. “We’re not going to hurt you. We just want you to give us a wish, see? There are three of us, so that’s three wishes.” The sound of breathing from the depths grew faster, as did Taka’s. “Three wishes ought to be real easy for someone like you. I mean, what’s three wishes for a real Nisei?” Silence. “Please say something. Anything.”
“Hey Taka,” Mufasa said, “You don’t have to do it.” He stuck his head in the hole and said, “I’m sorry I called you a dim wit.”
“It was lame brain,” Sarabi said.
“Whatever.” Mufasa snapped. “Hey Taka, come back. I was only funning about you being afraid of the dark.” He grew impatient. “Taka, I SAID I WAS SORRY, all right?? Now come out of there or I’ll tell mother!”
“Don’t block up the hole,” Sarabi said. She listened carefully at the entrance. “What’s he doing down there?”
“How should I know? Hush.”
They heard Taka’s voice from the depths of the tunnel. It was distant, thin and stammering. “We don’t want to hurt you. You see, my brother Mufasa is going to be King when he grows up, but I’m just his brother. He had this idea that if I could sit with…”
There was a low rumbling from the depths. It sounded like a growl.
“Please help me. I’m scared. It’s so dark in here.” It was Taka. Mufasa and Sarabi did not know if he was talking to the badger or to them. Mufasa tried to push his way down the hole.
It was a tight fit, and he realized he wouldn’t be much help. He started digging.
“Don’t!” Sarabi pulled him back. “It will cave in!”
“But he’s in trouble.”
“If he gets buried, he’ll really be in trouble.” She looked in the opening. “Taka, are you OK?”
“Is that you, Sassie?”
“Please come out. If you love me, come out.”
“In a minute.”
“Not in a minute! Right now!”
The sounds of breathing quickened again. There were some sounds of movement. Then silence. After a moment, Mufasa looked at Sarabi. “I didn’t think he’d do it. Either he’s very brave or very stupid.”
“He’s not stupid,” Sarabi said firmly. “If you hadn’t called him stupid, he wouldn’t be down there! Just because he’s smaller than you are doesn’t mean he’s stupid.” She called out more loudly. “Please come out! You’re scaring me!”
Just then there was a loud, menacing growl and a cub’s shriek of agony. “I’m going! Oh Gods! Let me go! Let me go, you’re hurting me!” They could hear Taka trying to back out.
Muffy started digging furiously. “Taka!!” Dust flew from his paws, and he managed to work his head in. “Hold on: I can see your tail! Come back a little more. Give me a few more inches!”
Mufasa grabbed at the tail and pulled with all his might. Sarabi grabbed Muffy’s tail, and trying not to hurt him too much gave a yank. Taka came stumbling out of the hole backward, his face covered in blood, and one of his eyes protruding from its socket. The white badger came out after him, but saw the other two cubs raise the fur on their backs and snarl. Thinking twice about its options, it reluctantly went back in its hole. Taka laid on the ground shivering. “Oh gods! It hurts! Somebody help me! I want my momma!”
Mufasa stared at the unseeing eye in a pool of blood. It took a moment for him to tear himself away from the horror and move. “I’ll get Mom—no, I’d better get Makedde.” He started off, then stopped. “No, he’d have to come back here. Can you walk, Taka?”
Taka struggled off the ground and began to limp. Blood dripped down his face and onto the grass. “I’ll try. Is it very far?”
“No. Just follow me.”
“Three things there are which cannot be called back. The spilled wine, the sped arrow, and the spoken word.”
— MENELAEUS OF NAXOS
It was a long trek to Makedde’s home in the baobab tree. In the hot sun, the blood began to cake in Taka’s fur, and flies mercilessly swarmed around him. His gait was unsteady, and try though he did, his bravery could only stretch so far.
“How much further is it?”
“Just a little more,” Mufasa said.
“That’s what you said the last time.” Taka began panting uncontrollably. “It hurts. Do you think he’ll have something for the pain?”
“He has stuff for everything,” Sarabi said. “Don’t worry, Taka. Everything will be all right.”
“How much further is it?”
Sarabi got ahead of him and looked into his face. His good eye did not seem to focus. She realized he was following the sound of Muffy’s feet. “You must keep going,” Sarabi said. “Do it for me.”
Loss of blood and the pain was sending Taka into shock, and he was getting weak in the limbs. “Sassie, I don’t think I can make it.”
“You can make it,” she said, leaning into him. “Taka, did you hear the one about the two wildebeests and the zebra?”
“Well there was these two wildebeests, and one said to the other, ‘I bet I can get that zebra to laugh before you can.’ So he went to the zebra and said, ‘Watch this!’ He stood on his head and stuck out his tongue. But the zebra didn’t laugh. So you know what the other wildebeest did?”
“What wildebeest? I don’t see any.” He stumbled and lay still in the grass.
“Get up, Taka! Come on, you got to keep going!”
She nudged his flank with her nose, prodded him with her paws, and even tugged on his ear. “Get up!”
“You have to!” She nipped his leg.
“Ow!” He looked directly at her.
“Get up or I’ll nip you again.”
Muffy put his snout under Taka and pushed. With a little help from his brother, Taka stood again and began to stumble along. “I can see it from here. Oh thank God.”
Makedde, the sage Mandrill Baboon, was teaching his younger brother Rafiki how to divine the future with a bowl of water. This technique, called scrying, is the best way to tell the future. For water, they say, has risen higher than birds fly and it returns to Earth charged with the energy of the gods. This is so, for any lion sees the new green in the grass after a rain.
Makedde dropped his work at once when he saw the blood spattered cub and his two friends. “Rafiki, mix a poultice quick!” He looked at Taka’s eye closely. “Oh Master Taka, what have you done now!”
Makedde held up his hand on one side of Taka’s head, then the other. “No sight on that side. This is bad. Very bad. But perhaps I can fix it.”
Makedde got some moistened Alba from Rafiki and squeezed it on the ground. The dust became mud, and he took this mud carefully in his hand.
“These are badger marks,” Makedde said. “If I couldn’t see it, I could sure smell it.” He shook his head. “What on earth possessed you to play with the badgers? You know they are dangerous.”
“It was a white badger,” Taka said. “I wanted to get a wish, like N’ga and Sufa.”
“Oh I see.” He frowned. “You don’t know the difference between a white lioness and a white badger! So you wanted a wish, did you?”
“It was my idea,” Mufasa said. “When we died, I wanted my brother to sit by me with the great kings of the past.”
Makedde sighed. “Noble sentiment indeed. But all living things are precious to Aiheu. He gathers them all to himself and sits them where he will, not according to bravery or strength of body, but by the immortal Ka.” He washed his hands in a basin. “If your Ka is full of love and wisdom, it does not matter if you are smaller than your brother.” He patted Taka. “Courage, little one.” Taka gnashed his teeth. His good eye closed tightly and his ears went back.
Makedde was gentle with the lion cub. The cool mud surrounded Taka’s damaged eye, not hurting as badly as he thought it would. Then with a press of his paw, Makedde popped the still-intact eye back into its socket. With infinite care, Makedde took water from a gourd dipper and washed away the mud a few grains at a time. “Don’t squint. It makes my job harder.”
When all the blood was washed away, and the eye was clear, Makedde got a twig of Dwe’dwe and broke it in half. A single drop of resin came out, and Makedde skillfully ran it the length of Taka’s cut, pressing the sides of the wound together carefully with his fingers. He blew on it a few times to make sure the wound would stay closed.
Rafiki brought a gourd of water for Taka. Makedde added some herbs for building blood, relieving pain, and a small pinch of Tiko Root for good measure to prevent infection. Finally he added some honey. “It won’t taste good, but it will feel good.”
Taka found the mixture bearable, but he was terribly thirsty after losing so much blood in the heat. And it did feel good.
It seemed like an eternity to Sarabi before Makedde was finished. She worked up the courage to ask, “Will that eye work again?”
“Rafiki,” Makedde asked, “You heard the lady. What will come of Taka?”
Rafiki was nervous. It was his first time to scry for another. So he looked into the water thoughtfully, trying to remember all his brother taught him. A wind came out of the west and stirred the water. It carried with it the odor of decay. The ripples died down, and he gasped. “Wait, something appears. It tells me…”
“What?” Sarabi asked impatiently.
Rafiki stared into the water as one possessed. His voice deepened and was labored. “The road is long and hard. Those who smile to your face bare their teeth as you leave.” He left the bowl and stooped in front of Taka. Pointing his finger accusingly, he said, “Friends come from unlikely places, then abandon you in your hour of need. He who is first to touch you shall beget your doom, and she who gives you love shall let it turn to hate.”
“Rafiki!” Makedde shouted. “Control it! It’s an evil spirit!”
“Anger is your only salvation,” Rafiki muttered, gripping Taka by the fur of his cheek. “Arm yourself with cruel hate. Take what is yours, for it shall not be freely given.”
Taka broke away and tried to hide behind Sarabi and Mufasa, crouching low and trembling. “No! It’s not so! Tell me it’s not so!”
“Stop it!” Makedde shook him violently. “Stop it in the name of the gods!”
Rafiki looked wild-eyed as if he’d seen a ghost. It took him a few moments to come to himself. “Brother? What happened to me? I could not control myself. I was a stick, and some hand was swinging me!”
Mufasa was horrified. “Is this going to happen for sure? Can’t we stop it?”
Rafiki went behind Muffy and Sassie to look at the cringing Taka. “Don’t be afraid, my son.” He stroked the trembling child. “Oh gods, that was not me speaking. That was not me. I love you. I would never say such things. You must love, always love, the way I love you. Forgive me. Please forgive me.” He wept.
“My brother did not know what he was saying,” Makedde said sternly. “He did not control the water-the water controlled him. Smell the reek of death in the air? Evil spirits often come to speak, and they use a half-truth to bring mischief into the world. When I can see you alone, Taka, I’ll tell your future and I will do it right.”
Taka started to cry. “Do they really hate me?”
“No, Taka,” Mufasa said firmly. Then he looked a little embarrassed. “We all love you, even if you do get in trouble all the time.”
“But what if it’s right?” Sarabi asked. “I mean if its a half-truth, doesn’t that mean half of it is true?”
“None of it’s true,” Mufasa said. He went to his brother and draped his paw over Taka’s shoulder. “There—I’m the first one to touch you. I’m your bestest friend in the world, so you don’t have to worry any more.”
“And I’m the one that loves you most,” Sarabi said aloud, not caring who heard it for once. “When we grow up, I’m going to marry you.” Without thinking, she touched Taka’s face with her warm tongue. The taste of blood reminded her of her mistake. “Oh Taka, are you all right?”
Taka stared at her, then tilted his head. He smiled. “I can see you! I can see you with both eyes!” He nuzzled her affectionately. “You would never hurt me, would you, Sassie?”
“Never! Not in a million years.”
Taka gave her a weak lick. “We will always be together, I promise. You did mean it—about marrying me—didn’t you?”
“Yes, Taka. That was going to be my wish.”
He smiled. “I just know I’m going to catch it when I get home, but it was worth it. Really. Will you walk home with me?”
“Of course I will,” Sarabi said.
“Dad won’t spank you,” Mufasa said. “You don’t spank someone when they’re hurt. You know, you REALLY should have come out when I told you to. Maybe you’ll listen next time.”
“Yeah.” He looked at Mufasa closely. “Does it show? Do you think Mom will notice?”
Muffy looked at him carefully as if he were trying to make up his mind, but it was no contest. “She’ll notice all right. I think it’s going to leave a scar.”
The three cubs bounded off as quickly as Taka could keep up. After they were quite a way from the Baobab, Rafiki said, “Brother, I’m quite sure of what I saw. I don’t know why I said it, but I knew it was so.”
“I know,” Makedde said. “But sometimes it is in the telling that things come true. You did not pray for guidance first—you left yourself unprotected. Evil spirits just wait for chances like this. They speak their piece, filling innocent little heads with foul thoughts to stir up trouble. Sometimes silence is the wisest prophesy of all.”
Rafiki hung his head. “I am so ashamed. Can’t I undo it, brother? Is there nothing I can do?”
Makedde went back to the scrying pool. He looked deeply into the water. For a long time he saw nothing, because his head was too full of worries. Then there was a gentle breeze from the east and on the wind was wafted the comforting scent of wild honey. The wind stirred the surface of the water, and after it had passed, the power of a blessed spirit had dispelled the shadows.
Makedde stared like one in a trance. “Rafiki, if you would hear the words of Aiheu, pay attention. For a little truth is like a little branch that will not reach to the choice fruit.”
The young mandrill fell on his face. “Speak, Lord.”
“The evil which you have set free, you must also bind. All the years of your life shall you toil to undo a careless moment. Milk and mud join quickly, but do they separate quickly? Your words have made the milk unfit to drink, yet I have not forsaken you. For if milk and mud are my creations, I can appoint whom I please to separate them, and it will be done.”
It is difficult, if not impossible, to hide a fight from parents with a hunter’s instincts and an excellent sense of smell. Taka saw the pain in his mother’s eyes as he described the incident in the badger hole to her, and felt mixed sadness and gladness. It was a strange kind of gladness that warms the heart when tears and sympathy spring from love. She pulled him to her side and began to nuzzle him and kiss him.
His father Ahadi left early without much to say. Secretly, Taka had hoped he’d feel a little guilty for making Muffy his heir, and reconsider whom is the bravest of the two. Instead, all Ahadi did was say, “I’ll be back.”
Akase kept the wound clean with her tongue, but even so it began to be stiff and throb with each beat of his heart. Taka began to moan as the pain made each movement painful. He wanted to rest, but he could not sleep but the most fitful of naps.
“How long is this going to hurt?”
“I don’t know, son.” Akase began to lick the wound again tenderly. “I’ll see if Makedde has something for the pain.”
“I can’t stand it anymore,” Taka said. “Please see what he has. My whole face is burning. I have a headache.”
“I don’t know where Zazu went. I’ll have to send your father as soon as he comes back.”
“Where has he gone?”
“I don’t know, but I have my suspicions.”
“I hope he comes back soon. Real soon.”
“So do I.” He closed his eyes and tried to sleep again.
Sarabi came by. “How is he?”
“Is he hurting?”
“Yes, the poor dear. As soon as Ahadi comes back, I’ll send him for Makedde.”
“I’ll go,” Sarabi insisted. She did not word it as a question, and without waiting for a reply, she headed for the distant baobab tree.
Taka’s fragile sleep was fraught with dreams. His legs jerked, and his mouth and ears twitched. “It’s so dark in here,” he muttered. “Let me go. Let me go!” Akase didn’t know whether or not to wake him. But the decision was soon made by another.
“Son, wake up!”
Taka rolled over and opened his eyes. He saw the large hazel eyes of his father looking down on him. He was dusty. A trace of blood was on his lips, and his nose had been scratched and was bleeding. Taka started.
Looking down beside him, he saw the white badger stained crimson with blood.
“He won’t hurt you again.”
“Dad, you’re bleeding.”
“Am I?” He half-smiled. “I think he got a little desperate when I found his secret exit. Is it my nose?”
“Yes.” Tears began to roll down Taka’s cheeks. “I love you.”
“I love you too. You do believe me, don’t you?”
Taka ran and buried himself in Ahadi’s mane, kissing his wounded nose and nuzzling him. “Promise we’ll always be friends. Promise?”
“Better yet, I’ll swear it.” He smiled broadly. “You feeling better, champ?”
“Now do you want that story?”
Just then, Yolanda walked up. She glanced at Taka’s face, and before she could catch herself, said, “Oh my God! What happened to him??”
Taka quickly hid his face in horror.
Avina was always a free-spirited lioness. She enjoyed hunting with her Pride sisters as much as any other lioness, but she also liked to try her skill at stalking prey alone like a leopard. She was uncommonly good at it, as good in single hunting as Uzuri was at leading a group hunt. So even though she married the King’s brother and should be setting a good example for the others, she continued to make solitary forays into the savanna.
To keep from disrupting the night’s hunt, she would stalk by day. Spoiling the evening stalk for the other lionesses would be unforgivable. But hunting by day only increased the challenge, and she relished each kill she could win for the Pride as she showed it off proudly. “I did it by myself, and in broad daylight,” she would boast. The others did not mind as much as might be expected. They enjoyed a good meal as much as she, and Avina always sang out cheerfully, “Dinnertime!” It was her open invitation to whomever wanted to dine on the results of her labors.
With Sarabi and Elanna in the care of their Aunt Akase, Avina went blythly into the tall grass, blending her golden body into the gilt colors of the savanna. Sarabi would be fine playing with Taka, and Muffy would content himself with a few words from Elanna. And few words there would be, for while many thought Muffy would end up marrying Elanna, there was no magic the way there was between Taka and Sarabi.
Avina ghosted through the fields on quiet paws, seeing all and being seen by none. Her pride in her own skills was evident, and well she had reason to be proud.
A herd of Hartbeests did not even hear her approach, though they were rather uneasy, stopping from time to time in order to listen. Hartbeests had a feeling about such things that makes them very hard to stalk.
Ears down, tail down, and legs moving in perfect oneness with the rhythm of the earth mother, Avina kept her eyes on the herd and gradually, methodically closed the gap, stopping from time to time as a head looks up from grazing to glance about.
Chuckling inside, Avina knew that she would have a sure kill. There was a buck on the outside of the herd that she had picked out. He was old, and chances are he would be slower than the rest. She kept on concentrating, contemplating, and closing the gap until a rush was forced upon her.
A Hartbeest looked up and saw her. Without waiting for a reaction, Avina sprang out of hiding, sprinting with all the speed Aiheu gave her toward the old buck.
Indeed, he was slower than the others. The herd opened like a large blossom, but she ignored everything but her target. It was a very private matter staged in the middle of a large herd. Her strength flowed, her courage rose, and the buck was coming closer, closer, ever closer.
The hartbeest changed direction, but so did she. Avina cornered tightly and cleanly, and even managed to gain a little on her target. “You are mine!”
With all her might, Avina sprang as she had sprung many times before. Up and forward she came, rising to loop her strong arm around his neck and pull him over.
But she missed. “Damn!”
A strong hoof slammed her cheek. In an instant, her great strength left her. Tumbling out of control, she rolled to a stop. There, stunned and breathless, she writhed in agony, clutching at her face, and letting quickly go when it burned like fire. She tried to cry out, but her jaw hung open crookedly and all that came out was a dull, wordless shriek. Anger and disappointment quickly gave way to terror at her predicament. She desperately needed a friend. Someone, anyone. There was no one. As she lay on the ground, she wondered if she might die there alone.
“No,” she insisted, summoning all her strength to pull her wounded body from the bonds of gravity and stand once more.
When she could struggle to her feet, she felt something drip from her chin. Blood and saliva were dripping profusely from her battered face, out of the corner of her mouth. She started to panic.
Gasping, she fought to think clearly through the muddled haze. “I have to get to Makedde,” she thought. Unsure where she was, she lost valuable time trying to focus on the distant horizon and find the baobab tree. “Aiheu abamami-Lord, give me strength.”
She began her long march in the hot sun. Her useless jaw seared her with each step, and she fought to keep her eyes focused.
She tried once to feel with a paw to see what had happened. The tip of a shattered jaw had stuck through the skin. It was like a sharp dagger, covered with her lifeblood. “Oh Gods,” she thought. “My face! My face—is gone! It’s gone!” She wondered what she looked like, and what she would do if the pain did not lessen.
What would Shaka think when he saw her? He would still love her, for he was a good and gentle lion, but her beauty was gone forever. And most likely she would never hunt again. What a foolish waste! What a stupid thing to do! And that is if she even lived to see him again. All of her cleverness, all of her boasting and bragging was now a reproach to her. “What a fool I was!” she thought. “What an idiot among fools!” Now she would be a charity case, an example that parents would hold up to their daughters when they acted recklessly.
She staggered forward, trying to hold her head up. It was not easy. Her neck was strained, her panting dried out her throat, and her eye was running on the side where she had been kicked. “Keep going, girl,” she thought. “I can’t stop. I have to find Rafiki. Please, gods, let him be home!”
The sun tormented her. Flies were gathering in hosts to plague her, and she could not raise her paw to swat at them. In fact, she could barely raise her paw to step forward.
Her eyes began to go out of focus, and she could not compensate. The world was growing darker, and the image of distant trees began to sway and shimmer. “No, I can’t die! I have two children! I have to get home! I have to get home!”
Blood had covered her chest, running down her legs. The smell of it entered the side of her nose she could still breathe through. Surely it had travelled other places by now.
There were footsteps in the grass around her.
“Who is there?” The words came out almost unrecognizable as speech so she painfully and slowly uttered. “Who…is…there??”
It was a hyena voice. “Help me. I’m the wife of the Prince Consort.” The words burned like fire. “If you…get me to Rafiki…my husband will…reward you. Imagine…all you can eat!”
“That’s what I’m imagining right now.”
“No! Don’t do this! In the name of God!”
“Nothing personal, dearie,” the voice said. As if at a signal, a hunting party came out of the grass and attacked her.
It was Shaka’s turn to do border patrol, a job he didn’t like thought he didn’t really hate it either. It did take away time he could be spending with his family. He would have been playing with Sarabi and Elanna, but instead he was defending the Pride Lands against enemies that rarely ever show up.
He amused himself by remembering the long passages of the Leonid Saga he had memorized as a youth from his father. Shaka was good at reciting verse, and he was a living encyclopedia of lore and ceremonial prose. He sang to himself Sarabi’s favorite song.
“Moko Greatmane was a great cat, And a great big cat was he, He climbed up over the mountain pass to see what he could see, As the cat climbed up, all the rain climbed down and the wind was blowing fast…”
“Hello there!” shouted Zazu. “Sorry to interrupt Your Highness, but there are hyenas on the eastern meadow! They’ve killed something.”
“Thanks,” Shaka said. “I’ll get on it.”
He was looking for a little excitement anyhow. Chuckling to himself about the impression he’d make on the hyenas, he loped across the savanna and plunged through the reeds. “Let them hunt on the Pride Lands, eh? Not as long as I’m on the job.” His easy but massive lope made up the distance rather quickly.
At last he spotted them, eating quickly as if they knew it was a matter of urgency.
He roared at the hyenas. They growled, but withdrew from the carcass and stood back a few yards.
“My Gods, it’s a lioness!” He didn’t recognize her until he got close enough to turn what remained of the face with his paw. The final look of horror still hung on her shattered face.
“Avina,” he whispered quietly. Her torn body lay open under the barren sky, and flies buzzed around. “Avina!” Shaka looked up to the sky, drew in a deep breath and shrieked, “Avina!!! Oh God, Noooooo!!!”
His grief and rage were competing like two rabbits trying to enter the same hole at the same time. For the vital moment, rage won out. His eyes red with hate fixed on his target. “Dirty stinking murderers!!! I’ll kill you!!!”
He took out after the hyenas at full tilt. For a lion, his onslaught was something terrible to behold. But he was built for power, not for speed, and was unable to catch up with the lighter-built hyenas the way a lioness might have. Instead, he kept up with them.
The scavengers flew across the savanna swiftly as evening swallows. They put on one final spurt and with great relief crossed the border into the elephant graveyard where their grounds began.
They stopped for a moment to look back-a foolish mistake. Shaka kept coming. He ran over the invisible line that delineated his authority. He half-ran, half-stumbled down the slope and into the dusty realm of the dead. Finally, one of the hyenas stumbled over a pile of bones and headed to a terrifying stop.
Shaka was on top of him very quickly, bearing the hyena’s small body down with crushing weight. “You killed my wife! You ripped out my heart, and I will rip out yours! I give you a moment to pray to your god.”
Before he knew what was happening, Shaka was surrounded by hyenas on all sides. They seemed to materialize from the dust and emerge from the skulls and caves.
“Let him go!” said Amarakh, the ruling Roh’mach. “You are trespassing on our lands. You are holding one of my people.”
“He’s a murderer!” Shaka narrowed his eyes at her. “He killed my wife in cold blood, and he was on my land! She had two cubs, Amarakh. Two cubs that won’t have a mother coming home tonight! She was alive when they ripped her! Alive!”
“I will investigate it. I know him. He’s a trouble maker anyhow, and you can be sure I will punish him if he’s guilty.”
“IF??” Shaka looked down at the trapped hyena. “I saw him over her body. Zazu saw the kill. You tell her. TELL HER, VERMIN!”
The trapped hyena squeeled in fear. “Somebody help me!”
“You can’t extract a confession to a murder by death threats.” Amarakh glared back. “This is my land, and I give you my word we will investigate within the customs of our law. But you must let him go. Leave-now!”
“I do not believe you.”
“You are not in a position to negotiate,” Amarakh said. “Leave at once. I will see your brother the King tonight. We will talk.”
“You are right,” he said. “You are absolutely right. I am NOT in a position to negotiate.” Shaka looked up at the sky. “Aiheu abamami!” he cried in his deep grief. Then he quickly dropped his head and bit with tremendous force, snapping the hyena’s neck and almost severing his head. The body twitched spasmotically before collapsing with eyes staring sightlessly into space. A deep gasp whispered through the assembled throng. Then with bitter rage, the crowd closed in on Shaka.
Sarabi and Elanna were playing with Mufasa and Taka. But eventually they began to wonder when their mom and dad were coming back. Ahadi began to wonder too, for it was getting late in the day. “Did they dump the kids on us and take a vacation?” Akase was only joking, but she was genuinely worried.
Zazu came in for his report. “Sire, Khemoki of the Zebra’ha is certain that…”
“Wait on that. I need to know where Shaka and Avina are. Have you seen them?”
“Well, Sire, Shaka went to chase off some hyenas. They’d made a kill in the eastern meadow, and I sent him off right away.”
“How long ago?”
“Oh, about two hours ago. Maybe three.”
“Two or three hours??”
“Well, Sire, I could be wrong.”
“Where is Avina??”
“I don’t know. She was going to go hunting in the eastern meadow and…” Zazu stopped. “Oh my lord! That’s where the kill was, and…”
“You must show me the place.” Ahadi shouted, “Sarafina, Uzuri, Isha!! Come quickly!!”
Fearing what he might find, Zazu led the four of them out into the eastern meadow and straight to the place where he saw the carcass. Even from the air, he could recognize the golden color of the pelt. He dropped to the ground and shuddered.
Ahadi stalked up to the body-what was left of it-and glanced at the face. “Oh God, Avina!!” He turned away and wretched in the grass. A few awful moments went by where not a word was said. Then trying to regain his composure, Ahadi let Uzuri take a look at the body. Uzuri trembled, but she was still able to make her observations. “Her face was…” She shuddered. “There is a kick wound. From a large hoofed animal, no doubt. But there is a trail of blood leading back that way. She wandered here.”
Uzuri followed the trail for some distance, noting with horror the hyena tracks. “The hyenas got to her while she was still alive. Dear God, the evil scum ate her alive!”
She trotted back to the body, then followed the tracks away toward the elephant graveyard. “It’s Shaka-I can still scent him. He chased them this way.”
The party of lions headed down the weak but definite trail until they reached the boundaries of the elephant graveyard. Waiting for them there was a large group of hyenas, and in front was Amarakh.
The lions came in as a group, showing fangs, and daring anyone to bother them. Ahadi demanded, “Where is Shaka?”
“What is left of him is removed to the place of the dead.” Amarakh scowled. “He took the law into his own teeth and killed one of ours on our own land without a trial. We offered to hold an inquest, a fair trial by the law of our people. But he turned us down and killed a male whose wife is pregnant.”
“So you murdered him!”
“We EXECUTED him. We couldn’t wait for him to kill others. He was too dangerous to place under arrest.”
“There is no doubt he was dangerous after his wife was ripped alive. We have seen the evidence.”
“We had not, Sire. We could not be sure, and we could not wait to be sure.”
“Here is the dead male’s wife,” Amarakh said, motioning for Fabana to be brought forward. One of her eyes had been clawed out and healed with a brutal scar. She cowered before the mighty King.
“If you would have revenge,” Amarakh said, “let all the people see that you fight honorably with her, one on one. Let them see that you have given her the FAIR chance to defend the honor of her family.”
The quaking hyena female stammered, “Mercy! Have mercy! I am with child!”
Ahadi looked at her with some pity. “Now you know what it feels like to lose someone you love. The Roh’mach is courting death to toy with my sympathies like this, but she has won this round. You will not be harmed.”
But Ahadi looked sternly at Amarakh. “Because your people have killed my brother, and because his wife was basely murdered, you are Corban. No more shall you scavenge on the Pride Lands. Not until the last of the group that killed Avina is dead.”
“But my Lord, we will all starve!”
“Perhaps a few hungry nights will motivate you to enforce your own laws, Amarakh. Besides, this is not such a bad spot to scavenge. You never know when an elephant might want to die.”
She held up her head and stared back. “You mock me because you are powerful, and I am but a hyena. But the gods know I must be fair to my people. Grief has blinded you, impaired your judgement and robbed you of your wisdom.”
Ahadi and the lionesses left. Someone had to break the news to Sarabi and Elanna. Ahadi knew that Sarabi and Elanna belonged with him, and he knew he was the one that must speak the awful words. “Aiheu abamami,” he stammered. “Please God, give me strength.”
Muffy and Taka are six moons older. Their cubhood spots were long gone, and they had grown in size and agility. It was time for them to learn some important lessons about defending a kingdom.
In their cubhood games, they had built up a repertoire of reflexes and moves that would serve them well as adults. But there were moves reserved for serious combat, moves they would need to defend the Pride Lands from intruders and rivals. Though Ahadi tried to put some fun into learning, this was no game.
Ahadi knew too well that a lion should know his strengths and his weaknesses. With Mufasa, Ahadi saw strength and endurance. For this reason, Mufasa easily mastered the forward thrust his father taught him, coming up on his hind legs and pushing out and in with his massive forepaws. Taka was small but quick, and his father taught him the haunch seize first off, instructing him to dip low to bite the back leg and throw his opponent over. But of course there were defenses against these attacks, and they had to learn them too. A lion with only one strategy will never be king for very long.
Yolanda, who was quite a powerful lioness, helped Ahadi with his demonstrations. It looked much more violent in actual practice than it had in teaching. Mufasa and Taka watched spellbound and horrified as Yolanda and Ahadi went at it hammer and tongs. They didn’t growl or roar, but even in their dignity the raw power of aggressive fighting was all too clear. Of course, Ahadi and Yolanda were careful not to really hurt each other. They retracted their claws and did not bite down hard, but they used a great deal of strength, and the smell of sweat was on the air.
Sarabi ambled over by Mufasa, trying to look casual. “Be careful with him Muffy,” she whispered. “You know you’re stronger. You don’t have to prove anything by hurting him.”
“Don’t worry, Sassie. He’s my brother.”
“Then you’ll try not to make him look too bad?”
He smiled. “You really like him, don’t you?”
“Yes.” She gave him a quick tongue touch to the cheek. “Thank you, Muffy. You’re a real sweetheart.”
“Not to mention a real hunk,” Elanna said, flirting.
Winded, Ahadi and Yolanda finally stopped. Ahadi pushed his mane out of his eyes and said, “Of course (pant), you realize (pant) that there would have (pant) been a winner (pant) and a loser if this (pant) had been real.”
Yolanda nuzzled him. “Incosi (pant), I touch your mane.”
“I (pant) feel it.” Ahadi took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “OK, my sons. You try it.”
The two brothers stood up and faced each other. Taka took a deep breath and began circling Mufasa slowly. His head bobbed, weaving an irregular pattern as he looked for an opening.
Mufasa lowered his forequarters and shifted around, keeping the bulk of his body facing Taka. The speed with which Taka could dart in and grab a haunch was frightening, and he dared not expose his vulnerable back legs.
Taka frowned. “Fine then,” he thought. He resumed circling, pacing himself, his breath going in and out rhythmically. Then he took a short, quick breath.
Muffy read the signs correctly and jumped back just in time. Taka pounced on empty grassland, his paws scrabbling for purchase.
Ahadi nodded gravely but said nothing.
Looking around, Taka saw Muffy smiling at him tauntingly. Baring his teeth angry, he began flailing at his brother wildly. Startled, Muffy methodically countered one blow after another, blocking Taka’s sweeps with his forepaws. With a guttural moan, Taka felt panic set in as he realized he was probably going to lose—again. He glanced at Sarabi, trying to read her expression.
That moment was all Muffy needed. He cuffed Taka hard enough to tip him off balance. Before Taka could draw in another breath, Muffy’s heavy weight was bearing down on his chest, pinning him to the ground. “Say uncle!”
“No!” he gasped, fighting for air as he struggled futilely. Muffy was too strong for him.
Taka struggled hard, but Muffy was too strong for him.
Taka could not bear to be humiliated like this, not in front of Sarabi! He saw Muffy’s leg within reach of his jaws.
“I—said—NO!” His teeth buried themselves in Muffy’s leg. As Mufasa jumped up, bellowing in pain, Taka darted out from under him and came out swinging with all of his might. A forepaw struck Mufasa under the chin, making his teeth click together painfully.
“Cut it out, Taka!” Mufasa backed away, his forehead furrowed in anger. “Don’t make me get rough with you.”
“Give me your best shot,” Taka whispers arrogantly. “I know you’re being careful with me. After all, you’re a real sweetheart.”
“And you’re a real fool.” His eyes narrowed. He closed with Taka, grappling. Taka swung at his legs, trying to hook them out from under, but Muffy blocked the move quickly. Circling again, Taka slid in and tried at another angle, only to meet the same result. Fear crept in as he felt his strength waning. In desperation, he cheated again, going for a leg hold with teeth bared.
“No!” Mufasa struck at him claws-out with all his might. Taka went sprawling to the ground. “Try that again and I’ll knock your fool head off!”
Taka wobbled to his feet, took a couple of unsteady steps, and sat down again. He rubbed his face with a paw.
Sarabi wanted to rush over and comfort him, but she knew better. It would make a bad situation worse.
Muffy saw the look on Sarabi’s face and thought about the promise. He looked at Taka and saw the dazed expression on his face. “Taka, are you OK?”
“I’ll live.” He rose unsteadily and shook his head.
Ahadi sniffed of the cut on Muffy’s leg. He looked over at Taka and frowned. “Some wrestling match.”
“He cheated,” Elanna said. “I saw him do it twice.”
Ignoring them, Taka paced away slowly, wincing at the throbbing in his cheek where Mufasa’s powerful forepaw had struck him. He whacked at small stones with his powerful paw, muttering words his mother did not teach him under his breath.
Wending his way around the face of Pride Rock, he lay down in his favorite resting place, on a ledge under a jutting overhang of granite which shaded him nicely. With some trepidation, he raised a paw to his face and touched it gingerly. Bringing his forepaw before him, he was relieved to find no trace of blood.
He glanced over to see Sarabi gracefully make her way onto the ledge with him. He smiled listlessly. “Hey, Sassie.”
She padded up to him, glaring. “Don’t ‘Hey, Sassie,’ me. What did you think you were doing?!”
His smile vanished quickly. “What are you talking about?”
“Were you trying to kill yourself? Let me see your face.” She started to examine the swollen cheek under his scarred left eye, but he jerked away.
“Don’t worry about me. I would’ve won that stupid fight if he hadn’t cheated.”
Her eyebrows lifted. “He cheated? Taka, you bit his leg! I’m surprised he didn’t knock your fool head off!”
He narrowed his eyes, glaring at her. “Yes, I appreciate the support, Sarabi.” He added mockingly, “Oh, Muffy, take it easy on him, he’s not strong like you are.” He spat. “I don’t want him to LET me win, I want to BEAT him! Just once, I’d like to be better at something!”
“But you are better at something,” she said. “I don’t want to see you get hurt, that’s all.” Her voice wavered as she fought back tears. “I’m sorry if my love is getting in the way of that tiff with your brother.” She turned and headed away.
Taka froze. “Sassie, wait!” He watched as her form continued away down the path. “Oh, God, it’s happening!” he cried.
He ran after her, got out ahead and blocked her path. Sarabi stopped, startled.
“I’m sorry! Please, I’m sorry!” He began to beg, pleading desperately. Falling on his back, he pawed at her. “I love you! Please don’t leave me, Sassie!”
She saw the sheer terror in his eyes, and felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She forgot her anger.
“I had to try and win,” he stammered. “If I lost all the time, you might not love me anymore. I’m a loser, Sassie. Not that I don’t try.”
“Is your head full of dead grass?” Sarabi took her paw and held up Taka’s chin so that he looked her in the eyes. “I love you because you’re sweet and clever and very cute. That won’t change because Muffy beats you at wrestling.” She kissed him with her warm tongue and nuzzled him. “I am a little disappointed that you cheated, though. I’ve always thought you were above that.”
“Oh.” He didn’t know whether he liked that remark, but he loved her. Kissing her cheek, he said, “I’ll love you till the day I die. Longer, even. They will see two stars side by side and know it is us.” Without shame, his eyes filled with tears. “My love must be stronger than fate itself if it’s to survive. My body may be weak, but Sassie, my heart is strong.”
“Taka, it’s that prophesy again. I can tell it. When will you learn to trust me?” She stroked his face with a paw.
“I believe your goodness is so strong that you can beat this thing, but you heard the rest. ‘He who is first to touch you shall beget your doom.’” He looked down. “Muffy was the first one to touch me. He’s going to kill me, Sassie.”
“That’s foolish. He loves you!”
“You knew he was too strong for me. We’re gonna get in a fight one day, and he’s going to lose his cool and kill me.” He turned his gaze to the vast savanna which stretched before them.
Sarabi was horrified. “Stop talking like that, you’re scaring me!” Moving close to him, she nuzzled his head gently. “Taka, maybe your head IS full of dead grass. Muffy loves you. He needs you. He’s your brother. Rafiki was wrong—even Makedde said so.”
Taka half smiled. “Yeah, he did, didn’t he! You really think we can beat this thing? The three of us?”
She kissed his cheek gently. “Of course.” She rose, switching her tail. “You stay here and rest, Taka. I’ll be back in a minute.”
“Okay.” He lay his head on his forepaws slowly and shut his eyes.
Sarabi hurried down the path to where it joined the promontory at the front of Pride Rock. Padding across its smooth surface, she entered the cool recesses of the main cave. As her eyes adjusted, she saw Mufasa sitting nearby, licking his wound gingerly.
“Muffy, I must talk to you.”
“Sure.” He smiled at her.
“It’s about Taka.”
His face fell. “Hey, I tried to go easy on him, but when he bit me, I saw red.”
“I know, and I’m not upset with you.”
She sighed. “It’s that prophesy again.”
“You two had another fight?”
“No. Well, yes, but that’s beside the point.” She sighed again. “Don’t be upset, Muffy, but you know that business about the one that touched him first bringing about his doom?”
“Yes. But…” Mufasa’s eyes broadened. “Oh gods, don’t tell me he thinks I’m going to whack him??”
She looked at him closely. “You wouldn’t, would you? Promise?”
“For gods’ sake!” He blinked at her, surprised. “Of course I promise! He’s my brother!” He shook his head. “What AM I going to do with him, Sassie?”
“Tell him. He needs to hear it from you more than anyone else.”
Nodding, he started away.
Poor Mufasa wanted to ask his parents for help, but the whole thing embarrased him too badly. He resigned himself to handling Taka “the usual way,” which meant humoring his moods, no matter how ridiculous they are, and being careful to remind him that he’s loved.
He finally got his chance later that day.
Taka was resting on the end of the promontory. It was his favorite place to sulk when he felt like the whole world was out to get him. The scale of the view helped put his problems into perspective in the great pagent of life.
“What?” Taka didn’t bother to turn around.
“I just saw Sassie.”
Taka turned around that time. “What did she say??”
“Not much.” Muffy tried to keep his tail from twitching. Apparently he was successful. “She was upset. She looked a little depressed, so I asked her what was up.”
“Oh gods, here it comes.” Taka drooped.
“She was watching us fight, and she thought about the prophesy. You know, the part about the first one that touched you would begat your doom.”
“Oh?” Taka gave him his undivided attention. “And what did you tell her?”
Mufasa smiled, but a tear rolled down his cheek. “I told her you’re my brother. I’m sorry I hit you so hard. You bit me, and I went crazy. You know we both love you, Sassie and I. She worries about you. In fact, she’s always telling me how she’s going to marry you when you get older.” Mufasa swallowed a sudden lump in his throat. “You don’t know how lucky you are, Taka. I got the kingdom, but you got Sassie.”
Taka smiled at him, a real smile, now. “Yeah, I guess I am. She’s really beautiful, Isn’t she?”
Unable to reply, Mufasa merely nodded.
Taka looked at him closely. “Why Muffy, you’re jealous….”
“Come off it.”
“No, you really are.” Taka smiled an amused smile. “Gods! You’re jealous of me! And all this time….” He rose briskly, stretched his legs, and came running over to Muffy. He nuzzled him and put his forearm around Mufasa’s shoulder. “You must think I’m crazy.”
“No. Well, not much.”
“Sometimes I feel crazy. Dad always has it all together. He always knows the score.” A tear ran down Taka’s face. “Help me fight this thing, Muffy. If the three of us work hard, we can beat the prophesy. We can. You’re good inside; so is Sassie. We’ve got to be good to beat it.”
Muffy swallowed hard, then said, “Don’t worry. We’ll be really good.”
“…And it was that Aiheu the Beautiful, having made the World of Ma’at (soil) gave it to his spirit children for a dwelling place. And they praised him, for the land was very comely. But in the first days, which were called the Days of Ka (spirit), some were not as happy as Aiheu had wished.
“What has this land to do with us?” they asked. “The sun does not warm us. The waters do not cleanse us. The wind does not cool us. How can this be our home when the grass does not stir beneath our feet?”
“So Aiheu took ma’at (soil) and mixed it with maja (water) that it may be shaped. And for those ka that desired to know pleasure, he clave them to bodies which he formed from the mud, breathing into their nostrils the breath of life, that so long as they should draw breath, they should be part of the World of Ma’at, and that the sun would warm them, the water would cleanse them, and the wind would cool them. These and many other pleasures he gave them for a birthright, but he also gave them a warning. For pain is the brother of pleasure, and those who are of ma’at must accept pain with the pleasure.”
— THE LEONINE STORY OF BEGINNINGS, Variation D-4-A
Rafiki awoke with stiffness in his lower back. At his age, he was frequently sore in the mornings and had to take an herbal preparation to get himself back in the thick of things. Because the medicine had to be fresh and moist to work, he had to make up individual doses as needed. That meant working while tired and sore. Still, Rafiki did not complain. For one thing he lived alone, with no one to complain to, and for another, he was a shaman and accepted what life brought him as gracefully as he could.
Soaking in a water-filled gourd, some bonewort would loosen the tightness in his spine. He carefully removed just enough to do the job. It was followed by Senophalix bark and roots from Psamnophis gelleri for pain. But the final ingredient was a powder made from Alba, a red flower. It did not grow nearby, and he had to trade to get it. The small cache of this drug was nearly exhausted, and he put in a little less than was his custom. He had requested some from the apes that lived in the forest near his baobab.
The other mandrills thought Rafiki a bit strange. They didn’t understand his need for the flower, but they happily raised the fee to what they thought he could afford. For that reason, precious time that could be spent serving others was spent collecting large bundles of herbs and other notions for payment.
Mixing the ingredients into a paste with his bowl and antelope bone, he downed the bitter mixture with a frown, and quickly took some water and honey to purge his mouth. Perhaps the medicine did not work immediately. Yet he felt better at once, knowing that help was on the way.
While he waited for relief, he settled down for his morning prayers, which always began with thanksgiving, then ran through the name of every lion on the Pride Lands whether they were ill or well, and ended with a modest request to “Remember old Rafiki who trusts in you.”
Breakfast was a simple affair. Mango was his favorite, followed shortly by ripe Kannabia australoafricanus, which he called by an equally unpronounceable Mandrill name. Honey was not easy to come by, since he’d grown old enough to make climbing a problem. Besides, even at the best of times, there was an element of luck involved. So he put only a few drops of honey on the fruit to season it, and ate his breakfast. Perhaps in the next life, there would be honey enough for his sweet tooth, which only grew stronger with age. He felt he would know sooner rather than later, a fact brought home by the silver hair that reflected in his scrying bowl.
Only after breakfast was over and he’d rubbed his teeth with the chewed end of an acacia twig did he start out on the day’s business. Alba was waiting for him—the apes said it would be waiting for him in three days, and the time was up. They were robbers, but they were never late. One, two, three hard-won bundles of roots and leaves were sprinkled with water, wrapped in Rattasia leaves, and secured with long acacia thorn pins. The barter was gathered up with the care it deserved to ransom the modest stash of tiny red blossoms that waited for him in the forest.
He was about to leave when Mufasa came in. Muffy was a year and a half old, and the beginning of some ruff around his ears and neck showed that he was coming along on schedule.
“I had almost forgotten our appointment.” Rafiki put his bundles of herbs aside. “Trouble sleeping, I believe? Loss of appetite?”
“And don’t forget depression. I’ve been down before, but now I’m really down for the count.”
“I see.” Rafiki put his ear to Muffy’s chest. “Breathe in. Good. Now let it out slowly.” He tapped Muffy’s chest a couple of times with his knuckles. “Once more.” The breathing seemed to agree with him. He felt the radial pulse alongside his neck and winked. “Soon enough, I’ll have to use the arm. This old mane will be in the way.” Mufasa smiled proudly. “So tell me, how is Taka?”
“The cough all gone, I take it?”
“Yes, Rafiki. I made sure he took all his medicine. None of that hiding the herbs under his tongue and spitting them out when I’m not looking.”
“How did you manage that?”
“I rubbed his throat till he had to swallow.”
Rafiki laughed. “He’s just a big cub. And Sarabi?”
“Oh, she’s fine.”
Rafiki looked surprised. “Whoa there! Your pulse is jumping like a Springbok!” The mandrill looked Muffy in the eyes. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you had the fever.”
“Lioness fever.” Rafiki rubbed his chin whiskers. “And you got it from Sarabi, I can tell. Does Taka know?”
“No, uh—I mean…”
Rafiki shook his finger at Mufasa. “Don’t hide from me behind those little lamb eyes. I know what I see.” He looked in Muffy’s eyes and sighed deeply. “You got it bad, son.”
Mufasa glanced away. “There must be a cure for it. I won’t betray my own brother. You must have something for falling out of love.”
“I don’t even have anything for falling IN love. But tell me, does Sarabi love YOU?”
“Well she’s my friend. Of course she loves me.”
“You know what I mean. I mean lion fever. Has she ever given you those little hints? You know, the feeling that you’re being stalked, and any minute she may decide to charge?”
“No. I-well she-no. No. She’s so struck on my brother. Oh Rafiki, sometimes I get the feeling I wish I were an only child. I love Taka, really I do, but Sassie is on my mind all the time. I can’t be weak, not with my brother’s girl. Are you sure there’s nothing I can do?”
“Maybe a nice swim in the cold spring.” He popped Muffy on the flank. “There’s nothing wrong with you that your own conscience and a little time can’t fix. But keep your eyes open. You must also be fair to Sarabi. What she wants is important too. And I think you are selling yourself short that way.” He smiled toothily and added in a whisper, “If you can’t give both of them what they want, choose the girl. What she don’t got, you don’t need!”
Six moons had passed since Muffy’s chat with Rafiki. He and Taka had grown in strength and size. This miracle was made all the more evident by its speed. There was no difference from day to day, but a clear, sharp memory of passing under a low branch was no insurance against a bump on the head. The brothers, the sons of the King, were attracting the attention of the others with their strong, comely appearance.
Mufasa’s pride was all out of proportion to the straggly pioneering hairs that made his head and throat look somewhat shaggier than the rest of his body. But that was matched by the pride of his parents Ahadi and Akase. Ahadi insisted that he was equally proud of Taka, and Taka wanted desperately to believe it.
Taka had a dark mane, something most lionesses consider very attractive. Often his mother Akase told him that happiness was more important than power, and if he had to choose one, go with happiness. Taka saw the sense in this. He was often unhappy, but he believed in his mother and in her love. And to a degree, he believed Sarabi loved him though they were more prone to more arguments than talks in recent days.
The Mantlement Ceremony is all that Ahadi and Akase seemed to talk about—all everyone seemed to talk about. That first trace of mane is for many male cubs a sign that they are about to venture out into The Big World, and brings as many fears as it does hopes. It is the wakening of their interest in lionesses as more than playmates. For Mufasa, it was a step closer to the kingship—the Prince was growing up. No one expected the brother of Mufasa to go out into The Big World, and he, like Mufasa, would be honored by all subjects in the Pride Lands as Prince Consort.
And yet there was no doubt that everyone of every species would be staring at the future King. Taka’s Mantlement was the last big step that the public would take interest in, and he had to endure it in the huge shadow of his brother.
Immersed in this thought, Taka sat alone on the point of Pride Rock and looked down on the wide savanna below, now occupied by a few wildebeests, but soon alive with bowing and scraping subjects looking on their King-to-be. And that what’s-his-name brother of his—the one with the scar. Only recently had the other lions begun to talk to him without staring at the eye. He’d long passed the stage where those who were dying to know more about it could ask, “How are you feeling?” or “Can I help?” Now it was as healed as it would ever be, and they had gotten used to it. But along with the familiarity came the rumors—mostly true—about how he was marked, and the nickname Scar. Oddly enough, no one blamed Mufasa in the least for what had happened to Taka’s eye. Instead they wondered who would be stupid enough to go into a badger’s hole in the first place. Everyone knew how badgers act—that is, everyone with common sense.
“Hey, Taka!” said Mufasa, sitting alongside. “Thinking about the big day tomorrow?”
“Well, you don’t look too happy about it.”
“I’m just fine,” Taka said firmly. “I can’t help the way I look.”
“Yeah, right.” Mufasa hopped up lithely and sat on the other side of Taka to look him in the eyes. “What’s your problem? I mean, it’s your big day too. Everyone who’s anyone will be there to look at your new mane. Besides, the babes dig it! I mean, without a mane you’re just another kitten.”
“You must think I’m really stupid,” Taka said. “Who’s going to care about me? Half of them don’t even know who I am. I’m just that kid with the funny-looking eye.”
“You help protect the Pride Lands,” Mufasa said. “That’s important. And hey, if something happened to me, you’d have to be King.” He made a sweeping gesture with his paw over the empty savanna. “They all know that. And they know they better treat you with respect, or they’ll have to answer to me.”
Taka stared at Mufasa right in the eyes, something that made his brother feel uncomfortable. Mufasa could almost feel Taka looking right through him, examining his bones and sinews. He was looking for something he could remember from long ago, from days when friendship could be taken for granted in the innocence of early cubhood. “Would you miss me if I died?”
“Of course I would,” Mufasa said, a little irritated. “What kind of stupid question is that?”
“Don’t call me stupid! I hate it when people call me that!”
“I didn’t call you stupid,” Mufasa said, backing back. “What is your problem, anyway? Go ahead and sulk—that’s all you ever do now. But you watch yourself tomorrow. You’re the son of the King, and you act like it. I don’t want you spoiling my Mantlement, understand?”
“I understand clearly. I won’t spoil YOUR Mantlement, brother.”
On that word, Taka left the point of the rock and headed down quietly.
Sarabi was lying half-asleep in the shade of an acacia tree when Taka walked by. Her keen senses were stirred by the light tread in the grass. She looked up quickly, then relaxed her ears. “Oh, it’s only you, Taka.”
She frowned. “Not another one of those moods again. Get a little fuzz on your neck and you lions take yourself soooo seriously.” She took a half-hearted swat at him. “Tell me, Taka, will you be like that when I get you alone? Smile if you think wicked thoughts.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Smile if you think I’m sexy.”
He looked away. “Cut it out, will you?”
In a sultry half-purr, she added, “Smile if you think you’ll live through the honeymoon.”
He broke into an embarrassed grin which he tried to hide behind a paw.
“Optimistic little devil, aren’t you?” She nuzzled him affectionately. “I like that much better. I hate it when we fight.”
“So do I,” Taka said. “I should let you have your way more often.”
Sarabi’s eyes narrowed to slits. “I don’t want to have my way more often. I mean we should agree to disagree. Don’t patronize me.”
“I didn’t mean it that way.”
“Then how did you mean it? I’m not stupid you know.”
“I know.” Taka licked his paw and tried to groom what there was of his mane. It was a nervous habit. “Sassie, let’s never fight again. I was thinking about the prophesy. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.”
“I don’t believe in it,” Sarabi said firmly. “I thought we had that settled.”
“Still, you can’t blame me for worrying. I mean we never used to fight before that stupid thing with the badger.” He licked his paw again and began to nervously rub at the other side of his neck.
“Please don’t do that,” Sarabi said.
“Don’t do what? Oh…” Taka put down his paw. “Do you think you’ll always love me? I mean, Makedde said sometimes we make our own destinies. If we work hard, we can change them.”
Sarabi nuzzled him. “There are times your own mother couldn’t love you,” she said. “This is not one of them. Forget the prophesy—I liked you better the way you were, when you trusted me.”
“I trust you now,” Taka said, beginning to groom his mane again. “I don’t think you’d ever WANT to hate me. But things can happen—bad things.”
“I don’t know what kind of things, but you know. I mean, maybe I’ll do something really stupid and you wouldn’t love me anymore.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m coming of age, the time when a lion goes out into The Big World to make his fortune. Other than food and water, I have one need. Love, Sassie. Right now, Mom and Dad still love me. Maybe not as much as Muffy, but they do. And you love me, don’t you?”
“Yes! How many times do I have to tell you??”
“Once,” Taka said quietly. He put his left paw on her shoulder. He could feel her tremble. “It’s time we stated our intentions. I want you.”
“We are not of age,” Sarabi said. “Not in their eyes at least. It is corban. They would never agree to this.”
“Then don’t ask them to,” Taka said. “If you will always love me, pledge to me. I won’t ask more until you come to me of your own free will. But we’ll go away together. We’ll leave tonight at high moon.”
“I’m honored, really,” Sarabi said. “But how are you so sure you will want me as your lioness? I mean we’re friends, but do you really know what you want?”
He put his left paw on her shoulder once more and let it fondle her strong, shapely form. “Our love could move Heaven and Earth,” he whispered seductively. “It would spread like ripples in a pond, growing, spreading, deepening. You know I want you. When you look at me, when you touch me, I want you. Sarabi, look at me. You know I want you.”
She felt his eyes meet hers. It was what lionesses call ‘The Look.’ “I believe you.” She tore herself away from The Look and glanced down at the ground. “You will be Prince Consort. It is foolish to go away when you are wanted here. It is safe here—out there in The Big World it is so uncertain. We have to think about our children.”
“There is only one certainty I want,” Taka said with barely suppressed passion. “Before the gods, before the stars, before the assembled host I swear to give you my protection, my love, and my comfort forever.” He looked at her pleadingly, like a small cub who’s afraid of the dark. “Come on, Sarabi. Say it.”
She started to hold her paw out to touch his. It trembled. She put it down. In the intensity of the moment she could not speak.
A painful moment passed. Taka’s face changed visibly—it was like watching him die. “I understand,” he said. “You are only a small lioness in a big world. How could you hope to fight destiny?” His ears laid back dejectedly and his tail hung limply. “It would be better for all of us if I left. I want to be remembered with some kindness-maybe a little regret for what might have been. And it might have been fine, Sassie.”
Sarabi felt her eyes mist up. He trotted off into the bush without another word.
Deep in the heart is a land of shadows, Its a place of sighs and tears That’s where the lost dreams and hopes forsaken Tend to end up through the years.
Oh, but they don’t go down easy, no, they do not meekly go, To that graveyard for high expectations where the broken dreams lie low! They cry for attention and they seek intervention till they shake your very soul. You may try to bury what your heart can’t carry, but it won’t stay in the hole.
Heavy the heart of the disappointed, Long the empty path of night; That is the fate of the broken-hearted, When the darkness steals the light.
Oh, but they don’t go down easy, no, they do not meekly go, To that graveyard for high expectations where the broken dreams lie low! They cry for attention and they seek intervention till they shake your very soul. You may try to bury what your heart can’t carry, but it won’t stay in the hole!
Sarabi watched him draw further and further away until he was a small speck of tawny among the brush. Panic seized her, and she found her tongue. “Taka! Wait! I’ll do it!” Apparently he did not hear any voices but those in his head. “Taka!”
Though his essence still hung in the air, he was gone. Tears began to roll down her cheeks. “May the gods be with you.”
Taka was leaving the Pride Lands without even the traditional blessing. He had never learned to hunt, secure that he would always have a home. Now he left for the river valley. He took a small comfort knowing where he was going he would need no hunting skills, and no place to rest his head. Perhaps with the kings of old among the stars he could look down and see his beloved across the vault of heaven. Would she marry? Would she have beautiful cubs whose smiles warm the very heart of Aiheu? Would she remember his love through the years?
Finally he stood on the brink of the river valley. On the threshold of death, his life blood coursed through his veins and his heart beat like a hammer. Not far from where he stood was a sheer drop-off, the kind of place where a lion could fall and fall without suffering on the craggy slopes, and then just stop. Just stop—what a thought. Would it hurt? Would it have time to hurt? Would it make a difference how he landed? He would know very soon.
“Lord Aiheu, creator of the universe, I stand far from the rest, alone for I am dying. Forgive the many hurts I have caused. The night is coming when the breath you gave me will return to the heavens.” He dropped his formal prayers, and cried, “Gods, help me! I’m afraid. Let it be quick. Aiheu abamami!” His legs tensed for the final spring into oblivion.
Just when he was about to plunge to his death, he heard the death cry of a gazelle, and turned. He could see a lone hyena panting, pulling the hide off a fresh kill. Through his deep grief, he felt hunger. Even if he chose to die, he must not die hungry. “Aiheu provides.”
Glad to experience one last pleasure before he died, he ran to the kill, baring his teeth. The hyena, a female, backed back. He glared at her, the first hyena he’d ever seen close up. Something about her took him by surprise. Down one side of her face were horrible scars, and the eye was missing. He stared at the horrible wound, stunned by the thought that in this way she was just like him, only she was blind on one side. And somehow he noticed how she was staring at his eye. For several quiet moments, they stood there and looked at each other.
“I have young, my lord,” she said at last. “Have pity on poor Fabana. When you are gone, we must go on living.”
“Indeed,” he said. “There is enough for all. I am…” he hesitated to say it aloud. “I would rather not die hungry.”
“What happened to yours? Your old man do that?”
“Your eye. You lions think we are crude,” she said. “Not good enough for the Pride Lands. But we don’t drive off our sons into the cruelty of the unknown. We love them. Tell me, stranger, have you ever heard of a hyena jumping to his death?”
“No, I don’t think I have.” He quickly changed the topic. “You say you’re a mother. Where are your cubs? They must eat too. I won’t hurt them. I’m only a danger to myself these days.”
“I can tell.” She called softly behind her. “Shenzi. Banzai. Edward. It’s all right. Come on out.”
Three pups came out of the brush and stared at the lion. Taka had never seen young hyenas before. The small female looked as their mother must have once.
“My name is Taka,” he said quietly. “Don’t be afraid.” He lay his large bulk down like a huge sphinx. When he looked less threatening, the pups came over and cautiously sniffed of him. “So this one is Edward. What does it mean?”
“It is the name of a man. He saved me when I was a pup. My parents were killed in a brush fire. Feel along my neck.”
Taka carefully ran his large paw along her throat. He felt a gap where there was no fur.
“The collar,” she said. “I was tied to a tree with a rope. That’s something like a vine, but stronger.”
“Then he was cruel to you?”
“No, but his dog was. One day name calling was not enough, and the whelp did this to me.” She turned her scar to face Taka. “I killed him. That’s why the man drove me away. But I do not forget that he saved my life, so I named my first born Edward.”
“You have saved my life. I’m not sure I could work up the nerve a second time.” He looked at her pleadingly. “Please do not drive me away.”
“Your troubles aren’t not so bad,” she said. “Many lions come through this just fine. Someday you will find security and love.”
“But I already had, or I thought I did. You don’t know how I have suffered.”
“When you have eaten, tell me.”
Taka attacked the carcass with desperation, but after the first few bites took the edge off his hunger, his wisdom took over. He stopped while there were still some choice portions and insisted that Fabana finish it.
“My father, Ahadi-you’ve heard about him, haven’t you?”
“He’s the Lion King, Isn’t he?”
“That makes you the Prince then?” She gasped.
“No, Prince Consort.”
“Oh, that explains a lot.” She shook her head. “I didn’t think a prince would want to kill himself. I take it you don’t get along with your brother?”
“Actually I like my brother. He’s not very clever, but his heart is in the right place.”
She clucked her tongue. “Then that leaves one possibility. You have a girl. I bet she’s stiffed you for the Prince, hasn’t she?”
“No.” He had quickly denied it, but it didn’t seem that impossible. “This Isn’t just any lioness and it Isn’t just another girl problem.”
“That’s what they all say.”
“Yes, but there’s a curse behind this. Evil spirits. Makedde was treating me for this eye problem when his brother Rafiki tried to tell my future.”
“Rafiki!” She stopped eating. “Lord, honey, you just got to tell me all about this. Evil spirits you say? A curse?”
For well on an hour or more he poured out his heart to her, and as he did, he watched her nod her head gravely once in a while. It made him cry to tell it, but they were tears of healing, and he felt much better.
Out of lion manners, he waited to hear her story. But she would not talk of herself much. One thing she would say-Jalkort, the father of her cubs was dead, killed unjustly for the murder of the Princess Avina. “He ate after she had died, but of all the foolish things he’s done, he did not murder your Aunt. Someday I must face the King and plead his case.”
“Though he is already dead? What will you accomplish?”
“He was my husband.”
“You are a romantic,” Taka said, kissing her cheek. “If I was in trouble, I wouldn’t mind having you on my side. Perhaps I can arrange a meeting.”
Fabana felt compassion for Taka and taught him all of the pass phrases and signs that would let him pass safely through her lands. But most importantly, she gave him some advice that would change his path forever. “I know the mandrill of which you speak. He told my fortune too. He said that I would meet friends in unexpected places, but they would turn on me in my hour of need. You have not turned on me. My advice is to forget the prophesy—it is a piece of nonsense that has cost you dearly. Apologize to your lover. Kiss your mother. Make your father proud of you. And remember old Fabana. If you do become King someday, teach your children that we all have a heart and soul under our different hides.” She pulled her pups close to her. “Lift the ban for their sakes.”
Sarabi was in tears when Mufasa found her. He nuzzled her affectionately and turned to face her when she looked away. “Sassie, tell me about it.”
“It’s Taka. He’s gone.”
“What do you mean by gone?”
“Gone. He’s left the Pride Lands. He begged me to come with him, and I thought about it. Now I wish I had. He’s out there alone, Muffy! He’s kind and gentle, but he doesn’t know a thing about life in The Big World.”
It came as a complete surprise to Mufasa, though he believed her at once. “Did he say where he was going?”
“No. He just left.”
“Sassie, don’t cry. I know how much you love him. We all love him. Maybe when he cools off, he’ll come home.”
“Do you think so? Do you really think so?”
“Yes. But it may be a long while. He’s a proud lion.”
She looked down. “What will I do? I always thought it would be Taka and I—just the two of us and our cubs. What’s left for me? I will grow old alone and unloved like poor Barata.”
Mufasa felt a lump gathering in his throat. “Sassie, I’m going to tell you something, and it’s going to sound awful under the circumstances.” He looked her in the eyes. “I didn’t want to get in my brother’s way. But things have changed, and I have to say this or I’ll burst.”
“Is it what I think it is?”
“Probably.” He nuzzled her gently. “Oh gods, Sassie, I feel like such a wretch! Like the lowest thing that ever crawled out from under a stone. But I love you. I’ve always loved you. There were times I would have given anything if you loved me instead of Taka. But I don’t want to lose my brother or hurt him in any way. All my life I’ve felt like I was being torn in two directions. I can’t bear to lose both of you. Don’t hate me for being truthful.”
“I don’t.” She nuzzled him. “I’ve always known how you felt. You can’t hide a thing like that.”
“Maybe you don’t love me the way I love you. At least you like me, don’t you? I mean, I’ll make sure you always have what you need. I’ll take care of you. If you’ll be my mate, I’ll do anything for you—anything.”
“Even forgive Taka?”
“You make it sound so hard. He’s my brother. I want him to come home.”
“I need time to think about it,” Sarabi said.
Mufasa nodded. “Of course.”
Excusing herself, Sarabi rose and padded away slowly. She wandered through the tall grass of the savanna alone with her thoughts. Everything had been simple once. Love had been a cub once, but now it was a lioness. A lioness who chooses as she wills the lion to desire and the lion to pity.
Now she was acutely aware that her love for Taka was a beautiful sisterly love, but one that did not need or even want to be expressed in passion. On the other hand, Muffy stirred feelings in her that were new and a little frightening, but very wonderful. Ever since Rafiki had whispered his advice to her, Sarabi said nothing to Mufasa but observed him carefully. She was flattered, honored, and even a little sad to think how he yearned for her but said nothing. Now he was gentle and kind, and he came to her with honest longing. She could hardly resist. She hardly wanted to. She desired him as she had never needed Taka, and it filled her with shame. Shame that if anyone had worked to earn her love, it had been Taka. Shame that her love could not be earned. Shame to think how she would destroy him when he found out.
Pity for Taka filled her. She strained to tell the difference between pity and love. Was there really such a gulf, that her heart so quick to cry at his bumps and scrapes could not beat in time with his? Is it really so different to be with one lion or the other? Can she not learn to love when her wild heart is tamed with vows? Can she feel the heat his ardor and not be warmed?
She tried to think of Taka coming to her in the shadows, flush with the expectations of his wedding night. She heard his quiet voice with an edge of passion asking, “Are you ready, beloved? Are you ready?” She imagined herself looking into his eyes the way they looked the last time he saw her, deep and longing. “I am ready.” Her heart raced, but it was fear, not desire. “No, I’m not ready!” she said aloud. “I don’t want him! Not that way! Oh gods, he would know!” She collapsed in the grass, sobbing. “Aiheu help me, I love them both, but I don’t want to marry Taka-I’d almost rather die!” She opened her eyes, seeing the savanna through a blurred film of tears. She blinked as a shadow passed overhead. Looking up, she saw Ahadi’s majordomo gliding by.
She hunched over, praying he wouldn’t see her down here, crying like a hungry cub. With relief, she saw him heading away towards the river. She felt lucky; his sharp eyesight rarely missed anything on the ground.
She started to head back home, but paused, thinking. His sharp eyesight rarely missed anything, even Taka! He could find Taka! Galvanized into action, she burst from her hiding place and sprinted after him, trying to keep him in sight. “Zazu! Wait!” High above her, the hornbill sped toward the river, the wind whistling past his ears dulling any sounds that might have reached him. Gliding down to a smooth landing, he paced over to the river’s edge, eager to begin his noontime ritual. In a quiet spot in the shade of the reeds, he took in a deep breath, stretched his wings, and dipped one foot in the water. “Sheesh!” He pulled out his leg quickly. “Perfect.”
He backed up a few steps, took a flying leap, and after a few powerful strokes of his wings, folded and dropped like a stone into the cold water.
“Ooo-hoo-HOOO!” He splashed about until he got used to the frigid tide. It felt good in the oppressive heat. Singing, he splashed about, soaking himself from his primaries clear through to the down.
“Mai-sie, Mai-sie, Your eyes are driving me cra-zy, Pluck a dai-sy, Ask it if I am true.
“You’ll pull off the fragrant petals, And watch as each one settles, I love you so, and off we’ll go, To a paradise made for two.”
A goose with her goslings watched with harmless amusement. One of the goslings swam over and had to stare a little more closely.
“Who? What?” Zazu shook off his head and looked at the youth. “Oh, I’m just tidying up.”
“I thought you were in trouble.”
“Hardly.” Zazu laughed.
The small ball of feathers looked back unblinking.
“Was there something else?”
“Gee, that’s a big beak. What are you?”
“I’m a hornbill.”
“I like hornbills.”
“Thank you.” He smiled. “Best run along or you’ll get splashed. Hornbills do a lot of that.”
Pushing along the bottom with his feet and flapping his wings, Zazu made it back to the bank with a great deal of effort. He fanned his wings to shake off diamond droplets, and began to use his beak with surprising finesse to preen his feathers. The show was over, and the gosling went back to its mother to fish for prawns.
It was nearly time to gather the mid-day news for Ahadi. In return for his services, Zazu lived a safe life. He could pick the choicest fruits from the trees where predators made their stealthy living, for he was corban—off limits—to all who would enjoy a well-fed hornbill.
When he was nearly dry enough to take off, a lioness came out of the bush. “Zazu! Thank heavens you’re still here.”
“Sarabi! Good morning.”
“It’s NOT a good morning,” she said with distress. “When you make your rounds, tell me if you see Taka. He’s run off, and I’m worried about him.”
“Run off, you say? That whining little imp? I didn’t think he had the nerve.” He rubbed his eyes. “I wouldn’t worry about him. He’ll come back when he’s had a taste of the bush.”
“Zazu! I know you don’t like him, but you do like me, don’t you?”
“Of course I do. I value your friendship highly.”
“And you like Mufasa, don’t you?” She didn’t even wait for an answer. “Listen, it’s important for Muffy and I to know where he is. Besides, that would be some real news for the King. Akase is going crazy worrying about him.”
“I’ll get right on it.”
Zazu spread his wings and in a moment he was up beyond the tops of the trees, headed off to make his rounds.
The next morning, the green plain of the Pride Lands was covered by zebras, antelopes, elephants, giraffes, and many other peoples who pushed and shoved for the best position. Zazu, the King’s majordomo, strutted about nervously. He had never spoken before such a huge audience before. King Ahadi looked drained, though he kept up appearances. Queen Akase had a difficult time sitting still beside her husband. She stared into space.
Sarabi and Elanna were wards of the queen, and were invited to sit with the royal family. It was especially a comfort for Sarabi to be next to Akase and smell the familiar smell of her milk mother.
“Zazu,” Sarabi asked quietly, “Have you seen Taka?”
“I’m sorry. I’ve put out word all over, but I’m afraid he’s long gone.”
“Oh.” She bowed her head.
“Even Gopa the stork hasn’t seen him, and nothing escapes Gopa. But I can fly out past the boundary if you wish. After the ceremony of course.”
“It won’t be necessary.”
Akase motioned her over and nuzzled her affectionately. “You are such a comfort to me. You were his milk sister, and how many times as I nursed you I thought of you as my own little girl, as if I had carried you.”
“I felt it,” Sarabi said, resting her head on Akase’s shoulder. “Tell me the truth—should I have gone with Taka?”
Akase purred. “No, my child. It is sad enough to lose a son without losing a daughter. And I feel you will be my daughter before the day is out.”
Mufasa got the nod from his father, and started out toward the end of the spur to meet the crowd. But first he paused by Sarabi and smiled to see how gentle she looked leaning on Akase. “My last cubhood thought will be of you,” he said. “And the first thought as a lion will be of you. Sassie, would you rest your head on me some time?” She looked deep into his eyes and her chin trembled. “Muffy,” she purred, “My beloved.”
Mufasa walked to the end of the promontory. A brief, dim memory came back to him. “Old Makedde,” he thought. “Was I so small that he could hold me up?” He smiled, and looked over the crowd. It was good to be back where it had all started.
Zazu shouted, “Long live Prince Mufasa, son of King Ahadi!”
The crowd bowed and scraped. Zebras whinnied, elephants trumpeted, and antelopes stomped their hooves. It only stopped when Zazu spread his wings.
The King met his son at the tip of Pride Rock. “Let all within the sound of my voice know that my son is coming fast on the path of his forefathers. Look, he bears the sign.”
Akase took Ahadi’s place. “Look down o gods and bless my son who is now a lion.” She shuddered visibly. “And bless my son Taka, wherever he is. Hear a mother’s prayer and have mercy on him.”
A hush fell over the sward. The zebras looked at one another and the elephants shook their head. Akase stood on the tip of the Pride Rock with a certain dignity, but a deep sadness that bowed her head and stooped her shoulders. They waited for her to say something, anything. One of the zebra mares nuzzled her foal. The leopards bowed their heads and Bhetu the bat-eared fox howled mournfully. Ahadi came out and kissed his mate, leading her back to a sanctuary of private grief. Zazu dismissed the crowd with a quick blessing, and they stalked quietly away, aware that something very bad had happened.
Mufasa left the peak, and headed back to the cave where he had spent his cubhood. “So I am a lion now.”
“You are my lion now,” Sarabi answered. She came from the deep shadows to meet him. He gathered his nerve and put his paw paw on her left shoulder. She answered with a deep purr. It could only mean one thing.
Mufasa said “Before the gods, before the stars, before the assembled host I swear to give you my protection, my life, and my comfort forever.”
She trembled and nuzzled him affectionately. “Till the last beat of my heart, to the last breath I sigh, our lives are one, so help me gods.”
“Bless you, Sassie. I’ll love you forever.”
“Let us go someplace alone,” Sarabi whispered.
“Right now?” Mufasa whispered back. “Are you sure you want this?”
“Yes.” She kissed him. “Once Taka needed me, but now he needs something I can’t give him. I hope he finds it.” She nuzzled him and added, “Let me be selfish, Muffy. Let me think of myself for once. Give me what I need. Love me. Let me feel your breath on my cheek.”
“Sassie,” he whispered passionately. “To love you for a moment and then die, I would have no regrets.”
Mufasa nodded at his parents and Ahadi winked back. “Have fun, kids. There’s a nice walk to the mirror pool in the cleft of the rock. You could watch the fish swim.”
When Mufasa led his timid new wife out of the cave, Ahadi whispered to Akase, “Thank the Gods. Sarabi is a good lioness, and she has made the right decision. Taka is a good boy, and clever, but he is so immature. Besides, it’s just like Rafiki says—Muffy really loves her.”
“Did he tell you that too? He’s a meddlesome old ape, but he has a heart from the gods.” She shook her head. “I hate to agree with you, husband, but you are right about Taka.” She sighed. “Do you ever think we’ll see him again?
“Probably not while we’re alive, old girl. He’s proud, that one. Proud and stubborn.”
“Then go after him,” Akase said.
“Go after him? Where? This is no antelope hunt. His tracks cover every square paw of the Pride Lands. I’m not a god, you know.”
“You don’t have to tell me that,” she said in a feeble attempt at humor. “But if you don’t look for him, I will.”
“Akase! You must be careful! I can’t have you leaving the Pride Lands. I’ve already lost a son-must I lose his mother as well?”
“Then come with me.”
“I’m not sure it will do any good. But we owe him that much at least.”
Just then, Zazu came excitedly into the cave. “Good news, everyone! You’ll never guess!” He bowed deeply. “Your Majesties, Taka is coming back! I’ve spotted him in the brush and he’s headed this way!”
“That is good news for us,” Ahadi said. “I only hope it will be good news for him.”
Taka was devastated by his loss. It was too much for him to accept completely, and he constantly watched for opportunities to get Sarabi alone. Such chances were few, for Muffy fawned on her day and night, smitten with a love both deep and selfless. And Sarabi was not the passive subject of his advances. She nuzzled her mate for no obvious reason, played games of hide and go seek with passion at stake, and would lie against him with her head buried in the softness of his mane. When the lionesses would talk as they gathered for the hunt, her every other word was Muffy this and Muffy that. Their attraction was healthy and strong, and those who knew her said she would have the light in her eyes soon enough.
Once Sarabi enjoyed Taka’s company. Now she tried to avoid him. He had met her at the watering hole and begged her to come away with him. Once he’d waited for her to come back from the kill and put his paw on her left shoulder in front of the other lionesses. She was terrified that Muffy would overhear some of his remarks and try to satisfy the demands of honor. Taka misunderstood her warnings as concern for “their relationship,” and began to block out the evidence of her strong attraction to Muffy. To him, she was trapped in a marriage she did not want, trying to protect her true love from the wrath of a jealous husband or outraged gods.
Sarabi tried to disenchant him from that fantasy. He only believed more strongly than ever in her love. A brave, fragile thing of beauty that would try to turn his affections to another rather than have him killed by his own brother. At first it was easy for Taka to cling to this story and make his rejection bearable. In a way, it made her more beautiful and desirable to him, and he suffered greatly over it.
Then one day her love for Muffy took tangible form inside her. She came to him that morning, nuzzled him, and called him “father,” and with tears of joy he kissed her and called her “mother.” Ahadi and Akase were the next to know, but then she went to tell Taka she was with child. This was more of a duty she had to perform, and she took no joy in it.
He stared silently at the ground for a moment, then looked at her. “So you are with his child. Where has the time gone.”
“I hope you are glad for me.”
“I could be glad for us.” He reached out with his left paw and touched her shoulder.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that.” She backed up. “Muffy would use you for a throw rug. Besides, I’m expecting. Doesn’t that mean anything to you? Taka, it’s over between us. Can’t you see that?”
“Because your child is forming inside you? Sassie, it could be our child. I love you so much, and I would love your cubs so much. I can’t just give up on you. No one has ever loved you the way I do. I cannot blame Muffy for wanting you. I couldn’t blame any lion for wanting you. But you loved me back. I waited for you, I prayed for you, I was prepared to turn my back on family and friends for you, even the gods themselves.”
She was shocked. “Don’t you fear the gods?”
“The gods?” Taka uttered a short, mocking laugh. “If there are any gods, they hate me. They have let this curse eat away at me and done nothing to stop it.” His eyes bored into hers. “You are my god now. You and the child inside you. I would worship you. I would bring you sacrifices. Sassie, look at me!”
“Stop it! I’m not going anywhere with you. I love you like a brother-a spoiled little brother that has his good moments. I thought I could also learn to love your breath on my cheek, but it will not happen. Muffy is the first thing I think of when I wake up and the last thing I think of as I fall asleep. When he touches me, I tremble. You never made me feel that way.”
His jaw clenched. “I don’t want to hear this.”
“You NEED to hear this! He and I are in love. I pitied you, and wanted to make you happy. But you are aggravating, dependent, selfish, and obnoxious, and those are some of your LESS irritating qualities. If I’d married you, that would not have changed. But thank the gods I narrowly escaped making the biggest mistake of my life.”
Taka took in a short gasp. The dream was shattered forever. He gaped at her, unable to speak for several seconds. “Well then,” he said bitterly, “it seems I ran away at a very convenient time. I hope you two will be happy together.” He started away.
“Wait, Taka! I don’t know what made me say those awful things.”
“What awful things, Sarabi?” He gave her a withering glance. “I’m the one that loves you, you said. Taka, when you grow up, I want to marry you, you said. And that little crack about how I wouldn’t survive the wedding night. Well I almost didn’t.” She backed away a step as he stalked towards her. “While his breath perfumed your dainty little cheek as you so delicately put it, I was planning my own death.”
She put a paw to her mouth, horrified.
“You didn’t know why I ran away, did you Sassie. I ran away to blot you out forever. I thought you were worth a little plunge off a cliff. Now at least I know why I didn’t.” He nodded to himself. “Some higher power spared me so I could learn you weren’t worth it.”
She cuffed him across the face. “Get out!”
He turned and walked off. Taka often went out alone, and no one in the pride knew where. He took a haunch from a zebra and headed off toward the elephant graveyard.
Fabana the hyena was waiting for him. She had a sense about these things.
“Fay, it’s good to see you again.”
“What is it this time, Scar?”
“She has the light in her eyes. His child.” He didn’t have to fill in more details, for she heard from him regularly.
The pups were older, and they recognized him. “What’cha got today, Uncle Scar?”
“Zebra. Do you like that, Banzai?”
“It’s my favorite!”
“Food is his favorite diet,” Fabana said, as the pups began to tug over favorite scraps. “There is good in you, Scar. You are a true son of Roh’kash.”
She looked surprised. “Didn’t your mother teach you about the Creator?”
“Oh, you mean Aiheu.”
She smiled indulgently. “Perhaps.”
“Tell me, Fay. Why do the gods let a foolish curse uttered by a shaman slowly eat away everything I cared for? I mean, doesn’t Aiheu-or Roh’kash-whatever-have power over an evil spirit? I find my one path to possible fame and glory blocked by a little furball-and just you wait, it will be male, for it seems the gods have turned their back on me.”
“Don’t say that in front of my pups,” she said. “It is wicked to speak ill of the gods, even if you are a heathen.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. It just feels that way sometimes.”
“Perhaps you should pray about it. I think God hears all prayers, no matter the name.”
“And you think I haven’t? For about two moons, I was practically a shaman.” He raised an eyebrow. “Tell me, Fay. This Roh’kash of yours. Does he tell us to forgive our enemies, or does he give us power to conquer them?”
“What a foolish question! God is just. He will smite those who harm his children. You are made in his image, therefore if you would be just, you must destroy injustice.”
He smiled. “So that is it.” He pondered the enormity of that statement. “Poor fool that I am. All this time God has stood ready to help me, but I have turned away his gifts one by one! You must teach me more about Roh’kash—he could really be a friend of mine. And in the meanwhile I must stop reacting and start acting. Get me an audience with your leaders, my dear. If God is on our side, who will dare oppose us?”
For a while, Taka stopped his self-pitying behavior. Ironically, it was not a welcome change, for Taka’s helplessness was his one endearing quality to most of the lionesses. With his secret new faith, he needed no pity, nor did he inspire it. He swaggered about aggressively, the most devout believer in his own great destiny.
Mufasa carried himself with a certain dignity. He never begged nor pleaded, yet he got everything he wanted. Perhaps that is what Sarabi liked in him. Perhaps she liked a firm paw and a touch of mischief.
Taka went to the cistern in Pride Rock where the rain would collect in pools. He sought to satisfy at least one of his thirsts before the day was over. The small fish seemed to taunt him, swimming about slowly as he looked down into the crystal recesses of the stone. His steady lapping set up rings that spread across the surface, breaking up his reflection. Still, he could see another tawny feature coming up beside him. Even before he looked up, he knew his timing was excellent.
“The water is fresh as a spring rain, Sarabi.”
“Taka, it’s you.”
He looked up and smiled warmly. “Aren’t you looking beautiful today.”
“Well, uh, thank you.”
He looked back down and resumed drinking. She joined him in a moment when it was obvious he was not about to leave. From time to time he looked over at her, then he finally stopped drinking and wiped his muzzle with a large paw. “I was just thinking about the old times. You were always so protective of me. It used to make Muffy so angry when you’d fawn over me. I didn’t know how fond he was of you. If I had, I wouldn’t have taken you for granted. I would have been better to you.”
“Well that’s in the past now.”
“Is it?” He smiled disarmingly. “I still make you feel uncomfortable. I miss having you look in my eyes without feeling like something bad is going to happen. You have beautiful eyes. God, how I miss them.” He cast his glance away. “Now we almost never talk, and you’d always rather be someplace else doing anything else. Sassie, I miss you. You are my milk sister. I’d just want to know that you still like me.”
“Of course I still like you. If you’d behave yourself, I wouldn’t be afraid to show it.”
“Afraid??” Taka caught himself, laughed self-consciously, and said, “Why my dear Sassie, there is not a lion worthy of the name that could look at you and not feel his heart race a little. That’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s just that your eyes are fresh flowers wet with morning dew. When I see them, they make me happy. I love the way you look, the way you smell, the way you move. Who doesn’t?”
“You’re very sweet, Taka,” she said guardedly. “But there are other lionesses in this Pride that are equally pretty. You should meet one. You should get to know her well. I want you to be happy the way Muffy and I are happy. I really do.”
“There are other lionesses,” Taka said softly. “Someone may think they are as pretty as you, but Sassie, not one of them has ever cried when I was hurt. Not one of them ever showed me kindness. Not one of them came to me in my dreams. It was only you, always you. Muffy has been a good brother and you have been a good friend. But gods, every time he makes love to you, I want to die. I just want to die!” He bit his lip so hard that a small drop of blood stained his fur.
“Taka!” she said firmly. “Get a grip on yourself! When you find yourself a lioness, we can be friends. Friends, Taka, the way we were as cubs. When you act like this, you frighten me. I don’t trust you. If you want a lioness to love you, you have to love her and make her feel special. Find someone that needs to feel special, and fill that need.”
“You just don’t get it, do you?” Taka stalked away. “I can’t get you out of my head. Sassie, you’re killing me from the inside.”
He settled into the shadow of a kopje to find respite from the sun, and he started to stretch out for a nap. Then another lion passed by. It was Ahadi.
“Walk with me, son.”
Ahadi headed slowly, silently up the winding trail that led to the promontory on Pride Rock. Instead of going into the cave, he headed up the finger of stone and at its peak sat in regal silence. Taka reached him shortly and sat next to his father.
“Lay your head on my mane,” Ahadi purred.
Reluctantly, Taka did so. “Why did you want to see me?”
“I’m your father. Do I need a reason?”
Apparently he did not, for they sat together for a long while as the faint breeze stirred their manes together. A few soft clouds sailed by on an azure sea, and borne up on silent wings, a fish eagle lofted by majestically, undisputed lord of the air. For a few moments, two kings in their own right saw each other; the eagle dipped his wing, and Ahadi waved his paw. Taka began to relax as his tensions slowly ebbed away on the wind. He could hear his father’s steady pulse under the deep mantle of soft fur, and feel his sleek ribs rise and fall with the tides of his breath. It was a safe and comfortable feeling that stirred sleeping memories from the shadows of his mind.
“Once I said that you could tell me anything when you were good and ready.” Ahadi nuzzled Taka gently. “I have grown weary of waiting, son. You are troubled, trapped by your own feelings. You need to confide in me.”
“I’m fine. Really I am.”
“It must be terrible to suffer as you have suffered for Sarabi.”
“But father, I’m not suffering for Sarabi.”
“You’re not?” Ahadi sighed. “Muffy used to twitch his tail when he lied. You always wrinkle your nose. A father knows these things. Now I ask you, do I sound angry?”
“But I do sound worried, don’t I?”
“I am very worried. Your mother and I want you to be happy. We also want Muffy to be happy. It’s getting harder to wish you both what you want, when all you want is what Muffy has.” Ahadi took his large paw and gave Taka a pat. “He loves you, son. He’s your brother. I’m happy for him, and I want you to be happy for him. And what’s more, I want him to be happy for you. Do you know what I’m trying to say?”
“I think so.”
“Son, I love you. You were always so wise and sensitive. Whomever you marry will be fortunate. She will treasure every moment with you, my son. You think about romance and dream about it, but these are only shadows. Step into the light. Sarabi has talked with your mother and I, and we know all about what you’ve been up to.”
Taka stiffened. “Oh my gods.”
“Don’t worry. She hasn’t breathed a word to Muffy and neither shall we. She didn’t want to hurt you. In fact, she’s very sad about the whole situation, and she feels guilty about disappointing you. Akase and I are both convinced you should find yourself another lioness as quickly as possible.”
“But I don’t want another lioness. She’s all I ever wanted. She was my kingdom. Muffy had one, but he had to take mine too.” He began to cry. “She loved me, Dad. She said so.”
Ahadi sighed and touched his cheek with his tongue. “It will be easier on you at your age if you have an outlet for all these strong, new feelings. I understand how you want Sarabi, but son, you cannot have her. Grieve for your loss—go have a good cry over it, then go on with your life. Elanna has had her eye on you for quite a while. If you would just open your eyes, you’d know that. And you might want to talk with Rafiki and see what the spirits have to say—and don’t tell me how he has it in for you, I don’t want to hear it.” He turned to face Taka eye to eye. “I’m going to give you three moons-a whole season. You have that long to become serious with someone else.”
“If you don’t, I’ll have to do something to protect Muffy and Sassie from constant harassment. You’ll get a commoner’s mantlement and I’ll send you off into The Big World.”
“I mean it, too. It would hurt your mother and I, but we have others to think of besides ourselves. Muffy is a good lion, and he will be your King someday. He has a right to expect loyalty from his own brother. If you can’t give it, you must go out in The Big World, where you’ll either be responsible or be carrion. Taka, you’re not a cub anymore.”
A week had passed. For Taka it was an awkward time, frought with frustration and embarrasment. He began to talk to different lionesses, but he found discouragement at every corner. Oddly enough, he avoided Elanna, despite what his father had said. Elanna was Sarabi’s sister, and those sisters shared everything.
He felt uncomfortable around his parents because of what he thought they had been discussing behind his back. But while his mother acted perfectly normal, his father had acted really strange, not just with him but with everyone. Taka began to wonder if Ahadi had other problems. Indeed, some of the lionesses came to him wanting to know what was wrong with the King.
Ahadi was cranky and prone to disagreement. Akase made excuses for him, saying he was just “under the weather.” She urged him to see Rafiki, but he just dismissed her concerns as a lot of “foolish nonsense,” and asked her to be a “good little thing.”
Taka was too preoccupied to really notice his father’s health. He had padded quietly into the small grassy patch by the southern face of Pride Rock when he saw Muffy lying on his back next to Sarabi. They had not spotted him, so he froze and listened.
“Little cub, are you in there?” Mufasa asked, running his paw gently down Sarabi’s abdomen. Her leg started kicking and she giggled.
“Cut that out, you wicked lion!”
“I’m your husband. I can touch you anywhere I want.”
“Well I’m your wife, you know. It works both ways.” She cuffed him lightly in the ribs.
“Ow! That hurt!”
“I’ll make it feel better.” She kissed him and began to fondle his mane with her paw. “What did I ever do to deserve such happiness?”
Taka’s heart came into his mouth. He ran from the meadow, plunging through the shrubs and breasting the tall savanna grass. The evil sun of midday scorched him with fire. Everything was ugly. All that was real was his hate. Hate for the creature that his brother had evolved into. Hate for Sarabi. Hate for life itself.
In his flight, he flushed out a rabbit. With a couple of strides, he closed the distance, and he sprang on the hapless creature, pinning it to the ground with his large paws.
In ice cold terror, the rabbit stared up into the red eyes of rage. “Oh gods,” it murmered. “Oh gods. Please let me go! Please!”
“He thinks he’s so cute, touching her there.” His eyes narrowed. “I’ll kill him. So help me God, I’ll kill him!”
The rabbit trembled violently in the suffocating embrace of Taka’s paws. “I’m not much of a meal. Oh gods, I’m going to die! Oh gods, oh gods! Please don’t hurt me!”
“Do you know what I do to scum like that? Dirty sneaking filth that steals what is rightfully mine?” Taka moved his face to within an inch of the rabbit. His breath, pregnant with lion scent, colored his every word. “I wait for the right moment, then I rip them like a gazelle.”
Taka closed in. The rabbit barely had time to shriek before it was stove clear through by lion fangs. Taka raised his head, tossed the blood-drenched trophy up and let it fall lifeless into the grass. “Like a gazelle! I’ll rip him open, so help me!”
Meanwhile, things were quickly going from bad to worse with the King. The next morning, Akase found Ahadi feverish.
“Get them out of here!” he said. “Get them out of here!”
“Get what out of here?”
“Just get them out of here!” He staggered back against the wall of the cave and with his back covered, looked around in a panic. “Akase! Stand by me, quickly! I’ll protect you!”
Akase took her paw and patted his face. “Ahadi, darling! It’s all right! You’re safe.”
“Safe?” he said, his eyes not focusing well. “Where’s Akase? I have to drive hyenas off the Pride Lands.” Beads of sweat had matted his splendid mane. “I’m so tired. Hyenas-they always seem to know when I’m tired. Let down your guard for one minute…”
“Please lie down. The hyenas are gone. Mufasa chased them out.”
“Mufasa? He’s such a good boy. Where is he?”
Akase ran to the entrance of the cave. “Zazu! For God’s sake, come quickly!”
Zazu fluttered in. “What’s wrong, your majesty?”
Ahadi looked up. “We must rest here for a moment. Got to get out of the sun-I’m so hot. Taka, you go on without me.” Ahadi turned to face Zazu, but looked right through him. “What do they think they’re doing? Isha, your cubs are muddying the water hole again!”
“Oh my Lord,” Zazu whispered. “I’ll fetch Rafiki.”
Zazu headed out right away, as fast as his wings would carry him. She lay next to Ahadi’s burning skin and kissed his cheek. “I love you, darling. Help is on the way. Can you hear me, Ahadi? Do you know who I am?”
Ahadi began to pant quickly and shallowly, but he moved his large paw on top of Akase’s. “I think I’ll take a nap, old girl. Will you stay by me?”
“Always, honey! Always!” She added in a whisper, “Gods, make them hurry. I feel so helpless. Help us.”
It seemed to take an eternity for Rafiki to reach the cave, though the did the best he could. Rafiki arrived out of breath with a small pouch of powdered Chi’pim and his staff.
Rafiki took some water from the cistern, mixed the leaves in it, and gave Ahadi the broth to bring down his fever and bring him to himself. After Ahadi drank it, he checked his eyes, even pulling up a little on his eyelids. He stuck his thumb in the corner of his mouth and felt around. Then he listened to his chest. His face was grave.
He took Akase to the back of the cave. “Has he had trouble sleeping lately?”
“And the muscle stiffness?”
“He told you about that?”
“No. I’m afraid not. It’s a symptom of Koh’suul.” He whispered, “When he comes to himself, take him across the savanna to the edge of the forest.”
“The most appropriate place. The fever will subside, and he’ll have a couple of hours of clear thinking. But my dear, you must hurry. He will not live to see the moon tonight.”
“Oh gods, no!”
“You’re a shaman,” she whispered, but every bit as urgent as a scream. “Can’t you do something? Anything? I can’t let death take him from me! I just can’t!”
He looked in her eyes, pulling down the lid gently with his thumb. “Don’t worry, in his own way Aiheu has shown you mercy.” He silently traced a circle around her right eye with his fingertips and touched her under the chin. He wanted her to know she would soon look on the face of God and call Him by name. “Two, maybe three days alone. Use that time to prepare yourself.”
“Oh.” She nodded, and warm tears trickled down her cheeks. “I understand. Aiheu is merciful. But if I could have only seen my grandchild first. You must send my love to the child.”
He wiped away her tears. “Say good bye to no one, not if you really love them. You must not drink from the common watering hole or the stream till you have crossed the meadow. You must not stop to relieve yourself until you have found the place. I will have to purge this cave before it is safe.” He kissed her. “Is there anything you want me to tell Mufasa?”
“No, just say good bye for me.” She sighed. “Poor Taka, I would not live long enough to say what is in my heart. Promise me you will try and look after him. He is so dependent. Promise me you’ll look after him.”
“I promise I will do what I can.”
“Whispering about me behind my back, old girl?” It was Ahadi, much improved.
“I was just telling Rafiki about the surprise. You haven’t felt well, and now that the medicine is helping you, you can take a little trip with me to see something special.”
“Yes, I am much improved. I won’t have to be dragged out, and that is a pleasant surprise. Don’t think I didn’t know my time was up. Death has been stalking me—now it rushes in for the kill.” He regarded her gently. “He gave you the marks of Aiheu. I take it old girl that we are in this together?”
“As always.” She nuzzled him gently.
Ahadi said, “Rafiki, you must tell my son Taka that I made a mistake.”
“Once I killed a badger. It was not male as I had said. She had pups.” He sighed. “She attacked my son to only protect her own children. I was trying to prove that I loved Taka, and I broke one of my own laws. I cannot face Aiheu with this secret on my conscience.”
“I’ll tell him.” A tear rolled down Rafiki’s face. “I’m sure you die forgiven. I touch your mane.”
“I feel it. And friend, tell him to keep looking. He’ll know what that means.”
“I will.” Rafiki took a small flint knife from his pouch. He approached Ahadi and took a few strands of his mane, cutting off a short lock, kissing it, and putting it in his pouch. Then he placed the marks of Aiheu on Ahadi. “It is time.”
Ahadi and Akase left the cave for the last time and climbed down the side of Pride Rock. Without a word they took the most direct route away from the comfort of their dwelling and forded into the silent grass.
With a heavy heart, Rafiki gathered dead grass from the savanna and made a pile of it in the middle of the cave. He put ferns on top of it and a sprinkling of powdered Alba. Then he took a clay pot, and emptied from it a few glowing coals on the tinder.
The coals satisfied their great hunger, raising a cloud of smoke that quickly filled the cave with its bitter incense. The smoke sought the heavens, but it found the ceiling of the cave and spread out gray fingers to feel for an opening. At last it found the door, and began to rise free into the sapphire sky.
“Fire! Fire!” It was Taka. He rushed into the cave, coughing and wheezing at the smoke. “Is anyone in here?”
“You must leave,” Rafiki said.
“You foolish ape! What do you think you are doing?? Have you lost your mind?? When Mom and Dad see this, they will cuff you senseless!”
“They will never see this,” Rafiki said. “It was the Koh’suul. Flee. You are in great danger here.”
“Koh’suul?” Taka’s eyes widened. “But that’s fatal. You mean Dad is dying? Does Mom know?”
“Akase has gone with him.”
“Hffff!” He stiffened up. “She was well. I saw her this morning. She was well! What do you mean she has gone with him? Without telling me?? She’ll catch it too! Where is she??”
“You cannot see her. It would be death to you. I’m sorry, but she had it when I got here. Death had already placed his mark on her.”
“But I must see her!” He pounced on Rafiki and held him to the floor of the cave with his paws. “Tell me where she is or I’ll crush the life out of you!”
“Your mother made me promise to care for you. If you must kill me, you must. “
Taka looked confused, sad, and finally released Rafiki. He turned and sat facing the wall. “Sassie doesn’t love me. My brother doesn’t love me. The gods don’t love me. All I had left was here. Now I’m alone. They are killing me one small piece at a time. This time they killed my heart.” He trembled. “I walk, I speak, yet I am dead inside. Dead.”
“There must be something I can do,” Rafiki said, getting up.
“Haven’t you done enough?”
“That’s not fair, Taka. When I was young, my mother died of Beh’to. Before the end, she was banging her head on a tree, trying to force the headache out. I watched her die in the most dire agony. That’s when I knew I must be a shaman. I would never have to feel so helpless again.”
“Then why not help them?”
“As my knowledge grew, every answer raised new questions. I cannot heal every wound. So more important than my herbs and spells is knowing something to say to comfort the Ka when these bodies of Ma’at crumble.”
“Then say something comforting to me.”
He stroked Taka’s mane. “I think about the prophesy. I think about it a lot. Oh, I knew where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do in a year, in five years, in ten. Now I am committed to fight this thing. All my hopes and dreams have been turned upside down. In this way we are alike, my friend. Our childhood dreams are over. The morning has come and we awake to face reality in the light of the sun. Let us find something real in the sunlight, something that pleases us, and hold on to it. All else is vanity.”
“You are a foolish ape,” Taka said. “But even a fool may say the right thing at times.”
With that, Taka stalked quietly away to some secret place to be alone. His absences had become more and more frequent as his life fell apart. The loss of his father was a terrible blow, but after the death of Akase he was never the same again. Mother she was, friend, and ally. It would be fair to say she was his conscience, his goodness, his faith in the gods. All of these things and more.
Hours passed with no sign of him. Mufasa and Sarabi in the midst of their deep grief gave him some thought and tried to find his private world of brooding depression and nuzzle him. They could not find him, but Yolanda would later say that a one eyed hyena and her brood was sitting next to him near the elephant graveyard as he wept like a baby. No one believed her story-it was too improbable. She must have seen poor Ahadi. Even though Yolanda said it was a dark maned lion she saw.
Later that evening as Mufasa was asking Rafiki’s help in finding Taka, Zazu came flying back.
“News? Have you found my brother?”
Zazu said, “Your father…” His head bowed and he sighed deeply. “Have courage, Your Majesty.”
Rafiki came and put his arms around Muffy and whispered, “It’s time.”
Mufasa climbed slowly up the precipice of Pride Rock and when he reached the tip, paused for a moment. Then he lifted up his head and roared. It was a sad and terrible roar that rent the evening sky, and the lionesses joined in. The King was dead. Long live the King.
In the silence after the unearthly shout, Mufasa could hear his father’s voice speaking to him from the past. “It is always wonderful to be needed, especially when you always do your best to meet those needs. Someday you will know that feeling when I am gone.” Muffy sighed. “It doesn’t feel very wonderful, Dad. I wish you were here right now. There’s so much I want to tell you.”
Sarabi drew up alongside and sat by him, resting her head against his mane. “Let it out, Muffy. Quit trying to hold it in.”
Mufasa’s chin trembled. He tried to hold his composure, but tears welled up in his eyes. “They’re gone, Sassie. They’re gone!” He leaned against her and sobbed.
“Then Herod told them ‘Go to Bethlehem and search for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I may go and worship him as well.’”
— MATTHEW 2, VERSES 7-8
As weeks passed, Sarabi began to show evidence of the life inside her. The other lionesses would coddle her and hang on her, suggesting male and female names. Among the most favored choices was “Shanni” for a female and “Simba” for a male. Simba was Ajenti’s idea, and it was an instant favorite. Never once did Taka wonder if it would be a male. He felt it was his destiny to fight an uphill battle until he gasped out his last breath. It would be male just to spite him.
Seeing the “light in her eyes” made him ill. It was the mark of Muffy’s passion-his brother’s final insult. He would look away when she passed to avoid seeing her in that condition. Once he sought to drown his sorrows in a night of loveless passion, but he was soundly rejected, even when he offered to take the vow. Once he was caught staring at Isha who was known to sun herself on the rocks in the most liquid poses of feminine beauty. His jaw trembled and his tail lashed from side to side as he dared to make love to her with his eyes. Yolanda, who was suspicious of Taka anyhow, caught him and threatened to go tell Isha. “She would break your lustful little carcass into tiny pieces.”
“She will understand. You’ve been jealous since we broke up.”
“Night before last when you excused yourself from the hunt.”
“I was sick!”
“You were love sick. Oh baby, the things you did weren’t in the talk my father gave me. Which one did you like best—naughty bunnies or the wildebeest’s revenge?”
Her eyes grew wide. “You dirty little liar!”
“No worse than a dirty little snitch. Just try me and see if I won’t.”
The Isha incident was never referred to again. Indeed, Taka was wont to behave himself in public. And with Sarabi’s child coming closer to the sunlight every day, he stepped up his nocturnal dealings with the hyenas and took a whole new interest in the royal family.
Everyone experienced mixed joy and sadness when the big day came. The male cub was named Simba and his small sister was named Shanni. Shanni was weak and tiny, and she never even tasted her mother’s milk before she went to join the gods. Simba was strong and handsome, and he had enough strength for two cubs. His large paws and well formed features were admired by the relatives and close friends that caught first sight of him.
Taka came in his turn to look at the child. “He looks so much like his father,” he said. Something Mufasa mistakenly took as a compliment. “You will live an interesting life.”
Though he had no doubt all along the cub would be male and an heir to the throne, seeing Simba with his own eyes was the final cement on his resolve. The cub was innocent, unaware of the resentment in his Uncle’s heart. And he was expendable.
Oddly enough, it was on this day that Taka first noticed how much Elanna was like her sister Sarabi. Only Elanna did not avoid him. In fact, she would speak to him without even being spoken to. She came to him smiling and asked, “Isn’t he a dream? I just know you’re going to spoil your little nephew.”
“Of course.” He looked in her eyes and half smiled. “But it’s a shame he didn’t have his mother’s eyes. Shaka’s daughters all had beautiful eyes.”
She smiled shyly. “Well Ahadi’s sons aren’t so bad looking either.”
“Hmph!” He straightened a little and began to groom his mane. When she left, he watched her till she disappeared in the tall grass.
Ahadi’s name brought back a stinging pain that finally overtook his good mood. And a little shame began to creep into the darkness of his heart as the wondered what Ahadi and Akase would think of his plans. Simba was the grandson they did not live to see. No doubt they would have loved him. For a moment, but only for a moment, he reflected on the small cub gilded with the glory of sunrise who wanted to divide the kingdom with his brother. “No, Muffy,” Taka said under his breath. “Dad was right. There can only be one King in this land.” The mood brought mist to his eyes. “Father, if only you had chosen me. Damn Rafiki! Damn the nurse that gave him milk! Someday I will kill him, but not all at once. I’ll destroy him a little bit at a time the way he destroyed me.”
The words of hate hardened his heart. He drew away to the lair of the hyenas to bring news of Simba’s birth and to plan his death.
“Mufasa’s death was a terrible tragedy; but to lose Simba who had barely begun to live… For me, it is a deep, personal loss. And so it is with a heavy heart that I assume the throne. Yet, out of the ashes of this tragedy, we shall rise to greet the dawning of a new era in which lion and hyena come together, in a great and glorious future.”
— TAKA’s ELEGY
Over the next three months, Simba grew from a small mite that slept most of the day to a joyful, exuberant toddler. He had his moments that could try the patience of a tree, but his heart was good, and his charm didn’t invite love-it practically demanded it. Nala also fell under his spell, following him everywhere like a puppy.
Then suddenly, as a tree is struck by lightning, Scar came wild-eyed with horrible news of a stampede in the gorge. Simba was in trouble.
Trouble indeed! Taka nearly wretched as he described the small battered body that lay in the dust. Those eyes so full of innocence and love for all Aiheu’s creation staring lifeless at the sky with the final look of horror fixed in them forever! Taka spoke all the earmarks of genuine grief-no one suspected him of harboring ill will toward the golden child of his brother. Often Simba was seen sleeping under the protection of his Uncle’s watchful gaze. It was at those moments that even the most skeptical lionesses looked at Taka with some tolerance.
Nala huddled by Sarafina, sobbing. Sarabi tried to think one minute ahead, even one second, but she could see no future, even her next meal. She contemplated curling up and sleeping, never to wake up again. Yet things were not so simple in real life as they are in wishful thinking.
Rafiki came running up Pride Rock. He saw the hyenas and did not know what to make of it. Going into the cave, he says, “Mufasa, I heard the cry. Who is dead? Old Maloki?”
“No. Not old Maloki.”
“Taka?” Rafiki looks around. “Where is your brother?”
“My brother is dead. So is Simba. There was a stampede in the gorge.”
“Oh my gods!” The shock made him weak in the knees. “Aiheu, I have lived one day too long!” The old mandrill could barely stumble out of the cave. He saw Sarabi, her head hung low and her ears fallen flat. “Sassie, is it true? Tell me it Isn’t true!”
She turned to look at him, her jaw trembling. “Rafiki, how good of you to come.”
He fell to his knees, put his arms around her neck and wept on her shoulder. “My precious little girl. Oh, my heart breaks-it breaks, yet I do not die!”
Sarabi turned and touched his cheek with her tongue. “You are an ape, and yet you are also a lion. You must say prayers for me, old friend. My heart lies in the gorge, yet the sun goes on rising and setting. I wish I had been there to greet Aiheu with them.”
“You are needed here, so you remain. I do not understand, I only acknowledge.”
“Pray for me.”
“Indeed I will, Sassie.” He kissed her. “Morning and evening, and night.” He placed his hand on her brow. “Oh gods, let your hearts be moved. Take pity on her in her time of loss. Open your arms of love and feed her with the blood of mercy…”
“Rafiki,” said a hyena. “The King wants a word with you-right now.”
The mandrill looked up in shock. He tried to pull himself together. “Did you say the King?” He took up his staff and tried to stand as straight as he could, but it was a little harder just then. He was escorted into what was now Scar’s cave and faced Taka and his guards.
“It is a sad duty I ask you to perform,” Taka said. “You once said my road would be long and hard. Now I am King, but I cannot enjoy it. It is an obligation I must fulfill, and I seek divine guidance to carry out the job wisely and well. Give me your blessing.”
Rafiki stood closer to Taka. He did not know, of course, that his brother’s blood was on his paws. But when he looked into Taka’s eyes, he saw no sadness. He saw only the glint of triumph there, and it made him feel ill. “This blessing I bestow. May the gods in the heavens give you what you richly deserve. May you find as much inner peace as you are entitled to. May you receive mercy in the measure you bestow it, no less and no more.”
“I’ll choose to take that as a compliment,” Taka said, patting Rafiki’s cheek gently, then giving him a blow that sent him into the wall. “You twisted little ape. It was your words that brought us to this. I hate you. Your painted face sickens me.” Taka nodded, and the two hyena guards stood on either side of Rafiki. “You are corban. For the rest of your life you will remain within two hundred strides of your tree except with an escort of hyenas to take you to the watering hole, and only when I am not there. For the next time we meet, you will surely die. Krull, take charge.”
Taka shoved the staff back at Rafiki. Then the mandrill took his staff and picked himself up. As he left Pride Rock for what seemed to be the last time, he cast a longing glance at Sarabi. “Perhaps you will say a prayer for me too?”
The lionesses watched his exit. It was the final injury on top of all griefs. Only Elanna who could see no evil in Taka thought there must be a good reason for his confinement. She went into his cave humbling herself, laying on her back and reaching out. “I touch your mane.”
“I feel it. Rise up, my dear.”
“Your heart is dear to me, even when it is broken.”
“And you have come to comfort me?” Taka was genuinely moved. He saw in her trusting eyes the love that once Sarabi had born for her. Risking all, he reached out and touched her shoulder. She purred deeply. “Tonight my brother lies dead by his son. The day we first make love must be a happy memory. Return in three days, and I will pledge myself to you.”
“Incosi aka Incosi,” she said. “Great King.” Then she mouthed the word, “Beloved.”
Coming from a lioness, the phrase was liquid light, a thing of beauty. The hyenas that surrounded him were too full of flattery and manners. All fear and ambition, no real substance. Even those who were genuinely grateful could only excite the smallest fleeting pleasure. Only one hyena did he actually love, though he did love her enough to tolerate the rest.
Why can’t they see the one I see when others look at him? His inner light is shining bright; why do they find it dim?
I’ve seen that face through all my days, but now I see it new, And all my dreams of hope and love begin to look like you.
There’s a renaissance of love here, A respite from an age of fearful darkness Calling to the hopeless to enter the light.
There’s a wakening of spirits, A call to overcome the bonds of sadness Shining with a fervor ecstatic and bright.
Far over the hills coming in warm crimson splendor The sun is preparing now to rise for us, to comfort us And shine on our newborn love!
There’s a renaissance of hope here, A respite from an age of hopelessness Wiping clean the bitterness borne of our tears.
There’s a wakening of spirits, A freedom from the bonds of loneliness To comfort us and soothe away all of our fears.
Come let the sun rise up with its gold joyful splendor And light the golden face of my beloved one, to warm our hearts And shine on our newborn love!
Back in his baobab tree, Rafiki was thrust none too gently and warned by the overly enthusiastic guards that his life hung in the balance. He was too sad to be frightened of death, but he clung to life from some impulse Aiheu had breathed into his forefathers.
Rafiki looked at the picture of Simba. “Poor child. Innocent and now dead because of me.” Sadly, he took his hand and wiped over the painting, smearing the mark of his anointing. “Somehow, some way, I will undo this evil. I swear I will never stop trying till death takes me.”
“In the third year of King Ramalah, there was a certain lioness named Alba the faithful. She was a servant of Queen Chakula from the time of her coming of age, and often times the Queen entrusted her with her two sons N’ga and Sufa. Once, when Chakula was aprowl, the earth shook, and the cave where Alba dwelled was closed with the twins inside. Five days it took to dig them out, and Chakula had no hope to find them alive. But when the cave was opened, N’ga and Sufa came out alive. Only Alba was dead. Because she was a dry lioness, she opened the deep veins of her arm to nurse them, that they might survive. It was from the spot she lay that the first flower grew that bears her name, red as the blood of mercy.”
— THE LEONID SAGA, “E” SECTION, VARIATION 5
Rafiki sulked in his confinement. His home that had always seemed so large was now cramped—almost claustrophobic. He could still heal wounds and fevers under the close supervision of his guards. Casual visitors were rudely turned away.
It wasn’t long before the Pride Lands fell under an epidemic of sprains, bruises and coughs. The guards suspected that most were well-wishers, but they had no way to prove which ones were. His dwindling supplies of herbs would soon solve that problem anyhow, as he was not allowed to gather things beyond the boundaries of his restriction.
Rafiki despaired. Unless Aiheu sent him a way, he could quickly find himself without healing powers, a useless relic left over from happier days. He took some of his precious remaining ochre and painted an eye of Aiheu on the wall of his hollow tree. “Watch over me, Lord. I know in your good time there will be an answer to my problems.”
He had just finished his prayer when something happened to change his whole outlook. Krull, the leader of his hyena guard, came in complaining of a runny eye. “If you are good as your friends say you are, it won’t matter that I am a hyena.”
“I don’t know about good,” Rafiki said. “But it does not matter what you are, as long as you feel suffering.”
“Why does Scar hate you so?”
“Hasn’t he told you?”
“Let’s say for now that he has not. What would you tell me?”
“I would tell you that I am partly to blame. I had toyed with powers I did not fully understand, and given a foothold to the curse that burns him.”
“Hfff! Honest little chap, aren’t you! And yet a half truth is like a half-carcass—it can be dragged twice as far. Tell me about this curse—help me to understand it.”
“The words alone are corban. If they are spoken aloud, they would rot your bones, but I may whisper it to you.”
Coming from the back, Rafiki leaned over and drew close to his ear. “What I do,” he whispered, “is what I have to do.” Quickly Rafiki grabbed Krull’s forearm and pinched one of the nerves. With his other hand, he grabbed his muzzle to stifle a shriek of pain. The hyena struggled and whined, but Rafiki’s hold was secure. The jaws that closed so powerfully had weak muscles to open them, and Krull was not able to make more than a stifled moan. “Listen to me and listen well. When I release your jaw, the first words I want to hear are ‘I swear by my god that I will be your loyal servant.’ Agreed?”
The hyena struggled again, but whimpered pitifully as Rafiki tightened his hold. “I hate violence. I hate to cause pain, but by my gods I can and will kill you if you refuse me.”
The hyena relaxed a little and moaned again. Rafiki let loose his jaw.
“I swear by Aiheu that I will be your loyal servant.”
“You don’t believe in Aiheu. You will swear by Roh’kash.”
“I swear by Roh’kash! For God’s sake, let go of me!”
Rafiki let go of him and rubbed the sore spot on the hyena’s shoulder. “Now I have need of an escort from time to time. I do not plan to stay cooped up in this tree like a woodpecker for the rest of my life. I need my herbs, and I need my sustenance. I must get Alba to nurse the wounded. You treat me well, and I will make you thank your Roh’kash for the day you met me. I am not evil. I will do nothing to harm you.” He got some ointment. “Now about that eye problem. Old Rafiki will fix you up in a jif, as I promised.”
Taka did not prove to be a popular ruler. His unpopular standing was for far more than the coming of the hyenas, though they were universally despised. His insecurity was overwhelming, and he sought to fight all threats real and perceived with savage force. Still under it all, Taka wanted to be liked. He would sometimes whisper a tender word to a lioness-wanting only a friendly reply—only to be rebuffed or simply ignored. At those moments he was most dangerous, for he would sometimes fly into a rage in frustration and hurt. Soon they learned that he could be placated by simple pleasantries, and they would return his greetings and agree that the weather was indeed fine today. But the very deep resentment crept out through their tone of voice, and he eventually stopped trying to speak with them rather than wince at their insincerity.
When Taka had been ruler of the Pride Lands for a year, a lioness named Kako had come out of the east seeking asylum for herself and her unborn child. Taka saw in her someone whose opinion of him was not already poisoned, and he felt that she had the sympathy of the other lionesses. So with little deliberation, and that mostly for show, he invited her to stay.
Kako was suitably grateful. She went on the hunt with Uzuri, even though her condition was less than ideal, and that overlooking her advanced pregnancy.
One night they were hunting wildebeests when Kako fell in agony. She was attended by two other lionesses while the others went on with the chase. It was there in an open savanna that she gave birth.
Like most lionesses who are not of royal blood, Kako was praying for a female. There is no difference in the love of a mother for a son or daughter, but a daughter does not grow up to be a lion, and she can be the comfort of a mother’s old age. So Kako was both happy and sad when Isha cleaned off the child and said, “Mother, behold your son.” He was small and wet and his nose was pushed in, the sort of beauty a lion could not appreciate, but a lioness worshipped. “Come, my son.” She took the small child and placed it against her where it took its first meal under the starry heavens.
Little one, small and soft as a new golden blossom Little one, snuggled next to my heart, Someday soon you’ll be grown and be off on adventures But your journey is still at its start.
Stay a while, don’t be rushed, let the world wait to own you Life is short, do not flee, for I’ve only just known you Love is here, take my heart, let my strong arms enthrone you Child of mine, gift of God, little one!
Isha came and touched the small infant with her tongue. “Isn’t he beautiful! What are you going to call him?”
“He will be Mabatu, like his father.” That was the only part of her past that was not locked behind a door of silence.
Taka found that he could speak to Kako without being reviled, though Kako was not overly friendly in return. Still, Kako would speak her mind, and to get more than two words out of her was Taka’s one great pleasure outside of his mate Elanna.
When Mabatu’s eyes first opened, the first thing he saw was his mother. And the second thing he saw was Taka peering down at him with an elated grin. “Look at him! Isn’t he a looker!”
During the days of Mabatu’s milk, Taka would save choice portions of the kills for Kako. Later he would bring Mabatu tempting tidbits to eat. Baba, as he was often called, found Taka more than an Uncle, for indeed he was like a father to the cub. Love was a rare commodity for Taka, and he begged for it from those who could and would feel for him. Indeed, when it suited him, Taka could be capable of great tenderness on his own terms and at his own times. This patronage frightened the other lionesses, who knew that the strength of his love was only matched by the strength of his hate. Those who had betrayed his love were as likely as not to end up dead.
Still, his care of Mabatu was his one shred of respectability that commanded respect from the lionesses. They even began to speak to him as he passed. He was so surprised to have someone ask HIM if the weather wasn’t divine that he suspected a joke at first. But little by little the pleasantries sounded more and more sincere. If it only wasn’t for the hyenas, he might have made some friends.
When Mabatu was three moons old, it rained heavily. That rain would be remembered for a long time because it was the last rain before the drought.
It took a while for the sun to bake the remaining water out of the soil and dry up the grass. Dry spells were frequent on the savanna and only to be expected. For the first week, no one was alarmed. A week later, some of the lionesses remarked on it before the hunt. But after four weeks without rain, hunting began to suffer. Little Baba was now four moons old, and his appetite was growing along with his body. His “Uncle” had to work harder to find enough for him to eat. Once when game was very scarce, Taka brought him a couple of large fish that had been stranded in a pool once part of the river. When Mabatu started to turn up his nose at them, Taka looked hurt and said, “But I caught them myself just for you.”
Baba tried one, and liking it quickly devoured it. He sniffed of the other, but looked up. “What are you going to eat?”
“I’ll find something.”
“Here.” He shoved the fish over to Taka. “You eat this one.”
Taka looked into Mabatu’s eyes. There was a quality about them that reminded him of young Simba. For a moment he experienced if not repentance at least a pang of regret. “What a kind thing to do,” he said, nuzzling the cub. “I love you, Baba.”
“I love you too.”
There was no difference in Simba and Mabatu. Simba used to tell his Uncle, “I love you” from time to time. In his heart Taka swore from then on that only those who knew the evil they caused would die. He felt that he had saved Baba, and in doing so wiped out his guilt for killing Simba (for indeed he thought the cub was dead). Though he was unsure about Roh’kash and had turned his back on Aiheu, he still suffered a superstitious dread about what would happen to him when he breathed his last. Baba would be his atonement. Baba would be his salvation. Baba must live.
Isha was very close to Kako and her son Mabatu. She worked hard to help them whenever she could. And they were not without gratitude.
One day when Isha came to take care of Mabatu while Kako went to see Rafiki, she told Isha, “You’re the sister I never had. What wonderful thing did I do to deserve you?”
Isha nuzzled her. “I was just wondering the same thing.”
“That’s the third time this month you’ve taken care of Mabatu for me. There must be something I can do in return.”
“I love the little fellow. I enjoy every moment we spend together.”
While Kako was gone, Isha thought she would just keep an eye on little Baba, but it turned out he wanted to be more involved. So they wrestled. Mabatu was too young to make headway with a fully grown lioness, especially not an accomplished huntress like Isha. She tried hard not to win too badly.
Mabatu was quick, if nothing else. She was surprised to find herself off balance when she was not planning it. He pounced on her stomach and giggled. “Gotcha!”
After he let her up, she dusted herself off and said, “I’ll get you next time, you little rat fink.”
He kissed her cheek and said, “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
He smiled broadly. “Are you married?”
She laughed, a little embarrased. “No. But maybe someday the right lion will come along.”
In a shy voice, he said, “When I grow up, I want to marry you.”
She laughed again.
“Please don’t laugh at me. I meant it.”
“I wasn’t laughing at you. It was just such a sweet thing to say. I wasn’t expecting it, that’s all.”
“You’re not mad?”
“No.” She kissed him. “It was the nicest proposal I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard quite a few.” She pulled him over with her paw. “Time for your bath, squirt.”
Mabatu did not raise the usual objections. When she cleaned his fur, he purred quietly.
Later that day as the lionesses gathered for the hunt, Uzuri came to Isha with a broad smile on her face. “Congratulations!”
“On the big event. Mabatu just told me the good news.” She laughed, something Uzuri didn’t often do.
Embarrased, Isha asked her, “Who else did he tell?”
“I don’t know. But I’d catch him quickly if I were you.”
“I’ll have a little talk with him.” Isha thought a moment and burst out laughing. “He asked me if I was married. The little rat fink, I should have known what he was up to!”
Among the hyenas, there were several seers, but few that could compare to Shimbekh. She was said to have the ear of Roh’kash, and her words were never taken lightly.
Without Rafiki to give his guidance to Pride Rock, Taka relied on her judgment to make all his important decisions. Of course, this was of great interest to Shenzi, who saw in it a way to secure control over Taka and virtually rule the Pride Lands.
Shimbeck was always surrounded by questioning throngs, for everyone wanted her wisdom. But her personal friends were few. Like most seers, she never married. The dark and frightening aspects of the future were a large obstacle to her being seen as a friend. And for most hyenas, Shimbeck and the future were inseparable, as if the unseen had taken on a familiar form to stalk among them.
Makhpil, a shy but talented seer was only an adolescent. But she clung to Shimbekh for comfort. Her own parents were afraid of her, though they had no reason to be. So Shimbekh was both mother and father to Makhpil, and Shimbeck loved her appropriately. They had both faced the future, and it could not come between them.
Prophesy is a two-edged sword-it cuts both ways. Shenzi, at first unable to make Shimbeck lie, convinced her to tell only the truth that helped the hyena cause. A half truth is like a half carcass; it can be dragged twice as far.
Both Shimbekh and Makpil knew that a seer who lied was a seer no more. The gods would take the truth from those who would not use it. And for a long time, Shenzi only encouraged Shimbekh to manipulate the truth for it would be a shame to lose her rare talent. Somehow Shimbekh’s personal feelings never entered into Shenzi’s mind, and Shimbekh was all too aware of that.
Then came a time months later when Shimbekh had made so many compromises that Shenzi could blackmail her. Shenzi wanted Shimbekh to come to her private quarters, this time without Makpil. And when she had her alone, she said, “You will tell Scar that it is folly to leave Pride Rock. You will tell him that the day he attempts to go, he will die.”
“My Lord Roh’mach, the gods do not say it. A seer is a servant of the Lord. To lie is blasphemy.”
Shenzi smiles coyly. “Is it really blasphemy when the greater good depends on it?”
“You mean YOUR greater good depends on it.”
“Whatever.” Shenzi comes up beside her and pats her lightly on the cheek. “I wouldn’t want to be you Honey Bun, not when Scar finds out how far you stretched the truth.”
“On YOUR orders.”
“Little old me?” Shenzi smiled wickedly. “Would I ask you to lie to my King? For shame!”
Shimbekh says “You wouldn’t dare tempt the gods.”
“Oh yes I would. Taka’s superstitions are his downfall. I believe in what works, and this works. Play the game by my rules, and you’ll have no reason to frown. Refuse me, and you won’t be able to frown.”
Shimbekh says, “Well I have one prediction for you. This path leads toward defeat. You do not scratch dirt at the gods and profit by it.”
“Are you threatening me??”
“No. You threaten yourself. We all pay for our own sins, Roh’mach. I will pay for mine, but you will pay for yours.” The seer looks at her closely before going. “I will pray for you.”
“You just do that. But first, you see Scar.”
She walks out. Going in to see the King, she bowed deeply. It took all her nerve to keep from trembling. “My Lord, King of Kings, I have something to report.”
“It is Pride Rock, Your Majesty. It is the source of your life. If you flee, it will mean your death.”
“Oh?” Taka’s ears perked up. “My death?”
“Yes, Sire. Game is scarce, and rain is sparce, but if you are faithful and remain, the rain will fall and the game will return.”
“Good! Very good! And I was just talking with Shenzi about moving. You tell her what you told me, my girl!”
“I will, Sire.”
Shimbekh bowed deeply and left his cave. Stepping out into the savannah grass, she wondered what would come of this. But she did not have a clue. The future was a sense, like hearing or sight was to most hyenas. Suddenly, as if she had gone deaf or blind, she had only the present moment for the first time in her life.
The feeling of isolation terrified her. She looked into the sky and tried to concentrate. “Please, o gods, don’t forsake me! Please don’t forsake me! She made me do it. She made me do it!”
She felt panic, and ran back to her cave where Makhpil awaited her. How she would tell her, Shimbekh did not know. But before she could say a word, Makhpil looked into her eyes. “It’s gone,” she said balefully. “What have you done, Shimbekh?? What have you done??”
The heat was oppressive. Taka was standing on the promontory of Pride Rock to catch a slight breeze. It had not rained in weeks, and the sun had cruelly scorched the ground. It was as if Aiheu himself had been angry with affairs and decided to show it. Rafiki watched the land dry up, but he was confined and could only rarely intercess for a few drops. The waterhole was just a muddy little remnant in the middle of the cracked, dry plain. It was patronized by elephants, who were not overly afraid of lions. They trampled the mud into the water and left it almost unsuitable for drinking.
Khemoki, Incosi of the Zebra’ha, led his people in for a drink from the shrinking pool. Filling the view were a series of elephant backsides forming an unbroken wall.
“Ahem!” Khemoki said. He waited a moment longer. “Ahem!!!”
There was no response.
He tapped with his hoof impatiently, then nudged one of the backsides. “Madam, do you think you could move your billious grey carcass and let me drink??”
The elephant stirred, but when she looked around her expression was anything but helpful.
“Put a cork in it, sweetcheeks.”
“I say!” He looked around in a huff. “Whinny, old girl, did you hear that? We don’t have to stand here and be insulted! We can jolly well find us another water hole out of this God-forsaken neighborhood.”
“Hear hear,” one of the zebras cried. “Good show, Milord.”
The Pride Lands were desolate. The songs of birds had long since gone from the trees. What few animals still trudged across the parched grassland stirred up dust in their wake. Vultures cruised the skies in search of prey where eagles and flamingos once soared. And still it did not rain. There were no clouds. There was no hope.
Taka waited for news from Gopa the stork. Gopa had none of the charm or polish of Zazu, but he was extremely thorough.
When the large bird arrived with all the grace of a wounded flamingo, he bowed and said, “Sire, the Zebra’ha, have left the Pride Lands. The Incosi decided that grazing is better to the north, and besides it’s too dangerous with the hyenas and lions together. To be precise, Khemoki called them ‘That demmed rabble.’”
“Didn’t you try to stop them??”
“No, Sire. I only report the news, I don’t make it.”
Yet another irritating fowl had made Taka’s short list. “One of these days,” he thought, “I’m going to wring that long neck of his.”
No more zebras. That joined with the fact that the Wildebeests were gone and the antelopes had skipped out left the land in a sorry shape.
Beesa was out in the hot sun of midday with some other lionesses. They were risking their life with each stone they overturned with their paws, hoping to capture a lizard or snake that may hold body and soul together. Isha, panting, looked up into the cloudless sky. The sun beamed back with a vengeance. “Aiheu, why have you forsaken us? I think I’m going mad.”
The insufferable heat made the image of distant trees ripple like reflections in a pond. When the wind did blow, it stirred up dust and made little difference in the feeling of discomfort.
Beesa heard something rattle in the grass. She froze, held up her paw, crouched and sprang. “Ow!” She bit at the large rat that had latched on to her paw. Only when its head was crushed in her powerful jaws could she work the sharp incisors out of her flesh.
“Look,” Isha said. “Sis caught something! It’s a big rat. Look how big it is!”
“Correction,” Beesa said. “It caught me.”
“Still, it’s big enough for you—ahem—and maybe a lucky relative?”
“Yes, Isha. Some lucky relative like my daughter. She gets the whole thing.”
Uzuri said, “Beesa, I’ve always thought of you as a second mother. Would you adopt me?”
“Me too,” Isha said. “The least you could have done was eat it yourself. Then I could have called you selfish and resented you.”
Beesa licked her paw to clean the wound. Then she took up the rat and trotted back toward her home on Pride Rock. Her paw was not very sore. If the gods were with her, her hunting would not be affected.
Lisani saw her mother and ran to meet her.
“It’s a rat,” Beesa said proudly. “It’s all yours.”
“Ewww! A rat!”
“You should be glad to get it. The little bugger tried to eat me first.” Beesa sighed and said, “Look, if you promise to eat some of it, I’ll make a special effort tonight to get you something really nice, OK?”
“OK, I’ll try.” She tried a bite, found it was not so bad, then famished fell on the rest of it. When she finished, there was nothing but some skin and bones left. “Mom, I wouldn’t even mind another rat right now. I’m still hungry.”
“I know, dear.” She began to groom her little girl. “Just remember, when things can’t get worse, they can only get better.”
Uzuri sat quietly, trying to ignore the constant gnawing in her stomach as she watched the progress of the setting sun. As the top of the crimson disk sank below the level of the treetops, she rose and padded over to Isha.
“Gather the party.” She looked at the sky hopefully. “We’ll try again tonight. Maybe Aiheu will yet show us mercy.”
The younger lioness shook her head as she stood. “Not as long as that fool makes us stay here,” Isha growled.
“Shh! I’m not sure if that’s treason or blasphemy, but hold your tongue. Taka’s spies are everywhere!”
“Treason or not, it’s the truth.” She trudged away slowly, her tail dragging dejectedly in the dust as she headed off to rouse the other lionesses; it was time to hunt.
Uzuri sighed as she stared after her. The trouble was that Isha was right. Taka’s refusal to allow the lions to leave Pride Rock and seek out more fruitful hunting grounds was going to be the death of them. Already some of them were beginning to show signs of emaciation, their ribs standing out clearly against their pelts, once sleek and shiny but now dull and drab from the lack of nutrition. Shaking her head despairingly, she rose and crossed over to where the others now stood assembled.
Sarafina rose to greet her. “Uzuri,” she whispered urgently. “I’ve got to talk to you.”
“Of course.” She looked at her curiously. “What is it, Fini?”
“We can’t go on like this much longer. Why are we getting ready to hunt?”
“You want to eat, don’t you?”
Sarafina snorted. “Of course, but I don’t want to die for my supper. All we found on our patrol this morning was a small herd of elephants. You more than anyone should know how hard it is to cut a calf out of the herd and put it down.”
“We don’t have to worry about that,” Uzuri said firmly. “To hunt elephants is corban, by my own decree.”
Sarafina looked at her for a long moment. “Then what are we left with? Picking off the rare straggler who happens to come wandering through? We can’t depend on that.”
Uzuri sighed deeply. “I know,” she said tiredly. The lack of food was beginning to take its toll on her; her energy waned more and more each day. “So what do YOU suggest?”
“Ajenti!” Sarafina called. “Come here a moment. Tell Uzuri what you told me last night.”
Ajenti grinned. “I had the most wonderful idea while we were out scouting a few days ago.” She broke off, coughing raggedly.
“By the way, I don’t want you coming with us tonight,” Uzuri said worriedly. “You sound terrible.”
“I do? Great!” Ajenti snickered at the look on Uzuri’s face. “You see, I’ve been faking that cough for the past couple of days.”
“I’m going to play sick and stay here while you go hunting. I plan to sneak out a couple of hours after high moon.”
“Just where do you think you can go?” Uzuri asked. “There’s nothing to eat for miles around.”
“I’m not going for food, I’m going for help. I’m going to try to get past those idiot hyenas and see Rafiki.” Her face sobered. “Maybe he can ask the gods to help us; Taka certainly Isn’t going to.”
Uzuri sucked in a sharp breath at the audacity of this. “Do you know what will happen to you if you get caught? What about the guards? How are you planning to get past them?”
Ajenti said, “Maybe if I’m sick enough, I can get an appointment to see Rafiki. I’m one of the better hunters if I say so myself, and Taka would do well not to lose me.”
Taka’s sharp voice cut through the air. “If you’re quite done chatting, ladies, it’s well past sundown. You’re late for the hunt.”
Uzuri raised her voice. “Yes, Sire.” Lowering it to a hoarse whisper, she looked at Ajenti. “Stay here, for now. Pretend you’re sick, like you’ve been doing, but don’t leave tonight. We’ll discuss this when we get back.”
Ajenti bowed her head. “Yes, ma’am.”
Uzuri and Sarafina joined the other lionesses who milled about restlessly, anxious to begin the hunt. After checking that everyone was present, she led the group in to Taka’s cave. The King lay in the threshold, grooming himself silently as they approached. Clearing her throat, she said, “Milord, we ask for your blessing.”
Taka looked up and nodded. “Aiheu provides. Thanks be to Aiheu.”
“Aiheu provides,” she responded. She turned to leave, but stopped. “Taka, why do we continue this farce? There is no food to be found! I implore you, let us leave here and find better hunting grounds.”
He looked up sharply. “No! We will remain here. This drought will not last much longer. The seer has foretold it.”
“If we don’t leave soon, the jackals will glut themselves on lion meat!” Uzuri humbled herself before him. “Taka, please reconsider. Do you think your father would have taken the word of a seer over the cries of his people?”
“I said we stay!” he snarled. “You overstep your authority, hunt mistress. I will NOT be compared with my father, Lord rest his soul. Now be off before the prey escapes.”
“Yes, Sire,” she said through gritted teeth. She turned and led the group away.
The young of the elephants were the subject of repeated near-suicide attacks by lionesses because there was little else to eat. Finally over the loud protests of the other lionesses, Uzuri had forbidden attempts on them because it was a senseless risk. Once in a while, a great while, an animal would pass through the Pride Lands bound elsewhere and they would catch it. Even when they were lucky enough to bring down a large animal, it proved almost not worth the trouble because the hyenas would move in.
Hyenas were not welcome on the hunt, for they were not as skilled as lions. They chatted too much-something Uzuri could not tolerate. Not that any of the hyenas did much hunting anyhow. One of the major topics of conversation as they gathered for the hunt used to be how to get rid of the hyenas. That was until they began to suspect spies from Shenzi were everywhere, and it was not a foolish suspicion. One of them, Skulk, was particularly quiet on his feet.
Hours later, the moon’s pale light painted a small group of elephants. Beesa’s pulse raced as she saw a youngster that had strayed too far from the group. Gauging the distance, she decided that she might just be able to cut it off and out of the herd. She began to drool at the thought. Gods, all that meat…the pride might be able to get a halfway decent meal after all. She started to move in, but paused, uncertain, remembering Uzuri’s warning. Then the sight of her daughter gnawing on the scrawny carcass of that hideous rat sprang unbidden into her mind. Beesa had been shocked as she realized she could easily count her daughter’s ribs simply by looking at her side. That decided her.
“Aiheu provides,” she whispered. Easing forward through the dying grass, she slowly began to stalk the young elephant.
Uzuri had already sighted the elephants a few moments earlier. She began to softly call out orders, shifting the inverted V pattern of their normal sweep for prey to a left oblique, herself at the head with the others staggered out on the opposite side away from the elephants. She turned her head, intending to shift Beesa over into the trail spot, and stared at the empty grass where a lioness should have been. “Beesa?”
Malaika gasped. “Oh gods, Uzuri, look!”
Uzuri’s head whipped around, looking over at the spot where Malaika was staring, open-mouthed. “What the…”
There was an elephant cow coming up quietly behind Beesa. Uzuri shouted, “Beesa! Look out!”
Beesa turned around too late, her eyes widening as she saw the elephant charge. She shrieked as the elephant tossed the lioness’s four hundred pounds into the air like a rag doll, then brought down her front feet on her with a snapping sound.
“Close ranks!” Uzuri shouted. The lionesses ran to Beesa and formed a circle around her, driving back the elephant. Trumpeting loudly, the cow gathered her calf to her side and joined the herd as it began to lumber away cautiously.
“I’m stove through,” Beesa gasped. “Isha?”
“I’m here, honey!” Isha drew near to listen to her sister’s faint words.
“Take care of my Lisani. Promise me.”
“I will, honey.” Tears flooded Isha’s eyes. She nuzzled Beesa and kissed her. “I promise. I love you, Beesa. Pray for me.”
“I will, sis.”
“Oh Beesa, why did you do it?”
“I promised.” Her face contorted in pain. “You must bring Lisani something special. Tell her it’s from me.” She gasped. Blood began to drain from her mouth. “Isha?”
“I’m still here.”
Slowly, painfully, Beesa raised her paw and caressed Isha’s cheek. “Save yourself.” Her arm fell as her last breath went out in a long sigh.
“Oh gods!” Isha looked at the body with its horrible wounds. “My sister,” she stammered. “She’s dead. What are we going to tell Lisani?” She glanced from face to face at each of the lionesses. “Why did that elephant have to kill her? Why? Why??”
The lionesses stood silently for a moment, unwilling to take the next step which they knew was necessary. Finally, Uzuri stepped forward. She bent down and gently kissed Beesa’s cheek. “Aiheu abamami.” A tear rolled her face and splashed silently on Beesa’s fur. “Pray for me, Beesa.”
She retreated as Malaika stepped forward, followed by Sarabi. One by one, Beesa’s hunt sisters came forward to bid her farewell. Finally, only Isha remained. The lioness stood immobile, looking down at her sister’s body. She bent to kiss her cheek, but crumpled, sobbing, beside the still form. “Oh gods!” She tilted her head up and roared at the sky, giving vent to her grief as the other lionesses joined in, the eerie sound echoing back from the cliffs.
Back at Pride Rock, the hyenas heard the cry. They came to Taka for an explanation, but he had none. “It doesn’t sound good,” he said.
Finally, the lionesses came trailing in slowly, eyes cast down and filled with tears. Taka looked from one to another uncertainly as they approached.
“Uzuri? What’s wrong? I heard a cry.”
Uzuri looked at him crossly. “Count us, Your Majesty. What do YOU think?” She shouldered past him roughly and sat down, her face quivering as she fought for control.
Lisani came gamboling up to the hunting party. She butted up against Isha, purring happily as she greeted her aunt. “Isha, where’s Mom? What did she get for me? A zebra?” Her face began to drop. “Another rat?” She saw Isha’s tears. “Nothing at all?”
Isha’s jaw trembled. “Lisani, Honey Tree, I want you to be a brave little girl. Very brave. Your mother…” She began to sob. “You’re going to stay with me now.”
Lisani stared as she took in the pained expression on her aunt’s face. Looking around, she saw it mirrored on the others as they sat, staring at nothing.
“Is she hurt?” She went to Uzuri. “Aunt Uzuri, what’s wrong??”
“Oh my poor baby!”
Suddenly realizing that the worst had happened, she ran back to Isha and huddled against her warm body, bursting into tears. “I want my mommy!” she shrieked. “Aunt Isha, I want my mommy!” Isha held her close with a paw. “We all want your mommy, but she’s gone.”
Kh’tel, one of the hyenas asked, “Am I to take that poor Beesa is dead?”
“You ARE to take it,” Uzuri said sternly.
“Well then, the body is corban for a moon. That is the duration, Isn’t it?” With barely suppressed excitement, he said, “Pray tell, where is the body? We wouldn’t want to trespass.”
Uzuri showed her fangs. “You sure wouldn’t! ’Cause if you touch her, you will be our next meal!”
“Your Majesty,” Kh’tel protested. “I merely tried to follow leonine custom. I resent these vile accusations.”
“I’ll show you vile accusations!” In a moment, Uzuri sprang on on the hyena, pinning him to the ground. Other hyenas moved closer, threatening, but she barked, “Come one step closer and I’ll kill him!”
“I forbid you to hurt him,” Taka shouted. “Let him go!”
“Beesa is dead, and it’s all his fault! Him and his kind! He doesn’t touch her. Let the jackals have their fill, but I’ll kill the first hyena that touches her!”
“I know you’re upset,” Taka said. “I’m sure you know you’re overreacting here. We don’t want a war, now, do we?”
Hyenas glared at her. Lionesses glared at the hyenas. It was a tinderbox just waiting to burst into flame.
“Let him go,” Taka said sternly. “I’d hate to have to MAKE you let him go.”
“You mean just you and I? One-on-one with no outside interference?” Uzuri had a fierce light in her eyes that froze Taka’s blood. Clearly she could make good on her threat. “Are those your terms, Sire?”
Taka was clearly at a disadvantage. He squirmed inside, trying to think of something, anything, he could say and not live to regret.
Elanna said, “For the sake of the Gods, you two, concede the point. Let the hyena go, Uzuri. In return my husband will not punish you.” She looked at Taka and half smiled. “Tell her you’ll let her go, dear. She’s reasonable.”
Taka nodded. “Yes, yes. Elanna speaks for me. We’re all friends here. We just have our misunderstandings.” He stared at Uzuri. “Don’t we, my dear?”
“Yes, Sire.” She glared down at the still-trapped hyena and said, “We’re all friends here.” She kissed the hyena right on the end of the nose with a long, wet, drooling lick that made him gasp and sputter. “Mmmmm. Don’t try to eat things that bite back, Hon. You might get invited to dinner.”
When Kh’tel was released, he ran in blind panic from the cave, wiping his nose in the grass and trembling.
Taka’s espousal of Elanna had come when he was supposedly mourning his brother and Simba. But one day there came the most wonderful and yet frightening change in him. He came in to see Elanna as she lay in the cool of the cave. The blistering heat had soaked his golden body with sweat, and taken the fire from his eyes and the joy from his heart.
That’s when a small miracle happened. “Husband, I know that there is not enough food to go around. But there is someone that wants to join the pride.
“Someone I know?”
“No, not yet.”
“We have so little as it is. Male or female?”
“I don’t know.”
“You talked to them, and you don’t know? Was it a cub or something?”
“Or something,” she said. “I sensed the change in my body a few days ago, but today I’m sure. Taka, you are very clever, but you haven’t seen the light in my eyes?”
“The light in your eyes?” The hair on his back stood up. “You mean I’m going to be a father?”
“Please don’t be upset with me. We’ll have to stretch things a little, but we’ll make it somehow.”
“Upset??” Tears came to his eyes and he nuzzled her, fondling her ears and cheek with his large paw and kissing her. “I love you, Lannie. My dear, precious girl. Upset?? I’m delighted! Oh gods, I’d almost forgotten there was beauty or laughter in the world. Lannie, I will give you sons and daughters. You will fill the world with beauty.”
She kissed away his tears. “Go tell the world.”
He came running out to the end of the promontory of Pride Rock and shouted, “Listen, all of you! Elanna is with child!” He practically danced like a cub. “I’m going to be a father!”
Taka felt this small life would love him the way he loved Ahadi. The rest of the Pride Lands be cursed, this small treasure of his beloved would be his, fully his, and he would worship it. Be it male or female, it would be heaven and earth for him, even God. Surely there would be no unfairness in Taka’s heart. If he had twin sons, the kingdom would be divided upon his death. Never would he inflict on his own the pain and suffering he felt. And he decided something else as well, something dark and sinister. For the safety of his own, the day Elanna gave birth would be the day Rafiki died. He gave explicit instructions on this to his hyena guard. The curse would not live on in his children.
There was no parade of lionesses coming to congratulate the happy pair. Only a few hyenas came by to fawn on him, seeking to ingratiate themselves. He despised this-it made the missing lionesses all the more obvious.
Then came Fabana. She squirmed with delight. “I told you not to die, didn’t I? I told you that love would come, and it has.” She stood up on her hind legs and put her rough arms around Taka’s mane and kissed him. “I’m so happy!”
Taka purred deeply, kissed her with his large tongue and stroked her gently with his large paw. “I wondered when you’d come. You’re the first one I wanted to tell about little Fabana.”
“Little Fabana!” She kissed him again. “Aren’t you the big sweetie! Yes you are!” He chuckled and rolled over like a big cub, batting at her lightly with his huge paw.
The news struck a chord of dread in some of the lionesses. Isha and Uzuri went to Kako and took her aside. There was one place near the cistern where a small damp cave blew cold air year round. A nice place to escape the heat of summer, it was the doorway to a strange underground realm that was corban to creatures of the sunlit world. Hyenas hated it because of the constant dampness, so there was not as much danger of being overheard.
“That cub could be female,” Isha said quietly. “Then again it could be male. If it was, I wouldn’t give half a bleached zebra skull for Baba’s life. Scar will either kill him or send him off. He’s afraid of a good challenge. Pfft, I almost wish I was a male-I’d show him a thing or two!”
“He’s only shown me kindness,” Kako said.
“True. When it suits him, he can be a cute little kitten. But this kitten has claws, hon.”
Uzuri said, “Listen to her, Kako. I’ve grown to think of you as my little sister. I would bleed inside if your son died. Make no mistake, we want to protect you. Your son is in grave danger.”
“I’ll keep watch,” Kako said. “It’s the only thing I can do. I can’t go home. I really can’t do that.”
“You are home,” Isha said, nuzzling her. “We are your family now.”
“I love you too,” Kako said. “Don’t think I don’t. If you have a plan-any plan at all-you tell me. Even if it’s getting rid of-your problem.” She couldn’t bear to say “killing the King,” but it was understood. “We will either live together or die separately.”
“Then it is settled,” Uzuri said. “We will all see what we can come up with. May Aiheu give us the light.”
Two and a half months after Elanna married Taka, she began having contractions.
Taka came running into the cave. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m in pain. Something is wrong! Terribly wrong!”
Just then he noticed the blood. He is in a panic. “You’re not due for two weeks!” Looking about helplessly, he shouts, “Midwives! Come quick!”
Sarafina and Isha come quickly. They took one look at her, and they were grim. “We need herbs. Your Majesty, Rafiki has always helped with these things. We really can’t do much without him.”
Rafiki was under house arrest and couldn’t find what he needed in time even if let out. That does not stop Taka from sending for him.
It took a long time for the mandrill to get to the cave. When Rafiki showed up, Taka bowed before him, closing his eyes tightly. “No matter how you feel about me, you must save the child. In whatever God’s name you believe in, you must save the child! I’ll do anything, anything! You can go free. I’ll make sure you never have to work hard again! Oh God, do you have a heart of stone??”
Rafiki asked, “How long has she been in pain?”
“About an hour.”
“An hour?” He buried his face in his hands. “Oh Lord, so little time, and so much I must do.”
“What do you need? I’ll send help with you. Take Sarafina-ride her back if you need to. But hurry!”
But does not even get to leave the cave before Isha, bearing a small dead male, goes past.
“Put him down!” Taka said.
He looks at the tiny body. “Rafiki, do something! Anything! My son, my son!!”
Rafiki picked up the infant and hugged it. Tears came to his eyes. “So tiny. So beautiful. Such a waste.” Rafiki looks at Taka with some pity. “His spirit is already with the gods. It can not return.”
Isha touched Taka with her tongue. “Bayete.” She took the small dead cub with her.
Rafiki came to Taka and watched his soft, quiet sobs. “Is there anything I can do?”
“You are useless to me,” Taka says to Rafiki. “Go back to your tree.”
“I am not unmoved. There is no great love between us, but I feel your pain. Let me see if…”
Sarafina, with genuine pity, told Taka, “You will have no more heirs. I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, right. Now leave me. All of you!”
He has a short period of grief where he goes out on the promontory under the stars. Calls to his father Ahadi. “I wish I could believe!” Sobs, “If there is a God, please help me!” Fabana creeps stealthily out onto the point and sits by him, resting her head on him. She does not say a word—she does not have to.
He roared. The lionesses took it up. There is no doubt what it meant.
Still weak in the knees, Taka headed down Pride Rock and crept slowly to Kako’s spot where he found her with her son.
“It seems the Gods have spoken,” Taka said. “There will be no prince from my line.” His chin began to tremble.
Kako quietly padded over and bussed his cheek. “I’m so sorry. You poor dear-I mean, Your Majesty.”
“Kako, you came to me from the gods. Your goodness is one of the few things that can laugh at the curse that burns my blood.” He sighed, and with great effort said, “Mabatu is my Prince, and your future King.”
“You honor us, Bayete.”
He looked at Mabatu. “Hello, sport.”
“Hello, Your Majesty.”
“You are a prince now. You should call me by my name, or if you feel like it, you may call me…please call me…Dad.?”
Mabatu came and sat next to him, burying his head in Taka’s mane. “I love you, Dad.”
“I love you too.” He kissed Baba. “You’re my last hope, son. Go to sleep a little early tonight ’cause tomorrow, I’m waking you at sunrise. I have something I want to show you.”
With food supplies dropping low, Shenzi was looking for ways to make things go further. Among the hyenas, the punishment of eating last and taking what was left became more and more common. It seemed to the rank and file that the leaders of the clan were looking for excuses to reduce the number of mouths to feed, and they were right.
The most effective punishments would of course be banishment and death. Not that most hyenas were ready to turn on their compatriots at a whim. But Amarakh, the beloved former Roh’mach, had a daughter Takyla that many felt should have been the next ruler rather than Shenzi. This adolescent was the subject of constant harassment by Shenzi and her friends. Her ouster on a charge of treason could consolidate Shenzi’s hold on the clan and mean an extra bite or two for everyone at mealtime. Everything Takyla did or said was reported by some of Shenzi’s spies. Shenzi called them “Guardians of the Clan Spirit,” but everyone knew a spy when they saw one.
Getting rid of a lion would have been much more effective even than offing a hyena. But it would be highly unlikely to garner a strong complaint, much less any hard evidence. The lionesses stuck together on almost everything with a singleness that was impenetrable by the Guardians of the Clan Spirit. That left the male cubs.
One male cub in particular posed a grave threat. For since Mabatu had become Prince, Taka had regained some of his youthful bravado. He began to look ahead more than a day or two at a time, taking charge and making difficult decisions he’d usually left to someone else. It was becoming progressively harder to control Taka, and Shenzi was worried that Mabatu would take heart and become a strong leader when Taka died.
And die he would. Makhpil had clearly forseen that Taka would die young and violently. It was a vague prophesy, but one that filled Shenzi with the urgency of the moment. There was not much time to play the waiting game.
To denounce Mabatu as a youth would almost certainly backfire. Taka worshipped the cub and would almost certainly fly in the face of the gods themselves to protect him. The thought, however slim, that Taka would rather give up his life than take another frightened Shenzi. For their last hold over him would be gone.
To kill Mabatu was one possible solution. But Taka would not rest until the truth was out. He would take no one’s word for what had happened. Even if someone volunteered to carry out the job, admit guilt, and die to achieve greatness in Roh’kash’s clan, Taka would never believe they acted alone. They would have to be more subtle.
Weeks passed into months. During that time, they did not manage to get rid of Takyla either, but they always had a couple of familiar faces missing at each meal from the strict discipline.
Mabatu grew closer to Taka with each passing day. With Makhpil’s prophesy in the back of their minds, the hyenas began to worry that a weak leader would be replaced by the stronger one if they waited too long. So when Mabatu was a year and a half old, and a few bits of ruff began to form around his neck, the leaders of the clan had a private meeting and decided at that point that Mabatu must go.
But how to do it? Certainly, Shimbekh must be involved. Fed information from Makhpil, she still made several correct predictions to Taka, enough to cover all the lies Shenzi wanted to sneak in.
Relying on the old hyena proverb that a half truth is like a half carcass-it can be pulled twice as far-they decided on a lie that would soften the blow, but still strike home.
Timid and unsteady, Shimbekh stood before Taka to deliver the news that may bring instant death. “My Lord, evil tidings.”
“Oh?” He involuntarily put his paw before his mouth. “Surely not!”
“I don’t know how to say this, my lord. But there is an evil spirit in this place. One too strong for our powers to drive off. Unless Mabatu driven off early, the day after his mantlement he will go mad and kill his mother, then you.”
“What??” Taka ran abruptly to within a few inches of her face. “If you’re lying to me, I’ll rip you apart!”
Regardless of her safety, she wept and kissed his cheek. “You love him, don’t you.”
“Yes, I love him.”
“Then…” She struggled for words. “Send him away now while his heart is pure. You know what it is like to suffer from the inside. There is nowhere to hide.” Her voice began to trail off. “No one knows what torment there is in the wounds we bear inside. We try to smile when our heart is breaking.”
Mabatu was told two days in advance that he would get a commoner’s mantlement so he could do his leave taking and make the appropriate spiritual preparations. But he was not told why. Taka was clearly upset, and despite the obvious temptation, Mabatu showed him no hatred or resentment. Taka also clearly loved him.
Mabatu and Kako were both in a bit of a panic. Baba was not ready yet-he had minimal hunting skills and he was still not what most lions consider mature. Kako makes an impassioned plea for a little more time-that not waiting a moon or two would be just condemning him to death—but is turned down by Taka. “He will learn. It’s Nature’s way. Besides, I will pray for him every night.”
It was the night before Mabatu’s mantlement, a time most young lions would be spending with their mother, trying to say enough kind things to last a lifetime. But Mabatu was unprepared, and every moment had to count. That’s why Isha stayed home from the hunt to spend time with Mabatu, talking about hunting, fighting, and other skills.
His greatest hope was to drive off hyenas, for he expected to live on carrion if he was to live at all. So he had to know their weaknesses, and how many of them could be safely dispersed. There was little hope he would blossom into a great hunter. Isha above all should know this for her skills as a huntress were second only to Uzuri. And because she had always loved Mabatu, she was desperate to do her best.
“We must look at holds,” she said. “Here on the arm, you can restrict movement.” She mouthed his upper arm gently above the elbow. “Here on the flank you can rip. But the throat hold is one of prime importance…” She put her arm over his back. “You strike them here and push with your weight.” Isha leaned on him. “It’s important to let your weight do the work. Then you go for the throat and cut off his wind.” She gently opened her mouth and caressed Mabatu’s strong throat.
A moment later, she let go and looked up. “Your heart is pounding. Are you all right?”
He stared at her. His nostrils quivered as the warm tides of his breath came and went. “Isha…”
“I didn’t mean to offend you. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. It is I who have offended you.”
“Nonsense,” she said, nuzzling him.
He nuzzled her back passionately, nibbling her ear. He looked at her expression of surprise. “Don’t hate me. You don’t know how long I’ve waited to do that. How very long.”
“We need to get back to hunting,” she stammered, watching his trembling chin. “We don’t have much time.”
“We don’t have much time,” he replied. “I must hunt now. I may not have a chance, but I’ve stalked for a long time. Now I must break my cover and rush to you.”
“Even though I’m old enough to be your mother? I’m flattered. Really I am. But when you’re older, you’ll find someone more your own age. Then you’ll look back on this and laugh.”
“You know I’ll never get much older. I’m being sacrificed to help the others. You know it.”
She is distraught. “I wish you wouldn’t say that.”
“But you don’t deny it.”
“How can I?”
“I love you, Isha. I’ve always loved you. Remember, I said when I grew up, I’d marry you. You laughed then, but if you laugh now, I’ll die. While life holds my soul and body together, I will love you. Even in death I will love you.”
“In death?” She nuzzled him. “Don’t think of death. You are alive.”
“How can I be alive? I’ve never lived. If I could only be close to you, just for tonight, I would have LIVED, Isha.”
She looked into his eyes, then pawed him. He playfully batted at her. She moved around him, looking for an opening. “If you hunt big game, prepare to exert yourself.”
She pounced, locking her arms around his throat and wrestling him with great skill. Laughing and panting, she nearly shoved him to the ground. He flailed at her with his arms, but struck her so gently it would not have awakened a cub. She pushed him over.
Mabatu got up to have another go at it. He tried to use his weight to push her over, but she outweighed him, and easily stepped aside. She put her arm over his shoulder and began to lean in on him. His legs began to buckle under the strain. Then when it seemed she would pin him, she stood still. He put his head under her arm and pushed her over into the grass and looked down at her. “Gotcha!”
She looked deep into his eyes. Her jaw quivered. “Now that you’ve caught me,” she purred, “do what you will.”
“Oh gods!” He began to nuzzle her passionately, nibbling her ears and pawing her cheek gently. “Isha, beloved!”
Night is here; in its perfumed shadows Let us hold the moment till its gone, Winding through the gentle, fleeting passage, That separates the sunset from the dawn.
Past has fled, future is uncertain What remains is what I share with you Feel my heart, it’s yours in sweet surrender Till the moonlight dies upon the morning dew.
This is the moment of our warm embrace To tell you I love you and look in your face To treasure each moment till dawn gilds the skies And fathom the mystery of love in your eyes
In the silver moonlight, she whispered, “Come, my lover, where the night shall hide us away.” He kissed her and rose to his feet. Isha followed, resting her head on his woefully thin mane and leaving it there as she walked alongside him into the shadows.
For a while, Kako had the hope that her son could one day be King of Pride Rock.
But things had turned against them, and so with none of the pomp and celebration associated with a royal presentation, a very private ceremony took place in the quiet of the east meadow. There, surrounded by a profusion of flowers, Kako reenacted the sorrow of most lionesses who have sons. It was supposed to be positive, a launching out on a great adventure. As such, Kako was strong, and smiled warmly. “Where has my little cub gone? All I see is this lion.”
“I’ll always be your son,” Baba replied, and nuzzled her.
“Remember me,” she said. “When you are a great king, do not forget that I gave you milk.”
“When you are gone to be with your fathers, pray for me.” The words almost stuck in his throat. He knew he would not see her again until they had both gone to be with Aiheu.
“I will pray for you,” she said, her tail going limp. “Oh gods, my son, my little son!”
“Don’t cry, mother.” He kissed away her tears. “You must be strong for me. I will carry this moment with me for the rest of my life.”
“I’m sorry.” She sniffed and smiled. “Besides, we will meet again among the stars, and nothing will separate us.” She put her paw on his cheek. “May the Lord Aiheu smile upon you. May the grass be soft beneath you. May the great kings enfold you. May you find love and safety wherever you go.”
“I’ll be safe,” he said. “The gods are with me.”
Isha came. She looked at the small male and tears started rolling down her cheeks. It did not go unnoticed by Kako.
Mabatu went to her, kissed away her tears, and whispered, “I’ll come back for you. If Aiheu lets me live, I’ll make a place for us. Will you wait for me?”
“I will. I swear.”
“I will always love you. If I die, look in the stars. I will be watching over you.”
Mabatu nuzzled Kako. He wanted to remember the feel of her fur, the smell, the sound of her breath. He looked in her eyes. “Mother.”
“My son.” She kissed him one last time.
Without another word, he turned and walked north. He did not look back, for it would have been wrong to do so. He went to the edge of the trees, then through the shaded trail of the bongo to the hidden meadow where many lions go to die. There was a quiet skull staring sightlessly from the meadow grass, all that was left of old Maloki. He did not stop to regard it, but he did look at the far side of the meadow. That was the border of the Pride Lands. He regarded it with a little nostalgia. He’d never left the Pride Lands before and now he stood at the edge of The Big World. He took in a deep, cleansing breath and let it out slowly. Then he walked into the trees and let their shade close over him like a curtain.
Shimbekh watched Mabatu’s mantlement from the shadows. It was a thorn in her heart. “Because of me, he will die. I cannot see it, but he is so unprepared, so young.”
She walked back toward Pride Rock to take shelter from the sun and to talk with Makhpil. Along the way, she tried to think of one thing that made her different from a murderess. Is it enough that she had been ordered to lie, even if it was the Roh’mach herself that so ordered?
Makhpil was waiting for her. How wonderful it must be to see things before they happen! With great sadness and envy, Shimbekh asked Makhpil what the future held.
“I see you standing by the river gorge,” Makhpil said. She kissed Shimbekh. “You will experience joy.”
Joy was something Shimbekh knew little about, especially in recent days. But somehow she knew that Makhpil spoke the truth. It was like a small echo of her once great powers.
Shimbekh hurried out of the cave. Usually the lionesses were never directly addressed by hyenas. That’s why Uzuri was shocked when the Shimbekh spoke to her. Shimbekh told Uzuri that sticking by Pride Rock was not her idea, nor was it the idea of the Gods. It was Shenzi’s desire, as are most things done nowadays. The same is true of Mabatu. He must be found and brought home before death could take him.
Uzuri was indignant and a little mistrustful. “This talk could get you killed, unless it is some kind of trick.”
“Yeah, a trick.” Seer laughs bitterly. “Your blood would turn to dust if you knew half the tricks that had been pulled on you. My powers are gone. Because I lied, the truth has fled from me, and there is only one future I can see—my own.” Shimbekh stalked off quietly.
Shimbekh walked to the edge of the gorge where Taka had once killed Mufasa. “I confessed my guilt. Just once more let me see the truth with my own eyes.” She closed her eyes tightly and took in a deep breath, then let it out slowly. A smile crossed her face. “Yes, Lord. Thank you. Memu kofasa, Muti! Roh’kash ne nabu!” She crouched down on her haunches and sprang over the edge. For several seconds she fell freely, then she struck the wall of the gorge, was sent bloody and broken through the boulders, and finally rolled to a stop.
When Isha’s time had come, she had three cubs. Her son was named Habusu, and her two daughters were named Jona and Minshasa.
Some of the lionesses filed by to see them, more out of curiosity than of joy. Importantly, Kako was not among them.
Clearly, while Isha was not a social outcast, there were few doubts who the father of the cubs was, and the circumstances of their conception. There was tension and a feeling of disapproval in the pride mates who stopped by to see the cubs, sniff them, touch them, then say something pleasant, only to go outside and gossip. And with Isha’s excellent hearing, there was no doubt she heard many hurtful things before the day was over.
Public attitudes were rather jaded. “She will be a devoted mother,” one said; “She has SUCH a way with KIDS.”
After the embarrasment of a presentation Isha would have just as soon skipped, the hunt mistress arrived.
Uzuri’s love for Isha was absolute and unconditional. In her eyes, there could be no taint to spoil the beauty of childbirth. She looked at each cub, sniffed them gently, and touched them with her tongue. “Habusu looks like Mabatu when he was that age-very handsome. Sometimes I worry about Baba; where he is, what he’s doing, and if he’s missing you. You must pray for him.”
“I do.” Isha nuzzles her. “I love you, Uzuri.”
“Why? What did I do.”
“Nothing-and everything. Just because you’re you.” As Uzuri left, Isha brought the cubs to her warm belly and guided them to her milk. She rubbed over them with her paw tenderly as they nursed. “I don’t care what the others think. You are my children, and you are wonderful. You are Mabatu’s children. Our children.” She half closed her eyes. “My little Mabatu. Wherever you are, I hope you know how beautiful they are.”
Taka himself came by. “Look at the little angels,” he cooed. “Aren’t they beautiful!”
“Mabatu’s children,” she said. “That’s what you came to find out, wasn’t it?”
“Mabatu,” he said softly. “I will go to my death grieving for him. He was my son, and always will be.”
“Then why did you let him go?”
“I don’t have to tell you, but I will. You alone deserve to know.” He sighed. “The seer told me he would meet an evil fate if he stayed here. I love Mabatu. I loved him enough to give him a small chance over no chance at all.”
There was a truthful ring to his voice. Isha looked at the sadness that clouded his face as he recalled his friend.
He looked at the male cub. “What is his name?”
“Habusu, you are son of my son. You will be my heir, and the one true King. I am not a seer, but I predict that you will not be hated as I am hated. You have brought some measure of peace to my heart. That is not an easy thing to do.”
“You honor me.” She looked a little worried. “Please don’t tell the hyenas just yet.”
When he asked why, she said, “If their seer is so good, let her come tell you.”
He chuckled, amused. “Yes. Let her. But aren’t you a little curious what the future holds for him?”
“Yes. That’s why I plan to be there when it happens. We all have to suffer thorns and bruises, and we all have to die, but Isn’t it really better not knowing how and when?”
Taka looked at her strangely. “Why Isha, you’re a philosopher.”
“All mothers are philosophers.”
Watching him leave, Isha thought back on her sister, Beesa. She had once been a philosopher. Fortunately, she had only had one cub to worry about feeding, a daughter named Lisani. Adopted by Isha upon Beesa’s death, the lioness cared for her niece as if she was one of her own; like Uzuri, she made no distinctions where children were concerned. Perhaps someday Lisani would grow to love Habusu. Perhaps Aiheu in his mercy will provide some future for them all. Then again, Isha kept her mind almost solely on the present. It was her way of keeping her sanity.
When Isha’s cubs were old enough to stray away from Mom, they found that there were other cubs with other mothers. But while other cubs were free to make friends at will, there were strange difficulties for Isha’s children as they sought to be accepted by the parents.
Usually, there was polite avoidance. Gobiso came out and said, “My mother told me I couldn’t play with you.”
Therefore Isha’s children grew up thinking all cubs pretty much stayed only with their mother. It was a fiction that helped keep the hurt of rejection from stinging so badly.
But Uzuri was always there to see them, chatting amiably with Isha and doting over little Lisani. Miss Liss, as she was known, often was called Miss Priss by the others because she was so proper and erudite. Habusu was so polite and gentle, he and Miss Priss got along fine. They were not only cousins but milk brother and sister. Uzuri always made Habusu feel welcome and loved. While his sisters liked to play together, Habusu would fawn on Uzuri like a second mother, and followed Lisani around like a puppy.
But eventually Habusu wanted another male to play with. He turned to Uzuri’s twin sons Togo and Kombi. Here it was Isha’s turn to be apprehensive, for Togo and Kombi had a reputation for mischief. Everyone knew that except, loyally, their mother.
Still, despite all the difficulties he faced, Habusu was loved unconditionally by his mother, Uzuri, and a few special friends. Even the King and his Queen loved him.
His first experience with death came when he was two months old. His sister Minshasa, always frail, began to develop symptoms of Dol Sani, a condition that would have been survivable if she had not been malnourished. Helplessly, Isha watched her decline. Finally after a week of suffering, Minshasa died peacefully in her sleep.
After the death of the first, public sympathy begins to turn, though stubborn Tameka said, “Yes, it’s too bad. But she asked for it.”
One moon later, when pneumonia claimed Jona, it was Tameka who was upbraided. The outpouring of sympathy and grief was spontaneous and heartfelt as they saw how Isha suffered. If anything, grief made her already beautiful features almost godlike. Her son that was left she treasured, and her care of him was seen by all as a sign that something wonderful had escaped their attention all along.
Finally, he became weak in turn. Taka began to panic. He felt some evil curse had come to take what little he owned and smash it. Some lionesses helped Isha smuggle herbs from Rafiki to build his blood and heal his infection. Even Taka let Isha eat from the King’s share to enrich her milk.
Still, though, Habusu had few friends to play with. Though he was polite and soft-spoken, there was the black mark that Taka and Elanna spent time with him. It was hard on Isha to know what to say or do on this matter, for she did not like Taka any more than Uzuri or Sarafina did.
Uzuri’s older kids Togo and Kombi played with Habusu, for their mother’s friendship with Isha would allow no prejudice to turn her head. With Habusu’s sisters dead, this contact with them and with Miss Priss became much more important.
From an early age, the older Togo and Kombi were rough with Habusu, but he put up with it. He picked up bad habits that had to be patiently broken one by one with Isha’s firm but gentle parenting. The only thing that jeopardized their friendship was the awful time Togo and Kombi told Habusu that he was born out of wedlock.
Habusu did not know what wedlock was. That’s when they told him his father was a mere youth that skipped out on their mother. “Ask anyone.”
Habusu cried. Isha took him aside and explained to him in gentle terms what had happened. That she loved his father, married him, and that he promised he would be coming back for them someday. That he would love his son, and tend to him. She did not know if Mabatu was alive or dead, but she did not express this to Habusu.
That night she watched the skies for his star. She wondered if she had seen him or not.
She could not reach Rafiki to ask his help, and in her desperation, she went to see Makhpil.
“Please be truthful with me. Please. I know we have been enemies in the past, but the gods have given you this talent for a reason. Please use it for good. Do not lie to me.”
“Lies cost me my best friend,” Makhpil said. “She was my only friend. I will not lie as she did.”
“I will be your friend,” Isha says.
Skeptical but willing, Makhpil looked into Isha’s eyes. “Yes, there is truth in you. Goodness that I did not expect to see. Your friendship honors me.”
Makhpil did not get a scrying bowl. She merely closed her eyes and let out a mild, high-pitched whine. “It comes to me. Yes, your husband is alive. But how he fares, I do not know.”
In her hope and joy, Isha fondled Makhpil with a paw. “Perhaps he will come back to me. Perhaps he will claim what is his.”
After two years as King, Taka’s Drought, as it had come to be known, had dried up the very lifeblood of the Pride Lands. It was another hot, dry day on the scorched savanna as the lionesses turned over rocks and dug at promising burrows trying to find something, anything. No one else would be foolish enough to attack an elephant calf-Uzuri had seen to that. Any lioness caught breaking the rules would be suspended from the hunt for one moon, and have to rely on the generosity of others.
Nala could remember better days, but since she had been an adult, there was no large game to hunt. Somehow she held out hope that rain would come, and there would be a future where all her mother taught her about wildebeests and antelopes would be useful.
The heat made shimmering blue patches of the sky look like cool lakes on the dry savanna. Waves of heat made the trees dance and soaked her fur with sweat. She panted.
“Nala, you rest in the shade,” Uzuri said. It was not a request, but an order. Uzuri was strict, but only out of genuine care for her. On hunt, she was everyone’s mother and exercised her parental authority to the letter.
Nala was half relieved to get a break. She curled up in the shade of an acacia and thought to take a short nap. The heat had literally drained her.
A large grasshopper climbed to the top of a stalk of grass. In her desperation, Nala started to swat at it.
“No time to rest, Nala,” a voice said. With a start, Nala looked around.
A lioness looked at her, smiling pleasantly. “My little Nala, how tall you’ve grown.”
The face was familiar, but Nala sniffed the air to no avail-the stranger had no smell. “Who are you?”
“Does it matter?” The lioness lay next to her. “What a hot day. And you trying to find snakes and lizards under rocks. Have you ever killed big prey?”
“Well-uh-no.” This visitor was nothing if not impertinent. “How about you?”
“Big prey, small prey, you name it. And what’s more, I know where you can find what you are looking for. I know all the good spots to hunt. You can be the salvation of the Pride Lands with my help.”
“Not until you tell me who you are.”
The lioness pawed her gently. “Why honey, you know who I am-you just refuse to believe it. Take a close look.”
Nala trembled a little. “Oh my gods-Beesa!”
“I’ve never heard it put quite that way before.” She laughed pleasantly. “What makes you think I’ve turned mean and ugly just because I died?”
“But you’re not mean and you’re not ugly.”
“So what are you afraid of, Hon?” Beesa touched her with her warm, moist tongue. “Tell me you’re glad to see me. Where are your manners?”
Nala pawed her and nuzzled her. “Good old Beesa! I’ve missed you.”
“That’s more like it.” She nuzzled her back. “Follow me, child. I’ll take you to the jungle where your destiny lies.”
“The jungle? But Uzuri said I have to…”
“Don’t worry about her. She can’t see me and she won’t see you.”
Beesa got up, stretched, and headed out into the sun. Nala followed her across the savanna and into the shade of the trees.
After two years as King of the Pride Lands, Taka had earned many enemies. But his oldest enemy was the one he dreaded most. In the night, caught in the suffocating embrace of his recurring dream, Taka began to jerk and moan. Even in sleep, the suffering mirrored clearly in his face as his teeth bared. Elanna stirred and rolled over. His whimpering caught her attention and she shook him. “Taka?”
He awoke in icy terror, almost biting her.
“It’s me. Elanna. You’re safe. Calm yourself, dear.”
“The hyenas,” he stammered. “It’s always the same. Oh but that the gods would let me roam the earth by day and night, never needing sleep! I try to tell myself it’s just a dream, but I can’t wake up, and I am torn apart, torn apart alive.”
He looks piercingly into her eyes, something that always made her uncomfortable. “What does it feel like to sleep? To just lay down and sleep without fear?”
She yawned. “It’s wonderful. I’d like to try it myself.” She kissed him indulgently. “Tomorrow you must go to Rafiki and ask him what the dream means.”
“Rafiki hates me,” Taka said. “He would lie just to get me killed. He’d really like to see me ripped apart by hyenas. Poetic justice, he’d call it. He started the problem. I’m not fool enough to trust that ape a second time.”
“Then why don’t you kill him?”
“The gods protect him. His power is too strong. That Makhpil is too close to Shenzi. I don’t trust her either.”
“If everyone is against you, why do you stay here? I’d follow you anywhere-you know that. We could start over, just the two of us.”
“We’d be no safer anywhere else. The true seer had spoken, and I believe her.” He nuzzled her. “Elanna, you must live forever. You’re all I have left. Swear you’ll never leave me.”
She nuzzled him again, rubbing his tense body with her paw. “You’re all I have. I gave up everything for you. I can’t bear your child. You won’t even let me hunt anymore, not that the others can stand me. Taka, leave your doubts at the mouth of this cave. Don’t you know I would never leave you?”
“I know.” He kissed her. “I have to trust you. If you betrayed me, I’d kill myself. You’re the only reason I cling to this miserable existence.”
“Don’t say that, Taka. You know how it tortures me. I wish everyone could see you the way I do.” She touched him with her tongue. “Stop this foolish cub talk and go back to sleep. I’ll put my arm around you and keep it there all night long. At the first sign of trouble, I’ll wake you.”
Taka laid his head down and she placed her arm protectively around him, stroking his mane. In a few moments, his calm, slow breaths showed that he was peacefully asleep.
Two hyena eyes shined softly in the darkness as silent feet padded out of the cave.
Skulk headed to a special clan meeting about Scar. Shenzi greeted him affectionately and called for silence. “Our ears have returned. What have they heard?”
“It is no folly that my mother named me Skulk. I was silent, I was unseen and I heard it all.” Pleased with the expectant hush, he continued. “It seems our King has dreams, nasty dreams about being torn apart by hyenas. Not once or twice, but night after night, and always the same. Now I ask you, is a dream dangerous?”
They looked back at him not knowing what to say. “It IS dangerous,” Skulk thundered. “Especially when he thinks it is a vision, a sign!”
“He should have been an actor,” Banzai whispered. Shenzi hushed him.
“I tell you Scar cannot be trusted. He will turn on us the first time he feels threatened.”
“What are we going to do about it?” Banzai asked.
“We could strike when the advantage is with us.”
“Even if we could gang up on him and win, if we attacked him the lionesses might side with him just to get rid of us.”
“Fair enough, Banzai. But do you think I’m a hot-headed fool?” His frown discouraged Banzai from answering. “He is a hollow shell, a dried husk. His very life hangs in the balance.”
“Your speeches are murder,” a heckler called out.
“Say that to my face, and I will show you a murder!”
There was deadly silence. Skulk was a well-sculpted fighting machine.
“As I was saying, I heard with my own ears Scar telling Elanna if he lost her he would kill himself.”
The remark was followed by some gasps of surprise. “With him gone, we could figure out something more creative. Maybe the lionesses would be in a position to bargain with us. We know of a male cub, an adolescent, that would be much more likely to need and want our help. He would be the next king. He would owe us his very soul, but unlike Taka, he’s a level-headed chap that knows which end of the carcass to chew.”
Bree said, “If we hurt Elanna, he’d try to get revenge on us, THEN kill himself. We can’t rely on that.”
“No, but if it looked like an accident, or like she’d left him for another lion, it just might work.”
“An accident?” Shenzi said. “He won’t let her hardly breathe, much less get involved in an accident.”
“Let me see to that,” Skulk said
“But Isn’t this treason?” Bree asked.
His mind was once a trap, but now it’s growing rusty, He’s running from his shadow in the night. I hate to say it friend, but Taka’s ’round the bend, In short, our King is not quite right.
I think I see your point. His brain is so disjointed, And though sometimes he’s very meek and pert, He weighs five hundred pounds, and brethren it sounds Like he could cause a world of hurt!
He’s twitterpated, pixilated, nutty as a fruitcake, A badly-addled, muddled, batty cuss! A truly royal pain, a major hulking heartbreak, In short, he’s not a thing like us!
What’s a fruitcake?
It’s all mixed up, like Scar.
This is treason!
You bet your whiskers! And remember you heard it here first!
He promised us a feast, instead he gives us famine, And now on top of that he’s gone berserk! Now even when he sleeps, he still gives me the creeps, I think it’s time we can the jerk!
We’ve been a patient lot, so downright sentimental, And overlooked his lapse of sanity. Enough is now enough, the King is playing rough, It’s time to cast your lot with me!
He’s twitterpated, pixilated, nutty as a fruitcake, A badly-addled, muddled, batty cuss! A truly royal pain, a major hulking heartbreak, In short, he’s not a thing like us!
Skulk said, “You know his mind is falling apart. He thinks his dream it is a sign—I think maybe it is.”
“You must not do this evil thing,” Fabana cried. “There is good in him.”
“Who is that old fool?” Sarabi said. “Someone shut her up.” She did not recognize that it was her mother.
“We won’t be without help,” Shenzi shouted above the commotion. The room grew suddenly quiet. “There are some lionesses that would go along with us in our plan.”
Fabana makes a remark that seems quite reasonable to the others, though she is not too strong those days. “If Taka must die, let me kill him.”
Shenzi smiled broadly. “See, Mom is as anxious as the rest of us to be rid of this dandelion. And it was her idea for this union to form.”
“That was not my idea,” Fabana said. “He’s suffered much in life. Please don’t drive him to take his own life in despair. If Taka must die, first I will make him happy. I will tell him all the things he wants to hear, and when his heart rejoices, I will give him a little something from Rafiki to make him sleep. When he’s quiet, I will choke off his wind. It will be quick and merciful. He deserves that much.”
Shenzi looks at her mother with a little bit of respect. “It might work.” She thinks for a moment. “But Elanna will find him. She’s always with him when he sleeps. I’m sorry, but that’s out.”
“You don’t understand. He’s a tormented little pup, a fizh’lo that the gods would have been wise to take as an innocent youth in his milk.”
“You advise the gods?”
“No, I advise my daughter. I adopted Taka-he is my son, and a true believer in our faith. You will give him the same rights you would give one of your own. Rights under our law. We cannot torment him. If he dies, it must be honorably. We must fight him one at a time.”
“You mean that vain, overstuffed excuse for a king is my brother?” She shuddered. “I don’t agree. I didn’t swear to it. That little boy of yours is dangerous. He’ll turn on you. You’d better not try and warn him if you know what’s good for you.”
“You’re right. He’s not your brother, for that would make you my daughter.” She turned her back on Shenzi and scratched some dirt up with her hind legs. “By Roh’kash, I renounce you.”
The hyenas took in a collective gasp.
Her look of horror soon turned to rage. “Being my mother is all that’s kept you here, you meddling old fool. Maybe you can adopt Rafiki too. You’ll spend the rest of your life in that baobab tree.” Shenzi turned her back on her mother and scratched dirt at her. “By Roh’kash, I renounce you.”
Banzai and Ed were afraid and they went along with their sister, turning their backs on Fabana, though they said nothing.
“Guards, take this female to the baobab-see that she does not escape.” Her face set hard against any feelings that may remain. “Now, before I was so rudely interrupted, I called you here to share news of great importance. Scar is about to make his exit. Yes, we are on the threshold of a power and independence that will make us the envy of all peoples. We have a plan that will make a great song for our children and our children’s children. If we stick with it as one body, there can be no chance of failure. The matter is closed.”
“‘The strange lion will tell his name to no one but the King,’ his brother said. 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 childhood friend of the lost prince humbled himself and cried, ‘Behold it is Zara who once was lost but now is found. Look, my King, the cub has returned a lion.’ And the King looked closely and saw that it was his son, he wept.”
— LEONID SAGA, “M” SECTION, VARIATION 5
Rafiki looked carefully at Krull’s eye and smiled. “That is that. No more treatments.”
“No, you must not say that.” Krull pawed his cheek. “Tell no one I am cured, for I am happiest when we have these little chats. You treat me like your brother, not your slave.”
“I have no slave-only a servant. Aiheu owns every living thing. But I have enjoyed these times too. Your company is all that keeps me sane. I thought I liked living alone, but now I feel like a gopher who cannot reach the surface. I am suffocating underground. You are my only light.”
“I am honored.”
Rafiki showed him a picture of a hyena on the wall. “This is you.”
“But that is your prayer wall.”
“Yes. It is a prayer for you. When I think how I hurt your arm, it pains me.”
“I’m glad you did. It was, as you call it, the blood of mercy, so think of it no more.” Krull glanced at the painting once more, then excused himself. It was important that the others did not suspect his friendship. Word could get back to Scar and death would follow swiftly for both of them.
Far from the Pride Lands, Simba eyed a rare treasure, a bongo. These antelopes are very wary, and well they should be for their meat is the favorite of most lions. Because they haunt the forests, they mainly fear the leopard who brings death from above. This bongo saw Pumbaa and thought, with good reason, that the rustling behind him must be another warthog. It was not.
In three quick strides, Simba was on the bongo and found a fatal hold on its throat. Pumbaa and Timon watched the spectacle of death with horror. “Aren’t you glad he’s on our side,” the meerkat said. “Sheesh! Carnivores!”
Of course his whole outlook changed when Simba offered to share his meal. Pumbaa would only take a little meat, for he was mainly a vegetarian. But this was fresher than the carrion he was used to. Timon, on the other hand, thought nothing of eating unwisely and well.
They spent hours on the meal, and still they saw there was plenty for other days ahead. And fully satisfied, they became a little drowsy, especially Simba. He cleaned off his face, and lay in a small clearing with his friends. Simba smiled with satisfaction, then rather indelicately belched. Timon said, “Whoa! Nice one, Simba.”
“Thanks… Man, I’m stuffed.
“Me too,” Pumbaa said. I ate like a pig!”
“Pumbaa, you are a pig.”
Pumbaa surveyed the night sky. Often when he was young, he’d try to count the stars, but not being very educated, he didn’t get far. “Timon?”
“Ever wonder what those sparkly dots are up there?”
“Pumbaa; I don’t wonder, I know.”
“Oh! …What are they?”
“They’re fireflies. Fireflies that uh.. got stuck up on that big bluish-black thing.”
“Oh. Gee. I always thought that they were balls of gas burning billions of miles away.”
“Pumbaa, with you, everything’s gas.”
The warthog was left wanting a deeper answer. “Simba, what do you think?”
“Well, I don’t know.”
“Aw come on. Give, give give give … come on we told you ours. Please?”
Simba looked disturbed. “Well, somebody once told me that the great kings of the past are up there; watching over us.”
Pumbaa sighed. “Really?”
Timon was amused by the answer, as Simba feared he would be. “You mean a bunch of royal dead-guys are watching us?” He laughed, and Simba had to chuckle, but only for a moment.
“Who told you something like that? What muke made that up?”
“Yeah,” Simba said, his face falling. “Pretty dumb, huh?”
“Ah, you’re killing me, Simba.”
Simba’s eyes searched the skies. He could almost smell the familiar presence of his father next to him. It was almost like sitting on Pride Rock watching the sunrise. Then abruptly he could see the battered body from whose lifeless arm he stole one last embrace. The ugliness of the memory took his breath away, and he had to leave before he roared with the depth of his grief.
Simba walked out on a nearby ledge. Looking into the stars for some sign of hope, he found none. “I thought you’d be there for me, but you’re not. You’re not!” He collapsed in despair. A cloud of milkweed floss was stirred up by the impact, rising slowly around him. Caught by the air currents, it drifted away on the breeze.
Rafiki was ready to eat his meager evening meal when a cool wind swept over him. It was from the wrong direction for that time of day. What’s more, there was milkweed floss on the breeze, and no milkweed grew in that area. He collected it. Something in it makes his fingers tingle. He put it in a bowl and sifted it sunwise. It came out in a shape that only had meaning to an astrologer like him. The constellation Amalkosi, where Mufasa’s star burned brightly. He turned it again sunwise and it came out again Amalkosi. Then he wanted its meaning so he turned it counter-sunwise. It fell into a constellation he recognized very clearly. M’hetu.
Reverently he whispered the words of an old tale: “Look, my King, the cub has returned a lion.” He turned and looked at the painting of Simba. He reached out and put his fingertips on it and they began to tingle. His hand started shaking. “Simba?? He’s—he’s alive? He he- He’s alive!!” He laughed loud and wonderfully. “It is time!” Trying to control his shaking hands, he picked up some red ochre and hastily daubed a mane on the painting. “Krull, come quickly!”
The hyena arrived seconds later. He saw the radiant face of Rafiki and smiled, genuinely pleased. “Yes??”
“I need an escort.” He drew close and gave Krull an affectionate pat. “Listen carefully,” he whispered. “The time has come when you will see the power of Aiheu strike like a mighty thunderclap. You will be blessed for your acts, even if they are against your will.”
“Against my will?” Krull said. “The old vow by Roh’kash means nothing to me. Through you I have come to know Aiheu, and I have given my life to him. I am his servant now.”
Rafiki beamed with joy. “Today is twice blessed. They call you Krull, which in your tongue means flint, but I call you Uhuru, which means peace.” Rafiki took his staff and said, “There is a long journey ahead, my friend. We will not return alone.”
“Where do we head, my Lord?”
“Into the wind, Uhuru. We go to the King!”
A couple of days later, all the hyena guard knew of Rafiki’s escape. But afraid for their own safety, they said nothing to the others. All visitors were turned away, even the very ill, and suspicion began to build that someone had murdered the mandrill secretly and eaten him. Indeed, with the scarcity of food, it was not a foolish notion. Uzuri’s son Kombi was lost, and for the longest two hours of her life, she expected to find the remains of her dead child as she searched the Pride Lands. When she found Kombi digging in a termite mound, she cuffed him, then kissed him, and cried. “You must never wander off again. It is not safe anymore.” Indeed, most lionesses felt that way, and had taken to sleeping lightly with a paw across their children.
A couple of hyenas came privately to Elanna.
“What are you doing here?”
“Hsssh!” Bot’la came to her side and whispered in her ear. “My lady, this is urgent. But you must not tell the King.”
“What is this coming and going that you don’t tell the King?”
“I have a mate,” Bot’la of the hyenas said. “I’ll level with you-we love our mates and pups as much as you. We have feelings too.”
“So…” He whispered even more lowly. “You are the one that loves Scar.”
“Taka,” she said indignantly.
“Keep it down, please!” The sound of his voice startled him, and the Bot’la winced. “You love him. You know in your heart no one else does.”
“This is treason.”
“OK, so it’s treason. Fine. But even though we don’t care a whit for Taka, it so happens my friend and I feel differently about you. Your care for him is-well-almost hyena-like. I think you deserve a break, so I’m going to let you have it straight. If you want to help your husband, you’ll listen to me.”
Elanna nodded. “Speak freely.”
“It is not mine to say. But that Rafiki, the ape that Taka hates so much, has shown me things. Awful things. He’s sworn to protect the rightful King, the son of Ahadi—he will not break a vow to his God. And he’s almost foaming at the mouth with fear, for disaster waits for the Pride Lands and no one listens to him. Such awful things, but so easy to avoid if only someone who bends the King’s ear will act quickly.”
“I have sworn not to repeat what I saw,” Bot’la said. “Such words even in speaking can cause mischief. Rafiki has made a good faith effort to undo the evil he has loosed. You must be the voice of reason. You must influence your husband.”
“Do you realize what you are saying?”
“Yes. If things meet their appointed course, all of us will die. The land is sick. The water is gone. And there is worse-madness and despair. I don’t want to die, Elanna. I don’t want my family to die. And I feel I don’t want you to die, either.”
Elanna was silent for a moment. “How will I get out of here?”
“We have arranged that. Follow us and we will take you to him.”
She nodded. “You’re right.” She began to cry. “I thought we had no friends, but you are good, Bot’la. I can see God’s mercy in you, so I know now there must be a God.”
Bot’la winced as if a sharp thorn had been driven through his heart, but he quickly hid it. He led her out of the cave and down the side with utmost silence and care. And by skirting the cistern and euphorbias, they made it away from Pride Rock and into the tall grass.
She was unaware that Rafiki was long gone to search for Simba. All she knew is that some kind souls are cloaked in different hides. Somewhere, somehow, they will sit with the great kings of the past.
She was not worried when her small body guard of two became four. But she didn’t know whether to feel flattered or frightened when two more joined ranks and suddenly there were six. She didn’t have that many friends, much less Taka.
Behind the south kopje, four more hyenas fell in line. It was then her heart sank. She was headed away from the baobab, and not to hide her from her husband’s watchful eyes. They had turned toward the desolate lands, the appropriate place where poor Ahadi and Akase went to meet their God together. Now she would die without family or friends.
“Forgive me, Aiheu. Forgive me that I have loved him, but o gods, how I loved him. Bless my poor husband and comfort him in his hour of grief.”
One of the hyenas went “Hssssh! At least try to die with dignity.”
“My dignity before the gods is intact. Worry about your own-you bring ten hunters to kill one lioness.”
“Silence!” Bot’la commanded. He added with some regret. “I don’t enjoy this. We’re just trying to save ourselves and our families. You can understand that.”
Then back at Pride Rock there was a tremendous shout. Bot’la looked back. There was a fire at the rock. Lions roared, and hyenas screamed with rage and pain.
“The war is on!” He looked at Elanna and thought for a moment. Finally Bot’la said, “This is our land now. Get out.”
Elanna hurried away from the hyenas. The guard headed back to Pride Rock to fight the last battle. “Death or glory, lads! Out with the lions!”
At the climax of the battle for Pride Rock, Taka was struck such a blow from Simba that he tumbled from the lower promontory. He fell injured at the base, but still alive.
Waiting for him were Shenzi, Banzai and Ed. They looked very displeased. Taka tried to move, but one of his legs was broken and his ribs were cracked.
“Ahh, my friends.”
“Friends?” Shenzi sneered. “I thought he said we were the enemy!”
“Yeah, that’s what I heard,” Banzai said. “Ed?”
Taka trembled. “No. Le-Le-Let me explain. No. You don’t understand. No! I didn’t mean for… No, No! Look, I’m sorry I called you… No! No!” They closed in on him.
“Oh gods! Oh my gods, it’s the dream! Wake me, Elanna! It’s happening again!”
“Wake me, Elanna!” sneered Shenzi. “It’s happening again!” Scar was frozen, unable to resist. She closed her powerful jaws on his throat and crushed his windpipe. He struggled for only a second, then shuddered and fell limp, nearly crushing her underneath.
Shenzi let go in astonishment. She nipped his nose, but his face did not move.
“You scared him to death,” Banzai said. “Imagine that.”
“Weird. But let’s make sure.” With one massive pull at the stomach, she revealed all of Taka’s inner secrets. “He’s not goin’ NOWHERE.” How like a wildebeest he seemed under that hide.
“Look,” Banzai said. “His teeth and ambition are bared!”
Shenzi said, “Hey, almost as ugly on the inside as he is on the outside.” She got a wicked little grin. “You know how they would say there was a frightened little cub deep down inside? If we move some of this stuff around, we might find it.”
“Are you saying he had the light in his eyes?”
Shenzi broke out in a full horse laugh. “Oh gods, now THAT’s a good one! Scar, pregnant!”
Suddenly Sarabi burst in on their fun. “Get out!”
“Say what??” Shenzi bared her teeth at her.
“Get out, now!”
Shenzi said, “Let me get this straight. Do you think you could beat the three of us? We’ve already killed one lion.”
“I’d I kill at least one of you.” She glanced around. “Which one will it be?”
The hyenas looked at each other nervously. “I think we’d better go,” Banzai said. “This Isn’t fun anymore.”
“Yeah. Who cares,” Shenzi said. “Let her have him. He’s probably spoiled meat.”
They turned and trotted off.
A few drops of rain fell on the dry and smoking plain. These first gifts of healing moisture were followed by others, many thousands, more than the stars of a cool autumn night. The cleansing shower soothed the burning grass, washing ashes into the soil and bringing new life to the dying stream and watering hole.
Upon the spur of Pride Rock, Simba looked into the face of God and felt the cleansing gift soaking his fur. He drew in a deep breath and roared. His warm voice echoed off the kopjes and stones. It reached across the freshened plains to the mighty forests. The lionesses took up the call and spread the message of hope. Mufasa’s anointed was King-long live the King! Only Sarabi was silent. She looked at the humbled remains of her first love, sleeping peacefully for the first time.
“Why did you kill Muffy? You loved me once. You loved me, but then you took away my whole life.” She stroked his mane. “Now I look at you and I still feel pity. Damn you! Even in death you can hurt me!”
Out of the rain came Fabana. She sat next to Sarabi and howled. “My son, my son! Sarabi, did you kill my son?”
“It was Shenzi.”
Fabana bowed her head and moaned. “Oh gods, that girl has been nothing but grief to me. She’s just like her father—worse.” She pawed at Taka’s blood-spattered mane. “Taka was the only one that really loved me. And he really loved me, you know, whatever else he might have done. He loved me.” She kissed him and sobbed out, “Memu kofasa, Taka. Roh’kash ne nabu. Roh’kash ne nabu!”
Short was the respite and long was the road Meager the rations and heavy the load Many and bitter the trials you have passed, Rest, my beloved, and find peace at last.
Reach for my heart, it’s not very far, We are together wherever you are; When I remember how you loved me so, Love will reveal it, and somehow you’ll know.
Although we suffered a lifetime of pain, Thoughts of the good times will always remain; Gone from my life, you’re not gone from my heart, Death has no power to keep us apart.
Reach for my heart, it’s not very far, We are together wherever you are; When you remember how I loved you so, Love will reveal it, and somehow I’ll know.
Sarabi took her paw and drew Fabana next to her and the two of them wept by the body.
The smell of Taka lingered in the cave that was once his home. As unpleasant as it had become to Simba, he could not leave Nala in the driving rain. And so it was in the cave where Simba was born that he swore his love to Nala and made her his queen. Rafiki made it abundantly clear to Timon and Pumbaa that the cave was much too small for visitors. “Don’t worry, the rain will only make you fresh and clean.”
“The only thing getting fresh around here is Simba,” Timon said with a withering attempt at humor. He drooped in the rain. “Well, Pumbaa, let’s go.”
But there would be no honeymoon just yet. Attracted by the call of Simba’s triumph, a procession of the few remaining inhabitants of the Pride Lands straggled in. The Incosi of the Zebras came first to look upon the new King and bow deeply. “Khemoki, Your Majesty, by Aiheu’s grace Incosi of the Zebra’ha. I stand ready to serve you.”
Pa’hal, Incosi of the Wildebeests, came next. “I beg the gods that you do not hate our people.” He bowed till his forehead touched the ground.
“Rise, uh….” Zazu whispered something in Simba’s ear. “Rise Pa’hal. Have no fear of that.”
The leader of each tribe of antelopes came, as did Jebweel of the Giraffes and Boga Kwitu of the Elephants. These were the Incosi, the leaders, who came with assurances they would not be struck down as prey as long as they spoke for their people. It was Simba’s duty to try and recognize all the wet creatures if he saw them again, but the lionesses were the ones who paid the most attention.
The Lion King, by custom, must not interfere in the internal affairs of his peoples. He only meddles in the affairs of other lions, and only when he feels he should. But he did make his influence known in a powerful way when he had Uhuru the hyena brought before him.
“You are the one we recognize as Incosi.”
With those words, Simba had imposed his will on the hyenas. In hyenas, the Incosi is referred to as the Roh’mach (great leader). And since hyenas consider themselves somewhat independent of the order established by the King, and they considered the Roh’mach a sovereign in every sense, they were bound to be furious at this attempt to influence what they felt was their own affairs. Though Shenzi may try to maintain her iron grip on the hyenas, she could not represent them any longer before the Lion King. There would be great pressure to make Uhuru the recognized Roh’mach because the fortunes of the hyenas had dipped even lower than usual.
Simba felt very successful in his dealing with the hyenas. Finally, by high moon, the last of the Incosi had paid their respect, and he was alone with Nala. He sat worried by the entrance watching the rain, lost in thought.
Nala nuzzled him and nibbled on his ear. “What is it, dear? Are you timid?”
“What?” He looked at her. “Oh.” He kissed her with his warm pink tongue. “I’m King, Nala. I used to look forward to this when I was a cub. Now it frightens me. There is so much to do, and I have had so little preparation.”
“You have friends,” Nala purred. “Friends that care about you.”
“I do, don’t I.” He looked out over the barren landscape. “I can only do the best I can. When I come face to face with Aiheu, he will know I tried.”
“You’ll be a fine King. Now why don’t you get some sleep, husband? I’ll be here when you wake.”
“You’ll be here when I wake?” Simba looked into Nala’s deep hazel eyes. “You’re the first thing I’ll see when I open my eyes.” He nuzzled her passionately and touched her left shoulder with his paw. “I will be King tomorrow. Tonight I am a lion.”
The air in the graveyard was quiet, filled only with the hiss and bubble of escaping methane as the hyenas, their once great numbers diminished in the terrible fight, straggled in slowly. Banzai limped off, muttering angrily, his haunches scored with claw marks, Ed following behind, still giggling maniacally at his discomfort. Exhausted, Shenzi made her way over to a quiet niche in the rock face and sat down. Skulk wandered over, his ears perking up as Shenzi grumbled under her breath.
“That sorry, no account, pandering IDIOT! Who does he think he is?!” She bared her teeth.
Skulk cringed, terrified. He had never seen her in such a rage. “Who? Krull?”
She uncoiled with the speed of a striking snake, cuffing him heavily across the jaw. Yelping, Skulk jerked away.
“Of course I mean Krull! Who do you THINK I’m talking about?” She clenched her jaw, the muscles flexing visibly. “I spent my entire LIFE waiting to become Roh’mach. And that imbecile of a king dares give it to a MALE?”
Skulk nodded energetically. “Of course. You should have been chosen as Roh’mach. You’re the only logical choice. You are far more cunning and powerful than Krull.”
“My name is Uhuru,” a voice said. The hyenas turned to see their new leader entering the graveyard. He walked over to Skulk, getting dangerously close. “You can just call me Roh’mach.”
Unable to contain himself, Skulk shoved his muzzle into Uhuru’s face. “You heathen traitor!” he screamed. “I ought to beat some respect into you!”
“Is that a challenge?”
“No, my dear Roh’mach. I would never dream of challenging you.”
“So you’re going to beat some respect into me?” Uhuru glared at him. “Either call me out now, or stow it.”
Skulk’s jaw dropped. So the lion stooge was daring him to fight! The former Krull was gone, and this was indeed Uhuru, a force to contend with, the Roh’mach. He drew back a step and spat angrily. “Gah! If I wanted to wet my jaws with a coward’s blood, I’d go hunting!”
Uhuru’s eyes narrowed. “I will choose not to take that as a challenge to my honor this time. But you have stirred up sedition, and you eat last until you learn how to behave.”
Skulk looks to Shenzi. “Do I have to put up with this?”
“Apparently so. He’s clearly the unchallenged ruler, or hasn’t anyone told you half a challenge is less than nothing.”
Skulk gritted his teeth. Without a word, he walked away stiffly, ignoring the occasional chuckles or snickers that sounded behind him.
Shenzi waited until the ruckus had died down, then rose quietly. Glancing around quickly, she made sure no one was watching. Seeing no spying eyes, she delved into the shadows. She passed under a hollowed out ribcage and made her way around the hissing geysers behind it to an isolated corner of the graveyard.
She smiled as she spotted Skulk sitting in front of an enormous skull, its surface yellowed with age. Pacing slowly up to him, she sat down. “C’mon, Skulk. No need to sulk.” She tittered slightly.
His eyes glowed eerily in the greenish light that permeated the graveyard. “Why do you put up with him?” he asked, hurt. “Why didn’t you help me?”
“I can’t fight all your battles for you. If you want something, you must take it.” She sighs in exasperation. “Why can’t you be a little more like a female?” Getting up, she turned to leave, but looked back over her shoulder coyly. “On the other hand, I do get excited when you get your fur up.” She paced by directly in front of him, swatting his nose with her tail playfully as she headed by.
Skulk sat transfixed for a moment, unable to move. Finally he leapt up and shook himself roughly. He paused for a moment, then padded off in the direction she had taken, his eyes fixed on her lithe body.
Skulk followed Shenzi to her private quarters that had once been Uzuri’s corner. There in the privacy of a cleft in the rock, Skulk brushed past her in the dim light and fondled her cheek with his paw. Finding no resistance, he kissed her passionately. “Shenzi, I’m on fire.”
“On fire?” She kisses him and rubs past him. “Just a little flame, or a real bonfire?”
“Oh gods, let me show you.” His breath was ragged and rapid, and she could almost hear his heart beating in the quiet of the cleft. “Are you ready?”
“I am ready. Ready to be Roh’mach.” She took a swipe at him with her paw. “I wanted you to know what you are NOT getting as long as that Uhuru is running the show. Oh, but power makes me sexy-very sexy. I’d take you to the corners of your wildest fantasies.”
“You should not lead me on like that,” he said through clenched teeth. “Maybe I won’t find you very sexy when YOU’RE ready.”
“I doubt it.” She rubbed her cheek against his and nibbled his ear gently. “You’re heart is pounding. You want to be next to me. You want me.”
“Stop it, Shenzi!” He crept into a corner and shuddered. “Don’t lead me on like that-I can’t stand it.”
“No one is leading you on. It’s very simple. When Uhuru is history, we will come here and make love till your heart stops.”
“But how could we fight against the lion’s Roh’mach? We won’t have anyone to answer to the King.”
“Who needs the King? He doesn’t let us on his hunting grounds anyhow. Ever think of that? What use is a Roh’mach that pals around with lions anyhow?” She whispered, “When you know someone’s weak spot, you can go in. That’s how you kill a gazelle. You go for the weak spot. So how do you get the lions to cooperate?”
“Do they have a weak spot?”
“Not to kill them, just to secure their cooperation.”
“Well-hmm-you know, they love their children as much as we do.”
“So if we could get a cub…”
“They would kill you.”
“Sure, if a direct assault, but the occasion calls for subtility. We could have them at our mercy.”
“Is this another of your theatrics here, or do you have a suggestion??”
“You bet your sweet fangs I have a suggestion. Let me whisper it in your ear when I have made you mine. I will make you Roh’mach or die trying, but tonight is ours.”
“I don’t take credit,” Shenzi said. “Just remember, the faster Uhuru is out of here, the sooner we take the vows.”
The morning sun felt warm against Isha’s fur as she sprawled in the cool grass. Always an early riser, she took joy in the thought that the other lionesses would be stuck sunning themselves on the hard rocks; between the drought and last night’s fire, there was precious little grass left to lie on at the moment.
Rolling over, she saw her small son Habusu sitting up, peering intently at something out of her line of vision. Leaning over, she nuzzled him. “What are you doing, Habu?”
He glanced over his shoulder at her. “Look, mama, there’s Togo and Kombi. Can I go play with them, pleeease?” He looked at her mournfully. Isha couldn’t help but laugh.
“All right, you little scamp! Go ahead, but stay close to Uzuri; I don’t want you all wandering off, now.”
He smiled broadly. “I’ll be good!” He scampered over to the others.
He was unexpectedly flattened by Togo. “Hey, Habu! Wanna play Mud Tag?” Togo asked.
Habusu got up shakily. “Uhh, yeah, I guess.”
Kombi smiled menacingly. “Good, then … you’re IT!” With a brutal shove, he sent the poor cub sliding down the slope to land in a mud puddle. Dragging himself out of the brackish water, Habusu’s eyes brimmed over with tears as he listened to the two laughing. Unable to bear it any longer, he turned and fled.
His progress was tracked sharply by two sets of dark eyes. Shenzi and Losara stood behind a stand of dry grass, with Losara’s pup Bashak lying next to her. Looking at her friend impatiently, Losara shook her head.
“Shenzi, what are we doing here? What if we get caught?”
“Hsshh! Here he comes.” Shenzi bared her teeth in a huge grin. “Perfect.” She glanced down at the bored pup next to her, and her grin widened. “Bashak, are you having fun?”
“No ma’am.” Fidgeting, he nuzzled his mother. “Mama, I’m bored,” the pup said crossly. Losara looked at him, and smiled gently.
“Why don’t you go play with the cub? We won’t be long.”
“Okay.” He trudged off. There was no cub in sight, but he did spot a locust on the grass. He patted at it with his paw and it jumped. He followed it, and it jumped again. He sprang up locust-like, laughing.
A blur of tawny lightning tore through a gap in the bushes and slammed into him, knocking him over. Rolling to a stop, he caught his breath.
“Cripes! Why don’t you look where you’re goin!” Bashak stared at the sodden mass before him. “What happened to you?”
Habusu looked at him miserably. “Uh, nothing.” He blinked, confused. “What are you, anyway?”
“I’m a hyena, silly. My name’s Bashak.” He peered at Habusu worriedly. “Uh, what about you?”
Habusu’s chest swelled proudly. “I’m Habusu. I’m a lion!”
Bashak looked at him, eyes wide. “Wow! I’ve never seen a lion up close before!” But he looked at him again. “They look much bigger from a distance.”
“That’s cause I’m not full grown.”
“How big will you be when you’re full grown?”
“See that bush?” Habusu smiled. “Bigger than that.”
“No kidding!” He thought a moment. “Then you’ll be as big as me!” Grinning, Bashak leaped on Habusu, and the two rolled in the dust, shrieking with glee. Habusu twisted lithely, bringing his greater weight to bear on the hyena pup, pinning him to the ground.
The sound of footsteps padded up to the bush. Losara poked her head in, pushing aside twigs with her nose. “Okay, Bashak, time to go…” she broke off, staring, her eyes narrowing at the sight of her child pinned under the paws of a lion cub. Shenzi’s head joined her. “Well, well, well, what have we here?”
Habusu shrank away, frightened by the looming females. “Look mama,” Bashak said excitedly. “This is my friend, Habusu. He’s a lion! Only he’s not full grown yet.”
“I see that.” Losara swallowed heavily. Dredging up a smile that felt too big for her face, she looked at the youngsters pleasantly. “Time to go home, now.”
Bashak’s face fell. “Aww, man,” he whined. “Do we have to?”
“Yes, if you want to eat anything for lunch.” She cocked her head, as if thinking. “If your friend’s hungry, why don’t you invite him? When you get done eating lunch, you can show him around the elephant graveyard.”
“Really?!” Bashak turned excitedly. “Hey, Habusu, wanna?”
The lion cub returned his friend’s grin. “Yeah! That’d be cool!”
Shenzi grinned. “Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go get some lunch!”
Nala yawned luxuriously in the morning light. Blinking her eyes rapidly, she stood up, extending her forelegs in front of her, shifted her weight to the rear and stretched. She closed her eyes in ecstasy as she felt the muscles in her back and legs tingle as they loosened.
Straightening up, she steped over to where Simba lay. Smiling to herself, she bent down and licked his nose. “Wake up, hon.”
He twitched his nose reflexively, but otherwise didn’t react. Her smile widening, Nala leaned over and nuzzled his face. Pursing her lips, she sent a gentle puff of air into his ear. He twitched spasmodically, flipping a paw up to brush her away. “Cut it out, Pumbaa,” he chuckled sleepily.
“Pumbaa, indeed!” Nala sent her tongue sweeping in a broad stroke across his face. She watched with amusement as his eyes shot open in surprise, relaxing as they focused on her.
“Beloved,” he whispered, and pawed her softly. “What time is it?”
He let out with a tremendous yawn. “Tree-tall, huh? Gods, I must have been tired to sleep this late.”
She laughed prettily. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said in mock contriteness. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have kept you up so late.”
He grinned at her, but before he could reply, Isha bounded in the entrance, her eyes widened to the whites.
“Forgive my intrusion, Incosi, but I can’t find my son! Please help me!” Isha was nearly incoherent. “I let him go play with Uzuri’s cubs’ but they don’t know where he went and he won’t answer my calls!”
“Calm down, Isha.” Nala padded over. “Where did you see him last?”
“I was lying in the grassy spot over by the north face. He went off to play with Togo and Kombi. I told him to stay near Uzuri but he didn’t listen.” She struck the ground with her paw. “I should never have let him go!” Uzuri trotted in, her cubs scampering along behind her to huddle at her feet. “I can’t find him, Isha. I don’t know where he went, but I found out why.” She turned to glare at the two cubs, who shrank back miserably. “It seems Togo and Kombi were playing a little…rough.” She patted Isha other lioness comfortingly. “Don’t worry, hon, he’s probably just sulking somewhere.”
“That’s just it; he always comes when I call him, no matter what mood he’s in. He’s such a good boy…” Wailing, she buried her head against Uzuri’s shoulder, her cries muffled against the fur.
Simba looked at Nala worriedly. “Oh, boy. I’m gonna go ask Rafiki if he can help. Maybe he’ll know where to look. In the meanwhile, get some search parties organized.”
She nodded, and led the other lionesses outside. Simba trotted hurriedly down the slope of the Rock to the ground below. Breaking into a run, he sprinted toward a nearby acacia, his feet kicking up small plumes of ash that settled slowly back to the charred ground. Nearing the tree, he shouted, “Rafiki!”
Reaching the base, he peered up through the denuded branches to see the mandrill blinking sleepily. “Rafiki? Are you awake?”
“Indeed I am. And not from your bellowing, my friend; I don’t think I got a wink of sleep all night.” He eyed the branches of the tree reproachfully. “Too many spines; I don’t know how civilized folk can stand to live in these.” Casting his gaze down at Simba, Rafiki frowned. “What is all the commotion about?”
“Habusu is lost. Can you do anything to help us? We have to find him quickly, before something else does.”
Rafiki shuddered at the thought. Wild Dogs come through from time to time. “Aiheu forbid. I will try.” Gathering his staff, he clambered gingerly down to the ground. “Lead on, my friend. I’ll hurry as fast as I’m able.”
Simba thought for a split second, then crouched down. “Wait, I’ll carry you; we’ll make better time that way.”
“I would not insult your dignity like that,” Rafiki said, clearly nervous.
Simba snorted in amusement. “You didn’t seem so concerned with my dignity that night you whacked me on the head, old friend.”
The mandrill shuffled his feet, embarrassed. “That was different.” Looking at the stretch of ground between himself and Pride Rock, he sighed resignedly. “Bend down.” He meandered over to the lion and hesitantly climbed onto Simba’s broad shoulders. He clutched a lock of mane tightly in one fist as the King stood up.
“Ouch!” Simba hissed. “Easy.”
Rafiki loosed his grip, but only lightly. He felt the weight underneath him shift powerfully as the lion broke into a lope. The mandrill watched breathlessly as the wind whipped through his hair. It was the fastest he’d ever travelled, and unable to help himself, he whooped aloud.
Simba said, “I knew you’d like it.”
Rafiki laughed at him unsteadily. “Like it? I’m scared to death!”
Khemoki, Incosi of the Zebra’ha, shook his head violently, trying to rid himself of the bothersome flies.
Then he saw something that made him forget the flies. Simba headed toward him at a dead run, an old mandrill on his back making the most horrible screeching noise. “Oh my Lord!” Khemoki cleared out of the way just in time.
He headed to find his mare who was having a good roll in the dust, oblivious to the whole episode.
“I say, Whinnyfred. I just saw the most extraordinary thing! Simba being ridden by that Rafiki chap!”
“I tell you, Whinny old girl, this neighborhood is going down. Down, I say, and I wouldn’t be surprised what mischief that old ape will work next. Not our sort, you know.”
“Oh Khemoki, you haven’t been hitting the Throckberries, have you?”
“Throckberries? Don’t be ridiculous. Bosh, I tell you. Besides, it’s too early in the day. Whinny, there’s something not quite right here. I think that ape is taking over.”
“And why not? He dabbles in the uncivilized arts, you know. I think we have a situation developing, and by jove I plan to keep a close eye on it. We don’t want to end up on the losing side.”
Unaware of the commotion behind him, Rafiki glanced down to see the ground blurring by in a mix of greens and browns. Suddenly nauseous, he closed his eyes, feeling the enormous muscles underneath him rippling in regular rhythm. Abruptly, their pace changed, and he opened his eyes to see a shallow trench approaching fast. Simba gathered his muscles under himself and leapt. Rafiki watched in horror as the world rotated lazily in front of him, sky and earth exchanging places as he sailed over Simba’s head to come to rest nose to nose with the lion, a lock of mane still clutched tightly in either hand.
Simba jerked wildly. “Rafiki, what are you doing?! I can’t see!”
The mandrill looked into the amber eyes inches away from his own and moaned. “Mumsie was right,” he thought. “I should have stayed at home with my brothers instead of becoming a shaman.”
Simba flicked his head gracefully, sending the poor mandrill flying back over his head to plunk down solidly onto his back again. Rafiki seized hold even tighter, despite Simba’s protests, and held on for dear life, muttering a prayer of thanks as he saw the foot of Pride Rock before them. Without slowing, Simba trotted up the slope to the promontory, finally stopping and allowing his passenger to dismount.
Rafiki slid off his back and stumbled forward on his weakened legs. “Thank you, Simba. You honor me greatly.”
Simba shrugged. “Maybe we can do it again sometime.” He looked in the cave. “Isha?”
The lioness trotted out of the cave, looking hopeful, but her face fell when she saw no sign of her cub.
“Isha, my poor dear,” Rafiki said, hugging her neck. “Do not fret. We will find your child.”
Rafiki took his staff and scrying bowl, then sat cross-legged on the ground. The gourd on his staff was full of water, and he pulled the stopper, pouring its contents into the bowl.
“Isha, do you have anything that he might have touched or played with in the past day or so? An old bone, perhaps?”
“No, he doesn’t play with toys very much; he likes to pounce and wrestle more than anything else.”
Rafiki frowned. “Hmm. That will make it more difficult; I don’t think I’ll be able to find him without something.”
Isha said, “How about some dead grass? I made him a soft place to sleep.”
He paused, stroking the flowing white hair which grew from his chin. “Yes. Yes indeed.”
She brought a small mouthful of dry grass, but he only took a few strands. She watched closely as he dropped the grass into the bowl, where it floated about in a small circle. Isha and Simba peered over his shoulder with interest as Rafiki made a short prayer asking the gods for guidance and protection. Bending over the bowl, Rafiki stirred it slightly with a finger, studying intently the patterns the ripples made as they bounced off the grass in the bowl and rebounded to the sides. Abruptly, he hunched over, mouth agape. “Makpelah the Circle. He lives.”
Simba sighed with relief as Isha sank to the ground. “Aiheu be praised,” she whispered. “Where is he?”
Rafiki scratched his head. “I don’t know; the signs are so confused and mixed up. All my knowledge tells me that he’s alive, yet…I see a skull also. Very strange.”
Isha’s eyes widened in horror. “Oh, no.”
“The child Habusu lives yet, I tell you. The rest I don’t know.” He looked at the bowl, pondering. “Let me try again.”
He bent over the bowl, stirring the water gently. He leaned over it, his wizened face only inches from the water’s surface. “This is interesting…”
“Hey, your Majesty!” called a shrill voice. Startled, Rafiki jumped, sending the bowl and its contents flying. Simba looked down to see Shenzi at the foot of Pride Rock. “I would most HUMBLY request an audience with you.”
Simba walked to the edge of the promontory. “I am occupied just now. Send the Roh’mach to see me later. I will talk with him.”
Simba turned his back, intent on rejoining the others, when Shenzi called after him. “Ah, such a warm and caring king you are, to abandon one of your own out in the wilderness.”
He jerked his head around. “What??”
“Our new Roh’mach speaks of cooperation and understanding,” she sneered. “And yet when we offer our services, you spurn us!”
His eyes bored into hers. “What are you talking about?” he asked. “What services?”
“Why, our help in finding your lost cub.”
Simba’s jaw dropped in disbelief.
Nala rushed up beside him, eyes burning with rage. “Who told you?? How did you know that??”
Shenzi tittered. “Oh, I keep my ear to the ground, dearie. Word travels fast when the King’s disturbed.”
“A little too fast,” Nala retorted.
“I didn’t come here to be insulted, Your Majesty.” Shenzi looked at Nala balefully. “We offered our help, and you responded with thinly veiled accusations.” She sighed, pained. “I just hope the dear doesn’t suffer to much when the wild dogs find him. They DO love to tear their prey to pieces while it’s still alive.”
“Enough,” Simba grated. “All right, Shenzi. In the spirit of cooperation, we would gratefully accept any help you offer.”
“Of course, in the spirit of cooperation,” she said, frowning. “I would HATE to think of what would happen to the poor dear if we WEREN’T on good terms with each other, wouldn’t you?”
Simba stood silently as he digested her words. To think that the life of their cub depended on the goodwill of that creature standing below… Simba closed his eyes as a shudder traveled slowly down his spine. Then he met her gaze directly.
“Yes,” he said deliberately. “It would be a great tragedy…for both of us.”
Shenzi looked awfully smug in the face of his open threat. The life of the cub hung in the balance, and unlike Simba, she had nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
Losara lay with her head upon her paws, watching Habusu and Bashak chase each other back and forth among the bones and rocks in the graveyard. The two were apparently blessed with an inexhaustible supply of energy, and Losara had already had to discourage them from the fun game of trying to see who could hang from her tail by their teeth the longest. Chuckling despite herself, she dodged as Bashak shot past at a dead run, yelling, “Nyah nyah, you can’t catch me!”
Habusu followed hot on his heels, but balked when he saw the hyena pup vanish into the dark recesses of an enormous skull. Peering warily into the interior, he saw nothing but darkness. He thought for a moment, then leaped upwards.
Giggles resounded from inside the bleached elephant skull as Habusu clambered his way up the front of it, grinning. He made his way slowly along the chipped tusk, feet splayed and claws extended slightly to keep his balance. Nestling up to the face of the skull, he leaned his head towards it and pressed an ear up to the surface. “Come out, come out, wherever you are!”
More giggles came forth from the interior. “No way! You have to come in and get me!”
His grin widened. ‘Gotcha,’ he thought. He peered upwards, gauging the distance. Crouching down, he leapt, his claws flicking out to latch onto the rim of an eye socket. With great effort, he hauled himself up. He had his forelegs braced and was preparing to pull himself in when a face loomed in front of him. Bashak grinned toothily, and yelled “BOO!”
Startled, Habusu lost his grip and slid down the face of the skull to land in a heap of bone splinters. “Ow!”
Bashak stopped laughing and peered down worriedly. “Hey, Habu, you okay?”
The cub sat up and shook his head, examining a bloody scratch on his leg. “Yeah, I’m okay.”
Losara appeared from behind the back of the skull, an annoyed look on her face. “What in the world are you two doing now?” She saw Habusu shaking his injured leg and trotted over. “What did you do?”
“I slipped and fell, that’s all. It’s just a scratch, see?” He showed her the injured limb proudly. “It doesn’t hurt.”
She frowned down at him sternly. “You be careful, now.”
“Yes ma’am.” Habusu breathed a silent sigh of relief as Losara returned to where she had been lying. He had been terribly afraid that she would make him go home. Home…
He grimaced as he thought about his mother. He had gone off without telling her where he was going again. His bottom tingled with remembered pain as he thought about what had happened that time. Hearing a rustling noise, he looked over to see Bashak emerging from the mouth of the skull.
The hyena pup glanced at him, abashed. “Sorry; I didn’t mean to scare you like that, man.”
“You didn’t scare me!” Habusu said indignantly. “I just, uh, lost my balance.”
Bashak laughed at him. “With feet like that, I’m not surprised!”
“Oh yeah? Well you don’t have the best looking feet yourself.” Suddenly, his eyes widened as he stared at Bashak’s furry paws.
The pup looked down. “What? What is it?”
Habusu stared in horror at the shadow the pup cast straight down. It was almost highsun.
“Oh, man, Mom’s gonna KILL me,” he groaned. “I gotta get home.”
Bashak’s face drooped. “Really?”
“Yeah. I’ll see you later, okay?”
Habusu turned to leave, but bumped into the strong arm of a large male hyena blocking the path. “And just where do you think you’re going?” Skulk scowled down at the annoying little furball before him. Shenzi crept up beside him, grinning malevolently.
Habusu cringed. “Uh, I was just heading home, sir. My mother’s gonna be awful mad if I don’t get home soon.” He moved to circle around Skulk, but a paw slapped him brutally away. He went sliding across the dirt to crash into Bashak, sending both of them tumbling. Rasing a paw to his face in shock, Habusu started to cry.
“SHUT UP! I’m tired of listening to your whiny little voice.” Skulk glared at him, fangs bared as he turned to Kh’tel, one of his attending guards. “Mount watch on this little furball. Don’t let him out of your sight. If he tries to run, stop him, but don’t kill him…yet. If Shenzi’s right, he may yet be of some use to us.”
The guard nodded energetically. “Boy, Shenzi’s really smart, eh, Skulk?” He giggled insanely. “I bet she tells you ALL of her secrets, doesn’t she?”
Skulk merely stood silently and stared at him until his laughter died away to nervous silence. “I’ll send some others to help you guard him. For now, keep an eye on him.” He leaned towards the other hyena until their noses were only inches apart. “I will hold you personally responsible for anything that happens to him. Do you understand?”
Kh’tel swallowed audibly. “Y-Yes, sir.”
Nodding, he looked back at Habusu and Bashak, who were both bawling at the top of their lungs. “Losara,” he growled, “make yourself useful and get those two brats to SHUT UP!” Skulk looked at Shenzi. “Everything’s working according to plan.”
He thinks he runs the clan, but he can’t run an errand He has the looks, but doesn’t have a clue, And even worse than that, we’ve nabbed a lion brat, Uhuru never even knew!
I think I see your point, his nature’s far too trusting A ‘kick me’ sign is plastered on his back, He doesn’t seem the sort we need to hold the fort, It’s time we gave our friend the sack.
He’s wishy-washy, golly-goshy, just a lion’s puppet, An elevated, overrated fool; The kind of lame excuse without a single use, That simply Isn’t fit to rule!
What’s a puppet?
It’s someone with wood for brains.
This is treason!
You bet your whiskers! Now where have I heard that line before?
It was a brilliant plan, forgive me if I chuckle, But I enjoy a laugh at his expense; If they want Junior back, Uhuru’s gonna pack, It’s really making perfect sense!
I want to see his face, the moment that you tell him, I bet’cha that his eyes are gonna cross! Uhuru’s gonna find, he’s really in a bind, We’re gonna show him who’s the boss!
He’s wishy-washy, golly-goshy, just a lion’s puppet, An elevated, overrated fool; The kind of lame excuse without a single use, That simply Isn’t fit to rule!
Wheeling about, Shenzi and Skulk stalked away.
Losara glared after them as she trotted over to the children. “Shh,” she whispered, holding them to her with a paw. Habusu buried his face against her chest and continued to cry hoarsely. “I w-want my MOTHER!”
“I know, hon. Shh, it’ll be all right.” She licked away his tears. “You’re just going to spend the night with your auntie Losara, that’s all.”
Bashak looked up at her, sniffling. “Mama, Skulk’s not gonna hurt Habu, is he?”
Losara kissed him gently on the forehead. “No, Bashak. He won’t hurt your friend.” She raised her head to stare after the departed hyena, her jaw firmly clenched. “Not as long as I’m alive.”
Sarafina paused to catch her breath, the lionesses behind her flopping to the ground gratefully. They had been searching for Habusu for hours, and it was now high-sun, when the fire shone fiercely down upon their overheated bodies, sapping them of their strength.
“Fini,” called a voice faintly. Turning, Sarafina glanced behind her. “Yes?”
Yolanda paused, panting heavily. “I don’t think we’re going to find him here, Sarafina. We’re too close to THEM.” She motioned to her right. The elephant graveyard lay just beyond, shimmering in the rising heat waves.
“I don’t think the little tike would wander in there, anyway. Besides, they can search this area much better than we; their more familiar with the territory.”
“I don’t have any intention of letting them find Habu, no matter what that mealy-mouthed brute promised. If they did find him, what’re the chances of them bringing him back?” She snorted in derision. “No, we’ll keep our own counsel when it comes to trusting hyenas.”
Yolanda nodded tiredly. “You’re right, it’s just…” she trailed off, growling with frustration, lashing the ground with her tail angrily. “We’ve looked for hours. Where is he?!”
Zazu fluttered overhead. “No word here, ladies. I’ve asked the vultures. They are ruthlessly honest, you know, and they say they have not—well, they saw nothing.”
Ajenti groaned as she rose from her resting place. “Well, we’ll not find out by sitting on our rumps.”
Sarafina nodded in agreement. She rose and moved out ahead of the other two again. Forming a triangle, they covered the ground slowly, eyes scanning the area ahead while their heads swept back and forth, searching for any trace of scent.
The sun began its slow inexorable slide westward. The hours passed slowly, their task made increasingly difficult by the shadows which stretched out before them, concealing small niches and crevices from their sight. They finally reached the outskirts of the graveyard as twilight was falling. The hyena guard posted at the perimeter hailed them roughly. “‘Lo, there! Who comes?”
“Lionesses from Pride Rock, sir.” Sarafina hated having to address the bedraggled creature in front of her as such, but she dared not risk offending them now. “Have you any news of the missing cub?”
He grinned uneasily. “No, dear lady, I’m afraid not. But have no fear, should we find him, you’ll be the first to know.”
Yolanda’s eyebrows drew together in sudden wariness. This guard was far too polite. Moving forward, she interrupted Sarafina’s reply. “Thank you, sir. We appreciate the help.” Butting Sarafina gently with her shoulder, she motioned them away into the shadowy dark until they were out of earshot.
“What’re you doing?” Sarafina raised an eyebrow.
“That hyena stinks of helpfulness. I don’t trust him. Let’s look around a bit, shall we?” She moved off, paralleling the edge of the graveyard proper.
Sarafina moved up alongside, Ajenti trailing. “Heh,” she chuckled softly. “And you were the one who wanted to let them look-” She stopped so abruptly that Ajenti plowed into the back of her.
“Ouch!” Ajenti rubbed her bruised nose with a forepaw. “What the—”
“Shh!” Sarafina bent, sniffing. Her eyes gleamed in the dim light as her head rose. “I’ve got his scent!”
Yolanda jerked her head around. “What?”
Without replying, Sarafina headed off toward the graveyard at a fast trot, her nose bent to the ground, almost touching. Ajenti and Yolanda exchanged a look, then hurried to catch up. They followed Sarafina up a rise, stopping when they reached a row of prickly acacia thorns.
Sarafina flattened out onto the ground. Creeping forward, she rolled onto her side, squirming her way under one of the bushes while the others watched, astonished. She had perhaps half her body buried in the dense growth when she stopped. Her voice came drifting back faintly. “What in Aiehu’s name…”
Ajenti crept near her. “What is it?”
Sarafina’s voice came back, edged with rage. “Oh, they’re very helpful. It seems they’ve managed to find Habusu already; they’ve just neglected to tell anyone. There’s an elephant skull about ten lengths downslope from me. He’s sitting in front of it.”
A growl rumbled in Yolanda’s chest. “Let’s go get him!”
“No, that won’t work. There’s a group of hyenas surrounding him. Too many to fight. At least a war party, maybe more.”
Yolanda’s eyes grew wide. “All that to guard one cub? What in Aiheu’s name is going on?”
Sarafina slowly wormed her way back out from under the bushes. Standing, she shook herself roughly, scattering the dirt ground into her pelt. “I don’t know, but we’d better go and tell Simba.”
Ajenti shook her head rapidly. “We can’t leave him!”
“We’ll do him no good if we get ourselves killed. Let’s go. I want to be back at the Rock before high moon.”
The cool night breeze ruffled the fur of the lioness sitting at the point of Pride Rock. Isha sat quietly, staring unseeing at the beautiful panorama before her, all her thoughts turned inward.
Feeling a touch at her shoulder, she glanced over to see Kako sitting next to her.
Kako shook her head. “I’m sorry, Isha. Nobody’s seen or smelled any sign of him.”
Isha nodded and returned to staring out across the dark surface of the ground which lay far below them. A series of small frustrated desires pulled at her heart. It was time for Habu’s bath. She ached to hold him, to feel his warm presence near her. She agonized over the thoughts that he may be afraid, that he may be lonely, wounded or hungry. That he may be cold. That he might be calling her name. That he may be begging some enemy for mercy. That he might even be dead, or even worse dying in great pain. Her jaw trembled slightly and a single tear rolled glistening down her cheek, matting the fur. Another followed behind it, dropping free to splash against the cold stone under her feet. “Oh God, Kako, he can’t die, he just can’t. He’s the only cub I have left. I can’t lose him!”
“Isha, we have to talk.”
“I don’t know if I can right now.”
“Isha, for God’s sake, I have to know. You made it with my son, didn’t you. That’s his son out there, Isn’t it.”
“Yes and yes,” Isha snapped.
“He was only a cub. You took advantage of him.”
“He begged me,” Isha said, turning to stare straight into her eyes. “Begged me, Kako. He was on fire.”
“How can you sit there and say that?”
“He’s always wanted me. Taka sent him out there to starve. Baba knew it too.” A tear rolled down her cheek. “Poor little Baba. He didn’t want to die, but the one thing he regretted not doing was being alone with me. He wanted me as no lion ever wanted me, and I gave him what he desired.”
“Out of pity?”
“Pity? No, not just pity.” She reached up with her paw and stroked Kako’s cheek. “I love him. I thought I would yield out of pity, and it started that way. But your son was a lion, not a cub. When we made love…” Isha’s eyes filled with tears. “The things he said to me. How I long to hear them again. I’d give anything if he’d come back to me.” She sighed. “His son is out there. Your grandson. You neglected him. He doesn’t even know who you are. It may be too late to ever tell Habu you love him.”
“I know, and I grieve for him and for you. But oh gods, did it have to be such a tawdry affair?”
“He’s my husband,” Isha said firmly. “I’ve remained faithful to him. I will till the day I die.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Why didn’t you ask me?”
Kako sighed deeply. “Did he understand what he was doing?”
“I did have three cubs you know.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“You mean did he really love me? Yes. Do I really love him? Yes. Would we do it again? Yes, as the gods are my witness. I want to spend my life making him happy, tending his wounds, catching his prey, raising his cubs. Oh gods, what I wouldn’t give to have him here right now. My husband is gone, two of my cubs are dead, my third is lost, and now the lioness I thought was my best friend has turned against me.”
“No, Isha. That’s not so.” She leans on Isha and purrs, nuzzling her. “You’re like a very dear sister. I’m just having trouble thinking of you as a daughter.” She nuzzles her again. “I’ll try. Really I will. I just need a little time.”
Simba hurried up to where Isha and Kako sat. “I just spotted Sarafina’s group heading in. They’re the only ones who haven’t reported in yet; maybe they’ll have some good news.”
The three fidgeted uncomfortably as they waited for Sarafina and her companions to ascend the path to the promontory. Breasting the top, Sarafina padded over tiredly. She knelt in front of Simba, her muscles trembling with fatigue. “Incosi aka Incosi,” she panted. “I touch your mane.”
“I feel it,” he replied. “Rest a minute, Fini. The report can wait.”
She shook her head rapidly. “No time, Sire. We found Habu.” Sarafina stood, panting mutely as the others gaped in surprise. “Where is he?” Isha finally managed. She scanned the group rapidly. “Oh God, tell me he’s not dead.”
Nala looked at the miserable expression on her mother’s face and turned cold. No, she thought. Oh, please, no.
Sarafina finally spoke. “He is alive, Isha.” The lioness started to smile, but it faded quickly as Sarafina continued. “Aiheu forgive me for saying so, but it might be better for him if he had died. The hyenas have him.”
Isha’s eyes widened in horror as Simba stepped forward. “What?!” He looked at Yolanda, then Ajenti. They both nodded slowly.
“We were searching near the graveyard, and I picked up a faint scent trail of his. It led directly to the acacia thorns on the off-side—”
“I know that place,” he said, nodding. “How’d you get in?”
“Well, I crawled under, just partway, until I could see into the graveyard. I saw him clearly, Sire.”
“What else did you see?”
Sarafina closed her eyes, thinking hard. “There was a large group of the hyenas around him in a kind of ring, like they were guarding him, or…”
“…or making sure he didn’t escape,” Nala growled angrily. “I KNEW that lying cur was going to do something like this. Shenzi and Uhuru are not that different after all.” She glanced over at Simba, expecting him to nod in agreement.
Instead, Simba sat silently, staring at the ground for a moment. Rising slowly, he paced over to the tip of the promontory and raised his head to look at the stars shining brightly overhead. His face crumpled suddenly, whiskers drooping. His jaw quivered as he looked up at the stars. “I thought I could trust him. He told Rafiki he believed in our God. Why doesn’t Aiheu strike him dead??”
Simba’s grief was deep and awful. For a minute or more he sat silently, his face pointed into the stars. Then he sighed. “Uhuru risked his life to help me. God help me, I’ll have to give him the benefit of the doubt. If he proves false, then God help him!” Simba walked over to Isha and nuzzled her. “It’s time we showed our hyena friends who is in charge here,” he said, his voice rumbling low in his throat. He looked up into the sky again, drew in a deep breath, and roared. He roared loud enough that everyone in the earth and in the skies above or the caves below could tell a lion was angry. He was joined by the others in the pride, and as the sound grew it took on an otherworldly quality that would strike fear into the heart of a stone.
“Come, Isha. Let’s go get your son.”
As they prepared to leave, Simba glanced up at the starry sky. He uttered a silent prayer to Aiheu, asking Him to watch over them in the upcoming fight.
Some distance away, a young hyena looked up to the sky, and prayed also, but for a less noble reason.
“Roh’kash, please bring the dawn soon! I hate guard duty!” Grumbling, Griz’nik paced slowly back and forth, fighting to stay awake. Somehow, it always seemed like he ended up with the night patrol. Bad enough that he got stuck with guard duty to begin with, but the night patrol? Skulk had it in for him, he decided. Ever since the hyena had pandered his way into Shenzi’s good graces, he acted as though he was in charge of everything.
“Gimme five minutes with him and I’ll show him who’s boss-” he broke off and stopped his pacing as his jaws opened in a bone-cracking yawn. Glancing around furtively to see if anyone was near, he paced over to a jutting column of stone and lay down.
“I’ll just rest a minute,” he thought. “A good guard can’t keep alert unless he’s well rested. Why, he would be derelict in his duty if he didn’t stay fully awake.”
His eyes snapped open. Blinking rapidly, he stood up and shook himself. Looking around, he cringed as he saw a faint glow had formed in the east, illuminating the early morning mist which swirled about him gently. Seeing no one, he sighed gratefully; his nap had apparently gone unnoticed. Turning, he padded over to the entrance to the graveyard, intending to call for his relief, when he heard a faint sound behind him.
His head snapped around to stare into the swirling mist. Pricking his ears up, he strained to catch any sound at all. Suddenly, the hair rose on his neck as he caught a tenebrous rustling. His eyes darted frantically, trying to catch a glimpse of something, but grayish white blankness, broken only by the faint outline of rocks, was all he could see. He took a tentative step forward, intending to investigate, when he heard a loud SNAP! from somewhere to his right.
He froze, ears laid back in fear, waiting for something to appear, but total silence now reigned. Time slowed to a crawl as he held his ground, frantic for his relief to appear, but afraid to turn his back to the open air. The mist began to lighten as the sun rose, its warm rays beginning to burn away the moist air. Sighing with relief, he chuckled at himself.
“I’m glad Skulk didn’t see me,” he chortled. “Shaking like a pup afraid of the dark.” There was another sound, and he glanced around nervously.
A pair of glittering eyes floated towards him out of the mist, their pupils burning red as hellfire in the morning light. They were joined by another, then another…he wailed as he saw he was surrounded by them, the eyes closing rapidly to reveal the dim sihoulettes of lions, too many to count, their stocky bodies moving silently through the dewy grass.
The form nearest him resolved into a lioness which bared her teeth at him and snarled. “Greetings, friend,” she said. Her hindquarters bunched as she prepared to spring.
“Ga-ghu-gah-greetings,” he stammered. “Hunting so late? You know, I once heard that hyenas are not part of your diet. Good thing you know. You never know what we’ve been eating. Nasty stuff, really. Dead for days sometimes, you know. Sometimes, you know, the heat makes the bodies swell, but beggers can’t be choosers.” He looked at the hard eyes staring at him. “Oh my God, I’m going to die!” Griz’nik suddenly found his voice. “HELP!” he screamed, legs scrabbling in the dirt as he turned to run. An immense weight bore him to the ground, sending the air whuffing out of him as he impacted. He felt claws digging painfully into his shoulders and back as he struggled for air. A voice suddenly spoke in his ear.
“Shut up and sit still, or you’ll be fodder for the buzzards,” Uzuri whispered savagely. Turning her head, she nodded to Simba. “Sire, I’ve got him. Bring the others in.”
Simba nodded back and signaled with a low grunt which carried clearly through the fog. The lionesses streamed past him, eager to join battle with their foes. A sudden chorus of yelps and snarls resounded through the thinning mist as they overcame the hyenas just inside the graveyard. Abruptly an eerie howling arose as someone raised the alarm.
With surprise lost, Simba forewent silence and let loose with an earsplitting roar that shook Griz’nik’s bones. The hyena cowered as the king loomed over him, his eyebrows beetled together in anger.
“Where is the cub Habusu?” Simba snarled. “Tell me and you will be shown mercy.”
Griz’nik gaped senselessly. “Sire?” he sputtered. “All they told me is to watch for strangers. They don’t tell me why. Please let me go. If they find out I failed, they’ll kill me. I just want to run away. Give me a chance, please?”
“Let him go,” Simba said. Turning, he padded into the graveyard proper. The mist was burning off quickly as the sun began to make its prescence felt, but steam and vapors concealed the shadows as he made his way among the bones. A shape hove into view as Uhuru emerged from his cave, yawning.
“Sire!” he said, surprised. “What an honor.” The Incosi cocked his head curiously as he looked at Simba’s grim visage. “No news on your missing child, I’m afraid.”
With a snarl, Simba bounded up to him nose to nose and bared his teeth. “What in God’s name do you think you’re doing with our cub? Did you think we wouldn’t find out??”
Uhuru shook as he stared at the massive fangs that were only inches away from his face. “S-Sire? I don’t understand—”
Isha padded up to join them. “Liar! Where is my child? What have you done with him??” She scanned the area frantically. “Habu? Habu, it’s Mom! Oh gods, answer me!” Her voice echoed, mocking her. She turned back to Uhuru, her ears laid flat in anger. “What have you done with him?”
Overhead, on a jutting lip of rock, Shenzi sat quietly, her sides heaving with barely suppressed laughter. “Oh MY,” she thought, “This is too good! Uhuru looks like a whipped pup!” She bit her lip to keep from giggling her head off. After a few minutes, she regained some semblance of control and returned her attention to the scene below.
Uhuru huddled in the alcove where Simba and Isha had backed him. “Sire, please! I don’t understand! It’s not my fault! I helped you once, risked my life for you!”
Simba started to speak, but Isha cut him off. “It’s obvious you don’t understand,” she hissed. “Let me spell it out clearly. If my son is not brought before me immediately, I’ll rip you and leave the meat for the jackals.”
Uhuru bared his teeth at her, growling. “Fine, then. Rip me. Aiheu will avenge my innocent blood.”
Isha raised a forepaw, but a voice stopped her. “Now, now, my dear; such conduct is not very ladylike.” Rafiki tapped her extended claws with his staff. “Put those away before you hurt somebody.”
“That WAS the idea,” she snapped back. “He won’t even admit his guilt, Rafiki. Can you believe it?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Is it possible that he has no guilt?” The mandrill turned to Uhuru. “Peace, my friend. The truth will out.”
Uhuru said, “Forgive me Sire, but if the child was here, I’d at least show him to you. That way, I’d have a tangible threat; I can’t hurt something I don’t have.”
Sarafina stepped forward. “Oh, really,” she grated. “Then what was that lion cub doing in the north esacarpment of the graveyard last night? Don’t deny it; I saw him myself, ringed about by at least a dozen guards.”
Uhuru was aghast. “Oh gods!” He trailed off for a moment, his brow furrowed in thought. Abruptly his whole form slumped, and he looked at the ground for a long moment. “Sire, I was not ready to be Roh’mach. You chose me out of gratitude, but that cannot make me a great leader.” Lifting his gaze, he looked up to the ledge where Shenzi sat in the shadows. “I know how it may have happened. But should any harm befall the child of Isha while he is in my care, I will take full responsibility. I offer my life in exchange.”
“I want to believe you,” Simba said. “I really do.”
“What do you have that I want? Why would I kidnap one of your children? I’m already Roh’mach. I might understand a jealous rival trying to undermine me.” He glared at Shenzi. “By the gods, I’ll help you tear them apart when I catch them.”
Simba nuzzled Uhuru. “Forgive me.” Then he glared up at Shenzi. “Are you responsible for this?”
“And what if I am, cubby? What are you going to do about it?” Her voice was full of contempt. “Touch me and your little babykins is going to be tonight’s dinner.”
Isha took a sharp breath as Simba strode forward angrily. “What do you want?”
Shenzi laughed. “Are you that dense? I want that pathetic excuse for a Roh’mach replaced. We need someone more qualified.”
“That someone wouldn’t happen to be you, would it?” Simba rumbled.
Her eyes widened in mock surprise. “Why, dearie, I thought you’d never ask. I’d be delighted to volunteer.”
“I’m sure you would,” he shot back. Simba roared loudly enough to shake the bones on the ground. “I will not be dictated to by anyone, especially you. You helped Scar kill my father, and by God I either get Habusu back or I’ll rip you.”
“So she helped kill Mufasa too?” Uhuru confronted Shenzi. “Let’s end this here and now. I call on the gods to witness our Shih’kal. I challenge you to the death.”
Deathly silence fell as Shenzi stared at Uhuru, openmouthed. “What? You can’t do this!”
Azuba stepped forward. “But he has,” she said coldly. “Accept the challenge, or forefit your claim as Roh’mach.”
Shenzi looked around at the other hyenas. The challenge had been witnessed, and she faced only two paths. “Very well. I accept the challenge.” She spat at Uhuru’s feet. “Fool. You would have lost your title. Now you lose your life.”
“Really?” His eyes bored into hers intently. “We shall see.”
Shenzi began circling Uhuru slowly, sizing him up. The male was not as well built as Skulk, but his quickness and agility were well known. One of the reasons Taka had chosen him to guard Rafiki was his ability to quickly think his way out of any situations that might have arisen; Shenzi faced an opponent who matched her own intelligence, and that made him doubly dangerous.
Uhuru sat quietly, keeping a wary eye on the bigger female. He was trying not to show it, but deep down he was terribly frightened of this hyena; she had already shown in the past what she was capable of. Fighting to remember all his mother had taught him about combat, he kept his head low to the ground, trying to give her the smallest target possible.
She suddenly floated toward him, jaws agape as a snarl ripped the air. Twisting desperately, he flung himself out of the way, sending her crashing to the ground. Before he could react, however, she was up and away, out of reach.
“Oooh, quick little one, aren’t we?” She leered at him, panting. “How long can you keep dodging before my teeth find your throa-” Her sentence ended in a shriek as he darted forward. She copied his move, spinning out of harm’s way, coming to rest with her legs braced for action.
Uhuru returned her smile. “You’ll find I’m full of surprises.” He charged again, his jaws closing on her shoulder, tearing away a chunk of flesh and hair. Gnashing her teeth in pain, Shenzi drove forward with her hind legs, using her greater weight to bear him to the ground. He writhed like a snake under her, wriggling away from her snapping jaws and escaping her grasp to stand before her again.
He began circling her now, his face grim in the dim light. She staggered in a circle, feeling the blood running down her foreleg, her shoulder ablaze.
Skulk cursed inwardly as he saw her face. She had gone in overconfident, sure that her superior size would intimidate Uhuru, but it had backfired, and she was now paying the price; the fear on her face indicated that it would only be a matter of time before she went down under his onslaught. The rules of Shi’khal were strict, however; there was nothing Skulk could do to interfere. Glancing over, he saw the lions watching the fight, utterly absorbed in the combat taking place before them. His eyes fell upon Isha, and a grin spread across his angular face.
There might just be a way to solve this problem after all, he thought. He glanced around furtively, and seeing everyone’s attention fixed on the fight, he melted into the shadows and disappeared, heading off towards the elephant graveyard as fast as his legs would carry him.
Though his departure had been flawless, his arrivial did not go unnoticed. Scrambling down from atop the skull where he had been sitting, Bashak sped across the open area where the clan held its meetings to where Losara sat. “Mama,” he said breathlessly, “he’s comin’!”
She nodded, a disgusted look on her face. “I expected as much. You remember what to do?”
He nodded eagerly. “Uh-huh.”
“All right, then let’s get moving.” The pup shot away towards the far end of the graveyard as fast as his legs would carry him. Losara turned and trotted over to the entrance, where she sat down, waiting.
Skulk’s form slowly emerged from the dark. “Greetings, Losara.”
She nodded. “Skulk? Why are you not with Shenzi?”
“Things are not proceeding as planned. I’m here to rectify the situation.” Brushing past her, he headed towards the skull which sat in the distance. “Our great and glorious Roh’mach challenged Shenzi to the Shi’khal, which she immediately has proceeded to lose.” He looked at her sidewise. “I plan to give the lions a little incentive to solve our problem. Uhuru pledged his life with the cub’s. Let’s hold him to that promise.”
She trotted past him, cutting him off. “What are you doing?”
“I’m going to plant his little carcass right in front of our glorious Roh’mach. Then I can sit back and watch the fun begin.” His eyes narrowed as he saw her cut in front of him again. “You’d be well advised not to get in my way again, wench,” he said, his lip curling back to reveal his fangs.
“Idiot! You don’t have to worry about that anymore.” She sneered at him. “Your foolish choice of guards has already been his undoing.” Her face pinched in sorrow. “Gods, can’t you hear it?”
He stared at her, puzzled, and cocked an ear. Faintly, he heard a distant wailing coming from the northern escarpment where the lion cub had been incarcerated. Eyes widening in realization, he looked at her in shock. “NO!”
Tears sprang to her eyes. “I tried to stop him, but he was too strong.” She was abruptly knocked aside as Skulk took off, heading toward the distant skull. Picking herself up, she laughed softly. “Idiot.” Shaking herself, she padded off after him.
Griz’nik stood stoically at the mouth of the skull, trying desperately to ignore the horrible sounds coming from within.
“Almighty Roh’kash!” he muttered, “why does stuff like this always happen when I’m on duty?” He gritted his teeth as a drilling shriek issued from inside the dank recesses of the skull where the cub was imprisioned. Kh’tel had ordered him and the other guards to stay outside while he went in there to “interrogate” the prisoner. Judging from the sounds the cub was making, Griz’nik doubted if Kh’tel was in there making polite conversation. He felt a muffled impact thorough the bone at his back, punctuated by an abrupt CRACK. A horrible scream resounded from inside. The guards looked at him, their eyes wide.
Griz’nik winced and shook his head in sympathy. “Gods, that’s gotta HURT.”
Skulk ran like one posesssed, the cries of the cub filling his ears, lending a desperate urgency to his straining muscles. As he neared the escarpment, he saw the other guards ringed around the skull, various looks of disgust and glee on their faces. Abruptly, the cries from within the skull ceased, and Kh’tel emerged from the mouth of it, licking his lips in obvious enjoyment.
Skulk bounded up and confronted him immediately. “What the devil are you DOING?!” he screamed.
Kh’tel shrank back, frightened. “Calm down, Skulk. Our little guest decided to get antsy, here, so I had to take care of him.” He frowned deeply. “I tell you, though, lions are almighty tough to stomach.” He abruptly held forth with a tooth-rattling belch.
Skulk stuck is head into the mouth of the skull. Peering about, he made out vague bloodstains on the inside walls. Casting his gaze down, he saw a small tuft of golden fur, ruffling gently from his breath. Emerging slowly, he glared balefully at his companion. The corners of Skulk’s jaw clenched tightly as he fought to repress a shriek. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”
Kh’tel stared at him blankly. “What’s wrong with you? Don’t tell me you liked the little furball?!”
“No, imbecile! But at least with a body I could have proved he was dead! I could have solved all our problems with one stroke. Now I’ve got to figure out how to make them think he’s dead!” Skulk sat seething for a minute, then brightened. “It’s a long shot, but it just might fool them.” Ducking his head into the skull, he snatched up the small bit of lion fur lying on the ground. Emerging, he shouldered past Kh’tel roughly as he stalked away, grumbling, but stopped abruptly and looked back. “Hold it,” he said, peering at Kh’tel intently. “You finished him off awfully quick.”
The corner of Kh’tel’s mouth twitched slightly. “Well, uh, he was kinda small—”
Skulk shook his head in disgust. “You greedy slob.” A peevish note crept into his voice. “Couldn’t you have saved some for me?”
Kh’tel grinned shame-facedly. “Sorry.”
Skulk stared at him a moment longer, then trotted away quickly.
Kh’tel held the grin until the sounds of his footsteps had faded away into the night. Rounding on the remaining guards, he bared his teeth viciously. “Well, what are you laughing at? Dismissed! Go on, get lost!”
Grumbling, the others slowly dispersed. He watched them carefully until the last form had vanished into the dark. Creeping over to a secluded alcove, he sat quietly, listening. Several long moments passed. Satisfied, Kh’tel whooped a sigh of relief and turned around. “C’mon out, kids.”
Habusu’s head emerged from an eye socket above him. “Did it work?”
“Yeah, kid. Now come on down here, quick.” As the cub clambered down the face of the skull, Habusu giggled softly. “I can’t believe he fell for it!”
A dark shadow detached itself and trotted over. Losara nuzzled the cub gently. “Rho’kash bless you for what you have done tonight, Kh’tel. For now, however, we have no time to celebrate. Bashak! Come on!”
The pup skittered out from behind a concealing rock. “Where are we goin’ Mama?”
“We’re going to take Habu home, my son,” she said, grinning. “I’m afraid it’s way past his bedtime.”
Shenzi’s breathing had begun to come in great ragged gasps of air. She shook her head, fighting to clear her vision as she staggered about, bleeding from half a dozen wounds. Across from her, Uhuru panted rapidly, a nasty gash on his ribs giving evidence of Shenzi’s prowess in the prolonged battle. But his confidence showed clearly now; the other hyenas merely waited for the combat to draw to its inevitable conclusion. Outside the circle, the jackals had begun to gather, smacking their lips in preparation for the feast which would follow, for neither lion nor hyena will eat the dead bodies of Roh’kash’s Chosen Ones; they are corban to all but the lowliest of scavengers.
Shenzi caught Uhuru’s eye and gave a silent snarl of defiance; she did not intend to sell her life easily. She slowly gathered her strength, preparing for a final spring. It would leave her wide open for attack, but she would get at least one clear shot at his throat before she went down.
Uhuru’s paw struck her high on the face, sending her sprawling. A paw slapped down on either shoulder, pinning her neatly to the ground. She saw the starlight gleaming off his fangs as he prepared to tear out her throat. Closing her eyes, she prayed it would be quick.
Skulk shook his head in despair as he rejoined the circle of his bretheren. “I am saddened by the heavy burden of the news I bring, but it is my duty to inform you, Roh’mach.”
Uhuru cocked an ear toward him, but kept his gaze locked on Shenzi, wary of a trick. “Speak up, Skulk, and be quick. What do you want?”
Skulk strode forward and spat a mouthful of golden fur into the circle before the two combatants. “There is all that remains of the lion cub. One of Shenzi’s traitorous guards decided to have him for a snack.”
Complete silence fell, broken only by the sound of Isha’s sobbing. Uhuru looked at the fur disbelievingly. “You mean…”
Skulk nodded sadly. “I’m afraid so.” He staightened and cleared his throat. “I’m afraid that once the combat is complete, you will have to be executed, milord. You did swear your life with that of the cub’s, and I will not wrong our mighty king with lies such as Shenzi has spoken.”
Shenzi glared at him in shock, a smile spreading slowly across her lips. You sneaky little cur, she thought. I didn’t know you had it in you. She shook her head. If only I’d known earlier…
Sudden movement caught her eye as a tawny shape padded past a gap in the circle. “Hey, Shenzi!”
“Shut up, Habu,” she snarled. Freezing, she did a double take. “Habu?!!”
Skulk gaped at the little form. “What? But he-, I mean, you..?” His eyes flared with rage as he stepped forward, growling. “No matter. I’ll deal with you myself!”
All movement ceased as Isha bludgeoned her way through the circle to stand next to them. Interposing herself between Uhuru and Shenzi, Isha gently but firmly separated them.
“My son has been rescued, Uhuru. There is no need to finish her.” She turned to Losara and Kh’tel, who stood protectively over the cub. Uhuru stared for a moment, disbelieving.
“Outrage!” one of the crowd yelled. They turned to look as one of the hyena priests stepped forward. “You cannot interfere with the Shih’kal!”
The hyenas moved to close in, but they had barely gotten one paw forward before a familiar shape dropped into the circle.
“Wait just a minute, friends.” Rafiki brandished his staff, warning the hyenas away. “The Shih’kal is indeed inviolable; no one may interfere. One way or another Shenzi must die.”
Isha felt the blood drain from her face.
“But,” he continued musingly, chin cupped in hand, “If Shenzi concedes defeat, Uhuru gets to pick the method of Shenzi’s death, does he not?”
“He does,” the hyena priest said.
“And if it were something slow, like being sealed alive in a cave, would that do?”
“Indeed it would,” the priest said with barely concealed enthusiasm.
“In that case, may I suggest a method that would be very slow and utterly inescapable?”
“By all means.”
Rafiki went through the crowd and stood next to Uhuru. The male still had Shenzi pinned trembling on the ground. “I have a suggestion. Are you open to it?”
Uhuru looked up at Rafiki, ready to object till he caught the slight wink. “As you say, shaman, it shall be done.”
Fabana came and fell at Rafiki’s feet. “Mercy! Mercy! Do not torment my daughter. Let me die in her stead.”
“I thought you renounced me,” Shenzi hoarsely whispered. “I’m sorry I renounced you. Let me die your daughter.”
“You will live. I will die your mother.”
“As you wish it, Fabana,” Rafiki said. “In Shenzi’s stead, Fabana is to die slowly-of old age.” The mandrill chuckled heartily. “I have chosen the instrument of death. Do you concur, Roh’mach?”
“Indeed,” Uhuru said, beaming. “You are wise beyond measure.” Uhuru looked down at the quaking hyena. “I will send you away with the same blessing you gave Simba. Get out of here, far away. If you ever come back, I’ll kill you. And this time, it won’t be of old age. And take Skulk with you. You are both corban.”
Shenzi staggered to her feet, swaying unsteadily. She looked at Uhuru for a long moment, then turned and headed away. Banzai and Ed came foward, supporting her gently on either side.
“Don’t worry, sis,” Banzai whispered as gently as his gruff voice would allow. “We’ll come with you. We ain’t turnin’ our back on family.”
Fabana looked after them, then turned and smiled at Simba sadly. “God go with you. I touch your mane.”
“I feel it.”
She trotted off slowly to join them. Abruptly, one of the remaining hyenas broke away and ran to join them. Two more followed, and then another two.
They hurried over to Shenzi’s group, spreading out to form a protective phalanx.
A weak smile slowly crept acorss Shenzi’s features as she surveyed the growing party. Turning to Skulk, she chuckled. “On the other hand we may be able to salvage something from this after all.” She lowered her voice. “Listen up. I want you to…”
His cold eyes locked with hers. “Shut up.”
The group froze, their startled gaze turning to him as he shook his head. “Just shut up and keep walking. I’ve had it with your schemes. From now on, I’m going to handle our dealings with outsiders.” He glanced furtively over his shoulder. “In case you didn’t notice, most of our bretheren have sided with the King. The Roh’mach has graciously allowed us to leave.” His voice curdled with contempt at the mention of Uhuru. “We still have our lives. Or would you rather go back and have the little weasel finish the job?” He looked at her intently. “I can arrange that if you’d like.”
Banzai strode forward angrily. “Hey, you can’t do this!”
Skulk stared at him. “I just did,” he said softly. “Now be silent.” He returned his gaze to Shenzi who looked back at him with an incongruous smile on her face. “Well, I’m waiting.”
Limping forward, she rubbed his cheek against his softly. “Ah, Skulk, I love it when you talk dirty to me.”
Leaning on his shoulder, she moved off with him, her companions following behind as they paced slowly away from the baobab, calling softly to each other in their own tongue until they were swallowed up by the darkness.
Uhuru watched them go quietly, uttering a small prayer of thanks. For a moment he had feared there might be civil war. He fought away his fatigue and turned to the jackals who still sat near, hoping to take advantage of the situation.
“Is there something I can help you with?”
The jackals looked at him sourly, realizing that there would be no chow tonight. Reluctantly, they turned and left.
Isha groomed her son gently, tears of happiness streaming down her face as he babbled on about his adventures. “Mom! You should’a been there. Bashak and I played in the biggest skull in the world, and we made Skulk look stupid in front of everybody, and…” Raising her head, Isha looked over at Losara.
The hyena was nuzzling her cub playfully, talking softly to him and laughing at his little antics. She glanced up and caught Isha’s gaze. Lioness and hyena looked at each other for a long moment. Slowly, a small smile crept to Isha’s face. She bent to Habusu’s ear: “Habu, if I ever catch you running off to play with that hyena again…”
He looked at her, ears laid back in contriteness. “Yes, ma’am?”
She looked at him and grinned. “…you’d better tell me where you’re going, okay?”
Habusu’s smile filled her with such a warmth that she felt like weeping. “Yeah! No problem.”
Simba came forward and Uhuru fell before him. “I touch your mane.”
“I feel it.” He purred deeply. “There can only be true peace where there is justice. I say this before the gods and the great kings of the past: the ban which great Ahadi placed on scavenging in the Pride Lands is over and done. There is no reason why you cannot live as Aiheu intended.”
Many hyenas flocked to Simba, falling to the ground and humbling themselves. “Ebu Simba, Roh’mach aka Roh’mach!”
Six months had passed since the rescue of Habusu from Shenzi and Skulk, though it did not seem so long to most lions.
Still, in that time the miracle of new life had come and left changes in the Pride Lands. The grass was green, the trees were full, and the savanna was grazed by herds once again. Even Khemoki deigned to grace the Pride Lands with his Zebra’ha.
Misha, one of the new children, was sitting on a high rock outside her mother’s cave. It was one of her favorite spots because she could see far in all directions.
Her mother Ajenti asked, “What are you looking for so intently?”
“Grandmother is coming. It’s time for our walk.”
“Come in, Misha. She’s not feeling up to it today. I’m sorry.”
“But she promised. She was sick yesterday and the day before.”
“If you love her, let her break the promise. That’s what happens to you when you get to be her age,” her mother Ajenti explained.
“Will I be like that someday?”
“Yes, but it will be a long, long time.”
Misha sulked. She had grown to love those walks to the water hole with Yolanda in the early morning hours. Her grandmother was an encyclopedia of great stories of the old kings, of the gods, and even the latest gossip. And while they were supposed to take these walks for their exercise, Yolanda would always end up seeing something that brought back a memory, and the walk would become a talk.
Misha was bright, and it didn’t take her long to figure out that her grandmother would only get older with time. ‘That age’ was keeping them apart more and more, but never for three days in a row. She tried to imagine life without her grandmother—even the thought depressed her.
Ajenti nuzzled her affectionately. “Why don’t you go play with Tanabi? He really likes you.”
“He’s OK,” she answered half-heartedly. Misha was really crazy about Tanabi, but it was just not the same. That was Grandmother’s special time, and it was for no one else. If Grandmother couldn’t come to her, she would go to Yolanda. It would be a pleasant surprise.
There were several places Yolanda loved to go. Some of the more challenging ones, like her favorite branch in a low-hanging tree, had been neglected lately. She was more apt to be dozing on one of the large rocks that caught the morning sun. Misha went to the rocks, but no one was there. She wasn’t at the tree, either. And the small cistern where rainwater filled a cave in the rock was visited by two lionesses, neither one of which had seen her.
Simba wished Misha a cheerful good morning. “Tanabi was looking for you. That is, if you’re not taking your morning walk.”
“But I am, Your Majesty, if I can find my Grandmother. You haven’t seen Yolanda, have you?”
“No, I’m afraid not.”
“I thought you were supposed to know where everyone is. You’re king, aren’t you?”
Simba smiled pleasantly. “Indeed I am. But I’m not a miracle worker. If I see her before you do, I’ll tell her you’re looking for her. She’s been kind of sick lately. Maybe she’s still asleep.”
“I checked,” Misha said, distracted.
Without saying good bye, Misha hurried on, but she had no idea where she was going. Everywhere her Grandmother usually stayed was deserted. So she must be somewhere unusual. On a whim, she took the path down to the savanna that stretched out before Pride Rock. The grass was tall, and it was easy for a lioness to disappear completely, a thought that was most upsetting to the antelopes and zebras. “Grandmother! Yolanda! Are you out there?” She hunted everywhere, which was not easy for a fully grown lioness, much less a cub. “Grandmother! It’s me, Misha!”
Just when she was about to give up, she saw Yolanda walking alone into the distance.
“Grandmother! It’s me!” Misha hurried over to her in the tall grass. “Wait up, will you! I’ve looked everywhere for you! Couldn’t you hear me calling you?”
Yolanda stopped for a moment to let Misha catch up, then resumed her slow, steady tread. “I’m sorry I didn’t come by for our walk. I haven’t felt well.”
“But you feel well now, don’t you? I mean, you’re walking now.”
“Honey tree, I’m walking now because I don’t feel well. I don’t want to be at home when something happens to me. They would either have to move me to a more suitable place, or let the hyenas desecrate my den. Either way, I don’t want the ones I love to remember my death, but my life.”
“Are you going to die?”
“Someday we all have to die. It’s part of life.”
“I wish you wouldn’t say that. You know I’d be sad if you died.” She ran a few steps out front, which was not difficult at the rate Yolanda walked. “Can I walk with you?”
“I suppose I have no choice, and I could use someone to talk to.”
“Maybe you’ll tell me a story. Where are you going?”
“I’m going to be with my husband. Your grandfather. You never knew him. His name was Simba, too. Just like the King. He was a good mate. Seeing him will make me young again.”
“Not really. I mean you just mean feel young, don’t you? I thought he was dead.”
Yolanda smiled, indulgently.
“Can I see him too?”
“Someday, Misha. Not now.” She walked across the plain slowly, painfully. Her joints had been stiff in the morning, but there was something more akin to lameness that was obvious even to Misha.
“Are you all right?”
“That doesn’t matter now. I’m tired. I’m just so tired.”
“Then let’s rest for a minute.”
“There will be time for rest later,” she said, determined. “We are not far enough yet.”
“Far enough from what? When is far enough?”
“I’ll tell you.”
She walked on. The exertion made her perspire, and her breath was labored. She stumbled over a small rock the way Misha might fall in a gopher hole. “What are you trying to find?” Misha asked. “There’s nothing out here but grass.”
“That’s the point,” she said. “It is the sort of place no one would go without a good reason.”
“Why don’t you rest now?”
“Are you tired, Misha? you’re so young and strong. I’m so…” Yolanda stopped. Her teeth bared in a grimace of pain. “Oh gods!”
Summoning all her reserve, she calmly said, “You were right, Misha. This is the place. We will rest here.” She collapsed into a heap and moaned. “I’m so tired, Honey Tree. I could use some sleep. Why don’t you go play someplace else right now and let me rest. I’ll be all right.”
“Grandmother?” Misha said in a trembly voice. “Should I call Rafiki now? He’s just over there.”
“No, honey tree. I’ll be all right.” Saying that, she lay her head in the grass. “Oh, can you feel the cool breeze, Misha?”
She closed her eyes. “Isn’t it wonderful? It’s been so hot recently with no rains to freshen the air. But it may be a fine day after all. Nice and cool.” Yolanda took in a deep breath, and let it out in a long, slow sigh. Misha anxiously watched her chest for a long time, waiting to see it rise and fall. She waited for a long time.
“Wake up, Grandma! You can’t sleep here!” She ran nervously around the body, nipping her on the paws and licking her on the cheek. “Don’t leave me, Grandma. You can’t die. You just can’t!”
Backing back from the body, Misha looked about for someone, anyone who could help. Why did she have to go so far away into the brush? Maybe Rafiki could help. Oh that the gods would let him be at home! “Is anybody out there?”
Finally she spotted a lioness in the tall grass and ran toward her. “Help! Help! It’s Yolanda!”
“It’s not safe here,” the lioness said. “You must go.”
The voice galvanized her. Misha stood frozen to the spot and stared at the sad, kindly face. It seemed to shine with its own inner light, and she didn’t know whether to be happy or terrified. “Please don’t leave me. I don’t want you to go. I’ll do anything. Just stay a little longer, please!”
“It’s not safe,” the lioness said firmly. “The vultures are here and the hyenas are not far behind. Run, honey tree. Run home now!”
Misha was grief stricken, but she had to flee before the ghastly funeral took place. She couldn’t hope to face off the scavengers at her age. And so she ran toward Pride Rock. She ran and ran like a mad thing and did not stop until she found her mother.
When Misha found her mother and told her what had happened, Ajenti moaned as if from a wound. She ran up the side of Pride Rock and out onto the peak and roared one heart-rending roar. The other lions didn’t have to ask what happened, for Yolanda had been expected to die. They roared as well, setting off a wave of sound that washed over the Pride Lands the sorrowful message. It may have lasted a few seconds, or a few minutes—time seemed to stand still. But when Ajenti lithely slinked back off the pinnacle and disappeared into the grass, so did her public grief. From now on, she would discuss it only with friends and family, and only when asked about it. They all understood that she loved her mother—there was no need to keep proving it to everyone. Indeed, if anyone asked her if she was heartbroken, and no one would, they would likely catch an indignant rake of her claws.
For a couple of hours, all Misha could do was huddle next to her mother. Ajenti needed her small, warm presence. But there came a time when Ajenti needed to be alone for a while. It was her turn to remember when she was the cub, and Yolanda would tell her stories of the old kings, and groom her with her warm moist tongue. That was done best alone.
Misha wanted her mother, but she welcomed the chance to head out unescorted across the savanna to the baobab tree. Her heart was full of questions that must be answered—it was her first experience with death.
Rafiki had an odd habit of talking to himself. He put some small pieces of fruit into a bowl and took a bone in one hand while holding the bowl in the other. “Look out, little ones! Here comes the elephant!” He began to mash them into a paste. “Oh no! This is just awful! Shame on you, you ol’ elephant! Heh heh!”
He got an egg. Rarely did he use meat in his diet, and then it was only carrion. The egg was the closest thing he had that day, a prize he had filched from a nest only that morning.
“Oooh, it must be done so carefully!” He said, positioning the egg on the edge of the bowl. “A-one,” he said, tapping it once lightly. “A-two!” he said tapping it a little harder. He turned the egg slightly. “A-three!” And at last with a smile, he said, “Here goes nothing!”
The shell shattered in his fingers. Egg loaded with shell fragments dribbled from his hand into the bowl. “A-four,” he said with a sigh, and shook off his hands. “Who’s there?”
“Are you busy?”
“Misha!” He smiled, wiping his hands off quickly. “Come in, my dear! Sit!” He planted a kiss on top of her head and giving her a hug. “You honor my humble home.”
“Oh Rafiki, she’s gone! Grandma Yolanda is gone!”
“I heard the cry,” Rafiki said. He understood a bit about how lions grieve, so he was careful in his approach. “You have questions for Rafiki?”
“Come sit beside me,” Rafiki said. He put his arm around her and said, “Now ask your Uncle Rafiki anything at all.”
Misha’s eyes brimmed with tears. “I didn’t want her to die. Why did she have to die? She was so good. Can’t you help her? Why do the gods let good people die if they can do anything they want? Why?”
“Oh, the little lady starts with the biggest questions.” Rafiki sighed. “For one thing, no. I’m sorry, but it’s beyond me to call her back. If I could have helped her, I would have helped Mufasa. As for why there is death, there is a legend among the mandrills about how death came into the world. My father told me, and he learned it from his father. I will not tell you, for it’s not the truth.”
“What is the truth?”
“Death has always been a part of this world. It is part of life. Otherwise there would be no more room to move about. It makes room for new generations to grow and flourish. It renews the world. It makes sense.”
“I see.” She sighed longingly. “But why even live, if all you’re going to do is die someday? What’s the point?”
“Because if you didn’t live, I couldn’t put my arm around you and have these little talks.” He kissed her again. “Your blood runs red with mud. It is the soil of the earth mother that binds us to the great Circle of Life. When we die, the water which is the life force returns to heaven with the morning dew. We are then freed from the mud, and freed from its pain. All except the pain of separation, and that will take care of itself with time. Remember even here the spirits of the blessed look down on us, and their prayers for us are always before the gods. Watch the night skies, and feel the love surround you. You will know your grandmother is alive.”
“I saw her,” Misha admitted. “She told me to run away before the hyenas came.”
“You saw her?” He said it like he believed her. She was glad to tell someone about it. “Grandma was shiny all over, lit up like the moon. Mother says the stars are the spirits of the great kings, but where did she go? Will she see my grandfather?”
“The stars cannot be counted. Could there be so many kings in a hundred creations?” He smiled. “She is a star like your grandfather, and if the life she led is any measure, she’ll be the most beautiful star in the sky.”
When you love another soul, you have security, Because the thing you choose to love will last eternally; The secrets shared, the way she cared, The jokes that make you smile May go away, but not to stay Except a little while…
Aiheu is wonderful, He knows the pain you bear, And He will grant a share of comfort in the night; The ones you hold most dear, His hand will hold most near, Until you see them clear in His eternal light.
When you’re feeling very sad, the way you feel right now, You will do well to realize she’s helping you somehow; She’s holding you, enfolding you to soothe your fears away, And when you cry, her watchful eye will see you and she’ll pray…
Aiheu is wonderful, He knows the pain you bear, And He will grant a share of comfort in the night; The ones you hold most dear, His hand will hold most near, Until you see them clear in His eternal light.
Misha lay her head on Rafiki’s shoulder. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” He gave her a pat. “Now how about a little snack?”
“It’s sweet, it’s disgusting. You’ll love it.”
Rafiki got the wooden bowl back out and stirred the contents up really well. He put it before Misha, who attacked it with gusto.
“What is it?”
“I call it elephant stew.”
The cubs watched, spellbound, as the lionesses tore past them, pursuing the water buffalo as he blundered along, bellowing in panic. Uzuri bounded in from in front, leaping upon the animal’s back, her weight throwing it off balance and sending it crashing to the ground in a heap. The bull’s limbs thrashed as Uzuri fastened her teeth into it’s throat, cutting off the air supply.
“Awesome!” Tanabi looked at Misha. “How does she do that?”
Kombi snorted comtemptuously from where he sat with Togo. “Idjit. When you get older like us, you’ll see. It’s easy.”
Lisani elbowed Habusu who sat next to her and shook her head. “Yeah, right. You guys are so clumsy, you couldn’t even tackle Timon.”
Tanabi and Misha giggled as the two brothers glared at Lisani. Though they had the gangly look typical of six month old cubs, Lisani had retained the slim and graceful look she had posessesed since she was a cub. Misha sighed as she looked at her own forelegs. At four months old, they had lost the stubby cuteness of babyhood and were lengthening out nicely, though she still thought her paws were way too big. She prayed that she would also be blessed with Lisani’s luck, but she doubted it.
Their thoughts were interuppted by Ajenti’s voice. “Come on, kids, time to eat!”
The six cubs tumbled out of the grass where they had been told to remain hidden and gamboled down the hill merrily, laughing. They quietened, however, as they approached the downed animal. Uzuri lay crouched over the forequarters, her fangs buried in the bull’s neck. Satisfied that it’s struggles had ceased, she slowly released her grip, a wary eye on the animal in case it was still capable of flight.
Isha nosed her way along the animal’s flank until she found a suitable spot. Nodding to herself, she cleared her throat, pausing until she had eveyone’s attention. The others followed suit as she bowed her head. “Aiheu abahami,” she spoke. “Aiheu provides.”
“Aiheu abahami,” they repeated. This was not a simple rote recital, for each lion spoke from the heart, thanking their Lord for the food recieved, as well as asking for protection from injury on future hunts. Any lioness who knew her craft was well aware of the evil spirits who plagued the hunt, waiting to turn a chance mishap into a fatal injury.
The blessing said, Isha raised her head eagerly. Seizing the spot she had previously selected with her incisors, she pulled sharply, opening the belly. She growled sharply, fighting for her position as her companions surged forward expectantly.
Ajenti pushed in, burying her head in the carcass, her jaws working as she bolted her food greedily. Grumpily, Isha slid aside-barely; any lioness who was too timid at dinnertime would invariably go hungry. Uzuri crowded in from the other side, dexterously ducking her head in and snatching away a huge chunk of flesh, which she swallowed whole. She growled slightly at Togo and Kombi, who were sidling a little too close for her liking.
Unpeturbed, the two cubs continued to edge closer until they were able to snatch away a sizeable piece for themselves, which they ran off with, each carrying one end whilst simeltaneously trying to yank the whole piece from the other’s grasp.
Ajenti paused to grip the haunch of the bull between her teeth. Muscles bulging with the effort, she pulled it away from the body with a sharp popping sound. She dragged it to one side and dropped it, turning to the others. “We’ll save this for Nala, since she couldn’t come.”
Uzuri nodded. “A good choice. Too bad she had to pull her leg like that; she’d have enjoyed this.” She jerked back and growled in annoyance as Isha surged forward, burying herself up to the shoulders in the carcass. “Isha, what are you doing?!”
Isha emerged, face stained crimson, but smiling in triumph at what she held in her jaws. “Hunter’s choice, Uzuri. The heart; you brought the bull down; it’s yours by right.”
Uzuri grinned at her. “Thank you, sister.” She snapped up the tender morsel in two bites, closing her eyes in ecstasy.
Isha turned back to the carcass to discover Lisani crouched calmly in her place, gorging herself for all she was worth. “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?!” The young female smiled up at her aunt, but didn’t move; she had found a good spot to feed from and evidently intended to keep it.
Ajenti chuckled around a mouthful. “Isha, you taught her too well, I believe.” She moved aside to give the cubs enough room to eat. “C’mon, kids.”
Misha and Tanabi edged forward tentatively, uncertain. Experience had taught them to wait their turn until the adults had satisfied their hunger before trying to take their place at the carcass. Seeing the lionesses chatting amiably, however, Tanabi concluded it was safe enough for him, anyway. He paced over to the eviscerated animal and nabbed a short length of intestine. Picking it up, he staggered off comically, the ends dragging behind him.
Kombi saw him passing and snorted. “Naw, dummy, you ain’t doin’ it right.”
Tanabi stopped and glared. “Oh yeah?” he mumbled around the mouthful. “Who says?”
“I says.” Kombi trotted over next to Misha, who was apparently having trouble detaching her piece from the body. “Watch.” Picking up the severed length of intestine she had been worrying, he pulled it free with a muffled snap. The cubs watched him carefully as he grasped it between his front teeth. He paused, savoring the attention. “Here’s the trick. Ready?” Tanabi and Misha nodded energetically. Grinning, Kombi pursed his lips. With a loud slurp, he sucked the innards into his mouth, the end giving a final little wiggle as it disappeared into his maw. He sat back and chewed serenely, a look of utter bliss on his face. “Mmmm.”
Lisani looked over and shook her head despairingly. “Slob.”
Tanabi and Misha gaped delightedly at the older cub. “AwwweSOME!” Tanabi said. He immediately bent to his own piece and gripped it in like fashion.
“Now, hold on,” Kombi said. “The secret is to—”
Tanabi ignored him and sucked mightily. The innards suddenly leapt off the ground, seeming to come alive as they wrapped around his head, smacking him wetly on the cheek.
Misha fell back, shrieking delightedly. “Oh, GROSS! Do it again!”
Ajenti shook her head as she passed by, her stomach bulging alarmingly. “You’d better quit playing with your food and go eat, hon; there won’t me much to pick from when Simba gets here.”
Isha, following behind, snickered. “Amen to that. Now there’s a lion who appreciates his food!” Chuckling, the two lionesses wandered a short distance away, flopping to the grass comfortably as they began to groom each other, clearing away the crimson stains on their faces.
Shaking the offending entrails away, Tanabi bounded over to the carcass, Misha alongside. They slinked past Uzuri, who was still busying herself with something inside, and made their way over to the remaining haunch, where Habusu sat quietly, chewing his meat and looking out over the savanna reflectively. “Hey, Habu, what’s up?”
Tanabi batted his friend’s face playfully, the larger cub grinning down at him as he accepted the blows good-naturedly. Tanabi’s little swipes were always done in jest, unlike Togo and Kombi, who evidently felt the need to bludgeon everything they laid their paws on. Habusu returned the playful cuffs gently, then jerked his head toward the huge hunk of flesh he had been dining on. “Come on, there’s plenty left here. Besides, I’m almost full.”
Needing no further encouragement, the cubs attacked it hungrily, enjoying the chewy tendons on the back of the leg. Yawning, Habusu sat down and began to groom himself contentedly. Finally satisfied with his efforts, he closed his eyes drowsily and rolled over on his back, splaying his gangly legs in the air.
Misha looked over, curious, as Uzuri chucked something aside with a disgusted grunt. The round sac sailed a short distance away before coming to rest. “What was that?”
Uzuri shook her head. “That was full of grass, hon. It’s not very tasty at all. Now this,” she said, motioning with a forepaw, “is downright good eating.”
Misha peered inside, squinting. “That big brown thing?”
Uzuri nodded. “Mm-hmm. Here.” She arched her neck and leaned in, tearing the item away with her teeth. “Try a piece.” She watched, intrested, as the cub bit off a tiny section. “Don’t worry, ’ol Uzuri won’t steer you wrong.”
Misha chewed thoughfully. “Hey, that is pretty good.”
Uzuri chuckled. “Don’t eat too much of that until you get a little bigger; it’ll make you sick if you do.”
Misha glanced down the length of the animal, towards the hindquarters where Tanabi sat, still gunning away at the haunch. Suddenly, her face twisted up in confusion. “Auntie Uzuri, how about that? Is it any good?”
Uzuri looked over to where the cub was staring and grimaced. “Uh, hon, that’s…kind of difficult. You’d have to be a little older before I could explain.”
“Huh? But I’m already four moons old—”
“-and that’s not enough.” Uzuri looked at her sternly. “Now hush up and eat before the meat stiffens.”
Misha stared, enchanted, as the little cubs squirmed sightlessly at their mother’s belly. “They’re so tiny,” she whispered.
Malaika smiled gently at her. Her labor had been fruitful; three healthy cubs lay suckling at her belly, their eyes shut tightly against the world. “You were smaller than that, as I recall.”
Tanabi sat at the entrance to Malaika’s cave, squirming agitatedly. “C’mon, Misha, let’s go! Togo and Kombi are waiting for us.”
“Shhh!” Misha glared at him. “You’re gonna scare the babies!”
Tanabi looked skyward and rolled his eyes in frustration. “Aww, man…C’mon, Misha. Please?”
She shook her head. “Nope. I want to stay here and help Malaika.” She looked at the lioness adoringly. “She’s going to show me how to take care of the cubs.”
Her playmate shook his head disgustedly. “Sissy stuff. Fine then! Stay here and watch your old babies! I’m gonna go have fun.” He spun and stalked off, his lower lip stuck out in an enormous pout.
Malaika stared after him, a frown on her face. “Honey tree, you don’t have to stay here. Go play with your friends; I’m fine.”
Misha shook her head. “Uh-uh. I really want to help, Malaika. Please let me stay.” She glanced over her shoulder at Tanabi’s retreating form. “All he wants to do is go play with Togo and Kombi, anyway.”
Tanabi swatted angrily at an offending pebble in his path. He had been looking forward to this afternoon; he had planned to show Misha the neat joke Togo and Kombi had come up with to play on Uzuri. And now…he sighed, depressed. It had seemed funny at first, but now the whole joke seemed pointless.
“Phooey,” he said, disgusted. “Uzuri’s no fun to tease, anyway.” He started to turn, intending to head back to the main cave and take a nap, when something landed on him, bearing him to the ground with a startled “OOF!” Gasping, he rose to see Togo looking down at him with a mixture of amusement and disdain on his face. “Tsk tsk,” he clucked sadly. “Fell for it again, kid.”
Kombi trotted out from behind a rock, yucking it up for all he was worth. “Sucker! How many times are you gonna get flattened before you figure it out?”
“Shaddap!” Tanabi snapped, startling them both. “Why do you always keep pouncing on me like that? You know how much I hate it!”
“Sheesh, calm down, willya?” Kombi peered at him, intrested. “What’s got your fur on end today?”
“Misha.” Tanabi cut his eyes away, suddenly embarrassed. “She won’t come and see the joke we were gonna do.”
Togo’s eyes widened. “You mean the one we were gonna pull on Mom?!” He shook his head vehemently. “Naw, man, we can’t pass this one up. It’s the best one we’ve come up with yet!” He looked at Kombi worriedly. “C’mon, Tanabi, we gotta do this one!”
Tanabi looked at the ground. “Nah. I really don’t feel like it. You guys go ahead without me.”
Kombi shook his head. “We can’t, remember? You have to distract Mom for us; that’s why we showed it to you. You’ve gotta come.”
“Why don’t you take Habu instead? He’s a lot quieter than I am, anyway.”
“That dweeb?” Togo snorted derisively. “He’s no fun. Come on, T. Let’s go.”
“He’s not a dweeb, buzzard brains,” Tanabi said sharply. “He’s just not into jokes, that’s all.” The prince got up, shaking himself vigorously, and turned to leave. “Sorry.”
“Wait a minute, here.” Kombi squinched up his face in thought, an expression rarely seen from him. “If Misha DID come, would you go with us?”
Tanabi looked at him suspiciously. “Well, yeah, I guess so. But she’s helping Malaika babysit her cubs. I already tried talking to her; she won’t leave.”
Kombi grinned at him. “No problem! We’ve just got to get Malaika to make Misha leave her alone; then she can go with us!”
Tanabi rolled his eyes and snorted. “Oh, brilliant. And just how, pray tell, are we going to get her to do that?”
“Simple. Ask her.”
The young prince rolled onto his back, laughing. “Oh, now that’s rich. You’re going to go up to Malaika and say, ‘Gee, we really want Misha to come and play with us; would you tell her to buzz off?’”
Kombi’s smile spread into a predatory shark’s grin. “Nope. You are.”
“Okay, let me get this straight. You want me to tell the girl I don’t want her to help me? Ridiculous.” Malaika shook her head. “She’s invaluable to me. Besides, I couldn’t do that to her; it would break her heart.”
“Aww, please?” Tanabi dredged up his most pitiful expression and turned it on full force. “It’s no fun playing tag without Misha, Auntie Malaika.”
Malaika raised an eyebrow. “You and Misha are going to go play ‘tag’ with those two? Right.”
“Honest, we are! No fooling.” Tanabi was secure in this fib; the prank on Uzuri DID involve them distracting her with a fake game of tag, so technically he wasn’t lying. Well, sort of, anyway.
Malaika turned the matter over in her head for a minute or two, then appeared to come to a decision. “Oh, all right. I’ll get her to go with you.”
“Yeah!” Tanabi bussed her cheek. “Thanks, Malaika!” He scampered off, eager to inform his friends of the good news. The lioness stared after him, a faint smile on her face. “Misha, dear, did you catch that?”
“Uh-huh.” The cub popped up from behind the lioness’s bulk. “I don’t wanna play with Togo and Kombi; they’re always being mean to someone! Tanabi’s always so nice to Habu and me; I don’t know why he wants to hang out with those two.”
The lioness looked at her thoughtfully. “You know, hon, I’ve got an idea that might just solve all our problems.”
“Really?” Misha looked slightly perplexed. “What?”
Malaika laughed. “We’re going to give them a taste of their own medicine, Misha.” She bent to the cub’s ear, whispering.
Several minutes later, Tanabi looked at his friend in utter shock. “She said WHAT?!”
Misha sobbed uncontrollably. “M-Malaika s-said I wasn’t paying enough at-t-t-tention to the babies, that I kept ru-running off and playing with you guys instead of watching them.” She collapsed on the ground and held her head in her paws. “S-She told me I’m not allowed to see them anymore…” her voice trailed up and away into a wail.
Togo looked at Kombi and grimaced. “Oops.”
Tanabi patted Misha on the cheek worriedly. “Uhh, calm down, Misha. I’m sure she’ll let you see them again; she’s just sore, that’s all.”
“But I didn’t DO anything!” Misha cried angrily. “I DID watch them, real careful. I did everything she said to do, Tanabi; what did I do wrong?” She buried her face in his chest, her tears soaking the fur.
“Aww, man…” Tanabi glanced at the brothers angrily, as if looking for support, but the two had suddenly found something fascinating about their toes, for they studied them intently, avoiding his gaze. He turned back to Misha and rubbed cheeks with her reassuringly. “Well, since you’re not babysitting, do you want to go see our joke?” He smiled halfheartedly. “Maybe it’ll make you feel better, anyway.”
“Oh, PHOOEY on you and your stupid joke! You don’t even care, do you?” Misha’s eyes blazed with anger. “What’s my mama going to say when Malaika tells her I’m not even fit to look after newborn cubs? I’m worthless!” She fell back, tears streaming down her face. “I thought you were my friend, Tanabi. I guess I was wrong, wasn’t I?” She turned and began to walk away.
Tanabi stood frozen, unable to speak as Togo stepped down and joined him. The older cub elbowed him and snorted. “Boy, she can’t take a joke, can she?”
The tendons in Tanabi’s neck creaked as he turned to face him. “Get away from me,” he said icily. Togo shrank back as Tanabi leapt up and sprinted after Misha, calling her name.
He raced around a granite outcropping and nearly blundered into her. “Misha, wait.”
She stopped, but did not turn. “What do you want?”
He circled around her until he was face to face with her. “I-I have to tell you something.” He cast his gaze down to the ground, unwilling to look her in the eye. “It-It’s my fault Malaika kicked you out.”
“Huh?” Misha cocked an eyebrow at him. “What’re you talking about?”
His right ear began to jitter nervously. “I asked Malaika to get you to come play with us,” he said in a small voice. “I didn’t know she was going to freak out like that, though. I thought she’d just, you know, maybe let you take a break for a couple of hours, or something.” He finally looked up and met her gaze miserably. “You aren’t worthless, Misha; I am. I shouldn’t have tried to make you do something you didn’t want to. You’re my bestest friend in the world, and I just wanted to spend some time with you, that’s all.” His eyes began to water and he rubbed his nose with a forepaw, sniffling. “I’m really sorry, Misha. Please don’t hate me.”
Misha stared at him silently, looking into his sad face. Abruptly, she grinned, and leapt through the air, tackling him. Caught off balance, the startled Tanabi toppled, again giving out a healthy “OOF!” as his bruised back once again made an aquaintance with the hard rock.
“You dimwit, your head must be full of dead grass.” She laughed joyfully. “Of course I don’t hate you! Malaika didn’t throw me out; we planned this!”
Tanabi gaped up at her. “W-What? She knew?!” He laughed shakily. “Ohh, man, you had me going, Misha.” He scowled suddenly. “That was a dirty trick!”
“So was what you had planned for me, young prince.” Tanabi cringed at the familiar voice. Craning his head back, he saw the inverted form of Uzuri pacing nonchalantly toward him, her wayward cubs following her meekly. She stopped, her huge form looming overhead. Tanabi was utterly flabbergasted as he saw the serene smile on Uzuri’s normally stern features. “By the way; it wouldn’t have worked, Tanabi. I’m the hunt mistress, remember? I can spot an attack pattern a mile away, especially one I invented.” She clucked disdainfully at her children. “Really, kids; you’ve GOT to learn to invent your own stalking patterns.” The lioness chuckled and meandered away, with Togo and Kombi following reluctantly.
Misha put her paw under Tanabi’s chin and shut his mouth gently. “You’re drawing flies, T.” Laughing softly, she rubbed up against his side. “Did you really mean what you said about wanting to spend some time with me?”
She grinned as he fell neatly into her trap. “Great. C’mon. I’ll show you how to babysit.”
The spring rains had brought forth an abundance of flora from the valley floor, the flowers blooming in a riot of color which dazzled the eyes of the two yearling cubs who scampered about through the scented plants, laughing gaily.
Tanabi grinned at Misha as he crouched down among a clump of yellow wildflowers, his tail lashing madly. Giggling, she complied, standing tall and straight, strutting through the greenery as though he did not exist. He sprang from cover, tackling her and sending the two of them rolling down the gently sloping hillside.
Tanabi lost his grip and flew over his friend to land in a heap. He got up, chuckling, but froze when he heard Misha cry out. He looked over to see her emerging from a dense shock of brambles, staggering unsteadily as she favored a paw. “What’s wrong?”
She shook her paw gingerly and looked at him, a tear gleaming in one eye. “I can’t put my weight on it, Tanabi, it hurts!”
“Lemme see.” His stomach knotted as he trotted over to her. His mother had sprained a leg a few months back, and even with Rafiki’s assistance, she was only now returning to her full capabilities. If Misha had done the same, or worse, broken a bone… He sighed with relief as he spotted the problem. “It’s just a thorn, Misha. No problem.”
She looked at him worriedly. “Can you get it out?”
“Uh-huh. Hold still.” Nosing through the fur, he carefully took hold of the edges of the shank with his teeth. With a smooth, gentle tug, the thorn pulled free.
Misha hissed in pain, then relaxed slowly. “Thank you, Tanabi.”
He smiled back at her. “You’re welcome.” He began to groom her wounded paw in smooth, soothing strokes, noting absently how much she had grown recently. Her legs, which were her only vanity, had grown out quite a bit, much to her relief, now rivaling even the older Lisani’s in their graceful appearance.
Misha sat quietly, enjoying the sensation as Tanabi cleaned the wound on her foot. Finishing, he raised his head and smiled at her. “All better.”
She felt a surge of warmth for her friend. Tanabi was always so sweet. He never played too rough like the other cubs, and if he had something nice to eat, he was always willing to share. Impulsively, Misha leaned over and planted a kiss on his cheek.
Tanabi froze for a moment, then grinned. “Back at ’cha!” he said, and kissed her. But he didn’t draw away immediately. Instead, he stood balanced on three legs, his attention riveted on Misha’s eyes. “M-Misha?” he stammered. “I, uh—”
She laughed prettily and swatted him with a forepaw, sending him to the ground in a heap. “Tag! You’re it!”
“Oh yeah?!” He leapt to his feet, grinning, and gave chase. She ran, laughing, dodging through the underbrush from spot to spot, always staying just out of reach as he pursued her across the savanna. They had begun to near Pride Rock when he finally caught up with her, intercepting her gracefully in mid-leap to send them both sprawling in the grass. The cubs paused there to catch their breath, giggling softly.
Tanabi looked over at Misha again, unable to tear his eyes off her. As she looked over at him and smiled, the sun sailed out from behind a cloud, the brilliant light surrounding her with a golden nimbus as the sun shone off her fur. His breath caught in his throat, and he was unable to speak.
Misha blinked, perplexed. “Tanabi? Are you okay?”
He cleared his throat scratchily. “Uhh, yeah. You ready to head back?”
She nodded. The two made their way towards the Rock slowly, enjoying the warm sunshine and the pleasant breeze that ruffled their fur, sending ripples across the green carpet of grass that covered the ground.
Misha leaned her head against Tanabi’s shoulder companionably, noting absently the pronounced bulkiness which had not been there only a month ago. Cool, she thought. I wonder what Tanabi will look like with a mane. She tried to imagine her best friend’s visage surrounded by a ruff of hair like Simba’s and giggled quietly.
Uzuri passed them heading the other way and chuckled. “You two lovebirds been out walking again, eh?”
Misha’s ears flattened in embarassment as Tanabi’s fur spiked along his back. “Yeah…well, I mean no! That is, we’re not—”
The lioness smacked him playfully with her tail as she passed. “Uh—huh. That’s what I thought.” She grinned and shook her head. I always knew you two were made for each other.”
Tanabi writhed in total embarasment. “Uzuri!”
She laughed softly and nuzzled him. “I’m just teasing, honey tree. You go ahead on and play, now.” The lioness headed away, still chuckling softly to herself.
Misha groomed herself self-conciously. “I, uh, better get back. I promised Malaika I’d help babysit while she went out hunting.”
“Okay.” Tanabi stared after her thoughtfully. He abruptly turned and trotted up the slope to thw promontory of Pride Rock. Seeing his father, he walked over slowly, uncertain now of what he wanted to say.
Simba was in the middle of taking a report from Zazu when he saw his son sitting quietly behind him. Breaking off, he looked at the cub curiously. “What’s up, Tanabi?”
The cub squirmed uneasily. “Uhh, Dad, can I talk to you alone for a second?”
Simba raised an eyebrow. “What about? I’m in the middle of something right now; is it very important?”
“Weelll, sort of.” He lashed his tail, embarassed. “It’s about…uh, a friend of mine.”
Simba’s forehead furrowed. “Who? Is somebody in trouble?” He looked at his son sternly. “Have you kids been teasing Uzuri again?”
Tanabi sighed in exasperation. “No, it’s about Misha.”
Simba’s mouth made a soundless “Ohhh,” as he turned to look at Zazu. The hornbill smiled knowingly and cleared his throat. “Well, Sire, that concludes my report for now. I shall return later and inform you should anything else come up.”
“Of course, Zazu. Thank you.” Zazu flapped off as Simba turned to his son. “Well, Tanabi? What’s on your mind?”
Tanabi’s brow wrinkled alarmingly. “Dad, I can’t get her out of my head!” He sputtered helplessly. “I feel so weird. I want to go play with Habu and the other guys, but I want to go play with Misha, too. I don’t want them to come with us, though. She’s my best friend, after all, but…” he trailed off, uncertain.
Simba cocked an ear. “But…what?”
The cub looked at the ground, embarassed. “I thought she looked looked kinda pretty, today, so…I gave her a kiss.”
His father chuckled. “She IS pretty, Isn’t she. So, was it fun?”
“Was what fun?”
“Giving her a kiss.”
“Well it wasn’t fun. It was more like…I liked it. I wouldn’t say it was fun, though.”
Simba drew the cub close to him with a forepaw. “Son, whether you know it or not, you’re growing up. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to spend time alone with Misha, if that’s what you want to do.” He rose, stretching, and began to meander up the path to the peak of Pride Rock. Tanabi followed slowly, listening.
“Tanabi, this may be difficult for you to understand, but it’s perfectly normal to want to be with a girl at your age.” Simba grinned. “I remember when I thought girls were there so I would have someone to play jokes on.”
“Know any good practical jokes?”
“There is no such thing as a ‘practical’ joke. Not when you get to be my age. I like the kind of jokes where everyone gets a good laugh and nobody feels like a fool.”
Reaching the summit, the two lions padded over to the edge and sat down. “This is just the beginning, my son. Miracles are happening inside you every day, and life itself is a miracle to be appreciated for the wonder it is. These changes used to frighten me. I didn’t have someone I could talk to. I want you to remember that I’m not just your father…”
“You’re also my king.”
“No… Well yes, but I mean I’m also your friend.”
Simba nuzzled his son gently as they stared out over the Pride Lands together. “Son, do you know what day you’ll be grown and a lion?”
“When I’m given my mantlement?”
“In the eyes of the Pride, yes. But there is no day in your whole life when you’ll wake up and be a totally different person. A mantlement can be pushed up a week for convenience’s sake. It can be pulled back a couple of days. It’s just a ceremony.” He thought it over. “Not JUST a ceremony-it’s very important-but still there is nothing sacred about the moment it’s held because growing up is a process, not an event.” He patted Tanabi on the shoulder. “Son, you’re at an age right now when you’re a little less of a cub every day and a little more of an adult. That leads to some very confusing feelings. Like the way you felt when you kissed Misha. Fact is, I kiss your mother all the time. Some of the time it feels just like when you kiss me. But there are other times, special times, when you get to be my age. You’ll kiss her, but then you feel like there’s something else waiting to happen. Like that kiss Isn’t the end, but the beginning.”
“Yeah,” Tanabi said. “That was it. I felt like I was waiting for something to happen.” He looked down, embarrased.
Simba said quietly, “Misha loves you, son. One day when you kiss her, she will be waiting for something to happen too. And I know what that something is.”
“Kombi said I’m supposed to…” He stopped.
“Kombi is very clever, but he doesn’t know everything. If he did, he would know that the love between a lion and a lioness is a holy and beautiful thing.” Simba smiled. “Just how many times has Kombi done this thing he talked about.”
Tanabi’s ears flattened back and he looked down. “None, I guess.”
“Then how does he know he’s right?” He smiled slyly. “On the other hand, your father is happily married and has a son.”
Tanabi looked up and smiled. “Yeah.”
Simba nuzzled him. “So who are you going to believe? Your dad, that’s who. It’s time we put these rumors aside and had a heart to heart chat.”
The sky above had faded to the dusky purple of twilight. And as the great kings of the past took their places one by one in the vault of heaven, Tanabi sat quietly next to Simba and learned about love.
Misha never formally fell in love with Tanabi. As youngest cubs they were the best of friends, practically inseparable. Most pride members never thought of one without the other. They would nurse together at Ajenti or Nala, which was their mothers’ way of recognizing the budding relationship, for out of this friendship Ajenti was expecting a new son and Nala was expecting a new daughter someday. Of course by this time they had long since taken to an adult diet and a more adult appearance. And with this came a more mature love that deepened rather than replaced their old feelings.
Ajenti still had authority over her “little girl,” and forbade her to carelessly lead on Tanabi because she was still not a lioness. Indeed, Misha was still her cub despite her feelings, and this would not change until she had become a lioness in the eyes of the pride. As her new feelings for Tanabi grew and deepened, she longed for the rite of passage and the freedom it would bring.
Misha was sunning herself on the rocks when Tanabi came by. “Look, Missy, notice anything different about me?”
“Oh yes! It’s wonderful! Look, Mom, his mane is one day longer than the last time he asked!”
“That’s not very nice,” Tanabi said. “After all, I mainly came by to wish you luck on this evening’s hunt. I hear it’s your first?”
“You know good and well it is.” She smiled. “I talk about it as much as you talk about that stupid old mane—forget I said that; it’s not stupid at all. It’s beautiful, like you.”
Tanabi bussed her cheek with his tongue. “Tomorrow is my mantlement. I guess I’ve run it into the ground by now, but I delayed it because of you.”
“Because of me?”
“Because this evening is your first hunt. I want you to stand with me tomorrow at the ceremony. I want to make an announcement. You will be a huntress and I will be a hunter.”
“What will you hunt?”
“I will hunt you.”
“Do you think you can catch me?”
“I will,” he said passionately. He shuddered and spoke in a near whisper. “The time for talk will soon be over, Missy. My love will be more than kind words.”
“Tell me the truth. Will your feelings for me come back a lioness, or will they be a cub? I know you are my friend, but do you look forward to this union? Are you sure you will want me?”
She pressed up against his side and walked slowly forward, rubbing along his flank and finally drawing her supple tail seductively under his throat. “I want you now. Once first blood is marked on my cheek, I won’t even stop to eat. I’ll come right back here and find you. It will be everything you hoped for—I promise.”
“Misha,” Tanabi whispered, nuzzling her affectionately. His hot breath on her face was intoxicating. “When you kill, take time to savor the moment. You know I don’t become a lion till tomorrow. A foolish, fleeting passage of the sun and a few grand words from my father. I hate ceremonies-they are so incon-venient.”
“And so long,” Misha said. “Keep your speech short. After all, you’ll really become a lion when we’re alone.”
“Oh gods!” He nuzzled her again, then stopped himself. “Please leave now. I cannot trust myself.”
“Sorry, Fuzzy Love.” She gave him a brief, chaste touch of her tongue on the cheek. “Love ya.”
“Same here. Good hunting.”
It seemed an eternity until time for the evening hunt. Misha was first at the gathering place in the shadow of Pride Rock. When the other lionesses came in one by one, she chatted nervously.
In fact, lionesses loved to talk when they were gathering for a hunt. It was therapeutic to get all of it out of their system before the silence of the stalk. And so Misha ended up with a lot of free advice on everything from hunting to raising polite, well-behaved cubs. In fact, Isha even asked if her mother had had The Talk with her. She said yes, shyly.
“Isha, what is it like to be with a lion?”
They laughed. Malaika said, “Get her talking about that, Honey Tree, and there won’t be ANY killing tonight.”
“I could tell you some stories,” Isha added, giggling. “Remember Taka?”
“Taka?? You and Taka??” There was more laughter.
“No! Not in a million years!” She feigned indignation, then added in a low voice, “But I heard on good authority that he and Elanna used to sneak out to the…”
“Watch what you say about my sister!” Sarabi let a little fang show.
Isha looked at Sarabi and added soothingly. “Come on, Sarabi. Aren’t you the least bit curious? You said yourself you didn’t know what Elanna saw in him. I did too, so I went straight to the source. El’ didn’t hold back, not one little detail…”
Sarabi’s jaw hung slack. “No, you don’t say! She hasn’t told me anything.”
“Well I’d imagine not. Some things you won’t tell a sister, like ‘What is it this time, naughty bunnies or the wildebeest’s revenge?’”
The lionesses giggled and drew closer together, expectantly. “Naughty bunnies?” Misha asked, worried. “Mother never told me about that…”
“Hush!” Uzuri said. “Misha’s still a child for now.” Uzuri was the hunt mistress, and they obeyed her at once.
“You don’t need naughty bunnies,” Uzuri purred. “The love between a lion and lioness is a beautiful thing when it begins in the heart. Tanabi will look in your eyes and plead for you to love him. You will come willingly, gladly. And when your love is bright as the eyes of Aiheu, he will share with you the comfort of his body and you will become one. Love is nothing to be frightened of, or ashamed of. “
Sarabi added, “At times he will be stubborn, irresponsible, an overgrown cub. He will make you angry with his foolishness. You will start to cuff the life out of him, and then he will turn to you and need your forgiveness as dry grass needs the rain. And you will rush to forgive him for you love him so. To make love is good, but there are many ways to feel love. Mostly I remember how safe I felt with Mufasa’s strong and beautiful body next to me all night long. When I would awake at high moon, I would stroke his mane. He would not wake up, but he would purr softly.” Her lower jaw quivered. “I’m sorry. Listen to the foolish old lioness living in the past.”
Misha said, “Don’t say that. You’re NOT foolish.”
It was not Misha’s first hunt. Her mother had taken her out alone on several occasions and showed her how to hunt small prey. Once Ajenti had even tackled an antelope, and on its body demonstrated all the right holds.
But this was Misha’s first time to go out with the other lionesses. That warm life that she would take in her jaws would fight to live for one more hour, even one more minute. She would have to be firm, but when possible she would be quick and merciful. The thought took her mind off Tanabi long enough to sober her up for the ritual ahead.
“Time, sisters,” Uzuri said. “Isha, Nala, you will flank me. Malaika, you will lead the left flank. The rest of us will follow her, except for you, Misha. You will come with me. Now silence!”
They wouldn’t speak above a whisper from this point on, and words were few. They fanned out to form a clamshell formation in the tall grass.
Indeed, there was no need to discuss the angle of attack, for Uzuri’s quick, subtle gestures of ears, head and tail spoke volumes. She headed the group toward the watering hole from the grassy side, heading into the wind. It was a simple enough plan, one more geared toward easy, small prey than the large animals needed to satisfy the Pride’s hunger. It was meant to be Misha’s moment, a passing on of the heritage that had gone down endless generations, and would go to her daughters as well.
Something had always been missing from Misha’s life. For her many friends, she still had no idea what happened when the hunting party left. Even in the enforced quiet of the stalk, there was a feeling of sisterhood and singleness of purpose that she would not—and could not—find anywhere else. Not a lioness breathes that cannot recall their first kill as if it were yesterday. The only thing that changes over the years is the size and swiftness of the prey. First kills often get better with age.
In the quiet, calculated tread of stalking, they heard the buzzing of insects, the singing of birds, and only the faintest folding of grass blades beneath padded feet. Misha had used her skills in play, stalking and wrestling Tanabi in laughter-filled bouts beneath the acacias. It was now put to serious use. Sometimes she would let Tanabi win, because she loved him. Now she must win at all costs because she loved him. And yet as much as she loved Tanabi, she resented the pressure that her feelings were putting on her first hunt. “I must win,” she thought. “Concentrate!”
Through the grass, Misha could barely make out the Thompsons Gazelles they were stalking. What luck! The same species she’d been shown by her mother! She knew where to strike and what to do. The gods were with her!
The watering hole was the great common denominator. The tall and the small, the weak and the strong all had to drink. Some creatures, like lions, took the water for granted. Others treated it like a prize which must be stolen by a skillful thief. The gazelles were among the best thieves, but they were not infallible. And that evening they were letting their guard down ever so slightly.
Uzuri played a cagey game. From time to time one of the gazelles would look up nervously, scanning the horizon for signs of trouble. At that moment, all the lionesses would stop without need to say a word. They were approaching from downwind so they could not be smelled. They would succeed if they took as much time as they needed to do a good job. Too much time, and the Gazelles would finish and be gone—they didn’t hang around watering holes longer than necessary. Uzuri could size up that window of opportunity like no other, and she was exploiting it well.
The tension was great. Misha held herself in check. There could be no sudden movements until the signal, and no sounds. Even the charge had to be silent, for that extra fraction of a second, or maybe a precious whole second, before they were spotted may make the critical difference. Misha watched the head lioness’ ears and tail tip, waiting for the signal.
Suddenly, the ears went up and the tail lashed. At once several missiles of golden fur sprang toward the herd which hovered in a moment of disbelief, then blossomed like a tan flower in all directions. The earth rumbled like a living thing.
The party turned to the right. For a moment the gazelles acted as one large beast, keeping in tight formation like a single life. However, one of the gazelles fell behind the rest, and Uzuri headed for him, sparing Misha the decision. The other lionesses began to focus on the hapless tommie as the distance quickly narrowed. Then the others fell back and Uzuri said, “Misha, take him!”
Her heart pounding, her nerves strained to the limit, she closed the distance. The gazelle turned, which slowed him for a half second. Misha’s gut reaction paid off, for she had expected the turn.
Misha sprang. Her powerful arm reached over the neck, and with an electric tingle her paw gripped the heaving, furry target, bringing her snapping jaws to—empty air. She fell back, and got a vicious kick in her shoulder from the fleeing antelope.
She rolled over twice, but she quickly recovered and started to run again. By then he was far away.
“Misha, come back! Stop!”
She obeyed Uzuri, but looked back crossly. “I need this kill.”
“You lost this one,” Uzuri said. “That’s life.” She came to Misha and looked at her shoulder. “Can you walk?”
“I’m fine,” Misha said, bitterly disappointed. She walked about. “I’m just a little sore.”
“You’re not bleeding,” Uzuri said. “You’ll be all right, but we should head back now.”
“We can’t head back,” Misha said, horrified. “We just can’t! Please, I’m fine! Really!”
“We will hunt again two nights from now. If you are fine then, you will be welcome to come. It was my fault, really. I should have reviewed your training and helped you more. I know you have a male waiting for you, and I’m sorry.”
Just then from the bush, a young rabbit that couldn’t take the suspense anymore darted toward his hole. An alert lioness sprang for him and tore him in her teeth.
“You should have let Misha try,” the Uzuri said crossly. Then she changed her expression. “Sisters, perhaps it is not too late.” She dipped her paw in the blood and said, “Misha, come here.”
Misha obeyed, and the head lioness tried to touch her cheek with the blood.
“Please don’t,” Misha said, backing back.
“They won’t tell,” Uzuri said, glaring at the others. “Will you?”
“No,” the others replied. “Certainly not.”
“But I will know,” Misha replied. “Every time my husband touches me, I will think of this. They say you never forget your first kill, and I’d have to live with this for the rest of my life. Please, Uzuri, don’t tempt me.”
Uzuri gravely nodded. “Wisely spoken.” She nuzzled Misha affectionately. “You have honor, like your mother.”
For the tenth time that hour, Tanabi asked his father if he’d caught sight of the returning hunting party. He wished that he could sit out on the point of Pride Rock, but he was being coached on what to do by Rafiki in the quiet of the cave where he was born. Zazu could not see well at night, and only Simba had time to scan the horizon for the flakes of tan.
“Do you think they will be back soon?” Tanabi asked.
Simba came down off the point and went to his son. “Look here, Tanabi. I tell you what I’ll do. You let me sit out there and watch in peace without one more word, and when I see her, I’ll arrange a quick, private ceremony as soon as she comes in. It will be our secret. There will still be a public ceremony tomorrow, but by then you should be in a very good mood. You understand?”
Simba went back to the point on the rock and sat back on the warm spot he’d made. It was still rather comfortable.
“What is it now, son?”
Simba smiled. “You’re quite welcome.” He wanted his son’s mantlement to be everything that his was not. Timon and Pumbaa had been the only ones to witness Simba’s coming of age, and they did what they could to make it a happy time for their young friend. The Pride Lands had not seen a real royal mantlement ceremony conducted the way they should be done for years, since Ahadi had first sprouted that ruff of fur. The blessing was not just on the lion being honored. It was a blessing on all who flew, walked or swam. It was the reason why those who fear lions still loved and venerated the Lion King. He was the one through whom the blessings of the gods came to all. Those who came to the mantlement ceremony would crowd around hoping to touch that mane and derive strength from it, strength they would pass on to their own offspring.
Perhaps Simba was anxious to make sure this would make the gods happy and make up for all the years missed. But he was also anxious that his son be happy. He spotted the lionesses returning from the hunt. “Look, it’s them!” Simba said, prancing like a cub. “Tanabi, did you hear??”
Tanabi came bounding out of the cave. The two lions met in the middle of Pride Rock and wrestled like a couple of kittens. “Getting to big for your mother’s milk, eh?”
“You’re just jealous.”
“I could still make you wait till tomorrow.”
“Go greet her, my son. Bring her here. Remember, I get to kiss her first.”
Tanabi got off, shook the dust off what mane he had, and headed quickly down the side of Pride Rock. “Just wait till I tell her,” Tanabi thought as he forded through the grassland like a ship on silver seas. Their eyes shone green and gold in the moonlight. Two were the lights of his beloved. “Misha! Misha, dearest! It’s me!”
Uzuri passed him without looking up, a glum expression on her face. Isha shook her head as if to say “Don’t ask.” Then came Misha behind her, her head bowed, and a dusty footprint on her swollen shoulder.
Misha looked at him silently, then burst into tears.
“It is better you go now,” Uzuri counseled. “She will hunt again soon.”
By the time they got back to Pride Rock, there was no need to tell Simba what had happened. “I have given Zazu clear orders,” Simba softly purred to his son. “He is to be your chaperone till Misha makes her first kill. I trust you, but we must silence the gossip before it starts.”
“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.”
— THE LEONINE STORY OF BEGINNINGS, Variation D-4-A
It was to be a mantlement ceremony as held in the days of old. All of the celebrations would be strictly observed, including the one day moratorium on hunting that allows the animals of the Pride Lands to celebrate the prince’s good fortune. Even the cheetahs and leopards were expected to abstain from blood, something that was probably unpopular with them, but they carried themselves with too much dignity and too little strength to complain. Misha was depressed. There would be no hunt that night for her to prove herself. Indeed, after a careful examination, Rafiki told her she would be off the hunt for at least a week.
To lift her flagging spirits, Nala asked her to sit with her during the mantlement ceremony. It was a place reserved for a sister or, had things gone well, an announced mate. Nala knew what Simba would never know—she had turned down the gift of another’s blood. Nala respected her, and even considered pleading for an exemption so she could be wed on what should have been her son’s perfect day. But as Simba reminded her, it was not just a custom, but a religious custom designed to protect the young and inexperienced.
The morning of the ceremony, space close to the rock was at a premium. The elephants and zebras came in close, followed shortly by the buffaloes and gazelles. The giraffes said they didn’t mind being in the back because they were tall, but it was clearly noted that they fought their way forward over the course of a quarter hour until they were almost to the elephants.
Zazu stood on the tip of Pride Rock and looked over the huge assemblage. The speech he’d planned to make once for Mufasa came to mind the way Ahadi and Makedde had taught him and Rafiki had rehearsed him. He spread his wings, and the crowd came to a startlingly quick hush. Such was the power of the King and his representatives.
“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.”
Zazu, deeply moved, added, “Listen well, all of you. The sign has appeared once more on Prince Tanabi, the true son of the King. The gods have remembered us through him.”
Tanabi came forward. At the sight of his new mane, short as it was, the crowd bowed deeply in silence. The sight of so many standing so quietly was unnerving. For a moment, he forgot about his troubles and straightened with pride.
Simba stood beside him to give the blessing. “Great are you Aiheu, father of all races. Anoint Tanabi, your chosen servant with the blood of mercy and rain of love. Fill him with the wind of freedom. Stand his feet on the soil of faith. Shine upon him with the light of knowledge. And through him, bless all flesh that holds you dear.”
Quietly, Misha whispered, “And let him know how much I love him.”
Nala touched her cheek with her tongue. “He knows, Honey Tree. He knows.”
The ceremony, and Tanabi’s speech, was not rushed. There was no need. And for those who would read the Chronicles of the Pride, the particulars are worth the effort. But Misha did not pay much attention. She was depressed, and after all the grand speeches and blessings were over, she slunk away silently to mope. Tanabi started to follow her, but was advised to give her some time alone.
That night, when the crowds were gone and quiet reigned once more, Tanabi looked out across the Pride Lands. “It is peaceful. Just for tonight there is no fear in any heart.” He looked at Simba with a half smile. A zebra colt walked right up to me. He asked me what I was. Can you believe he didn’t know what a lion was?”
“He came to you in his innocence. Remember that moment,” Simba said. “They have thoughts and feelings too. You must remember that zebra and never hunt for sport or kill cruelly. Son, I might have been born a Zebra, or an antelope. I would have loved my child no less than I love you here and now.”
“So after all is said and done, it’s all a matter of luck, Isn’t it?”
“That, yes. But we may go beyond luck through faith and courage, and rise to the challenge. Misha’s love is courageous, and in time it will overcome all challenges. All she needs is to build her faith. You must help her believe in herself. You must believe in her.”
“I wasn’t talking about her,” Tanabi objected, but then he sighed deeply. “Who am I trying to fool.”
Early the next morning, Tanabi showed up at Misha’s den. “Good morning, Misha. It’s a fine time for a walk—just the three of us.”
“It IS lovely this time in the morning,” Zazu said in a very upbeat voice. “Misha, you know what Rafiki said about your shoulder. Let’s start out with a nice short walk—loosen up the old muscles and put the spring back in your step.”
“Anything to get back in the hunt,” Misha said tiredly. She stretched, wincing briefly as her shoulder pain flared up.
They walked away from Pride Rock, down the path to the watering hole. Though the ban was lifted, most animals kept only a convenient distance between themselves and a pair of talkative lions on an early morning stroll. Tanabi looked at a herd of skittish zebras, wondering if one of them was the colt he met the day before. “It’s a shame we can’t have a truce more often.”
“Like today, perhaps?”
“Heavens, no!” He whispered to her, “Every day without you is an eternity.”
“I think about you all the time,” Misha whispered back.
“I will wait for you, Misha. As long as it takes, I swear it.”
“Don’t make promises you might not be able to keep. I may not be any good at hunting, and you will come to forget me.”
“You only have to be good once. I will never forget you. Your love is in the bones of me.”
“Would you really wait for me, Tanabi?”
“I’ve always waited for you, haven’t I?”
“I hear you love birds whispering down there,” Zazu said. “I hope it’s not some sort of plan.”
“Matter of fact it is a sort of plan,” Simba said. “A plan to get her well again.”
Zazu fluttered down and lit on Tanabi’s backbone. The smooth lion tread swayed Zazu ever so gently as he perched there. “Your Highness, I do sympathize. We hornbills have some rather ridiculous mating rituals too.”
“Are you saying our laws are ridiculous?”
“Oh no, Your Highness. Just that while I’m not a good judge of lion beauty, I know a natural pair when I see one. When a hornbill and his mate are that struck on each other, all it takes are a few flutters and squawks—no more than a dozen or so—to cinch the deal.”
“Flutters and squawks?”
“You know…” Zazu flapped his wings quickly, shook his tail feathers and went, “Squ-WAWK! Squ-WAWK!”
Misha laughed. “So that’s what woke me up this morning!”
“Heavens, no!” Zazu folded his wings indignantly. “Madam, I am more discrete with my private life than the neighborhood riffraff. Where I come from…”
Misha’s ears snapped to attention. She froze in her tracks.
“What’s up?” Zazu asked.
There was a rumbling. The ground tremored expectantly. Seconds later, a group of antelope came bursting from the thicket and charging blindly toward them. Zazu had to fly hard and fast get out of the way. From the air, he could just see the lionesses that started the stampede. “This sort of thing doesn’t go on in the morning. What are they trying to do?”
Misha and Tanabi ran to intercept one of the antelopes. She was so close to one that she could almost touch it, but her shoulder was hurt, and she was in pain. She was beginning to lose ground, and afraid of another injury. “Help me, gods! I need a miracle!”
Just then, claws and feathers came at the face of the antelope. Panicked, it tried to stop and go back the other way. Again, the hornbill flew right in its face. “Out of my way, fool!”
Misha’s strong jaws closed around its throat. It was soon over.
Shortly after, the other lionesses arrived. “Well well, look who got her first kill!” Uzuri took some of the blood from the body on her paw and touched her own cheek, then Misha’s. “Warn them a lioness is on the prowl!”
The lionesses roared, sending a flock of flamingos scattering in pink disarray. Elephants trumpeted in surprise and headed back toward the cover of the trees.
Zazu was walking unsteadily on the ground. “Oh gods, I think I’m going to be sick.” There was a sound of hide being stripped from the abdomen. Zazu glanced for an instant at the open hole and turned quickly away. “Yes, I’m sick!”
“Zazu!” Tanabi ran over. “Zazu, you old son of a gun! Good work!”
“Good? You call that good?” He nearly wretched. “Never tell anyone I helped in this disgusting spectacle. I’ll never admit to it. I always keep myself as far away from blood as possible!”
“He’s trying to thank you,” Misha said. “It was very noble of you, Zazu. In a way, it makes you a sort of…well…”
“Please don’t say honorary lioness,” Zazu replied, staring at her bloody cheek. “I don’t look good in red.”
“No, I meant hero.”
“Hero? Me?” Zazu bowed with a flourish. “Pardon my manners—you’re both quite welcome. It was the least I could do under the circumstances. All in a day’s work, you know. And since you won’t be needing a chaperone, I’ll leave you alone. Be good, now.”
Zazu flew away, but Tanabi and Misha were not alone by any means. The other lionesses stood about smiling, the sort of smile that made Tanabi feel shaved of all his fur. “Ladies, don’t you have somewhere to go? Huh?? Well find someplace. Scat! Shoo!”
“Oooh, they want to be alone!” one of the lionesses said, coyly. It started a chorus of giggles.
“Talk about ingratitude,” one of them chimed. “I don’t have to hang around here and take this abuse. I’m leaving.”
Misha watched them go slowly into the tall grass. “Tanabi, they helped us. Do you really think that was the right thing to do?”
“Yes, Honey Tree. And I’d do it again.”
She nuzzled him. “Just checking.”
“And 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.”
— WISDOMS OF JABANI
Isha’s son Habusu was more than a best friend of Tanabi. He was in every way a brother. Because of this, and the strong feelings engendered by the kidnapping, there were many reasons why Simba did not want to lose Habusu.
Still he had the obligation to do something concerning Habusu since his mane was fully grown and he was well past his second birthday.
Each moon, Simba would make a sacrifice to Aiheu and pray that the gods would permit him a little more time. Just why he did this, and how long he expected to keep it up he would not say.
Finally, when Zazu came flying in excitedly with news from outside the kingdom, Simba called the whole Pride together from the oldest to the youngest. “It’s happening!”
“What’s happening??” Sarafina asked
Isha came out to see what the commotion was about. Simba nuzzled her warmly. “Isha, I want you, Mabatu and Miss Priss to come with me. We’re having a Pride Moot at the eastern meadow. And your family will sit by me.”
“I’m honored.” She looked at him worriedly. “Is today the day I lose him? I’m supposed to get two days notice.”
“You will never lose him. I swear.”
“But the gods?”
“The gods will rejoice.”
“It’s him, Isn’t it. He’s come back for me?”
Simba smiled broadly. “I’ll give you two guesses.”
Isha’s face beamed with joy. She nuzzled Simba and annointed his mane with her tears. “Bless you. Bless you!”
“Now now,” Simba cautioned, rubbing her gently with his paw. “You don’t want to smell like another lion when your husband comes.”
When the Pride had gathered on the eastern meadow, there was a lot of speculation what would happen. Most of them had heard rumors that Simba planned a special mantlement ceremony for Habusu that was only rarely performed. The others thought Rafiki had found a reason for Habusu to stay, and perhaps be the Prince Consort. They were expecting adoption proceedings. But whatever they thought, they waited silently and all eyes were on Habusu.
Several minutes passed. Simba waited patiently, erect, and as long as he sat there, no one would stir. A few cubs played in the grass, but as long as they kept it quiet no one seemed to mind. But the adults and older youth sat stock still, waiting for Simba to give the word to begin.
An hour passed. Many of the lions were very restless. Would Simba ever say, “Begin”?
Then Zazu broke the monotony. “Here he is!”
A large, shapely lion with a rich, dark mane came out of the shadows. “Isn’t he handsome!” one of the lionesses whispered.
The stranger looked at Kako and said quietly, “Mother.”
Kako left the ranks and covered the space that separated them, putting her arm over his shoulder and nuzzling him. “My son, my son!”
So this was the heir to Taka’s kingdom, the son that had returned. Many of the lionesses stared at what the adolescent had become. The miracle of his maturity was all the greater because it was not seen unfolding day by day.
Kissing his mother, Mabatu gently led her aside, then went to Simba. Falling down before him, he said, “I touch your mane.”
“I feel it.”
“And what brings you to my kingdom?”
“I come to claim what is mine-if she still wants me.”
“Yes, yes, YES!!” Isha sprang forward and raising on her hind legs wrapped her arms around his neck, pawing him and nuzzling him. “I’m yours forever!”
At this, all semblance of order was lost. “Big boy, you’re in for some loving tonight!” Sarafina cried.
“I’m the real Isha!” Ajenti shouted. “She’s an imposter! Take me, take me!”
“Way to go, Isha! If you get tired, send him my way!”
“Enough of this,” Simba said, calling for order. “Can’t you see they have unfinished business?”
“Can we watch?” Sarafina said.
“Shame on you, Fini.” Simba had to chuckle at that remark.
In the calm that followed, Mabatu beheld his son for the first time. “So this is Habusu. He is my son, and the one true heir.” He nuzzled Habu and added, “It is a small kingdom. I share it with an old lion who lost a challenge. We are a matched pair, a sunrise and a sunset. But he is a dear friend, and you will grow to love him.”
Lisani came up and nuzzled her mother.
“And who is this?”
“Lisani, but we call her Miss Priss. Beesa’s daughter. My sister died some time ago.” Isha looked at her compassionately. “What do you want to do, Miss Priss?”
“I want to go wherever you go. But the nickname stays here, OK?”
Mabatu smiled. “Fair enough, Lisani. I guess that makes five of us.”
“You’re taking two of my best lionesses, and a second son,” Simba said. “You better leave before I change my mind.”
“Three of your best lionesses,” Kako said with little modesty but great effect. “Someone has to make sure my son is eating right. And my daughter.”
And so it was that the visitor from the east went back the way she came, taking her mystery with her. But this time she was surrounded by the love of her own family.
“The anger of Duma was kindled, and he swore a mighty oath that Obade should die. And he 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.’ But 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?’”
— LEONID SAGA, “J” SECTION, VARIATION 2
Sarabi was stirred from sleep by a gentle but firm paw. She opened her eyes, but seeing the darkness of her cave grunted and closed them again.
“Sarabi,” a lion called gently. She started. “Sarabi, over here.”
She looked around, and standing before her was her heart’s desire. “Mufasa!”
Mufasa went to her, nuzzled her and kissed away her tears. “My love.”
“Don’t leave me, Muffy! Stay here, my love. Stay.”
“I can’t stay long.”
Sarabi’s eyes began to well up with tears. “How long then? A day? An hour?” She spoke in a whisper—”Another minute?”
“Long enough to take you with me.”
She touched him with her tongue. He felt warm and alive, not like a ghostly spirit. “Will it hurt?”
“Turn around, Sarabi. Tell me what you see.”
She looked over her shoulder and there on the ground was a sleeping lioness. Only she was not asleep.
“We are already together, Sassie.”
For many moments, all they could do was share their joy, playing like cubs, nuzzling and planting warm lion kisses. Then Mufasa called in a lioness, one whose face was strange and yet familiar. “Shanni, this is your mother.”
“Shanni?” Sarabi looked at her closely. “Such a lioness, now? And so beautiful.”
“Like her mother,” Mufasa said with a smile. And yet in the ocean depth of their joy, one small thing appeared to trouble Mufasa-something evident now that Ka could face another Ka and thought became reality.
“What’s wrong? You are worried, my husband?”
“Another old friend waits for you. Someone who’s afraid to say hello.”
Sheepishly, into the entrance of the cave strode a lion of lesser build but great beauty. The depth of his love and humility gave back to his face the lost innocence of his cubhood and washed away the hardness of his former life. “Muffy, have you told her about me?”
Sarabi stared at Taka. “It’s you.”
Taka’s ears drooped and his tail hung limply. “What was I thinking coming here.” He started back out of the cave.
Sarabi went to Taka and looked into his eyes. “Look at me.”
Taka looked away and shuddered. “Do not pity me. Even in death I cannot bear it.”
Sarabi took her paw and turned Taka to face her. “Look at me.”
He opened his eyes and looked into hers. “I see the same old Taka that used to pull my tail when I wasn’t looking.” She smiled. “You have found peace. I often prayed that you would.” She nuzzled him and kissed his sad face.
Taka felt warm tears run down his cheeks. “Look Muffy, when she cries she is so beautiful. Isn’t she beautiful, Muffy?”
Mufasa smiled. “Sarabi, you are beautiful. Come on, my friends. Let’s show her around.”
Aiheu is wonderful, He knows the pain you bear, And He will grant a share of comfort in the night; The ones you hold most dear, His hand will hold most near, Until you see them clear in His eternal light.
From the start there was Aiheu the Beautiful, the first of the living and the cause of all life. Aiheu 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 (soil) 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.
Those bodies 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 after birth. 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.
Now the earth 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.
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, until Koko the gorilla threw mud into the lake and spoiled the milk. Thus rose the polluted Makei, the evil spirits. But Koko confessed what he did to 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.
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 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. 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 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.
As long as this story is passed from old to young, never added to or subtracted from, the blessings of Aiheu will be upon those who hear it.
When Ramalah 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.
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.
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. Because they were both strong and determined, they 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 eventually married and fathered a great people. And when N’ga and Sufa awoke, they felt sore and foolish and swore to end their days of fighting forever.
Roh’kash (Great Mother) was the first of the living. In her was the essence of life, and through her, life entered the world. First she gave birth to the sun. The sun was the child of her strength, and she was very bright and brave. It used up most of her virility to do this, but she tried again, and gave birth to the moon. The moon was the same size, but very pale and shy. Thus she used up all of her powers of fertility. She was tired and came to earth, which was desolate. There she slept on a rock in the moonlight. This resulted, quite unexpected to her, in the first union, which was with the Roh’khim (Great Father). Because this union was between the spiritual and the physical, she conceived and brought forth offspring which had both spiritual and physical components. These children of Roh’kash were the ancestors of the different tribes that still walk the earth today.
THE END: THE CHRONICLES OF THE PRIDE LANDS