An alternate ending to “The Lion King” by Joe McCauley
© 1996, Joseph E. McCauley II
Based on “The Lion King” © 1994, The Walt Disney Co.
Have you ever been watching a movie and thought to yourself, “I wonder how the story would have continued/ended if X had happened”, instead of whatever did happen in the movie? For instance, how do you suppose “Beauty and the Beast” would have ended if, when the Beast had released Belle to rescue her father, she had brought him back to Beast’s castle instead of taking him to their home, or even if she had said a word or two on the way out to reassure the Beast she’d be back. But then we might not have seen Gaston and the townspeople storming beast’s castle, so in this case the ending would have been less dramatic. But sometimes these alternative story continuations raise some interesting possibilities.
This is an exploration of one of these “story variations” that came to mind while watching “The Lion King”. The original idea was to make a small change shortly before Simba’s return to Pride Rock, then rewrite the rest of the story from there. To that extent, it represents another way the movie might have ended. Why did I write another ending for “The Lion King”? One of the movie’s few flaws is that the ending relies on an overused movie cliche, in which the villain gives away his secret just when he thinks he’s triumphed (“I killed Mufasa”). This is avoided in “The Enigma”. Second, Scar did leave a few clues in his wake that could easily have aroused some suspicion. Finally, a lot of things happen in a short time toward the end of the movie, and some of them offer some interesting dramatic possibilities if they’re allowed to be played out over a longer period of time. I will concede that in some ways “The Enigma” is not well suited for the pacing and the visual elements that make the movie work well.
That was the original idea, but by the time I’d finished writing it, it also included other subplots and a bunch of new characters. The events here are different from the movie, but I have tried to remain faithful to the characters and concepts as presented in “The Lion King”.
I was inspired to write this story after discovering the TLK web pages and other works of fan fiction. At that time I had read only one other work of fan fiction, Joshua Templin’s “The Tales of Tanabi”, and reading that had a lot to do with my decision to develop this idea into a full story. At that point I chose not to read any other fan fiction until I had the story pretty well mapped out (to allow it to develop on its own without concern for conflict with or similarity to previous works of fan fiction). But once I had a general outline, curiosity got the better of me and I read other stories. Not surprisingly, “The Enigma” is generally not consistent with these but has are some similarities. In particular, the primary theme of “The Enigma” was explored somewhat in Robert Tuffley’s “The Longest Walk”, but since TLW stayed within the TLK story line and “Enigma” changed it, the results are quite different.
Any feedback, positive or negative, that you may have regarding this story would be most welcome.
The movie “The Lion King” (TLK) and its characters, concepts and settings are (c) 1994 The Walt Disney Company. This story is unauthorized fan fiction based on TLK. Portions of this story are accounts of events which occurred in TLK or are modeled after scenes from TLK; no plagiarism is intended. Some of the details used in this story, including three characters, were drawn from previous works of fan fiction. A few details relating to the forthcoming sequel (tentatively titled “Simba’s Pride” and probably (c) 1997 The Walt Disney Company) were acquired from sources generally available on the Internet and from communication with Dan T. Guyton and Tad Stones.
Except as indicated in the previous paragraph, this story is the original work of the author. It was created without the intent or expectation of achieving financial or material gain. This work may be distributed so long as it is done free of charge and in its entirety including the front and back matter. This work may be made available on a www page or ftp site so long as you notify the author.
No animals were harmed during the production of this story.
- to The Walt Disney Company for producing “The Lion King”;
- to Phil Pollard and others who developed the online version of the TLK screenplay which was an invaluable resource in reproducing scenes from the movie;
- to all of the reviewers and editors who previewed this work and offered many valuable suggestions;
- to previous authors of fan fiction for providing inspiration;
- to many regular contributors to alt.fan.lion-king and the TLK mailing list for encouragement and moral support and for keeping fan fiction alive;
- and last but not least to my wife Vicki and my children Joshua, Robert and Alison for being patient with me and allowing me the time to write this story.
After the sun set, he forced himself onward in the direction of the twilight, until it faded. He was hungry, thirsty, nauseous, and most of all, devastated beyond belief. No one could possibly imagine the depth of the anguish, the distress he was experiencing.
“…Never return.” His father was dead. His life as he knew it was over. He had no idea where he was going, but he knew he couldn’t go back.
The young lion cub summoned what energy he could muster, and followed the crescent moon until it fell below the horizon. By then he was too tired to go on, so he lay down to rest on the sand, still warm from the previous day’s heat. He wished he could be with his mother.
Only two days earlier, Simba awoke looking forward to a day with his father and a life full of possibilities. But he disobeyed his father Mufasa and almost got himself and his best friend Nala killed. Mufasa saved them, and after that they had a long talk. Simba decided he would be more careful and never to get into that much of trouble again.
But what happened the next day was much, much worse. He was in a gorge practicing his roar, when suddenly a stampede began and he was caught in it, and again his father had to come and save him. This time, Simba was in a much more dangerous situation, and his father could only help him at great risk to himself. Despite the danger he didn’t think twice about rescuing his son, and he was able to save Simba. But he wasn’t able to save himself. Just when it seemed like he was going to make it out alive, he lost his footing, or ran out of strength, or who knows what, and fell back into the stampede. Simba heard him scream. Saw him fall. And disappear under the trampling hooves of wildebeest. It was an image that would be burned into his mind for the rest of his life.
It wasn’t until the stampede cleared that he saw him again. Simba found his father and tried to awaken him, but there was no life left in the battered body. It had been too much for him. And as if having seen it happen wasn’t painful enough for him, what happened next made it unbearable.
Simba loved and trusted his Uncle Scar, and he believed whatever Scar told him. All night the words his uncle told him kept echoing through Simba’s young mind over and over again.
“Simba, what have you done?”
“…The King is dead, and if it weren’t for you, he’d still be alive.”
“Run away, Simba. Run, run away, and never return.”
With barely a moment for the words to sink in, Simba’s life was in danger again. Hyenas were after him and he knew his father wouldn’t save him this time. Running for his life, he barely escaped and was left headed out into the desert, headed away from the only home he had known. All of it had left him almost completely exhausted and barely able to go on, but there was nothing else he could do.
As Scar addressed the pride, announcing the death of Mufasa and Simba, Nala cowered behind her mother’s leg. She cried for the loss of her best friend and playmate, but moments later she looked on in fear and horror as the hyenas slunk out of the shadows. Lion and hyena living together? Even for a small cub such as herself it was quite a bothersome thought, and she could hear the gasps of shock and disbelief coming from the other lionesses. How could Scar do this? How could he be welcoming the same hyenas who had tried to kill her and Simba just yesterday? Did Scar know what had happened in the elephant graveyard? Were her mother and Sarabi wondering the same thing?
The next morning Simba awoke to a blazing sun. If he was any less tired it was offset by the fact that he was dehydrated, and the heat was oppressive. He had to go on if he was to have any chance of survival, but the desert sun made that very daunting. The night before he had seen the stars. Was his father among them? Would he want anything to do with him now? Such a heavy load for a lion cub of only a few months. Simba kept moving as long as his little legs would carry him, but eventually his last reserve of strength gave out, and he could go on no more.
He looked up one last time and thought he saw trees, but his mind and his eyes had been playing tricks on him all morning, so he guessed they probably weren’t real anyway. Still, with nothing better to go on he tried his best to move toward them. But a day of walking in the desert had taken its toll on him and he had nothing left. His feet were sore, his mouth was dry, and a day of self-accusation had drained his will to live. A fitting end for what he had done and what he had caused. Exhausted, demoralized and dehydrated, he lay down on the cracked dirt and gave himself over to whatever fate awaited him.
With Sarabi grieving from the loss of her husband and her son, Sarafina had to step up and act as leader of the lionesses. One of her first tasks had to do with Mufasa and Simba, but she couldn’t do it herself. Sarabi needed her and Nala was terrified of the hyenas, so she had two of the other lionesses assist Rafiki with the job.
When the task was completed the two lionesses reported back to her, and their report included a couple of very disturbing findings. Sarafina couldn’t bring herself to tell Sarabi about them. Maybe someday she would, but now certainly wasn’t the time. At the very least, she wanted to try to find out some answers first.
Zazu was ashamed and embarrassed that he couldn’t answer some of Sarafina’s questions about the stampede. He could remember Mufasa trying to rescue Simba from the stampede, but after that, nothing. The next thing he remembered was waking up with an enormous headache and finding himself back at Pride Rock. He soon found out from others that Mufasa and Simba had both perished in the stampede, but how had it happened? He had been there, he was sure, but no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t remember any more of it. He was tempted to bluff his way through the questions Sarafina was asking, but decided to tell the truth, even if it included an uncomfortable number of “I don’t knows”. What was going on? Was it possible that he could have blacked out the memory?
Scar found the questions bothersome too, but for a different reason. At first he answered them as best he could so as not to arouse the suspicions of the lionesses, but they proved a bit too persistent when they weren’t satisfied with his answers. Luckily for him none of them were willing to press once he asked them if they doubted him or would challenge his honor. He’d gotten what he wanted. He was the king of Pride Rock now and could get away with it.
How all this came about was story that could fill volumes. Mufasa and Taka were both taught about the Circle of Life by Ahadi, their father, the way he had been taught by his father Mohatu. Ahadi loved both of his sons dearly, and though Mufasa had the birthright to the throne, he knew it was also possible that Taka might one day become king, and thus he considered it important that both be instructed well. He taught them all he knew of the Circle of Life, the responsibilities of being king, and many other important lessons for life. Mufasa and Taka were good students and both learned well.
He treated them nearly as equals, but perhaps because Mufasa would almost certainly become king while Taka might not, he showed a little bit of favoritism towards Mufasa, thinking it wouldn’t make much difference. He underestimated the perceptiveness of his sons. Mufasa soon came to think of himself as the greater of the two, the one who should be in charge. Taka didn’t share this view, and later he would greatly exaggerate how much his father favored his brother over him.
In time, out of his inferior feelings, Taka came to want more than anything else to be the superior one, the king. For Mufasa, wanting to be king was never an issue, just something that was going to happen someday. He was the first born and would one day become king so long as he outlived his father. But for Taka, becoming king was anything but certain, and the circumstances that would dictate whether he would ever have that opportunity were beyond his control. Or at least they should have been.
Taka later became known as Scar, and as he grew older he became increasingly aware that every day that passed was one less that his reign would last if indeed it ever came. He tried to be patient and nurture his belief that his time would come, and for a time while Mufasa and his wife Sarabi were barren of children for more seasons than they had hoped, it seemed like he would get his chance. At times he fancied ways he might overthrow his brother and take over the throne, but he wasn’t willing to face the aftermath that might result from any of them, so he remained patient.
But all of that changed when Simba was born. Now there was another ahead of him in line, one he was not likely to outlive. Scar became desperate, and out of that desperation he became more contemptuous and began to seriously consider ways of becoming king that he had previously dismissed out of hand. It was then that he became friends with the hyenas. He had disliked the hyenas as much as any other lion and did his share to keep them out of the Pride Lands. But his lust for the throne, his desire to have something life hadn’t given him, soon overwhelmed him, and he overcame his disgust of the beasts to enlist their aid. He promised them that if they helped him become king he would allow them to live in and feed off of the Pride Lands.
At first, Scar was willing to settle for recovering his place as first in line for the throne, and tried to set a trap to get Simba killed. But Mufasa thwarted that plan, luckily without finding out that his brother was behind it. Scar knew that if he tried something like that again, successful or not, his role might be discovered and he would be stripped of any claim to the throne. He decided that killing only Simba gained him too little for the risk it entailed. He would kill both Mufasa and Simba, and though it would be riskier and more difficult, it had a much greater prize - the throne.
With this in mind, he set another trap, and this time to all appearances he was successful. He killed Mufasa and thought he killed Simba, and for the most part succeeded in making it look to the rest of the pride like it was an accident. Taka had finally gotten his lifelong wish. Secretly he wished he could have done it without becoming indebted to the hyenas, but it was impossible to deny that they had played a critical role in pulling it off. Therefore he would remain friends with them. He would keep his promise to them.
And that would prove to be Scar’s downfall as king. Everything his father had taught him about the Circle of Life was based on following certain rules, and among those was that lion and hyena were natural enemies. To keep things in balance the hyenas had to be kept off of or at least limited in their access to the Pride Lands. There were simply not enough prey animals to feed both a large clan of hyenas and the pride of lions without disrupting the balance.
To make matters worse, Scar was so intent on believing that his vision of lion and hyena living together would be a success that he began to dismiss evidence to the contrary, and in so doing allowed himself to fall out of touch with what was truly going on in his kingdom. Zazu had been valuable to Mufasa in watching over the Pride Lands and keeping him informed of any problems that arose, but Scar kept Zazu in a cage most of the time. Scar didn’t patrol the territory himself very much, citing his bad back as the reason, and had the hyenas do it for him and report whatever problems they found. But hyenas see things differently than lions, and their reports or lack thereof often reflected this. The lionesses and many of the other creatures did not have the same rapport with Scar that they had with Mufasa and didn’t share information with him as freely. At least not until much later when the gradual destruction of the Pride Lands made them desperate.
Thus were the pieces of the enigma scattered about, seemingly too few and too subtle to assimilate into anything meaningful. But they were there nonetheless and would lie dormant, waiting to be discovered and assembled when the time was right.
The most important piece was nearly lost. Simba had reached the end and given himself up, but the trees he had last seen were real, and among them stood two curious but friendly characters, a warthog named Pumbaa and a meerkat named Timon. Seeing the vultures starting to gather out in the desert, they decided on a whim to go check it out. They found Simba nearly dead and rescued him from the desert heat. Later they showed him a way out of his grief.
Chapter 1. Shadows of Doubt
Nala looked up at her mother with pleading green eyes. “Are we still going to have lessons like we did before?” She had waited a while to pose this question, for even at her young age she knew it wasn’t a good idea to broach the subject too soon after the death of Mufasa and Simba. Before that tragedy her mother and Sarabi had been giving Nala lessons in preparation for the role of queen that she would one day hold. Nala enjoyed these lessons immensely and was growing impatient for more.
Sarafina looked down at her daughter lovingly and regarded her for a moment. Was there any point now to giving her lessons on queenship? After all, with the death of Simba she was no longer destined to be queen. But the lessons they’d shared so far had been some of the more enjoyable times Sarafina had spent with Nala, and she didn’t see any reason not to continue teaching her daughter. Besides, many of them were not merely lessons for queenship but were valuable lessons for life that would make her a good leader among the lionesses, queen or not. “Okay, Nala. We’ll start up our lessons again.”
“All right,” shouted Nala enthusiastically as she jumped and waved her tail around.
Sarafina smiled as she mentally reviewed what she had been planning to teach her next before their lives had been so unceremoniously interrupted by recent events. “This is our lesson for today, then. The king must always be respected by all members of the pride,” her mother explained. “Whether we agree with him or not, he’s still the king, and what he says is the law.”
“You mean like letting the hyenas live here?” Nala asked.
“Well, yes,” answered Sarafina.
“But what if we REALLY don’t agree with something he says?”
“In that case, we talk to him and try to convince him to change his mind. If he’s a good king he’ll listen and take the views of others into consideration. But whatever happens he’s still the king and the decision is his.”
Nala thought about this a moment. “All right, Mom. But if I am queen someday, won’t I get to make some of the rules too?”
Sarafina had to think about that one for a moment. “That would be up to you and your king. But I never knew of a king that was any good who didn’t rely on his queen to help him make some of the decisions and take some of the responsibilities.”
“Okay,” said Nala. “What kind of responsibilities does the queen get to share?”
Sarafina looked down at her daughter with admiration. She was surprised and impressed that Nala, even at her young age, was already asking some very astute and insightful questions. “The queen has to fit in as one of the lionesses, sharing in all they do. She becomes their leader, and when there is something that concerns them all, it is she who must decide what to do about it and whether to bring it to the attention of the king.”
“Then the queen gets to decide as much as the king?”
“In a way, yes,” Sarafina replied.
“Okay,” said Nala brightly. “I hope I still get to be queen someday,”
“Maybe,” Sarafina acknowledged. If she keeps this up it will be a pity if she doesn’t.
Their lesson brought another question to Sarafina’s mind. Scar hadn’t approached any of the lionesses about being his queen, at least not yet. Was it because none of the lionesses were that attracted to him? Was it because he wanted to keep all the decision making power to himself? This was something she’d have to discuss with Sarabi.
Sarabi was no longer the queen officially, but the lionesses of Pride Rock would still treat Sarabi as the queen, at least unless and until Scar chose a mate. Whatever her title, she would unquestionably remain a leader among them, and she was gradually resuming that role which Sarafina had taken on while she mourned the loss of her husband and son.
A dozen or so hyenas were sunning themselves on the ground in front of Pride Rock when a leopard approached. He looked at the hyenas in disbelief as he padded toward the entrance to the cave. The hyenas didn’t like the look of this leopard, and two of them stood up and eyed him suspiciously, challenging him to continue. The leopard in turn stopped, stared back at the hyenas, raised his tail, crouched a little lower as if preparing to pounce, and began a low growl. They faced off like this for a long moment, until finally the leopard stood up straight again, averted his gaze upward, and walked disdainfully past the hyenas to the cave entrance, keeping them in his peripheral vision until he reached the opening.
“Scar!” shouted the leopard.
“Nguvu! What do you want?” he muttered, annoyed at the intrusion.
Nguvu forced himself to speak calmly. “I came down here to inform you that hyenas have been invading on our hunting grounds and interfering with my hunting, but I get here and I see you’ve been pandering to the miserable little moochers.”
“Don’t talk about them like that,” Scar shot back. “As far as I’m concerned the hyenas are friends and they’re welcome to… whatever they want.”
Nguvu looked at him incredulously. “Scar, have you lost your mind!”
“Oh, do lighten up, Nguvu,” replied Scar, as nonchalantly as he could muster.
“Do you really think…”
“We will live together with the hyenas and as king I will do whatever it takes to make it work.”
“Not with my help,” Nguvu retorted. “I’ve got a family to worry about, and I’m glad not to be a lion.” Though Scar was king, he couldn’t really exercise his authority over the leopards the way he could over the rest of the lions. “And what kind of a king keeps his majordomo confined to a cage?”
Zazu had been watching the discussion unfold and thought about responding to this last statement. Sizing up the two of them he decided it was not a discussion he wanted to get caught in the middle of, so he kept silent.
Scar glared back without even acknowledging Zazu. “This is the way I rule my kingdom, and if you’ve got a problem with it, GET OUT.”
“I may just do that, and I pity your lionesses who don’t have that option,” hissed the leopard.
“You’re starting to sound like one of them,” Scar grumbled.
“Oh really? Maybe you should listen to them more often.” Then without waiting to see what reaction that statement provoked, Nguvu
turned and walked out, holding his tail up high.
Zazu couldn’t help smiling to himself after hearing someone give Scar such an earful. Too bad he couldn’t get away with that himself. He was sworn to serve Scar and tried to stop smiling, but he couldn’t.
Rafiki put a few more touches on his painting. The picture was a the gorge similar to the one in the Pride Lands where Mufasa had died, but this one was deeper and more treacherous, so much so that it looked nearly impossible to climb out of. Rafiki studied it and mumbled to himself, “Must be a way out.” But he couldn’t see where.
Simba awoke with a veil of depression hanging over his mind, as he had every day since Timon and Pumbaa had saved him from the desert heat one moon earlier. The guilt from causing his father’s death was a heavy burden to bear, especially at his age, and some days he felt like he didn’t want to go on living. But today was better than yesterday.
He wandered out into the grassy plains to see what he could find. The bugs he ate with Timon and Pumbaa were better than nothing, but they weren’t all that satisfying to him and he was hungry for something else. Mice were better and he was getting better at catching them. There were usually plenty of them, and this particular morning he had no trouble catching two.
Timon and Pumbaa awoke to find their friend out in the grass stalking and pouncing, still a bit awkwardly but getting better at it. But his tail still hung low when he walked and he had that same lost look on his face that he had every morning. Timon had been worried when they first found Simba that he might eat them, but now it seemed that if he kills anyone it’ll be himself. Pumbaa had been outcast because he was too flatulent. Timon had been too independent to accept the responsibilities that came with the life of a meerkat, which he considered mundane. But their experiences hadn’t been all that difficult to put behind them. Whatever was bothering Simba seemed to go much deeper. What could he have been through that he’s still this blue even after a month of living “Hakuna Matata”, they wondered, especially Pumbaa. Timon was more inclined to simply try to find something to cheer up Simba. Still, they could see he was getting better.
After the lessons he had received from his parents during the early months of his life, Simba had his doubts about “Hakuna Matata”. Yet whenever he thought about trying to live according to the values his parents had taught him, it invariably led to thoughts of his father’s death and his responsibility for it, and that brought up feelings of guilt and shame. At least “Hakuna Matata” enabled him to have fun and allowed him to be happy. It gave him a way to forget about the things that bothered him.
“Good morning, Simba!” said Pumbaa cheerily. “Catching anything?”
“Coupla’ mice. Want one?”
“Ehhh, no thanks,” replied Timon nervously.
“Okay, just let me know if you ever want one,” replied Simba, not seeing the discomfort his dietary excursions were causing at least one of his friends. “What’cha doin’?”
“Just out for a stretch,” Pumbaa replied.
“Wanna go take a dip in the pool?” Timon suggested.
“Yeah! That sounds like fun!” said Simba, perking up.
They wandered into the jungle together. And so it went. Going through life one day at a time not having any worries. Or trying not to.
The lionesses with a yearling cub in tow approached the crest of another hill. “We’ve been wandering for a long time and haven’t come across anything yet,” observed Taraja, the youngest of the four adults, allowing a little stress to show through her normally hopeful demeanor. “It shouldn’t take us this long.”
“The herds have rather thin lately,” Sarabi noted.
“Well, I’m not surprised,” remarked Thabiti, the hunt leader.
“What with all those hyenas to feed, I don’t know how much longer this
can keep up.”
Taraja turned to Sarabi. “Have you talked to Scar about it?”
“I tried, but he won’t listen. He insists the herds will be back in full force before long.”
“I don’t know about that,” said Thabiti. “They shouldn’t be this thin unless we get a long dry spell or something.”
On a mound a short distance away sat Akili, a young adult lioness with what lions might consider a cheetah figure. She sniffed the air, craned her neck, then cocked her head a little to the left. “Over that rise,” she called back to the others.
They sniffed the air too, but couldn’t smell anything. “Are you sure?” asked Thabiti.
“Only one way to find out,” said Sarabi. “Let’s go.”
Might as well check it out, Thabiti thought. We’re not finding anything else. They all walked over to the rise, crouching and moving slowly as they approached the crest. Sure enough, there was a small herd of zebra a few hundred yards away down the other side.
“How do you do that?” Thabiti whispered to Akili.
“I don’t know,” Akili replied. “I just… I can’t explain it.”
“Dinnertime,” Taraja remarked, as they began to stalk closer to the zebra.
This was becoming a more common occurrence. Until recently Akili’s sense of smell had rarely been needed. There had always been plenty of herds to hunt and any lion or lioness could locate prey animals easily enough. But as they became harder to find Akili was quickly becoming their most valuable hunter, even though she was no better than the others at charging and grounding their prey. Thabiti had been proud of her role as the best hunter in the pride, and resented the fact that the rules had changed on her. For an instant she resented Akili, but she quickly forced the thought out of her mind. It wasn’t Akili’s fault this was happening, they got along well in every other way, so Thabiti was determined not to let something like this come between them. Besides, she knew Akili had been struggling to find her place in the pride, and this might make her feel better about herself. If she felt any resentment, there were better ways to deal with it, and this day she got an opportunity.
“They’re all full-sized healthy adults,” whispered Akili as they neared the zebras. “How are we supposed to get one of those.”
“I don’t know,” Taraja whispered back. “We’d need to get about three of us up close to bring one of them down.”
Thabiti smiled. “Watch a pro at work,” she bragged, and with that, she slunk off into the grass. Seconds later it seemed as though she had completely disappeared.
Sarabi and Nala crept up behind Akili and Taraja. As they neared the others, Nala’s tail twitched nervously.
“Keep your tail down,” whispered Sarabi. “They’ll see you.”
Oh, sorry, thought Nala, not daring to even whisper at this moment.
One of the zebras looked up and sniffed the air, then resumed its grazing. After a long and tense moment, Thabiti’s massive figure exploded out of the grass onto the back of the zebra, knocking it off its hooves. The other lionesses quickly charged as the zebra thrashed about and tried to fight off the lioness. By the time the zebra struggled out from under Thabiti and regained its feet, it was facing not one but four lionesses and had nowhere to go. Thabiti leapt on its back again and clamped her massive jaws down on its spine at the base of its neck. With that the zebra fell, and the pride was fed for another day.
Nala was along to learn and help out. More than once on previous hunts she had made noise at the wrong time and spooked their prey, leaving them without a meal, but it was one of those things most cubs have to learn the hard way. Fortunately she got through that stage while herds were still plentiful and at worst the pride would have to wait only another day for their next meal. Now poor Nala thought she was doing something else wrong since the hunts were taking longer and were unsuccessful more often.
“What am I doing wrong?” asked Nala apprehensively.
“Nothing,” Sarabi replied. “You’re doing just fine.”
“But the hunts are taking longer. It’s my fault, isn’t it.”
“No, Nala,” Sarabi repeated. “It’s not your fault.
But Nala didn’t seem convinced. She seemed too willing to blame herself for whatever difficulties they encountered while she was along. It took a lot of reassurance from Sarabi, her mother and the other lionesses to convince her she wasn’t the cause of their hunting difficulties.
Scar was aware that the herds were getting thinner but he thought it was only temporary. He was actually making an effort to maintain the Circle of Life the way his father had taught him, but for all of his life before becoming king the herds had always been plentiful in the Pride Lands, a seemingly endless supply of food for everyone. He had come to think of it as something that could always be relied upon, and he didn’t think there was any real chance the herds of zebra, antelope and other animals might be seriously degraded. A small part of him wasn’t sure, though, but that was a chance he’d have to take. He’d done what he had to do to become king, and that included making a promise to the hyenas that he meant to keep, a promise the hyenas might make him pay dearly for if broken. He believed - had to believe - that he could maintain the Circle of Life and keep his promise too. He couldn’t allow himself to consider that he might someday have to choose one over the other. For that reason he insisted that the thinner herds were due to unavoidable circumstances and were only temporary.
The lionesses did what little they could to keep things in balance, but for the most part they had to worry first and foremost about keeping everyone fed. The hyenas often went out hunting on their own, which meant less work for the lionesses, but also meant they had less control. Perhaps the only thing that kept the situation from degrading too quickly was that other predators living in the Pride Lands gradually left to find better living and better hunting elsewhere.
Simba seemed to have finally gotten the idea that Timon and Pumbaa were not interested in his hunting escapades. It made Timon nervous that he did it at all, even though Simba hadn’t given them any reason to think he’d turn them into one of his meals. Though he was still a cub, he had grown a little since his arrival here. They often feasted on bugs together, and Simba had even developed some preferences among the varieties, including a couple of favorites that neither Timon nor Pumbaa cared for.
One day while Timon was riding on his back, Pumbaa was having too much fun strolling along a path through the jungle, singing and acting silly, and he pushed a low hanging branch out of their way with his snout. When it snapped back, it hit Timon squarely in the chest, knocking him off Pumbaa’s back and sending him tumbling to the ground. Pumbaa had gotten too carried away to notice right away what had happened, so it was Simba who first saw Timon lying on his back with a bleeding cut where the branch had hit him.
Timon looked up and saw Simba’s mouth descending toward him. Suddenly several thoughts flashed through his mind, and he froze and eyes widened in fear. Oh no, this is it!
Simba began to lick Timon’s cut, cleaning it off with his tongue. Sensing Timon’s uneasiness, Simba purred a little and gave him a small feline rub with the side of his muzzle before continuing. A few licks later, Simba lifted his head. “You okay, Timon?”
“Yeah, just a scratch. I’ll be good as new by tomorrow.”
By this time Pumbaa had turned around and was watching. “Sorry about that, Timon.”
Having ever so briefly caught the look of fear in Timon’s eyes, Simba asked him, “You weren’t afraid of me, were you?”
Timon was briefly startled, then became confident. “Who, me?
We’re friends. Why should I be afraid of you?”
Simba smiled, swished his tail a little and gave him a slightly sideways look as if to say, “Yeah, right!”
Timon smiled back at him, allowing a little bit of gratitude to creep into his expression.
At that moment, they understood each other a little better.
Timon never worried about Simba hunting him or Pumbaa any more. Eventually it became one of their games for Simba to hunt Timon or Pumbaa or both, without harming them when the “hunt” was successful. Not only did Simba learn to hunt better from these games, but Pumbaa and Timon became much more astute at avoiding other predators who might hunt them for real.
Chapter 2. A Way Out
Northeast of the Pride Lands there was a large mountain, quite distant but easily visible from the Pride Lands on a clear day. The foothills on the west side of this mountain were home to a group of lions known as the Foothills Coalition, with a history much longer than any of its current members had been alive. When male lions who had no claim to the leadership of their prides reached a certain age, they often chose or were forced to leave them. There were a dozen or so prides within a days journey, including the one at Pride Rock, and the males who left these prides often became wanderers, who sometimes joined other males for company and to help each other hunt. This particular group was known to and on friendly terms with most of the prides in the area. In the more distant past they had been forced to move around, but for quite some time they had lived here in the western foothills, where there was too little game to support a pride of any size but enough for a smaller group of adults.
The current coalition membership consisted of four lions. Mtaalamu had come from a pride to the east when he was outcast. A year and a half later, his younger half-brother Wema left the same pride to look for Mtaalamu. Amani, the biggest of the four of them, came from a different pride to the west. A wise and proud lion named Mwongozi from a pride far to the south was their leader, at least when they needed anyone to lead. All four of them were quite capable of handling themselves, and when they did anything as a group it was usually by consensus.
They had a particularly good hunt one day and had downed two zebras. Mwongozi had just finished eating his fill from one of them and let one of the others have at it when he heard a sound. “Quiet,” he told the others, and they immediately crouched down and stood still. He crept slowly up the side of the ravine where they were eating, and as he peered over the edge, he locked eyes with a leopard about twenty yards away. They appraised each other for a moment; though leopards are quite strong they are at too much of a size disadvantage to have much of a chance of winning a fight with a lion, though the lion probably wouldn’t walk away unscathed. “Who are you and what are you doing here?” demanded Mwongozi.
The leopard dismissed the idea of trying to fight the lion and thought about running away, but decided to be straightforward with the lion. “My family and I are seeking a new place to live. We’ve not been able to find enough food and wish to live somewhere where the hunting is better. We are quite hungry, I smelled meat and came to investigate.”
Mwongozi relaxed a little but was still on his guard. “What is your name, where did you come from, and where are you going?”
“I am Nguvu. We have come from the Pride Lands of Pride Rock, to the southwest, and we don’t know yet where we’re going.”
This came as quite a surprise to Mwongozi. “Pride Rock?” he exclaimed. How could that be? He’d been to the Pride Lands a few times and it had always been a place where food was abundant and the hunting was always good. Yet here he was face to face with a leopard claiming to have left there in search of food. He looked back at the two zebra carcasses and the other three lions, who by now could see there was not a threat and were listening attentively. There was probably more meat on the two zebras than the four of them could eat before it would spoil. “You’ve aroused my curiosity,” he told Nguvu. “Our hunt went very well today. If you will tell me about Pride Rock, you and your family may come eat, and you may rest here tonight. Tomorrow you must move on, but even in that perhaps we may be of some help.”
Nguvu called over his shoulder and from the grass behind him, four other leopards appeared, three of whom were cubs just over a year old. Mwongozi led them back to the carcasses and told the other lions about the arrangement. Nguvu ate enough to take the edge off his hunger as his cubs bumped shoulders trying to get in for a few bites, while the lions continued eating from the other carcass. Nguvu was still hungry and would eat more later, but for now he stepped back and let his wife in.
“So, talk to me.” Mwongozi said.
“It’s the hyenas,” Nguvu began. “They’ve been roaming everywhere, getting in the way when I hunt, and feeding off the herds, which have been dwindling.”
“Hyenas?” said Mwongozi, surprised. “How could Mufasa allow it?”
“Oh!” said Nguvu. “You haven’t heard? Mufasa was killed in a stampede a while back.” At this, the other lions stopped eating and listened. “I guess it’s been almost a year now,” the leopard continued.
“His son, who was only a cub, got caught in a wildebeest stampede and
Mufasa tried to save him, but they both died.”
“So who is king now?” asked Mtaalamu.
“It’s Scar, Mufasa’s brother,” Nguvu continued.
“We used to be in touch with them,” noted Mwongozi, “but as you can tell we haven’t heard from them in a while. So what was it you were telling me about hyenas?”
Nguvu looked toward the Pride Lands and let out a sigh of resignation. “Scar seems to have this thing about lions and hyenas living together.”
“Most unusual,” Mwongozi remarked. “How is it working out?”
“Not too good from what I can tell. But Scar won’t give up.”
“How are the lionesses handling it?”
“Well, I see them out hunting a lot, certainly more than they ever had to under Mufasa, and even more so lately. Seems they’re having to look harder to find enough to eat.”
“Do you know about any of the lionesses in particular?” asked Mwongozi.
“Unfortunately,” said Nguvu, “we leopards don’t mingle with the lions that much. The only lioness I know by name is Sarabi, Mufasa’s widow. She seems to be doing fine, considering. I don’t know the names of any of the others, though there are a couple I know by sight.”
Mwongozi was disappointed with this response. He knew some of the lionesses from Pride Rock, including Sarabi, but there was one in particular who had a special place in his heart, and he had hoped to hear some news about her.
Nguvu offered, “For what it’s worth, I remember two lionesses dying a while back. That would have been while Mufasa was still king. I don’t know of any dying or leaving more recently.”
I hope she wasn’t one of them, thought Mwongozi. Probably not, he surmised, since Mufasa knew of their friendship and would have sent word if anything bad had happened to her. Still, the possibility worried him somewhat. Even if it wasn’t really what Mwongozi had hoped to find out from the leopards, it was something. Besides, Nguvu couldn’t very well tell what he didn’t know.
Sarafina returned from the day’s hunt to find Nala with Hadhari, the oldest lioness in the pride, and Mshairi, a young lioness who had made it to adulthood with more than her share of cub spots still intact. “Listening to stories again, Nala?”
Hadhari smiled. “I was just sharing a few stories with Mshairi about King Mohatu’s reign.”
“How old were you when he died?” Sarafina asked her.
“Only two. I remember him all right, but I wasn’t old enough to understand a lot of what was going on at the time, and of course a lot happened before I was born. Most of what I know about him I heard from others in the pride after he died.” Hadhari turned to Mshairi. “Especially your grandmother Shairi. She was quite a storyteller too, you know.”
“Yes, my father used to talk about her a lot,” Mshairi replied.
“I was named after her.”
“What’s Tarishi up to these days?” asked Hadhari.
“Haven’t heard from him in a while,” Mshairi replied. “As far as I know he’s still living with the Sunrise Coalition.”
Sarafina looked at Nala. “You really like hearing these stories, don’t you?”
“I like it best when you tell stories about when you grew up.”
Sarafina, tired from the hunt, looked down at her daughter and gave an exhausted sigh. “Can you wait till tomorrow?”
Nala pondered for a moment. “Yeah, that’s okay.”
“I’ll tell one if you like,” said Mshairi.
Sarafina gave her a look of mild exasperation. “You think you can tell MY story better than ME?”
The funny thing was, it was true, and everyone in the pride knew it. And not just of Sarafina but of everyone else, except perhaps Hadhari. Mshairi lived to hear the stories of others, both fact and fiction, and to tell them to others the best she could. Despite her relatively young age, she had become quite a storehouse not only of entertainment but history as well.
But Mshairi wasn’t blind to the workings of a mother/daughter relationship. “Would you rather tell her one yourself?”
“All right,” sighed Sarafina. “We were out exploring one day…”
As usual, when Mshairi wasn’t the one telling the story she listened intently for anything new.
When Sarafina finished her story, Nala spoke up. “Thanks, Mom. That was neat!”
“Want me to tell you one about Simba?” Mshairi offered.
“Yeah!” Nala shouted, always anxious to hear about her friend and former playmate.
“I thought you would. This one happened when he was about three months old…”
It had been a while since Rafiki had worked on his painting of the gorge, but he took another look at it. “Ahhh, here,” he said, as he spotted a place to draw a path. As he started to draw it, he noticed it wasn’t going in the direction he’d hoped to make it go. Maybe that’s why it had taken him so long to notice it. “Hmmm,” he mused. After studying it and thinking for a moment and seeing nothing better, he went ahead and drew the path there. “Must be a way out of gorge. Better than no way at all.”
Simba was just over two years old and was showing the beginnings of a mane. He was a lot happier now, having fun with Timon and Pumbaa every day, and not thinking too much about his father or his past. He was actually becoming quite protective of them, wary of anything that came too close to their part of the jungle that might be a danger to Timon and Pumbaa. Every now and then he would become a little sad or homesick, but, he thought, just give it more time and it will be ancient history. After all he’d come a long way since he arrived at this jungle and found these two friends. Hakuna Matata. No responsibilities. Life was easy. He sometimes thought about the Pride Lands and the pride he’d left behind, but his thoughts didn’t usually go much beyond “I hope they’re doing okay”, though occasionally he wondered about Nala and thought it might be nice to see her again.
One day they decided to follow the river upstream from the pool where they liked to swim. From the top of the waterfall above the pool, they passed several rapids, climbed above another waterfall, and continued beyond more rapids. When they came to the bottom of a third waterfall, they decided they were tired of climbing and headed off to one side. They soon crested a ridge and from there it was downhill. Even though they weren’t familiar with this territory, they weren’t worried about being able to find their way back home. At one point Pumbaa and Simba were feeling a little lost when suddenly Timon exclaimed, “Holy mackerel, how did we end up HERE.”
“What do you mean? Where is ‘here’?” Simba asked.
Timon laid down low on Pumbaa’s back. “Go over toward that clearing up ahead,” he instructed. Simba crept up silently, using the low hanging foliage for cover. When they reached a safe vantage point at the edge of the clearing, they stopped.
“Look!” said Timon, pointing at the grassy area before them.
“I don’t see anything,” said Pumbaa.
“Just stay quiet and keep watching.”
A few seconds later, Pumbaa and Simba, who were about the same height at this stage of Simba’s growth, saw the movement at the same time. “It’s another meerkat,” whispered Pumbaa.
“Precisely. This is the colony I used to live in.”
“Oh!” whispered Pumbaa.
“As long as we’re here,” Simba whispered, “did you want to drop in for a visit?”
“I don’t know,” Timon replied. “I never figured on being back up this way.”
“Don’t you ever miss your old home?” Simba asked.
“No… Well, sometimes… I don’t know.” Timon was trying to sound like his usual self despite mixed feelings. “I don’t think they’d
wanna see me.
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Simba replied morosely.
The tone of Simba’s voice was not lost on Pumbaa, but he didn’t get a chance to ask about it.
“Hey, it’s gettin’ late,” said Timon, trying to change the subject. “We better go see if our part of the jungle is still there.”
“Yeah, my hooves are hurting,” added Pumbaa.
“All right, let’s go,” Simba agreed. Hakuna Matata.
What Simba didn’t know was that he was at the age when an easy, responsibility free life had the greatest appeal. Soon he would turn the corner and begin to realize there must be more to life than this. Then the lessons his father and mother had taught him would start to come back. And so would the memories.
As the lion reached the edge of the Pride Lands, he noticed that things looked a little different, a little more run down, than they had on his previous visits. He looked at the savannah around him, at the scattered trees and rock formations, and noticed that things just didn’t seem quite as… how could he describe it? … not quite as alive.
There was ample evidence of hyenas roaming the area where there had been little or none before. “Nguvu was right,” sighed Mwongozi. He didn’t want to believe it, but it wasn’t hard to see why the leopard wanted to leave.
Looking over, he spied a few vultures and decided to investigate. As he approached, he discovered four hyenas crowded around a wildebeest carcass, with about two dozen vultures waiting their turn to scavenge from it. One of the hyenas looked up an saw him.
“Hey! You! Get out of here.”
“What’s the problem,” Mwongozi replied calmly. “I’m only here for a visit.”
“You’re not welcome here!” the hyena replied. “Boss’s orders.”
“Sorry, but I don’t have to answer to a bunch of hyenas,” Mwongozi asserted.
“I’m talkin’ about Scar. And he says no visitors. So go on back where you came from.”
“How about I go and talk to Scar myself, then?”
“What’s with you, lion. I said GET OUT.”
Mwongozi decided to try a gambit. He turned away from them and began walking in the direction of Pride Rock.
The hyena who had been speaking and one other bound over in front of him. “Can’t you hear? You’re not allowed in here!”
“You know, I could easily overpower the four of you,” Mwongozi pointed out.
“Yeah, but we could get twenty more hyenas to rip you apart. You’d never make it halfway to the rock,” said the hyena, meaning Pride Rock - like many of the hyenas he avoided referring to it by name.
“Okay, how about you go and tell Scar I would like to have an audience with him.”
“Nothin’ doin’, lion. Just get the heck out like I told you.”
Mwongozi regarded the hyena carefully. From what he knew of the behavior of hyenas he didn’t doubt what this one said about getting twenty more. “All right. I’m leaving,” he said, as he turned to walk back toward the mountain where he lived.
After retreating to a short distance outside the Pride Lands, Mwongozi stopped, lay down and rested as he looked toward Pride Rock, and took stock of the situation. Scar obviously didn’t want any visitors to the Pride Lands, or at least not any males. Did he regard visitors as a threat? Mwongozi certainly had no designs on the Pride Lands. All he wanted to do was visit a friend, and it wouldn’t bother him if he had to speak to Scar, which he probably would want to do anyway after what he’d seen and heard about the Pride Lands. Yet he wasn’t even being allowed that option.
He surveyed the horizon and noticed a movement. It was a hyena, one of the ones he’d encountered moments earlier, and it was evidently monitoring him to make sure he didn’t try sneaking some other way around to get into the Pride Lands. Mwongozi sighed. Whether by design or by accident, Scar had erected a pretty effective defense against any visitors. These hyenas would do whatever they had to do to enforce Scar’s wishes; they were stubborn and not intelligent enough to reason with, so they were nearly impossible to get through to even talk to Scar. It wouldn’t surprise him if Scar wanted it this way, as he had known leaders who regarded those who would question them as a nuisance they’d rather not have to deal with. I could teach him a thing or two, thought Mwongozi, if he had any desire to learn.
The possibility of finding a way in crossed his mind. He could shake off this hyena that was staking him out, then try to sneak in. But it would be risky, and having seen him once the hyenas might not give him the option to flee this time. Still, he could probably find a way in if he thought about it long enough.
On the other hand, Scar was the king here and could make whatever laws he wanted, right or wrong. Mwongozi was not one to challenge kings just because he could. He respected their kingdoms and felt that as an outsider if he didn’t agree with something the most he could do was offer his opinion. Though he could imagine there might be situations where he would challenge a king, the situation he was presently faced with certainly wasn’t one of them.
Reluctantly, he stood up and began the return trip to his mountain home and his coalition.
Chapter 3. Passages
Ever since Scar became king, Rafiki didn’t feel right about helping him. There was something that just didn’t feel quite right about him, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. There was also the issue of the hyenas - a bastardization of the Circle of Life if he’d ever seen one. Sure, Scar had his seemingly noble purpose of lion and hyena living together, but that too left him with the feeling there was something else going on. Finally, Scar didn’t seem that interested in the old mandrill’s help.
Still, he couldn’t ignore the plight of the lionesses. He’d watch over them and do what little he could to assist in their survival, but there was only so much he could do without appearing to aid a king who neither desired nor deserved his support.
After observing the lionesses one day, he went back near his baobab tree to tend another tree from which he often collected fruit to eat. This particular tree had several pieces that had been growing bigger for many days. He studied them in anticipation of the day they’d be big enough to eat, when he noticed that one of them had already begun to rot on the branch.
Rafiki looked at it closer. “Hmmm… Lost dat one.”
There hadn’t been any rain in the savannah for over a month. Normally a drought like this didn’t make it that much more difficult since it affected the animals the lions hunted as much or more than the lions themselves. This time, however, the herds were already quite depleted, and what was left of them consisted mostly of animals who were stronger and healthier to begin with and better able to survive the drought, so it only made matters worse for the lions.
“Nothing,” said Thabiti dejectedly as the tired hunting party rejoined the rest of the pride.
“What are we going to do?” asked Mshairi. “We’re almost out of food.”
“We’ll just have to share what we have,” Sarafina sighed.
Hadhari was lying tired and weak at the base of a nearby tree. “You can have mine,” she said. “You’ll need the energy for the next hunt.”
“No!” cried Mshairi and Taraja together. “If you don’t eat,” Mshairi went on, “you’ll starve to death.”
“Don’t worry about me. I’ve lived a long and happy life, and my time is near. You’ve still got plenty of life ahead of you.”
This situation had been developing for quite some time. Hadhari was not as strong anymore as she used to be, and it hurt her joints too much to spend a lot of time out and about. She’d been able to go along for the hunts sometimes as recently as just before the drought began, and could help stalk and ground their prey if it didn’t take them long to locate some. Otherwise, she could not endure the longer hunts and would have to return and rest while the other lionesses continued their hunt. She was particularly proud of herself one day when she left the group to return to the grove of acacia trees near Pride Rock, when purely by accident she happened upon a group of gazelles. She returned to the hunting party, led them to the gazelles and they caught a couple of days worth of meals. Thus she got to be the hunter of the day one last time.
But that was months earlier. It had been over two moons since she had last contributed to a successful hunt, and she felt very bad to have to depend on the other lionesses to bring her food. Thus she would sometimes refuse her meals, insisting that the lionesses who would be going out on the next hunt needed the energy more than she did. As a result of this, she had become weak and malnourished, yet even as death threatened she persisted in this practice.
Sarabi observed this and was greatly saddened that their friend would probably be leaving them soon, but she knew better than to challenge Hadhari’s intentions. Hadhari had discussed her feelings at length with her and seemed to be quite at peace with herself. But the younger lionesses had more difficulty accepting Hadhari’s fate.
Akili looked on and felt very distressed. For the third time in a week she hadn’t been able to locate any prey, and now the toll it was taking on the lionesses was staring back at her in Hadhari’s weak form. She knew Hadhari would never blame her, but that didn’t stop her from feeling guilty for failing to meet her self-imposed responsibility. To her, Hadhari was as important a member of the pride as the others who could still hunt. She had much wisdom and many stories to share with the group, and Akili couldn’t bear the thought that Hadhari might die because of her. She wandered away from the group into the savannah and began crying.
Taraja saw her best friend leave and got up to follow her.
“I’ve got to find something,” sobbed Akili. “We can’t just let her die like that.”
Taraja tried to reassure her. “It’s not your fault. You’ve helped us find food when no one else could more times than I can count. If it hadn’t been for you, Hadhari would have starved a long time ago, and maybe some of the rest of us too.”
“But they were counting on me and I failed,” Akili uttered.
“It’s not your fault the herds are getting so hard to find. With all those hyenas to feed something like this was bound to happen.” Taraja’s voice turned angry. “Why is he…” Taraja wanted to lash out at Scar, but decided this wasn’t the time and stopped herself.
They didn’t say anything for a couple of minutes. Finally, Akili got up and looked out at the savannah. “I’m going back out to look some more.”
“Are you crazy?” Taraja exclaimed. “You’ve been out hunting all day and you look exhausted.”
“I know, but I have to try.”
Taraja had stayed behind that day with Hadhari and so wasn’t as tired. “Let me go with you then. Even if you do find anything you’ll have a heck of a time grounding it by yourself,” she observed. “I’ll see if I can get anyone else to come along.” And please don’t let anything happen to Hadhari while we’re out.
Taraja thought about who else she should ask. The older lionesses would probably think it was a foolish waste of time and try to talk them out of it. Maybe they’d be right, she mused, but decided her friend needed her support more than she needed reason. Mshairi might go along, but she had also been out on the hunt that day too and would be tired. That left Nala, who had barely reached adulthood. She was becoming quite a hunter and had stayed home that day, so she’d be the best one to ask. Nala agreed.
Nala returned with Taraja, and the three of them set off. They hunted as best they could under the cover of darkness, which would have made it easier to stalk their prey if they had found any, but they didn’t. They searched well into the night, and finally returned in the early morning hours, exhausted and with nothing to show for their efforts.
They awoke late the next morning to find that no hunting party had gone out. Instead, everyone was gathered around Hadhari. Akili was the last to awaken, and when she approached, Hadhari spoke to her. “Thank you, child. You are truly great and your persistence shall not go unrewarded.”
Akili found it difficult to look at her. “I’m sorry, Hadhari. I tried.” But not hard enough.
“Akili, come over here, please. You have a talent and you must keep using it for the rest of the pride. You didn’t know it, but twice before I was ready to give myself up when you and the hunting party came back with a meal, one they probably wouldn’t have found without you. Don’t lose heart, child. You are important to all of us.”
“Thank you,” she breathed. Akili felt a little better, but she was used to holding herself to higher standards than others held her to, and at this moment it was hard for her not to feel inadequate.
Later that afternoon, Hadhari breathed her last. Even Scar was present and had Zazu with him to see her one last time. Taraja was with Hadhari nuzzling her and licking her fur. At the moment she felt Hadhari’s breathing and heartbeat stop, her intermittent tears became a steady flow and her licking intensified as if doing so would put some life back into her body.
Akili again went off by herself and cried bitterly. Nala soon noticed her absence and came looking for her. When she saw Akili, she knew right away that her crying wasn’t just mourning for the loss of one of their own. “Are you okay?” asked Nala.
It took a minute for Akili to get an answer out through her tears. “It’s my fault,” she finally said.
“No, it’s not. You did everything you could. She was able to live longer because of you.”
Akili stared off into space, not responding right away to Nala’s reassurances.
“Akili, you gave a hundred and fifty percent. If my life depended on finding something to eat, I wouldn’t want anyone on my team more than you. If you couldn’t do it, no one could.”
Akili let out a heavy sigh. She was finally starting to calm down and let go of some of her guilt
They continued talking and sharing their feelings for a while, and were later joined by Taraja, whose support helped even more. After a while, Akili felt more at peace with herself. She thanked the other two, and Nala and Taraja were able to let out some of their own feelings about Hadhari’s death. And while Nala had been trying to convince a friend she wasn’t responsible for the death of another, she couldn’t know that she would soon be facing another very similar situation, one that would present a much greater challenge.
Later that evening, Scar addressed the pride about the loss of Hadhari. He spoke of how hard times visit upon creatures from time to time, and about how it was part of the Circle of Life. But not everyone there found comfort in his words. All Taraja could think about was the things Scar had done, the decisions he had made, that had brought on the hard times. In her usual manner of trying to see the good in things, Taraja felt certain that Hadhari was in a better place now, but at times she got tired of being the optimist and at this moment felt anger at Scar whose leadership had resulted in a death sooner than it should have. And it angered her that Scar’s words didn’t carry the slightest hint of remorse or admission that Hadhari might have lived longer if he had done anything differently. Did he really think the Pride Lands could support the lions AND the hyenas?
Nala was having thoughts of her own too. Hadhari was getting old and probably wouldn’t have lived that much longer anyway. But if this keeps up, the rest of the pride will starve too, even the youngest. And if Scar won’t to do anything to save us or the Pride Lands, some one else had better. She began to think about what she might do.
That night, Nala, Taraja, Akili and Mshairi were keeping each other company as each of them continued to deal in their own way with the death of their friend. Taraja was a little upset with herself for letting her feelings get away from her, even though on reflection she had good reason for it. One lioness was dead because of Scar, and her best friend blamed herself for it. But there was another thing.
“You know,” said Taraja, “I’d like to have cubs sometime. Now I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever get the chance.”
“I know what you mean,” Mshairi replied. “I’ve been ready for that for a while, and if we have to wait much longer we’ll be too old.”
Nala and Akili nodded. They wanted cubs too someday. The way their leonine instincts worked they would seek a mate and try to have cubs when times were good and they’d be easy to take care of, but would forego producing offspring in more difficult times. The first season after Scar became king things weren’t looking good due to the thinning herds, so Akili and Mshairi waited, hoping for a better year. But by the following year, when Taraja was old enough, and each year since then, the Pride Lands had gotten steadily worse and these lionesses weren’t getting any younger. It didn’t help that none of them were attracted to Scar and he wouldn’t allow them to seek a mate elsewhere, but that was a secondary issue.
It also didn’t help that another tragedy had struck the Pride Lands shortly before Simba and Nala were born. Thabiti tried and failed to conceive. Then a mysterious illness killed two lionesses. One of them, Kilinge, had been pregnant, and her death left Sarabi and Sarafina as the only lionesses to bear cubs that year. The other was Njozi, Taraja’s mother, leaving Taraja an orphan at less than two years of age. The other lionesses pitched in to raise her, especially Hadhari and Akili, who were like a grandmother and a big sister to her respectively. After Taraja reached adulthood she and Akili kept up their relationship as best friends but remained devoted to Hadhari.
Nala looked at the lack of cubs in the pride from her viewpoint as the youngest. She and Simba had been the last ones to be born, and if the pride didn’t die of starvation, the Circle of Life would come to an end for them in a few more years from a lack of young to replace the old. She had more time than the others, but at the rate things were going that might end up meaning she would have to live through the most as the Pride Lands fell further into ruin. Then the hyenas would take over the place, and Pride Rock would become Clan Rock - a thought too revolting to think about. Well maybe some other lions could move in and establish a pride; that was a more bearable thought, but it wouldn’t be HER pride anymore.
Simba was virtually full grown now, and his mane was filling in nicely. This life of no worries and no responsibilities was okay, but it was… well, it just wasn’t giving him any real satisfaction or sense of accomplishment. Is this all there is? Surely there must be more to life than this, some greater purpose for his existence.
Actually, there was one higher purpose he couldn’t avoid thinking about. At one time he was supposed to be the king of Pride Rock. But he didn’t see any way that could still be in his future. He had killed his father, or at least he thought of it that way sometimes, even though he knew he hadn’t and wouldn’t have done anything deliberately to kill him. It was a past he couldn’t bear to face. There was no way his pride would take him back after that.
Simba wondered if Timon and Pumbaa ever thought about what the purpose of their lives was. The whole concept of Hakuna Matata seemed to go against it. They were friends to Simba when he needed it the most, teaching him how to survive in the jungle and all the while helping him as best they could through a difficult time. But there were some ways they couldn’t help him if he wouldn’t reveal his darkest secret to them, and that was something he’d been afraid to do.
Eventually Simba would come to the realization that his past wasn’t going leave him alone and sooner or later he would have to face it. But he wasn’t there yet. So for now he dismissed the possibility of returning to Pride Rock and went on searching for something else, hoping that there WAS still something else and that he hadn’t missed his one and only chance.
The Foothills Coalition were affected by the same drought that left the Pride Lands dry, and were likewise having a more difficult than usual time finding food. They hadn’t killed anything in over a week, when one day they cornered a small group of impala in a narrow gorge with steep sides. The impala were trying to climb to their escape as Mwongozi closed in. One had climbed to a low ledge, and with no place else to go it suddenly turned and attacked Mwongozi. He saw the attack coming and reared up to deflect the charging impala, but a loose rock caused him to lose his footing and the impala caught him off balance, goring him badly in the chest with one of its horns. Mtaalamu immediately leapt on the impala and broke its neck with his powerful jaws, but the damage was done. One of Mwongozi’s lungs had been punctured, and he could barely speak or move and was coughing up blood.
It was almost a week before they made another kill. The coalition had decided they needed to leave their home temporarily for somewhere else where there was more game to hunt, and would have already left had it not been for Mwongozi’s wound which made it impossible for him to hunt and difficult for him to travel. He seemed to be getting better so they waited, hoping that in a few more days he would be able to go with them.
“Any ideas where we should go?” Mtaalamu posed.
“Certainly not Pride Rock,” Mwongozi replied. “From what I can tell the drought is as bad or worse there as it is here.” Then he began pondered the thought. “I wonder how Sarafina and the rest of the pride are doing.”
“How long has it been?” Mtaalamu reflected.
“About three and a half years,” he replied.
“Holy cow,” Mtaalamu muttered. “Time passes so quickly.”
They discussed other possibilities and decided they would probably do best to head toward a great river a ways to the north of the mountain. It was just a matter of waiting for the right time to go.
But over the next five days they didn’t make a single kill, and Mwongozi’s wound became infected, making him very sick.
“I’m sorry to do this to you right now,” said Mtaalamu, “but there’s no way we can put this off any longer. We have to go now to where we can find food before we become too weak to travel.”
“Bad timing for me,” gasped Mwongozi, “but you’re right. We have no choice.” He groaned and winced in pain as he stood up. “I’ll give it my best shot, but whatever happens, the three of you must insure your own survival.”
They started off traveling around the west side of the mountain. But travel, which was slow enough anyway in the hilly terrain, was slowed down further by Mwongozi’s condition. The infection had reached his lung and breathing was painful. He couldn’t talk and walk at the same time, and at one point he collapsed while climbing a hill.
After resting a little while he summoned enough strength to stand up and continue the rest of the way up the hill. By then, however, he was close to collapsing again. So after stopping to catch his breath he walked over to some shade trees where there was a small trickle coming from a nearby spring, and lay down.
“I cannot go on,” he told them. He spoke gently, though it was very laborious for him to speak at all in his condition. “You guys will have to make do without me. I’m slowing you down too much, and this travel is making it worse. Mtaalamu, Amani, Wema, please don’t risk your lives worrying about me. You must go on.”
It was obvious to the other three lions what the likely outcome of leaving Mwongozi behind in his condition was, but there was nothing else they could do. The great river was too far away to consider commuting. But even if they could, or for that matter if they didn’t have to go at all, it was questionable whether it would have made any difference. Mtaalamu, Amani and Wema nuzzled him, hoping for a miracle but not really expecting one. He shared some more words of wisdom with them, words about leadership, about teaching each other, about respect for each other and lions everywhere, and various other aspects of life. Even though it was painful for him and they were words he’d shared with them many times before, it was something that gave him satisfaction for what would probably be his last conversation with his companions. Finally, it came time for the other three to move on. Mwongozi’s last words to Mtaalamu were, “If you see Sarafina, tell her I miss her.”
Mtaalamu cried as they spent their last moments together. All of them were greatly saddened of course, but he had lived with Mwongozi the longest of the three of them and as their new leader would miss the leadership and guidance of Mwongozi the most.
Their new leader. He looked up at Wema and Amani, who at the moment were wrapped up in their own thoughts of losing Mwongozi. He would be their leader now - that thought scared him a little, but it was unavoidable. Of course Amani and Wema had been part of the group for quite some time now and as Mwongozi had taught them they would lead themselves and help each other most of the time. The real challenge would be when they got a newcomer.
But that was in the future. For now they had to take the extraordinarily difficult step of leaving their long time leader, teacher and friend behind for the sake of their own survival. Mtaalamu and the others finally convinced themselves to move on. Despite their heavy hearts they were able to make much better time. Mwongozi wasn’t that young, but he should have had a few good years left in him.
Mwongozi got as comfortable as he could, though his wound made this very difficult, lying where his mouth could reach the tiny stream. He looked around at this small part of the lands he had roamed for the last several years, listening to the sounds around him and smelling the breeze. He sometimes coughed, very painfully and often producing fluids, but he usually suppressed the urge to cough as less unpleasant than the pain of coughing. Eventually, night fell, and he fell asleep.
Mwongozi didn’t wake up again.
The next morning when the sun rose, Mwongozi felt no more pain. He was looking down on his own body, which he realized was no longer his. Vultures and other scavengers would be here soon. They can have it, he thought. I don’t need it anymore.
He discovered in his new form he could go just about anywhere quickly and easily, and without any of the pain his aging body had been beginning to give him, much less what he had been suffering in his final days. First he went to check on the rest of his coalition, which he observed was making good progress. Then he looked ahead of them to the great river. Plenty of food and water, a few other big cats - he thought he recognized Nguvu - but plenty of room here for all to roam without getting too territorial. He didn’t know yet if or how he could help his now former companions, but it didn’t look like that would be necessary.
Then he remembered Pride Rock. He hadn’t been there in a long time and wondered how many of the lionesses he knew were still alive. So he went back in that direction, and looked over the place to see how many lionesses he could recognize. There was Sarabi, looking rather disenchanted but still healthy. Thabiti looked as strong as ever. And of course there was Sarafina, as beautiful as he remembered her even if she was a bit emaciated as they all were. Where were Njozi and Kilinge? They must be the two that Nguvu had told him about. He didn’t recognize any of the other lionesses, and some them had to be several years old. Had it really been that long since he’d visited this place?
This place! It was in awful shape. The drought had taken its toll to be sure, but clearly that wasn’t the only problem here. No herds!
Just a clan of hyenas. What are they doing still here? He recalled hearing about them from Nguvu, and his experience with them when he
tried to visit, but it was still a shock to see how many there were, and what really surprised him was that they were apparently being allowed to roam freely despite the shortage of prey and the hardship it created for the lions. And there is their king Taka, now known as Scar, lying in his cave. Shouldn’t he be doing something about this? It was almost unbearable for him to see lions forced to live under conditions like this, especially when one of them had been one of his best friends. If there were a way to help those still among the living, he decided, this pride needed it more than his coalition.
Mwongozi looked again at the lionesses, and noticed he felt a strong connection with the youngest one, something he didn’t understand at first but which he could tell must be very significant. But before he had a chance to figure out what it was, he sensed there was another looking down on the Pride Lands beside him, one with a greater stake in it than him. The other spoke first.
Mufasa explained to him what had been happening here and how things had gotten to be the way they were. He also told him the young lioness’s name was Nala, and why he felt the connection with her.
Chapter 4. Father
Once again, Rafiki looked at his painting of a gorge with a path leading out of it, trying to find a path to the right spot on the edge. Earlier he had dismissed the idea of continuing the path he’d drawn earlier along the edge of the gorge to that spot, but now he reconsidered it. He drew it in lightly and studied it. After thinking about it a little, he decided it would work after all. He drew it in better. “Not very direct, but it gets there,” he observed.
One day Simba successfully stalked and killed a topi antelope. It was his favorite but he didn’t see them very often in this jungle. This was only the third time he’d killed one and unlike the previous two he had done it cleanly, without sustaining any kicks or gouges from his prey. He wondered if he could eat the whole thing, but it turned out that even for a male finishing his last major growth spurt a whole topi was too much to eat at once.
Timon and Pumbaa had discovered a huge stash of bugs which they would have gladly shared with Simba, but when they found out Simba was more interested in his antelope they were able to gorge themselves all the more.
After the three of them ate all they could, they laid down on the grass together and looked up at the night sky. Simba gave out a loud belch.
“Whoa. Nice one, Simba,” said Timon.
“Thanks. Man, I’m stuffed,” he replied.
“Me too. I ate like a pig,” added Pumbaa.
“Pumbaa, you are a pig,” Simba pointed out.
They took in the night air together, three friends sharing a moment. They felt very much at peace. Life was great. No worries. At least not until, by accident, the discussion wandered into something that had been bothering Simba more and more lately.
“Timon?” said Pumbaa.
“What?” replied 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… 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.” As usual, Pumbaa was too slow-witted to realize he was often the smarter of the two of them.
“Pumbaa, with you, everything’s gas.”
“Simba,” said Pumbaa, “what do you think?”
This discussion was already starting to bring back memories - the kind he had usually avoided sharing with Timon and Pumbaa. “Well, I don’t know…”
“Aww, come on,” Timon and Pumbaa pleaded.
Simba shifted around nervously, not sure he wanted to do this, but the others kept after him. Reluctantly, he shared his memory. “Well, somebody once told me that the great kings of the past are up there, watching over us.”
“Really?” said Pumbaa.
“You mean a bunch of royal dead guys are up there, watching us?” said Timon. He couldn’t help himself, and broke out laughing. Pumbaa followed his lead and started laughing too. Simba tried to laugh with them, hoping the moment would pass. Timon continued, “Who told you something like that? What mook made that up?”
“Pretty dumb, huh?” said Simba, trying to play along, but his heart wasn’t in it. By this time his memories and old feelings were
back full force.
Timon wasn’t looking at Simba, so he didn’t see the unease this was causing Simba. “You’re killing me, Simba”.
By this time Simba was lost in his own thoughts. He could have gotten mad at his friends, but then he knew them too well not to have expected that something like this might happen. It was himself, his own past, that he was really upset with, and it wasn’t their fault he’d never told them why he was an outcast. Simba had been thinking more about telling them, waiting for a while, hoping a good opportunity to arise, but the time never seemed right. He got up and looked for a place to be alone with his thoughts.
“Was it something I said?” wondered Timon aloud, realizing a moment too late that once again he had gotten too caught up in a good
laugh to notice the effect it was having on one of his best friends.
Timon wondered if he would ever understand this lion. Simba had become something of an enigma to him and Pumbaa. He never really seemed very happy. Quite often he could laugh and have fun with them, but at other times he was moody and unpredictable, with bouts of depression that lately seemed to be more frequent.
Simba walked a short distance away among the rocks and bushes until he found a grassy spot on an overlook. He looked up at the stars again. Was his father really up there watching over him? He knew that Mufasa had expected him to become king someday - what would Mufasa think of him now? Would he still expect him to be king? It seemed impossible after what had happened, after the way his father died. The only way he could find out if his pride would still expect him to be king, or even accept him as one of them, was to go back to Pride Rock, but he just couldn’t do it. Couldn’t face his homeland. His pride. His past. On the other hand, could he go through the rest of his life, wondering and living with his guilt? Unlike the adolescent lion he was a year earlier, he knew he couldn’t just ignore it and hope it would go away. But he couldn’t bear the thought of having to face his past, either. Trapped by his past, there didn’t seem to be a way out.
Simba let out a heavy sigh and flopped down on the grass near the ledge, churning up a cloud of dust, leaves and milkweed floss. The night breeze began carrying the cloud off the north.
But a gust of wind from one side dispersed the cloud, scattering it around the desert floor. Just a small, seemingly insignificant breeze, but it was the proverbial flap of a butterfly’s wing, enough to change the course of events from what they might have been. And Simba would soon learn that there can be more than one way to face your past.
High in his baobab tree, Rafiki studied the winds, the clouds when there were any, and the plants, animals, birds and insects around him, as well as scanning the horizons frequently for any signs of what was to come. Ever since Hadhari’s death he had an increasing sense that something important was going to happen soon to change things, so he’d been studying the signs more diligently for some clue as to what it might be or whether he was expected to play a part in it. On this day, however, the signs told him nothing new. Were they holding back, or had he overlooked something important? Rafiki continued to watch.
Except for a couple of light sprinkles, it had now been three months since there had been any rain in the Pride Lands. The hyenas were back complaining to Scar again. “Hey, Boss,” grumbled Banzai, “We got a bone to pick with you.”
“I’ll handle this,” Shenzi said to him. Turning to Scar, she went on, “Scar, there’s no food, no water…”
“Yeah,” continued Banzai, “it’s dinner time, and we ain’t got no stinkin’ entrees!”
Scar was getting exasperated. This is getting old, he thought. “It’s the lionesses’ job to do the hunting,” he replied.
“Yeah, but they won’t go hunt,” Banzai complained. In a sense, this was true. The number of unsuccessful hunts of late had increased to the point where lionesses had developed a pretty good instinct for whether they were likely to find anything on a given day, and if things didn’t look promising after a brief outing, they returned to take it easy and conserve their strength.
But Scar still wouldn’t admit there was anything wrong. He would blame the lionesses or the drought or anything but himself for the current situation, and he wasn’t willing to consider the obvious choices for a way to get out. They could leave Pride Rock, but after what he’d gone through to become king he wasn’t about to walk away from it. He could tell the hyenas to leave the Pride Lands, but that would mean reneging on his promise to them, as well as admitting that his vision of lion and hyena living together was a failure. Thus by default he was taking a third course of action, which was to do nothing and persist in his belief that the problems would go away and things would get better on their own. But the lionesses knew better.
“Sarabi!” shouted Scar angrily from the rock.
In the shadows of a nearby tree, Sarabi sighed, “I’m really getting tired of this.”
Sarafina had seen this played out several times in the preceding weeks. “Let me see if I can handle him this time,” she offered.
“You don’t have to do that,” replied Sarabi, but Sarafina was already on her way up to the rock. She walked between the hyenas, who mostly just looked at her. Three of them sitting together began to growl as she walked by, but she paused, and looked at them calmly. They stopped right away.
“What can we do for you, Scar?” asked Sarafina politely.
Scar had been all ready to let loose on Sarabi, and at the sight of Sarafina he was only slightly calmed and somewhat irritated that Sarabi hadn’t come up herself. “Where is your hunting party!” he growled. “They’re not doing their jobs.”
“Sarabi and I maintain that we’re all doing our jobs the best we know how. There just aren’t many herds in the Pride Lands these days.”
“Yes, of course,” replied Scar, unfazed. “So why aren’t you out looking for the ones that are there?”
“I’ll tell you what, Scar. Why don’t you come along with us tomorrow and see for yourself,” she suggested.
“I have other responsibilities as king. I can’t afford to be spending my time doing your job,” growled Scar. “Your hunting party hardly spent any time out hunting today.”
“Hunting requires energy,” explained Sarafina, “so we hunt when there is something to hunt for. We can’t be wasting our energy trying to hunt on days when there’s nothing to be found. Today was one of those days. We have to conserve our energy for more promising days.”
“Well that just won’t do!” shouted Scar. “Send your party back out!”
Sarafina was getting impatient. “If you make us go out on days like this you will be working us to death.”
“The hyenas are hungry.”
“Well why don’t you just tell the hyenas to go out and find their own food!” Sarafina shot back.
“Infidel!” shouted Scar angrily, as he lunged forward, raised a paw and attempted to strike her. “I am king, and you will do what I
Sarafina was shocked at his reaction, but agile enough to dodge his blow. She jumped back several yards, never taking her eyes off him.
Scar thought about trying again, but restrained himself, though he kept a threatening scowl on his face. Sarafina glared back at Scar. She wasn’t strong enough to win a fight with Scar, nor did she have any desire to face the consequences of fighting the king, but she was quick and could outmaneuver him if he tried anything else. She studied him, and decided he wasn’t going to, at least if she didn’t give him any more reason to. She also determined that there was no point in trying to reason with him any further. “Yes sir,” she replied in a disgusted but deferential tone. She backed away, still keeping her eyes on him until she stepped down from the rock.
She returned to the rest of the lionesses in tears over the outcome of their conversation. It was the first time Scar had lashed out at her like that. He had done it to Sarabi a few times, but at least Sarabi knew her assertiveness with Scar might sometimes provoke him to react this way and was determined to stand her ground in spite of it. Sarafina’s approach of trying to reason with him and help him understand had never had this result before. What she didn’t realize was that she wasn’t dealing with reason but had run up against Scar’s hidden agendas.
Sarabi had heard enough of their exchange from the shade trees and came over to comfort Sarafina who was quite shaken up and tearful at this point. Sarabi nuzzled up against her friend and purred sympathetically, trying to calm her down.
Nala had heard what happened too and would have been angered enough to hear anyone taking a verbal and attempted physical beating with no more provocation than that, but all the more so because it was her mother. The Pride Lands were in big trouble and all Scar would do about it was to blame something or someone else. She made a decision. If Scar wasn’t going to do anything about it, she would.
After a little time for things to calm down, Nala approached her mother and Sarabi. “We can’t go on like this.”
“I know,” Sarabi replied. “If something doesn’t change soon the rest of us will die.”
“I’ve decided to leave the Pride Lands and go look for help.”
Sarafina looked at Nala as if to say, “You’re doing what!?”
“You can’t just go off like that,” Sarabi commented. “Good or bad, Scar is still the king.”
“I realize that, but are you willing to stand by that view to the point of starving to death?” retorted Nala.
Sarabi shifted uncomfortably. She looked up at the stars for a moment and started to speak, but didn’t get any words out. After an internal struggle, she finally spoke. “Okay, I see what you mean. I’ve lived under two kings before Scar and was taught to always honor and respect the king, so it’s difficult for me to go against that. But it is easier for you, Nala, who have spent most of your life under Scar, to think beyond such limits.”
Nala smiled humbly. Sarabi always seemed to know how to listen to and take advice from the other lionesses without losing any of her dignity.
“Do you know where you’re going?” Sarabi inquired.
This question was one of the reasons Nala had waited so long to present the idea, and she knew it would come up. “No,” she admitted. “Do you have any suggestions?”
Sarafina had been listening and was understandably apprehensive about her daughter taking on such an ambitious and possibly dangerous venture, but decided they couldn’t do worse to make her stay. When this question came up, she knew what to suggest. “Go northeast toward the great mountain and find the coalition of lions that lives in the foothills on this side. They might be willing to help us.”
“What would they do? Challenge Scar for leadership of the Pride?”
“Maybe, I don’t know,” said Sarabi. “I guess we’ll have to see what happens.”
Sarafina instructed Nala at length on what landmarks to look for in her journey, how to avoid notice by the hyenas as she left the Pride Lands, and various other things that would be helpful to her. The hyenas couldn’t prevent her from leaving and were more concerned about who might be trying to get into the Pride Lands than who was trying to get out, but they would probably challenge her if they saw her leaving and would certainly report it to Scar, so it was important for her to get out unnoticed.
“Thanks a lot for your help,” said Nala. “I guess I’d better get some sleep.”
“All right. We’ll see you in the morning before you go. Good night, Nala,” her mother said.
They forgot all about going back out to do any more hunting.
That night Nala couldn’t fall asleep. What if she couldn’t find this coalition? What if they wouldn’t come with her? Other questions like these troubled her mind. She looked up at the sky and wondered if there was an answer up there, since she too had been taught that great kings were up there watching over them. Then she heard a voice.
She looked up and saw a vague figure of a lion, a figure that was barely discernible visually, but looking at it Nala saw in her mind a clear image. “Wha… who are you?”
“Nala… The Foothills Coalition cannot help you now. They have been forced to move elsewhere,” the lion said.
“But my pride needs help. Where shall I go then?”
“Go west. There you will find help.”
“But there’s only desert to the west.”
“No… Where the desert ends, you will find what you seek.”
“How far will I have to go?”
“It is long but you can make it across. All that you have learned has not been for naught, and now your greatest challenge lies ahead of you.” The lion was becoming faint now. “Believe in yourself, Nala. Believe…”
“Who are you?”
“My blood runs through you.”
“Believe…” And then he was gone.
Who was he? Should she believe this lion she didn’t even recognize?
My blood runs through you, he said! Could this have been her father? Isn’t he still alive?
She thought about telling Sarabi and Sarafina right away, but she found them sleeping peacefully. After all they’ve been through they deserve at least that much. Better to let them sleep and wait until morning before troubling them with this and its implications. After a while, Nala finally fell asleep herself.
“West?” Sarabi asked, when Nala first told them which way the lion had directed her. “There is said to be a jungle on the far side of that desert, but I don’t remember the last time anyone tried to cross over to it.”
“I can’t think of anyone who would be able to help us any better than the Foothills Coalition,” said Sarafina. “But if they can’t help us…” Her voice faded, then she asked the other obvious question. “Do you have any idea who the lion was? Mufasa, maybe?” she asked.
“No,” Nala replied. “I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Mufasa. He said his blood runs through me. Do you think he could be my father?”
Sarafina reacted in shock and dismay.
“What did he look like?” Sarabi asked Nala.
“His mane was very light, just barely darker than his coat. And his eyes, I couldn’t tell what color they were, but it was like… how do I explain it?” She stopped to think. “I was almost like I was looking at my own reflection.”
Sarafina looked at Nala and in her mind confirmed her worst fears. “Mwongozi,” she whispered, struggling to hold back tears.
“Did he say anything else?” asked Sarabi.
“Just one other thing. ‘Believe in yourself’,” Nala recalled.
Sarafina looked up. “Yes, it was definitely him,” she whispered.
“Then it was my father,” gasped Nala.
As Sarafina hid her face to deal with her own emotions, Sarabi explained to Nala. “Such an apparition as you saw is a very rare thing among lionkind, though most lions at least know someone who has experienced one. In all cases there was close connection of some sort between the lions, such as being married, or parent and child. Since it was a lion you didn’t know and you never met your father, it would make perfect sense that it was Mwongozi.” Sarabi paused for a moment, then continued. “Unfortunately, this also means he’s no longer alive. He and your mother were very close friends, and they haven’t seen each other since before you were born. She was hoping to get a chance to visit him again soon and take you to meet him.”
Nala was now saddened too at the thought she would never get to meet her father, and it gave her all the more reason to be angry with Scar since it was he who had not allowed the lionesses to travel outside the Pride Lands - a rule she would be breaking.
After allowing themselves a few moments of silence, they got back to the matter at hand. “So what do you think of what he said? Should I head west?” Nala asked.
“I don’t know. That desert doesn’t look too friendly,” Sarabi noted.
“But I can’t imagine Mwongozi leading us wrong, and from where he is he probably knows things we don’t,” Sarafina reflected. “It doesn’t sound like it would be very promising trying to get help from his coalition. Are you willing to try crossing that desert?”
“I guess so,” said Nala. Though she wasn’t too thrilled at the thought, she desperately wanted to help her pride and the Pride Lands, and she was already becoming curious what she find on the other side.
“Eat and drink well before you go,” advised Sarabi. “That should give you enough strength to journey out for about a day and be able to make it back if it doesn’t look promising.”
Nala caught and ate a few small rodents, thinking it might have to suffice, but then the other lionesses soon returned with a good meal for them all, which she gladly partook of for the added strength it would give her. Perhaps someone watching over them had played a part in that too. Then she went to a spring she knew of and drank as much water as she could. By the time she was ready to leave it was mid-afternoon, later in the day than she had hoped. She said goodbye to the other lionesses, and with some trepidation about what she was embarking upon, she set off. At least leaving by way of the desert had one advantage - the hyenas didn’t patrol that part of the border very carefully since outsiders seldom came from that direction, so it would easier for her to escape their notice.
Chapter 5. Reunion
It was the hottest part of the day, but Nala considered herself fortunate that she was getting through this first when she had the most energy. She traveled on, and eventually the day turned to evening and cooled off. In some places the desert was sand, while in others it was cracked dried mud with a few hardy weeds growing in places. Night fell, and she was getting tired, but she wasn’t about to try sleeping in this terrain. That, plus her desire to find help for the Pride Lands, plus Mwongozi’s words, drove her onward.
The moon was out, which enabled her to make sure she kept moving in the same direction - this was the last place she’d want to find out she was wandering in circles. Sometime after midnight Nala began to notice small patches of savannah-like grass. As she continued, they became larger and more frequent. Finally she reached an area that looked large enough to support some wildlife, and it was then that she looked up and saw a few trees and the outline of jungle and hills ahead of her. A little bit further on she found a small stream, which she sated her thirst from. With her muscles tired and her throat no longer dry, Nala decided that whatever awaited her here could wait until she was rested, and with that she found a comfortable spot in the grass and went to sleep.
Simba rested his head on his paws and closed his eyes. He was soon feeling the familiar haze of sleep creeping over him when he heard a voice. “Simba…” It was a familiar voice, the voice of his father. “Simba…” He heard it again, this time a little louder. It was a dream he’d had many times before, and he always either woke up too soon or too late, and when it was too late it was always his own mind accusing him, reminding him of his past as he believed his father would do. He wished this dream would leave him alone.
But this time something was different, and he didn’t hear Mufasa’s voice again. When Simba tried to force himself to wake up, he suddenly realized he wasn’t asleep. He jerked up his head in surprise and looked at the stars. “Father?”
Only silence. “Father?” he said again desperately, but it was too late.
“Father, I’m sorry,” he whispered, knowing he probably wouldn’t get a reply now but hoping his father could at least hear him.
He lay back down, tears welling up in his eyes. “Father, forgive me,” he murmured. At least now he knew that what his father had once told him was true. He was up there watching over him, and Simba could only hope he would be back again soon.
When Nala awoke, the sun was already high in the sky. She was hungry and thirsty but decided to continue toward the jungle, which wasn’t much further and would have more food than she was likely to find here. She soon found another stream that she drank from, and as she continued toward the jungle she found that sources of water were plentiful here. Now to find some food.
As she approached the edge of the jungle, she heard some animals. She crouched down low in the grass and crept carefully forward. Flies were buzzing all around her. She noticed the animals were singing a song about… a lion? Were there lions around here? Then she saw one of the animals, a warthog, stalking something she couldn’t see on a log. She crept up slowly. Then suddenly the warthog saw her and bolted.
She leapt after it in pursuit. She had almost caught it when it did a clever turn against a tree and put some distance between them, but she was still in hot pursuit. Then it got caught under a tree root. Now it would be easy. As she closed in, a meerkat appeared who seemed to be desperately trying to help the warthog. Then she got a big surprise.
A moment earlier, Simba had been resting in the shade behind some jungle foliage, able to hear his friends a short distance away, then silence, then… the sounds of pursuit. His friends were being hunted! He could hear the hunter growling - definitely a feline, perhaps even another lion. He charged toward the noise as fast as his feet could carry him, but managed to find a bit more speed when he heard Pumbaa shouting frantically, “She’s gonna eat me!”.
He saw them and leapt over them just in time, and saw a lioness closing fast. She was momentarily startled, and they collided and began fighting viciously, he for his friends, and she for her meal. As Timon cheered him on, Simba seemed to be getting the upper hand and thought he saw an opportunity to pin her. But when he tried, she flipped him over and pinned him instead. Her last move seemed just a little bit too… familiar. Then Simba got a good look at her face, and gave the lioness her second big surprise in less than a minute. “Nala?”
He knows my name? she thought. She forgot all about being hungry, and backed off and studied him.
“Is it really you?” he said.
He knows me and now he seems friendly, Nala thought, but she couldn’t quite place him. “Who are you?”
“It’s me. Simba.”
“Simba?” she said quietly. Then her eyes flew open. “Whoa!” she shouted. They were excited to see each other for the first time in
years, and greeted each other warmly, at least until they were
interrupted by Timon, at which time Simba introduced Timon and Pumbaa to
Nala, and her to them.
“Wait ‘til everybody finds out you’ve been here all this time. And your mother… what will she think?” said Nala.
This threw Simba for a loop. Didn’t everyone know he had caused Mufasa’s death, that he had run away because of it and could never come back? He managed to stammer out a reply. “She doesn’t have to know. Nobody has to know.”
“Well, of course they do. Everyone thinks you’re dead,” she replied.
“Yeah. Scar told us about the stampede.”
Then it dawned on Simba that maybe some of his assumptions were wrong. “He did? Well… what else did he tell you?”
Nala replied, “What else matters? You’re alive, and that means…” Her voice turned to one almost of awe. “…You’re the king.”
She doesn’t know, does she, thought Simba, but before he got a chance to ask, Timon interrupted. “King?” he laughed, “Lady, have you got your lions crossed!”
Then Pumbaa joined in, making Simba forget where his train of thought was headed. “King? Your majesty, I gravel at your feet,” said Pumbaa, as he began kissing Simba’s feet.
“Stop it,” said Simba, withdrawing his foot.
“It’s not ‘gravel’, it’s ‘grovel’,” Timon, corrected him, “and don’t… he’s not the king…” then looking up at Simba, “are you?”
“No,” Simba replied.
“Simba!” Nala chided.
“No, I’m not the king. Maybe I was gonna be, but that was a long time ago.”
Before Nala could decide how to respond to this, Timon interrupted again. “Lemme get this straight. You’re the king, and you never told us?”
“Look… I’m still the same guy,” Simba replied.
“But with power,” said Timon enthusiastically.
Nala could see that it was next to impossible to carry on a serious conversation with Simba with these two present. “Could you guys excuse us for a few minutes?” she asked Timon and Pumbaa politely.
“Hey,” Timon replied, “whatever she has to say, she can say in front of us. Right, Simba?”
Simba didn’t want to exclude his friends, but Nala wasn’t used to them and seemed to be getting frustrated, and he thought they could discuss matters better if he could talk to her alone anyway. “Maybe you’d better go,” he told them.
Timon was surprised Simba hadn’t taken his side, and walked off with Pumbaa. “It starts… You think you know a guy…”
“Timon and Pumbaa. You learn to love ‘em,” Simba remarked. But when he turned to look at Nala, he could see her thoughts were elsewhere. “What? What is it?”
Throughout the preceding events, Nala had been thinking about what why she had been guided here. She hadn’t expected to find this, but then she hadn’t really been sure what to expect. It was obvious that Simba was probably what she was supposed to find. Finding Simba alive was more than she could have hoped for because it meant he, not Scar, was the rightful king. Yet… he denied it. Was it possible that the cub she had known who “just couldn’t wait to be king” had changed that much? She would have to find out what had happened to him, but she didn’t know where to begin. Nala also recalled that at one time they had been betrothed, a thought that at one time had been revolting, but looking him over now the idea seemed interesting, to say the least. It also meant that assuming their betrothal was still valid, she was queen.
But only if he would accept his kingship, and that looked like it could be difficult. If she could do it, though, the rewards for her would be great. Nala dismissed the thought - not that she would have a problem with it if it came to pass, but she had to keep her original goal in mind, to find help for the Pride Lands.
She and Simba were finally alone, so she could let more of her emotions show through. “It’s like you’re back from the dead.” she said quietly. “You don’t know how much this will mean to everyone… how much it means to me.”
“Hey, it’s okay,” Simba replied, not really knowing how to respond to her words, but at least trying to respond to their feeling.
Nala could see he was trying to be understanding. “I’ve really missed you,” she said, rubbing her head up against him gently.
This surprised him at first, but it gave him a warm feeling for her he hadn’t felt before. “I’ve missed you too,” he replied.
For a while they just spent time together, enjoying each other’s company. For Simba, it had been a surprise and somewhat of a relief that she didn’t know about his past, but that raised another question - what would she think if she found out? Somehow it didn’t seem possible that she would still want to be his friend if she knew. But Nala was perceptive; she could tell he was withholding something and hoped he would talk about it. She believed in him. As they walked around, they studied each other, trying to discern each other’s thoughts.
But they were also playing and having fun. Regardless of what else was going through their minds, it felt good just to be back together again, playing like they did when they were cubs. Simba surprised Nala when he jumped into a pool of water, then pulled her in with him. She was intrigued with some of the habits he had acquired here, and with what he had become now that he was grown up. She saw him as a good friend, her best friend… and he had become quite a handsome lion. When they were wrestling and rolled down a hillside together, she allowed him to end up on top for once, and gave him a gentle lick on the face. This took him by surprise, but he liked the way it felt. When he looked down at her, she was smiling back at him in a way she never had before. He was feeling things he had never felt before. Though it was new to both of them and a little scary, it was like the two of them could spend the rest of their lives here in bliss, never letting go of this moment. So it went, for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, Simba and Nala sharing a part of their lives in a way they had never shared with anyone else before.
But eventually they had to come down off their cloud, and Nala couldn’t forget what she had come here for. Simba was still trying to avoid bringing up his past, but he could tell she knew he wasn’t telling her something. “Isn’t this a great place?” he asked her.
“It is beautiful,” she acknowledged, “but I don’t understand something. You’ve been alive all this time - why didn’t you come back to Pride Rock?”
Simba was still afraid to bring up his past. “Well, I just needed to get out on my own, live my own life. And I did, and it’s great.” But he knew even as he said it that he didn’t sound very convincing.
Nala tried another approach. “We’ve really needed you at home,” she said desperately.
“No one needs me,” sighed Simba.
“Yes we do. You’re the king,” she replied.
“Nala, we’ve been through this. I’m not the king.” I’m not worthy to be king. “Scar is.”
“Simba, he let the hyenas take over the Pride Lands.”
“Everything’s destroyed. There’s no food, no water… Simba, if you don’t do something soon, everyone will starve.”
Okay, maybe Scar isn’t much of a king, but… “I can’t go back” “Why?” Nala asked desperately.
“You wouldn’t understand,” he countered.
“What wouldn’t I understand?”
He was avoiding the issue, she knew it, and he knew she knew. But he still couldn’t bring himself to tell her and was trying to wriggle out of this conversation. “It doesn’t matter… Hakuna Matata.”
“What?” she said, puzzled.
“Hakuna Matata,” he explained. “It’s something I learned out here. Look, sometimes bad things happen…”
“Simba!” Nala tried to interrupt.
“…And there’s nothing you can do about it, so why worry?” he continued. He was getting annoyed at her persistence and turned away
She faced him again. “Because it’s your responsibility!” “Well… what about you? You left.”
“I left to find help. And I found YOU.” She had to believe in him, but he was trying her patience. “Don’t you understand? You’re our
He wanted to help. He still loved the Pride Lands, even though he hadn’t lived there in a long time, and after what she had told him… But… he still couldn’t face it. “Sorry!”
Nala was surprised that he still wouldn’t relent, her patience was wearing thin, and now she was trying anything just to get a reaction out of him. “What’s happened to you? You’re not the Simba I remember.”
“You’re right, I’m not,” he conceded somewhat sarcastically. “Now are you satisfied?”
“No, just disappointed.”
Simba turned away again. “You know, you’re starting to sound like my father.”
“Good. At least one of us does,” Nala retorted.
Her last statement finally produced a reaction. “Listen,” he shot back, “you think you can just show up here and tell me how to live my life? You don’t even know what I’ve been through!”
Getting a little closer. “I would if you would just tell me!” “Forget it!” he replied as he turned again to walk off. “Fine!” she said, deciding not to follow him this time. Both of
their tempers were flaring, and trying to continue the conversation probably wouldn’t accomplish anything except to get them even more upset. They both needed to cool off, and she needed time to think about how to approach him about this.
Simba felt angry, though he wasn’t sure if it was with Nala or himself. He was pacing nervously and mumbling to himself, “She’s wrong. I can’t go back. What would it prove, anyway? You can’t change the past.” He looked up at the stars and shouted, “You said you’d always be there for me! But you’re not.” Simba bowed his head in shame and began crying. “And it’s because of me. It’s my fault. It’s my fault.”
And still he was alone with himself.
Nala went off and found a place to rest. Though she was frustrated with Simba, she was upset with herself for losing patience and getting him angry. What should she do next time he sees him? She knew they probably wouldn’t stay mad at each other, but the issue wasn’t going to go away. As she went over their conversation in her mind, a few things became apparent. Pushing Simba too hard to reveal his secret wouldn’t be productive, but maybe she could help him along a little more gently. And why wouldn’t he reveal it? Whatever it was, it seemed to be what was keeping him from wanting to be king. Everything else he had said was just to dodge the issue.
For a moment she became upset with the whole situation. I just wanted to help the Pride Lands, she thought. Why do I have to deal with this too?
But almost as soon as she asked the question, the answer was staring her in the face. Something had happened to Simba, something that had broken his spirit, and she was here for another purpose, to help Simba work through whatever his problem was. She didn’t know what it was yet, but that would come out in time. This realization gave her a new sense of purpose, and the realization that the rewards for success would be even greater than she had expected. She would be queen of Pride Rock after all. But she hadn’t embarked upon this expecting any rewards other than the satisfaction of doing something to save her homeland.
Can I do it, she asked herself. She looked up at the stars and remembered her father’s words.
“Believe in yourself, Nala.”
Nala smiled. She was now convinced she was on the right track.
Now, what to do about Simba. Was he afraid to tell her whatever it was? Yes, that was probably it. She decided she would have to do whatever she could to ease his fears. And what if it turned out to be something that really was hard for her to accept? She tried to think of what could possibly be bothering him, and couldn’t think of anything she couldn’t deal with, at least not since he seemed to feel pretty badly about whatever it is. Besides, if Simba were truly unworthy to be king, why was she led here in the first place?
Simba had gone to rest on a log that acted as a bridge over a stream. Could he reveal his past to Nala? He didn’t know. But the Pride Lands were obviously in trouble and she was desperate to do something, and if he wouldn’t help her she might not want anything more to do with him. Maybe if I tell her, he thought, she’ll understand why I can’t go back. But she’ll go back regardless.
He had other thoughts too. Surely the others will find out he’s alive. Would any of them come looking for him and try to talk him into coming back? Or perhaps they would accuse him. What will Uncle Scar think? Various questions like these kept running through his head, and it didn’t seem like any of the answers would allow him to go on living his life here as he had grown accustomed to. Why did Nala have to show up here? But he chided himself for that thought. Aside from their argument, this had been the happiest day since he could remember, and now he didn’t want to lose her. Why does life have to be so complicated?
He was tired, both physically and mentally. He looked up and remembered hearing his father’s voice the night before, when suddenly he heard it again.
This time he knew he was awake. Simba stood up and walked toward the voice. “Father?”
“Simba,” the voice went on. The shape of Mufasa was now becoming clear in the clouds. “You have forgotten me.”
“No. I’m sorry, Father. How could I forget you?”
“I am not as you have thought of me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. Remember who you are. Then you will find the path you must choose.”
“How will I know?”
“Remember who you are,” said Mufasa, “and you will know the way.” The vision was fading into the clouds now.
“No! Please don’t leave me”
“Remember who you are…”
“Don’t leave me…”
And then the vision was gone. Simba continued to gaze up at the clouds for several minutes before he returned to the spot where he had been lying. He pondered the words he had just heard from his father. Not as he had thought of him? Was his father that forgiving? And what was this path he spoke of? But he was tired and didn’t get a chance to puzzle over these questions for long before sleep overtook him.
Under the moonlight, separated by an argument and some distance, Simba and Nala rested. Both of them knew that tomorrow was another day and they’d talk some more.
Chapter 6. Metanoia
Nala awoke first as the sun was coming up. She was still sleepy but couldn’t stop thinking about Simba, so she got up and started looking for him. She found Timon and Pumbaa, still asleep, so she went over and prodded Timon gently. “Hey… hey, wake up.”
Timon looked up through sleepy eyes, then suddenly panicked and shouted in fear when he saw a lion face filling his field of vision. Pumbaa was startled awake and began screaming as well.
“It’s okay! Whoa, whoa, it’s okay, it’s me,” she tried to assure them.
“Don’t ever do that again!” gasped Timon, trying to bring his adrenaline rush under control. “Carnivores, oy!”
“Have you guys seen Simba?” asked Nala.
“I thought he was with you,” Timon replied.
“He was, but now I can’t find him. Where is he?”
“Well we haven’t seen him since yesterday,” said Timon, then paused to think. “When he wants to be alone, he usually heads for the grass.” This was how they referred the savannah-like region where the landscape makes the transition from desert to jungle, which in actuality has a lot of trees, streams and other features besides grass. Timon elaborated, and they told her how to find a few of his favorite places.
“Everything okay with you two?” asked Pumbaa.
“Hmmm…” Nala paused. “Yeah, I think it will be,” she said, looking optimistically in the direction of the ‘grass’.
“Hey, if Simba gives you any trouble, just let us know and we’ll straighten him out for you,” offered Timon, half jokingly.
“I don’t think that’ll be necessary,” smiled Nala. “Thanks a lot, guys, for your help,” she said, as she turned to go look for Simba.
“Timon?” said Pumbaa.
“Do you think they had a fight or something?”
“I don’t know,” he sighed, then brightening up, “Whatever it was, I’m glad we weren’t in the middle of it.” He looked down at his hands, which he had tensed like claws and facing each other. “Eeesh!”
“I didn’t mean that kind of fight,” Pumbaa remarked.
“Well… if she’s trying to figure him out, maybe…” Timon paused. “Yeah, that’s it, we could go help her out!”
“Timon, I think it’d be better to leave ‘em alone.”
“It’s too early for this. Whaddya say we get some more shuteye?” said Timon with a big yawn.
“Sounds good to me,” Pumbaa replied, and not two minutes later they were again fast asleep.
It only took Nala a few more minutes to find Simba. He had moved from the log to a nearby grassy spot and was still asleep until she nudged his head gently. Simba raised his head a little and looked at her through sleepy eyes.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
Simba took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, too.”
They rubbed heads and purred, and she lay down next to him. She pulled her tail up over her back legs, and he laid his across her body. They felt closer now, and she now felt confident it would lead to a better understanding of each other. But there would be time for that later. Neither of them had gotten much sleep, so they were both still pretty tired. They were soon back in dreamland, and finding it a better place than it had been earlier.
It was mid-morning when they awoke again. They stretched and yawned, and Nala began to look around at the area. “I like it out here,” Simba told her. “It kind of reminds me of the Pride Lands.”
“Yes, it does look a lot like the Pride Lands… used to,” Nala observed.
Is it that bad?, he thought at first, but then he got an uneasy feeling that right away their discussion might end up where it did the night before. But Nala surprised him. She looked toward some nearby trees and said “What is there to eat here?”
They hunted together and soon killed and ate a hyrax - not a lot for two adult lions but enough to satisfy them for the moment. She asked him, “What else do you eat here?”
“Mostly rodents and burrowing animals and occasionally some fruit,” he told her, “but sometimes we get bigger animals and lately there have even had a few gemsbok around here.”
“What else?” Nala asked. She knew he couldn’t have been old enough to do much hunting when he left the Pride Lands.
Simba could see why she was asking. He glanced away and smiled sheepishly. “You… probably don’t want to know.”
“All right, if you say so,” Nala allowed. It wasn’t the most important issue of the day.
They drank from a stream, then went over to lie down together on a rock overlooking the desert that separated them from the Pride Lands. Nala squinted in the late morning sun to see if she could see Pride Rock in the distance. She couldn’t.
As they rested together, Simba could hear her breathing next to him and noticed how nice it felt to be with another of his own kind, something he hadn’t experienced in a long time. Then he thought about what she had said the night before and this morning about the Pride Lands. It was Simba who finally spoke. “I’m afraid.”
“What is it you’re afraid of?” asked Nala.
“A lot of things,” Simba began. “I’m afraid for the Pride Lands after what you’ve told me. But I’m also afraid to go back, and of what might happen when everyone else finds out I’m alive whether I go back or not.” Simba paused and looked over at Nala. “And now that we’ve found each other again, I’m afraid of losing you.”
Nala paused, then asked as gently as she could, “Why are you afraid to go back?”
“Well,” he sighed, “I’m also afraid of what you’ll think of me if I tell you.” And what you’ll think of me if I don’t, he told himself.
Nala closed her eyes and gave him an affectionate rub. “I’ll still be your friend, no matter what. I promise.” She knew she was going out on a limb to make that promise without knowing what his secret was, but
after thinking it through the night before had decided it was a risk
Simba started to say it twice and couldn’t get the words out. He took a deep breath, tried one more time, and finally succeeded. “It’s my fault,” he said, barely above a whisper.
“What’s your fault?” Nala uttered.
“My father died because of me. I got caught in the stampede, and he had to come and save me. He did save me, but he couldn’t get himself out of it. I saw it happen.”
“But it was an accident?”
“Yes, of course it was, but it was still the worst day of my life,” he said, now with tears in his eyes at the memory. “If it wasn’t for me, he’d still be alive.”
“And that’s why you don’t think you can go back?”, she asked.
“Yes, that’s why,” he confirmed.
Nala could see it was difficult for Simba to tell her. She looked him and gave him a warm smile. His secret hadn’t been anything as bad as she had been prepared to deal with. He looked back at her and understood right away that she still accepted and cared about him. Then as if reading each other’s thoughts, they leaned toward each other at the same time and rubbed heads again. As they did this, Nala whispered, “Thank you for telling me.”
Simba was surprised by what he felt next. There was a certain freedom in finally revealing his darkest secret to someone else and not being rejected for it. He took a deep breath from the satisfaction of having just survived one of the greatest struggles of his life. After that it was easier for him to continue.
“I ran away right after the stampede, and I almost died crossing the desert. I only survived because Timon and Pumbaa found me. They saved my life. For a while I wished they hadn’t - with that kind of memory of my father, I didn’t want to go on. I still think about him every day, but I’ve made it this far.”
Nala tried to think of what it must have been like for him. “How did you do it?” she asked.
“I told you about ‘Hakuna Matata’,” he explained. “No worries, no responsibilities. When Timon and Pumbaa first told me about it, my reaction was similar to yours. It went against everything my parents had taught me. But it made it possible for me to go on when nothing else worked and everything seemed hopeless. It gave me a different way to look at my past, to live my life. It gave me other things to think about so it wasn’t always on my mind. You were right last night when you said I wasn’t the Simba you remembered. Well, now you know why.”
“But,” Nala replied, “that still doesn’t sound like much of a way to live your life.”
Simba sighed. “I’ve been coming around to that, but I didn’t really know it until you got here. Well, yes I did, I just hadn’t figured out what to do with myself instead. It’s a nice, easy way to hide from your past, but you can’t hide from it forever. Sooner or later, it catches up with you.”
“How much longer do you think you would have kept running from it if I hadn’t come?”
“I don’t know,” Simba replied, “Something was bound to happen. You just helped it happen a little faster.” Simba lifted his head and looked toward the jungle. “Besides, I’ve been looking for a chance to tell Timon and Pumbaa about it anyway.”
“You never told them?” Nala exclaimed.
“Nope, but I think I will, when I see them again later.”
Nala still had one big question on her mind. She thought back about what she and Simba had been like as cubs, how they played together and sometimes got in trouble together like the day before the stampede when Mufasa saved them both from the hyenas. “You were only a cub then, less than a year old. Do you really think an accident would disqualify you from being king, especially if you were that young?”
“But I don’t feel like I deserve it anymore,” Simba reflected, “even if I was that young. Father died because of me! Besides, what if I can’t be king? What would happen to me if I try to go back?”
“I don’t know,” Nala pondered. “I suppose it’s possible you could be killed… But an accident is not a crime. And I think you do deserve to be king… or maybe I’m just saying that because of the way Scar is ruining, I mean running things.” Nala paused. “No, ruining.”
Simba sighed. Now that she mentioned the Pride Lands again he really felt like he was being pulled in opposite directions from inside and didn’t know which way to go.
They both felt rather drained at this point, so they decided to loosen up a bit by going on a hunt for their next meal. It took them a while to find anything, but after about an hour they found a group of hartebeest and together were able to bring one down. “We didn’t used to have many of these around here,” Simba observed, “but lately there’ve been quite a few.”
“Maybe they’re from the herds that left the Pride Lands,” Nala speculated. “I think I saw this one last year.” It was a facetious remark, since lions generally aren’t that good at telling one hartebeest from another.
“It doesn’t usually take that long to find something here,” Simba remarked.
“Are you kidding?” Nala replied. “That’s the easiest hunt I’ve had in the last a year!”
Simba stopped eating and gave Nala a surprised look. “Things really are bad in the Pride Lands, aren’t they?”
“The Pride Lands we played in were a beautiful place,” Nala began, “But ever since Scar let the hyenas have the run of the place, things have been getting steadily worse. I’ve grown up watching it slowly be destroyed. The lionesses work a lot harder than they should have to find any food, but when we don’t find any, Scar just tells us we’re not trying hard enough and to keep looking. But I’ve been hunting with the rest of the lionesses and I know how hard we’ve been trying. Then as if things weren’t bad enough, we’ve had almost no rain for the last three moons, and now there’s practically nothing left.”
Simba sighed. He looked down at the hartebeest they were eating and felt almost too guilty to go on eating.
“Do you remember Hadhari?” Nala continued.
“Yes, barely,” Simba replied.
“She died not too long ago. She was getting too old to hunt, so she stopped eating so there would be enough food for the rest of us.” Nala stared off into space as she thought about that night. “It didn’t have to be that way. We still miss her a lot.”
They continued eating. Prior to the last couple of days Nala had had too few good meals to pass this one up, so she ate all she could. There was plenty left for them to come back to later by the time they were both full, so they went looking for Timon and Pumbaa. Simba knew what their favorite places were, so it didn’t take long before he found them poking through some fallen leaves and dead underbrush. As the two lions approached, Nala realized what they were poking around for and didn’t think much of it at first. A moment later she suddenly got a surprised look on her face and turned to Simba. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Okay, so now you know,” Simba admitted, somewhat embarrassed. “They’re really not bad once you get used to them.”
“Thanks, I’ll pass,” she replied.
“Well, I wasn’t too good at hunting when I got here,” Simba pointed out. “You can live off ‘em if you have to, but I wanted something more substantial, so I learned how to hunt. It worried them at first and they tried to talk me out of it once or twice. I think they were afraid I’d eat them, but I’d never do that. They were the only friends I had for a long time. Anyhow, they’re used to it now, and occasionally they get to eat from my leftovers, though they’re usually not interested. Besides, there are always plenty of bugs when the hunt doesn’t go well.”
“Hmmm, I guess you do what you have to to survive,” Nala conceded.
“Hey Simba,” said Timon as they approached, “want some centipedes? There’s lots of ‘em here under these leaves.”
“No thanks, we just ate. Want some antelope?” he replied.
“Not today. Say, what’ve you guys been up to?”
“Oh, just talking,” said Simba.
“Getting caught up on the last three years,” Nala added.
“Sounds like everything’s okay now,” Pumbaa chimed in. “You had us a little worried earlier.”
“Yes, we’re fine now,” Nala replied.
“Say, you guys, want to hear my story?” Simba asked.
“You’ve got a story you want to tell us? Maybe you could tell us at bedtime!” said Pumbaa, putting on a look of childlike excitement.
“No, not that kind of story. I mean my story, about what happened to me before I joined you guys.”
“Naah!” said Timon, with mock disinterest. “We’ve gotten by this long without you telling us. Why bother now.”
“Yeah, we don’t need to know,” Pumbaa added jokingly.
“We’ve been having too much fun trying to figure you out. Why go and spoil it for us?” Timon smiled.
Nala looked curiously at Simba, who was shaking his head with a resigned look.
Pumbaa and Timon were just kidding around of course, and they were very interested and attentive as Simba told them about the early months of his life in the Pride Lands and times he shared with other members of the pride, especially his father. He told them of the stampede and his father’s death, and about running away across the desert where they found him. Timon and Pumbaa’s responses ranged from sympathy to a renewed understanding of why he had acted the way he had at various times.
“So what were you doing in that gorge, anyhow?” asked Timon.
Simba thought back. “I was supposed to be waiting for a surprise.”
“And what was the surprise?”
“I don’t know. I never found out.”
“Okay, your uncle takes you down into this gorge to wait for some surprise?”
“Timon!” said Nala indignantly.
“It’s okay,” Simba told her. “I’m used to him.”
“Gee thanks, Simba,” muttered Timon sarcastically.
“Anyway,” said Simba, “to answer your question, yes, that’s right.”
“Then… I don’t get it,” said Timon.
“Don’t get what?” Simba asked.
“He took you to some gorge, told you to wait there, and then this stampede happens. So why is it your fault?”
Simba had to think a moment. “I was practicing my roar, and I think one of my roars is what started them.”
“Were they with you in the gorge?”
“No, Timon. They were up outside it.”
Timon took a couple of nervous paces, like he knew he had to say something he didn’t want to say. Simba, still a little insecure about telling Timon and Pumbaa about his past, wondered if they were about to dump him for what he’d done to his father.
Nala glanced at him, then back at Timon. “What is it?” she prodded.
He met her gaze, then took a deep breath and looked back at Simba. “This is your cub roar we’re talkin’ about, right?”
Suddenly Timon burst out laughing, and Pumbaa joined him. Nala made and exasperated sigh while Simba closed his eyes in embarrassment. As they continued to laugh, Simba felt obliged to defend himself. “You were afraid of me sometimes at first!” he asserted.
Timon calmed down. “Yeah, okay, I’ll admit it, I was. But not from your so-called roar…”
“Then what?” Simba cut in.
“For one thing, cubs usually have mothers.”
“Yeah, we were a little worried at first,” Pumbaa added, “but it didn’t last long.”
Simba glared at Timon. “You were too afraid of my roar!”
Timon suppressed the urge to giggle again. “You were pretty upset then, and we were only trying to humor you. We were only pretending.”
Simba was now thoroughly embarrassed by this revelation, and Nala was getting upset with the meerkat, “Timon, sometimes you don’t know when to keep your mouth shut.”
Timon met her gaze and cleared his throat. “Ma’am, you’re right. Sometimes I don’t know when to keep my mouth shut. But right now is not one of those times. Pumbaa and I weren’t going to say anything about Simba’s cub roar, but this is important.”
Nala looked at him uncomprehendingly. “What are you saying?”
“That he couldn’t scare a fly with his cub roar.” Timon turned and looked Simba in the eye. “Or a wildebeest. Simba, you didn’t start
As Simba was about to reply, Timon’s response suddenly rang true, leaving him speechless. Was it possible? He knew he was responsible for his father’s death… wasn’t he? At least he always thought… No, the other thought that crossed his mind at that moment seemed too far-fetched. He had to think back, try to remember…
The others saw his puzzlement, and he saw them looking at him expectantly. “I… need a little time to think about this,” he stammered. “To see what I can remember.”
“Good one, Timon. Sorry I jumped on your case,” Nala whispered to him.
They spent the rest of that day wandering around and taking it easy. Sometimes all four of them were together, while at other times Timon and Pumbaa went off and did something separate from Simba and Nala.
Simba couldn’t stop thinking about the question that had arisen - if not the stampede, then why was it his fault - or was it at all? Nala had seen his pain earlier as he opened up his past, and now she saw his struggle as he tried to remember it and come up with answers to the questions. Finally, a memory came back to him. “Before Scar left me in the gorge, he mentioned me getting in trouble with the hyenas, and I was surprised he knew about it.”
Nala thought about the pride, about who usually talked to whom and about what. “How do you suppose he found out?”
“He said everybody knew about it.”
“Strange. No one ever said anything to me about it after the day it happened,” observed Nala.
“Well, I sure FELT guilty when he brought it up,” Simba sighed.
“I thought about what Timon brought up,” Nala proffered. “If you were in the gorge and the wildebeest weren’t, I doubt if they could even hear your cub roar. Even if they did, it probably wouldn’t scare them. At most they might look around to see if there were any older lions in the area. And if a cub roar did scare them, they’d move away from it, not toward it. Sound can play tricks on you in that area and they might not know what direction they came from, but even then the wildebeest would move in a safer direction than over the edge into the gorge. Any way you look at it, it doesn’t add up. I don’t know what started that stampede, but it wasn’t you.”
Simba nodded as he listened, then went back to his thoughts. “This isn’t helping much.”
“Why? What do you mean?”
“It’s not helping me figure out why it was my fault.” Simba wasn’t ignoring the possibility that it wasn’t his fault. He was just being
cautious about allowing himself to start down that path.
“Well, you must have thought it was your fault when you ran away.”
“It was awful when I found father dead after the stampede, Scar found me and talked to me, and then I REALLY felt bad.” Simba face was wet with his tears. He cleared his throat and went on. “It’s the worst feeling you can possibly imagine, finding your father dead, then finding out it’s your fault. That’s when he told me to run away.”
Nala looked at him. “Scar told you to run away?” Scar knew you were alive after the stampede? “Did he also tell you it was your
“Yes, I think so… But I trusted him, or at least…” Simba thought about this for a moment. “…I did then. Do you think… ?”
“Well, I’ve never thought much of him as a king anyway, but I never thought he’d…” Nala paused, then her voice took on a bit more determination. “Now I know we need to figure this out.”
Now Simba was really starting to wonder if things weren’t quite as he had always thought, and he found himself staring down that other path again. He remembered his father’s words, “Remember who you are. Then you will find the path you must choose.”
He decided the time had come for him to start down the path and see where it led. It was a path he would have to walk carefully, since it had a seductive side, the idea that he could be free from the guilt and shame. But it also had a very disconcerting downside, that all those feelings of guilt and depression he had carried around for the last three years, leaving him suicidal at times, hiding from his past, while the Pride Lands fell steadily into ruin, were all because of a lie. But he didn’t know yet if it was a lie, and to find out he would have to put his guilt feelings on hold for a while. “I agree,” Simba said, “we have to find out what really happened. All right Nala, I’m coming back with you.”
“Great!” said Nala enthusiastically.
The pieces of the enigma were still there, waiting to be unearthed, if only they could find them.
Chapter 7. Closer to Home
Even as Simba started down this path he was quite unsure of himself. As far as he knew, it was still possible, even likely, that he was responsible for Mufasa’s death, and if he was, the consequences for returning could be severe, so he had to proceed with caution. “Let’s see…” he began. “We don’t know if it’s safe for me to go back yet. If you went back alone, how much do you think you could find out without me?” Not that he wanted to place that much on Nala, but it was what came to mind first.
“I don’t know, but…” Nala hesitated before continuing. “We don’t have a lot of time. The Pride Lands are in pretty bad shape, and
I don’t know how much longer we can survive.” And as it was, she wasn’t looking forward to the return trip across the desert, much less making
another round trip.
As they discussed Simba’s return to his homeland, the trickiest part was figuring out how and when Simba should make his entrance. Nala understood that there were certain risks for Simba and herself if anything went wrong or if things didn’t turn out as she hoped. It was because of her that Simba was returning to the Pride Lands and she’d never forgive herself if anything bad happened to him because of it.
Such were the thoughts on her mind as they tried to figure out the best approach. “Do you think we could keep me a secret, you know, like hide me somewhere?” Simba suggested.
“It’d be pretty risky. The hyenas wander around quite a bit, keeping an eye on things for Scar. Because of them we never see lions from outside the pride anymore, not like we used to when Mufasa was king.”
“Interesting,” thought Simba aloud. “Then maybe there’s someplace outside the Pride Lands but closer than here that I could stay and wait. Any ideas?”
“I don’t know,” Nala replied. “On this side the Pride Lands end at the edge of the desert, and there wouldn’t be anyplace there to stay.” She pondered a moment, then added, “I wonder if we could go around the desert.”
They discussed this possibility for a few minutes. Nala tried to recall what the landscape was like just outside the Pride Lands on either side of the desert. The desert extended further south than north from the point where she had left to cross, so she judged it would probably be a shorter trip around the north side. Simba had been a fair distance north and south on this side, but this edge of the desert extended a long way and didn’t give many clues which way it would end first. Still, he had sniffed the winds, watched the clouds, and seen which way bird and wildlife migrations traveled many times, giving him a little bit of a feeling for what the landscape around the region was like, and that feeling told him that north would probably be easier. So they agreed to follow the edge of the desert northward.
There was still one other thing to figure out. “What about Timon and Pumbaa?” Nala asked.
“Well… let’s go ask them,” said Simba.
“Now let’s see…” said Timon a while later after Simba and Nala had found them again. “I’m pretty happy here. Plenty of food, plenty of fun things to do, not too many predators to worry about…”
“Does that mean you’re staying, Timon?” Simba asked.
“Well, life is pretty easy here, it’s so…” Timon paused, “so… boring.”
“So we goin’?” Pumbaa asked him expectantly.
“Hey, Pumbaa, if you wanna have fun in life, you gotta have a sense of adventure, right?” Then turning to Simba, “At your service!” He was also pleased that Simba wasn’t excluding them despite his recently
renewed interests in Nala and his former home.
“Great! Thanks, guys,” replied Simba gratefully.
“Hey, we’ve been through a lot together,” Timon continued. “Now that we know where you’ve come from, we wanna see where it leads.”
“Me too,” Pumbaa chimed in. “When do we leave?”
“How about we get a good night’s sleep first,” Nala suggested.
That evening as the four of them relaxed, Simba lifted his eyes momentarily. He thought he saw his father smiling down at him, and he felt a little more confident about what he was about to embark on. He was afraid to try to speak to his father in the presence of the other three, and sensed that if his father was present he wasn’t there to speak anyway.
A little later Simba and Nala were alone again, enjoying the twilight breeze together. “Nala?” said Simba.
“Two days ago I didn’t know what to do with myself. But you came here, and even if some parts of it were hard for me, I’ve had the best two days since… at least since my father was alive.”
“They’ve meant a lot to me, too,” Nala replied. “Things were bad and I didn’t know what we were going to do. Now there’s hope.”
They rubbed against each other affectionately and lay down, both still feeling happy to be together once again. After a few minutes of silence, enjoying the cool night breeze and the star-filled skies, Nala spoke again. “What really made you decide to come back?”
Simba thought for a moment. “Mostly what I said earlier, to find out the truth.”
“And what if you find out you’re not responsible for Mufasa’s death?”
“Then,” Simba paused and regarded the thought carefully, “I’ll challenge Scar to be king. But I don’t think…”
“Okay,” Nala interrupted. “So what if you did cause your father’s death?”
“I guess I’ll come back here with Timon and Pumbaa,” murmured Simba.
Nala sighed and lowered her eyes a bit.
Simba could see this wasn’t the reply she was hoping for, and tried to think of a better one without being dishonest. “When I see the Pride Lands I might change my mind if things are as bad as you say.”
Nala smiled a little bit.
“Nala?” Simba said once again.
“Yes, Simba?” she replied.
“If I do become king, I want you to be my queen.”
Nala felt a warm feeling flow over her body. She lifted her head, gazed at Simba and smiled gently. “I would be honored to be your queen,” she purred. Even though they had been intended for each other at a young age, it meant a lot to her to hear him say it.
“Thank you,” he replied.
She wiggled her body against his and smiled suggestively. “To you I’ll be a lot more than queen!”
Simba smiled back mischievously. “I’ll bet you will.”
They started off early the next morning. So they wouldn’t have to worry about food that day, Simba and Nala ate from the hartebeest they had killed the day before, leaving the rest for whatever scavengers found it. The width of the savannah-like area between desert and jungle varied but they were never far from the desert on their right or the jungle on their left. By late morning they were further north than Simba had ever ventured in the time he lived in the area. Occasionally they would see a family of caracals whose territory they had wandered into, but caracals are too small to be a threat to a group that included lions who were just passing through anyway.
A little bit further, the jungle turned to forest, with less dampness and undergrowth than the jungle. They stopped for a break midday, and while Simba and Nala rested in the shade of some trees, Timon and Pumbaa searched for some bugs which as usual were easy to find. They even found a few tasty varieties here they rarely found back in their jungle. As they feasted, Pumbaa spoke up. “Hey Timon.”
“Does Simba seem a little… well, different today?”
“Yeah, real thoughtful, sorta. But you figure a lot’s happened in the last coupla’ days. Like having a lioness around.”
“Well, at least he’s not sad like he is sometimes,” Pumbaa observed.
“I wouldn’t say he’s happy, either. I wonder if there’s some way we could help,” remarked Timon.
“I think we are just by coming along.”
“Yes, of course. For now we just need to stick with him.”
As they continued to the north, the forest angled away to the west, and soon the area they were traveling through was only savannah. Timon rode on Simba’s back for a while instead of Pumbaa’s, holding onto his mane.
“Do you feel scared at all about trying to go back to your home?”
“Yes, I’m a little afraid,” Simba replied. “But I also feel a little like I should have done this sooner, like I waited longer than I should have.”
A short distance away, Nala and Pumbaa were walking together.
“I’m sorry,” Nala said to him.
“Sorry? For what?” Pumbaa asked.
“For … chasing you the other day.”
“Oh, that.” Pumbaa looked over at her. “Apology accepted, ma’am. I almost got away you know.”
“You don’t say!” Nala replied. “You looked like you got stuck pretty good.”
“I guess I’ve gained a little weight lately, but it’s worked before, going under that tree root. It’s even worked on Simba.”
“Simba?” exclaimed Nala.
“Oh. We’d do it for fun, not for real.”
Behind them, Simba saw them walking and talking together, happy to see that they accepted each other as friends. As he watched her walking along, he smiled and let out a sigh. Now that she was grown up, Nala was really quite attractive, both mentally and physically. Her thoughtfulness and caring attitude, her scent, the way she waved her tail, the way her flanks moved as she walked along, the way she…
“Earth to Simba! Earth to Simba!”
Simba blinked back to reality. “Is something the matter, Timon?”
“Yeah, I think you’ve been bitten by a bug or something.”
“You think so? Well maybe you’ll be bitten by it too someday,” Simba countered, “if you’re lucky.”
They continued their journey to the north, and stayed fairly close to edge of the desert. As the sun got lower in the sky, the trees they passed occasionally became less frequent, and there were fewer sources of drinking water. Finally, the edge of the desert angled across in front of them. At this point, it became apparent that continuing along the edge of the desert would take them further west, away from the Pride Lands. “What do we do now?” sighed a distraught Simba as he surveyed the view around them.
“I don’t know,” Nala uttered. “It’s too dark to see very well. I hope we didn’t make a mistake coming this way.”
The four of them looked around, not sure what to do with themselves. Simba finally broke the silence. “I’m pretty tired anyway. How about we rest here for the night?”
“That sounds like a plan to me,” Timon concurred.
“We’ll see how things look in the morning,” added Nala
Scar had called a pride meeting to discuss a few mundane matters. He looked over the group and noticed they were one short. “Where’s Nala?”
“She has been out exploring more distant regions trying to see what she can find to help us,” Sarabi explained. “I doubt if she heard your summoning roar.”
“Fine,” Scar replied. “I hope she’s having fun. We’ll just go on without her.”
“If there’s anything important we’ll let her know,” jibed Thabiti.
Scar gave her an exasperated stare for moment before getting down to business.
The meeting was short, and when it ended, Scar returned to his cave while Sarafina walked around to the other side of Pride Rock. Sarabi followed a few minutes later, and found Sarafina perched on a rock, gazing wistfully to the west. Sarabi sat next to her.
“It’s been three days,” Sarafina whispered.
“I know,” Sarabi whispered back. “I’m worried about her too.”
They sat beside each other in silence for a while. Sarafina looked up to the skies. “Mwongozi, you’d better be keeping an eye on our daughter,” she said at last.
“Hey, Simba,” said Timon.
“You remember what you said a while back about kings watching over us?”
“Yes. What about it?”
“Do you believe it?”
Simba sighed and tried to sound confident. “My father once told me he’d always be there to watch over me, and now I believe I’ve seen him looking down on us.” Simba paused a moment. “I know I have. Does that sound strange?”
“Not to me,” Nala replied. “My father has been watching over us too.”
Timon was having trouble believing this and thought about saying something, but seeing that it might spoil the moment for Simba and Nala, he decided not to.
“Oh, really?” Simba responded to Nala’s last statement, then his expression changed to one of curiosity. “I don’t think you ever told me who your father was.”
“I never knew my father while he was alive, though Mom spoke of him from time to time. His name was Mwongozi,” Nala explained. “A few nights ago he spoke to me in a vision. Of course, that means he’s no longer alive.” She continued quietly, “Mom had hoped to go see him again soon and she was pretty sad when I told her about it.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” uttered Simba. A moment later he asked, “You said you saw a vision of him?”
“Yes. That was what led me to you. Before that happened I was planning to go looking for him.”
As Nala continued to tell Simba what she knew about her father, Timon continued to puzzle over the idea that Simba and Nala had been seeing visions. Was it really possible, he wondered. Then a really strange thought occurred to him. What had really caused him and Pumbaa to notice the vultures hovering out in the desert and decide to go see what it was one day about three years earlier?
The next morning, feeling rested and refreshed and with the light of the sun to aid them, they decided to go to the top of a nearby hill to get a better look around before deciding how to continue. Timon climbed a tree to get a good view of their surroundings. “See anything?” Simba called up to him.
“Yeah, a lot of sand and a lot of desert. And some tasty caterpillars eating leaves.”
“Hey, couldja throw me down a few?” shouted Pumbaa.
“Sure thing, pal,” Timon replied, as he reached out to collect a few.
“All right guys,” Simba chided, “we’re trying to figure something out here. Can you see across those dunes?” he said, meaning the ones that lay to their north.
Timon shaded his eyes. “I think I can see a few trees that way, but they’re pretty far away.”
“Well, if you can see a tree at all,” Nala observed, “we should be able to get there in a day, easy.” She looked at Simba.
They both nodded. “Let’s do it!” he said. “Better drink plenty of water before we start across.”
After quenching their thirst from a nearby stream, they started out. It was a long but gradual slope up the white sand of the dune before them. The day was getting noticeably warmer by the time they reached the summit, but when they got to the top, they could all see the trees Timon had seen earlier. They were just a few scattered ones in the distance, but it was enough to confirm that there was something besides desert ahead. Closer too now, Timon noted, but not close enough. It was easier going down the other side of the dune, and the trees disappeared behind the next dune before them. Upon completing their descent, they walked across cracked dried mud for a distance before reaching the next dune. Two more dunes they crossed, and after another expanse of cracked mud they weren’t looking forward to the next one, since the hot sand hurt their feet. But as they got closer, the realized it wasn’t a dune at all, but a slope covered with brown grass. It was early afternoon and they had made it across the desert.
The trees they had seen, which were still ahead of them, had been primarily a visual reference, and now that they were across the desert they had no particular reason to continue in that direction. They turned eastward and again were roughly following the edge of the desert. “Seems awful dry here for the kind of plants we’re seeing,” Simba observed.
“Probably from the same drought that’s affected the Pride Lands,” Nala suggested.
They continued, heading east and a little south. Many of the waterholes they found were just mud if not dried up completely, but further away from the desert they found a couple they could drink from. They resumed their course along the desert’s edge, and began to notice something else. There were footprints, scent markings and other signs of lions living in the area. Most of them were old, but a few were more recent. “Looks like we’re in another pride’s land,” remarked Simba.
Nala looked at the long, gradual hill to their north. “If I’m not mistaken, that’s Savannah Ridge.”
They continued for the rest of the day, seeing no other lions but frequent evidence of them. As the sun was close to setting, they found a waterhole with a little water in it and several trees and a lot of shrubs in the area. Nala studied the shape of the hills ahead of them. “We’re almost there. I know that outline,” she noted, looking at the rolling hills in the distance ahead of them. “Those hills are in the northwestern part of the Pride Lands.” Though she didn’t see them from this side very often, she still recognized them.
After they found places to rest for the night, Nala spoke again. “Simba, I thought of something strange. You remember the day we went to the elephant graveyard, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Simba replied.
“The stampede was the next day, and it was that night when Scar addressed the pride that he let the hyenas into the Pride Lands.”
“Scar must have been talking to the hyenas before that,” Nala explained. “It’s not likely he first spoke to them and invited them to live in the Pride Lands that day. Which would mean…”
Simba’s eyes opened a little wider and he nodded his head.
“…That Scar probably had already been talking to the hyenas before we
went to the elephant graveyard.”
“Uh huh,” Nala confirmed. “Doesn’t that seem a little odd?”
“I wonder if that’s how he knew about the hyenas when he left me in the gorge,” Simba pondered.
“Yeah, that would make sense,” Nala mused. “I could try to find out who knew and who they told. Let’s see, Mufasa and Zazu were there, Zazu told my Mom and Mufasa probably told Sarabi - yes, I’m sure of it since Mom and Sarabi talked about it at least once that I remember. But other than them I can’t think who else would have known about it.” She thought a moment, then added, “I’ll have to ask about that too.”
They reviewed their plan and went over what they had talked about up to this point. Here Simba was close enough to be reachable, but far enough away that there was no concern about Scar accidentally finding out about him yet. And there was about as much food and water here as they were likely to find anywhere in the area considering the drought. The only thing that concerned them was what might happen if the lions whose territory they were in found them, but they couldn’t think of any alternatives that didn’t carry greater risks.
“So are you going the rest of the way back, tonight?” Simba asked.
“The way things are in the Pride Lands, I think I should.”
Simba was momentarily worried about her traveling alone, but quickly reminded himself that she had traveled alone to find him. If anything, he was more worried about what might happen if news of him being alive fell on the wrong ears. They sat next to each other and watched a beautiful sunset together as they said goodbye. He smiled at her warmly. “Be careful, and don’t keep me waiting too long.”
“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” she promised. She gave him an affectionate lick on the side of his muzzle, which he reciprocated. With that, she departed.
Nala made it most of the way to the edge of the Pride Lands before the twilight faded, and from there she knew the territory quite well from her numerous hunting expeditions and easily made her way to the acacia grove near Pride Rock. It was late by then and she found the other lionesses already asleep.
She gave her mother a lick on the cheek. Sarafina, who had been sleeping fitfully up to that point, barely woke up and smiled at Nala. She quickly fell back to sleep and slept much better after that.
Exhausted from the days of travel, Nala soon joined the other lionesses in sleep, and dreamed of the Pride Lands in full flourish as she hoped it soon would be.
Chapter 8. Things Remembered
Simba was wandering around some rocks near the waterhole when suddenly a hyena appeared from behind one of them. Startled, he turned in another direction when another one stuck his head up from behind another rock. Feeling rather annoyed by now, he headed for some trees closer to the waterhole, when he saw yet another hyena behind one of those. Finally, he went to the waterhole itself to get a drink, when one more stood up in the grass in front of him.
Then he awoke and realized it was only a dream. A very strange dream, though. Why did hyenas keep showing up in all the wrong places? For some reason he couldn’t quite fathom he decided to walk around a bit to make sure there weren’t any hyenas. He padded around quietly and stealthily, looking, listening and sniffing the air for anything. There was something out there all right, he determined. He wasn’t sure what, though he didn’t think it was hyenas.
Timon and Pumbaa! They might be in danger! He returned to them as quickly as he could while staying reasonably quiet, and found them snoring up a storm, oblivious to whatever danger there might be. He walked around them in a way that would let any potential predators who might be watching know that they’d have to get past him before making breakfast out of his friends. Simba was looking outward as he did this, and then he saw it. A figure was all he could see at first, crouched too low in the grass for him to make out what it was, and it didn’t move for a couple of long moments as he stared at it.
Finally it stood up. It was a lioness, darker than most and with big shoulders. She looked at Simba and demanded sternly, “Who are you?”
“My name is Simba,” he replied. “And who might you be?”
“I am Mlinzi, lioness of the Savannah Ridge Pride, and right now you are trespassing on our Pride Lands,” she asserted. Then she muttered thoughtfully, “Simba… where have I heard that name before.”
“Well, I apologize for trespassing. You see, we were just passing through on our way to Pride Rock…”
“Oh, you’re Simba of Pride Rock,” she interrupted, raising her eyebrows. Then her expression turned to one of puzzlement, “But that’s impossible. Simba was killed.” She looked at him suspiciously.
“My father Mufasa and I were caught in a stampede. He was killed, but I survived and ran away from my pride.”
“You ran away?”
“It’s a long story.” At any rate, I found out only a couple of days ago that they thought I was killed too, so I’m on my way home to
let them know I’m still alive.”
“A shame I don’t have time to hear it. I have this whole end of our Pride Lands to patrol.” she explained. “It’s been very dry this year and there haven’t been many herds here, so we spend most of our time in the north end of our Pride Lands where there are forests and jungles, more water and plenty of prey. But this is still our land and we have to keep watch over it.”
“I see,” Simba acknowledged.
“So I trust you will be moving on soon?”
“I need to stay here for a day or two until a friend comes to get me. Is that soon enough for you?”
Mlinzi thought for a moment. “I’ll take your story with a grain of salt,” she pronounced, “but you don’t seem to be a threat to King Enzi or Savannah Ridge, so you can stay. Them too, I presume?” gesturing toward Timon and Pumbaa. “Now there’s something you don’t see every day, a lion, a warthog and a meerkat hanging around together.”
“They helped me survive. I’ll make sure they behave,” Simba promised. “Thanks for letting us camp out here.”
“You’re welcome. I must be off,” said Mlinzi, as she turned to continue her watch.
Simba looked over to notice that Timon and Pumbaa were awake now, and had been listening for some unknown amount of time. “Behave?” said Timon indignantly. “It’s not like you’re our babysitter, you know.”
The lionesses awoke to discover that Nala was back among them, but Sarafina could see that her daughter was still tired and didn’t allow the others to disturb her. Shortly thereafter, Nala awoke and couldn’t get back to sleep despite her inadequately short night. She looked around, hoping perhaps that the Pride Lands would somehow look different after her absence of a few days, but saw it only as she had remembered it. Still, finding Simba alive left her feeling hopeful that change would be coming soon. She walked around in the grove of trees and found Sarabi and Sarafina together.
“Hi Nala! You’re back, I see.” said her mother. “You look tired! How was your trip?”
“It was very… interesting.”
“Well, what did you find?”
“I have to be careful what I say to whom. Do you mind if I talk to Sarabi first?” Nala replied.
“You’re going to make your mother wait?” Sarafina kidded. “Go ahead. I was just thinking of stretching my legs a bit and getting a
drink. Just don’t keep me in suspense too long.”
Nala smiled. “Don’t worry, Mom.”
Sarabi was studying Nala and could see something in the way she spoke and the way she carried herself. “So, what did you find on your journey?” she asked.
“Something important. You’ll be very happy. But the first thing I need to do is talk to Zazu,” Nala replied.
“You mean without Scar around?” Sarabi discerned.
“Yes. Do you think you could get Scar away from his cave for a little while?”
Sarabi thought a moment. “I know what to do. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time but I’ve been putting it off. How much time do you need?”
“I’m not sure. Probably not very much.”
Sarabi studied Nala. She looked very tired but there was something else going on behind those green eyes, and Nala had never kept anything hidden from her, at least not as an adult. “What is it, Nala? What did you find out there?”
Nala sighed. “Well, I guess I can’t hide much from you, can I? You’re going to be with Scar, though, aren’t you?”
“Then I’d better let it wait until later. Okay?”
Sarabi paused. Now she was really curious, but she knew Nala wouldn’t make her wait if there wasn’t a good reason for it.
“Please trust me,” pleaded Nala.
“All right,” said Sarabi. “Are you ready to go now?”
Although she was tired, Nala was anxious to see where this would lead, and she knew Simba was out there waiting. “Sure. Lets go.”
They found Sarafina nearby and told her where they were going. Sarabi and Nala walked together until they reached Pride Rock, where they separated and Nala went over to the promontory and lay down in a place where Scar probably wouldn’t see her but where she wasn’t obviously hiding from him in case he did. Sarabi entered the cave where she found Scar.
“What do you want, Sarabi?”, he replied gruffly.
“Will you please take me to my husband?”
“What!?” he growled. “You’re never supposed to mention him in front of me!”
“Technically, sire,” Zazu pointed out from his cage, “she didn’t break the law. She didn’t mention his name.”
“Oh hush, Zazu,” muttered Scar.
“Scar, he was my husband,” Sarabi asserted. “Right now, I don’t care that he was king, only that he was my husband.”
“Then go yourself. What do you need me for?”
“I don’t know the place. I need you to show me. Besides, he was your brother. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
Scar grumbled and pawed at the dust on the ground in front of him. He didn’t feel much like going but he knew from the tone of voice Sarabi was using that she had made up her mind and probably wasn’t going to leave him alone until he did as she asked.
“Please, Scar?” she asked again.
“Oh, very well. Just don’t be too long.” he said. He stood up and stretched his front legs, extending his claws. “Let’s go.”
They walked to the gorge together. The distance could be covered quickly by someone in a hurry, as Mufasa had been when Simba was caught in the stampede, but they were in no hurry today, or at least Sarabi wasn’t. At times when she and Scar walked together it worried her what he might do or what he was thinking, but today she was more concerned about what her experience in the gorge was going to be like.
They soon arrived at the edge of the gorge, and made their way down the treacherous rocks to the bottom. Scar led Sarabi over to the spot where Mufasa had fallen into the stampede. His body had long since become the grass, as he would have put it, so there was little to mark the spot except a tree stump. Sarabi bowed her head and began to think about her husband. Scar pretended to think about him too to give the appearance of mourning his brother, but after a short time he acted like he had seen all he wanted to, and walked back over to the slope and began to poke around, looking for rodents to snack on or perhaps just because he was bored.
Nala watched them leave, and after waiting a couple more minutes to avoid arousing the suspicions of any hyenas who might be watching, she got up, went into to Scar’s cave and over to Zazu’s cage. “Good morning, madam!” the hornbill said happily. “Haven’t seen much of you around in a little while. So what brings you here on this fine day?”
“I’ve just been out, uh, doing some exploring,” said Nala. “And while I was out I thought of a couple things I was curious about.”
“Fire away,” said Zazu in the manner of his previous boss.
“The day Simba and I ditched you and went off to the elephant graveyard…”
“Oh, yes, you two could be such a handful at times,”
“And you sure could spoil our fun, too.”
Nala giggled. “Where was I?”
“Elephant graveyard,” Zazu reminded her.
“Did you tell anyone else about it that day?”
“Just your mother. You know I don’t go spreading that sort of thing around to others when it’s none of their…”
“Thanks,” interrupted Nala. “That’s what I thought. One other question. Do you remember if Mufasa was planning some sort of surprise for Simba in the gorge the day of the stampede?”
“A surprise?” Zazu exclaimed. “Well, it’s not as if I have photographic memory or any of those other savant skills, but no, I don’t recall Mufasa planning any surprises, but then he didn’t always tell me about these things. Now if only I could remember what happened later that day…” rambled Zazu.
Nala gave him a surprised look. “What? What do you mean?”
“It’s really strange. I don’t remember everything that happened that day. I had some sort of blackout.”
“A blackout!?” Nala exclaimed. “What DO you remember?”
“Well,” Zazu began, “I remember flying around with Mufasa,
“Mufasa could fly?” joked Nala.
Zazu looked at her sternly. “Nitpicker! As I was saying, Mufasa and I were together surveying the Pride Lands, when suddenly the wildebeest herd started moving. Mufasa and I both thought it rather odd that they were grazing peacefully one minute, and charging off into the gorge the next.”
“That’s interesting,” said Nala. “Go on.”
“Then Scar came running up and told us Simba was in the gorge. Naturally, Mufasa and I hurried as fast as we could to help him, and I found him hanging onto a dead tree. Simba asked me to help him, but there wasn’t much I could do. I showed Mufasa where he was, and he went down into the stampede to try and save him. Oh, it was AWFUL.”
“So then what happened?”
“I blacked out! I don’t remember anything after that, not even things I should have been able to remember when I heard about them later. The next thing I remember is waking up with an enormous headache, and finding out Mufasa and Simba had both been killed in the stampede.” Nala almost flinched at the mention of Simba, but made herself think about Mufasa instead, which enabled her to keep a straight
face as Zazu continued. “I distinctly remember being quite frustrated that something like this happened and I couldn’t remember any of it. That’s the only time anything like that has ever happened to me.”
“Thanks a lot, Zazu. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you. Would you please do me a favor and don’t mention this to Scar?”
“Will do, Nala. What’s this all about, anyway?” Zazu inquired.
“You’ll find out soon.”
“Wait! Must you leave already? Nala!”
“Sorry, can’t talk right now,” smiled Nala. “Thanks again!”
“Oh, fiddlesticks,” he muttered, drumming his feathers on the bones of his cage.
Though Sarabi thought about Mufasa every day, she was long past the point of mourning for him frequently. But she still had her moments, and today was a day to face a little bit of her past that she had been ignoring too much lately, and it worked out well that she could help Nala at the same time. As she sat in the place where her husband had fallen she began to sense the presence of Mufasa. She could hear him, feel him, see him smiling at her. “Mufasa?” she whispered.
Whatever was happening seemed to be in her mind since Scar showed no signs of noticing Mufasa’s presence. It was the closest she had felt to her husband since his death, and she began to smile and shed tears at the same time. There were no words for this moment, so they shared it in silence. Sarabi and Mufasa. Husband and wife. King and Queen.
For Sarabi the experience was both happy and sad. She was happy to be reunited with her husband, if only for a short time, and was sad that it had to be limited to this, that he could no longer be with her in life. As she sat there, she felt some of the fatigue drain out of her body, and knew that once she got beyond the emotion of the moment she would feel better about continuing her life. At this moment, time stood still for her.
After a while, when time seemed to start moving forward again, Sarabi heard Mufasa’s voice. “Sarabi…”
She was afraid to answer back audibly with Scar present, so she tried answering him in her mind. “Yes, Mufasa?”
“Sarabi, I love you.”
“I love you too. I miss you a lot.”
“You have done well for the pride.”
“Now there is one thing more you must do.”
“What is that, love?”
“You must go and speak to Simba.”
She thought this a bit odd. Isn’t Simba with you? Can’t you bring him to me? These questions she wanted to ask, but decided the message must have some other meaning that would become apparent at the right time. “Yes.”
“Goodbye, my queen.”
“Goodbye, Mufasa, my king.”
Sarabi looked over at Scar. At this point it was pretty obvious that he hadn’t seen or heard any of what she had. After another moment of silence, she collected her emotions and approached him. This was something she’d been thinking about anyway, but hadn’t decided whether to pursue until she heard Mufasa’s words. “Would you please take me to Simba?” she asked.
Scar sighed. Once again he recognized it as more of a command than a request. “Fine. Better to kill two birds with one stone.”
A rather inappropriate choice of words at a moment like this, Sarabi didn’t say. Funny, you didn’t seem that interested in visiting your brother, either.
Scar had anticipated that she might ask for this and had already decided where to take her. He led her a short distance up the valley to a sloping grey rock under a small tree, the same place where he had once left Simba waiting for his “surprise”. Of course he would never tell her what had really happened to her son.
Sarabi thought the experience with Simba would be similar to the one she had just had with Mufasa, but she wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Simba would be full grown now if he were still alive - would she see him that way, or would she see him as the young cub she remembered? She closed her eyes and began to think about him.
At first she could sense nothing. Finally she began to see an image in her mind - it didn’t feel anything like what had experienced moments earlier with Mufasa, but it was all she was getting, so she tried to focus on it as best she could.
But the image was elusive. Just when it seemed like she was about to grasp it, it would disappear. She tried clearing her mind and just letting it come, but that didn’t seem to help. Other thoughts, especially ones of what had happened so far that day, kept intruding on her mind. What images she had seemed to be mostly regular memories of Simba, the same ones that often came to mind during her days, and while they were good memories, there was nothing unusual or mystical about them.
Finally, one image stuck in her mind and wouldn’t go away, only it wasn’t Simba. It was Nala. Nala? Yes, it’s definitely her. But why Nala? Whatever Mufasa meant by “You must go and speak to Simba,” this didn’t seem to be it. All she could see was Nala, just as she looked earlier that day when she said, “Please trust me.”
Sarabi puzzled over this for a moment, and wondered once again what Nala had found, and suddenly she realized that whatever it was she had to do to “speak to Simba”, Nala held the key. At this realization her eyes opened and she gasped audibly. Nala, what on earth is this secret you haven’t told me yet? What did you find out there?
Scar heard her gasp and looked over. Sarabi caught the movement out of the corner of her eye, and her thoughts raced. She quickly surmised that whatever Nala had to say was not for Scar to know, and it could be something about which she might not easily be able to hide her emotions. Yes, Nala, I trust you.
“Something the matter?” asked Scar.
“Just catching my breath,” she said. Whatever Mufasa meant for me to seek I don’t think I’ll find here. “I’m ready to go now.”
They walked back to Pride Rock in silence. Sarabi forced herself to think about her experience with Mufasa, deciding it would be better not to think too much about Nala or Simba until she wasn’t with Scar anymore.
As they approached Pride Rock, Sarabi looked up to see if Nala was still there. She didn’t see her, and had to hope she wasn’t still in the cave - they had been gone for quite a while and it should have been more than enough time. “Thank you, Scar,” she told him.
“Don’t mention it,” replied Scar apathetically, as they went their separate ways.
Chapter 9. Out of the Ashes
Earlier when Nala had finished talking to Zazu, she had returned to Sarafina. “I’m back, Mother”.
“Did you find out what you wanted?” her mother asked.
“Yes,” Nala replied.
“What’s this all about, anyway?” asked Sarafina.
“I really should tell Sarabi first, but I’ll tell you both when she gets back. Okay?” Sarafina let out a sigh of mock impatience. “I guess.”
“Mind if I lie down for a little while?” Nala asked.
“Go for it.”
It wasn’t long before Sarabi returned. Sarafina looked at her friend and could see that she had been through an emotionally draining experience but seemed to feel better for it. “How did everything go? You look like you’ve been crying.”
“Don’t worry about me. I needed to do it, and I had a very good visit with Mufasa,” said Sarabi.
“Well, glad to hear it went well,” Sarafina remarked.
“Something strange happened, though. I was able to see and feel the presence of Mufasa quite clearly, and he told me to speak to Simba. But when Scar took me to his resting place and I tried to visit with him, I didn’t get any kind of feeling like I had with Mufasa. I kept trying, but the picture that finally stuck in my mind was Nala.”
“Yes,” Sarabi murmured. “I think she knows something, and I’d like to find out what it is.”
“You and me both. She acts like she’s really onto something. But she’s very tired,” Sarafina observed, still sometimes the mother worried about her daughter. “I don’t think she got much sleep last night.”
Actually Nala was resting close by and was awake enough to hear the mention of her own name and Simba’s, so she knew it was time to tell them, but as tired as she was her body wouldn’t respond right away.
“There’s something I never told you about before,” Sarafina continued. “Perhaps it is time…”
Why hasn’t Scar given the order? It’s afternoon already, Sarafina thought to herself. As new king, his first order of business should be the disposition of the bodies of Mufasa and Simba. But he was too preoccupied with trivialities of kingship and didn’t seem to care about Mufasa or his son.
Sarafina thought about mentioning it to Scar, but somehow he seemed just a bit too distant, too disinterested, so she decided to take the initiative. Everyone would continue to think of Sarabi as the queen even though officially she wasn’t anymore, and she since Scar hadn’t taken anyone for his queen she was still the highest ranking lioness in any case, but she was mourning the loss of her husband and her son so for the time being Sarafina took on most of the responsibilities. At the moment she was for all practical purposes the leader of the lionesses, so she felt quite confident it was within her power to take the initiative on this task.
She couldn’t do this job herself, though. She was Sarabi’s closest friend and right now Sarabi needed her by her side. In addition she had to care for Nala, who was still a cub. So she gathered all of the lionesses to ask for volunteers. Sarafina asked Sarabi to watch Nala for a few minutes, a task which gave Sarabi a welcome respite from the grief of losing her family.
Rafiki knew that part of this job was his and had been watching and waiting for his cue. He too had been puzzled by Scar’s inaction but knew right away why the lionesses were gathering. He came to join them. Sarafina addressed the rest of the lionesses regretfully. “Yesterday was a sad day for all of us,” she paused, “but there is one task remaining. It’s not a very pleasant one, but someone has to do it. Who would like to assist Rafiki in administering last rites to Mufasa and Simba?”
Akili and Taraja looked at each other. “We’ll do it,” said Akili.
Sarafina stopped to think a minute. She wasn’t sure about Taraja going, since at two and a half years old she wasn’t quite an adult yet. But Taraja had made it through the death of her mother less than a year earlier and with Akili being a year her senior and Rafiki along, she decided it would be okay. “All right. The job is yours.”
Rafiki went back to his tree and quickly returned with a couple more gourds hanging from his stick. Then they walked to the gorge together, talking and sharing their feelings a bit to take the edge off the uneasiness all of them were feeling at this moment, especially the two lionesses. They soon reached the gorge and descended into it.
They found Mufasa’s body almost immediately. Though he had been gouged, knocked down and stepped on, his body was in better condition than they were afraid it might be. There was one strange thing, however - his front paws were badly chewed up.
Taraja approached the body carefully. The last time anyone had died, Rafiki had to warn the lionesses to keep their distance because the bodies were diseased. This was especially difficult for Taraja, since one of the two bodies was her mother.
“Hyenas,” said Akili as she sniffed Mufasa’s paws.
“That’s really strange,” observed Taraja. “Why would they go after his paws like that and leave the rest of his body alone?”
Rafiki studied them too. Something didn’t seem right about this, but he couldn’t figure out what it was.
Then came their other strange discovery. They couldn’t find Simba’s body. They would have preferred to administer last rites to both of them at once, but after a perfunctory search they decided against it.
They went ahead and administered the last rites to Mufasa. As Rafiki anointed the body, he spoke of Mufasa’s spirit returning to the gods above and his body to the earth below. He had been a close friend of Mufasa for a long time and he didn’t try to hide his emotions as he performed the ritual. It was the most visible display of emotion by Rafiki ever seen by the lionesses before or since. It was an emotional time for the two lionesses as they reflected on how their lives were touched by their now-deceased king.
When they were finished with Mufasa, it was time to undertake a more thorough search for Simba. All of them had loved Simba the young prince, and his last rites would probably be just as emotional for them as Mufasa’s were. They had been most afraid that Simba’s body would be badly mutilated from the stampede, but it hadn’t occurred to them that they might not be able to find it at all.
There were wildebeest footprints everywhere and the scene was obscured from the dust that had settled. Still, it shouldn’t have been that difficult to find some evidence of Simba, especially for Akili with her ability to pick up a scent, and Rafiki with his mysterious abilities to see things no one else could see.
They searched quite some distance down the gorge, thinking that perhaps he had somehow been dragged that direction by the stampede, and found four wildebeests who had fallen victim to their panicked comrades, but still no sign of Simba. Akili noticed Simba’s scent on Mufasa’s body, and amidst the thousands of wildebeest footprints they found ones belonging to Simba, Scar and Mufasa, as well as hyena footprints, but they couldn’t tell if they were made before, during or after the stampede. It occurred to them that Simba might have been eaten by hyenas, vultures or other scavengers, but if that had happened Akili should have been able to find some evidence of it.
Eventually, they had to give up the search. Rafiki looked toward the gorge and bestowed a blessing on Simba’s spirit, a different one than he had given Mufasa.
As they turned to head back to Pride Rock, Taraja asked him, “Why did you give Mufasa and Simba different blessings?”
“Because Mufasa’s death was certain and Simba’s was not.”
Taraja was quick to pick up on the grain of hope in his last statement. “You mean he could still be alive?”
“When there is no body, we must allow for that possibility,” Rafiki explained.
Akili sighed. “I suppose it’s possible, but then why isn’t he back with the rest of the pride? And Scar told us he was dead. What I can’t figure out,” Akili went on, “is why I couldn’t find any sign of him.
And I here thought that for once my sense of smell might be useful for something.”
“For you with your sense of smell not to be able to find anything,” Taraja replied, “that’s something.”
You always know the right thing to say, don’t you, thought Akili. Rafiki was lost in his own thoughts. “Simba…” he said sadly.
Nala had joined them and was listening to the tale which she too was hearing for the first time, and for a few minutes Sarabi and Sarafina forgot all about Nala.
Sarabi asked, “Did they ask Scar if he knew what happened to Simba, or to Mufasa’s paws?”
“Yes,” Sarafina replied. “All he said about the paws was that they weren’t like that when he last saw Mufasa’s body. He said Simba’s body was in pretty bad shape so he had taken care of it himself. But Akili found that hard to believe - she said the worse shape it was in, the easier it should have been for her to pick up some sign of it, and Scar couldn’t have done the job that perfectly. They should have been able to find something. When they tried asking Scar more questions, he got angry and accused them of thinking he was lying. They never found out what happened, and it’s been a mystery ever since.”
“Scar WAS lying,” Nala injected.
“What!?” the others said as they turned to look at her.
Nala raised her head and looked around to make certain no one was eavesdropping. Then she looked back at her mother. “We can’t tell anyone else about this yet, especially Scar.”
“Okay,” Sarafina replied, as she gazed at her expectantly.
“Scar lied! Simba wasn’t killed in the stampede.”
Sarafina and Sarabi both got surprised expressions. “Really?” Sarabi asked. “What happened to him?”
“He escaped and ran away across the desert. He’s been living there ever since.”
A smile slowly crept across Sarabi’s face. “You mean he’s alive?” she whispered quietly with unbridled joy. “Simba’s alive!”
“Where is he? How did you find him?”
“I crossed the desert, just like Mwongozi said, and found Simba living in a jungle on the other side. I’ve spent the last four days with him.”
“Ahhh,” observed Sarafina. “You’ve been positively radiant since you came back. Now we know why.”
Nala smiled and glanced downward bashfully.
Sarabi reflected on what had happened since Nala returned. “You were right not to tell me before I went to the gorge,” she conceded. “And now I understand better what happened while I was there - Mufasa was there with me in spirit and spoke to me…”
“Yes, I heard you telling Mom.”
“And now I know what he meant,” Sarabi added. Then she became more thoughtful. “There are many questions, but my biggest one is why didn’t he come back with you?”
The question brought back to Nala some of the more difficult moments she had spent with him, and she became solemn. “When I first found him, he said he couldn’t come back. He thinks Mufasa’s death was his fault. It was hard for him to talk about it even to me.”
Sarabi and Sarafina looked at each other in surprise, then back at Nala.
Nala looked up again. “After we talked about it some more, we couldn’t figure out why it was his fault, or even if it was at all.”
The other two relaxed a little.
“Since he’s alive, that would make him the rightful king, wouldn’t it?” Nala opined. “But Simba doesn’t think he can be king if Mufasa died because of him. Which one of us is right?”
“Good question,” Sarabi noted. “Causing an accidental death would not automatically disqualify one from being king, especially for one as young as Simba was at the time.”
“He was also afraid of what would happen to him if he returned after that, at least if it really was his fault.”
“Afraid? Of what?” Sarabi asked.
“I don’t know… Scar, maybe. Or maybe he’s just afraid to face us.”
“And that’s why he didn’t come back with you?” Sarafina inquired.
“That’s one reason. Actually, he did come part of the way back with me. I promised him I’d find out what I could and go back to him as soon as I could. That’s what I’m doing today.”
“So where is Simba now?” Sarabi asked.
“He’s at a waterhole up in Savannah Ridge.”
“Does Enzi know he’s there?” Sarabi asked.
“We hadn’t seen anyone from their pride when I left him.”
“Hmmm, well he probably won’t mind too much,” Sarabi remarked. “What else do you need to find out?”
“You remember what happened at the elephant graveyard the day before the stampede. Did you talk to anyone about it before the stampede?”
“Mufasa and I talked about it of course, I mentioned it to Simba the next morning, and I spoke to your mother about it,” glancing at Sarafina, “later that morning.”
“I never mentioned to anyone except you and Sarabi,” Sarafina said to Nala. “You know I didn’t go talking to others about it when you misbehaved if it didn’t involve them.”
Nala smiled somewhat sheepishly, and thought back to that night. While Simba and Mufasa had been having their talk under the stars that night three years earlier, Nala and Sarafina had been having a similar conversation. “That’s what I thought. Thanks a bunch, Mom.” Nala looked at Sarabi. “What about Scar? Did you ever mention it to him?”
“No, of course not.”
Sarafina shook her head.
“Do you know if Mufasa did?”
“I doubt it. When it came to raising Simba, he didn’t consider Scar one he could discuss these matters with.”
Nala nodded, then explained, “Okay, what I found out from Simba is that before the stampede, Scar took him down in the gorge to wait for some surprise that Mufasa was planning…”
“Surprise?” Sarabi interrupted. “I don’t remember Mufasa planning any surprises that day.”
“Thank you. That was going to be my next question. Anyway, before he left, Scar mentioned the incident with the hyenas in the elephant graveyard, and Simba was surprised he knew about it. I’m trying to find out how he knew.”
“I see,” Sarabi acknowledged.
“You remember Scar invited the hyenas to live in the Pride Lands the day he took over as king,” Nala explained. “He probably didn’t start talking to them that day, but had been talking to them before that, so my guess is that he heard about the elephant graveyard from the hyenas.” Nala paused to reflect a moment. “I was real scared the night Scar invited the hyenas to live with us, and I remember wondering if he wouldn’t have done that if he’d known they had almost killed Simba and I the day before. Now we know that he knew, and we’re wondering how long before that he’d been talking to them.”
Sarabi’s face became stern. “At the very least, Scar’s got some explaining to do.” After a long thoughtful moment, she relaxed and continued. “About Simba… from what you’ve told me and from what I remember, I don’t see any reason why Mufasa’s death would have been his fault. Did he say why he thought it was?”
“He said he was practicing his roar and thought it had started the stampede, but we don’t see how it could have. That was another reason he came back. Timon asked him that same question…”
“Oh,” Nala exclaimed. “I’m sorry, I forgot to tell you. Simba’s been living with two friends he met in the jungle, Timon and Pumbaa. In fact, they came along and they’re with him now.”
“Are they lions?” Sarabi asked.
“Ummm, no,” Nala replied. “Timon’s a meerkat and Pumbaa is a warthog. And they’re real characters.”
Sarabi and Sarafina looked at each other. “My son’s been living with a warthog and a meerkat all this time,” sighed Sarabi.
“At least now I know what Mufasa meant when he said…”
“I heard you telling Mom earlier,” Nala interrupted. “Then I take it you’re going with me?”
“You realize you could become queen as a result of all this,” Sarafina pointed out.
“Mom, that isn’t why…”
“I know, dear,” Sarafina conceded. “You’ve had some time to think about these things and I’m just hearing it for the first time.”
“Ah, I see,” Nala replied.
“So Nala, how soon are you going back?” asked Sarafina. “Is there anything else you need to do while you’re here?”
“No, I don’t see any reason to wait,” said Nala, then after a big yawn, “except I could use a good nap first.”
“You’re going to make Sarabi wait?” quipped Sarafina.
“It’s okay,” Sarabi volunteered.
“Get some sleep. You’ve earned it.” Sarafina watched her daughter as she lay down. At that moment she was quite proud of what Nala had done, and what she had become. Mwongozi would be proud too, she
thought. She was sure he was. After all, he’d helped her.
From a nearby tree, Rafiki had been watching the lionesses, trying to discern what they were talking about since he was too far away to hear them. He could see that Nala was back after an absence of a few days, and that they were smiling about something. After Sarabi and Sarafina walked off together, he went over closer to Nala, who by now was sound asleep. He studied her face, her breathing, and the sounds she occasionally made, and could see something hopeful there. Rafiki began drawing a picture of Nala in the dust at his feet. Nala shifted in her sleep and let out a sigh. Seeing something else in Nala, he continued drawing, until he had drawn another lion lying beside her. He looked at Nala again, and at the drawing. Then a smile came to his face as he whispered a name. “Simba.”
Chapter 10. Pieces of the Puzzle
It was a very relaxing day for Simba, Timon and Pumbaa. Other than being in a different place, it was a lot like any number of days they had spent together in the jungle. Late in the afternoon, Timon and Pumbaa went for a swim in the waterhole while Simba rested on a rock ledge overlooking the area.
As the sun was about to set on Savannah Ridge, Pumbaa and Timon got out of the water and began poking around among some scrub brush, when suddenly they heard a noise. They didn’t think it was Simba, since they’d seen him resting on the hillside not long before, and having lived with Simba for so long they had developed a sixth sense for knowing if it was him when they heard an animal approaching.
They glanced up toward the rock where Simba had been lying and didn’t see him. They peeked carefully between two bushes, and found themselves face to face with a strange lioness. “YAAAAHHH,” they both screamed in unison.
Simba had gotten up a couple of minutes earlier to stretch his legs and get a drink when he heard them. Oh no, not again, he thought as he charged toward the sound.
The lioness gazed at them curiously but showed no sign that she meant them any harm. Simba was almost there, and he could see the lioness now. She heard him coming and turned to look at him. As soon as Simba saw her face, he skidded to a halt, narrowly avoiding a collision with her. “Mom!?”
“Simba!” shouted Sarabi gleefully. “It’s really you. It’s so good to see you.”
“How are you doing, Mom?” Simba replied.
They rubbed up against each other. Sarabi turned around and rubbed her head against his shoulders and mane again. She was crying tears of joy. She stepped back and looked at her son. “You’re all grown up now, and you’ve got a mane, and…”
As Sarabi tried to get a good look at his face, Simba couldn’t bring himself to meet her gaze. It was a moment he had dreaded for three years. He hung his head and turned away. Feelings that have built up over a long period of time don’t just disappear suddenly, even when the reasons behind them have had doubt cast on them. Or was it something else?
Timon and Pumbaa quietly watched this spectacle with awe. They had witnessed the effects of Simba’s depression countless times before, yet now knowing the reason behind it it seemed like they were seeing it for the first time. Nala presently appeared but upon seeing them said nothing.
“What’s the matter, son?” said Sarabi quietly, stepping closer to him.
Simba didn’t look up but began to cry. “It’s father. Oh, I’m so sorry, Mom. It’s my fault, at least I think…”
Sarabi had planned to ask him herself why he hadn’t come back to the Pride Lands, but seeing him now told her everything she needed to know. “We’ll talk about that in a little bit, but first let me tell you something. Simba, you’re my son, and I love you no matter what. Even if Mufasa’s death were your fault, I would forgive you and I would still love you.”
Without opening his eyes, Simba smiled a little and rubbed his head under her chin. “Thanks, Mom. I love you.” He was still crying. “You don’t know what it’s been like.” He stepped back and finally met her
Finally getting a good look at his face, Sarabi studied him. In some ways he looked like his father, but she could also see features in him she could remember from when he was a cub.
As if coming out of a trance, Simba suddenly regained an awareness of his surroundings. “How tacky of me,” he remarked. “Mom, this is Timon and Pumbaa,” he said, gesturing toward his friends. “Timon, Pumbaa, this is my mother Sarabi.”
“Pleased to meet you,” said Pumbaa.
“So this is your mother?” Timon exclaimed to Simba.
“Yes, Timon,” Simba replied.
Timon turned to Sarabi. “This is some kid you’ve got here!”
Nala finally spoke, at first to Sarabi. “I see you found him first.” Then she walked over to Simba and licked off some of the tears that hadn’t dried yet, then rubbed her head and finally her whole body up against him.
Simba returned the gesture. “I was worried about you.”
Sarabi was momentarily surprised at their display of affection and had to remind herself that Simba was grown up now. So, for that matter, was Nala.
“Everything okay while I was gone?” Nala inquired.
“Yep, no problem. A lioness from Savannah Ridge found us, though.”
“Oh, really? What was her name?” Sarabi asked.
Sarabi thought a moment. “Don’t think I’ve met her. Enzi probably knows we’re here.”
The lionesses returned from their unsuccessful hunt. They were anxious to ask Nala where she had been for the last few days and were disappointed to discover that she had disappeared again. Sarabi had gone with her so they figured it must be something important.
“Sarabi!” Scar shouted from Pride Rock. It wasn’t an angry shout, but a firm one.
Sarafina knew that Sarabi was gone, but she hadn’t forgotten how Scar had treated her the last time she spoke to him. She looked up at Thabiti. “He’s probably wondering how the hunt went. You want to go talk to him?”
“Not really, but I guess I’ll do it anyway,” Thabiti replied.
“Greetings, Sir Taka,” she said to him a few minutes later. “What can we do for you?”
Scar wasn’t sure what to make of the way she had addressed him. “Oh, you could do a lot of things for me…”
“Yes, I’m sure we could. We’ve even done some of them. If you’re wondering about the day’s hunt, all we found was some well-aged carrion. Other than that, not a scent.”
“Well then why aren’t you still out looking,” Scar continued, “and where is Sarabi?”
Thabiti did not intend to allow Scar to lash out at her like he had done to Sarafina. She stood a little closer and taller, enough to remind him she could probably overpower him if it ever came to that, and spoke calmly. “I don’t know where Sarabi is,” she said. “Perhaps she is out looking.” And thank you for not asking about Nala. You didn’t even know she was back, did you?
As night fell, Timon and Pumbaa went off to play games and explore some more around the waterhole, while Nala and Sarabi settled down for what might be a long discussion, and Simba did likewise.
“First of all,” Sarabi told Simba, “from what we can tell there’s no reason to believe you did anything to cause Mufasa’s death. Nala mentioned you practicing your roar, and I’m inclined to agree with your friend. It couldn’t have started the stampede.” She and Nala shared what they and Sarafina had discussed earlier.
They discussed this at length to make sure they hadn’t overlooked anything. Simba felt the same trepidation he had felt when he agreed to come back with Nala - he feared to let go of his guilt if it were possible he might have to take it on again. The other side of it had another important implication. If Simba hadn’t done anything wrong, it left no doubt that he was the rightful king. He had to be sure.
“After the stampede,” Simba told them at one point in their discussion, “I found Dad lying on the bottom of the gorge. I tried to get him up, but he was already dead. Then I lied down with him and started crying.” He was crying as he described the scene, and so was Sarabi. “It always seemed like Dad could handle anything and nothing would ever hurt him, but of course that wasn’t true. He saved my life in the stampede and got killed himself.”
Sarabi could recall first hearing of the stampede and its aftermath. It was something she would remember for the rest of her life where she was and what she was doing when she heard the news.
Simba continued, “I was with him like that when Scar found me…”
Nala perked up. “Oh, then Scar knew you were alive after the stampede?”
“Yes. He came over and talked to me.”
“Strange,” Sarabi noted. “Taka could be a good liar when he wanted to, but in this case he seemed quite sincere when he told the pride you were dead.”
“Taka?” Simba replied. He hadn’t heard the name before.
“That’s Scar’s real name,” Sarabi explained. “He wasn’t born with the scar, you know.”
“Gotcha. Anyway, he found me with Dad, he convinced me he was dead because of me and told me I should run away and never return.”
Nala looked at Sarabi, then back at Simba. “Why would Scar tell you it was your fault if it wasn’t?”
Sarabi saw a hint of confusion in Simba’s face from Nala’s last couple of observations. “Son, let me explain something to you. Your father and I never told you a lot of things about your uncle. I’m not saying it was a mistake not to tell you - you were still pretty young and we had planned to let you know gradually when you were old enough to understand. At your age we just wanted you to think of him as Uncle Scar.
“But Scar had a lot of hostility in him. Part of it was because Mufasa had the birthright to the throne and he didn’t - he wasn’t happy when you were born since it meant you would be the next king instead of him. A lot of other things happened to Taka when we were growing up - we always called him Taka when he was younger. I won’t go into that now or we’d be here all night. The point is, he wasn’t happy with his life and he certainly wasn’t above a bit of lying and deception.”
Simba sighed. It was disturbing to find out someone he had always held in high regard wasn’t quite so noble, but it was also enabled him to reconcile his image of Scar with some of things he and Nala had discussed in the preceding days. At least it enabled him to deal with the supposition that Scar had done some less-than-admirable things, like telling him Mufasa’s death was his fault when it wasn’t. Still, it was not easy for him to view his ‘Uncle Scar’ in a different light than he had always pictured him.
They continued to compare memories and notes of the day Mufasa died and the day before. Nala again raised the question of whether Scar had been talking to the hyenas before the elephant graveyard incident.
“Not that it matters,” she ventured, “but you never told me how you found out about the elephant graveyard.”
“From…” Simba began, then his voice changed. “From Scar.” Once again he was up against his old view of Scar, and this time it was regarding an incident that had nearly gotten him killed. Though he couldn’t recall the conversation very well, something told him that Scar had deceived him into going to the elephant graveyard. Simba looked up at the stars that were now visible in the rapidly fading twilight, hoping to find some comfort there, and reminded himself of the words his father had spoken, “You will find the path you must choose.” Was this what he meant?
They talked further, and Nala and Sarabi related Sarafina’s tale from the gorge. Simba was looking at Nala when she mentioned hyena footprints near Mufasa’s body, and for an instant Simba thought he saw a hyena stick its head up from behind a rock near Nala. He knew it wasn’t real, just an image from the dream he’d awoken from that morning, but it triggered a memory, and Simba had a jolt of realization as several pieces fell into place. “Oh my God!” he exclaimed.
“What is it, Simba?” asked Nala, surprised.
“I just remembered something!”
“What?” she inquired.
“I didn’t just run away from the Pride Lands, I was chased out of there. After Scar told me to run away, I started off up the gorge. But next thing I know, I’m being chased by hyenas. I think it was the same ones that almost got us in the graveyard. I barely escaped them - when I made it to the edge of the desert they stopped following me.”
“How far did you go before they started chasing you?” asked Nala.
“I’d barely left,” said Simba. “it was like they were waiting for me.”
“And they were already friends with Scar,” Nala murmured.
“Scar was using the hyenas to try to kill me.” Simba deduced. “I just know it.”
“If they were working for Scar, don’t you think they would have told him you escaped?” Sarabi pointed out.
“Would you?” Nala countered.
“Well, I would have,” Sarabi replied, “but the hyenas, now that’s another story. And if they didn’t tell him, and Scar thought they had killed you, that would explain why he acted so certain you were dead.”
“Maybe they figured I wouldn’t make it out in the desert. I almost didn’t, you know.”
“True,” said Nala.
“And after they stopped chasing me, one of them shouted that if I ever came back, they’d kill me,” Simba added.
“Then it’s true,” Sarabi murmured. “Those hyenas weren’t just after an easy meal. It was you they were after, and probably under orders from Scar.” Even without being under any false impressions of what Scar could be like, the idea that Scar may have actually tried to kill Simba came as a bit of a shock to Sarabi.
“I have a feeling what happened in the elephant graveyard was no accident either,” Simba continued.
“Yeah, we almost got killed that day,” Nala recalled. “But why would Scar want to kill me?”
“I don’t know,” Simba replied. “Maybe it was just me he was after, and you happened to be along that day.”
“Yeah, that would make sense,” she concurred. “I was pretty scared of them when Scar allowed them in the Pride Lands, but they never threatened me again after that.”
“I remember that. Your mother and I were pretty worried at first,” Sarabi added.
By this point they had come to terms with the notion that Scar may have done some truly evil things, and were beyond feeling much emotion, which made it easier to look at things objectively. As they puzzled further over their findings and why Scar would do such a thing, Nala ventured another radical idea. “Do you suppose he killed Mufasa too?”
“Only if he figured out how to start a wildebeest stampede,” Simba observed.
“The hyenas could have helped him with that too,” Sarabi suggested.
“Zazu was there,” Simba recalled. “Did he say anything about it when you talked to him?”
“He remembered the wildebeest herd starting to move, and thinking it was strange,” Nala related. “He also remembered you hanging on a tree, and showing Mufasa where you were, but he said he blacked out after that.”
“A blackout? Any idea how or why?” Sarabi asked.
“No,” Nala replied, “but he said that’s the only time that’s ever happened to him.”
“That is strange.” Sarabi pondered this a moment. “If Scar were trying to kill Simba or Mufasa, he wouldn’t want Zazu to see it.”
“You think Scar did something to Zazu?” Simba inquired.
“We’ll probably never know for sure, but it makes sense.”
By this time the guilt Simba had lived with for so long was only a shadow of its former self, and he didn’t think it would be coming back. But that shadow of guilt didn’t go away completely.
All three of them were feeling pretty drained mentally and emotionally, so they didn’t delve much further into Mufasa’s death. At about this time Timon and Pumbaa returned. They looked at Simba, the same lion that had grown up with them, yet they hardly recognized him. Instead of the self-doubting, moody, often depressed lion they had known for so long, they saw a lion who stood tall and proud, with a determined, almost angry look on his face. It was an incredible contrast to his mood earlier that evening when he and Sarabi first reunited. Out of all the time they had known him, they had perhaps in a single evening witnessed the two most extreme displays of emotion they had ever seen from Simba.
“What happened to Simba?” Pumbaa asked no one in particular.
Simba relaxed and smiled a little. “We’re pretty sure it wasn’t my fault that my father was killed. Scar, my uncle, only made me think it was, and I’ve been feeling guilty about it ever since.”
“Ahh, I see,” Timon exclaimed.
Simba’s jaw tightened up. “We also think he tried to kill me. One of the times Nala almost got killed too and my father saved us. The other time was when he got killed and I ran away to escape. That’s when you guys found me.”
“Oh, I see,” Pumbaa replied.
Sarabi smiled and looked at them. “So tell me all about this… ,” she paused, trying to remember the phrase. “Hama…”
“Hakuna Matata?” Timon offered.
“Yes, that’s it.”
Timon had talked about Hakuna Matata at least a hundred times before and was usually proud of it, but for once he felt like he was in the hotseat. “Well…” he stammered, “You see…”
Pumbaa looked for a way to help out. “Ya know, Mrs. Simba,”
“Please call me Sarabi,” she interrupted.
Timon elbowed Pumbaa. “If anyone should be called Mrs. Simba, it’s her,” he said, gesturing toward Nala.
“I’m quite happy with the name I’ve already got, thank you.” Nala countered.
Simba couldn’t help smiling at the way his name was being bantered about.
“Anyway, Sarabi,” Pumbaa continued, putting a little emphasis on her name, “the day we found Simba he was almost dead from the desert heat. Timon and I took him back to the jungle and gave him some water,” Pumbaa explained. “But when he woke up, he was just real sad and started to walk back out into the desert.”
“Yeah,” Timon continued. “I had to think of something quick to keep Simba from killing himself.”
“Now wait a minute,” Simba interrupted. “You guys were already living Hakuna Matata when you found me.”
“Okay, but it worked, didn’t it?” Timon declared. “You’re still here. Right, buddy?”
Up until now Sarabi hadn’t been sure what to think of these two characters. They had raised her son with different values than she and Mufasa had intended to give Simba. But at that moment she was thankful for them and knew she would forgive them no matter what. It seemed that many of the lessons she and Mufasa had taught him as a young cub had stayed with him, even if he had picked up a few things they never would have taught him. And his survival of such an emotionally difficult ordeal at a young age had made him into something she hadn’t quite fathomed yet.
Sarabi began asking them questions about Simba’s years growing up with Timon and Pumbaa. She didn’t put them on the spot again; if anything she tried to make them feel more at ease with her. Finding out her son was alive was more than she could have hoped for, but it also meant she had missed out on much of his childhood, and now she would have to settle for hearing about it second-hand. At the moment it also gave her something more pleasant to think about than some of the things they had discussed earlier.
The warthog and meerkat told her stories of adventures they shared, of happy and sad times, of turning points, and of many other things that had happened with Simba as he grew up away from the Pride Lands. Sarabi listened intently, as did Nala who was also hearing many of these stories for the first time. Sarabi, and sometimes Nala or Simba, would also tell Timon and Pumbaa about times they remembered from Simba’s early days before he joined them, many of which he had forgotten or were from when he was too young to remember. They also told of his father Mufasa, the lion who was the reason behind many of their activities in the preceding and following days.
This continued well into the night. Eventually however, the long day took its toll on them and they could keep their eyes open no longer. Tomorrow would be an important day.
Chapter 11. To Be King
Simba sat in the savannah under the moonlight, and the breeze ruffled his mane. Before him stood his father.
“Nala has done her part, and has proven herself worthy to be queen. Now it is your turn. The time has come to face your greatest challenge. Remember who you are…”
Simba looked at him in awe. There were many things he wanted to ask, when quite unexpectedly he felt a tug at his mane.
“Hey Simba, wake up,” urged Timon.
Simba grumbled and tried unsuccessfully to open his eyes.
“Come on, Simba. We’ve got visitors again.”
At that, Simba became more awake. “Who could it be now?” he mumbled, and blinked as the morning sun hurt his eyes.
“Lions! Three of ‘em!” Timon answered. “One of them is the same one that was here yesterday.”
“All right,” muttered Simba as he stood up and took a look around. Nala and Sarabi were still sound asleep. He walked out of the bushes and saw the three lions approaching. Mlinzi was one of them, another was an adolescent male showing the beginnings of a mane, and the third was a male with a rust colored mane and a very commanding presence about him.
The older male spoke assertively. “Are you Simba of Pride Rock?”
“Yes, I am he,” Simba replied.
“Interesting,” the lion replied. “I had heard Simba was dead, yet Mlinzi tells me Simba is camping out on my Pride Lands. Naturally I had to come investigate. I am Enzi, king of Savannah Ridge. Are you truly who you say you are?”
“Do you not believe me either?”
“I reserve judgment, and have cause to be here in either case.”
“Yes,” Simba said, trying to show a little dignity. “I am Simba of Pride Rock, son of Mufasa. He was killed in a stampede, and I nearly was, but I escaped and ran away.” Feeling a little less dignified after the last statement, he continued, “I found out only a few days ago that my pride thought I was dead. And they just found out I wasn’t.”
“Most interesting,” said Enzi again. “You ran away, you say? Then I will ask the question. Why should I believe your story? Not that I doubt you, but there are those who would use deception in a situation such as this, and a king can’t be too careful.”
Simba couldn’t help being impressed that Enzi could question him in such a non-provocative way. “What could I say that would convince you?”
“Good morning, Enzi,” said Sarabi, stepping out from the bushes behind Simba.
“Hello, Sarabi. It’s been a long time.”
“Yes, it has,” she agreed.
“My much belated condolences regarding Mufasa, and I would have said your son as well, but it appears I would have been wrong.”
“Thank you,” Sarabi replied. “I assure you this is my son. Will you take my word for it.”
“Yes, I will. All right, that’s settled,” Enzi replied. He looked at the lioness at his side, and back to Simba and Sarabi. “This is Mlinzi, one of the lionesses in my pride. I believe she and Simba met yesterday.” Gesturing toward the young male, Enzi continued, “And this is Wepesi, my son and the prince of Savannah Ridge.”
“Nice to meet you,” said Wepesi.
“And I gather you have a couple of other friends?” Enzi inquired.
“Well, there’s Nala. She’s still asleep,” he said, turning toward the bushes and seeing her stepping out. “Oh, I guess not. Good morning Nala.”
“Hello, everyone,” she replied, her eyes still half closed.
“Nice to meet you,” said Enzi. “But aren’t there…”
“Oh, you mean Timon and Pumbaa,” Simba interrupted. “They’re probably hiding somewhere in the bushes. They’re not used to being around so many lions.”
“So please tell me what has you passing through my Pride Lands?”
Simba smiled. “How much time do you have?”
“Enough,” Enzi replied as he got comfortable. “We hardly ever hear from you guys anymore, and it seems we have some catching up to do.”
“Scar doesn’t seem to want to have much to do with anyone outside of our pride,” Sarabi explained. “He’s been letting hyenas live on our Pride Lands, and the reaction to it he got from others wasn’t very good, so he stopped allowing outsiders in.
Mlinzi perked up. “I have to agree with the outsiders on that one. And could you tell those hyenas to stay off our Pride Lands? They don’t seem to know the borders very well, and sometimes they get too big for
“We’ll see what happens,” Simba replied, “but with any luck, they’ll soon be off OUR Pride Lands too.”
They told the story of the stampede, of Scar’s rule and Simba’s exile, of Nala finding Simba, and of what they had discovered so far in solving their enigma. “I’m going back to challenge my uncle and become king. And Nala here will be my queen.”
Nala smiled shyly.
“An incredible story,” said Enzi. “Good luck to you, then. From this moment forward, unless I hear otherwise, Jamala and I and the rest of my pride will recognize you as king of Pride Rock.” Jamala was queen of Savannah Ridge, and was hunting with the rest of the pride that day.
“Thank you,” Simba replied gratefully.
As they continued to make small talk, they fragmented into smaller groups. At one point a few minutes later Enzi and Wepesi were alone as Simba and the three lionesses were conversing. “Hey Dad,” whispered Wepesi to his father.
“What is it, Son?” Enzi replied.
“He doesn’t look much like a king,” Wepesi remarked.
“Not all kings look like me.”
“I know that, Dad. That’s not what I meant.”
Enzi studied Simba for a moment. Simba didn’t seem very noble in his manner, and was acting more deferential than he should, Enzi thought. “Hmmm, I think you’re right. Perhaps Simba could use a lesson.”
As Nala, Sarabi and Mlinzi continued a discussion of their own, Enzi addressed Simba. “Simba, your father wasn’t with you long enough teach you all of what it means to be a king.”
“Yes, I guess that’s true. I suppose I’ll have to learn the rest on my own.”
“Let me ask you something, Simba. Who is king here?”
Simba thought a moment. The way Enzi posed the question, he could tell there was more to it than the obvious. But Simba couldn’t see what it was, and was also hearing a voice from the past in his mind: “Do you know what we do to kings who step out of their kingdom?” So, being unsure and a little afraid to say anything else, Simba answered, “You are.”
“Wrong answer,” Enzi replied. “It’s true that we’re in my kingdom, but that wasn’t the question.”
Simba looked at Enzi curiously. “Then… what’s the answer.”
“You and I both are kings,” Enzi explained. “Yes, this is my kingdom, but you’re still a king. Whatever you do, wherever you travel, always remember that, and always be proud of it. And always respect other kings, whether they’re in your kingdom or you’re in theirs, or neither.”
Simba stood a little taller. “Thank you. I’ll try to remember that.”
“Hey, good one, Dad,” exclaimed Wepesi.
“You’ll make me proud someday, son,” Enzi replied.
As Simba watched them, his face became somber. Enzi noticed it and became curious. “Simba, is there something else?”
Simba looked at Wepesi. “Never forget the time you spend with your father.”
“Okay,” said Wepesi, a bit puzzled.
Enzi looked at Simba curiously for a moment, then he understood. “You really miss your father, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Simba replied. “It’s just that watching the two of you reminds me of times I was with him.”
“I see,” Enzi sighed. “Mufasa was a great lion, and his time with us was too short.”
Simba had no words to reply to this, nor did Sarabi whose attention had been drawn back to them by the mention of her husband. “Thank you, Enzi,” she replied.
Simba looked at Enzi and sighed. “I just hope I can live up his reputation.”
Enzi met his gaze. “Simba, you have the makings of a great king within you. Mlinzi tells me you’re quite protective of your friends. It will help to think of your pride that way too. Of course lions aren’t concerned about predators like your warthog and meerkat friends are, but someday you will probably have cubs in your pride, and then it will become important.”
“Though a king should be proud,” Enzi continued. “He should not get too carried away with his own importance, become too cocky. I’m guilty of that sometimes, and I have to watch myself, but when I look at you, Simba, I don’t see that being a problem.”
“Thank you, Enzi. It’s nice to know I’m doing some things right.” Simba smiled at himself. “Heck, I haven’t challenged Scar yet or even stepped onto my own Pride Lands, yet here I am talking about being king like I’ve already been doing it.”
Enzi smiled back. “Simba, you are a king already. Step up to your challenge. It is things like that that great kings are made of.”
After a long pause, Sarabi reminded them, “We need to be moving along.”
“As do we. Good luck!” Enzi told them.
Enzi and Wepesi said goodbye and started back to rejoin the rest of their pride. Mlinzi agreed to walk with the Pride Rock contingent to the boundary.
They found Timon and Pumbaa, and upon being located, Timon exclaimed, “Jeez, I’ve never been around so many lions in my life. Is it gonna be like this every day?”
“Our pride is pretty nice,” replied Nala. “Besides us there are five lionesses in the pride. We’ll be sure and introduce you around when we get back.”
“Hey, no problem,” Timon replied, hiding his uneasiness.
“Thank you,” Pumbaa added. “I’ll look forward to it.”
As they walked along, Simba thought about Enzi. “Mlinzi,” he asked, “is Enzi a good king?”
“He’s very good to us. We’ve always had plenty to eat in good times and enough to survive the more difficult ones, like this dry spell we’re having now. And he protects us well.”
Simba watched her as she spoke, and sensed a bit of apprehension in her words. “What else can you tell me?” he prodded.
Mlinzi sighed. “Sometimes a king has to make decisions and do things that not everyone in the pride is happy with. Simba, it is something you will have to deal with too. Pray it doesn’t happen too often.”
“What happened?” Simba inquired.
Mlinzi explained. “It’s my brother Amani. We were littermates and we played and had fun together a lot. I couldn’t have asked for more in a brother. But when he was grown he and Enzi didn’t see eye to eye on a few things, and Amani was forced to leave the pride. It was inevitable, but I still miss him a lot sometimes.”
“Have you ever thought about leaving the pride to look for him.”
Mlinzi was taken somewhat aback by the suggestion. “Simba, let me explain something to you. Loyalty to one’s pride is not something to be taken lightly. If worse came to worst, then yes I could leave. But Enzi has been a good king to us. There is also loyalty to the rest of the pride, and I have no bones to pick with anyone in ours. There is even a bit of loyalty to your Pride Lands. Look at Nala and Sarabi - it does not sound like your king Scar has been very good, yet they and the rest of your pride remain loyal to each other and to Pride Lands they love. Perhaps you can be more the kind of king they can be loyal to.”
“I hope I can,” Simba replied. “Mind if I ask one more question?”
“No. Go right ahead.”
“How come you’re the one who has to patrol this end of your Pride Lands?”
“Well, someone’s gotta do it. But I do it because I like the job. There are things that need to be done in a pride, and there are things that each of us like to do. We try to match them up whenever possible.”
Soon they reached the bottom of a ravine where a stream sometimes flowed but which was dry from the drought, and which marked the boundary between their territories. “Well, this is it,” Mlinzi indicated. “Best of luck to you, Simba.”
“It was nice meeting you,” said Nala. “Goodbye and thanks for letting us stay here.”
“You’re welcome! Keep in touch.” Mlinzi waved a paw, then turned to resume her patrol of Savannah Ridge.
“Scar, what have your lionesses been up to?” asked the hyena.
“I don’t know, Wazimu. I hope you didn’t come to complain about food again!”
“Well since you brought it up…”
“Not right now,” muttered Scar. “What was it you wanted?”
“It seems like some of your lionesses have been actin’ a little, you know, funny lately.”
“Oh really,” said Scar, only half interested. Sometimes it seemed like these hyenas would go fishing for anything to complain about. “Like what?”
“Well yesterday,” began Wazimu, “I saw Nala go into your cave while you were out with Sarabi.” He was one of only a few hyenas that knew the lionesses by name. Most couldn’t tell them apart.
“Odd. I wonder what she’s getting her nose into.” Then Scar remembered he hadn’t seen Nala in several days. He stood up and walked into his cave, with Wazimu right behind. He took a look around and noticed footprints that could easily have come from Nala, but otherwise didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. “Zazu, was Nala in here yesterday?”
“Yes, sire,” replied Zazu, realizing there was no way out of this one.
“Doing what?” demanded Scar.
“She just came in to visit with me a bit.”
“Oh? What about?”
“Just talking about old times, you know, like reminiscing. We hadn’t spoken in such a long time. Maybe she thought I needed some company.” Zazu had a pretty good idea Nala hadn’t just been reminiscing, but he didn’t know what she had been up to. Yesterday he’d been a little upset that Nala didn’t say more. Now he understood why and was grateful that she hadn’t given him anything to hide.
To Scar there was nothing obviously wrong, but it was enough to leave him a little uneasy. “Wazimu, tell your hyenas to be more diligent in their watch. And keep your eyes open for Nala.”
“I was afraid of that,” grumbled Wazimu.
“What’s the matter?” Scar muttered condescendingly.
Wazimu forced a smile. “Oh, nothing. I’ll get right on it.”
They climbed the hill opposite the dry streambed and reached the summit of the first hill since they had entered their Pride Lands. At the top of the hill, Simba saw it in the distance, for the first time in three years - Pride Rock. He also saw for himself the devastation of the Pride Lands. As he stood and stared in disbelief at the desolation before them, his jaw tightened and his resolve deepened. Simba couldn’t believe Scar could do this to the place he loved so much. There was a small part of Simba that wished Scar was the way he had perceived him as a child - at least if Scar had really been like that, THIS probably wouldn’t happened. And there was that shadow of his guilt that he had lived with for so long still lurking in the back of his mind.
“So, this is what all the fuss is about,” said Timon in disbelief.
“Yes,” Simba replied sadly. “This is my home.”
“Anything we can do to help?” offered Pumbaa.
“I’m sure we’ll find something,” Simba answered.
“Just let us know, buddy. We’re here for you,” added Timon.
There was plenty to do all right. Looking around they could see too many animal carcasses stripped to the bones by scavengers and left to rot in the sun, trees that were barren, grass that was dried up where there was any grass at all, and more evidence of hyenas than of lions.
Presently, Nala stepped up to his side. “It’s awful, isn’t it?”
“No matter what you hear, some things are impossible to imagine until you see them with your own eyes.”
Nala sighed, trying to remember how it looked when Simba had lived here before. “So, are you ready to challenge Scar?” she asked him.
“Not quite,” Simba replied. “There are a few things I need to do first.”
“Like what?” Nala asked, obviously perturbed at his response. “We already know you’re supposed to be king! Why wait?”
“Nala,” said Simba evenly, “I have to be sure.”
“What more do you need to know?” Nala retorted.
“I don’t feel ready yet. I only need a little time, I promise.”
Nala started to speak again, but decided it was no use. She didn’t want to become angry with Simba at a time like this, so she chose a different tactic. Nala walked over to Sarabi and spoke to her quietly. “Can you talk to him, Sarabi? He says he’s not ready to challenge Scar yet.”
“Perhaps he isn’t,” Sarabi remarked. “Did you ask him why?”
“Well… no, not really. But…” Nala paused a moment. “Mufasa wasn’t like that. If he knew he needed to do something, he went right for it and got it done!”
“Ahh, but you’re thinking of Mufasa as he was when you were young. He wasn’t always that way. When Ahadi died and Mufasa first became king, he was very unsure of himself at times and often had no one else to go to for counsel. He later became much more confident, the way you remember him, but that took some time. Simba’s going through the same thing. He needs to know that he’s doing the right thing. And he needs your support.”
Nala thought about her words for a moment. “I see. Thank you, Sarabi,” she finally replied. She turned and walked back over to Simba and sat down beside him. “You said you needed to do some things. What is it you’re looking for?”
Simba spoke calmly. “I was afraid we might have overlooked something, that it really was my fault. But I’ve decided that doesn’t matter anymore. I know where my heart was. I loved my father and would never do anything bad to hurt him. Even if I did make any mistakes, I’ve suffered enough for them and I’ve got my mother’s forgiveness. What more do I need?”
“Then you don’t need to do anything else?” Nala proffered.
“Yes, I still do.”
Nala felt a surge of impatience, but forced herself to remain calm. “Why?”
“To me, he was Uncle Scar, and now I have to challenge him. He’s done a poor job as ruler of the Pride Lands, that much we know. But incompetence is no crime, and if he really did some of the things we talked about last night it will make a big difference in how I approach him. I have to be sure.”
Nala gave his explanation some thought and considered Sarabi’s words, and finally spoke. “Hyenas are likely to be out and about, so it’d be best if you didn’t go anywhere alone just yet. Let me come with you.”
Simba smiled at her gratefully. “Okay, let’s go.”
“I should be back to Pride Rock,” Sarabi indicated. “Scar is probably wondering where I am.”
Simba looked over at Timon and Pumbaa. “What should we do with you guys?”
Timon shrugged his shoulders.
“I’ll bring them with me,” Sarabi offered. “I know a place where they should be safe for now.” The hyenas usually stayed out of the grove of acacia trees where the lionesses spent most of their time when they weren’t hunting, and Scar didn’t venture there very often either. “We’ll have to be careful of hyenas too, of course.”
Timon listened uneasily. The meerkat who had wanted a little adventure was wondering if he was getting more than he bargained for.
“Where are you going?” Sarabi asked Simba.
“First, the gorge,” he told her. “After that, I’m not sure yet. It depends on what I find.”
“Okay, as long as you know what you’re doing,” his mother replied.
They said their goodbyes, and Sarabi led Timon and Pumbaa off to the acacia grove.
“Well, here goes,” sighed Simba, as they began heading south to the gorge, the place where his life had changed forever three years earlier. It had already been an interesting day, and it had just started.
Chapter 12. No Way Out
Nala thought she detected a scent coming from over the rise ahead of them, but the direction of the breeze changed and she couldn’t pick it up again. “Simba, you better hide while I go check this out,” she told him. They were being careful not to let any hyenas see Simba, but she figured they wouldn’t think much of it if they saw Nala.
She carefully approached the ridge ahead of them, creeping up behind a rock that sat on the crest. Cautiously she peered over it, and saw… Akili, crouched and looking straight at her.
“Oh, it’s you. Hi, Nala,” said Akili as she stood up. She turned and called over her shoulder, “It’s okay, ‘Raj.”
A short distance behind her Taraja stood up from the grass and started forward to join them. “What have you been up to, Nala? We’ve hardly seen you for the last few days.”
Nala spoke serenely. “I was away looking for help.”
“What do you mean?” Taraja asked, but then she noticed that Akili seemed distracted and a little confused. “What’s the matter, Akili?”
“I thought I caught another scent, like…” Akili turned to Nala. “Is there someone else with you?”
“Actually… yes. He’s a friend.”
“He!?” exclaimed Taraja.
“I can trust you guys, right?” said Nala.
They both nodded.
“Are there any hyenas around here?”
Akili shook her head.
Nala called out behind her, “You can come out.”
Simba emerged and saw Nala with two other lionesses, both brown-eyed, one with a long neck and slender body, and the other short and stocky with a darker coat. They both grew wide-eyed and cracked a slight smile at the sight of this handsome lion.
“Who’s this?” asked the slender one, Akili.
The stocky one, Taraja, smiled broadly with recognition. “Simba!” After a short pause, she turned to Akili. “No wonder we couldn’t find him!”
“At your service, ladies,” said Simba.
“You were just a cute cub last time we saw you,” Akili noted.
“Yeah,” Taraja chimed in, “and he’s even cuter now.”
Simba turned away, embarrassed. Nala smiled bashfully.
“Do you realize what this means?” Akili added.
“What?” Taraja asked.
Akili glanced at Simba, then looked back to Taraja. “He’s the king!”
“Oh my gosh, you’re right!” Taraja exclaimed, shifting her position nervously as if she didn’t know how to act. “Pardon me sir,” she said to Simba as she bowed down before him. Akili followed suit.
Simba smiled gratefully. “Aw, shucks, I’m not ready for this stuff yet. Just treat me like any other member of the pride.”
“This is great,” said Akili enthusiastically. She started to say more, but couldn’t find the words.
“I’ll need a lot of help though.” Simba looked around him at the Pride Lands. “Seems we’ve got some things to straighten up around here.”
Taraja brightened up even more. “Yeah! I’m just glad we’ve finally got a leader who’s going to do something.”
“Boy, no kidding!” Akili chimed in. “Well, Nala, it looks like you may get to be queen after all.”
Nala smiled again. “Before we can do anything else we have to do something about Scar.”
Akili suddenly remembered something important. “Speaking of Scar, he’s got the hyenas looking for you,” she told Nala.
Nala pondered this a moment. “Maybe it’s not safe for you to be with me,” she said to Simba. Nala turned to the other lionesses. “Simba’s got a few things to do before we confront Scar, and we’re trying to keep him a secret from Scar and the hyenas until the right time.”
“Nala’s been making me hide every time she thinks there’s someone around,” Simba injected.
“You’d better not hide him from us any more,” joked Taraja.
“If that’s possible,” added Akili.
“Nala’s been doing a pretty good job so far,” Simba asserted.
“This time, Akili saw me first,” Nala admitted.
“Hmmm… good thing it wasn’t Scar,” mused Simba.
“This is Akili we’re talking about here,” Nala remarked. “If it had been Scar, he probably wouldn’t have seen us first. Besides, Scar doesn’t go walking around the Pride Lands very much.”
“I can see that,” Simba noted, looking around them.
“True,” Taraja observed, “but we definitely have to be careful of the hyenas.”
Nala looked at Simba, then back to Akili. “Could you guys help Simba for now? You’d be better than me at avoiding hyenas anyway.”
“Sure, that’d be great,” Akili replied.
“No problem,” Taraja echoed.
“Okay, then,” said Nala. “I’ll see if I can catch up with Sarabi.”
They discussed the details of their plans briefly, and were soon ready to go their separate directions. Simba and Nala gave each other an affectionate rub. “Good luck. I hope you find what you’re looking for,” she said, and with that she turned to head toward Pride Rock.
On the top of a hill not to far from them stood an acacia tree, and in the branches of the tree sat Rafiki, smiling. “I was right,” he muttered to himself as he recognized Simba with the three lionesses.
He observed as Nala separated from the other three and trotted off east, and noted that Simba, Akili and Taraja began heading southward. From his vantage point he scanned the horizon in the direction they were headed, and noticed something unsettling. Further south, on their current course, he spotted two hyenas walking north. As he scanned farther to his left, he sighted another larger group - six hyenas who were also moving toward the three lions.
Rafiki was smart enough to realize that it would be bad news if any of the hyenas saw Simba, so he would have to do what he could to help. Still, there was only one of him, and he didn’t see what he could do about both groups. The larger group would be passing closer to him, so he would do something to distract them. The lions would have to deal with the other two on their own.
He jumped down from the tree and went to an overlook facing southeastward, near where the hyenas would be passing. Notwithstanding the current state of the Pride Lands it was a beautiful view. When the hyenas got close, Rafiki, with his back to them, began jumping up and down, hooting and bellowing.
“What’s the matter with him?” said one of the hyenas.
“I don’t know,” replied Mirlakh, the leader of their group. “He’s acting really strange. Maybe he sees a predator or something.”
“Yeah. Or it could be a herd of something,” the other replied.
Mirlakh thought about her empty stomach for a moment. “Maybe we ought to go check it out,” she said.
Rafiki kept up the act, occasionally making a subtle glance toward the hyenas and moving along the overlook so they would waste even more time trying to catch up with him. Eventually two hyenas stepped up beside him, with the other four behind them.
“So what’s all the excitement,” demanded Mirlakh.
Rafiki smiled and took a deep breath. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
“Yeah, it’s beautiful all right,” she replied. “So what’s all the ruckus about?”
“What more do you need? Dere is a whole world out dere for us to appreciate, if only you would open your eyes and see it.”
“That’s it?” Mirlakh replied indignantly.
“Do you not see the beauty that lies before you?”
“Yes, it is very beautiful,” she finally admitted. “We just thought maybe you saw something we could kill and eat.”
Rafiki gave her a mock expression of mild shock. “Nope! Not today,” he said, brightening up.
The other hyena beside Mirlakh had had enough. “Let’s get outta here. This monkey’s crazy.” This soon escalated into a spirited banter between the hyenas that further delayed them.
Meanwhile Rafiki slipped away unnoticed and returned to the acacia tree, where he looked out to make sure the lions were safely beyond any chance encounters with this group, and to see how they were handling themselves with the other two hyenas he’d seen.
“Hide, Simba. Hyenas approaching.” Akili sniffed at the wind, then she and Taraja walked in the direction of the scent so they wouldn’t be too close to Simba when they met the hyenas. Simba lay down between some bushes.
“Lovely afternoon,” remarked Taraja, as the lead hyena reached them.
“If you say so,” Wazimu replied. “Are you having a nice hunt?”
“We’re doing what we can. Have you seen any prey?” asked Akili.
“No, that’s not what we’re looking for…”
“If you’re not going to help us, then stay clear,” Akili demanded. “If there’s anything to be found, we don’t need you guys scaring it away before we get a chance at it.”
“Boss’s orders,” Wazimu replied. “Have you seen anything unusual?”
Nothing for you or Scar to know about, the lionesses thought. “We’ll keep our eyes open,” answered Taraja. For nosey hyenas, she wished she could say.
Shortly afterward the hyenas had moved on. “Any idea what they were looking for?” Simba asked. “Probably Nala. Otherwise, I don’t know,” Akili replied.
Rafiki observed from his distant tree as the hyenas continued northward. He was Simba emerge from hiding and the three lions continue southward. He smiled again.
Sarabi made it back to the grove of trees without incident. She showed Timon and Pumbaa around the area a little bit, including an area surrounded by heavy thorns where they could hide if necessary. She had hoped to introduce them to some of the other lionesses, but they were all out hunting.
Nala arrived shortly thereafter, having also made the journey without incident, and told them Simba was with Akili and Taraja.
The three of them stood around the small tree stump which was all that was left of the tree Simba had once clung to for his life as a sea of wildebeest flooded past him. Being in this place had put Simba into a somber mood, and any small detail, a sight or scent, might bring back some long forgotten detail vividly. Akili and Taraja looked around and could see the signs of Scar and Sarabi from the day before. They were also seeing reminders of their visit here following the stampede.
As Simba recalled his father’s death, the two lionesses thought about what Mufasa had been to them while he was alive. Taraja told her story. “After my mother died, Mufasa paid a lot of attention to me. He talked to me a lot, asked me how I was doing, and gave me a lot of support, and he helped me learn to look forward to the future and see the good in things. But he also taught me not to forget my past either. After learning that from him, I had to use it get through his death.” Taraja looked at Simba. “And yours too, we thought.”
“Really!” Akili remarked. “With some of the things that were happening in the Pride Lands after Scar became king, I think she was the
only one who woke up in a good mood some days.”
“There were days when I tried to act like it even though I didn’t feel much like it,” Taraja added.
Akili nodded. “Whether you felt like it or not, it helped the rest of us.” She went on to recount her memory of the former king. “Mufasa did a lot for me too. I had joined the pride only a short time before, and they would call me the cheetah-figured lioness. For a while I wasn’t sure how I fit in, what my place was in the pride. Mshairi had joined about the same time as me - they called her the cub-spotted lioness, but she seemed to fit right in. She was so good at listening and telling stories it made her an instant hit.”
“Mshairi would disagree with you on that,” Taraja interrupted.
“She had her own struggle to fit in.”
“I know that now, but it didn’t seem that way at the time. There were times when I resented her a little, but it’s hard not to like someone like Mshairi. My only unusual ability was my sense of smell, but it didn’t seem like it would be of much use in the Pride Lands where wildlife was abundant and easy to find.”
“Abundant and easy to find,” Simba noted sarcastically, looking around them. “That’s the way how I remember it too.”
“That nose of hers kept us fed more times than I care to count,” Taraja remarked.
“Yeah,” Akili sighed. “At least most of us most of the time.” She thought about Hadhari. “It wasn’t always that way of course. I had just joined the pride and was still trying to fit in when tragedy struck. Two lionesses died about the same time. One of them, Kilinge, was pregnant. Her cubs would be the same age as you,” she said to Simba. “The other was Njozi, Taraja’s mother. It was a very sad time for all of us.
“Mufasa called on me one day. At first I thought I was in trouble or something. But he said he could see I needed something to make me feel more a part of the pride. Taraja was between one and a half and two years old and was without a mother, so he suggested I become a friend to her, raise her and take care of her. Hadhari had mostly been doing it but it tired her out. She and I did the most to take care of her after that. Of course, everyone else helped too.
“Taraja became a very caring lioness, just like her mother was, and before long she developed a boundless enthusiasm for life, which affected me as well. When she was able to find that much to be happy about so soon after losing her mother, it made my problems seem small by comparison. We fit each other really well. I was supposed to be raising her, but I think learned more from it than she did. We’ve been best friends ever since. It was Mufasa who brought us together. I believe he saw something in each of us to help the other. We may have become best friends anyway - the pride’s not that big, after all - but at the very least he helped things along. We were as shocked as anyone when we found out he had been killed in the stampede, and we were afraid of what we would find when we came down here, but I’m glad we had the chance to pay our last respects to him.”
Simba looked at Akili and Taraja. In them he could see that Mufasa had meant a lot to others besides himself and his mother, most of whom were not here to tell their stories, either because they were elsewhere at the moment or were no longer alive. Simba realized once again that he had big paws to fill. Mufasa’s death had been a tragedy for many, and it made Simba more determined to get to the bottom of what happened.
One of his greatest concerns was eased just by being there and looking around, in that nothing he saw gave him any more reason to believe his father’s death had been his fault. Simba began telling them about his experience - being left to wait for a surprise, running for his life as the flood of wildebeest poured into the gorge, hanging onto the tree as his father came to help him, and so forth.
“He set me on this rock where I was safe,” he said, walking over to a rock on one side of the gorge. “But before he could climb up he got knocked down again. I couldn’t see him for a little, but then he jumped out again and started to climb that slope,” Simba told them, as he pointed to a rock face a stone’s throw down the gorge.
“He tried to climb up that?” asked Taraja. “That would be almost impossible!”
“Better than being in the stampede,” observed Akili. “And it wouldn’t be impossible. I’ll bet I could do it!”
“I’d like to see you try,” Taraja challenged.
“Okay,” Akili replied, as she backed up a few steps. Then she charged forward and leapt as high up the slope as she could. Using her claws, she struggled to reach the ledge, and finally getting one paw over the edge, pulled herself up. She turned around, panting heavily, and looked down at Taraja. “See?”
“Yeah? Well you got a running start,” Taraja pointed out. “Mufasa was surrounded by wildebeest.”
“He’d been knocked down and stepped on a few times, too, by then,” Simba added.
Akili’s face became more somber. “I could see claw marks on the rock face. I think they were his.”
Simba continued his story. “Scar was watching from that ledge, and after he started to climb, I went up this way to meet him.” Simba stepped up on the rock and started to climb the ravine behind it, but stopped climbing when he reached the place where he wouldn’t be able to see Akili anymore if he continued. “I was trying to get over to the ledge to meet him, but I didn’t notice until I got up there that I couldn’t get there going this way. I turned to watch and look for another way up, when I saw father fall back into the stampede.” Simba became tearful as he recounted the experience.
Taraja and Akili were both speechless and afraid to do anything that might appear insensitive, until Simba cleared his throat and lifted his head again.
Akili looked down from the ledge at the length of the fall below her. Survivable if you landed right, but if not it could easily be fatal. She also noted that it wasn’t a sheer drop; that is, if someone simply fell, it wouldn’t be a free fall but they would tumble down the rock face. “Hey Simba,” she called out. “Keep going up the ravine to the place where you saw your father fall.”
“What for?” Simba replied, as he followed her instructions. “Ready!” he called after reaching the spot.
“Watch this,” she said.
Simba saw nothing and heard a noise he couldn’t make out. “Did you see that?” Akili shouted.
“No,” he replied. “See what?”
“Okay, let me try again.”
Simba still saw nothing but heard the noise more clearly. This time he recognized it as the sound of a small rock tumbling down the rock face.
“What about that time?”
“Didn’t see it. What are you doing?”
“One more time. Watch carefully.”
This time Simba saw a small rock fall, landing in the bottom of the gorge just in front of the rock face.
“How about that time?” asked Akili once again.
“You mean the rock? Yes. What are you doing?”
“Let’s go back down and I’ll explain.”
Simba and Akili climbed back down to the bottom of the gorge. “You said you saw Mufasa fall, right Simba?”
“Yes,” he confirmed.
“I just knocked three rocks off the ledge,” Akili explained. “The first one was out just a little ways, about where it would have gone if it had fallen. I knocked the second one a little farther out, and the third one farther still. If that was the first one you could see falling, then your father didn’t fall off the rock face. He either jumped from it or was thrown outward.”
“And there was no reason he would have jumped,” Simba murmured. “I had a feeling…” Simba lay down by the stump, where his father had fallen, and hid his face. With Akili’s observation, the last bit of hope that there was a reasonable explanation for all this that wouldn’t implicate Scar left him. That, plus the fact that they now had some tangible evidence of Scar’s role in Mufasa’s death whereas before it had only been speculation. But that was only a part of it, since by this time he had pretty much accepted the idea that Scar had done some bad things. No, what really bothered him was that challenging Scar would represent a lot more, for if he were successful in the challenge, one of his first acts as king would have to be to decide Scar’s fate. There was no way out of either the conclusions he was reaching about his uncle or his responsibility for acting on them.
He wanted to roar just for the emotional release, but suppressed the urge because he wasn’t ready to risk revealing his presence to Scar or the hyenas yet.
When Simba had embarked upon this path, this search for truth, he had done so with certain hopes or expectations about where it would take him. Now he realized that these might be holding him back, causing him greater difficulty. It was time for him to let go and accept the idea that the path was here for him to follow, not for him to decide where it would lead him. Simba would still react to whatever he found, of course, but he would try not to make it any more difficult for himself or anyone else by adding expectations of his own that might not be met. And in that he found a certain freedom.
As Simba was having these thoughts, Taraja and Akili, who hadn’t yet heard much of Simba and Nala’s story from the last few days, were watching and were bewildered at his reaction. Taraja looked down at him with concern. “What’s the matter, Simba? Are you okay?”
Simba raised his head, revealing that he had been crying. He looked up at the ledge where Scar had once stood, and his facial expression turned to one of anger.
Akili looked worried. “Did I do something wrong?”
“You did the right thing,” Simba reassured her. “It was something I needed to find out.”
“What?” said Akili, puzzled.
“My father’s death was not an accident. Scar killed him.”
Both lionesses were speechless. After a long pause, Taraja stepped forward and gave Simba a rub of her head as a gesture of caring and sympathy. “I’m sorry. I had no idea.”
Seeing the shock in their faces, Simba began telling his story. “You were probably wondering why I was gone all this time. It’s because I thought Mufasa’s death was my fault. It wasn’t until last night that I found out it wasn’t.” He gave them a short version of what had happened to him and what he, Nala and Sarabi had figured out up to this point.
They repeated the experiment of kicking a rock off the ledge a couple of more times just to make sure.
“By the way,” Taraja asked him, “when you left after the stampede, which way did you go?”
“I went up the gorge, that way,” he replied, pointing in the direction he had once run.
Taraja and Akili looked at each other. “Ahhh, he went UP the gorge,” exclaimed Akili. She looked at Simba again. “We mostly looked down the gorge, thinking you would have been carried that way by the stampede.” But then, she thought, we didn’t think you were alive or we would have spent more time looking in other directions.
Akili mentioned Mufasa’s front paws being chewed on by hyenas.
They discussed this briefly but didn’t figure out anything they didn’t already know. Finally, they were ready to leave.
“Before we go, I’d like to try one more thing,” Simba requested. “Taraja, could you stay here a bit while Akili and I climb out. When Akili signals, roar. Not very loud, but at least as loud as a cub roar. Got it?”
“Got it!” Taraja replied.
Akili and Simba climbed out of the gorge together. After a quick survey to make sure no hyenas were around, Simba walked a short distance away into the savannah grasses while Akili waited at the edge where she could see Taraja. When Simba stopped and turned around, Akili signalled Taraja. Taraja roared softly.
Simba barely heard it “Tell Taraja to come on up,” he told Akili. Why did I even bother with that experiment, he asked himself.
“Don’t you feel better knowing it’s not your fault?” Akili asked him after Taraja rejoined them.
“Yes,” Simba told her. But he wasn’t too sure. The shadow lurking in his mind hadn’t gone away. If anything it seemed to be getting stronger. For no particular reason he recalled first seeing his mother the day before and the surge of guilt he felt at that time, and for a moment he felt like he was stalking the shadow, but the moment passed and he was no closer to understanding it.
“Did you need to go anywhere else?” asked Taraja.
Simba judged that it was midday or early afternoon. He had promised himself and Nala that he would challenge Scar before the day was over but he still had time and he wanted to use it to find out anything else he could before he confronted Scar about the death of his father. He had a different outlook on the situation and was prepared to follow the path wherever it took him. “One more place,” answered Simba.
Chapter 13. The Cronies
“You know,” Wazimu began, “maybe I don’t know that much about lionesses, but I still say they’re actin’ kinda funny.”
“Yes, yes, go on,” muttered Scar. Zazu was pretending to be asleep to avoid getting dragged into the middle of another discussion he couldn’t avoid hearing.
“And a little while ago we saw Akili and that other lioness she always hangs around with - what’s her name?”
“Taraja,” Scar answered.
“Yeah, yeah. Anyways, they was walkin’ around - said they was hunting, but I got the feeling they was up to something.”
“I think you’re paranoid,” Scar retorted, “but maybe it’s worth checking into.” He walked outside and asked the leaders of as many of the other hyena groups as he could find if they’d seen anything unusual. None of the others had seen Akili and Taraja. Two had seen Sarafina, Thabiti and Mshairi hunting in a group but hadn’t noticed anything unusual about them. None had seen Sarabi or Nala. A number of groups, including Mirlakh’s, hadn’t returned yet.
Scar also noted, however, that the highest ranking members of the clan, who didn’t usually lead these groups, were conspicuously absent, and he found it a bit aggravating to have to deal directly with the second-line clan leadership. “Where are Shenzi, Banzai and Ed?”
“At least we can always come back here when we ain’t gettin’ nothin’ else to eat,” grumbled Banzai.
“Yeah, right, and I thought we were through with this place forever. But we gotta eat and Scar ain’t bringin’ us no bacon.” Shenzi complained.
The hyenas visited the elephant graveyard now and then anyway if only to look around, but lately their visits had become more frequent as they reverted to their former lifestyle to get enough food to survive. “‘You’ll never go hungry again’,” mocked Banzai. “Yeah, right, and my mother is a lioness.”
Ed began giggling. Shenzi retorted, “No way! Your mother was a warthog.”
“Leave my mother out of this,” demanded Banzai.
“Whaddya mean? You brought her into it!” Shenzi shot back. By now Ed was laughing uncontrollably.
“Shaddup, Ed,” grumbled Banzai. “All right so I did. Anyhow, Scar ain’t keepin’ his end of the deal.”
“Yeah, I know. Lately though it’s just been so dry,” observed Shenzi. “Ain’t a whole heck of a lot Scar can do about that.”
“A deal’s a deal,” Banzai reiterated. “Does he think he can slack just because he’s king?”
“I don’t know,” Shenzi remarked. “Sometimes I don’t even think he likes us.”
“Yeah, ain’t that funny how he changes when he gets what he wants. I remember the day he came down here lookin’ for us. He stood right up…”
Banzai and the others looked up at the ledge as he said this, and were surprised to see the shadowy figure of a lion hovering over them.
The three of them cowered uneasily. “Scar!?” said Shenzi in surprise. “W… what are you doing here? How long…”
Banzai studied the lion, then prodded Shenzi. “Hey, he’s not Scar.” He looked back up at the lion. “Never mind! We thought you were someone else. So anyway…”
“Who is this ‘Scar’?” interrupted the lion.
“Him? Ah, he’s just our king,” Banzai replied.
“King? Since when do hyenas have kings?”
“Oh,” Shenzi chimed in, “he’s not a hyena, he’s a lion.”
“Obviously, if you mistook me for him.” The lion bounded down and stood before the three hyenas. The way he walked and moved his tail, the way he smiled at them ominously, his manner of speaking, all reminded them of Scar, at least to a degree. But he also seemed a bit friendlier, more disarming, even a bit charismatic. He looked at them with interest. “You respect a lion as your king? Very interesting. Lions and hyenas don’t usually get along all that well.”
“We didn’t used to, but when Scar became king he made it a law that we would live together,” Shenzi explained.
“And what sort of arrangement do you have for getting along?”
“Well, we help each other,” Banzai explained. “He and his pride feed us, and we keep other lions out.”
“Like YOU,” snapped Shenzi.
“Oh, I wouldn’t do anything to harm your pride,” said the lion. “This isn’t part of the territory anyway, is it? It doesn’t look like the kind of place lions would want to live.”
Ed giggled at the thought of lions living in this place.
“Naah,” replied Shenzi. “This is just where we used to live. Sometimes we come back here to get away.”
“Yes, I heard you talking earlier,” said the lion. “So this arrangement sounds good for you hyenas and your king Scar, but I don’t see what’s in it for the rest of the lions.”
Shenzi thought a moment. “Not much, really, except they don’t have to chase us off.”
“Yeah, they get to feed you instead,” observed the lion. “I still don’t get it. How did he get to be king anyway?”
“His brother and nephew were killed in an accident,” Shenzi explained. “He always wanted to be king and that was his chance.”
“Yeah, we kinda helped him,” Banzai blurted out.
Ed groaned an uncomfortable laugh.
Shenzi elbowed Banzai. “We’re not supposed to talk about this,” she reprimanded through clenched teeth.
The lion stood a little taller. “You helped him? I would like very much to hear about this.”
Banzai squirmed. “Uhhh, forget I said that. Okay?”
“So what the heck are you doing here?” said Shenzi to the lion, trying to help Banzai out of the jam.
The lion caught it but played along anyway. “Just traveling around… meeting old friends… stuff like that.”
“You an old friend of Scar’s?” asked Shenzi.
“We’ve done a few things together in the past.”
“Oh, so you DO know who he is,” Shenzi noted astutely. “But we still don’t know who you are.”
“Yeah,” added Banzai. “Who the heck are you?”
The lion smiled as he tried to think of the best way to answer this question. He squinted one eye a little and cocked his head slightly to one side.
As Ed watched the lion do this he suddenly stopped laughing and stared with his tongue dangling limply out one side of his mouth.
“What’s the matter, Ed?” asked Banzai.
Shenzi looked at Ed, then at the lion, and suddenly felt very uncomfortable. “Ehh, we were just leaving,” she said through a forced smile, and started to walk away.
Ed and Banzai started to follow. “We gotta be gettin’ back,” added Banzai.
The lion bounded over in front of them and smiled at them menacingly. “What’s the hurry? I’d love to stick around for dinner.”
Shenzi’s jaw dropped. “Simba!?”
“Hey ‘Biti,” said Mshairi. “Look over there. It’s ‘Kili and ‘Raj.”
Thabiti looked. “What on earth are they doing over by the elephant graveyard?”
“I have no idea,” Mshairi replied.
“One way to find out,” added Sarafina. “Shall we go ask them?”
During the three years he had lived in the jungle with Timon and Pumbaa, Simba didn’t like to spoil their mood when the reasons had nothing to do with them or whatever they were doing, so he had unwittingly developed the ability to appear happy or excited when what he felt on the inside was something totally different. Now, however, he felt rather pleased with himself that he had found an occasion to put that skill to good use.
Now he got a chance to work on a different ability, that of being assertive and when necessary forceful, particularly when faced with a confrontation. He wasn’t very good at this yet, but thinking about lessons he’d learned from his father when he was younger and from Enzi earlier that day, he understood that he’d better be able to face up to these situations when they occur, even if he hoped he wouldn’t need to very often.
“It’s very simple, really,” Simba told them. “You tell me everything I want to know.”
“So, what’s in it for us?” demanded Banzai.
“You get to live,” Simba declared.
“Not fair!” Banzai shouted. “You tricked us!”
Shenzi nudged him. “Shut up,” she whispered.
“Seems plenty fair to me. You tried to kill me, remember?” Simba pointed out.
“Maybe we still can,” Shenzi shot back. “Other hyenas come here too, you know, and we could just call them all over for help.”
“Nice try, but it won’t work,” Simba replied.
“We’re supposed to make sure no hyenas go wandering into the elephant graveyard,” Akili told them.
“Whatever for?” Thabiti inquired. “Who told you to do that?”
Taraja perked up. “Nala just got back, and you’ll never guess who she brought with her!”
Thabiti thought a moment. “Someone from Savannah Ridge? The Blue Pride? The Foothills Coalition?”
Taraja shook her head.
“Batian’s pride?” ventured Mshairi. “The Sunrise Coalition? Or maybe one of the Sand River prides?”
“Or maybe our own pride,” suggested Sarafina, as she gave Taraja and Akili a knowing glance.
“What!?” said Mshairi, puzzled. “That’s impossible!”
“Sarafina’s right,” said Akili. “It’s Simba.”
“What do you mean?” asked Thabiti. “I thought Simba was killed.”
“No,” Sarafina replied. “He’s alive, and Nala found him. She told me about it yesterday, and that’s where she and Sarabi went last night.”
Thabiti smiled at her. “So that’s what you haven’t been telling us all day. So where is he now?”
“He’s in there now,” Akili told her as she gestured toward the elephant graveyard, “talking to three of the hyenas. We’re supposed to make sure no others come along and spoil things. Scar doesn’t know he’s back yet. He only came here to look for any reminders of something that happened the day before the stampede, but when we got here we discovered there were three hyenas in there. In fact, it’s their leaders, Banzai, Ed and Shenzi…”
“Oooh, this ought to be good,” Mshairi chuckled.
“…So we came up with this plan. He’s in there cornering them now, and we’re here to head them off if they make a run for it, and to make sure no other hyenas get in the way. But it’s not easy for the two of us to cover everything. You guys wanna help out?”
“Sure, we’d love to. Right girls?” Sarafina replied.
Mshairi and Thabiti nodded enthusiastically. “I can’t wait to see what Simba looks like now,” Mshairi added.
“I think five is more than enough,” Thabiti suggested. “Maybe one of us should go tell Sarabi and Nala what’s going on.”
“Good idea,” Taraja concurred. “I’ll do it.”
“Ey, Simba, I gotta question for you.”
“Did you get any thorns when you went through those bushes?”
“Just a few. Why?”
“Damn. I got a ton of ‘em. Took me forever to get ‘em all out.”
Simba had already found out from them about the deal they had with Scar, that if they helped him become king he would let them live in and feed off of the Pride Lands. They also confirmed that Scar had gotten him and Nala to go to the elephant graveyard, that they had started the stampede, and that afterwards Scar had told them to kill him, which they thought they had succeeded in doing by chasing him into the desert. At times it took some goading to get them to talk, especially Shenzi, and a couple of times Simba caught them trying to lie their way through a question, but Simba was getting the answers he wanted.
“One more thing,” he began. “I was told Mufasa’s front paws had been chewed on by hyenas. Do you know anything about that?”
As usual, Shenzi didn’t say a word at first.
“Jeez, I’d forgotten all about that,” muttered Banzai.
Ed laughed strangely like he was having spasms.
“C’mon guys. Let’s have it.”
Shenzi sighed. “Scar told us to, when we got back from chasing you.”
“Any idea why?”
“No,” Shenzi replied.
“Uh,” uttered Banzai.
“What, Banzai?” Simba prodded.
“There was some blood on ‘em,” Banzai recalled. “It was dry by the time we got back, but it…” he stopped, thinking Simba probably didn’t want to hear how his father’s blood tasted.
“He had some cuts or something like that on his paws,” Shenzi added.
“How’d they get there?” Simba asked.
“We don’t know,” Shenzi replied, “but I don’t think it was from the wildebeest.
Ed’s laugh was now almost a whimper. Simba looked at him curiously for the hundredth time, then asked the other two, “What do you see in him anyway?”
Shenzi looked over at Ed, who was now smiling like a puppy waiting for a treat, and back at Simba. “Half the clan can’t talk any better than him, so he sort of speaks for them. He’s a little slow sometimes, but he’s actually pretty smart, just not in language.”
“Yeah,” Banzai chimed in. “He was the first one of us to figure out who you were.”
Shenzi pawed at the dust nervously. She was upset with herself for not recognizing Simba sooner, but when he appeared he hadn’t acted anything like she would have expected. Besides, they had been alone here so even if she had recognized him right away the outcome probably would have been about the same. If anything, that was their mistake - being here alone - but they’d been by themselves many times before and had never run into a situation like this. Regardless of the circumstances, they’d ever be able to face Scar again after this.
Scar lifted up the cage. “I’ve got a job for you to do.”
Zazu took a deep breath and let out a heavy sigh. Anything to get out of this cage for a while. “What shall it be?”
“We can’t seem to find Shenzi, Ed and Banzai. I want you to go look for them and tell them to come see me.”
Zazu looked at him uneasily. “Hyenas, sire?”
“Zazu!” chided Scar.
“I’ll get right on it, Scar,” he said as he flew out. The hyenas still made him nervous - sometimes when they visited Scar he was thankful for the cage - but he couldn’t tell them apart from a distance and would need to get close to be able to recognize the ones he was looking for.
Simba led the three hyenas out of the elephant graveyard, to find two lionesses in the same place he’d left them, but not the same two. One looked similar to Nala, with the same green eyes and many similar features, but older and with a rounder face. This one he recognized as Nala’s mother Sarafina. The other had piercing ice blue eyes and patterns of rosettes faintly visible her legs and the lower half of her sides.
“Good afternoon, Sarafina. And you must be Mshairi.”
“Welcome home, Simba,” said Sarafina.
“Nice to see you,” Mshairi added. “And what have we here?”
Simba looked at the hyenas. “It seems these three helped Scar kill my father,” he told the lionesses. “Tried to kill me, too. Where’s Akili and Taraja?”
Sarafina gave the hyenas a reprimanding glance, then looked back at Simba. “Akili and Thabiti are around. Taraja went back to tell Sarabi and Nala what we’ve found.” She bellowed a moderately soft roar, turning her head as she did so.
Akili returned a moment later as they continued to talk. It was a little bit longer before Thabiti returned. She was quite large with medium brown fur and red-brown eyes.
“Sorry for the delay. I had to fend off a few hyenas,” she explained. “I told them it was by orders of the king,” placing particular emphasis on the last word. As she did, she turned to Simba and bowed her head.
Mshairi and Sarafina did likewise. “This is so exciting,” Mshairi stammered. “We’ve been through enough.”
Akili watched with some amusement as her three pride-mates had the same joy she and Taraja had experienced hours earlier.
Thabiti glared at the hyenas. “Did I understand Akili correctly that Scar killed Mufasa and these guys helped?”
“Yes, or at least we know that now,” Simba replied, as the hyenas cowered. “I promised not to hurt them if they help me.”
The four lionesses exchanged glances, making the hyenas wish they could crawl out of their skin and hide. Thabiti looked at them sadly. “Why?”
The three hyenas looked at each other, and Banzai finally spoke. “‘Cuz it seemed like you guys lived well and got all the good food while we were stuck in this place,” gesturing toward the elephant graveyard behind them. “Scar agreed to feed us if we helped him become king.”
“Well, as we’ve discovered, the food supply in the Pride Lands is not as unlimited as everyone thought,” Thabiti pointed out.
“Yeah, we kinda noticed that,” Banzai replied.
“We’ve tried talking to Scar,” Shenzi interrupted, “askin’ him what he’s gonna do about it, and all he wants to do is blame you guys. What does he think we are, stupid or something? You should’ve seen the way he got on her case a few days ago,” pointing at Sarafina.
“Yeah, I heard about that,” Simba replied.
“So what next, king?” Akili asked.
Simba glanced at the hyenas. “Can we get these guys back to your grove of trees without being noticed?”
The Pride Lands may have been barren of food for the lions, but Timon and Pumbaa were having no difficulty finding plenty of termites and centipedes, even in the small area they were confined to at the moment. They were surrounded by thick thorn bushes on three sides and a rock face on the fourth, and the only way in or out for an animal of any size who couldn’t climb well was a rather small opening. They weren’t likely to be discovered unless it was by someone who knew about the place.
They heard a twig snap nearby. “Quiet, Pumbaa,” whispered Timon.
Carefully they listened and could hear another animal approaching. Then they saw the head of a lioness appear in the opening. “Hey. Have you guys seen Nala and Sarabi?” she said.
“Ehh, yeah, they’re around here somewhere,” replied Timon.
The lioness disappeared, then reappeared a moment later, giving them a warm smile. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude. I’m Taraja. You must be Timon and Pumbaa.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Pumbaa replied, meaning it sincerely. Her smile had a way of winning them over before their instinctive fear of predators could kick in.
“I think you can come out now,” she told them. “All of the lionesses know about you now so you don’t have to worry about any of us.”
“Okay, we’ll help you find Nala and Sarabi,” Timon offered. “C’mon Pumbaa, let’s go.”
The whole group was headed gradually toward the grove of trees near Pride Rock using a somewhat roundabout route to minimize the chance of encountering other hyenas. Thabiti and Simba kept the three hyenas between them, a job Thabiti relished since of the lionesses she’d been the least affable to the hyenas. The other three lionesses were far enough away to make sure the coast was clear. As usual, Akili with her olfactory talent was in front, while Sarafina and Mshairi covered the sides. It would be difficult to hide Simba and the three hyenas from anyone they ran into, so they were trying to avoid any such encounters if at all possible.
There were occasional gusts of wind stirring up dust and bits of dead vegetation. Some clouds were forming in the sky, bringing the hope of rain to the parched landscape. Under these skies, Zazu conducted his search. He had already spotted and approached a few groups of hyenas but hadn’t gotten any clues where he might find the three he was looking for.
Then he spotted an unusual group - five lions and three hyenas moving it what appeared to be a formation of some sort. As he got close, he recognized the four lionesses he knew well as members of the pride, and the three hyenas appeared likely to be the ones he was looking for, though he wouldn’t know for sure until he got closer. But what really caught his attention was the fifth lion, the one with a mane. He flew down to investigate.
Rafiki had been following and observing Simba from a distance since he first saw him that day, watchful for any situation where his intervention might be helpful. He spotted Zazu descending toward Simba’s group, and knowing where Zazu’s loyalty lay he became concerned.
Even before he landed Zazu couldn’t help noticing how the four lionesses were carrying themselves. The way they held their tails, flicked their ears, glanced around, all indicated that they seemed more hopeful, more purposeful than he had seen them in a long time.
Zazu landed in front of the male, whom he didn’t recognize right away, and studied him. Not being sure how else to proceed, he started by turning to the hyenas and doing what he had come to do. “Scar wishes to see you right away,” he told them.
Shenzi glanced at the lion, then back at Zazu.
“Hello, Zazu!” said the lion. “They’re sort of busy right now. How are things with you?”
Zazu studied the lion more intently. “Simba!” he exclaimed, then got a puzzled look. “Simba? What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be dead.”
“Not anymore,” Simba replied. “So why did Scar let you out?”
Zazu’s head sagged as he took on an air of regretful resignation. “My instructions were to bring these three to Scar. Needless to say, I will have to report what I’ve seen.”
Simba gulped. “Zazu, please…”
Thabiti stepped over and prodded Zazu gently. “Your obligation is to serve the king, right?”
Zazu looked at her indignantly. “Yes, of course, ma’am.”
“And just who IS the king?”
Surprised by the question, Zazu looked at her dumbfounded.
“Think real hard,” she coached him. “This is Mufasa’s son.”
Zazu’s job was usually pretty straightforward, but for once he found himself in a position of having to make a judgment call, a decision that might alter his fate. He looked around at the four lionesses, and after a moment of deliberation, he looked toward Pride Rock and gulped nervously, then turned to face Simba, held one wing across his breast, and bowed down.
Simba smiled at him. “You accept me as king, then?”
“In that case…” Simba put a paw on his head. “I still have to challenge Scar. If anything happens to me, I declare you free from any further obligation to serve him as king.”
Zazu smiled at him. “Thank you, Simba. Are you the reason Nala asking me all those questions yesterday?”
“Yes,” Simba answered. “We’re pretty sure Scar killed Mufasa, but there’s no time to explain right now. Can you help us?”
Zazu looked at him aghast, then straightened up. “Certainly, young master”
Simba and Thabiti explained that they were trying to make their way back to the acacia grove without being noticed. With Zazu’s ability to survey from the air they would be able to take a shorter route they couldn’t have risked otherwise. He flew over to Akili and spoke to her momentarily, then flew up to get a good look along the route they would be taking.
He didn’t see any hyenas at first, but he did spot Rafiki watching from a tree. He flew a little further ahead, and once he was satisfied that the lions weren’t going to have any chance encounters anytime soon, he flew back to the tree and perched on a limb near the mandrill. “Greetings, Rafiki.”
Rafiki smiled at the hornbill. “Ahh, Zazu. ‘Tis a great day in the Pride Lands. Our king has returned, and I see you have accepted him. That is good.”
Zazu let out a heavy sigh. “It had me scared, but it was the right thing to do.” And as he said it, Zazu felt even better about serving Simba now instead of Scar. “I’d love to talk, but I’ve got a job to get back to.”
Rafiki patted his head. “Serve him well.” And he watched as the hornbill, the majordomo of the new king, flew off to return to his task.
Chapter 14. Feeling in Control
“I was starting to worry about you,” Nala told him. “I didn’t realize you were going to be out this late.”
“Neither did I,” Simba replied, “but I had an opportunity that was too good to pass up.”
“Yeah, I heard. Wasn’t that a little dangerous confronting the hyenas like that?”
Simba met her glance. “Dangerous? Compared to what? Running across the desert to find help?” he chuckled. “At any rate, no, not really. The only tricky part was making it back here without being noticed. Zazu was a big help. He had us worried for a minute when he first found us, but now he’s on our side.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re back now,” said Nala calmly as she rubbed her head under his chin.
Simba closed his eyes, and felt a surge of warmth as she did this. When he opened them, he was embarrassed to notice several of the others watching him. Looking over the crew, he noticed a couple of things. Taraja had become good friends with Timon and Pumbaa, and Sarabi seemed to be in a particularly sad and reflective mood. But he had a small problem to attend to first. Standing up and looking at the hyenas, he asked no one in particular, “What shall we do with these three?”
Thabiti accepted the task, and led the hyenas over to the same place that Sarabi had hidden Timon and Pumbaa, where it would be easy to keep a close eye on them. Simba went over to see how his two long-time friends were doing.
Pumbaa looked up at Simba’s face. “Long day, huh?”
“Yeah, and it’s not over yet,” Simba replied. “How are you guys holding up?”
“Just fine,” Timon announced. “We’ve been having fun with Taraja.”
“Oh really?” Simba inquired. “What have you been doing?”
“Nothing much, just talking mostly,” said Taraja. “They seemed awfully bored. Your mother got real quiet after I told her what we found this morning.”
“Hmmm, guess I better go talk to her,” mused Simba. “How about you two go help Thabiti guard the hyenas,” he told Timon and Pumbaa.
Timon hated hyenas and wasn’t crazy about the idea, but it made them feel useful. Pumbaa was big enough to overpower the hyenas by force if necessary, while Timon was quick-witted enough that he wasn’t likely to be outsmarted by them. Thabiti, like all the lionesses, had been around the hyenas for the last three years and knew how they might act. Thabiti asked them about life with Simba as he grew up, and Pumbaa and Timon talked once again about how Simba seemed to have acquired a sense of purpose about him, even more so than since they had last seen him that morning. But they were soon interrupted.
“Hey, we’re gettin’ hungry,” grumbled Shenzi.
“Yeah, can you get us somethin’ to eat?” Banzai added.
Thabiti knew it might be more of a ploy than an actual hunger complaint, but was surprised by how Timon and Pumbaa handled it.
“Hey, not a bad idea,” Pumbaa remarked, as he looked around. He prodded a clump of twigs with his tusks, revealing a feast of termites. “Here we go,” he said enthusiastically. “These’ll do for now. They’re pretty good, actually.” He licked up a tongueful. “Really hits the spot when you’re hungry!”
Timon found a centipede and ate it, then looked over at the hyenas. “So, you guys hungry or what?”
“I changed my mind,” gulped Shenzi.
“Me too,” Banzai added.
Ed giggled uncontrollably at his companions.
“Hey, suit yourself,” declared Timon. “You don’t know what you’re missing.”
“I’d rather not find out,” uttered Banzai.
“Are you doing okay, Mom?”
Sarabi just stared out into space. “They helped him, didn’t they?”
“Yes, they did.”
“Then I’ve been having to help feed those hyenas for the last three years because they helped Scar kill my husband.”
Up to this point, Simba hadn’t had any difficulty with the idea of letting the three hyenas live despite what they’d done to him. Now he wondered if he hadn’t given enough thought to who else had been affected by their actions, and almost regretted the decision. But he had to keep his promise to them as long as they cooperated. Simba sighed. “According to them it was all Scar’s idea.”
Sarabi spoke ruefully. “Taka was never happy with having to play second fiddle to your father. We tried to find ways to make him feel important, but nothing seemed to help much. Then after you were born, he turned in on himself even more and became almost unreachable. All your father and I wanted was a child to be the next king or queen - there’s nothing wrong with that, is there? - but all Taka could see in it was how much further it put the kingship out of reach for him.”
The shadow in Simba’s mind had never really left him alone, though it had been hovering quietly in the background for a while. Now, however, it seemed more bothersome than ever.
“I wonder what’s keeping Zazu,” Scar observed. “He doesn’t usually stay out this long on a job like this.”
“I still haven’t seen Shenzi or Banzai either,” said Wazimu. “Hey, maybe they’re dead, and I can be one of the clan leaders now.”
Scar rolled his eyes. “Imagine that,” he muttered.
Heavy cloud cover had moved in over the Pride Lands, and there was a chill in the air. Simba was back with Nala, trying to sort out his thoughts. It seemed overwhelming, but being with her made it seem worth all the trouble.
“Are you about ready to challenge Scar?” Nala asked him.
“I think so… I mean, I should be…”
“What’s the matter?” Nala asked him. “Are you afraid?”
“No, at least not of Scar,” he observed, “but something is bothering me and I can’t explain what it is.” Simba pawed at the ground in front of him, then looked skyward. “I wish I had a day or two to work it out, but I don’t think we could keep it from Scar that long, or keep those hyenas under wraps.”
Nala put a paw over his shoulder. “True, unfortunately. I wish I could help more.” Nala could see the uncertainty in his face. All this had been quite a bit for her to handle, yet she knew that he must be going through a great deal more at this moment.
One thing Simba hadn’t had all day was time alone to think, and in the past this was how he usually dealt with bothersome thoughts. But unlike the past, when there were often no easy answers, he sensed that there was an answer waiting for him to figure out what it was. “Maybe if I take a short walk I’ll figure out what’s bothering me. You think I’ll be safe if I stay close?”
“Just be careful,” whispered Nala as she gave him an affectionate rub. “I love you.”
Something is wrong here. He hadn’t seen much real evidence of it, but he could feel it. Scar thought about the day’s events so far. He hadn’t seen any of the lionesses since that morning, which was a bit out of the ordinary since they usually at least let him know how the day’s hunt went. In particular, he hadn’t seen Sarabi since he had taken her to the gorge the day before, and it had been much longer since he’d seen Nala. Wazimu’s report of seeing her entering his cave was particularly troubling.
Then there was the matter of Shenzi, Banzai and Ed. They seldom avoided him like this. And now Zazu had been out much longer than was typical for him. Normally he would have reported back much sooner than this, whether he found them or not. He knew Zazu didn’t like hyenas and that made it all the more puzzling.
Was he making something out of nothing? No, something was definitely wrong here. He thought about the lionesses again, and looked toward the grove of acacia trees. “Wazimu,” he called out.
“Whaddya want, Scar?” he replied.
“I’m taking a walk.”
The sun was getting low in the sky and was peering under the edge of the clouds that had moved in as Simba walked off. A lot of thoughts were going through his mind. He thought about his father’s words - ‘remember who you are, and you will know the path you must choose’. The path! He’d been afraid to follow this path because of how far it could take him away from something he might have to come back to. That didn’t worry him anymore, but he hadn’t anticipated at the time where it might lead him.
What was this shadow doing in his mind? He tried going through the stampede from his father’s viewpoint. He’s out surveying the Pride
Lands with Zazu, when Scar runs up and tells him his son is in the path of a stampede. He runs as fast as he can to save his son, and at great risk to himself, runs into the stampede to save his son. He brings his son to safety, but is still caught in the stampede himself. Knocked down and battered by the panicked wildebeest, he finally escapes again, only to be thrown back into the stampede by Scar. Killed by his own brother while trying to save his son!
It would be nice to speak to his father about this. Simba wondered if his father would speak to him again tonight. Perhaps he’d have more words of wisdom to help Simba work it out. He looked up at the sky, where the stars would soon be appearing if the clouds weren’t in the way, but instead of his father, he saw an old baboon in branches of a nearby tree.
The wise old mandrill jumped down on the ground in front of Simba. “Hah, hah,” he laughed. “Simba! The king has returned.”
“Yeah, I’m back,” remarked Simba, “but I wasn’t ready for what I would find when I got here.”
Rafiki pondered this for a moment. “Ahhh, but if you didn’t find it, it would still be here!”
“If something is true but you don’t know it, it is still true…”
“…But if you DO know it, you’re wiser.”
“Then why do I feel so rotten.”
“Don’t look rotten. Look great, Simba! Mufasa would be proud.”
“And I thought he would be mad at me after what happened, or what I thought happened.”
“For a long time I thought he died because of me,” Simba explained. “I felt guilty, more than you can imagine, and that guilt became a part of me. Then I discovered I had to find out the truth, and I found out it wasn’t my fault. Instead, it led me to…” Simba paused. “Scar.”
“The truth is not always easy to face,” Rafiki pointed out.
“Yeah, but I feel like I’m missing something. There’s still a shadow of the old guilt in my mind that won’t leave me alone.”
“Listen to it then. Must give it a voice.”
“How do I do that?”
“Let it speak.”
Simba thought about this a moment. “Okay,” he replied, still a little bit puzzled. He looked up again and sighed. “I wish my father were here.”
“He’s here. You just have to know where to look for him.”
Nala stood up and gave her muscles a stretch. Keeping a low profile most of the day like this made her feel the need to move around some. She looked around and contemplated which way to go. She was a little bit worried about Simba, but it would be dark soon and then it would be easier for both of them to stay out of sight, if something didn’t happen before then.
She was just about to turn to go and rejoin the other lionesses when she heard a sound. She stopped to listen.
“Hello, Nala,” said a voice. It was Scar.
“W-w-what are you doing here?” she asked him, suddenly afraid.
“I haven’t seen you in a long time. Have you been hiding from me?”
Nala had to think quickly. For all she knew, Simba could return from his walk anytime, or Scar might decide to walk around the grove some more. She had to keep him from finding out about Simba until he was ready to make his presence known. “Why don’t we go back to Pride Rock and talk there.”
Sarafina spotted Nala walking slowly and stiffly toward Pride Rock, with Scar walking impatiently at her side. Ahead of them, several hyenas perked up and watched them with interest.
Quickly she returned to the other lionesses. “Where’s Zazu?” she demanded.
“Right here, ma’am,” he replied, perched on a branch overhead. “What’s the matter?”
“I saw Nala with Scar. I think she’s in trouble. Can you find Simba, quickly? He should be somewhere close by.”
“I’ll get right on it,” said Zazu, and he flew off to look around.
Sarabi was quite concerned. “Do you think he’s done anything to Simba?”
“We haven’t heard any roars,” Mshairi observed.
“Good point,” said Sarabi. “‘Biti, you stay here with Timon, Pumbaa and the hyenas. The rest of you, come help me look for Simba.”
“If you don’t mind,” Sarafina interjected, “I’m going to follow my daughter. I want to be there with her if Scar decides to get nasty.”
Scar paced back and forth in front of her, as a dozen or so hyenas looked on from the periphery. “Where have you been? Why haven’t I seen you in the last several days?”
Nala looked at him briefly, then went back to looking straight ahead. “We haven’t had enough food. I was out trying to find some way to help.”
“And what did you find?” he demanded.
“Nothing you’d be interested in,” said Nala.
“I should like to hear more,” muttered Scar. He paused to consider how to pursue this, but was more curious about something else. “What were you doing in my cave yesterday?”
Wazimu spoke up in the background. “Yeah, I’ll bet you didn’t even know I saw you go in there.”
“Shut up, Wazimu,” Scar scolded without turning to look at him. He looked at Nala expectantly.
“I was visiting Zazu. You hardly ever let us see him anymore.”
“Oh? And what were you talking about?”
“Nala, you don’t have to do this,” said a voice from behind her.
It was her mother.
Scar turned to Sarafina, whom he knew had shunned him since the incident several days earlier. “Who invited you up here?”
“Since when do I have to be invited to be allowed on Pride Rock?” she shot back.
Sarafina’s arrival had thrown him off balance, and Scar wanted to feel that he was in control before continuing his questioning. He turned to the hyenas behind him and ordered, “Take her to my cave and guard her.” Looking back at Sarafina, he continued, “You, stay out of the way. Both of you will be hearing from me soon.”
Four hyenas stood up, walked over to Nala, and escorted her away as Sarafina looked on helplessly. Then she stepped down to return to the other lionesses, as Scar had expected her to.
The acacia grove didn’t cover that large an area, and it only took Zazu a couple of minutes to locate Simba, still talking to Rafiki. “Sire!” he called to him urgently.
“What is it, Zazu?” asked Simba.
“It’s Nala, sir. She’s with Scar! We think she’s in trouble!”
Simba gasped. Had he delayed too long in challenging Scar and put Nala in danger as a result? Was he worrying too much about shadows in his mind?
“Hmmm,” pondered Rafiki. “That Nala! She knew what she wanted and when she went for it Scar never had a chance.”
Simba smiled. “I don’t think I did either,” he reflected.
Zazu interrupted them. “With all due respect, sire, aren’t you going to do something?”
“Of course,” Simba replied, straightening up and suddenly showing his worry again about Nala. “I’ll be right there.”
Rafiki put a hand on Simba’s shoulder and stroked his mane. “Don’t worry. She is strong and can handle herself.”
Just then Akili walked up. “You heard?” she asked Simba, seeing Zazu there already.
“Yes, I’m coming.”
Akili roared a moderately quiet roar to signal the other lionesses that Simba had been found.
Nala looked around the cave. It was dark in here and dry, and a little bit cool. There were a couple of good resting spots which she wouldn’t have minded using if they didn’t have Scar’s scent on them so strongly, so she found one of her own by Zazu’s cage. Scar wasn’t the neatest, but he wasn’t a total slob either, certainly not as bad as the hyenas could be.
She looked at the cage. Zazu had been kept in here too much of the time, and had been allowed to visit the lionesses too infrequently. Nala sighed. Zazu’s company would be nice right about now, but at least he had his freedom, and she doubted Simba would be putting him back.
Had she handled herself okay? She’d kept Simba’s cover and had kept her own dignity. Her mother knew she was here and would be telling the others including Simba, so she wouldn’t have to wait long. Just to break up the tension, she tried talking to the hyenas who were guarding her.
“Hey, you,” she said to them.
One of them smiled and growled. “Yeah, whaddya want?” the other one replied.
“If Scar told you to do one thing, and Shenzi and the other hyena leaders told you something else, whose direction would you follow?”
The first hyena grunted, apparently having even less verbal ability than Ed. The second thought a moment. “I’d tell Shenzi what Scar said and see if she changed her mind.”
“And what if she didn’t?” Nala posed.
“Then I’d probably do what Shenzi told me.”
Interesting, thought Nala.
Everyone in the acacia grove, including Rafiki, converged on the hiding place. Before they could get settled down to discuss what to do next, Sarafina returned.
“Nala is okay at the moment, but Scar has her imprisoned in his cave,” she told them. “She didn’t tell him about you,” she said, looking at Simba, “but he knows we’re hiding something. I’m not sure what he’s going to do next, but he’s going to do it soon.”
Simba considered the situation. He knew Scar could kill and was afraid of what he might do to Nala. For what it was worth, at least Nala knew that too, something Simba and Mufasa hadn’t known before he’d done it some years earlier. “Sarafina,” he instructed her, “go watch the cave and let me know if anything happens.”
“Can someone else come with me?” she asked.
“May I?” Thabiti offered.
“Good idea. Fine, you go with her,” Simba told her.
Thabiti smiled at him. “I’ll challenge him myself if he lays a paw on her.”
“Have any of you seen Zazu?” Scar asked the hyenas gathered before him.
Three of them nodded. “When I was out patrolling, he stopped to ask me if I had seen Banzai and the others,” said Mirlakh. “But that was much earlier.”
Scar looked at the other two who had nodded. “How about you?”
“About what she said,” one of them replied. The other one nodded again.
“And what about Banzai? Or Shenzi? Anything new?”
The hyenas looked back and forth at each other and shrugged, then looked back at Scar.
Wazimu spoke up. “We all talked about this, and not many of us saw any of ‘em. When we did, it’s like I said earlier. They seemed kind of, like, edgy, you know, and they didn’t seem like they was hunting.”
Same as earlier, thought Scar. “Anything else unusual?”
“Yeah,” Mirlakh reported. “That Rafiki dude was acting mighty strange when I came across him earlier.”
Rafiki! It hadn’t occurred to Scar that he might be in on this, or at least know about it. But he never really understood Rafiki or his comings or goings anyway, and it would be impossible to corner him, so he dismissed the idea.
Whatever was behind it something was going on. The hyena leaders were missing. Zazu, who was nothing if not reliable, was missing. The lionesses seemed to be avoiding him. And Nala! It was obvious she knew more than she was telling, and Sarafina seemed to be in her court. Most of all, Nala had defiance in her eyes and her voice.
Scar sensed that he was rapidly losing control over his kingdom, and knew he had to do something quickly. He walked out onto the promontory, and bellowed out a roar of summoning. A very insistent roar of summoning. It was time to gather the pride and get to the bottom of this.
“Time to go,” the hyena said to Nala. She was nervous, but could hear that the roar was for everyone, not just for her, and was somewhat relieved for that. She wondered what Simba was up to.
Sarafina and Thabiti had barely made it over to the vicinity of the cave when they too heard the roar. Seeing the hyenas lead her out of the cave, they stepped up and followed right behind her. If Scar had hoped to have a moment or two to intimidate her before anyone else arrived, he would be disappointed.
Simba was lying prone, silently in thought, and beside him stood Rafiki, with one hand on Simba’s mane and the other on his staff, when when they heard the roar, and they knew what it meant. Rafiki looked toward Pride Rock and mumbled something. Then he turned to Simba and exclaimed, “It is time!”
Simba stood up and started to walk back to the hiding place, and Rafiki followed. When he got there, he found Taraja, keeping Timon and Pumbaa company again, and Sarabi. “Are you ready?” his mother said.
“Yes,” Simba replied, “but I’ve got to figure out how to handle these guys. You go ahead and I’ll be along shortly.”
“This ought to be good,” Taraja whispered to Sarabi as they left to join the other lionesses.
Simba greeted his two long-time buddies, still guarding the entrance to the hiding place. “How goes it?”
“Okay,” said Timon, “but they’re acting pretty restless since that roar. Saying they gotta answer it.”
“We’re about to,” Simba remarked. “Let’s go,” he said to the hyenas.
Zazu was still with Simba as well, and the five of them escorted the three hyenas to the edge of the grove of trees, where they stopped just out of sight behind some bushes and waited. There was a rumble of thunder in the clouds overhead, as Simba looked upon Scar for the first time since his return to the Pride Lands.
Ever since Zazu had interrupted his discussion earlier with Rafiki, Simba had had little time to think, but he used what time he could, and now he had a little more time. Give the shadow a voice! What did that mean? He let his mind wander a bit.
He recalled how guilty he’d felt when he first saw his mother almost exactly one day earlier, but hadn’t understood why. It was like he’d stayed away too long.
Oddly enough, that felt right. Getting close.
He recalled what his mother had told him about how jealous Taka had been of his father and the throne, and how Taka became more cynical and reclusive after he was born. Some of his own childhood memories of Uncle Scar even fit her explanation.
Simba thought again about his experiences in the elephant graveyard, with the stampede, the hyenas and Scar. It had all been quite an enigma to him, yet now that he knew what happened it all seemed so obvious. Especially Scar. Simba chided himself. Why did I fall for Scar’s plans? Why didn’t I see it sooner? Me off feeling sorry for myself while the Pride Lands fall into ruin.
He took a deep breath and smiled. After a very long and tiring day, Simba found his second wind. Now he felt as ready as he would ever be to challenge Scar.
Chapter 15. Pronouncement
Akili, Taraja and Mshairi arrived together at the foot of Pride Rock. Seeing Sarafina and Thabiti already up there with Nala, they stopped and waited for Sarabi, who arrived right behind them. The four lionesses then went up together. Wazimu and several other hyenas were observing from nearby, watching a few of their kind who hadn’t already been there trickle in, and still wondering what their clan leaders were up to and why they hadn’t answered the roar.
Scar paced the edge of the promontory as the four lionesses appeared. He looked outward, watching the skies and the paths the hyenas would most likely use for their approach. Growling disgustedly, he turned to look at the lionesses.
Simba, Timon, Pumbaa, Rafiki and the three hyena leaders were concealed at the edge of the acacia grove, as Simba puzzled over just when and how to make his entrance. He noted that the lionesses were facing his direction, so Scar would have his back to him when he addressed them.
“Hey, Rafiki,” he whispered. “Can you and Pumbaa handle these guys if I go up ahead of you?”
Rafiki said nothing, but held his staff gingerly in both hands. Then he made several quick and deft movements with the staff, showing his skill at several different maneuvers and suppressing the urge to keai as he did so. The hyenas looked at each other nervously. Rafiki leapt in front of Simba and brought the staff crashing down toward his head. Simba squinted and recoiled.
Rafiki stopped the staff very close and quietly uttered, “Sun do me.” When Simba opened his eyes, Rafiki looked into them and gently touched him on the head with the staff, then on each of his shoulders, intoning quietly as he did, “I adorn you king, ruler and protector of these Pride Lands and all who live here.”
Scar looked over the assemblage of lionesses sitting in front of him. They had their tails wrapped around their bodies, and were smiling and trading looks in a way that reinforced his suspicions. Shenzi, Banzai, Ed and Zazu were still conspicuous in their absence, but since it was mostly the lionesses he wanted to speak to anyway, he decided not to wait any longer. Scar began speaking. “All right, what’s going on here?” he asked gruffly.
The lionesses exchanged glances, but none of them spoke right away. Thabiti finally remarked, “You called the meeting. I figured you’d tell us what it’s about.”
“Don’t you be a smart-aleck with me,” he snapped at her, and noted that she didn’t seem intimidated, but then she rarely did anyway. Addressing all of them, he continued, “There’s something going on here and I intend to find out what it is. Now who’s going to tell me?” He paced over to one end of the row of lionesses, his tail held high, and began speaking to them one at a time. “Mshairi?”
“Just doing what we can for the Pride Lands.”
“Went hunting this morning as usual. Keeping my nose to the wind.”
Scar took a couple of steps along the line. “Taraja?”
“Trying to help out. I’ve been with her most of the day,” gesturing toward Akili.
“Supporting our king.”
“Thank you,” Scar replied sarcastically, as he believed she had, not suspecting what she really meant. “Sarafina?”
“You want something from me?” she asked him incredulously. “I’m still mad at you, and now you’re harassing my daughter.”
Scar was unflappable. “You’re both still part of my pride,” he told her.
Sarafina resisted the urge to make a snappy comeback and was barely able to hold back her I-know-something-you-don’t smile. There was a lightning flash in the clouds overhead.
Scar moved on, pausing to look a Nala before deciding to address Sarabi first. He looked at the former queen, still their leader, and noticed that she was glaring at him coldly. “What have you been doing? I haven’t seen you all day?”
Sarabi remained silent but continued drilling into him with her eyes.
“Sarabi! Stop looking at me like that!”
Sarabi was unperturbed, even intensifying her gaze if that were possible. They stared each other down in an ocular battle of wits for a long moment. Scar could see she was seriously angry about something, as angry as he could ever remember seeing her, and wasn’t talking. He stepped back but kept his eyes on Sarabi as he spoke to the group. “I know you’re hiding something, and I intend to find out what it is.”
Scar finally broke his gaze with Sarabi and turned back to Nala. “Nala, where have you been for the last few days?”
“I told you earlier. I was out doing what I could to make things better for us and for the Pride Lands.”
“How thoughtful of you,” he said condescendingly. “Like what?”
“Oh, things to help the king do his job better.”
That time Scar noticed her indirect reference to ‘the king’ as Thabiti had done. This struck him as odd since both of them usually addressed him by name. “Why do you call me king?”
“Did I?” she exclaimed. “How clumsy of me.”
Reacting to the obvious insult, Scar turned and tried to cuff her soundly. Nala tried to dodge. Neither was totally successful as Scar caught her with a glancing blow on the underside of her cheek. Nala glared at him severely, summoned her courage, and did something no lioness had ever done before. She cuffed him back.
There was another flash of lightning and a clap of thunder. Scar never expected such a direct challenge from one of his lionesses and was unprepared for her reaction. He stepped back and looked at her aghast. “Before this night is over, you… all of you… shall know who is king!” Impulsively, he began to charge her. Sarabi and Sarafina crowded closer on either side of her to try to fend off the attack they could see coming.
As Scar leapt at her in his anger, he didn’t hear the warning cries coming from several of the hyenas in the periphery so he wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Nala, Sarabi and Sarafina saw Scar charging and heard footsteps coming from behind them as well, and having little time to think all three of them ducked. A large figure came flying over them, which Scar saw for only about a quarter of a second before it crashed into him.
They fell apart and both quickly stood up ready to defend themselves in case the other should attack, and Scar got his first good look at his assailant. Straightening up and seeing no additional attack forthcoming, Scar looked at the other lion with a forced smile. “Ah, what have we got here?”
“You want to know what’s going on? I’M what’s going on.”
“Yes, I can see that,” said Scar, as he glanced over the lionesses and noted their lack of obvious surprise. He looked back at the new lion and studied him. Something looked very familiar about this lion, and in not recognizing him Scar felt as if he were overlooking something obvious. “So who are you and what are you doing in my kingdom?”
The lion smiled confidently. “Why, don’t you recognize me? Or maybe you thought I was dead, Uncle Scar!”
“Simba?” Looking at him carefully, Scar frowned, then smiled patronizingly. “What a surprise it is to see you!” Where are those blasted hyenas?
“I’ll bet you’re surprised,” Simba replied, stepping closer to Scar and holding his tail up high.
Scar turned to Nala. “Now I know what you’ve been up to. You are disloyal! If you hadn’t run off like that none of this would have happened!”
“If you hadn’t made such a mess of the Pride Lands,” she snapped back, “I wouldn’t have gone looking for help. Even after Hadhari died you wouldn’t do anything about it.”
Ignoring her charge, Scar turned back to Simba. “So what are you doing here?”
“I am here to claim what is rightfully mine. It’s like you just said, Scar. Before the night is over, we shall know who is king.”
“Oh, really? Then you are here to challenge me?”
Simba looked at him piercingly. “Yes. Step down, Scar,” he demanded.
Scar stood up to him and spoke evenly. “I challenge your right to claim the throne!”
“Fine. I accept your challenge.”
“You realize what happens if you lose, don’t you? I’d hate to be responsible for the death of a family member.”
“Scar, I wouldn’t touch that one if I were you,” warned Simba.
“Why not? Are you afraid of what your faithful subjects might find out about you?”
Simba nearly answered the charge, but remembering that he still had to give the shadow a voice, he retreated a bit. “Should I be afraid?”
“Why don’t you tell them?”
“Tell them what?”
“Who is responsible for Mufasa’s death!”
“What are you saying, Scar?” There was another thunderclap.
“That Mufasa is dead because of you!” Scar accused.
Simba took a deep breath, and after a long pause, continued, “All right, it’s true,” Simba admitted.
“What!?” cried Nala.
“Simba,” Sarabi uttered in disbelief.
“You see, he admits it!” Scar drooled. “Murderer!”
“No, I’m not a murderer!” answered Simba.
Scar looked at him sternly. “Mufasa’s dead because of you!” He walked toward Simba. The lionesses looked on in disbelief.
“And what are the consequences for that?” asked Simba as he backed up a few steps.
Scar thought he had Simba right where he wanted him, and walked around him confidently as he spoke. “Just what I told you when it happened, Simba - run away, and never return. But now you have returned, and for that you shall DIE,” Scar pronounced.
“No!” shouted Nala.
“I’m not a murderer!” Simba reiterated evenly.
Scar gloated at him. “Mufasa’s dead, and if it wasn’t for you he’d still be alive.”
“Yes, that’s probably true,” Simba replied.
Behind him, Nala listened in disbelief. “What is he doing?” she asked Sarabi incredulously.
“I don’t know,” she whispered back.
“Good,” Scar replied to Simba, the word dripping off his tongue. “So you admit that your guilty?”
“Guilty of what?” Simba replied.
Scar looked at him with some irritation before finding his voice again. “Causing Mufasa’s death!” he said, shoving his face into Simba’s and letting the words hang in the air.
Simba backed up slightly until he was resting on his haunches. “And what if I am guilty of causing Mufasa’s death?”
“Then for that too you would surely die!”
As the lionesses watched this spectacle a light suddenly went off in Mshairi’s head. “Ooh, that was clever,” she whispered.
“What?” Akili replied. “Ah, now I see.”
After a long moment to let his last words sink in, Scar suddenly lurched at Simba, extending his claws and bringing his front paws down on Simba’s. Simba roared in pain as the claws pierced him.
At that moment a couple of pieces of the puzzle came back to Simba’s mind. Mufasa didn’t fall from the ledge, he was thrown. Scar had told the hyenas to chew on his front paws because they were bloody. And just now Scar had unknowingly given Simba the piece that connected these two, and reminded him what he was here for. He roared again, this time louder and in Scar’s face, not in pain but in anger.
Scar, jolted by Simba’s sudden show of confidence, backed off and studied Simba as he tried to regain his posture.
Out in the Pride Lands, another bolt of lightning struck, starting a fire in the dry brush. Its thunderclap reached Pride Rock, shaking everything around them. Simba got up, stood tall, looked his uncle squarely in the eye, and spoke. “All right, let’s talk about you.”
Sarabi was still uneasy, but the other lionesses relaxed a bit. “Simba, Simba,” said Scar condescendingly, “what about me?” Then with renewed vigor, “You’re the one who’s guilty?”
Simba threw it back at him. “What do you say I’m guilty of?”
“Causing Mufasa’s death, of course.”
“I didn’t say that. You did,” Simba pointed out, lifting a front paw to lick the wounds.
Scar was becoming noticeably agitated at this wordplay. “You said you were responsible for Mufasa’s death.”
“I said he would still be alive if it wasn’t for me,” Simba clarified.
“Then … you’re … GUILTY,” declared Scar, still unsure of why Simba was playing these games.
“You misunderstand me,” countered Simba. “If I’d never been born, Mufasa might still be alive.”
“What’s your point, Simba?”
“I didn’t choose to be brought into this world. Should I be responsible for how that might affect the actions of others?”
“You, Uncle Scar.”
“Ah, now I see,” said Scar in a feigned show of confidence. “Are you suggesting that I acted differently because you were born?”
“Why don’t you answer that one yourself?”
“Very well.” Scar took a deep breath. “You are my nephew and I tried to be a good uncle to you when you were little.”
Simba smiled and set his paw down. “I liked you a lot and I thought you were a pretty neat uncle. I trusted you. Of course, I was just a cub then, that any adult could easily deceive, so it was important for me to have an uncle I could trust. Wouldn’t you agree, Scar?”
Scar tried to see behind Simba’s eyes. How much do you know? He saw way too much confidence for his comfort, but eyes can only reveal so much. “Yes, of course, Simba,” he muttered.
Simba let out a heavy sigh. “At any rate, I trusted you. Even after I ran away I still believed in you. It took me a long time to ask whether I shouldn’t have. Much too long, judging from the state of the Pride Lands. THAT is what I’m guilty of!” The shadow had spoken. Simba felt as if a load had been lifted off his back, and there was no reason left for him not to stand tall. He lifted his other paw and began licking it.
Sarabi noticed the change in her son’s demeanor and smiled confidently.
Scar grinned at him. “Ah, so that’s your little game. You think you shouldn’t have trusted me!”
The grass fires were spreading, casting an eerie flickering orange glow on Pride Rock. Lightning struck again nearby, followed by another thunderclap. “Why did you tell me about the elephant graveyard?” Simba inquired.
“It was an accidental slip,” said Scar, not letting any fear show. “I told you at the time not to go there.”
Simba looked at him disbelievingly. “Okay, would you mind telling me what the surprise was that my father had planned for me on the day he died?”
“I don’t know! Mufasa didn’t tell me!”
Simba looked at him doubtfully again. After a long pause, he continued, “Fine. Let’s get back to your question.”
“Who is responsible for Mufasa’s death?”
Scar gave a sigh of exasperation. “Simba, you already admitted…”
Simba cut him off. “I admitted to my part in it. That doesn’t mean there weren’t others who played a part, perhaps a much greater one than mine.” Simba eyed Scar expectantly.
Scar’s worry was starting to show. “Simba, what on Earth are you talking about?”
“You know what I’m talking about! Or do I have to say it?”
By this time Scar realized he was in serious jeopardy of losing this challenge to Simba and with it the kingship, and he tried desperately to figure out what approach would give him the best chance of retaining it. Yet Scar could only guess how much Simba knew, and some of Simba’s questions suggested he knew more than Scar would have liked. He was also concerned about the lionesses finding out, but scanning their faces one more time decided they probably already knew whatever Simba did. Still, he held onto the possibility that whatever Simba knew might be insufficient or inaccurate. “All right. Go ahead and say it.”
“Are you afraid to tell them yourself?” Simba challenged.
“Are you afraid what you would say may not be true?” countered Scar.
“Fine. Where shall I begin?” Simba started off. “You deceived me into going to the elephant graveyard and almost got Nala and I killed.
You told the hyenas they could live in the Pride Lands in exchange for helping you become king.” Simba paced back and forth in front of Scar and began to get tears in his eyes as he continued. “Then you took me to the gorge and told me to wait for a surprise. The surprise turned out to be a stampede of wildebeest that was supposed to get me killed.” “But Simba…” Scar tried to interrupt, his hope fading fast. Simba looked at Scar through his tears and raised his voice a notch as he continued. “My father saved me. He almost saved himself, too, but you prevented that. YOU killed him!” Simba shoved his face closer to Scar’s, nearly touching noses with him. “Then you told me it was my fault and told me to run away, only then you sent the hyenas after me and tried to have me killed again! That’s THREE TIMES you tried to kill me.” Some of the lionesses were hearing parts of this for the first time and reacted in shock at some of the revelations. Simba caught his breath before he went on. “I’ve lived with that for three years while you and your hyena friends have been destroying the Pride Lands.” Simba turned again and glared intently at Scar. “That is what I’m talking about. Do you deny any of it?”
Scar was visibly shaken now, but he had one ace left in his hand and was determined not to be taken in by Simba’s display of emotion. He steeled his face. “That may be your version of what happened, but not everyone here will agree with you.”
Simba gave a heavy sigh and muttered, “Why am I not surprised? Okay, we’ll see about that.” Simba took a few steps up the promontory, gently bellowed out a summoning roar, and walked back to Scar. “You’ve been hanging around with the hyenas since you became king, and for a while before that.”
“In all that time, did you ever hear one sing like a canary?”
A bit of commotion from off to one side caught their attention. “Hey, where you guys been?” came Wazimu’s voice.
“I don’t wanna talk about it,” muttered Shenzi.
“Scar’s gonna be mad at you!”
“Shut up, Wazimu,” demanded Banzai.
Zazu appeared and lighted on the ground between Sarabi and Nala. Scar looked at him. “Where have you been, Zazu?”
“I only serve the king, sire,” Zazu replied, gleefully thumbing his beak at Scar.
Presently, the three hyenas appeared, showing a mix of anger and frustration on their faces. On one side of them was Rafiki, smiling and carrying his staff. On the other side was Pumbaa with Timon riding on his back.
Simba looked back at Scar. “So what was it you were saying about not everyone here agreeing with me?”
Scar’s face dropped in shock. “What is he talking about?” he demanded of the three hyenas.
“Ehhh, heh heh huh ungk ulp,” Ed stammered.
“He tricked us!” shouted Banzai.
“Yeah? Well sometimes you don’t know when to shut up,” Shenzi remarked.
“That’s enough,” said Simba.
“What did you tell him?” Scar asked them.
The hyenas shifted about uneasily.
“Well… ,” Scar prodded.
Shenzi finally answered. “Basically… , everything.”
“I don’t buy it,” he spat at Simba. “You threaten them, they’ll tell you whatever you want to hear.” He glared at the hyenas severely, telling them with his eyes what he wished he could do to them at that moment. The hyenas cowered at his gaze.
“Sorry, Scar,” Simba replied. “I already suspected most of what they told me. I’d be here challenging you tonight with or without them, but they sure made it easier.”
Scar went over his options mentally one more time, and decided it was hopeless. “Alright, I did it,” he grudgingly admitted.
Sarabi stepped forward, once again glaring angrily at Scar. Upon reaching him, she kept her gaze up, and after a momentary pause, raised a paw and cuffed him soundly.
He looked away, his face still burning from her blow, as Sarabi returned to her place. Scar faced Simba sheepishly. “Simba, please have mercy on me. What are you going to do your old uncle? I’ll do anything you ask me - just name it.”
“For what you’ve done, I could choose just about anything,” Simba replied, and stopped to face Scar before continuing. “Then again, you were a king. Perhaps we should trust your judgement in these matters.”
“What do you mean?” asked Scar, puzzled. Then suddenly he remembered their earlier discussion and recoiled in horror at the implications his own words held for him.
Mshairi smiled again. “I knew it.”
As this was still sinking in, Scar again noticed the three hyenas, and gave the three hyenas a menacing stare. “Traitors!” Glancing around, he sized up his situation and decided what he had to do next. He suddenly charged at Simba. Simba reared up to defend himself against the charge, but Scar came in low, knocking him sideways with both paws, and throwing him off balance. Simba stumbled but quickly regained his footing and turned, expecting another charge from Scar, but when he looked up Scar was nowhere to be seen. He had bolted past the lionesses, disappeared off the side of the promontory, and was gone.
“Simba, he’s getting away!” shouted Nala.
Simba stepped over to the edge and looked. Scar had known where to jump off without getting hurt and had made his escape quickly. Simba tried to spot him, but the rapidly spreading grass fires made it difficult to see in the darker places. “Let him go. We’ll worry about him later. Let’s see how the rest of us are doing first.”
“Boy, you really scared us a few minutes ago,” said Nala.
“Yes, Simba. What were you thinking?” Sarabi added.
“Well, I realized what was bothering me. I was partly, in a small way, responsible for father’s death. And I had to face up to that before I could accuse Scar.” Simba looked at Rafiki. “I gave it a voice.”
Rafiki came over and patted Simba on the head.
“But Simba,” Sarabi exclaimed, “you were only a cub, and you’ve seen what Scar can be like. Don’t you think you’re being a little hard on yourself?”
“I did what I had to do,” Simba replied. “Besides, it gave Scar one last chance to admit what he did, and he failed.” Simba smiled and glanced at them. “And you guys played along really well, if I’ll say so myself.”
“Yeah, you about gave me a heart attack, too,” scolded Nala.
“Sorry about that. I nearly had one too when he charged at you.”
Sarafina spoke up confidently. “We had her covered.”
“Good show, Simba,” Timon remarked. “Didn’t know you had it in you.”
“Sorry you didn’t get to see much of it.”
“We could hear just fine where we were.”
Simba looked around for his majordomo. “Zazu, where’s this cage Scar kept you in?”
Zazu looked at him incredulously. “Oh, no, you can’t be serious.”
“Show me the way, Zazu. Pumbaa, come with us.”
“At your service,” said Pumbaa as they headed to the cave.
Zazu led them to the cave which had been Scar’s, and landed next to the ribcage. Simba lifted the cage and looked it over. “This is the one, huh?”
“Ummm, yes,” uttered Zazu.
“Well, Zazu, I think you deserve better than this. Don’t you agree, Pumbaa?”
Simba set the cage down and backed up. “Have at it, Mister Pig!”
Pumbaa lowered his head, pawed at the ground twice, then charged forward. He smashed into the cage, sending pieces flying. A large section got caught on one of his tusks, so he snapped his head to one side, sending the section flying into the wall, breaking it into splinters.
Zazu flapped his wings joyfully, unable to contain his excitement at this spectacle. When he noticed Simba and Pumbaa looking at him, he suddenly stopped and straightened up. “Now look, sire, who’s going to clean up this mess?”
Simba and Pumbaa laughed. “I’ve got another job for you,” said Simba.
“You name it!” Zazu replied.
“Do you think you could find Scar?”
“In the dark?” Zazu remarked. “Well… I probably could.”
“Good,” Simba replied. “Just don’t let him see you, and keep me posted.”
As Zazu flew off, Simba and Pumbaa came back out to the promontory. Some deep rolling thunder came from the coulds overhead. Fire was spreading around Pride Rock and was beginning to consume some of the thorn bushes in the acacia grove. Occasionally a breeze would carry in some of the smoke, burning their eyes.
Thabiti was still keeping a close watch on Shenzi, Banzai and Ed, as some of the secondary clan leaders hovered around, trying to find out what had happened to them, when Simba walked up. “Long live the king,” she said. “So what are you going to do about Scar?”
“I guess I’ll play that one by ear,” said Simba thoughtfully. “Got any ideas?”
“Say, can we go now?” grumbled Shenzi.
“Not yet,” Simba declared.
Chapter 16. Unfinished Business
Scar didn’t know where he was going, but his life here as he knew it was over, especially now that he had a possible death sentence hanging over him. He would have to find someplace new to live, some way to get his life back together, and maybe someday he could plan a way to return and regain his kingdom. But no, there was no way the lionesses would ever respect him anymore after what had just happened. What was he to do? But he’d barely left and hadn’t had time to think about most of these things yet.
Those blasted hyenas - they didn’t kill Simba when they were supposed to, then they go and gave away his secret. If it hadn’t been for them, he’d still be king.
Grass fires were burning all around as Scar stopped and looked back toward Pride Rock. He decided he had to take care of some unfinished business before he left.
“Thanks, Zazu! That was sooner than I expected.”
“No problem, Simba.”
“Are you taking anyone with you?” asked Nala
“No. I have to do this alone,” Simba said solemnly.
“Please be careful,” Nala sighed. “I’m worried about you.”
“Of course,” Simba reassured her. “I didn’t come this far for nothing.” He gave her a rub.
Nala watched with great concern as he walked off.
“Guys, just calm down,” Shenzi told them. “With any luck we’ll be through with this in a little bit.”
“But this could take a long time,” whined Banzai. “I’m tired and there’s no way I could get any sleep here.”
They had actually slept here many times before. It was the ledge where Scar used to rest and make his devious plans, a few of which had come to fruition, and where he had once planted a seed of curiosity in Simba’s young mind. After becoming king Scar didn’t spend as much time here and the leaders of the hyena clan had moved in. Now they were afraid of what being here would lead to. They wouldn’t have to wait long to find out.
“This place gives me the creeps,” Banzai complained.
“Ungk eek ug ha” guffawed Ed uneasily.
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Shenzi added. “I hate just sittin’ around here doing… YAAAAHH!”
Scar had sneaked up on them in the dark and towered over them menacingly. “So, you didn’t kill that miserable hairball when you had the chance, and then you had to go and give away the store. You miserable traitors!”
“But Scar, he…” pleaded Banzai.
“No excuses!” Scar scolded. “You’ve just lost your home, your king, your honor, and now,” Scar paused to gloat over the next phrase,
“You’re going to lose your lives.”
“Scar, we can explain,” begged Shenzi.
“Yeah, he came into the…” Banzai began.
“Shut up, Banzai,” scolded Shenzi. “If it wasn’t for you…”
“Must I endure this petty bickering,” said Scar with his eyes rolled back. “I came here for one purpose, and I intend to accomplish it quickly and move on.” Scar glared down at them and raised a paw to strike.
Then he heard a roar. “Don’t touch them!” demanded a voice from behind him. It was Simba.
As he approached the area a few minutes earlier, Scar was careful not to be seen by any other lions, even studying carefully any places he knew of where they could hide. He knew these hyenas’ favorite places to hang out, and this was one of the first he had checked. Hopeful that he’d escaped notice by the other lions, he hadn’t counted on being observed by a hornbill - not that he could have detected or prevented it anyway. Therefore, Scar was a little surprised when he turned to see Simba again.
Scar regarded him indignantly. “You stay out of it- this is between me and them.”
“Scar, you’re not welcome here anymore. This is my kingdom now.”
The words stung him. “It would still be mine if it wasn’t for these leeches!”
Emboldened by Simba’s presence, Shenzi rebuked him. “It wouldn’t be for long anyway at the rate things were going!”
“Yeah! You said we’d never go hungry again,” said Banzai, joining her.
“Hoo huh ung ha ha,” added Ed.
“It couldn’t be helped,” Scar snapped back. “Are you trying to blame everything on me?”
“You were the king!” Shenzi pointed out. “You’re supposed to do something about it, but all you would do was blame the lionesses.”
“Yeah Scar! You didn’t keep your end of the deal,” Banzai accused. “You lied to us!”
That was too much for Scar, who the leapt at the hyenas, intending to finish them off. Simba intercepted him, knocking him down. “I told you not to touch them,” he repeated angrily.
Scar turned and charged Simba, hoping to knock him over the ledge. But Simba was ready and wasn’t going to fall for the same move Scar had used earlier. He reared up to deflect Scar with a swipe of the paw. Scar recovered quickly and was ready to meet Simba’s next attack. Scar struck Simba on the side of the head, and Simba was thrown back nearly to the edge, but he leapt forward and cut across Scar’s face with his claws. Scar roared in pain as he regained his balance just in time to dodge Simba’s next blow.
The hyenas watched this spectacle in awe. “Hey maybe we oughta try and sneak off while we got a chance,” Banzai suggested.
“You nuts?” chided Shenzi. “If Scar wins we’re dead meat.”
Banzai thought about it a moment. “Then maybe we should help.”
“I know, I know, I’m just tryin’ to figure out how.”
Simba barely dodged a powerful swipe and landed right in front of the hyenas, almost knocking them over. Mouth open and teeth exposed, he went for Scar’s neck.
“I’m not waitin’ for something to happen,” Banzai asserted, and with that he charged into the fray, trying to snap at Scar’s back legs.
“Banzai wait!” cried Shenzi, to no avail.
In the battle between these two behemoths Banzai was little more than a nuisance. At one point, when Simba was momentarily knocked off balance, Scar got a clear shot at Banzai, With a powerful swipe on his paw, he slammed Banzai into the rock wall. He let out a loud yelp, then as Shenzi and Ed watched in horror, Banzai fell to the ground motionless.
The yelp distracted Simba long enough for Scar to lunge at him. Scar got Simba’s right ear between his teeth and both paws on opposite sides of his head. Simba fell over backwards as Scar crashed down on top of him, knocking the breath out of him and leaving him lying on one side. Now Scar was squeezing Simba’s head and biting down hard on his ear. Simba struggled to free himself, but with Scar’s weight on top of him and all four legs pointing in one direction, he couldn’t move and could barely breathe. If Scar could hold on for a few minutes, Simba would lose consciousness and it would be all over.
Shenzi and Ed began attacking Scar’s flanks and back legs. Scar tried to fend them off with his back legs, but without letting up his grip on Simba he could neither see the hyenas nor attack them with his more agile front paws. The hyenas kept up their assault, and though Scar knocked each of them down a couple of times, he couldn’t land a solid blow like he had to Banzai, and the hyena would be right back for another bite. Scar’s movements were uncomfortable for Simba, yet gave him hope that he might get an opportunity to free himself. Ed paused long enough to choose a good approach angle, waited for an opening, then sank his teeth hard into Scar’s haunch.
Ed found a pressure point, and his bite was too much for Scar to bear. While maintaining his grip on Simba with his mouth and forepaws, Scar stood up on his back legs and danced around until he had shaken Ed loose. Then he tried to swipe at both hyenas to knock them out of commission, but Shenzi and Ed still easily dodged his back paws. The hyenas had to be more careful now, but for Simba it was the opening he was waiting for. Summoning all the strength he could muster, he rolled onto his back and pulled his back legs up under Scar’s belly. With a mighty push he tried to hurl Scar over the edge. Scar landed precariously on the edge, not quite falling over but making it difficult for him to get up. Meanwhile, Simba was unable to turn far enough to push Scar over the edge with his legs because his head was turned the wrong way and Scar still had a firm grip on it.
Simba pushed himself back against Scar, and just as Scar was about to get up, he couldn’t because Simba was in the way. One more push, and Scar ran out of room, falling over the edge. As Scar felt himself going over, he tried to drag Simba along with him. He could not maintain his grip on Simba’s head with his forepaws but held fast to Simba’s ear. That was not enough to overcome the inertia of Simba’s weight, and as Scar fell his teeth tore deep wounds into Simba’s ear. Because of his attempt to keep his hold on Simba, Scar lost his chance to right himself before landing on the ground several yards below, and he landed awkwardly on the jagged rocks.
Simba screamed in pain as he felt his ear being torn up, and the pain intensified as he breathed again and the feeling came back to the rest of his body. He stood up at last, peered over the edge to see Scar lying motionless below, then went over to check on Banzai, as Shenzi and Ed were already doing. “He’s still alive,” said Shenzi, though he was unconscious and his breathing was very labored.
“Thanks for your help, guys,” said Simba, still panting heavily. “Sorry about Banzai.” His ear was bleeding profusely and the blood dripped on the ground around him, leaving a trail where he walked.
Shenzi and Ed walked over to the edge to look down at Scar. Upon seeing his twisted body, Shenzi remarked, “If he’s not dead yet, he will be soon.”
Shenzi and Ed went back to tend to Banzai as Simba made his way around to the ground in front of the ledge. Scar had incurred multiple injuries from the fall including a broken back, and there was blood on some of the rocks.
Simba saw Scar’s eyes twitch and his mouth move, and noticed his eyes seemed to be looking at him. He stepped to one side and saw that Scar’s eyes didn’t follow him, but seemed intent on something he couldn’t see. Realizing that Scar posed no danger to him, Simba leaned closer to Scar. There was fear in his eyes, and Simba was able to make out one word.
Then all movement stopped as the life passed out of him.
Just then Zazu landed on one of the rocks and looked at Scar, then at Simba. “Looks like it’s over with, sire,” he sighed.
“He left me no choice,” Simba conceded. “Thanks for your help.”
“You’re welcome. Anything else I can do?”
“Tell the lionesses I’m okay and I’ll be there shortly?”
“Right away, young master,” Zazu replied, and he flew off.
Simba’s ear was throbbing in pain as he stood over the body of his uncle. He was badly shaken by the fact that he had killed another of his own kind, even though he had done it in self-defense. He had doubted whether he could either impose or carry out a death sentence on his uncle in spite of everything, even though Scar would have had no qualms about doing the same thing to him, so in that sense the outcome was a bit of a relief. And now that Scar was no longer a threat to him, some other feelings came to the surface.
“What made you do it, Scar? What happened that made you want so badly to be the one in power, that you would kill another to be king? You killed my father, your own brother! You destroyed the Pride Lands and so killed Hadhari! You broke my spirit and stole my childhood! I liked you! I thought you were a pretty neat uncle! Yet all I was to you was an obstacle between you and the throne, and a pawn to be manipulated against your brother. Why, Scar? Why? Maybe someday I’ll understand, but right now I can’t.”
Scar’s lifeless body remained silent, offering no answers to the questions it had just been asked. Was Scar even able to hear him? Simba knew that the great kings of the past looked down on him, but he wasn’t sure about the kings who were not so great, or worse.
Simba remembered he had a pride to think about now, and there would be plenty of time later to ponder these questions. He turned to walk around to the front of Pride Rock.
Out in the savannah, grass fires were still raging. After all the thunder and lightning that had been going on around them, it finally started to rain.
From the rain and the smoke of the now fizzling brush fires, Simba emerged to see the rest of his pride. They recognized him while he was still in the shadows and were overjoyed to see him, but their joy turned to horror as he stepped out into the moonlight, revealing the wound to his ear. The bleeding had slowed considerably, but the rain was now washing out some of the blood that had matted in the right side of his mane, causing him to leave a trail of red wherever he went.
“What happened? Are you okay, Simba? That looks awful,” said Nala.
“I think I’ll be okay… eventually.”
“I’ll bet that must hurt.”
“Yeah, it hurts, but it’s not the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced,” he replied. “Seeing my father fall into the stampede was.”
Nala looked down sadly at that thought. When she finally looked up again, she was crying tears of joy that the ordeal was over with. They rubbed against each other affectionately.
Rafiki and Sarabi came over to Simba. Sarabi rubber her head under his chin. “Is Scar dead?” she asked.
“He is. I’m sorry it had to end that way.”
“I understand,” Sarabi sighed.
As they were talking, Rafiki studied Simba’s ear. “I’ll give you something for that in a little bit,” he offered. “But… first things first.”
At first Simba didn’t know what he meant by that. He looked around at the lionesses, then at Timon and Pumbaa, then back at Rafiki, and finally he understood. “Okay,” he replied.
In the pouring rain, Simba walked over to the base of the promontory. He ascended majestically, but feeling unsure of himself. Was he worthy of this position? Rafiki had said he would find Mufasa after the confrontation. What did that mean?
Through a break in the clouds he saw a star, and heard his father’s voice. “Remember…” He thought about how his father looked when he was king, when he took a decisive action. Then he realized that when he confronted Scar he felt like his father had looked. Mufasa was in him! Simba smiled, then gave a majestic roar that echoed across the Pride Lands. Long live the King!
The lionesses watching him from below roared in reply to the new king of Pride Rock.
It was a particularly awesome experience for Timon and Pumbaa.
They had heard him roar many times back at the jungle, but they all seemed to pale by comparison to this one. They had saved Simba’s life and been best friends to him, but for a long time they could never figure out this lion who was moody and often depressed. Yet in a matter of days they had witnessed a more unbelievable transformation in Simba than they could have imagined. Now he was strong, powerful, confident, everything they had feared in lions before they met Simba, yet he was still their friend. And his roar reached all the way into the depths of their hearts.
It was equally impressive to them when the lionesses roared back. Though a lioness’s roar is not as loud as a male’s, there were seven of them and they were closer. A pride of lionesses, none of whom they had known very long, happy now to have Simba as their new king. The earth seemed to shake under their feet.
Simba roared again.
The enigma had been solved. The Pride Lands would be saved. There was much to be done, but the biggest and most important step had been completed. Simba was king.
After he descended, Rafiki took a more careful look at his ear. “Hmmm, tore it up pretty good. Can you hear okay with it?”
“My hearing is fine,” noted Simba. “Hurts like crazy, though.”
“It will leave a scar.”
“There were scars inside me I thought I would have to live with forever. Now those are healing,” Simba observed. “If this is the worst I got from this, I can live with it.” He put a paw on Rafiki’s shoulder and hugged him. “Why don’t you go check on Banzai.”
The rain was coming down heavier and the fires were out. Rafiki returned a short time later to report that Banzai had a dislocated pelvic joint and several broken ribs. He had reset the leg and given him some herbs for pain relief. Upon returning he gave Simba some too for his ear and his other injuries.
When Rafiki was finished, he addressed the lionesses again. “I have an announcement to make. I have chosen Nala to be my queen.” Nala smiled bashfully as the other lionesses turned to look at her. Sarafina and Sarabi each put a paw on her shoulder. Simba continued, “We were chosen for each other when we were young. Now that I’m king I could probably change that if I wanted, but I couldn’t ask for anyone better.”
Nala was also having doubts about her worthiness for this position. She looked up to the skies for guidance, and heard a voice she had heard once before. “Believe in yourself…”
Parts of the grove of acacia trees and its underbrush had been consumed by the flames, but with Simba back all the lionesses were happy to sleep on Pride Rock again, where they could also get better shelter from the rain.
“What do you want to do for your first night as king?” whispered Queen Nala to Simba.
“Sleep.” He turned and gave her an affectionate lick on the muzzle, then collapsed in an exhausted heap.
Nala lay down next to him, purring, and began gently licking some of the lesser wounds from his battle. “I love you,” she whispered.
The rain poured down on the Pride Lands. All through that night, the clouds soaked the parched landscape, rinsing the ash from the now extinguished grass fires into the soil and reawakening the dormant grasses and trees of the savannah.
From the stars, the spirits of two lions smiled down on Pride Rock. “Mwongozi, why did you help me when you had your own coalition to worry about?”
“It seems I gave them all the help they needed in life, and they were able to take care of themselves. You were denied the opportunity to raise your son, and your pride, including one of my best friends and my daughter, suffered as a result. I wanted to help where it was needed most.”
“Well, my son and your daughter are together and in their rightful place now. Thank you for helping.”
The Pride Lands were lush and green, teeming with birds and wildlife, as the sun shone down upon them. Simba was able to see it all from his vantage point on the top of Pride Rock. Sitting next to him was Mufasa, his father, and opposite him was his mother. “Simba, you have done well,” said Mufasa warmly. “I’m very proud of you,”
Simba looked at him gratefully. “Thank you. It’s good to be home.”
Mufasa turned to Sarabi, his wife and queen, and looked at her lovingly. “Your time for suffering has passed. Our son is back and the rest of your days will be easier.”
Sarabi looked over at her son, then nestled her head in Mufasa’s mane. “I always knew you were watching over us.”
Simba was happy for his parents that they could share a moment such as this, but didn’t understand something his father said. “What do you mean, time of suffering?”
Mufasa looked at his son, whose eye level was now the same as his own. “We all make mistakes in life, and we suffer the consequences of those mistakes, whether in life or in death. For me, the greatest mistake was in not understanding my brother and finding a way to make him feel important. My suffering for that was to see what befell the Pride Lands and those living in it under his kingship, and to watch you grow up as you did. That fate was not mine alone, for their were others living and deceased who also failed to understand Taka. My parents looked on with me. And Sarabi lived through his kingship.”
“What about me?”
“Sometimes in life not all is fair, and some will suffer at the hands of others. Such is life, but all will be taken into account in the end,”
“And what of Scar?” asked Simba. “What happened when he died?”
Sarabi looked at him curiously as Mufasa’s face dropped sadly. “I was there to meet him when his spirit passed into this realm. Early in his life he lived through the pain of being misunderstood, but he will have more, for regardless of our circumstances we are all ultimately responsible for our actions.”
“What more will he have?” asked Simba.
Mufasa gave Simba a resigned look. “That is not for me to decide, or even for me to know about unless there is reason for me to know. Perhaps he will be made to relive his transgressions from the viewpoint of those they were directed against. But there is one thing both of you must do.”
“What’s that?” Sarabi asked.
“You must forgive him.”
Simba looked away uncomfortably. After what he had learned in the last couple of days, he felt a lot of rage toward Scar, and it seemed like an impossible request.
Mufasa looked at his son with love. “It may take some time.”
A breeze blew through the Pride Lands, ruffling their manes. They huddled together, wrapping their tails around each other’s bodies for the closeness it gave them.
From another vantage point, Nala looked at a vast, unending landscape. The smell of coniferous trees permeated the air, and the sounds of birds singing and wind rustling in the trees surrounded them. From this rock ledge there was a precipitous drop-off in front of her, and far off in the distance she could barely make out the shape of Pride Rock. She didn’t know where she was, but she liked the place.
She was not alone. On one side of her was her mother Sarafina, and on the other side was a blue-eyed lion with a light colored mane, a lion she had seen once before in a vision. Her father.
Mwongozi looked at the two lionesses wistfully. “I’m sorry for not coming to see you. Scar made it difficult, but I could have tried harder. My greatest regret is not having spent time with you and being a part of the last three years of your life.” He looked at Nala sadly but proudly. “Your whole life. If only I had known I had a daughter while I was alive.”
Sarafina leaned over and rubbed her head warmly against his. “It’s not all your fault. I could have tried harder too, you know, but you always think you’ll have tomorrow, and then one day you don’t.”
Mwongozi leaned over and nuzzled her. “Yes, sometimes we find things out too late.” He looked down at Nala. “You’re queen now, leader of the lionesses, and you have met a great challenge, but you will still have other challenges ahead of you.”
“Yes, I just hope I can handle them,” Nala replied humbly.
“Nala, when you find one of those challenges and don’t know what to do, think of me and I might be able to help.”
Shenzi saw that they were back in the elephant graveyard. Banzai was his normal self, and Ed and many of the other hyenas were here.
“Shenzi! Banzai! Ed!” came a voice from overhead.
The three of them suddenly became afraid. “Scar? What are you doing here?” Shenzi stammered. Running for her life suddenly seemed like the smart thing to do.
Scar spoke serenely. “I’m not here to harm you, and please call me Taka.”
His voice sounded sincere, and Shenzi sensed she had nothing to fear from him. Looking him in the face, she noticed he didn’t have his namesake scar anymore. “What are you here for?”
“I came to tell you the one thing you still need to do if you want to be in good standing with the new king.”
They looked at him expectantly. “You mean we might still get to live in the Pride Lands?” Banzai exclaimed.
“Don’t hold your breath.”
Taka told them what they had to do.
Shenzi looked at him in disbelief. “We have to do THAT?”
“I think I’d rather he killed us after all,” Banzai muttered.
“No, you wouldn’t - trust me on that one. If you care about your clan, you’ll find in yourselves to do it,” Taka declared.
Shenzi looked at Banzai and Ed, and all three of them shifted about uneasily. This wouldn’t be easy for them. She looked around at some of the other hyenas, and seeing mothers with their pups, they knew that Taka was right. Still, it was unlike anything they’d ever done before, at least when it came to dealing with the lions, but somehow they would find a way.
Chapter 17. Reparations
From the end of the promontory, Simba surveyed the Pride Lands. Large areas of black, burnt grass spread out before him, and the smell of ash and soot hung all around. Much of the underbrush and some of the trees in the acacia grove had gone up in flames, but many of the trees survived. The lionesses had often rested under them, leaving the ground barren in their vicinity and keeping the trees just out of reach of the flames that consumed the dried grass. Soon the grasses and leaves would return, and this would bring the grazing animals back. But that would take time, and the pride would have a lot of work to do.
The morning sun was already heating up as Simba turned to join the rest of the pride. Rafiki stepped cautiously up to the base of the promontory, carrying Banzai ever so carefully. Several other hyenas including Shenzi and Ed were right behind him. He laid him down slowly and gently, so as not to cause him any more pain than he was already enduring.
Disregarding them for the moment, Simba walked over to Sarabi and Nala a short distance away. “Everything here looks so depressing now. It was much nicer in my dream.” Simba sighed. “Father was with us on the top of Pride Rock, and he talked to me about suffering…”
“…And about Scar?” Sarabi inquired, looking rather surprised.
Simba looked at her with astonishment. “Yeah. How did you know?”
“We were in the same dream together.”
Simba quickly deduced that Sarabi had also heard what his father said about forgiving Scar. There would be no hiding from it now.
“That’s really wild!” Nala replied to Sarabi’s last statement. “The same thing happened to my mother and I. We were with my father in this really beautiful place. I didn’t recognize it, but Mom did. She said it was on the side of the mountain where he lived.”
As they were discussing their dreams, Rafiki stepped over to them and took a careful look at Simba’s ear. “How is it this morning?”
“Still hurts,” Simba answered.
Rafiki probed at it a bit. “Just needs time. Keep it clean.”
“Don’t worry,” Nala volunteered. “I’ll take care of that for him.” She gave Simba an affectionate lick on the cheek.
Banzai’s breathing was still quicker and shallower that normal since it was less painful for him than breathing normally. Shenzi was whispering to him, as Ed, Wazimu, Mirlakh and several other hyenas looked on with concern. She had overheard the lions’ conversation about their dreams and found out her dream had likewise been shared with Ed and Banzai. At least they were in this together in a sense, but she was the only one who could speak for them. Oh well, here goes nothing, she thought. “Hey, Simba! Sarabi! Could you c’mere a minute?” Her voice dropped a notch. “We’d come over there, but Banzai can’t walk.”
Simba and Nala padded over, but Sarabi hesitated a moment before following. “What on earth do they want from me?” she muttered disgustedly.
Ed sat next to Shenzi. His mouth was closed and he was unusually still and calm. Banzai was awake and trying to look up. Shenzi swallowed hard. “I don’t know how to say this, but…” she began. There was a long pause as the lions looked at her expectantly. “We’re, um, real sorry for what we did to Mufasa, and to you, Simba.” She averted her eyes downward, and after a long pause, looked back up to see what reaction her words provoked.
Simba and Sarabi looked at each other. They had been unsure of how to handle the hyenas anyway, but this was the last thing they expected to hear from them, and it left them even more uncertain. Simba looked back at them. “Thank you,” he said gently. There was nothing more he could think of to say at that moment.
The hyenas didn’t know what to make of the lions’ reaction. After the lions returned to their group, Shenzi looked at Ed and Banzai. “That better have been good for something,” she breathed. “Man, I hate groveling like that.”
As Simba thought about what Shenzi had just said, he thought again about the challenge he had been given in his dream. Forgive Scar? It seemed impossible, but maybe his father was right - it would just take some time. But there was something that needed to be done now that was a step in the right direction. “Rafiki!”
“We need to administer last rites to one of our pride. How soon can you be ready?”
“I’m ready now.”
Moments later, Simba led everyone including all of the hyena leaders except Banzai around the back of Pride Rock to where Taka’s body lay. There they paid him their last respects.
Simba knew he would have to ask the hyenas to leave the Pride Lands as soon as he took over, but what happened in the battle with Scar and the resulting injuries to Banzai made that more difficult for him, and now even more so since their apology. Two days passed before Simba could get up the nerve to say anything to them. Nala, Timon and Pumbaa were at his side.
“Can we talk about this some more?” Shenzi inquired. “This should be easier without Banzai to interrupt.”
Banzai let out a low growl. Shenzi, if I could reach you I would hurt you, he thought.
“I’ll interrupt for you, okay Banzai?” offered Wazimu.
Banzai smiled. He almost laughed, but that would have hurt too much.
“You can’t stay,” Simba repeated calmly.
“Why not? Scar always said the herds would be back soon.”
“And do you think he was right?”
“Hey, Scar always said he’d take care of us!” Wazimu pointed out.
“Shut up, Wazimu! Scar wasn’t doin’ nothing for us. If more of you guys had just opened up your eyes, you’da seen that.” Shenzi turned back to Simba. “Don’t you know how to get the herds to come back?”
Simba thought a moment. “I’m new at this. I’m still learning.” “Can I help?” Pumbaa offered.
“Yes, Pumbaa. What is it?” said Simba.
“I’ve been hunted before…”
“Don’t remind me,” muttered Nala.
“It’s okay. You weren’t the first.”
“Yeah, but if I’d gotten you I hate to think what would’ve happened when Simba found me.”
Simba saw Shenzi looking at him impatiently. “Luckily nothing bad happened and everyone’s okay,” he said. “Pumbaa, you were saying?”
“Where was I?”
“You’ve been hunted before…” Simba reminded him.
“Oh, yes. If I thought a lot of predators lived someplace, I wouldn’t want to go there, especially if there weren’t many other prey animals. I’d look for somewhere else to live.”
“Hey yeah, that’s it. Thanks, Pumbaa.” Simba turned to Shenzi. “You see, this IS what I have to do to get the herds to come back.”
“I still don’t think it’s fair. We saved your life.”
“Scar was going to kill you, so in a way I saved yours too.”
“Ummm, yeah, right,” muttered Shenzi. She hadn’t expected to win this argument, but figured she had to try anyway.
“Banzai doesn’t have to go until he can walk out of here on his own,” Simba added. “And a couple of you can stay with him.”
Zazu’s wings had atrophied somewhat from spending too much time in the cage under Scar’s kingship, so the flying he had to do to aid Simba tired him out at first. It would take some time for his wings to regain their strength.
“Zazu,” Simba said to him one day.
“Yes, young master?”
“You’ve been majordomo of Pride Rock since the reign of my grandfather Ahadi. After so many years of loyal service, I think you should be given a chance to retire and let someone else take over. What do you think of that?”
Zazu was surprised by the offer. He put a wing up to one side of his head. “Your offer is very tempting.”
“You don’t have to decide right away if you don’t want to.”
Zazu thought for a long moment, then looked at Simba sternly. “I can see that there are many things your father didn’t get a chance to teach you, and someone’s got to keep an eye on you cubs.”
“…And if you want to be king someone’s got to make sure you do it right.”
Simba smiled at him. “It’s gonna be a lot of work getting the Pride Lands back in shape. Are you sure you’re up to it?”
Zazu smiled. “Simba, I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”
“Zazu, you son of a gun! Glad to have you on board.”
“ ‘Everything the light touches.’ That’s what he told me,” recalled Simba. “He brought me up here to show me the kingdom, and said one day it would all be mine.”
“It doesn’t look like much,” observed Timon.
“Not now, it doesn’t, but it used to be beautiful. Lots of wildlife, and the trees were green…” As Simba looked around, he choked back a tear and continued. “Back then I thought it would be so great to be king, to be the ruler of all this, and do anything I want.
“Sounds a little like ‘Hakuna Matata’,” Pumbaa remarked.
“Yeah, I guess it does, but it was just a childish fantasy. Being king is a big responsibility, and you have plenty of worries. My father tried to explain that to me that when I was younger.” Simba waved a paw toward the landscape around him. “This is what happens when the king doesn’t take that responsibility seriously.” Simba sighed to himself, “Scar, you killed more than my father.”
“So what are you going to do now?” Timon asked him.
“I have to do my best to bring it back to what it was.”
“Anything we can do to help?” asked Pumbaa.
“Probably. I’m still figuring this stuff out. After all I was away for three years when I was supposed to be learning it. I can’t bring my father back to life, but the Pride Lands - maybe I can.”
Just then Zazu appeared at the top of Pride Rock, with Nala right behind her. “Here they are, ma’am,” he called to Nala. Then to Simba, “Nala has been wondering where you are.”
“Just showing them the kingdom,” Simba replied. “Say, Zazu, you think you could find some way for these guys to help.”
“Why, certainly, your majesty.” Zazu panted. “Maybe I can give these wings a little rest.”
Zazu escorted Pumbaa and Timon down from the top, a precarious journey for Pumbaa who was leery of heights and didn’t like the steep, narrow path to the summit. Nala padded over and sat beside Simba, wrapping her tail around him. For a few minutes they just sat beside each other silently and took in their surroundings. Nala finally turned and took a closer look at his ear. “Does your ear still hurt.”
“Yes,” he replied. “But it’s getting better, and my hearing is still okay.”
“That ear is going to be scarred for life.”
“Nala,” he replied, “I had a much worse scar inside me that I thought would never go away, and now that one is healing.” He looked at her adoringly. “Thank you for coming back into my life.”
Nala smiled and purred. “You’re welcome. I did it to save the Pride Lands and I got more than I bargained for.”
Simba looked around once again. “Do you think it’ll ever be like it was?”
“I hope so,” sighed Nala. “It’ll take time, but everyone wants to help.”
“Good. I’m gonna need help just knowing what to do.”
Part of the irony was that Simba and Nala, the king and queen, were also the two youngest lions in the pride. It wasn’t so much that they were so young as that it was unusual for a pride to not have any members younger than their age. “For one thing,” remarked Nala, “our pride needs a future, and right now this is no place to raise cubs.”
Simba didn’t hesitate to remove laws that Scar had put in place when there was no reason to keep them. One of his first was to lift the ban on mentioning Mufasa’s name. He was more cautious about making any new laws, but he make one almost right away. Out of deference to Timon and Pumbaa, his two friends who had kept him alive and befriended him in exile, Simba declared that warthogs and meerkats would be off limits for hunting. He was careful, however, to warn that the ban might have to be lifted if either of their kind became overpopulated. He didn’t want to end up in a situation similar Scar’s predicament with the hyenas. Regardless, Pumbaa and Timon themselves would always be safe.
Whenever Mshairi could spend any time with Simba she shared with him stories of events that had occurred in the Pride Lands - stories that often carried important lessons, some of which were even helpful for restoring the Pride Lands. Many of the stories were from Scar’s reign, and even though he had already heard some of them from Nala or Sarabi, Mshairi usually told them better. Other stories were from his cubhood days, or from before he was born, or even from outside the Pride Lands. She also encouraged Simba to share his stories, hoping to pass them along someday when there would be others to pass them along to. Often she was able to see things in Simba’s experiences that he himself hadn’t realized before.
During his exile, Simba had mostly held onto the lessons his parents had taught him in the early months of his life, but in three years of living “Hakuna Matata” he had developed some bad habits. When he returned he had become highly focused on pursuing the truth about his past and about Scar, so the bad habits didn’t get in the way then, but once he had defeated Scar and had to get down to the day-to-day tasks of being king and rebuilding the Pride Lands, those habits sometimes got in the way. It took a lot of patience from the lionesses, especially Nala and Sarabi, to get him through these times. Pumbaa and especially Timon could be part of the problem at times, and found that once again they had trouble understanding Simba.
“I don’t get it, Pumbaa. Simba’s got all this responsibility, yet he seems to like it so much.”
“Yeah, Timon. I didn’t think he’d ever go for it.”
Timon sighed. “Sheesh! We try to teach him it’s nothing but trouble, and then something like this happens!”
“And what’s the matter with responsibility?” asked a voice from behind them.
Timon turned around. “Hey, it’s the lioness with the spots!”
Mshairi’s paw suddenly came down on Timon’s tail, and she spoke in a mock threatening tone. “There was a time I would have killed you for saying that!” She released the tail of the now terrified meerkat and softened her expression. “Don’t worry, I’m quite happy now with who I am, spots and all.”
Timon wiped his brow. “Lions, oy!”
“Our philosophy is called ‘Hakuna Matata’,” Pumbaa explained.
“I’ve heard of it before,” Mshairi replied. “In the pride where I grew up there were two lions that talked about it a lot.”
Timon looked at her curiously. “So what ever happened to them?”
“I don’t know. They hadn’t amounted to much last I knew them. Of course, that was a long time ago.” Her voice trailed off. “Anyhow,” she continued, “doesn’t it ever seem kind of pointless, like there should be more to life than ‘no worries’?”
“I don’t know,” Timon mused. “We seem to be doing just fine.”
Pumbaa looked at Timon. “Do you remember? We kinda felt that way for a while.”
“Yeah, but that was a long time ago.”
“How long ago?” Mshairi inquired.
“It was shortly before we met Simba,” Timon recalled.
“He’s told me a lot of his story. You know, he probably wouldn’t have made it if it hadn’t been for you guys. He went through a terrible ordeal and for a long time you two were the only friends he had.”
“Weren’t there ever days when it would have been easier to just forget about Simba and do your own thing?”
Timon looked at her indignantly. “Look… He was a tough nut to crack, and sometimes we didn’t know what to do about him, but he was our friend and we wouldn’t just shut him out like that.”
Mshairi smiled. “That’s what I thought. Your friendship was important to him, and sometimes when he felt bad he didn’t let on ‘cause he didn’t want to bring you down.”
“Yeah, sometimes we could tell,” said Pumbaa.
“Don’t you see?” Mshairi asked.
“See what?” Timon replied.
“You needed something to give more purpose to your lives than ‘Hakuna Matata’, and Simba was that something.”
“Ohhh,” they said in unison. “I never thought of it that way before,” Pumbaa remarked.
After that Timon and Pumbaa were more supportive of Simba and his responsibilities, and found ways to be helpful and to boost his morale.
It had been nearly a moon since Simba’s return. Simba’s ear was partially healed, but one of the remaining sores had become infected and was giving him a lot of pain. The Pride Lands had been showing signs of recovery, but for several days there was no visible improvement, Simba was growing frustrated.
As Simba lay on the promontory wondering what he was doing wrong, Zazu landed in front of him. “Bad news, sire. That large herd of wildebeest and zebra we saw heading toward the Pride Lands two days ago…”
“What about them?” uttered Simba.
“They went somewhere else. Just disappeared. We don’t know where.”
Simba rested his chin on one paw, closed his eyes and put his other paw over his face. “I don’t know how much more of this I can handle,” he breathed. He hadn’t eaten in several days and his stomach was complaining. There had always been plenty where he lived in the jungle so this was a new experience for him. Pumbaa and Timon were finding plenty to eat and Simba thought about joining them, but he knew none of the lionesses would eat bugs and he didn’t feel right about eating while they went hungry.
Zazu looked at him, flustered. “Did I do something wrong? I’m sorry if I did, sir.”
“No, Zazu,” Simba replied. “You did fine.”
Zazu looked at him, still uneasy.
Sarabi, overhearing their discussion, and sensing Zazu’s doubt, came over, looked at Zazu, and spoke for both of them to hear. “Simba is different from his father. Mufasa didn’t usually let his feelings show when he got bad or good news, but Simba does. And don’t forget, Simba is still building his confidence as king, and I assure you Mufasa felt the same kind of things at the beginning of his reign as Simba is now. He just didn’t let it show much.”
“Neither did Ahadi,” observed Zazu.
“Does that mean I’m doing something wrong?” asked Simba.
“No, not necessarily,” Sarabi reassured him. “Every king, indeed every lion, is different, and no one expects you to be just like your father or your grandfather.”
“Okay, but I’ll try to keep it to myself a little more. At any rate,” Simba continued, as he turned to Zazu, “as king I have to know what is going on in the Pride Lands, and I rely on you and others to tell me. It’s not your job to save my feelings, so keep telling me whatever I need to know, good and bad.”
Zazu smiled at him. “I should be telling you that, sire. Scar never wanted to hear the bad news.”
“I’m not surprised,” Simba retorted. As Zazu turned to fly away, Simba looked at Sarabi. “No big herds yet, and I’m getting hungry. How do I break it to the lionesses?”
“Oh, this is nothing,” Sarabi replied. “We’ve gone longer than this many times, sometimes twice as long.”
Simba’s stomach growled again, and it dawned on him that he was getting only a small taste of what life had been like for the lionesses under Scar’s rule.
Later that afternoon Simba was about to take a little respite and visit a place he had enjoyed sometimes as a cub but which he hadn’t been to since his return. “Nala, I’m taking a walk to the marula trees where we used to watch puku antelopes and elephants when we were cubs.” Not that he expected to see any of either. “You know where I mean?”
Before Nala could answer, Thabiti cut in. “I hate to say this, but the hyenas pretty well tore it up, and the fires destroyed what was left of it.”
Another childhood memory gone. Simba’s face dropped, he closed his eyes momentarily, then suddenly lashed out in a rage. “Is there no end to what Scar has done?” Simba angrily swatted at a stone, sending it flying, having just enough presence of mind to hit it in a direction where no one was in the way.
Nala and most of the others looked at him dumbfounded. “Simba, calm down,” she cried. But then she noticed that Sarabi didn’t seem too surprised and if anything sympathized with him.
Simba looked at Nala, then at Sarabi, then back at Nala, and his expression changed as if to say “What have I done?” He then collapsed into a heap and hid his face under his paws.
After he had taken a little time to calm down, he stood up and walked over to his mother. “We can’t go on like this.”
“I’m going to go talk to Rafiki. Maybe he’ll have some advice.”
Sarabi looked at her son. “I think your father already gave us the best advice we’re going to get.”
“You mean forgive Scar?”
“Believe me, this isn’t going to be any easier for me than it is for you.”
The next morning under the dawn twilight Simba nuzzled his mother awake. As the red sunrise peered over the horizon they began a long walk together. Sarabi shared many childhood memories with Simba that morning, memories that included Ahadi, Akase, Mufasa and especially Taka. She told of things that left Taka unhappy and desperate, and speculated on what made him into what he became. Simba spoke sardonically about the “Uncle Scar” he though he knew as a cub.
They both shared many feelings of anger and frustration. For both of them it was losing Mufasa, a loving husband and father. For Simba it was the childhood and the education he missed while living away from the pride, and nearly being destroyed from inside by guilt for something that wasn’t his fault. For Sarabi it was leading the lionesses and holding them together as they watched the Pride Lands slowly being destroyed. And for both of them it was the seemingly insurmountable task of restoring the Pride Lands to their former glory.
There were many more things they discussed, many more feelings they vented that day, and they unleashed their anger at Scar as much as they had to until they felt that most of the anger was no longer inside them. Sarabi and Simba looked at each other, drained, and then looked skyward.
“Scar, I forgive you,” intoned Simba.
“Taka, I forgive you,” Sarabi echoed.
Together they walked back to Pride Rock and rejoined the rest of the pride.
With the afternoon sun still bearing down, they gathered everyone in the shade of Pride Rock and explained to everyone what they had done, keeping the more private moments to themselves. Simba then invited everyone else to air their feelings about Scar. “If Sarabi and I were able to do it,” he told them, “the rest of you can do it too.”
Thabiti spoke of long and exhausting hunts. Zazu talked of being bored and feeling useless while spending most of his days confined to a cage. Mshairi described her dream of living in the beautiful place her father described where he had grown up, and seeing that dream destroyed. Sarafina lamented her inability to visit friends outside the Pride Lands, and of finding out that Mwongozi, the best of those friends and Nala’s father, had died. Akili and Taraja both spoke of the death of Hadhari and how it affected each of them in different ways. Rafiki discussed the quandary he was often in when he felt he couldn’t help Scar and the hyenas but had to help the lionesses. Nala talked of living in fear of the hyenas, of growing up in a place that where she gave more and more for less and less, and of her apprehension at breaking the rules to save the Pride Lands. Even Timon and Pumbaa described the lion who grew up with them that never really seemed happy even when he was having fun. Many of them echoed their versions of things mentioned by others. And all who remembered Mufasa expressed their own sadness at his death.
When everyone had spoken their minds, Simba made a closing remark. “We’ve all been through a lot of things and we should never forget our past, but we must look forward and keep our eyes on the future. We have to stop thinking about what might have been and think instead about what’s going to be.”
After they dispersed, Simba was resting in the shade of Pride Rock when Nala came to lay beside him. She nuzzled him, and lay down alongside him.
“Sometimes it’s not easy being king,” he sighed.
Nala licked him gently. “I know,” she whispered.
Simba slept late the next day and was awoken by Zazu, who could barely contain his excitement. “Sire, that herd of wildebeest and zebra that disappeared… they’ve returned, and they’re in the Pride Lands!”
Chapter 18. Mwongozi’s Legacy
The problems Simba had encountered in restoring the Pride Lands had merely been a brief period of greater than usual setbacks, and within a few days the Pride Lands were again showing signs of improvement.
After they left the Pride Lands, the hyenas did much of their roaming in the region north of the elephant graveyard. At first this area often had more prey for the hyenas than the Pride Lands, so their hunting and scavenging was more fruitful. Furthermore, their hunting outside the Pride Lands had the effect of driving some of the herds into the Pride Lands, so the lions of Pride Rock also benefitted.
The way the Circle of Life worked, things usually took care of themselves if left alone. But after months of near-starvation the lions were anxious to do all they could to make the Pride Lands a more livable place where game was more plentiful and easier to find. Thus Simba, with the help of Rafiki and the rest of the pride, would sometimes find ways to help things along a little bit. Two or three lionesses might venture outside the Pride Lands into areas unclaimed by any pride, and upon finding a herd would try to drive it back toward the Pride Lands. Sometimes it worked. Other times they either couldn’t get the herd to move toward the Pride Lands or the herd didn’t stay once they got there. Often the lionesses got a good meal, and sometimes the herd got a better home. Slowly but surely, the herds were returning.
A few chance encounters during these excursions, in addition to trips made for that purpose, brought them back in touch with lions from neighboring prides and coalitions. Most of them had not heard much from the Pride Lands due to Scar’s isolationist policy and were glad to hear that the son of Mufasa was alive and was now king. Sarabi, Sarafina, Thabiti, and even Akili and Mshairi were glad to see old friends, while Taraja and Nala, who had grown up in the Pride Lands and hadn’t been old enough to have met many lions outside the pride before Scar’s reign, were happy to cultivate new friendships. Without hyenas prowling around to turn them away, Pride Rock began to receive visitors on a regular basis.
Since their conversation with Mshairi about responsibility, Timon and Pumbaa became more serious about trying to help out. Zazu remained the primary assistant, while Timon and Pumbaa assumed some of the secondary roles. Warthogs are members of the swine family, making them one of the more intelligent prey animals, so Pumbaa became the liaison between them and the king. Timon became the representative of the small predators - the viverrids, mustelids and procyonids of the Pride Lands. Often they didn’t have much to do, and many of the animal leaders would still approach Zazu or Simba himself to discuss their concerns. But they were able to help enough to take some of the workload off Zazu, making his life easier.
Simba’s ear healed without further incident, leaving it with three hairless streaks and a permanent notch.
“Hyenas! In the Pride Lands!” It was the first time Simba had heard those words as king, and now it was his job to do something about it. He crested the hill and looked down upon them. There were six hyenas crowded around what was left of a wildebeest kill, trying to pull parts of it off to hide in a cache somewhere. They all stopped when they saw Simba approaching. Shenzi was among them, and she stepped forward as the others backed away from the kill.
“What’s going on here?” demanded Simba.
“Eating from this wildebeest,” Zazu informed him.
“Whose kill is it?” Simba inquired of Shenzi.
“It was abandoned when we found it,” she replied.
“Three of the lionesses hunted him down earlier,” added Zazu.
Simba looked at the remains of the carcass and noted its size. “Looks like they had quite a feast. Did they leave on their own?”
“They were gone when we found it.” Shenzi replied.
“I don’t see a problem here. C’mon, Zazu, let’s go.” Simba turned to walk away.
“But sire,” Zazu protested. “They’re on our land! Aren’t you going to do something about it?”
“Zazu,” Simba explained as they walked off. “Hyenas have needs just like us, and they have their place in the Circle of Life. We have to remember that if we don’t want to find ourselves in another situation like my father did.” His voice trailed off.
Shenzi smiled inwardly. They were finally getting some payoff from the apology.
Many things happened in the coming weeks and months. The rains came on a regular basis, helping the plants flourish. The ash from the fires provided nutrients to the soil, giving the new plants something to thrive on, and before long it was difficult to tell where the fires had been.
Rafiki put his mysterious skills to good use in bringing life back to the Pride Lands. He relished being able to help out as much as he was capable of so that the Pride Lands could thrive, instead of doing only what was necessary for the sake of the lionesses.
Upon hearing Simba’s story of his exile and return, he came to understand the new king better, to see how his past had shaped him and what kind of ruler he would be. Rafiki looked at his gorge painting one more time, and decided what was needed to complete it. It had the path leading out of the gorge, then to the overlook where he’d wanted the path to go in the first place. On the overlook, a place for one who had met the challenge of the gorge, he drew the figure of a lion, and anointed the lion’s brow. “Simba!”
As he finished up, a sound he hadn’t heard in a while met his ears. “Chitik, chitik, chitik.” Rafiki looked up and saw a honey guide perched on a nearby limb of his baobab, looking at him expectantly. “Chitik, chitik.”
Rafiki set down his paints and looked up at the bird. “Ahh, you want me to follow, eh?” He grabbed his staff and scrambled down out of the tree as the bird flew off. He followed the honey guide, who stopped and chattered back at him a few times, until they came to a beehive hidden in a bush. Rafiki probed at it with the staff, and exposed the interior of the hive. The honey guide dove in and began feasting on bees and other parts of the hive. Meanwhile, Rafiki spotted a vine of tsama melons on the ground and picked a ripe one. He split it open, held it under the beehive to catch the dripping sweet honey, and consumed it voraciously. As the bird continued his private feast, Rafiki ate until he could hold no more. He filled a gourd with honey, collected two more melons, and returned to his tree, feeling very satisfied. The bees would repair the hive when the honey guide left, and Rafiki would return many times to fetch more honey with minimal disturbance to the bees.
Simba was resting on Pride Rock one day when he saw a leopard approach. “Greetings, Simba. I am Nguvu, and I’m here to notify you that my wife and I have returned to live in the Pride Lands, if you will allow us to reclaim our former home.”
“You’ve lived here before?” asked Simba.
“Yes, back when Mufasa was king,” Nguvu replied. “It used to be such a nice place then, but after Scar took over I couldn’t tolerate it anymore.”
“Mufasa was my father, and Scar was my uncle,” Simba explained.
Nguvu looked at him apologetically. “I hope I didn’t offend you, I mean, him being your uncle and all…”
“Offend me? Hardly!” Simba chuckled. “I had to challenge him to regain Pride Rock, and now I’m cleaning up the mess he left the place in. It’s a long story.”
“Some other day perhaps.”
“Anyway, I hope to have things looking more like they did under my father before long.”
“Well, I must say, Pride Rock looks much better without all those lawn decorations,” Nguvu observed.
“Hyenas. They got in the way when we’d go hunting, and they ate too much. They’re one of the reasons I got fed up, took my family and left.”
“I had to send them back to the elephant graveyard. Now I’m trying to keep up a bit of dialogue with them. But you can help us chase them off if they start causing problems.”
“I think I’d enjoy that,” Nguvu grinned.
“So where is your family?” Simba asked.
“My wife is here, out wandering the savannah. My children grew up and they wanted to stay in the jungle where we’ve been for the last two-odd years, but the two of us are happy to be back.”
“You’re welcome to stay if you don’t mind a few rules,” Simba told him, and went on to tell him what they were.
“No warthogs or meerkats,” Nguvu mused. “I guess we can live with that.”
“One other thing. Mtaalamu of the Foothills Coalition sends his greetings to Pride Rock.”
“Thanks. I’ll pass it along to the pride.”
“See you around.”
When the lionesses returned from the days hunt, Simba shared the greeting with them. Sarafina was especially interested in any news from the coalition, so she went looking for Nguvu to find out what else he knew. She found him resting on the limb of one of his favorite trees. “Hi, are you Nguvu?”
“At your service,” he replied.
“You mentioned the Foothills Coalition to Simba. We haven’t heard anything from them in a long time. What can you tell me about them?”
“My family and I met them the day after we left the Pride Lands. Their leader at the time was Mwongozi. He seemed interested in any news we could give him about the lionesses here, one in particular. But the only one I knew by name was Sarabi, and she wasn’t the one he was wondering about.” Nguvu regarded her for a moment. “I suppose it was you?”
Sarafina smiled. “Probably.”
“My family and I moved on and made a home in the jungle by the great river to the north. Then a few moons ago, the coalition came to live in our jungle. Only temporarily, they said, but the drought had gotten so bad where they lived they had to leave. Mwongozi wasn’t with them - they said he had died just as they had to make the trip. Mtaalamu is their leader now.”
Sarafina let out a sigh and lowered her head at the first confirmation from among the living of the death of her friend. “Did they say how he died?”
“He was injured in a hunting accident of some sort. Got sick from it and never recovered.”
“Who else is in the coalition now?”
“Besides Mtaalamu, two others, names are Amani and Wema.”
Sarafina thought back. “What about Ubora?” she asked.
“No - don’t recall them mentioning a Ubora.”
“Hmmm, I wonder what happened to him,” Sarafina thought aloud. “Anyway, where is the coalition now?”
“They’re back at their home in the foothills now. We just saw them yesterday, and they’re doing fine. They just returned and were getting settled back in their home.”
“Glad to hear it. Thank you VERY much for the news.”
Nguvu looked at her sympathetically. “You’re welcome. I’m sorry about Mwongozi. He was a good friend to us at a time of need.” As he watched Sarafina and saw her sadness, the leopard who once said in anger that he pitied the lionesses discovered that he really did.
Simba and the lionesses were assembled for one of their regular pride meetings. After conversing about such issues as the results of recent hunts, they talked about how well the Pride Lands were recovering. “You’ve all worked very hard for this and its really paying off. Some things will take a long time to recover, but in other ways it is already better than it was before. Soon it will be as nice as we remember it when my father was king.” Simba paused to look over their faces before continuing. “Nala and I have talked about it and decided the time has almost come for us to continue the Circle of Life. One day the Pride Lands will need a new king, and we need to prepare for that day.”
There was a lot of commotion among the lionesses about the announcement. The mothers of Simba and Nala were excited, and congratulated them warmly, but some of the other lionesses had mixed feelings, which they kept it to themselves during the meeting. Afterwards they got together to discuss it.
Simba was lying near the tip of the promontory looking out over the Pride Lands, oblivious to the disenchantment that his announcement had brought on. On a rock off to one side rested Nala. Taraja approached her rather apprehensively. “Nala, we need to talk.”
It is one of those peculiarities of nature that when females live together in close company, sometimes their bodies end up on the same biological cycles. Nala was getting her chance to continue the Circle of Life, but what about the others? Taraja spoke for Akili and Mshairi as well as herself, and when they were finished, Nala looked up at Simba, who was still blissfully unaware of the situation she was presently faced with. Now it was her turn to have mixed feelings. Simba was her king, her mate, her betrothed as a cub. She had gone on a quest, rediscovered him, and in a sense rescued him from his own despair. But was she just being selfish? There was also the future of the pride to think about. Sure, she could probably talk to Simba about it, but then Nala recalled some of her lessons about leading the lionesses, about taking some of the responsibility, and decided that this was something she should handle on her own.
Mwongozi’s words came back to her. “Think of me and I might be able to help.” What did that mean? Was there some way he could help in this situation?
Then again, she thought, perhaps what she really needed was a little advice. “Mom?”
“Yes, Nala. What’s the matter?” Sarafina replied.
“I’ve got a problem…”
“You’re the queen now. It comes with the territory,” Sarafina pointed out wryly.
“Yeah, I know,” sighed Nala. “But isn’t it okay to ask for advice?”
“Why of course.”
“The pride could use more cubs than just Simba’s and mine, but…” Nala hesitated.
“I think I see where you’re headed,” Sarafina observed. “For one thing, if you’re hoping for any of these other cubs to be married to yours someday, it would be better if they weren’t too closely related.”
“Good point.” So I’m not just being selfish, thought Nala. “But what SHOULD we do?”
“How did it happen for you? I mean, how did you have me?”
“Mufasa encouraged me to go visit Mwongozi,” Sarafina recalled.
“He had Thabiti come with me, and Kilinge went to see a long time friend of hers.”
Ah, Mwongozi again! “Can you tell me a little more about my father? I mean, like, how did you two get together?”
Sarafina smiled as she began to recall her younger days. “Mwongozi and I were friends as cubs. He was about a year older than me, and we didn’t even belong to the same pride, but the prides in that area lived closer together, and sometimes the cubs from the different prides would sneak off and play together. That’s how Mwongozi and I met.
“When Mwongozi came of age he couldn’t stay with his pride, and he left. He wasn’t destined to become a king in his pride and they said he acted too much like he wanted to become one. But he never wanted to be king, he just loved to learn all he could and become the best lion he could.
“About a year later when I was a young adult my mother passed on, and without her I didn’t feel like I fit in with rest of my pride anymore, so I left. After wandering for a while, I found Pride Rock, and King Ahadi welcomed me into the pride. I fit in here real well and Sarabi and I became best friends. Eventually, though, Mwongozi came looking for me and found me here, but Ahadi wouldn’t allow any males into the pride who weren’t born into it. So he moved on and joined the coalition in the foothills of the great mountain. But we would both still travel and see each other now and then.
“Eventually, Ahadi died and Mufasa became king. I hoped that maybe Mufasa would allow him into the pride, but Mwongozi didn’t feel right about it and by then was happy where he was with the coalition, so we never even asked. We just kept in touch and remained good friends. Sometimes we were more than just friends. You’re living proof of that, Nala.
“Mwongozi also became the leader of his coalition. He was a very wise in matters of leadership. He believed in sharing all his knowledge with those he led and in encouraging them to share their knowledge with him. He believed in making them self-reliant, that is, in teaching those he led not to be followers, but to be leaders themselves. They say that any lion who spent some time with Mwongozi could lead a coalition. Or a pride, for that matter. He would have been a great king, if only he’d had the birthright.
“We were never able to see each other after Scar became king. I had hoped to get a chance to visit him again, but it’s too late now. When you said you were going to go looking for help, he was the first one that came to mind. Normally he wouldn’t think of challenging a king for leadership of a pride but I thought maybe in this case we could talk him into it.”
“Then he spoke to me,” Nala recalled, “and from that we knew he was no longer alive. But he told me where to look instead for help, so even in death he was still a leader,” Nala reflected. “And look where we are now.”
“I still don’t know much about how he died. Nguvu the leopard tells me it was a hunting accident and it wasn’t too long ago.”
Nala looked down sadly. “We’ll have to find out. Did he say anything about the rest of his coalition?”
“A little bit,” Sarafina replied. “Last time we saw each other there were two other lions in the Foothills Coalition. Their names were Ubora and Mtaalamu. Nguvu tells me Mtaalamu is their leader now, but he doesn’t know anything about Ubora except that he’s not with the coalition any more. Two other lions have joined.”
“From what you’ve told me it sounds like Mtaalamu and his coalition could be good friends and allies.”
“Well, Mother, you know what my problem is. Mwongozi said to think of him and he might be able to help… well I’m thinking of him and I think I have an idea.”
“Oh, really? What’s that?”
Nala smiled at her mother. “I think you should go visit Mwongozi’s coalition so you can find out what happened to him. After what he did to help us, I think we should give his coalition a place in the future of Pride Rock.”
Sarafina was already thinking ahead to what Nala would say next “Are you suggesting I bring Mshairi, Akili and Taraja along to meet the coalition?”
Nala brightened up. “Do you think they’ll go for it? I mean, it’s just to see what happens, and if it doesn’t work out, we’ll figure out something else when you get back.”
“This is just a suggestion,” Sarafina explained. “It’s up to you whether you want to try it or not.”
“I don’t know about this,” Taraja remarked. “We’ve never met them. We don’t know what they’re like or anything.”
Mshairi cracked a slight smile at her. “I can understand your concern. You grew up here and the only three male lions you’ve really known have been Mufasa, Scar and Simba. Akili and I grew up outside the pride and both of us knew others and have seen more of the world outside the Pride Lands. I’m willing to give it a try. Do you agree, Akili?”
Akili nodded. “I think it’ll be fun to explore some new territory and meet a few new lions.”
“I’ll be along to show the way and introduce everyone,” Sarafina added. “The area where they live is real nice, too. Even if the lions weren’t there it would be worth the trip just to see the place.”
“All right. You talked me into it,” Taraja sighed. “I guess it’ll be nice to have an adventure where for once it’s not for our survival.”
“Amen to that!” Akili concurred. “When do we get started?”
Chapter 19. The Future of Pride Rock
“Those gazelles were a little hot on the hoof today, weren’t they?”
Amani glanced at Wema. “I’ll say. No easy pickings in that herd, was there?”
“Makes you wonder where they’ve been hunted before,” Mtaalamu observed.
The three lions strolled into the clearing and assumed their usual resting places. Wema was about to speak again when Mtaalamu suddenly raised a paw, signaling the others to be quiet and listen. They looked around carefully, and spied a lioness observing them from the downhill side of the clearing.
“Hello,” said the lioness.
“Hi. Who are… Sara! How are you doing?” Mtaalamu exclaimed, as the other two lions sat up to listen.
“Much better lately,” Sarafina replied. “How about you?”
Mtaalamu stood and walked over to her. “We’re doing fine - had to leave here for a while, but we’re glad to be back.” Mtaalamu’s eyes widened as three more lionesses stepped up beside her. “What have we here?”
“I hadn’t been here in a long time and I thought I’d show the place to some friends.”
“Great! We’d love to have some company. Did you hear about Mwongozi?”
“I know he’s not alive, if that’s what you mean,” she replied. “I had seen a couple of signs, and then Nguvu confirmed it a few days ago. What happened?”
“A fine leopard, that Nguvu. Mwongozi was in a hunting mishap. Impala got him with its horn. It looked like he was going to be okay, but he suddenly got worse. Then we had to leave here about that time because of the drought and he couldn’t travel - not that it would have mattered. He was still alive but in pretty bad shape when we left him. I doubt he lasted more than a day or two after that.” Mtaalamu swallowed and shook his head sadly. “Mwongozi’s last words to us were to tell you he misses you.”
“Thank you,” said Sarafina, who by now was getting tearful. When she was able to speak again, she told them, “I don’t think he knew this while he was alive, but he and I have a daughter. Her name is Nala, and she is now the queen of Pride Rock.”
The three lions exchanged looks of surprise. “Mwongozi has a daughter!?” exclaimed Amani. “How incredible!.”
“And a queen at that,” Wema chimed in.
“We shall have to meet her sometime,” Mtaalamu suggested.
“I hope so. What happened to Ubora?” Sarafina asked.
“He got sick and died shorty after your last visit. Killed and ate a diseased antelope. Since then we’ve heard of several other lions from area prides dying from the same thing about that time.”
“My mother was one of them,” said Taraja. “Her name was Njozi.
She and Kilinge, another lioness who was pregnant at the time, got sick and died. Happened rather suddenly.”
“Yeah, that sounds about how it went for Ubora.” Straightening up, Mtaalamu held a paw out toward his companions. “Ladies, this is Amani, and this is my half-brother Wema.”
Sarafina reciprocated. “This is Taraja, this is Mshairi, and over here is Akili.”
“You look tired,” Wema remarked. “How was the trip up here?”
“It was very nice,” said Sarafina.
“Kind of long, though,” Akili panted, “and the last fourth of it is uphill all the way.”
“But it sure is beautiful,” Mshairi added. “I like these forests.”
“The coalition has lived here most of the time since long before any of us, or even Mwongozi, were members,” Mtaalamu explained. “All the area prides prefer savannah, so they let us have this territory. Hunting here is different. It takes some adjustment if you’re used to open savannah, like all of us were before we joined the coalition. But once you adapt it’s just about as good. Ever had goat?”
Sarafina nodded. The other three lionesses looked at each other and shook their heads.
Wema smiled wryly. “We’ll have to take these ladies up the mountain and show them what they’ve been missing,” he remarked to his companions. “You’re in for a real treat,” he told the lionesses.
“Uphill? Even further?” gasped Akili to no one in particular.
“Not used to the hills, eh,” chuckled Wema. “We’ll wait ‘til tomorrow.”
“How about we show you some of the nice views here,” Amani suggested.
A few minutes later they all enjoyed a beautiful sunset from one of the many overlooks on the western foothills of the mountain.
The next morning the lionesses were well rested and ready to try going further up the mountain to do their hunting. Mtaalamu and Wema carefully stalked toward the ridges of the talus slopes, as Amani and Sarafina coached the other lionesses on how to hunt in this terrain. Eventually they got two goats, and Mshairi, Akili and Taraja got to feast on this animal they’d never had before.
Nala found herself more attracted to Simba than she had ever been. Though she loved him deeply, she would normally think nothing of leaving him for most of a day to go hunt. But now it was difficult to tear herself away from him even long enough to go to the waterhole for a drink. Luckily for her Simba needed to drink too sometimes.
As for Simba, ordinarily he might regard this much attention from his mate as being overbearing. But she seemed more attractive to him than usual, especially her scent! It made her all the more alluring, intoxicating, irresistible.
Nala walked up alongside Simba and rubbed the length of her body against his, curling her tail over him and nudging his head with her hindquarters as she completed the pass. She turned and rolled over on her back, exposing her belly to him.
Simba looked over at her and smiled. “Do you know what it does to me when you do that?” He padded over to her, intending to nuzzle the underside of her chin.
Nala batted at him playfully with her paws, then rolled over away from him onto her feet. “Come and get me,” she challenged him.
Her tactics initially startled him, but her teasing only made her all the more desirable to him. “Just wait till I catch you!”
She would let him catch her soon enough. He was putty in her paws.
The seven of them wandered about the foothills, playing, socializing, and enjoying each other’s company. They were having the best time any of them had had in a long time - all of them, that is, except Sarafina. For her it was hard to hold back the flood of memories of one of the best friends a lioness could hope for, and it was all the more difficult for her since she was trying to allow the other three lionesses a chance to develop closer friendships with the lions. But the lions refused to allow one who had been such a close friend to Mwongozi to remain on the sidelines, and insisted on including her in their activities.
“I couldn’t have wished for a better friend than Mwongozi,” Amani told them. “The pride I grew up in was the only life I’d known, and when I got kicked out, I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself. For two days I wandered about, not knowing where I was going, when I met Mwongozi and Mtaalamu. But they welcomed me, and with their help I soon felt like life was worth living again. I’m very happy with my life here.”
“We needed someone new after Ubora died,” said Mtaalamu. “Funny how things work out that way. Then hardly a moon later we got someone else new.”
Wema smiled. “Yeah, well I didn’t wait to get kicked out of our pride. Mtaalamu had been my big brother, so I came looking for him as soon as I was old enough. When I found him I was surprised at how much he’d changed in a year, and I soon found out why. Do you know what impressed me the most about Mwongozi?”
“What?” asked Sarafina.
“As much older and wiser as he was, he listened to me to see if he could learn anything new from me.”
“In your case I’m not sure what that would be,” Amani joked.
Everyone laughed. “I think you showed him how much a good sense of humor helps in solving problems,” Mtaalamu offered.
Amani took a deep breath. “He spoke sometimes of friends he had. You were the one he mentioned most often, and I’m glad I finally get to meet you.”
Sarafina was smiling and crying tears of joy. She looked over the three lions, all of whom she admired. Mtaalamu, who had still been a bit immature last time she visited, now showed all the best leadership qualities she had admired so much in Mwongozi. For that matter, so did the other two. Indeed, Mwongozi had taught them well. But this was the first time she’d been here without him, and it was too much for her. “Thank you. You guys make me feel very special. But I’ve decided to return to Pride Rock in the morning.” She turned to the other three lionesses. “You’re welcome to stay as long as these guys can handle you. You don’t need me around to show you how to have a good time.”
The group fell silent. After a long pause, Wema finally spoke up. “Sara, we’ve really enjoyed your company. Mwongozi was lucky to have known you, and I can see you miss him as much as we do, if not more.”
That night Sarafina slept in the spot where she and Mwongozi had slept beside each other on her previous visits. It was the first time anyone had slept there since his death. As she slept, she felt herself drawn mysteriously into another realm, and once she felt herself settled into it, she found herself in the same place, but Mwongozi was now lying beside her.
He roused himself, then turned and looked deeply and longingly into her eyes. “Sarafina, I’m happy you and Nala thought of the coalition and came back to see us, even though I’m not around.”
Sarafina nodded. “It was your idea. You told her to think of you when she had a problem.”
“Well, yeah, but beyond that I didn’t intervene. Sometimes it just works out that way.”
“Mwongozi, it’s just not the same here without you.”
“But I have been here with you.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Okay, I see your point.” He rubbed his head against her neck and she did the same. “So how have you been?”
“Much better since we got a new king and queen in the Pride Lands.”
“I’m very proud of Nala and what she did. You brought her up well. I wish I had been there to help out more.”
“Thank you. The other lionesses helped, including the three who are with me.”
“Indeed they did, and they seem to be doing well with the coalition. Thank you for thinking of us.”
“It was partly Nala’s idea.”
“She’s real sharp.”
“I think she gets it from you. She loves to learn, and sometimes she can be stubbornly independent.”
“You mean like when she took it upon herself to save the pride?” “She couldn’t have known she’d be looking in the wrong place. So I helped her out a little bit.”
“Our pride thanks you for steering her in the right direction,” said Sarafina. “I hate to think what would have happened if she had come looking here and not found anyone.” She licked the side of his muzzle affectionately.
“She is a queen indeed,” Mwongozi added. “As for you, Sarafina, you’re still as beautiful as ever, and your life is not over yet. There are challenges and opportunities still ahead for you. Believe in yourself, and think of me if you need hope.”
“I do, or at least I try to,” Sarafina replied.
He put his paw over her shoulder, and they lay together quietly, listening to each other’s breathing. All too soon, it seemed, their time together was coming to an end.
The radiant feeling came again, transporting her back to the real world and leaving her in a daze. Sarafina awoke to find an empty space where Mwongozi had been, and the six other lions and lionesses sleeping nearby. Though she felt alone, she could look at the others now and feel the hope. Mtaalamu had a paw over Akili’s shoulder, Mshairi’s head was buried in Wema’s mane, and Taraja’s head was between Amani’s forepaws. She could hear purring from more than one of them, but she wasn’t sure who. None of them were awake.
Later that morning after everyone was up and Sarafina was about to leave, she looked around once again at the group. They were paired the same way she had seen them sleeping - Taraja with Amani, Akili with Mtaalamu, and Mshairi with Wema. She thought about Mwongozi again. Her life had been much better because of him than it would have been without him, and they had a daughter who was queen of Pride Rock. Even now without him, her life was better than it would have been had she never known him. Because of him and her, Pride Rock had the friendship of the coalition which he had led and instructed, and the lionesses who had had too little companionship for too long would be able to carry on the friendship. Pride Rock would have a future. Yes, there was hope.
“It was good to see you again,” she told Mtaalamu, “and nice to meet you,” she said to the other two lions. “I’ll see you in a few days,” she said to the lionesses.
“It was nice seeing you, and thanks for introducing your friends to us,” said Amani. The other two lions nodded in agreement.
“Please say hello to Simba and Nala for us,” said Mtaalamu.
The late afternoon breeze helped cool down a warm day. Akili and Mtaalamu found the others lying in the shade of the canopy exchanging small talk. Wema was telling another one of his tall tales, as Taraja lay beside Amani with her head nestled in his mane. Taraja stood up, and she and Akili walked off together.
After they were out of earshot, Mtaalamu said to the others, “You won’t believe what just happened.”
“What’s that?” Amani asked.
“We were looking for something small to eat, and at one point I was about to go looking in one of the ravines where we usually find something. I figure I know this area pretty well, but she says no, let’s try this way. So we made a bet who would find something first and split up.”
Mshairi turned her head discreetly and laughed. She knew what was coming.
“I looked, but nobody was home today, so I went back looking for her, and she’s carrying a rabbit in her mouth.” Mtaalamu noticed Mshairi smiling and asked her, “Does this sort of thing happen often?”
“You have no idea!” Mshairi replied. “We’ve had to leave her home sometimes just to convince ourselves we can still hunt. I’ll tell you what, though,” she continued. “We might have all starved if it hadn’t been for Akili and that nose of hers.”
“Are you having a good time here?” Taraja inquired.
“Yes, I’m having a lot of fun. Aren’t you glad we came?”
“So I was a little skeptical,” she admitted.
Akili smiled. “I really like this place, and the guys who live here.” She paused, then added, “especially Mtaalamu.”
“You two seem right for each other.”
“And what about you and Amani?” Akili countered.
Taraja stared dreamily off into space.
“Well, you’re just about as bad,” Taraja countered.
Akili let out a sigh. “Yes, I suppose I am.”
Moments later they were back with the rest of the group. Mtaalamu greeted Akili warmly with a head rub, which he continued halfway down her body. He turned and they lay down together.
Taraja noticed Mshairi and Wema doing some strange acrobatics with their tails. “‘Shar, what are you two doing?”
Mshairi glanced at her rump, then looked up. “Earlier we saw some monkeys sitting next to each other twisting their tails, so we thought we’d try it. So far it’s not working too good.”
“Hey, maybe we’ll get them tied in a knot,” said Wema. “Then she’ll have to stay here with us.”
Taraja lay down beside Amani, her body up against him, and rested her head in his mane. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and let his scent wash over her. When she opened them, she noticed Mshairi staring straight at her, her face similarly nestled in Wema’s mane. Mshairi gave her a knowing smile, then closed her eyes and inhaled.
“Mom, you’re back early,” Nala exclaimed when she saw Sarafina approaching Pride Rock. “Where are the others?”
“I don’t think we’ll see them for a few days,” Sarafina told her. “It looks like your idea worked.”
After rounding up Simba, Sarabi and Thabiti, Sarafina told them how things had been going so far when she left, of what had happened to Mwongozi and Ubora, and what the Foothills Coalition had been doing for the last four years.
Thabiti was saddened to hear of the death of Ubora. He was one of several lions she had mated with in her futile attempts to bear cubs when she was younger. Eventually she accepted the fact that her body didn’t seem able to produce cubs, but she still loved each of her mates in a different way.
Later, when Sarabi and Sarafina were alone, Sarafina confided, “I think I understand a little better what it was like when you went to the gorge to visit Mufasa. I had a similar experience.” She went on to describe the dream she shared with Mwongozi the night before.
Sarabi listened and gave her a smile of recognition. “We move on with our lives,” she philosophized, “but we never forget our friends and loved ones.”
Akili stared off into space and talked about her life. “For a long time I wasn’t sure how I’d fit into the pride. Helping with Taraja made me feel better, but she finished growing up quickly. Too quickly, it seemed. I did my share of the hunting of course, but I never thought of myself as a great hunter, certainly not a hunt leader. But I seem to have this strange ability to scent game from a lot further away than anyone else, and next thing I know everyone’s counting on me to find the day’s catch. Suddenly I’m leading something I never thought I’d be leading. It’s nice to be important, but then what happens when you fail, when your best isn’t good enough?”
Mtaalamu looked empathetically at the slender lioness. “I never imagined anyone besides Mwongozi leading the coalition either. Then he was gone and now I’m the one in charge.”
“How has it been?”
“So far it’s been easy. All three of us lived with him for a long time and any of us could lead now. Amani and Wema don’t need leadership now any more than I do. What will be interesting is to see what happens when someone new joins the coalition.”
“You mean like Amani the way he described himself when he joined?”
“Amani? He wasn’t hard to reach. We had one lion try to join back before Ubora died. He proved too conceited and intractable, more
interested in trying to change us than trying to change himself. We
sent him on his way soon enough, and good luck to him.”
“I’m sure you’ll do great when you get someone new.”
He was a large and powerful lion, and it made him all the more attractive to her that he was willing to share his feelings, his joy and his pain with her. “Do you know what it’s like when you have to leave the only family you’ve known and try to make it on your own? Everything you’re used to, taken away from you.”
Taraja nuzzled him affectionately. “I lost my mother. She was only trying to help a pregnant lioness, and they both get sick and die.”
Amani looked at her admiringly. “I think your mother would be proud of who you’ve become.”
“Did you know my mother?”
“No, but I remember hearing about two lionesses from Pride Rock dying suddenly. Some of the others in my pride knew them and were shocked. That was shortly before I got kicked out of Savannah Ridge.”
“Do you still miss your family?”
“Of course. I think about them a lot.” He let out a heavy sigh. “I wonder if I’ll ever see any of them again.”
“Mtaalamu doesn’t like to talk about it, but he got about the most brutal sendoff I’ve ever heard of a lion getting when he comes of age, and from our father no less. He was a good father to the sons of his queen and to all of his daughters, but he had no qualms about disowning his sons by the other lionesses. Mtaalamu is real smart. I think our father was afraid he was too smart. I wanted to leave right then and there and come with him, but I was too young. About a year later I could see the signs that my turn was coming, so I didn’t wait around for it to happen. I said goodbye and left.”
Mshairi looked at Wema curiously. “Any idea why Mtaalamu doesn’t seem as affected by his ordeal as Amani was by his?”
“Part of it is their personalities, but their situations were different, too. Mtaalamu knew for a long time it would happen sooner or later, and our father was just plain power hungry, even if he was more violent with Mtaalamu about it than he had to be. Amani thought he was in good standing one day and on his own the next day for deeper reasons, but his sendoff wasn’t violent. Sometimes the emotional scars last a lot longer than the physical ones.”
Simba and Nala could not ignore all of their responsibilities as king and queen, but many of them could wait. They still hunted and ate and sometimes slept with the other lionesses, but other than that they spent most of their time alone together.
Simba was returning from a morning walk with Zazu, Timon and Pumbaa, who had already gone off to do other things. “Good morning, Nala,”
“Beautiful day,” she said, as they rubbed up against each other. Nala gave him a gentle bite behind one ear.
“Mmmm, be careful or someone might see you,” he purred.
“Thabiti and our mothers are in the southern part of the Pride Lands,” she whispered. “We’ve got the whole rock to ourselves for a while.” Nala gave him a sly look.
“Still think you can pin me?” challenged Simba.
“Probably,” Nala replied as she turned to pounce on him.
It didn’t take long for them to forget about seeing who could pin who.
Wema and Mshairi sat down for a rest after their walk. “Ah, to be young again…” Wema reminisced. “Did you know I used to be a cub?”
Mshairi batted at him playfully. “You nut!”
“We’re the youngest pair here.”
“Not quite. Taraja’s younger than me.”
“Well you look the youngest.”
“You mean because of my spots?”
Wema turned and gazed at her. “Mshairi, I love you. I love your stories. And I love your spots.”
Mshairi smiled bashfully. “I like your stories too. Even the silly ones.”
“Did I tell you the one about…”
She grabbed his ear with her mouth and tugged gently. “Wema.”
“Tell me later.”
Amani and Taraja finished off a small kill they had made together, and licked each other’s faces clean, as was the custom among lions who feed together. Amani continued cleaning the rest of her face, first around the eyes, then behind her ears, before moving on to her neck.
“You don’t need to clean me there,” Taraja purred.
“Do you want me to stop?” he asked between licks.
“No, I’m enjoying it.” As Amani continued down her shoulders, Taraja began to giggle and squirm.
“I feel like I’m melting from the inside.”
Mtaalamu and Akili looked up at the night skies. “Aren’t the stars beautiful tonight?” she asked.
“Very. Couldn’t you just sit here and look at them all night?”
“Yes.” She rubbed her head along the side of his neck and purred. For a long time they sat there quietly gazing at the stars.
After sitting this way for too long, Akili finally became impatient and broke the silence. “Well, what now?”
“I thought we were going to gaze at the stars all night,” he replied nonchalantly.
Akili shot him a piercing glance, then stood and took a few steps away. Suddenly she turned and leapt upon him. They tussled briefly, with her ending up on top. She glared down at him with fierce determination. “Forget the stars!”
Mtaalamu smiled at her mischievously. “I was wondering how long it would take you.”
And the full moon, the bright circle in the sky, shed its warming glow down upon all of them.
Chapter 20. Menagerie
The rains had fallen upon them shortly before. The sun had since come back out but the grass was still wet. Simba crept slowly and carefully along, keeping his head below the top of the grass. His medium brown mane made it more difficult for him to hide in the grass than the lionesses, whose tawny coats hid them almost perfectly, but he could blend in quite well if there were rocks or bushes around. His fur was wet from absorbing countless drops of water from the grass he brushed against, and it made him cold, but he fought the urge to shake it out since doing so would betray is presence to the herd they were stalking. The moisture made this both easier and harder. Easier because the dampness muffled the sounds of their steps, and harder because the humid air carried more of what sound they did make.
Though he’d hunted alone many times, he was still learning the dynamics and the signals of hunting in a group. Thabiti was at his side, coaching him in whispers and silent signals, and they were stalking a small herd of springbok antelope. They had wandered quite some distance before locating this herd, but Thabiti was proud of herself that she could still do it without Akili’s help. The herd was still some distance off and they would need to stalk closer before charging.
Suddenly, one of the springbok began pronking, then another. This is their way of signaling to each other that danger is in the area. “Did you just do something?” whispered Thabiti.
“I don’t think so.”
“I didn’t think so either, but something just alerted them.”
“Yeah, I can see that.”
The herd began shuffling nervously away from them. “We’ll have to go for it now,” muttered Thabiti, and with that, she sprang from the grass and charged the springbok. Simba quickly followed, just behind her and on her left. The herd bolted.
As the two of them charged, they noticed a third lioness on Thabiti’s right, one who was not from their pride. As they closed the gap on the herd, Simba was running over in his mind how he would address the outsider. They had wandered a long distance before finding this herd, and he knew they were near, possibly even outside the boundary of the Pride Lands. Having reminded himself of this, his thoughts returned to the present, and the hunt.
They were closing the gap on the slowest of the herd. But they had charged from a much greater distance than they liked, and were tiring from the long chase and now were just keeping pace with the slowest one, who was still out of reach. Suddenly, another lion, an adolescent, drew up between Thabiti and the other lioness and soon passed them. Seconds later he caught up with the straggler of the herd and leapt on his back. He struggled to find a hold on the animal’s hindquarters with his jaws as he dug into either side of it with his claws. The springbok kicked and bucked, managing to shed his attacker who fell to the ground and rolled over. By then, however, he had been slowed down enough for Thabiti and the other lioness to catch up. Thabiti leapt on his back and clamped her jaws down on his spine while the other lioness latched onto him from the other side. The springbok went down.
The other lioness looked up. “Thabiti? Long time, no see!”
“Hey, Jamala. What’s up? Have you met Simba?”
Simba looked upon Jamala, who had red eyes and a slight figure, and the patches of skin that showed around her eyes and mouth that were black on most lions were mottled with tan splotches. “Pleased to meet you.” As the other lion joined them, Simba recognized him, though his mane had grown since they’d met before. “How are you doing, Wepesi?”
“Great,” Wepesi replied. “How’d I do?” he asked his mother.
“You need to work more on stalking,” Jamala chided. “They heard you much too soon.”
“But that was a nice try grounding him,” Thabiti added. “I don’t think we’d have caught him if it wasn’t for you. Where’d you learn to run like that!?”
“I don’t know,” said Jamala, as her son smiled proudly. “He’s already the fastest in the pride, and he’s not even full grown yet.”
Simba surveyed the area, then looked back at Jamala. “Whose territory are we in, anyway?”
“How about we share this one and not worry about it?” Jamala offered.
“Sounds good to me. In case we’re in your territory…” Simba bowed his head to her. “To Jamala, queen of Savannah Ridge, I appreciate your hospitality.”
She returned the gesture. “To Simba, king of Pride Rock, I appreciate yours. So tell me something, Simba. Why is the king out hunting.”
“Well,” Simba began, “I’ve had to help with a lot of things lately. Four of our lionesses, including Nala, are expecting.”
“Congratulations,” said Wepesi.
As they shared the antelope they continued to make small talk about what was going on in their prides. When they finished, they left to return to their respective homes.
“One thing, Simba…” Thabiti remarked after they were alone
“We were on their territory.”
“Oh? Do you think she knew that?”
“I think so.”
“I guess I’ll have to have Zazu show me the boundaries again.”
“You know, Timon,” said Pumbaa, “Simba’s been keeping us busier lately.”
“Yeah, a little, but nothing I can’t handle. He’s been pretty busy himself, but he’s been real happy.”
“I think he’s excited about Nala’s, errr… motherly way.”
“Yep, and the others too.” Timon rolled his eyes. “Children, oy!”
Later that evening when they were with Simba, Timon asked him, “Hey Simba, do you think you’d ever want to go back to the way we were?”
“No,” he replied immediately. “I wouldn’t trade this for anything. This is where I belong now.”
“Okay,” said Timon.
“But you know what, guys,” Simba suggested, “someday we’ll go back to the jungle for a little while and have fun like we used to. You know, as a sort of vacation.”
“Yeah, I think I’d like that,” said Pumbaa.
“In the meantime,” Simba continued, “would you be interested in cubsitting?”
Timon looked at him incredulously. “You want us to do WHAT?”
“Hey, I was still a cub when we met and you did okay with me,” Simba pointed out.
“Yeah okay, no problem,” said Timon, “as long as they’re easier than the hyenas.”
“They should be,” Simba replied. “Then again, some of them might be like I was.”
“Like I said, no problem,” Timon asserted.
Pumbaa wasn’t so sure.
The big day came first for Taraja. She gave birth to three cubs, all female. Two days later, Nala gave birth to a son, the next king. Three days after that, Akili had a son and a daughter, and the following day, Mshairi added three more cubs to the menagerie, two males and a female, bringing the total to nine.
Simba and Nala had to decide who would be betrothed to their cub, to be the next queen. They consulted with both of their mothers, but found it difficult to choose any over the others. With Thabiti’s input, they finally broke the deadlock. In honor of Akili’s role in the survival of the pride during the darker days of Scar’s rule, her daughter was chosen.
On the day Mshairi’s cubs were born, Simba announced that their son was to be named Tanabi and his presentation would be seven days later. Zazu took charge of spreading the word of the presentation to all the creatures of the Pride Lands, big and small, predators and prey, and even to many who lived beyond their borders.
The day of the presentation arrived. For all they had done for Simba, especially before his return to Pride Rock, and for assisting Zazu in spreading the word on the presentation, Timon and Pumbaa were invited to stand alongside them during the ceremony.
As he had done for Simba’s presentation, Rafiki came forward between the ranks of the animals, ascended Pride Rock, and greeted Simba and Nala. As he adorned Tanabi with a ceremonial crown using juice from a gourd and some dust, he incanted, “I christen thee Tanabi, crown prince of Pride Rock.” Then he lifted the cub, carried him to the end of the promontory, and held him up for all the kingdom to see. All the animals cheered and bowed down to the new prince, their next king.
Looking out over the kingdom, Simba and Nala could see all the herds of animals and flocks of birds who had returned to live in the Pride Lands. Monkey and baboon, elephant and giraffe, antelope of many types, thrush and hornbill, buffalo and wildebeest, leopard and cheetah, kestrel and ostrich, meerkat and mongoose. And toward the back of the masses, they spotted a number of visiting lions from the region who had come to pay their respects to the new king and to see for themselves that the Pride Lands were back in their full glory. Among them were the entire Foothills Coalition, who had joined Nguvu for the ceremony.
All the animals of the Pride Lands had been obligated to attend the presentation of Tanabi, their future king, and when it was over, most of the animals returned to their home ranges. But some of the closer friends of the pride and most of the visiting lions came up to Pride Rock for the christening ceremony that followed. The presentation of Tanabi had also functioned as his christening, but there were still eight cubs to be christened. As the lions who had watched from the back were walking up, a lioness was looking around at the other visitors and was overjoyed to see a familiar face. She began charging toward Amani, who caught the movement out of the corner of his eye, looked over, and began running in her direction.
“Amani!” she shouted.
“Mlinzi!” he shouted back.
They greeted each other ecstatically, then reared up and began play-fighting, pawing at each other falling over and wrestling on the ground.
“What’s gotten into him?” Mtaalamu remarked.
“Don’t you just want to act like a cub sometimes?” Wema mused.
One of the first visitors to reach the promontory was a twelve year old lion with a black mane, a soft face, and a large scar on his right front leg. He stepped up slowly, looking around nostalgically and taking in his surroundings as he padded over to Sarabi and Thabiti. “Hello. You two cubs been staying out of trouble?”
“What ‘cubs’ are you referring to?” Thabiti replied incredulously.
“You girls were only one and two years old last time I saw you.”
Sarabi smiled at him. “Tarishi! Welcome back to the Pride Lands.” “Is Hadhari still around?”
“Died almost a year ago. As far as we know, you’re the last one left that was born here under Mohatu.”
He turned and walked over to Mshairi, whose attention had been drawn away from her cubs upon hearing his voice. He gave her a nuzzle, which she returned warmly. “Hi, Dad!”
“Hi, Sharums. You’re looking good.”
“You’re not looking too bad yourself.”
“Mind if I say hello to my grandchildren?” He leaned down and nudged the three cubs gently. “What a fine bunch of cubs you have here.”
Mtaalamu, Wema and Nguvu arrived just then. As Mtaalamu went over to greet Akili, Wema stepped up. He looked quizzically at Tarishi. “Haven’t we met before?”
Tarishi studied him. “You were searching for your brother, right?”
“Yes, now I remember. You’re leader of the Sunrise Coalition.”
“Yep, that’s me. Did you ever find your brother?”
“He’s right over there,” said Wema, gesturing toward Mtaalamu.
Mshairi interrupted. “So you two have met before. Wema, Tarishi is my father. Dad, this is Wema.” She looked down at the cubs. “Their father.”
As this was going on, Mtaalamu looked on proudly as Akili nursed their cubs. Taraja looked around impatiently and was about to ask what happened to Amani when she spied him approaching, with another lioness.
“Hi, Taraja. I’d like you to meet my sister Mlinzi. Mlinzi, this is Taraja, and our cubs.”
“Nice to meet you,” Taraja replied. “Looks like you got part of your wish.”
Also present of course was Nala, and cradled between her forepaws was Tanabi, now asleep. Standing behind her were Simba, Sarabi and Sarafina, and off to the side was Thabiti. They all became acquainted with one another. There were many meetings, introductions and reunions among the lions present that day. At one point, Nala looked up and saw three lions standing before her. “So you’re Mwongozi’s daughter,” said one of them.
Nala had seen them with the other lionesses so she knew who they were, and the one who had just spoken to her was Mtaalamu. “Well, yes, but I hope that’s not all I am to you.”
“Yes, of course,” said another, whom she knew to be Amani. “Your father was a great lion who left quite a legacy.”
“And so far Nala is certainly living up to it,” Sarabi said from behind her.”
“By the way, I hear it was your idea setting these three lionesses up with us,” said Wema, the third.
“You’re not complaining, are you?” said Mshairi, who was next to Nala.
They were interrupted by Rafiki, who was ready to christen the other cubs. When everyone became silent, he sat, closed his eyes, and meditated to prepare himself mentally for what he was about to do. When he became alert again, he began the ceremony. He christened each cub by making a sign on its forehead and reciting the words, “I christen thee _____, child of Pride Rock,” with the cub’s name inserted.
First he approached Wema and Mshairi, who informed him that their daughter was to be named Zaburi. After christening her, Rafiki looked into her eyes, then looked at Mshairi. “She has your gift of stories, to equal or perhaps surpass your own”. Mshairi was thrilled to have a daughter to teach about stories.
Their first son was named Mwimbaji. Of him, Rafiki said, “He has very sharp ears. He discerns many things by sound.”
Their second son was named Ucheshi. Rafiki smiled and looked at Wema. “He has your sense of humor. He will bring many smiles to those who live with him.”
Then he stepped over to Amani and Taraja and their daughters. Looking at the three of them, he noted, “All are caring, like their mother.” He looked around for Thabiti and beckoned for her to come over. “I think they will be great hunters. Don’t you agree, Thabiti?”
Thabiti studied Taraja’s cubs, noting their legs and their builds. “You see these things better than me, but from what I can tell, I have to agree.”
The first daughter was named Imani. “A quiet one but a good listener. She will be a patient hunter and excellent stalker.”
The second daughter was named Tumaini. “Of the three, she will be most like you, Taraja. Her body will have great strength.”
The third daughter was named Hisani. “Always willing to help one in need. She will be fast.”
Rafiki came next to Mtaalamu and Akili. “I congratulate you on being chosen the parents of the next queen.” He stroked their daughter, who was being named Timira. “A good leader she will be, assertive and outspoken.”
Their son was named Mwalimu. Rafiki ruffled his brow momentarily, then smiled. “Very smart, this one. He will be the bearer of many strange ideas, but some very good ones too.”
Finally he arrived back at Nala, with Tanabi still nestled in her paws and Simba standing proudly over them. He had been formally christened at his presentation, but Rafiki still studied him. “A worthy successor, full of resolve and determination.”
Simba looked at him with concern. “I hope I’m up to it. I’m still learning things I should have learned a long time ago.”
Rafiki put a hand on his shoulder. “Simba, that may be true, but from your experience you will be able to teach him many things you might not have known otherwise.”
Simba put a paw around Rafiki and hugged him. “Thank you.”
After the ceremony, the lions resumed their socializing. Mtaalamu bowed respectfully before Simba. “Would it be okay if the coalition and I stay for a couple of days?”
“Please do,” he replied. He glanced at Nala for a moment, then continued, “These cubs are entitled to know who their fathers are while they can.”
Most of the other visiting lions returned to their homes later that day. Mlinzi spent a good deal of time visiting with Amani and was one of the last to leave that day. That night, another full moon shined it’s light down upon them, the fourth since the one which had smiled on them in their time of fertility. Tarishi was with them to observe it before returning to his home following day.
Two days later, as the Foothills Coalition was about to leave, another visitor arrived. “Greetings, Simba!” said Enzi. “Congratulations on your new prince. Sorry I couldn’t make it myself for the presentation, but things got rather busy. I hope you don’t mind that I sent Mlinzi on my behalf.”
“No, not at all, and welcome to Pride Rock,” Simba replied.
“My compliments to you on restoring your Pride Lands. I never saw this part while Scar was in charge, but what I could see from my side of the boundary looked bad enough.” Enzi looked out toward the horizon. “It’s looking much better.”
“Thank you. I’ve had a lot of help. How are things up at Savannah Ridge?”
“Looking better since the drought ended. We’re back out in the savannah now. You’ll have to come see it sometime.”
“I will someday, but,” Simba looked at the four mothers with their cubs, “at the moment I’ve got other things to think about.”
“Of course,” Enzi acknowledged. “I’ve got lionesses expecting as well. Then he looked over at the coalition, where Amani was trying not to be noticed. “Amani, I was hoping I might catch you here.”
“Hello, Enzi,” said Amani uneasily. “Nice to see you.”
“Is this the crew you live with now?” asked Enzi, glancing over at Wema and Mtaalamu.
“Yes. We live up on the side the mountain.”
“So I hear,” Enzi replied. “How come you never come back?”
“I didn’t think I was welcome.”
“Well, it seems we misunderstood each other on a lot of things. I hope you understand that I only try to do what’s best for my pride. And speaking of that, there are a couple of lionesses who would like nothing better than to see you for a bit. Your mother probably won’t be around much longer. Did you even know she was still alive?”
“Mlinzi told me. Are you inviting me to visit, then?”
“…If it’s okay with your leader.” Enzi glanced over at Mtaalamu and Wema, then looking slightly puzzled, back at Amani. Usually he could look at a group of lions and tell right away who was in charge, but these three offered no clues.
“We don’t work that way,” Amani asserted. “Each of us is capable of deciding these things for ourselves.”
“Very well. What shall it be then?”
“All right, I’ll go.”
Enzi spoke a little more firmly. “You understand, of course, that this is just…”
Amani interrupted him. “Enzi, you don’t need to say it. I’m quite happy with where I live now. But,” he offered, “that doesn’t mean we can’t try to work out some of our differences.”
“Ah, I see you have learned much,” Enzi conceded. “I’m a bit older and wiser too, and not so impulsive as I used to be.” He looked at Taraja, then back at Amani. “It appears that congratulations are in order for you as well, and for your friends.” Enzi turned to Simba. “Protect these cubs well.”
Later that morning, Enzi and Amani left for Savannah Ridge, and Mtaalamu and Wema departed to their mountain home. Simba walked out onto the promontory and watched the visitors leave, thankful to have friendly neighbors. He looked around at the trees, the grasslands, the hills, the animals, the Pride Lands. Timon and Pumbaa were off somewhere, probably playing some game or maybe swimming in the waterhole.
Zazu arrived and landed on the rock in front of him. “Beautiful day, sire. Nice to see everyone so happy.”
“Yes, it is. How are things looking in the rest of the Pride Lands?”
“Quite well, thank you.” Zazu let out a heavy sigh. “You know, sire, it’s great to have my old job back.”
“Glad to hear it.”
As Zazu flew off, Simba turned and walked back down to the lionesses. He looked over the cubs and their mothers lying peacefully on Pride Rock, and walked over to Nala, his queen. They rubbed heads.
Simba asked her quietly, “Does it bother you any that we have only one cub and the others have two or three?”
“It crossed my mind,” Nala reflected, “but they had to wait longer. We’ve got more time.”
Pumbaa returned just then, with Timon riding on his back. They came up beside Simba. “A fine bunch of cubs you ladies have,” said Pumbaa.
“Thank you,” they replied.
“I need to go out and do a bit of patrolling. You two want to come with me?”
“Yeah, love to,” Timon replied.
As they were about to leave, Sarafina and Thabiti entered. “Which of you moms would like to get away for a hunt.”
“Akili and I went yesterday,” said Nala. “It’s your turn, if you’d like,” she continued, looking at Taraja and Mshairi.
Mshairi stood up and stretched her legs. “Ahh, time to get some circulation going here.”
Nala picked up Tanabi in her mouth and placed him gently beside Mshairi’s cubs before reclining beside them. Akili did likewise, setting Timira among Taraja’s cubs and settling down as Taraja retrieved Mwalimu.
Simba and Thabiti compared plans to insure they wouldn’t be trying to hunt in the same area he was patrolling, and the hunting party went south while Simba, Timon and Pumbaa headed northeast, leaving only Nala and Akili with all nine cubs, which they were communally suckling. Luckily the cubs didn’t all get hungry at the same time, since the two lionesses had only eight nipples between them. As each cub finished its meal, the lioness it had fed from would lick it on the underside to stimulate digestion.
Tumaini had just finished a short nap and the lionesses expected her to be hungry. Instead, to their surprise, she stood up and took an unsteady step away. “Look, Tumaini is starting to walk!” Nala exclaimed.
Akili looked at the cub, then at the other eight cubs still resting or suckling. “You realize, before long we’re going to have cubs running around all over the place.”
Nala smiled. “I know. I can hardly wait.”
Mother’s Day Off
Simba’s eyes blinked open as he felt the warmth of a head rub from Nala. Looking around in the pre-dawn twilight he saw that Zazu was already off doing a perfunctory survey of the Pride Lands, while Timon still lay sleeping on Pumbaa’s belly, both of them snoring noisily. Tanabi was curled up at his side, and Mshairi, Taraja and Akili were carefully checking over their cubs, all laying seemingly in a pile. The other three lionesses were waiting off to one side. Simba looked back at his mate.
“Will you be able to handle everything?” she asked.
“Sure, no problem. If it gets too much I can always send Zazu.”
He gave Nala an affectionate lick. “Have a good time.”
As Nala went to join the other lionesses, Simba lay his head back down to get as much more sleep as he could before the cubs woke him up.
“Where are we going today, Simba?” Zaburi asked.
“No place fancy. Just some rocks and bushes near the waterhole where Nala and I used to play when we were cubs.” Simba strolled forward, deeply inhaling the crisp morning air.
Tumaini came streaking ahead of him. “Watch this!” she shouted. She dove forward into what appeared to be an attempted somersault, but merely ended up flopping onto one side.
“What was that?” Imani taunted as she charged up and pounced on her sister.
A small stampede of cubs swarmed upon them. “Pile on!” Mwimbaji called out, as most of them did.
Pumbaa stepped forward cautiously, with Timon huddled low on his back. They knew some of the cubs were here only moments before, but now all was quiet. Too quiet, their instincts told them. They dared not to speak above a whisper, if at all.
Suddenly there was a blur of movement from one side, as a cub came flying out of nowhere. It knocked Timon off and he hit the ground with a resounding thud. Pumbaa turned and saw the cub on top of him.
“Gotcha!” Hisani smirked.
Pumbaa couldn’t help laughing at the sight of a dazed Timon pinned underneath the smiling cub. She got off of him, and as he rolled over onto his feet, they got another surprise.
“CHARGE!” Again, seemingly from nowhere, four cubs pounced at the same time, this time at Pumbaa, knocking him over.
“Ow, ow! Not your teeth!” gasped Pumbaa as he struggled to free himself, while Tumaini, Ucheshi, Imani and Zaburi tried to pin him down.
It was Timon’s turn to laugh.
“Zazu, what kind of bird is that?” asked Mwimbaji.
“That’s a wheatear.”
As Simba lay watching them from nearby, he thought he felt a bug bite his tail. He flicked it.
“Hey, there’s another one!”
“Very good, Mwimbaji. There are several of them in these trees.”
Simba felt another bite. He flicked his tail again.
“That one sounds a little different. What kind is he?”
“Well, it’s a she, actually. It’s another wheatear, but…” Zazu hesitated as he looked at the cub with amazement. Was it possible?
“The others were males, and that one’s a female.”
Two more wheatears joined in the chorus. “I guess this one’s another male, and that one’s a female. Am I right, Zazu?”
Zazu looked up at the birds, then back down at Mwimbaji. “Ummm, yes.” He looked at Simba. “He’s the first non-avian I’ve ever met who could tell the difference between a male and a female bird call.”
Simba looked at Mwimbaji. “That’s very good,” he chuckled. He felt the irritation on his tail again, even lighter this time, but instead of flicking it, he looked around to see Mwalimu prodding it gingerly with a single extended claw. “What are you doing?”
“Just seeing how gently I can touch your tail before you move it,” he replied nonchalantly without looking up.
Simba’s tail had been pounced many times by the cubs, using full teeth and claws, yet in a way this was more irritating. He smiled at Mwalimu as he pulled his tail alongside his body. “Okay, that’s enough, you little rascal.”
“I’m on top! I’m king of the mountain!” Ucheshi pronounced.
“Not quite,” Tanabi challenged. “We’re gonna pull you down!” Tanabi grabbed Ucheshi’s right back paw in his mouth as Timira latched onto his left. Ucheshi splayed his claws, trying desperately to hang on.
“Yaah! No claws,” Simba cried.
Ucheshi complied, and quickly tumbled to the ground on top of Tanabi. “I can’t hold on that way,” he complained.
“Use them all you want when you’re playing on a rock or a log,” Simba explained, as Hisani and Mwalimu struggled to climb onto him from the other side, “but if you’re going to use me as the mountain, you have to keep your claws retracted.”
Simba let out a heavy sigh. Almost back to Pride Rock, where he would rest, or at least try to. After everything they’d already done, it amazed him that these cubs were still so full of exuberance, running, wrestling and pouncing each other and him. He wanted to ask his mother, but she was with the rest of the lionesses, so he asked Timon. “Was I like this when I was a cub?”
“When you were in a good mood, yes.”
Timon glanced at Pumbaa, then they looked back at Simba and nodded together. “Really!”
The moonlight shined brightly into the main cavern as the lionesses entered to find Simba and the cubs lying sound asleep, looking not all that different than they had many hours earlier. Sarabi looked them over and a warm smile came over her face. Akili, Mshairi and Taraja came over to survey the sleeping cubs.
Nala gave Simba a lick on the jaw, followed by another. Simba stirred slightly and looked up at her, his eyelids at half mast and his head still resting on the ground.
“We’re back, sweets. How was your day?”
“Pretty good. The cubs had a lot of fun. How about yours?”
“Enjoyed it. It was nice to get out. We were in the south meadow, where we got a nice view of a giraffe herd. They’re interesting to watch sometimes. Then we headed west to… Simba? Simba?”
“Zzzz…” His eyes were closed again.
“I guess you did have quite a day,” whispered Nala, as she gazed down at her king admiringly. “Good night, love.”
As this story came close to completion, I recalled that the primary theme of “The Lion King” is about taking responsibility, particularly in the way Simba is caught between the dual roles of having to challenge Scar because he is the rightful king, and having to admit to the role he thinks he played in Mufasa’s death. To what degree is this theme preserved or altered in “The Enigma”?
It is perhaps mitigated somewhat since by the time Simba confronts Scar he’s managed to offload much of the emotional baggage that had made him afraid to face his past. But “The Enigma” also carries a different theme, that of seeking the truth. When he is initially confronted with the possibility that the past is not as he had believed, Simba is afraid. Yet he decides he must follow this path and learn the truth. Along the way the truth he discovers is more disturbing than he was prepared for, even if it does absolve him of his role in his father’s death. But he also discovers his parents’ capacity to love and forgive, and in the end, any mistakes he might have made are less important than where his heart is.
All characters from “The Lion King”, plus Ahadi, Mohatu and Timira were created by The Walt Disney Company (this includes Sarafina, Nala’s mother, and Taka, Scar’s birth name).
Akase was created by Brian Tiemann. Shairi was created by Samuel Simpson. Tanabi was created by Melissa Martin. All other characters are the original work of the author. At least three of these characters (Jamala, Imani and Batian) have names which have also been used as character names in other works of fan fiction, but which were chosen independently by the respective authors and represent different characters (and a virtual nod to Chris Boyce, since he and I both were sufficiently enamored with the work of Gareth Patterson to use the names of one or more of his lions in our stories).