“Humph?” The little lioness didn’t stir from her spot much. In fact, it was hard to make out the rise and fall of her chest as she lay sprawled on her side, facing the cavern wall. It took an extra nudge from Sarafina to get her daughter to eventually tumble onto her back with a disgruntled moan.
“It’s time to get up, hon.”
“MoooOOOooom…” Nala crooned lethargically, “I don’t wanna get up. Lemme alone.” Sarafina quailed.
“Nala, you’ve been in here for days now. You can’t just lie here forever.”
“Watch me,” came the cub’s sullen reply. Sarafina uttered a low sigh, leaning down and giving Nala a gentle nuzzle.
“I know it’s been hard, dear,” she purred to the cub, “but we have to move on.” The cream colored cub turned away from her mother with a harsh puff of air. Sarafina looked down on her young daughter and sighed heavily.
A soft hiss reached her ear from behind, and the lioness turned to see where it had come from. In the gentle morning light, she could make out the form of Sarabi standing near the cavern’s entrance. Her regal head made a gentle backward motion, and Sarafina understood the hint. The lioness rose from her daughter’s side and padded over to the former queen, leaning her head down to nuzzle gently in greeting.
“She’s still there, hm?” Sarabi’s mellow voice whispered to Sarafina.
“Yes,” the other lioness sighed desperately, “I don’t know what I’m going to do. She’s been so depressed since the horrible accident.” The elder lioness’s head took a momentary bow toward the ground. Sarafina winced inwardly, stepping close and nosing Sarabi’s neck gently, “I’m sorry to make mention, but it’s not been easy for you either.”
“I have a few seasons behind me,” Sarabi started, “and a large cache of happy memories to my credit. But for Nala, one so young,” she shook her head sadly, “I fear the effect on her.”
“I wish there were something I could do,” Sarafina rejoined, “I feel so terrible, like I’m doing something wrong.” Sarabi nuzzled her lioness friend gently, purring to her.
“You’re doing the best we can. We all are. Trying to adjust to the hyenas here is a pain indeed.” The elder lioness took a moment to look around her, sighing, “And there is more sad news on the way. Msala is dying.”
“Oh!” Sarafina exclaimed, quickly hushed by Sarabi.
“We mustn’t talk about it here,” the elder lioness mentioned as she padded out, “come, join me in the sun and we can speak more on the topic.”
Behind the two friends, the ‘sleeping’ cub felt a cold shudder pass over her body. The unforgiving rock had long since rendered the cream colored cub awake, but the heaviness that was about her heart pinned her firmly to the ground. Nala rolled silently onto her belly, lying upright and looking at her paws. Though she had originally intended to remain ‘asleep’, hearing the two lionesses mention Msala got her attention.
Msala was a strange lioness, aloof and rarely with the pride unless partaking in the hunt or the kill. For the cubs, she had been the target of many legends and myths. Nala remembered wistfully how Simba used to tell her about Msala’s gigantic fangs and super claws. Neither of them really bought into the physical myths surrounding this lioness. After all, they would see her at each hunt, even though they kept their distance. There was something about her cold grey eyes that made both cubs cringe. It had been Nala who began the myth of Msala’s magical powers. Supposedly, she stayed away from the pride because the other lionesses didn’t want her to do evil things to their cubs. Nala contemplated this for a moment. Msala was dying? The concept didn’t seem strange to the young cub, in fact, she rather bitterly assumed that everything was going to die now that…
Before she knew it, Nala was on her paws and padding shakily from the entrance to Pride Rock. The little lioness blinked as the unforgiving sun beat its firey rays against her creamy pelt. After a second of letting her eyes adjust she proceeded down the leftmost trail, headed toward where she had heard Msala stayed. Somewhere, in the far reaches of the sad cub’s heart, she hoped that this mysterious lioness would be able to do something about Simba before she died… or at least take her along for the ride.
The trip was short, though it seemed like an eternity for the depressed little cub. Soon, she came upon a removed kopje, dotted with the skeletons of small trees that once grew there. A thin layer of dust covered the small mount, curling into the wind whenever the breezes sent a merciful, cooling touch. Nala ascended this small peak and looked around, trembling a little. Not even when her bravery was combined with that of Simba did they ever come in Msala’s direction willingly. So when she heard the first rustle of the bushes behind her, Nala jumped and crouched nervously.
“Why have you come here, child?” asked the soft voice. There was an edge of irritation that momentarily made Nala change her mind.
“M-m-msala?” the cub stuttered out, looking up at the older lioness. Nala had not seen Msala in the light as clearly as she had now. The lioness had a broad, proud muzzle, that jutted forward in an expression just shy of haughtiness. Her body was well built, probably from the many hunts she had been on. Her paws sported a mildly lighter tone to her otherwise tawny body, and her tail curled into a loose vertical coil behind her. Msala’s eyes, the cold grey that had caused shivers before, were turned onto the cream colored cub with confusion and something else… concern?
“Yes,” the lioness answered, “and you are Nala, daughter to Sarafina.”
“Umm,” the cub stammered nervously, “I-I-didn’t mean to intrude…”
“It’s alright,” answered the lioness, noting the cub’s apparent fear. She sat, causing a small billow of dust to puff from under her furry rump. “I don’t believe you’ve come here before. I can’t deny that I am surprised.” Nala tried to be upfront.
“I though that you could do something about… you know… with your magic and all.”
“Magic?” the lioness laughed, “Child, I am no more magical than the rock you lie on now.” For a moment, Nala could almost see a twinkle in her eye, “I suppose that explains why you and Simba never visited me.”
“No magic?” the cub tilted her head, folding her ears down, “I heard that you were dying, and, well…” she paused, swallowing a moment, “I want you to take me with you.” Msala gasped, much to the young cub’s surprise.
“Child, do you realize what you are saying? You don’t want to die, not so young…”
“But I do!” Nala exclaimed suddenly, standing up, “I always feel terrible, and with Simba gone I have no one to play with and the hyenas always tease and they scare me! I don’t wanna be here anymore!” Msala’s ears slowly folded to the sides of her head as she watched the cub dissolve into heartrending sobs. Apprehensively, if not somewhat awkwardly, she drew the crying little lioness closer and purred softly.
“My time here has come to an end,” she said in as soothing a tone as she could muster, “and though I wish I could do something to help, I am helpless to the power of the circle. The kings are merciful, and have called me home before the true dark times come.” She looked down at Nala, who returned the look, mesmerized by the lioness’s words, “But you have much time left in you, and much left you must do. You are young, vibrant, and full of potential. The pain of your lost playmate is fresh, like an open wound.” Nala’s frame quivered once, and in a fluid motion, she drew close to Msala and nuzzled.
“I’m scared,” she confessed, “I’m scared to be at Pride Rock with all those hyenas, and I’m scared to be anywhere else. What should I do?” her small voice shook with a gentle temblor that earned her a pitying ‘aww’ from the older lioness.
“Let me tell you a secret,” Msala said softly, glancing around to heighten the appearance of importance, “many times, I have been scared. Some of the lionesses and I don’t exactly get along. But there is something I tell myself that brings everything back into focus.”
“What?” asked Nala. Msala smiled and nuzzled her gently.
“My mother used to tell me, ‘wherever your journeys may lead you, always remember your pride’.” She gave the cream colored cub a gentle pat with a paw, “And that goes for you too. Remember that there are other lionesses that count on you to be you, and that you must count on them to survive. Though it can be overwhelming, don’t forget yourself. You must be a proud lioness. Never let anyone make you think you are less because there will never be another Nala, of Pride Rock.”
“Remember my… pride?” The cub tilted her head, looking a little confused for a second. Then, as if the light had come on, she cracked into a small smile for the first time in days, “I think I understand.”
“You’ll understand more as you grow,” Msala said, rising from her position with a soft grunt, “now, you should run along home. Your mother will be concerned.” Nala got up and passed her body against the elder lioness’s legs.
“Thank you, I’m sorry we were so mean before.” Msala chuckled in a grandmotherly kind of way.
“All is forgiven,” she said, “as long as you remember what I told you.” The little lioness nodded quickly and started down the kopje. No sooner had she hit the surrounding grass than a thought popped into her mind.
“Oh! Msala, I forgot to ask you- Msala?” Nala turned her eyes up to the small kopje and looked around. The gentle sweep of a feathery wind tickled through the fur in her ears, carrying with it the sound of silence. The lioness had disappeared.
Nala returned home in silence, though with a mild hop in her step. The little adventure had proven quite fruitful, and she felt much better now than before. A few days later, the mourning roars lifted to the sky to mark the passing of Msala. For some, it was a blessing. For Nala, it was another moment of sadness. Yet this loss was different than before. Msala’s words echoed in her mind like the disembodied shadow of hope… and Nala repeated the words softly to herself.
“And where my journeys may lead me, I’ll always remember my pride…”