By Joe McCauley
Click here for text version.
Fan fiction based on The Lion King.
In addition to The Lion King, this story draws from two other
works. One of them is Joshua Templin's The Tales of Tanabi, with
which this story is mostly but not totally consistent. The other work
is identified in the afterword. Other than being based on TLK, A
Safe Place is not related to any of my previous works of fan
Dedicated to Mother Teresa and Princess Diana, two people who worked
to make the world a better and safer place for others.
As always, any comments on this work (good or bad) would be welcome.
A Safe Place is © 1997 by Joe McCauley.
The Lion King and its characters are © 1994 by The Walt
Disney Company. The Tales of Tanabi" and its characters are
© 1995 by Joshua Templin. See the afterword for one more
attribution. Other than what was drawn from these three works, this
story is the original work of the author. It may be redistributed so
long as it is done free of charge and its entirety including the front
and back matter. Please notify the author if you intend to make this
story available on a www or ftp site.
The author wishes to thank:
Fan fiction based on The Lion King.
In addition to The Lion King, this story draws from two other works. One of them is Joshua Templin's The Tales of Tanabi, with which this story is mostly but not totally consistent. The other work is identified in the afterword. Other than being based on TLK, A Safe Place is not related to any of my previous works of fan fiction.
Dedicated to Mother Teresa and Princess Diana, two people who worked to make the world a better and safer place for others.
As always, any comments on this work (good or bad) would be welcome.
A Safe Place is © 1997 by Joe McCauley.
The Lion King and its characters are © 1994 by The Walt Disney Company. The Tales of Tanabi" and its characters are © 1995 by Joshua Templin. See the afterword for one more attribution. Other than what was drawn from these three works, this story is the original work of the author. It may be redistributed so long as it is done free of charge and its entirety including the front and back matter. Please notify the author if you intend to make this story available on a www or ftp site.
The author wishes to thank:
I remember the early, blissful days of my childhood, before I learned how complicated life can be sometimes. I remember my parents especially, how they would play with my brother and I and do silly things with us, how they would teach us simple lessons, make a few simple rules, and get after us when we didn't follow them. And I remember how they often had to go off to do their jobs and leave us in the care of others or even let us play alone. Even then I had a pretty good idea that what they did was important, whatever that meant, but I didn't know a lot about their jobs back then or what responsibility was.
Alas, the simple, blissful days of childhood must soon give way to the complicated realities of life. Some things happened during my childhood that will always stand out in my memory. I would learn a lot from these events, such as what it means to be good loving parents, to be strong of character and abide by solid principles, and to take ones responsibilities seriously, especially for a king and a queen. Did I mention that my parents are king and queen? My father's name is Simba and my mother's name is Nala. They are the king and queen of a pride of lions at a place called Pride Rock, and they oversee all of the surrounding territory, known as the Pride Lands. My brother's name is Tanabi. My name is Shani.
I will begin my story at a place called Ostrich Kopje, to the south of Pride Rock. With many good cracks to squeeze into, overhanging rocks to hide under, and even a few burrows for the braver cubs to explore, it is the best place in the Pride Lands to play hide-and-seek. We had a lot of fun playing there with the others in the pride, There were other games we would play too, like 'wolf wolf'.
We were out playing this day with our friends Kora and Taglia. "Boy, am I tired," Taglia exclaimed.
"I'm not that tired really," I replied. "It's just so hot today."
We found a shady spot to rest under a ziziphus tree, and we each chose places to lay down. Kora rolled over onto her back, her paws protruding oddly into the air. "That bunch of leaves up there almost looks like Zazu."
"Does not," said Tanabi.
"I don't see it either, Kora," I added.
Kora still insisted it did, and an argument ensued. Of course we didn't understand at the time that seeing patterns in leaves while they're still in the tree requires viewing them from just the right angle.
Once that finally settled down, Taglia had another idea. "Heard any good stories about Hofu lately?" he said, which usually meant he had another one he wanted to tell us.
"Why? What'd you hear this time?" Tanabi replied.
Hofu was an old lion who lived alone in a cave on the edge of the Pride Lands. We never saw Hofu and wouldn't have even known he was there if it wasn't for all of the rumors and horror stories about him that circulated among the members of the pride, especially the cubs.
"He doesn't have a mate," Taglia told us. "And do you know why he doesn't have a mate? Well, a long time ago, he used to have one, but one day he got mad at her. Really mad, and it was over something dumb. He got so mad at her that he killed her. And then he ate her!"
"Eewwww!!" we all chorused. I was half laughing and half grossed out by Taglia's description.
"You know what I heard?" said Kora. "I heard he saves the eyeballs from all of his kills and has 'em all lined up in his cave. I guess when he gets bored he tries to stare 'em down or something."
"That sounds really creepy," I told her. "Where'd you hear that?"
"I won't tell."
"I think you made it up."
And so it went. The discussion went nowhere, but it's not as if it were anything important. We were just kids then, having fun and passing the time. Oh, the memories.
* * *
Being king and queen, my parents seemed to be busy all the time, especially my father. He talked about wanting to do kingly things with his dad when he was a cub, about wishing he could go places with him. Sometimes I felt that way but more often I just wished he didn't have to do so many things.
I was over at Rafiki's baobab tree one day. His tree stood atop a knoll some distance from Pride Rock, but close enough that he could go back and forth between them easily, as he often did. It was only the second time I had been to his tree, and the first time I noticed the drawings on the tree trunk. "What are these?" I asked him.
"Dese are pictures," he explained. "When I see something or imagine something dat has a special meaning for me, I draw a picture of it on my tree." It took him a while to explain what a picture was, about how the lines and shapes were supposed to look like things.
After a while and a lot of patience from Rafiki I finally understood. "Wow!" I said, awe struck. "Can you show me some more of your pictures?"
"You want to come up de tree?" he offered. "I'll show you a picture of your father."
"Yeah! Can I see it?"
He lifted me up to the lowest large branch. I could climb smaller trees but none of the branches of this one were low enough, so he had to lift me. "Here is a picture of Simba I drew when he was a cub. I didn't change it for a long time when I thought he was dead, but when I found out he was alive, I drew a mane on it."
"I like that picture."
"Simba is a very good and special lion, and a fine king. And best of all, he helps watch over cubs like you so old Rafiki can give you hugs." He gave me a hug. It felt nice. Rafiki always gave such nice hugs.
"Why does my father have to do all these border patrols and stuff like that?"
"Ahhh, Simba does these things so that de Pride Lands will be a safe place for cubs like you to grow and learn. So dat you will be here to love and he will be here to love you for a long, long time."
I was sure there were other reasons, but that one was good enough for me, so I didn't bother him about it any more. "Do you have any pictures of me?"
"It's up high. You sure you want to come see?"
I thought about it for a moment. "Yeah, okay," I replied.
He carried me up to where the picture was. The picture was good in a way, even though I thought it looked kind of funny at first. Being up so high in the tree bothered me too much for me to stay very long so he brought me back down to the main branch. I didn't see how he could spend so much time so high in the tree and not be afraid. I hoped the me in the picture didn't get afraid.
Once we were closer to the ground, I looked around in wonderment at his various tools, and at the dozens of gourds he had hanging from strings in various places. He showed me many of his other pictures, including one of an eye, and told me stories about some of them. A breeze produced a cacophony from the gourds, and brought the scents of some of their mysterious contents. There was a lot Rafiki could teach me, and I wondered how much of it I would ever get a chance to learn.
Another place we would often play was Granite Kopje, not far from Ostrich Kopje and almost as much fun. It also happened to be fairly close to Hofu's cave.
We knew Hofu had to come out sometime to hunt for his meals, but we never actually saw him, or should I say we never got a good look at him. We were playing at Granite Kopje one day while being supervised by one of the lionesses, when we barely saw the top of his back in the grass nearby. He had stalked almost within a cheetah's pounce of us and seemed to be watching us play. But he never revealed himself, and indeed had stalked so well that we were never completely sure it was him and not some other deceptively similar random object out in the savannah grass. And if it was him, he didn't made a sound.
Our parents and the other adults told us never to bother Hofu, but otherwise tried to downplay the rumors and generally act as if his presence were no big deal. I think they were trying to avoid the forbidden fruit syndrome; that is, the more your parents warn you not to do something or go someplace, the more tempting it becomes. My Dad's uncle had once used this in a ploy to lure my mom and dad into the elephant graveyard and nearly got them killed. Thus they were trying not to make the same mistake regarding old Hofu. But cubs will be cubs, and it was to no avail. With stories like that circulating about him it was inevitable that the cubs would find a character like Hofu just too tantalizing to ignore.
It was a few days later when Tanabi and I were playing alone at Granite Kopje that we had our closest encounter with him to that time. We were playing hide and seek, and for the third time in a row he had found me much quicker than I had hoped.
"Ha, ha!" he taunted. "Can't you find any better hiding places than that?"
"I'm getting tired of this game. Can we do something else?"
"I don't know. Maybe play 'wolf, wolf'."
"You need more than two cubs to play 'wolf, wolf'."
"Well there must be something else we can do."
Tanabi thought for a moment. "I wonder if we could sneak up on Hofu. If we get close enough we might get a look at him."
"You crazy!? If he saw us he'd probably eat us!"
"I know. That's what makes it fun."
We must have been out of our minds, but we decided to give it a try. We knew about where his cave was, so our strategy was to stalk as close to it as we could and hope he'd be outside. Then we'd sneak away, and no one would ever know. As we approached the hilltop overlooking his cave, we were trying our best to stalk quietly, keeping low and hidden behind rocks and bushes wherever possible, though in retrospect our amateurish stalking probably wouldn't have surprised much of anything. At any rate, as we crested the hill and peered from behind a rock, there it was.
We were looking at Hofu's cave at somewhat of an angle but could see a little ways into it. There, lying on the ground inside the shaded entrance was the mysterious old lion himself. Unfortunately he was too far back into the shadows for us to see him very well, and all we could see from our vantage point was a shadowy outline. But we could make out him moving his head and forepaws as he ate from the kill he had dragged in from the outside world, and we could hear him quite clearly. He ate rather noisily, making a lot of slurping and bone crunching noises, and grunting and panting heavily as he did so. I must say it was rather disgusting to hear him, as the lions from our pride were usually much quieter about it when they ate, at least when I was around.
For whatever reason, he stopped eating and lifted his head to look around. With the bright daylight around us and scarcely an outline of him visible, it was hard to tell which way he had his head turned. Manes are deceptive that way. But then he moved his head one more time, and suddenly we saw the two deep amber spots. It was his eyeshine. He was looking at us!
We were suddenly overcome with terror, and we both turned and scrambled in the opposite direction, discovering how difficult it is to be quiet and quick at the same time. We nearly knocked each other over a couple of times before we got over the first hill. Quickly we angled our way back toward Pride Rock, feeling quite certain that Hofu was hot on our tails and ready to make lunch out of us - or worse. We were running for our lives, on full adrenaline, as fast as our little legs could carry us and even pushing ourselves after our legs started to give out from exhaustion and our insides felt like we were going to explode.
When we got most of the way back to Pride Rock, comfortable that we had escaped, we stopped to rest, or should I say, collapsed. "If we come home like this," Tanabi managed to get out between breaths, "our parents will know we've been up to something."
"Yeah, I know," I panted in reply.
We stayed there until we had calmed down and felt able to walk and breathe normally once again. Then Tanabi strolled ahead of me back to Pride Rock looking the same as we always do after a good day of playing. At least that was the idea.
"Hi Shani. Hi Tanabi," my mother said as we walked up to her a few minutes later. We each gave her a head rub under the chin, and she gave us a lick on the head. "You two been having fun?"
"Just playing hide-and-seek at the kopje," I replied.
I don't know what it was, but something in our voices or our faces must have betrayed us. "Okay, what have you rascals been up to?"
"Well, nothing..." I stammered.
"What do you mean?" asked Tanabi.
There followed a bit of hemming and hawing, with Tanabi and I stumbling over our words, slipping a little here or there, and finally accusing each other of who said or did what first, but let it suffice to say that we soon arrived at the truth of the matter, and we both got a good scolding about it. "Hofu hasn't done anything to bother you. Just leave him alone and let him have his space. If he wants to live alone and keep to himself, that's his choice. You're not to go bothering him any more like that. Do you understand?"
"All right, mama," I intoned. But I had to satisfy my curiosity about one more thing. "What about the stories about Hofu? Are they true?"
Tanabi gave me a dirty look.
My mom sighed, like she was hoping the question wouldn't come up. "Dhama is the best one to answer that question."
Dhama is another lioness in our pride, and she knew a great deal about not only the history of our own pride but many other prides and coalitions in the area, and when she didn't know something she usually knew who to ask to find out. Weird stories about a lion named Hofu had circulated in the region for some time, so naturally my parents were a little concerned when he came to live nearby some moons earlier. So they asked Dhama to find out what she could about him.
It wasn't too long after the conversation with my mom that the hunting party returned from the day's hunt. Tuli, Kora's mother, and Luangwa, Taglia's mother, went to find their cubs. Dhama saw my mother looking at her and came over. "Hi, Nala," she said.
"Hi, Dhama. How'd the hunt go?"
"The zebra were a little too healthy for us today."
"Maybe our luck will be better tomorrow."
"I hope so."
"Say, Shani and Tanabi have something they want to ask you about." My mom went on to tell her about our trying to sneak up on Hofu and the talking to we'd gotten a little earlier.
Dhama gave us a stern glance upon being told what we'd done. "So what is it you wanted to ask me?"
My mother answered. "They were wondering what the truth is about Hofu."
"Well," she began, "a lot about him is shrouded in mystery, but I can tell you what I know. Hofu had a very interesting past, from what I've been able to determine.
He had a very rough childhood. His parents believed that only the fittest deserved to survive, and their cubs were required to go through all manner of trials. If a cub didn't survive, they figured it wouldn't made it on its own anyway and wasn't meant to live. His mother especially felt strongly about this. His father didn't always agree with her, but he loved her, she controlled him and he didn't have the backbone to stand up to her when she was being too harsh with the cubs. They had at least three litters. The first two litters had four cubs each, and of those only one from each litter survived to adulthood. Hofu was the survivor of the second litter.
"Let me give you an example. Hofu's parents once kicked him out of their den when he was only about a year and a half old, and told him he had to kill something bigger than himself before he would be allowed back in. Now I was over two years old the first time I killed anything that big, and I couldn't imagine having to do it at a year and a half old, but that's what his parents made him do. To make matters worse, he had to do it during the rainy season, and after having to find his own shelter in the wet cold and not having any luck for a few days, he became quite ill. Despite the illness his parents were unrelenting, and he barely survived. Somehow he made it through and got his kill."
I looked at Tanabi incredulously. He glanced at me, then looked back at Dhama.
"Later his parents had their third litter, this one only two cubs. Hofu loved the cubs, but it seems his parents treated each litter more harshly than the one before, and within a half a year both cubs were dead. Maybe it was the memories of his three littermates dying one at a time as they failed their trials, or maybe it was his love for these two, but when the second one died, something snapped, and Hofu decided he'd had enough. One day while his father was away, a confrontation of some sort arose between Hofu and his mother. He became furious, attacked her and took out one of her eyes. Knowing that his father would probably kill him when he returned, he ran for his life until he was far, far away.
"He was on his own, away from anyplace and anyone he knew, and never able to return. It was in a sense his greatest and final trial. He was still a little young then but with all he'd been through before he didn't have any trouble making it on his own."
Tanabi and I just stared at each other aghast, then back at Dhama. "That's awful," Tanabi finally said. "How could parents do that to their cubs?"
"I don't know," Dhama replied, "but his did. Not all parents are as good to their cubs as Simba and Nala are to you."
"What about all those stories and rumors about him?" I asked.
"Many of them I could never find out whether they are true or not. He did some bad things, made some mistakes, and acquired some enemies. A couple of them tried to destroy his reputation by spreading rumors and telling lies about him. The stories told to me were second or third hand and probably had details changed or forgotten. In many cases I couldn't tell what was what. My guess is that most of the stories about him are false, but some of them are true or have a grain of truth in them."
"What about the one where he killed his mate?"
"I know he had a mate at one time but I never found out what happened to her."
"And the one where he keeps eyeballs?" Tanabi asked.
"Oh?" she replied. "I guess I haven't heard that one."
We told her.
"That one's funny," she chuckled. "Definitely false, since eyeballs don't last very long."
I laughed along with her, but for all he had been through, Hofu still seemed like a scary fellow. "If some of those stories might be true, then..." I paused. "Aren't you a little worried about him living so close?"
"I have pretty reliable information that he hasn't done anything bad like attack others unprovoked in quite some time before coming here, a couple of years at least. As near as I could tell, all he's been doing in that time is trying to find a place he could settle down and live alone. But everywhere he went, it seems, his reputation and the rumors followed him and before long he would get run off."
Mom spoke up. "All he seems to want anymore is a place to live without being disturbed. He never does anything to threaten us - heck, we never even SEE him - and if he does any of his hunting at all in our territory we never notice the difference. A lion's got to live someplace." She let out a heavy sigh. "His cave is just outside our border, but I don't think that would stop Simba from doing something about him if he felt it necessary." My mother leaned over and gave us a sly grin. "You know why I think is part of the reason he let's him say?"
"Why?" I asked.
"Because your father used to be an outcast, so now he has a soft spot for them."
I thought some more about my mother's comment about my father being an outcast, so I decided to ask Timon and Pumbaa about it.
"Yeah, we were outcasts together," said Timon. "He wouldn'ta made it without us."
"All three of us had to leave where we came from, so we found each other and had a lot of fun that way," Pumbaa added
"Do you think it's fun being outcasts?" I asked them.
"It worked out pretty good for Pumbaa and I," bragged Timon. "But living here is okay, too."
"Hey, kid," Pumbaa advised. "If you're thinking of becoming an outcast, don't. You'll be much happier here growing up here with your family. I think Simba would have been."
"Of course, we never would've met him then," Timon went on, "but... that's not what happened, so here we are."
I tried to imagine my father at my age living in some strange jungle with only a warthog and a meerkat for companions. I couldn't do it.
* * *
A bunch of us were out playing near Granite and Ostrich kopjes gain one day when heavy rainstorm blew in. Tanabi and I found ourselves at the far end of Granite Kopje separated from the rest of the group, so we ran for shelter beneath a rock undercut. Not fast enough, as it turned out, for by the time we reached it and got out of the rain our fur was thoroughly soaked. We were very cold and huddled against each other, but the storm passed over quickly and the sun soon came back out, warming us up. It warmed the sand and rocks all around us, causing the water to evaporate from them eerily in wisps of steam. We figured the rest of the group was probably wondering where we were and looked around for them from where we sat.
I suddenly caught a movement out of the corner of my eye and looked over. "What was that?"
"What was what?"
"I saw something move over there," I said, looking in the direction where I had seen it.
"It couldn't be Tuli or Luangwa. They were back over at Ostrich Kopje."
"I wonder if it's Hofu."
As much as the mysterious old lion intrigued us, we didn't want to get in trouble again like we had a few days earlier. But we were very surprised by what happened next. Whatever it was moved around a little bit, enough that we knew for sure that something was really there. Then we heard a dull thump, like something hitting the ground, followed by sound that could be best described as a sneeze or a snort. A few seconds later we saw some more obvious movement as it slunk away through the tall savannah grass to someplace further away we couldn't see. By then we knew it had to be a lion and was probably Hofu. The thought scared us a little, and we shivered a bit, still a little cold from being wet, but we were more curious than anything.
"Okay, now what, sis?" my brother asked.
"Do you think he knows we're here?"
"Yes, I'm sure he must've seen us."
Being a little uneasy about the situation, we watched and waited a little longer. I finally got impatient and had to go see. "I'm taking a look around over there."
"You're gonna go over there? You're nuts! You'll get us in trouble again."
"Whaddya mean? We play here all the time, and it's not like I'm going over by his cave."
My brother started to say something else, but I was already stepping out to go have a look. I casually looked around for Luangwa or Tuli or any of the other cubs, and seeing none of them I carefully began to approach the spot where we supposed Hofu had been moments earlier.
Tanabi, not wanting to be left out of anything, suddenly bolted up beside me. "Maybe I better come with you."
We approached quietly, and seeing no signs of danger, reached the place, and there found our big surprise. There, sitting on a spot where the ground was exposed rock, was a gazelle haunch. "Wow!" I exclaimed. "That looks good!" My mouth was watering already, and I was anxious to pounce on it.
"Wait," Tanabi cried. "It might be poisoned or something."
"Whaddya mean? It's just a gazelle leg."
Tanabi thought a moment. "Maybe he left it here to lure us out so he could snatch us."
"Hey dodo brain, if he wanted to snatch us, why didn't he just come and get us while we were sittin' back there under the rock?"
"Yeah, okay." He paused. "Better let me try a little first to make sure it's okay." Tanabi was obviously as anxious as I was to start digging in, so he smelled it first, and apparently decided it was safe. He took a small bite from it and waited to see what happened. He barely waited long enough to finish swallowing it before pronouncing, "It's okay." At that point we both dove in ravenously, me tearing pieces off to chew on while Tanabi worked on the parts that were still attached to the bone. His childish and amusing attempt to detect any alleged poisons were woefully inadequate since the bite he took was so small and we didn't wait long enough for anything to take effect, not to mention that there are such things as slow-acting poisons. Our concerns were unfounded, of course, and we finished most of it off quickly with no ill effects, having gotten a good snack, almost a meal, off of the leg.
We knew the group we had been with before the rainstorm would soon be looking for us if they weren't already, so Tanabi picked up the bone in his mouth and we trotted off looking for them. Luangwa spotted us first. "Oh, there you two are. I was starting to wonder. Where did you get that?"
Tanabi dropped the bone. "We found it out in the bushes with some meat still on it. I guess a hyena or something must have left it." That happened sometimes, and in this case it wasn't that far from the truth. But something kept us from just saying what really happened. I guess we were afraid we'd get in trouble again even though we hadn't really done anything wrong. Or maybe we just felt like our encounter with Hofu was not for anyone else to no about. Just our little secret.
"Well, I guess you guys just got lucky," Luangwa exclaimed.
Back at Pride Rock the next morning when Tanabi and I were alone together, I talked to him about it some more. "Tanabi?"
"What is it, Shani?"
"Do you think Hofu left that leg for us on purpose?"
"He must have."
"I don't know. I can't read his mind."
"It just seems so strange."
Moments later we went to join Dhama, my mother and Grandma Saffi. Her name is Sarafina, but we always called her Grandma Saffi or simply grandma. "You two are such a sight to see when we return from a hunt," she told us. "In some ways you look a lot like your parents did at that age, but in other ways, you're different."
"Like what?" I asked.
"Well, for one thing, your eye colors are backwards. You've got brown eyes a lot like Simba," she said to me, then turned to Tanabi. "And YOU have green eyes, just like Nala." I have to admit, Tanabi's eyes were quite striking.
Our reverie was suddenly interrupted. "Simba!" a voice called out urgently. "Zazu?" Just then, Sabah, a rainbow bird, landed on the promontory. Sabah is one of many birds and animals in Zazu's network who notify him of anything out of the ordinary they see in their parts of the Pride Lands. Seeing neither Zazu nor Simba around, he landed and scoffed at the ground. "Oh bother, where are they?"
My mom looked up at the bird, whom she had met once or twice before, and knew that whatever he had to say must be important if he had come all the way here looking for Zazu and my dad. "I think they're in the south meadow today," which was in almost exactly the opposite direction Sabah had come from. "Is it something you can tell me?"
Sabah smiled and took on an air of elegance. "Pleased to make audience with you, Nala ma'am." He straightened up. "I've just spotted three lionesses entering the Pride Lands from the northeast."
My mother stood up, took a few steps up the promontory, then stopped and looked northward thoughtfully. "Hmmm, very interesting. Yes, I think we can handle this. Dhama, Mom, could you come with me?" she requested.
Dhama and Sarafina were both good in a fight in case it were necessary, and my mom didn't want to risk being outnumbered, so they readily agreed.
"Lead the way, Sabah," Nala called out. As the lionesses embarked, he flew off to the northeast. Kora and Taglia were with us, and since they hadn't told us we couldn't, we decided to follow along at a safe distance. Our following didn't go unobserved, and Sarafina soon hung back to walk with us.
Sabah angled us across the north meadow, where he soon signaled that we were approaching the incoming lionesses. Mom spotted them before they saw us. "What do you make of it?" she asked Dhama.
Dhama studied them. "I've seen them before. They're from Kisasian's pride."
"I thought I recognized them. This could be trouble."
"Trouble indeed," said Grandma Saffi. "I wouldn't trust them."
About that time the lionesses spotted my mom. They stopped and huddled a little closer each other, and waited for us to make the next move.
"Thank you, Sabah."
"It was my pleasure, madam," he replied as he flew off to return to his family.
My mother, in her queenly way, stepped forward to meet the lionesses, while Dhama and Sarafina flanked her. We kept well hidden, but were able to observe that the lioness who looked oldest and appeared to be their leader had some claw marks on her left cheek that hadn't healed yet. She had other wounds that told us she had been in battles recently, as did her two companions. The second look somewhat younger, and the third was barely an adult.
My mom addressed them. "Greetings. I am Nala, queen of the Pride Lands."
The lead lioness lowered her eyes momentarily, then looked back up. "I am Samawati, but my friends call me Blue. This is Kitoweo," she said, motioning to the somewhat younger lioness, "and this is Bashasha," she continued, gesturing toward the youngest one.
"Where are you from, and what brings you to the Pride Lands?"
The three lionesses exchanged glances with one another, then Blue summoned her courage and spoke as though she felt it undignified to ask for a handout. "We've left our home and wish to request of you and Simba that you allow us to join your pride."
My mom looked at them carefully. "You didn't say where you're from. We've met before, haven't we?" Sarafina eyed Blue suspiciously.
Blue seemed to notice Sarafina but didn't reciprocate. "Yes, I think we have," Blue replied as evenly as she could muster.
"Are you from Kisasian's pride?"
The lionesses, especially Blue and Kitoweo, appeared devastated by the query, as though a dark secret had been revealed. They closed their eyes and hung their heads.
My mom looked at them, cautiously yet sympathetically, and conferred with Dhama and grandma for a moment. Then she told the newcomers, "You may come with us to Pride Rock, and we will discuss your request when Simba returns."
We escorted them back. Nala and Dhama walked with the three lionesses while Saffi again stayed with me and the other cubs. As we walked along, she talked to us about Kisasian and his pride. "Kisasian is the son of Scar, Simba's uncle, and he's a bit younger than Simba. He was born and raised in a valley a good hike away from here, and when he grew up he challenged and took over a pride there. We had to leave Pride Rock for a while, and while we were away we met and had to battle against Kisasian's pride. Simba's mother Sarabi was killed in one of those encounters. Then they disappeared, but we soon found out why. When we came back to the Pride Lands, we found that Kisasian had come here ahead of us and was trying to claim Pride Rock as his own, and we had to fight his pride again to get it back. He still wants to win Pride Rock because his father was king here. For now, though, his territory doesn't adjoin ours, so he can't attack us very easily. And from what I hear, he's been trying to win territory from other prides closer to where he lives, and they're not happy with him.
"The three lionesses you see here came from his pride. I remember exchanging blows with the one named Blue when we battled before. I'm not sure what they want with us. They say they want to live here, but I'm not sure if I believe them. Simba and Nala will have to decide."
"Did one of these three kill Grandma Sassy?" I asked.
"No, she was killed by Kisasian's mother Ngwame. They both killed each other in that fight. In fact, they were the only two lionesses from either pride who were killed."
When we arrived back at Pride Rock, the three lionesses lay close together, evidently drawing great comfort from each other in the unfamiliar surroundings. Soon afterwards, we managed to alert my dad. As soon as he got word, he cut his rounds short and returned quickly.
He greeted us as he walked by. "Hello, rascals. Have you had a good morning?"
I stood up on my back legs, leaning against his billowy mane, and gave him a head rub on one cheek, while Tanabi did the same on the other side. "Yeah, dad, it's been kind of neat."
"So I see," he replied. He went over and gave my mother a lick, which she returned. "Hello, love. I see we've got some important business to attend to."
"We sure do."
Simba took on his kingly demeanor and addressed the three lionesses. "I am willing to consider your request, but first I need you to tell us why you left and why you came here."
The lionesses exchanged a few glances before Kitoweo finally replied. "Where do we start?"
It had been a while since Simba's and Kisasian's prides had faced off against one another. Kisasian's obsession with someday reclaiming the land once ruled by his father had not faded. But their territories were not adjacent, making the task more difficult for him, so he was taking things one step at a time and waiting until the time was right to go after Pride Rock. That meant enlarging the pride and eventually taking adjacent territory from which to launch an attack.
Kitoweo limped along, breathing hard and wincing from the pain. She had had to flee on her injured leg and probably made the injury worse in the process, a fact which her brain registered clearly once she was convinced her pursuers had broken off chase. The half moon near the horizon left it just dark enough to make tracking difficult, and now she was safely back into their own territory. Just then, Bashasha peered out at her, her face sporting a few cuts of her own. "Hi, Shashe," said Kitoweo. "Tough night, huh?"
"Hi, Kitty. You look terrible! How did that happen?"
"Got my paw caught trying to roll over. Blue got it worse than me; I hope she made it out alive."
"I hope so too. It wouldn't be the same around here without her."
Just then, Blue appeared out of the bushes. The whole left side of her face was a mess, a perversion of leonine form that even the darkness couldn't hide. Her fur was matted with blood and the open cuts were still contributing a slow trickle. The other two lionesses gaped at her, speechless.
"Zari did this to me," muttered Blue bitterly. "We used to be good friends. What's happened to us?"
Of course they all knew the answer to that one. Under Mwangalizi, their previous king, they had been on friendly terms with most of the neighboring prides, respecting each others' territories. But when Kisasian defeated him and became their king, he brought with him his ambitions to expand his kingdom. Thus his attempts to expand his territory provoked battles and incurred the enmity of their neighbors.
Blue wandered off, apparently to find a private place to nurse her wounds, both psychological and physical. As Kitoweo watched her older pride mate disappear into the night, she whispered, "Damn, I hate battles, especially when things like this happen to someone like her."
Bashasha let out a sigh. "Why are we doing this?"
"I don't know, Shashe," Kitoweo replied. "Kisasian's already got more territory than he knows what to do with, but he just seems to want more, more, more."
"Yeah, I've kinda noticed."
"You know what I think? I don't think it's having the territory that matters to him, it's the WINNING of it. He'll never be happy with what he's already got. He's always figuring out his next expansion, planning his next battle."
"Yeah, and we're the soldiers who have to fight the battles and suffer the losses..."
"Not only that, but our neighbors are getting wiser to our tactics and smarter at defending their territories. For one thing, a lot of them are friends with each other, and they're starting to help each other against us."
"Good for them, but where does it leave us?" There was a long silent pause. Finally, Bashasha cleared her throat. "Well, Kitty, I've come to a decision."
"I've had it with fighting his battles for him."
"What are you going to do? You can't just refuse to participate. Kisasian would never stand for that."
Bashasha looked around, then leaned over closer to her pride mate. "Can I trust you with a secret?"
Kitoweo gave her friend a puzzled look. "Of course. What kind of a secret is this that you would bring it up now?"
"I want out."
Kitoweo looked at her incredulously. "What do you mean!?""
"You know, leave this place and go live somewhere else."
It took Kitoweo a moment to find her tongue again. "Well you better make sure you know where you're going! I doubt if any of the prides around here will take you in. Nobody trusts us anymore. They'll just think we're up to something, that it's another one of Kisasian's tricks."
"I was thinking about Pride Rock," Bashasha explained. "I hear Simba treats his lionesses really well."
"What makes you think THEY'D take us? Simba's gotta know that Kisasian wants his territory."
"What do you mean, US? Do you want in on this, too?"
"Yes, I've been having similar thoughts." Kitoweo sighed. "Okay, so I've admitted it. I think it would be better it we do it together."
Bashasha looked back at her friend warmly. "I always knew I could count on you," she said in a mock patronizing voice. "Anyhow, I was thinking of Pride Rock. As you said, I don't know if they'll take us. Do you have any other ideas?"
Kitoweo gave the question some thought. "No, can't say that I do."
"Okay, Pride Rock it is, then." Bashasha shrugged. "Do you think any of the others would want to come, too?"
"I don't know. Certainly not Blue. She's pretty close to Kisasian, and you know how much she talks about the importance of being loyal to the pride. She'd never go for anything like this."
"Yeah, I know. Too, bad. I'm gonna miss her. Better not let her hear any of this."
Just then, they were startled to hear a small noise, just the crackle of a few blades of dried grass being stepped on. The two lionesses stood up, and there, lying just out of sight on the far side of a sloping rock, was Blue, looking back at them nonchalantly. "Oh, hi, Blue," said Bashasha casually. "Have any of your wounds gotten any better yet?"
"My face stopped bleeding, finally."
There was another long pause. This time it was Kitoweo who broke the silence. "How long have you been lying there?"
"Long enough," she replied evenly. "You're wrong."
The other two lionesses just looked at her desperately, and it was Bashasha who finally spoke. "Please, Blue... We have to do this. Don't you understand?"
"I know. That's not what I meant."
Kitoweo flinched uncomprehendingly. "Then what do you mean?"
"You're wrong about me. Zari must have knocked some sense into my head when she cuffed me. I want to come with you."
Kitoweo and Bashasha glanced at each other in surprise. "You do?" exclaimed Bashasha.
"Blue, you surprise me," chided Kitoweo.
Blue looked back and nodded, then gazed off between them lost in thought. The other two walked over to her and greeted her warmly, Kitoweo still wincing from using her injured leg. "I'm so happy," said Bashasha. "At least we can still be together."
"Glad to have you aboard, Samawati," said Kitoweo.
"Yeah, but I'm gonna miss the rest of the pride," replied Blue.
"I know," said Kitoweo. "That's the biggest reason it took me so long to go through with this."
"All right, when do we leave?" Bashasha posed.
"We'd better give it a few days. Kitty needs some time for that leg to heal before we go on any long journeys, and I don't want a new pride to see me with my face looking like this. Can you handle that, Shashe?"
Bashasha realized that her older pride mates were right, and she could muster the patience that came more easily to them. "Of course. I just hope Kisasian doesn't plan any more maneuvers before then."
"I doubt it. He knows we can't fight very well when we've been hurt and haven't had time to recover."
The three of them said nothing more, and returned to the rest of their pride in much the same manner as they always did following a battle. Over the next few days, Kitoweo did less than her normal share of the hunting and patrolling while her leg got better. Blue took evening border patrol a couple of nights and was out for an unusually long time on one of them, but returned just as her friends were starting to wonder what happened to her.
Eight days after their initial conversation, Blue again volunteered for an evening border patrol while Bashasha and Kitoweo were ostensibly out hunting together for gazelles. A short time later, they met up near the western edge of their territory, crossed the shallow river where a tributary entered on the opposite side, and followed it up a narrow canyon that divided the territories of two of their neighboring prides, being careful to avoid notice by either of them knowing that their presence would likely be viewed as a hostile act, all the while keeping to the water and away from other objects as much as possible to avoid leaving a scent trail. Hours later, they emerged from the canyon unobserved by either of the prides, and soon reached an area that wasn't claimed by any of Kisasian's immediate neighbors. As dawn broke, they crossed some terrain strewn with boulders large and small, and Kitoweo's injury began to act up, slowing them down. Later that morning, they crossed into the Pride Lands.
"So other than having to help fight his battles, how did Kisasian treat you?" my mom asked.
"Quite well, actually," Kitoweo replied. "He listens well and helps resolve our petty disputes. He makes sure we are well fed. He'd even hunt with us sometimes."
"...so that when it came time to fight battles," Blue continued, "we'd do it willingly as his teammates, not forcibly like we were his slaves."
"Hmmm. Whatever else you may think of Kisasian, you have to admit he's not dumb," Simba observed. "He knows a few things about how to lead a pride."
"When it came to normal pride life, everything was great," Bashasha injected. "He's a good leader and a good listener. But we're sick and tired of going to war against others we used to be friends with just so he can have more territory."
"One other thing," Blue added. "He may have treated us well up until now, but if I know Kisasian he will deal severely with any disloyalty from his pride. If you don't accept us, we'll move on and look somewhere else for a place to live, but we can't go back."
A hush fell over the group of us, as my mom and dad regarded the three lionesses, before dad finally spoke. "Nala and I will discuss it and let you know what we decide."
My father and Zazu came over to where we were sitting to confer with Dhama and my mother. "Well, what do you make of it?" my father posed. "This could all be part of some plan of Kisasian's to take over Pride Rock. Do you think they're really looking for a new home?"
Besides being the most knowledgeable about area prides, Dhama was also the best judge of character, so she replied first. "It's too early to tell and we have to be careful with this, but my first impression is that they're telling the truth. Since we first met them today, they haven't acted at all like they have anything to hide. More like they wish they could hide from all this."
"I thought so too," said my mom. "I know how tough it can be to go off and do something on your own against the wishes of the king, even one you don't like, and I'd hate to turn them away if they really need a place to live."
Mom? Do something against the wishes of my dad? I didn't get a chance to ponder her statement long before the discussion continued.
My father was silent for a moment before he spoke. "I agree with you. I hate to turn away lionesses in need, so we'll let them stay for now. But we need to be careful. I think we should keep a close eye on them for a while."
I didn't dare say anything, but at the time it surprised me that my parents could doubt their story. They seemed like outcasts, just the type my father would open his heart to. But then, I had never met Kisasian and didn't know much about him other than what had what I had learned that day.
"All right, you can stay," my father announced to the lionesses.
All three of the lionesses' heads came up and their faces lit up instantly. "Yesssss..." cheered Bashasha.
"Thank you! Thank you VERY much," said Kitoweo. "You don't know how much this means to us."
"Hey, Simba," my mom suggested. "What do you say we get Rafiki over here to see what he can do about some of their injuries?"
"Good idea. Zazu?"
"Right away, sire," the hornbill replied, as he flew off to find the pride shaman.
I glanced in their direction and noticed that Bashasha was smiling at me, so I walked over and greeted her. "Hi, I'm Shani. I hope you like living with our pride."
"I hope so too," she said warmly. "I like cubs. Would you like to play together some time?"
"I'd like that. Have you met my brother, Tanabi?" Tanabi was a little shy and was still sitting by our parents watching me. "Hey Tanabi, come over here," I called.
Tanabi stood up and came over to us. "Hi. Nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you too," said Bashasha. "You can call me Shashe."
She introduced us to Blue and Kitoweo and we talked to them for a little while. They were all very friendly and seemed to enjoy our company. I hoped even more that they would be able to stay with the pride.
A little bit later I was back with my mother. "Mom, you said something earlier I didn't understand."
"What was that?"
"What did you mean about going against the king and not liking him?"
My mom was momentarily puzzled until she recalled the remark. "Oh, that," she chuckled. "I wasn't talking about Simba. I was talking about when Scar was king and I left to find help. I knew that once I left, I would never be able to come back and be a member of the pride as long as Scar was king. I didn't know I would find Simba when I left, but knew that whoever I brought back had better win the challenge. If your father had lost, I would have had to either face Scar and whatever consequences he imposed, or run away. I would have run away because Scar probably would have killed me for that. The point is, Scar would never again be able to view me as a loyal member of his pride.
"Now Shashe, Blue and Kitty are in a similar situation, provided they're telling us the truth. As long as Kisasian is king of their former pride, they can never go back."
"So, does that mean now they're outcasts?"
"Not if they stay with us, they're not!"
Things went smoothly in the days following the arrival of the new lionesses. All three of them were quite friendly, and Tanabi got over his initial shyness and warmed up to them quickly enough. We cubs certainly couldn't see any way they could be part of some devious plan.
At first, the one we ended up spending the most time with Kitoweo. Rafiki told her not to hunt for a few days so her leg could get better, so she helped watch the cubs while the others did the hunting. "Miss Kitty" we would call her, and she was very kind to all of us. She told us she didn't have any cubs of her own yet but hoped to someday, and hoped they were as good as we were. She was anxious to hunt again and was overjoyed the day Rafiki told her she could hunt again.
Bashasha seemed to like the cubs the most, and seemed to act most like a cub. We were all quite drawn to her. She stayed and played with us the first day Kitoweo hunted. Shashe loved playing rough-and-tumble games with all of us, and when she was too tired to play, she would tell silly stories and talk with us about little things that interested us.
Blue was more the wise grandmother type. At first our parents had us call her by her proper name, Samawati, but they soon relented when Blue herself told us we could call her by her nickname. She told us a lot of neat things about her life and some of the lions she had known. Kora especially seemed to like her a lot.
Blue and Bashasha quickly proved their hunting skills, as did Kitoweo once she was allowed to hunt. All three of them demonstrated their willingness to take on their share of tasks. They were as nice to us as any of the lionesses we had known since birth, and we hoped and prayed that they would get to stay for a long time.
* * *
Another strange thing happened about that time. Tanabi and I, along with Kora, Taglia and the rest of the cubs, were out playing on top of Granite Kopje while Luangwa and Tuli were watching us. Ever since the day Hofu had left us the gazelle leg, I couldn't help wondering if he was going to leave us another one, so I would look out into the bush now and then to see if he might be watching us. By that time we realized he could be so quiet and so well hidden that there was no telling how many times he might have watched us and we never knew it, but that didn't stop us from looking for him. This day was no exception and I had looked around couple of times already without seeing anything. As the group was about to head for the other end of the kopje, I looked around one last time. I hadn't noticed anything and was about to follow my playmates when suddenly I heard another "sneeze" like Hofu had done before. As soon as I looked toward the area where the sound had originated, he snaked away, rewarding my best efforts at observation with only a couple of the tiniest glimpses of tawny coat and a few plants being jostled as he brushed past them. If there had been any stories that said he could become invisible, I think I would have believed them.
I wondered if there was another gazelle leg or something similar waiting for us, but the rest of my group was still too close and I couldn't just up and walk over to it right in front of everybody, so I made my way over to Tanabi. He was busy wrestling with Taglia and winning, so it took me a minute to get his attention. By the time he won the match, I had figured out a way to do it. "Hey Tanabi. I know a secret!"
"Yeah, so what?"
"If ya wanna hear it, you're gonna have to pin me," I taunted.
"Well maybe I don't care about your secret," he said disinterestedly.
He turned his glance to me slowly. "But then, maybe I don't need a reason to pin you." With that, he suddenly pounced. My parents would tell us how my mom could beat my dad at wrestling when they were cubs, but Tanabi and I were about evenly matched. I had planned to let him win so I could tell him my secret, but I was a bit miffed that he had managed to surprise me doing exactly what I wanted him to, so I fought back as hard as I could. But Tanabi was in good form that day and soon had me on my back. "Pinned ya'!"
"All right," I snorted. "I'll tell you, but'cha gotta get real close so no one else will hear."
Tanabi leaned close.
"Hofu was watching us again," I whispered. "I think he left us another snack."
"Wow!" he said out loud.
"Quiet!" I told him. "You want everyone else to know about it?"
"No, I guess not."
We nonchalantly wandered back in the direction where I had seen Hofu, then stopped long enough to see if anyone had noticed which way we were going. Some of the others had gotten into a tussle and it seemed like as good a time as any to sneak away.
I led the way, not even worrying about being careful like we had before, and once we were off the kopje it only took us a few leaps to reach the spot. I was anxious to get that gazelle leg or whatever it was he left us this time, but when we got there, nothing. "I wonder where he left it," I pondered aloud. I was starting to feel foolish for dragging Tanabi out here, when suddenly he saw something that stopped him dead in his tracks. "Whoa, Shani. Come look at this, and be careful where you step."
"What is it?" I replied as I padded over. My eyes widened as I saw lines and shapes in the dust beside the rock. "It's a picture."
"A what?" he asked.
"Have you ever seen the shapes Rafiki draws on his tree? He's got pictures of lions, and rocks and trees, and one of an eye..."
"Okay, yeah I remember those. You think these are pictures?"
"I think so."
"I wonder what they are?"
We soon determined that we must be looking at this one upside down, so we walked around to the other side carefully, making sure there weren't any other pictures where we stepped, and looked at it from the other side. Then we looked up and saw the same outline in the distance before us. "It's Pride Rock," Tanabi exclaimed. "Hofu must have done this."
"Wow, you're right!" I whispered. "I wonder if there's other pictures around."
We looked around some more and soon found another picture. This one showed a landscape of the Pride Lands looking in a different direction, with a few acacia trees in the right places and a couple of figures that we decided must be grazing antelope. The pictures were rough but recognizable, quite an accomplishment considering he only had his paws to use. He must have extended a claw to make the lines.
Tanabi found the third picture, which was by far the most interesting we'd seen so far. "Hey Shani, come here and check this out."
It showed an overhanging rock, and underneath it were two figures. "I think these are lion cubs," I observed.
"I know, Shani."
"See, they have ears, and this one has a tail, and..."
"Don't you see? It's us."
"This is the rock we sat under when it rained."
Tanabi was right. I looked up and there in front of us was the rock we had sheltered under the day it had rained and he left us the gazelle leg. We sat for a long moment looking at the picture, neither of us knowing what to say.
Our thoughts were interrupted by a voice. "Shani! Tanabi! Where are you guys?" It was Kora, back over on top of the kopje. She spotted us before we had a chance to think about whether to hide. "What are you guys doing over there?"
"Come look at this," I replied. I might not have said anything, but since she already knew where we were, I figured what the heck. "Watch your step as you get close."
She came over, giving us strange looks but complying as we told her where not to step. "Look at this," we said when she finally reached us.
"Wow! Did you do this?"
"No," Tanabi and I both said.
"I don't know," I lied.
"Nice picture of cubs here," Kora remarked. I didn't want to have to explain why I though it was Tanabi and I, so I didn't mention that part. Looking around some more, we found one more picture, a side view of an adult male lion.
"This looks like Simba!" Kora observed. "That's how he holds up his head and tail when he's doing border patrol."
She was right, it did look a lot like my dad, and he often passed through this area when doing his surveys of the Pride Lands.
Taglia soon came looking for us and we showed him the pictures too. He was impressed. We studied them a bit longer, enjoying them while we had the chance before we had to get back to rejoin the others. It was sad to think they would be gone after the next windstorm or rainfall.
I was walking with Grandma Saffi one day about a half a moon after the three lionesses had joined us, and I remembered how she had reacted to Blue when they first arrived. "Saffi, what do you think of Blue now?"
"I think she's a very smart and friendly lioness," she replied. "We've gotten along with each other just fine. She's also an excellent hunter. Just today we brought down a wildebeest together, and we congratulated each other on a job well done."
"Then you're not worried about her anymore?"
"You mean because of what I said about her when they first got here?"
"The other day, Blue told me she recognized me too from when our prides fought, and knew that I recognized her. I told her yes, I did. We talked about it some and we both agreed that working together was much better than fighting each other."
* * *
The next day, following a rain shower in the morning, Shashe and Luangwa took us to Granite kopje. We went over to see if the pictures were still there, and sure enough, the rain had obliterated them. Though it was expected, it still saddened me. We didn't see any signs of Hofu. Tanabi was anxious to take Shashe over to Ostrich kopje and show her around, but it got to be too late and we had to return to Pride Rock.
I settled down for a nap as Shashe lay nearby waiting for the hunting party to return. I closed my eyes and rested but couldn't get to sleep, and shortly thereafter Blue and Miss Kitty returned from the hunt, so I continued to play possum.
"Hi, Shashe," I heard Kitoweo say.
"Hi, Kitty. Hi, Blue. How was the hunt?"
"Very good," said Blue. "We took down a zebra."
"Awesome!" said Bashasha. They made a bit more small talk about the day's hunt before she posed the question, "What do you guys think of it here so far?"
"I think it's working out pretty good," said Blue.
"Well..." uttered Kitoweo, her voice betraying some trepidation.
"What?" Bashasha asked.
"I think they're watching us. Every time I look over at Tuli or Dhama, it seems like they're looking away from me just then. Not every time, but... you know what I mean."
"Yes, I do know what you mean," Blue replied.
Bashasha's voice dropped noticeably and became pained. "It's like they don't trust us. Sure, they act friendly and all, but they think we're spies or something."
There was long pause before Blue spoke again. "Well, can you blame them? We did come from Kisasian's pride, after all, and they know how much Kisasian wants Pride Rock. Besides, I don't know of any other pride that would have trusted us even this much. I say we just deal with it and do our best to fit in for as long as it takes to convince them we're on the level."
"Damn him," Bashasha hissed. "That's another reason I wanted out. Nobody trusts Kisasian anymore, and because we belong to his pride they don't trust US either. It doesn't matter what WE are REALLY like, all that matters is that we're from HIS pride."
"Calm down, Shashe," Blue said gently, not unlike mother comforting a child. "It's not as hopeless as it might seem. That night before we left when I was out late on border patrol, you know what I was really doing?"
"What?" the other two asked.
"After what happened with Zari, I couldn't stand the thought of leaving without saying something. So I sneaked into their territory, hoping I'd be able to catch her alone. I didn't get far before another member of her pride spotted me. 'Who are you?' she shouted.
"I didn't say anything right away. Another lioness came over closer and looked at me. 'She's one of Kisasian's! GET HER!'
"The two of them charged and were ready to attack, as they had every reason to. I was deep in their territory, outnumbered and wondering if I was doing something really stupid, so the only thing I could do was roll over submissively and hope. Luckily they accepted my submission and didn't attack me.
"They demanded to know what I was doing there. 'I need to talk to Zari,' I told them. They didn't believe me at first, but with a bit of convincing and a bit of stubbornness, they agreed to take me to her, with stern warnings about what they would do to me if I tried anything funny. We met under an acacia tree.
"She wasn't exactly happy to see me. 'What do you want with me?' were the first words out of her mouth.
"I told her I needed to talk to her. At first she was just angry and sarcastic, asking if I was here to explain why my pride needs to attack hers, or if I was there to demand an apology because she ripped my face. She was unloading on me and I just wanted to have a reasonable conversation.
"When I finally got a word in, I responded that we were each doing what we had to do as members of our prides. She seemed to accept that at first, but then she added that that was self-evident and didn't explain what I was doing there. 'Maybe you belong to the wrong pride,' she said at one point.
"'I know,' I told her. 'That's why I'm here.'
"That got her attention. 'What are you saying?' she asked.
"I told her I had decided to leave Kisasian's pride. We had been friends for a long time, I didn't know if I'd see her again, and after what had happened in the battle I didn't want it to end that way.
"Zari didn't know what to say at that point, but she calmed down more and we were finally able to talk like the old friends we were. She thought I was nuts to risk entering their territory like that just to talk to her but she was grateful for the little talk we had and she wished me luck in finding a new pride. We chatted for a little while about different things. I never told her where I was going or that you guys were coming with me - not that I was trying to hide it, it just never came up. But I did ask her and the other two lionesses to keep it a secret for a few days, which as far as I know they did.
"Finally I had to get back, so Zari and one of the other lionesses escorted me back to the border. Zari said she hoped we'd see each other again as long as I wasn't in Kisasian's pride anymore. We said goodbye, and I hurried up to finish my border patrol. As I walked off, I heard the other lioness saying, 'She could be lying. It might be a trick.'
"'She's not lying,' Zari said. And just hearing those last words out of her mouth made the whole visit worth a lot more. You see, I too was having my doubts about whether any other pride would accept us, and that convinced me we still have reputations of our own to build on."
Bashasha and Kitoweo gazed at her, entranced. "Wow! I can't believe you did that, but thanks for telling us," said Kitoweo.
"Now if we can just get this pride to accept us..." Bashasha remarked.
"Yes, I think they are, gradually," Kitoweo added, "but that Dhama, I don't know about her."
Blue nodded. "Yep. She's the best judge of character I've ever met. She'll see right through you every time. But you know what? I think that makes her our best ally for trying to fit in here."
"Hmm, I think I see," said Kitoweo. "You think she's the one who can convince Simba and Nala we're telling the truth."
"Exactly. I think just having her in the pride made it easier for Simba to take a chance on us."
"I wonder what it would have been like having her in Kisasian's pride," Bashasha thought aloud.
"She would have known we were up to something while we were planning our escape," Kitoweo observed. "Now whether she would have ratted on us, I don't know, but she would have known."
I pretended to wake up, yawning and stretching my front legs. Even though I hadn't slept, my eyes didn't want to open. I had to squint while they adjusted to the light.
"Well, hello sleepy head," said Blue. "Did you have a nice nap?"
"Yeah," I mumbled, still feeling lethargic. "How was the hunt?"
Miss Kitty smiled at me. "We did well. Come with us in a little bit and have some zebra."
"Sounds good to me. I'm hungry."
Shortly thereafter I was eating from the kill with my parents, and was having a struggle of sorts trying to decide whether I should tell them about the lionesses' conversation. It felt like I would be tattling or telling a secret if I said anything, yet it also seemed that it was something important, something they really should know about. I wrestled with the question for a while, trying to decide what was the right thing to do. I finally decided it would be better to tell them. "Mom? Dad?" I said.
"Yes, Shani?" my mom replied.
"This afternoon when I was supposed to be sleeping, I heard Kitty, Blue and Shashe talking about us - I mean, our pride. They think you don't trust them."
My dad looked at me curiously. "What do you mean?"
"You remember when they first got here and you said to keep an eye on them? Well, they know you've been watching them."
"What else did they say?" my father asked.
"Hold on a second," my mother injected. "I think Dhama should hear this."
Dhama came over to join us, and I told them what I had heard in the conversation between the three lionesses. They listened attentively and nodded. "So what do you think," my mom asked.
"Hmmm... First of all, thank you for telling us, Shani. You did the right thing," said my mom.
"They're not gonna get in trouble or anything, are they?" I asked.
"No, sweetheart," my mother replied. "Why should they? They didn't do anything wrong." I was relieved to hear her say that.
Dad looked over at them. "I'll say one thing. They don't miss much of what's going on around them."
"Yes, they're real sharp," Dhama observed. "I'm not surprised they knew we'd be watching them. Do you think they knew Shani could hear them?"
"Good question," said Nala. "They knew she was there and could easily have had their conversation somewhere else if they really wanted to keep it a secret. But that doesn't mean it's not truthful."
"So what do you think?" my dad asked Dhama. "Do you think they're being on the level with us?"
"As far as I can tell, they are. They hunt well - I dare say they could teach us a thing or two - and they're very good with the cubs, especially Bashasha. From Kitty and Shashe at least, I get the feeling they're relieved to be here, like a great burden has been lifted from them. And Blue has certainly been around the veld a few times." Dhama paused thoughtfully. "There's just something about her, though."
"What?" my mother asked.
"She was a pride elder. The other two I could understand, but a lioness of her stature doesn't just up and leave a pride without a good reason and a lot of thought. She told us about Zari - I've met her a couple of times, by the way. Very friendly lioness. But that doesn't seem like enough of a reason for her to go."
My mom looked at her quizzically. "What are you saying? Is this a problem?"
"Not necessarily," Dhama replied. "But I'd be willing to bet we haven't gotten the whole story from her yet."
"How confident are you of your evaluation of them?" my father asked.
"Whenever I talk to them and try to read the look in their eyes, it tells me they're giving it to us straight. Either they're telling us the truth or they can put on a better act than anyone I've ever met."
My father considered her words carefully, thinking perhaps about his own interactions with the lionesses. "I think I agree with you, Dhama. Nala, what do you think?"
"Okay, then let's stop watching them so closely and try to make them feel more welcome in the pride. We can still keep it in the back of our minds that they might be up to something, but we can just interact with them normally. As for Blue, well, I wonder about her too, but I don't think we should press her about it. Hopefully at some point she'll tell us on her own."
The others nodded.
"Let's go have a talk with them."
We went over to the three lionesses, and Simba addressed them. "How do you like living with our pride so far?"
"We're really enjoying it," said Bashasha. The others nodded.
"I understand you guys think we've been watching you a bit too much. Do you want to talk about it?"
Blue turned and gazed at me sternly. "You heard our conversation earlier, didn't you?"
I felt like crawling out of my fur and hiding. "Real sharp," my mom uttered to Dhama.
Blue turned back to my father. "No offense taken, Simba. We know what Kisasian's reputation is like, and I'd probably do the same thing if I were in your position. I'd probably think less of you if you weren't careful about us."
"I understand, but I still hate it," Shashe lamented. "That's one of the reasons we left."
Kitoweo spoke up. "What can we do that would convince you that we can be trusted?"
My mom and Dhama looked at each other for a moment before mom replied. "There's no good answer to that. Anything you could do, you would probably do if you were trying to earn our trust for the wrong reasons. I guess it just takes time."
Kitoweo seemed like she wasn't happy with that answer but couldn't argue with it. "Okay," she replied.
"Just keep on doing what your doing," my mom continued.
"But stop trying so hard," Dhama added. "I think you'll fit in better if you relax a little."
Blue sighed. "Maybe things will be better now that it's out in the open."
Bashasha looked at me. "C'mere, you little sneak," she said mischievously as she swept me over to her with a paw.
"Are you mad at me?" I asked.
"No," she said as she gave me a noogie on the head. I squirmed out from under her grasp.
She and Miss Kitty continued to tease me playfully as Simba took Blue aside to discuss something. We were still friends, and everyone was okay with the outcome of the discussion. It just takes time, my mom had said. Don't try so hard, Dhama had advised. It all seemed pretty simple.
When my father was done talking to Blue the two of them came over to include Bashasha and Kitoweo in their conversation. My mother left then and took me with her, so I couldn't hear anything they were saying except at the very end when I heard Bashasha say, "I hope that doesn't happen."
I didn't know what they were talking about, and my parents wouldn't tell me. But I would find out soon enough. Three days later, it happened. Things were about to get a lot more complicated.
We were all relaxing on the promontory of Pride Rock after a day of good hunting, and we were well fed. The shadow of Pride Rock was getting long out into the savannah, a gentle breeze was rustling the leaves of the nearby trees, and birdsongs were intermittently punctuating the quiet serenity.
Quite unexpectedly, a lion I had never seen before appeared at the base of the promontory. We had gotten no warning that he was coming. He was quite large, with a dark mane and a scar over one eye. My father immediately stood up in an aggressive stance, and the lionesses all stood or sat up alert, their attention focused on the two lions.
"Hello, Simba," said the other lion gruffly.
"Well, fancy seeing you here, Kisasian. What do you want?" my father demanded. So this is the infamous Kisasian, I thought to myself.
"More than you know," Kisasian replied as he smiled patronizingly. "More than you know. But I didn't come here to challenge you, if that's what you're worried about. I'll come for that another day, and yes, you should be worried."
My father was unperturbed. "Then what did you come for?" Even as he asked the question, it was obvious he already knew the answer.
"It is no concern of yours," Kisasian replied, as he turned and ambled toward the three former members of his pride.
Simba bounded over in their direction, ready to interpose himself if necessary. Blue stood assertively while Kitoweo and Bashasha looked on as though they were fugitives who had just been caught. Before Kisasian had a chance to say anything to them, Simba cut him off. "I'm the king here. I'll decide what concerns me."
"They're part of my pride, and it is time for them to come home."
"Not anymore," Blue asserted. "This is where we live now."
Kisasian glared at her. "You didn't really think you'd be able to hide from me forever, did you? It wasn't that hard to track you down, you know."
Blue held his gaze. "Surely you've got better things to do than come chasing after three lionesses who would rather be somewhere else."
"Nobody leaves my pride without my say so." Kisasian smiled condescendingly. "I could understand something like this from a younger lioness." He glanced briefly at Bashasha, then back at Blue. "But you, Samawati, one of my eldest! You speak of loyalty, and the others look up to you. I'm really disappointed."
"Life's tough. Deal with it."
Kisasian turned back to Simba. "I'll make this very simple. You've got something of mine, and I want it back."
"First of all, I didn't TAKE your lionesses," my father pointed out. "They came here on their own..."
"I don't care how they got here. I just want them back."
My father looked over at them for a long moment, then looked back at Kisasian. "Fine. I'm not making them stay. They are free to leave whenever they want."
Bashasha and Kitoweo briefly gave each other a puzzled look, then turned and smiled assertively. Kisasian too was momentarily caught off guard, but he quickly composed himself and glared back at Simba icily. "You're funny."
"You got a problem with letting them decide for themselves?"
"You're the king! You're in charge here, at least for now. They'll do whatever you tell them."
"They may be members of my pride now, but I don't OWN them or any of the other lionesses. Any lioness here is free to go with you, as another lioness from my pride once did. I wasn't happy about it, but it was her choice. As long as these three get along here and do their share, they're welcome to stay." My dad glanced over at them. "And so far, I'd say they've done just fine."
Kitoweo allowed a bit of gratitude to creep into her expression, and Bashasha became more relaxed.
Kisasian looked at them threateningly. "Well?"
Holding her head up, Blue paced around behind Simba, turned, sat on her haunches, and faced Kisasian assertively. Kisasian stared at her, but she was intransigent under his gaze. Finally, she glanced over at Kitoweo and Bashasha. Emboldened by their older comrade, they stood up and followed suit. As my dad's face displayed calm confidence, Kisasian's became more angry.
"I don't buy it. You can't keep them." Kisasian paused a moment before continuing. "Don't you ever feel like exercising your authority?"
Wrong move. Dad grinned at Kisasian menacingly. "As a matter or fact, I do, right now. Get out of here, and get off my Pride Lands!"
Kisasian stepped back and regarded my dad, then took one last look at Blue, Shashe and Kitty. "You haven't heard the last from me on this. I'll be back." He turned and walked away, stepping down from Pride Rock and disappearing into the evening.
"Zazu!" my father called out.
"Right away, Simba!" Zazu quickly flew off to follow Kisasian as the rest of us sat there in silence, pondering what had just happened. I could see both relief and concern on everyone's faces.
Bashasha was the one who finally broke the silence. "Thank you for not making us go back."
My father relaxed into a more resigned posture. "I was hoping he would learn a lesson from losing part of his pride."
"Kisasian?" Miss Kitty laughed. "Don't bet on it."
"One can always hope," my dad murmured.
"He only accepts the Circle of Life on his own terms," said Blue. "If Mwangalizi could never convince him otherwise, I doubt if there's anything you could do that would make a difference."
"Yes, I know," Simba replied, "but experience can sometimes be the best teacher."
"Not for Kisasian. When reality doesn't agree with his wishes, he would claim that reality is wrong," Kitoweo explained.
"Did you mean what you said about us doing fine?" Bashasha asked.
"Absolutely," said my dad. "You've done very well at hunting and helping care for the cubs."
"Thank you," said Bashasha. Kitoweo nodded along with her.
"So tell me, Blue," my dad said as he turned to her. "Why DO you think he came after you?"
"For starters, it leaves him shorthanded without us. He was having a tough enough time gaining any territory with fifteen lionesses, and now he's down to twelve. Second, I wouldn't be surprised if some of the others were having thoughts about leaving, and now that we've gone and done it they may feel more like trying it too. Kisasian probably wants to make it clear that leaving his pride won't be tolerated and anyone who does will be tracked down and brought back. He probably wants to make examples out of us to show the others what happens to lionesses who desert him. Me especially. You heard what he said."
"He was NOT happy to find us here," Kitoweo added. "You know he wants Pride Rock, and you know how he feels about you and his father. To him, not only did we leave his team, we joined the enemy."
"Well, we're glad to have you on our team," said Nala. "As long as we're in charge you'll be safe here."
I was curious about something. "Who was the lioness Dad was talking about?"
"That was Lisani," my mother answered. "She wandered off one day while we were living in the valley near Kisasian, and she fell for him."
"That's another side of Kisasian," Bashasha added. "When he turns on the charm, he can be hard to resist." She almost looked dreamy eyed for a moment as she said it. "Lisani is still one of his closest soulmates in the pride. I could have been, too."
"Oh really? Why didn't you?" my mother asked.
"He had his eye on me as I was coming of age. I knew it and for a while I didn't mind. Even enjoyed the attention a little. But I became too disenchanted with how things were going in the pride. He probably sensed it, so I became just another lioness in he pride."
"Are you disappointed?" I asked.
"No. He wasn't for me. My time will come." There was no regret or remorse in her voice as she said it. Bashasha really was quite beautiful, and I had little doubt she would one day find love.
Afterwards my dad was lying on the end of the promontory looking outward, so I walked up and lay down next to him. He put his paw over me and pulled me closer. I rubbed my head up against his chest and felt him purr a little. For a while he just held me like that and we lay quietly together.
I finally asked him, "Are you worried about Kisasian?"
He took a deep breath. "I was just thinking about what it might have been like if things had been a little different. Grandma Sassy, my mother, once forced Kisasian's mother Ngwame to leave the pride. Would things be better if she hadn't done that? It's hard to say. If Sarabi had let Ngwame stay, Kisasian would have been born here, and probably would have been living here when I had to come back to defeat Scar and reclaim the Pride Lands. His presence here would have made my challenge that much more difficult." He paused thoughtfully. "But that's not the way it happened, thank goodness, and at any rate we have to do the best we can with the way things are."
The next day I was with Taglia and Kora when Luangwa and Tuli returned from their hunt. "Hi, mom," said Kora. "Did you get us something to eat?"
"Hi, sweets," said Tuli. "Sorry, not today."
"We missed our kill today," Luangwa sighed. "Kitty was having a bad day."
Taglia looked at his mother. "But I thought you said Miss Kitty was a good hunter."
"She is a good hunter most of the time," Luangwa replied. "Today just wasn't a good day for her. We all have off days now and then."
"I know. She just wasn't into it," said Tuli.
Tuli and Luangwa left with their cubs, and I noticed Miss Kitty lying by herself, seemingly lost in thought. I was tempted to go over and talk to her, but she seemed to want to be left alone, so I didn't. Shortly thereafter, my father returned with another hunting party he had joined after finishing up a border patrol. "Hi, Shani."
"Hi, Dad." I stood up as he leaned down and we rubbed heads, and I felt the warmth that I never got tired of.
He went over to Kitoweo. "Kitoweo?"
"Hi, Simba," Miss Kitty replied.
"I heard the hunt didn't go too well."
Kitoweo sighed. "No, not really. I wasn't that hungry, and my leg was bothering me a little."
"Maybe you should have Rafiki take another look at it."
"Naah, it's not that bad."
Miss Kitty lay her head back down, but still had that lost look. "What is it, Kitty?" my dad asked.
Kitoweo lifted her head and stared out into the savannah. "That bastard," she hissed. "Why did he have to show up like that just when we were starting to fit in here?"
"I thought that might have something to do with it," said my father. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"I wouldn't know what to say," Kitoweo replied. "I'm sorry about the hunt. I'll try not to let my problems get in the way again."
"Don't worry. We'll stick together and help you guys as much as we need to."
"I'm really sorry, Simba. I guess we didn't think our problems would follow us here, and it's not fair for you to have to deal with them."
"But neither is it fair for you to have to stay in Kisasian's pride if that's not where you want to live. I already knew that sooner or later I'd have to go up against Kisasian again. At least this way I get to help you guys out too."
* * *
"One day Hofu pushed another lion into a ravine that was all choked with bushes that had these long thorns on them..." It was Taglia, telling another one of his horror stories he claimed to have just heard. "The ledge he pushed him off of was too high to climb back up, and there was no way for the other lion to get out except to push through all those long thorns. Ouch!"
I noticed Tanabi looking off to the south, not really listening. Actually, it was more like he was trying not to hear Taglia's story.
"By the time he got out," Taglia continued, "he was all cut up and bloody from all those thorns, but Hofu was there to meet him, and..."
"Stop it! Just stop it!" I yelled. "I don't want to hear any more of your dumb story!" Kora looked at me incredulously while Tanabi suddenly seemed more relaxed.
"What's the matter with you, Shani?" said Taglia.
"Dhama says most of those stories are lies, and I don't think we should talk about Hofu like that if we don't know the truth."
"Well, so what if it's not true? I was just trying to have a little fun."
"Just don't do it, okay? It's not fair."
This argument went on for some time, with Taglia telling me I was no fun, Kora not sure whose side to take, and Tanabi mostly keeping quiet. Taglia was still anxious to tell the story, but it wasn't fun for him without an audience and Tanabi and I wouldn't listen, so he stormed off all mad at us. Kora didn't like seeing us fight over something like that and wouldn't take sides.
By the next day, however, we were playing and having fun together like none of this had ever happened. Cubs are funny that way.
* * *
"It's really quite nice walking out here, learning the land, the plants, the creatures, just taking everything in." On this particular day my father had decided to let Zazu rest and invite Tanabi and I along on his border patrol. As we walked along, he was explaining to us about border patrols, what he was doing and what he would look for. "The better you know the land, the easier it is to see something out of the ordinary." We were walking along the southern border of the Pride Lands, nearing the point where the land just outside turns to desert. "A lot of herds come through this area. They stay just this side of the desert, to the west," my dad explained.
Tanabi would have this job someday, so he was paying close attention and asking a lot of questions. "Is that why the lionesses hunt over here a lot?" he asked.
"Very good," my father replied. He paused suddenly and sniffed the ground, as he had been doing from time to time, and his face changed.
"Do you smell something?" I asked.
"It's a leopard and cheetah coalition. Now there's an unusual combination! Most leopards and cheetahs prefer to stick with their own kind, but a pair of one of each got hooked up with each other somehow."
Tanabi and I looked at him with great interest.
"Anyhow, about two moons ago I had to run them out of the Pride Lands. Now it seems they've been back through here again, probably within the last day or so. I've picked up their scent."
"So what are you going to do?" I asked.
"I'm going to follow their trail and see if it leads me to them."
"Where do you think they went?" asked Tanabi.
"Rogues and other travelers pass through this way fairly often to avoid crossing the desert. If I had to guess, they're probably doing the same."
We started along their trail, which followed the edge of the desert just inside our border as it turned northward, pretty much the same route we had planned to take anyway. We heard a kori bustard producing its drum-like mating call somewhere in the distance. "Why did you run them out?" Tanabi asked.
"They would chase after the herds of zebra and antelope, spooking them, making them run a lot, even causing stampedes a couple of times. Not for hunting, but just for fun. Then when our pride would come out to hunt, they were hard to stalk, and the herds to move through here more quickly. I told them more than once to stop it, but they wouldn't, so I had to make them leave."
This was interesting to hear. "Why did you make them leave if you didn't make Hofu leave, or three lionesses from Kisasian's pride?"
"Because Hofu and the lionesses didn't do anything to deserve it. Even with this coalition, it was a hard decision to make them leave because what they had done was fairly minor. It's easier to kick out someone who's guilty of a more serious offense because you know they deserve it. But maybe these two have learned a lesson from this, and if they can treat the other animals with more respect I might allow them back here again someday."
We continued to follow the scent trail northward along the western border, curving inward to the east when we came to the gorge. They didn't mark anyplace, an act which would be quite brazen since it is in effect trying to claim territory. The scenery was beautiful here, as it was in most of the Pride Lands. The air was full of sounds and smells, and we saw a few herds of antelope and other animals, usually in the distance. "Lions are predators, so they always keep a safe distance, but they know I'm just patrolling and not out for a hunt, so they're not too worried about me."
As we walked along, we talked about various cubs and lionesses in the pride, and he would tell us about things he did with his father, or a story of growing up with Timon and Pumbaa. The land sloped gradually downward here and the gorge alongside us became wider and shallower as we progressed northward until at one point it curved westward and disappeared into the desert sands. A little bit further, the desert itself gave way to more savannah, and at this point, the coalition's scent trail left the Pride Lands.
"Looks like they snuck through our territory along the usual route," my father observed. "But they seem to have behaved themselves this time."
I looked around in awe at this part of the Pride Lands. Though I had always viewed border patrols as something of a necessary evil, it was easy to see how they could be quite pleasant, at least when no problems arose. "Hey dad, this is kind of neat here. How come you don't let us come up here very much?"
"We're getting close to where the hyenas live. They won't bother the adults, but I wouldn't trust them not to attack or even kill a cub. That's why we don't allow cubs up here unless there are plenty of adults with them, and even then we watch you guys really carefully."
Tanabi looked a little uneasy. "Aren't you a little afraid they might attack us now?"
My father laughed. "They know I'm the king, and I get along with their leaders. They won't mess with me. But it's about time we headed back anyway."
We looked around and talked some more as we made our way along the acacia topped hills and between the termite mounds on our way back to Pride Rock. It had been a very enjoyable morning.
True to his word, Kisasian made another appearance. It happened about the same time of day as before, but this time we got a little bit of warning that he was coming. It was still less than we would have liked, though. He apparently knew how to get well into the Pride Lands without being noticed, and we were able to establish later that he hadn't come in the same way he had left the first time. We were waiting for him as he approached on the path leading from the waterhole.
"What is it this time?" my father asked.
Kisasian met his gaze. "I told you I'd be back. You already know what I've come for."
"Kisasian," my father asserted, "I don't know what you were expecting, but my position hasn't changed any. Kitoweo, Samawati and Bashasha left your pride and came here on their own initiative. I had never met them before, but other members of my pride remembered fighting against them when we faced off before. I didn't invite them here and probably wouldn't have, but I'm not one to turn away someone in need."
"Your sense of charity is misplaced," Kisasian muttered. "Let me worry about the needs of my lionesses."
Kitoweo stepped forward. "You talk about our needs? If you want us back you're going to have to make us want to come back."
Kisasian glared back at her disdainfully. "And what would I have to do for that?"
"First, there would have to be no consequences for the three of us for leaving. Second, we stop fighting other prides who don't provoke us and get back on friendly terms with them like it used to be." Kitoweo then stepped back, looking proud of herself.
Kisasian looked at her coldly. "I am king! I'll not have my lionesses telling me how to run my pride!" He glared at Simba. "You've been putting ideas into their heads, haven't you?"
My father the King spoke once again. "Then that's how you run your pride, is it? Your way or no way. No, I haven't been putting ideas into their heads. I assure you whatever thoughts they have about you and how you run your pride they came up with on their own. They can think for themselves, you know. Don't you ever think about how the rest of your pride feels about your leadership?"
"Of course I do! I treat my lionesses well."
"Yeah, most of the time when it's not a problem. But when it gets in the way of your ambitions, to hell with them. Nobody trusts you or anyone else in your pride anymore. It was a struggle for these three here, but they've earned it. Doesn't that tell you anything? Your reputation is so bad that even your lionesses don't have any friends anymore except each other. I could never do that to my pride!"
Kisasian glared back, unperturbed by Simba's speech. "You run your pride your way, I'll run mine my way. But as far as I'm concerned, those three still belong to me and I demand that you return them at once. This is my last warning."
"My position is unchanged. They're not going anywhere unless it's by their own choice."
"They belong to my pride, not yours," growled Kisasian.
"I'm laying down the law in my kingdom. If you want to challenge it, you'll have to challenge me."
"If you insist."
Simba looked at him incredulously. "Now? You can't be serious! You're so outnumbered you wouldn't stand a chance."
"Oh no, Simba. Not here and now. I'll choose my time and place, and when I'm through you'll wish you'd never come back from the jungle." Kisasian turned to leave, but before he disappeared, he stopped and looked back at Kitoweo and Bashasha. "Were you were afraid of what was going to happen if you returned to my pride? Well, now you can be afraid of what's going to happen because you didn't." He looked back at my father. "Simba, I'm going to rip your heart out."
After Kisasian was safely out of sight, my father turned around. The look on his face had changed to one of concern.
Bashasha walked over to him in tears. "Simba, I'm sorry we ever came here. We knew WE were taking a risk, but I never thought we'd be putting your pride in any danger. Maybe it would be better if we just left and went somewhere else."
"No," said my father. "In his eyes me and the pride are already party to this, and your leaving now wouldn't help that much. Besides, he'll just follow you again and stir up trouble wherever else you go. I've already spent too much of my life running away from problems, and I'm not going to start again now."
Bashasha nodded, but she didn't look consoled.
"Any ideas on how he plans to challenge me?" my dad posed.
"No, but he certainly can't bring the pride here and have any chance of winning a battle for the territory," said Kitoweo. "Even if he could get them through other prides' territories unnoticed, he'd be outnumbered when he got here, and you'd have the advantage of being the defender."
"Not only that," Blue added, "but I doubt if some of our former pride sisters would fight the three of us."
"And would you fight them?" asked Dhama.
"You've got a point," Blue conceded. "Probably not."
"I would if they attacked me first, or if they attacked anyone else in this pride," responded Kitoweo.
"Okay, okay," my mom interrupted. "So we know he'd be crazy to battle us normally. Any idea what else he might have in mind?"
There was a long pause before anyone spoke. It was Blue who broke the silence. "I can't predict what he'll do, but I can tell you some of the things he's probably thinking."
"Okay, we're listening," said my father.
Blue looked around as if to survey her audience, even pausing to look at us cubs much like one of the lionesses would when she was about to give a lesson. Kora became quite attentive. Blue began to speak. "Because the three of us left, Kisasian can no longer lead his pride the way he has been doing. He always treated us well and listened to our concerns, and in return for that, he expected loyalty and support from his lionesses. Kisasian has his own goals, and one of his biggest is to eventually defeat Simba and take over Pride Rock. But to achieve that goal he would have to defeat some neighboring prides to add numbers to his pride, and would have to win some territory adjacent to Pride Rock to base an attack from. Many of the lionesses didn't share his goals, but he's the king, we have to support him, and so I always stressed the importance of loyalty.
"Now that we've left, he has to figure out how to go on leading the rest of the pride. Like I said before, there are probably other lionesses who have been thinking about leaving. My guess is that they're still with the pride, waiting to see what happens with us before they decide what to do next. If Kisasian just lets us go, they will probably think it's okay to leave too. That would put his goals that much further out of reach, so he can't allow that to happen. He has to get us back.
"But when he does, then what? He would probably severely punish, possibly even kill us for our disloyalty. But the other lionesses were our friends with whom we've been through many hunts and many battles together, and who shared many of our ideas. They wouldn't look too kindly on Kisasian for dealing out punishment to us. Where he's been able to win the goodwill and cooperation of the pride before, he will now have to rule by fear, and that is a much less effective way to lead.
"Alternatively, he could listen to our concerns and change the way he leads to make us want to stay, like Kitoweo was suggesting earlier. But addressing our concerns adequately would require him to abandon his other goals, and that is something Kisasian won't do.
"He couldn't simply take us back and try to go on as if this never happened. We can't pretend our reasons for leaving in the first place don't still exist, nor can he ignore what's changed since we did. He knows we don't want to be in his pride, at least not the way he's been running it, and we've become friends with you guys now. He was already begrudged that he couldn't expect one of his lionesses to fight against you - Lisani - and now he knows the three of us probably won't either.
"I knew long before we left that this is what would happen if anyone left the pride. He and I talked about it many times, always speaking of it in terms of one of the others wanting to leave. It became my responsibility to support him, to keep the pride together, and to prevent this situation from arising. That is why I was always stressing the importance of loyalty to the pride. And it took a lot to convince myself to go against my own teachings."
We all sat entranced by her words, especially Kora. No one needed to ask the obvious question. She could see it in the looks on all of our faces.
"Since becoming king, Kisasian has defeated two other prides in the area. They represented the easy pickings in the area, so to speak, and between the two of them it didn't even double the size of our pride. The other area prides are bigger and better established, and making inroads into any of them has proven to be a more formidable challenge.
"He first challenged Limbuko and won, sending him into exile. Limbuko had five lionesses, but one of them, his mate and queen, went with him to his exile. The other four joined us, but they had loved their former king and were quite disturbed about losing him, and it took them a while to fit into our ranks. During that time he tolerated more defiance from them than he would have from the rest of us, but he was patient with them. Possibly the only reason it worked out at all was because they had been friends with us before and now we could still be friends as part of the same pride. Nevertheless, Kisasian despaired of the effort it took to include them, and of having gotten, as he put it, one less lioness than he was entitled to. He wanted to avoid some of that difficulty the next time around.
"When he challenged Chamchela, the strategy he used was to sneak in when he was quite sure no one else was around, especially Chamchela's three lionesses, and he ambushed him and killed him quietly, making it look like a rogue attack. Then he 'benevolently' offered to take in the lionesses so the rogue wouldn't come back to have his way with them."
I looked over at Kitoweo and Bashasha, as some of the others were doing, and their expressions of surprise and horror revealed that they were hearing this for the first time. "What!?" Kitoweo finally breathed.
Blue looked at them, then back at Simba. "Only me and the other two elder lionesses knew about it, and we were supposed to make sure Chamchela's lionesses never found out what really happened." Blue now looked slightly tearful and sounded a little bit choked up as she continued. "Every time I saw the face of one of those three lionesses, every time I looked into their eyes, I had to keep up the illusion that our pride was doing them a favor. It gnawed at my conscience every time I did it. It got me thinking more and more about the reasons for his actions, his need for power, his desire to avenge his father. He was consumed by it, and didn't seem to care who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. That he would employ tactics like that in the pursuit of his goals left me doubting that I wanted to be party to it. Since then I haven't felt right about being in Kisasian's pride at all, much less having a leading role. I would hear myself tell others about loyalty, yet I would wonder, at what cost to myself? I began to realize I was another one of his victims." She looked again at Kitoweo and Bashasha. "You wondered why I wanted to come with you after everything I've told you about loyalty. Now you know. After nearly two moons of trying to get through this crisis of conscience and not having much luck, the incident with Zari was all it took to push me over the edge."
Everyone was speechless for a long pause while her story settled into our minds. Finally my father cleared his throat and addressed her. "Thank you, Blue. That was very enlightening. Thank you for telling us your story."
"That's terrible what he did to Chamchela", my mom breathed.
"We never knew. How could he do that?" Kitoweo uttered.
"Do you think he'll try to attack me alone the same way?" Dad asked Blue.
"Why hasn't he attacked his other neighbors that way?" asked Mom.
"Various reasons," Blue replied. "For one thing, Chamchela had no majordomo and had to visit around his territory by himself to keep in touch." Blue glanced at Zazu before continuing. "His other neighbors are better networked. Also, all but one of them have other pride males besides the king. Finally, Chamchela was, if the truth be told, a bit too naive and trusting."
"Hmm, we've got two out of three of those things. So how else was Kisasian planning to expand?" asked Dhama.
"We don't know, and were not sure he had a plan. He would try things as he thought of them, but so far hasn't had much luck. He also wants to be prepared to take advantage of opportunities if they should arise, such as the death of a neighboring king, so he plans what he'll do if and when those types of opportunities arise." She looked as Simba. "As for your pride, he could be planning to attack you alone, or he may have something else in mind. It's hard to say."
My dad sighed. "I was afraid of that. We'll have to do our best to be ready for him. For starters, I'll take a few extra precautions when I do border patrol."
It was much harder for me to watch my father leave on border patrol. The lionesses knew it had to be done, but we could see the concern in their faces, especially my mother's. "Be careful," she would tell him without fail, usually more than once. The cubs were not always so understanding.
"Do you have to go, Dad?" I cried.
"I understand your concern, sweets," he replied, "but keeping watch over the Pride Lands is one of my main responsibilities. I can't back down from that just because someone threatens me."
"I know, but I'm afraid something really bad is going to happen to you."
Even Zazu tried to reassure me. "Shani, young mistress, don't you worry about your father. We're doing everything we can to keep him and everyone else here safe while we look over the territory. All of the creatures have promised to keep a more diligent watch and let me know right away if they see any strange lion, and I'm flying higher and looking around more carefully whenever we're around places where Kisasian could be hiding."
My mother spoke up too. "We've all got our eyes and ears open and our noses to the wind in case Kisasian tries to harass any of us."
Their words gave some reassurance, but it still bothered me. I woke up some nights having nightmares of my father being torn open by Kisasian, and was always relieved to see him sleeping peacefully when I opened my eyes and looked around.
Tanabi and I were over at Rafiki's tree a couple of days later. "Rafiki, I'm afraid something bad is going to happen to my dad. I'm really worried about him."
The old mandrill looked off thoughtfully for a moment, and looked back at me. "Were you afraid when you saw Kisasian?"
"No, but when he's not around I'm afraid of what he'll do."
"Hmmm," he said thoughtfully. "Sometimes the monster you can't see is more fearsome than the one you can see."
I thought about Rafiki's words. There were times when I wished I could be with my father all the time, as though I would be less afraid if I could be there when Kisasian attacked him, but then I realized that the outcome probably wouldn't be any different. If anything I'd get in the way.
* * *
We saw Rafiki again the next day when he came to Pride Rock to tell Simba about a sign he had just seen. "I sense a small disturbance coming from the hyena dens in the graveyard."
"Any idea what it means?" my father asked.
Rafiki held up his hands. "Nope, no idea. Not serious probably, but unusual certainly."
"Interesting. I may have to go there and see what I can find out."
He decided to bring Tuli and Dhama and of course Zazu with him in case they ran into any kind of trouble. Tanabi and I watched as they headed off to the northern border, worried as usual that something bad might happen.
Later that afternoon they returned without incident. By that time Nala and Blue had returned from the day's hunt, and everyone in the pride was present.
"I spoke with Shenzi this afternoon," he said. "It turns out they spotted Kisasian poking his nose around the elephant graveyard. They quickly ran him off. They're not sure what he was doing there."
"Is it possible he's trying to make friends with them?" Kitoweo asked.
"Are you friends with this clan?" Blue added.
"Not necessarily, but in this case they're on our side because Kisasian is a common enemy. He killed nearly half their clan when he found out they killed Scar. They hate him at least as much as we do, probably much more."
"Then what could he have been doing there?" asked Kitoweo.
Blue answered that one. "Probably just recon, exploring options. That suggests to me he hasn't yet figured out how he's going to challenge Simba."
My mother spoke next. "Maybe Kisasian thought he could make friends with them like Scar did, but they'd never forget that easily what he did to them. Or maybe he just wanted to harass them again, maybe kill some more of them."
The discussion went on for some time, never arriving at any conclusions. About that time I noticed my brother staring off in another direction with a forlorn look on his face, and I became concerned about him. "What's the matter, Tanabi?"
"Oh, nothing much," he replied.
I knew better than to believe him, so I pressed. "Aww, c'mon Tanabi, it's okay to tell me. Don't you want to talk about it?"
He started to answer me, but stopped himself. After a long pause, he finally spoke. "I don't get it! Some lionesses want to change prides, and another lion threatens us over it. Why can't he just let them go? Why won't he just leave us alone? Is this the kind of problems I'm going to have when I'm king?"
"I don't know, Tanabi. But as long as I'm around, I'll try to help you."
He let out a heavy sigh. "I'm beginning to understand why Hofu lives alone in that cave and just keeps to himself."
* * *
In spite of escalated precautions and having ourselves witnessed Kisasian making his threats, I don't think we cubs really understood the gravity of the situation. We wanted more than anything for life to go back to normal so we could run and play and grow up like we had been before any of this happened. The adults seemed to be more exhausted at the end of every day, especially my father and the three lionesses at the center of all this. It occurred to me that if Kisasian were trying to wear us down from his threats alone, it might be working.
As time passed, however, life seemed to gradually return to normal. It became easier for us to play and have fun, and for the lionesses to hunt. We, or at least the cubs, began to wonder if Kisasian had just been blowing off steam and had given up on us.
One morning I woke up before dawn to discover both of my parents already awake, lying side by side out on the promontory. The two of them were snuggled up close to each other, her tail curved around his rump, and moments later after they shifted position, his tail was curled around her. My father would lean over and carefully groom my mother on the neck or a forepaw, or my mother would groom his face or bury her muzzle in his mane. Often one or both of them would lean closer and they would rub heads. They weren't saying much and what little they said was in quiet whispers. I had seen them make these small gestures to each other before, but it was perhaps the first time I'd really watched them, so I just kept quiet. In a way it was reassuring to see the my parents expressing their love for each other.
Eventually, Zazu flew up and landed in front of them. "Ready to go?" he asked.
"Anytime you are," my father replied.
He stood up and stretched, and it was when he turned around, that he noticed me. "Good morning, Shani. How are you feeling today?"
"Okay, I guess." My voice betrayed that it still worried me when he went out on patrols.
"Don't you worry about me. Zazu and I will be real careful."
"You can count on it, young madam," Zazu added.
They headed off and I watched them go. Not so long before I could watch him leave and though I might miss his company, I never feared he wouldn't come back. Now, even aside from Kisasian I knew there were dangers out there. Once lost, you can never recover the innocence of youth. This day, as usual, I soon found ways to keep busy to stop myself from worrying too much about him. Kora and I soon became involved in a pouncing game with Timon, while Tanabi and Taglia were doing I don't know what with Pumbaa. We were all playing in the vicinity of Pride Rock and our paths crossed several times. No matter what dangers might lurk over the horizon, Pride Rock was still a good place to have fun.
Later that morning, Tuli and Luangwa took Kora and Taglia off for some lesson or another, and Timon and Pumbaa went off to frolic in the waterhole. My father hadn't returned yet from his morning walk but he was out longer than this quite often. Tanabi and I were left with some of the lionesses.
Fortunately, Bashasha was one of them. "Hi, Shani. Hi, Tanabi. What's up?"
"Not much," Tanabi replied.
"You guys look bored. How would you like to show me that place you've been wanting to show me for a while?"
"That sounds great!" said Tanabi. She was talking about Ostrich Kopje, which Tanabi had been wanting to show her for quite some time. Moments later we headed off south toward the kopje. She'd been to Ostrich Kopje with us a couple of times before, but it was always with other cubs and at least one other lioness, and she was too busy supervising to really play with us.
When we arrived, we led her around and showed her some of our favorite hiding places, keeping a couple of our best ones secret. She told us she wished she were still a cub so she could still fit into the smaller ones. I suggested we play a round and agreed to be 'it'. I found her first and Tanabi last, so next round she was 'it'. She told us we needed to be getting back soon so she could go out for the day's hunt. We pleaded with her to play just one more round. She agreed, and hid her face and began counting. As I went off to hide her recital of the numbers faded into the distance.
I had been hiding longer than usual and was starting to wonder what was taking her so long. My hiding place wasn't one of the better ones I sometimes used when playing with the other cubs. I hadn't heard Tanabi so I figured she must not have found him yet either. At last I could hear her getting close - a sniff, a careful footstep, and I knew she was getting close. When she was almost right on top of me and would find me any second, I said, "Awww, you found me..." as I bounded out and looked up at...
My blood felt like ice water he glared down at me. His towering frame, his black mane and piercing eyes were more terrifying than my worst nightmare. My legs jolted as I scrambled backwards to turn and run. Kisasian began pursuing me.
What could he be doing here near the southern border? His territory was the other direction from Pride Rock and as far as we knew he had always come and gone from more or less that direction. He didn't seem at all surprised to see me.
My first inclination was to run as fast as I could, but which way? He was between me and where I had last seen Bashasha. There was no way I would be able to outrun him in the open, but I had enough presence of mind to realize I knew my way around this kopje and might be able to navigate a few cracks and crevices better than him. I thought of one particular gap between two rocks where I didn't think he'd be able to reach me - if I could make it there.
"Shashe! Where are you?" I called out as I ran. But I soon realized that was pointless. All I could do was to keep running and try to outmaneuver him. As I ran, I tried to size up the situation, and realized he had probably already done something to Bashasha. I was on my own.
A thought flashed across my mind of my father trying to escape certain death when he was about my age. He had told us about the time he was caught in a wildebeest stampede, which he found out much later had been engineered by his uncle - the father of the lion who was chasing me now.
I thought I'd lost Kisasian as I ran through one crevice, but as I was about to emerge from the other end he leapt in front of me. Where I had hoped to get a lead winding my way between some rocks that would be harder for him to navigate, he had simply bounded up over the top of them. I turned and ran back. This time he followed, and I just managed to stay ahead of him. I emerged from the same place I had entered and tried again to set a course for the gap I'd thought of earlier. I didn't get far. He soon came up on one side of me and had me trapped between him and the rock where it curved inward. I was cornered. My eyes darted about, looking for a possible escape route. There was none. Kisasian paused for a second to look me over.
There was a sudden flash of movement overhead, as Tanabi leapt from the rock overhead and landed in front of me, facing Kisasian and growling as ferociously as he could muster at his young age. I'm not sure what made him do it since he surely must have realized that his chances of even hurting Kisasian at all, much less defeating him, were virtually nil.
Kisasian was startled, but only for a second before he took a swipe at my brother. Tanabi was quick and managed to dodge. I could only think of one possible explanation for Tanabi jumping in like he did: he was giving himself up to give me a chance to escape. I started to run, and had only taken a couple of steps when I saw Kisasian taking a pounce at Tanabi. Tanabi tried to back up, but Kisasian caught his flank under one of his forepaws and dug in with his claws. My brother screamed and managed to squirm out from under the paw, but as soon as he tried to scramble away Kisasian took another swipe at him. This time he connected and sent my brother flying. "Tanabi, NOOoo," I cried to no avail. He landed on the ground awkwardly with a sickening thud and didn't move. I didn't know if he was dead or alive.
Kisasian turned and took a step toward him. Tanabi had just given me a chance to escape, a ray of hope, and now Kisasian was about to finish him off and there was nothing I could do to return the favor. All I could do was try to save myself. It turned out was the best thing I could have done for Tanabi, though I wasn't thinking about it at the time. I made a break for it and resumed my course for the same gap I'd been trying to reach earlier. Upon seeing me escape, Kisasian disregarded Tanabi and started following me again.
Again I thought of my dad and the wildebeest stampede, this time the part where he just made it to a dead tree which he climbed to escape their thundering hooves.
I had enough of a head start and just managed to squeeze into the gap between the rocks as he was catching up. He would never be able to fit in here, and once I was down inside, he couldn't reach me, or so it seemed at first.
As my father clung to the tree for dear life, a wildebeest hit the tree, shaking it violently and nearly dislodging him. Another hit like that could jar him loose or even break the tree.
Kisasian's reach was longer than I had anticipated, and the gap was narrow and odd-shaped enough that it was difficult to stay out of reach of his paws. As long as he stayed in one place I could stay just out of reach, but whenever he moved and tried to reach me from a different direction I would have to move too, and if he moved quickly and quietly enough he would surprise me. I had to stay very alert and move quickly to keep out of his reach. Then he tried laying down on the rocks with his forepaw up to his chest, reaching for me in the farthest corner, and I felt one of his claws graze my ear. I then realized to my dismay that if he strained just a little bit longer he'd have me. My heart sank. After making a seemingly successful escape, possibly at the cost of my brother's life, it turned out I'd escaped to the wrong place. I was facing the right direction at that moment, so the next time he strained a little harder to reach me I bolted out and started running again, hoping he would be delayed momentarily while extricating himself.
But now I was out in the open again, and needed another place to escape to. I suddenly remembered a burrow I'd always been afraid to crawl into, and decided that any monsters that might be lurking inside couldn't be as fearsome as the one chasing me. Rafiki's words about the monster you can't see being more fearsome came back to me. I would have to tell him that it wasn't always true - if I got out of this alive. I ran back out of the rocks and started following the edge again. The burrow wasn't far, but I never had a chance. Once Kisasian had freed himself, which didn't take long, there wasn't anything left to slow him down and he quickly caught up with me. I'd be easy for him to catch, so he must not have been trying that hard, just toying with me, lavishing in my state of panic and near exhaustion. My muscles were about to give out, and I almost made it to the burrow, but as soon as he saw where I was headed he leapt in front of me, cutting off my escape.
I turned and tried to run again, and quickly realized I wasn't going anywhere. He had his foot on my tail. My heart was pounding in my ears, I was panting so hard it hurt, my legs and sides ached, and I could barely see through the tears I was crying from the dread of what he was about to do to me. My already dim hopes for getting out if this alive darkened to nothingness.
My father surely would have died in the stampede. His father arrived just in time to rescue him, but lost his own life. Would my father arrive just in time to save me? Would he die too?
"So sorry to have to do this," Kisasian gloated.
"Why are you doing this to me?" I cried.
"Your father has this coming. He wouldn't give me back something of mine, and now he's going to pay for it with your lives."
"Noooo! Nooo...." I was still struggling, to no avail.
"And when I'm done with you, I'm going to finish your brother." Along with the weight of his words, I felt the weight increase on my tail as he lifted his other paw, then pushed down on my back with it, pinning me to the ground. "Don't worry," he said. "This will only hurt for a second, then you won't feel a thing."
He bent down and opened his mouth. I could feel his hot breath on the back of my neck. I closed my eyes and waited for it to happen.
It was one of those moments that seems to drag on forever. Was he tormenting me again? Was this already the afterlife? Had he already killed me and I hadn't felt any pain? But no, that couldn't be it.
Then several things happened in the blink of an eye. I heard a snarl and a loud thud, and I heard and felt Kisasian's breath escape him. For a brief instant his paw pushed down on me harder and I felt crushed, but the next instant I was knocked roughly to one side, where my head hit a rock.
I was dazed and disoriented, but when I regained my bearings it occurred to me that my father had arrived just in time to fight Kisasian and try to save Tanabi and I.
Just like my father's father. Where would it lead?
The rock I had just hit my head on was taller than me, and I was on one side while they were battling furiously on the other. I'd never heard sounds like that before, but then I'd never seen two lions fight. I closed my eyes again for a moment and felt my head pounding. I knew Kisasian was bigger than my father and might win the battle, and when I opened my eyes I saw the burrow again, so I ambled my way over toward it, still fighting the daze. As I was doing this I heard a couple of roars of pain that sounded like Kisasian, and my hopes were lifted. At the entrance of the burrow, I turned around, facing outward. Curiosity was getting the better of me and I wanted to see how the fight was going, but my view was limited and to get a better view I would have to leave the safety of the burrow.
I heard some scuffling noises, and saw one lion, looking bloody and wounded, run past just outside the rocks, being chased by another lion. It was hard to tell, but the first one looked more like Kisasian. After they again left my field of view, I heard more scuffling noises, another roar of pain, and then only silence.
I was still afraid to come any further out so I waited patiently beside the burrow entrance. Moments later, the ground shook as the victor bellowed out a triumphant roar.
It wasn't my father's roar. I had visions of my grandfather Mufasa lying dead in the gorge. My heart again sank, and I began to cry.
I knew I had to be ready to duck into the burrow quickly now, but I could see far enough in front of me that I would have enough time when I saw Kisasian approaching. But he didn't seem in a hurry. I remembered Tanabi.
Then I heard something I wasn't expecting - my father's roar. In the distance. Coming from Pride Rock. If my father was at Pride Rock, then who...?
Carefully I crept forward, and a few steps later I emerged from between the rocks and had a much better view of the savannah on this side of the kopje. Before me was a lion I hadn't seen before. His muzzle was dripping with blood, and he was panting heavily and still looked quite agitated from the fight. He must have heard me creeping forward because he was looking in my direction.
I slowly took a step toward him, but as soon as I did he turned away from me and ran around the corner of the kopje, out of my sight. That's where Tanabi was, I recalled, so I came out and followed him. I came around the corner just as the lion reached the place where Tanabi lay. I was too afraid of what I might find when I got there to approach very quickly. He sniffed my brother, nuzzled him a bit, then bellowed out another roar, this one sounding more piteous and tormented.
Again my father answered in the distance. Gently, the lion nudged my brother, then lifted him gingerly by the scruff of his neck, and trotted off in the direction of Pride Rock, moving quickly but carefully. I followed as best I could. My headache was clearing up and I could walk straight again, but being smaller and still worn out from the chase I couldn't keep up very well.
We were about a third of the way there when I saw my father and several lionesses running toward us. "What happened?" I heard my dad shout. He met the lion, who lay Tanabi down gently, just as my mother arrived.
I was still running toward them and could hear muffled conversation in tones of voice that conveyed shock and concern, but the only words I could make out were my mother asking, "Is he alive?" A moment later, my father picked up Tanabi and started running to Pride Rock as fast as he could safely carry him. About the same time my mom turned in my general direction and called out, "Shani?"
"Mom!" I yelled back.
She came running toward me. "Shani, are you all right?" Her voice was shaking.
I sprung a little faster to meet her, and started crying. "Mama, Kisasian was out there. He tried to kill us."
About that time Dhama, Blue and Kitoweo joined us. "Where's Shashe?" asked Blue.
"I don't know!" I told her. "We were playing hide-and-seek at Ostrich Kopje, and we went to hide. That's the last time we saw her."
Blue and Kitoweo looked at each other aghast, then quickly turned to Nala. "We'll go find out what happened to her," said Blue, as the two of them sped off toward Ostrich Kopje.
The rest of us started back for Pride Rock. I was the slowest of the three of us, and my pace seemed to make my mother impatient. Finally she could stand it no more and ran ahead. Dhama was still with me. "Why did my mom run like that?" I asked her.
"Because she's worried about Tanabi," she explained. "And because she knows your father is worried about you and wants to let him know you're okay."
When we finally arrived, I saw Rafiki and my father crouched over Tanabi, who lay motionless on the ground, while my mother sat close by. It was a sight I'll never forget. Both of my parents were crying, the first time I had seen my father cry. Rafiki had his hand on his shoulder and was trying to find some kind words to calm him down. Tanabi had some deep cuts on his back end, and I remembered Kisasian's paw coming down on him. "Oh, no! Is he dead?" I blurted out.
My father looked up at me with red eyes, and he cleared his throat. "No, he's alive," he finally said. "Come here, Shani."
I walked over to him and put my head in his mane where it hung down under his neck. I started crying again, and my father hugged me with one paw. I felt safe again at last, and it never felt so good to be with my father as it did at that moment. He finally released me, and I turned to look at Tanabi again. Now that I was right beside him, I could see that he was breathing. "Will he get better?"
Rafiki, who was stroking him gently, answered. "Hard to say, but I think he will. Right now he needs to sleep."
"Why don't you come and rest with me, Shani," my mother said gently as she stood up. "Let your father worry about Tanabi."
I followed Mom as she walked over next to Dhama and Grandma Saffi, where my mother lay down I curled up between her front paws. Sarafina stood up, nodded to my mother, and walked off. The tears started flowing again and I soon found myself sobbing uncontrollably. "Mama, he almost killed me. I was so scared."
"You mean Kisasian?"
"Yes. He was gonna bite my neck."
My mother was crying too as she groomed my fur. As I lay there between her front paws, basking in her warmth and security, I thought I'd never want to leave the protection of my parents again. My father stood up and paced deliberately a few steps up the promontory, then just stared out at the land, a severe expression on his face, seeming lost in thought. He let out a heavy sigh. "All that time we were worried about Kisasian attacking me or maybe one of the lionesses, but I never thought he'd attack my children." None of us spoke again for a long time.
I was finally calming down and had begun to observe Rafiki doing something with some herbs, when Kitoweo appeared, and everyone sat up alert. "We found Bashasha. She was badly mauled and out cold when we found her. We woke her up, and when she came around, she was hysterical and incoherent. She was in a lot of pain, but the first words we could make out were 'The cubs! Where are the cubs? Did he kill them?' We told her Shani was okay but we weren't sure about Tanabi. How is he, by the way?"
"Still alive," my father informed her. "We'll have to watch him closely. Please go on."
"Shashe calmed down some when we mentioned Shani. Told us as soon as she saw Kisasian she knew she had to try to lead him away from the cubs and hoped he didn't know they were with her. Apparently it didn't help." Kitoweo paused for a breath. "She managed to get up, but it hurt too much when she tried to walk. She'll be pretty sore for a while." As she was telling us these things, all I could think about was how nice Shashe had been to us cubs and was having horrible thoughts about her being attacked by Kisasian. "Blue and I took turns looking around some more. Kisasian's dead. We found his body near Ostrich Kopje. In fact he was quite a mess. His throat was torn open, one of his back paws was nearly severed from the leg..."
"Where are Blue and Shashe now?" my mother asked.
"On their way back. It's slow going for Shashe, and Blue is staying with her."
"Shani," my father asked, "did you see Kisasian get killed?"
"No. I couldn't watch," I replied meekly.
"Did you see anything?"
"Y-y-yes," I uttered finally.
A strange feeling came over me, as I realized I hadn't seen and had nearly forgotten about the other lion since I'd been back, so I sat up and looked around. There off to one side, laying unobtrusively on a flat rock where some of the lionesses sometimes slept, was the other lion. He'd been there the whole time since my return, quietly watching our activities, taking everything in, trying not to be noticed. Something he was very good at. His muscular body had more scars on it than any two or three lions I'd ever seen, and he'd just added a few more. Some of those wounds surely must have been painful, but to look at him you'd think he didn't even notice them. His light mane was clumped into tufts that framed his face like a star. There was dried blood on parts of his coat, but he had cleaned off his front paws and his muzzle. In all, this lion looked pretty fierce, but at the moment, he was just looking at me with a slight smile. Slowly, I smiled back.
I clambered out of my mother's paws and walked over to him. I was quite awed as I paused to look up at him, before I rubbed my head under his chin. He smelled of blood, but I didn't care. "Thank you," I said. He responded by grooming my head and neck with a couple of strokes of his tongue. I rubbed up against his chest some more before I sat down between his front paws, and seeing a spot of blood on his paw that he had missed, I cleaned it off for him. My mother later described the look on his face as pure bliss.
My father again looked thoughtfully out into the Pride Lands, turned and looked down at Tanabi with concern, and came over to us. "Hofu, I don't know what to say. I owe you the lives of my children, and I don't think there's any way I could ever repay you. But the least I can do is invite you to be a member of our pride."
Hofu became a little more serene, and I sensed a bit of discomfort from him. When he didn't say anything right away, Dhama spoke up. "I think Hofu would rather just go back to his cave and live quietly. He doesn't seem to be interested in trying to fit into pride life." As she spoke, he relaxed a bit, and I was beginning to get a sense of his mood. I realized that being around so many other lions made him uncomfortable, yet he enjoyed my company and having me there with him seemed to help him relax.
Moments later, Tuli, Luangwa and Grandma Saffi appeared with Kora and Taglia. They had already been told some of what happened, I found out later, but had stayed away to give the situation a chance to cool off a bit. All four of them looked first at Tanabi. "How is he?" Luangwa asked.
"Badly hurt. He's sleeping right now," my father answered. "Kisasian tried to kill my cubs, and attacked Bashasha too. She's alive but hasn't made it back yet. Blue and Kitty are out helping her. Kisasian is dead."
"Who killed him?" asked Tuli.
"What about Shani?" asked Kora.
They looked around and soon spotted me resting beneath the head of a lion they didn't recognize. Taglia looked puzzled. "Who's that?"
Dhama looked at Taglia and spoke gently. "It's Hofu. He saved their lives."
Kora's eyes widened, and Taglia's jaw dropped. The look of shock and surprise on their faces was priceless, especially Taglia. It was almost like he wanted to say, "Shani, get away from him", and I couldn't help laughing. He was speechless, which for Taglia was unusual. Even my father smile a little bit. As for Hofu, I felt him laugh slightly.
Dad looked over at me. "Shani, would you and Dhama like to walk Hofu back to his cave?"
"That sounds good," I replied almost nonchalantly. "Sure, I'd like that." I turned to Hofu. "Would you like to see Tanabi again before we go?"
He stood up and walked over to Tanabi, where Rafiki backed up a bit to make room for him. Hofu looked down at him with a warm but sorrowful look, and leaned down and gave him a lick on the head. Then he looked up again at Dhama and I. I gave both of my parents a lick on the muzzle and a head rub before we left.
Departing Pride Rock, we walked through the savannah, the three of us, and I thanked him for the gazelle leg and told him I thought the pictures were very nice. He wasn't much for words so I did most of the talking. I noticed something strange about his walk. He always kept his head low, not in a humble way but in what could be best described as a permanent stalk. When I spoke to him, however, he seemed to walk a little bit taller. I also noticed that he walked so quietly that when I looked away for a moment, like when I would say something to Dhama, I couldn't hear him and it was deceptively like he wasn't even there, yet when I turned back, there he would be, still following alongside us.
Part of the way there we encountered the three lionesses resting. "Hi, guys," Dhama said to them. "How is Bashasha?"
Then we saw her. She had serious wounds visible on the right side of her face and on one of her front legs. I gasped. Bashasha looked down at me and managed a smile despite her pain. "I'm just happy to see you alive."
Dhama was anticipating their next question. "Tanabi got it worse. Not as bad as you on the outside at least, but we think he'll recover."
Blue looked at Hofu. "Thank you," she said. Shashe and Kitty nodded in agreement. He smiled back at them.
We talked a little bit, but I sensed Hofu was getting uneasy. Dhama sensed it too, so we resumed our trek to Hofu's cave, where we soon arrived. It wasn't the dark, creepy place I had often imagined it to be, but a comfortable hole in the ground, a good home base for a singular existence, and with fairly good views right near the cave entrance and much better ones from hilltops only a few paces away, including some of the southern part of the Pride Lands.
I gave Hofu one more rub before we left him at his home. Dhama took me over to Ostrich Kopje, where she asked me a lot of questions about what happened. I told her about playing hide-and-seek with Shashe, being chased by Kisasian and trying to get away from him, Tanabi jumping in so I could get away, and Hofu attacking Kisasian. We found the spot where Shashe had been mauled and left behind by Kisasian.
Looking at Kisasian's body caused me to shudder. I had seen the blood and entrails of other animals many times when we fed from them, but it was the first time I had seen one of my own kind dead, and he was torn up pretty badly. I wondered what kind of deep-seated emotions could have provoked Hofu to attack him so fiercely. "Dhama, why didn't Hofu want to live with our pride?" I asked.
"It's hard to say," she replied, "but my guess is that he couldn't interact normally with others. You noticed he wasn't too comfortable being around our pride. He was probably just too messed up from his childhood. He tried living a more normal life when he was younger but it always ended in failure and left him with a lot of enemies. After that, he probably decided it would be best to live alone."
* * *
"Owwr... My whole body hurts," Tanabi moaned as he awoke. He tried to stretch a front paw but winced in pain and withdrew it.
"You've been hurt badly," said my mother. "Just get as comfortable as you can and don't try to move too much."
"What happened? How did I get back here?" He suddenly blinked alert. "Where's Shani?"
"I'm right here," I said.
My father leaned down like he was going to give him a head rub, but stopped short and gave him a lick instead. "Kisasian attacked you. I understand you tried to defend your sister. Son, I'm proud of you."
Tanabi smiled and closed his eyes. We told him about the rest of what happened, about Bashasha and about Hofu.
For about two full days after that, at least one of my parents was with Tanabi at all times, and I was always with at least one of them. Much of the time all four of us were there together on Pride Rock. Or I should say all five of us. Shashe didn't go anywhere for a while either once she made it back to Pride Rock, and between her and Tanabi they kept Rafiki pretty busy.
Tanabi and Bashasha both recovered fully. To see them later you'd never guess they both came close to getting killed, at least not Tanabi. Bashasha ended up with three big scars on her face, two of them running at an angle just above and below her right eye. Fortunately her vision wasn't affected.
Dhama went with Blue to deliver the news of Kisasian's death to the other twelve lionesses of his pride. Limbuko and his mate returned from exile to become the king and queen of the pride. Kisasian's other two elders and strongest supporters left and became rogues.
Blue, Kitoweo and Bashasha all decided to stay with us, but they often commuted to their old pride to help out and keep in touch with their former pride sisters. Blue was able to renew her friendship with Zari. The following year, Shashe and Kitty both had cubs, greatly diminishing their ability to travel to their former pride, but Blue continued to visit them regularly.
On more than one occasion, a visitor to our pride who knew of
Hofu's residence nearby suggested we run him off and sometimes offered
to assist us. My parents always politely but firmly refused such
offers. We didn't tell others what he had done for us, surmising that
he really didn't want positive attention drawn to him much more than
negative attention. Tanabi and I went to visit Hofu a few times. The
visits were short and there was always an adult with us. Sometime over
a year later he passed away. To this day I still talk to my brother
about him, sometimes about the times we'd visit him but more often about
the things that happened before we got to know him, like the times we
and the other cubs would tell gruesome stories and dare each other to
spy on him. In return, he gave us an gazelle leg. He drew pictures for
us. And one dark day he saved our lives.
Atticus said to Jem one day, "I'd rather you shot at tin cans in the
back yard, but I know you'll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you
want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a
That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do
something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.
"You're father's right," she said. "Mockingbirds don't do one thing
but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens,
don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts
out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
This quote comes from the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird,
© 1960 by Harper Lee, the other work which this story is derived
from, as you may have guessed if you know the story. Not all of it
would translate well into a Pride Lands setting, especially the parts
involving racial issues. If you ever run out of TLK fan fiction stories
to read, I highly recommend obtaining and settling down with a copy of
To Kill a Mockingbird.
This story was never intended to be canon with The Tales of
Tanabi, and should not be regarded as such. "This is not how
Kisasian dies," writes Joshua Templin, who goes on to say that other
than that, the characterization of Kisasian in A Safe Place is
I hope you enjoyed it. Comments welcome.
Atticus said to Jem one day, "I'd rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you'll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.
"You're father's right," she said. "Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
This quote comes from the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird, © 1960 by Harper Lee, the other work which this story is derived from, as you may have guessed if you know the story. Not all of it would translate well into a Pride Lands setting, especially the parts involving racial issues. If you ever run out of TLK fan fiction stories to read, I highly recommend obtaining and settling down with a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.
This story was never intended to be canon with The Tales of Tanabi, and should not be regarded as such. "This is not how Kisasian dies," writes Joshua Templin, who goes on to say that other than that, the characterization of Kisasian in A Safe Place is reasonably accurate.
I hope you enjoyed it. Comments welcome.