Pride Lands Online

A story loosely inspired by The Lion King and other fan-fiction.
by Chris Boyce, Isle of Wight, UK.
11th December 1996

_____The road was dry, dusty and rough. It wove along a narrow gully that pierced the low rocky hills that surrounded the town. Not so much of a town, rather it was a collection of rough whitewashed low-standing dwellings, many with a chaotic assortment of timber built lean-to outhouses in which all manner of animals were housed. The town, if indeed such as it was, was full with thronging people: eating, drinking and singing; coming together for some singular purpose, and yet still more came. Many of those who now filled the houses and the bug-ridden two room inns had passed along this road and now two more, with that same purpose, followed in the well-trodden path. One, a woman heavily with child, rode a well cared for donkey lead by a weary young man, however it was the donkey that held Mallacus' interest completely.
_____Mallacus was the strong and long time feared king of the Hemachi pride - a once powerful group of healthy and carefree Asiatic lion who had roamed the lowlands, proud and free for generations. Then the men had come and claimed the lowlands for their herds: sheep, cattle and even a few camel. Long before Mallacus' time the pride had been forced higher and higher into the forbidding craggy hills surrounding the fertile lowlands, but the hills were devoid of the prey and water needed to sustain lion. He had been watching the road for most of that scorching afternoon from his lofty perch high up on a rock face. Now his hunger grew impatient and the donkey that walked steadily by caught his eye and held it. It would, he thought, feed him, his lioness and barely born cub; nearly half of what remained of the pride; for some days. He watched the three pass and tried to devise a plan to catch that mouth watering donkey. The only alternative would be to rustle a ewe from one of the lowland flocks, but that was dangerous; the shepherds, no more than young boys, were brave and fearless and would do anything to protect their flock. A viable plan eluded him and the donkey, well-fed: fat and slow, receded into the distance and on into the town.
_____Later, after night had fallen Mallacus noticed something else that demanded his attention: there, low in the sky, burning as bright as all the other stars, lay the star of Aiheu. Aiheu called to him; called him to follow to save his mate and new born son. No words passed from the stars, Mallacus instinctively knew what he must do. He must follow the star to find the donkey, but that meant venturing into the town. The town had become a place of fear for Mallacus and his mate. There, although the rewards were great, the penalty for failure was severe. He had not dared go into the town for over a year and if it had not been for the star of Aiheu he would not have gone near it again. Yet to the town he went in the dead of that night: warm, close and quiet; padding silently down the rocky slopes to the rough, ramshackle fence that marked the town's border.
_____He lay still by the fence for a long time as the sounds of drunken revelry and the dim flickering lights faded to leave the town as silent as he under the great blanket of stars, Aiheu himself shining down on one of the larger buildings some way off to Mallacus' right. When he was sure that the town slept he slipped unnoticed past a foul smelling hut and then out onto the dust and stones that passed as a street. He passed silently along this and further to where Aiheu was guiding him. He instinctively avoided the silent main part of the building and went round the side, hoping to find some way in. Even in the hot and heavy darkness it was clear that there was none. However from behind a sloppily made door, rather wider than the others, he could clearly smell the mingled scents of a number of animals, a few cattle and - yes, there it was! That donkey! He had to get in, even though it might mean his death. He was on Aiheu's business and he would guide and keep safe his loyal servant Mallacus. The lion shouldered the door. It gave slightly to reveal a gap no wider than his foreleg, through which the smell of prey flooded out, drawing him in. He pushed a fore paw forward into the gap two or three times but only succeeded in closing the door a little. In desperation he shouldered the timber again, this time the door flew wide open. He feared the sound would wake the humans who he knew would be sleeping close by, but no sound came as a large pile of warm, dung smelling straw held the door from crashing against inside of the wall.
_____As Mallacus peered into the blackness he saw a bare animal shelter, its inmates held to the walls by sturdy but roughly made ropes. The shelter was divided up into stalls of various sizes depending on whatever timber the builder happened to have had to hand. At the end, lit by the only opening in the walls other than the doorway in which Mallacus now stood, with its hindquarters to him, stood the donkey; asleep with one hind leg hitched up. There were other animals there, and ordinarily Mallacus would have gone for the closest that he could have dragged and made a run for it but this time was somehow not ordinary. He slipped past the other animals silently, his pads pressing softly, surely and securely onto the straw and earth of the floor. In a short time he was by donkey, who was not woken by his approach.
_____'Surely my scent and paw fall would have been detected by now.' He thought as he looked around to see how he might best bring down the still sleeping beast. He noticed, a few feet off the ground and barely a foot above the tip of his nose, a substantial feeding basket half full with the nibbled hay that had been placed there to feed the donkey. Mallacus realised that he could reach up to it as it was only just above his head and use it as a fore paw hold to spring up to the top of the thick timber rail. He thought that in one smooth movement he would spring, turn before the timber gave way and come down on the donkey's neck. It would all be over in a couple of seconds. He sat back and reached up to the basket, pulling his head over its outer edge. Then he stopped, for in amongst the hay lay a sleeping human child, barely younger than his own cub. All thoughts of eating left him as he held himself at the edge of the manger, he had never before seen a human cub and this one fascinated him. The smell was odd but warm and brought a smile on the normally dour face of Mallacus. Then he felt Aiheu's light upon him, shining through the square hole that passed for a window. He felt the knowledge flow into him that this child, so young and harmless, would one day suffer like he suffered out in the wilderness and die like he would die, at the hands of ruthless and uncomprehending men for what he was. Later his own would be forced to kill those who came after this child just for the pleasure of a few. Mallacus knew he could no more harm this innocent than he could his own son and did as he had done to his own son just that morning he licked the child's face slowly and gently. He looked at the child for a few moments, taking in its scent before stepping back, dropping back to the floor to see the child's awoken mother stare, alarmed but unafraid, at the once great king. Mallacus, his cover gone, turned and ran as fast as he could, jumping all the fences and dashing into all the rich, deep shadows and struggling back the way he had come. Yet still Aiheu's light shone upon him, guiding his paws on to the lowlands and straight onto a lone ewe trapped in the fork of a tree. Her terrified bleating rang over the flock lands for a few moments before Mallacus silenced her. He felt sure that the shepherds must have been woken by such a fearful noise. He pulled the now dead animal from the tree and taking the thick, oily fleece in his mouth, dragged it up out of the gully and back up the rocky slopes to his home ground, not stopping until he had reached the relative safety of the lowest rocks of the hills. From there he stopped, let the ewe fall limply and then he looked back as he recovered his breath. He could see, some way off, the boy shepherds looking up to Aiheu in wonder and awe.
_____Mallacus and his family ate well that night, though it was to be some days before he could get all the wool from between his back teeth....

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