Chronicles of the Pride Lands
A Story By
John Burkitt and David Morris
This original copyrighted work by John Burkitt and David Morris is based on Disney’s feature film “The Lion King” and its sequel “Simba’s Pride.” Elements taken directly from The Lion King or Simba’s Pride are the property of The Walt Disney Company. “Chronicles” is distributed free of charge excepting reasonable distribution costs. The characters Akase, Isha, and Malaika are the creation of Brian Tiemann. Magnwa, Rakira and Rama are service marks of Jarrod Henry, Erick Zopfi and Ian Layton respectively. The names were used to honor friends by a mention in the Chronicles and are not necessarily consistent with the original characters.
FOREWORDS TO THE 2000 EDITION:
Just as the original Chronicles of the Pride Lands started out as a simple short story, the current work started out as a simple revision. In both cases, the original scope was greatly broadened.
There is something to be learned from this. The success of Chronicles, which to this day still astounds me, is due to its own inner life. Even I am not fully in control of it—sometimes I feel more like a reporter than an author. Every pain from a cub stubbing his toe to a hyena being ripped alive has taken its toll on me, and every joy from a simple nuzzle to a newborn son has rebuilt me. The story itself insists that it be told right, and themes like the ones in this work demand to be explored carefully and thoroughly. Before you insist, “That’s just more fun for the authors,” I point out that the sheer bulk of Chronicles makes it a chore to revise, much less restructure. It was worth it, but it was hard to do and had I known just how hard at the outset, it might never have been done.
Now I would like to correct a slight oversight in my original foreword. Writing Chronicles with Dave was one of the ways we expressed our deep and rich friendship. Though I share it with you gladly and proudly, Chronicles was a gift that Dave and I gave each other. A clever man may figure how many words each of us crafted, but he would be wise to note how much was inspired by our manic phone conversations, emails and online chats. I can’t begin to figure out how many of my own thoughts in the raw stage were redirected by Dave’s reaction. If the influence of his personal reactions to my work were factored in, any guestimate based on word count becomes meaningless.
John Burkitt - email@example.com
September 24, 1999, Nashville, Tennessee
Chronicles, in its various forms, represents an incredible investment of time and thought. Had I known just how much back in 1996 when John and I initially began the project, it would have scared me badly enough I might have decided to take up an occupation less hazardous…like nuclear waste retrieval.
In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t. I uncovered a great many things in the process of writing, revising, and editing this work. I found out I could write. I discovered some very good friends. I grew along with the story itself, learning things in my life and passing them on in my writing. I learned how to look inside myself and look outside at the world around me, and find something to make the two connect.
Which is pretty much what The Lion King was all about, I think. You decide.
John will tell you that this work is a shared labor between us, which is true. He will tell you that we both made tremendous contributions to this work, which is also true. He sometimes omits to mention things, however, and I want to take a moment to correct this.
Chronicles, in its original conception and vision, is entirely his vision. Without his unique approach and outlook, this work would never have been conceived or executed. I myself might never have realized what is now my life’s goal; to write, and write well. If you find something in these pages that inspires you, be sure and thank him. If you discover a goof, that’s probably mine.
David Morris - firstname.lastname@example.org
September 24, 1999, Wilmington, North Carolina
PART ONE: MOHATU’S SONS
One day Mother Earth looked to Father Sky for a little overdue attention. He responded with passionate lightning and thunder, wrapping her in the fertilizing power of his rain. She passed that power to her children—the grass and the trees, and those whom the plants sustained.
In the shelter of a granite monolith, the lioness Tanga stirred herself, love lighting her eyes like stars. She nuzzled her mate Mohatu and looked into his own shining eyes. A smile warmed the corners of his ebony mouth as she touched him with her soft pink tongue.
She walked a few steps then knelt upon the ground, looking back expectantly. She was not disappointed, for Mohatu rose at once and came to her.
Tanga was always sure that was the moment she conceived her twin sons.
CHAPTER 1: THE UPLIFTING
King Mohatu paced nervously across the floor of the cave, the relentless padding of his feet forming a steady rhythm. The old serval Madu followed his progress with his ears but looked steadily ahead. “You know I would do anything you asked,” Madu said. “But why this?”
“Everyone wants to see the new prince,” Mohatu said without breaking his stride. “Any one of them would jump at the chance to stand by my side. Anyone but you, it seems—the King’s own advisor and best friend."
Madu tensed at the upbraiding. "I love you—you KNOW I love you—but I can't go out there! They will find out! They are not stupid!" His once-hazel eyes now misted with cataracts turned toward the pacing sound. "Is that how you want me to be remembered? Stumbling around like a blind newborn? If you love me, would you shame me like that?"
Mohatu stopped suddenly and looked at the stooped, stiffened ruin of a once-proud hunter. "Madu, I didn’t mean to…” The lion watched the serval’s ears lay back and his head bow. He drew close and said gently, “Walk with your face touching my mane so everyone will know you have found favor in the King's eyes and I will guide your steps. No one has to know. I’ll make sure they all see you the way I see you—young and strong and beautiful.”
"You are good to me," Madu said. He drew in a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh.
“What’s wrong? I may not have your gift, but I can read your moods, and you’re not well.”
“I’m feeling my age, friend.” The serval sighed. “What am I going to do when my sight is completely gone? My eyes are getting worse each day. Someday I’ll be trapped in a never-ending night with no moon or stars where I will starve to death! I’m not afraid to die, but I don’t want to go slowly!”
“Madu, why didn’t you come to me before?”
“Because you can’t keep me from going blind. Nobody can.” He pawed the lion’s mane. “If you truly love me, come to me one night when I am asleep and put me out mercifully and quickly."
“I don’t want to know the time. I’ll find out when Mano takes me home. Tell me I can count on you, my friend.”
Mohatu nuzzled him softly. "You’re not going to starve! If your sight goes, I will see to your needs. This is a good land and there is enough for all.”
“But I’d be worthless to you.”
“Worthless??" Mohatu drew close. “You aren’t just my counselor. You’re a father to me. If you died, I’d be losing my Dad a second time. You don’t want to live without your eyes, but I don’t want to live without my heart. You don’t need eyes to see how much I love you.”
Madu’s chin began to tremble and a couple of tears ran down his sensitive face. "I love you too. I’ve fathered three sons and four daughters in my time, but none have I loved more than you, my lion son."
A huge golden paw that had battered many enemies softly caressed the small cat’s shoulder and fondled his cheek, provoking a deep, soft purr. “I’ll guide you well through the ceremony. You're as safe with me as my own son." Mohatu sighed, then scowled and began to pace again. "I wonder how safe my son really is. This whole mandrill thing has me worried."
Madu dabbed off his wet cheek with a paw. "You worry too much. Rafiki’s shown you a dozen times he can lift the cub. He’s small, but he’s wiry.” The serval nuzzled him. “It's going to be spectacular. Your son suspended between heaven and earth off the tip of the promontory….I can see it in my mind."
"No, just my imagination." Madu smiled. "But I do see a herd of wildebeests that will be in the eastern meadow at sundown. They’re good eating. You take it for granted, but a little guy like me doesn’t get much of the good stuff."
“Madu!” Mohatu looked about with mixed amusement and shock. "They have come for the ceremony. We can't break custom or Aiheu will punish us—you know that!"
"Don’t you go teaching ME custom after all the times I had to drum lessons into your head. You’re not too old for a good cuffing and I’m…oh...get ready. Rafiki is coming now, I can feel it."
"All right, take your position beside me."
The serval put his cheek against Mohatu's soft mane and purred. Mohatu started forward, his weight shifting slightly from side to side in an elegant and powerful lion stride. Next to him, purring softly, was the serval that loved him, eyes clouded but head erect and proud. The cool wind and bright sun let Madu know he’d left the shelter of the cave, but if he felt fear, he didn’t show it as he strode up and out along the spine of the promontory.
The gentle rise of the stone had been warmed by the sun and felt good under Madu’s feet. The gentle wind brought the fragrance of several different peoples to his sensitive nose and wrapped his face in the musky softness of Mohatu’s mane. “How am I doing?”
“You’re doing fine,” Mohatu softly purred.
“I feel fine,” Madu answered. “I wish I could be here to do this for Ahadi’s son.”
Mohatu chuckled softly. "You’ll outlive us all, you old codger!"
The lion settled into a sitting position close to the tip of the promontory. The serval sat next to him, snuggling into his warmth and purring again. In fact he welcomed the excuse to be close to his lion son.
“This isn’t so bad, is it, Madu?”
“Not at all,” the serval said. “I can sense many minds. Describe it to me.”
"Ok. There are Zebras at the front. You know how they are—very pushy creatures, at least till my girls give them a good scare. The elephants are down near Anteater Kopje, about a dozen or so. The wildebeests and giraffes are to our right. It looks like they all turned out this time—I bet they’re waiting to see if there’s going to be an accident.”
“Sire, what a thing to say!”
Mohatu laughed nervously. “It was a joke—I only hope it stays that way.” He shifted restlessly. “They are expecting a blessing, and I suppose it's time we gave them one. You said Rafiki was coming?"
"Yes. His presence is very strong."
Just then Mohatu caught sight of a mandrill headed through the gathered host. The crowd parted respectfully as Rafiki headed slowly toward the base of the stone. “He’s on the path now,” the lion said. “He’s slow but he’s spry. I remember the tales my father told me about him and the things he used to do.”
“We talked often,” Madu said.
“I didn’t know you had met him!”
The serval smiled and chuckled. “You think you are so wise, but I can still surprise you. Rafiki and I would talk from high noon to sundown. We have some things in common.”
“No doubt,” Mohatu said. “Oh, here he comes up the switchback and now he’s almost to the base of the promontory. Gods, I hope he doesn’t get too tired.”
“He won’t drop the cub,” Madu said definitively.
“You know this?”
“I know Rafiki. That’s enough for me.”
The mandrill looked a bit exhausted at the base of the promontory, but he straightened with pride as he reached the ramp of kings. The ape looked at Tanga's twin sons for a moment and scratched his chin whiskers. "Which one, my dear?"
“Prince Ahadi,” Tanga said softly. The cub on the left looked up as if he knew his name.
“Quite a fine boy. But they are both fine.” Rafiki took out his rattle, his pouch of dust, and a kavrna fruit. He broke the fragrant fruit, then anointed the brow of the young prince. “May you be fruitful, my little child.” The cub began sniffing at the odd aroma. Then when Rafiki spread dust across the sticky resin his features screwed up and he sneezed. “From this land you have sprung,” Rafiki intoned gently. “The rocks have formed your bones, and the winds gave you your breath. It is bound to you, and you are bound to it as the tree is bound to its mother soil.” He shook his medicine rattle over him to drive away the evil spirits, smiling as the cub batted at the new toy. “Ah, he’s a fighter, just like his dad.”
Tanga purred, but then looked at Rafiki sternly. “Be careful with him.”
“I would rather fall than drop him. Remember when you were small and I held you in my arms? Did you feel safe?”
Tanga purred again and touched him with her tongue. “I remember.”
All eyes were looking up at the promontory. They saw the monkey bend and pick up the cub, then turn to walk proudly and straightly up the backbone of Pride Rock. A hartebeest nudged her young calf who was distracted. “Forget the butterfly, my child. You will see many more. Watch this!”
Rafiki passed the king and the serval. For one moment all was perfectly still—even the wind died down as if in anticipation of a great and defining moment. Then a collective gasp arose as right on the very tip of the stone he thrust the cub into the sky.
There were shouts from the monkeys, shrill blasts from the elephants, bows and scrapes from the antelopes and zebras. And then in the midst of their revelries, a bright golden light parted the heavens and streamed down to bathe young Ahadi with celestial splendor. A hush fell over the crowd.
“It’s a miracle!” Mohatu stammered. He gazed longingly into the light. “A miracle!”
“Are you afraid?” Madu asked.
“Afraid? Of him? Of HIM?” Mohatu could not tear away his gaze. “Not of HIM. Who’d be afraid of HIM?”
“Anyone with common sense is afraid of him.”
Mohatu took in a deep breath, then let it slowly out. “Yes, I am afraid.”
After a moment that seemed like an eternity, Rafiki lowered the cub, then turned around visibly shaken. He walked back past Mohatu and Madu as if he did not see them and drew nigh to Tanga. Then he kissed the cub, put him down, stroked Tanga between the ears and began to cry. "Blessed are you,” he stammered, “and blessed are the fruits of your love!" Without another word, he passed her and walked away.
CHAPTER 2: MOHATU’S PRIDE AND JOY
N’ga the sun, was as clever as a lioness. Whomever stared at him—and no one could for long—thought they saw him hanging motionless in the sky. Still, N’ga was persistent in his stalking and almost unnoticed whole days rushed by and nightly hunts came and went. Since Ahadi’s presentation, Sufa the moon had slowly his face three times in fullness and retreated. Old Ayla had left to hunt antelope and was herself gathered to the stars. Jebeha had come into his mane and was sent into the “big world” and his sister Tamu had shared her pleasures with a lion. Only Pride Rock seemed unchanged.
With time and mother’s milk, Ahadi quickly grew from a sleepy newborn into a vibrant, playful creature. The world was fresh to his new eyes and everything had to be explored. Half of his sentences began with “why,” and the other half asked “why not.” Tanga patiently answered his questions, pausing from time to time to remind him to retract his claws when he climbed on her back. Some of the explanations he understood, others he listened to with his head tilted in confusion only to follow it with more questions.
Ahadi had seen the lioness Moshana with her motherly bulge and wondered about how cubs could be inside her—how they breathed and ate in there, and how they carried out even more earthy pursuits. His mother Tanga only smiled indulgently and gave him no details—he suspected she did not know either.
One day Tanga came back excited from a trip to Moshana’s cave. “She is a new mother,” Tanga said, nuzzling Ahadi and Shaka. “I saw the cubs—two little lionesses.”
“Can I see?” Shaka asked. “I asked first!”
“Ahadi gets to look first,” Tanga said.
“But I asked first!”
“He needs to be betrothed,” Tanga said calmly.
“Yeah,” Ahadi said. “I need to be betrothed.” He smiled, then fidgeted. “Mom, Is it going to hurt much?”
“It means we’re going to find you a girl to be your special friend one day.”
“Oh!” Ahadi looked over at Shaka. “Be-TROTHED. I thought she said something else!”
“Like what?” Shaka asked warily.
Ahadi panicked. With his limited vocabulary he couldn’t think of another word that sounded remotely like it. Then he forgot that problem and turned to another. “Mom! Why does it have to be a GIRL?”
Tanga laughed warmly. “You will discover that for yourself—someday.”
Mohatu came over, smiling. “She’s ready.”
“Can I see the cubs now?” Ahadi asked.
“Sure you can, little fellow!” Mohatu looked at him long and carefully with a broad smile that made Ahadi very uncomfortable. “Three moons difference in your age won’t show when you are a great king. Still for now…” The lion chuckled.
“Don’t worry about it,” Mohatu said, then chuckled again. “Come on, son. Let’s do it!” With obvious pride, he headed out with Ahadi in tow.
“I’ve never seen brand new cubs before.”
“They are very small and they sleep a lot. Remember to keep your voice down. They’re just one day old today.”
“Can I play with them?”
“No you certainly can NOT. They are very small and very weak. Soon they’ll be up and moving around and then you can play with them—very gently.”
The first thing Ahadi said was to Moshana. “Hey, your belly is smaller!”
“Thanks for noticing.”
His nose twitched. “Did something die in here?”
Moshana laughed. “Not exactly. Something was born in here. Look at my new girls.”
Ahadi drew a little closer. He could see two tiny creatures that looked only remotely like lions taking their milk at her teats.
“Come closer. There is room for you.”
“But I just ate. I mean, no thank you, ma’am.”
“Take just a little then. You’re supposed to this time.”
Ahadi still nursed his mother though he ate solid food. He had also nursed his “aunties” but it was his first time to settle on Moshana. Carefully he found a spot next to the tiny, cooing creatures and selected an available teat. As the warm milk flowed into him, Moshana tenderly cuddled him with a paw. His eyes half closed and he began to wish he’d been hungrier.
When he could take no more and thanked her, he turned his attention to what he really came to see. There were two sisters, very tiny, wet and musky.
Moshana purred. “This is Yolanda and this is her sister Akase.”
“How can you tell?”
Moshana chuckled. “Yolanda is the one with the broader nose like her Dad. Akase has a little perky nose like mine.”
Mohatu laughed. “What do you know—it IS perky.”
“They’re so small,” Ahadi said with wonder. “I thought there would be three of them.”
Moshana sighed. “Their little brother is away visiting Mano.”
“When will he be back?”
“Someday, just not soon.” She looked up and added, “Mohatu, would you please quit staring at my nose?”
The King laughed—he had a deep laugh that made all who heard it feel warm inside. “OK Perky Nose, let’s attend to the business we discussed.”
Ahadi had the uncomfortable feeling that everyone was looking at him and smiling meaningfully. It was the second time that had happened in one morning. “What business?”
Moshana began to speak in a low rhythmic chant. Ahadi could tell it was different somehow, for he had witnessed ceremonies before. He sat and listened:
Daughter fine, daughter mine,
Fresh from Aiheu to my keeping
Queenship is your right and duty,
Bear it well, live long in love.
Mohatu then spoke to his son in a tender voice of soft beauty:
Son so fine, son of mine,
Fresh from Aiheu to my keeping
Kingship is your right and duty,
Bear it well, live long in love.
He drew close to his son and whispered, “Now it is time to seal the promise with a kiss.”
“Ok,” Ahadi said, turning his cheek.
“Not me. You kiss her.”
“No. Akase.” He chuckled. “The one with the perky nose like her mom’s.”
“Oh.” He looked over at the cubs. “I kiss THAT?” He went over to the cubs and looked at both of them carefully. He whispered, “Moshana, what’s a perky nose?”
“Akase’s the one on the right.”
Ahadi whispered, “Is right on this side?”
Moshana touched him with her pink tongue. “Honey tree, your OTHER right.”
Ahadi grinned sheepishly, but when he saw his intended target right at his feet, he lost the smile. Not realizing to a mother a newborn is the most precious looking thing in all creation he said, "But she's yucky!"
“She’s not yucky. Now give her a kiss.”
Grimacing, he came close, then hesitated. He looked back around. Mohatu nodded. He looked back. "Ok, here goes." He squeezed his eyes shut and stuck out his tongue.
He drew an inch closer.
"You have to touch her."
Ahadi sat rigid as a stone, his tongue stuck out like a pink flower. The hair on his back stood straight up. Then suddenly Moshana lightly popped him on the rump. Ahadi plunged forward, finding his whole face buried to the ears in moist fur. He opened his eyes, drew away, then rubbed his face with a paw. "EEEEEWWW!"
Moshana said, “Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
Ahadi crossed his eyes as he wiped off his nose with a paw. “She’s yucky!”
"She’s not yucky,” Moshana said. “She's been given a bath. That's just mother's kisses."
"Yeah right.” Ahadi looked around. “Mom never kisses ME that way."
CHAPTER 3: WORDS OF WISDOM
While Moshana was giving Ahadi a quick cleanup after his “kiss,” a small but lanky cat strode in on long, spindly legs. The old serval walked erect but hesitantly toward Mohatu, then felt about quickly with a paw to make sure he was really there. A smile of joy and relief crossed his face and he nuzzled the king and rubbed him.
“Thank you for coming, Madu.”
“The pleasure is mine,” the old cat said, purring too loudly to have not meant it.
Ahadi had often seen Madu eating with the pride, but he had never spoken with him before. The lion cub had found him strange and a bit intimidating.
"So where is the little prince?” Madu went to the twins and sniffed each one. “Oh my—Sire they are both female. My eyes may be failing me, but not my nose.”
“To the left, Madu.”
“Oh, I see.”
Moshana nudged the timid lion cub forward as Madu drew close to look at him. Ahadi looked up at the slender cat who still managed to tower over him and when the cataract clouded eyes stared into his and the nose twitched to confirm his scent, Ahadi took a nervous step back.
“Don’t be frightened, son. I’ve been your father’s friend for the longest time.” Madu’s voice was surprisingly gentle and warm. “I know we haven’t spoken before, but I was rather afraid.”
Ahadi took a step forward and sat. “Afraid? Of me?”
“Not that you would attack me. I was afraid that you would run from me. Because I was old and nearly blind.” Madu smiled self-consciously. “Trapped inside this old body is the same cat I’ve always been. I don’t usually mind being old, but I wanted to play with you the way I played with your father. I wanted to tell you stories and teach you how to hunt mice. Son, I used to leap straight up in the air to catch low-flying birds. I was fun to be around in those days. I wanted to be fun for you to be around, really I did.”
Ahadi gathered his courage to touch the old, sad cat with a paw. “You can still tell stories, can’t you?”
“Yes,” Madu said with a fleeting smile. “I suppose I can.” The old serval stroked Ahadi and nuzzled him till his ears no longer laid back. “Oh aren’t you getting big! One day I'll have to look up to you and ask you how the weather is up there!" He looked about. "My goodness Mohatu, at this rate he’s going to be a mighty strong lion soon!”
Ahadi cracked a grin. “Just like my dad.”
Mohatu chuckled. “Tell the little prince’s fortune, my friend.”
Madu smiled and nuzzled him. “Let me tell your future path. Words of comfort, words of woe. The future is ours to choose, but it is best entered with both eyes open.”
“What do you see?” Tanga asked. Then she seemed to catch herself. “In your mind,” she added, feeling a bit guilty.
“A moment’s patience, madam.” He stroked the cub and concentrated. "He will be handsome. Like his father."
Mohatu chuckled again. “True. Strong AND handsome—just like me.”
Madu looked into Ahadi’s eyes. "You will lead a life of..." He hesitated, frowned, then looked away.
“What is it, Madu?” Mohatu looked closely at the serval.
"It is not important. It’s nonsense to tell the future when all they have to do is wait for it to happen. That’s what I always say."
“You never say that.” Mohatu’s ears laid back. “What’s the problem?”
“Did I say there was a problem?”
“We’re friends. Don’t play games with me, Madu.”
The serval looked back sympathetically. “When days are dark, that is the time to look to the future with hope. When days are fair, the future can only seem unkind and frightening.”
“How unkind?” Mohatu asked. “How frightening? This is no time for riddles.”
“His life is ideal now. From the top of the kopje, the only way out is down. But with hard work and Aiheu’s help, he will emerge victorious. He’s a fighter, this one, but oh, if only little cubs could grow up in a perfect world where no one would ever bring them woes!”
“Woes build character,” Mohatu said philosophically. “If we had no challenges in life, we would be lions in name only.”
“That’s a good attitude, Sire. It will carry him through his woes—and beyond.” He then looked at the twins. “Take care of them, Moshana. I see the death of a loved one.”
She gasped. “When?”
“Soon. Very soon.”
“Who is it?”
“I don’t know. Sometimes I get bits and pieces.” He looked at her sympathetically. “It’s not you.”
Moshana gathered her two daughters and nuzzled them desperately. “I’m not worried about me. Is it a warning or is it fate? Can I change this?”
“I don’t know. Just take care of the girls and pray for them.”
CHAPTER 4: IN THE MOONLIGHT
Later on that night as the stars winked in the purple heavens, Mohatu sat next to his mate Tanga, unable to sleep. “Maybe Madu has seen more. I must know what he meant. Should I wake him?”
Tanga looked at him sleepily. “If you’d wake me, you’ll wake him.”
Mohatu looked down at his son snuggled against Tanga’s side. He looked so small, so innocent. The thought that Ahadi would have to face hardship someday made Mohatu heartsick. “Not if I can help it,” the lion softly whispered. “Aiheu wrap you in his love, my boy, my dear little boy.”
As he passed Moshana’s favorite spot and found it unoccupied, he smiled. He thought about Moshana and her newborn daughters, and how Ahadi squealed, “It’s yucky!” But he remembered Madu’s dire prediction, and his smile quickly fell. “You are right, old friend. It is better NOT to know.”
In the star studded sky, a flight of bats passed overhead in pursuit of mosquitoes. In the distance a leopard coughed and a nervous zebra brayed at the moon. Otherwise all was still and peaceful. Afraid of what he might hear, Mohatu walked slowly around the rim of Pride Rock, preserving for one extra moment the comfort of not looking disaster in the eye. “Oh Aiheu, please let it be something I can fix! He’s just a boy! He has a right to enjoy life like his father. Show me the way, Lord! Show me what I must do!”
Finally the lion ducked his head to enter the small cave Madu had used for the last few years. The dim moonlight showed the serval sprawled on the ground suspiciously. A moan escaped his prostrate body.
Mohatu went to him quickly and nudged him gently with a paw. “I know you need your sleep, old fellow. Please wake up. We need to talk.” The serval groaned and looked up. Pain had etched his features as deeply as the rock on which he laid. “Oh gods! What’s wrong, Madu?”
“Dying,” he gasped.
“Hold on, old friend. I’ll go get Rafiki.”
“No time. Don’t leave me, Mohatu!”
“I won’t.” The lion touched his small face with his tongue. Indeed, Madu was dying—Mohatu had seen that look in the eyes of prey. “The vision you had this morning—I must know what you saw.”
The pain Madu felt tightened his face into a harsh parody of the cat he had been. “Someone he loves. Jealousy. Danger. Tell him…to be careful…with his….”
Madu could only moan softly as his lips tried to form the words. Mohatu took his large paw and gently stroked the small face. “I’ll tell him to be careful with everything. I swear. Rest easy, my old friend. I won’t leave you.”
Madu’s sightless eyes turned to the voice. He drew in one deep breath, then with his remaining strength he reached up to snag his claws in Mohatu’s mane and yanked his face closer. “Taka!” he cried desperately in a way that raised Mohatu’s hackles. And as if his spirit left with the word, his grip relaxed and he fell limp, his eyes still frozen in a look of horror.
It was over.
“So you were the loved one who dies,” Mohatu said, a tear growing and rolling down his cheek. He sighed, stroking the still-warm body with frustrated affection. “Now you can see clearly from where you are, and I am the one that is left blind! Why now? Why right now?”
The lion took Madu by the scruff of the neck, as if he were a cub, and carried him on one last journey down the rock toward the place of the dead—the eastern meadow. So many memories surfaced of games on the savanna, of stories under the stars, and splashing in the waterhole. Never again would that tiny body push against him with joy. Not in this world.
Mohatu reached a nice place between two trees where Madu’s spirit could see the shining stars of Chui the Leopard above him. It was an idyllic place, but even as the still body was laid in the grass, luminous eyes shone from the surrounding bushes. Mohatu glared back at them and spent a moment by his old friend stroking his fur and letting tears spill to the ground. Then when the good bye was over, he rumbled a traditional blessing, which also served as a warning. “Remember as you rend this body that you too shall die, so show respect.”
“We will,” reedy jackal voices said from the surrounding bushes. “We just eat the body. Ghost all gone home to Mungo.”
The polite things had been, and Mohatu turned quickly before he saw his friend stripped like an antelope.
When Mohatu went back to the cave and laid back next to Tanga, she rubbed him with a paw. “What did Madu say?”
Tears welled up in his eyes. “He’s dead.”
“Oh gods,” she sighed. “Thank Aiheu you were with him at the end.”
“I know. We took the last walk together.”
After a respectful pause, she asked, “Did he speak before he died?”
“Something strange. Something about garbage. He must have been delirious, and it was like it hurt coming out. Like it was a warning. ‘Taka’ was his last word. Strange for someone who was a great treasure do die with ‘Taka’ on his lips.”
“It was probably part of a word. He died before he could finish it.”
“Maybe you’re right. I hope you are.” He put his paw across her shoulder and sighed.
CHAPTER 5: STEP BY STEP
Ahadi spent much of his waking life chasing butterflies and lizards, but sometimes he sought more challenging game. Adult lions were great fun, and he often tussled with the deadly tuft of a tail tip. Deadly in that the tuft was likely to come back and smack him in the face if he bit down on it too hard. Ahadi became good at judging how far he could push adults without driving them to a safer resting place.
Sometimes the adults just wanted to sleep when he just wanted to play. At those times, he had to turn to his brother Shaka for amusement. But with Akase getting older, he began to feel the first pressure from his family to spend time with her. His opinion of her at that first kiss was that she was “yucky” and it had gone steadily downhill from there.
One afternoon, the decidedly bored prince gave up his pursuit of a most uncooperative grasshopper and decided to wander inside and see who was awake. The aftermath of a previous night’s successful hunt lay before him in all its desolation; lionesses lay sprawled upon the cavern floor, gorged and lethargic…hardly good for any sort of play. In one corner he spied Moshana, her lithe form resting easily on one side and dreaming contentedly; beside her, Yolanda was curled in the hollow of her mother’s throat, her little body trembling with the purrs of her mother and answering with tiny ones of her own. Slightly to one side, Akase was sprawled in an ungainly shape, a look of intense concentration on her face. As Ahadi watched, the cub gathered herself, her shaking limbs pushing her pudgy body off the floor and then holding her upright.
Akase’s forelegs betrayed her and spilled her to the ground again. “Uff!” She peered up at the larger cub, taking the moment to catch her breath. “Cassie walkun!”
Ahadi giggled shamelessly. “You look really silly.”
Her chin stuck out defiantly, and she scrabbled with her forepaws to push herself upright again, swaying for a moment and then steadying. “Cassie walkun!”
The prince rolled his eyes. “Look, you can’t just stand there, you gotta move around.” He trotted forward, his overlarge paws evading one another in a graceful motion. “See?”
Akase’s brow furrowed with frustration and her ears laid back.
“Try it. You can do it.” He paced over beside her and stood still. “Just move like I do…c’mon.” He picked up his near forepaw and moved it forward in a step, his body leaning into it. “Now you do it.”
Tongue stuck out in concentration, Akase wobbled slightly, leaning on him for a moment as she moved her own paw, settling onto it. “Cassie walkun! He he!!”
“Yeah…but now you gotta move the other one.” His other forepaw glided forward carefully. “See?”
She repeated the move. “See?”
“Yeah, you got it!”
“You got it!” she squealed.
“That’s what I said.”
“That’s what I said! Cassie walkun!”
He stood beside her again, letting her lean on him for support. “Ready…one, two..three!” He paced off, slowly, and Akase followed along almost without effort, her form trembling as it leaned against his bigger one, her eyes shut as she moved her legs to Ahadi’s steady counting.
Moshana looked up. “What’s going on here?”
Ahadi looked around. “Cassie’s walkun! Uh…I mean…Akase’s walking!”
“Cassie walkun! Cassie walkun! He he!!”
Akase tried to turn about quickly to face her mother and took a spill in the floor.
“Well that’s my big girl!” Moshana purred. “And her friend helped her. Ahadi, you’re my little helper. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Ahadi smiled and straightened. Then he helped Akase with a couple of well placed nudges regain her feet. “Now we’ll walk back.”
Moshana smiled indulgently. “Not too far at first. I’ll get her, sweetie.” The lioness rose, stretched, and came over. “Say thank you to Ahadi.”
Akase giggled. “Fank you to a Hawdy!” She reached out with a forepaw and batted the prince on the nose, claws out.
“OW!” Ahadi rolled to one side, his eyes watering as he rubbed his nose. “You dirty little…”
“Shhhhh….she didn’t mean it.” Moshana craned her head down to lick his sore nose with her warm tongue. “She doesn’t know what she’s doing yet, Ahadi…be patient.” The lioness smiled and leaned back, grooming her daughter amid another storm of giggles, deftly dodging the tiny paws as they flailed at her own nose. “I think she really likes you.”
Akase’s new mobility made Moshana very proud at first, but then it drove her nearly to distraction. Once her mother had only called her name softly, but it had come to be yelled with a harsh edge of urgency more and more. “Akase! Little lady, you get back here THIS MINUTE!”
Akase wanted attention. Sometimes her tiny cherub face could elicit a few kind gestures from the lionesses and a few warm chuckles from Mohatu, but more often her high spirits and sense of mischief drove the others to distraction.
Ahadi was often the target of her unwanted attentions. Akase frequently followed him till the young lion learned to cringe at the words, “Whatcha doin, Hawdy?”
“Oh, nothing,” he would say. Not that a few words would discourage her. That “nothing” was better than nothing more often than not. Her only alternatives were her sister Yolanda and Ahadi’s brother Shaka. Yolanda was quiet and shy. Shaka spent much of his time with Denali, an adolescent lioness who found him “cute.”
Akase’s favorite game was boxing, but she changed the rules to suit herself. To her it was fair to sneak up on Ahadi and whack him on the nose when he turned around, and then escaping amid laughter as the prince stormed after her, growling. “Silly!” she would say. “Silly Hawdy!”
Once he showed a flash of temper. “Stop it! That hurts, darn it!”
Akase stood still, staring at him with her eyes wide. “Oooo! You said a bad word!”
Ahadi bit his lower lip. “You’re not gonna tell…are you?” He padded over to where she stood, his face pinched with worry.
Akase giggled wildly. “Silly!”
The young prince growled at her, his little teeth bared. His patience frayed, he whipped one of his paws up and around, batting Akase aside and sending her rolling away. “I am not silly, you little poop head!”
Akase wobbled upright. Her chin quivered, and she picked herself up, heading across the cavern at a fast trot, bawling at the top of her lungs. “Mamma mamma mammaaaa!”
Moshana stirred herself and came to face the two cubs. “Ahadi, did you learn that language from your mother?”
“No, ma’am,” he said, looking down.
“Does your father call people poop head?”
“I see. And since you will be king someday, do you think you should talk to people that way?”
“No, ma’am. I’m sorry.” He looked over at Akase who smiled self-righteously. “But SHE keeps hitting me in the face and calling me silly!”
“That’s no excuse for you to do something wrong,” Moshana explained, even if OTHER people are acting foolish.” The lioness looked hard at her daughter. “Now little lady, your hitting Ahadi has to stop. And I don’t want to ask you twice, because the next time you’re going to be cuffed till you can’t sit down, understand?”
Akase swallowed hard and nodded.
“Very well. Run along now and keep out of trouble.”
Ahadi made a break for freedom., but he was stopped short of the cave entrance, tugging at a force holding him back. Akase giggled as she held very firmly to the tip of his tail, pulling with all her horsepower in the opposite direction. Finally, frustrated, he just went limp, falling back on her sprawled form with a plop. He sat on top of her for a while.
“Let me go!”
“Are you going to be good?"
He stepped away, breathed a sigh of relief, and started out of the cave.
Moshana laughed. "She really likes you."
"You might say she's attached to me."
"She looks up to you. She imitates you. You need to set a good example for her and take care of her."
CHAPTER 6: GOOD HELP IS HARD TO FIND
Mohatu did not expect someone to take Madu’s place, but he needed someone to take his space. Rafiki had too many patients that would not visit him in a lion’s den, so Mohatu resigned himself to finding someone without the gift of vision. Day by day he realized how much he had come to rely on Madu’s second sight, and day by day he realized how much work Tanga had done with the cubs. Though he could get along without guidance, he could not be both father and mother to his cubs and carry out all his duties.
A series of assistants had aspired to the job of counselor, but few lasted more than a few days before giving up in disgust. It was hard to follow in Madu’s tracks, but even harder to tolerate the pranks of young Shaka and the temper of old Mohatu.
As the sun sank low in the sky one evening, a jittery female cheetah ran into the cave where Mohatu was busy grooming his mane.
“Melina, how are the lessons coming along?”
“Oh I’ve learned my lesson, all right!”
Mohatu heard the tenseness in her voice. He sighed and turned his attention away from his mane. “Let’s talk about this.”
“There’s nothing to talk about! Even if I got first choice at your kills, I would not hang around here one more MINUTE.”
“But Melina dear, you had such good ideas. You remember—firm discipline with a mother’s love?”
“If I were a lioness, MAYBE I could control him. As it is…with all due respect…that boy is a BRAT and he’d do well to be taught that discipline is the foundation of future success.”
“And what do I threaten Shaka with? Not being king? He already knows that.” Mohatu hung his head. “He misses his mother. He was always such a quiet boy before she…”
“I know.” Melina looked at Mohatu’s careworn face. “I know it’s hard raising them alone. I’m so sorry about Tanga.”
Mohatu sighed. “I was so hoping that you could be a mother to them. You’re so gentle and compassionate, and…”
“And I was so fond of you. Your smile was sunshine for me. It’s a shame you don’t smile so often.” He looked at her intently. “Yes, like that. Ah, now there’s that sweet smile! Melina with the lovely smile! Please don’t go, dear. Give him another chance. Give ME another chance…please?”
“I hate it when you make me feel so guilty.” She licked her paw and began to groom her face, partly to hide her expression. “I tell you what I’ll do….”
Just then Ahadi came running in at full tilt, followed shortly by Shaka.
“Whatever it is she says I did,” Shaka panted, “I didn’t do it!”
“Did TOO,” Ahadi yowled. “I always get blamed for it, you little creep!”
“YOU’RE the poop head, you POOP HEAD!”
The two cubs began to brawl, teeth snapping and paws flailing. Melina shook her head as if she had wakened from a dream. “That’s IT! I’m OUT OF HERE!” She turned with a flick of her tail and left abruptly.
The cubs stopped long enough to notice. “She’s gone,” Ahadi said.
“Didn’t like her anyway,” Shaka muttered. “She’s not our mom.”
“SILENCE!” Mohatu thundered in a half roar. After securing their complete attention, he said, “Look, you two! I know you miss your mother, and I tried to find someone that would be gentle with you and patient and kind.” He settled on the ground, took in a deep breath, and let it out slowly. “Now I’m at the end of the trail with this. I’ll hire the very next thing that walks, crawls, hops or...”
In fluttered a hornbill.
The young bird bowed stiffly before Shaka. “Young master, my name is Zazu and I want to apply for the post of counselor. Is your father about?”
Shaka looked around. “Dad, the next loser is here.”
“Send him over,” Mohatu said, hardly stirring.
The hornbill fluttered over and bowed. “Your Most Excellent Majesty….”
“Your name is Zazu and you want to apply for the post of counselor—I know..” The lion opened an eye and stared at him a moment. “You’re rather short, aren’t you?”
The bird was flustered momentarily. “Size is all in your viewpoint. And mine can touch the clouds. Prince Ugas made me a pretty good offer and I’m tempted to take him up on it.”
Shaka looked about and snarled. “Don’t threaten my Pop, feather butt. You may fly high, but it’s what you do when you land that counts.”
“I didn’t come here to be insulted,” Zazu said, flying just out of reach. “I will go back where I am appreciated.”
“You start tomorrow,” Mohatu said with a slight grin. “I expect a full report in the morning. You may prove useful, even if you do tend to ramble.”
“You mean it? I got the position?”
“Yes. You’re persistent and you believe in yourself. That’s the kind of sass that got my father this land. You will appear with me this evening so I can tell the hunters you are corban—that will keep you safe here from any creatures with sense, but watch the jackals and hyenas—they’re a rough bunch and sometimes they get a little crazy.”
“I’ll try hard not to disappoint you.”
“You won’t disappoint me. I’ll either get a good report or a good meal.” The pink tip of Mohatu’s tongue played around his ebony lips and his eyes narrowed. “You decide.”
Zazu gasped and his tail feathers spread. “I beg your pardon?”
Mohatu chuckled. “That was a joke, Zazu.” He added in a soft voice, “I’m trying to run a kingdom and raise two sons by myself. If you can help me, you’ll have more than my protection—you’ll have the honor of leaving this world a better place than you found it.”
“I’ll do my best.” The bird bowed with a flourish. “Thank you. Thank you very much.” He turned and started to leave.
Mohatu said, “Oh, and before you leave, I need someone to keep an eye on the cubs. Nothing special—just keep them out of trouble. OK, feather butt?”
“As you wish—fur face.”
“Hey!” Ahadi shouted. “Watch it! He’s the king!”
Mohatu looked about at him harshly. “I think this one is going to be here a while. You might as well get used to him.” Then he had to smile again and shake his head. “A hornbill for a counselor! Madu, what is this world coming to?”
CHAPTER 7: SELF IMPORTANCE
Mohatu stirred from his half-sleep under the shade of the promontory and stretched, yawning in a deep breath and lashing his tail. “Well son,” he said to Ahadi who always napped nearby, “be good and don’t give Moshana any trouble—I know you wont. It’s time to walk the border.”
Ahadi quickly stood and shook the grass from his fur. “Let’s go, Dad!”
“I’m sorry. I just said I have to walk the border.”
“I know. Let’s go.”
“You did that with me yesterday. Son, it will be the very same thing all over again. Another long and uninteresting hike in the hot sun. Remember how tired you got?”
“That’s ok. Mano always walked with HIS dad. That’s what Moshana says. And you know what Zazu says about the duty of a king.”
“Every day, incessantly,” Mohatu said with a sigh. “Son, I am so proud of you, but I don’t expect you to be chief of the Nisei. It’s enough that you’re growing into a fine young lion. Border patrol is dangerous. Besides you have other things you need to be doing.”
“Playing, for Aiheu’s sake! Find your brother and try to beat him at rag tag! Let Moshana tell you a story! Son, if I didn’t have this job, that’s what THIS lion would be doing!” Mohatu shook his head. “Youth is wasted on the wrong people!”
Ahadi’s tail drooped and his ears laid back. “Yes sir.”
“Don’t give me that long face, son. Someday soon, almost before you know it, you’ll be saying ‘Oh Dad, border patrol AGAIN?’”
Ahadi nodded and stalked away.
Since Tanga died, Ahadi had looked to Mohatu as his shining example. Shaka, however, retreated more and more into the playful and jovial patterns of his mother. He took it to extremes that would have shocked her.
Thwarted in his attempt to be like Mano, Ahadi walked along quietly and somberly, looking for something to do. He wondered if he had done anything wrong the day before—if he had spoiled his chance with a word or action that was not befitting a young prince.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Shaka boomed.
“Want to play Rag Tag?”
“Not really. But how about King Commands?”
Shaka’s ears flattened. “No thanks! I know how you play--YOUR MAJESTY.”
“Fine, be that way! If you could beat me, you’d want to play--LOSER!”
Ahadi stalked off in a huff. He really did not feel like playing but he was too awake to go back to napping. Somehow, some way, he had to convince his father to take his offers seriously. He had to be a good lion…no, he had to be a GREAT lion. He had to be so good that there was no doubt he would spend eternity with his mother.
As he trudged along, memories of Tanga came crowding over him, bowing his head and stooping his shoulders and making his tail droop. He tried not to think of her, but once in a while his guard would drop and pain as sharp as an acacia thorn would stab his heart. “Mother,” he muttered. A tear formed in each eye, then the two tried to race to the bottom of his cheeks. “I wish you were here right now.”
“Whatcha doin, Hawdy??”
It was Akase. Ahadi did not cringe. He’d begun to find Akase’s attentions a little flattering and he needed a friend at the moment. He quickly dried his face before she could notice. “Oh nothing, but come on anyway.”
“I thought you were going to go pee with your Dad.”
“Well, he…hey, it’s called BORDER PATROL.”
“Oh.” She looked down. “Same thing.”
“It’s an important job,” Ahadi said.
“Then why aren’t ya doing it?”
Before he could be forced into an embarrassing explanation, Moshana spotted them and called, “Hey kids, come here quickly! Look, it’s a spider.”
He jumped at the chance to change the subject and came at once. Ahadi and Akase drew close and looked at it.
“It's spinning a web,” Ahadi said. "How does it do that?"
"They pass down the knowledge the way I teach you to hunt,” Moshana said.
Akase reached out with a paw as if to pluck the threads of silk.
“Don't touch it,” Moshana warned. “They bite."
"It couldn't hurt much," Akase said.
"Yes it could. Spiders are poisonous. You could even die."
"Die? Like prey?” Akase asked. “Can lions die?"
"You remember your brother? Little Alili? He died. So did Tang…” Moshana saw Ahadi’s glance drop to the ground. “Every life has a beginning and an end."
"Yes. Someday I will die. But not for a long time."
"What happens when we die?" Akase asked.
"I've never been there, but there is a place we go. A happy place where we will be glad to go. No one has ever returned from that place, but all the stories tell us how wonderful it is there. To be close to Aiheu and Mano and Minshasa and....oh....to see your grandmother again. You never knew her but she was kindness itself. And Ahadi’s mom Tanga."
"My mom,” Ahadi said in a soft, reverent voice. “That’s who I want to see. Why don't we go there now, Moshana? Why can't we go now while we're alive?"
The mother laughed. "It's all part of the great circle of life. Wherever you are, that is where you wish to be. When you are here, you like it here. When it is time to die and move on, you look forward to being with Aiheu. That's the way we were made. To be happy to be right where we are when we're there, then when it's time to go, happy to leave."
"That's kind of neat, isn't it?" Ahadi said.
"Yes it is. Aiheu knows what he is doing, my cub." She looked at him meaningfully, then nuzzled him. “You know, you really should play more and you should be easier on your young friends. Someday you will be a lion and this part of your life will be gone. I know as a cub you look forward to the importance of being an adult, and that’s ok. Maybe you think you have to be strong now for your father. But as an adult when you are tired and discouraged you look back at your cubhood. What will you remember, Ahadi? That you spent your whole young life wishing it away?”
Ahadi looked down. “It’s not like that, Moshana.”
“Isn’t it?” She nuzzled him softly. “Isn’t one Mano enough? By all means learn your lessons and watch your father’s example. But if your friends want to play Rag Tag, maybe you should play Rag Tag…while there’s still time.”
“Yeah.” Ahadi looked genuinely relieved. “I love you, Moshana.”
“I love you too.”
CHAPTER 8: AKASE’S WOES
Ahadi purposefully, carefully moved one paw at a time to avoid making the slightest sound as he crept past the cave where Moshana slept with her tiny fur-bearing pest. He had to make the perilous journey to the waterhole and freedom without his mother’s watchful eye and especially without the clinging attention of the infamous golden mite.
Sometimes he needed a little time alone, and those precious moments were few and far between in pride life. Just to be alone and sit for a while and do absolutely nothing and have absolutely no one to do it with. Maybe he would bat stones in the water or check out the pugmarks in the soft mud to see who was out last night. Perhaps….
As he quietly, cautiously picked his way past the cleft in the rock, a couple of eyes peeked out and spotted him. Quietly, carefully, the smaller cub gamboled along behind, interested in this new game. The two of them traveled gently over the land, not stirring a rock or brushing against a leaf. Then when Akase couldn’t stand it anymore, she whispered, “Whatcha doin, Hawdy?”
“Shhhh,” he said, “She’ll hear you!”
His ears laid flat and he slowly looked around. “Oh, hi, Cassie.”
“Where are we goin?”
“To the watering hole, if you can keep it down.”
“Does your mamma know?”
“Yeah,” Moshana asked sleepily. “DOES your mamma know?”
The lioness emerged from the cave, yawned, stretched, then looked at the two cubs. “It’s DANGEROUS out there alone. You stay here till you have an adult to go with you.”
“Yes ma’am,” Ahadi said with grudging politeness.
“So you run along now and be a good boy.”
“Yes ma’am.” He turned to go back uphill, and Akase started to follow him.
“And YOU, little lady, need a good bath.”
The cub was plucked up in Moshana’s powerful jaws and carried helplessly back toward the cave.
“Hawdy, come back!” she squealed in a high, plaintive voice.
“I can’t” he said. “Your mom told me to run along.”
After her bath Akase looked for Ahadi. She thought he had gone—she did not know he was carefullyhiding from her. So she looked for other lions to pester instead.
Bweto was old and rather cranky at the best of times. Still when Akase shook her from a sound sleep, she resisted her impulse to drop the cub off the edge of Pride Rock.
“Whatcha doin, Bweto?”
She opened one eye. “I was sleeping,” she said as patiently as she could.
“Do you know any games?”
“I never learned any,” Bweto said. “You ought to find someone else.”
Bweto’s other eye opened in a flash of irritation, but she soon smiled. “Do I get to pick? Let’s see…Daramu is good at games, and it’s about time she had to teach you some.”
“No problem.” Bweto smiled and closed her eyes.
Moments before Bweto would have lapsed into sleep, she heard her name cried out in anger. “Uh oh!” She rose, stretched, and quickly made her way down the rock.
Daramu came to the spot and looked around. “At least she had enough sense to beat a quick retreat. Honey Tree, why don’t you find Ahadi? He likes to play games with you.”
“I can’t find him,” Akase said.
“I know. Make a game out of looking for him. And if you find him, you win.”
“And if I don’t find him?”
“Then I win. Now run along and let your auntie sleep, ok?”
Akase was more adventurous than usual in scouring Pride Rock for any sign of her precious “Hawdy.” She took quite a few risks, heading into parts of the rock where no one ever goes to rest. In one particular spot, she managed to stumble over a small stone.
There were insects under the rock. “Oooo, neato!”
She found to her delight that another rock turned over had similar results. Only these insects had a metallic luster and shone different colors in the sun.
How many different kinds of bug could she find! Ah, something to do at last!
As she experimented with different rocks, she found to her delight that the larger ones hid a greater variety of insects. A couple even had small lizards under them. Akase squealed with delight.
One large flat stone looked very promising. Though she could not lift it straight up, she thought she could shove it over to the side.
She pushed and shoved with all her might, and in fact the stone budged.
There was no rush of insects, however. She expected something for her trouble.
She shoved even harder. This time, the rock slid over, revealing the moist ground below.
It had covered a large snake!
Akase was taken aback. She thought the snake would run away, but instead it coiled up and looked right in her eyes with its own unblinking stare.
“Momma, momma, momma!” she cried, running back toward her cave.
Moshana was asleep, but she had a mother’s sensitivity. She’d heard her daughters cries of frustration and anger, and even the whine of disappointment. But she heard the hard edge of fear and her eyes sprang open at once.
“What’s wrong, Honey Tree? Are you all right??”
“There’s a snake on the rock! I saw it!”
Akase knew she was in trouble. “Oh someplace. I can’t remember.”
“But you must. I have to know.”
“Well,” Akase said slowly. “Maybe by the overlook. In the little rocks?”
“You KNOW that’s dangerous. You KNOW I told you that was off limits.”
Moshana ran quickly to the place, hardly waiting for her daughter to arrive. She stared at the ground, and soon caught sight of the serpent trying to make its way to cover.
Moshana circled about the wary snake, watching the reptile follow her every move. “Don’t come any closer, Akase. Not one step!”
“I’ll have to go around…look for a chance…wait for an opening…the snake is rather dull…I think I’ve got it right where I want it…just a few more paces and…”
Moshana’s paw shot down and whacked the snake behind the head. Her claws extended and pierced the serpent, drawing a crimson stream from its scaled body.
“I hate to do that,” she said. “They are hunters like us. But I don’t know my poisonous snakes, and I can’t tell one from the other. Can’t take the chance.”
Moshana took the snake which was writhing spasmodically and slung it over the side of the rock. For a moment she showed her relief, then her attention turned to her daughter.
“Come with me, Akase.”
“I’m sorry, Momma!”
Moshana kept silence as she descended Pride Rock with her frightened daughter in tow. The lionesses knew that look—they watched Akase pass with a slightly self-righteous nod. The little “angel” was finally going to get what she so richly deserved.
Ahadi peeked out of the cleft where he had hidden himself. He knew the look only too well, and he felt sorry for Akase. After all, if he’d only kept watch over her, she probably wouldn’t have gotten in trouble. He left the crack and fell in behind Akase to offer her some moral support, but Moshana looked around and said in her gentle but firm voice, “We need our privacy. Go home, honey tree.”
They walked under the shadow of the promontory, headed out toward the watering hole. “Mother, you always cuff me at the bottom of the rock.”
“Whatcha goin to do to me?”
In a horrified voice, Akase asked, “I’m not being bandied from the pride am I?”
“Bandied?” Moshana had to think for a moment. “No, you’re not being banished.”
Akase ran ahead and looked into her mother’s eyes. “You do still love me, don’t you?”
Moshana’s ears went back. Her calm voice had a slight edge on it. “What a thing to say! You’re my child, the life I carried next to my own for three moons—of course I do.”
They stopped by the waterhole and cautiously headed through the mudflat to the water. “Now then,” Moshana said, stick your paw in the water. Watch it carefully.”
Akase wondered if this would be some new kind of cuffing. She held up her tail and braced herself for the impact, but it never came.
“Now take your paw out of the water and watch the ripples. Tell me what you see.”
Akase complied. “They’re round,” she said timidly.
“How deep a hole did it leave when you pulled your paw out?”
Moshana leaned down to look right into her eyes. “If you’re always making people angry, that’s how much they will miss you when your gone.”
Akase’s ears went flat. “Yes ma’am.”
“Honey Tree, you know I love you, don’t you? That snake could have bitten you and you’d be dead by now. I’d be taking your little body out to the eastern meadow for the scavengers and there would be no more bedtime stories or games to play or…” Tears welled up in Moshana’s eyes and she lowered her head. “Would you want to do that to me? Don’t you know how many nights I lay awake worrying about what’s going to happen to you?”
“Oh mother!” Akase bounded up and buried her muddy paws in the fur of her mother’s neck, rubbing and nuzzling her urgently. “I’ll be good! I promise!”
“That’s all I ask. You don’t have to be a little Minshasa, but you could try to be just a little better.”
“I’ll be a LOT better,” Akase said tearfully.
Moshana said softly, “Oh look, honey tree, you have some mud on you!”
“There!” Moshana sprang back and splashed water all over Akase with her paw. “Snake girl, snake girl, nyah nyah na nyah nyah!”
“RRRROWWWRRRR!” Akase began splashing her mother with both paws. From the safety of the reeds, Ahadi looked at them and smiled.
CHAPTER 9: ADOLESCENCE
Akase bounded along beside the old mandrill. “What is it?”
“It’s a surprise. If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore.”
“But that’s a secret! This is supposed to be a surprise!”
“You little conniver! Just like your mother when she was your age!” Rafiki laughed.
“Is it good to eat? Or at least fun to play with?”
“Well actually it’s right over there! Surprise!”
Akase looked and looked but did not know what the surprise was. When it was painfully obvious she had no clue about the surprise, Rafiki went right to the spindly little plant and touched it. “It’s your breadfruit tree!”
“Well…I suppose.” She did not want to look disappointed but she was at a loss knowing what to do with a breadfruit tree. “Thanks.”
“This is not just any breadfruit tree,” he added. “I planted it the day you were born. This tree and you are exactly the same age. And by an old custom of my people I will come here when the tree bears its first flowers and weave them into a wreath to put on your head to celebrate your coming of age.”
“Coming of age?”
“That means all grown up. Ready to be a queen. Ready to be a mighty huntress like your mom.”
“Oh!” She showed the first hint of understanding his gesture.
“It’s your tree, but since you will never eat any of it, I will see it does not go to waste. And whenever I come here to pick its fruit I will say a prayer for my friend Akase.” He sat beside the tree and gently put his arm around her shoulder, cuddling her till she rubbed against him and kissed him.
“Long, long ago before your mother was a cub or her mother was even born there was a mandrill we call Little Brother Koko. Koko was in love with the beautiful Neema, daughter of the village chief. But Koko, who was a bit of a rascal, was not liked very much by the chief and so when Koko asked to marry Neema her father said NO.”
“That was mean!”
“Not really. He loved his daughter and wanted her to have a good husband that would love her. He was not sure Koko would be good to her.”
“But he was good wasn’t he?” Akase said.
“In his own way, yes. He wanted to be a good husband that would love her and he wanted some way to prove his love for Neema was pure and true. And that is when the chief thought of the most impossible test he could imagine. He told Little Brother Koko that he could marry Neema the day the dead breadfruit tree blossomed. And because this was well nigh impossible he was sure his word was final.”
“I bet Koko was sad.”
“Maybe for a moment. But Koko was rather clever. That night by the moon’s light he took blossoms from other trees and glued them to the dead tree’s branches with dwe-dwe resin. And you can imagine how the chief looked when he saw the dead tree in bloom! So he said that the gods must have shown favor to Koko and he had the chief priest marry the two lovers.”
“That’s neat!” Akase said. “Do you know another monkey story?”
Rafiki laughed. “Monkey story? Well, my dear, this one is not quite finished. For the old priest was not stupid and when the blossoms withered and dropped off he knew he was tricked and he was VERY ANGRY. He told his guards to put Koko to death.”
“Oh, that’s awful!”
“It would have been. But my little honey tree, Neema’s love was sure and her heart was brave and she fell across Koko and told the guards they must kill her instead. That she would die for his crime.”
Akase’s eyes opened wide. “She must have really loved him.”
“She did. And Koko really loved her too for he pushed her away and insisted that the crime was his and she should not die for his crime. And it was then that the chief knew Koko and Neema loved each other with a special love, a beautiful love that deserved to live and grow.” Rafiki hugged the lioness cub and kissed her small round face. “Someday when I put that crown of blossoms on your head, I will pray that God gives you a happy life and beautiful cubs of your own.”
Akase was fascinated by the story of Koko and Neema and she made it a daily ritual to come look up the seedling and ask Moshana if it was any taller. Moshana mother would nod and say that it was really climbing up there.
After a while, Akase figured out that she couldn’t see the day to day growth—it was as frustratingly slow as her own maturation. By the time she was four months old, she began to feel it would never have blossoms and she stopped coming and left it to Aiheu.
As if it missed her visits, the tree withered and died. Rafiki felt it was only due to an infestation of beetles, but he knew it would not be wise to let the pitiable stalk remain like a bad omen. One night of the new moon he headed out with another breadfruit sapling, this one taller by half again. He planted it and kept watch over it, watering it and tending it as Moshana cared for her growing daughter.
The rains came, a long miserable time when no one did anything more than they absolutely had to do. While Akase huddled in the cave next to Ahadi the tree soaked up the moisture and shot up even higher and stronger. The strength enabled it to stoically endure the dry season and by the next rainy season it was no longer a sapling but a young tree. Buds had formed on the branches with the promise of fragrant blossoms.
The changes in Ahadi and Akase were even more clearly evident and they were full of promise as well. They both still had cub spots, though they were hard to see except on Akase’s long, shapely back legs. A ruff around Ahadi’s face and neck began to give him an appearance he referred to as “distinguished,” but which young Yolanda called “scruffy.”
How much that bit of ruff affected Ahadi’s self image Akase was beginning to learn. She began to take a long, serious look at her future mate and she was not sure she liked what she saw.
Akase saw Shaka’s eyes sparkling with mischief. She knew he had figured out most of her moves and that he felt himself invulnerable to her pounces.
“You think you’re so hot,” she said with a smirk, her tail lashing.
“Come on, girl! Make your move! You know I’ll win!”
Despite his taunting, Akase loved Shaka as a dear friend and knew he loved her too. Whether or not she won at wrestling, she always had fun trying. Shaka’s behavior, like a dedou fruit, had improved with age, and she had begun to enjoy his company much more than being with the once awe-inspiring “Hawdy.”
The slightest grin formed at the corners of her ebony mouth. Akase still had trouble hiding her intentions from her adversary.
She sprang at Shaka and was surprised when he ducked so quickly back. How could he have known? How was it possible??
Before she could regain her footing, he was upon her, putting his strong forearm around her, trying to throw her off balance.
“Gonna getcha!” Shaka taunted her.
“No way,” Akase said through clenched teeth. For a female three months younger, she struggled valiantly to keep from going down.
Shaka shoved more of his weight on her, straddling her with his powerful back legs and resting his entire weight on her back, then wriggling, pushing at her back legs with his own until she stumbled and fell to her belly in the grass.
Shaka giggled. “Gotcha where I want ya, girl! Say ‘Uncle!’”
“You’re a stubborn thing!”
The gasp of an adult lioness came from behind. Moshana’s voice shouted, “What are you DOING??”
“Just wrestling,” Shaka said, standing up quickly.
Akase’s ears went back with embarrassment. She remembered the time she’d seen a lion and lioness in that position. “It wasn’t what it looked like,” she stammered, clamping down her tail. “We were wrestling, Mom! He pushed me flat.”
Moshana’s eyes half closed. “I suppose so, but it doesn’t look right, that’s all. You are going to be a future queen and YOU are a prince consort. Remember to act like a young lady and lion.”
They both bowed their heads. “Yes, Ma’am.”
Mohatu sighed and slumped his head. “Moshana, you worry too much. You always have.”
“I don’t think they meant anything by it,” she said, “or I would have cuffed that girl till she couldn’t sit down. Still at their age—especially your SON’S age—that kind of play can lead to bigger things. I wouldn’t mind so much if it were Ahadi, but you know that no good can come from Shaka’s interest in her. You have to DO something.”
“And what would that be? He’s just doing what any young lion would, and you know as well as I do Akase is pretty and smart and just the sort of thing to turn little boys’ heads.”
“Are you saying it’s her fault?”
“I’m not saying its ANYONE’S fault. I don’t think it’s more than a mild infatuation. After all, when I was his age, I remember acting the same way toward you. And I remember what you asked me to do.”
Her ears flattened with embarrassment. “I was just a little girl when I said that.”
“Exactly my point. But if you think we ought to do something, I heard that little Avina has her eye on Shaka. We just make sure that Ahadi and Akase HAPPEN to be too busy doing things together, and maybe encourage Avina a little bit.” His tail thrashed. “If they think we’re trying to run their lives, they’ll rebel against it. I remember how it felt to be that age.”
“They will grow out of it.”
“Never assume that, Moshana. They have feelings, and you may think they will pass and that makes them not important, but EVERYONE’S feelings are ALWAYS important.”
Moshana looked down. “Mine sure weren’t. At least not to the gods.”
“What a thing to say! What ever possessed you to….” Mohatu stopped and watched as a tear rolled down Moshana’s cheeks. “Are you all right?”
“Fine. I’m fine.”
“No you’re not.”
“Ok, I’m not.” She looked around.
Mohatu stepped around to peer into the depths of her eyes. He could see her love for him there and his jaw dropped. “Honey Tree, I didn’t know.”
“We can’t always have what we want,” she said, coming to him, nuzzling him, and sitting beside him with her face buried in his mane. “We have to stop this thing before someone gets hurt….the way I did.”
“I’ll do what I can,” Mohatu whispered, touching her face with his tongue. “Don’t you worry about a thing. My poor, dear Moshana. I’m so sorry.”
Near midnight, several nights after the “incident,” Akase crept quietly out of her cave and headed around to the cistern. She saw in the darkness ahead of her the eye shine of another cub and knew Shaka had been able to make the appointment.
“Shaka, can you see me?”
“Come out into the light. It’s ok. We’re alone.”
Akase stepped out into the moonlight. “I learned this neat trick. Watch this.”
Akase crossed her eyes. He said “Eww, gross!” and laughed a bit, but then said, "You shouldn’t do that trick too often or you they might stick that way—and that would be a real loss. You have pretty eyes."
"I thought you liked jokes.”
“I do. Just not all the time.”
She smiled. “You used to joke all the time. That got on my nerves.”
“Well, there’s more to me than that. I still like fun, but I also like other stuff. Like star lore, and counting all the different kinds of birds—and being here with you.”
Akase smiled. “Yeah. I’ve missed you too. Hawdy is very nice, but he’s so serious all the time. He wouldn’t know a joke if it bit him on the nose. I crossed my eyes for him but he didn’t even smile. I wish he was more like you. You can be mature and still have fun.”
He smiled. Tried to use a deeper voice. “Mature? I like that. I’m glad someone thinks I’m mature. Mom treats me like a cub. She never treats Hawdy—AHADI—that way.”
“And you resent it, don’t you?”
“Not really. It’s just I realize how much they treat me like a cub when I’m around you and you treat me like a young lion. It means a lot to me that you like me.”
“And I do like you.”
“Really?” He smiled. “Can you name three things about me that you like?”
“Well, I like your face, the way his ears perk around, and the way you swish your tail to keep time when you’re humming.” She pawed him. “What are three things about me that YOU like?”
“That’s easy. Your smile is like a warm sunrise. The way your teeth only show at the last minute, like they are playing hide and seek. And that cute thing you do with your nose when you get irritated.”
"What else--that's only two things?"
"Do you really want to know? Promise you won’t take it wrong?"
He looked at her and said, "Sometimes I get these urges to rub you full length and bat you with my tail. I know I get to nuzzle you once in a while, pals and all--but if I wasn’t afraid they’d laugh at me, I’d like to feel you next to me and cuddle you…. Is that wrong?”
"No. I think that’s very right."
He came to her. He nuzzled her softly around the face. She closed her eyes. The attention was flattering. He groomed her cheek and gave her a slow, comfortable full length rub. At the end of the rub, he paused for a moment….
She clamped down her tail. “Shaka? What are you doing?”
He looked around, consternation on his face. "Look, I got a little carried away. I'm sorry, all right? Don’t be upset."
"No, I’m not upset. I don’t think so. I mean...."
He said to her, "I don't know why. I just wanted to touch it."
"I'd rather you not." She sat down and began to groom her face nervously.
He sighed deeply and his tail tip began to twitch. "I wonder if Ahadi ever feels this way. I mean it seems so unfair that he gets you all to himself."
She looked up at the moon. "I know. He's kinda cute sometimes but I've seen Yolanda with her lion in the reeds. I don't know if I would want Hawdy to do that to me. But if you were my mate…."
“Oh?” He looked around.
“IF you were, I could imagine it MAYBE. But I still don’t know why I’d want to do something like THAT.”
"Because you're still young," Shaka said. "When you get to be my age, you start to understand these things.” He looked at her intently. “You've never really touched a lion before, have you?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, really TOUCHED a lion."
"Well...NO. Of course not."
He said, "You say that like there’s something wrong with it. You know, we are what we are whether you see it or not. But aren't you...I mean...haven't you ever been a little CURIOUS?"
"Well...." Her ears laid back. "I guess so. Nobody wants to talk about it with me. They always say ‘later when you’re older.’ How old is older?"
His tail lashed. “Yeah, I know how they are.”
"You're curious about me?" she asked him.
"What do you think?"
Her tail clamped down. "I don't know what to think. We could get in real trouble over this. If my mother knew we were even TALKING about this…."
He said, "Well look, if you'd rather not, find out, maybe you ARE too young to know the truth. That's ok."
"Are you saying I'm a baby?"
"No. But if I don't have a chance anyway, maybe it's better if we don't carry this any further."
The term stung her. "I HATE this whole stupid dipping the branch thing." She came over to him. She rubbed him full length. "Yes, I want to know the truth. Hawdy would NEVER let me see his…I mean, you know…"
“Look, it’s all right. I touched you first, now it’s your turn. You’re not taking anything, it’s kinda like I owe it to you.” He swished his tail nervously, then turned it aside.
She took a look, shyly from a distance at first, then she drew closer and reached up with a trembling paw. She came so close she could almost touch him, but she lost her nerve and looked away ashamed. "Well, it's been interesting. But I gotta go now, ok?"
He looked at her. "Yeah, Cassie. Hey, about tonight, I hope you didn't feel...."
“Guilty. I mean, I love you, Cassie. I also think I’m IN love with you, and you’re the only girl I’ve ever let see me like that. If you change your mind, let me know.”
She stopped, went to him, gave him a shy kiss on the nose, then said, "It's a leaf in the stream. Night."
He hurriedly stepped up alongside her. “Cassie, do you think you could ever be IN love with me?”
She looked at him intently. “Let me think about it.”
CHAPTER 10: TRYING TO COMPETE
Avina was closer in age to Shaka. Her body had matured and the lioness she was becoming was every bit as curious about her growing body as was he. Shaka’s emerging musky fragrance excited her in ways she did not fully understand, and she was not timid about being touched as long as it didn’t go too far. She clearly offered Shaka more than the younger Akase and had gotten his attention away from her. The only problem was her own attraction to the somber, dutiful Ahadi. His maturity appealed to her, and the more he avoided her, the more desirable he became.
Ahadi stared at his emerging mane in the water, trying to imagine what he would look like with a full crown of dark fur. Would he be able to please Akase? His brother Shaka had always acted handsome, and so he had been seen that way. Ahadi was much like his brother in outward appearance, but lacked the confidence to sell it to others. He was not sure he wanted to be more like Shaka, but he did worry about Akase. Though he could claim her by right of betrothal, he wanted her spirit—a treasure that had to be freely given. Avina’s obvious interest in him only made him feel more alone, causing tension in his relationship with his brother.
Akase was sulking by the entrance of the cave where she was born. Moshana came and nuzzled her, and Akase kissed her mother.
“Mom, this whole betrothal thing is supposed to work every time, isn’t it? I mean, even if it takes a miracle?”
“Honey Tree, don’t you love Ahadi?”
“Yes. I do love him. But till now he’s been so distant with me. I don’t know if what Shaka does is ok—and I really don’t want you to tell him this—but once he touched me.”
“I shouldn’t have told you.”
“No, you really should. You have a beautiful body, and when a young lion cub is becoming a young lion, he finds new ways to appreciate that beauty. I mean, maybe it’s a little confusing or even embarrassing, but he paid you a great compliment. Just remember not to take it too much to heart.”
“That’s the problem, Mother. I don’t. But Ahadi has never shown that kind of interest in me.”
Moshana nodded. “But you love him.”
“Yes, Mother. Terribly.”
Moshana took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Ahadi knows you are three months younger. He respects your youth by not doing things that you’re not ready for.”
Akase looked into her mother’s face. “Am I beautiful?”
“Sure you are. You’re my lovely lioness.”
“You’d say that. You’re my mother.”
“I mean it. Just because I love you doesn’t make me blind.”
“Really.” Moshana nuzzled her softly and tongue-touched her. “The important question is has he ever touched HER that way? I think not.”
Akase sighed with relief. “You really think not? Thank Aiheu!” She nervously licked her paw and started to groom her face. “You won’t tell anyone about Shaka will you?”
“If you won’t tell anyone about the time Mohatu touched me.”
“What??” Akase nervously giggled. “You’re KIDDING!”
“Hey! I wasn’t exactly ugly—he had eight paws and they were all over me!”
Ahadi was working on his hunting skills, stalking rabbits. A rabbit was hardly a mouthful to him, but the discipline and skill needed to acquire one was all important to him. As a king, or even a prince, he would hunt very little. As an adolescent, however, he was honing his physical perfection, training his senses, and learning to be observant.
As he crept closer to a family of rabbits from the cover of some tall grasses, he wondered how his mother would have taught him had she not been thrust through by an oryx. In the hunt he felt closest to her, knowing that he was seeing things and experiencing feelings much like she must have felt. The hunt sisters would not let him come along. By and large they had no use for a large, powerful male except to drive out prey into the open, and Ahadi wanted more than a humble role as a beater.
Quietly his paws rose and fell one by one in a dance with the earth as old as time. He was grateful for Moshana’s words of advice and kept his tail down, resisting the temptation to let it flag nervously and alert the prey. “Mother,” he thought, “be with me. Hunt with me. Grant me your wisdom.”
One of the rabbits looked up nervously. He had figured out that they do this every so often and resisted the temptation to spring before it was time.
“Hey Ahadi!” a cheerful lioness voice rang out. The rabbits looked up and scrambled for cover.
“What the hell??” Ahadi muttered as he looked around at Avina’s smiling face.
“Oh, did I make you mad?” she said softly as she pushed her chin against his cheek and gave him a long, slow, full-length rub that ended with a tail-bat in the face. “You’re so cute when you cuss. You ought to do it more often.”
Ahadi looked down, embarrassed. “It just came out. Avina, I was SO CLOSE. I could almost taste them.”
“Oh forget those stupid old rabbits,” she said, nuzzling him provocatively just in front of the thigh. “Don’t you ever just have fun? Play around? Enjoy life?”
“Of course I do,” Ahadi grumbled, trying to look angrier than he really was. “What a foolish question.”
“Then take me on,” she said, a mischievous smile on her face. “Let’s wrestle, winner take all.”
“I know about your wrestling,” Ahadi said, his tail clamping down firmly. “No thanks.”
“You are SO UPTIGHT,” Avina purred, touching his cheek with her pink tongue. “What’s so wrong with my wrestling? I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
“No, it didn’t hurt,” Ahadi said. “I don’t even let Cassie do that, and she’s going to be my mate.”
“So you say. I still think that creepy monkey SAID the branch dipped on its own. How do you know Moshana didn’t offer him something to pick one of her daughters. Well?”
“You shouldn’t say such things,” Ahadi said, his ears folding back with superstitious dread. “The gods are listening.”
“They are watching too,” Avina said walking about him appraisingly. “It doesn’t take a Nisei to know the truth.”
“And what is the truth?” Ahadi asked. “Be serious for once.”
“OK, Ahadi. In all seriousness, I’ll tell you the truth.” She drew close and whispered something in his ear.
Ahadi’s eyes opened wide. “That’s disgusting!” He looked about. “I can’t believe you said that!”
“But it’s true, and you wanted the truth.”
“Really? Have you seen his?”
“Touched it too,” she said with a wicked grin. “Twice.”
“But how do you know that mine is….You haven’t seen it.”
Ahadi turned around and clamped down his tail. “Watch it, girl!”
“Hey, I was just kidding—sort of. Tell me what you want and I’ll be what you want me to be.”
Ahadi glared at her. “Look, Avina, let’s get one thing straight. I like you—I really do. But I don’t love you. Shaka loves you, and if you can’t see your destiny you don’t know what truth is.”
Avina’s jaw set firm and her eyes narrowed. Her breath came in short, angry bursts. “The truth is,” she said, the fur on the back of her neck raising vertically, “Go back to that simpering little cub, I don’t care! Akase is welcome to touch it all she wants—if she can FIND it!”
Akase looked miserable. Shaka nuzzled her softly and said, “It’s all right. Really it is. I know Ahadi loves you—he’s told me so. In fact, he was really jealous of us.”
“Sure he was.”
“What did he say?”
“It wasn’t so much what he said. It’s what he did. You know, that little pouty thing with his mouth, looking away a lot, never speaking unless spoken to. He was giving me ‘the treatment’ all right, and it was over you and I.”
“But you and I never did anything wrong.”
“I don’t think he thought we would try—you know—THAT thing. But I think he saw me as serious competition.”
“The way Avina is for me.”
“Yeah. About that. I hate to let you down, but I have this thing for her. I mean, you never gave me any encouragement.”
“Well I’m glad for you.”
“Avina never gives me any encouragement either.”
“It’s ok. Really. But if you keep Ahadi busy, I have a chance. I mean, well, she and I have had our moments. And really, I think I’m more her type. Could you imagine her with droopy drawers?”
“Really!” Akase was scandalized. “Are you saying Ahadi is dull??”
“No. I’m saying he’s square, but in an endearing sort of way. You’re what he needs, and Avina’s what I need, and you and I can make sure that’s the way it turns out. You know, everyone lives happy forever after.”
“What can I do?”
Shaka smiled. “You can let him know what he’s waiting for. You can fight fire with fire. Let’s you and I have a little talk about your flirting. Trust me, I’m three moons older and I know whereof I speak.”
Akase touched Ahadi’s cheek with her nose and pushed into a full length rub. "Tell me, Hawdy, are you the curious type?”
“It depends. I’m curious about a few things.”
“Sometimes I’m curious too. Like now, for instance. It’s no sin—we’re destined to be together.”
He looked around at her. "What’s no sin? What do you mean by curious?? Not you too??"
She rubbed him full length again. "Oh, did I get you all upset?"
Ahadi grew indignant. "What's gotten into you, girl? Whatever it is, I hope it gets back out."
Her chin quivered. “I knew I shouldn’t have listened to him!” Tears began to spill down her cheeks. “He ruined everything!”
“Listen to WHO?”
She turned and ran away.
He came after her, finally stopping her when she nearly ran head first into the rock. "What's wrong with you? Hey, I mean it. You can tell me."
"No I can't."
"You can. You can tell me anything."
He looked at her. "Of course. Look, if it means that much to you, go ahead.” He shyly turned about and moved his tail. His eyes squeezed shut and his ears laid back. “Go ahead. It’s ok.” His claws slowly extended and his chin trembled with supreme embarrassment.
Ahadi did feel her soft touch against his body, but it was her cheek rubbing against his as her tongue touched him gently. “You’re really sweet. But I never wanted to touch you like that. That’s a cub’s game. Soon enough everything will be put to its rightful purpose.”
Ahadi breathed a sigh of relief. “Have you been talking to Shaka again?”
“I only asked his advice. Frankly I think that Avina has warped his mind.”
“He was born that way,” Ahadi said. “Trust me, I know. And that Avina…” He batted her with his tail and fluttered his eyelids. "It’s so hottttt out here, big boy. Why don't you let me rest in your shade?"
She smiled shyly. "You can be very funny when you want to be."
"You know, the reason I always liked you is because you WEREN'T like Avina.”
She looked at him intently. “Tell me, Hawdy, what AM I like?”
He thought for a moment. “You're like a fresh kill."
"No, I mean it good. Sometimes when I find a kill, it's swollen because of the heat but inside there's really nothing there. You're the real thing, the genuine article. I always feel like I know what I'm getting."
"Maybe I don't want to be TOO predictable."
"Well, maybe just a LITTLE predictable. If I give you my heart, it’s for always. I want to know your love will never change. You must promise me that you’ll never break my heart. I want to know when I get back from marking the line all day, you will always be there to kiss me softly and lovingly with your beautiful ebony mouth."
“Like this?" She gave him a long, lingering kiss and looked in his eyes.
"Yeah. But that's for later. Right now we have to uphold appearances."
"Everyone. Being the future king, all eyes are on me. Did I ever tell you how uncomfortable that makes me?"
"I thought you loved it! I thought it was all you lived for."
"No. It was all I was born for. Everything else--well, that's extra. Like an extra nuzzle or an extra kiss. This job is mine by Aiheu’s command, and I will do what my Lord commands. But I wouldn’t mind at all if you would be my queen. I could be happy."
She smiled, nuzzled him. "Well, that seems ok to me." She looked down. “I saw how Avina was going after you. I was worried that I would lose your love.”
Ahadi smiled shyly and half laughed. “My love is not a leaf to be blown in the wind.” He came up from the side and flung his paws across her shoulders, bearing his weight on her. “My love is big,” he drawled in the deepest voice he could muster. “Big love, heavy like a rock. Like Pride Rock, but softer. Big soft love, girl. Can you handle it??”
She chuckled and tried to dislodge him. “Now THAT’S my Hawdy!”
CHAPTER 11: THE TALK
Mohatu led his son Ahadi out into the reeds by the stream where they could be alone. “Here we are, son. This is a great place to bring Akase. It’s where your mother and I came, and you were conceived on that very spot. Or one of these spots. I think we tried on most of the halfway flat areas….” A sly grin spread across Mohatu’s face, but he shook off the recollection and regained his composure. “Anyway, Son, it will soon be your turn to be alone with Akase. Does this look like a good spot to you?”
“Well Dad, I mean, I don’t want you to know just where. I mean, that’s sort of private.”
“Private?? It won’t be private for long unless the sisters know where not to hunt.”
“OK, here, I guess.”
“Sit. Let’s talk. There are some things I need to tell you.”
“But my friends told me all about it.”
“Your friends, eh? And how many cubs have they had?”
“I see.” Mohatu gave his son a nuzzle. “Your father has had five. The first litter was three lionesses, and then you and your brother. And I won’t begin to tell you how many days and nights went into that. Shaka has heard this talk, and now I’m going to tell you.”
Meanwhile Moshana slipped silently into a clearing followed by her daughter Akase. “This is the spot. It was here that I met your father and it is here that you were conceived.”
“Did you love him?”
“Yes. Very much. But he was a rogue, and darling you are marrying a king. He will always be there for you—I envy you my honey tree. You will never have to say good bye.” Moshana looked about. “Does this spot look good to you?”
“I guess. I mean, we’ll choose a spot.”
“Honey tree, I need to know. You don’t want the pride sisters crashing in on you, now do you?”
“Well, this spot looks as good as any. But what if he doesn’t want to come here?”
“Akase, when a lion’s blood grows hot, he will follow you anywhere. You come here and he will be right behind you. I promise.”
“All right,” she said shyly. Akase nervously groomed her face, licking her paw and smoothing her cheeks. “So I come here. Then what?”
“The chase is important. Getting his blood hot is best for you both. He will call for you to stop, but never stop too quickly--there is a sound in the voice, an edge of passion that lets you know that he’s ready to respect the privilege of making love to you.”
“I'm scared. I know I'm going to ruin it, I just know!” she said. It was one thing to speak of it—it was another to imagine it happening soon.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. That’s why I am having this talk with you now.” Moshana nuzzled her daughter. "Just remember that because you're on the bottom you don't just lie there. He thinks he does all the work, but he doesn't. "You can please him to no end, then make it look like all his doing. Remember to tell how good he was--males are notoriously vain about their sexual prowess."
At the same moment, Mohatu was telling Ahadi, "Females are notoriously vain about their sexual prowess. But the one thing they will not tell you is when you do not please them. Just because you continue until you are pleased does not mean she has experienced—well—you know."
"That gut wrenching rush of pleasure that makes her want to roll on her back." He looked into Ahadi's surprised face and said, "They don't cry out the way you do. It's more like a gasp followed by a moment of…. Here, it's easier shown than said. Watch this....."
Akase looked at her mother. "Will that work? Are you sure he won't notice?"
"Not if you time it properly. I wouldn't worry about it on the first few times. After you feel comfortable with lovemaking, try that to keep him interested. I mean it's likely you will want him five whole days and nights."
"Five whole days and nights??"
"Yes, honey tree. And he will want you too. But toward the end, he will tire more rapidly than you. It's times like this when you know how to keep him interested that you will be doing yourself a great favor.
Mohatu bent around as if to bite a flea on his flank. "Your old dad has put on some weight," he said, grunting with the strain. "It comes so easy when you're in the mood, but right now I feel like an idiot. I can't make anything happen."
"That's ok. I've seen it before--on me that is…."
"I know, but have you really LOOKED at it? There's something you need to know before you find out the hard way on your wedding night."
"The spines, dad?"
"You know about that?"
"My friends told me. It doesn't make sense. I mean, what do they do?"
"I've heard every kind of explanation, but none of them fit. Aiheu works in mysterious ways. But let me tell you, son. As much as she loves you, if you leave her body too roughly, she'll cuff the living crap out of you."
Akase looked intently at her mother. "What kind of sting? How bad?"
"There's nothing to be afraid of. Just expect it to sting a little as he leaves you. You see his little specialty has a few rough spots on it."
"Little specialty? Mom, he's not a cub anymore, he's my mate."
Moshana looked away for a moment. "Well, whatever you call it, it goes in just fine, but when he's finished it scrapes you a little coming out, ok?" She laughed nervously. "I'm sorry, Honey Tree. I've done it a thousand times, but it's hard to talk about it."
"It's ok. I'm a little nervous myself."
"But don't worry. Everything will work out fine. And that little sting will be swallowed up in the afterglow. Honey Tree, when he's made love to you, you get this wonderful sleepy, tingly warmth all over and the best thing to do is roll on your back and let it carry you off to a satisfying sleep. It has that effect on him too, and if you're lucky, Ahadi will be a cuddler."
"Yes. He'll want to lay next to you and fall asleep with his paw on your shoulder or maybe he'll invite you to put your face on his soft mane. Your father was a cuddler. Some are, some aren't. Don't press him to do it if he wants to lie alone, but I suspect Ahadi is a cuddler. I hope so."
Mohatu nuzzled his son. "The nap you take afterwards is the most satisfying sleep in all Aiheu's creation. Son, if you're smart, and I know you are, invite her to snuggle with you. Sex is wonderful, it's beautiful, and it's exciting. But son, she's not an object, however desirable. She's a living, loving, gentle creature that wants to share everything with you including the pleasures of her body. Keep that in mind and you will know happiness you never dreamed of. Enjoy every kind of closeness with her. Wrestle with her, rub her full length, imbibe her fragrance. Look into the deep pools of her eyes, hear the music of her voice and try to memorize every part of her. Respect her as you respected me. You can either be satisfied with jumping her in the reeds or you can make LOVE to her. For Aiheu’s sake, never take her love for granted. Seek to earn it day by day.”
“How can I do that, father?”
“It’s simple. Forget that love is life as equal partners. Work hard at the relationship, and if she helps you at all, remember to be grateful. She is looking to you for strength and protection. Make her feel safe and loved. Love her with all your heart and soul.”
“I will. I swear it.”
Moshana nuzzled her daughter. “Life is uncertain. Never let the sun go down on your anger. When he is unfair and temperamental, forgive him. He is looking to you as a lion does for comfort, but he also a cub that needs a mother to pick him up when he falls. He will aggravate you and for hours or even days at a time you will want to cuff the daylights out of him. Then you will see him do something wonderful, and your heart will go out to him. You will forgive him and love him as much as you do now—probably much more. Real love is like a tree that slowly grows from a fragile wand to a rugged giant. It comes from tending to sick cubs, telling him he’s wonderful when he feels defeated, and worrying when he’s late returning from patrols. All of this makes a relationship deep and wonderful, my child. And like trees, no two will ever be the same. Learn from your old Mom, but don’t try to be just like me or expect Ahadi to be another Mohatu. And above all, remember that no problem can come to you that some lioness somewhere has not faced with grace and courage.”
“I love you, Honey Tree.”
“I love you too.”
Moshana forded through the tall grass headed back to Pride Rock for the baraza. Her daughter Akase would be trying to earn membership in the sisterhood that very evening. The sun was lowering in the sky, painting the savanna in shades of crimson and purple mystery.
They met Mohatu and Ahadi on the trail. “Hello, Moshana. It looks like a fine night for a hunt.”
“Indeed it is,” the king said. “What have you been up to.”
“Oh, nothing much.”
Ahadi looked at his betrothed and smiled, his eyes following the curves of her shapely, powerful body. “Honey Tree, lean on me for good luck.”
Akase drew near, pressing her cheek to his to feel the softness of his mane. She walked beside him, listening to the soft purr that warmed his chest and feeling his closeness. “Indeed,” she thought, “Mom is right. You ARE a cuddler.” She smiled and touched his face with her pink tongue.
CHAPTER 12: THE HUNT
The amber sun sets in a crimson sky
The setting of the greater eye
Is occasioned by the rising of the lesser
And it is time for hunting
Akase was understandably nervous. Ulambe looked her over carefully—a purely ceremonial inspection before her first hunt. “Extend your claws.” Ulambe looked and sniffed. “Now show me your teeth.” Akase complied, wondering what all she would have to go through before the night was over. “You look like a lioness. I remember when you were a wet ball of fur by your mother’s teats and I have watched your progress carefully. Now you are tall and comely, and you want to join our sisterhood.”
Akase stared at her for a moment before remembering to say, “I do.”
“And has your mother taught you the ways of the huntress?”
Ulambe looked about. “Is there any reason why she should not seek blood tonight?”
The lionesses looked back solemnly. Only Akase’s mother Moshana felt the smile spread across her face.
Ulambe then looked intently into Akase’s eyes with the stare that many hapless herbivores followed into darkness. Akase felt the hair on her neck stand up and her ears went back. “Candidate, do YOU know of any reason why you should not seek blood tonight? Think carefully before you speak—there is no shame in an honest answer.”
Akase tried to shake the spell of those glowing sapphire eyes to find her voice. “No ma’am.”
“Well then,” Ulambe said, “let the hunt begin.”
Akase’s limbs strained against the earth as she lunged against each length of grass toward the panicked prey. She had often chased Ahadi, but he was not in fear for his life. In the midst of her concentration, the thought came to her that play makes a mighty huntress. Her mother used to say that.
“Left!” Ulambe cried out. “Go left!”
Indeed, she sighted the antelope that lagged behind the others. In that moment a bond formed between them, and only one would leave victorious.
Akase lunged, not with reserve to keep from hurting her own mother but with all her strength and her claws bared. It was almost like wrestling her mother. She wrapped her forearms around the musky antelope, feeling the heaving of his muscles, the roughness of his coat, the pounding of his heart. Her claws sank into the flesh to hold on at all costs.
“Oh God!” the antelope shrieked. “Help me, God! Please let me live! I don’t want to die! Help me!”
Akase maintained her death grip, but she hesitated to close on his throat and strangle his final cries. She wished she could drown out the pleading.
“Let me go, please! Let me go! I’m scared and I don’t want to die!” Tears began to stream down its face.
“I HAVE to do this!” Akase said, as if she were trying to convince herself.
Ulambe came over. "Kill it! Can't you see you're prolonging things?"
“Yes you can! Your lover is waiting for you to be a lioness! Don’t you want him? Kill it or I WILL”
Akase looked at the throat with a pulse throbbing in its veins, closed her eyes, and gripped the soft of his windpipe the way she had on carcasses. Her fangs sunk in and blood began to flow, but it was the kiss that brought death. The sound of his gasping no longer mixed with hers, and she felt the tremors of his final struggles. Then he fell into a calm repose as acceptance took his last moments of fear away. Akase finally felt a calm acceptance as she realized the death was going to happen, and it was going to be her kill.
The antelope’s head dropped in a final surrender. It was over.
Ulambe looked down at the body. “It’s gone.”
The other lionesses gathered around. When Ulambe took the blood on her paw and dabbed each of her cheeks with blood, each of the lionesses nuzzled Akase and murmured, “Sister.”
Ulambe said, “Well, my sister, how does it feel to be one of us?”
“A little sick to the stomach,” Akase said shyly.
“That will soon pass,” Ulambe said, giving Akase a full length rub. “Now my sisters, warn the prey that a new lioness is on the prowl!”
They all looked up into the night sky and roared, loud and long and wonderfully.
“Oh look,” Moshana said, “Here comes Ahadi!”
The lion spotted Akase with the blood on her cheek and he practically wiggled with joy. He came running across the grasslands to meet the lioness.
CHAPTER 13: THE MANTLEMENT
Mohatu was a bit dreamy and looked like his mind was far away.
“A nuzzle for your thoughts, Dad?”
Mohatu looked around at Ahadi. “Very soon you won’t be my little cub anymore.”
“I’ll always be your cub,” he said.
The older lion half closed his eyes. “I was just thinking about the time you first kissed Akase. She was so little. So were you. I thought those days would last forever. Poor Tanga, she was so young, so strong and full of life.” He sighed deeply. “I would have been true to her till my bones fed the jackals, I swear it. But that was not to be. As it is, my sons are ready to be lions, to have loves of their own, and I must admit a little secret of my own.”
“Are you ready to get snagged, Pop?” Shaka asked.
“Snagged?” Mohatu laughed. “Like a wildebeest? Let’s just say that I’ve been seeing someone. Someone I want to pledge to.”
Ahadi looked about, stunned. “You?”
Mohatu shot a sidelong glance at his son. “I may be a little fat around the middle and slightly worn around the edges, but I’m not jackal bait yet.” He softened. “Look, I know it’s too late for you to think of her as ‘mom’ but she’s a dear, sweet thing that wakens feelings inside of me I thought were long dead.”
“Which one of them is it?”
“It isn’t one of them. I met her on the border.”
Shaka said, “Way to go, Dad!”
“She belongs to another pride, but I can get her to come here.”
Ahadi was very upset. “Why do you want to pull a stranger in here? I thought you liked Moshana.”
“I do like Moshana, but I love Namabi. And besides, I have my duty to perform. She is carrying my cubs.”
Ahadi nodded gravely. “Then I suppose you must.”
Mohatu nuzzled him softly, his face long as he watched Ahadi turn away. “Son, try to be a little glad for me. Please. I loved your mother—I still do—and I always will. She’s not her replacement, but I also love her. It’s not just the roll in the reeds—though I must admit that part was pretty fantastic. She’s kind and gentle. When Tanga died, I was wounded. All my understanding and patience and kindness was ripped away and I was left bleeding. If I don’t stop the flow of blood, I’ll die.”
Ahadi turned back and nuzzled his father, touching him with his pink tongue. “I can’t stay angry at you, father. I’ll meet her.”
“That’s all I ask.”
Mohatu was ready to lead Ahadi and Shaka out on the promontory. Ahadi peeked out of the cave mouth and saw the crowd. All the eyes were staring at him, and he quickly backed away.
“It’s time to go,” Mohatu said gently. “Come on, my sons. It’s not so bad.”
“I’m scared,” Ahadi said.
“Why does this have to be a public ceremony?” Shaka asked.
“Because it’s one of the two times we remind them we are all brothers in Aiheu. Look at the night sky and see the uncounted hosts of ka that look down upon us. They neither hunt nor are hunted. Today a little bit of that will be theirs, if only for a while. We can admire one another without shame or fear.”
“Do you admire them? Even though you eat them?”
“Of course I do. You remember Madu, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” Ahadi said. “The poor old thing.”
“That poor old thing was once an orphaned cub. He came to the cave helpless and crying for milk and a little love. Not one of the huntresses would harm him.
“My grandmother had lost a son named Madu, and so she brought the tiny cub to her side and nursed him. He took the name and the teat of a lion, but he was so small and ate so little that it was no trouble raising him…no trouble at all…” Mohatu sighed deeply and a tear ran down each cheek. “When you see those faces out there looking up at you, remember any one of them could have been your brother or sister. Be grateful for what Aiheu has given you, and be grateful for what Aiheu has given them.” He sighed again. “Poor old Madu, he wanted so badly to be here when you got your mantlement.”
“How do you know he won’t?” Shaka said.
“Well,” Ahadi said, straightening, “Let’s do this thing.”
On trembling limbs they stiffly shuffled behind Mohatu to the end of the stone. “If it helps you,” Mohatu whispered, “I’m scared to death. I never get used to this.”
The crowd hushed as the royal family sat at the end of the stone shaft. In a voice that did not betray his dread of public speaking, Mohatu addressed the multitude.
“Welcome, one and all. As you have blessed me by coming, may you receive my blessing and that of Lord Aiheu.”
The blessings of a lion were not had often, and the crowd responded with enthusiasm. Only the not-so-subtle roar from the King restored order.
“Like yourselves I’ve known the joy of life. I shared that joy with a mate who kindled and brought forth life out of the love I bore her—and still bear her wherever she is.”
For several moments, Mohatu bowed his head in remembrance, the soft wind stirring his mane. In that time the bond between hunter and hunted went beyond mere truce. When he resumed, his confidence and empathy had swallowed up his fears. He spoke from the heart.
“My son Ahadi, now a fine young lion, was once so small that Rafiki lifted him to the skies from this very point. Those of you who remember the tiny golden child see the lion on my right and know that time and training have worked their miracles. Shaka, my other son, has also become quite a lion. On this happy day while I may address you as my brothers, I present to you my dear sons with all the pride of a grateful father. They bear the mark, the mane of an lion.”
Mohatu turned and addressed Ahadi and Shaka directly, but loud enough to be heard by the crowd below.
“My sons, when you were conceived, I nipped your mother’s neck. You shall return that gesture to your father and so bid farewell to your cubhood.”
What Mohatu was NOT saying aloud was the truth…that they were giving him a symbolic bite to the throat, defeating their father for the right to lead their own lives. It made the moment very solemn for them, and they didn’t undertake it lightly. Shaka trembled at the moment, and Ahadi wept, following the nip with a tongue touch.
Mohatu whispered very low, “You are lions now, my sons. I know two girls that are happy for you….”
Ahadi and Shaka had to smile. The sadness was glossed over.
“Look, one and all! My sons are lions! Respect them as you would respect me. And now I hear my sons would like to say something.”
Avina walked tremblingly up the promontory to sit by Shaka’s side. He turned and licked her passionately. “Honey tree,” he whispered, “Oh girl when I get you alone I’m going to keep every promise I made you.” He turned and said his one line of the ceremony. “This is my mate, my love, my life.”
Ahadi came forward and muttered the line as if repeating words taught him by a shaman. “This is my mate, my love, my life.”
Akase reacted timidly as he nuzzled her. “Well, I guess that makes if official,” she said.
“You do love me, don’t you?” he asked.
“Of course I do.”
Ahadi looked into her eyes as if hunting for another answer written there. “I will make you happy, Cassie. I swear.”
“I know,” she said. “You always do the right thing.”
CHAPTER 14: THE PURSUIT
Akase’s body was certain of its desires, but her spirit was in doubt. The Ahadi of duty and honor had sat glorified upon the tip of the promontory for all the peoples to see. Was that the Ahadi that would come to her to perform his royal duty? Or would she find a true husband interested in her as a person and in sharing pleasures under the moon?
For well on two hours he had sat in the depths of the cave alone with his father and Shaka as they talked male-to-male, full lion to full lion. She was not invited to the talk and did not care to listen in, but couldn’t the talk have waited until after the wedding night? Was the coldness of public life starting already?
She half-expected him to SAY he loved and desired her because he ALWAYS did what was right. Though her natural drives as a lioness would bring her to his side if he even halfway showed interest in her, the inner part of her, the Ka, needed to be love and be loved. Half of that she could rely upon—she loved him. She loved him enough to follow him anywhere and be anything for him. But did he love her, or were they just friends?
Finally as the sun sank low and a soft purple glow suffused the sky, a lion emerged into the meadow where he waited.
“Oh, it’s you, Hawdy.”
“That sounds like real enthusiasm.”
“Well I’ve been waiting for a long time,” she said stiffly.
“Then you’ll appreciate it better. That’s half the fun…anticipating.” He smiled nervously. “Come on, Cassie, let’s have a go at it.”
“You think it’s going to be that simple?” she said, scandalized.
Ahadi laughed. It was a long, deep, free laugh so unlike the rigid prince on the promontory. “I want to wrestle you, Cassie!”
“For one thing, it keeps me in top condition. Play makes a good fighter.”
“What’s the other thing?”
“If you win, I’ll tell you.”
“And what if I don’t want to wrestle you?” she said, a tense look in her eyes that only another lion could read. Their message was clear to Ahadi.
She suddenly lunged at him from an upright stance. He sidestepped her gracefully and watched her sail past.
Before she could crouch and spring again, he was upon her, his powerful forearms around her shoulders. She turned and shoved his chest with her back legs, tipping him nearly off balance.
It was the chance she needed to regain her footing. She used it well, bounding upon his shoulders and gripping him around his neck with her forearms. As he struggled to remain upright, she put more and more pressure on him.
Unexpectedly, he put his head down, slipping from his grasp because of his mane. Then he pushed under her, came up on his back legs and sent her to the ground. Before she hardly knew what happened, he had his paws on her chest, pinning her to the ground.
“You win,” she panted. “I guess I’ll never find out.”
He drew close to her, his nostrils heaving. Each breath filled him with her fragrance and his eyes were lit with a soft glow. “I wrestled you because I wanted to feel every curve of your beautiful body.” His paw explored her chest, then came to rest on her cheek. “That was a good start, Cassie.” His lips parted and between his ivory teeth he slowly took in a breath, held it, and let it flow from his nostrils. His chin trembled and he reached down slowly to touch her face with his warm pink tongue. “Let’s have a go at it.”
“You’re going for best two out of three?”
“No, I’m playing a different game this time.”
She reached with a forepaw to her mouth, licked her paw, then ran it around the curves of his face. “I love you. Let me up, darling. We’ll try your game now.”
“I know the perfect spot,” he said, drawing back. “We will make love fit to make the sun and moon jealous.”
“I know the perfect spot too.”
She sprang from the ground and began to gallop. It was not the all-out sprinting of a huntress, but the playful canter of a female in love.
“Wait, that’s the wrong way! Cassie, wait!”
“Catch me if you can!”
“Cassie, you don’t understand! My father says….”
“Is that what you talked about for hours?”
Her laugh echoed across the plain. It spurred him onward. His father’s advice was forgotten as he pursued his desire in a frenzy of love. Their shadows swept tenderly across the golden grass as a few curious stars showed their face in the deepening cobalt of evening.
“Cassie, you’re going the wrong way!”
“Then you’d better go the wrong way too!” she said, giggling.
Almost before she knew it, her feet stood upon the ground her father had trod. There in the midst of the love that kindled her, she drew to a stop and watched her lion approach her. Love had gone full circle, a notion that appealed to her romantic nature.
“There you are, you little temptress!” He drew close by and nuzzled her softly, touching her repeatedly with his tongue in fervent lion kisses.
Timidly she asked, “I wonder where Shaka and Avina are.”
At that moment they heard a heavy baritone, “Oh, YES!”
Embarrassed, Akase sat in the grass and began to clean her face with a paw. “Tell me, Hawdy…do you love me?”
“Of course I love you.”
“I know you like me. We’ve been friends all our lives. But is it love you feel right now, or the need to do your royal duty?”
For a moment Ahadi was taken aback. Then he smiled. “Yes, it is my royal duty. I brought along a witness.” He looked back at the bushes and said, “OK, Zazu, I’m checking her out!” His paw rubbed across her hip alluringly. “I think something’s happening!”
She giggled. “It sure is! I’m running away!”
Ahadi looked her straight in the face. “He heh…you ARE kidding, aren’t you?”
“Answer me first and I will answer you. You DO love me don’t you? I mean, the way a lion loves his mate?”
He drew close and said in a quiet voice, “The way fish love the water and birds love the air—I want to immerse myself in you. I want to make love to every inch of you! Day and night, night and day, again and again till my heart ceases to beat!”
“How bad do you want it?”
“More than anything!” He kissed her yet again. Her nostrils flared as the tides of her breath surged in and out. Her ebony lips parted ever so slightly in a half smile. That face would know worry and age, the frowns of lovers quarrels, the fatigue of rowdy cubs fed by moonlight. But for one magic moment the world lived on love and he reached down to nuzzle her beauty, fresh as morning dew. “Oh gods, I am the luckiest creature alive,” he whispered. “Crouch in the soft grass, my darling. Let me feel your beautiful body!”
“Am I beautiful? Do you really think so?”
He smiled. “I could tell you, but I’d rather show you.”
She came to her feet, nuzzled him, and rubbed him full length, batting his face alluringly with her tail. She returned along his other side, filling him with her fragrance and touching his face with her soft pink tongue. As he trembled in anticipation, she took a few steps, then settled into the grass to wait her lover’s grasp.
He remembered his father’s advice not to worry if everything didn’t work on the first try. But he was awash more with passion than fear as he stepped across her, his forepaws even with her shapely shoulders, and knelt tremblingly to search for her treasure. His father had taught him well, and with a gasp of supreme arousal he found what he was after…
“Head it off!” Ulambe shouted.
A panicked antelope burst through the tall grass. For one moment they looked into its terrified eyes and then saw him scramble to recover and dart off into a different direction.
“This way!” the hunt mistress cried. A party of four lionesses came in on Ahadi and Akase, nearly colliding with their bodies.
“Oh Lord Aiheu!” Ulambe cried. “I’m so sorry! The king said you were going to be by the river!”
Ahadi stepped back and looked at Akase. “I told you that you should have let me pick the place.”
“But mother said….” She looked at the quartet of gawking lionesses. “Pardon us, sisters…we would like to be alone.”
“Of course. Sure thing. So sorry about the intrusion.”
A few awkward moments passed as the huntresses filed off into the grass.
“That’s one lucky antelope,” Ahadi said, laughing nervously.
“Yeah.” Akase took in a deep breath and let it out slowly, then began to groom her face with a paw.
“We’re alone now,” he said. “Do you think we can recapture the mood now?”
Akase looked down. “You mean you want to do it HERE? After THAT?”
“More than anything.”
A smile spread across her face. “Just checking.”
Ahadi settled across her and gently took the back of her shapely neck in his jaws. His father had made him a prince, but she would make him a lion.
CHAPTER 15: NEXT IN LINE
Flush from his honeymoon, a weary but content Ahadi ascended Pride Rock followed by his young bride. “Dad? Are you home?”
Mohatu looked out, smiling. “So what have you two been up to?”
“We’ve been getting to know each other better,” Akase said with a wink.
“Well and good, good and well,” Mohatu said. “Now that you two lovebirds are home, I can go on my own little errand.”
“Your own errand?” Ahadi asked.
“You remember what we discussed, son. I’m going to bring home a treasure. You’re going to have younger brothers and sisters very soon, and I expect you to be good to them…and to her.”
“As long as I don’t have to call her ‘mom’.”
“Agreed. Namabi is her name, and that will do nicely.”
Shaka nudged Ahadi and glared at him. “Go on.”
Ahadi shifted his weight uncomfortably. “Dad, we thought—I mean, I thought—I could help take care of the cubs. After all they are family.”
Mohatu smiled. “Thank you, Ahadi. And thank YOU, Shaka. I know you two are trying to do the right thing, but you will learn to love Namabi. It will be a pleasure to have her around—I promise you.” With that, Mohatu pushed past them in a full-length rub and said in a deep, heartfelt voice, “There’s no sense in wasting time. What must be done should be done today.”
“Father,” Akase said, bringing a half smile to Mohatu’s face. “Take care of yourself. I’ll say a prayer for you.”
“Yes, you do that.” Mohatu nuzzled her softly and met her eyes with his. “You are good for my son. I feel good knowing you are there for each other.”
The late afternoon sun cast long shadows that turned the crags of Pride Rock into a chamber of mysteries where a few cubs played hide and seek. Ahadi briefly looked around when one of the cubs ran across his tail. “Hey, Uzuri! Watch where you’re going, squirt!”
Shaka smiled. “I remember when YOU looked like that--squirt.”
“Yeah. Where has the time gone?” Ahadi sighed deeply. “I wish Dad would hurry up. I want to meet this lioness and get it over with.”
“I know.” Shaka nosed him on the cheek. “I’m not really crazy about it myself but did you see how happy it made him? You have to remember when Mom died that he was both Mom and Dad to us. We don’t have the right to tell him who to love—even if he wasn’t king. Don’t you agree?”
Ahadi looked down. “Yeah. Still, when Mom died, Moshana was so good to me. I used to pretend she was my mother. I prayed that she would be the one. Hard.”
Shaka smiled indulgently. “Do you think she would have loved you one bit more because Dad took her to the reeds? Open your eyes, Ahadi. You’ve had a lot of love in your life. And that beautiful creature you’re pledged to—I once had quite a ‘thing’ for her.”
“You bet. It’s Dad’s turn now. Don’t just tolerate Namabi…learn to love her because she makes your father happy. It would mean a lot to him.”
“It would mean a lot to ME if I knew where they were. It isn’t that far to her pride—what could they be doing?”
Shaka smiled naughtily. “I know what they could be doing.”
Ahadi shot him a cold stare. “He wouldn’t—not with us worried about him.”
“I was just kidding, brother. Loosen up.”
Moshana emerged from the shadows. “Any sign of him?”
Ahadi nuzzled her softly. “Not a hair.” Ahadi had not overheard Moshana’s confession, but he suspected that her bond to his father was more than friendship. “I’m sure he’ll be along any second now. Let’s go out on the promontory.”
Ahadi strode slowly up the pinnacle of stone and half-closed his eyes as Moshana’s face leaned into his mane. A soft caress of evening wind wrapped his mane around her ears.
“I hope he is happy,” Moshana said softly. “He’s been alone so long.”
“You know how that feels—more than any of us.”
They took up their vigil at the end of the stone and scanned the distant plain. The light was turning soft and purple, painting swatches of ebony across the sward.
Moshana looked around at Ahadi and nudged him so that he met her eyes. “What did you mean?”
Ahadi quietly said, “You love him, don’t you?”
“Of course I love him. He’s not just my king, he’s an old friend.”
Ahadi looked at her knowingly. “You love him, don’t you?”
She raised a paw and caressed Ahadi’s mane. “What does it feel like to make love with the one you chose? The one you wanted to be the first?”
“You do love him.” He nuzzled her softly. “And now you’ve lost him twice.”
Tears welled up in her large, expressive eyes. “Hold me.” She leaned against him, resting her face in his mane. “You are a son to me. I like to think our son would have been like you. But you have Tanga’s beautiful eyes and the curve of her nose.” She took in a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. “I wonder what the new queen will look like.”
“Probably beautiful--like you.”
Moshana snuggled against him. “Because he’s handsome--like you.”
Ahadi looked around and tongue touched her. “Why don’t I send Zazu out to look for him?”
“I already did.”
“I think I’ll help him look.”
“I’ll come with you.”
Ahadi said firmly, “No, there may be fighting involved.”
“I was fighting before you were born,” Moshana answered firmly.
“Very well. But don’t take any unnecessary risks. Father was in good shape.”
“You’re talking about him like he’s dead.”
“I didn’t mean to.”
“But you think he’s dead, don’t you?”
“I hope he’s not. But Moshana, if he’s not dead, where is he?”
“Well, he might have had an accident! I mean, he might just be hurt…or lost! There’s many things that could make him late.”
Just then the small hornbill fluttered in and bowed. “I found him,” Zazu said quietly.
“Thank goodness! Where is he?”
“Have courage, Your Majesty….”
Moshana slumped and began to whimper. “Oh my God! Precious Aiheu! I told him to be careful—I TOLD HIM!!”
“Is he?” Ahadi asked directly.
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
Moshana collapsed to the ground, sobbing. “I could have made him so happy,” she stammered. “Why didn’t he come for me? Why, Aiheu?? Why did he have to die??”
Ahadi drew close and comforted her with a paw. “Sometimes bad things happen for no reason at all.”
Moshana looked at Zazu. “Show me where he is.”
“But Madam, the Pride Law. He’s corban for an entire….”
“Zazu,” Ahadi said sharply, his jaw trembling with emotion. “I’m the Pride Law now. I say show her the body.”
“Will you be coming too, sire?”
“No,” Ahadi said with a resigned sigh. “I have to stay here. My duty. I have to mark the line. Dad is not here and if the line isn’t marked…” He gasped, and tears began to stream down his face. “Aiheu, give me strength!” His head bowed and he said, “I don’t want to be king! I don’t want to be alone! My mom and now my dad are gone and I’m alone!”
Moshana nuzzled him desperately. “You’re not alone. My poor baby, my poor dear baby!”
Just then, Shaka came running up the promontory. “Zazu! Thank Aiheu! Have you seen Dad? Is he all right?” He looked at his brother and Moshana and a large knot grew in his stomach. “Zazu, is he dead?”
CHAPTER 16: THE MESSENGER
By the full moon, King Ahadi sadly regarded his face in the still waters of the cistern. A couple of tears fell and wrinkled the image. Within two short days he had gone from princely lover to grieving king. He had done all that was expected of him in public, leading a roar of grief with the pride sisters, lying in his father’s spot to scent him once more, and accepting the nuzzle of each lioness and cub. But for a moment he needed to be alone to remember Mohatu, and his friends including Shaka and Akase withdrew and let him hide away.
“Was it quick, father?” Ahadi muttered, looking to the stars. “Did you suffer much?”
“Not too much,” said a lioness. “He was peaceful at the end.”
Ahadi looked around quickly. “I said I didn’t want to be dis….” His tail lashed and he trembled. “Sweet Aiheu! Mother!”
She shook her head. “No, I’m not your mother. She was my sister.”
“My gods,” he said, coming over slowly and still trembling in the limbs. “So you are Namabi. I see what my father liked in you.”
She bowed her head and her tail drooped. “I know. I’ve always known. He found me just to talk about old times, but then he started to see me as another Tanga. I don’t know if he ever loved me for who I am, but I didn’t care. I was so much in love with him that I would BE Tanga if I had to.”
“And now he is dead,” Ahadi said with a little bitterness. “What do you want with me?”
“He asked me to come here. It was his last wish.”
“So you spoke with him before he died?”
She nodded. “After the fight, he tried to crawl home. He couldn’t make it all the way, so I dragged him as far as I could. I tried to get him here—really I did—but he’s such a big lion. You understand, don’t you? I didn’t just give up.”
Ahadi nodded. “I’m sure you did the best you could.”
“When I could go no farther, I stayed by him. The hyenas and the jackals were out, I couldn’t let them touch him till he died.” Tears began to stream down her face. “He was very brave and tried not to show his pain in front of me though I knew he was in agony. He said he loved me, then he told me to see you and tell you he was sorry. It was the last thing he said.”
“What did he do to be sorry for?” Ahadi asked.
“He fell in love—the same crime I committed. If you can forgive him, try to forgive me! At first I was happy to bear his cubs, but now I’m homeless and pregnant and too scared to grieve!” She came and rolled on her back before Ahadi and touched his mane with a forepaw. “I was good to your father and your mother. Both of them loved me, Ahadi! Now everyone I cared for is dead and I’m alone—so alone! Have mercy on me!”
Ahadi nuzzled her tear-stained face. “I know how it feels to be alone. I’m sure we both loved my father very much in our own way. Go meet with the pride sisters and find yourself a spot to sleep.”
CHAPTER 17: UNFULFILLED
Ahadi fondly remembered the times he had spent with his father just enjoying life. There was times when Mohatu would sleep on his back and Ahadi would crawl up and snuggle in his chest mane to fall asleep listening to the tides of his breath and the rhythm of his large heart. Yet most of the time he spent with his dad had a rushed quality to it, not because Mohatu spent much time away. With the dark cloud of Madu’s prophesy hanging overhead, Mohatu spent a great deal of time preparing Ahadi and urging Shaka to be as supportive as possible. Under the circumstances every lazy moment under the sun was an unexpected gift to be treasured.
“A hard life,” the old Madu the serval had said of the young prince. Still there was a note of hope that Ahadi could overcome any difficulty through faith and character so he strove to build both into an impenetrable defense.
The early death of his father thrust upon Ahadi’s shoulders the weight of a kingdom. The kingdom had grown by one lioness and her three cubs—a girl named Isha and two males Duma and Paku. Perhaps that was the trouble Madu had foretold. Still with the help of the lionesses, that life was livable—and with Akase’s help, it was quite enjoyable. His life with her was by all accounts idyllic. His judgment was wise like that of his father, and his temper was slow to raise. Everyone saw only the best for the new king.
His joy was culminated in the sixth moon of his reign by Akase’s quiet whisper—“I am with cubs.”
“Cubs??” Ahadi gasped. “Are you sure?? How do you know??”
“A lioness knows these things.” She touched him with her tongue. “Are you glad?”
“Am I glad?” Ahadi nuzzled her. “Am I glad?? There has to be something better than glad!! The little cub that pulled my tail is going to be a mother!!”
“And you are going to be a father!”
“May Aiheu make me a good father. Our cubs deserve the best.”
“You already are the best,” Akase reassured him. “These cubs were created by love, and love will show them the way.”
Ahadi ran up the promontory and roared long and jubilantly. The pride sisters all stirred from their nap and gathered below to answer him. “I’m going to be a father! Aiheu abamami!”
“Aiheu abamami!” they shouted.
Two moons had passed, sixty hunts and forty kills had gone by. Akase had gone from jubilance to contentment to fear, and finally the agony of a miscarriage. In a pool of blood and humors her dreams lay dreadfully still on the floor of her cave. For the few moments that Ahadi could bear to look upon them, he could see their perfectly formed toes and their oddly-shaped faces. Those eyes would never open to look upon him. Those tiny mouths would never call him father. His head drooped and he dragged his grief out onto the promontory to roar yet again, this time weakly and lowly. Nobody answered him—nobody had to. The serval’s words had come back yet again to haunt him.
CHAPTER 18: A MOTHER’S PAIN
Old Ulambe came to her friend, the mandrill Rafiki. The ape came up and embraced her but noticed how she winced when he patted her shoulder. “You need a little more chi’pim?”
“Actually,” Ulambe said slowly, tracing a circle in the dust with her paw, “I was kind of wondering something.”
“Well, if my pain were to ever get worse, what would you prescribe? Is there anything stronger?”
“Is your pain getting worse?”
“I was just wondering, that’s all.”
“Just wondering?” Rafiki took her large forearm and lifted it up. Ulambe whimpered with pain and he dropped it at once. “Honey tree, my poor little nisei,” he intoned, kissing her cheek. “I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t lie to your doctor. You KNOW I never tell tales.”
“I know. But I kept lying to myself. Maybe it would go away. It’s not. It will never go away.” The pain in her eyes was not all from her arm. “Can you help me?”
Rafiki stroked his chin whiskers thoughtfully.
“I don’t like that look,” Ulambe said. “It always means bad news.”
“Not always. Fact is, I can increase the dosage of chi’pim a certain amount. But honey tree, we’re none of us getting any younger. Your condition can only get worse, not better. Eventually no matter how much I give you, you won’t be able to do everything you did before.”
Ulambe’s ears slowly laid back and her head drooped.
“That may be quite some time away,” Rafiki said quietly, rubbing her cheeks with the palm of his hand and tenderly kissing her on the bridge of the nose. “It’s not the end of the world.”
“I know. It just feels like it.” She sighed deeply. “I’ve missed the last couple of kills.”
“That’s not unusual.”
“The sisters are not fools—they saw me miss and they know why. They know I’m old and stiff. Help me, Rafiki! Please help me!” Tears began to run down her cheeks and the mandrill turned away to get herbs and give her a moment of privacy.
There were other older lionesses that Ulambe could have confided in, but it was her youngest daughter Uzuri she sought out for consolation. Uzuri was quiet and serene like her mother, but beneath that calm exterior was the same fire that drove Ulambe into her position. During the heat of midday when the lionesses lay down to sleep, the two lionesses sneaked off by themselves to spend time alone.
Those who knew Ulambe as well as she could be known dared to speculate on the meaning of the disappearance. The older ones remembered when Visimu took Ulambe aside for hours. In a quiet respectful way they spoke in hushed tones of how Ulambe was acting like Visimu when the end was near. Even the younger ones noticed how the old facile hunting style of the hunt mistress was beginning to suffer.
For some time Uzuri had served as her mother’s assistant. On those days when Ulambe begged off the hunt for illness, Uzuri led the pride sisters with the confidence and skill of a much older lioness. They were all impressed with her uncanny union with the earth. As her mother before her, Uzuri had the cooperation of the rustling grass, the snapping twig, the concealing reeds. Nothing seemed to stand in her way as she stalked her prey in a deadly dance.
The bright eye of N’ga had set and the pale eye of Sufa shed a soft silver glow that turned the savanna into a labyrinth of light and shadow. One by one the hunt sisters gathered for the nightly baraza, each one nuzzling Ahadi and each one getting from him a kiss on the right cheek and the whispered blessing, “Aiheu abamami, penda.” Though that blessing before hunting was coveted by the superstitious lionesses, none of them felt certain of victory until the hunt mistress herself had kissed each of them on the left cheek. A couple of hunt sisters each night would approach her each night to confess improper thoughts or deeds in whispers, seeking the forgiveness of Aiheu so the gods would not curse the hunt.
Ulambe finally arrived, excitedly looking about at each of the lionesses like a cub with a secret bursting to tell someone. Her change in demeanor got everyone’s attention before the first words were spoken.
“Sisters, a dream came to me today. I saw the crescent moon in the sky, or so I thought. But as I looked at it, the moon became a crescent of stars. I wondered what this dream was telling me—all day I thought of little else. Then I realized that the stars were lionesses, and they were hunting!”
“Very interesting,” Yolanda said. “What were they hunting?”
“Don’t you see? There is a center and two points. The left and right points move ahead to surround the prey. Most of us are in the center. I give the signal for the rush and the center advances. Of course the prey will panic and when they run in all directions the points will ambush them! It is the crescent maneuver, the way the nisei would hunt among the stars if their bellies were empty.”
“The points would have to be very good at stalking,” Yolanda said.
“Indeed. So you will lead the left flank. Uzuri will lead the right. Each of you will choose two companions, and the rest stay with me.”
There were some uncomfortable glances. The plan sounded reasonable enough, but some of the older and more experienced lionesses were not chosen for the two horns. Even unspoken the looks alone seemed to say, “If this is a disaster, it won’t be OUR fault.” Still they kept their dignity and one by one came to Ulambe to be nuzzled and kissed on the left cheek.
Uzuri and Yolanda came last and walked to her together, whispering as if to confess some misdeed. “We will do our best,” Yolanda said.
“I know. Your heart is true and brave and your mind is sharp. But please be careful tonight. There is a lot more depending on your success than a meal.”
Yolanda nuzzled Ulambe. “Are you all right, penda?”
“Just fine,” Ulambe answered. She always said “just fine,” and it did little to reassure Yolanda. She had heard the rumors just like everyone else.
Talking was not allowed on the hunt. The only clear signals were made by the hunt mistress with silent motions of ears and tail, and the subtle motions of her forearms. But there were other signals in her eyes that the others could read clearly. Ulambe was extremely nervous. Only the concentration that befitted a hunt mistress could keep her on task as they advanced on a herd of Thompsons gazelles.
Ironically the moon shown down at a quarter light, its shape the crescent that Ulambe said had inspired her idea. By its dim light the lionesses crept forward ever so quietly. Their advance was slowed by the need to let Uzuri and Yolanda penetrate the grass ahead and reach the other side of the herd.
It was not so easy. They approached from downwind as they should. Uzuri and Yolanda would eventually end up with the wind against them. It was at the moment the wind betrayed them that the herd would begin to flee. That was the time when everything had to come together.
Suddenly one of the antelope looked up nervously. It stamped the ground with a foreleg and made a loud “beuaw!” that made the herd bolt.
“Go!” Ulambe shouted. The wall of antelope were approaching them as they ran forward. Then by the moon’s uncertain light the antelope saw their mistake. Scrambling to stop and reverse, their hooves kicked up grass and dust.
For sure most would live to see another day. Yolanda thrust her golden body into the retreating herd and struck. “Damn!” she cried as the buck slipped from underneath her.
A doe sprang into flight to clear a large rock. For one brief moment she saw the yellow streak of Uzuri sailing upward to meet her in midair.
With a heavy thud, Uzuri grappled her and sent her plunging back to the ground. Then she grasped the doe by the throat and quickly plunged her into an endless night.
The lionesses gathered in awe around the radiant young lioness and her prize. When Ulambe arrived panting, she nuzzled her daughter. “I am so proud of you!”
“Your idea worked,” Uzuri said, nuzzling her mother.
“No. Your idea worked.” Ulambe looked around at the hunt sisters. “The crescent maneuver was all her idea. She used it to try and save my position.”
“It’s all right, Zuri. Visimu knew when to stop and give me my chance. I know when to stop too—before I bring shame to my memory.” Ulambe looked around at the hunt sisters. “I give to the one I love most in the world that which is most precious to me.”
Uzuri shrank back modestly, but Ulambe approached her nonetheless and kissed her once on the cheek. “All hail the mistress of the hunt.”
“Mother, you shouldn’t! You have good years left! Mother, please!”
“I could gladly spend those years as your assistant, my daughter.” She looked about at the others. “I live on through her. She is everything I was and more. My sun is setting but hers is only rising. How warm and splendid her day will be!”
Uzuri’s chin trembled. “Momma, nobody could be as good as you.”
“I don’t say ‘as good.’ I say ‘better.’”
Uzuri faced the hunt sisters. “It really was her dream.”
“That it was,” Ulambe said. “But only Zuri knew the meaning. It was a sign to me—the last of many—that my moon had set and yours had risen.” Ulambe kissed her cheek. “I love you.”
“Tears came to Uzuri’s eyes and she sprang to grip Ulambe with her forearms and kiss her. “I love you, Momma!”
CHAPTER 19: IN THE LIONS’ DEN
Rafiki’s call of “Aiheu abamami!” was the first sign to his new bride Asumini that the Pride Lands had begun. Asumini took in a deep breath and let it out slowly.
Rafiki said, “On the winds are the scent of honey, the sign of the nisei who watch over this holy land where the name of Aiheu is spoken with reverence! Look at the open grassland, where an ape can see three day’s journey before him, and in the distance the mighty M’bisi M’kota, which the lions call ‘Pride Rock.’ In the rainy season its spire pierces the very clouds, and its caves are said to touch the heart of Earth Mother. On the tip of the promontory I held a newborn prince in my arms and looked into the face of Aiheu. You will stand on that spot before the sun sets and feel the spirits of the ancestors come close enough to touch.”
“I can hardly wait,” Asumini said with reverence.
“Aiheu abamami!” Rafiki repeated loudly. It was evening, and a very dangerous time to be small and walking about.
“Aiheu abamami!” A lioness called. “Who’s there?”
“Rafiki and his mate to see the King.”
Yolanda’s pleasant face burst through the grass. “My old friend!” She nuzzled Rafiki, who took her large head in his arms and kissed her.
“Teacher, you do my heart good!” he said. “How goes the King?”
“Well--thank the gods--and you?”
“I can see that.”
“No, I mean I’m back where my heart lives. I’m BACK, Yolanda.”
She smiled broadly. “I prayed they would send you! How long this time?”
“Until I’m too old to dream.”
“And your friend here?”
“I’m Asumini,” the doe answered.
“Asumini,” Yolanda said thoughtfully. “THE Asumini?”
“I suppose. Busara was my father.”
“Now THERE is a name that is known in these parts! How is he?”
Asumini looked down. “Dead this moon,” she said.
“Oh Honey Tree, I’m so sorry! You must see the King. He will be glad to see you.”
Rafiki looked at Asumini and smiled sheepishly. “I will go down in history--as Asumini’s husband.”
She smiled naughtily. “When I get you alone, you’ll know why.”
With Yolanda leading the way, they headed toward a tall finger in the moonlit sea of grass. Pride Rock was exciting just to look at. It seemed to have a life of its own, watching the savanna with a lordly detachment in rain or drought, sun or moon. As they headed toward the stone sentinel, it seemed to grow larger and more powerful, until even Yolanda seemed small.
A winding trail led up the side of the main hill toward a jutting stone promontory. Yolanda and the two mandrills were able to take it in stride. Asumini was a little winded, but her excitement began to mount as the promontory came closer. For at the base of the promontory was a cave, and in the cave, Ahadi.
“Guests for the King!” Yolanda sang out cheerfully. A regal face peered out of the cave, ivory in the spell of moonlight. “Can that be my old friend Rafiki?”
“Indeed!” Rafiki shouted, hurrying the last few steps. “Too long has it been!” He plunged his arms into the soft mane and stroked the strong shoulders. Ahadi nuzzled him. Then Akase came and stood beside her husband.
“Look at the old graybeard!” She kissed him, and she was hugged in turn.
Asumini watched with barely suppressed excitement. “Aren’t they beautiful! Look at them, Rafiki! Look!”
Ahadi overheard her. “Come, friend! Don’t be frightened.”
Asumini headed for him as one possessed. With a smile of conquering joy that overpowered her fear, she did as her husband had done, burying her arms in Ahadi’s mane and kissing him around the face. “You beautiful creature! Aiheu has touched you with beauty!”
“Dear daughter,” he said, touching her with his tongue.
“Sire, I have brought some gifts. One of my herbs will get rid of ticks and fleas!"
Asumini held up a handful of something that Ahadi sniffed. "Gods, that should get rid of ticks and fleas all right. Pesky cubs, female companions, you name it."
"Well, it does have a slight odor."
"A slight odor??" Ahadi laughed. "Put that on a fresh carcass, and a starving hyena wouldn't eat it!"
Asumini looked down. “Oh, I’m sorry to waste your time.”
Ahadi nuzzled her. “There now, if you want to get rid of ticks, perhaps you might groom me sometime?”
“Oh Sire, may I??”
“By all means.” Ahadi looked deeply into Asumini’s eyes, and the mandrill looked down, embarrassed. "You're rather shy, I've noticed."
"Oh? Well I may be a little shy, but I also show respect. You're a King and I'm not."
Ahadi laughed. "You're a monkey and I'm not. Now that we know who we are, let's be friends."
Suddenly, a string of lionesses entered. Cubs appeared from nowhere and began to mob them. Ajenti rubbed against Yolanda and purred. “What’cha got, Mom?? What’cha got??”
“Nothing, fuzzy love. But it won’t be much longer.”
Uzuri came to Ahadi. “My lord, no luck tonight. Still, there were no shameful deeds.”
He nuzzled her. "Even so."
"I touch your mane."
"I feel it."
Uzuri had kept her calm, cool disposition, but one of the young females was rather unhappy. It was her chance to become a lioness--to make her first kill. She had missed. Rafiki whispered to Asumini the significance of that failure.
“She is still a cub in the eyes of the pride.” He added, “Pardon me while I talk with Uzuri, the hunt mistress. She could use some cheering up.”
“What’s a hunt mistress?”
“She leads the hunt. The others obey her commands, for only through cooperation can they hope to succeed.”
“Oh. So she’s like a queen?”
“On the hunt she is. Here she’s one of the Pride Sisters.”
Rafiki nervously went to her to introduce himself. He had known her mother Ulambe rather well but had only seen Uzuri from a distance. She didn’t look ready to be cheered up or even meet someone.
“Excuse me?” He looked at her carefully. “I’m Rafiki.”
“Uzuri,” she said.
“I hear you’re hunt mistress now.”
Rafiki crossed his feet nervously and began to squirm a little. “I may be wrong, but you seem awfully young to be hunt mistress.”
“You must be very good at it.”
“Thank you—uh—Rafiki was it?”
“Are those stripes real? I mean, do you paint your face, or is that natural?”
“Natural,” he said. “Females have a little color, but not this much.”
“Oh. That’s very interesting.”
She laid down and began to groom her forearms. In almost a state of shock, Rafiki went back to Asumini. “Pardon me for having an affair. The lionesses will be gossiping about it for many moons.”
Asumini smiled. “She’s had a bad hunt. I don’t know lionesses, but I know eyes. Look into hers… I think she’s like a melon. Dull color on the outside, but bright and fragrant on the inside. There is so much going on that she does not let show."
“Much like me when we first met,” Rafiki said.
He took her to Yolanda, who was much more transparent. The moment she saw Rafiki coming, she blossomed into a warm smile. “Who’s your friend?”
“This is Asumini, my wife.”
Asumini broke into an embarrassed smile. “What a pretty cub! Do you mind if I touch him?”
“Her. Ajenti.” Yolanda thought a moment. “Sure, why not. Be sure you support her under the head and back. You don’t look like the neck-carry type.”
Asumini picked up little Ajenti and hugged her up to his chest. “Oh gods, such a precious thing! She will grow in beauty like her mother. Isn’t she beautiful, Rafiki?”
Yolanda purred. When she reluctantly put down the small bundle, Yolanda touched his hand with her warm tongue. “Welcome to the Pride Lands.”
Asumini smiled. “Our child will also be beautiful, like its father.”
“I feel beautiful when I’m with you,” Rafiki said, stroking her cheek softly. “You are beautiful enough for both of us. And I think....oh my, the hour grows late!”
She looked out at the moon. “Yes, dear. We don’t want to wear out our welcome.”
Yolanda smiled coyly. “If you two want to see some great scenery, there is a nice path to the cistern behind Pride Rock. It’s a quiet place where you can talk undisturbed.”
Rafiki took Asumini by the hand and bidding farewell to his hosts, he led her away to spend the night under the silvery stars.
CHAPTER 20: SLOW WORK
Life in the baobab was not always easy. Asumini adapted with a cheerful attitude. Complaining did not make the work any easier, and it only lowered morale. So while she worked hard, she refused to complain.
Still, Rafiki saw her one day working hard in the hot sun to gather herbs for him. He stood over her as she grubbed in the dirt with her stick.
"Get up, you."
She stood, a bit woozy in the heat. He put his arms around her and kissed her. "You come inside. You know that Jasmine does not do well in bright sunlight. I’ll take over."
He knelt and with the stick began to work up some roots. The sun was powerfully hot, and there was not much water left in the gourd. After only a few minutes, he was sweating profusely. "What have I pulled her into? She must really love me."
Occasionally someone would stop by the baobab. A cub with the colic, a lioness with a thorn in her leg. Even Ahadi came by to ask Asumini to pull ticks. It was a lot more enjoyable to have someone to talk to, and she enjoyed spending time with her new friends getting to know them better. Where Rafiki would hug his mane and kiss Ahadi, Asumini used the excuse of grooming him to fondle him and enjoy his company. Ahadi seemed to understand this, and he would make a habit of coming by frequently. Sometimes Ahadi would note the poor condition of Asumini’s fur and groom her as well. It became an outlet for their deep mutual affection.
That evening, Uzuri came in from the hunt flush with victory. Rafiki sought to ride that wave of good feeling and went directly to her. “So you brought down your prey?”
“It was a team effort,” Uzuri said, noting a red spot of gazelle blood on Yolanda and grooming it away with her pink tongue.
“I bet you feel like the mighty huntress tonight!”
An eye looked away from the grooming. “Guess so.”
“Feels good, doesn’t it?”
“Well, tell me about it. That is, if you don’t mind.”
Her answer came in short bursts, punctuated with licks to Yolanda. “Not much to tell. Old gazelle female. Pincers maneuver. No big deal.”
Uzuri was looking keenly at Yolanda, continuing her grooming though the blood had disappeared. He took the hint and walked away to nurse his hurt feelings. He really liked Uzuri, but he got nowhere in a hurry, and felt he probably never would.
While Yolanda was getting all the affection she could handle, Rafiki contented himself playing with Ajenti. The cub was strong and had sharp claws. He had to practice great restraint and caution to keep his hide intact and still show her a good time. Finally he took her paws in his hand and pushed her claws back enough that she got the message. “Your Uncle Rafiki is fragile. You have to retract those claws.”
When Rafiki was alone with Asumini, he got the lecture he’d been expecting. “Give her time, dear. Her love is like a beautiful flower. First comes the sprout, then the bud, and then one day it opens and it’s beauty takes your breath away.”
“Why are some people like that, Asumini? Why don’t they just say what they feel?”
“When you say what you feel, you can never take it back. You want everything now. But the reason Aiheu gave us a lifetime is because it takes a whole lifetime just to live!”
“But think of the time we waste? Uzuri and I could have been friends. I really like her.” He scratched his head. “You think everyone will live forever, and things will never change. Then one day your mother starts acting crazy.” His eyes misted up. “Then she’s gone. I think you should tell people how you feel, and live for the day.”
Asumini smiled indulgently. “No one ever really dies. Really. When you love someone the way I love you, death is inconvenient and painful, but it cannot break the bond between us.”
Rafiki bit his lip, then put his arms around her. “You always knew the right thing to say.”
Two days later, Uzuri came back from the hunt with a cut. Rafiki got some disinfectant and pain killers to patch the small wound. Then he used Dwe-dwe resin to seal the edges of the cut together.
“It will leave a scar,” she said morosely. “It’s my first. I thought I was better than that, but I made a stupid mistake. Stupid, stupid, stupid!”
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” Rafiki said. He mixed some Dahlia rubidium with a few drops of her own saliva. “This will prevent scarring if you have discipline enough not to lick it off.”
“It works miracles, especially on furry regions of the body.” He put some on the cut and began to rub it in lightly. “We rub it in, then restore circulation in the skin around it.”
She patiently endured the rubdown, especially when it did not cause discomfort. Finding it pleasurable, she let him stroke her whole shoulder. Before long, he began to get venturesome soon he was stroking her gently, looking at nothing in particular. She sat silently, her eyes half closed. Eventually she started to purr. He half smiled. “The other shoulder could use a little work,” she said dreamily. He was embarrassed, but complied.
“No, up a little. Oh yes.” She sighed contentedly. After a moment of such bliss, she said, “Goodness, I have to see Yolanda!” She got up, stretched, and started out the door. She paused for a moment and looked back at Rafiki with a smile.
"If you have more problems, don't hesitate to come back. Please."
"Thank you," she said. She had started down the side of Pride Rock when she stopped again. Uzuri called after him, "Do your people have any star lore?"
"Yes we do. I love watching the constellations.”
“Remind me sometime and we'll trace the night sky together."
After she left, Rafiki looked back at Asumini. “Penda, I think I have a friend.”
Akase had come into her season. She knew after her last miscarriage that she might not survive another pregnancy. Ahadi was very demonstrative to her, even in public. But he knew that she could die during a pregnancy, and so his need for intimacy was not expressed in the usual way. Instead he looked for ways to enjoy closeness with her but not give in to his strong desires. Indeed, Ahadi had discovered more in-depth what his father meant about living a difficult life. Oh, if only old Madu had been there to give him wise counsel!
He soothed his need for her presence by lying his great mane down and letting her fall asleep resting on his side. He would kiss her, but always chastely. And he would tell her he loved her for who she was, and always would. That just being with her was the great joy of his life.
In this, Akase was little help. She was firmly in the grip of her natural inclinations. Her thoughts drifted back to all the blissful moments she had spent with her husband, and to the hopes and dreams they shared. Now they had no cubs. And worse, she was not even allowed to try!
Clouds headed in from the west. The cool wind was fetid with the moist smell of rain. As Ahadi looked up, the wind stirred his mane like a living thing. One by one the last remaining stars were covered by the gray mantle of the approaching storm.
A few drops fell. Isha blinked as one landed squarely in the middle of her muzzle. A few more came, and before long they were joined by great multitudes.
"You might as well forget prey tonight," Uzuri said. "We'd be lucky to see our tail tips in this weather."
The rain came down with a sudden abandon, lit silver in the flash of an errant bolt of lightning. The cloud roared, its heart of fire stroking the grass as the wind of its breath covered the plain. Cubs ducked under their mother's bellies as each angry bolt came faster and fiercer.
Akase looked at Ahadi sitting on the end of the promontory. His mane weighed down by the harvest of raindrops. "Come in here," she called to him.
"I like to watch the lightning," he said. "I used to be afraid of it as a cub, but it fascinates me."
"I've seen the lightning hit that rock -- several times. Get in here NOW."
He reluctantly left and worked his way down the slippery rock face to where her worried but beautiful face was lit for an instant by a flash of silver brilliance.
Though he was wet, she came to him and rubbed him full length. “Husband,” she whispered. “Lover, come to me.”
“Call me husband, but do not call me lover.” Ahadi looked down, ashamed. “You are putting thoughts in my head.”
“Someone needs to.”
“We’ve been through this before. After your miscarriage, I thought we BOTH agreed that our marriage could last, but that we would be strong and face this thing rationally.”
“What you want isn’t a wife but a sister! If I must live as a sister, and never feel you close to me, I’d rather be dead!”
“Lover!” She repeated it to make the point stick. “Lover, lover! That’s what I am--that’s what you married!”
“Don’t do this to me! I’m showing my love the best way I know how!”
“When I see you, I want you. But you say I could never have you, and you could never have me. Have you declared our marriage null and void?”
“No! I love you--God knows I do! I don’t want anything to happen to you!”
“But it is happening. Can’t you tell? This is not natural.” She rubbed him full length. “I may not become pregnant. It is always a risk, but one that I’m willing to take.”
She nuzzled him, kissing him gently and passionately. “Make love to me, I beg you! Make love to me!”
“Make love to me, husband. Lover, I know you want me. Let me hear you cry out my name in ecstasy!”
He looked in agony. He was. “Oh gods, I can’t endure this! Can’t you help me just a little?? Aiheu, help me!”
She nuzzled him. “Can’t he help ME just a little? I don’t want a miracle--I just want you close to me.”
“For you, anything. But I feel guilty that it should please me too! I have no right to any pleasure that puts you in danger. If you died, my cries of passion would come back to haunt me like a curse! I would have to live with that for the rest of my life!”
“Never let that make you feel unclean! Never! Don’t you know that our pleasure is rooted in love? Love that will outlive these mortal bodies. Love that will make beautiful all that it touches! Love that will one day reunite us! Come to me freely, because you love me!” She rubbed her face along his cheek. “I want to make you happy. I want to make you deliriously happy. I want to feel you shudder once more like a thunderbolt.”
“Oh gods!” He began to kiss her passionately. “I’m on fire!”
She walked a few paces in front of him and knelt down. Looking over her shoulder, she peered deeply his eyes and her jaw quivered.
He trembled, and not with the dampness of his fur. He stalked toward her lithe, golden body, awash with the raging fever of his passion. “Lover, I come!”
CHAPTER 22: THE KING AND I
Rafiki slowly finished massaging the last of the paste into the cut on Avina's shoulder. "There now," he said, leaning back to study his work with a satisfied air, "That wasn't so bad, was it?"
Avina flexed the foreleg gingerly, then smiled as she put her full weight on it. "Beautiful! How did you do it?"
"Easy, my dear! The pain is still there; you just cannot feel it right now. You must go home and rest."
"Ah," she flipped a forepaw at him. "I've hunted in worse shape before, and alone besides."
"I'm well aware of that, my dear. But just because you can do it doesn't mean you have to. That hoof almost tore the muscle away. If someone else had been there, you wouldn't have had to limp all the way back here yourself to get me." He strode forward, clearly distressed. "Please, Avina, go home and take it easy for a while. Humor a foolish old ape just this once."
"You are not foolish, Tootles." She grinned at him, knowing how much the nickname embarrassed him. Purring, she rubbed her cheek against his. "All right. If it will make you feel better."
He smiled at her. "Absolutely."
A harsh yell broke in from outside, jarring them both. "HELP!" Startled, Rafiki and Asumini hurried over to an overhanging limb and looked down. Peering through the leaves, Rafiki saw Yolanda sprinting hurriedly toward the baobab.
The two descended quickly and met her at the bottom. "Easy, my dear," Rafiki said calmly. "What is it?"
"Please come quickly!" She panted rapidly. "Oh Gods, come quick! Akase is in trouble!"
"She was complaining about her stomach hurting this morning when I left to go hunting. When I got back, I found her lying on the ground, moaning. She's bleeding, too."
"Did she cut herself?"
"No, it's from inside! I don't know what to do!" Yolanda's voice cracked and she bit her lip. “You must save her!”
Rafiki and Asumini exchanged a look. Without a word, Rafiki seized his staff and followed the lioness as she made off across the savanna. Asumini clambered up the trunk frenziedly and hurried over to the niche where the two stored their medicines. Quickly snatching up a few cure-alls and some painkiller, she descended the baobab.
A few minutes later, she caught up with her husband. Yolanda had checked her pace, mindful of Rafiki’s age, but the delay obviously gnawed at her. Asumini drew alongside of her husband, panting with the exertion. "I brought the cure-all and a little Alba as well, along with..."
Rafiki glanced at the pharmacopoeia and nodded. "No need, Penda; I'm sure you brought the right things." His face was wan with concern. "What worries me is that we may not have the right medicine here at all."
"What's wrong with her?" Asumini asked, knowing already.
"It is what we feared. She’s heading for a miscarriage."
"Oh gods!" Asumini looked away for a moment. "Can we do anything?"
Rafiki sighed. "I wish I knew. I only hope it is something else, but I doubt it. The signs are clear enough."
The three continued on in silence until they reached the foot of Pride Rock, where they were met by Ahadi. The two mandrills bowed before the massive lion. "I touch your mane," Rafiki said reverently.
"I feel it." Ahadi blew out a great gust of air. "Aiheu bless you for coming, Rafiki. It's a long journey, and I know you are not young anymore."
Rafiki said, "My mate came with me. Together we can beat this thing, eh?" He reached out and patted Ahadi's shoulder.
The lion's eyes closed and he slumped visibly.
Yolanda padded over to them quickly. "This way, my friends." As they followed her away, Asumini glanced back over her shoulder at Ahadi, then immediately regretted it. She faced forward again, unable to bear the sight of the great king crying like a cub.
Akase lay on the floor of the cave, trying to stifle a moan and failing. She shuddered as another wave of pain rippled through her abdomen, her midsection feeling as though it was under the feet of an elephant being slowly crushed. "Oh God, please help me," she groaned. "Please." A warm tongue bathed the side of her face as if in answer. Blinking blearily, she opened an eye to see Yolanda standing over her. "How's it feeling, hon?"
Akase moaned again. "Not much better."
"Don't worry. Rafiki and Asumini are here to see you."
Her eye opened wide. "Praise Aiheu! Bring them in!"
"I already did." Yolanda's worried visage was replaced by Rafiki’s worn and kindly one. "And how are you today, my dear?"
"I see." He chuckled lightly, trying to put her at ease. Grunting with the exertion, he knelt slowly, laying his staff beside him. Bending over her, he stroked her cheek with his hand. "Rest easy, Akase. All will be put right soon enough." His smile faded away. "Courage, now."
She nodded, closing her eyes. She began breathing rapidly as Rafiki began to run his sensitive hands gingerly down her ribs slowing as he neared her belly. She growled involuntarily as he drew his hand across her abdomen. Rafiki was shocked; the flesh was burning hot to the touch and enormously swollen, more so than her state of pregnancy could account for. As he reached her navel, she cried aloud and he jerked away, startled. "Forgive me, Akase. I do not mean to cause you pain."
"I.....know, old friend," she gasped.
Asumini was equally disturbed; Akase's flanks were matted with blood; enough that the lioness was dangerously weak. She looked up at Rafiki helplessly.
He nodded and turned back to Akase. Selecting a couple of herbs, he tapped her on the nose gently. "Now see here. I want you to leave these under your tongue. They are bitter, but they'll make you feel a little better. Okay?"
She nodded, opening her mouth. Rafiki put the crushed plants under her tongue and massaged them in with a finger. “Don’t close down yet, girl. Old Rafiki wants to count to ten sometimes.” Then rising, he patted her cheek. "You rest easy now, while my mate and I go talk." Motioning to her, the old mandrill led her outside.
Blinking in the bright sunlight, they nearly collided with Avina. The lioness sat in the entrance, staring into the depths of the cave miserably. "It's my fault, isn't it?"
"If I hadn't gone and gotten hurt, she wouldn't have been worried sick about me this morning. That's what did it, isn't it?"
"Nonsense." Rafiki patted her consolingly. "You might as well blame yourself for the dry season, or making the wind shift while you're stalking. You had nothing to do with this, Avina, it just happened."
“Will she be okay?"
He sighed. "I just don't know right now." Excusing himself, he drew Asumini away. She strained to hear his voice.
"It will be all I can do to keep her comfortable until the inevitable happens. She will lose the children."
Asumini gasped. "No! There must be something-"
"Hsst! Keep your voice down!" Rafiki looked at her sadly. "Dear, as yet I have been unable to find a cure for her. After they lost their first litter, Ahadi and Akase waited patiently while I searched, but at last I admitted defeat. And I cannot blame them for trying; the drive of life is strong. Who knew it would happen again?" He covered his eyes with a trembling hand. "And this time, it's worse."
"Akase has lost too much blood already, and she has begun to run a fever. She will probably not survive."
A deeper voice spoke from behind them. "Then it is as I feared."
The two spun to see Ahadi standing a few feet away. "Sire," Rafiki stammered, flustered. "I simply meant...."
Ahadi raised a paw to silence him. "It has been a long time since we have had to mince words, you and I. Let us not start now." He sighed deeply, shuddering, and a single tear slowly tracked down from his eye to darken the fur on his cheek. "I have sat here and watched as she grew weaker and weaker. Even as you looked upon her she was slipping away." Ahadi cleared his throat. "All I would...." He stopped, momentarily, then continued. "All I would ask of you is that you make her last hours peaceful ones. Will you do this for her?"
Rafiki swallowed and nodded slowly. "Everything will be done. Come, my lord, let us go to her."
Picking up the painkillers from Asumini’s crude satchel, Rafiki motioned to his wife to wait there. Turning, he followed Ahadi as they paced slowly away.
Entering the cool dimness of the cave, Rafiki made his way slowly over to Akase, Ahadi alongside. The king followed unwillingly, each step heavier than the last, until he felt he would sink through the rock floor. Bending down, he nuzzled his mate. "Akase?"
"Hmm?" The lioness opened her eyes and looked at them. "Cnn I shpt vese out?"
"Oh!" Rafiki nodded. "Certainly." He cupped a hand under her jaw as she daintily spat the leaves into his palm. "Feeling better?"
She nodded. "A little. It doesn't hurt as bad, but it still hurts. Thank you for trying, though." She fixed the mandrill with an uncomfortable gaze. "What were you two whispering about out there?"
Lion and mandrill looked at each other uncomfortably. "My lady, I'm not quite sure how to say this..."
Akase pawed him softly, wincing at the effort. "I know that my life grows short. I shall see Aiheu's face soon enough, no doubt." She looked back along her side wistfully. "I only wish I could have spent some time with my children..." Her eyes glistened as she shook her head.
"Oh gods!" Ahadi bent low and laid his head alongside hers, weeping openly now, uncaring. "Beloved, I'm so sorry. It's my fault. I never should have touched you."
Akase lifted her head to look at him. "Nonsense. How can you say that? In the time I’ve spent with you, I’ve known the love of a dozen glorious lifetimes.” A tear tracked down her cheek. "I just wish I could have borne this one litter. I wanted to give you a son, my love. Oh, Ahadi, if anyone is to blame here, it's me. You should have married another." She bent and hid her face from him, shuddering. “When I am gone, that is what you must do. I will look down on you and bless your union.”
The lion reached out with his paw and stroked her face tenderly. "Now look who's talking nonsense. There could never have been another. I could have lived without a son. But I cannot live without you." He blinked back tears. "If I could have but one wish from Aiheu, it would be that we both go together."
"Ahadi..." Akase nuzzled him and kissed his cheek. "You are too young to die just yet."
"So are you."
"Well, then, we need prayers, not tears." She lay back down again, stroking his face with her forepaw. "Go on, love. I'll be all right for a little while longer."
Ahadi glanced at Rafiki, who nodded silently. "Very well. Rest easy, beloved." Kissing her cheek, he followed the mandrill out of the cave.
Asumini watched as the two of them emerged quietly and walked a short distance away, muttering softly. Embarrassed, she realized the two were deep in their prayers and turned away hurriedly. She moved away until she was out of earshot and sat down, taking a deep breath of air and letting it out slowly. The late afternoon breeze blew her hair gently about her neck and shoulders, cooling, but not comforting her. The memories she had of happy days spent with Ahadi and Akase came back to her. She remembered the first time she’d touched the king’s mane and how she longed to bury his face in it and hug him and kiss his proud features but felt she could not. Time and tenderness had changed her.
She picked up a stick and idly began to trace aimless circles in the dirt as she looked out across the savanna, seeing in the distance her beautiful baobab home. Glancing down, she stared silently at what her roaming hands had unconsciously drawn in the dirt. An inward drawing spiral with lines radiating from it. She recognized it well; it was one of the first icons Busara had taught her as she sat on his lap; the great circle of life.
"No! It's not right! It's not Akase's fault! Why?" Realizing the lionesses were staring at her, she stalked away, making her way along a steep, winding path that led to a granite shelf that jutted out away from the Rock. Sitting, she clasped her knees to her chest. Huddled up, she stared out at the open plain. As her eyes roved about aimlessly, out of long habit she absently began identifying the various plants she saw and cataloging their various uses. Indeed she was a great healer in her own right.
Suddenly, she sat up straighter, and looked about with renewed interest. Carefully noting the flora around, she wracked her brain, trying to think of some way she might be able to resolve Akase's predicament. After several minutes thought, she slumped to the ground, shaking her head in despair.
"Oh, Aiheu. All the knowledge you have blessed me with, and yet I still do not know enough to save one lioness." Asumini raised her head to look up at the sky beseechingly. "I may yet be unworthy as a healer, but I ask only this: help me to bring some joy into their lives. Please." She lowered her head to her chest, her eyes stinging with tears. Abruptly, she heard the featherlight tread of feline footsteps behind her and felt the pressure of a furry cheek pressing lightly against his shoulder.
Irritated at the intrusion, she spoke without turning. "Avina, please leave me alone."
"Hmpf. Do I look like Avina?"
Asumini’s eyes shot open wide and she whirled about. She saw a lanky cat with a small face smiling at her with amusement. "Madu! I thought you were dead!"
The serval smiled, his eyes sparkling with amusement. "Nothing ever truly dies.”
Asumini leaned forward and wrapped her arms around the serval, kissing his small face and stroking the soft fur of his sides. "Oh gods, I’m so depressed! I don’t know how to help Akase and she’s dying!”
"I know." He looked at the mandrill with eyes of living light as a faint silvery aura played about his form like a ring around the moon. “Her desire to live is strong. She cries out to Aiheu to spare her for her husband’s sake.”
“And to what avail? There is no cure.”
“Pfahh! No cure, you say? Any disease can be cured if you only know the secret. There is great virtue in Maraliscus when mixed with Heartleaf."
"What?!" She snapped her head around to look at him, but saw only empty air. She looked about, confused, while his mind began working furiously.
"Maraliscus would kill her. It would stop her breath…but Heartleaf opens the lungs and...." Her eyes widened and she shouted with glee. "Yes! It starts breathing. Now the little flower will do its good but work no harm!" Snatching up her things, she took a step towards the path leading down to the ground, but stopped after a few strides.
"But the nearest concentration of Maraliscus is a day’s journey from here!" She slumped to the ground. "Oh gods! To be so close!" She leaned back against the rock face, stretching her arms out for support. Her left hand closed over something soft and velvety, and she jerked it away involuntarily, looking down.
Next to where she sat lay a neat clump of Maraliscus plants, carefully sitting upon a swatch of Heartleaf.
Asumini closed her hands reverently over the priceless herbs and lifted them to her face, inhaling the faint scent of wild honey that clung to the plants. Uttering a silent prayer to Aiheu, she struggled to her feet and carefully picked her way down the slope to the cave entrance, where she saw Rafiki talking quietly to Yolanda.
Without preamble, she simply showed Rafiki the herbs and explained what he intended to try.
"Absolutely not! Asumini, I realize you are knowledgeable about herb lore, but this is not the time to experiment. Akase is already very weak; any abrupt change could push her over the edge."
"Penda, please listen to me! This is the only chance we have. I know I'm right."
Rafiki looked at her for a long moment, then nodded slowly. "Very well. I shall tell Ahadi. Whatever you intend to do, do it quickly; Akase's time is very short."
Asumini grabbed her things and hurried inside the cave, where Akase lay unmoving, bathed in a coating of sweat that matted her fur. "My Lady?"
Slowly, the queen opened her eyes to look at her. "Asumini?" she said muzzily.
"Yes. I have something here for you." Filling one of her small bowls with water from a gourd, Asumini shredded a piece of Heartleaf into it. As she picked up the Maraliscus, she realized with some alarm that she did not know just what the correct dosage might be. It would be useless to ask her husband—Maraliscus was never used as medicine, only to end suffering. She thought quickly for a moment, carefully gauging Akase's weight, along with the fact of her pregnancy thrown in. Taking hold of a corner of the soft leaf, she closed his eyes. "Aiheu, guide my hand."
She tore a small piece off and ground it up carefully, adding it to the mixture in the bowl. The concoction immediately turned an ugly greenish yellow color, and began to give off a strong acrid odor.
She picked the mixture up and held it out to the lioness gently. "Here. You must drink this."
Akase sniffed it warily and recoiled. "Gods! What is it?"
"It may help you."
"May?" She looked at the mandrill peculiarly. "Don't you know?"
"No," she admitted. "I don't." She pulled the bowl back slowly. "It’s not without risk, but it's the only thing I know that may save you and your cubs."
Akase's eyes opened fully and she stared at her fixedly. "The cubs also? I could have my cubs?"
"Then let me have it."
"My lady, what if-"
"What if, indeed." She smiled, and reached up with a paw to stroke his agonized face gently. "Asumini, should I die, my spirit will watch over you. You’re a good friend and I have learned to love you."
Asumini clasped her large paw in her hands and nodded wordlessly. Moving behind her, the mandrill lifted Akase’s head, grunting with the effort, until the lioness could reach the bowl. Akase sniffed again, wrinkling her nose with distaste. "Aiheu abamami," she whispered, and drank.
Asumini emerged from the cave mouth a few minutes later and sat down wearily. Rafiki wandered over to her and sat next to her, holding her close as they fought the chill of the approaching night. "Well?"
"We wait and see." She looked about for the king, seeing him sitting some distance away at the point of the promontory with another lion. "Have you told him?"
"What did he say?"
"He said he trusted in you and Aiheu, and that was enough for him."
Asumini looked at Ahadi, unable to speak.
The king sat silently, watching the ebony blanket of night draw itself over his Pride Lands, the kings of the past taking their places in the vault of heaven one by one. But tonight he could draw no comfort from their presence. His thoughts lay inside the cave, with Akase.
Shaka, his brother, lay next to him quietly. "Ahadi?"
"Of course," he said, offended.
Shaka's ears drooped. "Sorry."
Ahadi sighed and nuzzled his brother. "No, I'm sorry. I'm just nervous."
Shaka said nothing, but moved a little closer to his brother, sharing the heat of their bodies. Thus the brothers comforted each other as they began the long wait for the dawn.
In the depths of the cave, Akase lay quiescent as the medicine did its strange work within her. Time had become meaningless, and so it was with some surprise that she opened her eyes to the gray light of dawn seeping into the cave. Raising her head gingerly, she tried to sit up, but only made it halfway before collapsing back, panting heavily. Gods she was tired! Her stomach rumbled noisily, and she wondered if there was any leftover zebra lying about.
Her eyes flew open and she peered at her abdomen with renewed interest. The pain she felt was not the sharp stabs of agony from yesterday, but the mild pangs of hunger. And that other sensation she felt...she froze as she felt a soft kick from one of the unborn cubs inside her.
"Ahadi!" she exclaimed with delight. "Ahadi!!"
Outside, the king's eyes flew open as he heard her call. Leaping to his feet, he inadvertently smacked Shaka in the nose with a hind leg.
"Ouch!" Rudely awakened, the lion rubbed his wounded nose, eyes watering as he watched his brother sprint towards the cavern mouth. Ahadi burst inside, trotting quickly over to Akase and nuzzling her lovingly. "Beloved! Thank God you're all right!"
"Oh, pfft on me. Listen!" She laid a forepaw over the back of his neck and drew his head close to her, pressing his ear to her belly. Her eyes sparkled in delight as she watched his face light up. "I can feel them! I can feel them, Akase!" She laughed, the sound filling the air like sweet music as she kissed his cheek. "Thank Aiheu."
"Aiheu, and a certain mandrill we know." He grinned widely. "Asumini! Rafiki! Come in here immediately!"
The two mandrills stumbled in sleepily, rubbing their eyes. The sight of the radiant Akase and Ahadi immediately aroused them, though. Asumini bowed low before Ahadi. "Your Majesty."
Ahadi nuzzled her so suddenly and hard, it rolled her over. "Penda, I owe you more than I can repay." He kissed her mandrill with his warm, moist tongue. "Bless you! You have saved my wife and children. If there is anything you desire, name it."
"Your Highness, I want your friendship."
"You already had that. Surely, there must be something else?"
"Well..." Asumini lunged forward and buried her face and arms into Ahadi’s mane. “I love you! I’ve always wanted to cuddle you and listen to your heart beat.”
Ahadi comforted her with a paw. “My penda Asumini. I have always wanted you to.”
CHAPTER 23: TWIN SONS
As Akase’s time to bear cubs came close, Rafiki watched with special interest. No male mandrill had ever witnessed a birth before, and he was more than a little curious. But far more than that, he felt a kinship to these lives.
As it was, Akase had already shown great affection for Rafiki, and had asked him to place his ear against her side to listen to the cubs moving about. Now how many mandrills had ever done that before!
“And when will we be hearing good news from the shaman?”
Rafiki smiled wryly. “Akase, let’s say no new arrivals are on the way yet, but not from lack of wishful thinking.”
Akase patted him affectionately with her paw. “Surely the gods will give you fine cubs. I want to be there when their eyes open.”
Rafiki tried to hide his amusement. “They are born with their eyes open. Of course they don’t see too well for the first few days.”
“I want to be their Auntie, if you’ll have me.”
“Have you? I’d like to see you try and squirm out of it!”
Uzuri came in. The hunt mistress looked at Rafiki and laughed.
“What’s so funny, madam?”
“I don’t mean anything wrong by it,” she said, giggling. “It’s just you’re so cute when you walk on your back legs like that.”
“That’s not very polite,” Akase said with a frown.
“Oh, that’s very polite coming from Uzuri,” Rafiki said with a warm smile. “Yesterday it was these colored stripes on my face. Before that, it was these colored stripes on my....other end.”
He saluted her and walked on by. Then Rafiki wheeled about and saw Uzuri staring at his buttocks with a broad smile. “You’re just jealous.”
Rafiki went on his way with a happy hum. Uzuri used to laugh at his appearance, but there was a good natured friendliness about her that warmed his heart. He wanted a witty come back line, but she was so beautiful and possessed a silky smooth manner that surrounded her like a turtle shell and deflected even the most determined attack.
Due to the difficult nature of Akase’s pregnancy, Rafiki and Asumini had to stay near Pride Rock day and night. The extra time around lions had been very instructive. For one thing, the lionesses stopped acting like they had company and just acted like themselves. Mothers began to groom their cubs. Itches began being scratched, regardless of their location. But much more than this, talk became more loose and free. Rafiki learned more in those days about what lionesses think than he had in the whole rest of his time in the Pride Lands. He also discovered a joy that would rarely be his--napping wherever and whenever he liked. He had a lot of time to kill for the first time since he was very young. The lionesses would drop to the ground in groups, enjoying the contact. This posed a bit of a problem for Rafiki since he was a mandrill. But Uzuri quickly solved it. When she lay down and saw Rafiki’s searching face, she would pat the ground next to her and flick her muzzle back. And gratefully he would come and snuggle next to her. In those special moments, there was no need for humor in their relationship. And sometimes Rafiki discovered that if he lay very still and pretended to be asleep, Uzuri would touch his cheek with her warm, moist tongue and purr. He would fight very hard not to break out in a revealing smile and stay very still.
Long days passed which turned into long nights. Though Akase was getting restless, she was not allowed to hunt, and had to suffer through the performance of her “royal duty,” avoiding any possibility of endangering the already perilous pregnancy.
Rafiki and Asumini were even more restless. While Akase was brought food from the hunt, they looked at the delicacies they was offered and almost wretched. They would smile and eat a little meat, but afterward Asumini stepped away to find fresh grass, then bring a little Tiko Root to keep it down. She would easily use up a week’s worth of work at each meal as the precious herb was downed, but without it the meat would come right back up. The strong minty fragrance began to linger around them, coming out in their perspiration and every breath they exhaled. Then one day Uzuri came back from the hunt bearing a cluster of wild grapes as large as a melon. “Do you eat these?”
Rafiki and Asumini divided the prize quickly. “Yes! Thank you!” They ate the whole cluster in one setting, then sat back with their stomachs full to capacity for the first time in several days. The sensation made them a little sleepy, and while Asumini sought out Ahadi, Rafiki looked forward to another nap beside Uzuri.
“It’s time!” Akase shouted. “Hurry!”
Rafiki’s sleepiness vanished. He ran into the cave to where Akase lay, bathed in sweat and panting. While he offered her a gourd full of water, Uzuri took up her position as midwife.
“Are you all right?” Rafiki asked?
“I’m being slowly twisted in half. Otherwise, I’m fine.”
Uzuri nuzzled Akase. “How are the contractions coming?”
“Strong. Fast.” Akase stared at no one in particular and panted. “Oh gods,” she said. “Here they come!” Her water broke, and Akase gnashed her teeth. Her breath came deep and fast.
“I see a nose,” Uzuri said excitedly. She watched closely to see who was first born. “Here he comes!”
Rafiki watched in horror. Despite all he heard about birth being a beautiful thing and a miracle, he saw that it was also very gory. He quickly grabbed another sprig of Tiko Root and bit down.
“He’s a male! Oh, look at him!” Akase cleaned off the tissues and fluids with the excitement of a child opening a birthday present. “He’s so beautiful!” Actually, he looked to Rafiki like a drowned rat.
Another nose came out, shortly followed by the rest of a cub. “Another male! Twin sons!”
Akase smiled. “Twin sons!” Various other things came out, leaving quite a mess on the cave floor.
“He’s not breathing!” Uzuri prodded and licked the second cub. “Oh no, he’s dead!”
“The will of Aiheu,” Akase said quietly. “At least I have a son. That’s more than I ever thought I’d have.”
Rafiki was seized by a thought. Later he would say it could have been a vision. Queasiness was forgotten. He quickly grabbed the wet, dead cub from Uzuri and put him on the floor. With his hands together, he pumped the small chest a couple of times, then putting his mouth over the cub’s tiny muzzle, blew into it until the chest rose. He let the air run out, then repeated it.
“What are you doing??” Uzuri stared. “He’s dead. Let him rest in peace!”
“Bear with me.” Rafiki blew several more breaths into the cub, and then when he was about to give up, the cub grimaced, coughed, and took in a deep gasp.
“Oh my gods!” Uzuri shouted. “He raised the dead!”
“What happened?” Akase asked. “Did I hear what I thought I heard?”
Asumini stared. “What did you do??”
Swimming in a sea of elation, Rafiki held the little cub close to his heart. “Thank you, Aiheu! Thank you!” He kissed him and whirled about, holding his wet body to his face. “Oh, you precious little thing! God bless you! Live forever!”
“He must nurse,” Akase reminded him. “If you’re finished, my friend....”
“Oh yes.” He put the undersized cub next to his brother and watched the two of them draw life from their mother. He bent down and kissed Akase, then he went to Uzuri, hugged her and kissed her cheek.
“We have a custom,” Akase said softly. “You have saved his life. You are his uncle now, and he is your nephew.”
“I like that custom.”
He looked down at the cub. “What is his name?”
“I call him Taka, for he was nearly forsaken. And his brother is Mufasa, for I promised Ahadi a son, and I kept my word—twice.”
“Taka,” he said. “My little Taka.”
“Maybe next time I’ll have a little girl—or two or three. How does the name Asumini sound to you?”
“Wonderful,” the mandrill said with a deep, contented sigh. Then in the middle of his haze of joy, he remembered hugging and kissing Uzuri. He looked back over at her. A blush of embarrassment made the colors of his face all the brighter. She stared back at him, rubbing her cheek with a paw.
Quietly, he gathered up his staff, his empty water gourd, bowed to the queen and headed out.
He dared not look around, but could hear behind him the padding of lioness feet. As he headed at long last toward his baobab, he tried to be casual about it. Still the feet followed him. He cringed inside.
He stopped still but didn’t look around. “Yes, Uzuri?”
She came up beside him and sat down directly in his path. “Am I mistaken, or did you kiss me in the cave?”
“I think it was on the cheek, actually.” He made a feeble attempt at laughter. “I was just so happy for little Taka. You know, the cub I saved?”
“So that was it? You were so happy for little Taka?” Betraying no emotions, she drew closer. “Did you enjoy it?”
“I’m not sure. Should I have?”
She cracked a grin. “Why don’t you try again, and this time pay attention.”
He smiled an embarrassed grin and came forward. “Like this?” He put his arms around her neck, rubbing his hands along her side and nestling his cheek to her shoulder. “Uzuri, I enjoyed every moment of our time together. You are a very special lady, and very dear to my heart.”
She touched him with her tongue. “You must teach me how to breathe into a cub. Where did you ever learn that?”
“You know, I didn’t learn that,” he said, still holding tightly to Uzuri. “It just came to me.”
“That’s amazing.” She touched him with her tongue again. “You may let go now.”
“Oh.” He gave her another pat and let his arms slip down. “I got a little carried away.”
“That’s all right. But wash off before you hug me again.”
“Oh.” Blood and humors had matted his hair and made him smell like a newborn cub. “Ycch! Good heavens!” He left straightway for the creek.
THE END: PART ONE