PART FOUR: THE KING RETURNS
The unfriendly desert had little regard for Rafiki or his mission to find Simba. The mandrill looked around—as far as he could see in all directions was a parched and empty land beneath a featureless sky.
Without the prompting of his inner voice to guide him he would be lost. In the voiceless land with no sound but the hollow whisk of sand beneath his feet, the mandrill began to feel like the last living thing on earth.
Rafiki’s tread was slow and tortuous. He endured the ultimate test of self-denial as best he could, his aged body unprepared for the rigors of the desert. The occasional wind hardly relieved the scorching heat and it was full of grit that stung his eyes and burned his nostrils. Each step in the sand baked the soles of his feet and slipped him back a bit for each stride he moved forward.
A bleached array of bones lay half exposed, untouched by dogs and jackals. This unforgiving land had no place for the weak or foolish. The few plants that grew there were either too tough or too spiny to eat and water had to be carefully rationed. Even if Rafiki made it across, he wondered if he should attempt to return. His lifetime of service had conditioned him to make such a sacrifice. Every love he’d ever felt was that much warmer and every friendship that much deeper because he knew he would willingly die for those he served. He was afraid of dying in vain, but he was not afraid to die to save the pride. Besides, any guilt he may have borne for Taka’s undoing would be worn away by the burning sand. In the back of his mind he welcomed the torment of the desert as a scourge to expiate his sins.
“Little Fru Fru,” he thought, “how I loved to cuddle you next to my heart. How I wanted our love to last forever! And now I seek your dishonor and destruction…oh Aiheu, couldn’t you have sent another to do this work?”
He allowed himself the bittersweet warmth of imagining Taka as a little cub gamboling along beside his feet. Little Fru Fru always so eager for the jerky treats Rafiki handed out to his small friends, but also knowing there would be a piece of tiko root for him and him alone! The little cub sat up and begged.
“I love you, Unca Fiki!” the cub said.
“How much do you love me?”
“More than life!”
“I can’t resist you when you say that! I have something for you.”
Rafiki felt in his pouch. There was a piece of tiko root, parched and wilted from the desert heat. It brought him back to reality. His chin trembled and tears streamed down his cheeks. “Where did that little cub go? The son I never had, my precious little boy… Now I find someone to drive you out—maybe kill you.” The only thing that kept the mandrill moving forward was the thought his little Fru Fru died years ago, killed by the Scar he became.
There was nothing to distract Rafiki from his thoughts, and he had ample time to dwell upon everything that could go wrong. Maybe Simba had been trampled, only to regain consciousness in the floor of the gorge and crawl away. If so, what sort of battered remnant of lionhood was Rafiki looking for? Would his scars be far worse than Taka’s? Would Simba be too crippled to be king, or even to defeat Scar? Maybe it would have to be his son—maybe there would be three long years of training and waiting while the last drops of life were sucked from the Pride Lands. Maybe Scar would already be dead—and Sarabi and Nala and his dearest Uzuri. No, surely not! For one moment the certainty of his purpose came over him and revived his spirit—the Pride Lands were not a place. No, Simba was not to be king of a place—he was the anointed king of a kingdom, and that means subjects!
What an awful thing he had to ask of Simba—to uproot himself from whatever peace he’d found and send him to confront his past. Beyond conquering Scar and the hyenas, he would have to fight the ultimate foe—the self. He would have to accept his service as some form of penance for mischief done in the gorge. If Simba had in fact been responsible for Mufasa’s death, he would have to look his mother in the face and ask her forgiveness. She would no doubt forgive him, but could he forgive himself? Was it right to stir up old wounds in a lion who had suffered so much?
Then he remembered the pride sisters. He remembered Sarabi and how she grieved for her son as well as her mate. He remembered why he had set out on that journey. He remembered holding that small cub aloft and feeling the presence of Aiheu smiling upon him. Simba was the one true king! How could Rafiki NOT go for him? He was not seeking the death of little Fru Fru—that lion had died long ago. His moral certainty had returned, and yet even that was another challenge. His body was growing weaker by the moment.
The angry eye of N’ga stared down at the mandrill with fierceness. The desert gods of heat and despair did not like trespassers to spoil their solitude. Unrelenting, unforgiving, the very earth and sky sought to drain out each bit of strength from the old mandrill. And when he saw the cool haven of trees up ahead, he knew—or he felt he knew—that it was yet another cruel mirage tempting him to run. He had no strength left to run.
He held up his one remaining water gourd and shook it. No sound came out. “I will die here,” he hoarsely croaked. “Simba, I have failed you. I have failed everyone.” He would have sobbed but he had no tears left to cry.
Then he noticed the distant birds. Mirages did not have birds…
“I made it,” Rafiki said disbelievingly. Then he smiled. “I MADE IT! WOO HA HA! THANK AIHEU, I MADE IT!!” He began to run, drawing upon some inner strength. Sand flew from beneath his feet—the hated caress of hot grains would give way to grass and loam soon enough! The trees came closer and closer, their branches like the arms of a mother welcoming him home, and this time they did not vanish. The little voice in his head had spoken true!
CHAPTER 2: PINNED YA AGAIN
Nala was determined not to sell herself cheaply. After talking with her father she had regained her battered self esteem and was seeking someone nice for a mate—someone to be a good father to her cubs and a wise ruler of her pride. What good would it do to depose one tyrant only to replace him with another?
The problem with lions like Scar was their superficial charm. Once even she had called him “uncle” and thought herself in line to pledge to his son. She doubted her own ability to choose a wise king and wondered why wise Sarabi or Yolanda did not go out instead. But it was simple—she was in the first stages of her first receptive period and she let her longings drive her out on this foolish quest. As it was, she was so far from home that any rogues she found would be unlikely to make the long and hazardous trek.
In her desperation she had crossed the desert. Though many of the pride sisters thought the sand was the edge of the world, Nala believed there was life on the other side that might be willing to help. She found life, but it was a jungle, not at all what she expected. What little grass there was lay in small patches within the green walls of jungle monarchs. Surely she was the only lioness that had ever walked there, or so it seemed.
Maybe she should give up and go back…
“Aiheu help me,” she prayed. “Dearest Minshasa, look with pity on a fellow huntress. Like a mother, come to my aid. I have no branch to dip and cannot read the stars. But my heart is in this quest and I cannot fail my family. Mano, you offered your life to save your mother. If I must do the same, I will.…”
Her prayer was interrupted by a very strange sight, a warthog lost in reverie, humming snatches of a song. She listened for a moment.
“Don’t fear my little darlin’ oh no! In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight….”
A slight smile curved the corners of her ebony lips. “It’s the lioness you should be worried about,” she thought. Hunger tugged at her belly, so she immediately began to stalk the creature. “I shall spoil your pretty song,” she whispered. “Too bad. You’re almost too cute to die.”
The warthog looked—for a moment his eyes met hers, and then with a shriek he ran.
She launched after him, seeking his warm flesh to strengthen herself for the journey ahead. “Help me, Mano! I need this!”
Indeed, Mano heard her prayer. The warthog tried to scoot under a low limb and got stuck!
“SHE’S GONNA EAT MEEE!!”
Simba’s ears twitched violently at the sound of the scream behind him. “Oh no!” Turning about, he began to sprint, praying with all his heart he would arrive in time. His eyes narrowed as he rounded a corner and saw Pumbaa wedged under a tree root, scrabbling desperately for release.
“That damned Sasha lied to me,” he thought. “Well, we’ll see who gets thrown out of whose territory NOW!”
A terrible snarl erupted from him as he leapt over the root, floating through the air in a graceful leap. He descended rapidly, crashing down with terrifying force in front of the lioness as she slid to a stop, a look of total surprise on her face. Simba lashed out, snarling, noting that this was not Sasha after all, but another lioness, much younger, in fact. No matter.
“He’s mine!” she gasped. “I saw him first!”
They thrashed at each other in what looked like a frantic free-for-all, but most of the blows did not land. Finally the lioness backed back, claws whipping around and aiming blows at Simba’s face, but his mane deflected them as he closed in. Gathering himself, Simba launched himself at her, jaws spreading as he prepared to seize her throat.
Nala saw her death coming and did the only thing she knew to do. She used a trick her mother once taught her, turning the power of the spring itself against her opponent.
The lion gasped with surprise as her feet sank into his belly, knocking the wind from him. Her ploy worked, and he flipped completely over, lying on his back. She wasted no time pinning him to the ground with her paws. But now what to do with him now that she had him?
Panting, she drew near to his throat. It was a shame to have to kill him. He was so handsome and so young! If only she could be sure he would surrender and not try to attack her when she let him up. Would he swear to come with her and liberate the pride in return for his life? If so, would he ever truly love her for who she was?
Stricken, sure he would be dead in a few more seconds, Simba looked up to meet her gaze...and saw the brilliant green eyes staring into his. Only one lioness had ever flipped him before and he was sure those were her eyes. Timidly, hopefully, he asked, “Nala?!”
The snarling grimace of the lioness vanished, her face transforming from awesome rage into awesome beauty. Her jaw dropped and she backed away, crowding against a tree trunk and staring at the stranger before her.
“Is it really you?” he asked.
“Who are you??”
“It’s me! Simba.”
“WHOA!” they both cried, nuzzling, embracing, and stammering a babel of confused questions.
“But how did you--”
“It’s GREAT to see you!”
“It’s good to see YOU!”
“I thought you were--”
A meerkat boldly came up. “HEY! WHAT’S GOIN’ ON HERE?!”
That was one question they would all like answered.
Nala had endured endless hardship since her cubhood took its unhappy turn. She was no stranger to suffering and had no naïve illusions that life was in any way fair. As clearly as she understood her hunting lessons or her star lore, she understood that strength and self-reliance were her only hope. And yet seeing her Simba again rolled her back to a simpler, happier time. The urge to play overwhelmed her, and laughingly she sprang at him in a very different contest than the one minutes before. The feel of his arms around her neck was warm and sincere, and somehow the game was more important than the outcome. In that way, her feelings were more mature, as apparently were his.
They fell to the ground and began to roll down the slope. Down, down, into the heart of the river valley. Clinging together laughingly, they enjoyed the giddy ride for the soft ferns caressed them gently and worked no harm on their golden bodies.
She came to rest in a lush bed of grass near the river, her heart pounding and the world spinning for a moment as her drunkenness wore off. With laughing eyes, Simba, who had landed on top, looked down at his playmate and was about to say, “Let’s do it again!” Somehow the words did not come out.
Nala looked up at Simba, with his splendid russet mane. Seeing him loom over her with his large expressive eyes gazing into hers awakened feelings she once fought to suppress. A puckish smile blossomed across her face as she wondered what it would be like to kneel at his feet and experience his love. Her arms reached for his beauty and drew him close for a quick but fervent kiss.
His body trembled in her grasp. She was sure of it. His eyes were uncertain for a moment, but his smile was proof of her victory. And she might have yielded to the passion of the moment, but she had to be sure of her feelings--and his.
Water cascaded over the brink of the falls, enjoying a few giddy moments of flight before rolling smoothly into a deep pool below. The sight and sound of running water was something Nala distantly remembered from her cubhood. Droplets splashed on her fur as she picked her way among the rocks. The murmur of the flow soothed her like a lullaby. She wished the moment could have been captured like an antelope and savored.
Simba followed Nala across the natural bridge, pausing to shake the cool droplets from his coat, making a miniature rainbow in the air as he dried himself. He joined her at a still pool where she was bending to take a drink. He was not the least bit thirsty, but at a loss as what else to do, he leaned over the water and took a couple of swallows, his eyes on the lioness across from him. He was unable to believe his friend had found him again! He had missed his family dearly, but there was something special about Nala...
He saw her glance at him and embarrassment made his tail twitch, but she merely smiled at him and bent to the pool again. "She doesn't know," he thought. "Else she wouldn't smile at me like that. Oh gods, what am I going to tell her?" He was torn between the desire to confess his crime and the desire to keep her love. Oh if only she would hear the truth and understand! If she could be his confident, the one person he could tell his innermost secrets, the comfort she could give him would far surpass the rewards of passion!
Nala lapped at the cold water daintily, enjoying the liquid as she soothed her parched throat. The trip across the desert had nearly bleached her bones, and she was desperate for a drink. As the delicious coolness spread through her body, she let her mind wander. How curious that her friend Simba had taken up with a warthog, of all creatures. What could Simba have seen in that uncouth creature! Could he really have been that lonely?
She glanced up at her friend and stopped in mid-drink, transfixed by the tinge of sadness in his features. How could she not like the warthog? He loved Simba, and anyone that loved Simba had to possess goodness inside. Worried, she lifted her head, intending to ask him what was wrong, but at her move Simba brightened, putting on a brave smile. Clearly he was hiding something. Suspiciously she watched him step to the edge of the pool, then tense his haunches and leap gracefully over to her side, smiling enigmatically. What in the world was he up to?
He was showing off, just like that rogue who loved her. Her eyes widened in surprise as he ran past, a vine clutched tight in his jaws, soaring out over the pool to land in its center with a terrific splash.
Nala saw he was trying to be entertaining and she attempted to congratulate him on his cleverness, but he had disappeared. She glanced anxiously for him but there was no sign of her lion.
She watched, at first amused, then alarmed as the ripples of his landing disappeared and he still showed no sign of surfacing. She padded to the edge and looked about anxiously, looking for any sign of him.
The water in front of her erupted, spraying her thoroughly as Simba rose and clasped her around the shoulders in a hug. Simba's weight pulled her forward and down into the icy water with a tremendous splash.
For a moment in the cold water, her thoughts sobered and as she came out shivering, she saw Simba with his dripping mane and was tempted to laugh. But still she wanted him. What Zazu had said long ago came back to haunt her. The word “betrothed.” She had made fun of him then, but now it was no laughing matter.
She took off through the trees, swiftly but not too swiftly. She remembered the advice her mother had given her. "Let them wait a while. Let them work and anticipate. It warms their blood and brings out the best in them."
She looked back at Simba in hot pursuit and she had to laugh. She threaded her way through a dense thicket, chuckling as she heard Simba smash through the debris. The lion emitted a playful growl and leapt at her just as she turned to face him, and the two rolled backwards down the slope, turning over and over, their laughter following them under the mauve blush of the evening sky.
A final bump brushed against them, and then the two came to a gentle halt, still giggling and making no attempt to right their fur. Nala quieted a moment, then began snickering helplessly at Simba’s mane, all tousled and hopelessly handsome. Her good humor was infectious, and the lion joined her, knowing how silly he must look and not caring a bit.
And then Nala’s tongue touched his cheek, gliding over the fur with a soft rasp.
Simba drew close. Nala gazed up from underneath him, her eyes filled with a bright emerald fire that made him acutely aware of the warm curve of her body against his own. Swallowing heavily, Simba pulled back a bit, suddenly hesitant to be this close, letting a tentative smile twitch at the corners of his mouth.
Nala leaned forward, not at all uncomfortable as she leaned into him, letting her cheek slide across his own and burying her muzzle in the musky scent of his mane.
She said nothing as she sat up and nuzzled him again, her side making heavy contact with his as she rubbed against him. Nala circled him slowly, her tail coiling around his hind legs as she moved up his other side and nuzzled his neck again. Lifting her head, she nibbled the edge of his ear playfully.
He took a ragged breath and blew it out forcefully. "Oh gods, what's wrong with me?"
“There’s nothing wrong with you.”
He stood unsteadily, his legs splayed wide, limbs trembling with unreleased tension. "I feel so strange." His eyes looked searchingly into hers, the confusion clear through the haze of desire.
She kissed him again, and he felt her tremble slightly, and saw the wonder in her own eyes. "I think you're supposed to," she said. “So do I.” She nuzzled him again under the chin, then walked away towards the edge of the glade. Simba followed her slowly, a pace behind, his gaze fixed as he drank in her beauty. Nala hesitated, then crouched slowly, looking back over her shoulder at him with fear and desire warring in her eyes. “Simba? I...”
“Shhh.” He stood close, unable to tear his eyes away from her, the moonlight slicing through the trees overhead and haloing her face in silver etherealness. “Beloved,” he whispered, and went to her. He passionately touched the arch of her soft golden throat with his tongue, then gently caressed it with his powerful jaws as he settled across her trembling body and shared her pleasures.
He understood the urgency in Hamba’s voice as he guarded his lover. He understood the dreams that had haunted his sleep. He understood what it meant to be a lion. She was so beautiful—the way she moved, the way she looked, the way she talked, and oh the way she felt beneath him!
His pleasures swept away her fears--most of them. As his musky russet mane brushed against her, she imbibed its fragrance, immersing herself in her lover.
All of her heartache and loneliness was ebbing away. Her heart pounded wildly as he made love to her, then she gasped as he triggered a sudden wave of warm pleasure that shook the world beneath her feet. "Oh gods!" Overcome, she had discovered her heritage and the meaning of her confused feelings became plain. So this is what made Elanna cry out so! She closed her eyes and murmured, "Oh Simba!"
It was so...so very....
Simba yowled ecstatically, kissed her cheek and rose to step away.
"Oh!" She looked about and snarled, "Be careful!"
"What did I do?? Nala, darling, are you all right??"
She looked at his consternation and softened at once. She had never made love before and she realized her ignorance was showing. An embarrassed smile crossed her face. "Nothing. Just forget it Honey Tree. It was wonderful."
She came and nuzzled him reassuringly, then collapsed into a contented heap, rolling on her back. The momentary sting of his parting was soon swallowed up in the warm fuzzy glow that permeated her triumphantly. "Oh gods, I love you."
"I love you too," Simba replied, coming and laying next to her, rubbing her chest with a paw. "Stay with me. Love me always."
"Always, and even longer my love."
So that was what her father meant about love. "Yes Dad," she thought silently. "It WAS special."
CHAPTER 4: THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING
Simba put his arms around Nala as she laid in the grass and cuddled her with his forepaws. “I love you,” he said. “I thought about you every day, if you can believe that.”
“I sure can. I thought about you every day. Only you were always a cub, a poor frightened cub that never got to live.”
“I lived, though there were times I wished the hooves had gotten me.”
“Simba, don’t say that!”
“I’m ok now. Really I am. Somehow I always knew we would be together. I didn’t know how, but I just felt it. And when I had my mantlement, I promised myself that somehow, some way, I would come for you and bring you here. I’m so glad I held on to that dream and didn’t let it die. Here you are, one of my two favorite girls.”
“Who’s the other one?”
“Mother.” His ears laid back and he took in a deep breath and halfway let it out. “Is she ok?”
“She’s a little older, a little lonelier, but she’s fine.”
“Thank Aiheu,” he said quietly, then tears of supreme relief began to run down his cheeks. “I have never spoken her name since the day I left. But I’m going to say it now. Sarabi. My mother is Sarabi. I miss her so much…”
Nala gasped as the tears started to run down her cheeks. “Oh Simba!” She pawed his cheek softly. "When I thought you were dead. I went out to try and find someone that would rescue us. I asked many lions to come and be our king, and I told them that the one who did would be my mate."
He raised his eyebrows. "Tell me you didn't! How many, Nala?"
"None, Simba. I was looking for a king, not a nip on the neck."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that."
"I could understand if you did. Really, my love. And yet...."
"Let me finish," Nala said firmly. "This is not easy for me." She rubbed his chest mane gently with her paw. "There was one lion named Matoto. Hewas young and full of ideals, and he loved me very much. He wanted me to come away with him and be his mate. I said it was not possible. If he wanted me, he would have to drive out Scar and take the kingdom." She burst into tears. "Oh Simba, I should never have led him on! Scar found out and had him killed!" She snuggled into Simba's mane. "What I did was terrible! He had his whole life ahead of him and I sent him to his death as surely as if I’d hunted him!"
"He knew the risks," Simba said. "He chose the high and noble path. Don't blame yourself."
"But I do. I did everything to make him believe I loved him."
"In a way, yes. Not the way I love you. I liked his company, and I would have tried to please him if he had won freedom for the pride. Simba, there are some things bigger than a the life of a lion or a lioness. Sometimes I have to put the welfare of others first. Sometimes we all must do that."
"I guess." He sighed and slumped his head guiltily, her words stabbing him like a thorn in the paw. “Some things in life are ours to be enjoyed. We have to seize them and make them our own before the chance is gone forever.” He padded along the path slowly, Nala’s weight resting pleasurably on his shoulder as they walked. A contented rumble throbbed through her chest, and he echoed it as he nuzzled her behind her ear. “You’re beautiful, you know that?”
“Yes.” She laughed and kissed him on the cheek. “But thank you for saying so.” She studied his face in profile as they threaded their way through some dense greenery. His face was so gentle, like his mother’s, and the set of his jaw and the slight smile brought back memories of Mufasa. But his eyes...oh gods, his eyes...her smile faded as she looked at him. Simba was studying the waterfall that lay across the valley from them, his smile forgotten, almost an afterthought, now. The deep mask of sadness that she had glimpsed at the pool had returned full force. The amber eyes that the other lionesses had commented on in his cubhood were so empty and devoid of feeling that it made her shiver. And the worst of it was, there was still something left in there, buried deep down. She had seen it back there when she first kissed him. Her old friend was still in there, in that well of sadness, and she wondered if she might ever bring him to the light of day again.
Her jaw quivering, she buried her head in his mane, unwilling to let him see the tears that threatened to burst forth.
Simba glanced down at her, his smile returning somewhat. “Isn’t this a great place?”
Nala took a deep breath and looked about, but her heart was not in it. “It is beautiful. But I don’t understand something. You’ve been alive all this time. Why didn’t you come back to Pride Rock?”
Simba fidgeted nervously. “Well...” He padded over to a tangled mat of vines that swayed gently in the evening breeze. He eased himself into its firm embrace, sprawling on his back comfortably. “Well, I just..needed to get out on my own. Live my own life. And I did, and it’s great!” He peered at her earnestly.
Nala’s voice shook noticeably. “We’ve really needed you at home,” she said.
Simba’s expression crumpled and he looked away. “No one needs me.”
Gods, what was wrong with him?! “Yes, we do! You’re the king!”
“Nala, we’ve been through this,” he said testily. “I’m not the king; Scar is.” He thought silently “and well he should be.” The monarchy was no place for a murderer, and his uncle had wisely pointed this out in the gorge. Simba had no choice but to agree to his self imposed exile. It would have been well within his uncle’s right to have him killed for Mufasa’s death. Yet he had shown mercy on his nephew and allowed him to leave untouched. How could he deny Scar’s right to be king?
At least, he thought so, until Nala informed him of the hyena takeover of his homeland. He stared at her disbelievingly. “What?!”
“There’s no food, no water...Simba, if you don’t do something soon, everyone will starve!”
As he opened his mouth to answer, a chill brushed him, and he shivered. He looked away from her, the depression filling him, his spirit sagging with guilt. “I can’t go back.”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“WHAT wouldn’t I understand?!”
“No, no, no.” He waved her off irritably. “It doesn’t matter. Hakuna Matata.”
“What?” Nala’s face twisted in confusion.
“Hakuna Matata. It’s something I learned out here.” He leapt lightly upon a fallen tree and looked at her. “Look,” he said, eager for her to understand, “sometimes bad things happen-”
“Simba!” Nala lashed her tail in frustration.
“-and there’s nothing you can do about it,” he grated, irritated at her interruption. “So why worry?” He looked away and paced agitatedly along the length of the tree.
Nala followed alongside. The anger and frustration came to a head, and she lashed at him with full force. “Because it’s your responsibility!!” Sweet Aiheu, why didn’t he see it?
Simba came to a stop and glanced at her angrily. “So what about you? YOU left!”
“I left to find help!” she shot back, incensed. “And I found YOU. Don’t you understand?!” Her voice trembled on the edge of tears. “You’re our only hope.”
Simba closed his eyes for a moment, then looked at her. “Sorry.”
Nala drew back and peered at him with narrowed eyes. “What’s happened to you?” She shook her head. “You’re not the Simba I remember.”
“You’re right. I’m not,” he said, clipping his words off brutally. “NOW are you satisfied?”
“No. Just disappointed.”
He started away, shoulders stiff with anger. “You’re starting to sound like my father.”
A tingle ran through Nala, and the words escaped unbidden. “Good. At least ONE of us does.” She put a paw to her mouth, horrified at what she had said.
Simba froze, the lethargic feeling ripped away as her words tore through him. He spun around and advanced on her. “Look! You think you can just come in here and tell me how to run my life?! You don't even know what I’ve BEEN through!”
“I would if you’d just tell me!” She moved to go to him, but he whirled and plunged through the underbrush, heedless of the sharp branches that tore at him.
“Forget it!” He padded away quickly, unwilling to let her see the tears in his eyes.
Timon and Pumbaa were nearby, trying to hear what was going on.
"What is it now, Timon? Gimme, gimme!"
"Hush, you! I'm trying to hear!" He listened carefully. "Oh gods, they're really getting into it."
"Into a mud puddle, you idiot! They're fighting!" Timon listened carefully. "Oh gods, this is awful! No wonder he came out here!"
"Oh, there she goes. Lover boy blew it big time. Boy is he going to be one sulky kitty. There'll be no living with him for days."
Nala turned away, stung, angry at herself for letting him get away. She walked morosely over to the fallen log and leapt upon it, settling herself atop the old wood. Her tail moved restlessly as she mulled over their conversation, berating herself for lashing out at him like that. At a loss, she laid her head upon her forepaws, gazing out across the river valley. The sound of the waterfall was lulling, and she blinked her eyes sleepily as she watched the sparkling torrent fall through the air to crash on the rocks below. Soon she was dozing softly, the soft white light of the moon bathing her golden form in unearthly beauty.
CHAPTER 5: REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE
As he picked his way through the jungle, Rafiki stumbled over a vine for what seemed like the thousandth time. He had no idea where he was going—a voice told him when to turn here, a sign in the gnarled wood of a tree compelled him to go around an obstacle instead of over it. He was in the truest sense living on faith and a canteen.
Presently, Rafiki halted. He could feel that he had arrived and he whispered, “Aiheu abamami. Thank you for your guidance, Mano and Minshasa. Now show me what I must do.” He looked for a tall tree where he could see the surrounding countryside. And once he found the perfect platform, he ascended with a sense of growing excitement, climbing from branch to branch, looking through the leaves and across the grass. Then with a gasp he finally spotted Simba pacing in a field. The lion was splendid in stature and grace, crowned with a beautiful mane. While he had some of his father’s looks, his face was slender and shapely like his mother’s. “Ooooh!” He looked fit and trim—he could not have hoped for better.
Simba was talking to himself. “She's wrong,” he said. “I can't go back. What would it prove, anyway? It won't change anything. You can't change the past.”
Rafiki shook his head. “His wounds are on the inside. I only hope he still has fight in him.”
Simba looked up at the stars. “You said you'd always be there for me! But you're not. And it's because of me. It's my fault. It's my fault!” Simba bowed his head, choking back tears.
“The poor thing!” Rafiki whispered. “I must cheer him up!” Rafiki didn’t know what to say, so he thought to break into a rhyme to get Simba’s attention. It was one his childhood friend Wandani often used in blind tag.
“Asante sana, squash banana! We we nugu, mi mi apana!”
Simba glanced at him, annoyed. To have looked Simba in the eyes again so thrilled Rafiki that he thought he would jump out of his hide!
Simba left, and Rafiki followed. When the lion settled down on a log that crossed a small pond, Rafiki tossed a rock. He was still good with his pitching, and the rock landed in the water right in front of him. Rafiki hustled up a nearby tree to avoid a nasty claws-out swipe he felt he deserved. But Simba only looked up.
“Asante sana, squash banana! We we nugu, mi mi apana!”
“Come on,” Simba said. “Will you cut it out!”
Rafiki laughed, jumping up and down. “Can’t cut it out. It’ll grow right back!” He giggled at his own joke. Minshasa looked up at him. “When I cut it out, it won’t grow back! Now behave yourself!”
Trying to tone himself down, Rafiki followed Simba as he left the log and traveled on. Simba looked back and saw it was a mandrill and corban. He decided not to act on his feelings of annoyance by turning his pest into a meal.
“Creepy little monkey. Will you stop following me? Who are you?”
Rafiki rushed to him. Got right in his face. “The question is: who are YOU?”
Simba was taken aback, but he sighed. “I thought I knew. Now, I’m not so sure.”
“Well I know who you are. Shhh. Come here. It’s a secret.” He pulled Simba’s head over to whisper. “Asante sana, squash banana! We we nugu, mi mi apana!” He laughed.
“Enough already!” Simba looked puzzled. “What’s that supposed to mean, anyway?”
“It means you are a baboon--and I’m not!”
“I think you’re a little confused.”
“Wrong! I’m not the one who’s confused. You don’t even know who you are!”
Simba began to rankle. “Oh, and I suppose you know?”
“Sure do. You’re Mufasa’s boy.” Rafiki smiled at the effect that had on him, and he skipped away.
Simba chased him across the grassland. Finally he reached Rafiki who sat in meditation on a rock.
“You knew my father?”
Rafiki turned only his eyes. “Correction. I KNOW your father.”
Simba looked down. Painfully he said, “I hate to tell you this, but....” He caught a tear before it could show. “....he died. A long time ago.”
Rafiki became agitated. He leaped off the rock and headed toward the trees. “Nope. Wrong again! Ha ha ha! He’s alive! And I’ll show him to you. You follow old Rafiki--he knows the way. Come on!”
With an energy that could only be an effect of the powerful herbs in his blood, the old mandrill spryly swung through, around, and over the branches and bushes. Simba struggled to keep up with his large bulk.
Rafiki laughed, easily outpacing the lion. Suddenly he stopped and put his hand up in Simba’s face. “STOP!”
He motioned Simba to some nearby reeds. “Shhh!” He parted the reeds and pointed with his staff. “Look down there.”
Simba worked his way to the edge of a pool of water where he saw his reflection. He peered at it intently for a moment, then sighed with disappointment. “That’s not my father. That’s just my reflection.”
“No,” Rafiki said intently. “Look harder.”
The mandrill made moves over the water. The water rippled, breaking Simba’s reflection into tiny bits of color. The colors then resolved to form Mufasa’s face.
“You see? He lives in you.”
Simba stared at the picture. While he was staring spellbound, Rafiki took a large thorn from his staff, and gritting his teeth, jabbed it into his palm. He stifled a cry as the red drops of blood fell into the water. “Please,” the mandrill silently mouthed, “Your son needs you, old friend. Accept my sacrifice.”
The wound in Rafiki’s hand tingled, then ceased to bleed. The wind began to pick up, rich with the smell of wild honey. A carpet of cloud was unfurled and upon this strode forth one of the Nisei. Rafiki knew that broad, sincere face at once and his eyes filled with reverent tears. Mufasa stood tall, as mighty and noble as Pride Rock itself, but with a countenance lit by love and wisdom. It was a face that had been kissed by God.
“Simba,” he said quietly.
“Simba, you have forgotten me.”
Simba was wounded. “No! How could I?”
Mufasa was stern. “You have forgotten who you are, and so have forgotten me.” He looked a little more kindly but kept his reproachful tone. “Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the Circle of Life.”
“How can I go back? I’m not who I used to be.”
Mufasa drew near. The light of his love filled Simba with awe and grief. “Remember who you are. You are my son, and the one true king. Remember who you are.”
Mufasa began to retreat, and as he did so, his image faded. Simba ran after him.
“No! Please! Don’t leave me!”
“Remember,” Mufasa intoned.
In anguish, Simba cried, “Don’t leave me!” But it was no use. He was gone. The lion trembled.
Rafiki drew alongside. “What was THAT!” He laughed to see the look of understanding in Simba’s eyes. “The weather. Pfft! Very peculiar, don’t you think?”
“Yeah. Looks like the winds are changing.”
“Ah, change is good.”
“Yeah, but it’s not easy. I know what I have to do. But going back means I’ll have to face my past.” He recoiled. “I’ve been running from it for so long.”
Rafiki looked at him with a devilish grin. He whacked Simba on the head with his staff.
“Ow! Jeez, what was that for?”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s in the past!” He laughed at his clever example.
“Yeah, but it still hurts.”
“Oh yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or...learn from it.” He took another swing at Simba, but this time the lion ducked down. “Ha, you see! So what are you going to do?”
Simba couldn’t resist the opening. “First, I’m gonna take your stick.” He batted the staff out of Rafiki’s hand with a sudden swipe.
“No, no, no, no! Not the stick!”
When he bent down to reclaim his staff, Simba hurried off.
“Hey, where are you going?”
Simba shouted, “I’m going back!”
“Good! Go on! Get out of here!” He laughed, giddy with his success.
CHAPTER 6: SHENZI’S PLAN
Uzuri was no more fond of hyenas as a whole than her pride sisters. But she had respect for certain ones, a hard-won respect that was valuable as gold to whomever earned it. Ber was one such hyena.
Ber came stalking up quietly to Uzuri’s private resting place. Even the hyenas she liked dared not disturb her as she napped, and Ber’s appearance signaled either he’d lost his mind or he had pressing news.
“Come closer,” she said sleepily, opening an eye. “What’s on your mind?”
“Shhh, keep it down,” Ber said in an urgent whisper. “It is my understanding that you are a friend of Elanna’s. And I also understand you promised her to look after Taka.”
Uzuri rolled over and her ears perked. “You have some dangerous understandings. It is well you speak in whispers.”
“Then it is so. I can tell from your face that you care for her. Then it is well I came.” He looked around nervously.
“We are alone here,” Uzuri said. “Speak freely.”
Ber drew more closely. “There is a rumor going about the clan that some of the brothers are thinking of killing Taka. But they need a way to make it look like an accident—or suicide. When he dies, what will become of your girl Elanna? I shudder to think—she is a fine lady, and she deserves more out of life than what she’s in for.”
Uzuri sighed deeply. “What do you know about the plan?”
“I know that it exists. Beyond that, I’ll have to hope Roh’kash is with us. I’m no fan of Taka, but I won’t let them hurt the Queen.”
The hunt mistress nuzzled him softly, an almost unthinkable intimacy. “I’m sure your Roh’kash is with you. I hope she’s with me too…I’ll need it.”
Uzuri ran down the slope of Pride Rock along a path covered with hyena footprints. Going around to the lee of the stone, she saw the dark-maned lion huddled by the side of the water, talking to his reflection. “No way out. There’s no way out. If there is a God, please help me! But how can there be a God? How can there be a God with so much misery in the world?? If I were God, things would be a lot different around here, that’s for sure!”
He saw the face in the water change. It was a cub, a small cub with no scar and eyes that glowed with health and optimism. Could he have once looked like that? He reached up and ran his paw slowly down his careworn face and saw the cub brush his own face. “Why are you so happy, little cub? Don’t you know what’s ahead for you? Don’t you know?” Rings formed in the water…his own tears splashing the surface.
“What??” He looked up, more afraid than angry. “Oh, Uzuri, it’s only you.”
“Did they send you to find me? Did they put you up to it--all those lionesses that want to know if I’m totally mad??”
“That’s not fair!” Uzuri upbraided him, something only she and Elanna could do. “Lannie was worried about you. She asked me to keep an eye on you.”
“Spy, you mean?”
“No. If I was spying on you, would I call out? I could see you quite well from over there.”
“Yeah.” He wiped his eyes with a paw. “You do think I’m mad, don’t you.”
“Well, I think you’re hurting.”
“Hurting.” He laughed bitterly. “I’m going to die soon. Not that I dread being dead one bit. It’s dying that frightens me.”
“Surely you’re not going to kill yourself??”
“No, nothing that noble. My friend, I know my star lore well. Well enough to know that the rumors are true, not mere whispers in the reeds. Rumors of betrayal and death” He sniffed. “Uzuri, you believe in God, don’t you?”
“Of course I do.”
“Then if you swore something by Aiheu, you’d consider that binding for all times, wouldn’t you?”
“Of course. Where is this going, Taka?”
“You looked after me for Elanna. Now I want you to swear that you’ll look after her for me when I’m gone. I want you to swear by Aiheu.”
“I don’t have to swear it. I love her, and as long as I have breath in this body, I’ll take care of her.”
He nodded. “Good enough. When I die that the others will want to hurt her because she was my wife. You must protect my Lannie. She gave up everything for me, and that kind of devotion must not go unrewarded. Don’t let them hurt her, Uzuri. They’ll listen to you.”
“I’ll do my best. I promise. If it makes you feel any better, I’ll swear it to Aiheu.”
With a pronounced trembling in his limbs that made him look far older than he was, he drew up alongside her and nuzzled her. For a moment she could see the frightened little cub that used to call her Zuzu. “I said some unkind things about you in the past. When you think back on me, I want you to remember that I felt regret. Say a prayer for me from time to time.” He nuzzled her once more. “Now be a good girl and please leave--I should like to be alone now.”
Elanna was lost in thought when a couple of hyenas came to her privately. “What are you doing here?”
“Hsssh!” Bot’la came to her side and whispered in her ear. “My lady, this is urgent business. But it is for your ears alone, and you must not tell the King.”
“What is this coming and going that you don’t tell the King?”
“I have a mate,” Bot’la of the hyenas said. “I’ll level with you—we love our mates and pups as much as you. We have feelings too.”
“So…” He whispered even more lowly. “You are the one that loves Scar.”
“Taka,” she said indignantly.
“Keep it down, please!” The sound of his voice startled him, and the Bot’la winced. “You love him. You know in your heart no one else does.”
“This is treason.”
“OK, so it’s treason. Fine. But even though we don’t care a whit for Taka, it so happens my friend and I feel differently about you. Your care for him is—well—almost hyena-like. I think you deserve a break, so I’m going to let you have it straight. If you want to save your husband, you’ll listen to me.”
Elanna nodded. “Speak freely.”
“It is not mine to say. But that Rafiki, the ape that Taka hates so much, has shown me things. Awful things. He’s sworn to protect the rightful King, the son of Ahadi--he will not break a vow to his God. And he’s almost foaming at the mouth with fear, for disaster waits for the Pride Lands and no one listens to him. Such awful things, but so easy to avoid if only someone who bends the King’s ear will act quickly.”
“I have sworn not to repeat what I saw,” Bot’la said. “Such words even in speaking can cause mischief. Rafiki has made a good faith effort to undo the evil he has loosed. You must be the voice of reason. You must influence your husband.”
“Do you realize what you are saying?”
“Yes. If things meet their appointed course, all of us will die. The land is sick. The water is gone. And there is worse—madness and despair. I don’t want to die, Elanna. I don’t want my family to die. And I feel I don’t want you to die, either.”
Elanna was silent for a moment. “How will I get out of here?”
“We have arranged that. Follow us and we will take you to him.”
She nodded. “You’re right.” She began to cry. “I thought we had no friends, but you are good, Bot’la. I can see God’s mercy in you, so I know now there must be a God.”
Bot’la winced as if a sharp thorn had been driven through his heart, but he quickly hid it. He led her out of the cave and down the side with utmost silence and care. And by skirting the cistern and euphorbia, they made it away from Pride Rock and into the tall grass.
She was unaware that Rafiki was long gone to search for Simba. All she knew is that some kind souls are cloaked in different hides. Somewhere, somehow, they will sit with the great kings of the past.
She was not worried when her small body guard of two became four. But she didn’t know whether to feel flattered or frightened when two more joined ranks and suddenly there were six. She didn’t have that many friends, much less Taka.
Behind the south kopje, four more hyenas fell in line. It was then her heart sank. She was headed away from the baobab, and not to hide her from her husband’s watchful eyes. They had turned toward the desolate lands, the appropriate place where poor Ahadi and Akase went to meet their God together. Now she would die without family or friends.
“Forgive me, Aiheu. Forgive me that I have loved him, but oh gods, how I loved him. Bless my poor husband and comfort him in his hour of grief.”
One of the hyenas went “Hssssh! At least try to die with dignity.”
“My dignity before the gods is intact. Worry about your own—you bring ten hunters to kill one lioness.”
“Silence!” Bot’la commanded. He added with some regret. “I don’t enjoy this. We’re just trying to save ourselves and our families. You can understand that.”
Then back at Pride Rock there was a tremendous shout. Bot’la looked back. There was a fire at the rock. Lions roared, and hyenas screamed with rage and pain.
“The war is on!” He looked at Elanna and thought for a moment. Finally Bot’la said, “This is our land now. Get out.”
Elanna hurried away from the hyenas. The guard headed back to Pride Rock to fight the last battle. “Death or glory, lads! Out with the lions!”
CHAPTER 7: I’M HOME!
Makhpil looked on in horror as a living wave of hyenas crashed upon Simba, burying him under an assault of snapping jaws and ripping claws. The lion struck out, scattering them in a bellow of fury as he methodically began to annihilate any and every opponent that separated him from Taka, who stood across from them at the base of the promontory, exhorting the hyenas to fight on. “Show no mercy!” Taka cried lustily. “Kill him! Kill him!”
“Oh gods,” she moaned as she saw a hyena tossed aside like a pup, shrieking horribly from the ragged wound in his side. She recognized him well; he had come to her only last week to ask advice on where to dig a den for his mate.
A terrific struggle ensued across from her, several hyena voices crying out in shock and fear. Several went tumbling and rolling as Ber shouldered them aside, snapping savagely as he fought his way through the throng. Behind him came Krull and Fabana, the two guarding Ber’s flanks as he bludgeoned his way through the mass of his fellows, snarling defiantly. Ber paused, seeing the mass of hyenas attacking Simba, and raised his voice.
“To the King!” he bellowed, turning lion heads as well as hyenas toward him. “Roh’kash and Roh’mach!!”
An uproar joined him as the members of the hidden resistance group, plagued and tormented for years rose up with a shout and joined him. “Roh’kash and Roh’mach!” Pandemonium reigned as hyena turned upon hyena, guards looking in surprise as companions they had known for years began to attack them bitterly.
Makhpil felt her blood boil at the remembered injustices under the reign of Shenzi and Taka. “Roh’kash and Roh’mach!” she cried, turning upon a burly guard who was harrying Simba’s flank. Her fangs sank deep into his hide, and blood sprayed into her face in a hot flood. Crying out, he whipped around, locking eyes with her. “You!”
“So Skulk, how do you do against an enemy who able to fight back, eh?!” Makhpil bared her teeth at him. “Not so easy as it was with Belvalen, eh?”
“You WITCH!” he cried, lunging at her. She sidestepped neatly, dodging his attack with inches to spare. He rose and flailed again, but she went under this time, tearing out a hunk of hair that made him wail with pain. He stumbled back, stunned, a smear of blood reddening his chest like a blossom. She started forward to finish him, but she stopped as the wave of pain and hurt hit her mind like an openhanded swat to the face, a soundless cry of agony that came from the spirit and not the flesh.
“Why did you want to hurt me?” he thought. “I liked you.”
His mind lay open to her suddenly, and she saw the hidden desire under the cruel exterior, a desperate wish for companionship that reached deep inside him to his core, a desolate loneliness that cried out for help. And in her, he had seen the possibility of a way out.
A way out now closed to him.
She shuddered visibly and closed her mind, turning away so she would not have to look upon his face. Leaving him standing there, she trotted away towards the spire of Pride Rock.
Amarakh snarled viciously under the assault of a crowd of Shenzists. Every time she tried to fight her way out, someone would attack her flanks, tearing at her horribly. Makhpil pushed through to her and took up a position behind her. Between the two of them, they could defend the small turf they occupied for the moment. Amarakh groaned, feeling her strength draining from a dozen wounds as she looked upon the terrible battleground before them. Hyenas, friend and foe alike lay strewn about, the bodies locked eternally in combat. A cry of despair reached her as she saw the pitiful remnants of her Omlakh supporters being decimated by the sheer brute force of Shenzi’s guards.
Abruptly, the fighting hesitated, Shenzists and Omlakhs alike suddenly distracted. Amarakh pointed, her breath catching in her throat. “Great Roh’kash!” she breathed. “Look!”
Makhpil looked and saw Simba and Taka engaged in a mortal struggle on the western crag.
The fight upon Pride Rock was a horrible thing to behold. Lightning flashed and thunder ripped across the sky as Rafiki sought for a desperate foothold. High above him, Simba and Taka grappled, snarling and snapping savagely at each other as they fought for dominance.
The two traded powerful blows, each striving to undo the other. Simba struck out, but Taka blocked his swing and countered, sending the younger lion sliding across the flat peak to the edge.
Taka felt the moment of Simba’s death had arrived. He twisted as he flew through the air. Only to his surprise, Simba’s feet sank into his belly, driving the breath from him and sending him flying over the edge of the peak. Rafiki watched in horror as the lion’s form dropped through the air to disappear in the rocks below.
“I am sorry, my boy,” he whispered.
Waiting for Taka were Shenzi, Banzai and Ed. They looked very displeased. Taka tried to move, but one of his legs was broken and his ribs were cracked.
“Ah, my friends.”
“Friends?” Shenzi sneered. “I thought he said we were the enemy!”
“Yeah, that's what I heard,” Banzai said. “Ed?”
Taka trembled. “No. Le-Le-Let me explain. No. You don't understand. No! I didn't mean for... No, No! Look, I’m sorry I called you... No! No!” They closed in on him.
“Oh gods! Oh my gods, it’s the dream! Wake me, Elanna! It’s happening again!”
“Wake me, Elanna!” sneered Shenzi. “It’s happening again!” Scar was frozen, unable to resist. She closed her powerful jaws on his throat and crushed his windpipe. He struggled for only a second, then shuddered and fell limp, nearly crushing her underneath.
Shenzi let go in astonishment. She nipped his nose, but his face did not move.
“You scared him to death,” Banzai said. “Imagine that.”
“Weird. But let’s make sure.” With one massive pull at the stomach, she revealed all of Taka’s inner secrets. “He’s not goin’ NOWHERE.” How like a wildebeest he seemed under that hide.
“Look,” Banzai said. “His teeth and ambition are bared!”
Shenzi said, “Hey, almost as ugly on the inside as he is on the outside.” She got a wicked little grin. “You know how they would say there was a frightened little cub deep down inside? If we move some of this stuff around, we might find it.”
“Are you saying he had the light in his eyes?”
Shenzi broke out in a full horse laugh. “Oh gods, now THAT’S a good one! Scar, pregnant!”
Sarabi trudged slowly through the downpour, tears and rain blurring her vision to the point she was nearly blind. Blinking rapidly, she took a deep breath and fought to control herself. Her breath shuddered out of her as she rounded the foot of Pride Rock slowly, glimpsing the other lionesses at the base. A cream colored lioness looked up and brightened immediately.
"Sassie!" Sarafina rose and padded over to her, rubbing her cheek against Sarabi's. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Fini." Sarabi nuzzled her gently. "Where's Nala?"
Sarafina nodded over her shoulder. "Over there, resting. We're all waiting for Simba to come down." Her eyes glowed as she looked at her friend. "Gods, Sassie, did you see him in the fight? He looks beautiful!"
"I know." Sarabi's voice faltered, her eyes stinging suddenly. "Oh, Fini, my son! My son came back to me!"
Sarafina rubbed Sarabi's cheek with her own. "Look, there he is!" They turned to look up the slopes of Pride Rock. Simba emerged from the smoke and mist, moving slowly but surely to the bottom of the path where the rock met the ground. Sarabi, unable to bear it any longer, rose and went to him.
He looked at her and smiled uncertainly. "Mother?"
"My nose hurts."
Sarabi laughed, her tears mixing with the rain as she looked at the scorched spot on his muzzle. "If that's all that's hurting you, you should count yourself lucky." She licked his face gently with her warm, moist tongue and nuzzled his wet mane. "Oh, my son, my son! I love you so much."
Simba closed his eyes, shuddering. The words which he had thought he would never hear again since his father's death now rang in his ears. "I love you too, mother." He smiled at her. "I've missed you."
"And we, you." He turned to see Uzuri smiling at him, her eyes lidded in satisfaction. "I told you if you listened to me and ate right that you'd grow up to be big and strong like your father." She cocked an eyebrow and studied his lean, muscular form. "What have you been eating, anyway?"
"Don't ask." A warm shape brushed against him, and he turned back to see Nala standing before him. "Beloved," she purred, nuzzling him firmly.
He moved to respond, but they were interrupted by the dry rattle of a seed filled gourd. They all looked to see Rafiki perched atop a small outcropping. The tired old mandrill nodded at Simba and lifted his staff to point at the outthrust promontory of Pride Rock.
Simba felt a wave of fear ripple through him, followed by a tingle of excitement. Slowly, he moved away from his family to stand in front of Rafiki. The mandrill's brown eyes looked kindly into Simba's amber ones. He smiled and bowed deeply before the lion.
Simba felt a wave of warmth drive away the dampness of the rain. He lifted a massive forepaw and gently draped it over Rafiki's shoulder, drawing the mandrill to him in an embrace. Rafiki wrapped his arms around Simba's shoulders and held him for a moment, then drew away. He met the lion's gaze again and nodded.
"It is time."
Simba returned the nod and moved away. Placing a paw tentatively on the granite outcropping of the promontory, he began his ascent.
Below, the lionesses followed his progress in awe. "Gods forgive me," Isha said, "but I never thought I would live to see this day." Her voice broke, and she nuzzled her young cub Habusu, crying. "Look, Habu! There is your king!" Habu stared upward, neck craned back until it ached, jaw gaping in delight as he watched the magnificent lion above him.
Simba strode toward the end of the promontory, awash in such an array of emotion that it made him giddy. Reaching the end, he looked down upon the hopeful faces of the lionesses below staring up at him. Lifting his gaze skyward, he peered at the gray clouds overhead. The rain poured down on him, streaming into his ears and soaking his mane, but still he waited. Abruptly, a rift opened in the clouds overhead, and he saw the stars burning brightly overhead in the vault of Heaven. A voice filled his ears, numbing his mind as he recognized it as his father's.
Simba stood at the tip of the promontory, suspended halfway between Heaven and Earth, floating on a wave of feeling so intense he could barely breathe. He felt each drop of rain as it struck him, the gentle breeze caressing his face, carrying upon it such a myriad of scents his head fairly exploded with them. Lifting his face again, he closed his eyes and roared for the very first time, the sound filling his soul as if God Himself had touched him with thunder.
Below, Uzuri bellowed into the driving rain. "Behold, the King!" She answered Simba with her own roar, the other lionesses joining her. He returned it tenfold, the sound echoing off the kopjes and stones. It reached across the freshened plains to the mighty forests. At last, at long last, Mufasa's anointed was king.
Nala watched him descend, her eyes tracking his every move as he leapt gracefully to the ground. Pacing over, Simba stood in front of her, breathless, the steam rising from his body as the rain evaporated. As the lionesses looked on, he lifted his left forepaw and rested it upon Nala's shoulder, caressing it, feeling the muscles playing underneath the pads of his paw. She answered with a purr from deep in her chest. Looking up, she met his gaze, and their eyes locked. The light from the last of the rapidly dying fires gleamed in her eyes, the twin pools of emerald radiance holding him in an iron grip he had no wish to break. Simba took a deep breath and spoke.
"Before the gods, before the stars, before the assembled host I swear to give you my protection, my life, and my comfort, forever."
Nala trembled. "Till the last beat of my heart, to the last breath I sigh, our lives are one, so help me gods." She moved close to him and settled her head against his mane, purring.
Simba nuzzled her, oblivious to the pain in his scorched muzzle. "Until this day I have been but half a lion. You have made me whole."
Shenzi took the tuft of Taka’s limp tail in her mouth and tugged it up and out of the way. Then she paused for a moment, chuckling at what she planned to do next. “Well old boy, it’s too bad OUR claws don’t retract,” she snickered.
“Surely you wouldn’t!” Banzai said, his tail clamping down.
“Oh WOULDN’T I?”
Ed began to giggle and pat his forepaws on the ground like a restless zebra. “Owwie owwie!” he cried.
“Yes, Ed! Owwie owwie!”
With a broad smile on her cold, ebony lips, Shenzi drew back her paw and readied herself for one last act of vandalism.
Through the rain charged a lioness. It was Sarabi. Shenzi wheeled around, irritated. “What the hell are YOU doing here?”
Sarabi’s eyes narrowed and glowed with fire. “Get out!”
“Say what??” Shenzi bared her teeth at her.
“Get out, NOW!”
Shenzi said, “Let me get this straight. Do you think you could beat the three of us? We’ve already killed one lion.”
“I’d I kill at least one of you.” She glanced around. “Which one will it be? Well??”
The hyenas looked at each other nervously. “I think we’d better go,” Banzai said. “This isn’t fun anymore.”
“Yeah. Who cares,” Shenzi said. “Let her have him. He’s probably spoiled meat.” Shenzi turned about leisurely, not wanting to look in too much of a hurry. Then she looked over her shoulder and said, “You didn’t get any when he was alive. You can have it now, girl, for all the good it’ll do ya!”
For a brief moment, Sarabi was angered by her remark. But the bits of truth in it ate at her and she looked down at her former suitor and searched his face for signs of the Taka she once loved.
The final look of horror was still clearly written on the lion’s face. Moaning with the suddenness of her unexpected grief, Sarabi licked her paw and tried to groom what was left of Taka’s mane and close his wide-open eyes. Her efforts made his countenance bearable. Then she gently, respectfully took her paw and laid his tail to rest in a natural position. “She had not touched your lionhood,” Sarabi muttered, “or I would have hunted her down and killed her.”
For a few moments she gave herself over to long-ago memories of bounding through the tall grass with Taka in pursuit. How tall the grass had once been! She could see him bobbing and weaving among the tawny stalks, and it occurred to her how small he had once been—and she herself had been no larger.
Footsteps approached, and Sarabi looked up, half expecting Shenzi to return. It was Rafiki.
“My old friend,” she softly said, “I knew you’d come.”
The mandrill nodded silently. He knelt beside the body washed in blood and rain and reached with fumbling fingers into his pouch. He brought out a strip of jerky and a piece of Tiko root. He knelt by Taka’s face, its weary features relaxed at last, and laid the two objects by his muzzle. He took Taka’s large paw between his hands and kissed it. Tears began to stream down his face, mixing with the silvery curtain of rain that drew itself around him. “Forgive me, Fru Fru! Forgive me!”
CHAPTER 8: ALONE AT LAST
Simba settled on the floor of the cave and released a long, exhausted sigh. "I'm aching all over," he said.
Nala came to him and kissed him, then she started to groom his face. "Oh girl, that feels good. Can you reach that cut behind my ear?"
“Oh yes! That’s perfect.”
Taka’s scent lingered in the cave, but it was there that they sought to spend the night of their honeymoon out of the rain. Simba began to nuzzle Nala passionately. “Home, Nala! On the place where my parents conceived me, I will make love to you and fill you with sons and daughters!”
She nuzzled him back, rubbing him slowly and sensuously full length and drawing her tail and its provocative tuft along his cheek. “Let us make love in the storm, my darling.”
Simba sat worried by the entrance watching the rain, lost in thought.
Nala nuzzled him and nibbled on his ear. “What is it, dear? Has that passionate beast that crouched with me become a timid little cub?”
“What?” He looked at her. “Oh.” He kissed her with his warm pink tongue. “I’m King, Nala. I used to look forward to being king when I was a cub. Now it frightens me. There is so much to do, and I have had so little preparation.”
“You have friends,” Nala purred. “Friends that care about you.”
“I do, don’t I.” He looked out over the barren landscape. “I can only do the best I can. When I come face to face with Aiheu, he will know I tried.”
“You’ll be a fine King. Now why don’t you get some sleep? I’ll be here when you wake.”
“You’ll be here when I wake?” Simba looked into Nala’s deep hazel eyes and smiled. “That means you’ll be the first thing I’ll see when I open my eyes. What a way to start the morning!” He nuzzled her passionately and touched her left shoulder with his paw. “I will be King tomorrow. Tonight I am a lion.”
Though the rain half blinded her, Zira stared unblinking at the body of her beloved lit by the fitful flashes of lightning with a million raindrop fireflies swirling about him. From the cave overhead came a sound she knew all too well, the passionate cry of a male lion getting something that her Taka would never again enjoy.
Zira had one last duty to perform for her lover and she went about it as well as she could alone, grasping one of Taka’s arms and pulling back with all her might.
He shifted all of a quarter length….
She bunched herself together, putting her paws as firmly as they would stand on the newly muddied ground and grasping his other forepaw. “Hmmmmmppphhh!!”
Again he moved only a quarter length.
Panting, she looked at the body that had pressed close to her, the body of Nuka’s father that had given her some stolen comforts. She had to do right by him, but Elanna whom could have been expected to help was nowhere to be found. “Probably run away, the dirty little….” She stopped, unable to name call someone who had known Taka’s love. “Oh why weren’t you here the one time I needed you??”
“I’m here,” another lioness voice said. It was Sarabi.
A million insults came welling up inside Zira, or maybe one overpowering word of total hatred ready to sting Sassie like a scorpion. But she said nothing. Zira knew she needed Sarabi’s help.
Without another word, Sarabi took one of Taka’s forepaws and Zira took the other. Grunting with the effort, they started him on his final journey.
Simba rolled from his side onto his back, grunting with contentment at the warm tingling that still gripped his body. Nala looked over at him drowsily and intoned, “Cute tummy.”
“Thanks.” One of his eyes opened and a warm smile lit his face. “Are you happy?”
“What do you think?”
“I think I’m the luckiest lion in the whole world.” His eye traced the arch of her hips, the span of her soft chest rising and falling with her deep, rhythmic breaths, her forepaws daintily folded against her sides, then came to rest on her tender and beautiful face. “No, I KNOW I’m the luckiest lion in the world.”
Just then Sarafina came in. “I hate to disturb you, but we can’t find your mother. Elanna and Zira are gone too. I think they’re OK, but I’d like to go look for them—just to make sure.”
“Of course, Fini. It’s raining out—be careful.” He expected her to leave, and when she continued to stare at him he asked, “Is there something else?”
“I was just wondering where that little cub went. The little cub that was my milk son.” She went over and looked right down into his face as he lay on his back. “What a handsome lion he became.”
Simba reached up with a paw and drew it across her cheek, pulling her down for a nuzzle. “It’s good to be home, Fini.”
Winded from their effort and covered in mud, Sarabi and Zira gave Taka one last pull. He lay still on the eastern meadow, his ebony mane matted with grass and mud and a crimson stain of death across his paunch. With eyes open and jaws agape, he was so changed from the little cub that once considered “Sassie” his whole world. Still Sarabi nuzzled him one last time before leaving him to Zira.
As Zira stood in the slackening rain and looked at her love, now disgraced and deposed, the clouds parted for a moment and she saw his contorted face, still tragically beautiful to her.
“There were so many things I wanted to tell you,” she said, breaking out in sobs. “My darling, my lover, my friend!” She settled across his body, embracing his muddied face with her forepaws and kissing him with frustrated affection. “I’ll kill him for this! I swear it—I SWEAR IT!! And if I can’t, I’ll find someone who CAN!”
She pushed under one of his forepaws to get one last cuddle, a rather dangerous position to be in as the tall grass parted and several creatures appeared.
“We will take care of him,” one of the jackals said. “Spirit all gone home to Mungo, just the body left. We will do it right.”
“You will not TOUCH him!” Zira thundered, a strange light gleaming in her eyes. She crawled atop his body. “I will take care of him! Get out, all of you!!”
“Not stay there forever I think,” the jackal said, taken aback but still in charge. “Sooner or later you fall asleep.”
“It will be later, not sooner,” Zira said. “You’re in for a long wait.”
CHAPTER 9: THE BANISHMENT
The return of Simba brought a renewal in hope, and from the moment he took his father’s seat upon the promontory, the pride looked to him for salvation. The cries of hyenas no longer filled the night, and their smell, once a daily fixture in their lives, slowly began to fade. Cubs who had picked up on some hyena expressions were strictly charged not to use that “vulgar claptrap.” The bodies of the dead hyenas were carried to the eastern meadow without ceremony and stacked for the jackals and vultures to gnaw. Only Amarakh was singled out for any honor—to be dumped into the gorge where a brave king had died. Every law that Taka had passed was overturned, and for the first time Mufasa’s name could be spoken aloud. The gods must surely be overjoyed.
But there was no change overnight in the bleak landscape. Slowly, animals that avoided the boundaries of the pride lands in their migrations now felt confident to walk across Simba’s land rather than detour through Ugas’ and Mabatu’s kingdom.
Getting them to stay was another matter. The pride sisters still had to make dangerous forays into other territories to gather food. And even Ugas painfully dragged a couple of antelopes to the boundary for his “little girl,” until Nala tearfully begged him not to work himself so hard.
One-who-brings-rain visited the land when the evil had been driven from it. The fertilizing drops quenched the dying thirst of the land and wakened seeds long buried in the desolate soil. Those sparks of new life realized the fulfillment of Aiheu’s promise, and they ached for long overdue freedom, straining at their bonds and breaking free to push up new leaves for sunshine and fresh air.
Within a few days, the brittle gray savanna began to show a green haze that tinted the bases of last year’s burned grass. And within a moon, the appointed time for the escape, lush grass was thriving on the nutrients in the ash strengthened soil. Antelope and zebra came to graze on the verdant treasure. Giraffes plucked new green shoots from the wakening acacias and rabbits began to clear cinders and mud out old burrows. And to the careful ear, the sound of singing birds broke the long silence with messages of hope and joy.
There was even a cautious optimism among the hyenas. A few pups conceived in the last days of Scar were born and their new yips were an affirmation that life indeed goes on. Perhaps with the return of the rain there would be good hunting, even if they had to rely on an occasional raid into the pride lands.
That changed when Makhpil awoke one morning with a shriek. She ran out of her old cave where she had once lived with Shimbekh and began crying, “Clan meeting! Clan meeting!”
Within moments a number of hyenas gathered around her. “What’s wrong, Makhpil? What did you see?”
She climbed a broken termite mound and looked around at the worried faces. “My brothers and sisters, I saw death. Death! Gather the others—every last one! We don’t have much time!”
“What is all this??” Skulk demanded, pushing through the crowd. “Who are you to call a clan meeting without telling the Roh’mach??”
“Without telling the Roh’mach what??” Shenzi demanded, getting through the crowd. “Makhpil, what are you trying to do now?”
“Death, Shenzi! Death of us all if we don’t leave this place! They’re coming for us. They’re going to kill us all!”
“This is the outlands. Who’s going to come for us?”
“The lions,” Makhpil said. “I saw it in a vision.”
Shenzi laughed. “You saw it in a NIGHTMARE. Look, sis, we’ve all been through a lot lately. We all have our share of nightmares, but you wake up and shrug them off. You don’t go running around in circles screaming ‘the end is coming!’”
“It was NOT a dream, Roh’mach! I know a dream from a vision.”
Shenzi started to talk but by then the crowd was excitedly yipping and yapping about the prophesy. “We’re going to die!” one of them kept crying. “Roh’kash help us!” another was praying excitedly, over and over again. Shenzi could hardly hear herself think, much less address the crowd.
Finally when she could not take it anymore she scrambled up on the termite mound and shoved Makhpil off.
The roar died down to a low rumble. “Nobody’s going ANYWHERE till I say so. We’re not going to be here much longer. I have plans that will get us out of this hellhole—I did it before and I can do it again. Till then we stay here and that’s FINAL.”
Shenzi’s command was by no means final. Some hyenas were intimidated by Shenzi, as much by force of habit as by any real chance of her making good on her threats. Others were more afraid of the unknown than of a prophesy. Still, a great many of the faithful, the ones that had never really liked Shenzi much, rallied around Ber and they planned their departure.
Ber found Fabana sitting by the stream looking at her own reflection. He went to her and asked straight out, “Come with us.”
“Ber? You want me to come with you?”
“Yes. You escaped the fire, you escaped the man, and you will escape this.”
“Why do you care?”
“Because you are a good person. And because we have something in common.
“You were mate to a Roh’mach and I was mother to one. Big deal.”
“No. We both watched someone we loved die unjustly. Look, I know there was no great love between my wife and your Jalkort. But I’ve known you since we were pups. You’re a good hyeness and no matter what Shenzi did, I’ll never believe you had anything to do with it.”
“Even being a bad mother?”
“I never said you were a bad mother.”
“You never had to. You thought I was different. I WAS different—I had to fight for everything I got. My pups were no little darlings, but I sure as hell worked to make sure they had food to eat and all the love I could give them!”
Ber shook his head. “Whatever Amarakh may have said to you, she had a right to her opinion. I didn’t say I always agreed with her, only that I always loved her.”
“And now you want me to come away. To leave my daughter, my sons and strike out on my own? I’ve had nothing—out there I would have less than nothing.”
“You’d have me,” Ber said.
“You?” She stared at him with her one good eye. “You see this scar. You know my reputation. Are you telling me you will be my mate? That you will love me?”
“I will be your friend and I will give you pups that will not bring you grief. Maybe love will come later after we have had time to heal.”
Fabana’s scowl softened. “Ber, well I never thought I would live to hear this!”
“I mean it. Every word.”
“That’s what I mean. And you know, it was what you wanted all along.”
“No. Your respect.” She gave him a quick tongue touch. “I don’t love you—not that way. I don’t think I ever could, but I hope someone comes along that does.”
“Maybe you’ll find love yourself.”
“Mother Roh’kash, I hope not—once was bad enough! But I brought three whelps into the world and I’m going to stand by them. Find a better place for yourself, but my home is here with my family. I hope you understand.”
“I do understand.”
At the moment of midsun when the shadow on Elephant Mound completely disappeared, Ber and Makhpil watched their loyal following arrive. Perhaps a fourth of the hyenas showed, something that could prove to be a problem if their plans were met with resistance.
As they expected, Shenzi also showed up with Skulk and Banzai on either side and a few of her loyalists—enough to make an impressive showing—all of them with teeth bared and ears cocked forward. It was a tense moment in which the fluttering of an insect could have been heard.
“We are going,” Ber said simply. “If you are wise, you will come with us. But if you are clever at all, you will not try to stop us. There has been enough death among our ranks.”
“Kill you?” Shenzi laughed. “I’m here to watch you go! I tried to get rid of you once, old fool, and now you’re going to do it for me. Well you run along now with my blessings. As for the others, these quitters and cowards with you, I give you maybe a moon till you realize what fools you are! You’ll come crawling back to me after the desert, but don’t expect me to let you in!! When you cross that border, you are gone, out of here, HISTORY!! DO YOU HEAR ME!!”
“I hear you,” Ber said. “I’m sure they did too. Come on, my friends, let’s go.”
CHAPTER 10: SECOND THOUGHTS
Sarabi drew close to what was for her consecrated ground, a pilgrimage to the place where Taka died. Though the King Scar he had become had killed her Mufasa, she could not help missing the young idealist that had once begged her to come away with him. It was this young Taka she came to mourn, not the lion that died on that spot.
As she stroked the spot of blood on the stone where he died, tears filled her eyes. “My poor little nisei, if I had loved you the way you loved me, things would have been different. I’m so sorry.”
“You SHOULD be,” another lioness hissed.
Sarabi looked around startled. “Zira!”
“Yes, Zira. Little Zira the tattle tale. Plain little Zira. Oh, did I forget any other names? You can refresh my memory—you knew them all.”
“Leave me alone. Have you no respect for the dead?”
“And you had respect for him?”
“I loved him.”
“You loved him!” she spat.
“Yes I loved him! Feelings more deep and gentle than you’ve ever felt in your miserable life! Beautiful dreams, hopes, anxieties, grief, and love that nothing he did could wipe out, even killing my husband!”
“Dreams?? Hopes??” She drew close and whispered, “Anxieties?” She burst out laughing. “Let me tell you how I loved him, girl! I didn’t just lie there like a dead zebra the way you did with Mufasa, hoping something would happen! When Scar and I were together, we were locked together in a dance of passion, a glorious triumph of sexual ecstasy that made the earth shake beneath our feet! I gave him such a ride he used to howl like a dog and when he left me he was hardly able to WALK!” She spat again. “Why don’t YOU get out and leave ME alone! I’m the only one here that knows what she’s missing!”
Zira looked into Sarabi’s face, watching her chin tremble and her ears lie back. Letting her hate show felt satisfying for a moment, but she knew at once it had been a mistake.
Simba was absolutely livid. He spent several minutes in the cave alone with Sarabi, probably to stop her from sobbing. By the time he stuck his head from the cave and roared for Zira, she knew it was over.
“Get out,” Simba said simply and powerfully. “Come back and I’ll kill you.”
Some lionesses that were loyal to her, and their cubs stood by her side and looked ready to go. They knew if they left it would be forever. Somehow it didn’t matter. As Shenzi knew, every scoundrel has their circle of friends. “I’ll be back,” was her whole farewell speech. The others said nothing: either they were too angry or too broken hearted—or both.
Zira broke with tradition and visited her dead lover to take a leg bone. “He will always be with me,” she said. “Someday when we come back in triumph I will bring it back and then he will rest in peace.”
“All well and good,” one of the other lionesses said. “This is too morbid.”
“It is not morbid. When I die, you must place this bone with me and our remains will be together in death as we were never together in life.”
Shenzi was too angry over the “desertion” to tolerate being disturbed without a good reason. But she did not discipline the guard when he gasped out, “The lions are coming.”
The Roh’mach and several of her fiercest guards came down to meet them. “This is MY land,” Shenzi snarled. “Zira, are you stupid enough to think you’ll be queen of the outlands?”
In a second Zira bowled her over and grabbed her by the nape of the neck like a small cub. She trotted over, dangling the Roh’mach. There was nothing the guards could do—one good bite down would snap her neck.
Zira dangled Shenzi over one of the thermal vents. The hyeness felt one of her hind feet slip into the opening and she shrieked in pain. Zira hauled her up a bit and all the hyenas gathering helplessly by saw all the fur was scalded off her leg.
"Put me down! Put me down, for God's sake!!"
"OK" Zira said, letting her drop into the vent. There was a short, anguished scream, a hiss, then flames from her body that rushed out like an angry shout. While the hyenas were still stunned, Zira looked around quickly. "KILL THEM ALL!!"
EDITOR’S NOTE: Materials after this point are being compiled into a work called “Uzuri’s Legacy” which will be released at a future date. Don’t worry, the death of Sarabi and other classic moments have not been lost. But in case you can’t wait for the original ending…
“The anger of Duma was kindled, and he swore a mighty oath that Obade should die. And he said, ‘Milk and mud are easily mixed, but once together, who shall separate them? Thus is the oath mixed with my blood, and only spilling my blood can release me.’ But Aiheu rebuked him saying ‘I am the Lord who made the soil and made the mother’s milk. And to those I anoint comes the power to separate mud from milk, that they may also separate foolishness from righteousness. What mother would vow to give her cub mud instead of milk? How then shall you vow to slay your brother when it is evil?’”
-- LEONID SAGA, “J” SECTION, VARIATION 2
Sarabi was stirred from sleep by a gentle but firm paw. She opened her eyes, but seeing the darkness of her cave grunted and closed them again.
“Sarabi,” a lion called gently. She started. “Sarabi, over here.”
She looked around, and standing before her was her heart’s desire. “Mufasa!”
Mufasa went to her, nuzzled her and kissed away her tears. “My love.”
“Don’t leave me, Muffy! Stay here, my love. Stay.”
“I can’t stay long.”
Sarabi’s eyes began to well up with tears. “How long then? A day? An hour?” She spoke in a whisper—“Another minute?”
“Long enough to take you with me.”
She touched him with her tongue. He felt warm and alive, not like a ghostly spirit. “Will it hurt?”
“Turn around, Sarabi. Tell me what you see.”
She looked over her shoulder and there on the ground was a sleeping lioness. Only she was not asleep.
“We are already together, Sassie.”
For many moments, all they could do was share their joy, playing like cubs, nuzzling and planting warm lion kisses. Then Mufasa called in a lioness, one whose face was strange and yet familiar. “Shanni, this is your mother.”
“Shanni?” Sarabi looked at her closely. “Such a lioness, now? And so beautiful.”
“Like her mother,” Mufasa said with a smile. And yet in the ocean depth of their joy, one small thing appeared to trouble Mufasa—something evident now that Ka could face another Ka and thought became reality.
“What’s wrong? You are worried, my husband?”
“Another old friend waits for you. Someone who’s afraid to say hello.”
Sheepishly, into the entrance of the cave strode a lion of lesser build but great beauty. The depth of his love and humility gave back to his face the lost innocence of his cubhood and washed away the hardness of his former life. “Muffy, have you told her about me?”
Sarabi stared at Taka. “It’s you.”
Taka’s ears drooped and his tail hung limply. “What was I thinking coming here.” He started back out of the cave.
Sarabi went to Taka and looked into his eyes. “Look at me.”
Taka looked away and shuddered. “Do not pity me. Even in death I cannot bear it.”
Sarabi took her paw and turned Taka to face her. “Look at me.”
He opened his eyes and looked into hers. “I see the same old Taka that used to pull my tail when I wasn’t looking.”
“You remember that?”
“Of course I do. I never stopped loving him.”
“Really?” He began to smile. “Oh girl, I tried to believe I hated you—for the longest time—but it was always an empty lie. I could never hate you. I love you too much.”
She smiled. “You have found peace. I often prayed that you would.” She nuzzled him and kissed his sad face.
Taka felt warm tears run down his cheeks. “Look Muffy, when she cries she is so beautiful. Isn’t she beautiful, Muffy?”
Mufasa smiled. “Yes, she IS beautiful. Come on, my friends. Let’s show her around.”
THE END: CHRONICLES OF THE PRIDE LANDS