THE


LION KING

"KING OF HEARTS"

Book II:

"Scarred Past"

 

A story by Michael Evans (V13tepes@aol.com)

And James E. Falk (MadGmr@aol.com)

Based on the Lion King © 1994 Walt Disney Corp.

 

 

Prologue

 

A lone lion cub was resting on a rock in the middle of an expansive gorge. Shaded only by the branches of a single, dead tree, he was growing tired and impatient. He just couldn't see what was taking his uncle, Taka, and father, Mufasa, so long.

A tiny chameleon caught his attention. Sidling past Simba, the lizard totally ignored him. Simba wouldn't have this at all. Rising from his perch, he crept up behind and managed a tiny squeak, not the roar he had been hoping for. Again, he tried, again he squeaked. Finally, drawing a deep breath, he let out a relatively formidable roar, sending his victim skittering away. Beaming with pride, he looked up when he noticed the tiny pebbles beside him were rattling in a peculiar fashion.

"What the?.." he thought to himself. He gazed upwards to the source of the vibration, only to see a crazed herd of wildebeests stampeding over the edge of the canyon. They were coming his way. "Oh gods, no!" he screamed within. Frozen to his place for precious seconds, the wildebeests quickly neared him. He finally reared about and dashed away in a panic. Half of Simba knew this was a futile gesture; the stampeding animals would kill him for sure.

He pushed himself onward as far as he could go. Spotting possible safety on an upcoming tree limb, he diverted his flight from the gnus in that direction. Up he vaulted, scrabbling for purchase on the sturdiest-looking branch of the tree. Finally pulling himself up onto the limb, he gripped it tightly, fearing he would be knocked off and fall back into the stampede.

It was several moments before he noticed his father leapt into the fray and was heading over to save him. It was a good thing Zazu was here to spot me, Simba thought. Now, If I can just get over to him without being trampled. But his hopes faded when his father collided with a large gnu and fell. He was grounded for a moment before he could re-orient himself and get up.

An impact from behind sent Simba flying into the stampeding animals. He cried out in fear, but his father leapt up and caught him in his massive jaws. Landing safely, his father moved off as fast as possible.

On the return dash, Mufasa collided with another gnu. Simba flew from his grasp, landing hard on his side. Dazed from the impact, he lost the focus in his vision. Struggling to see better, he finally focused on an oncoming animal. He ducked away just in time. It all felt like a useless gesture, though, for there was no way a tiny lion like him could escape the trampling hooves of a thousand wildebeests.

He closed his eyes, preparing for the inevitable embrace of death. Hearing his father call out from behind caused him to open his eyes and look behind. He felt his father grab him in his mouth, and was carried away from the center of the valley. His father jumped up to a ledge, barely hanging on with his forepaws, and deposited his son on the safety of the ledge.

Simba looked around at his father. He only saw him for a moment before he was swept away into the swirling tide of the animals. "Dad!" he cried out in surprise. He looked over the ledge for any telltale signs that his father was still alive. A blurred shape vaulted out of the sea of gnus. Simba's ears pricked forward, seeing this. Relieved that his father was climbing up the slope under his own power, Simba climbed higher to get a better look.

In moments, he clambered up a rocky ledge. Whirling about for a better perspective, he saw his father fall from the ledge, right into the middle of the stampeding gnus. Simba shouted out after his father, "No!"

And he opened his eyes, still holding on to that ‘no.’ Back in reality, he was a grown lion again, and he was looking about in a thicket of tall grasses. The closest a human could contrive to feeling what Simba was now would be sitting up in bed, sweat dripping down one's face, heart pounding from the harsh reality of a flashback.

 

I

 

Frustrated with the constant flashbacks, Simba left to go to his only real place of refuge. It was a place of thinking. At a small pool in the middle of Timon and Pumbaa's jungle, he watched the sun rise as he had many times before. Gazing into the golden reflections shimmering and dancing in the water, he pondered the meaning of his flashback. He wasn't sure if it was the immense beauty of the water or the sorrowful memories, but his eyes misted.

"If I could just worry less about something I can't change, I could do something more important, like enjoy this beautiful sunrise," Simba thought. "I haven't seen Nala for days. It must be getting to me. I need to get this over with."

For a week, Simba had been traveling the land to find a group of lions that had done terrible things to Pridelands residents. Another pride had been in Simba's land before, killing the offspring of cheetahs, leopards, and even lions. Perhaps it was all of the mourning the week before that was getting to Simba.

The thing that worried Simba the most was the fact that most of his dreams shifted the blame of Mufasa's death on to others. Simba often felt responsible, but it was even blamed on Mufasa himself. Simba had to know why. Even after he resolved the Pridelands' last major conflict, he still had unresolved issues left within.

At times, he still wished Nala and he had stayed in the jungle and never returned to challenge Scar. He knew he was only deluding himself, but it still was a tempting wish. She was still hard on him sometimes, always wanting to know what was wrong, why he was so down, so out of it. He just needed to be alone sometimes.

Lowering himself into a posture where he could comfortably rest his head on his paws, Simba thought even more deeply. "Back to the issue at hand. Why is that pride attacking us? We never had a bad confrontation with another pride in my reign." He sighed deeply. "It must be old wounds that haven't healed. I know exactly how that feels."

Nala wasn't herself either, lately. Recently, the rogue pride confronted their pride and demanded that Nala and Sarafina be extradited, for Nala was related by blood, and Sarafina by mating vows; to Treize, the rogue lion they had been chasing for may years; until he died.

And now there was this eerie feeling. Simba noticed he had nightmares and flashbacks often recently. Most of them were pertaining to his father's death. Why was beyond him. He felt something was still unresolved between his father and uncle Taka. It was an intuitive feeling from deep within, and Simba was wise enough not to ignore it.

Simba looked deeper into the shimmering incandescence of the water. He marveled at how there could be so many colors in one place. Tiny fish of orange and blue hues darted about under the surface. Green and blue birds fluttered about in the pond, preening their feathers in preparation for the day ahead.

The reflection of a tawny form materialized beside the image of Simba. "Simba?" the lioness asked. "Are you okay?"

"Nala? It's good to see you," he replied to the lioness.

"What are you out here for? Still haven't found the rouges?"

"No." Simba rose to a sitting posture. Eyes closed, trying to shake off the tension that had been nagging him, he explained, "I've been at it for a week. There's no sign of them. They're very good at covering their tracks. I wouldn't be surprised if the hyenas were involved somehow." He massaged his temple, trying to loosen a knotted muscle in his forehead. "I feel as if I've let the pride down."

Nala rubbed the sore spot gently with her paw. "Simba, don't get down on yourself. It's something we're going to have to work at together."

Simba turned and opened his eyes slowly. Their eyes met. Simba saw that same fire in her eyes that he always would remember. She saw the golden warmth of his compassion that she loved so. It was that meeting of their eyes that made their hearts leap like untamed stallions.

Simba smiled warmly and nuzzled his mate. She, in turn, gave him a delicate love bite on the ear. Their respective scents were comforting and familiar. Simba held Nala closer and kissed her gently. Both were purring deeply and intoxicated with one another's presence.

As Simba gave Nala the ritual copulative love-bite on the back of the neck, he felt a pang of regret for ever doubting Nala, for ever wishing to have never known more about his destiny. He was now sure it was better this way.

 

II

 

The sun was setting as the royal lion left his mate asleep in the thicket of dried grasses. Dry season was almost over now, and the life-giving rains would soon wash away death and bring new life. The pond at which Simba stood was the most dependable source of water he knew.

Simba leaned over the surface of the body of water, careful to keep his balance. He drank thirstily, thinking with a smirk, "Jeez, I didn't have much time even to drink since about sunrise." He laughed in spite of himself. It felt good to laugh and lighten up. It helped poor Nala some, too. Simba then remembered how helpful Timon's wisecracks and Pumbaa's wise words had helped him before.

Simba was quite different when he first met Timon and Pumbaa in the jungle. At night, for many weeks, he would cry himself to sleep, blaming himself for Mufasa's death. Timon and Pumbaa never caught him, but they had a sneaking suspicion that something wasn't right. They always knew when and how to cheer him up.

Nowadays, Simba was so tense with his problems that he totally forgot about them. It sure had been a long time since they've made him laugh. He wished he could just stop worrying about trivial things and get back to what really mattered.

Thinking of Nala again, Simba reinforced the idea that it was good he had faced the past and came back to the land that was rightfully his. He knew the benefits far outweighed what he was missing out on. Relaxation could have gotten boring, had he even conquered the problems of the past.

The abrupt snapping of a nearby branch interrupted a thought simmering in his mind. Simba froze, ears intently searching out more clues as to the cause. "Oh, gods. I'm so paranoid," he finally sighed after a few moments. "It was probably just a weasel or something like that." He bent downward and took another drink.

Several yards behind Simba, a shadowy figure crept up from behind stealthily. It had four legs, a tail, but it was hard to tell what else. It was either a hyena or a lion. It had a mane, whatever it was.

Simba shuddered when he felt he was being watched. He whirled around to face his assailant. The attacker dashed at him, growling menacingly. Simba took the charge head-on, swiping at the dark figure with an outstretched paw. The attacker backpedaled, obviously surprised by Simba's quick response and agility.

"I'm not as slow as you would think," Simba hissed sarcastically. "Who are you?"

A dark lion materialized out of the shadow of the trees. He was frighteningly familiar. "Your worst nightmare." Growled the black-maned lion. Simba studied him carefully. He had green eyes that shone like emeralds, the juvenile equivalent of a black mane, and angular features that mirrored Taka's quite closely. "You killed my father!" growled the lion.

"Who are you? Your father? What are you saying?"

"I am Nunka, the son of Taka. You murdered my father without cause. I must have revenge."

Simba was speechless. Gathering what little confidence he had, he retorted, "You and what army?"

"Oh, ho, ho!" the lion chuckled eerily. "You have no idea." This sent slivers of ice down Simba's spine. "You'll get yours, believe me. Later, man." The lion dashed off into the darkened brush before Simba could stop him.

It was all coming together now. The mass killings that plagued the Pridelands were the work of a vengeful lion and his pride. The lion was possibly related to Taka. It is common knowledge that some male lions rule two prides, even at great distances. Simba knew exactly what Taka's son was after; his land, his throne, and worst of all, what Taka wanted most: Nala.

It was a terrifying thought. Even worse, what if his lionesses betrayed him and became loyal to Taka's son? He knew Nala would stand behind him; she was young, strong, and rebellious. But the others were tired of fighting. Simba had to restore order to the chaos Taka had left behind.

Just as confused as he was earlier, Simba decided to give it a rest and laid down next to Nala. She was trembling slightly in the cool wind of the night, but she purred when Simba lay close to her and embraced her with his strong forepaw. He lay his head down next to Nala's, gently caressing her soft cheek with his muzzle. Nala smiled blissfully, dreamily opening her eyes. "My love," she breathed quietly.

"We can't sleep much longer," Simba warned. "We're being observed." He motioned his head to the brush beyond the clearing they lay in.

"Huh?" Nala yawned and blinked her eyes. "By who?"

"It doesn't matter. It's not important. Get some sleep."

Nala nodded her head and laid her head against Simba's broad chest. Simba purred softly and sweetly, lulling his mate back to sleep. Laying his head on hers, he kept a quiet watch over her for some time.

III

 

Simba's eyes shot open. It wasn't dark anymore. On the contrary, it was quite late in the morning. Nala wasn't at Simba's side anymore. "Huh?" Simba thought aloud. "Man, I must have fallen asleep." Somewhat stiff from the long night, he struggled to get up and walk over to the pool for a drink.

Leaning over the edge, he heard a rustle in the bushes. "Not again," he groaned. Quick as lightning, Nala shot out of the brush and shoved him into the water with her strong shoulder. Simba yelped in surprise, and didn't surface for some time. When he came up to gasp for air and climb and to the bank, he shook himself off and laughed.

"You're evil," he snorted.

Nala smiled. "It's supposed to be a game." She rushed at him and leapt on top of him. "Remember?"

"Oh, a game!" Simba spoke thoughtfully. "Well, I've got a better idea for a game." Simba leaned closer and whispered something into her ear. Nala's eyes widened, and she grinned devilishly.

"Simba!" she exclaimed. "You have such a one-track mind." She gave him that love bite on the ear that would always set his senses on fire. In return, he gently groomed her chin with his tongue. Simba could tell from her soft purr and closed eyes that she was enjoying this attention.

Nala moved into a more cooperative position. Simba nuzzled her with his chin, eyes closed. He was quite ready to initiate the act when—

—"Hey Simba!" a tiny voice shouted out from the lions' periphery. "What gives?" Simba froze, slowly opening his eyes and tracing the voice back to its source. There stood his best friends, yet biggest thorns in his side, Timon and Pumbaa.

Senses finally kicking in, Simba yelped, "Ahh!?! What are you guys doing here?" He backed away from Nala.

Timon was scratching his head. "Here, we thought you were gone doing something worthwhile, and it turns out you're here with Nala, and you're…Aw, JEEZ!" He turned away in disgust.

Pumbaa put an arm around Timon's shoulder. "Relax, old buddy! He's our pal. And young love is so cute!"

Timon scowled. "It's the work of Satan, that's what it is."

Nala was looking around herself, obviously embarrassed by the recent chain of events. "You know," she interrupted. "I think I hear mother calling." She dashed off in one direction.

Appearing very flustered, Simba looked pleadingly at his friends. Seeing the angry scowl on Timon's face and the usual happy smiling face on Pumbaa, he galloped away too. "Nala, wait for me!"

 

IV

 

Simba pressed onward towards home, pondering the situation at hand. Trying to suppress the fiery passion that was burning within, he deeply considered the possibility that Taka had time for another pride while Simba was in exile. However much the idea angered Simba; it was irrelevant; he needed to look for the facts.

In the scorching heat of the late dry season, Pride Rock shimmered like a mirage in the distance. Simba saw a small cluster of lionesses at the base of the cliff and smiled. He was home at long last. He let out a moderately loud roar. The lionesses echoed him and he knew it was them. It was good to hear familiar voices again.

As he neared, his mother approached him. "Oh, Simba," she called out to him, relieved to know he was still alive. She galloped over to him happily and embraced him. Simba was immediately put at ease by his mother's warm, comforting presence. Sarabi playfully tousled the wild strands of his mane. "My," she exclaimed. "I think you've grown since I last saw you."

"Mother," Simba protested. "Not in public."

"Oh." Sarabi hung her head. Raising it again, she smiled. "Sorry, but you'll always be my little lion cub." Simba groaned audibly. "There's no changing it."

After several minutes of the reunion with the rest of the lionesses, Sarabi questioned her son. "Simba, something's up with you. Is something wrong? Are you lovesick for Nala? I know how it feels myself to be head-over-heels in love.

"That's not my only problem. Sure I'm heartsick, but I have other issues left unresolved."

"What are they?"

"I always thought Taka killed father because he was just plain evil. But I'm getting these feelings, and now, I'm not quite so sure he was totally guilty."

"Simba, let me tell you. Mufasa and Taka's mother and father loved both of their sons, but only one could become king. There only way there was to choose was by whom was born first. That was Mufasa."

She continued, "Taka loved his brother too, but he was foretold in a prophecy that his very own brother would be his downfall. He had already lost the kingdom to Mufasa, and he didn't want to lose me as well. He was desperate, and his decisions became history."

"I guess we may never find out." Simba shrugged. "Whether or not he had a reason, however, I still would have beat the living tar out of him." Sarabi didn't laugh at this, and Simba didn't blame her.

After a moment of silence, Sarabi asked, "Have you happened to have seen Nala anytime recently?"

"Yeah, just this morning. We ran off in opposite directions for reasons, which I will not go into detail about. She went toward…" Simba trailed off in shock. "Toward enemy territory!"

"But why?"

Simba flushed slightly, quite embarrassed. He had to tell at least his own mother, though. "Well, Timon and Pumbaa, they caught Nala and I, I mean…"

"Well," Sarabi responded, smiling in her motherly way. "I'm not so sure I can call you my little lion cub anymore."

"Mother!" Simba groaned.

"Sorry, I just can't help myself." She smiled warmly.

"I have to go help her. She could be in danger." He quickly nuzzled his mother good-bye. "See you soon, I hope." He turned and galloped away towards enemy land.

"Fare thee well, my son," Sarabi called out.

Within a matter of hours, Simba caught on to Nala's trail. "Yeah, that's her, all right. I know her scent anywhere." He followed a nearby path of lioness paw-prints for several kilometers. They led into a forest clearing.

Peering about in the dense foliage, he saw Nala. She was surrounded on all sides by hyenas. Nunka was in the center of the ring with her. "Damn," Simba muttered to himself. "What horrible luck." A deep growl from behind jarred him from his observation. He flipped about to see that Lebo was staring at him.

"What are you doing here?" Lebo half-whispered, half-growled.

Simba glared at the jewelry-adorned, tattooed lion. "I'm trying to save your niece."

"Well, you're going about it the wrong way. Strength in numbers is the main idea here."

"I don't need numbers. I'm going to create a diversion."

"Better be one hell of a diversion. Look at how many of them there are."

Another voice, even more gruff than Simba's or Lebo's, entered the conversation. "Damned straight!" Simba and Lebo turned to face Nunka. He was grinning at them evilly. "Looks like you two bit off more than you can chew." He motioned to the hyenas. "Kill them!"

Simba gasped. There were at least twenty hyenas charging in his direction. "Run, run, RUN!" he shouted to himself as he whipped around and bounded away. He kept checking behind him to see if Lebo was following him. He wasn't. When Simba resumed looking ahead, he saw a particularly mean-looking hyena in his path. The lion king halted his flight, recognizing him.

The hyena bared his teeth and growled. "So, the king has returned."

"I'm afraid so, K'empec. And you aren't going to mess me up like you did to Treize, either." Every time Simba heard the name K'empec, he was filled with an intense rage. This hyena led the ambush party that murdered the lone warrior so long ago. "You coward," Simba spat back.

"What might you know about courage? How about honor? Your grandparents are responsible for the impoverished and the hungry clan members that roam the Shadowlands every night. Because of them, I must deal with the cries of hungry hyena pups. You are descended from those cowards, thus, you are stained with the blood they have shed."

"It's not as hard as you make it out to be." Simba knew that K'empec was the head of the hunting party, and he knew exactly how the clan was faring. Simba had seen him hunt out of bounds on a regular basis. "You don't even obey the law. The rest of your clan is going hungry, and in the meantime, you have the easy life." Simba glared momentarily at his nemesis. "Give me one guess; you're involved somehow with Nunka."

"You aren't as stupid as you look."

"The family tradition continues." Simba emphatically hissed, "Traitors." K'empec growled and lunged at Simba. In a single graceful motion, Simba sidestepped the attack and held the hyena down with his forepaw. "Listen up. If you mess with Nala, you're messing with me. If she is harmed in any way, shape, or form, I'll hunt you down and tear you up into tiny cubes." Now using his claws, Simba gripped tighter. K'empec winced. "Believe me, you'll wish you were dead." He gripped tighter, causing the hyena to yelp, then raked his back as he released, withdrawing blood-covered claws.

K'empec limped to a safe distance, taking a moment to examine his wounds. There were several large gashes and streaks of blood all along his back. He bled profusely. The wounds were likely to leave a scar. "You'll pay for that," K'empec started, but Simba interrupted him with an ear-splitting roar. K'empec dashed away. Finally freed, Simba left to find Nala.

Seeing that Nala was still surrounded by hyenas, he courageously dashed into the circle, shoving his way through the throng. After pushing his way in, he began to notice that the hyenas were cursing at him and insulting him. He didn't like it one bit, but Nala mattered more to him. He would rather die with her than leave her to face their farce of a justice system alone. Seeing her eyes clouded with exhaustion, Simba sighed deeply.

The circle suddenly parted, and Nunka marched into the crowd, accosted by K'empec. The four carnivores squared off, measuring their odds in the match-up. Even though Nunka had the hyenas on his side, he didn't want to mess with older lions. Especially considering how much his appearance had pissed them off.

After several standoffish moments, Simba finally took the initiative to speak. "Okay, Nunka. What 's the deal?"

Nunka slowly circled them, eerily mirroring the strategy Taka had used when Simba returned to reclaim the throne. Like father, like son. "We are going to trial over the issue of Treize's descendents."

Simba shook his head. "No deal. You'll have it rigged."

"Oh, I prefer to think of it as having the odds tipped in my favor. Guilty until proven innocent for once. That means you'll have to try to win. Besides, I doubt you have the choice to resist. You see, our pride struck up a hunting deal with the hyenas. In exchange for their loyalty, they have hunting rights in our territory."

"So you need a clan of scavengers to do your dirty work," Simba replied with distaste.

"What in the name of the gods did Treize do?" Nala asked with increasing rage.

"He hunted in our territory, defied my father's decree, and ignored the laws of both the hyenas and the lions. On top of that, he mated unmarried with an underage lioness. The list goes on if you really care that much."

Nala growled angrily. "Why is it my fault? He died way before I was born!"

"Things like this tend to run in the family lines," Nunka responded. "It's a safe bet that you mated with Simba before you were married."

"But I wasn't underage!" Nala protested, enraged with Nunka's accusations.

"Nala!" Simba interjected.

"Aha!" Nunka shouted. "So you admitted it. I thought so."

Nala blushed angrily. "Why you!" she growled as she cuffed him quite forcibly with her stronger paw. He put a paw to his face and discovered that she had drawn blood. K'empec advanced toward Nala, but Nunka held a paw out to stop him.

"Just add that to her list of charges." Taka's son told the hyena. Nala screamed and tried to hit him again, so Simba forced himself between them and held the antagonistic apart. "As a matter of fact," Nunka rasped, "I'm pissed. Just kill her."

A roar from out of sight caught everyone's attention. Simba and Nala saw their opportunity and fled. In the midst of the confusion, no one noticed their hasty escape except for Nunka. He shouted for his hyenas to follow them, but it was impossible to hear him above the uproar. By the time everyone realized that they had escaped, Simba and Nala were well on their way home.

 

V

 

Simba opened his eyes again. It was a beautiful evening, and the pink and violet hues of the setting sun added to the ambient beauty. They were finally safe from Nunka and the hyenas. He awoke in a passionate, protective embrace with Nala. Her chin rested against his chest. Nala's warmth with his was blissfully comforting.

Using his free paw, Simba gently brushed Nala's face. She held him closer. He caressed her flanks gently. She purred ecstatically and opened her eyes, gazing into his. They smiled simultaneously. Nala laid her head on his shoulder trustingly and sighed. "Don't tell me, we're being watched again," she barely whispered.

Simba quietly responded, "It'll be okay, sweet-heart." The gentleness in his voice and the tenderness of his words soothed her. She relaxed and purred softly as she continued to hug him. Her tail brushed gently under his sensitive chin, arousing him noticeably. "I have this awful feeling we're going to be interrupted. We'd better get home while we can." Nala agreed silently. Aroused as they were, the lions ventured homeward.

Timon and Pumbaa loitered around near Pride Rock. It had been so long since Simba had time for either of them. "Sheesh," Timon exclaimed to his buddy, "What do I have to do to get Simba's attention? Dress in drag and do the hula?"

"I don't know, Timon," Pumbaa replied. "He's pretty stuck on Nala anymore."

"I know. Ever since that she-devil of a lioness showed up. I haven't gotten a word in edgewise. He's so into that baloney chivalry junk."

"Buddy, do you remember Treize?"

"Yeah, he's the only lion besides Nala I ever had to run away from during my time in the jungle. I should have realized he was Nala's father. They're both curses."

"Maybe most lions just don't like you," Pumbaa pointed out. "He entrusted me with a few secrets. He told me some things about his life. He would have been a great pal, just like Simba is. Of course, he only stopped showing up because he sorta got killed."

Before Timon could wager a response, strange roars rang out from nearby. "Oh, great!" the meerkat whined. "More trouble."

When Timon and Pumbaa arrived on the scene, they found their pride face to face with Nunka's, and several dozen hyenas. There was an air of tension on both sides. Neither side seemed well prepared for a conflict. Thus, for several minutes, both parties glared nervously at each other. It was quite a while before another roar broke the silence. The tension on the home pride's side lessened; it was Simba and Nala.

"Who are you?" Simba asked, addressing the lioness that stood beside Nunka.

"The name is Elanna. Taka was my mate."

"Nala strode alongside Simba. "Sure seems like he was a busy guy," she noted. "He had time for any lioness he could want."

Elanna cuffed Nala, enraged. "Don't ever speak of Taka in that tone," she growled bitterly. Nala looked away in disgust. Nunka pushed in between them.

"Mother, stand back," he commanded. "Nala, because of your mate, my father is dead."

"Because of your father, mine died a long time ago. I never met him."

Nunka was caught off guard by Nala's response. Gathering his remaining courage, he looked at Simba. "Everyone connected with the death of Taka shall pay, regardless if their relation is blood…or marriage."

"You touch Nala and I'll-"

"-You'll what? Do to me what you did to Taka? She's going to see trial whether you like it or not." Simba suddenly noticed the hyenas closing in on the pride and faltered slightly. "Everyone will pay."

Holding his head high, staring his opposition down, Simba growled, "You bastard." There was noticeable venom in his voice on the last word. Tension gave way to preparation for battle. Everyone was prepared for the worst. Nunka narrowed his eyes. Simba was ready to be hit for his remark. Oddly enough, it didn't happen.

"Yes, this is true," Nunka agreed. He looked at Nala. "But a little off subject. Here's the deal: we're holding Nala on your bond. If you try to interrupt the extradition, we'll kill every last one of you. Nala will not be allowed to hunt, scavenge, or eat in any manner.

"Simba, you will go on trial for both your sins and those of your ancestors. If we acquit you, Nala is freed as well. If you're found guilty, both of you starve. If you want everything to stop, plead for Nala's mercy, and you take the consequences on by yourself."

Sarafina growled angrily. Sarabi just shook her head sadly. Seeing that no one was going to speak up for her daughter, Sarafina stepped forward and declared, "You'll do no such thing to my daughter!"

"I can and will."

"You aren't sinless yourself. Your father tried to rape my daughter!"

"My past is not on trial here."

"Like hell it isn't!" Simba roared above them. "How can you charge her with crimes of the past if they don't apply to you as well?" Nunka countered with a stiff cuff to the face. Simba felt for a wound, but there was none; Nunka hadn't used his claws. Simba shook off the blow and continued, "Your father killed mine. I can't forgive that, but I'm not going to blame you for his sins."

Nunka glared menacingly at Simba. "It starts now. If you wish to save Nala, you had better start preparing a defense now." Nunka paused to let this sink in, then motioned to the hyenas. "Take her."

Simba approached Nala cautiously and kissed her gently as she was led away by the hyenas. Tears welled up in his eyes as he saw how hopeless she was feeling. The despair in her beautiful green eyes was a dagger in his gentle heart. Nunka seemed to watch with unfeeling eyes, however, when he saw the crying lion king, he seemed sorrowful and penitent. When Nunka realized the mob was watching his every move, he hardened up again and returned to his cold gaze.

Simba turned away from the crowd. Sensing his pain, Sarabi held him in her strong arms. He closed his eyes and leaned his head against her, tears streaming from his eyes. Simba's mother knew most kings would consider this display of emotion wrong, a sign of weakness, but everyone within Simba's kingdom, including his ancestors, considered it a sign of strength. It's difficult for someone to weep in front of the kingdom, and it only makes one stronger.

Whether or not Simba realized this, he felt weak and alone in the universe at the moment. He felt so despondent that he didn't notice the palpable wave of doubt and hesitation that flooded through the crowd of hyenas. There was a steady hum of contrite murmurs from them.

K'empec shouted above them. "If any of you cowards think of treason, I'll have you sentenced to death here and now!" Sarabi glared at him angrily over her son's shoulder.

Simba wiped his eyes and gathered himself. "When does the trial begin?" he asked weakly.

"Soon enough," Nunka responded. Seeing another tear glisten in Simba's eye, Nunka faltered again. Simba moved away from Sarabi and looked into Nunka's eyes.

"Nunka," he said softly. "You think I'm weak because I'm crying. I'm not. I'm consistent, unlike you. You're the weak one. You can't even bring yourself to carry out your revenge. If you think I deserve to die, then just kill me. I'm tired of suffering."

"Is what Simba says true?" K'empec asked.

"You're a lot like Taka, Nunka," Simba added.

"Don't you dare call my father weak!" Nunka shouted. Simba just sniffed in response, not surprised by the reaction. Nunka reached back and hit Simba again. Simba just hung his head despondently, eyes shut, still crying somewhat. K'empec pushed his way in front of Nunka.

"Nunka, this is getting nowhere," the hyena spoke. Let us leave him to work on his defense."

"Are you questioning my judgement?" Nunka inquired furiously.

"You're insane," Simba hissed. "Can't you just kill me?" Simba wasn't quite sure, but he thought he saw a tear form in Nunka's eye. He didn't find out, for Nunka brushed at that side of his face with his paw.

 

VI

 

The lion king felt quite lonely that evening. There were still several hours until the trial was set to start, and he had spent most of his time in seclusion. He was glad when the lionesses would come by to comfort him. When Simba would state that he was an awful king and didn't know a thing about ruling a kingdom, R'ana reassured him. "Simba, no one knows everything about ruling a kingdom. A good king knows this and allows everyone in it to help him. If kings never needed help, there wouldn't be prides." R'ana gently placed her paw on his shoulder. "We're here for you. We'll get Nala out of this one way or another."

"Yes, we will. Even if I have to surrender," Simba whispered hoarsely.

"Simba, they'll kill you!"

"If that's what it takes to save my beloved, then so be it." He cast his gaze at his feet sadly. R'ana moved closer and embraced him sympathetically. His eyes misted again. He shut them and hugged back with what strength he hadn't lost yet that day. "God, damn it; I love her."

"You're a good soul, and you have a gentle and loving heart, Simba," R'ana purred softly. Simba purred back weakly, attempting to soothe himself. "We're honored to have you as our king," she continued. "We all love you, no matter what you do, and so does Nala. Don't give up hope just yet."

A tear trickled from the corner of Simba's eye. "Thank you," he whispered, brushing it away. He nuzzled R'ana and walked to the far corner of the den. He laid down on the frigid limestone and rested his head on his paws. He thought back again to the crushing moment where he saw his father die. Why did Taka have to make what was simple so complicated?

A short time later, Zazu fluttered in cautiously, expecting to deal with a crushed lion king. Simba seemed a great deal more composed, so Zazu relaxed a little. "Sire," he began. "The opening arguments are about to start."

Simba acknowledged Zazu without even opening his eyes. "Thank you Zazu. I'll be there shortly." After he was sure he heard Zazu leave, Simba opened his eyes and gathered himself for the trial. He licked his paw and groomed his face quickly before stepping outside into the failing daylight.

It was a smaller crowd this time. Simba's pride was there; and Nunka had only K'empec and about a dozen hyenas with him. Simba noted that neither Shenzi, Banzai, nor Ed were present. "Funny," Simba thought aloud. "I figured somehow they'd be at the center of this mess.

"Who?" Sarabi asked as she joined her son's side.

"Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed."

"They probably feel stupid enough for being involved in the death of your father. I doubt they want to go on with this silly legal stuff any more than you do."

"Point taken."

Nunka approached them. "Here's how this is going to work. I am going to pose as prosecutor and ask the questions. You can have Rafiki and yourself be the defense attorneys." He waved at K'empec. "He'll be here to keep the proceedings under control. And these twelve hyenas here will pass the verdict."

Sarafina protested, "Can't you have at least one lion on that jury?"

Nunka shook his head. "If Simba's as good as I hear with his power of speech, he can get even the meanest, most prejudiced animal to listen to his view. This is to keep the odds even."

"How's that?"

"He's an excellent speaker and can be very persuasive. He could be guilty, but still somehow convince the jury he was justified with his powers of persuasion. I'm willing to bet he's a hypnotist."

Simba stepped forward. "If we're doing this, we're going to start off on the right foot. Absolutely no allegations. I'm here to defend against the charges, not speculation or allegation. Stick with the matter at hand, and don't try to distract the jurors."

Nunka eyed him warily. "As you wish, your majesty."

"Then let's begin."

 

VII

 

Nunka began after a period of tense silence. "You might say that you know a lot about your family history, would you, Simba?"

Simba thought for a moment. "I know just about everything. My father told me many stories about our lineage when I was little."

"But how much did you retain? How accurate is your memory? Did you even pay attention most of the time?"

"One question at a time! I listened very carefully. I loved my father, and I found his tales very interesting."

"But how do you know what your father was telling you was true?"

"He never lied. Never. Taka was the only one that ever lied." The hyenas were listening carefully. Nunka was already quite nervous. "Those lies destroyed my life."

"But they didn't kill you. Now, about the ban on hunting by hyenas in the Pridelands; why did your grand-parents do that?"

"Avina, one of our young pride lionesses was murdered brutally by a band of hyenas that didn't obey the laws of the clan. She was severely injured by a hartebeest she was stalking. Shaka, her adolescent mate went into hyena territory, demanding justice. Amarakah, the Roh'mach at the time, ignored him. Shaka went wild with rage, killing several hyenas before he was killed himself.

"That night, Ahadi and Akasae met with the hyenas and decided it would be in everyone's best interest if the hyenas and lions each had their own territory to hunt in."

"But Simba, the Shadowlands are desolate. There's no hunting to be done there. That was a sentence of poverty Ahadi laid on them."

"The hyenas disobeyed the laws. Even so, I've been tempted myself to lift the ban and allow the hyenas into their rightful land."

"You're just saying that."

"Not at all. I mean it."

Nunka shook his head. "Next issue: why you killed Taka. What was your justification for killing him?"

"He admitted to me that he killed Mufasa. That's all the justification I needed. I was going to outcast him, but he tried to kill me first while I was unprepared for such an attack."

"But you didn't learn until you came back that he killed Mufasa. What was your motive for returning?"

"The throne was rightfully mine. I came to reclaim my kingdom."

"You didn't deserve it if you thought you were responsible for his death."

"I may have thought I was responsible, but I was just a child. I couldn't understand how I could have been, and as I am becoming an adult, I realize that it could only have been an accident. It doesn't matter; Taka killed him."

"It does matter. I think you had murder on your mind."

"I didn't even kill him. The hyenas did."

"I know a good hundred or so hyenas that would disagree with you."

"Even you know that's a lie." Simba glared disdainfully at Nunka. "Why are you preaching something that's so untrue?"

"I'm just telling you what the numerous witnesses told me."

"And are any of those witnesses lions by chance?"

"That's privileged information."

"I'd like to see some of your witnesses on the stand."

"You'll have your chance; don't worry. Now, if you thought you were responsible for Mufasa's death, why did you return?"

"Didn't you already ask that?"

"I'm the one asking questions. Answer them."

Sarabi bolted upright. "Objection! Stop asking the same thing!"

K'empec paused in thought for a moment. "Objection sustained."

"What?" Nunka roared.

"You heard me. Stop asking the witness the same thing. You're just wasting time."

"Then I have no further questions; for now." Nunka retreated to his entourage of hyenas while Simba rejoined his pride. Taka's son seemed disappointed at how calm and composed Simba was during the questioning. He was even more flustered when Simba calmly walked away to be alone during the lull in the proceedings.

Hours after nightfall, Simba was allowed to visit Nala for a short time. When he found her, she was already quite weak. Her weakness in turn made him feel weak. Her fur was dull and matted. Her gorgeous blue-green eyes didn't shine the way they used to. It had already been days since the pride had eaten. None of the pride members were in prime shape to begin with. Simba knew he didn't have very long to save Nala.

She opened her eyes, looked up at him, and purred weakly. It was so painful to see Nala this way for Simba. Starvation was the worst way for a lion to die. Simba lay close to her and embraced her as strongly as he could. She laid her head on his shoulder. Simba felt her hot tears fall on his back.

She seemed to be chilled, but she was glad he was there so she could conserve energy. After a long silence, Simba spoke. "Nala, I missed you."

"I missed you too, Simba," she responded weakly.

"Sweetheart, I'm sorry about the whole thing."

"It's not your fault. Don't let it get to you."

Tears formed in Simba's eyes, but he blinked them away. "Nala, I won't let you die." He closed his eyes and turned his head away in shame when the guard returned. "Not now," Simba begged.

"Time's up, your highness," the hyena replied flatly. "Let's make this easy on both of us." The step the hyena took toward Simba was a mistake. Simba growled and grounded the hyena with a single blow to the face. The guard was knocked unconscious instantaneously.

"Simba, what was that for?" Nala asked weakly.

"I'm getting you out of here."

"They'll kill you."

"I'm already dead. Let's go."

With what energy the lions had left, the lions rushed away before the other guards could reach the scene of the noise and find out what happened and raised the alarm. Simba and Nala headed for their only refuge in sight: the jungle.

When they felt they had made sufficient progress, the half-starved lions slept through the day so as to keep out of sight. That evening, Nala spotted a zebra that had been separated from the herd. Simba, who was rarely a good hunter from the ground, took advantage of his napping spot in the branches of a tree. He landed squarely on its back and dug in with his claws, holding on as tight as he could. Simba then clamped down on its throat with his jaws.

After several minutes of suffocation, the zebra stumbled and slipped to the ground. Simba became slightly careless and relaxed slightly. This mistake allowed the zebra to free itself and kick Simba in the side. Still in shock from the blow, Simba didn't notice the blood trickling from a nasty wound on his side. He knew Nala needed to eat as soon as possible. He knew he had to do something.

Simba bit down on the zebra's neck so hard, he heard it snap as he broke it. After casting a quick glance into the jungle, he noticed Nala was at least a few hundred meters away. She seemed really weak, so he steeled himself and began to drag at the carcass.

Centimeter by centimeter, Simba pulled the heavy creature along with all of his strength. The blood from his wound poured down the side of his body, but he didn't pause to wipe it away. There was very little time left.

Simba's muscles cried out in exhaustion. His body's stores of energy were depleted. He didn't have long himself at this point. At least he had dragged the kill into the shade for Nala. But the last of his energy was gone. He collapsed and blacked out on the cool, damp earth of the jungle.

Through what seemed like the inky darkness of eternity, a very bright light glared through his eyelids. Pain. He awoke with a splitting ache in his side. Hunger made him numb elsewhere. Nala was grooming him, as if to rouse him from his sleep.

"You're alive," she whispered. "Thank the gods. Eat," she commanded.

"Have you had enough?"

"Yes. But eat, before the scavengers find the kill." Nala had already dragged the remains of the zebra over to him. He thanked her as he weakly bit into the kill.

After an hour of gorging himself, Simba slept soundly, embracing Nala lovingly. He was warm, full, and free of cares for the time being. Nala purred in gentle harmony with him, making him all that much more satisfied. He did not awake for hours.

Much later, Simba awoke with Nala resting her head on his chest. Into her ear, he whispered, "I love you." She purred quite audibly. His own purr kept her happily asleep. These wonderful feelings made Simba wish this could go on forever. He rested his chin on her shoulder and closed his eyes, continuing to purr.

A few more hours passed. Nala was nuzzling him somewhat seductively. He was quickly wide-awake and alert. "Are you trying to seduce me?" Simba asked wryly.

"Actually, I am," she replied just as wryly. Simba's eyes widened ever so slightly. "There's your motivation to survive." She raised an eyebrow inquisitively. "Clear?"

"Crystal, " Simba replied, nodding emphatically. Then, much to Nala's surprise, Simba gave her a thorough grooming with his tongue. He slowly and passionately cleaned every square centimeter of her. Nala closed her eyes, trying not to tremble excessively as she became intoxicated with his attention. After Simba slowly went over her face, ears, chest, and chin; then her neck, paws, stomach, and sides, she was breathing heavily and insanely aroused.

Considering how alert and excited Simba was, Nala must have been producing pheromones like crazy. Nala, lying on her back, hugged him lovingly around the neck and licked his face gently. As she was burning up in desire, she whispered quietly, "Forget the motivation for later. Take me now. I'm begging you."

Simba smiled warmly. "You're begging me?"

"From the bottom of my heart. Please." Nala turned over impatiently. Simba hugged her around the waist and softly nipped her neck. She moaned quietly out of pleasure. Pain from Simba was the kind she loved most. She turned her head back and nipped at his chin. Both were in pure ecstasy and had their eyes fully closed. Nala purred intensely as Simba caressed her flanks and kissed her neck. She was in total, carefree abandon as he pressed himself closer to her.

 

IX

 

Simba and Nala were active throughout the night and well into the next day. When they finally decided to give it a rest, they were completely exhausted. Simba and Nala drifted off in an intimate embrace. The lions were both purring softly and didn't rouse for several hours. They seemed to be having pleasant dreams for once.

When Simba awoke, he found himself lying on his back. Nala was draped lazily across him. He lay his head close to hers and closed his eyes again. Her head lay closely and intimately next to his. He softly kissed her neck and whispered, "I love you, sweetheart." Nala shifted and licked his ear. She embraced him gently, paws around his neck.

The sudden snapping of a nearby twig caused Nala to start and dig in with her claws out of fright. Simba yelped in pain. A shadowy figure crept out of the brush and joined them. His niece easily recognized his ethnic looks and bitter demeanor. "Lebo!" Nala exclaimed as she sat up on her haunches. "It's you!"

"Jeez, can't you be any sneakier?" Simba groaned as he stood.

"You're getting soft, Simba," Lebo muttered.

"What do you mean by that?"

"The lady has you going soft."

Simba's eyes narrowed as he growled, "It's a damn lucky thing you called her a lady. She's your niece and she deserves the respect."

"All I know is that I fend for myself. I worry about no one. I live free."

"You aren't really alive then. Nala's love for me and my love for her is all that keeps me waking up every day."

"Well look at the time we're wasting. If you hadn't interrupted, I could have told you that they're looking for you."

"So what's new? They couldn't find water in a puddle or termites in a termite mound."

Nala stepped between them. "Will you two stop with this stupid macho crap and look at what's important? We either hide or confront them."

Lebo sighed. The voice of reason. "She's right. We're just being stupid."

"You're much like your brother was," Nala noted.

"But he found love before he died." He sighed again. "He softened up in the end."

"You'll find it some day," Nala said gently. "As long as you can stay out of sight until these matters with Nunka are cleared up, you'll be fine." Nala looked at Simba. "Now, all we have to do is look out for ourselves."

As Simba and Nala gazed dreamily into each other's eyes, there was a sound like wind in the trees, but the leaves were still. They looked up quickly and saw that Lebo was gone without a trace. Simba shook his head in disbelief.

"How does he do that?" Simba asked.

"I don't know," Nala replied. "He seems magical, doesn't he?"

"Why did he take off in such a hurry?"

A low, deep voice joined the conversation. "My bad." Simba snapped to attention, noticing that they were joined by Nunka." Simba looked more than a little worried. "Oh, don't get bent out of shape. I'm here to keep you two out of trouble, not to get you guys in any deeper than you already are."

Simba laughed derisively. "Right. And I'm a baboon."

"No, listen!" Nunka said emphatically. "I thought about the things that you said. I think my mother is…er…has been feeding me lies my whole life. She's angry that Taka's dead and she wants revenge for it. What happened between him and Mufasa is not your problem. Above all, I don't want history repeating itself."

Nala frowned at his words. "You're expecting us to believe you after what you have done to us?"

"How do expect to break out of this endless circle of hatred if you don't open up to trust someone along the way?"

"Nala, he's right." Simba lowered his gaze. "How can I hate him so vehemently for what his father did and expect him not to hate me the same?"

"Now, will you listen to what I have to say?" Nunka asked intensely.

"Go ahead."

"They're looking for you right now. I threw them off the trail, but they'll figure it out sooner or later. You two have to hurry and find another place to be. I'll be with you as long as I can."

"Where do you suggest we go?" Nala inquired.

"There's a crater not far from here. It's called the Ngorongoro Crater. It's the last place they will guess you would go."

"Why is that?"

"That is where your family came from, Nala. Treize and his mother and father lived there until they were killed and Treize came to the Pridelands. My mother and K'empec will assume that you're going to avoid that place because they think you know they'll look there first."

Nala looked very confused. "That's an odd sort of logic if you ask me."

"Believe me," Nunka said. "I planned this very carefully."

Simba wasn't too trusting at the moment. "Understand this, Nunka," Simba declared. "If this is a trick, I will hunt you down to the ends of the earth and send you back to your family in small pieces."

Nunka seemed sincere enough. "This isn't a trick—I assure you. Let's just get moving before they find us here." Nunka was doing something totally odd: he seemed to be sniffing at the air. He suddenly made a beeline for a nearby mound of dirt. "We have company." He snarled.

A shrill yelp came from Timon the meerkat as he leapt out of his hiding place, shocked nearly out of his skin. Simba eyed him warily. "How long have you been there, Timon?" Simba asked.

"Timon? Me? No, no! I'm his evil brother…uh, Simone. Yeah, that's it," he squealed nervously. "You're gravely mistaken."

Timon, you're hopeless. Simba shook his head disgustedly. "Where's Pumbaa?"

"I don't know. I was looking for him."

"What is he doing around here for?"

"Looking for you two lovebirds!"

Simba scowled. "Why don't you just get a mate of your own so we can stop hearing about it?"

Timon was left speechless. When he found his voice, he growled, "That was low, man."

Simba hit himself on the head. "Sorry, buddy. I'm not with it lately."

Timon frowned. "Yeah, I've noticed."

 

X

 

Timon tried his best to keep up with the three lions. After some time, he gave up and decided to ride it out on Simba's shoulders. From his high perch, Timon asked, "Simba, what's wrong with you? First you're up, and then you're down. You start in that state of mushy lovesickness, then you're crying and wishing death on yourself."

"You're telling me that you never had adolescent angst and strife?" Simba inquired.

"I'm telling you that it was far too long ago to remember. Get over it, Simba. The world will make sense some day."

"Funny. I don't see the light at the end of the tunnel."

Nala stopped in front of them. "Jeez, give it a rest, you two. You sound like a married couple!" she exclaimed. When Timon and Simba glared at her as would be expected, she sighed in disgust.

Nunka stopped suddenly, ears prickled. "Sounds like food to me." Nunka leapt over the nearby rock and an ear-splitting sequel filled the air. Simba flinched. It sounded like a warthog.

Seconds later, Pumbaa dashed out from his cover and ran for his life, trying his best to escape the jaws of Nunka. Simba groaned to himself and jumped in front of the hungry carnivore.

"You can eat whatever you want, but leave my bud alone."

"GUYS GUYS ITSA TRAP ITSA TRAP!!!" Pumbaa cried frantically. "Aaah!!!"

"Pumbaa, relax!" Simba roared. "What is?"

"This is," called Elanna from outside the clearing. She advanced toward them with K'empec and a throng of hyenas at her side. "There is no escape. You must stand down. Return with us and face justice."

Simba looked into Nala's eyes, losing hope for a fleeting moment. Then he glared at Nunka, heart filling with rage. "You traitor."

Nunka blinked in surprise. "What? I didn't do anything!"

Elanna came closer to Nunka and embraced him. "Good work, my son."

Nala flushed with anger. "We trusted you," she spoke lowly.

"Your trust has been misplaced," K'empec mused. "Nala, your family is going to pay first; then Simba's."

Too shocked to speak, Simba and Nala allowed themselves to be led back to Pride Rock without a fight. They were even more shocked when they arrived. The lions found M'heetu and Sade lying together in their own blood. Nala cried out in anguish and ran over to their sides.

Both had deep bite wounds in their spines and lower backs. It looked like the work of a hyena's, or more likely several hyenas' jaws. Sade was still, and M'heetu's low groan was the only sign of life.

Nala buried her head in her brother's mane. "M'heetu, don't die on me!" she cried out. Elanna watched with unfeeling eyes. Simba noticed that Nunka seemed to be as shocked as they were, and maybe he was crying.

M'heetu's loving sister wept as she realized the full extent of her brother's injuries. Warm tears rolled down her face as Simba came over to hold her. Nala started when M'heetu coughed suddenly.

He opened his eyes after a moment, looking up into hers. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth as he weakly spoke, "Beloved sister. I'm so sorry."

"Sorry for what?" she sobbed. "You didn't do anything."

"I'm sorry we all have to take the blame for the silly charges Taka laid on our father. I'm sorry I won't be here to defend you anymore."

"No! Don't die!" She held his head in her paws. Then, she calmed down and whispered, "I love you, M'heetu."

"I love you too. Never take what you have for granted…" He struggled to breathe, if only to live a few more precious moments. "I knew the day Sade rescued me that we would be together forever." M'heetu struggled to kiss Sade's neck gently and lovingly as her soul let go. He then laid his head against hers and forever succumbed to the cool grip of death.

Something inside of Simba finally gave way. In a rage, he threw himself at Nunka. It took three lionesses from his own pride to keep him back. He spat an angry curse at Nunka's son. "Why? Why did you lie to us?" he asked in a fury, losing all composure. "Why did you arrange for these deaths?"

Elanna cut Nunka off before he could defend himself. "My son did what he believed was right. He got rid of those treacherous lions that put shame to all of us."

"Nunka furiously interrupted, "Simba, I was not involved! Trust me!"

"Why should I?" Simba shouted. Burn in Hell, murderer.

"I'm not taking this anymore!" Nunka yelled, tears of anger shining in his eyes. "I denounce you, mother!" He looked away from her and glared at his pride. "I denounce you and I denounce all of you hyena scum!" The hyenas murmured angrily.

Nunka moved to escape, but the hyenas and his own lionesses tried to block his way. He cuffed one so hard, he was sure he broke his neck. Another tried to leap on him from above as he rolled aside. A real vicious hyena, one he'd fought before, faced him and kept him from his escape.

The hyena swatted him hard with his paw. His claws left red streaks on Nunka's face. Enraged as he was, the pain didn't register in his mind. He leapt on the hyena, pushed him down, and bit down hard on the hyena's spine. The hyena let out a short wail of pain and was still.

Nunka turned to Simba. "I didn't lie," he whispered with blood trickling from his mouth. "You must believe me." He bowed his head and closed his eyes with an eerie sense of finality as K'empec approached him from behind and bit down on his neck. Nunka's features were strained slightly, but he made no sound. He lowered himself to the ground, Nunka holding on tightly.

After Nunka lost consciousness, K'empec released his grip and spoke with a corrupted power in his voice. "Nunka is a lion, an animal; therefore, he must obey the law. He killed other animals unjustly, so he must be put to death."

Simba growled lowly. "Step away from him, K'empec!" The hyena hesitated to move, so Simba began to walk toward him. The hyena hesitated no more. K'empec nervously backed away as Simba approached Nunka.

Nunka's eyelids fluttered slightly as Simba neared, and then he opened them. He gathered the strength he had left to say, "Simba, I have never felt true love. I locked my soul away years ago when my father died. I never trusted anyone but mother, and look where that got me…"

After a long shuddering breath, he put a paw on Simba's chest and continued, "You did what needed to be done to Taka. But this circle of hatred must end here. It's supposed to be the Circle of Life, correct?" Simba nodded grimly. "Let the killing stop here and now…Thank you for setting the example of love for all. I understand now…" Nunka drew his last breath and relaxed his grip on Simba's paw, which he'd been holding.

Everyone shed tears for Nunka. The hyenas and Elanna's pride left without a word. It seemed that the Circle of Hate had to be broken.

 

Epilogue

 

The physical wounds took mere weeks to heal; the emotional scars would take much longer. The sorrow of the months before was replaced with a new joy. Nala had given birth to a beautiful lioness cub.

At the summit of Pride Rock, preparations were made for the presentation. Nala's tears of joy shone bright in her eyes. She had a motherly aura about her, a new glowing beauty. But she hadn't lost an iota of her youthfulness.

When Rafiki made his way up to the pride, Nala gently handed the cub over to Sarabi and Sarafina to hold. Nala looked up at Simba and smiled. She half-asked, half-stated, "Kiara."

Simba smiled warmly. "That's a gorgeous name. A pretty name from a pretty mother." Nala smiled intensely. "Come on, let's go out there."

Simba and Nala slowly made their way to the edge of Pride Rock. When they reached the summit, the crowed cheered with jubilation. It was wonderful that the land went from total desolation to its former lush beauty and liveliness. It was a sign that the healing process had finally begun.

Nala and Simba nuzzled happily, allowing Timon and Pumbaa to be king of the world for a moment at the edge. Rafiki gently nudged between the loving lions and held up the lioness cub Kiara for all to see. The joy in Simba's heart hit a crescendo as he remembered.

 

 

Not too far off from the celebration, a nomad lioness, named Zira tended to her own cub. "Kovu, my son," she whispered to her lion cub, who still had his newborn spots. "You will avenge your father." She adored her son's green eyes, his red pelt; and she knew that some day, he would have a beautiful black mane.

 

TO BE CONTINUED

IN SIMBA'S PRIDE

 

 

 

]

 

 

 

 

 

Soundtrack

By Metallica:

"The Unforgiven"

"The Unforgiven II"

"Seek and Destroy"

 

From the Lion King

"The Circle of Life"

"Can You Feel the Love Tonight?"

 

By Faith No More:

"Epic"

 

By Led Zeppelin:

"Dazed and Confused"

 

By Peter Gabriel

"Red Rain"

 

In Memory of the Lion King