Chapter 2: Exploring the Kivuli

 

            That evening, as the distant mountain peaks shrugged aside the slowly cooling air like giants' shoulders and the indigo darkness faded into velvet night, Dhahabu curled up in his father's mane and nuzzled him, searching for comfort. "Dad? Do you think I'll ever see Tembo again? I really liked him..."

            Mfalme sighed and nuzzled him back. "I don't know, son, nor do I know if you should see him again."

            "You don't hate him because of his dad, do you?" Dhahabu jutted his chin out stubbornly.

            The Lion King laughed. "No, son. I rather liked Tembo. But his father is the reason I'm worried. I don't know what he'd do if he ever found you two together again."

            "Well, he just won't have to!" The golden cub nodded decisively. Then his face fell. "I don't know why he had to go and be so mean, anyway!"

            Mfalme gazed at him seriously. "Dhahabu, the Circle of Life turns for all, but not every animal can discern where he will be carried, or understand the purpose of the journey. Damu is one of these. He cannot see the savanna for the grass, for he thinks only of himself, of this moment, of the present pangs of hunger and thirst. What you must learn if you are to be a good Lion King is that there will always be animals like Damu. You cannot avoid them, any more than you can avoid your place in the Circle. They will always be lurking in the shadows, waiting to drag you down. But a good king will always overcome them because he will trust in the Circle. Those who do not abide by its laws are soon shown the error of their way. You must stand as an example, manifest to all the animals the Circle's wisdom. You can only defeat the Damus of this life by rising above them."

            Dhahabu's eyes had grown perceptibly wider as his father had spoken. Now he stood proud and erect, feet planted firmly on Mfalme's shoulder. "I can do it, Dad! I won't let you down!"

            Mfalme chuckled. "My brave young cub, it's time you were asleep."

            "Awww, Dad..."

            "The first sign of wisdom is knowing when to obey," the Lion King observed casually.

            Dhahabu took the hint and buried himself in his father's mane once more. As he fell asleep, he vowed to himself that he would be the greatest Lion King he could be, so that all the Tembos of the Kiburi Pride need never fear the Damus again.

 

***

 

            The fiery yellow ball of the sun hung high overhead as Dhahabu approached the waterhole the next afternoon. No other animals were in sight, for it was the hottest part of the day. He would never have ventured out himself, if not for his thirst.

            As he lapped up the cool, refreshing water, the cub eyed his reflection. He hoped he would be big and strong one day, or he would never be able to be the king his father wanted him to be. As it was now, it appeared Sulubu would always be bigger and stronger than he was...

            When he had finished slaking his thirst, Dhahabu walked along the edge of the waterhole, searching for his siblings. He found them at last not far away, busily devouring termites from an enormous mound of dirt. "Hey, Taraji, Sulubu!"

            His sister looked up curiously, but Sulubu didn't even twitch an ear, so intent was he on the line of termites crawling up the mound.

            "You guys want to play?" Dhahabu asked hopefully.

            "Sure, bro!" Taraji smiled.

            "I'd rather hunt..." Sulubu muttered.

            "That's all you ever want to do!" Dhahabu complained.

            Sulubu looked up and smirked. "You're one to talk. Seems to me you could use a little help in that department!"

            Dhahabu glared at him. "And I suppose you're gonna give it to me, O mighty hunter?"

            The dark cub sighed, and all his superiority fell away. Suddenly his face was that of a concerned brother. Rising to his feet, Sulubu walked over to stand in front of Dhahabu. "Sure I will, if you want me to."

            Dhahabu blinked. "You-you mean it? You're not just...teasing me?"

            Sulubu smiled. "Dhahabu, you're my brother, and you're gonna be the Lion King someday. How would it look if you had to depend on your brother to do all your hunting?"

            Dhahabu swiped playfully at him. "Sulubu..."

            "I'm just kidding. But really, you have to learn sometime, and Dad can't do it all. He has the whole pride to watch out for. When was the last time he took you out for hunting practice?"

            "Ummm..."

            "Just as I thought. Come on, bro." Sulubu nuzzled him and then loped up the hillside. At the top he paused. "Well? I'm starving--aren't you?"

            Dhahabu grinned. "You bet I am!"

 

 

            "The problem you had yesterday with Tembo was you didn't listen." Sulubu sat in the shade of an acacia tree with his brother, while Taraji lay with her head on her paws a few feet away, watching with a smirk; she wasn't going to miss this for anything! She watched Dhahabu hanging on his brother's every word and giggled quietly.

            "Yeah, you're right, Sulubu! That's it exactly! I heard a rustling in the grass, but I didn't stop to think how big the animal had to be."

            Sulubu smiled. "Of course I'm right. When you hunt, you have to use all your senses--your ears as well as your eyes and nose. Take it from me, I'm a natural."

            "So where do we start?" Dhahabu asked eagerly.

            "Something small, like a mouse."

            Dhahabu scowled, but didn't argue.

            Sulubu warned his brother to be still and then crouched down as low as he could possibly go. Soundlessly he crept through the grass toward the base of the tree, where a fallen log rotted--the perfect place for a mouse to nest. Dhahabu watched breathlessly as his brother drew up next to the log. Sulubu's hind end quivered, his claws dug into the dirt, and his tail lashed madly. Then...

            "RRRRRR!" Sulubu landed with his paws clasped inside the darkened interior of the log. Backing up, he turned and strutted over to his brother, a mouse dangling from his outstretched paw. "See? Not a sound until I was ready to strike."

            "I didn't even know he was there!" Dhahabu marveled.

            "That's because you weren't listening," Sulubu admonished him. "Now you try. Remember: use all your senses!" He released the frightened mouse, which ran as fast as its little legs could carry it back to the log.

            Dhahabu crouched down, imitating his brother, and slipped through the grass. But when he tried to listen, every sound distracted him. He could hear crickets chirping, the gurgle of the river, the wind rustling the leaves of the acacia tree. He steeled himself. He had to prove himself. Ears pricked intently, he finally isolated the tiny squeaks of the mouse. Tensing himself, he pounced.

            And there was the mouse, twice as frightened as before, shivering between his paws.

            "I did it! I did it!" Dhahabu turned and held the mouse out.

            Sulubu smiled slightly. "Yeah, you did. But that was just the first lesson..."

 

 

            By mid-afternoon, Dhahabu had graduated to larger prey, and he had learned to pay attention to his senses. He learned to identify the flowers butterflies preferred by scent alone. He learned to hear his father's mole scout digging his tunnel when he was still three yards distant, so as to pounce on him when he emerged (an action the mole protested vehemently for several minutes afterward). He learned to feel the earth trembling under his paws when a herd of zebra was on the move.

            At last, when he brought down a guineafowl with a swift, efficient bite to the neck, Sulubu cheered. "Bro, I think you've got it! You just needed time to work on it."

            "Yeah!" Taraji chimed in, genuine admiration in her blue eyes. "You looked great out there!"

            Dhahabu blushed. "You're just saying that..."

            For answer both Sulubu and Taraji pressed in on either side and rubbed him fiercely, purring.

            "All right, I believe you, cut it out!" When he could breathe again, Dhahabu smiled. "So, what should we do, now that I'm a mighty hunter?"

            Taraji frowned thoughtfully. "Well, we could go exploring. That way, if we run into any trouble, you and Sulubu can save the day!"

            Sulubu nodded. "I heard about a really cool place from a zebra colt the other day--it's an elephant graveyard called Kivuli."

            Dhahabu stiffened. "An elephant graveyard?"

            "Hey, it's all right. The elephants consider it sacred ground, the zebra said. They won't go there. You don't have to worry about Damu."

            The golden cub looked offended. "I wasn't worried!"

            Taraji and Sulubu exchanged a long, knowing glance. "Sure you weren't," they said together.

            "Hey, you would be too if you'd met him like I did!" Dhahabu grumbled to himself as his siblings laughed hysterically.

            When they had managed to control themselves, Dhahabu snapped, "All right, but why should we go there? What's so cool about it?"

            "Well, from what I heard, it's really creepy," Sulubu remarked. "There's these holes in the ground that shoot out fire and burning water, and whole piles of bones to hide in, and lots of nasty animals to hunt!"

            Both Taraji and Dhahabu looked interested now. "Sounds like fun," Dhahabu admitted.

            "Yeah, but what if we get caught by Dad?" Taraji asked, worried.

            "We won't," Sulubu assured them. "Kivuli is on the far northern border of our lands."

            "It sounds dangerous," Dhahabu mused, his tone at once innocent and sly.

            "Yeah," Taraji agreed, just as mischievously.

            "LET'S GO!" all three shouted as one.

            As they ran northward, startling a flock of flamingos near the river, Sulubu yelled, "And if we do run into anything, it won't be a threat to us. That zebra said there's no predators there!"

            "Yeah!" Dhahabu yelled back. "What could go wrong?"