The names of Nala, Sarafina, Sarabi, Mufasa, Scar, Zazu, and the trademark geographies are copyrights of Disney and may not be used at will without recognition of the Disney Co. as its owners.

 

"The Land is Dying, Sarabi."

 Matthew Zu © 2004

 

 

"Shh. Stay low."

Nala only nodded in response. Her heart beat fast as Sarafina crouched lower in the grass and resumed her stalk. Nala followed, trying to hide herself behind the field of meager bushes and dead trees. Toward their left were two other lionesses; to their right, two more. Just ahead was Sarabi, sliding her golden form along in a grace belying her age, her every muscle tense for a spring. The herd lay beyond.

            Nala fought to keep from rushing forth at the sight of them; her stomach winced from three days without a meal. No. Must be patient or we'll loose our chance. She flattened her ears in determination to not upset the hunt. She could see the impalas were also emaciated from the drought, their stark faces mimicking the dry land itself. No dry spell has ever lasted this long, she thought. She glanced up at the sky; the onmious cloud blankets were still there, brooding over the land but never giving rain, just smothering it in shadow.

The herd was now only a stone's throw away, and the lionesses inched on. They made sure to stay clear of things that could give them away. Things that crack. Closer. Nala could count their ribs. Her stomach screamed for her to hurry, and she gritted  her teeth. Closer.

 

Crkt!

            Nala stopped, the others stopped, and for a moment time stood still. Someone had stepped on a twig. With hollow eyes the impala searched for the sound's source. They looked one way, nothing. They looked in another; trying to find what they didn't know to look for. Nala narrowed her eyes against the rising tension and dug her claws into the earth.  The nervous impalas passed their gaze right over the pride lying like rocks on the ground, until one by one their necks lowered and they resumed grazing. Nala and the others let out a sigh of relief. That was close. She began to doubt if she even had the strength to chase them should they decide to run.

Sarabi was the first to pick herself up. When she did Nala noticed the dust staining Sarabi's belly was a sickening gray, not the soft brown she remembered frolicking in as a cub. She could remember watching it billow drunkenly into the air and disappear into the sky. She would swipe her paw and watch the dust cloud in fascination. Then again, watching until her head could tilt no further. Then in her glee she would wipe both frantically and disappear giggling behind her own private dust storm. Her mother always insisted she was a strange one, a lioness who liked getting herself dirty. Time and time again Sarafina pleaded with her to keep clean, and time over time it was to no avail. Presently Nala came to her senses and found her mother watching her with inquisitive eyes. Nala gave her a quick smile and nuzzle. "It's nothing", she admitted, "just thinking about my years as a...

 

Clack! Another twig.

            This time they ran. With a despairing moan the party leapt out after them.

            "No! Oooh...", Nala moaned.

            "Hurry!" Sarabi panted, "We can't...let them...get away!"

            The herd thundered across the plains, stirring up the gray dust as they ran for their lives. The lionesses charged headlong into their wake, coughing and hacking as visibility soon fell to nothingness.

            "So much for surrounding them first", thought Nala. She sprinted on, trying her best to follow the herd and watch where she was going. None of the others were having success either, she determined, by their futile roars. The dust grew ever thicker, but here and there thin spots allowed Nala to see what was happening. Soon her lungs began to burn, and her strength was waxing. She couldn't handle this. This is impossible, she thought. Utterly impossi...

            "Whoa!" An impala zipped by inches before her nose. With lightning reflexes her instincts sent her galloping after it. This is it, she thought, my only chance. It was now sheer pandemonium, with the herd of crazed antelope running in all directions before a charging pack of lions equally crazed by hunger. The terrified chorus of buffalo, guinea fowl, and anything else in the way of the panic added to the hysteria.

            Nala tried her best to keep chase amid the choking dust, coughing and sputtering as she did. She veered to the left, trying to wedge between the impala and its herd. It saw her and also swung left, cutting her off and showering her with rocks from its hoofs. "Ouch! Oooh! No you don't!" But she was at the end of her abilities, and was amazed the impalas could keep up such a run. With her last thread of strength she lunged at the impala. She drew her legs in and rocketed forth into the air, her arms willing the creature into its grasp. But it wasn't enough, and she watched in bewilderment as it bounded from the reach of her claws. Looking down, she saw the ground fast approaching. "Hold on", she told herself. She met the ground hard, the impact knocking her breathless. She tumbled to a halt in a dust cloud and lay there, panting in utter exhaustion.

Nala continued to lay there, lifeless except for her heaving sides. When will this all end, she wondered, this meaningless fight to find food for a pack of hyenas, and for Mufasa's demented brother. Mufasa. If only he was still here.

 

            "Nala! Nala, are you all right?" Sarafina came to her defeated daughter.

            Nala struggled to her feat. "Yes mother, I'm okay. I almost had him."

            "You certainly did, Nala", Sarabi said as she trotted up, "you certainly did. But it looks like Scar will have to pass another night without dinner."                        

She spoke bravely, but Nala could sense dismay in her voice. She saw Sarabi was also covered in dust, and concluded she had had a similarly unsuccessful hunt.

As Sarafina walked off, Nala turned to Sarabi and saw tears welling in her eyes. With nothing to say, Nala rubbed her head against her to comfort her. They sat and gazed across the bleak landscape that once bloomed of lush grass and trees.

            "The land is dying, Sarabi."

            "Yes, child," she sighed, "it has been dying ever since...since...

            "Mufasa-"

            Sarabi lowered her head in silence. It was a while before she spoke again. "When Mufasa was still alive, the whole land was in harmony. He was dedicated to making sure that balance was kept. It was his kingdom, and he took care of it, and when he died, the land died with him."

            Nala' eyes swept the dreary horizon. The whole land was dark, smeared with shadow and broken by dead trees. In the distance a dust storm was rising, kicked up by the wind because no grasses could hold the soil in place. She shivered. Nala continued looking and came to a skeleton pile of a herd of dead animals. She determined to put an end to this.

           

Later that night Nala approached Sarafina.

            "Mom, I've been thinking about something.

            "Yes dear? What is it?"

            "I...I want to go find help. The land...the herds...the kingdom--everything's falling to pieces. I want to see if there's anyone who could help us."

            Sarafina didn't speak. She was afraid Nala would choose such a dangerous task. She was afraid Nala's selflessness would one day cause her to do this. Her daughter was the only one left in the pride who could carry on the next generation of lions. There used to be another youngster; the prince himself, but he died a long time ago, and only Nala was left. Sarafina couldn't bear to loose Nala for the sake of finding aid; no, they could survive just fine. But above all she couldn't bear to loose Nala because she was her daughter. Sarafina wished she could go in her daughter's place, but her absence would have drawn suspicion from Scar in no time. Seeing no other alternative, she looked back up at her child.

            "Where?"

            Now it was Nala's turn to think.

            "I don't know. Somewhere—anywhere. There's got to be some place I can go to. There just has to be."

            "I know", Sarafina answered, "I'll talk to Sarabi, and see if she knows a good place."

            With that, they rubbed their heads together and parted.

            "And promise me you'll be careful."

            Nala smiled. "I will."

            She watched her mother fade into the cave's shadows. Is this a good idea? What if she failed after going to who knows where to find help? Then what will happen? Scar's voice echoed to her ears from deep within the cave as she continued to think. He was agitated as usual, followed by Sarabi's much calmer voice. Nala could not make out what they were saying, but the nature of the conversation wasn't comforting. Suddenly Scar exploded in shouts that shuddered the cave and sent Nala diving to the ground. Then silence.

            She lay there until Sarafina returned.

            "Sarabi said Zazu knows there's a wooded area to the left of the rising sun, beyond the great desert, like a jungle. He says it’s your best chance."

            "Okay. Then I want to leave at first light tomorrow morning."

            Sarafina didn't protest. "All right dear. If you wish."

           

            Nala slept little that night. The anticipation of her journey sent her mind racing, faster than she had run after the impala only hours ago. She was exited, but also fearful, and uncertain about the undertaking. These feelings thundered in her head until the morning birds announced the arrival of another day.

            Nala awoke to see her mother licking her.

            "Time to go", Sarafina said with a depressed reserve. She felt like she was giving her daughter away forever.

            Nala dragged herself to her feet and stretched her sore legs from the tossing and turning. She looked around and noticed all the lionesses were there. They had come to see her off. She rubbed herself against each one in turn to say good bye. No one spoke, there was no need for words. Nala greeted Sarabi last. She too was distressed, but hid her emotions for Nala's sake. "Good luck", she whispered, "Be strong."

            Nala looked at them one last time before turning toward the great desert. Golden shafts from the rising sun streaked the land for the first time in years. Maybe there still was hope.