Chapter IV: Memories
Years passed. Some of the wounded got well, some died. Out of those who did get well, some were made lame, others made a full recovery. Fujo was one of the lucky ones, exceeding the expectations that he’d never even be able to move again. He grew up, the pride growing up around him. Cubs were born and raised. He grew himself, along with a handsome mane that almost perfectly matched his reddish-brown pelt.
Kovu insisted that he learn to defend himself. He swore he would never lose another lion like that if he could help it. It seemed to Fujo that he blamed himself for Simba and Taraju’s deaths. He pushed Fujo harder, insisting that he always did better, almost breaking him until Kiara put a stop to it. After that, there was no more training. Kovu kept to himself, spending hours on the edge of Pride Rock, becoming more distant and detached.
Vitani walked into the den. “Oh . . . Maybe this is a bad time . . . I’ll just—”
“No, don’t worry, come on in,” responded Kiara, wiping her eyes. Nala looked up at Vitani, her foreleg around Kiara.
“What’s wrong? Just tell me about it.”
“It’s Kovu.” Kiara burst into renewed sobs.
“Don’t cry . . . Just tell me.”
“It’s like . . . it like he’s not there anymore. He’s never happy, he barely eats, I don’t even see him sleep . . . It’s like that’s not really him out there, just an empty shell. He’s changed, Vitani. He’s not who he used to be.” She burst into tears again. “I miss him . . . so much . . .” She leaned her head against Nala, crying.
“I know,” said Vitani. “I miss him, too.”
Fujo stalked around the Pridelands. He didn’t have a reason for being here, he just didn’t want to be home. There was always so much grief . . . Dad was running the kingdom quietly and efficiently, he never seemed to do anything else. Mom was always worried about him, always crying behind his back. She was right. He wasn’t the fun dad that Fujo remembered, the one who always had time for anyone or anything. He sighed and sat down, looking at the sunset. Things had changed. The war had changed all of them. He had all but forgotten Taraju. He couldn’t deal with it any other way. Tumai had helped him get through it, but also served as a constant, painful, living reminder. Everyone seemed more subdued. Even he, happy, fun-loving, Mr. Spontaneous, was feeling the effects years afterwards. He sighed and turned home.
When he arrived he found Tumai silently eating a carcass behind Pride Rock, where most of the lions spent their time sunbathing. He walked over to her.
“Don’t go in the den,” she warned. “Your mom is having one of her things again.” She tore off another scrap of meat. “Get yourself one.” Fujo got a carcass from the pile and carried it over to Tumai. He sat down beside her and started eating just as she finished her carcass. “It seems like she’s always crying now.”
“I mean, wouldn’t you think she’d have learned to keep her feelings inside at all? The rest of us lost family, why can’t she cope with it?”
“Dad isn’t gone,” he muttered around a mouthful of meat. “That’s the thing. It’s probably harder to have someone this way than to lose them.”
“You of all people should know.”
“You don’t even remember him do you?” Fujo looked up and saw tears beginning to well up in her eyes.
“Who?” A tear slid down Tumai’s face. “Oh, please, don’t you start, too.”
“How can you possibly forget him?” she sobbed. “He was your brother! How can you even be coping with this? Kiara doesn’t have a reason, but you . . . I would feel as if one of my legs was missing.”
“Damn it, you don’t understand!” She leapt up and ran away. Realization finally dawned on Fujo.
“Hey—wait! I didn’t—” He stopped, feeling the other lionesses’ stares on him. He sat down and started on the carcass again, feeling guilty. The feeling wasn’t helped by the looks they kept throwing him. He finally left it half finished and walked around to the front of Pride Rock. There was Kovu, sitting on the edge as usual. Fujo walked up to him.
“Dad, have you seen—”
“Huh? No, not them. I mean Tumai.”
“She went to the Outlands.” He didn’t even turn to look at Fujo.
“Uh, okay, thanks.” He took one last look at his father, then ran down the slope towards the Outlands. He arrived, only to see how big they actually were. I have no idea where she’s at, he realized. He would just have to search by hit and miss.
He finally found her sitting and staring over the Outlands, not moving except for the occasional sob. He walked up behind her. “Tumai . . .”
“Just go away, Fujo. I want to be alone.” Fujo ignored her and walked up to her, sat down beside her.
“You . . . You miss him, don’t you . . . A lot.”
“Yes!” she sobbed. She buried her head in his chest, crying. Fujo didn’t know what to do. He raised his foreleg up, as if to put it around her.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
They both turned around and saw a powerfully built, muscular lion coming over the top of the hill they had been sitting on.
“Oh my god,” breathed Fujo.
“You heard her, she wants to be alone.”
Fujo lowered his leg and walked over to the lion, staring him in his green eyes. “I don’t believe it. You’re supposed to be dead.”
“Well then apparently Kifa hasn’t told me yet.”
Tumai stepped quietly forward. “Taraju?”
“Maybe,” the lion said. It couldn’t have been anyone else, though. No other lion had anything even resembling that combination of black mane and tan fur.
“What do you mean maybe?” asked Fujo. “You have to be him. There isn’t another lion alive that looks anything like you. Where have you been? What happened?”
“You don’t need to know. Nobody needs to know,” he said fiercely, then quietly, “Especially me.”
“Do you enjoy being cryptic?”
“Don’t you even know who I am? Don’t you remember who she is?”
“You are Fujo, son of Kovu, king of the Pridelands, and she is Tumai.”
“And this doesn’t make you the least bit homesick?”
“Why? Should it?”
“What, are you saying you don’t remember?” Taraju blinked. “What? You mean . . . oh gods . . .”
“It took him long enough,” Taraju said to Tumai. “Not really hunting with a full set of claws, is he?”
Tumai giggled. “Nope. He never did have the brains.”
“Hey, he is standing right here!” said Fujo. “And what do you mean you don’t remember?”
“I mean I don’t remember.”
“What? How do you forget years of your life like that? Do you think you just popped into existence one day?”
“As far as I can remember.”
“Oh, so now you can remember.”
“You mean, you don’t remember either of us?” Tumai asked quietly. “Your brother and your best friend, you have nothing about us?”
“Nothing.” Tumai sat down, staring at the ground.
“Well, what do you remember?” asked Fujo. Taraju turned to look at him. Suddenly he slashed Fujo across the face. Tumai gasped.
“I remember waking up and feeling that all across my body.”
“Did you have to be so vivid?” Fujo shook his head, trying to clear it. “Remind me not to piss you off.”
“That would probably be a good idea.”
“Where have you been all this time?” asked Tumai.
“What, just in the Outlands?”
Taraju sighed. “You’re already here,” he said. “I might as well show you.” He started to walk away.
“Hey, where are you going?” called Fujo. Taraju didn’t answer; he simply kept walking. Tumai followed him, then Fujo. He led them down the hill, then to the lip of a valley. They both came up beside Taraju and stared down at the valley.
“How did this even get here?” asked Tumai.
“I did it,” answered Taraju.
They were looking down at the beginnings of a deep, lush jungle covering the entire basin. It obviously hadn’t been there long, no more than a few years. Still, just a few years growth contrasted sharply with the rest of the dry, desolate Outlands.
“What do you mean you did it?” asked Fujo.
“Now that you definitely don’t need to know.”
“It looks just like home,” said Tumai.
“Haven’t you ever wanted to remember?” asked Tumai.
“I used to. Then I stopped trying.”
“Why am I even telling you this? It’s not like you can do anything for me.”
“Look, we can try. Come back with us. I’ll help you.” Tumai thought she saw something in Taraju’s face. The next instant it was gone.
“You really think you can?”
“Alright. Let’s go then.” Tumai turned and began to walk away towards the Pridelands, Taraju right next to her. Fujo stayed, staring at the young jungle, until he finally realized they were gone. He turned and looked, seeing them go over a ridge.
“Hey, wait up! Well, he seems to remember how to do that.”
When they arrived at Pride Rock, the sun had long ago set. The lionesses were retreating into the den for the night. Kovu still sat on the edge of Pride Rock. When he saw Fujo, Taraju, and Tumai coming he started, then finally came down from the edge. He greeted them at the cave entrance.
“You’ve brought a friend back, Fujo?”
“Your highness,” said Taraju, stepping forward. “I humbly ask that you allow me to stay here for the night.”
“Of course, stay as long as you like.” He did something incredible, something Fujo never thought he’d see him ever do again. Kovu smiled.
“Thank you for your generosity.” Taraju turned and went into the den, followed by Tumai and the stares of all the lionesses. He lied down in his old, unoccupied corner. Tumai lied down beside him. Kovu turned to Fujo, the smile even wider than before.
“You found him? And here we all are, thinking he’s dead.”
“Dad, that’s not Taraju.”
“If that’s not him, then you two must have been triplets and one got lost. No one has that coloring.”
“Dad I know, but that can’t be him. He’s so cold, so distant. He’s . . . well, he’s kind of like you.”
“I know what you mean. I’m sorry about the way I’ve been. It’s just the only way I know to handle it, just hold it inside. If I let it out, who knows what I’d do.” Kovu sighed. “I don’t know how that would have happened to him. Why didn’t he come back sooner?”
“He . . . well, he . . . um, he forgot?”
“You’re not making any sense.”
“He’s lost his memories.”
“Yeah, that’s what I said. He doesn’t know how it happened. Just woke up one morning and there he was, no memories, no anything. He won’t even tell us what he’s been doing all the years he’s been gone.” He paused. “Dad, there’s something you need to see.”
“It’s . . . Look, you’re going to have to see this, it’s not enough for me to say it.”
“Lead the way.”
Fujo walked down off Pride Rock, Kovu following him in silence. They made their way towards Outlands.
“How’d you find him?”
“He just found us. Just walked right up to us and said ‘hello.’”
“Probably used a few more words than that.”
“Yeah, just a few.” After that they walked in silence. Until they came to the basin.
“Oh, gods,” Kovu breathed. “What happened?”
“Yeah, I know.” Fujo turned and looked at Kovu’s stunned face. “Dad? You okay?”
“This was my home, son.” He began to walk into the basin.
“Hey, wait up! You don’t even know what’s in there!” Kovu paid no attention. Fujo ran after him, muttering under his breath. Kovu walked up to a moss-covered pillar, laid his paw on it. “Dad?”
“You don’t know what it’s like, son. You leave your home as a barren wasteland and come back to find it changed like this . . . It’s amazing. We never even thought anything like this was possible.” He turned back to Fujo. “Taraju did this?”
“That’s what he said. Any idea how?”
“Well . . . but that’s crazy.”
“You remember what your grandfather said about the Circle of Life? About the balance between all the living creatures?”
“Remember how he stressed the delicacy of that balance? How we need to preserve it, or else it’s utterly destroyed, as Scar made it?”
“Well, it’s not just the Pridelands that have that balance. Every place has one. Even the Outlands. I mean, just pull a few strings here, nudge a few animals there, and there you have it: a change in the balance. But something on this scale . . . I don’t know how he did it. This basin alone covers at least enough land to be the size of half the Pridelands. How he did something on that big a scale . . . This is amazing.”
“Well, he won’t say how.”
“You don’t need to pressure him for it. If we help him enough, maybe he’ll help us.” Kovu turned away, walking back up the slope of the basin. Fujo followed him. “We’ll see what he knows in the morning.”
When they arrived at Pride Rock, they found the rest of the den asleep. Fujo looked over in his old corner. There was Taraju, asleep, with Tumai resting right next to him, parts of her even on him. He didn’t seem to jut out, he just seemed to fit right in, flawlessly. Fujo shook his head at the sight. How does he manage to do it? Even when he’s forgotten everything, he still manages to excel. How does he do it? Fujo gave up pondering and lied down in his place, off to the right of his mother and father. He curled up, closed his eyes, and joined the den in happy sleep.
Tumai woke, feeling Taraju’s legs move underneath her. She smiled and snuggled up closer to him.
Or she would have, if he was there.
She opened her eyes and looked over where Taraju was sleeping. He wasn’t there. She looked around the cave, just barely seeing the end of a tail exiting the den. She got up and followed him, trying not to step on any of the lionesses. They definitely weren’t this spread out when they went to sleep, or when they woke up. How did they get like this when they were sleeping? And how in all of the gods’ names did Taraju manage to get out so quickly? she thought carefully stepped over a lioness who seemed to be having a bad dream, constantly twitching and jerking. It took her at least two full minutes to get to the mouth of the den, and it couldn’t have taken Taraju more than fifteen seconds. How did he do it?
She finally left the den and saw Taraju’s silhouette sitting on a hill a good three hundred yards from Pride Rock. She walked down to him. When she approached him, he seemed to stiffen for an instant, nothing noticeable, just a small hesitation in the swish of his tail, maybe a slight twitch in his ears. She walked up to him.
Taraju turned and whacked her in the face, knocking her to the ground. He leapt on her and held her by her throat. He moved his head to see her face in the moonlight. Seeing it was Tumai, he immediately backed off her.
“Sorry. I thought you were someone else.”
Tumai coughed, trying to regain her breath that had been knocked out. “Who could you possibly want to do that to?”
“You have to remember, I’ve been gone a long time. If this is where I came from.”
“You still don’t believe us?”
Taraju turned and sat down, looking at the moon again. “More than I did when I first met you. But that still isn’t saying much.”
Tumai walked up to Taraju, sat beside him. “Why are you up anyway? You used to want to get as much sleep as possible.”
“You get used to not having as much. You just have to try it first.”
“And what would you be doing that would have you up all night?” Tumai asked, taunting him slightly. “Chasing girls all night?”
“Nothing that you need to know about. And I thought you would have figured out by now that chasing girls is not something I would do.”
“What have you been doing?”
“You just don’t give up, do you?”
“I just want to help you remember.”
“If it’s anything, I’ve remembered a little.”
“About three seconds.” Taraju sighed. “And I’m not sure if I want to remember any more.”
“I would go crazy if I were you. How could you not possibly want to remember?”
“What if I don’t like who I was? What if I was the kind of person I despise?”
“Taraju, everyone liked you. How anyone could have possibly have despised you is beyond me.” She nuzzled up to him. “I’ve missed you so much.” She kept nuzzling. Taraju let her keep it up a few seconds before he sharply pulled away. “What is it?”
“You have to remember that I don’t even know you.”
“Not even a little?” She nuzzled up to him again. He pushed her away.
“Maybe a little. A very little.” He turned and walked back towards Pride Rock.
“Where are you going?”
“To try to sleep. If remembering the rest is nearly as hard as what I have, I get the feeling I’m going to need all the sleep I can get.” Tumai laughed and followed him back into the den. Once again he was in before she had even gotten far. He watched her clumsily navigate her way through the sleeping lionesses, showing no sign of amusement but obviously amused just the same. She finally reached him. He put his head down and curled all of his legs close to his body. She snuggled up next to him.
“Good morning would probably be closer.”
Tumai smiled and closed her eyes. Taraju lied there, waiting for the sound of her breathing to become regular before he went back to sleep himself.
Tumai woke to find Taraju gone again. She looked around the cave, finding it mostly empty. She heard movement coming from the mouth of the den and saw Taraju bringing a wildebeest carcass in for her. He dropped it at her feet, then turned around and left. Tumai stared at the entrance for a few seconds before biting into the carcass. She was surprised at how fresh it tasted. Taraju came back in, carrying an antelope. He dropped it and began to devour it himself, a few drops of fresh blood dripping out of his mouth to add to the dry blood already caked there. Tumai looked down at his paws and saw them splattered with blood, too.
“You know, we usually let the lionesses do the hunting.”
“I feel better if I kill my own. Just a personal thing. Used to it.” He took another bite as Fujo walked in.
“Hey, whatcha got there guys?” Fujo sniffed. “Smells like fresh meat.” He extended a paw towards the antelope. “Always love a fresh—”
Taraju slapped his own paw down on Fujo’s, hard. Fujo looked down at his paw, then up at Taraju’s face. “You can get your own,” Taraju snarled. He twisted his paw on top of Fujo’s, making Fujo wince before finally letting go and turning back to his antelope, eating it like it was going to disappear before he had finished it..
“O-kay,” said Fujo. He slowly picked up his paw off the ground. “Okay, okay, okay.” He paused, looking between Taraju and Tumai, who was obviously shocked at what she’d just seen.
“So, how are the head problems going? Any lights popping on in there?” Taraju kept eating, quickly stripping the majority of his carcass away. “Well, that’s good, I’m glad we’re making such excellent progress. And hey, even better, you did it all by yourself. Doesn’t that make you feel proud?”
“Does he ever shut up?” Taraju finally muttered.
“Rarely,” said Tumai. She was barely even through half her carcass and Taraju was licking the bones clean. That astounded her, a lion actually making sure that the carcass was clean, no meat left on it whatsoever. She’d never seen it before. Usually there was a minimal amount of fat or gristle left, but Taraju’s skeleton was clean.
“Hey, I do sometimes,” said Fujo, watching Taraju as he idly fiddled with a leg bone, turning it over in his paws. He put it in his mouth and clamped down on it, the pieces outside his mouth falling down as if he were snapping a twig. He spit the piece in his mouth across the den. “Just . . . not when you’re around.” Taraju got up and walked out of the cave. “Okay, that was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen.” Tumai left her carcass and followed Taraju outside. Fujo walked after her. Taraju had met Kovu outside.
“Your majesty, thank you for your hospitality.” Then Taraju was walking down the steps, then running across the savannah.
“Hey, where do you think you’re going?” yelled Fujo. Tumai put her paw on Fujo’s. Fujo winced, more out of memory than actual pain. He looked up at Tumai. “What?”
“Don’t worry. He’ll be back,” said Tumai.
“Huh? How do you know?”
“He remembers me.”
Taraju ran. He didn’t have a specific place in mind, just somewhere where he could quietly think. He finally stopped, looked around. No one. Just savannah in every direction. He sat down and thought over the one thing he did remember. Just a quick flash. A cub smiling a mischievous smile and then the words “I’ll help you.” He sighed. Well, it had to start somewhere. He closed his eyes, trying to focus his thoughts. He thought back to the den last night, how he had tried this last night with no success at all.
He was cowering in the back of the den. He could hear roars and yowls coming from outside it, and a moon shining over it, blissfully unaware of the battle below it. Every lion in there with him had a face filled with fear, along with a cheetah. There was a meercat and a warthog trembling next to a pair of lionesses. Several lionesses were on the floor, bleeding, looking as if they had gone through a stampede. He was in front of a group of cubs, all huddled in a corner.
“They’ve broken through, they’ve broken through!” He turned his head to see a lioness shouting at the cave entrance. He saw the lioness get slammed to the ground by a cheetah. Ten more rushed in, led by a huge one. The lionesses immediately charged the cheetahs, several of them getting swatted down in the first assault, along with the cheetah that had already been in the den. It became clear to the cheetahs that they couldn’t keep up the assault, as first one fell, then two more. They did their best to avoid the able lionesses and rushed around, trying to kill the wounded and elderly, ones they knew they could take. It was obvious that had been told to take as many lionesses with them as possible. When there were no more handicapped lionesses to kill, the rest turned their attention on the other lionesses. One swatted the meercat into a wall, the warthog joining him shortly. The lionesses slowly fell to the cheetahs, taking all but two with them. When the last lioness finally fell, the two remaining cheetahs looked around the cave. It couldn’t have taken more than two minutes. The bigger one went over to the cheetah who had been in the den before the attack started, kicked him.
“My brother, the traitor.” He noticed the fallen cheetah still was breathing. He raised a paw to strike him.
“Simba’s coming!” shouted the other cheetah from the mouth of the den. The bigger one swiped at his brother in frustration, knocking him a foot across the ground.
“We can’t stay here. They’re stronger than we thought.” The bigger cheetah looked around the den, noticed the cubs sitting in the corner. “Well, look what we missed.” He smiled and advanced on them. Taraju and the others tried to back farther into the corner.
“He’s at the base!”
“Just take one of the cubs and run! We’ll decide what to do with them later.” He lunged forward, catching a dark-skinned cub in his jaws. The other cheetah was right behind him. He picked up Taraju, lifted him off the ground. Taraju’s world spun around him, making him nauseous as his cheetah swung Taraju around as he turned to face the bigger cheetah. “Go! You first!”
Taraju’s cheetah ran through a hole in the back of the den. He heard a roaring fill the den as he left it. He suddenly was out of the den, the bigger cheetah right behind him, followed closely by a lion. They all ran. Finally, the lion jumped onto the larger cheetah, sinking his claws into him. Taraju saw the cheetah bite down on his cub in pain, then threw him aside as he turned to face the lion.
“Fujo!” The scream came unbidden from Taraju’s throat. His cheetah clamped down on him, drilling his teeth into him and forcing him into silence.
He was in the savannah again.
Taraju collapsed to the ground, breathing heavily. He looked at his stomach to check the bleeding from the bite wounds. Nothing. It was just a flashback. Just a flashback. He tried to calm himself down. Gods, it was so vivid! He had smelled the odors of blood, felt the pain of the teeth grinding into him, felt the fear as he watched the lionesses being decimated . . .
He finally got his breathing under control. He really, really didn’t want to do that again. It had somehow been worse than any physical pain he had experienced. He thought back to the den, thinking of Fujo and Tumai sitting there, waiting for him to come back. No, for Taraju to come back. They didn’t even know him. They wanted Taraju, not him. He sighed. He might owe it to them, for all they’d done for him sometime. He’d be better off knowing than not. He screwed up his mind and tried again.
Taraju suddenly appeared at Pride Rock late that night, right at sunset. He walked behind to the tanning rock, where Fujo and Tumai had been waiting for him, Fujo lying on his back, playing with a bone.
“I’m telling you,” Fujo was saying to Tumai, “he is completely crazy, wacko, mad, bonzo, cuckoo, insane, bonkers, nuts. I mean, the guy is a total wack-job. It’s like he doesn’t even have all the pulleys to work the elevator, never mind it going to the top floor. It’s like he ate something and it—”
“Sorry I’m late.” Fujo suddenly turned over, shutting up and staring at Taraju in shock. Whether it was in fear or just surprise Taraju couldn’t tell. “Forgot what time dinner was.”
“Funny,” said Fujo. Tumai looked at Taraju, noticed a difference in the way he carried himself. It almost seemed like he was hurt.
“Did you—” She couldn’t bear to go any farther.
“Okay,” said Fujo, “what happened the time we—”
“And I need to think on it. Or at least sleep on it. A lot.”
“I knew it,” said Fujo. He laughed. “Still nothin’ in your noggin.”
“Don’t doubt me. I’ll make sure you’ll never do it again, even if you wanted to.” Taraju turned and headed back into the den for an early night.
“See? What’d I say? Still moody, sullen, angry Mr. Lovable.”
Taraju ignored him, went into the den, and curled up, hoping his dreams would be less exhausting than his memories.