To understand this story, you don’t have to have read any of the others. You should be able to pick it up and read it. Now the legalities. Taraju/Akasare, Fujo, Tumai, Majadi, Edahi, Shani, Nadhari, Ufo, Fisadi, Uchungu, Ufukara, Taabu, Huzuni, Weusi, Sibu, Recna, the Askari, Umo, Kecha, Muta, Taraja, Pofu, Mvushi, and Chuma are my characters, and are not to be used without my permission. Sicwele and Dingane are Roger Byrum/spottedhyena’s characters, and are used with his permission. Simba, Nala, Kovu, Kiara, Vitani, and Zazu are copyrighted to Disney. All comments to conor0191@aol.com.

            Also, as a warning, some content may not be suitable for younger readers.

 

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Justice

 

The Lioness

 

            “It’s cruel, for him to have been reunited with us, only to be taken away so soon. He will be remembered, not only as a killer, but as the just lion he came to be,” concluded Kovu. Fujo looked away from Taraju’s body in the center of the den. He heard Tumai sobbing beside him. He felt tears dripping quietly down his face. It wasn’t right. Taraju had changed, he didn’t have to die. He shouldn’t have died. All of the other lionesses had their heads bowed in respect, though many of them—most of them—shed no tears. It was natural. They had hardly known him except as a cub, and he hadn’t stayed any longer than two nights when he came back. But Tumai, and Vitani, and Nala and Kovu and Kiara. It hit them especially hard.

            And me, Fujo realized. He missed Taraju. Badly. He looked up at the body again. There he was, his throat brutally torn out of the midst of his proud, black mane and his tan coloring. It had been such a strange combination, not only for him, but for Fujo as well. It had made them unique, the only lions of their kind. And he had just given himself up like that. Fujo’s gaze wandered across the faces of the lionesses in the den, all of them bowed in respect for the fallen prince, king of the Outlands. Fujo let out a sigh. He deserved better then this. He looked across the faces, Majadi, Vitani, Edaha, Shani, Ufo, Nala, Taraju, Kovu, Kiara—Taraju? Fujo snapped his head back. He couldn’t believe it. There was Taraju, sitting calmly next to Kovu in the space that the pride gave to the king and queen. He looked back down at Taraju’s body, then back up. Taraju was looking around the den. His gaze alighted on Fujo, and he smiled his weird little half-smile that he had picked up. Fujo poked Tumai next to him, not taking his gaze off Taraju.

            “What?” asked Tumai sadly.

            “Look,” whispered Fujo.

            Tumai looked around, then asked Fujo, “What?”

            “Don’t you—” he stopped speaking at the sight of Taraju shaking his head. Fujo let out a small sigh. “Nothing.” He watched Taraju continue looking at the den. He gave Fujo one last sad smile, then faded away. Fujo dropped his gaze back down to Taraju’s body. He gave another deep sigh of regret. He really was gone.

 

 

 

            “. . . and they just won’t stop complaining about it, sire. They demand that you see them, or—” Kovu heard raised voices coming from the den, and cut off the speaker. He headed for the den.

            “I had nothing to do with it!”

            “Look, I didn’t say it was your fault,” said a second voice in a tone of trying explanation. “I said I was going to blame you.”

            “If you tell her anything like that—” said the first voice.

            “You know it would be funny,” said a third voice.

            “Not to me!” said the first voice.

            “Is there a problem?” Kovu asked. Tumai, Vitani, and Fujo turned hurriedly to see Kovu.

            “Uh, no. No problem,” said Fujo, casting a look at the lionesses. “So, how’s the kingdom? Any little details that we need to worry about?”

            Kovu smiled. It wasn’t the same as it had been with Taraju. But at least he had shown them how it could improve. “Actually, he came for a visit.”

            “Who?” asked Tumai, Vitani, and Fujo simultaneously. A cheetah walked out from behind Fujo.

            “I’m glad to see things haven’t changed much,” said the cheetah.

            “Who wants us dead now, Nadhari?” groaned Fujo.

            “I bring bad news one time, and you assume it’s bad every time? I’m hurt,” said Nadhari, though his face showed quite the opposite.

            “Well, it kind of did leave an impres—”

            “Nadhari just came by to say hello again, and to report on the kingdom,” interrupted Kovu. “It’s not always ‘save the Pridelands this,’ ‘uprising that.’ You should know better, Fujo. In fact, it’s usually pretty dull.”

            “I still don’t know why you have Zazu and him looking over the kingdom. Zazu doesn’t even know about this.”

            “As I have said to the king,” said Nadhari, “Zazu is getting older, and he needs to fall back on other means. I am merely trying to serve the kingdom.”

            “And don’t get me wrong,” said Fujo. “You do a great job. You’re just a bit . . . unorthodox?”

            “For your information, sire,” bristled Nadhari, “the cheetahs have served the lions for countless years, without—”

            “Fujo didn’t mean to upset you, Nadhari,” said Tumai. “He’s just not that . . . sensitive.”

            “How was I—” Fujo was cut off as Tumai stuck her paw over his snout.

            “Thank you Nadhari,” said Kovu.

            “Just the elephants at lunch tomorrow, sire. That is all,” said Nadhari. He turned to leave. “And . . . I am deeply sorry to hear of your loss. He was a good cub.” He left the den.

            Fujo pushed Tumai’s paw angrily from his face. “You didn’t have to do that,” he snarled at her. He turned angrily and headed out of the back of the den.

            “Just let him go,” Fujo heard Vitani say. “He’s got to deal with it in his own way.”

            “I have to . . .” Fujo heard Kovu’s voice drift off. Fujo angrily climbed the back of Pride Rock. Nadhari had to bring that up again. After they had just lost him days ago. Fujo slumped to the ground in the midst of some trees. He shouldn’t have died. He didn’t need to die.

            “Fujo.” Fujo whirled around to see Kovu behind him.

            “What is it, Dad?” Fujo asked irritably.

            “I need to ask you to do something. You won’t like it. But it needs to be done.”

            “Just say it already!” Fujo was surprised at his tone of voice. He shouldn’t be taking it out on others like this.

            “I need you to go ask the Outlanders if they want to come here.”

            “Excuse me?”

            “Just offer them a home. And if they don’t accept that, at least offer them a chance to be part of the Pridelands.”

            “They won’t like it. They’ll say we’re using them like he did. Filth,” he added in an undertone.

            “Fujo.”

            “You don’t understand!” Fujo shouted, turning around. “I needed him! SHE needed him! And that little rat of a lion just killed him like it was nothing!”

            “I wish that it hadn’t happened this way just as much as you do,” said Kovu quietly. “But he had to do it. He didn’t have a choi—”

            “Don’t give me that!”

            “There are things that you have to do as king. One of them is take responsibility. Taraju knew this. He did what was needed. It’s something you still need to learn.” Outraged and speechless, Fujo turned away from his father. “You don’t have to ask them today. Just not after tomorrow.” Fujo heard his father walk away. He fell to the ground again, and watched the sun disappear and the stars come out. He stayed there a long time.

 

 

 

            Fujo walked into the Outlander’s lands at daybreak. It wasn’t the old Outlands, Taraju had changed that. There was grass, and even a few small trees. Things were actually somewhat green in places. And Taraju would only be remembered for what he had to do to get it here. Fujo walked resolutely up to the tallest mound. Kovu had said they housed termites. Fujo knew they still contained pests now. A few lionesses were outside the mound, lying down. They looked up when they saw Fujo coming. One went inside the den. A few seconds later a lion emerged. Fujo recalled his name was “Mvushi. Savior.” Taraju again.

            “What do you want, lowlife?” Mvushi growled.

            Fujo swallowed down the hate-filled comment he had thought of. “Actually, I’m a prince,” he said, trying not to sound too condescending. It was difficult. Especially when he remembered how Mvushi had killed Taraju with no second thought.

            “Oh, a prince. How important. I’ll inform all of Africa. So, what do you want, sire?” he somehow managed to use the last word even more mockingly than the words that came before it.

            “You don’t even know who I am and you—”

            “You were with that murderer. That’s enough.”

            Fujo willed himself to not leap at Mvushi. “I’ve come to offer you a place in the Pridelands.” He had to force the words out.

            “And why would we want to leave to come live in the den of filth like your friend?”

            “My brother was a changed lion. He willingly came to you.”

            “And why would we want to live in the den of filth like your brother?” Mvushi repeated.

            “We can offer you a better life. You won’t have to scrounge for food. You’ll be free to as much food as you need. You won’t need to live in constant fear of the other lions in the Outlands. We can help you.” It took all of his self-control for Fujo to cater to Mvushi.

            “We don’t need your help.” Mvushi turned to go back into the mound.

            “Don’t be a fool, Mvushi,” said one of the lionesses. She turned to Fujo. “We are extremely grateful for—”

            “What are you doing?” demanded Mvushi.

            The lioness rounded on Mvushi. “You do not remember it, but we were once free. We did not have to poach for food; we owned the lands and the food! If your father hadn’t been such a fool—” Mvushi snarled at her. The lioness swiped him across the face. Fujo noticed four old scars where the lioness had hit him. “If you won’t respect your elders, at least respect your betters,” she growled. She turned back to Fujo. “We accept.”

            Fujo was stunned. He hadn’t expected it to be this way. Just a few words of “no” and he’d be on his way. “Alright,” he said. “Just—just come with me, I suppose.”

            “Thank you, your majesty.” The lioness bowed. She looked impatiently up at Mvushi. Mvushi lowered his head a fraction of an inch.

            “Look, you really don’t need to—” began Fujo. Mvushi immediately snapped his head up. “Yeah.” Mvushi glared at Fujo. Fujo gave a sigh. He felt it was not going to end well between them. “Just get everyone up and we’ll go.”

            “This is everyone, sire,” said the lioness sadly. “This is all that we have left.” Fujo looked over the few lionesses spread across the ground. There wasn’t even a cub. Then he spotted one hanging behind his mother’s leg, his fur mussed and his body skeletal, even more so than all of the other lionesses. Fujo was shocked at the level they were living at. They deserved to hate Taraju if he kept them like this, Fujo thought. No, it wasn’t Taraju who did this to them. Taraju wasn’t here till we brought him back. The lioness noticed him staring at the cub. “He’s the only one left. All his sisters died.” Fujo looked at the cub’s face. Strangely, it didn’t have the fear that the lionesses did, just curiosity as he stared at Fujo. The thing that really unnerved him was the cub’s eyes. They had what looked like no irises at all, just a black pupil and yellow-white surrounding it.

            “Well then, uh, let’s go.” He turned and began to head towards the Pridelands, hearing the lionesses follow him. It was odd, to be leading like this. He heard the murmurings of the lionesses behind him, of how it was just like home. When they finally reached Pride Rock, the sun had really risen. Fujo stopped at the base and turned to look at the lionesses. Mvushi was following in the rear, sullenly.

            “It’s so big,” one of the lionesses said.

            “It always does get you the first time,” said Kovu, appearing at the top of the slope leading up to the den. “I am Kovu, king of the Pridelands. Welcome. You’re just in time for breakfast.”

            “What’s breakfast, Mom?” asked the cub, dangling from the mouth of a lioness. The lioness set him down.

            “This means you can have more than one meal now, Pofu.”

            “Really?” the cub asked incredulously.

            “That’s right. No more limits.” Fujo felt his heart go out to them. He looked up to see Kovu smiling at Pofu.

            “Come on into the den. The hunters should be back soon,” he said. The lionesses walked up the slope into the den, the cub in his mother’s mouth again. Fujo watched Mvushi walk past him, snarling. Fujo watched him walk past Kovu, and then into the den. Kovu looked hard at Fujo and nodded, then headed into the den.

            Mvushi died that night.

 

 

 

            The Outlanders had been immediately accepted by the pride. In fact, the pride went out of their way to make them feel welcome. It wasn’t difficult. The Outlanders seemed to be grateful for even the smallest things. Fujo couldn’t imagine what they had been through. Sometimes he even stopped referring to them as the Outlanders in his head. It probably would have been different if Mvushi hadn’t just up and died like that, Fujo reflected. But it had happened, and Fujo grew to love the Outlanders, and just over the course of days. Especially the little cub, Pofu. He seemed pretty happy, almost all the time. He had playmates for the first time. He had just one little drawback. He was blind. Fujo had asked Kovu why, and he said that Taraju had told him it ran in the cub’s family. There was nothing he could do about it, except try to learn to overcome it. Truth be told, Fujo thought he was doing a pretty good job of it. It probably explained his eyes. On closer inspection, Fujo saw they weren’t actually yellow-white irises, just irises that were so close to it that you couldn’t really notice it from far away if you didn’t know they were there. It was more of a light gray-yellow discoloration right around the pupil, only slightly darker than the “whites” of the cub’s eyes. Only the standard black markings showed that it was actually an iris and not the “white” of the cub’s eye.

            Fujo reflected on all of this as he took his morning walk through the Pridelands. Kovu had asked him to do it to get acquainted with the kingdom. Fujo just did it to relax. He just enjoyed the still quiet of the morning, before all of the animals really got up. It was so peaceful. He found his way to his favorite and sat down, taking in the gorgeous landscape around him. It was so peaceful. So was he. Just happy.

            “Fujo.”

            Fujo whirled around. There was a lion sitting behind him. A dead lion. One that he knew was dead because he watched him die. Fujo blinked. He was obviously dreaming.

            “Hey,” said Taraju.

            Fujo stared at him. “I could have sworn that meat was okay last night.”

            “You’re not dreaming. I’m really here.”

            “Uh-huh. Look, you’re dead.”

            “And? Thus, so, therefore?”

            “And . . . you’re dead.”

            “I’ve decided to talk to you.”

            “Why?”

            “Well, the family up there has a few . . . look, I can’t really say. But they sent me.”

            “Funny, I thought there would be a lot more lights and thunder and all that.”

            “Yeah, I don’t really like that kind of thing. It’s not me. I just don’t want to do it.”

            “I’d like it.”

            “Fortunately, you’re not the one who decides this.”

            “Yeah, pity. . . . So, you’re alive . . . there. So, how is it?”

            “Good, actually. They took it a lot better than I expected. Nobody really hates me up there. They understood. Mostly. Dingane didn’t take it too well, but he sort of came around . . . yeah.”

            “So, where’s your star?”

            Taraju laughed. “You actually think I rate enough to be a star? Come on, Fujo. I wasn’t a king, and I definitely didn’t do anything decent enough to be up there. Not everyone gets to be a star. But hey, keep it up and you may.” Taraju grimaced. “Shouldn’t have said that.”

            “Said what?”

            “Nothing. I just need to talk to you.”

            “Hey, wait, I want to hear about all the cool stuff you can do.”

            “I’m not allowed.”

            “You’re not allowed what?”

            “We can’t really come back. We’re not supposed to. Unless the big ones think it’s necessary. Then usually they handle it. Either Granddad or Great-Granddad would be here. You have no idea what I had to pull to even be able to do this.”

            “So, no cool stuff?”

            “I would hate to imagine the consequences if I did.”

            “Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease—”

            “Yeah, they were right. He does need something,” Taraju muttered.

            “Huh? What are you—”

            “Nothing. Look, if I show you something, will you shut up and just listen?

            “Uh, yeah. Yeah, sure,” Fujo paused for a second, staring at Taraju. Taraju just stared back. “Pleasepleasepleaseplea—”

            “Alright! Just—shut up!” Fujo immediately fell silent. Taraju sighed. He waved his paw casually in the air. Lightning fell out of the sunny sky right next to Fujo. He jumped away, wincing with the sound of the thunder. “There, I smite ye. Happy?”

            “Did it have to be so loud?”

            “If I hadn’t done anything, you would be deaf. Would that make you happier?”

            “Um, loud is fine.”

            Taraju just looked at him, then sighed. “Walk with me.” He walked away. After a moment’s hesitation, Fujo followed him. He noticed Taraju made no noise as he moved. He looked down to see Taraju’s paws moving through, actually through the grass. It was unnerving. After a few minutes, Taraju finally spoke again. “Fujo, you aren’t exactly kingly.”

            “And you were?”

            “More than you. We’re worried. So we just want you to get out of here for a few days, just to experience things.”

            “And you think that leaving will make me more ‘kingly.’”

            “Divine foresight. You gotta love it. I really wish I could do this kind of stuff for the Outlands. It would have been so much easier.”

            “Uh, yeah. Well, stepping off your memories, where exactly do you want me to go?”

            “Just . . . out. Whichever way you feel like going. Except back.”

            “They’ll miss me.”

            Taraju looked at Fujo. “I doubt it. Not with your personality.”

            “Yeah, you’re Taraju.”

            “Besides, we’ve talked to Dad. Dreams have a lot less restrictions on them. Still, I’m glad Granddad had that job and not me.”

            “Convenient how this all kind of falls into place, isn’t it?”

            “Now that you mention it, yes.”

            “So, you’re just going to dump me here, tell me not to come back home for a few days, and leave? And I’ll never see you again?”

            “You saw me at my funeral, didn’t you? By the way, that was a lovely eulogy.” Fujo gave a snort. “What?”

            “A dead guy is thanking me for his eulogy. This has got to be a first.” Fujo stared back up at Taraju. “Do you really have to go?”

            “I don’t make the rules. I just follow them. I’ve broken enough of them when I was alive.”

            “Do you ever let her see you?”

            Taraju suddenly stiffened. He closed his eyes and looked away from Fujo. “No. I can’t. I’ll just have to wait.”

            “Couldn’t you just—”

            “You’re still the same stupid, insensitive jerk that was here when I left, aren’t you?” Taraju asked angrily. He glared at Fujo, then suddenly disappeared.

            “Hey! Come back here!” Fujo yelled to the sky. “I didn’t mean that!”

            “Fujo, who are you talking to?” Fujo turned to see Tumai walking towards him. Then Taraju appeared behind her.

            “Uh . . . no one.” He saw Taraju stare at Tumai, then hang his head. “Uh, just turn around, Tumai.” She did, staring straight at Taraju. “See anything . . . unusual?”

            “What are you talking about, Fujo?” asked Tumai. Taraju looked up again, shook his head, and faded away.

            “Nothing. Listen, I’ll be back late. Dad should know where I’ll be. So, I’ll see you.” Fujo turned and began to walk away.

            “You’re just up and leaving?” asked Tumai.

            “Yeah,” Fujo called back.

            “Where are you going?” she yelled back.

            “I don’t know!” he yelled back at her.

            “Fujo!” she shouted. Fujo just kept walking. He had no idea where he was going at all.

 

 

 

            Fujo walked through the dry grass. He knew he was no longer in the Pridelands, but other than that he didn’t know where he was. He was tired, he was hungry, but the thing that really upset him was the heat. He had tried to explain this to Tumai once after he had been complaining all day.

            “Just find the biggest carcass you can find, and then skin it and wrap the fur around your neck, and let’s see how you feel at the end of the day.” She still didn’t really believe him.

            “Fujo,” came Taraju’s voice. Fujo didn’t even bother looking.

            “What now?” Fujo groaned.

            “Hungry?”

            Fujo looked up and saw Taraju sitting a short distance ahead of him. “Yes!” Taraju just smiled. It was infuriating. “Are you just here to torment me?”

            “Well, it is a little fun.”

            Fujo took in a deep breath. “Just what do you want?”

            “Just to say two things. Just enjoy dinner, and play nice.”

            “What dinner?” Taraju just smiled again and faded away. In his place in the distance Fujo could see a carcass lying on the ground. Fujo stared at it for a second.

            “Food.” He began to run towards it. “Oh, food, glorious, wonderful food! Oh food oh food oh food!” He stopped at the carcass. He leaned his head closer to take a bite. Then he felt something ram into his side, knocking him to the ground on his back.

            “Don’t you dare take my kill.” Fujo looked up to see a very angry lioness staring at him.

            “Um, look, do I know you?” The lioness just snarled at him. “Maybe we could share it?”

            “I don’t think so. Now leave.”

            “Look, wouldn’t it just be—” The lioness lost patience and pounced on top of Fujo and delivered a sharp blow to his head. “Augh! Hey!” The lioness just backpawed him. He looked up at her angry face, and hit her across it. She staggered off of him.

            “Oh . . . oh, you hit me.”

            “You hit me!” protested Fujo.

            “You know, we could just share it.”

            “Really?” asked Fujo. She hit him across the face again in response. Then, surprisingly her face softened and she cradled Fujo’s face in one paw.

            “Ooh. Oh, that must have hurt.”

            Fujo stared up at her in bewilderment. “You’re a nutcase.” The lioness glared at him, then drew back her paw and whipped him across the head as hard as she could. Fujo slipped into unconsciousness.

 

 

 

            Fujo woke up to see the lioness sitting with her back to him. She was hunched over the carcass, slowly swallowing mouthfuls of meat. He couldn’t have been out long, the lioness had only eaten about half of it. Fujo got up, trying to make the least amount of noise possible. He knew it was bad manners to steal someone’s kill, but it was probably just as bad to walk up to someone you don’t even know and start beating them. Tit for tat. He slowly walked behind the lioness, and then whipped his foreleg around her throat and pulled back hard. She fell backwards onto her back, and Fujo put his paw to her throat. She coughed on the bit of meat she had in her mouth, then glared up at Fujo.

            “I liked you better unconscious.”

            “Yeah, I’ve met a lot of people that way. Look, just give me some food, and we won’t have to go through this.”

            “I was going to leave you some. I’m not heartless.”

            “Yeah, uh-huh.” He paused, staring down at her impudent face. “Look, I’ll let you up if—and only if—you promise not to kill me.”

            “Fine.” Fujo removed his paw, and immediately received a paw in the face. “You didn’t saw anything about hurting you,” she said as she walked toward the carcass. Fujo watched her.

            “Complete and absolute nutcase,” he muttered. He walked over to the side of the carcass opposite her and began to eat. He looked her over as he ate. She had fur missing where scars marked her body, seemingly distributed at random. Her fur was mussed, and it her body was gaunt. It wasn’t quite so bad that it looked skeletal like the Outlanders, but it was apparent that she very rarely got to eat a good meal. After a few minutes the lioness got up and began to walk away.

            “Hey, where are you going? You don’t need to leave,” said Fujo.

            The lioness stopped, hung her head. “It’d be better if you weren’t found with me.”

            “Come on, why? Look, there’s still plenty of food here, and from the looks of it, you need it more than me. Look, just trust me.”

            “I can’t afford to trust you.”

            “Just come back and you can tell it to me over the meal.” The lioness turned her head to look at Fujo, a look of sadness and longing on her face. Fujo had no idea what was going on with her head to make her bounce from one emotion to another like that, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to. The lioness stared at him a little longer, then hung her head again.

            “I shouldn’t.”

            “Just tell me what’s going on.” The lioness looked back at Fujo, then gave a sigh and walked back towards him. She sat down opposite him, hung her head again. Fujo thought she was either feeling really guilty or her posture was terrible.

            “He’ll probably kill you if they find you with me.”

            Fujo was shocked by the statement. “Why would anyone want to kill you?”

            The lioness gave a small snort. “What’s the worst crime you can think of?”

            “Uh, let’s see . . . The worst I’ve heard, the guy kills the lion who took him in in order to get a throne for his friend, then lets the daughter of the lion he killed starve to death, then leaves his other friend to die, and then slaughters an entire pride including the first friend, but leaves some alive to live on the brink of starvation. . . . Yeah, I think that’s everything. Oh, wait, he ate some of the pride he killed, too.” The lioness just stared at him. “Oh, and he didn’t really like wildebeest. That right there was just unforgivable.”

            “Wow,” said the lioness, ignoring the last comment. “Kind of makes what I’ve done seem insignificant.”

            “And that would be . . .”

            “Regicide.”

            Fujo nodded his head wisely. After a few moments he realized this wasn’t getting him anywhere. “Ok, what’s regicide?”

            She hung her head again. “I killed my father, the king.”

            “You did what?!

            “I killed the king.”

            “Why would you want to kill anyone? Your father, of all people!”

            She looked up at Fujo, her face terrified. “He was evil. He was really, really scary evil. You have no idea . . .” Her voice trailed off.

            “What did you do to him?” She hung her head again. “You know, you’re going to get a crick in your neck if you keep bobbing it up and down like that.”

            The lioness glared at Fujo. “I can see why you’re alone.”

            “Hey, we’re talking about your story, not mine.”

            The lioness sighed. “I don’t know where to start.”

            “Here’s an idea: start at the beginning. And when you get to the end, stop.” More glaring. “Or you can go about it however you want.”

            The lioness stared at the ground for some time. It was so long that Fujo was about to ask her if she was asleep. Finally she spoke. “He was destroying the pride. He had been doing it all my life.”

            “Who?”

            “My father. He had always done this. He beat us. Horribly. Not just me and my mother, but all of my sisters, too. If any lioness showed any sign of spirit she had it beaten out of her, immediately. He had us wait on him like we were nothing but servants, like dirt. He did whatever he felt like to whoever he felt doing it to, no matter what age. I saw him kill old lionesses while beating them. That was if we were ‘bad.’ If we were good, we got a big reward. Reward: he leaves you alone. How would you like that, the biggest reward you could receive being that he left you alone? And there was nothing we could do. If we rose up, we would be left without a king. Until he had a son. There was talk of overthrowing him then, and raising the cub right, but no one had the courage to do it. So he grew up, learning to treat us like his father did. He’s almost worse. No, he is worse. He’s grown up with it while his father learned it. Cruelty is second nature to him. It was awful. I—I couldn’t do anything.” A tear slid down her cheek. She took a shuddering breath and continued.

            “My—my mother and I were walking one day along the cliff. We have a beautiful home. Or at least, I had a beautiful home. There was a cliff, and it had the most beautiful view of the savannah. When the sun hit it just right . . . that landscape just seemed to sing.” She paused a moment, caught up in memory. “My mother and I would go there whenever we could and just stare at it. Then one day, he came. He was angry. I don’t know why. He just came straight for my mother, and began to beat her, even worse than he usually did. He didn’t even give a reason, he just walked up to her and started. There may not have even been a reason. I yelled at him to stop, I begged for him to stop, I said that he was going to kill her, but he wouldn’t. He just kept going. So I did the only thing I could think of. I rammed him as hard as I could. He went over the cliff. We heard him yell, and then . . . silence.

            “I heard Mother gasp and turned around to see his son there, staring at us. He asked me if I knew what I’d just done. I didn’t know what to say. He walked over to my mother, she tried to get up, but she was too badly hurt. And he pushed her off. And I watched her fall, screaming and clawing at the air on the way down. I looked away, but that still couldn’t stop me from hearing that awful—thud. I looked back up at him. And he laughed. He told me that this was only going to be a taste of the punishment I got. He told me of all the horrible things he would do to me, and ended saying that maybe, if I was lucky, he would kill me. I ran. I couldn’t think of anything else to do. And he shouted after me that I would come crawling back home. I just ran.

            “But he was right about one thing. I miss my mother. And . . . I want to go home.” By this time she was sobbing uncontrollably. Fujo didn’t know what to do. He stepped around the carcass and gently laid a foreleg around her. She buried her face in his chest, her tears soaking his chest. Then suddenly she gasped, and looked up at Fujo, her eyes terrified. “You won’t tell him, will you? Please tell me you won’t tell him where I am. Please,” she begged.

            “Whoa, just . . . just relax.” She just let out a fresh sob. “Look, I don’t even know who you’re talking about. I’ve never met him. I’m not even from around here.”

            “You won’t tell him?” she demanded.

            “No, I won’t tell him.” She buried her face in Fujo’s chest again. It took a good hour to calm her down. It didn’t help that Fujo kept trying to bring up what happened to find out more about it. Every time he tried she just seemed to plunge further into despair, saying “He’s coming for me. He’s coming for me.” He eventually got her calmed down again. After that she was quiet for some time. Finally she spoke again.

            “It’s getting dark. You’re welcome to leave if you want. Frankly, I’d rather you stay here. I’ve been going on almost no sleep. I’d welcome someone else to take watch.”

            “My, what a change this has wrought in us. Just taking command, aren’t we?” remarked Fujo.

            The lioness turned on Fujo angrily. “Listen, I can handle myself just fine.”

            “And if he comes?” Fujo saw a flicker of fear in her eyes. Then the lioness shook her head as if trying to clear it.

            “No, he doesn’t know where I am . . . I’m perfectly fine,” she muttered. “I’m fine.”

            “Are you sure you’re alright? ’Cause, I’m beginning to wonder if I was right about you being a nut—”

            “I am perfectly fine!” she yelled. Fujo backed down.

            “Okay, alright, just kidding.”

            The lioness sighed. “Sorry. I’ve just been so on edge since it happened.”

            “And it happened . . .?” Fujo asked, praying that it wouldn’t make her burst into tears again.

            “Two days ago.” She gave another sigh, then looked up at Fujo, her face set into determination. “Listen, are you going to stay, or leave. I doesn’t matter to me, but just say it, right now.”

            “Or?”

            “Or I’ll beat you down like I did the last time.”

            “Hey, that was lucky. I just wasn’t expecting it.”

            “Yeah, uh-huh. Look, what are you going to do?”

            “I’ll stay. Only because I don’t want you thinking that I’m leaving to sell you out.”

            “Fine. Then get to sleep. I’ll wake you up when I trust you.”

            “And I’m supposed to trust you how? I mean, you did already try to knock me out and leave me here.”

            “You chose to stay. You can still leave now.”

            Fujo just took a few steps away from the carcass and lied down. As he closed his eyes he wondered what Taraju could have been thinking.

 

 

 

            Fujo felt someone poking his face. “Just a little longer, Mom. I’ll be up in a second.” The poking turned into a smack. Fujo immediately sat up. “Ow!”

            “At least you have a mother.” Fujo stared at the lioness. “You’re on until morning. And may Aiheu help you if you fall asleep.” The lioness slumped down to the ground, not even bothering to move once she hit it.

            Man, she must be tired, Fujo thought. He yawned and sat up, looking around at the landscape. Night covered everything, and there only a crescent moon in the sky, barely visible. The stars seemed to blanket the entire sky. Fujo kept looking around, becoming steadily more bored with each passing second. Slowly the boredom changed into sleepiness. I will not fall asleep. Fujo got up and began to walk around. Anything to stay awake. He remembered seeing a water hole in one direction. He began to walk towards it. Hey, she said I needed to keep watch. She didn’t say where. He arrived at it and took a few drinks, then plunged his head into the chilly water. He immediately straightened up, completely awake. He began to walk back towards the lioness. He could see the sky beginning to turn pink at the edge. I haven’t been up that long. She must have stayed up most of the night, Fujo realized. He stiffened as he heard a twig snap. He looked to see a dark figure move on the top of a small hill, then run off it. He immediately began to run toward the lioness. He began to nudge her incessantly.

            “Huh?” she asked. “Whazzit?”

            “I think there’s someone here,” Fujo whispered. The lioness opened her eyes wide, and she began to tremble.

            “No,” she whispered.

            “Step away from the lioness.” Fujo turned to see a female hyena walking towards him.

            “Over my dead body.”

            “Look, I don’t have time for this. Now get out of the way, or I’ll be stepping over your lifeless corpse.” Fujo roared at the hyena. “Ooh, scary. Now get out of the way!” The hyena launched itself at Fujo. The two tumbled to the ground, the hyena coming out on top of Fujo. The hyena raised a paw to strike Fujo.

            “Stop!” Fujo and the hyena turned to see the lioness on her feet, looking at the brawling pair.

            “You heard her! Get off!” Fujo said.

            “I have been trying to take care of her since she was a cub! There is no way that I’m going to just let some lion just come up to her and—”

            “It isn’t like that, Fisadi. He’s trying to help me,” the lioness explained.

            “You’re going to need a lot more help than him. I don’t know how, but he knows where you are.”

            The lioness’s eyes opened wide with fear. “No,” she breathed.

            Fujo pushed Fisadi off his stomach. “Look, I’ll help you.”

            “You don’t know what he’ll do to me . . . I’m not safe, not anywhere. He’ll—he’ll—” Tears began to leak down her face. She turned and ran.

            “Hey, come back here,” Fisadi yelled. “No,” she said quietly when the lioness didn’t turn back.

            “What?” asked Fujo.

            “She’s running right for him.” Fujo stared at the hyena. “What? You expect me to go after her? Are you crazy? He’s just as bad as she’s made him out to be!” Fujo ran after the lioness. “It’s suicide!”

            Fujo kept running. He couldn’t find her. It was like she had just disappeared. He heard a scream and began to run in that direction. He found the lioness backed up against a small cliff by two other lionesses.

            “Look, just come back. You know it’ll be better if you go willingly,” one of the lionesses tried to reason with her.

            “You don’t know what he’ll do to me!” the lioness screamed.

            Suddenly a lion pounced from the top of the cliff to the ground. He turned to face the lioness, and she let out a gasp.

            “You pathetic fool. You should have known better to run. You know you can’t hide from me,” the lion said.

            “No, don’t, please, don’t,” the lioness begged, trying to retreat further backwards, but being stopped by the cliff. The lion walked closer to her.

            “You don’t know how I’ve missed you.” The lion held out a paw towards the lionesses shuddering face. She tried to pull back. The lion cradled the lioness’s face in his paw, causing tears to stream down her face. He drew back his paw.

            “NO!” Fujo shouted. He began to run towards the group. The lion turned to look at Fujo, while the two lionesses moved toward him menacingly. Fujo stopped short of them, glaring angrily at the lion.

            “Stay out of this, kid,” the lion said. “Someone might get hurt. Maybe even worse than they’re going to be right now.” He turned back to the lioness. “She’s broken the law, she’s going to receive her punishment.” He whipped his paw across the lioness’s pace, knocking her to the ground. She let out a cry of pain. “And that’s only an itch compared to what you’ll get. Now get up. We’re going home.” Fujo watched as the lioness got up and slowly bent her head down to touch her lips to the lion’s paws. Then she began to walk away.

            “You can’t be serious!” said Fujo. “You can’t just go back to him!”

            “I don’t have a choice,” the lioness sobbed. Fujo looked down at the lionesses stopping him, and saw their faces etched with pity.

            “Don’t do it!”

            “I have to.” Tears streamed down her face. “I have to.”

            “She knows her place, kid,” said the lion. He began to follow the sobbing lioness. “And if you follow us, I’ll gladly put you in yours.”

            “You filth!” Fujo yelled as he watched the group walk away.

            “You’re too kind, kid,” the lion called back. Fujo watched them walk away. They almost seemed to just fade away. He sat down and hung his head.

            “Fujo.” He looked up to see Taraju sitting in front of him. Fujo marched up to his face angrily.

            “Why did you want me to see this? Why?!

            “You didn’t understand. No matter what—” He broke off as a lion appeared next to him.

            “I’ll take it from here.”

            “Alright, Granddad.”

            “Fujo,” said Simba, “you can’t interfere with justice like that. She committed her crime, she has to serve her punishment.”

            “Punishment? She’s going to be beaten and the gods know what else! And this is just punishment?”

            “She has to serve the punishment for her crime, Fujo.”

            “Like I had to serve mine,” said Taraju.

            “No,” said Fujo. He got up and began to walk away from Simba and Taraju. “No. This is different. She didn’t have a choice. She was a victim.”

            “She murdered someone,” said Simba. “She had to pay the price. There is no higher law than justice.”

            “That’s what we’ve tried to teach you,” said Taraju.

            Fujo turned angrily back to Taraju and Simba. “You guys must have some really screwed up values up there, ’cause that is not justice! That was murder, and you know it! If this was justice, she would not have had to go through this. Yes, Taraju needed to pay for what he did, but not her! She did nothing except the right thing. And you’re excusing that—scum just on the basis that it’s the law!”

            “That’s where you’re wrong, Fujo—” began Simba.

            “No! You’re wrong! I am going to live my life according to my values, not your high and mighty ‘laws rule all’ principle, and there’s not one thing you are going to do to change that!” He turned angrily, and began to walk away.

            “Where are you going?” asked Taraju.

            “Home! I’m through with you!” He continued to walk defiantly away. Simba and Taraju watched him go.

            “See? I told you he already knew this,” said Taraju. “He didn’t even need to go through all this.”

            “We had to be sure,” said Simba.

            “There’s nothing we could have done about it even if he didn’t know what justice was. You’re the one always preaching ‘Do not interfere.’”

            They sat in silence as they watched Fujo continue his journey home.

            “He’ll come back for her,” said Taraju. “Even if he has to break Dad to let him do it.”

            “How do you know?”

            “Because that’s Fujo.”