Kovu followed behind Fujo. The thought This is a bad idea kept on popping into his head. It wasn’t helping that Fujo seemed to have absolutely no idea where he was going. “Are you sure this is the right way?” he finally asked.
“Nope,” replied Fujo.
“Look, I just didn’t really have a set way to get here. It was random. I think.”
“Do you have any idea where we are?”
“Someplace between our kingdom and hers.”
“So you generally know where we are.”
“Which really means?”
“Not so much.”
Kovu resumed scowling. “So you don’t know where it is.”
“Not really, no.”
This is a bad idea seemed perfectly justified.
“Wait, here we go. I know this place. Here’s that carcass, and that way should be . . .” Fujo trailed off. He stopped at what was left of the carcass after the scavengers had gotten through with it, stared at it for a few seconds, then started to wander off. Kovu followed him.
“Do you have any idea what you’re doing?” asked Kovu irritably.
“If I had a chance to think, I would know.” Fujo looked up, then began walking steadily away. “This way!” He broke into a run, Kovu easily catching up to him. He stopped at a small cliff.
“You know, I don’t think they live here,” remarked Kovu.
“This is where she was led away. That’s the last I saw of her.”
“Do you even know her name?”
Fujo thought for a moment. “No. No, she never did give it to me.”
“I’m beginning to think more and more that this was a horrible mistake.”
“Look, it will just take a while to find her. After that it’ll be a breeze. Hopefully.” Fujo started walking away again.
“I thought you said this was where you last saw her.”
“She went this way.”
“And she could have taken countless turns to get back home. You said she had been gone for two days.”
“Would you like to try?”
“Fine.” Kovu strode ahead of Fujo. “Do you even have any idea of what to do once you find her?”
“I thought you had a plan.”
“When did I ever say that?”
“Well, you did seem like you knew what to do.”
“When you’re king, you always seem to know everything. And you almost never do.” Kovu sarcastically assumed the voice of a mentor. “Remember this, and you will do well, my son.”
“Is that really all?”
“Not even close.” They traveled in silence for a little while, Kovu striding confidently ahead. Fujo finally spoke up again.
“Do you have a plan?”
“We get the lioness and leave.”
“I know, brilliant in its simplicity, isn’t it? Look, we can improvise. Now for once in your life be quiet and let me think.” He turned abruptly, heading off in a new direction. He began to look at the landscape around him. It didn’t differ that much from the Pridelands, other than it actually seemed to be flourishing more. Everywhere there was life, and there seemed to be no end to it. No dry spots, no dead trees or grass. Kovu looked at it all appreciatively. “You know, Fujo, despite what you said about the king here, he really does seem to know how to rule. I mean, this is nice.”
“I try not to think about that.” He was looking at it in distaste. “This really shouldn’t be the result for what he’s done.”
“So he’s good at his job. It isn’t going to kill anyone.”
“Okay, hopefully it won’t kill anyone.”
More silence as they walked along. Kovu took two more sharp turns along the way. Finally Fujo asked him, “Do you have any idea where you’re going?”
“Yes. The grass here has been trampled down more. It either leads back to the den or in completely the wrong direction. Take your pick.” Fujo stayed quiet after that.
After that they finally stumbled upon another rock face. There were two caves in it, one higher up above the other, connected by a piece of rock jutting out between them. The lower one’s mouth was set deeper back into the rock face, and off to the side of the large cave. The back of the face was covered with grass, and arched up over the two caves like a huge wave, jutting out some ten feet in front of the top cave’s mouth. There were plenty of weird landmarks Fujo and Kovu had passed, and this one wouldn’t have been worth mentioning either, except for the fact that Kovu managed to see the head of a lioness sticking out of one.
“Gotcha.” He crouched down in the grass surrounding him.
“What?” Fujo hesitated a moment, then crouched down beside his father.
“Right there. Look. There’s a lioness in there.” The lioness hurriedly withdrew her head. “Too late. So, what do you want to do? Just go up to him and say, ‘Please, sire, let me have one of your lionesses?’”
“Sounds like a good idea. You first.” Kovu glared at Fujo. “Hey, you had the idea, you should have the credit.”
“I don’t even want to be here. Look, she doesn’t know me. She does know you. You are just going in there, getting her, and getting out.”
“And if he’s in there?”
“Then run like hell.”
“Fine, I’ll come with. But we are just going in and going out.”
Kovu stood up. “You won’t think that once you see them,” said Fujo.
Kovu started toward the lower den. “I doubt it.” Fujo got up and headed after his father. The lioness stuck her head out again and looked around. When she saw Kovu and Fujo she gasped, and withdrew it immediately. Kovu became tense, and walked toward the cave more cautiously. He walked straight for the center instead of the side of it he had been aiming for. He slowly entered the cave. Lionesses were lying down inside the cave, although there were a few sitting. All of them looked to him in fear. Fujo came in after him, not nearly as cautious as his father. The lionesses just seemed to glance at him, then return their gaze to Kovu. Finally one of the lionesses spoke, but in no more than a whisper. Fujo couldn’t quite make out what they were saying. He finally spoke up.
“Um, I’m looking for a lioness, she should be around here.”
“What do you want with us?” one of the lionesses asked. Fear was written across her face.
“Uh, nothing. Look, I’m just looking for someone. Maybe you’ve seen her?” Fujo realized this was going to get him nowhere. “Uh, look, she’s about, um . . . well, her fur is kind of . . . yeah.” His attempts at description died as he saw all of the lionesses around the den in much the same state the lioness he was looking for. “Okay, if it helps, she looks like you.” The lionesses just stared at him. “Do you mind if I look around?” More staring. “Okay, thanks.”
Fujo headed toward the back of the den, the lionesses quickly getting out of his way. He looked at each of their faces, hoping to find some familiar trace. All he found was fear. Kovu stayed at the entrance of the den for a few seconds as he watched his son go further back, but followed him after he felt he had gone too far. He had no idea how these lionesses would react, but he didn’t want his son in there alone. The lionesses’ gazes shifted from Fujo to Kovu as he walked through, filled with even more fear than before. They began to whisper as he went past.
“The scar . . .”
“Taka . . .”
Fujo pressed further back. At the very back of the den he found several lionesses huddled together, but who readily moved out of the way as he grew closer. There, on the ground, was the lioness, her body beaten, slashes crusted over with dried blood. She looked up at Fujo when he approached. “You,” she whispered.
“Yeah, it’s me,” said Fujo.
“How dare you come back?!” the lioness demanded. Fujo stepped back, surprised. The lioness tried to get up, but fell to the ground, wincing in pain. “How could you even stand to come back after you do this to me?”
“What are you talking about?” asked Fujo.
“You sell me out to him, and then you have the nerve to come back?!”
“Look, I didn’t tell him. I told you that.”
“Who else knew where I was?” asked the lioness, pushing herself up again. “Who else—unh!” She fell to the floor again. “Just look what you’ve done,” she said weakly. “I hope you’re happy.”
“Should I kill him now, Taabu?” Fujo looked over to see a hyena slink out of the shadows, the same hyena that had come upon Fujo and the lioness and warned the lioness that she had been found.
“Please. Maybe he’ll serve some purpose as a meal.” said the lioness. The hyena launched herself at Fujo, knocking him to the ground. Kovu had been keeping only a fraction of his attention on Fujo, he had been so preoccupied with the lionesses. Fujo was right, they really were pathetic. Then he heard a snarl from the back of the den and saw his son being bowled over by a hyena. He ran to his son, knocked the hyena off, and pinned it to the floor in one swift movement. He kept her there, the hyena’s face shocked.
“Dad, wait,” said Fujo.
“Why? It tried to kill you.”
“Just get off it.”
“Please.” Kovu slowly got off, the hyena still staring at Kovu in shock. Slowly it melted away to anger.
“You!” the hyena cried. She launched herself up at Kovu, who immediately pinned her down again. He swept his paw back this time.
“Dad! No!” Kovu barely stopped himself. “What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking she just tried to kill me, too.”
“You deserve it, Taka! You don’t even deserve to walk the face of this earth!”
“What did I ever do to you?”
“You slaughtered my entire family, just letting them starve to death! ‘You’ll have food,’ you said. ‘You will reign at my side,’ you said. And they took you up on that, trusting you! The only one that even survived was my mother, carrying me inside her! And she had to leave her home just to live!”
The pieces connected in Kovu’s head. “O-o-oh.” He slowly got off the hyena. “I see now. You think I’m Scar.”
“I know you’re Scar!” The hyena angrily got up.
“Look, Scar is dead. He’s gone.”
“And why should I believe you? You have everything my mother said he had. A black mane, a scar across his left eye.”
“You’ll just have to trust me.”
“Like I did him?” asked the hyena, nodding at Fujo.
“Hey, would I have come back if I had done it?” demanded Fujo angrily.
“Look, I came back to make sure she’s safe. She shouldn’t be paying for what she did.”
“But she is, all the same.”
“What do you care? You’re just a hyena.”
“We’re animals, too!”
“Look, I care about her because this isn’t right. I’ve had to watch her since she was a cub. All of them. When he doesn’t give them enough food, I’m there. When he beat them and left them out in the savannah to die I brought them back to their mothers. And there isn’t a single one of them that doubts that I care for them.”
“And look what a wonderful job you’ve done, too.” Fujo gestured at the lioness lying on the ground.
“She’s alive, isn’t she?”
“In a condition that pitiful, it’s a surprise.”
“And what do you think you can do? Hmm?”
“I can take them away.” Fujo turned to the other lionesses and raised his voice. “I can take all of you away. You’ll never have to live like this again. You can be free.”
“No.” It was Kovu.
“We can’t take them. Just her.”
“If she leaves, do you have any idea what he’ll do to them?”
“No. And neither do you. We don’t have the room to take in another pride. Only she can come.”
“We can save them!”
“It’s not our kingdom.”
“I’m not leaving.” Fujo and Kovu turned to see the lioness speaking. “Not without my sisters.”
“See?” asked Fujo.
“Then we’re leaving,” said Kovu. “Right now.”
“I have a pride to think of, and this isn’t it.” He began to walk out of the den.
“Wait!” said the hyena.
“He’ll see you.”
“He isn’t even here.”
“He’s in the other den. He’s a little—preoccupied. Look, please help them. Please. I’m tired of living like this, and so are they. Just taking a few . . . it would be a godsend.”
“None of us are leaving, Mother,” said a lioness. “Not without the rest of us.”
“Mother?” Kovu mouthed at Fujo. Fujo just shrugged.
“How could we even choose?” asked another lioness.
“How could we live with knowing what he would do to the ones who stayed behind?” asked the first lioness.
“Alright then. We’re leaving,” said Kovu. He started for the mouth again.
“No,” hissed the hyena. “No!”
Kovu walked out of the den. He managed to get just a few feet from the mouth before he heard, “I’m enjoying myself when I hear that, for some reason, two lions have just walked straight into my den.” Kovu turned to see a red-brown-maned lion walking down the path between the two dens. “So, who are you, and what were you doing in my den?” the lion growled. Then suddenly the lion’s face lit up. “Oh. I beg your apologies.”
“Aren’t you the great and mighty Scar?”
Kovu sighed. This was getting old already. “No. Scar is dead.”
“Then who are you?” said the lion, suddenly advancing on Kovu again.
“I am his son, Kovu.” It seemed like the best thing to say. “And you are?”
“Sibu. I rule here.”
“And you’ve done a wonderful job.”
“Oh, it’s nothing compared to Scar. Your father’s acts are legendary here.”
“Oh yes. So, what brings you here?”
“Nothing, really. Just passing through. I probably should be leaving anyway.”
“No, please stay. If you really are who you say you are, you are more than welcome here.”
“That really isn’t necessary.”
“I think otherwise. Besides, you must be hungry. At least stay for dinner. Or didn’t Scar teach his son courtesy?”
“Alright then. I’ll stay, for dinner at least.”
“Now, where is the other one who was with you?”
“I received a report of two lions.”
“Oh. That would be my son. He’s still inside.”
“Well then, why don’t we go back inside the den?”
Inside the den, things had gone into a flurry as soon as they had heard the lion’s voice. After they heard the voice there was an initial moment where everything stopped and panic, then an almost universal turning of heads toward the hyena. She started to give orders, “You four, in front of Taabu again. Uchungu, Weusi, back to the front. Everyone else, just act normal.” She began to slink to her hiding place again while the lionesses immediately responded to her commands.
“What about me?” asked Fujo.
“I advise you stay away from Taabu, and come up with a damn good explanation of why you’re in here.” She sat back into the shadows, almost invisible if you weren’t looking for her.
Fujo turned to the injured lioness. “Taabu?”
“What?” she groaned.
“What kind of name is Taabu?”
“It’s a damn sight better than Fujo.”
“Hey, it’s a good—” He was cut off by a renewed voice outside the den.
“Well then, why don’t we go back inside the den?” Several of the lionesses turned to face Taabu, their faces etched with concern. What Fujo could see of Taabu between the lionesses began to tremble uncontrollably.
“No . . .” she said. “No, not again, oh please not again . . . Let him forget . . .”
Sibu walked into the den, followed by Kovu the lionesses hurriedly getting out of their way. When Sibu saw Fujo he stopped dead. “Is this a joke?” he asked Kovu.
“No, sire, this would be my son. He brought me here to—see your fine lands.”
“Did your son also mention that I told him he had better stay away?”
“It may have come up. But he seemed so—intent on coming back that I thought that there may really be something to what he said about you and your—approaches to ruling a healthy kingdom. I just came to observe.”
Barely any of this seemed to penetrate Sibu as he glared at Fujo. Fujo put on a sort of half-attempted smile. “Uh, hi?”
“Why are you here?” demanded Sibu.
“Oh, I just wanted to stop by, say hello to some childhood friends, catch up, you know that sort of thing,” Fujo said nervously.
“What, me? No, of course not, never. I mean, not generally at least. Sometimes a little white one slips out now and then but usually, no, not really.”
“When I tell someone I don’t want them to do something, I expect them to comply. It would be better, Kovu, if you warned your son that I crush fools who get in my way. Speaking of fools . . .” Sibu looked away from Fujo, casting his gaze around the den. He finally stopped when he saw the trembling Taabu. He laughed, not at all in a nice way. “I had almost forgotten . . .”
Tears began to stream down Taabu’s face. “Please my lord, no . . . I beg of you . . . Please have mercy . . .”
“Mercy?” Sibu asked, then laughed. “You should have thought of mercy when you killed my father. You’ll receive just as much—mercy—as he did.” He advanced on Taabu.
“My lord, please, no, please don’t, please,” Taabu begged, her voice rising hysterically. Lionesses turned away, some of them crying; they knew what would happen. Sibu grabbed Taabu as she tried to get up and back away. He mounted her, his extended claws tearing through her skin, opening up old wounds and creating new ones.. Taabu cried out in pain as the claws dug in deeper and deeper. Several of the lionesses began to cry. Fujo watched for only a few seconds before leaving the den and quietly becoming sick outside. Kovu simply looked away, but he was still unable to close his ears to the cries of pain. After what seemed like an eternity it was over, Taabu’s cries devolving into a steady stream of tears. For good measure Sibu hit Taabu before turning back to Kovu.
“I believe I said something about food?” Sibu asked, as if nothing had happened at all.
“Briefly,” Kovu forced out. Sibu looked at him inquisitively.
“Where is your son?”
“He had to go outside to—relieve himself.” Kovu finally looked up from the floor at Sibu, only to find a mocking smile.
“I see you still have some things to teach your son.” He turned to one of the lionesses. “So, where is the food?”
“M-my lord,” the lioness stammered, “we—we simply—we don’t have any.”
“You don’t have any?” growled Sibu.
“We didn’t know we would be receiving guests, sire.”
“And is that an excuse?!” roared Sibu. He whipped a paw across the lioness’s face, knocking her to the ground. Kovu gave a start, barely catching himself. Sibu noticed and turned to Kovu. “Does this—bother you?” He hit the lioness again, who was getting up. Kovu just stared, willing himself to stay impassive. “I mean surely something like this—” Sibu hit the lioness again—“doesn’t bother Scar’s son, hmm?” He hit the lioness again. Kovu twitched. Sibu saw it, his face spreading into a smile. “So it does bother you. To think that even you have gone soft.” Sibu turned back to the lioness. “Now get us meat and be quick about it!”
The lioness got to her feet before she could receive another blow. She touched her lips to Sibu’s paws. “Yes, my lord.” She headed out of the den, several lionesses at her heels.
“And take Umo as well.” The lioness stopped and turned back to Sibu as one who was lying down on the floor looked up.
“My lord, she is over three moons pregnant. Are you sure it is wise to—”
“Do you question my judgment?” Sibu thundered. The lioness cowered.
“No, my lord,” she responded. Umo raised herself from the floor of the den and moved slowly out of the den along with the rest of the hunters. Kovu noticed how heavily pregnant she was and felt a pang of sadness. Fujo was right, he thought sadly. Sibu watched them go, then turned to Kovu.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, I still have some matters to attend to.” Sibu began to walk out of the den. “Feel free to any of the lionesses. But not your son.” The lionesses looked at Kovu in fear. Kovu tried to give them a reassuring look; it didn’t seem to do much good. Sibu walked outside of the den and looked where Kovu couldn’t see, and laughed before heading up to his den. Fujo slowly walked in, looking thoroughly miserable and shocked.
“That was horrible,” Fujo said. His voice was hollow, dead.
“Now do you see what they have to go through?” Kovu and Fujo turned to see the hyena stepping out into the open again. “Every single day. And that was barely anything; he’s in a good mood today. So do you feel any differently?”
“Yes,” said Kovu. “But why are you doing this?”
“Because they need your help.”
“I’m not talking about asking me, I’m asking you why you’re helping them.”
The hyena sighed. “I don’t even know how long ago it was. Years, at least. I was hunting when I found Weusi there—” she gestured to one of the older lionesses by the cave entrance—“lying on the ground, scratches covering what must have been half her body. And she was only a cub. Yes, at first I thought it was just a free meal, but that changed when I saw her face. That was utter despair. She had completely given up hope. That brute’s father had just left her out there to die. I asked her where her parents were, and she just pointed where her mother was. I picked her up and brought her back here. The lionesses didn’t trust me at first, they thought I had just accidentally picked the wrong cave to eat in.” The hyena gave a small sigh of laughter. “I couldn’t have found anything to eat on her, she was so bony. The next day I came by again, and brought a carcass with me. They actually burst into tears seeing that meat. And . . . it just kind of—went—from there.” The hyena just stopped talking. A few of the lionesses were actually smiling. Even Taabu had stopped crying. The hyena looked up from the floor of the den. “So, will you help us?”
“Yes,” said Kovu. Fujo looked at his father in surprise. “Don’t look so shocked. They really do need us. Besides, what would your mother think if I came back without helping them?”
“Thank you Dad,” said Fujo. He turned to the hyena. “Well, I suppose I should get to know you. I’m Fujo, he’s Kovu, and you’re—Sinabi, right?”
The hyena gave a small snort of laughter. “Fisadi. And this is Taabu,” she said, gesturing to the injured lioness. “And Uchungu, Huzuni, Ufukara . . .” she slowly went around the den, naming all of them, the lionesses nodding as their name came up.
“Well,” said Kovu after Fisadi had finished, “I see your mothers had such positive attitudes when naming you.”
“They’re good names,” said the one named Huzuni, her voice an ugly, throaty rasp.
“They’re the only ones we know,” said Weusi. She had a chunk missing from her ear which reminded Kovu uncomfortably of Zira. Zira, however, still had most of her ear; Weusi’s was almost entirely gone.
“I didn’t mean that,” said Kovu. He looked around the den. “I need some time to think.” He stood up and left the den. The lionesses turned to face Fujo for a few moments, then went back to lying down or talking. Fisadi left without a word. Fujo watched her leave cautiously, then went over to Taabu. She looked up at him, then laid her head back down.
“I’m sorry,” said Fujo. Taabu just lied there. “I didn’t—know. I mean, it isn’t right for you to have to go through that and . . . well, especially you, and—”
“Out with it,” Taabu said.
“I guess what I’m trying to say is . . . Okay, I don’t know what I’m trying to say. It’s just that—oh, I don’t know.”
“If it’s any consolation, I believe you didn’t tell him. You weren’t the only way he could have found out.”
“Well, that’s a relief, I guess . . . Look, I don’t really know how to say this, but . . . I think I like you.”
Taabu suddenly looked up. “I beg your worthless pardon?”
“Well, when he . . . you remember . . .”
“Well, I wasn’t just—disgusted. I was angry. I wanted to hurt him. Bad. I’ve—I’ve never felt like that before.”
“Let’s just get one thing straight,” said Taabu. She pushed herself up into a sitting position, her face in a horrible grimace as she did so. When she was finally up she looked Fujo straight in the eye. “I may be accepting your help. But that doesn’t mean I like you. At all. Now get out of my way.”
“Get out of the way.” Fujo stepped to the side. “Thank you.” She began to slowly and painfully make her way towards the mouth of the cave. Fujo watched her walk for a little while then lied down in her spot. After about a minute he heard a thud and looked up to see Taabu sprawled across the den floor, obviously having collapsed. He ran over to her.
“Are you okay?” Taabu snarled at him. She pushed herself up again and began for the den entrance again. Fujo watched her go, then turned to look at the other lionesses. They acted as if they hadn’t even noticed it. Fujo managed to catch Uchungu’s eye. “What happened? Shouldn’t you have at least tried to help her?”
Uchungu gave him a smile. “No. But it’s good to see that you really do care about us.”
“Why didn’t you help her?”
“She has—pride issues,” rasped Huzuni. Fujo turned to see her lying on her back. “Always was independent. She considers it insulting to need help.”
“I helped her that night we were together,” said Fujo. He heard bitter laughter and turned to Ufukara.
“And you did a wonderful job of it too from what she says,” said the lioness. “Sounds like most of the time you were helping her sound asleep.”
Fujo fell silent for a few moments, no more than that. Even he was beginning to think it was impossible for him to shut up. “What keeps you from just walking out?” he asked.
Uchungu turned to him. “Nothing. Save for the fact that now, thanks to what Taabu did, we aren’t allowed any more than one trip to the water hole a day, and anyone found further than fifty feet from the cave is instantly killed. Chuma died that way. She tried to run. She saw how far Taabu made it and she thought she could get away. She always was a fool.”
“You sound ungrateful for what Taabu did. She took a step none of you were willing to take.”
“And look where we are thanks to it. She only replaced a monster with a demon. We realize it took courage to do what she did. But it also took blatant stupidity and no foresight at all. We were better off with Sibu’s father. At least he kept Sibu somewhat in line.”
Taabu came limping back inside. “Animals do make poor decisions, but that doesn’t mean we hang it over their heads,” retorted Fujo.
“We’re not hanging anything over anyone’s head!” said Uchungu.
“Oh, give it a rest,” said Taabu. “I’m not sorry at all, so the both of you can just shut up.”
“Hey, I’m trying to help you here!” protested Fujo. “And you may not like me, but I do like you, and I don’t want to see you die!”
“Die?” asked Taabu, lying down in the back of the den again with a groan.
“Yes, as in dead.”
Taabu began to laugh, but there was only sadness in it. It was almost hysterical. She suddenly sobered with a sharp intake of breath, almost instantaneously. “You really think he’s going to kill me? He knows what he’s doing. You saw what he did. He’s going to make sure I live, because that’s my punishment. An eye for an eye. I get to be that happy mother of the new prince. If I’m lucky, I’ll die in cubbirth, and if I’m not, I’ll have to live, seeing the poor thing grow into just as much of a beast as his father. And you can ask Weusi how that feels.”
Fujo stared at her, shocked. “I—I’m sorry. I never knew.” Taabu didn’t say anything back.
“Dinner.” Fujo turned around to see the lionesses having come back from the hunt, three carcasses in the mouths of the six that went. One was in Umo’s, but Fujo couldn’t figure out for his life how she had managed to do it. Kovu trailed in after them. Weusi saw the carcasses and sighed.
“I’ll get Sibu,” she said, and started for the den entrance. Kovu stopped her.
“No. I’ll do it.” He turned around and walked back out, heading for Sibu’s den. He heard voices coming from inside as he approached.
“. . . been around here too long,” said Sibu’s voice. “He’s nothing more than an irritant.”
Kovu finally reached the den, and saw several leopards in the den in various states of relaxation, save for one who was sitting straight up in a rigid pose. “What would you like us to do, sire?” asked the sitting one.
“Just a small job. The kind where you make sure he never bothers me again,” said Sibu.
“My favorite, sire,” spoke up one of the leopards lying down. The sitting one threw him a look, all of the venom taken out of it by the fact that he was smiling.
“It’s no problem at all, sire,” said the sitting one. “Consider it done.” He turned to leave, but stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Kovu standing in the entrance. “Sire?”
Sibu finally noticed Kovu. “Ah, Kovu, what is it?”
“Just wanted to let you know that dinner is here, sire.”
“Thank you.” Sibu shifted his attention back to the leopards. “Well, you know what to do.” The leopards exited the cave, some of them looking at Kovu, others ignoring him utterly. Sibu stood up and began to follow them. “Not always the brightest bunch there, save for a few of them. But if you want someone gone in a hurry, there they are.” He walked past Kovu, heading for the lower den. Kovu followed Sibu, hating him every step of the way. He arrived to see the carcasses laid out in the den, with Fujo and the lionesses waiting. Sibu stepped up to one of the carcasses and began to eat, the lionesses eyeing his meal with hungry eyes. Sibu stopped eating and turned to Kovu. “Well, help yourself.” Kovu slowly walked to a carcass, staring at the wonderful, juicy thing before sitting down and beginning to eat. Fujo hadn’t moved.
“What about the lionesses?” Fujo asked.
“Oh, they get whatever’s left over,” said Sibu.
“Are you sure that’s enough?”
“They haven’t starved to death, have they?” asked Sibu. Fujo reluctantly sat down at the other carcass and began to eat, the lionesses staring at him intently. He took only small bites, determined that there would be plenty left. Umo saw what he was doing and coughed. Fujo looked up at her, seeing her slowly shaking her head from side to side in an obvious gesture of no. Fujo began to take somewhat larger bites. The shaking finally stopped. Fujo finally spoke up again.
“Do you think the lionesses would be a little more willing if you treated them nicely?”
Sibu looked up at him. “They are already more than willing. I ask, and they will trip over each other to see that it’s done.”
“Yeah, but it’s not really that willing is it?”
“Fujo,” said Kovu.
“It’s willing enough for me,” said Sibu.
“Yeah, but wouldn’t it be easier if they respect you?”
“They do respect me.”
“Well, maybe if you were a little nicer—”
“Fujo,” interrupted Kovu.
“Do you think we really need to question his methods?”
“Well, I’m just trying to understand.”
“It’s quite alright, Kovu,” said Sibu. He turned to look at Fujo. “You want to know why I rule as I do? I do it for one simple reason: it works.” He took another bite, swallowed. “Your father obviously has things to teach you.”
The rest of the meal was eaten in silence. Sibu finished before Kovu and Fujo, leaving nothing but a few scraps clinging to the skeleton. He simply got up and left, heading for his den. As soon as Kovu thought Sibu had gone out of earshot he furiously rounded on Fujo. “The next time I tell you to shut up, you shut up.”
“I didn’t hear you tell me to shut up.”
“Too subtle for you?”
“I just watched him order someone killed for no reason at all. That could be you next, or me. I don’t know about you, but I want to see your mother again. So you are going to be careful or we are leaving, even if I have to knock you out and drag you all the way home.” He gave a sigh, then pushed away what was left of his carcass towards the lionesses. “Here, eat.”
The lionesses stared at the carcass for a few moments, then at Kovu. “Kovu—” started Umo, tears in her eyes.
“Eat.” It was an order. The lionesses fell upon the carcass, tearing anything they could of it. Fujo stepped away from his, and it too was devoured ravenously. There couldn’t have been any more than a couple of mouthfuls for each lioness. Uchungu stripped off a huge chunk of meat, the biggest there, and receive glares from all the others. The glares softened as Uchungu walked back to Taabu and placed the meat beside her. Taabu began eating, and in all of five seconds the meat was gone. Fujo stared at the spectacle, then looked back at Kovu, only to see him staring outside the den, apparently at the already fading light. A few seconds later Fisadi walked in, dragging a carcass twice her size. Kovu hurriedly helped her get it inside the den before Sibu would see.
“Oh, Mother!” cried one of the lionesses. They all stared at the carcass. Fisadi tore off several chunks of meat, and took them, with Uchungu’s help, over to Taabu. After she had dropped them she nodded, and the lionesses began to eat the new carcass. Fisadi began to munch on some of the pieces by Taabu.
“Where’ve you been?” asked Fujo.
Fisadi swallowed down another piece. “Hunting. I have to find some way to feed my girls.”
Fujo watched her and Taabu eat for a few more seconds before lying down. Walking all day had tired him out. After a few minutes he heard pawsteps behind him, then Kovu speaking.
“Why does Sibu idolize Scar?”
Fisadi was silent for a few moments. “It’s like this: Scar drove all the animals out of his kingdom. He didn’t mean to. All of the animals simply left because it was a barren wasteland. Nothing grew there, according to my mother. So they left, and plenty of them came here. The only thing Sibu’s father could get out of them was that they came from Taka’s kingdom. That and how cruel he had been. So, the king added two and two together and got five. He assumed that there was an overabundance in Scar’s kingdom, and that his ruthless tyranny was what made it possible. He was already a first-class tyrant, according to my mother, and this only went on to prove his point. So he only got worse, and his son watched him, knowing the entire time he tried to mimic Scar. His father ran it brutally, but efficiently. He didn’t have Scar’s laziness, which is probably the only thing that saved the kingdom. His son learned this, and turned into the monster you see today.”
Fujo stuck a paw in the air. “Question. Have you ever had a decent day here?”
Fisadi gave him a smile. It still amazed her how laid-back Fujo could be at any time. “Once. It was a Thursday.” She gave a sigh. “The day gives and the day takes away. Blessed be the day that only gives good things. If any.” She got up and started to leave. “I’ll be back in the morning.” She left, dragging the skeleton of what she had brought in behind her.
Fujo watched her go, then laid his head back down. “She’s not too bad for a hyena.” He saw Taabu glaring at him angrily. “What?”
“You are a stupid, insensitive jerk, you know that?”
“Why does everyone keep saying that?”
“Have you ever thought that maybe they’re right?” she asked angrily, then turned over so that her back was to Fujo. Fujo looked up at his father.
Kovu nodded. “Really.” He walked to another corner and lied down. Fujo watched him, then rolled over, muttering about how no one understood him.
Taabu woke the next morning to an annoying shuffling sound. She tried to close her ears to it, but it just wouldn’t stop. She finally rolled over to see Fujo lying on his back, apparently writhing in pain. “Are you okay?”
Fujo groaned. “No. I’ve got a scratch and I can’t itch it.”
“You mean an itch and you can’t scratch it.”
“I don’t care what I mean; it’s driving me crazy!” He suddenly stopped and looked at her. “Hey, I don’t suppose . . .”
Taabu gave a groan. “Fine. Come over here.” Fujo walked over and lied down. Taabu sat up, the pain much better than the day before. It helped when you weren’t beaten senseless days in a row like she had been. Sibu had actually been quite nice to her yesterday. She stared at Fujo’s back as a sadistic thought crept into her mind. She placed her paw on Fujo’s back gently, then extended her claws and raked them down her back. Fujo gave a yell of pain. Taabu smiled. “How was that?”
“A little to the left,” Fujo replied, obviously in pain. She repeated the process, as he requested, to the left. Fujo roared this time. “Gods, I was being sarcastic!”
“Oops. My mistake.” She got up and went outside for personal reasons. Fujo watched her go, and laid his head down. The itch actually was gone.
“Nutcase.” Fujo gave a sigh. “Complete and absolute nutcase.” Thoughts of Taabu flashed through his mind. Why do I even like her, even a bit? She attacks me, accuses me, hurts me, and I still keep coming back to her. He groaned as he rolled over. It’s probably all from what Tumai said. Nothing more. I’ll come to my senses any second now. Yup, any second . . . Darn it, where are you, senses? He rolled back over to see Taabu reentering the den. Somehow Fujo felt calmer. Taabu stopped and looked over her shoulder to Fisadi, who was bringing in another carcass.
“. . . Oh, and Recna’s dead,” said Fisadi. “The Askari got him.”
“Are you really sure this is a good idea?” asked Taabu.
Fisadi dropped the carcass. “Look, I’m just feeding you a little early today. What could happen?”
“If he finds you—”
“He won’t find me. He never does. He doesn’t even pay any attention to me if he sees me when he actually gets off his butt to go around the kingdom. I’m just another lowlife hyena, who is living prosperously all because of him.”
“Did we wake up lying on our bad side today?” asked Fujo.
“Fujo, shut up.” It was Kovu.
“Hey, that’s not very nice.”
“It doesn’t seem to get to you any other way.” Kovu lifted himself from the ground. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take a walk. Hopefully breakfast won’t be over by the time I get back. If it is, eat mine.” He left without another word. Taabu and Fisadi turned to stare at Fujo.
“What?” he asked.
“Well, what’s he doing?” asked Fisadi.
“I don’t know. For all I know he could be trying to incite a rebellion. He’ll think of something. After all, he is a king.”
“King, huh? And I just thought you two were a pair of worthless rogues . . . Well I’ll be damned.”
Fisadi stared at Fujo for a second, then let out a chuckle. “Alright, fine. Have the last word.” She turned to the lionesses. “Come and get it.” They fell on the carcass, each of them getting as much as they could, but still not trying to take too much. It was obvious that they cared enough for each other that they wouldn’t let someone starve if there was something they could do about it. There was almost an orderly chaos in the way they ate. Fisadi stepped back after a couple of bites and looked around. “Where’re Ufukara and Huzuni?
“They’re out hunting,” said Fujo. “Took a few others with them. Said something about Sibu wanting an early breakfast.”
Fisadi looked at him in horror. “He’s—he’s eating early?”
“Yeah, but what’s the look fo—oh. Oh, crap.”
Fisadi turned to the lionesses. “Hide it, quick!” The lionesses stopped eating and look up at her. “Hide the carcass!” hissed Fisadi. “Now!”
“Where?” asked one of the lionesses.
“Anywhere! There, the back of the den. Hurry!” Three lionesses hurriedly began to drag the carcass into the indicated corner, then sat around it, blocking it from view.
“Now would you mind explaining this to us, Mother?” asked Weusi.
“He can’t see you with that! He’d kill you!”
Umo stuck her head outside, then pulled it back in. “He’s coming!” she hissed. All heads unanimously turned to Fisadi.
“Hide me!” Several lionesses sat down in front of her, effectively shielding her from at least the front of the cave. Barely after they had done so Sibu walked in. He looked around at all the lionesses staring at him, instantly aware that they were hiding something. He dismissed it; he would deal with it later. His eyes fell on Fujo.
“Where is your father?” asked Sibu.
“He’s out,” Fujo replied. “Said something about sightseeing.”
“Very well.” He turned to the lionesses. “And where is the morning meal?”
“They—they’re getting it, sire,” said an unfortunate lioness in the back of the den that was shielding the carcass, in this case Weusi. Sibu began to slowly walk toward her.
“And why is it not here yet?” he asked dangerously.
“My son, they are try—”
Sibu whipped his paw across Weusi’s face, knocking her to the ground. “You may be my mother, but you will refer to me as sire. You are no better than any of the other filth.” His eye landed on the carcass that was now visible in the gap left by Weusi. He turned around. “Who brought this?” he asked in a low voice. No one answered. “I said who brought this!” Several eyes involuntarily flickered to Fisadi, who was hiding behind several lionesses who had moved so she wouldn’t bee seen from the back of the den now. Sibu saw the flickers and started toward the group of lionesses. They quickly scattered, leaving Fisadi in the open. Sibu stopped dead. “You harbored a hyena?” he asked, his voice low again. He advanced on Fisadi. “Of all the filthy, dirty animals, a—”
“No! Not Mother!” said one of the lionesses. Sibu turned to look at the now-cowering lioness, then back at Fisadi. He let out a low laugh, slowly rising into one of normal volume.
“Mother?” he said. “Mother? Well then, you will have the pleasure of watching—Mother—die.” He advanced on Fisadi, who slowly began to back away, fear filling her face. Fujo leapt up and placed himself between Sibu and Fisadi.
“No!” he declared. Sibu whacked him across the face, knocking Fujo to the ground, then leapt on top of Fujo.
“You have troubled me for the last time!” declared Sibu and raised back a paw. Fujo turned, wincing, and brought his foreleg up to shield himself. He felt his leg stop before it got all the way up, and heard a sudden gasp. He opened his eyes to see blood steadily trickling down his leg, starting with a paw that was lodged between Sibu’s ribcage.
“Oh, gods,” said Fujo softly. He let the paw drop, and looked up at Sibu’s face. It was contorted in pain and shock.
“Not like this,” breathed Sibu. He looked down at Fujo’s face as his body began to shake violently with the effort of standing. Fujo saw that his eyes were filled with desperation and surprise. “But why—?” He collapsed, falling on top of Fujo. There was silence in the den. Fujo couldn’t move, partly from the weight and partly from shock.
I killed him.
“I can’t believe it.” Fujo couldn’t distinguish individual voices anymore. It was just a random voice.
“Is he—dead?” asked another voice.
I—I just killed someone.
There was more silence, then suddenly, in a glorious yell, “FREEDOM!” The lionesses began to cry, and a pair of them moved Sibu’s body off Fujo, and all of them began to scream and yell, but Fujo lied there, untouched by any of it.
I killed him. I took his life. I didn’t even give him a chance.
No, it was an accident.
But that doesn’t mean it had to happen. And why did it have to be me?
Fujo was suddenly aware of a head above his. “Are you okay?” asked Taabu. Fujo slowly rolled over to his stomach, then slowly stood up.
“No. I’m about as far from it as you can get.”
“But you did it!”
“What’s going on?” Taabu and Fujo turned to see Kovu standing in the entryway. He suddenly noticed the blood smeared across Fujo’s leg, chest and stomach, then Sibu’s body. “I—what—he—” Kovu stopped trying to speak, instead resorting to shaking his head. “I think you’ve gotten smart and then you run off and do some fool thing like this.”
Suddenly Fujo was angry beyond belief. He stormed out of the den, knocking his father out of the way as he went by. Kovu looked at Taabu. “What happened?” she asked. “Was it something we said?”
“He just needs some time to get over it,” said Kovu. He gave a sigh, watching his son run away, then turned back to Taabu. “So, what happened?”