Fujo ran. He had no idea where he was going, but it just seemed like the best thing to do. He stopped at a water hole, only for the reason that he had to drink something, or else he’d die. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d had a decent drink. Last night’s meal still stuck in his throat. He stopped at the edge of the pond, and looked at himself, seeing the blood seemingly having gone up his leg, then having trickled onto his chest and stomach. He sighed. I didn’t want to. He took a few licks from the pond, but was unable to take his eyes off his blood-soaked paw. He snapped, throwing himself in the water. He began to thrash around, rubbing himself on the bottom, on the bank of the pool, on the reeds, anything to get the blood off.
“Fujo?” Fujo turned to see Huzuni and Ufukara standing at the edge of the water hole, looking at him with concern he saw the other lionesses running off with the carcasses, obviously in a hurry to get the meat to Sibu. Huzuni gasped when she saw some blood on Fujo’s side he hadn’t managed to get off yet.
“You’re hurt,” she rasped. “What happened?” Fujo stared at the pair for a few seconds, then plunged his head underneath the water, followed by his body. He tried to inhale, only swallowing down water. He tried to take another breath. He suddenly found his body being yanked up by the lionesses and being pulled toward the water. They dropped him, spluttering, on the ground.
“What do you think you’re doing?!” said Ufukara. “What are you, insane?”
Fujo coughed out more water. “Suicidal,” he replied weakly. He got up and tried for the pond again, but found himself stopped by Huzuni pouncing him to the ground.
“Now look,” said Huzuni, “I know Taabu may not love you back, but that’s no reason to—”
“It isn’t Taabu. It’s Sibu.”
The lionesses exchanged looks. Unhappy looks. “Well, what of him?” asked Ufukara.
The lionesses stared at him. “Dead?” Huzuni finally rasped, her voice even worse than usual. “Genuinely, truly, honestly dead?”
Huzuni slowly got off Fujo. “How?” she asked, her voice sounding like a dead lioness with a horrible, horrible case of bronchitis.
“I killed him.”
The lionesses stood there, stunned for a moment. “Oh, thank you Aiheu!” Ufukara suddenly yelled.
“Quiet!” reprimanded Huzuni. “Don’t you see how he hurts?”
Fujo started back towards the water again. I don’t deserve to live. He threw his head back to plunge it in again, but suddenly found himself tackled into the water. He felt himself being dragged out by his neck. He flopped over onto his back as he was dragged and finally had his head dropped, only to see Huzuni’s face above his, upside-down. “This is not the way,” said Huzuni. He tried to get up but she firmly placed her paw on his chest.
“I killed him!” Fujo yelled. “I didn’t want to kill him! I didn’t want to hurt anyone!”
“You had to. I don’t know what happened, but I’m guessing you would be dead now if you hadn’t done what you did. Well?”
“Does that matter?!”
“It was pure self-defense.”
“That doesn’t help!”
“Then maybe this will. Think about what he’s done to us. Think about what he did to poor Taabu. Think about how he beat us anytime anything wasn’t done to the exact specifications. His own mother had her ear torn off by him as punishment. He tore open my chest, and now I can’t ever speak with a normal voice again. He left Ufukara to die out in the savannah in the midst of several elephants, letting her be trampled to death as Kecha had been, and the only way she got back was through Fisadi. And how he cut through Muta’s tendons as an adolescent, insuring she’d never walk again, and leaving her there for three days before slowly strangling her to death, just because he decided she needed to die.
“He did all of those things, and he never thought about us. We were nothing to him. We were the lowest of the low. Even the zebra, the wildebeest, the antelope, they were above us to him. He hated us all, for no reason at all. He used a small piece of rock for a soul, and yes, I am glad he is dead. And you should be, too.”
Fujo stared up at her, shocked. Yes, there had been plenty of reasons why Sibu had to die. But Fujo still had one question. “But why did it have to be me?”
“It didn’t. It could have been any of us. It could have even been Fisadi, if she’d ever have shown her face when he was around. It just happened to be you.” She took a few steps back, letting him finally get up. Fujo looked back toward the pond, then at Huzuni as she spoke again. “Go ahead. There’s the water. Throw yourself in, I’m not going to stop you, and I’ll make sure ’Kara doesn’t either. I’ve had my say, I’m done. But just remember that if you do, you’ll never, ever go back from it.”
“Huzuni,” said Ufukara, shocked.
Fujo looked at Huzuni, then back to the water. He walked up to the edge of the water. He looked down, seeing his face in it. He sighed. It was an accident, a little voice said. I don’t deserve to live, said another. He looked back down at the water, remembering how Taraju seemed to be like his face, but the exact opposite colors, thinking how he had used the same phrase with Taraju. And yet, in the end, it had been Think this through! Taraju hadn’t listened. And look where he was now, up with his family, but forced to look down and do nothing but observe. And ho much everyone missed him. Especially Tumai. It’s what it’s be like for me. To have everyone horrified that I’m gone . . . To never see Tumai again, or Mom, or Dad, or . . . Taabu. Did he really want that? He thought back to Sibu, standing above him, with his words coming in short spurts. Then his mind leapt to Sibu on top of Taabu, with Taabu screaming out in pain, to Sibu beating down his own mother for simply acknowledging heritage, to Sibu sending out the nearly-due Umo to hunt. There was no doubt about it: Sibu deserved to die. And someone had to do it. He remembered the time he had spent three days hunting futilely with the lionesses on Tumai’s bet, and her words when he found he had lost. “You don’t have to like it. You just have to live with it.” Just live with it.
Fujo tore his gaze from the water, and turned around to see Huzuni and Ufukara looking at him, Ufukara tense, Huzuni oddly relaxed. “Well?” asked Huzuni.
“Okay. Let’s go back.”
Huzuni simply turned and headed for the den. Ufukara, after a moment of hesitation, followed her. Fujo took one last look at the pond and walked away.
When they three arrived back at the den, the celebrating seemed to only have intensified. What they were now doing was happily discussing what to do with the body.
“Now look,” Weusi was saying, “I’m still saying the best thing to do would be to dump him off the cliff. He deserves to be with his father.” She was lying down, disgustingly stuffed. They all were. Eating had been the first thing anyone could think to do.
“What’s wrong with just leaving him to rot?” asked Umo.
“Yeah, just take him out to the savannah and watch the buzzards pick out his guts,” supplied Uchungu.
“You know, I hear lion is good eating,” said Fujo. Everyone turned to look at him, various states of disgust on their face.
“I’m sorry, are you being funny?” asked Taabu after a moment of silence.
“Apparently not.” There was another moment of silence, then everyone went back to amiably discussing what to do.
Huzuni just went to a corner and lied down. Fujo could have sworn that she was asleep in seconds. Kovu came over to Fujo. “Better now?”
“Yeah.” Kovu noticed the water still left on Fujo, thought about asking, then thought better of it. He didn’t have to know everything. He couldn’t help but notice Fujo’s stomach rumbling. He laughed.
“There’s some food in the back. They kind of overdid it.” Fujo gratefully went to the back of the den and began to indulge in one of his favorite pastimes while listening to the happy conversation. It was amazing how different some of the lionesses seemed. Some of the more shy ones really began to become more outspoken. The debate went on spiritedly almost the entire day. In the end they decided to throw Sibu off the cliff, reasoning that the buzzards could get him there, too, and it was still close enough to watch. They all dragged him out to the cliff, and everyone except Taabu watched as Sibu was chucked off the edge, several of them giving phrases such as “Ooh, that must have hurt,” as he hit. Taabu stayed well away from the ridge. When they made remarks about Sibu’s trip she got up and went back to the den on her own. Fujo didn’t notice until she was already a good distance away. He leapt up and ran after her. He finally caught up to her.
“Taabu, what’s wrong?” She looked up at Fujo, her eyes rimmed with red from crying.
“You wouldn’t understand.”
Fujo walked with her into the den. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“No.” She moodily slumped down to the floor of the den, tears silently dripping down her face. Fujo stared for a few seconds, then turned to walk away. “Wait,” Taabu suddenly said. “I do want to talk to you about it.” She sat up and stared at the ground. “It’s because my mother is down there.”
Fujo tried to digest this. “Well, I can understand if you don’t want to see your mother there with him, but—”
“It’s not that. It’s that I miss her. I’ve cried myself to sleep every night, thinking about her. I just can’t get her out of my head, with her screaming and falling. I miss her horribly. She wasn’t like any of the other lionesses. She was always there for me. I was the only cub she ever had, and she always took care of me. She even beat off Sibu a couple of times, only to be punished by his father. She’d do anything for me, for any of us. But especially me. She was there when I cried, she gave me her food when I didn’t get enough to eat. I was everything to her. I loved her just as much back. And now, I just can’t help but remember that she’s—she’s g-gone. And she’ll never come back.” By this time she was weeping again, weeping as Fujo had only seen her do the first time he met her. He put up a foreleg and she gratefully put her head against his chest again. Fujo just rubbed her back. After a few minutes she had finally calmed down. She sniffled, and looked up at him. “Thank you. I needed that.”
“Anytime.” She pulled away from him, took a few steps away.
“I know it’s silly, isn’t it? I mean, she’s dead and gone and here’s me, bawling like a cub.”
“There’s nothing wrong with crying,” said Fujo defensively. “I mean, back where I come from they have a whole list of reasons to cry.”
“Really?” said Taabu dubiously.
“Sure. And I’m pretty sure ‘Mom Passing Away’ is in the top ten. I think it’s what, “Siblings Passing Away’, then ‘Parents’, then any relative, then the local kook, and I think number one is ‘Missed a Meal.’” Taabu gave a half-hearted laugh.
“Thank you, Fujo.” Her ears perked up as she heard the sound of the lionesses and Fisadi and Kovu returning, their voices lighting up the darkening sky. She gave Fujo a smile. “But just remember, this still doesn’t mean I like you.”
Taabu gave a real, genuine, laugh. “Yep.”
The rest of the night went on uneventfully, save for the one little point Kovu brought up.
“Now that you don’t have a king,” he asked, “who’s going to rule here?”
There was silence, then a flurry of conversation broke out, but never actually reached a conclusion. They finally stopped with Fisadi’s protests that it could wait until tomorrow. Sleeping seemed like a good idea for everyone.
It wasn’t that easy the next morning though.
When Kovu woke up Fujo was sitting moodily at the edge of the den. Rain was coming down, but it wasn’t really rain. It was almost mist, but it couldn’t be classified as that, either. It was just little, almost invisible drops of water, forming a curtain outside the den, just big enough to slowly wet you, but almost small enough to not be seen. Kovu walked up to Fujo and sat beside him.
“I hate this,” said Fujo.
“This,” Fujo repeated, waving his paw at the outside. “It should either rain or not rain. It should not do this.” Kovu laughed. “What? Hey, you know you hate it, too.”
“Well, it looks like we’re spending another day here, because we sure know that little Fujo doesn’t like to get his paws wet.”
Most of the other lionesses were up. A few of them had taken meat from the huge stockpile they had in the back of the den. The sheer size of the thing still surprised Fujo. It looked as if they had an entire herd stacked in the back. He wondered how long he actually had been at that water hole.
Suddenly there was a groan from Umo. Several of the lionesses looked at her as she moaned again, her face contorted in pain. Then every lioness was on her feet, standing over Umo. Fujo tried to get closer, only hearing Umo saying something like, “It’s coming.” He ran into Taabu.
“Hey what’s going—” He stopped as she snarled at him.
“Get out of here now!” Fujo took a hasty step backwards.
“Hey, I didn’t mean to—”
Suddenly Kovu was in front of Fujo. He began to step towards Fujo, forcing him backwards. “You heard her, out!” said Kovu.
“Dad!” Fujo protested, trying to look over his father to see what was happening.
“But what about—”
“No buts, out!”
“And I’m not caring, so out, now.” He drove Fujo out into the “rain,” and sat down. “We can go in when she’s done.”
“There’s no fun in that!”
An eternity and quite a few muttered curses later, some of which Kovu actually had to remind his son, “Language!”, they were allowed back in the den. As soon as Taabu saw Fujo she burst out laughing. She had good reason to; his mane was completely soaked, and the face he wore was more than ample to clearly say, “I’m unhappy.” The laughs turned to shrieks as Fujo walked over to her and shook himself dry, splattering her with water. After he had done that and felt at least a little more satisfied, he walked over to see Umo. In her legs was a little ball of fur. Fujo stared down at it and “Aww”ed.
“What’s her name?” asked Kovu.
Umo looked up at him. “It’s a boy. The new king.”
“Alright, his name.”
Umo beamed down at her new cub. “Taraja.”
Kovu looked down at the cub with a smile. “Good name.”
“Huh? What’s it mean?” asked Fujo.
Kovu looked up at him, smiling. “Hope.”
The next day Fujo and Kovu left. They had almost walked out when Uchungu, Huzuni, and Taabu came up to them. “Kovu?” asked Huzuni. He stopped and turned to look at them.
“Yes?” he asked.
“Well, you know how we don’t really have a—decent idea of how to rule here. So we were wondering if, well . . .” Her voice trailed off.
“You were wondering if someone could come with to learn.”
“Yes,” said Huzuni, relieved that she didn’t have to say it.
“Of course. Who do you have in mind?”
“Well, you see, the pride discussed it last night,” said Taabu. “Finally, we volunteered—Uchungu here. I—I assume that’s alright with you.”
“By all means. What do you say, Fujo?”
Fujo was staring at the ground. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d really rather have Taabu go, Dad.”
“Taabu, huh?” Kovu looked over at her. The lioness seemed genuinely surprised. “Well?”
“Well, I can go if you want me to,” she said. Huzuni and Uchungu looked at her. “What?” More staring. “Hey, it’s his idea, not mine!”
Uchungu laughed. “Don’t sound so reluctant, or they might actually think you don’t want to go.”
“But I don’t. Do you want to go? I mean really want to.”
Uchungu pondered this. “No. But someone has to, or else the place is going to fall to pieces.”
“Then I’ll go,” declared Taabu. Fujo finally looked up from the ground, looked at Taabu.
“Alright then,” said Kovu. He turned around and continued on his way home.
“Well, bye,” said Taabu.
“What are you saying ‘bye’ for?” rasped Huzuni. “You’re coming back.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Now go on, or else Kovu will be so far gone you’ll have to rely on Fujo to get you home. And from what I hear he has no sense of direction at all.”
Fujo gave a smile. “This is true.”
Uchungu smiled at them. “Go on, scat.” Taabu gave them one last look and complied, running to catch up with Kovu. She walked in step with Fujo, just behind Kovu.
“So, what’s your kingdom like?” Taabu asked Kovu. Kovu groaned. “What?”
“You had to ask, didn’t you? Now Fujo isn’t going to shut up the whole way back.”
“Maybe I’ll surprise you,” said Fujo. Kovu stopped and looked at Fujo. Suddenly they both burst in to wild laughter. Taabu stared at the both of them, surprised. The laughter slowly subsided into mere giggles, and they began walking again.
“Oh, yeah,” said Kovu. He gave another chuckle. “That’ll be the day.”
Fujo gave another little laugh, then a sigh. “Alright, so you want to know what it’s like. Well, it actually looks a lot like this one, except here is actually a little greener, but we’ve got better herds, at least from what I’ve eaten here, and also . . .”
“. . . and never, ever hunt after it rains, the herds always get mean right after a storm. In fact, it’d probably be better not to hunt at all, they’re trying something new and it isn’t really working, so ten to one you’ll end up like my mom. And one big thing you’ll really like is that there are absolutely no rules for lionesses, except that they have to hunt on a regular basis.”
“Are you sure you’re actually ruling anything?” asked Taabu. Kovu was walking in front with his head low, almost insane from the constant chatter the entire way back, mostly being one-sided on Fujo’s part. Taabu, however, had soaked it right up. Finally, however, Pride Rock and sanity and quiet, above all else, loomed ahead.
“Oh, yeah. But we don’t have to worry about lording it over the animals. They just come to us with the problems, and we fix it.”
“You mean I fix it,” said Kovu.
“Okay, he fixes it. Sorry.”
“Yeah, Fujo, don’t strut around, pretending you’re some kind of savior or something,” said Taabu.
“And what did I do for you?”
“Nothing that we wouldn’t have done eventually.”
“Fujo!!” Fujo turned to see, for an instant, a brown blur racing towards him at full speed before wham it bowled him over. Fujo lifted his head up from the ground to see Pofu hugging his chest. “Where have you been?!” Pofu demanded.
Taabu stared down at the pair in complete surprise. Fujo laughed at her shock. “What can I say?” he asked. “Hero worship.”