The Lion Who Would Be King

adapted by Michael Espinoza

from the screenplays

“The Lion King” by Irene Mecchi & Jonathan Roberts & Linda Woolverton

and “The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride” by Flip Kobler & Cindy Marcus

2/18/06

 

 

 

 

Part I.

Simba

Blood has been spilt in this place;

You must be brave so that the beasts may fall.

Those who would defy mountains

Are in truth not brave, but only cowards.

Even in anger, do not speak what is wrong.

Chapter 1

A King is Born

 

Dawn broke on the Pride Lands, the sun’s glow not too bright to gaze upon--rather like an immense ripe orange gourd rising from the earth into the sky to shed light on the African savannah. Though this was the sun’s usual morning routine, this was no ordinary morning at all.

A call from Pride Rock put an end to the usual morning activity of the animals. The rhinos stopped charging, the antelope stopped grazing, the meerkats stopped foraging for insects, the cheetahs stopped hunting for game, the wading birds left the watering hole, taking flight past the waterfall.

Not since the time of Noah had there been such a procession of animals of such differing species, and those had only marched two by two. Elephants stumped, flamingoes flapped, gazelles leaped, giraffes paced, leafcutter ants crawled, zebras trotted, flightless birds waddled, and all the other creatures of the Pride Lands walked, crawled, or flew to Pride Rock. Only one event could bring together so many animals, which would ordinarily prey upon each other, being natural enemies: the birth of a future monarch.

And so it was. King Mufasa’s mate Sarabi had given birth not three hours after dawn. All the king’s subjects had come to pay homage to their new prince and future king. Zazu the blue hornbill, the king’s majordomo, flew high above the assembled throng to Pride Rock and the king himself, bowing low before him.

And what a majestic king was Mufasa! Though he had been king for less than a year, he was already the image most animals had of what a king ought to be. His golden mane shone like the noontime sun. His prominent jaw suggested a beast of great oratory. His powerful muscles would allow him to bring down an entire buffalo on his own, if the idea came to him.

But it was not out of fear that the animals acknowledged and accepted Mufasa as their king. It was out of respect--for Mufasa well knew (as some lions were inclined to forget) that when a lion dies, his body returns to the earth, which feeds the grass and other plants, thus providing food for the vegetarian beasts which, in turn, served as food for lions and other predators. All life was connected in a great circle, one that could not be broken without disaster ensuing.

“Hail, Mufasa,” said the hornbill. “All present and accounted for, sire, save one. I’ve placed the carnivores away from the herbivores--who knows if they’ve eaten?”

“Where is my brother?” asked the king.

The hornbill sighed. “I tried to impress upon him the importance of the occasion, but he ignored my words--even tried to snatch me up into his jaws, the ruffian! I don’t know what is wrong with him--I think perhaps he was dropped on his head at birth!”

The king sighed and shook his head. Though he managed to retain a smile on his face for the benefit of the other animals, inwardly he was disappointed that his brother was not there. Mufasa thought he really shouldn’t have expected Scar to come, but tradition required it. He would have thought Scar would at least show some respect.

“Tell him the king is on his way to the outskirts, and that he is not pleased.”

Zazu bowed low, trying to hide his anxiety, and took off without a word. No sooner was the hornbill gone than Mufasa’s false smile became a real one. He saw a familiar face approaching on the plain. All animals bowed low as the old white mandrill limped toward Pride Rock, leaning on a walking stick which had a few gourds bound to it with jungle creepers. Then he climbed the very tall rock with almost supernatural skill, a feat unaccomplished by most other creatures.

Mufasa had not seen Rafiki the shaman in years, as the mandrill lived in the Great Tree in the western part of the Pride Lands, far from Pride Rock. It was, in fact, Rafiki who had performed the blessing ritual when Mufasa himself was born, and now the mandrill would do the same for Mufasa’s son.

“Well met, Rafiki!” said the king in a voice that, though it echoed throughout the Pride Lands, was clearly friendly rather than hostile.

The old mandrill shaman embraced Mufasa--the only creature in the Pride Lands who dared show the king such familiarity. But Mufasa did not mind, even participating in the embrace himself. And it wasn’t just out of respect, or fear (Rafiki’s fangs were even longer than his own, after all), but a genuine affection for the mandrill.

“You are too kind, Mufasa,” said the mandrill in a surprisingly high voice. “Now where is your son, whom I’ve divined so much about?”

“He is being nursed by his mother,” said the king.

“Well,” said Rafiki, clearing his throat and skipping from side to side (which was very odd behavior for a mandrill who walked with a limp), “let us see if we can’t get him away from his mother’s teat for the few minutes this baptism will take.” He followed the king into the cave on top of Pride Rock.

Sarabi growled at the unfamiliar mandrill who tried to take her son away from her, but Mufasa stopped her.

“It is all right, Sarabi. Rafiki has done this before.”

“This is Rafiki?” said the queen skeptically. “With all due respect, sir,” she said, addressing the mandrill, “I’d have thought you’d be dead by now.”

“Yet, thank almighty Mohatu, here I am,” said Rafiki. “And ready to baptize your son to please Mohatu.”

Mufasa dug his claws into the ground. Mohatu had been his grandfather, and the wisest king ever to rule the Pride Lands. It was every lion’s dream that, when his reign was through, he would be compared to Mohatu. Even Mufasa’s father Ahadi had fallen short of the mark. The young king hoped he would not disappoint Mohatu, father of all lions, during his reign.

Sarabi licked the newborn’s head as Rafiki took him. The little white bundle of fur purred, blinked, and looked at the old mandrill with a curious expression. Rafiki smiled at the babe, then shook the gourds on the walking stick in front of him, like a toy. The young lion cub reached for a gourd, piercing its skin with one of his little claws.

Rafiki unbound the gourd, cracked it open, dipped his left thumb into the pulp and made a mark over the infant’s forehead. “In the name of the most holy Mohatu, I name this child….” He looked at the king, who looked at his wife and nodded, smiling.

“Simba,” said Mufasa.

“Simba,” Rafiki repeated. “Mohatu is greatest.”

Then the shaman grasped a handful of earth and sprinkled it over the newly christened cub. Simba sneezed, provoking affectionate smiles on the faces of his parents.

“It is time,” said Rafiki, picking up the babe and placing him over his shoulder. The king and queen followed him as he left the cave. All the animals outside were silent as the procession approached. Even the giraffes and elephants were dwarfed by Pride Rock. When the mandrill reached the edge of the high crag, he lifted the infant Simba high into the air, where all could see.

All the animals cheered their new future king. Antelope reared onto their hind legs, elephants trumpeted, monkeys hooted and stamped the ground, and zebras brayed. Then all fell silent as the sun broke through the cloud cover, shining directly onto Simba, a sign that Mohatu was pleased with his great-grandson. The animals bowed low before the little prince: zebras, elephants, giraffes, and all the others.

“Behold the prince,” said Rafiki. “May he find favor. Mohatu is greatest!”

“Mohatu is greatest!” cried the animals.

“Mohatu grant that King Simba rule long and prosper. Mohatu is greatest!”

“Mohatu is greatest!”

“Mohatu grant Simba’s enemies flee from his mighty roar! Mohatu is greatest!”

“Mohatu is greatest!”

“The ceremony is now ended. You may go now in peace! Thanks be to Mohatu!”

And the animals left Pride Rock, returning to their homes. Rafiki gave the new prince to his mother and disappeared into the crowd as mysteriously as he’d appeared.

Sarabi let her son nurse a few moments longer, then put him to sleep, licking his fur and smiling. Mufasa tried to smile as well, but he was still not happy. He meant to leave for the outskirts of the Pride Lands, determined to find his brother without delay.

Chapter 2

Old Wounds

 

The thin, scraggly lion with the dark mane, the hunchback, and the scar over his left eye was in his cave, attempting to make a meal of a mouse, when Zazu approached him. Scar was not his real name--he had been born Taka, having received his scar (which never fully healed) when young. Now, however, “Scar” was the only name he answered to, for he considered his scar a badge of honor. And at any rate, “Taka” meant “dirt,” an undignified name for a lion, and a prince. The accident had also changed his personality. As far as he was concerned, on that day years ago, Taka had died and Scar had been born.

Scar ignored Zazu, who was trying to maintain a look of dignity while keeping his distance.

“Did your mother teach you no manners?” said the hornbill. “You are supposed to eat your food, not play with it!”

Scar grimaced. “Do not speak of my mother, pest! What are you doing here, at any rate? Are you not the king’s majordomo?”

“You know I am. And as such, I bring you news: the king is on his way here!”

“The king! My word! I forgot to groom my mane!”

Zazu was not impressed with the prince’s scorn. And at the king, no less!

“He is not at all pleased that you were absent from your nephew’s baptism this morning. I only hope, for your sake, that you have an airtight alibi, as he will not accept your defiance, I can assure you.”

“Don’t I always? Oh, now look what you’ve done! See, my lunch is scampering away!” For indeed the mouse had somehow managed to wriggle through his enormous fingers and flee to safety.

“You’d just better hope that’s the only thing you lose. If Mufasa challenges you, I shouldn’t want to be in your paws, that’s all I can say.”

“I shouldn’t want to be in yours at the moment, either,” said Scar, approaching the hornbill with a greedy look in his green eye--the one that could still see.

Before Zazu could react, Scar snapped his jaws and trapped the little bird inside his mouth, attempting to swallow. It was all Zazu could do to fight the lion’s tongue.

“Let me out, I say! This is most undignified!”

“Scar, spit him out at once! Really!

Scar looked at his older brother and sneered. Then, as though the idea had just occurred to him without having come from Mufasa, Scar spat out the little majordomo. Zazu shook the saliva off his feathers and attempted to maintain an air of dignity in spite of the ordeal.

“Nasty filthy feathers,” mumbled Scar. “I almost choked to death.” He turned to the king. “Well, well, well, what brings the king of the Pride Lands so far from Pride Rock?”

“Don’t play innocent with me, Scar. You know very well why I am here. I want to know why you weren’t at Simba’s christening this morning.”

Scar smirked. “Oh, was that today? How did I manage to forget? Well, I am surprised and honored, though--I shouldn’t have thought you’d want me there at all!”

“You are required to be present at pride ceremonies! You are my brother!” said Mufasa, in a voice that was more chiding than sympathetic.

“Precisely. The brother you have walked upon his whole life. Father favored you simply because you were older--he did not even want to have me! And only because Mother died giving birth to me! It was not my fault, and yet he always hated me!”

“Do not disgrace the name of Ahadi! Leave our father out of this!”

“I hardly need to bring him into it at all. You were a spoiled brat, thinking yourself superior just because you had the good fortune to have been born first. I told you I would be a useful asset with my superior intellect, but you refused to even allow me to co-rule the kingdom! And you are responsible for blinding me in my left eye!”

“You did that yourself. You tried to get me into trouble with that water buffalo, just so you would look better in Father’s eyes! I’d say you got what you deserved!”

“And then as king you banished me to the outskirts of the Pride Lands, where there is little food and less water,” he went on, sharpening his claws against the rock.

“You know that was a fair punishment. You forced yourself upon Sarafina, against her will and mine!”

“And did I not provide you with a niece and fiancée to your son?”

Mufasa’s brow furrowed. “That is the only reason your cub was allowed to live at Pride Rock. Sarafina should have been my mate, as we were engaged even from birth, but I could not mate with her after she bore your daughter! I was forced to take her sister Sarabi for my wife instead! Your presumption is what led to your banishment.” Though he dared not admit it, he had also been jealous of Scar, for it had been Sarafina whom he had truly loved.

Scar pretended not to have heard his brother’s objections. “And if that were not enough, now you’ve had a son, who will be your heir instead of me! Now that little brat will inherit the throne that should have been mine after your death!”

“The king must follow the ancient traditions,” said Zazu, prompting a glare and bared teeth from Scar. Hiding behind Mufasa’s legs, the hornbill said, “You were supposed to be first in the line of animals approaching Pride Rock. I flew up and down that line at least three times before I was convinced you weren’t there!”

“Oh, poor thing. Did you wear out your wings?” Turning back to Mufasa, Scar said, “I was first in line, all right. First in line to the throne--until that blasted ball of fluff came into the world!”

“Do not speak ill of my son and your future king, Scar. Our grandfather Mohatu found favor with him.”

“I thought Mohatu didn’t play favorites.”

“Do not blaspheme! Mohatu treated all creatures equally and you know it!”

“So it was only his son who played favorites.”

“I told you to leave Father out of it! Tradition dictates that the oldest son inherits the throne unless he is unable to do so! Do not blame Father for that!”

Now it was Scar who furrowed his brows, speaking seriously for the first time. “If I’d been born first, he’d have favored me! You may be older than I am, Mufi, and stronger--but I am cleverer!”

Mufasa growled. Scar knew he hated his old nickname. “You will show your king the proper respect, Scar!”

“You are still my brother, Mufi. And your son is still my nephew. And no kingship either of you possesses will ever change that.” With that, Scar turned to leave.

“I have not dismissed you, Scar! Do not turn your back to me!”

“Oh, no, Mufi. Perhaps it is you who should watch your back.”

Mufasa could no longer maintain his dignity. Roaring fiercely, he leapt in front of his brother and bellowed, “Do you dare to threaten your king?!”

Scar looked genuinely shocked at the accusation. “Keep your temper,” he said. “The very idea couldn’t be further from my mind. You know how I loathe violence. At any rate, you are stronger--you’d defeat me easily. I am a hunchback, after all. If it were a battle of wits, I shouldn’t mind, but then you would never agree to that, would you?”

Smiling scornfully, Scar walked off before Mufasa could object again.

The king shook his head. He did not know what had happened to his brother. Though Scar’s words were mostly true, that did not mean that the two brothers had not been close once. True, Taka had been jealous of his brother before receiving the scar, and--Mufasa could not deny this, not to himself--the older son had sometimes acted arrogant, knowing he alone would succeed their father as king. But they had loved each other once. Mufasa missed those days, which seemed to have disappeared after Taka received his scar. The king’s brother likely did not even need banishment to keep him away. As king, Mufasa had to hide his feelings, but it hurt him deeply.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with him, Zazu,” sighed the king. “I’ve prayed to Mohatu for guidance, but I never get an answer.”

“Have you considered stuffing him, sire?”

The king laughed as he and Zazu returned home. Mufasa needed a laugh after his disappointment in his brother.

The rainy season came and went. During this time, Rafiki the shaman was meditating in the baobab tree that served as his home, in the western part of the Pride Lands. Some said the tree was the only living thing older than Rafiki himself, and perhaps it was true.

The mandrill knew that the young prince Simba would be a very special king when the time came--his white fur was a sign of greatness. No king had worn white fur since Mohatu himself. But Rafiki did not know exactly what Simba’s destiny would be.

“Oh, mighty Mohatu,” he prayed while in lotus position, “you find favor with your great-grandson Simba. And his white fur is a testament to his great reign to come. But what will his destiny be, if I may be permitted to inquire about the matter?”

Simba is my chosen one.

“Chosen one, my lord?”

He will restore balance to the Pride Lands and heal an old wound inflicted upon the pride which I founded.

“But what old wound, my lord? What imbalance is there to be remedied? And how will he remedy it?”

He will conquer the darkness, both without and within.

Then Mohatu became silent as the treetops, speaking no more. Even the wise Rafiki did not know all, and was not permitted to. But he placed his faith in Mohatu, the father of all lions.

Chapter 3

The Pride Lands

 

It had been three months since the christening of the young prince, and Simba was now a feisty lion cub, newly weaned. He had woken up early to see the sun rise. This would be a red-letter day in his young life and he knew it. When he saw the first light of dawn, he raced into the cave where the pride was sleeping.

Dodging the lionesses, he made it to the elevated rock where his father and mother were still asleep. Unable to contain his excitement, Simba cried out, “Father, wake up! The day cannot come without you!”

Mufasa turned away from his son, not quite ready to wake up yet. Though he’d been king for months, he still wasn’t yet used to his new schedule. And yet the young cub was right--a king must awaken before his kingdom does.

“Your son is awake and calling you,” said Sarabi.

“I thought we agreed he was your son during the night hours,” mumbled Mufasa.

“Father, wake up!” The white lion cub gripped his father’s ear and gave it a good tug. “You promised you’d show me the kingdom today--you said I was old enough!”

Mufasa opened one eye sleepily and squinted at his young son. “That I did. And a king always keeps his promises.”

Simba smiled, then cried out “Race you!” as he took off for the entrance again.

Mufasa had no intention of racing his son. Not this early. He yawned, stretched, then went out to join his son on the crag. By now the sun was higher in the sky and shining over the entire kingdom.

“The sun shines with the light of Mohatu, Simba,” said the king. “We are permitted to rule only where he shines.”

Simba’s eyes peered from east to west, and from west to east again. “That must be the whole world!”

Mufasa chuckled. “Not quite, my son. But it is a very vast kingdom, is it not?”

“Oh, yes, Father! And you rule it all!”

“Yes, for the moment. But I will not rule forever.”

“What do you mean? You are the king! You have always been king, and you will always be king!”

“No, Simba. Just as the sun rises and sets every day, so too does a king’s reign rise and fall. My own reign is still in its dawn, about where the sun is now. But one day it will set, and then your reign will dawn.”

“You mean…someday I will rule the Pride Lands?”

“Yes, indeed. Someday you will be king. Then this will all belong to you.”

Simba’s mouth opened wide as he scanned the horizon again. Then something puzzled him as he looked to the south.

“The mountains are keeping that area in the shade,” said the young prince. “Is that part of our land, Father?”

“No, Simba,” said the king firmly. “The sun does not shine there. The Outlands are beyond our borders, and no one must ever go there unnecessarily.”

“Not even you or I?”

“Especially not you or I. I am the king, and you are the future king. We need to stay in our own kingdom.”

“Can’t a king do as he likes, Father?”

“Not always. Being king does not only mean that all do as you say. It means you must take responsibility for everyone.”

Simba did not know what this meant, but was not worried. He was sure he would know when the time came, and would be ready. Mufasa would teach him. There would be plenty of time before Simba would be king.

“Come, my son,” said Mufasa. “There is much to see.”

“Keep up, Simba!”

The young prince was trying, but he kept getting distracted, both by ants crawling to and from their anthill with the leaves they’d cut and by antelope leaping from one grassland to another, seeking grazing grounds. They knew Mufasa was not hunting today and were not afraid. Rather, they bowed to him before leaving his presence.

Mufasa returned to his son. “Look around you, Simba. The Pride Lands are a balanced mixture of earth, plants, vegetarians, and predators. A good king understands this and is father to all creatures, respecting all in his kingdom.”

“Even the antelope?”

“Even the antelope.”

“But we eat them! Their only purpose is to be food for us!”

“Hush, my son! It is true that we eat antelope, but when we die we return to the earth, which feeds the grass. And what do antelope eat?”

“Grass?”

“Precisely. So you see how we are all connected. Life is a circle, one that cannot be broken without chaos resulting. As night becomes day, and summer becomes winter, so too does life arise from death.”

Simba watched the antelope as they left, licking his chops. Not that he was particularly hungry, but their shoulder blades looked very appetizing. And his father believed them worthy of respect? He shook his head, not understanding at all, but hoping he would someday.

“Father, what does a king do all day?”

“Well, every day is different. But one thing a king must do every day is to make his morning rounds, as we are doing.”

“Morning rounds?”

Mufasa smiled patiently. “The king must make certain that all the animals are doing well and are following the law. If either is not the case, the king must then act, either to help or to punish.”

Simba kept up with his father as they walked, hoping something exciting would happen this day. At length they came across some dark, dirty birds that Simba did not like the looks of.

“Father…what are those horrid, filthy birds?”

Mufasa looked. “Vultures.”

“Chase them away!” cried the young cub, trying to sound more annoyed by the birds than afraid of them.

Mufasa shook his head. “I do not need to, my son. They are acting as they ought. Even the vultures that pick the carcasses of dead animals are part of the circle of life.”

Simba was trying to understand and accept what his father told him, but this was a bit much for the young cub.

“Good morrow, your majesty,” said Zazu, flapping onto a rock in front of them.

“Good morrow to you, Zazu. Let’s have the morning report.”

Simba sighed, rolling his eyes as Zazu began a very long-winded report on how all the animals in the Pride Lands were doing. The young cub was not about to be bored to tears by a pompous hornbill. His attention soon turned to a cricket, which was hopping through the grass.

“…tick birds are pecking on the poor elephants. Of course, I suggested to the elephants that they try to forget it, but you know how they have trouble with that….”

Simba attempted to pounce on the cricket, but somehow it always managed to elude his grasp. Frustrated, the young prince tried again several times, and each time his attempts proved to be in vain. Ultimately, the cricket hopped out of his sight.

“…giraffes are all acting as though they’re above it all, but the leopards cannot hide the fact that they are in a bit of a spot these days--AWK!!”

At last, Simba had made a successful pounce!

“Simba!” said Mufasa reproachfully, but he could not conceal a smile. Simba noticed this--was his father as bored by the hornbill’s unending speech as he was? He did not know.

Nor did he have time to ask, for at that moment a naked mole-rat poked his head out of the ground and whispered something into Zazu’s ear. Whatever it was, it made the hornbill’s eyes widen so much that Simba thought they would fall out of his head.

As the mole-rat went back underground, Zazu cried out, “Your majesty! Hyenas! Hyenas have trespassed onto the Pride Lands!”

Simba could scarcely control himself. At last some excitement! But Mufasa’s smile was torn from his face. “Don’t those beasts know anything of borders? Zazu, take Simba back to Pride Rock at once!”

Simba’s excitement gave way to disappointment. “Can’t I come with you?”

“Absolutely not. You are too little. Go with Zazu, there’s a good lad.”

Before Simba could protest further, his father was gone, off to the south. The cub sighed then kicked dirt at the rock in frustration. He was crushed.

“Father never takes me anywhere. This is the first time I’ve ever been away from home. Now the first exciting thing that happens and I cannot even see it!”

“Put it out of your mind, young master,” said Zazu cheerfully. “You’re still young yet--now is the time for play, which is a healthy part of a young lion’s development. Plenty of time to chase the hyenas when you are king yourself. Nothing but a bunch of slobbering, mangy, stupid poachers anyway.”

Simba smiled somewhat as he thought of being king someday. He would be a good king, he thought. He would make sure all was as it should be in the Pride Lands. He would punish anyone who dared to disobey. He would make his father proud. He would be the grandest king ever to sit upon any throne anywhere--even greater than Mohatu, perhaps! Too little, indeed! He would show his father. He knew not when or how, but he would show him that he was more than merely a little ball of white fluff. He followed Zazu home in silence.

Chapter 4

Simba and Scar

 

“Guess what, Uncle Scar? I bet you can’t guess!” cried Simba, jumping up and down outside his uncle’s cave. It was nearly noon, and the hyena menace was now gone.

“I bet I can’t either,” moaned Scar, moving into the shade of his cave. “So why bother? Besides, you know I don’t like guessing games. What is it, as if I didn’t know?”

“Someday I shall be king of the pride! Me! Father showed me the kingdom!”

Scar sneered. “Were I not hunchbacked, I’d be leaping for joy right now.” He lay down on the ground, turning his head away from the annoying ball of white fluff.

Simba showed no concern for his uncle’s sacroiliac as he climbed onto Scar’s shoulders. “Father’s out chasing hyenas off our land now. He’s very brave!”

Scar scoffed. “Very brave.” And very foolish, he thought, if he has left his son alone in the Pride Lands where he could be killed.

“Uncle Scar, why do hyenas leave their land for ours? Do you know?”

“So that your father can chase them away, most likely,” said Scar, rolling his eyes.

“Really?” Simba climbed off his uncle and stood up straight, puffing out his chest. “If they knew what was good for them they’d stay on their own land!”

Scar looked at his nephew. “You’re right, of course, but there’s not always enough to eat on their land. The sun doesn’t shine there.”

Simba’s ears perked up at this. “Uncle Scar…do the hyenas live south of here?”

“Yes, in the Outlands, beyond the southern border of the kingdom. What of it?”

“Father showed me that place from Pride Rock. He said…he said I’m not to go there. Not even when I am king.”

“He’s right. Much too dangerous for you. Only brave lions can go there.”

Simba took offense at this. “I’m a brave lion! Have you been there? Do you know what’s there besides hyenas?”

“Perhaps. But I can’t tell you.”

“But, why not?”

“Because you might be tempted to go there. No, better to stay where it’s safe.”

“Come on, Uncle Scar!”

“I’ve said too much already.”

“As your future king, I command you to tell me!”

Scar rolled his eyes at this order from the little pest. “An elephant graveyard. But that’s no place for you, so just forget it.”

“An elephant graveyard! How exciting!”

“I knew I shouldn’t have told you. Simba, I’m not trying to be mean--you’re my only nephew, and I’m concerned for your safety. Promise me you won’t ever go there.”

“But Uncle Scar--”

“Promise me!”

Simba opened his mouth, then lowered his head. “Very well, I promise.”

“Good. And tell no one I told you or we shall both be in trouble!”

Chapter 5

Nala

 

Simba stared at his toes the whole way home, walking only slowly. It wasn’t fair! His own father thought he was too little, and his uncle thought he wasn’t brave enough! An elephant graveyard, no less, and he couldn’t go there! If only he could prove to everyone how brave he was! Then they would see. They would see what sort of a king Simba would be.

“Good morrow, Mother,” he said as he approached Pride Rock. Sarabi was resting in the shade of a tree. She was talking to Sarafina, who was giving her daughter Nala a bath, much to the young girl-cub’s chagrin.

“Good morrow, Nala. Auntie Sarafina,” said Simba.

Seeing Nala there cheered him up a bit. Nala was Simba’s cousin and the only other young cub in the pride. That made her his best friend. She enjoyed playing with him and would go wherever he chose to lead her. All in all, she was a good friend, even if she was a girl, and even if she was older than he was--she’d been allowed out of Pride Rock before he had, which hadn’t pleased the young prince at all.

“Ah, Simba, just in time for your bath,” said Sarabi.

Before he could escape, she picked him up by the nape of his neck and began to lick his fur with her tongue.

“Mother, please! Ow! You are messing up my mane!”

“Sorry, dear.”

“How much mane have you got?” said Nala.

Simba wanted to tell her off, but when he opened his mouth to speak, he got his mother’s tongue by accident.

“So tell me again, Sarabi: how many hyenas were there?” asked Sarafina when her tongue was free.

“Oh, there must have been three at least!” said the queen. “Three against one!”

“And Mufasa defeated them all! My, but he is brave!”

Simba bridled at this. It was the last thing he needed with his mother’s tongue rubbing his fur the wrong way.

“I think I am clean now, Mother!” said Simba, wriggling out of Sarabi’s paws and licking his fur to return his own comfortable scent to it.

“Are you nearly done, Nala? I want to play!” he said to the other cub.

“Nearly,” said Nala. “What shall we play? I hope it shan’t take long--I want to watch mother and the others hunt! After all, I shall be hunting myself someday!”

Simba thought for a moment. He really didn’t feel like playing anything in particular. Then a large smile came to his face.

“I say, Nala, I’ve just heard about a wonderful place!”

Nala looked at him skeptically. “I hope it’s not someplace boring, like the inside of that crack in the cave that you showed me yesterday!”

Simba tried to hide his offense. “It wasn’t boring--it had all those spiders! Anyway, this place is ten times more exciting!”

“Really?” said Sarabi. “And where is this exciting place to be found, my son?”

Simba gasped. He’d forgotten to keep his voice down in his excitement, and now his mother had heard him. If she knew what he was thinking--

“Uh…somewhere about the waterhole.”

“Oh, that’s very exciting, I’m sure,” said Nala, but then Simba gave her a look that made her understand. At that very moment, Sarafina was finished bathing her daughter.

“May I go along, Mother?”

Sarafina looked uncomfortable. “Sarabi, what do you think? You’re the queen.”

“I don’t know…we’re all due to hunt in a few minutes. I just hope the hyenas are back in their territory and that they’ve left something for the pride.”

“Please, Mother?” said Simba. “We shan’t be long.”

Sarabi thought it over again, then said, “If Zazu goes with you, I shouldn’t mind. We won’t be able to keep an eye on you.”

“We’ve got to get rid of him,” Simba whispered. “He must not know.”

“Keep up, cubs!” said the hornbill, not particularly interested in being a sitter. “The sooner we get there, the sooner we can return home.”

“So, Simba, where is it we’re really going to?” whispered Nala.

“An elephant graveyard--in the Outlands, to the south!”

“WOW!”

“Shush, Nala! Zazu will hear!”

Nala lowered her head and body. “Sorry. But how did you ever hear of such an exciting place?”

Simba frowned. “I cannot say. Buzz from the bees, or some such.”

Nala seemed satisfied with this. “So, how shall we get rid of the feather-brain?”

Both cubs lowered their voices, then silenced themselves as the blue hornbill flew down to them, smiling strangely.

“What?” said Simba.

“Nothing, nothing. Just admiring the way you two are so intimate with each other, even at this young an age. Your parents will simply beam with pride when they find out. You are betrothed, after all.”

“Be--what did you say we were?” said Simba.

“Betrothed.”

“No, we’re not!” said Nala indignantly. “We are lions!” Simba nodded his agreement.

“No, no, no,” said Zazu. “Betrothed means intended. Engaged. Affianced.”

“Which means…?” said Nala.

Zazu sighed in exasperation, then very grudgingly said, “It means that you two will be married when you are grown.”

“Well, of course we will,” said Simba. “I will marry and Nala will marry. Most lions marry when they are grown.”

“To each other. To each other!

The cubs were startled by this assertion. They looked at each other, then made a face, turning away.

“But I cannot marry her,” said Simba. “She is my cousin!”

“That doesn’t stop most kings,” said Zazu.

“But…it’ll be awkward,” said Nala.

“I’m afraid you have no say in the matter. It’s tradition, dating back to Mohatu’s time!”

“Well, when I am king, I shall end all traditions!” said Simba. Who did the little hornbill think he was, anyway? Telling the prince what to do--the very idea!

“Sorry, young master,” said the hornbill, ruffling his feathers, “but as the king’s majordomo, I enforce traditions. So as long as I am here you can never do such a thing.”

“Then I hereby announce that you are sacked!”

“Nice try, but you can’t do that until you are king.”

“He is the heir to Mufasa’s throne!” said Nala.

“Nala, please. I can speak for myself,” said Simba. Turning back to Zazu, he said, “I am the heir to Mufasa’s throne!”

“I just said that,” said Nala.

Ignoring her, Simba said to Zazu, “So you must do as I command.”

“As long as Mufasa is king, his word overrides yours. And I’m sorry to say it, but with your attitude, I doubt you’ll be much of a king at all anyway!”

“I beg to differ!” said Simba haughtily. “Mohatu favors me! I shall be the greatest king that ever ruled on any throne!”

“Long live King Simba!” said Nala, bowing before her cousin. Simba walked slowly and gracefully, his nose in the air.

“Thank you, loyal subject, thank you.”

Zazu folded his wings, rolling his eyes. “Come now, enough of this. We are wasting time. The waterhole is waiting.”

“Race you!” said Simba, and he and Nala took off before Zazu could.

“Come back here at once! I’m supposed to keep an eye on you!”

“You’ll have to catch us first! When I am king, no one will tell me what to do!” said Simba. “I will be able to do whatever I want!”

Zazu huffed and puffed as he flew, trying to keep the lion cubs in his sight. “If this is the fate of the royal line, I’m going to resign my post once he becomes king. I refuse to be in the Pride Lands to see them go to pot!”

Zazu flew and flew, but somehow the lion cubs always managed to stay one step ahead of him. They even changed directions on him, to the point where it soon became clear that they were not going to the waterhole at all.

“Stop this at once! Your parents will not be happy when they hear of this!”

“Tattletale!” said Nala. “Zazu is a tattletale!”

She and Simba continued running. They ran through the legs of elephants, on the backs of ostriches, and into and out of a zebra herd. Zazu managed to keep them in his sights until they ran underneath an elderly rhinoceros, tripping her. Before Zazu could react, she fell right on top of him, pinning him to the ground.

“Now’s our chance!” said Simba. “Follow me!”

And the two cubs ran off as quickly as they could, before Zazu could escape and find out where they were going. In their excitement at having escaped, they forgot to wipe away their paw prints.

Chapter 6

The Elephant Graveyard

 

“I can’t believe we got away with it!” said Nala. “At last we are free!”

“Naturally,” said Simba with his nose in the air. “Did you doubt your king?”

“You’re not my king yet!” Nala giggled, running away.

“Hey! Come back here! I command you!” cried Simba, giving chase.

“You’ll have to catch me first! You’re still just a prince and I am a princess!”

Simba did not think this was fair. Nala could run faster than he could, which annoyed him. He was heir to the throne, after all--only his father should be able to run faster than he! It was bad enough that she was older and had seen the kingdom before he had!

When Nala saw that he was well behind her and panting, she deliberately slowed down, but tried to make it look like she was tired as well.

Simba, seeing that Nala was no longer so far ahead of him, took this opportunity to pounce upon her. But Nala was ready for him--she flipped him over onto his back and pinned him to the ground!

“I win again!” she cried happily.

“Only because I let you,” mumbled Simba in embarrassment.

“As you did the last thirty-five times?” said Nala, letting him up.

This really made Simba angry. She had kept count?

Smiling sweetly, Nala turned her back to him. “That makes thirty-six,” she said, lifting her tail into the air in his direction.

When he thought she wasn’t looking, Simba pounced a second time. But this time he forgot to watch where he was going and the two cubs rolled down a slope into a place where the sun could not enter. Simba didn’t even have time to notice where they were before Nala flipped him onto his back and pinned him to the ground again.

“Why, thank you, Prince Simba, for letting your servant win a thirty-seventh time,” said Nala, licking him. “You are most generous, I’m sure.”

Simba wiped his mouth in disgust and was about to tell her off for her insolence when a loud WHOOSH!! got their attention. A geyser had spewed out clouds of white steam. Nala let Simba up and they went over to investigate, keeping their distance as it seemed rather hot.

“What is that, Simba? It makes clouds from the earth!”

“Well, of course it does,” said Simba, trying to appear less ignorant than she was. “The sun does not shine here--why shouldn’t clouds come from the earth?”

Nala’s ears perked up at that. For the first time, she looked into the sky. Sure enough, the mountains, cliffs, and crags were preventing the sun’s light from entering--it was nearly as dark as night here! Fortunately they were lions and could see in the dark.

“Is this…it?” said Nala in awe. “The elephant graveyard?”

Simba was looking past her. “Does that answer your question?” he asked, pointing with a white paw.

Nala turned to look, then gasped, leaping backwards in fright. She thought she saw a very large head staring straight at her. But soon it became clear that it was only a skull--an elephant skull, attached at the front to the skeleton of a bull elephant whose flesh had long since rotted off. Although there was a tangy scent in the air, it was surely milder than when there had still been meat on the bones.

“How very like a girl,” said Simba. “You’re always afraid of everything.” Actually he was trying to hide his own fear, and not doing a very good job of it.

“I’m not afraid,” Nala protested. “I’ve just…never seen anything like it before.”

“Didn’t I tell you it was exciting?”

“We’d get in frightful trouble if we were to be caught here,” said Nala, smiling slyly.

Simba smiled back. “Which is why I don’t intend to be caught, and I hope you don’t either.”

Nala looked back at the elephant skull. A little bolder now, she walked right up to it and stuck out her tongue. Then she roared at it.

“Such a weak, feeble roar,” said Simba. “Watch me.” He cleared his throat, took a deep breath, and let out a mighty--

“Reow!”

“Is it me, or was that weaker than my roar?” said Nala, giggling.

“Oh, be quiet! I did that on purpose!”

“May I ask what that purpose was?” said Nala, rubbing up against him.

Before Simba could come up with an excuse, Nala looked into the empty sockets of the skull. “Hey, elephant! Do you still have any brains in that head of yours?”

No answer.

“I suppose there’s only one way to find out,” said Simba. “Come on--or are you too afraid?” Actually he was trying to get her to come so he wouldn’t be alone.

“No more than you are.”

Grimacing at that, but glad for the company, Simba started for the skull.

“Oh, no you don’t, young master!”

The cubs gasped. It was Zazu!

“Zazu--” said Simba. “But how--”

“Next time you want to give me the slip, my little royal pain, try not to leave a trail of paw prints behind!” said the hornbill, flapping between the cubs and the skull.

Simba cursed himself for having forgotten about this.

“At any rate, it’s a good thing I did find you. We’ve all got to get out of this place at once! This is not our land!”

“Oh, look, is the little hornbill afraid?” said Simba. He no longer felt so much fear himself, but was unwilling to attribute it to Zazu.

Zazu ruffled his blue feathers in indignation. “Of course I am. And you should be, too! You wouldn’t be so brave if you had the foggiest notion of the grave danger we are all in at the moment!”

Simba scoffed. “Danger is my middle name! I thrive on it! When there is danger, I simply laugh it off! Ha ha ha ha!”

Suddenly, what had sounded like echoes of Simba’s laugh reverberating through the skull were now clearly the laughs of three large animals--and they didn’t sound any too friendly.

Forgetting to appear brave, Simba ran behind Nala, who was too frightened herself to tease him about it.

The empty eye sockets now had two pairs of eyes open within them, and the mouth had a pair as well. Stepping out from inside the skull were three large, thin, ugly hyenas with grizzled manes and spots on their backs. They must have been inside the skull the entire time!

The hyena in the mouth was the largest and ugliest, and clearly the leader. But the other two were big enough and ugly enough to make the lion cubs and Zazu uncomfortable. They were too afraid of the hyenas to even make a run for it, which would prove to be their great mistake.

“Well, look at what we have here, Banzai,” said the largest hyena in a deep voice that frightened the Pride Landers. “Trespassers!”

“I--I assure you all, it wasn’t our intention to trespass upon your lands,” said Zazu, finding it difficult to maintain his dignity. “We simply misread the sun and got lost!”

“A shame,” said the hyena called Banzai, licking his chops and smiling. “What a shame.”

“The lions punish us for crossing the border, yet they think they can enter our land whenever they wish!” said the largest hyena. Sniffing at Zazu, the hyena said, “Aren’t you Mufasa’s court jester?”

“I, sir--”

“I’m a female.”

Zazu’s jaw dropped. “I--I beg your pardon, madam. But I am not a…court jester. I happen to be the king’s majordomo!”

The female hyena scoffed. “More like a major dumbell, if you ask me!”

Zazu was affronted, but was too frightened to say anything.

“So that makes you…?” said Banzai to Simba.

“Your future king!” said Simba haughtily.

The hyenas just laughed at this. “Did you hear that, Shenzi?” said Banzai to the female. “This little ball of white fluff thinks he’s our king! We have no king here!”

The third hyena laughed silently. He had a wound on his throat and seemed unable to speak or make any sort of noise at all.

“Future king, eh? Then your future is about to run out, for it was your father who attacked us,” said Shenzi to Simba. “We have very little food here, and less water, so whenever we try to ease our hunger and thirst, Mufasa attacks us and chases us away! It was Mufasa who ripped out my brother Mbuti’s vocal cords! Now he will never speak again!”

Simba showed no sympathy. “It serves you right for trespassing onto our land!”

“If you punish us for entering your land, we have the right to do the same to you!” said Banzai.

Mbuti was about to add something to that when he remembered he couldn’t speak anymore.

“You cannot do anything to me!” said Simba.

“Young master,” whispered Zazu out the side of his beak, “I advise you not to agitate them. You’re not on your own land anymore, thus you don’t have protection.”

Simba ignored the hornbill. “I’ve heard all about you hyenas! Zazu here has told me all about you! He said you are nothing but a pack of slobbering, mangy, stupid poachers!”

The hyenas gasped in shock.

“Now you have done it!” cried Zazu. “Why couldn’t you have had the sense to keep your mouth shut?!”

Shenzi growled. “Brothers, did you hear what he called you?”

“He called you the same--”

Shenzi snapped at Banzai before he could finish.

“If you’ll pardon us,” said Zazu, “we really must be going now!”

“I don’t think so,” said Shenzi. “We didn’t get a meal before Mufasa chased us away. Now he will suffer as we did--and we will get our meal!”

All three hyenas licked their chops. It was impossible for even Simba to feign courage now. The hyenas had them all surrounded with no way out. Simba tried to think of something quickly.

Suddenly he looked in the direction they’d come, his eyes far up. “Help, Father! They’ve got us!”

The hyenas gasped and looked in the same direction.

“Hey, Mufasa isn’t there!” said Banzai.

“Know who else isn’t here?” said Shenzi.

“Who?”

“Our DINNER!” She bit down hard on Banzai’s muzzle, making him whine and bleed. Then she and her brothers gave chase to Zazu and the lion cubs.

Simba and Nala ran as quickly as they could, but had no idea where they were going. With no sun in the sky, they had forgotten how they’d come to be in this frightful place. Now all either wanted was to go home. They’d sought adventure, and now there was a good chance they would die.

Finding a good hiding spot surrounded on all sides by giant elephant bones, the cubs stopped to catch their breaths.

When she could speak again, Nala said, “Have we given them the slip, have we?”

Panting, Simba said, “I think so. Escaping from Zazu gave us practice. Now all we have to do is figure out how to get out of here without running into those hyenas again, so we can get back home before our mothers and the other lionesses return. I think their hunt should still be going on now.”

Nala nodded. “Which way?”

Simba looked around, then pointed in an arbitrary direction. “That way. I’m sure of it,” he said, sounding more certain than he was.

Nala nodded and proceeded to follow him over the bones, careful not to be scratched by the broken ones. Suddenly she stopped.

“Well, are you coming or what?” said Simba.

Nala did not respond. She was looking into the sky.

“What are you doing? They’ll find us!”

“Simba, when was the last time you saw Zazu?”

Simba’s ears perked up. His mind had been so preoccupied with escaping the hyenas that he had not even thought to watch for Zazu.

“I’m sure he can take care of himself, Nala. He can fly, you know.”

“Something’s wrong, Simba. He wouldn’t just leave us. They must have…they must have….” She couldn’t even finish her sentence.

“What if they did?” said Simba. “He’s the one who’s always going on about rules and traditions--it serves him right!”

Nala looked at him pleadingly.

Simba’s look started to melt, but only slowly. “Nala, if we go back for him, they shall get us as well! Do you want that?”

Nala still looked pleadingly at him.

Finally Simba sighed, resigned. “I am never going to forgive you for this.”

The cubs crept back in the direction they’d come, careful not to call Zazu’s name, which would alert the hyenas to their presence. Every so often Simba would sniff the air, trying to pick up Zazu’s scent. It was difficult with the musty smell that dominated the graveyard already. But presently Simba pointed to his left.

“That way. It’s faint, but I’m sure I smell him!”

“Then let’s go get him so we can get out of here!”

Simba didn’t have to be told twice. Creeping low to the ground, in case the hyenas were around and might detect them, he and Nala continued in the direction of the scent. It became stronger and stronger until--

There was Zazu, trapped inside the rib cage of a baby elephant skeleton. Though it was spacious enough for him to fly around in, he could not escape--the bones were too close together. Simba wondered how he’d come to be inside the cage in the first place.

“Pst! Zazu!” said Simba. “We’ve come to rescue you!”

Zazu gasped. Whispering loudly, he said, “No! Go back while you still can!”

Too late. The hyenas approached behind the lion cubs. Zazu had been bait to trap the cubs, and they had walked right into it. Clearly the hyenas weren’t as stupid as Zazu had gone on about.

Shenzi stepped on Simba’s tail, dragging him closer. Simba cowered in terror, trying not to cry, especially in front of Nala and Zazu.

“He’s mine,” said Shenzi icily, licking her chops.

“Wait!” said Banzai. “I want a share too!”

Mbuti nodded his agreement, pointing to his throat.

“Yes,” said Banzai. “Mbuti suffered the most--he should have some as well!”

Shenzi snapped at her brothers. “Who is the leader here?”

“Y-You…are,” said Banzai.

Even in his terror, Simba was surprised. A female was the leader? This clearly was an upside-down world!

Shenzi opened her jaws to bite Simba’s throat, but Banzai protested again. “Oh, please, let me have a taste of revenge, too! Just a taste!”

“No! You two can have the other cub and the bird! But this future king is mine!”

While Shenzi argued with her brothers, she forgot to keep her paw on Simba’s tail. He eyed Nala, who had allowed Zazu out of his cage. Then they all escaped again.

Shenzi was the first to notice them missing. “You fools! Now you’ve let them escape us again!” She bit down on her brothers’ muzzles and bellowed, “After them!”

Simba and Nala ran as quickly as they could. Zazu stayed higher in the air this time, both to keep from being caught again and to see better what was going on. He wished he could have lifted the lion cubs into the air, but even such young cubs were too large and heavy for him. And there were two of them, no less.

The cubs continued to run, but they were tiring out and weren’t able to lose the hyenas this time. At one point, not looking where they were going, they slipped and tumbled down an elephant’s spine. Then they took off for a high mountain of bone. Their sharp claws would allow them to escape--the hyenas’ claws were blunt.

Simba climbed and climbed, not looking behind. He was nearly at the top before he heard Nala cry out, “Simba, help me! I’m slipping!”

Simba gasped as he looked. Sure enough, even Nala’s sharp claws did no good against the bones which were starting to tumble into a small avalanche--one that did not deter the hyenas any. Nala was falling toward Shenzi’s open jaws.

Simba knew he had to act quickly. Dashing back down, he ran past Nala and gave Shenzi a good solid WHACK! before helping Nala back up.

Stunned, Shenzi growled a low growl, all she could manage with the pain.

Her brothers dashed over at just that moment.

“My word, what’s happened to your face?” said Banzai.

Growling, Shenzi pounced on him, pinning him to the ground. “Do you find something wrong with my face? Do you think it looks bad? I think I’m rather fetching!” And she bit down very hard onto his muzzle. It was all Banzai could do not to cry.

Shenzi glared at Mbuti. “You are fortunate, as you cannot speak,” she growled.

At last the cubs came to a lighter part of the Outlands. The stench was greater here, as there was more flesh on the bones. But that told Simba that these elephants had died more recently, which suggested it was closer to the boundary of the Pride Lands.

“Come on! On top of that rib cage!” he cried.

Nala nodded and followed him. There was still skin covering the ribs, and the cubs climbed on top of this, intending to leap up onto the crag above and be free!

THUD! Simba hadn’t accurately gauged the thickness of the skin. He’d thought it would hold their weight, but he was wrong. And now the cubs were inside the cage.

Simba stood up and shook himself off. “Come on! If we got in here, we can get out!”

“I don’t think so!” said a low, growling voice.

The cubs gasped. There was Shenzi, followed closely by her brothers.

“I’ve had enough of this running around,” Shenzi growled. “It’s worked up my appetite even further. This time you will not escape!”

Simba and Nala trembled. Smacking her lips, Shenzi said, “A king fit for a meal, wouldn’t you say, brothers?”

Suddenly Simba gasped, looking past the hyenas. “Father?”

“Oh, no you don’t! We’re not falling for that bit again!”

ROAAAARRRR!!!

Before the hyenas could turn around, Mufasa was slicing them left and right! They were barely able to fight back, with their hunger and the wounds they’d already sustained, even though they were three. The few bites they managed only got his mane and did no damage.

While this was going on, Zazu flapped down to the cubs.

“Are you all right?” he whispered. “Did either of you get hurt?”

Simba looked at Nala.

“I’m all right,” she said. “You?”

“Couldn’t be better.”

“Thank Mohatu,” said Zazu.

By now Mufasa had all three hyenas beneath him.

“From now on, you three stay away from my son!”

“But--But we did not know he was yours!” said Shenzi. “Or we should never have--”

“Yes they did!” said Simba. “They knew exactly who I was!”

Mufasa roared at the hyenas, frightening them away.

“That showed them, Father!” said Simba. “Perhaps they’ll think twice before--”

Simba froze when his father’s icy glare met him. He lowered his body in respect.

“I warned you never to come here,” whispered Mufasa. “You disobeyed me.”

“I--I’m sorry--I was just--”

“If I may say so, sire,” said Zazu, flapping over, “I tried to keep the cubs within my sights, but we got lost and--”

Mufasa growled at the hornbill, who soon became silent. It was the first time in Simba’s memory that Zazu wouldn’t talk.

“We are going home,” said Mufasa. “And I don’t care to hear one more word.”

Hanging their heads, the cubs followed Mufasa out of the terrible graveyard, Zazu gliding above them, but low to the ground. Nala was too afraid to speak, but she gave Simba a look that suggested that she thought he’d been very brave.

Chapter 7

The Great Kings

 

“Zazu!”

The silence had gone on for so long that even though Mufasa hadn’t yelled, everyone was as startled as if he had. The sun was below the horizon now, and Zazu and the lions were very near Pride Rock, well out of harm’s way.

Zazu flapped down in front of the king and said tentatively, “Yes…your majesty?”

“Take Nala back to Pride Rock. My son is going to get a severe talking-to.”

Zazu flapped back to Nala, noting that only her head was above the grass. Simba was trying to hide from his father, afraid of what he might say or do. Too afraid to even give his very good reason for doing what he did, which after all had backfired on him.

“Come with me, Nala,” said Zazu. “I shall escort you home.” Turning to Simba, he said, “All I have to say to you, young master….”

Zazu’s heart melted when he saw the tears in Simba’s eyes. The hornbill had never known Simba to cry, not since he’d left his infancy behind.

“…is…good luck,” Zazu continued before taking to the air again. Nala tried to give Simba an encouraging smile before leaving, but she was too afraid, lest Mufasa see her. She didn’t think he would approve.

“Simba, get over here!” bellowed Mufasa when he and his son were alone.

Simba winced, then slowly approached. He almost tripped when he stepped into one of his father’s paw prints. He’d never noticed until now just how large they were. They made him feel very small indeed, never mind the fact that a few drops of blood were still there from when Mufasa had attacked the hyenas. Simba didn’t even have that badge--he hadn’t spilt as much blood when he’d slashed Shenzi’s face. Would he ever become a king like his father?

Simba continued until he was next to the king, hanging his head in shame. It was a long time before Mufasa could speak.

“Simba, I don’t know what you were thinking,” said the king. Though he wasn’t raising his voice, it echoed throughout the Pride Lands just the same and was very intimidating to a little cub.

Simba shook his head silently.

“I told you never to leave the Pride Lands. What if I hadn’t been there to save you? What then? You’d have been hyena food, that’s what. Yet not only did you foolishly disobey a direct order, but you even endangered your cousin’s life! What do you have to say for yourself, young lion?”

Sniffling, Simba said, “I…I thought that…if I could…show you how brave I was…you might let me…come with you.”

“Brave?” said Mufasa. “Crossing the border into the hyenas’ territory unnecessarily is not brave, especially when you are still just a cub. Brave is when you solve a problem as it comes, despite your fear, not when you look for trouble. That was just foolish.”

“But…nothing frightens you.”

Mufasa’s voice softened at this. “No, that’s not entirely true.”

Simba stopped crying. “What did you say?”

“Something frightened me today. It frightened me terribly.”

“What…could frighten you?

Mufasa sighed, unable to look his son in the face as he spoke. “The possibility that I would lose my son and only child to hyenas. It was that fear that led me to punish them before they could get at you. I don’t want to lose you, Simba. I can have as many cubs as I wish, but none will ever take your place. You are my son, and I love you.”

Simba was surprised. His father…the king…had been afraid? This made him feel somewhat better. If it was okay for a king to be afraid, perhaps Simba didn’t need to prove how brave he was anymore. Besides, he now knew the difference between bravery and foolishness.

“I don’t want to lose you either, Father,” said Simba, daring to embrace Mufasa. “But we won’t lose each other, will we? We will always be together, you and I, won’t we?”

Mufasa’s smile disappeared, and he looked away.

“Won’t we, Father?”

Mufasa looked back at his son. He wasn’t yet ready to know. He was only three months old.

The king looked into the sky. “The stars are coming out now. Have I ever told you about the great kings of the past, Simba?”

Simba shook his head. “I don’t believe so.”

“It’s something my father Ahadi told me when I was about your age.”

“You have a father?”

“I had a father,” said Mufasa sadly. “He died before you were born. But years ago he said that when a king’s reign ends, the sun weighs it. If he has been a good king, he will take his place in the sky, amongst the stars in the constellation Leo, the lion.”

“There is…a lion in the stars?” He stared into the sky, searching in vain.

Mufasa smiled. He pointed to a certain constellation. “That is Leo. You see how it looks a bit like a lion?”

Simba did not, though he nodded anyway.

Mufasa cleared his throat. “Your great-grandfather Mohatu, the wisest king ever, became the sun itself. All kings can only hope to join him, but no king ever has before. But the good kings become the stars in Leo.”

“You mean a king can be bad?”

Mufasa nodded.

“But how? The king’s orders must be obeyed!”

“Yes, Simba, but the king must follow a higher law than the ones he makes for the other animals. It’s as I told you before, all his subjects must be shown respect. Mohatu punishes bad kings by taking away the sun. When a bad king dies, he ceases to exist.”

This frightened Simba, but Mufasa chuckled.

“Don’t worry. You won’t be a bad king. You’re still young yet--there is plenty of time for me to teach you how to be a good king. What matters is how you rule at the end of your reign, not at the start. Besides, Mohatu already favors you, and has since the day you were born.”

Simba looked and looked at the stars. Try though he might, however, he did not see a lion in them at all.

“Are you certain they are up there, Father? You said that when a lion dies he returns to the earth.”

“Yes, Simba--his body returns to the earth, but his spirit rises to the stars. Sometimes, if you quiet your mind, you can hear the great kings speak.”

“What do they say?” said Simba skeptically.

“They guide you. If you ever feel alone, or sad, or confused, remember that the wise kings of the past will always be there. I will, too, when you become king. So you need never be alone, because they live on in us. With time, patience, and training, you will hear them speak to you as well.”

“I hope so. They are as silent as stars now.”

Mufasa chuckled and patted his son’s head. “Come, let’s go home. I hope you won’t tell your mother what happened today--no sense in worrying her unnecessarily. You’re alive and unharmed, and I think I’ve scolded you enough for disobeying orders and leaving the Pride Lands.”

Simba nodded. No one needed to know about this mess. It would be as if it never happened to begin with.

“Father?” said the young prince as they approached Pride Rock.

“Yes, son?”

“Must I…marry Nala someday, as Zazu said?”

The king chuckled and playfully knocked his son down. Simba smiled and pounced onto his father’s leg. He knew they would always be together, no matter what.

Chapter 8

The Plot

 

“I hate that Mufasa!” cried Banzai, licking the wounds on his rump. “I shall never be able to sit down again!”

“Consider yourself fortunate that it was him and not me,” said Shenzi. “He lives in the Pride Lands but I have to live in this Mohatu-forsaken place! And thanks to you two my dinner and revenge are gone!”

“Don’t blame me, Shenzi! It’s the lions who are the enemy! They are the ones who force us to stay in this place! Were it not for them, we should be at the top of the food chain!”

“I advise you not to speak ill of lions,” said a soft voice. The hyenas gasped. Even Shenzi looked afraid. Had Mufasa returned? Had he heard them?

The lion approached them, and they breathed a sigh of relief.

“Oh, thank Mohatu! It’s only Scar,” said Banzai.

“Only Scar,” said Scar, though the hyenas didn’t hear his insulted tone.

“Yes,” said Shenzi, “we were afraid Mufasa had returned.”

“And that would have frightened you.”

“I should think so! Even hearing the name makes me cower in terror!”

“Mufasa!” cried Banzai. Shenzi gave a yelp, then turned to him.

“Mufasa, Mufasa, Mufasa!” he said again.

Shenzi slapped him with her paw. “Don’t DO that!”

“You are all fools,” said Scar. “If you were clever, like I am, you would not need to fear my brother. But you are even more stupid than he is. Be warned--I could have chosen to be your enemy. I’m larger than you, and smarter, and I am a prince. You are crude and common. It is only because I pity you that I make you my allies. And that’s only because my brother has hurt me as well as you.”

“Speaking of which,” said Shenzi, “did you find us any food?”

Scar frowned. “I really shouldn’t be giving you anything. I’m only being generous because I need you, and even that fact upsets me.”

He gave the three of them a single zebra thigh, which they ate greedily, trying to push each other away. “I am very disappointed in you all,” said Scar. “You had two baby lions and a little bird in your grasp, on your territory, and between the three of you, you could not even dispose of them.”

“They were not alone,” said Shenzi with her mouth full. “Mufasa was with them.”

“That’s just the problem! I thought it would be easier doing Simba in first, for he is smaller and weaker. Besides, then I would be Mufasa’s heir again, as I was before Simba was born. But no. Now I see that Simba cannot be harmed until Mufasa is out of the way.”

The hyenas looked up at him, confused. “What are you suggesting?” said Banzai.

Scar looked at them. “Do you want to stay in such squalid lodgings for the rest of your miserable lives, never knowing where your next meal is coming from? Or do you want to live in the Pride Lands yourselves, without fear of being chased away or harmed by any lion, as hyenas did before the Pride Land pride was founded? To have meat whenever you want it--without even having to hunt for it? To have it given to you, as I always give it to you, but in far greater amounts?”

“A nice idea,” said Shenzi, “but it will never happen.”

Scar tried not to lose his patience with these brainless hyenas. “Who is our common enemy? It is Mufasa. With him gone, who will be king?”

“Simba,” said Banzai.

“But Simba is only a cub now, scarcely able to take care of himself, much less an entire kingdom.”

“But he will grow up,” said Shenzi.

“Not if we prevent it.”

“Wait--do I hear right? Are you suggesting that we kill both Mufasa and Simba?”

“It’s not an impossibility.”

“But we shall be punished severely for killing the king and prince!”

“Who do you think will be king after they are dead?”

“Uh….”

Me, you fools! Your friend and ally! I will ensure that you are at last treated as you deserve, just as I myself will be treated as I deserve! Mufasa is corrupt and knows nothing of famine! But I have experienced it firsthand and will treat you well!”

The hyenas still looked a bit skeptical. Scar did not seem like kingly material. He was thin and weak. Still, he seemed their best chance for an improved life.

“This coup will have to be planned carefully,” said Scar. “Meaning that you must leave me to think it up myself.” The hyenas finished eating and left Scar alone.

Chapter 9

The Stampede

 

Scar and Simba were taking a walk together. The lionesses were hunting, and Mufasa was keeping watch over the Pride Lands with Zazu on his shoulder. At length, Scar led Simba into the middle of a ravine.

“Why are we going here, Uncle Scar?” said the cub.

“Because this is where your father wants you to wait. He’s got a simply marvelous surprise for you, but he can only show it to you here.”

“A surprise? For me? Oh, what is it?” Simba leapt around Scar in excitement. “Tell me, tell me, tell me!”

“Naughty boy,” said Scar. “If I told you, that would ruin everything. Your father insisted that it remain a surprise.”

“What if you tell me and I act surprised when he shows it to me?”

“He will know, Simba. I’m sorry, but I cannot tell you. It’s for your father to show you. It’s sort of a father-son…thing. I don’t know, I never had such a thing with my father. Well, you wait here on this rock and I shall tell him you are ready.”

“Wait--I’ll come with you!”

“No! Absolutely not! Even if this weren’t meant to be a surprise, I will not have my nephew running off and getting into trouble again, like with the hyenas!”

Simba gasped. “How did you…?”

Scar was trapped, but managed to think quickly. “Everyone knows about it, Simba. It’s old news by now. I warned you not to go. You were fortunate--your father was the hero of the day. If it had been me, I doubt if I’d have had the strength to fight all those hyenas by myself. I’m not nearly as strong as he is, and my hunchback would only get in the way. But you know, you won’t always have your father around to protect you.”

“I will too! Father says he and the great kings will always be with me!”

Scar smirked at Simba’s naïveté. “It’s getting late. I really must be going. Why don’t you practice roaring while I’m gone? You could definitely use the practice.”

Simba took offense at this, but Scar was soon gone.

Poor little fool, thought Scar as he left. This is almost too easy. I almost pity him. But “almost” was not enough.

What Simba did not know was that high above the ravine, near a shallow slope, was a grazing herd of wildebeest. They easily numbered in the hundreds. What Simba also did not know was that three hyenas were watching the herd from a rocky formation at a distance, periodically keeping an eye on the other side of the ravine.

“Oh, they look so tasty!” said Banzai, smacking his lips.

“Quiet!” whispered Shenzi. “They will hear you!”

“But I am hungry! I simply must have one!”

“Do not move or you will be eating your own tail!”

“What if I just took one of the weaker ones?”

“Not until Scar gives us the signal. If the herd are alerted to our presence, this whole plan of his will be for naught.”

At length they saw a lion climb onto the other side of the ravine, smiling and winking at them. That was the signal the hyenas needed.

While this was going on, Mufasa and Zazu were through with their rounds, having just checked on the cheetah and the giraffes, and about to return to Pride Rock.

“I am terribly sorry, sire,” said Zazu, “but you know I’m better at being a statesman than a nanny. I had no choice, though--the lionesses were about to hunt, and Sarabi told me to watch the cubs. Was she terribly angry, sire?”

Mufasa hid his grin and said, “Oh, yes. Furious. She said you weren’t hired to be outsmarted by a couple of cubs, and she insisted that you be sacked at once!”

The hornbill gulped.

“But I talked her out of it,” said the king.

Zazu sighed. “Really, sire, your sense of humor will get me into trouble someday. But I hope you weren’t too hard on your boy. His only desire is to please you. It was really my own fault, anyhow. I do apologize. But remember, you were a bit of a troublemaker at that age as well.”

Mufasa tried to laugh, but his look of seriousness would not leave him. “I know it. I am fortunate to have lived long enough to have a son. That is why I worry so much about Simba. I want to encourage his curiosity, but I don’t want him to learn things the hard way, as I did.”

Zazu nodded, but said nothing.

Down in the ravine, Simba was trying to frighten a chameleon with his mighty roar. It seemed to ignore him as he ran in front of it.

“Reow!”

No response.

“R-Reow!”

Again, nothing.

Finally, Simba took the deepest breath he could, and let out a mighty REEOWW!!!

Not only was the chameleon frightened, but Simba’s roar echoed across the walls of the ravine and even seemed to shake the very foundations of the earth.

“Who needs roaring practice now?” he said to an imagined Scar. But his pride was short-lived, as he soon noticed that the ground had not stopped shaking. Even the pebbles near his paw were trembling. Then he heard a rumbling noise--a constant noise, not like thunder. And it became louder and louder every second.

Birds cawed as they took to the air. Simba turned in their direction. They were flying away from an enormous cloud of dust forming above the ravine. Soon Simba saw what was making the noise, and the cloud of dust--

--a stampede of wildebeests, charging straight into the ravine!

Simba gasped, too frozen with fright to move! The wildebeests were only yards away before the young lion prince finally took off in the same direction the beasts were traveling.

“Stop!” he cried out, turning his head to look at them. “I am your future king and I command you to cease this at once!”

But his efforts were in vain, for the stupid beasts did not listen. They continued to chase him far away from the rock where Scar had told him to wait for his father. In his fright Simba could not even find relief knowing that Mufasa would soon be there--that he would see Simba in danger and save him again as he’d saved him from the hyenas!

The entire herd was not yet in the ravine. The hyenas barked and snapped at the wildebeests bringing up the rear of the stampede, ensuring that they would not slow down or change direction. The more wildebeests in the ravine, the greater the chance of death to Simba--and Mufasa. It was not until all had entered the ravine that the hyenas realized they were still hungry. They had not managed to snatch up a single one.

Below in the ravine, Simba was still running for dear life, trying desperately to find a way out of the ravine. It was difficult, as the scenery flew by him, but he wasn’t finding a way out from even what little he could see. He prayed to Mohatu that his father would come soon and rescue him.

“I say, your majesty, look at that herd of wildebeests,” said Zazu. “They are on the move.”

“Strange,” thought Mufasa. “The migration isn’t supposed to be for months. Something must be wrong--perhaps they have been frightened by something. I suppose we’d best go investigate.”

Zazu nodded, but he was annoyed that they would not be going home yet. Mufasa did not like it any more than his majordomo did, but as king he knew this had to be done. They had traveled about half the distance when Scar approached, out of breath.

“Scar? What is it, my brother?”

“A stamp…a stampede. In the ravine! Come quickly! Simba’s…in danger!”

Mufasa gasped. “Simba is down there?”

“Yes! The poor little cub is so frightened! I’d be down there myself trying to fish him out, but…you know how weak I am. You’re so very much stronger than I am and he is your son, after all. You must come and save him!”

Mufasa did not have to be told twice. He dashed toward the ravine as quickly as he could, Zazu flapping overhead to try to spot Simba.

Scar chuckled to himself. “Like drawing a moth to a flame. Oh, Mufasa, the whole Pride Lands will be better off when I am king. I would never do anything so foolish!”

Simba was starting to run out of breath. Periodically he looked behind for any sign that the wildebeests were slowing down or changing direction. No such luck--in fact, they seemed to be gaining on him! He soon found himself in the shadow of one of them. Now he was no longer in front of the herd, but inside it, trying to keep one eye forward to see where he was going and one eye behind him, to avoid being trampled by the murderous hooves!

Presently he came to a dead tree. It was leaning over very far, but it seemed capable of holding his weight. Were the situation not so urgent, Simba would have remembered the skin on the elephant rib cage that hadn’t held him and Nala, but there wasn’t time to think. He simply climbed up the tree. It did not snap, but at one point he almost slipped off. Scrambling to get on top, he went out on the limb as far as he thought he could go without snapping it, then held on for dear life. The tree swayed with the breeze caused by the sheer speed of the herd, but Simba managed to keep from falling.

Soon he saw a familiar face--it was Zazu!

“Zazu, I’m trapped! And I’m frightened! Get Father, quickly!”

“Don’t panic, young master! He’s on his way here already! I shall tell him where you are!”

Zazu flapped off too soon to notice that Simba was now under the branch, digging his claws into the bark, desperately trying to hold on.

“There he is! There he is!” cried Zazu. “Do you see? He’s on that tree!”

“Hold on, Simba! Don’t panic! I am coming!” cried Mufasa.

Before Simba could even acknowledge his father’s presence, a wildebeest accidentally grazed the tree, causing the branch to sway violently. Simba screamed in terror as he tried to grip the branch, and Mufasa rushed into the ravine, avoiding the sharp horns of the wildebeests as he approached the tree. Simba was barely holding on.

“Oh, how frightfully awful, Scar!” cried Zazu. “What do we do? We cannot go in after them, but we cannot simply stand around here either! I know what--I’ll get the pride! The lionesses should be finished with their hunt by now, and with all of them together the herd should be--”

Those were the last words Zazu ever spoke, for at that very moment, Scar pounced upon the little hornbill, strangled him to death, and swallowed him whole, regurgitating the bones and the beak.

Mufasa ran several yards past the tree, then, gauging the space carefully, turned around without being hit by any wildebeests. Now he was facing the tree from the opposite side, and he ran as quickly as he could back toward it. From this vantage point it was easier to avoid the herd, as he could see them approaching. Unlike Simba, he knew that a frightened herd would not listen to reason, which was why he could not order them to stop. They were too stupid to understand anyway.

Suddenly a wildebeest hit Mufasa, knocking him down. He was still a few yards away from his son. Shaking his head, he looked up at Simba.

Just at that moment, a wildebeest hit the tree straight on, breaking the trunk and sending the lion cub flying through the air, screaming bloody murder as he saw the herd below him.

Mufasa dashed to the point where Simba was falling and leapt into the air, catching his son in his mouth. At last Simba felt safe, but he was not yet out of danger.

Scar paced back and forth above the ravine as he watched the scene. It had never occurred to him that his clever plan might not work out. He had thought it cleverer than when he’d tricked Simba into leaving the Pride Lands, but now he was beginning to worry. Mufasa had Simba and was trying to get him out of the ravine. Scar was working on a backup plan in case this one went wrong as well.

Before escaping the ravine, another wildebeest hit Mufasa. Roaring in pain, he accidentally let go of Simba, who mercifully was not trampled as he rolled over and over onto the ground beneath the wildebeest herd.

Now Simba was too frightened even to run. It was all he could do to dodge the beasts as they approached. Fortunately he was facing toward them, and could see where they were. Several seconds passed, each seeming as long as a minute, before Simba saw his father again. Mufasa quickly picked up his son by the nape of his neck and leapt into the air, accidentally tripping a wildebeest and causing it to fall on its side, snorting in terror.

At last, Mufasa made it to a small ledge where he set Simba down. The cub was no longer in danger. Now there was nothing left to do but take him home--

Suddenly he was overpowered by the sheer number of wildebeests! They were pushing him back!

“Father, no!” cried Simba as Mufasa collapsed onto the ground and was trampled by hooves. The stampede was a gray torrent, flooding the ravine and drowning his father. Soon such a dust was kicked up that Simba could no longer see Mufasa at all. He wished desperately that there was something he could do. Before the experience in the elephant graveyard, he might have tried to go back into the ravine and help his father, but now he knew that would just be foolish. Simba wasn’t nearly as big or strong as Mufasa--what could he do?

Simba kept watching, becoming more frightened every second. He did not even think to pray to Mohatu that Mufasa would be all right.

It was a full quarter minute--was it only that long?--before Mufasa leapt out of the ravine with a roar that wasn’t nearly as mighty as the ones he used to give. He was bruised badly, but he managed to grip the cliff face and slowly climb up. At one point he slipped, but he did not fall back into the ravine. Simba breathed a big sigh of relief when his father was out of sight, high above him. Now no one was in danger and they could return home. He tried to find his own way back up.

Half a minute later he heard his father cry out in terror.

This is what Simba did not see:

Mufasa’s strength was lost climbing up the ravine. It was now too steep and he could scarcely hold on. His hind legs slipped as he saw his brother approach.

“Scar! Oh, thank Mohatu! Help me, my brother! I cannot hold on much longer!”

Scar approached Mufasa but did nothing.

“Scar, what are you waiting for?! I’m going to fall!”

“You always were a fool, Mufasa,” said Scar coldly. “But you’ll never make another foolish mistake again.”

Mufasa didn’t understand. Why was his brother acting like this?

Before he could react, Scar dug his claws deep into Mufasa’s paws, piercing the bones. Mufasa roared in pain, then looked helplessly into Scar’s one seeing eye.

Smiling viciously, Scar had only eight words for his brother to take to his grave: “The king is dead. Long live the king!”

Then he threw Mufasa off the cliff.

This is what Simba did see:

Hearing a terrible cry that he would never forget, Simba watched in horror as his father fell down, down, down off the cliff and toward the end of the stampede. But there were still too many wildebeests in the ravine for Mufasa to avoid hitting them as he fell.

“NOOOOOOOOO!!!” cried Simba as he watched his father fall. Tears in his eyes, he dashed back down into the ravine, behind the herd which was now passing out.

Chapter 10

Exile

 

“Father!” coughed Simba, but only his echo answered. Looking around desperately, he followed the hoof prints of the wildebeests, hoping they would lead them to his father.

Suddenly he heard rustling in the distance. “Father, is that you?”

But the clopping of hooves told him it wasn’t. A lone wildebeest was now trying to catch up to its herd, oblivious to the small lion cub.

Simba watched the wildebeest as it passed by the broken tree. Under it, through the dust, Simba saw a lion. The lion was not moving. Simba approached slowly and went to look his father in the eye. Though Mufasa’s eyes were open, he did not seem able to see his son. And though his mouth was open, he did not speak.

“Father? Father, it’s me! It’s your Simba! Come, let’s get out of this horrid place and go home!” Simba nudged his father, but Mufasa did not react.

Now Simba was frightened. He tried tugging at his father’s ear, something he often did, but again, Mufasa did not respond.

Simba was very frightened now, and had never felt so alone. He was too frightened even to remember his father’s wise words about the great kings of the past. He looked around. Then, finding no one, he ran a few yards away from his father’s body and cried out, “Help me! Someone please help! My father the king has fallen!”

Simba cried for help for a full minute, but only his echoes answered him. Now the tears made their way from his heart to his eyes. Sobbing, he went back to Mufasa’s body and crawled under the giant paw, the closest thing to comfort he had now. And even this was insufficient, for Mufasa’s front leg was starting to stiffen and become cold.

Embracing his father’s paw, Simba ignored the drops of blood that dripped from it and onto his fur, not even bothering to wonder how they came to be there.

“Don’t leave me here alone, Father!” said Simba in a voice that straddled the line between sadness and anger. “You promised you would always be with me! You promised! You lied to me! I hate you! I hate you!”

“Simba?” The young lion cub gasped and backed away.

“What happened? Are you all right?”

Simba looked behind him. It wasn’t his father. It was Scar. At least that was something. Now Simba wasn’t alone. He tried to compose himself, but it was difficult.

“Oh, Uncle Scar, it was…dreadful! I--I was waiting…on the rock, like you told me--and practicing my roaring…and then--and then…a herd of wildebeests ran into the ravine and--and Father tried to save me, and he did save me, but then…he fell back….”

Simba couldn’t even finish the sentence before he burst into tears again. “I just want him back again!” he sobbed.

You did this?” said Scar.

Simba gasped as he looked up at his uncle. That thought had never crossed his mind until now. Surely it was that roar he was so proud of that had frightened the wildebeests! And if they hadn’t been frightened, they would not have stampeded, and Mufasa would not have had to save him, and he wouldn’t have been in danger himself! Simba was so upset that he completely forgot about the surprise his father would have given him.

“I--I didn’t mean to--”

“No one said you did, Simba,” said Scar, putting a consoling paw on his nephew’s shoulder. “I don’t accuse you. But the fact remains that your father Mufasa, king of the Pride Lands, is now dead. And whether you meant it or not, that was your doing.”

Simba gasped, frightened again. This accident--this nightmare that wouldn’t go away--was his fault. Because of him, he would never be with his father again.

“What do I do, Uncle Scar?”

“Well, your secret is safe with me, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be found out. What would your poor mother think if she knew? Do you know how this looks, Simba?”

Sniffling, the white lion cub shook his head.

“Well, of course I know better, but it looks as though you killed your own father on purpose because you couldn’t wait to become king yourself. With your father dead, you are next in line. But who’s going to want a murderer for a king?”

“But I’m not a--”

“I know, but who would believe it? The others…are not as smart as I am. You’ve not got a scrape on you--if you did, they might have pity. But even if I told them it was an accident, they would never trust you, and would never let themselves be ruled by you.”

Simba could not even look his uncle in the face anymore. It was true that he could not wait to be king. Nala knew that, if no one else. Frightened now, he said, “But…if I am the rightful king…don’t they have to do as I say?”

Scar shook his head solemnly. “Simba, for a king to have any power, his subjects need to want him for their king. Otherwise they won’t obey him, and he cannot force them to follow his laws if they don’t want him. At any rate, you are much too young to rule and don’t know enough about being a king. The sun has set for you--Mohatu no longer favors you.”

“Then…what shall I do? I will do whatever you say.”

“I’d suggest you run away and never return. Leave the Pride Lands entirely--that way even if, Mohatu forbid, someone were to find out what caused this calamity, you’d be safe. No one could harm you as no Pride Lander may leave the Pride Lands. No one would think to look for you beyond the border.”

“But then…who will be king?”

“Well, since you are not old enough to marry and have cubs yet, I am next in line. I will take care of the pride, and the kingdom, as Mufasa would have, and as I’m sure you would have if you’d gotten the chance. Don’t worry about anything but yourself. You just get to safety as quickly as you can.”

“Thank you, Uncle Scar,” said Simba. “You are always so kind to me.” Then the young prince ran out of the ravine as quickly as he could. Too quickly to see the three hyenas come up next to his uncle or to hear Scar say, “Finish it.”

But after he came to a high cliff that posed a dead end, he heard the hyenas approach him. Gasping, he scrambled up the cliff face before Banzai could snatch him up. Being lighter than his father, and unburdened with bruises, he made it to the top without too much difficulty, as it was not as steep as it had appeared.

Now, however, he was so high up that he was afraid to get down the other side. Catching his breath, he soon heard the hyenas behind him. That was all the incentive he needed. He leapt, landing on a slope, then rolling forward, down and down, until he landed in the middle of a thorn bush. It was a mercy that the thorns only stuck his fur and did not pierce his skin.

He looked up. The hyenas were still behind him. If only Mufasa were alive--he would have fought off the hyenas, as he’d done in the elephant graveyard! Scar must not have been strong enough to take them all on--that was why he was nowhere to be found.

“Uncle Scar! The hyenas! Get help, quickly!” cried the little prince, hoping his uncle had heard him. Panting, he then crawled under, over, and between thorny branches, trying to get away as quickly as possible without being pricked by the thorns.

The hyenas stopped when they saw the thorns. By then Simba had made it to the other side and continued west toward the setting sun and the desert. He had escaped.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” said Shenzi. “After him!”

“I don’t want to go in there!” cried Banzai. “It’s full of thorns!”

“Scar told us to finish it! As long as Simba lives, the plan is not finished!”

“Well…do we really have to waste the energy? A cub as young as he is will never survive without a pride. Besides, there are no herds out there for him to feed on! He will soon starve to death anyway! And if he were to return before that happened, we could still kill him! We can just say he is dead and Scar will never be the wiser!”

Shenzi snorted. She hated it when Banzai was right. But she called out to Simba, “Don’t even think about coming back to the Pride Lands or by Mohatu we will kill you!”

Simba didn’t even need that last threat to keep him away from the Pride Lands. He had never felt so badly in his life, and death would at least put him out of his misery.

Chapter 11

King Scar

 

“Scar? What are you doing here?” said Sarabi, leery of him ever since he’d forced himself on her sister Sarafina all those months ago.

“Sarabi…I have terrible news. You must rally the lionesses at once. I cannot bear to tell it a second time. And get Rafiki as well.”

“What are you talking about? And where is Simba? And Mufasa, for that matter?”

“All will be explained. Just do as I say!”

He sounded so pained that Sarabi did not inquire further.

That night the lionesses all gathered to listen to Scar. Rafiki was keeping his distance, but he could see and hear all.

“I have terrible news. Both Mufasa your king…and Simba his heir…are dead.”

Everyone gasped. They could not believe he’d said what they’d just heard.

“No! It isn’t true!” cried Nala, too young to hold her tongue.

“Hush, little one,” said Sarafina, giving her daughter a shoulder to cry on.

“I’m afraid it is true, Nala,” said Scar. “A wildebeest stampede of unknown cause entered a ravine where Simba was innocently playing. And when Mufasa bravely tried to save him…both were killed.”

The lionesses sobbed and Rafiki began to sing a song of mourning for the loss of their king so soon. Mufasa had only ruled a few months.

“May our beloved king Mufasa find his way to the stars,” said Rafiki. “Mohatu is greatest!”

“Mohatu is greatest!” said the lionesses.

“May his little son Simba join him for all eternity. Mohatu is greatest!”

“Mohatu is greatest!”

“May our land heal once again. Mohatu is greatest!”

“Mohatu is greatest!”

When Rafiki left, Scar went to the ravine to retrieve the bodies for burial.

The lionesses wept anew when Scar returned, carrying his dead brother’s body on his back. But something puzzled them.

“Why…where is my Simba?” said Sarabi.

Scar sighed, finding it difficult to speak. “Perhaps scavengers have already found him. I searched and searched that ravine, and even nearby, but I could find neither hide nor hair of Simba.”

Sarabi’s tears stung her eyes as she entered the cave. Without a proper burial, Simba’s spirit might not find his way to Mohatu. She prayed that this was not the case.

Mufasa was buried under Pride Rock, and then Scar spoke.

“It would have been tragedy enough if only my brother had died,” said Scar, sniffling. “But to lose Simba, who had only been alive a few months? That loss has created an emptiness in my heart that will never leave me. And it is worse now that his body cannot be found and properly buried. Thus it is with a heavy heart that, as Mufasa’s brother and Simba’s uncle, I now assume the throne as your king.”

“All hail King Scar!” said Sarafina.

“All hail King Scar!” said everyone else except Sarabi, who left to privately mourn her mate and son.

“My loyal subjects,” said the new king, “This has been a terrible day for all. But let it remind us of what we still have. We have the pride. We have each other. We have food and water in abundance. Yet there are those who do not. Those like the poor, downtrodden hyenas who live in the Outlands to the south. I have seen what life is like for them and I pity them. Therefore, my first act as king will be to send scouts to the southern border and allow the hyenas to live in the Pride Lands, coming and going as they please without fear of being chased away or attacked! Rather, they shall be our allies and we shall have a grand and glorious future!”

“No! Not hyenas!” cried Nala. “They tried to eat me in the elephant graveyard!”

“What?!” cried Sarafina as the other lionesses gave a collective gasp. “You never told me this!”

“It was only because they were hungry and you happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Scar. “When they have full bellies from eating some of our meat, they will leave you alone. And any hyena who does not will answer to me!”

The lionesses still did not agree with their misshapen king’s first edict, especially in light of Nala’s new information. But they dared not question it, as Scar was now their king. They did not like the hyenas, but the idea of allies was a welcome one. The lionesses’ hunts were not always successful, after all. Perhaps things would be all right and this terrible tragedy could be put behind them. They could only hope.

“Welcome to your new home, hyenas,” said King Scar. “What do you think?”

Shenzi spoke for her brothers, who were too afraid to speak the truth. “I must admit, I would not have believed it if I did not see it with my own eyes. We encountered no trouble on the way here. You have come through for us, Scar, and we thank you.”

“You see? Am I kingly material now? You shall now have free rein in the Pride Lands and shall always go to sleep with full stomachs! You are living in a paradise now, and it is all thanks to me!”

“And all because you killed Mufasa!” said Banzai before Shenzi could shush him.

“Quiet! Not so loud, you imbecile!” said Scar. “Someone might hear! And then I should no longer be king and it’s back to the Outlands for you! Do you want that?”

Banzai shook his head.

“In fact, by order of the king, the name ‘Mufasa’ is now forbidden from even being spoken! I, and I alone, am your king!”

The hyenas barked in applause. “Long live King Scar! Long live King Scar!” Their cheers were music to the king’s ears.

“And as my new executive staff,” said Scar, “you will point out anyone who does not accept me as king, and I shall deal with them myself.”

“Yes, sire!” said the hyenas.

Scar smiled. After years of waiting, he had what he wanted. At long last, both Scar and the hyenas were happy.

Back at the Great Tree, Rafiki sang a private song of mourning for Simba. Though the young cub had hardly been the first that Rafiki had seen die, the mandrill now felt as melancholy as though it were his own son who had died.

Later Sarabi and Nala came to the tree to join him in mourning.

“O wise Rafiki, give us strength,” said Sarabi. “Give us strength to get through this adversity. Mohatu grant that we shan’t be overcome by our sadness.”

Wordlessly, Rafiki blessed the two lionesses and sent them on their way. Though he dared not show it, the looks on their faces had brought tears to his eyes. He did not take his eyes off them until they were out of sight. Then he returned to his tree.

“Why, Mohatu?” he said softly. “You said he would restore balance to the circle of life. Now he is gone, and years before he could ever assume Mufasa’s throne.”

But Mohatu gave no reply. Impossible though it seemed, the young prince and all the kingdom’s hopes and dreams that he had stood for were gone forever.

Chapter 12

A New Life

 

The warthog was sniffing the ground for grubs. Periodically he put his ear to the ground to listen. His ears were already callused from the intense heat of the desert.

“Find anything yet, old top?” said the meerkat, wiping the sweat off his brow and staying upwind of his friend.

The warthog shook his head. “Perhaps we’d best go back home, Timon.”

“I told you there wouldn’t be anything out in this hot sun, Pumbaa,” said the meerkat. “It is roasting me even as we speak. You would do well to take my advice the next time.”

Pumbaa was about to follow Timon when he heard vultures cawing. He looked behind him and saw the buzzards circling around a small animal--even smaller than he was. Though having little in the way of brains, the warthog did have a kind heart--and an incurable curiosity.

“Pumbaa, where in the Serengeti are you off to now?”

“Just a moment, Timon!” Pumbaa raced over to the animal so quickly that the vultures were frightened away. Then he looked at the white creature covered in dried blood, nudging it.

“Timon, look what I have found!”

The meerkat looked. “It is only a dead animal, comrade. Leave it for the vultures.”

“No, no! I think he is alive!”

“I advise you not to think so much, Pumbaa. You know it isn’t your forte.”

“But look! See--he breathes!”

Timon shook his head in disgust, then slowly approached the body, sniffing it. It did have an odor, though it was hard to detect with Pumbaa’s foul stench overpowering it. He lifted its paw over his head to look at it, then dashed onto his friend’s back in terror.

“Well, what is it, Timon?”

“It appears to be a juvenile male albino specimen of Panthera leo!

“What does that mean?”

Timon sighed in frustration. “That means it is a lion, who would love nothing more than to relieve your bones of their flesh! Away, Pumbaa!” he cried, kicking at the warthog’s sides.

“But, Timon, he is only a baby. Even I am larger than he is. Shouldn’t we take him to his pride?”

“Pumbaa, let me do the thinking. We don’t even know where his pride is! Even if we did, do you think it wise to let a lion pride know where we are?”

“But…I cannot just leave him here! He is so little!”

“He will grow up, you know.”

“Perhaps…perhaps we can teach him not to eat us. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to have a lion around to protect us from harm?”

What harm? That is why we live here--there are no herds here, so there are no predators! The only possible harm here--except this lion now--is the vultures, and they won’t go after us until we are already dead!”

“But look--he is bleeding! He shall die if we don’t do something!”

“Comrade, I know you have trouble thinking, but that is not his own blood--see, there isn’t even an open wound anywhere on him! Obviously came from some poor creature who was his last meal! Come, he shan’t find us here and do the same to us!”

Pumbaa was about to give up and follow his friend, but somehow…he couldn’t do that to a little baby. Not even a baby lion. Lifting the white ball of fur onto his snout, he went toward an oasis.

“Pumbaa, listen to me for once! You are making a terrible mistake!”

But Pumbaa did not listen. He continued to the oasis, and Timon had to follow him, groaning in frustration.

“Pumbaa, you will be the death of me yet.”

Simba awoke to cold water being splashed into his face. It was refreshing. A few minutes passed before his eyes focused and he saw the warthog in front of him. Hiding behind the warthog was a meerkat.

“Are you all right, young lad?” asked the warthog in a voice that was gruff, but sounded friendly.

Simba nodded solemnly.

“You were almost a goner until I saved you.”

“Why did you do that?” said Simba angrily. “Who do you think you are?”

The warthog was surprised. “The one who just saved your life. My name is Pumbaa, and this is Timon.”

“I am Simba, and I really would have preferred to die.”

“Why?” said Pumbaa.

“Because…I’ve done something…horrible, and…I can never go home again!” The tears finally came back.

At this Timon found his courage again. “You are…an outcast?”

Simba bridled at the word. “What of it?”

“I am an outcast as well, and so is Pumbaa. I was banished from the mob for not lowering myself to do menial work, and Pumbaa--well, you can smell why he became an outcast.”

Simba had been too upset with himself to even care about Pumbaa’s smell.

“Do you want to talk about it?” asked Pumbaa.

“No. I don’t…I don’t want anyone to know. Ever. They would only hate me.”

The warthog frowned sympathetically. “Isn’t there anything we can do?”

Simba shook his head, turning to leave. “Not unless you can change the past.”

Pumbaa looked at Timon and they smiled and winked.

“Well then, you must put your past behind you,” said the meerkat.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, something awful has obviously happened to you. I don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t matter. The point is, there is nothing you can do to change it. Am I right?”

Simba nodded.

“So why worry about it? It’s out of your hands! If the world does not care about you, why care about the world? Hakuna matata! There are no worries here!”

“Yes,” said Pumbaa eagerly. “I cannot control my smell, so I don’t worry about it anymore.”

“And I cannot help being smarter than the other meerkats,” put in Timon. “So I don’t let it bother me anymore.”

“And whatever you did,” said Pumbaa, “you cannot undo it. So stop worrying about it.”

“But that isn’t what I was taught to--”

“New rules,” said Timon. “You are an outcast now. Hakuna matata is the good life. No cares, no responsibilities. Just do whatever you fancy! No past, no future. Erase your mind--it’s easy! It is second nature to Pumbaa here!”

“What?” said Pumbaa, insulted.

“See what I mean?” said Timon, snickering.

Simba could not help smiling at the joke, in spite of himself.

“You see, Pumbaa’s smell does not bother me, for my sense of smell isn’t quite what it ought to be. I can smell, all right, but not properly.”

“And I don’t mind Timon being so very much smarter than I am, because…uh, why don’t I mind, again?”

Timon smiled. “Come along,” he said to Simba. “We’ll take you to our home.”

Simba could not believe his eyes. There was a flowing river, lush green vegetation, mountains higher than he had ever seen in the Pride Lands!

“This is where you live?” said the lion cub.

“When it suits our fancy,” said Timon.

“Home is wherever you feel at home,” said Pumbaa.

Suddenly Simba’s stomach growled. “I am hungry.”

Timon hid behind Pumbaa when he heard this.

“Oh, no, I won’t eat you, I promise. But what do you eat?”

“We subsist entirely on arthropods of the Class Hexapoda,” said Timon.

“Which means…?”

Timon sighed. “Insects.”

“BLECCH!!”

“They’re really not so bad,” said Pumbaa.

Timon nodded his agreement. “It’s an acquired taste, but they do satisfy.”

“But…even so,” said Simba, “will I survive eating only tiny insects?”

“I survived,” said Pumbaa.

“But when I am grown I will be much bigger than you are!”

“Remember hakuna matata? No worries here,” said Timon. “Forget about the future and live in the moment. There are plenty of insects for you to feast upon. And they are full of nutrients. And if there’s ever a shortage, we can simply move somewhere else! Besides, it is far easier than hunting meat, especially way out here!”

Simba followed his new friends as they searched for food. Pumbaa lifted a log, under which were many creepy-crawly things that sent shivers up Simba’s spine. Timon picked out a fat grub and slurped it up. Pumbaa then helped himself to an earthworm.

“Dig in,” said Pumbaa. “They are especially delicious today!”

Simba looked around. The insects did not look particularly appetizing to him. He searched the whole lot, then noticed a large grub. It was softer than the adult insects, and Simba reasoned it was probably the closet thing there was to the meat he’d been used to eating until now. Besides, it was the largest thing there.

“Uh…let me try…that one, I suppose,” he said, pointing to it.

Timon picked up the grub, which was easily half his own body weight, and offered it to Simba, smiling. “Nice juicy one. Good choice,” he said.

Simba picked up the grub and tried to ignore its wriggling. “Hakuna matata, hakuna matata,” he told himself. He shut his eyes tightly, then slurped up the grub and forced himself to swallow. The wriggling grub tickled his throat, but he came to no harm.

The lion cub smacked his lips, then opened his eyes.

“Well?” said Pumbaa.

“It actually…wasn’t so bad,” Simba admitted. “A bit of an aftertaste, but--”

“I told you,” said Timon. “You will love hakuna matata.”

For the first time since hearing about it, Simba began to think Timon was right. He could forget about all else and just live for the moment. If eating a grub did not trouble him, perhaps he could forget all his troubles. For the first time since the wildebeest stampede, Simba was actually happy. So he stayed in that jungle, west of the Pride Lands. He stayed….

…and he stayed….

…and he stayed.

He stayed in the jungle for two full years, growing into an adult lion. And he could not have been happier. Not outwardly.

But inwardly the discontent still gnawed away at him every day and night, like a hyena still gnawing at the freshly picked bones of its last meal. It never let him alone.

 

 

 

Part II.

Simba’s Return

Hold on, my people, and do not be weary;

Do not lose your strength.

They wanted to hold us back, but they will not succeed.

We will win because we know who we are.

Come and see; the cowards are running away.”

Chapter 13

Famine in the Pride Lands

 

During the first two years of Scar’s reign, the Pride Lands slowly deteriorated. Scar allowed the hyenas free rein in the kingdom, and they forced the lionesses to overhunt. Consequently, herds were soon diminished in number and the few survivors left the Pride Lands for fear that they would die out. Now the predators, lion and hyena alike, were starving.

In addition, Mohatu had punished the land by not allowing the sun to shine. This caused the grasses and trees to wither and die, not providing much incentive for the herds to return. Never had there been such famine in the land.

During the few times that the lionesses could ignore their hunger pains, they tried to remember the last time they’d had abundance in the Pride Lands. They had not quite appreciated it until now, when it was taken from them.

Scar was not at all concerned about the matter. As the only male lion in the pride, he always ate first after a hunt anyway. Thus he was not starving and did not listen to the others’ pleas. He also did not make his morning rounds as Mufasa had done as king and he had no majordomo to inform him of such matters--he made his own traditions and enforced them, relying on the hyenas to oversee things. Actually, he did not even listen to them in practice. As long as he was well-off, he assumed, all was well in his kingdom. Was it not true that the king is the land?

More of a concern to Scar were his own power and reputation. In fact, these two things were all that occupied his mind and his time. There was even a rumor (though none dared speak of it in his presence) that the king was going mad.

“I am king of the Pride Lands, I have what I want! My reign is longer than my brother’s was! I have gone as high as I can go!” he said to no one. He had begun of late to speak to himself, which worried his subjects. “So why am I not happy?”

“Because they don’t love you,” he answered himself. “That’s why. Even Mohatu does not love you, or he would not have taken the sun away from your kingdom.”

“But why don’t they love me? Even my own father did not show me love as a cub! And now I am king, and they still do not love me?”

“Sire! Sire!” cried Banzai.

“What?! What do you want now?” said Scar as three hyenas approached.

“We are hungry, sire,” said Shenzi. “There is no food and no water.”

“Don’t complain to me about your petty problems!” snapped the king. “You don’t know what real hunger is. Well, I do! Every day it gnaws away at me, and has ever since I’ve become king! Are you blaming me for your hunger? You’d be fighting vultures for your dinner if not for me!”

“We appreciate it, of course,” said Banzai. “But we’re still hungry.”

“We don’t blame you at all,” said Shenzi. “It’s those worthless lionesses who are to blame! We thought perhaps you might do something about them.”

“What about the lionesses?”

“They won’t hunt anymore,” said Banzai. Before thinking better of it, he muttered, “Things were almost better when Mufasa was king.”

“WHAT did you say?!”

“Nothing! He said nothing!” said Shenzi, getting between her brother and Scar.

“You all know the law! No one is ever, EVER to mention that name in my presence! I am king!”

“He’s sorry, sire. Please have mercy!”

“Ever since I can remember, I’ve been living in Mufasa’s shadow! Even now that he’s dead, it hasn’t gone away!”

Suddenly Scar gasped. “There he is!”

“Where?” said Banzai.

“There! Can’t you see him?!”

“I don’t see anything,” said Shenzi.

“Look! There he is again!” cried Scar, pointing the other way and trembling.

“Calm down, sire,” said Shenzi. “Your brother is dead. There is no one here except you and the three of us.”

Mbuti nodded his agreement.

“Oh, what is wrong with me?!” cried Scar, trying to keep the tears back. “I’m trying to do the best I can, but…I think I’m losing it! I don’t understand why Mohatu won’t let the sun shine--I’m a better king than Mufasa was, aren’t I? So why am I not loved? What did he have that I don’t have now?”

“A family?” said Banzai before Shenzi could shut him up.

Rather than get upset, however, Scar pondered the matter. For a moment he almost seemed sane again. “A family…. You’re right. He had a queen and a cub. In two years I’ve had neither. Unless I marry I will be a dead end, with no descendants, and no future for the pride! Yes, I will marry and have cubs and I will have immortality, another thing Mufasa never had! Then I will be loved--no one can resist a family lion! They will see my bride and say, ‘If she married Scar, she must love him. He must be lovable!’ And then they will love me!”

Scar looked contemplative as he wondered who would be his bride. It would not be Sarabi, although she was still the leader of the hunting party of lionesses and had had experience being a queen. After all, even though her only cub was now dead, he had been the son of Scar’s hated brother. Thus she was tainted. It was only because she was female and not a blood relative (as well as the greatest huntress in the pride) that he had suffered her to live. He would have to look elsewhere for his queen.

“Sire?” said Banzai. Scar did not answer.

“Sire?”

“What?!” said the king in annoyance.

“We are still hungry.”

Scar roared in frustration. “Get out, or I’ll give you a lot more to complain about than your hunger!”

The hyenas dashed out faster than lightning. Scar had never exactly been nice to them, but he was not so compassionate toward them as he had once been.

At that very moment, Nala came in. She had grown into a very lovely lioness, and was not as thin as the others.

“Nala, my dear, welcome. There is an important matter I must discuss with someone, and you are the only lioness I trust.”

“I have something to say as well, sire,” said Nala. Sarafina had never told her that Scar was her father, so she did not know--even though she’d been allowed to live when Scar became king. Nala had thought it was simply because she’d been weaned.

“Me first,” said the king. “I need to marry and have more…and have cubs. But I don’t know whom to marry. I…would have liked to have married your mother Sarafina, but…well, you know what happened to her.” Sarafina had recently died of starvation--she’d been the only one with a cub to raise, and so she had given up her share of the food so that Nala could eat. Were it not for her sacrifice, Nala might never have survived.

“Well….” began Nala. She didn’t care to talk about such things, especially when there was something urgent on her mind, but didn’t want to disrespect the king. “What about Auntie Zira? She seems to like you. Actually, that’s putting it mildly. She worships the ground you walk upon and has ever since you became king and took pity upon the hyenas. The old policy regarding hyenas has never quite sat well with her.”

“Zira? Bah! I would only marry her if there were no other choice! She is…well, unattractive, to put it mildly. Besides, I think she is just ambitious, desiring a son of hers to inherit my throne!”

“You may not have a choice, sire. The other lionesses…not that they don’t respect you and embrace you as their king, but…they don’t see you as a potential mate.”

“Why? Why do they not love their king? Tell me, Nala!”

“Because you don’t listen to their problems.”

“I am the king! They have to do as I say!”

“But you have to be responsible to them!” Nala now stood up straight. She was the only lioness Scar would suffer to speak to him in this manner. “The hyenas are forcing us to overhunt. That’s why the Pride Lands are being destroyed. I still believe there’s a chance for the land to survive. You are king--you must control your hyenas!”

“Of course the land will survive, Nala,” said the king with a look of determination on his face. “I don’t believe there are no herds anywhere to be found in the Pride Lands. You and the other lionesses will just have to look harder, that’s all.”

“We don’t have the energy! We are starving, and food is scarcer all the time!”

“Are you blaming me?”

“It’s the hyenas! You must be firm! Do they rule the kingdom or do you?”

“The hyenas say it’s the lionesses. The lionesses say it’s the hyenas.” Looking above, he said, “Where do I fit into the equation? Mohatu, what is the right choice? It would be easier to choose a queen than to decide what to do about this! There will be food enough for me to postpone my decision! I must produce an heir!”

“Sire, there’s no time!”

“Silence! I will make time! Or don’t you care about your pride’s future?”

“There will be no future without food!”

“What about my future? I am getting on in years, and I still have no heir! Who will rule after me if I don’t have an heir, I should like to know?”

He paced back and forth, and then, in a lapse of judgment that was becoming more common, said, “What about you, Nala? What if you were queen, and your son inherited my throne?” A child by his daughter would keep the bloodline pure.

“Heir to what, sire? There won’t be anything left! And if you will do nothing, then I would rather die than accept your offer!” In her anger, she did not consider the possibility of being in a position of power, which she might exploit to do some good. Then again, Scar was king, and he had final say. Besides, her heart was not in it--and she might appear a traitor in the eyes of the other lionesses.

“Come, Nala, it is meant to be. We shall have many cubs together!” said the king, advancing toward his daughter.

“Never! Stay away from me!” Without thinking, the lioness slapped Scar--and did not even have the mercy to keep her claws sheathed.

Scar looked up angrily, his scar now open once again, and bleeding. “Nala, you know I cannot abide violence. If you will not have me, then I hereby banish you from the Pride Lands forever!” By now he was regaining his sanity and, knowing that incest led to weak children, he did not want his attractive daughter around to tempt him.

Nala lowered her head. “Yes, sire,” she said, but she had a plan in mind, one she certainly could not tell Scar. She would try to find help outside the kingdom and return once she found someone. Perhaps, beyond the borders of the kingdom, she would also find the herds and be able to sustain herself until she found someone to help.

That night, Nala exchanged tearful goodbyes with the other lionesses and left Pride Rock. She knew she would find nothing to the south--that was where the hyenas had lived originally. So she headed west. She didn’t know why she was going that way. It simply…felt right. She wept silently as she ran away.

“I am not a deserter, Mohatu,” she said in prayer. “I will not forget my pride, and I will return. But I shall die if I stay here and there is nothing I can do for them. Oh, Mohatu, please let me find someone to help us! Do not let your children starve!”

She continued on her way, finding only the occasional mouse to keep her from total starvation as she headed for the western border of the Pride Lands. Before coming to the border, she came across Rafiki’s Great Tree.

She had often heard tales about the tree, but she had never actually been there before. In this time of famine, it was certainly a welcome surprise to see the lush, green leaves and healthy brown bark. It seemed to glow with a spirit of its own, somehow. As though it knew she was there and welcomed her. That must have been why she’d wished to go this way--because that was where the Great Tree was! Somehow, without knowing where it was, she had been led there!

Another spirit had divined that she would come to him. The mandrill shaman made himself visible to the young lioness, knowing full well why she was there.

“My lord Rafiki,” said Nala, bowing low. “You are wise and ancient. You know why I have come. You know I have been banished from the Pride Lands. I have tried many times to reason with the king, but he cannot be reasoned with. Can you heal him?”

It saddened Rafiki’s heart to disappoint one who had come to him for help, but he could not lie. “I have tried, young one. It is even beyond my knowledge how to heal our king. And he has banished me from Pride Rock--it is only because you are now banished that you are able to visit me without punishment.”

Nala lowered her head. “Then I have no choice. I must go now. I would return someday, but I must find help first. I request your blessing before I go.”

The mandrill nodded, smiling. “You will return, young one. I have seen it.”

“Will it be…before….”

Rafiki shook his head. “I do not know. But you will return.” Removing a gourd from his walking stick, he cracked it open and beckoned the lioness to come closer.

Dipping his finger into the pulp, he said, “Mohatu grant you a safe journey, and success in your quest. Mohatu is greatest.”

“Mohatu is greatest,” said Nala.

“Mohatu grant you return before it is too late. Mohatu is greatest.”

“Mohatu is greatest.”

“Mohatu grant the Pride Lands will heal once again. Mohatu is greatest.”

“Mohatu is greatest.”

“Go now, with the spirit of Mohatu to watch over you.”

“Thanks be to Mohatu,” said Nala as Rafiki made a mark on her forehead with the pulp from the gourd. Bowing again, Nala then wasted no time in heading for the western border of the Pride Lands. She knew there was desert there, but she did not know much else of what was there. Still, it was the closest, as she had been traveling in that direction anyway. And the voice inside her, leading her to Rafiki’s tree, seemed to be telling her to continue in that direction. So westward she went.

“How dare she, that traitor!” said Scar when his scar healed over for the second time in his life. “Striking the king! Hyenas! I have a message for the lionesses! From now on, they will work twice as hard to find meat for us! With one less lioness, they must all work harder!”

Nala’s absence also made Scar realize his only potential mate. Zira was not as young as she used to be, but she was the only lioness who loved him. Even his own daughter had rejected him (though admittedly, she did not know she was his daughter).

“And tell them,” Scar added, “that I am going to….” He shuddered. “…marry Zira and make her my queen.”

Chapter 14

Watching the Stars

 

The following evening, somewhere west of the Pride Lands, three friends had just finished a hearty meal of insects and their larvae and were seeking a place to rest. The young lion with the flowing white mane led the way, while a weary meerkat and warthog followed him.

“Come along, you lazy creatures,” said Simba. “I daresay you will fall asleep before we reach our sleeping grounds!”

“Simba, we’ve just eaten our fill,” said Timon. “And such a large meal has a soporific effect upon us.”

“A what?” said Pumbaa.

“It makes us sleepy,” said the meerkat.

“But we cannot stay and sleep here,” said Simba.

“Whyever not?” said Timon.

But Simba could not give a reason. He did not know himself, but something inside told him to keep moving. Somehow, nowhere they came too felt right to him. At any rate, he was in the prime of life and felt the restlessness that comes at that age. Rather than answer, he leapt out ahead of his friends, laughing.

“Come on!”

“No,” said Timon firmly, though he was yawning. “This spot is as good as any, and I am too fatigued to go any further.”

“Oh, posh!” said Simba. “Then I shall just have to go on without you!” He leapt further into the jungle until neither of his friends could see or hear him.

“Now where’s that young rascal gone off to?” muttered the meerkat.

“I’m sure I don’t know,” yawned the warthog, “but I hope he’s found some place for us to sleep tonight.”

“He still hasn’t quite seemed to comprehend hakuna matata,” said Timon. “If he had, he could sleep on a pile of broken bones!”

Pumbaa nodded. “I think I remember being young like that once.”

“No, you don’t,” grumbled Timon, although he remembered the recklessness of his youth as well.

The two lay down to rest. But it proved difficult to sleep--first came the crickets chirping, then the bullfrogs croaking. At first it was no more than an annoyance, but then they heard soft growls. And not one of them was their friend Simba.

“Timon, I’m frightened,” said Pumbaa, even as he nodded off and woke again.

“Now, Pumbaa,” said the meerkat in a scolding tone, “it’s just the sounds of the jungle at night. You hear them all the time.” But he was trying to hide his own anxieties.

They looked into the sky--was it actually getting darker? They did not think it had been that long since Simba had left.

SQUAWWWWK!!!

“Simba, save us!” cried Timon before he could check himself.

Just at that moment, Simba leapt out of the jungle and pounced upon his friends.

“AIIGH!!” cried Timon before realizing it was Simba.

“I’ve got you again!” laughed the white lion. “Are you still so sleepy?”

“I…was not frightened,” said Timon when he could catch his breath. “Were you, Pumbaa?”

But Pumbaa could not answer. He was still fidgeting. One thing was for certain, though--he was fatigued no longer.

At length they came to a river where there was no bridge.

“I suppose we’ll have to find some way round,” said Timon.

“Or look somewhere else,” added Pumbaa.

Laughing, Simba said, “You are such sticks-in-the-mud!” And he leapt over the river easily, landing on the other side.

“Come along, Timon! Follow me!”

“I rather doubt it,” called the meerkat. “I believe in hakuna matata, but I am not a fool! I’m not so large as you are, and liable to fall in!”

“Oh, come off it!” said the lion. “Where is your spirit of adventure? You may have invented hakuna matata, but I have perfected it! Are you a coward, that you will not get your fur wet?”

Normally Timon was smart enough not to take foolish risks, but if there was one thing he did not like, it was being called a coward.

“Mark me, Pumbaa,” he said, backing up far into the jungle. When he deemed the distance great enough, he raced back out and took a flying leap--

SPLASH!

--and landed into the river, which swiftly carried him away!

“Timon, no!” cried Pumbaa. “Simba, you must save him!”

Simba did not have to be told twice. He’d not quite judged the speed of the water with great accuracy. Dashing downstream, he kept his eyes open for a small meerkat, but did not find him until he heard:

“Help me! I cannot hold on much longer!”

“I am coming, Timon!” cried Simba, racing in the direction of his friend’s voice. What he saw next frightened him terribly.

Timon had managed to grab a branch before going over a waterfall, at the bottom of which were several snapping crocodiles. Dangling his hind feet, he scrambled just to stay on the branch.

“Help, Simba! I’m going to fall!”

But Simba froze where he stood. This scene was disturbingly familiar to him. Looking up, the tiny meerkat became a little white lion cub, and the roaring of the waterfall became the thunder of wildebeest hooves hammering through a ravine. Though he’d tried often enough to forget, the whole episode now came rushing back to him.

“Simba, what are you waiting for?” panted Pumbaa as he dashed over. “Save him! You must save him!”

But Simba still did not move. He squinted as he watched the rushing water. Somehow…through some trick of the moonlight through the trees, Simba thought he saw a lion through the water. A lion climbing up the wall…and then falling, screaming in terror as he plummeted to his doom.

At that very moment Timon lost his grip. Crying out in terror, he fell down, and down, and down, toward the hungry crocodiles.

SPLASH!! Timon hit the water hard, and the crocodiles dove into the river after him.

“NOOOO!!!” cried Pumbaa. “Hurry, Simba! We must drag the river!”

Simba snapped out of it, but it was too late to do anything for Timon.

“Do you see him anywhere, do you, Simba?” said the warthog. “I heard a splash! I am sure I heard a splash! That means the crocodiles did not get him, right?”

Simba did not wish to answer, for fear his voice would break. Perhaps the crocodiles had not got him, but there was still the possibility of drowning. Why had he made such a foolish suggestion anyway?

The two friends were about to give up when they heard thrashing and gasping.

“Timon?” said Simba.

The meerkat pulled himself onto the bank, with a bit of help from Pumbaa. He was wet, but that appeared to be the worst of it. The white lion was ashamed of his recklessness--it had nearly cost Timon his life. He had lost his father in such a manner and now, thanks to him, he’d almost lost one of his two only friends.

“I am…so sorry, Timon,” said he. “I should never have made you do that.”

Breathing heavily, the meerkat said, “Hakuna matata. I chose to take you up on your dare. All is forgiven and forgotten.”

“But you could have died! And I--I could not even save you!”

“Well, I admit that is a thorn in my side,” said Timon, “but thank Mohatu I am in one piece. Besides, life is too short to wallow in self-pity.”

Simba smiled. He did not deserve such a friend. But he still refused to believe that either Timon or even Pumbaa would have forgiven him if they knew his dark secret.

That night the three friends had found a patch of cool, soft grass where they lay to digest before it was time to sleep. Timon and Pumbaa had finally convinced Simba to stay in one spot for the night, as even the young lion was at last fatigued. But he’d tried to make it appear to be his own decision to stay with them.

“That was easily the most I’ve ever eaten in one sitting,” said Simba. “And that includes the times when I ate meat.”

“Same here,” said Pumbaa. “Even for a hog, I ate heartily.”

Both took a deep breath, and sighed contentedly. Watching the stars come out, Pumbaa said, “Timon, what are those sparkly things in the sky that look like fireflies?”

The meerkat replied, “Those are gigantic balls of hot gas burning billions and billions of miles away. In fact, we are seeing them as they were years ago, and not as they are now.”

Pumbaa snorted. “I think you are making that up.”

Timon sighed. “It’s the truth, though I can see why a simpleton such as yourself would not believe it.”

“What do you think, Simba? Am I right, or is Timon right?”

Simba opened his mouth to speak, then shook his head and said, “I don’t know.”

“Oh, come on, old sport,” said Timon. “You must have some vague notion of what the stars are! Didn’t anyone ever tell you?”

“Well,” said Simba, having a difficult time speaking about it, “my--uh…someone once said that…the great kings of the past watch over us from the stars.”

“An absurd notion!” said Timon. “When you are dead, you are dead. Food for the vultures. You cannot possibly still exist to watch over anyone else, certainly not from the stars!”

“It is a rather foolish notion, I suppose,” said Simba sadly, shedding a tear. He looked back at the sky, trying to listen, but heard nothing but the gentle breeze blowing. He stood up, then walked away from his friends.

“Now what’s wrong with him?” asked Timon.

“I think perhaps you overdid it,” said Pumbaa.

“What have I told you about thinking?”

When Simba was alone, he looked up at the stars again.

“Father,” he said sadly, “you said that whenever I felt alone, you and the other great kings would be there to guide me. I feel alone now. I need you now, but…you’re not there. Please, speak to me. Even just one word, so I’ll know that you are there!”

He heard the whisper of the wind, but nothing more.

“It’s like a nightmare that won’t go away,” sobbed the young lion. “I keep trying to put it behind me but…I remember when you were alive. Those were the last days of my happiness. I keep trying to remember hakuna matata, but I cannot forget what happened.”

Again, as before, no reply of any sort.

“Father, please! Scold me, at least! I know you are disappointed in me for what I did! Please! I deserve a talking-to: the biggest I’ve ever had! This is worse than when I entered the elephant graveyard! Please, Father, say something!

Still nothing but the merest zephyr blowing through his mane.

Simba sniffed. “I know why you are silent--you and all the other kings. You are so disappointed in me that you won’t even dignify my plea with an answer. I have lost favor with Mohatu. I don’t know why I’m even still living. I deserve to die. I wish to die, but that is the thing I fear most--even more than punishment. Surely no lion has ever done such a horrid thing as I have, and my soul…my soul will be lost forever if I die. Father, I’m frightened. And because I have killed you, you aren’t there to console me anymore.”

The white lion could speak no more. He broke down and sobbed.

At length he heard a throat being cleared. Sniffling, he looked up and saw his friends. The only ones who would be his friends, and that was only because they didn’t know. If they knew his terrible secret…they would be frightened of him and run away, leaving him all alone. And that thought frightened him most of all.

“Um, I just wished to say--” started Timon.

“--that he’s sorry,” put in Pumbaa.

The meerkat gave the warthog a dirty look, then turned to Simba and said, “Yes. I suppose someone you knew died, and…I suppose I could have shown more tact than I did. And I am…sorry.” It seemed the hardest thing for Timon to do, to say he was sorry.

“Thank you,” Simba sniffled, returning with them to the spot they’d chosen for sleeping. It had been a long day, and it would be an even longer night. No sense in putting it off--they needed their rest.

Chapter 15

Old Friends and New Friends

 

The following morning, Simba had just killed a large grub and was about to devour it when suddenly, appearing out of nowhere, Timon leapt out and snatched it up.

“Hey!” said Simba, only half-indignant. “That was my breakfast! Give it here!”

“WHEEEE!!” cried the little meerkat. “Catch, Pumbaa! Keep it away!”

And he threw the grub to the warthog, who promptly opened his mouth and, after coughing it out of his windpipe, swallowed it.

“Pumbaa!” said Timon. “That was not fair! You were supposed to help me keep it away from Simba, not eat it!”

Pumbaa burped. “I beg your pardon.”

The meerkat sighed. “If you are so hungry, go find your own insects!”

The warthog sadly nodded and left.

“Now I shall have to find something else for breakfast,” moaned the white lion.

“Not if I find it first,” joked Timon.

Having strayed far from Timon and Simba, Pumbaa found a blue rhinoceros beetle. Sniffing to keep it within his olfactory range, he hid behind a tree as it flew onto a large log. Sneaking up, Pumbaa leapt onto the log. It was all he could do to climb over it, with his bulk.

Suddenly he heard something behind him. “Timon?” he said quietly.

No answer. Shrugging, Pumbaa turned back to the beetle. But it fled before him.

Then he realized his mistake. There was something in the tall grass, eyeing him with greedy green eyes. It was not Simba. It was a lioness, who looked very thin, as though she had not eaten in a long time. The hunter was now the hunted!

The warthog raised his head, to which the lioness leapt out in fast pursuit. Pumbaa’s fleshy body almost refused to let him back over the log, but he managed to stay one step ahead of the lioness’s snapping jaws!

“Pumbaa! Now where has that hog gone off to?” muttered Timon as he sniffed Pumbaa’s footprints. He and Simba had already eaten, and now wished to play again.

Suddenly the meerkat stood up straight and his ears perked up. He heard the squealing of a warthog--and smelled Pumbaa’s unique odor.

“Pumbaa, what is the matter?”

“Lioness! I shall die, I know I shall die!”

Timon nearly fainted as he saw the mighty lioness leap out, still pursuing his friend. It was a mercy she hadn’t noticed the little meerkat.

Pumbaa, trying to keep one eye on the lioness, accidentally got stuck under the root of a tree. Scrambling desperately to free himself, he only succeeded in getting stuck further. He covered his eyes, certain this was the end--

Just then, a white lion leapt over the root, roaring at the lioness!

“Leave the warthog be!” snapped Simba, determined now not to be so reckless after the waterfall incident.

“I have not eaten in weeks! Stand aside!” growled the lioness.

“You will not harm them! Not so long as I am here!”

“Then I’ll just have to go through you!”

The lioness pounced, baring her claws! Simba swiped her away with his paws, then tried to bite at her neck, missing and getting her head!

Timon walked around to face Pumbaa. “Did I not tell you he would protect us from harm?” said the meerkat. Pumbaa was still much too frightened to say anything to the contrary.

Both lions met each others’ paws again, slicing at each other! Simba pounced onto the lioness, who quickly flipped him over onto his back and pinned him to the ground!

“I have won!” growled the lioness.

Simba’s eyes widened. He knew that trick! But it had not been performed on him in such a long time, not since….

“Nala? Is it you?”

The lioness gasped, her own eyes widening. She climbed off Simba and backed away, somewhat frightened now.

“Who are you?” she asked. “And how do you know my name?”

“I am Simba! Simba the white lion! Do you not recognize me?”

“Simba…? No, that’s impossible! Simba died years ago!”

“No! No, I did not! Father saved me from the wildebeests!”

“I--I simply don’t believe you! You look like Simba did, but you could be any white lion!” Nala turned to leave.

Simba thought for a moment. “Thirty-eight.”

Nala’s ears perked up. “What?”

“That was the thirty-eighth time…that I let you win.”

Nala approached this white lion again, gazing into his eyes for a long time. At last, a great grin graced her face.

“It IS you! You are alive!”

She nuzzled him, then leapt around asking questions. “But how did you--? Where did you come from? It is so good to see you again! What are you doing here?”

“Am I missing something?”

The lions looked down at the meerkat, whose face betrayed a bewildered expression.

“Timon, I’d very much like to have you meet Nala. She is my cousin.”

“You know her?”

“Yes, of course!”

“Let me make sure we are on the same page. You both know each other, and are friends. Yet this lioness, who is your friend, wants to eat Pumbaa, also now your friend. And this does not bother you?”

“Oh, dear!” cried Simba, not listening to Timon. “Pumbaa, are you stuck?” He lifted the tree branch and freed him. Pumbaa tried to run off, but Simba stopped him.

“Pumbaa, it is all right. I know this lioness. She is my cousin Nala and she will not harm you as long as I am here.”

Nala smirked. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to play with your food?”

Simba rolled his eyes. Same old Nala, always teasing him. “They are not food, Nala. They are my friends!”

Now Nala became serious. “They are the only creatures I could find out here. How have you managed to survive?”

“They eat insects, and I’ve done the same.”

“Insects?! BLECCH!!”

“They’re really not so bad once you get used to them,” shrugged Simba. “And I shouldn’t have survived so long if they did not nourish me.”

Nala still made a face. She didn’t know if she wanted to eat an insect.

“Nala, it is wonderful to see you again,” said Simba awkwardly, “but why are you even here at all, instead of in the Pride Lands?”

“Why are you here, since you did not die?”

“I asked you first.”

Nala sighed. “I was banished for rejecting Scar’s offer to make me his queen.”

“We are outcasts as well,” said Pumbaa before Timon could stop him.

“Why did you refuse him?” said Simba, surprised at how glad he was that she had.

“There is no food in the Pride Lands anymore. The herds have moved on. And he does nothing about it. I think he has lost his mind.”

Simba scoffed, but the tear in Nala’s eye melted his heart. “I am sorry.”

Nala sniffed, then smiled. “But it doesn’t matter now! You are alive! Wait until everyone hears it!” Then, turning serious again, she added, “What will they think of you, staying away from the Pride Lands for so long? What will your mother think?”

Simba gulped. What if they found out his secret? Or had they already? “Don’t tell anyone you saw me, please. No one needs to know I am alive. Let them remember me as I was, not as I am.”

“What are you talking about? Of course they need to know. They think you died in the stampede. Scar told us all about it--and how your father died trying to save you!”

Very worried now, Simba asked, “Did he tell you anything else?”

“What does it matter?! All that matters is that you are alive! And grown, no less! Which means you can come home and take your place as king! Mohatu has answered my prayers!” She bowed before Simba, which made the white lion uncomfortable.

“King?” said Timon. “You have made an error. He is no king. Simba, tell her!”

Sighing, Simba said, “No, I am not.”

“What?” said Nala. “But you are the rightful king!”

Simba noticed Pumbaa bowing to him. “How may I serve you, your majesty?” Simba knew the warthog was not mocking him, but it annoyed the lion just the same.

“Get up. Don’t make a fool of yourself,” said Simba.

“He cannot help it,” muttered Timon.

“But why would you say you are not the king?” said Nala.

“Because I am not. I do not deserve to be king.”

“Why not? If it’s because you ran away from home, everyone will understand.”

“No, they won’t! It’s not because I left! Perhaps once I was to be king, but that was years ago, and it doesn’t matter now.”

Simba noticed Timon staring at him. “Who was your father?” asked the meerkat.

The white lion winced at the mention of his father. “Mufasa, but it doesn’t matter now. I cannot possibly take his throne. Scar will take care of the pride.”

“He’s not doing a very good job now,” mumbled Nala.

“You…are a king?” said Timon. “And you never even told us about it?”

Hakuna matata, remember? You taught me to put my past behind me.”

“But this is different!”

“Why should it be? Nothing has changed, Timon. I am still the same Simba you knew when I was a cub. Our relationship has not changed.”

“But you have royal blood in your veins! You have power now! You can make anyone do anything you wish!”

“No! Scar told me that a king only has power if he is accepted as such by his subjects. No one will ever accept me, therefore I am no king.”

Nala opened her mouth to speak, then noticed the meerkat and warthog. “May I have a moment alone with Simba?”

Timon raised his snout into the air and said, “We keep no secrets from each other. If you have something to say, you can say it in front of us.”

Simba sighed and said, “Perhaps it is best you leave.”

Timon and Pumbaa were shocked. “Only two minutes a king, and already he forgets his friends,” said Timon. “Come along, then, Pumbaa.”

Pumbaa looked back and forth between Simba and Timon, then finally sighed and followed the meerkat into the jungle.

“They are really not so bad once you get to know them, you know,” said Simba.

Suddenly Nala hung her head sadly.

“What is the matter?”

She shook her head. “It is as if you died and returned to life.”

“I am all right, Nala. I got away.”

Nala looked up at him, a tear in her eye. “You left without even a goodbye. But now you are here. You have no idea how much it means to me that you are alive. That I can return home now. It will mean so much to the pride as well. We have--I…have missed you deeply.”

Simba nodded. “I’ve missed you too.”

“Why didn’t you ever come back? We could have used you.”

He scoffed. “No one needs me. Scar is the king, not me. And I didn’t come back because…I needed to live my own life, without worrying about the responsibilities of being a king. Father’s death made me realize how precious life is, and so I felt I had to live it to the fullest. Besides, with Father gone there was nothing more he could teach me, and so I couldn’t be any sort of king anyway. At any rate, I was a cub when I left.”

Simba looked away from Nala, then thought for a moment. He didn’t know what part of him made him say this, but he said it anyway. “Why don’t you stay with us? You said yourself that you were banished, and you have not eaten in weeks! There are plenty of insects here for the four of us! And it’s a great place to live! You’ll be happy here!”

“But what about the pride? What about…everyone?”

Hakuna matata. There are no worries here. It’s something Timon and Pumbaa taught me. When something bad happens that you cannot change, don’t worry about it. Just forget it and live for the moment.”

Nala snorted. “You could change it.”

“No, I couldn’t. And you can’t either. So forget about it and live with us.”

Nala lowered her head. “Listen…I’m sure you are happy living here. It looks beautiful, but…it’s not home. Not mine and not yours. And even if…insects…have been sustaining you, it isn’t what lions are supposed to eat. I cannot stay here, Simba.”

“Home is wherever you feel at home,” said Simba. He smiled and nuzzled her. “At least stay until you are no longer hungry. I really think you’ll change your mind.”

“I tell you, I don’t approve!” said Timon, watching the two lions.

“Don’t approve what?” asked Pumbaa.

“Them,” said Timon.

“But she is an outcast, as we are. We took in Simba, why cannot we take her in?”

“Because they are the same species, and he is a male, and she is a female. They know each other already and have not seen each other in years. They don’t even know what is happening, but I do. And soon our threesome will go back to being a twosome.”

“What do you mean?” Pumbaa began to get worried. “Will she eat him?”

Timon sighed at his friend’s foolishness. “No, but she might as well. She’d accomplish the same result either way. Don’t you see? They will soon fall in love!”

“But what is wrong with that?”

“Pumbaa, love is the worst thing in the world! It goes against the very concept of hakuna matata! If you fall in love, you are doomed to a life filled with cares! With worries! If Simba falls in love, he will no longer be one of us!”

“Oh dear,” sighed Pumbaa, a tear coming to his eye. “Poor Simba!”

Chapter 16

Scar’s Family

 

Another year passed, and things did not get any better for the Pride Lands. Now a few lionesses and hyenas were in fact dying of starvation. For the first time in Pride Land history, it appeared the land might become completely barren, with all its subjects falling dead. Each species blamed the other and tried to plead with Scar to intercede on their behalf, but Scar was preoccupied with something else entirely--his family.

Scar had not only married Zira, but had outdone his brother in having had three cubs instead of one. First he’d had a son named Nuka, who was a very timid cub and with whom Scar was not at all impressed. Then Zira had borne him a daughter named Vitani, who was just being weaned now. Most recently of all she had borne him an infant son named Kovu.

Though there were no more herds anywhere in the Pride Lands, Scar insisted upon naming ceremonies like the one for Simba, which he’d missed. He had the lionesses and hyenas witness these, and Rafiki officiated--the births being rare opportunities for Rafiki to return to Pride Rock, but only for those occasions. Scar especially wanted a grand ritual with great pomp and ceremony for his younger son Kovu.

For Scar had been taken with the little brown infant ever since he was born. Kovu reminded Scar of himself when young, back when he was called Taka, before he’d received the scar that gave him his new name. That was why he’d named the child “Kovu”--it meant “scar.” It was just as well that Scar was disgraced by his older son Nuka--now he had an excuse to choose Kovu as his successor instead. In addition, Kovu had no hunchback--he would be stronger than his father.

When Sarabi first learned of this she said, “With all due respect, sire, you are breaking tradition. It is your oldest son who is supposed to succeed you, not your youngest.”

Scar growled. “Birth is not worth! Have you forgotten that I was a second-born son as well? At any rate, look at Nuka--his paltry mane is constantly infested with termites! Do you really want him to be your king after I am gone?”

Sarabi dared not say what she really thought, which was, I’d almost rather have no king at all than you, Scar.

“Kovu will be quite capable,” said Scar. “He is my chosen successor, and that is that. There is no majordomo to enforce tradition, and I am the king, so what I say goes! You are no longer the queen, Sarabi! Now, why don’t you go hunt something for Zira? She needs her energy so she can nurse your future king!”

Scar did not let Sarabi see that he still was not happy. A second reason he’d had three cubs was because he was still unloved by all except Zira. Even though he was now a family lion, no one loved him, and thus Scar was still in as bad a state as ever.

For Sarabi’s part, she wished that Scar would give as much thought to his kingdom and pride as he did to his wife and cubs. With Simba and Sarafina now dead, Nala had served as sort of a surrogate daughter to Sarabi, and she had left the previous year and had not returned. For all Sarabi knew to the contrary, Nala was now dead as well. She was losing her family, and greatly missed them. And the whole pride was starving, so it would not be long before others would starve to death. The former queen shed a tear for her family, her pride, her home.

“But Mother,” said Nuka to Zira when she was in the cave at Pride Rock, nursing Kovu, “why must I be ruled by that little ball of brown fluff?” He was too frightened to confront his father directly.

“Silence, Nuka!” said Zira, baring her teeth. “You will show your father and your brother the proper respect. Scar’s decision is law and you will obey!” She then licked her newborn as he took his drink.

Leaving Pride Rock and his mother, Nuka muttered to his sister Vitani, “I could be a king, if given the chance. I could make Father and Mother proud of me. But will they even let me show them? No! They dismiss me for that mewling termite Kovu! Just because I am the older son, as Uncle Mufasa was!”

Vitani scoffed at her brother. “It must be nice living in a fantasy world, which you must if you think that’s the only reason Father did not choose you. You are a joke.”

Nuka growled at Vitani. “I am larger than you, and older. Show me some respect.”

“First you show me you deserve any. Look at you. Termites infest your mane, you are a coward who is afraid of his own shadow, and Father would have to be a fool to choose you to succeed him. I would be a greater ruler than you if Father were to die tomorrow!”

Nuka still wasn’t convinced. “Father was smaller and weaker than Mufasa was, yet he succeeded him! I am older and smarter than Kovu is, and if he becomes king, they will be begging me to replace him!”

Snickering, Vitani returned to Pride Rock. “Keep dreaming, Nuka. For someday you must wake up.”

In the western part of the Pride Lands, the Great Tree where Rafiki dwelt was the only lush, green plant left. The rest of the land was barren, a wasteland, and had been deteriorating ever since Scar had come to the throne.

The old mandrill was standing on a tall branch, sniffing the air. Something puzzled him as he turned to the west. It wasn’t a scent exactly--it was too far away for any sort of scent to be carried by the wind.

Catching a few seeds blown by the breeze, he climbed down the branches of the tree and placed them into an empty tortoise shell, which he used for divination. Shaking the shell, he began to notice an image forming among the seeds.

To better attune with nature, Rafiki cracked open a gourd and sniffed its perfume. He then took a bite and, chewing, he began to gain a clearer understanding of what the image signified. It now came to resemble a lion--a white lion, with a flowing white mane!

“Simba?” said the mandrill. “Simba is alive?”

For an old mandrill, he still was spry enough to leap around and hoot for joy, ignoring his limp. He grabbed his walking stick and hooted with a rapture he hadn’t known in years.

Looking back at the image in the tortoise shell, he said, “It is time.”

Chapter 17

A Reluctant King

 

Nala stayed in the western jungle far longer than she meant to. Subsisting entirely on insects during that time, she began to acquire a taste for them. There were more than enough to feed herself, Simba, Pumbaa, and Timon. In addition, she noted the great beauty of the jungle, which was nothing like the Pride Lands had ever been, even before Scar’s reign. And even Nala came to appreciate the ideal of hakuna matata, no worries here. It had been years since she was happy.

But that was not what had kept her away from home for so long. Rather, it was her cousin Simba himself. Timon’s prediction had been entirely accurate. Without knowing it, and without meaning to, Nala was beginning to notice the white lion male. And Simba returned the feeling in kind. They often spent time together away from Timon and Pumbaa. Forgetting their distaste of marriage to each other that they had displayed toward Zazu years ago, Simba and Nala were indeed falling in love. Nala knew things were still awful at home, but for the first time in years she could forget about her troubles, if only for the moment. Everything seemed to be perfect, if only for the moment.

“Isn’t this a marvelous place to live?” said Simba one moonlit night when he and Nala were alone, walking along the length of a log that oversaw a river. Simba climbed into a comfortable mess of vines strong enough to support him as he waited for a reply.

Nala lowered her head, staring at the waterfall which led to the river below. “It’s so magical. Like a paradise.”

“But…?”

Nala sighed. “But we cannot stay here. I’ve had this feeling a long time, and I never said anything because I didn’t want to upset anyone, but…this is not our home. This could never be like the Pride Lands. We have to go back as soon as possible, before it is too late.”

“No….” said Simba, climbing out of the vines. “This is my home now. It can be yours too. Home is wherever you feel at home, remember?”

Nala glanced up at him. “But I don’t feel at home here. And I don’t believe you do either.”

“Of course I do! As you said, it is a paradise. Why leave it? Why else would I stay, if I did not feel at home here?” said Simba, not wanting to admit she was right.

“Why indeed?” said Nala. Turning away and lowering her head, she said, “I’m sorry. I followed you into the elephant graveyard years ago, and I’ve stayed with you here, but I was wrong both times. I did it to be with you, but that was selfish of me. Our place is in the Pride Lands, with our pride.”

“No, please don’t go. I can never return, and I shall die if you leave me!”

“Why not? You keep saying you can never return. Why can’t you? I see no reason! As Mufasa’s only son, you are rightfully king of the Pride Lands!”

“No, Nala. Scar is the rightful king. He is a better king than I ever could be.”

“Simba, listen to what your uncle did. He allowed hyenas into the Pride Lands.”

“What?” Simba did not like what he was hearing.

“He gave them free rein. They come and go as they please! They forced me and the other lionesses to overhunt, to the point where the herds all moved out of the Pride Lands, leaving us all to starve! Time and time again we’ve pleaded with your King Scar to intercede with the hyenas on our behalf, but our pleas always fell on deaf ears! Scar only cares about his reputation and his bloodline, not about any of us! I tell you, he is going mad!”

“I don’t believe you,” said Simba, trying to sound more confident than he was. For a small voice inside him seemed to be telling him that Nala was right. “Scar knows the hyenas tried to eat me when we were in the elephant graveyard--he would never do such a thing!”

“Simba, I am your cousin. Would I lie to you about something so severe? If we both return now, we might have a chance to do something about it!”

“But I cannot return!”

“Why not?! However poorly you ruled, I think I speak for all lionesses when I say you’d be an improvement over Scar! He is not helping any more than you are!”

“No! You do not understand!”

“Then tell me!” pleaded Nala. “You say I would not understand. How do you know if you won’t even tell me?”

“I know! Trust me!”

“But you are my cousin, and I love you. Whatever dark secret you’re keeping, I swear to Mohatu himself that I will understand and be on your side!”

“No!” cried Simba, backing away from her. “Do not blaspheme! I cannot tell you my secret! Hakuna matata, remember?”

“I have had enough of hakuna matata! Our pride is dying of starvation, and our kingdom is becoming barren, and all you do is speak of hakuna matata!

“There is nothing I can do, so why should I worry?”

“You’re the king! You cannot turn your back to your pride!”

Simba could see he wasn’t getting anywhere with Nala, so he tried a different tactic. “Well, what about you? You have stayed away from the Pride Lands as well!”

Nala furrowed her brows indignantly. “That was different and you know it. I was banished. I had always intended to return once I’d found help, and who is the first one I find? Why, Simba, Mufasa’s son and heir! But will he help? No, he is too selfish!”

That remark deeply wounded Simba. “I am doing the pride a favor by not trying to rule over them!”

“You are the only hope we have for our very survival, Simba!”

Simba sighed and started to leave. “Then I’m sorry you’ve wasted your time. I don’t want you to leave, but if you choose to, I won’t stop you. But I feel at home here.” He sounded more confident than he was.

Nala was extremely disappointed. “Who are you? The Simba I remember could not wait to become king! Now you are old enough, and the timing could not be better, yet here you stay, away from your throne! You are as bad as Scar himself!”

“The Simba you remember is dead,” said the white lion coldly. “He died in the stampede. The lion you see before you is a new, reborn Simba.”

Nala frowned. “I don’t like this new Simba. I want the old Simba back! Was your father’s death so traumatic for you that you no longer care about anyone else?”

“No! It’s not just that! I cannot tell you!”

“Don’t you care that I was banished and cannot return home without you? I want to go home! Don’t you care about that?”

“Yes, but--”

“And what about your poor mother? Scar forces her to overhunt--and then she scarcely gets a mouthful of meat after he has eaten! Don’t you care about that?”

“Of course, Nala, but--”

“And my own mother has already died of starvation--she sacrificed herself so that I should not have starved! Don’t you even care about that?”

“Of course I do, and I am sorry. But there is nothing I can do about it. That is in the past now. Forget about it.”

Nala frowned. “I am very disappointed in you, Simba.”

Simba snorted, then turned to leave again. “Do not speak as Mufasa would have.”

“Why not?” said Nala. “You will not do so, and someone has to.”

That remark wounded Simba deeply, but he held his tongue.

“Scar has been blind to our plight, but I never thought you would be so heartless!”

That was too much for Simba. “Who are you to tell me how to live my life?!” he roared at Nala, starting to frighten her. “You have no idea what I’ve been through!”

“Then why won’t you tell me?!”

“No! Forget it!”

Before Nala could protest, Simba raced away.

“Don’t listen to her,” Simba said to himself, pacing. “You cannot return. There is nothing you can do. No matter what you try, what’s past is past and it cannot be changed. Nothing could be proved by going back, except that you are a fool.”

After a long period of silence, during which Simba looked at the stars, he cried out, “Father, you told me that you and the great kings would always be there to guide me! You lied to me! You have forsaken me! And it is my fault! Should I end it all now? Going back is not an option, but I cannot live with the guilt any longer! Should I just…put myself out of my misery? I know I can never join you, but at least I would no longer live while you do not. That is only just. Father, if you will tell me nothing else, at least give me this one bit of guidance: should I end it all now, or continue to live?”

Simba took a long listen, but all he heard besides the breeze was: “Asante sana, squashed banana, wewe nyani, mimi hapana!” It was a very annoying old mandrill with a surprisingly high voice, in the tree above him. Unable to hear anything from the great kings, Simba moved to the river and lay down by it.

Asante sana, squashed banana, wewe nyani, mimi hapana!” called the mandrill again, leaping around from side to side while using a walking stick to prop himself up.

“Mandrill, I cannot hear myself think! Cut out that racket at once!”

“Yes, yes, I could cut it out,” said the mandrill. “But what purpose would that serve? It would only grow back!” He fell over backwards, giggling over his joke, which Simba did not find all that amusing.

When he tried to leave again, Simba noticed that the mandrill was following him.

“Leave me alone, mandrill! Follow me no more! Who do you think you are?!”

“I have a better question. Who do you think you are?”

Simba was about to protest when he pondered the mandrill’s words more carefully. He was sure the mandrill hadn’t meant it in this way, but that was the exact question on his mind.

“I used to think I knew, but I am no longer sure.” Why was he opening himself to this stranger? He did not even know him!

“Do you want to know who you are?”

Simba scoffed. “How could you know that? I do not even know who you are!”

“Do you want to know?”

Try though he might, Simba could not retain his skeptical look. His curiosity got the better of him, and he nodded.

“Come closer,” the mandrill beckoned.

Simba approached.

“Closer, closer.”

Simba put his ear to the mandrill’s mouth.

ASANTE SANA, SQUASHED BANANA, WEWE NYANI, MIMI HAPANA!” cried the mandrill, laughing heartily.

Simba had to cover his ears, the mandrill had barked so loudly! “You old fool! What was that for? That does not even mean anything!”

“That is where you are wrong, my friend.”

“Do not call me your friend!”

The mandrill ignored this remark. “Wewe nyani, mimi hapana means ‘You are a baboon, I am not!’ And that’s precisely who you are!”

Simba scoffed. “And you are a confused old fuddy-duddy. Follow me no more.”

To his surprise, the mandrill was now in front of him! “You cannot answer the simple question ‘Who are you?’ and you call me confused!”

Simba turned to leave again. “I may not know who I am, but neither do you.”

“Wrong again, my friend. I know who you are, Simba son of Mufasa.”

The white lion stopped. He turned to face the mandrill, but he had left already.

“Wait!” cried Simba. Running in the direction the mandrill had been in, he soon found him again, sitting on a rock and meditating.

“Did you…know my father?”

“Not only did I know him, I still do,” said the mandrill in a monotone voice, not even bothering to open his eyes.

Simba turned away. “Then you do not know. I am sorry to say it, but my father…is dead. He died years ago.”

“Wrong again, as usual. Your father lives. I have seen him!”

“What? But that’s impossible! I saw him die!” Despite Simba’s assertion, he was no longer able to so quickly dismiss this mandrill as a befuddled old fool.

“Trust Rafiki--he knows what he speaks. Would you like to see your father?”

“But…how could you have seen him? I saw his dead body! I know he is dead!”

“Would you like to see him?”

Simba could no longer protest. He simply nodded.

“Then follow Rafiki,” said the mandrill, dashing off with supernatural speed into a barely penetrable jungle. It was all Simba could do to keep up. He did not understand the mandrill at all, but something inside told him that Rafiki could be trusted. As though he were an old friend.

Chapter 18

“He Lives In You”

 

“Here we are,” said the mandrill, coming out of the jungle.

Simba took a look. “Is this it?” It did not look very promising. All there was to see was a lake.

“Have a look, young one,” said Rafiki, indicating the lake.

Simba was skeptical. How could his father be in the lake, especially if he was alive? But he was not so quick to question the old mandrill anymore. Slowly, afraid at first, he approached the lake and lowered his head, keeping his eyes closed.

Gradually, he opened his eyes and looked into the lake. He did not see his father anywhere. Not in the lake, not on the lake, nowhere. All he could see was his own reflection.

“Where is my father, Rafiki? I see nothing!”

“There he is right there!” said Rafiki, laughing and pointing to Simba’s reflection.

Simba was crushed. This old mandrill had set him up, all for a practical joke that did not even come close to being funny.

“You never knew my father. He did not even look like me! He had golden fur and a golden-brown mane, not white like I have! You are pointing to my reflection! You are a cruel, foolish old mandrill, and I wish I’d never met you!”

Smiling sympathetically, Rafiki said, “But I spoke the truth. Your father is there. Perhaps you simply cannot see him, as I can. Try again, and look harder this time.”

Simba still did not wish to trust the strange mandrill, but he decided to try one more time, if only to get the old fool to leave him alone. He looked again, staring hard at his reflection and expecting nothing.

But then…was it some trick of the wind? The ripples over the water obscured his reflection, and when he looked again…there was another lion in his place. A familiar lion, one whom Simba had not seen in years!

“Father?” said Simba in fright, as his reflection did the same. He backed away, and saw Rafiki smiling.

“You have seen him, then. Very good, very good. Do you understand now why I say your father is alive?”

Simba opened his mouth, but only shook his head.

“It is because you are his son, and you are alive. He lives in you, as all ancestors live on through their descendants. As long as you live, so too does Mufasa. Now you can hear his voice as well!”

Simba….

Simba whipped around, seeing no one. It had only been a breeze, one he’d felt several times before, but…had it called him by name? And why did it sound so much like…Mufasa?

Simba….

“Father? I am here, Father! It’s your Simba!” He looked everywhere, then finally looked up. A certain star was glowing, first brightly, then dimly. The voice seemed to emanate from it.

Simba…I am pleased that you can at last hear me. I have been with you all along. Many times I have tried to speak with you, but you did not have the ears to hear me until now. I did not lie to you when I said I would always be with you.

“Oh, Father, I am so glad to hear your voice again!” cried Simba, sobbing.

Yes, Simba, I know. But I am also very disappointed in you.

“I know you are, and I am sorry. I would not blame you if you could never forgive me.”

I am disappointed in you for forgetting me.

Simba’s ears perked up at this accusation. “But…how could you say that I have forgotten you? You are all I have thought about since you died!”

You have forgotten who you are--my son and the true king of the Pride Lands. By leaving your home to rot, you have disgraced my memory. I told you that all life is connected. Running away will neither sever your binds nor solve anything. It is because you have forgotten this lesson, which I tried to teach you years ago, that you could never hear me before. Simba, you are far, far more than what you are, and what you have become. It is now time for you to return and take your place in the great circle of life.

“But Father…you know yourself that I am not who I once was! How can I possibly return? How can I face them? They will hate me forever--they will never follow me! Never!”

They will do as I will them to do, Simba. You are Mohatu’s chosen one. You are the one who will heal the Pride Lands and your pride. You are the one who will restore the balance. Your ancestors and I will be with you, but you must always remember who you are, or we will not be able to help you.

“But Father--”

Always remember….

The voice seemed to be getting softer. “Father, no! Don’t leave me again! I cannot bear it!”

Always remember….

The gentle breeze was gone, and Simba felt alone again, although Rafiki was still there. The old mandrill put a consoling hand on the lion’s shoulder.

“Now, are you ready to do what you must?” said Rafiki.

Simba groaned. “I suppose…I must go back. Nala was right. I have been selfish in staying away out of fear of what the others might think of me. What would they think of me staying away in the first place? Me, the son of Mufasa? But I still have the fear inside of me, gnawing away at my very soul. How can I get rid of it, Rafiki?”

“You cannot. Your fear will not leave you.”

“But I have been running away from my past for so long, that to face up to it now is…almost overwhelming.”

Before Simba knew what was happening, the mandrill suddenly smacked him upside the head with his walking stick!

“AIGH!! Why did you do that?!” roared the lion, rubbing his head with his paw.

“What does it matter?” said the mandrill, giggling. “It is already in the past, and you cannot change it. Don’t worry about it--just put it behind you.”

“How can I forget?” moaned Simba. “The pain is still with me, and I don’t expect it to leave me anytime soon!”

Rafiki shrugged. “The past is painful at times. But there are two ways to deal with the pain: to run away from your trouble, or to take it as a learning experience for the next time.”

To illustrate his point, the mandrill swung his walking stick a second time. But this time Simba ducked, evading a second blow.

“See? You have just proven my point. Instead of running away, you have learned from your painful past. Now the choice is up to you. What will you do now?”

“I would like to splinter that walking stick of yours into a thousand fragments and scatter it to the winds,” grumbled the lion, “but first I must reclaim my throne. I have run away long enough. It is time for me to start running back. I am still afraid, but Father told me that being brave means doing the right thing despite your fear. And that is what I must and will do, as he would have done.”

The mandrill smiled so widely that Simba thought his head would be sliced in two, then embraced him surprisingly hard for such an old creature.

“That is precisely what I hoped to hear. This is no place for a lion, much less a king. Now, hurry up, young one! There is not much time!”

Simba began to run away, but then he stopped. “If you should happen to meet a lioness, or a warthog, or a meerkat, tell them the king has returned to his kingdom!”

“I most certainly will, your majesty,” said Rafiki, and he disappeared before Simba had a chance to thank him. Smiling and shaking his head, the rightful king ran to the east, back to the Pride Lands. Now that he’d subsisted on insects, he knew he would have sustenance for the long journey out of the jungle, past the desert, and back to the savannah he’d once called home. Wasting no time, he followed the rising sun.

The next morning, Timon was sleeping upon Pumbaa’s belly when he woke to a nudge. Smacking his lips, he looked up--and found himself face to face with a lioness!

“AIGH!! Don’t DO that!” snapped the meerkat angrily, waking Pumbaa as well.

“I’m sorry,” said Nala. “I was just wondering…have either of you seen Simba?”

“He was with you the last time I saw him,” said Timon, making no effort to hide his dislike for her. “I know nothing more than that.”

“But he left me.”

“I’m not surprised. Perhaps he’s learned sense.”

“No, I mean I cannot find him anywhere! What if something’s happened to him?”

Hakuna matata,” said Timon, having nothing further to say on the matter.

“But Timon,” said Pumbaa, “if something’s happened, we cannot abandon him!”

“It was he who chose to leave us for this lioness,” said Timon.

Nala no longer cared what Timon thought of her. Turning away, she began to weep. “I just wish I knew where he was! If he is all right!”

The next thing anyone heard was a strange, high-pitched cackle, coming from the treetops. All turned to look, and saw an old white mandrill swinging through the trees.

“Rafiki?” said Nala, sniffling.

“If you are looking for the king, you shan’t find him HERE! He has returned to his kingdom!” With that, Rafiki disappeared as suddenly as he’d appeared.

Slowly, a smile graced Nala’s face. “He has gone back after all! Oh, I knew he would! I knew he still cared!”

“What are you talking about?” said Timon. “And who was that?”

“That was Rafiki the shaman--he baptized Simba at birth. And now Simba has returned to challenge Scar for the throne which is his birthright!”

“Who is Scar?” said Pumbaa.

“His uncle. When Simba ran away, Scar told us he was dead--I don’t know whether he lied or simply thought Simba had died along with Mufasa--and he took over the kingdom and allowed hyenas free rein! They forced us to overhunt, and this drove the herds away! Now we starve--my own mother starved to death, giving me her food so that I might live! Now Simba will set everything right!”

“My word!” said the warthog. “We must go and help him!”

“I advise you to put the idea out of your mind, my porcine companion,” said the meerkat. “In the first place, there is very little we could do, except be killed. Besides, the Pride Lands are not our home. I have no desire to leave this paradise for a barren wasteland. And at any rate, he left us, so I say good riddance!”

“But he is our friend!” said Pumbaa. “We cannot just stay here!”

“Why not? We got on fine without him before, we can do it again!”

The warthog snorted. “Timon, for once I am putting my hoof down! I don’t care what you wish to do, but I, for one, am going to help Simba!”

Timon silently tried to hide his feelings as Pumbaa followed Nala eastward. They had not gotten out of his sight when he dashed alongside Pumbaa.

“Couldn’t let you do it on your own,” he mumbled. “You’d just louse everything up.”

Pumbaa smiled, glad to have his friend by his side again.

Chapter 19

Return to Pride Rock

 

It was even worse than Nala had described. It was difficult to believe any living thing of any sort had ever lived here. The ground was hard, dry, and cold, and what few plants were still there were tiny, black, and wilted. The only sign of animal life outside of Pride Rock were a few skeletons which had not known flesh in so long that they were covered in cobwebs--and even the spiders that had spun them were now dead. Simba shivered. It was cold and dark, like a tomb.

Thunder rumbled in the distance, the sky completely blotted out by clouds. How could Scar, Simba’s kindly old uncle, have allowed such an abomination to take place? Had he gone mad with power, as some kings were known to do? Simba would never have believed it of Scar if he were not witnessing it firsthand. Staring at Pride Rock, off in the distance, Simba furrowed his brows. Though he still felt guilt, it was now being obscured by rage. He was furious with Scar. Whether he would be accepted as king or not, he would no longer allow this famine to continue. He would overthrow Scar and attempt to set things right. Perhaps he would be applauded for at least trying.

“Wait for me, Simba!”

Simba turned to find a lioness dashing toward him crossly.

“You are not one for saying goodbye, are you? This is the second time!”

“I am sorry, Nala,” said Simba. “But this time I had a reason. I had to return while there was still a chance.”

“I understand. All that matters is that you have returned, and I am glad of that.” She looked around. “It’s a nightmare, isn’t it? It’s even worse than I remember. Who knows who in the pride is still alive?”

“You can see why I did not wish to believe you. I did not believe it until I saw it for myself. I am greatly disappointed in my uncle, but I am glad I came back. Father never would have run away and turned his back to his pride, and I can do no less than he did. I will dishonor him no longer. I will right these wrongs if I can, you have my word.”

“But what made you decide to come back? I was unable for a year to persuade you to return home!”

Rubbing his head, Simba said, “Let’s just say someone drilled sense into my head. I thought I’d lost Father, but it was really my own spirit that I lost--I had forgotten who I was, and that I am connected to him, and to the great kings and all other living things. At any rate, with Father dead, I am rightly king now. How can I expect my subjects to accept me as king unless I first accept myself, even with my dark past? And who will fight to heal the kingdom if not her king himself?”

“Me,” said Nala. “I will.”

“Are you sure? It could prove very dangerous!”

Nala scoffed. “Danger is my middle name! I thrive on it! When there is danger, I simply laugh it off! Ha ha ha ha!”

“I hardly see a reason for levity,” said a voice.

Simba turned to look. “Timon? Pumbaa? It is good to see you, my friends, but why have you left your home to come here?”

“We have come to aid our king in claiming his throne,” said Pumbaa.

“I do not approve of this at all,” said Timon quietly, still a bit afraid of the lions in spite of having known them for so long. “It runs entirely contrary to the concept of hakuna matata. I only came because Nala did, and I could not persuade Pumbaa to stay, and I certainly wasn’t going to stay in the jungle alone. But as long as I am here, I might as well help however I can, though I fail to see what good a small meerkat will do.”

“Well, your king is very grateful to you. All three of you.”

“I only hope there is something left worth saving,” mumbled Timon.

“As long as there is life,” said Simba, “there is hope.”

“Then we will help you take your throne or die trying,” said Pumbaa proudly.

While Timon and Pumbaa got the left squadron of hyenas to chase them, by way of a diversion, Simba and Nala sneaked toward Pride Rock on the left side. Simba thought about the time when they’d been in the elephant graveyard. But this was for real--it was necessary, and more lives were at stake than just their own. Nala went to gather the lionesses together and Simba went to look for Scar.

“Sarabi!” roared Scar, his voice echoing throughout the land. Sarabi, being the greatest huntress in the pride, remained the leader of the hunting party even though she was no longer the queen.

Simba watched as his old mother tried to maintain her dignity while being snapped at by hyenas. She looked rather as though she were walking to her execution, and had resigned herself to her fate.

Simba took great pity on his mother as he saw her ribs protruding from her sides. She looked worse than Nala had when he’d seen her in the western jungle that first time. How long had it been since his mother had eaten a decent meal? And Simba, rather than returning to help, had stayed away and forgotten his past. Such a selfish act! But she still lived, so there was still a chance he could set things right.

“Yes, sire?” said Sarabi, joining Scar on Pride Rock and bowing.

“Where are the lionesses? They are not doing their job! I am hungry and I wish to eat! And Zira is hungry as well, and she needs to nurse my son Kovu--she is running out of milk! Why are the lionesses not hunting?!”

“Sire, we have tried to warn you for a long time that the herds have moved on. But as long as you ate a decent meal every so often, you ignored us. Only now that you and your family are affected by it yourselves do you see. There is literally nothing left for us here.”

“No!” cried Scar. “I don’t accept that! You are just not looking hard enough!”

Sarabi tried not to scowl at her king. “Look at me, Scar! I am so thin my bones can be seen! Why would I not look as hard as I could? There is nothing left! The only option besides starvation and cannibalism is to leave Pride Rock!”

Scar gasped. “Have you gone mad? Pride Rock has always been our home! There has always been more than enough to sustain us here! I will never leave!”

“To stay is to die!”

“Then so be it. At least we would die in familiar surroundings, rather than going off on a wild stork chase to who-knows-where and wasting energy!”

Now it was Sarabi’s turn to be shocked. “I cannot believe what I am hearing! Scar, you are the king! You are responsible for the pride’s welfare! How can you sentence them all to death like this?! Think of your pride! Or if you will not, think of your mate, and your son!”

“Call it a sacrifice to Mohatu, to please him enough to return the sun. We came from him, we shall return to him. As for Zira, she shall eat the corpses of any dead lionesses if she has to. At any rate, who are you to question your king? My word is law!”

Shaking her head incredulously, Sarabi mustered up her last ounce of courage and roared, “You may have one good eye, but you are blind to our plight! You are not even HALF the king Mufasa was!”

Angrily, Scar swiped at Sarabi, knocking her down!

That was too much for Simba. He let out a mighty roar, which echoed throughout Pride Rock! All gasped as a bolt of lightning illuminated him for all to see!

“Mufasa? No! Leave me alone! Oh, now I’m sure I can see him!” wailed Scar, backing away in terror as Simba approached. Why was Scar thinking Simba was Mufasa? Did his white fur make Scar think of a ghost? Or had the older lion simply gone mad and senile? Either way, he was clearly unstable and overthrowing him would even do Scar some good. Or perhaps it was as Rafiki had said--Mufasa lived in Simba, and Scar had seen this. The idea made Simba feel braver.

The white lion gently licked his mother’s wounds. Gasping for air, she opened her eyes, blinked a few times, then looked at Simba, squinting. “Mufasa? Is that you?” The blow Scar dealt her must have made her forget that her mate was dead.

“No, Mother,” said the white lion. “It is me. It’s your Simba.”

Sarabi shook her head and took a second look. “Simba? You--you live? But how? Scar said--”

“What Scar told you is a lie. How I managed to survive does not matter. What matters is that I live, and that I have returned home. Oh, Mother, I am sorry I ever abandoned you!”

“It is all right, my son,” said Sarabi, smiling. “You have returned. At least I got to see you again while I still live.”

“Simba?” said Scar. “Is it really you?” If this white lion was Simba, perhaps he could be dealt with. Scar was relieved that Simba was not a ghost--had he been dead, his spirit would have been nomadic, without proper burial. Scar certainly did not want to meet Simba in physical combat, though, as the younger lion had inherited his father’s strength.

“I am surprised to see you here, of all places.” Turning to the hyenas, he added under his breath, “…and alive.”

Simba growled at his uncle, backing him into a corner. “Give me one good reason not to tear off all your limbs, and I may be generous.”

“Simba, I--I am sorry about…your mother, but you know, being a king is a heavy burden. It is not all about getting your way all the time. It’s a tremendous responsibility. Sometimes the pressure gets to you at times, and it makes you do things you would never do otherwise!”

“I am here to relieve you of that burden, Scar,” said Simba, now nose to nose with the older lion. “You will abdicate the throne at once.”

“Well, Simba, ordinarily I would do it in an instant, but there is a slight problem. Remember what I told you years ago? A king only has power if he is acknowledged as such. And the hyenas, well…they follow me.”

“But we follow Simba!” said Nala, rallying all the lionesses except Zira behind her. “He is the son of Mufasa and thus he is the rightful king, not you!”

Scar stared as he saw all the angry faces glaring at him, some of them helping Sarabi to her feet. He did not know if there were enough hyenas to keep them all at bay.

“Nala, how dare you speak to your father that way!”

Nala gasped. “My…father?”

“That’s right, Nala. Your mother gave birth to my daughter before Simba was born. That daughter is you.”

Nala shook her head. “I don’t care! You have never been any sort of father to me! You allowed my mother Sarafina to starve to death! Nor have you been any sort of king to your own pride! You have broken the circle of life! You have upset the balance of nature! I would rather die than serve you any longer!”

Scar winced. He was genuinely cut by Nala’s words. And they did not encourage anyone to take his side.

“I leave the decision up to you, Scar,” said Simba. “If you will not abdicate willingly, fight me for the throne.”

The last thing Scar wanted to do was fight Simba, so he hoped the young lion had inherited Mufasa’s foolishness as well. He knew one advantage he still had over his nephew.

“Must there be violence?” said Scar. “I’m sure you would not wish to be responsible for the death of a family member, would you?”

Simba knew what his uncle was referring to. “You may as well forget about that ploy, Scar. It will not work on me now. I have put the past in the past.”

“Perhaps you have,” said Scar, “but the past, it would seem, is catching up with you. What of the lionesses who support you so faithfully? Have they shown you forgiveness?”

“Simba, what is he talking about? Forgiveness for what?” said Nala.

“Oh, didn’t Simba tell you his deep, dark, terrible secret?” said Scar in mock surprise. “Oh, Simba, I am disappointed in you. I thought surely you would have been honest with them before trying to gain their loyalty! Most unbecoming in a king, most unbecoming. Well, Simba, will you reclaim your integrity by telling them the truth, or risk losing their loyalty by remaining a liar?”

“I am not a liar, Scar,” said Simba, trying to keep his brave face. “I never told them a falsehood. I’ve simply kept my secret to myself.”

“Then why don’t you get it off your chest now? After all, how can you expect your subjects to support a king who keeps secrets, however dark they are?”

Simba took a deep breath, then sighed. It took all the courage Simba had left in his soul to say it. “My father’s death…the death of Mufasa…is my fault.”

The lionesses all gasped. They stared at Simba as if he’d just admitted to having been an accomplice of Scar’s in destroying the kingdom, or something! Limping toward Simba, Sarabi stared him in the eyes with a look of pain and betrayal that went beyond her physical injuries.

“It’s not true!” she cried. “Simba, please tell me you are lying!”

“I wish I could, Mother. You have no idea how I wish I could. That is why I ran away, and that is why I took so long to return.”

“So you see, lionesses,” said Scar, “that your ‘rightful king’ is a murderer and a coward! He has even admitted it! Hyenas! Seize him and justice will be served!”

Having spent all his courage on the confession, Simba was now reduced to pleading like an infant.

“But it was an accident! I never meant for anyone to die! Scar, you know that!”

“Do not attempt to blame your crimes on me, Simba! What you meant does not matter!” said Scar, driving Simba to the edge of Pride Rock. “What matters is that Mufasa is dead and it is your fault! Or do you deny that you are guilty?”

“No,” cried Simba, backing away.

“Then you are an assassin.”

“No! I am not!”

He looked at the lionesses for some sympathy, but there were several faces who gave him terrible looks, as though they did not trust him.

“He brought about his father’s death?”

“He must have been greedy and ambitious! He stayed away out of cowardice and selfishness! He has only returned now, when we are at our worst, to appear better than Scar--not because he cares about us!”

“Look how plump he is! He has eaten well, while we’ve starved! How can he know or care anything about our plight?”

Simba continued to back away as Scar and the hyenas came closer. His fears were coming true. When he’d made the decision to return, did he think it would be easy? Did he expect the pride to welcome him with open arms? Even Sarabi and Nala could not convince these lionesses that Simba had no such awful designs in mind.

“Simba, Simba, Simba,” said Scar, towering over his nephew as he had years ago, “what did you think you would prove, returning to Pride Rock? I warned you not to return, but you did not listen, did you? You always were one for getting into trouble, weren’t you? But it is different this time. Because your father is not here to get you out of it. And now the whole pride knows why!”

“Simba, watch out!” cried Nala.

But it was too late. Simba slipped off the rock, barely holding on with his front claws. At the same moment, lightning hit a dead tree, starting a fire which quickly spread.

Scar towered over Simba, smiling. “You look as your father did before he died.”

Simba stared at his uncle in shock. How had he known what Mufasa looked like before his death? Starting to slip, Simba tried desperately to dig his claws into the rock, but then Scar gripped his wrists. Simba roared in pain as Scar’s claws dug into his bones.

“You were the one who offered the violent solution, Simba. So sorry to do this to you, but it’s the only way it’s fair. You are much too strong for me to fight you physically, you see. Your death is sure to be a painful one, but I can ease it for you.”

Simba was confused. Scar whispered into his ear, “I can ease your physical pain by giving you a far greater emotional pain: by telling you my own secret, which you will carry to your grave, and which will haunt you as you fall, as no one will ever know it.”

The white lion was frightened now. What possible secret could Scar tell him that could make things any worse than they were?

Whispering even more softly, Scar said seven words that changed something in Simba permanently: “You did not kill Mufasa. I did.”

Suddenly it all came rushing back to Simba: his father falling, screaming bloody murder; the wildebeests trampling over his body, kicking up dust; Mufasa’s lifeless body. And Mufasa had been in an identical situation to the one Simba was in now. Scar….

Scar! It was he who had done it all along! Now Simba understood the significance of the wounds in Mufasa’s paws--Scar had caused them, as he was doing now to Simba! Scar had murdered his own brother, Simba’s father, and if that wasn’t bad enough, he’d told the cub Simba that he was the one responsible! And all because Scar wanted to be king!

But Simba no longer had the guilt holding him back. Replacing it was inner strength, which would not let him fall to death by fire! Pushing against the rock with his hind feet, Simba leapt onto the lion he no longer dared to think of as his uncle!

“YOU!!! I should have known it all along! I have been such a fool!”

“Simba, have mercy, I beg of you!” cried Scar. “I am old, and I am a hunchback!”

“Tell them the truth!” roared Simba. “For once in your life, tell them the truth!”

Scar kept his mouth shut. Simba began to choke him. Not until his face turned blue did Scar manage to whisper, “All right! All right! I’ll tell the truth!”

Simba softened his grip, but did not let go. “I killed Mufasa.”

“I don’t think they heard you,” said Simba, choking Scar again.

Angrily, Scar roared, “I KILLED MUFASA! I did it! Simba is innocent!”

The hyenas leapt upon Simba before being swatted away by the lionesses. For the first time since before Mohatu’s reign, there was war in the Pride Lands.

When Simba was free of the hyenas, he tried to find Scar. He could not find the older lion anywhere until lightning flashed, and Simba saw Scar running toward the top of Pride Rock.

Roaring angrily, Simba engaged in pursuit. Simba found Scar in a panicked state at the edge of the rock, red flames below. Slowly, the white lion approached the tyrant.

“Go ahead and jump. Suicide would be a fitting end! Far less messy than this war!”

“Simba, have mercy! If you have a heart, please be gentle to this old sinner!”

“Why should I?” said Simba. “You deserve no mercy. You have only contempt for life. You killed the real king so you could pretend to be one! I always used to wonder why Father kept you away from Pride Rock, and now I know. Now all I cannot understand is why he was not harsher with you, his brother though you may have been.

“But do you know what the worst thing you did was? It was not killing my father so that you would be king. It was not banishing me from my home. It was not letting the hyenas take over and letting the Pride Lands deteriorate. It was not your decision to sentence the pride to death by starvation. It was not even that you made me believe I was the one responsible for my father’s death. Do you know what it was?

“It was making me love you. Making me believe that you were on my side--that I could trust you. I will never understand how you can live with yourself. How can you even sleep at night, knowing what you are?”

“I cannot!” cried Scar. “Ever since I’ve been king, I haven’t slept a wink!”

“Then consider it a blessing that I am here, as I forbid you to rule as king ever again. You are not fit to the task--you have only contempt for lives other than your own, and thus you do not even deserve your own life.”

“But…I am your uncle!” said Scar, trembling with a greater fear than he’d ever known.

“Mufasa was your brother, and you killed him.”

“But I have a wife and cubs now!”

“So did Mufasa.”

“Please, Simba,” said Scar, unable to think clearly for the first time ever. Racking his brain for some way out, he finally said, “We are family! We are lions of the same pride! Do you think it was easy for me to kill my own brother? Or to do to a little cub what I’ve done to you? I had to muster all the hatred and jealousy I had in order to do what needed to be done! Do you think I was being selfish? I did it for the pride!”

“Look around you, Scar. Is this what you intended for the pride?”

“But it’s not my fault, Simba! I did the best I could! The hyenas are really to blame! They are the real enemy! They forced the lionesses to overhunt!”

“You were king,” said Simba. “You could have ordered them not to.”

“They…they started the wildebeest stampede that killed your father!”

“And you finished the job by throwing him into that stampede! Your own brother!”

“But…the hyenas tried to kill you!”

“On your orders, no doubt. Certainly you did not stop them.”

“Why won’t you believe me?” cried Scar, acting like a cub.

“Because--barring that secret you meant for me to carry to my grave--you have never told me the truth in your life!” Simba now towered over Scar, malice in his eye.

“What--will you do to me?” said Scar, more frightened than he had ever been before. “You would not…kill your own uncle…would you?”

“I would love nothing more right now,” said Simba, baring his teeth. “But I will not lower myself to your level. I will not be a murderer. Though no one deserves death more than you, you will not die at my hands. I will spare you, but you must do your part.”

“Of course, Simba! With pleasure!” said Scar, standing up straight and attempting a bow. “You are indeed a noble lion! Whatever you wish of me, I will do it!”

“I’d suggest you run away and never return. Leave the Pride Lands entirely.”

Scar stared as he heard his own old suggestion from his nephew.

“Certainly,” said Scar quietly, walking past the younger lion. Simba was genuinely surprised that Scar was giving up without a fight when--

“AIGH!!” cried Simba. Scar had swiped hot coals into Simba’s eyes, temporarily blinding him! Scar then leapt onto Simba, biting his neck but getting only mane! Simba swiped blindly at Scar until he could see again, then pushed him away! Then he pounced onto the older lion, who swatted him with his mighty paws! Scar pushed Simba away, then Simba slapped Scar in the face! Scar then did the same, knocking Simba down!

Simba opened his eyes as he saw Scar leap onto him. His life flashed before his eyes. Never was he more frightened than he was now. Surely now this would be his end!

No. He could not give up. Not while his father’s murderer and the tyrant king of the Pride Lands still had the kingdom in his clutches! As soon as Scar was upon him, Simba kicked at him harder than he had ever kicked before, using Scar’s own momentum against him, and Scar flew off Pride Rock, tumbling down and down to the bottom.

Chapter 20

The Purging of the Pride

 

Simba looked down at Scar, the former king of the Pride Lands. The older lion shook himself off and stood up with difficulty before collapsing again. Though he was bloodied and bruised, he still lived. Zira rushed to him and licked his wounds.

“Oh, Scar, are you all right?”

“I will be fine, Zira. Just a few minor bruises, nothing more.”

“Oh, what did Simba do to you?!”

“Nothing that I would not have done to him--and then some!--if I could have! But I am even weaker now than I usually am. To continue fighting him now would be folly.”

“No….” Tears came to Zira’s eyes. “You are the king! You must get better!”

“I will! But there is nothing I can do about it now! I am beaten and Simba is the king--for now. Come away with me, and bring Kovu with you--we shall leave the Pride Lands as Simba suggested I do, and we will start a new life elsewhere! If Simba could do it, so can we! It will be good for me--I will not have to deal with the pressures of ruling as Simba will. He will go mad and I will heal. But I will be too old to do anything against him so Kovu will have to do it for me, as he will be grown then. As soon as the moment is right, Kovu will take back the throne that should be mine now!”

“Of course, Scar,” said Zira, nuzzling him. “I swear to you, Kovu will be king!”

Just then the hyenas approached the pair. At first Scar was afraid, but when he saw them, he said, “Ah, my friends, it is only you.”

“Friends?” said Shenzi. “Did you call us our friends? For if I remember correctly, you said we were the enemy!”

“That is what I heard as well,” said Banzai, licking his chops.

“Hyenas, surely you didn’t think I meant what I said?” whimpered Scar. “I was just trying to get Simba to leave me alone! That’s all!”

“You have only used us to take the throne for yourself!” said Shenzi. “You never cared about our plight at all!”

“How can you say such an ungrateful thing?! I fed you before I became king, and even afterward I gave you free rein over the Pride Lands!”

“And look what has happened to the Pride Lands!” said Shenzi. “We starved less when Mufasa was king! You promised we would never go hungry again, and now we will make you keep your promise!”

“NOOOO!!!” cried Zira, leaping onto the hyenas as quickly as she could, but it was no use. The hyenas leapt upon Scar, showing him no mercy. Injured and weakened by his fall, Scar was no match for them.

“Simba, please help me!” cried the old lion. “They are killing me!”

“No, Scar, I will not,” said Simba. “What possible good would that accomplish?”

“Simba, I am begging you! You said yourself you were not a murderer as I was! Will you not now prove it by saving my life? You have already beaten me! You are king! I accept that now!”

“I told you before--you deserve no better than death. I tried to show you mercy by only banishing you, but your life is in the hands of the hyenas now. I cannot control what they will do to you.”

Zira winced in pain at her mate’s last scream as the hyenas tore his throat out. She was greatly outnumbered, and it was only their mercy that allowed her to live. She only lost her right ear in the fight. Helpless, she was forced to watch as the hyenas tore Scar’s corpse limb from limb and feasted upon his flesh.

Then the clouds burst and rain began to put out the fire. Zira could not even look at Scar’s remains--they were far too gruesome. She glared up at Simba, growling at him.

“Simba, you murderer! Come down here and face me!”

“I did not kill him, Zira!” said Simba. “The hyenas did!”

“But you did nothing to help him! He was your uncle!”

“An uncle who tried to kill me!

“Because you murdered your father, who was his brother!”

Simba growled. How could anyone say good things about Scar, knowing what he was? “You will take those words back! As king, I command it!”

“You are not MY king! You lost your right to be called that when you fled the Pride Lands like the coward you are! Scar was my king! And Kovu will be my king!”

“It was Scar that killed Mufasa, not me!”

“Do not slander my Scar! He would never have done such a thing!”

“Do you dare to defy me?”

“With every atom of my soul!”

“Then you leave me no choice.” Simba took a deep breath and said, “As king, my first act will be to banish the hyenas as well as Zira and her progeny!”

The hyenas were not as troubled by this edict as Zira and her cubs were. They had been forbidden from entering the Pride Lands before, and they trusted Simba to leave them alone. They would not return to the Outlands to the south, but would try to find better living conditions elsewhere. The pride would never need to fear them again.

Zira was less forgiving. Though Scar had proposed living in exile until Kovu was of age, Scar was no longer with his family. And worse, Zira and her cubs were banished to the very southern territory once occupied by the hyenas! The barren Outlands!

It was only because she and Nuka were outnumbered greatly that she did not stay and fight. She might die, and then what would become of Kovu? And Vitani? Besides, Kovu was still an infant, and the pride needed a ruler--Zira would gladly have ruled herself had she been born into the royal bloodline, as Scar and Kovu had been. But that not being the case, Kovu was the vessel for all her hopes now.

“I will never forgive you for this, Simba!” hissed Zira icily as she turned to leave, carrying Kovu in her mouth by the nape of his neck, with Nuka and Vitani following her. Nuka was helping her carry Scar’s bones away, so that they should be properly buried.

“You, of all lions, ought to know what it is like being banished while innocent!” continued Zira. “Yet you do the same to us! It is fitting that I only have one ear now, as Scar had only one eye! Be warned that I will return when Kovu is of age, and then you will regret your foolish mistake!”

Blood from Zira’s ear trickled onto the ground, then was washed away by the rain. “You will be avenged, Scar,” she whispered. “I promise you that.”

Simba did not take his eyes off Zira until she and her children were out of sight. Then he climbed onto the top of Pride Rock, all the lionesses’ eyes upon him as he went.

Always remember….

“Yes, Father, I will remember. I am your son. I am king of the Pride Lands!” And Simba let out a mighty roar, matched by the lionesses.

The Pride Lands soon began to heal. Mohatu returned the sun and the land became green once more. And the new vegetation lured the herds back as well. Soon it was as if the terrible reign of King Scar had never been. It appeared that Simba had done all that Mohatu had meant for him to do.

But things were not as marvelous as they should have been. Simba was glad to be home again, and happy to be married to Nala (and to be living on meat again), but he was insecure in his throne. Evil though Scar had been, he had been right about one thing, if nothing else: a king must be acknowledged as such to have power. And Simba was not certain that everyone accepted him. He’d heard rumors….

“Simba…don’t you think you were a bit harsh, sentencing Zira and her cubs into exile?” said Queen Nala.

“I showed them mercy!” said Simba. “They deserved death, supporting a tyrant like Scar!”

“Simba, whatever else Scar was, he was my father! Would you banish me?”

Simba’s eyes widened. “Don’t defend that monster!”

“I do not defend him! I am glad you are king instead of him! But I am his daughter, though I wish I were not! Would you banish me for that reason alone?”

“Of course not, Nala. I love you! You know that.”

“Well…some of the other lionesses thought your decision to banish them to the Outlands was harsh. They think…they think that perhaps you forced Scar to say he killed Mufasa so you could take the throne. Some of them are even questioning your rule--they point out that Scar only banished the two of us, and refused to let anyone else leave.”

Simba was angered. “That was when the Pride Lands were devoid of vegetation! When there was famine in the land! Who are these lionesses? Tell me their names!”

“I--I don’t want to say! Talk, that’s all it was, talk!”

“Nala, as your king, I order you to point them out to me!”

Nala began to sob. “They were the same lionesses who…did not trust you when they thought…that you had been--had been the one responsible for your father’s death!”

Simba growled almost inaudibly, his rage was so intense. “I should have kept close watch over those traitors when they first showed their true colors! If they don’t want me for a king, then they shall be banished to the Outlands as well!”

In the western part of the Pride Lands, Rafiki the shaman had returned to the Great Tree. He was pleased that the rightful king was back on the throne, but something disturbed him greatly. He meditated and prayed, but it would not leave him in peace.

Using his tortoise shell for divination, he saw something which puzzled him and frightened him. He saw a great circle that split in two, and the two fragments scattered.

“Oh, dear!” he cried shrilly. “The circle of life has been broken! But how?”

Simba’s hatred of Scar has blinded him. He has banished Scar’s followers to the Outlands. The pride will not long survive split in two. It has unraveled since my death.

“Mohatu?” said Rafiki.

Yes, Rafiki, it is me. Heed now my words.

My son Ahadi was a fine king, but he had a fatal flaw--his preference for his older son Mufasa and his neglect for Mufasa’s brother Taka. Because he could not let go of his wife Uru when she died in childbirth, he pushed Taka further and further away. It was this, along with Taka’s accident that brought him his scar, that caused Taka to become mad and cruel. Thus did he conceive Nala with Sarafina illegally, and thus did Mufasa exile him to the outskirts of the Pride Lands. It was for this reason that Taka stooped to murdering his own brother and nephew to become king himself.

And now, because of his disillusionment and hatred of Taka for all he did to him, Simba has exiled half the pride to the Outlands, forcing them to live in impoverished conditions and nourishing their hatred for him and what’s left of the pride. It is because of his unjust banishment of the Outlanders that they will put their hopes in my great-grandson Kovu to kill Simba and take his throne. But just as Simba’s deeds are not justified by what Taka did, so such a coup will not be justified by what Simba has done. Civil war will ensue, which, if not stopped, will destroy the pride entirely.

“But he was to restore the balance! It seems he is contributing to the imbalance!”

He has conquered the darkness without. Now he must conquer the darkness within, and that is more difficult. But his reign has yet begun. It will be a long reign, lasting years--but it will be cut short unless he follows his destiny.

“Then what must be done, O Great One?” said Rafiki.

The two prides are one, and must be reunited in peace and harmony. It must begin with two lions becoming one spirit together.

“But who, my lord?”

Mohatu gave no answer.

Nala was deeply saddened and laden with guilt as she watched every lioness she’d pointed out to Simba leaving the Pride Lands, forced into exile along with Zira and her cubs. Nala was afraid that Simba might do such a thing, and had only told him the lionesses’ names in the hopes that he would not. She hardly dared to believe it of Simba, the lion she loved, until she heard him speak those horrible words! Exile! Exile! Exile!

The idea of exiling lionesses was unheard of in the history of the pride, which now saw itself severed in half, with only the half still loyal to Simba remaining in luxury in the Pride Lands. But even this did not make Simba happy, and when he sought advice from the stars, they were silent. He had not heard them speak since his reign began.

“I do not understand it!” said Simba, pacing up and down the inside of the cave at Pride Rock. “I have tried to do as Father would have ever since I became king! I have tried to enforce his law! Yet I cannot hear his voice anymore! His murderer is dead, and Scar’s family is in exile! So why am I now deaf to the wisdom of the great kings?”

“Simba--” started Nala.

“Am I not greater than Scar? Does the sun not shine during the reign of King Simba? Is the food not plentiful? Have I not healed the land and restored balance?”

“Simba--”

“Then why can I not feel Father’s presence sharing in it with me? Scar is dead--why do I still feel as though I were living in his dark shadow?”

“Simba…I have something to tell you.”

“I hope it is good news, because I’ve had enough of the other sort. Scar was right, being king is not all fun and games.”

“Simba…I am carrying a cub.”

Simba’s ears perked up as he looked at his queen. She had grown a bit over the last few weeks, but he had paid it no mind. No doubt about it now, though--Nala smiled the smile only reserved for expectant mothers. She glowed with a radiance only reserved for expectant mothers. She was definitely carrying a child.

A child. An heir. Surely that was what was missing! As soon as the infant was born, Simba would hear his father’s voice in the sky again! He knew he would!

“Oh, Nala, that is the most wonderful news ever! It makes all else worthwhile!”

Looking at her belly, Nala said, “What shall we name the child?”

Simba thought for a moment. “If it is a son, name him Kopa.”

“And if it is a daughter?”

That possibility had not occurred to Simba. He wanted a son, to avoid the question of his heir, but he had to be prepared for anything.

“If it is a daughter,” said Simba, “name her Kiara.”

 

 

 

Part III.

Simba’s Child

King of kings, our king, ruler of our land,

This land of our ancestors is holy.

Rule this land, rule with peace.

The time has come--rule, our king.

Rule with peace, rule with love.

Chapter 21

Kiara

 

Not since Simba’s own birth was there a ceremony of such grandeur in the Pride Lands. All the animals gathered at Pride Rock that morning. Elephants trumpeted, zebras stamped and brayed, antelope reared onto their hind legs, monkeys clapped their hands. Birds flapped all over in excitement. Even the giraffes smiled, though they could not cheer.

On the crag of Pride Rock was King Simba, the white lion, with his queen Nala. As Zazu the hornbill had died years earlier and Scar had chosen no majordomo, Simba had named Timon the meerkat to the position, with Pumbaa the warthog assisting him. They stood next to the king and queen on this fine morning, and Pumbaa was smiling. Even Timon managed to smile although he had become precisely what he disliked--an enforcer of authority. But at least he was with his friends.

At length Rafiki the mandrill approached the edge of Pride Rock with the newborn infant lion. The child had white fur and brown eyes, like its father. A goodly little cub if ever there was one. The shaman lifted the cub into the air for all to see.

A gentle breeze blew as the animals cheered the new addition to the royal family. Simba knew it was his father Mufasa’s spirit, and wished he could still hear his father’s voice. Alas, for he had not heard Mufasa speak since coming to his throne months ago.

But he was able to smile, for Mufasa clearly favored his grandchild. As clearly did Mohatu, for the sun soon shone directly onto the young cub.

Simba’s child watched the seeds and leaves blow in the breeze. Growling playfully, the cub tried to grab some, to no avail. Simba was reminded of himself when young. He hoped he would be a good father, and that he would do right by Mufasa.

The antelope bowed first, then the zebras, then the elephants, and the giraffes. Rafiki then baptized the child with the pulp of a gourd from his walking stick. Nala nuzzled the cub, purring, and then Simba did likewise.

“I say, your majesty,” said Timon. “Couldn’t be prouder if I tried. You have a fine, strapping young lad there, if I may say so, and I look forward to his coming of age.”

“Thank you,” said Simba, “but my child is a daughter.”

Trying to hide his embarrassment, Timon said, “And a downright lovely little lass she is, sire. No doubt the apple of your eye.”

Pumbaa looked at his old friend and said, “Even I knew it was a daughter, and I’m not terribly sharp about things, even at my age.”

Simba smiled. Pumbaa looked at the little cub, fawning over her.

“She is so little! It will take millions of insects to make her grow big and strong!”

“She will not eat insects if it can be helped,” said Simba, retaining his smile so his friend would not feel badly. “She will have to contribute to the hunts when she is of age. But I will make sure she won’t try anything with either of you.” He then turned to his daughter, who looked up at him and smiled back.

“Kiara,” he said. “My little Kiara.”

Then, suddenly, the king was overcome with sorrow. He had not told anyone his terrible secret--not even Rafiki. Only he and Nala knew that the queen had actually borne twins: a son and a daughter. But the son, whom they had named Kopa, had been a sickly child, and despite their best efforts to heal him, the cub had soon died. And if that were not enough, only hours later Simba’s mother Sarabi had also died of the wounds inflicted upon her by Scar. Her last words were “At least I got to see my granddaughter live.”

These deaths had devastated the king, who could not understand what he had done to merit such punishment. He had not even had time to give them proper funerals, as his daughter needed to be presented before the kingdom learned of her existence. They had been buried, to be sure, but Rafiki had not even had time to pray for their souls. That would have to happen later, when the other animals returned home.

But if Simba’s son had been sick and weak, his daughter had been stronger and had lived. The king determined that this should not be in vain. Though he would have preferred a son, he did not love his daughter any the less for that. He determined to be a good father to her, as his own father had been absent for most of his cubhood.

“I will not lose you as I lost your brother,” said Simba, as Nala took the cub back to nurse her. “I will never let any harm come to you. I promise you that.”

In the Outlands to the south, Zira was waiting to hear word from her daughter Vitani, who had sneaked into the Pride Lands to learn about Simba’s child. Her stomach constantly growled, but she paid it no mind. This was more important than her hunger, and to seek out food would simply waste time and energy.

She was watching her younger son Kovu. He was practicing pouncing on a large rhinoceros beetle, which was the largest creature the outsiders could find in the Outlands. When the brown lion cub finally caught the insect, he then let it go, to his mother’s chagrin.

Zira swatted the beetle down angrily. “What have I told you, Kovu?” she said.

“But Mother…it did nothing to me!”

“No room for weakness! What sort of king will you be when grown if you show weakness and cowardice? Your father’s last wish was that you reclaim the throne for him! Do not disgrace his memory!” She slapped him hard and he tried not to cry. Though she had kept her claws sheathed, her paw was still large enough to hurt. But she’d always taught her son that pain was weakness leaving the body. After all, she had not cried when she’d lost her ear.

“Forgive your son, Scar,” whispered Zira. “He knows not what he does.”

At length Kovu’s sister returned. “What news, my daughter?” said Zira.

Vitani bowed to Zira. “Simba and Nala have had their firstborn, Mother. And it is a daughter. Her name is Kiara.”

“A daughter, did you say?” said Zira, smiling and clucking. “I could not have planned a better outcome. Without a son, Simba has no one to rival Kovu as his successor. Kovu is his only living male heir! We need only wait until he’s grown so he can kill Simba the scourge!”

Vitani was surprised at her mother. “You do not mean to kill Kiara as well?”

“Certainly not! Not before Simba is dead! Once Kovu is on the throne, then the daughter should die. Besides, she surely would wish to avenge her father’s death if she were to live! But until Kovu is king of the Pride Lands, Kiara must live!”

Vitani sighed and said, “Yes, Mother.” She did not always understand Zira’s plans, but went along with them anyway, and this would be no exception.

Chapter 22

Like Father, Like Daughter

 

Kiara had woken up early and raced out of the cave in Pride Rock. She was now about three months old, and a frisky young white lion cub. This was her first day outside of Pride Rock, and she had been waiting for today. Panting and grinning, she looked over the whole land. It was far more vast and beautiful than she could have imagined!

“The Pride Lands must be the whole world!” she thought. “So many things to see, places to explore, creatures to meet! I cannot wait to play!”

She started to dash out into the Pride Lands when she felt something on her tail, holding her back.

“Where are you off to in such a rush, my daughter?” said Simba.

“Father, let me go!” said Kiara, smiling. “I wish to play in the Pride Lands!”

“And so you may. But you must be careful. You are still very little yet, and who knows what might happen if you are not vigilant.”

Kiara was not listening. A butterfly had flown into her view, and she gave chase, growling and trying to pounce.

“Kiara, pay attention! This is of the utmost importance! If you are not careful, you might get hurt, stepped on, who knows what? At best, you might get lost! I have already marked a scent trail for you to follow. Stick to that, and do not go so far from Pride Rock that you cannot see it anymore. And if you meet any strangers--”

“--do not speak to them, and come home directly. Is that correct?” asked Kiara, smiling sweetly at her father.

“You are impudent, and not at all amusing,” muttered Simba, but Kiara could see by the smile on her father’s face that she was not in trouble.

“Although it will be difficult to make friends if I cannot speak to anyone,” she mumbled.

“Listen to your father, Kiara,” said Nala, chuckling as she left the cave to join them. “He wants what’s best for you, even though he is not without his flaws.”

Simba stared at Nala incredulously. “A king cannot get respect from his own family anymore.” Putting on a serious face, he then said to Kiara, “Most importantly of all, do not go too far south. The Outlands are there, and the only inhabitants dwelling there are a pack of--”

“--backstabbing, murderous outsiders. I know,” said Kiara.

“Well, it’s the truth!” said the king. “They cannot be trusted. If you so much as turn your back on one….” He unsheathed his claws as if to indicate what might happen.

“But why are they like that? What did we do to them?”

Simba sighed. “It is nothing we did. They are like that naturally. Someday, when you are older, you will come to understand. Go and play now.”

“But Father--”

A stern look from Simba, and Kiara said no more. Rubbing up against his leg and purring, Kiara was soon on her way to whatever adventure was in store for her.

“Stay on the path, and be safe!”

Nala shook her head. “Remind you of anyone you know?”

Simba stared at his mate. “You mean…me?”

The queen nodded. “She is exactly like you were at that age--barring being a girl, I mean.”

Simba stared at his daughter, who was quickly disappearing into the distance. “Perhaps she looks like me, but I do not see any other resemblance. I tried to give her my father’s speech about how a monarch’s reign rises and falls like the sun--she did not even listen! She wasn’t the least bit interested!”

“Come on,” said Nala. “She acts toward you exactly the way you acted toward your own father. Surely you see that?”

Simba’s face betrayed a look of severity as he paced. “That is precisely what frightens me. That is what has frightened me ever since I saw myself in her at her birth! Have you forgotten the dangers I got myself into at that age?”

And me,” said Nala, pouncing on her mate and licking him.

“Even worse,” said Simba, pushing her off. “Had Father not been around to save us from the Outlands so long ago, who knows what might have happened to us? And when he rescued me from the stampede, he died! And I was no older than she is now! I don’t want anything similar happening to my daughter!”

“You worry too much, Simba,” said Nala. “You have not even arranged a marriage for her yet. We were the same age when we learned we were engaged. She is more than capable of staying on the path you marked out there.”

Simba was not as certain as his mate. When Nala and the other lionesses had gone out to hunt, he called Timon and Pumbaa to him. The meerkat bowed low. “Majordomo Timon--”

The warthog cleared his throat.

“--and assistant--”
Pumbaa smiled.

“--reporting for duty, your majesty!”

“I am worried that Kiara will not stay on the scent trail I marked for her. I want you to keep a close eye on her and make sure she does not stray. Danger could lurk behind any rock. I am depending on you both to remain vigilant, as I must make my morning rounds and cannot watch my daughter myself.”

“We will be as her shadow,” said Pumbaa.

“We will be to her as Pumbaa’s odor is to him,” added Timon. Pumbaa took umbrage at this, but said nothing as he followed Timon along Simba’s marked path, both of them keeping their eyes peeled for the young princess.

Chapter 23

The Sitters

 

Kiara was still following the butterfly, growling and pouncing, but never quite catching it. Hiding in the grass from time to time, she leapt out at it again and again.

“Come, I only wish to play with you!” said the princess. “I will not harm you, you have my word!”

But the brightly colored insect did not listen. It fluttered off, and it was all Kiara could do to keep up with it. This distraction made her forget to stay on the scent trail that her father had marked for her. Not that she was likely to have stayed on it, anyway, but she was now inadvertently heading south. Too far south.

At length the butterfly settled on a rock to rest. Kiara watched as it folded and unfolded its wings. A more perfect setup could not have been planned.

“The mighty huntress has cornered her quarry,” whispered the princess as she lowered her body to hide in the soft grass. “Slowly she creeps forward, careful to remain downwind of the beast.”

Growling softly, she advanced. She paused, her tail twitching. Then, without warning, she pounced onto the rock, frightening the butterfly away.

“Blast it!” said the princess, disappointed. “Even when it is standing still, I cannot catch it. What sort of huntress will I be when I am grown if I cannot even catch a butterfly? Mother will be so ashamed of me--she is the greatest huntress in the Pride Lands!”

No longer seeing her prey, and finding no other quarry, Kiara was about to give up and go home when something caught her eye. It had always been there, but she was just noticing it now--the plants were thinning out. Farther on they became thinner and thinner until they nearly disappeared entirely. The little white lion cub had never seen such a thing in her young life!

“What is that, I wonder?” The rock she was sitting on overlooked a little pond, and was at a good height for her to see. She noticed the sun was to her left. That meant that way was east. Thus the barren land in the distance ahead was south, which only meant one thing.

“That must be the border of the Pride Lands! Those are the Outlands beyond it! I wonder what there is out there that Father does not wish me to know about. It must be terribly exciting!” Looking behind her, she thought, “Perhaps if I only go to the very border and look around, Father does not have to know about it. And I shall be careful. Who knows? Perhaps the Outlanders have cubs my age, and perhaps I shall find a friend!” She had forgotten her father’s description of outsiders.

Just then a twig snapped behind her. Something was rustling the grass. Kiara jumped, then turned. “Who is that?”

She bared her teeth, trying to look as fierce as she could, for whatever it was, it was larger than she was.

“I am the princess and future queen of the Pride Lands, and I demand that you show yourself!”

Suddenly a voice screamed at her, and the scream frightened Kiara so much that she screamed back, and in the confusion she slipped off the rock and into the pond!

“Hold on, princess!” cried Pumbaa as he realized what had happened. “I will save you!” He took a flying leap off the rock and landed SPLASH!! into the water.

“Pumbaa!” said Timon. “You are supposed to be a sitter! That does not mean that you sit on your ward!”

The warthog gasped and leapt out of the pond as quickly as he could. Kiara raised her head into the air and took a deep breath. She coughed and sputtered, then splashed about until she reached the shore. Shaking herself off, she then glared at Pumbaa.

“I am so sorry, princess. I only meant to help. Please forgive an old fool. But you know, you should have known better than to go off the trail by yourself as you did. You are the king’s daughter after all. What if you’d been hurt?”

“But I wasn’t--”

“Have you any idea what your father would do to us if that happened?” said Timon. “No, of course you haven’t, or you’d have stayed on the path, as he ordered.”

“Would you just listen to me?!” cried Kiara.

That silenced the two friends. Little though she was, she was still a lioness, and somewhat intimidating when angry.

“Yes, princess?” said Pumbaa.

“I am not only a princess! Perhaps my father is king, but that was not my decision! I am more than merely a princess! I am--I am--”

“Yes?”

Kiara sighed. “I am a lioness. I want to be who I am, not what someone else says I am. I don’t like being ordered about. The princess makes up only half my identity!”

“Then who makes up the other half?” asked Pumbaa, wanting to know. But Kiara honestly could not give an answer, not knowing herself.

“Your father is king, whether you wish it or not,” said Timon. “You must listen to him. Speaking of which, you must return to the trail without delay.”

Kiara sighed, hanging her head. So much for her first adventure. She looked back at the Outlands one last time before following Timon and Pumbaa.

Before they reached the trail, however, Kiara noticed a large hollow log. This gave her an idea--a risky one, but she had sought excitement that morning and had not found it yet.

“I say, Timon? Pumbaa? Are you hungry at all?”

Pumbaa stopped and looked at his stomach. “Well…now you mention it, it has been almost an hour since I’ve eaten last.”

Timon rolled his eyes. “And you wonder why you have so much flesh.”

“That log over there is bound to have juicy insects under it,” said Kiara.

Pumbaa rushed to the log, Timon shaking his head in disapproval. But the meerkat changed his mind when Pumbaa lifted the log and many creepy-crawly things could be found below it. Kiara made a face when she watched them go down the throats of Timon and Pumbaa. Careful not to be seen or heard, Kiara sneaked away and turned south, hoping to find something exciting near the Outlands. Something about the forbidden lands simply…called to her, like a voice whispering in the wind. A voice she had never heard before, but a friendly, even familiar presence. Though she would not let down her guard, something inside the princess told her that she would be all right.

Chapter 24

A Friendship Is Forged

 

“Nuka, why don’t you give up on those termites in your mane?” said Kovu, shaking his head at his brother. “You’ve been scratching away at them ever since I can remember and it hasn’t gotten you anywhere!”

“What is it to you? You’re nothing but a puny termite yourself!” said Nuka. It was bad enough that the termites would not leave him alone, but to hear it from Kovu was too much for him. He did not enjoy having to sit his brother, but Zira was off hunting and could not watch Kovu.

“You cannot speak to me that way!” said Kovu haughtily, standing up as straight as he could. “I am Father’s heir! I shall be king when I am grown!”

Nuka growled at his brother. “The only reason Father chose you over me is because you were second-born, as he was! If I’d had the fortune to have been born second, it should have been me!

Kovu rolled his eyes. “I highly doubt that’s the only reason.”

Nuka shoved his face into his brother’s face. “You have something to say to me, Kovu?” he snarled.

“You cannot do anything to me! I’ll tell Mother!”

“Big surprise--a tattletale as well! It isn’t as though I have any reputation with her that I might lose!”

Kovu didn’t wish to admit it, but he would have liked a more cordial relationship with his only brother. He paced a few times and then said, “If you will not treat me better, I’m going to run away!”

“So who is stopping you?” said Nuka. “If you are so special, what difference does it make whether someone is around to acknowledge it?”

“I--I will, too! You see if I don’t!”

“I am seeing,” said Nuka. “And you are not leaving.”

“Mother will be mad at you!”

“So what else is new? You must learn that you cannot rely on anyone out here--not even your family. It is every lion for himself!”

Not daring to disclose his desire for Nuka to follow him out of brotherly concern, Kovu ran away. From time to time he stopped to listen for Nuka, to see if he was following him. But Nuka never showed any sign that he cared. Sadly, Kovu went off by himself.

At the border with the Pride Lands, Kiara crossed a slightly rotten hollow log that was sloping downwards over a lake. Her gaze went back and forth as she observed the almost barren landscape of the Outlands. Rather than finding it boring, however, what few landmarks there were (dead trees being most obvious) made it that much more fascinating to the little princess and lured her in further. She could not help wondering what the Outlanders did for food, though, as there did not seem to be any herds here.

“Wow!” thought Kiara. “It is simply breathtaking! Father would be furious if he found out I was here!”

Distracted by the sight of the place, Kiara did not notice that she’d come to the end of the log. Slipping, she tumbled head over heels and landed on the ground, raising dust which caused her to sneeze.

When she stood herself up, she really felt as though a border had been crossed. Looking back at the more plentiful Pride Lands, she began to feel a bit of concern (not fear, but concern) in addition to her excitement. She was not at home anymore. Perhaps she would encounter real danger here. But she would be vigilant and try to avoid it at all costs.

Keeping her eyes, nose, and ears open, she cautiously walked deeper into the pride lands. Presently she came to a patch of earth that looked as though it had shifted relative to the earth surrounding it. And there were flowers strewn over it. Only three months old, Kiara had no idea what it was. Curiously she began to dig, wondering what she might find there.

Suddenly she heard a noise. Looking in the direction of a large log, she saw a black tuft of fur on the tail of a lion. Clearly this was only a young lion, not much older than she was, but it startled her just the same. She backed away from the patch of earth.

“Rrreow!” roared the brown lion cub as he leapt over the log, just barely missing the princess! His green eyes flashed a menacing look at her as he said, “Away from the grave, trespasser, or I shall slice your innards and feast upon your flesh! Go home!”

“You--You cannot speak to me that way,” said Kiara, trying to sound as brave as possible, but backing away from what she now knew was a grave where someone was buried. “I am the princess and future queen of the Pride Lands!”

Somehow, this knowledge did not have the desired effect. If anything, the other cub seemed even angrier, baring his sharp teeth and furrowing his brows further. “Pride Lander! Daughter of Simba the scourge! You would dig up my father’s bones so that his spirit will roam the earth forever, never to rest in peace! Go home at once! You are not wanted here!”

Remembering what her father had told her, Kiara started to back away from the brown cub, her eyes never leaving it. The other cub seemed puzzled, and his initial anger gave way to confusion.

“What the deuce are you doing?” he said, raising his head.

“Leaving…but not because you told me to! Because I choose to.”

“But why are you walking backwards? Most lions walk forwards, don’t they? Or do you Pride Landers do everything backwards?”
Kiara was insulted by this insinuation. No one--certainly no lion--had ever dared to speak so of her pride. And this cub had called her father a scourge! Putting on her bravest face, she said, “If you must know, it’s because I am keeping an eye on you! Father says never turn your back to an outsider because they cannot be trusted. You are nothing but a pack of backstabbing murderers, the lot of you! If Father were here, he would fix you good!”

Now it was the other cub’s turn to feel insulted, but he had a different way of dealing with it. “Do you always do everything your father tells you to do, princess?

“No! I’m not even supposed to be here at all--he told me not to stray from the path he marked for me!”

“So he is not here to ‘fix me good.’ But I suppose he still wants you to come straight home at the end of the day, am I right?” said the cub, walking in the direction Kiara had come. “And I don’t suppose you’d defy him on that count. You are his precious little princess, after all.”

“I am not just a princess!” said Kiara in indignation, starting to follow him.

“Yet you chose to tell me you were when we first encountered each other!”

“So who are you, then?” said Kiara, ignoring the putrid smell of the lakewater as the outsider cub hopped onto a rock jutting out from below its surface. “Are you a prince, that you feel you can be so rude to me and get away with it? Or can you outsiders even understand that at all?”

Annoyed, the brown cub said, “Outsiders do not answer to anyone. It’s every lion for himself out here. We do not have the luxury of government, as we are occupied with mere survival every day!”

Kiara knew outsiders were bad, but somehow she began to feel pity now. Here was a little lion cub, not much older than she was, yet he did not get fed all the time? It was only now that she noticed his ribs were exposed under his skin. If he were not an Outlander she would have liked to take him home and feed him. But her father would never allow that.

Rude though he was, however, Kiara also had to admire the fact that this cub had no one telling him what to do. The white princess wished she were that independent, but that wouldn’t be the case until she was queen, and she did not look forward to that, as she would have no more time for fun.

Kiara jumped onto a rock behind the outsider, then noticed the brown cub’s face suddenly widen in horror. Then he screamed his lungs out, looking not into her face, but above her!

“Crocodile!” he cried.

Kiara just had time to realize what he’d said before leaping out of the way of the snapping jaws! The “rocks” sticking out through the surface of the water were not rocks at all, but vicious crocodiles!

The cubs leapt from rock to rock until they reached one that was large enough to hold them both. The brown cub looked around, then cried, “This way!” Following him, Kiara barely managed to elude the mighty jaws of a second crocodile!

The cubs raced along the rocks but soon ran out of them. The only thing left sticking out of the surface of the water was a dead tree--if she’d had time to think, Kiara might have speculated that this lake had flooded land that had plants growing in it already. But the crocodiles were still in pursuit, and there was no time for thinking. The cubs only paused for a moment to catch their breaths.

But in that moment, the rocks they were on now rose high into the air. Not only were these “rocks” crocodiles as well, but these crocs were piled on top of each other! And the brown cub soon found himself on the snout of one, only having time to leap into the air before the jaws would have snapped onto his paws!

Kiara was too concerned with saving herself to aid the other cub. Leaping onto the dead tree, she began to wish she’d listened to her father and never come here! If she lived to see home, she would never set foot here again! She might well die here!

Then she noticed the other cub heading toward the land, appearing to show no concern for her at all.

“Hey, you’re not just going to leave me here?”

The cub did not even dignify her with a glance. “I told you--outsiders answer to no one! Nor do we aid others! You are on your own!”

“But you can’t abandon me! I’m frightened! The crocodiles!”

Sure enough, the beasts began to rise up and snap at her toes. It was all she could do to keep from falling into their jaws, and the outsider cub did not even care. Perhaps her father had been right all along about them, after all.

Kovu was about to walk away when he stopped. Glancing back at Kiara, he had a pained expression on his face. He took a few steps away, then stopped again. He tried one more time, then sighed.

“I am no better than Nuka,” he moaned. “How can I expect him to care about me if I will not care about anyone else?”

He paced back and forth. “No! No, she is a Pride Lander! The daughter of Simba! She is the enemy--let her die in the Outlands! She tried to unearth Father’s bones! Let her die so that Simba may suffer! Then he will see the error of his ways! I shan’t be weak! Mother will not have that!”

He ran away from the lake, back toward where he’d left Nuka. He only stopped when he heard the panicked scream.

“EEEEEK!! Help! Someone help me! Father!”

That cut him deeper than any wound. He knew his mother would not understand, and would never forgive him, but he simply could not leave this cub to die. She wasn’t even as old as he was. He raced back, praying he wasn’t too late.

Keeping her legs as close to her body as they would go, Kiara swiped at the crocs who came too close. But this was only a mild deterrent, and would not work for long. She shut her eyes and slashed blindly, praying to Mohatu to have mercy!

Suddenly the croc let out a terrible roar and fell down! The brown cub had returned, and was distracting the scaly beasts away from the tree! He had returned after all! Perhaps…her father had been wrong about Outlanders?

No, she did not wish to believe her own father wrong, especially since he was king. But…Simba obviously had never met this outsider before. He certainly did not seem like a backstabbing murderer, though others probably were. After all, he could have left her there for the crocodiles. She greatly admired him now.

But then he fell off the tail of one of the crocs and landed in the water, scrambling to keep his head above the surface! And the croc came after him, opening its long, pointed jaws to snap!

“Watch out!” cried Kiara as the cub dashed for the tree. But once he got there and gripped the tree with his claws, he was too frightened to move, even to climb up the tree to safety. Kiara could not just stand around and watch--he had saved her life!

Leaping into the air, she landed SMACK! onto the crocodile’s head, shutting its jaws before they could snap down onto the other cub.

“Run!” she cried. “Now!”

The other cub was too frightened to protest at being ordered about. He leapt onto the tree, and Kiara soon followed. The other cub jumped onto smaller and smaller branches until he made it to the other side of the lake--the Pride Lands side. Either he did not realize it or he was as defiant as Kiara was. Either way, she was not about to judge him for it, although if she’d had time to think, she would have been worried about her father seeing him. Simba had not seen the cub save his daughter’s life, and he thought they were all evil.

SNAP!! Kiara felt the tree shake under her feet. She turned to look--the crocodile was biting down on the branch she was on, trying to tear it off! She clutched the branch tightly, more frightened than she’d been when the other cub had run away! When the croc opened its jaws one last time, Kiara knew it was now or never! If she was too late, she would fall into the water and surely be killed!

Mustering up all her strength, she leapt up onto the land just before the crocodile finished breaking off the branch! She and the other cub panted, trying to catch their breaths. The crocodiles would not harm them anymore, as the wall was too steep for them to climb.

The cubs looked down. “I did it! I made it!” cried Kiara. Looking down at the crocs who were trying unsuccessfully to climb up the walls and get at her and the other cub, she said, “Perhaps next time you’ll think twice before going after the princess of the Pride Lands!” Then she stuck out her tongue at them.

The cubs laughed as they got away from the edge. They were in a little clearing now, with grass all around.

“Did you see the size of those teeth?” said Kiara. “They were easily as long as my legs! Did you see the way I leapt onto his head and slammed his jaws shut?”

The brown cub scoffed. “And I did nothing, I suppose.”

“No, no, you saved my life when I gave you no reason to. Thank you. That was very brave of you.”

The brown cub beamed. He’d never been called brave before, not even by his mother, who loved him more than life itself!

“Thanks,” he said modestly. “You were brave too…for a girl.”

Kiara smirked. “But you stink from that water!”

The other cub could not argue, so he did not even try. “I suppose…I suppose we are a good team,” he said, shrugging.

Rolling her eyes and smiling, Kiara said, “Yes, but who would believe it? A princess and a backstabbing murderous outsider--oh, I DO beg your pardon!”

The outsider cub lowered his head. “I suppose all you Pride Landers think we outsiders are not worth the skin we inhabit. That’s why you keep us away as you do. That’s why we cannot have full stomachs as you do.”

“I’m sorry,” said Kiara. “I should never have said that. You clearly are not like that at all. It’s just…my father warned me--”

“And my mother warned me about you Pride Landers!” said the brown cub. “She said you are nothing but a lot of greedy, heartless fiends!” Seeing the hurt in Kiara’s eyes, he sighed. “But I suppose you are not like that either. Perhaps….”

He never did finish his sentence. Instead he said, “Well, I suppose I’d best introduce myself. I am Kovu, son of Scar and Zira.”

Kiara gasped when Kovu said that he was the son of Scar. Then that had been Scar’s grave she’d seen. Then she remembered that her own mother had been Scar’s daughter. So she had been at the grave of her own grandfather. Somehow…despite the endless horror stories her father had told her, it did not seem fair that her grandfather could not be buried in his homeland, whatever he’d done in life.

And perhaps this cub was more like her mother Nala than like Scar. She saw a bit of her mother in Kovu’s eyes, and even Nala herself resented the fact that she was Scar’s daughter. Clearly Kovu was not so bad.

“And I am Kiara, daughter of Simba and Nala, herself the daughter of Scar.”

“I knew who you were already,” said Kovu. “My sister told me about you.”

“You have a sister?”

Kovu shrugged. “What of it?”

Kiara shook her head. “Nothing. I do not have a brother or a sister. In fact, there are no other cubs in the Pride Lands. You’re the first friend I’ve ever had.”

Smiling, she touched him with her paw and said, “You’re up! Catch me!” She ran off in the direction of Pride Rock when she noticed she wasn’t being followed. Careful of a surprise attack--the grass was long--she found Kovu still in the same spot he’d been before, a bewildered expression on his face.

“Don’t you know enough to chase me when I’ve just tagged you?”

“Tagged?” said Kovu slowly as though the word was foreign to him.

“Have you never played at tag before?”

“Played?” said Kovu in the same voice.

Kiara gasped. This poor outsider cub had never played before? No wonder he was so grouchy and rude! Mulling it over a moment, she got an idea.

Lowering her head, she growled playfully and said, “Run for your life, outsider, or I shall rip your limbs out of their sockets!” Though she bared her teeth and claws, and furrowed her brow low, she was smiling.

Now the outsider cub understood. Matching her pose, he said, “Not if I rip out your entrails first, Pride Lander!” Then Kiara ran away, giggling, as Kovu pursued her.

“RRAAAGHH!!!” Kiara stopped immediately when she heard her father’s roar. But he was not roaring at her--he was roaring at Kovu!

His roar had the desired effect, for Kovu backed away, whimpering with fright. Then an old lioness with one ear leapt out and roared at Simba! Kiara was deeply frightened by this lioness, who must have been Kovu’s mother.

“Zira!” snapped Simba.

“Simba,” said Zira through her teeth. “Was it not enough that you banished me to the Outlands? Must you attack my child, and your heir, as well?”

“He is not my heir! You should have kept him at home! He has crossed the border illegally!”

Soon the lionesses of the Pride Land pride joined Simba on either side. So did Timon and Pumbaa, who were still embarrassed at having allowed Kiara to get away from them, although Timon hid it better.

Kiara glared at Timon and Pumbaa. The tattletales! She would get back at them!

Then she hung her head. It was probably the lionesses who had found out where she’d gone. The most that Timon and Pumbaa could have told was that she’d strayed off the path.

“You will take your son and leave our lands at once!” said Simba.

“These are NOT your lands! These lands belonged to Scar before you murdered him! As he is now dead, they rightly belong to Kovu!”

“You were both banished, and now you will leave, unless you wish to pay the penalty!” said Simba, unsheathing his claws.

“I know the penalty, Simba,” growled Zira, “but Kovu does not! He is only a cub! Or would you kill your cousin as you killed your uncle?”

Kovu looked up at Simba, trembling with fright. He knew that Simba had killed his father, and the grown lion could just as easily kill him. Besides, he was Scar’s heir and posed a threat to Simba’s rule.

Simba glared at the outsider cub, frowning, but then sighed, closing his eyes and shaking his head. He would not be a murderer as Scar had been.

“If you will but take him and return to the Outlands, I will let you both off with a warning. This time. But do not expect my generosity to become a habit!”

“I would hardly call it generosity,” muttered Zira. “And I certainly don’t expect it to become a habit. But I warn you…you’ll take back your words when Kovu is grown!”

“Is that a threat?” snapped the white lion king of the Pride Lands.

“Of course it is,” said Zira, picking up Kovu and leaving. The little cub silently waved goodbye to Kiara as his mother took him home.

“Come along,” said Simba, addressing no one in particular. “Our business here is now finished.” He then picked up Kiara by the nape of her neck and carried her back to Pride Rock, the rest of the pride following, with Timon and Pumbaa bringing up the rear. Kiara did not dare speak the whole way home, embarrassed and ashamed at having been caught in this way. The procession was silent as a tomb until it reached Pride Rock.

Chapter 25

The Circle of Life

 

“Kiara, I am not at all pleased with you,” said Simba when he and his daughter were alone. “I don’t know what you could have been thinking. You might have died.”

“I know,” moaned Kiara, sitting on a rock and not daring to look her father in the face. “I am sorry. But I’ve never even been allowed away from Pride Rock before! I wanted to go exploring! To go off on an adventure! Haven’t you ever felt like that?”

Simba sighed, staring at his toes. Nala was right--like father, like daughter. “I once disobeyed my father in a similar manner,” said Simba. “And, as you have been, I was fortunate enough to escape with my life. But that would not have been the case had he not been there to rescue me, in which case you should have never been born. The fact that I did it myself does not make it acceptable, and it most certainly does not excuse you from doing the same thing!”

A tear came to Kiara’s eye. “You never let me go anywhere or do anything fun.”

Simba’s expression melted. “Kiara, do you think I say this to be cruel? To prevent you from being happy? I am your father, and you are my daughter. I love you. I do not wish to lose you. I do not know what I should have done if I’d lost you today. Besides, I will not always be around to save you, and when that day comes, you will have to rule the Pride Lands in my place. But you must live long enough to grow up first. You are a princess of the royal family of Mohatu, and must take your place in the great circle of life when you are ready.”

“But Father, I do not wish to be queen! It isn’t any fun at all! You cannot run about as you please, or play with the other lions, or anything!”

“Kiara, I will not hear any more!” Simba frowned. “Really, the very idea! Not wishing to be queen! Why, you might just as well say you do not wish to be a lioness! You do not have a choice! You have no brother! You cannot escape your destiny! It is in your blood, as in mine! Kiara, as father and daughter, we are part of each other!”

“But I am not you, Father,” said Kiara. “I’m someone else!”

Simba sighed. “Yes, you are right about that. But we are connected in the great circle of life, as are all things.”

Kiara looked all around, as though for a vine or something attaching their bodies.

“You will understand someday. But you cannot expect to understand now, and you will never know everything. It’s enough that you know that you cannot always have your way all the time. But even if there is nothing you can do about it, you cannot just run away from your problems. And that is because you are part of the world, and not apart from it. I learned that lesson the hard way, years ago. You are more than you are.”

Simba walked past a pond where several animals were gathered to drink. Knowing that the king was not hunting, they simply acknowledged his presence there. There were wildebeests, monkeys, hippos, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, gazelle, and ostriches, and all seemed to have their young with them, as Simba was with Kiara.

Pointing them out to his daughter, Simba said, “Even the beasts who we hunt are connected to us and deserve respect. You must show them such respect even while ruling over them as their queen. A good ruler knows that all life is one.”

“But Father,” said Kiara, following Simba, “can’t I just be myself as well? Can’t I just be Kiara? If I have this great future before me that cannot change, must I give up who I am now to be who I must be?”

Simba looked at his daughter from a bent tree and smiled. “You are still young yet. When you learn that we are all one, you will have all the wisdom you need available to you. Look, it is almost night now and soon the stars will come out. The great kings of the past watch over us from the stars.”

“Really?” said Kiara, not knowing whether her father had gone mad.

Simba nodded as they approached Pride Rock. “When you learn to quiet your mind, you might hear them speak to you.”

“I’ve never heard them speak before,” said Kiara.

Simba chuckled and nuzzled his daughter. “You will someday. You will understand and know who you are. I promise you that. I don’t know when it will happen, but it will. And when you are queen, I will also be there to guide you from the stars.”

He went off into the cave on Pride Rock. Kiara stayed outside for a moment to watch the sun set. This was too much for her to comprehend all at once. She hoped her father was right that she would come to understand, for she certainly didn’t now.

A bird flew by, chirping happily, and this distracted Kiara, making her smile again. She thought it was the same bird she’d seen being taught to fly by its mother earlier that day. But she stopped smiling when it flew off into the west, toward the setting sun. She certainly felt no connection to the bird that had flown away and left her alone and sad. Somehow she felt like half of her was missing now, but she did not know why.

Chapter 26

The Outlands

 

Had Kiara dared to venture deeper into the Outlands she would have seen skeletons that had long since been picked clean of flesh, which the outsiders scrounged at to get at the marrow. They fought each other for this precious treasure, and even for termites at the several termite mounds there were. But all Outlanders agreed that such was no food for lions. It was only their instincts for survival that let them lower themselves to eating such refuse. And the moisture from their food was their only water source, as the only water in the Outlands was ridden with bacteria. Thus the outsider lions were often thirsty. They were not living like lions at all, reduced to their most primitive natures. And Simba had done that to them.

In fact, they were so desperate for meat that, had Zira not expressly forbidden it, they would gladly have practiced cannibalism, something that had not even crossed their minds when they had lived in the Pride Lands. But that was how little food there was in the Outlands, and it was Simba’s fault for banishing them there, for no other reason than their criticism of him for banishing Scar’s family simply because he hated Scar.

Scar. Time and famine had changed their view of him. No longer did they see him as the cruel tyrant who let the hyenas overrun the Pride Lands. Now they thought him misunderstood, maltreated even as a cub, and that he’d genuinely believed he could make things better in the Pride Lands. It was the hyenas’ fault things had not gone as planned anyway. Scar was not guilty of anything except inaction. At least he had allowed them to stay at home--he had forbidden anyone from even leaving the Pride Lands (except for banishing the traitor Nala, who was now Simba’s queen)! Now it was Simba they hated. He had usurped Scar’s throne.

But Zira’s hatred ran so deep that she would not even allow cannibalism in the other Outlanders for fear of losing soldiers when the time came to reclaim the Pride Lands. After all, there were no mature males in the Outlands, only Nuka (not yet full-grown) and Kovu, who was still only a cub. It was only this hope that gave them the strength to go on living in spite of their hunger and thirst. Only this hope that allowed them to follow one such as Zira.

“Where is Kovu, Nuka?” said Vitani, tugging at a withered root. “You did not dare to leave him go off on his own again, did you? And do not bother lying!”

“What if I did?” said Nuka. “Every lion for himself! He must learn that he cannot depend on anyone, not even his family! But Mother spoils him too much!”

“She will not be pleased when she learns what you’ve done!” growled Vitani, baring her teeth. “You were supposed to watch him!”

“And I suppose you will tattle on me?” said Nuka, tearing the root free with his claws and sending Vitani flying backwards.

“It would be more than you deserve!” yelled Vitani, rubbing her head. “She gave you an order, to watch over Kovu, and you defied her! You know Kovu is the only hope we have for getting out of this squalor! He is Father’s heir!”

Nuka snapped his teeth inches away from his sister’s nose, which did not even faze her a bit. “Do not remind me of that! I should have been his heir--I am Scar’s oldest son! I am older and smarter than Kovu is, at any rate!”

Vitani scoffed. “Smarter, eh? Difficult to argue that when you still haven’t figured out how to get rid of those termites.” For indeed, Nuka was still scratching at his mane and the rest of his body even as he spoke.

Nuka roared. “At least my coat isn’t ratty, as yours is!”

Vitani growled back. “My coat may be shabbier than yours, but the termites leave me alone! At any rate, you are not helping your case by resorting to insults!”

“I could be a leader if Mother would only give me the chance!” said Nuka. “I am nearly full-grown already! We’d be out of here sooner rather than later if I were chosen to be the heir to the throne!”

“Why not tell that to Mother, if you’re so confident?” said Vitani. “I’m sure she’d be very interested in hearing you say it to her face!”

“Don’t think I won’t, Vitani,” said Nuka.

“Well, here is your chance,” said the younger cub, pointing behind her brother. “Here she comes now.”

Nuka looked at his sister skeptically. “Oh, no, you don’t! I’m not falling for that bit again!”

“NUKA!!”

The immature lion leapt ten feet in the air at hearing his name! He ignored Vitani’s smirk as he turned to face his mother.

“H-Hello…Mother,” he said, lowering his head below hers. “I, er, caught some field mice for your supper. I saved you the largest and juiciest ones.”

“Silence, you disobedient worm!” said Zira, slapping her firstborn hard and setting Kovu down.

“Want to fight me, Kovu?” said Vitani, growling playfully.

Kovu returned his sister’s playful growl and said, “Anytime you are ready, Vitani!”

While they amused themselves in mock combat, Zira scolded Nuka, who was clutching the stinging wound where his mother had slapped him.

“I gave you specific orders to watch over your brother! I have done that I don’t know how many times, and you still do not learn your lesson! It is only because we need all the lions we can get that you still live! What if Kovu had died? Then what?”

Nuka was too afraid to even say, “Then I would be Father’s heir!”

Kovu held up his paw to Vitani, indicating a temporary truce, which Vitani grudgingly accepted. “It…was not Nuka’s fault,” he said softly, trying to be brave.

Now Zira turned to her younger son. “What did you say?”

“I went off on my own, on purpose.”

Zira towered over Kovu. “What were you doing, going off by yourself? You could have been killed!” The tone of her voice was less concerned than reprimanding.

“But…Kiara saved me!”

“Kiara is Simba’s daughter!” growled Zira. “What have I told you about Simba?”

“He…banished us…here.”

“And what else did he do?”

“He…killed…Father.”

“And do you feel obligated to the daughter of the scourge?”

Kovu turned over onto his back in a submissive position. “I am sorry, Mother, but…she did not seem as bad as Simba. Perhaps it was because I saved her first, but--”

“Why did you save her?” She was not about to tell her son that she wanted Kiara to live until he was grown. She wanted no weakness in the future king.

“I don’t know. I was angry with Nuka, and…I suppose I--just wanted…a friend.”

Zira snapped her teeth an inch from Kovu’s nose, prompting him to shut his eyes and cover his face with his paws. He was trying hard not to cry.

“A friend, indeed! We do not seek friends! We are Outlanders! We look after ourselves! No one cares for us, so we care not for them! And you are a future king! You need no friends! You shall have followers! And what were you thinking, making friends with Simba’s daughter? Did you think Simba would simply welcome you with open arms just because you got on her good side?”

Before Kovu could respond, he noticed a puzzled look on his mother’s face, as though she were mulling something over.

“Wait. Did you say you saved Kiara’s life?” said Zira.

“Y-Yes’m.”

“And do you believe she trusts you?”

“I…I suppose.”

Zira began to chuckle lightly. “I could not have planned it better myself. Oh, Kovu, you take after your father in more than mere handsomeness. You are also as clever as he was! I have never been more proud than I am now! And we will use your superior intellect to our advantage! Simba takes after his fool of a father, Mufasa! It will be easy to outwit him!” With that thought, she took her cubs to the cave.

Chapter 27

Scar’s Heir

 

Zira set Kovu down gently in his bed inside the crude cave that served as their home. Kovu was too afraid to even ask his mother what she was planning.

“Ever since Simba banished us, I’ve pondered how to take back the Pride Lands. I do not possess your father’s gift for planning, but you do! And when you are ready, you will carry the plan into action! Simba will never even suspect you!”

“But…why should he not? I am an Outlander--Scar’s son!”

“You were only an infant when he banished us,” said Zira. “Surely even Simba will note the heartlessness in banishing you. Besides, you are rightly his heir, as he has no son. You can pretend to leave us and become a rogue. When you save Kiara’s life again, then you can persuade him to let you join his pride! And then, when you and he are alone together….” She unsheathed her claws, leaving the rest to Kovu’s imagination.

“But Mother…I don’t know if I want to--” But the look on Zira’s face silenced him. He tried a different approach. “But…Kiara is Father’s granddaughter, for her mother Nala is Father’s daughter. Perhaps…Kiara and Nala have inherited Father’s cleverness as well and will see through the deception.”

Zira seemed about to argue the point, but then she gasped, frowning, and looked away from her son. “You are right. You truly are cleverer than I am.” Mulling it over a few minutes, pacing back and forth inside the cave, she finally came to a decision.

“It is not worth worrying about until we have evidence for it. Nala took after her mother Sarafina. And Kiara is also Simba’s daughter and likely inherited his foolishness, especially if a simple matter like saving her life made her trust you. She will not see because she will not wish to see. At any rate, Simba is still…king, and whatever he decides goes, whether his lionesses agree or not. We need only concern ourselves with fooling Simba.”

“But I still don’t--”

“Hush, child! You need not worry about any of it now. You are only a cub, and it is past your bedtime. Your training begins tomorrow, and we will not carry the plan into motion until I deem you ready. Then, at last, you will rule the Pride Lands as king, as you so greatly deserve. Good night, Kovu.”

“Good night, Mother,” said Kovu, yawning.

Zira walked further into the cave, squashing whatever termites got into her way, and made herself comfortable. “Good night, Scar,” whispered Zira as she lay down to go to sleep. “You will rest in peace. Not until Kovu is grown, but the day will come when your last wish is fulfilled.”

Zira had tried many times to forget the past, but it would have been easier if she’d been banished to the western jungle or some other place. But to be banished to the Outlands when she had once been a queen?! And on top of that, she had lost her ear! It was too much to bear, and her hatred had gnawed away at her very soul ever since Simba had banished her! She would never let it go, and she would never forgive him!

Now, however, she knew precisely how to exact revenge, and that helped her to sleep that night. She would need her rest as well, if she was going to train Kovu tomorrow. She would train him to be a killer, with no sympathy for Simba or his pride--not even for his daughter Kiara. After all, she would feel betrayed when the lion who saved her life--the lion she thought she could trust, and whom she’d thought was her friend--killed her father and took his kingdom. And Kovu could not let this stop him from acting. Besides, Kiara would have to die soon after, so she could not have revenge. For the first time in months, she would get a good night’s sleep.

Two years later, in the Great Tree in the western part of the Pride Lands, Rafiki the mandrill shaman was meditating. Something was pressing on his mind, and he had no answers.

“Almighty Mohatu, I am lost,” he said. “Please guide your servant Rafiki. Your great-great granddaughter Kiara grows every day, and someday she will become a queen that will make you proud. But as you know, there is an obstacle to her reign--Kovu, son of Scar and Zira. He is Simba’s only surviving male heir, but his mother fills his heart with hatred for Simba and indifference to Nala and Kiara. Zira means for Kovu to kill Simba and usurp his throne. I am worried about what may happen. What can be done?”

Rafiki….

“Mohatu?”

Remember what I once told you. The two prides are one, and must be reunited in peace and harmony. It must begin with two lions becoming one spirit together.

“Do you mean…?”

Yes. Kiara the granddaughter of Mufasa and Kovu the son of Taka must be the first to come together, and then they must lead the others in healing the pride and restoring the great circle of life.

“But Mohatu,” said the mandrill, his voice getting higher by the second, “I know you are wiser than I am, and you know many things that I do not, but…will it work? Kiara and Kovu together? Do they have a chance?”

You must trust me, Rafiki.

The mandrill nodded, but he knew that if the two young lions were to come together so that Simba could overcome his inner darkness, Kovu would first have to conquer his own inner demons.

“At long last, my son, you are ready to carry out the plan!” said Zira to the full-grown lion with the dark mane and green eyes sitting upright in his bed. His expression matched hers as she walked around him.

“You are your father’s son, and you will follow in his paw prints now,” said Zira. “What have I taught you?”

“Simba is the enemy,” said Kovu icily. “He is a tyrant who murdered Father and unjustly banished us.”

“So what must you do?”

“I must and will avenge Father. I will kill Simba, and take his kingdom for us, the Outlanders! The rightful occupants of the Pride Lands! The rightful heirs of Mohatu!”

“Precisely, my son! Victory is near! I can taste it!”

The other Outlanders roared in agreement.

“Now, we must work quickly. Vitani has told me that Kiara starts her first hunt tomorrow. Is that not correct, daughter?”

“Affirmative, Mother,” said Vitani, now a full-grown lioness.

“Then Kovu will save her from the terrible fire,” said Zira. “Vitani, you and Nuka will gather fire from the fumaroles, and seek out the princess. When you find her, set the fire at just the right distance. Not close enough for her to see you, but close enough that it poses a real threat to her life, so that Kovu’s heroic act will be believable.”

“Why?” said Nuka. “If Kovu is the ‘chosen one,’ why does he need us?”

“We need all the lions we can get,” said Vitani as her older brother followed her. “We do not outnumber the Pride Landers, so we cannot defeat them by sheer brute strength. Really, if you could put aside your jealousy for one moment, you’d see reason.”

Nuka rolled his eyes. “Father did not put aside his jealousy of Mufasa, and he became king when Mufasa died.”

“Nuka!” snapped Vitani. “Never say such a thing! It was Simba who killed Mufasa, not Father! If Mother ever found out--”

“You would not dare!”

“I tell her everything.”

Nuka started to say something else, but then shook his head. “If he needs his termite-ridden brother so badly, I suppose I can be generous. But I do not like it one bit!”

“You will when we occupy the Pride Lands again. Just think of that.”

Nuka did, remembering how rich and abundant the Pride Lands were now. It almost made him forget his jealousy of Kovu. Almost.

Chapter 28

The Hunt

 

Kiara was pacing back and forth inside Pride Rock. She was a full-grown lioness now, and this would be her first hunt ever. The first hunt was a red-letter day in the life of any lioness, and she hoped to do well. After all, she had to hunt by herself before she could hunt as a team, with the other lionesses.

“I’m frightfully anxious, Mother,” she said to Nala. “What if I fail? What if I don’t bring back anything at all? Or what if I do, and other predators steal it away? What if--?”

“Don’t fret, my child,” said her mother. “Not everyone does perfectly on her first hunt. In fact, it took me several tries to catch so much as a young dik-dik.”

“You?” said the younger lioness. “But you are the greatest huntress in the pride! You always capture what you are after!”

“I do now,” said Nala, “but if you catch anything at all this time, you’ll already be a greater huntress than I was.”

These words made Kiara feel better, but she was still very anxious.

Outside Pride Rock, Simba was anxious as well, pacing back and forth as his daughter was inside the cave. After all, Kiara was his only child, and any number of things could go wrong on the hunt.

“What if she is attacked by a pack of wild dogs? What if she is harmed by her prey’s horns and hooves? What if she runs into a wildfire?”

“Now, now, my lord,” said Timon the meerkat. “Small chance of that. Why, there is not a cloud in the sky!”

“Except that little white one,” said Pumbaa.

Timon shot his friend an annoyed look. “And that little white one is going to remain little and white.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I say it is, and that is how.”

“Still, what does a cloud have to do with a wildfire?”

Timon frowned. “Ever heard of a thing called lightning?”

Simba still could not help feeling concerned. Ever since the incident in the Outlands years ago, he had worried about his daughter’s safety even more than usual.

“Here comes Nala,” said one of the lionesses.

“Kiara is ready for her first hunt,” said the queen, approaching her mate.

“I see her now,” said another lioness.

To be sure, the white lion princess was tentatively stepping out of the cave. She looked very shy and timid until she saw an old mandrill on the rock next to her--where had he come from? It seemed the old shaman could appear and disappear at will!

“Princess Kiara,” said Rafiki, leaning on his walking stick, “Mohatu be with you!”

Kiara smiled. “And you, wise Rafiki.”

“May Mohatu grant that the princess will bring back a fine feast! Mohatu is greatest!” barked the shaman.

“Mohatu is greatest!” said the pride.

“May Mohatu grant that she will be safe and cunning in her hunt! Mohatu is greatest!”

“Mohatu is greatest!”

“Princess Kiara, you may go now with Mohatu’s blessing.”

“Thanks be to Mohatu!” said the pride.

As Kiara approached her mother and father, the lionesses gave her further encouragement:

“You can do it, princess.”

“Today is your day!”

“Good fortune upon you, child.”

Kiara smiled, then nuzzled her mother.

“I know you will do well, my daughter,” said Nala.

The princess then turned to Simba. “Father, promise me you will let me do this alone. I have never done a thing on my own, and what sort of huntress will I be if I must depend on you forever?”

Simba knew she was speaking in jest, but tried to hide his hurt. “Very well then, Kiara. I promise. You will do this yourself, without any interference on my part.”

Kiara was pleasantly surprised to hear such a promise from her father, and she nuzzled him tenderly, purring.

“I cannot believe it. Our little girl is growing up,” said Timon.

Ours?” said Simba, chuckling. “I don’t recall you having aught to do with her birth, majordomo.”

“Well, but who was it that raised her from a cub? Was it not I?”

“What about me?” said Pumbaa. “I helped as well!”

“You were both the most obnoxious sitters I ever had,” said Kiara. “And the kindest. And for that, I assure you I will hunt no meerkats or warthogs. Should I see any, I shall leave them alone.” Timon and Pumbaa were more than grateful to hear her say that, though the very possibility had not occurred to them until she said it.

Kiara gazed over the whole kingdom. Surely with all the land, and all the herds in the Pride Lands, she would find some sort of quarry to hunt. Despite her mother’s words, the princess still hoped she would bring back something this first time. Taking one last loving look back at her parents, she leapt down into the Pride Lands.

Simba watched sadly as his daughter left. He knew that a king must never break a promise, but he did not wish Kiara to be harmed by anything if it could be prevented. She was still his only child--although Simba and Nala had tried many times to have a son, Nala had lost the cub each time they conceived. All had died before birth. Thus Kiara was their only hope for the future.

Then he recalled that he had only promised that he himself would not interfere.

“Timon, Pumbaa,” said the king quietly, so the lionesses could not hear him. “You will make certain the princess comes to no harm. And you will report back to me immediately if she is in any sort of danger.”

Realizing the need for secrecy in the matter, Timon saluted, preventing Pumbaa from speaking. Then, when the lionesses were not watching, the two sneaked away from Pride Rock.

“Simba?” said Nala. “Where are they going?”

Simba gasped, trapped. “I, er, told them to…report to me on the subjects of the kingdom. I forgot to have them do that this morning.”

It soon became clear that Nala was not put over. “Simba, you just promised your daughter that she would do this herself. You promised you would not interfere--she will never forgive you!”

Simba frowned. “She will never find out--even if she were to, she would certainly forgive me if she got into any danger! Besides, I am the king, and she has no choice!”

Nala sighed and shook her head. “Someday, Simba, you will have to let her go. When you are gone, she must serve as queen by herself. If you cannot let her go before then, she will learn her lesson the hard way, as you did.”

Simba groaned and looked away. “Do not remind me of that terrible experience, Nala. It still stings after all these years. Besides, I have already lost a son, and I will not lose my daughter as well!”

“Simba, you wish to be a king worthy of Mufasa, a noble goal if ever there was one, but you are not your father.”

Growling softly at his queen, Simba went into the Pride Rock cave to be alone.

After a quarter hour of searching, Kiara came across a herd of gazelle grazing in the long grass. A perfect setup. Crouching low in the grass, Kiara approached from downwind, careful not to make noise--she scarcely dared breathe. She came closer and closer to the herd.

Snap! Kiara gasped as she stepped on a twig. She hadn’t thought it so loud, but now the entire herd lifted their heads in her direction. The princess froze, but her white coat was hardly camouflaged in the grass and the herd took off at full speed, bleating.

Kiara groaned in frustration. All that work had gone to waste! Now she would have to give chase, which would use up energy--and she might not catch one! She dashed after the slowest gazelle in the herd, presuming that it would be the easiest to catch, but even the slowest managed to remain a step ahead of her.

HISS! went the fumaroles as Nuka and Vitani approached them, holding branches in their mouths. Nuka was trying to hide behind his sister.

“This place is even more frightful than when the hyenas were here!” whined Nuka. “I cannot see a thing--it is too dark!”

Vitani rolled her eyes. Of course he could see--he was a lion! “If you are so frightened, why not go back to Mother and take it up with her?”

Nuka gulped. That had been the only reason he was here--to avoid another slap from Zira. “Who said--that I was frightened? I just think it sheer folly to be in a place like this! It is no place for lions!”

“Father spent much time here,” Vitani pointed out. “Do you disgrace his name by refusing to do the same? Besides, the Outlands are no place for lions either!”

Nuka wished very much to tell his sister off, but could not find his voice. Vitani placed a branch at one of the fumaroles, then waited for it to go off.

WHOOSH!! It was not long before the branch was ablaze with fire!

“Come along then, Nuka,” said the lioness. “Kiara has begun her hunt already--and she is Nala’s daughter! Who knows how long we have before she is finished?!”

Nuka trembled. He held his branch from the end, rather than in the middle as Vitani was doing, and poised the other end over the fumarole while remaining as far away as possible.

WHOOSH!!

“AIGH!!”

“Now you have done it, you clumsy oaf!” said Vitani. “You’ve lost your branch! Find another one at once!” And with that she took off.

“Wait! Do not leave me here!”

“No time to lose! You’re useless to me without a torch!”

Nuka was genuinely wounded by his sister’s abandonment. He searched the whole area in desperation for some sort of branch, frightened periodically by the hiss of the fumaroles. This was like a horrible nightmare that would never end!

“I say, comrade, you’re in my way,” said Timon. “And I am downwind of you!”

“I’m sorry,” said Pumbaa, “but I have much flesh, and it isn’t so easy to hide even amongst this long grass, you know.”

Timon cautiously peered over the grass. “Head for that tree--it looks large enough to hide the both of us!”

Pumbaa did, and Timon tried to stay to his friend’s side, rather than behind him.

“Now, if Kiara should come to harm,” said Timon, “you shall run and fetch Simba. I shall stay and keep watch over her.”

“I’m sure you have a good reason,” said the warthog, “but…would it be too much trouble if you explained it to me? I’m more comfortable when I understand things!”

The meerkat sighed. “You are faster than I am, so you could reach the king sooner than I would. Also, I am smaller, and less likely to be seen by Kiara and any other creatures that might be around. Finally, your distinct odor will shout out your presence immediately, especially if you are upwind of her!”

Pumbaa shut his eyes tightly for a long time, then said, “That makes sense. Thank you.”

Timon then peered out from behind the tree. “I see her!” he cried. “There, by the rocks! No, don’t look, don’t look! She’s bound to notice you!”

Kiara was trying to keep one eye on the herd in front of her and one on the stones that lay on the ground closer to her. She was trying to avoid stepping on them, for fear of making noise again. They were not very sharp, and could not have hurt her, but they might alert her quarry. She had been hunting for hours now and had not caught a thing.

Seeing a stone in front of her, she deliberately stepped over it. Proud of herself for having learned from her mistake, she crouched low, silently approaching the herd.

RATTLE! Kiara cursed herself silently for being so foolish! She’d avoided the stone with her front paws, but her back paws had accidentally kicked it aside! Once again the gazelle herd dashed away, and the princess was forced to chase them a second time.

“Duck and cover, comrade!” said Timon as the herd approached the tree. Pumbaa tried to duck down as low as his bulk allowed, and Timon crouched under him. It was a mercy that no gazelles trampled either of them with their hooves, although the dust they kicked up got into Timon’s and Pumbaa’s eyes and made them sneeze.

Then they heard a panting sound behind them. Turning around slowly, they saw a very cross young white lioness glaring at them.

“What the deuce are you two doing here?” she said when she’d caught her breath.

“We were sent here to--” started Pumbaa.

“Report on the animals to Simba,” Timon interrupted. “We forgot to do it today!”

“Do not lie to me,” said Kiara. “He sent you here to watch me, didn’t he? He promised not to interfere, and he went back on his word! And he is supposed to be king!”

“Now see here,” said Timon, “I should think you’d be grateful that your father shows you such concern. He does not wish you to be harmed.”

“But I am grown!” growled Kiara. “I am not his little cub anymore! How shall I ever be a queen if he won’t let me grow up?! He has not even arranged a marriage for me!” She sighed. “I am a fool for thinking he would give me a real chance! I will do this on my own, even if I must leave the very Pride Lands to do so!”

Before Timon could protest, Kiara raced away to the south. Even Pumbaa was not fast enough to keep up with her.

“Now see what you have done! She has smelled your odor--you were upwind of her! Even if you were not, she would have seen your bulk!” Timon climbed onto Pumbaa’s back. “After her at once! We must keep watch over her--if she leaves the Pride Lands, who knows what sort of danger she will find?”

Pumbaa nodded and galloped away in the direction in which Kiara had gone, as quickly as his four legs would carry him. Timon groaned as he wondered at how much better things would be if he did not have Pumbaa around to make a mess of everything.

Chapter 29

The Wildfire

 

Kiara did not stop running until she was out of breath. She did not wish the pesky warthog and meerkat to catch up to her. What was her father thinking, sending them out here? He was certainly not being a good king--even Kiara knew this in her heart, though she had not the courage to tell it to his face.

“I will show him!” she thought. “I shall bring home a live elephant! And I shall do it on my own, without anyone’s help!”

Little did she realize she was being watched. Vitani was keeping her eyes on the young princess from a safe distance, and she used her torch to light the grass on fire. She’d tried to find the driest grass she could, but it still did not prove ideal as kindling. Still, it did catch fire after awhile. Her task was nearly done by the time Nuka arrived with a lit torch, his fur singed badly in many areas.

“What has kept you?” snapped Vitani. “I’ve already done most of the work myself! Get out of here before she sees you!”

“But I’ve got fire!” said Nuka crossly. “Have you the foggiest notion what I went through to get it?! I fully intend to make use of it!”

Vitani leapt away. “Suit yourself, but do not blame me if you are spotted by Kiara or burned by the fire yourself!”

Nuka was hurt. No one appreciated him. Well, he would do his part. He would show that he was not useless!

By now, however, most of the grass around him was already on fire. He had to leap away to find grass that was not already ablaze, and this only fanned the crackling flames.

“Oh, dear!” Nuka stopped as he noticed that the fire had spread everywhere around him. He darted his head in all directions, but it was no use! He was surrounded! On top of that, the act of opening his mouth to speak had made him drop the torch, and now he was being burned by his own fire!

“AIIGH!! Ow ow ow ow!!”

He leapt into the air, but all it did was delay the singeing of his paws every time he landed. He wished to leap over the flames, but they were rising above him now! He tried to pray to Mohatu that he would escape death by fire--

Suddenly he felt jaws grip his tail and pull hard! Before he knew what was happening, he was free of the fire!

“Vitani…you saved my life!”

“Do not expect it to become a habit,” said his sister. “I shall never understand it, but Mother doesn’t wish you to die. At any rate, now the termites will not bother you anymore--I am sure they have all died in the fire!”

Kiara had finally caught up to another herd of gazelle. This time she was determined to make no sound at all, and she succeeded. She managed to get well within pouncing distance without being seen by her victims! Surely she would make her father proud of her now!

But then the wind changed. A gazelle raised its head and sniffed the air. Spotting Kiara, it ran off, noticed by the others who soon followed suit.

“Not again!” groaned the princess. If only the wind had not changed! It was now late in the afternoon, and she was hot and tired. She had done more chasing than killing, not a very good show for her first hunt. Her only hope was that her mother had done this poorly, if not worse, on her own first hunt.

Suddenly she stopped, sniffing the air. There was a strange, pungent odor that she did not like. She’d never smelt it before and was uncertain what it was. Whatever it was, it could not be good.

Then she saw the black smoke and blazing orange light on the horizon, which could only mean one thing--FIRE!!

Sure enough, the herd was now running in the opposite direction, toward her, as several birds flew out of the way! Kiara was too frightened of the fire to even try for one of the gazelles--the fire was spreading quickly, and she did not care to risk her life for a small meal. Turning tail in a panic, she dashed away, beginning to wish she had not run so far from home.

Zira and Kovu waited on a cliff for Nuka and Vitani. But they caught the scent of the flames before they saw or heard the two lions who had started it. Zira smiled.

At length Nuka and Vitani appeared, and Nuka’s fur was singed in several places. But Nuka was put out by the fact that his mother seemed not to notice or care.

“Mother, the wildfire has been started!” cried Vitani excitedly. “Kiara never saw us!”

“Good. The plan is working perfectly,” said Zira.

“Yes, the flames are spreading quickly, and Kiara will soon be in danger.”

“This is where I save her life,” said Kovu. “Then I try to persuade Simba to let me join his pride, so I can get at him when he is alone.”

“Precisely,” said Zira. “But you must not harm Kiara until after Simba is dead. Though you would easily defeat Simba in combat, he would have the entire pride after you if he saw his daughter die at your hands. And even if you lived, he would have another cub. And we cannot afford to attempt this plan a second time, or he will be wise to us! It is now or never, and never is not an option! Go! Save the princess!”

Kovu leapt out toward the wildfire, hoping to find Kiara before the flames got to her. Zira had filled his heart with indifference, which blotted out his cubhood affection for her over the past two years. It was only to get closer to Simba that he was saving her life, not out of genuine concern for her, though that might have been his motive once.

Simba had been pacing back and forth outside Pride Rock ever since Kiara had left, only once daring to even go inside the cave, and that had been out of anger with his mate. Though Nala and the lionesses had tried to reassure him that nothing would happen (especially with Timon and Pumbaa looking after her) he was still worried, and would remain so until such time--if any--that she was safely home again.

Simba stopped pacing and sniffed the air. “Fire? No, not today! Not now! I must find my daughter Kiara!” he cried, rallying the lionesses.

“Everyone! Wildfire! Kiara is in danger! We must find her at once! Come on!”

It was not long before the entire pride dashed off in the direction of the fire, praying they would find Kiara before the flames did.

Kiara soon ran into a herd of zebra as the fire spread fast behind her.

“Get away, you foolish beasts!” she cried. “Or the flames will get you!”

Braying, the zebras galloped away, more frightened of her than of the fire. Kiara continued to run, but then the flames got in front of her.

“No!” she cried. Gasping, she tried to find some way out. She ran off to the side, coughing as the smoke began to enter her lungs. She was far from the Pride Lands and alone, and the flames were closing in on her. Presently, panting and sweating, she came to a small crag of rock. It was quite high, and would keep her away from the flames long enough to be able to think this through carefully and come up with a better plan.

When she was close enough, Kiara took a flying leap into the air and gripped the crag with her claws! Grunting, she struggled desperately to pull herself up, but it wasn’t as easy as it had appeared from the ground. She tried, and tried--and then a paw slipped!

“AAH!!” she cried, but her other paw still held tightly to the crag. Her heart was now pounding faster than a pronghorn’s hooves--that had been too close for comfort!

Gripping with both paws again, she pulled herself to the top, away from the flames! And not a moment too soon, for her tail was nearly singed in the time it took to get to the top.

She tried to catch her breath, but there was no air to breathe--only smoke. And the heat was too intense. She was unable even to think to crouch low, under the smoke, and soon fainted. This would be the end of Kiara, or at least it would have been if Kovu had not arrived just at that very moment.

Chapter 30

Closer to Simba

 

Like a ghost or some terrible demon, Kovu arrived at Kiara’s side, not making a sound. His green eyes glowed like the fire itself, and his dark mane flowed like the flames. He put his ear to Kiara’s heart, then had to pull away quickly, for her heart was pounding against her chest! She was alive, at least. The next step was to get her out of harm’s way. Zira had trained him to deal with fire, so this would be easy.

He picked her up by the nape of her neck, then quickly got under her before she fell again. Pulling her onto his back, he then leapt off the crag in the direction of Pride Rock. The trees were now being consumed by flames, and periodically fell onto the ground, sometimes in front of Kovu. When this happened, he would run off to the side. But one time the flames had been too bright for him to see where he was going, and he fell down a great slope towards a large lake!

Kiara fell after him, still unconscious. The bruises the rocks were giving her would hurt when she woke up, but she suffered no fatal wounds. Kovu would come to no harm either, as he had been trained to ignore pain--it was only weakness leaving the body, as Zira had taught him. Still, he was glad she was not around to see his mistake.

SPLASH! The two lions had hit the surface of the lake at nearly the same time. The cool water was refreshing after the heat of the fire. But soon Kovu noticed that Kiara was sinking and, taking a deep breath, he dove underwater and pulled her back to the surface, swimming for shore! He had been trained in this as well--he had to be prepared for anything.

Unbeknownst to him, a meerkat and warthog had spotted him with the princess from a cliff overlooking the lake.

“Oh dear!” cried Timon. “An outsider has kidnapped the princess! He has killed her--or else he might kill her! We must do something!”

“What must we do, Timon?” said Pumbaa.

Timon groaned very audibly. “We’ve got to fetch Simba and the pride at once! Now come on!”

Pumbaa did not need to be told twice. He dashed for Pride Rock, hoping they were not already too late.

Kiara woke up coughing, and soaking wet. It hurt to open her eyes, and her vision was blurred. “Where…am I?” she asked.

“Back in the Pride Lands, and safe from harm.”

Kiara was startled at the voice--she had not expected an answer! “Back…in the Pride Lands?” Suddenly she felt great anger.

Leaping onto her feet and shaking the water out of her fur, she eyed the strange lion with the dark mane and green eyes in front of her with indignation. Growling at him, she said, “Why have you brought me here? I did not wish to return! Who do you think you are, anyway?”

The lion scoffed. “Who do I think I am? I think I am the one who saved you from the fire, and I think you ought to be thanking me for it! Or did you never learn manners?”

“It’s you who needs to learn manners, stranger! I had everything under control!”

The lion smiled condescendingly. “Yes, you had everything under control. I saw you pretend to faint--I really believed you were unconscious, or I shouldn’t have carried you out of the lake!”

Kiara roared. She did not like being mocked. She turned to leave, but the lion followed her.

“Leave me alone! I do not wish to be followed!”

The lion ignored her entirely. Turning to face him, she started walking away backwards.

“What the deuce are you doing?” he said, raising his head.

“I am leaving, not that it is any of your concern!”

“But why are you walking backwards? Most lions walk forwards, don’t they? Or do you Pride Landers do everything backwards?”

Kiara gasped. She looked at this lion a second time. The brown fur…the green eyes. They seemed familiar somehow. But it had been years since…. It could not be…could it?

“Is it--is it you?”

Smiling, he said, “Kovu. Yes, it is. I am flattered that you did not forget me entirely. I certainly never forgot you.”

“Oh, Kovu, I thought I’d never gaze upon your face again!”

“Well,” said the outsider, “a princess deserves some happiness, does she not?”

Before Kiara could chide him for his conceit, she heard a terrible roar! A white lion leapt out at Kovu, baring his teeth and driving him back! Soon the lionesses of the Pride Rock pride arrived, doing likewise.

“Oh, Kiara, thank Mohatu you are alive and unharmed!” said Nala, trying to nuzzle her daughter.

But Kiara pulled away. “Father, how could you break your promise to me? You, the king of the Pride Lands!”

“If by breaking a promise I can save my daughter’s life, I would break a thousand such promises! Clearly you are not ready for hunting yet! You leave the Pride Lands every chance you get!”

“How can you say I am not ready? I am not a cub anymore! Besides, I was doing well even before Kovu interfered!”

“Kovu?!” said Simba, growling at the younger lion. Kovu growled back, and it was not at all unlikely that they might fight then and there.

“Stay away from my daughter or else!” snapped Simba.

Just then, before Kovu could retort, Rafiki leapt forward, nimble even in his extreme old age. Facing a bewildered Kovu, he said, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, young lion! Saving the king’s daughter like that--really! The very idea! What are the Pride Lands coming to?”

“You…saved my daughter?” said Simba, puzzled. Furrowing his brows, he added, “Why? What are you up to?”

Kovu shrugged. “She was in danger, and no one else was around. Also…I was hoping to ask a boon of you.”

Simba growled low, but did not refuse.

“I humbly request that you let me join the Pride Land pride.”

“NEVER!! You are Scar’s son and chosen heir! You shall never have my throne! You were banished with the others, and must return to the Outlands without delay!”

“Please hear me out, sire,” said Kovu. “The other Outlanders and I…have not seen eye to eye. I don’t wish to be with them any longer, and I have left them. I have saved your daughter’s life--judge me for who I am, not who I might be. Or am I to be banished for simply being Scar’s son? I cannot even remember being in the Pride Lands, that is how young I was when I was banished--surely the king would not be so cruel.”

Simba growled, pacing back and forth, uncertain what to do. He did not trust this young son of Scar any farther than he could throw him, but he was making too much sense for Simba’s comfort.

“You are in his debt, Simba,” said Nala. “He did save Kiara’s life. Surely you owe him something. Royal protocol demands that debts be paid in kind. If you punish him for a crime you imagine he will make in the future, you are breaking your own law.”

After a long time of pacing, Simba turned to Kovu. “Mufasa’s law will prevail,” he said. “I do not trust you, but you are right--you have not as yet committed any great crimes to speak of. Thus, for the moment, I shall reserve judgment. But only until I learn who you really are and what your motives truly entail.”

Turning to leave for home, he added, “You may stay at Pride Rock, but you will sleep outside, under the stars. Take one move inside, and my judgment will come far sooner.”

Kovu hid his disappointment. Sleeping outdoors was worse than being in the Outlands. At least there he had a warm cave to sleep in. “Yes, sire,” he said quietly.

Kiara smiled. Kovu had been her first real friend, and it would be nice having him around. She did not know why he had been exiled, anyway.

It was nighttime when the pride returned to Pride Rock. Though Kovu had not tried to enter the cave, Simba kept an eye on him until all the lionesses were inside. Then he growled at the young outsider and went inside himself, keeping watch at the entrance.

Frowning, Kovu walked away to the edge of the rock and lay down in the shade, closing his eyes.

“Kovu?”

His ears perked up, and he turned his head. There was Kiara, her white fur glistening in the moonlight.

“Listen…I never really thanked you properly…for saving my life. I do appreciate it, and I am sorry for yelling at you as I did. It was most unbecoming for a princess to behave like that, really.”

Kovu shook his head, smiling. “What sort of huntress are you, anyway? I saw you with those gazelles, and you were going about it all wrong--one would have thought you wanted them to escape! Not to mention that you were almost killed in the fire!”

Kiara frowned. “What the deuce are you talking about? I was doing perfectly fine! I just…wasn’t fast enough!”

Kovu rolled his eyes. “If you knew how to hunt properly, you wouldn’t need to be fast enough. I doubt if you’d last three days out there by yourself!”

Kiara growled. Was it not enough that her own father had such a low opinion of her? Did she have to hear the same from him?

“I suppose you could teach me how to hunt ‘properly?’ You are a male! You don’t even need to hunt!”

Kovu laughed out loud. “If today was any indication, I’d need to teach you everything I knew before you’d be a halfway decent huntress! And as for needing to hunt, there is very little meat in the Outlands, so everyone needs to participate or no one eats! Mother had to teach me!”

“What is there to hunt in the Outlands anyway?” said the princess skeptically.

Kovu frowned. “Nothing except termites! Anything larger must be stolen from the Pride Lands, thanks to your father banishing us!”

“Now see here, rogue--”

“Kiara! Inside at once!” said Simba. “I don’t want you associating with him!”

“I’ll be inside in a moment, Father! We are just talking!”

Turning back to Kovu, she whispered, “Tomorrow at dawn. Be at the watering-hole.” Then she went inside the cave.

“I am looking forward to it,” said Kovu, smiling, and he lay down to sleep.

“Mother, did you see that?” said Nuka. “He let her go! He had her alone, and did nothing! If that were me, I should never have--”

“Shut your foolish trap! Kovu is following the plan perfectly! It is Simba who must die first, before Kiara!” Zira laughed triumphantly at the success of the plan. “Simba fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Now Kovu is closer to him. It will soon be time for the final stage of the plan. When Kovu has Simba alone, it will come to fruition, and then, at long last, we shall return home!”

She slashed at a small tree in her excitement, startling Nuka. He hoped his mother was right, but to say so would betray his doubt and get him another slap in the face.

“Simba! Oh, thank Mohatu! Help me, my son! I cannot hold on much longer!”

Simba gasped as he saw his father Mufasa. He was alive! But he was holding on for dear life to a nearly vertical cliff face, and his hind legs were slipping. Far below, a frightened wildebeest herd was stampeding in a ravine. This scene was only too familiar to Simba, but now it appeared he was in the position Scar had been in…when Scar had killed Mufasa.

“Father, hold on!” He dashed to the edge and reached out his paw, but Mufasa was too far down as it was.

“Simba, what are you waiting for?! I’m going to fall!”

“I am trying, Father! My paws will not reach! Try to climb higher!”

“You always were a fool, Mufasa,” said Scar coldly. “But you’ll never make another foolish mistake again.”

Simba gasped. Scar was on the ledge just above Simba, and laughing wickedly, his face obscured by the darkness.

Before Simba could react, Scar dug his claws deep into his other paw, piercing the bones. Simba roared in pain, then stared angrily into Scar’s one seeing eye.

“You really should not lean out so far, Simba. You’d fall to your death!”

“Simba…!” cried Mufasa as he fell down, down, down to the stampede.

“NOOOOOOOOO!!!” cried Simba, the tears welling up as they had not done in years. He glared at Scar and roared.

Smiling viciously, Scar’s face soon came into the light.

But…this was not Scar’s face! He had a dark mane, and green eyes, and even a scar over his left eye…but this lion was younger. Younger even than Simba.

“Kovu…?”

Kovu cackled. “Like father, like son, it would seem. You inherited your foolishness from Mufasa. But you need not fret--you’ll soon join him!”

He then said eight words for Simba to take to his grave, eight words which chilled Simba’s very soul: “The king is dead. Long live the king!”

Then he threw Simba off the cliff.

Simba woke up gasping. What a nightmare! Was it…a vision of the future? From Mohatu? Simba was certain Kovu would not start another wildebeest stampede, but…would he, in fact, try to assassinate him? It was true that Kovu was as close to him as he would ever be. And Kovu was Scar’s son, raised by Zira, who had worshipped the ground Scar walked upon.

Besides, Kovu and his brother Nuka were Simba’s only living male relatives, and Scar had chosen Kovu as his heir, though tradition would have favored Nuka. And as Simba still had no son, Kovu--who was now living in the Pride Lands--could claim to be Simba’s heir. Why could he not have had a son to prevent this controversy?

Then he looked at his sleeping mate. Nala was smiling peacefully. Such a lovely face--it was hard to believe she came from Scar. And yet she was also Scar’s child, though by a different mother. And she felt no loyalty to her father at all. She had even sought out help against him!

And they had a daughter, Kiara. She was Scar’s granddaughter. But she did not even know him--all she knew about him was what her father had told her, which was the truth. As difficult as it was to accept, she had also come from Scar.

Simba also remembered his promise to reserve judgment of Kovu. He still did not quite trust him--something about the young outsider simply rubbed him the wrong way--but he had committed no crime other than being Scar’s child. And that was a crime Nala was guilty of as well.

Early the next morning, just before dawn, Simba woke. After all, a king awakens before the savannah does, as Mufasa had taught him many years ago. Even the rest of the pride was still asleep. Surprisingly, given the fright he’d got from his nightmare, the remainder of his sleep had been quite peaceful.

Yawning, he stretched his legs and shook his white mane. Kovu was nowhere to be seen. So much the better, perhaps. Perhaps he’d even come to his senses and returned to the Outlands. On the other hand, Simba did not like not knowing exactly where the young outsider was. Still, there was the entire rest of the pride to watch him like a hawk.

At any rate, Simba was thirsty. He left Pride Rock for the nearest pond, making sure no one was following him. Once or twice he thought he heard a twig snap, or someone breathing, but it was always just a bird or mouse--never any real threat.

“Come, now, you really must calm down!” said Simba, scolding himself. “Do you wish to go mad with paranoia, as Scar did?”

Then he shuddered. After his nightmare, the last thing he wished to think about was Scar. And what if he was careful? It was not as though he was lacking in enemies. He remembered his cubhood and chuckled at his naïve younger self. Back then, he could not have become king any sooner. Had he known what it was like, however, he might have adopted Kiara’s attitude. He knew firsthand, after ruling for a few years, that being king was not fun. That it was not only about telling others what to do and them doing it.

But he could not simply abdicate either. He was rightfully king, and Kiara was not yet wise enough to rule in his stead. She was still young, headstrong, and reckless. She seemed too willing to blindly place her trust in Outlanders like Kovu, and Simba had no idea why.

The king decided to put such troubles out of his mind, and concentrate on solving only one--his thirst. By now the sun had risen. Arriving at the pond, he squinted, bent down, and began to lap up the water. He had no idea that he was being watched.

Kovu peered out from behind his rock. Simba was at the pond, and he was alone. He could not have planned it more perfectly. His mother Zira had always fed him more heartily than she allowed any other Outlander to eat (including herself), so he had bulging muscles on his bones. Thus he would not have to resort to trickery and deception to kill Simba, as Scar had used. Simba was getting old, and Kovu had every confidence that he could kill the white tyrant with one good swipe! He growled low and lowered his head, preparing to charge silently. The older lion would have no time to run to safety!

“Good morning!”

“GAH!!” Kovu looked up. It was Kiara!

“Startled you, didn’t I?” she said. “Didn’t hear me, did you? Perhaps I am a better huntress than you give me credit for, eh?”

Kovu was still recovering from the shock and could not speak.

“What, did you forget our date? You were supposed to teach me how to hunt properly--or don’t you know enough to teach me after all?”

Kovu was not listening. He looked past Kiara and noticed that Simba was leaving. His one chance…and this blasted princess had ruined it! It would be a pleasure to kill her after her father was gone! He would gladly have killed her now, if Zira had not expressly forbidden it!

“What are you looking at?” said Kiara. “The day is not getting any shorter. Let‘s go, shall we?”

And she took off. Growling low, Kovu took one last look back at where his victim had been, and then followed the white lioness. Mohatu permitting, he would get another chance for revenge.

 

 

 

Part IV.

Simba’s Pride

My brother, be happy; my sister, celebrate;

Your day has come.

In your heart you will know it is time

For you to take your place.

There is no need for crying, no need for fighting.

Chapter 31

A Lesson in Fun

 

Try though she might, Kiara could not help rustling the grass. At one point, she accidentally stepped on a pebble and let out a little yelp before silencing herself. Kovu was in a clearing, his head lowered and his eyes focused on the ground, as though he were some grazing ungulate of some sort. He did not see the point of this exercise at all if she was not even going to try.

Kiara panted a bit, trying to ignore the grass stalks as they grazed her sides. She poised, ready to pounce.

“One…two…three….”

Just as the princess leapt out from her cover, Kovu lowered his body. Missing him entirely, Kiara tumbled head over heels and landed on her back. Kovu stood over her, smiling condescendingly.

Embarrassed, Kiara said, “Still heard me, did you?”

Kovu chortled scornfully. “Every beast in a five-mile radius could have heard you. You are breathing too hard, for one thing. You’ve got to relax, and take slower, deeper breaths.”

Kiara tried this, then coughed as a mosquito flew into her open mouth.

Kovu, obviously amused by this, continued. “Also you need to feel the earth under your paws. Otherwise it shifts, and that also contributes to the noise.”

Unsheathing her own claws, Kiara tried this as well. “Like this?”

“Not bad for a beginner. A few hunts, and it will become second nature.”

Just then, Kovu’s ears perked up as he heard flapping. He saw a flock of birds fly past and settle out of sight. “Ah, sounds like a good opportunity for a demonstration.” He crouched down low. “Shh, just watch what I do. Perhaps you will learn something.”

His tail twitched, then he raced up the small hill toward the birds--Kiara could not believe how little noise he made!--and pounced, growling ferociously!

“NO!! Please do not devour me! I surrender! I am too old to run!”

Kiara recognized that voice. It was Timon’s! Quickly she dashed over to find out what was going on.

“Aren’t you…Simba’s majordomo?” said Kovu in bewilderment.

“Yes, yes, so please do not harm me! I barely even knew your father! I’m sure he was a superb lion--perhaps a bit on the moody side at times, but all in all a very--”

“Timon,” said Kiara, approaching, “what the deuce are you doing here?”

“Princess! Oh, thank Mohatu you’ve come to rescue me!”

“I asked you a question, and expect an answer.”

“Well,” said Timon, “if you’re thinking we’ve followed you again, this time you are wrong. See for yourself.”

The lions looked. Several birds were pecking at the ground, despite Pumbaa’s efforts to shoo them away.

“You see?” said Timon. “We are hunting insects. They are perhaps not as plentiful here as they were in the western jungle, but this is the best spot for them! Unfortunately, we are not the only insectivores in the Pride Lands,” he added, glaring at the birds.

Kiara could not suppress a giggle at Pumbaa’s failed efforts to get rid of the birds.

“Oh, this is no use,” said Pumbaa. “I am tired, Timon. And hungry!”

“Well, what do you say, you two?” said Timon. “Will you help us?”

“Help you…how?” said Kovu, still bewildered that such beasts were even on speaking terms with lions.

Kiara seemed to get the hint faster, though, and roared viciously, frightening the birds away. But several soon returned.

Finally understanding, Kovu tried a roar this time, and the birds flew off for good. Timon and Pumbaa were now free to devour the creeping, crawling things in the ground at their leisure.

“Come on, Kovu, let’s go!” cried Kiara, taking off after the birds.

Thoroughly confused, Kovu followed her, soon catching up.

“Wait! Kiara, I don’t understand! What are we doing this for?”

“What do you mean?”

“What purpose is this training for?”

Kiara stared at him incredulously. “This isn’t training, Kovu. There’s no purpose at all--it’s just for fun!”

“Fun?” said Kovu slowly, as though he’d never heard the word before.

“Haven’t you ever had fun before? My word, what sort of life have you led in the Outlands?”

Kovu was about to answer, but thought better of it.

“Well, you are in the Pride Lands now,” said Kiara, “where there is meat galore! You have time for luxuries, like fun!”

Slowly and gradually, a smile brightened Kovu’s face. Fun--there was a diverting notion. He could not help enjoying this--the wind blowing through his mane, the birds flying off every which-way. It was good exercise. Perhaps all Pride Landers had fun once in awhile. Kovu was so excited that he forgot about his family and how they were unable to have fun in the Outlands. He forgot about the plan. He forgot all else, and was a cub again, messing around with Kiara as he’d done years ago in the Outlands. Zira had worked hard to drive it out of him, but his zest for life was overflowing now.

As they passed a rocky area, they soon noticed the birds landing. Were they out of breath already? But why would they land right in front of the lions?

Suddenly they stopped as they saw. A crash of rhinos were grazing there, and they looked to have short tempers. Snorting and bellowing, the rhinos pawed the ground, preparing to charge.

“Retreat!” cried Kovu.

Kiara did not need to be told twice. They dashed in the opposite direction, raising dust as they went. Soon they ran out of breath and sought a place to hide, which they found in a hidden area under the rocks. The rhinos trampled the ground as they ran away, never thinking to look for the lions in their hiding spot.

“Wow…I must admit, that was…invigorating!” said Kovu. “I have never felt happier in my life!”

Kiara was smiling at him.

“What? Is my mane out of place?”

“No, no, no,” said Kiara. “It’s just that…since you saved my life, I’ve never really seen you smile before. I mean, not a genuine, happy, friendly smile, as when you were a cub. But now I see it…you have a nice smile. I wish you’d use it more often.”

“Really?” said Kovu, trying to smile as widely as he could.

“Well, now it just looks frightening,” said Kiara.

Kovu rolled his eyes, but was tickled nevertheless. A long pause ensued.

“Well? Aren’t you going to return the compliment?” said Kiara.

Kovu looked at her in confusion. “Beg pardon?”

Kiara shook her head incredulously. What had he been learning in the Outlands? “When someone gives you a compliment, you’re supposed to give her one back.”

“Oh!” said Kovu, embarrassed. He cleared his throat. “Um…. Your eyes….”

“Yes?” said the princess, batting them.

“Uh…they are very….”

“Yes?”

“Very…brown.”

Kiara smirked. “Well, don’t stumble over the words. You don’t have to say them if you don’t want to.”

“No, no! They are! They are like…two little pools of water, surrounded by fresh mud.”

Kiara turned her head, frowning.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry--I’m just…not used to this. No one’s ever complimented anyone in the Outlands--I don’t know how to do it!”

Kiara turned back to Kovu. “It’s all right. It’s the thought that counts, I suppose. I am glad that you like my eyes.”

“And I am glad that you like my smile.”

They smiled at each other for a full minute before thinking to leave the cramped space.

“Well, we’d best be returning to Pride Rock, or Father will have a conniption. He doesn’t like me being with you.”

Kovu lowered his eyes.

“He’s wrong, you know,” said Kovu. “I’m not a bad sort, really.”

“I know it. Come on, let’s go home.”

“Um…ladies first.”

Kiara turned to him in surprise. “Well, perhaps you’re not entirely devoid of manners after all. Thank you.” With that, she left the cave, Kovu following soon after.

“Oh,” added Kiara, “and thank you for the hunting lesson. I will put your advice to good use next time.”

Kovu blushed, shuffling his front paw. “You’re welcome.”

That night, Kiara and Kovu were watching the stars and noting the patterns the constellations made.

“Look at that one,” said Kiara. “It looks like a baby rabbit. See its fluffy white tail?”

“Yes,” said Kovu. “And look at that one there--it looks like two lions fighting each other over meat!”

Kiara tried to hide her distaste at such a thing.

“I have never really looked at the stars before,” said Kovu.

“You haven’t?” said Kiara. “When I was a cub, my father and I would look at the stars many nights. He said that the great kings of the past watch over us from the stars of the constellation Leo.”

“All the great kings?” said Kovu, eyes widening.

“Yes, all of them. Mohatu, Ahadi--”

“Is my father up there with them?”

Kiara gasped. In her adventures with him, she’d quite forgotten that Kovu was the son of Scar. Scar, who had killed his own brother and tried to kill Simba, just so he could become king! And he’d even made Simba believe he was the one responsible for his father’s death! He certainly wasn’t among the stars!

But then she remembered that her mother Nala was also Scar’s child, and thought that perhaps even Scar had not been all bad. Perhaps it had been the accident with the buffalo, when he was a cub, that had made him cruel. Kovu seemed nice enough, and he’d had a different mother. Thus their common niceness had to have come from Scar. If Simba ever heard her thinking such thoughts about Scar, though, she would never hear the end of it.

Soon she realized she hadn’t answered Kovu’s question. He stood up, hanging his head sadly.

“You still have your father. I never knew mine. I was an infant when he died. No one here liked him, though, did they? Or thought he was a great king? Certainly he was not without his faults, whatever Mother says about him. I mean, I’m willing to grant that he should not have let the hyenas take over the Pride Lands. But…he tried, didn’t he? He tried to rule the Pride Lands wisely. He was a clever lion, wasn’t he?”

Kiara walked over to Kovu. “My father said that…Scar’s accident--you know, the one that got him the scar--made him go…a bit…mad. I’m sure that’s the reason the others did not like him--I’m sure it was only your father’s madness, which was worsened by the pressures of ruling the kingdom. I’m sure that…when he was a cub, before the accident…he was not much different from you. And you are a good sort. I can see it in your eyes.”

Kovu smiled at her, then looked away.

“What is it?”

“If Father went mad…then what’s to stop me from going mad as well? I am his son and chosen heir. Mother says I even look as he did, without the scar. What’s to stop me from…doing something that will make your pride hate me as well? What’s to stop your father from killing me as he killed my father?”

Kiara spoke very firmly to Kovu now. “Listen to me. My mother Nala is Scar’s daughter, and she never even knew it until just before he died. She has never done anything to make anyone hate her. In fact, she’s the greatest huntress in the Pride Lands! Everyone admires her. If they will only give you the chance, I’m sure you can make them see the good in you as well! You are Scar’s son, but you are not Scar himself!”

Kovu smiled again, more genuinely this time.

“And just for your education, it was not Father who killed Scar. It was the hyenas. Father had expressly tried not to be a murderer.”

Kovu was surprised. He did not wish to disbelieve Kiara, but…was it possible his mother was lying? Surely she would know who had killed Scar. But then, Simba had not killed him as a cub, when he’d had the chance. Kovu did not know what to think now.

Neither young lion knew they were being watched. On a low hill in the distance, Simba was sitting, watching his daughter and…the outsider. Kovu did not seem to be harming Kiara, even though they believed they were alone together. Was it genuine, or was it a cover-up for some dastardly scheme?

He looked at the stars.

“Father, I am lost. I do not know where to turn. Ever since I became king, you have not spoken to me, and I don’t know why. I’ve tried to rule as you would have, but…is there something lacking in me? I cannot even have a son, as you did. Is there something I need to be doing that I am not? Please, tell me what to do!”

Simba felt a breeze grace his white mane, but heard no reply.

“You know Kovu is Scar’s son and chosen heir. The one your murderer chose to succeed him, rather than me. But…he has never committed any crime, and Kiara seems to like him well enough. Still…how can I accept him? He is one of them, an outsider!”

“Whom are you talking to?”

Startled, Simba saw his mate Nala approaching him. She nuzzled him, purring.

The king cleared his throat. “I was…seeking council from the great kings. But they are as silent as stars, and have been ever since I came to the throne. I’ve never understood why. Have I done something wrong? What would Father do in my position, were he here?”

“Simba,” said Nala gently, like a mother, “you wish to follow in your father’s footsteps, to follow the path that everyone expects of you. But Kovu is not you. How do you know he is the same way?”

“Kovu? How did you know--?”

“I am not blind, Simba. I can see in the dark as easily as you can. He and Kiara are down there.”

Simba turned away, trying to hide his embarrassment.

“Why don’t you talk to him?” said Nala. “Get to know him.”

“But--I cannot do that!”

“Why not?”

“Because he is--”

Nala put up a paw for silence. She was the only one who would dare to do this.

“You’d be surprised how much you can learn about someone just by speaking to him. Even if he were to lie, something would give him away. Why not suspend your personal prejudices until you know what he’s really like? You promised him yourself that you would reserve judgment.”

Simba sighed, smiling at his queen. “Perhaps you should be ruling the Pride Lands.”

Nala laughed. “Well, Kiara is your heir, and she inherited her wisdom from me.”

Simba pounced on Nala, but she was still able to flip him over onto his back and pin him to the ground.

“Oof! Easy on me, Nala! I am old!”

Nala just smiled. “Two hundred forty-six.”

Simba could not believe she was still keeping count.

Chapter 32

Upendi

 

“Kovu, what is it?”

Kovu could not even look Kiara in the eyes as he spoke. “All my life, I’ve been trained to--to try to--” He took a deep breath, then sighed. “Never mind. I must--I must leave the Pride Lands, and never return.”

“But why? You’ve done nothing wrong.”

“You don’t know,” said Kovu. “You do not understand.”

“I would if you’d tell me. Try me. I can be very understanding, whatever anyone else says.”

Kovu looked at her smile. How could he break her heart by telling the truth?

“No, no, I cannot--trust me. If you knew, you’d be only too glad to see me go.”

“No, I would not, Kovu!”

“Please! Just…let me go.”

Kiara could not persuade him to stay. “All right then,” she said, “if you feel you must leave the Pride Lands…if you feel you must leave me, then…I shan’t stop you.”

Kovu tried to hide a tear as he began to walk away.

“Where do you think you’re going?” said a strange, high voice as a finger poked out of the grass and pointed to Kovu.

“Who are you?” said the brown lion in bewilderment.

“Answer my question--I asked you first!”

Kovu sighed. “I am returning home, if it is any of your concern.”

Suddenly an old white mandrill popped out of the grass with surprising agility. “That’s what you think, young fool! Asante sana, squashed banana, wewe nyani, mimi hapana! You are a baboon, I am not!”

Kovu was discombobulated by this mandrill. He’d seen him before, when he’d saved Kiara, but still did not know who he was. He was acting like an old fool. The mandrill went back under the grass, and Kovu looked between his legs, trying to follow him with his eyes.

“Who the deuce was that old fellow?”

“A friend of the family,” said Kiara, embarrassed. “His name is Rafiki, and he baptized me when I was born. That’s his profession, you know--he’s a shaman. He may act a mite foolish at times--”

Kovu was startled at the high-pitched cackling directly above him. Rafiki was now on his back! But how? Kovu had not even felt him up there!

“Follow Rafiki!” said the mandrill, limping as he leaned on his walking-stick. “He knows where you are going--the both of you!”

“What? Where is he talking about?” said Kovu. Kiara shrugged and shook her head, not knowing any more than he did.

“Follow and see!” said Rafiki, swinging on a vine.

Kovu looked after the mandrill, uncertain. “Can we trust him, Kiara?”

“Of course. Come along, Kovu!” said Kiara, giggling like a cub. “I don’t know where he’s taking us, but it must be someplace nice!”

“Nice?!” said the mandrill, laughing. “To call Upendi ‘nice’ is to disgrace it! Upendi is so wonderful that mere words cannot describe it! You must see it for yourselves!”

Soon they saw it. A waterfall flowed into a large river. Trees of every kind grew on the banks. It looked like nothing special, but somehow, through the mandrill’s magic, it did seem as beautiful as he’d said!

“Have you ever been here before, have you?” Kovu asked Kiara.

“No--I did not even know it was here!” She looked around for Rafiki, but could not see him anywhere. “Is this Upendi?” she called into the air.

The lions were startled by the hooting above them. “Most assuredly not!” said Rafiki. “Upendi is not the sort of place one can get to alone. It takes two!”

“Then…where is Upendi?” asked Kiara, becoming very excited about it.

“When you are there, you will know it!” said the mandrill.

Before the lions knew it, they were on a barge made from a large, stiff leaf. Amazingly, their combined weight did not overwhelm the leaf. Rafiki was using his walking stick to steer the barge as it approached the waterfall.

“Oh, no!” cried Kovu. “We’re going to fall!”

“Falling is half the fun!” said Rafiki, who Kovu wasn’t completely sure he trusted now. He seemed to be steering right toward the waterfall.

“Don’t be afraid! This is the only way to get to Upendi--by FALLING!!”

As he said this, the barge fell over the waterfall. The lions screamed bloody murder as they fell, afraid…but also, somehow, excited. Like they knew it would be all right. They looked up for Rafiki, but he was not there anymore.

SPLASH!! They fell into the water, and--they did not even have to struggle to keep afloat! The current simply washed them onto the banks, where lovely lotus flowers bloomed as far as they could see! And the silvery moon lit the scenery in just the right way.

“It’s…beautiful!” said Kiara, echoing Kovu’s inner thoughts. “I did not even know it was here--and I’ve been all over the Pride Lands!”

“Come, let’s go exploring!” said Kovu, jumping up and down like a cub.

“Kovu--I’ve never seen you like this before!”

“I have never felt like this before!”

“Neither have I!”

The young lions soon forgot all their troubles and rolled around in the soft grass, sniffing the sweet perfumes of the lotus blossoms--there weren’t even any bees around to pose a hazard. This was a veritable paradise! It made the Pride Lands seem like a wasteland by comparison!

Kiara and Kovu frolicked until late into the night, losing all track of the time. And they were seeing each other with new eyes as they did. Kovu noticed for the first time what a lovely lioness Kiara had grown into. It was hard to believe he once thought her a spoiled, obnoxious palace brat. And Kiara noticed for the first time what strong muscles Kovu had. She could not believe she once thought him a crude, conceited rogue.

When it was finally time to return home, Kiara and Kovu did not wish to leave, for they had finally found Upendi and learned what it truly was--love.

“Good night, princess,” said Kovu when they reached Pride Rock. “Pleasant dreams.”

“Good night, my sweet prince,” said Kiara, licking him before going into the cave. Kovu walked around in circles as he made his bed outside, wondering if that experience had all been real. It was too lovely to have been real, yet too real to have been a dream. At any rate, it was over now, and he was sad, for he was not allowed into the cave, and thus could not be with his Kiara anymore.

Kiara was sad as well. She would not be alone, as Kovu was, but now she felt more lonely than ever before. Even with her family and her whole pride surrounding her, she felt as though she were the only one in the cave.

This did not go unnoticed by Simba. He said nothing to his daughter, but a lot was on his mind. Kiara was stubborn and reckless, there was no doubt of that, but she had a good heart. No one could fault her for that. She had a remarkable knack for seeing the good in others. Simba smiled. She must have gotten that from her mother. Besides her female sex, that was one way in which she differed from her father. That in addition to not wanting the throne.

Anxiously, Simba walked out of the cave. He saw Kovu lying in the shade, preparing to sleep. Looking back at the cave, the king became very aware of the warm air emanating from it. It was a sharp contrast with the cold air outside, where Kovu lay.

“Ahem!”

Kovu’s ears perked up. He turned to face Simba.

Mulling over what exactly to say, Simba finally spoke. “It’s a mite chilly out tonight, don’t you think?”

Kovu nodded. “But I am not complaining.”

“Still…why not spend the night somewhere warm?”

“Are you sending me away?” He did not know if he could bear that.

Simba chuckled good-naturedly. “I was referring to the cave here. It’s warmer in there. And Kiara is in there as well.”

Kovu’s green eyes widened. Was Simba, the scourge who’d killed Scar and banished him and his family to the Outlands, inviting him into his home? Perhaps…Zira had been wrong about him, after all!

Bowing low, he said, “Thank you, your majesty. You have no idea how grateful I am for this kindness!” And he followed the king into the cave.

Little did Kovu know that his sister Vitani was watching from a safe distance. When she saw her brother with Simba alone, her fur stood on end as she anticipated the death blow that would make Kovu king and allow her and the other Outsiders to return home after all these years!

But it never came. What was Kovu waiting for? The longer he waited, the closer Simba would get to the cave, and the greater the risk of the lionesses attacking him!

Soon Simba and Kovu were inside. Vitani stared unbelievingly at the spot where they had been. How could Kovu do this? Didn’t he care about his family? About his pride? He’d had a perfect opportunity, and--he had missed it!

Zira could not believe what her daughter had said. “I must have been listening with my bad ear--what did you say?”

“Kovu had a chance to kill Simba and did not do so,” said Vitani.

Zira roared out loud. “Are you certain that he let Simba go?” she asked her daughter. “Are you certain there is no other explanation?”

“Affirmative,” said Vitani. “I was there, and saw him follow Simba into Pride Rock, not even attempting any sort of attack! He could easily have taken Simba out there--the lionesses were all inside the cave, and could not have overpowered him if they tried! And it was a perfect setup, so Kovu could not have been waiting for something better! The only possible explanation is that Kovu did it on purpose!”

Zira roared again. “I cannot believe my Kovu…my own son…would be a traitor! A weakling! Disrespectful of his father and mother! He does not even care that we still starve here--he has become corrupted, living with the Pride Landers in luxury!”

“No, Mother! Surely he can still be reached! Surely there is still a chance to make him remember the plan!”

Zira growled. “I can only pray that you are right. I don’t know how we will succeed without Kovu. But I must have a backup plan in case we are wrong.” She set to work thinking on such a plan at once. But pressing even more upon her mind was a plan to sway her son back to her side. She still had hope that it could be done.

Chapter 33

The Ambush

 

At dawn, Kovu awoke before anyone else in the pride, and went outside the cave. It was early dawn, and the sky was a fiery red. Pacing, Kovu was trying to muster up all the courage he had, but it was difficult. His feelings for Kiara had weakened him, as his mother had warned. But he had to tell the truth, and it had to be today. As soon as possible.

“But where do I begin?” he asked himself. “She will never believe me! If she knows that I only saved her life to get at her father…she will hate me forever! She’ll never believe that I’ve grown to love her, whatever she feels about me now!”

He paced a few more times. “But dishonest love is no love at all. Better that she know the truth and hate me than that she love a lie. I cannot be selfish. Besides, she said she was very understanding. Perhaps…she may yet believe me after all. I will not know if I do not try.”

Taking a deep breath, he approached the cave again. “Kiara?”

Soon a young lioness approached him. “Good morning, Kovu!”

“Good morning. Listen, Kiara…I must and would speak with you. Now. It’s…sort of important.”

“Don’t you dare!”

They gasped. Simba was towering over them in the darkness.

“Kiara, away from that young outsider! At once!”

“But Father--”

“But nothing! Do as I say! I forbid you from speaking with him!”

Tears began to come to Kiara’s eyes. “But why?”

Simba surprised them both by smiling. “If you distract him, how will I ever get to know the young lion?” He winked at his daughter.

Kiara smiled, wiping her tears away. Kovu looked embarrassed, even a bit frightened, but Kiara whispered, “It’s all right, Kovu.”

“Come along,” said Simba as he left the cave. Anxiously, Kovu followed him. Kiara smiled as she saw her father and her beloved on such terms.

The two lions traveled southward as they spoke to each other. Kovu was learning a lot more about Scar, the father he never knew.

“Yes, I know he let the hyenas take over the Pride Lands, and they forced the lionesses to overhunt,” said Kovu. “And I know he did not control them, and that he refused to let the pride leave the kingdom. But…I still do not quite understand why you banished Mother and me and my siblings. And the others. Why did you hate Father so?”

Simba took a deep breath, then sighed. It wasn’t going to be easy to tell Kovu the truth without hurting his feelings.

“Scar…he killed my father Mufasa. He was so determined to become king that he murdered his own brother. He tried to have me killed as well, but before he did, he….”

Simba paused. This was an old wound, which he did not enjoy opening. Tears came to his eyes.

“What? What did he do?” said Kovu, shocked that his father would let his jealousy overrule him in such a manner. Zira had never told him anything about Mufasa’s death, considering it irrelevant.

Simba shook his head. “He made me believe I was the one responsible. It was not until I was grown, and had come to take back the kingdom which was rightfully mine, that he told me the truth. And that was only because he thought I would soon die, taking the secret with me to my grave.”

Kovu gasped, his eyes widening. “No. No! My father…Scar…did all that? No, I cannot believe it! It must--have been the madness brought upon him by his accident! He would never commit such atrocities!” But he was trying to convince himself, not Simba, for something inside told him the king was right.

Simba put a consoling paw on Kovu’s shoulder. “He just…could not find a way to let go of his hatred. It consumed him, and destroyed him.”

Kovu began to cry. “I’m frightened, Simba.”

“Of what, young one?”

Sniffling, Kovu’s lip quivered as he spoke. “If my father could not escape his own darkness…then what about me? Will I be consumed as well? I do not want to be!”

Simba smiled. They were now approaching the part of the Pride Lands that had been consumed by the fire. There were still hazy clouds, and the trees were blackened. The pungent odor still hung in the air as well, though it had diluted considerably.

“Look there, Kovu. The land was consumed by fire, which is a killer.”

Kovu looked. Had his siblings really caused such devastation? It seemed to be everywhere!

“But look at this,” said the king. He dug a bit, then produced a single green seedling. It had not been consumed by the fire, and looked as healthy as anything.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” said Kovu.

“Those old plants,” said Simba, “they were too old and weak to withstand the fire, and so they were destroyed. But this little seedling was stronger. It will grow now, perhaps even larger and more beautiful than its parents. It only needs the chance.”

Kovu looked at the seedling, pawing at it. Now he understood. He understood what Kiara had been trying to tell him. He was Scar’s son, and thus subject to the same weaknesses as his father. But he was not Scar himself, and was not doomed to suffer the same fate. He would learn from his father’s mistakes, and he would be stronger than Scar had been. At any rate, was that not what his mother had really wanted?

Suddenly he heard a cackling sound. From every direction came thin, fierce-looking lionesses. The Outlanders! They were surrounded!

A particularly fierce lioness with one ear approached Simba from the front.

“Zira!” snarled Simba.

“Simba…how kind of you to visit us in our loneliness!”

“What are you doing here?”

Zira laughed out loud. “I think a better question would be what are you doing here, and by yourself, no less!”

“By myself…?” He looked at the younger lion next to him. “Kovu?”

“No, Simba! I--I did not know they would be here! I swear to Mohatu!”

“Have you forgotten the plan, Kovu?” said Zira. “When you had Simba alone, you were supposed to kill him and take the throne!”

“WHAT?!?” roared Simba.

“No! Please--there must be some--” cried Kovu, but he could not think of the words. Tears began to well up in his eyes. How could he have let this happen? They hadn’t needed to come this way!

Why had he been walking in this direction, anyway? Was it a subconscious memory of what his life had been like until now? A concern for the other outsiders? After all, he had been fortunate in knowing a life that the Pride Landers took for granted, but that Outlanders only dreamed of. Was it guilt at being so selfish, at enjoying his luxury and forgetting his family and his own pride? He did not know, but it did not matter. Simba, Kiara’s father, was in danger, and it was his fault.

“NOW!!” roared Zira.

Nuka snarled at Simba, who whacked him away.

“NO!!” cried Kovu. “Please, stop!!”

Simba then whacked away a lioness, but she was merely a distraction for the two lionesses behind him, who sank their teeth into his neck! Simba roared in pain! When he finally got one of them away, a third leapt onto him! Then Vitani leapt onto his back!

Until now, Kovu had only stared in horror. Now he was determined to do something! Simba was alone here, and had no friends to help him--and he was Kiara’s father. Kovu was the only one who could help. He leapt over and tried to pull the Outlanders off the king of the Pride Lands, but Vitani--his own sister--kicked him away!

THUD!! Kovu’s head hit a rock, knocking him unconscious.

Simba roared in pain as the Outsiders attacked him from all sides now! Nuka leapt forward, pushing him into a ravine! Simba kept tumbling head over heels, and finally landed with a thud. He was bruised and bleeding, but he was still alive.

“Now we have got him!” cried Zira from above. “How does it feel now, Simba? How does it feel when you are the one who is hurt?”

The Outlanders slid down carefully. Then Vitani leapt at Simba, who just barely managed to keep ahead of her as he ran! His wounds slowed down his running. He had never been so fearful of his life since Scar had tried to kill him years ago!

“Remember your training!” said Zira. “Work together, as a unit! What matters is that the job get done, whoever does it!”

Vitani leapt onto Simba’s back and tried to bite his neck, but Simba managed to shake her off and run away. Desperately he searched for a way out, and soon found a very high pile of boulders and logs. It did not look very secure, but everywhere else looked steeper. Besides, there was not time to think. He looked up to the top, then back at Zira and the Outlanders. Then, mustering what little strength he had left, he leapt onto the pile, trying not to shake anything loose. His wounds hurt each time he landed, and he was losing his breath, but he was still the king of the Pride Lands, and would not die here!

The Outlanders backed away as a large log fell down toward them. They snarled at Simba. He was getting away, and to follow him would be risky.

Simba looked down at them, and then up at where he wished to be.

“Simba!”

It was Kovu. He was still at the top. Suddenly Simba was reminded of his nightmare. He was now in the very same position as in his dream, and Kovu was in the same position as he’d been in the dream, before he let Simba fall to his death!

“Kovu! He is weak and injured now!” said Zira. “You will have no trouble finishing him off!”

Kovu hesitated.

“Come on, Kovu! We are here to help you!” said Vitani.

“No!” snapped Zira. “He must do this alone! If he is to be king, he must be strong!”

Kovu did not know what to do. But when Simba slipped a second time, that prompted him to action. He dashed over to the older lion and reached out a paw.

“Quick! Grab on, Simba!” said Kovu.

This was too much like the nightmare! Simba swiped Kovu’s paw away in anger!

“Simba, please! I will help you! You must trust me!”

“Never! You would kill me as your father killed my father!” snapped Simba. “You covet my throne, and my kingdom!”

That stung Kovu more than anything, but he still offered his paw.

Nuka could not take this anymore. “If you are too cowardly, Kovu,” he shouted at his brother, “then I will do it for you!”

“Nuka, no!!” cried Zira, but Nuka had already leapt onto the pile of debris after Simba.

“Are you watching me, Mother? You never appreciated me before, but look now!” He could not believe the courage he was showing now, as he had always been a coward before. He was getting closer to Simba, and Kovu realized this.

“Simba, behind you!” cried Kovu.

Simba dared not take his eyes off Kovu--until the claws sank into his hind foot!

“This is my moment of glory!” shouted Nuka. “When you are dead, Simba, I shall be king! I shall be a hero!”

SNAP!! Suddenly the branch Nuka was balancing on broke! Then a larger branch above him hit his chest as he flew down the pile!

“NOOOOOO!!” cried Zira, dashing to him, but the branch pinned him down.

Simba leapt onto the edge of the cliff, away from Kovu, and pulled himself up before Kovu could get at him. He’d knocked a large log loose in his leap.

“Nuka, watch out!” cried Kovu, but it was too late. All the struggling in the world had not freed Nuka, and the log crashed onto his head.

Kovu raced to the bottom of the ravine and dug through the dead, rotten logs, trying desperately to reach his brother, to give him some air! Zira then pushed him away as she unearthed her older son.

Nuka was breathing only with difficulty, and only his head and left front leg were exposed. He coughed and coughed.

“Nuka…no….” Tears began to well up in Zira’s eyes.

“Mother…I am…sorry…. I tried…to--”

“Hush, hush. Do not speak,” said Zira. “It’s all right.”

“At least…I got your…attention….” Zira smiled tenderly at him for the first time since Kovu was born. Nuka’s eyes rolled back in their sockets, and his head fell limp.

Zira’s lower lip quivered. She shook her head in disbelief.

Vitani dashed over. “Oh, Nuka…I am sorry for all the times I treated you badly!”

Zira was glad her daughter had said this, for it was the confession she was too embarrassed to make herself. Nuka, her firstborn…was dead. Like his father.

Simba was limping back toward Pride Rock. It hurt him even to breathe. He could scarcely even see clearly, and prayed he would encounter no danger on the way home. It was even difficult to think, but he knew that he would live if treated properly at Pride Rock. If not, however, he might well die, and the Outlanders would have won. He had to get home without delay. Using the sun’s light to guide him, he knew he was heading in the right direction.

Kiara was out with Timon and Pumbaa, searching for her father and Kovu. The other lionesses were out hunting, and Kiara was not yet ready to join them. She wondered why Kovu and Simba had not yet returned after so long. They came to a tree and then they found him--a lone white lion limping slowly in their direction.

“Father!” cried the princess. “Oh, no! He’s hurt! Timon, you must fetch the lionesses at once! Pumbaa, come with me--help me carry Father home!”

“At once, princess!” said the two friends in unison. Timon raced on all fours back to Pride Rock, and Pumbaa followed Kiara to her father.

“Father,” sobbed Kiara. “What happened to you? And where is Kovu?”

Panting, Simba was only able to say a breathy, “Ambush.” Then his legs failed him.

“Father, speak to me! Who ambushed you! Was it Zira? Who?”

Grimacing, Simba breathed, “Kovu….” Then he collapsed on the ground.

“Kovu?” said Kiara. “No, no, I cannot accept that! You are so badly hurt that you do not know what you are saying!”

Simba was unconscious now.

“Pumbaa, lift him up! Do it!”

The warthog did not have to be told twice. Simba’s hind legs dragged behind him, but Pumbaa’s tusks prevented the king from falling off. Kiara held up her father’s hindquarters on her back, and off they went back to Pride Rock with their fallen king.

“Now your son is with you, Scar,” said Zira, gazing into the sky. “Watch over your poor boy. May he find his way to Mohatu, as you have.”

There had been no way of retrieving Nuka’s body from the debris, so they simply re-covered him, praying that Mohatu would accept this as a burial.

Then Zira growled, turning to Kovu. “You!!

Before he could react, she slapped him hard on the left side of his face!

“AIGH!!” cried Kovu, tears loosened from the impact. Breathing heavily, he cried, “My eye! I cannot see!”

Zira gasped as her son lifted his head. Over his left eye was a bloody scar.

A scar, matching the one his father had sported. Kovu was now blind in his left eye, just as Scar had been.

“Look what you’ve done!” roared Zira, ignoring it. “Nuka’s dead thanks to you!”

“But--I did not--I only meant--it was not my fault--” Taking a deeper breath, Kovu growled at his mother. “I did NOTHING!!”

“Precisely! You did not act when you were supposed to! In choosing passivity, you have betrayed your pride! You have betrayed me! You have betrayed your father!”

Kovu roared. “I want nothing more to do with him! He was mad, and his hatred destroyed him! That will not be my fate!”

Zira growled. That was too hurtful to her. “You are a coward if you will not take the risk of dying for your pride! You are now Scar’s only living son! You are all that is left of him! He only lives through you! And other than Simba, you are the only living male in the royal family of Mohatu! But because of your inaction, your brother is dead! You have killed your brother!”

“Father killed his own brother--and he meant to! I did not murder Nuka!”

“You slander your father’s name! You are a traitor, and if you will not help us, you have no home here!”

“NO!!” cried Kovu, running away in anguish. Vitani and the other Outlanders were about to pursue him, to try to bring him back, but Zira stopped them.

“Let the traitor go. He has chosen his path--and he is no longer one of us!” Growling, she leapt onto a tall boulder to address all Outlanders at once, bloody paw prints following her.

“Simba has been nothing but a thorn in my side ever since he returned to the Pride Lands! But I intend this to be the last grievance he inflicts upon me! He has even corrupted my son, Scar’s son, Kovu, so that even Kovu cares not a thing for any of us! He only cares about himself, and bettering his own lot at our expense!

“But you have all done well today--you’ve injured Simba and weakened him! Thus now is the time to attack, even if we must do it without Kovu! If he will not help us, we will take back the Pride Lands by force!”

Chapter 34

The Outcast

 

“Father, I simply cannot believe it! Surely there must be some mistake!”

All the subjects of the Pride Lands had arrived at Pride Rock. It was early dusk, and the sky was as red as the flame deep within Simba’s heart. Nala nuzzled her mate as he rested. He was better now, and would live, though he had not fully healed yet.

“Kovu,” said a cheetah.

One by one, the animals turned as the young Outlander approached. They all glared at him with malice. The flamingoes backed away from him, whispering. Whispering about the scar on his face, which was not bleeding as much now.

“Oh, Kovu!” cried Kiara. “Tell them it isn’t true! Tell them they are mistaken!”

Simba growled and stood up straight. He would maintain his royal dignity.

“What are you doing here?” growled Simba as the wind blew his white mane.

“Sire…please listen. I swear to Mohatu--I had nothing to do with that ambush!”

“SILENCE, rogue! You add blasphemy to your crimes! This is my kingdom, and you do not belong here! You are no longer welcome!”

“Simba, please! Can you not find it in your heart…to forgive--”

Simba roared long and loud. “How dare you speak to me about forgiveness! Your kind knows nothing of it! You tried to assassinate me because you blame me for Scar’s death! I should have known that an outsider could never change!”

“Father, please listen to him!” cried Kiara.

“Be still! The king speaks!” He then glared at Kovu. “When you came here, you asked me to judge you for who you were. I reserved judgment…until now. Now I have seen your true colors, and I pass my judgment now. Now it is with a clear conscience that I banish you from the Pride Lands forever! Go back with your own kind!”

“NO!!!” cried Kiara.

“But Simba…I cannot return to the Outlands--they will kill me! My brother is dead, and they blame me for it!” He’d thought to point out that he was now Simba’s only heir, but that might make him appear to covet Simba’s throne, which was what Simba thought anyway.

“Then you have no home! You are not one of us! You never have been, and you never will be! It is only by my mercy that you are banished, and not sentenced to death! You certainly deserve death for exploiting my hospitality! I took you into my home, and you have repaid me with betrayal! Leave us now, and plague us no longer!”

“No….” Tears welled up in Kovu’s eyes. He looked around for sympathy from someone, anyone. But he received none except from Kiara, high up on Pride Rock.

“Leave us, assassin!” cried the animals. “You will not harm our king again!”

“No!” cried Kiara. She tried to join him, but the other lionesses stopped her.

The animals glowered and lowered their heads menacingly at Kovu. The lion backed away slowly, then turned tail and ran. The gazelle butted their heads at him, the snakes struck at him, the zebras kicked at him, the ostriches pecked at him, and the monkeys threw rocks at him. Then the vultures swooped down upon him from above. They all hurt him badly, but not nearly as deeply as the knowledge that no one believed he was innocent. He ran away, sobbing, only stopping to catch his breath at a pond.

He looked back. Far away, on Pride Rock, Simba still glared at him, showing no sign that he would change his mind. Kovu glared back. Zira had been right about him all along--exiling a lion for an imagined crime? And he was Simba’s cousin, and his heir! Now he understood how Zira had felt when Simba banished her. And it had also been Simba who had killed his brother Nuka, which had made the other Outlanders blame him, and reject him so that he now had nowhere to go! How Kovu wished he’d killed Simba when he’d had the chance! It was Kiara’s fault he had not! He had foolishly allowed himself to fall in love with her!

But he would not let Simba’s evil go unpunished. Someday, when Simba was older and weaker, Kovu would return and kill him! Then Kovu would be king, and his mother would forgive him, seeing that she and the other Outlanders were now free!

Kovu turned to the water to look at the face of the next king of the Pride Lands. Then he gasped in horror! His reflection--it was not his face he saw, but an older lion’s face! An older lion who looked like him. Though he’d never seen this lion’s face, he knew who it was. There was only one it could have been…Scar.

“NOOO!!!” cried Kovu, trying to splash out the reflection. But all he did was create more of them! They would not leave him alone, any more than the terrible animals who called him horrible things! Assassin! Usurper! Monster! Blood dripping into the water from his scar did nothing to hide the terrible reflections.

Now he was angry with himself for thinking such thoughts. Kill Simba? That would only prove what everyone thought about him! That, as Scar’s son and heir, he would commit the same atrocities as Scar had! Kovu did not wish that for himself--to go mad, be betrayed, and die himself, as Scar had. Besides, Simba was Kiara’s father, and she was the one sympathetic face of them all--would he lose that by taking her father away from her? How could he have thought his love for her a weakness? She was the only one who believed him!

Kovu ran away from the pond. Was there no way to defy his fate? He’d thought he could choose not to follow in Scar’s paw prints, he was certain of it, but…was that only a fool’s dream? Was he doomed to suffer Scar’s fate? Was he just a younger version of the tyrant?

Sobbing, he continued away. Now all had rejected him. The Outlanders had rejected him for not killing Simba when he had the chance. And now the Pride Landers had rejected him because they refused to believe that he had not tried to kill Simba. He could not win. Now everyone hated him…and all for doing nothing. Perhaps he was not meant to have friends. Perhaps poor Nuka, may he rest in peace, had been right all along. Perhaps Kovu could not rely on anyone, and was doomed forever to be alone.

Only Kiara had seemed willing to forgive him, but what good did that do? No one listened to her--she was not yet the queen. And she could not leave the Pride Lands herself, so Kovu could not be with her anymore. Besides, she did not know about Zira’s plan--she might not love him anymore if she knew. Perhaps it was all for the best. Perhaps he had been wrong to love a Pride Lander. Look where that had gotten him. Perhaps he was not meant to know love. Perhaps a son of Scar did not deserve it.

Perhaps he should just end it all now. He had nowhere to go, no home, no friends. He had nothing left except his life. He walked more slowly away, hanging his head in anguish, never knowing such agonizing misery before in his young life.

Chapter 35

The Runaway

 

“Father, please! I beg of you to reconsider!”

“You were not there,” said Simba icily. “I was. From now on, you will stay here at Pride Rock, where I can keep an eye on you, safely away from him. You will only ever leave with an escort.”

“No! Father, that is not fair! Kovu loves me! And I love him!”

“How can you be so blind?!” roared Simba. “Do you still not see--he only used you to get to me! Zira said it herself--the fire rescue was only so he would appear good in my eyes! He never cared anything for you, and I will not have you showing any feelings for the likes of him!”

“How can you say that?” cried Kiara, misty-eyed. “You don’t know anything about Kovu! I’ve spent more time with him than you have!”

“I know he is Scar’s son, and that is enough!” snapped Simba. “He is following in his father’s paw prints, as I must follow in my father’s.”

“You think you rule as Mufasa would have? You are wrong! You once lived in exile for a crime you did not commit, and now you inflict the same punishment upon Kovu and think nothing of it!”

“Be silent!”

“I won’t! You wonder why it is that Mufasa never speaks to you anymore?! YOU are the one who is blind!”

“I said be silent!”

Tears were streaking the fur on Kiara’s face now. “You may be my father, but you are not your father! No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you will never, ever, EVER be HALF the king Mufasa was!”

Simba growled. “You go too far!”

“I wish HE were here instead of you!!” With that, she ran into the cave, sobbing.

Simba could not even speak. How dared his daughter speak to him in such a way?! It had cut him more deeply than anything when he’d watched his father die! How dared she bring it up again?! And to imply that he was not ruling as Mufasa would have? That was the ultimate insult!

“We must find a suitable male for her to marry, so that she can give me a grandson,” he muttered to Nala. “How I wish Kopa had been the one who had lived!”

The queen gasped. “What are you talking about?”

“If Kopa had lived, then Kiara would not inherit my throne. She clearly knows nothing about being a responsible ruler, even now that she is nearly full-grown. Besides, then I would have a son, and Kovu could not claim my throne!”

Nala furrowed her brows at Simba. “How dare you speak about your daughter that way?! You may be the king of the Pride Lands, but you are also her father! She needs a shoulder to cry on now, and it should be yours! But do you comfort her? No--you wish she had died, instead of her brother! How can you say such a thing? Sometimes I wish I’d married another!”

Simba badly wished to tell Nala off, but good. But the words never came. She was making too much sense. Foolish and naïve though Kiara was, she was still his daughter. And he did not wish her death, whatever he said. Perhaps there was yet time to change her mind. To make her understand.

“You’re right,” said Simba. “I am sorry.”

“You must tell her that, not me,” said Nala.

The king nodded. “I will talk to her.”

“Kiara, listen. I am sorry for what I said to you--Kiara?” The king looked around, but saw no one except a frightened warthog in the corner, with a frightened meerkat hiding behind him. He searched the whole cave and found nothing--except a shaft of light, near the ceiling. It was just large enough for a young lioness to get through!

“KIARA!!!” roared Simba, but more out of fear and guilt than anger with his daughter.

He turned to his majordomos. “How could you have let me down like this?! You are both sacked, effective immediately!”

“No!” cried Timon, more frightened of Simba than he’d been since first coming across him as a cub. “It was not our fault! We tried to stop her!”

“We did, Simba! She is no longer a cub!” sobbed Pumbaa.

The mighty lion king glared at them, then broke down and sobbed uncontrollably. He had not cried so much since Mufasa’s death.

“Oh, who am I fooling? It is my fault! I drove her away! It is all my fault, all of it! I am sorry!”

Minutes later he felt a nudge at his shoulder. It was Nala.

“She’s gone!” moaned Simba to his mate. “She has run away from home, and it is all my fault! We must go and find her at once!”

Nala nodded and rallied the lionesses in a hurry.

Timon inched his way in front of Pumbaa and timidly said, “What…about us…sire?”

Sniffling, Simba stood up straight. “Of course you are re-hired. I had no right to fire you for something I did. Please just help me find my daughter.”

They nodded, then bowed and took their leave.

“Oh, if anything happens to Kiara I shall never forgive myself!” cried Simba, letting the tears come as though they carried his pain away, though they did no such thing. If anything, they made it worse. “Oh, Mohatu, I did not mean what I said! I really did not! If you still love me at all, please let her be all right!”

Chapter 36

Lovers Reunited

 

“Kovu?” whispered Kiara as she searched near a boulder and tree. The sun was far below the horizon now, and the stars were just beginning to come out.

“Kovu, it’s me. It’s Kiara. Are you there?”

She climbed onto the boulder to have a better look, and saw a pond just below her. She stared at her reflection and frowned. Something was not right. She could see half of her reflection clearly, but the other half…was blurred, somehow. She could make out her outline, but not much more.

She leapt out of the water and searched inside the rocky area where she and Kovu had hidden from the rhinos. Perhaps he was there?

“Kovu?”

No answer. She sniffed. Nothing--not even a scent indicating that he’d been there once. Kiara began to cry. If she did not find Kovu, what would become of him?

It was nighttime now. Kiara searched everywhere. At one point she accidentally frightened off two white birds, who were all over each other in the air. This only reminded Kiara of how alone she was.

She then saw a herd of gazelle. A male and female were caressing each other. Kiara left for the jungle. She saw monkeys, butterflies--everything seemed to be paired up except for her. But she would not return to Pride Rock until she found Kovu. In fact, she did not mean to return even then. The pride would never accept her decision, so she would stay away. Then she would be with Kovu forever. Perhaps they could even start a pride of their own.

She gazed into the sky, at the stars, hoping the great kings of the past would guide her somehow.

“Oh, Mohatu, help your great-great-granddaughter. Where is Kovu? Where do I find him?”

She received no reply but a breeze that caressed her fur. She looked at the stars and saw two familiar constellations: the baby rabbit and the two lions fighting. She lay down on a tree branch that overlooked a lake. Again, only half her reflection was clear. She tried to figure out if it was a trick of the light, but just then a leaf landed on the surface, causing ripples which obscured the image.

Then she heard rustling on the other side of the bank. “Kovu?” she said anxiously.

But it was not him. A bull frog leapt into the water to join his mate. Kiara started to weep again, leaping off the branch and onto a small hill. It was seeming hopeless now.

Kovu was about to jump into the lake and end his life. He was not afraid for his soul, as his own father’s soul surely ceased to exist after he died. Kovu’s fate would be no different from his father’s, or his brother’s.

But then, out of the corner of his good eye, he saw a white lioness on the hill. He gasped. Was it…Kiara? But what was she doing here? Had she forgiven him, even though she surely knew the truth now? He was still afraid to speak to her, but…no. He could not withhold his love for her anymore. If she had found it in her heart to forgive him, she deserved to know he loved her, however she responded.

Now he knew that he had not been wrong to love her, for love is never wrong. That must have been why Zira had not purged him completely of his feelings for Kiara, though she had tried. Now he knew he should not end his life, not while Kiara loved him. Their love would never die, and so it would be wrong for Kovu to let himself die and leave her alone in this world. Perhaps Kiara would be his new family. Neither pride would accept him now, but she alone did.

Kiara gasped, then turned. Kovu was smiling at her. That warm, wonderful smile she loved so much! She burst into tears--finally she had found him!

“Oh, Kovu! It’s you!”

“Kiara…you came to find me?”

“Of course I did! I know you did not plan that ambush!”

“But you were not there, and your father was--how do you know?”

She gazed into his eyes. “Because I know you better than he does. I know you would never do such a thing. I love you, Kovu.”

Kovu’s eyes watered. “I love you, Kiara. I have for a long time now. I admit I saved you from the fire as part of Mother’s plan, which was to kill Simba and take his throne, but…part of me did still care for you even then, despite her efforts to purge me of my feelings.”

Kiara licked Kovu, and he smiled sheepishly. Then Kiara gasped.

“Kovu, what--what has happened to your eye?”

Kovu took a deep breath, then sighed. “Mother. When I refused to attack your father in the ambush…my brother Nuka tried to do the job for me. But…debris fell onto Nuka and he…died. And Mother blamed me for his death due to my inaction, and she…scratched me.”

“Mercy!” said Kiara. “I’m so sorry. Does it hurt?”

Kovu shrugged. It was no longer bleeding. “Still a bit sore, but I’ll be all right. Mother trained me to ignore pain. But…I can no longer see out of this eye.”

Kiara shed a tear and stared at her feet. Kovu smiled.

“Come with me,” he said, “I want to show you something.”

Kiara stared and squinted at it for a long time, then shrugged. “Only a seedling.”

“Yes, but look--this is where the fire hit. This seedling was strong enough to withstand the flames rather than be consumed and destroyed. If given the chance, it will grow larger and more beautiful than the plants that died in the fire.”

Kiara stared at him, awed by the profundity of what he’d said.

“I have the same weakness that Father did, I cannot deny that,” he admitted, “but that fact alone does not doom me to his fate. I am stronger than he was. I know that now. Though I am his son, I will not succumb to my hatred and let it destroy me. His fate will not be mine.”

Kiara smiled at him. He took a deep breath, then exhaled. “When your father banished me, I was hurt, and angry. I felt that Mother had been right about him all along, and my mind was filled with thoughts of murder…but I fought them, and I won. I realized that if I tried anything, I would only prove him right. And that I would suffer my father’s fate. But I don’t intend for that to happen. Besides, he is your father, and I could never do that to you. It was you who really saved me from Scar’s fate, Kiara--my love for you. I love you, and I will never harm your father, whatever he does to me.”

“I know it,” said Kiara, nuzzling him and purring. “If he saw this side of you, as I have, he would know who you really are.”

A breeze blew through their fur as they nuzzled each other.

Two butterflies flew past, and Kovu chased them, beckoning Kiara to follow. Laughing, she did, and they remembered the old days, when they could have fun together whenever they wished. They ran under a tree, then rolled in the grass as the fireflies flew. Kiara landed on top of Kovu, who licked her cheek. Then she climbed off him, smiling.

Standing up, Kovu peered into the water. “Look at that!”

Kiara looked as well. By some trick of the moonlight, their reflections seemed to meld together, for just a moment…as though the two halves made a single reflection.

“One reflection instead of two,” Kovu chuckled. “And my half has my good eye. It is as though you complete me, and I you.”

Kiara gasped. “What?” She was now suddenly remembering something from a long time ago, when she was a cub.

“Come on, then,” said Kovu. “Let’s find us a new home. We can have cubs, and start our own pride together!”

“No, Kovu,” said Kiara. “We must return.”

Kovu stared with his eyes and jaw wide open. Desperately he searched her face for some sign that she was jesting, but he saw none.

“Are you serious? But we just found each other again! We are together now! How can you even think of going back?!”

“Kovu,” said Kiara seriously, “Father once ran away from his troubles. He learned the hard way that even when things go wrong, you cannot run and hide. You have to return and face it head-on, frightened though you may be.”

“But what good would that accomplish?” said Kovu, turning away. “Neither pride will accept me now, and you’ll only get into trouble for running away, especially if your father learns that you have been with me!”

“Neither pride?” said Kiara. “There is only one pride--the one started by Mohatu! Were not Mufasa and Scar brothers? Our place is with the pride. We are connected to them, as we are connected to each other. We are one. Can you not see it? If we run away, the pride will remain divided forever. We have come together--now it is time to heal the pride as well! Don’t you wish for your family to return home?”

She is right, Kovu.

Kovu gasped. He looked into the sky and saw a bright star twinkle more vigorously than the others.

“Who…who are you?”

I am Ahadi, son of Mohatu. I am ancestor to you and to Kiara. I made a mistake when I was king, and it had terrible consequences for the pride, as you can see. When I was king, I favored Mufasa over your father Taka, because I knew that my older son would be my heir, and because I wrongly blamed Taka for the death of my wife Uru. Without meaning to, I had neglected my younger son, driving him away. That is what led to Taka’s accident. That was why Taka became mad and cruel, and he took out his frustration by overpowering Sarafina.

But it was my father’s will that Sarafina would have a daughter, and that was Nala. Thus did she become the fiancée of Mufasa’s son Simba. But because of what Taka did, Mufasa exiled him to the outskirts of the Pride Lands. Hence he allied himself with the hyenas and overthrew his brother in the coup, making Simba believe it was his fault and leading Simba to exile himself.

When Simba returned and learned the whole truth about Taka, his anger and hatred led him to banish Taka’s followers from the Pride Lands, splitting Father’s pride in two. He defeated the darkness without, but now the darkness within has grown, promoting hatred of Simba among the Outlanders, and a civil war will soon begin that will destroy both halves of the pride if you do not stop it. You are the only ones who can.

It was Father’s will that Simba have a daughter to complement Taka’s chosen heir, Kovu. Thus it is up to the both of you. Kiara, as granddaughter of Mufasa, and Kovu, as son of Taka. You are the heirs to the throne. You have come together, so it is up to you to bring the pride back together. Remember, we are one.

Soon all was silent again. Kiara looked at Kovu, who nodded. He was still afraid, but he saw no way to avoid their destiny. And he did want his family to know the splendor of living in the Pride Lands, as he himself had come to know it. After all, they had lived under the famine of Scar’s reign, and after all their suffering, did they not deserve happiness?

“Race you back!” cried Kovu, taking off. Kiara laughed and followed close after.

Chapter 37

Civil War

 

The Outsider lionesses only stopped in a swamp, to dip their bodies into the black mud before continuing. The sky was completely hidden by clouds, and thunder rumbled in the distance, but the mud would dry long before the rain could wash it off. Clearly Mohatu hated Simba as much as they did, for he had even taken the sun away from the Pride Lands now. It had been years since Simba took the throne, but…better late than never, perhaps. At any rate, that would all change when they took over the kingdom.

In the meantime, near Pride Rock, Simba and his pride were searching far and wide for Kiara. Simba was pained as he thought how, this time, it was only out of love and concern for his daughter that he prayed she would be found--not because she was next in line to the throne. Perhaps that was selfish of the king, but he did not care. He only prayed to Mohatu that she would be all right. Even though the sun had left the Pride Lands, he prayed that she would be all right.

“Your majesty! Your majesty!” cried Timon, racing back from having scoped out the area.

“Timon, what is it? Have you found my daughter?”

When the meerkat caught his breath, he said, “Outsiders! They’re covered in black mud! They are heading in our direction! I do believe they mean to attack the pride! It is to be a war!”

Now Simba was very frightened indeed. Why did this have to happen now? “Timon, you must find Kiara immediately! The pride and I will take care of the Outlanders! If they want a war, we will not be caught off-guard!”

“What about me?” asked Pumbaa. “What shall I do?”

Simba sighed. “Hope your own odor is fouler than that of the mud on the Outlanders’ fur,” he said, unable even to laugh at his joke.

“Yes, try to do something right for once,” said Timon as he left, but he was trying to conceal his inner pain. It was not often that he was away from Pumbaa, and with this impending war there was a very good chance that his friend would die.

It rained and rained, but the mud had caked into the Outlanders’ fur, making them look fiercer and more menacing. It also helped them tell friend from foe at a time when smell would be more difficult. Squawking in terror, flightless birds flapped madly and dashed away. Vitani was about to chase one when her mother stopped her.

“Patience, my daughter,” said Zira. “When we rule the Pride Lands once more, you shall have all the meat you wish, but now is not the time!”

Vitani brooded silently. She did not agree with every decision her mother made, though she never questioned Zira. But this was one decision she really did not go along with. Surely they needed their energy for the fight against Simba’s pride! After all, their enemies would have full stomachs! But she kept her silence.

Soon they heard snarling in the distance. On the horizon, they encountered a greater number of lionesses growling at them, led by Simba. There was also a warthog.

Zebras, gazelles, giraffes, okapi, and other grazers galloped away as the two mighty lion prides approached each other. Zira climbed onto a rock, so she could tower over Simba. Vultures began to circle the area, as though anticipating the deaths to come.

Standing as straight as his wounds would allow (for they had still not entirely healed), Simba walked in front of his pride, staring Zira down.

“And so ends the reign of the tyrant Simba!” roared Zira. “For years, I have dreamed of this day! It is the only thing that has kept me going all this time! And here and now, Pride Land history shall be made!”

“Zira, you have broken the law countless times! This is your last chance to return home without severe punishment!”

“Oh, but I am home already,” said Zira through her teeth. “And you are an unwelcome trespasser. This is rightly my land, and my pride! I shall be queen again!”

“You are not even of the royal line of Mohatu! Do not blaspheme!” roared Simba.

Lightning flashed, and thunder crackled.

“Attack now!” snapped Zira.

The Outlanders roared their battle cry and dashed at the Pride Landers, who returned roars in kind and went to meet their adversaries in combat. For the first time ever there was civil war in the Pride Lands, and at first it appeared as though the Outlanders would win, though their lead was marginal.

“Gouge her eyes out!” screamed Zira in ecstasy. “Break her jaw! Hit her low! Do whatever it takes! Do not hold back! Show no mercy, for you will receive none!”

“Oh, dear, we are too late!” cried Kovu as they reached the ravine. On the other side, they saw their prides biting and slashing at each other. “I should have known Mother would take advantage of your father’s injuries and attack him! I should have warned him before he banished me! Now he will surely die, and many others with him!”

“Don’t talk like that!” said Kiara sternly. “We are not too late. Not as long as they live. Father always said that as long as there is life, there is hope. Come--before things get worse!” And she took off for a narrower gap whereby she and Kovu could leap across without falling into the abyss.

“Kiara! Oh, thank Mohatu you’re not hurt!” cried the little meerkat rushing to them. He then turned to Kovu and frowned, trying unsuccessfully to hide his fear. “What is that assassin doing here?”

“He is not an assassin!” said Kiara. “Get out of the way!”

“But I’ve got to take you home, princess!”

“And we have a job to do,” said Kovu, baring his teeth. “So stand aside!”

Timon was too frightened of the dark lion to remind him that he was the king’s majordomo. He ran to rejoin his warthog friend, relieved to find him still alive.

Kovu and Kiara leapt across the ravine, avoiding the river far below, and almost slipped on a hollow log as they finally made it to the other side.

The battle was long and bloody. Lionesses leapt upon each other, grabbing each others’ tails, fighting most brutally, and there was no end in sight!

Vitani climbed onto a boulder to face the queen. “Nala, my sister! Good evening! Where is that charming daughter of yours? I had so hoped to meet her! The poor creature did not die, I hope?”

Nala growled at Vitani. “Do not call me your sister! Zira is not my mother!”

“And thank Mohatu she is not! She’d probably have drowned herself if she’d given birth to you!”

Nala, who usually did not take insults personally, now glared at Vitani with her green eyes. The younger lioness leapt onto the queen and they both tumbled head over heels into a puddle of rainwater.

Zira laughed louder and longer than she ever had in her life as the Outlanders attacked Simba again. This time, however, he would not escape them. And he was already injured, and weakened. It would not be long before the scourge was dead.

“Off him now! He is mine! I will finish him!” said Zira with relish in her voice. “After all these years, I will at last make him pay for all he has done to me!”

The other lionesses reluctantly obeyed.

“Now, Simba, I will finish what Scar started! And I shall begin with your ear!”

“You just try it!” snapped Simba. “I shall relieve you of your other ear first!”

Both leaders raised their mighty paws into the air, poised to strike.

Suddenly two young lions leapt between them! Kiara faced her father, and Kovu faced his mother. They glared defiantly at their respective parents, refusing to move.

“Stand aside, Kovu!” snapped Zira.

“Out of the way, Kiara!” Simba thundered. He was glad to see she was not hurt, but now was not the time for a reunion. There was a war going on, and she could be injured--now that he had her back, he was determined not to lose her again if he could prevent it.

“No, Father!” said Kiara. “This fighting must end, and it must end now!”

“Kiara is right, Mother!” said Kovu. “For the pride’s sake, enough!”

Zira growled at her son. “You are an even greater coward and weakling than I feared! You disgrace your father’s name!”

“He disgraced himself!” yelled Kovu. “You are wrong about me--I am stronger than Father ever was! I will not go mad and be betrayed and murdered as he was! And as long as I live, I forbid you to harm my cousin, King Simba! Or his daughter Kiara, whom I love!”

Zira gasped in horror, then growled, “Then I may no longer call you my son. Move over, you weakling!”

“Kiara, this has nothing to do with you! Stay out of it!” said Simba to his daughter. “You might be injured, or even die, and I won’t have that!”

“Father, a very good and wise king once tried to teach me that all life is one. That we are all connected in the great circle of life. I did not know what he meant by that at the time, but he promised me that I would someday. And that someday is today.”

“What the deuce are you talking about?” said Simba.

“The Outlanders. Let them return to the Pride Lands.”

“Never!” roared Simba. “They are traitors! They--”

“They, they, they! Don’t you mean ‘we’? If all life is connected, are not ‘they’ connected to us as well? Are we not all the same pride? Are we not all part of the great circle of life? Look at them--how are they different from us?”

Simba looked--by now the rain had washed away the outsiders’ mud, so it was indeed difficult to tell the lionesses apart.

“But…they supported Scar!” said Simba, starting to sound less confident.

“They supported Scar, they did not do what he did!” said Kiara, standing up straighter than her father. A stranger might easily have mistaken her for the leader of the pride instead of him. “Father, Scar is dead. He can no longer hurt you. And you cannot restore Mufasa’s life to him. Whatever you do, he will only live through you. And he would not have split the pride as you have done. You always told me that Scar could not control his hatred, and that it consumed and destroyed him! Father, are you not now guilty of the very same crime?”

Simba was taken aback by his daughter’s insolence, but somehow…he found himself unable to tell her off. He had no idea why.

“Was it for their crimes that you banished the Outlanders, or was it your hatred of Scar for what he did to you?” said the princess. “And now you fight them despite your injuries! Are you not now treading the very path that led to Scar’s destruction? If you continue down this path, you will die, and the pride will go with you!”

Simba stared, wide-eyed. He looked away from his daughter and a puddle caught his eye. He looked at his reflection…and…by some illusion due to the dim light or the dripping drops…it very much resembled Scar.

Scar. The tyrant who had been dead for years, the lion of whom all that was left were the bones. Even now he haunted Simba. The king had thought he was rid of his uncle forever when the hyenas killed him, but…now it seemed that the ogre still lived…in him. His anger and hatred against his uncle was allowing Scar power over him, even in death, turning him into a king nearly as tyrannical.

Ever since becoming king, Simba had tried to rule as he thought Mufasa would have--but now he knew he’d been wrong. Perhaps it was because his father had died when he was a cub, and thus had not been able to teach Simba enough about being a king. This was part of the reason Simba had feared to return to the Pride Lands years ago--he feared he would not be a king that his father would have been proud of. Now his fears were realized.

But then the clouds began to part, and Simba caught a ray of sunlight as the rainfall began to end. The shaft of light hurt the king’s eyes at first, and he had to blink a few times before he could see properly again.

Sunlight--did that mean it was not too late? Was there still hope? Could he still set things right? He looked at his daughter, and then at Kovu. Somehow, except for his brown fur and scar, Kovu now looked like a younger version of himself.

“Father,” said Kiara, “Kovu is Scar’s son, and subject to his weaknesses, but he has overcome them! He desired revenge against you for banishing him, but he fought this desire and succeeded, through his love for me! As king, how can you do any less? Scar is dead, thus Mufasa’s death has been avenged. Punishing Scar’s followers will not bring your father back!

“Scar was the Ahadi’s son and Mohatu’s grandson, as your father Mufasa was! You are Scar’s nephew, and Kovu is your cousin. Thus he is your heir. We are all connected to Scar, and his son Kovu, and their whole family, whether you wish it or not! But will you now commit the same wrong that Scar did, or can’t you find it within you to forgive, as Kovu has? Surely if Kovu, Scar’s son, could overcome his darkness, Mufasa’s son can as well!”

The ray of sunlight seemed to be shining directly upon Simba now. Suddenly he felt as though a shroud which had obscured his vision for years was now being lifted, and he was seeing the world for the first time, as though he had just been born. The white lion took a deep breath, then sighed, shuddering, as though a great burden had been lifted from his shoulders.

Standing up straight, he scarcely even seemed to notice his wounds anymore. Mohatu had returned the sun to the Pride Lands. Simba looked at his reflection again--no trace of Scar anymore. Only himself, Simba, the rightful king. Tears came to his eyes as he smiled at his daughter and nuzzled her. Never had he been prouder of her than he was at this very moment.

“Thank you,” he whispered. He then stood up straight and said, “By order of the king, this war is now officially over! I will fight our sisters no longer. Will anyone dare to defy me?”

Nala and the other Pride Landers stood up straight and walked behind their king, indicating that they would no longer fight either. The Outlanders were genuinely stunned at this. Simba the scourge, standing down? They feared to disobey Zira, their former queen, but--did they wish to kill a lion who would not even fight back to defend himself?

Zira was not so indecisive. “NOW, Vitani!” she bellowed.

Vitani looked back and forth between her mother and the Pride Landers, then said, “No, Mother. Kiara and Simba are right. We are all one pride. They are our sisters, as Simba has said. I do not wish to fight them anymore. Besides, I am tired and hungry.” To emphasize her point, she walked over next to Kovu and turned to face Zira defiantly.

The other Outlanders looked at each other in surprise as Vitani did this. Zira’s own daughter had the courage to defy her will?

Poised, ready to pounce, Zira said, “You are a cowardly weakling as well, just as much as your brother! From now on, you are no longer my daughter! And if you will not fight, you will be destroyed yourself!”

This did not sit well with the other outsiders. Zira, their leader, Scar’s queen, was going to kill her own daughter? And after that great show of affection for Nuka when he had died? How insincere was she? She had not even allowed them to eat before this very war! And she had been making them do all the fighting for her--she only wished to kill Simba, not participate in the rest of the fighting! She cared nothing for their plight at all, precisely what she had accused Kovu of--she just wanted revenge against Simba! Growling low, they walked away from Zira and intermingled with the Pride Land pride. Now it was harder to tell them apart.

“What do you think you are doing?” cried Zira, sounding almost frightened, though she tried to conceal her fears. “Get back here, you traitors! I am your queen!”

“No!” said an Outlander lioness. “A ruler only has power if her subjects accept her, and we no longer want you ruling over us. Your son Nuka has already died because of your thirst for blood--let us end this conflict now before someone else dies! It was not Simba or Kovu who killed Nuka--it was you!

“You have all been corrupted!” roared Zira. “You are all blind!”

“You would not even help us fight--you made us do it for you!”

“I am old--I’d have been killed!”

“You were not too old to want to kill Simba alone!”

“Zira, my aunt, I have let go of my hatred for you,” said Simba.

“Do not call me your aunt!” snapped Zira. “You are no nephew of mine!”

“I am willing to pardon you and end your exile. You may return to the Pride Lands and roam freely, as you please. But you must let go of your own hatred. Killing me will not bring Scar back, or Nuka. It will not make you feel any happier about the matter. Their deaths are in the past, and there is nothing you can do about it. Just as Mufasa’s death is in the past, and there is nothing I can do about it.”

Zira growled. “I refuse to live in a pride ruled by you! You have never brought me anything but pain! I will not stop fighting until one of us is dead!”

She was the only one who did not seem to hear the dam that was blocking the river as it broke, causing the river water to gush and flow into the nearby ravine.

“By Mohatu’s will, Scar,” said Zira to the heavens, “you will at last be avenged!”

With all her might, she leapt at the king! But at that very moment, Kiara dashed in front of her father, pushing the older lioness out of the way! Fighting each other, they tumbled over the edge of the ravine!

“No! Kiara!” cried Kovu, dashing after her. Simba rushed to join him. The younger lion did seem to have a genuine concern for his daughter.

Carefully, clutching the walls of the ravine, Simba and Kovu dashed down. Far below them, they saw Zira against the vertical face of the cliff, struggling desperately not to fall. Kiara was on the cliff face above her, in a similar position. Tears came to Simba’s eyes as he noted that this was the same position his father had been in before he’d died. And the river was far below them. If anything happened to Kiara--

“Simba, save them!” cried Kovu. “I am blind in one eye, and might fall myself!”

“Simba, the dam!” cried Nala in a panic. “Watch out!”

Sure enough, the dam now burst, flooding the bottom of the ravine. Simba leapt down from one foothold to another, frantically trying to reach his daughter.

Zira slipped, one paw flying helplessly in the air as she clung to the cliff face desperately with the other. Pebbles tumbled down to the river from the cliff face.

“Mother, no!” cried Kovu. “Kiara, can you reach her?”

Zira quickly gripped the cliff face again as Kiara reached a paw down to her. “Zira, quick, give me your paw! I’ll pull you up!”

“Get away from me!” snapped the older lioness, swiping at the white princess. This very motion caused her to slip farther down.

“Zira, don’t be a fool! Let me help you!”

“No! I don’t trust you! I wished to kill your father! You would throw me off the cliff if I put myself at your mercy!”

Suddenly Simba he realized he’d been in this situation himself, in the Outlands. Kovu had offered him aid, but Simba had refused it--because he had not trusted him. Now he realized how foolish his prejudices were. What if he had not made it to safety? Then the Outlanders would have killed him--because he had not trusted Kovu.

“Zira, I swear to Mohatu that I will not harm you in any way, whatever you tried to do! You are Kovu’s mother, and I love him! Please, just give me your paw!”

Zira’s claws scratched the cliff face as she slid slowly down. She stared down at the river, then up at Kiara, realizing that the princess was her only chance. She appeared genuinely frightened for a moment, then she shot Kiara a fiercely determined look.

“Never! I would rather die than owe my life to Simba’s daughter!”

With that, she deliberately let go of the cliff.

“MOTHERRR!!!” cried Kovu as he watched her fall down, down, to the river.

If anyone had been close enough, they would have seen a peaceful look on Zira’s face just before she hit the surface of the water, and heard her say, “I have lived out my life! I am old, and soon would have died anyway! With my only remaining progeny and my pride turned traitors, I have nothing left to live for! Now at last I shall be free! Now at last, Scar and Nuka, we shall be together again, Mohatu willing! Mohatu is greatest!”

The splash chilled the spines of the lions. It had sounded far louder than it was. Kiara watched in horror as one of Zira’s paws reached out of the water, then was pushed back under the surface by a log. The water soon washed away, leaving the ravine empty once again. That was the last anyone ever saw of Zira.

Kovu breathed a deep sigh of misery. “Mohatu, watch over my mother,” he prayed. “She was not evil. She simply made the same mistake Father did--she let her hatred consume her. Please watch over her, and Nuka, and Father.” A tear rolled down his cheek as he said this. He wished that the body could be recovered so that it could be buried next to Scar, which is what she would have wanted.

“Kiara!” said Simba, reaching his paw to his daughter.

“I am sorry, Father,” said Kiara, reaching for him. “I tried to save her. I tried to make her see reason. But she would not listen. She chose suicide over being indebted to your daughter. I--I had hoped…that perhaps--”

She burst into tears as though she’d lost her own mother.

“Hush, it’s all right. You did all you could. Come on, let’s get you to safety.”

As they climbed, Simba worked up the courage to speak to his daughter. “Kiara…I am sorry. For the way I treated you back at Pride Rock. I did not mean to treat you as a child. I have just always been very concerned about your safety because….”

“Because what, Father?”

Simba sighed. “You were not an only child. You had a twin brother, Kopa, when you were born. But he was sicklier than you were. We tried desperately to heal him, but…nothing helped. He died soon after the two of you were born. It hurt me so that I could not even tell anyone. And soon after, your grandmother Sarabi died as well. And you know how your grandfather Mufasa was killed years ago. Having already lost my father, mother, and son, I was determined not to lose you, my daughter, as well.”

Kiara was seeing her father with new eyes now. At long last, she understood him, and sympathized with him. “I am sorry too, Father. I am glad we have not lost each other. And I am grateful to you for your concern, even if it is sometimes a bit excessive.”

Simba smiled. “And I am grateful to you as well, and proud of you, for making me see the error of my ways. Especially since Zira could not be persuaded, it is a good thing one of us was, at least. I am glad you survived to adulthood, even if your brother did not. Otherwise I might have destroyed myself and the entire Pride Land pride in my hatred. You are a much wiser lion than I am, and will make a great queen someday.”

Kiara beamed. “Thank you, Father. I am glad I was able, at long last, to make you see reason. I knew that, somewhere deep down inside, you were a good lion.”

They exchanged smiles as they continued up the cliff. They were happy now, with the knowledge that their pride, though once divided, was now whole again.

Chapter 38

Healing of the Pride

 

“That was very brave of you, Kiara,” said Kovu when Kiara and her father reached the top of the ravine. “Thank you for making your father and pride understand, and…for at least trying to save Mother.” He nuzzled the princess, and Simba took notice of this. He now felt badly for having refused to even try to save Scar from the hyenas.

“I only wish I could have done more,” said Kiara. “We are all one pride, and that means she was connected to us as well. But…even those who die remain with us, though not in the form we knew them. Isn’t that right, Father?”

Smiling, the king said, “I could not have put it any better myself. It is the mark of a good ruler when he admits to being wrong. I now admit this mistake. I was wrong about you. You are not foolish or naïve. You have a wisdom that belies your years. You will become a greater ruler than I have been. Even if it is from the sky, after my own death, I cannot wait to see you become queen. And until then, you are no longer confined to Pride Rock--you may roam the Pride Lands as you please.”

Kiara smiled at her father. “Thank you. And I was wrong about you as well. You are as good a king as Mufasa was.”

Simba then turned to Kovu and embraced him. “I was wrong about you too, Kovu. You do care about my daughter after all. And you do belong here, in the Pride Lands. I absolve my decree of banishment indefinitely. You may stay here forever, my cousin. And you may have my daughter’s hand in marriage. I trust you will care for her and protect her, as I’ve tried to do. I’ve never been able to have a son, but perhaps it was meant to be. You will be the son I never had, and I will try to be the father you’ve never had. And you shall be king after I die, as per your parents’ wishes and desires. I know you shall be a good king.”

Kovu’s eyes welled up with tears. “Thank you, sire,” he said, bowing low. “I shall try to do as you would have me do.”

“Come, my son,” said Simba, smiling. “Let us go home.”

“What about us?” said Vitani hopefully, speaking for the other Outlanders.

“The same goes for you. All of you. You are Outlanders no more. I royally welcome you all back to the Pride Lands and pardon you of any crimes you may have committed while in exile.”

The thin lionesses smiled in surprise. Zira had been wrong about Simba. She had let her prejudices blind her for too long, and they had been just as blind in following her. Now, at long last, the ancient wounds were finally healed.

“What about Mother and Father?” said Kovu. “May they be buried in the land of their birth?”

Simba took a deep breath, and said, “Yes. Scar was Ahadi’s son, and Mohatu’s grandson. And he was the father of my queen and my heir. Years ago I made the mistake of letting my hatred stop me from helping him when he needed it. Now I shall make amends for this mistake. You may recover his bones, and they shall be buried next to my father Mufasa. Then we shall try to recover Zira’s body and bury it next to her mate. I pray that this will be pleasing to Mohatu.”

Kovu and Vitani smiled and went off to recover the bodies.

“Everyone else come with me, and we shall all return home.”

That evening, the pride mourned the deaths of Scar and Zira, and Rafiki the mandrill shaman oversaw the funeral. But they knew that the deaths had not been in vain. They had been sacrifices to Mohatu so that balance would be restored to the Pride Lands. Accordingly, after the customary mourning period ended, they celebrated their reunited status with a ritual hunt. Kiara was allowed to participate in the hunt to provide the meal, and--although it was a team effort--it had been the princess who had bitten the buffalo’s jugular vein. She received great praise for her efforts, and even Nala was impressed. Kiara beamed at the knowledge that she had made her mother proud.

Simba, usually the first to eat as he had been the only mature male, now allowed the former Outlanders to eat first, to fill their stomachs. Neither he nor the other lionesses touched a thing until they were finished. Soon it was as if the whole division of the pride had never been.

The meal also served as a pre-emptive wedding supper. Rafiki officiated at the wedding of Kovu and Kiara, bringing his walking stick with him.

“Who gives this lioness to this lion?” he said.

“Her mother and I do,” said Simba.

“Brothers and sisters, we gather here to join this lion and this lioness in holy matrimony,” said the mandrill in his high voice. “Kovu, do you take Kiara to be your wife until death parts you?”

“I do,” said Kovu.

“And do you, Kiara, take Kovu to be your husband until death parts you?”

“I do,” said Kiara.

“Then, if there are no objections, by the power invested in me by Mohatu above, I now pronounce you lion and mate!”

All the lions roared by way of a cheer--now Scar’s son and Mufasa’s granddaughter were married. Now the pride was truly whole again.

Rafiki shook his walking stick over the newlyweds, and the gourds made a rattling sound. Simba smiled at his daughter, though a tear came to his eye. He could not keep her any longer. He had been overly protective of her in the past, but she was no longer a cub. She was a full-grown lioness, and was now married to Kovu. She would be in good hands with him, and she would grow into a queen that would make all proud, and Simba hoped she would bear him many grandchildren.

Kiara smiled back, and nuzzled her new mate. Then Nala nuzzled Simba.

Timon soon noticed Pumbaa was blubbering. “Now what is your problem?”

“I just love moments like this,” said Pumbaa. “It is what makes the job worthwhile!”

Timon sighed, frowning. He’d always considered love the worst thing in the world, completely counter to the concept of hakuna matata, but inside he could not fault Pumbaa for feeling as he did. Timon felt the same way himself, though he dared not speak it aloud. Besides, as Simba’s majordomo, he had to enforce traditions now, and marriage was a tradition going back generations.

All lionesses bowed low as the two couples walked up to the top of Pride Rock. From the crag, overlooking the kingdom, all four lions roared triumphantly, and were responded to in kind by the rest of the pride.

At this, the animals of the kingdom arrived at Pride Rock and added to the cheering by making their respective sounds. Elephants trumpeted, zebras brayed, monkeys screeched, hippos grunted.

Then a breeze caressed the two lion couples at the top of Pride Rock as the sun shone brightly on them.

You have done well, my son. I am very proud of you. Now at last you are the great king you were always meant to be, and will take your place in the stars when you leave this world.

Simba smiled in spite of his tears. “Thank you, Father,” he said proudly. He closed his eyes and allowed the breeze to blow throughout his white mane, overjoyed that he was once again able to hear his father’s voice on the wind. At long last, after all these years, he had made Mufasa proud of him.

Rafiki nodded at his old friend, then said, “Well done, Simba. Mohatu finds favor with you once again.”

Chapter 39

The Greatest King of Them All

 

Early one morning, months later, Simba and Kovu were anxiously pacing outside the cave in Pride Rock. Kiara was inside, being attended by the other lionesses.

“I am very nervous, Father,” said Kovu. He had gotten into the habit of calling Simba his father. “This is my firstborn. I hope you can give me the wisdom to raise the child well.”

Simba smiled. “Kiara could better aid you in that area--she has a better knack for seeing the good in everyone. Besides, I am far more nervous about this birth than you are--why, I never even thought I would live to see this day! I will see my first grandchild born--an honor no king has ever been granted in the history of the Pride Lands!”

“Kovu! Father!” called Kiara. “You may come in now.”

Kovu looked at the king. “You are the father,” said Simba. “You go first.”

“But you are the king!”

“And therefore you must obey my orders. Go on.”

Uncertainly, Kovu stepped into the cave, finding his mate Kiara in the darkness, sitting in a bed of straw and licking the white head of her sleeping cub.

“Come, Kovu. I want you to meet your son…Kopa.”

Kovu smiled. A new birth, like the dawn of a new day, wiping out the darkness of the previous night. How cleansing it was, for this child consolidated the two former prides into one. He was the great-grandson of Mufasa and the grandson of Scar. Thus he was descended from both royal lineages that came from Ahadi, son of Mohatu.

Now the great circle of life was whole again, the rift begun years ago now completely healed. Proudly, Kovu gazed at his cub with his one good eye, not noticing the king near the entrance. Simba’s face was in the shade, and he was also smiling.

Simba was touched that Kiara had named her son after her twin brother who had died. She had given him his son back, she and Kovu. She would be a good mother.

The little infant looked just as the first Kopa had, and likely as Simba himself had looked in infancy, with white fur from head to toe. Surely the birth of this new Kopa was a sign that Simba had done the right thing by Mohatu in reuniting the pride. After all, this Kopa was healthy, not like his uncle had been, and would live to adulthood. He was the selfsame spirit of the original Kopa who had been Simba’s son. Though he’d needed to die (so that Kiara and Kovu could unite the pride), now he would be allowed to live.

And this white cub was Kovu’s son--thus surely there was good in Kovu. Now Simba knew he had done right in making Kovu his heir and allowing him to marry Kiara. Kovu would be a good king, and a good father. Looking at the little cub again, Simba knew that when Rafiki came to baptize the child later that morning, Mohatu would find favor with him and make the sun shine ever so brightly upon the little lad.

“Thank you, Kiara, and Kovu,” whispered Simba. “Thank you so much, for everything. I now know that when I am gone, this pride will be in the best of hands.”

Nala then approached Simba and nuzzled him. “I am very proud of you, Simba. When your time comes, I know your star will be the brightest of all.”

Simba sighed. “No. That will be for the next generation. I am the one who split the pride in two, and it took me years to reunite it--and I nearly destroyed it before it could be reunited at all! Even if I have earned my place in the stars, I don’t deserve such a bright star.”

Smirking, the queen said, “I forbid you to speak of my husband the king in such a manner! It was during your reign that the pride came together, never mind when it split. You overcame your flaw. You have made amends for your mistake, and you are absolved of your sins in the eyes of Mohatu. You have conquered the darkness without and the darkness within. Perhaps it did take years, but what matters is how you rule at the end of your reign, not the start. Didn’t you say that your father told you that?”

Simba smiled at Nala. Her old age had made her wise, though it had not diminished her beauty. “You are right, Nala. Thank you, too. Now I am completely healed, as is my pride and kingdom. I have you, my wife; I have my daughter Kiara; I have my son Kovu; and now I have my grandson Kopa. I do not think I am boasting when I say that I feel like the richest king ever to rule on this or any throne!”

“You are not boasting, Simba,” said Nala. “You are the richest king. And far above, in the heavens, your father and all the other great kings of the past smile upon you, waiting patiently for you to join them in the stars.”

Simba knew this now, and he would never doubt it again as long as he lived. At long last, all was as it should be in the kingdom, and it would remain so as long as Simba, son of Mufasa, lived and reigned in the Pride Lands of Africa. And when Kovu succeeded him as king, Simba’s grave would be more spectacularly adorned than any, so that all who saw it would remember Simba the white lion as the greatest king of them all.

 

 

 

 

The End