Dusk: Father and Son
You are my sanctuary
Where fears and lies
Well, the first thing you should probably know about me is I’m different. Really different. Even my parents didn’t really know how different I was at first. I guess the easiest way to start out would be to tell you that I’m what you would call blind. That’s even where I got my name. My parents didn’t tell me I was blind. They said I was different. They told me I could cope with—well, that comes later. I’m getting ahead of myself. Alright, I’m blind. But I have a gift. I have a gift that none of you have, that none of you could possibly hope to have. I discovered it when I was a cub, and it nearly led me down to madness. That’s not really what I care about, though. It’s who I lost along the way.
“It’s a shame we’ll have to kill them.” Mvushi looked up from the cubs at those words.
“Kill them?” he asked. “Why would we ever kill them?”
Haja looked down at him scornfully. “How would you like it if you had to go through your childhood again, hmm? Starving for even the tiniest scrap because of that brute? It would be a kindness to kill them now and save them the agony.”
“But it isn’t like that now!” protested Mvushi. “Things are growing, and there’s more food, and maybe there’ll even be a decent land to rule over!”
“Not with Aka around.”
Mvushi felt a deep hatred at the mention of that name. The name of the one who had torn away his parents from his home, the one who turned on the pride and wiped them out to the remnants who were here today, left to curse him and mourn over their loved ones. But from the way Haja sometimes spoke, he more than got the impression that his father, the one who had raised Aka, was a heartless beast, and even worse than that, a fool, and that the lionesses were the only thing that kept the kingdom running after he had taken over. But that didn’t matter at all. He was dead; Aka had seen to that. “He won’t be around. Not if he does to my cubs what he did to that pride’s.”
“And who are you to stop him? Yes, it’s your purpose, your only goal in life, but how do you plan to protect your cubs? He’s a damned shadow! And an undead one at that! If he decides your cubs are going to die, then they might as well be dead. You know he let you live, it wasn’t that we hid you well enough.”
“He won’t kill them. And neither will you. You won’t touch a hair on their heads as long as they live. Is that understood?”
Haja glared at him, her anger at his insubordination making her speechless. She finally spat out, “You’re just as much of a fool as your father.” She stomped off angrily.
Mvushi watched her go for a second before turning back to his mate, Nyota, the two surviving cubs in her legs. She stared down at them, a boy and a girl, the only two left out of the four, the other two being stillborn. It didn’t matter. At least she had these two to love and keep warm. She looked up at Mvushi with adoring eyes. He stared back down at her with the same expression. They didn’t need words. Words would have only ruined it. They laid there, basking in the glow of their two new cubs.
The girl didn’t make it through the night.
After a week of keeping them closed, just listening to my parents’ voices, I finally opened my eyes.
I saw nothing.
I still didn’t have a name. So they gave it to me, seeing my eyes for the first time. Pofu. I suppose the eyes were a dead giveaway about my—condition. What looked like only a pupil and white (at least, as white as a lion’s eyes can get). Then they saw that I did have an iris, hidden within the white, just a shade darker than the whites, almost invisible.
Saying Mother was shocked was an understatement. Devastated was closer. Father . . . he took it even worse than Mother. They didn’t know how they would cope. They vowed to raise me the best they could. Apparently Father’s uncle had the same problem. He had overcome it, had completely decimated the obstacle. They said he could see with his sightless eyes like no one else, that he could see things that most people wouldn’t even glimpse. Hopefully, with practice, I could do the same.
So I tried.
It was difficult. I slowly learned to distinguish between lions, so that each one seemed different, just by the sound of their breathing, or their footsteps, or their scent. It was remarkably easy once I learned how. Then came the memorization, the long, arduous memorization. Memorizing, flawlessly which person carried them which way, breathed which way, had which voice, walked which way. I began to give names to figures. And then came trying to figure out where I was. Within three weeks I could tell you where I was, and anyone who was next to me. Mother and Father were very proud. “Look,” Daddy said (that’s how I referred to him then) to the leader, “at him. And you would have killed him. You would have taken away this gem.” I always felt closer to Daddy than anyone else. He loved me, dearly. I was everything to him. And I loved him back. I adored my father, idolized him, worshiped him. He’d do anything for me, and I felt I’d do the same.
But he couldn’t share me.
I had to be hidden, tucked away in a safe place from time to time, with my solemn vow that I wouldn’t move at all. It was never Daddy’s fault. He explained it to me. He told me there was a horrible, horrible lion who was looking for me, who was looking for anything which he felt might not fit in the world. And if he found it, he would kill it, quickly, and without any hesitation. I came to know him as the Beast. Whenever the Beast even came close, Daddy would hide me away, and leave me until the Beast had stalked by. As soon as it was safe he would rush to me, and pick me up and make sure I was unharmed. He told me that one day he would slay the Beast for me, so I wouldn’t have to hide and I could wander without fear.
But while the Beast was there, I lived with fear, the constant fear that he might come for me. I was sure that Daddy could stop him, certain that he was the best. But there was always that horrible nagging thought of What if he didn’t win? The Beast would ruthlessly strike down Daddy, and then come for me. When ever I hid I was always afraid he had learned where I was from Daddy before he killed him. He always came by me, every time I was forced to hide. I heard his pawsteps, felt them making the ground shake, being monstrous in size and hideously loud. And almost every time he came by me he would pause, seemingly right in front of me. I heard him sniffing, growling, snarling, trying to search me out. One time I thought he even found me. He walked right over me, with myself pressing my body as hard as I could to the ground as his immense bulk slowly passed over me, still searching for what made my scent. Hours later Daddy would come for me, making sure the Beast was nowhere around before he came to me and took me home to safety, along with a vow that he would rid us of the Beast once and for all.
As I said, I had a gift. I didn’t even realize it at first. I thought everyone could do it. Even as a newborn cub I remember having it. I remember, lying against my mother, lying motionless, my blind eyes closed. And I heard a voice. Mother’s voice. And then, sometimes, there were two of Mother’s voices. But besides voices, I remember feeling happiness, and warmth, and love flowing through me. I remember the first time Mother left when I was awake. Everything disappeared. No more happiness, no more love. All of it suddenly gone, like someone had turned off the sun for a normal lion and sent him spiraling into darkness. I squalled. Almost immediately I felt someone else, and I felt annoyance, and even a bit of repulsion. I didn’t know what they were called then, I gave names to them later. All I knew then was that I didn’t like it. I threw even more of a fit. Then I felt love again, warm, soothing love. And I heard father’s voice, reassuring me, and then two of them, saying, “Don’t worry. I’m here.” Then only one again, with its warm gentle message. I calmed down, I was happy again.
I always felt that warm love with Mother and Daddy. But later, when I opened my eyes and started to walk, I touched others. I felt what they felt sometimes, thought their thoughts. But not always. It was never constant, except with Mother and Daddy. Until Daddy found out. He learned it when I was lying next to him one day. He was hungry, and, naturally, thinking of food. He wanted to go get a nice, big, juicy antelope. I said, “Why don’t you just go get it, Daddy?”
Well, it wouldn’t be right, it wouldn’t be proper, he thought. I mean, if that horrible monster Aka found me doing that, that would be the last of me.
“But you’re tough,” I said. “You’re my dad. You can handle anything.”
Yes but—oh my god, he thought. And then, suddenly, in two voices, he said, “You know what I’m thinking, don’t you?” I tried to describe it to him. He told me I could look in someone’s head, and pick out whatever I wanted. He told me that this was truly a gift, something to be treasured, and that he it only made him prouder to be my father. He explained to me that the two voices were actually just one, but that I was hearing one with my ears and one with my mind. From then on he worked with me, trying to develop my skill, hone it. We told no one, and made it our secret. We agreed to tell the others someday, but for now, this was just between us.
That day came too soon.
Daddy told me to go up to Mother and just lie down next to her, pick through her thoughts, just pick one and talk about it. It might actually take her a while to figure out what was happening. So I did it. I found out she was hungry, too, as Daddy had been. But that was nothing, she wasn’t actually thinking about that. Everyone was hungry, no matter which mind I went to. Emotions and strong desires I didn’t even have to think about to pick up, but thoughts I actually had to work for. Mother was thinking about what the leader, Haja, had described their former home like. About her words of trees, and grass, and fat prey that was so slow and stupid anyone could catch it. “It sounds wonderful,” I told her.
Wonderful? she thought. It sounds like a paradise. It must be what heaven is like; it’s just too good to be real.
“The leader seems to believe it,” I said.
The leader, you poor thing, is a foolish hag.
“Why would you say that about Haja?” I asked. I felt her look down at me in surprise, and then, suddenly, she let out a bloodcurdling scream. He last thought I felt from her before she got up and started backing away from me was Oh gods oh gods, what have I created? “It’s okay, Mom,” I said. Then Daddy came up.
“It’s alright,” he said to her. “Isn’t it wonderful though?”
“What—what did he just do?”
“He saw your thoughts.”
“Oh, gods . . .”
Daddy laughed. “Yes, I imagine it’s a bit of a shock.”
“Shock? This turns my entire world upside down!”
“Does this mean you don’t love me?” I asked.
Mother paused. It seemed like a long time. I could feel her looking down at me. Then she came over to me and lied down next to me, drew me close with her forelegs, and gave me a warm, gentle lick on the head. “No,” she said. “No, I’ll always love you.” And she did. I could feel it. All of her was once again warm love, with only a few remnants of the sudden horror she had felt, and even those quickly faded away. I nuzzled her, loving her back. I knew Daddy was looking at us happily. Soon he lied down with Mother, nuzzling me as well. We all laid there, basking in my newfound gift.
Mvushi decided not to tell the others. He couldn’t. He knew how they would feel. He had been their treasure, their joy, their prize, and, his namesake, their savior. And now he was rejected by them, seen as a waste, all because he was less capable at hunting than the lionesses. That was the only thing that mattered here. But his son still had a chance. They pitied him for having an indecent father, a father that amounted to nothing. If they knew Pofu had this gift, this wonderful talent, he would be even worse off than his father. He knew how he would be shunned, known as a freak, a monster. He was already considered an annoyance for his constant need to be hid from Akasare. It wouldn’t take much more to really make them despise him.
So he told no one. He had made Nyota see reason as well. She understood completely, and had no wish for her son to be made a pariah. But she had also reminded Mvushi that they couldn’t keep it hidden forever. Someday they would have to tell them. But for then, they both agreed to keep it secret.
Pofu, however, couldn’t be made to promise. Especially not if his father wanted him to develop the gift. So Mvushi warned Pofu to be careful when he used it, to try not to make it obvious. So Pofu happily just dipped into thoughts, into the unsuspecting minds of his pride as he lied by their sides, “asleep.” If Mvushi asked him to do it, Pofu would do it unquestioningly, such was his love for his father. But he was still only a cub. He had no idea of subtlety or secrecy. He was bound to be caught, and he was. He was careless, he made mistakes. And nothing slipped past Haja’s all-seeing eyes. Slowly she pieced together the truth, and almost immediately discarded it as a fantasy. But it was the only thing that fit. So she tricked Pofu. When he was lying innocently against her, eyes closed and ears laid back, looking for all the world like he was asleep, she thought, I know you can hear me. Immediately Pofu’s ears perked up. Well, can’t you? “Yes,” said Pofu unsurely. It was all she needed, and she immediately seized upon it. She picked up Pofu and took him over to Mvushi and Nyota.
“I want to know the truth,” she said.
“The truth about what?” asked Mvushi.
“About him.” Haja pushed Pofu forward.
“Your highness,” said Mvushi cautiously, “what are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about how this little—thing—reads minds as if they were open in front of him!” She turned to the rest of the pride. “Tell them all!”
Mvushi looked down at his mate. She looked up at him and nodded. “They need to know,” she said.
Mvushi sighed. He knew Nyota was right. It had to be done. Now was as good a time as any. Who knew what horrible lies Haja might give the pride if he didn’t? He slowly walked to the center of the small pride. He turned and looked back at his son. “Come here, Pofu.” Pofu obediently came over. Mvushi looked back at the pride. Might as well get it all out of the way. “Pofu can see into minds,” Mvushi declared. There was an almost unanimous gasp, then a sudden stream of speech.
“That’s impossible!” One lioness’s cry broke out over the chatter.
“It’s the truth,” said Mvushi. “He can look into your mind and see what any one of you is thinking. I know, I’ve watched him grow, much more than any of you ever have. And I think this is only the beginning. You can’t even imagine what he may be capable of.”
“Why should we believe you?” another lioness cried. “You, of all of us!”
“I’m not lying. Please, you have to believe me.”
“If it is true,” retorted the first lioness, “do you know what this means? No one is safe. There will be no more secrets. There can’t be any more secrets! No privacy at all!”
“Don’t judge him like that,” Mvushi pleaded. “He doesn’t know what he does. If anyone, blame me. I am the one who encouraged him.”
“Why should we trust you or your little freak?”
“Yeah, the little freak!”
Mvushi wrapped a foreleg protectively around Pofu. “Don’t call him that. Please.”
“Would you look at that, father and freak!”
Nyota stood up. “If you don’t trust him, believe me. I have no reason to lie. I was just as shocked as you.”
“I have his cubs on the way as well,” said another lioness. “How do I know they won’t be freaks like yours?”
Nyota strode over to the lioness and hit her across the face. “Don’t you dare call my son a freak again,” she breathed. She turned to the rest of the pride. “Does it really matter what he can do? Yes, my son has a gift. It is an amazing gift. But does that change him entirely? Isn’t he still the cub you knew yesterday? Does it really make a difference knowing this?” Murmurs ran through the pride. “Please,” she begged, “he’s no different than when you knew him before. He’s still the same cub. Please, just accept him again.”
The pride was quiet. Finally a lioness stepped forward. “Well, he looks the same as yesterday, doesn’t he? Why should he be any different?” Murmurs of assent slowly ran through the pride. “You’re right, Nyota. There isn’t any difference. If anything, we’re even more blessed than before.”
That ended all thoughts of Pofu being thrown out. It even helped Mvushi. They no longer hated him, but in fact somewhat began to admire him. Barely. But Pofu, he became loved by the pride. But he also became feared. No one ever became close to him, knowing what he could do. No one but his parents, who loved him tirelessly.
About two weeks later the new cubs arrived. Mother was happy, I was excited, but Daddy had completely the opposite reactions. He was worried, worried sick about what they might turn out like. He didn’t believe any of them would turn out like me; he realized that something like me only happened once in a millennia. But he remembered the other cubs. Two of them hadn’t even made it out of the womb, and my sister didn’t even make it to the second day. So Daddy was worried. He wanted them to come out well so much. He put the entire pride somewhat on edge.
The cubs were born. Three girls one day and four the next. All of them seemingly in perfect health, all of them with perfect eyes, ears, noses, limbs. Daddy was overjoyed. The first day after the second litter was born the pride was allowed near the cubs. We all came to their mothers to see them, little balls of fur either suckling or sleeping. They were difficult for me to make out. They all seemed to be the same to me, just little things that were there, doing whatever they were doing, with no individuality at all. That was alright though, it was to be expected. The traits would come later.
I was curious, though. I hadn’t ever felt what a cub’s mind was like. So I tried it. I went over to one of the little things, her mother watching me closely. I put my paw on it and felt. The result made me stagger back.
Pain, lots of it, and a mind screaming out for relief.
I tried again, with all of the cubs. It was the same. So I told Daddy. “I think there’s something wrong, Daddy,” I said.
“Wrong?” he asked. “What could possibly be wrong? They’ve got all their senses, their moving, they’re acting just like normal cubs, they’re in perfect health—”
“Daddy, I don’t think they are. I think they’re sick.”
Daddy paused before he answered me, with me taking this as just thought. I later realized it wasn’t thought, but hope shattering into a million pieces. “Pofu—son—these cubs are perfectly fine. You—you must be wrong. There’s nothing wrong with them. There—there can’t be anything wrong with them.” His voice bordered on hysteria.
“Alright, Daddy. Where’s Mom?”
“What? Your mother? Oh, she’s down in the cave.”
“Okay, Daddy. I’ll be with her.”
As I scampered off happily for Mother I heard him saying firmly, “There’s nothing wrong with them.”
The next day the cubs began to die. One at a time, each of them wailing their protest. By nightfall they were all gone. Daddy was crushed. All night and into the next day he mourned with Mother and me in the den. The entire pride was shocked over the deaths. Many of them began to suspect it was something to do with Daddy, as he was the father to all three of the litters, with me being the only survivor. Shortly after sunrise we were disturbed. Outside our cave came a huge roar of “Mvushi!”
Daddy immediately jumped up. “No,” he said. “He’s not taking Pofu, too.” He ran out of the cave. Mother stayed with me. I started to ask her what was going on, but she said, “Don’t talk. It’s Aka.” Suddenly I began to shiver in fear. It was the Beast. He had come for me. And Daddy—Daddy had just gone out there, alone, to face him. I was scared.
“Why are you here?” I heard Daddy roar. Mother didn’t seem to hear the response, but I did, loud and clear.
“I want to pay for what I did to all of you.” The voice sent shivers down my spine. It seemed to have no pity, no compassion.
“Why?” Daddy snarled.
“I’ve realized my mistake. Just do what you were meant to.”
I heard Daddy let out a sigh. “You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do this.”
Then a new voice suddenly entered. “Taraju, think this through!” I heard a whack and a groan, then the Beast spoke again:
“Just do it now.”
I didn’t know what happened. I never knew completely until later. I heard sounds, then suddenly a scream of “Taraju!” from yet another unknown voice. Then everything was still, and then I heard a dull thud. Finally Daddy spoke again.
He came into the den, followed by the rest of the pride that had been outside the cave, eight of them in all. I ran to him, feeling Mother grab me but freeing myself from her paw. I ran over and embraced Daddy’s leg. I felt his love, intensified, as well as relief and security and serene happiness. “He’s dead,” he said to Mother. “That monster will never trouble us again.”
“Oh, Daddy!” I cried. He bent down and gave me a gentle, loving lick.
“It’s all right. You’re safe now. No more hiding. You’re free. We’re all free.” I rubbed against my father’s stomach as he sat down. I never adored him, idolized him as much as I did in that moment. It would have been perfect, as I immersed myself in his happy mind, if it hadn’t been for one thing.
I felt pain.
It was so small I almost missed it. It was enough to stop my affection in mid-rub. I paused, searching, praying I had mistaken it. But it was there. I stopped completely, stepped back from my father, and began to cry. He was instantly lying down on the ground by my side. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“You hurt,” I sobbed.
“No,” he said, “of course not. That brute didn’t even touch me.”
“But Daddy,” I said, the sobs almost making my words indistinguishable, “you hurt. Like the cubs.”
I felt Daddy suddenly take in a breath. “No,” he said disbelievingly. “I feel fine. Don’t worry about me. I’m here for you, I’ll always be here for you.”
“Really?” I asked, still crying.
“Really. Now dry up those tears. Come on, it’s a happy time. You’re safe now, we all are. We can truly begin to live.” He gave me another lick. “How about after this we go out and bring you back some food, huh?”
“Really?” I asked, the tears finally stopped.
He gave a small laugh. “Really.”
“But they’re still out there,” I heard one of the lionesses say.
“We can wait,” Daddy said. “We’ve waited my entire life. We can wait a little longer.”
The owners of the unknown voices were gone by mid-afternoon. After that we had a feast. Five whole carcasses for the pride, almost enough for one carcass for every two lions. I hadn’t ever remembered feeling so full. It felt good.
Daddy, on the other hand, didn’t feel good. Three days went by, with him getting slowly worse. It was just a mild headache at first, and then he got to the coughing. It would go on and off, but when it did happen, great spasms of it wracked his body. He started moving less, started just lying down more. I refused to leave his side. I was with him always, constantly trying to care for him. I didn’t know then that I was only a cub and that there was nothing I could do. But it felt good to be with him, to have the illusion that I was helping him carry through. I could tell myself that he was getting better, that the slowly worsening cough was going away, that the occasional collapses were just him tripping. It felt good to be at his side. They did try to take me away from him, though. They were afraid I might get sick as well. Daddy took care of that, though. He reasoned that if we could have gotten sick, wouldn’t they have become ill earlier? After that they let us be.
Mother was worried. She knew what had happened to the cubs, and what I had seen in Daddy, what I still continued to see as the pain slowly overwhelmed him. She knew what the outcome was. I didn’t. I was happily, obliviously blind. Daddy insisted he was fine. And Daddy was never, ever wrong.
So it stayed like that for three days, him slowly worsening and me deluding myself, while the rest of the pride watched sadly, knowing what was happening. Then the invitation came.
I was up, just lying against Daddy. It hurt me to feel him hurting, but I knew he would get through it. No one was tougher than my dad. He was the one who killed the Beast. Nothing could beat him. Mother was next to him, too, with Daddy squished in between us. Every few minutes I would be jolted, his body shaking me as he coughed. Then a lioness came back into the den. “Mvushi,” she said. “He’s back.”
“Who—” Daddy broke off, a horrible, horrible fit of coughing overtaking him. That had been one of the worst ones. “Who?” he finally managed.
“That lion who was with Aka.”
Daddy growled. “I’ll take care of this.” He got up and went outside. The rest of the lionesses followed, along with me. I stayed close by Mother, she had told me to do so. I still heard every word. “What do you want, lowlife?” growled Daddy.
“Actually, I’m a prince,” said the visitor cockily. It was the first voice that had been with the Beast.
prince. How important. I’ll inform all of
“You don’t even know who I am and you—”
“You were with that murderer,” growled Daddy. “That’s enough.”
“I’ve come to offer you a place in the Pridelands,” said the visitor.
“And why would we want to leave to come live in the den of filth like your friend?”
“My brother was a changed lion. He willingly came to you.”
“And why would we want to live in the den of filth like your brother?”
“We can offer you a better life,” said the visitor. “You won’t have to scrounge for food. You’ll be free to as much food as you need. You won’t need to live in constant fear of the other lions in the Outlands. We can help you.”
“We don’t need your help,” said Daddy.
“Don’t be a fool, Mvushi,” said Haja suddenly. Her next remark was to the visitor. “We are extremely grateful for—”
“What are you doing?” Daddy demanded.
The leader suddenly raised her voice to Daddy. “You do not remember it, but we were once free. We did not have to poach for food; we owned the lands and the food! If your father hadn’t been such a fool—” Daddy snarled, then let out a cry of pain as Haja hit him. “If you won’t respect your elders, at least respect your betters,” the leader growled. She turned back to the visitor. “We accept.”
“Alright,” said the visitor. “Just—just come with me, I suppose.”
“Thank you, your majesty.” I heard Haja do something, but I still hadn’t learned enough yet to tell motions well.
“Look, you really don’t need to—yeah.” The visitor sighed. “Just get everyone up and we’ll go.”
“This is everyone, sire,” said Haja. “This is all that we have left.” Then she suddenly said, after a pause, “He’s the only one left. All his sisters died.” I realized she was referring to me.
“Well then,” said the visitor, “uh, let’s go.” I heard him start to walk away. I ran to Daddy. He had fallen again, and was silently coughing, keeping his mouth firmly shut, letting no sound escape. It stopped and he said, “Don’t worry. I’m alright. Now go with your mother.” I suddenly felt myself being picked up by the scruff of my neck. After that I was just swaying. I never could tell what was going on when I was hanging like that. I could hear plenty, but I seemed to need my feet on the ground to actually understand anything. Words, however, needed no explanation. I heard the lionesses saying how beautiful everything was, and some of them (not any of the younger ones) saying how it was just like home. I didn’t hear Daddy fall once the entire way. I did hear him talking to Haja.
“What about Pofu?” he asked her.
“What about the little beast?” she said.
“I’ve told you time and again, if you don’t like me, don’t take it out on my son.”
“Well then that’s alright. You know I don’t care for you, or him, or your damned fool of a father. So again, what about the little ingrate?”
Daddy let out a small cough. “Should we tell them about—” he began.
“Absolutely not!” snapped the leader. “Aiheu knows what they’d do to us if they found out. They’d never let us in, never. And you know how much we need this chance. Besides, think of what they’d do to him. They’d kill the little beast probably. You really should think of him more. I mean, it’s only a matter of time before Nyota’s left mateless and the little freak is—”
“Shut up,” growled Daddy. “Not while he’s around. And if you think I have never cared about my son, then you must be as blind as he is.” They didn’t speak after that. I listened to the lionesses’ conversation as we went to wherever Pride Rock was. Finally we arrived, the first remark being “It’s so big.”
“It always does get you the first time,” boomed an unknown voice. “I am Kovu, king of the Pridelands. Welcome. You’re just in time for breakfast.”
“What’s breakfast, Mom?” I asked. Mother gently set me down.
“This means you can have more than one meal now, Pofu,” she said.
“Really?” I asked incredulously.
“That’s right. No more limits.”
“Come on into the den. The hunters should be back soon,” said Kovu. I was picked up again, and carried bouncily to the den. I later learned there were stairs, but that was completely unseen by my eyes. The den was a completely alien place to me. I was immediately assaulted by smells, tons of smells, mountains of smells. There was food, there were scents, there were the sounds of lions that I had never heard. And there were very strange voices, little voices. I didn’t have any idea that something could sound like that. But as soon as we walked in, the voices stopped. After a few moments pause during which Mother put me down and I scrambled to find Daddy again, the voices slowly resumed speaking, but in quiet, hushed tones. Then I heard Kovu’s voice again. “These are the Outlanders that I told you about. I have invited them to stay. If any of you wish to protest, do so later. For now, welcome them.” Then I heard a lion turning. “Please, make yourselves comfortable. The lionesses will be back any time.”
“Thank you, sire,” said Haja. I had found Daddy by now, and was entwining myself around his leg. He was still standing, and I felt the familiar shift of muscles indicating that he was turning his head. I heard an unknown voice say “Kovu” while yet another said “Dad,” followed by footsteps. As soon as the footsteps grew fainter Daddy collapsed again, violently coughing. After a few seconds he silenced the coughing, though his body still continued to shake. It finally stopped literally minutes later, several times becoming audible. I nuzzled his muzzle, feeling his warm breath on me.
“Are you okay?” asked a female voice. I spun around. It was the second voice that had been with the Beast.
“He’s fine!” I said. “There’s nothing wrong with him!”
“Look, little guy, I’m not going to hurt you. Calm down.”
“You couldn’t hurt Daddy even if you wanted to!”
“Quiet, Pofu,” said Daddy. “Really, I’m fine,” he said to the lioness.
“You didn’t look fine. You looked like you were about to—”
“Don’t say it. Don’t.”
Suddenly I heard a shout. “The mighty hunters re—” Abruptly it broke off. Then the same voice said, quietly, “Breakfast is on the rock.” I was suddenly being picked up.
“Hey!” I protested.
“Pofu, go with your mother,” said Daddy. “I’ll be with you soo—” He broke off, coughing again. He finally stopped, and managed to get out, “Just go with her.”
“Alright,” I conceded. It wasn’t like I actually had a choice in the matter, though. Mother would have carried me down there kicking and screaming if she had to.
“Here, I’ll take them down there,” said the lioness.
“No, wait. I want to talk to you.”
“Um . . . okay,” said the lioness hesitantly. Mother carried me out of the den down to what I later knew as the tanning rock. The wonderful aroma of fresh meat met my nose, and Mother almost dropped me I squirmed so much. She finally set me down, but almost immediately put a restricting foreleg around me.
“Wait your turn,” she said. I sat down obediently, my tail twitching in apprehension. After a few moments she said, “Wait here, and don’t move.” She left, leaving me alone to think over all the smells and sounds I was experiencing. I slowly began to sift them into individuals. I knew it would take quite some time to actually distinguish between all of them easily. Then I was overwhelmed by the aroma of fresh meat. “Here you are Pofu. Dig in.” I buried my head into the still-warm muscle of the carcass, blood splattering over my muzzle. This, I thought, was happiness.
Mvushi watched his beloved son be carried away by his mother, and then turned back to the lioness standing in front of him. “What is it you wanted?” she asked.
“I—I wanted to know,” Mvushi said.
Mvushi stared at the ground for a few seconds, then looked back up at the lioness. “Why don’t you hate me?”
“You—” He was suddenly stopped by a fit of coughing. He resumed. “You watched me tear out your brother’s throat. And I was happy about it. So why don’t you hate me?”
The lioness lied down next to Mvushi. “I—I just don’t. I didn’t want you to do that, but there wasn’t any other way. My friend—not brother, friend—wanted to die. He was sorry for what he did to you. He was taken away from here as a cub, and never came back. We all thought he was dead. And then he just showed up one day, and didn’t remember anything about here. He finally did remember, and he remembered what was good. He realized the horrible things he did to you, and thought the only way to pay would be to die. He thought you should be the one to do it. I guess that’s why I don’t hate you. It’s because I know you were just doing what he wanted you to.”
Mvushi was silent for some time, even considering the two fits he went through during the silence. He finally spoke up again. “Why did you come with him?”
The lioness turned away from Mvushi. Mvushi was about to apologize, but suddenly the lioness spoke. “I loved him. I really, truly loved him. I realized that almost as soon as I met him. I had always felt something was missing when he was gone, but I never knew. Then I saw him, and it—it was like it was—something. It was indescribable, but I knew he was what was gone.” She dabbed at her eye, and then turned back to Mvushi, her eyes somewhat red. She sniffed.
“I’m sorry,” said Mvushi. “I really am. I didn’t realize I’d be hurting anyone else. Not that way. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I lost Nyota . . . or how she’s going to feel.” He let out a sigh. He knew she was going to be heartbroken, even more than when she discovered Pofu’s blindness.
“Is there anything I can do?”
“No. I’m sorry—I’m sorry; I never got your name.”
“Tumai, I’ve been fighting this, fighting for every inch. And it’s beating me. But I can’t give up. Not while Nyota’s here, not while I still have Pofu . . . you’ll understand when you have a cub, how much they mean to you. Him and his mother are the only things that keep me going. But I can’t fight it, not well enough. I’m going to die. I’ve seen what will happen with my own cubs. . . . It’s—horrible. . . . No, there’s nothing you can do.”
“I—I didn’t mean about that. I know there’s nothing I can do about that. I’m sorry. I just thought that maybe there’s something that I could do for you . . . once you’re gone.”
Mvushi looked up, stared into her truthful eyes. “You would do that for me?” Tumai nodded. “But why?” Mvushi asked, his voice choked with emotion.
“Because you aren’t the horrible lion I thought you were. You really do love your son and mate, I can see that. So, if there’s anything I could do to make it easier . . . set your mind at rest . . .” Her voice trailed off.
Mvushi looked up at her, then laid his head on the ground. “I want you to watch over Pofu for me. Nyota will be fine. She’s strong, she’s willing. But I’m worried about Pofu.” He sighed. “Just promise me you’ll make sure he’s taken care of. He’s more special than you could imagine.”
Tumai stared at Mvushi, taking in his words. “Of course.”
Mvushi let out the breath he had been holding in. “Thank you.” He was overcome by another fit of coughing. It stopped quickly, much quicker than normal. He slowly got to his feet.
“Where are you going?” asked Tumai.
“Down to my son. I have a promise to keep.”
“Here, I’ll show you the way.” She paused at the entrance to the den. “What’s your name again?”
They walked side by side towards the sounds the pride made as they ate. “Tumai?”
“Could you do one more thing for me?”
“Could you sleep with Pofu?”
“What?” Tumai asked, startled.
“No, not like that. I mean just sleep with him. When I’m gone. He has—needs. Maybe he’ll tell you someday.”
“Alright,” said Tumai, puzzled.
“And if you find out . . . please, don’t tell.”
“It’s a promise.”
I was still shoveling in food when Daddy came down with the lioness. I stopped eating when I heard him cough slightly. I ran to him, yelling, “Daddy!” He laughed as I circled his leg.
“So have you been minding your mother?” I felt him look up.
“He’s been too busy eating to do much minding,” said Mother.
Daddy laughed again. “Pofu, this is Tumai.”
“Hey there, Pofu,” the lioness said.
I tried to make her out. Her voice was easy enough to recognize, but I’d need to be around her longer to really memorize what she was like. But I did my best then and there. I sat down and listened and felt and smelt as hard as I could. “Um . . . Mvushi?” asked Tumai.
“Don’t worry. He’s just looking at you like that to remember you.”
“It’s the only way he can tell us apart. Memorize everything.” I heard father shake his head. (Now, when I say heard, I don’t really man I could hear him moving his head. It’s more the way their breath moves. It grows fainter if they lean back, louder if they move forward, to one side if they move a certain direction, etc. I didn’t realize until later exactly how gifted I was in this way, either. Most lions didn’t have my kind of sense perception. (One time I had actually spent an entire day commenting on a smell that no one seemed to notice at all, until they found a nest of dead rats in the back of the cave.) Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, hearing Daddy.) “I don’t think I could ever memorize that much. He can even tell what you’re doing in some cases, and he’s getting so much better it’s almost scary.”
I thought I had Tumai down by now. She had her own little weird way of breathing, apparently taking a few deep breaths whenever she needed, but when she talked they got much shallower. Most lions had the same pattern almost all the time, with very little variation, and you could usually tell moods by the variation. Anyway, I thought I had her figured out. I spoke up again, bouncing to my feet. “Daddy, you wanna come eat? It’s really good.”
Daddy laughed. “Alright.”
“I’ll see you later, Mvushi.” I listened carefully to Tumai’s pads as they thudded against the ground as she walked away.
“Okay, what’s so great about this meat?” asked Daddy as we walked back to Mother.
“It’s just so good. I mean, it tastes different, but it is so much better. And it’s still warm, and it’s juicy.” Almost as soon as we reached the carcass I had dug my head back into it. Daddy laughed.
“Well, son, it looks like you’ve got a taste for buffalo.”
“It’s a different kind of animal than we’re used to having.”
I swallowed, and took another bite, realizing while I chewed that I didn’t think I could fit down another piece. I managed to swallow anyway, and lied down, satisfied and completely stuffed. Daddy was eating, too. Mother had eaten some, but stopped when Daddy started. “He’s been like a little vulture,” Mother stated.
“Well, it’s better to be the vulture than the carcass,” said Daddy. Mother started in on the carcass again. Between the two of them and my previous effort the carcass was completely eaten. A couple of times food began to spray out of Daddy’s mouth from the coughing. He always took it slower after that, but in a few seconds he would be back at it like there was no tomorrow. He was hungry. We all had been.
Soon after they finished eating the rest of the new lionesses began to leave. I still heard a few unusual breaths, so I knew some of them were still there. Then the leader said, “Sire?” and I heard Kovu say, “Of course.” I heard the breathing go away. After a few seconds the leader finally spoke up again. “We have a pride again. I realize that some of you may not trust them immediately, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give them a chance. What we should be doing is trying to help them in any way. We need this pride, so just try not to do anything rash. Please.” (Little did I know that Kovu was giving almost the same speech in the den at the same time.)
“Your highness—” said one of the lionesses.
“And there will be no more of that, either. Kovu is our king, we need to show him our respect.”
“Of course, Haja. But what I was going to say was that we realize what you’ve said. I think I speak for all of us when I say we welcome the new chance. We don’t have any reason to mistrust them. They took us in of their own accord; I don’t think they’re going to do anything to hurt us. If you don’t trust them, we understand; but that doesn’t mean we don’t trust them either. We welcome them. Whether or not you do is a completely different thing. Just please, keep your doubts to yourself. Just this once.”
Haja was angry. I could tell. “Very well,” she said. “I have one more thing to say. Nothing—and I mean nothing—is to be said about Pofu. Nothing.”
“What do you think we are, fools?” asked another lioness.
Haja didn’t answer for a second. “Just—just see what you can do to help.”
“Of course, Haja.” One by one the lionesses began to go back to the den, me among them, hanging from Mother’s mouth again. She put me down in the den, and I ran over to Daddy. He lied down again, and a few seconds afterward he began to cough. I nuzzled him again, his warm breath and the even warmer lick he gave me reassuring.
“Uh, is he alright?” I spun around. It was one of the little voices I had heard when we came into the den.
“Of course he is!” I protested as I had done to Tumai. I was confused. I heard breathing, but it wasn’t as high up as normal. It was lower, about my height. I tried to make it out. Try as hard as I could, I couldn’t understand it. “Uh, Daddy?”
He laughed. “It’s just a cub, Pofu.”
“Yes. Like you. He isn’t grown up yet.”
haven’t you ever seen a cub before?” asked the cub. His voice seemed to have a
kind of arrogance to it, as if he was the top around here and he knew it all
too well. I turned my gaze fully on him, and heard him gasp. “Oh . . . I’m
sorry,” he said, all arrogance gone. Then he asked me, the arrogance suddenly
“Pofu,” I said. “Daddy, are you sure he’s like me?”
“Of course,” said Daddy. “He’s probably just a month or two older than you, though.”
“A month or
“He just grows fast.”
“You wanna play?” he asked.
“I just want to be here with Daddy,” I said. I didn’t want to leave him for anything.
“Pofu, you need to get to know some of the other cubs around here,” said Daddy.
You can’t just be hanging around me all day. Go on, go with
“Daddy,” I pleaded.
“Don’t worry; I’ll still be here later.”
I conceded. I nuzzled him one last time and turned back to
follow me,” he said. I followed the sound of his little pawsteps as he ran out
the den. He ran down the steps of Pride Rock. I followed him. Now, before we go
any further, I’d like to point out to you that I hate those stairs. I still
hate them. I don’t like them, and they definitely didn’t like me, until I
finally learned them and showed them who’s boss. But in the meantime, I hated
their guts, and they didn’t care much for mine, either. So, I followed
said. “Yeah, I think I’m fine.” Everything was strange. Up was down, and down
was off somewhere doing its own thing. I took a step toward what I thought was
got to my feet and shook my head vigorously. Things were becoming clearer. “I’m
fine now.” I could finally make out the number of cubs in front of me. There
were four total, all of them making up
have to be such a jerk,
to admit, it was pretty funny,” said
The new cub let a chuckle escape her. “Just a little.” I heard her turn back to me. “I’m Bayana,” she said. “And you are . . .?”
said, my voice chiming in with
“Well, I’m Bayana, and this is—”
“Fina,” another voice interrupted.
“Haja,” said the third cub. This confused me beyond belief.
“You’re not Haja,” I said.
“Yes I am,” Haja protested.
“But you’re not. You just can’t be.”
“And why not?”
“’Cause Haja’s bigger, and she’s got a different voice, and a different smell, and she’s . . . she’s a hag.”
“Hey, that’s not very nice!” said Haja.
“But it’s true!” I insisted.
“I am not a hag!”
“Oh!” The exclamation from Fina made me turn my head. “I think I see . . .” Her voice trailed off.
“What’s the name of that lioness that was leading you, Pofu?”
“Haja,” I said. Fina burst out laughing. If what I remember is accurate—and I’d like to think it is—then the sounds I heard were her rolling on the ground in laughter. “Hey, what’s so funny?”
“She—name—same—hee hee hahahaha!” Fina struggled to get words out between the laughs.
“Oh!” This time from Bayana. “They have the same name!”
“No, it works,” Bayana insisted. “Pofu, this is Haja, and the lioness who came with you is another Haja.”
This wasn’t helping my confusion at all. Then it suddenly dawned on me, too. “Oh!” I could see why Fina was laughing. It was funny. But still, it wasn’t that funny. Yet Fina was still laughing and there seemed to be no sign of letting up.
“Well, I don’t think it’s funny at all,” said Haja haughtily.
Fina finally managed to control her giggles somewhat, just enough to point at Haja and say, “Hag!” before bursting into laughter again.
didn’t have much of an idea of movement, but this is what I think happened now.
Haja pounced on Fina, and the two began to roll over and over. Then Bayana
jumped on, and then
I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my entire life.
The day passed uneventfully. Pofu quickly made friends with the four cubs. The Outlanders slowly integrated into the pride, doing whatever they could in assistance and receiving more from the pride than they ever dreamed. They were allowed to wash themselves, something the younger lionesses hadn’t ever dreamed of. In the Outlands water was precious, and they couldn’t afford to spoil it as bathwater. But here, in the Pridelands, they were able to do that. They washed themselves, the younger ones that had been born in the Outlands timidly, the ones that had traveled there fanatically, and helping the younger lionesses understand the meaning of clean.
As soon as Pofu came back with the cubs, he got a lesson in hygiene as well. Despite his protests that this wasn’t right, that it wasn’t natural, that he didn’t need a bath, and that he was perfectly clean thank you very much, he was treated by Nyota to what was quite possibly the most thorough scrub-down a cub has ever had to endure, lasting all of an hour. He finally finished and was taken back up to the den for dinner, insisting that he would take the stairs by himself. His mother picked him up and carried him after the second time he fell down.
Mvushi laughed when he saw Pofu. “Who are you and what have you done with my son?” he asked weakly.
“Daddy,” protested Pofu as he nuzzled his father’s head. Mvushi began to cough again, weaker this time, and much longer than Pofu remembered. “Daddy?”
“I’m fine,” said Mvushi. “I’m not sure if you are, though. What’s this I hear about you and the stairs?” His voice was much weaker.
Nyota laughed. “I’m sorry, honey. He asked what was making that horrible noise.”
Pofu!” It was
to his father. Mvushi nodded. “Yeah, sure,” said Pofu. “Just a sec.” He nuzzled
his father one last time and then ran over to
“You’ve known what was going to happen,” said Mvushi.
“That doesn’t help,” Nyota said. She lied down next to her mate and laid her head in his mane. “I wish it didn’t have to happen.”
“Well, I’m still fighting.” A single cough escaped him. He nuzzled Nyota. “You know I’ll always love you.”
“I know.” Mvushi could feel his mane becoming damp next to her head.
“You’ve still got Pofu.”
“But I want you.” The tears were flowing freely. “Why can’t I have you, too?”
“I’ll be sure to ask the gods that.” Mvushi swallowed hard. He could feel his own eyes tearing up as well. “Why don’t we go somewhere a little more private, huh? Just for Pofu’s sake.” He heard Nyota sniffle as she drew her head back. She nodded her consent. Mvushi got to his feet, almost collapsing again with the effort. He slowly made his way out of the den, his mate at his side. He stopped when he heard a cry of, “Hey Daddy, where’re you guys going?”
“You’re father and I are just going somewhere,” said Nyota. “Don’t worry, we’ll be back soon.” They continued out of the den, and walked along the ledge to the tanning rock. No one was down there now; they were all up in the den with their dinners. As soon as they arrived at the edge, Mvushi collapsed, coughing with no end in sight. After a few minutes it finally stopped. Nyota looked down at her mate, tears wetting the ground by her feet. Why? she thought bitterly.
Mvushi reached up a paw to cradle her face. “It’ll turn out okay. Somehow.” Nyota nodded sadly. She lied down by her mate and nuzzled him, tears accenting his face as well. They stayed there, thinking of the few months that they had had together.
Daddy got back later than I thought they would.
“I’m fine,” he said. “Fine. Just get some rest. It’s time to go to bed.” He laid his head down, and I heard Mother lie down next to him.
“Alright,” I said. I buried my head in his mane, nuzzling close to him for warmth. I sighed a contented sigh. Everything was turning out wonderfully.
I woke up later that night. Suddenly Daddy and his love and everything about him had disappeared. I assumed I had rolled off him. I’d done that a few times. I stood up, realizing I was still in his mane. I lied back down, nuzzling into him, expecting that warm flood of love to wash over me.
There was nothing.
This disturbed me more than anything I’d ever felt. There wasn’t a single thing, not a trace of him being there. I tried to dig into his mind, to feel his dreams. I found nowhere to go. “Daddy?” I asked. I tried to shake my head with my paw, failing to move the seemingly massive thing. I jumped down and began to nudge his head with my body. “Daddy, wake up.” I pressed myself close to him again, feeling nothing but an empty void. Then a horrible realization came to me: I had felt nothingness before. With the cubs.
Suddenly I was hysterical. “Daddy? Daddy!” I did everything I could have done to wake him up, biting his ear, nudging his head, poking his eye gently. Nothing worked. I took a few steps back, unable to believe it. He had been just fine earlier. He had said so. Suddenly a horrible thought came to me and I ran to Mother. “Mommy! Wake up!” I yelled into her ear. She jumped up with a start.
“Pofu!” she quietly reprimanded me. “Lions are trying to sleep.”
“But I’m worried.”
“Don’t worry. He’ll be fine.”
“But there’s something wrong with him. I think . . .” I couldn’t bring myself to say it. Suddenly Mother was scared. Very scared. She got up, knocking me off her leg as she did so. She rushed to Daddy, with me at her heels.
“Mvushi?” she whispered, then louder, “Mvushi?” And still louder, “Mvushi?” She was poking and prodding him, her breath coming to her in sharp gasps. She sat back, breathing heavily. “No—no, not—it’s not happening—no—Mvushi—no.” She began to sob uncontrollably. It was all I needed to have my fears confirmed. I began to cry. Not little cries, but huge, body-wracking sobs, sobs that woke the entire den. Mother wrapped her leg around me, pulling me close. I wept into her stomach.
“What’s going on?” a lioness asked.
“Daddy’s gone,” I cried out.
Soon the entire den was up and around us. I didn’t really notice. I was numb with shock, but it nowhere near lessened the pain. My father, my friend, my confidante, my teacher, the one who loved me so much he risked his life for me time and again was—gone.
I suppose some people would call the funeral beautiful. For me, it was life-changing. It was kind of an odd thing in one respect. All of the Pridelanders left the den when we held it. All except one. Tumai. She absolutely refused to leave the den for the ceremony, despite (big) Haja’s protests. I imagine that they would still be arguing to this day if Mother hadn’t said it was alright. Even Haja didn’t dare cross Mother that day.
I still don’t quite understand why Tumai stayed there. It’s a quality I don’t think I’ll ever quite grasp. She had—she has a fierce devotion to my father. And to me. And to the Beast. And others. She’ll go out of her way for them. I’ve looked through her mind for hours on end, and I still haven’t found anything that explains it. I’m beginning to think that it’s something you can’t learn.
The funeral was quiet. The Pridelanders speak at their funerals. Wonderful elegies and eulogies, and plenty of crying all around. I prefer our way. Not one word is said. I didn’t even need it explained to me. The quiet was just there, a law that seemed unbreakable. It was awesome, not in the wonderful sense of the word, but truly awe-inspiring. I didn’t think about it at the time. All of this came to me in other funerals.
I cried. Silently. All of the lions did to some extent. Even Haja. It was horrible for me. I was left with a void. A horrible, empty void, one that I could never, ever fill again. I was crushed. Tears flowed down my face as they had been doing on and off for hours. I never realized my body could have held that much water. I wanted to go to my father, nuzzle him lovingly again, and to feel his warm soothing thoughts flow over me. But I knew I wouldn’t ever be able to feel his love ever again. He was gone.
But I’m here.
My head jerked up, looking at my father’s body. I could have sworn I had heard his voice. But he hadn’t moved.
I really am here, his voice insisted. I felt warmth grow in my body, flowing over me, calming me.
Yes. I’m here with you. I’ll always be here for you. Just like I promised.
Oh, Daddy. The wonderful happiness and relief I felt was indescribable. I still had my father. He was with me, always with me. Forever.
by, his mother in front of him, her tail in his mouth. His face was still wet from
Pofu was smiling.
“Course I’m fine,” said Pofu. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“But . . . but your dad . . .”
Pofu laughed. “I’m happier than I ever have been.” Then the smile slid off his face. “But I am so hungry.”
Tumai watched Pofu closely. Every time she could she was watching him. Nyota wasn’t in any shape to be watching a cub. She knew that, and she was grateful. She told Tumai that. She never questioned Tumai’s motives; she was just relieved to know her cub was being taken care of.
So Tumai watched him. She looked over every aspect of Pofu’s life. What surprised her most of all was how happy he was. He was just as happy as before his father died, if not happier. She didn’t understand that. She had asked Nyota about that, but Nyota shut up as soon as the topic was breached. Tumai thought that maybe even she didn’t know. It didn’t really make that much difference so long as Pofu was happy, just as Mvushi had asked.
And he was
happy. He had friends now. He was almost always with
he would try to get up them, and every day he would end up falling, at least
once if not multiple times. It would have been easier to just us the ramp, but
Pofu refused to give up. Then one day, one happy day, he did it. All by
himself, with no help from
So Pofu slowly overcame all of his obstacles, slowly but surely, under the watchful gaze of Tumai and the slowly increasing gaze of his mother. For once, everything was going his way.