To fully understand this, you will have to have read my TLK III, Justice, and Endless Night. Kovu, Kiara, Vitani, and Zazu all belong to Disney. Taabu, Nadhari, Fujo, Simo, Jadi, Uzuri, Uchu, Shik, Prinsa, Onalla, Kaj, Gyka, Tumai, Shani, Edaha, Pofu, Maki, and Tama are all my characters, and are not to be used without my explicit permission. All e-mails may be sent to conor0191@aol.com.

            As a warning, this is not child-friendly, due to some violent and explicit themes.

 

The Lion King IV: Fujo’s Downfall

 

Chapter I: It’s Good to Be King

 

            Fujo was relieved. And, as he always was when he was relieved, he was eating. He seemed to be relieved a lot of the time. The carcass currently in front of him was disappearing at an unbelievable rate. Taabu had a carcass in front of her as well, completely untouched. She was instead looking with pride at the two little cubs suckling on her stomach. They were the reason that Fujo was relieved. He’d only remembered being around for a few births, and none of them had put up as much of a racket as Taabu had. He’d paced outside the den restlessly while he heard her screams coming from the inside of the den, with two lionesses standing firmly in front of the den to prevent Fujo from going inside. They shouldn’t have worried. Fujo wasn’t curious, he was anxious. He wasn’t sure he could have looked even if he was given the chance. Kovu had been simply lying down, taking it all easily, and assuring Fujo that Kiara had put up much more of a fuss when Fujo was born. Taabu finally fell silent and Fujo had rushed in to check, finding two newborn cubs in her legs.

            So Fujo was relieved. And eating.

            They still hadn’t decided what to name the cubs yet. Fujo kept mulling over that as the meat disappeared. Nadhari came up to the den with a little Nadhari at his side, finally distracting Fujo from eating. “Good morning, sire,” said Nadhari. “And congratulations.”

            “Yes, I know,” said Kovu. “We’re very proud of the two new ones.”

            “So what are their names?”

            Everyone turned to look at Fujo. “Um,” he said, embarrassed, “we . . . don’t know yet?”

            Nadhari laughed. “In good time.”

            “Hey, who’s that little guy hiding behind your leg?”

            “Hiding?” Nadhari turned to the cheetah cub behind him. “Come on out, son. They won’t bite.” He looked back up at the lions. “This is my son, Simo.” The little cub looked at the lions with something between fear and awe. “Well, say something.”

            “Hi?” the little cub managed to get out.

            Nadhari laughed. “I’m sorry about my son’s talkativeness. This is his first real trip away from home.”

            “Understandable,” said Kovu. He smiled. “How about the report?”

            Nadhari smiled. “Of course.”

            Fujo put his head back down to the carcass and resumed eating, not paying any attention to the boring details. He knew they had to be dealt with. Fortunately, that was what his father was there for. He completely stripped the carcass and started on a second one next to him. Technically it was Taabu’s, but she refused to eat anything while nursing. She could always get a fresher one later, anyway. Suddenly he heard an exasperated, “Sire!” Fujo looked up to see Kovu and Nadhari both looking at him. “What do you think?”

            “Huh?”

            “What do you think?

            “About . . .”

            “Sire, please listen. The crocodiles are complaining that they aren’t getting enough water, and we may have to actually dig the first ditch in Aiheu-knows-how-long, and we don’t have anyone who even remembers how, I’m afraid. The cheetahs over-hunted yesterday, the only reasonable excuse being that they didn’t get nearly enough the day before. The gazelle have started the migration early, so the rest will be following soon. And you still have to get your mother a birthday carcass. And that’s just this morning.”

            Only one thing seemed to penetrate Fujo’s head. “Wait, Dad always got the carcass. And her birthday isn’t for a week.”

            “The king gives the queen the carcass. And as the new king, you’re in very, very poor shape to do any hunting at all, begging your pardon, sire. And although she may not be the queen any longer, you must still give her the same respe—”

            “Whoa, wait a minute. Not the queen?”

            “Yes, sire. Haven’t you been listening to anything?

            “Kinda-sorta.”

            “Sire, you are the king now. And as such, you have all the prestige and respect that comes with the title, but also the responsibility. And as such you must live up to it.” Nadhari sighed a deep sigh and turned to Kovu. “I really don’t remember my first day for you being this difficult.”

            “Wait a minute,” said Fujo, stunned. “King? When did I agree to that?”

            “When I retired,” said Kovu.

            “You can’t retire,” protested Fujo. “You’re the king.”

            “Ah-ah-ah. You’re the king. I’m stepping down to let younger, better paws control the kingdom.”

            “But—”

            “Just remember Fujo,” said Kovu, putting a paw on his son’s shoulder, “you’re the king. And it’s good to be king.”

            “But—”

            “And it really sounds like you’ve got a lot of work to do, so you might as well get started. Don’t want to make a bad impression on your first day.” He stood up with a yawn. “What was that first thing, Nadhari?”

            “The crocodiles.”

            “Right. Just a tip, they will try to take a bite out of you if you don’t do things very carefully around them. Just so you know.”

            “But I have two new cubs!” Fujo protested. “What about them?”

            “Sire, I’m sure the queen can take care of them,” said Nadhari. “And you’re needed. I will be with you shortly, but I need to take Simo back home, first. I’ll met you at the river. Does that please you, sire?”

            “No, it does not please me! I just had this whole load dumped on—”

            “Thank you, sire.” Nadhari turned and walked off of Pride Rock, followed by his son and Kovu.

            “Hey! Come back here! I wasn’t finished with you yet!” The trio ignored Fujo’s yells. Fujo angrily went back into the den.

            “How do you think he’ll measure up, Nadhari?” Kovu asked.

            “I don’t know. It’ll be different, si—sorry, it’s a difficult habit to break.”

            “Understandable.”

            Nadhari looked down at his son. “What did you think, Simo?”

            “He can eat!

            Nadhari and Kovu laughed.

 

 

 

            Fujo’s first few months as king had passed by without serious incident. He honestly didn’t know what would have happened if he hadn’t had Nadhari. He was barely able to carry his share by himself. But he had felt he’d done well. Thus the reason for a vacation. He walked tiredly up to the den with Nadhari. A gargantuan, blind lion was on the floor of the den, seeming to take up the space of two normal lions. Several cubs were around him, enraptured by his story. “And so,” said Pofu in a deep, dark voice, “the little cubs slept in the den, while the leopard ran his claws over the rock, over and over, sharpening them into fine, pointed tips. Tonight would be an eventful night indeed . . .” Pofu slowly raised his massive, muscle-bound form from the floor.

            “Wait!” protested a cub. “What about the rest?”

            Pofu turned back to the cub with a smile. “Don’t worry,” he said. “The story isn’t over.” He walked out of the den and down the stairs of Pride Rock to where he usually slept, passing the king with a nod and a quick, “Fujo.”

            Two cubs suddenly noticed their father at the mouth of the den and ran to him. “Daddy!” the green-eyed girl yelled.

            “Yeah, come here, you little fur-ball,” Fujo said, stooping down so the cubs could be with him. Nadhari walked past him into the den with a smile. The cubs nuzzled their father happily.

            “Hey, Dad, we found this great pile of mud today!” said the dark-furred, red-eyed boy. “Mom was so mad!”

            Fujo laughed. “Alright, Jadi.” Taabu suddenly appeared in the mouth of the den. “I mean, that was very, very wrong. Don’t ever upset your mother like that again.” His smile told a totally different story.

            “Well I got to go with Mom to learn to hunt,” said the girl.

            “Is that right, Uzuri?” Fujo asked. He looked up at Taabu. “And did your mother teach you anything?”

            “Of course not!” said Jadi. “She still can’t catch a rock, even if it was right in front of her!”

            “Hey!” protested Uzuri. “I’ll show you hunting!” She pounced on her brother and the two began to roll around on the ground, neither one coming out on top. Taabu walked over to Fujo and lied down beside him, giving him a quick nuzzle. The two of them watched the furry projectile racing across the ground.

            “Did they ever do that in your stomach?” asked Fujo.

            Taabu chuckled. “I hope not.”

            They watched the two cubs enthusiastically rolling around for a few more moments before Fujo finally said, “Alright, you two. That’s enough. Now come here and listen.” The cubs obediently went to their parents and sat down. “Now, you know your mother and I are leaving for a few days to visit her sisters. Now I want you to be very good and listen to everything that Uncle Pofu tells you to do.”

            “Can’t we come?” asked Jadi.

            “No.”

            “Why not?” protested Uzuri.

            “It’s a very, very long way away,” said Taabu. “I don’t know if you can make it.”

            “Of course I can!” said Jadi, stepping forward. “I can do anything!”

            Fujo laughed. “Great. Now you’ve got him riled up.” He sighed. “Just do as we say just this once, okay, son?”

            “But why do we have to be with Uncle Pofu?” asked Uzuri. “He never does anything but lie around.”

            Fujo and Taabu looked at each other before Fujo answered carefully, “Pofu has . . . differences. Hey,” Fujo said with a smile, “why don’t you try to find out what they are when we’re gone?”

            “That’s your idea of fun?” pouted Uzuri.

            Fujo’s smile grew wider. “Oh, come on. Hey, I’ll give you a hint,” he said, lowering his voice and head conspiratorially. “He can see into your mind.”

            “How?” asked Jadi, puzzled. “He’s blind. He can’t see anything. Right?”

            Fujo smiled and raised his head. “That’s for me to know and you to find out.”

            Taabu asked, “You’re staying for dinner, right?”

            “Of course I am,” said Fujo, honestly shocked. “How often have you known me to ever miss a meal?”

            “Well, it’s not like you couldn’t do with missing a few. You need to get in shape.”

            “Hey, I’m in shape! Round is a shape!”

            Taabu ran a paw over Fujo’s slightly overweight form while Jadi and Uzuri made faces. “Pleasantly plump.”

            “Now that’s better. Leaving tomorrow morning?”

            “Of course. And Pofu knows what to do.”

            “You’re sure about that?”

            “Fujo, you know he never forgets anything.”

            “Just making sure. Nothing’s too good for my little cubs.”

            “Hey, are you gonna be here tonight?” asked Jadi eagerly, he and his sister’s faces lighting up eagerly.

            Fujo frowned, their faces making his heart melt. “No, Jadi, I can’t be here tonight.”

            “Aw.” The two cubs’ ears drooped as they hung their heads.

            “Hey, but at least I’m around for dinner, right?”

            “Yeah!” said Uzuri. She and Jadi ran eagerly towards the den, stopping to make sure their parents were following. Nadhari walked out of the den as Fujo was walking in.

            “Sire,” he said, “I need to talk to you.”

            “Okay,” said Fujo, still walking into the den.

            Now.”

            Fujo sighed and turned around. “Okay.” He followed Nadhari and sat down once they were out of reasonable earshot of the den. “Is it about the vacation?”

            “No, of course not, sire. You’ve earned it. And the queen does need an escort.”

            “Well, what then?”

            “It’s about your cubs.”

            Fujo sighed. “What did they do?”

            “It’s what you haven’t done.”

            “Huh?”

            “Sire, you have been doing an excellent job as king,” said Nadhari, standing up and pacing. “You’ve exceeded both my and your father’s expectations wonderfully. Except for one thing. You’re spending next to no time with Jadi and Uzuri.”

            “I’ve got the kingdom to think about, Nadhari. I’m doing my best.”

            “Yes, I know. But your father always did have time to be with you, even if he chose not to be. You have no idea how much he regrets not being with you when you were a cub. You’re going to be in the same position as him. You have to learn to delegate, sire.”

            “Aren’t you taking the position of advisor a little far?”

            “Not at all, sire. I’m simply trying to ensure the future of your kingdom; namely, your cubs.”

            “Look, I’m doing fine with them. They’re happy, you saw them. Sure, I may not be around all the time, but neither was Dad. Heck, he was around even less than I am, and I turned out fine, didn’t I? No, don’t answer that.”

            “Sire, I just think you need to be spending more time with your cubs. I know you want to. I’ve seen you around the kingdom, your mind is wandering half the time. While your father says that’s to be expected of you, I think differently. You just need to spend more time with them.”

            “And how am I supposed to do that?”

            “You have a few free days, think about it. In the meantime, though, you can start with tonight.”

            Fujo sighed. “Alright, how?”

            “Start delegating. You stay here. I’ll deal with the leopards tonight, sire.”

            “Nadhari—” began Fujo gratefully.

            “Just give it some thought, sire. Please. The kingdom doesn’t need a king whose mind is constantly where his body should be.” He turned and left. “And don’t worry, I’ll take care of the kingdom while you’re gone,” he called back.

            Fujo sighed with relief as he turned and went back inside to the happy faces of his two cubs.

 

 

 

            It had been three long, boring days for the two cubs. It hadn’t exactly been pleasant for Pofu, either. The cubs, like any other cubs, wrestled when they got bored. Pofu had counted on that. What he hadn’t counted on was having to act as a jungle gym for the two cubs. A lesser lion probably would have found it humiliating. Pofu simply took it in stride. He hadn’t minded the long days of lying in the den, but the cubs certainly had. He’d caved in yesterday and had taken them on a nice, long walk around the kingdom. But today he said no. Not yet.

            The cubs, on the other hand, had no problem ricocheting around the den. And despite the other lions’ assurances that Pofu was completely, absolutely blind, he always knew what they were doing. They had been explicitly told by their father to be careful around Pofu, and for good reason. “Pofu has been through more than you know. You don’t know what he might do if you say the wrong thing to him. I really doubt he’d blow up and attack you, but you still need to be careful.”

            The past few days had confirmed the cubs’ opinion that Pofu was harmless. Despite their best efforts to get a rise out of him, he remained calm the entire time. The most emotion approaching annoyance had probably been when they had tied his tail in a knot while he was asleep. The only thing that he had done was sighed and muttered, “There’s just no peace around here. You wake up from a nice nap, and someone’s teased your tail.” The cubs barely heard the words; they were much more interested in watching the tail untie itself.

            After that they took a great interest in seeing everything that Pofu could do. It was a tie in deciding which was more amazing: listening to his heart slowly stop, or watching him fit Jadi inside his mouth. (The last one was an accident, but Jadi would never admit it.) Jadi finally recalled what his father had told them about Pofu being able to look into minds. So, bored as they were, the two cubs seized upon the topic.

            “Hey, Uncle Pofu?” said Jadi, walking up to the massive head.

            Pofu yawned, his cavern of a mouth gaping wide before the cub. Jadi curiously stuck his head inside, looking as far back into Pofu’s throat as he could a second time. Pofu’s mouth suddenly closed, Jadi’s head still inside. Uzuri burst out laughing as Pofu spit out Jadi’s head. “What?” Pofu asked.

            Jadi shook his head dry. “Dad said you can see my mind.”

            “And? Do you believe him?”

            “Well . . . not really.”

            “Do you think your father would really lie to you?”

            “No.”

            “Well then.” Pofu laid his head back down.

            “What kind of answer is that?”

            “An answer.”

            Jadi looked back at his sister, who nodded vigorously for him to continue. “Well, can you see into my mind?”

            Pofu smiled.

            “Well? Yes or no?”

            “Yes.”

            “I knew it! Can you show us? Huh? Please?

            Pofu sighed. “Fine.” His paw suddenly whipped out, pulling Jadi close to him. “Stop squirming, it won’t do any good. Now, think of something.”

            “What?”

            “Anything.”

            Jadi screwed up his mind. “Um . . . got it.”

            Pofu’s eyes flashed red for a second, a mirror replica of Jadi’s. “They should be back today.”

            Jadi took a step back. “Who?”

            “Your parents. Either today or tomorrow.”

            Jadi cast a look at his sister. “Uh . . . lucky guess. Okay, I’m thinking of a number between ten and twenty.”

            Pofu’s paw rested on the side of Jadi’s face for a second, his eyes flashing red again. Pofu smiled. “Your parents need to teach you to count again. Fifty-two isn’t between ten and twenty.”

            Jadi was stunned.

            “My turn, my turn!” yelled Uzuri. She ran forward, trying to put her head under Pofu’s muscular leg to get it on top of her, failing to lift it at all until Pofu decided to help. He placed his paw gently on her head as his eyes turned a mirror image of Uzuri’s green eyes, then began to swirl. Both the cubs gasped as they saw Pofu’s eyes. Pofu laughed.

            “That’s not a very nice thing to think about your brother.”

            “But he is!” protested Uzuri.

            “Now, that’s better.” He removed his paw. “There you go. I can see into your minds. Happy?”

            “Yeah!” said Uzuri. “Do it—”

            “Wait a second,” interrupted Jadi, stepping in front of his sister. “Can we look inside yours?”

            Pofu blinked his colorless eyes. “I don’t think so.”

            “Come on. Please?”

            “I really don’t think I can do it. Even if I could, I wouldn’t allow it.”

            “Why not?”

            “It’s far too dangerous for a cub like you. Probably for anyone.”

            “Oh, come on. I’m tough,” Jadi protested. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

            Pofu thought about it. “You’d come away an empty shell, your mind completely shattered into a million pieces that no one could ever put back together.”

            Jadi hesitated. “That doesn’t sound fun.”

            “I don’t imagine it would be.”

            “Still,” said Uzuri, “that isn’t likely, is it? I mean, it could be better.”

            “The best thing I can imagine happening is being scarred for life with images no sane animal would want to see.”

            Jadi had recovered his bravado. “Yeah, right. Come on, I’m stronger than that. Let me see.”

            “No.”

            “Aw, come on.” Jadi scowled, then suddenly his face lit up with an idea. “Alright, I, the prince, order you to let me in.”

            “Your parents said not to let you and your sister come to harm.”

            “They said they hoped you’d watch me. That’s not much of an order.” Pofu growled. Jadi hesitated a moment, remembering his father’s warning. Then he remembered that Pofu was harmless, completely and utterly so. “I order you to let me look at your head.”

            Jadi was blown back slightly as air rushed from Pofu’s nose in a sigh. “Alright, your highness, I hope you know what you’re doing. Lie down.” Jadi did so obediently.

            “Jadi,” said Uzuri, “I don’t think this is such a good idea.”

            “It isn’t,” said Pofu. “And I’m not sure it even can be done, so don’t worry. Besides, I have my sanity to worry about, too.” He placed his massive paws on top of Jadi’s, smothering them completely. “Relax. You might as well put your head down, too.” Jadi did so. Pofu laid his head down as well, just staring off into space.

            Minutes passed without anything happening. “Come on, do it already,” complained Jadi.

            “Little cub, would you kindly shut up?” asked Pofu irritably. “I’m trying.”

            “Fine.”

            Uzuri watched as suddenly Pofu’s eyes grew wider and his head sunk to the ground. Jadi’s head fell as well, neatly between his paws, both of their eyes closed. Uzuri poked Jadi nervously. “Jadi?” she asked. There was no response.

 

 

 

            “See?” said Taabu. “I told you Taraja could behave himself.”

            “It’s a first,” admitted Fujo grudgingly. “Although you might expect some maturity from a full-grown lion.”

            “Fujo!” Taabu reprimanded. “That’s not nice at all.”

            “Well, he wasn’t nice to m—”

            “Fujo!” Tumai was running towards the two frantically. “You need to get up to the den now! It’s Jadi!”

            Fujo and Taabu didn’t need further persuading. They ran past Tumai up to Pride Rock and into the den. They found Pofu on the den floor, his paws over Jadi’s, neither of them moving. “What’s going on?” Fujo asked the crowd of lionesses.

            “I—we don’t know,” said a lioness named Majadi. “We just came up from the rock yesterday and found them like this. They won’t wake up.”

            “Wasn’t anyone in the den?” asked Taabu. “At all?

            “Well,” said Majadi nervously, “there is Uzuri, sire.”

            “Where is she?” Fujo demanded. “Uzuri, come here!” Uzuri slowly shuffled before Fujo, her head low. “What’s wrong with your brother?”

            “Fujo,” said Taabu, “not so harshly. Can’t you see she’s been worried, too?” Uzuri looked up at Fujo, her lips trembling and her eyes red from crying. Taabu held out her paw to her. “Come here. It’s okay. Mommy’s here.” Uzuri walked over to Taabu. “There. Now, just tell us what happened.”

            “Me—me and Jadi were playing with Uncle Pofu like you told us to. He showed us how he could see our thoughts, and Jadi wanted to see his. And—and—I don’t know!” Uzuri began to spout tears. “And I’m so wo-worried that he’s never coming back!”

            “Don’t worry. Everything will be alright,” said Taabu soothingly, rubbing her daughter’s back. “Everything will be just—”

            Jadi suddenly flew away from Pofu, propelled by his own muscles pushing on the floor. Pofu’s head jerked up with a snarl. “And stay out!” he growled. “The next time I say no, listen to me!” He suddenly seemed to notice the lionesses staring at him. “How long was I gone?”

            “Um . . . about a day,” said a lioness nervously.

            Pofu turned back to Jadi’s shaking body angrily. “An entire day!” he roared. “That does not make me happy!”

            “Pofu—” began Fujo.

            “And you need to learn to give better orders!” snarled Pofu. He stalked angrily out of the den, lionesses eagerly getting out of his way.

            Uzuri ran over to her brother. “Jadi!” she cried happily. She stopped at his body. “Jadi?”

            Jadi was on the ground, shaking uncontrollably. Uzuri leaned close to listen to his whispered words. “And cold . . . and cold, and dark, and no stars and cold and hurt oh hurt oh hurt . . .”

 

 

 

            It took some time for Jadi to recover. But, a week later he was back on his feet as if it had never happened. His parents were still worried, though. They remembered all too well how he stayed awake that entire first night, his eyes wide open, refusing to close them for anything. But slowly he returned to normal.

            Pofu was overwrought with the grief he had caused them, and even more embarrassed about how he had snapped at Jadi for no reason. He wanted desperately to make it up. He was more than willing to give cubsitting another chance. But Fujo firmly put his paw down and said no, one of the few times he actually bothered to be firm. Instead, he took Nadhari’s advice and delegated—to Pofu. This, he explained to Nadhari, would at least make Pofu believe he was doing something (which he was), and besides, Nadhari couldn’t cover for Fujo all the time, he had Simo to worry about.

            But despite the “delegations,” Fujo seemed to have just as much work as before. He still rarely saw his cubs. The shift of his workload didn’t mean he didn’t manage to see his cubs more, it only meant that he got to see them slightly more often.

            The cubs, however, experienced new-found freedom once Jadi had convinced that he was perfectly fine, thank you very much. They began to explore the kingdom, accompanied by a lioness who watched over them, usually being rather lax in their duties. They couldn’t help it. Jadi and Uzuri were cubs, cubs played wildly, and no sane lioness could be expected to keep up with them. So the usual orders the cubsitter gave to the two cubs were no more than “Stay where I can call you back.” You can imagine the bounds to where the two cubs took their freedom, far beyond where it should have gone. Usually the lioness’s frantic search for the cubs was a game of hide-and-seek for them.

            The cubs got to know the Pridelands pretty well. Fujo didn’t bother to limit the cubs’ exploration to any specific boundaries, and Taabu just couldn’t be expected to know. So the two cubs managed to see everything. Including plenty of things they shouldn’t have.

 

 

 

            “Jadi! Uzuri! Get back here!”

            The sitter this day was Shani. The cubs’ antics irritated her, and they knew this. So Uzuri and Jadi went out of their way to make her job as difficult as possible. Shani stalked around the savannah, her heart racing at the thought of what Fujo might do to her for losing the cubs. They could be eaten, they could be lost, they could have drowned, they could have had any one of a million horrible things happen to them. Oh, Fujo is going to kill me. It was unlikely that he would, but fear seemed to put the most irrational thoughts in any animal’s mind.

            The cubs lied low in the grass, watching Shani stalk in completely the wrong direction. Their bodies heaved with silent laughter, almost to the point that they burst. “Alright,” Jadi finally managed to get out, “what do we do now?”

            Uzuri pretended to think it over. “Well,” she giggled, “we can either let her look for one more hour or two.”

            “Uzuri!”

            “Well, over two’s pushing it. “

            “Come on!” protested Jadi. “We’ll be fine.” He scampered away from Shani’s direction, only stopping to say, “Come on!” again to his sister. Uzuri followed him happily. They didn’t like Shani. She was always so serious, all about rules, rules, rules. Especially for hunting. No one wanted to be with her for hunting training. She demanded perfection; any less would infuriate her to no end. She didn’t take kindly to criticism, either. Uzuri had whispered to her friend during one lecture, “Geez, her mother must have been miserable dealing with her.” Shani had shown the most rage she would have allowed during hunting training. She actually stopped to glare at Uzuri before continuing. She had never forgiven Uzuri for that comment for some reason.

            Uzuri didn’t feel any misgivings as she bounded happily after Jadi. In her view, all Shani was was a miserable old lioness who wanted to spoil everyone’s day. She laughed as she tackled Jadi down the hillside, both of them planning on exploring even more. The two of them tumbled over and over, Uzuri hitting a bump on the way down and Jadi shooting away from her with a yell. He finally hit the ground with a groan. “Ow . . .”

            Uzuri ran down the hillside after him. “Gotcha.”

            “You did not. I meant to do that.” Jadi slowly stood up, his fur covered with dust from the dirt he’d landed in. He shook himself, getting most of the dust off. Then, with a smile, he whacked a piled of dirt into his sister’s face.

            “Hey!” Uzuri frantically wiped dirt out her eyes, the first thing she saw when her sight returned being her brother bouncing merrily across the savannah. She raced after him, Jadi unaware that she was doing so. He was taking his sweet time as he ran away. He suddenly stopped dead. Uzuri chose that moment to tackle him. “Take that!

            “Hey, get off me!” Jadi pushed his sister off of him. He sat up and looked back at what he was staring at.  “What’s that?” he asked.

            “What’s wha—oh!” Uzuri saw what Jadi was staring at. A stone spire jutted out of the savannah, nothing but grass around it. It was even missing the occasional acacia. “What is that?”

            “I asked you first!”

            “So?”

            “Well that means—oh, forget it, let’s just go check it out.”

            “Yeah!” The two cubs ran toward the spire, slowing as they approached it. It wasn’t exceptionally large, just barely big enough to be a landmark. The cubs began to walk slowly around it, examining it from all possible sides. There was nothing special about it, it was just a rock in the middle of the savannah. Jadi put his paws up against it and pushed. “What are you doing?”

            “Oh, come on, there’s got to be more to this than just a rock. Come on, help me push this over.”

            “Jadi, I think you got some bad meat today. That thing is a zillion times your size!”

            “Oh, right, like I’m gonna let that stop me,” Jadi groaned as he heaved. His back paws slipped in the grass from his effort. But as expected, the spire refused to move.

            “Jadi, I know you have a stubborn streak, and that’s great, Dad says so. But will you give up, just this once? You’re not going to budge it.” Jadi continued pushing. “Jadi, come on. It’s just a rock. We’ve seen others like it. There doesn’t have to be some great mystery behind everything.” Jadi slid down to the ground, panting. “Good. Now come on.”

            “Fine,” Jadi grumbled, following his sister. He cast one last look back at the spire as he followed her. “Hey, wait.”

            “Jadi!”

            “But that cave wasn’t there before!”

            “Jadi, there is no—there is a cave.”

            Jadi ran towards it. “I don’t get it. We walked around it at least three times. Where was this?”

            “I—I don’t know,” said Uzuri uncertainly. Then, with sudden decisiveness, “Let’s check it out!”

            She and Jadi walked into the cave. It was dark, barely any light coming in. There was a hole at the top where the sky was clearly visible, but there seemed to be no light coming in from it at all. The cave went for the whole length of the spire, almost as big on the inside as it was outside. In the middle of it was a pool of water that lied cleanly in the center of the cave. It was completely black in the light, and absolutely still, Jadi and Uzuri’s voices not making even the slightest ripple. “See!” said Jadi. “I told you there was something here!”

            “Alright, so you were right once.” Uzuri and Jadi began to walk around the cave, staying clear of the water. “Jadi, I don’t like it here.”

            “Scared?” jeered Jadi.

            “No, I just don’t think I like it here.”

            “You’re scared,” said Jadi.

            “Well, you are, too! Aren’t you?”

            Jadi! Uzuri! Get out here right now!

            “Okay, now I’m scared,” said Jadi.

            Shani stalked angrily into the cave. “Do you have any idea how long I’ve been looking for you?” she hissed. “I’ve had to hunt all over the entire Pridelands!”

            “Aw, but you like hunting, don’t you, Shani?” teased Uzuri.

            Shani’s claws came out, and she looked as though she very much wanted to hit Uzuri. “No. I hate it. I hate every bit of it. Especially when it’s for stinking cubs like you!” She turned angrily and stalked out of the cave. “We are coming home, and there will be no complaints.”

            “But Shani,” protested Jadi, “look at this place.”

            “Wow. A cave with some water in it. How earth-shattering.”

            “But—”

            “I said no whining, and I meant it. Now walk.”

            Jadi and Uzuri obediently walked out of the cave, Shani following them. Jadi took one last look at the cave, and headed home.

 

 

 

            Jadi and Uzuri cringed on the floor of the den, watching their father pace angrily in front of them. His teeth were bared, his claws unsheathed. In short, he was mad. The cubs had never seen their father this angry. He didn’t yell, he roared. Jadi and Uzuri were scared.

            “You completely humiliated her! You had no cause to at all! Can’t I raise two decent cubs? What are you two, some kind of wild animal?!” Fujo shot his two cowering cubs a look to see if they had any smart comments. None came. He barely registered the terrified looks on their faces. “You disobeyed me. I told you to respect the lioness taking care of you. I told you to watch their feelings. But no. You humiliate Shani in the worst way possible for her, and on top of that, you bring up hunting. You know she’s sensitive, you know she can’t help it. Why—will—you—not—OBEY?!” Fujo turned angrily to the shaking cubs.

            “But Daddy—” Uzuri began.

            “SILENCE!” Uzuri dropped her head, crying. Fujo continued, ignorant of his daughter’s tears. “Where did I go wrong? I try to raise good, behaved cubs, and I end up with monsters like you!”

            “Dad, we were just having fun,” said Jadi.

            “I SAID SILENCE!” The den shook with the outburst.

            “Fujo,” said Kovu quietly, “do you think you need to restrain your—”

            “I do not need advice on how to raise my own cubs, Dad. I remember just fine what a wonderful job you did with me.” Kovu looked as though he had been smacked.

            “Alright, Fujo, that’s enough,” interjected Taabu, walking into the den. “Outside, now.”

            “I’m not finished with these two,” said Fujo, rounding on Taabu.

            “Yes, you are. Outside, now.” Fujo walked out through the back of the den with a snarl. Taabu looked down at the two cubs, giving them both a quick lick. “Don’t worry. Daddy’s probably got a lot on his mind now. Just—just leave him to me. And go apologize to Shani, okay? For Mommy?” She raised Uzuri’s tear-streaked face with a paw.

            Uzuri sniffled. “Yes, Mommy.” She nuzzled against Taabu’s leg, Jadi doing the same on the other one. Taabu smiled, looking down at them.

            “Okay. Now go ahead and talk to Shani. She’s down on the rock.”

            “Okay.” Taabu watched the two cubs exit through the front of the den before exiting through the back, her face miles away from the compassion she had had. “Fujo,” she muttered.

            Fujo looked up as Taabu approached him. “What?” he asked rudely. Taabu hit Fujo across the face. “Augh! What was that for?!”

            “You seem to need it. What do you think you were doing?” Taabu asked. “Didn’t you even notice your cubs?”

            “Of course I did. They were the ones I was lecturing.”

            Lecturing? Fujo, you were yelling at the top of your voice; that’s not lecturing. Uzuri was crying, for Aiheu’s sake, and Jadi was about to start! That wasn’t lecturing, that was bullying!”

            “Oh, yes, of course. We all know who knows best.”

            Taabu stared at him in disbelief. “Fujo, what is your problem? You’re never like this!”

            “Look, I’m just having a bad day, okay?”

            “So you take it out on our cubs? That’s not what the Fujo I know would do.”

            “Well maybe I’m not the Fujo you know.”

            “Damn it, you used to be kind, and loving, and funny. What happened to that Fujo? The Fujo that I married, I liked him so much. I love you, Fujo, and I want to help. But you’re not helping with the way you just treated the cubs. You’re barely home, we almost never see you. We used to never be able to get you to leave. What’s wrong with you?”

            “Nothing,” he growled. He turned away.

            Taabu walked over to him and turned his face towards hers with her paw, the sadness in her eyes obvious. “Please. Tell me.”

            “No.”

            “Look, you said you had a bad day. Tell me.”

            “You don’t need to know anything about the kingdom.”

            “Excuse me? I’m the queen.” She pushed her paw against Fujo’s face, forcing him to topple over. “Fujo, you never come home, you never see the cubs, you’re never happy, and you’re going to tell me why.”

            “No, I won’t,” Fujo replied stubbornly.

            “Ohhh,” groaned Taabu, stomping back into the den. Fujo was almost sorry to see her go. He hung his head. He should have talked it over with her. That was what a mate was for. He suddenly heard Taabu’s raised voice in the den. “I don’t give a damn what you think he thinks, you’re going out there now! . . . Out! Out! Out!” Fujo’s mind was blown as he saw his father walk out, looking thoroughly docile, head hung low. Kovu sat down a small distance away from Fujo. Taabu prodded him, and Kovu moved a bit closer to Fujo unhappily. “Now you—” Taabu said, looking at Fujo—”are going to tell him all those wonderful things about the kingdom and your job and whatever the hell else you feel you can’t tell me. Period,” she added as Fujo opened his mouth to protest.

            Fujo glared at Kovu. Kovu glared back. Fujo turned his back to his father. Fujo was actually bigger than his father. Despite growing up a little more, Kovu had never been quite as big as Simba. It was obvious where Fujo got some of his genes. “Sneak,” he muttered.

            “Pushover,” retorted Kovu.

            “Hey, at least I tried to serve the kingdom instead of staying on some damned rock the whole day!”

            “You don’t serve the kingdom! It serves you! You are the king; that is to be respected!”

            “They do respect me!”

            “Shut up!” yelled Taabu. Both lions turned to look at her, cringing. They may have been kings, but it was obvious who was in charge here. “Now what is going on?!”

            “Well,” said Fujo bitterly, “it turns out I’m not running the kingdom. I never have been.”

            “Huh?”

            He’s been slinking around my back! He’s only taken one day off in my entire rule!”

            “You needed all the help you could get,” Kovu said viciously. “Maybe if I had Tara—” He stopped abruptly, shocked by what he was saying.

            “Yeah, yeah go ahead and say it. Come right out and say it. You wanted him, not me. You wish you had him, not me. In fact, if Ghera had taken him, you know what? I bet you’d be glad. Just oh so happy.”

            “I didn’t mean to say that.”

            “Yeah. I bet you didn’t.” Fujo’s voice suddenly rose to a yell. “Just like I’m sure it was an accident that you’ve been babysitting me this whole time!”

            “So you’re saying you could have handled the kingdom fine by yourself?”

            “I would have coped!”

            “Like you’re coping now?! I barely see you home as it is! Whenever I come home, do you know the first thing that comes out of those two cubs’ mouths? ‘Where’s Daddy?’ And I have to break my heart telling them that Daddy won’t be home any time soon!”

            “So you think I just don’t care about my cubs? You think they’re just something I keep for amusement when I feel like it? I love my cubs! I bother to tell them that! I kiss them, and play with them, and love them every chance that I get, which is a lot more than you ever did for me! Why don’t you look at yourself before criticizing me!”

            “At least I was available.”

            “Oh yeah, so damned available all the time!  You never came off that ledge! I had to go to you, and almost immediately left because you would barely respond! I can’t even remember the last time you actually said ‘I love you, Fujo’! And you think that makes you a king?!”

            “I was scared!” Fujo jerked his head back, surprised by the outburst. “I was scared, alright? There it is, right out there. I was too much of a coward to spend time with my son. I had no grip on myself. And I was scared.”

            Fujo’s face was unforgiving. “Yeah, I bet you were. How many hours of sitting on that rock did it take you to think up that lie?”

            “It’s the truth,” Kovu said quietly.

            “Well, let’s just assume for a moment that it is the truth, and that you’re not a filthy, slinking, stinking, nasty liar. What right do you have to be telling me how to rule?”

            “I just wanted better for you. I just wanted to help.”

            “Help? I was feeling good about myself! I felt I was actually being decent as a king, and then you show up, and I find out I haven’t done anything at all!”

            “Fujo, I tried to tell you, I haven’t done that much. Just little things. You wouldn’t give some of the burden to someone else, I took it upon myself. I just wanted to see you have a better life with your cubs than I had.”

            “You are a liar. You are a liar, and I hate you for it. There it is, I hate you. Granddad was right to exile you.” Fujo glared at Kovu, whose head was hung low. “Maybe I should do the same.”

            There was a pause as Kovu looked up sadly at his son. “Well, this has certainly been an enlightening conversation,” interrupted Taabu. Both lions jumped, having forgotten she was there. “And now that we’ve gotten all of this stuff off our chests, why don’t we just go back inside the den and—”

            “No,” said Fujo. “Not until he apologizes.”

            “For what?”

            “For ruining my life! For not even trusting his own son!” Fujo turned to Taabu angrily. “You have no idea how much it hurt. Training, day and night, almost no sleep, for weeks on end! He nearly killed me! And then, because Mom made him stop, he goes ahead and stops loving me, completely!” He turned back to Kovu. “And you know what? I HATE YOU!

            Kovu hung his head, ashamed, too proud to shed tears in front of his son. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

            “Sorry? Sorry? Is that it?” Fujo demanded. Taabu suddenly whacked Fujo across the face. “Augh! What was that for?”

            “For being such a jerk!” she said. “He’s tried to apologize, and you didn’t let him, and I can’t even measure how sorry he is! What is your deal? I would have thought you’d welcome help! I would have told him to stop a long time ago if I’d known you’d be like this!”

            “You knew?!

            “Of course I knew! Everyone knew!”

            “Taabu,” said Kovu quietly.

            “And you, I’ll have Kiara deal with you later. ‘They respect you.’” Taabu shook her head. “But you,” she said, turning back to Fujo, “what is your problem? He loves you, and you should know that! He wants to help!”

            “I bet he does,” said Fujo acidly.

            Taabu hit him again. “You need help, Fujo! What happened to the Fujo that I knew? The Fujo that I married? I left my home behind for you, all the sisters I knew my entire life. I did it for you, Fujo. You just aren’t the same,” she ended, her voice choked with tears.

            “You know what? I’m not. I can’t be. You have no idea what stress I’m under. I have an entire kingdom on my back.”

            “Share the load,” said Taabu. “Please. I just want Fujo back. Kovu is right, the cubs miss you. I miss you. What kind of king throws aside his own family?”

            “I don’t know. Ask him.”

            Taabu raised her paw to strike Fujo again, but lowered it, crying. “Fujo, I can’t go on like this. The pride can’t go on like this. You’re turning into everything you hate about your father. I just want Fujo back.” Taabu nuzzled him, then looked up at him, her eyes sad. “Please.” She turned to go back to the den. “Come on, Kovu. Let’s leave the king to his thoughts.”

            Kovu followed, his head hung low, tears finally beginning to show. “He’s right, you know. He has every right to hate me.”

            Taabu looked at Kovu. “You’ve made up for it. I know you have.” Kovu went into the den. Taabu looked back at Fujo one last time before entering herself. Uzuri and Jadi were there, sitting on the floor listening to Tumai.

            “No, seriously,” she was saying, “if you went over there you’d probably still find it up. We made it when we were cubs. Just one big slide all the way through the Graveyard.” She laughed. “I’ll never forget what your father said when he was on it.”

            “What? What?” asked Uzuri.

            “We made him go first. We just pushed him down, and he started screaming his head off. ‘I’m gonna die! I’m gonna die! I’m gonna throw up, and I’m gonna die!’” Jadi and Uzuri rolled on the floor, laughing. Tumai joined in, her laughter slowing. “That was one of the last days we had with Taraju,” she said soberly. She sighed, and suddenly noticed Taabu standing behind the cubs. “So, how did it go?”

            “I don’t know.” Taabu sighed and lied down. “We can only hope.”