Chapter II: The New Cub
Jadi “woke up.” He hadn’t actually been asleep. He hadn’t been able to sleep at all. He had too much on his mind. He was worried about his father. He’d never seen him that angry before, ever. Shani had been plenty forgiving, he wasn’t worried about that. He just wondered why Fujo had been so upset about it. Did he see something Shani hadn’t? Jadi sat up and looked around the den. His father still wasn’t in the den. The last time he’d seen him he’d gone out the back of the den. But that was hours ago.
Jadi sighed. Maybe his dad was angry for the cave. Maybe there was something in there that Fujo knew about that Shani didn’t. Yeah, maybe it was something only the kings knew about. Some kind of royal secret, Jadi told himself, slowly working up his excitement. Fujo just hadn’t wanted him to see it yet. Jadi stood up and began to make his way through the sleeping lionesses to the exit. He’d just take a quick look. It was night; there probably wasn’t even a single animal awake. He’d be fine. He’d just take a look and be back before anyone missed him. Besides, he’d still act surprised when Fujo showed it to him.
He stepped out of the den onto Pride Rock. The moon was hidden behind clouds, quickly moving across the sky. He started down the stairs only to have the clouds move to reveal the moon, the moon revealing a massive form at the bottom of Pride Rock.
Oh, no, thought Jadi. I forgot about Uncle Pofu. He walked slowly down, carefully stepping around Pofu’s massive muzzle. He turned to look at Pofu’s face, gasping as he saw it. Pofu’s blind eyes were wide open, staring right at him. As Jadi gasped the eyes suddenly blinked, Pofu’s features moving.
Pofu raised his head from the ground. “And what are you doing, Jadi? You should know better than to wake lions up.”
Jadi thought furiously for an excuse. “Um . . . I came out here to see Dad.”
“He isn’t out here. He would have woken me up, same as you.”
“Um—I mean—I needed to get a drink?”
“And the waterhole is the other way.”
“Without getting a drink?”
Jadi sighed. “Fine. I was sneaking off.”
“Hmm. And I suppose you didn’t mean to wake me up.”
“Hmm. I learned back when I was a cub that a little sneaking doesn’t hurt. How about we do this. We push time back a couple of minutes, and we’ll just pretend that I’m still asleep. And you can just walk right on by, being so careful and all that I just didn’t notice.”
“You’d do that?”
“Mm-hmm. On just one condition. You’re back before anyone notices, or I tell your parents.”
“Yeah, of course.”
“Good. I’m going to sleep now.”
“Okay. Thanks, Uncle Pofu.”
Pofu grunted. Jadi started off toward the savannah. “Just out of curiosity, where are you going?” asked Pofu.
“Um . . . nowhere, really.”
“Hnh.” Pofu rolled onto his side. “I expect I’ll find out all about it tomorrow.”
Jadi started off for the cave again. He suddenly stopped. He didn’t know where it was. Everything was different at night. But didn’t they come straight back home from that way? Or was it—No, it was definitely that way. Yeah. ‘Cause they went right past that rock . . . and that tree there, too. Jadi scampered off happily, proud he’d been able to do it all by himself.
His confidence only lasted about halfway there.
A sudden stream of maniacal laughter tore through the night. A scream followed it. Jadi gasped. More laughter joined in, as if there was more than one animal causing it. The screams ended abruptly, the laughter soon joining it in silence. Jadi began to back away from where the noise had come from. If he had known it was hyenas, it would have only made it worse. He’d heard plenty about them in Pofu’s stories, about how where they roamed, death was almost certainly near. Pofu had failed to mention the nicer qualities of hyenas entirely, about how they could be kind, and almost never killed for the fun of it; how they were mostly misunderstood. Even after Taabu had told Pofu about Fisadi, he still didn’t change. Hyenas made such wonderful villains. And the cubs loved it.
But for Jadi, it was only a nameless horror. It’s just a noise. Nothing to be afraid of. Besides, I’m a prince. No animal would hurt the prince.
He turned and ran toward the cave as terror gripped him. It was still quite a way off, but having a set safe zone was mentally reassuring. By the time he reached it there had been no other noises, save for the standard insects. Jadi had almost completely forgotten about the noises. He’d regained his confidence as a bold explorer of the unknown.
He walked into the cave. The full moon was clearly visible through the hole in the roof. Its rays shone down into the cave, penetrating where the cave had so stubbornly refused to let the sunlight go. The pool was completely still, reflecting the moon perfectly. Jadi walked around the perimeter of the cave, looking at the smooth, featureless walls, the moonlight reflecting off the pool onto the walls. He finally completed one complete, thorough circle, ending back at the entrance where he started.
The pool caught his eye. He walked over to it, put his face close to it, his breath creating the first ripples he’d ever seen the pool have. It was completely clear, but the depth was immeasurable. The bottom seemed to be so close that you could reach in and touch it while barely wetting your paw, and then it seemed fathoms deep, so deep that it went down to the center of the Earth. Jadi was a cub; he couldn’t help his curiosity. He put a paw into the water, trying to see how deep it was. The water simply covered his paw, as it could be expected to so close to the shore. He took it out, finally noticing his reflection.
It was odd. The pool seemed to replicate it in perfect detail, even though it had ripples from when Jadi had put his paw in. The only difference was that Jadi’s reflection was entirely black. Then the ripples did begin to affect it, making it weave to and from him. He looked at it, cocking his head to one side, the reflection doing the same. Jadi hadn’t ever taken the time to stare long and hard at his reflection. He almost laughed at the way the ripples made him look. Then he realized there was no reason why he shouldn’t laugh and did. He splashed his paw into the water again, creating more ripples. He laughed again. The ripples almost made him seem like a girl. He watched as the ripples died down, finally stopping completely. The reflection did look feminine. He laughed at the thought of Uzuri looking like a boy. He moved his head, watching his reflection do the same. It was fun. Whichever way he moved, the reflection moved the same way. He lifted his paw up and down, waving, watching the pool reflect it back at him. Yes, he did look like a girl. He cocked his head again, bending down closer to the pool to examine the reflection.
The reflection didn’t move.
Jadi brought his head back up, stunned. The reflection still didn’t move. Then, suddenly, it blinked. Jadi leaned down towards the pool, looking at it. The reflection’s mouth suddenly moved.
Jadi leapt back in horror at the syllable. He turned and ran for the entrance.
The entrance was no longer there. Where it had been there was a section of wall that looked like it had been there all along. Jadi pushed against the wall furiously, trying to push it out. It was no use. He turned and looked back at the pool, the light only on it now, refusing to spread to the walls. His curiosity finally got the better of him. He crept slowly to the edge of the pool. He slowly stuck his head over the side. He leaned further and further over, seeing nothing. It hit him.
The reflection was gone.
A giggle suddenly sounded throughout the den. Jadi turned, backing into the pool, now the only place where there was any light at all. He saw a trail of wet paw prints leading from the pool. There was suddenly a sound from the left, and the right, and then everywhere. Jadi turned frantically, trying to see the source of the noise. I can see why Dad didn’t want me here. Another giggle rang out through the den. He turned around again, trying to find the source of the noise, unable to hear anything but his heavy breathing and his heart, pounding so hard it seemed about to burst. He slowly began to rotate, looking for any movement at all.
“Scared you, huh?”
Jadi turned to see a face inches from his. He gave a yell and fell down into the water. He heard laughter. He stood up to see a cub laughing at his terror. He looked at her, realization dawning.
“The—the—the,” she said, imitating him. “The what?”
“The pool—you—inside—you’re the reflection!”
The cub giggled, sitting down in the water. “Yup.”
“Magic,” said the cub, smiling. She pranced out of the water, trailing it behind her. The water slid back into the pool after it hit the ground.
Jadi followed her out. “But—who are you?”
The cub giggled. “Who you are.” She stepped back into the shadows, disappearing again.
“Hey! Wait!” Jadi looked around the den, trying to find any trace of the cub.
“What, you mean you missed me?” Jadi turned to see the cub right behind him. He realized her black fur was still soaking wet. He was completely dry. The realization was pushed out of his mind as the cub leaned close to him, brushing against his fur as she rubbed up against him. He edged away from her, the cub laughing at his discomfort. “You don’t like me, do you?” she pouted sarcastically.
“No, it’s not that, it’s just . . . Just don’t do that, I guess.” Jadi stared at the cub. “Who are you?” The cub giggled. “And no jokes. Don’t you have a name, or something?”
The cub sat back, thinking. “Uchu.”
The cub giggled. “And I thought you were smart. You seemed that way, anyway.”
“I’m Uchu.” She grinned at him, revealing small, sharp teeth.
“But—but how did you get in here? Or out of there?”
Uchu heaved a massive sigh, mockingly sounding like someone at the end of their tether. “I told you.” She suddenly laughed. “It doesn’t matter, though.”
“Of course it matters! I mean, a cub just can’t pop out of nowhere! What about your mom, and your—oh. Oh, please don’t cry.”
Uchu continued to cry anyway, shedding small black tears that slid right into the pool. “They’re dead. They’re both dead.”
Jadi had no experience with little crying cubs, and certainly not with little crying cubs who were not really crying. “Um . . . I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you . . .” An idea filled his head. “Hey, how about you come home with me? You can meet my parents. They’d love to have you.”
“You really think so?” Uchu sniffled.
“Yeah, of course!” Uchu smiled a little. “Come on.” He turned around, the entrance there as if it had always been.
“Okay. But don’t you want a drink first?” Uchu asked. “I’m thirsty. Aren’t you thirsty?”
“You go from thinking about your parents to how you’re thirsty?”
Uchu lowered her head. “I guess I shouldn’t think like that. I just wanted some water.” She bent her head down to the pool and began to lap it up. Jadi hesitated, and then went back to the pool and began to do the same. It tasted wonderful, and he couldn’t get enough. He took drink after drink after drink. He finally noticed Uchu looking at him, her eyes seeming to glow in the dark. He slowly stopped. “It’s good isn’t it?” she asked.
“Uh, yeah . . . I guess.” He felt like she shouldn’t be watching him that intently. “Uh, how about I take you back to my parents?”
Uchu smiled. “Yeah, that’s where we were going, remember?”
“Uh . . . right.” He stepped out of the cave into the savannah, Uchu following him, completely dry after shaking herself off first. He looked at her as she stepped out of the cave. He thought it had been a trick of the light, but it wasn’t. She was completely, utterly black, not a hint of even the darkest gray on her. He turned away from her towards Pride Rock; it wasn’t polite to stare. He suddenly noticed that the sun was creeping over the horizon. It didn’t make any sense at all. He had left in the middle of the night. How long had he been in that cave? He didn’t think of that, though. He thought of Pofu’s warning. “Oh, no.”
“We have to get home now. Or Mom’s gonna kill me.”
“Well, come on!” Jadi began to scamper towards Pride Rock. Uchu smiled before going after him. This was just her lucky day.
Fujo hadn’t gotten any sleep all night. He couldn’t help but think of all the horrible things he’d said to his father and Taabu. And the cubs . . . He should never have taken anything out on his cubs. He loved them. Or he thought he did. What kind of decent father takes his anger out on his cubs? Kovu had never done that to him. He must have been furious at times with Fujo’s incompetence when he trained him, but he had always restrained himself. But Fujo hadn’t. He’d let Jadi and Uzuri have his anger, full-blown. And then to say those things, to Taabu of all animals. And then to take it out on his father like that, when he had only tried to help . . . Fujo spent a good part of the night weeping.
He could see why there was the old joke about kings talking to trees. The kingdom was enough to drive one animal insane. Nadhari was right. He did need help. And if not for the kingdom’s sake, then for his cubs, for Taabu. They all deserved to see him. They needed to know that he loved them. He would beg for help, if he had to. When daybreak came, he had made up his mind. He slowly lifted his body from the ground and shuffled back into the den. It was probably going to hurt. He smiled a sad smile with a thought. Especially with Taabu. But it had to be done.
Taabu was already up and running around the den for some reason. He walked over to her. “Listen, Taabu, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry for what I did last night. It was stupid of me, and I just shouldn’t have done it. Period. I—I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m going to do better.”
Taabu didn’t seem to hear him. She was still going around the entire den, saying, “Jadi? Jadi?” in an increasingly worried voice. The sleeping lionesses weren’t happy about that.
Fujo didn’t notice she wasn’t listening. He kept following her. “Look, I know that you’d be perfectly in your rights to not believe me. I understand that there’s no way to take back what I said to you last night. But I just hope that there’s some way to—”
“Ouch! That was my tail!”
“Oh, sorry, Tumai. Look, I’m just hoping that you’ll take me back and try to understand what I’m coping with. I don’t want to lose you or the cubs from this. I love all of you, I really do. I know I haven’t really proven it, but I’m going to try now. I really am. So please, just try—”
Taabu finally turned around and gave Fujo a kiss on the face. “There. I’m happy for you Fujo, I forgive you and all that, but where—is—Jadi?”
“Huh? Isn’t he in here?”
Taabu bit her lip. “I was afraid of that.” She walked toward the mouth of the den, Fujo following her. “Oh, what if he’s run away? I thought we let him know it was going to be okay. Do you have any idea how hard it is for a cub out there?” Fujo hung his head. This was his fault. Taabu looked down the stairs of Pride Rock to see Pofu lying at the bottom. “Pofu, have you seen Jadi?”
“Hi, Mom!” Jadi appeared over Pofu’s side with a smile. Pofu muttered something, and Jadi laughed.
“Jadi!” Taabu shrieked. Fujo thought it was a bad idea for anyone to go down those stairs as fast as she did. She embraced Jadi with a foreleg. “Oh, don’t ever do that again. I’ve been looking for you ever since I woke up.”
“Hey, Mom, look who I found.” Jadi looked back at Pofu. “It’s okay, you can come out.” A small, perfectly black cub shuffled out from behind Pofu, convincingly scared. “She’s Uchu.”
Uchu looked up at Taabu, her face filled with “fear.” “Hi,” she said quietly.
“Where are your parents, Uchu?” asked Taabu gently. “They shouldn’t just leave you alone.”
Uchu began to cry once again. “They’re—they’re gone. They made me run away. But I didn’t, and I watched them—it was awful. And I had to run away, and I barely managed to get away from all these animals who wanted to eat me, and—and—” She seemed to be unable to go on.
“Oh, you poor thing,” said Taabu, shocked.
“She can stay, right?” asked Jadi. “I told her she could stay.”
“Of course she can.” Taabu looked up at Fujo. “Right, sire?”
Her formality hurt Fujo. He tried to ignore it. “Of course she can.” He walked down the stairs at a speed he considered to be slow enough. “Go on up to the den.” Uchu scampered up the stairs happily, all tears gone. Fujo watched her go, then turned back to Jadi. Jadi took a step back, afraid. It hurt Fujo. “And son, I’m sorry for last night. It’s not going to happen again. Come here.” Jadi approached hesitantly. He wanted to embrace his father, but he still couldn’t quite forget the howling, roaring monster he had been last night. The desire to be with him won out. Fujo hugged his son close to his stomach. “I love you, Jadi.”
“I love you, too, Dad.”
“I’m gonna try to be here with you more often, okay?”
Jadi rubbed his father’s stomach. “I’d like that.”
Fujo smiled. “Now go on and go up to the den. You’ve got a guest to show around.” Jadi scampered back up the steps for Uchu. He turned to look back at Taabu just in time to receive a loving kiss. “What did I do to deserve that?”
Taabu gave him another one. “For doing the right thing.” She kissed him again. “Because you meant it.” She gave him a long, passionate lick. “And that was because I wanted to.” She rubbed against him passionately. “You’ve barely been home. Why not spend some time with your mate?”
“Um . . . you are supposed to lead the hunt today. And I’ve got to be king.” His face didn’t match his words that well.
“Vitani can lead the hunt,” said Taabu huskily. “And it seems like it’s been forever. You can take off being king for ‘family time,’ right?”
jumped as they heard Pofu chuckle. They had forgotten he was there. “Remember
what would have been your first time? How
Fujo smiled. “Alright, Pofu. We’ll go somewhere alone.”
Taabu walked away, her tail encircling Fujo’s neck. “I know just the place.”
Pofu waited as the two left. He finally got up and decided to go see Rafiki.
up Rafiki’s tree with practiced ease, having done it countless times. He had
first come to Rafiki after losing
Pofu had now lost track of what time this was. It was almost a daily thing for him, simply going to Rafiki’s tree. Rafiki talked to Pofu when he felt like it, not being entirely honest, just as Pofu wasn’t. They both knew the other was holding out. They didn’t hold it against each other, it was a privilege. But their lives became something discussed less and less. Rafiki began to teach Pofu. He didn’t have magic rites or spells to teach Pofu. Just simple history, history that was flowing with life. Pofu lapped it up in never-ending thirst.
The mandrill looked up as Pofu arrived, then looked back down at the leopard cub whose paw he was holding. The cub’s mother was sitting nearby, merely glancing at Pofu before returning her gaze to her injured daughter. Pofu didn’t know how they had gotten up here. He reminded himself that others were not blind like him, and it probably was a simple thing. He remembered the first time Tumai had come up here. It had only taken her a few tries. Pofu it had taken a few days, as there was no way to stop on the side of the tree. He had to learn how to do it simultaneously.
Rafiki was wrapping the cub’s paw in a stringy leaf, a red powder sprinkled onto the paw. “It is very important dat you do not step on de paw, Maki. If you do, it will only make de wound worse.”
“But I can play, right?” Maki asked eagerly.
Rafiki chuckled. “I suppose. But only if you do not step wit dat paw.”
“But that doesn’t leave anything!”
“I’m sure you will find someting. Now dis is going to hurt a bit.” He tied the ends of the leaf tight, Maki giving an “Ouch!” “Dere, all better. Now could you talk to Pofu dere for a minute? I need to speak to your moter.”
“Alright,” Maki said reluctantly. She limped over to Pofu, ungainly on only three legs.
Rafiki turned to Maki’s mother. “I don’t expect her to stay off dat paw long. She will probably be on it by de end of de day, even if I say not to for a week.”
“Maki wouldn’t do that,” said the leopard, slightly shocked.
“She is a cub. Cubs have accidents. I do not expect her to actually go too long wit dat bandage. It is good if she steps on it, but not too soon. It will hurt when she does, so dere is someting to numb de pain in de bandage. It is already infected, so it will not heal as quickly as normal. But give it a few days. When she begins stepping on it, do not stop her. It is normal. But keep her from chewing on dat bandage. Dat is de only ting she must not do. Just bring her here in tree days.”
“Thank you, Rafiki,” said the mother gratefully. She called Maki away from asking Pofu about his colorless eyes. The leopard picked up her cub in her mouth and jumped agilely from the tree.
Rafiki watched the two go before turning to Pofu, shaking his head. “Dat poor moter has no idea.”
Pofu smiled. “What?”
“Apparently cubs get snakebites from thorns now.”
Pofu chuckled. “You lied to a patient? Rafiki, you should be ashamed.”
“De cub will be fine. Dey got here soon enough. So, what is it you want from old Rafiki?”
“Nothing, really. Just came to talk.” Pofu lied down comfortably. Although he could see into minds, he had long ago stopped trying to look into any of them without explicit permission, and he stopped with Rafiki’s long before that. It actually hurt to look into Rafiki’s mind. But Rafiki understood that. Therefore he simply told him what he knew. Pofu, like Rafiki, had no other desire than to help others.
“Of course.” Rafiki smiled as he sat down as well. He grabbed a tortoise shell and began to mix things into it. Pofu watched for a second, then finally asked:
“Talking to the kings again?” It was one of the few “magic” things that he knew Rafiki could do. It wasn’t so much magic as it was that the kings were willing to talk to him. They were the ones who gave him that gift.
“Actually, dis is my lunch.”
Pofu laughed. “Alright, it serves me right.” He fell silent, trying to think of something that would be news to Rafiki. “A new cub came to the den today.”
“Really? Geta gave birt?”
“No, she’s still holding them in. Jadi just found the cub. Said some crazy story about her coming out of a pool, and not to tell anyone. The most I can figure out is that he doesn’t want anyone to find out he got snuck up on by a girl.”
Rafiki chuckled. “Even when dey’re cubs, dey still have dat arrogance.” He scooped a handful out of his bowl. “It reminds me almost of dis crazy legend. You probably have heard it, dough.”
“You’d be surprised what I don’t hear from the Pridelanders. They just expect me to know it.”
“Yes, it is so easy to forget you were not part of de family.” Rafiki leaned back against the side of his tree. “It was many kings ago. So it goes. De gods decided to put an end to de evil here in de world. De collected it as much as dey could and put it in a bottomless pool, here in de Pridelands. Dey covered it up wit a great stone, so dat no one would find it, wit an entrance dat was hidden. De king knew all about it. He allowed de gods to put it here. He believed it was safe, like dem.
“But dere was a cub here, who didn’t know better dan to stick her nose where it belonged. She found de entrance, and she found de pool. And she was captured by de pool. It slowly corrupted her mind. She came back every day, just to look at it. Den she began to not just look, but touch, and drink, and feel. She began to immerse herself in de pool, and she became more and more corrupt as de evil took hold of her. As she grew up, she did more and more horrible tings to animals. And de pool helped her. It gave her de power to control it, to use it in whatever way she saw fit. She was de princess. She murdered her parents, de king and queen dat loved her so much. She tightened her grip on de kingdom, forcing a harsh rule on it. She spent more and more time in de pool, her power growing. De gods finally decided to stop her before she rivaled dem. De tossed her back into de pool and destroyed her body, and made sure dat she would never come out for good. Dey sealed de stone for good, and left her dere. She has been waiting, for dozen of years, to come out and impose her will on de world. She is still here now, waiting, biding her time to come out and strike, and rule de kingdom. If you believe such things. It’s only a legend.”
Pofu thought over the story. “It sounds like just a legend.”
“And is nothing more dan dat.” Rafiki scooped himself another handful from the shell. “But dese are de tings dat give us our past. Besides, what would we tell de cubs if we didn’t have tings like dis?”
“Fair enough.” Pofu gave a huge yawn.
“What? You did not like de story?”
“Oh, it was interesting enough. It’s just that Jadi woke me up in the middle of the night. I couldn’t get back to sleep for hours.” Pofu gave another huge yawn. “What was that lioness’s name anyway?”
“Her name?” Rafiki thought it over, scratching his head. “It was Uchu.”
Pofu’s blind eyes widened. “Er . . . Rafiki . . . that cub that Jadi brought back . . . her name was Uchu.”
Rafiki stopped in the act of taking another handful before he shrugged. “It is probably just a coincidence. She had parents, no?”
“Yes, she did . . . But she said they were killed.”
“You would be surprised how common dat is. We are blessed to live in dese lands. We have much to be thankful for. She was probably just looking for a place to hide when Jadi found her.” Rafiki chuckled. “Imagine what a scared little cub like her would do if you found her?”
Pofu smiled. “I didn’t ask to be big.” Pofu stretched out, then lied back down. “You’re right. It’s just a myth for little cubs.”
Uchu smiled. She was afraid the Pridelanders might have turned her away. She wasn’t sure how nice they actually were. But they were very nice. They did their best to make sure she felt at home. But they had let the poor little frightened cub into their den, with almost no questions asked. They were so trusting. Especially that little prince. He was so nice to her. He did his best to make sure that she had everything she wanted.
Uchu was drinking from a waterhole. She stopped to look at her reflection as she licked her lips. A head appeared next to hers. “Come on, Uchu, we don’t have the entire day to just look at ourselves.”
Uchu turned to look at Edaha. “But don’t you just want to?”
Edaha rolled her eyes. “Not all the time.”
“But you’ve got so much to look at.”
“Really?” asked Edaha, flattered.
“Of course.” Uchu smiled. They were so nice to her. Especially Edaha. She liked to believe anything that was told to her. She trusted others. She believed everyone had some good in them, and that they would always have that good come out, sooner or later. Uchu had only one thing against Edaha. She was Jadi’s betrothed.
The fact that Jadi was betrothed was widely ignored. But Uchu knew he was just the same. She paid little attention to that fact. Jadi’s betrothal had been the dying wish of Zazu. While Kovu, Kiara, and Fujo stood over him, he, lying on his back, uttered, “Sire . . . just do me one last favor . . . carry on the betrothal . . . at least . . . for Jadi . . .” His head fell back onto the ground.
“I don’t understand,” said Kiara. Her next sentence would have been Why did he have to die?
Zazu’s head popped back up. “Look, it’s really not that difficult of a concept. You say that the cub is going to marry another one now, not then.” He clutched a wing to his chest. “Alas, it comes.” His head fell back again.
“Zazu,” said Fujo softly.
Zazu’s head popped up again. “Unless, of course, they grow up to be some horrible piece of scum like you were, sire. Then by all means, give him another lioness. We certainly don’t want any riffraff running the kingdom, do we?”
“Um . . .” said Fujo, “aren’t you dead yet?”
“Well I don’t want to die and have you screw this up. What kind of a legacy would that be to leave behind?”
“Look, we get it. Marry Uzuri off to Jadi. Now go fly off to that big nest in the sky.”
“Not Uzuri, you twit! Look, make it someone with a mother you trust, at least. And give the girl culture!”
“I trust Taabu. And wouldn’t that be culture enough?”
“You can’t marry inside the family!”
“Why not? I don’t really see what you’re driving at.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” said Zazu, and died testily.
Uchu knew that Edaha was Jadi’s proposed. But she didn’t want it that way. She wanted to marry Jadi. And Jadi was so nice to her, he’d obviously prefer her. But she was still nice to Edaha. Edaha was nice to her, as well. Jadi couldn’t play today, he had to go with his father. So Edaha had offered to play with her. Uchu gladly took the offer. It was so boring at Pride Rock. All the lionesses wanted to do was sunbathe or talk. There was no fun in that. So she decided to play with Edaha.
Edaha had decided to go “exploring.” It was difficult to go exploring when she knew where everything was. So it was really just her showing Uchu around. But she enjoyed it. Uchu was so nice to her. She had taken Uchu all over the Pridelands today. It was going to be time to go back soon. She didn’t want it to be over. Uchu was such a good friend to her. Uchu was such a good friend to everyone. Especially Jadi. They all knew that was because he had found her. She always was so formal in front of him, so polite.
This was the last place they could go. It was called Lookout Point. The place in itself wasn’t really a marvel; it was rather what you could do there. The Pridelands were mostly flat. Lookout Point was on a slight hill. Lookout Point was actually a rock. You could sit on it and see almost anywhere in the Pridelands. It wasn’t the biggest rock, but it didn’t need to be. Edaha loved to come up here and sit for hours. Luckily there was a little pond next to it in case she got hot or thirsty.
“It’s right up here,” said Edaha. She had dragged Uchu away from the waterhole and had finally reached Lookout Point. They might be a little late going back to the den, but the lionesses would understand. She hoped. She climbed up the small rock that was Lookout Point. She heard Uchu do the same. “Isn’t it great? You can see everything up here. I could just sit here all day.” She turned to look at Uchu.
“What’s the fun in just looking? You can play, too.” Uchu launched herself at Edaha, knocking her off the rock. “It’s more fun that way.” Uchu drew herself up proudly. “Queen of the Rock!”
“That’s what you think!” Edaha climbed back up and jumped at Uchu. The two rolled around on the rock, Uchu finally coming out on top, both of them laughing. Uchu had landed with her paws on Edaha’s neck. Edaha playfully tried to bat them off, the paws not moving. “Uchu,” she said. “Uchu, I can’t breathe.” She pushed against the paws, the paws not moving. She began to squirm and kick, the efforts doing nothing. Uchu was between her hind legs, out of their reach, and Edaha’s forepaws were busy trying to free her throat. Edaha looked up into Uchu’s eyes, a smile on Uchu’s face. “Uchu—why—why—why—” The thrashing slowly stopped as the life ran out of Edaha.
Uchu pushed Edaha off the rock and into the pool with a giggle. “Oopsie.” She giggled again. She jumped off the rock, smiling at how convincing Edaha’s corpse was. Her eyes wide open, her mouth gasping for air that wouldn’t come. She’d served her purpose. Uchu knew how different the Pridelands were now. Jadi would just have to find someone else to marry now. Her. Uchu thought about how nice he was to her. He gave her everything she wanted. Well, not everything. He couldn’t give her everything. So Uchu had to content herself with thoughts. How she could just snap his little neck at any time she pleased. She shuddered. The thought of killing always gave her such a wonderful, warm, tingly feeling. And killing Edaha had been so much fun.
She looked down into the waterhole, looking at her body in the reflection. It definitely wasn’t what it had been. She wasn’t a lioness anymore. She flicked her tail, watching the reflection do the same. She may not have been the same, but she didn’t care. She liked this much better. Black was definitely her color. She had the pool to thank for all of that. Her old body had been destroyed by the gods when they threw her in. She was completely one with the pool now, something she had spent hours inside it trying to achieve. And besides, she had a fresh start. She’d always wanted to do her cubhood over again. It was so boring. She’d had plenty of time to think of what she’d do, and plenty of time for the pool to strengthen her. But she couldn’t rule just yet. It would just be so anticlimactic. She’d wait. And simply admire herself in the water.
She suddenly straightened herself up. She couldn’t just gloat, as much as she wanted to. She might have been able to if she hadn’t been going over and over in the best way to kill Edaha. Her death wasn’t the most fun she’d had, but the look on her face when she died—that had been just plain entertaining. But she didn’t have time to think of that now. She had to report Edaha’s drowning to the den. She scampered back toward Pride Rock, the memories happily playing in her mind.
“Jadi!” Jadi turned to look at Uchu running toward him, Fujo also turning. She had a horrified look one her face. “Jadi! Jadi, it’s awful! Edaha’s in the water, and she’s not moving!”
“Where?” Fujo demanded. “Where is she?”
“Lookout Point.” Fujo began to run off.
“Dad, I’ll come with!” said Jadi.
“Jadi, stay with Uchu!” Then Fujo was gone.
Jadi watched his father go, then turned back to Uchu. Uchu’s face was distraught. “Don’t worry. She’ll be okay. Dad’ll get her.”
“Jadi . . . Jadi, she wasn’t moving. It was horrible, Jadi. I hope she’s okay.”
“Don’t worry. Come on up to the den. It’s dinnertime, anyway. Dad always says food’s good to take your mind off things.”
“Okay.” She followed Jadi up the ramp of the den, almost running into his backside when he stopped. He turned to speak to her.
“Hey, is there any way we can go back to that pool tonight?” he whispered. “You know, sneak out? For some reason, I can’t stop thinking about it.”
Uchu smiled. “Of course.” She followed Jadi up to the den. To Edaha’s mother, she only said, “The king went to get her.” She ate some, watching Edaha’s mother with amusement as she slowly became more and more worried. She had finished eating when Fujo finally came back, his body wet from diving down all the way to the bottom of the pond, most likely multiple times. She nearly laughed when Edaha’s mother was presented with her daughter’s limp form. Edaha’s mother took the body close to her chest and held it, rocking it back and forth, tears streaming down her face. She let out a low, anguished cry. Uchu turned away to hide her smile. Breaking animals was still as entertaining as ever.
Uchu led Jadi into the cave. There laid the pool, the moonlight illuminating its completely smooth surface. It had been so easy to come here. When she was with Jadi, he didn’t have to worry about wild animals like he did his first night. There had been a cheetah stalking them for part of the way. Uchu had taken care of the cheetah without even looking at him. Jadi hadn’t even noticed. Uchu looked at the place that she lovingly called home. The gods had undoubtedly meant her decades-long imprisonment to be a punishment. She had adored the opportunity. Her imprisonment wasn’t punishment, but ecstasy.
Jadi sat down by the edge of the pool, staring at it just as Uchu had remembered doing. His gaze was that of reverence. “So,” asked Uchu, “why’d you want to come back?”
“I—I don’t know,” said Jadi. “I just wanted to—be with it, I suppose.” He looked up at Uchu curiously. “Why would I want to be with some water?” He shook his head, his gaze returning to the pool. “Stupidest thing I’ve heard of.”
Uchu smiled as she watched Jadi stare at the pool. He simply stared at it, completely hypnotized by it. Uchu stepped away from him, allowing him some room. She knew what she would do with him. She would use him, make him her means to become queen. He would be her king. But she couldn’t rush into that, as much as she would have liked to. She would corrupt him slowly, strengthening her grasp on his mind until he would do anything for her. And she would give him a cub. A son, or maybe a daughter. A son, completely empowered by the pool. She was almost shocked at her sudden generosity. But no, she said, settling down comfortably. It was natural to want an heir. An heir even more powerful than herself. She looked at Jadi, his body bathed in moonlight, his eyes fixed firmly on the pool. He was already enraptured by the pool. Of course, if he proved resistant, she would simply have to kill him. She didn’t think his weak little mind would have a problem, however. She closed her eyes until she needed to remind Jadi that it was time to go home.
Jadi grew. Uzuri grew. All the cubs grew. Fujo’s dedication did as well. Despite his best efforts to stay home for the cubs, despite his attempts to delegate, he simply didn’t. It improved somewhat after the night that he had blown up at the cubs, but not too noticeably. Kovu, Nadhari, and Taabu watched him work helplessly. There was something in what Kovu had told him about the animals needing to respect the king. The animals came to him with all their problems, however small and trivial they may have been. Fujo was a pushover for helping. That wasn’t to say he was exceptionally good at it, but he did his best. Kovu had to teach Jadi how to run the kingdom, Fujo dimply didn’t have the time. Almost the only time he spent with his son was when he took him with on his trips around the kingdom.
Jadi began to slowly hate his father. He didn’t quite know why, he didn’t quite know that was what he felt. He developed a bitter resentment toward Fujo. He didn’t notice that he spent more and more time away from Pride Rock, almost always at the pool, constantly with Uchu wherever he went. He didn’t notice as she said subtle things, pushed his thoughts in directions that no animal’s mind should have gone. He only knew that he disliked his father.
When Fujo came home one day he was “asleep.” Fujo walked over to him and stared down at him. He knew his father just wanted to talk to him, to ask him how his day had been, to tell him he loved him, that he was trying to spend more time with him, and that yes, he’d play with him tomorrow. Jadi kept his eyes firmly shut. Fujo stared at his son’s unmoving form, then slowly walked out of the back of the den to sleep under the stars, his punishment to himself for failing that day as a father. Jadi looked up as Fujo lied down, as Fujo lied still, then slowly as his body began to heave sporadically in silent sobs. Jadi simply put his head back down and went to sleep, mostly untroubled.
Fujo tried. He really did. It wasn’t enough. He finally decided to put his paw down. He was king; he’d see how much royal respect he’d get. He was tired of being shocked about all the new changes in his cubs, how they’d seem to have grown another two inches every time he looked at them, how he had no idea who they were friends with. He’d made up his mind one morning. He walked back into the den and nuzzled Taabu. She looked up sleepily. She smiled. “Our anniversary was yesterday.” She chuckled as Fujo’s eyes widened.
“Please tell me you’re joking,” he begged.
Taabu smiled. “Of course.” Fujo sighed. “It was really last week.” Fujo looked up at her, tears forming in his eyes.
“Oh Taabu . . . I’m so sorry.”
“Oh, stop that. Please. I didn’t mean to make you cry. Look, you’ve still got two weeks. Now stop that blubbering. Come here, lie down.” Fujo obediently lied down next to her. It’s going to be okay. I know you’ve been trying. You just never were meant to rule. You like to have fun, and you just don’t get to.”
“Did I really miss it?”
“Are you still worried about that? Fujo, I don’t care if you’re home for it or not. I know you still love me anyway.” She gave him a gentle lick.
“I just feel that I’ve been so horrible to you. And the cubs. I’m doing just what my father did.”
“Fujo, you’re doing more than anyone could have ever expected of you. We’re all very proud of you for that. Don’t worry. It’ll all work out.”
Fujo looked down at the ground, then stared back up at her. “I’ve made up my mind. I’m staying home today.”
“Oh, Fujo!” The look she gave him was enough to pay for all the problems that he’d have tomorrow.
“I’m spending today with you and the cubs. Nothing is going to take me away from you today.”
Taabu smiled. “Nadhari is probably waiting outside.”
“Right.” Fujo lifted his frame from the floor. “I’ll talk to him.”
Nadhari was waiting outside. Impatiently. “Sire,” he said as Fujo came out, “I was getting worried. It’s going to be a long day. All those little issues we decided to wait until next week to smooth over—you know with the leopards and gazelle—they’re not going to be able to wait. And on top of that we’ve got the—”
Fujo held up a paw and Nadhari fell silent. “Nadhari, I’m taking the day off.”
Nadhari looked at him with horror. “Sire, you must be joking. Not today. Tomorrow, but not today.”
“Sire, if we don’t do something—”
“Alright, you can tell them I said this.” Fujo told him.
Nadhari looked at him with even more shock than before. “Sire, they’ll never believe it.”
“Then tell them they can ask me about it tomorrow.”
“Sire . . . Fujo . . . they’ll riot,” he pleaded.
“Then they riot. You are not to bother me at all today with anything concerning the kingdom. I am staying home with my mate and cubs, and I am not to be disturbed for any reason. You know I deserve it, Nadhari.”
“Yes, sire, but even Kovu had to work all day sometimes.”
“I’ve been working all day all the time. I at least deserve a break. End of discussion.”
“So, how’s Simo?”
“He’s—he’s doing well, sire. Thank you for asking.”
Fujo smiled. “He’ll make an excellent advisor one day, I’m sure.”
“Thank you, sire.”
“Well, you to your work, me to mine.” Fujo turned back into the den, Nadhari watching him for a moment before he left to take care of the kingdom. Taabu beamed at him as he came in and sat down. “Alright, I’m free for the day. Do with me what you will.”
“Thank you Fujo. You know what this is going to mean to—” Uzuri suddenly gave a jerk, stretching her two-year-old body. “Well, you can tell her yourself now. She’s awake.”
“And I still would be, too,” Uzuri grumbled. “You talk too loud, Mom.”
“Your father took the day off.”
Uzuri looked up at her mother in shock. “He did what?!”
Uzuri turned to Fujo and embraced his stomach. “Oh, Daddy!”
Fujo winced. “That still hurts there.”
Uzuri hurriedly got off her father’s stomach. “So what did you tell Nadhari?” Taabu asked.
“Oh, he said he’d take care of everything.”
“But what did you say, Fujo?”
Fujo stared at the ground guiltily. “Well . . .”
Nadhari walked up to the large group of animals at the main waterhole. It was the reason the gazelles and the leopards were about to kill each other. They were the main group to deal with; they’d even driven everyone away from this waterhole with their fights. Nadhari sighed. He didn’t want to die. He spoke up. “Attention all animals!” The gazelles and leopards looked up at him. They knew who he was. “For the duration—” Nadhari paused, swallowed, and started again. “For the duration of the day, in response to your protests, the king doth hereby declare—‘Bite me.’”
Taabu looked up at Fujo, her face amused. “He could get hurt, you know.”
Fujo dismissed it with a wave of his paw. “He’ll be fine.” He lied down. “So where’s Jadi?”
“He’s . . . well, he’s not here, Fujo.”
“I—I guess you wouldn’t know, Dad,” said Uzuri. “I know that sounds bad, but you just wouldn’t. You’re just—well, that is . . .”
“I’m just never spending time with any of you.”
“Yes. But Jadi’s running off every day. We don’t know where he is. But we at least know he comes back home.” Uzuri suddenly smirked. “And you wouldn’t believe who goes with him. All the time.”
Fujo looked at Taabu with surprise. “Jadi has a girlfriend?”
“Not really a girlfriend. She just kind of follows Jadi everywhere. He was the one who found her, so I think she just wants to show him some gratitude. Or maybe it’s hero worship. Or maybe she really does like him. I don’t know.”
“Am I going to have to strangle one of you before you tell me who it is?”
“It’s Uchu, Dad,” said Uzuri. “It’s like she follows him around everywhere. And I mean everywhere.”
“It’s not everywhere, Uzuri,” said Taabu.
“She eats with him, she sleeps with him, she goes to the waterhole with him, she goes to wherever they are right now with him with him. I’d call that everywhere.” Uchu’s smile grew wider. “Oh, and you wouldn’t believe how much Gyka hates that. She won’t even notice him, and we all know how much he likes her.” Gyka was the other male in the pride. He was about Jadi’s age.
“So wait, Gyka likes Uchu, but Uchu likes Jadi, and Jadi doesn’t really seem to care if she’s with him?”
“Oh, no. Jadi cares. He really cares.”
Taabu smiled. “I was going to bring it up with you, Fujo, but I just never found the time. I mean, I realize it’s a stretch, and Jadi still has a long time to grow, but maybe . . . Well, Uchu could be a second Edaha?”
Fujo thought about it. “We’ll see.”