Chapter IV: Princess Uchu
Kovu sighed. He looked over at who he was walking with. It was Uchu. He’d called her out here to give her a very special gift. He knew he didn’t really have a right to do this; it should have been Fujo. But Fujo had enough to worry about, like looking for the hyenas that had run off with four cubs. They had already found as much as they were going to of the cubs: just the poor things’ heads, their faces of fear frozen, undoubtedly burned into their mothers’ minds. And one mother had had three of the cubs . . . It had taken weeks for her to even smile again. They still hadn’t found the hyenas, after weeks of searching. All cubs were in the den well before sundown.
Kovu shook his head, trying to remind himself about why he was here. He wasn’t supposed to be thinking these sad, tragic thoughts. This was a happy occasion. He supposed it was just his age. He had, at the best estimate, three, maybe four years left. But that was stretching it. A more real estimate was one year. But Aiheu provided. Kovu had always done his best to stay fit; his body was and always had been muscular, only through exercise. He was the polar opposite of Fujo when it came to that. But despite his best efforts, he still felt age creep into his bones, fatigue slowly overwhelm him. He was old.
Kovu sighed and looked over at Uchu, who had been silent the entire walk. Now was as good a time as any. Fujo should do it, but he had given permission to Kovu. It wasn’t like he was going behind his back. Not too much, anyway. “Uchu?”
“Hmm?” she said, looking up at him.
“Do you know why I brought you out here? On this walk?”
Kovu paused. “Uchu, I know that you and Jadi are together a lot. Quite a bit. And I’m pretty sure I know what you two have done while together, wherever you go.”
“What are you—” began Uchu, bristling.
“Nothing. I’m not saying anything. It doesn’t matter to me what you do; Kiara and I probably would have done the same thing. But we got married, so we didn’t have to hide it. We got married at a pretty young age. Fujo—well, he was ten. Half his life was over. But I was just about your age.”
“Are you going to tell us to stop?” asked Uchu, her voice bitter. “To stay away from each other? To stop loving each other?”
Kovu smiled. “No, Uchu, I want to give you permission. I want you to marry Jadi. I don’t want you to have to hide it anymore.”
“Kovu,” said Uchu, her voice stunned, “I don’t know what to say.”
“Just tell me you’re happy. You love him so much you turned down Gyka; I know you care for Jadi. And I know he loves you. I want you two to be happy, and I don’t want you to have to hide your love like some monstrous thing.”
Uchu was silent for a moment. “Does Fujo approve?”
“Not exactly. But I made him see. Or rather, I asked Taabu, who made him see. He just didn’t have the time to tell you himself. But I’m sure he doesn’t mind. I know Taabu doesn’t.” Kovu paused. “Uchu, we’re hoping you can help Jadi. That you can help him change. If anyone can do that, it’s you.”
Uchu looked toward the setting sun. It was almost gone now. “I know, Kovu. Jadi isn’t what you expected at all. You have no idea how hard it is just to restrain him from doing things. He says he’s going to kill Fujo.”
Kovu gave a little laugh. “Yes, we all feel that way, sometimes. Besides, Jadi can’t be serious. He’s not a killer.”
“Yes, Kovu, he’s serious. I’ve had to keep telling him to wait for the right time, but I can’t tell him that much longer. He wants blood. He wants to be king.”
“Being king isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. I should know.”
“But you were too soft. The animals don’t know how to rule.”
Kovu laughed. “And I suppose you do?”
“Well, I have been queen.”
“Now you’re just not making any sense.”
Uchu looked back toward the sun, watching the last but of it recede below the horizon, shrouding the Pridelands in darkness. “I ruled her, Kovu. Four hundred and twenty-two tears ago, I was born, meant to rule.”
“That’s impossible, Uchu. You came here as a cub.”
“Kovu, I am Uchu. The old queen that murdered her subjects for sheer enjoyment, the one who ruled the Pridelands with no equal, the one who was destroyed by the gods. I’ve lied to you, with almost every word. I’m nothing like the girl you think I am. I just wanted you to know that before you die.”
Kovu stopped and looked at her, stunned. “Die?”
Uchu nodded, the faintest trace of a smile on her face. “Yes. Because he’s coming. He’ll be here soon. And then you die.”
“Uchu, you must be joking. You’re a good girl, a nice girl.”
Uchu laughed. “You really don’t believe me, do you?” She put a paw to his face. “So trusting. If only you’d found me. You’re perfect. Just a few years younger. You already have that wonderful murderous streak.”
“That was years ago, Uchu.” Kovu was beginning to get very scared. He was old. He could still fight, but if everything Uchu said was true . . .
Uchu gave him a kiss on the cheek. “But I bring out the best in people. And I wouldn’t have had to twist your leg like I did Jadi. But he shaped up very nicely, wouldn’t you say?”
“Oh, gods . . . You made him that way?”
“I’ve had over two years to do it.”
I thought you loved him,” said Kovu quietly.
Uchu’s wild laugher rang through the night. “I don’t love him. But he loves me. Forcibly. I picked him, and I used him. I don’t even care if he dies, so long as I’m queen first.” Although, she admitted, he does make me feel rather—warm. And treasured. She immediately pushed the thoughts out of her mind. “But you, Kovu . . . well, you would have been something. If you look that good now, then when you were still young . . . I can see why Kiara likes you.”
Kovu batted her paw away from his face. “She loves me, you monster. And I expect that’s something that you’ll never understand. Gyka killed himself because of that emotion.”
“Oh, no, Kovu. I killed Gyka.” Uchu relished the look of shock on his face, soon to be replaced by anger. “And Edaha. And I’ll kill many, many more.” She smiled. But I should leave, now. Jadi can be awfully . . . messy, I imagine.” She sighed. “You could have been my mate, and loved me like Jadi. I think I would have enjoyed that.” She shrugged. “Oh, well. I’ll leave you to play.” She walked away, her body seeming to melt into the darkness.
Kovu suddenly realized how heavily he was breathing. He was panicking. He was going to die tonight, and he knew it. Every sound of the night seemed to be amplified. He couldn’t do this. He had no fire left. He kept waiting for the warm rush of adrenaline, the clear head, the lust for the hunt. It didn’t come. He was a scared, old lion. Life with Kiara had bred out everything Zira had taught him; he was tame. And while Jadi might not know how to fight, he wanted blood. He lusted for the kill, the amusement. Kovu had killed out of addictive need, but Jadi . . . Jadi did it for fun. Kovu didn’t know all of this; he only knew enough to know that he didn’t feel good about any of this.
A twig snapped, Kovu turning around hurriedly. The grass rustled with the wind. He had to get back to Pride Rock. It was the only place he’d be safe. He bolted for it, praying that he would have half a chance. He stooped dead as he burst through a clearing to see Jadi sitting there, calmly waiting. “Hello, Grandfather.”
Kovu licked his lips nervously. Jadi stood up and advanced. “Jadi, don’t do this,” Kovu begged. “Please.”
“You have too much power, Grandfather. You’re going to die.”
“Jadi . . . no. Please. I’ll leave, I’ll get Kiara and we’ll leave, just please don’t do this. You don’t know how much she’ll suffer.”
“I want to find out.”
“Jadi, you’re not a killer.”
Jadi stopped with a laugh. “Where’s Shik? Where’s Prinsa?”
“No . . .” Kovu was horrified. They were only cubs.
“Yes,” said Jadi viciously, leaping at Kovu. Kovu aimed a blow at Jadi, knocking him to the ground. He didn’t leap on Jadi as he should have. He loved Jadi. He couldn’t. Jadi sprang up and leapt at Kovu with a roar, landing on top of Kovu and rolling. Jadi wasn’t a cub anymore. Kovu was facing a full-grown lion, with all the youth that came with it. Jadi brought back his leg to strike Kovu in the face. Kovu raised a leg to block it, Jadi brushing it aside with his blow. His claws tore through Kovu’s face. Kovu roared in pain and swung at Jadi, Jadi stopping the blow easily.
“You’re weak, Grandfather. You’re old.” Kovu tried to press harder, but Jadi simply snapped Kovu’s leg to the ground. Jadi put his other paw to Kovu’s throat, Kovu barely managing to push it off. Kovu head-butted Jadi, twisting his pinned leg painfully. Jadi staggered off, dazed by the blow. Kovu turned over and began to limp toward Pride Rock, unable to put more than a little weight on his injured leg.
Jadi ran toward Kovu with a roar and tackled him. He didn’t bother playing this time. He closed his jaws around Kovu’s neck. Kovu’s eyes opened wide. I’m sorry, Kiara. Jadi threw his neck to the side, snapping Kovu’s neck. He stepped of the lifeless body and stared at it.
“It’s almost sad, isn’t it?” Jadi turned to see Uchu standing next to him. “Get rid of the body.”
“Like this.” A seething black mass appeared beneath Kovu. His body slowly sank into it. Uchu smiled. She knew what she was going to tell Kiara. Kiara would be oh so sad. She turned to Jadi. He was staring where Kovu had disappeared.
“Where did he go?”
“Somewhere. But he won’t be back here.” She suddenly pushed Jadi onto his back and lied on top of him. She gave him a kiss. “Just a little longer, love. But we have a big day tomorrow.”
“We’ll get married.” Jadi smiled and bent his head up to give her a passionate kiss. Uchu shuddered. She hadn’t felt that twinge with other lions. She reminded herself that she was using him. But is it really so bad to love him a little? She smiled as he licked her again, feeling that lustful tingle again. Why not? “Tomorrow, we’ll get married. But tonight, you’ll play with me.”
Jadi smiled. He licked her again as he rolled her onto her back. Uchu is all I need, he thought, as she gave him a lustful passionate kiss, the first of many that night. She purred contentedly. The kingdom was almost hers. Just Fujo now.
Jadi walked to Rafiki’s tree, his step light. Last night had been their best yet. Uchu walked next to him, her tail occasionally brushing against his legs, making his heart leap with joy every time. He felt he didn’t need to go through his; he felt her had already married her. This was just something to please them. But he wouldn’t have to worry about what the pride thought, Uchu had told him after he had in a loving, intimate break when he wasn’t on top of her back. She kissed him and said, “Soon, they’ll only worry about what you think of them.” Jadi couldn’t wait for the day when he ruled, the kingdom cringing in fear.
It was already late morning. He and Uchu had slept late. They had spent almost the entire night in love, but Jadi didn’t feel tired at all. Uchu looked at the tree in disgust. She should have broken it when she was queen. She remembered how her father had had it planted when she was a cub, saying that it would “always signify the love, justice, and equality that will reside in these lands.” This tree had filled her with such emotion that day. Foolish emotion. Who needed pity, or equality, or justice? She had ruled with one goal: “Let them fear me. They are mine to use.” She had been a better ruler than any that had come before. But now this tree had stayed while she had been thrown away, this pathetic imprint her parents had left on the earth. But it was fitting. A tree was all they had left, to be graffitied on by a half-crazed healer.
Jadi didn’t know this. He was only interested in what the half-crazed healer would do for him. He leapt up the tree, hitting branches and bouncing upward off them. Uchu followed. He landed in Rafiki’s home to find Rafiki there, talking with Pofu. “Jadi,” Rafiki said. “And Uchu. What brings you two to dis humble place?”
“You’re going to marry us,” said Jadi.
“Marry?” asked Pofu. “This is news. So when did you decide that?”
“And when would you like me to come to de den to perform de ceremony?” asked Rafiki politely.
“You’re going to do it here. Now.”
“Ah, I see. A private ceremony here, and the bigger one at de den. It’s not unheard of.”
“You will do it all here.”
“Jadi,” said Rafiki quietly, “Don’t you want you moter to see it? And your fater?”
“Why should I care about them? This is my wedding, not theirs.”
“Jadi, dis is never done dis way. The—”
“I will not wait, monkey.”
“But even a witness—”
“You’re here. Pofu’s here. I will not wait any longer. Perform the ceremony, mandrill.”
Rafiki had heard of Jadi’s temper, but it was quite another thing to have Jadi come into your home and insult you. “Very well den. Let me get de herbs.” He walked over to a nook in his thee and removed two bowls, one with black powder, one with white, and also a tiny, empty bowl. He placed the bowls in front of Jadi and Uchu. The two bowls contained the last of the powder use for marriage rites, the last in the entire kingdom. The entire supply had been used, save for those bowls. The rite dated back to the beginning of the Pridelands. “Very well,” said Rafiki.
“Jadi, do you love Uchu?”
“Do you wish to take her as your mate?”
“Will you, if she agrees, respect her and love her?”
“Will you honor dis commitment?”
“For as long as I live.”
“Will you leave her, if it pleases you?”
“And you say dis, in front of dis witness, and before de almighty gods?”
Rafiki poured a tiny amount of the black powder into the empty bowl.
“Uchu, do you love Jadi?”
wish for him to be your mate?”
“Will you respect and love him, as he has agreed to do to you?”
“Will you leave him, if it pleases you?”
“And you will honor dis commitment?”
“For as long as he lives.”
“And you say dis, in front of dis witness, and before de almighty gods?”
“I say this
before this witness and the gods.”
Rafiki poured an equally small amount of the white powder into the smallest bowl. He brought forward a gourd filled with water and poured it into the bowl, making a paste. He stirred the paste with his fingers, the mixture turning a deep red. He took some of the paste, took Jadi’s paw, and put the paste on the paw. “May your mate always be happy with you.” Jadi took his paw and tenderly ran it down the side of Uchu’s face, leaving a streak against her black fur. Rafiki took more paste and stretched out his hand for Uchu’s paw. Uchu put her paw into the bowl, ignoring Rafiki’s had. She ran her paw across Jadi’s forehead, leaving a red streak on his dark fur. Rafiki hesitated a moment before saying, “May your mate always bring you joy.” He held out his hand for Jadi’s paw again. Uchu placed her paw in his hand. Rafiki hesitated again before reaching out his fingers that still had paste on them to place the paste on the top of her paw. Uchu gently turned her paw over, casually, innocently, so that Rafiki wiped his fingers on the bottom. He let go of her paw and took Jadi’s. He carefully scooped out the last of the paste and rubbed it on the top of Jadi’s paw. He took the two paws and placed them together, Uchu’s on top of Jadi’s. “May your marriage bring happiness to all.”
Jadi looked up from their paws into Uchu’s eyes, smiling. The way she looked at the paws, she seemed to mock them. But he saw nothing but love as she looked up at him. She gave him a gentle lick on the cheek. He nuzzled her. “Married.”
“Yes,” she said, returning the nuzzle.
“When would you like me to come by to proclaim her as princess?” Rafiki asked.
Jadi turned to him, annoyed. “You won’t.”
“You will not do any such thing. I will. I am the prince. I will be the king. I think I would be well within my rights to declare royalty.”
“Jadi,” said Pofu, “It’s been one this way for centuries.”
“It will not be done this time.” He turned back to Uchu and gave her a lick on the cheek that had no red. “We don’t need your help.” He turned back to Rafiki and Pofu. “That is an order.”
“Yes, Jadi,” said Pofu reluctantly.
“Good.” Jadi leapt down from the tree, Uchu at his side. Rafiki watched as the two of them walked toward Pride Rock.
“Ohhh,” Rafiki moaned. “Pofu, he flouts all of de traditions. And he will be king. What did I do when I crowned him?”
“You did what you were asked, friend,” said Pofu gently.
Jadi and Uchu walked to Pride Rock. The paste was gone. They had washed off that silly ritual. Jadi gave her another kiss. “I don’t want to wait anymore, love.”
Uchu nuzzled him. “You won’t need to. Do it tonight. We’ll get rid of that fat fool tonight.”
Jadi smiled. “And then we’ll rule.”
They walked up the ramp to Pride Rock in unison. The lionesses were gone, save for Taabu and Kiara. Those that weren’t cubsitting were hunting lunch. Taabu had her back to the entrance. “Mother,” said Jadi.
Taabu jumped with a gasp. “Jadi, don’t do that!”
“I’m sorry. It’s not your fault. I’m just a little on edge today, I guess. It’s like the slightest thing could set me off.” She turned back to Kiara.
“Uchu and I got married.”
“WHAT?!!!” She turned around to look at them, then gave a little laugh. “Jadi, it’s not nice to play tricks on your mother like that.”
Taabu stared at their faces. “You’re not joking?”
Jadi nuzzled Uchu. “No.”
Jadi, that’s wonderful. When is Rafiki coming.”
“He isn’t. It was all done there. We wanted to keep it to ourselves.”
“Oh . . .,” said Taabu, obviously disappointed. “Well, that’s your decision. Although I didn’t expect Kovu to tell you so soon.”
“Jadi, where is Kovu?” asked Kiara. “I know it’s not unnatural for him to be gone this long. But he didn’t really tell me that much.”
Jadi looked down at Uchu. Her face was worried. It wasn’t the kind of worry he expected. It wasn’t the worry of being found out, it was an uncomfortable worry, a worry that she didn’t quite know how to say what she was going to. “Er, Mom?” she said. “Do you think you could . . . well, leave?”
Taabu’s face was blank for a second. “Oh, you mean me. Alright. I’ll be outside.” She walked out of the den.
Uchu turned to look at Kiara. “Kiara . . . Kovu’s gone.”
“Gone?” she asked her face stricken. “He’s . . . he’s dead?”
Uchu bit her lip. “No,” she said. “He left. Kiara, I—I’m sorry to be the one to have to tell you this. He said he doesn’t love you anymore.”
“No . . .
Uchu, you must have heard him wrong. He’ll be back. I know he will.”
“Kiara . . . he gave us permission to marry. And then he told us . . . he said seeing us brought the truth in front of him. He said he had been lying to you for years every time he said he loved you.”
“No . . .” Kiara said, tears streaming down her face. “No, he wouldn’t . . . That’s not Kovu . . .”
“He said he was leaving because . . . it was because you . . . well . . . he just didn’t like you anymore, Kiara. He didn’t want to be with you. He was leaving to find a lioness that he truly did love.”
“Kovu would never do that!” Kiara protested. “He loves me!”
“I’m sorry, Kiara. Not anymore.” Jadi gave Uchu a lick on the ear. She giggled, then looked down at Kiara. “Oh . . . I’m sorry. We’ll leave. It’s just that I’m so happy!” Kiara let out a wail and buried her head in her forelegs. Uchu smiled. She and Jadi walked out the back of the den, leaving Kiara to weep.