Nala: My Father’s Madness

 

By Unali

 

Chapter 1: They Did Not Return

 

It had been a long and restless day in the Pride Lands. Simba and Mufasa had been missing for some hours. It was not like the king to leave his pride unprotected. Now half the day was gone, twilight was sweeping in purple and pink hues across the land and stars were beginning to twinkle above the rosy clouds when Zazu made his final report to Sarabi.

 

The little hornbill claimed to have awoken near Pride Rock, his memory foggy. The last thing he claimed to remember was Scar running toward Mufasa with some urgent news. Everything after was a blank . . . Sarabi had charged the little hornbill to stay at Pride Rock in the event that Mufasa and Simba or Scar should return. She then ordered a search party and she and the lionesses had spent the entire day searching.

 

Now Sarabi was moving heavily and wearily toward Pride Rock, her tail swishing low as her closest friends, Sarafina and Kali, moved miserably at her sides. They moved through the tall grass, their ears flat on their heads, and each lioness was filled with the same heart-wrenching thought: something terrible had happened to Mufasa and Simba.

 

Little Nala stumbled after in their wake, her head just as low and silent tears streaming from her eyes. Sarafina glanced back at her daughter, too afraid to explain what was happening and yet too afraid not to.

 

And then Sarabi looked up as Zazu came gliding smoothly over the tall grass and landed before them upon a rock. The little hornbill bowed low, his face the perfect vision of utter grief and misery as a single tear melted into the blue feathers. Sarabi’s heart clenched at the sight and Zazu need not have spoken; the truth was plain in his face: the king and little prince were dead.

 

They spoke not a word as they moved on, Zazu now gliding heavily in their wake. Sarabi felt a tiny crack in heart like a pencil line and the closer they came to Pride Rock, the wider it grew until she thought her heart would split in half and she would die.

 

As the shadow of Pride Rock fell across them, chilling in its enormity, other lionesses appeared in the grass and melted silently into Sarabi’s group. All were silent, all were sad, and Sarabi knew she had not been the first to hear Zazu’s news. She didn’t know how she could bear it, returning to Pride Rock without the welcome of her husband’s deep, merry voice, the patter of Simba’s feet as he ran to greet her . . .

 

They came at last to the foot of Pride Rock, where Scar was sitting solemn and grief-stricken over a huge pile of rocks: a grave. The full truth of what had happened hit home for the first time, and Sarabi halted and merely stared at the grave, her small eyes wide in disbelief.

 

“It can’t be true,” she whispered hoarsely. She moved quickly and deliberately toward the grave, but the scent of Mufasa was strong and oppressing. Sarabi’s legs shook slightly and she backed several feet away. “But where’s Simba?” she whispered. The scent of her son was not present.

 

Scar closed his eyes and nodded mournfully at Zira, who stepped forward and carefully placed a tuft of fur on the grave. Unknown to Sarabi, the tuft had been retrieved from the thorn patch after Simba’s escape. Sarabi’s breath caught in her throat, for the tuft of fur belonged to none other than her son.

 

“There was an accident,” Zira mumbled, her bright pitiless eyes fixed on Sarabi with a sort of cruel satisfaction.

 

Zira and Sarabi had never been friends -- in fact, they were anything but. Zira had always wanted to be queen in Sarabi’s place. She had a short-lived crush on Mufasa when she was young, but her heart was broken by the latter: Mufasa had only ever had eyes for Sarabi. Zira later fell in love with Scar (who merely tolerated her as a sort of fanatical follower he could one day use for his own purposes), and she and her followers were ever after estranged members of the pride. Now with Mufasa’s death, Zira’s chance had come.

 

Sarabi glanced sharply at Zira’s belly, which was beginning to sag suspiciously round, and she knew without a doubt that perhaps Zira had been waiting for this day, had even planned Mufasa’s death and gotten herself with Scar’s cub in advance.

 

“How is it you knew there was an accident and the rest of us did not?” Sarabi demanded, taking a halting step toward Zira. The others’ faces darkened with the same sudden thought, and the lionesses with Sarabi watched Zira with accusing stares.

 

Zira merely smiled from her seat at Scar’s foot and the lionesses sitting around her sneered at Sarabi.

 

“You--” Sarabi moved as if she would lunge, but a sharp voice rang out.

 

“Sarabi!” It was Scar. He was sitting perfectly still above the grave, his bright green eyes narrowed, his mouth a mournful line. “Do not smear my brother’s name by fighting at his funeral. Zira had nothing to do with – with the losses we have suffered today . . .” He bowed his head with a convincing expression of woe and Sarabi halted.

 

Zira, meanwhile, remained smiling as before.

 

Leave,” Sarabi hissed at Zira, “Leave or I swear . . .”

 

Zira didn’t move until Scar gave her an absent gesture of the paw. Then she climbed to her paws and with a sly smile, turned and began to slowly climb the stone stair, her followers hissing with laughter as they came in her wake.

 

Sarabi looked to Scar, “What happened? What . . . happened to them?” she begged brokenly, tears coursing down her cheeks.

 

Scar bowed his head and began the eulogy.

 

Chapter 2: Zira’s Threat

 

Nala speaks . . .

 

Life was never the same after that horrible night. I still remember the utter terror of seeing those hyenas – thousands upon thousands of them, it seemed – creeping down from every crevice of Pride Rock . . . laughing madly . . . sickly smiles upon their faces . . . The memory alone gives me chills . . .

 

Simba’s mother, however, seemed to harden at the prospect of a henceforth miserable life. The tears stopped flowing at once, and she lifted her head and tightened her jaw as if silently vowing to Mufasa “I will bear this for you, my husband, I will protect our pride and bear this burden for you, my husband and my king.” And from that day forth, Sarabi was forever changed. I never saw her smile or laugh until the day Simba returned to us.

 

No, she moved about, silent as stone, a solemn and proud fallen queen. Zira forever took her crown in a last humiliating blow: “Now that your husband is dead (she said the words coldly and maliciously to Sarabi and I saw the latter’s legs tense as if she longed to pounce upon Zira) I am the queen and you will take your orders from me.”

 

Sarabi said nothing. Though the young and proud Zira deluded herself that she was a great and powerful female influence on the pride, Sarabi was still the queen in our hearts and minds.  Zira gave an order, but once her back was turned, Sarabi turned to us and gave another one . . . and we followed it.

 

Then one dry and dismal night, as the hyenas cackled and suckled on the bones of our kill, I was noticed for the first time since Mufasa’s death. Scar, it seemed, had pointedly ignored my existence, but Zira’s bright eyes were forever fixed upon me.

 

 I still remember those terrifying nights when my mother was forced to go on hunts and leave me at Pride Rock . . . My mother, of course, refused to leave me at first, but Zira stepped forward (by now she seemed to realize that Sarabi was the only one from which we took orders and she was pale and trembling with anger) and she leaned close to my mother’s face as I hid behind her legs and whispered slyly, “If you don’t go on a hunt tonight, something might . . . happen . . . to little Nala in the night. You don’t want that, do you?” And my mother gazed down at me with large and fearful eyes, but Sarabi stepped close to Sarafina and whispered something soothing in her ear. (I was not to learn the matter of these whispers until much later.)

 

My mother then agreed o leave me while they went on the hunt. I sobbed and begged to go along, but Zira caught me up in her mouth and tossed me behind her. “Quiet, brat!” she hissed and I cowered, stung, against the wall . . . tears coursing down my cheeks.

 

My mother took a halting step toward Zira and it was all the others could do to get her to leave quietly. Once my mother and the others had gone, Zira turned to me.

 

“So,” she whispered as I cowered before her with large eyes.

 

I remember pressing my back hard against the wall, so hard that I thought I might sink into it and forever disappear  . . .

 

“You thought you were going to be future queen, did you? Well, I’m the only queen and MY children will reign here long after you are dead --”

 

I gulped and fresh tears coursed down my face and I thought as I cowered with a little scream against the wall that this was it: Zira would murder me in my mother’s absence. But a voice rang out, sharp and hoarse, and Zira froze mid-swipe, her back going rigid.

 

Scar stalked soundlessly from the shadows, his bright green eyes appearing first. His face was solemn and expressionless but his eyes were commanding as he said firmly to Zira, “I forbid you to lay a paw on that child.”

 

To no one’s surprise, Zira lowered her unsheathed paw and smiled wickedly. “How about a claw?” she said, moving toward Scar. “A tooth? Several teeth?”

 

I watched with silent loathing as Zira rubbed her ears against Scar’s chin. Scar gave away to a reluctant smile.

 

“You won’t touch her, my queen,” Scar said with the same amused smile.

 

Zira stared at him in confusion. “But – but why? She should have died with Simba in the elephant graveyard! Why shouldn’t she die now --?”

 

“Silence!” Scar growled and he was suddenly menacing.

 

Zira took an uncertain step back, her ears down.

 

“Certain  . . . circumstances . . . have changed since then,” Scar said simply. “It would have been a mistake to kill her, knowing what I know now.”

 

Zira’s mouth sagged open in confusion but Scar said sharply, “You are dismissed.”

 

Zira departed, but not without sparing me a dark and threatening glance. I still cowered against the wall, watching Scar’s solemnity with a dark and hardened expression. After a long moment of silence during which we merely stared (me glowering and him solemn) his face suddenly washed over with amusement: my hard expression delighted him.

 

“Very good,” he whispered to himself. “She has a will to live. She will survive. Very good.”

 

His mad mutterings confused and frightened me all the more, but I remained cowering against the wall, my face twisted in anger.

 

Then he leaned close to me and whispered, “If you tell a soul what was here spoken, I’ll have another – accident – occur. Understand?”

 

I said nothing and merely glowered all the harder.

 

He chuckled at me and turned smoothly from the cave.

 

Chapter 3: Sarafina’s Request

 

Sarafina paused, her eyes glinting in the darkness, and summoned her courage as she watched Scar’s still silhouette. He was seated upon the edge of Pride Rock and it was several mornings after Mufasa and Simba’s deaths. It was morning, or at least, Sarafina assumed it was morning. Since the deaths of the king and the prince, the days seemed the same as the nights: the sky was ever the same gray, bleak, and faceless wall . . . no rain, no green, no flourishing, no life. Under Scar’s reign and the terrible gorging of his hyena army, the Pride Lands were slowly dying . . .

 

Several hyenas were lounging about near the edge of Pride Rock, snoring and scratching and twitching in their sleep. Most of them leapt to their paws at the sight of Sarafina and snarled. Sarafina flinched when they snapped at her, but when Scar turned and summoned her with surprise and a hint of delight, she moved toward him with her chin lifted.

 

“What do you want,” Scar muttered, turning away as Sarafina took a seat at his side.

 

Sarafina peered anxiously into his face. His look was at once irritable and sullen and he was wasting away: she could tell by the circles under his eyes, the gaunt and terrible thinness which was overcoming his already-thin body . . .  Every other moment or so, Scar’s eye would twitch and at his side sat a little skull: the skull of a young zebra to which he was fond of muttering. Was the grief driving him into such states of madness?

 

“Taka,” said Sarafina softly.

 

“Don’t call me that!” Scar hissed in a low and menacing voice, his face twisting up as if she’d prodded him in an old wound with a thorn.

 

“But it’s your name,” said Sarafina earnestly, helplessly. “I don’t care what you and that – Zira – say. Your name is Taka. Taka is the lion I fell in love with; Taka is the one I came to speak to.”

 

“Taka doesn’t exist anymore,” said Scar harshly. “Get that through your skull!” He looked at her with a menacing light in his eyes. “Taka died when she died!”

 

Sarafina’s heart ached for him: ever since the death of his mother in that tragic accident . . . Scar had never been the same.

 

“And I died when Taka died . . .” Sarafina muttered, shrinking into herself.

 

Scar looked at her with a terrible hunger in his bright eyes. “I . . . never meant to hurt you, Sara,” he whispered almost tenderly. “But there came a moment when I knew I would never – never be the same – never feel the same. I still blame him . . .”

 

“He didn’t kill her,” Sarafina whispered. “Mufasa had nothing to do with your mother’s death!”

 

“NEVER mention my brother!” Scar burst suddenly, his eye twitching worse than ever as he pressed his face close to Sarafina’s. His lips trembled and his teeth flashed as he whispered again harshly and wildly, “Never!” and Sarafina was startled to see a tear trickle down his cheek.

 

“Oh, Taka,” she whispered, “always living in the past. What’s done is done. But you were never able to learn that . . . so it’s just as well that you became Scar and turned your back on being Taka.”

 

“What do you want?” Scar demanded again, turning away from her. “Why have you come? To pester me with things I can not undo?”

 

“No, I came to beg your mercy,” Sarafina answered. “There was a time when you loved me . . . I think some small part of you . . . the part that’s still Taka . . . might love me still.” She paused; waiting for an answer, but Scar merely breathed deeply and remained turned away from her.

 

“If you love me, if the Taka I know and love is still buried somewhere deep inside you, then grant me my request.”

 

Sarafina waited again.

 

After a long moment, Scar said softly and even affectionately, “State your request.” Though his back was still turned to her, his head was slightly tilted and she could see tears clinging to the long black lashes.

 

“Nala,” Sarafina whispered with a mother’s fear and desperation, “don’t let any harm come to Nala.”

 

“Why?” was the sharp and harsh demand.

 

“Re-remember the last night . . . before your mother died? Remember the last night before you . . . became so distant?”

 

Scar’s back stiffened and for a long moment, neither of them spoke as they remembered that night, the passion and the joy they shared in each other . . .

 

Then Scar whispered, “Request granted,” and Sarafina departed, smiling fondly at his back just once before reentering the cave.

 

Chapter 4: The Mighty Huntress

 

Nala Speaks . . . .

 

When I was nearing adulthood and growing too large and strong under Zira’s hateful eye, it came time for me to learn the hunt. No one was more pleased than my mother, who longed since the night Mufasa and Simba went missing to take me with her on every hunt. The lionesses moved out that dismal, dreary night and I followed in their wake, nervous and wary. We were all so thin our ribs were nearly poking out . . . all except myself. My mother and Sarabi gave me what little they had to eat, all the while whispering to each other.

 

“You must be healthy and strong,” my mother would insist, sliding her own tiny portion of the kill towards me with her nose.

 

“Even if we can not,” Sarabi added with a sad smile.

 

It pained me to see them so thin and weak while Zira, lounging ever in Scar’s wake, ate her fill.

 

To my surprise, Scar did not object when these large portions of meat were given to me. Zira stiffened and perhaps would have put a stop to my generous meals at once, but one look from Scar sent her sulking away. Besides, she had her own cub to look after now: a scrawny male cub with small, terrified eyes named Nuka.

 

 I could not help but feel somewhat sorry for Nuka, who was obviously Scar and Zira’s son. His mother was a constant terror, always snarling at him, always pushing him to act “like a lion and not a lioness” or “like he had a mane growing in.” “Stop whimpering!” she would yell at him. “Kings don’t whimper! I’ll give you something to whimper about!” and all would flinch as her claws scraped his flesh in a hard and cruel smack.

 

“There, there,” Zira would whisper after the beating, “I hit you because I love you . . .” and she would gather a whimpering Nuka into her forelegs with a knitted brow.

 

Scar, meanwhile, said nothing of this. He seemed to hold nothing but the greatest contempt for the cub. And as I grew into a hearty, healthy young lioness, Nuka became ever more weak, frail, and sickly. Zira refused to feed him from the kill, stating with a crazed light in her eye that kings knew how to catch their own meals.

 

Thus, as I grew into adolescence, so did Nuka, under the terrible reign of his mad parents.

 

But I wander . . . I was speaking of my first hunt. I followed after the others, hearty and healthy, and when we crouched low in the tall, dead grass and all their gaunt and circled  eyes were turned upon me . . . I realized that they’d kept me healthy because I was their salvation: I was now the only one young enough and fast enough to catch the terrified herds.

 

“It won’t be easy,” my mother whispered at my side, watching me with proud, shinning eyes, “but nothing worth having is ever easy to get. Just remember you’re my daughter. That fact alone should help you succeed.”

 

“See that wildebeest there?” Sarabi whispered to me, the hungry light of the huntress in her eyes.

 

I followed her gaze and when my eyes alighted on the weak and old wildebeest at the rear of the herd, my stomach lurched with an almighty growl. “Yes,” I whispered in return.

 

“Run out there and take it down. We’ll block its escape, but you shall be the one who kills it,” my mother said, still watching me with the same eager pride in her thin, hollow face.

 

“Don’t come back without it,” Sarabi said firmly.

 

I nodded silently and crept forward in the grass, replaying in my head again and again all the lessons I’d been taught as a child: “Stay low to the ground, Nala, so low that you could be a mound of earth,” “Spread your claws until the ground and yourself become one, keep your claws soft and firm – if you step on a pebble, crush it rather than make a sound,” “Always keep your tail low,” “Never take your eyes off your prey . . .”

 

All those words of wisdom and advice played a song in my head until I suddenly found myself dashing at a burst from the tall grass. The closest wildebeest gave a scream to alert the others, and before I knew it, they were all thundering away at top speed. I kept my eyes on the kill. My sickly wildebeest was surprisingly fast, but I stayed on its heels, swerving when it swerved, leaping when it leapt. . . .

 

Finally, I thought the moment had come. I leapt for its back – and received a hard kick in the face. Stars burst before my eyes and for several seconds, I knew I was insensate on the ground. Then a voice calling,

 

“Nala! Nala! She’s bleeding, Sarabi, oh, Nala! Nala!”

 

I cracked my eyes open and blood indeed was caking them, dribbling from my temple, down my chin in a disturbing red streak.

 

“It’s alright,” said Sarabi with a sigh of relief, “she’s awake.”

 

“Oh, Nala, you’re alright!” my mother cried, licking my ears. “It’s alright that you failed, it was your first kill, after all . . .”

 

I sat up carefully and it stung me afresh how thin they all were: they were talking skeletons before me and here I was, hearty and robust and strong, having eaten their hard-earned meals from the time I was a cub.

 

“No,” I said firmly, shaking my head. “I didn’t fail because it isn’t over yet.” And before any of them could protest, I was off, bounding through the tall grass, leaping over logs, dashing around rocks, my heart hammering in my chest, the blood flying in sticky strings over my shoulders:  I would kill or be killed.

 

Down another hill I thundered and there they were: the wildebeest had not gotten far. It didn’t take much these days for them to outrun a gaggle of sickly, weak lionesses. But I was young and strong and there was no excuse for having let the kill escape. I crept closer and closer, blending with the tall, pale grass, and my darting eyes found at last the wildebeest which had kicked me in the head: my very blood was on its backend.

 

I darted suddenly without warning. The wildebeest herd flew into a panic. It seemed every one of them purposely ran a different direction in an attempt to confuse me. But my eyes were fixed on one wildebeest and one wildebeest alone: I ran after him right on his heels and he was twice as terrified as before. He bucked and kicked yet again while that horrible sound came out of his mouth. But this time I had learned from my mistakes: I dodged the blows, my eyes were sharp for his every kick and every kick I avoided. He looked over his shoulder at me a last time, determination in his tiny, watery eyes, and he gave an almighty blow. I felt my jaw crack the tiniest bit, but this time I took advantage of the kick and bit down hard on his ankle, refusing to let go. With a violent twist of my neck he was down in a flash and I stood over him, the mighty huntress of the Pride Lands.

 

Chapter 5: My How You’ve Grown

 

After the kill, Sarabi and the others could not stop praising Nala. They were cheerful for the first time in many years. Sarabi did smile every now and then, but Nala hardly noticed, for the ex-queen’s smiles were so sad . . . Sarafina could not stop gazing at Nala with large, proud, misty eyes and the others sang her praises all the way home.

 

As Pride Rock loomed large against the gray sky and its cold shadow fell over them, the hunting party became sour as quickly as they’d become happy.

 

“Too bad most of your kill will go to them,” grumbled a lioness at the back of the procession.

 

“Shut up, Kali,” snapped Sarafina grumpily.

 

“But it’s true!” went on the lioness, glaring up at Pride Rock. “I never thought I’d say this, but I hate returning to Pride Rock more than any other aspect of our miserably existence.”

 

“Thank you, Kali!” Sarafina growled sarcastically. “Thank you for ruining the one tiny joy living under Scar allows!”

 

“I’m sorry!” Kali growled back, but she sounded anything but apologetic. “But we all have to face the truth. Nala maybe be our greatest joy in life,” and here she gazed at Nala affectionately and kindly, “but besides that, there is nothing else.”

 

“Enough,” said Sarabi, quietly but firmly, and Sarafina and Kali grudgingly shut their opened mouths. “We will accomplish nothing by arguing amongst each other. Scar and Zira are the enemy, and if we hope to survive, we must do it together.”

 

They continued on a little way in silence, but Sarabi suddenly halted the group. Going toward Nala, who was dragging the kill in their midst, she ripped off a large piece of the thigh and commanded her to eat.

 

Eat it, child,” Sarabi said firmly. “You will need your strength. Scar will send us out again for another kill and the hyenas will take this one.”

 

Nala hesitated but did as she was told, then the hunting party turned again for home.

 

The hyenas ran toward the kill as soon as the group set paw on the stone stair. Nala dropped the kill and backed away in disgust. Sarabi and the others watched darkly as their hard work was devoured in mere minutes by the cackling, snapping, growling pack of smelly, ravenous hyenas.

 

“Sarabi!!!” came the hoarse and impatient call.

 

Sarabi moved to the peak of Pride Rock, her expression solemn, her chin lifted. The others followed in her wake. Scar was standing there waiting, a sneer on his lips. He looked more skeletal than ever and Nala was startled to see blood on his claws.

 

“Is this all you bring back after hours of hunting?” Scar demanded; his bright green eyes wide and alight.

 

“What did you expect?” Sarabi said in her calm, yet firm manner. “The hyenas consume everything in sight. We were lucky enough to find what we did.”

 

Scar stood silent a moment, his eyes dancing over the hunting party. He stared at Nala a long time, who gazed back unflinching. “What happened to her?” he demanded in a strangely suspicious tone.

 

“She was hurt in the hunt,” spoke up Sarafina and her eyes bore into Scar’s, as if to remind him of his promise.

 

“Mother, I’m not a cub anymore. I can speak for myself--” began Nala.

 

“You could speak for yourself then,” said Sarabi fondly.

 

Nala stepped forward. “I was hurt in the hunt. The wildebeest kicked me in the head. Is that a problem?”

 

Zira, who was standing in Scar’s shadow, gave a low hiss. “You dare!” she said, stalking to Scar’s side. “Scar, let me have her! She’s been nothing but a smartass vixen from the moment she could talk --”

 

“Silence!” Scar growled.

 

Zira fell silent with an angry heave of her chest, but her bright cruel eyes remained fixed on Nala. Nala stared back at Zira fearlessly and she noticed for the first time that Zira had a deep, red scratch across her face and a bloody nick in her ear: it seemed she and Scar had gotten into a physical fight.

 

“Since you are so eager to be of some use,” said Scar without looking at Zira, “you will join the hunting party in Nala’s place.”

 

Zira’s mouth fell open. Since Scar’s ascent to the throne, she had always been the most spoilt of the lionesses. She and her few followers did not hunt, but rather lounged about as shamelessly as the hyenas while Sarabi and her loyal friends did all the work. Not only was Zira loath to start hunting again, but she was secretly terrified of being alone with Sarabi and her group: it was no secret that there was hate between them.

 

“Then Dotty and the others are to come with me,” said Zira hoarsely and weakly. She was like a cub beside Scar: her head low, her ears down.

 

“No,” Scar answered sharply. “You will join Sarabi’s hunting party . . . alone.”

 

Nala saw the hunting party smile darkly and some even chuckled. Zira gulped visibly, but straightened up with a sneer and said, “So be it.”

 

Nala watched a little anxiously as the others left again, Zira stalking resentfully in their wake. She was loath to be alone with Scar, the hyenas, and his scant lioness followers when she’d only just been given her freedom.

 

“What’s the meaning of this?” Nala demanded angrily once the hunting party was gone. “I’m old enough now to go on the hunt. I even brought in tonight’s kill – why am I staying behind?”

 

Scar said nothing for a long moment and merely stalked circles about Nala, his eyes dancing up and down her slender, muscular build. He carefully climbed upon her back and whispered in her ear, “My how you’ve grown . . .”

 

“Get off me!” Nala growled, struggling as Scar dragged her down.

 

“Zira is useless as my queen. She bore me that monstrosity – that thing she calls Nuka, but you? You’re practically an adult now, a budding lioness, strong and healthy, the perfect queen . . .”

 

Nala felt his tongue touch her ear and something burst inside her like a flame. “I said GET OFF!” Her voice carried on in a roar that echoed across the desolate Pride Lands and in another moment, Scar was flying through the air, having received a furious back-kick in the groin. The mad king slammed into the rock wall and slid like a rag doll into a dazzled heap. The surrounding hyenas leapt up and began to growl.

 

Nala ignored them. She moved toward Scar’s limp body, and pinning him down by the shoulders, she smiled down into his furious face. Blood was gushing from his mane, across his eyes. He bared his teeth at her angrily but was too weak and limp to throw her off. What a thin, helpless thing he seemed beneath her claws!

 

“I learned that from the wildebeest,” said Nala, smiling darkly.

 

“You  . . . nearly killed me,” Scar sputtered, blood leaking from his nose.

 

Nala smirked, leaned down close, and whispered in Scar’s ear, “Long live the king.” Then she turned and walked slowly down from Pride Rock, never once looking back. Now he knew what it was like to be a lioness, to risk your life everyday on the hunt, to nearly die for the attainment of something you hungered for and yet were barely allowed to enjoy.

 

Now he had a little taste of his own medicine.

 

Chapter 6: It Can’t Be True!

 

Nala Speaks . . .

 

I marched down from Pride Rock, the blood rushing in my veins, furious that such a thing could have happened to me. And then I heard his voice in the distance, stifled behind his bloody nose: “Get her!” Scar screamed after me. “Don’t let her escape! Bring her back to me!”

 

I looked back. Scar was standing on the peak of Pride Rock, his mane blowing in the wind, his mad eyes alight. Meanwhile, it appeared a massive black cloud was rushing down from the den like so many ants from an anthill: the hyenas were racing after me, smiling wickedly, cackling loudly.

 

I burst into a run. It was over. There was no turning back. But how could I abandon my mother and the others? No, there had to be a better way.

 

Contrary to popular belief, lions can and often do climb trees. I ran some distance across the Pride Lands, never once looking back, and scrambled up a large, round tree. The tree was very smooth and near impossible to climb, but to a desperate lioness, my climb was laughably easy and short. In no time I was perched in the large, round tree with the hyenas cackling angrily below. I was only glad none of Zira’s tagalong lionesses had followed me, for they would have climbed the tree and my little adventure would have come to an end.

 

“You can’t stay up there forever!” called a hyena in the led, a female with a flop of black hair tumbling in her eyes.

 

“And when you come down,” added a male at her side, “we’ll eat you!”

 

The female elbowed him, “Scar said to bring her back alive, Banzai!”

 

“But I’m hungry!” whined the other.

 

“I hope you’re thirsty as well . . .” I lifted my leg and my sudden spray sent several of the hyenas scattering back to Pride Rock.

 

The one called Banzai was actually hit in the eye, for he’d placed his forelegs against the tree and was scowling up at me. The female grabbed him as he turned to retreat with the others and as they grumbled and argued, the other remaining hyenas joined in.

 

“Look!” called the female after arguing in low tones with her followers, “If you come down and come with us quietly, we’ll let that whole incident just now slip!”

 

I opened my mouth to shout back that, no, I’d die before I willingly obeyed Scar’s orders, but a sudden shriek made us all jump. I was startled so terribly, I nearly fell out of the tree. I managed to barely hold on by my nails and the hyenas below shrieked in surprise, turned, and fled, bumping into each other as spear after spear came hurtling down at them.

 

I looked around to see an old mandrill with a large mane of white hair shrieking happily at the top of his lungs as he hurled sharp stick after sharp stick on the hyenas below. He seemed to have a great quantity of them for just such an occasion, for he carried the sharp sticks in a large, hollow piece of fruit.

 

“And don’ come back if yeh know what’s for you!” the mandrill called after the scrambling hyenas. He gave another high-pitched shriek of delight and shook his mane with such a wild smile that I laughed outright.

 

“Your highness,” said the mandrill, turning to me with a low and reverent bow, “you don’ remember me, but I remember you. Come.” And with that, he turned and entered the forest of close branches that made up the tree.

 

I inched along the tree branch but halted, unsure how I was to fit my massive self between the branches. But the mandrill appeared again and beckoned me (come on, child! Come on!) , so I squeezed myself through.

 

It was amazing, the little home this strange creature had made for himself in the center of the tree. At the tree’s core was a wide, flat space filled with little fruits and odds and ends. On the thick branches were small paintings of what I perceived to be lion cubs. The freshest painting was dashed out, smeared with red dust.

 

However wide the tiny space was for the mandrill, I just barely fit in.  In fact, only my front half actually fit within the branches of the tree. My butt was hanging out to the cold air. Seeing my difficulty, the mandrill turned to me and laughed.

 

“Oh, your highness,” he said, coming toward me. He leaned down, and to my surprise, was able to pull me inside the tiny space. Thus we sat on top of each other, crowded beneath the canopy of gently rustling leaves.

 

The mandrill studied my face a moment and made a sad tisking sound. “You’ve had an injury, your highness. Here . . . I can help . . .” So saying, he turned away and began to rummage through the many objects crowding us.

 

“But . . . who are you?” I asked, narrowing my eyes. “And why do you keep calling me ‘your highness?’”

 

“Because,” said the mandrill, turning back to me with a half a bit of dried fruit in hand, “you are the true queen, not that Zira creature. Bah! Calling yourself queen and living like a queen are two very different’ tings.” He dipped his thumb in the purple paste inside the bit of fruit and began smearing it across my injured face.

 

I felt the nagging, pricking pain all over my head and in my jaw cease and go numb at once.

 

“Thank you,” I said. “But you still haven’t told me who you are.”

 

“I am a good friend of Mufasa’s,” he said simply, and catching some of the dripping paste off my chin, he ate it with relish.

 

“You – you mean you WERE a good friend of Mufasa’s,” I said uncertainly.

 

“No. I am! I AM a good friend of the king’s --”

 

But the mandrill broke off, for the sound of furious voices reached our ears. My ears went up. There were several shouting voices, but my mother’s was loudest of all. I hurried to thrust my head from the tree branches and the sight I saw below filled me with horror:

 

Zira had attacked my mother from behind with a sudden violent leap and the others were prying her off.

 

“It’s not true!” Zira was wailing. “She’s not his daughter! You weren’t his lover! I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you all!”

 

But Zira looked far from killing anyone. The lionesses crowded around my mother like a protective barrier and moved slowly toward Zira as if her fate were sealed. Zira backed away, her ears down, her lips snarling, then turned tail and ran for Pride Rock.

 

“Gone off to tattle on us, no doubt,” said Kali darkly, “the wench.”

 

“Mother!” I screamed. I leapt down from the tree to many gasps of “Nala!” and the lionesses parted to allow my access to my mother. Sarabi was at her side, tending to her with a mixture of tender sadness and anger in her eyes.

 

I’ll never forget how pitiful, how weak and torn my mother looked. Her back was ripped to bloody ribbons. She would never, perhaps, be able to hunt again. She looked up at me anxiously and managed dryly, “Nala! . . . what . . . are you . . . Why aren’t  you . . . at . . . Pride Rock?”

 

“Hush, don’t speak,” Sarabi begged, who seemed unable to bear the sound of my mother’s gasping, struggling voice. “You should rest here a while. You’ve already lost so much blood . . .” Her voice shook slightly on the last word.

 

“No! I . . . can try . . . take me back . . . take me home . . .” my mother whispered.

 

We all helped her to her paws and started home, moving around my mother like mothers guiding their new born cub as it was learning to walk.

 

When we’d walked a good distance, Sarabi pulled me aside and asked in a low whisper, “Why did you leave Pride Rock?” Her brows rushed together anxiously and her face danced over mine in concern. I was touched by how much she cared for me. I could’ve been her cub.

 

“Scar,” I whispered darkly. I needn’t have said more: Sarabi seemed to understand. The queen’s face darkened and she moved ahead of the others, as if she longed to sink her claws into Scar and could walk patiently at my mother’s side no longer.

 

When we finally reached Pride Rock, the hyenas stood waiting in black rows either side the path leading to the stone stair. They glowered and growled at us as we passed, but none attacked. Higher up sat Zira’s followers, glowering just as darkly, and lastly, Scar and Zira stood side by side on the ledge of Pride Rock.

 

No one moved to stop us as we helped my mother inside the den. I thought I saw Scar’s eyes follow her bloody back anxiously but when he noticed I watched him, he merely looked away. We helped my mother to lie down, but it seemed as soon as her body touched the ground . . . her spirit gave away  .  .  . and she was gone forever.

 

Sarabi hung her head and a tear leaked from her eye.

 

“She wanted to die here,” choked Kali, “that’s why she insisted on walking back . . .”

 

A tiny, dry sob escaped me. Sarabi and the others moved to my sides, nuzzling me and sobbing with me and the cave was filled with the sounds of broken hearts crying out for something – anything – to ease the pain. It didn’t sink in that she was really gone until

Scar came bursting in. We all looked up, tear-stained faces, angry, indignant eyes. Scar merely brushed past us to my mother’s still body. We watched his back anxiously. For several long seconds, there was silence in the cave, a silence so loud it hurt. Then Scar flung his head back and let loose a terrible, agonized howl.

 

Our mouths sagged open in confusion as Scar suddenly collapsed at my mother’s side, nuzzled his nose into her neck, and began to cry loudly and wretchedly.

 

“It can’t be true!” said a voice from the cave entrance.  Zira stood behind us all, shock and disgust plain upon her face. “You can’t have loved her! She can’t be your child!”

 

I remember it felt like my heart stopped, like I couldn’t move, like I couldn’t breathe. My eyes snapped to Scar, who was now glowering at Zira through tear-filled, green eyes.

 

“What does she mean by that?” I demanded, watching Scar’s fury build.

 

“I mean this, little brat,” said Zira, stepping close to me, “your mother claimed you were Scar’s daughter and that they once had a secret romance!”

 

I stood stunned.

 

Scar leapt at Zira and fairly chased her from the den, screaming all the while at the top of his lungs: “Get out! Get out of my Pride Lands – and take your retarded son with you!” He jerked Nuka suddenly from the shadows and Nuka fled down the stone stair, terrified.

 

Zira, however, stood her ground. Her followers came to join her.

 

“But I love you!” she said, but for the tone of her voice she might as well have said, “But I hate you!”

 

Scar’s teeth flashed, “If you loved me, you would never have laid a paw on her --” He stabbed a claw toward the cave and toward my mother’s lifeless body, tears welling in his eyes.

 

“And if you loved ME,” Zira shot back, her bright eyes wide, “you would never have tried to make your own DAUGHTER your queen!”

 

There was a collective gasp and the lionesses standing around Sarabi and I began to growl.

 

“You disgust me!” said Kali, taking a threatening step toward Scar.

 

 “Pig! Monster!” came the indignant hisses of my mother’s loyal friends.

 

But the hyenas moved in like body guards around their king, and no one could lay a paw on him.

 

“She – she looked so much like – like my Sara when we were young .  . . I . . . I got confused . . .”

 

“Ha!” shouted Zira. “Who will you mistake for Sarafina next, Nuka?”

 

“Get out!” Scar growled again, taking a halting step toward Zira. “Get out and don’t come back!”

 

With that, the hyenas lunged and chased Zira, Nuka, and her followers clear from the Pride Lands.

 

Chapter 7: She Shall Wed Nuka

 

Though Zira was banished from Pride Rock, her romance with Scar continued.  She came every now and then with a bit of bloody meat in her mouth and offered it to Scar, who she reverently called “My king” with a bow. “Remember your promise,” she would whisper, “Nuka was to be king with Nala as his queen – though I’d rather eat thorns than have her marry my Nuka. . . .”

 

Scar gradually, but willingly accepted these offerings with an affectionate lick on Zira’s head.  And soon she was back at Pride Rock with the rest of her ragged band.

 

Not only was Zira welcomed back, but she was made the leader of the hunting party by Scar, another cruel blow to Sarabi. Now with Zira leading every hunting expedition, Sarabi and her group were no longer allowed to slip generous meals to Nala. Zira and her followers did none of the work, but she watched Sarabi and her friends with a sharp and threatening eye. It soon came to pass that Nala was forced to slip out in secret every night to hunt for Sarabi and her mother’s friends.

 

One night, however, Nala’s lone hunts were not so secret. After giving the kill to Sarabi and the others behind Pride Rock, she returned to the den only to find herself confronted by a smug and haughty Zira.

 

“Where the hell have you been?” Zira demanded.

 

“What, I have to report to you every time I take a crap?” retorted Nala, her nose wrinkling up in a sneer.

 

“Insolent little bitch!” Zira snarled, her enter body shaking as if she wanted nothing more than to pounce on Nala. “I ought to --”

 

“What?” To Zira’s fury, Nala smiled with self-satisfaction. “You were allowed to return on one condition: that you do no harm to me, your lover’s daughter.” And here, Nala began to pace taunting circles around Zira as the other’s snarls deepened.

“So long as you don’t lay a claw upon me, you’re allowed to keep mating with that monster who calls himself king!”

 

“Shut up!” Zira growled. “Shut up or that promise is broken! How dare you speak of Scar that way! You don’t know the horror – the tragedy his life has been! You know nothing --”

 

“So he led a hard life!” Nala said over her, her fierce green eyes narrowed. “Who hasn’t? Who hasn’t been overcome by misfortune? By loss? By suffering? My mother is dead because of you! It doesn’t mean I’ve stooped so low that I ruthlessly inflict suffering on others! And I could,” Nala whispered angrily, her nose an inch from Zira’s, “I could end your miserable life and Scar would be glad, he’d rejoice to be rid of such a pathetic excuse for a lioness who calls herself queen! You wouldn’t know a real queen if it sat on your face!”

 

“Graaah!” Zira cried out and had to visibly stop herself from sinking her teeth in Nala’s throat. “Just because I can’t kill you with my own paw doesn’t mean I couldn’t have someone else do it. And they’d be happy to face banishment if it meant getting rid of you. Your father would be delighted: your face, the face that looks so much like Sarafina’s, would haunt him no longer. So don’t think just because he’s your father that you’re safe.” She leaned very close to Nala and whispered with bright, vicious eyes, “Accidents can happen.”

 

Nala watched her saunter off and noticed for first time that Zira’s belly was again sagging suspiciously round.

 

Time passed, day passing into dreary day, and when Nala was finally a full-grown lioness, Zira gave birth to a second cub, this one she named Vitani. Scar was in a rage: he’d hoped for a son, not a daughter. Zira was again cast out for a time in shame, along with her newborn cub, but Nuka (now an adolescent with a thin mane growing in) was ordered to stay.

 

“Because your worthless mother has failed yet again to bear a suitable heir, you are to marry Nala,” Scar commanded of him.

 

Nuka looked at Nala with sheepish delight, and Nala, standing nearby in shock, started toward Scar with a growl of disbelief.

 

“What? Are you crazy, he’s my half brother! He’s not even my age, he’s practically a cub, you can’t make me do this, I’ll never --”

 

“Silence!” The back of Scar’s paw struck her down and Sarabi lunged forward.

 

Scar staggered back several steps and the hyenas pressed in.

 

“If you ever strike her again,” Sarabi warned, looking past the wall of hyenas as if they weren’t there, “I’ll kill you, hyenas or no hyenas.”

 

“She’s going to marry Nuka,” Scar said again, calm and firm in his decision. “She’ll marry him or she’ll die: my hyenas will eat her alive and Zira’s cub will marry him in her place!”

 

“He’s insane,” said Kali whispered, shaking her head darkly from where she stood with the others over Nala’s crumpled body.

 

“Either Nala does not marry Nuka,” said Sarabi, “or we do not hunt. Take your pick.”

 

“There’s nothing left to hunt anyway!” Kali burst angrily.

 

Scar moved forward through the wall of hyenas and pressing his face close to Sarabi’s, he said scathingly, “She marries Nuka or . . . she marries me.”

 

The surrounding hyenas burst into laughter as Sarabi and her friends paled with dread. Sarabi was silent as she studied Scar: the circles under his eyes, the dark skin barely hanging to his bones. He’d lost all reason, or perhaps, he’d never been reasonable to begin with . . .

 

“Good, we understand each other,” said Scar with a malicious, self-satisfied nod.

 

Sarabi turned away as if she would indeed allow Nala to marry Nuka without a fight, but the fallen queen had something else in mind.

 

Chapter 8: The Flame I Lit

 

Nala speaks . . .

 

When I later awoke, I was lying in a strange place and there were voices, whispers hissing above me. I groaned and carefully lifted my head. Sarabi and the others stood over me, talking in low whispers. We were somewhere far from Pride Rock and yet still in the Pride Lands. Precisely where, I was not sure. The whispers stopped when the others noticed I was awake and all were strangely anxious and eager when I climbed to my paws.

 

“Where are we? What are we doing?” I asked hoarsely.

 

Sarabi moved close to me. “You must listen to me,” she said, her face displaying the regal and commanding expression we had all come to love. “The Pride Lands were never safe for you once he took over, but now things are even worse. Zira is back at Pride Rock with her daughter and more trouble is stirring. She’s convinced Scar that Vitani could be queen in your place, that he’s better off killing you because he won’t have to think of your mother anymore . . .”

 

All of this I listened to in silent wonder and fear, and I knew at once what Sarabi was going to force me to do.

 

“So you’re sending me away?” I said sharply. “I can’t just abandon you all! You’re my pride – you can barely hunt in your condition --”

 

“Darling, there’s nothing to hunt,” said Kali with a sad smile.

 

“But you need me!” I protested. “I can’t leave my pride alone --”

 

“A true queen,” said Sarabi proudly, gazing at the others. “Just like I always taught her.” She turned to me again and said, “But now you have another test ahead of you. A true queen does whatever she must to protect her pride. You MUST leave Pride Rock, Nala. It’s the only way any of us will be saved. Leave. Leave and find a lion who will help us take down Scar.”

 

I opened my mouth to protest once more but I realized that they were right: there was no more reason for me to stay. I had learned to hunt for their sake, but now there was nothing more to hunt: the last of the herds had moved on.  I had also stayed to comfort my mother, for I had been her one joy and now she had been taken from me as well  . . .

 

I was a full adult now and I was thus able to survive such a task.  It seemed now the only way to save everyone . . . was to find help.

 

I gave my pride, this thin group of ragged lionesses, a last loving glance. They smiled at me encouragingly, the light in their eyes fierce as each silently confirmed their faith in me. They believed in me. I was their hope, their savior, their only comfort. I had no desire to be queen, yet to act like a true queen seemed an instinct of mine from the time Sarabi gave me my first lesson in leading a pride. A true queen would do whatever she must and that was just what I would do.

 

With a last smile at Sarabi and the others, I was off, bounding over the rough and dry lands that had once been so prosperous and flourishing. I thundered on, panting, aching, sweating, but determined to succeed. I was off into the unknown to find help, and find help . . . I would.

 

And then, through a series of convenient circumstances, I found the one lion that had the ability to save us all . . .

 

“Nala? Is it really you?”

 

“Who are you?”

 

“It’s me . . . Simba.”

 

“Simba?”

 

“WHOA!!!!”

 

And just like that, the flame was lit again. I felt things awaken inside me that, until I was rejoined with Simba, I didn’t even know they were there . . . he was large and strong and smelled of earth and I was wild for the scent of him. We ran the fields together, happy in each other’s company, laughing and carefree and so in love. And every time I looked into his eyes . . . it was like a tremendous weight suddenly lifted . . . and there was nothing more to worry about. With Simba I was alive again, and I practiced my smile . . . til it was perfect.

 

“I never imagined . . . anything could feel so . . . delicious,” Simba whispered after the two of us had shared a long and intimate night in each other’s company. He licked my ears as he spoke, his massive weight pressing me into the cluster of foliage upon which we were lying together like a couple of cubs who were trying to catch their breath after a wrestling match.

 

“And you can still pin me down,” he said with a laugh, “that’s how I recognized you: you did it exactly the same way you did when were we kids. You always pinned me down by the insides of my shoulders so I couldn’t get free . . . then you’d stare into my face with those bright, green eyes . . .”

 

“Yeah, you always used to hate that,” I said happily.

 

Simba laughed again, “I think I like it now.”

 

I rolled over and pinned him down and we laughed in each other’s company. And then I mentioned Pride Rock and things unraveled from there. . . . He would not tell me why, only that he could not – that he would not – return. I, of course, was furious. After my long suffering, after the death of my mother, after all the terror that had been my life . . . he would abandon his own mother – his own pride! – without reason! I could see in his eyes that he cared, that every time I mentioned his mother he wanted to return, to take down Scar. But stubbornness washed over his concern in a twinkling and his fierce pride found him stalking off as I shouted after him, “Fine!”

 

That night, I wept, bitterly and brokenly and for the first time in many years . . . I had finally failed to save my pride . . . to save all those lionesses who had been like mothers and sisters to me from the time I was small. For a moment I thought about pressing on, forgetting Simba, finding another lion that would help. But one last tug of the heart prompted me to find him once more and knock some sense into him.

 

You know what happened after that. The mandrill appeared out of nowhere after a frustrating conversation with Timon and Pumbaa to announce “the king has returned.”

 

I set off at once.

 

Chapter 9: Rest In Peace, Father

 

After Simba’s coronation, Nala managed to slip away unnoticed by the rejoicing pride. All were gathered around Simba, including the mandrill, Timon and Pumbaa, and little, flustered Zazu. As for Zira and her followers, they returned from the hunt to find their world shattered. None were more pleased than Sarabi and the others to chase them off.

 

Nala, meanwhile, moved about the base of Pride Rock. She knew what she was looking for and yet knew not why: the lion had never been anything but cruel to her and yet . . . and yet she knew there was so much more. He had been sick, this broken and wild-eyed king, and nothing could have saved him save for the end which he had rightfully met.

 

Nala sniffed forlornly here and there, her eyes barely open in her sorrow, until there he was: the body of her father lay crumpled and broken in the drifting fog. He was a gruesome site: his entire body was torn, ripped, gnawed . . . the flesh was barely clinging to the bone.  Nala closed her eyes a moment in silence, then began the slow work of covering her father’s body with rocks. When the pile was sufficient enough, she paused with her head hung to whisper:

 

“I know you were crazy, disgusting, and downright sick . . . but I understand now: you were just as much a victim of your madness as the rest of us. My mother loved you right to her grave and perhaps she loves you still . . . I love you too, the part of you that she loved, the part of you that might have been a good father had you not gone so mad. Taka, she used to call you, never Scar. Taka was the one she loved. Taka is the one I love too. Rest in piece, Father. Your mad reign is at an end.”

 

“What are you doing?”

 

Nala looked around. Simba was standing behind her, his brows rushing together in confusion.

 

“Were you talking to someone . . .?” he peered behind her at the shabby grave.

 

“I was just breathing a sigh of relief: the crazy bastard is dead,” answered Nala with a smile.

 

A mischievous expression washed over Simba’s face, “You’ll be breathing differently when I get hold you! Come ‘ere!” He pounced at Nala playfully but she dodged him easily and the two raced up the stone stair to Pride Rock, never dreaming that a young Taka and Sarafina had once done the same.