Taka Leaves a Scar

 

By Unali

 

Chapter 1: Two Brothers

Dawn crept over the Pride Lands, washing the inky black sky in a misty pink glow. Slowly, the sun’s pale fingers stretched beneath the clouds until the distant silhouettes of thin wispy trees became distinct in the distance. Birds began to chirrup, hailing the morning with their ceaseless chatter, and slowly but surely, the African Pride Lands came awake.

But there was one who had been awake long before the others. Taka, a sturdy young male lion with the faint beginnings of a black mane, sat alone on the edge of Pride Rock, looking out across the land and reflecting that today, their father would chose which son would become the future ruler. It was the Pride tradition that when a king had two cubs, both would contend in a test of wisdom, kindness, and strength. Taka did not know what the test would be, but was confident he was ready.

“Taka?”

Taka turned to see his brother had awoken and was standing in the mouth of the cave where the other lions slept. It had always been this way: Taka arose early while Mufasa slept in. Mufasa never was a morning lion . . . Yet in more ways than one were Taka and his brother opposites. Taka had taken after their father the King Ahadi, and was black of mane and green of eye while Mufasa had taken after their fairer mother Queen Uru and had a brown mane and eyes almost golden, especially when Mufasa smiled.

“Finally, awake, are you?” Taka sneered, though he could not help but smile. He and Mufasa had that kind of love/hate relationship, but Taka sometimes thought he rather hated more than loved . . .

Mufasa laughed and moved closer. “You know I’m no morning lion, but you – you’re always awake before the birds!”

“One would think you didn’t want to be king,” said Taka, studying his brother with sincere curiosity.

Taka did not understand how Mufasa could be so laid back about something that seemed more than important to him. In a lion’s pride, power meant everything: the best mate, the first food, total control of the law. Taka couldn’t understand how Mufasa could not want that kind of power! But then again, Taka had always been cleverer than Mufasa, who was good-hearted but too trusting and almost naēve.

Mufasa tilted his head and frowned. “Why do you want this so badly?”

Taka narrowed his eyes. “Why don’t you?”

The two brothers remained staring at each other, struggling as they had their entire lives to understand each other as their parents sat watching them from the shadows of the cave.

The other lions still slept and would not wake for several more minutes, but Ahadi and Uru sat side by side, watching their children who were almost adults and murmuring together.

“Why are you so frightened?” Ahadi demanded of his wife with a smile. “No matter which prince wins the competition, they are brothers and will still love each other!”

Uru shook her head. “I am a mother, Ahadi. I knew these two before they came into the world: they argued in the womb and will continue to argue all of their lives! Mufasa is not the type to hold a grudge, but Taka is! He’s power-hungry and if he loses – I can only imagine how he’ll hate Mufasa and it will hurt Mufasa so . . .”

Ahadi listened to his wife’s words with a frown and the more he listened, the more he realized how true his wife’s words were. He’d seen the hunger in Taka’s eyes himself and knew there would be trouble whether Taka defeated Mufasa or not. It had always been a budding idea in the back of Ahadi’s mind to split the kingdom in half, thus allowing both sons to rule, but the more he watched Taka as the cub grew into adolescence, the more he realized it was better if Taka did not rule at all. Taka was unkind and selfish and conniving while Mufasa was just the opposite. Yes, Ahadi already knew who would be the next king, but what was he to do with Taka?

As the sun continued its climax toward the top of the sky, the other lions in the cave began to stir.

“It is time,” muttered Ahadi, drawing himself up. He nuzzled his wife and added, “All will turn out fine, Uru, rest assured.”

Mufasa and Taka nuzzled their mother in greeting, then set out after their father and the other lions who would witness he competition.

Chapter 2: Ahadi’s Test

“I know this path,” said Taka after he and Mufasa had been following their father with the others for a while.

Mufasa sniffed the air, “The waterhole.”

Ahadi chuckled, “My sons have keen noses and sharp minds.”

“Do I have the nose or the mind, Father?” joked Mufasa and the surrounding lionesses chuckled. He caught Sarabi’s eye, who was moving a little at his side, and they smiled.

Taka glared at them both. Sarabi had never really liked him. He had bullied her a lot when they were cubs: biting her ears, tripping her, shoving her in the water hole. He and Mufasa’s fights had mostly centered on Sarabi. Whoever won the competition would marry Sarabi. Taka smiled to himself. It was the sweetest revenge: his brother would sulk in the shadows, an eternal prince, while he, Taka, had cubs with his lover! Then finally he would be the better son, he would have Uru’s attention and Ahadi’s praise, and all would love him and despair!

As the group of lions traveled downhill the ground became cooler, hailing the presence of water. Birds and animals scurried, darted, and fluttered past, bidding good morning to the king and his pride. Zebras and antelope stood still, merely bowing as the king and his sons passed, for they knew the party was no hunting expedition but the witnesses to that morning’s competition for sovereignty.

When the group came at last to the waterhole, it was to discover an immensely fat elephant sitting on top of the scant water supply, firmly ignoring the other animals as they cried angrily for it to move. The elephant had been sitting there, blocking the water supply for days, complained a giraffe, leaning its long neck down to address the king, and it was refusing to share the water!

Ahadi, who’d known perfectly well what’d been going on for days, turned to his sons, “A lion who can move that large an animal is worthy of my place.” Without further instruction, King Ahadi stepped aside and joined the watching lionesses with Uru, leaving his sons facing the grumpy elephant together.

I’ll go first,” snarled Taka before Mufasa could open his mouth. “You’re such a brute you’d just try to pick it up like a simpleton ant trying to uproot a tree.”

Mufasa merely smiled and watched his brother saunter away, torn between curiosity, concern, and amusement. He knew how stuck his brother was and that it only ever led Taka to trouble.

“Elephant!” said Taka loudly, approaching the enormous gray animal and gazing up at it with contempt. “Do you know who I am?”

“I have a name!” snapped the elephant, rolling one of his beady eyes around to peer down at him. “And no matter who you are, you’d be wise to scoot off!”

“Who do you think you are?” Taka snapped. “I am Taka, prince of these Pride Lands, and you will do what I tell you to do! Now get up!”

“Oh, my,” moaned Uru, aghast, “It’s sheer foolishness, talking to a grumpy elephant like that – Ahadi, put a stop to this before something awful happens!”

“How will he learn?” Ahadi hissed, though he watched Taka as anxiously as his wife.

The elephant, in much agitation, lifted his trunk and trumpeted angrily at the sky. Taka did not heed its warning and moved too late when the trunk came swinging down and smacked him to the ground. Taka lashed out, but the elephant quickly defended himself with a side-thrust from one of his long brown tucks. Taka’s snarl of agony blended with the astonished gasps of the watching crowd and Uru’s piercing scream as the prince flew several feet through the air and landed in a quiet heap.

“Oh, my! Is he quite alright?” said the elephant, his beady eyes flying wide.

The lions gathered quickly around Taka, but it was Mufasa Taka saw when he first came to. Taka turned his head and everyone drew back with a gasp: one of his eyes was sealed shut with blood.

“Taka! Are you alright?” asked Mufasa anxiously, nudging his younger brother to his paws.

Uru kept shrieking, “His eye! My cub has lost his eye! Oh, my cub!”

“Shut up, Mother!” Taka snapped. “I haven’t lost my eye – and that elephant’s lucky I haven’t, or I’d be picking it from my teeth!”

Such a remark astonished everyone and they stared at Taka as if they’d never quite given him a good look before.

Mufasa was frowning, “We don’t speak of eating the herds – not in front of them!”

Several zebra and antelope lifted their chins and marched off, incensed. King Ahadi stood motionless, staring at Taka and wondering where he’d gone wrong. How was it that he’d managed to raise such an insensitive son?

Taka opened his injured eye and everyone saw that, indeed, his eye was there and whole but a bloody scar was over the lids: he’d only just closed his eye in time to have the lids grazed. He gave Mufasa a sneering bow, then turned and stalked away across the Pride Lands. Uru moved to stop him but Ahadi murmured for her to “let the cub be.”

Now it was Mufasa’s turn. Mufasa, however, seemed to have forgotten the task at hand. He stood watching Taka disappear into the distance and only remembered the elephant when Sarabi gave him an encouraging smile.

Remembering the competition, Mufasa turned to the elephant and approached cautiously. The elephant watched him with a narrowed, suspicious eye.

“You saw what I did to the other one? Well, I’d do it again in a flash. Serve him right, not even grown into his mane yet and ordering about the likes of me! I was tromping around these Pride Lands before you were pouncing butterflies!”

Mufasa chuckled and sat heavily on his haunches, his tail flashing lazily behind him. “What is your name, friend?”

“Cirol, but he would never ask me that, would he, the young hairball. He didn’t even ask why I’ve been sitting here – no one has! All anyone cares about is their water, not poor old Cirol.”

The herd animals who’d remained or returned exchanged guilty expressions and some monkeys listening in a nearby tree blushed.

“How can I help you, Cirol? I’ll try my best, and if in the end I fail, you can lie here until my mane’s quite gray,” vowed Mufasa.

The elephant laughed. “Ha! You’re a tame beast, but there’s a wild streak in you that you keep in check with perfect skill! The truth is . . .” and the elephant grunted and it shifted its weight to reveal its large round foot, “I’ve something stuck in my foot here and every time I try to stand on it, it hurts enough to make me want to trumpet!”

Looking more closely, Mufasa saw that a small tree branch had become lodged in the elephant’s foot. “Ah, I see it! Would you – would you mind if I’d pulled it out for you?”

“I’d like that very much, young lion!”

Mufasa moved forward and gently pulled the branch out with his teeth. The animals cheered as the elephant rose with a mighty bang that shook the Pride Lands and gingerly tested its foot on the ground.

“Well! If that’s not a world of pain out of my system!” said Cirol gratefully. “Listen here, young lion, if you ever need old Cirol I’ll be around. And who knows? With my help, maybe you’ll be a decent king after all.” With that, the elephant lumbered away toward the horizon, leaving Mufasa chuckling after it.

“Well done!” growled Ahadi, as Uru moved in to nuzzle her son.

The gathering around the waterhole burst into a loud chatter of congratulations and in their joy and triumph everyone seemed to have forgotten Taka . . . everyone, that is, except Mufasa, who looked with a worried frown toward the gray horizon and knew his brother was somewhere in its mist.

Chapter 3: With Zira

Taka wandered heavily toward the gray mists swirling on the edge of the Pride Lands and passed inside it without hesitating. He halted and gazed almost proudly across the gray expanse of scattered bones and gargantuan skulls. The elephant graveyard was a forbidden place, but Taka had come here often throughout his childhood and the place almost seemed like home.

He’d never had to worry about the hyenas. They were stupid creatures and easily outwitted. All Taka had to do was make them a few promises and they were held just like that in his paw. The blind drooling idiots did everything he told them, believing he would one day be king and give them free reign in the Pride Lands. And Taka’s plan was almost complete but for that stupid test!

“You lost!”

Taka looked around. Zira was stretched on one of the enormous tusks of an elephant skull. Young and slender and with a dark strip running down her back, she was a beautiful lioness and would have been Taka’s consort once he murdered Sarabi and exiled Mufasa.

Zira sat up quickly and stared at Taka, her eyes wide in disbelief.

“Don’t look so shocked,” muttered Taka as Zira rushed to him and examined his face.

“You’re hurt! What happened – did Mufasa lay a paw on you!” and she looked so furious as she spoke that Taka realized with a bit of private amusement that she would have gone to any lengths to avenge him – the perfect tool.

“It’s just a scar,” muttered Taka, moving away. “The Pride Lands are getting dark and we won’t have to hide here together soon,” he added.

The two young lions nuzzled each other affectionately, then traded smiles and moved side by side back through the gray mist and across into the Pride Lands; where indeed the inky sky had melted across the day, chasing away the sun and leaving the grasslands alight beneath the silver moon.

Taka suddenly gave Zira a taunting lick and they chased each other playfully through the grass, laughing and teasing each other with empty threats. Tired but happy, the young lions collapsed side by side in the grass and lie on their backs, still laughing and still in love.

“I just had an idea,” said Zira breathlessly, rolling onto her side to look at Taka. “What if we ran away and started a pride of our own? We don’t belong here and you could be king without question – and without those stupid hyenas’ help.”

But Zira knew Taka would not agree before he opened his mouth. She could read him in that way and knew him better, perhaps, than his own parents. And why shouldn’t she? All King Ahadi and his queen cared about was their precious Mufasa! And what was so special about him when Taka was so clever?

“No,” said Taka, confirming Zira’s suspicions. “I refuse to be a rogue lion – do you know what happens to rogues? They wander from territory to territory and are beat up and chased off – that’s not going to happen to me! And how can I think to let that happen to you?” he demanded, looking around suddenly at Zira. He rolled over to face her. Yes, how could he let this perfect little tool in his scheme come to any harm? And look at her, look at the earnest in her eyes! So long as she believed they were in love, she would do anything for him . . . “We’re in this together. I can’t let you become a rogue! Lone females are attacked, murdered, destitute!”

“Calm down!” said Zira, rolling her eyes, but she was smiling at his concern. If he was that worried for her safety, how could she bring herself to tell him what needed now more than ever to be said?

“. . . Zira,” said Taka slowly and Zira realized as he narrowed his bright green eyes at her that he’d already guessed. He knew her just as well as she knew him, after all. “There’s a reason why you want to run away, isn’t there?”

They looked at each other a long time, and Taka realized the truth without either of them having to speak.

“Maybe we can pass it off as Mufasa’s,” suggested Zira, seeing his look of despair.

Taka rose suddenly to his paws and began stalking back and forth. “Don’t be absurd. Everyone knows Mufasa is head over paws in love with Sarabi!”

“We could set him up,” insisted Zira fiercely. “Just get him alone with me and get a few witnesses . . .” Her wicked smile grew, for she was liking her own idea more and more. “Then I could easily take Sarabi’s place as queen – won’t the little stuck-up thing be crestfallen!”

Taka stopped in his tracks, smiling at Zira. “And once you’re queen it will be quite easy to get Mufasa out of the way . . .”

“See? Now you’re thinking!” Zira got to her paws. “Let’s head back before your father’s pet bird realizes I’m missing too. It won’t help our cause if they know we’ve been alone together –What?”

Taka had been staring a long time at Zira and said with a sort of helplessness, “I love you, Zira, that’s what.” And then avoiding her eyes, he moved past her and they made their way back to Pride Rock.

Chapter 4: Bird Tales

As the days passed, Zira’s stomach sagged rounder and rounder and the other lionesses began to notice her condition. No one knew what to think and Queen Uru was suspicious if not downright convinced that Zira’s pregnancy had everything to do with Taka. She set Zuzu on Taka’s tail, charging the king’s trusty hornbill companion to watch him everywhere he went. The hornbill complied with great readiness, for she also believed that Taka was behind Zira’s condition. The younger prince had been uncharacteristically quiet after losing the competition when everyone had been certain he’d cause nothing but trouble.

“Even when he’s quietly sulking around there’s some mischief!” said the king in exasperation to his wife and to Zuzu. He shook his head. “I knew from the moment he was born he would cause nothing but trouble – do you remember Rafiki struggling to hold up two princes?”

Ahadi, Uru, and Zuzu were gathered under a tree out by a nearby herd. The king and queen had been lounging in the shade on their stomachs when Zuzu had suddenly landed before them with her report on Taka.

“Don’t remind me,” said Uru with dull eyes. “The thing was a fiasco what with both of them struggling to be the only one he held . . .”

“And that Zira,” began Ahadi darkly.

“Now wait a minute, Ahadi!” interjected Uru sharply. “I don’t like Zira anymore than you do – she’d a sly creature and can’t be trusted – but she could easily have been . . . well . . . taken advantage of.”

“Taken advantage of!” boomed the king in disbelief. “By who? By Taka? She adores Taka!”

It only took a moment for the three of them to gather the same idea at once.

“You don’t think . . .” began Zuzu incredulously.

“No!” boomed Ahadi, stamping his paw in the dust. “Never Mufasa! He would never do that to a lioness and he loves Sarabi!”

But young lions had a way of being young lions.

“I could set Zazu on Zira,” Zuzu suggested. “My son is young but he’s devoted to Mufasa and would be eager to help.”

Yet as the hornbills kept an eye on both Taka and Zira, no evidence emerged that either had the slightest connection, whether romantic or otherwise. The most suspicious thing Taka did was wander frequently alone, and even that seemed innocent as all he did was such boring things as scavenge bits of kill from jackals and other smaller predators or sleep the day through on a rock.

Zira, meanwhile, in her growing condition, never left Pride Rock except to get a drink at the waterhole. Afterwards she wandered right back and went to sleep. The other lionesses and even Uru tried to divulge with innocent questions the father of the unborn cub, but Zira was too quick and too witty to fall for “idle” talk and kept her secrets to herself.

At last, one night, Zira made her move. Zazu had been sleeping on his post but awoke suddenly to find Zira had gone. He fluttered out of the cave in a fluster, but was relieved to see Zira down at the waterhole, bending for a drink. Zazu sighed his relief and would have gone back to sleep, but the nearby grass rustled and another lion emerged. Zazu had fully expected to see Taka’s black head, but a brown mane emerged instead and Zazu was shocked to hear Mufasa’s deep voice. Zira moved in and nuzzled him affectionately.

Zazu flew away at once, too shocked and too angry to witness anymore. Here he was, following after Mufasa foolishly, believing him to be a great prince and a perfect future king, a lion of moral standing, a lion with a kind and good heart – and there he was double-crossing not only Sarabi but all of them with Zira!

“I don’t believe it!” roared Ahadi the next day when Zazu miserably imparted his findings.

“Tell us again what you saw,” said Zuzu, watching her son closely.

Zazu was standing with his long head hung, twiddling the tips of his feathers together like nervous fingers. It pained him more than any of them realized to reveal Mufasa like this, but he said with a deep breath, “I followed Zira last night to the waterhole and Mufasa met her there. They were talking and – and then . . . Zira rubbed against Mufasa . . .”

“Oh my,” said Uru, and sat down hard on her haunches. She looked quickly to her husband. “Ahadi, what are we going to do?”

“There’s nothing we can do,” said the king, glowering, “but wait until the cub is born.”

Chapter 5: Sarabi’s Idea

When Zira’s cub was born some time later, there was no celebration for the new “prince” or even, in fact, any joy. None of the Pride Land herds came to see the new cub, for the king and queen had tried desperately to keep it a secret. The cub was a male with Zira’s brown eyes and the same dark stripe as its mother running down its back. When Ahadi stormed through the crowd of lionesses to demand the cub’s father, Zira merely smiled.

“Answer me!” Ahadi boomed.

“Why . . .” said Zira slowly, pausing to lick her sleeping cub and roll it over in her paws, “the father is your son . . . the future king!”

There was a collective gasp as everyone turned to stare at Mufasa, who was hovering uncertainly in the mouth of the cave, the dark night sky twinkling behind him.

“Well!” growled Ahadi, who turned upon his son with a menacing snarl. “What have you got to say for yourself?”

Mufasa had merely winced at Zira’s confession. He knew already that no one would believe him and felt it useless trying to protest. He saw the hurt fill Sarabi’s eyes and couldn’t bear to look in her direction. Taka had suddenly entered the cave behind him, and as he ran out, he saw his brother’s triumphant smile.

Mufasa ran as he’d never run before, away from Pride Rock and the overwhelming responsibility of being king, away from their accusing stares, away from Zira’s scheming and Taka’s hate.

His father would give sovereignty to Taka because of that cub and banish him, turn him into a rogue. But Mufasa suddenly didn’t care. He didn’t want to be king, he didn’t want the responsibility, he didn’t want to stand in his father’s place and have to deal with the constant intrigue, the betrayal, the lies!

If he could have one wish he’d take Sarabi and they would run away together . . . but in the end running away seemed cowardly and he knew that come morning he would have to return and take the punishment for his brother’s treachery.

Mufasa slowed to a heavy walk and moved with his head hung to the top of a small rocky outcrop covered in grass. There he flopped and gazed down into the pool gathered beneath at his reflection.

“Is it true?” demanded a trembling, fierce voice.

Mufasa knew without turning that Sarabi had followed him. He heaved a miserable sigh and said heavily, “No, Sarabi, it is not.”

“Thank the stars!” breathed Sarabi, flopping at his side.

The young lions lied side by side, staring down at their reflections together. Though Sarabi believed Mufasa, it did not change either of their miserable expressions. They both knew that unless they had proof otherwise, no one would believe that Mufasa was not the father of Zira’s cub.

“How did they do it?” Sarabi whispered.

“It was a setup. Taka wanted to meet me one night at the waterhole and I agreed – I assumed he wanted to talk about the coronation!” Mufasa added in his defense when Sarabi suddenly lifted her head. “But when I got there it wasn’t Taka I meet . . .”

“And someone saw you and blabbed,” finished Sarabi. “How could you let Taka trick you like that!”

“You know I don’t want to be king!” said Mufasa fiercely. “I thought maybe if we talked it over, we could go to Dad and he would choose Taka instead. . . .”

“Mufasa,” said Sarabi, and Mufasa looked around to see she was smiling and shaking her head, “you are too young to realize how much the Pride Lands need you! You’re a good prince and you’ll make a good king – we just have to prove it again to your father.” She playfully blew a lock of Mufasa budding mane out of his eyes and they smiled at each other.

“Somehow, no matter what Taka and Zira did, I knew you’d keep believing in me, Sarabi.”

Sarabi frowned. “I didn’t want to believe it for a moment, not even when you looked so shocked standing there with everyone turned against you. That’s why I followed you.”

They rubbed their ears together and sat in silence a moment, listening to the insects chirrup and relishing in the cool breeze as it swept down to run its fingers through their fur and rustle the grass.

“How will we ever prove I’m innocent?” wondered Mufasa aloud, staring into the distance. “Damn Taka for making me look like a monkey’s uncle . . .”

Sarabi looked quickly at Mufasa as a sudden idea came to her. “Mufasa, that’s it!”

“What’s it?” said a startled Mufasa.

“You know how Taka is always sneaking off alone? He leaves almost every night. Be at Pride Rock tomorrow night – don’t let anyone see you. I’ll take care of the rest.”

Chapter 6: A Monkey’s Uncle

Taka waited as usual until the last lioness had fallen asleep before he crept from Pride Rock. He had barely made it from the cave, however, when a mandrill’s grinning face suddenly dropped down in front of him. He slid to a halt, but his surprise washed into irritation and he snapped, “Get out of my way!”

“It’s not your way, it’s the king’s way -- and you’re not the king!” said Rafiki, dropping down to lean upon his staff.

Taka’s lip curled, “If you don’t move, I’ll take you in one way and shoot you out the other!”

“But you’d like to be king, wouldn’t you?” went on Rafiki as if he couldn’t hear Taka. “And you’re certainly clever enough. I’ve always told Ahadi that you would make an excellent king.”

Taka paused, taken aback by the flattery. He narrowed his eyes suspiciously at the old mandrill. “Why are you here, Rafiki? You’re only supposed to come around when a sovereign has been born.”

“A sovereign has been born or had you forgotten?” Rafiki tapped his forehead with a long finger.

Taka shook his head. “I don’t know what you were told, but Nuka hasn’t been named sovereign.”

Nuka was the name Zira gave their cub.

“Why not?”

“For one thing he’s too stupid. The bigger he gets the dumber he gets. Today he started walking and ran three times into a wall. I can’t believe a cub of mine – er, I mean . . .”

Rafiki stood unfazed, his arms folded over his walking stick.

“TAKA!” boomed a voice from the depths of the cave.

Taka went rigid as the other lions emerged behind him, all of which it seemed had been awake and eavesdropping.

Taka turned to face his father. “That’s right, we framed him!” he snarled, his legs tense as if he was anticipating a struggle. “I got Zira pregnant and we framed Mufasa!”

Zira moved forward with Nuka in her mouth and stood proudly beside Taka.

Just then, Mufasa stepped out of hiding. Sarabi hurried to his side, as did Uru, Ahadi, and the hornbills.

“Oh, Mufasa, we’re so sorry – we thought --” cried Uru, who was instantly nuzzled by her son.

“Sire,” said Zazu with a meek bow, “it was I who – well . . .”

Mufasa chuckled. “It’s okay, Zazu!”

“My son,” said Ahadi, “can you ever forgive us for doubting you?”

“There is nothing to forgive, Dad,” said Mufasa, shaking his head and smiling. “After all, you were tricked by the greatest of deceivers,” he added, glaring at Taka.

Ahadi went rigid with anger, remembering his youngest son, his consort, and their son. He turned toward Zira and growled, “Zira, for deceiving the pride in an attempt to become queen, you are banished!”

“No!” roared Taka, glaring at his father.

“And you!” shouted Ahadi, ignoring his wife’s protests as he rounded on his son, “Your name is no longer Taka but Scar and you will keep that name to remind you of your foolishness! You are never to see Zira again – now get out of my sight!”

Taka suddenly lunged at his father with a roar of rage, but Mufasa intervened, smacking Taka to the ground. Zira let out a snarl of outrage and dropped her cub, but the other lionesses pressed in. The king could not take his astonished eyes off of Taka.

“Get up!” Ahadi commanded in a trembling voice.

Taka climbed to his feet, looking darkly upon them all.

“Do what you will, I don’t care,” growled his father, “but know that you are no longer welcome here while I am king!”

Taka smiled sarcastically at his father, “Long live the king.”

“Is that a threat!” Ahadi boomed, starting forward, but Uru stopped him with a shocked cry of, “Ahadi!”

Taka turned to Zira, who gathered a whimpering Nuka in her jaws. Then the two of them fled, fled the pride, Pride Rock, and the Pride Lands.

“Why must you always defend Zira?” Ahadi demanded, turning to his wife.

“It was wrong to banish her!” Uru snapped. “Having them out there struggling alone will do more harm than good, I fear – perhaps not during your reign but somehow, in the end.”

Mufasa, standing on the edge of Pride Rock as he watched the lions disappear into the darkness, couldn’t help but privately agree with his mother.

Chapter 7: This Isn’t the End!

Taka led Zira and Nuka deep into the Outlands, a destitute and barren place with little to no herds to prey upon and even less water. They wandered a long way as the land continued down, breathless and aching and terribly angry.

“This isn’t the end,” Zira kept vowing as little Nuka staggered along after her, frightened and bewildered. “It isn’t over --”

“Will you shut up!” Scar snarled, whirling on Zira.

“How can I? How can I when this is all your fault? If you hadn’t given us away to the monkey we wouldn’t be in this mess – we were this close --!”

“Shut up and let me think!” Taka paced back and forth, his head bent low to the ground. “You’re right – it’s not over. I’ve got to go back to the Pride Lands and get rid of Mufasa – after Dad dies. Mufasa is softhearted and will welcome me back but my father is not . . .”

“What about me?” said Zira.

Nuka sat watching them, his eyes darting back and forth. They were talking just as if he weren’t there at all!

Taka turned to look at her. “We can’t have anymore cubs together, that’s for certain, we’re too closely related – that’s why Junior here is retarded.”

“. . . What are you suggesting?” asked Zira slowly, though she’d already guessed.

Taka stepped close to Zira and looked her deep in the eyes. “Zira, do you love me?”

“Of course I do!”

“Would you do anything for me?”

“Anything! Like you said, we’re in this together!”

“I need you to perform a very dangerous act: I need you to mate with a rogue --”

“Taka!” gasped Zira, taking a step back.

“I know! Rogues are dangerous and you could be killed – but we need an heir that isn’t – Nuka – and you’re such an attractive creature, what lion would kill you anyway?”

When Zira said nothing, Taka continued: “Find a rogue, mate with him, and the cub you have will be my heir.”

Chapter 8: That’s Why We’re Outlanders!!!

“. . . and that’s the last time I saw Scar,” finished Zira heavily. She was lying on her stomach within the cave while Nuka (now an adult with an irregular black mane) and Zira’s young cub Vitani sat near, listening in awe. “King Ahadi died very soon after I was banished and Scar returned and was accepted by his brother, just as he’d predicted. He succeeded in killing Mufasa,” she said proudly, “but Mufasa’s hairball son, Simba, escaped!” she added with sudden wrath.

Nuka, who’d heard the story many times before, stamped his paws in the dust and sneered.

“And it was Simba who caused Scar’s downfall – and that, children, is why we’re Outlanders!” Her bright eyes snapped on Vitani and she leaned close to her daughter and added darkly, “And that, Vitani, is why I am never ever to hear of you playing with the prince again!”

Vitani cringed into herself while Nuka laughed insanely. “Yes, mother . . .” she muttered.

“I don’t know what made you think it was okay --!” went on Zira, climbing to her paws, but her lecture ended as a dark figure loomed nearer. A dark smile spread across Zira’s face and she said with delight, “Ni!”

“Ni?” Nuka sprang, trembling, behind a nearby rock.

Vitani giggled.

A hulking male lion stepped out of the gloom. His eyes were black and glittering and his mane was a dark brown with black streaks. He ruffled Vitani’s fuzzy head affectionately, then went to Zira and rubbed against her.

“Ni,” said Zira joyously. “You’ve been away a long time – come, let’s talk in private . . .”

“Yes,” agreed Ni, who growled suddenly at Nuka, “and watch her this time!”

Nuka ducked behind his rock again and shook so hard his teeth chattered.

Zira and Ni left the cave, wandering out over the Outlands side by side.

“What is it you wanted to talk about?” said Ni when Nuka and Vitani were out of earshot.

Zira halted and smiled widely at Ni. “Another cub!”

“You’re --?” began Ni in surprise.

“Yes!”

“Let’s hope this one is male. We can train him to take down Simba . . .”

“I still don’t see why you can’t do it!”

“I’m getting too old for this!” Ni snapped. “If it were up to me I would never have let you drag me into this in the first place! I’ve given you two cubs now for your harebrained plan – be satisfied!”

After a long stony silence, Zira said menacingly, “There’s one more thing I must ask of you – if you’re up to it, old boy.”

Ni’s face darkened, but he asked roughly, “What is it?”

Chapter 9: Sunspot

Nala had not slept well the night before and that morning she’d only slept perhaps half an hour when she awoke suddenly again to check frantically for her son.

She and Simba had led such a routine all night and both had been relieved every time they awoke to find Kopa curled and sleeping peacefully between them. After a fight with Simba, the rebellious cub had wandered off on his own. Nala had followed him to find he’d been playing with Zira’s cub – a tiny replica of Zira who didn’t know how to play Tag but could dig for termites better than Timon and Pumbaa combined.

But waking now, Nala was alarmed to find Kopa had disappeared yet again. “Simba! Simba, wake up!”

“Huh? What is it?” Simba moaned; his eyes slowly rolling open.

“Kopa!” Nala cried. “Kopa’s gone again!”

Simba snapped awake at once and his head jerked around to find that indeed, the space where Kopa had slept all night was empty. He leapt at once to his paws and ran to the edge of Pride Rock. Kopa sometimes liked to sit there, watching the sun rise over the Pride Lands, but their little “Sunspot” (as everyone affectionately called him) was no where to be seen.

“Oh, Simba, you don’t think he did it again?” cried Nala anxiously as she came to Simba’s side. “I don’t think I can do this with two cubs.”

Simba looked at Nala quickly. “Did – did you say . . .?”

Nala smiled. “I did. Kopa is going to have a little brother or sister, and hopefully, this one won’t be half as rebellious.”

Simba didn’t have a chance to answer. Zazu fluttered up and asked what was going on. Simba informed him that Kopa had gone missing again and told him to wake the others. With that, he nuzzled Nala and charged down from Pride Rock, his heart pumping fearfully that this time he would not find Kopa alive.

“Another cub,” said Timon, who’d been standing with Pumbaa in the mouth of the cave behind Nala when she’d told Simba the news. “Good! Maybe we can get a bell for this one!”

Nala laughed as Timon and Pumbaa came to her side.

“Oh, boy, another prince to play with! What will you call this one?” asked Pumbaa eagerly.

Nala smiled dreamily, “Kiara. Kiara is a nice name.”

Timon snorted with laughter and elbowed Pumbaa. “But it’s not a prince’s name. Sounds like the queen is crackin’,” he said out of the corner of his mouth.

Nala heard him but only smiled after Timon and Pumbaa as they followed Simba with the other lionesses down from Pride Rock to the Outlands where Nala feared Kopa might not come out as lucky as last time.

Last time it had seemed so innocent at first: Kopa had been growing increasingly lonely without another cub to play with. Simba and Nala had tried several times to produce a second cub against the Pride’s better judgment (for fear history would repeat itself with yet another “Mufasa/Scar” incident) but to no avail: most the cubs died before they were even born.

Nala recalled a sorrowful scene where Simba had to explain that the last deceased cub (who they’d named Ahadi) had gone to the stars to join the great kings of the past and their other Pride ancestors.

Kopa had been heartbroken: he couldn’t understand why his little brothers and little sisters kept leaving him for the stars! Didn’t they want to play with him? Simba tried to explain the delicate matter as best he could, but Kopa’s misery grew into anger and finally one day, he wondered off alone only to come across, to his delight, another cub in the Pride Lands!

The new wandering cub had introduced herself as Vitani, and she and Kopa began an innocent wrestling match in which Vitani won several times to Kopa’s severe irritation. Kopa was just rewarding Vitani’s last victory with a bite on the ear when it happened: the moment Nala would never forget.

As Nala crouched in amusement, spying upon her son and his new friend in the tall grass, she noticed a pair of furious eyes watching the cubs directly across from her. Nala and the strange lioness leapt into the open in the same instant. Zira snatched up Vitani and sauntered off, but not before giving Nala the usual sneering speech about one day taking her vengeance on Simba.

Nala warned Kopa against playing with Outlander cubs and explained to him on the walk home what an Outlander was and how they came to be.

“But she was so nice!” Nala remembered her bewildered son exclaiming. “I don’t understand why Dad would want to banish someone like Vitani – then again,” he’d added as an afterthought, “she did have termites . . .”

Nala laughed. “Kopa, I’m trying to be firm and lecturing here, and you’re not making it easy!”

They halted beneath a tree and Kopa climbed upon a large rock, where he hunched his shoulders and stuck out his furry bottom lip.

“There. How’s that, Mom?”

Nala laughed again. “Kopa! I’m new at this parenting thing, give me a break.”

“Sorry, Mom,” said the cub, this time with sincerity. “It’s just . . . I get so lonely with no one to play with. Timon and Pumbaa are fun but after a while, chasing dung beetles gets boring . . .”

“Kopa, I understand that you’re lonely – believe me, I understand. When I was a cub, your father went away for a very long time and I had no one to play with.”

“Really? No Timon to pretend-swallow and no Pumbaa to ride?”

“Nope.”

“No Zazu to pounce?”

“Nope. Add an army of hyenas and a very cruel king to the mix and you’ll get one very miserable princess.”

“Wow . . . I guess I’ve got it pretty good, huh?”

“Well, between you and me,” said Nala, leaning in with a confidential whisper, “I’d sometimes rather have the hyenas back the way your dad snores!”

Kopa giggled.

Nala was brought back suddenly to the present by Simba’s shout. She shook herself and her heart shrank with fear: beneath the dusty hill on which they stood rolled Kopa and Vitani beneath a tree, laughing and giggling, and totally oblivious to the large hulking lion watching them from the shadows of a nearby cluster of termite mounds.

Simba went at a dash down the hill, shouting Kopa’s name, the Pride on his heels and Timon and Pumbaa racing among them. Kopa looked up and disentangling himself from Vitani’s large clumsy paws, he slunk away from his bounding father with his ears flat on his head.

“Ah, man, not again,” moaned Vitani, rolling over to scowl at the oncoming crowd of Pride Landers. But her scowl turned to a pure look of horror as she gazed past Kopa.

“What is it?” begged Kopa but his voice was drowned out by the piercing scream that flew from Vitani’s mouth.

An immense black shadow soared suddenly through the air and the next five seconds were confusion and chaos as Simba leapt into the air roaring, as Vitani’s scream intensified, and as Kopa gave a last agonized whimper.

After those five horrible seconds there was a momentary silence as Simba landed too late before the murderer of his son. A large old lion with black streaks in his brown mane and piercing eyes stood with a limp and lifeless Kopa in his menacing jaws. The lions of Simba’s Pride stood in complete shock and agony and up on the hill, Nala had frozen completely, her eyes fixed on the lion who’d just crushed her precious Sunspot to death in its jowls.

“Ni,” Nala whispered, her voice trembling.

The rogue lion dropped Kopa from his mouth in surprise and stared at Nala in return. “Nala?” he said heavily and Nala saw instantly that the rogue lion would never have laid a paw on Kopa if he knew the cub was hers.

But Simba, torn with grief and rage, did not hesitate. With a roar that trembled across the Pride Lands and Outlands alike, he took old Ni down with one fell swipe. The old lion died instantly.

“No!”

Simba looked around with a menacing light in his eye to see Zira charging across the Outlands. She stopped over Ni’s body and stood very still a moment, her head bowed. The Pride lions waited tensely for her to attack Simba, but Zira didn’t move, nor did she acknowledge her trembling and sobbing cub when Vitani moved to hide between her legs. But after a long moment of silence, Zira lifted fierce eyes to Simba and whispered with an icy, ironic smile, “Fair enough. Kopa is dead and so is Ni, but this is only the beginning . . .” With that, she snatched a sobbing Vitani into her jaws and charged away again.

Nala, who could not take her eyes off the bodies of her son and the rogue lion, felt her legs give out and slipped into darkness.

Chapter 10: Nala’s Dare

Simba and Nala were the joy of Mufasa’s Pride. Everyone looked upon the cubs as fine future rulers for the Pride Lands and their feelings of pride only swelled as they watched the cubs grow and play day by day.

One day, however, the two cubs were threatened when a rogue lion wandered onto the Pride Lands. Mufasa returned after a long and weary struggle with the strange lion, and Simba and Nala heard him telling Sarabi of the grisly fight and later the long talk which he had with the stranger.

“Imagine my horror, Sarabi, when I discovered the lion meant us no harm,” the cubs heard Mufasa telling his wife from where they eavesdropped from the cave.

Mufasa and Sarabi were sitting side by side on the edge of Pride Rock, speaking together in the usual soft undertones of happy lovers as the cubs listened unseen from the edge of the cave.

“What business had he then in the Pride Lands?” Sarabi asked.

“He was a king in his own right. His pride had been torn apart by a draught far south and he was wandering, searching for water. He happened upon our waterhole and, naturally, the herd animals panicked at the appearance of a strange lion. Zazu came for me and I went down to fight the stranger and send him fleeing as I’ve often done in the past to protect our Pride. I was therefore surprised when, instead of attacking me in return, the lion only lifted a paw to protect himself. I felt like a monster and I stopped my attacks to ask why they weren’t returned.”

“What did he say?”

“He had no wish to fight me, for he realized I was merely protecting my Pride and did not want to deprive it, therefore, of its king. But he also added with a smile that he had no wish to die for the very same reason.

“‘You are a king then?’ I asked him in surprise and once he confirmed that not only was he a king but he had a little son named Tojo, we continued to speak of our children and fell into a sort of friendship. I later allowed him to bring what was left of his family to drink and rest here in the safety of our lands until they move on, which will be tomorrow.”

“How good and kind of you,” said Sarabi with admiring eyes. “That poor old lion – what was his name?”

But before Nala could hear anymore, Simba gave a gasp of delight and backed away. Nala followed.

“What is it?” she asked him crossly. “I didn’t get to hear what the lion’s name was!”

“Never mind! We can find out on our own!”

Nala snorted. “Ha! They’d never let you out of their sight. Mufasa would tie your tails together after what happened with that ostrich.”

“Fine!” said Simba crossly. “I won’t go – but look who’s talking. You wouldn’t dare.”

Nala bristled. “Why not? I’m just as brave as you and as clever!”

“Ha! You can’t do anything without me – I pull everything off.”

“We’ll see about that! Tomorrow morning I’ll go down to see the rogue lion.”

“And if you chicken out, I get your zebra ribs for a week. Deal?”

“Deal!”

But when Nala snuck down to the waterhole the next morning, the rogue lion wasn’t anywhere insight. Instead, there was a single cub dangling from a tree in the middle of the pool and beneath lurked a crocodile, its jaws open and waiting. The croc circled the skinny tree with its mouth open wide, thrashing against it with his tail so that the cub dangling helplessly from its branches slipped and almost dropped.

“Help! Somebody!” the little trembling cub wailed.

Nala stood frozen as she wondered what to do. There wasn’t time to run back to Pride Rock – before she even managed to wake anyone the cub would be eaten. She looked around and seeing there was no one else to help, she moved toward the water.

“Don’t worry – I’ll save you!” she called to the cub.

Nala waded nervously into the water, her frightened green eyes trained on the dangling cub.

“No – don’t! Look out!”

Nala screamed. The croc wheeled her way, its mouth open wide. Its rows of jagged teeth were bearing down on her when its mouth was suddenly forced shut, and standing crouched on its nose was the cub.

“Get outta here!” the cub wailed, its dark fur plastered wetly to its trembling frame.

Nala obeyed and was relieved when the cub followed after her to the shore, where they both fled coughing and sputtering with the croc lurching up from the water after them.

“What are we gonna do!” Nala shouted as she and the cub ran breathlessly through the grass.

The croc was just behind them, wheezing and grunting as it left the grass trampled flat in its wake.

“A tree – climb a tree!” the little dark cub shouted.

They scurried toward a tree and scrambled up. The croc rose on its hind legs and had almost snapped up Nala’s tail, but a large dark paw suddenly smashed its crown and it sank away, cross-eyed.

“Dad!” wailed the dark cub.

Nala watched in amazement as the dark cub scrambled down from the tree and toward a large hulking lion with a brown mane covered in black streaks.

“Tojo! Thank the stars!” the strange lion cried.

Father and son nuzzled each other and exchanged a happy and relieved dialog. Their joy and relief seemed so personal that Nala tried to slip away, feeling quite forgotten. Before she’d crept off into the tall grass, however, she heard the cub shout to his father:

“And I was saved, Dad! This girl came along and distracted the crocodile so that I could get away! It was really brave!”

“Is that so?”

Nala paused and turned back, for the question had been directed at her. She stifled a gasp as the large lion’s piercing eyes studied her: his eyes seemed quite terrifying at first and his face stern. But when Nala answered nervously that, yes, she’d tried to save Tojo, the dark lion’s face spread into a grateful smile.

“Then I am ever in your debt, little lioness, until the end of my days. What is your name?”

“I’m Nala.”

“Ah! You are from Pride Rock. I have heard much about you from your king. You are a princess. Princess Nala, meet Prince Tojo.”

“Hello,” said the dark cub with a friendly smile. His ears went straight up as he looked upon her in delight, breathless and bright-eyed.

“And I am King Ni,” added the dark lion with a such a kind look in his eyes that Nala felt all her nervousness melt away and she spent a happy day with Ni and Tojo before the two were to depart with their own pride.

“It seems there’s more to Nala than we ever imagined,” Mufasa said later that day after Ni came with Nala to Pride Rock to say his farewells and to relate that day’s events.

Mufasa, Simba, and Nala were sitting on the edge of Pride Rock, watching King Ni and his pride until they were dark dots in the distance.

Simba, who had gotten along fine with Tojo but who, Nala noticed, was slightly jealous of Tojo’s friendship with Nala, looked at his friend and said with a smile, “Eh, she’s alright.”

Mufasa laughed as Nala shoved Simba down and the two engaged in a short wrestling match before Mufasa announced that it was time for bed. The king then turned toward the cave with Simba following after and groaning, to Mufasa’s amusement, for five more minutes of play.

Bargaining for a later bed time was something Nala usually took a part in, to the amusement of all the older lions, but tonight, Nala sat alone on the edge of Pride Rock, watching her friends continue their journey in search of a home.

Squinting toward the horizon, she thought she saw Ni’s silhouette as the king paused atop a rock to look back. His great head gave a friendly nod and it seemed his piercing eyes were turned directly upon Nala’s tiny figure. Nala returned the gesture with a happy leap of the heart and knew as she followed Simba and Mufasa to bed, that she would never forget her new friend, King Ni.

Chapter 11: We Have a King!

Once within their cave, Zira placed an exhausted, traumatized Vitani to sleep that night with the promise that one day soon all would be well.

“What do you mean, Mother?” asked Nuka eagerly, his tongue hanging out and his eyes wide with anticipation. He was hoping that Zira had finally realized he was great enough to take down Simba. Of course, she’d never seen him as good enough to do anything before except cub-sit Vitani, but now with that wretched old Ni gone, maybe the old lion’s murder had opened her eyes.

Zira licked Vitani to subside her trembling and said as she turned away, “Despite Ni’s death, there will be a new king, a king that will rise from the Outlanders and take down Simba!”

Nuka leapt up and down on the spot, giggling insanely. “Oh, Mother, I knew one day you’d see! I’m strong, I’m smart, and I’m the right age for star’s sake! I can be a leader --”

“Shut up!” Zira hissed, whirling on Nuka and silencing him with a snarl.

Nuka shrank backward into the cup-like stone pillar on which Vitani had been placed.

Vitani watched her mother closely; fearful of what the old lioness would say next. Vitani was very young but she was also clever: she knew her mother had sent Ni (her very own father!) to murder her only friend in the world. And now not only her best friend was gone, but her father, who’d she’d loved dearly, had been killed by Simba! Her mixed feelings tugged her both ways: she wanted to hate her parents for having Kopa killed, but she also hated Simba for killing her father. She didn’t know how to act on her feelings or how she could ever escape her mother, even if she tried.

Zira, as if sensing her daughter’s rage and confusion, turned to Vitani and said in as soothing a tone as her harsh voice could muster, “I did all for the best. Vitani, you are an Outlander and Kopa was a Pride Lander – had Simba found you before Ni, we would be morning you and not your father. Simba acted just the way I expected, as did you. I told you not to see Kopa again and, knowing you would not obey me, I sent Ni to protect you from Simba.”

“So it’s my fault,” Vitani whispered, tears filling her eyes. “If I hadn’t gone to see Kopa, he and Ni would be alive . . .”

“No, Vitani,” said Zira, leaning closer to her cub, “it is no one’s fault but Simba’s: Simba made us Outlanders! If we weren’t Outlanders, you could’ve seen Kopa anytime that you wished. If we weren’t Outlanders, we’d have plenty food, clean water --”

“No termites!” added Nuka, gnawing at his butt.

“So – so how do we stop being Outlanders?” asked Vitani meekly.

“Like I said, a new heir will rise among us.”

Nuka stuck out his chest. “You won’t be sorry, Mother! I’ll take out Simba and his queen too – to tell the truth, I’ve always wondered how Nala’s head tasted --”

“Silence!” Zira growled, rolling her eyes as she lifted and dropped her tail in exasperation.

Nuka shrank into himself, his ears dropping and his shoulders hunching.

“If Scar wanted you to be king of the Pride Lands you’d have succeeded the throne by now! No, Scar and I had a different plan . . .” Zira sauntered with satisfaction up the rocky ledge that overlooked the cavern and addressed her fellow lionesses with bright, hungry eyes. “No, the heir will be the cub growing in my womb! Fellow Outlanders, Ni has given me another cub!”

The Outlander lionesses roared their approval.

“It’s probably another girl,” Nuka muttered under his breath to which Zira slid down from the smooth ledge and gripped his cheeks hard in her claws.

“It’s a boy, your brother! I can sense it, just as I sensed you would be male as well!”

Zira let Nuka go (who rubbed his cheek with a sour expression) and addressed the other lionesses again: “Outlanders, we have a king!”

Chapter 12: Kiara is a Nice Name

Nala sat alone on the edge of Pride Rock, recalling as the sun went down that it was a favorite pastime of Kopa’s. They’d held Kopa’s funeral just before sundown and buried the poor little prince at his favorite spot: beneath a tree where he’d often liked to play. They covered his tiny body with rocks. And Simba! Poor Simba had hardly been able to speak but he gave the eulogy with all the emotion and with all the agony Nala herself felt. And though Nala knew that Kopa was now with his brothers and sisters among the stars, she still felt the cub sitting at her side.

“Mom, where does the sun come from?” Kopa had asked once.

“A great king named Mohatu ruled this kingdom once when there was no sun. During his reign,” Nala answered aloud to herself, “the animals complained of no light. The only light came from the fireflies, which lit their way to the waterhole and showed the predators enough light that they could hunt. But with so little light, the plants grew poorly and the world was a cold and terrifying place. So Mohatu made a decision --”

“’When I die,’ said he, ‘I will ask the Great Spirit to make me a star – the brightest star there ever was! – and I will bring light to my Pride and to all the world.’ And that was just what King Mohatu did.”

Nala looked around to find Simba at her side. Both of them knew the story and he’d finished it, having heard her saying it out loud as he approached.

“I was telling Kopa a story,” said Nala, tears in her blue eyes. “Do you think he heard us?”

Simba stared for a long time across the Pride Lands and as he swallowed thickly, Nala realized there were tears in his own eyes. He bowed his head a moment and then, to Nala’s surprise, he smiled at the setting sun and its orange and watery hues: a tiny star had appeared just above the sun, surrounded by a patch of inky darkness, and it was a star which they’d never noticed before.

“He more than heard us,” Simba said at last, “he has his own star now and only the great Mohatu precedes him in lighting the night.”

Nala smiled but after a moment, noticed a terrible expression in Simba’s eyes and said anxiously, “Even with this small comfort, there is something more that troubles you.”

“That lion, Ni -- you recognized him before I did, but he was the lion we made friends with so long ago.” He looked at Nala miserably and said, “Nala, I’m sorry I killed your friend!”

Nala bowed her head and closed her eyes, “But there is more.”

“Yes,” answered Simba heavily, “you see, I think Zira’s been mating with Ni. Ni was Vitani’s father! If only you’d seen the look on her face when I killed him! And he’s been with Zira all this time! His pride must’ve died off – they must’ve never found a home.”

“You’re saying Zira could be pregnant,” said Nala, her head still bowed.

“Exactly! What if the cub’s a boy? I can only imagine what she’ll do, how she’ll brainwash it . . . I don’t know what to do.”

Nala lifted her head and squinted solemnly at the horizon. “There’s nothing we can do, except wait until the cub is born.”

“To think,” said Simba, shaking his head, “even after Scar’s dead, all this is still going on. If I don’t do something, this will never end!”

“Oh my Simba, one king can not solve a dynasty’s worth of problems! The legacy of Scar goes back to before either of us was even born! Maybe what Scar left behind isn’t for you to deal with. . . .”

Simba remembered suddenly that Nala was with cub. Perhaps Nala was right . . . perhaps the next generation would be greater than the one before  . . . if given the chance.

“Kiara,” Nala whispered with a smile. “Kiara is a nice name.”