Taka Leaves a Scar II: Tojo’s Revenge

 

By Unali

 

Chapter 1: The Hunt For Simba Begins

Moving in the dead of night, silent as the stars, was a large male lion, dark in his aspect with brown mane streaked with black. He slipped quietly down a hill covered in tall rustling grass to the barren earth at the bottom and paused to sniff a large paw print in the earth. A lion had been there, possibly female . . . old, at least a generation older than himself . . . and a younger male – no, two males! Two males and their sister . . . a family of lions and yet they were not a pride. Rogues.

The lion lifted his head and gazed a long moment at the mouth of the cave. But the scents were old. The family of rogues lived in the cave no more. He sniffed again at the air and perceived the scent of other lionesses . . . more tracks in the dirt, several tracks in fact, as if the entire group had suddenly marched to . . .

The lion followed the tracks and paused at a large rock which stood jutting at an angle from the earth. He climbed it to the edge and breathed in surprise through his nose. The Pride Lands. That’s where the rogues had gone only days before . . . and yet they hadn’t returned!

The male lion went back to the cave, and sniffing around inside he found the scent of yet another lion, a scent which he knew!

“Father?” the lion whispered brokenly.

He followed the scent on until he reached a little place near the edge of the Outlands: a pile of rocks beside a stream set against a single, barren tree. It was a wretched sight, the grave, a place heavy with misery. The lion went to the pile of rocks and sniffed again. Yes, it was his father’s scent – would that it weren’t! He bowed his head.

“You there!” demanded a voice. “What do you think you’re doing here?”

The lion looked around. Standing over the mouth of the cave, looking down at him with indignance and rage, was a young lioness. She was lovely with bright vicious eyes and a dark stripe running down her light brown back. Her coat was dusty, as if she’d slept the night at the cave, and her cheeks were wet with dried tears.

“I might ask you the same question,” said the lion, turning toward the lioness.

The lioness paused, startled by the lion’s familiar appearance. She shook the image of her father from her head and sneered. “How dare you! This is my father’s grave and you are nothing but an intruder!”

“Your father?” said the lion sharply. He paused to do some quick thinking, then asked, “What was your father’s name, if you don’t mind my asking? I think I may have known him, you see.”

“Known him?” said the lioness suspiciously. She narrowed her eyes. “How?”

“He was an old friend,” said the lion but she noticed the misery in his eyes when he spoke.

The lioness came down slowly from the top of cave, careful to keep her eyes fixed on the intruding lion. “I can see he meant a lot to you,” she said, halting some feet away on level ground. “He meant a lot to me too. I am Vitani, his only daughter. You are?”

“Tojo is my name.” The lion sat on his haunches and watched her gloomily. “Tell me please . . . how did he die?”

A menacing light shown in her bright eyes. “It is a disturbing tale. His name was Ni . . .”

The lion stirred at the name but went unnoticed but the lioness, for her bright eyes were fixed now in sorrow upon the grave.

“He was killed by the actions of my mother and another combined. My mother is dead now and it were better she was . . . the things she’s done, the lives she’s taken. It was because of her my best friend was killed . . . a cub named Kopa. And it was because of her and . . .” Vitani fell into silence and began to sob, remembering that dreadful day.

“Go on,” said the lion eagerly. “Your mother and who killed Ni?”

“You are eager to avenge him,” said the lioness, taking a step back.

“And you are not?” snapped the lion. “He was your father!”

“But it wasn’t his fault!”

“Who?” the lion demanded, standing suddenly.

Vitani took a frightened step back. “Simba,” she whispered, watching the lion with wide, baffled eyes. “Why?”

“Because I’ve journeyed these long years in search of my father to find him dead – and at your mother’s doing!”

Vitani took several more steps back. “No . . . you’re lying . . .”

Tojo laughed coldly. “You seemed startled when you first laid eyes on me. It’s understandable – I look just like Ni and the reason is this: I am Ni’s son! And Simba . . . Simba is going to be joining him very soon.”

Vitani shook her head in disbelief. “No! I won’t let you --” She lunged at Tojo and the two went down in a grappling heap, rolling across the dusty ground, biting and snarling.

When the dust cleared, Tojo was standing the victor and Vitani lie motionless on the ground, dead.

“That was for your mother,” Tojo panted, snarling at Vitani’s still body.

He turned and moved up the rock again, pausing at its edge to behold for the first time since he was a cub, the eternal lush grasslands of the Pride Lands.

“And now for Simba,” Tojo whispered.

He leapt down from the rock and moved quickly and silently into the tall grass.

Chapter 2: The Grisly Cubhood of Prince Tojo

The night seemed to wear on for an eternity as Tojo slipped through the tall grass. His eyes stared with fixed determination at the distant rock looming above the Pride Lands and his paws thumped the earth with a dull rhythm, carrying his mind into the days of his childhood. . . .

“There are bad lions in the world, son,” Ni told Tojo with a tender expression.

It was months after they’d left the Pride Lands. Their small, pitiful group wandered aimlessly. Two old lionesses had died, leaving three more: one with a cub, Tojo’s mother Shani, and one other, Namba. But the cub was killed in the night by a famished Namba, and its mother died of grief, leaving Tojo and his parents to chase Namba away.

A miserable and confused Tojo had asked his father why Namba had eaten the cub, to which Ni had thus replied.

“Are we bad lions for chasing her off?” Tojo had asked.

“No, we are not,” said Shani gently.

“Then why couldn’t we stay with Nala? I liked her . . .”

Tojo wandered away a little and flopped down.

Ni and Shani looked at each other.

“I’ll talk to him,” said Ni.

Shani agreed with a silent nod but could not depart without a worried glance in her son’s direction.

Tojo looked up at his father. It was difficult to look at Ni these days without wincing miserably. The old lion was steadily getting older and the constant fighting he’d endured to protect his family was not helping. He moved very slowly now and was riddled with scars. His eyes, while once bright and cheerful, were now haggard and weary with care.

Ni was very near death, Tojo knew, and one fell bite to the throat from the sickliest hyena could take his father down in a heartbeat.

Yet while the old lion’s condition was obvious, Tojo’s parents persisted in pretending everything was fine. But Tojo saw the worried look in his mother’s eye: if Ni died, not only would she suffer grief and despair on his part, but she and Tojo would become targets for other nighttime predators. A single lioness and a cub were easy targets for a pack of famished hyenas. . . .

Ni sat beside Tojo without a word and the two gazed miserably at the stars.

“Tojo,” said Ni heavily after a long moment, “when I saw you with Nala, playing so happily, so carefree and safe within the Pride Lands, several ideas ran through my head. Mufasa’s kingdom is a happy, safe place and I thought, if I could take over the Pride Lands, you could take Nala as your future queen and would grow up in a place where you were safe and happy. But then I remembered Mufasa’s brother, Scar, and that I would have to fight not only one but two lions to take the Pride Lands. And then, most importantly, I remembered the kindness Mufasa and Nala had shown us – Nala risked her own life to save a cub she didn’t even know and Mufasa risked the safety of his Pride in allowing strange rogues to stay in his kingdom overnight.

“And that, son, is why we could not stay with Nala. That is why I did not take the Pride Lands. That is why we wander in desolation, wretched and starving . . .”

“It can’t be like this!” Tojo declared. “It’s not fair!”

“Who said life was fair?” replied Ni gently. “Where is that written in the stars?”

Tojo merely glowered and looked away, his ears flat on his head. “One day I’ll return to the Pride Lands, Dad, you’ll see. One day I’ll go back and everything that should have been mine will become mine --”

“Tojo --!” began Ni in alarm, but an agonized roar cut him off. “Shani!”

“Mom!”

Tojo darted away before Ni could stop him.

“Mom! Mom!”

The little cub scrambled across the barren brown earth and up a low hill where he stumbled to a stop with a gasp of horror. Lying below in a pool of moonlight was Shani, dead. Her body lie very still, her mouth partly open in a last gasp of pain, and her eyes closed. Standing over her and watching Tojo with a dark smile was a slender lioness with bright piercing eyes and a dark stripe running down her back from her forehead.

Tojo gave an infantile growl of rage and staggered down the hill toward the strange lioness. The lioness merely began to laugh, and when he lunged at her face, brought up her paw and swiped him aside. Tojo remembered soaring through the air, flailing and screaming, before his head hit a rock jutting from the nearby hill. Blood spilled across his eyes and the world was a blur as he dropped instantly into a dark hole, where he slumped unconscious.

When Tojo later awoke he was quite alone. There was no sign of his father but he noticed as he peered carefully from his hole that a grave have been built for his mother. A pile of rocks stood solemn and silent in the pool of moonlight where his mother had been lying and he knew with a wave of cold sickness that his mother was lying beneath it. He realized his father must have buried Shani and moved on, probably searching for him.

“Dad?” Tojo called, bounding from his hole. He ran some feet away into the moonlight but was careful to avoid the grave. The thought of his mother lying dead beneath the pile of rocks brought tears to his eyes and he couldn’t bear the horrible stench of death when he drew too near it. He darted some feet in the opposite direction instead and called again desperately, “Dad?”

Dad! Dad!” someone mimicked.

Tojo turned with a gasp to behold three hyenas moving smoothly from behind his mother’s grave. They laughed in their high-pitched, cackling voices as they drew nearer, their heads bobbing on their long necks, their mouths open in evil crooked grins.

A male hyena with crossed eyes licked his chops and cackled unevenly.

“No way, Ed,” complained the other male, “I saw it first!”

The third hyena, a female, rolled her eyes, “Will you two shut up? Everyone knows the brains of the outfit gets the first meat --”

“Then I’ll be taking the cub,” said the male who’d spoken.

Ed cackled again with the same brainless smile.

“No way, Ed!” growled the male hyena, taking a threatening step toward Ed. “It’s mine!”

Tojo, who had backed against the hill trembling, was struck by a sudden idea.

“Ed is right,” said Tojo suddenly. “He sniffed me out first!”

Ed cackled happily in agreement.

“What!” shouted the female. “Ed, you sniffed nothing!”

“Yeah, that’s right – I sniffed him out!”

The female walked into the other male until their faces were pressed together. She kept moving forward, trodding on his paws as he staggered back, “Look here, Banzai, that cub is mine!”

“It’s mine as I smelled it first, Shenzi!” came back Banzai, walking into the female until he was trodding on her paws in turn.

Ed cackled something again and they turned upon him, and as the three hyenas stood thus arguing, Tojo crept away over the hill, then ran for his life.

Tojo ran and ran, tears streaming on the wind behind him as he thought of his dead mother and his missing father. Had the hyenas killed his father or had the strange lioness killed him as well? But she couldn’t have killed him! It seemed Ni had had enough time to bury Shani and perhaps to stand over her for a while in mourning . . . Where then could his father be?

Tojo came to the tall, dead grass which ran along the dried up river and scrambled up a tree. This barren tree was to become his home until he was too old and too large to hide in its branches.

Chapter 3: Destined to Love Simba

An adolescent Tojo crouched hidden in the tall grass, watching with hunger from under the loose locks of his budding mane as a herd of wildebeests drifted by. The herd had been moving from the Pride Lands and was as thin and as sickly as Tojo these days. Indeed, it was seldom that Tojo managed to capture a meal. Though he prided himself on his hunting skills, they were good for nothing when there was nothing to hunt. But now, with the Pride Land herds fleeing the kingdom in droves, Tojo was finding the Outlands fairly swamped in meat.

A single wildebeest wandered a little on its own and appeared sickly and aged. As the other wildebeests left it alone, it appeared the single creature was on the verge of dying. Tojo kept his eyes locked on the wildebeest as it wandered more and more into isolation. His claws flexed, gripping the earth until it seemed he and the earth were one and thus he moved in silence as he crept after the creature through the grass.

“Just a little more,” Tojo whispered hungrily as the wildebeest started creeping away again. His muscles tensed, his tail twitched and dropped low, and just as the wildebeest took its final staggering step away from the herd, Tojo sprang into action – and so did another lion.

It was a lioness, to be precise. She and Tojo leapt at the sickly wildebeest at the same moment, startling the creature so badly that it dropped to the ground before either of them had touched it and the herd moaned in fear and thundered away. Tojo and the lioness, meanwhile, slammed into each other in midair over the fallen wildebeest. After a moment of grappling, they pushed away from each other and stood crouched and snarling.

“Ni?” said the lioness after a moment.

Tojo paused. Her bright green eyes were oddly familiar, her smooth tan fur, even the tiny scar on her nose . . . Could it be? Recognizing the lioness at last, Tojo straightened up with a smile and said, “Guess again.”

A smile washed over the young lioness’ face. “Tojo?” she said carefully, smiling and squinting.

“Hello, Nala. What brings you to the Outlands?” he answered fondly.

“Tojo! It is you!”

They laughed and going to each other, bumped their heads together in cub-like greeting.

“What are you doing here?” said Nala happily. Then with a frown of concern, “Didn’t you ever find a new home?”

The joy fell from Tojo’s face and a darkness replaced it.

“What happened?” cried Nala breathlessly, moving close to Tojo and peering into his eyes.

Tojo looked away. “We wandered,” he said bitterly, “in darkness and despair . . . my mother was murdered by a lioness . . .” his eyes darkened as he thought of it. “I’ll never forget how evil she appeared – those bright pitiless eyes and that stripe running down her back . . .”

Nala gasped.

“What is it?” said Tojo.

“Zira,” Nala whispered. “The lioness you described, it sounds just like her. She’s the consort of our would-be king, Scar, and he’s sent her to find a mate with which to produce an heir . . . She and Scar are cousins and so their son, well . . . What is it?”

“My father,” said Tojo angrily. “She’s probably seduced my father! He disappeared soon after my mother was killed!”

“How awful!” gasped Nala. “I remember Ni, how good and kind he was. After you left the Pride Lands I always hoped things went well for you. Things have gone from bad to worse since you left.”

“Why? What happened? And why is Scar of all lions king? Where’s Simba?”

Nala hung her head.

“No!”

“It’s true,” Nala whispered. “There was a stampede . . . Mufasa was killed trying to save Simba and Simba was killed too . . . the hyenas have taken over everything and the Pride Lands are as desolate as the Outlands – I’m sure you’ve noticed the herds are moving on. I followed the wildebeests this far just to get food back to the others . . .”

“Nala,” said Tojo suddenly, “let me come back to the Pride Lands with you! This is the solution, don’t you see? I can easily take down Scar and avenge my parents – and rule with you as the new king!”

But Nala merely shook her head and backed away. “Simba is the true king!”

“Simba is dead!” Tojo growled, making Nala wince. He took a step forward. “Nala, I love you! I always have – when we left, I couldn’t stop thinking of you and I wanted to go back and claim you as my queen! With my pride slowly dying off, I had no mate and we always got along together so well, I thought . . .”

But Nala was slowly backing away from Tojo, staring at him in shock.

“You don’t love me,” said Tojo darkly. “Don’t you understand? You are destined to love me!”

“I’m destined to love Simba!” Nala said firmly, standing her ground. She shook her head, watching Tojo in disbelief. “What’s happened to you? You’re not the Tojo I remember . . .” Still watching Tojo with indignant green eyes, Nala took the fallen wildebeest’s leg in her mouth and started dragging it back to the Pride Lands.

Tojo stood watching her in silent fury, his face hard and his eyes biting. When she had gotten some distance away, he ran up a nearby rock and shouted after her, “You’ll be sorry, Nala! One day you’ll run away, looking for help, and I won’t be there!”

Chapter 4: Kovu, The Prince Consort

Present-day, adult Tojo moved forward through the grass but backtracked when he heard voices and crouched behind a tree. A single lioness was moving happily through the tall green grass of the Pride Lands.

“Nala?” Tojo whispered to himself in disbelief, for the lioness appeared youthful and slender unlike his scarred and aged self. But on closer inspection, Tojo realized the lioness was far too young to be Nala, though she looked very much like her. This lioness, however, was darker than Nala, almost golden in color, with large brown eyes. Why did she remind him of someone? Ah, but she was lovely . . . it was almost as if he and Nala were in the Outlands again, young and desperate and arguing about Simba -- Simba! That’s who the lioness looked like!

The lioness was running, laughing happily and so carefree. Tojo remembered with an ache those days of his cubhood when he and Nala had chased each other thus across the Pride Lands. Why did watching this lioness cause him so much pain and yet so much joy?

And then another lion appeared behind her – he was, in fact, chasing her and laughing as well. Tojo felt a wave of shock and anger when the young lion came into view: here was the image of that fiend Zira and his father combined! This young lion possessed Ni’s dark mane and dark coat, but Zira’s bright pitiless eyes were in his face – a face full of laughter and calm and – love! These young lions were in love!

It sickened Tojo, their love. It sickened him when the young lion (who was surely his half-brother and the result of Zira and Ni’s courtship) pounced upon what was unmistakably Nala’s daughter. The two flopped in the grass together, laughing and licking each other’s faces.

“Aren’t you glad we came back?” asked the lioness in a soft musical voice that warmed Tojo’s bitter heart.

“Yes,” admitted the young lion with a sigh. “I never thought Simba would accept me, not after what Zira tried to do to him, but I knew – I knew I had to return . . . for you.”

They smiled at each other and nuzzled, purring, as they lie together in the grass. Tojo seethed. He wanted to smack the fiend from his precious Nala and bear her away! But he had to remind himself that the lioness was not Nala, though the lion with her was certainly his half-brother and the wretched son of Zira!

How had this young lion, being who he was, gained a place among Simba’s Pride when he, a blameless cub, had been cast out with his father? It was maddening! Why must he live in misery and woe, his parents dead, without a mate, without a pride, while his wretched brother lived as a prince at Pride Rock?

Well, he would take care of his brother the same as Vitani, who was surely this young lion’s sister and yet another product of Zira’s and Ni’s.

“Kovu,” said the lioness presently, lifting her head to smile at her lover, “I have something I need to tell you.”

“What is it, Kiara?” answered the young lion, lifting his head also.

They lay on their stomachs a moment, the apparent Kovu watching Kiara with concern as she turned her eyes across the grassy plains. She eventually sighed and said dreamily, “I’ve been thinking of names --”

“Names?” repeated Kovu, his nose wrinkling. “Names for what?”

Kiara looked at Kovu and gave a nervous laugh. His growing alarm was making it more difficult to share her news than she’d ever imagined, but if she told Kovu now he would be the first to know. She hadn’t even told her mother yet!

“Myetu is a nice name . . .” she said, smiling at Kovu’s confusion.

“Wait a minute,” said Kovu slowly. He rose into a sitting position and stared across the grasslands in horror. “Are you saying . . . are you . . .?”

“Yes!” said Kiara happily. But when Kovu failed to express his delight, she frowned. “Aren’t . . .” she swallowed and asked miserably, “Aren’t you happy?”

“Wha – what?” said Kovu, snapping out of his reverie. Seeing Kiara’s anguish, he said quickly, “Of course, I’m happy!”

Kiara lifted a skeptical brow at his forced grin.

“It’s . . . It’s just a shock, that’s all. I think I need to be alone for a while . . . to think this over.”

“What do you mean?” said Kiara quickly. Would Kovu possibly abandon her and their cub? She’d never thought it possible, but the look in his eye was at once so gloomy and terrible – Kiara rose into a sitting position as well and peered closely, anxiously, at her lover. “Kovu?”

“Kiara, don’t look like that!”

“How can I help it when you’re speaking of wandering off alone?”

“What are you saying?” demanded Kovu indignantly. “Are you saying I wouldn’t come back?”

“Who knows what you’d do after the life you’ve lived!” Kiara gasped as her own harsh words filled her ears and there was a nasty pause as Kovu stared at her, angry and incredulous. “Kovu – I – I didn’t mean --”

“You know, after all that’s happened recently, I always thought you were the last lion I’d hear those words from.” He shook his head incredulously as he backed away.

“Kovu,” begged Kiara as the lion turned away, but Kovu kept walking without looking back, leaving Kiara wretched and alone. She turned and fled sobbing toward Pride Rock, and Tojo watched from his hiding place as she bounded up the rock face to the cave.

“Miserable wretch,” Tojo whispered angrily, watching Kovu’s dark silhouette drifting across the grass. “He doesn’t deserve you. . . .”

Chapter 5: Timira

Kiara stifled her sobs as she crept into the cave. She didn’t want anyone to hear her, especially not her father. She didn’t want any more suspicions toward Kovu, no more conflict, no more drama. She was sick of it! Would it be like this her entire reign? If this was what it meant to be queen then she’d rather trade places with any of the lionesses – even with Timon and Pumbaa – and spend her days carefree rather than trying to please a mate!

Kiara continued on through the cave and slipped out the back onto the ledge, her favorite place of solitude. Even Kovu would not look for her here: it was her secret place, a place which she kept hidden with rocks, and only one other knew of it –

“Kiara?”

Timira. Though she wasn’t Kiara’s age (she was, in fact, a little younger than Kiara’s parents), she was still young and hardy when Kiara was growing up and was thus the next best thing to a playmate Kiara had ever known besides her brief encounter with Kovu. She ran after Timira often and looked to her like a big sister, and hearing her concerned voice now was a greater comfort than Timira ever guessed.

Kiara bowed her head, ashamed of her weeping and yet unable to contain herself. Though she stifled her sobs, the tears kept flowing. All she could think of was Kovu and the shock, the terror, on his face when she announced she was with cub.

“What is it?” Timira begged.

Timira came to Kiara’s side and nuzzled her affectionately. She sat beside Kiara and watched her face in amazement. Timira had never been able to understand how a lioness in Kiara’s position could always be so unhappy. She remembered Kiara in her earliest days of cubhood – she’d been a lonely cub, frustrated with her father’s teachings, who didn’t want to be queen – can you believe it! And as she grew older it only grew worse – bringing home a mate her father would never consent to, running away, plunging into the ravine with Zira . . .

Timira shook her head as she watched Kiara. She would have given anything to trade places. There Kiara sat, privileged and protected, a princess and soon to be a queen – while Timira had lived a humdrum life as a low-ranking lioness with no cubs and no mate . . . she was so lonely, lonelier than Kiara had ever felt, and would have given anything for a mate like Kovu! But while Timira was slightly envious, she loved Kiara like the cub she’d never had the chance to have.

“Kiara, won’t you talk to me? You can tell me anything.”

Kiara smiled at Timira, “Timira, I’m glad if someone had to wake up, it was you.”

“But why are you crying? You’re soon to be queen! I thought this was a time to celebrate!”

Kiara laughed miserably, “So did I, but apparently, Kovu doesn’t agree . . .”

“What did he do to you? Did he run away? You have to understand – that’s the nature of a rogue --”

“No, Timira, it’s not that he ran away, but you’re right – I was afraid he might!” More tears poured down her cheeks and she hung her head.

“But why would he do that?” said Timira, shaking her head and smiling. “Kiara . . . Kovu loves you.” I wish someone loved me, she thought bitterly.

“Then why is he afraid of being a father? I thought it would make him happy . . .”

“Kiara, Kovu probably feels pressured about raising a cub that can make a good ruler. You have to look at things from his point of view: he can’t pass the teachings along of a king or queen when he himself is only a prince consort and that’s all he will ever be.”

“I never thought it mattered that much to Kovu,” said Kiara slowly.

“Come on, cub. Let’s gets some sleep. We stay up talking any longer, it’ll be morning.”

Timira moved back into the cave and Kiara turned to follow but hesitated. Were her eyes playing tricks on her or had she just seen . . .? She squinted into the distance, but no, there was nothing there . . . But still she could have sworn . . .

“Kiara?”

“Coming. . . .”

Kiara thought she’d seen a lion down in the grasslands, a lion that definitely wasn’t Kovu, but it couldn’t have been. Her eyes were tired and she needed sleep, that was all . . . at least, that’s what Kiara told herself. But in her heart she carried a private doubt.

Chapter 6: Vitani’s Warning

Kovu moved quickly and silently to the edge of the Pride Lands, paused and listened intently, his ear twitching, then continued down a dirt path, through the tall dead grass which announced the Outlands, and into darkness. The cold air chilled and ruffled his mane, sweeping dark locks into his eyes and carrying familiar smells . . . the raw scent of the termite mounds, the dry stench of bones from old kills, the enticing scent of many Outland lionesses now fading in the wake of their owners . . . and one last smell, the best smell of all, a smell which Vitani had explained to him when they were cubs: the rugged musk of his father.

There looming on the horizon stood the cave in which Kovu had grown into his mane, surrounded by the blank dirt fields on which he’d later received his training. He could still hear his mother’s voice as he looked with a pang of misery across those desolate lands . . .

“You are the leader of the unit! The others will move according to your actions – remember that! We will slowly weaken Simba and then you will move in for the kill!”

Kovu shook off the memory of his mother’s voice with a miserable wince and moved past the cave toward the mound of rocks that covered Ni. Who was he kidding anyway? He couldn’t be a prince! He and Kiara loved each other, but it wasn’t enough to run a kingdom. Kiara hadn’t even been announced queen and already they were arguing. And so here he was, back where he started –

Kovu paused. As he was moving toward his father’s grave he thought he’d glimpsed something out of the corner of his eye, a familiar shape. Kovu turned again to the cave and took several steps toward the shape.

“Vitani?” he whispered, pausing, one large paw lifted. He took another step toward the gloomy cave entrance and paused with a gasp. Lying there, so still and lifeless, was the slender ragged shape of his older sister. Her eyes, once so bright and fierce like Zira’s, were now staring vacantly through the sea of dead grass beside her.

Kovu swallowed thickly and managed in a low voice, “Vitani, who did this to you?” He carefully closed her empty eyes with his paw, then stood a moment over her in silence, his head bowed.

“Kovu!”

He knew that voice, but it couldn’t be –

Kovu opened his eyes, “Vitani?” But when he looked at his sister’s body, she was still lying lifeless in the dirt, her expression of agony relaxed by the last breath which had expelled from her body.

“No, Kovu, up here.”

Kovu took a step back and followed the sound of the voice until his eyes rested on the top of the cave, where Vitani stood glowing like a star against the night. Instead of the usual light brown color, she had turned very white until it fairly blinded one to look at her and yet Kovu could not look away.

“Vitani!” he gasped, his mouth open. He shook his head and took another step back. “I’m dreaming! How can this be?”

The shimmering white lioness smiled down on him and shook her head. “It is no dream. It’s me, Kovu, your sister.”

“Who did this to you?” Kovu demanded, his jaw clenching.

Vitani’s eyes became terribly sad. “One who was wronged . . . by Simba.”

“Who is he? Give me his name – don’t protect him! Why do you feel sorry for him?” Kovu demanded, watching Vitani with wide angry eyes.

And indeed, it seemed Vitani was very reluctant to betray her murderer. She watched Kovu sadly, as if she pitied him for having to suffer yet another loss – because of Simba, Kovu had never known his father, and though they’d been driven and brainwashed by their mother’s hate, they had loved Zira as well and had mourned her in her death. Now poor Kovu had lost yet another – the fear of losing someone else must’ve been eating him up inside.

Vitani tilted her head and smiled sadly. In her eyes, Kovu was still that little dark cub with the black tuft of fur falling across his forehead and the bright green eyes – and now it seemed she could no longer protect and advise him.

“Vitani,” said Kovu, taking a step forward. “Please!”

Vitani took a deep breath and it seemed her sigh echoed across the heavens until a ripple of air blew Kovu’s mane about his face. But he continued to peer up at her with a hard determination.

“Is anyone else in danger? Where has he gone? At least tell me that!”

“His name is Tojo,” said Vitani heavily, “but before you run off to find him you must listen to me!” she added when Kovu made a sudden move.

Kovu paused again, then seeing the earnest look in Vitani’s face, he sat.

“There are things about our father I never told you – things that he wants you to know! Tojo, the lion that killed me, is our brother --”

“What! Then what reason could he possibly have for --”

“Ni is his father as well! I never told you how Ni died because --” Her ears flattened and she watched Kovu uncertainly.

“Because what?”

“Because he was murdered . . . by Simba.”

“. . . That – that can’t be true!”

“It is true – I was there!” Vitani snapped. Her eyes filled with anger and pain as she remembered that horrible day of so long ago. “Mother put Ni up to killing Simba’s son – a cub named Kopa, my best friend . . . Ni killed him, and Simba arrived just in time to watch Kopa die in Ni’s jaws --”

“Then Ni had a heart as black as Mother’s – and I’m supposed to sympathize with this Tojo? He’s just like our father!”

“You don’t understand,” Vitani begged, “Ni was a good lion and was once a good king. His only mistake was letting Zira corrupt him . . . a mistake that seems to run in the family.” She smiled sadly at Kovu.

Kovu didn’t know what to say – it was true: as far as listening to Zira went he was no better than his father. He’d been prepared at a moment’s notice to murder Simba because Zira had convinced him it was right. Who was he to pretend he was better than Ni or even Tojo?

“If you don’t want me to kill Tojo, then what do you want me to do?” asked Kovu in confusion.

“Think of your kingdom – Kiara needs you . . . and so does your cub. Go back and warn the others of Tojo. Simba is still king and he’ll take care of matters. Then concern yourself with Kiara. She needs you more than you realize . . .”

“Vitani,” said Kovu, who was suddenly finding it difficult to speak, “I wish you were still here to – to guide me . . . you were more my mother than Zira ever was.”

Vitani smiled. “I wish it too, little brother.” She began to fade as she spoke and soon Kovu was left alone before the cave and his sister’s still body. Kovu set about the business of pushing rocks toward his sister’s body with his nose. He would bury her near their father, a perfect resting place here where they had grown up together and had played as happy cubs.

After Kovu had covered Vitani with a considerable amount of rocks, a dry twig snapped somewhere nearby and he paused to listen, his ear twitching. After a moment he called harshly, “Who’s there?” A strange scent wafted on the breeze, chilling Kovu and prompting him to start toward home as quickly as possible.

Tojo held his breath as he watched his younger brother unseen in the tall dead grass of the Outlands, his claws flexing against the earth.

After listening a long moment, Kovu turned and continued on toward the Pride Lands. Just as he was reaching the edge of the Outlands where the grass faded into the darkest clay, Tojo purposely made a noise to betray his presence. Kovu stopped again, his head snapping around.

“Who’s there?”

“Only your big brother,” came the reply.

Kovu went rigid with suppressed rage as a strange lion stalked out of the shadows. The lion was dark with piercing, derisive eyes. He was apparently aged, perhaps as old as Simba, with several battle scars to tell the tale of his rogue-existence. His dark brown mane was webbed in black streaks. He paced up and down before Kovu, sizing him up with every hint of dislike.

“I do not wish to fight you,” said Kovu, though his tense posture and flashing eyes told otherwise.

Tojo laughed coldly. “Why? For the sake of your lover, the princess? She’ll become my princess very shortly . . .” Tojo slunk down into a crouching position, his shoulders flexing as he prepared to lunge.

Kovu crouched as well. The lions began circling each other, watching each other with dark eyes, waiting tensely for the other to strike. Tojo swiped a couple of times to which Kovu snarled and swiped back. They continued to circle, their manes now heavy with blood and dripping in their eyes.

“Don’t do this! I know why you’re angry – but how can you kill me for something that happened before I was even born?”

“How stupid do you think I am?” Tojo demanded, one of his fangs revealed in a sneer. “If I don’t dispose of you now, you’ll only get in my way once I take on Simba. So you see? I’d kill you no matter what ragged lioness birthed you!”

Kovu gave a roar of rage and the two lunged, locking to each other with teeth and claws. Kovu arched his back and snarled in agony as his enemy’s claws sank into his flesh. Though Kovu had been trained to kill from cubhood, Tojo was the more experienced fighter and had fought many a rogue to survive: to him, Kovu was just another lion trying to scrap with him over a piece of meat.

The lions grappled, then thrust apart. Kovu was badly injured and staggered as he struggled to keep on his paws. His back was matted with blood and the loss of it had weakened him considerably.

Pathetic,” Tojo spat, his fang flashing again in yet another sneer. “Who taught you to fight? That weakling Vitani?”

Kovu let lose another furious roar and lunged, but Tojo only laughed as his younger half-brother pinned him to the ground. He kicked Kovu away with his hind legs and sent the young lion soaring through the air. Kovu smacked his head on a sharp rock jutting from the ground and sank in a bloody, lifeless heap into the dead grass.

Tojo stood over Kovu’s lifeless body, smiling darkly at his triumph. “If it’s that easy to take down Simba I wonder if it’ll even be worth it?” he wondered aloud. He lowered his head and peered closely at Kovu to ascertain he’d stopped breathing. When he saw that Kovu appeared quite dead, Tojo laughed coldly, stepped over his half-brother’s body, and moved on.

Chapter 7: Love Will Find a Way

Love will find a way. It was a silly saying of Kiara’s. The princess had some cubbish notion that love could solve everything and was convinced that it was her love for Kovu that had brought peace again to the kingdom. Timira snorted and rolled her eyes but could not help smiling on the young lioness as she slept.

The rest of the Pride was curled around the cave floor. Lionesses sprawled on their backs, their sides, their bellies, mouths open, ears twitching, furry lips smiling of sweet dreams.

On the small platform of rock rising just a few feet above the lionesses in the center of the cave slept Simba along side his queen. Nala was on her side, her back thrust against the king and her head draped across his paws. Simba was on his side as well, one back leg tangled lovingly with Nala’s and his tail flung across them both. Such cub-like indecencies were the royal couple prone to in sleep. It would have been very comical if Timira did not feel so particularly alone this morning.

Timira hung her head and stepped carefully over a snoring Timon and Pumbaa. The warthog was sleeping as always on his back, legs in the air as if there should have been an apple in his mouth. Meanwhile, the meerkat was curled on its belly, its snores soft and infrequent compared to the loud sawing of the hog.

Timira glanced around again. Kovu still had not returned. Kiara slept alone against the wall. Timira had slept near her in the night, but that now that she’d risen Kiara looked very small and alone lying there.

Vitani had also failed to return, which was strange – Vitani liked to wander every now and then in the Outlands but she always came back in the night. It was too dangerous, a lioness wandering in the dark alone. Though peace had been restored to the Pride Lands, rogues were still lurking everywhere – large burly males who would seek to take a lioness by force as his mate, famished lionesses who were desperate enough to eat one of their kind, even large packs of hyenas wandered on the outskirts and could take down a single lioness for a meal.

For all those reasons and more, Timira had been very careful from the time she was a cub to stay close to Pride Rock and if she had to leave the safety of the Rock’s shadow she never went alone.

Timira walked some distance across the ledge and stretched, thrusting her front legs forward and yawning until her large pink tongue rolled over her bottom lip.

But what was she anyway if not alone? This morning, just this once, she would break her timid ways and become adventurous, daring, bold – in other words, she would take on Kiara’s spirit and just for today, she would face the world alone.

Timira paused to glance a last time over her shoulder at the dark mouth of the cave. Pumbaa’s snores could just be heard, rising over Timon’s lighter wheezes. She could not see Kiara anymore, for the princess was far back in the gloom, but she smiled in her direction, then turned and set off.

She didn’t know where she’d go first. Perhaps she’d go looking for Vitani or Kovu, but then again, she reflected that the brother and sister had probably already found each other and Vitani had probably already comforted her brother and given him good advice. Where then would she go? Perhaps just for a stroll . . .

A large rock stood at the bottom of Pride Rock, obscuring the stone stair. Timira had just stepped around that rock when a menacing snarl made her scream. A lion burst out of hiding, wild and dark and terrifying to behold, and launched into her. They went rolling down the last few rocks that formed the stair and into the grasslands. Timira was so startled at first that she’d simply held on to the lion for dear life as they rolled endlessly. When they at last rolled to a stop, the lion was on top of her, pinning her to the ground.

The lion pulled back to observe Timira with a snort of surprise. “Who the hell are you?” it demanded angrily.

Timira scowled, “I might ask you the same thing!” She braced her legs and suddenly heaved the lion from her, then turned and fled into the grasslands. But the lion, unfortunately, was quite a fast runner. She heard it pounding after her, heard its impatient snarls, and ran faster in her terror. The path to Pride Rock was blocked – she could only run away from it and hope some animals spotted her plight and came to her aid.

Timira was just ploughing recklessly down a hill when she heard the lion’s shout of triumph. Its cold shadow fell over her as it lunged yet again, and she was pinned for a second time to the ground. They grappled, rolling through the grass and snarling and biting, until Timira emerged the victor. She lie with the massive lion pinned beneath her, glaring at it as they both sought to catch their breath.

To Timira’s surprise, the strange lion was grinning. “I’m impressed,” he said in answer to Timira’s startled gaze. “I’ve fought several lions in my lifetime, and you’re the first one to pin me on my back. Well done.”

Timira sneered at him. “I’ll also be the first to kill you,” she panted, “if you don’t tell me who you are and what business you have in the Pride Lands!”

“I came here bent on revenge, but . . .” the strange lion shook his head, “when I look at you . . . none of it seems to matter any more.”

Timira’s ears flicked upright. “Revenge? Against who?”

But the strange lion was lost in thought. “This must be what Kovu feels,” he said to himself, his eyes wide as he gazed up at Timira, “This must be what Kovu feels when he’s with Kiara – and what Nala feels when she’s with Simba,” he added bitterly. And gazing still at Timira, his heart pounding in his chest, Tojo suddenly realized that he would not ruin what was between the lions of Pride Rock for the all world – not if they felt this exalted, this helpless, this weak and yet strong and wonderful and fearless and terribly afraid all at once!

And as Tojo stared up at Timira, he realized with a sudden leap of the heart that Timira was gazing down at him with loving eyes. Ah, she was beautiful! And he felt with a thrill that perhaps she was thinking the same thing about him.

“I don’t know what it is about you,” said Timira, shaking her head, “but your eyes – they tell the story of suffering and . . . of loneliness.”

Tojo looked away angrily; his ears flattening on his head. “What I know of loneliness could make your fur stand on end.”

“Try me,” said Timira with a smirk. “It’s not always such a great thing, living at Pride Rock. I was born some time after Simba and Nala and I’ve watch their love and later their joy when they had their cubs – then I watched Kiara fall in love with Kovu – they are to have a cub soon. And while I was happy for them, as the years went by I felt . . . so alone . . . and I kept wondering . . . when will my turn come?”

Timira closed her eyes as if the very thought of her loneliness pained her. She backed off of Tojo and sat some distance away, her head hung. Tojo sat up and stared at her sadly a moment, then went to her side and timidly, as if he thought she might disappear on the spot, he rubbed his ears against her head. Timira nuzzled him back at once, and they sat thus, purring lowly, sitting side by side as the sun crept over the horizon and being happy and carefree and . . . in love.

Chapter 8: The Darkness Dispelled

But Timira, as if she’d suddenly remembered something, cleared her throat and moved away, gazing with worried eyes up at Pride Rock. It seemed as if Tojo read her mind, for as he gazed at Pride Rock, a woeful feeling stole over him: they would never be accepted by the lions there, never. And the stain of Tojo’s misdeeds could not be washed away: he was the murderer of Vitani and Kovu.

“I want to be with you,” said Timira quietly, gazing up at Pride Rock, “but . . . will they ever accept us?” She gazed with large anxious eyes up at Tojo. “What is it?” she begged, seeing the pained expression on the lion’s face. She came quickly to his side again, peering with concern into his eyes.

Tojo closed his eyes and looked away and swallowed. “Timira,” he said heavily, “there are things you should know about me . . . I am a murderer and a rogue --”

Timira shook her head, “I don’t care how many lions you’ve killed over a scrape of meat!”

“No!” cried Tojo impatiently, startling her. “You don’t understand – my father was murdered by Simba through the schemes of a lioness named Zira – and that same lioness murdered my mother --”

Timira gasped.

“I came back here seeking revenge and I’ve already avenged my mother’s death on the cubs of Zira – a lioness who called herself Vitani and her brother – our brother – Kovu . . .”

“No!” Timira cried, staggering back with wide eyes.

Tojo winced and couldn’t bear to look at her. “But I’m a changed lion now! When I looked at you it was like – like I suddenly saw myself for what I’d become: I let my bitterness and hate consume me until I hurt many others with it . . . Now I only wish I could take it all back.” He dropped his head and closed his eyes.

Timira went to him and nuzzled him. “I can’t deny that I feel the same about you, no matter what you’ve done . . . What you’ve told me doesn’t surprise me. I knew there was a darkness in you when I looked at you . . . but I suddenly feel as if I’ve dispelled that darkness – it’s like my love for you has given you a second chance!”

Tojo sighed his relief and nuzzled Timira back. “After all I’ve done in my life, I don’t deserve you . . .”

“Everyone deserves a second chance.”

They smiled at each other, but Timira looked again toward Pride Rock.

“If we’re going to be together, I must return . . . to say goodbye. . . .” Her eyes brightened with a sudden idea. “Why don’t you come with me?”

Tojo hesitated, but reflected that perhaps none of them would recognize him. Nala would certainly remember him but she didn’t know of his misdeeds to date. He could return with Timira to Pride Rock and leave with her before any of them found Vitani’s and Kovu’s bodies. It was still early, after all.

“Alright,” said Tojo, nuzzling Timira again.

They started back toward Pride Rock, but Timira stopped again and said with a laugh, “I just realized – we don’t even know each other’s names!”

Chapter 9: Lucky to Have Nala

When Kovu left Pride Rock that night, Nala had been watching the lovers unseen. She was as overprotective as Simba in that way, though she kept her paranoia hidden with a calm and confident outward appearance. Though it had been many years since the death of poor little Kopa, Nala had not forgotten that grisly scene: the old lion Ni (once her friend!) standing with Kopa hanging limp in his jaws . . . She shuddered just to think of it, and since Kiara’s birth had been in constant terror that her second cub might meet the same fate. And yet, unlike Simba, she kept her calm – one of them had to seem rational in order to comfort the other.

Nala waited until Kiara and Timira went to sleep, and followed Kovu, but it was too late. The young lion had simply disappeared, but she thought she’d glimpsed a strange lion in the Pride Lands once or twice – lurking in the tall grass, hiding behind a rock.

She followed the strange lion all the way to the Outlands where she lost him. She was just turning back for Pride Rock when she stumbled upon a horrible scene: the strange lion leapt out of the darkness and viciously murdered Vitani, who had gone as usual to her father’s grave. Nala returned to Pride Rock as fast as she could, bent on rousing everyone and alarming them of the rogue lion – but Nala reflected that she had been in the Outlands. Rogue lions in the Outlands were safe from prosecution. As far as the law was concerned, the Outlands belonged to the rogues: they had every right to murder intruders. Therefore, had Nala awoken the Pride with the news, it would not have mattered: there was nothing they could do.

Oh, why did Vitani have to wander into the Outlands? If only she had stayed with them, where she belonged, she’d be safe and alive now, sleeping near Kiara and Timira as she’d grown accustomed to doing. . . .

Nala wandered wearily into the cave and smiled at Simba’s prostrate form. She noticed Kiara and Timira sleeping side by side: Kovu still had not returned. She would save her sad news for the morning, but for now, she would let the others sleep. They all looked so peaceful lying there, breathing quietly – even Timon and Pumbaa, who snored worse than all the lions combined.

Nala slipped silently to Simba’s side, closed her eyes, and smiled when she felt his tail drop across her affectionately. She felt Simba scoot close to her and his hot breath hit her ear as he whispered with a sleepy groan, “Where have you been?”

But Nala only gave a false snore in reply. Simba opened one skeptical eye, but soon they both fell asleep and the night wore on.

Simba awoke before Nala some hours later. He heard the usual morning sounds: the grunt and shuffle of the lionesses as they rose and walked, yawning, to the waterhole; the smack of Timon’s furry lips and Pumbaa’s snorts; Kiara’s cubbish yawn and the usual noise of Timira scratching her side – Timira? There was no usual noise!

Simba’s eyes snapped open and darted straight to the spot where Kiara and Timira had slept the night before. There was no Timira, no Vitani, and no Kovu! First Nala had been out wandering and now this?

Simba nudged Nala awake. “Nala,” he said firmly when the queen sat up with a yawn, “what is going on around here? Last night I asked you and you pretended to sleep – but now I really need to know!”

Nala’s weary expression did nothing to quench Simba’s fears.

“Come with me,” the queen said quietly, and it pained Simba to see her usually-merry green eyes so darkened with despair.

Simba followed quickly after Nala onto the jutting ledge of Pride Rock. They sat together side by side, watching the sun reach its fingers higher and higher across the Pride Lands. Simba gave Nala a moment to gather her thoughts and merely watched anxiously as she bowed her head and closed her eyes. At last, Nala lifted her head and began:

“Last night, I followed Kovu and Kiara. They were talking out on the grasslands, as they usually do . . . but this time they were arguing. I heard their voices shouting from where I stood on Pride Rock, so I went down to see what was the matter . . . Simba,” Nala looked directly into Simba’s eyes and the sad expression in her eyes chilled him, “I think Kovu’s run away!”

Simba shook his head, “No, never!”

“There’s more,” Nala continued heavily, but before she could impart her news about Vitani, she was interrupted by the sound of voices.

Simba and Nala paused, their ears pricking as they listened. Moments later, a pair of lions appeared over the last stone steps leading to the top of Pride Rock and stopped in their tracks, just as startled.

“Timira?” Simba gasped. “But --” he smiled and went on, looking the strange male lion with Timira up and down, “who is this you’ve brought to us? Can it be?” He seemed to have guessed Timira’s situation on the spot, for it was common knowledge among Simba’s Pride that Timira was lonely, that she wanted a mate and cubs.

Timira smiled and looked down happily. The male lion with her, while not very old was not very young either. He seemed about Simba’s age and was riddled with old scars, thin from a life of scavenging – he was a rogue. But Simba noticed that when the male lion looked at Timira, the gentlest look came into his eyes: he was in love with her! And Timira was in love with him! She kept gazing happily at her companion, laughing, and looking down.

Nala, meanwhile, stood dumbfounded as she stared at the male lion. The male lion gave Nala a dark smile that went unnoticed by Simba, who was too happy for Timira to realize exactly who the strange rogue was. Nala, however, recognized Tojo on the spot: it was not very long ago that she’d stood on the edge of the Pride Lands as an adolescent, arguing with him about Simba. And she realized with a leap of the heart that it was Tojo who’d murdered Vitani! It’d been so dark when it happened that she wasn’t sure, but looking at him now, she was certain.

Tojo seemed to read the knowledge in Nala’s eyes and gave her a pleading, helpless look. “This is my second chance!” his eyes seemed to say. “Please! Don’t ruin this for me!”

“Isn’t this great, Nala?” said Simba, moving forward to nuzzle Timira. Timira had always been like a younger sister to him. He remembered beating her up in several wrestling matches when they were cubs and receiving a scolding from Timira’s mother, for Timira was still too young to treat roughly and was only born some time shortly before Simba ran away.

“Nala?” said Simba, looking around when the queen remained silent.

Nala swallowed thickly and came out of her reverie with a smile. “What, Simba? Oh, yes, it’s wonderful, Timira, I’m so happy for you both!” She moved forward and nuzzled Timira as well.

“I don’t exactly like the idea of you two leaving the Pride Lands alone,” said Simba. “A pride of lions is always better than a pair. I’m sure some of the other lionesses would like to come with you – there are some good places to live in the Outlands, not all of it is bad . . .”

“Sanhira might like to come!” said Timira eagerly. “And Kela and Kara – Oh, thank you, Simba! We were so afraid you wouldn’t accept us!” cried Timira, hurrying forward to nuzzle Simba yet again.

Simba laughed, “No problem!”

Nala noticed Tojo give her a thankful look and she smiled in return.

“So what is your name?” Simba asked of Tojo. “Maybe you’d like to return and visit us sometime?”

Tojo and Timira looked at each other in horror.

“Ah, look who’s back!” said Nala loudly, and Simba was distracted when yet another lion made its way up the stone stair onto the ledge of Pride Rock.

Tojo and Timira exchanged expressions of relief but were freshly horrified when Kovu dragged himself heavily onto the ledge. He seemed battered and bruised, moved very heavily and breathed shallowly. He paused at the top of the stone stair, his head hung, and dropped heavily to the ground.

“Kovu!” Simba and Kiara shouted at once.

Kiara had been standing uncertainly in the mouth of the cave, eying Tojo with curiosity, her ears straight up. Seeing Kovu’s state, she rushed to his side and turned him over.

“Oh, Kovu, what happened to you?” Kiara begged.

“It was --”

Kovu glared at Tojo, who was standing with a solemn and resigned face: the game was up, for he was certain Kovu would reveal him. But Nala appeared standing over Kovu and conveyed to him with her eyes alone not to speak a word against Tojo.

“. . . A rogue lion?” finished Kovu uncertainly, to which Nala nodded her encouragement behind the others’ backs. “A rogue lion,” he went on more confidently, “it attacked me and Vitani – she’s dead . . .”

Kiara gasped, “No!”

“No one is allowed to journey into the Outlands alone anymore!” Simba announced to the confused lionesses crowding the mouth of the cave. “That goes for you especially, Kovu – let’s get you inside . . .” He nudged Kovu to his paws and he and a few other lionesses helped Kovu into the cave. Kiara and Timira followed anxiously, leaving Nala and Tojo alone.

“Thank you,” said Tojo with a fond smile. “You know that’s the second time you’ve saved me?”

Nala laughed, “What are friends for? I’m only glad to see you alive and well.”

“I’m more well than I’ve ever been! Timira – she makes me feel like a king!”

Nala shook her head, smiling at him fondly. “But that’s what you are,” she said, moving close to nuzzle him. “That’s what you’ve always been, deep down inside.”

They nuzzled each other a long moment, and Tojo was startled when Nala even began to purr. He felt the old feelings returning – the joy, the comfort, the security of those days he’d spent with Nala here in the Pride Lands.

“You’re breaking my heart all over again,” Tojo said sadly, though he continued to nuzzle with Nala.

Someone cleared their throat and Nala and Tojo broke apart, their eyes downcast in embarrassment. Simba stood watching in the mouth of the cave, a smirk on his face reminiscent of the cub he’d once been. Tojo felt a surge of jealousy leaping from Simba and was secretly satisfied. But Timira appeared again, backed by the group of lionesses who were willing to start a new pride with her, and all thoughts of Simba and Nala flew from Tojo’s head. Tojo and Timira went to each other and nuzzled.

“It’s time to say farewell,” said Simba, moving to Nala’s side. “Good luck, Timira, and remember – you are always welcome here.”

Timira gave Simba and Nala one last smile, then departed with her mate and their new pride down the stone stair.

Simba and Nala sat a moment in silence side by side on the edge of Pride Rock. Then Simba spoke:

“Tojo is lucky to have a friend like you.”

“So you recognized him after all?” teased Nala, lifting an eyebrow.

“Not until I saw the two of you together,” admitted Simba. “Then I remembered when he came here as a cub – it always seemed like the two of you left me out.”

“Come now, Simba!” Nala playfully pinned Simba on his back and said with a smile, “If that were true I think Tojo would be king here and you would not.”

Simba laughed and felt a surge of joy as he watched Nala move slowly into the cave. Yes, he was lucky indeed to have a queen like her.

Chapter 10: Tired of Fighting

“Kovu, can – can you ever forgive me?” Kiara begged, sitting at Kovu’s side. “The things I said –”

“No, Kiara, I’m the one who needs to apologize – I’d be honored to have a cub with you! It’s just – I was afraid that – what if the cub turned out to be not so great a king? What if the cub grew up to be . . .?”

Kiara knew he was going to say “What if the cub grew up to be Scar?” and shook her head. “Kovu, that will never happen!”

“But how do you know?” Kovu cried in earnest, wincing as he sat up. “Kiara, I don’t know anything about being a king! What will I teach the cub besides how to scrap for meat?” He sneered at the ground in frustration.

“Kovu,” Kiara said with a smile, “my father knew nothing about being king when he returned – all the years he was supposed to spend in training were lost when he lived in the jungle with Timon and Pumbaa. And look at him now! He’s one of the greatest kings to rule at Pride Rock!”

“He’s definitely a step up from Scar,” Kovu admitted to which Kiara laughed.

“So you see? You’ll be a great prince, I know it . . .”

They nuzzled happily. Nala appeared in the cave. She stood watching them fondly for a moment, then cleared her throat. Kiara and Kovu looked up.

“Kiara, your father would like a word with you,” said Nala.

Kiara smiled at Kovu and went out.

Nala and Kovu were now alone in the cave. The other lionesses were out lounging in the sun or in the shade or else planning the morning’s hunt. Nala moved to Kovu’s side with a smile.

“So you returned,” she said, her green eyes smiling.

“Yeah,” said Kovu with a nervous laugh, “to tell you the truth, I almost didn’t.”

“But you did,” said Nala firmly, “and taking responsibility is always the first step.”

Kovu’s nose crinkled. “The first step to what?”

“To a great ruler.” Nala sighed and sat on her haunches, her tail flashing. “It wasn’t easy for Simba to return here – we had a fight just before he did. Then something made him come back – but stars knows it wasn’t me.”

“Yeah, Kiara was just telling me about Simba – we had a fight last night because I was afraid of having a cub.”

“You thought it would turn out like Scar.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yeah,” Kovu admitted.

“Kovu, let me share a little secret with you: there will always be a Scar. A lion will always emerge who wants power or revenge and there’s nothing we can do about it except fight it, and when it rises again, we fight it again.”

“So why did you help Tojo escape?” Kovu asked darkly. “He killed Vitani! He tried to kill me – and he was going to kill Simba and take Pride Rock and Kiara for his own!”

Kovu was amazed when Nala merely smiled sadly and said, “Because . . . Tojo was tired of fighting.”

Chapter 11: Mya and Myetu

It was the happiest day of Kiara and Kovu’s lives. The animals gathered at Pride Rock as the sun rose meekly across the sky, mere silhouettes moving in droves to welcome the new heir. Rafiki climbed the stone stair leading to the ledge of Pride Rock, staff in hand, and embraced Kovu, smiled at Simba and Nala, and moved past them to Kiara. Kiara looked up to reveal a small, dark bundle of fur: a little male cub, covered in spots and sleeping so heavily that it didn’t wake when Rafiki anointed it, but snored loudly and yawned. Kiara’s girlish laugh finally awoke the cub. It blinked grumpily and even scowled at the intruding mandrill for waking it from its nap. Rafiki gathered the cub carefully, ruffled Kiara’s head affectionately, and turned toward the edge of Pride Rock.

The clouds parted and the sun poured down upon the lifted cub, who had dropped off to sleep immediately and was hanging limply in Rafiki’s hands. The animals stomped and bowed and trumpeted, the birds fluttered across the sky to sing the new prince’s praises. But Prince Myetu merely slept on, completely indifferent of the world around him.

“Is it natural for a cub to sleep so much?” Kovu asked of Simba with wide eyes.

It was several days after the presentation of Myetu, and Simba and Kovu were sitting in the mouth of the cave, watching in awe as little Myetu continued a twelve-hour marathon of sleeping. Kiara carried the cub with her everywhere she went, even to the waterhole, and it continued to sleep, only waking to eat and go right back to sleep.

Now Kiara and the new prince were both sleeping within the cave. Kovu had brought Kiara a leg from a recent kill. She ate it thankfully, and then dozed off. Myetu never awoke.

Simba shook his head, “. . . I don’t know. Kiara barely slept a wink when she was a cub and Kopa – Kopa always awoke before the birds. . . .” Simba’s voice trailed off sadly, reflecting on his late son.

Kovu glanced sideways at Simba’s sad, heavy eyes. The king was getting old: it was rare for a lion to live to see his grandchildren. Kovu remembered Kiara telling him of her grandmother, Sarabi, a lovely old queen who’d passed away when Kiara was still a cub. Both Simba and Nala had lived lengthy lives, had seen many seasons, but now it seemed old age was catching up with them at last. Nala was heavier and had lines under her eyes, though the green spheres were as happy and shinning as ever. Simba, meanwhile, had begun to move very slowly and grunted often if he moved too fast. Zazu was well, though faded and ruffled with age, and as for Timon and Pumbaa . . . both had taken the next step in the circle of life, which was death. For Simba it had been a heavy blow, burying his foster parents, and Pride Rock seemed miserably silent without Timon’s loud remarks and the sound of Pumbaa’s lips slurping as he ate bugs.

Kovu shuddered. He couldn’t imagine living without Kiara – or dying without her. He gazed into the gloomy cave at Kiara as she slept and despaired to ever think of leaving her.

“Kovu.”

Kovu’s head turned to Simba again with startled eyes; the older lion was smiling at him.

“Death isn’t always loneliness and despair,” Simba said gently, “even those who are gone . . .” He closed his eyes with a smile as the wind ruffled their manes, “. . . they stay with us as we go on. You are never alone: I will be in the stars to guide you.”

Kovu couldn’t convey what Simba’s words meant to him in that moment. Simba was saying he’d guide Kovu from the heavens like a father. Kovu had never known the joys of having a father and smiled gratefully at Simba: he truly was a king.

Simba suddenly laughed and Kovu asked in surprise, “What?”

“Nothing,” said Simba, rising with a groan, “it’s just that . . . you’re nothing like my uncle: Taka didn’t leave a Scar after all!” He laughed again, moving away down the side of Pride Rock with an old lion’s careful steps.

“Taka?” said Kovu, wrinkling his nose in confusion. But he shook his head and followed Simba, grateful and proud to belong to Simba’s Pride.

Later that night, Nala rose and slipped from beneath Simba’s heavy paw. With heavy and slow steps, she moved quietly to the edge of Pride Rock and sat waiting, her tail lifting and dropping lazily behind her. After a moment of quiet reflection, a little blue bird fluttered suddenly down from the inky sky and hovered before Nala.

“Well?” said Nala eagerly. “How are things with Tojo and Timira, Tama?”

While Simba had Zazu as his majordomo, Nala had Tama, one of the many little blue birds which lived in the Pride Lands. Tama was younger that Zazu, at least Kiara’s age in fact, and had been Kiara’s friend in cubhood. Unknown to the others, Nala had been using the little blue bird to keep an eye on Tojo and Timira should her friends need her help.

“Timira had her cub!” twittered the little bird in much excitement.

“And?”

Tama giggled, “It’s a girl! A little girl named Mya!”

“How wonderful for them both!” said Nala happily. “A little girl! I hope Sanhira doesn’t influence her too much . . . I always thought she was a bit headstrong.”

“Sanhira’s been trying to behave, your highness, which for her isn’t saying much.”

“Anything else?”

“Report complete, your highness!”

“Thank you again, Tama, and goodnight.”

“Goodnight!”

Tama fluttered wildly into the darkness.

“Nala? What are you doing out here?”

Nala turned to see Simba moving toward her from the cave. He gave a great yawn and sat heavily at her side.

“You know, I can never sleep when you’re gone?” said the king after a pause.

“I know,” Nala answered, nuzzling her husband.

They sat side by side in happy silence, but a scent on the wind filled both their hearts with despair. It was the dry, crackling scent of barren earth – a scent which usually only drifted in the Outlands.

“Oh, no,” Nala whispered, “it’s happening again.”

“The second drought.” Simba took a deep breath and his chest swelled as if he was preparing himself for whatever was to come. “Whatever happens, Nala, we’ll face it together.”

“Together,” agreed Nala, smiling at Simba. She licked his cheek playfully and they rubbed ears. “We are one,” Nala teased, to which Simba summoned strength to his old limbs and he chased Nala down from Pride Rock across the grasslands, where they pounced upon each other and lie beneath the stars: content, carefree, in love.