Yet another addition to the Saga of Tanabi
My perspectives on The Lion King and The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride have changed dramatically since the writing of TLK3: Tanabi’s Return two years ago. There are some things that I put in the story that I regret putting in, but I’m leaving them there so that others may see how I have changed over the years, as I do every day.
I have decided to write a second “add-on” to Tanabi’s Return for this reason: I did not intend for Kiara and Vitani to become mothers at the end of TR. I was thinking of just ending the story with Simba and Nala’s passing (which I still look back on and sigh to myself about) and Tanabi’s claiming the throne. Nani and Kizazi were last minute decisions, since there had to be “new beginnings” for the new royal family. Kovu and Kiara’s son was certainly inevitable and understandable, but Nani being Vitani’s daughter by Tanabi without the two being “a couple” or even showing any visible romantic feelings towards each other just seems weird to me. Perhaps it could have fit in with the story, showing that even a lion that can see auras and remain unnoticed by the gods can be “impure”, but now that I look at the big picture, that just doesn’t seem to fit in with my Tanabi’s personality. Besides, I try not to make stories with rough edges like that, and I really want to smooth this one out.
I would like to thank the people who have praised my previous works, The Lion King III: Tanabi’s Return and After the Union. I would also like to thank the authors of The Chronicles of the Pridelands, David Morris and John Burkitt, who I failed to adequately credit in my story, and the author of The Tales of Tanabi, Joshua Tewplin, two of the many stories that inspired me to write. Some of you have asked if I was going to write a third story, and your questions have brought this story to the light. I hope you enjoy the story as much as you enjoyed the previous ones, and that you see a couple of lost souls in a different light by the time it is through.
(I should, however, warn the younger readers out there that this story contains some “PG-13” material. I’ve kept it as clean as possible, but still, proceed with care.)
He awakened from a sleep devoid of dreams in the most mysterious hours of the night. The period between midnight and dawn. The time of the setting moon. The time of restless stirrings. The time of visions that foretold the future.
He had left his father’s cave as soon as he was sure everyone in it was asleep, including Kovu, who slept near the mouth, as he had done for nearly all the time he had been part of the pride. The pride that was Simba’s. The pride that would one day be passed on to another.
He had climbed the narrow path to the highest point of Pride Rock, the flat, barren plateau where his father, Simba, had been shown the entire kingdom that he was destined to rule. He had lain down upon the cold stone and slept with a sublime feline alertness that all members of his species possessed. He thought about his brother-by-law and his twin sister. He wondered how their futures would be, and how he, Tanabi, son of Simba and Nala, grandson of Mufasa and Sarabi, would rule the kingdom when his time came to rise.
But that was behind him. Now he was awake, walking slowly down the path that he had ascended several hours earlier. The rocks that allowed themselves to be seen through the shadowy shrouds didn’t look much like rocks at all. With their pale blue pallor and the slight iridescence created by the light of the waning moon, they resembled something that Tanabi had been told of as a cub. Something cold and wet, yet solid that could only be found on the tops of the mountains that loomed over the horizon. Water so still and so cold that it could be walked upon. What was it called? Ice. It was called ice. Tanabi had never seen it, but something told him that what he was seeing was very much like the strange, chilly material that his foster mother had told him about. The mother who called herself Monah.
Monah. The one who was responsible for everything. Zira’s exile. Kovu’s corruption. Nala’s grief. How remarkable that one lioness could do so much. She had told him that those who did wrong and felt nothing were said to have a “heart of ice”. How could he have known that she was describing herself all along? It seemed so awful that all this had happened because of her…and him. Of course. If Tanabi had never been born, Monah wouldn’t have stolen him from his mother’s side and the troubles could have all been avoided. Or would they? Who would be the future king, then? Simba wouldn’t have allowed a rouge, let alone an adopted son of Scar, to take his place when he died. There were too many uncertain answers to hundreds of questions, and Tanabi couldn’t bring himself to wonder what might have been, or what should have been. It was too guilt-laden, too saddening, too painful to think about. Like the old shaman, Rafiki, said to Simba once, “It’s in the past.”
Tanabi raised his head. There was no noise he could detect except his own breathing. He had reached the end of the path. Before him was the main cave where nearly all of the pride members slept. Kovu still slept beside the mouth of the cave. Tanabi had observed how he always slept there, only in the past few weeks, he seemed to be sleeping closer to the entrance. Was he finally starting to accept his new identity as the queen’s mate, or was it merely his instinct to be close to the pride that had accepted him? Tanabi couldn’t say.
He paused for a moment to look at the dark lion with the darker mane, almost a mirror image of his great uncle, or so he was told. The aura that danced around him was difficult for Tanabi to make sense out of because it was moving so rapidly. Tanabi assumed this was probably because Kovu was dreaming, and Tanabi knew how dreams affected auras.
There were times the young lion thanked the gods for his mysterious gift, and there were times he silently cursed them. Being able to see what another individual truly looked like was something not even the wisest lionesses could explain. As he looked into the cave behind Kovu, he did not see a mass of slumbering, furry bodies. Instead, he saw a broad lake of swirling colors and lights, leaping from lion to lion, some calm and serene, some flashing with energy at the highlight of a dream. Tanabi turned his eyes away. It hurt his eyes to look at something that was so dull and ordinary for another individual. Besides, what he was looking for wasn’t in the main cave. He turned again, glanced at the peak of Pride Rock, a glistening shard of ice in the cold moonlight, and began descending down the steep, rocky side. Just before he reached the ground, he looked to the left. A small cave, the cave of the commoners, was set into the hard rock. Tanabi entered.
It was much calmer in the little cave. Only five or six lionesses lay about on the cold ground, lionesses that had sympathized with Zira and weren’t quite ready to sleep in the same cave as Simba and his lionesses. Their auras were like yellow flames, innocent, yet hiding raging fires. It was difficult for Tanabi to step around them, because their auras fluctuated frequently and caught him off-guard more than once, as if they were interrogating him, asking him what he was looking for.
It wasn’t anything great the young prince was looking for, nothing dark he had on his mind, but he was still nervous. Moonlight cast his shadow upon the cave wall, making him even more edgy as he walked on.
Then he saw her, sleeping apart from the other lionesses, sprawled out in an ungainly fashion, almost as if she were thrown across the cave. Her aura was complex and hard for Tanabi to interpret. The colors kept bleeding into each other, as did the lights and the shapes. But he could still just make out what she looked beneath. A slim, almost emaciated form, dirty tan in broad daylight but a dim gray now; thick, bushy brows poised alertly over dark eyelids; dark-edged ears that flicked every few minutes; prominent whisker follicles beneath a sharp, pink nose; and a strange forelock that drooped into her eyes, like the mane of a young male. Her mother had called her Vitani, sister of Kovu, and stepsister to Zira and Scar’s only known son, Nuka. She had been raised to be a fighter. Now she was the most skilled huntress in the pride.
But she still didn’t trust her king. Like Monah, she kept to the shadows and hesitated an unusually long while before bowing before him. Even though it was she that was responsible for uniting the prides during that last, violent struggle, she still distrusted the lion that had exiled her mother for a crime she didn’t commit. And here he was, the very pit of the matter, approaching this ragged lioness slowly but deliberately.
Despite her rough exterior and equally rough veil of colors and light, he could somehow see a deeper beauty that neither her aura nor her body contained. There was something in her that reached out to him and intermingled with his own mind, as if they were sharing their thoughts.
He couldn’t speak to her to wake her. He knew from other lionesses how violent Vitani could be if she was yanked out of her sleep unexpectedly. But he had to talk to her. There was something about this strange creature that intrigued him, almost drew him to her. But he didn’t know what it was, and he had to know, and talking to her was the only way.
Tanabi extended a paw and touched her as gently as he could upon her muscular shoulder. A life in the harsh Outlands had taken much out of her, but what she lacked in beauty she more than made up for in shear strength. Her fur still possessed that matted, slightly blotchy quality that made her look older than she really was.
Keeping his paw on her shoulder, Tanabi bent down over Vitani, trying not to breathe any more than he needed to. What he was about to do was something that he had unintentionally done several times during his life with Monah. What it was, he wasn’t sure, but what it did allowed him to communicate with creatures that were still asleep. As a cub, while he slept pressed against his stepmother’s side, he would ask her questions and she would answer, but she would always have her eyes closed, as if she were still unconscious, and when Tanabi spoke of their conversations later on, she would always say that she didn’t remember what he spoke of. Tanabi thought this phenomenon was linked with his ability to see auras, and he called it “night words”.
“Can you hear me?” he asked in his quietest voice, which still retained the innocence of his youth, a youth full of questions and confusion that he sometimes grieved over in his mind, wondering what his life would have been like if he had spent it with his parents and his sister.
Vitani didn’t twitch the typical flinch of a lion startled out of a dream. She didn’t flick an ear. She didn’t even flutter her eyelashes. The only part of her body that moved in response to Tanabi’s words was her mouth, out of which emerged the words:
“Yes. I hear you.”
“Do you recognize me?”
He hoped she wouldn’t open her eyes. Though it was extremely unlikely that a lioness this deep in slumber would open her eyes, he couldn’t rely on his method to keep those he used it on asleep for as long as he talked to them.
Without opening her eyes, Vitani softly muttered:
“It’s the prince, right?”
“Well, what do you want, your highness?” she asked in a slightly sarcastic tone, exposing her teeth slightly more than she had with her last sentence, her eyes still shut tightly.
“I just want to talk to you,” said Tanabi.
He received no response from Vitani for almost an entire minute. He resisted the temptation to rub her shoulder to see if she was still talking to him, for that might just rouse her, and who could say what would happen after that. Instead, he whispered her name close to her ear, and nearly leapt backwards in alarm when Vitani breathed out a heavy sigh through her nose.
“You want me to start?” he asked, finally understanding her silence.
“Mmm-hmm,” the lioness mumbled in return.
Tanabi cautiously removed his paw from Vitani’s shoulder. Hopefully, he thought, whatever it was that held their conversation intact would remain once the contact between them was removed. And Vitani didn’t spring awake when Tanabi lay down next to her head and began speaking to her as quietly as he could:
“You know the story of me and Monah?”
“Yeah. Mother never told me the whole thing, but I got all that I wanted to hear from the other Outlanders. I’m surprised that Mother didn’t track down Monah and have a face-to-face fight to the death. She was the one who shoved us off to the Outlands, not Simba.”
“Vitani, my mother – stepmother – was Zira’s friend. They loved each other. Zira couldn’t turn on the only companion she’d had in her life…”
“Yeah. Besides him.”
“What’s your point?”
“Monah held nothing back from me. She told me about my parentage, my sister, the chain of hate forged between my great-uncle and my father, and how your mother was gripped by blind rage by my father’s actions indirectly leading to her mate’s death.”
“If he was my father, I’d probably be sniffling like a cub right about now,” said Vitani, the sarcasm coming out just as readily as it would be if she were awake.
“Anyway, you might think I’d hate her for stealing me from my home and family, maybe even kill her once I was old enough, but I could never go against her. She became like a mother to me, even though I knew she wasn’t. I knew the feelings I felt towards her were not the same ones I would feel for my real mother.”
“Brilliant deduction,” said Vitani.
“But somehow I knew that I couldn’t run away from wherever it was we were. Not only did I not know the way, but I wasn’t ready. Neither of us were ready, and we both knew it. She spent all that time with me, teaching me and preparing me for the day we were ready to return to my father’s kingdom.”
He hesitated, then almost snickered with amusement. “Call me crazy, but I think I was destined to be taught the wisdom of my ancestors far away from their realm, that I was supposed to show up now, when my father needed me the most.”
“So, instead of Monah leaving you by your mommy’s side and not splitting up the pride and allowing you and your sister to grow up with each other rather than apart, you think that this was the way the gods laid things out to be? I think I will call you crazy.”
Tanabi flinched slightly, a pebble falling into his river of thought.
“Can I talk about something else?”
“Fire away, you wannabe storyteller.”
“I think you and I are somewhat alike. We were both brought up away from our birthplaces, we both helped the prides rejoin…”
“I had no choice there,” interrupted Vitani. “That little termite had finally found a place where he could be steady on all four feet. And my mother…”
She squeezed her eyes even tighter shut, then relaxed.
“She just wasn’t my mother anymore.”
Tanabi placed a paw on Vitani’s as gently as he could, considering that he was trembling with emotion.
“That was the other similar thing between the two of us, Vitani. You were deprived of a true mother’s love because of the place you were forced into. Is that right?”
Vitani moved her paw out from under Tanabi’s and placed it on top of his.
“You can read me like a paw print, can’t you?” Vitani said, shifting her weight, though still visibly asleep. “We were hunting for food at only a few months old, the termite and me. I only depended on Mother for milk and something to sleep against so I didn’t freeze during those nights. But you…I don’t think you had to hunt for rats for supper? You lived a life of luxury out there, didn’t you?”
“I guess you could say that,” said Tanabi, feeling a pang of sadness for Vitani’s past sufferings. “Monah did everything that a real mother would do. She even admitted that she was able to nurse me with the milk that she somehow found herself filled with. She taught me about the stars, the Circle, the Great Kings…she taught me how to hunt, which is something hardly any male knows…”
“Not all lionesses are experts either,” said Vitani. “Look at that sister of yours.”
Tanabi slipped his paw out from under hers with a bit more force than before and placed it on hers again.
“Don’t say that about my sister. She may be a mediocre hunter, but insulting her won’t improve her skills any faster.”
Vitani smirked and moved to shift her paw atop Tanabi’s again, but he drew his paw back and she brought hers down on the soft cave floor, raising a small cloud of dust.
“What I’m saying is that Monah was everything to me for as long as we stayed wherever that land far away from the Pridelands was. A friend, a teacher, a mentor. But the only thing she couldn’t be was a real mother. I spent more than half of my life with a stranger. Even as an infant, I knew she wasn’t my birth mother. That dark shield around her. Her strange eyes. Her old, gaunt figure. She just could never be a real mother. Not that I’m intending that your mother was a foster parent as well – “
Then the least thing from Tanabi’s mind happened. Vitani’s eyes snapped open. Tanabi started to spring back, away from the fury of a rudely awakened lioness, and a former Outlander at that, but Vitani didn’t move a limb. She lay as she had lain throughout their conversation, with the one major exception that her blue eyes were wide open, staring straight at Tanabi’s face.
Her eyes…the irises a brilliant, iridescent azure that seemed to possess a light of their own in the dark cave, piercing through the thin, swirling aura that coated her body . The whites around them were the color of stripped bones in the little light that filtered into the cave, but the irises themselves contained more than just color and light. Tanabi looked more closely at the eyes, hoping nothing more unexpected would occur and shock his heart into an early death. The eyes didn’t have the glazed look of a just-killed antelope, neither were they the transfixed eyes of a young cub witnessing his first kill. They seemed just as normal as if she were awake. She blinked once or twice, but her glance remained fixed on him, searching, probing, as if the conversation he held her in had given her the ability to see into him, just as he was able to speak in that strange way to her.
The color of her eyes uneased him even more. They didn’t seem to be the solid lake blue color that he normally saw in the daylight. It was more like the color of the rocks outside, a cold, frozen hue, reminiscent of that peculiar element that Monah had told him about…ice. And her eyes seemed even more like ice as he saw, as he peered closer, what appeared to be a tiny myriad of cracks spraying out from the pupils, fading out before they reached the edges.
When Vitani finally spoke, her voice was somehow deeper and more penetrating, just as piercing as her open eyes.
“My mother was just what the title means in its simplest sense. The one who carried me and nursed me. But Zira was barely different from Monah. She could never be a real mother either. She was born at the wrong time in the wrong place. If she hadn’t fallen in love with Scar, perhaps things would’ve been different. But no…Everything was designed to oppose her and create this stupid split in the prides…”
“But,” said Tanabi, “What I’m saying is…”
“You’re right,” said Vitani. “We are alike, aren’t we? So what? That’s nothing earth-shaking for me.”
“There was one more thing which I thought made us even more identical than anything I mentioned before,” said Tanabi, talking as quietly as he could .
“It’s love, right?” asked Vitani. “You want to talk about that?”
Tanabi shuddered, almost falling over. It was as if Vitani had read his thoughts. He looked into those fissured blue eyes again, those eyes that seemed to look not only into his, not only into his head, but right through him. What were they seeing? His aura? His thoughts? Perhaps he had inadvertently transferred some of his extrasensory abilities to her while they were speaking, and now she could see things he couldn’t? Tanabi could still see Vitani’s aura, which hadn’t grown any less confusing and hypnotic since their conversation started, but there was something about the way her eyes shone through it that froze the blood in his legs and chilled his breath.
“Yes,” he managed. “We’ve both known love for our mothers, no matter how distant it is and we’ve loved our siblings…”
“Maybe you have,” growled Vitani.
“But we’ve never loved or been loved by a mate before,” said Tanabi, almost blurting the sentence out.
“You’re so right,” said Vitani, after what seemed like too long a pause. “There were no males in the Outlands, let alone any worth hating, and I’m just not that type. What’s your excuse?”
“Excuse? I was brought up alone by a lioness old enough to be my mother’s mother, Vitani. There were no prides for miles around.”
“Big deal. You could’ve left and gone looking for one at any time. You’re the prince, right?”
“Well, I didn’t.”
“Huh. For the future king of the Pridelands, you’re not very amorous, Tanabi.”
Tanabi hesitated. He stared at his paws and the golden aura that danced around them, keeping in time with his nervous heartbeat. He ran his tongue over the roof of his mouth and inhaled tentatively, then said, as calmly as he could manage:
“Actually, I don’t think I even know what love is.”
Vitani opened her mouth and breathed hoarsely, sounding almost like a half-formed laugh. Her eyes seemed less menacing, and their glow seemed to blend back into her aura, as if they were slipping into a more “casual” guise.
“You don’t, eh? So what’s the deal with asking the daughter of Zira? I’d rather ask you what having hooves is like!”
“I…to tell you the truth, I’m not really sure…” said Tanabi.
“Sheesh, to think a mind like yours going to be controlling the kingdom, this is getting too crazy,” Vitani snickered.
“But I felt you were the only one I could talk to.”
Again, Vitani’s eyes grew more distinct and centered on Tanabi like twin suns.
“Well…everyone in my father’s family seems to have someone with them. My father has my mother, of course, and my sister has your brother. But you and I…we have no one.”
“There are plenty of lionesses in this pride, big boy,” said Vitani. “I’m sure any one of them can tell you about love, if that’s what you want.”
“No,” said Tanabi. “I had to talk about it with you.”
“And why, your highness?”
“Well…” said Tanabi, choosing his words carefully. “I don’t know. There are so many reasons. Maybe it’s because we’re so alike, and you were the one who helped bring our prides together…”
“You were the one that really sealed the deal,” said Vitani.
“Yes, I know that. And then again…maybe it’s because we’re so different, you so independent, and me so attached to my family…”
“You so handsome, me so ugly…”
“Vitani, let me finish!”
“Whatever you say, prince.”
“And maybe it’s because of my sister and your brother becoming soul mates. Perhaps we should speak to each other and tell each other what we think of it…and…well…tell each other what we think of…each other…”
His words finally failed him and he fell silent, squirming with embarrassment. Vitani’s lip twisted into a slight smile. And her eyelids drooped.
“I think I see where you’re getting at. You know, maybe all those years in the Outlands weren’t so bad after all. When I returned to the Pridelands, I was able to see the true beauty of the place, even the beauty of a bug crawling up a rock or a decaying carcass. I think that if you can see beauty in ugliness, I think that that’s pretty darn close to love.”
“You do?” asked Tanabi, feeling even more confused and perplexed than before.
“Hey, it’s the best definition I got for the word,” said Vitani irritably. “What would you expect from a flea-bitten Outsider. I mean, look at me! Do I look like a wise old shaman sham like that ape your family’s befriended??”
Tanabi shied away, rising into a sitting position, afraid that he had offended Vitani. He had had little experience with talking to lions his own age, and he now considered himself too old to experiment. But he reflected upon what she had just said to him. Had she asked him to look at her? Was she asking him to test her own theory? Tanabi looked carefully at Vitani, through the layers of her aura, trying to see if he could see the beauty that she spoke of. If he couldn’t, who could blame him, with the complexity of that confusing sheath of colors…but if he could…would that mean that he was feeling love? And who would it really be for?
“Vitani…you are a skilled huntress,” he said softly, acting his stepmother always told him to act, praising what was true and withholding his flattery. Vitani relaxed slightly.
“You have…beautiful eyes…” he said. How could he not say something about them, the way they were looking through him?
“And I think you are far more intelligent than anyone gives you credit for.”
Vitani blinked slowly, then licked her lips.
“This is your first ‘talk,’ isn’t it?” she asked.
“Yes…yes, it is,” Tanabi admitted.
“What else do you see when you look at me?” she said.
Suddenly, it seemed that her aura had shifted. It was no longer in that constant, unpredictable pattern of shapes and colors swirling around each other. The pattern had slowed down and simplified to what looked like a sky before a storm, cloudy and opaque, yet clear in some areas. Tanabi drew closer, peering at her again, wondering how or why this sudden change had taken place. Could Vitani control her own aura? Was this induced be his touching her in order to start their conversation of “night words”?
“Well? What do you see?”
It was as if the change in the aura had changed her body as well. Even as he looked, he could not only see the ragged, bony body of the former Outlander with the pointed nose and the scruffy bangs. He could now see a sleek, golden coat, shining like water, the muscles full and taut. The muzzle was soft as a cub’s, and the azure eyes…they were like no eyes Tanabi had seen. They were as bright as if it was day, with a gentle, compassionate look that softened him, a lion that had been deprived of the love of a mate because he never knew what it was, and thus never sought it. He struggled to respond, but he found it difficult to shape the words. He felt himself splitting, fissuring from the center outwards, yet still he was able to speak.
“I…I see a young lioness…a very strong lioness…strong in body…and mind.”
“And you’re afraid.”
“Of what this talk is leading to,” said Tanabi, finally getting a grip on his emotions. “You’re hiding your feelings, but I can see that you’re afraid.”
“You’re half right there, boy,” said Vitani. “But I’m not all that nervous. I’m just…just…”
She paused for a moment, shutting her eyes in thought.
“You’re afraid of what I think of you,” said Tanabi. His mind flipped backwards in surprise. He hadn’t even paused to think about what Vitani had just said. What he had said wasn’t something he had gained by reading her aura, it was something he had said almost by instinct. He grew tense for a moment, wondering if what he said was what Vitani was about to say. Then she opened her eyes, and muttered:
“Yes. That’s what I was afraid of.”
Tanabi was amazed. Perhaps he knew more about love than he thought.
“You never answered my question, prince,” Vitani said, opening her eyes. “What do you see when you look at me? Don’t bother with that aura stuff. Just tell me what you see.”
Once again, Tanabi stared at Vitani through her almost frozen aura. There were too many words he could have used. Instead, he chose the simplest ones he could, and said:
“I see a lioness. A beautiful lioness.”
Vitani seemed speechless for a moment, a state which one rarely saw her in. She seemed to fall out of that penetrating gaze for a moment and look at Tanabi, not through him. For a moment, Tanabi thought he saw sadness in those brilliant eyes.
“You know…I once slapped Nuka down when he called me ‘pretty’. But he was just kidding. You’re not…are you?”
“No. I think that underneath that shell that living in the Outlands has built on you, you are very beautiful.”
“I have no idea. Maybe it’s this thing with us being opposites. Maybe it’s just that I’ve never seen anyone like you before. But I still think that you’re not just smart and skillful. You’re beautiful.”
“I think you’ve said that enough, Tanabi. You know…that way of determining love…I was never really serious about that. I just came up with it one day and happened to remember it tonight.”
“Are you saying that even though I see you as beautiful doesn’t mean…” he paused before continuing, “Doesn’t mean I’m…in love with you?”
“You know…I’m starting to think it does,” said Vitani. “It’s not easy being the head huntress as well as a former Outsider. I can’t trust anybody. That’s just the way I was brought up. To tell you the truth…I think I’ve wanted a companion as well.”
Tanabi was amazed to hear this coming from such a surly, bitter lioness that he thought was as hard and sullen as the termite mounds of her former home. He wondered if this was really something she would say to him in her waking hours.
“Vitani…I told you what I see. What do you see when you look at me?”
Vitani looked up at Tanabi’s face, examining each feature slowly and carefully.
“I see a very handsome, confused, red-maned lion. A lion who wants something.”
“You know what, you sly jackal. You’re just too scared to ask.”
“What do you mean?”
“Boy, how dense can you get?” asked Vitani, her voice growing broken as she spoke. “You came here asking about love, and I’ve told you all I know. Now, if you want to learn anything more, you’ll have to experience it, not listen to it.”
“But…” protested Tanabi, “I hardly know you…”
“Did pretty little Kiara know my brother when they went for that walk under the stars? What does it matter? Some males do it just to unwind. Besides, you’re the king-to-be, right?”
“But…” said Tanabi, growing more confused than ever, “Kings don’t…don’t romance with other lionesses! It just isn’t right!”
“I don’t think it’s a question of ethics right now, Tanabi,” said Vitani, shaking her head as best as she could with one side pressed against the ground. “I think it’s a question of what you think, not what your elders think. I know I want to be close to someone who thinks I’m…” she paused for a moment before sounding out the word: “Pretty.”
“Are you…sure?” Tanabi asked. “There’s so little that you know…that I know…”
“Tanabi,” said Vitani, “I’m sure your parents were no more self-assured or properly wed when the seed you and Kiara sprouted from was planted. And I think we know all we need to know about each other because, like you keep saying along with all the rest of your metaphors, we are each other. Taken from our homelands, motherless, without a companion…”
She waited for Tanabi to respond, but the lion said nothing. He sat quietly, breathing slowly. His red mane shone with light only he could see, reflected from Vitani’s aura. He looked at her again, trying to see her the way he presumed her hunting sisters saw her, dirty, dull, and haggard, but he could not destroy that celestial, golden body that lay beneath the still, stagnant waters of her aura. This beautiful lioness that was asking him to do something that his false mother and his true mother had appeared quite uneasy whenever he asked them about it. Was this something that he would regret in the future? Was it as terrible a sin as it seemed?
He looked closer, at those two blue eyes that seemed to be making their way into his. The world around them seemed to be turning to ice, and their bodies formed a circle of warmth that neither of them could escape without being frozen to death. Tanabi dared not move an inch. He tried not to even blink as he stared at Vitani and the heat slowly rose.
“Oh, you silly cub. Come here,” she suddenly said. At the same time, she reached up with her paw and grabbed Tanabi’s shoulder with her claws out. He didn’t roar with pain, he didn’t even whimper. She hadn’t drawn blood, but she had succeeded in reducing his taut muscles to water, for as soon as she touched him, he fell to the cave floor, not very loudly, but raising a relatively large cloud of dust.
Vitani went into a wheezing laugh and placed her paw on Tanabi’s shoulder. She closed her eyes and gave him a gentle lick under his right eye. The young lion was amazed at how her breath smelled. His stepmother’s breath had always struck him as musty and old, not unlike its owner, and his mother’s breath possessed a now familiar matriarchal kindness, but it was nothing like the breath of this lioness that now lay beside him. It smelled wild, untamed and fierce, like that of a storm wind.
Vitani opened her eyes again. Tanabi had never been this close to them before. And now, for some reason, he didn’t see them as orbs of ice anymore. They seemed to be warming, comforting eyes that radiated a light that healed and reassured. Tanabi closed his own eyes, but the blue of Vitani’s shone right through his lids. He could sense her aura becoming active again, just as his own was beginning to grow brighter and more intense. He drew closer to her, and a flood of sensations passed through him. It was the sensation of being next to his mother as an infant, the past he never knew with his father, and playing with his sister as a cub. Feelings of love and belonging he had never known he was experiencing now.
He opened his eyes and stroked Vitani’s sharp-angled cheek with his paw. She chuckled in that strange, husky voice again and sighed deeply. Again, that strange, exotic breath played with Tanabi’s senses. He closed his eyes and decided to give in to the smothering warmth that they were lying in. He was asleep within the minute.
It was Vitani that had made the noise, and it sounded like she was very close to him. Tanabi opened his eyes. It was still dark. The strange blue light still shone through the cave’s opening. It was oddly cold, and the silence pressed against his ears. Then Vitani took a deep breath and rolled over so that she was facing away from him.
Then he remembered everything. How he and she had talked. How he had told her that he thought he loved her. How she had reached up and pulled him down. The light that he saw in those eyes of hers. And what they had done…
He didn’t want to speak without first reinitiating their conversation of “night words”. He got up slowly, his muscles feeling strangely drained, as if he had been running. He circled around Vitani and lay down next to her so that he was facing her. He placed a paw ever so gently on her shoulder and spoke as quietly and as steadily as he could.
“Yes, Prince Charming?”
“Do you…remember what we did?”
“I remember our little talk, Tanabi, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“And you remember what happened…after that?”
“Yep. Every bit. I even remember how you fell asleep so quickly. I gave your ear a cleaning while you were sleeping too. It needed it.”
Tanabi flicked his right ear instinctively and felt the familiar feeling of dried saliva on his fur. He lay down and drew close to Vitani.
“You…don’t think we made a mistake, do you?”
Vitani’s eyes twitched beneath their lids.
“It may be a mistake for some, but for others…” she paused and opened her eyes a hairline of an inch – and the brilliant blue of her irises shone through.
“For others it may be just what was destined to happen.”
Again, she was speaking like she knew more than she chose to show, and again Tanabi wondered if it was his touch that sparked these supposed abilities. Could she foresee what others thought of their brief affair?
“What do you mean?” Tanabi asked, slowly removing his paw from her shoulder.
“In some months’ time, there will be a great cry of sadness, followed by a great cry of joy. I can’t tell you of the one, but I can tell you of the other.”
“I…think I know this ‘other’ you’re talking about,” said Tanabi, feeling a growing uneasiness inside him.
“I am going to bear you a child,” said Vitani, with something that was either hidden happiness or slight sadness, she disguised it so well that even Tanabi couldn’t tell what it was.
“Why are you so certain?” he asked.
“When you are this close to me, it’s not that hard to tell. And it is inevitable.”
“I see,” said Tanabi, trying not to break down and shout out his shame. “What else can you tell me? What else do you…see?”
“She will be like my mother…a rebel from birth and a fierce-minded child. And she will also be like your father…brave and strong. The union of two sides and all that symbolism. She will have a hard life…but not if we stay together and help her live it.”
“Yes…” said Tanabi. “And if I hadn’t done that to you, you wouldn’t have…“
“Hey, young prince,” said Vitani, opening her eyes wider. “Don’t blame yourself. This was destined to happen…eventually. Everything will work out.”
“But I just…seduced you,” said Tanabi in a hissing whisper. “I wore you down like I was choking a gazelle!”
“No you didn’t,” said Vitani. “You came here to talk to me, no arguments there. But we both knew what would eventually happen between us. And you didn’t seduce me. You didn’t talk me into anything directly. You just said the right things and sort of “talked me into it” the long way around. Then I had to talk you into it so that you wouldn’t feel you were forcing me into anything.”
“No more buts,” said Vitani, placing her paw on Tanabi’s foreleg. “I don’t blame you for anything, and I never will. Slap me down if I ever do.”
“So you aren’t afraid to bear cubs?”
“It will only be one, Tanabi, and no, I ain’t afraid. Like you said, we fit together, someway, somehow. Either opposites attract or like forces do, I don’t care. It just seems that we were destined to meet. I’m glad that it was tonight.”
“Well,” said Tanabi, finally starting to relax. “So am I. There really isn’t much point in telling you this, but you won’t remember this when you wake up. That’s the way it goes with these conversations.”
“What? You’ve seduced other lionesses before with this method?” asked Vitani.
“What?” gasped Tanabi, almost forgetting to be quiet.
“Just foolin’,” said Vitani, chuckling and patting his leg. “Well, I’ll try to remember just the same, and if I don’t, come and remind me about it when she comes, okay?”
“Yes, Vitani. I will,” said Tanabi. “Good night.”
“Hey, Prince,” said Vitani, just as he rose and was starting to turn away. “Did you get your questions answered?”
“Answered?” asked Tanabi, blinking in befuddlement. “It’s as if I pursued one zebra and brought down the herd. But I don’t know if I exactly ‘got my answers,’ as you say.”
There was an uncomfortable pause as Vitani continued to stare at him
“Do you think you know what love is now?” Vitani asked in a muted, gentle voice.
“I don’t know,” said Tanabi after a still longer pause. “But I think I got a good enough idea of what it is tonight. Kindness. Compassion. Understanding.”
“Well, let’s hope you don’t forget about this either, Tanabi,” Vitani said. “Or we’ll both be confused.”
She closed her eyes one last time, then laughed that hoarse, raspy chuckle or hers that still retained the dry dust of the Outlands.
Tanabi forced a smile. He gave her one last stroke on the cheek, and slowly began walking towards the light pouring from the mouth of the cave. As he exited the cave, a cold blast of air caught him in the face. It reminded him faintly of Vitani’s breath.
He couldn’t help thinking of what had just taken place. Had he acted out of his own will? Or had some strange force wrapped him in a web, making him see Vitani as that beautiful lioness that could just as well be an illusion. Had Vitani seduced him or had he seduced her? Or had they both been actually attracted to one another? Perhaps their words of what he could only speculate as love for each other were false, conjured up by the strange phenomena that passed through the two of them as they talked through the dying night.
But had he felt love? The true love that a lion feels for a lioness, the love that his stepmother never had and Vitani’s mother had all too briefly before her mate was killed? Monah told him that it was impossible to say exactly what it was, and it was different for everybody, and hard to distinguish from other strong emotions, but some individuals went through their entire lives without feeling it. Was Tanabi one of those individuals, or had his experience with one of the homeliest females in the pride been a brush with the most elusive emotion in the world of animals?
He shook his head and continued his slow, ponderous walk, feeling the cool, icy breath of the night air as it swept his mane and ruffled his fur. Ice. Again, that word that had stayed with him all the night, and continued to be with him as he ascended the side of Pride Rock. He observed the pale rocks with the zigzagging cracks in them, the blue cast that made them look even more like ice.
As he reached the entrance to the main cave, he turned his head to look up at the source of the blue light. The waning moon seemed as bright as the full moon to his eyes. It seemed to possess an aura of its own. In fact, as he looked, it seemed to grow larger and rounder, until it appeared to be completely full and round as the eye of a mouse. Tanabi blinked as the moon then appeared to grow blurry and split into two. He thought he was seeing double, but everything else appeared normal to him. He gazed at the twin azure moons, trying to figure out where he had seen them before.
Then he remembered. It was all too obvious. The two blue moons were Vitani’s two blue eyes, watching him from the sky. Was this her doing? Or was it his own mind hallucinating this scene? Unable to think of an answer, he watched as her face began to shape itself around the two spheres, the pale, slim tan face with the scruff of hair atop the head and the dark-rimmed ears.
But then the face changed into something Tanabi couldn’t even begin to identify at that moment. It was a young face, not unlike his as a cub, but with a paler shade of golden fur and a vertical streak of red between the eyes. Though the eyes were undoubtedly Vitani’s, something in them reminded him of his own eyes. He tried to understand why he was seeing this strange vision, and whose face this was, this face that so much like him, yet so unlike him. The world around him seemed to break up and fracture; all that he could perceive was himself and the strange pair of eyes…shimmering blue eyes, with the tiny cracks that grew deeper and wider as he drew in close to them. He felt himself falling into them, becoming part of the ice that they split. His breath grew slower and deeper, and his fatigue finally began to set in. He slowly began sinking to the ground that he could not feel beneath his paws.
Then he felt soft warmth striking his eyes. He opened them slowly and looked around. He was lying on the topmost plateau of Pride Rock. The moon had vanished in the west. The sun was rising in the east and the land was washed with gold. The last splotches of night were fading over the horizon, and with them, the memories of his conversation with Vitani. But he wouldn’t forget. He would tell her about their talk. He would tell her what she said and explain why she said it. He knew she would remember in her heart that they fit together.
But that would be when her child was born. Now, as the young prince rose to his feet and surveyed his father’s kingdom, he could only think of the lioness that lay sleeping in the den far below him, and one name that had somehow entered his mind in his sleep and now refused to leave.