Savanna ChronicleS

Golden Savanna

By Babyfirewolf

Note: Characters originally from The Lion King belong to Disney, while all others belong to me - mine are not meant to be used without permission, bladabladablada. There’s a quick list of some of mine below, oh and if you haven’t read my The Coming of Meersha that would help you to understand the following story. However, this story takes place BEFORE The Coming of Meersha did, so you don’t really have to. Oh, and I haven’t written the whole thing and probably won’t unless you email me saying otherwise, same goes for What the River Holds. But here’s a good chunk of it and feedback would be nice. Anywho, enjoy.

 

My Characters

Meersha (Daughter of Kinara and Ashuma, litter-sister of Kasha, Banjija, half-sister -younger- of Chusuka) Meer-sh-uh

Banjija (Son of Kinara and Ashuma, litter-brother of Kasha and Meersha, half-brother -younger- of Chusuka) Bon-shee-shaw -- "sh" pulled in like "z" is a pulled in "s", Banjija sounds African with French

Kasha (Son of Kinara and Ashuma, litter-brother of Banjija and Kasha, half-brother -younger- of Chusuka) Kaw-shaw

Kinara (Lioness of White-Feather pride, mother of Meersha, Kasha, Banjija and Chusuka) Kin-ar-uh

Ashuma (Once leader of the White-Feather pride, father of Kasha, Banjija. Meersha, and other various cubs) Uh-shoo-muh

Bayna (Lioness of White-Feather pride, mother of Lusala and Pashi) Bay-nuh

Lusala (Daughter of Bayna and Ashuma, sister of Pashi) Loo-saw-luh

Pashi (Daughter of Bayna and Ashuma, sister of Lusala) Paw-shee

Chusuka (Lioness of White-Feather Pride, daughter of Kinara and Tambi, mother of Toga) Choo-soo-kuh

Toga (Son of Chusuka and Ashuma) Toh-guh

Tambi (Once leader of White-Feather pride, father of Chusuka) Tawm-bee

Shashi (Lioness-shaman of White-Feather pride) Shaw-shee

Dashu (Once leader of White-Feather pride, father of Kinara) Daw-shoo

Tanda (Lioness of White-Feather pride) Tawn-duh

Helalu (Lioness of White-Feather pride) H-law-loo

Gatu (Lion cub in White-Feather pride) Gaw-too

Tokto (Lion cub in White-Feather pride) Tawk-toh

Shap (Lion cub in White-Feather pride) Sh-ap

Daba (Lion cub in White-Feather pride) Daw-baw

Naynana (Lion cub in White-Feather pride) Nay-naw-nuh

Bondu (Lion cub in White-Feather pride) Bawn-doo

Kiku (Lion cub in White-Feather pride) Kee-koo

Chaska (Leader of the White-Feather pride) Chaw-skuh

Gali (Female hippo) Gaw-lee

Unaro (Rogue lion) Oo-nar-oo

Natira (Wild shaman, grandmother of Unaro) Nuh-teer-uh

Ahadgna (Leader of the Broken-Claw) Uh-hawd-g-nuh

Yawnda (Lioness of the Broken-Claw) Yawn-duh

Chioke (Son -adopted- of Ahadgna) Chy-oh-kay

Kumba (Rogue lion) Koomb-uh

Gonra (Lioness of the Broken-Claw) Gohn-raw

Bahashi (Lioness of the Broken-Claw) Bawh-ha-shee

Ignu (Lioness of the Broken-Claw) Ig-noo

Uhawku (Son -adopted- of Ahadgna, part of the Drie-Leeu) Oo-hawk-oo

Hawkna (Son -adopted- of Ahadgna, part of the Drie-Leeu) Hawk-nuh

Kikaru, Zarazu (Son -adopted- of Ahadgna, part of the Drie-Leeu) Ki-kar-oo, Zar-aw-zoo

Rombu (Son -adopted- of Meersha and Zarazu) Rom-boo

Izegbe (Meersha's Broken-Claw name) Ee-zeg-bay

My New Characters

Hilali (Lioness of the Broken-Claw) Hi-law-lee

Julu (Lioness of the Broken-Claw) Joo-loo

Dibi (Male prarie dog) Dib-ee

Umbsha (Once leader of the Sunset pride, father of Yora, Tati) Oom-baw-shuh

Yora (Lioness of Sunset pride, daughter of Umbsha) Yor-uh

Kira (Lioness of Sunset pride, mother of Kashu and Tati) Keer-uh

Tati (Lion cub of the Sunset pride, son of Kira and Umbsha, son -adopted- of Banjija, brother -younger- of Kashu) Taw-tee

Imba (Daughter of Kinara and Tambi) Eem-buh

Mika (Lioness of Flatland pride, sister of O'star) Mee-kuh

O'star (Leader of Flatland pride, brother of Mika, father of Cheasala, Pinga and Pursha) Oh-star

Kula (Lioness of Flatland pride, mother of Cheasala) Koo-luh

Fina (Lioness of Flatland pride, mother of Pinga and Pursha) Fee-nuh

Runaka (Lioness of Flatland pride) Roo-naw-kaw

Cheasala (Lioness of Flatland pride, daughter of Kula and O'star, sister of Kirasi -- great, great grandma of the Cheasala featured in The Lion King VII: Kusa and Cheasala) Chee-saw-law

Pinga (Lioness of Flatland pride, daughter of Fina and O'star, sister of Pursha) Peeng-uh

Pursha (Lioness of Flatland pride, daughter of Fina and O'star, sister of Pinga) Per-sh-uh -- "sh" pulled in like "z" is a pulled in "s", like the word "Persia"

Kirasi (Son of Kula and O'star, brother of Cheasala) Ker-aw-see

Rawkshaw (Lioness shaman of Sunset pride) Rawk-shaw

Tara (Lioness of Sunset pride) Tar-uh

Bongo (Lion cub of Sunset pride) Bawn-goh

Runcha (Lion cub in Susnet pride) Roon-chuh

Kashu (Daughter of Kira and Umbsha, sister -elder- of Tati) Kaw-shoo

Hadra (Son -eldest- of Meersha and Zarazu, brother -eldest- of Binjaji, Gwalu and Tamu) Haw-druh

Binjaji (Son -second- of Meersha and Zarazu, brother -second eldest- of Hadra, Gwalu and Tamu) Bin-shaw-shee -- "sh" pulled in like "z" is a pulled in “s” so Binjaji sounds African with French

Gwalu (Daughter -third- Meersha and Zarazu, sister -third eldest- of Hadra, Binjaji and Tamu) Gwah-loo

Tamu (Daughter -youngest- of Meersha and Zarazu, sister –youngest- of Hadra, Binjaji and Gwalu) Tuh-moo

Ashu (Lioness of the Sunset pride) Aw-shoo

Hagra (Leader of the guards, lioness of the Sunset pride) Haw-gruh

Untru (Lioness of the Sunset pride) Oon-troo

Bayla (Lioness of the Sunset pride) Bay-luh

Talka (Hippo, once leader of Gali’s pod) Tawl-kuh

Sutu (Son of Hunru, queen of the Nyte pride) Soo-too

Hunru (Mother of Sutu, once queen of the Nyte pride) Hoon-roo

Kami (Edler sister of Tae, mate of Ganru, once Messenger of the Nyte pride) Kaw-mee

Basha (Father of Bahi, once King of the Nyte pride) Baw-shaw

Yaynu (Once Shaman of the Nyte pride) Yay-noo

Bahi (Daughter of Basha, once Queen of the Nyte pride) Baw-hee

Tae (Younger brother of Kami, once Warrior of the Nyte pride) Tay

Ganru (Younger brother of King Basha, mate of Kami, once Protector of the Nyte pride) Gawn-roo

Kaniki (Once leader of the Sunlight pride) Kuh-nee-kee

Kangu (Son of Kaniki, once lion of the Sunlight pride) Kawn-goo

Shika (Once lioness of the Nyte pride) Shee-kuh

Belu (Once cub of the Nyte pride) Bay-loo

Tatri (Once cub of the Nyte pride) Taw-tree

Singdu (Once half-cub of the Nyte pride) Seeng-doo

Nitala (Ancestor of Meersha, once cub of the Sunlight pride, and lioness of the Nyte, adopted daughter of King Basha) Ni-taw-law

Yamu (Once lion of the Nyte pride) Yaw-moo

Saka (Cheetah cub) Saw-kaw

Hayru (Son of Hadra) Hay-roo

My Characters Updated

Meersha (Leader of the Twilight pride, daughter of Kinara and Ashuma, litter-sister of Kasha, Banjija, half-sister -younger- of Chusuka, mate of Zarazu, mother of -adoptive- of Rombu, blood mother of Hadra, Binjaji, Gwalu and Tamu) Meer-sh-uh

Zarazu (Son -adopted- of Ahadgna, mate of Meersha, father -adoptive- of Rombu, blood father of Hadra, Binjaji, Gwalu and Tamu) Zar-aw-zoo

Banjija (Leader of the Sunset pride, son of Kinara and Ashuma, litter-brother of Kasha and Meersha, half-brother -younger- of Chusuka, father -adotive- of Tati) Bon-shee-shaw -- "sh" pulled in like "z" is a pulled in "s", Banjija sounds African with French

Naynana (Daughter of Ashuma, mate of Kumba, mother of twin cubs) Nay-naw-nuh

Kumba (Mate of Naynana, father of twin cubs) Koomb-uh

Hadra (Leader of the Twilight pride, father of Hayru)

 

 

 

 

The golden savanna was lit with brisk light that scorched the already dried lands of the Serengeti. It was the dry season, and so water was scarce. Left in their places were bald, cracked areas sat, hidden among the golden sheen of the waving grass, where crickets and other insects made their home. Upon a slight incline, an adult male lion sat, his pelt bronze and shimmering. He eyed the plain in front of him, and his left ear twitched as a fly buzzed irritatingly by. A glossy mane that matched the color of a tree trunk waved majestically in a light breeze. His pink, slightly crack nose twitched as the youthful lion sniffed the dry atmosphere. Another lion was charging straight for him.

At first, his skin crawled and his fur bristled, but as he recognized the scent, he calmed almost immediately.

“Kinara.” he whispered softly.

The lioness halted a few feet away, panting. Her own fur gleamed in sweat from the long travel. After she caught her breath, her slim body moved forward as she eyed the lion cautiously.

“Sumbra.” she growled, not unkindly, and dipped her head momentarily.

“Kinara.” Sumbra repeated, in normal tone this time. “I see you’ve got some exercise.”

The lioness blinked, then glared, her face quickly darkening. He smirked back, seeing that he had touched a nerve.

“Tell me,” he went on, casually. “Is there any milk left on those dry bones for your cubs?”

It happened so abruptly and loudly, that a bird perched in a nearby acacia screeched and fluttered away. Kinara had struck before she knew what she was doing, raking the lion across the face with a violent snarl. In reaction, Sumbra had leapt up, snarling back, fangs exposed.

“Don’t tempt me, lion!” Kinara warned, angrily, fur on end and claws unsheathed.

Sumbra was silent, but did not let his guard down. He stood there, gazing into her eyes. Finally, after a solid minute snaked by, he broke the gaze, regretfully.

“Don’t misjudge my leader.” Kinara then went on. “If there was any danger in allowing me as messenger, then Tambi would not stand for it.”

“I do not misjudge him - only frown upon his decision.” Sumbra replied, straining the sorrow in his words. He had not truly meant to hurt her - only to insult her pride’s leader. “After all, it is the dry season.” he carefully added, his tense body calming once again. “Your pride should have waited to mate - that is what Horo and his lionesses are doing.”

Kinara also forced herself to soften, but gently hissed and replied, “Again, you reject my leader’s decision, when you are truly not meant to judge.”

“Alright.” he admitted. “I will stop. But now tell me, what of Tambi’s decision to Horo’s proposal?”

Kinara gazed at nothing in particular, silent for another moment, before answering with, “I will give Tambi’s exact words; ‘Horo is a fool of a lion - no less arrogant than a half-cub.” She grinned at Sumbra’s hardened expression, but continued. “‘Alas, I wish for no harm to befall my pride; tell Horo’s rogue that he is allowed up to our southernmost borders near the river, but that I can allow no more land than that. The rest of his proposal is absurd, unruly, and goes against the Law of the Lion.’”

Sumbra frowned, studying her for a second, then asked, “Those were his exact words?”

Still smirking, Kinara replied, “Would I lie?”

Sighing deeply, Sumbra then said, “Well, I will pass on the answer to Horo, just as long as you tell your leader that I am no one’s rogue - I am simply a rogue of the land. That is all.”

“I’ll tell him.” Kinara agreed.

The two lions stood in there in the lively savanna, quiet once more. Sumbra continued to gaze wearily at the lioness, before softly exclaiming, “Kinara, be careful. It is great that you have such strong confidence in Tambi, but Horo is also a strong leader, and has won many brawls in his lifetime.”

Kinara’s face softened, and she nodded. “I know.”

“Remind Tambi that this is Horo’s second pride in his life - something only a pawful of lions have ever been able to achieve in the history of our species. He is barely less than a god and barely more than a King of the Past.”

“Two prides are great indeed, but what of the first? There must’ve been a lion or lions that were stronger than Horo - if that is so, then it’s possible for Tambi to win as well.”

Again, Sumbra frowned. Finally, he bowed, and she returned the gesture.

“How are the cubs?” he quietly asked, but regretted the question.

Scoffing, Kinara hissed, “No business to that of a rogue, Sumbra.”

Respectfully he nodded, apologized, then turned and began southwest, Kinara departing the opposite way.

It took only about twenty or so minutes for the lioness to pass over the invisible borders of the White-Feather pride’s territory. She slowed down to a steady trot as she presented herself back to her family. Several lazy lionesses lie, scattered about either sunbathing or finding relief in the cool confines of shade produced by the limited amount of trees. Cubs romped around playfully, several annoying their mothers, or wrestling with each other. Many of the pride members perked as Kinara returned, but quickly settled down again at her recognition. Further to the middle of the territory, a small sunken area allowed several more of the cubs to play under the watchful eye of the nursery guards.

“Kinara!” called Bayna from a spot at the edge of the nursery.

Kinara grinned and padded over.

“Didn’t see you when the sun rose.” Bayna replied, sitting up, tail swishing slowly in the grass as a male cub pounced playfully on it, tugging and nipping. “Messenger again?”

She nodded, grinning as two rambunctious cubs came running over.

“Mom!” one chanted, while the meowed, “Mama! Mama!”

Kinara allowed herself to be pounced and bit and nuzzled by her offspring, nuzzling and licking each one lovingly.

“Mama!” cried a dark female, green eyes shimmering in the sunlight. “I caught a fly today!”

“So what?” scoffed another female, her pelt red and gold. “It’s just a stupid bug.”

“Tikala.” hissed Kinara, nudging her. “Don’t be so ill-mannered.” She then turned to the first female, grinning. “Good job, Jinilu. Keep it up and you’ll be a great huntress one sun.”

Tikala smiled proudly. Jinilu murmured something under her breath, rolling her brown eyes. She gasped in surprise as Bayna pulled her over with a giant paw, and began grooming the cub.

“Your mother’s right, you know.” Bayna exclaimed between purrs to the cub. “You should be nicer to your sister.”

Jinilu said nothing, and stretched out, allowing her small body to be groomed. Kinara licked the top of Tikala’s head, then asked, “Where are the boys?”

“With Father.” Jinilu answered, her voice somewhat elegant now, though her eyes were closed peacefully. Tikala blinked curiously at her older sister, and cocked her head.

“Good. Just the lion I need to see.” Kinara then said, straightening up and looking to a nearby hill. “The Great Knoll?”

“Yes, Mother.” meowed Jinilu, eyes still closed.

Kinara said nothing as she left the group, padding up the giant hill. At the top a large lion stood, watching the distant horizon. Two small cubs sat just as silently beside his paws. She smiled, watching silently, but jumped ever so slightly as something rubbed against her foreleg.

“Tikala.” Kinara meowed, nuzzling the cub. “What are you doing here? Go back to the nursery.”

The cub huffed and frowned. “But how come-?” she started. “They’ll be leaving, too.” Kinara interrupted, looking back to her sons and mate, who now noticed their presence.

“Mom!” called the darkest of the male cubs in delight.

Kinara padded up and nuzzled his practically chorale fur.

“Naku,” she purred, then went to the pale cub and licked his head. “Pimdi. Take your sister back to the nursery.”

“But Father was showing us the lands.” protested the pale cub called Pimdi.

“Listen to your mother.” Tambi yawned loudly, though there was a tone of seriousness in his voice as he eyed the lioness.

Groaning loudly, Pimdi, Naku and Tikala padded halfway down the knoll, then took off in a race to the nursery. Both adults watched their cubs depart.

“Kinara.” Tambi’s warm voice finally rumbled. “You have returned.”

“Obviously.” Kinara replied, smirking. She then nuzzled his face, and he did the same.

“What has the worthless rogue said?” Tambi then asked.

Taken aback slightly, Kinara replied, “He is not worthless. He is merely another lion, Tambi. Understand that.”

Tambi raised an invisible brow, saying with a tone of amusement on his voice, “Defending him now, are we? Tell me, Kinara, do you have a soft spot for the zebra?”

Kinara snarled. “Stop that, Tambi!” she hissed. “You said he was the half-cub, but listen to yourself. Are you jealous that I defend a lion who is good at heart?”

“Perhaps.” confessed Tambi, though casually as he began to lick a giant forepaw. “But he is a half-cub - stuck in a state with no pride…and not wanting one. Tell me, my mate, what true lion stalks the plain, not seeking companionship or a pride?”

Kinara was silent, then uneasily said, “I think… I think Sumbra would love a pride, but he just doesn’t want to admit it.”

“Scared then, is he? Is that why he’s taken the position of being a mere messenger for Horo?”

“He’s not the only messenger.” Kinara snapped.

Suddenly, Tambi’s anger flared, and he snarled. “Don’t!” he roared. “Don’t think a lioness in my pride - is as worthless as such a thing, Kinara!” He calmed himself, sighed, then added more softly, “You out most of all.”

Kinara was strong inside and out, and so did not falter under his rage, though she was touched by his last words.

“Is that a compliment, Tambi?” she asked, smiling weakly.

“It is, Kinara, and take it to heart.” he grumbled. “Not another lioness I know walks the land of the lions as strongly, and proudly as you.”

Kinara purred loudly.

“So,” Tambi went on in a normal tone once more. “What happened?”

“Not much.” she answered truthfully. “Sumbra left to tell Horo your answer. But,” she paused thoughtfully, then continued, “I think Sumbra was worried.”

“Worried?”

“Yes. About our pride. He told me to remind you how strong Horo really is.”

Tambi glared at the horizon, replying, “We all know Horo’s strength cannot be matched by most other lions. But his request to overtake the whole southern plain is unreasonable. I’ll not let him and his pride step paw upon my land, nor spill blood in my own pride over a debate on who gets what.” His voice trailed off, and then he added, “I will chase him away myself, if I must.”

“Away? From his own lands, Tambi?” Kinara challenged.

“If he ventures too close to ours, what other choice do I have?”

“And if he isn’t satisfied with your answer?”

“Then another reason to chase him away.” the lion growled lowly, frowning.

Kinara sighed deeply, and nuzzled Tambi’s mane, taking in his scent as she sat beside him, watching the sun dip down in the distance.

“Every lion has his sun.” Kinara whispered, still gazing at the sunset. “And his sunset. I fear yours will happen too soon, if you continue to be so stubborn.”

Tambi’s ear flicked, and he turned his giant snout to lick Kinara’s skull affectionately. “When I was a half-cub,” he purred. “I remember Horo’s territory was far to the south. Ever since then he’s been moving further and further north, and now he’s finally gotten so close to my own territory, I can sometimes smell his rotten soul on the wind. I’m going to put a stop to him, Kinara…”

~~~

Sumbra had sprinted southwest. He had passed a couple grazing giraffes, and a herd of gazelle, but ignored their tense presence. By the time the sun was almost completely overtaken by the night, he was catching his breath at the northernmost border of another lion’s territory. After scenting the marks of urine, he padded silently through the long grass, to a bare area where several lionesses were sleeping together, their sides and stomachs rhythmically moving up and down, their tails, ears and paws twitching as they dreamt. Only two of the twelve opened their eyes and noticed Sumbra nearby. They quickly relaxed themselves as he passed.

Not very alert, he snorted, thinking to himself. If it had been Kinara and her pride, I’m sure they’d have known I was here long before I entered the premises. He halted in his tracks, shocked at his own soft spot for Kinara. Frowning, he shook the thought away, and continued even further south, until at the edge of the bare land lie a monstrous lion, entangled in the limbs of three sleeping lionesses.

Horo eyed Sumbra suspiciously, his chest out proudly. Sumbra quickly drooped his body in a submissive stance, cautiously approaching. Though Horo had seen several years in his life, the experience did not betray him - on the contrary, it gave him much skill; he was a large lion, and knew how to fight. His body was buff, as well as his thick skull, colossal paws, and a red-brown pelt equipped with a mane even darker than Sumbra’s.

“What of the decision, little rogue?” Horo’s gruff voice came.

Sumbra frowned. He hated being talked down to, like a cub. Glancing at the now half-awake lionesses, he cleared his throat, and answered, “Leader Horo,” and he bowed for a moment, before looking back up, though not making eye contact. “The leader of the White-Feather pride had sent a lioness out for his answer; she told me that Tambi will only allow your territory to expand to their southernmost borders - near the river.”

There was a minute of silence, though even the lionesses that lie cuddled with the lion, tensed. Sumbra grew even more weary than before, but did not dare show fright. Finally, Horo said, smoothly, “If that is what Tambi wants, then he will never walk the savanna again, I will make sure of that.” He paused, pondered for a second, then asked, “Sumbra; you have seen their pride, have you not?”

“No, Leader.” Sumbra confessed, dipping his head briefly. “But I have smelt them on the air, and I have met both Tambi and a lioness from the pride. I have also been near their borders once or twice.”

“Then tell me, what of their status?”

“Status?”

“You know,” snapped Horo impatiently. “How many are there? Are there any other males? Have they mated for the year? Are there cubs? Are they weak? Are any sick? All that and-”

“With all due respect, Leader Horo; I don’t know much about-” Sumbra had begun, but was cut off.

Horo had snarled, leapt from the lionesses - pushing one of them into the ground - and landed in front of the smaller male. He roared, unsheathing his claws and allowing his rage to flow out into the night. The lionesses quickly scattered away, back to the rest of the pride.

“Are you not a lion?” he snarled to Sumbra, who could not help but take a step back. “Do you not have senses? Do you not learn and track and hunt? I would’ve excepted your place in life not to have your own pride - as strange as it is - but I will not except a lion whom I protect from sun to sun with my own life - whom I allow to roam in my own lands, eat my own meat, even mate with one of my lionesses - to deny me what little information he has about a rivalry pride!”

Sumbra was both disgusted and taken aback. It was true that he was a rogue and desired no pride; it was true that he could enter and leave Horo’s territory, but never had he gorged on his pride’s meat, never had he reproduced with his lionesses, and never did he need a bodyguard of his own. He was a messenger in life trying to survive. That was all.

Still, Sumbra could not argue, or it would mean severe punishment or even death. Bowing again, he quietly choked, “I am sorry.”

“Sorry you will be if you do not answer my question!” Horo went on, advancing on the lion.

Sumbra straightened himself up, and quickly exclaimed, “The White-Feather pride is no doubt, a normal, healthy size. I doubt few or any are sick. They have cubs - I’m not sure when they gave birth, but they mated a few full moons before you showed up here. Their offspring must be just barely over being weaned, and some may still nurse at that. As for their males - I think only Tambi. That is all I know.”

Horo studied the younger lion for a moment, then a grin spread on his face and his eyes flashed. “See, young rogue? That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

Sumbra stood on the hard ground, uneasy. Had he really just vomited all that information out to one of the most threatening lions the savanna had ever known? He had given away information that would leave Kinara’s pride vulnerable on so many different levels? He swayed for a moment, caught himself, and preyed to the Kings and Queens of the Past that Horo had not seen.

“I think,” Horo said, still grinning. “You should give me a grand entrance, Sumbra. What do you think?”

Sumbra frowned, but did not reply.

“Ah, even you doubt Tambi’s strength.” the giant lion chuckled. “This Tambi…I want to meet him face to face. Go then, and tell him I shall come soon….possibly to end his pitiful life in this world.”

Without another word, Sumbra forced himself back passed the lionesses, into the savanna. He panted hard, paws scrambling in the grass under the starry night sky. There was an immense sensation of relief that washed over him as he departed from Horo and his lionesses - the Red-Pool pride.

~~~

“And that’s how the elephant got its trunk.” finished Kinara.

She lie beside the entrance of a small den, her litter cuddled next to her side.

“I wanna see an elephant,” yawned Tikala, before nuzzling her face into her mother’s fur, eyes closed.

“Me too!” squealed Pimdi and Naku.

“Maybe you will some sun.” purred Kinara.

Jinilu frowned, curled up at her mother’s chest, her chin resting on Kinara’s left foreleg.

“Elephants…” she thought aloud. “They seem too….wild.”

“That’s the cool thing about them!” piped Pimdi.

She gave her brother a disgusted look.

“But that’s why she doesn’t like elephants.” laughed Naku, and Tikala looked up curiously. “She doesn’t like anything that’s loud, big, fast, or cool.”

“Yeah.” agreed Pimdi. “She only likes clean, pretty things.” he added in a mocking, high voice.

“Pimdi.” Kinara began, with a frown.

“That’s right!” huffed Jinilu, sitting up now. “I do. I like sophisticated animals, unlike yourselves. You’re all just hyenas and nothing more!”

“Jinilu!” hissed Kinara.

The cub flinched, glancing wearily up at her mother. Tikala frowned at her sister.

“You don’t think I’m a hyena, do you?” she meowed.

Jinilu blinked at Tikala, looked briefly at Kinara again, then nodded firmly. “Of course you are. You’re just like them!” and she gestured to her brothers.

Enough!” Kinara snapped, and she nipped Jinilu’s scruff.

The female cub made a noise between a yelp and hiss, before crawling away from her mother and siblings, near the entrance.

“Jinilu,” the lioness said. “Come back here.”

She said nothing, but placed herself beside the den’s mouth, frowning up at the sky. Kinara just heaved a sigh, and shook her head.

“Watch out, Jinilu.” Pimdi started. “You might think we’re hyenas, but out there you might get eaten by a real one!”

His laughs were quickly ended by a nip from his mother.

“Settle down, everyone.” she ordered. “I mean it.”

The two male cubs nuzzled back up by her side, but Tikala took Jinilu’s original place at Kinara’s chest, and she watched her sister gravely.

Jinilu hid her shivers, created both by cold and fear. She gazed out into the night that was bustling with other animals and insects. Only her left side was heated as it rested against Kinara’s warm back. Quietly, she drifted into a light sleep, listening to the purring lullaby of her mother.

At first she dreamt of frolicking around the nursery with her sister and brothers and the pride’s other cubs. Then she found herself back in the birthing-den, suckling at Kinara’s side, yet Jinilu was puzzled, for she had been weaned - for the most part - over almost a month ago. After that a hazy figure crept into her mind; an adult male lion. Since Tambi was her pride-leader, and the only lion she had ever seen her short life, she figured it was her father. Suddenly, she grew rigid in her spot, noticing that the scent was alien. Jinilu did not take her eyes off the stranger, but instead, began to call for her mother in sharp, loud meows.

“Kinara?” The stranger’s voice lingered out like mist.

“N-no.” she replied, lowering her small frame to the ground as the lion approached. “That’s my mother. Mother! Mom!” And she went on, crying out for Kinara.

“What is it, Jinilu?” a soft, reassuring voice asked.

The cub awoke quickly, and scrambled over between Kinara’s forepaws, knocking Tikala out of the way. From there, she buried her face into her dame’s pelt, whimpering. Tikala, now awake from the sudden intrusion, watched, eyes wide. The two male cubs were sound asleep, still at Kinara’s side.

“What’s wrong?” Kinara went on.

Jinilu said nothing, her body trembling still. She finally looked up, only to see that it was still night…and that it was only a dream. Just as she began to calm, Kinara perked, watching the savanna outside, her nose twitching. Abruptly, her fur rose, and she snarled.

“Kinara?” a voice called out in the distance.

Crying out in shock, Jinilu followed her instinct to hide, and forced herself to the back of the den where Naku and Pimdi finally awoke.

“What the-?” started Pimdi, but all fell silent at their mother’s hiss.

“Kinara.” a firm voice called out, and the grass outside rustled.

In less than a fraction of a second, Kinara had bounded out from the birthing den, leaving her cubs huddled up together in the dark. She had risen from the ground, and quickly pounced the lion.

Who…?!” she began, her body atop his, but she fell silent. “…Sumbra?”

“Yes.” Sumbra choked, and pushed her away. He stumbled up, and after recovering, Kinara leapt in front of the den’s opening.

“Who is that, Mom?” came Pimdi’s voice from inside.

Sumbra sat up, glancing at the den, then back at Kinara’s stressed expression.

“I’m sorry.” he quickly began. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

“Mama?”

“Hush!” Kinara called over her shoulder. “Stay inside the den. All of you.” She paused, then ordered, “What are you doing here, Sumbra? You could be killed!”

“I know, I know!” he desperately exclaimed. “But I came to warn you.”

Kinara’s eyes narrowed. “Warn me?”

“You and your leader and your pride; you’re all in danger.”

Kinara was silent, then turned to look inside the den.

“All of you,” she commanded. “Go back to sleep. Do not come out. I will be near, but do not come out.”

“Who is that?” Tikala asked.

“That lion in my dream!” cried out Jinilu frantically. “I heard him in my sleep!”

“I believe you, Jinilu, but right now, you must go to sleep. Pretend it’s just another hunting night, and I am out with the hunting part. Sleep tight.”

She quickly licked them all and departed.

“Come.” Kinara ordered, and began padding slowly westward.

Without hesitation, Sumbra followed.

For several minutes they traveled in silence, until they were at the White-Feather pride’s borders, and far from Kinara’s cubs. It was there that she began to relax.

“Tell me.” she said, sitting down.

Sumbra took a seat beside her, still frowning. “I’m sorry, Kianra. I didn’t mean to disturb you or your cubs. To tell you, I had totally forgotten about you had cubs.” he admitted. “But that’s beside the point. See, Horo is coming.”

Kinara suppressed a gasped, but just fixed him with a hard stare.

“I think by dawn, he’ll come…and he’ll kill Tambi…and your cubs, Kinara. All of them.” Sumbra gravely went on.

“You told him my leader’s decision?” she finally uttered.

“Of course I did. And this is what comes of it. I told you this would happen.”

They sat in the night together, silent, listening to the choirs of crickets.

“Kinara…” Sumbra’s soft voice finally whispered. “I am sorry…I didn’t want this to happen…”

“It’s not your fault.” Kinara replied, without looking at him.

“Horo asked me…he asked me your vulnerability, and I gave it to him…”

Kinara gave the lion a pitiful look.

“Sumbra, Horo is an ice cold lion. And though he’s conquered two prides of his own, he will never know what it is truly like to become part of a family and pride, and to lead with love, passion, and skill. The only thing that comes to him is power and strength, and that alone takes away even the most primitive of instincts that comes into a lion’s mind when he takes the place of a leader. Horo does this not for the greater good, nor for his own driven instincts passed on to him from generations before, and therefore he does it for power and power alone.”

Sumbra listened carefully, like a cub hearing a story that is told to him by his mother. Kinara spoke the hard truth.

“That is what makes him so cold and dark, Sumbra. He is no more than a character from a tale meant to scare cubs, brought out into the world. What he thrives to do is only for himself. You did nothing wrong.”

“But…aren’t you scared?” whispered the lion.

“I can only think of one time where I’ve ever been as afraid, and that was when my own father was about to be defeated by Tambi himself. The thing is,” Kinara continued, still not looking at Sumbra. “That Tambi did it for a reason; because he wanted to, because he had to, and because new life needed to flourish in the lands of the White-Feather pride. Horo will do it for greed…I cannot allow this to happen, and I will not see my cubs die at the claws of such a monster.”

“Then what are you going to do? You don’t think Tambi could possibly…”

Kinara closed her eyes tightly, facing the truth as well. Finally, when she opened them, she said, “Come.”

Again, Sumbra obeyed, and followed her. But this time they were headed back into the pride’s main territory, passed the birthing-den, and over to the Great Knoll. By the time they got to the other side of the Great Knoll near the main den’s entrance, a lion roared.

“Tambi.” Kinara quickly and strongly said, as Sumbra stood warily beside her.

Tambi’s fangs flashed as he glowered at Sumbra, then he looked to Kinara, just as fiercely.

“He has come on my orders.” Kinara answered to her leader’s angered look.

“And what made you think you had the authority to do so, Kinara?” roared the lion, standing in front of the main cave.

The main den was meant for all of the pride to rest, but most of the pride’s cubs were still too young to move from their own birthing-dens. Only a couple lionesses - three or four adolescents - and two adults, one with a single cub at her side - occupied the cave.

“Good evening, young Kinara.” the older of the two adults exclaimed from inside, watching the situation with a sense of amusement. “What have you brought this time?”

“Silence, Shashi.” ordered Tambi over his shoulder.

“Look, Tambi,” began Kinara. “I wouldn’t have brought him if I didn’t see there was a good reason.”

“Ah, the young one’s got a point.” Shashi agreed, with a yawn.

The adolescents watched in curiosity, glancing at the strange male. Helalu, the most dominant of the lionesses in the White-Feather pride, curled around her cub protectively, frowning as she listened and gazed.

“What reason?” Tambi snapped. “Out with it!”

“A warning, Leader Tambi.” This time, it was Sumbra who had spoken. “Leader Horo is to come for you very soon - when the sun rises, I expect. He wants to fight you for the lands.”

“Oh, is that so?” And Tambi forced a loud, fake laugh. “Well, did he really need his little messenger rogue for that, huh?”

Sumbra stood silently, aware of all eyes and ears on him. Finally, he replied with a smirk, “At least I am not a young mother lioness set out into such danger.”

Before anyone knew what had happened, Sumbra was on his back, and Tambi was glaring down at the rogue.

“You fool!” Tambi roared. “You insult the leader of a pride whilst in his territory?!”

“Tambi!” Kinara cried.

“I will not have it!” Tambi snarled. “Horo will die! As will you!”

The large lion picked up a forepaw, claws exposed. Just as he was about to strike, a roar sounded, so loud that everyone - including both male lions - looked up.

“Fool he may be!” snapped Helalu, who had just then departed from her cub and the main den, padding near them, fur bristling and eyes flashing dangerously. “But as are you, Tambi. Are you really going to waste your energy and strength on killing an innocent rogue? Leave it for the real threat, my leader!”

Kinara was stunned at Helalu’s behavior. She was usually the lioness, always at the side of the leader. Helalu and Kinara were not litter-sisters, but they had both been bred from the same sire. Ever since she could remember, Kinara had always seen her older pride-sister next to their father, obeying his orders and commanding the other lionesses, until finally Tambi had overthrown him and taken his place as White-Feather pride leader. At that time, Helalu had come of age in her own way, continuing to dominate her pride-sisters, and take the female lead role in the family beside their leader.

Tambi glared at the lioness, who returned the harsh gaze. Finally, he pulled himself off the other male and broke the stare.

“What are you going to do, Tambi?” asked Kinara before she could help herself.

Tambi was silent, as was Sumbra who continued to lie, limp and lifeless on the ground. Finally, the leader turned to his closest mate, and said, “Helalu, rally the lionesses; sound the warning.” He then turned to the eldest of the female lions. “Shashi.”

Shashi stood at the entrance, looking both grim and proud.

“The pride looks up to you; do you think it possible for you and Helalu to convince them to move the cubs here earlier than expected?”

A slight grin appeared on the elder, and she closed her eyes for a moment, before looking at her leader once more. “Do you think it wise to turn them against their own instincts, Tambi?”

“No.” he admitted. “But the cubs will be safer-”

“Oh will they? Here? In the main den? Together? Where it is so much easier to kill all of them at once?”

Tambi fumbled for a second, then shook his head. “Do what you think is right, oh Pride-Mother.”

With that, he turned uneasily to Kinara again.

“Go. Protect your cubs.” he ordered, then looked to Sumbra. “And you, worthless rogue. Go tell Horo-”

“I will not!” snapped Sumbra abruptly, as he leapt up, a silent snarl on his face. “I’ll not be a messenger anymore, nor will I be treated like a half-cub.” Tambi was about to start, but he went on. “Look, I do not want this pride or any other to be destroyed at Horo’s paws. Allow me to assist you in any way possible that would help your pride survive.”

“I’ll not have a rogue wandering in my territory!” Tambi roared.

Behind him, the adolescent lionesses glanced fearfully at each other, and Helalu’s daughter cowered beneath Shashi, who then padded slowly out into the night, next to Tambi.

“Would that be wise, too?” she remarked, padding passed him into the territory and leaving the group.

Tambi growled to himself.

“I’ll help him.” Kinara then said, and everyone perked. “I’ll help Sumbra.”

“No, Kinara.” Tambi firmly replied.

“I will.” Kinara protested. “You’ve had enough say in this, Tambi. But now you are willing to turn down the only other help we have outside of the pride?”

Another roar escaped from the lion’s lips, but Helalu quickly turned and snapped at him.

“Stop that. You’ll wake the whole savanna.” she exclaimed sharply. “And you’re scaring your daughter.”

The cub within the den crouched loud to the cave floor, as the male glanced over.

“Alright.” Tambi finally croaked, after a long minute. “But,” and he glared at Sumbra again. “Kinara will be in step with you, lion. She’ll tell me everything, and make sure you’re not committing foul crimes.”

Sumbra could not help a smirk, but it quickly vanished under the leader’s eye.

“I will go.” Tambi then said, looking to Helalu and the others. “I shall wait at the borders for Horo. Be careful, my pride.” He licked Helalu, nuzzled Kinara, and turned to bid farewell to his cub and other daughters. After that, the lion took off to the south.

“Come on.” Kinara said to Sumbra. “Let’s leave.”

They moved quietly, side by side into the west. When they came to within scenting range of Kinara’s birthing-den, she turned to snap at Sumbra, who inattentively moved away. Carefully, she moved over to the den, grunting.

“Mama!” cried Tikala from within the dark confines of the hole.

“My cubs,” she purred, nuzzling the female cub. “You must all stay hidden here.”

“That’s what you said before.” huffed Pimdi. “Aren’t you going to sleep, too?”

Kinara frowned. “I will return sometime, but do not exit the den, even when the sun rises. Understood?”

The litter solemnly nodded, and she licked each one, before departing once more.

“What do you have in mind?” questioned Sumbra as she approached him at the western borders of the pride’s territory.

“Tell me, what is Horo’s weakness?” asked Kinara.

“Why tell you?” Sumbra replied with a raised brow. “Is it not Tambi he is fighting?”

“Do you think Tambi wants to see you?” Kinara challenged.

“Obviously not.”

“How are you to assist him then? You must speak through me, at the very least.”

“At the very least? Well I’m sorry, Kinara. But I know not of Horo’s weakness, that is, if he has one.”

“Everyone has a weakness, Sumbra. You just have to figure it out.”

“Oh? And how are we going to do that?”

“I thought you would’ve known by now. But if that’s not the case…”

The male frowned. “I’m a rogue, Kinara. That is all. I barely place myself higher than one at least, by returning messages back and forth from prides. Do you think I would be able to know how to defeat a lion like Horo? If I did-”

“If you did, you’d have a pride.” the lioness mused.

Sumbra slumped. “You know me. I don’t wish to have something so great, and then have it taken away.” he growled lowly.

Kinara just rolled her eyes. “OK, then. You want to help? Why?”

The lion blinked in surprise at the question. In truth, Sumbra had not a clue why he wished to help Kinara and her pride.

“I…don’t know…” he confessed.

“Neither do I, but I know a way you can help.”

He perked. “How?”

“Just lead me to Horo’s pride.”

“Horo’s pride?!” Sumbra suddenly snarled. “You want me to lead you to the Red-Pool pride? You are young and have cubs at that! I won’t!”

Kinara studied him for a moment, her expression both strong and soft.

“Do you doubt me, Sumbra? Do you think of me as a non other than a fragile half-cub?” she asked.

“No!” he spat quickly. “Not at all! It’s just…”

“It’s just what?”

Sumbra stood there silently, looking first to his forepaws, then raising his head to look up at the stars as he muttered, “I don’t know what I’d do if you died…”

The lioness blinked, dumbfounded at the words.

“Sumbra,” she began weakly.

“No.” he firmly cut in, now staring intently at her. “I am very fond of you, Kinara White-Feather, I’ll admit. But know that I have no desire to cut into your own life and separate you from your friends, family and pride.”

Kinara blushed, looked away, then gazed slowly back with a stern face. She nodded once. “Take me then, Sumbra; if you are fond of me and do not see me as weak. Take me so that we both can save the White-Feather pride.”

~~~

Jinilu lie at the back the birthing-den, licking her own side over and over.

“Enough.” scoffed Naku. “You’ve been grooming yourself for almost an hour!”

“It has not been that long!” snapped the female cub to her brother.

Tikala watched from the side of the den in interest. She quickly rolled over and began to lick her side as well.

“And you, too?” Naku spat in disdain to his other sister.

“That’s what we have Mom for!” laughed Pimdi from the den’s entrance.

Tikala glanced at Jinilu for support, only to see that her sister continued to groom herself. So, turning to her brothers, Tikala huffed and proceeded with the process as well.

“Pimdi,” said Naku then, the little black cub toddling to the front to sit next to his brother. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing.” Pimdi replied, not looking at Naku; instead, he watched the dead of night outside.

“Waiting for Mother, are we?” Naku went on, sneering.

“Nah.” the other male yawned. “Just bored, is all.” He paused in clear thought, then piped up, “Hey! That’s a good idea, though!”

“What is?”

Both Tikala and Jinilu were looking up from their grooming now.

“Maybe we should go see what Mom’s doing!”

“You’re crazy.” Naku snorted. “You heard her; we have to stay in here.”

“But I wanna find out! Don’t you?” Pimdi urged, glancing from sister to sister, then back to his brother again.

“Of course. But she said-”

“What? Ya scared?”

“No!”

“I think you are.” laughed Pimdi. “What d’ ya guys think?”

Tikala was silent, listening. Jinilu just rolled her eyes and shook her head at the situation. “I also think you’re crazy, Pimdi.” she meowed in boredom. “It’s dark and cold, and there are monsters out there.”

“So you’re scared, too?” Pimdi questioned with a sudden frown. “How ‘bout you, Tikala?”

Tikala froze in her spot, noticing all her siblings waiting for a reply. Quickly, she allowed thoughts to flow through her young mind; both Naku and Jinilu did not want to go, and for good reason. But she was curious as to what her mother was doing as well.

“I wanna know where Mama’s at and who’s that lion.” she finally meowed. “But wouldn’t we get in trouble if she found out?”

“She won’t find out!” Pimdi assure loudly, smiling once more. “Let’s go!”

In a flash, the cub dashed outside, then ran back in.

“C’mon, Tikala! Let’s go!”

Tikala’s ears folded back and, for a moment, she felt like an animal in a trap. “I don’t know.” she meowed softly.

“Don’t go. That lion’s a stranger.” Jinilu said, while grooming herself again. “He’s a rogue and nothing more. He’s probably just a dirty mongrel - not civilized, like us.”

“Here we go again with the civilized stuff.” Naku remarked, rolling his eyes.

“What’s civilized?” barked both Pimdi and Tikala at the same time.

“Look, we shouldn’t go. Mom says we can’t go out and, if she did find you, you’d be dead!” Naku explained.

“Yes. I’m staying here where it’s safe and warm and where I won’t get in trouble.” agreed Jinilu, through purring, eyes half-closed.

Pimdi turned hopefully to Tikala again. “Let’s go, Tikala.” he begged, pawing at her.

Tikala whimpered softly from her place, not knowing who to follow.

“Don’t go.” Naku firmly said to his sister. “Just stay here with us.”

“Don’t listen to him; he’s a baby.” spat Pimdi.

Tikala curled up in a fluff ball, muttering, “I’m staying.”

“Ha!” Naku laughed before he could help himself. “See? It’s dumb if we… Pimdi? Pimdi? Hey, Pimdi!”

He quickly scrambled outside, after his brother. “Where are you going?”

“Gonna go find Mom.” Pimdi answered over his shoulder as he scented the ground, and padded out into the long grass.

“But what if she finds you? Or worse?”

Pimdi shrugged, replying, “I don’t care. I’m not scared.”

“Well you should be.” Naku snapped. “And if you get eaten by a hyena, don’t come crying to me!”

Mumbling, the charcoal colored cub padded back into the birthing-den.

“Where’s he going, Naku?” asked Tikala, sitting up.

“Out ‘cause he’s stupid.” he murmured, sitting down.

“He is.” Jinilu agreed.

“But…but shouldn’t we go after him?” Tikala asked.

“Let him get in trouble. Not us.” her sister mused.

Naku’s eyes had gone abruptly right, and he scowled loudly. “If he gets caught, Mom’s going to get mad at him and us!”

“Why us?” huffed Jinilu. “We didn’t do anything.”

“We didn’t stop him either. C’mon.”

With that, Naku scrambled out. Tikala blinked, and glanced questioningly at Jinilu, who snarled in irritation and pushed herself from the den floor, padding out into the night, so she followed.

Pimdi was running through the savanna’s long blades of gold, leaping after crickets and growling in delight as he followed his mother’s trail. A few times during his prowling he stopped to listen, before continuing on.

Once, he stopped at an acacia, gazing in awe up at the tree. He crouched low, before climbing halfway up its trunk, and falling. Snarling to himself, the young lion tried again, with the same success.

“Trying to climb?” came a laugh, and Pimdi could not help but squeal in fright. He could feel the blood rush to his face as he watched his litter-mate’s come near, laughing.

Nice job.” Naku sarcastically commented.

“What are you guys doing here?” spat Pimdi.

“We’ve come to take you back.” Jinilu said in bored tone.

“Why?” he asked, titling his head.

“Because if Mom finds you, we’re all dead.” answered his brother. “So hurry up and let’s get back.”

“No!” Pimdi hissed. “I wanna find out where Mom went and who that stranger was! And don’t you want to have some fun? Mom never let’s us do anything!”

There was silence as the two male cubs glared at each other. Finally, Naku heaved a sigh in defeat, replying, “OK. Let’s just get this done fast before Mom actually finds us out. Then we’ll sneak back to the den before she gets back. Deal?”

“Deal.” agreed Pimdi, smirking.

“What?” growled Jinilu. “We have to stay out here in the cold? Just because you-” she rounded on Pimdi. “-want to have fun!”

“That’s right.” he sneered.

“You two can go back.” Naku assured. “I’ll make sure fur ball here doesn’t get himself killed - that way, we won’t die.”

Tikala blinked, and looked to her sister for an answer.

“Fine with me.” Jinilu replied. “I’m not getting dirty or in trouble just ‘cause Pimdi’s bored.”

With that, she turned around. Tikala frowned at her brothers, then turned to follow Jinilu back to the den.

“What a bunch of sissies.” commented Pimdi loudly.

“Let’s just get this over with.” Naku said with a yawn. “I’m tired and cold.”

“Oh, lighten up, will ya?”

Pimdi nipped his brother, then went romping through the grass.

“‘Oh, lighten up, will ya?’” snapped Naku to himself, mocking Pimdi in a high-pitched voice, before taking off after his brother. “Wait, Pimdi!”

~~~

Sumbra tensed as they neared the strong aroma of lion urine. Kinara grew more rigid as well, but did not show fright. Instead, she puffed her chest out and allowed her muscles to flex beneath her silky pelt.

The two adult lions made their way into the Red-Pool pride’s territory. Several minutes passed and nothing happened, until finally they reached an area where water had once been during the rainy season. Instead, it was replaced with a bare spot of cracked land, and in the distance, a group of a dozen or so lionesses were lying together.

“Do you think Tambi would really want you here?” whispered Sumbra so low, that Kinara strained to hear him.

“No.” she confessed. “Of course not. I think he’d rather throw himself into a herd of stampeding water buffalo than see me in the territory of another pride - especially Horo’s.” she added gravely, and felt a shiver snake its way up her spine at the name.

“Brace yourself.” warned Sumbra, and he led her forward.

It took a few more moments before any of the lionesses noticed their presence, and when they did, all were up and hissing, fur raised and teeth and claws exposed.

“Easy,” cooed Sumbra loudly. “She is of no harm to you.”

His words did nothing to coax the pride, and they continued to flash Kinara warning gazes and gestures. She did her best to ignore them as they circled around the group. Still, she could not suppress her own fur from bristling and her claws from unsheathing themselves.

At the end of the dried water hole, a large lion lie in a pool of spilt moonlight. His eyes were closed as his giant side moved up and down in steady breathing. As they approached, a low voice grumbled, “What have you brought me, Sumbra?”

At first, Horo had not noticed Kinara. But once his eyes opened, their was a gleam within them, and he bared his teeth warningly.

“Who is this?” he snapped, lifting his head and glaring from Kinara to Sumbra.

Before Sumbra could react, Kinara replied, “Leader Horo of the Red-Pool pride.” she began with forced power in her voice. “I come before you under this moon, to speak with you.”

“Obviously.” remarked Horo, sitting up now and fixing her with a stern gaze. “But what of?”

Kinara was silent for another moment, before continuing. “You are a strong lion, Horo. I envy you for it. But I myself am no more than a loner - a female rogue wandering the cruel lands of the savanna in search of a pride.”

“Oh? Is that so?” Horo mused, lifting a brow. “Tell me, Sumbra. Where did you really find this lioness?”

Sumbra was stunned, for Kinara had not told him of her idea. Still, he hid it well. “She speaks the truth, Horo. I found her prowling in the open area between both prides.”

Horo sat, fixing them both with a cold stare, before looking to Kinara again and asking, “Well? What is it then?”

“I wish to set aside my lonely life and join your pride.” Kinara lied.

“Hmm. A smart decision, lioness, but do you take me for a fool? How do I know you are not of the other pride? The…what is it again, Sumbra? The White-Feather pride? How do I know you are not simply a lioness of that Tambi?”

The lioness faltered, but only for a fraction of a second. “My birth-pride was killed when I was a half-cub. Ever since then I have never actually wished to join another pride.”

“Like a female Sumbra.” chuckled Horo aloud.

Sumbra glared at the ground, not daring to give the lion satisfaction at his humiliation and anger.

“When I found a rogue - this Sumbra here - he asked me what I was doing alone. I told him the truth, and he spoke to me of a wondrous pride with a very strong, powerful leader.”

Horo suddenly burst out laughing. “Come now, you really expect me to believe that?” he choked. “A wondrous pride with a strong and powerful leader? Do you really think I’d believe that Sumbra had said that? He hates me!”

Sumbra gritted his teeth, but forced himself to look up.

“Is it true?” laughed Horo. “Did you really tell her that?”

“I…I told her something like that.” Sumbra replied.

Horo finally forced himself to calm down, then, sneering, said, “Nice try, you two. I don’t know what you’re planning but-”

“You think we’re lying?” snarled Kinara defensively. “I come here, following this lion’s advice-” she nodded to Sumbra angrily. “-thinking I could finally join a pride of my own - thinking I could add to it myself. But if a real lion turns down a willing lioness, then I don’t know what to think!”

She hissed once, and turned her back on the two, heading away. Sumbra blinked in surprise, but could not move his own paws from his spot.

“Stop now, lioness.” Horo’s voice called out, now somewhat heavily.

Smirking to herself, Kinara turned, and straightened up again. “Yes?”

“I am a real lion.” Horo growled lowly. “I am a strong and powerful leader. And you… you are no doubt a healthy, beautiful lioness I would love to add to my pride.”

Kinara’s tail swished slowly, and she smiled.

“But being in the position I am,” Horo said. “I need to take certain…precautions.”

“I understand-” she began, but he cut her off. “You don’t understand. I don’t know what you truly want. But if you are who you say you are, then you won’t have any trouble proving yourself.”

“Exactly.” Kinara said, which shocked both males in turn. “I wish to be of any service at all to prove myself worthy and to help out in your pride’s survival, Leader Horo. And so I offer myself as a second messenger to your pride - I will be a spy for you and be a communicator between you and the other pride.”

Horo sat, pondering, then asked, “Tell me, lioness; how is it that you know Sumbra is a messenger?”

There was steady silence, before Sumbra said, “I told her too much, perhaps…”

Horo was in a state of amusement, studying the both of them. “Perhaps.” he agreed, then said, “Alright. I must know. If you are truly not part of the White-Feather pride, then you will not mind being a messenger, or a spy. Nor will you mind taking one of their cubs to me.”

Kinara stood, her expression unreadable. Nonetheless, she was stunned.

“You know I can’t…” she breathed. “I cannot do such a thing. A crime against the Law of the Land.”

“I am not telling you to kill it; merely bring it to me.” Horo said, sneering. “And if you cannot do that, then what can you do? What use are you to me?”

“Anything.” Kinara spat, the pleading clearly heard in her desperate voice.

Horo closed his eyes, and sat in deep thought, before opening them again and replying, “What did you say your name was, young rogue?”

Without a second thought, she truthfully answered, “Kinara.”

“Kinara….beautiful…” he said, more to himself than anyone. “What am I to do with you if you cannot prove yourself?”

The lioness hissed softly, “I will bring valuable information.”

Horo smiled. “That’s hard to turn away, Kinara. Someone willing to do such a thing. And one who is capable of passing on my genes.” Horo added, sneering as he looked to Sumbra, who did not look back. “Go then, lioness. Forget the cub idea, but still…prove your worth.”

He padded over. “Go and get as much information as you can from Tambi, then come back and tell me. As you reveal their secrets, Sumbra here will take off as well, and gather information - if what you both tell me are similar facts then I know that neither of you are lying - and that neither of you will have to be killed.”

Horo picked up a giant forepaw, claws exposed as he licked them. “Oh, and tell the White-Feather pride leader that we will be rescheduling our little…meeting.”

Kinara nodded solemnly, then turned, gave Sumbra a grave expression, and took off into the night once more.

“Looks like you’ve finally done something useful, Sumbra.” Horo commented out of nowhere, causing the smaller of the lions to startle.

Sumbra frowned, but remained silent.

“If she is who she says she is, then I won’t have to kill either of you, and I will have a special addition for my pride. If this is the truth, then I thank you ahead of time. But for now, so that I will be able to figure out this situation, I wish for you to stay here with the pride. My lionesses will keep an eye on you, just to make sure. And when Kinara returns, she will tell me things what you will tell me, and at the time, you will be far from the territory. Am I understood?”

“Yes, Horo.” Sumbra grumbled.

“Good. Now I fancy a mid-moon snack. Go to the lionesses and tell them what I have told you; I will be back for confirmation for them.”

Horo turned and stalked slowly away into the savanna.

Sumbra growled to himself, padding over near the other lionesses. They glanced questioningly up at him, but none dared to approach. Instead, he sprawled out a few yards near the pride, pondering. He just hoped he and Kinara could pull it off…as long as she would be OK, it didn’t matter what happened to him at Horo’s mercy - not that he had any. Still…

~~~

“I mean, it’s true, isn’t it?” remarked Pimdi as they made their way through the night. “Mom never let’s us have any fun. It even took us forever to be let out of the den for the first time; remember when we finally got out and found out that everyone else had been allowed outside more than a week before us?”

“Yeah.” laughed Naku in agreement. “I’ve asked Dad why she’s always so overprotective, and he just says ‘cause she loves us.”

“Yeah, right.” huffed Pimdi sarcastically, rolling his eyes. “Loves us, so she makes us suffer from boredom. So much love.”

Suddenly, the sound of conversation flittered in the distance. Both cubs instinctively ducked low in the grass together, not making another noise.

“Did you hear that?” a female voice lingered out.

“Probably nothing.” another deep voice rumbled.

Pimdi and Naku looked to one another, then peered out, only to find their mother and father dangerously close by. Kinara was sitting with her back turned to them, as well as Tambi, who had taken a seat beside the lioness.

“So you’re in on it?” Kinara questioned uncertainly.

Their father was silent for another moment, before replying gravely, “There is no other choice.”

They watched as Kinara’s head turned slightly to the left. Was she grinning?

“I know it was a bold leap,” she suddenly admitted. “But what else could we have done?”

Tambi just sighed and shook his massive head. “Nothing.” he agreed. “But still. I would have at least sent a motherless lioness for the job.”

“That’s what Sumbra finds so disdainful about this whole situation.” Kinara said, and could not help a snicker.

“What do you find is so funny?” mused Tambi. “I think he is right - for once.” he added with a grumble. “But either way, it is dangerous. I don’t like it one bit.”

“Neither do I.”

There was more silence, until finally, the pride leader spoke again, this time, his voice strained in a miserable tone, “He likes you, you know.”

Kinara was taken aback for a slight second, but quickly recovered and replied, “I know. But he would do nothing to threaten your status, Tambi. You need not be afraid.”

“Afraid? I am not afraid…I just…pity him, really.”

“As do I.”

Tambi was quiet, then asked in shock, “Do you not find him the same way?”

“I find a friend in that rogue, that is all.” she answered truthfully.

“Then how is it that you two became friends?”

Kinara yawned loudly, and her tail swished once in the grass. “When Father was still leading the pride, I met Sumbra as a half-cub - we both were. He had stumbled upon the edge of the territory, as did I. I was ignorant, and I did not see a threat in him. We did nothing but play and romp like full cubs. After that I often made trips out to the territory’s edge to meet him, and one sun, my father found out. He practically killed Sumbra.” There was a slight sound of amusement in her voice. “Luckily Sumbra was born with cheetah legs. In the end, Father made sure no other rogues came near; until of course, you came.”

“I don’t get it.” Tambi said in deep thought. “Why didn’t Sumbra try to take over when he was old enough?”

“He didn’t want a pride.” Kinara replied.

“But why?”

“Though I don’t truly know, I would have to guess because of all the heartache that comes from such a position in life.”

“Hmm. He fails to recognize the happiness in it, too.” Tambi thought aloud.

“I know, Tambi. But he is a good lion.”

“Oh? Then why is it that he was working for Horo in the first place?”

“I asked Sumbra that not too long ago; he said he was just a lion, trying to survive. He had had his own territory - a small plot of land in the southwest - taken from him by Horo himself, who allows him to stay there as long as he acts as messenger and slave to his pride.”

“Strange…”

“Yes, well, I must return to the Red-Pool pride soon. What is it that I should tell Horo?”

“Tell him…” Tambi’s voice trailed off in concentration, before he continued. “Tell him that you heard your information from a lioness near the southern borders. She had told you about how we have cubs, and that we are planning on grouping a hunting party next moon. That is all.”

“But he knows all that, except for the hunting party.” snapped Kinara abruptly. “I need to tell him something else; something that would make us seem intimidating; something that Sumbra would have to repeat as well, in his own words.”

“Kinara, what could possibly make the White-Feather pride seem intimidating? Besides myself, of course.” Tambi added with a smirk.

“I don’t know. Something Horo missed - like another male or-”

“Go and tell the Red-Pool pride leader that, if you wish. Though I don’t know how it can be in our advantage.”

“Power and strength.” Kinara answered. “It’s what Horo has and it’s what he fears. That might be enough to scare him away and maybe we can avoid an attack altogether.”

“Hmm. I don’t know if that will scare him away, Kinara.” the lion doubtfully growled.

“Alright then, keep him at bay. Either way, it’s better than nothing. And this way, I will be able to find out more about him and his pride, so that will give us time to get ready, and who knows? Maybe I can discover his weakness.”

“I’d like to see you try.” sneered Tambi playfully.

“Oh, you will. I will go now, and tell Horo. Sumbra will probably be here by mid-sun, and you must tell him everything, so that he can tell Horo the same thing I did.”

“Kinara…be careful…”

Kinara frowned. “I will.” and she nuzzled him. “Before I go, though…”

“What?”

“I think I should check on my cubs.”

Naku and Pimdi both shared silent gasps as they froze.

“No. You must go before Horo changes his mind about coming here.” Tambi replied. “I’ll send Bayna out to your den to fetch them when the sun rises and she’ll take them to the nursery.”

“Do you think that’s safe?”

“For now.” Tambi gravely said, then licked her cheek.

The two departed; Kianra heading off to the south, and Tambi padding northward. In fact, the lion had gotten so close to the cubs, that Naku and Pimdi could both feel the rush of air as he passed and the grass tickled their fur. Tambi stopped in his tracks once, scented the atmosphere in question, then grunted as a breeze ruffled his mane and hid the cubs’ scents. He snorted and took off again, running this time.

“Phew,” Pimdi finally said, cheekily as he grinned at his brother.

“Is that all you have to say?” snapped Naku. “We almost got caught! Now let’s go back!”

He turned and stomped away, Pimdi following.

“Well it wasn’t like it was for nothing.” the lighter cub remarked. “I mean, Mom and Dad were talking about something weird; who’s Horo and Sumbi or whatever?”

“Sumbra, I think. And I dunno.” Naku replied, and could not hold his own curiosity down. “One of ‘em’s probably that lion earlier that Mom went with. But what’s the Red-Pool pride? I didn’t know there was any pride close to us.”

“Neither did I!” Pimdi squealed in delight, suddenly pouncing a cricket. “I wonder if they have other cubs.”

“If they do, I hope they’re not as annoying as you.” Naku said, rolling his eyes.

“Hey!” and Pimdi leapt at his brother, nipping at his ear.

“Let’s just get back and tell the girls.”

“Tell ‘em what? Hey! Let’s follow Mom again!” Pimdi then suggested, still gnawing on Naku’s ear, who just scowled and pushed him away.

“Enough with your stupid ideas and adventures!” Naku growled. “We got lucky this time!”

“OK, OK.” agreed Pimdi, somewhat regretfully, and the two took off back to the den.

~~~

“Little ones,” cooed a gentle voice. “Wake up. The sun has already risen.”

“Ah, five more minutes.” groaned Pimdi from the back of the den.

“Oh, gross!” scoffed Jinilu as she awoke, only to find Pimdi’s dirty paws in her face. She snarled and pushed them away, but gasped when she looked at who was at the entrance. “Aunt Bayna?”

“Yes. Your mother wanted me to fetch you.” Bayna answered to their perplexed expressions. Only Naku and Pimdi did not look surprised.

Giving a loud and exaggerated yawn, Naku pushed himself out of his birthing-den, out into the scorching heat of the savanna. Tikala was next, her eyes still half-closed.

“Where’s Mama?” she purred up to the lioness.

“She’s busy, but you’ll see her soon.” Bayna said, licking the female cub’s side.

Abruptly, Pimdi came crashing out, pushing Tikala over and leaping over his brother.

“Be more careful, Pimdi!” scolded Bayna before she helped to pull Tikala to her paws once more.

“He’s always like that.” commented Jinilu disdainfully as she slowly approached the warm daylight outside.

Together, the group crossed over into the main territory, and near the Great Knoll, Bayna dropped the cubs off at the sunken land where the nursery was held, and several cubs were romping and wrestling together, a few lionesses watching nearby.

“You cubs be good.” ordered Bayna sternly.

“Where are you going?” Tikala peeped curiously.

“Away.” yawned Bayna. “To the mud pools. I’m taking the sun off, and spending it with my litter-sisters.”

“Can I come?” Pimdi asked, cheerfully, his tail tip swishing to and fro.

“No. You stay here with your siblings.”

Pimdi mumbled something and turned away, disappointed. He was quickly caught off guard again as he bounded over to some of the pride’s other cubs.

“Keep an eye on him, Tikala.” Bayna whispered to the young lioness with a wink.

“Oh, I will.” Tikala replied, sitting up straight and puffing her chest out proudly.

“Ha! I’d like t’ see ya try.” Naku laughed before he could help himself, earning a quick nip to the shoulder by Bayna.

“I mean it. Your brother is the kind of type to get himself into trouble.” Bayna exclaimed wearily, watching as Pimdi wrestled with another male cub. “He’s not the only one, though. Watch Hisaku, too. My son is just as crazy and wild, and put those two together…” and she shivered loudly.

Tikala giggled, and so did Naku. Jinilu lie, not listening as she groomed herself and sunbathed at the nursery’s edge, near the adult lionesses. She looked up once to see Bayna padding away. With a yawn, she closed her eyes once more, only to be interrupted by a swat on the nose.

“Hey!” she snarled loudly, causing the other lionesses to perk and look up.

“Guess what!” Pimdi shouted loudly, batting her on the nose again.

“How’d you get over here so fast?” she huffed, then nipped at him.

“Guess what Naku and I did last night!”

“I know what you did.” Jinilu hissed, uninterested.

“No you don’t. By the time we got back, you two were already sleeping. C’mon, guess!” he urged, once more swatting at her.

“Pimdi!” hissed a nearby lioness. “Leave your sister alone.”

“But-” Pimdi started, but was cut off as Naku neared and growled lowly, tail swishing behind him.

“Shh.” Naku warned lowly.

It was only then that Jinilu perked and actually became enticed.

“If ya wanna hear,” Naku exclaimed to Jinilu carefully. “Then follow us.”

He gave a cautious look to the babysitting lionesses, then turned and allowed Jinilu and Pimdi to follow. Once they made it back to Tikala - who was busy entertaining herself by batting at a blade of grass - he sat down, tail curling around his tiny body. Along with Pimdi chiming in every few seconds or so, Naku explained what had happened last night.

“Mom and Dad are up to something!” Jinilu finally exclaimed.

“I know. But what?” Naku asked, more to himself.

“I didn’t know there were other lions near here.” Tikala said dreamily, gazing out passed the nursery into the territory.

“I bet you that’s why Mom’s been gone.” Pimdi suggested enthusiastically. “Next time she goes out, I wanna follow.”

“Not this again!” Naku hissed.

Jinilu nodded, and snapped, “No, Pimdi. If Mom-”

“Talking about me?” a smooth voice asked.

The cubs all jumped in surprise, watching as Kinara padded casually over. She sat beside the sunken land and licked each of her cubs on the heads.

“Er-” Naku started, frantically searching for a quick escape. “We were saying…if…If you really wanted to, you’d teach us how to hunt.”

“Yeah!” Pimdi piped up. “I wanna learn!”

Naku glowered at Pimdi’s over enthusiastic character, then turned to watch as Kinara studied her litter suspiciously.

“Hmm. Well, you four are much too young to even be thinking about hunting.” Kinara finally exclaimed, still not totally convinced. “Where did you get that idea anyway?”

“Um…” but Naku trailed off.

“Hisaku was talking about it.” Jinilu quickly chimed in.

“Hisaku? Bayna’s son?” Kinara pondered allowed.

“Y-yeah!” Naku agreed, nodding.

Kinara was silent for another moment, and then said while shaking her head, “That Hisaku; he’s always getting into trouble. I’m surprised you two aren’t twins.” she added as she looked to Pimdi, who just smiled back cheekily. “Where is Bayna anyway?” the lioness then questioned, looking around.

“She went with her sisters to the mud pools.” answered Tikala.

“That’s strange; she’s usually always at the nursery. Oh well.” Kinara said with a yawn.

“Tired, Mom?” Naku asked, too quickly. He regretted it after, flinching inwardly.

Luckily his mother had not noticed, and instead, she lie over on her side on the nursery’s edge.

“I don’t know what all the hunting talk’s about.” she yawned, closing her eyes. “But the party’s not hunting till tonight, and I still have some milk left if you cubs would like to nurse.”

Pimdi was the first to suckle, and then came Tikala. Naku watched in doubt, and Jinilu gave her sister and brother a disgusted look.

“We’re too old to suckle, Mom.” she huffed. “We’re not babies.”

With her eyes still closed, and a grin on her face, Kinara replied, “Go then, and see if the nurses will bring you meat, but I doubt there’s any left. If there isn’t, and you still refuse to nurse, then you might just have to go hungry.”

Huffing again, Jinilu padded over to the lionesses, meowed pitifully, only to receive nothing. She lie down in the sun like her mother, refusing to look at her family as her tummy rumbled. Naku heaved a sigh, and crawled in amongst his siblings, suckled resentfully for a couple minutes, then stood and padded to the other side of the nursery.

“Naku! Naku!” shouted a playful cub, as dark as he with glittering eyes of green.

“What, Hisaku?” he asked, batting at the other young lion.

“Guess what!”

“What?”

“Dad’s showing me lands this sun!”

“Cool. He already showed me an’ Pimdi.”

Hisaku stopped and cocked his head with a frown. “Really?”

“Yup.”

“Were you two the first? I thought I was going to be the first!” and he snarled, pawing the ground in anger.

Naku looked over his shoulder, watching as yards away, Tikala curled up against their mother’s side, and Pimdi pounced around, tackling Kinara’s tail. When he looked back, a mischievous grin was on his face.

“Hey, Hisaku. Can you keep a secret?”

“Of course I can!”

Naku opened his mouth, but froze, thinking better of the situation. Out of all the cubs in the pride, Bayna’s son was probably the worst one to tell a secret. Quickly, he said, “I caught a mouse last sun.”

“What? That’s all?” the cub huffed in disappointment. “I caught one the other sun, too!”

“Sure ya did.” Naku said, smirking, then padded away, near yet another group of cubs.

There were about five or six females bunched up together, chatting, giggling, and batting at one another. Naku stood awkwardly at the side of the group and cleared his throat. All looked up to his presence. As a pale cub whispered something to a particularly gold lion-kitten, he blushed, listening to them giggle.

“Patishi.” Naku meowed to the gold cub.

Patishi, Helalu’s daughter, perked in curiosity, then padded over and said, “Yes, Naku?”

The male blushed again, glancing at the giggling girls, then gestured and turned to pad away. Patishi followed, until they were alone.

“What have you been up to?” he asked, trying to sound interested.

“Oh, nothing,” Patishi replied, looking up to the sky, then back at him, tail giving a slight twitch. “What about you?”

“Nothing either.” he lied, then added, “Well…maybe something.”

“Oh?” and she tilted her head.

“Yeah well, I mean… not much. But there is one thing…” He paused, then continued. “Look, my brother and I were out last moon.”

“Last night? Why?”

“We followed my mother out into the savanna, and…” Naku quickly recapped the scene, Patishi listening intently. “But you can’t tell anyone.” he added sternly. “Only my litter-mates and I know.”

Patishi observed him for another moment, and frowned. “Why are you telling me this, Naku?”

“Because…” He cleared his throat. “You being Helalu’s daughter and all…”

“What does having to be Helalu’s daughter got to do with it?” she snapped impatiently.

“Well I just thought…I just thought maybe you’d know a bit more than us. Maybe-”

“Look.” Patishi’s tone of voice had become abruptly firm, and it surprised him. “Just because my mother is close to our father, doesn’t mean anything. I know just as much as you. And if you want to try and use me, then fine. But I-”

“Patishi! That’s not it!” he desperately spat, but the little cub turned her back on him and began to leave. “Patishi! Wait! I-!”

Just then, Tambi had entered the nursery. A huge group of lion cubs came bustling over, meowing as they did so to the pride leader and their father. They excitedly batted up at him, pounced his paws and tail, and badgered him with constant questions and brags.

“My cubs,” he began, firmly, though he was smiling. “Calm down.”

Most forced themselves to relax, sitting patiently - or at least somewhat - to hear what he had to say. Even the nurses and Kinara had looked up from their spots, watching in curiosity.

“I have come back to show you the lands,” he continued, only to flinch at the sound of several squeals and meows - Hisaku was the loudest. Frowning, he said, “But I must delay these plans for…certain reasons.” Trying his best to ignore the loud groans of his cubs, he finished with, “For now, stay alert and beware. Never be alone, and always be in the sight of an adult. I am sorry, but it will have to be rescheduled for another sun. Goodbye, my little ones.”

With that, the large lion turned, and stalked away. A couple of the cubs followed, but Tambi turned to scold them in sudden snarls and nips. Squealing, the cubs ran back. All together, the White-Feather pride’s youngest were hurt and applaud. Even the nurses and nearby adults were muttering amongst themselves, questioning their leader’s actions. Kinara had sat halfway up, frowning.

“Naku,” Patishi said.

Naku had been sitting, watching as Hisaku snarled and hissed at anyone who came near him. The cub quickly took his anger out on a nearby rock, batting and nipping at it. Frowning, Naku turned to his friend.

“Do you think Father did that because…” she started, but trailed off.

“I don’t know why.” Naku answered truthfully. “But we have to find out… Don’t we?”

She hesitated, then nodded and said, “I think we should.”

“Will you help me?”

“How?” she asked. “Mother’s always got me under a close eye, and the only reason why she’s not now is ‘cause she’s out planning tonight’s hunt with the hunting party. She’s made sure the nurses are keeping a good eye on me, though. She always does.” Pathishi then said, glancing wearily up at the other lioness. A couple lionesses stared grimly at the cub, though both she and Naku were sure they were out of hearing distance.

“What do you know?” Naku whispered to her.

“Not much more than you.” she confessed. “But I remember that last moon-”

“When Pimdi and I were out?”

“Yes. I was in the main den when Father and Kinara-”

“My mother?” he gasped.

“Yes.” she repeated. “She was talking to him with another lion - someone I’ve never seen before. She was saying how she’d help him to protect the pride. That’s all I remember.”

Naku frowned, and looked down to his forepaws. When he looked back up, he gave a quick glance to his mother - who by then, was having a conversation with the worried looking nurses.

“There is something going on, Naku.” Patishi admitted. “I don’t know what, though.”

“Keep your eyes and ears open.” advised Naku. “That’s what Father always tells me. If you ever hear anything else, then tell me, but keep it secret to others. Got that?”

Patishi nodded gravely.

“Patishi!” a cub shouted. “Come here!”

They both looked up to watch the pale female cub from earlier shouting near the group of young females.

“You’d better get back to your friends.” Naku then said.

The two quickly separated.

~~~

Sumbra stood with a grim expression. Horo watched him carefully at the edge of the bare ground. A couple lionesses were sitting patiently nearby. Finally, the Red-Pool pride leader turned to them and grunted, and they padded away.

“Kinara showed up earlier - before the sun had risen. Now that you yourself have returned, what is it that you bring me?” Horo asked, his voice important and strong.

Sumbra said, “To tell you the truth, not much more than before. Only that tonight, a hunting party will be out.” He hesitated, then continued. “There is one thing you might find interesting.”

“Oh?” Horo lifted a brow. “And what is that?”

“That… That there might be another male lurking about.”

“Another male, you say?”

“Yes. Tambi’s co-leader. At least I think.”

“Hmm…” Horo’s voice trailed off as he pondered to himself, tail moving. Finally, he said, “Very good, Sumbra. Very good. You and this…lioness-rogue, have given me the same information. Looks like we have a new member to the Red-Pool pride. Tell me, where is she?”

Sumbra was silent for a moment, then replied, “I don’t know. Out sunbathing or scavenging, I suppose.”

“Go then, and find her.” Horo growled. “I have a job for you two tonight.”

Without further question, Sumbra took off in a sprint.

~~~

Kinara lie beside a nurse.

“What do you think has gotten into him?” asked a young lioness, whose litter was the first she had produced in her short life.

“I do not know,” admitted another, older lioness. “Tambi had promised our cubs some quality time, and just like that, he thinks he can take it away?”

Several lionesses growled and grunted in agreement, but Kinara quickly said, “Maybe he has a good reason.”

“Maybe.” agreed one of Kinara’s elder sisters who had been bred both from the same dame and sire in a time before she was born. “But maybe he just wants time to relieve himself of the stress of fatherhood. However, I find that appalling.”

Many lionesses nodded and muttered.

“I mean, look at us.” Kinara’s ignorant pride-sister continued. “We are practically skin and bone, and still find both time and milk for our cubs and litters. Is it so much to ask for a break?”

“She’s right!” huffed another nurse. “Enough is a enough!”

The group growled together.

“Who then, will go talk to him?” someone else questioned.

Kinara snarled and rolled her eyes, shaking her head in pity at the pride’s actions. “Are you really going to act like a bunch of half-cubs?” she snarled abruptly, causing even a few to glance up at her in gasps. “This is ridiculous.”

“Kinara, you might not find it any trouble at all.” started her older sister, standing up; Kinara did the same. “But our cubs - unlike yours - have not yet seen the lands, nor have they been taught anything by their father and our leader. And we do not get the same breaks as you do.”

More lionesses growled out in agreement.

“Breaks?” snarled Kinara suddenly, her fur bristling. “Breaks?! You think I get breaks? Well I’m sorry to disappoint you, my pride-sister, but I get no more breaks than Tambi himself!”

With that she stalked off. Tikala and Pimdi were lying and watching, ears perked and eyes wide.

“Watch her leave.” snarled another nurse accusingly. “And reacting like that in front of her cubs.”

The nurse glided quickly over and cuddled up with Tikala and Pimdi, who accepted the action rather awkwardly.

~~~

Kinara waited patiently at the territory’s southern borders. Her eyes were open, and her ears perked while her fur bristled. Finally, she jerked her head up to abrupt movement in the distance.

“Sumbra.” she muttered.

Finally, the lion had approached her closely enough. “Kinara,” he gasped, trying to catch his breath. When he had, he continued with, “I told him everything you did. But he says he has something special for us to do tonight.”

“Do you know what?” she quickly asked, frowning.

“Not at all.” he answered truthfully. “But we must show back there before the sun falls completely.”

“Alright.” Kinara gravely replied. “I will.”

“As will I. But for now…just stay in your territory and protect your cubs.”

The lioness was momentarily speechless, before she nodded in agreement.

When the moon had finally risen, they met back up at the same area.

“You ready?” he asked, bracingly.

She nodded, and they continued on.

Once near the Red-Pool pride’s barren lands, Horo presented himself from a nearby thicket. He stood between the two “rogues” and his own lionesses.

“Ah, if it isn’t my two messengers.” he chuckled. “Sumbra, the worthless loner, and Kinara, the continual half-cub.”

He waited for either to reply; neither reacted.

“Alright, alright.” Horo finally said seriously. “You two have come to begin my final action in this…delay of ours.”

“And what action or delay would that be?” Kinara asked, before she could help herself.

Luckily, Horo only replied with a smirk, “A big one, young lioness. If it is true that a second male lion lurks in the lands of the White-Feather pride, then I must know everything about him. Bring me all information possible about this zebra dung. Am I understood?”

“Yes.” Sumbra muttered and Kinara nodded.

“Good. Now rest near the pride and help yourself to last night’s kill.” Horo offered gruffly, turning his back on the two.

Kinara turned to smirk at Sumbra, who just frowned back. Once Horo had departed, Sumbra hissed, “You’re gonna get us killed!”

“Get us killed?” the lioness mused. “I just scared at the Red-Pool pride’s leader and got us a free meal.”

Sumbra only heaved a grave sigh in response.

By the time night became day, the two “rogues” had wandered back to the White-Feather pride’s territory once more, and they enticed Tambi with a conversation about the whole situation. Together, the trio sat near the northern side of the Great Knoll. They were away from the nursery and the nurses on the southern side, while several of the lionesses were already gathered in the plains, gossiping about last night’s hunt, and adolescents and sunbathed with either cubless young lionesses or others taking the day off.

“The best thing that’s come out of this is that Horo thinks there is another male.” stated Tambi firmly.

Rolling her eyes, Kinara replied to her leader, “I told you he would.”

“And a good idea at that, my pride-member.” he replied, rather gruffly. “But now that Horo thinks he exists, what is it you are to do?”

“Why are you asking us?” Kinara snapped, somewhat surprised. “You are the White-Feather pride leader, are you not?”

The lion grinned. “Male. Cub giver. Instructor in - not all - but several situations. Still, I am not what makes this pride up, Kinara. When will you learn that?”

Blinking in thin shock, the lioness questioned, “Then it is up to us?”

“Is it up to you.” he echoed with a nod. “I would just like to have the incite of it all before you reunite with that beast.”

“Understandable.” she said with a smirk. “As it is, I have not a clue what I am to say. But you, Sumbra?” Kinara then asked, turning to the other male.

Sumbra quickly straightened up, trying his best to look strong and important. “I don’t know, really.” he confessed. “But is it not obvious to give him the false idea of a powerful lion? Perhaps even more in number?”

“Don’t make it sound too farfetched.” warned Tambi with a frown. “Or he won’t fall for it. After all, there aren’t too many prides who have numerous lions; I’ve only heard about a couple in my own life, and but one that had more than two.”

Kinara turned and studied her leader and mate in interest. “Oh?” she curiously replied. “What pride have you heard of who had more than two males?”

Tambi sneered. “In truth I have only stumbled upon one other pride led by a duo; it was in my rogue-era - two littermates; they chased me away before you could say ‘Circle of Life.’ ”

“Then you lie.” Kinara hissed impatiently.

“You wrong me, my mate.” he quickly replied. “I said I had heard of one such pride; not actually seen them for myself.”

“What are you talking about?” snapped Sumbra; he quickly slumped at Tambi’s hard gaze

“What I am talking about, half-cub, is the known tale.”

“The what?”

Tambi and Kinara glanced at each other in widened eyes.

“You mean… you mean you haven’t heard of it?” he asked Sumbra in shock.

“Heard of what?” Sumbra snarled in irritation.

“The known tale.” Kinara said, copying Tambi’s words. “The unwritten legend. It’s… it’s why even to this sun there are prides out there that can be led by more than one or two males.”

Sumbra gazed wearily at the lioness.

“You haven’t heard?” she whispered, and he only shook his head. Glancing once more at her leader, she turned back to Sumbra and began with, “The story begins long ago, during the Sun-Rise Era. Supposedly, back then no pride had ever been led by more than one male. There was, however, a certain pride; a lioness within it gave birth to a litter of but three males; Rumba, Kigo, and Bindu. Now, all three lived a normal cub hood; they played and wrestled with each other and other cubs, stayed in a nursery, were weaned and learned to hunt, and were raised by a strong, proud pride. When they became half-cubs, their father was killed, and they were chased away by the rogue and new leader.

“These three also went through the same adolescence; they had a rogue-era when they traveled through the scorching savanna. The only difference was that they actually stuck together; they knew that being with more than one meant something; that is why lions stays in prides at all. So they stuck together, each one learning as they grew.

“Eventually, they came across a lone lion, just a few full-moons older than themselves. When the young rogue had seen that the three brothers were still together, he laughed in their faces, and called them no more than cubs. Kigo and Bindu were offended enough to separate, though the firstborn, Rumba, told them to stay together; not only because it would help their survival, but because they were brothers. Still, the two youngest left, as did the rogue.”

“Where is this going?” growled Sumbra lowly.

Somewhere.” assured Kinara. “You just sit and listen.

“Anyway, for a while, the three brothers lived on their own. By the time they had each grown full manes, they stumbled upon a stranger-pride; the Star-Light pride.”

Sumbra waited, but Kinara scowled. “Oh! You haven’t heard the Star-Light pride? The Star-Light pride?!”

He shook his head. Tambi just grinned at the whole thing, silent.

“The Star-Light pride is said to have been one of the most powerful and strongest prides the savanna has ever seen.” explained Kinara impatiently. “That is mostly due to their leader, Ginabi which - let me guess - you haven’t heard of before.”

Again, Sumbra shook his head.

Rolling her eyes, Kinara replied, “I shall not tell Ginabi’s legend, for it is a story within a story. The only thing I will say is that Ginabi is a legendary lion; he is thought of as high as the Kings and Queens; as the Gods and Goddesses. He is as strong and powerful as them, too.

“Anyway, what happened was, that the strangest part of it all, was that not only had the young rogue and Rumba stumbled upon the pride at the same time, but so had Rumba’s litter-mates. The young rogue told them he was to challenge and win against Ginabi, and takeover the Star-Light pride. The young rogue tried; and Ginabi ended up leaving his body for the vultures and hyenas.”

“Well this is a great story.” Sumbra sarcastically remarked.

Ignoring the comment, Kinara went on. “Kigo was then ready to take the great leader on, but Rumba stopped him. ‘How are you going to possibly fight him and win?’ Rumba had asked his brother. Kigo just said, ‘I don’t know. But I’ve got to try, haven’t I?’ Rumba told him, not if he knew he was going to die. The only way he and the others would win against Ginabi, were if they were to try something that no lion had ever done before. Of course Kigo and Bindu had not a clue; but Rumba explained that if they worked together to take down the leader, and used teamwork, then perhaps they could succeed.

“The three litter-mates agreed, and together, they fused their strengths, and took Ginabi down, winning over the Star-Light pride.”

“Who got to be the leader of the Star-Light pride?” asked Sumbra, somewhat curiously.

“Well, that was the only problem left.” Kinara replied. “The three brothers knew not what to do; were they to fight each other? Of course they didn’t want to. In the end, they settled down, and shared the pride together, all three using their skills together. After all, they had won the pride that way, and they might as well lead the pride that way.” Kinara finished up, proudly.

“And that is why some prides have more than one leader?” Sumbra then asked, not all the way convinced.

“Many lions and lionesses were inspired by the story, and perhaps that is why even this sun, more than one male is allowed to lead a pride.” Kinara snapped back.

“Then what is the point of this whole story, huh?”

Before Kinara could shout back at him, Tumba said quickly, “Perhaps this whole situation should be based on this story.”

“You want a life-threatening situation to be helped along by a cub’s tale?” huffed Sumbra.

You!” roared Kinara in rage, but Tumba quickly leapt between the two. “Stop!” he roared. Immediately the lions were silent. “We must stop this non-sense behavior now!”

Kinara glowered at Sumbra, while Sumbra just smirked back.

“Please.” pleaded Tambi. “Stop acting like cubs and let us figure out how we are to succeed.”

“How? By telling stories?” laughed Sumbra

“ENOUGH!” Tambi roared, just as Kinara was about to leap. She halted quickly, and Sumbra had ceased his laughing and remarks. “Look,” the White-Feather pride leader said. “You two must act like Rumba, Kigo and Bindu; act together; not against each other. If you act against each other, we will surely lose. Devise a plan, and when you are done, report it to me and, if it is reasonable, perform it. Until then, I don’t want to see any arguing or bickering.” He paused thoughtfully, then added, “We’ve already got enough cubs in this pride.”

With that, the lion turned away.

Kinara had snorted at the remark, and sat down to groom herself. “Cubs?” she murmured through licks. “Who is the cub? Before I convinced him to, you were not allowed within our borders.”

Sumbra watched curiously, still grinning. “Is that so? Well then I thank you, Kinara. Do you care that much about me?”

The lioness looked up from her spot, glaring. “Honestly? No.” she answered.

However, Sumbra did not mind. In fact, he found the situation amusing, if anything.

The two fumbled through several different thoughts and ideas. Only twice were they interrupted; the first came from a young lioness who wandered by, stopped with ears and eyes perked as she watched the two in shock, then took off quickly.

“Probably going to tell Tambi,” Kinara muttered, rolling her eyes and shaking her head. “What a real leader; doesn’t even tell the rest of the pride of your presence.”

“If he doesn’t soon, I’ll be chased out of here like a zebra.” Sumbra pointed out, and Kinara paused to think with an expression of amusement on her face.

The second interruption had come from little Pimdi, who had wandered away from the nursery, chasing after a flying insect. He stopped abruptly in front of his mother and the strange male, jaw agape.

“Pimdi,” Kinara started in slight surprise. “What are you doing here?”

Pimdi quickly shook himself from the crestfallen state, cocking his head at the lioness. “Mom, why’s that guy back?”

Sumbra smirked and Kinara shook her head. “He’s a friend, and we’re having a grownup conversation. Now, go back to the nursery.”

“But I wanna be part of it!” he protested with a mischievous tone.

“Pimdi, no.” Kinara firmly replied, then added, “It’s boring anyway. Now go back to the nursery, before I toss you out to that water hole where that pod of hippos lives.”

“Cool!” squealed the cub in delight.

Go.”

Groaning, Pimdi slowly padded back around the Great Knoll, ears and tail low as he frowned at the ground.

“There you are,” hissed Bayna in relief as he returned to the nursery’s edge. “I thought I’d lost you. Your mother would have killed me.”

“No she wouldn’t. She’s right over there with some weird lion.” Pimdi explained, pouncing back in the safe, sunken grounds.

“Yes. Your father’s been explaining about how he had his friend visiting this sun.” Bayna replied, licking Pimdi’s head.

“Then why can’t I talk to him?” huffed the cub gloomily.

“Maybe you will later. Stay here for now, though.”

“Pimdi! There you are!” a young voice called, and Naku came running over, Patishi beside him.

Bayna watched in interest, but quickly left the cubs, padding away to lie in the shade of an umbrella tree near a couple other nurses.

“Where were you?” asked Naku quickly.

“Out playing.” Pimdi answered truthfully. “But I ran into Mom and that lion again.”

“What? Really?” Naku exclaimed, a spark of curiosity in his voice now.

“Yup. I dunno what they were doing, though. Just talking.”

“About what?”

“I dunno.”

Patishi suddenly said, “Mother’s been talking about another lion, too. She said something’s up, but even Father won’t tell her. The only one who knows anything really, besides Father, is your mother.”

“Yeah. That’s why you should’ve hid and listened, instead of exposing yourself.” snapped Naku.

“What? You want me to be snoopy?” sneered Pimdi.

Both his brother and Patishi replied at the same time, “Exactly!”

“It’s just like hunting.” Helalu’s daughter exclaimed. “Be aware and stay hidden at the same time.”

Pimdi rolled his eyes at the lecture.

“It’s not like we’re supposed to be listening in anyway.” he defensively replied.

“You were the one who wanted to follow Mom in the first place!” Naku hissed.

“Yeah, for fun! Not for a stupid investigation.” Pimdi went on, then added, “I’m done. This isn’t fun anymore.”

As the lighter of the two brothers turned to pad away, Naku watched with a glare.

“I can’t believe him.” Naku snarled, kneading the ground. “Zebra - hyena… I hate him!”

Patishi’s soothing voice cooed, right next to him, “Don’t worry. I’ll help you.”

In abrupt gratefulness, Naku turned to the other cub and forced a weak grin.

~~~

“The male is strong.” said Kinara to Horo. “He stalks the White-Feather pride’s easternmost lands. Nevertheless, he is powerful.”

“I don’t need to hear praise about this zebra dung.” growled Horo warningly, grooming himself as he lie in the sun’s scorching heat. “I have you and Sumbra running about the two territories to find out what his weakness is. Got that?”

Kinara nodded solemnly, as did Sumbra, who stood silently beside her.

“Good. Then march back and discover it for me.” Horo then yawned.

The lioness turned to Sumbra with raised brows. He returned the expression, gave a gesture like shrugging, then turned, and began back to the White-Feather pride’s territory.

“No. Wait.” snarled Kinara loudly, causing both males to perk in curiosity. She quickly noticed and regretted her sudden change in behavior, and said, “I mean, Leader.” as she turned to Horo again. “With all due respect, I don’t know what you mean by ‘weakness.’ Especially this lion. I mean, this lion is strong. Very strong. He’s like…like…”

“Like Ginabi.” finished Sumbra abruptly.

Horo raised a brow to Sumbra. “Ginabi?”

Kinara and Sumbra were silent, waiting.

“You mean the Ginabi?” the Red-Pool pride finished, then began to crack up. “Tell me, you zebra calves, what lion could even compare to Ginabi?”

Kinara stood, an intense wave of dark gloom and fright washing over her inwardly trembling body.

“Perhaps,” she finally continued. “It is an exaggeration. But still…”

Horo said nothing for another long, deep moment, before he gave a curt nod and turned away.

Quickly the two lions took off to the south again.

“How could you say that?” snarled Kinara as she ran.

“Say what?” Sumbra defensively snapped back.

“Say he’s like Ginabi! Ginabi! No one, not even Horo - and he knows that - comes close to Ginabi! Do you know what this means?”

“It could mean that we’ve frightened him enough to scare him off completely.” Sumbra suggested, somewhat cheekily, though he knew his grave mistake, and the doubt and regret in his voice were easily recognizable.

Then, Kinara had leapt. Sumbra roared out, falling to the earth, their bodies entangled and limbs outstretched as they rolled on the ground.

“My whole pride could be in danger!” Kinara abruptly yelled in his face as she stood over him, claws kneading the ground. “My sisters! My mate! My cubs!”

“They’ve always been in danger, Kinara!” Sumbra roared back, but did not dare move. “Ever since he came! What I just did-”

“Was stupid and ignorant, and just made matters worse!” she interrupted.

“But it also might give us a chance!”

“A chance? Us?” and she shook her head in disdain. “You know not what it is to be part of a pride, Sumbra - a family. And now, with nothing to lose, it does not matter what you do in life.” She climbed off him, steadily padding away and not looking back.

“But, Kinara - Wait!”

Sumbra stumbled up and leapt in front of her, fur bristling.

“I’m still with you and your pride. You and the White-Feather - it’s all I’ve ever really known.” he desperately explained. “I didn’t mean-”

“Mean what?” Kinara hissed. “To make Horo so interested, you know he’ll come looking for a fight? He was the cub that brawled with all the rest - that found quarrels as fun to watch as it was to participate. And to hear of such a lion - a lion that can be so strong - so incredibly strong that it’s unbelievable - as strong as Ginabi - it’s like bringing…. bringing a bee to honey, or a hungry crocodile to a dead antelope that rests on the river’s bank.”

Sumbra frowned, and Kinara looked away, then added, without making eye contact, “You have done what I thought was impossible, Sumbra; you have made things worse…and damned my pride…” Her words trailed off softly, and she finally looked up again, but passed him, and she trailed onward.

The male watch over his shoulder, an unforgiving regret forming in the pit of his stomach. What have I done? he thought miserably.

~~~

The next day rolled by deliberately. Sumbra lie in the crisp, golden blades of the savanna - alone. He sighed, listening intently to the world around him. It did not matter now what he did, for he had done it - the worst. He had damned an innocent pride to its doom - one of which he had a soft spot for - or at least, a lioness who resided within it.

Kinara, he thought longingly, his eyes only half opened as his chin rested on his forepaws. I am sorry

Soon, the very lives of the White-Feather pride were to be destroyed - or at the very least, overtaken and nonetheless, enslaved, and it was all because of him. Right then, Kinara’s pride lie to his left - in the west - and Horo’s pride to his right - the east. The two were separated by a large area of land, and a small river that wound its way northward from the south. It was in that dry spot of earth near that oversized creek that Sumbra had found his home. Once abandoned by his birth-pride, he found no desire to take over another, and so settled down as an adolescent in that exact region. It was also there that he had first met the young Kinara - the lioness who had become his friend and closest part of his family. The bitter thought that she had her own family - always had and always would - consumed him, but at the same time, a deeper energy washed over Sumbra; he could see passed his own jealousy, into her heart. He’d have even taken her as a mate; it would’ve been the closest thing to leading a pride. If only the Kings and Queens of the Past had made it so… but they hadn’t.

Instead, he lie bitterly, alone, and numbed by the thought that he was leading Kinara and her family to a sour, unneeded end.

I can’t, a voice inside his head went on. I can’t just lie here and let it all unfold in front of me, without any involvement. I’ve done that too many times already - with my birth-pride, with the White-Feather pride when Tambi took it over even though I had so many chances, and now… I can’t.

Sumbra snarled at nothing, and abruptly stood, glaring at a nearby umbrella tree.

“I won’t let this happen…not again.” he muttered to himself.