Written In The Stars: Part 1
"Congratulations, Prince Dikembe! You will have a son!" There was a cackle of joy from the wizened female baboon. The young lion nuzzled closer to his mate, the lioness Misura, who had accompanied him. They had come to find themselves in Navati's cave, curious and a little concerned over the coming birth of their first born cub. As Navati chanted before the crackling flames of the fire, she motioned in the air and threw some ingredients into the dancing flames. A whiff caught Dikembe's nose, the cloying scent of something pungent, as if details of new life were to be found in the unmistakable odor of decaying vegetation and wet earth. The Prince's deep russet mane caught the reflected light of the fire and it shone with a brilliant reddish gold in the confined area. The light made the young prince's golden-brown pelt appear as bronze. Misura's fawn coat contrasted to that of her mate and an excitement filled the air and she felt a movement in her womb as her unborn cub made his presence known. Navati stopped chanting and stared intently into the dancing flames. Her eyes widened in surprise and Dikembe noticed; causing him to ask with a hint of fear in his voice, "Navati, what is it?" The old baboon's expression softened and she turned to face the prince and his mate. She moved to hug the pair of them, which caught them off guard. She chuckled to herself and motioned for the couple to follow her outside into the cool starlit night. She pointed up at the brightly twinkling stars which seemed more alive than they usually did for this time of the year. The concern that had reared its head at Navati's concern kept poking at the edge of Dikembe's thoughts. The old baboon noticed this and laid a reassuring arm on his shoulder and gently stroked his russet mane which appeared purple in the starlight. His unusually intense green eyes softened as Navati said, "Do not worry my prince. If I have caused you concern, that was not my intention. I only asked you both to accompany me out here to confirm by the stars what I have read in the flames. Truly your cub is extraordinary and he is indeed destined for greatness! My surprise is that he seems to be destined to bring two separate kingdoms together."
For a moment nobody said a word as the silent stars that marked the home of the Great Kings of the Past twinkled with more activity than normal. Navati's words were ringing in Dikembe's mind. Several expressions were crawled across the prince's face one at a time. He was a prince, a son of the king, but he was fourth out of five that were born. A thrill caused him to shiver in both fear and anticipation while disbelief clouded his mind. His mouth was dry, but at least he found his voice.
"Navati, what is it that you're trying to say?" The old shamaness let out a deep sigh and Dikembe could see that war that raged inside her in her eyes. She had proven herself to the royal family many times and her loyalty was beyond question. The prince was no fool; he could see there was more that Navati was holding back. She had been like a second mother to him and whatever the outcome, he would not press her to reveal any divinely revealed truth from the gods if he sensed she was not up to it.
A cold fear gripped Navati's heart as the war raged in her soul. She determined she would reveal the god's message, but only what she felt the prince needed to hear. With the Lady Misura in the delicate state that she was in, it wouldn't do to have him worried about future events. She took a deep breath and bowing her head, she laid hands on the prince and his mate. With tears in her eyes, she offered this blessing:
Unable to contain herself any longer, Navati was overcome by a sudden inexpressible joy and threw her arms around the copper colored mane of her sovereign. She turned towards Misura and embraced her likewise. With the joy came peace not before known and she quietly whispered, "My prince; my princess; Congratulations! As has been decreed by the gods, your son will be king!"
Misura felt the joy that just moments before had enveloped the shamaness as tears of joy and disbelief fell down her cheeks. Dikembe could only marvel as the old baboon's words reverberated through his mind, "...your son will be king!"
The night wind was singing a mournful lullaby; the moon a lone eye keeping silent vigil over the dense jungle foliage. The landscape was bathed in shades of deep sapphire and sable and the mournful wail of cricket-song echoed the pain in Dikembe's heart. His mind wandered back to that night in Navati's cave all those months ago at the news of his son's miraculous birth and then to just days ago and how she begged for forgiveness with her last breaths as she lay dying in his paws. She said that she was sorry that she had kept the whole of the god's message from him and now she was being punished for it. Or was she? She mused that the gods work in mysterious ways and that just maybe this was a blessing in disguise, saving her from future heartaches and rewarding her for all her years of hard work by taking her to live with them in Paradise. Laying the old shamaness's limp form carefully down, he whispered quietly to her, "Corazon." Dikembe had wept bitterly as she had drawn her final breath, hating himself for not being able to save her life, while she had given hers to save his and Misura's. He banished the thoughts angrily as tears threatened to well up in his eyes. The chill air of the night was cold enough that it burnt his lungs as he gulped in great heaves of air. A multitude of aches and pains were making themselves known through the various injuries that the prince had endured, but the weariness of soul that he felt dulled the sensations somewhat. Happening upon a crystal clear stream that dissected his path, Dikembe paused and stared at the sight that greeted him in return. His handsome face was bruised where he had been cuffed several times and a nasty gash ran down his muzzle. One of his eyes, his right eye, was swollen painfully shut. He glanced at each of his paws in turn and noticed, with horror, that they were covered in blood. This is the blood of my brothers and father, he thought. I have sinned against my family. Such a crime is unforgivable according to the law. The taking of life is horrendous, but what if it is in defense of another, helpless life? Have I damned myself beyond all redemption? I pray the Great Kings will be merciful. He waded into the water, its icy chill soaking into his bones. His various cuts and scratches protested as tender, bloody flesh was exposed to the cleansing liquid. The stream was shallow and with muscles complaining, he eased himself onto his back to wash away the visible signs of the actions he had taken in defense of his wife and unborn child. Wincing as the water washed over his swollen eye, the prince rubbed his paws together as the blood washed away. After a moment, Dikembe stood and shook the excess water from his regal frame and he hobbled to the secret place where Misura lay in hiding, great with child, and nearing the time for her to be delivered. There was a crack in the under growth of the forest and he tensed, ready to summon what little energy he could from his depleted reserves should he need to defend himself. Was it possible that the familial blood avenger had managed to follow him this far to exact revenge? Nerves singing, he was relieved to find a warthog piglet stumble through the brush. Ignoring the youngster's pleas for mercy, Dikembe turned away and followed the path of the moon. In the deep azure of the heavens, the stars that marked the domain of the Great Kings glittered coldly, dancing with light and the warmth of life. The desperation in his heart dictated otherwise, but Dikembe cast a forlorn look back towards the kingdom that he once called home. Far beyond the horizon, several days back, he could just see that pale red glow that still emanated from his burnt out home. The kingdom had been vast indeed and for days, the smoke of its destruction formed clouds that followed him and Misura and served as an ever present reminder. He thought he could hear the faint screams of the injured and dying carried on the late evening breeze; or was it just the fevered imaginings of his sorrow-laden heart?
At last he arrived at the thicket. He meandered his way through the barbs of the thorns and the brush he had managed to scrape up to serve as camouflage. A patchwork blanket of thorns provided a crude ceiling from the elements as moonbeams ran like rivulets of molten silver over their bodies. A single beam lit Dikembe's face, affording Misura a perfect view of his wounds. She gasped in alarm.
"No, no, my love. Do not allow yourself to become alarmed at my physical state. You are in a delicate condition. Our cub needs you to be strong." Closing the gap between them, Dikembe nuzzled his mate. Warm tears greeted him; not tears of pain, but tears of thanksgiving to the Great Kings and tears of joy at having been reunited with her mate. She collapsed into sobs as the tension that gnawed at her guts found release.
"Oh, Dikembe! My corazon. I feared that you were lost to me forever." Lifting a paw, she gently caressed his bruised and scarred muzzle. He shivered as she kissed him, her tongue making contact delicately with his face. She took a more submissive position, allowing him full access to her swollen belly. Lowering his head to her womb, tears of joy filled his eyes as he felt the miracle of life renewing itself stirring inside his mate. An odd sensation came over him and for the first time, he realized how cold he was. Dikembe huddle near Misura, allowing her to bury her head in his mane. He kissed her and whispered, "Corazon," as sleep claimed them both.
The End: Part 1