| I rose groggily
from my sleep, groaning as I lifted my mass from the
ground. The night had been harsh, cold, and my dreams
empty and frightening. With a scowl, I dragged myself to
promontory to greet the morning light. The lionesses had
been gone many hours before, taking with them my warmth
and comfort. However with the abundance of cubs about me,
I had hardly noticed until the wind passed unobstructed
through my tawny coat. I squinted as the dawn stretched
its glowing fingers over my lands and massaged the sleep
from my eyes. Usually the sun was a friend to me, and I
often looked forward to its greeting. This morning was
different. It carried a message, there was purpose in
it's shine. There was a sinister foreboding about the way
the shadows fled from the rising orb as it reached me
like a lingering darkness. Standing alone on the
promontory of the Kopje Valley, I observed this
phenomenon with my face hardening. Something dark was
about to happen. I could feel something ominous, deadly,
The Kumalo Saga
Twin roars ripped out across the lands, causing my gaze to shift downward. In this distance, a tawny spot of motion appeared, calling and beckoning to me. The unmistakable calls of my mate Zalima, and the queen mother Nalia indicated that there had been another successful hunt. I answered their roar with a powerful one of my own, pleased that they had shown such prowess again. Many moons had passed since I had become an adult and a true king; however, the times were fairly calm, with no serious threat arising that, with the help of my pride, I could not handle. I turned to the Central Cavern again, smiling in spite of myself.
"Cubs!" I called out in a soft but audible voice, "There has been another kill. It's time to eat." There was a general shuffling in the cave, and I heard the familiar sounds of cub-grunting as they arose to join me. My brother, Mohatu, scrambled out first.
"Oh boy! What is it this time?" he asked excitedly. I chuckled at his enthusiasm,
"From the size of it, I'd guess a Cape Buffalo. The lionesses have really been on a roll these past few hunts." Mohatu jumped up, and bounced around a bit, happy to hear it. He was a little over two years old around this time, and was very much excited. His fur was a bit lighter than mine, but only a shade. In our opinion, we differed as much as night and day, even though I loved him to death. He raced back to the cavern edge, sliding to a stop with his overly large looking paws.
"Isn't that great Jana?!" he called out to a doddering lioness cub who emerged from the cavern's mouth.
"That's just great 'hatu." she yawned with no extraordinary enthusiasm. I couldn't help but to smile at her. Kadjana was very cute when she was tired. Her ears would droop ever so slightly, like when she was pouting. But her little pink nose would scrunch up and wiggle in the cutest way imaginable. She was a very well proportioned cub, and would make a fine lioness. She already had a good pounce, and had proven decisively that she could stalk like few others. Her background was a mystery to us all, she had just appeared one day and Nalia had adopted her, as she often did with lost cubs. While I pondered who Nalia would adopt today, several more cubs emerged.
Dukat, who was also a little over two, came out followed by Iatana, Tanabi, and Maja. They were all a bit slow, but that was a blessing, considering how frisky they usually got. I smiled once more at them, purring softly so as not to snap them back to the real world too quickly.
"Time to go little ones." I said, and with that, began to descend the side of the kopje. Setting into an even trot, I headed towards where the lionesses' call had come from. While the cubs frolicked about me, finally waking up, I pondered the strange feeling I had received from my celestial friend. What could possibly be wrong? I thought back to the last hyena attack. They had endeavored to come into my lands and overrun my kingdom. Needless to say, they were driven out rapidly. I thought of Sola and Ah Puch, the strange couple. I had received a lot of needless grief from them, but it was beginning to pass. There was some debate over whether I was attempting to take their adopted son, Rama, away from them. Naturally, I denied it.
The only reason Rama had stayed about me so much, was because there were always a lot of cubs playing in my lands, I usually along with them. Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, they took my playful actions as an attempt to entice their son from their grasp. In my justifications to myself why I folded on the subject, I told myself that the panther/lioness couple was just paranoid because I acted as better parents to him than they did. I had already saved his life three times, receiving a firm reprimand from his parents each time for doing it. They believed it was their job to save their son, even if they were sleeping when the attacks happened. No matter to me, I cared more for the cub than I did the ravings of Sola and Puch. However, in an attempt to get him to go back to his adoptive parents, I lied to him, causing him to lose faith in a relationship that almost bordered on father and son.
Since then, he had not been around. His parents successfully filled his head with the belief that I was evil and meant harm to him. Such blasphemy burned by heart at it's core, but I refused to react. Better that he be with his parents, who loved him so much that they wanted him to hate everyone except them. I sighed audibly at this, eliciting a response from Dukat who was trotting close by,
"What's wrong Siombe?" I glanced to the side, seeing him as he went along. He a bit big for his age, but not so much. Dukat was another adoption of Nalia. He and his brother Haakona came along a while back. Unfortunately, Haakona was killed by hyenas, touching off a short war that ended in their defeat. But he was a dreamer, and his dreams (along with his mouth) got him in trouble. Dukat was no dreamer, but he had his brother's flair for causing trouble. This did not stop him from being a good listener though, and he often shared in my personal feelings. Not this time though.
"Nothing Dukat, don't worry about me." I said, flashing him a smile, "I was just contemplating my schedule for the day." Dukat grinned,
"Do I get to come along with you today?" I chuckled,
"Okay, but only on my rounds. I would not want you to have to listen to the boring king stuff that I have to do." Dukat grinned and jumped up a little,
"Thanks!" he said, falling back and playing with the other cubs again. I smiled, what else could I do? They were all quite cute, and although my cubhood days were long gone, I still enjoyed a good romp with them every once in a while.
Upon getting to the kill, I smiled widely at the wonderful hunting job done by the lionesses. Zalima was standing by the back of the downed buffalo, saving a spot for me. Nalia was at the head, smiling as well. The other lionesses, Mariah, Tefnut, and Ratha were all beaming as well. I gave them all approving nods, eliciting a smile from each. When the cubs arrived, I gave a short nod, and the feeding frenzy began.
Meanwhile, in a cave far into the Dark Valley, the lion Naiko rose. Looking around at his harem of lionesses, he grinned in smug self-approval. His pride had grown lazy in the past moons, keeping entirely to themselves, only visiting to make their presence known. He was a big lion, the only one in the pridelands that came close to my size. His coat was always neat and clean, the result of continuous baths by his pride.
While rolling about lazily to a more comfortable position, an odd feeling crossed over his mind. The peculiar stranger that had wandered into his lands was already gone. The lion chuckled deeply to himself, amused at the situation. If there was one thing Naiko could go down in history for, it would be for his covetousness of Pride Rock. He wanted those lands badly for some reason, but was too cunning to reveal that desire and ruin his almost untainted charmer image. And here came an opportunity to get what he wanted, the easy way. All he had to do was wait, and perhaps the agreement made the previous night would prove more fruitful than he ever imagined.
At the same time as Naiko's awakening, I was already in the process of making my way around the outskirts of the Kopje Valley. It was easy to mark my territory, being at the bottom of a valley gave me a nicely rounded edge to signal where my lands ended and began. There was only one easy, meaning non-deadly, way into the valley. That way, was through a worn trail that my pride had used for as long as we were there. It came down into the only side where the Valley had an ideal slope for walking. It was always open, except to hyenas and those who might do some harm on my lands.
Dukat was skirting along my side, talking incessantly about the pouncing game that the cubs had after the great meal. Mohatu, Kadjana and Iatana were up against Dukat, Tanabi and Maja. The battle was fierce, according to him for I was not listening at all, and a lot of fun. He had just gotten to the point where he and Tanabi had pinned down Mohatu and were tickling him into giving up when a leopard came running up to me from the center of the Valley.
"King Siombe!" he called, entering into view. It was Ntchwaidumela, my messenger, with news already. He was a normal looking leopard, loyal as any I had ever had work for me. Ntch, as we called him for short, did his job well and was very efficient. However he seemed a bit distressed as he came over this time, "We have a visitor, at the trail." I looked at him curiously,
"Who is it?" Ntch came to a stop next in front of me and shook his head,
"It's not a normal visitor. It's a lion, one I have never seen before." I felt my eyes widen slightly, and my body tense. Lions do not make a habit of visiting other's lands. Not unless they are intending to takeover, or do some other deed. Courtesy calls were not common, and if this was an unknown lion to Ntch, then he was a newcomer to the pridelands. I spoke quickly.
"How many others are with him?"
"He is alone, but he wants to speak with the ruler of this valley. I told him to wait at the edge and came to get you." I raised my head and looked out towards the trail. Sure enough, a very prominent dark spot sat on the edge of my lands, sending a long shadow down into my valley. I shuddered involuntarily but covered it with a quick look to Dukat.
"Stay here Dukat." I looked to the leopard and began to trot down towards the edge, "Let's go Ntch." he nodded and fell into step behind me, both of us making a good pace until we reached the edge. Too many thoughts flooded my mind. Why was he here? Who was he? What does he want and what is the purpose of coming alone? The answers did not come to me, for I had never had a situation like this occur before. They raced through my mind until I reached the top of the valley and HE came into view.
Mysterious. That was the word I thought of when I first saw him. Mysterious, yet attractive in some unknown and unseen way. His eyes maintained a dark green gaze that virtually burned with intelligence. His nose was well shaped and his muzzle, criss-crossed with faded lines of blackness. The dark, almost black mane he carried was very full, however seemed uneven and torn in some places. In looking over him he was not a large lion by my standards, perhaps as small as 450 lbs. Even with his smaller, lithe stature he carried himself with a finesse and style that made him seem arrogantly humble in it's own way. Upon my arrival he was sitting, his dark tail playing about his paws like a snake, his voice, smooth and enticing like that of a masculine siren.
"Greetings, Ruler Siombe." I nodded politely, speaking back in a sovereign tone,
"And to you visitor. What brings you to my lands." The lion stepped back and made a sweeping motion with his paw,
"Allow me to introduce myself, I am Kumalo," he smirked mysteriously, "a humble visitor." I nodded, impressed with his delivery but carefully concealing the feeling. "I seek passage into your lands, that I may explore and learn more of them." Learn more of them? Very peculiar indeed. Why would he wish to know more of my lands?
"For what purpose might I ask?" I replied calmly, "It is not everyday that I get leonine visitors merely for the purpose of exploring." The lion seemed displeased at my suspicion. I could sense it verily, but did not indicate that I could.
"Merely for the joy of exploration Ruler Siombe! What is simple exploration of lands between kings?" I frowned visibly, his answer being most disturbing and displeasing.
"Everything." I said slowly and deliberately, loading my voice with meaning. At this, the lion turned upon me the fiercest gaze of displeasure and animosity that I had ever felt before.
"You do not know what you have done, Ruler Siombe." he said, virtually spitting the last two words. Ntchwaidumela stepped up.
"You heard the king, leave lion." he snarled protectively. Kumalo rose slowly, glaring at Ntch darkly enough to make him fall back to my side.
"Control your servant Ruler, lest I be forced to do it for you." I rose in turn, trying to remain relaxed and appear calm in the situation.
"I have no servants here Kumalo. Ntch is a friend." The lion looked at me incredulously.
"A leopard? Your friend?!" he laughed aloud, a dark laugh that sent the birds in the nearby bush flying away, "A leopard as an equal, what a comical idea. not only do you insult me by not allowing me passage into your lands, but you treat inferior species as equals! Such an odd custom but after all," he said pausing for several seconds and looking about in a cryptic manner, "these are not MY lands..." he said slowly and mysteriously. The mere tone of his voice was angering, patronizing, and yet warning. I decided that I had had enough. Ntch snarled at him but I waved him back with a paw,
"Easy Ntch," I said softly before looking to Kumalo and speaking in an authoritative tone, "Leave my lands and do not return lion, or else I will expel you next time." Kumalo flashed a look of surprise at me, followed quickly by carefully concentrated anger that he made no attempt to hide. His words rumbled out, low and threatening.
"Mark my words Ruler Siombe, this insult will NOT go unresolved. You have sealed your own fate with your own mouth. This is not yet over." and with that, he turned and disappeared down the trail, walking at his own pace. Upon his departure I realized how cold it was while he was there. I felt my fur come to rest again from its temporarily raised position. What was that that had just threatened me? Was it a lion? Or was it evil incarnate? In his wake he had left me with an odd feeling, this smaller lion made me feel a twinge of trepidation and fear. Before I could put together the final opinions on the visit, a chilling roar of agony broke the stillness that had settled around me. Ntch turned and his face betrayed a look of horror.
"That came from Thambo's island!" he said as we both raced down the slope and towards the island. Amathambo's island was located in the middle of the Kopje Lake. Waterfall cliff spilled into the lake, making it a very scenic spot for the pride and a popular playplace for cubs. Amathambo made the island his own after a drought that formed a land bridge to it. I had no objections, the mist from the volcano kept his herbs moist and it was in a good central location in case I needed him. After Kwasi's death, he filled the void often as a male parent for me. He was an adept healer of hearts, and got a lot of work from the often depressed ruler of the Kopje Valley. I never saw him truly emotional before, but as we raced onto the island as fast as we could, Ntch and I could hear his tortured roars and see his body heaving with tears.
"Thambo!" I exclaimed, "What happened?" Tefnut, who had been trying to console Thambo with his nephew Hakkie, looked slowly at me, then motioned me over with a paw to the sobbing panther. I came over slowly, pressing my ears to my head, unsure of what had happened. He said nothing, but continued to look, unseeing, into his paws, pouring sorrow from his eyes. Leaning around him, I gasped in horror at what I saw. A small panther cub, no more than a year old lay lifeless in my mentor's paws, his side deeply bruised. On a second look, I could see that it was his son, Ignwe, that the healer was holding in his trembling paws.
I felt my eyes watering up. I had never heard Thambo sound as if he were in so much pain as in that moment. How horrible it must have been for him! A living legacy in healing, but he was unable to save his own son from death. It was too much to bear. I averted my eyes, trying to block out the vision of pain I was seeing. I turned directly into Nalia and Zalima, who had heard the cry and had also rushed down to the island.
"What happened?" asked Zalima in a worried tone. I padded over slowly and cheek rubbed her, then Nalia.
"Ignwe has died." I said in a sorrowful tone, doing everything I could to control myself. Both lionesses gasped in shock, seeming to droop before my very eyes into mournful beings.
"How terrible..." Nalia whispered with utmost empathy. We all knew Ignwe, he was like a second son to us all. His famous cubby grin was always as welcome as his father was around the lands. I turned to Hakkie and Tefnut,
"Who did this?" I said with my eyes foggy and my face hard. Looks were exchanged a bit before Hakkie came over to me. I looked down to the leopard cub. His usually bright and mischievous facade was overshadowed with a cutely serious cub-anger. The type I often remembered having when there was something I had seen and could do nothing about.
"It was a dark lion," he started, "Ignwe went over to get a closer look, and the lion smacked him away real hard." I started. Did he just say-?
"A big dark lion? Did he say his name?" I asked, getting a sad nod from Hakkie.
"He called himself Kumalo." The mere mention of the name caused me to shudder, partially with involuntary fear, and partly with anger that I had not done something when I saw him. However, the word had a peculiar effect on Amathambo, who suddenly fell silent after providing the background sound for this whole event. His sudden hush caused us all to look in his direction. He was still facing away from us, but slowly rose to his paws, lithe and aggressively like he had never done before. The panther turned his face on us, his eyes red from tears but narrowed to slits of intense anger. His voice was gravel, grave, and ghastly,
"*I* will kill Kumalo." For a moment we were all stunned. Kill was a not word in the famous healer's vocabulary. Or at least so we thought. Tefnut tried to calm him down.
"Amathambo, you shouldn't say that..."
"And why not?!!" he almost roared at her, sending her away from him. "You think that just because I'm a healer I can't do it? Well?!" I tried to step forward and calm him down.
"NO!!!" he roared at me, racing at his healing tree quickly. The next few moments were quiet terrifying because the panther, enraged with grief and anger, tore his precious healing grounds apart. While we stood by helpless (and almost afraid) to stop him, he slashed herbs, flung roots, and destroyed the tools of healing he so often used. It was a horrifying sight, and several times I was given a pleading look to stop him from the three lionesses. But no words I could utter would keep him from doing this. After what seemed like an eternity of fury he turned to us, wet-faced but still ensorcelled by the powerful forces that had taken control of him.
"From this moment on, to you, to the pridelands, and to all who dare ask me, I renounce the art of healing. I will have my justice. I will avenge my son!" After a simultaneous dropping of mouths, several gasps and voiceless rebuttals, his nephew Hakkie ran over to him, very much distressed.
"Uncle Thambo! You can't give up healing! You can't!" Amathambo looked down at Hakkie, cowing the cub with channeled fury. The two locked eyes for a moment, before the elder's softened, and he raced up into his tree, beginning to sob. Zalima slowly walked over to Hakkie and hugged him gently, purring to calm his frayed nerves. I walked over to the tree slowly, followed by Nalia. Looking up from the base, I could not see Thambo or where he was; but a slow trickle of saline water that dropped onto my nose from above indicated his presence. Nalia nudged my side,
"What now son?" she asked softly. I walked back over by the others with her, silent and my eyes following the ground.
"We have a problem." I said, looking up for a moment for guidance. Then something inside me clicked on, like a second set of instincts that had remained dormant. I had only met him for a short period of time, and this new lion Kumalo was already causing trouble. His murder of the pride healer's son was as much to me as an attack on the pride itself. A clear, and present danger that demanded attention.
"Tefnut," I said, turning to her, "find all the pride cubs and make sure they are on our lands. Leave no cub unfound. Tell them that they are not to leave the valley without supervision." she nodded and ran off. I turned to the queen and queen mother respectively, "Zalima, Nalia, I need for you two to set up rotating posts of lionesses at the entrance to our lands. I don't want anyone in or out unless personally authorized by me." They bent their heads in acknowledgment and ran down the trail. "Ntch, I need for you to go into the Pridelands and find out as much information about this new Kumalo lion as you can. I want to know anything and everything about him."
"At once sire." he said, taking off. I felt a paw touching my foreleg.
"What about me Siombe?" Hakkie asked. I leant down, giving him a short nuzzle, purring softly.
"Hakkie, I need for you to stay safe this time. Please don't go off trying to be a hero like you did with Kinjaro." The cub folded his ears a bit, nodding. I looked up to the tree, where I could still ascertain the slow run of water coming from its upper branches. "On second thought Hakkie, try to calm down your uncle. He is in a lot of pain right now..." Hakkie seemed to perk up a little at my new request. Glancing into the tree, he nodded, rubbing his body against me quickly before attempting to scale the tree.
After I was sure he had made up it there, I exited the island as quickly as possible. This had to be what my celestial friend was warning me about. It was obvious now, there could be no doubt. The challenge was issued and the lines were drawn. He wanted me, and now I wanted him. Yet even though the animosity between us was quickly rising to equal levels, I still had questions that lingered. Why me? Why now? And where did this mysterious nightmare come from? Looking off to the left of the land bridge, I saw Amathambo's healing things beginning to sink into the lake. If this lion was clever enough to make Thambo lose his interminable cool, then what else might he possibly attempt?
The sun rose again, and an aging King Chaka rolled away from his mate and rose with a great yawn. I was getting older, and around much less, but the quiet nature of the pridelands had not given him much to do besides receive diplomatic guests. He was the father of several cubs now, and very happy. Akinsanya was to be the next king, and Chaka's adopted cub Taltari, was bent on serving him. It was a pretty smooth deal. The old king lightly ran his tongue over the backs of the cubs, purring them back to sleep as they giggled and rolled about. He rose, smiling at them. It was time for his customary assessment from the promontory.
Chaka walked out, chuckling in spite of himself. There was nothing apparently that could ruined his day. Entering the main cavern, he turned and started towards the promontory. He had hardly gotten halfway to the exit when a cold chill blew over him, freezing him in his tracks. The old king's lion-heart ran faster, feeling something evil in his presence. He turned about slowly, meeting with a dark green gaze that burned fear directly to his heart. He sighed, trying to maintain his dignity.
"It's you again..." Chaka said resignedly. The eyes bobbed up and down in the motion of a nod.
"You know what I want Ruler Chaka." an evil voice rumbled from the darkness, "Today is your last chance." Chaka straightened up, looking back directly at the eyes.
"I am too old to stop you Kumalo. Do what you must, but remember," he said in a prophetic tone, "If you kill me, others will come after you." Kumalo stepped from the shadows, dark and ominous. He walked directly up to Chaka, snarling,
"You think your mealy mouthed words will stop me? There is more at stake here than you'll ever know, and my employer is very interested in these lands." he viciously cuffed Chaka's forelegs, sending to older lion to the ground in a heap with a grunt. In the next second there was no struggle, Kumalo suddenly had his paws positioned at Chaka's neck, and was slowly closing off the wind. The old king wheezed at Kumalo, not putting up much of a fight.
"You cannot kill me lion," he choked out under the unbearable pressure, "others will come...others will avenge." Kumalo laughed shortly, continuing to slowly torture the lion into oblivion.
"Do you truly believe it is that easy? There is not even a scar on you. Others will think you just collapsed here and died. It will seem as if it was completely natural, and then I can take this pride for him who wants it so badly." The lack of air caused Chaka's mind to race. Life had seemed so short, and it was to end in a few moments for him. He thought back to his cubhood days with his father Simba, he remembered growing up about pride rock, and he thought of more recent days with his family. Perhaps Kumalo was right, who could come after him? Mubiza, the elder lioness? Akinsanya and Taltari, just mere cubs who would be at Kumalo's whim? Kielee, the youthful lioness? They all came to dead ends, until his last thought produced his final possibility.
"Siombe..." he gasped inaudibly with the last bit of air he contained. In the next moment, he was still, and headed on his journey to meet the great kings of the past. Kumalo stepped back and looked at his doing. There was no remorse, no mercy in his eyes, but a sadistic pleasure that would make blood run cold. He turned, looking out to pride rock.
"Now for part two..." he said to himself, with an evil smile.
A chill washed over me as I sat at the base of Waterfall Cliff. It was unnatural, but perhaps just the mist coming off the waterfall. Amidst the playing cubs around the area, I had been thinking for most of the morning about yesterday's events. Hakkie had informed me that he had managed to calm Thambo down somewhat, although the sadness was weighing heavily on him. The lionesses reported no intruder attempts and all the cubs had been counted and accounted for. My only consolation this morning, was the thought that at least my pride was safe, and of course, Zalima and Nalia alongside me grooming the fears from my body.
Through all that was happening, it was therapeutic to watch the cubs at play. I chuckled as I watched the game of pounce-tickle, the cubs got more proficient every day. Sometimes the more simple things mean more when they are challenged, and at the moment, nothing seemed more beautiful, wonderful, or awe-inspiring than the cubs and my pride. Just as I was philosophizing about the value of cubs in a pride, Dukat came running over, sliding into my paws with a thump.
"Oof!" he exclaimed rubbing his head. I chuckled and nudged him to his paws.
"Having fun Dukat?" he nodded and batted at my paws.
"Come play with us Siombe!" he purred loudly at me. Upon hearing Dukat's suggestion, the other cubs disentangled themselves and came over.
"Yeah! Com'on!" they chortled with glee. I looked side to side at Nalia and Zalima, who began grinning widely.
"You have been awful uptight you know Siombe," Zalima purred.
"Yes son, loosen up and have some fun." Nalia chided. I smiled a little bit but raised a paw in respectful declination.
"Thanks for the offer, but I have too much to think about to play right now." I said, smiling at the cubs. This was not enough for Nalia and Zalima, who gave each other one look, then in unison toppled me to my back and held me firmly to the ground. I made a loud sound of surprise that sent the cubs rolling on the ground with giggles. I looked to Nalia and Zalima, who smugly grinned at each other. I couldn't help but laugh quietly at myself. "Good pounce you two. You can let me up now." The two lionesses shook their heads,
"Not yet sweetie." Nalia said, giving Zalima a grin.
"That's right Siombe, you have to tell us who you love more first."