I frowned, it seemed that the quiet feud for my love between the two lionesses would never end, and I was always in the middle of it. I had managed to walk the tightrope for a very long time; however, the tests continued and it looked as if this was another. The cubs all 'oohed' in unison, giggling at me in my plight. I struggled a little bit.
"Come now my dear lionesses," I said charmingly, "do we really have to go over this thing again?" Zalima nodded and Nalia looked over to Mohatu.
"Come over here son, help me tickle your brother." she said with an evil grin. The next few moments were spent laughing harder than I ever had in my life. Mohatu enlisted the other cubs to help him and for a while, I was laughing and giggling like a cub, begging for it to cease. Nalia and Zalima helped as well, giggling lightly as they nearly drove me to insanity.
"OKAY! OKAY! I GIVE!" I cried out between laughs. The cubs stopped tickling and the two lionesses looked at me anxiously. While I caught my breath, Zalima prodded me with a paw.
"All right dear, who do you love the most?" I smiled at her, suddenly getting an idea.
"I love....the cubs!" I laughed, grabbing Mohatu and tickling him. The cub giggled and squirmed to get away while the two lionesses sighed. They were not going to get an answer today, but they had other things to worry about. The cubs tried tickling them and suddenly there was a big tickle-fight going on right by the waterfall. Cubs versus adults, we battled back valiantly, having a good time. Suddenly, a small tawny figure moving a way away from the play caught my eye. Upon closer inspection, I recognized who it was. Politely slipping out, I managed to get away without disturbing the rhythm of the game.
"Hello Rama..." I said softly, coming up behind the depressed looking cub. He jumped, and in his eyes I could see red like he had been crying a lot.
"Oh! Hi Siombe," he said softly, "I..."
"It doesn't matter Rama," I said, cutting him off a little bit, "I know you're not supposed to be here, but if you came onto my lands against the will of your parents there must be something awfully important you wish to say." The cub plopped on his haunches, looking up at me sadly.
"I didn't know where else to go, who else might listen..." he purred softly. I sat in turn, wishing I could wrap a paw about him in comfort but knowing the trouble it might cause.
"What is it little one?" I spoke in a comforting tone. Rama sighed loudly,
"The new lion, Kumalo." I frowned slightly.
"Yes, what of him?" Rama looked down, sniffling a bit.
"He's...he's my uncle." The cub said, trailing off a bit. If he had not been so distraught, I might have thought to ask if it was a joke. But at the moment, I was so awestricken and surprised, that I could barely think of anything to ask at all. It was incredible, unbelievable, and a surprise I could not have predicted in a thousand moons.
"How did this happen?" I spoke softly. Rama sat and told me what had happened. It seemed that he was once part of Kumalo's pride. In fact, he was born into that pride. The pride was marked by it's dark fur, and Rama's lighter appearance gave the impression that he was to be the 'Bright Lion King', some sort of a savior to the pride. The current king did not like the idea, but Kumalo did. The pride was split over who would follow Rama later on, and who wanted him dead. A civil war of sorts ensued, during which Kumalo sent a messenger with Rama into the pridelands to keep him safe. Several moons had passed and Rama had an adopted family, now Kumalo wanted him back.
The story was very intriguing, filled with much emotion from the young confused cub. His parents had done everything in their power to make him believe the evil that male lions had possessed. Now, this new lion walks out of his past, and into his life. The poor thing was forced to decide between his adopted family, or a new life as the 'Bright Lion King' of Kumalo's pride. When he finished, he came over and snuggled into me, tearful and sad at his situation. I patted him gently on the back,
"So what now? What are you planning to do Rama?" he looked up at me.
"I'm going with him, I'm leaving Sola and Ah Puch." this came as a shock to me, considering how long he had been with them and how much he appeared to love them. The cub continued, "I saw how they treated you, and I see how mean they are now. So I'm going to be with him."
"Rama, you know that he killed Ignwe don't you?" He nodded.
"Yes but it was an accident, Ignwe was being annoying." I shook my head.
"No Rama, it is unacceptable for an adult to kill a cub. It would be as bad as me accidentally killing you. He is dangerous Rama." Rama stood, looking away.
"Its my choice Siombe," he said softly, "He won't hurt me, and I just wanted you to know so that we could possibly see each other again." I sighed, nudging Rama gently with my nose.
"Be careful, please. I don't trust him." Rama purred and gently batted me.
"I'll be okay Siombe." he said trotting out. I smiled after him. Perhaps there was still hope for him yet, even if the panther/lioness couple that had cared for him regarded me with odium. I glanced off to where I could still hear the laughter of the others, then watched the cub slowly slink off in another direction. I remembered when he used to play along with us, in the heat of battle having as much fun as any. It filled me with sadness to think of how his parents had taken that from him, and that he might be gone soon.
I trotted back over to where the rough and tumble play had worn out lionesses and cubs alike. The number of cubs draped over Zalima and Nalia gave away the results of the game. I smiled at the resting crew and then lay down within paws reach. Mohatu tottered over and lay on my paw, looking up cutely.
"Was that Rama who just went by?" he asked.
"Yes Mohatu, it was. He was just here for a friendly visit." I said, trying to smile. Mohatu smiled and went back to lie on Nalia, who received him with a warm but tired lick. Zalima looked at me, knowing better.
"Can you let me go for a moment little ones?" she purred, looking over her shoulder at the cubs on her, "I need to speak to Siombe for a moment." Although tired, the cubs slid off obediently, allowing Zalima to rise. She came alongside me and nuzzled gently, whispering in my ear. "Lets go somewhere we can talk." I nodded, and without a word we both went back towards the central valley. My silent and contemplative nature made her curious, and she head butted me several times.
"Wha?" I grunted. She frowned at me.
"You're obsessing again love." she chided, "We have this Kumalo thing under control, everything will be fine." I shook my maned head with a sad chuckle.
"I'm not worried about Kumalo dear, I'm worried about Rama."
"Oh? What about him?" Zalima said, somewhat sad. She knew about the events that had caused the rift between us, and did not approve of the outcome one bit. Inside, she felt that Rama belonged with me, but my unwillingness to take Rama from his adoptive parents quelled the idea quickly. I spoke on,
"It would seem, that he is related to Kumalo somehow. And he has decided to get away from Sola and Puch and live with Kumalo."
"Kings!" Zalima exclaimed. Her voice softened, "I must say I am glad to hear he has gotten away from that awful Sola but to go with such a dangerous lion? That doesn't sound like such a good idea."
"And furthermore," I added, "it could pit me and this pride against Rama, and I really don't want to do that." Zalima nodded, pressing her ears to her head and nuzzling me softly.
"We'll get through this. Rama is a good cub and I don't think that even Kumalo could do anything to that. Besides," she giggled a little, "you have your own cubs on the way to worry about." I smiled at Zalima a little bit. She had told me a while back that cubs were on their way. Our efforts had not been in vain and for that I was happy.
"I know love," I purred returning the sign of affection, "I really care for Rama still, even if I can't be with him." She nodded to me, with a knowledge that was greater than I knew. She could feel my pain when I talked of him. She knew that deep inside, I wanted Rama to be with me. He was the son that I always wanted, but never had. We sat, nuzzling and grooming each other in silence before a spotted cat came running up to me at top speed.
"Sire! I have news!" Ntchwaidumela called out as he approached. Both Zalima and I sat up, pushing our ears forward.
"What have you found out Ntch?" I asked, not sure what I was hoping he would say. Ntch took a moment to catch his breath.
"Lots," he started, "primarily that Kumalo has a superiority complex. He thinks that any species other than lion is inferior." I nodded, making a note of that, "Well, I also found out that he is staying on Naiko's lands." This caused my eyes to narrow a bit, very suspicious whenever Naiko was mentioned. "And, he has been seen lurking about Pride Rock and awful lot, since Chaka's death." My face, along with Zalima's exploded into a look of extreme shock and surprise.
"Chaka's dead?!" Zalima exclaimed. Ntch nodded sadly,
"Apparently in his sleep," he sighed, "I thought you would have heard by now Siombe, I'm sorry..." At the moment I was too shocked to be sad, and motioned him to continue with a sigh.
"It was his time I guess." I mused softly to myself. Zalima leaned over and nuzzled my mane supportively.
"Did you know that Rama is going around with Kumalo?" Ntch said worriedly, "I have no idea what he did to the cub but-"
"I'll explain that later Ntch," I said, cutting him off, "What else?" Ntch settled his body, his tail playing about his paws.
"Last I saw, he was heading alone with Rama to Naiko's lands. That's all I have at the moment." I hesitated a moment, trying to put two and two together. A notorious lion, in my eyes at least, who was after Pride Rock all the time. Another lion, more obviously sinister and evil, who had suddenly begun hanging about Pride Rock and who lived on Naiko's lands. Suddenly, it clicked, and I raised my head slowly with recognition.
"Why didn't I see this sooner?" I scowled to myself. Zalima and Ntch looked at me, curious as to what I had figured out. "Ntch," I said, looking to him quickly, "is it possible that Kumalo could be working for Naiko?" He blinked, then nodded.
"The thought never really crossed my mind-"
"And is it possible," I reasoned, "that Kumalo could be trying to claim Pride Rock in order to give it to Naiko?" Ntchwaidumela nodded solemnly, seeing what I was getting at. I rose quickly, glancing to Zalima, "Inform Nalia of what has just happened and keep the guard up." I said, running off. Zalima blinked and stood,
"Where are you going Siombe?!" she called after me, "Siombe!!" I heard nothing. Another hunch crossed my mind that I kept to myself. If Kumalo detested non-lions so much, then his only concern with Rama might possibly be to get him away from Sola and Puch. And in that case, once his point was proven, he might even go so far as to get rid of him. The two going alone to Naiko's lands was bad news. I knew it would be trespassing, I knew it might be dangerous, but I had to get to Rama before it might be too late.
I raced out of the valley, running faster than I thought possible for a lion of my size. It was as if driven by another force, something greater than me was pushing me to the limits. Even the sun, in it's radiant orbit, begged me to hurry, as if life and death hung in the balance. Upon reaching Naiko's lands I looked about, trying to find any sign of the pair. Seeing none, I tried to sniff them out, Kumalo's evil scent was unmistakable. Just when I began to pick up a trace, a cubbish scream reached my attentive ears. My eyes opened wide at that moment, recognizing who it was. I tore towards the sound.
As I stepped into the cavern, my shadow reached out and tapped the lion on the shoulder. Kumalo was standing over Rama, who was huddled in the corner with a fresh wound on his side. The dark lion had apparently been tormenting the young cub, for I could hear him crying softly in the background. The entire cavern had an evil scent. Rama looked past Kumalo to the entrance.
"Siombe! Help!" he called. At the sound of my name, Kumalo whirled around, his face set in a vicious growl.
"Mind your own business Ruler Siombe. What I do with my son is of no concern to you." Rushing in quickly, I rammed Kumalo in the side, sending him sprawling away from Rama.
"But what you do to my little friend is." I snarled, before glancing down to Rama. "Are you okay Rama?" He nodded, whimpering a little bit about how his side hurt. Suddenly, he looked to my side shocked,
"Look out Siombe!" he cried. I didn't even take a look. Spinning as fast as I could, with claws extended, I whipped my paw about full force and caught the smaller lion on the head. He grunted, whirling a bit to the side and crumpling to the ground, very much dizzy. I stepped over him, unsure whether I should finish him or not. Glancing to Rama, I decided his wounds were more important at the moment.
"Hang in there Rama," I said, taking him gently into my mouth, "Everything will be okay."
I brought him back to Amathambo's healing island. Although he had claimed to have given up healing, his natural healing instincts took over as he tended Rama's wounds. I myself, was feeling thankful just for arriving on time. Thambo finished, and looked to me.
"Thankfully, it's nothing serious. It should heal in a little while." he nudged Rama, "See if you can get up little one." The cub rose and padded around a little, eyes following the ground silently. I folded my ears back slightly. I felt bad for him, especially since someone he had just begun to have feelings for turned on him. Thambo smiled a little, and bounded into his tree for an afternoon nap, leaving Rama and I alone. After a few moments of walking about, Rama plopped to his haunches and began sobbing. I nuzzled him softly.
"Are you going to be okay Rama?"
"I can't believe he turned on me," he sniffled, "why does everything I care about always get taken away?" I sighed, hearing this. I had asked the same question of myself several times before.
"Rama," I said, speaking softly, "I...I cannot give you an answer for that. But things sometimes get worse before they get better. Just be glad that the worst is over." The cub looked at me and I licked the tears from his eyes. He looked back forward with a sniffle, and stood.
"I...I guess I should get back to my parents." he said softly, like he really didn't want to go. At this point, I could have allowed my selfish side to take over, and attempted to get Rama to stay with me. It was, after all, something that could have made us both happy. But for a moment, I was a bigger lion and nuzzled him supportively.
"I guess I can expect a reprimand for saving your life then hmm?" I asked jokingly. Rama nuzzled my foreleg.
"Thanks for saving me." he purred meekly. I paused for a moment, then put a paw around him softly.
"You...you don't believe all that stuff your parents told you about me being evil?" I asked.
"Siombe," he said, looking into my eyes, "I was wrong to believe them when they said that. I see what you've done for me and I can never repay you." his eyes softened, looking to the ground then looking back up at me, "Whatever happens, I want you to know that I respect you, and I am thankful for all you've done." Then, with a nuzzle of gratitude, he went back to New Pride Valley. I watched him go, in silence. I hadn't noticed how misty my own eyes had become.
The next day, after my morning rounds, I went back to the central valley to relax. Earning Rama's respect again was a pleasing thing to me, even amongst the trouble that was going on. I grumbled slightly, wishing Kumalo's scent would leave the paw I struck him with. It lingered with unnerving strength, and it was beginning to make me uncomfortable. A sob in the distance caught my attention, and turning I could see Zalima and Nalia trying to comfort a cub. Ntchwaidumela was also there. Upon closer inspection, I could see it was Taltari, Chaka's adopted son. He was obviously upset. With a sigh, I approached, catching the last part of the conversation.
"-and now..." he sobbed, "he's claimed Pride Rock as his own." I blinked.
"Who is this?" I asked, coming to sit down. Nalia looked over at me gravely,
"Kumalo has taken Pride Rock, Siombe." These words hit me like a ton of bricks. My hunch was right! And now that corrupt cat was ruling over Pride Rock. I frowned, visibly distressed by this.
"No challengers?" I asked, causing Zalima to shake her head.
"There's no one to stop him, he has the entire lands in a state of confusion." she said. I paused, trying to sort through the mess of information that had just come into play. So the lion had done it. He had taken pride rock in the absence of the king. It was a perfectly acceptable thing to do, considering that there were no challengers. Still, if he was working for that imperialist Naiko, then they could begin to expand in new directions like never before. But as long as he had Pride rock to rule over, there was no danger to my pride. What could a lone lion do? I glanced at Ntch,
"What is the situation?"
"There is some new disturbing news sire," Ntch began, "I have heard Kumalo boasting of a large pride en route to meet up with their king. But it is only a rumor." My ears pushed forward in worry. If he had a pride on the way, and a large one at that, who knows what he could order them to do? But was that worth me challenging for Pride Rock?
"If it is merely a rumor, I don't think it is worth challenging him for Pride Rock over." I glanced down to the crying cub and nuzzled him softly, "I'm sorry Taltari, about your father." The cub sniffled and shook his head. Nalia spoke softly,
"He was the one that found his father's body Siombe. It's been rough." I winced, thinking back to my own father's death. Closing my eyes, I looked to the side.
"How terrible..." I said, accidentally saying it aloud. My words caused the cub to break into tear-filled mumblings,
"You just don't know," he cried, "I mean I just walked out of the cave and there he was lying on the ground all still and silent and he smelled all funny..." he broke off, tearfully. I don't know why, but when he mentioned that he smelled funny a light bulb went off in my head. Was it possible? I pressed on a little,
"When you say he smelled funny," I purred, "what do you mean funny?"
"I mean not like he usually did," Taltari whined. I paused, holding out the scented paw to him.
"Did he smell like that?" I asked. The cub took a sniff and jumped away from me.
"Yeah! How did you...?" As soon as his affirmation came, I closed my eyes in disbelief.
"Incredible..." I whispered. Nalia looked at me worriedly
"What is it son?"
"Remember how I told you about what happened with Rama yesterday?" I asked, receiving nods all around, "I had decided to sleep outside because Kumalo's scent was still on my paw. And if Taltari recognizes that scent as his..."
"The he killed my dad!" Taltari cried out. Silent, incredulous looks were exchanged between the group. Ntch looked at me, with a bit of a smirk.
"Is that enough to challenge Kumalo?" he asked. But I was barely listening. Kumalo murdered the one lion who stood out to help me when I needed it most. It was more than killing a friend, it was like killing another father. I virtually seethed with rage at the audacity, the impertinence, and the brazenness of the act. I glanced about, realizing the silent anticipation for my decision. I didn't keep them waiting much longer.
"Tell the lionesses love, we'll move on this soon." I said speaking to Zalima, "Nalia, see that the cubs are brought to a safe place. Ntch, you see what else you can find out about the situation." Zalima ran off, roaring a call of gathering. Nalia collected Taltari in her mouth, and carried him off to a safe spot in the central cavern. Ntchwaidumela started off, but I called him back. "Ntch, do me a favor." He looked back.
"Get Thambo for me please, I need to talk to him." The leopard nodded, taking off towards Thambo's healing island. I sat, deep in thought and very much upset. I could never have guessed that the lion that I had met just a few days ago would almost kill one cub, kill another and a king, and then take over a neighbor's lands. I sighed visibly, before a short, weasly voice caught my attention.
"Ahem." A meerkat spoke with a mysterious grin. I glanced down and frowned.
"What are you doing on my lands Saratex?" I growled. Saratex grinned, the troublesome thing. This meerkat was renown throughout the pridelands as a master of poison darts. He was not only annoying, but dangerous to boot. I had banished him from my lands a long time ago, and how he had gotten in was beyond me. The meerkat produced a rabbit from behind his back.
"I came to apologize for all the rotten things I've done to you and your pride. I've heard about this Kumalo fella and wanted to let you know that I'm behind ya all the way." I blinked, visibly suspicious. An apology from Saratex was almost like a bath from a hyena. It just didn't happen.
"Why are you doing this now?" I asked skeptically. Saratex sighed,
"The times are new lion," he started, "and dangerous. If I'm going to die, I don't want to go knowing that I had big enemies." I couldn't help but crack a smile. He had been good about staying away, and I had heard much of him changing his ways. I leaned down and sniffed the rabbit. It smelled safe enough, much like one I had caught the other day. I took it in my mouth and began to bite at it.
"This is good Saratex." I nodded approvingly, "I'm glad to see that you've learned the error of your ways." Suddenly, I took a bite and something hard jabbed into the roof of my mouth. I roared and quickly flicked it out with my tongue. To my horror, it was a large thorn. "You!" I boomed, pinning the meerkat under a paw.
"Surprise, Siombe!" Saratex grinned, "Courtesy of your good friend Kumalo." If I had the energy, I would have crushed the meerkat under my paw, but suddenly the world began to fade in and out. I couldn't seem to control myself, and suddenly toppled to the side with a grunt. I saw Saratex skitter from under my paw, and wave to me with a laugh before running. I growled lowly, unable to make any other sound. As the world faded out, I resigned myself to my fate sadly. The way my insides burned I knew I was dying. I found myself wishing the agonizing torment would end, and I could be at peace. Perhaps, just perhaps, I would get to see my father again.
"Is it done?" the dark lion asked, glaring down at the meerkat. Saratex stood up a bit straighter
"Yeah, it's done Kumalo." Saratex sniffed at himself, "You can still smell his scent on me." Kumalo leant down and sniffed the meerkat. It was true, Siombe's scent was strong. He laughed a grave, hideous laugh and stood. Saratex chuckled along nervously, unsure what was so funny. Kumalo walked to where the light streamed in from the front of Pride Rock. His ascent had been easy enough, there were no challengers except a heckler named Kilinge who was of no concern to him.
"Excellent." Kumalo mumbled to himself. Saratex, in his usually annoying fashion strode up to Kumalo.
"So uhh, what did you want Siombe gone for anyhow?" he asked. Kumalo snorted derisively at the meerkat, causing him to fall back a little.
"I am not obliged to tell you anything meerkat." He said morbidly, loading his words with disdain and anger. A sudden smirk crossed his face, and he glanced at Saratex, "But I shall make an exception this time."
"Oh...uhhh..yeah?" Saratex said, taking a step back. Kumalo looked down on the nervous meerkat with a dark glare.
"Oh most certainly," he began, "You see, my initial mission was to gain Pride Rock for Naiko. The poor lion wanted it sooooo badly." he elucidated in a voice dripping with sarcasm, "I volunteered to take it for him, on the condition that I have his old lands." Kumalo turned and looked up, "The bully wanted it for nothing, and tried to cow me with his impressive strength. So I played the fool for him and let him think he won." An evil grin crossed his muzzle, "But I'm one up on him you see, for I have a large pride en route to these lands. A strong one which will obey my every beck and call. And when they arrive, I will oust Naiko and his sleepy pride into oblivion." Saratex was taken aback at this, but pressed on.
"So umm, what does Siombe have to do with that?" Kumalo glared at Saratex, giving him a visual warning not to interrupt again.
"You see meerkat," he started, "Naiko warned me of Ruler Siombe and his pride. He noted that Siombe had foiled him before in a past attempt, one which had left his pride temporarily in ruins. He had to be eliminated, in order to take pride rock and finish this job." Kumalo grinned at Saratex, "And for your dubious assistance, you shall be rewarded..." Saratex brightened up.
"A reward eh? Sounds right up my alley." A brief flash of anger came over Kumalo's features, but it was very quickly replaced by a smug smile.
"Yes, one which I think you will find most satisfying." Saratex jumped over in front of Kumalo.
"What is it? What is it?" He asked, getting excited. With a quick motion, Kumalo lashed out his paw and swiped the meerkat's throat. Saratex made a gagging sound and sunk to his knees. In the next moment, Kumalo ripped his chest and belly spilling the meerkat's insides all about the cavern floor. The lion snarled at the now dead meerkat.
"A one way trip to oblivion." he said deeply under his breath. The lion did not usually take the time to consume inferior species, but there was a certain satisfaction this time. Especially when the bones crunched to pieces of nothingness.
I opened my eyes slowly, blinking to the burning sunlight. The sun was gently stroking the length of my body, rousing me with it's radiant beams. Suddenly, I felt a twinge of panic. Why could I not move my legs? I could barely move my neck! My eyes darting around, I gasped audibly for air, feeling as if I were trapped in some nightmare. Then, a dark but familiar face blocked the sun and peered down on me.
"Siombe?" I breathed a sigh of relief, hearing Thambo's voice. "How are you feeling?"
"Thambo..." I grunted softly, "why can't I move?"
"Don't try to," the panther said with the patience and kindness only a healer could have, "you had a really close call." I felt a tongue gently caressing the top of my head. The gentle purring indicated who it was.
"Shh," she quickly said, her voice filled with tearful happiness, "Zalima and I are here dear. Just rest and get better." I was later to find out that Amathambo had arrived with Ntch shortly after Saratex had left. The meerkat had been seen skirting about the lands and I confirmed the suspicion that it was his doing. The poison that he had used was very deadly and rare, but the superior healing skills of Thambo had saved me once again. The only side effect was that I was paralyzed temporarily from the head, back. I purred weakly, unable to do much else but lie there and let the effects wear off.
The next few days were packed with visitors. Kumalo's usurpation of Pride Rock had caused a mass exodus from the area. Animals of all species were leaving and seeking refuge from his rule. During the time, the Kopje Valley provided a home to many. The two queens kept good administration over the lands while I was trying to recover. They had taken me to my training grounds, where there was privacy and only a few could come and see me.
It was a good thing too, because I found myself very irritable in those few days. I was slowly gaining back use of my body, and by the fifth day I was able to walk about again. However what burned me up even more was what Kumalo had done. When I found out that Saratex was commissioned, and later killed, by Kumalo, it was probably a better thing that I could not move. I was outraged and appalled. He had stepped past the former limits; he had made a direct attack on me. It was every bit as serious as a challenge.
I was visited every day by the cubs, which, along with Nalia and Zalima, helped me keep my sanity. After gaining use of my body again, I had to train to regain my balance and form. The time paralyzed had stiffened and weakened my muscles. It was painful and it was a struggle, but my driving thought was of a dark maned lion, laughing in triumph over his accomplishments at Pride Rock. Often, Zalima or Nalia would step in to stop me when I started to overwork myself, or I became too aggressive while training. Discretion was an important lesson here, and they knew it. Facing smaller hyenas had not been a matter of speed and quickness more than strength. However in facing another adult male lion, everything would have to be in tune for me to emerge victorious. One day, while I was training alone, Dukat entered, now in his adolescence.
"What is it Dukat?" I sighed, looking off into the trees.
"When Siombe?" he asked, "When are you going to do it?" I shook my heavily maned head and turned to Dukat. He had not failed to ask, continually at that, when I was going to issue the challenge to Kumalo.