| I rolled my eyes to
the sky groggily as I awoke. The trip had been long, and
largely unsuccessful. Turning onto my back, I pawed the
air idly as the last remnants of sleep left my body. Had
it been three days already? And with so little success
when I had been so sure. It was very disappointing.
Still, every night, he was there, in my dreams, getting
stronger as I moved on. It was such a strong calling I
could not stop the basic urge to continue. And the payoff
would be the greatest part, if I succeeded that is.
Rising to my paws, I plodded on in silence, pondering
what I was getting into.
I took in the landscape slowly as it moved beneath me. The land was dark, a deep brown like overcooked savanna. Large hills rolled in the background; they flowed all the way up to my paws in one solid panoramic view. Nothing on either side for so far, it was an eerie feeling being alone again. Above, dark clouds loomed overhead and enhanced the dreary nature of the already drab scene. In the furthest distance to where the sun should have been, the clouds closed around a large mountain like a mandrill's paw.
I had hardly gotten far before the familiar scent of food wafted into my nostrils. I raced for it knowing that in the savanna, food does not last long. Approaching carefully, I smacked it with a paw to see if it was safe as I had been shown before. When nothing happened, I began to eat. A light giggle caused me to twist my ear towards the sound. The giggles increased and as they did I felt my blood slowly turn to ice when I realized what was happening. Hyenas! And they were coming towards me!
Making the intelligent move, I elected to run; but very soon the hyenas had this kill surrounded and me as well. I tried to put up a strong front, arching my back and growling warningly. To my horror, they laughed heartily.
"HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HAAA!! This is rich!" the first one cackled, "The little cub wants to defend his kill." All the others chimed in with similar chiding.
"Aww, he's so cute and all alone! Can we eat him?"
"Hey, maybe he's some super-powerful cub."
"Yeah, only a super cub would decide to come all the way into our territory alone." They all tittered with laughter and I was powerless to stop them. It was driving me insane.
"Why don't you go pick on somebody your own size! I found this first!" I yelled out at them. Just then, a big female pushed her way to the front of the group. Looking at her I felt the urge to relieve myself somewhere. She was big, and very mean looking. A long scar down the side of her face indicated she had participated in her share of fights, and from the way she walked, it would seem she won most times. She spoke in a gruff voice, feminine, yet very cold and commanding. The other male hyenas shrunk away slightly as she approached.
"Wrong move cub. Back off the kill and perhaps you can keep your life." Not knowing what to do, I attempted to dispel them.
"Leave me alone! This is mine." The female's eyes narrowed and she nodded to the two males beside her. They began to giggle incessantly as they approached me and the kill. I stepped over what little of it I could and snarled trying to ward them off. The two hyenas only increased the loudness of their laughter and bore down on me quickly. With a quick movement of his paw, one of the males back pawed me viciously, sending me sprawling away from the kill. I rose to my paws groggily with tears about to come into my eyes. The hyena seemed to derive some pleasure from tormenting me and came after me again.
"Aww is the brave little cub going to cry? Why don't you run home to mommy?" They all laughed at this as I began to cry in frustration. Making a brave (yet stupid) move, I leapt at the oncoming hyena. I never even saw his paw but I know it made contact as I changed direction quickly and felt myself smack into the ground. Turning my head, I looked at the hyena with disoriented eyes as it came after me again. Being in too much pain to do much else, I just lay there crying softy, waiting for the end.
A surprised yip came from the hyena as it went flying away from me quickly. A loud snarl accompanied by increased hyena laughter began to overcome all other sounds. I turned my head and looked to see an incredibly large lion smack the offending hyena. Although my vision was blurred I could see it scamper over to the others by the kill and they all faced him. The female growled.
"It was unwise of you to come here. You are sorrowfully outnumbered." The lion answered in a deep and noble voice that I remember very well.
"I see only five of you and one of me, from our last encounter you know that five will not be enough to stop me." The female eyes her scraggly group and snarled back at him.
"Very well, you may have this day. But be forewarned Msmangu, we are on the lookout for you." Then, with a half-nod she and the other hyenas galloped away laughing loudly. I could barely make out the large lion as he worked his way over to me. Looking down on me, I could not make out his expression but I could hear his soothing voice clearly.
"They are gone now, you are safe little one." He gave me a long lick down my side. All I could do was purr weakly before falling into the realms of unconscious sleep.
The sound of flowing water cause me to rise from the depths of my hyena-induced coma and look about. I sat up quickly and took in my surroundings. I was still in the dark savanna, but beside a bubbling brook. A small kill sat near my right, just enough meat for me to eat. It looked safe and after testing it I quickly filled myself. In searching my memory, I could not remember coming to this place. It was well broken in, and the grasses were patted down as if someone slept here often. From the size of the flattened area, it appeared it was someone big. I suddenly recalled the lion that had come to my aid. In looking about I could see him nowhere.
"Hello?!" I called out. No response for a moment. "Is anyone out there?" Suddenly from behind me the voice spoke again.
"I am here." I turned quickly in shock at his silent approach. With clear vision he appeared even more imposing. I first saw his massive paws, containing some of the most deadly claws, I imagined. The my eyes traveled up his thick and powerful forelegs and then to his rippling shoulders. His mane took root there, a deep savanna brown color with black streaks running through it. Lastly, I saw his face, a noble face. The face of a king. His large mouth was shut and I looked over it to his well formed nose. Scarred from many battles, his muzzle jutted forward in perfect form and came up to his eyes. In all my time I have never seen such captivating eyes. They were amber, but not normal amber, the color of amber with light shining through it. Almost golden. I stared into his eyes as he stared into mine. For a moment, time had stopped. Then, in his gentlest tone, he spoke.
"Siombe....." I blinked and began to shudder, he knew my name.
"H-how did you know m-my name?" The lion laid his mass beside me and looked into my eyes.
"Because little one, I am Msmangu, your father." The world turned upside down at that point. Volcanoes, earthquakes, and monsoons all put together could not equal my shock and surprise at his words. My father, after all this time, I found my father. I couldn't believe it.
"Dad?" He nodded slowly, but I wanted to be sure. "How can I be sure it is you?" He chuckled deeply and looked at me with caring eyes.
"Your markings give you away Siombe, as well as the mark of kingship on your left hind paw pad. You are definitely of my line." I quickly checked my paw seeing what I thought to be normal for all cubs. Then I looked back at him with tears forming in my eyes. I put my front paws in his mane and hugged him as best I could. He purred softly and hugged back, obviously very emotionally moved as well. I then pulled back and looked at him feeling a sudden surge of anger.
"But why dad?! Why did you have to leave me? Why did you abandon me?" Msmangu folded his ears against his head and patted me gently on the head.
"It is a long story little one, one I am not sure you could understand." I flopped on the ground and looked at him wondering why he would do such a thing. Msmangu sighed.
"A little before you were born, I came into conflict with a wandering lion named Kisasian. He wanted to be a part of my pride but I refused him because he did not follow the path of the Circle. So, instead of leaving peaceably like I requested, he stayed and seduced my mate into betraying the pride to me. Then you were born Siombe. I went to get a kill for your mother because she was hungry after the birth. While I was out on the hunt, Kisasian came in and took over. Upon my return, he had already begun the ceremonial killing of my cubs with my mate's permission. I could only save one, that one being you Siombe." His voice wavered for an instant and he paused to regain his composure. I blinked and felt my eyes beginning to water a little bit at his voice. It was very sad to hear of what he had gone through. He continued.
"I carried you far from home, in so much pain because of my mate's betrayal and the loss of my pride. I knew that it would not be safe for you to be with me, and you most certainly could not stay anywhere near the pride, so I brought you to the edge of the pridelands repeating your name to you over and over so you would get the idea. I gave you the ceremonial marking of a king and then, I let you go near a water hole hoping someone would help you survive. It pained me terribly but I headed back, hoping some remnants of the pride would stay loyal to me. But it was not so, Kisasian employed the hyenas to attack me and keep me at bay. The one you encountered was the matriarch of the group. She and I have a long past of attacks. But I have not given up hope and have remained a nomad here for a long time. I thought I would never see you again but I am happy to see that is not a problem anymore."
I paused, and then hugged him again.
"But that's all over now dad. We can live together now, back where I live now. I can't wait to introduce you to everyone else there! They will be so happy to see you and will welcome you and be nice and everything!" He smiled softly
"I don't think they would want me around too much son, adults tend not to get along with each other too well." I tugged on his paw with a cub-growl.
"At least come see Kwasi, he's the one who has helped me out so much in living. I know you'd like to meet him." Msmangu seemed amused at my enthusiasm and laughed quietly.
"Okay, okay. But only for a little bit. Besides, we have a lot of catching up to do." I nodded and hugged him again.
"I am just so happy to have found my father! This has to be the greatest day of my life." Msmangu said nothing but patted my back gently. The two of us set off in the direction of the pridelands. It was a long journey but it seemed like it was not long enough. All I wanted to do was talk with my dad about everything in the world. He was in the process of explaining a concept called The Circle or Life when suddenly laughter broke out all around us.
"Stay near me Siombe." Msmangu said quickly as he took a defensive stance over me. I was in no position to argue. I counted ten adult hyenas all around us. Several pups hopped about the tight circle the adults made around us. The sound of laughing increased for a moment then died down as the matriarch stepped forward with a sly grin.
"What say you now, lion?" she sneered at my father. Msmangu looked down at me and then around at the hyenas. He did not show it, but a sense of despair began to creep up his spine. He knew there was no way brute force was going to win this one, especially with a cub to take care of.
"This is unnecessary Gheni! Let me and my son pass and we shall not return your way." Gheni shook her ugly head evilly.
"Oh no lion, you have taken too many of my pack to let you go that easily. Do you really think me to be that stupid?" Msmangu slashed at a hyena that was coming too close then looked back to the matriarch quickly.
"You will lose more if you pursue this endeavor Gheni, be sensible for once, this is not the way." Gheni smiled evilly and laughed. All the others joined in the hideous laughter and I shuddered beneath my father. The sound of hyena laughter was like hearing fear itself. Msmangu seemed unfazed and lowered his eyelids. Gheni suddenly got a serious look and made a slow nod towards us. The pitch in laughter changed gradually as I saw the circle gradually close around us and tighten.
The next few moments were a complete blur. The savanna was filled suddenly with the great din of battle as my father, Msmangu, faced off against the hyenas. He moved incredibly fast for a lion of his size and kept the hyenas at bay with extraordinary skill. All during this time I kept myself under him, ducking and trying to stay with him for whatever protection he could give. I could not describe the intense fear and trepidation with which I regard this battle. All seemed to be going well until I felt several mangy paws grasp me and pull me from under my father. I screamed.
"DAD! HELP!" the hyenas paused for a moment and then looked at Msmangu with a confident grin. He visibly paled as the cruel beasts pushed me to my belly and held me unmercifully to the ground. Gheni looked at Msmangu with a smug demeanor.
"Kinda sad that you will lose your cub, after all this time." I could only lie there and whimper weakly while the hyenas dug their claws into my back painfully.
"Dad," I cried, "They're hurting me!" Msmangu took a step forward then closed his eyes looking defeated. Gheni watched and flicked her ears amusedly at his doleful expression. He spoke in a saddened tone.
"Okay Gheni, you win. If you let my son go. I will let you do as you will with me." I looked up quickly.
"Dad! NO!" Msmangu ignored my cries and continued to look at Gheni darkly.
"You will not harm him." The matriarch looked at him with an evil grin.
"It is done." With that the hyenas fell upon Msmangu and pushed him to the ground. He offered no resistance to their motions and maintained steady eye contact with me. Then, they began at his tail and started to rip the flesh from his body. I tried to close my eyes and looked away not wanting to see the horrendous scene. Out of supreme spite, the hyenas turned my head back on the scene and kept my eyes open forcing me to watch the torture session. My father's tortured screams tore through my head as the hyenas continued to rip him apart. I cried and cried as I saw his face contort in agony, and as his body was slowly turned inside out as he was eaten alive. For what seemed like hours they tormented him, eating, biting, scratching and clawing until he began to cry out for mercy. I never felt so ashamed in all my life, hearing him cry out like that, looking at his painful expressions, and hearing the maniacal laughter echo through my head. I felt my strength slowly fade away and discontinued struggling being unable to do much more than watch. With a mighty roar, he let out his final breath and his head fell to the ground silently, the only thing they left of him; his eyes open and staring directly into my soul.
"DAD!!! NOOO!!!" I cried out loudly. I was so shocked and appalled I could not even manage tears anymore. With all my strength I turned and slashed the hyena's paw holding me. It cried out.
"Ouch! Why you little..." In retrospect I think I should not have done that, because it incurred their wrath more than I wanted. They spent the next few moments tormenting me, against their agreement with my father. I had never felt such pain and cried out loudly as they put deep cuts in every painful spot my body had. The would not have stopped until I was dead, so I gave then what they wanted; I played dead. As soon as they felt I was sufficiently taken care of, they ran off with the matriarch. The echo of hyena laughter agonized my ears long after they left.
I dragged my bruised and abused body over to my father's head. I stumbled and fell into his mane, crying profusely into his blood drenched fur. He was gone, I had just found him and he was gone. Torn away from me before I could even get to know him. He would never teach me to pounce, never show me how to live, and never see me grow up. It saddened me to no end. I cried on him for a long time before realizing I was not in good shape either. My only chance was to get back to the pridelands and hope someone could heal me. I tore myself away from the body, and with that motion, left cubhood behind forever. I began the long drag home, pulling myself along with my paws when I could not walk. At a moment of rest I glanced over my lacerated shoulder to see the circle of vultures floating above the spot I had just come from. Glancing to the sky, I noticed the sun shining down on me for the first time. It was as if nature had completely ignored the dark events that just transpired a moment ago.