And so it came to pass that Msmangu, Kharo, Sarion, Oriza and Umoja were the first to be born into the Celestial Volcano pride. Our joy flowed as easily as our sorrow. Zalima suffered from the loss of the two stillborns, and I along with her. It was not uncommon for her to lament over her terrible family history of stillborns, nor was it uncommon for me to point out that she had five beautiful cubs anyway. However, those were the least of my worries.
Zalima's condition made it impossible for her to move. The pain was unbearable, and although Amathambo did all he could for her, it was certain that movement was out of the question. I was torn between staying with my cubs and mate, and going back to the Kopje Valley, to administer pridal affairs there. The debate dragged on for weeks in my mind, and came to a head when I got a visit from Nalia.
"Son?" My head shot up at her voice and a slow smile crossed my face.
"I'm here mom." The lioness padded in softly, so as not to wake the sleeping Zalima. Nalia nodded gently in her direction, after giving me an affectionate nuzzle.
"How is she?"
"Okay," I sighed, "although the pain of stillborns still lingers heavily." Nalia nodded, with understanding.
"It is difficult to lose things you love." With those words I turned to her abruptly, feeling that she said more than she intended to.
"What was that for?" I asked quickly. Nalia seemed a bit off guard, her thoughts spilling before she was ready. Regaining her composure, the lioness turned and lay down beside me.
"Siombe," she started slowly, unsure of exactly how she was going to say things, "the valley needs you. Things have just not been the same." I turned my head with a sigh. I knew things were probably hard there, especially without my leadership. However, seeing as this was an ideal opportunity to discuss things, I returned my gaze to Nalia evenly.
"I understand Nalia." I spoke, "But I can't leave my mate and cubs." Nalia frowned a bit, obviously getting an answer other than what she wanted.
"Siombe, your destiny is with the Kopje Valley. You have a responsibility to it. You have to come back, there can be no other option." For the life of me, I don't know where her statement stemmed from. I never knew the background or the problems that might have pushed her to probe so deeply into my soul. But it was not accepted well. It seemed that in those few moments, something new pierced my soul and infected me with a certain feeling of pride, one that looks at the past and decides that it is time for a change. I spoke to her, perhaps more commandingly than I should, but with all the confidence that the situation required.
"Nalia." The use of her name caused her to straighten up and listen to me, especially since it was not a normal thing between us. I continued. "The pride is important, but compared to family, it doesn't matter. Zalima is my mate. These cubs, the product of our love, deserve to have every advantage that they can get. I cannot abandon them for a dream that is not mine." Nalia's face almost exploded into a quizzical look, one which caused me to continue quickly.
"Ever since I was charged with the Kopje Valley, it has been little more than heartache. It was Kwasi's dream. Not mine, to rule over those lands. Kwasi dreamed of having lands of his own, and he found them. But I have to face the fact that that is a dream for him, and his family, something that I am not a full part of."
"Siombe!" exclaimed Nalia, "What are you saying??"
"I'm saying that I don't belong in charge of those lands." I paused, more for effect than for lack of words, "Mohatu is." Nalia's disappointment rose into her and fermented into a tone of chiding anger.
"And where do you expect to live? A nomadic life? with only one lioness as your mate? Or perhaps you'd like to stay here in this cave for the rest of your life?"
"Yes." I replied frankly, "And in the rest of the Volcano as well."
"Siombe," Nalia pleaded, "You can't live in a volcano, you know that!"
"We can in this one." I replied, "The volcano is dormant and brimming with life. An entire pride can stay in here, and I intend to build one up once more." Her defense and offense broken down, Nalia fell into pleading.
"But son!" she cried out in an emotional voice, "What about me? What about your brother? He is only an adolescent, he's not ready to be king and you know it! How can you sit by and let him move towards a fall?"
"Shh mom!" I hissed, "Zalima is sleeping." Nalia fell quiet, her eyes misty with emotion. I hated myself for bringing her to that state, but I had to hold firm. "Mohatu is an adolescent, almost a full grown lion. We can't rule together on such a small amount of area. Those lands are his by birthright, I'm just an adopted cub." I said these last few lines with enough venom to make Nalia shrink back a bit, "He must rise, just like I had to rise. I've put those lands in order for him. There is nothing more that he really must do! All he has to do is rule, and with you there, it will be an easy transition."
"Me?" she exclaimed, "But I wanted to stay with you!" At this I sighed deeply, this being the part that I hated the most.
"Nalia...Mom..." I began, "You can't stay with me on this one." The way she started, it was as if I had stabbed her with an icy dagger in her sensitive heart. I tried to control the damage I knew I was causing. "I have to move on mom. I have to get out of the Valley. It is time."
There was an eerie silence that pervaded the cave. In the elongated seconds that seemed like hours, the steady thump of a tail heightened the already acute sense of nervousness I was feeling. I gazed, looking for a way to stop it before I realized it was the pounding of my own heart. Nalia's eyes burned me with their kindness, mocked me with their love, and attacked me with their passionate care. For a moment, I thought I might feel it for the last time, then she spoke once more in a soft voice.
"I understand son." was all she said. With a gentle nuzzle, she turned and padded out without another word. I sat there and sighed heavily. Just ensconced into my new home and already in conflict. A gentle nuzzle broke me from my pensive reverie.
"Siombe dear..." Zalima purred softly. I leaned down to nuzzle her, a low purr escaping from my throat.
"How are you love? Did you sleep well?" As I asked her the question, she yawned and blinked the remnants of sleep from her eyes.
"What was all that commotion Siombe? I could have sworn it was..."
"Nalia?" I interrupted, "Yes, it was her. I was just talking to her about us living here." Shaking her head and sitting up somewhat, Zalima inquired as to her reasoning.
It took me a while to convince Zalima that our conversation was not as important as she made it out to be. After calming down the lioness, I left to find something for us to eat. The time alone gave me much to think about. This was a new challenge indeed. Without even thinking about it, I had committed myself to starting a brand new pride. I took into account the technicality that the cubs had already cemented the fact that there was going to be a pride there.
Yet there was still the matter of keeping the land that I claimed. If there was a challenge, who was to back me up? What if I was to encounter another lion like Kumalo? And what about Naiko? That was not entirely finished either. All in all, it made for a difficult situation, one that I could not ignore. I needed more lioness. That was the bottom line. I began to think more carefully. There had to be a positive side to this situation. Indeed there were advantages.
The mere fact that no one knew there was life in the volcano meant a lot towards safety. Secondly, on a more careful examination, I discovered that there was only one way in or out of the volcano. Drawing my muzzle up in the flehmen reaction, I felt a grin creep into my grimace. There were no scent marks for as far as my sense of smell would stretch. Another plus. Maybe this starting of a pride here would not be a difficult as I thought. Momentarily feeling my spirits lifting, I began the long task of marking my new territory.
My roar pierced the morning stillness, shattering the misty morning. A soft fog had settled into the volcano this morning, preventing me from seeing down from the Celestial Circle. Even looking up, there was little to be seen. Visibility was completely nil. Yet the eerie sound of roars in reply came back to me as I could hear the pride responding. I smiled a little to myself. It wasn't much, but it meant that there was some nominal form of success.
The time is approximately three full moons later. I had managed to augment the pride nominally. The additions of two lionesses gave me some hope that more would come. I really didn't know much about Sera when she came. She elected to stay after assisting Zalima with her difficult birth. She didn't say much, but simply hung about the volcano. She was a very good hunter as I remember, ambitious and brave. There was nothing on the Parched Grasslands that she could not bring down. I loved her for her quietness, and her eagerness to please. Sadly, my kingly duties fell short with her. Even though I gave her cubs, she wished for more. She wanted to be queen, and even though Zalima had been acting strangely, it was just not possible. Dejected from the rejection, she silently acquiesced, and said nothing more until she died in cubbirth.
I was devastated at her death. There was nothing that I could do. And in my nightmares I believe that she died on purpose, because she would never be queen. The injury didn't stop there. Moreover, the cubs ran off within a few days of being able to walk. Although I searched and searched, they were lost to me forever. I was later to find the cubs, several seasons after this event. In my heart I was unable to tear them from the happy lives they had made for themselves, and thus made my final break with them.
Not to slight Sera, the story of Svelta's coming was of special interest to me. It was not so much the different sounding name, or her incredibly appeasing personality that grabbed my attention. It was the information she brought, and her tragic story that took my heart immediately.
Zalima was resting in the volcano with the cubs while I was out on my rounds. While making the customary marks, I heard the cry of a lioness not too far away. My ears shot to the sound, worried as much as curious to what was going on. Racing towards the sound as fast as I could, I loosed a violent roar in the hopes of scaring or startling whatever it was away. I was successful, and could hear the giggles fading into the distance when I walked up on the scared and scarred lioness.
"Are you all right?" I asked, with concern obvious in my voice. To my surprise, the lioness almost burst into tears upon my approach.
"Please!" she cried out emphatically, "Don't hurt me!" Her emotion squeal caused me to step back once, pinning my ears inside the forest of my mane. When I came forward again, I spoke in a more disarming tone.
"No, no, fair lioness." I said to the prone, trembling figure, "I won't hurt you. Its okay." she appeared to relax some, then rose to her paws shakily.
"Siombe." I added in my name. She quickly continued.
"Forgive me ruler Siombe, I didn't realize I had wandered into your lands...I thought-"
"Excuse me?" I cut her off, a tone of voice that betrayed my deep surprise at her words. "Did you just call me...*Ruler* Siombe?" She took a step back, ears pinned to her skull in fear.
"I-I-I'm sorry to have offended you! I'm sorry!" Her actions made me realize what I had just done, and I quickly tried to correct myself.
"No, no...I was just surprised. I haven't heard that term since-" I broke off, "Where are you from?"
"North of here," she turned her body slightly to indicate the direction, "over the horizon in that direction. Why do you ask, Ruler Siombe?" I simply shook my head, surprised. Could it be possible? I looked at her again, with a laugh that seemed to relax her.
"I think you have a lot of explaining to do...umm."
"Svelta." She purred, filling in her name for me as I smiled.
"Svelta. You have much to explain." she looked a bit down, so I gave her a gentle nuzzle. She seemed so shocked at the motion, that she looked away, blushing fiercely under her fur. "But that can wait until we get home."
"Home?" She said hopefully, "Where is that?" Making a little motion to the mountainous rise behind me I smiled.
"Inside the volcano, dear lioness." As she marveled at the rise that was to become her future home, I walked alongside her, looking over her. She was scarred, that was for certain. Her face had deep gashes, most of them fresh. However, her great beauty shone through brilliantly, and I could only guess that she was a queen at one time. Her paws rose and fell regally as she made her way along the ground. The sound was similar to the sound made by a gentle wind caressing the healthiest of grass. Her long body seemed almost flawlessly formed, besides the tell tale marks that showed me that she once had cubs. The only oddity about her features were some unusual scars that marked her flanks and sitting area. I couldn't guess as to their meaning, but they were distinctly lion. While I was drinking in all this detail, she began her story.
"I was once the
queen of a beautiful pride. Dark furred lions that ruled
over lands of the greenest grasses, and tastiest prey. My
king, and mate was a most benevolent leader, and I loved
him dearly. Our love produced a very special cub that I
loved more than anything. His name was Mazimwi, my little
angel." Her voice glowed with the radiance of
maternal love as she spoke of him, something I was to
note often in the future. "Mazimwi was the cutest
little thing that ever came into my life, and my mate and
I loved him with all our heart. Until HE came." The
mention of this 'he' brought a tone of disgust and hate
into her voice that showed her severe anathema to this
We had to stop for a moment, because the poor lioness had lost the strength to walk and collapsed into tears. Nuzzling her neck and muzzle gently, I purred to try to bolster her on. What an incredibly sad story! It was almost bringing me to tears to hear it. Not wishing her to suffer so much on my account, I offered that she not finish the story if it hurt her so. Rising to her paws, still in tears, she bravely spoke on, as if having to get this out of her system. \
"I flew into a rage at the sight, and tried to attack him. But his new pride refused to back down. I was held firmly by some of the lionesses, while he came before me." she snarled slightly, "Maintaining pridal unity and respect... is what he called it. But I know he just wanted to torture me. That's when he introduced me to Ghep'tah." My ears pushed forward.
"Ghep'tah?" She nodded, with a shudder that could have been seen as one of anger or fear.
"Yes." She spoke softly, trying to figure out how to explain it. She looked at me, "Were you ever spanked as a cub?" The sudden question forced me to volunteer my embarrassing positive answer. Nalia had burned my bottom once or twice during some of my less successful (and more sneaky) ventures into the world. Yet my curiosity was piqued and I asked her as to the relevance of the question. She continued, bitterly. "Imagine being spanked, only different, each pride member was allowed to take whacks at you." I winced at the thought, as she spoke on, "Then imagine that they were to use their claws, without discretion." My eyes jolted open.
"How terrible!!" I exclaimed, the odd markings suddenly making sense. She looked down, blasting the parched ground with the bitterest look.
"It was torture.
And humiliation. No matter how I screamed or roared, or
how many tears or how much blood I lost, they continued
to torture me until he was satisfied that I had learned
my lesson," She looked away from me, "and
broken my spirit." Her expression told me of his
success, and I silently cursed this lion, angry at his
blatant disregard for her feelings. I wished that there
was something I could do to make her feel better but she
spoke on before I could collect my thoughts together.
"Seems like you've had one heck of a past, dear lioness." I said, the obvious observation drawing a short giggle from her.
"Well," she sighed, "I figure that it can only get better, now that I don't have to deal with Kumalo." Once again, she had to endure my look of utter and complete shock.
"KUMALO?!" I nearly roared, "HE was the lion you were speaking of?" She jumped away from me for a moment, surprised at my sudden adamance.
"Why...yes. The wretched creature. He was the one who made me suffer so. Have you heard of him?"
"Heard of him?" I chuckled heartily. "Svelta, have I got a story for you." I said as we entered the opening of the volcano.
I told the lioness all about my encounters with Kumalo, from the beginning to the end. She hardly took her eyes off me the entire time, spellbound and shocked. There were moments where she would interject the rising and falling of my voice with sighs of sadness, purrs of apology, and awws of compassion. It was an experience indeed, especially since I hadn't really told the story before. We walked around the volcano, letting Zalima rest while I told the story. When we finished, we happened to be on the Celestial Circle. The silence lingered after a moment, neither of us speaking, just looking at each other. Then, for the first time since we met, she turned her head away from me.
"I want to stay here, Siombe." I was taken aback.
"I just told you that long story, and now you want to stay?"
"Is that a problem?" she asked, her eyes eagerly tearing into mine. I shook my head rapidly, stumbling over my own thoughts and words.
"Wha-well of course not! I mean, it just was so sudden. You hadn't said a thing and suddenly you wanted to stay. It surprised me." I leaned over and anointed her cheek with my tongue. "Welcome to the Celestial Volcano Pride, Svelta."
Svelta turned out to be one of the greatest finds I could have imagined. Her hunting prowess and friendliness made her fun and easy to work with. She took no time at all adjusting to the pride, and Zalima was very happy to have another lioness around to help me with hunting. She had a chronic fear that I would hurt myself during the hunt. Sad really, if I was really on target, I would have recognized her fear for what it was. But that is another story.
The moons came and went several times before the fledgling Celestial Volcano pride was graced with another potential member. In the interim I had many events with my cubs. We played, laughed, cried, and learned a lot about life in that time. And all in all, it was a happy period in my life. That was of course, until Kharo was deemed missing by his brothers and sisters.
"Msmangu! Sarion? Umoja and Oriza!" I roared down to them from the Celestial Circle. They stopped their game of pounce at my call, and turned their attention upward. Msmangu was under Sarion again, and Oriza was giving Umoja a severe tickling for her ineptitude at pouncing. The cubs were well into their second year now, almost big enough to lick without having to bend over too far. This only passed through my mind for a moment before I called to them again. "Have any of you seen Kharo?" The cubs scrambled over each other a bit more before Umoja called up to me.
"He said he was going for a walk..."
"Yeah!" Msmangu chimed in, "He was going-" before he could get it out, Sarion gave him a rather vicious poke to the ribs. "OW!" the cub cried out. While Msmangu rubbed his bruised ribs, Sarion piped up.
"He should be around here somewhere daddy." I didn't like the tone.
"He didn't go outside did he?" The silent looks between each of the cubs was enough to give away their disobedient brother. I frowned at them, "I'll deal with you each later for trying to hide this." I turned and raced for the entrance to the volcano, too fast to see the cubs begin bickering over blame. If Kharo was outside and hadn't come back, it could be real trouble. I recalled Svelta's encounter with hyenas at this moment, and quickened my pace, almost tripping over the two lionesses as I headed for the entrance.
"Hey! Siombe!" Zalima grumbled, my racing through catching her attention. "What's the hurry?"
"Kharo is outside the volcano!" I yelled as I raced outside. Zalima and Svelta were both up in a flash.
Alone??" Svelta inquired, already running after me
alongside my newly healed mate. "Why would he do
such a thing?" I was beside myself on that answer. I
was a mischievous cub myself, but this was so serious. I
had told the cubs on multiple occasions that the inside
of the volcano was the safest place for them. One way in,
one way out. However, this new innovention in safety only
worked if they listened, and Kharo obviously had other
plans than listening.
I did not allow
Zalima, Svelta, or the other cubs knowledge of the truth.
To know how he was tortured to death would only agonize
them beyond my comprehension and cause more trouble down
the line. They only knew it was the work of hyenas. But
the effects were still profound. Zalima mourned harder
than I ever saw her mourn for anything else. Svelta
bravely comforted the cubs alongside me, taking over when
my own emotions were too much to control.
The groan came
out of nowhere that day. Just an agonized cry that
pierced the silence of the savanna like claws piercing
the flank of a zebra. It immediately caught my attention.
It bespoke of pain and torture combined unusually,
sending shivers down my spine and raising the fur on my
back. Making my way towards the sound, I sniffed and
noted the smoky scent as I approached. Was it the bright
destroyer again? I looked over eagerly, half scared of
what I saw and half amazed. It was a lioness, but she
looked as if she had been dipped in shadows. Her burns
were that bad.
"CUBS!! CUBS?!" The lioness suddenly began screaming at the top of her lungs. I pinned my ears to my skull in surprise and almost fear.
"Lioness? Lioness? Are you okay?" She kept screaming, with wild eyes.
"Oh Kings!! Get away from there!! NO!!! CUBS!!!" She yelled the last word with such passionate emotion that I was compelled to step backwards, feeling a particular pain in my heart. I pressed on, trying to calm her before she woke my drowsing pride.
"Lioness! Pull yourself together! Your cubs are not here." she turned those wild eyes on me with a shriek of terror as I pressed on. "Look around." She looked around frantically for a moment, gradually becoming calm. Just when I thought that I had made progress, a new terror overtook her.
"Where am I? Who are you?? Oh Kings!! Don't hurt me!!" she cried out. I shook my head in frustration. Somewhere in the stars I knew the kings must be enjoying this amusing scene. Yet, I remained unamused and tried to calm her frayed nerves once more.
"Shh! Its okay..its okay." I said soothingly, "You are in the Celestial Volcano, I am Siombe." She seemed to sit on this piece of information for a moment, as if she didn't know what to do. I pressed on cautiously, "I'm not going to hurt you, I just want to know who you are and what happened?"
"Makini..." she said hesitantly, "How did I get here? Where is the fire?"
"Fire?" I inquired. She must have been talking about the bright destroyer, I realized after a moment of thought. "There is no fire here, fair lioness. We brought you here because you were outside and badly burned. What happened with this fire?" At this question, Makini burst into tears, probably enhanced by the pain felt from the burns.
"Oh! Oh! Oh!"
she cried, "It was terrible, I was so scared! I
called to them, but they wouldn't come! Oh, the poor
dears! They were too scared! Oh! My babies! Oh!" She
sobbed aloud for a few moments, then regained a small
piece of her composure after repeated nuzzlings.
Makini's arrival, the Celestial Volcano pride was
augmented several times over. the addition of Shiido,
Swala, and Mariah brought pridal numbers up to a strong
number. The cubs decided it was time to move on, and
quietly left the volcano one day. I only shed a few
tears, and those were happy ones. I had taught them well,
and knew they would live on to be productive kings and
queens one day.
"Greetings King Siombe!" it chirruped at me. I was taken aback.
"Who are you?" I inquired quickly, "And how do you know me?"
"Oh who I am
doesn't matter." he said, swooping in front of me,
"I come bearing news you will be most interested in.
It regards the queen of these lands. Or should I say...former
queen." His use of former queen got my attention
immediately, and before I could slap a demanding paw on
his tiny body, he began to talk.
"I have to go after her." I said resolutely, turning. The bat continued on.
"Perhaps that's not the best idea you know...." he said, leaving his sentence open. I turned on him rather rudely,
"And why not? She's my mate isn't she?" the bat shook his head.
"Was your mate, Siombe. I tried to follow her too, but I do not go where the giggles are louder than the flapping of my wings." My heart pumped cold ice through my body, making my legs shiver and collapse.
"Kings!" was my anguished exclamation. "Zalima!" The bat sort of waddled over and put a wing against my paw.
"She knew what she was doing. She was coherent enough to give me a message for you." I looked at the small figure, my vision blurring from tears already. The bat looked back, "She told me to tell you to remember the pride, and her." I sniffled softly, containing myself for a moment.
I said, to him. The bat made a little bow, flew off, and
I have not heard from him since. As soon as he flapped, I
was turning back into the volcano and going directly to
the Celestial Circle. Zalima and I had often conversed on
the workings of a pride in her sane days. She was a firm
believer in the adage: The needs of the many outweigh the
needs of the few, or the one. Her final thoughts to me,
sent through the bat, hit home like never before. She
knew that we loved each other too much to make that type
of sacrifice face to face. Even in madness, she was so
clever. I cursed her cleverness that night, and most of
the next few nights.