And now, the feature presentation...... Mhisani Leo in:
"All hail the new prince!" called all
the lionesses as the King and the Queen presented their new son to the
crowd assembled before them. "All hail the prince, all hail Mhisani!"
"A new era has arrived here in our pride today!" announced Maliki to his pride. "After many moons of trying, we have finally managed to create an heir to the throne. I have often laid awake at night, wondering if my pride would have a king when I die, and now the prince is born, I can sleep easy. We all know how tough the times have been recently, and it seems that the Gods have abandoned us but I prey that the Gods will look down on Mhisani and smile. I prey that our favours change." Maliki hung is head and said softly "I prey for us all."
Kwini stepped in as Maliki sat down.
"Now I know the land is infertile, and food is scarce and that some of you will feel that an extra mouth to feed is a bad idea, but I plead with you to please try to find a little bit of extra food for our son."
"As I can't expect any of you to go without your full share of the food, I shall be eating less to make up the difference." said Maliki.
Kwini turned in horror to face her husband. "You never said anything about this to me! You barely eat enough as it is!"
Maliki turned his head and looked deep into Kwini's eyes. "I would rather starve and give my son a chance in life than eat happily and watch him starve."
"I love you!" Kwini whispered as she nuzzled her lover.
As night fell Msasi, the hunts mistress, arrived with
food. The hunting party had been lucky and had managed to fell a gazelle.
The hunk of dead animal was presented to Maliki so he could take his pick
of the feast. With his large, powerful jaws Maliki ripped a hind leg off
of the carcass and put it to one side. He then turned to the lionesses
who watched him.
"Is that all sire?" enquired one of the onlookers.
"Yes." The king replied. "Take what is left and share between you. All try to get an equal share for you will all need a good feed, and what is left here should do. I shall take this leg to Kwini for her to eat so she can make milk for Mhisani. Give her any leftovers as well since I shall not be eating from this kill."
"You have to eat something Sire!" Msasi said, as she tore a chunk of meat off of the breast of the gazelle.
"Here, have my share. I can go without."
"No you can't!" Maliki said "You need your food to give you the energy to hunt. The only time I do any exercise is on the morning and evening border patrols, and our lands are so sparse nothing ever really tries to invade us. Your need is greater than mine."
"But you must eat!" cried Msasi.
"I will eat from the next kill. I can live until then." reassured Maliki.
"But that might not be for days!" said Msasi. "You'll starve if you don't eat!"
"So be it!" the king replied solemnly
Kwini enjoyed her meal, but it broke her heart to watch
Maliki go without out.
"Please love, for my sake, eat something." she begged.
"No dear. While our son is drinking your milk you need all the food you can get. If you eat less then you'll have less to give to Mhisani. And if he is under nourished then he will not grow up properly. Mhisani is our only cub, and we need him to take over the pride when I die. I have given the rest of the meat to the hunting party so they can eat a little bit extra, which should help them during the next hunt. I am confident in my hunting party, I know I will not starve to death." Maliki looked lovingly into Kwini's eyes and whispered "Trust me darling. I know what I am doing."
Kwini looked back into Maliki's eyes and gently licked his nose. "Just make sure you don't kill yourself for our son!" she said before settling down to rest.
Time past fast and before long Mhisani was off his mothers
milk and onto solid foods. Maliki would give Mhisani parts of his own meal
to supplement Mhisani's share. All the extra food was doing him good and
he was growing up to be a fine strong lion. Maliki, however, was not doing
so well. With every day that passed he would become a little weaker and
his reduced diet wasn't helping matters. Kwini and Maliki would spend many
hours arguing over the amount Maliki ate and there was friction between
the royal couple. Sometimes Msasi would leave scraps of food in front of
the king for when he woke and watch over the king as he slept. Maliki was
grateful for the food but he scolded Msasi for her actions. However Msasi
would completely ignore him and before too long Maliki would himself waking
up in front of another chunk of meat.
Sometimes Maliki would be too weak to patrol the borders, and on such days Msasi would patrol them instead, often taking Mhisani with her. They talked about many things while they walked and Msasi would often wow Mhisani with stories of great kills. As Mhisani grew up the talks became more mature as Mhisani tried to learn about running a pride and handling responsibility. One question had been burning in the back of Mhisani's mind for days, but he'd always been to scared to ask, but on one walk he decided that it was time to pop the question.
"Msasi..." he started. "With the food so scarce and rain so little, why are we still here?"
"What do you mean?" Msasi asked, as they sat down for a while.
"Well, Dad's starving to death because there is no food. So why doesn't he give the order to move the pride onto better lands? Surely they is better lands beyond our borders. So why don't we get up and go?"
"Well......" said Msasi, looking at Mhisani with a far-away expression on her face. "It's written in our lore. Your Great Grandfather was the one who started this pride, a long time ago. He was outcast from his pride after he was blamed for a big drought. He was accused of turning the Gods against the lands. Anyway, he became a rouge lion and after a while he found a mate and they came here to start a pride. In those days the land was rich and fertile and there was plenty of food. One by one, lionesses banished from other prides for all kinds of reason sought refuge here and soon your Great Granddad had a large pride indeed. It was at that point he declared that the pride would never leave the territory, and he made it lore. So we can't leave, even if we wanted to."
"But that's stupid!" protested Mhisani "A pride can't stay in the same place forever."
"Well, your Great Grandfather seemed to think one could. And just to make sure that anyone leaving wouldn't survive, he employed a seer to curse the surrounding land, to make it in fertile and barren. The seer warned of the death it would cause to all the animals in the area, but good ol' Granddaddy didn't seem to care. The seer did as he was told, but after three moons had past the surrounding area hadn't changed and the seer was executed. No one knows who by though. It is said that in his dying breath the seer also cursed this land also, and slowly over the years it has become this land which you see before you."
"So you're saying that it's worse than this for miles outside the boundaries?" a shocked Mhisani asked, with big, wide eyes.
"Miles! It is said that not even the birds can reach here, we are so far out from the fertile lands. Basically, your Great Grandfather sentenced us to death. I know it's not nice to hear, but it's the truth as we know it. Our land is the only piece of land left which can support life."
"But why?" Mhisani asked. "Why would he have the seer killed and all that?"
"Insanity. Quite simple. He became power Hungary and it drove him mad." Msasi replied.
"Wow!" said Mhisani. He sat for a while to let the whole thing sink in. He was living in cursed lands with a massive area of deadness surrounding him. Things were not looking good. Msasi stood up and nodded to Mhisani, then the pair remained silent as they carried on with the patrol.
Later that night Mhisani questioned Maliki about what
Msasi had said. Maliki didn't deny it.
"It's true. This land and the surrounding lands are cursed." he said, with his head hung low.
"So why didn't the pride move on years ago?" Mhisani asked.
"They weren't allowed. Any who tried to escape my grandfather's rule were executed and he ruled using fear." replied Maliki "By the time he died the surrounding lands were too barren to travel across. A few scouts tried to cross the plains and were never heard of again."
"So we just sit here, watching as all our food runs out, all happy in the knowledge that we are just wasting away? Can't anything be done? Why, just why?!"
Mhisani walked away and laid on his own in the shade of a dying tree. Kwini came up to him.
"I don't understand mother, why can't we move on?" said Mhisani as he slowly raised his head so he could look into his mothers eyes. "Why didn't the pride move on when they could? Why did they stay and why did my great grandfather have anyone who tried to leave murdered?"
"So many questions." soothed Kwini "And so few answers. But it is out of our hands now. Life does go on."
"Yes, but NOT here!" Mhisani shouted.
Kwini sighed and walked away, she had tried to calm her son and she had failed. She shook her head slowly as she walked. Maliki, who had been sat up and watching from a distance, sighed and flopped to the ground. Kwini walked over to him.
"I don't know what else we can do. We've told him all we know and I can't think of anything else we can do." said Maliki to his wife.
"Just let him be." replied Kwini "He's had a big shock today and he'll need some time to recover and to thing things through."
Maliki nodded and laid his head down in an attempt to sleep as Kwini laid down and rested her head on Maliki's back to doze off in the evening sunlight.
Mhisani spent the next couple of weeks by himself. Msasi
bought him food when she could but she couldn't talk to him. All she would
get is a "Thank you" when she bought food, otherwise she was ignored just
as everyone else was. During this time Msasi bought bad news to the king
as the hunting party bought the food in.
"Sire..." she started with a serious look on her face "We no longer have any food. The herds have all gone, we have eaten them all. My hunting parties have searched all of our lands and what we bring back today is the last of what is out there."
"Hmmmm." Maliki signed as he looked at the rather thin zebra which the hunting party had presented him.
"This is indeed a dire situation. What are we to do if we can't eat?"
"Well, Sire..." Msasi said, a little nervously "There is one way we could eat but I don't think I can say it."
"Why not?" asked the king.
"Well, it's so horrible I can't even contemplate it." Msasi replied.
"Come on, out with it. If it's a way for us to eat then I order you to tell me!" demanded Maliki.
"Well," Msasi signed "We can eat if we start eating some other pride members!"
Both Maliki and Msasi winced at the thought, then Msasi continued. "And if Mhisani eats enough, then maybe he can make it out of our territory, over the plains and on to a better life."
"So you are saying I have to kill my pride members in order to give my son a decent chance in life. Kill many so that one can survive!" pondered Maliki before he asked "But how do we decide who's to die?"
"I wish I could tell you Sire. Nobody here deserves to die, we've all worked so hard to keep us fed. I'm sure there are other options besides cannibalism, but I just can't think of any right now."
"Nor can I!" Maliki admitted. "So be it. We have to eat, and so I'm afraid we are going to have to eat our own kind. I'll announce it and see if there are any to are willing to be the first to be used as food." then a thought struck him "What if we eat the dead ones?! Some of them are rather weak now and look like they're on their last legs."
"That might be too late, not all are as weak!" replied Msasi.
"If we give this zebra to Mhisani and three other lionesses, we can feed them up so Mhisani can start a pride as soon as they find land suitable to live on." stated Maliki, as he thought about how to get his son onto decent land "And if only those four ate, then they could grow stronger over the time it takes to the others to die. That way, there wouldn't be any fears of who's going to be killed next, we just let nature take it's course."
"We could do Sire. But who are the three lionesses going to be?" Msasi asked.
"I'd have to consult Kwini before I make such decisions. I'd hate to make a bad choice but Kwini has a knack of always choosing the right person for the job. She made you hunts mistress and we've never regretted it!" Maliki said as Msasi nodded a thanks.
"I'll leave you to it then Sire!" Msasi said as she started walking away. Kwini walked up and sniffed at the still untouched zebra. Maliki called her over and they sat as the situation and solution was relayed to the queen. They kept talking until deep into the night and eventually decided who the chosen ones were to be.
Next morning the king called all the pride members to
a meeting and after they had all sat or laid down he announced the news.
The only one not to attend was Mhisani, who continued to lay under his
tree, still ignoring everyone.
"I know there have been rumours that we have no more food and that we are all going to starve to death and in some ways you are right. We have eaten all our food, but myself and the queen were up half the night discussing our situation and this is what we have decided."
Maliki then went through the whole idea. Mouths hung open in a mixture of shock, horror and sheer amazement.
"So..." started Kibahaluli "Most of us are going to die except for the chosen ones and Mhisani? Who are the chosen ones?"
Maliki paused as he looked at the sea of faces, all of which looked hopeful. It seemed none of them wanted to die, but a decision had been made, and it was Maliki's job to make sure the decision was carried out.
"The four chosen lionesses are....." Maliki began, then he paused as he felt the atmosphere tense up. The sea of faces stared at the king. Some looked nervous, some scared, some expectant and some even looked confident but all the faces were unblinking and Maliki found it very off putting. He looked at Kwini, who looked back with a reassuring expression on her face.
"The chosen ones are..." he repeated "Msasi, since she is the hunts mistress and also Mhisani's hunting teacher. With her around, finding food should be a lot more simple. The second choice is Punda, since we all know about your secret love for Mhisani!"
Mhisani looked up from where he lay, still alone, when he heard his name. He didn't see Punda look embarrassed as the other pride members chuckle at her embarrassment. Instead he just laid his head back down and carried on ignoring the whole event.
"Anyway.." chuckled Maliki as he continued "I'm sure you to will make a lovely couple. The third choice is Maulana since her level-headed attitude is enough to get anyone out of the toughest situations. The final choice is...." Maliki drew off as he looked at his wife, who nodded for the speech to continue. After a short pause, Maliki continued. "The final choice to join Mhisani and the chosen lionesses is..... not Kwini, despite how much I want her to be the final lioness. In fact, the final one is Kifu. She has been chosen because she is well liked by everybody and when trying to restart a pride, qualities like that are important since you will all need to get along with each other. To the rest of you, I'm sorry if you felt that you are more deserving than the those whom myself and my queen chose, however in this world it's survival of the fittest and the chosen four were amongst the fittest and youngest in the pride. And I know that Kwini and myself are proud to die to save others, a sacrifice I'm sure you all would be proud to take."
Kwini walked past the front of the group to greet Maliki as he stepped down from his position.
"I'll tell Mhisani." she said and gave him a loving nuzzle.
Mhisani didn't take the news too well, but he accepted
it as a way out.
"All I've been doing, while I've been laid here...." he began "Is trying to think of a way out, and then about two weeks later you present me with this news. I don't know how I should react. Should I be happy that I will have a chance to salvage some of this pride, or should I be upset that I shall have to eat those I love to stay alive? I know it's the only way, but... I don't know!"
Mhisani sighed as he thought about the task up ahead. He looked up and saw the faces of lionesses all having to come to terms with the same news. As he looked he felt a feeling of mixed guilt and a strange feeling of well being. Here he was, with death surrounding him, yet he was being given a chance to put it right, he was being handed a second chance and all he had to do was take it.
"All right, I'll do it." sighed the prince with as he shook his head with helplessness. "Bring the lionesses here to we can eat that zebra you mentioned. I want to talk with them."
Kwini nodded and obeyed. Soon Mhisani, Msasi, Punda, Maulana and Kifu were eating zebra and talking about the task they had to face.
"You have been chosen." said Mhisani, after the meat had been devoured "To join me on this quest for a better land. As I'm sure you have realised, the journey ahead is going to be hard and fraught with danger. Although I am old enough to be able to lead, I am still young and I still have a lot to learn. Msasi, you have taught me much about hunting and surviving alone in the wilderness, I feel that you have much more to teach me."
Msasi nodded as she thought of how little Mhisani actually did know. He could survive alone for a while, but he was no where near ready to lead a pride. She thought of how closely she would have to work with Maliki and Kwini in order to educate him in time. And time was against them.
"We must use this time we have left wisely sire. You still have much to learn and we all need to become fitter if we are to survive. A short training program should sort us out, and plenty of food will be needed. I have noticed that some of the elder pride members are growing weak and I guess they have very little left to live, a couple of days at most. So we should organize what time we have left to maximize our chances of survival! Understand?" Msasi paused after her speech to draw breath, and to look at the faces looking back at her.
"Well, I do." said Kifu, looking at the others. The other lionesses nodded to show they understood.
"You never stop amazing me!" said Mhisani. "You always are able to organize everything!"
"Oh!" exclaimed Msasi "I was hoping Maulana was going to organize things, she is so much better at it than me!"
"Sure, I'll get right on it." Maulana said, as she began to mentally prepare everything.
"What about food?" asked Punda.
"Food should be shared equally between us." Mhisani stated "We are equal, I mean, we are all needed if we are going to pull this off. We each posses a different skill or ability and if we work together as a team, we can go far and achieve much. But that does mean we will be eating our nearest and dearest, which will take a huge toll on us. We must grow stronger mentally, if we are to succeed."
The lionesses nodded in agreement as they began to pick the little remains off the zebra so none of it was wasted.
A few days passed, and there was no deaths in the pride.
The chosen ones were starting to get hungry. Mhisani looked up to the stars
and preyed for food as he laid down to get his nights sleep. The next morning
he woke to find a large amount of meat in front of him with Punda looking
"The three eldest lionesses died during the night, it looks like they had a peaceful death in their sleep. So at last we can eat." Maulana said as she walked up to the pair.
Mhisani glanced a quick nod of thanks to the sky before getting up and tucking in to the meal that laid before him. Each mouthful had a bitter sweet taste and once again the guilt hit him. But he knew he had to eat in order to lead and so he carried on eating until he had eaten all he could. When he finished, Punda ate what was left.
Things didn't change much over the weeks. Lionesses died and were eaten, the training program began and soon the chosen ones were getting fitter and more healthy. Two weeks before Mhisani and his group were due to leave it was revealed that Maliki had become ill. Mhisani got the news mid afternoon and he went to see his father as soon as he could. When he got to where his father lay he was met by Kwini.
"Your father's in a pretty bad way. I feel today could be his last day, he's never been as bad as this." she said, beside herself with worry.
"Why didn't you say he was ill before today?" Mhisani asked.
"I didn't want to worry anyone, or put you off your training." was the reply.
"But he looked all right yesterday, how can this have happened so suddenly?"
"He's been ill for a while, but he was able to put a brave face on before today. It's just today he seems worse than ever before! That's why I sent out the news of his illness, to give you a chance to say your goodbyes before it was too late." answered Kwini, with a tear rolling down her face.
Mhisani walked up to Maliki and sat by his side. His father was indeed in a bad way. Maliki was laid in a puddle of his own urine, shivering and panting heavily.
"Son..." Maliki gasped, between breaths "...My time has come. You must now take over my role as king. On the next full moon you must leave in search for better lands, not before and not after. I shall watch down on you from the heavens and my sprit will always be with you. God bless you Mhisani."
"By why on the next full moon father? Why?!" asked Mhisani. Maliki didn't reply, he just laid his head back down and closed his eyes. "Why father? Tell me why." Mhisani asked again, as he watched Maliki take his final breath. "Father? Father....?" said Mhisani, gently poking Maliki with his paw. The great lion that laid before him didn't move. Mhisani let out a huge roar of despair before collapsing by Maliki's side, crying. Kwini came up beside Mhisani and laid down next to him with one paw over her son and another paw over her dead husband. The living pair then laid crying until the afternoon sun turned into the evening one.
The next morning Mhisani awoke to find all the chosen
lionesses sat in front of him and yet another large pile of meat.
"Another couple of lionesses died last night. We thought you might like the first share this time since we have been taking our share out of the meat while you slept of all the others." said Kifu with a nervous grin on her face. Mhisani slowly rose to his feet. He sniffed at the meat and turned his nose up in disgust. He then flicked some of the meat to the side and ate a small amount of the rest. he turned to the small collection of hungry lionesses and said.
"You may feast yourself on all the meat you see here. I shall not be eating any more of this lot since I will not eat my father!"
Mhisani then walked away and sat down by himself, while the lionesses ate. As Mhisani sat he saw Kwini laying by a small puddle of water. Curiously, he walked up to her, to find her laid very still with her eyes shut. He looked at his mothers chest to see if it rose and fell as she breathed, it did not move.
"Oh Gods!" Mhisani roared "Not my mother as well?!?"
Crying again, Mhisani ran over to where the lionesses had just finished eating.
"Kwini's dead. My mother is dead!" he cried. Punda and Msasi were quick to try and comfort the crying lion. Eventually Mhisani stopped sobbing and regained the ability to speak properly, though he was still deeply upset.
I want to leave here as soon as possible!" announced Mhisani suddenly "This place can now only bring bad memories. My father said in his dying breaths that we must leave on the full moon, no sooner and no later. But I want to leave sooner, so I can forget about this place and get on with my life!"
"That isn't possible." Maulana stated. "We are not ready to go right now, in fact Maliki was probably correct in telling us to wait until the full moon until we leave, and that's in two weeks time. By then everyone will have died and we shall be fully stocked with food to last us the long journey."
"But it's depressing!" moaned Mhisani "Watching everyone around us die, and it still sickens me that I have to eat dead members of my own pride to stay alive. As I walk around I see fear in the eyes of those condemned to death. Scared that they might be next, scared that they might not die peacefully in their sleep. It is all too depressing."
"I know!" Msasi soothed "We all feel the same, but we have to stay. There is still food here and you need more training in leadership and hunting before you are ready to tackle the wide world."
"And the rest of us aren't ready yet either!" added Punda.
Mhisani sighed. he knew that they had to wait, full moon or no full moon. They couldn't leave until they were ready.
"So, your majesty, how do you want us to, erm, deal with Kwini?" asked Msasi.
"Huh? Your majesty?" questioned Mhisani.
"Well, with the king dead, you are the king. You are no longer a prince. You are the king of this pride. Everyone now looks up to you and will do anything you ask them too. This is what I have been preparing you for since we started walking the borders together." explained Msasi.
"Oh, I see!" exclaimed Mhisani. "As for Kwini, she has to be treated like the other lionesses. It hurts me to have to say this but she has to be eaten."
"We don't have to eat her sire." Kifu said.
"She would've wanted to help us in any way she could. So I think it only fitting that we eat her. The same with my father, I know he would've wanted to be eaten upon death, which is why I let you eat him. I think the same should apply with my mother." declared Mhisani, with a small tear in his eye.
"A fitting tribute." agreed Maulana.
The days and nights passed. The group grew stronger and
fitter as they prepared for the long trek ahead of them. Soon it was the
final day before the full moon. Times had been tough as more and more of
the pride died, but the little group made it through the downs and even
had a couple of ups as Mhisani asked Punda to be his queen. Punda accepted
and there was a little party.
"Today is the final day before the full moon sire!" Maulana reported. "And we have now run out of food!"
"Right then, get some sleep. My father told me to move on the full moon so we shall travel at night. It'll be cooler then, and we'll use the stars to guide us." said Mhisani to the small party. "We have a long journey ahead of us and so we shall need to get off on a good start. I'll see you all this evening and then onwards. Onwards into the unknown!"
The five pride members all settled down to sleep, for the evening would be the start of their whole new life. They all awoke with time to get ready for their exploration of the new lands, and as the moon rose they started the expedition that would both change their lives and change their perceptions of each other. They left the old territory behind them in their quest for new lands and, guided only by the stars and the moon, they all knew that the search for a better life had just begun.