Rehema’s chest rose and fell like a leaf on a stream. The pain was slowly subsiding. At her side, four cubs were suckling. She looked at them with the familiar pride of a lioness. The youngest was a delicate female, with dirty-brown eyes, a pink, round nose, tawny-orange fur and a red spot between her eyes. For some reason, this spot seemed to stand out from the many other blood-red spots on her body.
The second youngest was like her infant sister, but more lightly built, with a yellowish coat. Her brown nose was less cub-like than her sister’s, almost like her father’s. A dark spot ran onto it. Many other similar spots dotted her fur. Her ears were almost pointed, close to her small head.
The second oldest was a male, with piercing green eyes, like his pale sister. His rounded ears had black edges. He was almost identical to his youngest sibling. Rehema smiled at this. She noticed a brown tuft of fur atop his head, which, many months later, would be a mane.
The oldest male in the litter was different than his siblings. His fur was dark and his eyes were almost red in color. A fluffy tuft of fur grew between his ears.
I don’t know what to call you, little stranger…
Rehema looked up, and saw a figure, silhouetted against the morning sun. Sadness suddenly filled her heart.
My poor little boy. If only Hamaji were here…
The figure arose from its depressed state, angrily glared at Rehema, and padded off to find a place to rest.
Chapter 1: Scarred For Life
“You four stay where I can see you! I mean it!”
“Sure, mother! Come on, Kat! I’ll race you to that rock!”
“Right. And I’ll win, Shungi-Boy!”
The four lion cubs were romping and playing in the dry grass. The twins, Shungi and Stellia seemed almost made for each other. Perhaps he will become heir to the throne, thought Rehema. Of course, there is his older brother…
Rehema glanced at the dark cub wrestling playfully with his youngest sister. What shall I call him…
“Mother, is there anything I can do to be of use?”
Rehema swung around and was suddenly staring into the face of her oldest son.
“No, Obi, there is nothing you can do now…Except keeping watch over your brothers and sisters while I catch something for supper.”
Obi slunk down the pile of boulders to the level that the cubs were on.
“Hey Obi! Wanna play Lion-an’-Gazelle?”
“Err…not now, Spotty.” remarked Obi to his younger brother, who glanced at his patchy spots with embarrassment.
“She went hunting. Oww!” Obi snarled as Kathlene sank her teeth into his tail. “That hurt!”
“Sorry, Grass-head!” squealed Kathlene, bouncing off after Shungi.
“Overactive grasshoppers,” mumbled Obi to himself. “Squeaky pack-rats.”
“But you were like that once, I bet,” said a voice.
Obi looked up and saw the oldest cub of the litter, the one who was not named yet. He looked at him with a serious look for a cub.
“Uh, I guess so, Short-stuff.”
“Would you like to race me?”
“Well, I guess so. To where?”
“To that big rock out there.”
The rock that the little cub pointed to was nearly on the horizon and seemed very distant. But Obi was ready to show his brother how good a sprinter he was, and so he consented.
“Ready? One, two three…Go!”
Obi and his sibling speeded across the land, their squinted eyes fixed on the distant boulder. Despite his being older, Obi began to tire about halfway through. He neglected to see the stone in his way, and he stumbled and fell.
When Obi looked up, his brother was gone. Knowing the dangers that might be out in the plains, he ran back to his home, hoping that his mother would be there. Fortunately, his luck was strong, and Rehema was dragging a zebra towards the cave.
“Momma! My brother! He’s out there…Alone!” Obi was out of breath, but his trusting mother understood his plight. She sprinted in the direction from which her son had come. Her cub’s smell was strong in the grass. He had run this way.
Suddenly Rehema saw them. Jackals. Vicious wild dogs with gaunt legs and long, pointed muzzles. Rehema’s eyes scanned the grasses and spotted her son, flat against the earth, trembling. She growled and snarled at the scavengers, telling them not to come any closer. The jackals paid no heed and began to attack. In a desperate move, Rehema snatched her cub from the earth by his right ear. He screamed in pain as his devoted mother ran, barely in front of the invading dogs. Finally, they reached the cave. The wild creatures scattered, knowing that it is rash to intrude on a mother lion’s territory.
Rehema suddenly tasted blood. In terror, she dropped her cub, and was horrified to see that her teeth had made four, round holes in the cub’s ear, one of which formed a notch on the outer edge. He cried and clawed painfully at his wounded ear, as his mother tried to calm him and lick him to sleep. Rehema realized that the unfortunate cub would be like this all his life, with four small holes in his ear.
Obi heard the cub’s cries and ran to his mother, who was still trying to calm her son. Obi suddenly noticed the four, bleeding punctures in the cub’s ear, and his eyes stung with tears.
What have I done…?
Chapter 2: Changes
Kishimonne’s scars quickly healed, but as his mother predicted, the holes would be there all his life. His siblings comforted him and accepted him as a friend, except Obi, who could barely look his brother in the face, let alone speak to him.
However, Kishimonne couldn’t stand what had happened to him. Unlike his brother’s opinion, Kishimonne blamed his injury on himself. One morning, he awoke before his family and thought over what had happened.
You stupid cub. How could you do that. I’ve ruined my appearance. Now no one will treat me like one of them. What must I do to show them what I think?
He studied his unsheathed claws and trembled.
I’ll show them. I’m gonna become a rebel. I’ll show them I’m no coward.
With this decision made, Kishimonne drew his right paw over his muzzle, claws out. The pain stung his face, but he did not cry out, for fear that he might awaken his siblings. He then pulled a piece of skin off the zebra carcass his mother had dragged in several days before and blotted his cuts with it. The skin of the piece turned dark crimson with blood, and Kishimonne tied the red material in a knot around the end of his tail.
It doesn’t matter what has happened to me or what will happen to me. I will always be this way. Always.
Chapter 3: Young Hearts
The rest of the family was indeed shocked at Kishimonne’s appearance, but knowing how shaken he was already, no one said a word about it.
Kathlene, the second youngest sister, was surprised that her brother would do such a thing to himself. She decided to keep a close eye on him.
Kishimonne was resting beside the cave one afternoon, before the sun became overly intense, thinking over the decision he made. Was it right? Was it very wise?
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of grass rustling behind him. Kishimonne swung around and barely distinguished a small, yellow, speckled figure crouched in the weeds, ready to spring. Before he could turn to run, there was a fierce growl and a spotted cub exploded out of the brush, pinning Kishimonne to the ground. He had his eyes closed, but he could feel the wrath of the creature was under. He then thought he perceived a faint chuckle. He opened his eyes and found himself staring into the emerald eyes and slender muzzle of Kathlene.
“Kishi, Kishi, now you gotta kiss meeee!” she squealed.
“Get offa me, Kat.”
Her paws pressed into his chest. “And why should I, Rebel, when I would much rather watch you squeak?”
“Because,” replied Kishimonne, “I just might do this!”
He kicked Kathlene in the stomach with his back legs and sent her flying. She landed on all fours, smiling smugly.
“Your strength is improving, little dark one. I’ll be seeing you. Ciao.”
Kathlene walked off with a slight limp, either genuine injury, or something to please her older brother. As Kishimonne was dusting off his fur, he heard another voice above him.
“I must say, for the oldest cub of the litter, you sure let the girls pin you down.”
Stellia was reclining on a rock, gazing at Kishi with her brownish eyes. She grinned and stretched her back. “So, Big Brother, why did you mess up your face and tail like that?”
Kishimonne’s ears dropped. “I figured that the holes in my ear had ruined me forever, and it doesn’t matter how I look anymore, don’t you think?”
“I think what really matters is how you see yourself.”
“Yeah, that’s what Mother always says.”
“That’s also what Stellia says, Honey. Get used to it.”
“Right. Well, I think I’ll be going…”
“Not so fast.” As Kishi turned to walk away, Stellia quickly reached out and snagged her brother by one of his ear holes with an extended claw.
“Ow! Let go!”
“No way, Ki-shi-mo-nay. I want you to stop sulking and listen to me.”
“Okay. No problem.” Kishimonne relaxed and sat down. Stellia withdrew her claw and came down off her rock.
“You know, I actually like you the way you are.”
“I mean, you look like a lion who’s been through some great war and emerged victorious…” She studied his face. “Except no mane.”
“Just remember what I said and try to be happy, savvy?”
“All right,” said Kishimonne, getting up and starting to walk away again, “I’ll try.”
“Do better than that,” snapped Stellia, bringing her paw down on her brother’s tail, who stumbled and fell down. “Just be happy. Don’t try. Be.”
“Okay, okay. Sheesh.”
Stellia raised her paw, and Kishi scampered off, not willing to be another target of his sister’s paws. He did remember what his sister said, and he still had it in mind when he made the second big decision of his life.
Chapter 4: Prince Shungi
Rehema watched her little spotted cubs play and grow together. One thought, however, seemed to linger in her mind: who would become King. She studied all the cubs carefully and finally made up her mind. One night, she called Shungi to her side and spoke solemnly to him.
“You are aware of our system of monarchy in this world?”
“I have chosen you to become heir.”
“Well, I’m quite content being flesh and blood, Mom. I wouldn’t want to become…”
“No, not that kind of air, I mean heir to the position of King.”
“Woah, Mom, that’s really neat! But, why me?”
“You show skills of a true leader. You seem to be ahead of your brothers and sisters.”
“But what about Obi and Kishi?”
Rehema sighed heavily. “I’m afraid Kishimonne would be too gentle a king, and Obi is feeling so out of place now…Well, I’ll see how things turn out, my middle-son. Just don’t tell anybody else, okay?”
“But Obi is older than me, didn’t he know about it when he was as young as me?”
“Well, I told him about the system of royalty, but…he was simply too frightened. He was…too afraid.”
“Gosh. I thought Obi was so brave. But now that you tell me that…”
“I know, Shungi. But remember, don’t tell anybody about what I told you, okay?”
“Right, Mom,” said Shungi, beaming. “I won’t tell anyone.”
“Neither will I,” said another voice from out of the shadows.
Chapter 5: World of Dangers
Obi had always been a gentle, yet deceptive creature. He continuously would be sneaking around in unknown regions, picking up bits of info, and discreetly passing on his wisdom. But when Rehema saw him sitting in the shadows, just a few feet from where she was talking to Shungi about becoming King in the early morning, she began to feel deep concern for him.
Not a child, not an adult. Not a cub, not a lion. In-between. He just doesn’t have any solid ground to stand on. My poor little boy.
Obi raised his head, which was fringed with the mane of an adolescent, looked solemnly at his mother, and dashed off, near tears, down the rocks to the clearing. Rehema looked at Shungi, who looked both frightened and excited, and sighed heavily.
Later that morning, Kathlene asked Stellia and Shungi to come with her to a secret place she had found one day. Kishimonne was gone, obviously out hunting, like rebels do. The two cubs followed Kathlene through a small grove of trees and heavy vegetation. The air became stagnant.
At the end of the path the lion cubs were following, below a small, overhanging ledge, was a large, dark swamp. Huge brown rocks dotted its surface and thin weeds grew along its banks. Kathlene smiled and scanned the surroundings with pride.
“Well guys, this is it! Whaddaya think?”
“Err…” mumbled Shungi, “Great.”
“I know,” replied Kathlene.
“And stinky,” sneered Stellia.
There was a brief pause as Stellia and her brother exchanged looks of disappointment . Then Kathlene spoke again.
“Looks perfect for a swim, eh?”
“What?!” exclaimed the two other cubs.
“I said, it looks like a great place to soak your pelt. Whaddaya say? Shungi, you look like the daring type today. Wanna dive in? It’s a free pond.”
Shungi looked surprised but also eager to test his swimming skills. Obi could swim, and he had told his brother what it was like. Like flying. Shungi had never found a place to swim, but now Kathlene had led him right to his wish. It was like she could read his mind. He looked down at his paws, smiled broadly, and strutted towards the edge of the rock.
Stellia was speechless. She silently watched her older brother walk to the edge of the cliff, ready to dive into the quiet lake. Suddenly, she noticed one of the brown rocks stir in the dark water. Her eyes popped and her mouth dropped open in horror.
“Egad! Shungi! Don’t! Those are hippos down there! Don’t jump!” She quickly bounded to Shungi’s behind and grabbed his tail with her mouth and gripped it tenaciously.
Shungi stopped in his tracks, and turned to face Stellia, who slowly released her grip on his tail. Suspiciously, he then glanced at Kathlene, who grinned like a cobra.
“And it’s mating season too,” she purred. Suddenly her eyes narrowed and her grin widened. “I dare ya.”
Shungi’s ears dropped. His sister had never intimidated him like this before, especially not in a situation like this. Those hippos were vicious, especially when they were disturbed, and especially during mating season. All these facts came crowding into Shungi’s mind, and he slowly backed away from the edge.
“That’s right, Shungi,” urged Stellia. “Don’t let her talk you into things like that. That’s it. Just walk away.”
Shungi’s back was to the lake. He looked proud, and Kathlene appeared cold and furious. Just as he was about to enter the small grove again, something snapped in his mind. Shungi whirled around, sped down the path and off the ledge, straight into the soggy marsh.
“No!” bawled Stellia, “Not into the swamp!”
Shungi hit the water and immediately sank.
“Shungi! You stupid pile of zebra droppings! Get your tail outta there before…”
“He becomes shredded zebra droppings,” concluded Kathlene smugly.
Shungi was struggling to swim away from the hippopotamus herd, but the seemingly passive creatures knew there was an intruder in their midst, and they grew vicious. The water suddenly became alive with the movement of the huge creatures. Shungi panicked and kicked and thrashed, trying to swim to the shore. A hippo suddenly rose from underneath him, and Shungi was on its head. He jumped off, unfortunately straight towards another hippo with an open mouth, exposing its saber-like teeth. Shungi screamed and hit the animal’s rubbery lower lip, diving under the water.
Since his vision was blurred, he could only make out bubbles, froth and huge, dark bodies trying to crush his. When he finally came up for air, several other hippos were charging him. Shungi, feeling his swimming ability growing, paddled to the muddy shores of the lake and attempted to climb out, but the mud was thick and soggy. His paws stuck fast. A huge bull hippo was charging from behind Shungi, above he could see the frightened faces of Stellia and Kathlene. With one last burst of strength, he lunged out of the sticky mud, scrambled up the earthy cliff and collapsed, trembling, at his sisters’ feet.
Kathlene looked shocked and a bit embarrassed. Stellia was almost in hysterics.
“Shungi, you bird-brain! You could’ve been squashed in there! Where is your common sense?”
“I think I left it down there with the bloated water-horses…” muttered Shungi. He glanced angrily at Kathlene. “That’s no way to treat someone who’s gonna be the King!”
“The King? Shungi, what are you…”
Suddenly, Stellia and her sister realized what was afoot, and Stellia felt a deep love for Shungi, and a need to be very close to him, and to protect him as long as she lived.
Chapter 6: Obi’s Choice
Even though his mother didn’t blame him for the cause of Shungi’s encounter with the hippos, poor Obi felt even more sorrowful and guilty.
I have to leave. There is no place for me here. Maybe there is in another place.
Obi secretly told his mother of his decision one evening, when his brothers and sisters were asleep. She was very sad to hear him say that he was leaving, but she made no move to stop him.
My boy must follow his dreams. He is depressed enough without me controlling his life.
“Obi, my son, when are you leaving?”
“As soon as I feel ready, Mother. But I will leave. That I’m certain of.”
Rehema wept softly and embraced his gaunt, teenage body. “I’ll miss you, my son. I will always be here if you should wish to return.”
“Thank you, Mother. I’ll remember you.”
Obi licked his mother’s cheek affectionately, then walked around the rock wall, and into the cave with his four brothers and sisters, where he slept and dreamed of what would come.
Shungi woke him the next morning, pulling his mane and tail and being a general pest. “Hey, Obi, wanna play? Huh? C’mon, Bro! Wake up!”
Obi did wake up and then eyed his little brother angrily.
“Hey, was it something I said? Huh? What’s wrong, Obi?”
“Oh, nothing,” replied Obi, with a voice that pitifully dragged itself over Shungi’s ears, “It’s just that I’ve blamed myself for everything in my life, even stuff that I didn’t do; I have no future; you are going to be the King, I’m not; I have no one my age to talk to, and countless other problems. I’m going to do something about it, and it’s not too pretty.”
“Geez, I’m sorry, Obi,” said Shungi with true concern. “I wish I could help.”
Obi nearly asked Shungi if he could help, but his pride prevented him from doing that. He fondly ruffled the tuft of fur on his brother’s head for what would probably be the last time, stood up and walked over to Kishimonne’s sleeping form. Obi ran his paw over the four holes and the three scars on his brother’s face sadly. Kishimonne opened his reddish eyes briefly, then dozed off again.
Stellia was sleeping close to the entrance of the cave, curled into a furry ball. Obi looked carefully at her sleeping face, trying to remember every little detail. His eyes watered as he gently touched the star-like mark on his sister’s forehead. He wanted to see her open her funny cub eyes and laugh like a burbling stream. But Obi knew that he could not hold such moments forever.
Kathlene was not in the cave. She must be hunting, thought Obi. He left the cave where he first came into the world and headed towards the mighty range of mountains which could be seen through the cavern’s mouth. Several trees grew about the path he took. Dusty grass rustled under his paws and birds sang overhead.
Finally, he could clearly see the thick jungles, the rocky cliffs, bare plateaus and all the unheard of wonders of his life. Obi slumped over a fallen tree and gazed with wonder at the scene. He was so busy taking all of this in that he did not notice Kathlene sitting right beside him on the tree until she spoke.
“Do you know how you look when you gawk like that?”
Obi snapped out of his trance and looked at his sister in surprise. “What are you doin’ here, Kat?”
“I hunt, as though you didn’t know. I was gonna ask you the same question.”
“Well, if you really want to know, I’m leaving.”
“So what else is new?”
“I’m serious, Kathlene.”
“I know. Too serious, if you ask me.” She scratched an ear and licked a paw. “So why are you leaving, Obi?”
“I got no place here, Kat. There are other places out there. I’m gonna see if they’re better or worse than the place I call home.”
“Ooh, I’m impressed.”
“Stop being sarcastic, Kat. Please.”
“Okay. Sheesh. I…” she paused thoughtfully. “I’ll miss you, Obi.”
“I know, Sis.”
Kathlene stood up and hugged one of her brother’s legs with as much love as she could allow herself.
Obi sadly stood up, leapt over the fallen tree, and started walking. He looked back once to see his sister waving from her perch on the log. Obi’s heart sank, but still he trudged on to meet his destiny, whatever it would turn out to be.
Chapter 7: A Small Step
The land Obi passed through was harsh and unforgiving. Sharp rocks tore at his paws and the sun was hot overhead. His growing mane grew damp with sweat, and at length, he stopped to rest under the shade of a gnarled tree growing out of a crack in the rock.
Eventually, Obi fell into a brief sleep, during which he had an unsettling dream. He saw Rehema, his beloved mother, crying and supposedly dying of sorrow. His four siblings also lay against her side, thin and miserable. The sad group was assembled inside the cave, and outside, several black, ravenous vultures patiently sat, croaking and squabbling.
Obi awoke with a shudder. The squawking he heard in his dream came from an actual vulture perched above in the tree. Infuriated that the bird had awakened him, Obi snarled and drove the vulture from its perch. He then lay down again and thought about the dream.
After the day had cooled a bit, Obi got up and continued on his journey. There was little of interest as he walked through the small canyons and across the crumbling cliffs. Little rivers ate away the rock as they flowed on their endless way. Trees were also scarce. As the sun finally sank behind the mountains, Obi found a spot in a crevice where water and soil had trickled down, creating a spot where several young, tender trees, grass and flowers resided. A small river flowed through this oasis, creating a shallow pool in the midst of the vegetation. Obi wisely decided that this would be a good place to rest. He padded over to the pool and lapped up some of the clear, refreshing water. Exhausted and sorrowful from his day of travel, Obi flopped down under a tree drooping with white, night-blooming blossoms.
“This is it,” he said aloud. “I have exiled myself.”
Chapter 8: All Creatures Created Equal
Meanwhile, Rehema’s four cubs talked quietly amongst themselves, discussing Obi’s disappearance. Kathlene, the one who saw him leave, said little about the incident, but word eventually leaked out, and the other three cubs knew why their big brother had left them.
Kathlene was deeply shaken, but she wouldn’t let anyone see that. She was busy working on her hunting skills. Even though her cub-hood spots hadn’t faded entirely, and even though she was only a few moons old, she was already bringing down moderately large animals, like ground squirrels and Guinea fowl.
One hot and lazy afternoon, Kathlene was silently creeping through the weeds, tailing a large, tan creature. The grasses prevented her from seeing clearly, but her hunting instinct urged her on. The animal suddenly stopped. She could tell it was aware of her presence. Now was the time. Hunching her shoulders, Kathlene exploded out of the brush, claws unsheathed, mouth open, letting the unfortunate animal see her sharp canine teeth. The creature whirled around just as the she brought it down. It was obviously young, it gave no strong struggle against her. Suddenly, Kathlene realized that this was no ordinary piece of walking meat. It was a jackal!
She lunged off the animal’s body backwards and faced it, quivering with fury and fear at the same time. The jackal had a black mane down its back, a set of long, muscular legs, two large ears and a sharp nose, pointed straight at Kathlene’s tense body.
“What the heck are you?” barked the jackal. Judging by its voice, Kathlene could see that it was a young male, and a handsome one, at that.
“Why do you wanna know?”
“You jumped me, cat.”
“”Oh, have I insulted you or something?”
“No, I just…” the jackal stopped as several others of his kind sauntered out of the grass, circling the two cubs. The oldest female stepped up to Kathlene and let out a two minute burst of barking and snarling. Kathlene kept her cool, and did not let the dog see her fear, but only leered at her with narrowed eyes. After the jackal had run out of breath and patience, she growled, “Who are you, little cat, and what are you doing out here, in our territory?”
“You know, it’s hard to hunt in these parts without running into something that immediately starts an interrogation, Miss Jackal. Nothing personal, though.”
The jackal seemed startled by the bravery of the young lion, so she said:
“We usually kill anyone who ventures into this land, cat, but you…” suddenly she noticed the shaking jackal cub cowering behind Kathlene. “Kifimbo! What are you doing out here? I told you not to leave the pack!”
“Sorry, Mom,” said the jackal, padding over to a safe spot behind his mother’s leg.
“What did you do to my son to get him to trust you?”
“I don’t think you need to know. I personally trust no one, at least not for long, Miss.”
“It would be a shame to make a meal out of such a brave little cub,” remarked a male jackal, “Even if she is a female.”
Kathlene whirled around and bared her teeth. “Watch your mouth, Mister Macho. I’m tougher than you think, and I’m a dangerous cub when I’m cornered.”
The jackal put his ears back and drew his head back in surprise. “Well, I’ll watch myself then, cat.”
“It isn’t my business,” said Kifimbo, the jackal pup, “But I think we should call a truce or something.”
“All right,” replied his mother, “Just don’t tackle my son again, and we won’t hurt you, agreed?”
“Sounds savvy to me,” said Kathlene. “I guess we’re friends.”
Chapter 9: A Different World
Obi awoke from his sound slumber and almost forgot where he was. Then he remembered: His choice. His self-exile. His quest. With a heavy sigh, he stood up, stretched his back, and continued down the crevice, following the narrow stream.
Soon the chasm widened and became a barren plain, strewn with boulders and surrounded by seemingly infinite mountains. Some rocks were overgrown with moss and vines, and delicate flowers grew out of soil-filled cracks in the rocks. Tropical trees also grew in this strange place. The sound of rushing water made Obi prick up his ears with interest. It seemed to be coming from atop the tremendous cliffs, as if a river were flowing from the peaks, through rocky stream-beds.
An enormous rock slab barred Obi’s way, but fortunately, he found a small opening in the stones, probably caused by an avalanche. He squeezed his thin body through the hole with some difficulty, and found himself in a dark blue, naturally formed cavern.
It was not totally dark; light shone through an opening several yards ahead. For some reason, the light was tinged blue, and thus the whole cave was like this. Strange, twisted stalactites and stalagmites grew from the floor and ceiling. Some of these formations were dotted with fragile, pale, luminescent fungi. White moths and other insects flitted about, and Obi was held silent and spellbound in the beauty of the cave.
Suddenly, he heard a subtle flapping noise above his head. He looked up and beheld a monumental colony of fruit bats hanging from the low ceiling of the cave. His flesh quivered, seeming ready to crawl out of the cave, leaving the rest of his body to the creatures. Obi had never seen bats before, and thus was terrified. Slowly, he sank to the damp floor until his stomach was touching it, and crept through the cave, slowly and cautiously, every now and then glancing up at the living carpet of flying mammals, which was still sleeping soundly.
Finally, Obi reached a higher part of the cavern, where bats no longer lined the ceiling. The blue color of the cave was growing more intense, and the darkness less. Squinting his sensitive eyes, Obi rose to his feet and slowly walked through the cave, which seemed to be more like a tunnel now. The rumbling sound of falling water reached his ears.
Then he saw it. A sheet of azure water directly outside the mouth of the cave. Obi approached the strange barrier. He put his paw through the falling water, then withdrew it, puzzled. He gazed through the water and could just make out a gray rock behind it. Feeling his courage and adventurous spirit mounting, Obi plunged through the sheet of falling water, landing square on the large, flat rock. However, this rock stood between two waterfalls, creating an enclosed chamber surrounded by falling water. The air was full of moisture and cool. Obi pondered his situation. He opted to jump through the second waterfall, but the surreal beauty of his location caused him to pause and look at the strange place. Looking up not only got a few drops in his eyes, but cave him a view of the top of the cave. Vines and moss trailed down, indicating a very lush environment. Obi looked at the waterfall before him, and saw his reflection. He saw a tawny, yellow, teenage lion, with a brown, half-formed mane and two, emerald-green eyes. If I breathe in this air any longer, I’m gonna drown in here, he thought. Then he plunged through the image and landed in a shallow lake, the color of sapphires.
Obi swam to the right-side bank, dried himself and continued on his journey, following the side of the lake, which soon drained into a fast-flowing river. He was in a thick jungle, with mountains on both sides. However, the mountains on the opposite side of the ever-widening river seemed more passable, whereas the mountains on Obi’s side were sheer, endless rock walls, with no visible passages through them.
Trying to ignore this, he kept walking for several hours until he reached what he least wanted to in his present situation. Another waterfall.
Finding no way to get to the bottom of the falls safely or cross the mountains to his right, Obi decided to backtrack for a short distance and then swim across the river. Finding a place where the water was less rapid, he jumped in and began to swim.
Unfortunately, the river was much deeper and wider than Obi presumed it to be. When he was only halfway across, his strength began to ebb, and he realized that he wouldn’t be able to make it to the other side. He needed to find a rock to rest on until his strength returned. Fortunately, Obi’s luck was with him, and he found a rock protruding out of the water, with a spindly tree growing out of it. Gripping the wet stone with his claws, Obi was just able to drag himself out of the raging current and collapse on the cold surface, his paws wrapped around the tree so he would not be swept away.
He fell into a troubled sleep, and awakened a few hours later by his stomach. He hadn’t eaten since he was home. In his weak condition, Obi was afraid that it would be impossible to reach the other side of the river now. Fear gripped his body all over, especially his rumbling stomach.
Then something caught his eye. The bush which he was still gripping bore several blood-red fruits. There were no leaves, just these odd berries, clinging to the naked branches. Obi rarely ate fruit, or any plant at all, but he was always looking forward to something new. Skewering one of the fruits with an extended claw, he cautiously licked it. He repeated this taste test several times. As he did, he noticed the fruits on the gnarled bush rippling with iridescent colors, almost shining like the walls of the cave he had left several hours before. The juice of the berries stung his mouth, and Obi wondered if these strange fruits would satisfy his tremendous hunger.
He did not have time to ponder this. Suddenly an electric impulse shot through his spine, causing him to drop the berry he was licking. His vision became blurred, then into focus again. Nervously, Obi glanced at his paws. To his increasing horror, his paws slowly transformed into two scaly, webbed appendages. The scales were greenish, and resembled those of a fish. Webbing grew between his toes, and his claws were long and sharp, and couldn’t be retracted. Obi gaped in utter bewilderment, but he didn’t even have time to contemplate this change, for his back legs and his tail suddenly went limp, and he couldn’t move them. Turning his head to see what could be wrong, he watched helplessly as his legs and tail fused into one solid, fleshy tail. Then, to Obi’s further terror, the end of this tail split into two green-blue fins, and scales sprouted from his waist to the end of his tail, which now looked more like that of a fish. He attempted to raise himself on all fours (or what was nearest enough) and immediately slipped off the wet stone and fell into the river.
Obi thought he would drown in a few seconds, but, instead, he found that he could breathe under the water. He opened his eyes, and noted that he could see clearly as if he were on land. He also noted that he was sinking fast, so instinctively he lashed his new tail and pawed the water with his webbed paws, and was amazed at how quickly he could move through the current. Schools of fish swam around him, and strange aquatic plants grew out of the white river sand.
Obi had never seen such a paradise. He never even knew that such a place existed. He floated downstream for a ways, observing all that he saw, hoping that this wasn’t a dream, and if it was, he wouldn’t forget it.
Then a gnawing cramp bit his side. He had totally forgotten his hunger. Now a serious problem lurked in his mind: How am I going to bring down a hoofed land mammal when I am currently half lion and half fish? This only stayed in his brain for a short time. His meals were swimming around him every few seconds! All he had to do was wait, and then snatch one of those fish out of the water with his handy-dandy webbed claws.
Easier said than done, thought Obi a few unsuccessful minutes later. But, practice makes perfect, as Kathlene once said. With this in mind, he persisted and eventually caught several fish, which he ate on the rock which had saved his life. He even made a few offerings of fish to the river gods on that same rock, as thanks.
The sun was sinking behind the western mountains as Obi finished his last fish, quite full and content with his adventures. Now wait a minute, he suddenly thought; Where should I sleep tonight?. Not on this stone cold…err, stone, and not on either side of this river. I’d be a washed-up. Literally. Leopard-Chow. So what should I do?
Obi dove into the river again, and began searching the banks mindlessly. Now wait a sec…Is that a hole in the left side of the river?
He searched the bank, and discovered that there was a hole eroded into the wall of earth, and it just happened to be wide enough for him to swim through. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. He squeezed through the hole and swam through a stone passage, and into a subterranean chamber, which led out into open air, this time, on the left side of the river. Gratefully, Obi stretched out on the mossy floor, gnawed on a small fish bone, wrapped his fish-tail around his furry body, and fell into a long slumber, during which he dreamed he was flying.
Chapter 10: Young Love
That same night, Shungi awakened Stellia and asked her to follow him.
“I have found something, Stel,” he said. “I know you’ll like it.”
Stellia followed her brother out of the cave and through the small grove of trees encircling their home. The moon was nearly full, and it shone through the trees, creating speckled patterns on the cubs’ already spotted skin.
The grass of the savanna was lush and green, but in the moonlight it resembled blades of silver. The cubs carefully made their way through the field, avoiding the path to the swamp that Kathlene had discovered.
They then passed the water-hole, which was nearly full this time of the year, shining like a rippled mirror. Stellia paused and gazed at her reflection. Her spots were just starting to fade, but the one on her forehead still remained as resplendent as ever. She raised her head, smiled at Shungi, and continued to follow him, staying close to his side.
Shungi led Stellia into a meadow where the grass was longer and softer to the touch. The air was also cooler, and had a subtle fragrance.
“There,” whispered Shungi, pointing.
A ring of flowers grew in the center of the meadow. The cubs moved closer and closer until they were sitting inside it. The flowers were unlike any kind that Stellia had ever seen before. Their petals were a dark blue hue that outshone the night sky, like an iridescent sea. The center was a shining, yellow saffron color, with several fluffy stigmas that released a cloud of pollen when Shungi batted them. Fireflies flitted around the ring of flowers, as borne from the pollen. Stellia looked into her brother’s green eyes, and asked:
“Shungi, what does it mean to love someone?”
“I don’t now…Perhaps doing what we’re doing right now, I guess. Why?”
“’Cause I think I might be in love with you.”
Stellia gently nuzzled Shungi under the chin, as he slowly watched the mystical flowers glow with compassion. After what seemed like an eternity, Stellia rose to her feet, then Shungi did the same, and they began to walk home, walking closer to each other than before, in fact, almost leaning on each other.
Then, for no reason except for her love for her brother, Stellia began to sing, her soft voice mingling with the night breeze.
“Strangers in the niiiiight, exchanging glances,
Lovers at first siiiiiiiiight, what are the chances
We could fall in love, before the night is throoooouuugh….
Somethin’ in your eyes was so invitin’,
Somethin’ in your smile was so excitin’,
Somethin’ in my heart told me I must have yooooouuuu…..”
Chapter 11: The Mighty Jungle
Obi awoke late the next morning, still in his cave, still feeling exhausted. He stretched his limbs and was surprised to see that his paws were now just like those of any ordinary lion, soft, furry and padded. Turning his head, he saw that his legs and lion’s tail had also replaced his aquatic tail. Was his whole underwater adventure just a dream, brought on by eating those foreign, if not toxic berries?
If it was a dream, he thought, then where did I get this fish bone?
Obi stopped pondering this strange phenomenon so as not to strain his brain too much. Gratefully rising to his feet, he climbed out of his shelter and contemplated where he should go next. Since there seemed to be nothing interesting downstream, Obi decided to head towards the mountains. Perhaps he could find a way over them. Somehow.
He had literally set his sights high. The path through the thick jungle was almost impassable. The day after he started his new journey, he managed to catch a large monkey, which he ate with interest, as this was one of his untried meals. Later that day, he managed to snag a couple of ground-dwelling birds with some difficulty. He also scavenged some already-killed animals, sometimes more than he hunted, encountering little danger until he encountered a leopard the fourth day of his journey while he was stalking a rodent.
“What are you doing in my territory, plains-cat?” hissed the spotted cat, which revealed itself to be a female.
“My name is Obi, and I’ve come quite a distance and I do not intend to be killed this soon on my way.”
The leopard raised her eyebrows and sneered at Obi. “So, it’s you, Old Wan-Kanobe. What are you doing out here? Whatcha looking for?”
“Uh…I’m not sure yet…”
“Hah! I should have known! Does this mindless wandering run in the family, Scruffy?”
“I bet it does, because your little brother and sister have flown the coop!”
“What?!” Obi’s face paled, and his legs trembled at the thought of his siblings leaving home. “How do you know? You may just be lying to me, leopard!”
“Well…It’s just some stuff I heard through the grapevine. Some monkey said it was the one with the four holes in his ear and the little yellow female, the one with the green eyeballs.” The leopard grinned wickedly at Obi. “I bet that they were trying to be like you, Vagabond. I doubt they’ll ever return home again. Of course,” she added, “It could just be a rumor, just like the fact that your other two siblings are in love with each other.”
“I can believe that, but…but…”
“No time for butting, my maned malignant misfit. Try hunting nearer to that mountain over there. That’s out of my territory. And…” she said just as Obi was trudging away, “Good luck, Son of Hamaji.”
Chapter 12: A Brush With History
The leopard was partially right. Kathlene and Kishimonne had left home, but not because of what Obi did, but because of Stellia’s falling in love with Shungi.
“It’s disgusting,” Kathlene said to her brother one day. “I mean, they’re nuzzling their noses off, and licking like crazy. They aren’t even practicing hunting with me. This whole romance thing stinks.”
Kishimonne dropped his ears and nodded in agreement.
“So I’m afraid I’m gonna have to put all my knowledge of hunting on your shoulders, Honey.”
“But, Kat, I…”
“No buts! We start your training tomorrow.”
Finding it very hard to argue with his sister, Kishi agreed to go hunting. He had always been a good hunter, but was not obsessed with it like Kathlene. The next morning, he and his sister made tracks for the western plains, where antelope and zebra were abundant. Kathlene instructed her brother carefully.
“Now see that striped delicacy grazing out there?”
“No, the one with the big black stripe down his butt. Now listen to me, Kishi.”
“Shhh! Now when I say charge, you charge.”
“Right.” After several minutes of waiting, Kathlene finally uttered the word “Charge” to her brother. Kishimonne burst out of the bushes, roaring as much as his small throat could roar.
“No, don’t roar, you twit! Stop!”
The animals heard the two lions, and were stampeding further west, towards the western hills. Kishimonne followed in lethal pursuit, paying no attention to his sister, who followed behind him, cursing and snarling.
After several minutes, Kathlene caught up with her brother, and squeezed his throat until he stopped roaring, or what was meant to be roaring.
“Now we have to start over again, you stupid nut!”
The two cubs slowly followed the herd until it calmed down. However, Kishi failed this hunting session, and the next. Finally, on the fourth lesson, he and Kathlene brought down a small zebra, an enormous feat for two young cubs. However, when they had finished their meal, they noticed that it was nearly dusk, and their home was nowhere in sight.
“Great. We’re lost. Which way now, Kathlene?”
Kathlene was trying to come up with a satisfactory answer to her brother’s question when a rustle in the nearby bushes alerted her senses. Her ears flattened and she bared her teeth as a small pack of jackals encircled the cubs and the half-eaten carcass. Kishimonne trembled in fear.
“All right, doggies, don’t come any closer, I get bloodthirsty when I’m outnumbered!” she growled.
“Oh, it’s you again,” said one of the jackals. “I thought we would run into each other sooner or later.”
“Kifimbo! Is that you, you sharp-nosed scavenger?” Kathlene recognized the young jackal she had pinned several weeks ago, as well as his mother and his relatives.
“Kat…you know these jackals?” said Kishimonne, still trembling.
“Yeah! They’re my friends…sorta.” Kishimonne shivered even more and a gnawing pain gripped his right ear as he recalled what had caused his disfigurement. “Kat, let’s get outta here before they turn on us.”
“Relax, you sissy. And no!” she snapped to a jackal about to take a bite out of the dead zebra. “Let’s make a deal. You tell us the safest route home, we give you the meat. Savvy?”
“All right,” replied Kifimbo’s mother. “Well, there’s no safe route to your place now, as the place is crawling with hyenas and jackals less friendly and forgiving than us. And you can’t stay here either. But there is a safe kingdom several miles from here. You can sleep there for the night. The predators have been exiled from there.”
“Great. We’ll do that. The carcass is yours. Come on, Kishi.”
Uneasily, Kishimonne followed his sister away from the ravenous pack. The jackal’s path led them across a flat grassland and a small desert, fortunately it was night. After resting for a short while the next morning, at the edge of the desert, Kishimonne and his sister continued for several miles, until they could see an enormous jutting rock flanked by a square-shaped rock in the distance. The sky was growing dark. A storm was probably approaching. A dry river bed lay in the plains below their perch, which was atop a large hill. From the eastern end of this strange land, a ragged group of lionesses was slowly coming.
“You think they can tell us where we are?” asked Kishi.
“I know you aren’t going to ask them,” replied Kathlene, “So I will.”
She sprinted down the hill, tumbling down the last half of the way and almost bowling over one of the lionesses, who growled and rejoined the group.
“Eh, excuse me,” said Kathlene to the lioness at the front of the procession, who had a notch in her right ear. “Can you tell us where we are? You see, we’re strangers, and…”
“Get out of here, cub,” snarled the lioness, glaring at Kathlene, “Or we might kill you too.”
Kathlene was startled to see that the lioness looked a lot like her; the same small ears, the same slim body, even the same nose…”You don’t think I could be related to you?” she said, letting her curiosity get the better of her.
“I told you to leave!” said the lioness, taking a snap at the cub’s tail. Kathlene shrieked and backed away a short distance. A younger lioness with blue eyes and an odd forelock on her head approached her and whispered, “I’d get out of here if I were you. My mom is not in a talkative mood now. Maybe after we’ve won this kingdom…”
The leader of the group of lionesses growled, “Vitani! Get back in line! Leave that cub alone!”
“Yes Mom. G’bye kid. Sorry.”
Kathlene watched the lionesses proceed westward. She was too shocked to speak. Finally, she returned to her brother’s side, glad to be close to him again. They found a large termite mound and found shelter from the oncoming storm inside it. The next day, Kishimonne was able to catch a couple of mice for himself and his sister, much to her satisfaction. He noticed that the river was now full, and flowing rapidly, and so he wisely decided to avoid it.
Later, Kishimonne was patrolling this new land, trying to find a good place to locate their present position from, when he suddenly was confronted by a dark brown lion with a black mane and a scar over his left eye.
“Who are you, intruder?” he growled at Kishimonne.
“Yikes! Uh, look, sir, I didn’t mean to be intruding or anything, I..…just……uh…”
“Intruded,” concluded the lion.
“No, it’s just that my sis and I are lost, and she asked a group of females for help, but they didn’t…”
“Wait. When was this encounter, cub?”
“Last…last night, I think.”
The lion sighed and squinted the eye that was scarred. “I think you spoke to my mother.”
“Issat so? What would that make you? A rouge?”
“No,” said the lion, his face hardening. “The future king of the Pride Lands.”
Kishimonne’s mind suddenly ignited with old rumors he heard from his siblings, and he recalled some stories about a place called the Pride Lands. His excitement mounted. “Say, aren’t you the son of that tyrant who once ruled these parts? His name was Taka, I believe.”
“Not the son. Adopted.”
“I’m surprised. You’re a spitting image of what I’ve heard.”
“I don’t want anything to do with him,” said the lion angrily.
“So, you come from another land, cub?”
“I guess you could say that. But I must say we have some things in common, I mean, like the brown coat, the gaunt build, the nose, the scars…except you just have one, I have three, and the mane…”
“You are pushing me, cub…”
“And I can’t believe that king welcomed you in! What’s his name? Samba?”
“Well, after betraying his pride and then your own pride, it’s a wonder he actually let you carry off his daughter! Yeesh, what did she see in you? I can see why you would kinda like her, but to marry what would actually be her second cousin, isn’t that a little…”
The lion’s face was growing more and more infuriated, and before Kishimonne could finish his remark, he released a ground-shaking roar and glared at the cub, who streaked across the dry plain, not stopping until he collapsed beside the termite mound, next to his sister.
“I think…..we’d better…get outta here…” he gasped between breaths.
Affectionately, Kathlene slid her head under her brother’s chin and hoisted him onto his feet, slowly guiding him to the edge of what she realized was the Outlands.
“I think…..I just met…..Kovu…..”
“Oh, that little traitor. I don’t know how the Pride Lands will survive with him as a king.”
“I thought he only had a daughter.”
“No…..he did have a son….”
“He did, huh?”
Chapter 13: Climb Every Mountain
Obi’s path took him from the lush jungles into the harsh mountains. The air was cold and thin, and he often had to rest and catch his breath. The sharp rocks tore at his paws, and they occasionally bled, another excuse for him to halt and regain his strength. He caught little food, and what little he did catch (small mice and rodents) barely kept him moving. He slept on cold stones at night, sometimes traveling during that time too.
On one of these nights, when Obi was trudging through these mountains beneath a waning moon, he noticed a small pool of water nestled in the cracks. He gratefully drank from this oasis, wondering how it came to be there. As he walked on, he felt a numb feeling in his paws. Not from the jagged rocks, but from cold. The region he was walking through was cold enough, but the ground was even more so. Obi looked down at his paws, and noticed that they were half buried in some white, freezing powder. Raising one paw to his lips and licking it revealed that the powder tasted just like water, only cooler. As Obi walked on across the bare plateau, he noticed flakes of white falling from the gathering clouds. The small flecks landed on his fur and mane, forming white piles on his head and back. He noticed that his paws made tracks in the strange, mud-like material. He vaguely remembered stories his mother had told him about a land where a great white cat, covered in stripes, lived in an area where it was so cold that frozen drops of water fell from the sky. Like rain, but much colder. The drops would cover the earth, forming a great white blanket. What did Rehema say the drops were called?
Snow. So this is snow.
Obi was amazed that he was surrounded by the stuff his cubhood dreams were constructed around. He romped and frolicked in the snow until he was almost to tired to move, then he realized that he was on a quest, and had to leave his memories behind him. So he shook the snow from his body and slowly walked down the mountain as the sun began to rise over the eastern hills.
When he finally reached the foothills on the other side of the mountain range, it was nearly noon, and Obi was nearly starved. So he caught himself a moderately large rock-squirrel, drank from a nearby pond, and fell asleep, dreaming that he was still a cub, with his little spots still on his fur, and his loving mother was caressing him and telling him stories of Hamaji.……his father……who he never knew, but wished he did.
Chapter 14: Return to Innocence
Kathlene and Kishimonne’s journey home seemed longer than the journey to Pride Rock. Not only did they have to hunt more often, but Kishi was constantly badgering his sister with questions about the Pridelanders and the jackals. She answered most of them honestly, but let out as little knowledge as she could.
The path they took led them through wide plains and forests until they finally reached Rehema’s cave. But the journey had taken them so long that by the time the two cubs stepped into familiar territory, their reddish-brown spots had faded away.
The four siblings took a few minutes to observe the changes that had occurred during Kathlene and Kishimonne’s absence. Kishimonne’s dark forelock had grown larger, and his three scars and four holes were prominent against his brown coat. Kathlene’s figure had slimmed down, and the spot on her nose had faded with the rest of her markings. Stellia, on the other hand, still had the star-like speck between her brown eyes, unlike the plain orange of the rest of her coat. Shungi’s black-edged ears were still prominent, and the tuft of fur atop his head had nearly doubled in size, and the outer locks of it drooped into his sharp green eyes.
Overall, the cubs decided that nothing had changed between them very much, except Stellia’s attachment to Shungi. Rehema was very pleased that the two were in love. She had spent the time before Kishimonne and Kathlene’s return teaching them how to rule the kingdom like she and Hamaji had ruled…..before Hamaji left her. Shungi and Stellia would often go off alone together, talking quietly, but not about anything that their brother and sister would have guessed.
“So,” said Shungi on one of their late afternoon walks, “What do you think about this Y2K deal?”
“Why two K? You mean the coincidence that two famous couples that we know of that all have names beginning with ‘K?’” asked Stellia.
“You know, like Kishi and Kathlene, Kovu and Kiara?”
“Was that a joke?”
“Yeah. A bad one, though.”
“Well, I liked it. What about this approaching millennium, anyway?”
“I think it’ll be interesting, Shungi-boy.”
“Uh-huh. By the way, I don’t think Kishi really likes Kat, y’know?”
“I know. But we’re going to be King and Queen, so I guess they’re stuck together, Stel.”
“Yeah. But what about Obi? I know he left some time ago, but what if he does come back?”
“He might,” said Shungi, gazing at the dying sun. “He’s probably looking at this cool sunset right now.”
Chapter 15: My Father’s Eyes
Shungi was partially right. Obi had been sleeping all day, and he awoke just as the sun was fading in the west. Great, he thought. Now my clock’s been thrown off twelve hours. I’m becoming a nocturnal here.
Rising to his feet and stretching, Obi walked into the quiet jungle. This seems like a good place to settle down, he thought. He stayed in the foothills of the majestic peaks for several weeks to rest himself and sharpen his hunting skills. The plains beyond the jungle looked like they provided much food. Obi kept this in mind.
For many months he stayed in this place, hoping that this was where he belonged. One evening, however, he was slowly walking through the thick jungle, pondering over his journey. He saw a nightingale flitting about in the branches above his head, trilling and warbling. Obi smiled and listened to her song as he moved on. A pair of lovebirds nuzzled each other in ecstasy while perched upon a limb. Obi realized that he never had a true love in his life. Not that Kathlene really likes me that much, but….
He noticed a strange pool on the edge of the plains that he had never seen before. He dragged himself onto a stone reaching over the water. The rippling surface reflected off the underside of the rock he laid on. He thought of his mother, who loved him so dearly….until they were born. Shungi, Stellia, Kishi and Kathlene. She loved them more than me, Obi thought. They must be older now. Maybe as old as I was when I…..left.
Sadly, he put his paw against his cheek and peered over the rock and saw his reflection: a golden-yellow teenage lion with a pink nose and piercing green eyes. And with a mane that was still just coming in, despite all the many moons he spent here. A brownish-orange color. Almost like a fire…Oh well.
Obi sighed deeply and was about to fall asleep when he heard a soft noise humming through the plains. The world suddenly grew silent. His eyes slowly moved up from the reflection, and, as if in a trance, Obi arose and began to follow the curious sound. It led him across the plains, farther than he had ever gone before, across an odd plain that shone blue in the moonlit night, strewn with large stones, with a small sprig of grass growing here and there. Atop the largest of the boulders, still many yards from where Obi was standing, was a softly pulsing light, like the sun, but cooler and gentler.
“Approach, Prince Obi,” said a reverberating, compassionate voice that filled the plain.
Obi slowly made his way across the eerie plain, which looked like the bottom of the river that he swam in so long ago. The light grew brighter and its warmth reached out to Obi, caressing his growing mane and his muscular back. “Closer.”
A pile of boulders led up to the highest one, which was much larger than Obi had perceived. As he drew closer to the strange light, he began to make out forms within it. Two feathered wings protruded from the center of the shimmering mass, and as Obi reached the stone that was directly in front of this central place, he could plainly see the body of a full-grown lion forming out of the ball of light. His dark mane was illuminated by it. His head seemed to shimmer, as a halo seemed to form around it. His two gentle, yet serious emerald eyes shone at Obi with pride and happiness. With the massive, transparent wings protruding from his back, he looked like one who had been blessed by the gods, or by someone even greater.
“Obi,” said the lion. “My son.”
* * *
“Is it really you? Hamaji the Wanderer? My father, former ruler of this land?”
“Yes. It is I.”
“If I were, I wouldn’t be talking to you, would I, Obi?”
“I know you have many questions for me,” said the great lion, stretching his
wings and smiling broadly at Obi. “I will try to answer them all as best I can.
“I was with Rehema for some time, and we were peaceful together. She was one hot female back then, if you know what I mean,” Hamaji said, chuckling.
“I never really knew any lionesses, Father.”
“Sorry, Obi. Anyway, when she was to have you, I decided to leave, to become a nomad. It seemed I was born to never stay in one place.”
“I know. Like Kathlene used to say, ‘They come, they mate, they leave, they come, they mate, they…’”
“We’ll talk about your siblings later, Obi. I knew you would become a great ruler, so I left to absorb the wisdom of the Great Kings of the Past. They speak freely to the traveler, and sometimes even allow him or her to test the magic of the Ancient Ones.”
“So that’s what the deal with the berries and the river was.” Muttered Obi. “And I didn’t become a great leader. Only future Duke.”
“I am sorry about the troubles I know the fruits caused you, my son. And I believe you have become a great leader.”
“You have helped your siblings live good lives.”
“Yeah right. I accidentally got my little brother four holes in his ear and an awful name.”
“It was not your fault, son. It was destined to happen.”
“Now he tells me.”
“And about your brothers and sisters: Shungi will make a good king, as his sister will make a good queen. As for the two others, I believe that they shall remain the same. Rebels and travelers, like you and I. It’s in their blood. We are born to wander, and to learn. But now, my son, you must return home. Now is the time.”
“But why? I’ve come so far just to turn back?”
“Lions travel great distances just to learn who they are,” said Hamaji. “And now you know. You are my son. A great leader for your siblings. In fact, you are more than a leader. You are the Prince of Adventure.”
“Yes. You will always be my son, but what your destiny has in store for you, one never knows. I will always be with you. Always. Watching you, guiding you, your brothers and sisters too.”
“She knows her future, Obi. But I will stay with her as well. So…..good-bye, my son.”
The light of Hamaji faded into the night. Obi, overcome with sorrow and happiness, fell into a deep slumber, during which images of eagles’ wings swept across his mind.
Chapter 16: Going Home
Obi was not sure how long he slept after his encounter with his father, but it was night when he awoke. The strange plain was not as blue as it had been before. The rocks dotted its otherwise smooth surface, like warts on a toad’s skin. The moon was nearly full as Obi walked back the way he came, gazing at the stars.
When he finally came to the shimmering pool where his adventure across the plains started, he dragged himself atop the overhanging rock and peered into the water, trying to determine if it was real, or just a dream. To his amazement, when he looked at the rippling, pearly surface, he beheld not a scrawny adolescent, but a full grown lion. Obi gasped in wonder. It was his reflection, but seeing himself as an adult gave him an odd feeling. He ran his paw along his head and back to see if it was an illusion, but he touched the mighty mane of a lion, and he knew that he was old enough to know that he could go back.
Meanwhile, at Rehema’s cave, the four brothers and sisters of Obi were growing rapidly. Kishimonne and Shungi’s manes were coming in, Kathlene was growing more solitary and Stellia was growing more close to Shungi. His lessons on becoming King were going smoothly, Rehema was a good teacher, and Shungi an obedient student. He often asked his mother questions about his father, but she avoided most of these questions, answering them cautiously.
Kishimonne, like his pale sister, was beginning to become a wanderer, hunting on his own and behaving like a true rebel. His siblings tried to accept his actions, but had much difficulty.
Their difficulties were nothing compared to Obi’s, who was now traveling through mountainous lands, unable to find the way home. For many more weeks he wandered through the strange country, hopelessly lost. Food was becoming scarce with the changing seasons. One day, Obi began to feel that he had been hallucinating that night, and that his father was just a dream. Yes, he thought. That must be it. You stupid lion. Some male you are. Oh boy…
He was just about to flop down on a bed of grass and forget about his family when a familiar voice sounded in his mind.
My son, don’t give up so soon. Follow the path to the west…
Hearing the gentle voice of his father caused Obi’s heart to open. He remembered the night when he met Hamaji, and all that he told him. You are a true leader, Obi.
A true leader, he thought. Some leader I am. I can’t even roar. Well…actually….I’ve never really tried it….not that I know how…
Feeling his confidence mounting, Obi walked over to the tallest rock he could find, breathed in the crisp air of the mountains and let it out in a mighty roar that aroused a nearby flock of birds and the mountains became deathly silent.
The path to the west, Obi.
Obi looked up, his mane trailing into his eyes, obscuring his vision. There was a small path winding through the hills, towards the now setting sun. In amazement, Obi then dismounted the rock. Feeling his mind open and his heart tremble, he slowly walked westward, towards the place he was born, and hopefully, the place he would someday die.
Chapter 17: He’s My Brother
“Shungi, my love?”
“Yes, my Queen?”
“There comes news of a rouge roaming our lands. He is outside the cave now. Shall I bring him to you?”
“Of course, Stellia. Please do.”
Shungi was reclining upon a large slab of stone, his mother at his side. His mane was now fully grown, his so-called tuft now draped across his broad skull, accompanied by the rest of his mane. His ears still had their black edges, which Shungi had inherited by his mother, who, though old and weary, stayed by his side, and gave him advice and admonishments on his choices during his new reign. Stellia, with her reddish birthmark still visible, was outside the cave, interrogating the “wanderer” that was actually her older brother. She was aware of this, but like Rehema said, “Never let emotions get in the way.”
After a few minutes, Stellia escorted Kishimonne into the cave of his brother, the King. Kishi had now grown gaunt, with his familiar dark coat and his almost black, scruffy mane.
“So,” said Shungi in his deep, rolling voice, “Why have you been wandering our lands?”
“Well,” said Kishi, his red eyes flicking from Shungi to Stellia to his mother, “I guess you could call it a ‘big brother’ thing, Shungi.”
“Outlandish characters like you should not exist in my kingdom.” growled Shungi.
Kishimonne’s knees knocked together and a sheepish look spread over his face.
“Well……I……err….You’re my brother, your highness.”
“That’s the point. You are a disgrace to this family.” Rehema and Stellia looked at Shungi with concern. “That’s why I’m asking you to leave.”
“All right, my King, I’ll just slink outta here and continue with my…”
“No!” snapped Shungi, his brows furrowed. “I meant leave this land. Find another place to spread your ideas. Now go.”
Kishimonne’s eyes grew wide and his thin body trembled until he nearly fell over. “But Shungi, Kathlene is a rebel! Why don’t you send her away too?”
“She is not a lion, and thus has fewer responsibilities. Lionesses are meant to hunt and roam. But not males. Besides, I haven’t seen her in months. I can’t exile someone who I can’t find. Now leave, Rebel.”
Kishi lowered his tattered ears, turned and trudged out of the cave, his tail dragging on the ground. Stellia, who had obviously been concerned about the fate of her dark brother, now grabbed a lock of Shungi’s mane and turned his face to face hers.
“Shungi, why did you exile him? He’s harmless to this realm. Why did you do it?”
Shungi gazed into his mate’s deep brown eyes and at the speck of red that still remained on her pale brow. “Stellia, I couldn’t let his rebellious nature get out of hand. He could’ve turned against me and convinced others to help. Being ruler of this land means making major decisions. I didn’t want to banish my brother, but I knew I had to.”
Stellia sadly embraced her brother’s mane as Rehema watched them both. Then she slowly turned her head and noticed her second oldest son walking off into the harsh, unknown plains.
Chapter 18: Kishimonne’s Exile
Kathlene had been away from her mother’s home for several weeks, hunting and playing with the pack of jackals she befriended as a cub. Kifimbo, the pup she had pinned so many years ago had grown into a husky young jackal, with golden fur and a shiny black mane that covered his back.
As Kishimonne reached the boundaries of his brother’s kingdom, he found his yellow sister teaching her canine companion how to hunt. However, she was not at all surprised when her older brother walked up behind her.
“Well, tall, dark and handsome, what didja get into this time?”
“King Shungi has exiled me.”
Kifimbo peered at Kishimonne with interest and Kathlene grimaced slightly and put back her ears. “Ooooh. Tough break, Four-holes. I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry? Sure, and your jackal friend is sophisticated.”
“Hey,” snarled Kifimbo. “I heard that.” Kathlene grinned and exposed her sharp teeth as she pulled the wild dog close to her side and squeezed him affectionately. Even though the two had been the same size when they first met, the jackal was only half as large as his female friend. Kathlene acknowledged this and treated Kifimbo with as much respect as she could give to what most lions considered a mortal enemy.
“Well, he’s pretty good, as far as jackals go,” she explained. “Besides, with old Obi gone and you being a rebel and the two S’s in the monarchy, I’d say this guy’s my sole mate.”
“So, you two gonna get married or something?” queried Kishimonne, grinning.
“Eww! Kishi, please, I just ate!” growled Kathlene, swatting at her brother’s head and missing. He grinned even more broadly and Kifimbo went into a fit of hysteric laughter, but then Kishimonne glanced at the direction he had come from and realized that he had to continue.
“I’m sorry, Kat. I gotta go now.”
“Geez, so soon? Well,” said Kathlene, smiling seductively, “So long, Rebel.”
Kishimonne smiled, but tears stung his eyes. Slowly he began to trudge away from the home he knew so well, this time never to return.
Chapter 19: Reunion
Meanwhile, in the mountains to the east, Obi was in the highest of spirits. For days he traveled through the wilderness, humming “Going Home” except when he hunted small animals, obviously. The mountain winds swept through his fully grown mane during the day and caressed it during the night. When he didn’t travel beneath the stars, he dreamed that he had a pair of eagle’s wings, like his great father, Hamaji, and could fly over the mountains and see his home. Strangely, many of the wonders Obi saw in his dreams he encountered the following day. Perhaps I’m psychic or something, he thought.
In the weeks that followed, the sights and smells were becoming more and more familiar to Obi. He was walking through a thick jungle in the late morning sunlight., feeling free and hopeful. Suddenly an odd odor rasped across his nose. He sniffed the air intently and curled his lip in anger. Another lion was near.
Obi did not want anyone trespassing in his territory, particularly not other lions. Flattening his ears against his skull, he began to follow the familiar smell through the trees, a growl resounding in his throat. The intruder would either have to leave or fight him. Obi paused at this thought. He had never gone into combat with another of his kind. Never. What if this lion was bigger than him? Stronger than him?
Obi had no more time to contemplate this, for the odor was growing more intense by the second. His walk broke into a running lope. Obi began clearing large boulders, thick vines and anything else that stood in his path. By now he could judge that the one he was seeking was right on the other side of the huge rock that lay in front of him. Obi leapt upon the rock, claws unsheathed, furrowed his brow and unleashed a deafening roar at the trespassing stranger, who backed away in fear, shivering.
“Who are you?” growled Obi. “This is my land! What right have you to intrude upon it? Well, speak, stranger!”
The dark lion that faced Obi spoke in a meek voice and shivered even more. “Please, M’lord, don’t hurt me. I have just been exiled, have pity, please…”
“You have no right to be here! Either leave or we must fight!”
“Please…You are at more of an advantage than I. Please have mercy.”
“Why should I, rouge? Why, you are nothing more than…”
He paused and examined his enemy thoughtfully. Obi’s memories seemed to stir violently in his mind and then resettle. This stranger had some sort of familiarity to him. Obi relaxed and slowly descended the large boulder to examine him. The eyes of this other lion seemed almost red in appearance, even redder than the scrap of cloth tied to his thin tail. His nose resembled the nose of Hamaji, pink and almost pointed. His broad muzzle bore three dark scars, sharp against the lion’s dark brown fur. Obi began to feel weak as he slowly scanned the now gentle face of someone he was almost sure he knew, but there was only one more mark…Moving his head slightly, Obi could just distinguish within the dark locks of the right side of the lion’s mane an ear with four distinct holes.
* * *
“Kishimonne, is it truly you?”
“That’s my name, but who are you?”
“I’m your brother, Kishi.”
“Obi….? No way…”
“Yes. I’m going home.”
Obi and his young brother were sitting across from each other, quietly discussing what had happened since Obi left home. Kishimonne told his brother how he had been living up to his “occupation” as a rebel, how Kathlene had taught him to hunt and consequently led him to another kingdom, and how Shungi and Stellia were now ruling the lands, and how they had exiled him because of his unorthodox ways.
“Yikes,” remarked Obi. “I guess things have changed a little bit.”
“A little bit!?” cried Kishimonne. “Bro, Kat befriended a pack of jackals! I’m worried that she actually might join them and turn on us! As Stel used to say, E-gad!”
Obi chuckled under his breath, much to Kishi’s horror. “Obi, what’s with you? You been smooching with any scavengers on your travels? Because believe me, they don’t smooch!”
Still laughing, Obi rose to his feet and said, “Well, I’d better be heading on now, four-holes. I’ll get you a decent place in the kingdom, believe me!”
Chapter 20: She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not?
Obi was grateful to see Rehema’s cave several miles from where he stood, at the edge of the plains. He was also feeling glad that he was able to see his brother again after so many years, without those cubs’ spots, and that little lock of hair now grown into a splendid black mane. Glancing down at his light brown mane, flecked with orange, Obi suddenly felt a twinge of jealousy, but he shook off the feeling and continued on through the afternoon heat.
His stomach began to quiver with hunger after a while, and Obi realized he would get to hunt down some prey on his home ground for the first time. Before he had time to plan his next move, his nose caught a whiff of a recent kill. How convenient, he thought. Slowly, Obi followed the mouth-watering scent until he stumbled upon the half-eaten carcass of a young gazelle, which was still being chewed on by a beautiful and strangely familiar yellow lioness.
“Eh,” said Obi. “Excuse me…”
The lioness whirled around, her white teeth bared between her lips, which were stained with blood. She regarded Obi out of her narrowed eyes, twitching her delicate tail, her legs taut. Suddenly she noticed something and her expression changed into one of curiosity and worry. Her green eyes grew wide and her mouth dropped open in surprise. Obi then recognized the beautiful creature who stood before him, and a wide grin spread over his face.
“Do you know how you look when you gawk like that?”
She closed her mouth and looked at the lion in wonder. “Obi?”
“That’s me, Kathlene.”
The lioness’s face broke into a joyous laugh as she leapt forward and nuzzled her brother, circling his body and giggling incessantly.
“Obi, you weirdo! I thought you would be elephant chow by now!”
“There were a few close calls, Kat. I’m glad to see you again. Where’s your sister and her new beau?”
“Oh, they’re home, at the cave! Oh my gosh, this is so….so…”
Kathlene stopped dancing around and looked at her oldest brother. His broad muzzle and gentle emerald eyes were framed by his royal mane, making him look handsome and noble to her. Kathlene suddenly felt weak, her heart raced and her mouth became dry. She found it shocking that looking at her brother could cause such emotions. Oh Obi. I missed you so much. Will you please make me yours, my dear Obi? I never told you how I really felt on that day you left me. Obi….
“Err…Kat? You coming with me?”
Kathlene snapped out of her hypnotic state and looked at her brother’s face again, feeling embarrassed.
“No savvy, Kanobe.”
“You feel okay?”
“Right. I’m fine. I’m not going. But before I lose it any more, I just wanna give you what I should’ve given you when we were on that fallen tree.”
Kathlene drew close to Obi’s face and licked him affectionately on the cheek. Then she drew her head back and spluttered noisily.
“Nyyuuggh! I didn’t know that -Pthhhew!-Kisses could be so hairy! Yeugghh!”
Feeling light-headed and carefree, Obi slowly padded towards his mother’s cave, softly singing as he walked:
“Ev’ry time I see her she don’t even look my way,
Maybe she will notice me, but then what would I say?
I would say what’s on my mind,
But the words are hard to find,
But I’m gonna try to tell her anyway!
Don’tcha know that she’s just my style?
Ev’rything about her drives me wild,
Don’tcha know that she’s just my style?
Ev’rything about her drives me wild,
Don’tcha know that she’s fine…..so fine…..”
Chapter 20: Where It All Began
Shungi stood on a ledge atop the cave, scanning his kingdom. Stellia and Rehema were below, talking about Kishimonne’s exile. Shungi was about to go down and join them when something caught his eye: a light yellow lion with an orange-tinged brown mane, slowly approaching from the east. The setting sun formed an amazing silhouette of his body. The lion raised his eyes to Shungi and smiled.
“Didn’t think you’d see me again, eh, brother?”
Shungi was so surprised that he lost his footing and tumbled down the side of the cave, landing on his back. Quickly regaining his balance, he turned over and raised himself on all fours, then he ran to Obi and threw his arms around his neck.
“Obi! You scoundrel! I had no idea this was true! Oh gosh, it’s good to see you! Welcome home, big brother!”
Stellia peered out of the cave, and seeing her two brothers embracing each other, quickly ran to join them, followed slowly by Rehema, who was tearful with the return of her son.
“Obi, my dear,” she wept, “What persuaded you to come back?”
“Well,” said Obi after a moment, “It was Dad.”
Rehema looked at the sky and smiled. “Hamaji, my love, thank you so much. My son has found who he is.”
“I had absolutely no idea she was telling the truth!” roared Shungi. “Why I…”
“Wait a minute,” said Obi, “Who do you mean?”
Stellia answered his question. “Kathlene told us you were back. Of course Shungi-boy didn’t believe her. Then she left again.”
“And I came back,” said a voice from the side of the cave. Kathlene sauntered out, grinning sassily. “I ran ahead of Obi to spill the beans. It had to be done,” she purred with a mischievous smile at her brother. “And look what else I’ve brought.”
Kathlene extended a claw, reached behind a pile of boulders and withdrew a struggling, grimacing Kishimonne, hooked by one of his ear-holes.
“Oww! Kat, please! Leggo! Yeowch!” he squealed.
“I found Scruffy out in the jungle,” continued Kathlene. “I dragged him back here, in case your Majesty should decide to reconsider.”
Shungi sat down and looked into Obi’s eyes and then Kishimonne’s fiery ones. “Oh well. I accepted Obi. Do you want to rule with me, Kishi?”
Kishimonne’s eyes grew wide. He hadn’t been faced with a choice like this since he decided to become a rebel. Rebels don’t give in, he thought to himself. But…
He looked into his brother’s eyes and saw something he had never seen before. His heart opened and he softly muttered: “I’ll stay.”
“Well, well. Welcome again, bro. And you, Obi,” Shungi said, looking at his oldest brother. “Prince of Adventure, I hereby appoint you Grand Duke of Rehema’s Clan. Same for you, Kishimonne the Rebel.” He glanced at Kathlene. “And you, sister…”
“Uh-uh. Not me! I’m not going to be any King’s escort! I mean, think about it! The Grand Duchess Kat the Rat! Yeuck! No thanks, your Highness. I like who I am. And what I am is…”
“Nothing.” Said Kishimonne.
“I resent that fact, brother,” growled Kathlene. “I am a skilled huntress, and I wish to remain one.”
Kishimonne leaned close to his sister’s ear. “What about those jackals?” he whispered.
“Oh them. Don’t worry, ‘Duke Kishi.’ The jackals won’t cause you or the rest of the family any more problems, okay, Kemosabe?”
“But I will visit,” reassured Kathlene. “I just will be gone for long periods of time. Other than that, I’m still family, right?”
“Yes, my darling,” sighed Rehema, looking at her oldest daughter with happiness. “Like my Obi, you must follow your own path. You make your own trail.”
“I know, Mom,” the lioness replied, nuzzling her mother affectionately. “And Shungi,” she continued, turning to her brother, “I wish you good fortune, luck, and hope that Kishi here doesn’t assassinate you and take over the throne and send the land into corruption like Taka did, the poor guy.”
“Ah…..err….umm….eh, thanks.” Stuttered Shungi, slightly confused.
“Don’t worry, brother,” said Kishimonne, chuckling and putting his arm around his sibling’s neck. “I won’t do anything like that…”
“Well, we’ll see how things turn out,” said Kathlene, turning and starting to walk away from the cave. “Ciao.”
“Don’t worry about her,” said Stellia, who had been hugging Obi and talking to him quietly. “She’s one sister I won’t get bored with.”
“That’s right, Stella,” replied Shungi, “Considering she’s your only sister.”
“I heard that!” snapped Kathlene, turning her head, grinning, and then continuing on her way.
Obi sighed and waved at his sister with a paw. “They never change, do they?”
“Guess not.” Muttered Kishi.
Night was approaching as Rehema walked through the plains alone. The stars pierced the sky with minuscule holes of light. It seemed like only a few days ago when she breathed life into her four infant cubs, while they were spotted with red, deaf and blind against her side. Now they were ready to repeat the sacred cycle, ready to give birth to new life, to carry on after they had passed over.
Now Obi was no longer an awkward, lonely adolescent. He had found a friend in himself. And his father.
The twins, Shungi and Stellia. Rehema knew they were meant for each other. Now they were the new rulers of the realm, able to carry on Hamaji’s legacy with pride.
Kathlene and Kishimonne were free from the bindings of the old ways. They were allowed to live their own ways, as rebels, and yet they were accepted. Kathlene was happy with herself and Kishimonne had learned he had a right to live.
Rehema looked up at the rising moon. Its light pulsed and radiated silver light across the mountains. As she looked, she could almost make out the shapes of wings. A shimmering white feather fell down by her foot, and Rehema knew that her mate had returned.
“Hamaji, my love…”
The huge, winged, golden lion hovered through the air and landed in front of Rehema, smiling contentedly and admiring her through his green, glassy eyes.
“You have done well, Rehema.”
Rehema wept softly, and almost laughed with joy to see Hamaji again.
“Come home, my love…” she breathed.
“You will all be fine without me. Don’t worry. You have the strength to go on. But…I love you, my dear Rehema.”
“Oh, Hamaji! I miss you so…”
“Don’t be afraid, my love. I will always be with you. Obi knows that.”
“I will always be there to guide you on. And your other children too. King Shungi, Queen Stellia, Duke Kishimonne…and Kathlene.”
“Don’t leave me again…Please…”
“I told you I won’t leave,” purred Hamaji as he slowly faded away. “I will always be here. I love you, Rehema. I love you.”